PART OF THE BUSINESS:
In Which Certain Vagaries of Professional Bodyracing Are Laid Bare.
by Electric Keet
“Yaz, I think I have an opening.”
“Let it go, Ira.” It pained me to say that. “Right out of a scrape, they’re too nervous. No telling what they’ll do.” That was only half of the truth – the weak half, at that – but I’d have to wait to discuss it with zim. “If everyone holds position, we still keep first overall.”
I let out a heavy breath as the first few racers crossed the finish, Ira sixth among them. At least my people all made it through, I thought. The moment the last of them was in, I headed for the door of the observation blind and sent one last message. “Good work, team. I’ll be right down.”
In my hurry, I nearly collided with Element’s manager, Marcello. He half-chuckled, “Whoa! Careful there, Lenslight.”
“Sorry. What’s the word on Sweeper?” I followed him into the lift. “Not too bad, I hope?”
“Depends on your definition.” The lanky human tapped a button to close the doors and start the lift on its way down. “She’s unconscious and already on her way to a nice, comfy tank. She’ll probably be out for Mars.”
I shook my head sympathetically. “Poor kid.”
“Not her first time. She’ll be fine. So will the team.” He offered a nonchalant shrug. “Nice flower.”
“Thanks.” The squid-influenced part of me that was pleased with the compliment yielded after about two seconds. Then, the rest of me was too busy trying not to be embarrassed about it. “Local variety. Falda has an eye for flowers.”
He half-chuckled, then grinned. “Hey, I have an idea.” He motioned toward the approaching ground level and said in a conspiratorial baritone, “Give ’em a show?”
I blinked. “Serious?”
“As organ failure. We have a rivalry to maintain, and you haven’t had a chance at it yet.”
My stomach filled with angry butterflies. I knew this would be part of the job, but somehow I figured I’d have more preparation. “Yeah, I guess.”
He adjusted his jacket and grinned widely. “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. Catch up afterwards at your locker room?”
“Good. Angry face, and remember it’s all for the cameras.” His casual demeanor left him like a sneeze the moment the doors opened. He shouted, “And if it hadn’t been for your orange freakshow—”
“Look here, ringer, I’m running a clean race out there, and I don’t want to hear—”
The attention was on both of us. This was his favourite place to be, and he showed it passionately. “Can it, fuzzball. I got no patience for your little whimpery noises. Element’s gonna scrub the ribbon with you!”
I snorted dismissively. “Well, you’ve got ten more races to learn how.”
“Excuse me, boys.” Mahatapa slid between us like liquid and brushed my muzzle with the tip of her tail. “Maybe you should take your little tantrums elsewhere.” Her all-business walk took her right past and toward the pit.
I was too stunned to react, but Marcello sneered at her and then practically growled at me. “See you in Rustville, tank-job.” With that, he turned toward the pit also, and all I could do was shake my head in bewilderment and follow the rest of the team managers down.
Lady peeled off her unitard. “Nice act. You know, if your part is that of the hapless khlyupik,” she said, eliciting a snicker from Eekay.
I shook my head. “The what? What does that even mean? Anyhow, it was my first time.”
“I thought I was your first time,” the snow-leopard teased.
Bell tensely folded his jacket. “So, what happened to ‘no cheap antics’, eh?”
I blinked in surprise. Lady seemed to be expecting an answer to that also. Ira’s expression was even. “Well, I… said that, yes, and what I meant was the on-ribbon antics. This is different. It’s harmless.”
The lynx nodded slowly. “All right, I’ll buy that,” he said. “I just don’t want you turning into Basil on us. For your sake as much as ours.”
I started to respond, but just then a voice rumbled from outside. “Little pigs, little pigs, let me in!” I opened the door to see Marcello’s gleaming grin. “Think I’d make a good wolf?”
“No,” Falda laughed. She peeked her head out from behind the divider obscuring the scrubbers. “Hi, Marcello.”
“Mind if I come in?”
Nobody objected, so I motioned for him to enter. “We were just talking about you, actually. Well, about the little show you and I put on. I’m trying to assure them that it won’t go any deeper.”
His expression went instantly apologetic. “Oh, space, I didn’t step on anyone’s toes there, did I? I swear, it’s all just kayfabe. If I offended—”
“No offence taken,” Ira said with a slight smile. “If anything, this ‘orange freakshow’ is amused by your illusory attitude.” Zie swished zir tail enigmatically and followed Lady into the scrubbers.
The human sputtered. “Ah, well, I… think that’s an apology accepted.” He grinned to the rest of the team. “It’s all in fun, I promise. Anyhow, I’m the least of your worries. Miss Congeniality in spots out there is keeping to herself all of a sudden, and my guess is that she’s taking some stuff personally.”
Bell wadded his unitard up and tossed it in the locker. “Doesn’t matter long as we keep our racing up to level, right?”
Falda walked back to her locker and sifted through her street clothes. “Or at least better than we did today.”
“You did fine today, all of you.” I shrugged. “I don’t think Zeno’s End could beat us in a straight contest, so I’ve been a little worried that she might try to game things a little. You know, like convincing the committee to demand another psi test for Ira just to stress us and seed doubt, or things like that. She certainly wasn’t quiet after my accident, remember?”
A sweater Falda was pulling over her head muffled her voice. “Well, you did take out two of hers….”
Marcello rubbed the back of his bare head. “Anyhow, I just wanted to give you a heads up and make sure everything was fine here. We slice?”
“Top slice,” I responded confidently.
“Great. I’ll go make sure my remaining crew haven’t managed to set themselves on fire or anything.” He gave a nod, then said, “Oh, that reminds me. Lenslight, Falda, you know there’s an E.O.B. show tonight, right?”
The wolf wagged. “We have seats already. I missed the last Io stop of the tour. I will not miss this one!”
Marcello grinned. “I’ll probably see you two there, then. Ciao!” With that, he was out the door.