Second Spark

A Dramatic Turning Point for Six Below.
by Electric Keet

When I got there, I could hear Basil’s rapid shouting through the bay doors. I pressed an ear to the chilly metal.

“…right before the tour? Are you out of your thick skull?”

“Y’ wanted drama, coach.” Eekay’s response was distorted and highly synthetic. It brought back harsh memories of my own time on a voder. “Got their attention.”

I pushed my way in just in time to see the ferret bang on the regen tank. A bear in scrubs started to get out of her seat. “A half-dead cat is worthless to me! That’s drama I don’t need!” He turned and shot an oily smirk at me. “What’s this? I don’t need a weak quitter returning to me, either.”

Before I could lay into him, Eekay’s assisted voice barked, “Nurse? This tube-rat is agitating me. Remove him, please.”

“You can’t tell me to get out. I’m your manager!” When the nurse approached, however, he stalked out of the room, snarling. “Disgraceful! You’re all disgraceful.”

Once he was out of the room, Eekay said, “Oi… could I get some time wit’ m’ mate?” The bear gave a silent, disapproving look, but Eekay insisted, “If I start twitchin’ Yaz here’ll let y’ know, right, Yaz?”

I ran my claws through my headfur. “S’truth, I will. Thanks.” The nurse seemed satisfied with that, and left the hospital bay to us.

That was my first chance to really see the snow-leopard’s present state. Zie floated in a tube of slightly pinkish fluid, mostly naked and showing zir not-so-enigmatic-after-all body. I’d seen it all previously, but in better condition. Zir right side only looked a little banged up, and a sizable patch of fur had gone missing from her shoulder. Much of zir left side, including face and throat, was tessellated with a thick grid of solid black plastic, variously-sized tubes drawing up from each square to a bundle at the top of the tank. I knew that at least part of the grid encompassed empty space where flesh and bone would soon be.

Zie stared back at me. “At least I didn’t bang up m’ banger, eh?”

“Yeah,” I said, trying hard not to flash back to my own time in the tank. “The rest of you….”

“Half m’ face is jerky. Nearly scraped a tit off. An’ half my arm, and a lot of m’ leg—”

I cringed. “I know, I know. I saw it on the replay vids. Surprised you didn’t catch your tail in it.”

There was a long silence, and I knew that Eekay was trying not to bring up my own accident. I remembered the numb itch that accompanied the regeneration process, but I couldn’t imagine it over that much at once. “How long?”

“Five days… maybe four on good behaviour.” A full transformation would have taken hours, at most a day. Trauma made the body resist outside changes. “An’ that’s me, outta the next race.” Zie paused a little too long.

Don’t even try to ask it, I thought.

“Race for me?”

I exploded. “Oh, you are kidding! You get yourself minced and less than six hours later you’re asking me to fill in for you? Are you sure the ribbon didn’t scrape through to your brain?” I motioned to my left arm, the bracelets around my wrist jangling. “I had a close enough call, thank you. Try to drag me back….”

Zir expression hadn’t changed much. It really couldn’t, with the blockers in place. “One race. If I’m not there, we’re short, an’ any team can fill th’ spot.”

“Get Basil to do it,” I snapped. “He’s your coach.”

“What if you were?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Were… what?”

“Our coach. Our manager. I want you back in Six Below, an’ since y’ won’t race, you’ll manage.” My jaw dropped, but the cat continued undeterred. “Basil’s been pushin’ for show, playin’ us against each other. That’s not managin’, that’s ringleadin’. You’ve done the hotel manager thing. You know how t’ work with people, not just th’ team but everyone. We’ll need that to do the Thirteen.”

“You want me… to quit the Blue Teapot Hotel… to manage a stressed bodyracing team… right before the Thirteen Ribbons.”

“An’ to fill in for this next race so we qualify.”

“You’re insane.” I paced in a circle in front of zir tank. “You’re making this decision without the rest?”

Eekay’s eyes motioned toward the door, then back to me. “Naw, we discussed it before coming to Tvashtar. I was plannin’ t’ ask while we were sharin’ brews at th’ Albedo, but… I’m askin’ now.”

“And Basil’s contract—”

“—is null if the team agrees unanimously.” The voder made zir voice cold, but it sounded even more so then. Something had happened, and I had the feeling that no matter what, he would be out of the picture one way or another. That’s how Eekay was. The cat always got zir way, and it infuriated and intimidated and impassioned me.

“Listen up,” I said. “I left the team for two reasons, and the arm wasn’t either of them. One was that I wanted to know that I was making people happy, directly interacting with them, doing something other than just showing off. I have that at the hotel, and you’re offering it to me as a manager. The other… was that you’re so blinkin’ manipulative, and I knew you’d drag me into trouble every day I was with you.”

Zie only stared.

“I’ll give you my decision after the next event.”

Eekay closed zir eyes a moment, the closest to a nod one could get while immobilised in a regen tank. “But will y’ do this race?”

I shook my head. “I’m out of practice.”

“Two days’ time to brush up, an’ y’ never forget.”

“I don’t have my uniform.”

“Don’t have it, my winkin’ wa—”

“What I mean is,” I interrupted, “I… well, the squid, you know….”

Zie gave a coughing sort of laugh. “Falda has a spare.”

I burned with embarrassment. “Fine. But I’m coasting on this one, no risks. And you owe me.”

  1. Eekay’s avatar

    Here’s something about working with Yaz. Imagine going up to Unbelievable Man and saying, “Mate, you can leap over buildings and shoot spaceships down with X-ray eyes and take a nuke to the groin and not even blink, so could you do me a favour and get my right shoe that ended up on the roof, and don’t ask how it got there?” And he’d be all, “But what if I fall?”

    He’s like that. And no, I’m not telling the shoe story.


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