The Calm

A Curious and Enlightening Interlude.
by Electric Keet

I’ve never been the sort of guy to hog the spotlight. Falda once asked me, after one of our more spectacular races, if I ever got jealous of the fact that crowd chanted “Eekay!” instead of “Bell!”, if I ever felt that I wasn’t needed. I told her that every joke needed a straight man, and after Yaz took off it’d have to be me. She laughed. Truth was, I was glad for not having the attention.

This is why I cringed a little inside when, with the rest of the team behind me, I walked into the Albedo Lounge and recieved a standing ovation.

It wasn’t instant. It took a few moments for folks to recognise who’d walked in. Then there was a lot of cheering. The barkeep – Ndidi, a red tiger who’d worked there as long as it had been our team’s unofficial watering hole – held a paw out to the group and bellowed, “The victors… and first among them, Bell!” Then nearly everyone in the place started chanting my name. They were chanting my name, and suddenly I had a taste of that sort of glory.

A taste was plenty, though. I faced the patrons of the establishment and held both paws in front of me, pads forward. “No, no…. The one you wanna cheer is Yaz, eh?” He started to protest, but I grabbed his paw and raised it. The cheers returned briefly. As everyone settled down, I turned to Ndidi and grinned. “Warmed them up for us, did you?”

“I did nothing of the sort,” zie insisted. “All of that’s genuine, I guarantee. Now, what can I get for Six Below tonight?”

Lady looked around the group. “Sapps for all?”

Nobody voiced anything like dissent, so the tiger nodded. “Five Sapporos. We saved a table for you. Go, sit, bask in adoration! I’ll send Nicky out with the beers.”

While Ndidi worked, we headed back to our favourite table. Falda spoke up. “I have always wondered…. Since those are not actually imported from Terra, how can they use the Sapporo brand name?”

“Easy,” Lady piped up. “Ain’t nobody comin’ to tell them not to, right?”

That recieved a dark sort of chuckle from the group as we sat. I nodded to Yaz. “So, you will be sticking around with us for a while, eh? You know, I think that makes you the youngest team manager in the sport.”

“Depends on how you count incubation time,” he shrugged. “Anyhow, the important thing is that you’re all good with this, and I mean each of you. Total honesty. This is a significant shake-up right before the Thirteen.”

Nicky arrived then. I nodded to the leonine waiter as he set the bottles down on the table, and as he sauntered away Lady playfully mimicked swatting his rump. I snickered. “And you see how much it’s rattled the team. Seriously, if anything it’s a relief just in time. Basil’s changed a lot since you were with us last time, and I don’t think any of us really knew just how much until we saw you again.”

The wolverine relaxed at that. “All right. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t the heat of the moment. I mean, I know you had three days to ponder it, but I didn’t want to influence the decision by bringing it up, and….” He trailed off when he saw everyone’s confusion. “What is it, did I miss something?”

Falda tilted her head. “Three days?”

Ira set his half-empty bottle on the table. “The first we’d heard of the matter was after today’s race, when Eekay posed the option.”

I thought Yaz was going to have a fit. “Zie said zie’d talked it over with everyone!”

I shrugged. “Not a word, eh?”

“You mean, that really was a snap decision for you, all of you?”

Lady merely paused in drinking long enough to say, “Whazzat tell you ’bout how we felt about Basil?”

Yaz shook his head and muttered, “Tells me more about just how sane you all are… and how much I should trust Eekay to tell the truth.” He took a pull from his bottle, then said, “All right, I’ve got to get a schedule together, then. Tomorrow, I arrange a chat with the team owner and discuss business. Then, I have work at the hotel during the day; I’ll put in a week’s notice, since I can’t really spare two if we’re going to haul out to Mercury.”

“Pfft. Ditch it,” Lady offered.

“The hotel?” Yaz snorted and grinned. “Bet you fifty ems I’ll want to go back there once this slog is over. I’m not burning that bridge yet, thanks. Okay, so that’s tomorrow – oh, and get replacement racing uniforms ordered for Eekay and I. Day after tomorrow, I have off anyhow, so I can sort out plans for being away for a while, and….” He paused and seemed to consider. “I’ll need more clothing. I only have a couple outfits, I haven’t had time to shop since… well, you know. And none of it’s been professional wear. Important.”

I shook my head. “You’re sticking with this whole… thing? That squid really mixed up your head, eh?” This drew a dark look from Falda, but I mentally shrugged that off. “Can’t you just find somebody to undo that?”

The wolverine shook his head slowly, eyes unfocused. He spoke a bit like he was coming down from a dose of Blueglass. “Why would I? I’m happy with it.”

Ira looked to me and earnestly said, “That sounds reasonable enough.”

I smirked. “Right, plenty reasonable.” As long as he didn’t ask—

“Look, Bell, I’m not asking you to come with. Relax.” Yaz, now back to normal, tried not to act embarrassed as he swirled the last bit of beer in his bottle.

“I will!” Falda offered cheerfully. “Come with. If… you want. What I mean is….”

He smiled. “I’d appreciate that. You probably have better colour sense than I do, anyhow. Anyone else?”

Lady shook her head. “I’d rather be handy for when Eekay gets out of the tank, so I can have a little discussion with zim about how to communicate important info to teammates, right?”

Ira’s striped tail flashed, which was zir own curious way of smiling. “Are you sure you won’t put zim right back in?”

I finished the last of my Sapporo and chuckled. “Please, don’t. Even as much of a pain in the tail as that cat is sometimes, we’ll need zim to get through these races.”

  1. Eekay’s avatar

    Oi! Whaddya mean, a pain in the tail? I’m a bleedin’ paragon of virtue!