Final Preparations

The Six Below Racers Ready Themselves For The Journey.
by Electric Keet

I was busy stuffing clothing into a duffel bag when my left ear buzzed. I clicked to acknowledge it. The soft voice of my comm intoned, “Call is audiovisual conference from Yaz Lenslight with four others.”

I sighed, “Receive on two.”

On the shelf at the other end of the room, a receiver lit up and projected a familiar wolverine with a flower of some sort above his ear. Four smaller images of my teammates bracketed the image. “And there’s Bell,” Yaz said. “Good, looks like that’s everyone.”

I dropped a wadded shirt into my bag. “What’s up, boss?”

“Come on, don’t call me that. It’s embarrassing,” he grumbled.

Falda grinned. “I think that is why he does it!”

Yaz shook his head. “Anyhow, I’m calling now to give everyone a couple days to prep before we hit Mercury. Now, Ira’s from there, sort of, but aside from zim and Eekay, I don’t think any of the rest of us have been there in a while, right? We’ll be staying on the light side—”

“Doubleplus poz!”

“Squelch it, cat.” Yaz grinned when he said it, though. “That’s the first point. Same as Io stays synchronous with Jupiter, Mercury stays with Sol. One side’s always at the sun, the other is always dark. The raccoons there tend to reflect that with two different cultures, which is why the research stations are on the dark side and all the holiday resorts are on the light side. They’re somewhat bipolar.” He glanced to something off to the side. We have… one day before race, and then one after. Plenty of time for the sunbaths before we head to Venus.”

“I’ll prolly head for the dark on one of those,” Lady piped up. “One o’ my mates from Uranus is down there.”

“Good time for it,” Yaz nodded. “Now, you all know about the ribbon itself, right?”

I nodded. “Lady and I have been watching some old vids of it. Half brightly lit, half pitch black.”

His eyes lit up proudly. “Except for the edges and the other racers’ wheels, yeah. It’s not a difficult course, and it’s shorter than we usually have here on Io, but it could be dangerous visually. As a bonus challenge, over half of Zeitmaschine is from Mercury so they’re plenty familiar with the setup. I expect them to get cocky on the dark ribbon.”

“Any manouevres we should watch out for?” Falda asked.

“They seem to be a single-trick team when it comes to that, but it’ll be an ugly trick. Comm: source to console one.” The projection blinked to a simplified race tactics screen. “Watch for them to bunch three or four up in the lit areas, even if a couple have to slow down a little for it. They make up time in the dark areas by zooming forward when everyone else is playing it safe. The lead has a good view and the others can follow closely without worrying about traffic. It’s effective, but if one loses control at all… well, you remember Ferrin Raceway a few years back.”

Everybody went silent. Accidents on the ribbon aren’t that rare, but deaths are.

“Don’t dwell on it,” Yaz insisted. “Just be aware of it. Comm: input reset.” The image flicked back to him. “I don’t think they’ll try anything stupid this early in the Thirteen, but they’ll certainly try for an early lead on home turf. I think we can keep that from happening if we can keep them apart from each other, or maybe match tactics, though I’m not sure I’d want to try that without a lot more practice. Any questions?”

Eekay nodded. “’Ere’s one. Y’got my replacement uniform yet?”

Entirely matter-of-fact, Lady quipped, “Delayed ’cause it’s a special order to balance out your look. Double padding on the chest, none on the helmet.”

Yaz tried to keep a straight face. The rest of us didn’t. Eekay got that impish look of zirs. “So that’s yer secret.”

“All right, knock it off, you two.” Yaz practised his polite smile. “I’m picking it up tomorrow. Anything else?”

I stuffed another shirt into my duffel. “Yeah. You got decent seats for us on the shuttle?”

“Nice and roomy. In fact, you each get your own cargo container.”

“Very funny.”

He grinned. “At my suggestion, Tesser managed to swing a deal with Quanta. We get priority seats on every shuttle along the way until Neptune and all the QC Zip we can slurp out of their conspicuously branded sports bottles before and after every race.”

Eekay sniffed. “That sludge is rank.”

“That’s okay, the drinks aren’t complimentary for cargo containers anyhow.”

“You son of a—”

Yaz held up a bottle with a familiar glowing logo. “Seriously, though, It doesn’t matter what we pour into and drink out of them, but let’s keep flashing these. I don’t like it all that much, but the endorsement deal was in place before I showed up. I just sweetened it.”

Falda frowned a little. “I was hoping to be rid of those things.”

“I know, I know.” Yaz scratched behind his left ear, then adjusted the flower above his right. “It’s just the nature of the business… but I think I can work with Tesser to keep it to a necessary minimum.” He paused like he had to consider something, then he spoke quietly. “The commercial game won’t change much, but the really important thing is – and I’m sure we’re in agreement on this – I won’t drag us into the drama game like Basil did. No more playing up internal squabbles. No more ditching tactics on the ribbon just to create a narrative that sells. We are a real team, a professional team, and I firmly believe that we can be the best bodyracing team out there. That means we don’t need to entertain people with cheap antics. We just need to race like they’ve never seen. Think you can do that for me?”

Every time Basil said that sort of thing, I grimaced inside because it felt like so much artificial pep talk noise. I would sit there and watch his disingenuous smile and pretend to agree, then go out on the ribbon and draw on my own love of the race to try and make it work, same as Lady and Falda and maybe Ira and possibly even Eekay when zie wasn’t blinded by zir own ego. Near the end, it felt like we succeeded despite him.

When Yaz spoke… I felt like we could win.

  1. Eekay’s avatar

    See how they torment me? I suppose that’s the price I pay for being the greatest.

    Also, it’ll be such hard work, soaking up rays on Mercury, being admired by everyone….


    1. Lady Aesc’s avatar

      Someday, those researchers on Mercury will find a cure for whatever makes you act like this.


      1. Nicky’s avatar

        I believe there’s already a cure. It involves lots of something called “Fish and Cookies.”

        …..Or is that the cause?? o.o


        1. Eekay’s avatar

          No, no, trust me on this, fish is the cure, but I need lots of it. Every day. For a very long time… in fact, forever. Spot, it’s not so much cure as it is treatment.

          The cookies, I’ll just give to Sweet-Tooth Falda.


        2. Zander’s avatar

          Somebody has to soak up all those sunbeams and heaven knows Mordecai isn’t doing it.


        3. Viqsi’s avatar

          I’m getting the impression that kitteh torment is something that is well earned. >:D

          If this managerial thing doesn’t work out long-term, I think Yaz might have himself another career possibility. Yaz Lenslight, Motivational Speaker. :)


          1. Yaz Lenslight’s avatar

            Motivational speaker? Not likely. The truth is, I’m nothing special… except to my team, because we know each other. Most of all, I know what I wanted to hear when I was on the racing side instead of the coaching side, so I can give them what they need to hear. I don’t think that would work in any other field, and I don’t see myself being all that motivational to anyone else!


          2.’s avatar

            Sometimes, non-felines just don’t get it, do they? And it’s not like we’re going to waste our time explaining it to them…


            1. Rubin "Bell" Gloeckner’s avatar

              Speak for yourselves. Egomania is not one of this cat’s attributes.