An Afternoon’s Entertainment

In Which an Unplanned Spectator Puts it All into Perspective.
by Electric Keet

At the Albedo Lounge, time was measured in laps when a race was on. Furthermore, anyone who interrupted the Martian bartender during that time was unlikely to do so twice. Banell, having learned that lesson some time ago, quietly took a spot at the bar.

“Be with ya in a mo’, luv,” Ndidi said. Zir gaze hadn’t strayed a millimetre from the screen.

The stoat let out an exhausted “mmm” in response and resigned himself to watching the same monitor everyone else was. Much of it showed any of a number of live camera feeds tracking the racers’ progress. One side had a smaller frame which swapped between secondary views and slow-motion replays. Below that, statistics flashed by too quickly to be read by anyone unfamiliar with the sport. The sound of bantering sportscasters was nearly drowned out by the crowd of fans. He leaned in to get a better view just as something spectacular must have happened; the force of the cheer from the others at the bar dragged him back reflexively.

An announcer swiftly added, “Iromouairu slips past Tanvi. just shy of the ribbon’s edge! That’s an awfully risky manouevre.”

“That’s right,” a deeper voice said. “Zie’s not in the clear yet, though. Theta Silver still has a solid lock on the first two positions— whoa!” The exclamation came at a near-crash at the head of the pack which sent the surrounding racers into a defencive scatter. “It looks like Neutron’s trying to make a point up there, Tess.”

“Doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Tess responded. “Zeno’s End has had an axe to grind since before Mercury.”

Banell shook his head and muttered, “How dramatic.”

“Hush!” The bartender held up a hand for a couple seconds, then said, “Right, should be a straightaway going into the fifth. Dull spot, everyone in the front half is out of boost. What can I get ya, Banny?”

“Still got Amurani’s Chain on tap?”

“Just barely, we’re almost out.” Ndidi thunked a bowl of triangular pretzels on the bar and grabbed a pint glass. “Six Below’s strugglin’ on this one,” zie complained while pouring.

“Right, right.” Banell munched on a pretzel and kept watching. There was a mooncat with a bit of a lead, and the cluster of racers who’d scattered before were starting to come back together after a turn. “Any crashes?”

“Not yet,” the tiger started to say, but sudden action on the monitor cut zim off.

“Neutron’s making another move,” the deeper announcer snapped. A hare in a blue uniform edged toward a skunk in green. “He pops a skandy toward Sweeper, she drops back— and a collision between Sweeper and Tanvi on three!” A tiger who looked rather like Ndidi tumbled painfully with the skunk. “ They’re tangled. Sabastien… barely squeaks by and jumps in. Yes, looks like both Sweeper and Tanvi are stopped cold halfway through the fifth.”

“Insane,” Banell grumbled between sips of dark lager. It was hard to tell who, but one of the two crashed racers was bleeding profusely onto the other. “Could get killed that way.”

“Doesn’t happen that often in Jovian circuits,” another patron said with a rush.

“Only has to happen once to ya,” the stoat smirked.

Ndidi pounded on the bar hard enough to liberate a couple pretzels from the bowl. “Mute it ’til race end, will ya?”

The view of the injured racers slid to one of the secondary positions, and the screen filled with the silver-clad mooncat in the lead. The sportscasters were still going on about the way the accident would affect the team rankings. The crowd around the monitor were watching with rapt attention and no small amount of excited chatter. After a few more seconds of that, however, the tone changed completely. The left side of the display started filling with times as racers crossed the finish line. Most of the fans were grumbling, then.

Banell watched in confusion. “Hey, Ndidi, I don’t get it. Why didn’t anyone boost near the end?”

The tiger refilled a pair of mugs. “Loss of control. Everyone’s worn after a long race so they’re twitchy to start with, and when it’s all crowded like that, a boost is a guaranteed ribbon-kiss for someone.” Zie handed each mug off. There was a mellow sort of cheer then, and she looked to the monitor. “Ooh, looks like our folks had enough points to keep the lead!”

“Six Below, hunh?” Banell drained his mug. “Local favourite?”

“They used to be local, and regulars here. Now they’re based in Iopolis, but they’re out here half the time anyhow for races. Fill that for ya, luv?”

The stoat nodded. “Yeah. Hey, here’s a question for you. Anyone ever try to boost and do that skandy thing at the same time?”

“Mm-hm.” Ndidi pulled a tap. “A few times, but I only remember one in partic. In fact… there, see that scrawny guy in the bottom corner?”

Banell glanced to the display, then chuckled. “What, the one with the flower?”

The bartender slid the mug over. “Yeah, him. He did it once. Couldn’t keep it steady and it cost him an arm. Now, he manages the team.”

“Gets into screaming matches too, looks like.” Banell shook his head and waved the spectacle away. “What an absurd sport.”

  1. Yaz Lenslight’s avatar

    Oh, sure, make it sound like all I ever do is complain!


    1. Falda Flosadottir’s avatar

      You are not helping your case, here.


      1. Nicky’s avatar

        True, but he is working himself up into such a /cute/ tiff! I mean lookit that flower flail!


        1. Yaz Lenslight’s avatar

          This isn’t even close to a tiff. And… I don’t know that I’d use the word cute.


        2. Channing’s avatar

          It’s nice to watch it from the outside a little, sometimes.


          1. Rubin "Bell" Gloeckner’s avatar

            When I was young, I would sit and watch broadcast races in complete awe, marvel at action faster than I could see, wonder about – and idolise – those larger-than-life velocity junkies. I dreamed of doing that myself, and then I worked for it.

            Now that I’m here, the action makes sense and I understand how it all works and I find that those larger-than-life racers aren’t quite what I thought they were… but sometimes I sit and watch races from other worlds and experience that awe all over again. I still do.

            As for Banell… well, he’s just a sourball.