Part of the Business

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?”

“That works.”

“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….”

“Not intentionally!”

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.

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.”

One In a Million

Several weeks ago, my good friend Jeffrey Channing Wells – yes, the co-author of the webcomic Skin Horse – mentioned to me that he’d been inspired enough by the world of Thirteen Ribbons to write a short story in it; not precisely fan-fiction, but another tale in the setting. I was eager to see what he’d come up with. He promised to e-mail me the first part and said that with my blessing he’d write more.

I was floored. In fact, I’m still floored, and a little intimidated. It’s a marvellous tale about another form of racing— no, more properly, it’s a tale about the sort of people involved in that other form of racing. So yes, he received my blessing, and I highly recommend that every fan of 13R read the results (though I must insist that if you’re not of age to read mature language and concepts where you live, please wait until you can, and then by all means do so.)

One In a Million

« Older entries § Newer entries »