Malachi handed the datapad back to Jayce.
‘I’ll do what I can with this, but that means you have nothing to practice in. Jayce, can we borrow another skimmer? We can’t let her go out in this if she hasn’t flown one before. And I need a tool kit.’
‘Yeah, I can arrange that. You’re sure you need to take my cruiser apart to do this?’
‘I have to get the parts from somewhere. You fix Ellie up with some practice laps so she can get used to how these things handle and I’ll get started here. How long until your race starts?’
‘A little over an hour.’
‘How long is that on Parador? Is it a standard commonwealth hour?’ said Ellie and she climbed out of the cockpit.
‘Sure! Who do you think made it the standard?’ said Jayce
‘Ellie, this is going to be very different to the races you’re used to. Remember you’re flying in an atmosphere now. You’re going to have resistance, and other things you’ve never considered,’ said Malachi.
‘Like turbulence and cross-winds, and gravity.’
‘I’m used to gravity, Malachi. I walk about it in every day!’
‘Right. You walk. You don’t fly. Here, you won’t have three-sixty movement in all directions. If you get this wrong, you’ll crash.’
‘She won’t crash, there’s a safety cushion under the skimmer,’ point out Jayce.’
‘That’s not the point. The point is, she has to think about gravity. It’s a new variable.’
‘This isn’t a math’s lesson, Mal,’ said Ellie.
‘Look, just listen to me. You can’t get around this. You can’t fly your way out of a hole. I don’t want you to crash.’
Ellie turned to Jayce. ‘See? He loves me!’
‘Yes, But Tila will kill me if anything happens to you.’
‘That’s true,’ said Tila.
Ellie dismissed this concern with a wave. ‘Whatever. She just wants this over with so we can get back to the city.’
‘Also true,’ said Tila.
‘Either way,’ said Malachi, ‘let’s get back to the city with you in one piece, okay? Now, listen up. You can’t turn too fast in this thing. I know you’re used to making four-g turns, but I’m not sure this thing can take it. I don’t think even the good skimmers are used to stress like that. This is different. I don’t want you tearing this thing apart.’
‘None taken,’ said Jayce, wondering if a refund was still possible.
‘What about straight lines? How fast can this go?’ said Ellie.
‘Only about a hundred and fifty. Nowhere near as fast as your racer, I know, but it’s going to seem faster – much, much faster – because you’ll be so close to the ground. Plus, there will be drag from the air, and turbulence from the other skimmers if you get too close.
‘I never get too close.’
Malachi gave her a sceptical look that well understood Ellie’s loose understanding of the phrase ‘too close’.
‘Just keep a safe distance from them and from the ground. Don’t forget, you won’t have to thrust to descend. Gravity and your flaps will take care of that. Got it?
‘Got it. How high can I go?’
Jayce chimed in, trying to be helpful. ‘Four metres is the standard flight ceiling for a skimmer.’
‘What’s non-standard?’ said Ellie.
‘Is there a rule about the maximum flight ceiling?’ said Malachi.
‘It’s whatever you can make it if you have the time and the money and the know-how. There’s no rule about it.’
Ellie pointed at Malachi. ‘He has the know-how.’
‘Why do you always assume I can do anything you want?’ Malachi complained.
‘Because you always do. How much time do we have?’ she asked Jayce.
‘Not much. Less than an hour until the race starts,’ said Jayce. ‘I have money though, if that helps?’
‘We know,’ muttered Tila.
‘Do you have enough to buy us a new skimmer in the next forty-five minutes?’ Malachi said.
‘Not this far from the city I don’t,’ said Jayce.
‘Then one-out-of-three will have to do. Plus, whatever I can pull out of your cruiser. Ellie, you go and practice while I get to work, and we’ll talk more when you get back.’
Malachi winked at her before turning in the direction of Jayce’s cruiser.
‘About how you’re going to win, of course.’
‘Ellie, I’m still not sure about this,’ said Tila, as Malachi headed for Jayce’s cruiser while absorbing the technical readouts on the datapad. ‘If this race is so dangerous, and if you can’t win anyway, we need to find another way.’
‘Who said I can’t win?’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ Tila counted off fingers. ‘You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t even have everything you need to try.’
‘So we’re the same.’
‘What are you talking about?’
Do you know where you’re going? Or what you’re going to do next? You don’t have everything you need either, remember, which is why I’m entering this race!’
‘It’s not the same thing, Ellie.’
Ellie shook her head like something obvious had just occurred to her. ‘You’re right. It’s not. I’m here because I believed you. Because I believe in you. Because I trust you. I forgot you don’t feel the same way.
‘You shouldn’t be in this race!’
‘Stop telling me what to do!’
They held each other’s gaze, each waiting for the other to back down first. Surprisingly for her, Ellie won. Tila snatched up her pack and staff and turned away.
‘Fine! I’ll be back when it starts. I’m obviously not needed here.’
Jayce, who had been watching this exchange in quiet confusion, leaned back on the stubby wings and turned his head to follow Tila’s exit.
‘Wow. Are you sure you guys are friends? You don’t act like it.’
Ellie didn’t watch Tila disappear into the crowd.
‘No, I’m not.’
Jayce struggled to parse Ellie’s reply. ‘You’re not sure you’re friends, or you’re not sure you act like it?’
‘Yes,’ she said.