When Ellie prepped her racer, her fingers would dance across the controls without a thought. The engine would spark into life, she would race and win, and Malachi would nag her over some action she took that he thought was too dangerous. It was a complicated routine, but it worked every time.
So, it was a mystery to her why these skimmers, so advanced, so simple, and so automated, would not turn on.
‘You don’t have your foot on a pedal, I think,’ said Coral. Jayce had told Ellie Coral would be willing to show Ellie the basics and arrange some practice laps, and he was right. Coral was friendly, helpful and willing, but she was no Malachi.
‘I thought you said not to.’
‘You have to put your right foot on the right pedal when you start, but you have to take both feet off when you switch off.’
Coral shrugged, and dark hair, longer and finer than Tila’s, fell from one shoulder. ‘I don’t know. You just do.’
Ellie pressed one foot down and tried again. The engine display lit up. ‘Malachi always knows why.’
‘Does he know a lot about racing?’
‘He knows a lot about everything!’ Ellie said proudly.
‘And skimmers too?’
‘Not yet, but give him time and he will. Are you staring at him again?’
‘No,’ said Coral, quickly turning her attention back to Ellie.
‘It’s okay, I won’t tell.’
‘You won’t tell Tila?’
‘I mean I won’t tell Malachi. What’s Tila got to do with it?’
‘I thought she and him… are they…?’
‘Tila? And Malachi?’ Ellie’s made a face. ‘No. Never. Never ever!’
‘That’s good news,’ said Coral, and grinned.
‘But there is Nina, back home.’
Coral’s face fell again. ‘Oh, so Malachi and Nina are…?’
Ellie shook her head. ‘No. Well, he’s not, but I think she is. Anyway, he should be, even if he isn’t. You know what I mean?’
Ellie tapped her fingernails on the flight stick and worked backward through her last sentence. ‘Anyway, the point is he might be, even if he doesn’t know it.’
‘Let’s just say that he knows a lot about almost everything, okay?’
‘Shame,’ said Coral, still staring. ‘It makes sense though, I suppose.’
‘That he’s not with Tila. She’s a bit…you know.’
‘Irritable? Impatient? Angry? Annoyed?’
‘Well, yes. Wait, I thought you were her friend!’
‘I’m her best friend.’
Coral blinked. ‘Okay… Why, exactly? She’s so mean to Jayce.’
‘She’s like that with most people, most of the time. You have to get to know her.’
‘Why would anyone want to?’
‘She has her moments.’
‘Is she going to have one today?’
‘Probably not. She thinks I’m ruining her trip, but I’m only trying to help.’
‘Can you help? I mean, can you win?’
Ellie smiled at her. ‘I always win! Now, tell me again how these impellers keep me from crashing into the ground.’
* * * * *
Malachi, meanwhile, was getting his hands dirty again.
The skimmers were small, sleek one-person craft. Their sharp lines were designed to cut through the atmosphere without effort. Anti-gravity units did most of the lifting, but each skimmer also had small wings to assist with stabilisation.
The Rhino might have all the aerodynamics of a brick, but next to these little vehicles it was a wonder it could fly at all.
Aerodynamics had never factored into anything Ellie had flown before, but Malachi was confident she could get used to it in time. The problem was that time was not something they had much of. He would have felt far more comfortable if she had a week, or even a whole day, to practice flying in an atmosphere. Still, if anyone could pick it up fast she could.
Malachi laid out his tools on the little wing and unclipped and removed the access panel of Jayce’s skimmer. He lay the panel flat on the grass beside him after making sure he had all the room he needed, and set to work. Tools went in, and bit by bit, Jayce’s engine came out.
Malachi cast a critical eye over every component he removed. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with any of the parts he took out, but only if you were never going to push this hard in a race. Ellie would push hard, she always did in a race, so she needed a craft that could handle the stresses of her indelicate handling. Any racer needed high performance parts to stand a chance of winning, and Jayce’s vehicles were anything but.
He hovered nearby as Malachi deposited a small pile of engine parts on the grass between his cruiser and skimmer. Jayce knew he couldn’t help Ellie, Coral was doing that, and Tila had made is very clear she didn’t want him around, so Jayce stayed with Malachi to watch him work. He was starting to wish he hadn’t.
‘You know how to put all those parts back, right?’ said Jayce.
‘I do this all the time. Don’t worry.’
‘Yeah, but you do that on the Juggernaut. These things are a little more sophisticated, I expect.’
Malachi’s jaw clenched at the implication he didn’t know what he was doing. They may not have had the best tech to work with back home but that didn’t mean he was lacking in any skill.
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Isn’t everything you have really old?’
‘An engine is an engine, Jayce. They all make things go.’
‘But isn’t this, like, a really good engine?’
‘Honestly? No. It’s a standard atmospheric superimpeller dressed up in expensive bodywork and a nice paint job, but it’s underpowered for your skimmer. How much does this skimmer weigh, anyway?’
‘I don’t know, why?’
‘Because I need to check my thrust-to-weight calculations. If I’m going to adjust the impeller flow I need to know the exact specifications of this unit, and the loaded weight of the ship under Parador gravity, and what Parador gravity is.
‘I don’t know. Almost earth normal I think?’
‘Almost above or almost under earth normal?’
‘I’m not sure. Why?’
‘Because I need to know the exact metres-per-second for the negative Y axis. If I increase the maximum flight ceiling without correlating the altitude to the AG output, then the increased velocity during decent could overwhelm the gravity cushion.’
‘Oh. I see,’ Jayce said. He didn’t.
‘I don’t want her to crash into the ground,’ Malachi explained.
‘Oh.’ Jayce checked the datapad again with more care. ‘Gravity on Parador is ninety-five per cent earth normal, it says here,’ said Jayce, tapping his fingernail on the screen.
‘Okay, so that means gravity is pulling at nine point three-one metres a second and with an engine thrust output of…’Malachi’s voice trailed off as he began the intense mental arithmetic he needed to make sure Ellie didn’t plough into the ground on her first corner. All Jayce heard was numbers and words that meant nothing to him, so he continued to watch, feeling useless.