When Tila left them, she picked a direction a random and found herself walking back up the hill. This time she skirted the crowd as much as possible. People were the problem she wanted to avoid and yet they were all around her. They laughed at and with each other, shouted over the noise of the engines, whooped at vehicles as they accelerated away, and generally seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. It was a life she recognised as something she could have had, if things had been different. A life in the sun, under a blue sky, with friends and family all around. This was not her world any more. But was it ever? Who could say that this would have been her life if she had grown up planetside. Who could say that she wouldn’t be enjoying this like everyone else, if she had had the choice.
But I didn’t, and the choice was taken from me. I had to survive without the money these people have. Without their world. And I had to find my own family. Or am I still looking for them?
Her mood darkened as she climbed until she was high enough to be alone. The noise of the crowds still assaulted her ears, but at last her view was uninterrupted, and it was enough to lift even her heart.
The mid-afternoon sun was still high, but the quality of the light had changed. Instead of the bright, fresh yellow of the morning, the sky had taken on a darker hue. The sunlight seemed somehow richer and thicker and small, puffy clouds rimmed the horizon. None were close enough to cast a shadow on the events below. Tila cast shadow enough.
The trees in the mid-distance rippled through shades of green and twisted and bent under a wind Tila could not feel. The distant horizon was lost in atmospheric haze, and only the bright sparkles of reflected sunlight revealed where the sky ended and the sea began.
I’ve spent too long trapped inside the tunnels of a dead city. This is freedom. This is a sight worth seeing. What can the Juggernaut offer next to this? Malachi and Ellie might have to go back, it’s their home, after all. And I’ll miss them but I don’t belong there. Or anywhere.
Malachi will be okay, but Ellie…? Can I abandon her? She needs me. She’s not safe without me. Dammit, I should be with her now. Someone has to look after her. Malachi is too interested in those stupid racers to care and Jayce is no help at all. The sooner we are out of here the better. We don’t need his help. Or Blake. We can find Conway on our own. We found the others without help.
How could I have let this happen? This is exactly the what I wanted to avoid. I knew I should have left Ellie behind, and now she’s down there somewhere about to race against people she doesn’t know, in a ship she doesn’t know. She doesn’t even know the rules, assuming there are any. Racing around the Juggernaut would be safer than this. At least there if something goes wrong you can pull away from the city and head out into space and someone will pick you up. Here she has to fight gravity just to stay up, and she’s never done that before. She’s going to get herself killed. I’m going to get her killed! These people are dangerous, this race is dangerous. I need to stop it.
Or do I? Am I being too impatient? Maybe I’m not thinking this through clearly. If Ellie doesn’t race we don’t get to meet Conway, or so Jayce says. But we can find another investor. Why is Conway so important? He’s a big investor but he’s not the only one. Maybe tomorrow we can meet someone else.
But what if we don’t? What then? Our credit chips don’t work. How long can we stay here with no money? Jayce thinks our ship could be impounded if it’s found. How much time do we have really?
Hmmm, Jayce. He’s an idiot but he’s an idiot with contacts, or so he says. Do we need him? I don’t want to rely on him, but then I didn’t get anywhere with Suleman and Harrington. Is Jayce lying to us? Does it matter? Blake’s the one who said he could fix a meeting with Conway. Or is he lying too? Can I trust any of them? What’s in it for them? They can’t be doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. Blake surely isn’t. It’s unlikely Jayce is either. Unless… Ellie… of course.
Is he trying to impress her, or the other way around? Does that matter either? Can’t Ellie see that Jayce is a distraction? Why did Ellie have to go and have her head turned by the first boy she’s met here? This was exactly the reason that I should have left Ellie behind. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. I don’t know what she’s doing, or why? Is she in this race for him or for me?
It doesn’t matter. Maybe we do need this race but I don’t want her involved with Jayce a minute longer than necessary. I don’t know what he wants, but I don’t want to stay here long enough to find out.
Tila marched back down the hill, heading for the makeshift pit and pushed her way through the crowd. She ignored protests and silenced any complaints with a scowl, but she heard whispers in her wake.
‘That’s the girl from the Juggernaut.’
‘The one Blake is going to race?’
‘No, the other one.’
‘Blake’s going to destroy her.’
That last one worried her, so she hurried on. Then she faltered. Was this the right direction? The path was clear from father up the slope but she had changed direction since to circumvent knots of people, or crews working on skimmers.
Tila could still see the tree line, so she adjusted her bearings and found the skimmer at last. Malachi was underneath and only his legs were visible. She kicked one to get his attention.
‘Hey, get up. Where’s Ellie?’
The figure pulled himself out from the far side of the skimmer and stood up. It wasn’t Malachi.
It was Blake.
‘What are you doing here? Looking for your princess?’ he said.
‘Making a mistake.’ Tila immediately turned and headed toward the front of the vehicle.
He mirrored her path on his side of the skimmer and skipped ahead to intercept her at the front of the craft. ‘Why? Are you racing too?’
‘No.’ Tila tried to side step Blake but he blocked her way.
‘Move,’ said Tila.
‘You should race, you know. That way I can wipe out two scrags at once.’
‘Wipe out? What does that mean?’
‘It’s what happens to people who think they’re better than me.’
‘I think everyone’s better than you.’
‘Careful, Juggernaut, you need me in a good mood in case you win. ‘
‘I don’t care about your mood. You’re making that call.’
‘That’s only going to happen if you win.’
‘Ellie will win.’
‘Tell her she should concentrate on finishing the race.’
‘What do you mean,’ Tila said, suddenly concerned.
Blake shrugged and spread his hands. ‘Accidents happen is all I’m saying.’
Tila stepped up and slapped his hands away. ‘They had better not happen to her.’
‘You worried about her safety? Not worried enough to race yourself though, are you?’
‘She’s the best.’
‘The best on the Juggernaut. Big deal.’
‘The best anywhere!’
‘Then let her race. I’ll be thinking of her, and of taking your paleotech trinket, when I power slide across the line. If she’s lucky, she might make it to the finish as well. If she’s lucky.’
‘You won’t take anything from me.’
‘Listen to me, Juggernaut. If I want something I take it.’ Blake pointed at the city behind Tila, then rested a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. ‘I own half that city. I don’t know what the word no means.’
Blake was not the first man to try and intimidate Tila, and she suspected he would not be the last, but she treated all of them in the same way. Tila clamped her fingers around Blake’s wrist and twisted hard. Blake yelped and dropped to one knee. Tila’s staff appeared in her other hand and snapped open. She pointed at his face.
‘Shall I go on?’ she said, and twisted more.
‘N… N… No!’
She released him, stepped away, and the staff snapped back to its compact form. ‘See? You know what it means after all.’
Blake’s companions rushed over to help but Tila vanished into the crowd.
‘Your friend won’t make it to the finish line, Juggernaut,’ he promised with a snarl.
Not even caring if it was the right direction, Tila shoved a path through the crowd.
‘Hey! Having fun?’ someone asked as she bumped into him.
Tila answered with a scowl. ‘No.’