Alright! Let’s race!’
Four skimmers slotted into position in front of the spectators. Before them, the first leg of the course was visible across the rolling plain until it disappeared into the forest ahead.
Ellie’s fingers danced around the cockpit one last time, her light touch committing each control to memory. She gunned the engine again, revelling in the feel of it, and the sound of it. In space the only sensation she had was the vibration transmitted through the frame of her racer. Here the engine noise wrapped her up in a bubble of delicious sound.
She looked to her left. A safe distance away stood Tila, Malachi, and Jayce. Jayce waved and Malachi gave her an encouraging thumbs-up. Tila was looking at another skimmer, and looked worried. Makes a change from looking angry. Ellie waved back then turned her head to follow Tila’s gaze.
On her right, four skimmers took their positions. Blake was on the far end. His yellow and black vehicle the most imposing presence in the race. To his immediate left was a green and white skimmer. That one was being piloted by Kian, a friend of Blake. She would have to be extra careful there. Between Kian’s green and white was a red skimmer of a very different design – all angles and air intakes. Next was a white skimmer with grey and black decals and finally her own skimmer in silver and blue.
The other skimmers appeared no more impressive than her own, but according to Jayce they had far better tech under the hoods.
But it’s the pilot that counts.
A screen in the cockpit flashed to life. The first waypoint was already locked in, dead ahead. It would be a straight sprint to the first marker. After that, who knew?
Four beeps sounded through her helmet. Each one a lower tone than the last. The final beep sounded. Five engines dropped an octave as thrusters flared, and the race began.
Four skimmers kicked up and roared across the starting line, leaving one silver and white competitor fishtailing across the line.
Malachi’s voice spoke in her ear. ‘Relax, your power balance is off. Soften the curve. Smooth and steady, like you practiced.’
Ellie mentally slapped her forehead and evened out the throttles. These vehicles needed a lighter touch than her racer.
The power bands equalised, her ship steadied, and she was away, but already seconds behind. Ellie increased the power and angled the nose up, just a little, to counter gravity, just as Coral had shown her. The grass outside blurred into a green smudge as Ellie picked up speed and aimed for the first waypoint.
The first part of the course was easy. The waypoint was dead ahead, just inside the tree-line of the forest. From here to there would be a simple sprint across the plain.
Now that Ellie was underway the gap between her and the others was no longer widening, but they already had the advantage.
Malachi spoke again. ‘Jayce says that was a bad start, Ellie.’
‘Do you think I don’t know that?’
‘Jayce, she says she knows.’ A pause. ‘He says sorry.’
‘Are you going to repeat everything he says?’
‘Jayce, she says…oh, um, no?’
‘Just make sure I know what the others are doing and where those waypoints are.’
‘That’ll happen automatically. Your navigation will update each time you pass a waypoint. ‘
‘Doesn’t matter. Once I see where the others go I’ll follow them. It will save time.’
‘Jayce says no.’
‘He says… look, talk to him yourself.’ Ellie heard rustling from the mic as Malachi passed the headset to Jayce.
‘Hello? Can you hear me?’ said Jayce.
‘I hear you.’
‘How’s it going in there?’
‘Jayce, I’m flying toward some trees really fast, okay! And I can already see the others turning left. I’m following them.’
Her opponents entered the tree line and passed the first waypoint almost as one craft. They reacted instantly to updated navigation data and peeled right.
Ellie turned the controls ever so gently to match their course and her skimmer arced right, away from the waypoint in front of her.
‘No! You can’t! You have to cross the waypoint or it won’t count.’
‘What do you mean it won’t count?’
‘If you don’t pass within five metres your navigation won’t validate.’
‘But I can see where the others went. Why can’t I follow them?’
‘It’s cheating. You’ll be disqualified.’
‘Cheating? In a race?’
‘That’s the rules.’
‘Put Malachi back on!’ The earpiece rustled again. Ellie turned back to the waypoint, painfully aware that four other skimmers were extending their lead.
‘Is he right?’
‘That’s the rules.’ Ellie could almost hear him shrug.
‘You and your rules. Fine. I’ll do this the hard way.’
Malachi muted the headset and spoke to Jayce. ‘What happens if she breaks the rules?’
‘She’ll be disqualified and there’s no way Blake will keep his word if he thinks she cheated.’
‘Great,’ said Malachi.
”Course, even if she wins fair and square he still might not make the call.’
Malachi stared at Jayce. ‘Tila was right. You are a comfort.’ He unmuted the headset mic. ‘Just race, Ellie. Just race.’
As Ellie powered toward the first waypoint Tila examined the drone camera feeds upside down on Malachi’s datapad.
‘How long will they be in the forest?’ she said.
Jayce shrugged. ‘Don’t know.’
‘Can we get any video coverage?’
Jayce shrugged again. ‘I don’t know. Coral?’
Coral shook her head. ‘The drones can’t keep up in the trees. They’ll fly overhead and wait for them to come out.’
Malachi refocused the image to get a wider view of the terrain and the possible exit points. He wouldn’t be able to help Ellie if he couldn’t see where she was.
‘Mal, make him do something useful.’
‘Jayce, where do you think they will come out?’ Malachi said.
Jayce’s head leaned in to joined them over the video feed, he was shorter than them both, so he mostly succeeded in blocking their view.
‘I don’t know,’ he said.
‘I can’t watch this,’ said Tila, turning away. ‘I’ll be back when it’s over.’
Malachi pushed Jayce’s head aside.
‘Thanks, you’re a big help.’