Malachi couldn’t escape the crowd.
He elbowed his way to the window of the viewing platform and rechecked the video feed coming through to his data pad.
The viewing platform for this race was the grimy bridge of an old private yacht. In its day, it had been a valuable ship. Now its spacious bridge was filled with laughing teenagers. Its elegant lines were lost to ugly but serviceable welds. The beautiful ship was now just another part of the city.
The Mandalay had at least been attached right side up, relatively speaking, so the bridge windows commanded a perfect view of square that was to be the start and finish of the race. Malachi could see Ellie coasting into position.
Half the crowd were eager to see her win again, half of them were looking forward to seeing her lose, and all of them were in his way.
This race was to be a single lap around the underside of the city so most of it would be out of the line of sight of the spectators.
Instead, video feeds transmitted by ships holding position along the course and by pursuit craft would ensure no detail of the action would be missed.
The video feeds were for the benefit of the audience but Malachi and Ellie found them invaluable. While Ellie gave her full attention to the next hundred metres of the course, Malachi studied her opponents and advised her on what to do.
It seemed an obvious solution to them and they didn’t understand why no one else did what they did.
Tila tried explaining to them once that it was a matter of pride. That pilots lived the role of the hero, that they loved to fight off all challengers with nothing but their skill and their wits. Every other racer wanted the glory for themselves.
Tila said teamwork was just an excuse for someone to let you down but in their case she couldn’t deny that it worked.
Malachi and Ellie had dismissed her opinion on the grounds that she was nothing special in the cockpit and certainly no racer. So how could she understand pilots? But Tila did understand pride. Most racers were too arrogant and too proud to work with anyone else.
Too arrogant until they met Ellie, anyway.
Her win record spoke for itself, and Ellie’s growing reputation was a small, blonde microcosm of the change in fortunes for the New Haven community.
When Malachi and his father Theodore arrived in New Haven no one wanted to build a racer. It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. At the time, the community did not even have reliable air and water. Theo had repaired and reconditioned the life support systems and he had taken the time to train others. As he passed on his skills he was able to take on bigger challenges. Eventually Theo restored the New Haven space dock. It was the only real asset New Haven owned, and it was the one thing which had attracted him to this community in the first place.
Once the dock was operational New Haven was open for business. Malachi and his father began repairing and servicing ships. This brought them a valuable income, and a ready supply of spare parts, some of which were even now hovering over the starting line.
But every silver lining has a cloud. Their rising star brought to New Haven the unwelcome attention of the gangs which preyed on the weaker communities; the gangs which had killed Ellie’s adoptive parents.
Malachi reflected that somehow, Ellie at seventeen seemed younger and more helpless than Tila did at fourteen, six years ago. Even back then, Tila was a fighter, and she had put her ferocious skills to use defending Ellie from raiders which had breached the New Haven perimeter.
If Tila had not been there to save her that day Ellie might never have got the chance to fly.
Malachi flicked through different camera angles on his data pad and smiled to himself at the thought of the two Ellies he knew. In the cockpit, she was tenacious and unyielding, but out of the cockpit she floated through life carefree and effortless in her own blonde bubble. And like a bubble she was about as useful and as dangerous.
Tila, on the other hand, was never going to make a name for herself as a pilot, but on foot she personified athletic grace and a practical, ruthless efficiency.
Between them stood Malachi: thoughtful, careful and wary of any outcome that did not confirm to the engineered specifications. They teased him for his caution but he reminded them, often, that someone had to think about the consequences.
His data pad beeped and the surrounding crowd began chanting a countdown. The race was starting.