Carmen ran back to her asteroid and climbed up the short staircase along the side of it. She grabbed the headset from the rocks when she jumped off of the stairs, and put it on her head. The roar of the audience through it was exciting as always, but she changed the headset’s channel to the one she’d set up for Zack as “Crew Member Zero”, a channel name that would probably freak Zack out for being too conspicuous, something that she hoped to tell him about years down the line just so that she could see the look on his face, assuming he survived the assassination attempts. Realistically, she knew that the only people who would see the channel names were technicians and assistants for the different racers, so it would be fine despite Zack’s hypothetical concerns.
“Back,” she said. “Sorry, I took a detour.”
“About time,” said Zack. “I was starting to worry that you’d miss the start of the race.”
“That’s crazy talk.”
“What was the detour?”
“A couple other racers wanted to talk before the race.”
Carmen started to answer, but wondered just how Zack would take the information that she’d agreed to a truce between three other racers that might get in the way of covertly dropping him off on Mandrake.
“Shop talk,” she said. “And lots of sports-appropriate insults to let the other people know just how badly they’ll lose. Also a few pre-set agreements about who would be taking on whom, and how. Howm? How.”
“Okay,” said Zack. “Okay, good. Standard procedure then.”
“Here’s a crazy hypothetical that’s come to mind, though,” said Carmen. “Dropping you off on Mandrake sort of assumes that it won’t be inconspicuous for me to take the big detour since I’m one of the only racers crazy enough to go for the glory on a ridiculously slim chance for a speed boost, right?”
“It occurs to me that the other two crazy racers who might do that are also in this race, and have a good shot at being right behind me. I can time your drop off so you know when to jump when we’re the least likely for you to be picked up by a satellite, but these two have pretty sharp eyes. Does that change your thoughts on this at all?”
Zack didn’t respond from the other end of the line.
“That’s bad,” he said.
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m letting you know about it and looking for input.”
“Well, if they follow you, can you slow down so that they don’t see?”
“No way, man.”
“Carmen, I know this race is important to you, but I can’t be seen.”
“Dude, I’m not saying that for me, I’m saying it for you. If they ask me after the race why someone went skydiving from my rock by Mandrake, I can give them some sort of explanation. If I suddenly slow down, though, that brings more eyes to me. If I make it look like I’m hiding something, then it gets mondo suspicious, you get me? That strands you on the planet with everyone who watches asteroid racing wonderin’ why The Crimson Cruiser’s trying to cover something up. I know you’ve got more experience with this Desperate Measures Agency, but I’m guessing that since the cat’s out of the bag that you and I know each other, at least for two of the people after you, someone’s gonna put two and two together to figure out where you’re hiding.”
“Right,” said Zack. “Right, sorry. I’m not thinking this through.”
“Plus I don’t plan on hurting my chances to win here unless you absolutely need the save.”
“Your concern is truly touching. If anyone asks… tell them that I’m doing some sort of survey of the jungle, and don’t want to hurt the environmental conditions by setting up a permanent landing site with a ship for as long as I’d be there. Since I’ll be there so long, it’s more ecologically beneficial for me to dive in, and you’re helping.”
“Pass,” said Carmen. “That breaks all kinds of racing regulations. I’d only do something like that if I wasn’t racing.”
“Got any better ideas?”
“You’re a mad crazy thrill seeker, looking for your next big dive and wilderness trip: space to surface to survival of the sickest. I’m giving you the boost, and I’m doing it during a race to cover up for your lack of interplanetary papers since you’re on house arrest ever since you got caught climbing a skyscraper.”
“No, it’s awesome.”
“I mean, my idea broke racing regulations, but I’m guessing yours does as well. How’s it any better?”
“Because in mine, you’re breaking the rules to break the rules, but in yours you were trying to do something noble.”
“How is that worse?”
“Trust me, the racers I’m worried about aren’t snitches. They’ll keep an adrenaline rush secret before they’ll keep a ‘jungle survey’ secret. Now, settle down and get comfortable, Gamma, because the race is about to start.”
“Trust me,” she said. “No more time to plan. Only time to shine.”