Zack strapped the robotic parachute to his back. It chirped a greeting and began its exploratory examination of the skies while it loaded Carmen’s program. A leap from a petrakinetically propelled asteroid onto a planet as it hurtled above. The parachute was intrigued by the variables.
Zack looked at the skies. Mandrake was drawing nearer, but it was making him impatient. In a regular ship, they would have reached Mandrake shortly after it became visible, but it was getting larger at an almost painful rate.
“How do you do it, Carmen?”
“Hmm?” Carmen tilted her weight slightly. The asteroid responded in kind. Zack wondered why she moved at all when she could just think her way into making the asteroid move, but waved off the concern.
“How do you make the atmosphere stay in place? It’s important.”
“Why?” asked Carmen. “I mean, it’s not a big deal, but you’ve sorta been harping on about it. And always at weird times…”
“Do you remember when we were in Helix?” asked Zack. “My botched attempt to save you after you’d already escaped from Murk’s headquarters?”
“Right,” said Carmen. “Wild ride at the end of an awful day.”
“Do you remember the… ghost thing? Igneous kept calling it a prophet, it was some sort of Pyrhian Air Man.”
“I remember,” said Carmen. “It said a lot of things. It said that the Void Pilgrim’s out there somewhere.”
“Void…? That’s not important,” said Zack. “I don’t think that part was a message for me, at least. It didn’t seem stable. Like it’s attention was divided.”
“Then what about it?”
“It told me… at least, I think it was talking to me… it asked me how my friend flies, and I think it meant you. It asked why you’re not crushed in space. How are any of you not crushed in space? You veer at wild angles while moving at speeds that should be generating G-forces well beyond the ability for humans to withstand.”
“What’s your point?”
“Controlling rocks can’t overcome that kind of physical law, Carmen. It also can’t keep a breathable atmosphere in place, rocks aren’t air.”
“Not everyone who’s petrakinetic can join the races, Zack. You’ve gotta have other talents.”
“I’ve got a touch of gravitational influence and some say about brownian motion in my vicinity too. The… weirdness in my brain doesn’t just stop right at the borders of rock control. Mental mutations like that aren’t exactly clean cut, and most people with psychic abilities don’t just have one.”
“So everyone in the races has some mild control over gravity and air currents?”
“No,” said Carmen. “It varies. It doesn’t matter what combination of abilities a person has, as long as it allows them to propel themselves through space while they stand on a rock.”
“So what you’re saying is that someone with petrakinetic abilities wouldn’t be limited to those.”
“No, of course not. It’s probably what they’ve got the most of, but they probably have something else going for them. Zack, either get to the point or get ready to jump.”
“Could the Phantom Matador have other abilities?”
Carmen’s eyes narrowed. She focused on Mandrake as it grew closer, filling up a greater and greater percentage of the sky. She altered her trajectory, wanting to barely skim the atmosphere.
“He might. Sure.”
“Could his other abilities help him to stay out of the reach of the authorities?” asked Zack. “What if he’s got some other ability. Is there any other common… or even rare… psychic ability that he might have?”
“I appreciate you worrying about my problems, Zack,” said Carmen. “Think about it on your trip down, though. I’m having trouble concentrating on everything, and-”
Carmen’s headset buzzed. Vince Flashman’s voice chimed in.
“I see him!” he said. “Circling over Mandrake’s north pole from the other side, looking like he’s timing the arc to match your flight path just before we’ll be getting there. His different arc might give him more speed from the slingshot than we’ll get.”
“Let’s take him out before he has the chance,” said Carmen.
“What?” said Zack. “What’s happening?”
“Get your heat shield ready,” said Carmen.
“Shield: Heat?” asked Xorn’Tal, chiming in.
“Confession time, guys; I’m helping someone get a close look at Mandrake, trying to keep it quiet. He wanted a mad jump from the stars to the surface and couldn’t wait for the legal paperwork. Can you keep a lid on it? Oh, and make sure you don’t crash into the guy on his way down.”
Zack waved his hands frantically. Carmen shook her head and gestured to the heat shield. Zack glared, activated the shield, and passed it over his shoulder where the robotic parachute reached for it, so that it could make it ready for the jump.
“Motive clear: flight plan.”
“No worries here,” said Vince. “Just focus on the Matador.”
“No other plans,” said Carmen. “Zack, are you ready to jump?”
“Yeah, but isn’t it still a little early?”
“Probably,” said Carmen. “I’ve got some bad news, though.”
A blade of shimmering energy sliced through the stone four yards away from Zack and began cutting its way across the surface of the asteroid.
“Didn’t want to panic you, but your friend’s almost out. Not much more I could’ve done without breaking the asteroid. Sorry, Zack. Ready?”
Zack watched the blade slide through the stone, making its way through a slow, determined path. The shangmere was almost free.