Nectra dropped her staff and clutched her face. She was taking deep, panicked breaths of air, staring at the ground and shaking. Zack stared at her, again getting the sense that this wasn’t a trained assassin.
“We’re going to die!” she said. “What was I thinking? I just… I just jumped onto a moving asteroid to get out here, and then followed you off of it! And now we’re going to die…”
“Hey, take it easy,” said Zack.
“How can I take it easy?!” she asked. “We’re moments away from this place turning into a complete vacuum! Who knows how long a stunned petrakinetic can keep up something like this? We’ll either drift off and be frozen in space forever, or more likely be pulled into Mandrake, burning up in the atmosphere! Oh, I didn’t want it to end this way, I should’ve stayed in prison…”
“Look, it’s… not that bad?”
Another tremor rocked the asteroid, shaking it violently as Vince Flashman and Xorn’tal’s asteroids worked to pull The Phantom Matador’s asteroid into a different, slower path. Zack looked into the sky behind, and saw Carmen’s asteroid coming up as well.
“Maybe it is,” said Zack. “I think we’re better, though. This isn’t the kind of place that a person should die, so let’s… not die here.”
“Okay,” said Nectra, nodding. “Right. Not die. How do we… not die here? What’s the plan?”
“For starters, I’d probably contact Carmen,” said Zack. “I don’t think my hat can transmit, though, even with the remains of the headset. You really did a number on it.”
“Oh, give it here!” said Nectra, eagerly reaching out with a hand.
“I can fix it.”
“You can fix this?”
“I’m very good at that kind of thing,” said Nectra. “It might even help me relax.”
“Okay,” said Zack. He removed his dented hat and passed it over to Nectra, who eagerly snatched it up and began to reposition the pieces of it. She reached into a pocket and removed a small box with a glass lid. Zack saw a number of unusual tools inside.
“Is that a miniature soldering iron?”
“Of course,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t worry, it’s fast acting. I probably won’t even need it.”
“That wasn’t what… good!” said Zack. He looked up at Carmen’s asteroid. It was nearing them, but slowly. It wasn’t moving in to crash into the Matador’s rock like the other two had, unusual restraint on Carmen’s part that meant she probably knew that he was on the asteroid somewhere.
“Do you think you can achieve escape velocity?”
“Maybe,” said Nectra, shaking some wiring inside the hat back into place. “It was easier when it was toward Mandrake and this place was between the first asteroid and the planet. We can’t try to blast off for Mandrake, though, we’ll burn up! I can’t very well kill you if you’re a cinder.”
“Right,” said Zack, taking a step back. “Look, I know we’ve got bigger problems right now, but why are you trying to kill me? I don’t really get a DMA vibe off of you.”
“Mind if we don’t get into that?” she said. “I just need to get your corpse back to civilization, okay?”
“No, it’s not,” said Zack.
“Then keep running from me once we escape,” she said. Before Zack could reply she held up the hat, triumphantly. Zack grabbed it, put it back onto his head, and opened the channel.
“Zack?!” said Carmen’s voice. “Zack, are you okay? I told Xorn’Tal and Vince to stop jostling the asteroid, but they can’t ease up too much without letting go.”
“I’m fine,” said Zack. “Well… okay, I kinda shot The Phantom Matador, he’ll be out for a good… let’s call it ten minutes. The shangmere lady followed me out here, but she’s putting a hold on taking me out since we’re moments away from losing our atmosphere with the Matador not able to actively keep the effect going. Unless he can keep his focus while stunned, which I doubt.”
“Great,” said Carmen. “I can pull in as close as I can, try to make it easier for you to get off.”
“What’s she saying?” asked Nectra. Zack waved to stop the second conversation, not sure how to carry on both at once.
“That’s great,” he said. “Look, Nectra thinks she can make it to you now.”
“Couldn’t you also run to Xorn’tal? He’s not that far from you.”
“I thought of that,” said Zack.
“Let her know to keep getting closer, it’ll make it less cold for us,” said Nectra.
“I don’t think she’s thought of that yet,” said Zack.
“Oh, I get it,” said Carmen.
“Right, that’s why you need to tell her,” said Nectra.
“Carmen, she wants you to get closer so that it’ll be warmer when she takes off. As thin as these atmospheres are, that’s a valid request. She’ll take off as soon as she thinks you’re close enough. Meanwhile, I’m gonna run to the other side of the asteroid, try to make it so you can pass between us and Mandrake before I jump.”
“Is that the actual plan, or are you just talking for her benefit?” asked Carmen. “You can probably jump from Xorn’tal’s asteroid more easily.”
“I wouldn’t call it a plan exactly,” said Zack. “I’ll reopen communications if anything changes.”
Zack looked to Nectra who watched him expectantly, her giant eyes not blinking. Zack shook off the unease of being stared at and gestured to Carmen’s asteroid.
“How close does it need to get?”
“The closer the better,” said Nectra. “Well, to a limit. I mean, at a certain point if it gets too close then this asteroid will start pulling toward hers faster, and if your friend’s still thinking about this as a piloted asteroid then she might not adjust properly and the two will start to rapidly drift toward each other and collide, probably killing everyone involved. Honestly, after a point, if it gets closer it’s worse, but until that point then getting closer is better. We probably don’t want to go all the way to that point, though, since that’s dangerous. It wouldn’t be a point of no return, but it’s a point of new dangers. My point, though, is… I’m saying point a lot. What I mean is-”
“I get it,” said Zack. “Get ready to jump, I’m gonna make my way to the opposite side of the asteroid, see if I can make it back to Carmen’s more easily from over there.”
“Be careful,” said Nectra. “We’re getting close to the point where things won’t start ‘drifting up’ towards Mandrake so much as they’ll start ‘falling up.’ Wait, was getting to Mandrake your plan? Oh! Oh, that’s why you came with a parachute.”
Zack looked back at Nectra. She was excited by putting the pieces together but it put her dangerously close to figuring out what he was doing. In a moment of inspiration, he nodded to the fallen form of the Phantom Matador.
“Actually, I was helping Carmen to catch this guy,” he said. “He’s been a a pain to the racers for too long.”
“That’s nice of you,” said Nectra. “Especially with everything that’s going on in your life.”
“Thanks,” said Zack. “Look, I’ve gotta get going, we don’t have long.”
Nectra nodded, and Zack ran off. She watched him go and looked back down to the Phantom Matador.
“Oh! Better not forget you,” she said. She stooped down, and picked up the dazed figure who groaned and shifted. Nectra helped reposition the mask of black cloth that was almost drooping off enough to make his face visible, took the wide-brimmed hat off of his head to make him easier to carry, and put the Matador over her shoulders.
“Let’s get you somewhere safe.”