Episode 75: Competitive Rule Breaking

Carmen listened to Xorn’Tal’s line go dead as her competitor-turned-conspirator let her know that Zack was en route to an ideal launch point. Her feed to the race’s color commentary had started taking an unusual turn, as Mark Matthews and others were commenting on the fact that not one of the three racers who’d pre-qualified had yet come back from the other side of Mandrake. As that was in the neighborhood of the Phantom Matador’s last appearance, some people were starting to put the pieces together, even without any handy satellites to tell them what was happening in real time.

“It’s no secret that the Phantom Matador’s been bothering the other racers,” said Mark Matthews. “Could we be looking at an old fashioned rumble that left the beaten path to head down a rocky road? I’m sure we’ll have more details soon, race officials are already on their way out there to investigate. Speaking of rocky roads, though, we’d like to thank Galacticream Confectioneries for sponsoring this broadcast of the race, and providing complimentary ice cream to everyone here in the studio.”

“How right is he? Did you three decide to just abandon the race for a chance to apprehend me?”

Carmen closed her eyes. She’d been able to feel the Phantom Matador walking closer for some time now, just as she was sure that he’d be able to tell wherever she was on the rock. He’d hesitated before approaching, making Carmen think that he was nervous. He also had his own feed to listen to racing commentary… or he had hearing good enough to listen to hers.

“Walk away before I end you,” she said. “Find some quiet spot on the opposite side of the asteroid, and maybe I won’t get rid of your oxygen before we turn you in.”

“That’s harsh,” he said. “And you wouldn’t survive without breathing any more capably than I. And who’s to say that I wouldn’t be able to provide my own oxygen?”

“Geeze, even your trash talk’s flowery,” said Carmen. “I’m not talking about this. Either walk away or get ready to get wrecked.”

“I see,” he said. “I’m sorry that you-”

Carmen spun in place, pulled the blaster from within her jacket, and fired.

Zack was right. He wasn’t where she could see him now that she was looking in the other direction… but she’d been able to feel him just fine. Her petrakinetic connection to her asteroid let her know exactly where he was standing.

The bolt of the blaster fire visibly impacted something, and the image of the Phantom Matador spasmed, twitched, and fell to its knees before drifting to the left until it matched up with what her petrakinetic senses were telling her. He was stunned, and visible cracklings of electric charge were still covering him. He looked up and met Carmen’s eyes, a look of disbelief and stunned betrayal.

“You can’t… guns aren’t permitted.”

“Actually, it says that no firing of weaponry or launching of missiles between asteroids is permitted, a rule that’s always been understood to mean that I can’t shoot you if you’re on an asteroid other than mine. This is just self defense, and still legal. Even if we weren’t in interplanetary space right now, I think the law’d go easy on me since you’re trespassing and I used the lowest setting. But seeing as we ARE in interplanetary space…”

Carmen dialed up the power on the weapon, creating an audible change in its hum. The Matador glared and rose to a knee.

“Hey,” said Carmen. “No. Stay right there. We’re gonna put you away for a long time when we get off the race track, and it’d be a real shame if you made me fry you before we had the chance to do that.”

The Matador didn’t move, but Carmen’s vision began to water. He seemed blurry for a second. Carmen was mostly sure that he hadn’t moved visually, and she could still feel him on the same part of the rock, but he was definitely getting ready for something.

“None of that now,” she said. “Nice trick, but I’m pretty sure it won’t work here. No wonder I couldn’t land a hit on you back in Helix. Too much wood paneling and metal. Is that why no one caught you, even when they nabbed your asteroid? Using that trick of yours to stay out of sight even when people searched?”

“Do you want me to leave to the other side of the asteroid or not?” he asked.

“We’re past that now,” said Carmen. “Wait… no, you couldn’t have used this trick to hide that time, at least not for long. The racing federation has scanners that can look through asteroids, and I’m pretty sure you’re not going to be tricking those once they’re in range.”

“That’s for me to know,” said the Matador. “So is this how we’ll remain for the remainder of the voyage? Me crouching uncomfortably, and you aiming a weapon at a fellow racer without ever blinking?”

“I don’t need to keep watching you to know where you are while we wait for the authorities to get here. In fact, based on what Zack told me, it probably helps if I don’t do that.”

“The detective does possess a certain crude intelligence. Tell me, why was he jumping to Mandrake?”

“He wasn’t,” said Carmen, thinking fast. “We saw a chance for him to get to you and take you out. Didn’t quite go according to plan.”

“So that isn’t him jumping again, behind you? There’s a person leaving Xorn’Tal’s asteroid. You’d know that if you just looked…”

“Nice try,” said Carmen. “Look, what Zack does on his own time’s none of my business, and won’t be yours either after you’re in jail.”

“Perhaps we should ask Zack himself,” said the Matador.

With a lurch, Carmen felt her asteroid jerk toward Mandrake, quickly. She growled and shot the Matador. The beam of crimson energy made him spasm violently as he fell back. She looked into the sky, nearly dominated by the jungle-infested planet overhead and tried to regain control of her rock. She’d already been drifting too close to the planet, and now her ride was definitely heading down, and fast.

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