Carmen felt the first traces of a headache, a sign that she was overexerting herself. She ignored it and continued to mentally pull her asteroid up from the nosedive that the Phantom Matador had tried to engineer by pushing it too close to the planet’s gravity well. Gravity was a weak force, and easily overcome in small doses, but when dealing with the amount of gravity that might be generated by an entire planet’s pull on an asteroid it was better to find non-petrakinetic means. There were reasons for starting most races outside of a planet’s atmosphere, and similar reasons for using much, much smaller rocks on surface races. By pushing as hard as she could, she was just keeping herself from dropping any closer into the atmosphere.
“Carmen?” asked Vince, his voice coming over her headset.
“Busy!” she said.
“Carmen, you’re falling!”
“Hold on,” he said. “Hang on, Xorn’Tal and I are coming your way, we’ll help tow you a bit.”
“I got this,” said Carmen. “Don’t worry here.”
“Human: Foolish,” said Xorn’Tal, chiming in over the headpiece.
“Look, you can’t help me without getting to the asteroid,” said Carmen. “There’s no way you’ll be able to do anything from your rock, so offering to help means offering to touchdown over here. That’d get you a pretty good idea of what it’s like, might give you an edge in future races.”
“…Seriously?” said Vince. “That’s your hang up here? Carmen, you’ve got a plan to land that thing safely and get it back somehow? That’s a pretty big mover’s fee on any planet, and Mandrake’s not exactly known for being tourist friendly.”
Carmen started to reply but a sudden shake made her asteroid dip down sharply. She wasn’t sure if the shake came from the gravity’s sharp increase over a short distance, or if it was some strange turbulence from the upper reaches of Mandrake’s atmosphere.
“Okay. Okay, maybe you’ve got a point. Ugh… okay, think you can get down here safely?”
“Sure. Think you’ll be okay with how close I’m gonna skim overhead before trying?”
“I’ll see you soon, then. Good luck. Thanks.”
“Anytime,” said Vince. “I always liked the Kinetic Kuiper, it’ll be nice to see it from on top for once.”
Suddenly, Carmen felt the impact of two clawed feet behind her, right by the Phantom Matador. She resisted the urge to spin around to see what was happening, knowing she needed all her focus, and little things like a comfortable direction needed to be maintained.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Carmen felt the body lying where the Phantom Matador had dropped being picked up again. “Sorry, didn’t want to bother you. You’re really busy.”
“Nectra, leave him alone.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt him,” said the shangmere. “You don’t like him messing with the races, I get that. I’m just going to take him with me so that you don’t need to worry about him.”
“Nectra, he needs to go to jail!”
“Who’re you talking to?” said Vince.
“Zack said you hired him to catch the Matador,” said Nectra. “And he did! He’s great at his job. And the Phantom Matador’s great at his. Did you ever see someone so mysterious?”
“Nectra, he’s dangerous…”
“Right! So, while I don’t know if the Matador will be good as bait for Zack anymore… especially since Zack lied about wanting to go to Mandrake… I think the Matador increases my chances of finding and killing Zack by a percent or two.”
“Nectra, you can’t do this,” said Carmen, clenching her fists.
“I don’t have much choice! I need to optimize my chances here, and having the universe’s only Gamma-Tracker wasn’t enough the first time! I’m really sorry, I really, really am, but this just can’t wait!”
Nectra’s clawed feet scrabbled away, hopped once or twice, and lifted off of the ground. Carmen blinked and breathed heavily, soon feeling the feet briefly touch ground again, most of the way to the horizon behind her. Another hop happened near the underside of the asteroid and, soon… nothing.
“Carmen?” said Vince.
“My stowaway,” said Carmen. “I think the crazy bat just decided it’d be safer to burn up in the atmosphere.”