The three asteroid racers propelled their rides at the Dyson dogfighter that contained The Soul Survivor. Carmen led the charge, shouting a battle cry worthy of the greatest sports fan, with Vince and Xorn’Tal following suit. Carmen kept the vessel in her line of sight as long as she could to ensure that The Soul Survivor’s sensors could get a good look at her face before she had to let it drop below the horizon of her asteroid as she coasted toward it on an intercept course. With three asteroids about to smash into it, there was no need to go for a head-on collision when it would be many degrees of magnitude more awesome to completely disable the vessel and gloat. She braced for the impact.
“Not now, Vince! It’s time to rip into this thing and show the Survivor not to mess with us.”
“You’re already ripping into it. …and so is Xorn’Tal.”
“I don’t know, you’re like… gliding through the ship, but there’s no impact. Like-”
“A hologram?!” shouted The Soul Survivor, his bombastic voice interrupting their communications channel. “You believe that I would surrender the tactical advantage of invisibility, and then simply wait in place for you to ram into my ship? You are as tactically clever as the rocks you ride!”
“Hey, if you keep shouting into our channel I’m gonna stop going easy on you,” said Carmen, calling on the experiences from countless turf rumbles to keep her voice from cracking. She furtively watched the sky, trying to find any trace of a cloaked ship.
“I welcome your redoubled efforts, And Fully Intend TO REDOUBLE MY OWNKSCHSHSHSHSHSHSHSREEEEEEEEEE-”
Carmen fell to her knees at the sudden squeal of an audio feedback loop, and temporarily lost control of her ride. She ripped the headset away and threw it onto the ground while she massaged her head and closed her eyes to turn off unnecessary stimulation. She could feel the uneasy tipping sensation of inertia creeping back in, and knew she’d have to reassert control quickly instead of just riding out the pain.
“Guys?” she said, and instantly wished she hadn’t since she knew that they couldn’t hear her without the headset. She opened her eyes and saw the headset sitting mere yards away. Taking a deep breath, Carmen reached out with her mind and slowed the spinning of the Kinetic Kuiper before crawling toward the device. As she neared it, she could tell that it was still issuing the ear-splitting noise, but the pitch wasn’t audible from more than a few feet away. She picked it up and flipped through a few channels before concluding that The Soul Survivor’s broadcast was affecting any channel she was likely to use. With communication between the racers effectively nullified, she switched off the headset.
A sudden inertic force kicked her through the air and a green and purple glow filled the sky above her. She willed the gravity to be stronger, and felt the pain from the feedback loop threatening to push into full migraine territory thanks to the extra exertion, and landed on the rocky surface of her ride. She tried pushing the asteroid, but nothing happened. She looked into the sky, half-expecting to see The Soul Survivor’s ship, but instead saw a strange arc of light, brighter than the rest of the green and purple glow, moving away from her atmosphere.
“Tractor beam,” she said to herself, reminded of the green energy field that had surrounded her car back on Helix when she and Zack had first tried leaving the ancient Super City.
Vince and Xorn’Tal zipped into view, rocketing past on their own asteroids. They had apparently both seen the beam of light that seemingly came from nowhere and were following it to its invisible point of origin. The vines of Xorn’Tal’s asteroid had come alive and were lashing wildly, effectively doubling the asteroid’s diameter as the titanic vegetation flirted with the hard vacuum of space. Vince’s ship had a subtler effect, with four large, almost tear-drop shaped segments peeling off of its sides and swirling around it. Carmen resisted the urge to mutter that juggling was for amateurs as the grasping vines and rotating rocks converged on the tractor beam’s invisible source.
The green and purple aura vanished, and Carmen again witnessed the unfiltered view of the stars and Mandrake. Xorn’Tal’s vines lashed where The Soul Survivor’s ship should have been, and Vince flew close enough that his four missiles would have slammed into it, but nothing happened.
Carmen reached for her headset and snapped it on. No horrible screeching sounded.
“Hello?” she said. Silence filled the channel. Right before she turned it off again, a distant click signified the presence of another line joining.
“Xorn’Tal!” she shouted. “Great. I was worried when I didn’t hear anyone.”
“Channel: compromised/noisy/useless. Disconnection: warranted.”
“Makes sense. No sign of the tough guy?”
Another click heralded the arrival of a new participant.
“Hello?” asked Vince.
“Greetingage,” said Xorn’Tal.
“Hey,” said Carmen. “Vince, I think you and Xorn’Tal might’ve chased him off.”
“I think he was counting on us to back down,” said Vince.
“I think you’re right,” said Carmen. “I’m guessing he wasn’t prepared to fight three at once.”
“I confess you are correct,” said the Soul Survivor, chiming in over their speakers. “But I have always been prepared for two.”
From a different region of space, the green and purple energy lanced toward Vince’s asteroid, smearing it with the tractor beam’s energy field and creating a barrier between the asteroid and the four smaller rocks floating around it. The beam of energy sliced through space, carrying Vince’s ship with it. Midway through the pendulous arc, the beam vanished, and the field began to dissipate, but only as Vince’s ride hurtled toward Xorn’Tal’s asteroid. Xorn’Tal’s vines spiraled together, possibly in an attempt to make a defensive cushion, and Carmen saw the telltale slowing of the asteroid that indicated that Flashman was trying to regain control of his ride. The two asteroids collided, slowly but with visible damage.
Carmen held her breath. Vince and Xorn’Tal had both had the right combination of training and practical experience to survive an impact like that, asteroid collisions being one of the primary concerns of the racing federation. Even so, a direct hit like that could leave someone dead.
“Xorn?!” Carmen shouted? “Vince?!”
“They can’t hear you,” said The Soul Survivor.
“You’re blocking my channel?”
“Either that, or they’re dead. I’d rather not say, as uncertainty is a powerful tool. Now, I commend your bravado in the face of unquestionable defeat, but I really do insist that you surrender.”
Carmen glared. Her asteroid shot through the void in the direction that she had last seen The Soul Survivor’s ship. From a different location the beam again arced through space, and once again locked onto Carmen’s asteroid.
“Foolish racer. Your psychic power is an incredible gift, but it can be shut down by a device so simple that it isn’t even regulated as a weapon by most militaries. Your mind would have to be magnified even beyond the power of mine to fight back against tractor beams. Why do you think that roving gangs of Petrakinetic pirates haven’t conquered systems by now? Why don’t the armies of known space employ petrakinetic divisions? Your power is a simple one, one that I can nullify at the push of a button.”
Carmen stared in the direction of the beam before turning her back on the invisible ship, looking toward Vince Flashman and Xorn’Tal. Their asteroids were beginning to drift apart. She noted a variance in the flow of Xorn’Tal’s asteroid and a twitching of the fronds and vines that grew from its surface. Vince’s changed its course, possibly a change small enough that someone unfamiliar with the personal touch involved in petrakinetic manipulation wouldn’t notice. They were alive.
“Yeah, but at the end of the day we’re the ones still standing. No deal.”
“I see,” said The Soul Survivor. “To clarify your situation: since you won’t surrender, I will envelope one of your friends’ asteroids with the tractor beam, and launch it at the other one again. This will continue until there asteroids no longer remain. The moment you begin interfering, a moment we both know will arrive, you will be included in this constant barrage of asteroids. You and your two allies will be dead, your oft-celebrated asteroids will be unidentifiable rubble, and I will continue to operate without a scratch.”
“We know what to expect now,” said Carmen. “You can only hit one of us at a time, and when we start getting a good fix on your ship we’ll have a better shot at keeping out of your tractor beam’s sights. It won’t take long to end you.”
“Do you have long?” said the Soul Survivor. “Can any of you be lucky enough to survive two more collisions like that? One more?”
“I’m fine risking it.”
“Are you fine risking them? Last chance to avoid the carnage, Carmen Shift. You can save their lives, or end them.”
Carmen turned to look at the other two asteroids. She had no idea what was happening on them right now, other than the fact that they were probably both alive. They might even be in a coma and nearing a total loss of atmosphere. Or they could be ready to fight. And it was a fight they could win, in that case. But only in that case.
The green and purple field again vanished from her sky, instantly shifting to cover Xorn’Tal’s asteroid. The tractor beam swung like a pendulum, and pulled the massive rock along with it, nearing the point of its curve where it would be easiest to fling it at Vince’s ship.
“Wait!” shouted Carmen. “Wait, don’t… do that. I’ll surrender.”
“Excellent. Prepare to board the vessel when it reappears. I’m happy to hear that the three of you have chosen to live.”
“Sure,” said Carmen, taking her headset off and looking up into the sky to keep an eye out for the vessel. “And we’ll live long enough to make you regret it.”