Mary E. Lowd lives in Oregon with her husband, daughter, five cats, and three dogs. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, and her first novel, "Otters In Space," was nominated for an Ursa Major Award. For more information, visit www.marylowd.com.
Daisy chains are kind of tricky, so I didn't believe the frezzipod when he said he could daisy chain his way from Altu 7 to Altu 5 in fifteen minutes flat. First of all, that's a forty minute flight, if you pull up above the belt and fly without all those rocks in your way. Secondly, frezzipods look like a cross between a crab and a pineapple -- the perfect tropical hors d'oeuvre. Who's going to believe anything a walking hors d'oeuvre says anyway?
So, I laughed at him. Big deal. Everyone laughs at frezzipods. The way they clatter around, those six arthropoidal legs, and that ridiculous bushy, green tail swinging from side to side behind them... That's just downright funny.
But then I made a mistake. "Yeah? Well, I could do it in ten minutes if I had one of those space convertibles like you drive." My buddies were laughing and jeering with me, but then it turned out the frezzipod had buddies too. One of his buddies offered to lend me a ship. Suddenly, my buddies weren't laughing anymore.
You'd think there'd be a way to back down. I mean, a human can't drive a space convertible without wearing a goddamn spacesuit for chrissake! Frezzipods can take the vacuum for hours, and convertible controls are designed for their clackety claw-hands. Me, though? I found myself sitting in a spaceship that hardly deserves the name -- more of a space skateboard with an over-clocked engine, if you ask me -- wearing a big, fitted bag of Kevlar, Mylar, whatever-lar-stuff.
My opponent's buddy, the other frezzipod, gave me a crash course in the controls, but I only had a few minutes to warm up before I found myself pushing full throttle on an alien spacecraft, racing like my life depended on it for Altu 5.
Caddy, for that's what I'd decided to call my frezzipod friend, started the race with some extra-fancy moves. For a moment, I thought I was off the hook. Caddy headed straight toward a starwhal sized asteroid, before we'd even passed the start line, way too fast to dodge it. At the last second, Caddy sprang his six legs, jumping clear off his convertible.
My elation at having already won was followed fast on its heels by realizing what I was truly up against. Having sprung eight feet from his ship, and, conversely having pushed his ship eight feet in the opposite direction -- a good, fat starwhal's girth -- Caddy and ship sailed smoothly on. The asteroid passed between them.
I, on the other hand, took the slow way around, adjusting acceleration from one direction, then the other, canceling my spurious sideways motion out. When I got past the behemoth of a rock, I saw Caddy pulling himself and his ship back together via his safety tether, still sailing straight ahead.
I'm good, but Caddy was flying at a whole different level. And after a couple more tricks like that one -- tricks I knew better than to try in my baggy suit with no prior experience -- I was almost convinced Caddy could do it. He was way ahead of me. Maybe he really could daisy chain from Altu 7 to Altu 5 in fifteen minutes.
Then Caddy made his mistake.
See, he underestimated how fast I could dodge those rocks, daisy chaining the old-fashioned, sitting-in-my-ship-the-whole-time way. So, he was still close enough for me to see him when he ducked off planet-bound.
We'd used up eleven and a half of our minutes. I'd already been proved a liar, and in another four and a half -- make that four -- minutes more, Caddy would be proved a liar too. Except, it looked like he didn't plan on being there to get laughed at.
Well, to Jupiter with that! If I was going to be humiliated, the one thing that might help me save face was making sure Caddy got humiliated more. I hung a hard right, heading planet-bound too.
Not far off of the beaten trail, Caddy slowed way down. He had his ship moving at a virtual crawl, and he started doing something strange. The asteroids were thicker here, and when the small rocks -- ones that wouldn't even knick your hull -- hit his ship, Caddy carefully stopped to knock them back into place. He was covering his trail. Caddy had something to hide.
Well, he was going to be surprised when his hiding place turned out to be not so hidden. I was all steeled to confront that boastful, cowardly frezzipod and drag him back to Altu 5 the long, slow way when
his ship vanished.
I was furious. Had I blacked out? I've been flying the belt since I was a tween, and I'd never blacked out before. How else could his ship be there one second and not the next? How long had I blacked out for? I looked down at the timer on the convertible's dash. Just over fourteen minutes. I was still puzzling over it when
my buddies all started cheering for me over the radio. "Come on! You can do it!" they cried, snapping me back to the here and now.
The 'now' was fourteen minutes and forty seconds. The 'here' -- I looked around, trying to orient myself -- the 'here' turned out to be about four daisies from Altu 5. So, I pushed that little ship into gear, and I loop de loop de loop de looped around those last four asteroids...
Arriving at Altu 5, according to the automated ship-register, just in time.
Just in time to tie Caddy.
Holy Helios! I'd just daisy chained from Altu 7 to Altu 5 in fifteen minutes flat! Except, of course, I hadn't actually daisy chained the whole way. Neither had Caddy.
I took my time parking the borrowed convertible and suiting down. By the time I joined Caddy in the ship port bar, there were only a few minutes until my buddies, who'd taken the long way here, would arrive.
I wasn't sure how this was going to play out, so I took the stool next to Caddy's and ordered a marzicran sherry from the Canilon bartender. Caddy looked at me appraisingly over his drink. At least, I assume that's what the look on his pineapple-rind face meant. I know I was trying to appraise him.
"My friend and I here," he said, clackingly to the Canilon, "just daisy chained all the way here from Altu 7 in fifteen minutes." Caddy turned his myriad eyes back to me fixing me with a level stare. "Flat."
"Is that so?" the Canilon asked, mixing my drink with his prehensile nose.
"Well..." I said, uncertainly, still trying to figure out the rules of the game we were playing. The Canilon shoved my finished drink toward me, looking skeptical. Caddy still had his eyes fixed on me, waiting to see what I would do.
If I called Caddy on cheating when he flew through that wormhole, he'd discredit me for not living up to my boast. For sure. I downed a big gulp of sherry and said, "Yeah, that's right. Fifteen minutes flat."
Caddy slapped me genially on the back with a crustaceous claw. At the same time, I heard my buddies approaching, raucously clamoring to hear about our race.
"You know," the Canilon said before they got to us, his lips curling to the side of his elephantine proboscis. "I can cut a cloverleaf around the Soris 'roids. Without stopping to refuel."
Now, that's clearly impossible.
Yet... No nose-handed Canilon ever cut a cloverleaf better than me. My buddies arrived just in time to hear me telling that elephant-face, "You think that's good? I can do it on half a tank!"