Jonathan led Tammy and Jaimie into the hoverbike arena, almost dancing with impatience as Tammy moved slowly. Tammy was infamous on the Beauteous Revenge as a late riser, and she had only reluctantly agreed to make it out to the distant race site by 10 AM. She clutched an oversize travel mug of coffee protectively and glared at Jonathan. “I’m sure we have plenty of time, especially after your mad drive out here.”
Jonathan was a tall and quiet man who tended to blend into his surroundings. All three pirates were dressed inconspicuously for the trip to the races, but Jonathan would never normally draw a second glance from an observer. He bounced on his feet impatiently, gesturing towards a line filtering into the arena with his eyes glittering. “Pfeaugh. That little scooter we rented couldn’t go fast if you dropped it from orbit and slid it down an mountain of ice.”
Tammy rolled her eyes as she drank her coffee. “Whatever, Speed Demon. I heard how the engine screamed. I’m on vacation remember, if you burn out the hypercoils you can take the bus for all I care.”
Jaimie weighed in on the debate by gently pushing Tammy in the small of her back. “Look we have plenty of time before the races but I want to get a good seat. I’m hoping to find some good betting today and that means we need to scout out the racers. That boy William was going to give us a good tip yesterday before you scared his mom with your round heels and raucous ways.”
Tammy smiled at the mention of William, forgetting her mock feud with Jonathan. “Maybe we can find him here. I got the impression he was going to be at the races today.”
Jonathan grinned and pointed at a large holotank above the line. “There is a William in the second race today. Wouldn’t it be funny if it turned out to be the same guy?” He looked at Tammy expectantly only to be pulled up short by her surprised expression.
“That sure would be funny. Turns out it’s true!” She jabbed at Jaimie’s shoulder and pointed at the holotank. “Look at that! Our little bartender turns out to have multiple talents.” She grinned at Jonathan. “I’m so glad I insisted we get here early!” She trotted forward to join in the end of the queue as Jonathan sputtered in outrage at Tammy’s reconstruction of recent history.
Jaimie laughed and shrugged at Jonathan as she followed Tammy into the line. “C’mon Jonathan, I’m buying admission today!” She wagged a finger at him with mock severity. “But it’s not a free ride, I expect you to find out which bike will be the fastest machine!”
It took about twenty minutes to get through the line, find some seats and verify they had time before the races. By unspoken agreement the trio went down to the pits where it was possible to check out the bikes and the racers.
The first race would be starting soon, but the first was the slower bikes, the class that Jonathan had dismissed as “kids with training wheels”. The serious betting was on the second race, the unlimited class races. It looked like a full card - twelve racers and five laps. The course was an intriguing mix of straightaways with some twists, a pair of nasty hairpins and even some dirt ramps that an adroit ‘biker could use to catch some air. Not really useful from a racing perspective, but certainly worth showmanship points from the crowd.
The first bike they saw sat open, its emerald cowling advertising a local fast food chain resting on the ground. Jonathan stopped dead in his tracks to examine the exposed machinery and Tammy bumped into him, as she had been making eyes at a passing racer and not watching her cohorts. She made a face at Jonathan’s suddenly unresponsive back as she stepped a pace away.
“Watch it buster!” Tammy spluttered but Jonathan nodded idly, clearly not processing her words.
Jaimie lay her hand gently on Tammy’s shoulder. “It’s all right. You know how he is around speed. We’ll get to see William before the race I promise.”
Jonathan nodded respectfully at the mechanic and pointed at a glowing coil of superconducting cable. “You run her like this? No safety interlocks on the gyros?”
The mechanic nodded gruffly at the pilot, suppressing a grin. “Oh aye. My ‘biker complains that the precession on the corner costs him too much speed otherwise. Keep an eye out for him on the hairpins. He’ll scrape the inside of the cowling, he lays my baby flat sideways as he goes around.
Tammy rolled her eyes and muttered something about “macho idiots” under her breath as Jonathan nodded at the mechanic.
“I can imagine. That’s going to be a sight! Aren’t you worried about stability on the moguls though? A wrong move and it’s going to happily plow a field for you, right there in the middle of the track.”
“Aye.” The mechanic shrugged. “He’s good and it’s the way he wants the bike. I wouldn’t drive it this way, but he hasn’t wrecked it yet. Number Thirty-Six - you’ll see him in the winner’s circle here soon.” He gestured with a large wrench at the idling engine. “I’d best get back to it or this bike won’t be going anywhere.”
Jonathan nodded again. “Thank you for your time. And good luck to number Thirty-Six!”
As they walked around Jaimie closed the gap to talk with Jonathan discreetly. “So what do you think? Thirty-Six a contender?”
Jonathan shook his head minutely. “Good mechanic, but the driver’s an idiot. The safety interlocks don’t cost any speed unless you’re riding way too close to the redline. One day he’ll be a hair slow to react and . . . well he’ll have a closed casket, let’s just say that.”
Tammy suddenly let out a squeal more appropriate for a twelve year old girl than a Chief Engineer, and clapped her hands together with delight. Jonathan stared at her, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion as Jaimie smiled wryly. “I take it you’ve never seen Tammy on the prowl before. There are shore leaves where I can’t sell a thing to my fans, but Tammy? Tammy leads the dream life of every middle-aged housewife when I let her out of the engine room.” Jaimie pointed across the narrow pit area to a gleaming crimson hoverbike ,where William leaned against the saddle and animatedly spoke to a mechanic. “That there is young William. Memorize him looking nonchalant quickly, because our girl is about to tie his tongue in knots.”
William wore skintight racing silks. The archaic name did a poor job of describing the garment, which was created from synthetic low-drag fabrics and shimmered in the hot service lights of the pit. In the bar William had looked awkward and uncomfortable. It was obvious to Jaimie that the boy lived for the races. She folded her arms and watched Tammy approach William. William broke off his conversation and visibly swallowed when he saw Tammy. Jaimie was about to speak further to Jonathan when a tall man bumped into her and continued walking without even breaking stride.
Jaimie brushed her arms with annoyance and glared at the man. He continued to mutter into his phone, seemingly not even aware that he had collided with another person. Jonathan opened his mouth but Jaimie held up her hand wordlessly and began to follow the man, staying a few scant paces behind. The man took a furtive glance at William and nodded once before veering to the outside, brushing against a pretzel vendor on his way out.
Jonathan stood with his mouth hanging open as
he watched his Captain stalk off, clearly intent on eavesdropping on the rude man in the dusty black leathers. He turned back to Tammy, only be even more dumbfounded as she giggled like a schoolgirl and reached inside her low-cut blouse to withdraw a baby-blue filmy scarf. She tied the scarf around William’s neck like a kerchief, talking animatedly the entire time. William simply watched Tammy’s motions like a man entranced, not even trying to match the flow of her chatter.
Jonathan waited idly at the edge of William’s service area, throughly ignored by everyone. Tammy finished her flirtation with a final trilling laugh and a kiss on William’s hotly blushing cheek. She waved a farewall at the racer and slipped her arm inside Jonathan’s when she approached. “Come on Jonathan, I want to place a bet on my young suitor.” She frowned briefly as she realized Jaimie was nowhere to be found. “Where did Jaimie go?”
It was another ten minutes before Tammy found out where Jaimie had gone. Tammy and Jonathan had gone to place their bets and returned to their seats before her phone beeped. She pulled it from her waist and looked at the screen for a moment before frowning and shoving it at Jonathan.
“Found a problem. Put a thousand on young William for me. Will be back later - J.” was on the screen. Jonathan looked back at Tammy and shrugged. “I guess we’d better go make another bet.”
Jaimie in the meantime had begun stalking the man in the black leathers as soon as she overheard a fragment of his discussion. All she had heard was “the boy in red? That’s my target?” but it was enough for her to make a snap decision and begin to tail him. As she concentrated she made out a few more fragments “. . . Lap three . . . If winning . . . A clean shot”, but she heard enough to know the situation. This man was an assassin, hired to kill William if he was winning the race! She assumed this was ludicrous as any such murder would certainly invalidate the bets, but perhaps the motive was one of humiliation and revenge, not one of financial gain. In the press of the crowd it was easy for her to follow the assassin as he left the pit and headed towards the arena exit. She clucked her tongue in exasperation as she studied the man. Captain Arcolier made her living from impressions and theater. Some days she made more from the piracy and some days she made more from the real-life theater of piracy, and as such a professional she was almost offended by the stereotypical garb of the hireling.
“I mean . . . Really? Black leathers all around? Couldn’t find a sandwich board that said “Assassin for hire” to wear?” Jaimie muttered to herself. “It’s bloody ridiculous, that’s what it is.”
The hireling paused to purchase a sausage from a passing vendor and Jaimie took advantage of the time to send a quick message to Tammy. She also bought a ridiculous large floppy foam sombrero from another vendor, which she quickly donned to cover her face in deep shadow. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but it was the best she could arrange on short notice. She frowned as she realized the sniper was leaving the arena proper. Following him through the crush of the crowd was easy, especially since his black leathers stood out against the crowd of brightly-dressed racing fans. Outside the arena the crowd would be lighter and mostly moving opposite Jaimie and her target.
The man proved exceptionally easy to tail however, single-mindedly heading back to a small vehicle without ever seeming to check for observers. He pulled a long guitar case from the back seat of the vehicle and Jaimie had to work to suppress her snort of derision at the the obviousness of the case. “Who brings a guitar to hoverbike races anyway?” she muttered, half to herself and half to the omnipresent hoverdrone recording her motions.
“Where is she?” Tammy asked plaintively. “She’s going to miss the main race!” Tammy gestured down below where the bikes were already assembled in the starting pattern. It would only be a few more minutes before the drivers were announced and the race began. Jonathan shrugged helplessly at Tammy’s question and scanned the racetrack with a pair of binoculars.
The arena speakers crackled to life as the announcers called out the first driver who entered the track from a side door, grinning broadly and waving to the crowd. It was only a few more moments before all twelve racers were standing next to their bikes. Tammy screamed and blew a kiss as William was announced and he walked out to stand by his bike. He still wore her blue scarf like a kerchief. She clutched coquettishly at Jonathan’s arm and pointed at the scarf. “See! He’s wearing it!”
Jonathan snorted and gently disengaged his arm from Tammy’s grasp. “Of course he is. You’ve totally overpowered the boy.” He gestured at Tammy’s blouse sarcastically. “Don’t you think you brought cannons to a sparrow hunt here?”
Tammy smiled and crossed her arms under her breasts, pushing them upwards. “Why Jonathan! People might think you are jealous!”
Jonathan was about to retort but then the starting pistol fired and the race began. His focus instantly transferred to the track and the racers. Tammy frowned for a moment before turning herself to find William on the track and cheering her racer on.
Jaimie had a nervous moment when the man in black ran a security card through a reader and opened the door clearly marked “Staff Only”. He slunk inside and crept up the service stairwell. She paused and then decided if he hadn’t checked by now that he wasn’t likely to worry about observers. She found it amazing that he would be that arrogant, everything about his dress and attitude screaming “hired killer”, but she was willing to take whatever minor bonuses Fate saw fit to grant her. She darted forward and just caught the door with her fingertips. She waited for an agonizing moment, holding the door open in full view of anyone who might happen along before she dared to pull it open again. Cheers from the arena told her that the main race had begun as she slipped inside the stairwell and pushed the door closed with a soft “click”.
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