Hadiyah ripped her helmet off.
“You cheating, lightless piece of vacuum! You know damn well you didn’t win.”
Tumo laughed a disingenuous laugh.
“And yet, here I sit, while your flotsam of a garbage scow gets towed into port for repairs.”
Hadiyah marched over and glared up at him, fury in her eyes like a second stage ignition. She only came up to his sternum, but she poked him in the chest to accentuate her words.
“I’m twice the pilot you are, and you know it. I was at least two AUs ahead of you and that hulking monster you call a ship —”
“And in the end the Testudinidae docked first, which is all that matters,” finished Tumo. “I don’t remember anything about awarding points based on jumping out to a big lead. Besides, are you really surprised that cobbled together remnant broke down? You must have pushed her too hard.”
Hadiyah thought about the Jackrabbit, glittering in the reflection from Beta Leporis, every surface polished and gleaming silver. Cobbled together, sure. But Hadiyah knew every inch of her, had welded and polished, and checked every seal herself. The Jackrabbit was tight and sleek, small but nimble, and so perfectly tuned to Hadiyah that they moved like a single unit. Where others saw strange protrusions or the marriage of different designs, Hadiyah saw only utility and functionality.
The Testudinidae was Tumo’s in name only. The big harvester was actually owned by Tumo’s father’s mining company. Tumo was a proficient pilot, but the Testudinidae was made to mow through asteroid fields; piloting it took as much skill as making toast.
She had outmanoeuvred the Testudinidae easily, settling in for an easy win, when the Jackrabbit’s engines had suddenly and mysteriously shut down. She was forced to sit and watch impotently as Tumo’s huge ship trundled by on its way to victory.
“Don’t tell me how hard to push my ship. You did something to her. I know it. You cheated.”
Tumo smiled a slow smile.
“What’s the matter, did I not play fair? I simply played the player, not the course. I don’t remember you complaining about fairness when you took the bet, even though you knew very well your Franken-junker was faster than the Testudinidae any day of the week. You thought it’d be easy money.”
Hadiyah brushed this away. “Idiots who make stupid bets deserve to be fleeced.”
“Exactly,” said Tumo. “Now, I believe you owe me a billion and a half. Pay up or I’ll junk your scow for salvage.”
Hadiyah fumed silently for a minute. She didn’t have the credits, and he knew it. Another injustice, since if he’d lost, his father would have paid the debt for him.
“Double or nothing,” she said finally.
“Ha! Why would I bet again? I’ve already won, and you can’t pay what you owe me now, much less double.”
“Not a race this time,” said Hadiyah desperately. “A mining operation. Who can bring in the most materials.”
Tumo snorted. Hadiyah crossed her arms.
“You’re serious? You wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“What’s the matter, afraid I’ll beat you at your own game?”
Tumo frowned suspiciously at her.
“Idiots who make stupid bets deserve to be fleeced,” coaxed Hadiyah.
“Fine,” snapped Tumo. “Might as well start getting used to mining work. My father will have you working your three billion off for the rest of your life.”
Hadiyah slapped the display in frustration.
The Testudinidae opened its jaw-like cargo scoop and swam through the asteroid field yet again, swallowing enormous mouthfuls of rock.
The Jackrabbit, many times smaller, was forced to dance on the edge of the field, teasing out asteroids and pulling them back to the docks with her mag-tow. She was fast, but the extra trips took too long. She was falling steadily behind.
“Think, think,” Hadiyah muttered to herself. “Play smarter, use your advantages.”
She floated in the field, making minor corrections to avoid collisions while her sensors did their work.
She adjusted her search parameters, screening out c-type asteroids, focusing on the s-types. Every trip had to count.
Hadiyah vented gas, manoeuvring between rocks, her nav-computer calculating trajectories. She adjusted her position to avoid a collision with a helmet-sized chunk. Any collision, no matter how slight, could be fatal.
She fired fore and aft correction jets and spun, flicking on the mag-tow and latching onto the kilometre-wide rock.
It was much harder to manoeuvre with the asteroid in place, but she carefully positioned it between her and the main body of the asteroid field, to prevent errant strikes. Meanwhile, the computer gave her a continuous readout: platinum, titanium, iridium; perfect.
Hadiyah opened up a comm.
“I’m catching up, Tumo. I think I’m getting the hang of mining.”
“A couple of lucky strikes. Slow and steady’s the way to go; there’s no such thing as good odds out here.”
Just then, Hadiyah’s sensors pinged. There it was, less than three thousand kilometres away, an m-type. So big and full of iron-nickel, the Jackrabbit would hardly be able to pull it.
Tumo’s sensors had it too.
“Got to go,” said Hadiyah. “Time to beat the odds.” She cut the comm.
The asteroid was much closer to the Testudinidae, and Tumo was turning its ponderous bulk toward the rock. Hadiyah cut her mag-tow, releasing the puny thing she had attached, and took the most direct route she could get.
She cut the buffers as close as she dared, leaving only the barest margins as she vectored around c-types and even a few s-types. And every minute that ticked by brought the Testudinidae closer and closer to the prize.
Hadiyah cut her tolerances closer still, sweating in the close cabin. She couldn’t afford any mistakes; a twitch on the controls or a missed calculation, and Tumo would win at best. She didn’t like to think about the ‘at worst.’ She was cutting it too close.
She nearly clipped the edge of another asteroid and the computer recomputed trajectories. It now showed her reaching the asteroid first.
Hadiyah gave a whoop of victory. She reached out to thumb open a comm with which to gloat.
Tumo couldn’t win now, but the Testudinidae came on anyway, as inexorable as an avalanche. The cargo scoop began to open.
The comm pinged.
“Better abort,” said Tumo. “You might get there first, but not with enough time to get out of my way.”
“Back off, Tumo. I’m winning this one, fair and square.”
“I’m taking the asteroid,” said Tumo coldly, “and if you don’t get out of the way, the Jackrabbit will just be another lump of metal in my cargo hold.”
He cut the comm.
Hadiyah couldn’t believe it. She was going to get there first; the asteroid was hers.
She maintained her course, sure Tumo was bluffing, but he didn’t abort either. The ships drew closer and closer.
As the computer predicted, Hadiyah arrived first. She spun to lock the mag-tow, and the Testudinidae was on her, bearing down with its cargo-maw wide.
Tumo wasn’t stopping. Surely he would stop? She only had a moment to decide what to do.
Hadiyah wasn’t flinching. Tumo would abort, she knew he would.
Her mag-tow locked onto the asteroid.
The Testudinidae blotted out the light from Beta Leporis, the darkness swallowing her like an event horizon.
Tumo pinged comms furiously, in disbelief that she wasn’t aborting. His pings went unanswered.
Hadiyah’s hands flew over the control pad, cutting any non-essentials. The giant asteroid was dead weight, holding her back, drawing her further into the Testudinidae.
Lights began flashing on the dash as the Jackrabbit struggled to accelerate the rock, straining against inertia. She should drop the mag-tow before it was too late.
“Come on, my beautiful baby,” she crooned to the ship. “Just a little bit more, then you can rest.”
The cargo doors of the Testudinidae began to close in front of her. If they closed, she would be trapped in the hold.
Alarms pinged. Hadiyah ignored them, just as she ignored the sweat running down her temple. She knew the Jackrabbit. She knew her buffers, knew how far to push. She knew her ship had just a little more …
Slowly, oh so slowly, the Jackrabbit began to accelerate, pulling the asteroid behind. The doors were closing, but not quick enough; they couldn’t catch her.
With the speed of a turtle, the Jackrabbit emerged from the jaws of the Testudinidae, gaining more and more distance as her momentum increased.
This time, there were no tricks; the Jackrabbit would win the bet, fair and square.
Hadiyah wondered if Tumo could hear her laughing, even without an open comm.