It takes one person to fly a Mamba. It takes two to race it.
I'd say that I'm flying stick and Ithallius is in the cope seat because I'm the better pilot and he's a bossy asshole who gets his kicks pointing out obvious shit. He'd disagree with me, but as this is my
fucking echolog, let's say I'm correct and move along.
We have been flying hard, clocking well over 10 hours a day for over three weeks now, rock hopping in the various bodies in this and nearby systems. This is all new to me: I did some dumb shit with the A-Team, but hugging uneven terrain while boosting forward in the fastest ship in production is, perhaps, the dumbest shit I've undertaken.
Plus I'm doing it fucking sober.
The reason it takes two of us to fly like this is simple: flying a Mamba that fast in gravity is a feat of concentration that I genuinely didn't think I was capable of. Your whole body has to connect with the ship; every twitch, every rock, every lurch requires immediate response otherwise, quite simply, you'll crash so fast you'll not even have time to know you're dying. I have no room in my mind for anything other than feet, hands and looking ahead: I am strapped into my seat so tightly I can feel the Mamba's tiniest movements in my lower back and ass.
So while I'm utterly focused on what's immediately ahead of me, I need someone else to have a slightly wider perspective: what's nearby; big changes in terrain ahead; systems performance; how the fuck I'm
doing - you don't recognise that you're about to succumb to G-blackout until someone else tells you you're slurring, and much of my torture is about getting my body used to those kinds of stresses. Ithallius is my live telemetry feed and, I have to admit, I admire his balls.
So we practise for hours and hours and hours
, giving me time to get a feel for the ship; so I get used to listening to his voice as well as paying constant attention to the ship; so I learn to feel the gravity, down force, physics of what I'm doing. It's a completely
different game to flying in space, and I find it at once frustrating and invigorating. I slowly find my intuition and instinct reaching out toward and then connecting with the vessel, then I find I am starting to read the landscape and anticipate how she will respond. But with each step forward, I feel my progress as a pilot slides backwards; as we increase the speed we're flying at, more challenges present themselves and my reactions times must get ever quicker if we are not to suffer catastrophe.
Two people. We get inside each other's minds quickly, and camp there for three weeks while we log almost 300 flight hours in this fucking ludicrous ship.
Of course, in Li Yong-Rui space, in Sirius
space, there is a "sirius" racing scene (GEDDIT?!), and there are local favourite hotspots where the best routes and their best times have been well-documented. Toward the end of the second week, we start measuring our performance against some of these local markers... and are outrageously disappointed. On some strips, we are a full minute off the pace - a fact that grates at both of us, but for different reasons.
So we work and fly and tinker and work and fly some more. We pull long hours and heavy, heavy G's, working my skill and the machine's capabilities until, finally, we are somewhat in the mix with the top 10 times posted for some of the most-heavily used planet racing routes. I never had a fraction of the instinctive understanding with the vulture that I already have with the mamba, and there is a visceral sense of connection, to the point that, some nights, I sleep under her smooth belly because it bothers me too much to be away from her.
"Good job, Socks," says Ithallius, on the 24th day of torture. We have just docked back in Ray and I am exhausted, sweaty and my pulse has yet to settle back into normal human range. I think he is being an asshole about some dumb mistake I made so I turn to scowl at him.
"Hey, fuck you, Man, I don't see you working the fucking stick-"
"No, really. Good job." His tone is even - perhaps there might be a tinge of pride in there, too?
"Oh," I'm surprised and don't quite know how to wind my irritation back. "Well, thanks, I guess."
"I think we're ready."
"To..?" I tug off my helmet and scrape my fingers through my shitty hair.
"To find a race."
"Fuck. I mean, okay. Sure."
"She needs a name, though."
"What you wanna call her?" I ask him, expecting some gay Fed shit. Maybe the name of some goddamned general or a famous vessel or whatever tomfuckery Ithallius is thinking about right now.
Instead he shrugs and nods to me. "You choose. She's more yours than mine."
I look at this man, this difficult, clever man who I have come to trust and even adore a little bit (FINE. FUCK YOU. A LOT) and wonder how I can pay tribute to him without coming off sticky and weird. "I can choose the paint job, too?"
"Sure," he says, in that tone he uses when he anticipates shenanigans. "Nothing too-" He pauses, knowing my gift for turning almost anything he says into a challenge, and then says, "Do what you want."
"Oh, I will," I reply with a nod and a wink.
He shakes his head and leaves the hangar, pausing in the doorway to call over his shoulder, "Get a shower - you stink."Fine, Fucko...
I whisper as I run my hand over the mamba's smooth exterior. I love
this ship, and possible names run through my mind as I finally tug myself away from her to find a shower, a meal and a bed.
I'm about to get into said bed when my coms beep in my ear again.
"Socks, get in here, will you?"
"Where is 'here', CMDR Ithallius?" I ask, somewhat annoyed. I look longingly at the bed for a moment - a proper thing with bedding and pillows that isn't a flip-down bunk chained to a cabin wall - and start to dress myself.
"it's a bar, 'The Racing Line' on level 9."
"I don't wanna get drunk," I murmur.
"As impressive as that is, that's not your mission."
"Then what is?" I pull on my jump suit and boots and start for the door.
"I found us a race."Oh
. Well. Okay.
Ten minutes later and I am walking into The Racing Line
and glancing about for Ithallius. The bar is an atrocity in neon - all fucking colour-changing LEDs and words written in bright pink and cyan light tubes. I hate it instantly and consciously engage my Get The Fuck Away From Me expression as I spot Ithallius and make my way toward him. The place is packed with people, all of them with stupid tattoos, garishly coloured jumpsuits and fucking dumb hair cuts and not one of them looks older than about 14.
"And here's my pilot," says Ithallius as I approach. He is sitting at a table with 2 pre-teens. They are dressed identically, even down to the same dumb, cool hair style and guy-liner.
?" laughs one, nudging the other with his elbow. I assume they're in that kind of bromance state where they're in some sort of dickless love thing. In the light, their teeth glow the same kind of white as an afterburner when the mix is too potent. It amuses me.
"She even awake, Bossman?" says the other one to Ithallius. I take a seat and eye him questioningly.
"She'll take you on, boys, don't worry about that."
"Aaaw, I don't like making girls cry," says the first one. Now I am closer I can see that one is white and the other is of some vaguely Asian descent. I also realise that they're trying to goad me, as if I am also a pre-teen.
"You on top of this?" I say to Ithallius, "You really need me here?"
"Patience, Socks," he replies. "I got this."
"Socks?" laughs Twin 1, "Your call-sign is Socks?"
"Yeah, what's your ship called? Bra?" snickers Twin 2. "Panties?" I feel this line of "humour" could go on a while, so I interrupt it quickly.
"TL; DR," I reply, dropping a data pad with her race spec on the table. The twins flick it around and slide it to between then on the table.
"TL; DR?" says Ithallius in my ear.
It suddenly blooms in my mind that it is, indeed, the perfect
name for a ship I must fly with him, and so smile, nod and say, "Yeah! Like it?"
"Not as awful as I was expecting," he replies, "Though I've not seen her paint job yet."
I'm about to slap him with an oh-so pithy rejoinder when The Twins peep up again.
"Aight. You got a ship. You got any game?"
"What the-" I say with a sigh, "I don't even understand what they're talking about."
"She's got it," says Ithallius, his hand on my forearm to gently interrupt me. "She'll take you on, give you a run for your money."
"Well, cool. Time and place, Star Bitches," says Twin 2, "Name it. Winner gets scrap."
Ithallius is prepared for the challenge and uploads some data to the Twins' coms. They beep, glance down, scan the info and nod at the same time. I am amused.
"Aight... It's a date. By the way, better know my name so you know who's gonna take your pretty ship, right?" Twin 2 rises to his feet and extends his closed fist. "I'm Qua-"
"I just don't care," i say, shaking my head. And then to Ithallius, "Can I go now?"
"Sure," he replies with a nod. I'm on my feet and walking away when he beeps in my ear again, "That was perfect. Good job."
So he wanted me tired, grouchy and unsociable. Fucker. I shake my head and stalk back to my quarters where I undress and climb immediately into bed.
I have a race in 9 hours.