Mac stepped forward as Jhad translated Saruthan’s words for the humans. He scanned the crowd and saw other Airoutans scattered around. Some looked like they might be reporters, there to cover the race with their tablets and some kind of device orbiting their heads. Potentially a camera drone? Mac wasn’t sure. Most of the Airoutans were dressed like Jhad in simple jumpsuits. Mac guessed these were translators for other species.
A few hours before the end of the race, aboard the Hissthashar ship Minturgi, Laethimorod gently chastised Saruthan for running the Slefsa warp drive so long without a break. “I know you’re the more experienced pilot, but I think it might be a good idea to give the drive a rest for a short while.”
“You what?!” Saruthan glared at his co-pilot. For some time, he had been regretting taking her a long.”
“I think that –“
“Yes. That. That’s your problem. You’re thinking when you should just be doing what I say.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’ve been reading the manuals and”
“He’s moving pretty fast.” Faye pointed out the tracking data they had on the Prideful Greed, highlighting it on the main screen. “Even if we pop out in front of him, he’ll just run right past us.”
“What if we built up some speed first?” Lewis muttered over his calculations.
“How? The ion engines can’t generate that kind of thrust.”
Mac watched his crew as they bounced ideas off each other.
“We could dip into the gravity well of that gas giant, swing around, into a wormhole.” Lewis looked up for a moment, then roughly plotted out the course on the viewer.
Forty-seven minutes. The Suclean pin point jump drive required forty-seven minutes to recharge before the ship could resume normal operation. By the time the Ghostly Leader started moving, Cartographer was already preparing for their penultimate wormhole traversal to the finish line.
“Where are they?!” Saruthan shouted at his copilot.
Laethimorod had no answer. She stuttered, repeating the official race announcers. “Some kind of portal opened up in front of them at the edge of the safe zone. Either they didn’t see it, or couldn’t steer away, but the human ship entered the portal and simply disappeared. It closed shortly afterward, before any rescue crews could investigate.”
When the countdown finished, all ships fired their engines simultaneously. Prideful Greed leaped to an early lead, followed closely by Kickdreamer. Cartographer’s ion engines proved the slowest of all the sub-light drives. As expected, Screaming Wolf and Fearful Killer stayed neck and neck as they left the starting line. Ghostly Leader managed to pull ahead slightly, moving in to third place, just ahead of the Mirthful Beast.
Mac watched the two Hissthashar as they calmly drank side by side at the bar again. He tried to see the differences between them, so he’d be able to recognize Motul from Gurol if he needed to. They were astonishingly similar. Mac’s brain was trained through generations of evolutionary selection to be able to recognize human faces, differentiating them by hair, or the way their eyes looked, or the angle of their nose. He remembered his time with Carlos and their apartment at Earth Orbital.
No one could agree on which of the two would take sixth place and which would take fifth place. In previous seasons the predictions that randomly chose were as accurate as the predictions that carefully considered and weighed all available data and computed statistical models of the outcomes. This season Motul was given slightly better odds of taking the 5th place finish. And Gurol was given the 6th place position.
The Oto-nel’ahiz was expected to finish fourth in this season’s race. Jhad explained that unlike the other ships, Oto-nel’ahiz was an interspecies ship, crewed by a Suclean/Kir symbiotic pair and an Airoutan. He translated the ship’s name as Ghostly Leader than Burns Fear, and assured the humans that the name has far less ominous connotations in the Suclean language.
The Tezzoz ship, Atsugir Kickdreamer, was one of the largest ships entered in this season’s race. Its captain, Sgozn, also served as the pilot. Her navigator, G’kuzed, was also the ship’s engineer. Like the Minturgi, Atsugir’s designers favored speed over combat prowess and chose not to include any weapons systems. The Tezzoz chose to field a gunship, Kria, in the last race, attempting to destroy the competition rather than outrace them, and nearly did not complete the course.