Marble

To make a slow car go fast.

Engine six has been burning too much fuel for weeks now. All the techs at Io Station can’t wrap their heads around it — at least for the 48-hour maximum increments that she’s allowed to dock. Then it’s back to the storm. Sit-you-down, heavy-hitting accelerations and blasts that turn the cockpit into a sweatbox.

This rotation it’s sjavitte, spitting. Over ten targets in a square mile, staggered formation, starting loose and coiling tighter in their own gravity. Asteroids, this round with barnacles melted into cement from the mining demolitions that resisted over 8,000 pounds of force per square inch. Dust garbled into some fucked-up homunculus churning toward whatever in the atmosphere has the greatest density like a drunk man seeking the heat of a fight.

The marble she pilots doesn’t have target-lock. In the vastness of space, target-lock worked fine on the rest of those rocks with their predictable trajectory and composition. But for the asteroids she shot from the upper atmosphere of the base — offshoots from a mining operation — only a human touch would do. Two fingers kissed to the roof interior and she was off like a slingshot, dragged in by heat-whorls and plasma eddies and kicking the eleven engines in quick succession, burning off drag in a whisper, leaning into the roar of combustion.

Steering a marble called Rip-A-Hole-In-The-World.

“Wordy,” the commissions attendant had commented to her without looking up to catch her eye, when she was first assigned. “And a little ominous. But it’s your marble.”

“Beats Icarus,” she responded, referencing the trending name of three of the six ships christened before hers.

“Can’t beat luck.”

Except luck could beat you. Two of the three Icarus marbles that launched before her met their oblivion in a hailstorm, a gahaz. A scree of fast and vengeful materials. Marbles used plasma fuel for their precise movements, still, and for liquefying anything that might have been left by the collision, but if you were well and truly fucked, the core would neutralize you. A fusion reactor nestled in the marble’s center — something that would blast inward rather than outward. A cloud so thick it bore down on itself, a neutron star they called ‘stable’. Though the housing had a 30-inch radius the core itself was small, barely bigger than a pill — she once joked that if she ate it, maybe it would fix her brain. (“You signed up to be a human bullet. Kid, there’s no fixing you.”) Trickling out neutrinos like bait to draw in the asteroids.

Outside, it kept spitting. She howled as the flash of destruction passed her monitor, using the power from the impact to adjust her pitch toward the next target. But that fucking engine six, again — her fuel input didn’t correct her fast enough, and she missed. She eyed the new line that her gravity had torn into its path.

Gardenblade, you’ve got an incoming. It caught some of my wave. New trajectory incoming.”

“I see her but I can’t catch her, Ripper. Give me two seconds, I’ll knock her back to you.”

Storms like this one only lasted a few minutes. Gardenblade made a smooth slingshot, whipping around a larger rock that was in turn nudged into the next patrolled quadrant. Blasted through five-rocks in a clean hypotenuse and clipped the edges of Ripper’s bogey. Closer to the atmosphere. Now a primary target.

The math whispers to you, one of her old friends had said once. It’s the only thing in the world that speaks the language of your death. You learn its dialect and you won’t want to cheat it anymore.

Her head was whirring with calculations so thick she didn’t have time to celebrate her next blasts. She could catch the bogey — burn quick and loop around the base with only a few adjustments — but then she’d skim too-fast past the next fourteen already gleaming in her sights. With the bogey bound for entry, her choice was clear. She activated the comm to the other ship in her quadrant with an infinitesimal nudge of her vision.

Hephaestus, I’m on a hot circle to catch this incoming. You got the rest?”

A half-pause. “Ripper, I don’t have ‘em.”

She was already cutting in for the turn. “You’ll have to ride my circle. Adjust 116. Twelve degrees.”

“Slow car fast,” Hephaestus’s pilot muttered.

She grinned. Death murmuring its algebraic blaze. “Slow car fast.”

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non-binary non-monogamist, anti-capitalist, speculative epistolary, native midwesterner, critical philosopher, ball of energy, jerk

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Lev Pouliot

Lev Pouliot

non-binary non-monogamist, anti-capitalist, speculative epistolary, native midwesterner, critical philosopher, ball of energy, jerk

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