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Igms issue 28, p.1

IGMS Issue 28, page 1

 

IGMS Issue 28
 


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IGMS Issue 28


  Issue 28 - May 2012

  http://www.InterGalacticMedicineShow.com

  Copyright © 2012 Hatrack River Enterprises

  Table of Contents - Issue 28 - May 2012

  * * *

  The Curse of Sally Tincakes

  by Brad Torgersen

  Blank Faces

  by M.K. Hutchins

  The Snake King Sells Out

  by Rahul Kanakia

  Paper Airplanes Into the Void

  by Terra LeMay

  Master Madrigal's Mechanical Man

  by Scott C. Mikula

  Calling the Train

  by Jeff Stehman

  InterGalactic Interview With Shawna McCarthy

  by Darrell Schweitzer

  Letter From The Editor

  by Edmund R. Schubert

  The Curse of Sally Tincakes

  by Brad Torgersen

  Artwork by Nick Greenwood

  * * *

  She was brunette, with dark eyes, 100 meters high, and stacked like a pin-up model. The red thermal paint of her bikini had begun to flake after decades spent broiling in the lunar sunlight, but her smile never wavered. Both arms stretched above her head into the black sky. The empty first-stage of an ancient Tokawa moon booster rocket sat balanced across her palms. The cylinder of the booster was parallel to the roughly-graded regolith at the statue's base, where the statue's silvered platform heels sent anchor spikes deep into the lunar basalt below the surface. Across the cylinder the words CAZETTI RACEWAY were emblazoned in massive, royal blue lettering.

  Jane Jeffords grinned at the sight.

  It had taken years of effort to make it to the top.

  Though her eager mood was not shared by her driver.

  "What's wrong?" Jane asked Bill. The old man was frowning as he slowly navigated their suborbital moon car over the lumpy, gray infield - patiently waiting for traffic control to clear them for landing. A cloud of other cars, all belonging to competitors, had begun to swarm in the airless space above the track.

  "You racing here is a bad idea," Bill said. "Sally Tincakes is watching."

  "Who?"

  "The giant broad down there. Sally Tincakes. That's what we used to call her, two generations ago; when I was still a racer."

  Bill's liver-spotted hands smoothly worked the car's controls as he talked. Age had taken his hair and his looks, but not his surety with machines. The car moved with precision.

  Jane shook her head, bemused.

  "How in the heck did you come up with that ridiculous name?"

  "The real Sally - Mrs. Frank Cazetti - was the darling of the racing circuit when I was your age. Her billionaire husband made a show of her everywhere he went. Liked to rub it in other guys' faces - how hot she was."

  "To the point of making a huge effigy?" Jane said, eyebrow raised.

  "That was strictly for publicity," Bill said.

  "Why not just put up an LCD billboard?"

  "Any idiot can stare at a screen. Sally down there was an experiment in throwback marketing. Something special. From a time when there just weren't that many women on the moon."

  Jane felt her stomach shift as the car suddenly dropped, the lunar gravity tugging them gently towards the ground. The race track itself was a wide, shallow, concave half-pipe. It formed an irregular pattern of long straightaways, occasionally punctuated by a series of wicked-looking twists -- like an outsized Earth bobsled course. On steroids.

  Jane imagined herself hurtling along the route. Goose bumps momentarily formed. This was it. This was the big time. Cazetti was the toughest track on the lunar racing circuit. If a lady wanted to make a name for herself, this was the place to do it. The most publicity -- and the sweetest purse, too.

  The mere thought of it was like rocket fuel in Jane's veins.

  She'd come a long way from her delinquent years as a foster kid, bouncing from settlement to settlement in the asteroids. She could still hear her last foster mother screaming at her, as Jane's few belongings were thrown out the door of the crummy family module on Ceres: no wonder your real parents never came back for you, you'll never amount to anything, do you hear me? Nothing!

  If old Bill noticed her momentary reverie, he didn't show it. His eyes were fixed on the instruments -- fingers making subtle attitude adjustments, and their car falling toward its assigned parking spot. Jane could make out the domed bleachers that ran along the inside of the track, and the various pit assemblies which lay just inside the bleachers.

  One of these pit assemblies had an empty stall that beckoned with flashing yellow lights.

  Bill guided them in by instinct more than sight -- Jane barely felt it when the landing struts finally touched down.

  Even though he was ancient, Jane had to admit, Bill still had the right touch. She just hoped that, as crew boss, he'd be the man to help her take the Armstrong Cup. She'd spent a lot of money bringing him out of retirement -- at the grudging suggestion of her old crew boss Mike Lomba, who'd quit the circuit and gone back to Earth.

  "Let's hurry," Jane said. "I'm ready to give the new Falcon a whirl."

  Bill reluctantly took off his headset and pressed the button for the revolving dome lid, which began sliding up from one side of the parking stall.

  "You think that'll make a difference?" he said.

  "I spent almost as much money on that bike as I did on you. It better be money well spent."

  Bill stared at her, and a shuddering in the car's frame told them the stall was being pressurized.

  "First rule I always tell my drivers, it ain't the crate, it's the ass sitting in the crate that matters most."

  "You come up with that one yourself?"

  "Nope. Richthofen."

  "Who?"

  "Baron von," Bill said.

  Jane just shrugged her shoulders.

  "Lord, Jay-Jay, don't you read history?"

  "Unless it helps me win, it's a waste of my time."

  Bill sighed, never taking his eyes off her.

  "Mike told me you were the most single-minded, ferociously competitive driver he ever worked with. That you don't back down and you don't take no for an answer."

  "Mike was right," Jane said firmly.

  "Would it matter to you if I told you the real reason Mike quit?"

  "He said his mother was ill and he had to go home."

  "Mike's mother's been dead for ten years."

  Now it was Jane who stared.

  "Mike didn't have the heart to see you come here and get killed."

  "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Jane said, voice raised.

  Bill didn't answer right away. He simply sighed again.

  "You really don't read your history, do you?"

  "Like I said --"

  "I heard what you said," Bill snapped, cutting her off. "Everything you've done up to this point -- every track you've ever won on -- was practice. Cazetti is the real deal. Time for you to finish your edumacation."

  Jane was doing 200 kilometers per hour. A breezy trial pace. The Falcon hummed reassuringly through the fabric on the insides of her knees -- her legs gripping the machine tightly. The repulsors on the machine's underside kept a comfortable distance between the machine's lower hull, and the hurtling surface of the track.

  Speed was freedom. Jane had been going full-throttle her entire life. In more ways than one.

  None of her foster homes had liked her for that reason, nor she them.

  A bad fit. That's what the social workers had called her. Couldn't hold her mouth, nor her temper, and the harder some of those families had cracked down, the more energy Jane had put into defying their rules. Until, at last, she'd been put out on her rear. And thank goodness for that.

  If she'd once harbored dreams of Mom and Dad -- the real Mom and Da
d -- returning from deep space to rescue her, Jane had learned that there would be no rescuing in this universe, except the kind she made for herself.

  The Falcon was proving to be a delight.

  Sally Tincakes approached on Jane's left -- a looming comedy from the days when men alone had ruled the moon.

  "How's it feel for yah?" Bill's voice said in Jane's helmet.

  "Liquid," Jane said, smiling.

  "Happy so far?"

  "So far," she said.

  Sally came up fast, and then was gone to Jane's rear. She glanced once over her shoulder, watching the old racing icon begin to shrink in the distance. She snickered quietly.

  "What's so funny?" asked Bill.

  "You really think that stupid thing's killed five people?"

  "All I know is when Frank's wife caught wind of the fact that Frank had been sleeping around with one of the few female drivers then on the circuit, there was hell to pay. Big press conference. Sally threw her ring in Frank's face and said the offending driver would never win a series on Frank's track as long as Sally had something to say about it. Then she divorced him and went to Mars."

  "And that's it?" Jane said.

  "No," said Bill's voice, crackling. The way he'd said it told Jane the other shoe was about to drop.

  "Two weeks after the divorce, Frank's girlfriend had a bad spin-out on this track and augured in at 400 KPH. No chance of survival. Not at those speeds. Three years later, the woman's sister came up in the ranks and she raced here too. Explosive engine failure at 375. They were picking up the pieces for days."

  "Bad luck," Jane said, hunching down on her machine as she took it through a series of challenging turns, the gee pulling ferociously at her while she dug her toes into the boot clips and hung on to the control bars with clawed hands. A driver didn't sit in the Falcon so much as on top of it.

  "Bad luck my ass," Bill said. "Six years after that, another woman came up in the standings, and she died here too. Collision with two other bikes. Ten years after that, same thing. A dozen years later, and the very next woman --"

  "I know about her," Jane said, pulling out onto a significant straightaway. The throttle on the Falcon glided, pushing Jane up for an extended speed run just prior to the next set of tight turns. "Ellen McTaggert was a legend on the junior tracks. Youngest woman to ever win the Imbrium and Crisium Cups in the same year. She'd have taken the big one if she hadn't been killed."

  "Did you know that she died here?"

  "No," Jane admitted.

  "They don't like to advertise this stuff because it's bad for the track and it's bad for the senior circuit overall. But I'm telling you, Jay-Jay, this track is death on women drivers. And old Sally's got something to do with it."

  "I thought you said the original Sally went to Mars?"

  "Went, and never arrived. To this day nobody knows what happened to her, or the clipper ship she was on."

  Jane felt a sudden chill run down her spine. Her parents had vanished in a similar fashion. It was supposed to have been a short trip. Asteroid to asteroid. Their ferry had simply disappeared. A rare but not unheard of event in deep space. Hazard of the business, she'd once heard a veteran astronaut quip.

  Which didn't make Jane feel any better. Even now.

  "So Sally disappears," Jane said into her suit's helmet-mic. "What's left in it for Frank?"

  "He kept the statue up because it was too much of a crowd-pleaser. Frank and the other track co-owners didn't dare take it down. Then, after the third female death on this course, none of us on the circuit thought it was a coincidence or simple bad luck. Not any more."

  "Nonsense," Jane said. But she still felt a chill.

  Time to burn it off.

  She approached a new set of turns with eagerness, slewing the Falcon with a hip-shake, thentapping her reaction control thrusters to fix her angle. Instead of spinning like a paddle on an air hockey table, Jane's bike stayed nose-down as it went up the banked length of the turn. She was dead-on for the next turn, slewed again, then came out of it and hammered the accelerator with her thumb.

  "You ever wonder why we've never had a woman win the Armstrong?" Bill asked as Jane rocketed past an empty set of bleachers.

  "They weren't good enough," Jane said.

  "Like hell. They were all smart enough to decline an invitation."

  "If this is your idea of a pep talk, you're doing a horrible job. Why did you even agree to be my crew boss if you think this is such a lousy idea?"

  "Because when Mike told me what your goal was, to win the Armstrong Cup at all costs, I knew I had to try and keep another talented young woman from making the same mistake as Ellen."

  "What's it to you?" Jane said. "Fewer women on the top course in the circuit means less competition for the cash and prestige. And it's not like men don't die here as well."

  "They do, but not at 100% failure rate. And Ellen wasn't just another racer. Ellen was special."

  "A girlfriend?" Jane said, her voice raising just enough to serve as a verbal poke at the curmudgeonly crew boss.

  "Worse," Bill said. "She was my daughter."

  The raceway ready room was empty, save for the one racer and the one crew boss.

  Jane's undersuit was darkly damp at the arm pits and around her neck. She stared into empty air as old Bill stood near her. Occasionally another racer wandered past, taking note of the fact that Jane was a woman, then averting his eyes when it became clear that the old man and the lady weren't exactly up for company.

  "You should have told me," Jane said sternly.

  "I just did," Bill replied.

  "If you're going to be my crew boss, I need you with your head in the game, not whispering in my ear all the time about how I need to quit. I'm sorry about what happened to Ellen. I really am. But if I'd known it was your own flesh and blood that died here --"

  "Almost nobody knows she was my child, because she chose to keep her mother's name. Adara and I weren't the most copacetic couple God ever saw fit to put together. Ellen was probably the best thing we ever did. She lived with her mother until she was 18, then when she left Earth, she came up here to spend time with me. One look at the racing scene, and she was hooked."

  "And you didn't warn her about the curse?"

  "She knew the truth. About all of it. But she was so good. A natural. It was impossible not to encourage her. Then, when she started sweeping the juniors, I got my hopes up. That maybe, just maybe, she'd be the one to do it. To pull it off."

  The pain and sorrow in Bill's heart brimmed at the edges of his eyelids. Jane looked up at him, not blinking, trying to decide if she should take his advice, or send him packing.

  "It wasn't your fault," Jane finally said.

  "Like hell it wasn't," Bill replied. "Mike can tell you, I tried pulling crew boss stints with different drivers, but my heart was never in it. Not after what happened to my girl. It would have been better if she'd stayed on Earth and gone into chemistry like her mother wanted. But no, she had to come play Mario Moon-Rock Andretti with her daddy. Adara never forgave me."

  Bill turned away, wetness on his cheeks.

  Jane had to admit, if this was all Mike Lomba's way of trying to convince her to avoid tackling the Armstrong Cup, it was a heck of a good try. Her resolve to come to Cazetti -- to take the big purse, and hold the big trophy over her head -- was slowly softening. A few more days with Bill talking and acting like this, and he might actually start to sway her.

  Then she remembered how hard she'd worked. To come from nothing, and get all this way.

  Seventeen years old, kicked out of the house; nowhere to go but up.

  Other girls might have hung out the proverbial shingle. It would have been easy. Life in the colonies wasn't like life on Earth -- choked by so many laws and rules, a person couldn't turn around without getting fined. No. Life in space was free -- or about as free as could be managed, within the limits of necessity.

  There were still far more men knocking around the solar sys
tem than women, but a girl with a body and a business mind could make quite a bit of money if she liked. Jane hadn't ever been interested in putting on heels and going to work. At least, not that kind of work.

  Having stowed away on a freighter bound for Earth's Moon, she got a job as a custodial chump at one of the junior-circuit tracks. Cleaning up tables and chairs in the track's miniscule food court. It hadn't paid much, but it had provided the first real independence Jane had ever had. And at night, stuffed into the boxy confines of her rent-by-the-day migrant housing dorm room, she'd dreamed up her plan.

  When she wasn't working she hung around the racers' lounge. Nobody at that level was particularly famous, nor wealthy. They weren't much older than Jane. Which made it both easier -- and harder -- to fit in. All of them hoping desperately for a chance to level up: to graduate to the seniors.

  Most never made it. Turnover was common. Guys either quit, or moved on.

  Eventually Jane convinced one of them to show her the ropes, which led in turn to her being signed as a backup driver.

  Her ability -- once unleashed -- spoke for itself.

  Now, ten years later, Jane ran her own outfit. A one-woman show. Just as she'd always wanted, ever since the first time she'd stood in that crappy little food court on the junior circuit, a wet table rag forgotten in one hand -- her eyes watching rapt through the single-pane, curved window as the racers flew around the track, the movement of men and speeding machinery blending to form a thing of unique and intoxicating beauty.

  If Mom and Dad could see her now -- wherever they were, if anywhere at all -- she hoped they were pleased. Jane was on the brink.

  Just a few more races to go . . .

  Jane stood up, flicking a towel around the back of her neck.

  "Enough," she said. "Mike swears you're the best at what you do, and Mike is the kind of guy I trust to know what he's talking about. But I don't want to hear any more of this crap about curses and death and how I need to quit. Okay? If you can't do that, then I'd better hire myself a new man. Because I'm racing on this track, and I am winning that trophy. Got it?"

 
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