Photo by Daniele Colucci on Unsplash

The New Moscow Steeplechase

This story was created as an exercise after listening to a lecture by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Grigor rubbed gritty Martian dust from his eyes for the millionth time. After thirty years of racing the camel-like, biologically-enhanced proto-bipeds on the red planet’s surface, you’d think he’d have cured himself of that habit by now. But habits die hard, even when you’ve been retired for five years. Now his damn fool of a sister had bought this stud ‘ped on layaway, and if he didn’t help her out by winning this year’s New Moscow Steeplechase for her, she’d lose their parents’ ranch.

He and the ‘ped – named Gigi by his niece, Penny – had stayed comfortably near the front of the main pack for the last ten-k’s. If he could stay on the inside track around Howler’s Bend he could avoid the effects of the winds that usually took out half the field. That would set him up nicely to catch up to the front runners before the last lap.

But then damned Gigi had gotten spooked by a mar-mole sticking its head out of a hole near the roughly-marked track. She’d veered across the field in front of the other eight ‘peds, taking two of them to the far outside of the track with her. Just one foot outside that line would have disqualified them, and Grigor thanked his years of racing for keeping them in the race, where the other two ‘peds were not so lucky. Now they were behind the pack, just barely in front of the stragglers choking on Gigi’s dust.

Then he remembered that there was only one reason why mar-moles would come out of their holes in the middle of the Martian day like this. He scanned the track ahead and saw that there was a rocky outcropping that overlapped the race track slightly; was it enough to save him and Gigi from what was about to happen? He thought so.

Spurring the spooked ‘ped to full speed, he spent all its reserves getting to the rock first, where he pulled up sharp and looked back. The other jockeys had just enough time to register what he’d done when the quake hit, opening yards-wide crevasses all around, which they plunged into to a pair.

Grigor trotted Gigi off the rock slowly, trotting and leaping along the pockmarked track. Those crevasses ran miles deep. He have a brief thought about the other jocks, likely still falling, as he crossed the finish line ahead of the stragglers. He removed his goggles and rubbed red dust over his face once more, this time as a kind of baptism.

Grigor thought he might return to racing, now that the competition was gone, and he had such good ride.

Copyright 2023 by Melani Weber





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