No Good Deed
by Val Evenstar
Captain Trouble Kelp was the best of the best. There was no doubt about it; ask any LEP officer who they respected most, and the answers would always start with Commander Root and Captain Kelp. Kelp was the one fairy who deserved his unusual name, they said. Always managed to make even the worst missions a success while laughing in the face of danger.
Kelp wasn't laughing now. He wasn't in danger, per se – well, at least not the oh-look-there's-a-hungry-charging-troll kind he was used to. No, something much more fragile was at stake – his pride. Trouble Kelp was in serious danger of getting beaten by a girl.
It wasn't that he had something against Holly Short; she was a good officer and had long ago won his respect. It was the losing part that he had a problem with. Kelp gunned the motor on his shuttle as he sped around the curve, and caught a glimpse of the identical shuttle in front of him. Swerving around the usual hazards that lay in Haven's back alleys – recycling bins, broken furniture, and children's toys – he braked as lightly as he dared, swung the shuttle to the left, and jammed the throttle forward to let the acceleration take him around the corner a meter closer to Short's vehicle than he had last been. He gritted his teeth as he saw the low skybridge – more like a hefty ladder jammed between two stories of towering shacks that didn't deserve the name 'apartments' – and sent his shuttle so low it was almost scraping the pavement. But at least he had cleared the obstacle. This course seemed to get more difficult every time, and Kelp knew it wasn't because he was getting old. No, Haven was simply getting messier, in spite of the recently elected Interior Minister, who was even more of a neat freak than Grub. There was a rumor going around that he had colour-coordinated hangers in his sock drawer.
Trouble didn't mind messes; after all, it was his job to clean them up. But he really preferred the ones that involved Neutrinos and handcuffs over the ones conquered by vacuums and scrub-brushes. Though he wouldn't mind a few less obstacles on the race course, naturally. And this semi-legal street racing in police vehicles only tended to add a little bit to the clutter whenever the pilots came too close and turned a house wall into rubble. Not that they were much more than rubble to start with...
Kelp inched up the throttle and worked the rudder controls as he sped down the narrow street at over 400 kilometers per hour. The gap between the two shuttles was closing rapidly, and the captain could feel a grin beginning to form on his face. He'd catch her yet, but this would still be a close race. A good one, too, he'd known since he looked at the race schedule and received several messages from one of his Retrieval commandos complaining about getting beaten by Short. Kelp had wished him better luck next year and inquired curiously about their times. They were nothing amazing; the record was held by one Captain Wood, who had finished in six minutes thirty-five seconds more than a decade ago. Wood was retired now after an incident with a goblin gang, but no one in recent years had managed to come close to beating his time. It seemed to Trouble that times got slower every year; but then again, the shuttles got older every year and as this annual race was not exactly LEP-sponsored, it was next to impossible to replace equipment without a generous donation from an interested party.
Unfortunately, one of the very unsympathetic parties who knew about this little event was the centaur Foaly. He, like most of the higher-ranking LEP officers, turned a blind eye to the pilots' playtime, even though he squawked indignantly to the racers about the utter stupidity of what they were doing before saying in a martyr's tone: "Don't say I didn't warn you. You can go kill yourselves on those little scrap heaps you call shuttles for all I care," and reluctantly handing over the starter chips. Short had challenged him to design a racing shuttle if he was so concerned about their safety, but he had tried to sniff – more like snort - primly and decline, though Trouble had seen something behind the centuar's eyes light up as he turned huffily away. Kelp had a feeling that they would be getting some fantastic new machinery soon, but for now they would make do with their little wrecks.
Trouble stifled a curse and swerved violently to keep his vehicle from becoming both a literal and figurative wreck. Jamming the throttle forward, he struggled to make up for the lost seconds. He would not lose this race, not when it was only the quarterfinals. He hadn't failed to make the semis for the last seven years and wasn't about to start now. Retrieval One was counting on him to show those Recon hotshots that the black-clad commandos could handle a shuttle like they did their guns – fast and accurate, bringing down their enemies every time. So what if the best pilots were usually assigned to Recon – the other branches were not without their stars, and even Recon's standing fifteen consecutive titles wouldn't discourage them from trying to claim the victory.
The course itself was not designed for the faint of heart. Twisting through the back alleys of Haven – the parts the Council preferred to think of as non-existing, the race took pilots through narrow, trash-filled streets surrounded by shacks and spurious 'businesses'. Occasionally a drunken fairy would stumble onto the alleyways, which usually resulted in a hasty swerve and a crash, a hasty deceleration and a crash, a hasty hop up and a crash... well, a crash. If it ever ended with the drunk fairy not completely vaporized upon impact, the race would be over and the pilots suspended before Commander Root could shout, "You're fired!". But although several officers had been fired because of excessive building damage, no civilian had ever died because of them. Police officers, of course, were a different matter...
Death wasn't a thing Captain Kelp thought about much, even though he faced it more often than most. So he didn't hesitate to coax the maximum speed out of the aging engines and squeeze up next to Short's shuttle. The wingtips were centimeters apart, the alley barely wide enough to accommodate both of them. According to the rules, she couldn't impede him from passing, but if she wanted to pass him, too... well, the shuttles would stay nose-to-nose until they crashed or one passed the other. Out of the corner of his eye and the cracked plexiglass of his shuttle's cockpit cover, Kelp could see Short's determined face under her light racing helmet. He knew his jaw was set tightly, too; the next corner would determine the leader for the next - and last – two minutes of the race.
It was coming up fast, a four-way intersection that looked like someone had set off a bomb there; a shredded iron bedframe stood bizarrely discarded in the middle, with scraps of what looked like mattress materials scattered about. A four-story building nearby was missing one wall – maybe there had been an explosion; that would explain the charred desk and chairs piled by the left side of the street. The street itself was torn up, too, with large cracks in the pavement and places where the destroyed metal rebar and broken pipes showed through. Someone should tell the LEP about this, Kelp thought, but then his entire mind was consumed with slowing for the left turn as he came into it fifty centimeters ahead of Short...
Kelp struggled to keep the shuttle under control; it was at its limit mechanically but what he was asking it to do might just be too much... miss the left wall, hug it tight, swing out twenty centimeters and no more, or else you might hit Short; miss the desk, come in on the right to miss the bedpost and go up to clear the sharp metal, and gain another meter on Short...
His eye saw a blue-green spark and his heart jumped; any fool knew what that was – electricity. He had barely time for a glance before he had to act. A blue spark at the base of a metal bar sticking up in the middle of the street, the kind they use for power strips for roads in the poorer parts of the city. A bar that resembles a meterstick with a tenth of the thickness, a bar he could see out of his right side but Short couldn't... she was coming straight on it and would think it no more than a wire, if she saw it at all. The air intakes on these shuttles were underneath them, and if any electricity contacted the engines, more than sparks would fly.
But Kelp didn't have time to think about the consequences. He nudged the rudder pedals, fishtailing his shuttle as it completed the turn, hoping that he put in enough force to swing the end of it against the middle of Short's vehicle and send her clear of the bar without sending her through the buildings lining the street. The cockpit shook upon impact, and he heard the squeal of metal on metal, the change in pitch in Short's engines. Kelp decelerated slightly once he was on a straight road again and risked a glance at his rear camera. Thank God – Short was still there, rounding the corner in a scraped but fully functional shuttle.
And then Captain Kelp's eyes widened as he realised three things.
One, he had just disqualified himself from the race.
Two, Short was going to kill him.
And three – she might beat him to the finish line anyway.
He pushed the throttle all the way in.
A/N: Because, unfortunately, if you want to read good fanfic too often it means you have to write it yourself. Especially in a series where (I think at least) the minor characters are more fun than the major ones, who get pretty tiresome after doing the same thing for four books. Anyway, I hope others share my opinion about this piece - and no, it is not romance. There actually is a way to write fic without pairings!! Ok, rant over. I'll post the next two chapters tomorrow. In the meantime, please let me know what you think.