Back | Next

Winds of Mars

Written by Bud Sparhawk
Illustrated by Bob Greyvenstein


The wind blew soundlessly across the red-gray Amazonis landscape. Arching high above the station's masts were the fluttering tell-tails on the tug's sails. Halsey "Sands" Ribblokenni barely gave them a glance as he headed for the dispatcher's shack. His mind was more on the Tuesday night's race out on the Tiblia Plantia. He was in third place in the latest series and, if he managed to win the next race, he'd move up to second.

For the third time in as many days he hoped Paula would be able to make it up from Anson in time to see him speed across the finish line, turn upwind, and spill the tiny morsel of Martian air that drove the buggy's wing. In his mind's eye he rehearsed leaping from the saddle, racing to her and proposing over their suit-to-suit link.

That they wouldn't be able to manage more than a sterile embrace as they touched helmets didn't trouble him at all. Waiting to propose until they were back in atmosphere lacked the drama he felt the moment required. Besides, delaying that willing, accepting kiss would make it all the more passionate.

Yes, second place was definitely within reach this time after working so hard at tightening the rigging and figuring out how to remove another quarter-kilogram from the frame. That alone would give him at least an additional half-meter per second. Even that was an advantage where most races were decided by mere seconds.

"Got a heavy load this morning," the dispatcher said in greeting. "Got six tonnes of air tanks heading for OpOne." Outpost One was located a few hundred kilometers southwest, across the high plantia. "Bad news is that there's strong headwinds blowing. I had them put the big sail on the tug for the load you'll be pulling."

Sands groaned. With a heavy load and a headwind he'd be on the trail for ten hours at least. "How strong?"

The dispatcher glanced at the gauge. "About one hundred, but that will rise as the day warms up." Sands had to grin at that. The warmest it ever got on the plateau was still sixty below freezing, and that only in midsummer.

Outside, he did his walk-around of the tug. It was far different from the light, slim racing buggy he owned. Instead of a single wheel at the prow, this clunky machine used a two-wheel fore-tractor. The rear outrigger wheels were large, nearly as wide as he was tall, and splayed outward at the base to maximize the huge soft tires' footprints on the sand. Just behind the rear seat were the attachment points for the cargo pod. He checked to ensure that the pins that secured the tug to its load were locked in place.

Rising above his head and passing over the cargo pod was the huge gaff-rigged sail—nearly eighteen hundred square meters of aerogel fabric supported at the top edge by a spar projecting at a sharp angle from the tall supporting mast.

The gaff rig was a compromise between balance and power. A traditional sail would be so large that it would tip the tug in the slightest breeze. The gaff brought the center of the sail's mass lower with no decrease in sail area. A lateen rig, on the other hand, would lower the center even more, but be harder to maneuver.

Had there been a nice following breeze instead of this near headwind they could have had a nice, steady ride. As it was, they'd have to quarter back and forth the whole tiresome way.

Jack, his linesman, finished checking the lines he'd control from the rear seat. His job was to make certain that each ran smoothly through the five sets of pulleys that gave him the mechanical advantage he needed to handle the long boom.

Sands dropped into the steersman's seat and hooked his suit into the life support gear. "Check," he said as soon as he activated the link.

"Whenever," Jack replied as he buckled in. "I'm ready."

Sands felt a jolt as the electric pusher moved them into position behind the cargo pod and began to push them away. The winds on these plains were so light that wind power alone was insufficient to overcome the inertia of the cargo pod. The pusher at least got their speed up to where the wind could sustain their movement.

The tug began to move, more from the force being applied by the pusher than from the light wind striking the sail. Sands turned the wheel to bring the tug into the wind; Jack let the boom swing free until it captured the wind and stopped fluttering.

They were on their way.

Four hours along the cleared trail and the landscape was as boring as ever. The wind was blowing so steadily that Sands had only had to quarter twice since they left, but not so far as to leave the cleared trail. The sun was high in the southwest, but it would drop below the horizon two hours before they reached their destination. Sands hated sailing in the dark, but there was no way they could avoid that, given Mars' short winter day.

He noted that the tell-tails were streaming evenly along the sails surface to indicate a smooth airflow. Jack was obviously doing a good job of trimming. They were getting close to the edge of the cleared trail so he'd have to quarter back in a few minutes.

"I could use a drink about now," Jack said to break the monotony. "Maybe some good Earth beer."

"If you're going to daydream why not imagine scotch?" Sands replied. "I drink nothing but the best in my daydreams."

"Yeah, I think—What the hell is that?"

Sands felt the tug lean under a sudden fierce gust of wind before the right rear wheel lifted off the surface. At the same time Jack let go of the sheet and let the sail swing wide to ease the pressure.

Sands swore: Where had that blast of air come from? It was too early in the season for squalls and they were too far away from the hills to have a downdraft.

Sands turned the tug off the wind to bring the wheel back down. As the left wheel touched the loose drift sand at the edge of the cleared trail he felt the mass of the cargo pod fighting the change of direction.

He had to keep the cargo pod out of the loose sand or they'd lose all their forward momentum. The forward wheels threw aside showers of dust as they dug into the turn. The right wheel lost contact with the surface as the whole tug leaned in an extreme heel to the left.

Jack was fighting to spill wind but the tip of the sail was dragging in the sand and could not be let out any more. Sands wrenched the yoke, desperate to turn upwind.

Suddenly Sands saw a rock where no rock should be. As the fore truck hit, the yoke twisted out of his hands. He felt the tug tilt farther. His belt snapped and he flew along the sail, sliding away from the nearly vertical tug, ripping the thin fabric as he tumbled. His world was a whirl of sail, sand, and hard blows before the huge cargo pod rose above him and then descended.

"Paula" was the only word he had the time to utter

* * *

Louella was still fuming over losing the Jupiter race as they waited stationside for the transfer ship to arrive. The small shuttle would carry them out to rendezvous with the ship as it transited through near Jupiter orbit. The ship had already looped twice to intersect Io, skimmed Jupiter to pick up speed and flown outward to Europa. On this pass it would be near maximum speed on its way to Callisto as it left on its way to meet Mars in the eternal planetary ballet. These big ships needed all the gravity boost they could get to cover the distances without wasting fuel and every near pass to one of the moons improved their speed.

"Blacker is going to ream our ass over this, Pascal," Louella complained as they gazed for the last time at the rosy orange arc of Jupiter they could see through the portal.

They made an odd couple, Louella, a large black woman and Pascal Dumay, a slight Frenchman. One would never know they were experienced ocean sailors and had just completed a harrowing voyage across Jupiter.

It was hard to believe that they had been sailing in Jupiter's atmosphere just a few short weeks before, daring the winds, and damn near losing their lives in one of those ships that were a combination of dirigible and submarine. The only good thing about it was how the experience had cemented her friendship with Pascal.

Friendship was the only term for it. The bastard was wasting his good looks and cute accent charming the most attractive crewman instead of ministering to her needs. With only two crewmen, and one of them past his prime, she found herself in a different competition with Pascal.

What was it going to be like on the eleven-month trip to Earth?

The shuttle run was misery. They had to spend over three hours crammed asshole to elbow with four other passengers in a can barely large enough to contain them. It was hot, smelly, and nearly as uncomfortable as Thorn's cabin had been.

"Have to speed up to match the ship," the pilot shouted over the constant bang of the engines as it built up pressure and fired over and over again. "She's doing nearly 5000 kps by now. We'll pass her this loop and she'll catch up to us on the next. Any of you want a peek as we pass, you'll have to squeeze up here in the bubble. Only one at a time, though."

Louella used her strength and size to assert herself so she could catch a fleeting glance at the confusing array of spars, tanks, lines, panels, and god-knows-what conglomeration that constituted the interplanetary transport as it whipped by them and diminished in the distance.

It had looked nothing like the fancy passenger ship they had used to reach Jupiter. Of course, back then they were being treated as the great JBI sailing team, celebrities almost, and in the good graces of JBI. Now they were just a pair of losers who had to return to Earth by the most economical means. She was absolutely certain Jerome, the young penny-pinching bastard who ran JBI, was behind this downfall, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Rendezvousing with the transport was more like a controlled collision than a graceful ballet. The jarring connection and sudden acceleration rattled Louella's teeth.
"Sorry, I was a few kps short there at the end," the pilot cheerfully apologized. "But we actually made it without killing anyone."

She couldn't tell if she was joking or not.

* * *

Pascal was pleasantly surprised to find how commodious the transport's passenger compartment was. Everyone had a private cabin, which was to say a three-by two- by two-meter compartment stacked like tubes around a common open volume on one deck of the PassCan, as the crew referred to it.

The can was the third largest cylinder that made up most of the volume of the ship, the second largest being the cargo pod, and the largest the fuel tank. The three were spaced along the central axis like a string of pearls. At the forward end of the PassCan were amenities and a magnificent view of the heavens. At the base were the passenger and crew cabins, life support, and maintenance bays. In the center was the water ring, a torus the center of which was the refuge where all would repair should the sun throw off a sheet of high-energy particles that the water could absorb. For the normal radiation they all had to continue the damn drugs that tasted like ten-year-old milk.

Thirty odd passengers were already aboard, having transferred on at Europa and Io. They appeared to be a mixed lot in age, gender, and appearance. Some looked hardened, as if they had seen far too much for their young age. Others appeared more settled, satisfied with their lot. One pair were obviously a couple, although Pascal could not understand what a rugged looking guy like that saw in his scrawny companion. Well, we all have our tastes, he thought. One of the men from Europa looked promising and had even smiled when their eyes met. That was encouraging, he hoped.

Dining was done in shifts, with each shift determined by some program a psychologist had probably designed to ensure that cliques did not arise to disturb the delicate balance that having so many people together in such cramped space would otherwise generate. This was fine with Pascal.

Tonight's dinner companions were the odd couple from Io, Haley something or other and her companion, Matt.

They were prospectors, they told him. Both of them were heading to Mars, she to return to her home and he to follow her. Both were effusive about the wonders of the place.

"You haven't seen anything until you've stood atop Olympus Mons and gazed at the stars," Haley said. "I did that a time or two." Pascal wondered how anyone could gaze in wonder atop a damn mountain. The thoughts of being on something that high sent shivers down his back.

"So, how was Io," he said to change the subject.

"Smells like wet farts," she replied. "Mars is better." She smiled and added; "Smells like dry ones."

"Io was beautiful and dangerous," Matt said. "Like Haley here." The big oaf grinned like he'd just bestowed her a glorious compliment. "Fire and ice," he added and got an elbow in the ribs along with her smile.

"I actually spent most of my life on Mars," Haley said. "Prospecting, mostly, although I did run one race down the big one."

"She means Olympus Mons," Matt explained. "Rode a fancy Mars bike and nearly killed herself doing it."

Haley blushed. "Well, there were two of us so I can't take all the credit."

Pascal was horrified. It was bad enough to climb mountains and risk certain death, but to deliberately fly down the face of one on a bike was insanity.

Haley must have read the terror on his face. "It wasn't that bad. Mons has a shallow slope—only about five degrees at the steepest part. Not at all like those tiny things on Earth. Matter of fact, if you stood on the side of Olympus it would look just like a slightly inclined plain, except for the chasms, craters, and piles of rocks. Not at all what you'd imagine a mountain would look like."

"Thank God," Pascal said under his breath.

"Have you heard the big news?" Matt asked later as they were eating the entree. "Jerome Blacker, the boss man at JBI, died last week. I caught the news upload just before dinner."

Pascal was shocked by the news, but wasn't surprised. It was obvious from their last meeting that the elder Blacker was nearing his end. The watery-eyed senior member of JBI's management team had appeared to be a physical wreck with his thin buzzard's neck, mottled skin, and a slight trembling that declared declining health. Jerome had looked older than his hundred and ten years—and at some point even his great wealth would not stay the grim reaper.

"How did it happen?" Pascal asked. He'd liked the old man on their few meetings and felt a pang of sorrow at his passing.

Matt shrugged. "Heart attack, stroke, something sudden. I hear JBI's in complete disarray trying to figure out how to run the empire without him."

Pascal wondered about that. "But his son was running the company anyway. I don't imagine the loss of his father would matter that much."

Matt put his knife down. "Son? Did I say that? No, the old man is still kicking. It was his son, the young Jerome that died."

* * *

Louella was waiting in the lounge with her dinner partners when she saw Pascal emerge from the dining space. There was a strange look on his face as he rushed to her.

"Have you heard?" he asked before she could say a word. "Blacker's dead—heart attack or stroke or something." Before she could jump to the same, but wrong conclusion he added. "Not the old man—the son, Jerome, was the one who died."

"The penny-pinching bastard who put us on this cheap-assed transport instead of a decent liner?" Louella shot back. "Well, good riddance. Maybe we'll get better treatment now that he's out of the way." She reached into her pocket and held out a flimsy. "Maybe that news has something to do with this request we have from JBI. They want us to listen to a bloody too-damn-expensive conference call this evening."

* * *

Louella fumed at the delay enforced by the slow speed-of-light transmission that made the conference call an agony of delay and deliberation. With a ten minute delay between exchanges with the JBI agent back on Jupiter, the term "conversation" took on a new meaning. It was more like making speeches at one another without the benefit of immediate feedback. Every misunderstanding took so long to correct that both sides were being very verbose in whatever they said.

So far she had learned that the JBI dinosaur was in panic mode, its body of thousands of employees and managers trying to cope with their sudden and unexpected loss. The majority of the company still operated normally, but eventually, without a head, the body would fail to coordinate its actions and begin to die.

She learned that the news of Jerome's death had sent the price of JBI stock tumbling, with repercussions throughout the solar system due to the interrelations of system-wide corporations. Soon, other companies would be affected.

Old Blacker had even had his set piece to open the conversation, although Louella suspected that it had been prerecorded. "Lots of good publicity on the Jupiter race," he'd said. "Your rescue gave us more news share than the winners. Gave us good legs in the PR front. Need to have more of that.

"Now we have to keep JBI in the news so people will forget about losing Jerry," Blacker continued, his voice lacking any trace of remorse. "My damn flyspeck accountants tell me that we need to staunch the cash flow. We need more good publicity to restore JBI's good name and stock price. News that will make people believe we are still a forward-thinking, risk-taking company worth investing in."

"Fat chance," Louella said to herself. "No way I'm going back to Jupiter for another damn race." She and Pascal had nearly lost their lives when the combination dirigible and submarine that "sailed" the upper atmosphere of Jupiter had lost its sails and been cast adrift. Had it not been for the fortuitous meeting with Thorn and her pilot Rams Potswamynada they would have become Jupiter's Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail the red seas of Jupiter forever.

"There's a new race I want you to sail," Old Jerome continued, bringing her thoughts back to the present. "GeoGlobal and First Mars are sponsoring entries with some local talent, none of whom have your experience. It'll be an easy win and won't take much time off your schedule. My people on Mars will send you the details. Expect great things out of you. Make me proud."

A new race? The Honda Global wasn't scheduled for another year and he certainly couldn't expect her to run the Grand Vendee again. She had nearly lost her life drifting on an upside down racer in Earth's Southern Ocean four years ago, an experience she didn't want to repeat.

So, what race could it be and would she have time to regain the skills and feel for blue water sailing after they reached Earth?

For that matter, did she really want to get back into competitive sailing once more? After her adventures on Jupiter, sailing the Earth's seas would be safer, but would also seem tame. Too tame, perhaps? Maybe it was time to settle down and get on with her life.

Pascal was as puzzled as Louella over Blacker's statement about a new race. He thought he knew all the world-class blue-water races that were scheduled over the next two years and none of them were of a stature that would garner JBI the type of publicity old Jerome needed. What would it be?

The details came in the form of a massive download that had the rest of the passenger's ill-concealed grumbling over the loss of their own time on the machine. The crew had to parcel the download into multiple files so that the reading stations could handle it.

The first sixty gigs were a complex contract that neither of them could understand, so arcane was the language JBI's lawyers had formulated. It was only when they looked at the attachments that they realized the huge bonus JBI would provide if they won the race. What's more, even if they did not win, the salary they would receive would more than compensate them for any lost time from whatever they had planned.

"I could build my own sailing school with that kind of money," Louella said.

"And I could finally buy my ranch in Arizona." Pascal sighed. "Or a villa in Marseilles."

The dates of the race were puzzling. Their ship wouldn't reach Earth orbit for another two months yet the race was scheduled to begin in forty-five days. How was that possible?

The second download had included a surprising location—Mars,

"How can there be a fucking sailboat race on Mars, for God's sake?" Louella exclaimed. "There's no freaking water, no seas, not even a damn pond."

The download also provided their contact's name, berthing arrangements, and even their departure dates for Earth after the race. Obviously JBI's planners had covered everything needed to ensure that they would satisfy their contract.

Pascal had brought up a map of Mars and checked out the locations. "I see no possible settlements near this race location," he said. "Near the equator just east of Arsia Mons it says. It looked like a flat plain—an unlikely place for open water. An accompanying satellite shot showed nothing but an empty, rose-colored plain of lava flows.

"It looks like a damn desert," Louella exclaimed over his shoulder. "How the hell can you sail on fucking sand?" She paused, turned to Pascal and said, "I think we need to do a little research."

Pascal knew from the tone of her voice that she could already feel the lines in her hands as the red sands flew beneath her. "There is a woman on board who said she raced on Mars," he said, recalling what Haley had said over dinner. "Perhaps we should talk to her before we make any commitments."

* * *

Haley was less than informative about sailing on Mars. "Nothing I ever heard of," she said. "Atmosphere's so thin I doubt if it would be possible and this spot is pretty high up—about eight or nine klicks above the reference normal. Sailing, you say? Well, that's the most foolish idea I've ever heard. We have more productive things to do on Mars than waste time on something as stupid as sailboat races."

Pascal squeezed Louella's hand hard before she could let loose a skin-peeling torrent of invective that expressed her utter contempt for those who thought sailing was stupid. "But wouldn't you say the same about mountain racing?" he replied.

To her credit, Haley blushed. "Well, I guess so, but the Tai Chan race is sort of a tradition we've turned into a race, so it's a little different. Besides, I was getting paid good money for helping out."

"As are we," Pascal continued, his fingers still digging into Louella's arm. "But right now we need to know more about Mars. Are the winds strong and do they change direction quickly? How frequent are the sandstorms and how bad are they?"

"Wind's so slight you never feel it on your suit," Haley replied. "Which is why I can't figure out how anybody could use it to sail. Sandstorms might whip up a breeze, but they aren't that frequent, and mostly in the spring. They're worse at the equator but some might occur further north. I think I heard the wind speed increases with altitude, but that wouldn't matter much since it's so thin."

"Barely comes up to your knees," Matt injected, repeating a joke long grown old.

Haley continued. "Most sandstorms aren't strong but they sure are abrasive. Spend a few weeks getting hit by them and you'll have your suit polished to a high shine."

"Sandblasting does that," grinned Matt. "Are you going to let your girlfriend speak now?"

Pascal jerked his hand away from Louella's arm as if it had suddenly turned into a snake. "Girlfriend?" he said incredulously.

"Don't make any assumptions about us," Louella said angrily. "Pascal's my crewmate and that's a hell of a lot closer relationship than being married most of the time. Now, will one of you tell me where I can find out more about these Mars sailing, uh, boats?"

* * *

The ship's library held an amazing amount of material on Mars and its atmosphere but little about sailing in any form. Neither was there any hint of any large body of water.

"I sure would like to know what the devil they're smoking," Louella said after reviewing the material about the Martian atmosphere. "The pressure only ranges two or three millibars, hardly enough to raise a decent wind."

Pascal scanned further down the reference. "Maybe that's why the typical wind speeds are under ten meters per second. Even the dust storms only get up to thirty mps!"

"This whole venture is starting to seem ridiculous," Pascal replied. "It has little to do with sailing as we've known it. Without water what is the point of it all? I thought the Jupiter race would be interesting, but all we saw was the inside of our cabin and the black outside of the ships. I might as well have been in a simulator for all the thrill of sailing it gave me."

Louella cocked her head to the side. "You mean it was all for nothing?"

Pascal hesitated for a moment before responding. "Not entirely. There were some moments . . ."

"Like saving my ass and Ram's? Like overcoming your fear of heights? Like finding out that we actually mean something to each other? Was that all for nothing?

"Come on, Pascal; you won't have to worry about falling. The area looks pretty flat for God's sake, and how much wind can there be with hardly any atmosphere? Whatever they're talking about will be a walk in the park compared to what we've been through. Hey, the money they'll pay is more than we could get from the suits for the best race on Earth."

Pascal considered. The Martian desert looked quite unlike Arizona's, whose flat, distant horizons, rich colors, fantastic sunsets, and distance from the ocean had great appeal. Arizona's high plains were cold at night, but the temperatures didn't plummet as low as negative one hundred degrees Celsius. Even in the daytime, the Martian desert would barely reach minus twenty degrees, and that was on a warm day!

On the other hand, Louella had a point. With the money they'd already gotten for racing Primrose and the bonus they might receive if they won this ridiculous Martian race, he could do anything he wanted. He could build a home far from the ocean, far from anyone who knew anything about sailing, far from anything in his life to this point. He could finally be free to do as he pleased.

"I will do it," he said. "But only for you."

* * *

"I don't like your contract terms," Louella said to the JBI representative on Mars. They had gotten close enough while they went over the background material that the delay in transmission was a mere forty seconds, barely noticeable after their earlier experience. "We'll need complete outfitting, training, and expert advice if we are going to compete in this race."

"That's all been taken care of," the rep replied. "All you have to do is agree to land at Marsport. We've scheduled everything for you."

"We want JBI to arrange first class passage to Earth after the race," Louella demanded. "Yeah, and a bigger payment. I don't have a lot of faith that we'll be able to earn the bonus, given our lack of experience with this"—she choked to suppress a giggle—"Martian sailing thing."

"I'll download a video," he replied angrily. "See if you can contain your amusement until then."

The download brought some sense to the situation. It was a short movie that showed a group of wheeled triangular frames with huge sails tearing about a rose-colored plain at incredible speeds. Pascal was amazed at how the mechanisms managed to actually accelerate after they turned into the wind. "How is this possible?" he asked. The winds of Mars had to be too slight to drive such contraptions yet he could not deny the images before him.

When they returned to negotiations the next day the dry JBI man looked as if he had not moved a millimeter from his earlier position. Did JBI now have virtual executives, Louella wondered?

"Mr. Blacker has complete trust that you will do your job," the rep said as soon as he saw they were on line. "The amounts we've offered are quite generous and far more than you could get elsewhere. I should point out that you have been off the race circuit for nearly two years and would have a hard time getting backing for ocean racing."

Louella swore silently. It was too damn true. It would take her a long time to restore the network of backers and financiers she'd need to finance a race team. "Generous? You're asking us to risk our lives sailing on an unfamiliar Martian desert. I think that deserves more than the pittance your employer offered." She just wished she had a better idea of what she was talking about.

"Piffle. It isn't that dangerous. Besides, Mr. Blacker made it quite clear that you were to participate in this race," the rep replied. "Mr. Blacker is not a man to be trifled with."

"We're not his damn employees," she shot back. "Tell Jerome that he can stick his Martian race up his ass if he expects me to delay my return to Earth for so little money. I want the damn bonus regardless of where we place or we're not coming down to Marsport."

The delay this time was noticeable—nearly a full four minutes, far too little time for the representative to contact Earth for advice, but enough time for a quick conference. "I am authorized to offer a third of the bonus as incentive," the answer finally came. "You'll get the remainder only if you win."

Louella wondered if she should push the man further to see just how far he would go. But that long delay said that he had executed a carefully calculated comparison of cost against the benefits of publicity. JBI's managers put a price on everything they did and this was no different.

"Deal," she said after making him wait a few minutes. "I'll tell my agent on Earth to sign the documents." Scott, her agent, would crap in his pants when he saw the numbers and found out what she'd be doing for it.

* * *

The passenger compartment of the shuttle to the Martian surface was cramped, smelly, and obviously well worn. The hatch handles were burnished to a bright finish as was every place a hand could rest. "Polished by the dust," the pilot explained as he shoved Pascal into his seat and pulled the safety harness entirely too tight for comfort. Ordinarily such close proximity to the cute pilot would have been welcome but the fact that both of them were encased in protective surface suits made the closeness less than enjoyable. "Dust gets into everything and there's not a vacuum made that can get it all up. You'll have to learn to live with it when you get below."

The reason for the excessively tight harness became abundantly clear as the shuttle dropped to the surface. To Pascal it felt more of a controlled fall than a glide. The jarring landing took at least three bone-crushing hops before it settled into a bumpy roll. "Not bad," the pilot said cheerfully. "We didn't lose our wings this time."

Wings? Was this stomach-clenching drop from orbit what passed for a glide, Pascal wondered? There must be even less atmosphere than he imagined.

He got no glimpse of the landscape as the passengers trundled through the tunnel and into the 'port. Dull gray partitioning and a strip of lights above gave the tunnel an industrial look. There was a gritty feel to the floor and, when Pascal glanced down, he saw the coating of reddish dust the pilot had described.

At the end of the tunnel a pair of efficient attendants helped them out of their suits and pointed the way to the electrostatic barrier that was supposed to keep the dust confined to the tunnel.

"If you will come this way?" a studiously polite young woman asked and led them to a waiting electric cart. "We've booked you on the train to Bilbis Patera. I'm to accompany you." She glanced at her watch. "Sorry for the rush, but headquarters told me to get you to the Jovus Bubble as quickly as possible.

"Here are your schedules for the next week," she continued as she handed across a pair of databooks. "You'll have plenty of time to read them later, on the Bilbis Patera train. It's quite a long trip—nearly nine hundred kilometers."

Pascal had been trying to take in the sights of Marsport as they raced along in the open cart. Marsport was the largest settlement on Mars, but wasn't much to look at from what he could see. The passage showed him nothing but low ceilings, narrow passageways, and few, if any, windows. Perhaps they were passing through the lower regions of the settlement, he thought, and the living areas were above them.

That thought disappeared as they dove down a ramp and passed through a larger volume containing what appeared to be a small park. It resembled nothing more than the center section of a huge shopping mall, but less glamorous than many he'd seen. "I wanted you to see our beautiful Central Park and not the less appealing parts of the settlement," she said without a trace of sarcasm.

They continued along another set of low hallways. "Ah, here we are," she finally announced as the cart stopped before a large hatch.

A pair of clamshell doors retracted as they approached to reveal a platform beside a long line of large wheeled cars. At the head of the line was a squat tractor, dwarfed by the size of the cars.

The woman indicated one of the cars and opened the hatch to a small compartment with six plush seats. "This is our private car," the woman said as she flicked the doors closed. "Please, make yourselves comfortable. We will be leaving shortly."

Pascal hardly heard her. The sight through the large windows beside the train revealed a stark orange landscape. Beyond the rows of cargo containers, industrial cranes, and piles of materials stretched a horizon that seemed to rise into the distance. He tried to make sense of the sight. "Since Mars was smaller," he said, "shouldn't the horizon appear closer than it would on Earth?"

"You're looking up the slope of the old man," the woman said as she leaned over him. "That's Olympus Mons, the biggest mountain in the solar system. It's so huge that the top of it is actually below the apparent horizon, which is really the side of it. Blows your mind, doesn't it?"

She was lingering close entirely too long for his comfort, her breast brushing his shoulder as she pointed. She rested one hand on his arm.

Louella snorted. "You're wasting your time, honey. Pascal's not the type you could get friendly with."

The woman blushed as she stood back. "Sorry, I had no idea that you two were . . ."

"We're not," Louella replied abruptly, realizing that the woman had made a second wrong assumption. Three strikes and you're out, she thought. "They didn't brief you on who we were?"

The woman appeared flustered. "No, they just told me to accompany you to Jovus. I imagined that you were two of JBI's scientists. I escort a lot of hem through here."

"Scientists is not the word for us, honey. Jesus, don't you see the news? We're the team that sailed JBI's boat on Jupiter."

In reaction to the blank look on the woman's face, Pascal spoke up. "We had a few problems and had to be rescued. It was all the news a few months ago."

"We're here to race some Martian sailors," Louella replied. "We're JBI's sailing crew."

"I don't pay much attention to the sports news," the woman sniffed, her voice dropping a few degrees. "Taking time to care for JBI's important guests takes all of my time."

"Strike three," Louella exclaimed.

* * *

The train's trip to the Bilbis was less than interesting. It wound between large dunes and the walls of chasms for hours at a time. They'd been told that the tug could pull the train at a steady forty-five kilometers per hour but with all that emptiness it felt as if they were hardly moving. When they started she'd glimpsed industrial structures, storage areas, and construction sites. Marsport was expanding across the landscape, and not in an attractive way. In less than an hour, however, all traces of mankind disappeared, save for the markers of the train's course.

Phobos cast a faint glow that produced few shadows as it raced across the night sky and too quickly disappeared to the west, not to appear for another four hours. After that there was nothing interesting at all.

Louella tried to sleep. Thirty damn hours on a train—what a waste of time.

The tedium of the long trip was boring and after the limited conversation with their boring companion Pascal had fallen asleep. With nothing else to occupy it, her mind came back to her future.

What would she do if she did stop sailing? Would she hang out with a gaggle of old sailing buddies? Settle down and admire her mantel full of trophies? Both options seemed too damn settled for her liking.

Maybe she could run a sailing school? She wouldn't need to struggle for money, not if she won this race, so she could do it for the love of sailing alone. Maybe it was high time she contributed more to life than this constant fight to finance her boat and crew and then to drive them across the line to win.

It was something she had to seriously think about.

Jovus Bubble turned out to be a dirty pink balloon sitting atop a crater. Inside was a jumble of structures—one could hardly call them buildings—of various sizes. The terminal was an open set of platforms on either side of the train's berth.

Louella was surprised to see some familiar faces among the crowd on the platforms, especially Georges Franchard and Randy Holiday. She hadn't seen them since before the big Jupiter race that Georges' team had won. Both had fought hard against her in other races, as well as the Super, back on Earth

"Finally found you, did they?" Franchard laughed when he spotted them. "I thought as much when I saw your names on the entry list last week."

"We didn't know you would be here," Louella shot back. "Wait! What did you say?" Last week would have been before she signed her contract. "Obviously refusing JBI wasn't really one of my options," she said ruefully. "But why are you here?"

Randy gave her a boyish grin. "We'll sail anywhere if there's enough money involved—First Mars offered to sponsor me when they heard JBI was going to enter."

"I still think it's a stupid idea," Georges said. "I can't see how anyone could be interested in a race where there's hardly any wind at all. Might as well sail in a vacuum," he sneered.

"But GeoGlobal's offer changed your mind, didn't it?" Randy injected. "Besides, look on the bright side—we get a free tour of Mars."

"I'll miss the Volvo next year because of this," Georges complained.

"We've all been away too long to build a team for the Volvo," Louella said. "The Jupiter race took us out of the running. Crap, who knows what new tech they've thrown on those boats by now. No, I think this Mars race is probably the last sponsored one we'll be able to get. After this it's all dinghy's and day sailing for us old salts."

Randy sighed wistfully. "I'll miss those beauties." Louella wondered if he was referring to his thirty-meter racing machines or his former string of adoring female fans.

Randy's glum face brightened when the JBI woman returned. "We're leaving for Pavonis as soon as they recharge the train," she said. "Please return to the car."

"These are our friends," Louella said. "Why don't they ride with us?"

"I'm afraid that would be against company policy." The JBI woman sniffed. "Especially since these two are with JBI's competitors."

"Randy Holiday," Randy said smoothly, sliding up to take her hand and looking intently into her eyes. "I hate the thought of us being in competition on anything."

Louella could see the Randy magic working on the woman's libido. Had to be his damn aura or something. That line wouldn't work in a cheap bar on a slow night.

"I don't imagine it would hurt," the woman wavered. "That is, if Mr. Dumay has no objections. . . ."

"Oh, I might," Pascal said with a smile, twisting the knife in Randy's gut for a moment. "But not this time."

The scenery between Jovus and Pavonis was little different from what they'd observed on their first leg; dry orange-tinted sand covered with rocks of all sizes. In the flats each pebble seemed to have a drift of fine sand behind it, shaped by the wind into elongated teardrop forms.

"Well, that proves that there is some wind," Pascal remarked when Louella pointed them out. "If it can move sand it could fill a sail."

"Yeah, but enough to push a . . . buggy?" George stumbled over the word. "You'd have to have a pretty big sail for even a small amount of weight. I'd think the force to weight ratio would be too low to do anything meaningful."

"But still, they move," Louella replied, thinking about the video of those fast contraptions. "You can argue theory all you want, but the fact remains that these Martians are managing to sail, despite your commonsense arguments."

Pascal laughed. "Can't argue with facts Georges, so sit back and enjoy the scenery."

Here and there they could see traces of human activity scattered across the landscape: a pit where someone had prospected, tracks in the ever-present dust leading off into the distance, and the occasional discarded piece of trash—it seemed that even into this remote desert humanity had brought its worse habits. What was not seen were any sign of human habitation or, for that matter, a structure of any size.

As the top of the Jovus Bubble faded from view behind them the horizon began to appear normal, that is, if you ignored the fact that it was much closer than that they'd seen from the decks of their boats on the open ocean—about twenty miles away instead of the thirty-some they were used to. For moments at a time it appeared that Mars was rolling beneath the stationary train.

While Georges, Pascal, and Louella found the sights fascinating, Randy pursued other interests.

Their guide giggled as he whispered in her ear.

* * *

Sands saw the black woman wrinkle her nose in disgust as she and a slender man stepped into the common room. He waited as they glanced around, obviously looking for him. He did nothing as they figured out whom to approach.

"You Halsey?" Louella asked as she came near.

"Call me Sands," he replied. "Have a sit."

"We're the . . ." Louella began.

"No need to say. Obvious you're newcomers from the funny way you walk and talk. I guess you're the so-called expert sailors who are going to show us dumb Martians how to race."

"We were told you could give us a few lessons," Pascal said before Louella could explode over the obvious slight. "We've never done any land sailing before, much less here on Mars."

"Not many Earth-bound have," Sands said. "Now, all of a sudden, three big companies are throwing all kinds of money at it. Why is that?"

"JBI wants publicity," Pascal offered. "I guess the rest jumped in for the same reason."

Louella interrupted. "Which has nothing to do with what we need at the moment. We've got a month to practice before the race. We need to know everything there is to know about racing on this desert," she waved a hand toward the outer shell.

"Yes," Pascal said. "For one thing, how in God's name can there be enough wind to move a boat in this thin atmosphere?"

"Buggies," Sands sneered. "They're called buggies." He sipped his drink and made a face. "Marquilla," he explained, raising his drink. "It's an iced local brew with something the chemists swear tastes like lime. Personally, I think the stuff tastes like alcoholic rat piss. Want to order one?"

Pascal hesitated but Louella spoke up. "Damn right, I need a strong drink to wash the taste of this place out of my mouth."

Sands signaled for two more. "That's the dust. You get used to the taste of it after a while. After fifteen years I hardly smell it any more."

Louella screwed up her face after one sip of her drink. "Christ, this tastes terrible."

"You should taste it without the lime," Sands suggested. "It's worse."

"You still haven't answered the question about how you manage to get the boats . . . er, buggies to such high rates of speed," Louella asked. "With a surface pressure under ten millibars how can Mars have any kind of wind force at all?"

Sands took another sip of his Marsquilla. "I hate this stuff but can't afford Earth Scotch, even with what JBI is paying me to help you."

"So why do you drink it?" Pascal asked.

"Takes the edge off," Sands explained and slapped his leg. "Cheaper than aspirin."

Before either of them could ask what he meant he started to explain the winds of Mars. "You're right about the atmosphere's density being a lot less than anything you'd find on Earth, or Jupiter for that matter. Mars is close to a vacuum by those standards.

"But there is an atmosphere and the air does move. A physicist told me that the force was about 1/100 of a wind on Earth traveling at the same velocity."

Louella screwed up her face. "But doesn't that mean the Mars winds have to be traveling a hundred times faster? I haven't heard any evidence of hurricane force winds anywhere on the planet and it would take that to move something the size of your buggies."

Sands smiled. "Good logic, but wrong. Look, the amount of air pushing a sail depends on both the mass of the air and its velocity. What moves the buggy is the kinetic energy of the wind."

Pascal leaned forward and interrupted with rising excitement in his voice. "The kinetic energy is density or mass times velocity squared!"

"Right you are!" Sands grinned. "So if you do the math you see that our wind only has to move ten times as fast as an Earth wind to get the same effect."

"Well, I'll be damned," Louella threw back the rest of her drink, coughed, and said, "How about another round. I think I might get used to this."

"You stopped competing a couple of years ago," Louella said after they finished another few rounds and were on more friendly terms. "Why did you do that? JBI said you were once the best land sailor on Mars." Maybe his answer would help her understand her own future.

"Got stepped on by a dinosaur," Sands replied and slapped his leg when he saw their puzzled expressions. "My transport's cargo pod flipped and crushed my legs. Since then I've been making do with these sticks. They're great for walking, but I no longer have the kins for sailing."

"Kins is something you'll have to explain."

Sands shrugged. "Kins means Kinesthetic, if you prefer to use big words. You have to use your whole body to sail a buggy. You have to feel the tension of the sail on the frame through your legs and the resistance of the wheels with the yoke. You'll have to understand the vibration from rolling across the surface with your ass and learn to use your whole body instead of depending on the senses you've probably been using."

"So I have to wiggle around like this to sail?" Louella said and shook her butt.

Pascal snorted. Throw a decent looking guy at Louella after a few drinks and she started making moves. Just for once he wished she could shut down her libido.

And maybe give him a chance at the guy. He thought Sands was awfully cute.

"So you stopped racing?" he asked to get the conversation back on track, "when you lost your kins?"

"I still sail." Sands tossed back the last of his drink. "So 'won't race' is a better way of saying it. No sense racing a buggy if you can't compete. Crap, I can barely keep up with the kids, let alone another racer.

"So I teach a little, drink a lot for the constant pain, and . . . try to think of reasons not to take a walk out on the plains without a suit." There for a second it sounded as if he started to state some other factor but stopped himself.

"So why help us?" Louella asked. "Sounds as if there's more to your reasons than the money." She reached out and put her hand on his arm.

Sands shook off the gesture. "Reasons? Look, this is probably going to be the biggest damn sailing race Mars has ever seen and I want to be part of it. The best sailors, guys I used to beat regularly, are going to be in this race.

"You want to know why I'm helping you? It means that maybe, with your experience and my training, you could have an edge. I want to win, even if I have to do it vicariously. Does that answer your question?"

Pascal grinned. "Bien. So how do you think we can beat more experienced racers? I assume it won't be easy while we're wearing suits weighed down with air bottles and water jugs."

"Every sailor will have the same handicap," Sands explained. "The buggies will all have the same frame construction and rigging so it'll be what you would call a one-design race.

"Look, I'll work with you on how to run a buggy, show you a few tricks with balancing the sail, and fill you in on the tactics these guys might use against you. That might help you keep up, but barely. It's going to take all of your experience with wind and sail to do better than that. Look, JBI's betting that your blue water experience and the skills you learned sailing on Jupiter will make handling our little buggies easy."

Pascal was certain he knew the answer to that challenge. He had no doubt as to who would adapt better to this environment. He sailed scientifically, calculating the best heading based on readings of barometer, wind gauge, and tell-tales. Louella, on the other hand, sailed instinctively, feeding off her senses to trim the sails and set the rudder. She'd clearly be at a disadvantage in this race.

"When's our first practice?" he asked, anxious to prove his point.

* * *

Pascal's first impression of the buggy was that there was hardly enough of the thin metal frame to support the amount of sail he was told it would carry.

The buggy's eight-meter frame was a triangle of tubing, attached at each corner with flexible joints. The three sides were connected with half a dozen cross braces. A single mesh wheel supported the front of the buggy while two more, larger wheels, splayed from the rear corners and raised the rear a good meter higher than the front end.

In the center of the outer frame was the mast step. Rising from this was a fifteen-meter mast that tapered from base to tip. The mast supported a long spar at the top and a boom that extended at least five meters beyond the rear of the buggy, its weight balanced by a counterweight forward of the mast. Wrapped along the length of the boom was a bundle of plastic sheeting. "That's the sail," Sands said when he noticed where Pascal was looking.

"What keeps the whole thing from falling over?" Pascal wondered aloud as he gazed upwards.

"Despite their appearance, the spar, boom, and sail together weigh less than a hundred kilograms," Sands replied. "The counterweight balances that weight so it has nearly no effect on the buggy."

A saddle was mounted on a rail about midway between the mast and the buggy's rear end. Directly in front of the saddle was the steering yoke. The frame's rails supported a confusing array of lines and pulleys. He tried to relate these to the rigging of the sailboats he was familiar with.

In his mind's eye Pascal could see how four of the lines running through the pulleys could be used to control the sail, but was puzzled by the others. "Why those extra pulleys," he asked, pointing at the lines to either side of the saddle.

"They'll control your position," Sands answered. "You adjust the lines to shift your weight from side to side. You'll need to shift to keep the buggy level. That counterweight won't provide all the balance you need when the sail is full and the boom swings wide."

Now that he mentioned it, Pascal noticed that the saddle slid side-to-side on short rails and was pivoted to allow the rider to lean to either side. Sailing this rig was going to prove interesting and exhausting if it required as much body movement as Sands suggested.

Pascal lowered himself into the saddle. "Too much room for my butt," he smiled, wiggling around.

"Not when you've got your suit on," Sands replied. "Besides, you'll be strapped on the saddle to keep you from slipping off. Could break a leg or tear your suit."

Pascal shuddered; a torn suit or cracked helmet would be deadly on this hostile planet. "That ever happen to you?" he asked, glancing at Sands' artificial legs.

Sands shrugged. "Sort of; the safety strap broke when my tug flipped over."

"That what you meant when you said you'd been stepped on by a dinosaur? Was that what you called the cargo pod?"

"No," Sands said. "The tug went off the trail and hit a rock. That's what tipped the tug, the rock." He paused. "Funny thing was that the rock turned out to be a meteoroid from ancient Earth. That's why I said a damned dinosaur did this to me."

Throughout the conversation Louella had been walking around the frame, stooping to examine this feature or that.

He was used to the way men checked out Louella on the sly, not realizing that she went out of her way to parade her assets when she found a man interesting, which she was obviously doing in this case, and rather more than usual.

Pascal noted that not once had Sands so much as glanced at her. At the same time, he realized that Sands hadn't paid that much attention to his own less obvious signals either. Something was definitely wrong.

* * *

Louella's first attempt to sail Sands' buggy was a disaster. The supine position that put her ass a few centimeters above the surface was unfamiliar, as was the awkward steering yoke, so different from a sailboat's wheel. Her first glance at the huge sail looming over her head made her fearful that any shift would overbalance the buggy.

"The sail's weight is negligible," Sands insisted when she mentioned this. "You could easily hold every square meter of that fabric in one hand without straining, it weighs so little. Don't worry, the counterweight will keep you somewhat level when she's full of wind."

The "somewhat" worried her.

Despite Sands insistence that there was a nice breeze she could see no evidence save the fluttering of the sail as she unfurled it from the boom that appeared too slender and flexible for so much material. Despite its appearance the entire assembly only massed a hundred kilograms, and weighed less in Mars' weak gravity.

"Take the buggy straight out and turn downwind," Sands suggested. "Don't turn or pull the sail in until you get a feel for it or you'll tip over."

Louella doubted there was enough wind for to happen. She could barely feel the tension of the sail as she rolled across the hard-packed surface of Arsia Sulci. The buggy picked up speed but was still moving at what seemed a snail's pace.

She played with the yoke that controlled the front wheel of the buggy. The buggy was quite responsive to her slightest movement, a quite different feel than what she got from moving a sailboat's rudder. When she had gained more confidence in the degree of movement, she turned the yoke enough to bring the buggy closer to the wind and pulled the sail tighter. The buggy immediately picked up a surprising amount of speed for such a small adjustment.

Suddenly, before she could react, the buggy heeled to one side. She threw her weight to oppose the buggy's tilt, attempting to twist so her feet could press against the downwind rail. She fumbled to release the sail, only to see its tip touch the sand momentarily before the entire buggy slewed into the wind and slowed. The sail fluttered uselessly above her. She was of all things, in irons—a tyro's mistake.

"Weight and balance," Sands shouted over the radio. "You have to shift your whole body before you adjust the sail angle."

"I got that much," Louella replied curtly. Damn, she felt like some novice on her first day of sailing. The reaction of the buggy to her moves was so different from what she thought she knew.

Or was it? The effect of wind angle on the sail and the propulsive force it exerted on the buggy was no different than the forces acting on a real sailboat. Sure, the buggy balanced differently than a sailboat, but that was something she was certain she could get used to. She had only to learn where the border of safety was: that thin line that separated disaster from success, the point where you skirted the edge to gain as much speed as possible to win.

As Sands had said, she had to find those edges if she expected to win.

* * *

Pascal's experience was much the same. He had been watching Louella's awkward movements and the resulting actions of the boat. Must remember to call them buggies, he chided himself. The trick seemed to be shifting your weight gradually and averting sudden movements. The frame was so light in comparison to the sail area that the slightest change in weight distribution altered the balance.

An hour later he realized how difficult that philosophy became when encumbered by suit, heavy air tanks, and assorted gear that kept his frail body safe from the Martian harshness. "Hard to move," he grunted to Sands over the radio.

"Try to rotate your body around your belly," Sands instructed him. "And try to keep your legs straight down the center line."

That instruction puzzled Pascal until he realized that rolling onto one buttock while keeping his body stiff controlled the buggy quite easily. Better still, it was easy to make small corrections by doing this. "Thanks," he radioed.

The play of wind on the sail was about the same as any breeze on Earth, or Jupiter, he recalled ruefully. On a normal sailboat the sail propelled a boat both through the action of the wind as it passed across the sail's surface and the pressure exerted by the wind on the face of the sail.

He played with different sail settings as he raced back and forth across the surface. As he was trying to find the stall angle where the wind pressure was equal on both sides of the sail he noticed something strange.

At an angle that should have been so close as to decrease his speed the buggy suddenly sped up. Thinking it was a sudden gust he waited for it to die. When it didn't he tried to figure out why. There certainly had to be a good physical reason for this amazingly different behavior.

In his experience, as a boat turns into the wind the angle of attack lessens but the apparent wind speed—the difference between the actual wind speed and that experienced by the sail—actually increases. Turn too much into the wind with an extremely low angle of attack, as he had been trying to do, and the increased drag and diminished degree of efficiency of the sail should cause a loss of accelerating force and bring the boat to a dead stop.

But with these buggies that did not happen until the sail was directly into the wind. Somehow, perhaps due to the light weight of the contraption or the lack of friction on the surface, the buggy actually took advantage of the apparent wind and increased its efficiency. Amazing!

He performed a few more runs to test his theory and perfecting the angle that gave him the greatest speed.

The third day of practice was better. Louella'd quickly become familiar with the differences between the feel of a boat slapping the water and the buggy's wheels rolling across the hard-packed sand. Turning across the breeze was difficult, but turning to the wind was easier than she expected.

She was feeling quite confident when Pascal blew by her as if she were standing still.

"How the hell are you doing that?" she screamed over the suit-to-suit link. She was pulling as close to the wind as she should but getting nowhere near the speed he exhibited. He certainly hadn't had more practice so where had he picked that technique?

"Pure physics," he replied cryptically when she asked. "Stifle that damned intuition of yours and think about the force vectors you are dealing with."

"That makes no sense whatsoever," Louella replied with heat. "There's just the damn wind, sails, and buggy. It's no different than a sailboat."

She thought hard as she watched him move into the wind. His sail wasn't luffing when, at that angle of attack he should be at a dead stop. What kept him from losing speed? Curious, she pulled her own sail tight, cutting the wind at an angle she was sure would make her lose driving the bubble of near vacuum these Martians called a wind.

Almost immediately the buggy accelerated. Instead of a flapping sail this close to the wind it was as if she'd been hit with a gust. That had to be it; the apparent wind was actually boosting the sail's efficiency. She could sail closer to the wind than she ever had on Earth!

After a few more experiments she realized that the relatively low weight of the buggy in relation to the huge sail surface plus the trivial amount of drag from the wheels made the buggies act so differently.

A few turns later and she was not only keeping up with Pascal's buggy, but was beating him on the turns. He was obviously unwilling to tilt too sharply for fear of a spill. Now it was his instincts that were the problem.

"You're strapped in, for God's sake!" she radioed. "You can't fall out even if you flip the buggy. Besides, the mast will keep the buggy from going completely turtle."

"I know that," he replied. "But knowledge does not overcome one's inclination."

"Well, you'd better learn to ignore that if you want to win this race."

"You're both being too cautious," Sands told them over drinks after their practice. "These buggies are a lot tougher than you might think. Despite what your eyes tell you, all that sail up there and the mast hardly weigh a thing in comparison to you and the frame. The center of gravity is just about even with your helmet. That means you could tilt the whole thing about sixty degrees before you overbalanced. In a strong wind you could probably get up to seventy-five degrees."

"No way," Louella exclaimed. The idea of sailing with her body nearly parallel to the ground was scary enough. It had to be downright frightening for Pascal. It would be even worse when he had to lean away from the direction of turn.

On the other hand, she thought, maybe a stronger breeze would make it easier to perform an inside turn if she had the wind pushing on the sail to help counterbalance. Maybe she could push those angles further, maybe up to eighty-five degrees?

It was worth trying.

* * *

As the weeks sped by there were both exhausted from Sands's strenuous training schedule. There was scarcely enough time in the evening to grab something to eat before turning in.

"It's the oxygen," Sands told them. "You're breathing a richer mixture in your suits. That dries you out and burns energy."

"So why do that?" Pascal asked. "Why not breathe the same air as we do here in the bubble?"

"Economics," Sands replied. "Oxygen is waste product of some of our industrial practices. Costs more to add the nitrogen, helium, and other crap we normally breathe."

"Well, I've been breathing too damn much," Louella chimed in. "I need a break. We both need a break."

"I think you both deserve some time off. Tell you what, make a night of it and we won't start practice until after noon tomorrow."

"Gee, thanks coach," Louella mumbled. "Now, excuse me, I think that guy over there is giving me the eye so I'm going to see what he has in mind."

Pascal glanced in that direction. The man she was talking about was a beefy construction worker with biceps and broad shoulders. A little on the rough side for his taste, but probably energetic enough to satisfy Louella.

"My tastes are quite simple," he said after Louella had left. "I think I will just sit here and get bloody drunk on those horrible Marquillas. Pity Mars has no vintners."

"Oh we have wine," Sands answered. "But it comes out of the same labs that do the lime juice. Somehow I doubt that someone with your background would like the product."

Pascal shuddered. The thoughts of drinking the mass-produced factory "wine"—something that was little more than alcoholic grape juice—was bad enough, but laboratory wine? "I'll stick with what I can stomach," he replied.

Sands' story finally came out over too many drinks of a late night long after Louella had left with her beefy companion.

Pascal felt comfortable enough with Sands to admit to the horrors he'd felt during the Jupiter race when he'd jumped across the deep dark gulf separating their own from the rescue ship. The fact that he'd had several lines tied to him and was actually more fearful of what Louella might do than his own fear of heights went unstated. It made a better story, too.

"I spent eight months in the hospital," Sands told him. "They had to rebuild my pelvis before they could attach these damn sticks." He slapped his legs for emphasis. "Good for nothing but walking, and that kept me from working the tugs."

"So what do you do?" Pascal asked. "Living on Mars costs a lot. You on some sort of charity?" He'd already encountered the oxygen and water taxes on everything he'd bought or used.

"Isn't charity that keeps me going," Sands continued. "InterPlane Transports had to offer a nice retirement so I wouldn't sue their sorry asses for not maintaining the tug. Martians don't like incompetent people and think worse of those whose sloppiness puts others at risk.

"The incompetent jerks rigged more sail than the payload required, and not by a little either. Crap, they put up double the amount needed, which was why a little gust turned into a catastrophe. I lost a lot in that accident."

From the way he said it, Pascal knew he was not talking only about his competitive racing or his job. "What else did you lose?" he asked softly, realizing the reason for Sands' apparent indifference to Louella's earlier overtures. Perhaps, without les pendants there would be no desire.

"Something like that," Sands grunted, threw back the dregs of his drink, rose, and walked away without another word.

A woman at the bar came over and sat down. "I was hoping the eunuch would leave soon. Buy me a drink?"

Pascal's first reaction was to blow her off, both for the usual reason and because she had just insulted someone he was starting to think of as a friend. But perhaps he could get some more information from her first.

"Sure," he forced a smile. "What did you mean by that comment about Sands?"

She held up two fingers to signal the bar. "Shoot, everybody knows his sad story. Can't get it up anymore; hell, he don't even have anything to get up, for that matter."

That confirmed his earlier supposition. "So what's the sad story," Pascal probed as he resisted the urge to leave.

She got her drink from the barkeep and sat back at the table, smiling flirtatiously. "You're all right, sweetie. What say we make a night of it?"

Despite his disgust at her crudeness, Pascal held his anger in check. "Later, maybe. What else do you know about what happened?"

The woman pouted, obviously disappointed in his answer. "Let's see, right after he got out of the hospital he broke off with his girlfriend. Said that she needed a real man, not some damned broken wreck she'd have to nursemaid the rest of her life. They had some screaming arguments everyone in the bubble could hear." She took another drink. "Me, I would have left him like that." She snapped her fingers. "But Paula, that was her name, kept trying."

"So, what happened?" Pascal asked. "Sands didn't mention a girl friend."

"Oh, he finally drove her away or maybe she just came to her senses. Went over to Marsport, I heard.

"But that's enough talk about Sands. What say we get a bottle and go to your place for a little fun?"

Pascal threw down a handful of script for the drinks. "I think I prefer my own company tonight, darling. Sorry."

* * *

"Time to go!" Sands announced after their final practice. "We have to get up to Ophir Station in time to have a few practice runs on the race course. We leave tonight so grab your kit and meet me at the train."

"What's the freaking rush?" Louella demanded. "Why tonight instead of tomorrow morning?"

"Because tonight is when we can catch the supply train out of here instead of waiting for shuttle the day after tomorrow. We'll have an extra day to acclimatize to the race area and rest up from the trip," Sands replied. "Now, grab your gear and let's go."

* * *

Louella stared out the narrow ports of the so-called passenger compartment as the train trundled on its fat mesh wheels beneath the star-studded skies of Mars. The tiny cabin was far different from the comfortable train they had taken from Marsport to Jovus.

They were crammed with four other passengers knee-to-knee so tightly they could smell each other's breath. Ordinarily she would not object to being this close to so many muscular construction workers, but they had all gone to sleep as soon as they got aboard.

The cargo pods behind them were, according to what she could gather, crammed with expandable habitats, life-cycle support modules, and furniture. Sands said the four men could throw up enough habitat to house twenty people in a single day, which seemed awfully rushed to her. She'd hate to have her life depending on some hastily constructed shack in Mars' harsh environment.

Unlike Sands, Pascal, and the construction crew, she could not relax, much less fall asleep. She was starting to have doubts about this entire venture. What was she thinking of, racing these silly buggies? This wasn't what she trained for all those years. Her proper place was on the big boats, bringing sheet to wind and blowing by her competitors with some imaginative tactic. She was water, not sand, wind, not a faint breeze. In God's name, what was the sense of doing this anyway?

Well, the money was damn good; that's what she thought. Still, the whole point of this was unclear, insofar as it related to the progression of her life, her inner goals, and what she hoped to accomplish before something killed her. Maybe this whole venture, from the day they accepted the Jupiter race to this, was a bad career move. She probably had better things to do.

She just wished she could figure out what they were.

The scenery she could see in the supply train's lights was pretty dull. Occasionally she'd see the foot of a hill, the edge of a chasm, or simply an endless succession of random rocks. Dull, dull, dull! Even the faint rosy light from Phobos casting its fleeting shadows as it raced across the sky failed to hold her interest. The second time it came over she hardly noticed it at all.

It would be dawn by the time they reached their destination.

Before dawn, before the feeble rays of the sun could provide enough heat to dissipate the thin coating of hoarfrost that lay white on the ground, they reached Pavonis Station. It was only a waypoint where they took on additional cars and a second tug. The passengers used the break to refresh, grab some warm food, and stretch their legs. It was hardly enough to counter the stiffness from the long ride and prepare them for an even longer leg to Ophir Station and the highlands.

Ophir Station turned out to be a dull gray dome sitting on the flat plane and surrounded by a dozen or more smaller domes, Quonsets, and tall, upright cylinders. Snakelike, flexible tubes connected them, some to each other and some to the main dome.

"We'll be adding these habitats over there," a beefy construction worker said as he leaned over her to peer out the window. He was pointing at a clear area not far from where they were heading. "Place was just a weather station or something before we brought all this crap up here for your race."

"Really?" Louella took the opportunity to rest her hand on his bicep. Nice and firm, she thought. She pointed at the cylinders. "What are those for?" She wasn't that interested, but it was nice having him so close.

He put a hand on her shoulder as he leaned further to see where she pointed. It was unnecessary, but a definite signal. "Oxygen generators," he replied. "They're sitting on top of some deep bores. I think they bring up CO2 and break it down into oxygen and something else."

He didn't sound very bright, but damn, he had a nice chest and broad shoulders. Maybe she could make her brief stay up her at Ophir Station a little more interesting.

She was about to set something up when the seal broke and fresh air rushed into the cabin. "About damn time you lazy bums got back," a woman in a set of work coveralls and a hard hat yelled. "Come on, we got a tight schedule today and we're half a day behind schedule as it is. Move it."

"See you later, Charlie?" Louella said to his back and got a grunted "Maybe" in response.

No sooner than they were settled in their habitat just off the main dome than Sands shifted into lecture mode, going over the same material he'd been harping on the week before, only now that they were here it seemed more real, more relevant.

"The winds are going to be stronger than those back at Jovus basin. Now that the season's getting toward Martian winter the whole geothermal balance is changing. The wind could sometimes reach better than a hundred kilometers per hour."

When Pascal blanched he added, "The race sponsors have assured everyone that there's good weather for the race."

"You won't have any winds close to that this early in the season—maybe sixty or seventy kph at most. That should push the buggies to a nice twenty or thirty klicks; scary, but manageable. Being able to reach those speeds is one reason for being this far north and out here on the plantia."

"That's hardly reassuring," Pascal added. "Especially since my ass will be almost dragging in the sand. Couldn't they require a little less sail or add weight to the buggy to keep them from tipping?"

"No, you'll use the same sail sets you've been practicing with. The increased wind will let you run a tighter line than you've tried so far but it'll still be controllable. Hey, don't worry;" he said when they frowned. "Everybody's got the same rig so your opponents are equally disadvantaged."

Louella couldn't help noticing Sands' uncommon stiffness whenever he moved. The cramped conditions during the long train ride must have played hell with his legs. Had that been a fleeting grimace of pain on his face? Should she say something, do something to help?

"The race will be three times around a one hundred kilometer course," Sands continued, apparently unaware of Louella's close observation. "Depending on wind direction the course will start to either the north or northeast. There will be a standing start—none of that positioning you do with sailboats to get advantage. The staggered start line will give everyone an equal chance at the wind.

"The thing to remember is to keep your tacks as long as you can so you don't lose time or momentum on the turns.

"Thirty klicks up the course there will be a yellow flasher where you turn right."

"Starboard," Louella and Pascal corrected him in unison.

Sands grinned. "Whatever. Thirty klicks along that line you'll find a green flasher for the next turn to run downwind for another thirty. That's the slowest leg of the course and the one where you have to use every bit of strategy to stay ahead of the others."

As he spoke the tiredness from the trip seemed to disappear. His entire demeanor changed. It was easy to see how excited Sands had become about the race. Vicarious participant he might be, but that obviously hadn't quenched his competitive spirit.

"The last turn is marked with a flashing red beacon. From that point it's ten klicks to cross the start line again and make another run around the course. You have to do that three times to win."

"Will the wind be steady or shifting?" Louella asked. "It's a nine-hour race so will the wind change as the day warms up? Will they adjust the markers during the race if the wind changes?"

"Those are all good questions," Sands replied after a moment's thought. "Past experience up here is that the winds quarter about twenty degrees or so. They pick up in the morning and calm down later, when the plantia reaches some sort of thermal equilibrium." He paused for a moment. "But storms have blown up this time of year and sometimes the wind dies completely."

Louella grinned. "That's comforting. What the devil do we do if the wind dies—do they stop the race and make us get out and push?"

Pascal weighed in. "Yes, we can ill afford a race delay that will make us miss our flight back to Earth."

Sands shrugged. "That's not my problem, is it? I don't control the weather. All I agreed to do was get you two ready to race and give you some training and a few hints about tactics and strategy. Running and winning the race is up to you."

He gazed out the window at the passing landscape. "One more thing: pay careful attention to the surface beneath your wheels. Stay away from anything that looks like a drift. Drive onto drift sand and you'll quickly lose speed. Catch one wheel in loose sand and you'll probably spill. At the speeds you'll be moving that might be disastrous."

"Sounds like the voice of experience," Louella said. "Wasn't that what happened to your legs?"

Sands turned away to gaze out the window. "Yeah, something like that." There was a catch in his voice. All the buoyant excitement and animation he had been exhibiting drained from his posture.

"Let's go for a walk," Pascal said and took Louella by the arm in the awkward silence. "I need to talk to you privately about our contract."

"What the hell was that all about?" Louella hissed as they walked away. "There isn't anything to talk about on contracts."

"It was what you said," Pascal said.

Louella pulled her arm from his grasp. "It was just a simple question."

"He's sensitive about the accident," Pascal answered and looked back to make certain they were out of Sands' earshot. He then told Louella all that he had learned of Sands' sad tale.

Louella was silent for a few moments before she answered. "So, what are we going to do about it?"

Pascal stopped. "What do you mean? He drove her away. I can't change that."

"No, but maybe we can do something else. It doesn't take a genius to see how miserable and alone the man has been. If somebody doesn't do something he'll probably kill himself before too long."

"It's not our problem, Louella."

"Really?" she answered and Pascal realized that she was right. You always looked out for your teammates.

* * *

The next day Louella and Pascal joined a dozen other sailors, including Randy and Georges, on the electric cart for a tour of the race course.

"We'll be moving slower than you can expect the day after tomorrow," their guide announced from his seat at the front. "We'll go down the center line. The boundaries of the course—that is, those areas that have been cleared, extend about one kilometer to each side. Pay attention to the soil conditions as it changes from hard pack here at the start to a granular mixture close to the first marker, and then goes back to hard pack for most of that leg. On the following leg you'll see some drift, but not enough to kill your speed. The final leg is mostly hard pack."

"So why are we taking this tour if we already know what the surface is like?" Randy asked. "It's taking valuable time away from the practice I really need." A few of the Martians smiled, no doubt sensing an easy victory over this obvious novice.

Louella smiled as well. She knew Randy's tactics started long before a race and his declaration might just be an opening gambit.

"The first landmark," the guide continued as if he had not heard the remark. "Is Crepis Patera, that you can just see peeking over the horizon. That's the direction you want to head to find the first marker."

"Why do we need to know that?" Pascal asked. "Won't we have our gps and inertials?"

"Those instruments are allowed, but what if your equipment goes out? That mountain will still be there and," he smiled, "there won't be any clouds to obscure it."

Only the Martians laughed.

The rest of the tour was equally exciting as the guide noted points of sail, changes in surface quality, and the path the sun would follow over the course of the day. Some took notes, others nodded in agreement, as if they already knew all this, and some slept. Randy continued to complain about his lack of practice and how the tour was wasting the time he needed to learn how to sail in these weird Martian conditions. "I'm an ocean sailor," he complained. "Not some damn scooter driver."

Halfway along the third leg the cart rocked violently as sand and dust rattled against its side. In seconds it was over. "Wind gust," the guide said and licked his lips nervously. "Nothing you need to worry about. That's a very rare occurrence." The darting of his eyes and the whiteness of his knuckles on the rail belied his words.

Louella knew it had taken a strong wind to exert that much force in this weak atmosphere. She doubted her buggy could survive that strong a gust.

Pascal leaned over. "Do you trust Weather to be honest? I think the sponsors have too much invested in this race to call it off."

"Not lying, but certainly shading the truth," she answered. "The reports this morning didn't say anything about wind gusts. Think they got Weather to ensure the race isn't delayed?"

Apparently the same thought had occurred to many on the tour. As angry questions were thrown at the guide, Randy's voice rose above all the others. "I am not risking my freaking neck on this race if we have to face winds like that. It's just too dangerous."

"Damn straight." Several others rapidly agreed with these sentiments. "No way I'm racing." It was obvious from the angry scowls and disappointed faces that there would be at least three withdrawals this evening.

Louella was absolutely certain that Randy wouldn't be one of them.

* * *

Ophir Station was getting crowded as each train brought more people in from Pavonis. Some of the crowd appeared by the cut of their clothes and their gorgeous companions to be high rollers. Their appearance and behavior set them apart from the modest working clothes of the sailors and their crew.

With so much wealth evident there had to be some serious betting going on, Louella thought and wondered how she and Pascal were doing in the odds.

"You and your Earth buddies are getting three to one against," Sands informed them when she asked. "Zhang Wu is the top racer on Mars so they're giving him even odds to win—Zhang's a tough competitor. Two of the other Martians, Pavel Zhubinsky and Peer Jackson are getting way better odds than you."

"Glad to hear how our sailing reputations are respected," Louella remarked dryly. "Have you put some cash down?"

Sands grinned. "I put a couple hundred on you to place. I might put up more if your odds get worse."

"Where's Zhang's strengths and weaknesses?" Louella asked. "If you want us to give this character a race you'd better let us know what we're facing."

Sands screwed up his face in thought. "He runs right on the edge of disaster. Always hauls the sail too tight, and likes to bank the buggy on the turns. Those tactics allow him to maintain a good speed through the turns. His biggest weakness is that he's very impatient and takes risks. He cuts the markers a little too tight in my opinion and tacks too damn quickly."

Louella had a history of racing against people who followed pretty much the same tactics against her. To beat them you had to be as strong as they were and take advantages of their weaknesses. Now she had to think about how she could do this in these conditions. "So, if we crowd him, he might get more reckless?" she mused.

"If you can catch him," Sands grinned. "As I said; he's good."

"I think it's time for a strategy session," she replied and waved Pascal away from his friends. To get into the details they needed more privacy than this gathering afforded. There were a lot of things they had to learn about their competition. From what Sands had just said, skills alone were not going to win this race.

The next day the officials allowed the sailors to use the course for practice. The wind was blowing steadily from the north although nothing Louella could see or feel told her that. Even with the suit's external microphones turned up high she could not hear the howling of this so-called wind.

She rolled her buggy to the starting line. About half of the sailors were queued up, waiting for Georges and Randy to start. From their history she knew Georges and Randy would be challenging each other the entire way around the course. It was their nature.

Georges shot off the line and quickly caught the wind, expertly driving to the best line in moments. Randy, on the other hands fumbled with his gear, backwinded the sail, and took minutes to get straightened out. Louella wondered if this fumbling was another of his psychological tactics or was he actually as inept at this as he appeared.

From the obvious amusement of the other sailors she suspected the former.

She waited as one after another buggy left until only she and Pascal remained. They wanted to run last so they could test some of the ideas the three of them had generated the night before. Better that the others not see their moves too early, she'd suggested. "We'll come late to the line."

She loosed the sail as the buggy ahead of them disappeared into the distance. She glanced up at the feathery tell-tales at the top of the mast and the rear of the sail. A minor adjustment brought the sail into the wind and her buggy began to roll. Pascal paced her on the downwind side and slightly ahead of her to keep away from the wind spilling off her sail.

As soon as they were well away from the starting line she hauled the sail as tight as possible and let the buggy take its own line toward the right side of the course, following Pascal. The buggy's speed steadily increased as the angle to the wind lessened until the right wheel lifted from the sand.

Louella threw her weight toward the high end to bring the wheel back to touch the surface. Now she could actually feel the force of the wind on the sail through the lines in her hands and sense the vibration of the buggy in her seat. At this extreme speed the buggy stopped becoming a contraption in her mind and became a living creature vibrant with life and eager to race.

She was approaching the right boundary, where the hard-packed sand changed to a more granular texture. She turned the yoke, loosened the sail and let the wind fill the sail. She'd lost sight of Pascal for the moment.

On this tack the side of the sail couldn't use the apparent wind and lost a lot of its efficiency. She could feel the speed diminish. "Have to keep these tacks short," she reminded herself of Sands' advice. She started mentally laying out the series of long and short tacks she'd have to use to maintain the greatest speed.

Pascal was now well behind her, probably because he was afraid of leaning too far, she thought. So much for his theory of science over intuition.

She let the buggy race at this modest pace back across the course. She saw another buggy in the distance as she did so. Red suit, she noticed. That would be Randy for sure. It looked as if he was having no problem handling his buggy now that he was out of sight of the others.

The turn downwind was a surprise. She had to shift all the way to the right to counterbalance. As the huge sail deployed to the other side she watched the large counterweight swing across the bow.

The sail was a marvelous sight in the rosy glow of the morning sun and made her think of the dark red sails of the fishing dhows in the Mediterranean. Of course, this sail was colorless and nearly transparent, being barely a centimeter thick film of aerogel. A sail like this wouldn't last the typical breezes on Earth.

Pascal passed her. Damn, she had to stop daydreaming and get to work. She hauled a tighter line and followed him. Where had he tacked the last time? How would she tell if he was about to change? She watched carefully for some sign.

She saw the slight shift of his body and immediately yanked the yoke, pulled in the sail, and threw her weight to the outside of the turn. The buggy tilted dramatically and then slammed down as she cut back across the wind.

She glanced back. Pascal was a fraction of a length behind her, catching all of the disturbed wind off her sail and falling farther behind. Great tactic, she thought. I'll have to use that on what's-his-name; Zhang Wu?

Sands was waiting at the lock when they returned. "Let's look at the recorders," he said without preamble as he accepted the data plugs from their inertial guidance systems.

"That was a good move there," he remarked at the way Louella had cut off Pascal's tack as they replayed their actions on the course. "Zhang won't be so obvious, however and others have used that tactic against him. A better strategy would be to stay upwind of his line so even if he tacks first you can still recover."

He had even more advice at they went over their performance meter by meter. "Stay to the far right of the lay line," he advised at one point. "Watch for the drift sand here," and "Give yourself lots of room at the markers—you've got a lot of sail behind you and hitting the marker with the sail will put you out of the race."

"Disqualify you?" Pascal asked.

"Destroy the sail, more likely," Sands replied. "Now, let's run through the entire recordings once more."

Louella groaned. It was late and she and Pascal had things to do. Things Sands shouldn't know about.

* * *

Pascal slowly dragged himself from the bunk and staggered to the washstand. All of the unfamiliar physical moves he'd employed to control the buggy were finally taking a toll on his body. He was stiff in places he didn't know he had places.

Later, after doing his exercises to work most of the kinks out and having a dry breakfast, he headed for the dome's garage. This far north at this time of year the sunrise wasn't until nearly eight hundred, Earth time. The race wouldn't start until ten—giving them enough time to finish before dark.

Sands was already at work on the buggy. "I'm replacing the lower sail line," he remarked as he tossed a coil to one side. "I spotted some fraying, probably from the pulley we replaced yesterday."

The sail was unfurled and hung limply in the still air of the garage. It appeared to be nothing more than a thin, milky cloud, a wall of mist, instead of a cascade of barely substantial fabric. Pascal accepted one end of the new line from Sands and clamped it to the grommet at the end of the boom. Sands ran the other end through the pulleys and cinched it tight to the hold-fast at the saddle.

When that was done, Sands began to lower the spar as Pascal rolled the sail until they had the entire sail secured against the boom. A steady pull on the string would release and raise the sail. He wouldn't do that until they were outside.

As Sands went over to work on Louella's buggy, Pascal began checking his suit, lubricating the wheels, adjusting the yoke connections, and ensuring that every mechanical and electrical component of the buggy was properly tuned for the race. There was no place for spares on the buggy's open frame so everything had to work perfectly.

When those tasks were completed he looked around the vast garage. Ten buggies filled the great space and all but three were being feverishly worked on in preparation for the race that was to begin in less than an hour. He waved to Georges and Randy across the way, nodded to those closer, and then looked at where Louella and Sands were working on the counterweight.

Curious, he wandered over.

"Moving the counterweight forward will give me greater mobility," Louella argued. "Puts more pressure on the front wheel and that'll give me more swing when I shift sail."

"We've tried that in the past," Sands countered. "The only reason everyone doesn't do it is that it makes the whole rig unstable when you're running downwind. All that pressure on the sail with the weight so far in front will tend to lift the rear end."

"So I'll put my fat ass on the rear rail to bring it back down," Louella scoffed. "What's so difficult about that?"

Sands sighed in exasperation. "For one thing, you'll have to remove your safety harness and get out of the saddle. Not only is that dangerous, but it means that you'll have to eventually get back in the saddle. You could lose your line if you take too much time. Worse, you risk falling off."

"I'll be careful," Louella said with confidence. "Don't worry about me. I know what I'm doing, so let's adjust the counterweight and stop wasting time."

Sands sighed again. "Well, let me show you the best way to position it, then."

* * *

They'd drawn for positions along the starting line. Pascal was second, Randy in the fourth position, Georges next to him, and Louella seventh. Zhang Wu, ever the lucky one according to Sands, had drawn the number one slot closest to the windward side but farther back along the staggered starting lineup.

The wind was blowing to her back from the southeast, according to the tell-tales. The officials had separated the buggies far enough apart so that the sails would not block another's wind. That consideration would disappear once they were underway. She'd have to keep an eye out until the group spread out.

"Five minutes," the starter announced over the common link. Louella checked her lines, snuggled in the saddle to check the fit and made a final adjustment to the safety harness. The sail was to the far side and fluttering slightly, as if eager to grab the soundless wind and run with it.

"Just a minute, baby," Louella mumbled and placed her feet on the crossbar. She rested one glove on the yoke and flexed her fingers. The countdown was starting.

"Fifty seconds," the starter said. "Forty, thirty." Someone bolted across the line. Louella knew that would cost the eager beaver a one minute delay penalty. Tough luck. She couldn't see who it was since her view was obscured by an adjacent sail. She hoped it hadn't been Georges or Randy.

"Ten, nine, eight." Louella began pulling the line that brought the sail against the wind. She had learned from practice that it would take at least five seconds for the sail to overcome the buggy's inertia so she had to time it right.

"Three, two," the voice crackled. "START!"

Louella felt the buggy roll forward as the sail filled with air. She wondered what this start might sound like if she wasn't in a damn suit? She hadn't realized how much she missed hearing the crack of the sail as it ballooned under a stiff wind, feeling the rush of air across the deck, hearing the sounds of water beneath the hull and the distant cries of crews cursing and shouting as they maneuvered for position.

Instead there was only the hiss of her air recycler, the creak of the suit's pressure joints whenever she moved, and the hiss of her suit radio, all so unlike the racing she'd done most of her life.

This isolation from nature had been the same on Jupiter, where she'd been cut off from the physical reality in which she sailed, having to depend upon instruments to tell them what was going on outside, in the black depths of Jupiter's atmosphere. Yes, this experience was similar in that respect.

On the other hand all of her other senses were alert. She felt the vibration of the buggy's wheels as it rolled along, the continual tug on the sail line, and the bite of the front wheel transmitted through the linkages to the yoke. She had her kins, as Sands would say, and she had to make the most of them.

She glanced to her right, along the line of racers. One was easily outdistancing the others but she couldn't tell who it was. Zhang's orange suit on the buggy closest to the right edge of the course was starting his turn.

"You've got a clean line," Sands shouted over the radio. "Take advantage of it. Cut closer to the wind and you can move closer to the lay line."

Without hesitating, Louella shifted her weight and turned the yoke, bringing her buggy across the front of the sailor nearest her and neatly cutting him off. All she glimpsed was his large counterweight swinging over her left wheel and then he was gone. Have to keep a closer watch, she thought and cursed the limited view provided by her helmet.

The wind shifted again so she turned onto a broad reach, with the wind coming more from the side. This set of the sail slowed her, but she realized that it would set her up for an early tack with a longer and faster one to follow.

Zhang remained slightly ahead of her on the course, paralleling her track, even though he appeared to be far to her rear. It was position along the lay line that mattered, not the way things appeared to her.

Several of the others had also made their turns. Time to concentrate and keep the pressure on, she thought. It's only the start and there's a long distance to go. As on Earth, most races were lost by a moment's loss of focus, a matter of seconds in many cases. She wouldn't let that happen this time.

She felt the metallic taste of competition in her mouth, felt the sweet thrill of mastering the elements in her gut, and heard the roar of her heart hammering in her ears as she made an adjustment to her sail. This was what she lived for, to win and show everyone that she could beat the best.

Even on this god-forsaken, rusty, dried up, prune of a planet.

At the two hundred kilometer mark the only sailors in Louella's sight were Randy, Pascal, and that damned Zhang, who had managed to stay ahead of her the entire way. No matter how she shaved and risked he was still a full thirty seconds ahead of her, according to the inertial. What could she do to catch up? Sands' strategy was to put pressure on Zhang, but she couldn't do that if she couldn't catch him in the next hour.

A beep sounded in her ear. It was the air alarm again, or maybe it was the reservoir signaling that it was full. Damn, she knew she shouldn't have drunk so much coffee this morning on top of the amount of water she'd been sucking down. With the catheter she couldn't tell how much she had been passing.

She checked the indicators. Everything looked green except for a small blinking light near the bottom of her helmet that was crying for attention; air supply marginal, it told her. Damn, she had been concentrating so hard on the race that she'd forgotten to switch tanks. She took one hand off the yoke and threw the valve over to the second tank. Be a hell of a stupid thing to do, she thought, run out of air so close to the finish. She laughed at the double meaning of that phrase as she recalled the languid doldrums during the Super Grand Vendee race years before.

She'd drifted for days in the tropical sun without a breeze, certain that all of the others were streaming past her on more favorable winds. The surface of the water took on an oily appearance when there was no wind, broken only by the occasional splash of a fish jumping to escape a predator.

She hadn't even been able to use the radio to find out where the other racers were. Without a wind there was no way to recharge the batteries that powered the radio and she needed the solar to keep the microfridge cool. No, she just had to sit here, sweating in frustration as she waited for the still air to change.

That happened in racing and was frustrating. Did she miss that unpleasant aspect of sailing? Maybe if she thought about the bad as well as the good she might rethink continuing to sail.

The hiss of fresh air stopped the light from blinking as she brought her attention back to the present. She was approaching the line. From that point she'd only have a hundred kilometers left in the race.

The sun was at a low angle to the west. There were only about two hours left before nightfall. There hadn't been much change in the wind since the start, although it did die down a bit when the sun was directly overhead, or as near to overhead as it could get at this latitude.

Zhang had already crossed the line for his final circuit, with Pascal close behind. How had that little frog pulled ahead of her? She sure hoped it wasn't his knowledge of physics or she'd never hear the end of it.

She cut the line marker close and pulled her buggy into the wind, letting it hit her sail. From the course the buggy was taking the wind must have shifted more to the west, perhaps a sign of the post-sunset cooling in the east. Well, if the wind stayed steady she might be able to make the next marker with only a single long tack.

Trouble was, Zhang and Pascal would probably follow the same strategy. She'd have to close haul and run on the edge of a spill if she was going to catch up to them.

The buggy's right wheel felt as if it lifted a fraction off the surface. Good! She thought as she loosened the safety strap and shifted as far to windward as the saddle would allow. Sands had said that she could run at a sixty-degree tilt if she had to and this looked like the time to test that idea.

She kept one hand on the yoke and leaned backward as far as she could to counterbalance the force on the sail. At this point on a tiny one-design sailboat she'd be hearing the wind whistling in her ear and feel the spray off the bow. Not here. The only physical indication she had was the sight of the surface flying under her and the tension in her legs as she fought to keep the buggy level.

She pulled the sail all the way in, putting the bottom corner behind her. The counterweight nearly scraped the ground. As the right wheel lifted off the sand the yoke fought to turn the buggy toward the wind.

Louella pushed the yoke the other way, turning the front wheel so that it was rolling partly on its side. Only the enormous pressure of the wind on the huge sail kept it from turning. The slightest failure of attention at this point would take her off the thin line she was sailing.

She only hoped the risk was giving her the edge she needed.

By the time she reached the marker for the turn she'd cut Zhang's lead by half. She was close enough to see the curly script on the back of his helmet that could be his name for all she knew. Pascal was to her right, setting up for a wider turn downwind. He was probably thinking of stealing Zhang's wind if he could. The size of these sails made that a distinct possibility and highly effective in this weak breeze.

Louella let the sail loose as she moved back to the center. The buggy immediately veered to the left, making a sharp turn for the downwind leg. Zhang was still in the lead. She caught a flash of sunlight reflecting off his visor as his helmet turned in her direction.

"You know I'm coming for you," Louella grinned. "Now we'll see who's the best damn sailor on Mars."

The front wheel seemed heavier as the wind was directly to her back. As Louella leaned back to throw a bit more weight on the rear wheels she had an idea.

Without hesitation she released the belt and pushed herself off the saddle to sit on the rear crossbar. She had to lean forward to maintain her grip on the yoke. "Where's a damn extension when you need one?" she cursed. Why hadn't anyone thought to put a long arm on the yoke for situations like this?

But she realized that she did have an extension—her legs. If she held onto the bar with both hands perhaps she could steer with her boots. There wasn't a great need for accurate steering on a downwind run where the wind kept you straight. Better not slip though. If she tumbled off the buggy would continue on and she'd probably have to wait a long, embarrassing time for someone to pick her up.

She felt that doing this had given her a knot or two more speed, but she couldn't tell. Any close with Zhang was so slow as to be indiscernible. If she was running faster she probably wouldn't be able to tell until they got closer to the next turn, twenty kilometers farther on.

During the long run downwind Pascal had been maneuvering closer to Zhang's rear, running a long line that put him directly between the direction of the wind and Zhang's sail. He was still too far back for the blocking to have any effect and they were too close to the next turn for it to help Louella at all.

Louella had spotted three other buggies behind Pascal, Randy's among them. Maybe so obviously discounting his skills had given him an advantage over the Martians, she thought. But, perhaps not: it would be nice if three of Earth's sailors finished in the top four.

Her arms and legs ached after holding this awkward and tenuous position for so long. Her water bottle had gone dry long before and she was dying for the drink that awaited her at the finish. No different from other races, she thought. Physical discomfort came with the territory.

She flexed her fingers, mentally preparing herself for the coordinated moves she'd have to make to position herself for the next turn.

First she'd have to take her boot off the yoke while leaning forward to grab it. At the same time she'd have to lever herself with the other hand to get back onto the saddle. She could do that while running downwind, but not too far before the turn or she'd lose what little she'd gained. If anything went wrong she wanted to minimize the time to recover.

If she could regain her position on the saddle she'd have to haul the sail in so it didn't hit the marker. Cutting it that close was the only way she could carve another few meters off of Zhang's lead. It was obvious from his tendency toward the south that he was not going to take a similar chance.

Louella looked beneath the sail to watch the marker post's approach. "Careful, careful girl," she told herself. At this speed a fraction of a second's delay would be too much.

There! Now! She quickly hauled in the sail and threw herself to the left as the post whipped by. The boom flew overhead as the wind hit the other side of the sail to turn the buggy on the final leg.

The chance she'd taken seemed to have paid off. Zhang's course was nearly parallel to her now and only a half-length ahead. In a sudden act of bravado she lifted one arm and waved at him.

He did not wave back.

The run along this leg was boring. Their speed was only half of the upwind leg owning to the diminished efficiency of their sails. Louella wondered if she could use Pascal's blocking strategy to get between Zhang and the wind and then dismissed the idea. To do that she'd actually have to drop behind him and lose the distance advantage she'd gained at the turn. Best, she thought, to simply maintain her position, improve it if she could, and beat him on the final turn.

Most likely he'd cut early toward the marker in hopes of cutting her off. But to do that he'd have to turn sooner and lose some of his forward momentum. Would that loss be enough to pull far enough forward to cut him off instead, she wondered?

She tried to picture their relative positions and possible lines of turn as they rolled ever closer to the marker. Maybe, if she drifted toward him he might worry about tangling his sail and pull away. No, that wouldn't work; she'd screw up her own buggy if they did tangle.

They were both running as close to the wind as they could so there seemed no possibility of . . . Wait, why had she slowed all of the sudden?

A quick glance at the tell-tails told her that the wind has shifted westerly. She loosed the sail, glanced over to see that Zhang had been equally surprised and as quick to respond. They were now running away from the line they'd been on before.

If this continued she'd be in an even better position to tack ahead of him, she thought and checked to see how far they had to go. The blinking light was a few hundred meters away and closing rapidly. Seconds were all she had to decide.

Louella gauged the turn with as much precision as she could, neatly coming into the wind below Zhang. Now she had the advantage—three meters along thelay line, at least.

A quick glance up the course toward the finish line told her that she was on a direct line. There would be no need for a tacking duel. It would be a piece of cake from here on in.

At first she thought the rosy glow near the finish might be the lights from the bubble. No, there wasn't enough atmosphere to disperse the light like that so what could it be?

Zhang had suddenly turned his buggy dramatically to the west and was increasing their separation. What was he doing, for God's sake?

Then it struck her: Dust! The glow was the late evening sunlight reflecting off a cloud of dust. There had to be a huge gust of wind to raise that much debris—maybe even a sandstorm!

How strong would it be and from what direction she wondered as she turned to follow Zhang's lead. He must have encountered this before, she knew. Had she lost her advantage? No way to tell on this tack. He appeared ahead, but where were they on the lay line?

The wind stiffened, a fact she could only detect by the increased pressure on the line in her glove and the suddenly greater speed of the buggy. From what she could tell she was moving about forty or so, maybe more.

The buggy's speed kept increasing as the glow came closer. Now it was obscuring the stars close to the eastern horizon and was a good thirty- or forty-degrees wide. Hell of a storm, as Pascal had phrased it when they hit that disastrous blow on Jupiter that shredded their sails and set them adrift. "Jesus almighty," she exclaimed and hoped the same thing didn't happen here. She'd hate for something like this to happen so close to the finish line.

A glance to her rear showed her that Pascal had only just turned upwind. Randy and the others hadn't changed course yet.

Louella estimated that they had come at least half a kilometer off the lay line. Could she turn now and take advantage of that wind or was it too soon? A second tack in a sandstorm might be impossible, if not downright dangerous.

Over the years she had come to know the features of the winds. On balmy days little puffs of wind chased across the oily surface of the still water. She'd always imagined them as atmospheric haystacks, each with its own center and peripheral winds—miniature and low powered hurricanes, almost. Would this storm be any different? If not, perhaps skirting the high winds on the edges and driving around it was the more cautious path. The wind was coming to her side so the rest of the storm's winds should be running in the opposite direction. Perhaps she could take advantage of that? It would mean cutting into the face of the cloud and possibly guessing wrong.

Should she chance it? Zhang was still running to the west and not watching her. He obviously hadn't thought of doing something similar yet.

The buggy leaned slightly as the wind shifted once more. Worth a chance or not?, she debated even as her hand turned the yoke while her other hand pulled the line tight.

Well, if she was going to hang her sailing career up she might as well do it with a bang. She was going to finish this race even if she had to drive through a sandstorm. She was going to do this for Sands and even for those miserable money-grubbing bastards at JBI. No fucking dried up world was going to get the best of her.

The boom snapped across the buggy with a speed that alarmed her as the buggy turned into the wind. The right wheel lifted off the sand as the front wheel once again tried to turn her away from her line. She threw her body to the rising side of the buggy as she let the boom swing wide to reduce the sail's exposure to the wind. Even at that her speed continued to increase.

Her forward vision was reduced even further as the cloud obscured more than sixty degrees of the horizon. Down the course she saw Pascal and the others continuing west now that they realized the danger. Not a single buggy, not even Zhang was following her lead.

Was she making a serious mistake? Was winning this race really so important that she had to risk failure if she chose wrong? Was winning so important?

All her life she'd been competing with others. Even in the Annapolis sailing school where she'd learned the intricacies of competitive racing she'd been fighting to do better than anyone else. Her size and strength let her win more races than not and crewing on some of the long, but minor races—such as the Bermuda—during her teen years had honed her skills and sharpened her desire to defeat whoever stood in her way.

That edge, that driving urge to declare herself a better sailor had gained her a measure of success as well as a great deal of personal satisfaction. Just the same, she'd never achieved financial stability, as witnessed by the way she'd been struggling to finance her racing when Blacker backed her on the Super and later on the Jupiter race. Had all her struggles to quench the urge been worth it?

After all, what had all that success gained her? After this race, after they got back to Earth she'd be too long out of the racing circle. After this race she was sure she was never going to race again. There was only a slim possibility that she would be able to race the big boats again after two years away.

The wind tipped the buggy beyond the seventy-degree tilt so that she was looking between her boots at the surface. She saw the tip of the boom skim the ground and realized that if she didn't adjust sail the buggy was going to flip. As she arched her back as far as she could, throwing all her weight off the right rail she felt her shoulder brush the edge of the right wheel.

For a long moment she hung there, poised on the lip of disaster. Then, as the weight shift worked, the buggy's precarious angle decreased, and it returned to a controllable angle.

The near disaster had pumped Louella's adrenaline levels. Her heart was pounding in her chest. The sound of her breathing was loud in her ears. Her every nerve tingled with excitement. She became acutely aware of every vibration of the frame and wheels and felt the sail's snap in the breeze through her fingertips. She realized she was running that winning edge she'd been looking for and, with that awareness all her doubts and fears fell away. For the first time since she set foot on Mars she felt right with the planet. She was in complete harmony with the wind and the sail, the surface and buggy. They were a single organism racing across the sand, flying toward the finish line.

On she flew, one with the wind.

* * *

Sands stared at frustration at the dead radio in his hand. The damn dust was playing hell with reception and all he was hearing was static with an occasional bit of garbled speech.

What was happening to Louella and Pascal? Why had the stupid hardheaded bitch turned toward the sandstorm instead of running the edge like Zhang? Was she determined to destroy her sail and their chances of winning? Why wasn't this radio working, damn it!

As he stared at the dark screens he heard a sound behind him, a soft footfall, hesitation, and then another cautious step. He turned.

"Hello, Sands," Paula said softly. A shy smile lingered on her lips.

Sands caught his breath. He had nearly forgotten how her presence affected him, how the sight and smell of her so easily overwhelmed him. For a brief moment the appearance of her so close brought back memories of other days and better times, times when he had been a whole man.

"What are you doing here?" he said when he finally wrenched his mind back to the present.

"Somebody told me that you needed me," she replied. "It's good to see you again."

"I told you that . . ."

Paula took another step forward and placed a finger on his lips. "I know what you said, and I also know what your girlfriend said about it."

"Girlfriend?" This was getting increasingly weird. "I don't . . . I never . . . Who are you talking about?"

Paula pulled a flimsy from her pocket. "Pascal," she said. "She told me how much you needed someone to hold you close and keep the bad nights warm." She cocked her head to the side. "If I were the jealous type I'd actually think she was in love with you. She even paid for the trip. She's very sweet, I think."

"Sands desperately tried to keep a straight face. "She isn't . . . I mean, he's . . ." Words failed him.

"You never were very good with words," Paula said and gave him a hug. "Do I feel better than her?"

Sands could hold it back no longer. Gales of laughter poured out of him as he hugged Paula tightly. Just the feel of her in his arms told him how he had lied when he drove her away, how he had wasted all those years feeling noble for giving her up.

The radio squawked. "Sands, damn it, Sands, can you hear me?" Pascal's gravelly voice cursed. "Where the hell is Louella?"

Sands toggled the switch. "I can hear you, Pascal, loud and clear."

Now it was Paula's turn to laugh.

* * *

Pascal had just turned to avoid the dust cloud when he saw Louella cut back toward it. What was she doing? Zhang was obviously following the best strategy by skirting the edge of the air bubble that was driving the swirling cloud and using the edge winds to drive him forward. He had a better line, being closer to the stiffer winds, and was gaining ground.

A quick glance behind showed him that Randy had figured out the same tactic and was closing fast. Less than twenty meters separated the three of them.

Sands might know something about these sandstorms, if that was the word. At this altitude it would probably be called a dust storm instead. "Sands," he called and got no reply. He called again but got nothing but hissing. The dust must be blocking the transmission, he thought.

Louella had nearly disappeared from sight into the obscuring cloud. She was tilted over at an impossible angle and he knew she was probably screaming with joy at the rush that came from taking a risky line. One of these days it was going to kill her, he thought. "But not here. Not now."

His own tactic of sailing close-hauled was working. He was now visibly closing on Zhang's sail on the windward side. A few more meters and he could block the wind as he roared past.

Zhang jibbed toward Pascal's line to block but the separation was too much to close in time. Pascal's sail's leading edge was now cutting the wind to the trailing edge of Zhang's sail.

Zhang immediately realized the danger he was facing and veered away. The closer he was to Pascal the greater the theft of wind would be. His best chance of maintaining speed was to get far enough off of Pascal that the turbulence was minimized.

Pascal expected that and adjusted his own line to stay close to Zhang so he could block if the other tried the same maneuver on him.

Louella had completely disappeared into the cloud that continued to drive to the west. "Sands," he radioed. "Sands, damn it, Sands, can you hear me?"

He heard Sands voice. "I can hear you, Pascal, loud and clear." The rest of what he was saying was drowned by laughter.

He didn't get the joke.

* * *

Louella's visibility was down to a few meters. How can so little wind raise so much dust, Louella wondered as she drove further into the cloud.

Swirling winds buffeted the sail. Speed diminished and the right wheel slammed back to the surface. Louella watched the tell-tales and counted: about ten seconds a shift, she estimated. This would be just like sailing in a thunderstorm, only she didn't have to worry about lightning here.

The trick in this type of wind was to trim the sail to the average direction and not try to drive through it. She counted ten after the last buffeting blow, tightened the sail slightly and loosed it as the next gust hit her. The buggy rocked in a steady rhythm as the wind alternated from side to side, but she was making steady forward progress.

At least she thought she was. For all she knew the cloud could be taking her at right angles to the line she'd been on. No, the instruments said she was still true to the finish line, still on her path to success.

Suddenly the sail ripped, a small tear near the center that quickly spread toward the luff.

Not now, she cursed. Not so damned close to the finish. She let the sail out to relieve the pressure and managed to slow the advance, but not by much.

How close was she? Visibility was marginal, but the instruments showed her only a hundred meters from the finish. Did she have enough momentum to cross the line in time?

The sail fluttered. Even the lessened pressure failed to stay the spread of the tear. Part of the sail trailed from the boom, dragging in the dust while the remaining shreds flapped uselessly from the spar like flags of defeat as the buggy ground to a halt.

She was lost.

* * *

Pascal could not believe his luck. He was maintaining position on Zhang as they neared the finish along the edges of the dust cloud.

A few moments before he had noticed that the visibility ahead was getting better just as the wind shifted more to the west. From his position he could ride the back edge of the storm's haystack and stay close to the lay line, effectively blocking Zhang from any further advance.

The line was only two hundred meters away when the wind died.

The sails on both buggies hung limp from the spars as they rolled along on sheer momentum.

Pascal looked at the tell-tales for any hint of a breeze, any sign that he could get enough wind to get across the line as the dust cloud continued to the southwest. He was moving at barely two mps when up ahead he spotted Louella's buggy, sans sail. How had she managed to sail through the center of that storm, he wondered.

"Sands, what do I do?" he cried. It wouldn't be long before he ground to a halt less than a hundred meters from the finish. Was this how he was going to end his racing career, sitting at a damn stop on this dust dry planet?

No, by all that's holy! He was not going to let it end this way! He freed himself from the pesky belt and climbed off the buggy. Louella had the truth of it during one of their briefings when she asked if she'd have to get out and push. Well, when the wind died on Earth there was nothing you could do about it.

But here you could push.

* * *

Louella was cursing continuously at her poor luck. As the dust cleared she spied two buggies racing to her left. All that trouble and she'd not even get to finish, she thought. Hell of a way to go out; sitting on her ass like some spectator.

Then the Gods smiled on her. The wind died and the two sailors slowed to a dead stop. A few moments later she watched in amazement when one of the sailors got out of his buggy and started to push. The other quickly followed suit.

She recognized Pascal's suit on the lead sailor. The little twerp was trying to push himself to the finish. The trouble was that the larger Zhang was rapidly catching up.

"Is that legal?" she radioed Sands. "Are they going to be disqualified?" Perhaps if they were she could do the same to get across the line that was at once so close and yet so far. No, she'd never make it in time, she realized.

"Nothing says you can't do it, " was Sands' reply as she climbed from the buggy

Without another thought, Louella ran to help Pascal. "Sands said there's nothing in the rules about pushing," she radioed as she put her hands on the rail and added her strength. "Don't mind if I help, do you?"

"That's what teammates do," Pascal replied. "They help one another."

That had been true from the beginning of their strange relationship. From the time he'd rescued her from certain death in the Southern Ocean, through the arduous training regime they'd had in preparation for the Jupiter race, and during the daring rescue by Rams on the Thorn. In every case they had worked together to overcome adversity, to pull success from certain failure, just as they would to get this damned buggy across the line to win the Martian land race.

That's what partners do.

* * *

The news services were all over them as they entered the main dome, along with several officials arguing vehemently with Sands and some dark-haired woman about the rules.

Someone ran up with a flimsy from old Jerome. "Great publicity for all of us. Put Mars back in the news. Stock up five points." That was high praise, considering the source.

* * *

Most of the reporters had already interviewed her earlier, gaining all the backstory they'd need in the event that she managed to win the race. She was certain they had done the same with all the other competitors.

"What was it like?" they asked. "How did this compare with your races on Earth and Jupiter?" "What will you do next?"

"One of the joys I've always felt," she began slowly as they hung on to every word, "was the smell of the ocean, the wind in my hair, and the taste of salt spray on my lips. I had none of those on this race but the thrill of competition, the need to run on the edge of disaster, the praying that the chances I had to take would work, and knowing that I was competing against the best," she nodded to where Zhang was chatting with his own coterie of reporters, "that is the same no matter where you sail.

"You ask me how it compares? It is the exhilaration of mastering the winds, the joy of running a true line, and the feel of being one with the boat that will always be the same whether it is on Mars, Jupiter, Earth, or any place else where a sailor can put sail to wind."

With those words she knew she would never stop sailing, not until she was too old and too frail to climb on board.

She was a sailor.

* * *

Back | Next