Lay of the Land

Here is a rough map of Hawking colony: Asteroid 2220 HK was the provisional name of the colony’s spherical, slowly rotating, soot-covered, premier mining claim until it could be offici­ally renamed “Hawking-World.” AS/2220 HK was about 400 kilometers in diameter, with a 200 kilometer wide, 200 kilometer high cylinder, called the “Cavern”, hollowed out along the asteroid’s axis. The asteroid’s rotation created enough centrifugal force to make the inside wall of the cylinder feel like solid ground, even though it curved up and up in front of you until it curled all the way around the world to become the ground behind you. 

To your right, relative to the direction of rotation, was the North Face, one of the two 200 kilometer high disks that were the bases of the Cavern’s cylinder. From the ground, the uppermost rim of the disk faded into the pale blue of aerial perspective as you looked up and beyond the Axis, 100 kilometers away. Behind the North Face was the ongoing mining operation that would someday lengthen the Cavern by another third.

To your left was the South Face, where gravity-dependent research and manufacturing took advantage of the artificial gravity that ranged from one gee on the ground beneath your feet, to near zero gee at the Axis where the South Polar Spaceport and commercial airlocks were located. 

Radial freight and passenger elevators sped across the North and South Faces then gradually curved over at the foothills on the ground to become hyperloop trains traveling the length of the Cavern. Cylindrical coordinates, measured in kilometers down the length of the Cavern and degrees around the Faces, designated locations in the colony.

Halfway along the eventual final length of the Cavern, forming a ring around its circumference, was a 620 by 15 kilometer arboretum called Central Park. The park was where the 57th Annual Jr. Planeteers Jamboree was taking place, in and on its fairgrounds and parade grounds, campsites, playa, and stadium.

In the stadium, in front of a raucous crowd and a twisting obstacle course, an official announced like a carnival barker, “Teams, go to your assigned pit area and make ready. The final heat of the robot races will commence in thirty minutes.”

Bear pack was already in their pit busily preparing Big Red for the race when Miyoko Smith dropped by. Earlier that morning, Bear pack had gone to the awards platform to wish their friends, Orca pack, good luck in the Citizenship in the Solar System merit badge category. As proof of Bear pack’s mystic powers as a good luck charm, Orca pack won the coveted merit badge. As an extra honor, Col. B. Davidson Dubois presented the award himself. After many hugs and congratulations, Bear pack had to leave and prepare for their race. But despite her elation, Miyoko remembered to drop by Bear pack’s canopy tent in the pit area to return their support. 

“Miyoko, are you alright?” Tommy Tomorrow asked. The giddy grin on Miyoko’s face meant that of course she was alright; she was better than alright; she was over the moon ever since winning the award she and her pack had worked so hard all year to earn. She fingered the merit badge attached to her sash as if it was a worry stone. “I’m fine,” she said, in a daze. 

Tommy half-smiled. If Miyoko felt any “finer”, she’d float away like a helium balloon. “Miyoko, maybe you’d like to get a soft drink and sit in the lounge area?” Tommy said encouragingly. The individual pits were surprisingly well appointed, with a small snack bar and a lounge area for teams and their visitors. “Yes, that sounds good,” the young honoree said, as if imbibing a refreshing beverage was an idea she had heard about for the very first time. Then she twirled twice and drifted toward the lounge. Tommy was pleased. At least while she was in the lounge, Miyoko couldn’t accidentally float away on the breeze.

“Teams, bring your machine to the starting line,” touted the announcer.

In no particular order, each pack of Jr. Planeteers transported their robot to the start of the steeplechase and got to see its competition for the first time. Most of the robots were autonomous race cars, but with big, high-traction wheels. Three robots were designed to be more agile and were shaped like some sort of multi-legged animal. One even resembled a spirited, prancing pony. The most unusual robot was a crawler that creeped low to the ground on ten telescoping, piston legs.

The next robot was Big Red, Bear pack’s entry in the race. Milo drove ‘Red in manual mode to the starting line while Joey sat in the pit monitoring the machine’s hardware telemetry, and Becky sat beside Joey monitoring the machine’s software status. Tommy looked on and modestly provided support as needed. 

Milo climbed out of the operator’s cage and down the ladder notched in the back of Big Red’s leg. Tommy came out to meet Milo and also admire his pack’s handiwork. ‘Red was a glistening bronze giant standing triumphantly in the midday artificial sun. 

Just then, Tommy and Milo heard behind them, the light tap of footsteps synchronized with the rhythmic rumble of an earthquake. Tommy Tomorrow scowled. The footsteps belonged to Bruno Cardellini, who swaggered to the starting line wearing a motion sensor mesh on his body and a smirk on his face. The footsteps like an earthquake belonged to the Wolf pack’s robot, a glistening, brand new, steel-blue giant bulldozer that was the same make and model as the Bear pack’s ‘bot.

Bruno strode to the starting line, stopped, and then waved at the noisy bleachers as if he had already won the race, while his ‘bot mimicked and magnified its master’s every move. Bruno disengaged his slave remote control and headed toward the Wolf pack’s pit area. As he passed Tommy and Milo, Bruno stopped and nonchalantly said, “What are the odds? We both had the same idea to adapt a bulldozer as our entry in the race.” Milo gritted his teeth while Becky, Joey, and Miyoko popped their heads out of their tent like three jack-in-the-boxes. It was obvious to them, if no one else, that the Wolf pack had spied on the Bear pack some time ago and had stolen their idea. 

“Of course, my robot is a newer version than your old rust heap,” Bruno said. “My dad’s brother is a bigwig in the Chen-Glücksbringer Mining Supply company. Dad asked uncle if his favorite nephew could borrow a bulldozer for awhile and he said, ‘For Bruno? Sure thing. Take this new ‘bot. Borrow it for as long as you want.’” Bruno chuckled, then his demeanor turned in an instant and he glared at Tommy. “I told you we’d settle things later. Beating you and your little ‘teddy bears’ in this race is just the beginning.”

Tommy stared back at Bruno, but he didn’t flinch at the older boy’s threat. Tommy’s strategy was to meet Bruno’s bullying with confidence, fearlessness, and a threat of his own. “You’re going to beat us?” Tommy said skeptically with a half-smile. “Not likely.” Then he calmly turned his back to Bruno and regarded the big, blue, robot. “But you’re right about one thing: The odds seem impossibly high that you had exactly the same idea as we did for making a robot. I mean, we were working in secret. It’s almost as if—oh, I don’t know—you were watching us. As if you were….” 

Bruno’s eyes widened slightly without him realizing it, and his mouth suddenly felt dry. Tommy Tomorrow had grabbed Bruno’s attention by the throat. “Why was he so relaxed, so fearless?” wondered Bruno. Cardellini felt a little pang of guilt, of shame, but he crushed it. Tommy Cameron couldn’t know what he, what the entire Wolf pack, had done—could he? His next word wasn’t going to be “spy”—was it?

Tommy didn’t say another word. Instead, he made a sound.

“Bzzz!” said Tommy, as he crooked his arms by his sides and vibrated them like the wings of a spy-drone. Then Milo joined in, smiling at Bruno with mocking derision, and loudly saying, “Bzzz!” too as he and Tommy flew around each other like binary stars. Over at the pit area tent, Joey and Becky joined the chorus, buzzing like the little lost spy-drone, between peels of laughter. Miyoko didn’t join the ridicule, but she rolled with laughter too. Then Tommy held and imaginary ray-gun and zapped Milo as he buzzed by. Milo hammed up a death scene, feebly flapping his hands and arms as he fell to the ground, twitching and buzzing spastically until he fell silent.

Tommy turned serious all of a sudden and met Bruno eye-to-eye. “You honestly thought you could get away forever keeping us under surveillance without us spotting your spy-drone?” Bruno looked more shocked than if Tommy had slapped him. “Now the only question isn’t whether to tell the authorities, but when.”

Tommy offered a hand to Milo and pulled him up to his feet. Then they both sauntered casually back to their tent, trading bursts of laughter and fits of buzzing. Finally, the Bear pack entourage and guest slipped back into their tent and pulled the door flap shut.

On the race track, Bruno Forever suddenly found himself alone, and to his surprise, very scared. “What just happened?” he wondered. He was the one who was supposed to terrify people; not the other way around. 

The nearby race contestants were staring curiously at the commotion between the Bear and Wolf packs. But as Bruno hunched his shoulders and stomped back to his pack’s pit, he gave the rubberneckers as much of an earful as he could feebly muster as he snarled, “What are you looking at?” 

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