A bird in the hand is worth about three tissue.
It had been a brutal season. It was expected to lose racers each season, that’s part of the glory of this sport; part of the reason the fans still came in droves even though practicing this time honoured tradition was made illegal fifty years ago.
But there were too many losses that season.
The rules to bear racing were simple. There was a marked course, and you followed a path from point A to point B. You were not allowed to leave your mount at anytime, or you were disqualified, and you were not allowed to bring any weapon with moveable parts, or you were disqualified. Pretty much anything else was acceptable.
My new trainer was working out nicely that season. He had taken to the bear immediately with grand affection, and more importantly, the bear reciprocated in kind. They had achieved a lot for me, and I was well pleased with the progress.
My bear snorted in anticipation, snapping me back to the task at hand. It was the semi-final race. I leaned down and patted her behind the ear, letting her know how fond of her I was. She was a good bear, fast, fierce, and full of stamina. I looked down the line to my left and right, taking in the other competitors, looking for signs of fear or weakness, looking for ways to exploit them in this race.
I could feel a small bead of sweat forming at the base of my neck; my own heart racing with excitement. There was something to be said for riding a bear; no matter how many times you did it, it was always a rush. The entire experience of being a racer was an adrenaline packed fun fest. It reminded me of piloting.
The tribal drums started up, the indication to both racers and fans alike that the race was about to start. The crowd went wild with cheering and applause; the racers tended to their mounts last minute needs and screwed on their own courage.
The announcer’s voice blasted over a megaphone, going through the ritual in the old language, as was our tradition. I dug my hands firmly into my bear’s fur, fistfuls ready to steer her towards a hopeful victory.
The countdown began.
The horn blasted, and the race began.