EP 17: 2/3 LAKES IN NEON LIGHT


This cover was drawn by the author.

This episode is PART TWO of THREE.

PART ONE: #16 HYPER-LANE IN KEIZARAD CITY



I crawled out of the B-880 cockpit, slumped onto the hard concrete track, and under the flaring lights of the raceway, I opened the visor of the helmet, and I let loose my lunch. Then, after several seconds in which I managed to compose myself, I surrendered supper. Any sense of composition was lost with my meals, and the void in my stomach was filled with a complete distaste of fast vehicles.

I rolled onto my back, mouth foaming and stomach turning.

“Opaline? Opaline, you OK?” The voice in the helmet said. This was Dudud speaking from the monitor in his trailer. “Opaline?”

“How,” I said through panting breaths, “how far did I make it?”

“Four hundred meters.”

That sounded far. I said, “How long is the track?”

“Eight kilometers.”

My stomach turned.

Dudud said, “You can’t press the gas so strongly. You aren’t used to the forces and pressures.”

I had spent a few hours that night practicing driving on Dudud’s extremely thorough and equally expensive simulator. The cockpit sat in the backroom of his trailer and was hooked up to a large virtual reality monitor. A few hours practicing steering and turning helped quite a bit. After playing the “game” for so long, I was ecstatic to try the car.

But the forces in the real B-880 were incomparable.

“Opaline?” He said. I had been silent too long.

“I’m here. I think.”

“Your stomach alright?”

“Yeah,” I rubbed my stomach and picked my head off the concrete. “Remind me not to eat anything before the race, alright?”

Porbiyo teleported next to me on the racetrack. Beep floated beside him, the tiny ball of wool flapped her bee wings wicked quick. Her golden coat of black and yellow striped fluff matched Porb’s eclectic fashion senses quite well.

Porb leaned over me, head blocking the brilliant, blinding white lights that lit the track. “That was a poor performance.”

Dudud’s voice crackled, “Tell the idiot to get off the track.”

“Idiot, get off the track,” I said to Porbiyo.

Porb put his hands on his hips, “Nobody wants me around! Not that green car, not you in this red car, and the frog driving that blue car even swatted at me. Swatted! Like I’m some insect.” He ran his fingers together, “Speaking of insects.” He took out his sketchbook full of creatures through the cosmos, landed on a page which made him giggle, then teleported away. I hoped he wouldn’t cause too much trouble. Naturally, my hopes would be wrong.

Beep stayed. She buzzed beside me and cocked her giant, bulbous sheep eyes. Suddenly, a dozen frog track personnel in matching turquoise uniforms ran over. They started yelling, “Where did it go? That strange thing, where did it go?”

I quickly shut my visor. They didn’t see my mouse face, thankfully. I shrugged and pointed in a random direction. They ran off after Porb, so enraptured in his oddness that they didn’t even comment on Beep.

“Alright Opaline, you have a few minutes more track time,” Dudud said. “Make the most of it.”

I hopped up, realizing if I didn’t get any sort of handle on the car, then I’d be out of luck come the race in fourteen hours. I ignored my churning stomach and slid into the cockpit. Dudud said, “Babash is yelling over his communicator. He’s wondering what I’m doing down there.”

He’d rerouted communications to go through him, due to my lack of understanding of any of the jargon or commands that Team Rojarad would be giving out.

“Tell him you’re—.” I stepped on the gas pedal and started my slow acceleration down the brightly lit straightaway. “Tell him it was the car.”

“You fell out of the car four hundred meters into a test drive and vomited twice,” Dudud laughed irritably. “It was not the car. I’ll tell him I was sick or something. Don’t fall out of the car again. Take your time.”

I was driving fifty kilometers an hour, and terrified. The engine blared, the neon lights and sponsorship insignias around the arena morphed in color to make these stripes of vision in my peripheral.

A massive black screen rose above the track. A neon silhouette of the circuit’s map shined in blazing pink, with the words KEIZARAD CIRCUIT formed on neon light in the midst of the track model. I passed beneath the screen.

It was early morning—so early it was dark as night, still. This planet apparently only had six hours of sunlight a day. So the entire track was still lit the same as the night before, and as it would be fourteen hours from then. The days were longer, too—closer to thirty hours.

I was very tired.

Slow on the first turn, I felt my body shift as the speed increased to 80 kilometers per hour, then 100. I drove under bright bridges and through canyons between skyscrapers.

“That’s good,” Dudud said. “You’re still going less than half of what we need you to do.” He told me to press several buttons on the steering wheel to increase some sort of something. I lost the words, and their meaning, in the evasion of a crash. My focus on handling the car ate up all the space in my head I’d cleared for the simulation training we ran through all night.

I cursed. “This is much different than the simulator.” The game was a test of reflexes, and motion. But being in that vehicle, feeling the tires, and the track, and the power through which the forces at be pressed you into the seat—I could barely think, nevermind react properly.

“It takes years of training to fully understand a B-880,” Dudud said. I cut the wheel and slowed smoothly around a bend. I smiled in satisfaction. The sensation of harnessed speed rushed through me. Dudud continued, “The forces of the car, and the impact on the body, requires tremendous control. One must become one with the car. You must feel its every rhythm. Control it, like an artist to their pen.”

With the word control, I lost that very thing. I felt a back tire slide upon a turn, and my heart stopped with the instinct of a crash and possible horrifying display. Well, the car would have been horrifying. I would have been fine, I hoped.

But I did feel the car. In that moment without complete control, I recognized what it felt like to wield the speed of the vehicle. I came upon a long straightaway and pressed the gas full on.

140km/h. 160km/h. 200km/h.

Numbness increased with my speed. My ears could barely hear Dudud. My lungs could barely function. Every last part of my body was strangled by a vice which only tightened its mighty grip the faster I drove. I pressed the pedal hard. In the tunnel of white spotlights and spectators shields, my vision became a solidified tunnel of motion lines bathed in light.

I wouldn’t be able to race with a numb mind. How could I help Dudud secure his place on the team if I could barely think straight? With all of the forces exerted on me, I realized I could potentially make it a lot easier.

My Aura bathed in Force. The pressures of the car and the velocity we traveled at struck my body hard. But that only made the forces at work easily recognizable—familiar. So I Channeled the Force at bay, and tried to imagine the incoming pressures with every turn, and swivel, and straightaway. And within a few minutes of driving, I found myself completely untouched by the forces of the drive.

My sorcery countered the physical response. I felt like I was sitting at a dinner table, not behind the wheel of a Hyper-Lane racer. The empty stands shot behind me, along with the press box. I remembered this part of the track from the simulator.

“Huge turn up ahead. Cool the car,” Dudud said. “Good show, though. You look surprisingly well adjusted.”

Without my sorcery, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle the B-880. Perhaps for a few minutes, I could maintain some semblance of an attempt, but for dozens of laps? No—I’d pass out or go mad.

“Cool the car, big turn.” Dudud said.

I let go of the gas, and cut the wheel to the left. A slow, steady turn. I remembered this from the simulator. Except the simulator was a sterile white landscape. And when I brought the car around, my eyes were bathed in a stunning vision.

Four lakes sat successively in the midst of the city, and the track swerved around them, rising just above the lakes to eventually soaring over them. Brilliant neon pink, green, and blue lights reflected in the waves.

As I drove over the first lake. The car carved over the corner and my sorcery protected my body from the sensation. But, over the water, time slowed, and in the shimmer of trickling waves and neon twinkles I pressed down on the gas and held back on my Force. And I let myself feel it.

I flew up the first curve and twisted through the lakes into the second bend. The rush, the adrenaline, the pure beauty of driving dozens of meters above the neon lakes and turning so well plastered a smile across my face.

The next few minutes of practice flew by. And I docked in the garage. The Rojarad team and pit crew all glared at me as I exited the cockpit of the car, and the Team Principle, Babash, tried to stop me to chat. But I sprinted away and made signs to show my stomach was sick.

I sprinted to the trailer, and once inside, I ripped my helmet off. Beep was already there, floating beside Dudud who watched from a monitor screen.

“The Team is furious that I am not responding or stopping to talk. Kind of funny.”

“How did I do?” I said.

“Well, slowest time on the track by a very, very significant margin,” he said. “Rojarad is furious. But you didn’t crash. I will take it. I planned on you possibly crashing, and then claiming that you stole my uniform and then the car.”

“Decent explanation.”

He smiled. Cracking, Dryrot skin still flaked beneath the layers of jelly and salve. “Rest. You will need to be ready tonight. You start P30.”

“You think I could make up 15 places?”

“Oh, absolutely not. But I have never seen anybody handle a B-880 their first time so well. Were you messing with me when you said you never have?”

I thought of all the times I’d been on starships, or thrown by gods, or punched by gods, or shot by gods, and all the times I had jumped off of exceptionally tall structures, or flown through exceptionally rough skies, or been pummeled by exceptionally hungry beasts. And how, fittingly, all of that experience helped greatly with performing in a vehicle which gave me the exceptional speed of a god.

I said, “I’ve never driven a B-880. I’ve lived a long time, though. Seen a lot. Tried a lot of things.”

“It was almost like magic.”

I smiled, “Let’s hope tonight works like magic, eh?”

And I sat down in the simulator, testing more maneuvers, listening to every word Dudud said. I wasn’t going to get P1 or anything, but at the very least, I could give this kid my best shot at points.

On the monitor, it was revealed that the P12 car, driven by Hozon Ded for Team Azulees, was stung by a violent killer three headed wasp which shot acid from its mandibles. And during my break, I spent several hours hunting down Porbiyo for his releasing of the monster.

I found him snacking at a hot dog station, humming quietly, perfectly satisfied in his actions. I smacked the food out of his hands, and walked away, perfectly satisfied in my actions.

Then I took a long nap in Dudud’s trailer, and made sure not to eat.

Fourteen hours later I found myself in the garage, on an empty stomach, body aching and Aura swelled with sorcery. And I hoped, so very much, that I’d be able to help this kid keep his team.

END, to be continued. . .