Starshine Sector: Crypto Racing "The Raytona 5,000" Part 3
Starshine Sector: Crypto Racing
“The Raytona 5,000”
Stock Rocketcar Racing In The 24th Century
****************** special episode transmission ******************
Author's Note: This is part 3 of the story “The Raytona 5,000” from my series “Starshine Sector: Crypto Racing”
Part 1 can be found here:
Explore more stories from the Rocketbilly universe at:
************** end of special episode transmission ***************
(continued from Part 2)
Zane fired his lift rockets just enough to keep the bottom of his car from scraping. He zoomed mere centimeters above the raceway, getting every extra bit of available gravity and speed boost.
In the sky above and behind him the other racers converged and dove down towards the raceway. Bugz led the way. Once they were on the racetrack their tight draft pack accelerated them enough to catch back up to Zane.
Soon many other cars were right up around Zane's rear bumper.
The spires and iridescent domes of Sundew City rose up around them. A bright fast star appeared on the horizon and sped high above and towards them. The Nitrogunx satellite.
WHAMMM!! Seemingly out of nowhere, an invisible hand grabbed Zane's racecar and yanked it back. He was thrown forward in his seat straps so hard it bruised his chest.
Two cars whizzed past him and a line of cars drafting behind him struggled to avoid colliding with his rear end. Several succeeded by swerving out of the way, but one failed.
The dark blue "Lumenbolts" sponsored car clipped Zane's left rear fender and sent him spinning off to the side.
Instinctively Zane counteracted the spin with a turn of the wheel that fired vernier rockets. He flipped upside down in the process, but managed to rejoin the back of the lead pack.
He righted the car and scanned the virtual gauges on his cyberhelm. Fortunately the impact seemed to have just bent some rear body panels and not crunched the fuel tanks and pipes within.
In the pitstop area on Planet Sundew, the Racing Control trio studied the sensors' data closely to see if Zane would need to stop for repairs.
Fortunately the damaged panels were on the rear deck above the bumper. That wasn't so bad. If they were on the car's hood or lower front, it would be a mandatory repair. As it was, the damage would not require an immediate pitstop. "GO for continue!" Joe exclaimed.
"Roger that." Zane answered, "No pitstop this time!"
Every pitstop cost time. One or two would be necessary to replace worn out rocket nozzles and patch or replace failing components. But the fewer the better.
He passed the pit stop area, waving as he went by, and approached the big banked wall.
But what had caused the initial impact? What did he hit, or what hit him?
"Tex, did you guys catch what caused that initial hit on my car?"
There was a long pause, then Tex responded. "No, we're still studying the data and scratching our heads over that one."
THE BANKED WALL
The banked wall angled up in a wide right turn and the cars clung to it, hovering on lift rockets just above its surface. Extra gravity shield plates embedded in the banked wall gave the racers a speed boost and they slung along getting pulled down by g forces. They scraped bottom and trailed sparks as the centripetal forces mounted.
Aggressive racers converged around Zane and jockeyed for advantage, nudging and bumping each other in the process. That was a delicate thing because too much bump would cause a car to spin out of control. Hovering at the edge of control they were loose as air hockey pucks!
Zane felt constrained by the pack, boxed in. A car to his left front squeezed forward and he saw his chance to break free. He jammed the accelerator pedals to maximum overthrust and an extra surge of cryogenic alcohol slurry pulsed through his pipes and into the twin main engines on his car's back.
Extra flames surged out of the rocket nozzles and scorched the hood of the car behind him. He was pushed back in his seat by the acceleration. He angled up the wall and slung around to the top of the pack as they rounded the long banked right hand turn. He could only maintain overthrust for seconds more without burning through his exhaust cones.
The pack shifted up the wall, sandwiching him between Bash Zoomar’s yellow Number 55 car and the wall. Bash swerved into him and sent him into the wall. He scraped the wall and brilliant sparks lit his left side, illuminating his racecar interior. Zane held the accelerator pedals down all the way even as the warning alarm blared and overtemp graphics showed damage to his engine nozzles. Bash slammed into him again and more showers of sparks flew. Zane held the accelerator pedals down. For a moment he thought he would get his drivers side door ground off by the wall.
But then he was past Bash and clear to descend ahead of the other cars. He swooped down into lead position ahead of the pack. It worked! But his rocket nozzles were burned through. He would need to halt at the next pitstop for a fresh set of exhaust cones.
The racers reached the end of the big banked turn and the racetrack straightened out with Zane in the lead.
Drafting right on his bumper was Lightin' Raybeam Reynolds - - so close that the exhaust flames from Zane's drive rockets were warping the paint of his sponsor's sticker. Argo Star Towing wouldn't happy to see their logo burned off.
Then came Wahoo and Bash.
The pop singer idol Velocitee, or more correctly her automatic racecar, had steadily moved forward and was now in 5th position. Her pink robotic car drove with a decent simulation of skill. But Zane was amazed that it was doing so well because to his eye as an ace racer, there was nothing brilliant about its performance. Robotic cars shouldn't be able to compete with real drivers. Ultimately they couldn't. They lacked intuition, feel, and that raw intangible Right Stuff that made a flesh and blood racer so formidable. Yet somehow Velocitee was now in fifth place.
Bugz was in sixth, smartly conserving his rocket nozzles by drafting close behind Velocitee. That was the way to do it. Let others use up their cars punching a hole through the air, saving your car's capabilities for when it really counted.
A bright star descended towards the horizon in front of them - - one of the Nitrogunx satellites. Completing its overflight and beaming holographic images of the racing action from high above.
WHAMM! Again Zane's vehicle was yanked back by unseen forces. Cars streaked past him as invisible brakes seemed to have grabbed his car and were pulling him back. On the cyberhelm's display he saw the car's speed plummet to below 1,100 miles per hour.
But Zane noticed something else then. Immediately afterwards, Velocitee's car surged forward. Past the other cars and past him, taking the lead. As she streaked ahead, he noticed her exhaust flames were no larger than normal. She was accelerating beyond everyone else without using any overthrust. How could that possibly be?!
The racetrack bent upwards and the section ended with a ramp to space. The racers hit the ramp and turned upwards.
Good thing their inertio-gravitic fields redirected most of their momentum as they hit the ramp. Otherwise the g forces would have crushed them and their machines. Even as it was, Zane strained against the ramp-induced crush which made him seem to weigh a thousand pounds.
Then he exited the ramp and the weight came back off. The racers went vertical and zoomed straight up towards space.
Zane had dropped - or been pulled - way back. Velocitee had taken the lead.
So it was Velocitee, Lightnin' and Wahoo in the front. Then Bash, Bugz, and the outworlder T'keel with the purple Exovaycay Industries sponsored car. After a short gap, a chaotic mass of lesser racers battled to join the leading contenders.
It was within this mass of cars that Zane found himself. His car seemed to be running like normal again. It had sustained no damage. But something had pulled it dramatically backwards.
The leading cars consolidated behind Velocitee, drafting upwards through the dense lower atmosphere and pulling away from the green/blue swamp planet Sundew into the deeper nebular velvet of Rocketbilly Galaxy M-59.
Tex came on Zane's cyberhelm.
"Uh, Zane, I got a message for you from one of the other racers. The alien Bugz. Message says, 'I saw it.'"
"Saw what?" Zane asked.
"Just, 'I saw it.' That's the whole message. Word from Racing Command is, you're going to need to take a pitstop on the next world to replace those rocket nozzles. They're burned all the way through and going to start losing thrust.”
"Tex, I've got a special request for the Racing Control. Tell them to program a patch for my cyberhelm. An upgrade that will enhance its synthetic vision. I want to be able to see gravity waves."
"You got it. They can install it at the next pitstop."
"I don't know, Zane. That's a pretty tall order. And we've got - what - 5 minutes to pack up, get through our jumpgate here, and set up for the pitstop in Formax."
"Just tell them to do it! They're geniuses, right?"
"OK. I'll relay that order. See you on the next world."
The jumpgate shimmered up ahead - a glowy spiderweb of energy within a large disk surrounded by blinking lights and race flags. The racers plunged through it and - -
... Were catapulted hundreds of light years away.
The jumpgate shimmered up ahead - a glowy spiderweb of energy within a large disk surrounded by blinking lights and race flags. The racers plunged through it and - -
... Were catapulted hundreds of light years away.
GALAXY CLUSTER FORMAX - PLANET FORGEGLEN
To Rocketbilly Galaxy Cluster Formax - - otherwise known as The Samurai Worlds. Home to a neo-techno-feudal sword and honour type of spacer. A Rocketbilly more likely to carry a sword than a pistol, though they might carry both. Source of a special local moonshine they called the "Fuel Of The Gods."
Ahead, the capital planet Forgeglen. The place where atomforging was practically invented and matured to a subtle, sophisticated art. Home to the Five Guilds. To the capital city, Forgeglen Station. A space trading metropolis nestled among rugged forest hills and waterfalls. Surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of green - - giant old-growth jungle trees thousands of feet high.
Into the atmosphere of Forgeglen they slammed! The spherical glowing energy bubbles of their gravfields became elongated by the air-pressure and left comet-like trails to mark their diverging paths.
Tex’s tone was stern. “Racing Control’s got three prime re-entry angles for your to choose from, Zane. Pick one and stick to it. You can make up for any lost time once your get down on the racetrack.”
“No, I got the feel of it last time. I know how far I can push it. We’re doing a pit-stop anyway so there’s nothing to lose.”
Zane pulled back on the wheel and went higher than the other racers. Again he passed the other racers mired in denser air below.
“Forgeglen’s atmosphere has a different composition!” yelled Tex.
Soon Zane knew what he meant. He was no chemist, but obviously the different proportions of gases caused more volatile plasma and he felt several body panels rupture and burn through.
He made it through the upper atmosphere without exploding, but by the time he made it to the lower atmosphere he was trailing smoke and fire from parts that weren’t rocket nozzles. Body panels hung loose. He lost control and began tumbling down towards the racetrack. It would be spectacular if he were to end the race, and probably his life, by smashing straight into the raceway surface out of control! Not how he wanted to be remembered. Maneuvering vernier rockets’ fuel lines had burned through and his Racing Control crew struggled at their consoles to re-route the pipes and upload patches. 200 feet above the raceway they succeeded and he pulled up before impact and zoomed into the pit area trailing smoke and bolts.
Arriving in his pit area firing retro rockets, his remaining speed of 750 miles per hour was dissipated almost instantly as he passed between the huge hexagonal stop plates. They glowed bright cherry red and their radiator fins released waves of heat that rippled the air. Then he cut his lift rockets and the car dropped to a complete stop in the pit area. The mech-bots rushed up with Mechanic Ann right behind them, operating her large mech controller box with both hands.
Fixing all the stuff Zane had banged up with his botched re-entry took a lot of extra time. Other racers sped past. A few were making pit stops of their own, but most didn’t need to yet. They hadn’t abused their vehicles.
Tex came up yelling a babble of angry words that Zane struggled to understand. The adrenaline pounding through Zane’s bloodstream made verbal concentration difficult at first. “Immature unprofessionalism… Racing way out of your skill set… Ignoring re-entry angles… Just get through the atmosphere without banging your vehicle up against the air - - how hard is that!?”
Mechanic Ann saw that her mech-bots were doing the repairs as quickly and efficiently as possible and sighed, wondering what her next job would be. It was all Zane's fault. She should have known he was a flake.
Tex’s tirade continued. “Look at all those professionals out there. Raybeam Reynolds. Wahoo Jenkins. Quietly and relentlessly winning using strategy and skill. No crazy stunts. Not ‘rolling the dice’ on stupid maneuvers. Being smart and conservative on re-entry. Saving their vehicles, keeping them cool and intact, so when they hit the dense air at racetrack level there’re still at 110%!”
“Now here’s that goggle patch you requested.” He waved his hand and an upgrade notification chimed in Zane’s cyberhelm. “I don’t know how they programmed it so fast, or what you’ll see. Or why you wanted it. But it’s patched into auxiliary switch 2 on your dash; that will toggle it on and off. Now stop being distracted, get out there and race!”
Zane ignited his lift rockets and rose several centimeters above the pit surface. Tex, Mechanic Ann, and the mech-bots pushed against his rear bumper to get him moving, then stepped away. Once out of the pitstop zone he ignited his main rockets and was pushed back in his seat. Then he hit the catapult zone and the real acceleration began!
When you exited the pit lane, rows of boosters along the exit lane’s sides gave you a massive acceleration. Even with the gravfield’s reduction in perceived inertia, it felt like being shot out of a cannon. The racerchain’s smartlogic calculated the appropriate boost for each racer coming out of their pitstop that would allow them to catch back up to nearly the position they were in when they exited. You would still lose ground with each pitstop, but not nearly as much as you would lose without this added boost. There was only one lap, so this was necessary; it made for tight, close racing action while still giving advantage to those who stopped the least.
Zane was pushed back in his seat by the extra thrust and zoomed past most of the racers to within sight of the lead pack. Soon he was doing nearly 1,100 miles per hour. Without the 95% aero shielding caused by the gravfield, his boxy car would have been blown apart - disintegrated, really - by the air resistance. With it, the dense air at racetrack level felt like doing 200 mph in a 20th century groundcar.
The Samurai Worlds section of the raceway was famous for its S Turns. Here he made up time and was able to pass car after car.
The turns started out lazy but became more and more extreme, culminating in a tight hairpin turn that caused several racers to spin out and strike the wall. Through the turns and past numerous racers he sped, employing rocket assisted drifting.
"Drifting's drafting,” he thought to himself. They weren't the same thing exactly, but Zane viewed drifting as a subset of drafting so he was a master of that too. If you could draft good, you could drift good. Both maneuvers felt the same when you did them right. A sense of weightless, timeless poise as you flowed perfectly in synch. He did, and was nearly back in the lead pack.
The final part of the raceway on Samurai World Forgeglen was a section of road that simulated a scene like something out of a theme park. A historical recreation of a 20th century Old Earth groundcar roadway, designed to pay homage to the pioneering bootleggers who were the very first stock car racers. He passed a few more cars and saw the leaders up ahead - - Raybeam, Wahoo, Bash, Velocitee, Bugz and T’keel.
Quaint rustic shacks and moonshine stills by the side of the raceway were tended by animatronic hillbillies who drank from jugs, waved, and tipped their straw hats. The raceway section culminated in a comical scene of 20th century police groundcars, lights flashing, having pulled over some bootleggers whose luck had finally run out. The bootleggers were reaching for the sky as the cops brandished ancient Tommy Guns. Zane wondered about the historical accuracy of that last part. Hadn’t they had laser guns by the early twentieth century?
The Forgeglen section of the raceway ended with an upwards ramp towards space and Zane chased the leaders upwards through the thinning atmosphere. They were a tight cluster ahead of him but it would be hard to gain on them since he didn’t have the boost of their draft pack.
Once in space he reluctantly fired his overboosters. Extra alcohol and liquid oxygen surged through his rocket nozzles and out the back into the vaccum of space. He didn’t want to put the stress on his fresh rocket nozzles, but there was no choice. He had to catch up or fall hopelessly behind.
Once he reached the back of the leading pack he stopped overboosting and throttled his engines way back, letting the gravity drafting pull him along. He let his system cool down and maintained his place at the back of the pack until they passed through the next jump gate.
Through Jumpgate 3 to Rocketbilly Galaxy Cluster Virgo.
The Virgo Cluster was home to a wild eyed, sports crazed, ultra hi-tech obsessed breed of Rocketbillies who lived for the truly important things in life: to race, bet, watch sports, and build faster more powerful vehicles and tech.
In action sports bars, taverns and arenas throughout Virgo they gathered to party and witness this race. All were united in their love of racing and its technology!
Tech from Virgo was considered the best in the Rocketbilly Worlds. Maybe even better than tech from the Starshine Sector, though that was a debate that would rage endlessly. Freaks for technical precision and high performance design, Virgo engineers boasted that they and their mechs were the best anywhere.
Many Virgo folk were cybernetic. Arms, legs, eyes, and parts of their skulls were often robotic. It gave them enhanced vision, strength, speed, and other powers.
So it was appropriate that the Raytona 5,000 passed through the Virgo Cluster at its capital - - the giant robotic world known as Virgomech. Every part of Virgomech was mobile and reconfigurable. A giant robot city the size of a moon. Monorails and gravwalks connected everything like a mechanical circulatory system. Protohumans and occasional aliens circulated within Virgomech like blood cells within a human body.
Into the atmosphere of Virgomech the racers slammed, their spherical energy fields turning into glowing meteor-like fireballs.
Zane followed a conservative re-entry angle calculated for him by his Racing Control trio and followed the leading pack down, maintaining his position at the rear. He did some smart drafting between their intermixed plasma trails which gained him no position but maximized his cooling. When they hit the raceway surface his systems were all running nice and cool.
“Congratulations!” Tex said, “You actually made it through an atmosphere without getting beat up by the air!”
Zane held back in 7th position and drafted behind T’Keel’s purple car. He glance up at the sky and there it appeared, looking like a bright fast-moving star - - the Nitrogunx satellite. He toggled auxiliary switch 2 on the dash and braced himself, not sure what he would see. It was initially kind of underwhelming.
Overlaid on his cyberhelm’s synthetic vision were faintly glowing waves and patches of gravity. They hovered above the terrain and around each object like dim, luminous blue grids. Each car’s gravity plates were clearly visible by the warped glow that surrounded them. The whole raceway itself glowed slightly due to the grav field plates embedded within its surface.
Then the Nitrogunx satellite flashed violent blue like a supernova. A piercing beam like a laser projected from it and centered on Velocitee’s car. She had fallen back to fourth place but when the beam hit her car she surged forward and easily passed the other cars. Wahoo Jenkins swerved to block her but the beam disappeared and with it, Velocitee’s acceleration. Then after a pause an angry red beam fired from the satellite and struck Wahoo’s car. Wahoo slowed with a jerk and fell back. Now the red beam disappeared and after five seconds the blue beam reappeared and centered on Velocitee’s car. She surged ahead again.
“Tex, I need another patch!” Zane said. “Tell Racing Command to give me a function that will record what I’m seeing on my Cyberhelm. I’ll activate it with accessory switch three.”
There was a long pause, then Tex replied. “We came here to race, Zane. Not build goggle mods.”
“Trust me on this, just do it!” said Zane.
“Roger, I’ll relay that command,” said Tex wearily, “No pit stop needed this time. You’re coming up on The Trench…”
The Trench was Virgomech’s signature raceway feature. 30 feet wide, it channelized all the racers and forced them to interact - if not impact! The vast distances of interstellar travel had to be wrung out of the cars for the closest packed racing action possible. The Trench was one way of doing this.
And bring them together it did! All the front runners had to swerve and angle for position in the trench as they all bunched together. There were minor collisions and sparks but soon they were organized in the trench in two tight drafting lines.
Trench obstacles rose out of the surface ahead of them - 10 foot wide cylinders. Like giant pinball bumpers that rose randomly from the raceway surface. You couldn’t simply cruise above them because you would miss out on the massive boost afforded by The Trench’s extra-powerful embedded grav plates. The rocketcars swerved to miss the obstacles and the two drafting lines got split up into a chaos of scrambling cars and rising cylinders.
The chaos and fast reaction times required really separated the best racers from the almost-best. While the leaders swerved expertly, dodging the cylinders as they appeared, many of the stragglers behind them were not so lucky. Two cars struck cylinders with brutal diagonal hits and went spinning out of the trench trailing pieces. A third got freaked out, zigged when he should have zagged, and hit one dead center. His car was obliterated in a massive fireball. Fortunately his ejection seat worked as designed and its brief high-intensity emergency gravfield shielded him from the worst of the damage. He landed outside the raceway and stood up almost immediately - - wobbly but intact.
Bash tapped Zane’s bumper and sent him whizzing towards one of the cylinders but Zane swerved around it just barely. Once he’d cleared the obstacle he looked towards Bash. The cyberhelm’s synthetic vision zoomed in and he could see Bash grinning.
The racers emerged from The Trench and Zane saw the Nitrogunx satellite flash again as it neared the horizon. It shot its blue beam at Velocitee’s car and helped her make up for speed she had lost in The Trench. Just like that, she was back in the lead. Probably singing the whole way.
“What’s the status of that patch!?” Zane yelled.
“Still in progress,” said Tex hesitantly.
“All I need is a video recorder! 3D holographic or not! How hard is that?”
There was no reply.
The Nitrogunx satellite disappeared below the horizon and the ramp to space appeared.
Zane drafted at the back of the pack into space. He passed T’keel and Bugz and was right behind the trio of Raybeam, Wahoo and Bash as they passed through Jumpgate 4.
Out of the stretchy tunnel of blurred stars they emerged into the solar system that had spawned all human civilization. Proto-humans had already been out there in space, of course, had been throughout the cosmos since ancient times. But there was something special about this place that had sparked a human expansion into space that had yet to abate. Some special spirit. Maybe something special in the air.
OLD EARTH - DAYTONA
Terra- Old Earth - loomed ahead. Aside from the glimmer of space stations which dotted the sky, Terra looked like it must have looked back in the 20th century. When ancestors raced groundcars round and around a famous super speedway in Daytona far below. Near where they would be racing soon on the section of the Raytona 5,000 raceway that was part of this ancestral holy land.
As Zane streaked downward through the atmosphere, playing it smart and cool, Tex gave him some bad news. “Racing Command says you’re going to need to stir your alcohol tanks. They’ve gotten too cold and the fuel is starting to clump.”
A jolt of fear shot through Zane. Stirring the tanks was a roll of the dice and he wasn’t feeling particularly lucky. One flick of that stir switch and the tanks might blow up. It could be catastrophic - - even potentially deadly. But even failing that, a bad stir could put you out of the race. They should have monitored the fuel temp more closely! Adjusted it remotely!
“OK,” Zane said with resignation. “When do they want it done?”
“The sooner the better,” said Tex.
“OK…” Zane held his breath, flicked back the switch cover, and triggered both tanks to stir. He held the switches down and heard the motors whirring. Nothing blew up. “How’s that?”
After a pause, Tex replied. “Looks good for now. They’re warming the tanks some, hopefully that’s it. The patch you requested has been uploaded, record on/off is with auxiliary switch three.”
The neon city Daytona glowed at the edge of the beach far below them in the ancient territory of Florida. Zane marvelled at being even this close. He had never before been to Earth, much less Daytona.
A sharp bump interrupted his thoughts. Bash Zoomar again! He looked towards Bash and the cyberhelm zoomed in so he could see Bash waving at him. He gave Bash the finger and Bash threw his head back and laughed. Bash continued to tap him from the left, stronger each time. Each time Bash went wider and set up for a bigger hit.
Bugz was trying to pass Raybeam and Wahoo, but they were working together to keep him back. Every time Bugz built up some speed to pass, they would swerve together to block his maneuver. Their blocking maneuvers were becoming increasingly violent. Wahoo smashed into Bugz and sparks flew. Some part too - probably a body panel. Now Raybeam and Wahoo backed up to either side of Bugz.
Zane maneuvered closer to them, pulling alongside on their left. Bash followed beside him setting up for his next ramming maneuver. Bash had become too predictable. It was obvious what he would do and when he would do it. Bash swerved extra wide, setting up for the biggest slam yet. Raybeam and Wahoo went wide, then back in to slam Bugz between them.
Zane’d had enough. At the last possible moment he swerved right to dodge Bash’s hit and slam into Raybeam. But to his surprise Bash, Raybeam, and Wahoo simultaneously pulled up like someone had given an invisible signal. It was too late and Zane slammed hard into Bugz, busting some side panels loose and causing fuel and oxidizer to spew and catch fire. That would be a mandatory pitstop for Bugz. He looked at Bugz and when the cyberhelm zoomed in, saw him shaking his tiny fist furiously.
Distracted with remorse and an overwhelming feeling of having been duped, Zane didn’t notice Bash, Raybeam and Wahoo converging on him until it was too late. The three of them hit him from different directions simultaneously causing sickening crunches and a hard impact shock that even the inertial dampening of the gravfield couldn’t take the sting out of.
His cyberhelm’s display went red; mandatory pitstop for multiple ruptured lines, crumpled panels, and shattered circuits.
“Mandatory pitstop!” yelled Tex.
“I know!” said Zane, and mashed his accelerator pedals to full overthrust. Fortunately nothing blew up when he did that. Huge plumes of flame shot from his drive rockets as he plowed into the dense atmosphere just above the raceway section.
Bugz had the same idea. He was diving down at maximum overthrust towards the pit area. This late in the race, and with a mandatory pitstop that would take awhile, they had best use up the remaining life of their main rocket nozzles using overthrust, pull ahead, and have the rocket nozzles replaced along with the rest of the repairs. The two of them pulled ahead of all the others even as their rocket nozzles burned through and began throwing off chunks.
Each pulled up at the last moment before they would have struck the racetrack surface and zoomed into their pit areas. The hexagonal stop plates dissipated their speed as heat, they shut down their lift rockets, and their pit crews raced up to them.
But the pit crew had only gotten part way up to Zane when an explosion caused them to hesitate. A fuel tank alarm flashed on his display, showing the obvious - - the fuel temperature problems had caused one of the tanks to explode. This ruptured one of the liquid oxygen tanks, and LOX began to spew into Zane’s passenger department.
“Mandatory evac!” yelled Tex.
Zane was already halfway out the drivers side window. His racing suit could protect against a lot, but being bathed in liquid oxygen definitely voided the warranty. He staggered out and found his way blocked by one of the RG-57 mech-bots. He kicked it out of the way and it backed up, then started forward again. Frustrated and scared of having LOX spray onto the back of his racing suit, he started to kick it again to get it further back but Mechanic Ann stepped between him and the bot. “Hey!” she yelled, suddenly angry herself. “They have feelings now! Rudimentary feelings.” The mech-bot shied away and moved uncertainly. Tex just shook his head in disgust.
Zane dodged her and went to the side while the repairs were completed. It seemed to take forever. Then he was back in driver’s seat and they were pushing him back onto the track. He ignited his rockets, entered the boost section, and was shot back onto the raceway with acceleration that made his vision blur.
In his rearview he noted that Bugz had just gotten shot out of his pit area too. Since they’d arrived in their pits running first and second place, the pit exit accelerators had given them a huge boost - enough that they soon caught up with the trio of Raybeam, Wahoo and Bash. Zane settled in behind them drafting close. Bugz dropped behind Zane, close. Too close! He began tapping Zane’s bumper. Must have thought Zane smashed him on purpose, maybe in collusion with the Rocketbilly trio.
There came the Nitrogunx satellite that was orbiting the Daytona section of the raceway, moving overhead like a bright fast star. Velocitee had drifted back to sixth place. Zane switched on the gravity-vision mod on his cyberhelm and he saw the blue beam strike Velocitee’s car like a spotbeam. He flicked auxiliary switch three on the dashboard and a “recording” icon appeared on his cyberhelm’s display.
The beam from the satellite was twice as wide as Velocitee’s car and grew extra bright at its edges, forming a bright circle which extended several meters from her car in either direction where it struck the raceway. Her car accelerated when the beam hit it and continued to accelerate past he and Bugz as the beam stayed focused on it. The bright edge of the beam brushed Zane’s car as Velocitee passed and Zane felt his car accelerate with a sharp jolt. Then the beam was past and the sudden surge of strong acceleration stopped.
It was a gravity beam.
Like what Joe had tried to say something about during their pre-race meeting at The Phoenix. Now Zane had evidence of it.
As Velocitee, still being boosted by the gravity beam, surged into first place again, Zane flicked auxiliary switch three back up and the recording stopped. On his cyberhelm he saw an icon representing the holographic video file. With a glance he eye-dragged a copy of the icon to the communications tag to send a copy to his Racing Command Trio.
“Tex!” he said, “Tell Joe he was right about those gravity beams. I’m sending the proof!”
Then he opened his phone contact list and dialed Cindy Sand. She answered, surprised, probably interrupting a live broadcast. “Cindy! I’ve got a gift for you, I’m sending it now. Those cybertulips you asked for.” He eye-dragged a copy of the video file to the send folder.
Cindy looked angry. “Never call me when I’m broadcasting. Never call me when you’re in the middle of a race. Come to think of it, never call me period. You’re ridiculous.” She hung up.
Static surged across Zane’s cyberhelm display. Then another face came on the display, bigger than the others had been. Zane hadn’t called, or been called by, anyone else.
It was the Nitrogunx executive who had arrived in the airlimo the night before the race. The one who had wanted him to let Velocitee win. He was still chomping on a fuming cigar. He still wore a purple suit, but this one was striped with puffy crimson velour.
“Bravo,” the Nitrogunx man said sourly. “You’ve seen gravity’s waves and how we have used them with our satellites. So what. Once Velocitee is named winner on the racerchain, it will be permanent. No one will entertain you and your conspiracy theories, evidence or no evidence. The race results can’t be undone. The racerchain is immutable. Unalterable. Any lingering questions about rules, regulations, or wild conspiracy theories will be set aside - - rendered null and void - - the moment she crosses the finish line first. That’s Raytona tradition. That’s how the racerchain works.”
Zane grimaced, knowing he was right. There had often been questions, accusations, conspiracy theories and the like. Once a winner was crowned, all doubts were put aside. No one cared about the truth. Or more precisely, winning defined the truth. Yes, that was the tradition.
The Nitrogunx man drew deeply on his cigar then exhaled pink smoke. “You might also like to know that we’ve just agreed to buy Orange Crunchballs Corporation. We’ll terminate your sponsorship. Perhaps transfer it to Velocitee. And we’ll put out the word to all our media and racing contacts throughout known space - - no one is to hire Zane Polestar. You’ll find all doors closed to you. No sponsors, no coverage. Like you don’t even exist. No professional race will ever allow you to enter out of fear of our retribution. Enjoy your fate, Zane Polestar. You should have accepted our more than generous offer.” Zane’s cyberhelm display fuzzed with static, then the Nitrogunx executive disappeared.
Somehow Nitrogunx had hacked the racerchain itself! They’d spied on his confidential communications with his team, an obvious violation of the rules. They would be listening to him now. Reacting to whatever he said.
“Tex! Did you hear all that!?”
Tex’s voice was distant and tired. “Hear what, Zane? What are you talking about.”
(continued in Part 4)
***************** links to other parts of this story ******************
“The Raytona 5,000” (Part 1)
“The Raytona 5,000” (Part 2)
“The Raytona 5,000” (Part 3)
“The Raytona 5,000” (Part 4)
“The Raytona 5,000” (Part 5)
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