Episode 14 in Season 4 of my Insurgency series. A Race entry for the Marauders. Please comment, rate and enjoy!
About this creation
Corresponding text underneath each picture.
25th February: Present Day
Deltar Five Airspace…
There was no trace of Darkblade anywhere!
Sigmaridian had held no answers for us. After everything we'd gone through to get there, in the end, it had been fruitless. We'd visited Mountpass, as per Ranger's suggestion, to see if he'd come in on one of the official outer-system transports, but there were no reports of him, official or otherwise.
We'd spent the next several days scouring the rest of the city, but again had come up empty. However, I'd refused to believe that the entire journey to System 55 had been pointless and had resolved to continue searching. The only question that remained was; search where? We'd hoped to get a lead on Darkblade on Deltar 5, but with nothing to go on, we were a bit stumped as to where we should visit next.
We were currently all aboard Ranger's ship, The Eagle, hanging in orbit above System 55's capital planet, while we discussed our options. I was pacing back and forth, agitated, while Cat sat on the couch and Tracks sat on the floor beside her. Ranger was tinkering with something in the cockpit at present but was joining in the conversation from afar.
Tank: "Maybe there's other locations that transports dock when they arrive in-system?"
Ranger: "Not legal ones." He replied from under the dashboard. "If he came on a transport, he would have gone through Mountpass."
Cat: "Darkblade isn't exactly a law-abiding citizen." She replied. Tracks whirred and ground out his own response.
Tank: "Yeah, he'll stay away from any authorities as much as he can." I agreed with my droid.
Ranger: "I still don't get how you understand him." He acknowledged in amazement as he sat up between the cockpit chairs and looked over at Tracks.
Tank: "Because I built him." I responded as something in my belt began to buzz.
I realised it was my comlink and as I pulled it out, thumbed it on with a frown. Who was calling me from this system?
Mr. Grey: "So you are alive." Mr. Grey stated upon seeing me.
Tank: "Well done Captain Obvious." I replied sarcastically. "How are you calling me? Are you in System 55.?"
Mr. Grey: "No, I'm at home. But it took a lot of effort to get this call established, let me tell you. So, less of the sass, if you don't mind."
Tank: "I didn't think coms worked between systems?"
Mr. Grey: "I'm bouncing the signal via several different stations. The line should be secure, but I wouldn't give away any personal information, just in case."
Ranger: "Who's the Brit?" Ranger asked Cat as, wiping his greasy hands on a cloth, he plonked himself down beside her.
Cat: "It's a long story. Tank'll tell you later."
Mr. Grey: "We've not been in touch for a while. Care to explain why you're in System 55?"
Tank: "Oh, sorry." I retorted, practically rolling my eyes. "I forgot you needed to know my schedule. Okay; bathroom break is at three..."
Mr. Grey: "Chain..." he warned.
Ranger: "Chain?" He muttered to Cat.
Cat: "Yeah, you've got a lot to catch up on."
Mr. Grey: "Less of the sass. Remember, I'm trying to help you."
Tank: "Help me? Help me how? I do jobs for the Brain - you give me information leading to me being able to catch my parent's killer. Well, I'm doing it myself! That's why I'm in 55. We've followed Darkblade here, or at least, we think we have. We're trying to track him down, but we keep hitting dead ends." I admitted, my anger fizzing out by the end of the statement.
Mr. Grey thought for a moment before changing tack.
Mr. Grey: "I saw that The Viper's signal went dead. What happened?"
Tank: "We got shot down." I answered before realising the connotations of what he'd actually said. "Wait, you had a tracer on The Viper? Since when?"
Mr. Grey: "Since your trip to ROBKAT. The Brain had one of the engineers build it in."
I scowled at that, not liking the idea of having been tacked for all this time.
Mr. Grey: "Anyway, for what it's worth, I'm glad you're okay."
Tank: "Thanks." I mumbled.
Mr. Grey: "Do you have any ideas on where to continue your search?"
Tank: "No. Not yet." I admitted, but then Ranger spoke up.
Ranger: "Actually, I do."
Mr. Grey: "Who's he?"
Tank: "He's giving us a lift. We saved his life."
Ranger: "Uh... I think you'll find that you simply 'spared' my life, rather than saved it, and I’m pretty sure I paid that back when I stopped you from getting eaten, but anyway, that's beside the point. As I was saying, I have an idea. Who is this 'Darkblade'?" He asked rhetorically.
Tank: "He's... an old friend." I replied sadly and was about to go on when Ranger cut me off again.
Ranger: "No no no. More broadly. Who, or more specifically what, is he?"
Tank: "A human?"
Ranger pulled a face.
Ranger: "Alright clever-clogs, a little more specific than that. What is he?"
Mr. Grey: "A criminal." Came the reply from my com.
Ranger: "Exactly! Ten points to the blue guy!" He grinned, pointing at the hologram of Mr. Grey, who I imagined didn't appreciate that remark. That thought made me smirk.
Ranger: "He's a criminal. So, who better to speak to about him than other criminals! If he's been here, somebody in the underground criminal network will know."
Cat: "Okay, but where do we start? I imagine System 55 has just as many criminals as we do back in 54." Cat pointed out, making a very fair point.
Tank: "Does the Brain have any informants over here who may have some suggestions?" I asked the hologram in my hand.
Mr. Grey: "None that would be of any use in this particular instance, I'm afraid."
Ranger: "We'll head to one of the seedier areas. Somewhere we know there are going to be criminals, somewhere that attracts them. I've heard that the Speeder Circuit on Ark’lack is a pretty grim place."
Mr. Grey: "Ardon Nix. That's the name of the gentleman, if he can be called that, who runs the place. A local gang lord. It's at least a place to start."
I shared a consultatory look with Cat who, after a moment's thought, gave a microscopic nod.
Tank: "Okay, let's do it."
Darkblade stomped along the facility corridor. The last time he'd been here, guard droids had been shooting at him, but this time all was quiet. The droids had been commanded to let come and go in peace and now, as he returned, they stood silently and let him pass.
Dr. Lobotomy jumped as the lab door slammed open and the mercenary strode through.
Darkblade: "Infatope-Z and Baristau 47, as requested." He announced in his electronically modulated voice, producing 2 vials from a belt pouch.
Dr. Lobotomy: "Excellent!" The mad doctor exclaimed, rubbing his hands like a greedy child, before taking the two elements from the other. "I've already combined the other chemicals in preparation, so now I have the last pieces of the puzzle, it shouldn't take too long for me to complete the serum."
Darkblade: "How long?"
Dr. Lobotomy: "Give me... 5 hours." He replied, checking the clock on the wall.
Darkblade: "You've got two."
Two hours came and went with Dr. Lobotomy slaving away, working frantically to recreate the chemical serum that had given Darkblade his enhanced abilities, but still he wasn't finished. Darkblade was growing impatient, having swapped from sitting sharpening his sword and knives to pacing silently around the lab, but as the three hour mark approached, the doctor exclaimed,
Dr. Lobotomy: "There! It's finished!"
Darkblade was by his side in a flash.
Darkblade: "Will it work?"
The Doctor turned with a glint in his eye and said,
Dr. Lobotomy: "There's only one way to find out!"
Darkblade would never have admitted it, but he was a little nervous. There was no guarantee that this would work. He didn't trust Lobotomy, but he was his only chance at getting his old strength back. As the mad scientist tightened the straps that lashed his arms, legs and chest to the operating table, he had flashbacks to the first time this had happened - Deep underground in a cold, rock-walled room on the frozen side of Iapra. Back when he'd been somebody else. A whole lifetime ago.
Back with Tank at his side.
That single thought steeled his soul and calmed his nerves. That was why he was here. That was why he was doing this. To finally put an end to that lucky son of a bitch.
Dr. Lobotomy: "This will probably hur..."
Darkblade: "Just do it." He demanded.
Without another word, the doctor jammed a needle into the side of Darkblade's neck. He grunted as the sharp metal pierced his skin and he felt the liquid being forced into his vein. For a brief moment, Darkblade thought of how much of a contrast this occasion was to the last. Last time he had thrashed and resisted the injection as if it would end his life. Now here he was, demanding more of the very same substance. As the serum began to work its way through his bloodstream, Darkblade's breathing became heavier until he was practically panting - He could feel it like a fire in his veins, although he soon began to lose focus as it grew too much for him.
He growled, embracing the pain and Dr. Lobotomy stepped back, partly to watch but also for his own safety. As the mercenary's growls drew out into more of a sustained roar, he started to shake, only his restraints keeping him in place.
Darkblade's eyes rolled back into his head as he thrashed against the table, his head and limbs jerking violently, tugging at the straps holding him down until blood trickled from his mouth, having bitten his tongue.
Then - it was over. He fell limp, his head lolling on his chest and the doctor frowned, concerned. Stepping closer again, he tried to find a pulse on the mercenary's neck but failed. Lobotomy frantically undid one of his wrist restraints and pressed two fingers to his vein, waiting.
Darkblade's arm shot up, grabbing Lobotomy by the throat, making him gasp and his eyes flashed open, showing pupils as small as pinpricks.
Darkbalde: "This will probably hurt."
And he launched the madman across the room to his death.
Ark'lack was grim. It was dirty, grimy, gloomy... It had 'industrial' written all over it. There were factories everywhere, pumping out toxic fumes as they made virtually everything that the system required. From vehicle parts to weapons. Machinery to furniture. Literally everything was made here. Including, if you knew where to look for it, some more illicit items.
At least, that's what Ranger told us as we made our way from where he'd parked The Eagle to the entrance to the speeder track. Technically, swoop racing was illegal on Ark’lack, however, it had been going on for so long now that nobody really cared. It was just part of the planet.
I looked at the people surrounding us as we passed through the inconspicuous gates that marked the entrance to the circuit and couldn't help but feel out of place. Physically, I and in fact, we, fit in quite well, so maybe it was just my brain telling me otherwise, with the knowledge that I was in reality a millionaire from the posh part of New York - not a grime-covered, downtrodden local like most of those surrounding us. They looked like the sort of people who hated their jobs (if they had one), which probably included manual labour of some kind in one of these factories or warehouses. They got paid very little and drank far too much.
Essentially, they were the sort of people that may know a thing or two about the local criminal goings-on, meaning we were probably in the right place.
If Darkblade had been here or anywhere of note, someone here would know about it.
The question was; who?
I stepped aside as two bouncers walked by, dragging a protesting alien between them. This was a rough place. As we made our way further in through the stands, the noises that had filled the air since before we'd even entered the stadium grew louder. Sounds of cheering, screaming and above all else, the sudden roar of engines. Ahead of us, I could see an opening, through which plumes of dust were thrown into the air as speeders sped by, earning roars of encouragement from the gathered crowd.
The air was thick with smoke and dust, but also with a palpable feeling of anticipation and as we made our way through the under-stands, getting closer to the action, that sense only got stronger.
I paused for a few seconds at the opening and looked out over the dusty track beyond. Well, I say ‘track’ but really it was just a course marked in, out and around the nearby factories and warehouses, using the existing roads. Down here on the surface, with more manufacturers opting for hover vehicles over traditional wheeled ones in order to maximise speed and efficiency, the actual roads were seeing less and less use and as such were becoming more and more run down, with massive potholes forming, debris being left in the way and dust, dirt and grime covering everything in sight. On this industrial world, cleaners had long since been forgotten. After fighting an un-winnable battle against the dirt they’d soon given up.
The final straggler in the current race zoomed past on a battered green swoop, trailing black fumes from the exhaust and the slightly muffled voice of a commentator got the crowd laughing at their poor performance.
Ranger: “Tank.” He called, gesturing with his head for me to join the rest of them. As I made my way over, I realised somebody else was with them. A scruffy-looking local, he had a slightly shifty look about him, and also a drunken look.
Cat: “Our new friend here says that Nix is actually here, right now.” She updated, catching me up on the conversation they’d clearly had whilst I’d been watching the race.
Man: “Hey, this stuff ain’t cheap!” he argued, wiggling the bottle in his hand around. In response, Tracks grabbed him by the collar and slammed him, protesting, into a metal support, growling menacingly in his robotic tones.
Man: “Alright! Alright! He has a box! Box 1” he cried, gesturing wildly. Tracks dropped the local, who’s legs gave way as he hit the floor and he collapsed onto the ground.
Ranger: “Probably could have guessed that!” he muttered to me as we headed off in the direction that we’d been pointed in.
It didn’t take long to find the entrance to the gang lord’s private box,; it was the one with a couple of thugs guarding the entrance. I hesitated for a moment, not sure how we were going to get passed them, but Ranger, in all of his cocky arrogance, simply strode up to them.
Ranger: “Alright boys! How’s it goin’?” he grinned.
Thug #1: “Piss off.” One grunted.
Ranger: “Hey! That’s no way to speak to an old pal’s on Ardon’s!” Ranger bluffed.
Thug #1: “Piss…”
Thug #2: “Off.” They repeated, now levelling their blasters at us, so Ranger backed off, his attempt having failed and I raised my hands in submission.
Tank: “Hey, hey, take it easy guys. We don’t want any trouble.” I said in an attempt to pacify them. “We’re racers and we were just after an audience with your boss.” I explained, stepping closer. “He’s kind of a legend!” I grinned.
The guards seemed to relax a little. But only a little. One sneered at me.
Thug #1: “You’re a racer?>” he laughed and his colleague joined in.
Tank: “Yeah!” I protested. “What’s so hard to believe?!” but still they laughed. I was just considering getting Tracks to bash their heads together when one spoke up again.
Thug #2: “Alright racer boys, I’ll cut you a deal. Race. Right now.” My stomach began doing backflips. “If you win, I’ll get you in to see Nix. Lose and … well… bad luck.” The bouncer grinned.
I was about to argue and attempt to lie around it, really not liking the idea of participating in such a dangerous activity, but then Ranger said;
Ranger: “Deal!” and clapped the guard on the shoulder before walking off. “Come on gang! He called back to the rest of us and after a moment of confusion, we trotted after him.
Darkblade stood over the lifeless corpse of Dr. Lobotomy, panting hard as the fresh injection of serum coursed through his veins. He let out a guttural roar, his entire body shaking with rage. He roared until his breath ran out and then, sucking it all back in again, he grabbed his helmet from where it sat on the counter nearby, rammed it onto his head and then unsheathed his long, black sword.
With a mighty cry, he lashed out, slashing at anything and everything. Glass shattered, cabinets crashed, equipment sparked as it was sent flying and then Darkblade moved on. Making his way room to room, he destroyed everything as he went in a serum-fuelled tantrum.
As he reached the generator room, a memory of a similar event, the very first time he'd been injected, faintly tugged at his mind, but in his current state, he didn't have the capacity to dwell on it. Instead, he stood over the control panels, raised his weapon and brought it striking down, slashing the controls in two.
As pressure gauges warned of soaring levels, he left. A security droid attempted to stop him, but a quick slice bisected the metal machine and as the mercenary keyed the main door release, behind him from deep inside the lab came the reverberating sound and vibrations of an explosion.
But by the time the fireball tore through the entrance corridor, bursting through the main doors, having destroyed all trace of what had been taking place within, Darkblade was long gone. Once more a deadly shadow in the night.
Cat: "You can't be serious?"
Ranger: "Or course I am! Why not?" Ranger replied as we strode through the race track pits. All around us were speeder and swoop bikes in various states of disrepair, with riders and mechanics all gathered around, fixing their vehicles and discussing tactics for the next race.
Tracks whirred questioningly.
Tank: "He asked if you've ever ridden a speeder before." I explained to Ranger, who'd not yet gotten the hang of my mechanical buddy's language.
Ranger: "Course I have!" He replied eyeing up the different bikes as he passed.
Cat: "In a race?"
Ranger: "Nope!" He grinned and I shook my head.
Cat: "Unbelievable." I heard Cat mutter.
Ranger: "There's a first time for everything!" He called back to us, jogging on ahead. "And besides; how hard can it be?" He glanced over his shoulder, flashing us a grin, before approaching a rather down-trodden looking pilot, pushing his battered green swoop towards the exit. I realised this was the same bike and rider I'd seen trailing behind in the last race.
Ranger: "Hey!" He greeted joyfully. "How's it going?"
It didn't take long for a deal to be struck and just like that, Ranger had borrowed a bike.
Rider: "Just remember to keep an eye on the central turbine's power consumption. Whatever it says it's pulling - double it."
Ranger: "Got it." He acknowledged as the two of them pushed the swoop back towards the race paddock, with Tracks, Cat and I trailing behind. "Anything else I should be aware of?"
Rider: "Not bike-wise. You know the track?" He grunted.
Ranger: "Nope. Never seen it before."
The elder rider looked at Ranger disbelievingly.
Rider: "You kiddin' me?"
Ranger: "Nope!" He smirked again. "But it'll be fine! Any tricky sections I should be aware of?"
Rider: "All of it."
Ranger shrugged as they pulled into a vacant work area.
Rider: "And most importantly, steer clear of Tebo. He'll have you for breakfast."
Cat: "Who's Tebo?" She queried.
Rider: "Where the heck have you guys come from?" He asked. "Tebo is only the best swoop racer on the circuit! Well, maybe technically not the best, but the most violent and on this track, that makes you the best. First place by any means."
Ranger: "Cool, so stay away from mean guy and be careful of the track. Got it." He nodded and I looked to Cat.
Tank: "He's mad." I muttered and she pulled a face that read loud and clear 'Yup. It wouldn't surprise me.'
It was a couple of hours before the next race, so Tracks and I spent the time patching up the swoop whist Ranger spoke with the other man about tactics for the course, then before long, it was time.
As we stood together at the entrance from the paddock to the track, I took Ranger's arm.
Tank: "You don't have to do this. We'll just use force to get in to see Nix."
Ranger: "We don't know how many more thugs he has inside that box. Sure, we could take the two outside but we'd be opening a whole can of worms when we go inside. One or two, again, we could maybe take, but I'd rather not risk dying today, thank you very much."
Tank: "But..." I gestured to the bike, baffled by his last comment.
Ranger: "Yeah, well... at least this is fun!" He beamed.
I shook my head a little again, but couldn't help smiling.
Tank: "Good luck."
Ranger: "I'm going to need it!"
As Cat and I made our way into the stands to find seats to watch the race from, Tracks helped Ranger get the swoop onto the starting grid and then came to join us, just as we sat down.
Tank: "Well, here we go." I remarked with bated breath.
Down on the circuit, Ranger took a deep breath to calm the nerves that had suddenly sprung up in his chest and then shoved the helmet he'd also borrowed from the older rider onto his head.
Ranger: "Safety first." He mumbled to himself and primed the bike's engine.
Voice: "E'teeska." A raspy voice piped up, making Ranger jump. He turned and found stood beside him a skull-headed alien. With skin as white as bone, the alien was menacing just to look at, but as he continued speaking in his own language, Ranger had no doubts that this was the rider he'd been warned about; Tebo.
Tebo: "Attarah al alchara etoovi!" He growled, jabbing a finger towards Ranger.
Ranger: "Yeah, I don't have a clue what you're saying." He admitted.
The alien laughed, a hard, grating sound, then pointed his finger back at Ranger before running the same finger across his neck threateningly.
Ranger: "Okay, yeah I got that." He joked. "Well, it was lovely meeting you!" He smiled cheerfully. "And I'll see you on the track!"
With that, Ranger thumbed the ignition button and the engine rumbled to life. The alien glowered as he walked away and Ranger spent the next few minutes checking that all the systems were running as best they could.
Then it was time to race.
As the commentators began introducing the racers to the gathered crowd, Ranger's full attention was on calming his nerves and psyching himself up to do this. His eyes were locked on the overhead signals, just staring at the big red light, waiting for it to turn green.
And it did.
The racers around him sped off, kicking up plumes of dust with their sudden bursts of momentum, but Ranger was only a split second behind. He had to cling on for dear life as the speed threatened to throw him off backwards, but he managed to keep up with the pack and not only that, but actually ahead of a couple.
The first bend was an easy one - just a simple bend at a, thankfully, gentle angle. Ranger rounded it with ease, still ahead of two other bikes but a little way behind those in the lead. Beyond the corner was a long straight, if his memory served him correctly and as he entered into it, he could see that it did. However, what hadn't been shown of the course map was the junk and debris that littered the straight.
Construction machinery, loading equipment, storage units and even smashed up old bikes covered the track, leaving impossibly small gaps between and forcing all of the bikers to slalom around them. The other riders seemed better prepared for the obstacles, presumably having ridden the circuit before, but Ranger, it being his first time, was almost too slow to react and very nearly crashed headlong into a pile of junk.
He managed to swerve around it at the last moment, but he wasn't safe just yet - he had only just entered the debris field. He caught sight of a blossom of fire from somewhere up ahead and a few seconds later passed a newly-crashed swoop, now just another obstacle for future races - its pilot laying unmoving nearby. With that fresh reminder in his mind of just how deadly this sport could be, he powered on, albeit now with a richer grip on his handlebars.
As he rode as fast as he dared between two rusting load-movers, Ranger grit his teeth. There was a 'clang' as the side of his tail clipped one of the machines, but he managed to keep everything under control and progress around the next bend.
A bend which it transpired led into another corner... and then another and another and into a whole series of tight bends around the local factories, clearly designed to trick out the less experienced riders.
Now, Ranger was lacking in the swoop experience category, however, he was a good pilot and even managed to overtake another rider as they flew around the fourth bend in the sequence. Mentally cheering himself on, Ranger grinned as the track finally straightened out again, now on a slight incline onto what looked like a bridge and he could put on some speed.
And then ahead of him, bikes started to vanish. They just appeared to disappear straight into the ground and Ranger frowned, suddenly concerned. As he got closer though, the reason became apparent.
The bridge was broken but the track continued anyway, straight over the edge!
Concern rising to fear, Ranger desperately wanted to slam on the brakes and not be so bloody stupid, but he knew that if he lost this race, he'd never get them through to speak to Nix. And so, still running at almost full throttle, he barrelled towards the edge. Closer and closer still until with a stomach-lurching feeling of falling, he plummeted over the edge and dropped down a good two stories. He grit his teeth as he fell through a large hole in the roof of a factory and finally the bike's repulsors caught him on a cushion of air before he slammed into the ground and probably exploded.
Thankfully he was still carrying a good amount of forward momentum and wasn't stationary even for a second. Instantly zooming off again, he spotted the other racers not far ahead speeding across the factory floor. It was hot in here and not just because of the bikes.
Ranger took a quick glance around as he chased after the others. They were in some sort of manufacturing plant. On either side were towering machines with a multitude of mechanical arms, joining parts together along assembly lines. The lines were currently stationary - but that gave Ranger an idea.
Veering off to one side, Ranger bounced his swoop up onto an empty conveyor belt, giving him a clear run along the full length of the factory. Now, without any obstacles in his way, Ranger pushed his swoop to full throttle and powered on. Finally gaining ground on the pack leaders, he spotted Tebo up ahead, astride his own big, black swoop. Tebo was, of course, currently in first place but several of the others were hot on his heels, all of them jostling to overtake him at the first opportunity.
As Ranger started catching up with the others, another rider glanced over and spotted him riding freely along the assembly line. The biker snarled in some alien tongue and swerved right, up onto the line and slamming sideways into Ranger.
Ranger: "Hey!" He exclaimed as the newcomer, still growling unintelligibly, tried ramming him off the belt.
But Ranger was having none of it. For a few seconds longer the two slammed into and off of each other, the metal of their bikes screeching together as each racer tried to force the other off track. Then, just before another slam, Ranger touched on the brakes and dropped behind by a few foot. It wasn't much but it was enough. The other racer, mid-swerve, overshot and couldn't compensate in time. He swerved right off of the assembly line, even as Ranger powered on again, and crashed into a stack of storage crates off to one side.
The assembly belt came to an end and Ranger zoomed off of the end like a product fresh of the line. The pack leaders, Tebo still at their head, we're now closer than ever but had already sped out of the factory and were now out of view around a corner. Ranger was in hot pursuit, giving chase as fast as his battered, borrowed bike would allow. He sped around the next few bends before finally catching sight of the other racers once more.
The five bikes ahead of him were all jostling for poll position, weaving around each other and doing their best to knock the opposition off-course. At the front of the pack, Tebo, still leading, growled in his own language as one of the other riders lined up directly behind him. Then, with the flick of a switch, an emitter built into the rear of his bike spat out a pulse of mag-lev energy. The trailing rider's bike leapt out of control at the sudden surge of energy and he careened wildly away as Tebo cackled.
The bikers sped through an unlocked gateway and into another facility. Ranger didn't get a chance to read any signs as he flew past, but as they rode on, he found himself suddenly skimming over the surface of water. Briefly, he supposed it must be some sort of cooling plant, but as he reached the far side of the pool, he had to return his full concentration to the race at hand.
They burst out the far side of the plant, Tebo still leading and with three other bikes between him and Ranger and as they rounded a tight ninety degree corner, Ranger suddenly realised that they were back at the start of the course. One lap down, one to go!
As the stands zoomed past, Ranger wondered where Tank, Cat and Tracks were watching from. The thought was a fleeting one - as was every thought that wasn't solely focussed on the race and as he flew over the starting line and the second and final lap began, he was back to concentrating on how to catch up to the rest of the pack.
The first couple of corners were easy, as they had been on the first lap and then it was back into the junk straight. Feeling a little more confident, or maybe a little more reckless this time around, Ranger pushed his swoop faster than he had gone on the first lap. He began to gain ground, finally catching up to the others and as a big, rusting truck appeared in the middle of the track he and another racer veered off to opposite sides to pass it and on the other side, Ranger came out in front.
He was now right there in the heart of the action. With bikes on every side, Ranger now had more than just the track to focus on; he also had to be strategic. Block those behind him from passing, avoid being run off the track by those to his sides and continue trying to get ahead of those in front. Tebo was currently fighting off one of the other racers and for the first time this race, Tebo fell into second place as the other managed to weave around him and get out in front.
Ranger growled as he threw his bike into a tight left-hander - just one corner in the current series of bends. Another racer slammed into him, almost crushing his leg and he instinctively kicked out at the opposition, trying to push the bike away with his foot. As the bend led into another, Ranger returned the favour, sliding to one side and just clipping the front spur of the other bike with the rear of his own. It wasn't much but it was enough to throw the other biker off balance. As he wobbled and fought to regain control, Ranger took the advance and zoomed on ahead, just as the track straightened out.
As they flew on up the slight incline that Ranger now knew was the start of the broken bridge, there were only three bikes ahead of him, one of them being Tebo.
Ranger was beginning to run out of time. He had to win this race, otherwise it would all have been for nothing. He powered on, chasing after those ahead of him and watched their tails as they vanished over the edge. Ranger braced himself, clenching everything as he too zoomed off the edge of the bridge and began to fall. Aiming for the hole in the roof below, he guided the bike down and with a lurch landed on the factory floor.
Instantly speeding away again, he heard a load clatter from behind as one of the other racers didn't make the landing. As they entered the factory proper, Ranger instantly made a beeline for the assembly line, attempting to pull the same trick twice. He rode up onto the stationary belt and was making progress when, up ahead, Tebo had the same idea.
Pulling up onto the belt, he began gaining ground on the racer in first place, but the racer between him and Ranger wasn't going to be left out. He too veered up onto the belt, positioning himself directly between Ranger and Tebo and blocking Ranger's previously clear way forward.
Pulling a frustrated face, Ranger quickly looked around for inspiration - and it came to him.
He was on a conveyor belt. Stationary at the moment, yes. But conveyor belts moved.
Frantically looking around, he searched for the controls and, ahead, spied a small hand-held panel clipped to the framework beside the belt. From this distance he couldn't see the buttons, but the gap closed fast and he soon realised that there were only two; arrows pointing in opposite directions.
By now Tebo had already passed the controls and as Ranger desperately searched for something to hit the controls with, the other racer passed them as well.
Time up, in a last ditch move, Ranger ripped a loose pipe from the side of his swoop and as the control panel approached, he threw his bike off the side of the belt, slamming the pipe into the reverse arrow as he did.
The two bikes left on the belt suddenly flew backwards. Ranger jolted as his bike hit the ground at an awkward angle, but thankfully balanced out. The other two, although still flying forwards were now a long way behind thanks to Ranger’s trick and as he burst out of the factory, he suddenly found himself in second place!
But Tebo wasn't giving up that easily. Furious, he pulled his black bike off of the belt, slamming another racer out of the way as he did and powered on. His bike was fast and he quickly started to gain ground again - a fact Ranger soon began to realise. Not only was he now fighting for the lead, but he also had an angry Tebo hot on his heels.
Ranger suddenly had to duck as the racer in front clipped a stack of crates as he passed and they began to topple onto the track as Ranger followed. He managed to dodge them and had hoped that they would slow Tebo down, but it wasn't to be. The angry racer ploughed through them as if they weren't there and continued to catch Ranger up.
As the race proceeded into the cooling plant, Ranger found Tebo coming up beside him, shouting threats in his own language and shaking a gloved fist at him. The front of Tebo's bike slammed into the side of Ranger's as the pair skimmed over the surface of the first get of liquid. Ranger held it together but the second hit, as they covered the ground between vats, rattled his old bike. The battered swoop wouldn't be able to take much more of this - Ranger knew he had to do something and do it now.
And so, as the second vat approached, Ranger touched on his breaks and twisted the front end of his bike out, before pushing on the throttle. His bike caught the back of Tebo's and with the burst of speed, he pushed Tebo's rear end out. Suddenly travelling sideways, the bike couldn't cope and with the loss of momentum, as they made their way over the water, it toppled over entirely, dumping both itself and its screaming pilot into the water.
A huge grin on his face, Ranger, now back up to speed, skimmed over the surface of the pool and emerged bone dry on the other side.
However, as the final stage of the race progressed, it became clear that his duel with Tebo had taken its toll on his chances of winning. Not only was his swoop making a disconcerting rattling sound, but the pilot in first place was also long out of sight. As he rounded the final right-hander and passed the cheering stands, he finally passed the finish line and skidded to a halt in second place.
Ranger could see the crowd on their feet. Could hear their cheers, even with his helmet on. Or maybe it was booing? But Ranger himself felt none of it. He'd finished in second - not first and therefore hadn't won them entry to see Ardon Nix.
Ranger: "Damn!" He cursed, pulling off his helmet and throwing it to the ground in frustration. As the final racer swept over the finish line to the jeers of the crowd, Ranger began to guide his swoop back towards the pits, feeling for all the world like those jeers were meant for him.
Impressive work with all of the scenes and builds that you put together for this chapter! I really like that first image and that spiffy lookin' starship. If I had one suggestion, it'd be to break the story apart into a couple additional sections because otherwise it takes me more than my five-minute limit to get all the way through. Can't argue with the content or the creations, just letting you know that my attention span isn't quite expansive enough ;) God bless and keep right on brickin'! ~Promar~
Quoting Captain Kenbo
Nice one! Is this the first race entry we've gotten? I had wanted to do one before but I knew making it look good wouldn't be easy. I think you set a good standard of how to go about it.
Thanks Kenbo! No, we've had other entries before. Links to several are in the Racing thread.