High Octane

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Chapter 2- New girl on the block

Lillian’s phone began ringing as she tapped on the steering wheel, waiting in the pits. It was Hugo.

“Lils, where are you? The next race is about to start!“, he said in a slightly worried voice.

“I know, I know! I’ll be there soon. You’ll see me coming back up!“, Lillian replied in as calm a voice as she could feign.

“Alright, just be quick. See you soon”, Hugo responded. Lillian’s excitement and anticipation built slowly. She tapped on the steering wheel faster. Her breathing became faster and heavier. The synthetic heart inside her chest began beating harder and faster- awaiting adrenalin to start kicking in. A man in a neon vest guided Lillian out of the pits and on to the starting strip. Right next to Viper.

Lillian got a good look at her opponent. He wore a white pilot’s helmet with a glowing red visor. About his neck was a balaclava, and that was all Lillian could see. He shot a look back at her- as she felt his eyes lock in a deadly stare. He appeared to be analysing Hugo’s Nissan GTX- a futuristic evolution of a vintage Nissan GTR. It’s black paint was well-polished and kept- almost as if it had been waxed. The car had a large, wide-mouthed exhaust and a curved, sharp wing- which shone like a blade in the LED lights of the parking lot. The rims on the car were of hexagonal design- designed to absorb heavy shock. They were also wide and fat- in order to gain traction from whatever surface they found themselves on. Viper felt a little outmatched. Intimidated even. He’d seen that car before... but from where? All he knew is that it was fast, powerful, and an excellent drifter. Viper’s McLaren- nicknamed ‘NorthStar’- was also heavily modified, powerful, and fast- but that thing? It must have some serious gear under the hood. And let me tell ya... Viper was damn right. He didn’t know how many horses it had under its rims, but they were some damn powerful horses...

As Lillian continued to stare down Viper, Hugo called her in a panic.

“Lillian, what the fuck are you doing? That’s MY car!“, he shouted above the crowd. Lillian simply laughed.

“Don’t worry about it, I promise I won’t hurt the love of your life! If I do... I’ll let you break up with me!“, she replied excitedly.

“That’s not what... look, just be damn careful. I don’t know what’s gotten into your head, but I trust you. Not like I have much choice anyway”, Hugo continued, seeming to calm down slightly. In reality, red flags were pinging, sirens were going off, and Hugo was biting his fingers anxiously. He was a little pissed off, too. I would be- considering his girl just nicked his ride and is now taking it for a race. And it’s one expensive ride, too...

“See, you love me really!“, Lillian mused at Hugo, before hanging up the phone, leaving her boyfriend hanging. That’s cold. But Lillian knew- deep down inside that synthetic heart- Hugo trusted her. She didn’t have much experience behind a wheel- and definitely not on this scale- but she felt ready, prepared, and excited. This was it. Her first ever drift race. Gotta start somewhere, right?

In an old faculty room which had been converted into a private viewing booth, a man dressed in a black leather jacket and helmet- both inscribed with the image of a ghost holding two smoking pistols- observed the race. He spoke into a phone.

“Hold the phone, Krypto, I’ll get back to you”, he said in a faint Japanese accent. He stared at the two cars on the monitor.

“Is that... Ace?“, he muttered to himself.

Back in the parking lot, the announcer stood between the two cars- like an adult trying to stop a quarrel between children. The engines of the vehicles which stood before him crackled and rumbled and oscillated as their drivers revved their cars. Turbo’s whining, music blasting, crowd cheering. This was it. Time to burn some rubber.

“This is the final race, folks! Whose ready to make some nooooooise?“, the announcer shrieked from behind the gas mask. The crowd responded accordingly, giving the announcer more energy and adrenalin surging through his veins. As well as drugs.

“On my right, we’ve got another fresh face around these parts. Give it up foooor.... WRAITH!“. Lillian revved her engine in response, with many of the members of the crowd cheering her on. The rush was insane. Indescribable. Uncontainable. She felt prepared, but caged. Like an animal rearing to let loose upon fresh pray.

“And on my left, we’ve got a seasoned racer on our hands, heralding from who knows where, let’s hear it foooor.... VIPER!“. Viper revved the powerful engine of his McLaren- a true freak of machinery- as more members of the crowd cheered on the helmeted figure. Lillian placed a hand upon the handbrake; an upwards-facing, long joystick- perfect for drifting. Her fingers tapped faster. Faster. Faster.

The beat dropped. The announcer slashed his hands back. Both engines roared with vigour and volume as the race began. Viper’s McLaren took lead immediately, howling above the music. Lillian stayed close behind- placing pressure upon Viper as they approached the first drift. Viper took the inside, drifting the corner masterfully- utilizing his inhuman reactions to perfectly time the moment to pull the handbrake. Lillian took the outside. Jerking the handbrake up, she... took the corner perfectly. Damn. I bet against her! Maybe just beginner’s luck...

Hugo was amazed at the spectacle he just witnessed. Lillian had just perfectly drifted the corner- tyres screaming and billowing smoke and all. She had only driven Hugo’s Nissan once... how the fuck was this possible? Did she suddenly download how to become a drift master to her brain or something? Hugo’s mind whirred, as the crowd rushed for the elevators. He followed along, eager to cheer on the loves of his life.

“Coming up to the sharp one next! Let’s see if this beginner does any better!“, the announcer mused loudly.

The racers were neck and neck. Front wheels aligned. Engines squealing like banshees. Music booming like a thunderstorm. Lillian took the inside this time. Pulling the hand break early, and keeping the wheel steady, she... took the corner perfectly again. Like a true drift queen. Viper did the same- although he took the corner a little too late and began lagging behind. He floored it. Pedal to the metal. Engine blazing. Tyres burning. Filling the air with the sweet stench of burnt rubber. Careful not to breath too much of that in. It’s very toxic.

The crowd rushed to the next floor. Hugo was still dumbfounded at Lillian’s skills. She was a better racer than he had ever been... all with no practice, experience, or any prior training. As he ran to the next floor, the Nissan zoomed past in a flash, almost blowing Hugo backwards with a forceful gust of hot air. Viper’s McLaren soon followed.

“Comin’ up to the final bend now! And then its on to the spiral of death, chooms!“. Lillian had the accelerator pressed down with as much force as her cybernetic legs could muster. The engine sent a powerful vibration through her body as she came up to the final bend. It was a wider one. Time to go on the outside.

Taking the outside, Lillian swung the Nissan sideways as its rear bumper grazed the wall slightly. Sparks flew. Smoke burned warmly from the hot rubber. She did it again... took the corner perfectly, as if she had been drifting since she came out of the womb... or factory, in her case. Who knows? I might actually lose a few bucks! As for Viper, he had been consumed by fury and anger- clouding his technique and convoluting his usually sharp, diligent mind. He took the bend too early. Swinging the McLaren around, he ended up going too wide, nearly slamming his prized ride into a concrete wall. Viper felt suddenly overwhelmed by whiplash. Through blurred vision, he floored it towards the final part... the death spiral. God, I love the death spiral. You wanna know why it’s called the death spiral? Because someone died on it. Pretty self-explanatory, Sherlock.

Lillian kept the pedal pressed hard- with all of her might, force, and power- the Nissan blazing up a shallow ramp and on to the death spiral. Pulling the handbrake one last time, she kept the wheel steady. Pedal steady. Breathing steady. Her ride rose up the death spiral like a trapeze artist- nail-biting millimetres away from each edge- and tyres playing an orchestra of high-pitched, squealing music. Reaching the top, she pulled a few smoky donuts in front of the crowd, before swinging the Nissan backwards to face the death spiral. Viper followed a few seconds later. Pulling up to the summit, the driver was furious- cursing, slamming the wheel, yelling, the works. As for Lillian, she stepped out of the driver’s seat- and was immediately hoisted up upon a celebratory crowd. They were all chanting ‘Wraith’ as they carried her atop the parking lot- like some sort of martyr or superhero. She had just beaten Viper. A newbie. Just beat Viper. What a night! Maybe I don’t need those bucks after all!

Soon, the crowd’s excitement began to plateau as they set Lillian down. Hugo stood before her, smiling and laughing like a jovial uncle.

“You know that was pretty stupid, right?“, he said between knee-slapping laughs of joy and pride.

“Look, I’m fine, you’re ride’s fine, and I won!“, Lillian responded as Hugo brought her closer for a warm hug.

“My question is: how the fuck did you just beat Viper? You’ve got next to no experience behind that wheel!“, Hugo pressed- dumbfounded by his girlfriend’s amazing yet unexpected performance. It was like, one minute she was just a face in the crowd, but the next minute? She was drifting like the queen of Twilight City! I shoulda just bet on her to win!

Hugo and Lillian began to step inside the Nissan when the same bouncer from earlier stopped them.

“There’s someone who wants to meet you, Wraith. Urgently”, he requested sternly. “You should come, too”, pointing at Hugo. The couple looked at each other, then at the bouncer.

“Uh... sure!“, Lillian eventually replied nervously- wondering who wanted to meet her. And why? Probably because she just smoked a pro street racer!

The two then stepped out of the Nissan. Hugo made certain to lock the car; however, the crowd was beginning to dissipate- the words of Lillian’s legendary performance still on their minds and lips. The bouncer led the two downstairs into the old faculty room.

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