The glowing blue underbellies of the jetcars reflect off the permanently wet track underneath. Each levitated the stock 14 inches above the track, all lined up ready to go.
The ceiling overhead buzzed with light. Giant screens flicked from one ad to the next, the sound was incomprehensible given the roaring crowd and revving jetcars. I took it all in with quiet disgust as I got ready for another race.
“Nem,” Kirn had to yell over the echoing cheers, “Just take this. Please don't argue.”
He had his arm thrust out. His hand unfurled and revealed the pill. I fumbled a bit getting my racing suit on but stopped. I stared at it. One half was red and the other half was white. I knew better.
“I ain’t takin that shit. Whatever it is.”
I knew about the different drugs going around that the other racers did, trying to get an advantage. Instead, they became delirious or overconfident. They would smash into each other, the walls of the track or worse, into the lower walls and crash into the residential buildings below the track.
“You came in 9th last time. You’re our best driver but we want better results,” he didn’t dare look at me while he said it.
“What the hell is-”
“It’s supposed to give you better reaction time. Like, way better,” he looked around nervously.
This was not reassuring.
“I don’t want to take whatever it is. I’m not dying on the track like all the others. No fuckin way.”
Kirn looked back towards the pit crew working on the Jetcar.
“Then we replace you,” he massaged the bridge of his nose.
I stopped getting ready. I stared at him with all my rage.
“You wouldn’t dare,” I challenged. I had been racing under him for over 5 years.
“We have 3 people lined up to replace you, Nem.”
I snatched it out of his hand and swallowed it without hesitation. It was common knowledge that there were always people ready to try racing. None of them good, mind you. Almost all of these new drivers wound up dead within the first two times they hit the track. There's not much work to go around, and instant death is preferable to the diseases the industrial fumes give you on the lower levels. I had been playing it safe, I guess it wasn't entertaining.
Whatever the pill was, it just became mandatory.
“Good luck out-” I thrust my helmet on and Kirn's voice turned into a muffle.
The car opened up like a jet and I backed myself in. I attached all the safety belts even though I knew there was no way they would save me in a crash. The jetcar was about as unsafe as you could get, and at 600 miles per hour there was nothing that would come between me and death if something went wrong. The cars turn into metal dust and compacted gray cubes when they collide with anything. But that’s why people watched.
“Check ready,” the pit leader came in over the comms.
I checked all the dials quickly and flipped the sequence of switches on my left side. The switchboard mechanically sunk into the door afterwards. The hot steam sound of the pilot light igniting the jet fuel caused me to grip the wheel with both hands.
The other drivers revved their engines and I knew who was dosed already. Number 37. He was revving like a maniac, I doubted if he would make it through lap 1.
The light turned yellow and I was fully charged. Everything outside the windshield was a heat haze.
The light hit green and a loud static suddenly enveloped everything I felt. The sounds of the engines, the air rushing against the windshield, the blood forced to the back of my head. I started to feel woozy until my second-rate g suit kicked in. Zero to 300mph in 6 seconds. All part of the gig.
There’s always one rookie that passes out at second 5 and that was car number 21. The car slid to the right a little and I had to jerk the wheel to keep from hitting him. My HUD let me know there were now 19 cars in the race.
But my place in the race wasn’t important right now. It was the first lap. I just had to keep up. I watched the overzealous ones fly past me into unfamiliar territory. They would slow down soon enough.
Number 37 was gaining towards me fast, and from what I saw on the HUD he was barely holding it together. My guess is it was some kind of cocaine drug he was on. Something to amp him up, as if any driver in these races needed amping up. It was about that time that I started feeling the effects from whatever Kirn had dosed me with.
I barely registered what was happening around me but I tapped the brakes for some reason. Car 37 swerved into where I was the moment before. Without my car to stop him he went past and slammed into the wall on the right. God damn it. A brilliant blue explosion trailed off behind me. My HUD went crazy with news footage.
18 cars left in the race. My reaction time was off the charts. I was feeling good. I just hoped it wasn’t going to get any more potent. I’d been racing too long to get killed now.
But it hit me suddenly. A violent thought. Car 4 was in the lead and I saw footage of him on my HUD. I thought it would be a stroke of luck if Car 4 had an engine malfunction of some sort. Maybe a flood in the tubes. In my mind's eye I could see Car 4 and then went inside. I followed the steering lines from the wheel down behind the driver and then into the pump. I saw and felt it stop. I felt a direct connection. A flicker of activity in my HUD and I watched it happen. Textbook tube flood. He lost control and his car, went through the railing, careening into the city. Surely killing any number of people in the explosion and ensuing fire.
But I felt no remorse or guilt, only ecstasy. I laughed. It’s hard to do wearing an active g suit going 620 mph, but I forced it.
I turned the news footage back on and saw a crowd of people behind a reporter. She was talking fast and pointing to the track. I thought about pushing them over the railing. It happened in the feed instantly. An excited fan leaning on the railings suddenly flew up over the 10 foot high fence. All the people gasped in horror as he was run down by a jetcar that lost control and exploded on contact with the wall.
I laughed again. I had never felt this good in my life. The adrenaline from the race, and this drug was so damn good. Everything was my toy now, and I was going to win this race. Not only that, I was going to have fun putting on a show.
I passed car after car, watching them all die in spectacular ways. Each one provoked a different response in my crew. I heard them in my helmet in garbled, muffled sounds. The words weren’t there. They sounded frantic. I think they wanted me to try harder. I laughed at them.
“You got it, friends,” it came out as a scream. I smiled so wide my neck felt funny.
13 cars remain, my HUD told me. The crowd loved this one.
I pulled him from his seat through the windshield. I made sure he was in front of another racer to get maximum effect. The driver collided with the other car, causing another explosion and the fire stretched all across the track in front of me. My adrenaline spiked when I punched through the flames into 9th place. All I could see was orange and blue for a second. I wanted the fire gone, and the flames were instantly snuffed out.
11 cars remained, my HUD laughed with me. I could hear the echo.
I caught up to number 19 and made sure he noticed me. Time to get creative. No killing. I jammed the fuel line; stalling his engine. His lights fell away as he slowed. He was sitting in a rock now. I giggled at his impotence. But the lust came back and I couldn’t let him go. I triggered his fuel line to cross his electrical and the car exploded as he was about to eject. I laughed and turned on the newsfeed. They weren’t smiling, they were screaming. That was very disappointing to me. I would have to make them smile.
I started feeling very strange now. There was an unease at the world around me. Physical things. The lights overhead seemed blinding so I broke them all. The glass tinkled on my windshield, putting some scratches into it. It looked nice.
The railings were keeping all the people away, so I curled them into the track. A couple anxious fans fell onto the steel and concrete, but they were boring after that. So I threw them into the city below.
I started breaking the track behind me. The concrete and metal cracked and bulged. Pieces fell into the city; I saw it in the feeds. It hurt my head but I didn’t want anyone coming back around to lap me. This race was going to be 1 lap now.
I used the turbo and shot up to 800 mph, something I’d never done in my career. I had always thought it was too dangerous. But I was a god now, the world changed for me, not the other way around.
I blew up the remaining cars all at the same time, that ought to be a grand finale. Some of the drivers escaped on fire so I strangled them with their shirt collars.
I slowed down on the last stretch of my victory. I was the only one remaining. My nose must have started bleeding when I broke the track. It was dripping over my lips. I made the blood dance in front of me. Several small globs orbit around a bigger one like an atom. A dance of victory. I didn't seem to be thinking about it at all, it was mesmerizing.
I stopped after some time, all the while making random people’s heads pop in the view screen. My favorite was the man being interviewed. The newswoman screamed and vomited. I laughed.
My car came to full stop at the section with the newswoman. I could feel the drug peaking. I emerged from the car, blew it up and walked towards the news crew. The whole place seemed to contort and move. I grew almost unsteady and the track seemed to wobble under my feet. My helmet cracked down the middle and I disintegrated each half into dust. Six officers drew their weapons but I shot them with their guns, using their hands.
My steps were slow, deliberate. I was dizzy. I saw the bloodied newswoman and grabbed the mic from her feeble, shaking hand. I looked into the camera.
I gave the people at home a big smile, “Hope you enjoyed the show!” I bellowed.
I stretched my arms out and the crowd behind me went quiet. I popped all their heads in glorious fashion. The headless cameraman slumped to the ground. I heard the camera break.
I regained my balance to realize that the stands and track around me were a cartoon now, rolling hills. I was a god.
I lifted up the camera without touching it and took it apart piece by piece, flinging the metal, plastic and screws at the headless bloody corpses everywhere.
But there was no one left for me to entertain so I walked off the balcony and began to fall. The rush of air and adrenaline felt good. I fell for a while, it was a long time before I would hit the ground and there were plenty of taxis floating around. I commandeered one and landed smoothly on the hood. I stared at the driver and saw the fear in his eyes. I wanted to help him now. I wanted to go home. I wanted to get off the taxi. I was afraid of heights.
I lowered my body and grabbed hold of the wipers. He went down to the nearest level. I pushed his car off the edge of the surface after I jumped off, though.
I had to get away; I had to remember who I was. No. I had to put on the show. They all had to know who I am. I found an alley. It was dark. I started to go unconscious and my head hit something hard. I passed out.
I woke up coughing. My nose had been bleeding and some of it had gone down my throat. My head swam with pain. The drug I had taken had got to me before I left the starting gate, I thought. There could be no other explanation. I had no job, and I would never work as a racer again. I was ruined.
In the blinding, crowded streets people were enveloped with their direct-to-internet personal interfaces. No one looked up at a man clearly in pain. I didn't blame them.
I found the nearest bar and shuffled in. Everyone there seemed to be in shock. I didn’t faze them; even a jetcar driver in full G-suit with a blood-caked face didn't get a glance.
I must have looked ridiculous; I took off the racing suit in the bathroom and threw it in the trash. I could have sold it for good money, but it was cathartic to see it wasted. I caught a glimpse of my face in a mirror. My nose had been bleeding so badly that dry trails of blood went all the way down my neck to my shirt.
I cleaned myself up. I questioned the blood after each dab. I remembered my nose bleeding in the dream. But nosebleeds happened with any old drug.
When I joined everyone in the bar all the screens showed a newsman standing next to a stand area on a racetrack. It was the one I would have raced on if the drug hadn't taken over. Tarps and blankets were everywhere. Feet stuck out from under them. There was blood. The scene looked familiar. A tally on the lower right of the screen displayed in bold red letters.
Death Toll: 52
"I don't even know what I just saw!" The bartender turned to a patron.
"I saw the race. If you can call it that. I've never seen anything like it. It was like watching insanity," she replied somberly.
Some of the drug trip was coming back and I remembered using mind powers to disassemble a camera, as if that would be possible. The news footage panned over a broken track, melting cars, bent railings and headless people. I quietly laughed, thinking this impossible. My stomach nevertheless jumped into my throat as a disassembled camera came into frame, all the parts unbroken.
"Who was this guy, anyway?" a patron said behind me.
There was a hint of excitement in his voice. I closed my eyes from the burning pain in my head. I began to feel nausea, my extremities seemed to ice over.
"Oh, there we go," he sounded satisfied.
My eyes opened to see my face on the screens around the room. My torso started to shiver. I thrust my hands over my face and stumbled my way to the bathroom.
The nausea, the pain, the confusion, the reality. It all bubbled up and I barely made it to a toilet before vomiting.
What the hell was going on?