Beyond Seduction Deceit Betrayal

When I saw her after so long, for the first time in a very long time, I found myself wanting my revenge. I wanted a simple revenge, however my better half wanted something beyond that. In appeasing her demands, it brought out a most unselling part of me, knowing that the person capable of making both my better half and I feel this way, was tied directly to my yearning toward our road to vengeance.

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7. Chapter 2.

Chapter 2.

 

Sometime in the month of January in the year CE 3028; the present time period.

 

There was nothing quite as satisfying as the roar of a hovercar racer – well almost. Being an ex Formula Zero race driver and a one time System Champion at that, I still had the lust to feel the ground below me in a wheeled vehicle while scorching the race track of speeds well in excess of 500 kph. Further to that, F-Zero racing was far more dangerous. Not only did the cars reach such speeds that were considered tremendous for a wheeled vehicle, their designs with their huge spoilers also acted like wings, allowing for the cars to climb purposely built tunnelled walls and ceilings, producing a reverse effect sticking the cars firmly on those walls and ceilings making for an experience unlike any other, unique and dangerous, but at the same time exhilarating beyond anything words can describe. As far as hovercar racing went, although faster because of the fact of not actually being on the ground, exhilarating as it also was, it just didn't give me the same rip-roaring blood-tingling sensation as when being in an F-Zero racer. I sure did miss those glory days.

A hovercar racer had more in common to an aircraft or low end spacecraft, than it did the standard everyday hovercar and speeder. The obvious fact lay primarily in the vehicle's top speeds. An average hovercar would reach speeds of around 200 kph, while higher end sports hovercars were capable of the 300 kph mark. With a racer on the other hand it was a completely different ball game altogether, with the machines capable of surpassing the 700 kph mark with relative ease, while the top end models peaked the 1000 kph mark.

Despite having retired as a race driver almost a decade ago, my days in a race car were far from over. Zed's Racing Team or simply ZRT Racing, the team I first raced for as an F-Zero racer, won my first and only championship title for, I now enjoyed the privilege of being not only their test driver for their F-Zero cars, but since the team had also entered hovercar racing, that program too. Which now brings me to the current moment; an official test run of the team's latest machine, the entry to the upcoming 3028 System Championship for hovercar racing.

As far as hovercar racers went in relation to spacecrafts, sure, even the most underpowered ships had more potent reactors, but the vacuum of space always muted the bulk of their sound. Only what worked its way through the structure of the ship itself ever made it to the ears of the pilot. But a hovercar racer? Every rattle and hiss was mine to enjoy.

I Kixi Rajki, known also by my alter ego of Kay Blade to all but a select few, basked in the throaty rumble of the thrusters. To me, the complex overlapping rhythms had all the nuance and elegance of a symphony orchestra, and had the bonus of propelling me across the landscape at 950 kph in the straightaways.

Well outside the city limits of Celestia City, heading in an inward direction into the interior of the western side of the Australian continent of the Terra Australis province on Earth, the United Systems of Sol or the USS, there was nothing more then a desert landscape, wavy and distorted with rising heat, which stretched out around me in all directions. It was beautiful in a raw, austere kind of way, sandy yellow and brick red stone arranged into a lifeless moonscape of irregular spires and sprawling mesas. Flickering red laser lines stretched between roughly placed markers, tracing out a naturally clear section of the continent’s surface. If I focused, I could feel the repulsors ride across the cracked earth. It was a mild shudder layered atop the general vibration that came with oversize engines forcing a ship through an atmosphere that at this speed may as well have been thick as mud. Pumping lubrication and overheated electronics filled the cockpit with a stinging, acrid smell that almost overpowered the prevailing aroma of my very self.

Heat management was a tricky thing on any high speed vehicle. The amount of power belching from even the high efficiency state of the art propulsion systems mounted on this racer, was difficult enough to vent completely in a temperate atmosphere. On Earth, a planet with a “habitable zone”, and in the Australian desert that seldom dropped below 40 degrees Celsius, it was that much harder to dissipate the excess heat. All of this translated to a cockpit that was practically a sauna even with the air conditioning blasting, and surrounded by the vehicle's protective inner force field shield. Dressed as I was in flame retardant, impact reactive safety gear, I was stewing. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The smell of sweat, the hum of the reactor, the shimmy of the frame, the streak of the landscape: they were all part of the experience, four of the five senses pushed to their absolute limit. And as for the fifth?

“Listen, I think next time we’re going to go spearmint on the gum, Kajtia,” I said. “I’m just not feeling this wintergreen.”

“I shall make a note of it, Kixi, but please try to remember you are testing the ZRT Spectre IV hovercar racer, not a kiosk bar,” remarked the deep pitched feminine voice of Kajtia across the communicator built into my helmet.

Kajtia Xiz'injhürek, my stunning ex co-driver during my unforgettable days as an F-Zero driver. We shared many memorable memories together, on and off the track. Being my best friend, she'd most certainly known my ins and out well enough, that, after our so many countless timeless moments together. She'd been my maid of honour when I'd married Mako Jhasmin Zaneca almost ten years ago now, and in turn she'd asked me to be her matron of honour when she had married Chris Orton. Our wonderful experiences had felt like a lifetime of experiences. We were practically inseparable, friends for life, covering each other's backs without failure. She understood exactly how my mind functioned, keen and ambitious, yet cocky, many a time unsound in my reasoning, which in such touch-and-go situations made me cunning, but at on the same token foolhardy in every sense. She had every reason to brace herself for another possible nerve-racking moment with me now.

“Hey, you should know me well enough by now Kajtia. I’m a full service sort of woman. Jak hires me to drive his cars, he gets it all.”

“How is the equipment performing?” she asked, ignoring my all to commonly usual over my head ego.

I glanced at the instrumentation panel. Every section of the cockpit that wasn’t populated with controls was covered with digital and mechanical gauges, as well as holographic projections measuring every conceivable metric of the hovercar racer's condition. Presently they were colour coordinated quite well, each deep into the red side of the spectrum.

“Meters look good,” I said, yanking the control stick to the left to coax the vehicle around a turn. Inertia, even subdued as it was by the inhibition system designed to keep the acceleration from squirting my brain out my ears, shoved me to the side of my seat. Three structure sensors started blaring warnings in response.

“As a general rule we try to keep them in the green, not the red,” Kajtia said.

“If you’re going to spy on the readings across the comm system, then why even ask my opinion? I’m your test driver, and I say she’s good. Holding up brilliantly.”

“And what do you think of the track the surveyors picked out? A worthy third course for our circuit?”

My hovercar rode up a slight incline and lofted, hurdling through the air for several hundred metres before slamming down again.

“What was that?” Kajtia asked.

“A minor grading issue. Let me ask, are our track maintenance guys going to clear this off and level it out?”

“There are safety regulations to adhere to. I understand track features such as that will be mitigated somewhat.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. In that case, this is going to make for sort of a tame run,” I said. “I’m feeling it. But I’m not feeling it, you know?”

“I’m afraid you’ll need to articulate yourself a bit better than that if I’m going to take your recommendations to the engineers.”

“Well…” I glanced aside, looking out the right window of my cramped cockpit.

Stretching out beside the roughed out track was a huge field of natural stone structures, columns of hard stone scoured out of the softer stretches of the landscape by constant winds. The field was dense with them, in some instances leaving barely enough room between for two hovercars to pass side by side. I grinned.

“I’m thinking something like this,” I said. I fired the retro thrusters to drop my speed to something more manoeuvrable, then tugged at the controls. The racer struggled to keep its grip on the stone and gravel of the field, skidding wide before settling into a new course. I blasted through the laser perimeter of the potential course and off into the cluttered field beyond.

“Kixi, please stay on the intended track until we’ve completed the testing.”

“We did three laps. Let’s just take a little detour for a bit,” I said.

“Need I remind you, antics like this have inspired the resignation of no fewer than three insurance adjusters?”

“Thinning the herd, Kajtia. If they can’t take a little navigational improvisation out of our racers, they don’t have a place in the business.”

“Of course Kixi," Kajtia silently muttered to herself under her breath. "Somethings with you just never change...”

The hovercar racer sliced across the landscape and deep into a cluster of stone spires. They swept past in twos and threes, each one bringing a heart stopping whomp as I charged by with inadvisably little clearance.

I heard Kajtia clear her throat over the communicator, then address someone on her side. “Telisa, would you please send me the link to the appropriate land surveys for areas surrounding track three? Thank you.”

I eased the hovercar into a lazy turn into a denser patch of columns, effortlessly plotting a course between them, and thrilling as my proximity warning switched from a periodic blip to an almost constant tone.

“Kixi, please bring the racer to a stop immediately,” Kajtia said. Her tone was still as calm and collected as it had ever been, but vibrating beneath it was a very real tension.

“Why, what’s up?”

“Fifteen hundred metres ahead of you starts ore field 72, one of our larger zinc mines.”

“Okay, first off, fifteen hundred metres were gone before you finished talking. Second, what do I care about mines? Those are underground, right?”

“This particular mine has been running since the last couple of decades of Skycom Corporation's former control of the Sol System, before the landscape conservation efforts of your wife's now also former government after that. Mining has been temporarily discontinued there due to geographic instability. Automated boring machines were working quite near the surface.”

“How cl— oh jeez!”

I pulled hard at the yoke and tapped a side thruster, narrowly avoiding a yawning opening in the ground ahead.

“What was that?”

“Little pothole. Nothing to worry ab—"

My assurance was cut short by the crackling grind of collapsing stone as the ground beneath me began to give way. I cut off power to the main thrusters and maxed out the repulsors, effectively wrapping the whole racer in the electromagnetic equivalent of a bumper. After a short drop, I slammed down onto a bored out cylindrical tube.

The natural inclination at this point would have been to stop, but I knew when land started to collapse it didn’t usually stop right away. I wasn’t interested in having several metric tonnes of landscape land on top of me, so I juiced the thrusters and darted along the tunnel.

“Kajtia?” I said shakily.

“Are you hurt, Kixi?” she asked.

“No, but I’ve got a minor criticism of this hovercar racer design.”

“Perhaps now is not the time for that.”

“It’s pretty heavy on my mind,” I said, my hands dancing across the controls.

“What is it?”

“No headlights.”

Ahead, the tunnel was utterly black. I routed some power to the retro thrusters without cutting any from the main ones. It wasn’t a very wise decision, since it put terrible strain on the hovercar’s frame, but at this point very few decisions I had made were motivated by wisdom. The glow from the straining reverse thrusters just barely illuminated the way ahead. What I saw was a fairly enormous tunnel, easily eighty metres in diameter and a perfect circle in cross section. It continued straight at least as far as the eye could see, which at the moment wasn’t very far at all. Cracks and fractures all along the ceiling convinced me that continuing forward was the best option, as further collapse seemed imminent.

“Any chance you could—”

“I’m loading the tunnel network layout into your race computer now,” Kajtia said.

“Much obliged.”

A progress bar popped up on one of the instrument screens, rocketing from 0 to 50 percent rather quickly, but then slowing drastically.

“Looks like we’ve got a little bit of a connectivity problem.”

“Our… intended to… transmission through…” Kajtia said, her voice eventually entirely swallowed by digital distortion. I glanced at my altitude meter – an odd but surprisingly useful inclusion on a hovercar racer – and noticed that I was creeping steadily deeper into the negatives. One by one the sensors that depended on satellite data went black or errored out. The map download grounded to a stop at 86 percent.

“Right, okay. That’s probably enough,” I said, tapping the screen. “Satellite connection lost, switching to full.”

The navigation system, not exactly the most robust system on the market considering it was designed to report where on a known track the vehicles were, struggled to cope with the task of working out where in the mine system it was. After a few moments, the screen flashed: Recalibration needed. Please decrease speed to zero.

I glanced about again. The integrity of this stretch of the tunnel seemed much more secure than what I’d left behind.

“I think I can manage that,” I said, dialing back the thrust and bringing the racer to a halt.

The screen thanked me and began to tick through its diagnostic, but without the thrusters to light the way, I was left with only the various very angry indicator lights to illuminate my surroundings. No longer pushed to its limit, the vehicle released the pops and pings typical of a device easing down from the sort of mistreatment I’d been administering. Behind it though, I started to pick up a distant sound that didn’t sit well. A second or two later, just as the screen switched to the word finalising, I began to feel the sound. The whole tunnel was rumbling and shuddering. Pebbles and stones started to clatter against the windscreen.

“Time to go,” I said, punching the throttle.

My navigation screen now helpfully displayed the cave network, with tiles missing where the data was incomplete. A route to the finish line was plotted, along with a warning: Low fidelity mode. Position is within a one hundred metre radius.

“Oh, great. That’s plus or minus the entire tunnel,” I muttered. “Can’t say I’ve got a rosy opinion of the nav system, Kajtia.”

A few seconds of moderate speed seemed to have put the collapse far behind me, but the odd crack or fault running along what little of the tunnel I could see convinced me that the danger associated with too much speed, paled in comparison to the dangers associated with too little.

Fortunately the boring machines that had processed this useless part of the continent clearly couldn’t turn on a dime, and cylinders were pretty much the ultimate banked turns, so my journey through the mine was remarkably hovercar racer friendly. Not only that, but the lack of pounding sun meant the cooling system on the thrusters and in the cockpit could actually dump some heat.

Just about the time I began to genuinely enjoy this novel means of hovercar racing, I squinted at the nav screen to see what looked like a spiderweb approaching.

Several tunnels had crisscrossed this same volume of land, resulting in a long sequence of very sharp angles where they intersected. It was the sort of place where a one hundred metre misapproximation of position could send me straight into a wall, and it probably didn’t do much good for the structural integrity of the tunnels either.

'Okay. No big deal. Intuition, Kixi. We want to go in an… up-ish direction.' A nagging voice in my head suggested I could probably drop the speed to a crawl and inch my way around the turns, particularly since at this point a throbbing engine was more likely to cause a new collapse than help escape one. Overruling the voice of common sense was the much louder and more instant voice of exhilaration, which made the very well reasoned argument, 'We’re going to do this as fast as possible because it is awesome and we are awesome.' It was a voice I had allowed to guide an unnervingly large number of my major decisions.

Steering by the glow of my thrusters and the seat of my pants, I made six sharp turns in rapid succession. By the time I glanced back at my navigation screen, it was flashing the word rerouting.

“What’s to reroute about? I can see daylight up ahead,” I said, squinting at the point of light approaching. I cleared my throat and spoke to the computer. “Navigation, advance view in direction of travel.” The system began to track along the path ahead, coming to a narrow line a short distance farther along.

“Stop, zoom.” At my command, the scale adjusted, revealing the label, 'Ventilation.' The diameter of that particular tunnel was labeled on the map.

“Okay. Two metres. That’s not so bad. The width of this sucker is,” I glanced at the clearance chart, “one point eight six metres. Plenty of room.”

I dialed the speed down just a hair, mostly by boosting the retro thrusters to give me a bit more light, and scrutinised the tunnel walls for any sign of change. It came rather suddenly, in the form of the surprise that the ventilation shaft was covered with a grating and aligned with the ceiling of the tunnel, not the floor. I yanked the controls and twisted, inverting the racer. It briefly lost contact with the walls of the tunnel. When the repulsors finally restored the induced attractive force that had replaced pesky, unreliable things like tyres, I was lined up with the vent, but not quite straight.

The momentum was more than enough to punch straight through the metal grating blocking the vent, but my back end clipped the edge of the shaft, and the dislodged grate caught under one of the forward thrusters. This converted my roughly forward motion to a spark spewing spiral. Every sensor and gauge either lit up menacingly or failed completely. Grinding metal and whining thrusters produced a deafening din. Dislodged hunks of stone from my graceless entrance to the vent struck my windshield, and the unpleasant aroma of a plasma leak quickly asserted itself.

I wrestled with the steering and got my spiral under control, just in time to run out of vent and launch from the stone tube like a cork from a champagne bottle. I landed cockpit down, digging furrows through the bleached stone of the landscape, before a few more flicks of the controls got me upright.

Kajtia's voice came back to clarity. “Kixi! Kixi, please respond.”

I took a deep breath and spat my gum onto the windshield. “I am okay. The Spectre IV is a little dinged up.”

“That is not our concern. Please power down. A response team is heading in your direction. Although Jak might possibly wanna have a little word with you later."

“Sure. Sounds good." I said trying not to sound overly optimistic at the thought. "And Kajtia?”

“Yes, Kixi?”

“Do yourself a favour and review the video footage from the racer. Tell me folks wouldn’t cross star systems to see racing like that. I bet my old rival Michael Vickers would eat his heart out."

She gasped a light chuckle at the thought, recalling old memories as my ex F-Zero co-driver. "Yeah I bet he would."

I might have preferred the exhilaration of an F-Zero race car over that of a hovercar racer any day, yet after today's tempestuous event, this chapter on my already illustrious racing career certainly made the cut to be up their with my wildest, and one I wouldn't be forgetting in a damn hurry.

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