Zayne Nyro in: Jettisoned from Ettison
Even though Zayne knew no place more comfortable, he couldn?t stop his brow sweat from soaking the padding of his helmet.
?RACERS! Ready!? Cried the flag girl, all dolled up in leathers of every color. She stood atop a platform jutting out from the grandstand stretched along the right side of the front straight; opposite were the looming depths of Edenbrooke Forest.
Even though Zayne had done this a million times before, he couldn?t stop his temples from drumming his skull.
?On my mark!? She yelled. Each hand held a large green flag over her hair streaked with color.
?Hey, Zayne.? said a helmeted voice to his left, Dorian Rose III. ?Looks like your buddy Kliff has something other than your upcoming loss on his mind.?
Zayne saw that Dorian was looking over his shoulder towards the pit area, so he did the same. The team?s mechanic, Kliff Alderridge, was exchanging money with a shady looking figure.
That son of a bitch! Zayne thought, he didn?t know if he meant Dorian or Kliff.
?THREE!? She yelled over the vehement roars of twenty engines.
?Enjoy the race,? Dorian said, ?I expect it?ll be your last.?
Through the darkened visor of Dorian?s helmet, Zayne could scarcely make out a sinister grin.
?See you at the finish line.?
Even though Zayne was ready to ride, he couldn?t shake the thought of that son-of-a-bitch mechanic of his illegally betting on a race.
?GO!? The small gate holding Zayne?s front tire in place dropped just as the flag girl waved her arms.
And they were off.
The tires of twenty Exobikes bit into the dirt track of Edenbrooke Forest Raceway. Down the main stretch they flew, weaving a cloud of dirt into their wake of silvery purple exhaust. The first turn approached; twenty loud clicks sounded as each rider freed his bike?s left leg. Each leg extended, the claws on their mechanical feet dug into ground deeper than the thick treads on their tires. The riders leaned into the corner, eyes wide and jaws tight. Rips and roars from the crowd faded in the distance as they took the bend; plunged beneath the glowing canopy of the forest.
Most of them made it through in one piece, but the bottlenecking curve left three of the riders tumbling fast over the dirt and each other like metallic rag dolls.
Zayne drew his leg back into his body and fixed the limb holster back onto the bike?s frame. The riders had formed into a line, Zayne leading?as expected. The only thing in front of him was a clean stretch of track, but there was plenty of action behind; the rear wheel of his bike was chased, only mere inches from the front tire of second place. Faint hums came through the small earpiece embedded in the side of his helmet, then the voice of his teammate.
?Zayne! Zayne!? said the voice through the receiver.
?Whadda? ya? want, Lain?? Zayne answered, exasperated. ?You didn?t dump it in the corner, did ya??? He didn?t care to look back though; even if Lain had fallen there wasn?t much he could do to help.
?No, no, I?m in fourth. Dorian and Blake (his teammate) are right in front of me and they?re moving to your left, they?re going to try and dive in on you through the next corner.?
?I?m on it! Thanks, keep the updates coming if you can keep up.?
?We?ll see who?s in first after the end of this lap, you cocky motherfucker. I?m gonna? shatter your lap record.?
?Just follow me through the corner, we?re gonna? go high!? Zayne chuckled, Lain never liked playing second fiddle to the best Exobike racer Ettison City?s ever seen, but learning from a star and riding their coattails to victory wasn?t a bad handoff. Lain was running fast laps during practice earlier in the week though, Zayne was going to have to give it his all to pull out a win tonight.
Zayne leaned hard into his bike, forcing his palms forward on the throttle bars deep in the arm holsters attached to its fork. Seventy?eighty?ninety miles per hour; the neon numbers on his windshield?s HUD climbed faster than the massive tree trunks blurred by. He glanced over his left shoulder, only letting his vision slide from the track for a split second. Indeed, he did see two riders squirting out to his left, each dressed in yellow with black trim racing leathers?Blake Yardly and Dorian Rose.
Up ahead, the track turned to the right, but it wasn?t a flat corner; its edge rose up into a careening embankment of earth. Zayne leaned left and his bike slid to the track?s boundary; even further out than Dorian and Blake were. One more foot to that side and he?d be driving in the forest instead of through it. He entered the turn, keeping his speed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the yellow and black riders dive into the bottom groove of turn two. Zayne stuck out his right leg and slammed it down, and just like before, the bike?s same appendage mimicked him, its metallic grips tearing a wound into the earth.
At the bottom of the corner, Dorian and Blake couldn?t keep nearly the same speed of Zayne racing precariously on its upper lip. They had a chance to block him coming out of the corner, but two riders can only occupy so much of the track. With Lain snapping at his back, he belted past them, kicking up a heap of dirt right into their faces.
But, they caught up.
Through the next few corners the four front-runners traded places. Zayne and Lain did their best to block Dorian and Blake through one of the hairpin corners, but they had the inside line and took the lead. Zayne took back first position in the next high corner, but Lain had to settle for third and slipped in behind Dorian, narrowly avoiding a tangle with Blake as the right leg of his ride clipped the front fender of Blake?s. He was so close Blake could?ve reached out and slapped him on the back if his arms weren?t locked inside the Exobike?s.
After the next bit of straight racing the track climbed towards the forest?s radiant ceiling. Great steel supports lifted the dirt course as it wove between the elephantine tree trunks. The seventeen riders that remained in the race expertly navigated the course. Left legs out for left turns, right legs out for right. Higher and higher the track climbed, and the corners became equally dangerous.
In the off chance that a racer fell from the elevated track, and more than a few did, it wasn?t a twenty or thirty story plummet to the forest floor where the cleanup crew would have trouble separating flesh from metal. Exobike racers were often regarded as reckless or stupid, but they weren?t that stupid. There was netting along the sides of the raised track, but if you fell and got caught up in it, you were effectively out of the rest of the race. There is no room for error if you want to win the Edenbrooke Steeple Chase.
Zayne had fallen back to second place, and Lain to fourth. Blake was in the lead with Dorian sandwiched between the other two. Twelve remaining racers filled out the rest of the field. They raced towards the forest?s canopy, and the track started a corkscrew around one of the larger trees, it had enough girth to blanket a small house. Round and round they raced, up and up they went. They exited the pigtail turns full in the forest?s canopy. The track forged a path through the tangle of branches, some big enough to be confused as trees themselves. It dipped and it dived, then it rose and it climbed; a hilly course held up by arms of metal attached to the massive trunks.
The racers proved their skill, expertly running this part of the track without anymore casualties. Leaves the size of their heads zipped by, glowing like the neon signs of The City. The high-pitched songs of Peepers, thousands of bright-breasted little birds that made the canopy their home, humbled their engines? roars. They fled through tunnels of branches fifty stories off the ground; if it looked like there wasn?t enough clearance on one side of the track, they?d have to ride the other or go on living without a head. Some parts of the track were cut out entirely up here, with netting beneath them of course, and the racers jumped the gaps as if they weren?t even there.
At the end of the moguls, the course descended sharply towards the ground. This was the fastest part of the track, and it had to be for what came next. The forest floor approached with breakneck speed. Just as quickly as they were bathed in light above, they rode into darkness beneath the earth. A tangle of arthritic roots channeled the riders. For a few moments they rode beneath the forest?s veins, but when they surfaced the track led them straight towards what was probably the largest tree in the whole wood. From edge to edge, it had to be at least one hundred feet.
The riders bore down on their mechanical steeds, bodies tucked tight. They raced towards the wood-armored giant with no signs of stopping. There was an opening at its base and the track seemed to ramp up into its heart. Right into the tree they raced. Engines echoed through the hollowed out core of the earthborn behemoth. Upwards their wheels took them, and just when gravity?s grip became inescapable, that moment of weightlessness, a kind of magic happened?joints flexed and pivoted, hydraulics hissed, and four sets of thick talons dug into the wooden insides of the goliath.
Their bikes had gone from a quirky looking motorcycle with arms and legs to an athletic suit of armor in a split second?Prowler mode.
Arms and legs pumping, the racers climbed up the inside of the tree like jungle cats, splinters of wood falling to the ground every time those claws dug in. Eventually they emerged from the tree onto a small platform, and before them was a series of obstacles?the technical part of the track.
The racers clambered over the obstructions one after another, leaping from sawed-off tree trunk to sawed-off tree trunk. They climbed walls anchored to the forest floor and worked their way through a labyrinth of passages cut into the trees. Bright orange flags and large wooden planks told the Exobike riders where to go. Cameras along the racetrack relayed their feed back to large monitors spread throughout the grandstand; race officials would know if they tried to take a shortcut?tried to cheat.
The racers jumped and climbed their way through the obstacle course, more than once having to monkey swing from branch to branch over otherwise impassable gaps. They shouldered past each other, trying to keep their balance while knocking other racers off.
They reached the second racing part of the track. In one fluid motion they went from Prowler back to motorcycle?metal hands grabbed at the forks of the bikes and flipped it from under the frame, the rear wheel fell from its cavity and all four of the appendages were fixed back onto the Exobike?s frame. The racers plowed through the last part of the course. When they rounded the last corner, back onto the track?s front straight, Lain was in the lead with Zayne right on his tail, Dorian and Blake right behind him.
?Lain,? Zayne said through his helmet?s mic. ?What happened on that last corner? You came off high.?
?I know, man. My rear tire spun out and it kicked me out to the top.?
?Alright, next time we come around I?m gonna? try to get in front of you before then and you can follow me through. You can win this tonight if you don?t fuck up!?
?Sounds like a plan!?
The flag girl dropped a black cloth with the number 46 on it; one of the riders was being disqualified for skipping a part of the course. As the racers crossed the starting line, a light ticked off on a board below her platform. Two laps left.
The second lap was much like the first. The riders traded positions along the length of the six mile course. A few more dropped off and left only eight competitors. When they rounded that final turn a second time, Zayne had taken the lead from Lain, but Dorian had snuck in between them.
?How?d you get through the turn that time??
?I still came off a little high. I?m gonna? try to make time through the technical jumps, Dorian and Blake run that part like a couple of bitches, scared to fucking fall.?
?Alright man, I believe in you. It?s your time to win a fucking race.?
They ripped down the front stretch again; the crowd roared support for their favorite riders. The flag girl was waving a white flag this time around, and another light blinked off on the board?final lap.
Zayne tore down the front stretch and peeked over his shoulder to get a bearing on his rivals. Dorian was hot on his tail, Blake and Lain not far behind. When his vision returned to the track?in that split second that the forest was in the corner of his eye?he saw them. Those glowing, piercing golden eyes that, over the past day, were haunting him. The same oily black body was attached to them; it would?ve been easier to miss the eyes beneath the shining sheet of green. The creature bounded through the forest?s interior, dodging and weaving its way between the trees.
Back into the thicket the riders went. Six left.
Zayne cut through the forest raceway. Every time his eyes cheated off the track that black figure was right there, racing along side him. He knew it wasn?t his imagination anymore; those eyes that haunted his dreams and found him in the dark halls of D-Block were real. Adrenaline didn?t fuck up your sense of reality that much.
The thing followed him up into the canopy. Somehow this beast had the energy to run as fast as his bike drove. Zayne could only imagine that some otherworldly force was beating this creature on, some invisible whip relentlessly cracking at its back.
Lain did overtake him through the technical part of the course. He traversed the obstacles like some circus acrobat; never did he give his footing a second guess. The last turn of the race approached, Lain was the first to dive in.
?Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!? Lain screamed through the receiver. ?I can?t hold it! You?re gonna? have to pass me!? Zayne saw Lain?s bike sliding up to the outer edge of the corner.
?Goddamnit! NO!? Zayne shouted back. ?Ease off the gas! Win this fucking thing!?
?I can?t! I?m too wide, just take it!?
Zayne took the inside groove and passed Lain. Ahead, the flag girl waved the checkered. He felt clicks around his wrists and ankles. What the hell? He thought, the locks that kept his arms and legs secured inside the Exobike had disengaged. How, he didn?t know?all he knew was that they had come loose. No worries, he?s on the last stretch of track anyway and he could taste victory.
He looked over his shoulder again; the black beast was still there, closer than ever now, sprinting alongside the edge of the track. His heart beat up into his throat. Then?
Right at him.
It couldn?t have been more than a fraction of a second, but to Zayne it was an eternity. The beast leapt through the air, maw of silver nails ready to feast. Its oily body stuck out against the bright backdrop of a fluorescent forest. Zayne leaned away from his assailant, a little too far actually. Something collided with the bottom of his bike as he toppled over into the dirt. His ride was launched into the grandstand wall and he slid along the track. Lain went racing past him.
Fireballs and shards of metal shot out from the bike in a great explosion. Zayne reeled and felt a stray bit of debris nick his helmet. After he gathered himself he looked down the track. The black monster was gone, but he saw another fallen racer. The crowd was screaming terror. Smoke rotted lungs heaved as he ran. Bits of a wrecked Exobike fell around him like the red sky was crying fiery hail. The closer Zayne got to the fallen rider the greater his fear climbed.
Navy blue racing leathers with gold trim. White letters that spelled the last name Navon and beneath them the number 58. Lain lay motionless, his arms and legs tucked into the bike?s limbs like they were supposed to be.
Zayne ripped off his helmet and fell to his knees alongside Lain. Fed a most gruesome sight, Zayne lost his breath. Lain?s visor was broken out, only small shards left in its edges like little glass teeth. His braids soaked up a pool of blood and white eye goop at the back of his helmet like little mops. Ebony skin riddled with tiny silvery purple bullets. His eyes?oh, his eyes?gouged by two metallic plates that used to be part of Zayne?s bike.
?OH FUCK NO! Get a fucking medic over here! NOW! Fuck?fuck! Lain! Can you hear me? LAIN!?
After the medics arrived and carted Lain off to the racetrack?s medical wing, Zayne had all the time in the world to try and make sense of what happened over the course of the last day. The strange black figure he met in D-Block, Kailee?s vision in the Ditch when she almost drowned, that hazy dream he had, and now the beast that probably just caused his best friend to lose his sight. Just when things were starting to look up, too. Why did all the bad shit have to happen so close together?