Through the windscreen I see numerous people scrambling to their vehicles, the rabbit person who I suspected to be Milton bounded over to theirs and flung open the canopy, quickly wriggling into it. The light melodic tones that emanated from somewhere in the car gave way as more and more engines lit up on the grid. I figured I’d give the engine some revs and wait for the start.
“Deep breaths...Alice...its just a game, play it like you would any other. Its not real” I mutter to myself, keeping my eyes trained on the lights. My grip tightens on the steering wheel.
“Are you ready Alice?” The Assistant chirps from my left. I have no idea if I’m ready or not, but I don’t tell him that.
“I am fine. Lets go” The red lights I’m focusing on seem to glow at such an intensity that it blanks everything else out, and just like snapping my fingers. It was gone. And I was hurtling into hyperspace. The leading car gets an appalling start and most of us dodge it, but I watch it fall foul of the drill equipped machine behind me. “Assistant? I thought you said weapons activated on lap 2? I just watched someone get minced!”
“Defensive modifications can be used throughout, you’re not using your full acceleration capacity” Great. Just wonderful.
“I hope that wasn’t one of them…” I will the car forwards and the engine note picks up and I rocket back towards the trio at the front, but my momentary hesitation meant the drills were nipping at my heels. I dove deep into the first left corner at full speed, which turned out to be a mistake.
“Too fast too fast!” The moment it dawned on me I subconsciously applied the brakes, and applied them hard. This caused a juddering and grinding sound as I sideswiped the other buggy ahead of me, causing it to launch into a roll and collide with an ancient looking statue that was on the outside of the corner. I yanked the steering left to try and make the corner and after a few heart stopping moments of understeer, the front wheels found grip and tilted back towards the racing line. “That was too close” I muttered, hoping that the person I hit escaped the wreck, those things looked pretty sturdy.
“Assistant? Do you have communication with that car yet?” I attempt to shout, but my new voice keeps it at its regular monotone level. It seems that only the Lord had any real control of his vocal range.
“Working on it!”
I exit the corner a few places down from where I started, and had the pair of drill equipped machines rampaging along in front of me now. I decided it was best to let them clear the way for me so I stuck right behind them. We exited the corner and immediately started picking up speed towards the bridge. However both of the cars in front remained stubbornly side by side, blocking my view. I positioned myself just between the rear ends of them and squinted to peer between them. I could just about make out the beginning of the bridge directly ahead of them, at least I could for a moment before the belching leviathans collided into each other.
Turns out the bridge wasn’t really big enough for the both of them, and the crumbling crenulations on the left hand side gave way and the car toppled over the edge.
“You don’t care much about each other I suppose…” I followed them around the rest of the lap, which was just as simple as described, as we crossed the line to begin the second lap a bunch of lights lit up on the centre console below the screen.
“Your offensive weaponry are operational Alice” The Assistant states, sounding excited. “I’d suggest using your blade to burst the tyre of the vehicle ahead of you going into the first corner” Following his instructions I push forwards on the lever and watch as a pair of blue blades materialise, quickly climbing up the windscreen and stretching over the centre of the car. I dove at the drill machine into the first corner, carrying much more speed than it and clipping it in the space between the wheel and the chassis.
With a small bit of braking I made the corner fine and the drill machine did not. Now missing a pair of rear left wheels, it spun harmlessly out near where the wreck of the buggy settled. With them finally out of the way, the road was clear for me to chase down the leaders.
From his booth in the viewing tower 4L3-X5-D3R watched the race with interest, using his flowing nanites to control the UI that was projected onto the window in front of him. “Remarkable, neither of the other Xeraphim are giving me readings like these…” He looked to his left at the others spectating from their own booths. As 4L1C3 takes out the second of the Minerve Class 800 Drill Units, one of the figures in the other booths slams a fist down on the armrest of their seat.
“Good, the uncalibrated and their inferior machinery deserve that” He mutters to himself. “Now its time to push forwards 4L1C3. Show them we’re here to conquer-“
His monologue was interrupted by a knock at the door, he turns to it and his golden gaze pierces through it with his X-Ray vision. It was a male figure, and one that he recognised from his databanks. “Come in” he growls.
“It’s been a while Alexander” A snide voice rings out as a man enters the booth.
“If you’re going to refer to me with a alphabetical name then I ought to remind you I am LORD Alexander” He raises his voice and swings in his chair to face the familiar man. “Here to brag Senator Brine?”
The Senator does an exaggerated curtsy with a mocking smile. “No no, not at all. I’m just here to wish you luck in the games”
“I do not require luck, my genius creation is more than capable of winning without such trivial things”
“You have a new entrant this year, a few others do too. Of course, we have Sebastian. So I’m not too worried. I’ll be seeing you soon Alexander, when Sebastian is standing on the top spot of the podium of course” Senator Brine smiles and exits the room, leaving Alexander fuming. He turns back around in his seat and refocuses on the race, just as lap three begins.
It took a lap to catch up to the leading trio, which had started battling hard. One of the Xeraphim cars had been placed on the grid ahead of me. And it was busy battling with the buggy that I suspected to be Milton’s car, as well as a red machine that was very boxy and sports car-esque. I vaguely recognise it as the same sort of vehicle that Benji had picked.
“Good news! I have managed to connect you to the radio in the vehicle you asked for”
“Thank you Assistant” the crisp nothingness of the Assistants transmissions gave way to the rough sounds of the interior of an uninsulated vehicle,
“Milton?” I ask, hoping they can hear me.
“Who is this, Hitomi? You sound female” A light boyish voice comes through” I don’t know how quite to respond to that. I clammed up, and almost overdrive the car on the exit of the first corner.
“N-no, it’s...James-but I’m 4L1C3-ugh-Alice now”
“Ah, that’s awkward... What car are you in?” The sound through the communication system changes as his car enters the bridge.
“I’m in the Xeraphim car in fourth, behind you and the other Xeraphim one”
“You’re...one of them? A cyborg? He splutters and I see his buggy weave slightly, giving the other silver machine a big enough bump to send it soaring into the air off of the crenulation, very similar to the fate of the drill machine from earlier. “Sorry! They will respawn in the next race, I think”
“I don’t know them anyway, they’re just mindless droids for all I know” it seemed messed up but that was just how I was trying to deal with the situation. It’s just a video game, a very real feeling video game...
“Right, I haven’t talked to Hitomi or Benji yet, they’ve probably gotten quite into this. I think I want out as soon as possible, although this would be the first time I’d be good at PE” He chuckles then swears as a large stone tips the buggy on to three wheels and sends the stone flying at my car. A quick yank on the wheel and I dodge it.
“Yes, lets focus on finding the others first though. Although I am rather...crippled...we’ll talk about this later lets finish the race first”
“Right, lets go chase the leader down” I see the rear end of the buggy oversteer, kicking out a trail of dust to the left as he accelerates forwards out of the corner towards the tunnel. I follow suit with vigour. I was beginning to get used to how the vehicles drive, they were slidable but not your Mario-Kart like brake drifting. You controlled the slide with the throttle, with the different degrees of pedal inputs controlling how much you drifted the corner. It was actually pretty fun, but the speed you pick up on the straightaways was absolutely frightening.
The next lap went by without much going on. We’d pulled a considerable gap from the rest of the field, but upon crossing the start/finish line for the last time. I received a rather worrying message from my Assistant.