Nobody rides for free

There’s nothing worse than going to sleep hungry, especially when it’s for six months.

I’ve been dreaming about food since I went into freeze — and I mean real food, hot and proper, not the slippery nutrient crap they slop down your gullet, stuff all made of fish eggs or some such.  When the Apes get orders for a new driver, they start prepping you for cold shipment to the Raceway.

You want me to tell you I’m innocent?  I got news for you, friend.  Everybody in this motherfucker was set up, framed, or otherwise “didn’t do it”.  No one in prison is particularly guilty.  We just kill for the same reasons anybody kills anymore.  To stay off the Raceway.

I could tell you about Naptime, but that’s too short a tale.  You get your head shaved, you get dipped in vitamins to shut your bowels down for six months while you sleep thirty-five high and eighteen wide in a frozen tube wired for sound on a one-way trip.  End of story.

Imagine being spot-welded into the cockpit of a ground-bound cruise missile powered by the sun, or in this case, PEDL — the Perpetual Energy Drive Link.  Once in, no out.

There’s three suns in close proximity to the Raceway.  Orbiting each one is a kind of hard-core processing platform that converts energy harvested from coronal mass ejections and photon emissions into useable plasma.  From there, it’s beamed several million miles to a second processor, which uses it to fuel a vehicle with so much potential for pure speed and final power that it never sees the same pilot twice.

The Mechs coat you in a special foam which constricts your body like a giant snake, forcing your blood to your brain, keeping you conscious.  But once the speedometer moves from green to red, all you can do is hang on and hope your heart doesn’t burst.  Crossbolts aren’t equipped with a brake.

The IRF prefers to use condemned cons, but they’ve been known to take terminally ill war heroes.  Those boys volunteer in droves.  Beats punching themselves in the face forever or flinging poop at the walls, a fate typical of most of the grunts involved in chemical warfare or sufferers of survivor’s guilt.

Once you’re sealed into a Crossbolt, you race until every other driver dies from exhaustion, starvation, inertia, or what the IRF terms ‘sudden involuntary deceleration’, i.e. slamming into a wall, or another driver.  Then you race again.

Most of the runs don’t go beyond a day or two but on occasion you’ll get two old goats with something to prove and they’ll lap the planet again and again, meters apart, barely visible, reduced to a high-speed blip on the lap clock while the triple suns rise and set and rise again.

The action aboard the betting ships gets hotter until one of the racers finally passes out from starvation, heat exhaustion, or their skull plain ass cracks from the pressure of whipping around the surface of the globe at plus-times normal gravity.  There’s no getting away from the future when it travels this fast.

The worst part of it — for me, anyway — is the cameras.  There’s two of those and one microphone mounted in the cockpit of every Crossbolt.  One camera sees what the pilot sees; a blurry mess of readouts and control lights just below the glass-flat surface of the planet, hemmed-in by two high walls that ring the equator and prevent escape.  Crossbolt goes forward, not up.  The other camera stares straight in the pilot’s face; you see the fear in their eyes in the instant before he dies.  The microphone picks up all kinds of shit; screams of fear, pleas for mercy, cries for mommy, rants, raves, hallucinations, last minute confessions, a man vomiting his terrified soul back into his own face — a live broadcast the Apes are more than happy to pipe directly into our cells, day and night.  I’ve known men who swallowed their own tongues or bashed their heads against the wall as a way to turn it off.

So that’s my story.  If I win, I race until I die.  And when I die,  my soul will be thrown clear of the cockpit on a high-speed head start to a better place.

Jesus Built My Hotrod,

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