Discussion in 'Fan Fiction & Literature' started by Eli_Green, Apr 2, 2017.
any ad all feedback is appreciated m8
Well too bad because I didn't read any of it.
Hey, hey, hey! He also makes hero suggestions sometimes.
The writing isn't that good, but I am pleasantly surprised to learn that Eli can write more than an obtuse one-liner.
What did you like/not like then?
Can't improve without more elaborate criticism.
Never start with a direct reference to the setting, instead try to start with a painting-like intro; a shroud of darkness obscures the horizon. Amidst the silent landscape, shards of moonlight spotlight the lush grass, ridden with the drops of the early morn. Allegra is silent, yet its etc...
This adds to the writers attempt of immersion instead of being put-off by the idea of being introduced into an alien setting.
Try to be more subtle with your descriptions. I.e. bring your own flavor into the mix to eliminate any trace of the cliched. For example: instead of bluntly describing the sky, you can incorporate a mirroring effect that could be utilized to further add to the uniqueness and potential for background manipulation concerning your descriptive skills; lets add a lake to the mix: its color vacant, yet the sky it reflected. Its once vibrant color had been reduced to a mere reflection of the heavens above. The near moon stood dormant amidst the colorful night sky, yet through the lake's canvas it shone as well. Only in the (quality) planet of Albora does the moon lend its image to more than one etc....
^Same as above.
The problem (if I can use this term, more like the neglected part) about your style is that you suppress your own. You focus on the image in your mind, but forget that not everyone shares it, therefore suppressing your attempts at garnering the attention of your reader.
Writers usually get recognized over the successful incorporation of their own art/style/voice/descriptions etc... It is what makes them special.
I solved this problem early on during my early years through reading the works of critically recognized writers (regardless of the content, whilst focusing on their delivery) then imitating what they do until bastardization is in full. I.e. I finally got my own style:
"Its silhouette dominated the landscape. Its presence had engulfed the entirety of the abandoned farmlands ever since it first stood at the very top of the summit. Atop the primary spire, beneath the sundered heavens, where the air is thin, and the breeze is cool, the Abrahamsens observed from below as the bronze clad giant stood watch from above."
"The villages flourished, their orchards bore plenty, and their breweries operated day and night. The finest wines came from here. The locals did deal in other items as well, but as all practitioners of the trade know, there is always that one item that stood out from the mundane and raked in the livelihood. To the locals, that source of livelihood was their terroir; the land itself is a miracle, its contents, atmosphere, and natural treasures - along with the experience of its brewers – produced a wine that was seldom revered as a work of magical practice."
Notice how I always sneak in background information whilst describing the scenery; abandoned farmlands, primary spire, Abrahamsens observing, the whole wine deal etc...
People want to be engaged when they're reading; why are the farmlands abandoned? Why is there a giant? What makes this wine so special? Details, details, details (but not too much). Your paragraphs show a very colorful imagination, and an attempt at picturing a scenery. The only problem is how you deliver it. After reading through you can only go through the picture's outer layer: colorful skies, weird city, more colors.
To put things bluntly: 1) Outer layer = okay but why is this interesting?. 2) Inner layer = rly makes me think...
An example I'd like to pinpoint concerning this topic, is a multitude of scenes in the Sopranos concerning Tony talking about a particular painting whenever he lays eyes on it, and seeing things in it that only he sees. Not only is this side point not relevant to the main story, but it seems irrelevant to the plot as a whole. But as the painting shows up in scene after scene, you can clearly see that the writer is utilizing something as simple as this to not only reflect Tony's way of thought, but to project his complexes as well (through the peculiar things he gets out of the painting).
The most important thing about all of this though, is to remember that there is no such thing as objective criticism when it comes to this practice. So if you feel that certain traits are yours to utilize/evolve, keep them. If someone tells you that's meh then look at it from their perspective and try to un-meh it until its "but why?". And if anyone shits on your work, just ignore them and try to pinpoint why they shat on you in the first place.
Spoiler: chapter 9
Half an hour later, Alvens had called for the end of his segment of the practice session, stating that Lufkal was in at least acceptable form. And though part of Lufkal wanted to continue to practice on the known layout of the training circuit, doing so would not help much given that the actual race layout was still unknown. Besides, spending more time on the X-2 and getting familiar with how it reacted to all the situations Alvens' program hadn't covered would be vital to how competitive he could be during the race.
So far, Lufkal had spent the beginning of the second segment of practice cruising along with the late-night traffic, taking in the surroundings as he flew alongside the luxurious vortexes that filled Allegra’s airways. His eyes bounced from tower to tower as he continued his flight, looking for structures within the city’s core that stood out from their artistically shaped peers enough to be considered a landmark. A task that was proving to be much harder than he had anticipated given the uniqueness of each of the buildings he had seen.
Multiple pillars of glass, twisting and arching in distinct elegant poses, surrounded him no matter which way he turned. Their spotless surfaces scattering the playful lights from the distant streets into mesmerizing patterns and overwhelming the vivid colours of the equally artistic smaller structures that were nestled amongst them. And yet none that he had spotted so far had truly been distinguishable from the rest. That was, until a piercing white light flashed across his gaze.
Lufkal quickly checked the direction of the overwhelming brightness to ensure he hadn't been imagining things. Sure enough, he spotted it. A powerful, pure white glare that cut through the myriad of colours as if they simply did not exist.
Veering through the airways towards the brilliant light soon revealed its source – a looming angular structure, flat-faced, tipped with a single sky-piercing point, and nothing like any other structure he had come across. The solid mass of white was devoid of visible windows, and upon further inspection he noticed a thin gold and black bar that decorated each of the structure’s crisp edges.
"That's the NCE Embassy." His sister's sharp voice said through his prism as he circled the gleaming column, answering the question that had been at the forefront of his thoughts.
"I doubt the race will pass here." Astraka stated as he began another pass, this time casting his gaze at the ground and the buildings that surrounded it.
"What makes you say that?" He replied with genuine curiosity. From what he could see, the shorter buildings that bordered the embassy and the looping tunnels that bound them formed complex channels that could make for interesting racing.
"Because the all of the local security corporations are based within the surrounding buildings and their hangars exit directly to the streets below you." She said matter-of-factly.
Astraka’s answer left him feeling slightly frustrated that his spotting efforts had not identified any likely areas the race would pass through. At least he had learned an area to avoid, or more likely the direction any law enforcement vehicles would come from. With one final glance at the embassy, Lufkal snapped the X-2 from its orbit around the shimmering obelisk and shot off to the western side of the city.
It did not take long for him to cover the west side of the bay. Which despite the numerous eruptions of dancing lights from below, yielded nothing worth considering a landmark. Accepting the fact that the only easily identifiable buildings in the city were the resort buildings that lined the waterfront, the residential spires that stood behind the downtown core, and the NCE embassy, Lufkal abandoned his search. He made an effort to dismiss the failure as quickly as possible, as there was still time to practice and he would need a clear head to try and find the limits of what he could do. A task that greatly benefited from being on the opposite side of the city from those responsible for upholding the law.
He continued to follow the airways in a western direction until he had reached some relatively clear air. Confident that his surroundings were free of the downtown traffic, he raced out of the what his visor displayed as the legally usable airspace, tearing through the air above the thinning and increasingly less vibrant infrastructure that blurred beneath him.
Not bound to a strict program or regime, Lufkal was quick to begin to push both himself and the X-2. He began to string together a series of dizzying rolls and vicious spins, leading the X-2 in a hectic aerial dance to the tune of its screaming drive core. Each step of the dance raising his confidence in his own abilities and in those of his machine as its improved thrust vectoring and aerodynamics let it slice through the air with ease.
A familiar sense of synchronization was growing in step with his confidence. The X-2 no longer felt like a separate entity, but instead like a physical extension of himself. He could feel even the smallest of forces acting on the X-2, allowing him to refine his reactions, which the X-2 complied with as soon as the thoughts entered his mind.
"Start making your way back, I still want to have an inspection done tonight." Astraka suddenly announced through his prism as he flew out of another sequence of breakneck rolls.
"Okay, just have a one more thing to test." He replied, his voice full of adrenaline fuelled excitement that matched the furious pitch of the drive core.
"Don't keep everyone waiting, Lufkal." She commanded in response, her exasperation transmitting clearly over the cacophony of the rushing air and the screaming engine.
"I won't." Lufkal answered, grinning wildly from ear to ear.
Astraka's drawn out sigh was only barely audible as he opened the throttle and shot off towards the ring of dark mountains that crowned the bay.
He did in fact have one last thing to test – the one thing he had yet to do in either portion of the practice segments. With the threat of arrest or the impounding of the X-2 before the race started preventing him from going too fast inside the city limits, he wanted to use the relative safety of his current location to unleash the X-2’s full power. A sure-fire way to gauge if his body, mind, and the machine that he was bound to were truly ready to go to the extremes they would be subjected to in a race.
The constant barrage of auditory stimuli reached deafening levels as he tore through the air in a straight line with a massive burst of speed. Lufkal could feel his vision begin to cloud at the fringes as he flew faster, shrinking his field of vision to dangerously low levels and blurring the dark forest and silhouettes beneath him with the billowing shadows of the clouds above.
What excitement he had felt before he had launched his final test had quickly dissipated. There was no room for wasted energy as he directed all the will he could muster towards fighting against his instincts and to keep pushing.
Without realizing it he had gone well above his own limit. And though the X-2 still seemed to want to go further, Lufkal was on the verge of blacking out. Suddenly, while in the midst of conceding to himself that he was still short of where he needed to be, a red light flared on the X-2's display.
A cold dread threatened to seize his crucial focus as the fiery illumination filled his drastically reduced vision. And in that instant, his confidence disappeared, leaving him in a panic and struggling to maintain control of both himself and a zephyr that was rocketing above the mountaintops.
The situation grew worse still as an outburst of fury erupted through his prism.
"Lufkal, what do you think you are doing!" Astraka shrieked, her voice shaking with anger. "You're seconds away from a drive core meltdown! Do you..." Astraka's screaming cut off mid-sentence, replaced by the voice of a concerned, but otherwise calm sounding Alvens.
"You will have to deal with your sister and the team when you return." Alvens stated clearly, an undertone of disappointment present in his voice. "But first you must make it back in one piece.”
“Now, do exactly as I say."
Spoiler: Chapter 10
Those had been the last words anyone had directed towards him since he had returned to the team's suite. The calmly spoken words echoed through his thoughts as he stared up at the stark ivory ceiling, his aching body unwilling to complete Alvens' instruction despite the comfort of his warm bed.
The soreness that steadily pulsated through his form was only part of the problem however. Being left alone in the suite had left him with no one to talk with to expel his frustration.
With each passing second he grew more annoyed with himself for both not being able to handle the X-2 at its limit, and for damaging the freshly upgraded drive core. The building sense of failure churning his thoughts into a sleep inhibiting maelstrom.
Unable to handle it anymore, Lufkal rose to his feet, groaning as he stepped towards the plain spoked railing that bordered the suite’s second floor, overlooking the entirety of the open-plan room below.
The light rapping of his talons against the mahogany coloured wood paneling that covered the floor reverberated through the air, breaking the glum silence that had set in after the rest of the team had left to take care of the X-2. His brow furrowed at the mere thought of the situation, but he caught himself before slipping any further into his mounting anger. And after releasing a long, calming sigh, he staggered across the second floor, passing the rest of the neatly folded beds as he made his way towards the staircase that curved downstairs.
As he stepped off the carpeted stairs and back onto the wooden paneling of the main room, Lufkal sent a quick gaze towards the balcony doors. He heaved another sigh as he watched trails of glittering beads slide down their smooth glass panels, and instead turned towards the row of white-cushioned stools that lined the similarly coloured kitchen counter.
He took a seat along the section of the counter that ran adjacent to the suite’s exterior facing wall, stretching his arms across its cold surface. He kept his head angled towards the window before him as he slouched forwards. And though he struggled to see anything past the torrents of droplets that streamed through the air, in his current state the flurry of raindrops was mesmerising, capturing his groggy focus.
"Just race within your limits. Don't worry about the points."
"Do best you can."
The advice of his teammates trickled through his thoughts as he maintained his vigil. Their calm, worried, or in some cases reluctantly polite tones contrasting against the frenzied beat of rain on the window. But as his mind drifted towards the rest of the team, the haunting echoes of his sister's distraught shrieks resurfaced. The fresh memories of her raw, merciless anger – emboldened by the panic his actions had caused – reigniting his irritation despite his repeated attempts to calm down.
A sudden, blinding flash filled the window as a cloud-rending crackle shook the room, not wholly masking the gentle swish of the suite's entrance sliding open.
Lufkal kept his eyes on the window, concentrating on his breathing, as the familiar light footsteps fell against the floor in time with the reverberations of the grumbling thunder.
"You should be resting." Mina said, her soft voice floating over his right shoulder, carrying a hint of worry.
He didn't reply, choosing to keep his eyes on the dark window that now reflected Mina's pale face and the anxious expression that graced it.
"If you're too tired to respond you don't have an excuse not to be."
A thin smirk spread across his lips at her witty retort to his silence.
"How did you manage to get away from Astraka." Lufkal asked after a brief pause.
"She's mostly been overseeing the drive core testing so I just left." She said, a trace of hesitation in her voice. "I also finished the portion of your upgrades that we can install now. If you’re feeling up to it, of course."
"Seeing as I can't sleep, might as well." He replied, raising himself out of his slouch and turning to face her. "What are the upgrades?"
Mina began her response in her typically professional manner. "More synapse nodes, and a better organization for nerve logic. Combined, these should give you much better feel for subtle changes than ever before. And a framework for the second half of this upgrade plan."
"Might even help you with finding your limits." She added with a charming, tentative smile.
Lufkal couldn't help but laugh. "Anything that can do that is definitely welcome. How does the installation work?"
"It’s a straightforward process, but I'll guide you through it on one arm at least. Left or right, which would you prefer?"
Lufkal extended his right arm, figuring it would be easier to have his dominant arm done for him. Mina promptly pulled a pair of ordinary looking nanite chips out of a compartment in her left arm. Placing one on the counter and keeping the other in her right hand, she closed in on Lufkal's extended arm. He kept his eyes locked on hers as she leaned towards him, her gaze fixated on his prosthetic.
It did not take long for her to find what she was looking for, as her hand snapped towards a subtle notch on the inside of his forearm. A faint red tinge flashed across her pale cheeks as she briefly fumbled with the nanite chip before pressing it firmly into his arm.
A small click was the only warning Lufkal had for what happened next. His arm seized up immediately as the contents of the chip dispersed through his forearm, modifying and reorganizing its internal structure. It felt like the inside of his arm had turned fluid, sloshing around within its confines in an unsettling manner. He was sure that if it weren't for Mina's soft grip the arm would be writhing around of its own accord.
Luckily, Mina seemed to have picked up on his discomfort, increasing the pressure she applied. Lufkal smiled his thanks, his face growing warm when she responded with a soft smile of her own.
As quickly as it started, the sensation vanished and feeling began to return to his arm. Already, there was a noticeable increase in the feeling of Mina's touch. He felt her gentle contact more acutely, able to feel the grooves in the thin fingers of her prosthetic, and even the faint pulse of the micro-antimatter core that powered it.
"That's all you need to do." Mina said, sounding slightly breathless as she removed the now empty chip. "There will be a calibration period of a few hours, so try and rest while that process takes place." She added as she picked up the other chip and placed it in his open palm.
There was a subtle reluctance to her hand as she slipped it away from his and turned towards the door.
"I should get back. I'm going to try and finish the remainder of my work now." She yawned. "Please do try to get some rest."
Lufkal didn't get a chance to respond before she had slipped back through the entrance.
He sat still for a few minutes, flipping the second nanite chip in his hand – getting used to the increase in tactile information he was receiving – before slotting the chip into his left arm. He kept his right arm firmly on his left as it went through the same uncomfortable process, removing the empty chip and sliding it across the counter once it had finished.
A quick glance at the time being projected on the wall opposite the window revealed that there were only a few hours until sunrise. Lufkal's surprise was coupled with a wave of fatigue that his earlier frustration had been warding off. Slowly, he clambered off the stool and dragged himself back upstairs to finally get some rest.
Spoiler: Chapter 11
Lufkal woke up to the glare of the sun, ache free and with a clear head. He laid still for a moment, listening to the offbeat rhythm of his teammates' breathing and the distant sounds of traffic to gage the time. A quick check of his prism's right-eye display confirming his estimation.
Satisfied with how long he had slept, he quietly rose from his bed. And after a brief stretch he crept towards the carpeted stairs, taking care to minimize the knocking of his talons against the hard floor.
Upon stepping off the footstep muffling staircase he returned to a creeping pace, slowly advancing to the kitchen. He made a quick stop at the fridge to collect a nutrient bar before turning towards the balcony doors and shuffling towards the transparent threshold.
The welcoming heat of the mid-morning sun greeted him as the glass gateway slid shut behind him. No longer needing to remain quiet, he crossed the balcony at his regular pace, fully spreading his talons against the warm floor with each step. The crackling of the nutrient bar’s wrapper being torn off joining the sound of his footsteps and the pleasant swish of traffic as he approached the railing.
He remained outside, watching replays of the races he had missed for what seemed like hours, until he heard a sharp knock behind him.
The reflection of the now partly cloudy sky made it difficult to discern the rapid beckoning gesture his sister was making on the opposite side. But judging by her frantic motions it likely meant the track layout had been distributed. And after pausing the race he had been watching, he slipped back into the suite.
The groggy chatter from his teammates was the first thing Lufkal noticed upon re-entering the room. Followed by the pleasant scent of a hot breakfast, and the occasional blink of someone's prism; creating a comfy, homelike atmosphere.
Lufkal almost jumped as Astraka cleared her throat from his immediate right.
"The track information just arrived." She said sharply as she tapped something into her prism, a slight quivering still present in her voice.
Lufkal nodded his acknowledgement, opening his prism to receive the track data that Astraka had no doubt just sent. Within seconds, a message with the desired information appeared in his inbox. And a few swipes and taps later, he was projecting a 3D map of Allegra onto a low white table in the living area.
Though small, the rendering displayed the entire city with pinpoint accuracy. From the distant Multi-Terminals and the massive residential spires. To the labyrinthine underground road network and the legal airway routes – both of which were populated with live traffic data. Even shimmering specs of thousands of tourists were included in the display, their miniscule movements sending waves of silver light dancing across the plain walls.
Despite the incredible level of detail, the projection was of no use to him in its current state. So, with a few more commands to his prism, he imported the track data into the map. Instantly, a single bright blue beam began to weave through the image. It started from a quiet corner of the underground road network on the western side of the city. Then wound through the labyrinthine roadways before erupting into the city proper, not too far from the start. The beam continued its twisting path, curling around towers and snaking its way through the skyline towards the east. Only straightening out to follow the canal that split the city, before swerving east at its mouth and resuming its chaotic path.
The track continued to twist and turn on the eastern side, though it avoided going close to the NCE Embassy – and the armada of security vehicles that lay waiting in its vicinity. The hectic eastern sector ended with a brief dip underground and a relatively straight path towards the seafront. A sharp turn to the west then set the track careening around the seashore in one smooth bank. The long sweeping arch bringing the track to a close at the central Multi-Terminal.
A fluttering sensation swept through Lufkal as his eyes followed the daunting path. The bout of pre-race nerves causing him to cast his mind back to recall if any of the races he had watched earlier had been as long or as imposing.
"It's quite the course he has prepared." Alvens stated, still using his coaching tone, as he appeared next to Lufkal, casting his four piercing eyes at the map with a thoughtful frown. "But I think it suits our machine, and may be easier to navigate than it appears."
Lufkal raised an eyebrow in disbelief at Alvens' last statement. His voice dripping with incredulity when he replied.
"Indeed." Alvens said plainly, ignoring Lufkal's tone as he opened his bronze-coloured prism and directed it towards the projection.
Lufkal looked on as lines of bronze light sliced into the map, dividing the silver city and the blue trail into four segments. Once the divisions were clearly marked, the trail itself began to transform, shifting from plain blue to a mix of red, yellow, orange, and green bands. These colourful sections – which must have been the simulation data for the X-2 – clearly revealing the straights, hard braking zones, sharp corners, and the relative speed of the track layout.
"Our previous machine would lose too much time in the corners to be competitive here. But the X-2 should perform well – as long as it is piloted competently."
Lufkal bit back a retort to Alvens' sharp criticism, opting to stay quiet and run his eyes over the course yet again.
"The nimbleness of the X-2 should enable fast times through sectors one, three, and the beginning of sector two." Alvens stated while running his finger along the sections of the track he had mentioned.
Lufkal followed Alvens' hand, paying close attention to the colour of the track at each specific point. Despite the snaking nature of the sections, they were indeed mostly green. While the few slower yellow, orange, and red segments were only present at the handful of vicious hairpin turns.
"Placing in the points should be doable then?" He asked tentatively.
"In theory, yes. But it depends on how well you can manage the core temperature."
"The damage was that bad?" Lufkal said sheepishly, ruffling his plumage with his left hand.
"Yes. And though it has been repaired, it has not been extensively tested. There's a fair chance that prolonged stress could cause it to meltdown, or worse."
A cocktail of guilt and fear swirled through Lufkal's thoughts at Alvens' blunt warning. Adding to his mounting nervousness.
"But as I was saying before, the state of the drive core should not prevent us from being able to compete for a few points as long as you can keep the technical sections clean. It just means that we will lose out in the long straight at the end of sector two, and the end of sector four, as you will need to focus on managing a stable temperature instead of going flat out." Alvens stated calmly in response to Lufkal's visible nervousness.
His coach's reassuring words sparked some confidence within him. This confidence, combined with the knowledge that his actions from the previous night had not caused too many issues, alleviated some of the pressure he had been feeling. And a confident smirk began to spread across his face as he returned his eyes to the glimmering map.
He spent the next hour discussing and studying the winding track alongside Alvens. Primarily focusing on strategies to reduce the inevitable time loss he would face in the straights.
The discussions so far had gone well, and were looking to continue to do so until a shout from his sister rang clearly through the room.
"Alright team! The grid opens in an hour and a half! Let's get moving!"
Spoiler: Chapter 12
With the rest of the team having packed up the transports the night before, it did not take long for them to join in the afternoon traffic. A decision that seemed to be paying off, as the winding tunnels were packed full of slow-moving air and ground vehicles that would have assuredly made them lose valuable setup time if they had left any later.
The trip had so far been uneventful. Allowing Lufkal to spend the first half-hour studying the winding tunnel network and make several notes that could potentially help him in the race.
Perhaps the most important of these mental notes concerned the behaviour of the strips of lights that ran the length of the tunnel walls to control the flow of traffic. Though the majority of these strips were white, there was a thin band of yellow strips on either side of the tunnel that outlined the usable airspace. They would also occasionally change colour to notify pilots of upcoming traffic, and other conditions by either flashing or turning bright red.
Though he and the other pilots would likely be ignoring these signals. Using them to see what oncoming traffic was being instructed to do would be crucial for both his pace and his survival through the daunting underground sectors.
"Not too far now." Vyssr said, breaking the anxious silence that permeated the vehicle. Lufkal muttered an acknowledgement, but kept his focus on the gradually dimming tunnels outside. judging by the silence that followed the announcement, the other team members in this vehicle were just as preoccupied by nerves or their own thoughts as he was.
The tunnel they were travelling through grew darker and more twisted the further they followed it. The rows of lights thinning from numbers that covered the entire walls, to infrequent – almost insufficient – levels. The dismal glow that they produced casting murky shadows over the equally sparse traffic.
Without warning, the transport took a sudden sharp left-hand turn, plunging the cabin into a thick darkness. Lufkal stared forwards as he recovered from being thrown against the interior wall, letting his eyes follow the transport's glaring headlights. But there wasn’t much to be seen except for the curvature of the tunnel’s walls.
As Vyssr slowed the transport down to navigate the dark and twisty side tunnel, Lufkal realized he would not have the luxury of doing the same. If he wanted to be able to finish in the points he would have to navigate the pitch-black tunnel as fast as possible. An unsettling thought by itself without taking it into consideration that the rest of the course was just as challenging – if not more so. Or that he’d be passing through the constricted passageways alongside nineteen other pilots.
After a sweeping right-hand turn, an almost blinding light appeared ahead, marking the end of the shaft. Seconds later the transport emerged from the tunnel and into a wide and well-lit space. It was as big as a parking bay for one of the residential spires, but devoid of markings, docking points, and other niceties. Instead, the flat, unmarked floor was lined with rows upon rows of similar sized cargo vortexes, varying in colour from plain white – like their own – to elaborate patterns and liveries that added flavours of the city above to the drab space. Scores of people representing dozens of the galaxy's races flocked around the vehicles. Their hectic movements breathing life into the grey expanse as they streamed back and forth between the transports and a single clear rectangular area at the room’s centre – the starting grid.
He could see teams pushing their machines onto the grid as they circled the area in search of an open space to land. Amidst the crowd he spotted the gold, black, and white of Evaliste Customs Racing – the current championship leaders – their almost entirely ex-professional crew working with breathtaking efficiency. Next to them were the vivid red and glossy black colours of Infernal Chariot – the team in last place – whose crew were scrambling about frantically. Not surprising given the unreliability of their zephyr, a common theme for teams new to the series. Beyond them were teams whose colours were familiar but whose names he did not get a chance to recall, as his eyes snapped to a quartet of vehicles he would have preferred not to see.
The four large transports were wrapped in the jagged bone white, deep brown, and grey livery that belonged to Team Fracture – the second-place team. A group of Bayoldan, Plateran, and Yanarus thugs, who constantly pushed the limits of the already loose rules. And whose reckless pilot had caused the series of events that led to Lufkal's arm shattering crash.
"Okay team." Astraka's voice suddenly sounded out through the transport's comm link, her tone dripping with venom. "The marshals are telling us that we have to park at the next available space."
Lufkal clenched his metallic hands into fists as he realized what his sister was about to announce.
"Are you serious! We have to work next to them!?" Izi screamed fiercely from his left, drowning out whatever Astraka had begun to say.
"Unfortunately, yes." Astraka responded through gritted teeth.
A chorus of groans erupted among the rest of the crew at her answer as they to looked at who they would be stationed next to.
"Just try to ignore them and remember what we’re here for." Astraka said, her voice still quivering.
"Ignore them?!" Izi began, but the comm link was dropped before she had a chance to continue her rant. And thankfully, she opted to mumble the rest of it to herself, sparing the cabin from her fury.
"Well this should be interesting." Ved sighed as the transport turned sharply and settled into a gradual descent.
"Hopefully not." Vyssr hissed sharply once the vehicle had come to a rest. "We can't afford it to be."
On that dour but truthful note, Lufkal scrambled out of the vehicle and hastened to its rear. He kept his eyes locked on the single door of its hold, waiting for Vyssr to open it as Sevyr had already done with the other transport. The door gave a soft hiss as the airlocks vented their pressure seals, and with a mechanical whine the vast white door slowly lowered. The steady sound joining the orchestra of banging metal, thrumming drive cores, and agitated chatter that echoed around the space.
The door hit the ground with a soft thud, creating an access ramp between the cold floor and the bed of the hold. Having no clue where anything had been stored, Lufkal raked his eyes across the contents of the transport in search for his gear, keeping an ear out for any instructions from Astraka or Alvens. And hoping that that the owners of the heavy footfalls that had become more prominent in the storm of noise were not heading in his direction.
"Welcome back, Swift."
Lufkal gritted his teeth as the arrogant drawl he could have gone without hearing called him out by his nickname over the pre-race ruckus.
"Splinter." Lufkal replied with a forced calmness while turning towards the source of the voice.
His vision was immediately filled by the hulking forms of two Bayoldan, their massive arms, and powerful tails swaying menacingly as they stood tall on their equally large legs. The imposing guards were made more fearsome by their armour-like clothing, which was coloured in a similar style to the rest of Team Fracture's equipment and accentuated their spiky heads, massive jaws, and large claw-like hands.
Yet it was neither of these brutes that Lufkal focused on. Instead he directed an angry stare towards the diminutive spiky haired figure between them that barely came up to his own chest. The leader, owner, and pilot of Team Fracture, Tirrus Arvolog.
"That's all you have to say?" Tirrus said, feigning taking offence.
"Not going to let a little crash upset you?" He added with a crooked grin that revealed his pointy, yellowing teeth. "Or have you had your wings clipped by your lovely sister." He snickered crudely, the light from his gleaming white optical implants casting sinister shadows across his tan skin.
"At least one of us had wings to begin with." Lufkal replied snarkily, forgoing his sister's instructions. Making sure to point at the long scar that stretched from Tirrus' left cheek to his forehead – cutting across what two months ago had been an organic eye – as he did.
Tirrus' smirk faltered slightly at Lufkal’s jab, which was enough of a reason for Lufkal to issue his own vindictive sneer. One that widened when he caught Tirrus twitch his bristly, black whiskers in agitation.
"Try not to get in the way then. Because I won't try to avoid you next time." Tirrus leered back with a furrowed brow.
"I mean, you could overtake, but you'd have to actually be good to do that." Lufkal laughed.
His laughter was short lived however, as Tirrus stepped forward, raising his brown and silver prosthetic left fist aggressively. But before the he could close the gap, his bodyguards each took a single ground-shaking step forward, extending an arm to block his path. At the same time, Lufkal heard the undulating movements of Sevyr and Vyssr as they slithered to his side.
"Isss there a problem here?" Sevyr hissed sharply, directing his question towards both of Tirrus' guards rather than the man himself. Both Bayoldan shook their heads. Without a word, they swung around in unison and lumbered back towards Team Fracture's designated space, leaving Tirrus by himself.
The lack of his compatriots had no effect on Tirrus' composure however. And the small pilot stood defiant in front of Lufkal and the twins.
"We'll see who's the better pilot soon enough, Swift." Tirrus said confidently, as he turned to follow in the footsteps of his guards.
"Whatever you say, Splinter." Lufkal thought to himself, feeling a sense of triumph. A feeling that was quashed moments later, as he pivoted back towards his team’s transports and ended up face to face with a scowling Astraka.
Spoiler: Chapter 13
"Don't be too hard on him." Vyssr muttered as he slithered passed Astraka and back towards the rest of the team.
"You would have acted the sssame." Sevyr added bluntly, following in his brother's wake.
Though it probably would have been better if the twins hadn't been so direct, he was glad that they had given their view on his interaction with Tirrus. He doubted he would have been able to convince Astraka that his actions were reasonable by himself.
The livid expression etched into his sister’s visage seemed to falter as she processed Sevyr's and Vyssr's statements. And for the first time since they had arrived in Allegra, Lufkal realized the sheer amount of stress she was under. The dark bags under her brooding eyes, the gauntness of her cheeks, and the dishevelled state of her plumage all indicators of her mounting worry.
A twinge of guilt shot through him as her lips trembled. Making him wonder how much of her stress he had caused.
"Sorry." Lufkal whispered, tentatively wrapping an arm over her shoulder – securing it into a gentle hug when she accepted the gesture.
"Just try and keep your focus on the race instead of that idiot." She snivelled, still trying to sound commanding despite her visible anxiety.
"I meant sorry about being a bad brother." Lufkal said, his sense of guilt having only increased.
"D-don't worry about me." She laughed shakily. "I'll be fine."
The single tear that splashed onto his arm told him otherwise, but he knew better than to press her on the issue. Instead he gently pulled away his arm and stepped back towards their cargo vortexes.
Lufkal promptly returned the hold of the transport he had previously been searching, eager to get his mind of off his nerves and Astraka's condition. He was frustrated but not surprised to find that it had already been emptied, though the slight twinge of annoyance was not aiding his troubled thoughts. Thoughts that only got worse when a quick dash towards the hold of the other transport revealed a similar story.
"What is it now?" He said with an exasperated sigh while turning to face whoever had called his name.
"I was just coming to find you to show you your new race suit, but I can wait if you need a moment..."
It was Mina that answered -– her offended tone mirrored in her body language. Neither of which completely covered the worried look that had briefly flashed across her face before being replaced by an upset expression.
"It's fine, we can do that now." He replied hastily, trying to make up for his outburst.
"Follow me then." She said sharply, walking away without so much as a glance in his direction and leaving Lufkal to hasten after her to keep up. The pair silently navigated the narrow straight between the team’s transports with only the muffled cacophony of pre-race setup for accompaniment. Coming to a stop at the pair of tables that sat at the end of the passage.
"Try this on" Mina said coldly, pointing towards a neatly folded jacket on the rightmost table.
Not wanting to make his current situation any worse, he quickly scooped up the jacket. Which was all it took to identify the weight disparity between his old jacket and the gunmetal fabric he held now. The lack of weight became even more noticeable as he swung the jacket over his back. It felt like he'd simply put on another shirt instead of a sophisticated race suit.
Visually, it was almost identical to the older jacket – featuring the same logo placement and decals. The styling was different however. Specifically, the styling of the sleeves. Which had been cut short like a t-shirt. He thought that the style was odd at first, but quickly realized that his prosthetics did not have the same constrained feeling as they did while wrapped up in the full sleeves of the old jacket.
But Lufkal knew that its current state was not what mattered. He promptly linked the suit to his prism and issued the same old commands he would have given to his previous suit. A familiar rippling sensation began to spread over him as the commands – which he was glad to see were the same – started off the jacket's transformation. As the suit began to wrap itself around his calves and feet, he noticed that the short sleeves had not extended past his elbows. Instead the fabric had formed a seal around them, the outer edge of which appearing to have merged into the connection point between his biological arms and his prosthetics.
"This should give you better range of motion and won't block your prosthetics from getting feedback. " Mina stated while she leaned over the table on the left, her svelte figure masking whatever she was working on. "And in case you experience a similar crash, the suit will separate you from your prosthetics to avoid further damage to your arms."
"This is much better than the old suit." Lufkal expressed gratefully as he did a few quick stretches, the new suit making them almost effortless – even with the armour and padding.
"Thanks." Mina said, a hint of pride warming her cold tone as she continued her work. An inflection that Lufkal picked up on, giving him a mind-clearing boost in confidence.
Now curious as to what she was doing, he drew up beside her and peeked over her shoulder. What he saw caused his eyes to widen with shock, and a smile to spread across his face.
As sitting on the table between Mina’s busy hands, was a helmet sporting the same livery as the one he had lost in his crash – his livery. Almost every detail was immaculately reproduced. From the glossy gunmetal base coat and his racing number – written in white and bordered by crimson and black lines – which draped the back of the shell. To the minimalistic silver wings that sprouted from either side of the visor and the black arrow – bordered by deep red – that ran through the centre of the helmet.
The only difference was a small patch of silver at the base of the central arrow. But it was hard to tell what it was for sure from his current vantage point.
"I just have to set up the HUD and then you are good to go." She said, not taking her eyes off her prism, her fingers a flurry of motion on the glowing interface.
Lufkal was at a loss for words. And despite morale boost the sight of his livery had brought to him, he couldn't help but feel more regret for lashing out at her.
A few seconds later, Mina picked up the finished helmet, presenting it to him at the end of an extended arm.
"Done." She declared in an accomplished manner, though she did not meet Lufkal's gaze.
"Thanks." Lufkal stuttered in amazement as he took the helmet unable to put a voice to all of his thoughts.
"And Mina..." Her eyes snapping to his as he spoke her name. "I'm..."
"Where are you Lufkal?" Alvens' voice chimed through his prism before he could finish.
"Go, It's fine." Mina said softly, all traces of bitterness gone.
Lufkal stood still for a moment, keeping his eyes locked on Mina's. Then he snapped their silent bond with nod, turned and sprinted back between the transports. A faint "good luck" floating through the air behind him as he launched into the swirling mass of bodies that surrounded the grid.
Spoiler: Chapter 14
Lufkal hurriedly fought his way through the buzzing crowd towards what he assumed was the back of the grid. He did not hesitate to throw out an elbow or shoulder into an unsuspecting technician or engineer as he powered through the churning mass – the race director was fond of changing his mind and indiscriminate rule changes. He wouldn't put it past him to penalize pilots who were late to their positions.
Finally, he broke through to the relatively clear grid – casting a few quick glances to the left and to the right as he stopped to catch his breath. Across the flat grey expanse were tight clusters of people – key technicians, race strategists, and pilots, lined up in pairs around their respective zephyrs.
Lufkal took one last look to the right, instantly picking out Tirrus amidst a few more of His Bayoldan teammates and a pair scantly clad female cohorts before stepping to the left to face the final row of the grid.
A familiar face beckoned to him as he skirted the frantic members of Infernal Chariot, who were busy performing a slew of last minute preparations. And after sidestepping a piece of fairing that they had sent sliding across the floor, he directed himself towards the X-2, which was flanked by Alvens, Izi, and Ved.
"Took you long enough." Izi shouted over the rising clamour of engines as Lufkal drew near. The rapid flittering of her circuits revealing the stress levels that lay beneath her sharp words.
"Made it before the horn. That's all that matters." Lufkal replied dismissively as he hopped onto the X-2; sliding his legs into the leg guards, but remaining upright and resting his helmet on the engine housing. There was no point starting an argument this close to the race, especially when he was already fighting off the uneasiness brought on by the daunting sight before him. The rows of zephyrs and the looming challenge of having to make his way through them were much more imposing from the back of the grid.
"Indeed." Alvens said – his serious tone in play once again – before Izi could deliver the fiery retort that danced behind her flaring circuits. "Good that you did as well. From what I've been hearing there have been a few issues with the race preparations."
"It's probably for the best that we start last then. He usually only targets point scoring positions." Ved stated without a trace of stress; seemingly unphased by the prospect of their target finishing position being subject to the whim of the race director.
"Agreed." Alvens nodded, bringing up his prism as he stepped in front of the X-2. "In light of this, the best strategy would be to keep close to the point scoring group until the end of the first sector. If no sudden rule changes happen by then, it's likely to stay that way. Leaving you with enough time to attack. And giving you plenty of room to manoeuvre if there are any changes later."
"Just keep me up to date with the rules and I'll do the rest." Lufkal replied plainly. There wasn't too much that could make the first sector harder than it was. So while he had lost some of his self-assurance to nerves, sudden rule changes were not as big of a concern.
"You're on your own for the first sector, Lufkal. Comms won't be able to reach you through these tunnels." Izi stated, her blunt words smashing Lufkal's confidence to pieces.
"So you mean to tell me..." He began apprehensively.
"Yes, there will be comms silence for all of the underground sections." Ved answered glumly, his circuits dimming. Lufkal's thoughts immediately jumped back to the twisting network of subterranean roadways. His heart skipped a beat as he recalled the narrow passages and the traffic that he would be flying headlong into. Having only the tunnel system's lighting and the beams of oncoming vehicles to glean information from would surely push him past his current limits.
"Fortunately, there are a few ways to avoid the traffic at least." Alvens began.
But before he could continue, a blaring horn sounded from the front of the grid – silencing the surrounding masses and reducing the grid to the steady thrum of idling zephyrs. At same time, pulses of turquoise light in the shape of ocean waves began to ripple through the entirety of the underground space.
As the waves of light crashed over the rows of zephyrs, a trio of holographic panels – each the size of a small vortex – flew out over the grid. The similarly turquoise panels promptly arranged themselves along the grid – one panel serving three or four rows. Each then settled into a gentle hover as they reached their destination.
Lufkal's eyes shot towards the nearest panel just as its surface sprang to life – displaying the thuggish visage of Jaas Lain-Gilleanat, the race director.
His mood was made immediately apparent by the irritated expression etched into his oval-shaped face, and the cold stare of his beady black eyes. The Telniran man's scaly head and cranial fin were dull, and in the latter's case droopy, revealing that he was more than a little bit tired as well as angry. Something confirmed by his beard of quivering short, spiky barbels.
"Welcome all to the tenth round of the Itsiora ZX Racing League. Streaming to you across the galaxy from the beautiful Allegra." Jaas' face announced from each of the holographic panels, his deep booming voice thundering through the room, and his well-practiced mock-enthusiasm masking his visible displeasure. "Tonight's race will start in the city's snaking underground road system. Where the pilots will have to navigate against oncoming traffic while being unable to communicate with their team. The teams themselves will then have to scramble through the mayhem to the surface to reconnect with their pilot. All of which will be brought to you by the broadcasting network I've put in a great deal of work to prepare..."
Lufkal had only loosely been paying attention to Jaas' race introduction, but the way the race director had described the broadcasting setup intrigued him. It was the kind of detail he wouldn't expect Jaas to mention. He could only imagine how challenging it would be to make such a system undetected – or how expensive it would be to have to pay someone off to ignore its construction. However, there was no need for idle thoughts right now, and with a shake of his head the thought was gone.
"...And now, your starting grid..."
His vision was suddenly filled with a brilliant white light as drone mounted spotlights illuminated the grid. There was a brief moment where Alvens was blocking the light directly in front of him, sparing him from some of the dazzling onslaught. It did not last long however, as his coach had to dive out of the way to avoid getting hit in the head by a camera drone that whizzed into position where he had been standing. Lufkal attempted to smile at the small black drone's lens. But between the blinding light and the anxiousness brought on by the imminent start of the race, all he managed was a half-grimace.
He felt a firm but reassuring grip on his left shoulder as the camera drone zoomed away. "Keep to our strategy." Alvens said calmly. "And good luck."
Lufkal nodded in response, as Alvens, Izi, and Ved dashed back towards the row of transports.
He spent a few seconds watching other mechanics, coaches, and engineers sprint off the grid before starting his pre-race ritual. A calming exercise of his own design that consisted of first double-checking that his legs were locked securely in place, then performing a mix of arm and back stretches – each held for exactly eight seconds, and culminating with the slow raising of his helmet to eye level before strapping it on.
By the time he began raising his helmet he was feeling relaxed, and much more willing to tackle the challenges ahead without fear. Feelings that were further bolstered as he deciphered the artistic silver scrawl on the back of his helmet which simply read "Swift".
Smiling, he placed the helmet on his head and fastened it. Much to his surprise the interior lit up with the silver light and the exact layout of his old HUD settings.
"Thanks Mina." He whispered to himself as he slotted his arms into the arm guards and wrapped his hands around the controls.
"...And keep it a clean race, unless I say otherwise!" The projection of Jaas said with a wink before disappearing – a row of five red lights appearing in its place.
"Five" Lufkal said to himself as he watched the lights from his periphery, keeping his focus on the mouth of the small, dark tunnel at the end of the grid.
"Four." He said as the leftmost light disappeared.
"Three." The howling of zephyrs filled the room and Lufkal made sure the X-2 was audible amongst them.
His sister's soft words were the last thing he heard before the last light vanished.
He and the X-2 launched from the grid with a furious wail; joining in the screaming pack of zephyrs in a mad dash towards the winding tunnels ahead.
*editing may be shittier than usual, busy week*
Spoiler: Chapter 15
The tumultuous screaming of the twenty drive cores viciously tore apart the air as the pilots shot off from the grid. Lufkal's helmet protected him from most of the harsh noise, enabling him to keep his eyes forward and concentrate on what had so far been a decent start. A well-timed launch – slightly marred by a few sharp inputs and the corrections they had required – had put him up two grid places as he accelerated down the starting straight.
His vision quickly filled with a cluster of blinding wing lights and exhaust jets as the pack converged upon the tunnel at the end of the straight. In response to the sudden glare, his visor grew darker and the HUD elements grew brighter. Replacing the glaring view with the silver lines of the track overlay, and each zephyr with a thin gridded outline.
Dozens of calculations whizzed through his head as gaps opened and closed ahead of him. He knew that overtaking would be difficult in the winding tunnels, but he didn't want to put himself so far behind that catching up would be an issue.
Suddenly, a gap just wide enough to accommodate his zephyr appeared, as the pair of pilots ahead of him veered out of each other's path. In that instant he made his decision – opening the throttle just enough to get him through the gap before reaching the mouth of the tunnel.
The pitch of the howls behind him let him know he had just managed to make it through before the gap had closed off again. But there was no time to dwell on it, as he plunged into the initial hard left bank of the pitch-black maintenance tunnel.
If it were not for the track data being streamed from Jaas' broadcasting network, Lufkal was sure most pilots would've crashed within the first few corners. The limited information provided by the silver-framed zephyrs in front of him was the only indicator of when there was a change in direction. And with headlights that were barely able to penetrate the thick darkness, his HUD was the only way he could spot and avoid the narrow walls.
A brilliant flare of sparks and the screeching of metal on nanocrete assaulted his senses him as he tore out of a right-hand hairpin turn. From the few milliseconds of glancing towards their source he noted that the pilot ahead of him must have come into the sharp corner with too much speed – going wide on exit and scraping against the wall. Instinctively, he altered his racing line just enough to skirt the pilot's recovery and shoot by – moving up another position.
After another sharp right the end of the tunnel came into view. At the same time, there was a drastic increase in the volume and exhaust jet intensity of the zephyrs ahead of him, as their respective pilots dropped the apprehensiveness caused by the dark and twisty maintenance shaft. Not wanting to lose sight of his opponents, Lufkal urged on the X-2. The response was satisfyingly immediate, and with burst of thrust he charged into the underground network proper – barely avoiding the wall as the erupted from the dark tunnel.
Only time would tell if the slightly risky manoeuvre was worth it. For though it was a sound plan, Alvens' strategy relied on him being able to keep up with the point scoring group. And while there was still plenty of race to go, he would much rather get into an optimal position for the plan sooner rather than later. Even if it did mean dealing with whatever Jaas might throw at them.
He quickly shrugged off the near collision, refocusing on the winding but well-lit tunnel ahead – keeping his eyes on his racing line, opponents, and obstacles as they appeared through his once more transparent visor. All the while he used his peripheral vision to keep tabs on the shimmering streaks of informative lighting that lined the walls, and the sharp silver lines of his HUD.
Slight downward left.
The undulating path did not have the nice, flowing layout like the circuit from Alvens' training regime. Yet there was enough of a pattern for Lufkal to find his rhythm as he darted through the snaking tunnels atop the screeching X-2. The improved zephyr’s strength allowing him to maintain a strong pace as he filtered through the oncoming traffic.
Lufkal was just powering out of the last apex and beginning to line up the next one, when a sudden, violent explosion erupted several hundred metres ahead of him. Without pausing to think he swerved to avoid the billowing cloud of smoke and flame and braced himself against the turbulent shockwave. The X-2 gave a fierce shudder as the forceful blast rushed through the confines of the tunnel. In response to the intense shaking he lightened his grip on the controls and squeezed his legs against the X-2’s frame. Time seemed to slow down as the X-2 shook. And only after what felt like minutes did the zephyr’s nervous tremors came to an end – leaving Lufkal just enough time to dodge out of the way of a swirling zephyr wing that had been hurled in his direction.
His proximity to the explosion had filled his ears with a piercing ringing, deadening all sounds but the awful grinding shriek of the massive ground vehicles below skidding to a halt, and the clatter of the ricocheting shrapnel. He could have sworn he heard the spine-tingling scream of what could only be the unlucky pilot, but the left-hand hairpin he was rapidly approaching removed the thought from his mind – leaving only enough room for the sharp ringing and the view of the pulsing red tunnel ahead.
Several minutes later, Lufkal was just settling back into his rhythm when he noticed the steadily growing sound of wailing sirens. A jolt of panic struck him as the flashing blue and silver lights of what could only be emergency response vehicles flared up in his periphery. Having security involved before the end of the first sector was sure to make things much more difficult. Luckily, a sudden sharp upwards turn in the track looked to put some distance between him and the fast approaching first responders.
He caught glimpse of a gleaming white emergency vehicle as he sliced between two hovering transports and directed the X-2 towards the roof of the tunnel. His stomach dropping a little as the glare of a searchlight flashed across the edge of his vision before he slipped into a vertical maintenance shaft in the ceiling. It was surely only a matter of time before the local authorities authorised the release of a fleet of more appropriate vehicles to try and shut down the race.
"If only we had comms." He muttered under his breath as he wove through the forest of pipes and tubes that jutted out of the walls of the dimly lit shaft. Despite not being able to hear his own words over the ferocious roar of the X-2, the brief complaint released some of his mounting tension, allowing him to stabilize his focus and increase his pace through the jagged maze of metal.
When he finally shot out of the tunnel – executing a rapid rolling manoeuvre to reorient himself – he was surprised to see that there were no blaring red lights, and very little traffic. His mood was further improved when he spotted the flaring engines of some of his competitors.
As if it had read his thoughts the X-2 loosed a fearsome shriek and launched after them. Alvens' strategy slipped from his mind as the X-2 goaded him in to pushing forward.
Reality came thundering back into his head with another near miss with the wall around what should have been an easy left-hander. He took a few steadying breaths to ensure he didn't completely lose composure – noting that he had at least managed to pull into attacking distance of the zephyrs ahead of him.
He fought back his urge to launch past them, remembering now both Alvens' strategy and the results of his earlier attempt to push his limits. He knew he had the pace to take them, and there was no reason to push extremely hard with so much of the race still to go.
Lufkal maintained his renewed strategic approach as the traffic began to pick up once more. His decision paying off when he shot past not one, but two opponents, as he danced through the tunnels with the X-2. All the while closing in on another group of distant zephyrs.
Then with a rush of cool air, the walls of the tunnel vanished; the cloud-dotted night sky opened up before him; and Lufkal found himself shooting up through the familiar iridescent skyline of downtown Allegra.
should hopefully be back on my ~2 week release schedule
yes, he always called me edgy in the past too, let's bully him.
Spoiler: Chapter 16
After the winding gauntlet he had just endured, the climbing upward straight that began the second sector was a welcome break. Though Lufkal was hurtling skywards at breakneck speeds; not having to worry about turns and obstacles meant he could let his eyes and mind recover from the challenging first sector. All he had to do for now was navigate the X-2 between the electronic checkpoints that marked the track – the locations of which were displayed on his HUD as large, floating silver rings.
Between the complex underground road network and the diversity of the skyward reaching pillars of metal and glass that lined the surface, it was not hard to see how difficult the race setup would have been. The presence of local authorities would not have made the task any easier for Jaas and whoever he had working for him.
A jolt of apprehension seared through him briefly as the ascent began to flatten out, disrupting his thoughts as he shot through the prismatic display of lights hailing from the wall of towers on either side of him. He had almost forgotten about having likely been spotted by the emergency response vehicles and how sure he had been that the proper authorities had been alerted. However, a brief scan of his surroundings revealed nothing. The nighttime promenade of luxury vortexes seemed normal, and there were no flashing lights bar the twinkling that shimmered up from the busy streets. Lufkal was still convinced the security forces were aware of the race, but was assured enough in the safety of the surrounding area to cast his fears aside for the moment.
Returning his eyes to the checkpoints ahead he noticed the steep drop he was rapidly approaching. A sharp downward spiral that wove through the maze of buildings and looped around the bridges connecting them, before sweeping out above the canal that run down the city's centre.
A pair of small red lights popped up ahead of him as he closed in on the downward turn. It looked like whoever he was chasing didn't think they could hit the initial checkpoint of the drop at full speed – a mistake that he could probably take advantage of. Once again burying Alvens' strategy underneath a multitude of calculations, he weighed his options for taking the turn at full tilt.
With milliseconds to go he made his decision, tightening his grip on the frame as he waited to cross the last checkpoint on the flat straight.
The instant he passed through the image of the silver ring he flicked the X-2's nose straight down. He could feel himself continue to fly forward as the zephyr's thrust vectoring fought against the inertia to maintain the downward trajectory. It felt as if his legs were being torn away from his hips as his body strained against his leg restraints. And though his arms seemed to have sufficient grip; each of his upper arms pulled against the joint were flesh became metal. Lufkal fought through the immense ripping pain and put all of the strength he could muster into pulling himself firmly onto the X-2 as he rocketed towards the ground – hoping that his prosthetics would not hit the force threshold that would eject them from their connections.
Fighting his hardest against the extreme forces he had placed his body under, he pushed the X-2 into a horizontal roll. The zephyr responded just as he had intended, beginning a quick but controlled spin. Halfway through the roll the forces that had been threatening to launch him of the machine were now pressing him into it; allowing him to secure his grip and regain control of the descent. And within seconds of completing the roll, Lufkal had lined up for and screeched through the next checkpoint. Shooting by the opponent that had taken a safer approach to the initial dive in the process.
Feeling confident, he began to line up the next series of checkpoints in the long drop; trying to determine if he had the pace to make a move on either of the two pilots ahead of him.
"What the..." Astraka's voice suddenly erupted through his helmet, startling him as he snaked downwards. Though he was glad to hear something from his team after the long comms silence; the palpable anxiety in Astraka’s voice indicated a mood he would rather not deal with.
"Update!" He blurted back before she could finish.
"Apologies, Lufkal, getting back to the surface was more stressful than we thought it would be." Alvens' Voice stated calmly as Lufkal recovered from the initial shock – just barely passing through the next checkpoint.
"You're 11.258 seconds ahead of 14th and 2.761 seconds behind 12th. Your current pace is good and will put you in attacking position shortly." Alvens stated, fulfilling Lufkal's blurted request.
Lufkal did not reply immediately. The update was welcome, but briefer than he had expected given the lack of communication thus far – though clearly much better than having to deal with his sister in her clearly distraught state.
"Anything else?" He replied hesitantly as he darted between aerial walkways; his opponent – and the ground – getting ever closer.
From the first word of his reply Lufkal knew that whatever it Alvens had to say wasn't good. The uncharacteristic hesitation in his coach's voice confirmed as much.
"... Has been a slight change in the layout of sector three." Alvens began.
But before he could expand upon his statement Astraka's shrill yell filled his helmet once more.
"Slight?!" She screamed. "Jaas has shifted the whole third sector to loop around the NCE embassy. He's practically forcing us all into a chase scenario and he knows it! As if the speed traps and blockades that are being prepared weren't enough to deal with!"
"What!" Lufkal yelled as anger and confusion surged through him – making it increasingly difficult to focus on his highspeed dive.
"Both of you calm down." Alvens commanded. "Lufkal, the involvement of security forces does not change our strategy – stay focused. I trust you to make the right call if a chase breaks out."
Lufkal's mind raced as the surge of information assaulted his concentration. Astraka's haunting screams had certainly not helped, only adding fuel to his swirling thoughts.
A sudden impact accompanied by a high-pitched grinding noise snapped his focus back into place. Alvens – as usual – was right. He needed to be focusing on just the race or he might not even finish it in one piece. He could deal with whatever mercenary group got authorised to intercept them when they crossed paths.
Lufkal gave his diagnostic panel a quick glance. Then, glad to see that whatever he had hit had only resulted in minor frame damage, he sped towards the end of the long dive.
Spoiler: Chapter 17
Lufkal had made short work of the last few downward turns. He had managed to claim twelfth place before sprinting out above Allegra's gleaming central canal. And now found himself locked in a battle with both the eleventh and tenth place pilots for the last point-scoring position.
The three-way struggle quickly reminded him how even the mid-level pilots in this league were extremely capable. According to his teammates, the X-2 should have had no trouble passing either of the machines ahead of him. But the reality was that their respective pilots were adept at both riding the limit and blocking off any attempted passes.
All of Lufkal's passing attempts, be they from above, below, or well off to the side, had so far been cut off by a quick roll or slight veer that put a flaring engine or unwavering wingtip in his face. It was all he could do to keep his cool under his mounting frustration and the quiet shadow of self-doubt it was beginning to propagate.
"Just stick with them and you will be able to pass one or both at the end of the canal." Alvens' voice instructed reassuringly while Lufkal tried to make another move underneath the pair ahead – this time greeted by a blinding spray as the pilot in front dipped matched his altitude.
He swore under his breath as the lack of vision forced him to halt his offensive or else risk slamming into the now turbulent surface of the canal. The failed attempt had done nothing to aid his anger, and Alvens’ message was only fanning the flames. He knew that his few hours of practice were never going to have been enough to shake off two months worth of rust, but these were basic manoeuvres and day one tactics that he was needing to be reminded of.
The troubling thoughts receded as the shimmering droplets of moisture were swept off his visor by his velocity alone. And with a clear image of his surrounding he snapped into action to regain the few metres he had lost. Begrudgingly following Alvens’ advice to maintain striking distance instead of passing.
While following the pair was much easier than attempting to overtake them, the distance between them had widened the scope of his peripheral vision. The larger coverage of the crowded streets running parallel to the canal providing ample distractions as he continued to barrel towards its mouth. Though the gawking faces of onlooking tourists gave him a jolt of amusement, providing some much needed respite from his heightened stress.
As he tore around a sweeping left-hand turn behind his opponents – showering passers by on the right bank with a glistening spray – the bridge that marked the end of the canal appeared in the distance. A pressing sense of urgency filled him as he powered onward. A feeling that the X-2 reciprocated with a longing scream as if it too feared the repercussions of not being able to pass the pair ahead.
Allocating as much of his fragmented concentration to remain in the tow of his opponents, he used the remaining scraps to weigh the passing options he had for the fast approaching eastward turn. With his pace he might be able to power by the both of them on a wider line, but that would likely fail unless they tripped over one another mid corner. He could also try and dive for the inside, in which case mistiming the manoeuvre would surely result in a collision with the bridge or the pilots.
As the trio continued to surge forward the brilliant light blue flare of the Saelewe Resort appeared in his periphery, briefly snatching his attention. He unwittingly allowed his eyes to follow its uniquely curved form as it arched up majestically amidst the nearby towers – the sparkling lights that illuminated its surface giving it the appearance of a surging tidal wave poised to crash down onto everything in its path.
The idea popped into his head as soon as he shifted his vision back to the rapidly approaching bridge. And as risky as it was, there was no longer enough time to come up with an alternative with similar potential.
After some quick estimations of timings, distances, and the reactions of his opponents, Lufkal stepped up his pace and began a slight but noticeable climb. There was no immediate reaction from the pair ahead of him as he steadily climbed above. And they continued to remain oblivious to his movements until they were only a few hundred metres away from the end of the canal – by which time Lufkal was halfway past the pilot in eleventh and almost two metres above him. When they did finally react, they did so as he had guessed, moving upwards to block both him and one another from making a move.
"Good." Lufkal said with a fretful smile as he broke his ascent and plunged the X-2 between the pair of them. With the bridge now mere metres away there was nothing either of them could do to intercept him as he slipped under the bridge – emerging from the other side with a massive spray and accompanied by screaming tourists.
The roar of the X-2's thrust vectoring tore through the air as he whipped the zephyr to the east and launched towards the next checkpoint. The furious shrieks of the zephyrs now chasing him informing him of the success of the manoeuvre.
"Great job, Lufkal." Alvens announced, sounding pleased. "Try and secure your position as best you can over this sector. I'll let you know if there is a need for change."
"Any updates on security." Lufkal replied, his acknowledgment of Alvens’ compliment embedded in his calmer tone.
There was no immediate response to his question as he navigated a tight series of checkpoints dotted across the Saelewe Resort’s beaches. And was pleasantly surprised when his sister’s voice played through his helmet sounding significantly more composed than before.
"Fortunately, nothing major so far. There are several patrols and two blockades further inland from your current position. None of the patrols have crossed paths with the track so far; but the front three will likely be hitting one of the blockades in a few minutes. I've updated your map with their routes and positions, so you should see them whenever you get closer.” She said, remnants of her hysteria manifesting as hoarseness in her voice.
“The only concern is that they’re Blue Sail. From what I can tell they specialize in dealing with smuggling rings, so I’m not sure why they’ve been given the response contract, except maybe for training?” She added, as a minimalist depiction of a solar sail coloured in navy blue appeared on his HUD.
“And yes, I'll inform you of any changes.” Lufkal was at least glad to hear his sister’s usual attituded return; with the revised segment of the course drawing near and the imminent threat of Blue Sail patrols, having one less thing to worry about would be important.
Armed with this new knowledge, he launched the X-2 away from the densely packed beaches and back towards the mass of fluorescent towers. He built up a rhythm as he and the X-2 danced through the twinkling lights once again. Allowing him to – perhaps foolishly – suppress everything that was not needed to maintain their fluid movements from his mind. The cloud of stress billowing through his head began to dissipate as they continued their graceful duet across the luminous night sky. With each step of the dance bringing him closer to its complete removal.
A sudden blaring warning brought the fluid motions to an abrupt halt. Leaving Lufkal with nothing but a sense of dread as his HUD flipped from solid silver to flashing red.
The reason for the warning was immediately. Not far ahead was a group of white, silver, and navy blue patrol vehicles, all baring the emblem that had been displayed during his sister’s message, were circling around something he couldn't yet see. Making sure to keep the next checkpoint on the edge of his gaze, he pulled up sharply and shot a glance towards them to see what was at the centre of their predatory movement pattern.
A cold tingling ran down his spine as their prey came into view – a pair of zephyrs – who had likely piloted by the eighth and ninth place opponents came into view. The machines each being held in place by a vortex mounted propulsion system override of some kind.
Given the presence of at least four more such vehicles and several interceptor craft, he could tell that whatever Blue Sail was doing they meant business. They were also rather inconveniently sitting between him and the last of the unrevised checkpoints.
Plans and tactics for how to deal with the situation came swirling back into his mind with a ferocity that matched the shriek of the X-2. Amidst the flurry of ideas, the dangerous shadow of self-doubt began creeping its way back into his head – taking up the critical space needed for meaningful decision making.
Why hadn't be used the unrevised section to plan for this encounter? Why was he letting himself lose focus so easily? And other similar questions flitted through his mind. Each one staying just long enough to steal his concentration before vanishing, only to be replaced by another.
"Brother, what are you planning!?" Astraka exclaimed anxiously, her distress palpable as he struggled to consolidate a plan. He did not respond – he didn’t think he could if he tried – but the worrying note in her voice resonated deep within him, stirring some resilience that was buried beneath his storming thoughts. He would not put his sister through that trauma again.
The concerns that plagued his mind vanished almost as fast as they had stormed into existence. And within milliseconds he had made his decision. It was with a committed, expressionless face that Lufkal rolled the X-2 into a steep dive – mere seconds before the roaring engine and strobing lights of an interceptor shot towards him.
The ever increasing rumble of the interceptor did not phase him as he and the X-2 continued their plunge towards the city streets. Similarly, the sound of the interceptor aborting the chase when in one organic motion he and the X-2 pitched upwards only evoked emotion in the X-2, which released a playful screech as they shot back towards the checkpoint.
The blockade had shrunk since his short downward excursion. Two more of the interceptors appeared to have shot off to greet the pilots behind him, taking the two of the unoccupied vortexes with them. Leaving only the one interceptor – which was rapidly realigning itself – and the interceptor recovering below for him to deal with.
from this angle the checkpoint was an easy target and the manoeuvre that would need to be made to align with the first series of the revised checkpoints would at least force one of the interceptors to lose chase. So, it was no surprise that cutting the power after shooting through the ring, and the resultant rolls used to realign himself and the X-2 led to one of the interceptors shooting uselessly upward in an effort to match the mobility of a zephyr. Neither was it overly shocking that an interceptor was not willing to pursue him as he shot into a different entrance of Allegra’s underground road network and began slicing his way through traffic along the path of the revised track sector.
But upon rounding a long left bank he was met with a truly unexpected sight. There, precariously weaving through traffic ahead of him was a jagged bone white, deep brown, and grey zephyr.
Spoiler: Chapter 18
Several rolls and swerves through and around the streams of oncoming traffic had placed Lufkal a mere zephyr length away from his struggling rival. Yet despite whatever issues Tirrus was having with his machine, he was still managing to maintain a competitive pace on the straights. It was only on the corners that his problems appeared to effect his riding; the forward swept wings of his zephyr shuddering nervously as he took erratic lines around even the slightest of bends.
Had there not been an unknown number of Blue Sail mercenaries to evade, Lufkal would have found Tirrus’ plight amusing. But as it stood there was no room to allow for such thoughts. Instead he swept his eyes across his surroundings, hurriedly searching for an opportunity to make a clean pass. It would be crucial to get ahead of Tirrus before the end of the brief dip underground; otherwise he risked exiting the tunnel at Tirrus' pace – which, though still reasonably competitive, was nowhere near as fast as his limit and would be no match for Blue Sail.
A sharp hook to the left and a lull in the flow of bulky aerial transports provided Lufkal with the opening he was looking for. The break in the line of vortexes easily providing enough space for him to take a wide line through the sharp corner and overtake on the outside. Though it wasn’t the easiest or the quickest option, the state of Tirrus’ machine would mitigate most of the difficulties, and utilising all the available airspace would mean a lower chance of Tirrus retaliating.
By the apex, Tirrus' zephyr had slipped beyond Lufkal’s vision – the move was working just as planned. All he had to do know was close the door. Keeping his eyes on the path ahead, Lufkal began guiding the X-2 closer to the inside of the corner – ignoring the uneasy twitching from his arms and the haunting memories it stirred. He knew that this would be Tirrus’ opportunity to strike back, but he was sure he was far enough ahead to seal the deal with no issues.
Just as he thought his pass attempt had been a success, an excruciating piercing sensation tore across his spine. His wide silver eyes, pupils constricted with shock, reflected his agony as searing pain blazed through his nervous system. His lungs burned with each sharp inhale as the pressure of whatever had slammed into his back pressed him against the X-2's frame. He clenched his teeth as the crushing continued, trying to fight through the sensory onslaught. And when the pain only worsened he clenched his fists – struggling now even to keep his eyes open.
The X-2's screaming began to match how he felt as his right hand tightened on the throttle. Then suddenly, the pain stopped progressing, and as he continued to accelerate he felt the source of the pressure lift completely from his back. And while the pain still burned with a lightning hot intensity, the lack of downward force and a large influx of adrenaline allowed him to regain control of his machine.
A brief look back revealed Tirrus struggling even more than before, his zephyr eschewing a thin stream of pitch black smoke, but still chasing. A splash of crimson lining the leading edge of the machine’s right wing.
Rage exploded within him at the sight, but his stinging wound and what was left of his concentration managed to smother it before he did anything stupid. Even still, it took a great deal of strength to wrestle his focus back to racing – doing so just in time to dive out of the way of an oncoming transport.
Tirrus remained in his tow as he continued to blast through the narrowing tunnel. The difficulty of the segment coupled with the throbbing that still emanated from his back had made losing the persistent Yanarus a challenging task. He at least managed to draw some positive emotions from the horrible spluttering of Tirrus' zephyr, which was only getting worse.
Wincing at his HUD informed him that this underground segment was nearing its end – but was only the precursor to a series of above ground sprints and underground jaunts around the NCE embassy. Foreseeing the need to push towards the edge of his abilities he scanned the diagnostics panel. A yellow temperature warning blinked lazily on the screen, but nothing more.
"At least one of us is in good shape." He grimaced to himself as he shot through the tunnel’s final corner.
As the exit to the surface came into view so did a more foreboding fleet of Blue Sail marked vehicles, their flashing silver and blue lights stretching down the walls of the tunnel with no intention of hiding their purpose. It was not difficult to recognize the interceptors and capture vortexes that had made up the blockade he had met earlier, but there were a few vehicles whose shape he did not recognize through his half-opened eyes. Regardless of what Blue Sail was bringing to the table he had no choice to go through them, and with gritted teeth he threw the throttle wide open, shooting towards the mouth of the tunnel.
Lufkal and the X-2 tore through the final stretch of underground road like a missile, cutting right through the centre of the thinning traffic in a perfectly straight line. Whether Tirrus was close behind was no longer on his mind as he aligned the X-2 with one of the interceptors and held his breath.
The basis for his latest life-threatening idea replayed through his mind as the X-2 wailed towards the Blue Sail vehicle. And a voice in the back his brain desperately attempted to coax him out of it. He couldn't imagine the expression on his sister's face if she saw what he was about to try, and wondered how she would react to hearing that the motivation to fly directly at one of the Blue Sail pilots was to stop her from worrying about him.
He repeated his own justification for near-suicidal move to drown out the horrified whispers that threatened to break his concentration. If he was right, and Blue Sail wanted to take no losses in this chase, the pilot would get out of the way. Which would give him the chance to create a gap he otherwise would not be able to create before they began to chase. And he was pretty sure that he was right.
His grip on the X-2 tightened as the sleek shape of the interceptor filled his vision. His heart pounding against the engine housing as if it were trying to burst through his chest and flee the speeding zephyr. But his eyes remained locked on his target.
There was a split second – mere zephyr lengths away from the interceptor – when fear, as cold as ice, spread across his body. Only to be replaced by the calming warmth of relief when the streamlined nose of the Blue Sail vehicle pitched out of the way, leaving a clear path to the next checkpoint.
Lufkal's relief was equally short-lived. The blaring sirens that roared through the night, and the menacing glares of blue and silver that bounced across the maze of glass surrounding him were quick to remind him of his suboptimal situation.
"Lu…kal!" Astraka's voice crackled angrily through his helmet.
"Busy right now, could use an update." Lufkal yelled back before she could continue; hoping to pre-empt an outburst. She was going to have to wait until the end of the race for him to explain what he had just managed to pull off.
"Lis…Lufkal!" She began, her voice cutting out to a blast of garbled white noise as she spoke. "Bl…ail has st…locking dow…tire sector! We…going to hav…clear to…of their way. I'll have a be…date for you on…are sa…Don…thing stupid!"
The message grew more garbled as she spoke. Leaving him with only a few coherent words and her heated tone.
"Can you repeat that?" He asked as he spiralled through the fence of spiralling towers that bordered the NCE embassy.
"…ey…ave…jam…oo!" Astraka’s voice screamed back through blips of indistinguishable buzzing.
The one word he managed to pick out was enough to realize there was no point in asking for anything else. True enough, flicking his head backwards got him a brief glimpse of a pair of vortexes laden with long, thin antennae and blinking beacons amongst the pursuing fleet.
"They really do mean business." He thought to himself, attempting to push the image of the imposing Blue Sail swarm – and Tirrus’ sudden disappearance – from his head. Only to remember that the next underground segment wrapped around the base of the gleaming white monolith.
Steeling himself against the pain that still riddled his body and his increasingly formidable situation, he pushed for the gaping maw of the next tunnel. As soon as he had crossed its boundary he was aware that something was off. For starters there was no traffic. Only the reverberations of the X-2's screaming drive core and the distant chase vehicles filled the tunnel; the latter of which was not tapering off as he had expected, but increasing in volume and pitch. Another rearward glance confirmed his suspicions – The Blue Sail vehicles were heading straight for the tunnel.
Some of the words he had caught from his sister's scrambled message were starting to make sense now. But there wasn't much he could do about his pursuers now other than fly as fast as he could manage – though he was still hesitant to exceed what he thought he could do.
There was no need to check behind him to know when Blue Sail's interceptors had entered the tunnel. Their once distant howls now drowning out the X-2 as the sinister cacophony reverberated off the walls; the alterations in fleet’s volume informing him of their relative distance. He was at least glad that the technical nature of the track would hinder the efforts of Blue Sail as he pressed on.
A brilliant burst of light, a blast of wailing sirens, and a flurry of movement from his right quickly reminded him to not get to ahead of himself. Additional pursuit vehicles, some Blue Sail, some belonging to other local mercenaries poured into the roadway through the flashing thresholds of hangars along the wall. It was all he could do to ignore them and maintain his charge.
Minutes later he broke through to the surface again, dodging through another blockade and picking up another – though smaller – set of pursuers. Lufkal could hear them drawing closer now that they were all free of the tunnel. And while he could gain some ground in the next one, he had to make it there without being caught first.
A sudden blast of white noise ripped through his helmet, temporarily overpowering the swarm of roaring engines behind him. Short spurts of a panic-stricken voice were audible through the unintelligible noise, but they were only enough for him to distinguish them as belonging to his sister. He had no idea what to make of the message but her evident distress galvanized his resolve, removing the last vestiges of his fear to exceed his limits.
Ignoring the slight orange tinge splayed across the X-2'a diagnostics panel, he pinned it. The sound of Blue Sail and whoever else was chasing him fading as he wildly threw the X-2 around the narrow corners of the next tunnel. And growing even more faint when the course took a sharp westward turn into a series of jagged maintenance shafts.
He had spent the last few hundred metres of the shaft bracing himself for the fleet he expected to be patrolling the area, trying to figure out how he could out manoeuvre them through the completely open air final sector. Only to be both shocked and relieved to shoot through to the surface unhindered with not a flash of silver or blue in sight. In fact, there were barely any colours at all. The silhouettes of nearby towers – their simple rounded shapes indistinguishable – were dotted with a few specs of yellow or white but where otherwise coated in the looming shadows of the residential spires. In the distance, the glow of the city centre bloomed above a sea of darkness masking any notion of the chase he had left behind.
Noting The X-2's blazing orange diagnostic panel he eased his pace, calming the machines wild screams. Simultaneously, Lufkal took a deep steadying breath – biting his tongue to stifle some of his pain – and trying to let his mind relax a little as he gently steered the X-2 towards a lonely checkpoint.
"Lufkal! Can you hear me?" Izi's voice suddenly rang out through his helmet, her uncharacteristically distraught tone sending a painful shiver down his spine. What could have happened that had left Izi to do comms?
"Yeah, what's going on!?" Lufkal yelled back tensely, flicking his eyes in all directions, half expecting a Blue Sail interceptor to emerge from the cover of the night.
"Those mercs started chasing us and the other transports down. We've managed to hide for now, but there are bigger problems." She spoke quickly, her sharp intakes accentuating her panic. "They've locked down the Multi-Terminals, and the ship we were going to catch left to dodge the lock down. Astraka and Alvens are trying to figure out how we can get off planet now."
Realizing he was not in any immediate danger Lufkal let out a lung-piercing sigh. Then ushered one of the questions he had been most concerned with during his solitary flight through the stretch of maintenance shafts.
"And what about the race?" He asked tentatively, certain he was about to hear an answer he didn’t agree with.
"No idea. Everything's been so insane on our end. But Astraka said to focus on making it back in one piece, and to only finish the race of you can. You’ll be hearing from them soon I expect provided Blue Sail doesn't start moving their jamming platforms again."
"Oh, and watch your core temp, I have no idea if my fixes will hold up with the amount of stress that core's seen." She added apologetically.
Lufkal held his instinctive response, opting to say nothing and spare Izi from the words he had crafted for his sister. If Astraka was willing to let him drop out of the race – and there were several silver and blue reasons to do so – then despite eating the DNF, he would be able ease her mind now for sure. At the same time, finishing the race and securing his position would be better for the team, and for Astraka’s problems in the long run. And assuming they were still going to get paid, quitting the race would forfeit a much-needed payout.
An agonizing pinch across his back reminded him that he had also put in a lot of work this race. Making the idea of simply quitting out all the more distasteful – regardless of how unsafe continuing it might be.
The glow of the diagnostic panel suddenly shifted from vivid orange back down to a calm yellow, and in spite of Astraka’s warnings and his own misgivings he realized he still had enough of the X-2's potential work with. In that instant he made his decision. Whether it was the right call or not would now depend on if he managed to evade Blue Sail when he inevitably crossed paths with them again.
With a reassuring scream from the X-2 he shot through the dark forest of Allegra's fringe back towards the glowing core. His mind dead set on finishing the race.
Spoiler: Chapter 19
For once, Lufkal was glad that a stretch of the course was mind-numbingly boring. Cruising through the semi-darkness that shrouded the city’s outskirts was a welcome break from the chaotic downtown segments. The solitary journey towards the towering bulwark of residential spires that shielded Allegra’s core from the night – and kept the outskirts trapped in it – providing a much needed mental break.
Flares of light erupted across Lufkal's vision as he pulled alongside the massive structures; the core’s overpowering light piercing through the gaps between the bases of each spire with ease.
Sporadic glints of blue and silver were enough to inform him that Blue Sail were still patrolling the area. And despite his relative safety in the darkened outskirts, Lufkal returned to a state of heightened alertness and readied himself to evade. With the course sweeping closer to Allegra’s pulsing heart, he would soon be unable to use the cover of the shadows to conceal his movements. Then his ability to evade capture would entirely depend on how long he could outrun Blue Sail's interceptors in the open air. A problem he had not yet solved.
In the city, He had the benefit of a swathe of buildings of differing sizes and shapes to flick the X-2’s nimble frame around and through. But while an agile zephyr reigned supreme in the fluorescent glass forest, Blue Sail's interceptors would be able to fully utilize all of their capabilities in the vast expanse of obstacle free airspace that the sweeping left path of the final corner occupied.
"Lufkal, we've got a plan..." Astraka's voice announced through his helmet, a faint buzz of white noise audible underneath her anxious tone. The lack of confidence in her voice was somewhat concerning however, so he stifled his reply. Instead, returning a toneless "okay", just to let her know the message had reached him.
"So, Mina has managed to land us passage off world on a medical supply ship..."
"Even with the Blue Sail blockade?" Lufkal interjected quizzically, a sustained cyclic burst of silver and blue – brighter than any of the previous flashes – prompting him to respond with what Izi had told him earlier.
"Let me finish!" She retorted tersely. He remained silent – shivering slightly as a wave of guilt crashed over him – and waited for her to continue. "Critical services have an exemption to this kind of lockdown according to Mina's contacts, so we should be fine..."
A gentle warmth frothed up within him as Astraka took a steadying breath. Whether it was caused by the fading of the threatening lights, or the subtle emotions stirred by Mina’s distant assistance he could not tell, but the morale boost was welcome all the same.
"However, we won't be able to wait for you at the finish. You'll have to fly to us." Astraka's uncertainty increasingly evident as she continued.
"Are you serious?" Lufkal replied, unable to mask his incredulity at the outlandishness of her plan – which was a great deal crazier than many of the tactics he had used throughout the race so far. "Unless that medical ship has several hundred-metres of cargo bay, there's no way I can reach a safe docking speed without getting caught."
"Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous. But even if you are going full speed, we should be able to catch you in the ship's loading beam depending on…"
A fit of laughter seized him at his sister's words. Despite everything that had happened so far – and his own promise to himself to ease her mind – he would not have expected her to turn towards the type of crazy plans that he came up with. His raucous laughter continued for the entirety of Astraka' s discourse. Only stopping when the throbbing pain the laughter was producing along his back became unbearable.
"Brother please!" Astraka shouted, clearly trying to sound furious but failing to hide the pleading tones that ran beneath them. "Unless you can come up with something in the next five minutes that can get us off world on short notice and is safe from Blue Sail's EW; this is the only plan we have." The concern in her voice slicing into him deeper than the wing of Tirrus' zephyr.
"I was just... It's fine." Lufkal apologized with a grimace; realizing that if she was serious about this, then it was purely desperation fuelling her thoughts, and his laughter was certainly not helping. At the same time, the sudden lack of shadow and the rapidly expanding glow filling his peripheral vision gave him a gentle reminder of where he was – and who would soon be in pursuit.
"Just tell me what to aim for."
"I'll let you know as soon as I can." Astraka said sternly. "And Lufkal, please...”
But the gentle words Astraka had began to say were drowned out by the whirring scream of the X-2, as Lufkal shot out over the glowing city once again.
In no time at all, the tell-tale engine notes of Blue Sail's interceptors emerged above the X-2’s manic cries. Lufkal did not dare look back, the red warnings that flared across his HUD were enough. So, Disregarding the blazing orange temperature warning from the diagnostics panel, he pushed the X-2 on towards the bay’s western shore.
Without the shelter of the city rushing below him, the only way he could keep out of reach of the pursuing interceptors was fully unleashing the X-2 and hanging on for his life. Yet even over the thundering howl of rushing air buffeting all sides of his helmet, the roaring interceptors still grew louder. Worse still. he now had to contend with his ability to stay conscious through the immense forces he was subject to while navigating the remainder of the course.
The final bank of silver rings faded into the edges of his darkening vision as he raced above the west beach. It was becoming a struggle to keep the next checkpoint in focus, let alone the rest. But he knew from what he could see of his HUD that all he had to do was survive this final stretch.
"Lufkal, look for a white and red industrial when you cross the finish. There shouldn't be any other ships in the air, but in case there are, ours is the one marked with a silver cross."
Astraka's voice barely registered in his clouded mind, which was solely focused on the number of remaining rings.
"And you'll need to fly towards the ship's storage bay from behind. If you come from too much of an angle you could be torn apart." Again, her distressed voice was muffled by Lufkal’s semi-conscious state, leaving him to hear only the voice of his thoughts.
The towering Multi-Terminals, sprinkled in a dazzling array of guiding lights dominated his field of view. The blinding glare competing with the threatening red flashes from his HUD and the X-2's diagnostics panel to see which source of light would be the first to completely rob him of his remaining vision.
Bellowing roars from the interceptors tore through his eardrums as the pair of them drew closer. It would only be a few more seconds until they were in range to apply their engine disrupting tools.
"We're airborne now, watch for us!"
Lufkal turned his head slightly upon hearing Astraka’s faint cry, attempting to keep the last couple of checkpoints and the Multi-Terminals in his dwindling sight.
A shadowy shape emerged from the central platform – a glint of white and red flashing through the night as it escaped the powerful gleam.
The X-2 gave a horrible shudder and began to feel like it was slowing down. The distorted images on his HUD and panel indicating that the interceptors had began their electronic warfare assault.
Again, Lufkal threw all he had into the throttle, eliminating the slack his tired, organic shoulders had allowed. The X-2 wailed as if in pain, the engine sounding as if it would explode at any second. But his speed stabilized, and the sound of his pursuers remained constant as he raced towards the final ring."
As soon as he crossed the finish he wrestled the rocketing X-2 towards the blocky shape of the escape ship. The large vessel was moving quickly, but not so fast that he wouldn't be able to enter its pull range.
Another lurch. Another desperate attempt to push harder. But this time the X-2 gave no response. His heartbeat spiked as what little was left of his consciousness was filled with ice cold dread. The X-2's wailing faded in an instant, replaced by the klaxon sound of the engine failure warning. And suddenly he was slowing down again.
"I'm sorry, Sis." Lufkal muttered as the X-2 dipped towards the colourless depths below; the momentum he had carried from the finish preventing an immediate drop, and the engine's failure rendering the interceptors’ attempts at seizing control of his engine useless.
The roar of interceptors pulling away and the whistle of wind assaulted his senses as he continued to plummet.
A distant scream.
A sudden lurch.
only 2 more chapters btw; they're written; just need to be edited.
Spoiler: Chapter 20
Lufkal woke with a start, managing to raise himself into a seated position before being overwhelmed by the sensory input assaulting his freshly conscious body. A garble of indistinguishable screams filled his head, his eyes were blasted by a fierce white gleam, and a throbbing ache pulsed through his body, slowing any further movement.
"Careful!" A voice shouted through the din as the onslaught of stimuli began to taper off.
Seconds later, he felt a heavy impact and fell backwards, landing squarely on the centre of his aching wound. Yet, as the searing pain scorched through his nervous system, he felt a pair of arms clasp gently around his torso. And while his blurry vision was reduced to nothing as he winced from the intensity of the agony, he could still feel the attacker's body shiver against his in time with their soft snivelling.
Warm tears splashed onto his forehead as he lay still, amassing in small pools over his eyes as they gently trickled down his face. Eventually, unable to stand the sensation of his eyes drowning for much longer, he opened them, instantly meeting the gaze of his teary-eyed sister. Concern, fear, and distress were all etched into her pale visage and would have filled him with crushing guilt if it were not for the small wavering smile on her trembling lips.
"Hey Sis." He murmured groggily, matching Astraka's nervous smile with a grimace; flinching as she tightened her embrace. Glad as he was that he was still alive, he would have preferred unconsciousness to the excruciating burning that Astraka was inadvertently amplifying. And without the strength to even nudge her slightly loose, all he could do was bite his tongue and take it.
"Okay, that's enough Astraka." Mina said reproachfully, her stern voice uttering Lufkal's exact thoughts.
The weight of his sister soon began to lessen. Although she appeared reluctant to release her not so gentle hug, she eventually conceded, letting him return to a seated position and – for the first time since he had regained consciousness – scan his surroundings.
Nine faces looked back at him from amongst the familiar setup of crates and tables that filled the well-lit grey-walled cargo hold, all wearing similar expressions of relief. Tik-Shud had even removed his helmet, his nine black, pebble-like eyes shimmering with happiness, and each of the toothy quarters of his mouth flung open, forming a wide – albeit slightly terrifying – Asparach smile.
Mina was the first one to break the silence that had befallen the group as Lufkal had looked around.
"How are you feeling?" She asked from his immediate right, concern still woven into her gentle voice as she delicately laced her arm around his shoulders.
"It could be worse." Lufkal began, his eyes drawn in by the worried expression gracing her tired face. "I didn't lose any limbs this time." He said, offering an attempt at a smirk.
The corners of Mina's lips raised for a fleeting second before returning to a tired – but no longer worried – state.
"Indeed. You flew a magnificent race tonight." Alvens stated proudly as he strode towards them. "However, there is still work to be done. We'll need to do a debrief as soon as possible to get started on the next batch of improvements."
"I think he should get some proper rest. Surely a debrief can wait a few hours." Mina said before Lufkal could muster his own response, her grip tightening slightly to match the sudden fierceness that stole through her expression.
"If we do not do the debrief now, we will not be able to do one properly until after the X-2's numerous repairs have been made." Alvens replied just as menacingly, ignoring Mina's tone. "Now, if you could help me move Lufkal closer to the X-2."
It was not a question, but a statement – a confident one at that. Not long afterwards, Lufkal found himself being carried through the setup of tables towards the battle-scarred X-2 by Alvens and a reluctant Mina.
Upon reaching the table closest to the machine, the pair set him down – Mina quickly constructing a makeshift backrest to keep the pressure off of his injury. "Come and see me whenever you feel up to it." Mina stated, scolding at an unphased Alvens. "I'll have to make a proper estimate on how long your injuries will take to heal." She added through gritted fangs, reluctantly sliding her arm off his shoulders as she slinked back towards a table on the other side of the hold.
With no energy to protest Alvens’ decision further, Lufkal shifted his focus towards the X-2 and the members of his team that surrounded it. Ved and Tik-Shud – who was back to wearing his helmet – were working in tandem to replace damaged bodywork. Grauf was tapping away at his amber coloured prism while poring over the X-2's wings. Izi was also busy on her prism, though she was likely only waiting for the drive core to cool down enough to be safely extracted.
Izi looked up from her work as Alvens stepped into the group. "Debrief time?" She yawned.
Alvens replied with a courteous nod, beckoning the others to huddle together. "First of all, well done Lufkal." He said with a soft congratulatory clap; the others following suit as they formed up around him. "Being able to exceed our expected placement and avoid a formidable mercenary force is something to proud of." A round of Affirmative nods circulated through the group as Alvens continued his customary debrief introductory speech. "Now, thanks to the situation during the race, we do not have as much data as we would have under more normal circumstances. So to start, can you give us the race as you experienced it?"
With an exhausted sigh, Lufkal started wracking his fatigued brain for details of the race – starting right from the race’s hectic start. The events of the later portion of the race had blurred out most of the earlier details, though he was able to explain what he did manage to recall. Alvens and the others pressed him on particular events as he spoke, usually asking about the X-2's performance, but occasionally asking about his rationale for a certain choice of line or manoeuvre – most of which surrounded his riskier ideas. Luckily, they seemed to accept that he was unable to remember the specifics of these particular moments due to his current state, rather than him trying to avoid owning up to his recklessness.
"That's when I started falling. And then I woke up here." He said as he concluded his recollection.
Silence fell upon the group as they digested the story. Alvens, Grauf, and Izi all tapping silently on their prisms, while Tik-Shud and Ved started rifling through a nearby tool table as quietly as the clinking tools would allow.
"Thank you, Lufkal, and do you have any questions for us before you get some well-earned rest?".
"Yeah, actually. How did I get back on the ship? I could be remembering wrong, but it looked like I wasn't going to make it."
"You can thank your sister and Mina for that." Ved answered jovially from hunched over the X-2. "I don't think it would have been possible without Astraka's quick thinking. And we would not have been able to make the necessary modifications to the loading beam without Mina's past work experience." He added before returning his attention to the zephyr. Alvens nodded as if to say that the answer was sufficient, before returning his focus to his own prism and beginning to circle the engineers and mechanics as they worked away.
Now feeling restless and put off that he didn't get to rest right from the get go, or get a clear explanation for how he had been rescued, he carefully dismounted the table and began to hobble around the makeshift garage. He passed the twins, who were stalking their usual perch – eyes flickering between the doors on the left and right sides of the hold – and Astraka who appeared to be in the midst of a heated call. Then, with nowhere else to go, he made his way to Mina, whose slender form held an air of indignance as she toiled with numerous prosthetic components, her face occasionally contorting into a venomous stare directed at an unsuspecting Alvens.
"Hey." Lufkal said softly as he strode towards her table.
In response Mina whipped around – hands still clutching the components she was working with. But her scowl softened into a warm smile as Lufkal's eyes met with hers.
"You really should be resting." She said, gently placing the items in her hands back onto the table. "It will take me few hours to clean this up now before I can check your injuries properly." She added apologetically.
"What exactly is this?" Lufkal asked, dismissing her suggestion and pointing towards the parts strewn across the table.
Mina hesitated for a moment, her face flickering between a stern scowl and an expression of deep thought, before settling on a warm, gentle smile. "Astraka asked me to come up with some sort of electronic warfare protection for you in case something like this happens again."
"I didn't know you were an expert on EW as well!" Lufkal exclaimed, edging closer to the table to take a closer look at the components on its surface.
"Ha, if only I was an expert. I only know as much as I could learn in the last few hours. But I'm the only one here able take the tech and put it into a prosthetic so..." She replied sounding fatigued, but otherwise happy with her assignment.
Lufkal's curiosity burned away the remaining shreds of his drowsiness, his mind immediately racing to figure out the benefits of such a system.
"Just local to me? Or would it extend to the X-2?" Lufkal asked.
"Just to local to you for now. I guess if the prototype is successful there could be a way to expand its use." She replied thoughtfully. "And that would certainly be a better way to keep you safe. But that will depend on how I end up designing it. I doubt it would be desirable if it came at the cost of manoeuvrability, right?"
"Figured out what's important already?" Lufkal smirked.
"Oh yes, the easier it is for you to get away with reckless manoeuvres the better right?" She teased with a playful smirk of her own.
"Hey now, those were – mostly – calculated decisions."
"mmhmm, sure." She giggled, edging forward as she continued. "But it's fine if they weren't, a little bit of danger can sometimes pay off."
"Sounds like you picked the right people to help then." A tingling warmth coursing through his body as he mirrored her movements
"I think so too." She answered breathlessly, showing no signs of slowing down as her face drew within centimetres of his own.
"I never did get to apologize or thank you properly for everything that happened tonight." Lufkal whispered, eyes locked onto Mina's alluring gaze.
"You can do both right now."
Captivated by her presence, he barely noticed the weight of Mina’s arms as they draped his shoulders, and was almost equally oblivious of his own arms slipping around her waist. A blaze of emotion seared through his skin as they pulled one another closer still…
"IT WASN'T A SMOOTH AS YOU HOPED?! IS THAT ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY?!" A sudden shrill, outburst from Astraka tore through the hold with a commanding force.
Startled by the intensity, Lufkal let his arms fall limp to his side, an uncomfortable heat radiating through his face as he frantically scanned the room to see what had angered his sister – at the same time checking to see how the rest of his teammates had reacted. By the looks of it, the others had also frozen in place, and all heads had turned towards Astraka, whose frightfully livid eyes were directed towards her prism.
Concern swallowing his discomposure, Lufkal turned to head to wards his sister. But not without stealing a glance at Mina, and matching the sheepish grin that lay between her red-tinged cheeks.
Separate names with a comma.