“Hello there, Taki,” Rhuni said. She spoke brightly, sweetly. Certainly far more than she had at their last conversation.
“Hello,” Taki said numbed.
She smiled and looked downwards. “I suppose… I must be the last person you wanted to see.”
“That’s not–well, I wasn’t expecting to see you, I suppose.”
“Hmm, no. I can’t imagine you would after how horribly I treated you. I wanted to apologize about that, by the way, first and foremost.”
He nodded. “And after that?”
“Oh Taki, don’t be so formal with me! It’s terrible. Can’t we talk to each other how we used to?”
“I don’t know that Warden Molo would appreciate that.”
She winced. “You’re bitter. That’s alright. You have every right to be. Like I said, I treated your horribly.” She took out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “I was wrong Taki, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I was stupid and–and… oh Taki, I’m so sorry!” The tears suddenly burst out and she flung herself forward onto him, sobbing into his shoulder.
Taki patted at her hair awkwardly. It seemed the sort of thing to do, but it felt so strange to him now. Once it would have seemed so natural.
“Please don’t be so cold to me,” Rhuni continued. “All I’ve known these past weeks has been coldness. I knew Molo didn’t really love me, but he’s been so mean, so sneering and condescending. You don’t know how it’s been.”
“No, I don’t suppose that I do… What did you come here for Rhuni? Really?”
She looked up to him, eyes shining beneath tears. “Take me away from here, Taki. Can’t we go back to the dreams we had? Just you and I?”
Taki bit his lip, conflicted. He felt sympathy, he had to. But that didn’t mean he wanted the same things he once had.
“How would that even work, Rhuni? Molo is a powerful man, he knows everything that goes on in the city.”
“Of course,” she nodded. “We would have to keep a secret, wait a while until we could leave this planet. Just as we always dreamed we would!”
“So…wait and hope on those dreams? Just like before. Except waiting and hoping apart now, instead of together.”
“It wouldn’t be so long. I’ve heard about your success here in the races…in fact, that’s why I came today.” Rhuni pulled away from him and opened her shoulder-bag, rummaging for a moment and then pulling out a reference card like she was revealing a great treasure. “I’ve spoken with one of the sponsors in those leagues. He’s willing to represent you. From what I understand he’s one of the best, and he’s willing to see you get more than a fair cut of the winnings.”
“In return for you convincing me to run his colors…”
“Well…yes. See now we’re working together for our future,” she smiled brightly. “Just as it should be.”
Taki sighed. “I have dozens of these cards already Rhuni. Anyway, I thought you always hated these races.”
“I hate how they endanger you! And yes, I still do. But you’ve decided to do them, and from what I hear you’re quite good at it. Ready to move on to where real money gets made.”
“And to where things are all the more dangerous.”
“Well if you’re afraid of it then don’t do it,” she pouted. She blinked quickly and shook her head, then pushed that prior softness back into her face. “I’m sorry, Taki. No, of course I’d prefer you didn’t do this at all. I just thought you were already planning to, and thought I could help then. But–really, don’t do it–unless you want to.”
She bit her lip and Taki found he didn’t find that so cute anymore. She did it whenever she was afraid that she wouldn’t get her way. Had she always been like this?
“Actually I wasn’t planning to run in the higher leagues, Rhuni,” Taki finally said, folding his arms and leaning back. “They’ve been trying to bring me over for a while now but something just hasn’t sat right with me about it. I couldn’t place what it was until now. The problem is it would mean playing their game. The game of people like Molo, Zantar, Sovereign Prow… Those higher races are just propaganda for them. They finance the leagues, they set their runners against one another, they build lavish stadiums to show off, their sick money just flows through the whole sport like its lifeblood.”
He shook his head in disgust and then continued. “And all of it built on the backs of people like us. You know what the mortality rates are like for the engineers making those arenas. But what can they do? They say it’s illegal for us to grow our own food, but then they inflate its price until we’re too desperate to not take their contracts. No Rhuni, these illegal alley tracks are the only place a runner can compete with a clean conscience.”
“It’s wrong, but it’ll be happening whether you run there or not. Let them play their game, we’ll be the ones laughing when we leave this world with their money.”
“I can’t do it Rhuni.”
Rhuni nodded slowly, but her pursed mouth gave away her incredulity. When she spoke it was with barely-suppressed rage. “So then…you’re going to throw away all of our dreams, just for the principle of the matter?!”
“Far better than when you threw our dreams away for a lack of them.”
It was the first intentionally hurtful thing he had ever said to her. It was also the most honest. Rhuni’s lip trembled somewhere between anger and pain, and without a word she forced her way past him and out the door.
As the door closed behind her, he found himself alone at last. Taki put his hands over his eyes and exhaled slowly. Had he really just done that? It surprised him…but he didn’t regret it. A few more silent moments passed, and then he heard the muffled voice of the Master of Ceremonies, calling for the racers in the next race to approach the starting line. Well, it was time to move forwards again.
Taki exited Boro’s shack and glanced to either side. The mechanic wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but Tala was still waiting for him.
“Whew,” she whistled impressively, “that girl looked real mad when she stormed out of here!”
“I’m not in the mood to discuss it, Tala,” Taki sighed as he began stumping towards the raceway. She hurried to keep pace with him.
“Well good, because I didn’t really want to talk about her either. But just tell me this, how do you feel?”
“What? I’m fine. Actually… now that I think about it I guess I feel pretty good!”
“Atta boy!” she slugged his armored shoulder, then winced and shook her hand. “So what’s next?”
“I’m not sure Tala. I do know that I won’t be moving on to the higher leagues, though. It just wouldn’t feel right to run for the men I’ve spent my whole life hating. And it doesn’t make sense to keep running around in these lower circuits either, pretty soon no one will compete against me anymore…I guess it’s time for something new.”
They had reached the starting point of the race. Taki took his stance and started looking over the track in front of him. Before he could really take it in though he felt a hand tapping his shoulder. He turned and Tala was still there. She was supposed to be back with the other spectators, but instead she was gesturing at his faceplate.
“What?” Taki said, pressing the button to retract the glass shield. “Is it coming loose.”
Instead of answering Tala gripped the metal plates on his shoulders and pulled him near. “I told you earlier, I don’t like boys who are angry and running away. I like a boy who’s chasing for something.” And with that she kissed him hard.
Taki was momentarily aware of the other racers glancing over awkwardly, and as if from a mile away he heard the Master of Ceremonies shouting out “Go!” Then, just as forcefully as she had pulled him near, Tala gave him a shove and pushed him off the precipice and into open space.
He fell backwards, staring up at her shrinking form. He grinned, flicked his faceplate back closed, and turned around to greet the ground. He reached the bottom with a full reservoir of stored energy. He looked off to a low boundary wall, angled his arm, and thrust himself towards it with all he had. The ground buckled at his departure, and in one smooth arc he closed the distant to the barrier and sailed clean over it.
The crowd behind him gasped in shock. Some of them even cried.
He had not only fallen out-of-bounds and forfeited the race. It so happened that that particular boundary was also the edge of their entire city, indeed of their entire world. Everyone knew it, yet somehow he had willfully, even enthusiastically, bounded over its matrix and dropped into “the chasm.” Now he would plummet for over fifteen thousand feet. He would hit terminal velocity and his suit would easily dispel the force on impact, but having once cast himself off of their space-scraper he would be forever lost to a strange and unseen realm: the ground-level.
Indeed, no one from their megastructures knew what lay down, down, down where he was going. Its murky depths hadn’t been explored for at least seven generations. Some said it had long since been entirely reclaimed by the wild, others said it was home to a brutish civilization straight out of the stone age. Still others said it was the only free place left on the planet, and that the beginnings of a rebellion took refuge there.
“Oh my,” Boro breathed out in awe from his perch among the other spectators. A strange glint of excitement twinkled in his eye, contrasting the horror that gripped everyone else. “Did you see that Tala?”
He turned, but the girl was not by him anymore.
“Tala?” he called, then noticed that the door to his workshop was open. He cocked his head in confusion, but before he could go over to investigate a silver streak came charging out of it.
Clothed head-to-foot in Taki’s spare suit, Tala was bounding towards the raceway.
“What are you doing?” Boro roared, but she dashed past him and swan-dove over the race’s launching point. Like a bullet she streaked down to the ground, her face etched with deepest resolve. She landed on the ground in the same crater Taki had left, and she similarly bounded from it, arcing high and wide over the same edge that he had vanished from.
The crowd exclaimed in shock again, the last sound she would ever hear from them. Their echoes fading behind, she turned her head downwards and dove again. Deeper, deeper, deeper. Chasing after him into the unknown.
Last week I spoke about the technical details of moving a story through time and space. I mentioned that the author has the power to flicker between different locations at will and quicken and slow the timescale freely. These are powerful abilities, and I tried to be cautious with them in this last post so as to not jerk the reader around in an uncomfortable way.
I knew, of course, that the ending of the story was quite dramatic, expanding the world in an instant into something many times the magnitude of what had been seen previously. I knew there were sharp shifts in the flow of time, such as when I froze it to dwell on the singular moment of Taki’s escape, immediately followed by a blistering account of how Tala followed after him.
My intention with that particular sequence was to blitz through Tala’s decision so quickly that it simply became a continuation of what came before, half of an orchestra beginning the crescendo with the rest joining in to finish it. It was a tricky transition, and maybe you could think of a way to better way to write it.
In any case, that brings us to the conclusion of Power Suit Racing. There has been a strong central theme to this story, one that was even reflected in my previous piece Washed Ashore. It is the idea of the chase, one of the most common plot structures in all of storytelling, and one that is forever adaptable to new interpretations. Come back on Monday where we will explore this concept more fully, and until then have a wonderful weekend!