Power Suit Racing: Part Three

white and black vehicle timelapse digital wallpaper
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

Part One

Part Two

“Add me to the next race,” Taki called out to the registrar, who was seated once more at a small desk and taking applications.

The man looked Taki over, noting the shredded suit barely still hanging onto his battered body.

“That race is in less than half an hour,” the man sniffed, ” and you don’t appear to be…ready.”

“I have my other suit being prepped right now,” Taki waved. “I’ll be ready to run.”

The registrar gave Taki another look-over, this time tabulating all of his scrapes and bruises. He shrugged. Taki got the impression the man didn’t like him very much, but had no doubt been instructed to maintain a very low bar to entry.

“Well then come back here when your other suit is ready to be scanned in. And in the meanwhile get yourself over to the medical tent.”

“Thank you, will do.” Taki strode back to Boro’s shack and deposited the shambles of his current suit, then went to the tent the registrar had referenced. There were no medics inside, this was only an Alley Tier raceway after all, but there were all the basic bandages and disinfectants, and any racer had free access to them. Taki started working on a particularly nasty gouge on his shoulder when he heard a step behind him at the tent’s entrance.

“Hello, Tala,” he nodded as he turned to face her.

“Are you looking forward to a grudge match?” she asked, eliciting a bewildered expression from him.

“What do you mean?”

“That runner who tried to throw you last race, you remember him? You grabbed him and hit the boost together.”

“Yeah…”

“Well he spun out hard after the boost and he’s been tailing you ever since you got off the spectator’s platform. Right after you signed up for the next race he did as well.”

“Could be a coincidence.”

“Sure,” she scoffed. “It could be.”

“I guess I’d better watch out for him.”

“I guess you’d better.”

There was a heavy pause, an awkwardness from Taki wanting to continue the conversation but not knowing quite how.

“Hey Tala–”

“Well, I better go help Boro if you want to get your suit in time for the next race. Good luck not dying out there spark plug!” Then she dashed away before he could say another word.

Spark plug? Was that supposed to be a good thing or not? It didn’t sound particularly flattering. Taki shook his head and tried to focus back on his work. All the adrenaline from the race was fading, and he was only now starting to realize how sore and tender he really felt. It was going to be a hard second race…especially if one of the runners had it in for him.

Well, that was how it was sometimes. One couldn’t wait for fair weather when all of life was a storm.

By the time Taki had himself patched up Boro was putting the final touches on the new suit. It was just as haphazard as the last, but Taki wasn’t so concerned about that anymore. Taki got into the outfit and clunked his way over to the starting drop for the next race. There were seven other racers there, one of which was in the same green suit as the racer Tala had warned him of. That racer’s mask was tinted, so that Taki could not see his expressions. In any case Taki thought it a good idea to position himself as far from that racer as possible, then he looked down at the track beneath them.

As always, the track had been changed between races. Each of the various components that made up the raceway were either on moving arms or else fitted with small thrusters, allowing for an architect to craft a new experience each time.

The change to the track for this race wasn’t particularly interesting. Really it just looked like some giant had shaken the whole track, jumbling the pieces around in a random fashion.

Perhaps the one thing that was interesting was the placement of the race’s end. That platform had been moved to the middle of the track and highly elevated. This would be a more vertical race, then, one where the racers would circle around the final platform, trying to build up enough inertia to vault all the way to the top.

The key to those sorts of races was to find a cycle of boosts, dives, towers, and gravity wells, all linked together and looped through over and over while storing away an ever-increasing reserve of inertia. Then, when one’s banks were full the racer could do an almighty thrust up to the finish.

“…and GO!”

Taki had been so caught up with the raceway he had completely missed the countdown. As with the first race he vaulted over the edge a moment later than all of the other racers. Or rather, later than all of the other racers but one. Out of the corner of his eye he happened to notice that the green racer had held back, waiting for him to jump first.

Taki spun around as he fell through the air, turning face-up just in time to see the green racer plummeting down to him. It was too late to get out of the way, and so he braced for the impact.

THUD!

Taki’s suit had already built up enough of a reserve to take the hit without him feeling any of the collision, that wasn’t a concern. What was a concern was that now the other racer had wrapped his arms around Taki’s, locking the two of them together. With the two of them pinned this way the other racer began burning through his own inertia, propelling them downwards like a rocket. The two of them hurtled past all the other racers, screeching towards the pavement below.

This wasn’t a strategy for winning. It was purely a revenge move, one that was entirely illegal and lethal. Taki gritted his teeth and tried to wriggle out of the other man’s grasp, but the lock was too tight and there was no breaking it.

Taki’s eyes fluttered from side-to-side, trying to find some way to escape. His roving eyes happened to light upon the corner of his HUD where his conserved inertia levels were indicated. He had a massive excess there, not too surprising given all of their extra speed.

Taki craned his head backwards, measuring the distance to the ground: 20 meters.

He glanced at the other corner of his HUD which gave the estimated impact force: 34 torques and counting.

Looked back to the ground: 10 meters.

…5 meters.

Taki gave a sharp pulse from his own thrusters, not upwards but in a spin. The two of them rolled, now placing Taki on top. The other man thrashed in shock, finally letting go of Taki’s arms.

Right before impact Taki placed his feet on the man’s chest and kicked off, angling his suit to propel him upwards. There was a massive crack and he burst into the air, climbing through space just as quickly as he had been falling through it.

Taki didn’t know if the other man’s suit would have enough energy reserves to displace the force of both Taki’s thrust and the ground beneath. Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. It was on that racer’s own head.

Instead Taki was intent on his target: the end platform. All his incredible excess of energy streamed out as billowing pockets of compressed air, vaulting him high into the sky, lifting him to the level of the winning platform. He passed above it, then angled himself down again, firing with his thrusters for a nice, soft landing on the pavement.

And just like that, he had won again.

Taki dropped to his knees and sighed out long and low. He had managed to survive, but his hands were clammy and his body was shaking. He thought he might be sick.

Power Suit Racing tended to attract some of the most desperate and degenerate of society. Frustrating as it was, revenge-mongers were just a part of the sport. Taki didn’t have long to stay alone in his shock. Already the spectator platform was descending to him, and everyone on-board seemed quite animated. The speed of his run must have broken a number of records.

Taki stood to meet them, feeling his resolve return and deepen. This was just a race, one of many. It was over and now it was time to move on to the next. No stopping, no waiting.

.

Less than an hour later Taki was in the next race, running sideways along a beam, reaching his arm out for a pole. He gripped it and swung himself around to another platform, planting his feet and sprinting towards the finish platform. He had burned too much of his inertia and couldn’t propel himself quickly enough. Another racer in gold won that race and Taki took second. Not as big of a payout, but he would still receive something.

.

“So you said you came here because you were mad,” Tala said to him as he used a spanner to refit the gloves of his suit. “Tell me about that.”

“Why do you care?”

Tala shrugged. “I like to know what drives a man, I suppose. So, did you kill someone?”

“What?! No!”

.

Taki had his feet planted in a wide stance, trying to keep his balance as he slid down an angled platform, coming down the home stretch to the final. Another racer suddenly careened at him from the left, trying to take him out. Taki barely got his hand up and fired a blast just in time to send that competitor spinning away.

Taki’s decline leveled out, came to an end, and he shot out through open space. He threw his hands out and caught the lip of the final platform, but in his moment of distraction had failed to jump high enough to mount it. He gave a blast from the boots of suit, causing his whole body to swing up and around like a pendulum, flipping him onto its surface. He had made it, but during his slight delay another racer had just barely beat him to the win. Second place again.

.

“Not any sort of crime?” Tala asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No!”

“Hmm, okay then.” She looked disappointed. “So what are you running from, then? A girl?”

Taki rolled his eyes. “Why couldn’t it be that I’m running towards something?”

“You said you were angry. People don’t run towards things when they’re angry, only when they’re passionate. Anyway, definitely sounds like a girl.”

.

Taki landed in the center of the gravity well. Here a racer would be suspended in midair, lifting and falling with the pulsing energy. The trick was to figure out the cadence of that pulsation and press against it during an expansion-interval. That resulted the in the runner being catapulted out at terrific speeds. Taki tried to calm his panting breath, looking for that stillness which would allow him to sense the subtle shifts of the pulses.

He paused, waited through a few seconds to be sure he had it right, then thrust! Right as he burst forward another racer slammed him from the side, spinning him to the ground and out of the race.

.

“They keep targeting me directly!” Taki fumed to Boro.

“You’ve been doing well,” Boro shrugged. “They figure you’re their toughest competition.”

“Well I’m not very flattered.”

Boro sighed. “Listen kid, most of the runners in these races are losers. Now every so often a loser happens to have a little talent and they win a few races, but that streak lasts only four, maybe five races. Because really they’re still a loser, and they don’t know how to make the transition to being a winner. Then the other losers will pull them back down every time. It’s the how it works in this world.”

“But if you do make the transition to be a winner?”

“Then they can’t ever stop you.”

“How do you do it?”

Boro put down his tools and leaned close to Taki, looking him right in the eyes. “You did it once already. In that second race when the guy tried to squash you on the dive. You took his attack and you used it.”

“Really I was just trying to survive.”

“Well from now on winning is surviving. Look, they’re gonna to be coming after you like that. Every. Single. Race. You gotta run with their attacks now, not against them.”

Taki nodded to show he understood. “It sounds hard.”

Boro returned to his work. “Only a winner ever manages it.”

.

Taki saw the other racer out of the corner of his eye, but he was too late to avoid the hit. The two collided and the other racer threw him into a nearby boost. This boost was not a useful one, though, it was angled upwards, pointing uselessly out to the skies. Sometimes boosts were setup this way, providing red herrings for racers that weren’t paying attention.

Taki hurtled up in the air and spun around, taking in his new, less than ideal surroundings. In this race the final platform was quite low, 50 meters directly beneath him now. The problem was that the fall between him and it was entirely littered by various obstacles. There were a couple platforms running at odd angles, another boost going in the wrong direction, a giant, horizontal fan spinning dangerously…

Taki gritted his teeth, there was nothing but to go for it. He thrust himself downwards, adding his stored inertia to the natural pull of gravity. As he plummeted he gave a sharp twist and wound around the first of the platforms in his way. Now the next platform was coming up quick and he needed to go sideways, so he threw a thrust to the side, scraping across the last few feet of the platform as he rounded its edge.

He burst right, then left, not daring to slow his dive one bit. He needed to keep up as much momentum as possible for the end. The last obstacle was a wide tarmac shell that stretched over the entire top of the finish platform. It was intended to force runners into taking a sideways route to the end.

Taki streaked down to that shell and slammed his feet down against it, simultaneously throwing a downwards thrust and letting his suit’s impact resistors kick in. Under the triple blow the rock burst apart and he fell through the hole and onto the finish below. Finally a first place.

.

“See I like guys who have a passion for something,” Tala explained.

“I’m really not sure why you keep telling me about what you like and don’t like in guys. I mean I haven’t ever even asked you to dinner.”

“And yeah, about that,” she said accusingly. “What’s your problem there?”

“Oh…uh, well if I did ask would you say ‘yes’ to me?”

She scoffed. “No way. I only like guys who have a passion.”

.

Three weeks past by in a blur. Every night Taki went to bed sore and exhausted, each morning he raced the next day away. He was surprised at how much frustration he had to burn, but finally he seemed to be getting through it. He had already topped the Alley races and now he was being barraged by sponsors from the higher leagues, each asking him if he was ready to make the transition to the big time. He had made enough winnings to pay off both of his suits, and had even commissioned Boro to make him a third one with higher-grade parts. It would be perfect for an advance to the Street Tier.

But now that he was standing on the precipice of the future Taki felt himself hesitating. The whole point of these races had been to just plunge ahead without a plan, now he was being asked to decide what came next. That sounded a lot like having a plan again.

It was with his muddled around thoughts of the future that he walked off of the observer platform towards Boro’s shack, fresh off yet another win. As he neared the small structure he was pulled out of his reverie by a sense that something was off. Both Boro and Tala were standing outside with arms folded, watching him with apprehensive expressions.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Someone came down to talk to you, boy,” Boro said.

“What? Another sponsor?”

“No,” Tala said softly.

Taki frowned, but clearly the two weren’t going to be forthcoming about this. He sighed and walked through the door. There was a richly dressed woman he didn’t think he knew standing with her back to him. As she heard the door open she turned around to face him.

It was Rhuni.

Part Four

 

I mentioned on Monday about the common story archetype of rebirth. I explained that in today’s post we would see Taki fighting to fill the measure of his new identity. Certainly he started this adventure with some natural skill and an inclination for how to race, but as he became more of a threat to the other runners he had to learn to adapt to their attacks.

This growth in his technique is meant to parallel his growth within as well. He is no longer able to identify as just another part of the pack, he is becoming more elevated than the rest of the rabble he runs with. This is leading to a point of decision, evidenced by the conflicting feelings he has for graduating to the higher leagues of the sport. Though that path seems natural and obvious, a voice inside is resisting.

It is at this point of indecision that we are finally ready to see the final component of a character’s transformation: the return. In this case it is the return of his old love interest, come to invite him back to the life he thought he had lost. Next week we will see how he deals with this temptation, and whether he has truly changed or not.

Before that, though, I want to take a brief look at something more technical. I wanted to cover a lot of ground with this section of the story, and that led me to including a montage sequence. All at once the entire timescale of the story shifted to something far more rapid, and then it had to ease back out for the final scene. How exactly does an author manage a shift from one timescale to another anyway? Come back on Monday as we take a deeper dive on that subject, and then on Thursday we’ll have the last entry in Power Suit Racing. Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Celestials

sky space telescope universe
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A great sun called Salacia sat as the magnaminous center of its system, a yellow so bright it was nearly a piercing white. It shone over a small system, one comprised of only five circling planets, their moons, a handful of stray comets, and a few clouds of gas. At the origin of the Salacia system each of the planets had produced a great deal of frictional energy with all of the meteorites they consumed while clearing their orbital tracks and all had been considerably heated from the effect. Each planet had glowed brightly then, like a system of miniature stars. Over time they began to cool, and as their effusions diminished their facial features became apparent. The two gas bodies, Icarus and Lachesis, were composed of swirling orange and purple clouds respectively. Benu was the deep red and tan of dry rock, while Concordia was the lush green and blue of vegetation and life. Cronus, last of all, was the strange semi-transparent teal of all the various elements intermingled and frozen into a single, massive lake with with a dark heart of obsidian at its core, the relics of a volcanic past. Each of these planets had the unique trait of having settled into an orbit along the same level plane as one another, one that ran through the equator of the bright star’s mass. None of the orbits crossed one another’s path, and each was sole monarch over its own track. Over their formative ages these orbits had become synchronized so as not to distress one another, each pull and shift between them being counteracted by an eventual opposite one. And so all remained stable and constant.

That flat and level layout was due to any bodies not included in this arrangement being destroyed by the cataclysms of the neighboring Anubis system’s dissolution. Recent eons ago that system’s ruling bodies had collided and broken apart, resulting in swarms of meteorites that shattered apart every other body in a great cascading torrent. Wilds of untethered rock, ice, and gas now fomented about, still too erratic to form into any large regulatory body, hurtling and propelling one another in random, chaotic fashion. The occasional errant masses that were slung towards the Salacia system had doomed any of the planets or comets that followed orbits beneath Salacia’s equator, decimating them easily. Of course some of these asteroids had been on courses towards the central subjects as well, but each of these were quelled by the immense stellar winds that Salacia emitted into the quadrants directly above and beneath it, creating a shield of high-powered electrons that quickly dissolved all foreign materials in a shower of spectacular fire.

And so things continued calmly and well-regulated for a time, as each of Salacia’s planets became more and more self-defined and autonomous. As they completed their cooling processes, the electromagnetic polarities of the gas giants Lachesis and Icarus shifted, and the slight pull of the charged electrons in the stellar winds below began to slow their orbits, each revolution around Salacia taking a solar day longer than the last. As they slowed in their momentum they also began to sink lower and lower towards that electron field, their entire bodies trembling from the strain of alternating gravitational and magnetic forces. As the two shifted downwards, their absence began to affect all of the other planetary cycles as well. The three denser siblings, Concordia, Benu, and Cronus all raised higher above the original orbital plane as a counter-reaction to the lowering of the two others. Thus each planet began spiralling along an eccentric loop, ones that no longer intersected Salacia’s center. It was a tenuous balance, one that depended entirely on the upward and downward pulls of all other planets, and it only continued by greater and greater separation of themto opposite extremes.

At long last Lachesis and Icarus found their destination, razing their lower sectors along the stream of crackling electron-charged power. They only sunk to about one-tenth submersion before the downwards pull on them was counteracted by an electrical repulsion which scorched and burned their entire southern hemispheres deeply, eternal fires and fusions following after each other in never-ending rounds. Their northern hemispheres expanded, though, becoming infused by siphoned energy . Their red and purple clouds flashed with magnificent lightning storms and as a whole they swelled to several times their original size and mass, gluttons of power. As they grew to their saturation points their increased gravity lifted still more of the electron currents into crackling, luminous sheets around them, literally enclothing themselves in excess.

So much of the stellar winds had been repurposed in the areas where they now rested that there the cloud thinned to a mere fraction of their original strength, and it was at this time that one of the larger asteroids from the Anubis cloud, the dead hulking mass of a what had once been a third of a planet, came hurtling up towards the Salacia system at light-breaking speeds. Visual ripples appeared in the void around it, so quickly did it bend through space. It was driving towards the very heart of the stellar winds, but the proximity and gravity of bloated Lachesis shifted its course slightly so that it instead pierced through the weakened portions of the electron cloud, surviving with barely a few scorches burning across its rugged face. It nearly collided with Lachesis, but the planet rolled backwards, which in turn flung the rock was far up and above, none of its momentum lost in the encounter.

Now the planet Cronus lay squarely in the rock’s path, and as the asteroid crossed the middle plane of the Salacia system the planet dipped slightly towards it in anticipation of impact. In a world-shattering instant the rock pummeled into the sphere, a bright scorching blast illuminating the sky for a few years and then the two tumbled rapidly up and away, Cronus’s orbit completely broken. As the two careened through naked space they left behind a trail of broken gases, the melted and evaporated residue of the great lake of chemicals which had been lost in the heat of impact. That was not all that they left behind, so rapid was Cronus’s retreat that its greatest moon, Herales, lagged farther and farther behind before being released and left stranded, suspended far from any other mass.

Not only was Cronus lost, but Lachesis’s backwards roll had brought it to bear ever deeper into the electron cloud and revolve its form through a bath of razing  fire and gouging lightning storms. Its own rich clouds were strained away by the magnetic rhythms of the surrounding electrons and its core began to fracture, bright flares spurting out from its molten center. These massive streams of molten heat were more than sufficient catalyst to provoke the entire electron field’s naturally explosive nature… All of space seemed to crack at the resulting blast, one which entirely consumed both Lachesis and Icarus, their cloudy masses instantly burned into pure energy and dissipated into the infinite while the illumination of the singular event lit the undersides of the other three planets for years to come. Even the great star itself was wounded by the ripples, and it began to bleed out its hydrogen and heat.

As the two gas giants diffused apart, their gravitational pulls on Concordia and Benu were lost entirely, which had been essential to stabilize their revolutions above Salacia’s center of mass. Now, though, the two bodies were untethered and began to ascend higher and higher, even as Salacia pulled them inwards, spiraling them tighter and tighter above its crown. A most beautfiul destruction followed: their moons struck into one another, their atmospheres overlapped, their deep gravities hummed to one another in loud pulsations, their night skies became filled with the other’s vibrant details, their surfaces broke apart and flew towards one other before igniting on fire and raining on the other as ash, their skins peeled off in fervent heat, and finally their cores beat together for a single moment, and then erupted.

Even had they survived, they would not have long been able to dance around the foreign invasions that followed. With the ignition of the electron field and the weakening of Salacia, there no longer stood a sufficient enough barrier to prevent the continuing onslaught of debris from the Anubis cloud. Those that did not directly pummel the sun and expel its energy inch-by-inch settled into orbit around the great star, where they collected as an innumerable mass. Collisions were inevitable, and the asteroids soon self-thrashed themselves into a great cloud of dust that stood as a shell around the light, rendering the sun almost invisible. As Salacia was worn down by continued strikes it was unable to enact the grand explosive conclusion usually reserved for its race, instead merely fading, the shadows growing longer and longer until they consumed everything in perfect darkness. Eventually Salacia’s mass simply no longer had the strength to hold itself together and it fractured apart, simply becaming another portion of the debris. By this point the Anubis cloud had fully dissipated across both systems and finally all of the remaining glittering powder was evenly distributed and lay perfectly still. Eternities passed and all remained stagnant, sterile, and black.

Long after all relics of the Salacia system had been forgotten, a far off speck began drifting towards them from far apart. All the particles of dust had operated as one single mass, each contributing a small thread-like pull on some far-off distant body, drawing it in an inch at a time. Slowly the body drifted into the system proper, and it was small Herales returning. As it drew nearer the dust strained and began to pour to it in great streams. The lighter gases came first, the hydrogen and helium tumbling around it in swirling layers around its core. Next followed the particles of rock and water, which further encased the sphere until it could not hold any more mass and began to pack itself more tightly under the force of its own weight. All the other dust swirled in great rings around it, accumulating and clumping into new forms.

As the weight bore inwards on Herales, hydrogen fusion began at its core and suddenly its outer layers scorched with ignition. A new sunlight appeared, flickering and weak at first, then growing steady and bright in its rhythm. Herales was reborn into a small star and once again the faces of all the matter that surrounded it could be seen. All of the particles, the remnants of both the Salacia and Anubis system alike, slowly but surely formed into various new planets, moons, clouds, and comets, entirely new from all that had been before. They spiraled around, clearing their tracks and defining their orbits, through trial and error finding stability and balance in them. The new system was born and once again peace and order reigned.

***

In case you were wondering, no, this isn’t scientifically accurate in the slightest 🙂 Though our characters here are inanimate objects, there is obviously a classic sort of kingdom-downfall story here, one where our villains are not evil so much as drawn by their natures to overindulgence. In their pursuit of fattening power, Lachesis and Icarus fail to respect that all beings here are interconnected to one another and that what happens to one happens to all. And so, as I mentioned in my post on Monday, we end up with an ensemble piece, one where each member of the community contributes in their own way to the dissolution of balance, and also its eventual restoration.

This entry will serve as the conclusion for the dreamlike/imaginative/meditative series we have been running for the last month and we will shift gears to something new next Monday. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you then.