Pre-reading babble. The idea for this fiction was inspired by something I read in one of Stoker1439's stories, New Year's Resolutions. In Stoker1439's fiction, Stoker was a long time champion of a famous race. From there, my brain led me by torturous routes to Vanity Rock. This fiction is set on the same Mars as my "Homecoming" story, but later. Enjoy!
Disclaimer. Stoker, Throttle, Modo, Vinnie, Rimfire and Carbine are not my characters. They are the property of whoever owns the Biker Mice from Mars cartoon. Everyone else is my creation.
* * * * *
Stoker flipped through the pages of the supply list, running a practised eye down the column, assessing the needs of the base.
"Can we get those supplies from Chisolm? Or do we have to have them sent in from Brimstone?"
Carbine moved across to a large map of Mars pinned to the wall. She traced the path of the rail link with a finger, tapping it on a red dot marked "Chisolm."
"We should be able to get most of it from Chisolm. The medicals however will have to come from Brimstone, as "
BANG! The door to Carbine's office burst open, propelling a mass of large, excited mice into the room, all of them shouting and talking at once. Rimfire was in front, yelling something Stoker couldn't interpret and waving a magazine. Vinnie and Throttle slammed into the table, scattering documents, also waving and shouting, while Modo, grinning like a maniac, carefully and considerately shut the door. Stoker glanced at Carbine's face and tried not to laugh.
"Bro, bro, it's awesome !"
"You won't believe what they're gonna do "
"15 years! And they're gonna start up again on "
"Man, I'm gonna nail this one for sure! I was born for this!"
Stoker waited patiently for the babble to die down, then wondered when he'd acquired patience.
"HEY!" he shouted.
This had little effect on the volume level however, as the guys had stopped shouting at him and were now shouting at each other. Carbine solved the problem by firing her blaster above their heads. Bits of rock rained down from the ceiling as Rimfire, Throttle, Modo and Vinnie stared at Carbine. Her eyes were slitted with rage, and she had her blaster aimed directly at the four mice.
"Get. Out." She said through gritted teeth.
"But babe, you gotta " Throttle began.
Carbine snarled and aimed the blaster somewhere Stoker was sure she would regret shooting later. The guys exited the room with as much speed as their entrance, leaving Stoker alone in the room with a very pissed off General. As she holstered her blaster, Vinnie's voice could clearly be heard.
"Is she on heat or somethin', bro?"
Stoker tried desperately to think of things that weren't funny.
Later he wandered down to the mess hall, passing groups of excited Freedom Fighters everywhere. Whatever had excited the guys had obviously managed to excite the whole base, and his curiosity, never very inactive, was piqued. The volume of noise in the mess hall was incredible. He made his was across to the servery, grabbed a plate of whatever was being presented as food today and looked for an opportunity to satisfy his curiosity. He found it in the form of Rimfire, seated in the middle of an excited group of younger Freedom Fighters. He tuned his ear to the conversation as he approached.
"No way Phase, with that bike, you'll need some major mods to even get past the heats."
"Yeah, well, we got six months! I'm going for it. I can do the mods in time."
"Yeah, you and everyone else on this base. Parts are gonna be scarce."
"Are you going to compete, Rimfire?"
A young girl with a sweet face and pale gold fur was sitting beside Rimfire, gazing at him with ill-concealed adoration as she spoke. At just 17, Piper was the youngest Freedom Fighter on base, a trainee with Deakin in Operations. It was well known that she had a massive crush on Rimfire, one that Rimfire handled with maturity, Stoker thought.
Rimfire grinned at Piper. "Of course! And I've got an advantage over you guys already; Uncle Modo says he'll help me build a bike."
The guys around him groaned, and there were cries of "unfair!" Modo's skill at building bikes was well known; Li'l Hoss was a legend among the younger generation. Rimfire laughed and looked up, noticing Stoker for the first time.
People made room for him on the hard bench and he grinned at the young faces. Most of these kids were unfamiliar to him; he wouldn't be seeing them until they were more advanced fighters. He smiled to himself at the looks of awe. You didn't have to be a bike to be a legend, and he knew most of the stories going around. Rimfire took great delight in telling him each new outrageous rumour about him that cropped up, and he was pretty sure that Rimfire was responsible for one or two of the more ridiculous and fur-raising ones.
"Okay, I give up," he said. "What's all the excitement about?"
A circle of amazed faces met his gaze.
"You don't KNOW?" said one girl.
"How could you not know?" said the one Rimfire had referred to as Phase.
Rimfire snickered and tossed a magazine next to Stoker's plate. "Me and the guys tried to tell Stoker earlier, but Carbine, uh " he glanced at Stoker, "they were busy working."
Stoker looked down at the magazine. On the front cover was a picture of an incredible racecourse, with some words splayed across the picture that made his heart lurch.
"Furnace Rock Racecourse Opens Again After 15 Years."
The table erupted into discussion again. He opened the magazine, Chopper Sand, and began to read, his meal forgotten. The racecourse, closed soon after the Plutarkian invasion, was to open again, with an inaugural race to be held in six months time. He skipped over information on the history, and read the specifications. Everything had been rebuilt as close as possible to the original course. Furnace Straight, Deadman's Curve, the Friction Zone, Salmas Ride, Twister, the Flyboy. Four jumps, all of them hell. And then there was the Funnel. Stoker closed the magazine and left the table. Deep in discussion, none of the others noticed.
Back in the dump he called home, Stoker knelt down beside the bed and began pulling out boxes. Clothes; no, field kit; no, medi-kit; no, some old magazines; no, old bike parts; no, how in the bloody sands did he manage to acquire all this shit? He dragged out the last box, turning to sit propped against the bed-frame as he inspected its contents. He pulled out 12 old and dusty trophies, dropping them casually beside him. Underneath were 12 old copies of Chopper Sand wrapped in plastic. He unwrapped the first one and looked at the cover.
Staring back at him was a much younger Stoker, holding a trophy and posing with a gold and black poem of metal and workmanship. Emblazoned across the side faring was "Hotstuff". He smiled as he thought of his current bike, Red, a dusty and battered old fighting bike who he loved to death. "There's love and there's Love," he thought to himself, tracing his finger over Hotstuff's sleek lines and curves on the page. He looked at each cover in turn. Twelve years in a row he'd been on the cover of the summer edition as winner of the Furnace Rock Championship. He looked pretty much the same in each shot; red and gold leathers, same face; same wild hair. No scars. That was a shock, he was so used to seeing them now. Without them he looked young and fresh-faced, without the hard, cold look he carried now. Hotstuff however was different in each shot; he'd given her all he had, and every year he'd come to the race with a new modification, faster, more powerful than the last time. They'd been an unstoppable team.
His fingers twitched as he came to the last cover. This shot had been taken straight after his last win. He was still seated on Hotstuff, but had taken his helmet off and opened his jacket. His hair and neck were wet with sweat. He remembered how he'd felt; his blood had been burning and his fingers trembling with exhaustion. He hadn't seen the cameraman, who had taken a backlit shot just as Stoker had leaned down and pressed his lips to Hotstuff's smooth, warm metal in a silent thank you. It was a beautiful, erotic shot and he loved it. It signified how he felt about Hotstuff perfectly.
He re-wrapped the magazines and tried to replace them in the box, but they wouldn't sit flat. He pulled them out again and fished around for whatever was underneath them. His hand encountered smooth metal and he froze. He brought the object out into the light. It was a metal pin, easily 8 inches long, with screws and plates along the length. His shoulder throbbed fiercely and he clenched his hand around the pin. "How quickly we forget." He remembered when the doctor had handed it to him, in silent reprimand. He smiled grimly.
"It didn't work, doc. I never slowed down. I just stopped doing it for money."
For weeks, the entire conversation in the mess hall consisted of the race, bike modifications, the race, scarcity of good parts, the race, who was going in the race and the race. Stoker would have been heartily sick of the whole thing if he hadn't been so interested. As it was he enjoyed the whole thing immensely, especially when it was discovered by the younger generation that he was 12 times Champion at Furnace Rock. "And I'll bet I can thank Rimfire for that one, too," he thought. The awed stares and hushed tones of reverence used when discussing his prowess were feeding his much disused ego. And then there was Vinnie.
Absolutely one hundred percent certain he was going to be the next Furnace Rock Champion, Vinnie spent most of the time they were together telling Stoker exactly how he, Vinnie, was going to break Stoker's 17 year-old record. Stoker snorted and spent most of his time telling Vinnie that he was a punk kid who didn't have a rat's chance of winning, while secretly being pretty sure that Vinnie would be the next champion, barring accidents. "At least he'll look the part. But there's no way he'll beat my record. Not on the first run, anyway." He also spent a good part of his spare time sitting on the sofa with Throttle, watching Modo and Rimfire construct a perfect babe of a bike. And so a good time was had by all.
It was funny, he thought later, how a woman will be your undoing every time. And it was sweet little Piper who innocently started the whole thing. Sitting in the mess hall after dinner, she'd asked in her clear, young voice why he wasn't going in the race. He'd laughed and told her the thought hadn't crossed his mind. And it hadn't, until then. Stoker had no desire to interfere with a bunch of kids getting all excited about a big race. He'd had his day in the sun. Let them be.
Then he'd seen the look that Throttle and Modo exchanged. A cold feeling ran down his spine. "They think I'm afraid to go back. They think I can't handle it." Something burned in him then. Was it pride? Probably. Whatever it was he knew now that he had to go in that race, just one last time, to prove to himself and to everyone that it wasn't fear that held him back. That he could ride with the best of them. Whether he could beat them anymore he didn't know, but he was damned well going to find out.
The hard way if necessary.
Fletch was buried in the engine of an ATV when he heard footsteps behind him.
"Be there in a minute," he said absently as he struggled with an over-tight bolt.
Stoker wandered over to the workbenches, examining Fletch's projects curiously, careful not to disturb anything.
"See anything you like, boss?"
Stoker smiled and turned to the older man.
"How's it going? Keeping you busy?"
Fletch snorted, gesturing around at the chaos that was his workroom.
"What do you think?" Fletch looked curiously at Stoker. He was terrible at reading people, but even to him Stoker looked edgy. His eyes were roaming around the workshop casually, but he looked tense and excited at the same time.
"So what can I do for you, boss?"
"I'm looking for some parts," Stoker said casually.
"You and every other kid on this base. I swear there's not a single one of them that isn't trying to get into that sandblasted race."
"Some special parts."
With an unusual flash of insight, Fletch suddenly understood what Stoker was after. He looked into his eyes for a brief moment.
"Top shelf. In a box. Labelled."
Fletch grabbed a spanner and moved back to the ATV. He heard Stoker fossicking around in the background and then silence. He looked up to see Stoker sitting on the workbench, a box in his hands. He was pulling out old, burnt parts, bits of metal and finally a pack of circuit boards wrapped in anti-static sheets. He looked up at Fletch.
"Is this all?"
"Yeah. The main AI is still there, but everything else is trashed."
Fletch went back to his ATV as Stoker unwrapped the AI boards. The edges were charred and twisted. His hands started shaking. A memory flashed across his mind, one he didn't really want to have. His shoulder ached with remembered pain. He clenched his fists then stretched out his fingers in an effort to relax his hands but they still trembled. He put the circuits back in the box and jumped down. Fletch looked up curiously.
Stoker was silent for a minute, then carried the box over to where Fletch was working.
"I need a bike frame. Faring. New circuit boards. Motor. Hard fusion core. Wiring. Hoses."
Fletch looked startled.
"Er, well they'll be hard to find, you know. Heaps of people are getting ready for the race, and seconds are getting hard to come by."
"I want them new."
Fletch's eyes bugged.
"N-new?" he gurgled. "Stoker, that's going to cost a fortune! I'll have to order them in "
"Well, go ahead. I've got the money." "And nothing else to spend it on" he thought to himself.
"What do you need them for?" asked Fletch, knowing the answer already.
"I'm going to rebuild Hotstuff." Stoker smiled grimly. "Like you said, there's a race on, and we're going." He paused thoughtfully. "I'd appreciate it if you kept this to yourself."
"Uh, sure," said Fletch. Stoker smiled. Fletch really only talked to machines anyway.
"Right. Give me a call when the first stuff comes in." Stoker moved to the door.
"You do remember your last race, don't you?" asked Fletch curiously.
Stoker paused in the doorway, remembering blood, and flames, and pain.
"Vividly. Which is why I need to do this."
Fletch flicked an ear. Sometimes people made no sense at all. Give him a bike any day.
Two weeks later Fletch left a message saying that a heap of parts had turned up. Stoker went down to the workshop, and the two of them spent the night working on the bike. They were weeks behind everyone else, but they had the advantage. They had done this many times before, and knew exactly what they were building. Hotstuff grew in a few short weeks from a frame and a memory into reality. She was leaner than Red, sleeker and thinner, with half the weight and twice the speed. Stoker and Fletch didn't say much as they worked; neither of them talked much anyway and there wasn't a lot to be said. Stoker never asked Fletch what he thought about it, and Fletch never asked Stoker awkward questions. He didn't need to. Fletch had been there that day, and picked up the pieces of Hotstuff while Stoker was being put back together by a team of doctors. Stoker often wondered what Fletch thought about the crash, but decided some things were best left unknown.
When the body was constructed, Fletch began to mould the faring and Stoker started work on the AI. He pulled the neural chip from Hotstuff's old circuit boards, and transferred it to a brand new, top-of-the-line AI bike module. He installed all the peripheral boards and powered up the core. As the lights blinked on and systems started to run, he placed the AI board into its socket. He paused before seating it. "I wonder if she's till there? I wonder if she's mad at me? Will she be the same Hotstuff?" Stoker didn't care what anyone else thought; as far as he was concerned, each AI was different. They got used to their riders. Picked up all your little tricks and moves, likes and dislikes. Moods too; Hotstuff had known him better than anyone and could tell by the way he rode how he was feeling. "It's been years. And I've changed. I wonder if it will be the same? Maybe I should have got a new AI." He looked at the body, already well on the way to being Hotstuff. She looked like Hotstuff. She should be Hotstuff. He seated the board.
The lights flickered madly as the AI grabbed control of all the systems. He could see her testing them one by one. The engine burred and then settled to a familiar steady purr. He reached out a hand and laid it gently along her side.
"Hey beautiful," he whispered cautiously, "remember me?"
The engine spoke for her, rippling with power before settling again and he knew that it was her. He leaned his forehead against her smooth metal side and laughed softly.
Two months before the first heats were due to start, Stoker came into the mess hall to find it completely packed. Looking around, he spotted Throttle, Modo and Rimfire sitting at a table against the wall. He moved quietly over to join them. Throttle looked up in surprise as he sat down, but said nothing. Modo nodded to him, and drained his mug. Rimfire was talking animatedly to one of the scout teams. On the far wall, Deakin and his crew had set up a huge vid-screen, the silver meta-weave moving slightly, giving the surface a strange wave-like effect.
"Hey. HEY. Shut UP!"
Thorn banged his cup on the table a few times for quiet.
"All right. Since everyone is so keen on the race, and since so many of you have decided to enter, the race organisers have been kind enough to send me the tapes from the last 14 races." He grinned. "Stoke, you here?"
"Yeah" called Stoker. Many heads turned to look at him.
"Take a good look kiddies, because apparently Uncle Stoker is in 12 of these 14 races. In fact, rumour has it he won those 12. So take notes, you can ask questions later."
"We KNOW that Thorn!" shouted someone, "will you just get on with it?"
The crowd erupted into jeering and catcalls until Thorn signalled Deakin to run the Vids.
"13. I was in 13 of them," Stoker thought quietly. He knew Throttle and Modo were watching him, but remained staring at the screen.
Silence fell as the first race flashed up on the screen. Stoker lost himself in the transmission, reliving each curve, each jump, analysing his style as objectively as he could, which he admitted wasn't very objective. He liked the way Hotstuff moved, always smooth, and noted how his technique improved with each race. "We had it all worked out," he thought pensively. "I wonder what went wrong?"
As each race ended, the crowd cheered and shouted his name. He smiled quietly, but his jaw was tense and his shoulder was beginning to ache again. The end of the 12th race was a storm of cheering and shouting, and Thorn raised his hand for silence.
"That, kiddies, is a 17 year-old unbroken record, although the race only went for another two years after this one. But that's what you have to beat." He grinned at the room. "Good luck!"
Then the 13th race began. There were murmurs from the crowd as he saw himself and Hotstuff line up with the rest of the pack. He leaned back against the wall and watched the screen intently. The lights went off and Hotstuff was speeding, no, she was flying along the track, running smooth and straight and clean. His style was so changed from his first win. They'd known the track backwards, inside and out. He remembered the ease with which they'd outrun most of the pack. He never took the lead until the final straight, using the speed built in the Funnel to power past whoever was in front of him. It was his signature style, a technique that had given them victory for 12 years in a row.
But not this time.
He watched as he and Hotstuff flew towards the Funnel. There were only 2 riders in front of him, and he knew he could outrun them on a straight ride. Hotstuff had the speed, and the power. The camera angle changed as he went into the Funnel, showing the other riders coming out. "3 2 1 " he counted mentally. Hotstuff flew out of the Funnel, accelerating off the slingshot and they charged into the straight. His stomach lurched as he saw now what he hadn't seen that day; the second rider, coming out more slowly, had moved across his path. At the speed Hotstuff was going, there was no chance to avoid. He watched, not breathing, as Hotstuff slammed into the side of the other bike, catapulting the four of them to the side, and straight for a wall. Hotstuff slammed into it first, shattering into a thousand pieces. The other bike hit a millisecond later, exploding into flame. He watched the two bodies, one of them his, as they flew outwards. The other rider impacted with the wall, and even over the screams of the crowd he swore he could hear a sickening thud. And then the miracle; missing the outer edge of the wall by what must have been inches and tumbling across the packed sand until he came to a jerking stop. He breathed again, but it was ragged, and his heart was pounding.
On the screen, sirens wailed and the crowd was screaming; in the mess hall, silence. Stoker stood and spoke roughly into the silence.
"Fun huh, kids? That's what happens when you come off your bike at 220mph." Every eye in the hall was upon him. He went on. "Oh, and in case you're wondering, I didn't get on a bike again for another 18 months. I didn't even walk for 12." He paused and looked around at the sea of astonished faces.
"One of us was lucky that day. One of us slammed into a wall and died instantly."
Stoker turned and walked out of the hall. He heard the buzz of excited conversation starting up as he walked up the stairs. Back in his rooms, he went out to his balcony, rested his arms on the sill and put his head in his hands, breathing the cold night air deeply.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid! When the hell did you get responsibility! What right do you have to deprive them of their fun! Let them be young and reckless while they can! Interfering old bastard." The scene had rattled him, and he knew it. There was a cold ball inside him and his hands were shaking. He heard the door open.
"Ten to one it's Throttle."
He stood up. Throttle was holding a large bottle of amber liquid and carrying two glasses. Stoker held out his hand without saying a word. Throttle handed him a glass before filling both glasses with a liberal amount of alcohol. Stoker gestured to the two battered old armchairs that sat on his balcony and he and Throttle took a seat. Stoker drank deeply, feeling the alcohol burn a fiery path through the cold place in his belly. His breathing calmed and he started to relax. There was silence for a while.
"I didn't think you'd want to see that again."
"I've never seen it. At least, not on camera." Stoker grimaced.
"So, how are they taking it?"
"A fair bit of panic, I guess. There'll be some dropouts tomorrow."
Stoker nodded gloomily.
"Better out than dead," said his conscience.
"Shut up," said Stoker.