08 February 2009

Racing Blind

October 109, Season 4, ISGC race 2
Mehatoor gate, Raa system

"They are in local!"

They piled on the window. The gate crew at the constellation border had been hoping for this all day. No matter how good the ISGC holo feed was, nothing beat the view out the window, that simple fact that they were there looking at the ships playing tag among the stars and not a computer-generated image floating in your living room or your office. You never knew in advance, you could only hope the race would come your way... but now it was a fact: they had track-side seats.

"Guys he is on scan, he is on scaaan! 14 AU and closing... wow, that was fast!" The scan operator ran towards the rest of the group gathering at the observation ports. The windows had barely enough space for everyone.

Outside, a Malediction-class interceptor slowed down from warp as its AI silently negotiated with the tower, retracted its camera drone and jumped through the gate.

Takashi Kurosawa was in the lead.

On board the Poison Apple

It had been a good race so far, my best since switching to the interceptor class. Tak was still in local, which meant he had 40 seconds lead or less on me. I had seen Else warp off just some... 5 seconds ahead of me? I could close that. Maybe not. Second or third place, huh? Not too bad.

Plus, I was going to beat the champion. Kay was nowhere near us. Yet.

ISGC holo feed

"And here he comes, we have a live feed on the far side, the gate in Mehatoor, and we can see Kurosawa warping off to the last waypoint of this race. I must say, Doug, this looks to be a great start of the season for the Venture Racing Team!"

"Yes, Bob, he is not only doing very well himself, but they have managed to recruit top pilots too. Remember Elsebeth Rhiannon was one of the original veterans back in Season 1. And speaking of her, we have some gating information coming in..." Twenty seconds after the lead racer had left, the gate flashed twice jumping an Ares and then a Malediction through.

The Ares aligned to the star, then floated motionless in space.

"Can you explain to our viewers, Doug, what is happening to Rhiannon's ship, is she having technical difficulties?"

"She is not having trouble, Bob, she is actually waiting for team captain Kurosawa to approach and tag the waypoint; she will then lock onto his beacon and warp directly on top, saving approach time. This is the 'warp train' maneuver and, by the looks of it, VRT has made good use of it this race."

As if on cue the Ares racer came to life and warped off; the holo focused on the Malediction drifting in space.

"Doug, we see now Catherine Delorois, last season's frigates champion, in a close fight with Rhiannon for second place today. What is she doing now? Is she too waiting for a beacon?"

"Bob, I believe she is in trouble..."

On board the Poison Apple

My heart sank as I tried the map again, then the cam with no luck. I still had my overview but the rest or the view was noise.

Waypoint fifteen was at a star, so I had switched to solar system view right before gating. The idea was, it would save me a couple of seconds on the far side as I warped directly on the map, instead of having to look for the star using the camera. You have no idea how wasteful it is to look for a star with the cam and I so wanted that second place.

Yet, using the cam instead of the map was exactly what I should have done.

Somehow, on the far side the solar system map was dead, the drone cam was dead, the map was dead, everything but the overview. I could move and approach and warp anywhere... Anywhere but the star. My racing overview does not have stars on it.

"Searaph I'm blind, guide me!"

He sounded surprised on comms "Say again, Quin?"

"I can't see the star, I can't warp to it!" I answered in frustration.

"Look for the big bright thing in the middle."

Ha, ha. Funny. "I can't see, something is broken, everything is broken! How far out are you?"

"Right behind you Quin, on my way."

ISGC holo feed

"See, Rhiannon was waiting for the VRT point man to tag the waypoint. Delorois is Scuderia Caille's point right now so she has no one to lock onto. We cannot say what kind of trouble she is experiencing, but a spike in comms for the Caille team suggest it is, in fact, a technical issue."

"Doug, we cut to a live feed from the finish line, where Kurosawa is about to dock."

Raa gate, Mehatoor system

The wounded Malediction tumbled, slowly.

The control tower crowd hollered. A fan with a green Caille tree hat screamed "You go, Go, GO, show them! Allez Caille!" It was agony. At least the guys on the other side had seen a good show and a chase; on this side they were witnessing a wreck floating in space.

The gate flashed twice again. A Claw decloaked, aligned and warped in the direction of the Star, followed closely by a blue-gold-red Dragonstar Ares. Some fans started to quietly move away from their vantage window spots, shaking their heads.

ISGC holo feed

"And that was Kayleigh Jamieson of Dragonstar Racing Team, just overtaking Delorois who is now in the fourth, no, fifth place. I cannot believe this! I repeat, the reigning interceptors champion, Jamieson, has recovered to overtake Delorois and is now going after Searaph for the last waypoint! I wonder what is wrong with Caille?"

"Bob, we may at this point say that she is having major technical issues. It is not normal, nor safe for a racer to stay at a gate for so long, close to low security space. Clearly the Scuderia captain has had a major breakdown."

"I will remind our viewers that Catherine Delorois, piloting ship number 17 on your holo, has recently switched from racing frigates to interceptors. This is her third interceptor race, and likely the third race in a row that she fails to achieve podium. Doug, do you think she is out of her depth? Was it a mistake for her to switch to the interceptor class?"

"It is way too early in the season to say and this is definitely going to hurt her scores, but let's give her the benefit of doubt. Racing interceptors is not the same thing as racing frigates and many pilots learn this the hard way. And I have to say, this looks like one painful lesson."

"Do you think she has any chance to recover that third place?"

"No, not at this point. She will be lucky if she is able to finish at all..."

On board the Poison Apple

"Searaph at waypoint in five," he said, "Kay is here."

"Whatever, warping now," I said, "let's hope you are at the can." Okay, being beaten by the champion was one thing, but I could not let the rest of them do that too. It would be too much for a race that good. That had been that good... Floating inside my pod, I crossed my fingers.

Warp, warp warp warp. Warped.

I landed right on top of the waypoint can. Approach, open, password, orbit and wait. While I waited, the comms confirmed that both Tak and Else were docked. So quick? Oh, finish station must have been in that very system.

My overview blinked as both Kay and Searaph warped off. Her, then Searaph. You go girl, good for you. Bummer for my team. Searaph would have beaten her if not for my glitch but, as it were, she was beating the crap out of both of us.

Mehatoor I - Ministry of Internal Order Logistic Support

The after-race cocktail was livelier than ever, everyone chattering was still riding that adrenaline high, gesturing with their hands high in the air and laughing. It had been a very close finish, upsets occurring from start to finish and podium had not been decided until the last moment. Indeed, we lost third place to Dragonstar by a mere three seconds. Venture beat us by a full two minutes. One of those minutes was my fault.

Caille techs would confirm later that my camera drone hit the CONCORD billboard as it was called back early, starting some sort of failure cascade within my pod. CONCORD would bill us for billboard damage. Two plus two... Never call solar system map right before the gate.

But right then, the race was just over and we had beaten half a field of pros. We were doing well but it could have been better. It would be better. Pushing the race aside in my mind -it was time to enjoy the evening- I got ready. People wanted to meet the face of the newbie team, some wanted to rub salt on the wound and one, one probably wanted to hit on me. Before anything else, I looked across the room to find my friend and adversary's gaze, raised my glass of Auvergne and smiled warmly.

Good race, Kay. But I am totally going to get you, sometime...

ISGC holo feed

"This is Doug Chevalier."

"And this is Robert Bouchard, signing off. Don't miss the race report this week, and see you all next race for the Industrial exhibition event!"

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic piece of writing, Quin. You had me at the edge of my seat and I remember that race - the one where I got a black screen at the undocking >.<

    I felt bad for overtaking poor Searaph so close to the end. Needed the points, though *blush* ;)