Geordie offered up a brief prayer to anyone who might listen and wrenched into a sharp left. Engine roaring, he skidded around the muddy corner. Ahead of him four other cars remained, long-haul rough racers with armoured bodywork and sturdy suspension. To have endured this far, half a continent from their starting point, guaranteed prize money. Now it was all about pride.
Nerves buzzed with sharp current as he sent signals down the wires meshed into his brain. Pistons flexed and pipes vented as he used these precise controls, eking every last ounce of power from Number Five’s engine. With a burst of speed he darted past the first car. Momentum building, he swiped his next opponent on a wide bend, sending him into a spin. Brakes squealed, mud flew, and Number Twenty-Two was left crumpled in a roadside ditch.
But Number Five was slipping too. Geordie felt the momentum as the car skidded across the track, wheels desperately scrabbling at the slippery road, threatening to send him into a spin. He hit the gas for all it was worth, nerves tingling with tension, and with a lurch Number Five shot forwards, seconds before they would have smashed sidelong into the trees.
Third place and gaining as they entered Dead Man’s Mile. Geordie’s eyes twitched, tiredness battling adrenaline and racing drugs. Ahead lay the finale of a sleepless week.
The lead pair were neck and neck, tightly focused on each other. Number Sixteen veered left, trying to force Nine off the road. Geordie seized his chance, drawing level on the wide-open right as the others ground flank against flank, splinters of paint and chassis armour flying. There was a crash as Nine’s worn tires lost their grip on the road, sending him skidding off into the undergrowth. Scents of pine needles and burning rubber drifted up through the air-con.
Sixteen looked up with a start, shocked that he still had competition. This close, Geordie could see sweat running down his opponent’s face, bloodshot eyes locked onto his own. The other driver glared malevolently at Geordie and revved his engine into a last dash, pulling ahead with a sneer of triumph.
Geordie felt Number Five’s strain, feeding up the wires and into his mind. Sick tinglings and raw aches pressed in on every side. Gears span as fast as they could endure. Pistons pounded their fiercest rhythm. Still it was not enough –Sixteen held the lead as they entered the final mile. One last reserve remained, a desperate measure built for this moment.
He triggered the red button.
With a series of dull thumps Number Five tore itself open. Tiny explosive bolts blew chunks of hardened chassis off into the trees. Fresh trauma crashed through Geordie’s nerves, physical jolts crossing with the agonising feed-back from the dismembered car.
Freed of weight and drag, Number Five gave a final, desperate surge. Engine screaming, wheels spinning, it leapt forward. Sixteen swung heavily over, set to crush Five’s sleek, vulnerable flank, but now it was too late. Number Five shot on, passing his opponent and, seconds later, the finish line. As crowds around the world went wild, Geordie slammed on the brakes and yelled with tension and delight. The fans surged forwards as Marios, his manager, yanked open Number Five’s door and hauled Geordie out into the light, holding him aloft for all to see, a naked brain and thin, boneless face in a clear, lightweight jar that dangled with wires and electronic sensors.
A reporter stepped forwards and pressed her microphone against the vessel’s foil speaker.
‘Geordie, do you ever miss your body?’ she asked.
Geordie stared down at the reporter’s long, wavy hair, her supple fingers curled around the microphone. He paused for a moment, then broke into a hearty grin.
‘What, that old thing?’ he said. ‘No, it was just holding me back.’
Originally published in Alienskin, October 2007