Friday, 24 June 2011

Friday Flash: The beginnings of the Intergalactic Championship

No prizes for guessing what inspired this! Please comment and leave any links to your own Friday Flash pieces so I can have a read!


I ran my hand across the carbon fibre body of the little ship. My ship. A nervous excitement shuddered through me. I was only a few hours away from competing in a race I’d only dreamed of. I’d won the Solar Championship three times but I was stepping into a world fuelled by politics, cash and some very talented pilots.

I couldn’t help but feel a little out of my depth as I talked with the engineers but I was Jackson Knight, I was known for that brave face and cocky smile. So I acted as if nothing was wrong. I kept the nerves under the surface and chatted away as if this were any other race.

The first race of the intergalactic season was around a planet named Tellar. Somewhere I’d only been once before and had never raced around until yesterday. The practice went well but I wasn’t exactly fast. It was going to be very difficult going from winning every race to being at the back of the field.

It also hadn’t escaped my mind that the Intergalactic Championship was also much, much more dangerous than the Solars. You often heard about two ships colliding along the course. Tellar was a desert planet so the track was dusty, visibility was limited and there were strict fly height restrictions to stop ships rising above the course to get away from the dust. The spectators loved to see a good crash.

“We’ve added filters to the engine outlets and air intake tubes, it should reduce the chance of dust getting inside the ship. You shouldn’t have the problems you had yesterday.”

I looked around at my chief engineer, Derryl Ryth and smiled. I slapped him hard on the back. “Great. I can win this.” Maybe I did have a good shot. Winning might be out of the question but I wanted to be at the front of the mid-field at least.

Derryl laughed and patted me on the cheek. “That’s the spirit, boy.”

For some reason he’d insisted on calling me ‘boy’, I didn’t mind. It was endearing but he couldn’t have been more than ten years older than me and I wasn’t exactly young. I’d come into this sport late; I was older than some of the competitors who had been racing the Intergalactics for years.

I ran my hands through my hair and took the helmet from someone who had just handed it to me. I was now in the zone; a haze of pre-race adrenaline had taken over my body and was now drawing me towards the ship. It was best get myself sorted and begin all those checks that I was still getting used to.

I climbed into the ship and the hydraulics shut the door behind me with a hiss. The cockpit was narrow but I had adequate legroom and I felt protected. However, I knew there was so much power running through that ship that one real, serious mistake and I would be in trouble. It would be difficult for me to get out; there would be the risk of fire and the possibility that 30 ships could come crashing into the back of me (if I was at the front, of course).

I slid on my helmet and instantly heard the voices of the engineers. It was time to begin the checks. We got through them quite quickly and I then began to move the ship out onto the track. It looked like I was one of the first out and I did my best to smile and wave as I moved slowly. Part of this type of racing was about sponsors and the teams with the most money were often the fastest.

My new team had money and some good sponsors but nothing compared to the teams who could afford the latest technology, the best testing methods and the most talented drivers.

I was talented. I’d proved that with the Solars and then being picked up by a fairly good Intergalactic team, but I wasn’t sure I could compete with some of the men I’d been watching and admiring for years.

Again, I didn’t let the nerves show and I moved out to the starting grid. I was in position 21 out of 32 ships. The first race of the season was always started in a random order. The following races would be in reverse from the finishing position of the previous race.

That meant that even if I came last in this race, I’d be able to start from the front in the next. Not that I was going to do that, winning meant too much. I had to win and I had to push myself to show that I wasn’t willing to be counted out after the first corner.

Other ships came to join me, hovering just above the track. I began to prepare myself for the start; this was the hardest part, often with the most crashes. The buzz was growing around the track, the press were moving from ship to ship, talking to those who had their doors open. I kept mine shut and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and went over my strategy once again. Most ships moved up at the start in order to avoid kicking up any of the dust below them. I’d decided I wasn’t going to do that. I was going to risk low visibility and put my faith in my instincts and sensors. I might be able to clear the pack and get up to the front.

When I opened my eyes again the track was almost cleared and announcement bells were ringing. A voice rang out in my ship. “Welcome to the first race of the season here on Tellar. We have 32 ships racing today with a few newcomers to the track. Look out for Ashton Willis in ship 32 and Jackson Knight in ship 31. Five minutes to go”

I looked up to my in-ship camera and gave a wink. The viewers would love that.

Those next five minutes passed with lightning speed and I gripped the controls of my ship. The starting cannon went off and most of the ships in front of my swooped up. I sped forwards with maybe a little more zeal than I should’ve and swerved to avoid a ship that hadn’t managed to get off its line. From what my sensors were telling me, I was underneath the main pack and would struggle if any of them dipped down to avoid the jam. I heard the crunch of metal on metal somewhere above me but didn’t allow myself a glance up to see who had been taken out.

The dust began to rise and I glanced between the track and the sensors to try and feel my way around the first two corners. The pack began to spread out but I was now stuck at the bottom. As things began to settle down and I could take a moment to look around. The sensors were showing that I was in 14th place, not bad for the first couple of corners. It seemed there were now only 29 ships in the running and it was bound to be a lot less by the end of the race.

The next 20 laps passed without incident and I managed to gain another four places due to some clever refuelling on the part of my tactical team. I was in tenth place, relatively unknown and in one of the, usually, lower-ranking teams. I bet the commentators were going mad. I then realised how odd it was to be flying in this race rather than watching it. I hadn’t missed an Intergalactic race for years.

As I was gaining a bit of height to get past some people I’d lapped the ship started to shudder. The same problem we’d had in practice. The engines weren’t designed to eat up this much desert dust and the ship was struggling. I adjusted the air intake and moved a little higher. Hopefully the ship would last for the next 10 laps.

The orange dust was swirling up around my ship and all of a sudden there was a ball of fire heading directly towards me. I didn’t have time to look where I was going and dove down. The whole ship shuddered with an impact and my console began to flash. I’d damaged the port side of my hull as I’d dropped down almost on top of another ship.

Almost immediately I had Derryl on the comm system calling me into the pit. I growled into my helmet and coaxed my ship around the next few corners. I saw that the number of ships still in the running had dropped to 24. Whatever had caused the fire had taken out a good chunk of my competition and I couldn’t be the only one still running who had been damaged.

The pit stop took too long, a good five seconds for my hull to be repaired but soon I was off. I joined the track in 15th place.

With nine laps to go I had to make some progress. Again I stuck close to the ground and relied on my senses to guide me through the thick orange blanket. There were fewer ships down here and no one could see me to defend their position.

By the last lap I was in eighth place and had no intention of slowing down. I passed one more ship by going right over the top of it on the final straight. I crossed the finish line in seventh place.

My whole body relaxed for the first time in two hours. My hands were shaking and my mind reeling from an exciting and exhausting race. My first race and I’d scored points. Mind you only two points, but points nonetheless!

I did waste any time in exiting my car and running into the open arms of the team. This was a good time for them. I was quickly told that my team mate had finished just outside the points in 10th. Such a shame but I was beating a team mate who had three years experience on me. That felt good.

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