[A/N]: So, if you've ever read any of my other stories, you know I like Submit Your Own Character (SYOC) stories. You'll also know I like science fiction. Well, it seems that's what I have come back to. Unlike how I might normally do things, the SYOC form is not here in the first chapter like one might expect.
I'm taking a different approach: introducing the world and story in a little more detail before providing an inlet for user content (although I bet you can guess what it is I'm looking for). So just sit back and read the story before deciding whether or not you want to get invested or not.
What I'm doing here is giving my Investment Chapter first, followed by the Exposition Chapter to give you readers all the context and world-building, and then there will be the SYOC form. Okay? Good, begin. (Also I'm taking a lot of inspiration from a certain something; if you've been exposed to it, you'll totally recognize it.)
Chapter 1: Motivated Like Myra [Student Cup Race]
In the seconds before a race begins, I always get hyper-aware of everything. Like how I'm sitting on a floating eleven-ton metal hover racer powered by hydrogen, intake turbines, and too much duct tape. Sitting in the cockpit chair with my both hands on the control yoke, both feet on the pedals, I'm more than ready. The glass bubble model of cockpit allows me to see 360 degrees around at the twenty three other racers competing against me for the Student's Cup spot in the World Prix. Winning this lands you an exclusive spot on the world's most famous biennial racing series. Lucio's voice found me on comm.
"Ready Myra? Just remember your training. Don't lean into turns so much. Just do your best." He sounded like he was doing his best not to sound like he was stressed out about this. The Student's Cup was a special race for teams consisting of those under 22. Lucio was her best bet for a racing coach out of any other college student I knew. The son of a famous American racing team, he had most experience by far in the racing industry than any other at the Student's Cup. The other voice of Myra's team spoke up.
"Structural integrity 100%, fuel level 1200 liters LH2, 900 kilowatt hour full battery charge, subsystem check successful. The Z1 is ready, Myra." Kaci sounded less on edge than her advising counterpart, probably because she herself had checked every single part of the rust bucket I was sitting in.
I looked around at the other racers that had come to compete. They all had interesting designs to say the least. Powered by low budgets and student ingenuity, the Student Cup was often my favorite race to watch other than the World Prix. I decided to reassure my overly tense friend.
"Lucio, you've taught me every skill you know, every trick in the book. Stop getting so nervous. It's all on me if we lose." There was a sigh on the other end before he responded.
"I know, it's just that I've got a lot to live up to. There's too many people watching me instead of you. They all want to see how the great fucking son turns out, blah blah blah. But you're right, I do think you're very ready. Plus we've got Kaci's ground-up design and construction. Thank again for that, Kaci."
"Oh stop," Kaci's voice sounded, "you've thanked me quite enough over the past few months. Myra's right, you're about to keel over from stress. He's whiter than paper over here."
"Okay," I interjected, trying to defuse the situation, "can we just go over the race one more time? Lucio, go over the basics."
Lucio's voice became regular and matter-of-fact in an instant. "This race is the Student's Cup, one of the last main-season races. There are 24 competitors, with the victor earning a spot in the American sub-qualifier of the World Prix. You finish this particular race by completing three laps around the track. The Student's Cup track in particular is revealed two days prior to the race and is off-limits to practice beforehand.
This year the track's course takes it inside a mountain for the majority of the course and back out to the start line here again, completing one lap. I still don't know what is inside the mountain, so be careful. The inside of the mountain also probably cuts you off from my radio communication, so be alert, others may play dirty tricks inside that mountain. Three laps, and we're done. Kaci, anything else technical?"
"No, the Z1 has been ready for this for a while now. Go get 'em, Myra." It was then that an artificial announcer's voice, female, came on comm.
"We will begin shortly. Please initialize your vehicle now." Kaci spoke again.
"Okay! Beginning main sequence start." I felt the racer around her come to life, the reactors coming online, turbines coming up to speed, the very racer coming up off the ground. The screen above the start line began to count down from ten. 10, 9, 8...
I felt the crowd in the stands chanting that countdown. 7, 6, 5...
I was ready. 4, 3, 2...
I let go of the brake. 1!
The engine revved and I cleared the start line just as the race began.
As I cleared the starting plaza, the concrete walls on either side were replaced with simple posts every ten or so meters, delineating the course across the barren grassy terrain. The track was slowly curving right toward the mountain. Kaci came on comm.
"Fuel consumption is good, structural integrity holding, the Z1 is doing fine." Lucio came in afterwards.
"You're in ninth place right now. Everyone seems reluctant to play bumper cars with each other; they're spreading out pretty quickly."
He was right. I had been so focused on not screwing up the start of the race I had barely noticed the other racers. Ahead of me was a much thinner, pink craft shaped like anI with a single main thruster, while behind me in my rearview was a very wide, gray boxy type of racer. The Z1 itself was a bright orange, narrow and flat, and shaped sort of like an X, with a thruster at each of the endpoints and a reactor in each of the arms, with the cockpit in the center. It allowed for some unique mobility that Lucio knew would be an advantage.
Kaci built the thing from the ground up over the past few months, using her skills as a engineering major along with some of Lucio's money. I loved it, it felt great to pilot. I looked ahead at the mountain; the course posts met the base of the mountain and continued straight up the face at a 60 degree angle like this was another Tuesday. I was ready for it, though.
About a hundred meters before the sudden inclination change, I pulled up and poured on the thrust. The Z1 leapt up off the ground, sailed over a few other racers and landed directly on the cliff face. Holding the high thrust, I quickly resumed normal hover-psuedo-flight, chasing after a wide lime-colored craft. I heard an audible release of breath over the comm.
"Okay... holy shit..." Lucio laughed, "You're in seventh. I'm about to lose contact with you when you enter the mountain. Just be careful. Kaci, how's she after that stunt?"
"She's fine." Kaci replied.
I'd had enough. "Okay, guys, see you on the other side."
The steep cliff face ended suddenly. Floating in the air for a bit before flipping around, I spotted my target, a hole on top of the mountain I would be entering. Aiming for the hole, I passed by the lime racer and landed in the cave, bouncing off the cave floor with a big CRUNCH before continuing on, now in sixth. Oops, too much thrust, I guess. The cave continued on, spiraling back down the mountain. The cave was very dark, except for a few glowing(backlit?) crystals every so often for minimal light. I switched on the thermal imaging, turning the cockpit bubble into looking like a military night op.
The cave was very narrow, only perhaps wide enough to fit three racers side by side in there. The ceiling quickly became uncomfortably close; can't screw up with pitch. The racer in front of me clipped the top wall and destabilized into a full crash. Quickly yanking the yoke to one side, I barely maneuvered around before I passed the wreck. It was a good thing that I saw that the SaveFoam had activated, protecting the driver in a super-proof foam blob, safe(hopefully) until the race ends. I had to keep the wreck in mind for later laps.
The narrow cave track suddenly opened into a huge cavern, with glowing crystals hanging from the ceiling (they had to be fake), as the track led up to a ramp that jumped racers over an underground river. Great, a show-offy course. Even if Lucio and Kari couldn't talk to her, there were bound to be cameras down here that everyone was watching and hosts were commentating on. Jumping a jump is pretty straightforward compared to everything else that they had just done, so what was up?
I noticed as soon as someone ahead of me crashed into it. There was a thin ring position such that everyone had to make the jump through that ring or else crash into it. The other crashed race-craft fell into the river below, SaveFoam expanding from the cockpit as usual. That was the challenge, jumping through a specific ring. It was a good thing I had practiced this before.
Aiming for the jump, I gave the throttle my best estimate to make it into the ring, and left the ground. The Z1 clipped one of the front reactors on the top edge of the ring, but I made it through and landed on the other side, the cave contracting around me once more. The cave turned sharply to the right; I almost didn't react in cave made a few more similar right-angle turns: left,left,right,left,right, and right. I began to see light, real light, sunlight ahead. I burst back out onto the plain, curving back around to the finish line plaza. Kaci was the first to talk to me.
"A lot happened in there, you okay? The Z1 took quite a beating to its hull, but I think it'll be fine until the end of the race." Lucio definitely sounded more excited than worried when he came on.
"Alright, you're in fourth place, great job! Just be careful of all that wreckage the second and third times through. You're doing great!"
I glanced up at the board as a passed the finish line. Sure enough, I was in fourth, with a lap time of 6 minutes 47 seconds, eleven seconds behind the leader. Had it only been seven minutes? Adrenaline does things to you, I guess. I glanced back ahead at my competition. All three ahead of me were plainly visible, and seemed to be doing fine. All the wannabes weeded out early, only these three in between me and victory. I increased the throttle as I came back around to the mountain face climb.
Climbing up the mountainside was even easier than before, and I was slowly closing in on my bright blue racer in front of me. I had an idea. As the third-placer soared off the end of the incline, I pushed on the brakes, setting the apogee of my flight arc to be much lower. As the nose of the Z1 pointed to the cave opening, I let on the thrust once more. It turned out to be much more awkward to enter from this angle, but some clever flips aided by the Z1's unique RCS thruster setup, I managed to avoid getting smashed against sharp granite.
The crash from last lap coming up, I remembered about it just in time, carefully maneuvering between it and the right wall. As the track opened back up into the underground cavern, I found myself redoing linear algebra in my to make sure I wouldn't clip the ring of whatever the second time. Apparently on the previous lap, the second-place racer got lucky, because this time they crashed straight into the side of the ring, cleaving the whole craft in two. Funnily enough, this caused the SaveFoam module to eject at a very high speed, bouncing off the cavern wall and coming straight at me.
It harmlessly bounced off the Z1 and flew back to where I didn't glance back. People had survived way worse, many times, in a SaveFoam module. People literally could survive out in outer space for hours in those things. No wonder why they're so popular. Aiming for the center, I remember what had happened last time and eased back a bit on the throttle. I flew through the ring perfectly and landed softly on the other side. Making my way back through the set of right angle turns, I emerged back into daylight as I curved back around to the finish line. I saw the racer in front of me, bright red, as it crossed into its final lap.
Glancing up at the status board I realized I was in second place with a second lap time of 6 minutes 23 seconds, two and a half seconds behind the leader. I turned my attention back to the leader and leaned hard into the first turn of the course, back to the mountain climb. I was determined to get past this racer and win. I decided on trying the same trick as the first lap. Leaving the ground (or near-ground?) a hundred meters before the slope began, I quickly closed the distance between the red racer and I. Oh shit, the Z1 was going to land on top of them! Braking a tiny bit, I landed just behind them, pretty much staring up their thrusters now.
Being behind the racer, I didn't even notice the end of the climb until I had left the ground. I knew this was the only place I could really get in front of them, so I poured the thrust hard into down-vector of the parabola. Feeling the darkness enclose me for the third and final time, I afforded a quick glimpse back at my competitor. It almost killed me. Looking forward again, I jerked the control column to the left to avoid the wreck from before. I heard a horrible tearing sound as the left reactor arms ground against the cave wall. I panicked as I felt the control loss, and for a scary moment I thought I would crash.
Instinct took over, and everything became a blur. When I had refocused on what I was doing, I was emerging back into the crystal cavern. I refused to lose my focus as I once more plotted the angle and thrust I would need to get past the ring jump. As I climbed the ramp, something hit me from behind. The red racer! The hit threw my ship off course slightly causing one of the reactors to hit the ring, spinning the Z1. As I spun, I caught a glimpse of the red racer forcing its way through the ring, losing an antenna in the process.
As we fell, I realized what would happen before it did. As my red rival landed back down on the track, the Z1 fell along with it and landed on top of the other vehicle. I was stuck! We drifted together through the right angle section and reemerged into the day. Maybe twenty seconds until the finish line, need to think... think... think! I activated the Z1's emergency stack reversal, making the front engines the main thrust and the back the stabilizing force. Pulling hard backward, I peeled off of the other racer, did a twist in midair and stuck the landing as I flew through the finish line in first place.
[A/N]: Don't know when I'll update this, since I'm in the middle of finals week and I'm immediately diving into summer term after, but hopefully you liked it enough to stick around for chapter 2!
Thanks for reading. -Red