The rush of the wind, the scent of iron-rich dirt in the air, and the vibration tingling the pads of his fingertips—Jack Renfro had missed all these things. Add in the way his cyborg foot could put the pedal to the metal, and sitting behind the wheel of the new Full Throttle racer was the comeback he’d been waiting for.
They’d rebuilt the racer in less than a month after the explosion…the damn explosion that had taken appendages from his fellow driver, Hemi. An explosion with a victim, but no guilty party located.
Jack gritted his teeth as he slowly turned the wheel coming out of turn two on the track, loving the feel of the ground under the tires. This racer handled like a dream, and while he despised the circumstances that got him behind the wheel again, he couldn’t deny the immense pleasure coursing through his veins.
The test drive today was all about his control of the speed, the angles. They’d upgrade to running against obstacles in the next couple days. But if he passed this handling portion, he’d ask if he could trigger the NiteOx, or nitrous oxide in scientific terms. The liquid mixture ignited with the Marsanium sludge to create a faster burning fuel mix, which would allow him to speed up even more on the track. That same chemical compound had ruined his future, but circumstances were different now. Full Throttle had an engineer and mechanics team light-years past the competition his old gang, the Smiths, had supplied.
Dust or bust.
This had been Jack’s life prior to the accident. He’d been the top racer for the Smith gang-town. Then there had been the explosion from a new test engine—he’d lost his leg and his shot at a championship. He’d been lost for a bit after the crash, unsure of his future and whether life was worth living. The cybernetic test had given him another chance. No way would he screw it up.
Not this time.
No, he’d get this baby up to speed and past those barriers holding both him and the racer back. Even now, coming out of turn three, the racer was the perfect balance of tight and loose.
“Gina, you and Snapper really worked a miracle on this one. I’m about to hit top-out speeds. On the next straightaway, am I clear to trigger?” The moment of truth—he waited it out. The buzz in his ears was a mixture of the background static in his helmet communicator and the stupid hum of the engine roar as he started to come out of the last turn.
“If you feel she’s ready, you’re a go.” Snapper’s response came through with confidence in his tone.
The trust Jack picked up surged through him. They were leaving this in his hands, and damn it if he wouldn’t make them proud. For once in his life, he’d finally exceed beyond where he’d come from. He’d be more than the son of the town addict and her lovelorn sucker of a husband.
The shining metal of his cyborg foot glimmered as the sun’s rays reflected off it, the pressure on the gas pedal lessening. A sharp pain jolted into his right hip and Jack did his best not to jerk the wheel, especially when the pain spread. He had to release his hold on the pedal entirely.
The racer began to reduce in speed. No more wind. No more blur of the stands. No more testing.
“Jack, what the hell is happening out there?”
He could hear Snapper’s question echo, along with Gina’s repeated concerns in the background. But all he could get out in response was, “Help. It hurts.”
* * * *
“Bullshit!” Jack snatched the holo-tablet from the doctor’s hands and threw it across the room.
“I’m charging Full Throttle for that,” the doctor replied as he resituated his glasses on the bridge of his nose. His lips were in a flat line, arms crossed in displeasure.
“You’re being ridiculous, Jack. Hear what the man has to say.” Gina, with a swing of her blonde ponytail, leaned down and picked up the tablet. She brought it back over and set it on the side of the bed. Right next to Jack’s offensive cybernetic appendage.
“What’s there to hear? I’m defective, again. First, I didn’t have a leg. Now the one I have has turned out to be a dud.”
“You’re not defective, just not approved to race.” The doctor’s face was solemn as he gave Jack the verdict that nailed his death pod shut. And Full Throttle’s.
“What would change your mind?” Jack asked.
This was a commission doctor, since the accident had happened on the racing track…meaning his findings would be reported to the commission. Once filed, Jack wouldn’t be able to get around them.
Drag, their gang leader, would be unable to replace him with another racer. The stupid rules only allowed for one replacement if the winning champion couldn’t race.
The doctor cocked one bushy gray eyebrow. “Are you trying to bribe me?”
Snapper, their lead engineer, who had been sitting in a corner chair flexing and clenching his cybernetic fingers over and over, jolted out of his seat. “No, not at all. Not a bribe. What’s it gonna cost to fix this?”
The doc shrugged. “No idea. Afraid I know nothing about your cybernetic components that make me any help in this situation. You’re best to go to the original physician who thought it a genius idea to give you these parts to begin with.”
“And if we don’t even know who that is?” Jack asked, more than annoyed. He wanted to throw a few more things or take a hacksaw to this useless piece of equipment attached to him.
The doctor stood up, pulling at the lapels of his stained jacket. He raised both those bushy eyebrows then gave a ridiculously loud scoff. “Well, I can’t help idiots who willingly submit to experimentation without all the details. I’ll report his status to the commission”—this was directed to Snapper—“If something changes, you can bring him back and I’ll evaluate him again. Currently, whatever technology is operating that leg is degrading, and the lack of control over the limb, along with his pain, will worsen with time. I can’t tell you how long, so don’t bother asking. Your best bet is to get your original champion back in the racer so you don’t lose your spot.”
Jack growled. “If we needed your opinion on what’s best for our gang-town and the championship, we would have—”
“Thanks for all your help, doctor. We’ll bring him back when we get him all straightened up.” Gina’s words and her hand clapped over his mouth stopped him short.
He tried to free himself from her hand, but she had more strength than any of them, being the first-ever synthetic human. More knowledge too, but he didn’t appreciate being silenced.
The doctor gave a single nod, then exited the room they were in within the racing track’s bowels.
“I’m going to let go of you now, but you don’t get to say anything until I tell you it’s safe. Nod once if you agree. If you don’t, I’ll knock you out now and have Snapper carry you to the hauler.”
Jack gave a single nod and Gina stepped away.
She glanced at Snapper. “You drive the racer back to Frog Lick and I’ll drive Jack.”
“Give me the decency—”
“Ah, I meant what I said, Jack. One more outburst and chokehold it is.”
Snapper grinned. “I wanna see that.”
Jack frowned. He had so many things he wanted to say in response. But he kept silent because ultimately he was jealous of what they had, of something so pure. The support between them, the love… He had nothing to offer at the moment but negativity and he didn’t want to be knocked out only for others in their gang to find out about his condition, either.
“We can coordinate with Drag when we get back. But the rules are correct—we were only allowed one replacement option. Jack wasn’t officially submitted…yet.”
Shit… He didn’t want to lose this chance.
Full Throttle needed to win the championship. They couldn’t put the pressure back on Hemi. He was still getting used to having not one, but two cybernetic limbs, a chest plate and at least four ribs. He was more machine than the rest of them.
“We could always reach back out to Sampson for that cybernetic expert he brought in from the moon.” Snapper ran a hand through his hair then shrugged. “I mean, if they could fix Hemi, maybe.”
They were thinking the same things. Good, maybe this will still work out.
“Jack, you can speak now.”
Finally. “I’m with Snapper. It’s a solid idea. He might be able to fix this.”
Gina nodded. “It’s worth a try. In the meantime, we can talk to Hemi’s nurse. She’s a cybernetic expert in her own right. She was involved in Kascade’s original plans from the get-go. That’s why she was recommended to us by Sampson. We’re lucky we found her already on Mars.”
“Anyone but her.” Jack let out a groan, then moved his leg to try to mask his disgust as pain.
“You don’t like her? I can’t see pain receptors firing in your leg, Jack. Don’t try to bullshit me.”
Snapper walked up and wrapped his arms around his woman. “I love you, you know that, right?”
Jack groaned. “Can we keep the smooching and cuddling to a minimum?”
Snapper pressed his lips to Gina’s, then gave Jack a pointed look. “No.”
“Fine. The answer is I don’t like the nurse…Sharon, Susan.”
Jack snapped his fingers. “Yep, that’s the one. She’s condescending, annoying. That laugh of hers is somewhere between the wailing cry of a goosemert and the cackle of one of those hyenas the Singh gang-town got for guard dogs.”
“Never knew you to be so discriminatory toward a lady’s response to humor… Hell, didn’t know if you bothered to make them laugh. You always worked on the swooning, flirting thing.”
“Shut up, Snapper. Before I try to work those same wiles on your woman.”
Gina grinned up at Snapper. “It’d never work. I’m all yours, baby.”
“Can I go to the hauler already? I don’t need to be carried. I think I can walk.”
That got both of their attention. Gina was the first to pull away and Snapper took that as his signal to head out of the room, no doubt for the racer.
“If you think you can, then let’s do it. I’ll be here every step of the way if something goes wrong.”
Jack sighed and tried to let his anger out with his exhale. “I’m not a kid.”
“And you’re not exactly one hundred percent. It’s okay to need help, Jack. Let me do this, and I can talk to Shannon.”
It was funny how Gina acted like she was asking him. He damn well knew she’d talk to Drag and their fearless leader would let her do whatever she thought best. Since she’d single-handedly designed the racer that had gotten them their first success, her opinions mattered to everyone. Even if Jack hated this particular view.
“Like I have a choice in the matter.”
She grinned and stood at the ready as he pushed himself up off of the bed. “No, you don’t. But it sounds far better than me saying you’ll do as I say or else. Humor me, and if something goes wrong, it will be my fault.”
Therein lay the problem… Something had already gone wrong. This would just be the bonus bullshit to his continuing streak of bad luck.