"All racers, all chasers, good afternoon and welcome to the 23rd biennial head-to-head cross-country cup!" The announcer's voice boomed throughout the stands. It crackled through piecemeal speakers, each nestled in an unexpected corner of the bleachers and light fixtures. Despite the dull roar of the crowd, his voice echoed over them through the air, carrying with it the classic charm of an antique radio. "What a sight!"
Between the crowds of race aficionados, or at least the ones wealthy enough to afford a spot, engines hummed and tailpipes sputtered. Some of the more boastful racers revved their engines, seemingly unconcerned with the waste of gas. Flashes of color seemed to outshine the low sun as brake lights of all shapes and colors dotted the ground and cars upon it like rave lights. Their cars were lined in a loose formation, fitting bumper to bumper with whatever space they could claim. Some racers pumped their fist in the air, adding their strained voice to the already raucous starting line. Others jeered at one another, pointing and making obscene gestures through their windows and sunroofs. "These ladies and gentlemen from all over the world are rarin' to go, and they're proving it out there already!"
K.C. Jones smirked. That's one way of putting it. He thought, listening to the announcer through a satellite radio. He peered through the cool blue windshield of his pride and joy, the Phantom II, at the layers of bulletproof glass and referee behind them. Standing on a bridge above the starting line, he held his starting pistol down to the ground, and though he kept his composure, Jones could see his hand quiver a bit. He couldn't blame the man. Several cars had opened up compartments along their sides and hoods, brandishing missiles and high caliber guns. While the organizers would disqualify any racer who fired a shot before the race officially started, that knowledge wasn't exactly comforting to the referee who found himself staring down several barrels. They rotated and whirred, flashing lights and laser guidance beams with anticipation.
"For this race, each car is equipped with both LWB, longwave broadcast, and SWB, the shortwave. At any time, you viewers at home can tune into the LWB and hear what the drivers are broadcasting. It's an open channel, anyone can tune in at any time, but only racers can broadcast into it. The SWB will activate at race start, but it won't be available to viewers until they get to pit stops. Their range is only one hundred meters, about the length of a football field, but their conversations will be recorded and available on our website between legs of the race. Go ahead and tune in to the LWB now, at—"
Jones, wondering what exactly they'd be hearing right now, turned down his satellite radio and opened the LWB channel.
He was immediately assaulted by a cacophony of voices. layers of people talking over each other, complete with a backdrop of rap music played through someone's mic with so much gain it was nigh-indistinguishable from static.
"...dumbfuck truck? Who the fuck brings a big rig to the race?" A voice said through the speakers.
"What am I supposed to use?! What am I supposed to use?!" Said voice number 2, crackling and muffled by a lower quality microphone.
"You named your car Straightpipe? What kind of dumb fucking name is that?" Came a third, arguing with the fourth voice, evidently belonging to Straightpipe.
"It's what I used to fuck your mom last night, fuckass."
"Oh my god you're mad. You're mad you're mad you're mad, holy shit you're actually furious."
"Hey everyone, this is Spitfire's first race! Hey Spitfire, Spitfire, do yourself a favor and just remove your engine now. Spitfire…"
Jones rolled his eyes and flipped the LWB off, then turned his satellite radio back up. The LED clock display on his radio blinked to life, counting down from thirty seconds. "Just half a minute until race start, but… what's this? It appears we have a late arrival!"
Jones glanced at his rearview mirror. A couple hundred meters away, a big, boxlike vehicle, adorned with a familiar winking Relentless decal, gunned it for the starting line. Checking his clock again, Jones saw that only ten seconds had passed and it had already closed a significant distance from when the announcer saw him. Seeing another car barreling towards him did about as much for Jones' nerves as the three energy drinks he'd pounded this morning. He'd spent all last night fine-tuning the Phantom II, and he wasn't sure if it was fear or exhaustion that made his hands feel weak and shaky. Not a good way to start the race. He thought.
At fifteen seconds, the referee raised his starting pistol. Engines roared all around Jones. A few cars over, a big rig tugged the pull cord, letting an awful blaring noise shake the cars around him. Jones stretched his fingers and took a deep breath. He focused in on the hum of his engine, resonating through the seat and up into the steering wheel. "Incredible!" The announcer said, but to Jones it was only a distant voice. "It looks like shipping powerhouse Relentless has sent one of their fleet to join us today! That's a missed opportunity for a sponsorship deal, folks! I don't envy my boss right now."
The referee cringed away, finger tightening around the trigger. "5..." Jones mouthed along with the announcer, eyes glued to the countdown clock on his radio. "4... 3... " All around him, racers tapped gas pedals. The cars were loud, but the audience fell silent, breath held, expecting cars to launch forward but not quite sure what beyond that. "2..." In a blink, the Relentless delivery driver rushed past him, rattling his car with the air it displaced so close to his doors and mirrors. Fuck, that thing is fast.
The Relentless driver treed everybody, clearing the starting line first, almost simultaneous with the firing of the starter pistol. The referee, once he shot, immediately broke into a sprint towards the edge of the bridge. It seemed like every car opened fire, blasting the reinforced glass so hard it felt, to the referee, less like an official structure and more like a trench under artillery fire. Other racers fired at one another as they gunned it, and while most had defense mechanisms and armor plating of varying degrees, a few unfortunate racers found themselves in fracturing chassis, shocked that they'd survived at all.
The first wave cleared the starting line, with the second wave, including Jones' Phantom II, close behind them. Jones knew the announcer was still talking, but the sounds of explosions were deafening, a sudden white noise that almost calmed him. His eyes were glued to the bumper of the car in front of him, Bird of Paradise.
Straightpipe had his own game for the race start. The driver grinned as he pressed a red button on his center console. An explosion went off to Jones's left, aimed not at the glass, but at the structural support for the bridge at the edge of the road. Jones couldn't hear it, not over everything else, but when a dark shadow fell over his windshield he spared a second to glance up and see, in that moment, crumbling concrete falling, ready to crush him.
Jones slammed on the gas. He hadn't wanted to ram anyone, at least this early, but was given no choice. Bird of Paradise saw him in time and swerved into the car next to them, dodging the Phantom II's front bumper and spinning out their opponent to take their spot. Jones threw a "Sorry!" into the SWB, but was pretty sure nobody was listening.
He watched the bridge collapse behind him in the rearview mirror, burying a few cars and cutting off more than two thirds of contestants in the race. One vehicle, a sedan called Hopscotch, came bounding over the rubble with its custom bouncing suspension. It swerved recklessly on its landing, but the driver took back control readily. Jones was pretty sure the race was over for the rest. That is, until the great black cowcatcher mounted to the front of a massive big rig plowed through the rubble like it was nothing. Rocks erupted from it and rained down like a volcanic eruption. A big chunk of foundation smashed a car from the first wave in the rear. Listing now across the entire road, all drivers from the second wave had to spin and swerve around it. Jones hit the brakes, narrowly avoiding crashing into it as it passed him before it slammed into the divider at the edge of the road. Jones was terrified there would be more hazards in front of him, but he found himself stuck staring into the rearview mirror, swerving and dodging under the earthen hailstorm
Other racers pushed and shoved their way into the opening the big rig created, and Jones couldn't help but envy them for being behind the big rig as a plane of glass stuck into the road in front of him. He opened fire on it with the only guns his car had: Low caliber twin mounted machine guns. The glass had cracked a little upon its collision with the ground, and, combined with the fire from his guns, it had weakened enough to shatter when the Phantom II plowed into it. The Phantom II jerked, but did not stop, and Jones knew he had narrowly succeeded in getting through it. Bits of glass trailed around him like a fluorescent cloud. They scattered to the pavement in his wake, crunching under the tires of cars mere seconds behind him.
The driver for Relentless delivery was well ahead of the competition, with first-wavers like Straightpipe and Bird of Paradise thundering after it. With that, the first ten seconds of the race were over. Already there were seven casualties, and Jones narrowly avoided being the eighth. Now, though, that the first few seconds were behind him, the coming days could finally begin.