Art Pact 65

The evening goes as they all go - we run up a massive bill at the bar, mainly shots, before staggering to our cars. There's what Alice calls the Drunk Le Mans. We all sit in the passenger seats with our keys in our hands, windows wound down so that if we vomit we can stick our heads out and avoid the morning experience of stale sick. When Alice shouts "GO!" we have to shuffle across to behind the wheel, fumble the keys into the ignition as best we can, then floor it.

There's a variety of vehicles left. Mostly they're old rovers, chunky things built by the settlers out of car bodies over the six-wheeled drive-trains of survey bots. They used to run on petrol, but now we run them on an oil-alcohol mixture that makes them spit a sweet-smelling grey smoke out of their exhaust pipes and corrodes the cylinder heads with worm-like patterns that have to be milled out every few months. Most of them used to be of a modest capacity, but the constant milling has enlarged the engine bores to the point where they rumble like industrial diggers, and the power output is so high that even with six heavy-duty tires most of us spin our wheels for a few seconds, veering erratically from side-to-side and throwing up huge clouds of silica dust into the air behind us. If you're unlucky or inexperienced enough to have parked close to someone on the way in you might find the passenger compartment of your car filled with the stuff, blown in through the open passenger window, choking you and clogging up your air filters. The smartest of us (which is to say those who have been here longest, HA!) park with a good dozen meters between our car and the next one.

Then it's the first one out to the edge of the plain. There's a marker we aim for, a launch spire left over from stage two, ugly like all the stage two machinery, put up in a hurry by panicky people. The stage one stuff, elegant and functional, is all gone now, pieces gathered up by the scavengers and sold off, although none of us could say what possible use there might be for it. I guess the locals think differently. They're in the shit just as much as we are - more, I guess, because this is their home, not just some penny-ante colony put on the expansion list by mistake by some centre-world bureaucrat. Maybe it's a religious thing to them, all the pretty plastic-steel stage one architecture ending up in some shrine or other. Fuck it, who cares. Let them do their thing.

By the time we're a k away from the bar we're already at top speed, somewhere between eighty and a hundred k an hour, depending on the car. Some of them are worse than others. Alice's is in good shape, the old beater Anders drives has a bent middle axle, not enough to stop it turning, but enough to make the car bounce up and down a couple of times a second, like a kid's toy on overdrive. When Anders gets out at the other end you can see that he's green from the booze and the vibration, and his hands are a numb white from gripping the steering wheel. But that's not for a minute yet.

We hit the untamed area about two minutes out, and all of a sudden the race goes crazy. My vision is blurred anyway, but now I can't see a thing for the shaking, the dust, and the rocks getting thrown up all over the place. Flathead Greg got killed here a month ago, the stupidest thing ever, a lump of stone the size of my fist got flung in the open window of his car, Greg took it straight to the head, blood everywhere, knocked him out for just long enough for him to flip over. Passenger compartment crushed, died instantly. We didn't race the next day, nor the next, but by the third day we were so bored of just drinking and searching that we just restarted the race like nothing had ever happened.

Now here's the edge of the plain, coming up fast behind the launch spire. You want to get to the launch spire first, but not going so fast that you buzz over the edge and just fall, fall, fall into the canyon. We slam on our brakes and cars slide left and right, nearly crashing into each other, skidding towards the spire and hopefully to a halt or perhaps hopefully not, because secretly I think we all think that we didn't just restart the races because we were bored. We did it because after they took Greg, we saw their real potential.


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