It was nearly halfway through the race, when ahead of him on the second stretch, fifth and sixth fought for position. Zedd was less than two seconds behind them, in eighth place. The second stretch ended in the tightest turn of the track, a narrow U-turn. At this turn, the sixth-place cycle, an emerald green, took it sharp, clipping fifth’s front wheel. Fifth, losing his grip, slid wide and into a sand pit. The seventh place ahead of Zedd braked, took the inside turn, and accelerated out of the turn into the next straightaway. Zedd followed his path. In his rear-check, Zedd could see the fallen operator extending the bike’s recessed lift bars to upright himself and continue the race. By the time he was back on his bike, he had fallen to last. Zedd looked ahead, intent on capturing the next two spots.
It was the last five laps of the race, and in fifth, Zedd could secure his, Zark’s, and Lena’s future in the MRL league for a year with the winnings. But it was not enough. He didn’t just want to scrape by in his first year. He wanted to make investments. He wanted to make the next year easier on them. He didn’t want to find them strapped for cash on their first year, only to find himself in the same financial position he was currently facing. He couldn’t accept a half-assed team that was in a constant state of near-ruin. He cornered turn five, still a few seconds ahead of sixth. The following straightaway was the longest of the course. It rose in a gradual, but high hill that bridged the width of the entire track. He launched a large amount of LOx at the base of the hill, climbing to fourth, reaching third at the crest.
His display turned red as his speed climbed into dangerous territory. He had not changed his tires in over twenty-five laps, but had reserved a trace amount of LOx for the final turn: the 90° high bank left turn. He was less than a fraction of a second behind position two. It was Erich in Cyan. The gap closed when Erich slowed to keep control in the sharp turn. Zedd knew it was now or nothing. Although he was going his max speed, he would use the last of his LOx to accelerate into the inside of the turn, hoping to cut him off. Zedd was still in the center of the track, too far inside to effectively maneuver back in once he was out of the turn. He pulled in his clutch without bothering to downshift, then pressed the oxygen release under his right thumb. The surge of speed whipped him around the inside of the bank. He pressed in a hard left and then pressed back right into the turn at the apex.
Vela’s backside swung out right, and he finally pulled the throttle as he switched back to left. He was in front of Erich. He held the throttle back to correct himself out of his skid, but his back tires spun and did not catch. Smoke spewed out from underneath them as he held the throttle, but him and Vela both continued in their direction towards the track wall. He retained his hold left, and his exhaust was still releasing the last of the oxygen burnoff. Closer the wall came.
At last, his back tires caught as the embankment rose to its full height. He’d swung too wide, but he had also captured second place. It was his. He firmly held the throttle back and pressed right to correct himself. He straightened out and aimed towards the center of the track. But the wide slide had put his bike at a dangerous angle. Erich came in from Zedd’s left, fast. Seeing this, Zedd swiftly swerved back right to avoid impact with his friend.
But the maneuver proved to be a mistake. Another cyclist had taken the entire last turn wide. Zedd’s rear check icon slid in from the right of his HUD, glaring full red in desperate warning. An enormous bronze cycle approached, clipped his right side, and barrelled past, holding its speed. A fairing came loose and was immediately crushed under the rear tire. The contact pushed Zedd off his momentum, and Erich’s cycle pulled ahead from his left as well. A third cycle passed. And then a fourth. His oxygen pressure was depleted. Out of options, he held the throttle steady and kept a straight path, watching his future pull away as he tried to regain his composure.
Around him the crowd was on their feet, watching all the events unfold in the last turn of the final lap. The four magnas ahead of him crossed the finish line one by one, all within a second of each other. He crossed in sixth place with as much dignity as he had left.