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1

Everyone in Syzygy loves street racing. It all started when the hovercycle was announced. It didn’t take long before our streets became a stadium. Suddenly the floating walkways transformed into tracks, and our neon street lamps became finish lines. My first memory is almost getting run over by Anton Jones while buying an ice cream – I loved it. I mean it’s Anton blipping Jones!

Street racing was outlawed – the pioneers of the sport constantly getting arrested. Whenever I would see one of their wanted posters on my holophone, I would screenshot it and project it on my wall. Street racing was underground, it was dangerous, and it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Even though the corporations started cashing in on the subculture, street racing prevailed, and now it’s pretty much all we’re known for.

Our city is often compared to a coral reef: fluorescent, dense, layered, and swimming with life. But don’t let the glitz blind you. Sharks are always hiding in the shadows. Street racing still hasn’t fully escaped it’s mob roots. The only reason someone like Jones could make bail was the Jin. He was on their good side – as long as he threw a race or two.

Before the hovercycle, our city was actually pretty boring. As much as I love racing, those days were simpler. My parents were around, and my biggest worry in life was which video game to beat my younger sister Yaz in.

We grew up in the South Side. Now, that’s somewhere the sun don’t shine– literally. The city became a global stage when Tesla built a massive arena that floats above our neighborhood. Nobody could sell their house, and my hometown slowly turned into a loosely connected base for the Jin.

As a kid, I would stare up at the arena and pretend the small neon advertisements were stars –wishing that one day I would be able to race there. It’s all I’ve ever wanted really. The qualifying race is in two days, and I’m going to win.

Tesla Arena here I come.

2

Yaz and I picked up dinner at the Korean place down the street. We were running low on credits, but we’re still ok. I really need to win tomorrow though.

Our unit wasn’t like the ones you find in those fancy towers downtown, but it was enough for us and we’ve made a lot of good memories here. As long as I keep winning races it’s home.

The night before a race, Yaz usually chatted my ear off about the bike, who we were racing against the next day, weather patterns, wind velocity. If there was something I needed to watch out for, she had it covered. Most of it went in one ear and out the other if I’m being honest. I just strapped in and let instinct take over.

But tonight, she was strangely quiet.

Anyone else wouldn’t have noticed, but I did. That’s what it’s like when you’re two minds who think like one.

“What’s going on?” I said as she scooped a smaller-than-usual of bibimbap on her plate.

The question startled her. Like I’d snapped her out of a dream. And not a good one.

“Huh? Nothing.”

“This is your favorite meal. And there’s a race tomorrow. Usually I can’t shut you up –”

“Look, I just have a bad feeling…”

I pressed her for more information, but I don’t think even she knew what was bothering her.

“I don’t know why, but I can’t shake this…never mind. You know, I shouldn’t be messing with your head before a race.”

Her voice trailed off and we ate the rest of the meal in strained silence. Later that night I tried to relax and get some sleep. Always seems impossible the night before a race. Yaz’s bed was only a few feet from mine, and even in the pitch black apartment, I could see she was still awake. If Yaz was worried about me, she never spoke it. Usually, she just took care of every possible problem before it happened and that was how she dealt. But now…maybe this is something.

3

CLANK! A loud mechanical thud jolted me out of my sleep. My excitement kept me up late, so this was the last thing I needed… Especially on race day.

I tapped on my window, taking it off tint-mode. Yaz was standing panicked in the street next to my bike – which had fallen over! “YAZ!” … She couldn’t hear me through our soundproof windows. I thought she was supposed to be the best mechanic in the entire city, but she tips my bike over?

I threw on my uniform and took the pneumatic tube down to the street. A flurry of profuse apologies and excuses came out of Yaz’s mouth. But there was no use in yelling at her. She already felt bad enough.

“My shoe got caught in the capacitor, and I almost–” I cut her off.

“What can we do about this?”

Yaz and I quietly walked over to Mr Nakamura’s shop – I’ve never met anyone who knew more about racing than that old man. As I pushed my bike down the street, I noticed that a small joystick had been installed on the console. “Can I play videogames on this thing now?”

“It’s a booster… I haven’t tested it yet.” Yaz was still quieter than she usually was.

“Mr. Nakamura!” Yaz’s quiet spell didn’t last too long. Nakamura was lying on his back under a bike. The small hoverboard he was resting on shot out from under the hovercycle and launched him on to his feet! Pretty spry for a 70 year old.

“Yaz! What brings you here?”

I interjected, “We need a capacitor.”

“A capacitor… do you have the credits for that?” I didn’t. But I knew I would after my race today. I’d have enough credits for all the capacitors in his rinkadink shop.

“If Aurora wins today, she’ll qualify to race in Tesla Arena,” bragged Yaz. Nakamura seemed impressed, but tried to keep his cool.

“Last time someone came to this shop before a stadium race was Kawai Hopper.” Such a name dropper… But he’s always supported young racers. I never understood why someone like him never raced himself.

Nakamura handed Yaz a capacitor, “My investment… in the both of you.” He looked at me. I looked back at the old man. I wasn’t going to let him down. I watched Yaz crank the capacitor into place – my hovercycle lifted off the concrete. It was officially race day.

4

When Yaz and I pulled up to the race line, I started to realize how tough this was going to be.

Usually, you see a few big names at a race with a decent purse. Three, maybe four. Not today. These are the best racers in Syzygy. Guys I’d just barely beaten, and the ones who left me in the dust. All here. All ready to win.

I found us a spot to get ready and had barely turned the engine off before Yaz was fiddling with the shiny new tech she’d installed – figuring out if it would rocket me past the finish line or shoot me out into the atmosphere.

I saw Sway walking our way, decked out in his neon jumpsuit like always. He was a rabbit, always going after a big lead, making you burn fuel just to keep pace.

Ryland Costa was right behind him. His bike was overly mechanical and heavy. If he was hit by a truck, I’m not even sure his bike would flip over.

2600 was getting ready too. He was one of those robots that got cast out after they were replaced by a newer model. Now he races for his own parts.

Wait is that…? It couldn’t be– Angie. She’s a legend, as tough as she is pretty. I’ve seen her bury plenty of guys who were too busy checking her out to notice she’d blown right by them on the track.

So many top racers. Each one a killer.

As I scanned the crowd, trying to look tough, I thought about their stories, how they got here. To Syzygy. To this race. My mind drifted. Stay focused Aurora.

Yaz was all business. The capacitor from Nakamura seems to have taken her mind off whatever bad premonitions she was having. She snapped me back into reality.

“Listen up,” she said in her usual no-nonsense way, “The booster’s going to work. If you fall back, burn it and hold on with everything you’ve got.”

She flipped the visor down on my helmet.

“Time to press start – don’t die”

5

Out of the dark, the headlights shot at me like bullets. I weaved my motorcycle through the hovercars as they came hurtling in my direction. As I emerged from the tunnel in central Syzygy, a dizzying onslaught of neon obscured my sight.

As my vision sharpened, so did the edges of the huge screens that glimmered atop the skyline. A blast of wind coming from my right side threw my ponytail across my shoulder. It was Ryland Costa – blip!

I trailed Ryland’s motorcycle as he bombed down the glossy black street. The explosive roar of his engine caused a businessman waiting at the intersection to fumble his holophone. Ryland always lacked precision, brute forcing his way to the finish line of every race.

He needs the open stretches, but I can take him on the turns. I cut the apex, slicing sharply through the small space between two skyscrapers, emerging with Ryland in my sights.

When I glanced down at my monitor, I couldn’t see any racers behind me. It was just me and Ryland. I tracked my eyes to the joystick Yaz installed in the center console of my bike. “BE CAREFUL” was carved into the side.

I was gaining on Ryland but running out of time. As I drifted onto Gravitar Street, I knew my chances at victory were slim. He was shooting towards the finish line like a laser– the crowd cheering on either side of him.

In moments like these, it’s as if time stops, the screams of the crowd sound like muffled wind. The only thing I feel is the hum of my engine and the road beneath me. Just me and my bike. I smashed the button on top of my joystick and gunned the engine. The bike was like a rocket– the G force pulling on my face.

My vision started vignetting. Many would have lost consciousness, but for those of us who love the speed, this is what racing is all about. I was gaining on Ryland– 267mph– and all that mattered were the inches that separated us. I tucked my body tightly to the bike, pressing my joystick down with all my might. In that final moment, I felt myself slice through the light of the holographic finish line– the crowd roared.

I was going to Tesla Arena.

6

When I pulled back on the joystick, my bike came to a screeching halt, skidding across the pavement. If I had stopped a second later, I would have crashed into the crowd. As Ryland’s bike was winding down, he slammed his helmet to the ground.

A few moments later, the rest of the racers turned the corner. An irregular flurry of zips and zooms broke through the holographic finish line. In third was Angie, then 2600, and then I think the next to cross was Sway? It was hard to tell.

Yaz ran in my direction, smothering me in a hug. Over my shoulder she said, “You shouldn’t have cut through those buildings!” I responded with the obvious, “I had to.” Yaz hesitated, “You can’t win if you’re dead, Aurora.” She had a point. “I knew the bike could make the turn, you’re my mechanic!”

I knew that Ryland was a sore loser, but I couldn’t resist going over and shaking his hand. As I approached him, I noticed that he was talking to a couple members of the Jin. Not really talking with them; he was being talked at…

A stocky mobster was resting the sole of his boot on Ryland’s helmet. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it didn’t look good. The mobster pushed his mechanical leg down– denting the helmet– and walked away.

As I got close to Ryland, I opened my mouth to speak, but he interrupted with “How do you just keep winning?”

I looked over at my sister, “You just gotta have a secret weapon.” Ryland looked away and drove off.

7

Yaz and I went to the Korean place to celebrate. The robo-waitress brought us our usual order– bibimbap. “You know the reason I spend so much time working on your bike?” Yaz asked. To me the answer was obvious, “So we can have money for bibimbap?”

“No… Because if you turned the corner and your bike skidded out from under you, it would be my fault.” I stopped stuffing my face. “Well, know that if I crash, it’ll be my fault then!” I laughed, but Yaz didn’t. I reassured her, “I’ll be more careful next time…”

Yaz and I waltzed out of the restaurant with the confidence of gunslingers– our stomachs full. When we peered down the block, we saw that Nakamura’s shop was closed. It would have been nice to give him the good news, but I sometimes forget how old he is…

A boy in a toy hoverbike helmet raced up to me and Yaz. “Are you… are you,” he was clearly out of breath, “Aurora?” The boy shoved his holophone in Yaz’s direction, and we took a picture together. Yaz didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that she wasn’t in the photo. She never really liked public attention. The solitude of her workshop is what drives her.

8

I was lying in my bed and started thinking about what Yaz said at the restaurant. Maybe she was right? I shouldn’t be so reckless. Is Tesla Arena worth giving my life for? Hmm. Probably.

As I was drifting off, I thought I heard my window go into tint mode… But it was too distant– could be coming from Yaz’s room? The tint-mode sounds kept repeating. On off, on off, on off… It was kind of relaxing.

The relaxing melody was interrupted by a loud SCREAM followed by the sound of shattering glass!

9

I scrambled into Yaz’s room. Her window was shattered, and she was nowhere to be found. Glass shards were scattered around a row of large bootprints. Tears ran into the back of my throat, and instinct took over.

I heard footprints coming from above– they were on the rooftop! I hopped down the pneumatic tube, took to the street, and got on my bike. I looked up, and Yaz was tied down to a hoverbike that was jumping from rooftop to rooftop. The shadowy figure driving the bike was being silhouetted by the multicolored billboards. I bombed down the empty streets, following my sister.

I broke my line of sight to look down at the joystick– “BE CAREFUL” throwing my bike into full throttle. I forgot my helmet. The wind was blinding. At this speed, even a fly would hit my skull like a bullet. But I had to keep my eyes open. I couldn’t lose Yaz.

I turned onto one of the floating walkways, accelerating up the incline. As I approached the top step, I tucked myself into my bike and sailed into the air towards the rooftops. My body jackknifed as my bike slowly fell out from under me.

SLAM– the hoverbike briefly collided with the concrete rooftop before re-calibrating, but I landed squarely on my seat. I powered through the spinal pain from the impact. Yaz was in my sights.

10

The wind and tears obscured my vision into a pool of fluorescent colors. I felt like I was falling down a kaleidoscopic wormhole to hell. Billboards raced by me one after the other, but I wasn’t getting any closer to Yaz. Actually… my bike was slowing down.

I tried to push the joystick forward, but it was already at maximum capacity. I looked down and saw that the entire underside of my bike had dented in! My hoverbike sputtered to a halt, and the black dot that was Yaz and the mysterious figure got smaller and smaller, shrinking into the sea of lights.

I dismounted my bike and sprinted after them– choking on my tears and trying to squint my vision back to normal. I couldn’t see them, but I still had to keep running. I couldn’t stop.

Even though I was running, in the back of my mind, I knew it was aimless. I knew I had lost them. I knew I had lost Yaz.

11

The police station was oddly industrial and felt out of place with the rest of the city. I guess tourists don’t come here, so it doesn’t matter. The last time I was at the station was after the accident with my parents. The air was so stagnant in the waiting room that it was probably unchanged from my childhood.

“Aurora?” I followed one of the cops into an interrogation room. A monotonous train of procedural questions came out of the officer’s mouth. I answered all of them truthfully, but intrusive thoughts of Yaz persisted. I must have looked glazed over because the officer offered me a glass of water to calm my nerves.

Days came and went. The police scanned the boot print in Yaz’s room but couldn’t find a match. I couldn’t even go in there to repair the window– Nakamura fixed it for me. He fixed my hovercycle too, but I couldn’t think of racing. It just seemed empty. Tesla Arena seemed empty.

12

I don’t have much of an appetite, but I’ve been getting my food from the diner next to the Korean place. Last night while I was eating, that kid in the toy racing helmet came up to me. He wanted to tell me that he got his first hovercycle or something like that. I must have snapped at him because he ran away crying. I don’t even know.

When I tried entering the Kebab shop for some breakfast, my face slammed into the forcefield: “LOW CREDIT BALANCE.” Blip… My race at Tesla Arena was still a few months off. I needed money. Do I even want to do it without Yaz? Can I do it without Yaz?

Racing never felt more like a job than it did that night. I pulled up to the starting line, right next to Ryland. It all felt very mechanical– like I was just going through the motions. The headrush from the speed felt more like a headache. “BE CAREFUL.” Who cares?

I was in the lead– of course– but as I was going down the home stretch, Ryland surpassed me with a speed I’ve never seen come from his bike! “COSTA WINS!” And the crowd went wild… At least I’ll get the runner up prize money.

The Jin slipped Ryland his usual kickback before I walked up to him. “Want some advice Aurora?” I didn’t respond. “You just gotta have a secret weapon.” He laughed in my face.

I would have spit in his face if I didn’t still have my visor down. As I took off my helmet, I noticed that Ryland had a small joystick installed in the center of his console… Like the one Yaz made for me.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked. “Why would I tell you– so can beat me again?! This is a new era Aurora…”

“No,” I whipped my bike around to show him the console, “My sister made this for me.” Ryland looked down. It was identical to the booster on his console. “Well, maybe your sister is trying to make a little money on the side…” He started walking away– dented helmet in hand.

I charged him yelling, “She’s been missing for months!” Costa stopped. When I shoved him, he remained steady like a brick. Something clicked in Ryland’s head. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I knew that he was hiding something. I gripped his leather jacket– “Where’d you get it Costa?”

13

I had never seen a man with so many tattoos look so scared. He pulled me in close. Close enough so that we could talk under our breath.

“It’s the Jin,” he said, “they gave me the booster.” I looked down. It was identical to the one in Yaz’s room…“These are not people you want to mess with Aurora.”

“You’ve seemed to mess with them your entire career–”

“–and I wish I hadn’t!”

“She’s my sister.” I can’t take on the Jin by myself. I flipped my visor down and ripped it over of the precinct.

I showed the cops the images on my holophone, but they kept telling me that Yaz was probably dead, that they did their investigation already, and that I should move on– bureaucratic talk.

They offered me some water because I was in a frenzy. The more I tried to explain that it was the Jin, the more they acted like I was crazy, “You have no proof that your sister made that booster device you saw.”

I snapped, “I can handle it– you’re the ones not doing your jobs!” My yelling rang out. The precinct was quiet. I couldn’t stand everyone staring at me with pity in their eyes. These cops were useless when my parents died, and they’re useless now.

I crushed the cup of water under my boot and stormed out. I hopped back on my bike and just drove– fast. What was I going to do? I sped up. My visor was fogging up from my heavy breathing, but I didn’t care. I just kept going. I should have protected Yaz. My vision started to go because of the speed, but I didn’t slow down.

DING– a message from an anonymous number popped up on the heads-up display in my visor. Through a haze of warm breath I read, “Ventilation Center rooftop 7:00PM.” I stopped.

14

Growing up, everyone knew never to go to the Ventilation Center. When I was in middle school, a kid in my class went there to buy some illegal video games, but he never came back. Coolant runs throughout the entire city to make sure none of the tech overheats, and the Ventilation Center is where it all vents out, leaving the entire area covered in a thick haze.

The bright colors of the city slowly desaturated into a white cloud the further I ventured into the center. It was hard to hear anything under the loud rumblings of the fans, but the occasional sharp noise would send me into shock.

Like a beacon out at sea, I saw the red light of a holophone in the distance. I felt like I was walking through a dream, being magnetically pulled towards the light. But, what if Ryland told the Jin that I’m on to them? The holophone could be like the light of an angler fish– luring me into a pair of deadly jaws.

15

As the light grew bigger, I began to make out the silhouette of a man, “Aurora?”

“Yes,” I didn’t hesitate. I shined the light of my holophone in his face. He squinted “Agh, I’m Officer Matthews– I was at the station.” Not one of these guys again… I sighed and turned around.

“Wait! There’s something you need to know– I’ve been looking into your sister’s kidnapping!”

“And, yeah? You’ve found nothing!” I replied. “It’s the Jin– they have the entire force in their pocket…”

“And why are you telling me this?” He hesitated, “… Because I want to help you.”

I guess they weren’t all bad… Matthews tapped his holophone to mine, marking a location on my GPS, “She’s here.”

“Why are they doing this?” I asked. Matthews had no idea. He disappeared into the fog after telling me that this was all he knew. I looked at the location he marked on my map. She was being held on the Upper North Side?

The UNS is the most affluent area of town. I thought the Jin only operated out of the South Side – this must be some high level stuff. I can’t even get through the forcefield leading to the Upper North Side without enough credits though. Blip.

16

As I drove to Nakamura’s shop, I looked up at Tesla Arena– and then above the stadium to the Upper North Side. I always figured it was so expensive up there because you can watch the races from your house– permanent front row seats.

“Nakamura! I need all the credits you have.” The old man laughed, choking on his ramen, “I haven’t seen you this energetic in a while.”

“Now. Yaz is being held on the UNS, and I need to get up there!” Nakamura stared at me… “Do you know how many credits you need to pass through that forcefield?” I didn’t know.

Nakamura continued, “It’s more than I’ve made in my lifetime.”

“Anything would help…” my breathing picked up. We sat in silence for a second. “If you need money for food, you don’t have to be embarrassed–”

“–I don’t need food! I need money to get my sister!” I tried not to cry in front of the old man, but I couldn’t help myself. I think he could tell that I was being sincere.

“If Yaz is where you say she is… I’ll help you.”

17

Nakamura fiddled with the parts on the underside of my bike, “I just fixed this thing,” a loud electrical hiss came out of my hovercycle, “and now I’m breaking it!”

He let out a grunt as he pulled a small silicon part off of my bike. My hovercycle shot upward! BANG– it rammed into the ceiling. Loose concrete flakes snowed down on Nakamura’s face. I helped the coughing old man to his feet.

“Agh, I just got rid of the regulator,” he handed me the part. So much for my bike being street legal. Hovercycles are only supposed to go a maximum of six inches off the ground, but if I’m going to get up to the UNS, I’m gonna need some height. Nakamura said, “If you try going through the entrance, they’ll know you’re coming– doesn’t matter how many credits you have.”

“So, can I just fly up there now?” He laughed, “no.” Apparently the forcefield around the UNS isn’t just around the entrance– but the entire island! 

I’m going to need to launch myself up to the UNS and somehow disable the forcefield at just the right moment to let myself pass through. Forcefields aren’t just something you can just break through though. Since they’re translucent, there’s a cautionary tongue twister we learn as kids, “Brute forcing through a forcefield leaves you with a broken forehead.”

18

The only people who can get through are government officials… so I messaged Matthews. I made my way through the haze of the Ventilation Center and found him on his holophone.

“So you really want to help?” He responded, “Haven’t I helped enough already?“


“I’m going to need you to disable a segment of the UNS forcefield for me.” He was shocked, “I can’t do that– you know I’d need a warrant?”

“Not for long, just three seconds tops.” Matthews thought for a moment. “I can’t…”

“This is my only option,” Matthews stared at me, “to save my sister…”

“Maybe you are just like the rest of the cops. Not necessarily bad, but just paralyzed by fear. Fear of the Jin, fear of speaking up. You’re willing to help, just as long as you don’t have to do anything.”

Matthews interjected “–I just… I can’t.”

“My sister always told me to be careful, but sometimes you have to risk your life to win the race. If good people like you do nothing – that’s how they win!”

Matthews thought to himself for a moment, “When do you need it deactivated?”

19

People always say that “The City never powers down” – always tourists bumbling around and hovercycles zipping down the streets. But right now, at 4:08AM, it seems pretty quiet to me. Probably some slogan the tourism department came up with.

Matthews should be at the precinct right now… I hope. Nakamura plonked a reinforced helmet on my head. Can’t flip the visor up on this one – it feels it belongs to a fighter pilot.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Aurora?” I looked up at the UNS, “Yes.” We had already broken onto the roof of tallest building we could near the forcefield sector. No turning back now.

Nakamura lugged a massive battery up here that he hooked my hovercycle up to. Usually my bike was silent, but when he touched the jumper cables to my bike, it sounded more like Ryland’s.

4:09. Matthews is going to disable the forcefield at 4:10. “Matthews, can you hear me?” I said into my holophone. He copied.

“Let’s go…” Nakamura stared at me for a second, as if he thought I was going to change my mind – but I just stared back at him. He took a breath and dialed up the battery to the max. I could feel my bike shaking underneath me.

20

I lifted a few inches off the ground, “Alright Aurora, I’m going to need you to–” but before Nakamura finished his sentence – I SHOT into the air!

Blip, my bike was still attached to the jumper cables! The cables unfurled like a whip and anchored my bike to the battery. The jumpers stretched like a rubber band and SNAPPED. I tumbled upward like an out-of-control bottle rocket – the two live wires trailing behind me like a parasite that could kill me at any moment.

4:10. Matthews deactivated the forcefield, but it was too early – or I was too late because of those cables. I saw the small hole slowly shrink as I got closer to the UNS. I’m usually used to the speed, but I could feel myself drifting out of consciousness.

I saw the hole close up… right as I was flying towards it. At my speed, hitting the forcefield will be like slamming into concrete. 

The loud warning beeps coming off my hovercycle jolted me into full awareness. I wish I had stayed unconscious – at least I could die in my sleep. My bike flipped around, flying upward with the torque of a violent storm.

ZAP – one of the wires hit the forcefield! The ENTIRE shield glitched, going in and out of activation. I breezed right through! But I was slowing down? The force field activated right as the bottom of my bike was going through – slicing the bottom off!

I unclipped myself from the bike and began floating to the UNS. Up to Yaz. I looked down at Tesla Arena – it had never seemed so inconsequential.

As I passed into the UNS, I was able to latch onto a small pipe, snapping my wrist back and whipping me against the side of the island. With one arm, the climb was slow, but I finally made my way to the top.

21

I opened the map on my holophone and took note of the Jin’s base. As I made my way down the cobblestone streets, it was pretty obvious to me that these people were different – everyone lived behind their own force field. I was a long way from Gravitar Street now. 

Trees and greenery symbiotically entwined with the latest technology to create a landscape I had never seen before, at least in person anyway. I kept my distance from the black dresses and button ups laughing and stumbling out of nightclubs. I don’t normally worry about my appearance, but for the first time ever I felt self-conscious. I zipped up my hovercycle jacket… these people don’t care about racing.

When I reached the Jin’s base, I was a little confused. Did Matthews give me the wrong address? It just looked like a regular office building to me. No guards, no dogs, not even a forcefield – nothing… 

I stepped onto the expansive marble floor and walked across the barren lobby to a small desk where I was greeted by a smiley robot concierge, “What can I do for you miss?”

I’m looking for the Jin?

22

“I… I think I might have the wrong building,” I turned around. But before I could even take a step, the concierge responded “–Well, where are you looking to go?”

Blip… “I’m uh looking for the nightclub.” I don’t know why I said that – this lobby was clearly not a nightclub!

“Which one? I’d love to help you find it!” Her bug eyes stared at me like gun barrels. It was almost as if she already knew that I was up to something… but she seemed so sincere.

“Um, I’ll have to ask my friend–” She interjected, “–great, I’ll get you directions once you let me know.” The concierge turned to her computer monitor. I messaged Matthews, “I’m in the lobby – HELP!”

A man in a suit came out of the golden elevator doors – tapping something against the desk to sign himself out. “Goodnight Robin!” he said to her. I locked eyes with him, and he smiled at me. I contorted my face into a nervous twitching grin. I can’t be in the right place…

Matthews messaged back, “What do you expect it to look like – a castle with a river of lava around it?  Get out of the lobby! Steal a keycard or something.”

I headed for the door before Robin interrupted, “– which nightclub are you going to?” I responded, “Don’t worry, my friend sent me the directions, thanks!”

“You headed to Dragon’s Den?” asked the man in the suit. “Uh, yes, exactly.”

“Great, I’m headed there too. I’ll show you where it is, you’re going to laugh.” The man extended his hand, “I’m Kai”

Kai had a gold ring on his right pinky with a dragon on it – the symbol of the Jin. I never thought that I would shake a member of the Jin’s hand, “I’m… Persepolis!” I smiled…

23

Kai and I walked around the corner. The only sound I could hear was the clanking of my racing boots on the stone. What was I doing?

“So… you like racing?” Ugh, he’s trying to make small talk. Can’t he just give me his keycard and go away?


“Yes.” We continued in silence, but he just kept talking, “That’s a nice jacket you have, very uh…”

“–dirty?” I interrupted. He laughed, “No I was going to say unique. You’re a trendsetter. No surprise you’re going to Dragons Den.”

Kai turned into a dark alleyway. I knew he thought I was up to something… “You coming?” Kai asked.

Why would I walk into a hidden unlit area to get murdered by a member of the Jin? I only could let out an, “I…” before a stumbling drunk tumbled out of a door in the alleyway, being thrust outside by the loud blast of a subwoofer.

I guess this is it… “Yeah, let’s go!”

“Makes sense you couldn’t find this place on the map!” shouted Kai. I could barely hear him over the blasting techno music. Holograms of battling dragons slithered through the air above our heads. Everyone danced around like fools… These are society’s wealthiest and brightest?

“So… where’s your friend?” asked Kai. “What!” I pretended not to hear him. Blip, where is my friend? “I said, where’s your friend? She’s welcome to come to my table. Tell her to say she knows Kai at the door, I run the place”

“Thanks! She’s on her way now.” We sat at a table shrouded in the VIP corner of the underground sweat bomb. Kai gave me a drink, but I just held it. As he downed drink after drink, Kai told me about growing up in the UNS and how he was one of the only racing fan up here.

“Let’s dance,” stated Kai. I was actually starting to like him, but as he grabbed my hand to drag me onto the dance floor, I could feel the cold gold of his Jin ring.

I hate this – I can’t dance! Kai was on the floor doing the worm… like the snake he is. I tried doing the robot, but with every move, I felt my awkwardness ratchet up a notch. “I think I’m going to go back to the table!” I shouted to Kai. But when I looked down, he was almost passed out on the floor.

24

Kai stumbled back to our table with me. Since he loosened up a little, he started pointing out other members of the Jin, or as he called them “colleagues.” Was he trying to impress me? “This guy, Mr Shin, is… he’s in charge of,“ slurred Kai, “… the finances. Takes a cut of my money!”

Interesting… I gave Kai a close mouthed smile. “Do you want to go to the back?” I asked as I slid my hand onto his knee. “You do run this place, right…?” Gross.

Kai walked me to a small coat closet in the back of the club that was cordoned off by a velvet curtain. As he leaned in to kiss me, I leaned in with my fist. I POPPED him right in the mouth and drove my racing boot into his jaw. He was out cold. Perfect. I rummaged through his wallet: credit card, ID, hover car license? But no access card! Blip.

I shoved the wallet back into his jacket. What did he use to sign out? The only other thing he had on him was… his ring. I slipped the gold ring onto my finger and left Kai in the closet to be discovered by some waiter.

Cool air rushed onto my face as I exited the club. My ears were ringing. Time to get Yaz.

I marched into the lobby of the Jin’s base – determined. Robin’s head shifted in my direction. “Can I help you with–”

I flashed the ring. Robin’s voice changed on a dime “–Welcome back.” The elevator doors opened… As I stepped into the golden pod, I was greeted with 5 different floors – Blip! Where could Yaz be?

As the elevator doors shut me in, I noticed small specs of red against the white marble floor of the lobby.

My racing boots – I still had Kai’s blood smeared on them! As I bent down to wipe my boots, the elevator shot upward.

“Welcome back – Kai”

I guess I don’t have much of a choice over where I’m going. I wiped my boots off with the inside of my jacket.

Floor 3… 4… 5… – to the top it is. The elevator stopped, and the pod settled in. The doors slowly opened into a glass walkway that linked two towers of the building.

25

I just stood there for a second, thinking of what to do, where to go. But there was only one path to take. The second I stepped into the hall, the elevator doors shut behind me. I was exposed on all sides.

My careful footsteps rang out, echoing through the entire walkway as I walked to the door on the other side. When I finally got the courage to open up the door, I saw an expansive warehouse. A labyrinth of hallways created by boxes and crates laid before me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see someone walking towards me. I pivoted, walking to the closest door I could find. “Are you looking for anything?” I ignored the question and picked up the pace.

SLAM – I shut the door behind me and practically tripped up the stairwell, throwing myself onto the roof of the building! There was nobody up here… The only structure I could see was a small glass skylight that protruded slightly.When I looked down, I saw the maze of halls on the floor below. Guards stood in every row. I studied the layout. I looked at every guard and every path to take. But something caught my eye – a glass cube in the center of it all. I could see her. Trapped inside… it was Yaz.

26

I thought that I had lost Yaz forever, but now all that separates us are two panes of glass.

“Can I help you?” I jumped! A man armed with a laser pistol stood near the rooftop door. “Um yes, actually” I flashed my ring. He holstered the pistol. “I’m looking for the girl who makes those booster devices,” I replied. The man looked at my jacket, “You’re one of our racers?” I nodded yes.

“How do you know who makes the boosters?” He slowly walked towards me-“Kai sent me.”

“From the nightclub division?” The guard extended his hand. When I shook, he gripped my fingers and yanked them close to his face! “Kai Tanaka” he read the small engraving off the gold ring. Blip, I’m screwed!

I reached for his pistol with my other hand, but he squeezed my fingers even harder – bending my already injured wrist backwards!

The guard reached across his body for the gun, but I weasled it out of the holster! CLICK – I pointed the laser gun at him, and his hands shot up in the air. “What do you want?”

“I need…” I thought about my next steps, but I was kind of surprised that I was holding a laser pistol – civilians can’t buy these things! “I need your clothes.”

I slipped the guard’s uniform over my racing jacket, locked him on the roof, and went back to the warehouse. I made my way through the maze of crates, smiling at each guard as I passed. There she was.

“Yaz!” I whispered. Her neck whipped around, instantly – the reaction only a familiar voice can bring about. “I’m gonna get you out of here.” Tears formed in Yaz’s eyes.

“You have to get out of here Aurora.” She looked beaten down. “Not without my sister” I replied.

“How do I open this?” I put my hand on the glass. She put her hand up to mine – it was plexiglass, thick, like a shark tank.

“I’m telling you Aurora, get out of here now, they’re going to kill you. These people don’t mess around” I heard a series of loud KNOCKS! The other guards looked around, unable to place the noise, but I knew where they were coming from.

The skylight – the guard was banging on the roof in his underwear, letting out muffled screams!

I looked at Yaz. She knew that I had to leave her. If I’m going to get her out of here – I can’t do it alone.

27

KNOCK KNOCK – I banged on Ryland’s front door! I knew he was in there, just ignoring me, “Open up Ryland!”

I could hear his footsteps inside, “I’m sure the cops would love to know that you’re working with the–”

His door came flying open! “–What do you want?”

“I need your help Costa.” He stared at me confused, pretending that he had no idea what I was talking about. “With what?”

“They’re holding Yaz on the UNS… I saw her.”

“The Jin, on the UNS?” Ryland smirked, “I know it’s hard losing your sister Aurora, but you’re not thinking straight.” He started closing the front door on me – BAM, I blocked the door with my boot, and shoved Kai’s ring in his face!

“I saw her!” Ryland’s face turned as white as my knuckles that were being constricted by the ring… “Where, where did you get that?”

“I got it from a guy who messed with my sister.” Ryland opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. “I need your help. Please! You know that they have her.”

“What do you even need me for?”

Wasn’t it obvious? “I need to break her out of there… and I need someone as fast as I am to help – I need you.”

28

I could tell that Ryland was flattered, but I’m not sure how far that’ll get me with someone like him. It’s not in his interest to help me… but he hasn’t slammed the door in my face yet. Maybe it’s the desperation in my voice that’s keeping this whole interaction afloat?

“And if I don’t help you?” asked Ryland.

“Then I go to the cops and tell them everything…” Ryland stayed quiet for a moment before asking, “Tell them what?”

“Can we stop blipping pretending? The Jin. I’d tell them about–!”

“–Shh! Do you know what they would do to me if they found out?”

“Yes. I do.” I responded.

I could tell by the way Ryland looked at the floor that he was conflicted. He said, “I’ll contact you tomorrow…” I moved my boot, and he shut the door, leaving only a crack, “And by the way Aurora… The cops already know I work with the Jin.”

SLAM.

29

I don’t think he’s coming, Aurora” said Nakamura.

“He’ll be here.” I responded. Officer Matthews looked around the shop, paranoid.

“Don’t worry son, you’re safe here,” Nakamura put his hand on Matthews’ shoulder, “Back when racing was illegal I couldn’t be seen with Anton Jones.” Matthews contorted his face, confused. “No windows.” Nakamura smiled.

WOOSH! The door flew open, startling Matthew’s – but not me. It was Ryland.

“Sorry I’m late.” He ripped off a bite of his sandwich…

“Yeah it’s not like we’re in a rush or anything” I replied. Ryland hunkered down at the table like a gunslinger. I guess we’re all here, “Matthews?”

Officer Matthews slid his holophone to the center of the table. A three-dimensional matrix projected into the air above the phone. It was a map of the UNS.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Ryland.

“Glad you finally asked.”

30

“… I don’t think he’s coming Aurora” said Nakamura.

“He’ll be here.” I responded. Officer Matthews looked around the shop, paranoid.

“Don’t worry son, you’re safe here,” Nakamura put his hand on Matthews’ shoulder, “Back when racing was illegal I couldn’t be seen with Anton Jones.” Matthews contorted his face, confused. “No windows.” Nakamura smiled.

WOOSH! The door flew open, startling Matthew’s – but not me. It was Ryland.

“Sorry I’m late.” He ripped off a bite of his sandwich…

“Yeah it’s not like we’re in a rush or anything” I replied. Ryland hunkered down at the table like a gunslinger. I guess we’re all here, “Matthews?”

Officer Matthews slid his holophone to the center of the table. A three-dimensional matrix projected into the air above the phone. It was a map of the UNS.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Ryland.

“Glad you finally asked.”

31

My arms flourished as I pushed and pulled the 3D map in closer – zooming in on the Jin’s base. “Alright, Matthews, we’re going to need to pass through the forcefield at 4:00 on the dot – got it?” Matthews nodded.

“Costa, you and I are going to enter the base from the roof. We’ll use our bikes to get up there.” Ryland took the last bite of his sandwich. “Ryland?” He responded, “Yeah I got it.”

“Mr. Nakamura, you have the helmets?”

CLANK – Nakamura slammed a large iron racing helmet down on the table. “Before we go in, Nakamura is going to re-route the coolant gas through the vents. The guards should funnel out, but these helmets will let us breathe.”

Matthews asked, “What about Yaz?”

“We’re going to have to act quickly.”

Ryland knocked his fist against the dense helmet, “If I tip my head with this on it’ll snap my neck.”

“Then you’ll have to stay still… Matthews did you install the app?”

 

“Yes” he replied, “We usually only use this in hostage situations, but if you put your holophone to the lock on the glass cube, it should be able to crack the code.”

“Perfect, we leave tonight. Nobody better bail.” I looked at Ryland – he cocked his eyebrow. I put my hand in the center of the table, reaching for my holophone, but Nakamura put his hand on top of mine. “We used to do this before races back in the day, come on,” said a smiling Nakamura.

Matthews put his hand in, and eventually Ryland.

We’re coming to get you Yaz…

32

Ryland and I skidded down the stairwell and into the storage room. Guards were bumping into each other – fumbling and yelling. Perfect. I locked the stairwell door and made my way to the cube.

“HEY! THIS WAY” yelled one of the guards. Like an ant colony, they smushed into the glass walkway connecting the two buildings.

I could hear every breath echo throughout my heavy iron helmet. CLANK – I slammed into the glass cube, “Yaz!” She looked at me, breathing heavily, “Get me out of here!” I flipped up my visor, “Aurora?”

I started coughing from the coolant, so I flipped down my visor and stuck the holophone to the lock of the cube, “I’m getting you out of here!”

“ELEVATOR USE NOT PERMITTED DURING A COOLANT LEAK – PLEASE USE THE STAIRS” said the robotic voice on the loudspeaker. Blip!

The guards were all packed into the elevator, but if they come back here I’m done for! “Nakamura, the bike!” shouted Ryland. Mr Nakamura’s bike was parked under the glass walkway connecting the buildings.

The old man looked upward and back at his bike. He YANKED the lever on his center console, sending his hovercycle up like a firework, hurtling through the air!

The bike SHATTERED the entire walkway, leaving the guards stranded! Shards of glass exploded into the sky like rainbow comets, catching the light of the electronic billboards down below.

This should buy us some time, but Yaz’s breathing was getting shallower. She banged on the glass! I need to get this helmet on her – fast.

33

The soles of the guard’s sneakers teetered over the edge of the walkway. Glass rained down, slicing Nakamura’s back.

The glass cube was filling up with coolant – I could barely see Yaz anymore. The holophone was still working on cracking the lock… Blip. Yaz was losing air, fast. I took off my helmet and SLAMMED it into the glass!

“YAZ!” I choked on the coolant, but kept smashing my helmet repeatedly – BANG, BANG, BANG! But nothing formed… not even a crack. I could feel myself getting dizier, going in and out of consciousness. My vision blurred, and I blacked out…

Muffled banging started to pull me out of my unconscious state. Between every bang, I drifted back into the blackness until I heard the loud SHATTERING of glass! I jolted up, but my head stuck to the floor with magnetic attraction. My head was being weighed down by the weight of Ryland’s helmet.

He broke through the glass and was carrying Yaz! Ryland held his breath and plonked my helmet onto Yaz.

BEEP – the holophone finally cracked the lock on the broken glass cube! Great timing…

As Ryland and I climbed the stairs, I made sure to support Yaz’s limp head. When we opened the door to the rooftops, our hovercycles were still there. We’re getting out of here!

VROOM, a sharp rumble caught my ear… The guards were all on hover cycles in a V formation on the rooftop across from us. At the head of their arrangement was Robin the robot concierge and Kai…

The LEDs in Robin’s yellow eyes turned red. Kai smiled with missing teeth.

34

Ryland placed Yaz on the back of my hovercycle and tied her unconscious body to mine with his leather jacket.

Robin’s head cocked sideways. Her entire head spun around, picking up speed like it was mounted on an electric drill. Her body mechanically popped and clicked, shifting shape into a hovercycle! Kai got on her back.

Ryland hopped on his bike. “I’ll get Nakamura – you need to get out of here.” He flipped down his visor and gunned his engine! He went right, I went left. The guards went after Ryland, Kai and Robin went after me.

As I skidded from rooftop to rooftop, an imposing red hue took over the Upper North Side. The advertisements on the multicolored billboards shifted into wanted posters with my, Ryland’s, and Nakamura’s face on full display:

“WANTED: KIDNAPPING 17 YEAR OLD YAZ ANOKI”

BANG – my bike was hit! Small machine guns popped out of Robin’s shoulders. “You think you can take my ring and get away with it?“ yelled Kai!

35

I hurtled downwards, slamming between the two limestone buildings like a ball in pong, chipping away at the ornate exteriors with every hit. I tucked my body in tightly, gripping Yaz’s hand, until we slammed into the concrete below.

“GAH!” Yaz coughed and opened her eyes. “Aurora, where are we?”

“We’re getting you home…” Kai floated gently down to the street, his laugh growing louder as he grew closer to me and my sister. “Nice to see you again Persepolis!” I propped up my leg to stand.

SMASH – Kai kicked his racing boot straight through the visor on my helmet, filling my mouth with glass. “Or should I say Aurora…”

“Kai. You don’t want to do this…” I spit blood.

“A tooth for a tooth.” Kai motioned to us, and Robin’s guns shifted, pointing directly at our heads.

I sliced my mouth on glass shards as I yelled, “Take me instead! I’ll build your boosters – what did my sister do to deserve this?!”

I coughed, “Kai, I don’t know what they told you, but my sister’s only 17!”

Kai looked at Yaz. My sister pleaded, “… Please let us go.” His angled eyebrows inverted from anger… to doubt.

Like an eagle obscuring the blood moon, Ryland silhouetted the scarlet billboards above us, leaping from one building to the next with Nakamura on the back of his bike.

“Ryland!” I yelled. He looked down at me and Yaz!

Kai motioned to Robin to call off the guns and sped away.

36

“Matthews, are we headed towards the exit point?” Ryland asked into his holophone. We ripped down the streets of the UNS on Ryland’s bike, sending name-brand purses and white button ups flying in our wake.

“Turn right, and you’ll be off the island!” As Ryland made his way around the corner, my fingertips gripped the back of his bike even tighter. Before I could even process what was in front of us, my body jolted forwards, and we stopped short.

“…Blip.” All of the Jin’s guards were in front of us, sitting on hovercycles. Worst of all, they all had Yaz’s boosters on them. “Turn around,” whispered Nakamura!

I took out my holophone, “Matthews, change of plan!” Ryland whipped the bike around, “Hold off on the forcefield deactivation!”

“Why, what happened?”

“I said change of plans!” Ryland traced our steps, looking for a way off the island, darting around the labyrinthine cityscape until we made it – the edge of the island! We made a beeline for the edge, about to go straight off the cliff, “Matthews, deactivate segment K28-A, now!”

“This might take a second!” responded Matthews. The guards trailed closely behind us. I looked back and saw them all reach for their boosters. They pushed their joysticks forward… We’re done for.

Nothing happened? The guard’s bikes continued to coast forward… The guards looked around confused. Yaz smiled…

BOOM – the guard’s bikes were engulfed in balls of flames emanating from the booster devices. Hovercycle parts ricocheted off the cobblestone, flying in all directions. The shockwave from the explosion launched us off the edge of the island!

“You didn’t think I’d actually build them boosters?” said Yaz. Nakamura smiled, “You redirected the power supply!” CLANK – shrapnel from one of the guard’s hovercycles was propelled through our bike, piercing our regulator!

37

We were free falling, the nose of our hovercycle dipping straight down to the South Side. Yaz’s body levitated off the seat of the bike – I pulled her back in! The forcefield started to open.

Ryland yelled into his holophone “Matthews, close the field!”

“What?” Matthews’s voice sounded pixelated.

“Matthews! Close it, our regulator is broken. We stand a better chance of hitting the forcefield than the ground!” We only heard choppy static coming from Matthews end of the phone…

Yaz grit her teeth as we threaded the needle through the forcefield opening, watching it seal up above us. I guess we’ll have to brace for impact.

ZAP – Nakamura ripped a wire out of the back of the bike, “Yaz! Get me the wire that hooks up to the front!”

Something clicked in Yaz’s brain. Her adrenaline filled concentration pierced through her anxiety, and she got to work. She and Nakamura were ripping wires and bending metal, communicating almost telepathically.

WOOSH – we fell below the skyline, our bike just skimming the top of a skyscraper. I tucked in and braced for impact! “Yaz, get down!”

Her focus wasn’t broken. Yaz and Nakamura touched two wires together – I could hear the regulator start to boot up! But the ground got closer every second. I closed my eyes, and felt the upward G force of the regulator pull on my face!

BANG – our bike slammed into the ground as it slowed down, crumpling and twisting, flinging us off in every direction like an overclocked merry go round. I landed on my feet, the bottom of my racing boots sawing off like rubber erasers. Nakamura rolled on the concrete, and Ryland and Yaz were sent through the glass pane of a nearby building.

Nakamura stood up slowly – not bad for an old man. I ran to go check on Yaz and Ryland, but they were already on their feet.

Yaz ran and hugged me. I collapsed to my knees.

38

Yaz and I sat in the Korean restaurant in near silence. The robo-waitress brought us our usual order – bibimbap. “What now?” Yaz asked. I broke the yolk of the egg sitting on top of my food and thought to myself, “I don’t know… I can’t go back to racing”

DING – I heard someone walk into the restaurant. It was Officer Matthews! “Hey!” Matthews didn’t hear me.

“Officer Matthews!” Yaz waved at him, but he didn’t pay us any attention… “Wow, too cool for us already?” He walked past our table and slipped us a small note…

“GET OUT OF HERE NOW. THEY ARE LOOKING FOR YOU!”

I hopped on my new hovercycle, Yaz on the back, and we just rode, unsure of where we were going next. The light coming from the multicolored billboards felt warm. She rested her head on the back of my racing jacket. Even though we were running from the Jin, I had never felt more at peace.

1

Everyone in Syzygy loves street racing. It all started when the hovercycle was announced. It didn’t take long before our streets became a stadium. Suddenly the floating walkways transformed into tracks, and our neon street lamps became finish lines. My first memory is almost getting run over by Anton Jones while buying an ice cream – I loved it. I mean it’s Anton blipping Jones!

Street racing was outlawed – the pioneers of the sport constantly getting arrested. Whenever I would see one of their wanted posters on my holophone, I would screenshot it and project it on my wall. Street racing was underground, it was dangerous, and it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Even though the corporations started cashing in on the subculture, street racing prevailed, and now it’s pretty much all we’re known for.

Our city is often compared to a coral reef: fluorescent, dense, layered, and swimming with life. But don’t let the glitz blind you. Sharks are always hiding in the shadows. Street racing still hasn’t fully escaped it’s mob roots. The only reason someone like Jones could make bail was the Jin. He was on their good side – as long as he threw a race or two.

Before the hovercycle, our city was actually pretty boring. As much as I love racing, those days were simpler. My parents were around, and my biggest worry in life was which video game to beat my younger sister Yaz in.

We grew up in the South Side. Now, that’s somewhere the sun don’t shine– literally. The city became a global stage when Tesla built a massive arena that floats above our neighborhood. Nobody could sell their house, and my hometown slowly turned into a loosely connected base for the Jin.

As a kid, I would stare up at the arena and pretend the small neon advertisements were stars –wishing that one day I would be able to race there. It’s all I’ve ever wanted really. The qualifying race is in two days, and I’m going to win.

Tesla Arena here I come.

2

Yaz and I picked up dinner at the Korean place down the street. We were running low on credits, but we’re still ok. I really need to win tomorrow though.

Our unit wasn’t like the ones you find in those fancy towers downtown, but it was enough for us and we’ve made a lot of good memories here. As long as I keep winning races it’s home.

The night before a race, Yaz usually chatted my ear off about the bike, who we were racing against the next day, weather patterns, wind velocity. If there was something I needed to watch out for, she had it covered. Most of it went in one ear and out the other if I’m being honest. I just strapped in and let instinct take over.

But tonight, she was strangely quiet.

Anyone else wouldn’t have noticed, but I did. That’s what it’s like when you’re two minds who think like one.

“What’s going on?” I said as she scooped a smaller-than-usual of bibimbap on her plate.

The question startled her. Like I’d snapped her out of a dream. And not a good one.

“Huh? Nothing.”

“This is your favorite meal. And there’s a race tomorrow. Usually I can’t shut you up –”

“Look, I just have a bad feeling…”

I pressed her for more information, but I don’t think even she knew what was bothering her.

“I don’t know why, but I can’t shake this…never mind. You know, I shouldn’t be messing with your head before a race.”

Her voice trailed off and we ate the rest of the meal in strained silence. Later that night I tried to relax and get some sleep. Always seems impossible the night before a race. Yaz’s bed was only a few feet from mine, and even in the pitch black apartment, I could see she was still awake. If Yaz was worried about me, she never spoke it. Usually, she just took care of every possible problem before it happened and that was how she dealt. But now…maybe this is something.

3

CLANK! A loud mechanical thud jolted me out of my sleep. My excitement kept me up late, so this was the last thing I needed… Especially on race day.

I tapped on my window, taking it off tint-mode. Yaz was standing panicked in the street next to my bike – which had fallen over! “YAZ!” … She couldn’t hear me through our soundproof windows. I thought she was supposed to be the best mechanic in the entire city, but she tips my bike over?

I threw on my uniform and took the pneumatic tube down to the street. A flurry of profuse apologies and excuses came out of Yaz’s mouth. But there was no use in yelling at her. She already felt bad enough.

“My shoe got caught in the capacitor, and I almost–” I cut her off.

“What can we do about this?”

Yaz and I quietly walked over to Mr Nakamura’s shop – I’ve never met anyone who knew more about racing than that old man. As I pushed my bike down the street, I noticed that a small joystick had been installed on the console. “Can I play videogames on this thing now?”

“It’s a booster… I haven’t tested it yet.” Yaz was still quieter than she usually was.

“Mr. Nakamura!” Yaz’s quiet spell didn’t last too long. Nakamura was lying on his back under a bike. The small hoverboard he was resting on shot out from under the hovercycle and launched him on to his feet! Pretty spry for a 70 year old.

“Yaz! What brings you here?”

I interjected, “We need a capacitor.”

“A capacitor… do you have the credits for that?” I didn’t. But I knew I would after my race today. I’d have enough credits for all the capacitors in his rinkadink shop.

“If Aurora wins today, she’ll qualify to race in Tesla Arena,” bragged Yaz. Nakamura seemed impressed, but tried to keep his cool.

“Last time someone came to this shop before a stadium race was Kawai Hopper.” Such a name dropper… But he’s always supported young racers. I never understood why someone like him never raced himself.

Nakamura handed Yaz a capacitor, “My investment… in the both of you.” He looked at me. I looked back at the old man. I wasn’t going to let him down. I watched Yaz crank the capacitor into place – my hovercycle lifted off the concrete. It was officially race day.

4

When Yaz and I pulled up to the race line, I started to realize how tough this was going to be.

Usually, you see a few big names at a race with a decent purse. Three, maybe four. Not today. These are the best racers in Syzygy. Guys I’d just barely beaten, and the ones who left me in the dust. All here. All ready to win.

I found us a spot to get ready and had barely turned the engine off before Yaz was fiddling with the shiny new tech she’d installed – figuring out if it would rocket me past the finish line or shoot me out into the atmosphere.

I saw Sway walking our way, decked out in his neon jumpsuit like always. He was a rabbit, always going after a big lead, making you burn fuel just to keep pace.

Ryland Costa was right behind him. His bike was overly mechanical and heavy. If he was hit by a truck, I’m not even sure his bike would flip over.

2600 was getting ready too. He was one of those robots that got cast out after they were replaced by a newer model. Now he races for his own parts.

Wait is that…? It couldn’t be– Angie. She’s a legend, as tough as she is pretty. I’ve seen her bury plenty of guys who were too busy checking her out to notice she’d blown right by them on the track.

So many top racers. Each one a killer.

As I scanned the crowd, trying to look tough, I thought about their stories, how they got here. To Syzygy. To this race. My mind drifted. Stay focused Aurora.

Yaz was all business. The capacitor from Nakamura seems to have taken her mind off whatever bad premonitions she was having. She snapped me back into reality.

“Listen up,” she said in her usual no-nonsense way, “The booster’s going to work. If you fall back, burn it and hold on with everything you’ve got.”

She flipped the visor down on my helmet.

“Time to press start – don’t die”

5

Out of the dark, the headlights shot at me like bullets. I weaved my motorcycle through the hovercars as they came hurtling in my direction. As I emerged from the tunnel in central Syzygy, a dizzying onslaught of neon obscured my sight.

As my vision sharpened, so did the edges of the huge screens that glimmered atop the skyline. A blast of wind coming from my right side threw my ponytail across my shoulder. It was Ryland Costa – blip!

I trailed Ryland’s motorcycle as he bombed down the glossy black street. The explosive roar of his engine caused a businessman waiting at the intersection to fumble his holophone. Ryland always lacked precision, brute forcing his way to the finish line of every race.

He needs the open stretches, but I can take him on the turns. I cut the apex, slicing sharply through the small space between two skyscrapers, emerging with Ryland in my sights.

When I glanced down at my monitor, I couldn’t see any racers behind me. It was just me and Ryland. I tracked my eyes to the joystick Yaz installed in the center console of my bike. “BE CAREFUL” was carved into the side.

I was gaining on Ryland but running out of time. As I drifted onto Gravitar Street, I knew my chances at victory were slim. He was shooting towards the finish line like a laser– the crowd cheering on either side of him.

In moments like these, it’s as if time stops, the screams of the crowd sound like muffled wind. The only thing I feel is the hum of my engine and the road beneath me. Just me and my bike. I smashed the button on top of my joystick and gunned the engine. The bike was like a rocket– the G force pulling on my face.

My vision started vignetting. Many would have lost consciousness, but for those of us who love the speed, this is what racing is all about. I was gaining on Ryland– 267mph– and all that mattered were the inches that separated us. I tucked my body tightly to the bike, pressing my joystick down with all my might. In that final moment, I felt myself slice through the light of the holographic finish line– the crowd roared.

I was going to Tesla Arena.

6

When I pulled back on the joystick, my bike came to a screeching halt, skidding across the pavement. If I had stopped a second later, I would have crashed into the crowd. As Ryland’s bike was winding down, he slammed his helmet to the ground.

A few moments later, the rest of the racers turned the corner. An irregular flurry of zips and zooms broke through the holographic finish line. In third was Angie, then 2600, and then I think the next to cross was Sway? It was hard to tell.

Yaz ran in my direction, smothering me in a hug. Over my shoulder she said, “You shouldn’t have cut through those buildings!” I responded with the obvious, “I had to.” Yaz hesitated, “You can’t win if you’re dead, Aurora.” She had a point. “I knew the bike could make the turn, you’re my mechanic!”

I knew that Ryland was a sore loser, but I couldn’t resist going over and shaking his hand. As I approached him, I noticed that he was talking to a couple members of the Jin. Not really talking with them; he was being talked at…

A stocky mobster was resting the sole of his boot on Ryland’s helmet. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it didn’t look good. The mobster pushed his mechanical leg down– denting the helmet– and walked away.

As I got close to Ryland, I opened my mouth to speak, but he interrupted with “How do you just keep winning?”

I looked over at my sister, “You just gotta have a secret weapon.” Ryland looked away and drove off.

7

Yaz and I went to the Korean place to celebrate. The robo-waitress brought us our usual order– bibimbap. “You know the reason I spend so much time working on your bike?” Yaz asked. To me the answer was obvious, “So we can have money for bibimbap?”

“No… Because if you turned the corner and your bike skidded out from under you, it would be my fault.” I stopped stuffing my face. “Well, know that if I crash, it’ll be my fault then!” I laughed, but Yaz didn’t. I reassured her, “I’ll be more careful next time…”

Yaz and I waltzed out of the restaurant with the confidence of gunslingers– our stomachs full. When we peered down the block, we saw that Nakamura’s shop was closed. It would have been nice to give him the good news, but I sometimes forget how old he is…

A boy in a toy hoverbike helmet raced up to me and Yaz. “Are you… are you,” he was clearly out of breath, “Aurora?” The boy shoved his holophone in Yaz’s direction, and we took a picture together. Yaz didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that she wasn’t in the photo. She never really liked public attention. The solitude of her workshop is what drives her.

8

I was lying in my bed and started thinking about what Yaz said at the restaurant. Maybe she was right? I shouldn’t be so reckless. Is Tesla Arena worth giving my life for? Hmm. Probably.

As I was drifting off, I thought I heard my window go into tint mode… But it was too distant– could be coming from Yaz’s room? The tint-mode sounds kept repeating. On off, on off, on off… It was kind of relaxing.

The relaxing melody was interrupted by a loud SCREAM followed by the sound of shattering glass!

9

I scrambled into Yaz’s room. Her window was shattered, and she was nowhere to be found. Glass shards were scattered around a row of large bootprints. Tears ran into the back of my throat, and instinct took over.

I heard footprints coming from above– they were on the rooftop! I hopped down the pneumatic tube, took to the street, and got on my bike. I looked up, and Yaz was tied down to a hoverbike that was jumping from rooftop to rooftop. The shadowy figure driving the bike was being silhouetted by the multicolored billboards. I bombed down the empty streets, following my sister.

I broke my line of sight to look down at the joystick– “BE CAREFUL” throwing my bike into full throttle. I forgot my helmet. The wind was blinding. At this speed, even a fly would hit my skull like a bullet. But I had to keep my eyes open. I couldn’t lose Yaz.

I turned onto one of the floating walkways, accelerating up the incline. As I approached the top step, I tucked myself into my bike and sailed into the air towards the rooftops. My body jackknifed as my bike slowly fell out from under me.

SLAM– the hoverbike briefly collided with the concrete rooftop before re-calibrating, but I landed squarely on my seat. I powered through the spinal pain from the impact. Yaz was in my sights.

10

The wind and tears obscured my vision into a pool of fluorescent colors. I felt like I was falling down a kaleidoscopic wormhole to hell. Billboards raced by me one after the other, but I wasn’t getting any closer to Yaz. Actually… my bike was slowing down.

I tried to push the joystick forward, but it was already at maximum capacity. I looked down and saw that the entire underside of my bike had dented in! My hoverbike sputtered to a halt, and the black dot that was Yaz and the mysterious figure got smaller and smaller, shrinking into the sea of lights.

I dismounted my bike and sprinted after them– choking on my tears and trying to squint my vision back to normal. I couldn’t see them, but I still had to keep running. I couldn’t stop.

Even though I was running, in the back of my mind, I knew it was aimless. I knew I had lost them. I knew I had lost Yaz.

11

The police station was oddly industrial and felt out of place with the rest of the city. I guess tourists don’t come here, so it doesn’t matter. The last time I was at the station was after the accident with my parents. The air was so stagnant in the waiting room that it was probably unchanged from my childhood.

“Aurora?” I followed one of the cops into an interrogation room. A monotonous train of procedural questions came out of the officer’s mouth. I answered all of them truthfully, but intrusive thoughts of Yaz persisted. I must have looked glazed over because the officer offered me a glass of water to calm my nerves.

Days came and went. The police scanned the boot print in Yaz’s room but couldn’t find a match. I couldn’t even go in there to repair the window– Nakamura fixed it for me. He fixed my hovercycle too, but I couldn’t think of racing. It just seemed empty. Tesla Arena seemed empty.

12

I don’t have much of an appetite, but I’ve been getting my food from the diner next to the Korean place. Last night while I was eating, that kid in the toy racing helmet came up to me. He wanted to tell me that he got his first hovercycle or something like that. I must have snapped at him because he ran away crying. I don’t even know.

When I tried entering the Kebab shop for some breakfast, my face slammed into the forcefield: “LOW CREDIT BALANCE.” Blip… My race at Tesla Arena was still a few months off. I needed money. Do I even want to do it without Yaz? Can I do it without Yaz?

Racing never felt more like a job than it did that night. I pulled up to the starting line, right next to Ryland. It all felt very mechanical– like I was just going through the motions. The headrush from the speed felt more like a headache. “BE CAREFUL.” Who cares?

I was in the lead– of course– but as I was going down the home stretch, Ryland surpassed me with a speed I’ve never seen come from his bike! “COSTA WINS!” And the crowd went wild… At least I’ll get the runner up prize money.

The Jin slipped Ryland his usual kickback before I walked up to him. “Want some advice Aurora?” I didn’t respond. “You just gotta have a secret weapon.” He laughed in my face.

I would have spit in his face if I didn’t still have my visor down. As I took off my helmet, I noticed that Ryland had a small joystick installed in the center of his console… Like the one Yaz made for me.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked. “Why would I tell you– so can beat me again?! This is a new era Aurora…”

“No,” I whipped my bike around to show him the console, “My sister made this for me.” Ryland looked down. It was identical to the booster on his console. “Well, maybe your sister is trying to make a little money on the side…” He started walking away– dented helmet in hand.

I charged him yelling, “She’s been missing for months!” Costa stopped. When I shoved him, he remained steady like a brick. Something clicked in Ryland’s head. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I knew that he was hiding something. I gripped his leather jacket– “Where’d you get it Costa?”

13

I had never seen a man with so many tattoos look so scared. He pulled me in close. Close enough so that we could talk under our breath.

“It’s the Jin,” he said, “they gave me the booster.” I looked down. It was identical to the one in Yaz’s room…“These are not people you want to mess with Aurora.”

“You’ve seemed to mess with them your entire career–”

“–and I wish I hadn’t!”

“She’s my sister.” I can’t take on the Jin by myself. I flipped my visor down and ripped it over of the precinct.

I showed the cops the images on my holophone, but they kept telling me that Yaz was probably dead, that they did their investigation already, and that I should move on– bureaucratic talk.

They offered me some water because I was in a frenzy. The more I tried to explain that it was the Jin, the more they acted like I was crazy, “You have no proof that your sister made that booster device you saw.”

I snapped, “I can handle it– you’re the ones not doing your jobs!” My yelling rang out. The precinct was quiet. I couldn’t stand everyone staring at me with pity in their eyes. These cops were useless when my parents died, and they’re useless now.

I crushed the cup of water under my boot and stormed out. I hopped back on my bike and just drove– fast. What was I going to do? I sped up. My visor was fogging up from my heavy breathing, but I didn’t care. I just kept going. I should have protected Yaz. My vision started to go because of the speed, but I didn’t slow down.

DING– a message from an anonymous number popped up on the heads-up display in my visor. Through a haze of warm breath I read, “Ventilation Center rooftop 7:00PM.” I stopped.

14

Growing up, everyone knew never to go to the Ventilation Center. When I was in middle school, a kid in my class went there to buy some illegal video games, but he never came back. Coolant runs throughout the entire city to make sure none of the tech overheats, and the Ventilation Center is where it all vents out, leaving the entire area covered in a thick haze.

The bright colors of the city slowly desaturated into a white cloud the further I ventured into the center. It was hard to hear anything under the loud rumblings of the fans, but the occasional sharp noise would send me into shock.

Like a beacon out at sea, I saw the red light of a holophone in the distance. I felt like I was walking through a dream, being magnetically pulled towards the light. But, what if Ryland told the Jin that I’m on to them? The holophone could be like the light of an angler fish– luring me into a pair of deadly jaws.

15

As the light grew bigger, I began to make out the silhouette of a man, “Aurora?”

“Yes,” I didn’t hesitate. I shined the light of my holophone in his face. He squinted “Agh, I’m Officer Matthews– I was at the station.” Not one of these guys again… I sighed and turned around.

“Wait! There’s something you need to know– I’ve been looking into your sister’s kidnapping!”

“And, yeah? You’ve found nothing!” I replied. “It’s the Jin– they have the entire force in their pocket…”

“And why are you telling me this?” He hesitated, “… Because I want to help you.”

I guess they weren’t all bad… Matthews tapped his holophone to mine, marking a location on my GPS, “She’s here.”

“Why are they doing this?” I asked. Matthews had no idea. He disappeared into the fog after telling me that this was all he knew. I looked at the location he marked on my map. She was being held on the Upper North Side?

The UNS is the most affluent area of town. I thought the Jin only operated out of the South Side – this must be some high level stuff. I can’t even get through the forcefield leading to the Upper North Side without enough credits though. Blip.

16

As I drove to Nakamura’s shop, I looked up at Tesla Arena– and then above the stadium to the Upper North Side. I always figured it was so expensive up there because you can watch the races from your house– permanent front row seats.

“Nakamura! I need all the credits you have.” The old man laughed, choking on his ramen, “I haven’t seen you this energetic in a while.”

“Now. Yaz is being held on the UNS, and I need to get up there!” Nakamura stared at me… “Do you know how many credits you need to pass through that forcefield?” I didn’t know.

Nakamura continued, “It’s more than I’ve made in my lifetime.”

“Anything would help…” my breathing picked up. We sat in silence for a second. “If you need money for food, you don’t have to be embarrassed–”

“–I don’t need food! I need money to get my sister!” I tried not to cry in front of the old man, but I couldn’t help myself. I think he could tell that I was being sincere.

“If Yaz is where you say she is… I’ll help you.”

17

Nakamura fiddled with the parts on the underside of my bike, “I just fixed this thing,” a loud electrical hiss came out of my hovercycle, “and now I’m breaking it!”

He let out a grunt as he pulled a small silicon part off of my bike. My hovercycle shot upward! BANG– it rammed into the ceiling. Loose concrete flakes snowed down on Nakamura’s face. I helped the coughing old man to his feet.

“Agh, I just got rid of the regulator,” he handed me the part. So much for my bike being street legal. Hovercycles are only supposed to go a maximum of six inches off the ground, but if I’m going to get up to the UNS, I’m gonna need some height. Nakamura said, “If you try going through the entrance, they’ll know you’re coming– doesn’t matter how many credits you have.”

“So, can I just fly up there now?” He laughed, “no.” Apparently the forcefield around the UNS isn’t just around the entrance– but the entire island! 

I’m going to need to launch myself up to the UNS and somehow disable the forcefield at just the right moment to let myself pass through. Forcefields aren’t just something you can just break through though. Since they’re translucent, there’s a cautionary tongue twister we learn as kids, “Brute forcing through a forcefield leaves you with a broken forehead.”

18

The only people who can get through are government officials… so I messaged Matthews. I made my way through the haze of the Ventilation Center and found him on his holophone.

“So you really want to help?” He responded, “Haven’t I helped enough already?“


“I’m going to need you to disable a segment of the UNS forcefield for me.” He was shocked, “I can’t do that– you know I’d need a warrant?”

“Not for long, just three seconds tops.” Matthews thought for a moment. “I can’t…”

“This is my only option,” Matthews stared at me, “to save my sister…”

“Maybe you are just like the rest of the cops. Not necessarily bad, but just paralyzed by fear. Fear of the Jin, fear of speaking up. You’re willing to help, just as long as you don’t have to do anything.”

Matthews interjected “–I just… I can’t.”

“My sister always told me to be careful, but sometimes you have to risk your life to win the race. If good people like you do nothing – that’s how they win!”

Matthews thought to himself for a moment, “When do you need it deactivated?”

19

People always say that “The City never powers down” – always tourists bumbling around and hovercycles zipping down the streets. But right now, at 4:08AM, it seems pretty quiet to me. Probably some slogan the tourism department came up with.

Matthews should be at the precinct right now… I hope. Nakamura plonked a reinforced helmet on my head. Can’t flip the visor up on this one – it feels it belongs to a fighter pilot.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Aurora?” I looked up at the UNS, “Yes.” We had already broken onto the roof of tallest building we could near the forcefield sector. No turning back now.

Nakamura lugged a massive battery up here that he hooked my hovercycle up to. Usually my bike was silent, but when he touched the jumper cables to my bike, it sounded more like Ryland’s.

4:09. Matthews is going to disable the forcefield at 4:10. “Matthews, can you hear me?” I said into my holophone. He copied.

“Let’s go…” Nakamura stared at me for a second, as if he thought I was going to change my mind – but I just stared back at him. He took a breath and dialed up the battery to the max. I could feel my bike shaking underneath me.

20

I lifted a few inches off the ground, “Alright Aurora, I’m going to need you to–” but before Nakamura finished his sentence – I SHOT into the air!

Blip, my bike was still attached to the jumper cables! The cables unfurled like a whip and anchored my bike to the battery. The jumpers stretched like a rubber band and SNAPPED. I tumbled upward like an out-of-control bottle rocket – the two live wires trailing behind me like a parasite that could kill me at any moment.

4:10. Matthews deactivated the forcefield, but it was too early – or I was too late because of those cables. I saw the small hole slowly shrink as I got closer to the UNS. I’m usually used to the speed, but I could feel myself drifting out of consciousness.

I saw the hole close up… right as I was flying towards it. At my speed, hitting the forcefield will be like slamming into concrete. 

The loud warning beeps coming off my hovercycle jolted me into full awareness. I wish I had stayed unconscious – at least I could die in my sleep. My bike flipped around, flying upward with the torque of a violent storm.

ZAP – one of the wires hit the forcefield! The ENTIRE shield glitched, going in and out of activation. I breezed right through! But I was slowing down? The force field activated right as the bottom of my bike was going through – slicing the bottom off!

I unclipped myself from the bike and began floating to the UNS. Up to Yaz. I looked down at Tesla Arena – it had never seemed so inconsequential.

As I passed into the UNS, I was able to latch onto a small pipe, snapping my wrist back and whipping me against the side of the island. With one arm, the climb was slow, but I finally made my way to the top.

21

I opened the map on my holophone and took note of the Jin’s base. As I made my way down the cobblestone streets, it was pretty obvious to me that these people were different – everyone lived behind their own force field. I was a long way from Gravitar Street now. 

Trees and greenery symbiotically entwined with the latest technology to create a landscape I had never seen before, at least in person anyway. I kept my distance from the black dresses and button ups laughing and stumbling out of nightclubs. I don’t normally worry about my appearance, but for the first time ever I felt self-conscious. I zipped up my hovercycle jacket… these people don’t care about racing.

When I reached the Jin’s base, I was a little confused. Did Matthews give me the wrong address? It just looked like a regular office building to me. No guards, no dogs, not even a forcefield – nothing… 

I stepped onto the expansive marble floor and walked across the barren lobby to a small desk where I was greeted by a smiley robot concierge, “What can I do for you miss?”

I’m looking for the Jin?

22

“I… I think I might have the wrong building,” I turned around. But before I could even take a step, the concierge responded “–Well, where are you looking to go?”

Blip… “I’m uh looking for the nightclub.” I don’t know why I said that – this lobby was clearly not a nightclub!

“Which one? I’d love to help you find it!” Her bug eyes stared at me like gun barrels. It was almost as if she already knew that I was up to something… but she seemed so sincere.

“Um, I’ll have to ask my friend–” She interjected, “–great, I’ll get you directions once you let me know.” The concierge turned to her computer monitor. I messaged Matthews, “I’m in the lobby – HELP!”

A man in a suit came out of the golden elevator doors – tapping something against the desk to sign himself out. “Goodnight Robin!” he said to her. I locked eyes with him, and he smiled at me. I contorted my face into a nervous twitching grin. I can’t be in the right place…

Matthews messaged back, “What do you expect it to look like – a castle with a river of lava around it?  Get out of the lobby! Steal a keycard or something.”

I headed for the door before Robin interrupted, “– which nightclub are you going to?” I responded, “Don’t worry, my friend sent me the directions, thanks!”

“You headed to Dragon’s Den?” asked the man in the suit. “Uh, yes, exactly.”

“Great, I’m headed there too. I’ll show you where it is, you’re going to laugh.” The man extended his hand, “I’m Kai”

Kai had a gold ring on his right pinky with a dragon on it – the symbol of the Jin. I never thought that I would shake a member of the Jin’s hand, “I’m… Persepolis!” I smiled…

23

Kai and I walked around the corner. The only sound I could hear was the clanking of my racing boots on the stone. What was I doing?

“So… you like racing?” Ugh, he’s trying to make small talk. Can’t he just give me his keycard and go away?


“Yes.” We continued in silence, but he just kept talking, “That’s a nice jacket you have, very uh…”

“–dirty?” I interrupted. He laughed, “No I was going to say unique. You’re a trendsetter. No surprise you’re going to Dragons Den.”

Kai turned into a dark alleyway. I knew he thought I was up to something… “You coming?” Kai asked.

Why would I walk into a hidden unlit area to get murdered by a member of the Jin? I only could let out an, “I…” before a stumbling drunk tumbled out of a door in the alleyway, being thrust outside by the loud blast of a subwoofer.

I guess this is it… “Yeah, let’s go!”

“Makes sense you couldn’t find this place on the map!” shouted Kai. I could barely hear him over the blasting techno music. Holograms of battling dragons slithered through the air above our heads. Everyone danced around like fools… These are society’s wealthiest and brightest?

“So… where’s your friend?” asked Kai. “What!” I pretended not to hear him. Blip, where is my friend? “I said, where’s your friend? She’s welcome to come to my table. Tell her to say she knows Kai at the door, I run the place”

“Thanks! She’s on her way now.” We sat at a table shrouded in the VIP corner of the underground sweat bomb. Kai gave me a drink, but I just held it. As he downed drink after drink, Kai told me about growing up in the UNS and how he was one of the only racing fan up here.

“Let’s dance,” stated Kai. I was actually starting to like him, but as he grabbed my hand to drag me onto the dance floor, I could feel the cold gold of his Jin ring.

I hate this – I can’t dance! Kai was on the floor doing the worm… like the snake he is. I tried doing the robot, but with every move, I felt my awkwardness ratchet up a notch. “I think I’m going to go back to the table!” I shouted to Kai. But when I looked down, he was almost passed out on the floor.

24

Kai stumbled back to our table with me. Since he loosened up a little, he started pointing out other members of the Jin, or as he called them “colleagues.” Was he trying to impress me? “This guy, Mr Shin, is… he’s in charge of,“ slurred Kai, “… the finances. Takes a cut of my money!”

Interesting… I gave Kai a close mouthed smile. “Do you want to go to the back?” I asked as I slid my hand onto his knee. “You do run this place, right…?” Gross.

Kai walked me to a small coat closet in the back of the club that was cordoned off by a velvet curtain. As he leaned in to kiss me, I leaned in with my fist. I POPPED him right in the mouth and drove my racing boot into his jaw. He was out cold. Perfect. I rummaged through his wallet: credit card, ID, hover car license? But no access card! Blip.

I shoved the wallet back into his jacket. What did he use to sign out? The only other thing he had on him was… his ring. I slipped the gold ring onto my finger and left Kai in the closet to be discovered by some waiter.

Cool air rushed onto my face as I exited the club. My ears were ringing. Time to get Yaz.

I marched into the lobby of the Jin’s base – determined. Robin’s head shifted in my direction. “Can I help you with–”

I flashed the ring. Robin’s voice changed on a dime “–Welcome back.” The elevator doors opened… As I stepped into the golden pod, I was greeted with 5 different floors – Blip! Where could Yaz be?

As the elevator doors shut me in, I noticed small specs of red against the white marble floor of the lobby.

My racing boots – I still had Kai’s blood smeared on them! As I bent down to wipe my boots, the elevator shot upward.

“Welcome back – Kai”

I guess I don’t have much of a choice over where I’m going. I wiped my boots off with the inside of my jacket.

Floor 3… 4… 5… – to the top it is. The elevator stopped, and the pod settled in. The doors slowly opened into a glass walkway that linked two towers of the building.

25

I just stood there for a second, thinking of what to do, where to go. But there was only one path to take. The second I stepped into the hall, the elevator doors shut behind me. I was exposed on all sides.

My careful footsteps rang out, echoing through the entire walkway as I walked to the door on the other side. When I finally got the courage to open up the door, I saw an expansive warehouse. A labyrinth of hallways created by boxes and crates laid before me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see someone walking towards me. I pivoted, walking to the closest door I could find. “Are you looking for anything?” I ignored the question and picked up the pace.

SLAM – I shut the door behind me and practically tripped up the stairwell, throwing myself onto the roof of the building! There was nobody up here… The only structure I could see was a small glass skylight that protruded slightly.

When I looked down, I saw the maze of halls on the floor below. Guards stood in every row. I studied the layout. I looked at every guard and every path to take. But something caught my eye – a glass cube in the center of it all. I could see her. Trapped inside… it was Yaz.

26

I thought that I had lost Yaz forever, but now all that separates us are two panes of glass.

“Can I help you?” I jumped! A man armed with a laser pistol stood near the rooftop door. “Um yes, actually” I flashed my ring. He holstered the pistol. “I’m looking for the girl who makes those booster devices,” I replied. The man looked at my jacket, “You’re one of our racers?” I nodded yes.

“How do you know who makes the boosters?” He slowly walked towards me-“Kai sent me.”

“From the nightclub division?” The guard extended his hand. When I shook, he gripped my fingers and yanked them close to his face! “Kai Tanaka” he read the small engraving off the gold ring. Blip, I’m screwed!

I reached for his pistol with my other hand, but he squeezed my fingers even harder – bending my already injured wrist backwards!

The guard reached across his body for the gun, but I weasled it out of the holster! CLICK – I pointed the laser gun at him, and his hands shot up in the air. “What do you want?”

“I need…” I thought about my next steps, but I was kind of surprised that I was holding a laser pistol – civilians can’t buy these things! “I need your clothes.”

I slipped the guard’s uniform over my racing jacket, locked him on the roof, and went back to the warehouse. I made my way through the maze of crates, smiling at each guard as I passed. There she was.

“Yaz!” I whispered. Her neck whipped around, instantly – the reaction only a familiar voice can bring about. “I’m gonna get you out of here.” Tears formed in Yaz’s eyes.

“You have to get out of here Aurora.” She looked beaten down. “Not without my sister” I replied.

“How do I open this?” I put my hand on the glass. She put her hand up to mine – it was plexiglass, thick, like a shark tank.

“I’m telling you Aurora, get out of here now, they’re going to kill you. These people don’t mess around” I heard a series of loud KNOCKS! The other guards looked around, unable to place the noise, but I knew where they were coming from.

The skylight – the guard was banging on the roof in his underwear, letting out muffled screams!

I looked at Yaz. She knew that I had to leave her. If I’m going to get her out of here – I can’t do it alone.

27

KNOCK KNOCK – I banged on Ryland’s front door! I knew he was in there, just ignoring me, “Open up Ryland!”

I could hear his footsteps inside, “I’m sure the cops would love to know that you’re working with the–”

His door came flying open! “–What do you want?”

“I need your help Costa.” He stared at me confused, pretending that he had no idea what I was talking about. “With what?”

“They’re holding Yaz on the UNS… I saw her.”

“The Jin, on the UNS?” Ryland smirked, “I know it’s hard losing your sister Aurora, but you’re not thinking straight.” He started closing the front door on me – BAM, I blocked the door with my boot, and shoved Kai’s ring in his face!

“I saw her!” Ryland’s face turned as white as my knuckles that were being constricted by the ring… “Where, where did you get that?”

“I got it from a guy who messed with my sister.” Ryland opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. “I need your help. Please! You know that they have her.”

“What do you even need me for?”

Wasn’t it obvious? “I need to break her out of there… and I need someone as fast as I am to help – I need you.”

28

I could tell that Ryland was flattered, but I’m not sure how far that’ll get me with someone like him. It’s not in his interest to help me… but he hasn’t slammed the door in my face yet. Maybe it’s the desperation in my voice that’s keeping this whole interaction afloat?

“And if I don’t help you?” asked Ryland.

“Then I go to the cops and tell them everything…” Ryland stayed quiet for a moment before asking, “Tell them what?”

“Can we stop blipping pretending? The Jin. I’d tell them about–!”

“–Shh! Do you know what they would do to me if they found out?”

“Yes. I do.” I responded.

I could tell by the way Ryland looked at the floor that he was conflicted. He said, “I’ll contact you tomorrow…” I moved my boot, and he shut the door, leaving only a crack, “And by the way Aurora… The cops already know I work with the Jin.”

SLAM.

29

I don’t think he’s coming, Aurora” said Nakamura.

“He’ll be here.” I responded. Officer Matthews looked around the shop, paranoid.

“Don’t worry son, you’re safe here,” Nakamura put his hand on Matthews’ shoulder, “Back when racing was illegal I couldn’t be seen with Anton Jones.” Matthews contorted his face, confused. “No windows.” Nakamura smiled.

WOOSH! The door flew open, startling Matthew’s – but not me. It was Ryland.

“Sorry I’m late.” He ripped off a bite of his sandwich…

“Yeah it’s not like we’re in a rush or anything” I replied. Ryland hunkered down at the table like a gunslinger. I guess we’re all here, “Matthews?”

Officer Matthews slid his holophone to the center of the table. A three-dimensional matrix projected into the air above the phone. It was a map of the UNS.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Ryland.

“Glad you finally asked.”

30

“…I don’t think he’s coming, Aurora” said Nakamura.

“He’ll be here.” I responded. Officer Matthews looked around the shop, paranoid.

“Don’t worry son, you’re safe here,” Nakamura put his hand on Matthews’ shoulder, “Back when racing was illegal I couldn’t be seen with Anton Jones.” Matthews contorted his face, confused. “No windows.” Nakamura smiled.

WOOSH! The door flew open, startling Matthew’s – but not me. It was Ryland.

“Sorry I’m late.” He ripped off a bite of his sandwich…

“Yeah it’s not like we’re in a rush or anything” I replied. Ryland hunkered down at the table like a gunslinger. I guess we’re all here, “Matthews?”

Officer Matthews slid his holophone to the center of the table. A three-dimensional matrix projected into the air above the phone. It was a map of the UNS.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Ryland.

“Glad you finally asked.”

31

My arms flourished as I pushed and pulled the 3D map in closer – zooming in on the Jin’s base. “Alright, Matthews, we’re going to need to pass through the forcefield at 4:00 on the dot – got it?” Matthews nodded.

“Costa, you and I are going to enter the base from the roof. We’ll use our bikes to get up there.” Ryland took the last bite of his sandwich. “Ryland?” He responded, “Yeah I got it.”

“Mr. Nakamura, you have the helmets?”

CLANK – Nakamura slammed a large iron racing helmet down on the table. “Before we go in, Nakamura is going to re-route the coolant gas through the vents. The guards should funnel out, but these helmets will let us breathe.”

Matthews asked, “What about Yaz?”

“We’re going to have to act quickly.”

Ryland knocked his fist against the dense helmet, “If I tip my head with this on it’ll snap my neck.”

“Then you’ll have to stay still… Matthews did you install the app?”

“Yes” he replied, “We usually only use this in hostage situations, but if you put your holophone to the lock on the glass cube, it should be able to crack the code.”

“Perfect, we leave tonight. Nobody better bail.” I looked at Ryland – he cocked his eyebrow. I put my hand in the center of the table, reaching for my holophone, but Nakamura put his hand on top of mine. “We used to do this before races back in the day, come on,” said a smiling Nakamura.

Matthews put his hand in, and eventually Ryland.

We’re coming to get you Yaz…

32

Ryland and I skidded down the stairwell and into the storage room. Guards were bumping into each other – fumbling and yelling. Perfect. I locked the stairwell door and made my way to the cube.

“HEY! THIS WAY” yelled one of the guards. Like an ant colony, they smushed into the glass walkway connecting the two buildings.

I could hear every breath echo throughout my heavy iron helmet. CLANK – I slammed into the glass cube, “Yaz!” She looked at me, breathing heavily, “Get me out of here!” I flipped up my visor, “Aurora?”

I started coughing from the coolant, so I flipped down my visor and stuck the holophone to the lock of the cube, “I’m getting you out of here!”

“ELEVATOR USE NOT PERMITTED DURING A COOLANT LEAK – PLEASE USE THE STAIRS” said the robotic voice on the loudspeaker. Blip!

The guards were all packed into the elevator, but if they come back here I’m done for! “Nakamura, the bike!” shouted Ryland. Mr Nakamura’s bike was parked under the glass walkway connecting the buildings.

The old man looked upward and back at his bike. He YANKED the lever on his center console, sending his hovercycle up like a firework, hurtling through the air!

The bike SHATTERED the entire walkway, leaving the guards stranded! Shards of glass exploded into the sky like rainbow comets, catching the light of the electronic billboards down below.

This should buy us some time, but Yaz’s breathing was getting shallower. She banged on the glass! I need to get this helmet on her – fast.

33

The soles of the guard’s sneakers teetered over the edge of the walkway. Glass rained down, slicing Nakamura’s back.

The glass cube was filling up with coolant – I could barely see Yaz anymore. The holophone was still working on cracking the lock… Blip. Yaz was losing air, fast. I took off my helmet and SLAMMED it into the glass!

“YAZ!” I choked on the coolant, but kept smashing my helmet repeatedly – BANG, BANG, BANG! But nothing formed… not even a crack. I could feel myself getting dizier, going in and out of consciousness. My vision blurred, and I blacked out…

Muffled banging started to pull me out of my unconscious state. Between every bang, I drifted back into the blackness until I heard the loud SHATTERING of glass! I jolted up, but my head stuck to the floor with magnetic attraction. My head was being weighed down by the weight of Ryland’s helmet.

He broke through the glass and was carrying Yaz! Ryland held his breath and plonked my helmet onto Yaz.

BEEP – the holophone finally cracked the lock on the broken glass cube! Great timing…

As Ryland and I climbed the stairs, I made sure to support Yaz’s limp head. When we opened the door to the rooftops, our hovercycles were still there. We’re getting out of here!

VROOM, a sharp rumble caught my ear… The guards were all on hover cycles in a V formation on the rooftop across from us. At the head of their arrangement was Robin the robot concierge and Kai…

The LEDs in Robin’s yellow eyes turned red. Kai smiled with missing teeth.

34

Ryland placed Yaz on the back of my hovercycle and tied her unconscious body to mine with his leather jacket.

Robin’s head cocked sideways. Her entire head spun around, picking up speed like it was mounted on an electric drill. Her body mechanically popped and clicked, shifting shape into a hovercycle! Kai got on her back.

Ryland hopped on his bike. “I’ll get Nakamura – you need to get out of here.” He flipped down his visor and gunned his engine! He went right, I went left. The guards went after Ryland, Kai and Robin went after me.

As I skidded from rooftop to rooftop, an imposing red hue took over the Upper North Side. The advertisements on the multicolored billboards shifted into wanted posters with my, Ryland’s, and Nakamura’s face on full display:

“WANTED: KIDNAPPING 17 YEAR OLD YAZ ANOKI”

BANG – my bike was hit! Small machine guns popped out of Robin’s shoulders. “You think you can take my ring and get away with it?“ yelled Kai!

35

I hurtled downwards, slamming between the two limestone buildings like a ball in pong, chipping away at the ornate exteriors with every hit. I tucked my body in tightly, gripping Yaz’s hand, until we slammed into the concrete below.

“GAH!” Yaz coughed and opened her eyes. “Aurora, where are we?”

“We’re getting you home…” Kai floated gently down to the street, his laugh growing louder as he grew closer to me and my sister. “Nice to see you again Persepolis!” I propped up my leg to stand.

SMASH – Kai kicked his racing boot straight through the visor on my helmet, filling my mouth with glass. “Or should I say Aurora…”

“Kai. You don’t want to do this…” I spit blood.

“A tooth for a tooth.” Kai motioned to us, and Robin’s guns shifted, pointing directly at our heads.

I sliced my mouth on glass shards as I yelled, “Take me instead! I’ll build your boosters – what did my sister do to deserve this?!”

I coughed, “Kai, I don’t know what they told you, but my sister’s only 17!”

Kai looked at Yaz. My sister pleaded, “… Please let us go.” His angled eyebrows inverted from anger… to doubt.

Like an eagle obscuring the blood moon, Ryland silhouetted the scarlet billboards above us, leaping from one building to the next with Nakamura on the back of his bike.

“Ryland!” I yelled. He looked down at me and Yaz!

Kai motioned to Robin to call off the guns and sped away.

36

“Matthews, are we headed towards the exit point?” Ryland asked into his holophone. We ripped down the streets of the UNS on Ryland’s bike, sending name-brand purses and white button ups flying in our wake.

“Turn right, and you’ll be off the island!” As Ryland made his way around the corner, my fingertips gripped the back of his bike even tighter. Before I could even process what was in front of us, my body jolted forwards, and we stopped short.

“…Blip.” All of the Jin’s guards were in front of us, sitting on hovercycles. Worst of all, they all had Yaz’s boosters on them. “Turn around,” whispered Nakamura!

I took out my holophone, “Matthews, change of plan!” Ryland whipped the bike around, “Hold off on the forcefield deactivation!”

“Why, what happened?”

“I said change of plans!” Ryland traced our steps, looking for a way off the island, darting around the labyrinthine cityscape until we made it – the edge of the island! We made a beeline for the edge, about to go straight off the cliff, “Matthews, deactivate segment K28-A, now!”

“This might take a second!” responded Matthews. The guards trailed closely behind us. I looked back and saw them all reach for their boosters. They pushed their joysticks forward… We’re done for.

Nothing happened? The guard’s bikes continued to coast forward… The guards looked around confused. Yaz smiled…

BOOM – the guard’s bikes were engulfed in balls of flames emanating from the booster devices. Hovercycle parts ricocheted off the cobblestone, flying in all directions. The shockwave from the explosion launched us off the edge of the island!

“You didn’t think I’d actually build them boosters?” said Yaz. Nakamura smiled, “You redirected the power supply!” CLANK – shrapnel from one of the guard’s hovercycles was propelled through our bike, piercing our regulator!

37

We were free falling, the nose of our hovercycle dipping straight down to the South Side. Yaz’s body levitated off the seat of the bike – I pulled her back in! The forcefield started to open.

Ryland yelled into his holophone “Matthews, close the field!”

“What?” Matthews’s voice sounded pixelated.

“Matthews! Close it, our regulator is broken. We stand a better chance of hitting the forcefield than the ground!” We only heard choppy static coming from Matthews end of the phone…

Yaz grit her teeth as we threaded the needle through the forcefield opening, watching it seal up above us. I guess we’ll have to brace for impact.

ZAP – Nakamura ripped a wire out of the back of the bike, “Yaz! Get me the wire that hooks up to the front!”

Something clicked in Yaz’s brain. Her adrenaline filled concentration pierced through her anxiety, and she got to work. She and Nakamura were ripping wires and bending metal, communicating almost telepathically.

WOOSH – we fell below the skyline, our bike just skimming the top of a skyscraper. I tucked in and braced for impact! “Yaz, get down!”

Her focus wasn’t broken. Yaz and Nakamura touched two wires together – I could hear the regulator start to boot up! But the ground got closer every second. I closed my eyes, and felt the upward G force of the regulator pull on my face!

BANG – our bike slammed into the ground as it slowed down, crumpling and twisting, flinging us off in every direction like an overclocked merry go round. I landed on my feet, the bottom of my racing boots sawing off like rubber erasers. Nakamura rolled on the concrete, and Ryland and Yaz were sent through the glass pane of a nearby building.

Nakamura stood up slowly – not bad for an old man. I ran to go check on Yaz and Ryland, but they were already on their feet.

Yaz ran and hugged me. I collapsed to my knees.

38

Yaz and I sat in the Korean restaurant in near silence. The robo-waitress brought us our usual order – bibimbap. “What now?” Yaz asked. I broke the yolk of the egg sitting on top of my food and thought to myself, “I don’t know… I can’t go back to racing”

DING – I heard someone walk into the restaurant. It was Officer Matthews! “Hey!” Matthews didn’t hear me.

“Officer Matthews!” Yaz waved at him, but he didn’t pay us any attention… “Wow, too cool for us already?” He walked past our table and slipped us a small note…

“GET OUT OF HERE NOW. THEY ARE LOOKING FOR YOU!”

I hopped on my new hovercycle, Yaz on the back, and we just rode, unsure of where we were going next. The light coming from the multicolored billboards felt warm. She rested her head on the back of my racing jacket. Even though we were running from the Jin, I had never felt more at peace.

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