Fuel by Katharine
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Story Notes:
I started this way back when Diinzumo posed a "Crossover Challenge" for the pages of the Bird Scramble APA.  I know it's been a looooong time since its first posting, but I haven't given up on finishing it.


Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets/Speed Racer Fan FictionPart One: Written by Katharine; January 1999; editing and friendly persuasion by Diinzumo

Additional poking and prodding provided by James Long and Jason Hofius, whose hilarious ideas will appear in Part Two.

Characters (c) Tatsunoko Productions; Sandy Frank; Speed Racer Enterprises. Fanfiction (c) KFM



[CNN Sports Release: Aug 29-30] ...which led to the Packers being able to overcome Minnesota by three points. In racing news, the official lineup for the Paris to Lisbon International Rally was finally posted at a World Championship Rally press conference in Paris this evening, and while it was no surprise that acclaimed driver Patrick Rayce has entered the 4000-kilometer cross-country event with his powerful and dare we say unique Mach V, there was one other name on the list that came as an absolute shocker to the entire racing community...

...as you may well know, current WRC champion Patrick Rayce has repeatedly expressed his desire to compete against the man who is undisputedly one of the giants of distance racing- winner of two consecutive Africa 9000 rally races, a record not likely to be seen broken in our lifetimes...well, yesterday he and countless fans got their wish as the participants in this year's race was announced by WCR chairman Joseph Pedrinni...

...Patrick Rayce, on-air ABC Networks interview in Anchorage, Alaska after winning the Alcan Rally: "...oh, I'm very happy to hear that he's back. I mean, the WRC already has incredible talent with racers like Stephan Adalo, Koki Watanabe, and Andrei Peyakov but now that he's back it's like the field is complete. It's been a long dream of mine to compete against him; now I've finally got that chance to race against the best."

...ESPN Raceweek studio interview with Team Busch International driver Andrei Peyakov: "...I don't know why he did- I guess he got bored. Tired of sitting around and staring at the walls. Oh, I had no doubt that sooner or later he'd be back in the mix with the rest of us...(breaking out into laughter) You just can't stay away from a bunch of partying animals like me, Frank, and Koki..."

[BBC Evening News: Aug 31] ...gave no reason for his sudden retirement after his last Africa 9000 race two years ago. He had quietly declined all of WCR's offers to return and pretty much ignored Rayce's challenges, until it was announced at the conference last night that he has indeed entered this year's 4000-kilometer race through France, Spain, and Portugal, with full backing by his former sponsor, Team Busch International. One can only assume the thrill he must be feeling right now, to be back in the excitement of international racing, competing against the likes of Patrick Rayce and Stephan Adalo...

    "How the hell did I get talked into this?" Jay Randall grouched to himself, rubbing his eyes with one hand while pouring another cup of coffee with the other. Twenty hours since he'd gotten any decent sleep, and now it was morning again, only this time he was on the other side of the world and he had a raving case of jet-lag to go along with everything else.
     Atleast he didn't have to hit the track until tomorrow. As dead as he felt he doubted he could have kept a car in a straight line, even on his own driveway. But his racing team and crews were still en route from Virginia, somewhere over the Atlantic in a pair of Antonov airfreighters, and wouldn't land until late in the day. Plenty of time to catch up on sleep...if circumstances were normal enough to allow it. It was not a normal day, it would not be a normal race. He, the rest of G-Force, and countless others in Earth Defense Command intelligence were in the middle of a tracking operation, acting on an Interpol tip, and had been at it non-stop since it began the week before.
     "Juney, please tell me again why we're not running this from our nice warm office in Coral?" he grumbled. "You know, that big, quiet place with the Sun HPC server that has everything we need already on file? The one with the holographic display and table bigger than Robbie's boat?"
     Jun Himuro hid a smile as she scrolled through an updated database of Gallactor outposts on her own PowerBook, sitting cross-legged in a reclining leather chair. "Because Paris is so beautiful this time of year?"
     Jay growled something profane in Italian.
     "I'm telling Marc what you said," she chided back.
     The pair were inside a massive and luxurious Gulfstream motorhome coach, parked triangularly with two other identical motorhomes at the end of the Montreuil Internationale Raceway staging area. The trio was surrounded by a sea of semi trucks and super-duty transports, tents, trailers, and a sprawling souvenir bazaar; rows of garages, scores of racing crewmen and reporters passing back and forth in the middle of their racing and reporting errands, and spectators come to see the drivers practice for the Paris to Lisbon International Rally. The air was filled with their noise, hustle, and the tangy smell of gasoline. In the distance Jay and Jun could hear the low drone of cars on the track, drivers taking their practice turns. And above it all was a beautiful blue and cloudless Parisian autumn sky.
     The digital fax machine behind him gave a greeting beep as yet another file slid through, sent via coded signal from Crescent Coral Island. On the table was a pile of more just like it: documents, maps, countless updates, and aerial imagery. Buried somewhere under them was his notebook computer, also linked to CCI, who was in turn in constant contact with other EDC bases and their sources within the International Police.
     It had started benignly enough. One Interpol agent, evidently close to a northern faction of the Gallactor Syndicate, had slipped them information about a plan in the works against unknown targets that possibly involved race personnel. The findings were confirmed by Interpol and separate EDC informants; Gallactor was indeed on the move. So the EDC took the bait and they were off to the races. Literally.
     Then someone had the bright idea of having Jay run ground surveillance as a competitor himself.
     He shuffled over to the machine to retrieve the papers, sleepwalking in black sweatpants and the T-shirt that Key Akihiro, G-Force's professional wiseass, had gotten him as a joke towards the whole affair: WILL RACE FOR FOOD. All so ha-ha cute, but ultimately it wasn't a damn bit funny- it was a horrible idea. The last time he'd tried chasing Gallactor in the middle of a race, it ended in disaster.
     He sorted through the sheets as they came through. They were the aerial images of the Cáceres nuclear power station that he'd asked for, an installation just a kilometer from the racecourse as it wound through west-central Spain. A Coral Ops cartographer had overlaid it in GIS colorform, detailing possible areas of approach by anything from airborne mecha to car bombs. There were more just like it, possible targets that were deemed major considerations by the EDC and Interpol. Just from statistical probability, attractiveness, and plain old gut feeling, the count was up to lucky seven. Seven possibilities for Gallactor death, destruction, and mayhem on a grand scale. All of them were waiting for clarification from their informant, and in the meantime, the list was growing.
     "Is that the Cáceres aerial?" Jun asked.
     "Yup. Just the latest on a long, long, long....Jesus, I wish someone would bang on that sleeper a little harder. Give us some clue as to what exactly Gallactor has in mind..." Jay sank down onto the sofa to study one while handing another off to her. "...so I don't have to end up running in this mess. I still think it's too damned risky. With all the media out there," he motioned towards the outside, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if my cover was blown up by this afternoon." As if to punctuate his misgivings, a network helocraft flew by overhead, so low its engine noise made the motorhome quiver slightly.
     "It never worried you before."
     "That's because I was racing for just kicks and cash," he reminded. "Back then I wasn't fighting Gallactor Goons at the same time, at least not until that Africa run..." He trailed off, sadness drifting through his blue eyes.
     "Well, like it or not, it is the best way to run recon until he contacts us again," Jun spoke while studying, not noticing. "Just in case they are using a driver for..." Her expression promptly fell. "Oh, this thing's only a kilometer from the race course."
     "That's why it's been red-flagged. But- suppose a reporter finds out? What am I supposed to say? 'Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting Gawactors?'"
     Jun grinned at his perfect yet cynical Elmer Fudd imitation. "Keep telling them the same thing Andrei said: that you were bored. If they get too pushy, let security take care of them." She pointed an admonishing finger at him. "Just remember not to transmute."
     Jay gave her a dark, exasperated look. "If it were up to me, I'd cancel this whole event and let Charleville Ops smoke 'em out. See, that way, thousands of spectators won't be endangered when Gallactor decides to pull...whatever it is they're going to pull. So that if they are using the race, they'd have to scramble to find another method of approach. Therefore we may see them, and catch them." He hardened his glare at her, voice dropping into an equally exasperated growl. "In birdstyle, with the warship. Me, in my other car."
     "Believe me, I wish we had that option too. It was discussed, but the officials and sponsors couldn't handle the loss of income. They want to keep a lid on it so people won't panic, they're willing to put up with the security and scanners instead, and they hope that we can stop them quietly before people get hurt."
     "I'm hoping I don't have to shoot at mechas through window of my car. That'd look good on CNN."
     Jun shrugged slightly, sympathetic. "Nothing else we can do, but be extra careful."
     Jay subconsciously rubbed at his eyes again. He didn't want this, chasing Gallactor in a rallycar for God's sake...it was wrong, dangerously wrong. He'd given up professional racing because of Gallactor in the first place when they began to step up their attacks, leaving G-Force not only with precious little time for normal, outside lives, but at risk for security compromise out of his own notoriety. The fight against them had always been first and foremost in his and once upon a time he'd enjoyed racing as an aside to that, but until that last race in Africa, (plus another time before that when a code-red call had come just moments after being handed a trophy for a short-track win) those two facets of his world had been separate from one another, each untouched by the other. When they started to collide, he retired.
     Now, he didn't have the slightest clue how he was going to juggle both at the same time.
     Well enough to get away with it, anyway.
     Too tired to argue any further, Jay fell back into the mission parameters. Of all the potential targets Cáceres was the most worrisome, the highest priority, this nuclear power installation that supplied a good chunk of Spain but was also a stone's throw from Lake Alcántara. With just one thermal detonator, an ionic bomb about the size of a beer can, hundreds of square miles could be destroyed, thousands killed, Lisbon's water supply irradiated for hundreds of years.
     Maybe that'll convince them to cancel, Jay thought.
     Outside, pre-race activity continued in its festive fast-lane tempo, punctuated by the distant roar of cars navigating the road-course track. Jun was right. Despite the two years gone he'd still maintained friendships with Team Busch International racing. He still had many contacts, magnified by his champion status. He would be able to see and hear things that ordinary EDC special would miss.
     A group of men walking nearby outside; Jay easily recognized two of them. John Gellen and Luis Linares, two of Castrol Racing's top drivers and masters of their powerful and agile Toyota Celicas. For a fleeting moment he started thinking about totally different variables, deciding how he was going to match and surpass them in on the racecourse, comparing the power of his car to theirs, while at the same time trying to decide if they or someone within their teams were in league with Gallactor.
     He tried to derail the thought and go back to Cáceres, but it was no use. He had to let the two worlds collide. For all his reconnaissance within the race would depend on those variables too, speed and performance and all the endurance he could muster. Like it or not, he was going to have to join the race. Eventually.
     This time, he hoped that nobody would get killed.


     At 8,000 feet all the landscape of rural France was a luxuriant spread of deep greens and blue; vineyards, orchards, and vast pasturelands dotted by the occasional farm building and small town dominated the region outside of Paris. The maternal half of his human/Rigan hybrid lineage was French, but G-Force commander Mareccu Dumeneau had only been to the country a few times. He supposed he should have been enjoying this trip, but there was only a faint wisp of nostalgia as he guided his Cessna Javelin over the Parisian countryside, marginally felt and stifled fast. This was business.
     Instead, he scrutinized the land with practiced eyes, trained to look for trouble and tactical value in every town, road, topographic detail, and vegetative cover. The industrial centers at the outskirts of Paris particularly drew his attention, as well as ports on the river Seine. Paris itself was a gray mass off to his left, a sprawling mix of 21st century glassine skyscrapers and centuries-old architecture. Notre Dame de Paris was a buttressed crucifix of stone and glass beside the Seine; the Eiffel Tower a graceful steel spire on the Champ de Mars. He looked for anything out of the ordinary, large transport movements, unmarked armored carriers. He communicated to Crescent Coral and the French Armèe de L'air via coded interlink through his headset, alternating fluently between English and French depending on who was at the other end. His thoughts were his own, silent brooding in his native Marjillian Rigan. Like Jay he had serious misgivings about this operation, and for somewhat similar reasons: EDC intelligence might as well had painted a phoenix insignia right on the hood of Jay's vehicle.
     Yet there was also the maddening lack of information. Whoever this agent was, he was forwarding intelligence so slowly that the EDC was forced to guess Gallactor's motives and infiltrate the race on their own behalf.
     Olame maat nieliah, he thought dourly. In the closest English approximation of the sentence: this is fucking insane. G-Force had never gone into a mission so blind before. At the very least they left knowing what type of mecha they were up going against, or what specific target Gallactor had their sights on. He made another pass over to the southeast, the racetrack and multitude surrounding it a colorful sprawl underneath. He couldn't find a single thing that could be categorized as unusual, and it worried him even more. Whatever Gallactor had in mind, they were keeping it close, which meant it wasn't likely to be a massive and grandiose ground-pounding mecha. No, intuition told him that it was going to be something smaller, something easily camouflaged, something that could be carried in a backpack, a purse, the trunk of a car. A bioweapon, an ionic bomb, a harmonic-emitting device to drive thousands of race fans mad? Now a bloody urban riot was right up Berg Katse's alley. What better place for the Gallactor warlord to drive people mad than in Paris, or Barcelona? Or even Madrid- five days into the event, officials relaxed because nothing happened during its first stages, then hello-!
     Mareccu switched signal codes and called out to Key. "Four, actual."
     Down below, Key was casually strolling by and through the staging area garages, watching the competing teams working over their vehicles in preparation. It had been earlier surmised that Gallactor might be working close to a driver or a sponsor, but all of them had checked out clean. Still, he kept his eyes and ears open for any Gallactor sign, looking for trouble. Media was all over the place; reporters interviewing drivers, cameramen recording snippets of video for the newsfeeds, all making a general nuisance of themselves. None of them bothered him, safely anonymous in his flannel shirt over Levis and a plain white T-shirt, a track medic's pass dangling from his neck.
     When his wristband gave its warning flash he broke from the crowd and found a private spot around the corner of garage number eleven. "Four."
     Mareccu sent the Cessna soaring high over the racetrack, its twin turbines placidly whining. Below him, lower-flying planes pulling advertisement trailers clogged the air. Ahead was a lazily floating Fujifilm blimp, reflecting sunlight off its white cigar-shaped back. "Are you finding anything down there?"
     "Not really, no," Key replied, a little disappointedly. He looked up and spotted the civilian conversal jet zipping across the sky. "Just the usual pre-race mechanical mess going on around here. Haven't heard from track security, so none of the scanners have been tripped by weapons-grade or anything..."
     "Doesn't mean much." Mareccu pulled hard to port, radioing ahead his intentions to land. "I don't think they'd try to load a car this early on, if that's what they have in mind. We need to worry more about mid-course in between their pit stops and the checkpoints, towards that scenario."
     From the other side the garage, Key could hear an Italian speaking angrily, his voice almost at a shout but still discreet enough to not draw attention. Key knew a little of the language; his guy was going off at somebody about the pathetic performance of his vehicle, and he wanted another yesterday. Or something to that effect. "Yeah. Hey, listen- some guy by me is about to have a stroke over something about his car."
     Mareccu could pick it out in the transmission's background. "I can hear it clear up here. Sure it's not Jay?"
     Key laughed. "Nah. This guy's swearing isn't nearly as colorful."
     Mareccu grinned at that. "Go ahead and check it out. I'll be back in about an hour."
     "Got it." Key peeked around the corner of the garage and saw a muscular and dark-haired racer in the process of verbally pounding someone. The target was a thirtyish woman, corporate business clad, and a silent accountant-looking man standing compliantly behind. She regarded the racer with the bored expression of an adult watching a teen throwing a self-righteous tirade. "-no, unacceptable!" he said, now nearly shouting. A few others outside could now overhear, Key saw some of them breaking bemused, knowing smiles, and that's when he realized he was looking at Italian Solo-Event Champion Stephan Adalo, the WCR's famous tantrum-throwing bad boy. "How can you expect me to practice with that car's injection problems?" Adalo ranted, as well as Key could tell. "My crew's been working on it all night and they can't-"
     Then the woman spoke something, too soft for even Key's heightened hearing above all the noise, but it was short and cold and made the racer shut his mouth like a tripped bear trap. Key almost winced himself at his reaction. Racers had a high degree of clout with their sponsors, after all it was their driving skill and showmanship that generated the advertising exposure each sponsor wanted. Was this one telling Adalo to put up with a sub-standard car? What the hell for? Suddenly the alarms started going off in Key's head.
     "Hey," a youngish male voice asked behind Key. He turned and saw a friendly-faced kid only a few years younger than himself walking up. "What's going on?"
     "I dunno." The racer had started again, but was noticeably muted, as though all his fire had been extinguished but still stubbornly wanted to smolder. It suddenly ended with him stomping off to his trailer, and the unruffled woman left as well, conversing privately with her partner as they walked off to a waiting chauffeur-driven Mercedes. Key instinctively noted the car's license plates, mentally recording them for future reference. Something about the racer, the woman, and the scene in its entirety was definitely starting to bother him, something to bring up at the pow-wow later that afternoon. "Sounded like he was pissed off about his car."
     "Oh. Small wonder, he was scheduled to run his practice laps this hour. Looks like he'll have to bump off 'till morning." He noticed Key's pass, then smiled amiably, extending his hand. "One of the new medics on duty, eh? I'm Christopher Keller, chief mechanic for Gordon Rayce. My friends call me Sparky."
     Key shook it. "Key Akihiro. Hey, you're on Patrick Rayce's team?"
     "Yep." He motioned towards the end of the row, where one of the garages was surrounded by Gordon Rayce Industries emblazoned transport trucks and motorhomes that rivaled the Gulfstreams they were staying in. The place was opened and packed with every conceivable tool, provision, and diagnostic device known, staffed by at least twenty people bustling inside and out. The whole arrangement dripped of huge amounts of money and technological expertise, and dominating the crowd was Gordon Rayce himself: engineering and design genius and father to Patrick, a large and jolly man running the scene with tight-wired intensity. Then Key felt his hardwiring make a tingling trip down his back. From where he stood he could see the pointed shark-like snout of the fabled vehicle that was the company's masterpiece, hood off and lifted on its custom on-board struts. The thing practically radiated power, promising blazing speed potential, and he suddenly had to stifle a wild grin at the thought it pitted against the G2.
     "We're almost ready to go," Sparky continued. "I was about to take a break when I heard Adalo screaming over there. Want to come along? I hear the coffee around here is halfway decent."
     Key fell in beside, at ease with the mechanic's friendly nature and suddenly brimming with fanboy questions about their famous Mach Five. "Hey, yeah, sure! They've got really good French roast in the medical center. That's the car you took the Lasken Rally in-?"


     "I thought I knew just about everyone around here," Sparky commented later. "But everywhere I look there's a new face. How about you? Just come in from the states?"
     Key nodded, sipping his coffee. Heading back they had to weave their way around a parade of rally cars entering and leaving the track, the air heavy with their exhaust and noise. Announcements were made over the PA system in three different languages; people milled everywhere, talking, working. Key watched them, knowing that about a quarter of them were EDC special posing as spectators or track security, but he wasn't about to tell the mechanic that. "Came in from San Francisco last night. I've worked some of the smaller American oval tracks, but nothing like this."
     "It's a great scene." Sparky took a long look around, his light brown eyes unfazed by the commotion. "Luckily there aren't as many wrecks in this type of racing as there are on ovals. It's funny, you'd think there'd be more with all the spectators hanging just inches from the road. But only once in a while drivers smash up to the point where their cars are crippled. Usually the distance getsm, or they just get stuck somewhere and need a tow. The real challenge is driver fatigue, and handling the logistics." They passed the Adalo garage again, and Sparky motioned their way. "And getting around this guy. Alado's a very aggressive driver. He's apt to run you off the road if you're in his way."
     "I remember when he smacked Jay Randall's car in Belgium a couple years back." Key said. He was fishing for more info on the driver but he couldn't help reminiscing it, when Adalo had deliberately tried to force Jay's dominating Audi into a guardrail just two miles from the Antwerp finish line. Jay had naturally parried the attack, and both cars ultimately went careening into a ditch. Seconds later, it had taken six very brave bystanders to peel Jay off the brash and arrogant Italian. The spectacular crash and its aftermath continued to be replayed in best-of videos for months to come, and the front page of the local paper picturing the fight was framed on the wall of the loft at Jun's nightclub. A rip-roaring classic, one for the ages.
     "Boy, wasn't that great?" Sparky laughed. "We were just getting started then. Speed, Pops, and I were watching that race and Pops said, 'I know that Randall- Adalo better watch out! He'll rip his head clean off!'" He quickly turned serious. "I'm surprised the stewards didn't fine Adalo or ban him outright."
     "Maybe they thought he'd gotten enough punishment from Randall."

Sparky cracked a sly grin. "Maybe so. You know, Speed's been wanting to race against him for the past year. But somehow I think Adalo versus Randall is going to be much more entertaining."
     Key chuckled at the thought. "I'll make sure the medivac's stocked."
     Up ahead at the Rayce garage, a dark-haired man waved and shouted out to Sparky: Patrick "Speed" Rayce. Key was already familiar with his talent and wins from watching his televised races but it was still striking to see him in person- he wasn't much older than his lead mechanic.
     Sparky answered him, expression darkening. "Something's up. I'd better get back." He shook Key's hand. "Good talking to you!"
     "Same here," Key answered, watching him head off. "I'll see you around." Sparky turned and waved back then jogged to the Rayce garage.
     On his way out, Key slowed to get another look at the Adalo barn. His car looked stock, a BMW 328i, white and red and decorated with sponsor logos, the number 96 plastered all over its doors and roof. But he wondered what else might be riding in the coupe's chassis. The mechanics were doing mechanic stuff, working on the engine, tinkering with the suspension, pre-race fine tuning done by everyone.
     Thinking about it, he headed back to their corner of the infield.


     "Wow, look at all the reporters!" eight year old Spritle Rayce exclaimed as he peered down through the helicopter's door. He was kneeling on the seat, baseball cap tilted backwards so he could plaster his face against the glass, and beside him the family's pet chimpanzee with the simple yet adorable name of Chim-chim happily chattered.
     "M-hm," Patricia Marston agreed. "Does look like there's more than usual, doesn't it?" Slim with young, elfish features, she pushed a stubborn lock of fine brown hair behind her headset. Called Trixie by all who knew her, the Rayce team logistician piloted her old Bell Jet Ranger down towards the pad reserved for her at the end of the infield. Underneath, scores of satellite trucks and media stations crowded one corner of the facility, a mass encampment that from the air looked larger than all of garage row. "I guess they're all here because Jay Randall's out of retirement. That's really big news; he's a very famous and skilled racer, one of the best."
     "If he's so good, why'd he quit?"
     Trixie shrugged. "Nobody knows. He just stopped all of a sudden with no explanation. You were too young to remember."
     Spritle bristled, dark eyes firing indignant anger as he puffed out his chest. "I was not, I saw his last Africa 9000! I remember the Gallactor Syndicate was trying to stop the race for some reason."
     Trixie stifled a giggle; she loved jabbing Spritle about his age. "You're right. But G-Force came along and stopped them. They haven't tried anything like that since."
     "Yeah, because they know G-Force'll blow them up!" Spritle began the child's pantomime of a huge dogfight, doing a loud and exuberant fighter pilot. "NNNERROWW!! Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! Ka-boom!" Chim-chim honked his chimpanzee laugh, stirred up by Spritle's play, and between the two of them their bouncing caused the little Bell to shake a bit in midair.
     "Knock it off, you two! I'm trying to land!"
     They immediately sat still, smiling sheepishly. Trixie shook her head, rolling her eyes skyward. Most kids play sports, or cowboys and Indians. This one just had to be an imaginary G-Forcer. She lowered the Bell onto the pad and let its rotors wind down before letting them open the door, and they both tumbled out, running for the garages.
     "Hey, stay close!" Trixie called out. "You're gonna get run over-!" She winced as they charged across the main thoroughfare just moments before a Penske-yellow Honda Prelude idled by, then wondered why she even bothered. Spritle might have come into the world the conventional way but nearly all his life was spent either on a track or in a garage. It was most definitely in his blood.
     Together the boy and monkey made their way to the Rayce encampment, building number twenty-four of the thirty in the staging area, brushing by a race official who had just finished with business inside and was leaving.

"Hey!" Spritle called out, not noticing the official at all. "We're here!"
     Sitting beside his mechanic at their computer, Speed looked up just in time to catch twenty pounds of jumping chimp. "Hey, you two- I was wondering when you'd get here. What happened to Trixie? Did you ditch her again?"
     Spritle rubbed the back of his head, looking innocent. "She was right behind us!"
     "About two hundred yards behind!" Speed looked up and saw her entering the garage, waving hello to all the crew. "No candy for you, kiddo!"
     Smiling, he let Chim-chim slide to the floor and stood to greet her. He was young, perhaps too young for the sport, but he'd been racing at amateur level since sixteen, getting his nickname from his jackrabbit fast Le Mans starts. Now twenty-three, he was as seasoned a pro as they come, and the walls of his parents' house was covered with trophies, banners, and photographs of every win. His physique was short and broad-shouldered like his father's, but lean with solid muscle. With his dark hair and deep blue eyes he was also extraordinarily handsome, a favorite of female fans, much to Trixie's chagrin. He gave her a light squeeze and kiss as she came close.
     "It's about time you showed up; we've leaned down the Mach's timing and I need you to go over the mileage," Gordon Rayce huffed from the side of their Mach Five, under the hood inspecting the car's engine. "Speed just downloaded the numbers from this morning's test run so you can take a look at them."
     "Okay, Pops, I will." She turned back to Speed, speaking lowly. "He seems upset."
     "Have you heard the latest?" He turned and picked up an electronic device the size of a credit card from the workbench. "One of the inspectors was just here. We have to install this in the Mach, and make sure she gets another safety check before our next practice. They won't say why."
    "A tracer, what for? Didn't you tell them we have our own GPS?"
     "They want these in all of the cars," Sparky informed her, wiping his hands on a towel. "But there wasn't an official announcement that universal tracers were sanctioned, which makes me wonder if they're expecting some kind of trouble."
     "I don't know what kind of problems they'd be afraid of for this," she said, taking it from Speed.
     "There's a lot of new people around here, too," Sparky added. "Not just the teams- I mean track personnel. There's at least twice as many as before, and I'm almost positive the security is armed. I was just talking to a new medical guy, sent in yesterday."
     "That is strange." She looked over the device. "I've never seen one this small. It looks state of the art."
     "It's not like ours," Speed said. "And we're using that new GeoSync prototype, remember?"
     Astonishment suddenly flashed through Trixie's eyes. "Wait a minute- are you saying this is military? Why would they want to follow everyone?"
     "There is a war going on," Speed replied solemnly. "But there hasn't been any bulletins or warnings about terrorist activities out here, none at all. Neither the WRC or the state department is saying a word."
     Trixie glared at all of them, her surprise hardening into anger. "Still doesn't explain why, unless they think one of the teams may be connected..." She read their equally suspicious looks. "But that's stupid! We're all professionals, well known! No one'd be willing to throw away their careers for...for that!"
     Speed nodded grimly. "That's why Pops is so upset."
     She looked over at his father. A professional wrestler before an engineer, Gordon was built like a semi truck and not a person one wanted to get angry. Normally he didn't mind the rules made by the WRC as long as he could bend them, but to insist on carrying extra equipment without cause, or explanation, especially of that type in the world's current political state- it worried and infuriated him. And because of that he was moving with quick and angry movements as he recalibrated the Mach's fuel injection system, growling orders to their likewise insulted crew.
     "It might not be such a bad thing if there's an outside attack," Trixie said, softening. "They'd be able to find broke-down or-" she paused uncomfortably, not wanting to even consider the next possibility- "missing drivers."
     "Whatever- I just hope that Gallactor's not going to try any stunts, especially like they did two years ago in Africa," Gordon rumbled. "A lot of people were nearly killed." He finished the car's timing and switched over to testing its Safety Seven, the Mach's unique implement system of his design that included infrared beam headlamps, a bullet-proof cockpit canopy, and more, each driver-activated through steering-wheel button controls.
     "Maybe G-Force will come and fight them again!" Spritle piped excitedly from behind. "We'd get to see the Phoenix in action! That'd be so cool-!"
     Gordon gave him a stern look. "No, it wouldn't. If they show up, then it means Gallactor's about to do something horrible." He hit one of the controls on the steering wheel, and the Mach's glass canopy promptly slid into place. He retracted it with a remote control. "They're treacherous and stop at nothing to get what they want, even if it means killing hundreds of people. Calling in G-Force means a huge, bloody fight is about to happen." Satisfied with the clear glass cover, he punched another control, and a pair of compact cutter blades, invaluable for clearing road obstructions, extended out from under the Mach's front apron. The left side cutter didn't extend fully, however, and with a low grumble he began to straighten it. "I just hope that the Earth Defense Command is doing something about them."
     "Maybe so," Speed said, taking the tracer back. "The officials certainly are towards us."
     Gordon didn't answer, instead silently worked on the car in a cloud of solicitude. Speed took a few tools and joined him, helping with the adjustment. He thought about asking his father what options he thought they ought to take in case their suspicions turned out to be true, but then decided that it should wait until they were by themselves.
     I'm glad you built her with bullet-proof glass, Pops.
     Trixie and Sparky, both uncertain, watched them for some sign of decision on what to do next. When none came they shared their own worrying glance, then he quietly returned to his work, and she sat before the computer. Hands trembling, she began her analysis of the Mach's fuel consumption, trying not to think about terrorists and the scorecard of their atrocities.
     Chim-chim, cooing softly, sided up next to her and she absently gave the chimpanzee a rub behind his ears. Spritle, surprised by his father's lecture, sat with her for a few moments, then decided to go outside and explore the infield. Chim-chim bounced out after him. Spritle felt confident; Speed and his team had bested other bad guys in the past, from corrupt drivers and businessmen to criminals who happened across their path like that bank robber Lamster, sometimes with his and Chim-chim's help. In his mind, Gallactor was no different, just another gang of bad guys to take in similar fashion if they got in the way. He carried great pride in his champion brother Speed who almost never lost a race, and great faith in his heroes in G-Force, who battled against Gallactor in CNN-broadcast flourish and never lost a fight. Such was the view through his eight-year-old eyes, secure in the feeling that whatever happened, one or the either would certainly save the day. Maybe even with his and Chim-chim's help. To him it was all one big adventure, like playing cops and robbers in real life.
     As they romped about Spritle fell into his pre-adolescent imaginings, pretending he was a G-Force agent, hunting for Gallactor spies.


     "Okay, here's what we've got so far," Jay began, flipping aerials and file pages onto the table like a hand of five-card-stud. He had changed clothes into jeans and a black Team Busch International shirt. They were due to land any moment, and he'd decided that he might as well start to look the part. "There's the Villejuif relay station just a klick from the start line, regulates all the electrical power for Paris and the suburbs to a radius of seventy. The airstation at Murat, Getafe Air Base, and the Talavera Fighter School are each within a minimum of five K's from the course, with Getafe exactly one point three from the Madrid checkpoint. There's Ernesto Ortiz, who threw out that Gallactor-run election in Lèrida, Spain, and Ramon Corrado, who exposed that their Castilla faction was running the entire region; both might have pissed them off enough to each warrant a bullet." He topped the pile off with an overhead of the Spanish nuclear power station. "And then there's Cáceres, for obvious reasons."
     "Along with a million other possibilities." Mareccu grumbled. He tilted the Cáceres aerial his way, studying it with an expression that mixed worry with disgust.
     "Yeah. Figure we'd have better odds winning the California Lottery. That's why I would really like to find and talk to this guy-"
     "Still impossible at the moment," David Anderson informed. The EDC security chief was joining them via coded video relay from Crescent Coral, seen through Jay's computer grouped in his office with several other intelligence officers. "Interpol maintains that he's too close to Gallactor to risk contacting from the outside."
     "Doesn't this guy have a keeper?" Jay asked, a little incredulous. "Even Kennaru had you to report to." He instantly regretted the question, catching the sudden fleck of pain through Mareccu's eyes at the mention of his father's position and subsequent death from spying inside Gallactor, ten months earlier.
     "None that they'll admit to us."
     "Just love interagency cooperation," their warship's helmsman, Robert Harper, mumbled from Jun's left.
     "He might not even have one," Jun said.
     "Whether he does or not- they won't let us touch him," David sourly added. "So until he decides it's safe enough to break silence, surveillance is still left to us."
     "Ortiz and Corrado can be put under wraps," Jun said. "And the stations are on yellow and are going to stay that way until somebody finds out what else Gallactor's looking at. That leaves two vulnerable targets: Villejuif and Cáceres."
     "That nuke plant seems like an awfully big waste, even for Katse," Robert said thoughtfully. "Why irradiate the countryside to uselessness? Looking at it from a logistics standpoint, he'd be losing the opportunity for resources, manpower-"
     "Because he can," Jay stated coldly.
     "Or use the threat as leverage for monetary demands," Mareccu added.
     "True..." Robert admitted.
     Jun pointed to the aerial where all of the neighboring cities were located. "The harmonic idea could also apply there. It serves nearly all of south and eastern Spain along the Portugal border. With the right persuasion, its workers could shut it down, blacking out that entire region. Once that happens, Katse can do whatever he wants in there."
     "But that's just another hypothetical," Mareccu said. "Nobody knows for sure."
     Jun shook her head at her commander. "No."
     "Only that it's sitting there, and might as well have a big neon sign that says 'Take me'," Jay said.
     Mareccu tossed the aerial back onto the table. "We need that sleeper."
     There was a stretch of long, uncomfortable silence. In the background of the video link David was seen distributing orders to the cluster of staff beside him; they were confirming their orders and hastily moving off.
     Jun spoke first. "What about the individual drivers?"
     "So far, they, their sponsors, and suppliers still check out clean. That investigation is on-going, so you can expect updated information as soon as we learn it."
     "Key might have found something," Mareccu said.
     "Yeah, well...it could be nothing," Key downplayed. "I overheard an argument Stephan Adalo was having with a woman and another man with her, who both looked corporate. Something about problems with the fuel injection system in his BMW that did cause him to miss his happy hour on the track. I couldn't hear what she said to that, but whatever it was, it scared him, shut him up in a hurry. I mean, he really looked scared." He shifted in his corner of the sofa at the hard, appraising stare Jay was giving him.
     "Driver disputes happen all the time," Robert said. "That's why some change sponsors as often as their own clothes."
     "Yeah, but I did think it was kinda funny for him to bend the way he did. Like, she's telling him to live with a defective car, deal with it? That's the way it looked to me."
     Jay thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't see it. Adalo's a prick but he stops at nothing to win. He wouldn't compromise that by letting Gallactor use him."
     "Unless he doesn't know that Gallactor's using him," Mareccu suggested.
     "Oh, great- make that hypothetical number six hundred ninety-eight," Jay vented towards David. Mareccu flashed a sarcastic grin.
     "What did she look like?"
     "Um, she was thirty-odd, tall, thin; blonde hair cut short. She was wearing a black pantsuit. Doesn't the track have security cams pointing at the garages?"
     "We're looking into it."
     "I got the plates of the car she took off in. French, PS45W86. Black Mercedes."
     "A rental," Mareccu said. "First letter of the plate."
     Key's eyes dropped. "Oh."
     "Relax, they can trace whoever rented it."
     "It's more than what we had a few minutes ago, anyway," David said. "Much better than that sleeper's willing to give. Keep going with what you have. We'll let you know if anything changes."
     Nothing left to cover, Jun slowly gathered the material into a neat pile. David signed off; Jay shut off the connection through his notebook. Nobody said anything, all considering the unknown mess they were about to dive head-first into. "Laporoscopic" reconnaissance they were comfortable with: simply injecting themselves quietly into a target region or group, listening, watching, exploring much like the surgeon who makes small cuts and inserts the fiber-optic laporoscope camera to find the diseased tissue within, then attacking at the right time with swift, shocking speed. But this- older pics of Jay taken when he was active with TBI were being splashed all over the newspapers. Paired against that Patrick Rayce kid, fans were excited and clamoring over the "match race" to come. The exposure was dragging in that much more humanity, spectators come to watch the match race as it screamed by their town. It was already a huge, overblown mess, and if Gallactor gained the upper hand by attacking where G-Force expected it the least...it would be cataclysmic.
     Thinking about it, Jun finished stacking the papers. She looked up at the others, her green eyes flashing anger and dismay. "Is there anyone else besides me who's scared to death over chasing every team here from one target to the next, thinking he or she might be carrying a Gallactor payload?"
     Unanimous looks of assent.
     "How many total are we looking at?" Mareccu asked.
     "Forty-seven drivers," Jay replied. "Team personnel included, that's well over five hundred people. I can't even start on how many spectators there'll be. CCI says over ten thousand, just here."
     "Jesus," Robert whispered. "How the hell are we going to do this?"
     "Only way we can," Mareccu answered after a long moment. "Keep our eyes open. Pray the bastards don't do anything behind our backs. Behind anyone's back."


     On a sunny Champ de Mars corner, a casually-dressed man sat himself at one of the outdoor tables of a simple, non-descrip café. It was the kind he liked best: quiet, spacious, excellent coffee. He ordered a cup and then sat back to read his newspaper, his brown eyes occasionally darting over the pages' top to take in the surroundings. It was a beautiful day; tourists were viewing the Eiffel Tower in marveling awe, and street performers entertained the passers-by.
     His coffee was taking longer than usual, and the man felt a mild pang of alarm. It was usually not a good portent when the waiter was slow. Actually not a waiter but the café's owner, a slight elderly man named Phillipe who was very wise, very observant, and knew many, many things. He supposed Phillipe would carry most of those things to the grave, but as it was, he was very glad that Phillipe was willing to pass some along to Interpol.
     When his coffee was finally ready, Phillipe carefully set the white porcelain cup and saucer down onto he table and followed it with a tiny silver decanter of cream and a matching tiny sugar bowl. "I'm very sorry for being so slow today," he said in French with genuine apology. "I think it must be turning cold soon, my hands hurt so."
     "I'm very sorry to hear that," the man sincerely replied. "I hope they'll feel better tomorrow."
     "I hope so too. I think that if my doctor son comes home early, he may have something to ease the arthritis a bit."
     The man nodded understandingly, and with a slight wave goodbye Phillipe went back into his café. He walked with slow debility, as though all the regrets he carried weighed him down like chains.
     Adding just enough cream and sugar to give the coffee a touch of vanilla flavor, he spent the next half hour thoughtfully sipping at it while reading his paper. When he got to the sporting section he let a shrewd smile tug a bit at the corners of his mouth. There was Patrick Rayce, beaming to the camera with that innocent school-boy smile of his. The article was yet another speculative piece about the coming unofficial match between he and former rally giant Jay Randall. Then he sobered, knowing that all the media hoopla was doing nothing but adding more bodies to the potential count.
     He left a generous tip and tucked his paper under his arm. It was just a short walk to the loft where he stayed, around the corner and two blocks down. It was an old building with a locked underground garage, the aged sign of an architectural business hanging over the door. He let himself in with a key and was immediately enveloped in dusty darkness, but then his eyes adjusted to the gloom and he easily picked his way to the far corner of the garage.
     There, sitting in the darkness like a crouched puma, was his specialized performance rallycar, his Shooting Star.
     He abandoned his newspaper on a workbench and slid into the car's drivers' seat, running his hands over the leather-wrapped wheel. There, he let his unhappiness over Phillipe's message sink in, and tried to decide what to do next. All his information came from the old man, whose "doctor son" was actually his own son, a scientist in the Gallactor Syndicate. The carefully worded admission about his hands meant that he had nothing new to give about his son's actions. Phillipe didn't have many years left, was weighted down by too many regrets and sorrows about his son and his own past in Gallactor, and perhaps it was why he was so free with his knowledge. That and the understanding they shared, that his information was a kind of down-payment, a trade in installments, for the sparing and possible defection of his wayward son.
     Yet Phillipe hadn't been able to tell him more than he already had in better than a week, and it worried him profoundly. Could the Earth Defense Command do any better? He honestly didn't think so.
     He reached into the Star's glovebox and pulled out the kidskin leather mask. It was a hated thing, but necessary to cover his identity in the glaring spotlight on WCR racing. He turned it in his hands, running his fingers over the delicate seamwork. The only recourse left was to search for Gallactor in the race himself, coordinating with the security people the EDC had assured they'd brought in. He hoped that between all of them, Gallactor's motives would become apparent and able to be stopped before somebody got killed.
     At the same time, he weighed the decision to contact his father Gordon Rayce. To warn him that he should pack up the entire family now, and get home as soon as possible. Spoken while posing as his alter ego, of course.
     The way things were looking, Gallactor would march before anybody could stop them, and people were going to die.
     He was sure of it.


    "I have just been contacted by Geneva," Karl Reigel spoke. "They tell me that everything is prepared according to plan, and can proceed on schedule." He looked at his female counterpart with cold brown eyes so dark they looked like the kind of ponds that look inviting but are actually fathoms deep and can drown. His sable hair was trim and neat, and he was wearing a dark gray suit. Such was the dress of Gallactor agents in the field, the perfect urban camouflage for business district Paris, and the cavernous top-story financial building office the pair collaborated in.
     "Very well," his counterpart said, likewise dressed but with a rich maroon blouse under the tailored jacket. "Although there may be some hesitance in our contact. I am concerned he may try to notify the authorities. How would you like me to handle that possibility?"
     "I will tend to him, Nona. Don't worry. I only need to remind him of the terms of our deal. He'll cooperate."
     "There are already signs that the EDC are moving in," she said. "Security in and around the track has been intensified, and they are scanning all vehicles in and out of the checkpoints."
     Reigel waved them off. "They are ignorant. They don't know exactly what to look for, and will misdiagnose our intentions. In fact, I anticipate we won't even have to deal with G-Force.
     And if we do, I trust your aim is as good as ever?"
     Nona smiled. Her blue eyes, shadowed under the bangs of her light bob-cut hair, were razor-sharp and absolutely ruthless.
     Reigel nodded satisfactorily. "Then we begin, now."




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