Tricky could spot a Speedo from a mile away. It’s all in the hunched back, set in from the countless hours spent in the driver’s seat. It’s worn proudly, like a badge of honor. The real pros are so hunched that the top of their spines actually stick out through their shirt collars. So ugly, thinks Tricky, as she taps the top of her own protruding spine. 

She watches as people come and go from the diner until she spots the telltale hunch. There. The Speedo. Tricky flashes her storm beams. The other Speedo flashes her a peace sign. Shithead, thinks Tricky. But flashes a peace sign back. She tracks the other Speedo with her sharp eyes as she walks from the entrance of the diner to her whip. A gold-plated beast with a mean-looking black hood. Shitheadmoblie. The Speedo gets in and peels off. Tricky follows. 

She glances in her rear view as they leave the diner and the city square. The hastily built skyrises disappear as they head East. The spaceport lights and the bumpy chk chk chk of the patchwork road fade. They’re outside the port limits when the old road gives way to the newer, sleeker surface. It does look pretty cool, Tricky admits to herself. The jet black road against the matte red sand. Drives well too. At least it does on Tricky’s slick tires. Probably feels bumpy as hell on the other Speedo’s deep treads. With more and more of those going over it it’ll be ripped up in no time. Tricky feels a familiar pang: her lack of allegiance to the Road Expansion project and the Corpos who are running it. What bothers her most is that she’s just expected to be on their side because she’s a Speedo. At least the money’s good. 

The sleek new road comes to an end and drops Tricky and the other Speedo off on the soft, red sand. Tricky’s whole body relaxes. It’s been a while, but she’ll never forget how it feels to drive on the planet’s native surface. She grew up on it. She drifts her car to the left and then to the right and watches in her rear view as a perfect plume of red sand rises into the air. The plume slowly disappears to reveal the dramatic jagged rocks reaching for the stars in the distance. She loves it here. They should just leave this place alone, she thinks, watching the Shitheadmobile’s deep treads churning up the planet’s surface. 

They come up fast on the Rail Expansion site. Tricky spots three or four construction workers and a ton of material. She watches the other Speedo barrel toward one of the workers and smash straight through them. The worker’s legs disappear in a cloud of blood. His top half bumps against the mean black hood and over the back of the car. She watches as the Shithead rams another worker and then into a mountain of crates that probably contain electronic contact elements or something like that. She relies on the car too much, Tricky thinks. All power, no class. Tricky pulls up next to a high pile of steel rods, gets out and sets the timer on a couple of grenades. 30 seconds. She’s about to throw them in when she spots another worker, hiding behind the pile, pleading through tears in a language she doesn’t understand. It might as well be Martian. She growls at him and he plods off. She resets the grenades to 90 seconds to give the poor guy a chance, then throws them into the pile of steel. She jumps back in her whip and speeds off with the other Speedo following closely behind. The other Speedo flashes her a low peace sign as they part ways. Her grenades explode in her rear view and light up the sky. As the other Speedo barrels across the sand away from her, Tricky can’t tell what’s shinier, the gold-plated Shitheadmobile or the blood that covers it. 

She drives up Ester Ridge to forget the evening’s bloodshed. She knows there’s a Light Speed Rail test running tonight. Watching it calms her. It’s the exact opposite of her life. Quiet. Elegant. Effortless. She imagines the Rail Corpos are probably just as corrupt as the Road Corpos and go in for all the same tricks. Same intimidation tactics. She’s heard the stories. But she’ll never get offered work for the Rail Corpos because of her assumed allegiance to the Road. She comes to a slow stop at the peak of the ridge and taps on her protruding spine. Tap, tap, tap. S0 ugly. 

She heard that they’re actually letting people ride on the Rail tests these days. Test tickets are cheaper than a regular ticket will be. It’s all part of the marketing. Everyone knows what it’s like to drive a road but it’s been a few generations since trains existed. They seem like the future to her. No more driving. She hears a faint high pitched squeal and sees a spear of light. As the train silently rockets past, she can only make out flashes of people in the windows but she can feel their calm. Someone else is doing the driving for them. They’re completely free. And still flying along, still speeding. The train disappears into the red night. Tricky squints at the track in the last wisp of light. Just a single rail protruding from the sand. So elegant, she thinks. 

Next job. Same diner. Tricky gets there early and spots the gold-plated beast with the mean black hood. Same Shithead, she thinks, no allegiance, she reminds herself. If she can’t get work for Rail and help to build towards the future she wants, at least she could help stop Road from destroying it. She checks her grenade stash. Plenty. Road has always armed them well. She checks the time and the diner entrance. She still has a few minutes until they’re supposed to meet. Add the eighteen minutes it’ll take to get to the construction site, plus a two minute buffer for safe distance. She sets a grenade timer for twenty three minutes and arms it. 22:59, 22:58, 22:57. It’s now or never. She gets out of her car and moves silently to the Shitheadmobile. An eye always on the diner door. She finds an opening big enough inside the wheel arch and attaches the grenade. Hopefully the Shithead doesn’t have an explosives tracker. She seems dumb enough not to. 

She slides back in her whip and does a loop around the port to avoid any suspicion. The Shithead’s still not out when she gets back to the diner but appears just a minute later. You’d better not screw up my timing, thinks Tricky. She flashes the requisite peace sign and peels out, knowing the Shithead will follow. Hoping there’s enough distance between them if the worst happens. 

They speed into the construction site just seconds past schedule. It’s a huge site with a number of workers. Tricky wishes she had warned them and cleared them all out first. She’ll get ahead of it next time. The other Speedo clearly has no idea what’s about to happen and goes to work as usual. A couple of construction workers are in the wrong place at the wrong time as the grenade she hid in the Shitheadmobile goes off. Should’ve saved them, thinks Tricky as the gold-plated beast bounces into the sky. It lands on one side and rolls over and over, through a high pile of steel beams and into a gorge. Tricky follows cautiously as it tumbles down a few ridges before coming to a stop. Quiet. She looks back to see the surviving construction workers peering towards her and the totaled gold beast. Better make damn sure, she thinks. The beast is teetering on the precipice of a ridge next to a canyon with no bottom. At least it seems like there’s no bottom, Mars canyons are extraordinarily deep. There’s movement inside the car. The Shithead survived. Tricky strides over. From the looks of the wreck there’s no rush at least. She gets to what’s left of the driver side door and sees the Shithead’s bloodied face. 

“I don’t like you,” says Tricky. 

“They’ll find you. They’ll kill you.” Threatens the Shithead. 

“I don’t care.” Tricky replies and pushes on the car with her strong accelerator foot. It sails away from her without any sound at all. Tricky watches after it until it disappears into the dark. The Shithead could be falling forever, she thinks. She gets back in her whip and powers it up before hearing the sound of a very distant crash. Guess not, she smiles to herself. 

As she leaves the construction site she videocalls the Corpo who usually sends her briefs, lets her know that she aborted the intimidation exercise after the other Speedo lost control and went over a ridge into a canyon. As usual the Corpo doesn’t seem bothered. “Check in again tomorrow” she says. *Click* conversation over. 

Before the next job Tricky takes a chance and warns the construction workers first. Too many lives have been lost already. She gets to the diner and waits for her new accomplice. Wondering if she knows them. Most of the Speedos she sped with years ago lost their lives doing this exact kind of intimidation crap. It’s a wonder there are any of us left. She taps at her protruding spine as she waits. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap. Speedo. There’s the hunch. Two Speedos, actually. Must be a big job. She flashes her storm beams and they flash their dumb peace signs. She flashes one back. Hating herself. Two new Speedos with two new whips. Same shitty deep tread tires. Shithead and Shithead. She lets them peel out first and follows them close. 

They get to the deserted construction site and go to work. Smashing straight through the equipment crates and planting grenades. It’s not really intimidation if no one sees, thinks Tricky. But she joins in to avoid any suspicion.  The two Shitheads speed off. Happy with their shithead work. Tricky follows. Playing the committed colleague. The grenades explode behind her. 

Tricky sleeps better that night. Not for a long time. But better. 

Next job. Same Shitheads. They meet at the diner as usual before heading out. The site is further this time. Further than Tricky’s been in a while. Guess the Rails are making real progress, she thinks, is any of this intimidation work even making a difference? The site is really far. Can I even get there and back on a single charge? Tricky feels her foot easing off the accelerator. Something’s wrong. Can the Rails really be this far out? Do the Shitheads know something? She lets them get further away from her. That’s gonna look suspicious, she thinks. She checks her power gauge. Even if she turns back now she’s not getting back to the spaceport without a charge. Where would I even get a charge? The Shitheads disappear over the brow of a ridge. If she’s going to turn around, it’s got to be now. That’ll be the end of this kind of work though. The Road Corpos will never trust her again. Damn it, she hadn’t thought this far ahead. She gets to the brow of the ridge and slows to a stop. There’s nothing on the other side but the two Speedos. They’ve turned their whips around and are pointed right at her. 


Their whips snarl into action. She sees their deep treads rip at the red sand as they hurtle towards her. She flips her car into reverse and spins around on her slick tires. They’ve got the power but she’s got the skills. She floors it and speeds across the packed surface. Sliding left and then right to kick up a red plume of sand to mess with their view. They’re still coming. Gaining. Damn those Shitheadmobiles are powerful. She knows their deep treads are throwing mountains of sand up into their gears. The longer they drive through the sand, the less control they’ll have on it. She leans into a tight, tight turn and watches as they lose their balance trying to match it. They recover and are back on her. Chomping at her tail lights. One of them speeds up on her side. Damn they’re powerful. She grabs at her stash of grenades and drops an armful in her lap. The Shithead on her side slams into her. She keeps control and goes in for another tight turn. She sets the grenade timers to 0.5 seconds and slides back her skyroof, tossing them out as she straightens back up. *BOOM*, *BOOM*, *BOOM*, missed. The Shithead who was on her slide slams into her from the back. The Shithead who was behind her slams into her from the other side. She starts thinking about the end. Born a Speedo, die a Speedo. She grabs at a few more grenades. Sets the timers to 0.1 seconds. She’s a goner anyway. She tosses them out of the skyroof and braces for impact. *BOOM*, she spins out. *BOOM*, cracks her windshield. *BOOM*, hits one of the Shitheads right under their driver seat. She watches him separate from the car. The car doors separate from the frame. His shithead head separate from his shithead body and land on the other Shithead’s hood. The other car skids, regains control and slams into Tricky as she’s still spinning, it jackknifes over her and smashes upside down on the red sand. 

Tricky looks around. Stunned. Stopped. Her whip is toast. She’s too shaken to get out and see if the second Shithead is still alive. She knows for a fact the first one isn’t. She still has a little charge so she limps her car back in the general direction of the spaceport. It doesn’t get her far. 

Stranded. She walks. Carrying a pocketful of grenades with her just in case. Night is coming fast. Which means so is cold. It also means so is another Light Speed Rail test. There must be a rail around here somewhere, elegantly poking out of the red sand. The dark comes. She’s freezing. She starts to wonder if she can start a fire with a grenade. At least keep her warm until morning. Then she trips. Wait. What’s that? The rail. She knows that if she follows it, sooner or later she’ll come to a test station. They’re all over the place. But which way? Gut says left. So she goes left. Following wherever the rail goes. Twenty or so freezing minutes later she sees light in the distance. That must be it. The cold is slowing her down. Feels like it’s freezing all of her joints. But she gets there. The ticket office is warm and inviting. She looks like crap but so does everyone else. They all know they’ll never be able to afford the train when it’s running for real. It’s a luxury choice. They even have to pay to be test riders. But they know it’ll be worth it to feel the future. To have someone else drive for you. She gets to the ticket booth and scans her palm. To get back to the spaceport will cost almost a quarter of her intimidation savings. That’s a lot of work for a single ride. A loop ticket would cost basically all of her intimidation savings but it means she can sit on the train for as long as she wants as it flies along the entire test network. Fuck it, *BUY*. 

It’s not long before the test train arrives. She didn’t hear it, it’s practically silent. But she felt the excitement build in the room and saw other people moving towards it. She steps through the steel gates, then through the glass doors and onto the train. It’s bright. And it’s warm. And it smells of nothing. It smells new. Like the future. She finds a seat in a quiet car. Sits in the most comfortable seat she’s ever sat in. Closes her eyes and taps at her protruding spine. For once she feels elegant. 

As the train takes off she watches the dark red sand, lit by the bright red moon, rush past her. It’s silent. Save for the odd “wow” or “weee” from one of the other carriages. She can’t believe how long she’s spent driving cars. A Speedo by necessity. There was nothing else. Not anymore. From here on out she’s a Railer. She’ll help Rail succeed. She has no idea how. But she knows she must. Rail must be the future. 

Posted by:Tim Bateman

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