Jaimie silently tailed the assassin as he climbed the steps, ignoring all of the door and landings as he went. It wasn’t long until he reached the top of the stairwell and pushed open the door marked “Roof Access”. The track itself was open to the elements but this was the roof of the audience structure, a large arc that cupped the finish line and pit areas. Stadium seating rose most of the way up, rising over the spine of the building where vendors sold food and souvenirs. The final few levels of the building were given over to luxury skyboxes and this door led out to the roof above those boxes. Heat waves shimmered above the tar and gravel surface revealed through the doorway. The killer bent and fastened a bit of tape over the door latch, ensuring that it wouldn’t lock after he closed it. He then headed over to the edge of the roof.
Jaimie slipped up to the roof door and peered through the grimy small window. The roof was dotted with small turbines and other ventilation shafts, as well as structures containing elevator winches and the like. She frowned and slowly eased the door open, watching her prey intently.
The hoverbikes jostled in a tight scrum as they approached the first corner. As the pack leaders began to brake the pattern spread out into a tighter line, only two or three ‘bikes wide. William jostled into a good position behind four other racers as he leaned low into the turn, his ‘bike fishtailing just a tiny bit as he cornered in a controlled skid.
Jonathan snorted as he saw number Thirty-Six at the rear of the pack. Sure enough he practically scraped his cowling in the dirt as he rounded the corner, but as Jonathan predicted that didn’t yield any extra speed. On the contrary, whereas the other ‘bikes rose smoothly back to full upright Thirty-Six struggled, wobbling a bit on the way back up and overcorrecting to the other side before settling down. “You see? Stupid arrogance!” Jonathan muttered to Tammy, but Tammy was focused on watching William who was riding very close to the racer ahead of him.
“Go William!” she screamed and pumped her fist in the air. William couldn’t have possibly heard Tammy up in the stands but he chose that moment to make his move. His top speed was marginally higher than the ‘bike he was chasing and he broke outside on the straightaway to glide past and take up fourth place. He waved at the racer as he slid by and cut back inside, throwing up a fan of dirt and exhaust as he moved.
Jaimie shook her head as she slid behind a small unmarked shed. The assassin didn’t even bother to check for observers as he opened the guitar case and withdrew a long slender barrel. The sniper quickly assembled his gun, adroitly snapping a clip into the weapon body and screwing the barrel into the matching socket. His gun assembled, he gently set it down with the barrel barely protruding beyond the edge of the roof. He smoothly knelt down on the rooftop and raised the scope to his eye, pivoting the weapon down to point towards the racetrack.
Jaimie scanned the rooftop and found another vantage point where she had cover from the sniper but was close enough to see the race. He had said “lap three” so she needed to watch the race to determine if the killer would take the shot. She bent low and scuttled across the rooftop to hide behind a large air conditioning unit. The crowd let out a loud cheer as the racers came out of the second major corner and hit a long straightaway.
“That’s weird.” Jonathan pointed at the second place racer, but Tammy ignored him, as she continued to cheer William on, her attention focused on the closing gap between fourth and third. Jonathan jostled her elbow until she looked at him in exasperation.
“What?” Tammy snapped.
“There’s a fix or something. The racer in second place won that corner. Coming into the straightaway he could have cut off first and moved into the lead. Watch him on this next turn. He’s delibrately choosing to stay in second place.”
The man sitting next to Jonathan snorted and leaned over to whisper conspiratorially. “Of course he is. That’s because he’s not an idiot. Everyone knows that beating Lecault’s man at the races is folly. Everyone except that daft boy in crimson, and he’ll learn soon enough. Any race you see Twenty-Three at you can assume he’ll win the show. The fun is all on seeing who takes second.”
“Who’s Lecault?” Jonathan asked innocently.
“Ach! Are you simple? Duke Lecault runs this city and make no mistake about it. But it’s not the Duke who I mean. It’s his spawn who likes his betting. Any sport here at Coventry and sooner or later you’ll run across Lecault the Younger. And you’d be wise to let him have his fun as well.”
Tammy let out an ear-splitting war whoop and Jonathan winced before focusing on the jumbo holotank overhead. The main pack had reached the farthest part of the track and were racing down the back half. Although Jonathan could just make out them racing in the distance the holotank was much easier to see right now and in it he could see that William had daringly cut inside the third place racer and managed to edge his opponent off the best line for the corner. As they came out of the turn William applied thrust earlier and had quickly moved into third and began a strong bid to catch up with the leaders. As Jonathan scanned the race he shook his head as he watched the ‘bike in second place practically idle in order to avoid overtaking Number Twenty-Three. Twenty-Three had been going far too fast into the corner and had come to almost complete stop, inches from the barrier on the outside edge of the curve.
“Look at that. He’s so much better than Twenty-Three his main problem is that he can’t even make the race look good.” Jonathan muttered with disgust. “William is going to eat both of them alive on the next lap.”
Jaimie found tracking the race with only a fraction of her attention difficult. She was mostly watching the silent assassin, who was simply watching the race and not even looking through his scope. As the racers closed the loop and began the second lap she risked a glance and could see that William was in a strong third place. It was strange, in her glances at the track she would have thought that first place would have changed by now, but she couldn’t spare any more attention to track the race closer. She wished that she could see the holotank but that was projected underneath the roof and wasn’t visible to her. At any rate, she thought it was time to consider her tactical options. She assumed that William would take the lead during lap two and that her sniper friend planned on taking him out at the start of the third lap. The thing that troubled Jaimie is that she had prepared for a day at the races, not a rooftop fight. “You have to figure that he might be a stupidly obvious assassin,” she muttered to her shadowing hoverdrone, “but still he must have at least some combat skill”.
Jaimie didn’t have a gun, and she didn’t have her trademark rapier. She had a slim stiletto in a wrist sheath and a tiny throwing knife tucked in one of her boots but neither was a good choice for protracted combat. She frowned and looked at the still form of her target. No, she couldn’t afford an extended fight. She was going to have to strike to kill. If she was lucky she could kill him and then get away from the roof and leave before the body was found. But he was likely to be better armed than Jaimie and she couldn’t afford to give him the opportunity to strike back.
Jonathan watched the second lap unfold with a mixture of disgust and excitement. On the one hand the revelation that most of the racers were racing for second, not first had dampened his excitement. On the other side of the equation though was William, who didn’t seem to care about this Lecault the Younger business. The second place racer, number Eight was still making a shambles of trying to be behind Twenty-Three. Coming out of the first corner of the second lap William was glued to number Eight’s rear bumper. It was obvious to Jonathan that number Eight was in a pickle. If he tried to stay behind Twenty-Three he was going to be forced into an inferior racing line. If he took a lesser line then William had already demonstrated that he could force his way inside. That would give him a clean lock on second and if William played aggresively he could pass Twenty-Three in the same maneuver.
“GO WILLIAM!” Tammy screamed, drawing shocked looks from the people around them. Jonathan didn’t even notice the crowd reaction, focused as he was on William’s racing. The three racers swept into another corner and it happened just as Jonathan had predicted. Twenty-Three took the turn with arrogance and sloppily had to break hard, turning a sharp corner into something closer to a bootlegger. As Twenty-Three downshifted furiously to restore speed Eight was forced to either cut inside to pass or to flare far outside the ideal racing line. Number Eight made the same choice he had on every previous corner - he cut wide outside, drifting at a near-idle as he waited for Twenty-Three to accelerate.
William didn’t bother with any such maneuver. He cut his hoverbike sharply inside as soon as Twenty-Three flared his airbrakes and began to fishtail around. William had braked for the corner earlier than Twenty-Three so he had lost some ground in the start of the turn, but it meant he could lean inwards and focus all his energy on cornering. He drew an almost perfect line, kissing the inside curve at its center point and then accelerating sharply to rocket out of the second half. The crowd erupted in pandemonium as William shot by Twenty-Three and Eight and took the lead. William didn’t simply pass Twenty-Three, his sharp corner highlighted the shoddy driving Twenty-Three had been exhibiting all race. The racer on Eight bashed his fist against the front cowling of his ‘bike in frustration as he waited for Twenty-Three to regain control and accelerate down the straightaway.
By the time Twenty-Three got up to speed again William was down the straightaway and closing in on the next corner. It was obvious to all that Twenty-Three had no chance of catching William now. Eight might be able to put up a fight but he would have to pass Twenty-Three on the next corner and that seeemed an unlikely choice. Jonathan snorted as he heard the announcers speculate that Twenty-Three was possibly having a controller malfunction.
“It’s the classic problem - failure lies between controls and seat.” Jonathan muttered to Tammy. Tammy showed no signs of having heard as she continued to cheer and scream for William.
Jaimie heard the crowd roar and it only took a quick glance to confirm what she suspected – that William was now easily leading the race. The sniper bent back to his scope, carefully training his line of fire right on the first corner of the track. Jaimie shrugged and flexed her arm just so, catching the hilt as the stiletto popped out into her hand. She reached with her left hand and withdrew the small throwing knife from her boot. She nodded theatrically at her hoverdrone and gauged the distance between her and the would-be killer. It would take two swift steps to reach him. If she was lucky he would be so absorbed in his scope that he would never know she was present. She glanced at the track again and confirmed that William was rounding the last corner of lap two. It was now or never.
She sprang across the rooftop, planning on striking a fatal blow into the sniper’s kidney. It was on that critical second step when she discovered that the assasin was not quite as complacent as he looked. A small unit on his belt blipped a quiet beep. She hadn’t seen him activate the personal radar unit earlier but now he was alerted to her presence. He reacted instantly, dropping prone even as he rolled to the side. His shot rang out and buzzed harmlessly off into the sky as she jabbed her stiletto into the roofing tar to his left side. So much for a silent and fast strike! That shot was loud, and it wouldn’t be long now before security flooded the rooftop.
The sniper flung his his rifle to the side and sprang up to his feet. To Jaimie’s dismay he drew a wicked serrated vibroknife and turned it on. The teeth of the knife blurred into a buzzing chainsaw of destruction. Jaimie knew the teeth would have monofilament edges that were sharper than diamond. If he parried one of her strikes the knife would cut the tempered steel of her stiletto like it was a softened stick of butter. And if he actually cut her with the blade, well that didn’t bear considering. The assassin grinned with a feral snarl and gestured at Jaimie, beckoning her closer.
“Come on now, this is foolish.” Jaimie said. “You’ve missed your target and we both know that even if I left right now you wouldn’t get another shot before the race was finished. Security will be here any moment, we should both leave before anything worse happens.”
“Worse for you or worse for me, love?” he leered at Jaimie. “See, first off I think Security will leave me alone. Second off, I’ve just failed Lecault the Younger. There’s only one thing that might make him inclined to let me live. Sad for you, but that item would be fetching your head on a stick!”
As he finished speaking he lunged forward, swinging his knife wildly. Jaimie jumped to the side and parried with her throwing knife. The low hum of the knife abruptly changed to a whining bandsaw as it sheared the blade clean through and Jaimie cursed as her arm was cut by the metal splinters flung loose. She tossed the useless hilt aside and circled away from her attacker. She stepped towards the roof edge and nodded carefully at the drone, which the sniper had not yet noticed. She spoke, raising her voice and hoping that the crewmembers piloting the drone would understand her plan.
“It’s to be that is it? I’ve seen your surprise but do you seriously think I don’t have a few tricks of my own? You’d best be watching your flanks, lest you get a startling revelation.”
The sniper ignored her jibe and crouched low before springing at Jaimie a second time. She ducked low and stepped away from the roof edge, yelling “NOW!” as she sacrificed her sole remaining weapon to push the vibrating blade away from her.
The drone popped up to her opponent’s left side and flashed a brilliant strobe light while it sounded a strident klaxon. The man stumbled and changed the angle of his stroke away from Jaimie. The angry buzzsaw sounded again as his knife sliced the the hoverbot cleanly in half. Jaimie struck at that moment, when he was off-balance with his weight over-extended. She tucked her shoulder down and hit him just above the waist, crashing into him with all her weight and energy. He took a quick stagger-step, attempting to remain upright but realized too late how close he was to the edge of the roof. There was a raised edge about calf high and he struck his leg on the roof and completely lost his footing. Jaimie dropped herself spread-eagled and flat on the roof as he windmilled his arms and fell outwards. He seemed to almost hover in the air over the roof edge for a split second before he fell, just enough time for him to start screaming. His scream dopplered away as he fell the long distance down before hitting the racetrack with a sickening crunch.
Jaimie stood up and brushed gravel from her clothes, playing to the camera by force of habit, even though her camera had in fact been destroyed. “That wasn’t as discreet as I had hoped, but perhaps I can still make a clean getaway.”
Then she saw the two-person blimp that had hovered over the track getting the live footage for the holotank. Her heart fell as he realized that the holo-camera was focused on her, presumably broadcasting the fight live to the holotank beneath her feet.
“Well shit! That’s going to complicate matters.” she muttered to herself as she sprinted for the stairwell access.