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Just Won the Grand Prix

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“You were impressive in there,” Karma comments, offhandedly, over a crossword. Kurt seems startled and looks up, before glancing around. “Yes. I was talking to you.”

“Didn’t take you for the type to give compliments.” 

“I’m not. So savor it.” She wrote another word in, and he hmm s thoughtfully.

“Impressive? Awful vague.”

“Your shift timing was precise. You did well in performing the realm’s required skill--staying aware of your surroundings and driving through a city with little to no issue.” She didn’t look up as she explained this, and he stared past her, thinking.

“You did well too. I can’t give as exact of concepts, but, eh.” He waved dismissively. That finally gave her pause, and she looked up to him with one eyebrow raised curiously. He simply shrugged.

“You know, I’d like to pick your brain.” 

“Pick away.” 

“How did you time all that so well? It’s almost uncanny. I barely kept up with you and I practice this--obsessively, according to Nolo.”

“I’ve been driving since, hell, since I was legal. Technically before that--I got to early because of a few variables in my favor. Nolo brags about it, but really, it was just a fact of life for me. Point is I’ve been driving a very long time, and manual just… came naturally. Even after all that happened, I think I would’ve been right on Vert’s ass all the way to the wheel, Clyp bots or not. Probably would’ve ended up the same, thanks to younger-me’s cocky attitude.” She quirks a corner of her mouth up, seeming amused by his little tirade.

“I’ve heard stories about the younger just-won-the-Grand-Prix Kurt Wylde. He sounds amusing.”

“He’s something I’d like to forget,” Kurt admitted, eyes darting off. He seemed alert, as if he were waiting for someone to jump him. Karma watched him intently a moment, curious as to his behavior.

“What’s got you spooked?”

“My brother. He’s been lurking around lately and I don’t want more of his this is your fault garbage. I know, already. Frankly,” he sits up and forward, elbows on his knees, “I blame Tezla.”

“For?”

“Me n’ Markie already had a rocky relationship, but I would put money on Tezla making things worse with the World Race, indirectly or not.” That got Karma’s attention, and she pushed the crossword aside.

“How do you figure he drove you apart?”

“Feeding my ego, for one. Rule number one of being with me--don’t do that. I get cocky, and I screw up.”

“Already broke that rule,” she muses, aloud. He just grins.

“Just wait, then. Next realm, you’ll hear me grumbling about how I fucked up. Anyway--between that and even letting him in, it just made things worse. I got greedy, and then… Well. Long story short, I did something I regret, and Markie became the butt of a dark joke.”

“So I’ve heard.” She could see the demons there, the things that sometimes kept Kurt up at night, leaving him to sit in his car for hours, or wander around listlessly. She didn’t like the sight of one of her teammates like that, and got to her feet.

“Hey. Mind showing me those shifting tricks you pulled?” He seemed jarred out of his shadowy thoughts and blinked up to her.

“Oh. Sure. You had that VR setup, right? And the cars?”

“Yeah. When I was figuring out that Drone--er, Sparky. Before he was Sparky.” She gave a little shrug and walked out, not really looking back to see if he followed.

Kurt pulls Battle Spec back, seeming almost disinterested. Karma taps a few buttons, lifting the car and setting it up for a randomized track. It takes minutes before they start, at least two people watching them idly.

The overlay is utterly fascinating to Karma. She sees how he reacts in realtime, the way he knows things that at this point are just instinct. Mockups of S1 drones show up, and Kurt seems to know how they move maybe as well as Karma herself.

“You’re good,” she says, and he simply huffs, taking a corner with a sort of odd grace. It’s almost off, though, like someone trying to write in a second language--the action is natural but the result is just the tiniest bit wrong, like something’s missing.

“You okay?”

“Great,” he responds, without thinking.

“Something’s not right. You’re acting odd.”

“Still not quite used to this… I had Slingshot for years.” She comes right up to his back end, and they skid around a bend together.

“I see. Does that car handle as well?”

“If not better. The positioning’s all wrong though--i’m further back, and the engine’s in front now. The weight feels different. Nothing I can’t handle, but it’s just not the same.” She chews on this thought as they knock a drone into spinning off the track, then decides to spit it out at him.

“You could rebuild Slingshot. Maybe not for racing, but as a sort of…  familiar object.”

“Nah,” he says, almost lightly. He seems happy, at least as happy as he can get.

“Regardless, you seem to be enjoying yourself.”

“How could I not enjoy a good race with another high-skilled driver?” He takes a right-corner easily, her directly behind. She comes up to his right, and he gives a little salute. She shakes her head at him and his smug look. “You know, I used to poke fun at Vert. seems appropriate I do the same to you.”

“Is that so?” She asks, as they crest a hill.

“Mhm. By the way--you shouldn’t sit at an angle to me like you are.” He suddenly veers over, then whips across hard, taking a corner and nearly blocking her wholly. She gives a disgusted noise, and he laughs, clear and real. It’s almost enough to startle her into backing off involuntarily, but she pulls her head together and keeps up. “Makes me think of Banjee.”

“I’m no Banjee Castillo.” She scoffs and manages to pass him in a strip of straightaway, and he seems even happier.

“No, you aren’t. You’re even better than him. I like a challenge.” He pulls up neck-and-neck with her, too focused now to wave. They stay like this right up until the end, the sim automatically shutting off as they finish the track. Karma is out almost immediately, but Kurt lingers in his car a bit before getting out, offering her the headset. She takes care of it, then comes back to him, finding him looking over the computer thoughtfully.

“What are you looking at?” She glances to the screen, and he shrugs.

“Thinking about it all. You really are better than Banjee--at least to some degree. He always took the corners a little off, always shifted a little off. He was good at racing in mountains, but you… You’re this jack of all trades. I like it. Admire it, really.” She feels a little pride fill her chest, and she rolls her eyes.

“Flatterer.” He snickers a bit.

“Can’t help it, I really do admire your skill. You’ve got a knack for this. If you can nail down the timing better, shit, you’ll beat me out.” Taro looks over from his spot, calling out to them.

“What was it you said back in the World Race? ...Something like nobody beats Kurt Wylde. ” Karma nearly laughs aloud at the embarrassed flush that floods the elder Wylde’s face, and he looks bewildered.

“Ah, more of that shit coming back to bite me,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. “I forgot about it, why can’t anyone else?” That made Karma snort.

“Bad luck, I guess,” she says, and he puffs out a breath.

“Damn. Oh well. Thanks for the race, though. Keep up the good work.” He offered a hand, and she shook it firmly. He gave a brisk nod and a small smile before breaking away and wandering off, leaving her to think.