GRAVEDIGGER

By: Christopher T. Shields

__________________

 

Word count: 7955

 

 

I don't like the way that the five point Thompson harness fits. It's too tight around the shoulders, the waist, and the legs, but it's a safety feature that might just save my life.

It's hard to breathe. The air is cold, pure. Artificial. Bottled. I see them standing around me now, distorted through the visor of the helmet. They're typing on palmtops, talking into small recorders and capturing images on digital video.

They ask me the same question. Reporters. News correspondents. Magazine writers. Journalists. They're all the same people, each asking me the same thing.

"What does it feel like?"

How can you describe it?

How can you describe what it's like to be here, about to make history? How can you tell other people what it's like to be what they strive to be all their lives, but few ever attain?

It's hard to comprehend that everyone is looking at you, expecting miracles to happen but at the same time not willing to believe in you.

The old timers are jealous. They've done this all their lives and haven't come close to what I plan on accomplishing. It was their only dream, their every aspiration and goal, and I'm taking it away from them. They look at me with mixed emotions. I look from face to face, each a different emotion, but each emotion a familiar one.

The pits are the worst.

The old timers just stare at you, their feelings either betrayed or hidden by their expressions. Contempt, envy, jealousy, hatred. I am something that they tried for but could never reach and I did it myself.

The crowd chants my name.

Yeah.

They used to chant "Big Daddy" to Garlits and "Snake" to Prudohmme. I smile a little.

The day is almost perfect. Fifty-five degrees, the humidity is at sixty percent and holding, and there is no wind. The air is still. If that's not luck, then it's destiny.

Billy Myers Memorial Motorplex Facility in Gainesville, Florida. All concrete drag strip with the new three quarter mile shutdown area. The whole complex was finished just five years ago. Somehow, the name should move me but it doesn't.

Garlits.

Glidden.

Snow.

Dobbs.

Ingerson.

Johnson.

They were here before me. They're legends, the folk heroes that people compare others to.

I don't feel like a legend and I can't say that I would know what one felt like.

My son sat in the trailer on the floor in front of the old Zenith TV. He had a Richard Daniels coloring book in front of him. Cheap promotion. Richard Daniels, that's me.

My son, Barry.

My wife is somewhere else.

With someone else.

Barry is on the floor with the Crayola crayons spread out near the book. The book is open to the center fold, a two page spread showing me at the tree, strapped into the digger, tensed for my moment in history. Barry goes through the crayons and can't decide. He looks up expectantly as I walk in.

"Daddy, what color do you want me to color you?" He asks.

The digger shakes around me, idling. The noise is muffled through the helmet, but still deafening.

The instruments tell me that the engine is idling at eight grand. A bit high, so I ease back on the throttle and the loping gets worse. I begin to wish that the whole thing was over. I look at my gloved hands, shaking. Is it nervousness or just the digger idling? It's hard to describe the dull, deafening throb that carries from the engine through the chassis, and pierces you to the bone, shaking you like a Korean motion bed in one of those cheap road side motels. But this ride cost a lot more than a dime ...

The engine was built for only one thing.

"Daddy, what color do you want me to color you?" Barry asks.

Barry. If you could see me now . . . color me a whiter shade of pale.

The fumes from the recent burnout still linger, dirty grey white smoke from the huge Kidami slicks wafts away behind me. I can still hear the slicks scream in my mind. That moment when the mechanical force of torque overpowers the gripping strength of rubber and spins the tires fast enough to burn. All so coolly mathematical, equation-like, so abstract.

The other digger is there, an elongated dart-shaped dragster. My competition. Our crews go about making last minute checks on the two diggers. This won't even be a race, and it's not really supposed to be. I'm going up against Mandy Norris, the fastest woman in history, edging out Shirley and Lisa. Her digger runs four point four three seconds through the quarter at over two hundred and ninety-five miles an hour consistently, and she's shutting the engine off a good two hundred and fifty feet before the finish line.

She's holding back, waiting for a challenge.

Me.

I'm campaigning the 'Gravedigger.' Supposedly the world's fastest dragster. I hope so, my reputation is on the line with this one but I know it's the fastest digger I have been in.

A little narrower than a normal dragster, or 'digger' as we call them in the circles, Gravedigger is an innovation in an area that has been stagnant for years now.

Gravedigger sports a one off aerodynamic body mounting two rear wheel pods with air extraction tunnels covering the two huge slicks mounted in back.

There is a multi-tier wing, a six piece design that produces controlled downforce without creating appreciable drag. This allows more downforce on the front end and means less wheelbase. Front wheel pods and wheel discs relieve drag from the front tires.

I need all the rubber to get traction because I'm running a siluminum, seven hundred cubic inch Schubert and Black vee-twelve hemi. Four overhead camshafts, six valves per cylinder, three plugs per cylinder, custom Nodachi billet heads, oversized fuel injectors, two magnetos, and three high volume electric fuel pumps.

The hemi is turbo supercharged, running nitro methane, about ninety-six percent and overdriven on the blower. The waste gates have been set and adjusted and the magnetos are advanced. The engine is fed by two Garret Rayjet tee-fifty- three variable pitch ceramic turbochargers dumping into a Dyers six-seventy-one blower delivering forty-three pounds of cumulative boost. The entire valve train is magnetically stabilized. Belts and hoses, the snakes of the headers and the two large, unmistakable metal 'snails' of the turbochargers.

I call it 'Gravedigger'. Let me tell you, this digger is either going to write me into the pages of drag racing history or it's going to kill me.

This digger might just dig my grave . . .

The engine is still idling rough. I check the CPU and the CRT display on my helmet, projected onto the faceplate in front of me. Everything is going fine. I can feel the engine pulse around me, the digger and I are linked by a complicated neuroactuator system. It's hard to tell where the digger ends and my nervous system begins. I ease down on the injector flow before I signal through the thin plastiglass canopy that I am ready. I give my crew chief the thumbs up sign and he nods, returning the gesture.

I am ready.

Ready to make history, or ready to become it.

I think back to why I am here, how I came about being the man who would put this digger into the pages of racing history. It all began months ago.

Actually a year.

I couldn't afford to build the digger.

I could barely afford the alimony.

The idea came to me in the middle of a drunken binge. I was tired of having people shake my hand and smile while they talked about me behind my back. I got disgusted at feeling sorry for myself. So disgusted that I got up, grabbed my Cray palmtop and a couple of sheets of scratch cello. It took all night and a pair of six packs, but I got what I had dreamed of.

A digger to end all diggers.

We're talking about a two hundred and eighty inch carbon fiber chassis that's very flexible from the driver's feet forward but rigid in the rear to better support the massive engine and absorb the torque produced. I knew that torque was produced tire shake.

I already knew the engine that I would run; a new Schuebert and Black eleven liter hemi, the type manufactured with hybrid silicone impregnated aluminum strengthened with diamond monofilament. A siluminum engine block complete with the Vone Ellis magnetically stabilized valve train good for fourteen thousand plus RPM. Modular design engine, easy to strip down and put back together. The hemi used a one eighty degree 'flat' crankshaft that effectively split the engine into two separate six cylinder engines, each turbocharged, injected, and intercooled individually and being primed at the first by the Dyers six seventy-one blower.

The hemi had a high compression ratio for being turbocharged but that was because turbocharged engines need higher compression for low end torque and getting off the line at the start. Reverse flow cooling, computer controlled direct port injection, friction proofing coating on all internal parts, balanced, and blueprinted.

All considered, that was an engine in any one's book. I only had to figure out how to get all that power to stick to the surface, that was the problem . Then it occurred to me.

Use a three-stage lock-up clutch. The clutch isn't aggressive at the take- off, but as speed builds, the following stages are progressively harder. The digger leaves the tree with three fingers engaged, and as it builds speed, three more fingers engage, followed by three more as the digger moves toward the end of the run.

I had to figure out how aggressive to make each set of fingers to lock.

The gear ratio of the average digger was around three decimal three two to one. I raised the ratio to two decimal nine seven to one, sacrificing some low end pull for top end speed.

The figure that sobered me the most though, after it came together and fit so neatly, was the weight of the digger. I triple checked the figures, staring at the little Cray lapcomp and the super VGA flat rolled CRT that I had velcroed to the side of the wall.

The digger weighed eighteen hundred and nine pounds exactly wet, and that was with driver. Now, the ideal weight of a digger with this type of engine is eighteen hundred exactly and I felt that nine pounds was damn close indeed.

Hell, I could diet and make it eighteen hundred exactly.

I felt great, I had done something constructive with my life and I wanted to share it with others. For a small price, that is.

I'm not stupid.

I went with my hardcopy, all my facts and figures, and my proposal to the sponsors, the really big ones, mind you. Ones like RJR, Winston, Coors, etc. but the story was all the same.

They all knew my record . . .

I was a high risk and not worth consideration of funding. After all, there were better pickings out in the circles than a down and out rail runner like myself. They were polite but made it easy for me to read between the lines in what they were telling me; no.

Great.

I was holding the idea of the century and no one wanted to listen to me. Everyone remembered the crash of '03 and no one was going to touch me after that. That was back at the Gator Nationals. Poor management, a drinking problem, and cheap parts. The people who sat near the track that day got what they wanted. It wasn't my fault that the digger lost control. The digger and I did a complete flip, cartwheeled across the other lane, disintegrating, and careened wildly through the grandstand, landing right in the laps of the fans sitting in the first three rows.

No one was going to touch me after that.

No one except Masui, Fujima, and Lorin, LTD., a Japamerican aerospace engineering, electronic and computer manufacturing corporation who just happened to be looking for a new area of publicity for their automotive related computer hardware and software.

In walks Richard Daniels.

Me.

I was desperate.

So were they.

 

The rest, as they say, is history. Or will be if everything goes according to plan. Since we signed the contract and they signed the check, I've left the alcohol alone. Sheer willpower and a little hypno therapy. I was drunk with visions of being back in the circle of those who slash the rail in under four seconds.

My translator was a little fellow, smaller in build than myself, probably a low level executive. I helped him as much as I could and he explained a few minor clauses of the contract. There were, of course, certain stipulations to the contract.

In return for the honor of being chosen to represent the firm of Masui, Fujima, and Lorin, LTD., my digger and I had to become the official test platform for a new range of technology, the area of experimental research concerning integrating cybernetics and interfacing.

I agreed.

I didn't really care what they wanted.

I wanted a digger.

They wanted a guinea pig.

 

I spent three months of extensive tests in a corporate clinic while their surgeons, and scientists showed me pieces of intricate gleaming alloy and plasticarbon and told me what it could do and how I would use it to control the digger more effectively.

I just nodded and smiled, playing along.

Then they told me that they were going to put the things inside me, in my skull, and along my spine. I drew the line there and backed out.

They called me dishonorable and said there is great shame in breaking a contract.

I didn't care.

 

I had arrived by corporate Lear and chauffeured limo.

I went home by Trailways and Greyhound.

The alimony was due when I got there.

Barry wondered what I was going to do about his birthday which was coming up next week. The monthly payment on the small trailer we were living in was two days late. There was nothing but bills to pay when I returned home so I returned to Masui, Fujima, and Lorin, LTD. and swallowed my words.

I was told that there is great honor in fulfilling one's destiny, or something like that. I had saved face, they said. I'm not familiar with oriental customs, but I took the job.

Again.

I resigned the contract and resigned myself to do whatever it took to be what they wanted me to be.

It took a lot, believe me.

 

They did a lot to me and I really don't understand all the terminology. Cybernetic interface, input channels, output, bioengineering, restructuring, cranial matrix, neural mapping, cortex designation, etcetera and etcetera. I knew what software, hardware, and wetware was. I had a fundamental understanding of cybernetics (I did graduate high school and a two year community college). The surgeons and techs said that I had all this equipment implanted now, but it didn't feel like I had it.

It was just there, inside me.

No scars, some tender spots but they were fading. The pseudorphins and pain killers feel nice.

They talked of bioplas, they said I had a block of it curving between my ears along the back of my skull. They had carved out a good bit of cranial bone material that I wouldn't be needing anymore.

Wouldn't be needing anymore?

They talked and gestured wildly about a master unit that they had implanted in my skull and a slave unit that would be installed in the digger and linked to me by way of input plug and interface. I scratched at the socket behind my right ear where the input plug would fit. The jack was sunk into the bone of my skull. I tapped it lightly.

Now I could understand what they were saying to me. Oriental wetware language translating chip. My translator was no longer needed.

They were designing other wetware chips for me to use and went into detail about what and how but I ignored them. I had enough. Just let me drive.

They did.

Eventually.

But not until some more tests and senshi governed exercises using the new hardware and wetware. Exercises that included Zen overtones and treatment to correlate my thinking and body into the proper mold. There was also time in the local centrifuge. At nine gravities, no kidding. That little ride gave me one hell of a head rush, but I endured it.

I had to.

I had bills to pay and a little boy that was counting on me to be his father. A father to look to, a father in which he could be proud.

I also had this sense of pride.

And an ego.

Masui, Fujima, and Lorin, LTD. began to like me after that. I guess I showed them what kind of face I could have, even if I couldn't smile or stand for two hours after the centrifuge, and had the shakes for three hours more.

 

I remember seeing the digger for the first time.

They took me to the engineering wing of the corporate facility, to the work bays where the air smelled of nitrometh and grease. My nostrils recognized the stench of air wrench lubricant and pneumatic tool exhaust. Somewhere, an air compressor kicked in, adding its throbbing to the din already present in the work bay. Alcohol, rubber, oil, and other smells that I never realized how much I really missed.

My heart skipped a beat.

Twice, I think, when I saw what had once been just figures and notations on a lapcomp, and a couple of pages of hardcopy.

The digger was sleek, painted a deep jet gloss black. I had to touch it to see if it was real.

It was, and it was ready.

The technicians and engineers had been thorough in the assembly, adding a few modifications that I hadn't taken into consideration and solving a few unforeseen problems in the design. I walked around the digger, stored there in the middle of the service bay floor.

Aerodynamic.

Smooth.

I remember the digger had this attitude about it. I couldn't put my finger on it, but no matter where I stood in relation to the digger, it always seemed as if the digger was staring right back at me.

Then they told me . . .

The digger was bad karma. I had the power to control it with, or rather the master unit that would in turn control the slave unit in the digger's carbon fiber chassis.

The mechanics fired the digger up and a few of the younger mechs stepped back. The older mechs had just laughed. That is, until the dyno had revved up and the test crew had hit the digger to it's max. The hemi had screamed, torqued the frame, and made instant smoking history out of the huge slicks, throwing pieces of rubber everywhere. It had spun the dyno so hard, so fast, that the design team had lost control of the test conditions, having to shut both the digger and the dyno down as best as they could. The design team wasn't very sure of many things that day, but one thing that they were sure of is that the digger had broken the dyno . . .

And that new rubber on the rear end was going to be needed for the next dyno session.

The last recorded reading on the dyno was five thousand eight hundred and fifty-three peak horsepower and then the dyno had come apart. The digger had amazed them and it had impressed me. A real piece of engineering. A washed up American rail runner driving a Jap designed dragster. So what if they had bombed Pearl Harbor last century. Everyone makes mistakes now and then . . .

Now, I was sure I wasn't staring at a mistake.

I was staring at fame and fortune and glory.

And I think the damn digger was staring right back at me.

Eye to eye.

They let me get into the digger. I liked it. They let me interface the master unit to the slave unit and lectured me on what to do and when. The digger and I felt as if we were one when the interface came through.

Clean, crisp, no apparent distortion through the interface.

I could feel the digger like it was an extension of myself. I felt like I was going to be wearing the digger, not driving it. They told me that the interface was the cutting edge of technology, years ahead of public or commercial availability. I was also told that my competition didn't have anything like it.

I liked the odds.

I sat in the contour fitting Simpson safety seat later that night, positioned low in the chassis, the safety harness buckles pressing into my back. It felt good. I was alone in the work bay at night, the lights were dim.

Just it and me.

I interfaced with the digger and felt the carbon fiber frame around me as if it was my skeleton. The massive hemi in the engine mounts behind the cockpit felt like a cold metal heart, unbeating. I turned the wheels as easily as I might turn my head or raise my arm. That night, I memorized the digger and how it felt as I remembered what the techs, experts, and doctors had said. They told me that no man alive had ever been subjected to the kind of force that the digger was going to throw at me. None of them wanted to be in my place but all were eager to profit by my experience. There was many a medical journal paper to be written about what I was going through. They told me very bluntly that it would be like no other digger that I had ever nailed down the rail.

This digger could kill me.

The G forces acting on my body from the acceleration could stop my heart, burst blood vessels, destroy delicate nerve endings, cause me to redout or worse. Just me sitting in the digger and thinking what my tombstone would read. 'The fastest man on land', posthumously of course.

My grave.

I quit that train of thought but quick. That was when I decided to call the damn thing the "Gravedigger." Sick sense of humor but I decided that if I were to die, then I'd be a saint.

A martyr of the rail.

If my digger was going to carry me to my grave, then I was going to call it the "Gravedigger."

The next day, they installed not two, but three parachute packs on the back frame of the digger. I began to worry. Most diggers had just one or two parachutes. I had seen the size of the brakes on this digger and the anti-lock system that they had installed.

Aircraft specification triple aluminum caliper ventilated disc brakes.

That scared me a little.

"How fast AM I going to be going?" I asked them, laughing and trying not to seem to care.

A few of the mechanics had gestured and talked among themselves in a low voice that I couldn't understand, even with my wetchip. One of them motioned for me to follow him.

The small, oily coverall clad mechanic beckoned me to a portable down link Sansui-Wang smart terminal that set on a work table. I watched as the mechanic proceeded to call up a set of beautiful Super holo VGA animated flow charts and flow programs, all color and graphs, all the while chain smoking cheap imitation American cigarettes. The holographics kicked in and the flow program showed the parameters of what I could expect on the run, all projected ten centimeters over the surface of the work table. The mechanic nodded, said something that my wetchip didn't translate for me, and took another drag off his cigarette. I watched the flow program till the very end, the illumination of the holo giving eerie shadows to the objects on the table, and outlining the mechanic's features in stark detail.

Over ten G's for a sustained period not to exceed four seconds. There were safety overrides and emergency cutoffs. My chances were pretty good, taking all into account. There were several redundant systems on board. I took them for what they were and I also took the analysis of the digger's performance from a corporate AI generated hypothetical speed run. I could expect a time of three point zero three seconds or better at four hundred and forty plus miles per hour.

Not enough to make a sonic boom, but then beggars can't be choosers.

He muttered something else that my wetchip didn't pick up on but I didn't care.

 

That was months ago.

Yeah, I remember all that now.

I look over at Mandy in her digger.

I can't hear anything except that big mag-hemi behind me. It's deafening and I can feel the pulse of the engine, reverberating through the frame like it was my heart pounding. I look down at the HUD display projected on the visor. It's simple. I won't have time to give it more than a passing glance at the speed I'll be going. Everything else on the digger is being controlled by the slave unit ahead of my feet and the master unit in my skull.

The digger and I are one.

The readings are all normal. The day is perfect. My prayers have been answered. With a little help from the Almighty, some Jap ingenuity, and some American skill, I may just live to see the end of this day. I say a short prayer. I know I've asked for too much lately but prayer is all that I have left to fall back on. Human beings aren't perfect and neither are the products of their hands. I pray, solemnly.

Lately, I've grown to like prayer.

The reporters are pulling away now, the time draws near. I feel the input plug behind my ear, the onboard is jacked directly into my nervous system.

Hardwired.

There's hardware loading software and the combination managing and controlling more hardware loading more software, all controlled by several types of wetware and hardwiring. I'm accessing and analyzing the digger and the track before I'm even conscious of doing it.

My monitors are being watched by the crew in the pit and they flash the green light on my unit, a green OK icon with a smiley face lights itself on my visor HUD. All systems nominal.

The digger and I both check out fine.

The pit crew wish me good luck, a whisper in my headset, drowned out by a roar.

Mandy doing another burnout to intimidate me. It doesn't work.

I need all the rubber I can get but the temp sensor in the rim of each slick is telling the onboard that the tires need a little more warming up before they get good and sticky.

Okay, I think to myself, lets do a burnout.

The smoke clears and I blink.

Was that it?

This digger is more responsive than I thought. I just thought about it and the clutch engaged and disengaged. I saw the smoke and heard the roar, felt the chassis flex and something slammed into my back. I pursed my lips and blew softly as I shook my head side to side, smiling. I felt the input jack cable rub across my shoulder each time my head turned.

I reverse and back the digger back into the lights, watching the attendant give me the clear signal at the start tree. Now I just sit there and wait. The engine is throbbing, shaking the whole digger.

Me too.

I'm shaking.

I can't tell you if it's the engine or me.

Probably me.

The engine isn't shaking that bad.

My mind starts to wander again . . .

I remember a half an hour ago when Mandy and I came out of our trailers and walked to the pits, to our waiting crews and diggers. The photographers were there also, their camera lenses whirring, flashes whining as they charged and cycled.

Mandy exited her trailer wearing this really nicely done fire retardant safety suit, a deep wine color with silver stripes and piping. Across the suit were the logos of various manufacturers who wished to sponsor her instead of me. She does her best show look for the gathered press. The suit was a custom from France.

Expensive.

I grin at the gathering, at her little press flirting and then I step out.

They all turn and stare. Flashes from the cameras amid the thunder that is a hundred different questions asked at once. They talk between themselves, shout questions toward me, and jostle one another trying to get a better position.

Mandy has this really beautiful Gucci and Lars driving suit on. Me? I'm wearing a high G pressure suit that can be traced to a loan from the Jap national defense force. High altitude suit. Padded, semi-rigid coiled and articulated joints, dull flat black color with the joints a nice glossy black. Full face helmet and opaque visor carried in the crook of my arm.

I smile and the crowd goes wild.

I give the thumb's up sign to the reporters.

Of course the suit is fireproof. Of course it will handle a few G's off my total load. Of course it's not just for show and intimidation. Of course I need it and of course I love the way the press gets excited over it.

"Richard Daniels has just left the crew area and he's wearing a pressure suit!" The announcer said over the PA system.

"He's wearing what?"

"A Japanese National Defense Force issue pressure suit, Bob!"

"That's what I asked. A pressure suit? Is that against the regulations, Paul?"

"Doesn't say anything against what you wear if it meets the standards set by the NHRA and the IHRA codes and they have been checked thoroughly beforehand. Daniels is wearing an approved safety device and I think that it looks great."

"There you have it, race fans. This is shaping up to be a long day here at the Billy Myers Memorial Motorplex Dragway. And now a ten second pause for local station identification."

 

I ignore the banter, the questions, all the lenses and mikes being shoved at me from every direction. I just smile and wave as I walk toward the pits, nodding to questions. I walk the final few steps to the digger alone.

This ride is going to be up to me.

The technicians are there, standing around the digger. They help me in, ease me over and down into the low slung carbon fiber chassis, assist me in strapping the harnesses, drawing it tight. They help me with my helmet, making sure that the input jack doesn't dislodge or get tangled in the harness. The technicians give everything a second, final look and then shut the plastiglass canopy of the digger.

My mind snaps back.

The pit crew has signaled me that the run is final. I acknowledge them, the master unit interpreting a neuron from my brain and lighting the OK light on their panel back in the pit.

It's done, the harness is a little too tight but I ignore it.

I'm sitting in the digger at the start tree, waiting.

All jacked in, interfaced, the digger and I are one.

We wait.

We get the stage, the lights on the start tree blink.

Red.

Red.

Yellow.

Yellow.

Yellow.

Green.

The interface reacts, kicks in.

My mind jacks out.

I don't even have to think hard about it. It's instinct boosted by hardware. I cut a decimal point one two light and the digger rears up, screaming. It kicks me hard from behind, I roll with the chassis as it flexes under the torque the hemi is producing. The slicks spin, rearing up, getting hot and narrow. The rubber screams as it fights for traction, and grips.

Hard acceleration pins me against the harness, I'm holding onto the steering grips like I've never hung on before. It's been a long time since I felt like this, felt this feeling; it's like a drug, addictive. My bio readout is scaring the little Jap docs wide eyed back there in the pit.

I feel the clutch engage another three fingers.

The crowd in the grandstand is standing now.

Not one of them has remained seated and all eyes are on the track.

On me.

The interface, the digger, the track, the hardware, the engine, and a half a million other things are trying to overload my mind. The scream from the hemi is deafening, a collage of high performance. A blur of octane, nitrometh, scenery, a hundred thousand faces staring at you from the grandstands, the smell of exhaust and burnt rubber, the scream of the supercharger, the whine of the turbochargers, the electrical pulse of the magnetos, the whirring of the cams in the heads, fuel pouring through the injectors in amounts measured in gallons per second, and the digger.

I tune everything else out.

I can only hear the digger.

Hear and feel it, everything about the digger.

I feel the track under the rubber, rough under smooth. I feel the mag-hemi going through two hundred and thirty revolutions per second, the crankshaft is spinning so fast that it's like a pool of quicksilver in its mounts. The valves moving up and down with the pistons and the cams. Everything moving at rpms that only the imagination can begin to picture.

The digger is screaming.

I scream too, or I think that I did.

If I did, then it was meant to be a triumphant scream.

An exultation.

It scared the pit crew a whiter shade of pale.

I'm already five and a half digger lengths ahead of Mandy and I'm still accelerating. The mag-hemi is just coming into its power band when I see the finish line. Two hundred and fifty revolutions per second. Fifteen grand and in the red.

Behind me, Mandy is trying to keep up and failing. Her digger falls behind even further.

A huge cyclonic tail is exploding behind the digger, exhaust and dust swept up and transformed into visual expressions of turbulence by the passage of the digger.

The G suit pumps up, driven by a compressor run off the engine. I feel my blood start to really pool. My vision narrows to a dark tunnel and I can't feel my legs. My other senses are going, fast. I concentrate on the interface.

Maintain the interface.

I see the HUD flashing numbers on my visor. Numbers I can't read, but that I can understand by virtue of months of training and exercises. I feel the slicks trying to bite into the track, I feel the wind flowing through the tunnels in the wheel pods, flowing over the aerodynamic body. The digger and I are one and the same now.

The only difference is that one of us can die, and one of us can be rebuilt.

The racing harness is digging into my shoulders through the padding of the G suit. I'll have blisters or bruises there but I can't think about that now. I smell the cool, artificial bottled air as I breathe in. The long drawn out hoooosh of my respirator echoes in my mind.

The air is laced with an aerosol drug. Hype. I was told that would be part of the program. I can feel pseudorphins in my veins. My eyes are being driven back into their sockets, my lungs ache, my chest hurts with each breath. I twist in my harness. The pressure vest hisses viscously as it expands, saving my blood from pooling.

The deafening roar of the hemi behind me, a spectral, undulating, banshee- like scream.

Ripples form in the shallow soft pools that are my flesh. My cheeks burn, as they are shoved around the side of my head by the force of acceleration.

The G meter is showing five Gs.

Six.

Six point eight Gs.

I think I wet myself.

I'm not sure, so many sensations at once, but I do know one thing; I can't be sweating that bad.

My pulse is racing, my chest is pounding.

My breathing is labored and shallow.

I feel like history.

I feel great.

I'm doing it.

I'm really doing it.

The G meter is reading seven point five Gs.

Seven point eight Gs.

Enough already.

The deafening roar of the hemi behind me, a spectral, undulating, banshee- like scream.

A huge cyclonic tail is exploding behind the digger, exhaust and dust swept up and transformed into visual expressions of turbulence by the passage of the digger.

Eight point two Gs.

How much more?

I can see the finish line, but it seems so far away. A second more, maybe a little longer and then I'll cross it.

Nine point five Gs.

I'm going for victory even if it kills me. I see the shutdown area and finally pass through the cut-lights. I try to maintain the interface but the force is so powerful that it hurts just to blink. A person shouldn't go this fast this fast. The G meter flashes a red readout.

Ten point two five Gs.

Beyond the design limits of both myself and the machine.

The interface reacts to programming I didn't even know existed. It shuts the digger down at the predetermined safety level but I still lose it all. Blackness swims up around me, embracing me.

[FUEL FLOW: 0%]

[POWERTRAIN: DISENGAGED]

Then I'm into the shutdown area, coasting at several hundred miles an hour.

[WARNING! OPERATOR MALFUNCTION!] Flashes on my visor in my dimming vision.

The digger slows noticeably, the turbo supercharger whines through shutdown now that the hemi isn't pumping any more. A spectral, undulating, banshee-like scream that only now slowly begins to fade.

I've got to stop, I think to myself.

[DECELERATION CHUTES] the HUD flashes, the master unit reading my thoughts, translating neural impulses to affirmative action commands.

There's a hard tug on the rear of the digger, followed by a second and a third. A heavy drag grabs hold of the digger. The chutes. Then the digger slams into something hard and I come to a sudden halt, rocking back and forth, sharply, like a boat tossed on a wave. The turbo supercharger scream dies and fades away as the turbos spool down independently.

I let go of the interface, feel it slip away from me, rising rapidly upward away from me. The interface like helium, my body like lead.

Fade to black.

"My God! Did you see how fast Daniels got out of the hole. He's left Mandy behind like she was sitting still . . ."

"I see it but I still don't believe it. Look at all that smoke . . ."

"We are definitely seeing history here. Daniels has done what he promised to do with an incredible time of three point oh three seconds at a speed of four hundred and thirty-five point six four miles per hour. Incredible. Just incredible."

"We see the triple, yes, count them yourselves, three chutes on Daniels digger and it is slowing but still no word on how Daniels is. He's hit the final stages of the shutdown area and the crash webs have stopped him just shy of the border wall. That run took a lot to make it happen and we're hoping that Daniels is all right . . ."

"Mandy Norris has run an incredible three point seven nine seconds at three hundred and forty eight point seven miles an hour. A good showing, but not as good as Daniels."

"I see that Daniels' team is racing down track now in pursuit of his digger. Let's go live with our crew standing by in the shutdown area to check out the word on Daniels then we'll be back with an instant replay. Over to you, Steve . . ."

 

I come out of the blackness, slowly, swimming upwards, circling. I see light. The digger is sitting there at the shutdown area, just fifteen feet shy of the border wall. The digger is covered in three overlapping nylafiber crash webs, the kind the Navy uses to stop runaway jet aircraft on carrier decks. I ran right through them, barely feeling them jerk the digger to a stop.

A couple of mechanics and technicians pull me from the digger. I feel hands helping me out of the roll cage. It's a strange feeling, every thing is a new sensation now, coming out of interface. The mechs are carefully removing the interface cable from my jack and helping me take my helmet off, followed by the respirator.

Air, tainted with the mechanical smells of the dragstrip. A wonderful collection of acidic and burning smells that irritate the nostrils.

Mandy's digger is so far behind me in the shutdown area that I can barely see it. My vision clears and they help me out of the carbon fiber cage. My legs aren't there and I take that for what it is.

I feel the stinging of blood returning to areas of my body that it has so recently vacated. My whole body is itching like crazy as the blood returns. My legs start to respond and I can just barely stand.

I damn sure can't walk.

I'm trembling too much.

I'm alive.

The reporters are all there, shoving mikes and cameras in my face again. A hundred different lenses stare at me and I see my reflection in each as the digger sits behind me, pinging and creaking and cooling. I smile, it hurts to smile, but not as much as it hurts when I shake the sweat from my hair.

I'm breathing.

It feels great.

My crew is pouring champagne over my head. It's chilled and it feels so good. They are glad to see me alive, no more so than I personally am. I stumble some with my first steps. They'll take me to a hospital after this and I can't blame them. I've got bruises in places that I never even knew could bruise, maybe even internally.

Ten Gs and then some.

God.

I feel it now. The dampness. It certainly isn't the champagne running off my head and down my shoulders. I did manage to wet myself. I hope it doesn't show . . .

Good thing I chose to wear a dark color. Good thing the champagne is running down the front of my suit.

Mandy would sure show if she had wet herself in that red suit of hers.

God, that would be embarrassing.

On global TV too . . .

I'm glad that it doesn't show and only a few people will ever know that it happened. Me, my crew, and God.

Oh, yeah, and the Jap pilot from whom I borrowed the suit.

Hope he knows a good dry cleaner.

I'm giddy. I need a drink bad, despite the hypno-training. The sensory images of the last few seconds are overloading the recent intrusion of the interface and its diminishing after effects. It's hard to readjust so quickly. I was a machine for three seconds and each second felt like an hour.

I feel the top of my head start to grow numb, my upper chest is starting to tingle, my legs feel like I'm walking in syrup and there's a muscle spasm in the thigh of my right leg. Symptoms of the oncoming hype crash. I'm going to come down from the aerosol, hard. I can tell. It's the first time that I've actually used occupational drugs . . . .

I sigh and breathe in again, shaking more sweat from me, feeling my head go numb as the tingling spreads to my arms. I'm giddy from the torment that my body has just endured I'm not coherent. I'm carried off the track by the pit crew, held high amid a cheering mob of hands and recording equipment.

I remember Barry and I mutter something that I really never intended to say aloud. The crowd is deafening, but I can hear his voice again, it's the only thing that I can hear clearly.

I can see Barry sitting there with his coloring book opened to the page showing me and the digger at the tree. He looks at the picture, then at his crayons, indecisive in his choice of colors, finally looking up at me.

"Daddy," Barry says to me, and I smile at the remembrance. "What color do you want me to color you?"

Son, I think, if you could see me now . . . .

"Color me triumphant."

 

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Gravedigger

Awarded First Place
and
Best of Show
(out of over 90 entries)

 

Adult Category

Writing Contest

Coastcon XIV

March 16, 1991