Lap 6- Lightning's Lonely Roads

Destini was thankful that the long and winding roads leading to the Lightning area were mostly empty, allowing her to freely cruise at a relatively high speed, but also being careful to not go excessively fast. Last thing she needed was to find herself in a speed trap and get pulled over by some irate cop. Besides, it's more than likely that after the heist in Vegas Palace the cops would recognize her from a witness' description and she'd get herself arrested.

Ugh, the cops and Don's goons. It's like the whole galaxy has it out for me, she thought. The sky was getting darker, both from the coming dusk and the rapidly approaching storm clouds. In the distance, the occasional flashes of lightning were visible, which is what gave this small area on the outskirts of Mute City its name. As she drove, Destini couldn't help but think about everything that had gone down that day. A strange meeting, her first real (albeit unofficial) F-Zero race, and a broken promise. What in the galaxy did Spade mean when he said he had what he wanted from me? she wondered. He didn't really seem to gain anything out of their encounter. Then again, as far as Desini knew everything about Spade was an enigma. She didn't really want to think about him too much. Destini wouldn't openly admit it, but she had actually found Spade to be somewhat frightening. Maybe I should've just left him alone. I got nothing out of him anyway, she thought.

Destini was literally and figuratively shaken out of her thoughts when the Purple Tabby suddenly lurched to the side. "Whoa!" she yelled out in surprise, tightening her grip on the controls and looking over her machine's status. It seemed something was wrong with the G-Diffuser, and it was under great stress. Any more and it would probably fail and send the Tabby crashing onto the road. Destini quickly pulled over and brought her machine to a stop, jumping out to have a look at what was going on. She knelt down on the hard pavement and crawled underneath the Tabby before rolling onto her back, scraping her skin a little bit as she did so. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but then again she didn't know anything about how F-Zero machines work. "Damn it, where's Clash when I need him?" she murmured to herself as she crawled out from beneath the Tabby, thunder rumbling in the distance. She had no way to reach him, and she didn't really want to aimlessly wander through the streets in search of someone who had the technical know-how to fix a G-Diffuser. Thanks to Don Genie, she no longer felt like she could safely wander like she used to. Sure, she had her gun, but it was only a small revolver and it probably wouldn't help her much if she was confronted by several of Don's cronies at once. Feeling defeated, Destini climbed up on top of the Tabby's cockpit and gazed out at the skyline. Her chances of making it in time to enter her first ever Grand Prix were rapidly slipping away. With every passing minute another racer could be registering and soon enough, they would have reached their maximum capacity of 30 entrants.

Destini wasn't sure how long she was brooding for when she felt something small land on her face. It was starting to rain. She huffed and slid back down to the ground, ducking underneath one of the Tabby's wings for shelter. The rumbles of thunder were becoming louder, punctuated by the occasional bright flash of lightning. It wasn't terribly uncommon for Lightning's storms to intensify and spread out over a larger area during the summertime. Destini continued to wonder what she was going to do. As much as she didn't want to, she probably would have no choice but to seek out someone who could repair her machine, even if it meant possibly putting herself in danger. Before all this, Destini never had any fears. Nothing could shake her up, let alone leave her afraid for her life. But now that possibly the most notorious mobster in the galaxy had it out for her and probably had a lot of goons after her, she had to be careful. She didn't even want to think about what Don would probably do if he got his hands on her, literally and figuratively. Destini drew her limbs closer to her body, knees up to her chest as she shivered from the chill in the air thanks to the torrential rain. Streaks of white lightning seemed to tear the black sky apart.

Destini wasn't sure how long she was trying to wait out the storm. Sooner or later it had to retreat, she was still only on the very edges of the Lightning area. The young woman sighed through her nose and rested her chin on her knees, closing her eyes as she started to doze off out of boredom. Though a few minutes after that, the sound of another vehicle making its way down the empty road pierced the cacophony of the storm. Destini opened her eyes and climbed out from underneath the Tabby's wing, not minding that she was now getting soaked by the rain. She hid behind her machine's hull and peeked out to get a glimpse of who or what was passing by. As it got closer, Destini felt her stomach drop as she saw that it was light blue. Fat Shark! She dove back underneath the Tabby's wing and kept one hand on her weapon in case she needed it. Water dripped off of her hair as she held her breath, hearing the Shark coming to a stop and someone, more than likely Don himself, jumping out.

It's now or never! she thought.

"Hold it!" Destini yelled over the rumbling thunder as she jumped out from her hiding spot, cocking her gun and holding it at arms length in front of her. But this visitor was not at all who she had expected it to be, nor was the machine Fat Shark. It was a sleek F-Zero machine that was a very similar light blue to the Shark, but with a long, slim, and almost pointed hull with a pair of small fins on either side of the cockpit. Destini lowered her weapon and saw that this machine's pilot was actually a young boy, probably no older than ten, wearing large rimmed glasses along with a white sweater vest and blue shorts, and although he had only been out in the rain for a few moments his brunet hair was drenched. He had his blue-gloved hands held up in the air, clearly not expecting the type of greeting Destini gave him.

"Um... is this a bad time?" the boy asked timidly in a squeaky voice.

Destini holstered her weapon. "Just a kid. You scared me."

"I'm sorry miss," the boy apologized as he lowered his hands. "I just wanted to see if you're ok, since you're just stopped here on the side of the road."

"What's it matter to you, kid? Who even are you?" Destini narrowed her eyes at the boy. Sure, he was just a kid. But Destini had now learned that she should never let her guard down around anyone, no matter who they are.

"My friends call me Digi-Boy," he smiled up at the young woman. Destini took another glance at the light blue F-Zero machine. She recalled seeing it in the Grand Prix a few times but had no memory of this Digi-Boy kid. The machine had "Cosmic Dolphin" emblazoned on the side of its hull. Destini folded her arms as this Digi-Boy continued talking.

"That's definetly an F-Zero machine you have. Something must be wrong with it if you're just sitting out here," he continued, gesturing towards the purple machine.

Destini quickly stepped in front of the Tabby. "Yeah, the G-Diffuser is shot. What's it to you, kid?"

"I can fix it for you!" Digi-Boy offered with a smile, some small gaps in his teeth that were typical of children his age. This kid is still losing teeth and he's a racer? Destini wondered. She considered his offer for a few minutes. It was definetly better than wandering around on foot and possibly endangering herself. "Fine. But don't do anything stupid," she reluctantly agreed.

"Stupid is the last thing I'd ever be!" Digi-Boy giggled as he approached the Purple Tabby. "I mean, I built my Cosmic Dolphin myself!" The boy knelt down on the wet pavement and crawled underneath the Tabby, having an easier time getting underneath it than Destini did. He didn't seem to mind all the water that was on the ground, since he was already drenched from the torrential rain. Thunder rumbled again as Destini pushed some of her wet hair out of her face, leaning over to attentively watch Digi-Boy work on her beloved machine. He had removed his blue gloves and was inspecting all the little components that Destini was unable to make heads or tails of.

"Oh, there it is. I see what's wrong with your G-Diffuser. It's just some wiring that came loose. That's easy to fix," he chirped. Destini knelt on the ground, watching Digi-Boy do his quick and deft work. She admittedly was somewhat impressed by how much this kid knew in spite of his young age. Until this point the only person that she knew who knew anything about F-Zero machines was Dr. Clash, and he was older than both Destini and Digi-Boy combined. "Ok, got it!" he announced as he emerged from beneath the Tabby.

"You fixed it?" Destini asked as she stood up, a mix of impressed and skeptical. Digi-Boy didn't seem to have done anything to her machine other than supposedly fix it. Besides, he was just a kid, so what's the worst thing he could've done?

There's no way Don would have a kid working for him, would he? Destini wondered. She mentally smacked herself for being paranoid. Of course not. Kids don't get involved with mobsters. Not unless this kid is his nephew or something...

"Were you going out to the Grand Prix?" Digi-Boy asked as he climbed back into his Cosmic Dolphin. "I mean, why else would your machine have a number?"

Destini leaned against the Tabby's wet hull. Her clothes were already drenched so she didn't care. "Yeah, gonna be my first one. At least, if there's still any spots open to register by now." She had to briefly raise her voice to be heard over the thunder. "If I manage to get in, you're looking at the future Grand Prix champion, kid!"

Digi-Boy gave her another childish grin. "There should be, even at this point. I was just headed up there now to get my entry in." He glanced down at something on the Dolphin's controls, then back to Destini. "I've analyzed data and run simulations of several past races on Thunder Road. If everything goes as planned, then I should be the champion!"

Destini folded her arms and smirked. "I guess we'll find out, then."

"Ok, I'll see you on the racetrack!" Digi-Boy called to her over another rumble of thunder as the cockpit closed, and with that, Cosmic Dolphin took off down the road. Destini snickered. She knew that a lot of F-Zero racers were folks who were out of the ordinary, but she never would've guessed that kids would be competing. She climbed back into the Tabby, and as it powered up the status indicated that everything had gone back to normal. At least he was honest with me, Destini thought. Purple Tabby took off down the highway once again, and the rain was finally starting to let up a bit even as the area's namesake lightning became more intense the further she got into the city. Destini grabbed the poster she had torn down, taking a quick glance at the address where the F-Zero Committee would have the registration set up. Thankfully it wasn't too far into the city, just a few kilometers from where she was.

Upon arrival, it was fairly obvious that this was the place she had to be. The building that was before Destini was a skyscraper that seemed very out of place among Lightning's power plants and other industrial buildings. The racetrack was visible up in the sky, hundreds of meters above the ground and spanning countless kilometers. Destini brought the Tabby to a quick stop at the entrance and practically leapt out of the cockpit with excitement, dashing in through the sliding doors. The inside of the building, or at least the ground floor, seemed to be akin to a lobby or lounge. Immediately inside was a desk that was occupied by a tall, rust coloured droid. Further into the massive room were water coolers and tables with comfy looking chairs set up, presumably for racers or Committee members to occupy as they pleased. Destini was sure to take a quick glance around to be sure that neither Don nor Ankoku were present, and thankfully they were not. All she immediately noticed was Antonio Guster standing alone by a cooler with a drink in hand, and Kate Alen sitting at one of the tables alongside a short, hamster like alien with large ears and red eyes who was dressed in purple. No immediate threats. Though as Destini went to approach the rust coloured droid, she heard a familiar voice call out to her.

"Miss Crane!" It was Dr. Clash, whom Destini had not noticed on the far end of the room. He jogged over to the young woman as quickly as he could, smiling from ear to ear. Destini turned in his direction and gave him a small wave. "Hey," she greeted. The elderly man rubbed his hands together happily before throwing one arm around her shoulders and hugging her. Destini had never been much of a hugger, but she knew it was coming from a place of friendliness so she allowed it. "It's been a while! Have you been well? How are you enjoying your machine?"

"Hey, slow down old man. I can't talk that fast," Destini chuckled as she was let go. "I love my machine. Thanks again for putting it together."

Dr. Clash laughed happily. "It was my pleasure! And now you're finally going to make it big!"

"Well yeah, once I get in to register." Destini folded her arms.

"Ah, right." One of Dr. Clash's robot hands scratched his spiky grey hair. "You go do that, and how about I get us something to eat. How does that sound?" he suggested. Destini almost leapt at the idea. She hadn't really had much to eat since fleeing Aeropolis several days prior so a full meal sounded fantastic. "Sure, that sounds good," she agreed. She also wanted to get out of her wet clothing and into something warm and dry.

Dr. Clash almost seemed to dance from happiness. "All right, you go do that and I'll meet you back in here!" With that, the portly man hustled off. Destini smirked. She often found herself being amused by Dr. Clash's eccentricity. She finally approached the desk and the droid's "eyes" lit up as she got close.

"Good evening," it greeted in a feminine, robotic voice. "My name is ZC-15, and I am here on behalf of the F-Zero Committee. How may I help you?"

"Can I still enter the race?" Destini asked curtly.

"Indeed you can. There are..." ZC paused for a moment. "Eight entries still open for the race. Now, what number is your F-Zero machine registered under with the Committee?"

Destini didn't hesitate for a second. "Number 41."

ZC's eye-lights began to blink slowly. "Accessing F-Zero Committee's pilot database for machine number 41..." Destini put her hands on her hips as she waited for the droid to do her thing. Is this what Clash was doing after I tried out my machine? she wondered. It made sense that the F-Zero Committee would have a database of all active pilots to make Grand Prix registry much easier. It also made her wonder if they still had any data on past racers who had since retired. ZC's "eyes" finally stopped blinking after a few moments. "The machine registered under number 41 is Purple Tabby. Is this correct?" she asked. Destini nodded.

"Affirmative. Please show me to your machine, and my colleagues will guide you from there."

Destini turned and walked back out through the sliding doors, the droid following close behind. "This is it," she said as she gestured to the Tabby. Almost immediately, a trio of small and round droids hovered over to the purple machine. The one closest to Destini looked at her with what appeared to be an "eye" and spoke with a male voice.

"Please enter your machine. We will guide you from here," it instructed. Destini complied, hopping into the cockpit. Purple Tabby started up, but not with as much power as it would normally have. It started to move slowly, and Destini was careful as she followed these round droids a short distance to a tall, spiraling ramp. After a few minutes of ascending, the Tabby entered what appeared to be a giant garage or pit area where all of the machines would be kept prior to race time. Destini couldn't help but marvel at the other machines as she was led down the corridor. White Cat, Wild Goose, Little Wyvern... it was like something out of a dream. Finally, she was led to park the Tabby in between the sections where Death Anchor and Wonder Wasp were housed, with tall steel walls serving as partitions between the machines. Destini hopped out of the cockpit, her heels clicking loudly on the reflective floor as she landed. One of the round droids hovered over to the young woman. "Do not worry, our pit crew will take good care of your machine. We look forward to seeing you race tommorow!" With that, the trio hovered off and a small group of short, dome-headed pit droids skipped in and began to inspect Purple Tabby all over. Destini left them to do their thing, and began walking back through the garage. She was able to get a better look at the different machines as she walked past them.

"Wow," she murmured to herself as she walked past the machines that she had seen both on television and in her dreams. Though for some reason, she felt like she wasn't the only sentient being wandering about. Not like she was being watched per se, but definetly someone else who wasn't one of the several pit droids scampering about. Destini paused to look around. Nothing unusual. She continued on, and eventually came across a strange F-Zero machine that she couldn't recall seeing before, not on television or anywhere. Its hull was black as the darkest night, and it was emblazoned with the number 62. Its body was pointed, almost triangular in shape, and its sides were flanked with a pair of fins that almost resembled curved wings, accented with red and yellow stripes. That's odd. There aren't any machines numbered this high, are there? Destini wondered as she stared down this mystery machine.

Eventually Destini gave up on trying to figure out what machine it was. Maybe I'm not the only newcomer, she thought. Though not too far down from the black machine was one that she instantly recognized anywhere. The young woman stopped in her tracks, almost in awe.

Blue Falcon.

Destini couldn't help but approach it. She wanted to see the legendary machine up close, the lucky number 7 emblazoned on its striped fins and characteristic blue hull were even more impressive in person. Destini took a quick glance around to make sure nobody was watching her. Nothing. She turned back to the Blue Falcon and reached out to touch it. The metal was cold and a little worn with age. She ran her hand along the blue machine as she slowly walked the length of its hull, wide eyed. Somehow it seemed surreal. It suddenly hit Destini that her dream had come true. She was finally going to compete against pilots that she had admired ever since she was a little girl. It suddenly didn't matter to her what circumstances led her getting to this point. That wasn't important to her in that moment. Excitement bubbled up in her chest. It's happening. It's really happening! Destini thought excitedly. She ran her hand along the white "Blue Falcon" that was emblazoned on said machine. Suddenly, the sound of someone's voice shattered through the young woman's musings.

"What are you doing?"

It was a male voice, not exactly stern but not exactly friendly either. Destini just about leapt out of her skin before quickly turning around to see who had snuck up on her. Instantly she recognized the blue racing suit, bright yellow scarf, and characteristic red helmet.

Captain Falcon!

Before she could stop herself, Destini gasped and recoiled, her back slamming into one of the Blue Falcon's fins. She couldn't believe her eyes. It really was Captain Falcon, just as he appeared on the poster that Destini had hung up on her wall back home. The pilot who was loved and respected even by other pilots, and one of several that Destini viewed as an idol. One of the pilots she wanted to be like, and someday possibly even surpass. There was silence for several moments as the awestruck young woman searched for words.

"I'm sorry!" was all she managed to say. Somehow, Falcon was almost intimidating in person. His gaze was piercing, and he seemed taller than he appeared on TV. "I did nothing to your machine. I swear on my life," Destini continued after another moment's hesitation before stepping away from the Blue Falcon.

"Couldn't keep your hands off of her, though. How did you get in here?" Falcon asked guardedly as he stepped closer.

"I'm a racer. Like you," she snapped at him, letting go of her inhibition. But Destini felt good calling herself a racer. Ten, or even five years ago she couldn't have imagined it actually happening. Though this wasn't exactly how she imagined getting to meet the great Captain Falcon. She always thought it would be a bit more glamorous than a surprise encounter in a dark garage on a gloomy summer night, not to mention that he didn't seem quite as amicable as he did in the interviews Destini had seen. Falcon stayed silent, but the young woman could almost feel a glare from behind his black visor.

"I'm going to be the Grand Prix champion someday. Just wait!" Destini declared, standing up straight and squaring her shoulders to try to look tough. For as much as she admired Falcon, seeing him in person made her want to show more bravado than she usually would. It didn't seem to work though, and her facade was broken when he briskly walked past her, the young woman practically jumping out of his way. A brief and bright flash of lightning illuminated their surroundings as if it were daytime.

"Hang onto that confidence, you're going to need it," was all Falcon had to say as he stepped up to his beloved Blue Falcon and placed a hand onto it, not looking at her at all. Destini folded her arms and glared at him, but couldn't shake the feeling of disbelief. She almost wanted to ask for his autograph, but she didn't have anything on hand nor did it really seem like the right time to make such a request. The young woman stepped back, her heels clicking loudly on the reflective floor. Falcon was a lot more quiet and brooding than she had been led to believe. I'll see you at the Grand Prix, Destini thought before quickly taking her leave. To hell with him if he's got nothing to say, she thought as she made her way back to the ever-conspicuous skyscraper as thunder rumbled up in the sky. The doors slid open to reveal an empty lobby, and Destini planted herself into the closest seat she could find, leaning her elbow onto the tabletop and resting her chin on her hand.

Even though it had only happened a few minutes ago, that little encounter seemed almost surreal to Destini. Did that just happen? she wondered. She'd be lying if she didn't admit she was starstruck, and she wished that more racers were around so she could meet them and get some autographs. But in all fairness it was getting a bit late, so most of them had probably gone to bed so they'd be rested and ready for the Grand Prix in the morning.

"I come bearing food!" Dr. Clash announced a few minutes later upon his return, carrying a paper bag. Destini immediately perked up as the portly man slid into the chair across from her and pulled out two white containers and two sets of chopsticks, handing one set to her. "I'm not sure what you like, so I just got whatever was close by," he smiled at her.

"It's fine," Destini assured him as she opened up the small box to reveal some tasty looking fried noodles and vegetables. She didn't hesitate for a second before digging in. It felt so good for her to finally have a proper meal. At this point Destini was so hungry she would be willing to eat something that was scraped off of the sidewalk.

"Did you get your entry in?" Dr. Clash asked as the two of them ate. Destini briefly looked up from her food and nodded. "Perfect! Oh, this is so exciting!" the engineer gushed excitedly, his robot hands rubbing together the same way he would do with his real hands. "I just wish Christopher was here to join us. I haven't been this excited since he joined the Grand Prix some time ago..."

Destini briefly stopped eating. "Christopher?" she asked.

Dr. Clash chuckled. "Ah right, you probably know him as Beastman. I put together his Hyper Speeder, and I recall that he wanted his machine to handle well but still be fast. It was a little difficult to find the right balance, but he seemed pleased with the final result."

Destini raised her eyebrows a little bit. She never knew that Dr. Clash had built the Hyper Speeder, and she couldn't help but think of the toy version of it that she had back home in Aeropolis, sitting on top of her dresser. The old thing was probably collecting more dust than it ever had before after having been left alone for several days. Destini stopped eating and stared at her food. A part of her was homesick, which was an odd feeling for her. It was mostly for the fact that she was basically unable to return home by her own free will, now that she had been tracked and Don Genie probably knew where she lived. He probably had a bunch of his goons waiting there for her just in case she returned.

"You all right?" Dr. Clash asked, noticing that she had stopped wolfing down her food and was staring into space.

"Yeah, I'm fine." She ate a few more bites, then looked back up at the engineer. "Hey, I ran into Captain Falcon earlier," she said, trying to change the subject. Dr. Clash raised his eyebrows and swallowed his own food.

"You did? Not much of a conversationalist, is he?" the grey haired man chuckled.

Destini rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I'd know it," she scoffed as she finished her food. "So... where am I going to be staying for the night?" she asked.

"Ah yes, about that." Dr. Clash finished his food and stood up. "I trust you have your pilot's license with you?"

Destini checked her pocket and nodded. Yep, it was in there. "All right, well now that you've been registered with the Committee, just go over to that lift there," one of his robot hands gestured over to a pair of large metal doors on the opposite end of the room, "Then scan it, and they'll have a room set up for you, if you'd like."

"I think I would like that. I guess I'll go hit they hay," Destini shrugged. Dr. Clash grinned excitedly. "Have a good rest, Miss Crane. You're going to need it for your big debut tommorow!" he crowed.

"Night," she said in farewell, heading over to the lift. She scanned her license card on a small black square on the wall, and with an affirmative beep the doors slid open and she stepped in. As the doors closed, there was a chime and a robotic, male voice spoke.

"Next stop- room assigned to pilot number 41."

The lift moved upwards, then to the side, and up a little bit more. Another chime, and the door opened to a small carpeted corridor with another door at the end of it. Destini stepped out and walked past a maid-droid as it pushed its cart of cleaning supplies into the lift. "Enjoy your stay!" it intoned with a female voice. Destini ignored it and walked up to the door that had the number 41 etched into it. She scanned her card on a black square like she did with the lift, and it opened. She stepped in to see a decently sized room, slightly smaller than her room back in Aeropolis but she wasn't about to complain. The door slid shut behind her and locked with an audible click. Immediately inside was a small bathroom, and further in was a double bed, which was a nice step up from a futon. Across from the bed was a television that was built into the plain white wall, and on the furthest end of the room was a floor length mirror beside a black curtained window that overlooked the Lightning area down below. Destini was admittedly impressed, it was nicer than her home and it was clear that the F-Zero Committee wanted the racers to be comfortable in the nights leading up to a Grand Prix. She closed the curtains so the flashes of lightning wouldn't brighten the room while she was trying to sleep, and hung up her wet clothes to dry on the curtain rod before heading into the bathroom to shower.

A little while later, Destini was laying in the large and comfortable bed that had been provided for her. This is it, she thought as she stared up at the ceiling. Your whole life has been leading up to this. She turned over and closed her eyes, trying to get to sleep as soon as she could.

It was time for Destini to have her big break.

Meanwhile...

The skyscraper's penthouse was almost touching the clouds, several lightning rods standing atop it like spires. Inside, Don Genie sat comfortably in a large leather armchair with a lit cigar held in his teeth. A large television screen was built into the wall across from him, so he could watch the race as it unfolded the next day. Ankoku stood next to him, scrolling through the entries of every competing pilot on a datapad. She stopped suddenly and turned to her boss.

"Sir, the newest entry might be of interest to you," she said flatly.

"What is it?" Don asked, taking the cigar out of his mouth and leaning over to try to have a look at what his right-hand was investigating.

"It's a machine called Purple Tabby, registered under the name... Destini Crane.

Don leaned back in his seat, smirking as he pressed his fat fingertips together. "Excellent. I knew she wouldn't be able to stay away from the allure of her first race," he chuckled, blowing smoke out of his nostrils like a dragon. "Finally that stupid Committee is of some use to me!"

Ankoku powered off her datapad. "My Black Swan can deal with her. I'll have her brought to you alive before that race ends, sir," she promised.

Don took a big puff from his cigar. "Don't disappoint me," he growled.