Characters: X, my best approximation of a pre-movie Minx, & gen, sorry.
Disclaimer: I own neither Speed Racer nor the probably misquoted poem. Howl's Moving Castle is by and belongs to Diana Wynne Jones.
Summary: They'd made Rex Racer lose everything that made him who he was. His dreams of racing gratia racing were shattered, he was forced to leave his family behind because they couldn't keep up in this race against death, and in the end nothing that said he was Rex Racer was left.
Speed realized what drove him in the Grand Prix, after going through the exact same things Rex had. Except for one variable, one whose own mission drove him to make that difference. A stranger, just an ordinary person. Yet still a hero who showed him an alternate route.
Remember: Racer X could be anyone: the driver you idolized, the driver you brutalized. He could even be you.
When he was young he'd been forced to pick out a book for a book report and there weren't any with cars. He didn't remember the title of the book he'd chosen, just that it had a moving castle. The castle didn't go very fast (unless it was being chased), but he'd begged his parents to make their house move too.
The driver of the castle acted really shallow, until both he and the main character had been really sick of him. It turned out that he'd found a dying shooting star and given it his heart so it wouldn't die. In exchange, the star became the engine of his castle.
The main character had been hard to pin down, too.
He'd imagined what it would be like if their house was a racecar. He'd thought about speed and travel, victory, then. Not escape.
He turned down their offer, he survived their traps, but then the threat followed him into his own home, a bomb in his little brother's hands. The little car's sacrifice had saved them, taking it away from them. It wasn't enough. There would be more and their house couldn't race, they couldn't leave enemies like that behind them.
So just like he'd outran the other traps he ran out so his family's home wouldn't be a deathtrap. After that he'd drove onwards like a man possessed. He'd been a good little attack dog, taking down his 'master's' prey - the kind of scum that enjoyed this sort of thing, the kind of people that would put a bomb in a child's hands.
It was never enough, there were always more, and one time he'd missed the mark, let someone who had been marked for death like he'd been escape. Just a second, but it turned out they knew he was better than that.
Another bomb had marked the end of that life. The trial did a lot, but not enough, not and never enough that it would be safe to go home. They were safe if he wasn't there.
And then he realized that an unmoving building could never be Speed's home any more than his. It was just the garage. Speed followed him. Always.
Rex, the nameless one, X, had kept moving. Ahead of the explosions, propelled by the flames, leaving death in his dust. After all, there was no way a horse, even if a running one actually had fifty horsepower, could catch him. Not in a race. Not if he kept moving.
But Speed... how long until Speed would catch up to what pursued his brother?
He'd named her the Shooting Star. Number nine for four plus five, a little masochistic hidden reminder of what drove him. Yellow and bright as the sun: a challenge to all the darkness that hid itself in grays and purples. Because they couldn't endure the light of day. The only way to finish them was to bring them to justice. Killing them, he'd found, did nothing. After all, they killed each other all the time.
He put his heart into that car, driven by it and what he ran from and what he chased, both hunter and hunted. Leaving behind a trail of explosions, because it was better to take the more criminal drivers out of races before someone got hurt than curse the darkness.
There came a time when he'd lost everything. The life of Rex Racer the criminal, the life of Rex Racer the son. His beloved field of honor nothing but bloodsport. All that he'd done, meaningless. Someone else had soon taken the place of the one he exposed.
And then Inspector Detector had shown up out of the blue, as usual. He had more assassination attempts than any thirty rulers combined. And the realization had struck, out of the blue.
When had he started thinking that winning was the only thing that mattered?
When had he let them contaminate him?
To win was a wonderful thing, of course. The day when the track was what he'd believed it was? He'd killed for the sake of that ideal already.
But what really mattered, what he was driven and had always been driven to do, was race.
It didn't matter if he won or lost in the end. What mattered was that he tried, and poured his heart and soul into it. Because if no one tried, if no one led the way, then Speed and so many more like him would have no one to look to. No shining star to point the way, to give them hope that they could fight and win.
Perhaps by doing this, by saving lives and setting examples and bringing criminals to justice he could inspire others to fulfill the dream of a perfect victory.
But even if he didn't, it didn't matter. What mattered was that he tried. What mattered was the race, because death caught up with everyone eventually and he was going to die with a boom. Never a whimper.
They called him death, the Harbinger of Boom, who drove like a man possessed. They'd taken everything from him, they whispered in locker rooms, the 'they' unspoken and unclaimed. That was true, but it taking everything from him they'd left him with himself. He could almost thank them for it. Not many people had the chance to truly look at themselves. He'd thought he was a failure, but they'd taken that all away and so he could see that he was a hero.
The Inspectorate Special Ops was not staffed by the faint of heart. No one went through plastic surgery or, even more terrible, risked showing their true face, without a reason. But even in a group whose weekly newsletters had updates on new assassination techniques and quizzes on prevention measures he was considered something special.
"You should be insane," Minx told him, working on weapon adjustments while he listened, a hand on the Shooting Star's hood as she idled in neutral. He just smirked, having noticed what he was checking for. "We're policemen, you know. As well as other things. You don't keep your illusions there. There's no such thing as something or someone purely good. Paladins don't exist."
"I have a tendency towards fanaticism, I work on keeping it in check, pass the wrench."
"Actually, they think you're suicidal." No one saw their own psych profiles. And if you believed that then you weren't cut out for a job here. "They think you're, not a loose cannon, but not one that's all that grounded. They think you're going to go do something spectacular and spectacularly stupid someday." Her surface tone conveyed none of her thoughts about this. "I mean, you named your car after a bit of rock that makes a light before it burns up in the process of coming down to earth."
"Occasionally one survives to make a crater." And the one that wiped out the dinosaurs had very literally changed the world. "Something else everyone who works here knows is that eventually we all die."
"My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night.
But oh, my friends and ah, my foes?
It gives such a lovely light."
"You should be quoting that to the Inspector." He slammed the hood down: if the car had any trouble with that love tap then it would end up scrap in five seconds on the track. It sounded like a bell.
"There's no point."
"Point." He didn't suit up quite yet, although it was always a good idea to show up early to avoid excuses to bar him from races. "What do you live for?"
"Do you want the list I give the psychs?"
"I said what do you live for, not what just keeps you going. What's fueling you, Minx? Because if nothing is then there's no point getting to know you because you'll be burnt out like that candle in a month." She couldn't really respond. "Try to have an answer by the end of the race, otherwise I'll ask for another new contact."
"That was beautiful," she said when he finished, and he could see a sort of dawning comprehension. But it wasn't clicking, the light wasn't turning on behind her eyes because she thought there couldn't be a light there to see. "Beautifully executed," she corrected herself.
"I hate when sting operation tactics mean I have to find an excuse not to place." He started tapping the Star's surface.
"It sounds like a bell when you do it."
"Really? It sounds like some moss got where it shouldn't have to me."
"And you go straight from unflappable, unphasable..." She wouldn't let herself use any of the words that came to mind. "To mechanic." And it wasn't just an act: she wouldn't be here if she could spot an act like that.
"It's the same thing, Minx."
"You don't think you're some kind of hero, or... this is just how you are?" He wasn't grandstanding, he did things like that and it was professional?
He nodded, looking for the solvent and some wire.
"I feel like I should talk to the car, I'd get more out of it." Still, she kept working.
"Isn't she a beauty?"
"You... I read your bio. I don't get you." I don't get how you can do this day to day and not be worn down by it, your ideals burned away as you begin to see how corrupt the world really is.
"If you lose everything, if all the things you thought defined you are burned away, then you either go with them or you get a good look at yourself and figure out what you live for."
"And what's that?"
"The race, Minx. Try to keep up. Death is a single mistake from catching up with us, Justice is so far ahead you can't see much but a dust cloud. It's a race we can't win." That part she agreed with, and the fact that she was that cynical hurt the part of her that clung to the perfect ideal. "But I intend to rack up one hell of a high score." Paint, paint... where had they put it this time?
"You like this? You like not being able to let your family know you're alive, that you didn't get a posthumous pardon, that..."
"Rex Racer's dead, Minx. He went out with a bang, making the world a cleaner place for his brothers to grow up in. Minx isn't your name any more than Rex Racer is mine. It's just a mask, Minx."
"So who do you think you are?" And she wanted to understand, she at least saw that there was something there worth understanding. He might keep this one.
"I'm just a racer. I'm just someone who puts their heart and soul into it and doesn't give up on victory no matter the odds. I'm what all the fucked-up kids out there dreamed of becoming once before they saw that no one else was able to do it and gave up. I'm the beacon of hope the ones growing up now can see lighting the way, and a beacon that goes out isn't a very good beacon, now is it? I'm not Rex Racer, I'm the racer. I'm the boogeyman the crooks fear because any one of their attack dogs could turn out to be me, I'm the one the rookies try to find behind the eyes of their idols. I'm the random variable that fucks up their big schemes, I'm the dead come back to haunt them, I'm the spirit they try to exorcise from the new blood, I'm everywhere and nowhere, something they can't understand because they think greed is the only passion there is."
"Racer X," she murmured, and tilted her head, considering.
"I'll tell the Inspector that you're a keeper."
"Because under all that caked on cynicism there's someone who doesn't care that they can't win, that life can't be clear-cut dragons and paladins. Someone who will drag the dragons out of their holes. If you want a knight in shining armor, Minx, and the world doesn't give you one, then you can either tell yourself it doesn't matter that you lost because you were doomed anyway, or..."
"If you want a knight in shining armor, if you want something done right, do it yourself."
"You wanted someone to save you. Someone who could help you fix everything and go home to your family."
"I didn't have a Racer X," he told her, "but now I do. And so do they." And so would Speed, sooner than he liked to think about. There was so much that needed doing, so many people that would try to hurt him that needed to be brought to justice.
And they would be. One by one for as long as it took, because there were other drivers joining the Inspectorate now, and even if he crashed (like hell he'd let death catch up with him!) someone would carry that torch.
He saw it. He lived it. The sun would eventually expand like a balloon and all this would go unremembered, but he'd fight the good fight anyway. Drive a clean race. Because that was what mattered to him, and the cold equations could eat his dust.