First Oban Star Racers fic! Yay! Basically, what would have happened if Rick had gone on to Oban with the Earth Team. I'm gonna go a little crazy with this, and Rick's gonna play a pretty big part in it. He doesn't get enough love! So, starts during episode 13 with one major difference; Rick wore a Navajo charm bracelet made by his mother when going to see that Scrub shaman. It stopped Rick's memories from being erased completely- he remembers everything except the vision itself, though he is aware he had it, and he glimpses it through dreams.
A muscular arm rubbed at usually-hidden eyes, before a tap was turned off. Sighing tiredly, Rick slipped his dark glasses on and leaned heavily on the sink basin. 'Come on, Rick,' he thought frustratedly, staring at his reflection, 'get it together. Molly— Eva… Little Mouse is having her last qualifier today. She could be in danger and you can't remember a damn thing!' He growled low in his throat and closed his eyes, his head dropping a little. For an instant, in his mind, he saw a great, blood-red eye filled with malice; his head snapped up as his eyes flew open, and it was gone, slipping from his consciousness even as he gasped in shock.
"Damn it!" He yelled aloud, fighting the urge to break something. He didn't usually lose his temper like this, but when he did it measured in at a 7.8 on the Richter scale. He glared at his reflection again. He knew what he had just fleetingly recalled, before losing it again, had to have been either from his vision or the nightmare he had last night (or from one of the nights before). Either way, it was important and he couldn't remember!
Shaking his head slightly, Rick turned away and took up the sterling silver and turquoise charm bracelet from the table and fastened it around his left wrist. He didn't care what Don said about it; the shaman he had sought out had called it a 'powerful protective charm' and if it might help, then he was wearing it. He didn't doubt the shaman, nor the woman who made the charm— she'd never led him wrong before— and he could pass it off as a good luck charm to avoid an argument if necessary.
His hand reached into his pocket and pulled out the stone medallion, glaring briefly at thef sinister engraving. 'No matter what, I won't let anyone else— especially Little Miss Wei— get hurt because of this… Timeless One.' His mind set, he slipped the object back into his pocket and left for the hangar. He wanted to help with rebuilding the ship, and they only had a few hours before the race.
Jordan smiled, glancing around once more, watching his team and the Scrub mechanics working fast as lightning on the new ship. New ship… ooh, he could feel the excitement already! Shivers running up his spine in anticipation, he turned his attention back to the task at hand. One of the mechanics was starting to hoist a large and important component down to Jordan, along with one of the Scrubs, and they reached out as it was lowered and grasped it firmly, but as the rope slackened further he realised just how unprepared he was for the full weight of it. He wasn't the only one; the Scrub made a shocked sound as they both tilted forwards, a disaster in the making—
They suddenly stopped short before tipping point, most of the component's weight having caught on something… very solid. Looking up, the gunner was surprised to find none other than Rick Thunderbolt grinning down at him. For a moment, Jordan was consumed with envy; he would never, not in ten thousand years, ever get that strong. It passed, and he grinned back, only for it to fall when Rick actually lifted the machinery out of his hands.
He caught the grunt of exertion as Rick did so and spoke up, since the Scrub was too shocked to move. "Hey, you don't have to do that, y'know." He didn't want to admit it out loud, as he didn't want to upset the man, but he was a little worried about Rick's… condition.
Rick shrugged as best he could. "I want to. Better than sitting around being useless." He turned and all but marched over to where the component was to be fitted. Stunned, and not sure what else to do, Jordan followed. He watched in silence as the machinery was handed over and a Scrub started to fix it to the ship-in-progress. "Anything else I can do?"
Jordan started slightly as the Scrub mechanic scoffed. "Depends." He answered, turning to the large man, his voice mocking. "You know how to wire up a converter?"
"Sure." Rick shot back, smirking. "Me and some pals back on Earth built three dune-buggy drag-racers outta junk from a desert scrapheap. I think I can handle a power converter." He lifted an eyebrow, challenging.
The Scrub's expression lost its mocking edge. "Well, then, get to it!"
Grinning, Rick stood up ramrod-straight and saluted. "Yessir!" He pivoted on his heel, hair flaring out behind him and bee lined for the aforementioned converter, a speechless Jordan hot on his heels.
"Is that true?" The boy burst out finally, as they reached the converter. "Did you really build your own desert racers?"
The ex-pilot nodded. "Sure did. Four of us. My first racing experience, way back when. I was…" he whistled softly, "damn, had to be fifteen. Was that really ten years ago?" Shaking himself after a moment, Rick started on the converter, expertly wielding the tools laid out around him.
Jordan's generously-sized eyebrows nearly reached his hairline. Was there nothing this man couldn't do?
"Don't ask me to put up a shelf or make you a Halloween costume, I still have nightmares about flat-pack furniture and hell if I can remember my own phone number." Jordan blushed embarrassedly in the face of Rick's smirk. He hadn't meant to say that out loud.
The hangar was constantly alive with activity. Scrubs and humans ran back and forth, welding, wiring, and carrying equipment. Don Wei watched all of this impassively, looking it over. As he had already pointed out, they weren't fixing their old racer; they were building a whole new one. Now, though, his attention had been drawn to his former pilot.
Rick had taken to this whole situation like… well, like he had to racing. Though previously quiet about his personal life among the team, he now regaled them with tales of his teenage years in those battered, home-made racers Don vaguely remembered, even as he helped with the less technical of the mechanical work. (He had to admit, it felt good to see Rick back to his old self once more. He always loved sharing stories with Don, back when the older man was still his manager.)
When Stan had first laid eyes on the power converter's wiring, he had called it crude whilst Koji had opted for the more polite term, unorthodox. Both he and Koji had looked more closely, and had seen that though it wasn't the used and approved technique, it certainly worked. That was something Don had learned early on in Rick's career; if you wanted something doing properly, get someone else to do it. However, not doing it 'properly' didn't necessarily mean doing it badly.
He'd also noticed that Rick was wearing that bloody bracelet again. Don hadn't seen it in years— he hadn't even known the ex-pilot had brought it with him. Truth be told, he'd forgotten all about it. He recognised it easily enough though; different shapes and sizes of turquoise stone of varying shades of green, lots of little silver charms (a feather, whirligig, some butterflies, a gecko, snake, dragonfly and many more),all thrown together in a way that should have looked slapdash and mismatched. Yet it didn't.
He decided to let it slide. A little extra luck wouldn't go amiss at this point.
Don was distracted by the sound of someone tinkering behind him, and turned to see Satis, of all people, fiddling with some machinery. The old… creature was certainly there for a reason, and Don was determined to get it over with, so he approached without hesitation— hopefully before something important was "fixed" beyond repair.
"Isn't she beautiful? Stronger… faster… safer."
"The Whizzing Arrow III!"
The team stood in a v-formation before the ship, admiring their work, the Scrub mechanics off to the side in a group. Stan and Koji were smudged with oil and grease and engine fluid, having been putting on some finishing touches whilst everyone else cleaned up. Their pride in their work, all of them, was palpable.
Rick took it in. It had looked good whilst things were still being put together; the finished thing was positively gorgeous. Not for the first time, but stronger than it had been in days, he felt that longing, that sorrowful, it's-never-gonna-happen want. He wanted to fly in this racer. This racer that he helped to build. He wanted to sit in her cockpit, feel her thrum to life beneath him, respond to his motions and commands. Needed that speed, that adrenaline rush. He wanted to fly, to be free. It physically ached.
He couldn't. This ship was not for him. "A brand new ship," he muttered, trying to ease the pain, sending a glance towards Molly's ecstatic face, "for a brand new champion."
He was happy for her, proud of her. It just hurt.
"That's an eagle. A kind of bird."
"It's so high up, Mommy!"
"Uh huh, it's flying. There's nothing like it, you know."
"I want to fly! I want to be up in the sky too!"
"You will one day, Hunter. I know you will. Higher than all the rest!"
"Higher than everyone?"
"Damn right! No one will ever bring you down."
'Sorry, Mom. My wings have been well and truly clipped. I'm grounded, for good.'
The sound of rubber soles on metal caught everyone's attention. Rick knew Don Wei well, and he did not like what he saw.
Jordan kept beaming. To him and everyone else, it was just grumpy old Don. "Well, sir, what's the verdict?"
Don glanced at the Whizzing Arrow III distractedly as he continued past. "Yeah, looks great." Oh, the enthusiasm. This wasn't going to be good.
Jordan and the others had finally cottoned on to Don's mood, and the collective atmosphere dropped as Stan and Koji moved in closer, having been thanking the Scrubs.
"I have the name of our next adversary." He announced, his expression tight and grim. "We're up against Colonel Toros."
"WHAT!" Jordan cried, "But he's never lost a race!" His countenance drooped. "Ever."
Molly's reaction was, in Rick's mind, worse. She simply hugged herself, looking at the floor. "And he nearly crushed us to a pancake last time."
Don sounded positively indignant, incredulous even; but the lines around his mouth and furrowed brow belied his true feelings, to Rick at least. "This team has improved tremendously since we lost to Toros!"
The ex-pilot took in Stan and Koji's stances, then looked to Molly and Jordan's forlorn faces.
Don had noticed too. "Fill the tanks and run the final checks, right now!" he cried, clearly trying to be motivational and failing. Both of his previous racers had been pretty capable of motivating themselves, one way or another; with Rick it had involved some excitable yelling, usually, which was likely where Don was getting this from. "We'll be called at any moment now!"
"We're on it!"
Molly and Jordan shared a look. The latter gestured slightly. "Uhh… after you, partner."
Molly's expression sank a little more, and she moved onwards, a now further disheartened Jordan close behind. She sent a look at Don as she walked past him. His expression didn't change.
Not until they were a ways beyond his line of sight did he let his uncertainty show through. Rick wasn't sure how to respond. In the end, he simply averted his gaze and let it sink to the floor— only for his eyes to fall on his bracelet.
He set his jaw. No way would they win with this mindset. He looked up as Molly settled into the cockpit. He spoke before Don could. "Don't worry so much."
Everyone froze, their eyes turned to him. He smiled for them. "It won't be as bad as last time, honest. You've raced him once, seen what he's capable of. You're not gonna let him catch you from behind again, are you? 'Fool me once', and all that." He surveyed the team, and he broke out in a sly grin. "Besides, I got a look in on the new hyperdrive." He raised an eyebrow. "I don't think the Colonel will be quite as much trouble this time around."
He gave a mental cheer as Molly brightened, and Jordan spoke up. "Yeah! No Crog's gonna catch us out twice!"
'Much better.' He met Molly's thankful smile with a thumbs up and glanced at Don, who had his own brand of gratitude showing on his face.
The older man became stern again as he turned to the Whizzing Arrow III. "Remember, to rank among the top three teams and qualify for Oban, we must beat Toros, at all costs!"
Molly gave a determined smile, but still glanced at Rick, seeking reassurance that he gave as well as he could.
They could do this. He knew they could.
"Toros or no Toros, no one stands between the Ultimate Prize and me. Not even a Crog!"
That was what she had said to herself after Rick's little pep talk. She was beyond glad he was here; her father sucked at making people feel better, no matter the context.
"We now call forth: the Earth Team!" That was their cue. Molly brought the new racer up into the starting arena, the steering not as responsive as she'd like. As they waited for the start, both she and Jordan made little adjustments to maximise efficiency.
"How does she feel?" Koji's voice filtered into the cockpit.
"The steering feels a bit stiff but, I'll get used to it." She smiled assuringly at the little screen. Koji smiled back. She knew her father and Rick were behind Koji, out of the screen's line of sight. She pictured Don's stern face, and Rick's encouraging smile. She couldn't see it, but she could feel it. Rick believed in her. And when you've got a superstar ex-racing pilot believing in you, you're set so long as you believe in yourself, right?
She'd heard the stories he was telling hours before; he'd been racing like a pro in the Sonoran desert at her age, before he'd met Don Wei, and he was her coach. This Crog wouldn't stand a chance!
"Challenged by: Toros, Colonel of the Crog Imperium!"
The blades of the Crog ship glinted menacingly in the sunlight as it slowly emerged. The crowd was silent, unwilling to cheer but too afraid to boo as they once had the Earth Team.
Molly watched the ship lazily pull up beside her, the small yellow lights on the front of the main body looking like glowing eyes. She turned forward once more. Her concentration would not be broken. She would win.
The stone passageway opened up fully (she could have sworn she could hear Rush cheering for her, but, he was in the hospital) and she grit her teeth, twisting hard on the accelerator. She managed to pull out in front of Toros. 'Earth Team: 1, Crogs: nil. Let's keep it that way.'
Back at the Earth Team's base, Don frowned at Molly's understeer on the turn, sending the Whizzing Arrow III into the wall and giving Toros the lead. "Molly, what's wrong?" He asked urgently.
"It's a new star-racer, just let me get the hang of it!" They watched with baited breath as she got the steering down and started speeding up.
A sudden rustle, a clamorous clinking that one would imagine a small shrub to sound like in the wind if it was made of polished stone and metal, distracted him, and he glanced sideways to see Rick lower his left arm back into the folded position he had ostensibly extricated it from. Damn, he'd forgotten about that little habit. He'd be utterly mad by the end of this race, he just knew it.
Rick smiled as Molly caught up with the Crog battleship. 'That's my girl.' His eyes flicked to Don, the look hidden behind his shades, and remembered just how much that habitual twitch of his wrist pissed the man off. His smile grew, and he momentarily lifted his arm and twisted said wrist once more, gently shaking the charm bracelet again, the delightful clink-tinkling sound soothing him. He was pretty sure his former manager's eye just twitched.
Back in the cockpit, Molly was determined to get back in the lead. "Let's see what she's got!" She went in for an edge, trying to slip past, but the ship's blades turned and pushed them into the wall, forcing them back again.
Jordan wasn't best pleased. "Outta my way, Crog!" He aimed the lasers and open fired, but Toros flipped and spun out of the way, dodging every shot. Molly set her jaw and sped up, giving Jordan another edge and coming in alongside the Crog ship to give Jordan a better spot for firing. He grinned, taking advantage, and all but cheered as Toros dropped back from the assault. If he hadn't had his hands full, he'd be kissing his dog tags. 'That's for my grandfather!'
As they pulled out into the open, they had several seconds where the battleship seemed to have disappeared. The gunner glanced around, trying to catch sight of him. "Okay, I'm having a bit of déjà-vu back here…"
His mind flashed back to their last race against Toros, how he had exploded out of nowhere from behind them and cut the Whizzing Arrow II into pieces. They couldn't let that happen again. Fool me once… "We need some speed, Molly!"
Don was gritting his teeth so hard he thought they might crack. This was exactly what happened last time. If Toros—
"For God's sakes, man, cease that infernal jangling!" The younger man didn't even have the decency to look sheepish.
"Sorry, Don." He apologised, not meaning a word of it. "It's a nervous thing." He'd be smirking if he weren't so focused on the race.
It didn't take long for Toros to up his game. Jordan saw him coming and fired, but he was quite a ways back, and it wasn't long before the blades were edged with crackling, burning yellow. His speed increased exponentially. It was happening all over again.
She turned, looking back at the approaching ship; she had to time this perfectly. He wouldn't cut her down again. Closer… closer…
She went for an edge and kept going, flipping up and over as Toros raced underneath them. He barely scratched the paintwork. The pilot grinned triumphantly as they settled at a steady altitude again.
"Nice try, Toros. You can't fool me twice!" That reminded her, "Stan, Rick mentioned the hyperdrive?"
"Roger that! Same commands as before." Well, duh. That was just sensible. She pressed all the right buttons, and started slightly as she felt more than heard several mechanisms shifting around her; more than last time.
'Rick wasn't kidding. They've really tricked her out!'
Dark eyes wide, Don spoke breathlessly, blue light flowing from the image of the Arrow III on the screen. "How can we achieve such speed?"
Koji smiled modestly, pushing his glasses back up onto his face. "It was easy, really. We mounted the turbines and clusters— that was my idea. It nearly doubles their capacity!"
Rick grinned, and this time Don barely noticed when his wrist twitched. 'Go on, Little Mouse. You can do it.'
However, whilst Stan was telling Molly about how they'd upped the fuel capacity, Toros had hit whatever kind of little boost button he had in that monster. A burst of violet light, and he left them behind.
"How in the world did that happen?" She didn't have time to dwell. "Koji, can we make this baby go faster?"
Koji looked at Stan. Stan looked back. Rick's heart sank. "Well?" Don butted in impatiently, "Yes or no!"
"Stan, what about the—"
"Totally out of the question!" Both Don and Rick were stunned by the outburst. "The Arrow's hull could break apart under the thrust!" Stan had to be honest; he, Koji and the Scrubs had gotten carried away when building the Whizzing Arrow III. The boosters were awesome, and they'd felt epic making and fitting them, but practically? It was under their 'work in progress' list.
Rick thinned his lips and looked back at the screen. They'd just have to make do.
Naturally, Don didn't agree. He growled and ground his teeth, hands tightly fisted. Rick caught his twitch too late and grimaced as the older man's shoulders seized. He muttered an apology.
"Hello-o?" Molly, as impatient as her father, and also as adept at butting in. "Toros is getting away!"
Stan shook his head sadly. "We haven't had chance to test it. It's just not safe yet."
Don couldn't let this slide. They couldn't lose. He placed a hand on Stan's shoulder. "We have no other choice."
Rick protested. Don cut him off. "I assume full responsibility!"
"… I do this under protest."
All sound left Rick's awareness. He was focused entirely on that ship, on his (yes, his) Little Mouse, and their gunner boy, and all the different boosters and other go-faster mechanisms springing to life. Watching the cockpit's outer casing darken from orange to red.
He didn't hear Stan's incredulous, hope-filled cry that the hull was holding. He could see that for himself. He found himself beaming as Molly blasted past Toros. It could just have been him, but the straights seemed longer this time. Despite the fact the Arrow III was advancing at terrifying speed, it felt as thought they'd never reach the finish.
He felt the relief wash over him as Molly powered down again, cutting not just the boosters but the hyperdrive in general. That relief lasted until the shooting started. The turns were placed fortuitously enough that they could dodge without much extra work, but that wouldn't last.
It didn't. Soon, the Arrow III was in a tunnel, stuck zigzagging to avoid fire. They managed well enough, and once they'd left the tunnel Jordan wasted no time getting trigger-happy. Neither of them could prevent the hit. The gunner was jarred by the impact, black smoke billowing from the hull. He was forced to pull out the fire extinguisher or get roasted alive in the gun turret. This wasn't how he'd pictured this race going, that was for sure. 'Still, could be worse.'
Taking advantage of the damage he had wrought, Toros stole back the lead, and increased it. Molly glared, yelling "Here goes nothing!" even as she typed in the necessary commands.
Her coach's heart leapt into his throat, and he was sure her father's had too judging by the choking sound he'd just made. Or had that been Rick?
She activated both hyperdrive and boosters and raced like crazy, ignoring Stan's insistence that she had to slow down now or she would crash.
"I'm not stopping!" Molly forced out through gritted teeth. Her eyes narrowed and her voice lowered. "I know Maya wouldn't have."
And stop she didn't. Even Rick, whom she usually listened to (and almost did this time too) couldn't get through to her. If she lost here, she'd never get to Oban, never get the Ultimate Prize… never get her mother back. Never rebuild her family. She couldn't stop. He didn't understand.
Toros pulled back. She took the lead. Then she deactivated the boosters as she passed through the last gate, slamming down on the brakes and banking hard.
Rick looked away.
The gong sounded, he looked… and groaned in relief as the dust cleared from around a perfectly-landed, unscathed ship. He could feel his hands starting to shake. 'That girl is gonna kill me.'
Don Wei felt his heart start up again as the mechanics cheered. Even through that, he heard Rick's next comment.
"Not even I could have pulled that stunt."
"I beg to differ."
Had the older man turned to look, he would have seen his former star pilot looking the most surprised and touched that Don had seen him in years.