The year is 3489. I’m one of hundreds of drivers in the 297th annual Quantum Qualifiers, a reality-bending race where all manner of species gather on the far reaches of the Andromeda Galaxy on a custom-engineered track of matter referred to as Mobius Madness. I’m in a dope-ass vehicle I’ve cobbled together over the last few years, one that looks like a T-rex head with X-wing S-foils sprouting from its sides (don’t judge—don’t you remember when you were little and you made all kinds of cool spaceships with different mixes of legos?). I look three vehicles over and see Herbert Kornfeld, an accountant by trade and my boss back at Intergalactic Debt Collection, the soul-sucking corporation that I currently work for. Not for long though—if I win this race I’ll have enough credits to give them the finger and take a giant, pipe-bursting dook on Herbert’s desk right before I quit. The modulated, speaker-amplified voice of the announcer trumpets through the air: “297th annual Quantum Qualifiers! Let me hear you make some NOI-OISE!!!!!” A massive cheer erupts from the crowd—millions of beings seated on grav-locked bleachers that float in the middle of space. The announcer says, “Racers, geeeeEEEETTT READY! On your marks: Three! Two! One! GO!” A hot flush of adrenaline spikes through my flesh as hundreds of vehicles kick into gear. My T-rex ship lurches, then punches forward, slipping and weaving past Ancorian speeders, slip-space corvettes, and a few classics; I see a quartet of Corellian YT01300f light freighters off to my right (Those are Millennium Falcons to those of you who were deprived during your childhoods). Herbert Kornfeld is in a craggy-looking Rykelian assault ship, an unimaginative piece of crap that looks like a miniature Star Destroyer. He sneers at me and gives me the finger as we flit along the zero-point track, whizzing by arrays of dazzling obstacles—supernovae, gamma ray bursts, quasars—that have been automagically compressed so that they can be used in the race. I’m pulling ahead, navigating roads made of spectacular beams of light interwoven with ultraviolet and microwave radiation—specially calibrated so as to appear visible—while Herbert stays steady on my tail, shooting his pedantic, bespectacled death-glare into my rearview camera. Suddenly, his lips peel back in an odious grin. I’m wondering what the hell he’s so happy about, when I see his shoulders compress as he presses down on his holographic steering grips. A streak of weaponized charm quarks races past me and blows against the racetrack in a shower of sparks. Dirty bastard! Using armaments just so he can try to—HOLY BALLS! I swerve right as more of his accountant buddies show up behind me, firing a variety of lasers and explosive munitions. I start falling behind as I focus on evasive maneuvers and keeping my shields intact. My craft shudders as it takes a trio of hits, and a pleasant-sounding female voice says, “Protective radiation weave is now at 56%. Please seek repairs at your earliest convenience.” Goddammit! I’m in the middle of a race and now my life is in danger! Only one option left. I reach into my pocket and open my eReader to Echo. Magic flash. My ship begins resonating with a chain of clicks, hums, and whirs. I look at exterior cam #3, the one that monitors the topmost piece of my hull. The upper part of my t-rex head spaceship is opening up and unfolding. Something emerges and I see that it’s…Bitefighter! My loyal buddy and 10 lb. Terrier Extraordinaire! He’s seated in a rotating gun-pod, behind the controls of four spinning barrels that are all primed with glowing balls of anti-matter that blaze away within their centers. He faces the cam, gives me a tiny thumbs-up, then slips on a pair of tactical doggles. He puts his little pawskies around the double grips of the gun-pod’s controls, then presses down on the butterfly trigger. PewpewpewpewpewpewPKEW! A scatter of laser-fire erupts from the back end of my ship, and I laugh in delight—Herbert Kornfeld’s dastardly associates are spinning out and crashing while their craft explode with flames. I flip on my on-board Doggy Translator and I hear Bitefighter screaming: “HAVE AT THEE, YOU VILE FUCKS! EAT SOME LIGHT-WOVEN DEATH!” I have to focus on driving and not losing myself in raucous laughter. Bitefighter slaps a little doggy-space helmet onto his head, clutches two grenades, yanks the pins out with his teeth, flips the spoons, then launches himself through the glass of his gun-pod toward Herbert Kornfeld’s ship. I scream, “BITEFIGHTER NO!” just as he explodes in a blaze of glory, taking Herbert Kornfeld with him. I’m about to start sobbing but then I see a ghost-image of my tiny mustachioed friend floating before my eyes. He says, “Rowf roof rowf arf mcBarkskies.” And I realize he’s right—Bitefighter does not die; Bitefighter is forever. I wipe tears from my eyes, give OBitefighter-Wan Kenobi a ghostly high five, then smile again as I kick my ship into a higher gear and rejoin the race. As I cross the finish line, I’m first by a nanosecond, and the crowd erupts in a huge cheer. WHOOOOOO!!!!
Yes I know it’s a far-off concern, but make sure that if you’re participating in an intergalactic Indy 500, your jackass boss doesn’t screw with your chances of winning. Get Echo Vol. 1 on Kindle here: Vol. 1 on Kindle. Vol. 2 on Kindle here: Vol.2 on Kindle Vol. 3 on Kindle here: Vol. 3 on Kindle