Read Tracked Online

Authors: Jenny Martin


BOOK: Tracked
10.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

USA/Canada/UK/Ireland/Australia/New Zealand/India/South Africa/China

A Penguin Random House Company

Copyright © 2015 by Jenny Martin

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Martin, Jenny,

Tracked / Jenny Martin. pages cm

Summary: Phee Van Zant, an orphaned street-racer on the corrupt planet Castra, gets swept up in the corporate rally circuit and an even bigger revolution.

ISBN: 9781101616703

[1. Science fiction. 2. Automobile racing—Fiction. 3. Government, Resistance to—Fiction. 4. Orphans—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.M36318Tr 2015 [Fic]—dc23 2014017479

Designed by Mina Chung • Text set in Perrywood

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
















































I pace the garage like some crazy-eyed wind-up girl.

It's too late to back out of the race, but I can't afford this. The extra fuel. The new wheels. The trouble if we get caught tonight and get picked up by the jackals policing the streets. Or even worse, if Hal and Mary find out we're blazing right through the middle of town . . . I can't believe I let Benny talk me into this.

My crew boss is probably upstairs right now, his belly pressed against the desk while he approves every bet and rakes in all the credits. Sure, he's got his hands full too. I'm not the only one risking my neck tonight. Somebody has to keep the Domestic Patrol quiet and off our backs. Someone has to manage the web of bribes and favors that keeps the garage doors open and all our engines running.

For the moment, all that dirty work has paid off. It's packed. Benny's shop has become the biggest hive of lawless gear-heads and gamblers in Capitoline—their flop-sweat stink taints the familiar, welcome tang of leather and fuel and degreaser. Seems everyone's itching to hang around and get a taste of the odds. There are always credits changing hands in the dingy betting stalls, but right now, the garage is so busy, you'd almost think this was an actual interstellar circuit race, with pro drivers and corporate stocks on the line.

It's enough to put me on edge. There's too much money floating around over this race, and like Mary always says, where there's money, there's Sixers. And where there's Sixers, there's trouble. At least for the likes of me. Like most South Siders, I don't care too much for the six corporations who helped colonize this planet for profit. The Sixers might as well rule Castra, and the squeeze they put on the rest of us makes it pretty hard to breathe. Break their laws, complain about working for next to nothing, and you're blotted out like a stray drop of fuel sap. I swear, one false move and . . .
If Benny hasn't paid off their hired goons in the DP
 . . .

I can't think about that right now. I have to escape the noise and get on the road. Before I change my mind.

I move back and forth across the length of the place, past my crew-mates and rivals, between the bay doors and the crowded odds booths and the rickety stairs going up to Fat Benny's office. I don't stop to talk to Eager or Harkness as they slouch against their spit-shined rigs. No high fives or friendly trash talk before we gear up to run against one another. We're past that now—too close to go time. At this point, all I can do is count down the last few minutes in quick steps and shallow breaths. I don't stop moving because I can never shake the bone-deep tremble in my limbs before any race, let alone one this big. If I win tonight, outrunning every decent street rig on this side of the planet, I get double my usual share.

Benny's never split the take fifty-fifty before. I've been racing for him for two years now, since Bear and I turned fifteen and could quit school for good, and he's never offered this kind of cut. And I haven't questioned it, because every driver knows the deal. You pay your dues, running for the best crew boss who'll take you on. You start out sweeping floors and cleaning parts until they let you behind the wheel. If you're lucky, you work your way up and out and maybe someday you save enough to build your own tin-roofed shop. That's the way it works. Benny Eno gave me his best rig and a choice spot in his garage, and in return I'm supposed to keep handing over the biggest cut of the winnings for another two years.

I can live with that if it buys Bear and me a chance for something more, a real shot at making a living on Castra, this dust speck of a planet. And if it puts a little more food on his parents' table and keeps the landlord from rattling their clinic doors, that's more than good enough. That's all I'm asking for. A little less trouble for my foster family.

I walk to the center of the garage, where the floor is permanently sticky, sap-stained by all the fuel that's been loaded into rigs over the years. My sleek black Talon's up on the lift and Bear is standing underneath it, double-checking adjustments on the vehicle and noting everything on the razor-thin flex screen in his hand.

Suspension sensors calibrated. Check.

Fuel cells loaded. Check.

High speed triggers set. Check.

If I squint, his face softens and it's as if we're six years old again, sitting in emptied surgical supply crates, pretending to race circuit rigs and fly fighter vacs. Even then, he was always the navigator, and I was the pilot. That much hasn't changed. I drive. He paces the routes, squawking through the headset and watching out for me at every turn. I guess you could say we're still playing that game.

Bear withdraws, quietly tying himself into the kind of knots only I can untangle. When he turns on me, I catch the twitch rippling through his shoulders. My own satellite, he drifts closer than anyone else is allowed, and I have to look up to meet his ice-blue eyes. But it's not so bad to stand in his shadow. Most days, it's a pretty safe place to hide out.

“Everything looks tight, Phee. You're good to go . . . if you still want to do this.” His last few words curl like a question.

I don't answer, for the same reason I'm ignoring the pile-up of Mary's frantic texts on my flex card.


I tune it all out because it costs too much to argue. I don't want to hash this out with Bear again or lie to his parents. So I stuff the blinking flex deeper into my pocket and jerk my chin at the lift. “Bring her down. Let's roll out.”

Bear nods. He starts to answer, but stops when my flex buzzes once more. I don't need to pull it out to know who's sending the message.

“You have to tell them something,” Bear says. “They'll figure out we're here, anyway. You remember the last time you ignored her texts?”

“All right,” I say. I don't need a reminder. I remember exactly what happened. Mary wasted forty precious credits on a cab, rode all the way over here, and pounded on the bay doors until her knuckles split and every one of Benny's goons had a good laugh at her expense.

But like it or not, she knows nothing will keep me away from the shop. We need the money. The waiting room's overrun with the throwaway poor, the people who can't afford the fortune it costs to get even the most barebones care at a Sixer hospital. And if you're a protester who needs patching up after the DP knock you senseless? Forget it. Walk into any emergency room and you're as likely to get arrested as get stitches. Better to take your chances at a back-room clinic like the one the Larssens run.

I look at Mary's latest message.


I start to delete the message on the tiny screen, but the blink of the words reaches something in me. Hal and Mary will always worry. And I will always disappoint them. For better or worse, I am still my father's daughter. He may be gone, but I can't resist racing any more than he could. Even so, the least I can do is give the Larssens, my almost parents, one night's peace. I can pretend nothing's at stake and I'm not in any danger.

I swipe my thumb over my flex to reply.



Out on the street, I am small.

My legs aren't long enough to win a sprint and I'll never have enough meat on my bones to scrap my way through a fair fight. Good thing Bear stays close. Anywhere this side of the Mains, his six-five frame is enough to scare off trouble. It's enough to make most guys think twice about wolf-whistling or grabbing at me as I move through the crowd. It doesn't really matter that Bear doesn't have a taste for violence. With his broad shoulders and his stoic face of doom, he
like he does, and that is enough.

My crew has done their job. Ahead, my Talon's polished, parked, and ready to go. After pushing through the last of the bystanders, I snap on my gear, slide into the driver's seat, and buckle the six-point. Here I don't need to be tall or strong. My hands are just right to grip the fuel triggers and my reflexes are quick enough to burn off the competition. Behind the wheel, I am fierce at last.

Bear steps back from the car, but his voice fuzzes through my headset. “I still say watch out for Eager, maybe even One-Eye.”

Eager may be a worthy crew-mate, but he lost his edge three match-ups ago, and I'm certainly not scared of One-Eye, the stupid alias Matias Kirk has taken to street race. He can try to look tough and wear that patch all he wants, but we all know he's still got two good eyes and half a brain. Lame new nickname, same old pain in the exhaust.

As little kids, Matias and I tangled plenty, but I've never seen him behind the wheel before. Bet he's just a sellout, another wannabe driver angling for a corporate circuit contract. Doesn't matter. Most of the pro-racing hopefuls flame out or disappear soon enough, too scared to run anymore. I give ole One-Eye two weeks. He's no threat. He won't be any different.

Besides, no one on Castra—nobody on this whole planet—has a ride that matches my sweet black Talon. With no restrictor plate and the right burst of fuel, I'll blow past the other cars like my wheels are on fire. I know when to drop the hammer. I'll let Eager lead until the last mile, but once we clear Merchant's Plaza, once we near the docks, I'll whale on him, leaving him far behind.

“I'm on it,” I say.

“I'm just saying, I think you should—”

“Got it. It's fine.”

“When you're safe, when you cross the finish line in one piece? That's when it's fine, Phee,” Bear says. “Eyes open, okay?”

I try not to growl at him, and I'm not very successful. He laughs, but I know he's still on edge. Bear worries more than enough for the both of us. I can practically see him raking his fingers through his blond hair right now. As baby fine as it is, it's a wonder he doesn't yank it all out. “Yeah,” I say, pressing the ignition. “Go time in five. Pulling up now.”

I weave through a couple of side streets. I pass too many boarded windows and burned-out storefronts. There's been so much unrest on the south side of Capitoline, more than
ever before. You can hardly suck in a deep breath with
out tasting the choke of desperation. The Sixers are safe, tucked away in their penthouses and gated compounds. But here, in my neighborhood, people are on edge, anxious for decent jobs, better options—the promise of anything that might buy them out of hard times.

Things nearly slid into chaos last month. A three-day labor-protest-turned-riot blazed all the way to the edge of the Mains. Shut down Benny's garage for almost two weeks. Canceling races cost him a bundle, but the howl and clash brought too much attention here. Now the streets are hushed. With Domestic Patrol cracking down so hard, there's an uneasy silence, a forced quiet bought with tear gas and closed fists.

The newsfeeds buzz with talk of splinter cells and enemies of the republic—renegades who want to steal our precious fuel. They warn of terrorists, but they never show the ones wearing DP badges.

It's a gamble to run tonight. I tell myself I'm doing it for the money, that I'm driving to pay off my rig and to put more food on the table, but I know Bear's folks won't accept tonight's winnings. It's dangerous taking this kind of race, right through the heart of Capitoline.

For me, I guess that's the whole point.

After making the last turn, I roll into position and wait alongside four other cars. No fanfare. No dropped flags, like in the circuit arena. Out here, at midnight, on the wrong side of the city, racers get a signal flare. I look up and wait for the burst of light, the starry impostor that doesn't belong in the smoggy sky.

On my mark.



I need this moment, the split second in which my body strains against the harness after I hit the first fuel trigger. I slam against the seat, and I'm rocketing forward even as the signal flare burns spots in my vision. My gauge screens are filled with rapid blinks, rising numbers, and climbing lines. My Talon is a sleek, three-thousand-pound cage and I'm rattling the bars.

“Hope you can make up the distance.” Bear has to shout through the headset. The fuel is still screaming. The whistling won't let up until I hit 150 mph. “No one else is taking your route.”

I don't answer. Of course they're not. Oh yeah, the race is off to a predictable start, and I'm already grinning. I can almost taste the win. My rivals Eager and Harkness break right immediately. They'll zigzag a few streets, cutting toward the Mains, the long, straight shot through Merchant's Plaza. One-Eye and the last contender, some nobody in a boxy red Corona (who races in that kind of clown car?) are surely going straight ahead, breaking for the industrial park.

And that's not a terrible idea. The industrial route requires maneuvering, but only fools go for the plaza. Even this late, after the last glittering skyscraper goes dark, there are always stragglers working late. Eager and Harkness think building up honest speed early on the straightaway and pacing their fuel bursts will buy them victory, but it won't. Forget all the bribes Benny's handed out tonight. The surveillance cameras, the Domestic Patrol, the stray civilian rigs—the smoothest road just isn't worth the risk.

I take the rough road.

A curve to the left. At 120 mph, I take it, savoring the careening jolt when all four wheels grab the pavement again. Curb check. There's a skid from concrete to gravel, and I'm off road, a hurricane blowing through a bare stretch of under-developed land.

“Get over. You're too far to the left,” Bear says.

I know he's gripping the oversized flex screen, tracking my progress and reading the pace notes. He's terrified I'll smash into a bulldozer or worse. I course correct and now I'm roaring down the rutted bottleneck between construction sites. With the dust clouds I'm churning and the lack of traction, I should be terrified too, but instead I'm riding a raging, sweat-slicked adrenaline rush.

Every cell is charged, every part of me is flying high save one—there's a knot the size of a fist in my core, a dull center of gravity. It reminds me of the race's toll, the stupid risks I take just to feel a pulse. I hate that I can't breathe without this. I hate that I have no weight or substance anywhere else. I hate my father for giving me this fuel-driven addiction, for I'm as trapped as any black sap addict who's got to score a fix to live.

Bear's voice sharpens my focus. “Big pothole ahead. Nudge right.”

My nudge is not good enough. My teeth clack and the laws of physics punish me with a jarring leap and fall. My now battered, beloved Talon rocks and rebels against my steering. Still giddy, I dig in and dodge another hole, desperate to avert a full spin. I fishtail, but I've gotten through the worst of it. I must be near the end of the gravel by now.

“How much farther?” I yell.

“Mile and a half. Start—”

I read his mind and anticipate the upcoming tilt. I hug the lazy curve to the right on this makeshift road. I'm at the end of the boomerang-shaped route, so I should cross paths with the other racers in a minute or less. It's point to point, get there whichever way you can, and I pray I'm not behind them all. The gravel may have cost me.


This time Bear reads mine. “Clown car is way behind you. You're nose to nose with One-Eye, it's going to be close for second.”

“I'm in

“Wait, One-Eye just blinked out. I can't see him on the screen.”

“What?” I'm furious now. “Did he cross the finish line?”

“No. I . . . He . . . His marker's just
. Wait. It's back. He's way off course, flying off in the wrong direction.”

Something is very, very wrong.

“Harkness. Eager,” I spit. “Where—”

“Harkness is out.” Bear's words are fast and pitched too high. “Patrol bike zapped his machine halfway through the plaza. Eager had to burn all his triggers just to outrun and escape. He's still got first place locked, Phee. I don't like the way things are looking. Pack it up for the alternate rendezvous point. Don't do anything . . . ”

I tune Bear out when I catch the scream of another engine. It's Eager; his bright yellow Evenstar is parallel on the good road and he's running hard. A nose ahead of me. As is, the curve will end and I can safely swerve and duck right behind him.

Unsafely, I can pull two triggers at once and rocket the hell past him and the finish line. Sure, I'll probably overshoot and smash into next year, but when I free-float and the six-point harness snaps me back, I'll rock the biggest rush of my life.

Or it will kill me.

I grip the stick and pull both fuel releases in one hard- fist clench.


I surge forward. Two seconds of delirium before g-forces kick in and I'm pinned against my seat. It's the sweetest blowback, but I can't hold on to it. The moment slips through my black-gloved fingertips. I'm the cartridge in the gun, the scorching round left in the chamber after the trigger fires.


I'm not the hollow shell. I'm the bullet now.

Peak acceleration. I gasp as the fuel stops screaming, kindling the silent burn of maximum velocity. The world outside the windshield loses color, everything blurs into black and white. I'm tearing through, the wet streaks and bright splatters of light blind me. The night is bleeding.

“Phee! Phee! No!” Bear screams. His voice snatches me back, and I'm just a girl again. “You've overshot. I've got a visual of the pier. You're headed straight for them!”

Reflex. I strangle the throttle, but it's too late. I brake, but I've gone too far. I know I won't be able to slow down in time. I've lost any chance to turn away from the docks.

“DP are everywhere.” Bear chokes. “Bikes. Two armored cars. Blitz Birds are on me. Rust it, Phee. They knew. It's a trap. They've got m—”

. Static. He's gone. Bear—my safety, my reason—is gone. He's been shot, stunned, or snagged into the air by one of these jet-packed, badge-wearing vultures. The DP must have him now, and they're waiting to arrest us all.

And Bear was right about the pier. I see the ambush, the nest of cops, their silver speeders parked in a row. It's a flimsy barricade, but they have me.
 . . . why are so many of them here, already waiting in the perfect place? Who tipped them off? Rearview mirror. The flash of yellow paint. Eager's trying to spin around, but there's no escape for him either. DP swarm to box him in. I'm next.

My Talon wails; it doesn't like my foot on the brakes. Rust it. I don't like it either. I shift, my foot slams back on the accelerator. No surrender. I'm dead, but at least they won't bag me for jail.


The whiplash stings, but the twist and snap of metal satisfy me. I cut through, mowing down the patrol bikes like they're tin can ten-speeds. I roar past all their sirens and shouts and flashing lights. The end of the pier. Foot to the floor. I'm flying.

I lie and say the soaring will last. The landing won't hurt, the water won't kill me. I will swim away. I will win.




I am wrong.

The dash screens blink out and I'm flailing for the harness buckle and the door handle. Nothing will open for me. The windshield's already cracked. Water pours in and I don't know which way is up. There's not much light—my helmet comes off, but I can't get loose. For once, I can't run or race my way out.

I'm trapped. Gulp the last of the air. My heart and lungs and brain are on fire. Completely under the water now. I feel the buckle snap open, but it's too late. Can't breathe. My arms free float and I feel a hand grab me. But the hand can't put out the fire. I close my eyes. I drift and scatter like ash.

BOOK: Tracked
10.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Hasty Death by M. C. Beaton
Canary by Rachele Alpine
Bridal Bargains by Michelle Reid
Replicant Night by K. W. Jeter
Dillinger (v5) by Jack Higgins
A Dark and Promised Land by Nathaniel Poole
Marea oscura II: Desastre by Michael A. Stackpole