In preparation for the long cross-country race he had tomorrow, Jason had gotten up early. Stepping out of his trailer, he was anticipating completing this last, crucial detail he needed to see to before he set off for the race.
He turned his face to the warming of the sun for a moment, letting the light wind run its fingers through his hair. It was the perfect weather for it, he decided, and just the right time of day, too. Not too warm, not too cold. Perfect, and he had the time. The others had promised that they would call him if they needed him and he decided to take them at their word.
As he always believed that his car ran best when it was clean, Jason took out what he needed from his trailer in preparation for this ritual that he performed before every big race – a bucket, a bottle of soap, a sponge, car wax, several clean cloths, and a chamois.
Using a nearby outdoor spigot, the water that sluiced through his fingers as he filled the bucket felt deliciously cool and, once the bucket was filled, Jason set about his task with smooth efficiency, beginning at the front of the car and methodically working his way down.
With the sponge and soapy water, Jason’s hands gently caressed the metal curves of the fenders with all of the tenderness of a lover. He rinsed away dirt and grime from the windshield and windows, leaving them sparkling. Slowly, he soaped the sides and rear of the car, admiring its angles, while at the same time looking out for anything that might be amiss or require repair.
The sun and wind did their jobs quickly and began to dry the car, but wet spots remained on the tops of Jason’s thighs from where he leaned over the wet metal as he worked.
He smiled at his handiwork, anticipating this next step. This was his favorite part. He loved everything about it – the smell of the wax, the physical process of applying it, and, of course, the end result.
With the soft, supple chamois in hand, Jason wiped down the car so that no water spots would be left behind, then began to apply the wax.
Taking his time, he replaced chamois with a clean cloth. Inhaling deeply as he worked, Jason moved his whole body into the rhythm of long, slow swipes so that the wax would be even. He felt his muscles bunch and smooth in the rhythm of his waxing and stretched out his back as he reached for the middle of the hood. He was never one for meditation (that he left to Mark), but he imagined that it came close to what he now felt. There were no other thoughts but the car and his movements.
Once the hood of the car was completely dulled by the wax, Jason replaced the cloth with a clean chamois once more.
This time, he worked with deliberate care, reveling in the slope of the bumpers, fenders, and wheel wells, the rise and fall of the hood over the engine and the seat of the bumper. He felt the warmth of the clean, solid metal against his stomach even as he felt the gentle heat of the mid-morning summer sun on his back. Going in concentrated circles, Jason moved the cloth, working his way across the hood, wiping away the wax to expose the gleaming dark blue beneath.
As the last of the wax came off, he snapped the chamois and eyed his progress, taking a moment to clean a spot here, check a spot that looked suspicious there.
Once the front of the car passed his inspection, he moved to the driver’s side door and began the process again. This time, he crouched low, rocking on the balls of his feet as he put the wax on, then buffed it off. He took especial care in making sure that the number “2” on the doors were clean and spotless, with nary a nick or scratch.
Jason put the small bottle of touch-up paint off to the side, on the ground, just in case he found any more paint chips.
Methodically, he worked his way to the back of the car, taking care to clean not only the fenders, but up into the wheel wells as well. The G-2 would not look scruffy when he rolled out onto the track for the race. His car was his pride and joy and it gleamed in the sunlight. It gave him soul-deep satisfaction to see his vehicle shining, waiting, and proudly proclaiming its spot as G-2.
At nearly noon, the sun’s heat had intensified and Jason rinsed his hands under the water faucet. He then ran his hands through his hair, dampening the brown waves of his hair to his shirt collar.
With the car bright on the outside, Jason opened the driver’s side door and took his cleaning to the inside. He grabbed his small hand-held vacuum and worked over the carpets, meticulously getting the dirt out of the smallest crevices and crannies.
Jason smiled to himself. If the team could only see me now, he thought. They would never believe that the Condor was a neat freak. And he was. Well, where his car and trailer were concerned, at least.
Where Spectra was concerned, however, he would happily waste them and their mechas all over the landscape, no cleanup required. Jason frowned in concentration, his polishing of the dashboard allowing his thoughts to roam even further.
He wanted to redouble his efforts and increase practicing his marksmanship. Jason made a mental note to start collecting cans and bottles again instead of bringing them to be recycled.
He would recycle them all right, he thought as a grim smile tightened his lips. Recycling, Condor-style.
With the dashboard shining from his ministrations, Jason then moved on, wiping the dust and grit that had accumulated from his last desert race off of the dials and control panel, making sure that each and every nook and niche had been cleaned and polished.
With some glass cleaner and another clean cloth, Jason began wiping down the windshield and side windows, making sure no streaks or smudges remained. He wanted a clear view of everything so that he could be sure he would not miss a thing.
Once that was accomplished, Jason then turned his attention to cleaning off the seats. Only in this regard was his car easier to clean when it was transmuted. At least in that form, there was only one seat to worry about.
Jason mentally shrugged. It didn’t matter to him, though. Not really. He liked wiping down the seats, feeling the smooth suppleness of the cushions as he leaned into them. There was no litter in the back of his car and Jason made sure it stayed that way, despite Keyop’s and Tiny’s propensity for leaving the wrappers from space burgers and fries behind. It was one of the reasons why those two did not ride in his car very often.
Nothing on the seats, nothing on the floor. Only an emergency flashlight and an umbrella tucked up under his seat was all that was ever in his car that was not actually part of the car itself. He took a moment to flick the flashlight on and off, making sure that the batteries were still good.
Once satisfied with his work, Jason put everything away in its proper place, then paused for a moment.
He had it in mind to simply clean his car and then head back into his trailer, possibly for a nap before he had to start out, but the lure of the sparkling car proved to be too tempting.
He looked around, even though he knew that there was no one around for miles. He gave a small smile and nearly purred as he brushed his fingertips around the seal of the door, then rounded his fingers underneath the door handle. He opened the door and slid into the driver’s seat. For a moment, he gave in to the desire and ran his hands along the steering wheel, feeling its weight and heft under his palms as he caressed its circumference.
Slowly, he placed the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine roared to life, fueling his own desire to just let loose and go. Without any further consideration, Jason put the car into drive and stepped on the gas pedal. The car instantly responded, leaping forward, its tires gripping the ground and thrusting them both forward onto the narrow asphalt road that he had taken when he first drove up to this spot.
With the window down, the wind whipping through and teasing at his hair, tugging at his t-shirt sleeve, Jason rested an arm on the door frame and drove a little faster. He nudged the speedometer a little higher, then a little higher still. The car obeyed his every demand, hugging the tight curves and flying down the straightaways. It gave a hesitant growl as they moved further up the mountain, but at Jason’s insistence, the car leapt forward with extra energy until it seemed that they were both flying.
This was freedom, Jason thought as they crested the mountain top. This was living. Forgetting, just for a moment, who he was and what their job together was, this time was just between him and his machine. No one else.
That was when a chiming interrupted his thoughts. He looked down to see his bracelet flashing.
“Jason here,” he responded.
“Chief wants us back at Neptune ASAP,” he heard Mark instruct. “Give Tiny your coordinates and we’ll pick you up.”
With a great reluctance, Jason pushed the buttons that would give Tiny his exact position. He then turned his car around and headed for the exit that would put him on the road where he could join up with the Phoenix without tipping off the entire world as to who he was.
With arm raised, he gave out the order. “TransMUTE!”
With a flash of light, the hood of his racing car became the vented hood of the transmuted G-2. Jason stepped on the gas pedal, giving the engine more fuel. The car responded and he knew that if anyone were watching, there would be nothing visible but a dark blue streak traveling along the gray stripe of road.
His view of the world was now tinged with the color of his visor, changing the landscape from what was a bright, sunny summer day into a day that looked darker and more hostile, all of the colors now awash in a patina of smoky gray.
Jason smoothly shifted gears as he took the car through its paces, mentally noting a few tiny adjustments he wanted to make to the engine when they returned. He wanted his car to perform as he did, at its peak, and give the best it had to give. Just as he did.
He nudged the gas pedal, picking up speed as he went down the empty highway. It was not as good as racing, but the rush of adrenaline was still the same. The car’s indicator beeped once as the shadow of the Phoenix plunged the car into darkness. Jason downshifted and braced himself for pickup.
Out of his peripheral vision, he could see the two grapple hooks extending down. As they engaged each side of his car, Jason shifted the car into park, then turned off the engine as its wheels left the roadway and he saw the nose of his car suddenly tilt and head up into the sky. He imagined, for a split second, that this must be almost identical to the same experience as flying a small plane, but he missed the reciprocal feel of the road beneath his tires, the thrum of it in his hands through the steering wheel.
As the panels of the nose of the Phoenix slid over the car, blocking out the sun and sky, Jason hit the lever that released his seat back and opened the hatch into the Phoenix. With one smooth, practice move, he leaned back, the seat back yielding to his body’s weight, and Jason pulled himself up and into the Phoenix. He gave a small sigh as he left the car. Their fun together was over, but only for the moment. There was still the mission ahead of them and then the race after that. He smiled as he moved forward. They were more than ready.