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Fuel Season 1: Episode 13: Long Live the King

Series: Stories of the Fuel Speedway

King Thawn takes note of the serious threat to his Crown and takes steps to stop it

In the Formula-X Series, you win or you lose. There is no second place.

25th of November - Season 1

Nine weeks. That’s how long it had been since Thawn Oberhauser had become Formula-X King. And ever since that day, he had been living life to the fullest. Gone were the days where he drove himself to the Fuel Speedway; went to Catering himself to get something to eat or spoke to anyone on the Formula-X Racing Club Committee besides Moodswing himself. Nowadays, he was driven to the Fuel Speedway in the back of a BMW 5 Series; had an assistant bring him food from Catering and had the Club President on speed dial.

As King Thawn sat in the back seat, once again dressed in a three-piece suit with his golden, embellished helmet known as the F-X Crown beside him, he unfolded the Azanian Chronicle – the top newspaper on the island released every Sunday – and flipped to the sports section. The Formula-X weekly newsletter fell onto his lap as it always did and King Thawn read the headline article.

He already had an idea of what it said – as the local newspaper: the Ngelosi Metropolitan Journal had featured the article in its sports pages as it did every Tuesday – so he didn’t frown this time when he read it in more detail. While the article did make mention of him as it should, it also pointed out that the biggest news of last night’s pay-per-view was not his victory over Stevie, but the arrival of F-X’s latest and supposedly biggest acquisition yet: Mandla Xulu – the Deputy Mayor’s son.

King Thawn thought the whole thing was ridiculous and he planned to march right into Moodswing’s office and tell him so. How could he give a contract to a man with no history of racing? Everyone else in the series, including himself, had had to prove that they knew their way around an open-wheel race car before they were even considered by the Club Committee. And now, here was a man being offered a five-year contract just like the rest of them for what; being the son of the second most powerful man in the city?

By the time King Thawn walked into the Fuel Speedway, he was in a foul mood. He didn’t even have his driver drive him through the back entrance and deliver him right to the paddock area – an exclusive right that was given to the Formula-X King – and instead opted to walk through the main entrance under the big FUEL SPEEDWAY sign like all the others and made his way up to Moodswing’s office.

 

MOODSWING'S OFFICE

Like Glen’s office, Moodswing’s office was remodeled from an old office belonging to one of the high ups working at the Old Azania Airport. Unlike Glen’s office, Moodswing had chosen a corner office that overlooked not just the racetrack but all the old runways on one side and the freeway on the other. As a businessman himself, King Thawn was a bit jealous of the view.

“Mister President,” said King Thawn, always one to stroke a big ego in an effort to smooth things over, “we need to talk.”

“Is this about last night?” said Moodswing. But he already knew it was. “If this is about the stare down that Mandla had with you after your race with Stevie, you should know that that stare alone won’t make him the new Number One Claimant. Rest assured that he’ll have to work for it just like Stevie did and Solo before her.”

King Thawn made a face showing that that hadn’t even computed for him. “I’m far less concerned about him being my next challenger as I am that he has a job around here at all. What gives? I thought you only wanted experienced racers around here. As in, no one who hadn’t been inside an open-wheel race car before.”

Moodswing raised his eyebrows. “That’s still true.”

King Thawn realized right then that he’d missed something. Did this mean that Mandla did have some kind of experience behind the wheel of a race car? But King Thawn, not one to not get his way, pushed his agenda forward. “Well, that doesn’t matter because as I recall, you said that there was a hiring freeze. No new talent. What happened to that?”

“What happened, Your Highness, is that our pay-per-views performed better than expected which means that we can now afford to hire a couple of new people.”

The King caught the word. “A couple? How many is a couple?” Was Mandla not the only one?

“Well I use the word ‘couple’ literally so that means two,” he said putting two fingers up. “Mandla is one of them. The other is a fellow who goes by the name of Juan van Zonder.” Moodswing saw the blank look on the King’s face. “He’s a cool guy. I’ve seen him race over in Engels Bay.”

“Engels Bay?” That place was all the way across the island and was mostly known for being a beach town. “Great, so you brought us a beach bum.”

“He’ll fit in,” said Moodswing, making the simplest case for a defense King Thawn had ever heard of in his life. “And so will Mandla. Speaking of him, since you’ve opted not to race tonight, I’ve given Mandla a race against Stevie.”

King Thawn could almost feel the catch latching on. “In what slot on the racecard?”

“That’s the feature race.”

The King’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull. “This guy’s been here one day and he’s headlining an episode of Fuel?”

“What do you care? You’ve got the night off. Which begs the question, what are you even doing here?”

That was a good question. Luckily for King Thawn, he had the answer. “I have something to say to the people so I want you to book me a slot out on the middle-stage.” King Thawn finally smiled as something he’d said finally got the desired reaction from the Club President: worry.

 

ON THE MIDDLE-STAGE

As King Thawn walked up to the stage to the sound of boos, he couldn’t help but smile. The King had done a lot of public speaking for his day job, although that mainly involved speaking to a few dozen people at most at workshops and conferences. This was something different, what with the thousands of people in attendance in the stands and over a million South Africans watching at home. This was the reason that the Club Committee didn’t allow just anyone to come onto the middle-stage and address the live crowd. They knew that they couldn’t afford people freezing up live on air so one had to book a spot which was authorized at the discretion of Moodswing and Glen.

The King had a secret strategy to not freezing up. He embraced the boos of the crowd and saw it as a sign that he was playing his part perfectly. After letting the crowd settle down, he got straight to it. “You know I resent that. You people booing me, I resent that. Don’t you know you’re looking at royalty right now?” That earned another boo from the crowd and this time King Thawn didn’t smile. He wanted to make them feel as if it really was getting to him. He went on. “Anyway, allow me to ignore you people and get to the heart of the matter I came to speak to you about tonight.

“So, I’ve been reading a lot on social media, especially your guys’ comments on the Crown,” he said lifting it above his head, “my title defenses and my races, particularly the ones I have right here on Fuel. And one thing I see that’s a common complaint is the frequency of my races here on Fuel.

"Quite frankly, as King, I shouldn’t have to appear until pay-per-view but I do anyway. So I think that you guys should be grateful.” King Thawn paused again to allow the crowd to boo some more. “But that being said, I’ve said too much for my liking anyway. You see, I don’t think you guys deserve an explanation. None of these complaints do. I called them common complaints before? Well that’s just about right because common complaints only come from common people and that’s what you people are: just lowly commoners.”

The crowd began to boo even louder which forced Thawn to fight tooth and nail to hold back his glee this time. He’d nailed it. He’d nailed his speech perfectly and generated the perfect response. He couldn’t imagine that there was anyone in the crowd that didn’t hate him right now. But the King wasn’t satisfied with them simply hating him now. He needed them to hate him right up until the next pay-per-view and he knew exactly how he was going to do that.

“So, if what you guys wanted to see out of me is more appearances right here on Fuel, then you’re going to be out of luck. At least for the next two weeks because I am not going to spend my Mondays performing in front of ungrateful people like you.” The boos were even louder this time. It was time to drive it home. “The next time you’ll see me, is at the next pay-per-view which by the way, I’ve been briefed in an exclusive meeting, will be called the Year End Celebration.” It was at this point that King Thawn dropped the microphone and walked off the stage, his job done.

 

IN THE PADDOCK

When King Thawn finally entered the paddock area, straight from his segment on the stage, he bumped into Touch Mkhize… or rather Touch bumped into him. “Watch it, commoner.” The word got Touch’s attention. “You mind where you’re walking when you’re in the presence of royalty.”

“Wow,” said Touch. “You’re really taking this royalty thing seriously, huh? Commoner?” he said, making fun of the way the King had said it.

King Thawn took note of Touch’s own shiny gold helmet – albeit missing the fancy embellishments and embossed designs that the Crown had – and remembered that he’d won that 3-Way drag race to become the Duke of Drag. “Oh, I see. So, you think because you have that” he said pointing at Touch’s helmet, “that you’re now in my league or something?”

Touch shrugged, smiling. “Oh, I don’t know. I mean they are giving me a few minutes on stage to have my own victory speech so…”

“So what?” King Thawn then got close to Touch, invading his personal space. “Listen to me, Mkhize. “Until you have this,” he said gesturing to his F-X Crown, “you’ll never be in my league.”

Touch simply shrugged again and smiled. “Maybe not. But when I go out there and treat these people as more than just lousy commoners, I’ll become something you’re definitely not: the people’s monarch.” With a firm footing on his higher ground, Touch made his way to the middle-stage.

Now more upset than ever, King Thawn made his way through the paddock, intent on getting the hell out of there when he caught sight of someone and made his way towards her. They called her the Diamond in the Rough but after what Darcy Stevens showed him last night in their race, the King now knew that there was far more to her than that. She was watching the big screens as were the other racers, waiting for Touch’s victory speech when she saw him approaching.

“I hear you have a match race tonight with the new guy.”

“Hello to you too, Your Highness.” While Stevie always retained her sass, she’d made a point show respect to those that deserved it. “Yeah, I’m facing Mandla tonight. In the feature race. My seventh altogether.” 

King Thawn was glad that she’d made a point to mention that. “That’s good. Headlining Fuel, keeping yourself relevant in the minds of all these people. That’s the way to getting yourself another shot at the F-X Title.”

“You’re willing to give me another title shot?”

That’s not what King Thawn said, but he was more than willing to infer that if it got him what he wanted at this moment in time. “Well perhaps, but that doesn’t mean anything if you get beaten in the feature race by some loser whose never had a match race in his life.”

“I wouldn’t call the Deputy Mayor’s son some loser, King. I mean, he is the son of the second most powerful man in the city.”

“You know what, everyone keeps saying that but quite frankly, that means diddly squat around here. Around here, winning races is what makes you powerful. So if you want another shot at my title, win this race. I want you to make this guy an afterthought right from the get-go. Can you do that?”

Stevie gave King Thawn a narrow-eyed look before nodding ever-so-slightly. “Your wish is my command,” she said sarcastically, “Your Highness.” She then smirked and gave him a curtsey. King Thawn ignored the sass and walked away, considering his message delivered.

 

LATER THAT NIGHT 

King Thawn had ascended to one of the skyboxes to go and watch the race. The skybox was a converted section of the international terminal: a waiting area that had floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked what was once the runways where the planes were boarded but was now the V.I.P. section for the elite. Naturally, the Formula-X King had easy access to this area as part of the exclusive benefits of being King.

He watched as Stevie and Mandla sped around the racetrack, pacing each other around the bends. King Thawn hated it but he had to admit that the D.M.’s kid had some skill behind the wheel. His technique was flawless as he made a point to keep the pressure on Stevie every time she tried to pull away.

Their race was a 15 Lap Match Race – as were all feature races compared to the 10 lap supporting races on the rest of the racecard. The King was well aware that the critical difference in those extra laps could make or break a racer and went great lengths in determining if a racer was feature racer material or simply support racer material. The difference was marked in the endurance of the racer. That was why Stevie was regarded in such high esteem by the fans along with the racers. And that was why Mandla beating her tonight would put him very high in the line of succession, newcomer or not.

Currently, the pair were entering their 10th lap with both having taken turns in being in the lead. The F-X reporters liked to break the feature race into Thirds when reporting on the feature race and so far, what was known as ‘the final third’ usually proved critical with whoever was in the lead being considered the favorite to take the race. Currently, that was Mandla, by inches which was really giving King Thawn anxiety as he watched on.

When the penultimate lap came around, Stevie looked to be mounting a comeback and actually managed to inch ahead going into the final lap only for Mandla to recover and take the lead, even managing to create a small gap so that the victory was irrefutable. In the end, Mandla took the win, much to the crowd’s surprise and the King’s err. However, it only got worse when Mandla took off his helmet and played to the cheers of the crowd.

Mandla then turned around and looked directly at the skybox… directly at the King, right through the glass. He stared a hole through him just as he did last night at Show-Down. King Thawn knew what this meant. It meant that he was coming for him. Mandla was coming for his Crown. But the King shrugged this off. Because until he became Number One Claimant, the Crown belonged to him.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © All stories are Copyright © 2016-2020 by S.T. Kubheka (also known by the pseudonym Bernard "Beesting" Bayede). ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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