The overhead fluorescent lights flickered to life, settling into a barely-perceptible hum that lived somewhere inside my tympanic plexus. It certainly wasn’t obeying the condo good-neighbor guidelines.
The men sitting around the car were surprised by my sudden entrance. They hit the floor as soon as I could heft the faux-overbuilt imitation-steel weight of the Harbour Freight Earthquake impact wrench above my head. I fired two warning braps into the ceiling, and not a single man moved. I made special note of their loyalty to their families as I stepped over the “do not touch” placard, onto the temporarily-stalled turntable that displayed the car.
Many years ago, the ancient performance wizards of Toyota had laid hands upon these valve covers, had breathed their obscene words of power into its oversized exhaust ports, stiffened valve springs, heinous six into one collectors and extrude-honed twin 94mm ball bearing turbochargers. It sat now frozen, in an eternal superposition between broken and the most dangerous machine to ever grace the streets of this continent-in-miniature. On this day, I was going to collapse that superposition or die trying.
I slid the safety cover aside and mashed the bright yellow button beneath it, marked ENGINE START in crude Sharpie markings, both English and Japanese. The Century awoke, stirring in a disturbingly calm fashion before settling into the gentlest, most Japanese of burbles, punctuated by screaming turbochargers, their volumetric efficiency satisfied even at cold idle.
I launched the Century from the dais in the ideal panache befitting a luxury car outfitted with a huge displacement tax. Shattered plexiglass ground beneath the 345-section meats dominating the rear quarter panels as I raced out of the conference centre and towards the service exit.
There was no time to reflect on my accomplishment. The Century’s pedestrian-warning system filled the screen with projected-threat displays, the massive surveillance network at its core feeding intercepted data communications, heart rates and my assumed intent into an expert system dedicated to keeping me alive over the next few hours. Judging from what little I could understand on the fireworks display of a screen, I was going to need it.
I launched from the loading dock into the parking lot, grinding the front bumper on the tarmac as it took its landing a little rougher than could be expected. I would have to work on my reading of the weight balance, I thought, the plush wool seats throwing my butt G-meter off. The Century and I tore ass across the parking lot, over an only-partially-occupied sidewalk, and onto a surface street, the entrance to the Bayshore route looming ahead.
In a futile attempt to avoid tipping off my future pursuers too soon, I began slowing for the toll booth as I reached into the pocket of my fire suit for coins. It was then that I saw him.
Ahead of me, a 280ZX Turbo sat, white-and-black, immense exhaust pipes sticking through both front fenders. Huge LED driving lights sat atop a once-powdercoated bullbar, smothered with layers of accumulated paint transfer. Inspector Koshiro had expected me to do this, every part of it, down to the minute. My head swam with the realization, lashing out desperately to find a way out. Any way out.
I saw Koshiro reach out of his window, a lean arm clamping the gumball light to his carbon fiber targa-topped roof. Sighing, I reached below the dash and opened the gently hissing nitrous feed valve.