It doesn't matter what the regulations say. A computer can learn to drive, but it will never be a driver —.
The birth of a pilot.
Max's family comes from the place that prior to the Transformation was known as the Scottish Highlands, and even if the last McIntire to gaze upon them was his great-grandfather - from the stern of a ship, during evacuation, before the rising ocean took them back forever -it has carried within a bit to the toughness of those places, passing it on from generation to generation. Max is stubborn, tenacious and persistent, incapable of giving up on whatever enterprise he is fixed upon, whether trivial or truly important.. Attracted by motorsports, Max sets his sights on becoming a professional driver, even if he knows all to well he will never be able to truly get to the top.
The World Motorsport Federation has already converted to autonomous driving systems; human drivers have to settle on picking up the crumbs in the minor leagues... or try their luck in the illegal circuit. Max gets in on the action when he's still a teenager, even though his disapproving parents, both academics, would want for their son to focus on more practical career prospects. True to his character, Max refuses to give up even when the relationship with his family, particularly with his father, is strained to the breaking point. He leaves his childhood home in the Principality of Albion to move to New Central City , on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
First footsteps, the Shadow Championship
The capital of the Unitary Government is, more than any other place in the world, a manifest to human resilience, to how man's resourcefulness and stubbornness can overcome even extinction. As soon as he steps off the train, Max knows he's found his home.
New Central City is also the one place where it is possible to meet someone participating in the JoyRide, the biggest and most organized illegal racing operation on the planet. Managed by a committee elected by the participants, rigorously separate from any commercial interest, financed only through donations and crowdfunding, the JoyRide is a true Shadow Championship, complete with teams and faithful fans.
It is so well-organized and efficient that even the government, despite pressure for the WMF, has never really done anything to hinder its existence. The JoyRide is, above all, the antithesis of Formula Warp: it doesn't matter how futuristic or advanced a car is, what matters is the driver's talent; advertising, flashy locations and virtual reality don't count... only passion does. Max tries to hang out in the right places, to meet the right people; he questions, asks around and doesn't give up until through Vasco Monroe, a mechanic in a small team, he lands a temporary gig as a driver. The car is little more than a lawnmower with flaps, but Vasco knows how to make it sing, and Max doesn't care: he's in the loop. Now he just has to wait for his chance.
The achievement, the leap.
And when the chance does present itself, Max grabs it with both hands and rides it to the finish line. In no time he makes a name for himself, his talent is noticed by all the more professional teams, fans adore him. Along with his sister Nicky, recruited as race engineer, and Vasco, he becomes the face of the JoyRide. The phone call that changes everything comes after a night of partying; the team principal warns them: the team has been bought off. He can't really say by whom, he's not even sure himself... but it's someone with very deep pockets, for sure: they've literally showered him with money to give up the whole package, team included. There won't be a next season, he says.
You're off to Formula Warp. Max is stunned, from the news as much as the party itself. He's not sure what to think even once sober, after having they've all read the almost fifty pages of the contract that would tie them to a new team, Legacy Racing. Their new potential employer doesn't really say much, but the few things he does say are very interesting. Nicky is still on the fence, but Max has already made up his mind; the one thing he understood is that whoever's behind Legacy Racing seems to share his ideas: Formula Warp represents everything that's wrong in the world of racing... and it's time for things to change.
Progress is knowledge, and knowledge is never right or wrong. It's an instrument —.
A solid side.
Nicky is Max's sister, one year younger and ten years more mature. When he's in trouble, she's the one who helps him find a solution; when Max puts it in his head to become a driver, she's the one reminding him to be cautious and calming their parents; when the arguments between Max and their father become intense, she's the one who tries to calm things down and reconcile their points of view. She's as calm and contemplative as Max is headstrong and impulsive. While her brother is looking for adventure in New Central City, risking being arrested or breaking his neck, Nicky graduates summa cum laude.
She enrolls in college, obtaining a PhD and completing a Master in Computer Science two years earlier than the rest of her class. Nicky is attracted by anything that is innovative, she sees research as the single most formidable instrument humanity can wield to progress and prosper as a species. For this reason, just like Max, she moves to New Central City; the capital is the home of innovation and development, all the most important research centers on the planet are there. Thanks to her brilliant academic resume, Nicky rapidly finds a job in one of the main centers dedicated to the development of artificial intelligence.
Early steps in Central City.
Her thesis on machine learning applied to macroscale weather systems grants her a small lab and a team of technicians to further her research. Much like her brother before her, Nicky feels like she has found her place in the world. But her elation doesn't last long: very soon her vision starts to clash with the bureaucracy and the hierarchy intrinsic to the institutions and early excitement gives way to frustration. Nicky feels she could obtain much more and much sooner if she didn't have to submit to all the formalities and the intricate procedures imposed upon her by upper management.
Since they're both living in New Central City, Max and Nicky see each other regularly; during one of these nights, in a pub where Max works as a barman, Nicky gripes to her brother about her job. She's almost thinking of dropping everything and resigning, even if she has worked for years to get to where she is now.
Maybe, she muses, she only needs a pastime, a personal project, something to pursue with no political, economic or bureaucratic influences to stifle her progress. Something that could engage and relax her.
Two sides of the same coin.
Nicky sighs, sips from her drink and looks up. Her brother is looking at her with a mischievous grin. Three nights later Nicky is in a nondescript depot in the docks area housing a machine shop. Max is at the wheel of a half-assembled car; a guy as big as a bear, his head stuck under the hood, is telling him to accelerate slowly. A third, older man approaches her smiling, shakes her hand and welcomes her to the team. The next few races are key to obtain a good placement in the championship and a good race engineer, somebody able to develop and run realistic simulations, could be just what they need to step it up a notch.
Nicky doesn't know what to say; she looks around, disoriented, and finds her brother's eyes. Max nods imperceptibly. Trust me, he seems to say. Two months later Nicky quits her job and dedicates her full time to the team and the JoyRide; four nights a week she serves drinks and cleans tables in the same bar where her brother works. If only a few years earlier someboy had told her she would have to wait tables for a living, Nicky would have probably been outraged.
Even now, she still finds it hard to believe, but at the same time she's never felt more accomplished.
What I like about machines is that they're simple, honest. A machine never lies. —
Between earth and water.
Vasco spends most of his life on water, along with his family and their whole community. The consequences of the Transformation erase the Polynesian Archipelago from the maps, forcing its inhabitants to give up everything to escape the rising tide. While most people make a run for the closest continent, a small group takes refuge in the ocean itself and begin to lead a nomadic existence. Building on their heritage, they look back at the navigational prowess of their ancestors and organize themselves in a wandering community that follows oceanic currents to chase favourable climate.
In the following years the group grows steadily, going from a few dozens people to the size of a small nation: they call themselves the People of Oceania. Vasco is a sixth-generation Oceania native, part of a people without land, a nation made of hundreds of boats of all sizes and make; an expanse of ships travelling the ocean as one, establishing trading routes with the major coastal cities on all sides of the Pacific. Vasco is a quiet boy, pensive and dependable; nothing seems to break his calm, even though the People's life is often made of emergencies and dangerous situations.
The arrival in town.
He doesn't have many friends and has no problem being alone, which worries his parents quite a bit. Even as a small boy he demonstrates an innate attitude towards all things mechanical. At ten years old he's already an expert mechanic, able to predict and solve most of the malfuctions that the ships' engine present periodically; as a teenager he turns his gift into an enterprise, taking care of the maintenance and tuning of his clients' boats. His parents realize that Vasco could only express his full potential somewhere else. After a long discussion, they decide to send off their son to get an instruction on land.
Vasco moves to New Central City, enrolling at Central Atlantic University and pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
The change of setting is traumatic: accustomed to the disarming vastity of the ocean, Vasco finds being surrounded by the city's skyscrapers makes it hard to breathe; at night the artificial lights prevent him from seeing the stars and make him feel caged.
Nonetheless he doesn't give up: his family is making sacrifices to allow him to make the most of his talent and he has no intention of letting them down.
The right place.
Vasco shuts himself in and throws himself head-first in his studies: it's hard, but at least there are his projects. The university makes a state-of-the-art laboratory available to its students and vasco spends there all of his free time, developing his ideas. Nothing makes him feel more alive. During a social outing with his class, which he forces himself to attend, although he'd rather be in the lab, Vasco surprises everybody (himself included) jumping in a conversation between two strangers; the subject: the best way to tune a highly-customized propulsion unit. A couple of minutes later Vasco is rattling off technical data, theorizing solutions and offering suggestions.
The two stare at him with their mout agape, they trade quick glances and then invite him to go to a specific address the following night. And so Vasco enters the JoyRide circuit, and spends the following four years building a reputation for himself. After his degree he finds work at a small auto shop: the job is nothing to write home about, but it pays well enough and the hours are flexible; the owner is a JoyRide fan and allows Vasco to take all the time he needs for his real job. When he talks to his family Vasco keeps the details of what he does to himself, but his parents don't pester him much: he sounds happier than ever and, to them, that's all that counts.