"Clutch, we're receiving a report of possible VENOM activity near an abandoned auto plant. It appears you're about to drive by, can you check it out?" Alex asked through a secured MASK frequency.
"I'm on my way," Clutch replied. As he looked ahead, he noticed the avalanche and what looked like a vehicle trapped underneath.
"Someone's in trouble! I better help them, even if it means Boris extends his lead. So much for bragging rights," he said as he stopped Wildcat next to the pile of rocks.
"Let's reinforce that thing before it hurts someone else."
After converting Wildcat, clutch aimed the elevated cab up towards the catwalk.
"Concrete cannons, fire!"
A stream of instantly-drying concrete hit what was left of the catwalk. For now, that would stabilize the structure until permanent repairs could be made.
Inside the rubble, Tim took a deep breath. Aside from the debris that damaged his helmet camera, he had just enough time to raise a Force barrier that saved his life. However, he wanted to be sure it was safe to take the next step. Satisfied there would be no more rubble falling from overhead, he thrust his arms forward to disperse the debris that threatened to fill the inside of Oz-1. He then undid his safety harness and used a Force jump to exist the cockpit. He was surprised to see a MASK vehicle seemingly waiting for him.
"Are you OK?" Clutch asked.
"I'm fine. If I was a cat, though, I'd think I've lost the second of my nine lives," Tim replied.
"You still look a little shaky, but that's expected."
"You can say that again," Tim answered as he removed his helmet. Upon noticing the cracked camera lens, he added, "I guess this means the live show is over."
"Let's get you out of that rubble and see if you can still drive that thing. I can only hope it's not too damaged, especially since I'm the one that has to fix it."
Clutch then walked over to the side where debris stacked up against Oz-1 and blocked the roadway.
"Ditcher, on," he said. The blue crosshatches that doubled as his mask's eye holes glowed before shooting powerful blue beams that blasted the rubble off to the side.
"Actually, I can do that easier," Tim stated. He stood on the other side and raised his hands. Clutch looked on in amazement as the debris floated off the ground and onto the small patch of grass on the other side of the road. There, the debris fell harmless back to the ground.
"How'd you do that? You didn't steal Bruce's lifter mask, did you?" Clutch asked with a hint of teasing.
"I'm a Jedi. We can do stuff like that. That's how I kept from being crushed like a beetle," Tim replied. He then used the Force to move Oz-1 away form what was left of the rubble.
Clutch made a quick inspection of the exterior. "Aside from all the dents, it looks like you can still drive it. Can you check the diagnostic display for me?"
Tim got back inside Oz-1 and started the ignition. With instructions on how to access the diagnostics, the engine and other vital components were undamaged, apart from the previously-damaged thruster.
"At least this thing is brick-resistant. Let's finish the race."
"What about that truck I saw?"
"Oh yeah, what did it look like?"
"Well, it looked like it had a raised box or crate on the back, but it lowered."
Clutch rubbed his chin before realizing what it was. "That's Outlaw! That can only mean Goon Gorey is prowling around and up to no good. We better check it out."
"We?" Tim asked suspiciously as he put his helmet back on.
"Well, I need backup, and with nobody else around, and the fact you're technically driving a MASK vehicle, you're it."
Tim's commlink began to chirp.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Thank goodness you're okay," Knight Ashley stated on the other end. "Everyone thought you were a goner – especially after the camera stopped broadcasting."
"Not yet. Cancel my obituary and let someone know two of us are going to check out the suspicious activity here."
"Right away, Master."
Clutch and Tim then slowly followed Gorey's last known location in an attempt to find the VENOM agent.
Elsewhere, Ahsoka continued to drive as fast as her three-wheeled all-terrain vehicle would let her. After her initial scream, she convinced an assistant from the Committee of Assignments to lend her a vehicle that would get her to the race site as quickly as possible. Plugging her fiance's last known position into the mobile version of chartjourney·invalid produced directions.
As Ahsoka approached the near end of the abandoned plant, she stopped and turned off to the side. Something odd caught her attention. With her enhanced vision, she reasoned she could prepare for trouble now before her potential adversary discovered her.
Lester drove Iguana to where he thought another vehicle had parked. Having strict orders to keep prying eyes away from Bruno and Gorey, he was surprised to see the driver dismount and walk towards him. He sped up closer and stopped. He blinked his eyes and looked out of his mask again. If he wasn't hallucinating, this looked like the same person he nearly killed nearly a year ago. As Ahsoka walked closer, her unusual appearance was a dead giveaway.
"Hey, Tano, remember me?" he asked Ahsoka.
Ahsoka's head-tails twitched and curled in horror. She immediately recognized Lester and his ATV. Still, she was determined to remain calm and not let Lester get the upper hand again.
"I never forget a loser," she replied calmly.
"No one calls Lester Sludge a loser!"
Ahsoka shrugged her shoulders. "That's funny, I just did," she replied with a small, teasing smile.
An angry Lester converted Iguana to attack mode. The rear portion of his seat turned to provide a rear shield. Additionally, two long cannons extended from the front. Ahsoka's eyes widened as Iguana's shredder blade extended and started to spin.
"When I'm through with you, I'll serve the leftovers up as orange juice," Lester stated before laughing hysterically. He then slammed on Iguana's accelerator.
Ahsoka, doing her best to remain calm, used a Force jump to leap over Iguana and land behind it. Lester appeared surprised, but he remained unfazed as he stopped Iguana.
"Jump for joy all you want, Tano, but I can cut you down from behind," he called out. To prove his point, he activated Iguana's rear chainsaw blade.
As Lester shifted Iguana into reverse and sped up again, Ahsoka did her best to carefully time her next jump. As she leaped, she quickly unhooked her lightsaber and shoto to ignite them together. With one quick strike, she cut Iguana's front shredder blade off the vehicle.
Lester lost his composure upon feeling and seeing the damage.
"You trashed my shredder blade!" he screamed. He then fired Iguana's sludge cannons, but Ahsoka swiftly dived away from the slow-moving streams of muddy gunk.
"Mudslinger, on!" Lester called out. Despite peppering the air with shots of mud, Ahsoka crouched, ducked, and jumped away from all of them. As she jumped behind Iguana, her shoto cleanly sliced off the rear saw blade.
Lester growled in disgust once again.
"Leave now, before I dismantle this awful contraption of yours," Ahsoka stated emphatically as she gritted her teeth.
Lester looked at Ahsoka. She continued to hold her lightsaber and shoto with the blades crossed. Ready to concede defeat and prevent further damage to Iguana, he shook his head and sped off.
"I'm getting out of here. Miles couldn't pay me enough to stick around with her on the loose. I'll go back to downtown and try to find that cafe I noticed earlier. Any place named Bad Boys Go to Brussels sounds like my kind of dive," he said.
Ahsoka extinguished her lightsaber and shoto and reattached them to her belt.
"Now that I got my workout for the day, I need to find my fiance." Ahsoka said as she remounted her own ATV and turned back onto the boulevard.
Nash Gorey pulled Outlaw around a corner and stopped. If he had been spotted, he didn't want to tip off anyone to Bruno's whereabouts and current task. He gulped when he saw what looked like a couple of MASK vehicles closing in on his location.
Clutch stopped Wildcat about 30 feet [~9 m] away. He was surprised to see Tim get out of Oz-1 and stand in front of it.
Gorey was just as surprised. However, he felt confident he could take care of the situation on his own. Spotting some debris alongside of Outlaw, he was further convinced he didn't need any help.
Gorey stepped out of outlaw's open cab and looked at his adversaries.
"What are you up to now, Gorey?" Clutch asked.
"Wouldn't you like to know, Hawks. I see you have a new friend. Let's see how strong he is. Powerhouse, on."
Once again, a green glow surrounded Gorey's body as he picked up the remains of a broken beam and hurled it at Tim. Clutch looked on in shock. He had no time to react, but he wasn't sure how his colleague would handle the large, heavy object hurled his way.
To Clutch's surprise, Tim calmly held his hands in front of him and the beam hovered in mid-air.
"Sorry, elephant face. I'm not here for fun and games. Here, have it back," Tim replied. As he thrust his hands forward, the beam flew back towards Gorey.
"If that's a new MASK agent, he's got some crazy powers," Gorey whined. He then swung and punched the beam. Thanks to his mask-induced superhuman strength, the beam crumpled and hit the ground. As he looked up, he saw two of Wildcat's disks flying towards him.
"Those aren't my grandma's pie tins. I'm getting out of here!"
After the explosive disks narrowly missed both him and Outlaw, Gorey quickly hopped back into his tanker and gunned the engine. He couldn't seem to pull away fast enough.
"Does he always take off like that?" Tim asked.
"Without the mask, he's the stereotypical 90-pound [41 kg] weakling. He can't leave fast enough when someone stands up to him," Clutch replied.
"That's fair enough, but we've got a race to finish. And, we still don't know what they were doing here."
"Let's call this in and let someone else handle it."
Elsewhere, Darth Stinger walked along Perimeter Boulevard, hoping to find alternate transportation. Suddenly, she spotted an orange GTO parked off to the side.
"This will work," she told herself.
As she got in and sped away, she looked at the instrumentation panel. Not knowing it was Bruno's vehicle, Stinger, she still correctly deduced it was either a MASK or a VENOM vehicle.
I need to figure this thing out, she thought.
Back at the plant, Bruno heard the commotion and saw Stinger being driven off. Unfortunately, it turned the corner quickly, precluding the use of his magna-beam.
"Miles isn't going to like this," he said.
"I'm not going to like what?" Miles asked through their private inter-mask frequency.
"Someone stole Stinger."
"You brainless buffoon! How could you be so careless?"
"It's not my fault, boss man. Lester and Gorey took off and left me alone," Bruno explained.
"Never mind that. Did you find what I'm looking for."
"That's the thing, I was waiting for Gorey to confirm it."
"Another great plot of mine foiled by incompetent minions. I'll deal with you later. I gotta catch up and take care of MASK," Miles replied with noticeable disgust in his voice.
After Clutch reported the confrontation with Gorey, Tim turned his head.
"What's a Jedi ATV doing here?"
"It's not Iguana, is it?" Clutch asked suspiciously.
"No, it's not a lizard. It's one of mine. I can see our logo."
Both were surprised to see Ahsoka stop and dismount from the ATV.
"Ahsoka, what are you doing here?" Tim asked.
"Excuse me? I thought you were crushed in that rock slide and came out to check on you. Why else would I come here?" she answered emphatically.
"I'm fine. But why didn't you contact me via commlink to see if I was alright?"
Ahsoka's head-tail stripes darkened in embarrassment. "I didn't think about that. I assumed the worst, and I wanted to get down here as fast I could," she confessed.
"Well, what's done is done. I guess now that you're here, you can join Clutch and I as we finish the race."
Ahsoka nodded. "So, who's winning?"
"I don't know. I just know Boris is probably going to beat me, barring a miracle. So let's finish and hope for the best," Clutch replied.
The trio then sped up and resumed their drive east on Perimeter Boulevard.
Darth Stinger continued to drive along Perimeter Boulevard. Despite her best efforts, she still couldn't figure out how to convert the vehicle, Stinger, to attack mode. In her unsuccessful efforts, she honked the horn, activated the claw, and blasted Hooked on Synthpop through the radio. Frustrated, yet determined, she remained resolved to finish this race. One good thing, though, she was now able to monitor radio transmissions between VENOM agents.
"MASK reports that Darth Stinger stole Stinger," she heard Miles Mayhem announce.
"Someone named Stinger stole Stinger? That's crazy! Who comes up with this stuff?" Bruno replied.
"Never mind that, we gotta stop her before she uses our own vehicle against us."
Darth Stinger grinned to herself. If she could somehow figure how to convert Stinger, she just might exact her revenge on the same group that antagonized her most of the day.
As she neared a billboard, she was so engrossed in her scheming that she overlooked Goliath-2 waiting for her.
"She's coming your way, Chief," Dusty Hayes called out.
"First, let's slow her down. Totem, on," Nevada stated. A number of miniature totem poles shot out of his mask and covered the roadway.
Nevada quickly got back into his vehicle with Darth Stinger reaching his location. As she drove over the totem poles, she lost traction and begun to spin out.
"What the...?" she asked as she tried to steer out of the skid.
In the meantime, Dusty opened up the Billboard Blast and fired one of his rockets. As it hit the ground, it released a sticky, tar-like substance that engulfed Stinger and held it in place. The vehicle, and its similarly-named driver, were now immobilized.
"Good job, Dusty. Now this is the way to play Cowboys and Indians. Let's go to Hog Island and make sure the others finish," Nevada said.
"Sure thing, partner," Dusty replied. With the press of another button, the converted portion of the billboard lifted away form the pole and took flight.
Back on the ground, Darth Stinger gingerly got out of Stinger, taking care to avoid the sticky goo, lest she be ensnared herself.
If nothing else, I'm closer to a bus stop. I just want to get back to my compound and forget today even happened, she thought.
Clutch, Tim, and Ahsoka approached the eastern end of Perimeter Boulevard. If they continued straight ahead, they've cross the bridge leading to hog island. Unknown to them, the Mayhem brothers resumed racing and closed the gap between both groups.
"What is that thing?" Max asked as his display zoomed in on Ahsoka's rear head-tail and montrals.
"Beats me, but maybe we can catch it and find out," Miles replied. Knowing the melter cannons would tip off their position, he opted to stop Ahsoka with an unexpected attack.
"Flexor, on," he called out. Once again, a large bubble floated towards Ahsoka.
Ahsoka had no time to react to the large bubble that floated in front of her. As her ATV hit it, she yelped as her neck snapped back. The impact of hitting the bubble threw her off vehicle and onto the narrow patch of grass alongside the road.
"Ahsoka!" Tim called out upon hearing her yelp and sensing something was amiss. He slammed on Oz-1's brakes and the vehicle turned 180 degrees. "It looks like trouble," he added.
"Leave it up to Mayhem to cause trouble yet again," Clutch replied.
"Fire lightning rod," Tim called out. However, his helmet's weapon refused to fire, even when he manually pushed the button. "It looks like my weapon got knocked out in the rock slide," he told Clutch.
"I'll slow 'em down for you." Sticking his head out of the window, Clutch called "Ditcher, on," to put a large hole in the middle of the roadway. Unfortunately, the Mayhem brothers narrowly swerved off on either side of the hole and continued to close down on Ahsoka.
"You can't stop us now, Hawks. We'll get whatever that is," Miles stated. To everyone's surprise, both Mayhems fired their melter cannons towards Ahsoka.
Ahsoka sensed trouble. As she turned around, she saw the hot lead bearing down on her. However, another odd sensation pulsated through her montrals. Two of Wildcat's disks intercepted the streams of liquid and exploded on contact.
"Exploding street covers? Where'd those come from?" Ahsoka asked herself as she covered her head to muffle the sound of the explosions.
Clutch was ready to take action again. After activating attack mode, he said, "Let's protect her before they get too close. Concrete cannons, fire." He then created a small wall to separate Ahsoka from the Mayhems.
Tim sped up and stated, "Make a ramp, I'm going to need the boost to get airborne."
After Clutch added more of Wildcat's instant-drying concrete to the wall, Tim used it as a ramp while he converted Oz-1 to attack mode. Although the bottom of the vehicle fishtailed a bit due to the inoperable rear thruster, he flew past the separate pods of Buzzard and circled back around.
As the Mayhems frantically slammed on their brakes to avoid the makeshift wall, Tim circled around from behind and shot his micro-lasers.
"Let's get out of here!" Max whined as he revved his pod and took off.
"You quitter! And you wonder why mom liked me more!" Miles retorted. However, another near miss was too close for comfort.
"Wait for me, this guy's worse than a MASK agent," Miles called out as he sped off in the opposite direction.
With VENOM out of the way, Tim landed Oz-1 alongside Ahsoka. He quickly ran up to her.
"Are you alright?" he asked her.
Ahsoka groaned. I think I'm OK, but my neck hurts from hitting that bubble thing."
"We're almost at the finish line. If you can still drive, we can check in at the medical station. If not, I'll scan you myself and see what we can do for you."
Ahsoka slowly got up and remounted her vehicle. "I think I can do it," she said.
Matt, Jacques, Boris, Ali, and Vanessa made it across the bridge to Hog Island. With three laps around the island to determine the winner, anything could happen. Vanessa was determined to defeat MASK a second time, especially after Jacques and Ali combined to take Floyd out of the race for good.
With lap and a half complete, though, Vanessa closed in and started firing rockets at the MASK agents.
"What are we going to do? Vanessa is closing in and won't give up," Ali asked.
"I say we launch operation shadow. Everybody close in," Matt replied.
As the MASK vehicles tightened their formation, Jacques and Boris converted Volcano and Bulldog respectively.
"Shroud, on," Matt said. His mask produced a stream of fog that slowly engulfed the MASK vehicles.
Boris then fired his transonium disruptor towards Vanessa.
Behind the pack, Vanessa looked on in confusion.
"What are they doing? They can't stop me now, I'm too close," she told herself. As she entered the fog, her instrumentation went haywire.
"I can't see anything in here!" she groaned.
Jacques was ready to make the final move. He aimed toward the road and fired a stream of hot lava.
Vanessa felt aloud thump as Manta went airborne unexpectedly. As the fog lifted, her eyes widened and she screamed as Manta splashed into one of lagoons within the island.
"I'll get you next time!" she yelled. Realizing, she needed to get Manta out of the water before it sank too low, she took swift action. Spotting a large utility pole, she said, "Whip, on." As her whip wrapped around the pole, she converted Manta to attack mode and used her whip to pull Manta out of the water and give her a boost. Conceding defeat, she flew away.
A short time later, the race results were official. Jacques narrowly finished ahead of Ali to win the border Brawl. Matt took third followed by Boris, Clutch, and Tim. Ahsoka stopped short of the finish line because she wasn't in the race and she needed to find the medical station.
The Border City Mayor, Douglas Michaels, presented medals to Jacques, Ali, and Matt for their top-three finishes. Jacques also received special praise from Frances Edison, the Violet City mayor, for being the first francophone to win the Border Brawl.
Returning with a collar around her neck, Ahsoka rejoined her fiance and they shared congratulatory applause along with Alex and Duane.
"You were right, VENOM had nearly uncovered a vehicle with enough gold in it to be considered priceless. Thank goodness our Jedi colleagues were able to help us remove it," Duane told Alex and Tim.
"What are they going to do with it?" Alex asked.
"There is an automotive museum a short distance away. If they can figure out how to properly restore it and display it securely, they're very interested in adding it to their collection," Tim replied.
"You've been a big help in this mission. I wish there was more we could do to thank you."
"Why don't you return with us for a celebratory dinner."
"Dining hall food isn't exactly a thank-you," Ahsoka stated.
"That's why I was planning something catered."
"Oh," Ahsoka replied as her head-tail stripes darkened in embarrassment.
"I beg your pardon, but keep in mind I can't eat beef," Ali stated.
"Indeed. I could make sure to order something with chicken or plain to accommodate that," Tim replied.
At the Jedi dining hall, everyone finished their dinner.
"Tim, thanks for your hospitality and your assistance," Matt said.
"Likewise, I'm sure. I'm just glad our enemies all went home empty handed. However, I could have done without the close calls."
"It comes with the territory. I almost thought I was a goner in my race in Africa."
At another table, Boris and Clutch settled their bet.
"Well, Boris, you finished ahead of me fair and square this time. I guess I'll be taking you to that sports bar the first chance we get after we return to headquarters."
"I can hardly wait. But you did good, too, Clutchsky. Because you stop for Tim when he's in trouble, I'll still give you some of my next batch of borscht."
"Really? Thanks for being a good sport about it. Just don't burn it like last time."
Ahsoka stood up and cleared her throat. Everyone's conversation ended as they made eye contact with her. She adjusted her cervical collar before she spoke.
"Before you have to leave, I wanted to tell you something. On the way back, my fiance and I talked things over. Give that our wedding party is going to be on the smaller side, I suggested that we invite you to our ceremony. If you're interested, it will be October 12th at noon at Our Lady of the Assumption. We'd like to see as many of you as possible."
"We'll see what we can do," Matt promised.
After everyone left, Tim and Ahsoka enjoyed some quiet time together.
"Is it bad?" he asked her.
"Rachel's assistant said it was very mild whiplash. She told me to come back tomorrow for treatment. I should feel better in a day or two," Ahsoka replied.
"That's good then. I'm glad you're OK."
"Me, too. I feared the worse when I thought you were about to be crushed."
"Had I been a split-second slower, that might have happened. But, I hope next time, you'll try calling me first."
"Where's the fun in that?" Ahsoka replied half-jokingly. "I got to show that weirdo what I can do when I'm ready for battle."
"Oh, Tim, please promise you won't ever call me 'dear.' Why would you ever call a Sith Witch that?"
"Only because she hates it when I do."
"Just don't call me that."
"No problem," he replied as he kissed one of her cheek markings. "And please don't stress out over finding a dress. I know you want to make a good impression, but don't go too overboard. I hope Cara can help you find one."
"She's been helpful so far. I don't know what I'd do without her," Ahsoka replied before sighing. Looking for a dress was a challenge, but she also disliked the fact her future in-laws didn't accept her as part of the family and actively disowned both her and their son.
"I know. I wish they accepted us, too. But, it's my parents' loss if they don't want to be part of our celebration."
Her husband hugged her and kissed her one last time. "I better go. I'll see you tomorrow."
Back at her compound, Darth Stinger gnashed her teeth as she thought about her experiences at the race.
"I was so close to finishing you off. Next time, when I don't have idiots around me, I'll get you. And, when the time comes, I look forward to unleashing my secret weapon," she told herself.
Public Service Announcement
"Hey, T-Bob, this new race car is pretty cool, don't you think?" Scott asked, in reference to Oz-1.
"Maybe if they raced in Alaska," T-Bob replied.
"Very funny. I'm going to go get some cotton candy at the concession stand, you wait here."
As Scott walked away, T-Bob noticed an unusual person walking towards him.
"Scott, come back. There's a strange ... creature coming over here. Scott?" he called out.
Ahsoka looked curiously at T-Bob, saying, "That's funny, my fiance never told me they had R2 units on Earth." Turning towards T-Bob, she added, "Don't worry, Artooey, I just want you to help me."
"I'm not an artooey, I'm a T-Bob. Stay away, whatever you are," the robot protested.
"I've never seen an R2 unit that spoke Basic." Ahsoka then took T-Bob's hand and tried to stick it into an access panel. "Let's run a diagnostic," she stated.
T-Bob, not equipped for what Ahsoka intended, found himself electrocuted as his hand touched an electrical conduit. He fell to the ground with a puff of smoke.
"What did you do to him?" Scott called out to Ahsoka, nearly dropping his cotton candy.
"I wanted him to do a diagnostic, so I tried to plug him in," Ahsoka explained.
"You should never try to plug in objects that don't fit into an outlet. You could damage them – or even give yourself an electric shock."
Ahsoka nodded. "I guess you're right," she replied.
As Scott reset T-Bob's circuit breaker, the latter's eyes lit up again and he jumped back into a standing position.
"Oh, Scott, thank goodness you're here. I just had the most revolting experience," T-Bob stated.
Scott groaned. Turning to Ahsoka again, he asked her, "Maybe you can help me reprogram his humor circuits."
Closing Commentary: For my sequel to Racing Into Knighthood, I opted to focus largely on the action with Ahsoka's upcoming wedding as a minor subplot. Although Ahsoka hadn't planned on becoming part of the mission, I'd like to believe she needed – and perhaps enjoyed – the break from wedding planning.
As always, the names of locations and other landmarks and such have been spoofed. I think I even broke the 4th wall a couple of times. But with any mission involving MASK and VENOM, some degree of humor has to be expected.
From the MASK perspective, I wanted to have some sort of resolution to Boris' and Clutch's racing series rivalry. Boris may appear a bit out of character, but I'd like to believe that the more he settled into his position as a MASK agent and acclimated himself to American life, he wouldn't act or sound like the bumpkin he was portrayed as on the cartoon. Also, I thought it would be a nice touch to have him offer to give Clutch some of his borscht as a sign of sportsmanship. After all, had Clutch not had to stop to help Tim and deal with Gorey, the race could have been much closer than it was.
Finally, it's my tradition that no story involving MASK is complete without the public service announcement at the end.