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It's a Hard Knock Life
The team drove up to the Netherlands early Friday morning in a two vehicle caravan. The two RVs led for the most part, their drivers playing with each other a bit on the road between hyperloop exchanges to stay awake. That in and of itself was a bit crazy as both were also hauling big trailers stuffed with tools, gear and the bikes. Everyone else in Nika’s RV was asleep in their bunks despite the trip only taking two-ish hours mostly via the ‘loop, so the woman rode shotgun and poured over her track book.

The racer was silent for the journey while the mechanic driving, Tomas, had chatted incessantly. He did this with everyone until they told him to shut up but Nika listened out of one ear as she went over her notes and diagrams. She responded to a question about the gearing they'd run in the last race at Mugello as she turned a page and he stared briefly at her before continuing. 

'So I figure here, 'cause there's those two straights and you're light as a bird, that we'd try to go down six teeth initially...' Normally they worked in increments of two. He was running it by her kind of as a test. The mechanics were always trying to figure out how much exactly she knew about these things.

“Save time on setup in practice?”

The man's eyes all but bulged in his head. 'Exactly!' And he went on again about it.

Nika turned another page and studied the turn displayed.

Luckily it was a short trip the way the boys drove. Tomas wandered off with the other mechanics and techs to unload everything into the garage and Nika met up with the team’s sleepy-eyed Public Relations Manager, Annessa Caulier and Team Principal, Robert Harding. Both were veterans at Ducati. 

Alex called her wallet  as they were out walking the track.  'Hey, Nicky.'  For some reason everyone be it media, the team or other riders, were always assigning her different nicknames.  Nothing permanent had stuck yet.  What was wrong with, Nika?  As long as it wasn’t ‘Princess’ or something else ridiculous she’d just go with it.  ‘Listen, you walking the track?' “Yeah, we're looking at Turn 8 right now.” 'Good, good. Hey, I want you to go back and look at the bump on the middle line of T6.' Robert tapped the face of his watch, they were on a tight schedule apparently. “Yeah I saw that. It's been patched. The seams are good but I have a feeling it'll be slick.” She could almost hear his smile. 'That's my girl! Yeah, I'd stay off of that line if you can.' The young woman agreed. 'And let me know if you have anything for me after Free Practice, okay?' “I will, thank you.” 'Good. Kick ass.' Nika smirked. “I will.” Alex laughed. “Okay, I imagine Rob is trying to push you along so I'll go and I've got Luca here doing the same. He says hi.' His voice grew muffled for a second as Alex told the engineer she’d said the same. 'Okay to you soon.' “Alright.” 

When the trio returned to the pit garages, the paddock was abuzz with activity. Mechanics and techs scurried about like a kicked ant hill, team livery announcing their allegiances. Reporters and officials intermingled along with the occasional fan trying to look as though they belonged. Security was tight and special passes were required to get near anything interesting. To have one you either worked for a team, won a contest or paid a nice chunk for the privilege. 

There was a schedule for literally everything and Nika’s day did not accommodate free time. Upon her arrival she'd walked the track for a blessed quiet hour to study before a rider's meeting. Then it was off to the Michelin paddock to pick up her tires for the weekend and then back to the garage to deliver them to her mechanics who had been busy unpacking. While the boys mounted the tires Robert and the Head Engineer, Giancarlo Luca, hovered over a laptop to determine which tires to use first. They talked about the temperature of the actual track versus the actual temperature versus humidity and weather. The weather radar was checked at least five times during the conversation and a drone with a temperature attachment had been sent out to call in with the asphalt temp as well. When finally a consensus was reached the appropriate tires, in this case a soft front and medium rear, were pulled and installed on the bikes and the electric tire warmers were wrapped around the rubber. 

Nika in the meantime had been gearing up. She wore a full-body compression suit under her leathers, which helped beyond words in the removal of the same. The leathers themselves were skin tight and custom fitted, that in and of itself made getting in and out of the things a bitch. No one could do so without assistance which made for some interesting contact should anyone be allowed to watch the process.  There were never any witnesses.  She  wore a separate spine protector under the speed hump sewn on the suit's back in addition to a hard chest plate. The chest shield she could add and remove herself but sometimes the spine protector shifted before the suit was zipped up and the only way to place it properly was to have Annessa stick her arms inside the suit and coax it. The fanbois would have loved to get a ticket to that action. 

Nika Raskov was a rookie in MotoGP but in the seven races so far this season she had won six and finished third in the other. She currently enjoyed a comfortable lead over her teammate Alex Castori in Rider's Championship and third place hadn’t even broken 100 points yet.  The little Russian wasn't the first woman to race in the series but she had been the first to do well. This made her a sort of magnet for the women dragged to the races either as family or with family. Alex had seen this and was working at finagling sponsorship accordingly. While the other racer didn't think that it was wise to 'girl-ify' Ducati’s not-so-secret weapon, as he called her, the man did see the value in attempting to reach the microscopic female audience. Of course sometimes he neglected to mention this to his teammate.

Nika and Annessa emerged from the gear room where they'd fought with the leathers again for a good ten minutes, there was an absence of the typical male reactions when two attractive women surface after a time spent in a cramped room. While the team were professionals and not scum, they were still men, if a little geeky at times and they had only required one ‘correction’ by the women to make the entire lot shut their faces. Of course, being men, they didn't let the tech who'd been knocked on his ass by a girl forget it either. That was allowed.  Later on Nika had smoothed things over by getting him really drunk...and then filled his hotel room with blow-up dolls. 

Luca walked over and handed the rider her helmet and gloves then barked at her in his typical Italian way. 'Let's go Nicky, bike's not gonna set itself up.'  He didn't mean it at all and actuality adored the little rider. He called her 'precious' too but out of earshot.  Her retort was to salute grandly with a grin.  "Aye aye, Cap'n!"

The boys pulled off the blue tire warmers with excellent efficiency while the the woman pulled her helmet on and tugged on the tight leather gauntlet gloves. She could hear the other bikes in the paddock start even through the earplugs. The engineer nodded at the temperature reading Tomas gave him on the tires while Nika stretched over briefly touching her toes and then squatting before standing upright once more. Her own bike was rolled out of the garage and started. Tomas held the front cowl with as she threw a leg over the seat. She pulled her left foot up to click the shifter into first gear and released the clutch after looking around to see if she was clear. The racing machine eased out toward the track and slowed twice as the brakes were checked independently of each other. First her right foot pressed down for the rear brake, then two fingers squeezed the lever at her right hand. Satisfied, Nika entered pit lane and then nailed the throttle once she was clear. Eyes friendly and otherwise watched her go.

Free practice was an hour long session packed with chaos. Teams sent out their riders both to learn the track and to find the optimal setup for the bike at this particular track. A properly setup bike would, in the best-case scenario, have gearing customized to provide maximum speed down the straightaway while having the maximum power out of the corners. It was what all riders and teams sought and guarded carefully, it was a difficult endeavor to master and it changed every single time with every infinitesimal variable. The factors could be anything from wet versus dry, cold versus hot, tire compounds, humidity...literally anything. 

Luca, being the Head Engineer, called the shots on how exactly the team ran their session as they only had an hour to 'dial it in,' as he was fond of saying. Nika was to run for ten minutes unless a major problem presented itself before coming in for the first time. The crew tweaked gearing first and by plugging in the computer to the bike, they knew where to start. Lap telemetry and feedback from Nika herself aided in the rest and then things started to change. Everything was pre-prepared down to the last nut and bolt needed for fine tuning. Hell, even the gears were mounted on the rims complete with tire and the wheel was wrapped in the tire warmers so that a complete change was done inside two and a half minutes. 

Forty-five minutes into practice saw the team making serious headway into their setting. Nika was comfortable on the bike and was looking fast and good. She'd been running solo for most of the session and had just rocketed past the number seven bike on the second straightaway whose pace had been off. The woman took note of the braking markers in her fully tucked position before sitting upright and downshifted twice. The rear tire slid from side to side as the brakes were applied and ultimately the bike settled to the left. The woman placed the toe of her boot on the right hand peg and stuck out her knee. The bike seemed to fold over in a precisely smooth action as the high speed corner was negotiated. Nika's head and eyes were already focused on the next corner and she did not see what went on behind her. 

Teams watched the practice session live feed on monitors in the garage while their riders were out. Scrolling bars gave information on the various competitors and two commentators discussed a wide range of topics. Currently the screens were showing the Fast Motorsports/KTM bike as it negotiated the esses. ...'Cooper has been struggling with feeling in the front lately and if he can't sort that out, I don't see him running in the top group.' Another voice piped up. “Look at that, wide into the turn again. It's almost looking as if he can't get a feel for his tires...” The other voice broke in. 'Reports of an off in T13.' The screens switched to a view of a cloud of dust and two mangled bikes. A group of people adorned in official track attire huddled around a rider. 'Looks like...the number ninety-nine and seven bikes.'...“Hard to tell, really.”...'Yes, Trackside says Raskov and Hargrave.'... “Let's see if we've got footage of what happened.” 

Hargrave’s number seven bike had indeed been off-pace from Nika Raskov's machine however, not for long. As the ex-Ducati rider was passed, he twisted his throttle almost violently in an attempt to catch up. His line was different around the corner as he was attempting both to out-brake his opponent and pass her on the inside. He screamed along behind her on the straight and waited a full second and a half after she started braking to do so. This closed the gap certainly but gave him less distance to slow. Seeing this too late, he crammed on his brakes and locked up his rear wheel. He then panicked as his line around the turn intersected Raskov's. The rear brake was released mistakenly.

The cameras captured it perfectly. The number seven bike shifted to the side almost casually before twitching violently back to the right. It's rider was thrown forward over the bars and cleared the bike completely only to land feet-first on the asphalt and tumble like a rag doll. The riderless bike meanwhile had resumed its trajectory forward to ram the tail section of Nika's fully leaned over bike at more than 140mph. The red Ducati’'s tail section all but shattered and allowed the offending machine to continue forward again only to meet the back tire next. The pseudo-braking scissored the number seven bike left and onto the back of the unfortunate rider who had, milliseconds before, been pitched head-first at her oncoming windscreen and the triple tree of the clip-on handlebars. Raskov, still hovering in seeming slow motion since the initial impact as though on a six inch cushion of air, went limp after taking her bike's punch while the other bike and gravity finally seemed to engage. Nika's left arm and shoulder hit first and were visibly wrenched backward, then her lolling helmet bounced twice before the rest of her hit. The friction sucked the rider to the track to roll bonelessly as both bikes continued their arcing backward spins yet continued their momentum forward in a bizarre demonstration of physics. 

The inert form of Raskov flattened to pass somehow impossibly underneath the spinning bikes. She slid along behind them contrasting the cyclonic nature of the two-wheeled beasts as she seemed to casually fold at the waist, unfold and back again, arms wrapping and unwrapping around her own torso until the tarmac was cleared and she disappeared into the great cloud of gray dust kicked up by the battling race bikes. 

Gravel dust settled quickly and orange-clad crash team members followed by green-clad medical workers vaulted over the crash barriers to assist the downed riders. Debris littered the track and corner workers frantically waved red flags. Hargrave had simply slid for a hundred and fifty feet or so and was up walking toward the wall inspecting his highly scuffed leathers. He spared not so much as a glance toward the accident his mistake had caused.  Raskov did not appear to have been as lucky and remained motionless facedown in the gravel.

The sports channels as well as the track's closed-circuit televisions showed the workers in cluster around the woman. One shot focused dramatically on the dark broken visor in the middle of the track's corner, evidently torn from the points-leader's helmet at some point. Behind the scene a crash truck had arrived for the two demolished bikes and the ensuing debris. Hargrave had climbed over the wall by now and was being ushered by a green-vested medical official toward an awaiting cart. Meanwhile the cluster of medics around the downed rider were busy securing her to a stretcher. She looked small and vulnerable on the thing as it was loaded into the ambulance. The lead medic climbed in, talking on his radio. The remaining crew closed the doors and sent the vehicle on its way to the Mobile Clinic where the series doctor was standing by to assess the damage.
Alastair Quinn was jealous, he had to admit. He had a good life in London; he was well-off, he had excitement, challenge, and true meaning to his life. He was well-respected, well-liked, and well-compensated. And, yet, he was not the series track doctor of MotoGP.

That mouth-watering title was held by one Francesco Costa. Everyone called him Frank, but Quinn simply would not. The man was a general. A field admiral in the trenches of mobile medicinal warfare. "... don't get down to the city often," Costa was saying, his dulcet baritone supremely confident in even the simplest of statements. He was filling out some claim forms, probably for one of the rider's insurance agents. Busy work. There was plenty of that for any doctor, apparently. "Marta bought us tickets to Wicked this weekend, though. You seen it yet?" He glanced up from his clipboard, held just slightly akimbo in long, lean fingers Quinn imagined had seen their fair share of traumas. For a man of his fifties, Francesco's eyes held a fire that belied the gray wings at his temples and the deepening ravines gracefully outlining his mouth, brow and those eyes. Quinn gently rolled his shoulders and moved his head. He didn't generally frequent the theater, unless one of the boys dragged him along, but he wasn't surprised that Marta was piqued. Witch.

"How is Marta?" Quinn asked mildly, his eyes leaving the emperor of this sterile meta palace as one of the field medics ventured in long enough to click on one of the overhead monitors. She muttered something, but left before the screen warmed up enough for her to have seen anything useful. She was met outside by a volley of muffled voices. That seemed odd.

"Oh, she's good," Costa smiled, his newlywed-hood abundantly clear in his as yet enamored view of his darling trophy wife. He went back to his forms, but Quinn's attention was caught on the muted monitor over the older doctor's shoulder. Something wasn't right. "She's very ... energetic," Quinn did glance at him, askance, for that. Was the man discussing their sex life? He'd heard talk of Costa's first wife, some bon-bon eating tragedy, but all rumors were pointing to the newest Mrs. Costa being quite the little socialite. Far more so than her husband, despite his adventuresome choice of vocation. He wondered how well Francesco maintained in the sack-- "What is it?" Quinn blinked. Had he been staring? Costa looked past him and Quinn stepped back and to one side as the same woman rushed by to turn up the volume on the video Quinn had been glazing over. Only, now there was a wreck on the screen, and a wagon was already pulling off as the clean-up crew started gathering the remains of what looked like conjoined motorbikes. The woman rambled off something about one of the turns and a handful of names Quinn didn't recognize, but one word he was all too familiar with. Accident.

Francesco rushed outside and Quinn and the medic followed quickly after, just as the same wagon that was on the screen pulled off the track and stopped just shy of the Clinic trailer. A pair of EMTs poured out and the asphalt clearing was suddenly awhirl in activity. Quinn spared no time in joining the fray.

One stretcher was pulled from the first truck, while a cart was approaching at an unhurried pace beyond. Quinn recognized immediately the shaved head of the Italian girl (or was it Russian?) Raskov, and what looked to be at the very least a fracture or two. The lead medic from the wagon looked hard at Quinn, once, but when Francesco didn't tell the obvious stranger to leave, fell straight to the particulars ending with the dreaded…’unresponsive.’  “She got the worst of it. The other guy, Hargrave ..." their voices faded as Costa lead the stretcher handlers into the main trailer, one of the medics peeling off to return the truck to its slot down the track. The Clinic was quickly attracting spectators, mostly mechanics, a few curious riders, and, of course, the media. Quinn never noticed his lips were pursed at the sight of that all-too-familiar camera equipment and drones, but then the second cart pulled up and a slightly rumpled and dusty, but otherwise conscious male rider stepped off, the driver not even bothering to come over, already engaged in conversation with some silver-liveried mechanic; Quinn wished he knew more about these people. He hated jumping into things unawares. "Come on inside," Quinn said, guiding the roughened rider toward the main trailer, consciously ignoring a few garbled questions from some of those already milling about the Clinic. "What happened?"

James Hargrave stared at the guy, not recognizing him. Of course the Mobile Clinic had somewhere around forty people working for it so that was understandable. Man, he was starting to come down from the adrenaline rush of the crash. And he has feeling a bit loopy. Jesus. That's why he didn't process the man's question. Hargrave nodded at the guy and he too ignored the cameras. Those bastards were already gonna give him so much grief for this.  Couldn’t they see it should be him on top of the standings?  That was his bike!  Up the stairs he went and was immediately directed into one of the side rooms. An accidental glance toward the back revealed a small red set of heavily scuffed leathers half hanging out of a bin. Matching boots half the size of his were laying discarded on the floor as well.  It was obvious the leathers had been cut off instead of simply taken off. That meant nothing good for the woman who'd been wearing them. What did he expect after that crash though. He could hear the clicking of the MRI machine in the back and turned away, already assigning fault anywhere but on himself.  Of course the little bitch deserved it for taking his ride.  The only thing he was sorry about was the fact that he'd destroyed his own bike in the process.  He'd only meant to nip her on the inside of the corner and scare her into crashing alone.  So see?  It had been just an accident after all.  

((My original story ported from long-dead site but tweaked for FA.  I'm fairly certain our own Number 2 guest-penned Quinn.  Didn't want him to come back and think I was taking credit for his brilliance...I'm only skeptical it wasn't all mine because I don't think I could come up with 'bon-bon eating tragedy.'  ...although it does remind me a lot of me ex.  Who knows.))
Annessa sat in her customary position behind the team’s crew chief overlooking the main straight.  She was close enough to the pits that she could make it to the garage before Nika, should she pit.  It was a fun game for her to beat the rider back.  

“Bah!”  Luca smacked the side of his laptop screen and cursed something about losing the stream again.  Annessa smiled at his back.  He was an old-school mechanic really and was very proficient in the days' technology.  Alex said it was all a front and that the man just needed something to bitch about.

She glanced up at the screen as her headphones droned on about how Cooper didn’t have the pace.  That was because he wasn’t hungry anymore, she thought.  There was...something about a crash...Nika’d be needing to pit again soon.  Her eyes focused intently.  Had the announcers said the 99 bike?  She turned her sound up.  The screens were settled on the dust and workers…a visor.  Come ON!

Finally a replay.  Annessa’s heart skipped a beat as she watched the bike slam into her rider.  Her hand covered her mouth.  It was a horrid crash.  The whole team box was frozen.  Another replay and another in slow motion, this time they’d put a circle around Raskov’s visor and followed it as it flew off screen.  Fucking Fox!  Those fuckers!  Thank God all the angles were from behind as the main cameras for the race weren’t put up until tomorrow. Still there were the camera drones and she caught the shot of the young woman motionless in the gravel with both gloves gone.  That’s how violent a crash it had been.  There was the briefest glimpse of a bloodied face through the helmet’s visorless portal before the medics got in the way.  Then they replayed the crash.   

Annessa didn’t want to see Nika’s face hit the windscreen and triple clamps again.  These TV people were ravenous though.  Carnage.  That’s what they wanted.  Bastards.  She watched the ambulance drive off toward the medical tent.  Another screen shot showed the medical flight starting its rotors.  Oh God.  A job, she had a job to do.  There was a calm about her walk to the garage.  She made her way into Nika’s changing area, picked up the woman’s wallet then jumped as her own rang.  Alex.  He started talking before she could say anything.  'She’s alive.  Costas has got her now and is scanning with the ah, the MRI.'  The man was talking through a lump in his throat.  'Chopper has been called off so that’s good.'  He didn’t know what else to say.  Annessa was so relieved she blurted out what she didn’t want to ask and Alex couldn’t say.  “She’s awake then?  She’s awake?  Right?”  Silence hung between the two wallets.  It took a long time for Alex to manage a response around his tongue.  'No.'  More silence.  Annessa couldn’t speak.  It was Alex who managed first.  'Christ, I don’t know anything about this kid.  Who’s her emergency contact?'  He moved the phone away and yelled an expletive so loudly he was warned he’d have to leave the building.  Annessa jumped.  “Alex?  Alex!”  He was more calm then.  'Yeah.  Sorry.'  Annessa took charge.  “No, it’s okay.  I’ll find out and call.  Let me know if...WHEN! When she wakes up, let me know.  Stay there.”  

Annessa hung up and took a deep breath.  Her actual function was PR.  She knew what she was doing though.  She did.  She hoped.  Annessa keyed Nika’s phone on, scrolled to where it said ‘ICE’ and hit send.  A man answered immediately.  'Hello?'  It was Alex.  “Alex? I just called her ICE contact.”  ‘That was fast.’  “No Alex, it’s you.  She’s got you plugged in.  Well and 9-1-1.  So you're second to 9-1-1.  Oh wait, there's a third; G. Busters.  Should I call that one?”  The man was silent a beat but got it in one.  'No, that's a prank too. God. She doesn’t have anyone, does she?'  Annessa felt her nose tingle and then start to drip.  “No,"  The woman sniffled.  "She’s said so casually it’s just her before and I didn’t really take it seriously.  Nika’s such a joker, you know...I just...didn’t believe her.”  Alex was silent.  ‘Okay.  Uh, we’ll figure it out.’  There was silence and then he laughed weakly.  Annessa was confused.  "What?"  Alex's voice was shaking.  'She put 9-1-1 and Ghostbusters as her emergency contact.'  Annessa laughed through a sudden sob.  "Oh God, I love that."  'Me too.  I'm uh, I'm going to see what's going on.'  "Okay, I'm almost there."  'Alright.'  And they hung up.
Dr. Costas capped the now-empty syringe and disposed of it in the sharps receptacle.  His practiced eyes scrutinized the images populating on the screens.  Brain looked fine...spine intact.  He glanced at the woman strapped to his table.  Still unconscious, bleeding from a cut on the bridge of her nose.  Costas moved over and set things right before rubbing a salve on it  The screens were now showing details of the lower appendages.  The doctor grabbed a tablet and scrolled through results until he found what he was looking for.  Facial laceration notwithstanding, every other injury was on the left.  A smaller syringe was retrieved, the contents of which were delicately emptied into the fourth and fifth fingers on the rider’s hand.  She’d lost the nail and a good bit of skin, a common injury to racers during entrapment, salve was applied to the road rash as well.  Ankle, knee, wrist, elbow, the underside of her jaw where the helmet strap had dug in…  

Nika blinked to find herself in the medical tent.  Costas had just finished setting a broken finger.  ‘Ah, there you are.’  A bright light was shown in each eye as he spoke.  ‘Do you know where you are?’  The man’s soft hand framed her head, thumb pulling up her eyelids.  “Yes.”  The she responded thickly.  Costas paused and stared at her, hand still on her head.  She did not like the continued physical contact.  ‘Well, where are you?’  Halos lingered in her vision and she answered between shallow breaths.  “On a table.”  The man paused before barking a laugh.  A bigger syringe was produced and prepped before injection.  The woman was starting to feel her body now and it was not pleasant.  Dr. Costas talked while he worked.  ‘Know the year?’  Nika tried to move her right hand up to rub at the gravel dust in her eyes.  Nothing happened.  She was restrained.  This she also did not like.  Wait, had the man just given her another shot?  Costas glanced toward the monitors.  ‘You haven’t told me the year.’  She stared at him through a haze.  “The year of what?”
Costas unstrapped her casually.  ‘You should probably just roll over.’  Said just as the woman tensed to sit upright for some dumb reason.  That hurt.  A lot.  ‘You’ve got four dislocated ribs.’  Costas assisted her in rolling over whether she liked it or not.  ‘I’ll get them in quickly.’  Pop.  She was almost positive her eyes had just crossed.  ‘So the shots…’  Pop.  “...are going to kick in soon.’  Pop.  ‘You’re going to experience a bit of discomfort…’  POP.  ‘ the coming days.’  He shrugged.  ‘Move slowly for a while.’  He rolled her to her back.  Nika let out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.  Great scot, she could breathe again.  The room was spinning.  She closed her eyes and her body relaxed.  Costas frowned.  ‘Quinn.’  The other man stuck his head in.  ‘We’ll take her in after all.’  The younger man glanced at the unconscious rider.  “Got it.  I’ll inform flight.”


There was an older woman bent over her holding a stained-pink sponge.  Nika’s expression was questioning.  ‘Stay still sweetie, we’re gluing your nose back on.’  Silence hung in the air.  Did that make sense?  “What?” she managed to croak.  The other woman laughed.  ‘I’m just kidding.  Frank prefers glue over sutures, especially for a cute face like yours.’  The doctor glanced up at the woman standing up against the wall.  ‘Now if it were one of the men, sutures all the way as they’re all about the scars.’  She winked at Annessa who had her hand clamped tightly over her own mouth.  The racer exhaled.  “Oh.”  Then drifted off again.  The Ducati PR woman tried to keep the anxiety from her voice.  ‘Is this normal?’  The elder doctor answered.  ‘Fairly common for head injuries, yes.’

She woke up in an unfamiliar room.  Soft pillows cradled her in an inclined bed.  Nika looked around and saw the Ducati PR head reading a tablet in a nearby chair.  “Hey,” she cleared her throat.  “What happened?”  Annessa looked up and smiled patiently.  ‘Good morning, sunshine.  You were abducted by aliens but they threw you back because you’re so mouthy.’  Nika stared at the woman.  “Are you drunk?”  Annessa gave a start and perked up in relief.  ‘I’m so sorry!  You’ve been in and out since yesterday and you’ve asked that same question about a hundred times.’  Nika frowned.  “Oh, I’m sorry.”  The other woman balked.  ‘Oh God, don’t be!  We figured out you couldn’t remember anything after the tenth or so time and the boys just started messing with you after that.’  The PR woman made an apologetic face.  ‘So I’m the one who is sorry.’  Nika shrugged and immediately regretted it.  Annessa jumped.  ‘God, don’t do that!  Uh, you dislocated your shoulder and your wrist is broken and fingers and…’  The racer looked down at the open honeycomb cast on her arm and wiggled the fingers that were still free.  “At least I can still flip people off.”  Annessa laughed.  ‘Do try and behave.’  Nika relaxed into the pillows.  “No promises.”  She wrinkled her nose, feeling the strange stiffness of the glue.  ‘How do you feel?’  The younger woman made a non-committal sound.  “Well, I’m drugged because my body feels like it’s all the way over by the door or possibly in the hall.”  A languid grin.  “So that’s nice.”  Annessa laughed.  “What time is it?  I take it I won’t make FP2?”  PR made an ‘oh honey’ face.  ‘You missed free practice 2, that was yesterday.’  She looked at her watch.  ‘Qualifying starts in an hour and no, Dr. Costas has left orders to tie you down if necessary.’  Nika made a face.  “That’s crap.  I’m fine.”  She made a circle with the unbound fingers on her left hand.  “I can still actuate the clutch lever,” and flipped the covers.  Annessa rolled her eyes in exasperation.  ‘You’re crazy!  The whole lot of you!’  She reached over and pressed a button triumphantly.  Nika’s gaze followed the action quizzically and it was a moment before she understood...and felt the effects.  “Oh come on, that was uncalled for.  I’m telling.”  After a moment the rider grinned sloppily.  “Can I have a teddy bear?”  Annessa sniggered and shook her head.  ‘You’re really cute when you’re loopy.’  Nika sank further into the softness.  “Don’t...draw on my face.”  The other woman sassed her right back.  ‘I’m painting your nails pink while you’re out.  I’m gonna post it too.’  The racer’s voice was far away as she was drawn back down the tunnel of nothingness.  “No...” she half-whined.  “Pink will clash with my team shirt.”  Annessa smiled.  ‘Then we’ll wear black tomorrow, asshole.’  

She flipped the covers back where they belonged and fussed with them a moment.  Nika was clearly already under and the PR woman risked a kind touch against the soft black stubble on her head.  She sighed.  The press had been dinging her wallet like mad.  What a shitty, stressful day.  There was work to be done though and she left the room.  

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