The 'Wipeout' universe, in game form
On January 17th 2004, something happened that, in time, will change our world. It passed largely unnoticed, though an internet messageboard I know about grew a little excited.
It was the day that Pierre Belmondo was born. Deep in the Charente region of France (coincidentally - or not - this is a region in which I spent a happy family holiday in 1981), little Pierre was opening his eyes and gurgling at his mother, and feeling for the first time the pull of the earth, sucking him to the planet's surface. Inexorably, inevitably, gravity was - is - binding him to our spinning globe.
At the time of writing, Pierre is just two years old. He toddles across the bare floorboards of his parents' large house, and when he hears the dogs barking in the yard, he goes to the window to see his father coming home. He is happy, I believe, though already inquisitive, unsatisfied with the few things he knows. He realises there is much to learn I think, and he is eager to experiment, to test, and to try things out. It exasperates his mother as he tips milk, scoops mud, scatters peas; he weighs, measures and considers all things.
But he is just a child, and is only partly self-aware. He probably does many of these things just for fun, not because his destiny is to one day challenge Newton.
There I go, you see. I'm using my curious sense of hindsight to read meaning into the actions of a boy who's two years old. I don't even know him - I've never met him. I've never had contact with his parents, and I couldn't tell you his precise address. If you want to find him, you have my best wishes, but no further help can be forthcoming.
The fact is that Pierre Belmondo may not exist. But some time in 1995 while sitting at an old Apple Mac in an office in Liverpool, I conjured him up in just a moment. I needed a name for a character in a fiction, and suddenly, there it was on the screen. Pierre Belmondo. I felt he should be French, so I stabbed at the letters of the most French name I knew: Pierre. Then I thought back to French lessons at school, and a text book we used that pretended to be a magazine for teenagers, with pages devoted to music, to fashion, to movies. One of these articles was a photo-story about a French film star of whom I'd never heard, who seemed notable mostly for the potato-esque nature of his nose: he was Jean-Paul Belmondo.
So, I had my name. Pierre Belmondo. And in that moment as I wrote, he became a man, an important man - the director of European anti-gravity research. He was a rebellious scientist, devoted to following instinctive urges even as they set him against governments, institutes and global conglomerates. He would become the single most vital figure in a new world of technology, of transport, and of competitive sport.
He would break gravity's bond, and in so doing, would invent anti-gravity racing.
Pierre Belmondo. A clever man indeed.
The future was then, according to this 'Wipeout 2097' shirt
In early 1995, I began work as a creative writer at Psygnosis in Liverpool. Psygnosis developed and published video games, and had achieved considerable success with a range of graphically adventurous titles for the Commodore Amiga. However, while the company created visual delights like 'Shadow Of The Beast', it was the addictive simplicity of a puzzle game called 'Lemmings' that had really found them fame and fortune. It was a game that reached far beyond the bedrooms of pubescent boys, and was enjoyed by grandmothers, sisters, mums and dads. And when I arrived in Liverpool on a dark and rainy Sunday in February 1995, 'Lemmings' was still the game that everyone knew. To be working for the company that gave it to the world felt... thrilling.
In preparing for the interview that got me the job, I learned that Psygnosis had been acquired by Sony a couple of years before. The creators of the Walkman had already launched their first PlayStation console in Japan, and I realised that Psygnosis was already hard at work on games that would accompany the machine's European launch later in the year. After the interview was over, we jollied and we joked, and in one bizarre instance I was clonked on the head with an inflatable hammer when I professed support for Sheffield United. In a haze of good feeling and pre-Christmas giddiness - it was December 23rd after all - I was taken down a grey corridor in the dockside building and into a corner office screened by glass. And there on the desk was a small TV, and a PlayStation.
I was no computer games nut, but I knew enough to know that this modestly sized grey slab represented gaming nirvana in a world in which the next release, the next iteration of technology, is always the one you covet most. It isn't often you get to sample something that no one else can have, but for a few minutes as we played 'Ridge Racer' and felt the surge of excitement as its vivid landscapes flipped by, I realised I HAD to get that job. Like gaining entry to the Freemasons, it seemed I was on the verge of joining a sealed world, a parallel universe in which the technology of the future was already here. And somewhere within that universe, they were already playing 'Wipeout'. Of which, more in a moment...
Christmas passed; colleagues in Sheffield asked if I'd got the job. I didn't know, though I felt the interview had gone well. I repeated the story of the inflatable hammer, and people laughed. It confirmed everything they suspected about the world of video games. I told them how I had been taken to the pub after the interview was over, and how the afternoon drinking had fuzzed the edges of the day, and how it had subsequently seemed to be only partly real, a blur. I didn't tell them about the PlayStation; that seemed too special, too secret. It was science from the future, and I'd seen it with my own eyes, but it didn't seem right to shout about it; perhaps it would have broken the day's strange spell.
I was glad I never gave away the secrets I'd seen, because the spell I was under never broke. I got the job, handed in my notice back in Sheffield, and moved to Liverpool. And once at Psygnosis, I was soon learning the language of games; of manuals and backstories, of deadlines and delays. 'Slippage' occurred often. Games vanished from the schedule. Other titles seemed to exist in a permanent state of semi-completeness, an endless 'pre-Alpha' stage without any foreseeable conclusion.
Lines of code. Digital meanderings. Exciting features promised, attempted, jettisoned. Hopeless ambitions were curtailed by technology, but always there was the 'new version', the one with this bug fixed, that problem ignored, the other troublesome section removed. Nothing was final, it seemed. Nothing ever reached completion.
Yet through all this, the expectations of journalists and customers were tweaked and teased, until they came to believe in the promised state of ecstasy into which the forthcoming game would deliver them. And when Psygnosis went to the vast and cacophonous E3 trade show in Los Angeles, and exhibited a rather smart racing game called 'Wipeout', this transcendental journey began in earnest once again. Only this time...
You heard it here first. Edge magazine takes the lead
At this point, Pierre Belmondo returns to our story. You see, the writer's job was to create all kinds of written support for the games Psygnosis had on its schedule. I divided up the games with my fellow writer, and purely by pulling a screwed up piece of paper from a bag, I found myself with responsibility for 'Wipeout'. Aside from the technicalities of writing the game manual and the bluff and bravado of the marketing support stuff, I was also required to fluff out some of the incidental history to the game - what in the film world is known as 'backstory'. So beyond the fact that 'Wipeout' was an anti-gravity racing game - the player 'flew' race craft round a twisty, turny, roller-coaster-like track with an impressively stomach-lurching anti-grav feel - I was able to sit down at my Mac and imagine the circumstances in which this sport had come to be established.
'Wipeout' was not the only backstory I was working on, but it was the only one that named dates, times and places that sounded as though they could be true. Fifty-odd years in the future, for sure, but kind of true sounding nevertheless. Fed by a few facts gifted by the game's development team, I put together a couple of pages for the game manual that told the story of anti-gravity racing in the form of clippings culled from contemporary news publications. There was an energy crisis, some conspiratorial industrialists, several hoodwinked governments, and a scientist as maverick as they come. Yep, that was Belmondo, but he was far from being the centre of the story. Just one more made-up name among many, his achievements were unlikely to be celebrated in any case, jammed as they were into the pages of a widely-unread game manual.
But that's backstories for you. For the most part they're like radio waves - always there but undetected. And as mostly happens, when the game stumbles, or flops entirely, the backstory's faint ripples ebb further and further and further away, and no one tunes in, and no one cares to listen, and no one wonders how a particular forgotten universe ever came to be.
'Wipeout' though. 'Wipeout' was different. True, few people checked out those couple of pages of story. But the look of 'Wipeout', its speed, its fiendishly 'floaty' sensation - these all added substance to the style, which in itself was something very different for a game. Whether due to serendipity or carefully-calculated strategic marketing - and I know which of these I believe to be true - 'Wipeout' tried a few new ways of doing things, and came to represent the 'new face' of gaming. As the PlayStation hit the shops and flew off the shelves, relegating Sega's rival Saturn console to land-filler in no time, the Sunday supplements and music press and style mags were all banging on about the new grown-up gamer. No longer kids in bedrooms, we were all meant to be clued-up club kids popping pills, sweating our nads off on the dancefloor, then coming home to chill with a PlayStation controller clamped in our mitts.
The 'Wipeout' press ads. A bloody mess, but in a good way
As if to make this marketing dream come true, the Psygnosis people talked to the Cream people, and suddenly there were PlayStations in Liverpool's world famous superclub, which in the autumn of 1995, was still in its rapidly steepening ascendancy. Truthfully, if you wanted your machine to look hip in '95, that was the one place guaranteed to do it. And let's not forget that 'Wipeout' was hard - damn hard in fact. And to the casual player - i.e. the one pilled off his nut in the dank corners of Cream - it could prove mind-alteringly difficult to control. But still they swerved round bends, still they careered into corners, still they slammed into the back of the ship in front, and somehow the E-frenzy coursed down their arms and into the console and back out into the crackling colours of the game itself.
Then there was the music, the soundtrack to the 'Wipeout' dream. Orbital, Leftfield and the Chemical Brothers contributed to the mix, along with Psygnosis' in-house trance master Cold Storage. Combined with stylistic flourishes from Sheffield's Designers Republic design studio, 'Wipeout' became a blueprint for How To Look Cool In The Mid-Nineties. It was as much accident as it was design, but at its heart there were people who really knew their stuff, and they'd been placed together in the same room, and they were passionate about what they were doing.
So it was a hit. A veritable hit.
And that meant that a year later, in 1996, there was 'Wipeout 2097' - known as 'Wipeout XL' in the States. Then came 'Wipeout 64' - for the Nintendo 64. And then Wip3out. And much later, on the PlayStation 2, 'Wipeout Fusion'.
So many games, so many backstories.
Suddenly, it seemed, the world of Pierre Belmondo was an expanding universe. With talk of possible film scripts (which never happened), and the advancing capacity of the internet to house the ephemera that used to vanish into the easily-skipped corners of the manual, I wrote pages on the pilots, the team sponsors, the sport's great moments, the technology that made it all possible. I strung together a time-line that kept the key dates anchored to a secure(ish) place in history. I even had chance to name a few of the circuits (so I can here and now reveal that 'Wipeout Fusion's' 'Katmoda 12' is a tribute to the Moroderesque throb of Jeff Mills's none-more-techno classic 'The Bells' - which appeared on the 'Kat Moda EP'; in a similar vein, the Florion Height circuit is a vowel-swapped homage to Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider).
Gradually, the characters and corporations I'd spun into the story came to live real lives in the depths of my mind. So while the game was always a game - you picked your craft, you raced round the track, you used weapons as you saw fit, and you won or you lost - the universe that supposedly surrounded it came to throb and pulsate and evolve as time went by. With a few words here and a sketched-in detail there, I alluded to years of science, conflict and human endeavour. It wasn't much, but it was enough - almost enough - to convince me it was real.
By the time of 'Wipeout Fusion' - the PlayStation 2's much-anticipated though sadly unacclaimed sequel to the series - we were able to create a website that really seemed to have been beamed from this future world. I was allowed to roam wild and free, pretending that we were in the middle of the 2160 race season, adding the gossip and intrigue from behind the scenes, and including the bitching and back-biting that characterise all great sporting contests.
And the thing that seems to make the stuff I wrote for 'Wipeout' rather different to the words I dreamed up for other games such as 'Colony Wars' or 'G-Police', is that people still care. Not loads of people. But some people. 'Wipeout' still has a life after all - at the time of writing, 'Wipeout Pure' on Sony's handheld PSP is still current - and that means the 'Wipeout' universe continues to grow. Not that I'm playing God any more. Times change, careers move on, and I eventually left Psygnosis thanks to a touch of corporate shape-shifting. But it was good while it lasted, and with Pierre Belmondo now walking the earth - while yearning to break free from its gravitational grip - I think an interesting future is assured.
Because as Belmondo himself will one day say:
"A ball bounces. A pin drops. A man falls.
Gravity is the glue which binds us to our planet.
We are about to apply the solvent which will free our species forever."
'Wipeout 2097' press advertising. Slow minds will fear it
And that, for the casual reader, is the end of it; in fact it's more than you'll ever need to know about a game that was big in the nineties. But for those 'Wipeout' afficionados who have come here in search of the backstory itself, there are extra treats in store. For while I can't include everything here - there was so much material written, and it was fragmented and difficult to read as conventional narrative - I have managed to dig out a document that was never used by Psygnosis but which contains some tasty 'Wipeout' morsels.
By 1998, 'Wipeout' was one of the PlayStation's most celebrated properties with two smash hit games to its name. I was told that a film production company was interested in making a movie based on the game, and that if I had any backstory details that would help them flesh out the universe, they would no doubt be gratefully received. My response was a mercenary one. I decided that if a film company was going to be reading my work, I wanted it to be far more than just a list of names, dates and bullet points. I wanted them to read it and be yanked into the future; I wanted it to be so far beyond what they expected to receive that they would demand "Who wrote this? Find out his name and get him on the phone right now!"
So I prepared a notional 'press pack' - a supposed PR document containing biographies of the key pilots, the biggest teams, and the story of Pierre Belmondo himself. I filled it with detail, doing my best to tell the tale in a way that would bring it to life, and though I knew it was perverse to expend so much effort on the document - there was no practical need for a narrative so dense with information - I felt that 'Wipeout' deserved to be more than generic game fiction. The development team had invested their souls in it; so why not the creative writer too?
Predictably though, nothing came of the film; I waited in vain for my Hollywood call. And as the work I'd done was far too long for any future manuals or websites, it was never seen by those who would have loved to read it - the game's many fans. But now I have the chance to put that right, so just a little further down this page, you'll find my 1998 Wipeout press briefing in full - unaltered, unedited, unchanged.
If you don't know the game but you've read this far, this really might be a good place to stop; after all, things are about to get spectacularly nerdy. But for the rest of you - the ones who know the delirium of a well-timed Quake Disruptor - here's just a glimpse of a story that one day, I promise, will come true.
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY / 15 / 2098
THIS INFORMATION HAS BEEN COLLATED BY THE PUBLIC RELATIONS DIVISION OF THE F5000 RACE COMMISSION. IT IS INTENDED TO SERVE AS BACKGROUND DATA FOR PRESS PERSONNEL OFFICIALLY RECOGNISED BY THE COMMISSION. HOWEVER, IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE SPORT, IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THERE MAY BE SENSITIVE DETAILS INCLUDED WITHIN THIS DOCUMENT WHICH ARE UNSUITABLE FOR GENERAL PUBLICATION. ALL ARTICLES PREPARED USING THIS INFORMATION SHOULD BE SUBMITTED FOR APPROVAL, A PROCESS WHICH CURRENTLY TAKES NO LESS THAN 27 MONTHS. THE COMMISSION CANNOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR MISSED DEADLINES. FAILURE TO OBSERVE THIS PROCEDURE WILL RESULT IN THE WITHDRAWAL OF ALL F5000 ACCESS PRIVILEGES.
FILE CONTAINS INFORMATION ON:
DOCUMENT COMPILER: DAMON FAIRCLOUGH (COMMISSION ID: LIVUK32.2), UNDER AUTHORITY OF THE F5000 PUBLIC RELATIONS DIVISION.
Pierre Belmondo was one of the original pioneers of anti-gravity technology. Aged 94, his current position as Chief Executive of the F5000 Anti-Gravity Race Commission has made him something of a father figure both to the sport and to all those who benefit from the technology he helped develop during the first quarter of this century. He has been at the heart of the sport ever since it was established, always innovating and encouraging the development of ever more powerful craft. His birthday is marked annually by a special presentation to the individual who has done most to advance anti-gravity technology and promote its use over the preceding year.
Unfortunately, there now appear to be commercial forces eager for him to 'vacate' his position. The development of a powerful caucus opposing Belmondo's continued dominance of the sport has led to increasing rivalry between certain factions; it is unclear how this situation will resolve itself.
Pierre Belmondo himself explains how the urge to conquer gravity came to eclipse all other passions in his life.
"I was a boy like any other, and my growing up was done in a tiny village in the Charente region of my native France. I loved to run and play, but most of all I loved to read - my father had such a library he couldn't ever have known precisely what he had in that huge, shelf-lined outbuilding where all his books were stored. We didn't even have a computer in the house - just books.
One day when I was about seven years old, I was climbing the book shelves to reach a fat, enticing volume on the very top. I could read the title clearly as the text was so large - it was called 'The Tyranny Of Nature'. I had no ladder, so I was forced to clamber up and down the wooden planks that bent with the weight of literature ranged along them. And as I stretched to reach the book I wanted, I felt the dark beams begin to split beneath my tip-toed feet. In panic, I grasped the books in front of me, tightening my grip round the musty pages as the entire stack of shelves began to crack and splinter, and my body fell back into the dry air of the library. I fell and fell and fell - it was a tumble of books and wood, and amidst it all was my young body, plummeting towards the ground.
I imagine that I cried out but I cannot recall it - even if I did, it would have been to no avail as my mother and father were at the market. The noise of breaking wood seemed to split my ears, and even as I thudded to the floor with the shelves collapsing around me, the flurry of torn pages seemed to echo round the library like an escaping of panicked doves. It was as if suddenly, the knowledge into which I loved to dip my inquisitive nose had been freed from a lifetime of strict order and arrangement. Stacked in neat rows, upright and tightly bound, the pages were now floating as free as ideas, fluttering in the sunlight and coming to rest on my fallen self.
I was hurt, of course, but I was not damaged. I could scarcely believe it, but as I apprehensively tested each part of my body, I realised I had luckily escaped serious injury. And as I lay there letting thoughts flow, I remembered how a falling apple had conjured the laws of gravity from a greater mind than my own. I saw myself falling from those shelves, a slave to that same gravity, unable to conquer or diminish it. I considered how, once set in motion, the physics of my fall were pure and predictable, how I knew what was to happen and yet could do nothing to prevent it. The name of the book I had been pursuing flashed before my eyes - 'The Tyranny Of Nature'. Suddenly I realised that until we - mankind - could conquer gravity once and for all, we would forever be slaves to the nature of our planet. It seemed an outrage that in those young years of the 21st century, we were still ruled by that infernal magnetism, and in that moment I resolved to pour the passion of my life into a struggle against the mighty power of gravity. I wanted to break the natural laws of physics and finally, unequivocally, set us all free at last."
Belmondo studied the laws of gravity and all related topics throughout his school career. His teachers often described him as an 'average' pupil, simply carrying out the work required of him without flair or any special dedication. This was true, but they remained unaware of the extent of his extra-curricular activities. In fact, he rarely did anything other than study. Indeed, by the time of his application to the Federal European University in 2021, his school teachers were still marking him as a 'C' grade pupil whereas the staff of the FEU were moved to report, "Belmondo has developed a simply astounding grasp of gravitational physics. It was incredible to hear him speak and outline the course of study he wishes to follow at the University - quite simply, he is so far ahead of any member of staff, we are all tempted to resign and let him take over right away."
It was clear to the course leaders that his knowledge and ambition would be used to its fullest extent if he was immediately seconded to the Foundation For European Anti-Gravity Research. Within a matter of months, he dropped out of the University (while retaining close contact with key members of staff) and joined the Foundation on a permanent basis. There is no doubt that he felt he had found the organisation within which he wanted to work. Equally, there is no doubt that his contribution to the Foundation's work was fundamental to its subsequent success.
The Foundation For European Anti-Gravity Research was a member organisation of the World Anti-Gravity Research Congress. Funded by the World Technology Symposium, the organisations within the Congress were briefed to extend anti-gravity research (which had been carried out by clandestine military organisations for some years) into areas of benefit to civilian populations across the globe. Their primary area of study was the development of anti-gravity transport solutions which would prove capable of superseding the standard internal combustion engine with its limited speed capabilities and high levels of pollution.
With the arrival of Pierre Belmondo, the European team quickly found that their research was bearing fruit. Their data seemed to be leading inexorably to a workable anti-gravity generator, results which astonished the other teams from across the world but which resulted in frantic information exchanges allowing the rapid progress to benefit as many scientists as possible. Belmondo was invited to become the Director of the European team early in 2024, an unprecedented decision considering he was still only 20 years old. His evangelical zeal seemed to permeate the entire organisation as jaded researchers found themselves suddenly brimming with excitement at the possibilities which were daily opening up before them. One of Belmondo's chance sayings was made the unofficial motto of the worldwide project - "We are leaving the earth behind."
In late 2024, the politics of transport technology almost destroyed Belmondo's career. On November 24th, a single memo was despatched to all member organisations of the World Anti-Gravity Research Congress and key personnel from the world's press. It read as follows:
ISSUED BY THE WORLD TECHNOLOGY SYMPOSIUM.
FOLLOWING DETAILED STUDY OF THE WORK CARRIED OUT BY THE WORLD ANTI-GRAVITY RESEARCH CONGRESS - AN ORGANISATION IN RECEIPT OF FUNDS PROVIDED BY THE WORLD TECHNOLOGY SYMPOSIUM - IT HAS BEEN DECIDED THAT THEIR RESEARCH GRANT WILL BE TERMINATED WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT.
IT IS CLEAR THAT THE RUDIMENTARY ANTI-GRAVITY TECHNOLOGY THEY HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PRODUCE IS COMPLETELY UNSUITABLE FOR USE IN MASS TRANSPORT SYSTEMS. THE RESEARCH IS THEREFORE FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED AND MUST BE DISCONTINUED.
DATA CONFIRMS THAT ANTI-GRAVITY RESEARCH IS INEFFICIENT AND WILL NEVER BE COST-EFFECTIVE; WE ARE UNABLE TO JUSTIFY CONTINUED SUPPORT.
MEMBERS OF THE WORLD ANTI-GRAVITY RESEARCH CONGRESS MUST SHUT DOWN ALL CURRENT PROJECTS IMMEDIATELY.
Widely reported and supported in the press by eminent government scientists from across the world, the Symposium's decision was intended to stop anti-gravity technology ever being developed for civilian use. It seemed inconceivable to Belmondo and other anti-gravity pioneers that the Symposium had come to this position by studying their research data; after all, their results showed that anti-gravity generators were possible and would be suitable for mass transport systems. It seemed clear that there were other forces controlling the World Technology Symposium and government-backed scientists; the recent massive tax increases on conventional fuel suggested that governments perhaps had too much to lose if anti-gravity technology ever became a success. They were interested only in their tax revenue, not the transport needs of an entire planet.
Belmondo was furious with the World Technology Symposium and the government scientists he believed to be conspiring against his beloved research.
"I felt dirty every time I mentioned their names. I burned with hatred and anger - they were betraying the entire scientific community. No - more than that. They were betraying the trust of the peoples of the world who needed more than anything to free themselves from the earth's tight grip. We could give them that freedom - I knew it and my colleagues knew it - but without money or help from the Symposium, what could we do?"
His decision was made quickly. Following an urgent meeting with key members of the European team, Belmondo committed himself to the continuation of anti-gravity research in secret. He was evidently not alone in his bitterness, as within two days of the Symposium's memo, Belmondo received a brief message from Chuck Hoffman, the U.S. anti-gravity research team leader:
"SUGGEST WE REJECT SYMPOSIUM PROPOSALS. SUFFICIENT INTEREST EXISTS IN U.S. TEAM TO CONTINUE RESEARCH. CIRCULATE MEMO WORLDWIDE."
And so in the face of official disinterest and hostility, the research into anti-gravity systems carried on. The work was necessarily small-scale as they were now working with a minimum of funding, using their own savings and desperately collecting money from every sympathetic benefactor they could find. But just as before, the power of Belmondo's mind coupled with his intense desire to break the laws of physics for the benefit of mankind meant that progress was rapid and his team believed they were on the verge of making history. Faced with adversity, the taste of success simply sweetened.
Although the research teams tried to maintain secrecy and keep their work hidden from prying government eyes, it is inconceivable that official bodies did not know how the work was progressing. They were still very interested in appropriating anti-gravity systems for military ends and intended to take action against the scientists only when the time was right. Belmondo and his team were producing results so much faster than the military researchers that a number of secret airforce research establishments were simply closed. It made no sense to invest in them when the prized anti-gravity system was inevitably going to emerge from one of the unofficial teams on their shoestring, self-financed budgets.
By 2034, ten years after the World Technology Symposium had supposedly cut off their funds, Pierre Belmondo's Foundation For European Anti-Gravity Research was operating a prototype anti-gravity generator capable of carrying a single pilot. Belmondo was 30 years old and his dream was becoming reality. Powerful government agencies decided the time had come, and they moved to take the technology for themselves. Had Belmondo not possessed the evangelical spirit that was his defining characteristic, it seems likely that they would have broken him and destroyed his team within days. Fortunately, this was not to happen.
On October 21st 2034, the world's press were met by a tightly co-ordinated and carefully timed barrage of propaganda that left the reputations of the anti-gravity research teams in tatters. As each time zone awoke, the lead news story detailed the scandalous ways in which the so-called 'AG community' had frittered money away under the pretence of research. Belmondo, Hoffman and other team leaders were held personally responsible for pursuing paths of self-interest, allegedly in the knowledge that anti-gravity generators were an impossibility. They were said to have deluded their benefactors, stealing funds to enable them to live lives of luxury at the expense of others. Government scientists appeared on every news bulletin, hurling abuse at the AG teams and branding them charlatans, insisting that they be made to face public trial for their 'crimes'.
Predictably, the public outcry was swift in coming. Belmondo was driven into hiding as his home was bombed by furious mobs of ordinary people who believed he had been taking money from their bank accounts. As he cowered in a safe house, he realised the only way to win back the confidence of the world would be to demonstrate his prototype technology and show its genuine potential. Only by making his work public would he ever be able to appear on the streets again.
Belmondo's own account of the demonstration makes for interesting reading:
"I will never forget that day. It was such a gamble for me, for all of us. Believe me, we even thought we might be killed as soon as people realised who we were - that was the level of hostility we were facing. We might be dead before the demonstration had even begun. But at the same time, we knew that if we could just show what our work was achieving, suddenly things would be... not so dangerous for us. And besides, there was simply no other way of clearing our names. No way at all.
We planned to show our Nx1000 vehicle to a group of the most sympathetic science journalists we could think of. And this was a struggle in itself, because very many journalists had been warned not to speak to us or to meet us. Thankfully, there were enough of them who did not trust any government source and were ready to hear our point of view.
The 'show' was planned for April 14th 2035 - we had a site in the Nevada desert which the previous week had hosted the Iron Man Gathering, a frenzied primal music celebration attended by the youth of California. Many of them milled around as we set up the display, body painted and pierced and sharing their food with us. They were the first people I had met in months who did not recognise me or want to tear my limbs from my body. I remember them with great affection.
The US team had co-ordinated the invitations and travel tickets for the journalists - they did a wonderful job. Only a handful of guests failed to arrive, and those that did knew that we could not afford accommodation for them, so they had to pay out of their own pockets. When I arrived at the site, I immediately realised that a few of the assembled science writers were spies sent by government agencies, but by this time I did not care. I was with my colleagues, my comrades, and we were beginning to feel strong again.
As for the Nx1000 demonstration, I have run it through in my mind so very many times since then that it has taken on mythical qualities. Yet I know I was there, I know I saw it happen. Not that I believed it would fail - remember that the work we had done was not rushed, nor was it the result of mere speculation. We had invested all our skills and knowledge to get that far and we knew we were in control. The journalists, of course, did not know this, at least not until the demonstration was over.
As our prototype vehicle disappeared into the distance, my skin crawled with the prickly dimples that come when you are thrilled to your very soul. This was not a hovercraft or a jet engine in any conventional sense. This was not a device which was spewing out poisons or using brute power to defy the inevitable forces exerted by the earth. This was a vehicle running a genuine, working anti-gravity generator. It was generating its own physical laws! We had reinvented physics!
There was an awed silence, then the journalists began to scream at the tops of their voices and throw their datapads into the air. I thought for a moment they were angry and I could not understand what we had done wrong, but when I saw Chuck Hoffman running towards me, his arms outstretched and the widest grin I have ever seen splitting his face in two, I realised these were the screams of people who had just witnessed the impossible. There we were, this dusty band of renegades with our roughly built yet revolutionary machine, and we weren't the enemies of the world any more. Suddenly, we were saviours. The freedom I had dreamt of was ours.
We had proved that our research was real, and in many ways that was a battle won. It was not the end of the war, of course - this technology was going to change the way we all travelled across the planet and there was much convincing of closed minds to be done. But out in the desert that day, we silenced those spies from the frightened governments and showed that we were not criminals or lunatics. The story spread across the world's news media within two hours, perhaps three. Within a month, the taxes on conventional fuel fell away as governments realised there was nothing they could do to prevent the adoption of our cheap transport solution. And two years later, I am pleased to say, the World Technology Symposium destroyed itself through backbiting and recrimination. Scientists who allow politicians to rule their heads and hearts deserve all the torment they get."
Shortage of money was the least of Belmondo's worries in the years that followed. Commercial concerns invested heavily in the research programmes, and by 2040, Belmondo was appointed the first Director of AG Systems, the commercial arm of the Foundation For European Anti-Gravity Research. He was anxious that although anti-gravity technology should remain free to those who used it for the good of mankind, it should not be open to abuse by profit-hungry organisations. AG Systems marketed the spin-offs of research and protected the rights to the technology - it became clear that Belmondo's business skills were becoming as highly developed as his research credentials. Even when AG Systems was bought by a Japanese consortium which transferred the entire operation to Tokyo, Belmondo remained as Director and figurehead. Such was his reputation.
With mass transport research well underway, Belmondo realised that there were other ways of bringing humanity together around his beloved technology, and it was during his tenure as head of AG Systems that he initiated an investigation into the possibility of building specialised racing craft which would be based on anti-gravity principles. He felt that the involvement of competitive teams would accelerate technological development which could be of use in civilian applications - this would free him from the ethical dilemmas posed by military use of his systems.
The F3600 Anti-Gravity Race Commission was established in 2044, briefed to establish an anti-gravity league competition which could begin in 2050 and would run on an annual basis thereafter. Belmondo resisted the temptation to head the organisation, fearing that he would lose his 'hands on' involvement in day to day research. Instead, he invited popular Datacast celebrity and successful businessman Dirk Breakwater to become the first Chief Executive, preferring himself to remain at AG Systems where he could begin work on his own race craft designs and ensure that there were AG Systems craft competing in the first championship.
Dirk Breakwater's public relations skills and personal high profile proved invaluable - the Commission managed to establish anti-gravity racing as one of the world's most popular sports, a position it has now maintained for almost fifty years. Breakwater died in 2062 and was succeeded by Chuck Hoffman, Belmondo's old friend and research colleague. By this time, Belmondo was cutting his ties with AG Systems in order to move closer to the Commission on an official basis where he could promote anti-gravity racing as a whole. He was concerned that its popularity left it open to exploitation of the worst kind by those who cared nothing for his own humanitarian tradition - he wanted to ensure it was not destroyed by the pursuit of money.
His suspicions were proved sickeningly prescient in the early summer of 2080, just as the 31st F3600 Anti-Gravity Championships were about to begin. Chuck Hoffman left his seat in the VIP stand at the Altima VII circuit - traditionally the opening race of the season - in order to make his way down to the pilots' enclosure. He often met pilots prior to competition, careful to ensure he was in the presence of all competitors to guard against accusations of bias. As he descended steps at the rear of the stand, security pictures show a masked figure tripping him, before shooting him calmly in the head. He died instantly.
Hoffman's murder resulted in chaos. The 2080/81 season was abandoned and accusations were made that certain Datacast barons had conspired to kill him in order to take control of the lucrative sport for purely commercial ends. It was widely believed to be an attempt to sever the sport's connection with its progressive scientific origins, a link personified by the original research scientists such as Hoffman and Belmondo himself.
Belmondo moved quickly to bring order to the organisation and ensure there would be no more than a single season of disruption. He felt he owed it to his dead friend to continue the tradition they had worked so hard to begin, and so he installed himself as Chief Executive, immediately taking direct control and outmanoeuvring those he believed had killed Hoffman. He was not alone in his suspicions, and the resulting backlash against the Datacast corporations enabled him to make his position secure.
Belmondo refused to let the sport stagnate and proved himself unafraid of change. Over a five year period he managed the transition from F3600 to F5000 Anti-Gravity Racing, a change which resulted in higher grade craft capable of destroying and being destroyed. A few close colleagues were dismayed at this, believing that Belmondo was betraying pure principles of anti-gravity competition. However, he explained his actions in his own words:
"It is true that anti-gravity racing was intended to be a clash of technologies, a race in which people and machines tested the limits of anti-gravity capabilities. I insist that this is what it remains, but we found ourselves in a position in which cosmetic alterations had to be made. The Datacast corporations would have insisted on far worse changes had they gained control - they would have destroyed the sport's soul. In a sense we placated them and earned ourselves time to consolidate, and we increased the sport's spectacle. Now, we are more popular than ever before.
We live this life with our feet on the ground. Heads in the sky, it's true, but for years, decades and centuries, our bodies and imaginations remained anchored to this planet Earth. So when we stood beneath the burning sun of Nevada all those years ago and demonstrated our anti-gravity system to an astonished world, I realised that life on the planet would never be the same again. The vile pollutions of aeroplanes and rockets, devices that simply bludgeoned the laws of physics, would never again taint the mists from which we draw breath. Our new technology was so pure. Our calculations were like a ballet of numbers. The floating craft we had perfected split the air like a razor through flesh. To conquer the infernal pull of gravity was to conquer everything that stopped us being free.
I truly believe that in anti-gravity racing, we have created a hymn to the soaring human spirit."
Others remained unconvinced. Stefan Geist, a backup pilot in the Qirex team responded:
"We race. We die. There is no beauty any more."
The F5000 version of the Anti-Gravity Race League is now well over ten years old and Belmondo remains an inspiration to fans and participants across the world. It is widely regarded as unacceptable behaviour to publicly challenge his position at the head of the sport - indeed, he has never had to contest an election. Unfortunately, this does not mean that he enjoys universal support as his opponents rely on more underhand means to make their opposition known. Mindful of the fact that they could never succeed in making a legitimate challenge, they spread rumour and uncertainty with the intention of discrediting Belmondo's brand of scientific evangelism and powerful belief in promoting the common good.
There are two 'opposition' camps who can boast a certain degree of influence within the sport, though it should be stressed that these interests are not represented by any members of the F5000 Race Commission. The first are the race purists who are known to feel that the sport's move up to F5000 status was a 'betrayal' of pure racing principles. The introduction of physical damage as a factor was instrumental in maintaining its ever-increasing popularity, but there have been a number of high-profile deaths and although the pilots know the danger when they enter, a minority of those involved believe it is an innovation too far. Although we are loathe to name names for fear of parodying an individual's genuinely held beliefs, a number of Belmondo's former friends are supporters of this point of view. Indeed, it is a position for which he has a certain degree of sympathy, though as a pragmatic scientist, he believes it to be overly idealistic and unsustainable.
While this body of opinion is an irritant, the more insidious view comes from those who take their instructions from the Datacast corporations. There are various commercial empires who would dearly love to take control of the F5000 Race Commission, thereby acquiring all access and broadcast privileges connected to the sport. The amount of money involved in such a coup would be vast, and the power to shape the sport's future would inevitably lead to destruction of anti-gravity racing in its present form. It is likely that F5000 events would become entirely stage-managed affairs 'performed' solely for the benefit of Datacast receivers. Every moment of every race would be scripted in advance to maximise visual spectacle and 'screen friendliness'. It would, in essence, cease to be a sport. The power and anonymity of this bloc makes their threat difficult to assess, though their dislike of Belmondo is not a secret.
Despite it all, Pierre Belmondo retains his passionate belief in the inherent good of anti-gravity technology. Although we identify him most closely with our sport, he retains an advisory role on the Committee For World Transport Solutions and as he nears his 95th birthday, he still promotes research with extensive university tours and public appearances. Adept at encouraging a spirit of compromise and calm within a sport which could otherwise find itself held to ransom by rampant commercial interests, the F5000 Anti-Gravity Race Commission is proud to name Pierre Belmondo as its continuing Chief Executive. The only question which remains is this:
Where is the new Belmondo?
Anastasia Cherovoski is not in the business of confirming facts about her life, though she is regarded by the public as one of the most fascinating figures within the sport. The hunger for information has inevitably lead to many stories about her being fabricated by over-eager journalists, though she is equally unwilling to deny anything written about her. The resulting mess of rumours, half-truths and lies is difficult to penetrate, although Commission archivists have invested some considerable time attempting to do just that.
If we begin with the incontrovertible truths:
Cherovoski is the second pilot with the Auricom Research team. She has never won the F5000 Anti-Gravity Championship. She is romantically involved with Kel Solaar of the Qirex Industries team. She lives on an isolated and heavily guarded estate on the edge of Siberia. She calls her residence 'Dead Field'.
There are few other known facts, but that has never stopped journalists speculating.
From 'Yes!' magazine:
"I spent the evening dining on tossed garlic beads and candied quartz petals at Vancouver's new 'Vanity' restaurant run by Claude Ess and his team of champion chefs. The main hall is bathed in a velvety darkness which heightens the mystery of the food, but it was clear that a single candle had been placed in front of a fur clad figure seated in the furthest corner of the room. I called Claude to my tableside and asked him why he had chosen to disrupt the heavy comfort of the darkness with this lone light source.
'I do not choose!' he insisted. 'That is the table of Anastasia Cherovoski, and she demands a candle! What else can I do? It is Ana.'
I was amazed. I have eaten at Claude's many restaurants throughout the world, and never once have I known him bow to a diner's request. He decides what is eaten, he decides where people sit. In fact, his staff are required to wear ear plugs in order that they are not distracted by the demands of unruly customers. But here in his most prestigious new dining palace, he had given a candle to a diner who had asked for one. Though as he said, what could he do? For the guest was Anastasia Cherovoski."
From 'Float Nation', the anti-gravity racing 'zine:
"It's official! As reported last week, Auricom's secretive star Anastasia Cherovoski has been spotted a number of times in the company of Qirex lead pilot Kel Solaar. A Race Commission press officer has now confirmed that they are 'accompanying and supporting each other on a regular basis, including during private massage sessions of an intimate nature at which no other person is present'.
What their team leaders make of this apparently passionate coupling is anyone's guess, though the Race Commission seemed to be having a hard time controlling its excitement at what could be a long-running PR coup for the sport. Constant worldwide news coverage seems guaranteed now that the most enigmatic female and most successful male from the world's most popular sport are spending quality time together, going on long Sunday walks and eating pudding from the same spoon."
From 'Global Finance':
"It's one of those 'show-business' romances that sometimes captures the imagination (of those with very tiny imaginations). For others, the fascination doesn't run quite so deep, though even the hardest-hearted money mind must now be reeling as shares in Qirex Industries and the Datacast corporation which controls it shoot ever upwards. In fact, all the teams involved in anti-gravity racing, of which Qirex is just one, are now experiencing an unprecedented financial boom.
And the catalyst for this incredible phenomenon? It would appear to be the romantic partnership of Anastasia Cherovoski and Kel Solaar, pilots from rival teams who are currently regarded as the potential founders of a royal racing dynasty. However, Cherovoski in particular is shrouded in a mist of secrecy which makes the coupling even more intriguing and, according to our research, hides some rather more sinister truths.
Firstly, information leakage from within the F5000 Race Commission reveals that the sport's governing body has been attempting to conjure up a long-running story to engage the world's media for some time. In fact, one of the first ideas put forward was that the Commission should 'engineer' a relationship between two top pilots who would come complete with ready-made rivalries that could be swept aside in the name of love. While the idea was originally just one of many, its importance seems to have grown as the press office became more concerned about the threat posed by new 'sports' which are little more than pre-scripted entertainment.
A little over two years ago, the following memo was distributed throughout the decision making levels of the Race Commission:
MY IDEA IS THIS - I THINK CHEROVOSKI AND SOLAAR WOULD MAKE A NEAT COUPLE. AND WE COULD, LIKE, PAY THEM OR SOMETHING TO GET TOGETHER AND BE SEEN, BE PHOTOGRAPHED, STUFF LIKE THAT, YEAH? I MEAN, EVERYONE LOVES HER AND THEY DON'T KNOW CRAP ALL ABOUT HER - THEY LIKE HER BECAUSE THEY'LL NEVER KNOW HER, YOU UNDERSTAND? AND SOLAAR, WELL HE'S FROM QIREX, BIG RIVALS OF AURICOM, AND HE'S GOOD LOOKING, THOUGH AS WE ALL KNOW, HE LOVES HIS RACE CRAFT AND STUFF MORE THAN THE TOUCH OF FEMALE FLESH. COME ON, LET'S DO IT, GET THEM TOGETHER AND SEE THE PRESS GO LA LA. YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO MOVE FOR ANTI-GRAV STORIES, IT'LL BE A RIOT.
It would appear that while the memo's syntax may have struggled to constrain the enthusiasm of the writer, its message got through loud and clear. Could it be, then, that the affair that is currently keeping the world talking is nothing more than a PR scam? If this is the case, one wonders what the two pilots talk about when they're together. The enigmatic and snooty Cherovoski sharing sweet nothings with the machine-obsessed dullard Solaar? It's a marriage made in a boardroom."
From 'Delight' magazine:
"We travelled across icy wastes on a milk-white sleigh pulled by specially-bred dappled ice ponies. The snowy silence of Siberia surrounded us on all sides as we approached the estate, and as we pulled up by immense steel gates fashioned into beautiful designs, I could read the small black nameplate with its sans serif script. 'Dead Field' it said. This was our journey's end.
Or so I thought. For once we were beyond the gates, there was another hour of travelling through the wild ice gardens before we reached the crystalline dwelling that our host calls home. And once we were there, we gazed up at the towering transparent turrets and felt our own selves dwindle in the midst of that great white prairie. It was the residence of Anastasia Cherovoski, and she was there to meet us.
Greeting us with a silent look, she swept down pale corridors in her flowing furs, pausing now and again to check that we were still there as we ran to keep up with her elegant strides. Eventually we stumbled into the grand hall, an enormous red womb-like cavern whose colour comes as an optic shock after the relentless white of the surrounding world. Anastasia headed for the most distant corner of the hall where a flickering orange light cast dancing shadows onto the walls - as she reached it, her own shadow loomed up from the red gloom and hovered over us as if it was the building's own soul guarding her from the threat of strangers. She sat down in a sumptuous deep green chair and waited for us to catch up.
Within that fire-warmed corner, it was easy to believe that we were in a cosy and intimate attic, and yet a stray glance over the shoulder would reveal the grand hall's expanse and provide a reminder that this was a desolate palace on the edge of Siberia. A chill would invariably shoot down the spine.
Of course, our first question represented the wonderings of millions of race fans all over the world.
"How are things between you and Kel Solaar?" we asked, and she smiled a spiky smile. Other than that, she gave no clue.
Anastasia admits to no nationality, though her features appear distinctly East European. She claims descent from a vague branch of nobility, but will not specify any lineage to help verify the fact. Indeed, the direct questions posed to her bear no fruit whatsoever. It seems that in the final analysis, the extravagance of her ice palace speaks more eloquently about her feelings and desires than the ice cool pilot ever will."
As lead pilot of the Qirex Industries team, Kel Solaar has won the F5000 Anti-Gravity Championship more than any other currently competing pilot. His success is hardly surprising given his mechanical expertise - he is an acknowledged authority on high speed flight and advanced weapons systems. Certain members of the Qirex board have had public misgivings in the past about his suitability - they feel their team should be represented by a more 'charismatic' personality. Despite this, the dominant opinion within the team and certainly within the sport as a whole is that his mastery of the heavy Qirex craft is the only factor which should matter. There is no doubt that Kel's current salary reflects this belief.
Solaar currently lives in Moscow. The famously grand Moscow Metro system, made obsolete by the adoption of cheap, clean anti-gravity transport systems, was bought by Solaar following his first Championship win. Subsequent prize money allowed him to convert the entire subway with its tunnel network and glittering stations into a labyrinthine residence and 'workshop'.
An extract from an article in 'Celebrity Home' describes these bizarre underground living quarters:
"While arranging the interview during a break in race preparation at the Sokana circuit, Solaar described his residence as a 'modest home and research base'. We conjured up images in our heads - we imagined descending into the old Metro system and emerging into palatial living spaces with a small workshop area devoted to his beloved high performance flight vehicles. This expectation was turned on its head when we finally arrived.
Of course, the descent was as we had imagined. The Moscow Metro stations and tunnels are tremendously deep, and the ancient escalators are still in full working order. We stood in a row - journalists and photographers all apprehensive about meeting one of the anti-grav legends in his natural habitat. And yes, we did emerge into a huge palatial hall, originally built to the glory of Stalin and some long-forgotten five year plan. But this was not the living quarter.
Surrounding us on all sides were flight craft components nestling on velvet cushions and vintage anti-gravity ships resting on shimmering silk sheets. It was pristine and gleaming, but this was no dead exhibition space displaying relics from the past. As we walked through the echoing hall, Solaar explained that the items ranged around us were working machines, items bought during a lifetime of passion for high speed anti-gravity flight. We looked at each other as he lead us down endless corridors towards what he called the 'living zone'. We were all thinking the same thing.
Entry into the living zone confirmed our suspicions and spoke volumes about Kel Solaar's priorities. A door was opened which took us into what was clearly an old administration office. There were bare pipes running along the walls and ceiling. There was an unmade, uncomfortable looking bed in the corner next to a table on which a stale cheese sandwich sat festering. A bucket in the centre of the room caught water drips from a crack above our heads. Solaar gestured to us to sit, which we did on hard wooden chairs which could easily have been in the room for a hundred years or more. I asked him if this was his main living space. He confirmed that it was.
It wasn't just bizarre. It was perverse. While Solaar's machines live in luxury, he lives a life denied of comfort of any kind. This man is clearly devoted to racing. No wonder he wins so often."
Kel Solaar is currently known to be romantically linked to Anastasia Cherovoski of Auricom Research. Cynics suggest that this relationship is little more than a public relations exercise designed to maintain coverage for anti-gravity racing in the face of increasing competition. However, there have been other, even more damaging suggestions made in the underground race fanzines which the Race Commission cannot officially acknowledge for fear of adding weight to what is merely scurrilous speculation. This example from 'Face Race' is presented without further comment:
"Our eyes and ears at Commission HQ have been wide open, and they've seen and heard it all. This is the stuff that Belmondo and his servants don't want you to know, but remember where you read it first!
First up, everyone knows Cherovoski and Solaar aren't really the lovey dovey twosome the tabloids would have us believe. But this is where it gets really funny, because although they're both getting paid a fortune to play the part, Cherovoski CANNOT STAND Solaar! And I mean, like, the sight of him makes her want to hurl right there and then!
Fair enough you might say. So they just pose for the cameras, take the money and say good bye. But it's more complicated than that, because while Cherovoski's trying to stop herself bringing her dinner back when she's in his company, Solaar actually ADORES Cherovoski. To my knowledge, he's never even looked at a woman in his life before (machine nut that he is) but Cherovoski's mysterious ways are proving a big hit on his top twenty.
Don't go yet - it gets better!
Now this is real hot news and sensitive as your nips. One very hard working Stakhanovite mole of ours has been digging deeper than anyone's dug before, and come up with this glittering diamond...
Cherovoski (Auricom pilot) is working for Qirex! Yes my friends, she is a SPY! Those Datacast money monkeys behind Qirex want this sport for themselves and they want to run Auricom's humanitarians into the ground. Cherovoski's in there to do just that! Solaar knows all this but (aaah, sweet!) he's so in love, he doesn't care. And that's handy for Cherovoski because she can play him like a piano - who knows what she could get him to do in the cause of sporting espionage?
Don't worry, we're going to turn up the heat and find out more about this beauty. We'll be right back, so don't go away now!"
The Tetsuo twins personify one of the biggest rivalries in F5000 racing. Arial is the lead pilot for Auricom Research, supporters of the free availability of anti-gravity technology and upholders of the sporting tradition. Sister Arian is second pilot for Qirex Industries, the team most committed to the commercial exploitation of the sport. The rivalry between them is no less bitter than that which exists between their respective teams.
Born in a suburb of Tokyo, Arial is the eldest by a matter of minutes. Their father worked from a home terminal which he was forced to operate at least 20 hours a day - consequently, all child rearing was undertaken by their mother. Their father's spare time was strictly rationed - the twins were forced to keep a record of time spent in his company as his salary was docked if accumulated childcare hours exceeded those recommended by his employer's accountant. While there is no evidence that this time was shared out less than fairly, Arian has always felt that Arial was the favoured twin.
The competitive edge has remained throughout their sporting careers. Arial was signed by Auricom Research following her outstanding performance in the Anti-Gravity Youth League Of Japan, while Qirex scouts spotted Arian in an informal anti-grav street challenge and invited her to Moscow for intensive training in their famous all-terrain simulator. There is no doubt that Arial is the natural talent - her graceful flying style belies the awkwardness of the Auricom craft. Arian, meanwhile, has been intensively reared on the heavy Qirex machines and has a far more 'muscular' style. She has not been without success, but when things begin to go wrong on the track, she lacks the natural ability to rectify the situation.
Their rivalry appears to have intensified over recent years with Arial's move into politics. The personality cult which has grown up around her seems to have left her sister rather embittered while Arial appears to have it all. The differing public perceptions of the two are laid bare in this article from 'Fierce News With Teeth', the daily Japanese tabloid:
"We love Arial! She's so cute! Arial Tetsuo is winning the war against crime just as she said she would when we all voted for her, and that makes us so happy!
Remember when she began her rise through the ranks of the powerful? We all thought, 'What is this cute-bottomed pilot doing with all these horrible politicians?' But now we know what she was doing. She was trying to spread love throughout our country, and it's working. She travels the land with her strong men and speaks to us as if she was our friend, then she returns to Tokyo and makes the politicians listen. If all politicians were like Arial, there would be nothing but peace and understanding all over the place. One day this dream will come true and Arial Tetsuo will be the leader of the whole world!
But why is her sister so sour? They both fly the anti-gravs well (although Arial is the best and we love her the most) and they are both cute (although Arial is cuter) so why should Arian Tetsuo be so vicious to her sister? Everyone saw the way she tried to punch her twin after the Dyroness race! Luckily, Arial was much too quick, and she ended up punching a brick wall and breaking her fingers. Bad luck Arian!
Yet we now see her following Arial's group around the country, and as Arial tries to speak to the people and win their hearts, Arian shouts from the crowd and tries to damage her sister's name. She has friends who cover the walls in hate messages and some people say she might try to kill our beloved Arial..."
AG Systems are currently based in Japan and employ a largely Japanese engineering and research team. Its roots, however, are European, and it is still widely identified in the public mind with Pierre Belmondo himself. The team's board of management would be the first to admit that their racing successes have been rather few and far between, largely because they have never lost the pioneering spirit engendered during Belmondo's tenure and tend to value technological experimentation over all-out racing prowess.
John Dekka from the United States flies their lead craft, while the Chinese defector Daniel Chang takes the second ship. Both are competent if unexciting pilots, though the number of experimental changes made to their craft over the course of a season makes consistent performance all but impossible.
AG Systems was originally the commercial arm of the Foundation For European Anti-Gravity Research, the prime mover in anti-gravity development. It was established in 2040 with Pierre Belmondo as Director, and was responsible for overseeing the distribution of anti-gravity technology while protecting it against exploitation. Belmondo was assisted by two headstrong individuals who began to obstruct what he saw as valuable work - one was Delia Flaubert, founder of Auricom Research, while the other was Holst McQueen who went on to work with Qirex Industries.
Their disagreement began while both were working as research assistants in Belmondo's office. As the anti-gravity franchise increased in value and more commercial concerns declared an interest in adapting it for their own ends, both Flaubert and McQueen were handed greater degrees of responsibility by Belmondo. Unfortunately, while Flaubert shared her employer's belief that the technology should be free to those who were committed to using it for the common good, McQueen insisted that the profit motive should rule their decisions. He believed AG Systems were turning down the chance to make large amounts of money and that by denying the profit motive, they were actually holding back progress.
Following a number of high profile public disagreements between the pair, Belmondo called them together and asked them both to resign. His sympathies lay with Flaubert, but the feud had become so personal and vicious that he had no choice. He had to get rid of both.
Belmondo was always keen for AG Systems to be included in the nascent F3600 championships and for a time, he turned his attentions to the design of race craft. However, his reputation was such that he remained the team's figurehead for many years, even when it was bought by a Japanese consortium who wanted to help take anti-gravity racing into the Far East. Belmondo remained as Director until the early 2060's when he made a formal break with the team so as to move closer to the F3600 Race Commission.
When AG Systems was bought out by a Japanese consortium, western Europe was left without an anti-gravity team based within its boundaries. The European Federation, concerned that they may be left without official representation in what was already the most popular sport in the world, financed the setting up of FEISAR and enticed some of AG Systems' key team members to transfer to the new organisation. They were especially anxious to get Pierre Belmondo, but the lure of money was nowhere near as important to him as the continuation of his pioneering research work. His loyalty to the AG Systems name also ran deep.
FEISAR have never been the most successful of race teams, seeming to be perennial runners-up and never quite having the stomach for a serious contest. Their lead pilot is Sophia de la Renté, a supremely skilful French national who was the first woman to fly non-stop around the Earth in a single seat anti-gravity fighter. Although her endurance capabilities have never been called into question, her racing ability has never been seriously regarded as a match for the greats of anti-gravity competition. The team's second craft is flown by Paul Jackson, an Englishman with a fluctuating reputation on the track. He has certainly had success over the years, but he no longer appears to pose the threat he once did.
FEISAR also suffer from the fact that the member nations providing finance are unable to agree on a single base for the team. Thus, the entire operation of hardware, researchers, engineers, administrators and race crew are constantly travelling from one temporary base to another in a bid to placate each member nation and ensure that no funding is withdrawn in a fit of nationalistic pique. The team are currently contractually obliged to spend at least three weeks working in each of twelve different locations throughout the year, an arrangement which undoubtedly causes very many problems.
One of the major teams in F5000 Anti-Gravity Racing, Auricom Research is a US based organisation founded by former AG Systems employee Delia Flaubert. Principles of sporting excellence and the free availability of anti-gravity technology are enshrined in its mission statement, originally drafted by Flaubert in 2046, the year following her departure from AG Systems.
"Auricom Research is dedicated to the beneficial development of anti-gravity generation for all uses and for all mankind. It is our fundamental belief that the inspirational work of Pierre Belmondo must be continued within a climate of comradely competition so that the ultimate winners are all the peoples of the Earth. To this end, we will conduct research in a spirit of openness while endeavouring to win by genuine means so that all the planet may benefit from our discoveries."
Many felt at the time that in using Belmondo's name, Flaubert was deliberately provoking her former colleague, Holst McQueen, who had also left AG Systems and was now putting together a race team for Russian industrial consortium Qirex Industries. Whether this was her intention or not, there is no doubt that the rivalry between the two teams is extremely intense and since the sport's move up to the F5000 class with its highly dangerous weapon systems capable of destroying craft on-track, the rivalry appears to have become ever-more vicious.
Of course, the rivalry is complicated by the on-going affair between Auricom's enigmatic second pilot Anastasia Cherovoski and Qirex's skilful all-conquering lead Kel Solaar. There have been accusations of illegal spying between the teams, and in fact Cherovoski herself has been implicated by certain observers. It is hard to imagine how the sport could recover if she was ever proved to be a Qirex spy working against her own Auricom team - it should be stressed that there is no evidence to support this theory.
Auricom Research have been boosted in recent years by the political ambitions of their charismatic and hugely popular lead pilot Arial Tetsuo. Arial has won the F5000 championship several times - her total of race wins is currently beaten only by Kel Solaar's - and she has proved to be something of a political phenomenon in her native Japan. She stands on a vague platform of peace and unity, using her populist instincts to garner support while travelling the country with her shadowy entourage. Her speaking engagements are attended by millions.
Qirex Industries are publicly scornful of her unchallenging political manifesto, but they remain concerned at her popularity, not only in her homeland but also across the world. She has become something of a cult figure, representing the vague political aspirations of young people everywhere and is perhaps a more effective spokesperson for Auricom's humanitarian aims than Delia Flaubert's ageing mission statement could ever be.
Qirex Industries have been operating within the decaying Russian industrial belt since the early twenty first century, but their involvement in anti-gravity racing dates from an approach made by Holst McQueen following his acrimonious departure from AG Systems in 2045.
McQueen was forced to leave by Pierre Belmondo as his position had become untenable - his relationship with colleague Delia Flaubert had completely broken down. She immediately established Auricom Research and McQueen was anxious that she should not be allowed to continue unchallenged. He took his own proposals for a rival race team to the core management of Qirex and outlined a plan for future race domination based on strictly profit-lead principles. This was the issue over which he had fallen out with Flaubert and Belmondo himself, and it was this principle which would define his future activities.
He remains the team's Managing Director, although the organisation is now just one part of the massive Overtel corporation, the fastest growing Datacast network in the world. Overtel's overriding interest remains the maximisation of Datacast audiences, a factor which continues to prove a major problem for Belmondo and his supporters on the F5000 Race Commission. The suspicion remains that Overtel want to acquire the sport's entire infrastructure with the intention of making fundamental changes to the nature of the competition. Given his love of profit, Holst McQueen has no qualms about being a cog in the Overtel machine.
More disturbingly, it has been suggested that McQueen in particular and Qirex in general were responsible for the assassination of F3600 Race Commission Director Chuck Hoffman in 2080. No evidence has ever been produced, and as the principal accusers were members of Auricom Research, no assumptions can be made about its accuracy. However, McQueen definitely resents the fact that his name was openly linked with this act. In many ways, the episode represents a low in the history of the Auricom/Qirex relationship.
Despite all the suspicions and accusations which have dogged Qirex and their corporate owners, the team remains the most successful in the history of anti-gravity racing. The move up from F3600 to F5000 seemed to suit their more aggressive style and although their heavy craft are virtually impossible to control by anyone other than a supreme expert, they are still the team everyone wants to beat. Kel Solaar, the lead pilot, is notoriously single-minded while Arian Tetsuo, the second pilot, is particularly motivated by a fierce rivalry with her more successful twin sister, Arial. Such passion breeds success.
The Piranha II team operate a supremely effective secrecy policy and resist involvement in the political backbiting which seems to blight anti-gravity racing. Originally known simply as Piranha, they submitted entry documentation to the Race Commission the same year that the shift was made from F3600 to F5000. They were an entirely unknown quantity, but as their submission was flawless, there was no choice but to admit them into the competition.
Curiously, although F5000 racing saw the introduction of weapon systems capable of inflicting physical damage, the Piranha ships' specification was such that despite their incredible speed and handling, they were unable to carry weapons of any description. The team were also unwilling to submit pilot details to the Commission, although there are no clauses within the statute to insist that this information be made available.
At the end of the 2097 season, a Piranha press release gave the following information:
"PIRANHA TEAM UPGRADE STATUS: CONFIRMED COMPLETE.
INTERNAL UPSHIFT NOW IMPLEMENTED:::: FULL ABILITY TO COMPLY.
NO DATA LEAKAGE DETECTED:: PIRANHA SECURITY SYSTEM INITIALISED AND ENGAGED.
IDENTIFICATION AMENDMENT MADE PUBLIC // TEAM ID BECOMES PIRANHA II WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT // AMEND RECORDS AND CONFIRM.
The only clear information was that the team's name was now Piranha II. The manoeuverings and machinations that had taken place within the organisation could only be guessed at.
While their level of secrecy is a matter of choice which must be respected, it also invites a natural curiosity on the part of competitors. Both Auricom and Qirex openly speculate that Piranha is an arm of their rival, while the dominant opinion is that the team is run by a military organisation of unknown origin. If this is the case and their craft are running test engines destined for military use, their arrival as true contenders perhaps marks the end of Pierre Belmondo's original, humanitarian vision. The open hostility between Auricom and Qirex is one thing, but their differences would seem nothing more than a petty squabble if the sport became essentially a preparation for war.
'WipEout' and its sequels were created by the supremely talented teams at Psygnosis Liverpool, Psygnosis Leeds, and Sony's Studio Liverpool. A number of external graphic designers and musicians also helped make it into a landmark game. Whoever and wherever you are... aren't neon dreams so hard to beat?
WipEoutzone - Where the spirit of the games lives on
© Damon Fairclough 1998, 2007, 2013