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And he left.

'Could've said, "Nice work today, kids,"' Jason said.

Sally clapped him on the shoulder. 'Nice work today, kid.'

'Thanks.'

CHAPTER FOUR.

Jason walked to the dining hall, alone. The Bug and Sally had both gone off to their rooms to rest - Jason was going to bring them some food later.

Ahead of him walked Horatio Wong and Isaiah Was.h.i.+ngton, Scott Syracuse's other two charges. Neither Wong nor Was.h.i.+ngton even attempted to include Jason in their conversation.

Wong was complaining.

'What is his problem? I mean, why should I have to attend a d.a.m.n physics cla.s.s? So long as my Mech Chief knows what's happening inside my car, I just want to be left alone to drive it.'

'Frickin' A,' Was.h.i.+ngton agreed. 'Hey, he pinned me for a pit bay violation. G.o.d, everybody does it. When was the last time you saw any racer pinned in a pro race for a pit bay violation? Never! Scott Syracuse wasn't that great a racer when he was driving on the tour anyway. What makes him think he's such a great teacher now?'

Wong lowered his voice, did a Scott Syracuse impression: 'To err is human, to make the same mistake twice is stupid.'

The two of them laughed.

'Talk about bad luck,' Was.h.i.+ngton said. 'Why'd we have to get the teacher from h.e.l.l?'

They came to the dining hall.

All of the other students at the Race School were already well into their dinners, having started at seven. Wong and Was.h.i.+ngton quickly grabbed a couple of trays and joined a table of boys their age, taking the last available seats.

Jason scanned the room for a place to sit.

Many of the racing teams were eating with their teachers, laughing, smiling, getting to know each other. Syracuse hadn't even offered to dine with his students.

At one table, Jason saw Barnaby Becker and his crew, eating with their teacher, a skeleton-thin man with a beaklike nose.

Jason recognised the teacher instantly: he was Zoroastro, the celebrated former world-champion racer from Russia. One of the very first hover car racers, Zoroastro was still regarded by many as perhaps the most technically precise driver ever to grace the Pro Circuit: he was almost mechanical in his exactness, never missing a turn, just wearing his opponents down until they cracked under the pressure.

Now, as a coach, he was so good - and so vain - that he only deigned to teach two driving teams, not three, as all the other teachers did. And the Race School indulged him.

Which brought Jason's gaze to the other young driver seated with Barnaby and Zoroastro.

He was a strikingly handsome boy of about eighteen. He sat high and proud, and he scanned the dining room as if he owned it. He was dressed completely in black - black racing suit, black boots, black cap - perhaps to match his jet black hair and deep dark eyes.

His absolute coolness rattled Jason.

Alone among the racers in the room, his sheer confidence was unsettling. It was sai

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