Book 1: The Omega Obelisk
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Chapter 6 : The Race
Book 1: The Omega Obelisk
copyright©2015 Florin Nicoara
Governor Brandberd Bret is standing in the oval walled hallway. He is in front of one of the purple embossed panels missing a shelf and bust. He is gently taping it at shoulder level with his three center fingers, and as he does, a small lit up square forms around them. After three or so of these taps an intercom voice becomes audible.
“Go away. I’m not talking to you.”
“Son. Last race you almost died, and you haven’t talked to me since. Now you’re going to race again, and…”
“I almost died because you left me to die! Are you going to end me for good this time?”
“Son please let me in so we can talk.” The doors slide open.
Brandberd enters with a hint of trepidation. The room is similarly decorated as his office and looks quite formal, like an appointment or waiting hall of some sort. Ricio is standing in front of a 3D mirror-hologram of himself, while two beautiful female attendants are helping him with his white pilot uniform.
“I need to speak privately with my son.” The Governor directs his words towards the attendants with an authoritative tone. The two beautiful young women rush out.
“You were not going to die. I had a plan.” Ricio just shakes his head without a word, adjusting his collar. “I just want to wish you good luck. And be safe. You will become a champion, but it takes time. For a rookie just finishing the race is a win, even for a Bret. We Brets are a great people, but you need to humble yourself to the race, and be patient. Do it step by step, and you will be a champion.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t crash, and I won’t have secret conversations with Carpati who happened to rescue me and save my life.”
“Son, I just want you to be safe.”
For the first time turning to his dad. “Then why the hell did you force my doctor to take me off intensive healing the day after the race? And then you erased part of the recording. You cared more about what that stupid Carpati saw than my life! Get out!”
“No! Son, listen to me. Do you know who that kid is?”
“How can I know, you tell me nothing.”
“Because you know how the system works. Until you finish your education regime, until you enter Husari training, you will know nothing. Only after the crossover, only after you prove yourself, only then, can you know it all.”
“Because that’s how the system works. If we change it, it will fall apart.”
“Are you telling me that kid, who didn’t even know what a hopper is, is a threat to our entire civilization?”
“More than you realize.”
“Then tell me!” Looking at his father with intensity.
“What did I just say? What have you been trained since you were a boy?”
“Maybe it’s time to change things. You expect me to go through The Regime, endure the insanity of becoming a Husari, all without incentive? Without knowing why? Give me a reason, and then I’ll gladly do this.”
“You are a Bitani and a Bret. We are ordained by virtue of our birth in keeping structure and order on this world. That’s reason enough.”
“No, it’s not. I need to know that I’m doing this for the right reasons. The fact that you refuse to tell me the reason, makes me doubt it even more.”
“Son, you’re 19 years old. Remember, the only reason you’re racing is because of me. You’re still a teenager and your heart is bigger than your brain. That’s why your crashed and why you refuse to listen to me now. You are all impulse. Act first, think later. You want to know everything, and you refuse to accept that some things can not be known until the right time. You want to know it all now. I’m not holding information from you because it’s entertaining. This isn’t the right time. You will know, but only when you’re ready. When you are trained to know.”
“I’ve heard this line a million times, I don’t need to hear it again. If that’s all you have to say, leave.” Ricio turns back to the 3D hologram of himself and continues adjusting his suit. Brandberd stands there watching without a word. Ricio stops and turns his head to face his dad. “How do you not understand that you were willing to kill me? What you did almost guaranteed my death. Me, your son. How can I ever forgive you for that?”
“When you’re done with the regime and pass the crossover, when you will no longer be just a citizen but an administrator, then you will know, and you will see that I made the right choice.”
“Get out! I don’t want to see you right now. Just get out.” With his head pulled down by disappointment Brandberd walks to the doors. “And this time, I’m not crashing, so there’s no chance of you to let me die.” Ricio snaps at his dad just before the doors sweep shut.
The outcrop is thumping. Someone’s brought up a sweet audio system and the Prave music is filling the air with its rhythm and riffs to the base and beat. It’s a party atmosphere for another evening at the races. It’s been two hours since first horizon and the giant red sun is half hidden behind the distant Crags. Lit from behind, the huge pillars look like burning effigies of stone in the fiery light of the bubbling orange setting sun. The sky stretching up from the horizon is a bloody crimson red as far as the eye can see. The whole western scape of Carpatia is bathed in a hazy crimson glow, even the many mesas and table tops of stone doting the split between the ground and the sky. It is a sunset unlike any other. A truly beautiful site to behold, yet no one on the outcrop cares. The teen and twenty something’s gathered here are far more focused on their party, and the upcoming race, to notice the daily setting of this huge majestic sun.
Nayaa is first to step up from the trail. A minute later Mykee huffs and puffs onto the outcrop with Andee following. It’s full of people, twice as many as last time. The three head into the crowd when suddenly someone yells at them.
“Hey, there he is! That’s the guy!” Andee, a bit startled, looks around while half the crowd turns to look at him. Some begin to cheer, others applaud. Andee looks at Nayaa baffled, as does she and Mykee at each other, but a moment later it all makes sense to her.
“Ah, wow. I guess you really are famous.” Nayaa turns to Andee but is interrupted when several people approach to shake his hand. They push her and Mykee aside while congratulating him for his amazing rescue at the last races. Andee humbly nods not knowing what to say. As the congratulations come to an end, and the people step away, Gono approaches. Dirin and his buddies aren’t far behind, but keep their distance looking over their shoulders. Seems they are a bit afraid of getting too close to Nayaa, who is now a few steps behind Andee but focused on Mykee’s panel. On impulse she looks up and notices them. She focuses her glare on Dirin and gives him a giant friendly smile with a slight twist of her head. Dirin quickly looks away.
“Hey, hero.” Gono greets Andee stepping in between the long distance tension.
“That was weird.”
“Sure, Mr. Humble. People respecting you. So weird.” Andee just smirks sheepishly. “What have you been up to man? I’ve hardly seen you in weeks, and guess who was asking for you at the prave last weekend?” Andee looks at him questionably, but doesn’t say anything. “Oh, sure pretend, you know who, that beautiful Bitani light-fairy, Silestra. She came to talk to me. She wanted to know where you were.” Just as Nayaa and Mykee turn back to Andee.
“Silestra?” Nayaa blurts with a disgusted look on her face. “What kind of silly-ass name is that?” Gono suddenly gets nervous as he turns to her.
“Yeah-ah, it is kinda dumb, that’s true. Yeah, your name is much, ahh…” But his words freeze up when Nayaa locks her eyes on him, a bit squinty and angry looking, although she’s just focused staring right through him. Gono quickly looks away.
“I’m sorry man, I’ve just been so busy helping out Old Tom. So did you get that job up in the city?” Andee cuts the tension by changing the subject.
“Ah no, no not yet. It takes a while. They said it could take months, and there’s no guarantees.” Gono quickly glances to Nayaa after responding. She is now turned away looking at Mykee’s white panel. They are watching the pre-race show.
“Hey man, I know what you’re thinking. But… I’m sure there is good reason why. I will get that job. They’re not just stringing me along.”
“I’m not judging. I don’t know how they do things up there. You’re probably right. You really want that job so I hope it comes through for you.”
“Yeah me too man. Hey, what’s that your brother’s got there? Is it some kind of vidrom?”
“I built it!” Mykee looks up off his display to Gono beaming with pride.
“What? How?” Gono asks surprised.
“We found it, and he turned it on, he didn’t build it.” Andee counters dismissively.
“I fixed it. I figured it out.” Mykee snaps at his brother frowning with agitation.
“Aren’t you going up to your lounge to watch the race?”
“You guys don’t want to see the far parts of the circuit and hear the announcers?”
“OK, point, but I want to talk to you for a second. Come on.”
Nayaa frowns a bit at Andee confused by his request, but then shrugs her shoulders as they walk away. She turns to Gono.
“What up G?”
“Ahh, not much you know. Just…” Finding himself face to face with Nayaa, alone, turns poor Gono into a mess. He is struggling with his words.
“Are you really getting a job in the city?” Nayaa ignores his nervousness and asks him with a suspicious glare. Gono is fidgeting, and timidly starts giving her mater of fact, and extremely boring details of his interviews while Andee turns to Mikee like he is about to scold him for something, now that they are aside.
“Listen man, I know you’re proud of making this thing work, and so am I, but remember what we told you last night. Somebody is watching us because they think I’m some guy named Starfighter. If you brag about figuring out Bitani tech, they’ll think you’re one of them too. I’m sorry man, but we have to keep this to ourselves. We have no idea who’s on this outcrop. Any one of these people could be spies, and if they hear you talk like that, we’re all screwed.”
“Sorry.” Mykee responds looking down with a sad pout.
“Even having this is a risk, but since other people have vidroms, I figured we could get away with it. But it does look different so lets not draw more attention to it.”
“And keep an eye out. If you see an insect flying above, point it to me. There shouldn’t be any now that we’ve just passed first horizon.”
They walk back up to Gono and Nayaa. Gono is standing frozen stiff, while Nayaa is looking at him out of the corner of her eyes through a squint. She looks relieved to see Andee and Mykee approach.
“Have you two resolved your brotherly issues?” She inquires.
“Yes we have.”
“Hey guys! Look!” Mykee shouts pointing at the screen in his arms. “They’re talking about ship1. It looks like it’s back, and racing in the prelims again.”
“What? Are you serious?” Andee responds snapping the display out of Mykee’s hands. He stares at it dumbfounded. “They actually fixed the ship?” The announcers go over the new ship. They describe it as an identical replacement of the crashed one.
“No, its a new ship but looks just like the old one.” Mykee responds to his brother amazed, his eyes glued to the screen. Gono and Nayaa huddle around them to get a closer look. On screen, they are showing segments from the previous race of ship1 taking the lead and than the crash.
“Wow!” Gono shouts. “Look at that. We saw that!” The footage than shows Andee carrying Ricio to the Rescue Corps and gently dropping him on a gurney.
“Dude! Dude! That’s you man!” Gono elbows Andee hard in his excitement.
“Wow.” Nayaa muses.
“Oh, they didn’t show how you carried him all the way down.” Gono sounds off disappointed. The announcers declare that Ricio is now back to health, and ready to race again.
The video than switches to Ricio. They show him training again, inspecting the ship, looking like a man who means business. Then it goes to a quick interview.
“That was a terrible crash you endured last time. All the race veterans were shocked when you did not slow down into tombstone turn. Why did you think you could take it at full speed?”
Squeezing his lips, looking a tad embarrassed, Ricio responds. “To be perfectly honest, it was a rookie mistake. This ship’s got the best lateral stabilizers out there, and… I over estimated my skill, and their limitations. As great as this ship is, I pushed it beyond what it was designed to do. It was my mistake.”
“And you almost paid the ultimate price for that mistake, your life.”
“I did. In fact, if it wasn’t for that brave Carpati who rescued me, I would not have survived.”
“Dude!” Gono nails Andee with his elbow in excitement again.
“I really want to thank him for what he did. I owe him.” Ricio states looking directly into the recorder.
“Dude! Dude!” And Gono elbows Andee again.
“Knock it off man. Just watch.” Andee snaps at Gono.
“My understanding is that the Carpati teen in question is Andee Starfighter.” The announcer turns to look directly into the recorder. “We all want to thank you for what you did. I think I speak for all of us when I say that.” The announcer finishes his statement with a humble nod than turns back to Ricio.
Andee, with round eyes, turns to Nayaa. They both stare at each other horrified. Gono clueless responds irate.
“Dude, they got your name wrong again! But who cares man, you’re a freaking hero.”
“And I’m sure no one is more pleased that you survived than your long time girlfriend…” The announcer continues as the image pulls back from it’s close up on Ricio, to reveal a girl staining next to him, “Silestra Orr.” The announcer names her, as Ricio leans over and gives her a nice soft kiss. “Silestra, you almost lost the love of your life. How do you feel about this race and what happened?”
Both Gono and Andee’s eyes bulge out of their heads as they stare at the screen dumbfounded.
“Holly mother of crap!” Gono blurts out loud. “That’s your Silestra man!”
Nayaa too recognizes her, but her face is a combination of shock, and a bit of mischievousness. She’s not sure if she is displeased or happy, by the turn of events.
Andee on the other hand looks gutted. He looks devastated, as if his heart was ripped out of his chest. The announcer continues asking them questions about the upcoming race, but Andee looks away and hands off the display to his brother. Mykee grabs it staring at all of them, catching the tension, but not understanding the cause.
“What’s wrong? Why is everyone so weird all of a sudden?” Andee turns away ignoring him while Gono follows. Nayaa leans down to Mykee’s ear and whispers.
“That’s Andee’s Bitani girlfriend.”
“You mean that girl he talked to at the prave?” Mykee asks and Nayaa nods. “That’s not his girlfriend. He just talked to her for a while, and she told him he would make a good pilot. That’s not his girlfriend.”
Nayaa makes a questioning face and shrugs her shoulders. “Maybe you’re right. But I think Andee liked her a bit more than he wants to admit.”
“Don’t worry. Pretty soon you’ll have a crush on a girl too. Than you’ll find out how much it sucks.” Mykee just shrugs his shoulders and focuses back on his display.
Gono gently pats Andee on the back, who is still walking in a daze.
“Dude, I don’t know what to say man. I’m sure there’s a good explanation.” Andee stops and looks at him. His face suddenly looks strong and his sadness seems magically gone.
“What are you talking about?” Andee asks with forced casualness, but Gono squints at him suspicious. “You mean that girl? She’s just a girl who thanked me for rescuing her boyfriend. It’s no big deal.”
“Dude, I saw how she talked to you. She was flirting hardcore. You can’t deny that!”
“She’s Bitani, maybe that’s how they are. Maybe she thought she was being nice to me, and I thought… It doesn’t matter man. It is what it is.”
“Did she tell you the dude was her boyfriend?”
“No. But she didn’t suggest her and I should…” But Andee cuts himself off.
“Be more than friends.” He answers as Nayaa walks up to them.
“Dude there’s nothing wrong with admitting you like her. Maybe she was just being friendly, either way, its ok for you to like her and tell her that you do, even if she is that dude’s girl.”
“Look who’s talking.” He responds to Gono while head nodding towards Nayaa.
“What?” Nayaa reacts surprised and looks at Gono for a clue. He instantly freezes up and looks down. Nayaa quickly looks from one guy to the other a couple of times. “What?”
Andee just shrugs his shoulders and head nods towards Gono. Nayaa focuses her strong eyes on Gono.
“What’s up ‘dude’?” She asks exaggerating the word dude. Gono is now beyond intimidated. He is literally trembling. Nayaa turns to Andee with a confused squint, like ‘what’s up with him?’. Andee shrugs his shoulders. Nayaa quickly flicks her eyes between the both of them, then shrugs them both off and changes the subject.
“Whatever. Listen dudes! Are you guys going to watch the race? It’s about to begin.” And as she speaks the distant horn goes off, followed by the kaleidoscope of lights on the floating pylons. The crowd roars with cheers. The three of them rush to Mykee who is now on the southern edge of the outcrop, just below their cove, looking down at the old road.
Andee stops next to him and looks up.
“Lets get up to our spot. I think we can all sit there with our legs dangling out.” Andee suggests and Nayaa instantly leaps and scampers three meters up the stone wall so fast she is in the cove in half a second. A couple of nearby people in the crowd react with, “Whoa!” startled by Nayaa’s swift spider like climb. Gono is pretty skilled himself as he scampers up the stone. Andee helps Mykee up, and then joins them sitting next to his brother who is between Andee and Gono. Nayaa is further back into the carved lounge. She’s got the worst view of the Old Road, from behind the guys, but is already leaning back in the comfortably carved stone too chill to care.
The sequence of lights starts up on the pylons. Red flashes at the top first, followed by orange, changing to yellow, white, then light green, and than to a hard solid green at the very bottom. With the green another loud horn sounds in the distance. The start is seconds away.
“How many ships we got in this race Mykee?” Andee asks getting excited again.
“Yup, and all the ships that survived that last prelim are back, including 1 and the junker.”
“No way, ship15 is back.” Andee retorts surprised.
“Oh-oh.” Mykee reacts. “Delay.”
Both Andee and Gono turn to his display.
“What happened?” Nayaa asks still chilling in her comfortable cove.
“Dun’no. But they’re delaying the race a few minutes. Look they’re showing the lineup again.”
All three watch the display in Mykee’s lap attentively. Even Nayaa scoots up and leans over Mykee’s shoulder. The line up is 1 through 15. The ships that survived the last prelim, ship5 the Black-Cross, ship6 the Streamliner, ship8 the Yellow-Teardrop, and ship13 the Winged-Cone are back. Ship4, the Rusted Teardrop, is also back, dented and damaged, but apparently still working. The list of ships is as follows.
Ship1 is of course Ricio’s ship, The Silver Sickle. It’s all white with shiny silver racing stripes, and designs. The front is broad and round in the shape of a half moon on its side, somewhat like a sickle with both points pointing backwards. The body extends from the center of the sickle in a long sleek and elegant shape of organic curves accented by grooves and rounded flares. The very back turns into a flat horizontal fishtail-like feature with pointy tips on the outer edges. The pilot’s egg-shaped bubble is encased in the center of the body. It has all around views on top as well as on the bottom, around the seat. The ship floats about a meter off the ground on a glowing pillow of hazy white light that seems to be the mechanism keeping this machine in the air.
The new lightships start with ship2, the Dragonfly. It’s iridescent greenish-blue with a bubble shaped like a single dragonfly eye, at the front of the body, that tapers back over the top following the curve of its tall thin form. Behind the bubble the top of the body tapers down into a point made of segments, like a short and chunky dragonfly tail. On either side of the front half of the body, and attached by flexible arms, are its two light engines that curve inward in front of the bubble, like crab claws with a meter gap between them. The tail of the body is its third light engine at the back. The light pillow below it is sky blue.
Ship3 is the Horseshoe. It has a single light emitting engine curving around the front to both sides like a horse shoe. It’s center body is egg-shaped, mostly made of the transparent bubble material, which is then encased in a metal frame to give it extra strength. It’s attached to its light engine by three flexible arms, two on the side and one up front. It’s leathery brown in color with a sulfur yellow light pillow.
Although damaged, lightship 4, the Rusted Teardrop, is back. It’s body is larger and rounded in the front which then tapers to a point in the back. Across the top, from front to end, runs a long tubular bubble like that of jet fighter. The bubble is ringed in two places and over the middle with a rusted metal frame for more support. The entire ship is the color of rust because it is completely rusted, and full of dents and damage from the previous crash.
Lightship 5, the Black Cross, is made up of two four meter long parallel cylinders that house the engines which produce the purplish-blue glow beneath. Between them, the pilot’s bubble is attached to both cylinders by flexible arms. The ship is all black including the perfectly spherical bubble in the center, but does have a triangular airfoil streaming behind it to a point. The solid black metal bubble has one vertical window, from top to bottom, and a cross window wrapping horizontally, from one side to the other, forming a perfect glass cross up front. Its black paint is matte, and its engines and body is made of layered metal plates with sharp edges and corners. It has a Gothic dark and menacing aura about it.
Another returning lightship is 6, The Streamliner. It’s shaped like an old streamliner locomotive. The center is vertically taller than wide, but the end thins out turning into a long fin. Near the bottom, it is flanked by its broad engines on both sides making only the bottom of the ship as wide as it is tall. The pilot’s bubble is right up front, in the tip of the ‘nose’ of the ship, which protrudes slightly forward. It’s a large ship with patchy rusty-red colors, and floating on a red glow.
Lightship 7 is another rust bucket, the Rusted-Brick. The body is essentially a giant brick. The front and back are identical and tapered laterally like the front of a chisel, with a rectangular metal framed bubble protruding up in the middle. The long thin rectangular light engines are attached on both sides by two arms. The ship is perfectly symmetrical from every angle, and the front looks identical to the back. It varies in color since the different metal plates that cover it don’t match and has a bright red light pillow.
Lightship 8 is the Yellow Teardrop. It’s the same design as ship4, teardrop shaped, but looks clean and new, freshly painted in bright yellow. It floats over a light green pillow.
Lightship 9 is the Red Menace. It’s crimson red with long irregular horizontal black stripes, while its bottom and underside is shiny gold. The center body is horizontal with a vertical half-wheel bubble attached to the front. It is very angular with hard edges and the back is segmented and tapering vertically. It’s light engines are swept back, starting from the middle of the body and sweeping long behind it. They are tall and thin and slightly more rounded than the rest of the ship. It floats on a bright red glow.
Lightship 10 is The Black Eye. It’s engines are one single oval black disk attached by four arms to the central black obsidian looking bubble. The bubble is transparent but pitch black and glossy, as is the oval engine around it. It floats on a rich blue light pillow.
Lightship 11 is The Orange Almond. Like the crashed 9 it is almond shaped with the light engines built into the body and the bubble towards the back, and floats on a red glow.
Lightship 12 The Pearl Beauty. It’s a pearl white ship and looks a bit similar to old 1930’s Earth Automobiles, mainly the Auburn series, with the long sleek bodies that taper down in the back. The bubble is in the center body with the shapely light engines very close to the it, but still attached by short arms, so separate. It is beautifully decorated with chrome grills at the front of the engines and body, and other chrome details and stripes flowing with its curves. It floats on a faint greenish-blue pillow of light.
Lightship 13 is the Winged Cone. Shaped like a flattened cone it has winglets on either side up front, and one horizontal wing behind the pilot’s glass bubble. The ship is gray with black racing stripes and accents, and floats on a blue glow.
Lightship 14 is the Green Orb. It’s a strange ship. The body is a creamy green orb with patches of transparent bubble, forming irregular patterns all around it. Out of the body four thin arms extend in each direction with near squares engines on each end. The front and back arms are longer while the side ones shorter, giving it a four pointed diamond look from above. It floats on a bright green light pillow.
And last, and in fact least, is lightships 15 the Junker. This one has no bubble at all. The pilot is completely exposed, with only his suit and helmet protecting him from the heat, wind, dust, and sand at speeds reaching 600 kilometers per hour. He does have a small front windscreen, and metal flares encapsulating him on the sides, for some protection. The center body of the ship is a long cylinder with the pilot startling it, leaning forward as if riding an Earth speed bike. At the front and back there are two light engines forming T shapes at both ends, each a different size. The front is a little wider, while the back one is shorter but thicker. Over the front there are metal sheets bent over like streamers to protect the front end. The ship looks like a hodgepodge of formerly crashed parts hobbled together to create this masterpiece. It floats on a bright blue glow.
All the lightships have the one common and most important feature. The light pillow glowing below that seems to be the mechanism that keeps the ships floating up in the air. It does seem to apply force to the ground causing rocks and dust to be shot out of the back. It also seems to only allow for forward and backward movement. The ships do not slide sideways. The colors vary, but most ships have either red, green, or blue light pillows glowing beneath them, but with significant variations in their hues, from purple and sky blue, to green sea, sulfur yellow, and orange sunset variations.
Nayaa is lurching over Mykee and is first to comment.
“Wow, those are some interesting looking lightships. Why are they all so different?”
“No idea. It would be cool if Mykee finds more schematics on this thing.” Andee answers pointing to the display in Mykee’s lap. “Maybe he could figure out how all of them work.”
“Now that would be sweet.” Mykee responds. “That memory card. Maybe it has more schematics from different ships…” but Gono cuts Mykee off in excitement.
“They’re talking about the circuit! Hey guys, I want to see it. I haven’t seen an overview of it in a long time. Can you turn up the volume?” Mykee nods in agreement and adjusts the display so that all four can hear and see.
On screen, two mid thirties male announcers, in sharp modern suits, with bright white teeth and big smiles, start describing the race course. They look very similar but are of different races so clearly not related. Both are sitting behind, but apart, a flat table-like display projecting up a 3D image. The display between them is showing individual portions of the sections, their statistics, along with snippets of ships either racing by or crashing. It seems that most of the footage is filmed from the pylons, so the viewers get to see the ships coming at, under, and past the pylon recording them. There are also more distant angles from above and beyond the pylons, showing larger sections of the course with the distant ships racing in the larger scenery following the string of pylons.
“That’s right Hondo.” The announcer on the left refers to the one on the right. “It all starts with Section 1-West, as we like to call it, The Start. Ha-ha-ha.” Both announcers laugh far beyond the level of the joke, then Hondo takes over.
“As Mando just said, section 1-West is the start. It’s two kilometers of straight line racing out of the Bitani stands, on the south of table mountain heading west, which then turns sharply north on…” Hondo hands it off to Mando.
“Section 2, The Old Road. The course now heads up the base slope of our glorious table mountain. It’s a 4km long treacherous steep incline. A nearly 45 degree uphill shot towards the outcrop where the Carpati kids like to risk their lives to watch the race.”
“That’s right, and what a risk it is. We all saw the terrible crash that happened during the last prelims in the 3rd Section of the race, Tombstone Turn.”
“That’s right Hondo. Tombstone is aptly named. It’s a sharp upside-down U-turn, from the old road, right up on the side of the stone outcrop. Go too slow and you simply fall off the side of the wall in your ready made grave.”
“Go too fast, like our young Ricio did, and you overshoot the turn crashing hundreds of meters below onto the other side.”
“The ships that survive the Tombstone Turn now head nose-down into a near vertical drop.”
“But following the contours of the base of the mountain, the course gradually flattens out into Section 4, The Long Curve, down in the Carpati Flatlands.”
“Section 4 is a 8km long gentle curve, past the Township’s West Market, turning the ships to the north, only about a kilometer away from the Carpati stands.”
“The perfect distance to see the ships hit nearly top speed into the 600kph range. From there, the ships make a hard turn into the Crags.”
“Ah yes, the Killer Crags. More ships have been chewed up and spit out in the Crags than anywhere else.”
“It’s certainly the end of the line for any pilot who has no business inside a bubble, beginning with the treacherous turn into the Crags itself.”
“Just like with Tombstone, Flat Rock turn is another gravity defying twist this time forcing the ships to ride sideways, on the wall of the Long Mesa, as the circuit turns sharply heading back west. If you don’t make it here, you won’t survive the Crags.”
“You’re certainly right there Hondo. The Crags are a horrendous maze of huge canyons between eroded stone pillars, some a 1000 meters tall.”
“When the pilots aren’t ducking falling boulders, they’re confronted with the many caves and crevices, as the course snakes around, back and forth, and even up and down, through many canyons for more then 50km.”
“Speeds are much slower through this treacherous section, only 100kph to 200kph, yet in my opinion, it’s probably the most exciting segment of the course.”
“No doubt Mando. The circuit than opens up in Section 6, over The Great Salt Sea. This is 35km of over water, high speed racing, and sometimes lightship surfing when we get those 10m high waves.”
“And what a sight it is seeing the great pilots anticipate the wave crash by riding into the barrel roll, to disappear for a moment, only to then shoot out like a bullet out of the other side before the wave crashes completely.”
“It’s certainly a sight to behold, on one hand, but a complete horror during storms. Ships that don’t slow down for the huge storm swells get churned into the sea. And those that do, still risk being flipped and flooded by rogue crashing waves.”
“But on clear days like today, we might see a few ships ride the 3m waves, and most should have no problem transverseing the Salt Sea to head into Section 7, The Long Straight.”
“If speed you want, speed you get.”
“That’s right Hondo. Here the ships race full out, maximum speed of over 700kph for a distance of a 100km. It’s a test of engine endurance, and only the best lightships survive.”
“That’s right Mando. The record is still 782kph set by the great Hektor. Will it be broken today?”
“You never know. My bet is on lightship 1, The Silver Sickle. This is 100km of straight rocky flats that takes the course directly south, deep into the badlands. Huge gaps result here between fast ships and slower ones, so even a rookie like Ricio could break the record with a ship as modern as his.”
“So true, but to win the race it’s all about the pilot’s skill. In difficult sections a good pilot can easily close those gaps such as in Section 8, The Dunes.”
“Here the course turns east in a 40km stretch of shifting sands, so they are never the same from race to race, and some dunes can be as tall as a 100 meters. The Dunes are almost as treacherous as the Crags, and many ships get lost and entombed in the pyramids of sand.”
“Ships that don’t fall prey to the shifting sands escape the dunes in Section 9, The Low Canyon. Here the circuit turns back towards the north-west, headed for the home stretch but don’t let the name deceive you.”
“That’s right Hondo. The low canyon is a 50km long, shallow but wide dry river bed, between 10m and 50m deep, and 50m to over 200m wide in some places. The terrain is deceptively flat only to suddenly snake, left then right, with sheer stone walls ahead.”
“You’re very right Mando. It’s easy to over-speed after the slower dunes only to realize there’s no space to stop.”
“And then lets talk about the flash floods during the rainy season that can suddenly come out of nowhere.”
“Well, they do come from somewhere, Section 10, The Eastern Hills.”
“So true Hondo. The Eastern Hills are made of porous soil and water seeps up from the ground. Add rain, and you’ve got the recipe for a thumbing wall of mud pudding.”
“Ha-ha-ha, but no chance of that tonight Mando. Instead, it’s the giant Baobab trees which the pilots have to watch out for.”
“That’s right. These giant trees have huge trunks filed with tons of water. They are a massive nemesis to the racers. It’s easy to crash into them as they seem to pop out of nowhere between the many undulating hills at these high speeds.”
“Which brings us to the end of the race, Section 11-East, The Finish. Once out of the East Hills there is another 15 kilometers of a mostly straight shot to the finish-line.”
“All the excitement of the race comes to an end, right here, in the Bitani stands, where the pilot that crosses the line first and fastest, gets all the glory, in this most glorious of all events.”
“Amen to that.”
Nayaa, who’s been leaning over Mykee watching the panel, twists her lips to the side just before she speaks.
“Hondo and Mando? Really? What a couple of clowns.”
“Whatever.” Mykee counters her. “I like them. I think they’re good. They look just as excited about the race as I am. And I like how they described the course.”
“I guess Bitani thirteen yearolds look more grown up.” Nayaa comments dismissively.
“Here we go!” Mykee shouts ignoring Nayaa.
The pylons begin the flashing sequence from red to green, and end completely lit up in green, accompanied by another loud horn. The ships are off.
“Wow! Look at ship 1 accelerating off the line.” Gono shouts eyes glued onto Mykee’s display. All three are huddled even closer around Mykee now.
The Silver Sickle speeds off from the start like a rocket leaving the rest in its trail of dust. In seconds Ricio covers the 2km straight line out of the Bitani stands hitting speeds of over 600kph, but slows down for the turn up the old road.
“Here they come-here they come!” Gono shouts excited looking up off the display and down the old road.
“Check out 9, the Striped Menace, he’s gaining on ship1.” Andee shouts still focused on the display.”
“And so is 5, The Black Cross.” Ads Mykee.
“Yeah, I guess this is kind of interesting.” Nayaa muses as she looks over the guys’ shoulders.
“There.” Gono points as the ships turn up onto the Old Road. They float about a meter off the ground on their light pillows, but at their speeds they are creating a dust cloud behind them from the air drag alone. Another advantage of being the leader.
The ships are speeding up the old road approaching quickly. The Silver Sickle is in the lead but slows down dramatically this time as he approaches Tombstone turn. The Black Cross and the Red Menace, take advantage and shoot ahead of ship1.
“Wow, that was a quick pass!” Andee muses as the Sickle falls in third.
“They’re side by side.” Mykee jumps excited pointing at ships 9 and 5 on his screen. “They better separate into a straight line. Only one ship at the time can turn on Tombstone.”
The Black Cross is coming fast at tombstone, but breaks hard as it turns onto the side of the outcrop, taking it at 150kph. From their vantage point, they can see the ships about ten meters below, coming right up at them and then turning away and back down.
“Whoa!” Nayaa howls impressed and lurches back a bit at the power and wind as the ships first come at her, and then turn away from her. “Look at them go on the side of the cliff. That’s amazing.” Nayaa spouts with awe watching each ship flash past her like lightning, one by one, each racer rounding tombstone turn death-defying gravity and momentum themselves, before they head back down. The ships now speed downwards, in a near vertical drop at first, but tapering up gently following the sloping mountain to the Flatlands below.
The Silver Sickle is in third place as they fall at full speed into the long curve. A clear gap is forming between the leaders and the rest, with Ship10 The Blackeye, Ship12 the Pearl Beauty, and Ship6 the Streamliner right behind ship1, forming the top six. Ship15 on the other hand is trailing behind the rest and falling even further in the high speed long curve.
The Black Cross now leading is first to approach the Long Mesa. He slows down from 700kph to make the hard turn left to the west on the side of Flat Rock. Like tombstone, the ships have to once again ride on the vertical side of a stone cliff, but this time in a much longer and gentler curve so the ships don’t have to slow down as much. The black cross takes it at over 400kph, as does the Red Menace right behind him, but ship1 once again slows down more than most, and all three ships behind him, The Streamliner, the Pearl Beauty, and the Black Eye, pass the Silver Sickle in a flash.
“Whoa! He’s scared.” Gono blurts.
“He’s not scared.” Mykee interjects.
“That crash freaked him out. I don’t blame him. He slowed way too much for that turn.”
“The other ships are slowing down too.”
“Yeah all the followers, the top five separated because they didn’t slow much at all. Look at them. They’ve all created a full kilometer gap now.” As the five leaders disappear into the Crags, the rest of the ships all slow down to turn onto Flat Rock, except one.
“Wow, look at 15, he just passed the Green Orb. He’s no longer in last place.” Andee finally speaks up.
“And now he’s passing the brick, and the rusted teardrop. Holly crap!” Andee glares into the distance as ship15. Not only does it not slow down, but accelerates into the turn at full speed, about 600kph, one by one passing all the slow ships on the side of the mesa. On the exit down and out of the turn he gains on ship1 of the base slope. But ship1 is already in the flatland between the huge mesas and quickly pulls away. A few seconds later all the ships vanish completely between the large mesas at the entrance to the Crags, from the perspective on the outcrop, so the four turn their eyes back to the panel in Mykee’s lap.
“Turn back up the volume. Lets hear the announcers.” Gono shouts excited.
The announcers are watching the 3D holographic image between them, which takes up most of Mykee’s display screen. The ships are clearly visible in 3D, sometimes from up close, sometimes from a distance with the two announcers hovering somewhat above, but behind, as they give the play by play.
“They’ve all made it into the crags, Mando.”
“Indeed they have Hondo, with ship 5, the Black Cross maintaining his lead.”
“He won that last prelims, if he wins this one, he will qualify for the final race.”
“That’s right, that is if he doesn’t lose points.”
“So true, amazingly enough even Junker 15 could qualify although he finished last in the previous prelims.”
“That’s because he never wavered more than 10 meters from the pylons, so he did not lose any points while all the other ships did.”
“If he manages to do the same in this race, he might qualify.”
“And he just might Hondo, because just a second ago he amazingly placed himself in 7th position.”
“Amazing, but true Mando. This just shows you what an fantastic race this is. Even a hodgepodge of junk like ship15 stands a chance of winning, given a brilliant pilot and the right strategy.” Mando nods in agreement and squints as he focuses back on the race.
“And here begins the true test of their piloting prowess. They’ve just entered the labyrinth at the center of the crags.”
“This is where the chaos begins.” And both announcers look at each other and nod looking very serious.
From the hard Flat Rock turn the ships enter the Crags but the land is still flat, with huge mesas all round but kilometers apart. After about 10km of flatland racing they enter the labyrinth of the inner crags. This is where the true crags begin. Ships here have to slow down as there isn’t a single stretch of straight course anywhere in sight. Only protruding rocks, crevices, sheer drops, hard turns, and dark twisty tunnels.
The Black Cross is first to enter, slowing down dramatically which forces the other five ships to cluster close behind him. The Silver Sickle is trailing at the end of the leading cluster as they enter the inner Crags, while the Junker is gaining and a few seconds later is on the Silver Sickle’s tail.
“Oh my god!” Andee stares at the display amazed.
“Who’s the pilot? That dude’s amazing.” Gono shouts equally mystified.
“He didn’t show his face, they just showed his helmet.” Mykee answers. “The guy is really secretive, didn’t even use his real name.”
“How do you know?” Gono asks.
“The Ghost? I doubt that’s his name. Look, he’s going to pass 1!” Mykee focuses back on his display.
In fact it seems the Junker would have passed the Sickle already had there been space. They are in a shallow canyon with spans of stone covering it, here and there, making it into an occasional tunnel. It’s clear ‘The Ghost’ has phenomenal piloting skills. He is able to calculate turn radii, approach angels, and just the right speed to cut up over, under, or around the protruding chunks of stone. He shoots in and out of the tunnels, around turns and over gullies, with such efficiency that even with his slow ship he is steadily gaining ground. Ricio’s Sickle is in sixth position but after entering a tricky-triple-snaking set of turns, the Junker puts him in seventh as the Ghost skillfully cuts the corners short and passes ship1.
“Whoa, he did it!” Andee muses in disbelief.
“He did it!” Mykee adds equally amazed.
At another turn the Junker gains on ship6, The Streamliner. At less than half the size of the Streamliner, the Junker takes advantage of a cut in the rock wall they are racing past, and sneaks through it, ahead of ship6. The Junker is now tailing ship12, the Pearl Beauty, and ship10, the Black Eye, who are nearly side by side. Ship5, Black Cross is still in the lead, with ship9, the Red Menace hot on his tail. The Junker, now directly on the tail of 12, who is closely tailing ship10. They are heading towards a hard twist in the canyon. The ships ahead brake, but the Junker doesn’t, yet rather than slam into the back of the Pearl Beauty, instead, he climbs over its tapered back end, which is essentially a ramp, and suddenly flies right over 12 and 10 gaining a boost of speed while slowing those two ships down from the force of his propelling light pillow. From his accelerated momentum the Junkers also shoots right past the Red Menace, all in one shot, but has to slow down directly behind ship5, as they enter a hard turning canyon.
Hondo leaps in his seat. “Holly light-ferries! Is that even legal!” Hondo shouts looking at Mando with big round eyes. “I just can’t believe what I’m seeing. I’m about to jump out of my chair.”
“Please don’t because I won’t catch you, ha-ha-ha.” Both announcers laugh. “I’m as amazed as you are Hondo. Just look at 15! This is astounding! 15 is in second place. In a matter of seconds he went from 7th to 2nd.”
“Amazing. In the previous prelim he never moved up out of last place, it is just astounding that now he is battling with the Black Cross for first place.”
“This is a show of true pilot skill, but unfortunately he will fall behind like he did last time, in the long straight.”
The Black Cross is holding on to first but the Junker is only meters on his tail. Both pilots are very skilled, both able to take the best turns, and make quick decisions of speed and angle of approach. They are almost flying in unison they are both so good. The Ghost piloting his Junker gets more aggressive, as they enter a cave. He gets in less than a meter behind the Black Cross, but since it doesn’t have a tapering end, the Ghost’s attempt at riding over him, like he did with the Pearl Beauty, does not take. He keeps trying to take him left than right, then left again, but no deal. They both shoot out of the tunnel at 200kph straight towards a giant pillar of stone. They are in a half-pipe with sheer walls on both sides so no passing moves are possible. The Black Cross slows down hard for the turn around the pillar. He leaves a bit of a gap between himself and the sheer wall as he goes wide before the turn. It’s all the Ghost needs. The Junker flies past the Black Cross speeding into the turn, and right up the base off the pillar for a few meters, launching sideways into the air.
“He’s going to crash! He’s going to crash!” Hondo shouts, while the four stare at the screen tense with anticipation, but the Junker lands almost at forty-five degrees sideways. The ship wobbles a bit on its light pillow but with quick wit and skills The Ghost recovers his ship and maintains his position ahead of the Black Cross.
“Oh My God!” Hondo finally does jump out of his seat. “He did it. He’s in first place1”
“Amazing!” Mando replies staring dumbfounded.
“Wow!” Andee quietly blurbs, while the other three stare a their small display mesmerized. Down on the outcrop, people clustered around a few vidroms, shout and cheer as they jump with joy. Being Carpati, they can’t help but root for the underdog.
But the Black Cross is not going to let this pass without a fight. He is riding the Junker hard. He’s is nearly touching the ship, but there’s just too many turns, and the spaces too tight for him to make a move, yet the Cross is relentless.
“This is a battle, a true battle.” Hondo, back in his seat is giddy with excitement. “I haven’t seen a battle like this in ages. Look at them. They are fighting for first like mad.”
The Cross bumps the Junker. The Junker accelerates into a hard turn and the corner of his rear engine scrapes the rock, yet the Cross gains on him and bumps him again.
“This isn’t just a race, it’s a battle. Look at them go at each other.” Hondo continues shouting more like a fan than a professional announcer.
The Black Cross is ever more aggressive. The ship is bigger and sturdier so he is not afraid to ram into the Junker here and there, although if he hits him too hard they could both crash. The Junker is no longer just racing, but fighting to stay alive.
“I think he’s going to crash him.” Gone speaks concerned.
“Why isn’t that illegal?” Nayaa asks.
“Because most pilots are sane. A crash could kill both of them. This dude in ship5 is a lunatic.” Andee shakes his head.
“I don’t want to see them crash. I like 15. I want him to win.” Nayaa continues with a pout.
“I bet he’s Carpati. He’s going to be the next Hektor.” Mykee adds nodding his head up and down.
The two battling ships make a hard long turn on a stone wall into a more open canyon dotted with smaller caves all along its cliff walls. The Cross bumps the Junker again just as The Ghost tries to move sideways and slow down. It seems like he was about to let the Black Cross get ahead, but instead, the tip of ship5’s right engine clips the tip of the Junkers left rear corner and torques him sideways, which turns the forward momentum of the ship to an angled ledge protruding from the cliff wall. Ship15 flies up the short angled ledge and leaps off the end, as if from a ramp, heading at an angle towards the cliff wall at over 200kph.
“He’s headed for the wall!” Hondo jumps out of his seat again.
“He’ll be smashed to pieces.” Mando shouts.
But just before impact, the pilot is ejected up into the air. Below him the Junker smashes at an oblique angle into the wall of stone, thumbing into the side of the cliff as if rolling on the ground. The ship shatters into pieces before the debris rain down into the bottom, while the pilot up above, also slams into the cliff wall from his forward momentum, but at a much slower speed. He then bounces off the wall but immediately slows down in the air. He then gently floats on a glow of blue light, from some devices attached to the chest and back of his leathery dark brown pilot suit.
“What is that? I’ve never seen anything like it?” Mando stares leaning forward.
“He’s got some kind of personal photon regenerator in his suit.” Hondo is equally flabbergasted.
The pilot floats gently to the gourd landing on his feet, but as they touch he falls limp into a pile. He hit that stone wall hard.
The image of the pilot on the 3D display is small, recorded from a distance.
“It looks like he is hurt Hondo”
“It certainly does, but he may be alive, witch would not be case hand he not had whatever that device was that saved him. Wait, what? What’s that?” Hondo points into the 3D display.
The four are staring at Mikee’s panel too amazed to say a word, while on the screen something rushes out of one the small caves in the wall of the canyon and grabs the pilot by the leg, then drags him into the cave just as the other lightships speed directly above. Had he been there another second, The Ghost would have been churned into his own namesake, by the levitating force under the lightships flying over him.
“Was that a man, or some kind of creature?” Hondo asks with big curious eyes. It’s close to last horizon, so the light is dim, and even dimmer down in the labyrinth of the crags. What ever it was it pulled the pilot into an even darker and shadowy cave.
“I’ve heard rumors of strange beasts in the crags, but this is the first time I’ve seen one.” Mando answers.
“This world still has so many surprises for us. Another reason to love this race.” Hondo adds.
“I think it’s a man.” Mando points as they both focus while watching a replay.
“Hard to tell in the dim light, but look how much bigger that thing is than the pilot. It’s moving like a man, a bit, but it’s too big to be a man.” Hondo counters.
“What is that?” Mykee asks baffled squinting at the very small image on his small screen.
“I don’t know.” Andee answers.
“Wow, that’s crazy. I didn’t know there were monsters in the Crags. I’ve always wanted to go there.” Nayaa speaks leaning closer over Mykee.
“Not me, I’ve heard of all kinds of crazy things there.” Gono ads.
“I hope it doesn’t eat the pilot. He was good. If he had a decent ship he would have won.” Mikee ads.
“That’s messed up. I liked 15, but the race is still on.” Gono eager stares back at the display.
“What a shocking turn of events Mando. 15 had the lead there for a while, but just could not hold on to it.”
“That’s right. The Black Cross put him in an early grave.”
“Or on the dinner plate of some monster in the Crags, ha-ha-ha.” Both announcers laugh with jolly.
“Inappropriate, but funny Hondo. Now lets get back to the race.”
Andee jumps off the edge of their cove to a lower ledge.
“Where you going?” Gono asks.
“I’m done. I don’t want to see the rest of this race.”
“Ah come on man. Crashes happen all the time.”
“You guys keep watching. I’m going to chill for a while.”
“Ok.” Gono counters and looks back at the display. Andee jumps down and walks back towards the path up to the crags. Most of the crowd is on the southern edge looking at their vidroms or towards the crags. The north face is clear. Andee finds a boulder and seats with his back to it facing south, facing the stone wall where the edge of the little cove is barely visible. Nayaa’s head peeks out. She leaps past Gono and out. She rushes over and takes a seat next to Andee.
“You OK?” He nods. “That’s why I never watched the races before. Just when you start liking someone they get killed in a horrible crash. If it wasn’t for those stupid crashes the race would be very exciting.” Andee nods again but he looks lost, staring in empty space. He is looking ahead, hard, at a spot not far from him. Nayaa studies him for a moment.
“Are you looking at something?” Andee doesn’t answer for a moment, but turns to her.
“That spot right there.” Pointing ahead. “That’s where I saw the guy in the blue robe the first time.”
“Ah. You still think he is real?”
“I don’t know. I only saw him twice. Here and at the market. Maybe it was all in my head.”
“Who knows? Maybe you did see something and… I don’t know, maybe it was some kind of combination of memories.”
“Maybe.” There is a moment of long silence again as Andee stares at the sport. “But it was so real. Why is this happening?”
“I don’t know. Everything.” Nayaa waits patiently in another long silence. “Where’s my dad? Is he really in the Badlands with cannibals? Why am I seeing some dude in blue? Why are the Bitani treating us like alcamas? Just animals that grow their food. Why are they recording me? What’s the point of all this?” Nayaa leans onto him and places the side of her head on his shoulder. They sit there quietly without a word.
Mykee and Gono are too focused on the display to notice Andee and Nayaa below, or anything else for that matter.
“I can’t believe he’s falling so far behind.” Mykee muses disappointed.
“It’s his first time over the Salt Sea.” Gono responds. “Those waves are tricky and he has no experience. If he goes too fast he’ll leap off a wave into the air and crash nose fist in the water at 500kph. The ship will be destroyed and he won’t survive. Look how the other pilots know how to read the waves, especially the Black Eye. He just passed the Pearl, and is gaining on the Red Menace. He’s using the waves to his advantage.”
“Wow, look at them go on the side of that large wave.”
The four top ships are all in a line riding nearly sideways on a cresting 3m wave, but just as the top of the wave starts crashing, the four ships exit in the break between waves only to ride up the next one. The trailing ships can not do the same because they have fallen further behind and are trapped in the crashing wave. Now they have to slow down even more as they smash spectacularly through the cresting wave at 100kph. They turn the water into mist as they drag it behind them accelerating again on the other side of the long wave. Ricio has slowed down even more, blow 100kph, too timid to tackle the waves. Ship13, the Winged Cone is fast on his tail, and flies past him in a haze as it comes out of the wave leaving the Silver Sickle behind in a trail of mist.
Over the next 20km, to the end of the Salt Sea section, more ships pass the Silver Sickle. One by one, ship2 The Dragonfly follows the Cone, then ship3 the Horseshoe, and ship8 the Yellow Teardrop, ship11 The Orange Almond, and ship4 the Rusted Teardrop all passing Ricio. Only ship 14, the Green Orb, with ship7, the Rusted Brick, are still trailing behind him bringing in the tail end. But as they exit the Salt Sea, and head down the Long Strait, everything changes. The Silver Sickle maxes out at over 750kph and starts passing everyone again. At the end the rusted brick starts smoking and is eventually out of the race in a cloud of black smoke. Ships5, 9, 10, 6, and 12 are still holding on to the lead but 2 and 13 have joined them in a leader cluster at top speed. They’re moving fast yet Ricio is gaining.
“This is where the power of good tech comes into play. Look at the Silver Sickle. He is gaining on the leaders and with 50 more kilometers to go on the long straight, it’s a sure bet he will pass them all.”
“No doubt Mando. And if we look at our virtual odometers here, we can see he is moving at 766kph, while the leaders only, 740kph.”
“He may be playing it cautious, but he does have a chance of breaking Hektor’s record. Lets see if he goes for it.”
“I would certainly love to see that, but as we have seen, Ricio has been very careful in this race. It doesn’t look like he’ll take any unnecessary chances.”
“And that’s smart. Look what happened to ship15. He fought for first too early and paid the price for it.”
“As did young Ricio in the last race. No doubt he has learned his lesson.”
“He has also done a good job sticking to the pylons. Hasn’t lost a point yet. The Black Cross on the other hand is down 120 points, which will affect the final score when reaching the finish line.”
“That’s right. He may sweep across the finish line first, but lose the race on point penalties.”
“And here comes the young Ricio in his beautiful Silver Sickle.”
Ship1 is moving fast. On this straight flat there is little danger other than overheating the ships or making a miscalculation with the steering. The ships are quite spread out, so there is little change of collisions. Ricio now starts passing the leaders. One by one he gets past them until he is in second position. The Black Cross is holding the lead and about a hundred meters to the right of Ricio, but as ship1 advances the Back Cross makes a sudden swing left, his trajectory now merging into Ricio’s path at 700kph. Rico flashes his eyes to the right, sees a dark streak headed directly into his path. At these speeds he reacts instantly and slams his breaks, far too much, slowing down to 500kph. There simply was no time to think or plan and the other leaders, that he just passed, now shoot past him like arrows.
“Ha-ha-ha.” Hondo laughs out loud. “I love this young rookie, but experience means everything.”
“Gavor, the pilot of the Black Cross, certainly knows how to use intimidation to control this race. That was a brilliant, if somewhat dangerous move.”
“Certainly was Mando.”
Ricio frustrated guns his ship. He quickly catches up again and starts passing the ships but then as he gets in position two he starts weaving gently. Ship5 does not react, and Ricio takes the lead. By the end of the long straight Ricio has gained at least a one kilometer lead, but now they have to make a hard turn left and north-east, into the dunes. Like over the salt sea, they have to deal with waves, but this time frozen unmovable mounds of sand. At their speeds the distances are deceptive, and there’s something about the sand that makes it appear further than it is. Once again Ricio has to slow down. By the end of the Dunes he is once again trailing at the end with only the Horseshoe behind him. Even the Green Orb has passed him.
For the rest of the race Ricio can not recover. The Low Canyon proves just as challenging. Then in the east hills he starts catching up with the Green Orb, but around a hill, the biggest Baobab tree around suddenly comes into view. The Orb swings out to go around it but one if his four engines clips it, and the Orb spins out of control than crashes into the hillside. Ricio just barely makes it past him, while some debris slam into his ship at 400kph. He slows down even more. The Horseshoe is now on his tail as they exit the Eastern Hills. With a 15km straight shot to the finish line, Ricio guns it and immediately starts passing the tail end racers, but by the time he gets behind ship13, the leaders ship5, the Black Cross, ship9 the Red Menace, ship6 the Streamliner, ship12 the Pear Beauty, and ship10 the Blackeye cross the finish line. Ricio and ship13 the Winged Cone cross the line nearly side by side, with ship13 just an arm’s length ahead leaving Ricio and his Silver Sickle in 7th place.
“Wow what a race!” Gono shouts.
“Yeah, it was really good, but that crash ruined it.”
“You mean the first one, 15?” They keep talking as both climb out of the cove, with Gono giving Mykee a hand.
“Yup. I really liked that guy, The Ghost. Mysterious, with a junkyard of a ship, but man what a pilot. I’m certain he was Carpati. But now he’s dead. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have another Carpati win the race?”
“Yeah it would have, but I honestly don’t think he would have stood a chance.”
“The long straight. He would have fallen so far behind, even with all his skill he would not have caught up. Plus Gavor looks to be a damn good pilot himself. He did a good job piloting the Black Cross. He’ll do well in the finals. Where did Andee and Nayaa go?” Gono changes subject as he looks around.
“They were by that boulder.” Mykee points but they’re not there any more.
“Behind you.” Gono jumps back startled.
“Damn it. I hate it when you sneak up on me like that. You ok?”
“Yeah I’m fine.” Andee responds.
“You goanna watch the final?”
“Yeah, sure. Did ship1 qualify?”
“Nope. But the top six did. Ship1 just barely missed it. Maybe Gavor, the guy piloting ship5 might win and become a new champion. We haven’t had a good consistent pilot since the days of Hektor.”
“I don’t like that guy.” Andee muses. “In fact, I’m going to watch these finals in the hope he crashes.”
“He might, he’s reckless. He crossed the line first but only got third position. The Red Menace won. Gavor lost too many points, mainly because of his battle with the Ghost. So you could say the Ghost put him in third place.” Mykee lifts his brows with satisfaction.
“I like the sound of that.” Andee ads.
“Ok, my credits are on a win.” Gono counters. “I think he’ll win the whole thing. Lets see what happens.”
The final is about to start. It’s still daylight, with only an hour before last horizon when the twilight sets in. The final is a ten lap race that’s usually three hours, but can last up to four hours. After the short intermission everyone gets back in place, with the four back in the cove.
A nudge against her right foot startles Nayaa awake. She rises up from her comfortable corner and looks at everyone.
“It’s over.” Andee informs her.
“Really? I just fell asleep.”
“No you’ve been sleeping for over three hours.”
“Really? With all this noise? So we weren’t at the prave? Cuz that’s where I’ve been this whole time.”
“Nope, that’s were we’re going.” Gono adds excited. “You guys are coming right?”
They all begin to climb down from the cove.
“I don’t know, Maybe.” Andee answers unsure as they head out mingling into the crowd.
“Ah come on you know you want to go.”
“I have to take Mykee home.”
“No you don’t. Don’t you usually go home on your own?” Gono turns to Mykee.
“Nah, I’ll take him home.”
“Fine, but you’re coming to the prave afterwards right?”
“Don’t know. I’ll decided later.”
“Are you serious? Come on man. Sometimes the pilots come to hang out there after the races. And well… there might be someone there waiting for you.”
“Now that I think about it, I’ll pass.”
“Aw-you’ve got to be kidding. Now you’re afraid she’ll be there? Maybe she won’t, but even if she is, who cares.”
“I’m going. Can I come with you?” Nayaa asks Gono, to which he reacts a bit surprised.
“Yeah of course, sure.”
“I’ll see you guys later. I’ll walk Mykee home. Come on.” Andee nods to Mykee and both start walking away just as Dirin and his buddies walk up.
“OK man, but you’re coming. I’m going to be expecting you!” Gono shouts over the people at Andee and Mykee as they disappear in the crowd.
“Forget him dude. I don’t know why you still want to hang out with that loser?” Dirin speaks taping Gono on the shoulder. Nayaa is staring at him with knife-blade eyes. He is avoiding her gaze.
“Yeah, whatever dude. He’s a good guy, I don’t know why you always have to be a jerk to him.” Dirin just shrugs.
“So you coming to the prave with us or what?” Dirin asks Gono.
“Yeah I am, and so is Nayaa. She’s coming with us.” Gono responds with a gentle smile to her. Dirin has been avoiding looking at her the whole time. He finally looks up and makes eye contact. She is already locked on him, slicing and dicing him with her glare. Dirin takes a deep breath.
“Nayaa I owe you an apology, and he extends his hand.” Nayaa is visibly taken aback, surprised by his sudden change of demeanor. “In our last meeting I was very disrespectful. You have definitely matured since I last saw you in school, and I apologize for being so rude and insensitive.” Nayaa’s eyes soften but now look more mystified. Dirin is standing there, hand outstretch awaiting the shake.
“OK, cool. But if you want me to apologize for ringing your bells, it won’t happen.”
“Oh no-no, I totally deserved that. No, not at all. I just want to make peace with you. I was wrong.”
“O-kay.” She turns her face with a slight suspicious glare as she reaches out to shake his hand.
“Sorry. I promise I won’t be a jerk any more.”
“Yes, I promise I’ll be respectful to you.”
“And Andee, sure.”
“Hmm, OK, that’s cool.”
“Are we all friends now?” Gono intervenes pleased.
“Sure, why not. So we’re all going to the prave, no?” Nayaa asks looking at both Gone and Dirin.
“Absolutely.” Dirin responds becoming more lively. “And in fact I would like to invite you as my guest.”
“But I’m already going.”
“I know. But I would like to make it up to you. For how I behaved last time. In fact, I was hoping… to be perfectly honest, that maybe, if you would like, you know… maybe we could spend some time together, get to know one another.”
“Huh?” Nayaa seems baffled, frowning, not understanding.
“I’d like treat you to a berry-fizz, if that would be ok?”
“Tonight we’ll hand out at the prave. All of us. But maybe tomorrow or some other day, I can invite you out, just you and me. If that’s ok?”
Nayaa is staring at him with a frown. Gono is staring at both of them with big round shocked eyes.
“Are you asking me out?” It finally dawns on Nayaa, but she’s still frowning with a confused and angry looking glare.
“Ah, I mean, ah-yeah sure. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I just want to make up for being rude to you.”
“Hmm.” Nayaa muses as she looks off to the side. “Maybe she was right.” Mumbles under her breath. “OK. Maybe.”
“Oh, really, great.” Dirin reacts surprised. Gono looks furious but impotent.
“Or maybe not. I’m not sure, I don’t know. Can I just think about it?” Nayaa is suddenly struggling, fiddling with her hair, looking confused
“Yeah sure. No pressure. Listen, lets just go to the Prave, hang out, have fun, and tomorrow will be a new day.”
“Ok, cool, Yeah, lets do that.”
“Great. I can’t wait to see you break the floor with your amazing acrobatic dancing. You’re quite a sight to behold on the dance floor.” Dirin focuses his attention entirely on Nayaa his own excitement growing.
“Hmm. Ok.” Looking at Dirin and his buddies behind him. “You guys go ahead I’ll catch up with you, I just…” But loses her words. Dirin nods his head and drags his buddies away. Gono turns to follow but with no energy, straggling behind the guys. He looks pissed. He’s literally red in the face. Nayaa grabs him by the shoulder and stops him from following. He struggles to look normal as he turns to her.
“Hey G, was that flirting? Is that what he was doing?”
Gono stares at her for a moment, struggling to contain his real feedings. “Yeah.” He finally answers with a meek voice.
“Really?” She responds than looks away from Gono and muses out loud. “So she was right.”
“I’m sorry, but who was right?” Gono asks Nayaa but she is still just thinking out loud, and responds, but mostly musing and not directly to Gono.
“So every time guys kept offering to buy me berry-fizz they were flirting with me. And this whole time, I thought they were implying I looked dehydrated or something, and were making fun of me.” She turns and locks eyes with Gono. “Got it was pissing me off. Man, and I was so mean to most of those guys because I thought the were screwing with me, but they were just flirting. Crap. No wonder I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Ah, ok, I guess. I don’t know…” Poor Gono looks utterly confused.
“Dude!” She shouts and whacks Gono gently in his arm. “Andee’s mom is a genius.”
End of Chapter 6
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Lightship Chronicles is an science fiction adventure that follows our young protagonists as they unveil misery after mystery of the world they live in. Their main focus and entertainment are the lightship races, but behind the races, behind the peace that exists between the poor Carpati and the powerful Bitani there lies a cold dark mystery.