Saturday, April 30, 2016
For each NEW race the course follows the same 10 segments, but never the same exact path. Each race is determined by where the floating pylons have been placed. Each hovers roughly 10 meters above ground and are spaced one kilometer apart. Each vertical cylinder is two meters tall and half a meter wide. The lower half of the cylinder has bands of colored lights. Red is smack in the middle, and the only one currently lit up, meaning there is no race in progress. There is only one other band of light above red, and that's the yellow warning signal during crashes, or other issues. The rest of the lights run below red in bands from orange, yellow, white, soft green and then bright green at the very bottom which means the race is on.
The pylons are in fact the race course. Pilots have to stick close to them. The further away a lightship veers from a pylon the more points are lost. Not only are they racing against opponents, but to guarantee a win a pilot has to pass under each pylon no further than 10 meters out on either side. More than once in past races, a pilot finished first only to lose the race because of veering too far off circuit, incurring penalty points. With every 10 meters out from a pylon, a point is lost per pylon, and with 500 to 600 pylons, depending on the circuit setup, that could equal to a lot of lost points. Even with the rule of 1 second for every 100 points, over a full race, especially a 3 lap championship race, many seconds can be lost on penalty points.
Here's a detailed description of the Lightship Race Circuit from Chapter 6 : The Junker
On screen, two mid thirties male announcers, in sharp modern suits and 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, and on either side of a flat table-like display projecting up a 3D image. The display between them is showing individual portions of each section of the course, their statistics, along with snippets of lightships either racing by or crashing. It seems that most of the footage is filmed from the pylons, so the viewers get to see the lightships coming at, under, and past the pylon recording them. There are also more distant angles from above and beyond the pylons, showing large sections of the course with the distant lightships 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.
"Yes Mando, 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 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 on the other side of the outcrop."
"The lightships 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 an 8km long gentle curve past the Township's West Market, turning the lightships to the north, only about a kilometer away from the Carpati stands."
"The perfect distance to see the lightships hit nearly top speed into the 600kph range. From there, the lightships make a hard left turn into the Crags."
"Ah yes, Section 5 the Killer Crags. More lightships 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 lightships 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 make it in the Crags."
"You're certainly right there Hondo. The Crags are a horrendous maze of huge canyons between eroded stone pillars, some 2000 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 100 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 just before the wave crashes completely."
"It's certainly a sight to behold, on one hand, but a complete horror during storms. Lightships 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 lightships ride the 3m waves, and most should have no problem traversing the Salt Sea to head into Section 7, The Long Straight."
"If speed you want, speed you get."
"That's right Hondo. Here the lightships 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 lightships and those that can't keep up, so even a rookie like Ricio could break the record with a lightship 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 lightships get lost and entombed in the pyramids of sand."
"Lightships 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 and 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, back to Section 1-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 year olds 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 lightships are off!
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Book 1 : Sacred Warriors
copyright©2015 Florin Nicoara
Adinaa is nervously pacing back and forth, walking in circles, with a worried expression on her face. Past her, Mirceu and Old Tom are sitting on a bench between two of the many whitestone pillars in the courtyard of the Bitani Friendship Center. Old Tom is leaning forward, a bit stiff, with his elbows on his knees. He's rubbing his hands, squeezing and rubbing one in the other, with the same rough tension clear on the muscles of his face. Next to him Mirceu looks more relaxed, somewhat distracted by his surroundings. He is looking up at the plants on top of the pillars, but a darkened glass door opens in the stone wall across from them, drawing his eyes down. Andee steps out followed by Nayaa. They look healthy but deflated. They're walking without their usual vigor, heads down, and as sad as two lost puppies. Adinaa rushes to them. Old Tom and Mirceu rise from the bench and follow. Adinaa grabs Andee in a big hug, but then steps back and holds him by the shoulders.
"Are you OK?" She asks with a mother's concern.
"Yeah mom, I'm OK, I'm good." Andee responds deflated, still looking down. Adinaa nods and reaches with her right hand to Nayaa, and gently rubs her right cheek.
"How about you?" Adinaa asks her. Nayaa nods but her eyes glaze quickly. She starts crying. Adinaa moves over and pulls the sixteen year old into a hug. Nayaa wraps her arms around, and holds on tight.
"You look a lot better. Far better than last night." Tom speaks while gently patting Andee on the shoulder. "Did they tell you what your injuries were?"
Andee nods and responds with a soft voice. "I had a broken rib. My left check bone was cracked, and Nayaa's leg was almost broken."
"But you're healed now." Tom continues.
"Yeah, mostly. They said take it easy. The bone is still soft where it was broken, but in a few days everything should be back to normal."
Adinaa pulls away from Nayaa who starts wiping her eyes with her sleeves. "Sorry. I thought I was a woman now... but I guess I'm still a little girl." She responds as she dries her face with her hands. Andee puts his left arm around her shoulders and pulls her in. Doesn't say anything, just rubs the outer part of her left arm.
"Hey." Adinaa speaks. "You are a young woman. OK? I'm not exactly sure what happened, but you're not a little girl." And out of nowhere Adinaa whacks Andee hard in the side of his head startling him. "How many times did I tell you not to get into fights because one day you'll pick on the wrong person." She yells at her son, while Andee snaps back surprised but doesn't say a word.
Nayaa immediately jumps between mother and son. "It's not his fault! It was my fault."
"You two need to stop getting into fights. I've been lenient with you two before because you've always come home without a scratch, but I've heard of some of the trouble you've stirred. People around town talk. Especially you." She points accusatory towards Andee. He looks down without a word.
Old Tom looks at Andee with a strong inquisitive glare. Andee is still looking at the ground in front of his feet despondent. "You said you were attacked by some guy. You two train in my yard all the time." Tom asks with a suspicious glint. "You're saying one man put you in the state you were in when you got to my yard last night?"
Andee looks up. "Can we just leave. I don't want to talk about this right now. I'm hungry." And with that Andee walks off. Nayaa immediately takes off after. Old Tom turns his gaze to Adinaa. Both stare at each other, long and deep, with a weight far greater than that of just concerned parents.
Brandberd is in his office, feet up on his desk, and leaning back in his chair. He looks relaxed, almost pleased. The Commander is sitting across from him, but doesn't look so cheerful. He is wearing his sentinel armor. It's black and glistening like obsidian. It's highlighted with blue lines, and other geometric accents, on the chest plate and around the shoulders representing his superior training and rank.
"Have you spoken with your operative yet?" Brandberd asks.
"He got hurt pretty bad didn't he?" Brandberd counters with an almost satisfied grin.
"He may have, sir?"
"Are you sure he's the real deal? He nearly got taken out by two kids. Had the girl's blow been... just a bit higher, to the back of his head--instead of center back, he would have been killed. He survived by pure luck." Brandberd counters with a condescending glare at the Commander. "I think your operative's a fraud. And he's costing me a lot of credits."
"No sir he's the real deal, but you saw how they fought. Those are not normal kids."
"Do you doubt they're being trained now?"
"No sir. But to be fair sir, I knew they were training in that old stick fighting martial art, but I thought, that was it. I had no idea it went beyond that."
"That's right. You had no idea. What other things do you have no idea of? This is not good."
"No sir." The Commander looks a tad meek.
"Their stick fighting instructor? You insisted he is not one of them, yet now we know they call it Parza. You think that's a coincidence?"
"Sir, no I don't. I'll have him arrested today."
"You'll do no such thing."
"Pardon me sir?"
"I told you. I want to win this kid's trust. If we go around arresting his family and friends, forget about it. And if this Sensei character is training them in more than stick fighting, you think he'll just crack under pressure and tells us?"
"I understand sir..." But the Commander is interrupted by a soft chime. Brandberd turns to the door. "Come in." The doors open and Ricio steps in. His facial expression is clear. He does not want to be there. "Come, join us son."
Stiff and unfriendly, Rico approaches and stops by the oval desk. He completely ignores the Commander as he stares down his reclining dad.
"Sit down." Brandberd casually waves at him to have a seat next to the Commander.
"I'm fine standing. What do you want?"
"Watch." Brandberd taps his desktop and a 3D hologram appears. It's of Andee and Nayaa attacking the man in blue. In the hologram the man is completely visible. At no time does any part of him become invisible. The image starts at the point where Andee starts hand springing forward. The man was leaning against the wall watching casually. He looked relaxed, until Andee sprung into action, that's when he steps away from the wall. At that moment, Andee attacks, swinging his staff back. The man barely manages to duck under, but it's too late for his foot. Nayaa nails him in the back of his left calf throwing his leg forward in the air. The man seems surprised by the attack and leaps to the side, up off his right leg, flipping over his injured left foot. He lands on his good foot but stumbles and falls down. Ricio frowns at the image in disbelief.
"Is that Ande...?" Ricio tires to speak but can't finish his words.
"That's your friend... and his little girlfriend." Brandberd responds, but Ricio is absorbed and mesmerized by the holographic battle. He watches it to the end... jaw dropped. The image finally cuts off, a little after the point where the man first squats down over Andee and Nayaa sprawled on the ground. He looks down at them, leans towards Andee, but never vanishes. Instead, rises up and struggles to walk away. He's got a severe limp, and ends up using his staff as a crutch. He looks just as injured as Andee and Nayaa.
"What is this? Who's the guy in the blue robe?" Ricio looks up at his dad horrified.
"Don't act foolish son. You know we have eyes everywhere on the Carpati to make sure they don't start the troubles again."
"OK, but I still don't understand."
"Your friend, Andee, attacked our man. Look what he did to him."
"Look what he did to them." Ricio counters. "And what was that crazy light weapon he was using? Is that seriously a sacred warrior?" Ricio asks shocked.
"No son. It's what you will become in the future. A Husarii."
"That man is a Husarii? Husarii are not light benders, sacred warriors are." Ricio counters.
"And where do you think the myth of the sacred warriors came from?" Brandberd looks hard at Rico.
"Are you serous?" Ricio counters with an equally hard stare
Brandberd nods. "There was a time when the Husarii were out in the open. But now it works in our favor for them to be mysterious warriors with untold powers. Hopefully one day all Carpati will be faithful followers of the Brothers of Bitani, and their powerful sacred warriors."
For a moment Ricio stares at his dad as if he is from outer space. Looks at the frozen hologram of the man in blue limping away, than back at his dad. "You're telling me that when I become a Husarii, I'll be able to do that?" Pointing at the frozen hologram of the blue man.
"That depends, if you train hard enough."
"Can you? You went through the training." Ricio forcefully asks his dad, but Brandberd reacts by puffing up with a deep breath, suddenly looking displeased.
"It's a life time of training to get to that level." The Commander cuts in.
"So you can't." Ricio responds to his dad, still ignoring the Commander.
"My level of training is not important." Brandberd responds dismissively.
"How about you Commander? Are you a true Husarii?" Ricio finally turns his eyes to the amour clad soldier.
"You will find out if you complete your regime. If you can excel beyond your Sentinel training then we'll see if you can cut it as a Husarii." The Commander counters Ricio, and for the first time exuding total confidence. Ricio stares back at him defiantly.
"I'm already better trained than most of your Sentinels. Didn't I put your best in their place during the last trial?" Ricio scoffs at the Commander who remains stoic with no reaction.
"Son, focus." Brandberd cuts the tension. "I showed you this for a reason. You trust this Carpati kid, for whatever reason. I told you who his father was, and it didn't phase you. Now look at him. He's already way ahead of you in Husarii training. Where did he learn it? Did he tell you about it? Why is he so good? What's he planning? Who is he working with?"
Ricio is staring at the desk stone cold and stumped. He literally looks locked in place by frustration. Seems not to know whether to speak, to stay, to go, or what.
Adinaa places two hot bowls of soup in front of Nayaa and Andee. Old Tom and Mirceu are next to them, on the front wall sofa enjoying soup from their own bowls. Mykee and Lykon are on the side wall sofa, studying some schematics on his white panel. Adinaa seats in a chair facing the two sad and quiet teens with a bowl for herself.
"They cleaned up your clothes pretty good. Did they put you in that weird sound chamber?" Mirceu breaks the tense silence between spoon-fulls out of his extra large bowl.
After taking a sip of his soup Andee responds. "That, and they used some kind of hand vacuums to clean us up before they put us into those healing machine."
"I've been in that thing before." Mirceu continues. "Back in the day when I was a boxer, I had to use it a few times. Pretty weird experience. You feel almost nothing. A little tingling, but after a few hours, you come out with no cuts, no bruises. Pretty nifty."
"I thought you never lost a fight." Andee responds with a frown.
"I didn't, but that don't mean I didn't get hurt. I got hurt plenty of times." Mirceu nods as he speaks.
"If you'd been there, you'd have broken that blue weirdo in two." Nayaa scoffs without looking off her bowl.
"I doubt that." Mirceu continues. "I'm strong, but you two are much better fighters than me, with those Parza skills of yours."
"Yeah, some skills." Nayaa scoffs. "We're alive because he let us live. He just vanished, like a ghost into thin air. If he wanted, he could have killed us." And she focuses back on her bowl of soup despondent.
Old Tom looks at Nayaa with a squint. "What do you mean, he just vanished into thin air?" She looks up to Tom than quickly to Andee, but he ignores her, focused on eating his soup. "And you said blue weirdo. I don't understand." Old Tom continues, but Nayaa turns back to her bowl and continues eating her soup ignoring Tom.
Adinaa and Tom look at each then back at their two teenagers who are feverishly eating their soups, faces leaning over their bowls, as if trying to hide in them.
"All right. What the hell is going on again?" Adinaa interjects with a more assertive tone. Mykee looks up from his panel to watch the drama. Andee and Nayaa continue slurping their soup ignoring Adinaa. "Fine. I'm taking those staff's away and neither of you are allowed to leave the house without me, Tom, or Mirceu along." Adinaa finishes her words with a strong glare at them, but no reaction from the two.
Old Tom reaches out and rubs Andee's left shoulder. "You know we're keeping secrets from you. We've told you a few things but not everything. Now you're keeping secrets from us. This isn't going to work. I think it's time for all of us to start trusting each other, and clear the air." Adinaa stares at Old Tom concerned. He nods at her, and she responds with a deep breath. Andee finally looks up at Old Tom.
"I don't know who he was, but he was wearing a blue robe. Those Brothers of Bitani, the ones in front of your yard, they told me their high priest wears a blue robe. Maybe he was one of them."
"He was a sacred warrior." Nayaa ads. Old Tom frowns. Adinaa does not react. Mirceu respond with bright round eyes of awe.
"Are you serious?" Mykee shouts wide eyed himself. Nayaa looks up to him and nods her head in agreement.
"A sacred warrior?" Old Tom interjects with disbelief in his tone and on his face.
Andee shakes his head disapprovingly. "Nah, he wasn't a sacred anything. Just a man with Bitani tech."
"You don't know that." Mykee interjects.
"Of course I do. He even told me his name."
Nayaa turns to Andee with a frown. "He did?"
Andee nods. "He said he was Husarii."
"He said what?" Old Tom's eyes lock on Andee, but then quickly tries to dispel his shock.
"So he has a name. Doesn't mean sacred warriors can't have names." Nayaa continues, but Andee is focused on Tom and his reaction.
"Wow, you two fought a sacred warrior. No way!" Mykee's voice echoes excited. "That's crazy. So they do exist. I knew it. And he was way tougher than you two."
"I know." Nayaa responds. "We're nothing. He wiped the dust with us. We're so stupid. We thought we we're something, but we're nothing." And her eyes glaze over again.
"Nayaa stop." Adinaa cuts in. "If that man is a real sacred warrior it changes things. I don't like you two fighting but we live in a crazy world. I realize that sometimes you don't have a choice. I was mad earlier, but... you should be proud of yourselves. A regular person would not have survived someone like that." Adinaa is suddenly consolatory. Andee finally takes his eyes away off Tom and looks at his mom suspicious, surprised by her instant change of attitude.
"A regular person would not have chased after him. We did." Nayaa rubs her eyes fighting the urge.
"Well, take it as a lesson." Adinaa continues, leaning forward on her forearms, over the edge of the table, towards Nayaa. "Now you see why we've been keeping secrets from you. There are things even we can't understand. I always thought sacred warriors were a myth, and here you two got attacked by one. The more curious you are, the more problems you discover. There's so many things in this world that we can't understand. That's why we did our best to protect you from them. We thought that by not knowing about them, by being normal kids, you wouldn't draw attention. That's what we were trying to achieve. We never meant to hurt you. Or put you in a situation where you would get hurt. But we failed, and I don't know how we could have done things different..." Adinaa's words cut off as her eyes glaze over this time. She's suddenly overwhelmed by emotion. Nayaa immediately leaps off the bench and grabs Adinaa in a hug, lifting her up off the chair..
"Mom, it's not your fault." Andee responds to Adinaa without getting up.
"We don't blame you." Nayaa adds holding the hug a moment longer before moving back to the bench. "We're nosy. We stuck out our noses... and he broke them." Nayaa than grabs her nose, twists it, rubs it, checks to see if it's still broken. She exaggerates her gestures with a slight comic aura. Andee cracks a smile, which forces Adinaa to do the same even though her eyes are now wet with tears. She wipes them quickly and takes a deep breath clearing the knot in her chest.
"Oh Nayaa." She then leans in, grabs Nayaa by the sides of her head and gently taps Nayaa's forehead with her own, like a forehead kiss. "Thank you. I don't know how you do it, but you have the ability to put a smile on my face. Even when you frustrate me, I somehow always end up laughing." Adinaa finishes her words with a big smile. The mood is so intoxicating. Andee follows with his own smile followed by Old Tom and Mirceu.
"Whoa!" Mykee shouts and leaps off the bench away from Lykon--who suddenly turned into Ricio. Everyone else snaps their gaze to him, all looking at the hologram of Ricio horrified.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but Andee, I need to talk to you." Holographic Ricio is looking at Andee concerned.
"What is this?" Adinaa asks shocked and horrified. "How... can...?"
"I'm sorry, I really am." Holographic-Ricio turns to Adinaa. "But I have to talk to Andee, in person." Turning his holo-face to Andee. "Please meet me, same place as last time. Today. Right after horizon." And Ricio morphs back into Lykon. Everyone stares at one other and Lykon unsure for a moment.
"Turn that thing off!" Adinaa snaps at Mykee. He quickly shuts off Lykon. "What the hell is going on here? I want that thing out of the house." Adinaa points in a panic at the floating white orb. "Tom, what' happening? Have we failed? Is this the end for us?" Adinaa is looking at Tom despondent.
Andee jumps to his feet. "Mom, calm down. It's OK." And grabs her in a hug. "It's fine."
"No, no it's not fine. Everything we've done is unraveling." And she runs off into her bedroom.
Andee, a bit taken aback, turns to Tom. "What's she talking about?"
"She's upset. All this tech, and the stuff you two are up to, it's got me real concerned too. I told you that orb was dangerous. I had no idea it could do that. Now imagine how your mom feels, seeing that Bitani appear in your house, and he could see her. I don't like that thing."
Mykee's eyes are moving fast between Old Tom and Andee and he looks concerned. "I'm not letting you guys take Lykon away from me. No way. He's the best friend I've ever had, and I'm learning so much. No way."
"For now just power it down, completely. And, burry it in the linen chest in our room until we sort this out." Andee orders his little brother.
Mykee rushes with the white orb to their bedroom. Andee turns to Tom. "All right, lets clear the air. Why did you react like that when I said his name was Husarii?"
"Not here. In my shed."
"Andee, we still have to get that cloth for my aunt." Nayaa interjects.
"I forgot about that. All right. We'll come by your shed later. I'll meet up with Ricio first and see what he wants, but when we meet in your shed, everything comes out on the table." Andee drives his point with hard eyes. Old Tom nods in agreement.
Andee and Nayaa are in the West Market. It's busy as usual. All kinds of people milling about. Alcamas and their carts hauling stuffs. Stalls and their sellers pitching their goods. Pure organized mayhem. Andee and Nayaa are off to the side from the mayhem, leaning against an adobe wall. They are by the entrance of one of the many industrial row shops there.
"My aunt is pissed at me because I didn't get her cloth yesterday. Or any berry-fizz."
"Did you tell her what happened?"
"Yeah, but she doesn't care. She didn't see me hurt, so like usual, she said it was my fault." Nayaa counters with a sad pout.
"I'll tell her."
"What's the point, she doesn't care. It's why I went after the berry-fizz in the first place. She needs it for her customers. That's why she has so many now, ooohhh-free stuff, and she's behind on the work."
"Send some over to my mom. She's really good at making clothes, but she hasn't had any orders in a while."
"I will. But now I need to get that cloth, to get her off my back."
Andee nods. "What's taking them so long?" He asks getting inpatient.
"I'll check again." But as Nayaa lifts off the wall to head for the entrance, she makes eye contact with a large man, about 20 meters away and staring at her. She turns military style to the left, snatching her head around and heads for the door, but then stops. She snatches round to the right, one-eighty, and walks back to Andee.
"That fat guy's been staring at us the whole time."
"What's his deal?"
"I will. He's getting on my nerves. And if he's working for the blue guy..." Nayaa retorts then spins towards the big man, again snatching her head round just fast enough to see a blue streak out of the corner of her eye, if it's there. But no blue streak, just the man. He is both tall and fat, and standing next to an over-packed alcama. She walks towards him holding eye contact, forcibly staring him down, but he won't break gaze. She's a bit surprised. She's used to forcing people's eyes away with her steely glare, so she snatches her head back to Andee who's leaning against the wall. He shrugs his bewilderment at her now that that it's obvious the large man is focused on Nayaa. Andee then snatches his head to the left than right. No sign of blue anywhere.
Nayaa stops about six meters from the big man. Does a quick left to right, no blue. "What do you want fat man?"
"I want that Parzor staff of yours." Pointing at her weapon. Nayaa taken aback looks over to Andee. He is equally surprised, and focuses a hard glare at the man.
"So you work for the man in blue?" Nayaa asks glaring at the fat guy.
He frowns. "I work for no man. Men work for me." And glares back at her with pride and an ego bigger than himself.
Nayaa twirls her lips to the side. The man seem to sincerely not know what she's talking about.
"Then how do you know about Parza?"
"I know Parzor staffs belong to Parzor Warriors, and they're usually not little girls." Nayaa turns to Andee again, this time her expression intonating; at first confusion, followed by, 'here we go again'.
"Ha-ha-ha." The man laughs with jolly. "You're not the first poser I've come across. You're just a kid so you probably don't know. Before the purge, many men walked around with antique Parzor staffs like that." Pointing to Nayaa's weapon. She frowns even more confused. "Oh-that's right little girl. You're not the first to think you could intimidate people by walking around with one of those." Nayaa looks back to Andee for a clue. He shrugs his shoulders with wide eyes. Doesn't know what this guy is talking about.
She grabs her staff and snaps it open in a flash. The man reacts a bit surprised, but not concerned.
"So you've seen many of these before?" Nayaa asks with sincere curiosity.
"I have, and I'm not intimidated by a little girl with an old wooden stick."
"This little girl is a... Parz-a! Master herself." Nayaa emphasizes the correct pronunciation of her art.
"Really? You? A Parzor Warrior?" The man's belly bounces with his jolly laugh. "Than do your thing. Vanish." Nayaa frowns, once again surprised by his statement. She looks back to Andee. This time he jumps off the wall and leans forward, concentrating on the man who continues. "Just as I though. You stole that from some antique dealer, didn't you? Why don't you hand it to me. Along with all your credits, before you get hurt."
"Why do you want it fat man? It's too big for you to use as a toothpick... I think." Nayaa counters, her old self emerging.
The large overconfident man laughs with a jiggle of his fat belly. "They're valuable. They can fetch a mighty credit from the Bitani, if you know who the right buyers are."
"Really?" Nayaa responds genuinely surprised.
"Really, now hand it over."
"Your really want it? Like, you really want me to give it to you?" Nayaa's becoming more and more her natural self. The big man nods with a satisfied smirk. "Oh-kay. If that's what you really want. Why not? Sure. I'm in no mood to argue today. Here you go." She folds the staff and holds it out.
The fat man nods satisfied with himself and approaches waddling on his long legs, set wide apart by all his inner thigh fat. Around them an audience is forming. The man stops in front of Nayaa and reaches out to grab the folded staff, but Nayaa gently drops it between his spread out legs.
"Woops. What do you think fat man? Can you bend over and pick that up without falling on your face?" She asks with her toothy grin. The tall fat man snarls at her, but leans down to grab it. With him now bent over, Nayaa grabs his coat lapels, and swiftly drops-then-slides down under him, her weight pulling the man forward. She swings from the momentum clear under his crotch, grabs her staff, and is back on her feet behind him, fast enough to watch the man fall face first into the dirt. His big fat butt is up in the air. The growing crowd is howling with laughter.
The man struggles to get up at first. Nayaa snaps her staff open and whacks his butt. The enraged man grunts and leaps up so fast it's as if he left 100 kilos behind in his outrage. He spins to face Nayaa. He stares at her with murder in his eyes--from under all the orange dirt on his face. Nayaa on the other hand is looking at him with a goofy smirk, casually twirling her hair looking bored. The man is breathing like a bull, too steaming mad to speak the first few seconds.
"Did you fall? Or were you so hungry... you just had to eat dirt." Nayaa teases him with a mocking tone. Most of the audience howls with laughter, but some are starting to act concerned shouting warnings at Nayaa to be careful with this guy.
"You want to play little girl? I'll show you a game, with my blade." The man snarls, thick and throaty, while grinding his teeth which are also orange with dirt. He waddles as fast as he can to his overloaded alcama, then draws a huge curved sword from the pack. It's at least a meter and a half in length with the blade widest near the tip. It looks heavy and formidable but the man yields it with ease. "Now hand me that damned stick, or I'll cut you to pieces."
"Wow, that is a humongous knife!" Nayaa reacts genuinely shocked. "You must have really giant vegetables where you live. Is that why you're so big?" The audience giggles nervously, but most people are staring at Nayaa dumbfounded and shocked. 'Hey! That's Fat Mo. He's dangerous.' Several people from the crowd warn Nayaa. Apparently this man is well known and feared in this market, but Nayaa is unconcerned. She's not done playing with her new friend.
"This is not a knife child. This is a sword."
"Don't you know that metal weapons are forbidden? If the Bitani find out you have one of those... they might put you on a diet. You sure you could handle that?"
"You're a funny one. It's going to be a shame to cut you down. So be it." The man starts swirling his weapon to show off his skills. He may be a fat giant, but his hands are quite dexterous. The sword flies in figure eight loops so fast the blade is blended into a blur. He suddenly stops.
"Wow, that was impressive. For a fat dude you're pretty good. I really am impressed. Uh-uh-uh, I just had a genius thought." Nayaa suddenly bounces with excitement. "Hey! If I throw lots of berry fruit at you... you think you could chop them up into juice?" Nayaa asks with feigned curiosity and excitement.
The man gives her a hard look. "You don't amuse me any more. Save yourself some pain and hand over your credits and that staff."
"Nope. Not giving it." She shakes her head with eyes half closed, waving her thick curly hair back and forth in an exaggerated manner.
"Then I'll cut it out of your hand."
"What? Really?" She responds with exaggerated shock. The man takes an aggressive step forward. "Stop!" She yells putting up her left palm. "I like my hand. I don't want you to cut off my hand. Hey! How about we make up and become best friends? Please? And we can have fun. I'll teach you my Fruity Dance. It's awesome! You want to see it?"
"I don't dance with girls, but I'll take that pretty-boy friend of yours there, after I'm done cutting you here." Nudging towards Andee, who's eyes bug out of his head. Nayaa instantly starts laughing out loud as she turns to Andee.
"Whoa! Ha-ha-ha, and you just came out of the closet. Now I found you a boyfriend. Yeyyyy!" Nayaa yells with exaggerated excitement, then turns to the man. "You can have him! He's all yours. He'll dance with you." Nayaa rushes to Andee and starts dragging him away from the wall. "Go, he wants you." She nudges towards the man with a big grin on her face.
Fat Mo is baffled by what's happening, and relaxes out of his fighting stance. The audience is equally confused.
Andee heads out after Nayaa shoves him. He walks to the spot where she was standing.
"I'll hurt you too, pretty boy. Tell her to hand me that staff, and all of your credits."
"How about mine? You don't want my staff?"
"Who do you think you're fooling with that rope boy." The man snarls at him. Andee looks over his shoulder to Nayaa and both smirk.
"Hey, what did you mean when you said, vanish?" Andee asks with a penetrating glare at the man.
"I'm done talking. It's time to start cutting." The man lifts the sword up in his right hand. Andee grabs his staff, snaps it open, then swiftly swings himself with his staff into fight stance, all in one beautiful move. He does it with such grace and ease it looks surreal. For the first time Fat Mo shows an emotion different than anger and cockiness, concern. Not only is Andee's rope, not a rope, but the way he moved, it looks like he might be the real deal. Fat Mo suddenly looks nervous. He turns to the audience. They're still yelling, 'That's Fat Mo! Get him! He's a bastard! He robs us!' The crowd is reacting with a sense that maybe Fat Mo has finally met his match. They are encouraging Andee to destroy him.
Fat Mo looks back to Andee unsure. He takes a deep breath fueled by his pride. It's clear in his thuggish eyes, he is not going to concede to this kid. He makes two cross slashes with his sword to show his speed, power, and dexterity. Andee does not budge from his fight stance. Left elbow and knee out. Right foot back with the staff behind his right arm and over the back of his shoulder. Andee looks as rigid as a rock, but his eyes are calm, cool, and confident.
Fat Mo cautiously starts makings small steps towards Andee, his large sword pointing up. Andee is locked in his pose. His face calm but focused. His eyes glued on his target. It's an awesome sight. A giant man, more than twice the size of Andee, with a huge sword in his right hand looks timid and meek, while Andee looks so superb, so strong in his stoic stance, that is seems like no contest. The audience is stunned silent by the anticipation. No more yells. No more shouts.
Fat Mo bluffs an attack with a weak lunge forward, but Andee stands stoic as steel. Fat Mo's face is dripping with sweat. He is getting more and more nervous by the second, but he is committed. Andee suddenly stomps forward, just once, fencer style. Fat Mo flinches visibly, and freezes.
Andee casually rises upright, gently swinging his staff into attention stance. He drops one end in front of his feet, and bows gracefully to Fat Mo. Holds it for a couple of seconds then swings his staff up over his shoulder and around his back. Like Nayaa weeks before, Andee is now showing off his skill. He swings and whirls the staff all around his arms, neck, torso, all in between jumps, spins, and flips twirling himself, and his weapon around his body like a hula-hoop. It's an impressive sight of skill and focus. Fat Mo and the audience are enthralled, but the show is short. Andee swings back into fight stance in a final swift move.
Fat Mo is visibly trembling. He looks around at the crowd concerned. He stares at someone specific, and nudges with his chin towards Andee. Suddenly, five men emerge out of the crowd. All rough, grimy, criminal looking types. Three have thick, but not particularly straight staffs. Old dried branches that have aged into weapons. The other two have long braided leather whips. One has about ten marble sized metal balls, all in a row near the tip. The other has three inch long metal blades. The big guy gives them all a quick glance. The men look like Mo's crew, and have now spread out on either side of Andee. Nayaa, further back, perks up, her hand on her folded staff, but waits it out.
Before Fat Mo can finish his glances to his crew, Andee swings his right arm out, flinging the tip of his staff at near the speed of sound. It instantly makes contact with the inside of Fat Mo's right hand. It smashes into his finger tips, which are wrapped over the hilt, crushing them and instantaneously pushing the sword hilt through his palm shattering all the rest of the bones in his hand. The staff sweeps through Fat Mo's hand so fast, it launches the sword spinning wildly high into the air. Mo shrieks in shock, but before his brain can register the pain, Andee flips the momentum of his fast swinging staff, and reorients it back, its tip now flying from left to right. The tip smashes into Fat Mo's jaw. His bones shatter like glass from the high speed impact. The fat man falls to his knees, his body half in shock, blood and teeth spurting out of his mouth. The audience gasp from their own shook. It's all over in less than a second. The giant sword finally hits the ground behind Mo's men, just as Andee sweeps back into fight stance. It was so fast no one is exactly sure what happened. Andee gently rises upright with the staff behind his right arm, now pointing vertically
From Andee's right, the metal-marble tipped whip snaps at him. He leap out of the way. All five attack. The guys with the staffs are useless. They use them two handed, holding them like a bar, near the center, tweaking them back and forth attempting to hit Andee with the ends. The style is slow and lacks power. Andee swiftly defends against all three with his much quicker skills and style, while at the same time nailing each one in legs, arms, torso, not hard, just enough the make them hop and stumble in pain.
The guys with the whips are a bit more problematic. They stand further back and snap the metal loaded tips towards Andee. He has to physically move out of the way each time, or risk a bad cut. Blocking the whip with is staff would also be useless, since it would simply wrap around it, immobilizing Andee.
Nayaa is on the tip of her toes, ready to jump in, but Andee is handling it. She holds back. Unlike the fight with the man in blue, this time Andee is in total control. Even with five guys, and two with deadly whips, he's turned the battle into a game. He smashes the staff out the hands of one man. The guy lunges away, heading for Fat Mo's giant sword. He lifts it up but it looks a bit too heavy for him. It doesn't matter. He charges with all his might at Andee, just as the whip with metal blades comes at him. Andee has no choice but to catch the deadly tip with his staff. It wraps around the upper segment of his weapon. Andee immediately cartwheels on the tip of his staff, then yanks it with his momentum as he flips up onto his feet, pulling the whip taught--and the man holding it--towards him, just as the other man comes slashing down with his sword. It misses Andee but severs the whip in two, then the blade slams into the dirt. Andee follows with a swift swing of his staff, nailing the sword-master in the back of his thigh with great power. The man falls forward on his knees, then on top of his sword and face. He's groaning in pain with his mouth in the dirt, his leg badly injured.
Nayaa can no longer resist the itch. She tumbles forward then with a double somersault, snaps open her staff, just before she lands behind Andee. They're back to back surrounded by the four guys still standing. The duo begin another show of prowess, this time spinning their staffs in complex and fast swats without being able to see each other. Yet they move in absolute unison. As if they are a single machine now with 360 degree range. The four men finally realize they've stepped into something they shouldn't have. They look at each other concerned, but their pride is too strong. They wait out the impressive display, and the minute Andee and Nayaa stop, they attack. With the two of them now playing, the game is over soon. If they thought Andee was a challenge, Nayaa is worse. She is more aggressive and more cruel. There's real anger somewhere deep inside her, and she attacks them hard, smashing hands, feet, knees, and jaws. In seconds all four men are crawling in the dirt, bloodied and with broken bones.
Fat Mo is still on his knees. Andee folds his staff and rushes to him. Nayaa places her staff in attention stance, and looks at the bloody mess they made. The men that can walk drag their mates away. The audience roars in cheers and applause. Andee squats in front of Fat Mo, but he looks dazed and completely discombobulated.
"What did you mean, vanish?" Andee stares at him hard, but the man is gone. He is in shock. His jaw is shattered. No response is coming.
The people around start approaching, many hunched forward in gratitude. Some kicking and punching the injured guys, who are now struggling to remove themselves from the crowd.
"Thank you-We're grateful-Thank you so much." Everyone's shouting over everyone else. "He was horrible-Fat Mo terrorized us for months-He took our credits-As protection-From him!" All of them talking at the same time. Some are spitting on Mo while the rest are shouting and surrounding Andee and Nayaa grateful beyond measure.
"Thank you so much. You two are heroes. You saved us. Here." And the man hands them some cloth from his stall. Suddenly, all of them start giving them gifts. In minutes Andee and Nayaa are overloaded with clothes, tools, food, and all manner of things. Among the gifts there are a couple of baskets which are not enough to fit all the rest of the stuff given to them, so they share the excess with random people.
Overwhelmed and grateful, Nayaa and Andee thank everyone and toss up the full baskets onto their backs and head for home. They walk quietly out of the market while people continue to cheer and applaud them. Nayaa finally speaks as they head up a stairpath.
"You know, I feel better." She turns to Andee with a satisfied nod.
"Yeah, I guess we needed that."
"For sure. After what that blue weirdo did to us, I thought maybe we were losers. But now I feel like myself again. Plus we got lots of cool stuff." She ends her statement with a happy grin.
Andee nods, then glares at Nayaa. "Did you hear what that guy said? Vanish."
"Yeah, and he kept saying Parzor."
"I know." Andee mutters.
"Why do you think?"
"I have no idea." Andee responds and looks west at the giant red sun setting behind the Crags. "Look. We better hurry to your house. We don't have long until first horizon and we still have to get to dome rock." Nayaa nods and they start jogging up the stairpath with the full baskets on their backs.
Andee and Nayaa are resting on top of dome rock. Both have their Parza staffs attached to their tights. They seem relaxed, both looking up at the huge blackstone walls of the city up on top of table mountain.
"I never really looked at that thing. Those blackstone walls are huge."
"They're not walls."
"What are they?"
"I guess a foundation. Ricio's house is on the south side, right on the edge. There's no wall. The Salt Sea, the Crags, even the Bitani stands below, everything is visible from there."
"I want to visit his house. I want to see the whole city, actually."
"I know me too."
"Then lets sneak up there."
"Up that wall?" Andee points to the massive blackstone blocks.
"You said it wasn't a wall." Andee gives her an incredulous look. "Fine, whatever it is. We can climb that."
"I doubt it. Those blocks are huge, they're not like normal sized bricks... Oh-hey look!" And Andee points excitedly.
"Is that a lightship?" Nayaa asks.
"It's got to be Ricio. He's probably going to pull up in the driveway where the prave usually is." And like two giant ghimurs both, start hopping down the stone with relaxed ease. They skillfully clamber down to ground level just as the lightship pulls in. Andee stares at it a bit confused, but Nayaa is looking at it with a welcoming smile. It's not the Silver Sickle. It's a smaller ship, like the ones that usually park in front of the prave. It's beautiful, clean, and very similar to Ship12, the Pear Beauty. It stops in front of them. The canopy slides back, elegantly folding over the back. The lightship is now a convertible. Ricio jumps up off the seat and onto the pilot-side door sill.
"Hey guys. It's good to see you Nayaa." Ricio greets them. She responds with a big goofy shy smile.
"Where's your..." But Andee never finishes his sentence.
"Gone." Rico responds.
"How? What happened?"
"You happened." Ricio responds with a smirk. Andee looks at him with a frown. "My dad found out I brought you into our house. He took my racers away. I'm no longer a race pilot."
"What?" Is all Andee can say. Rico shrugs his shoulders. Andee is suddenly nervous-agitated. He looks around for a moment, takes a deep breath, and then continues. "I'm so sorry. I don't know what to do-what to say. This is all my fault."
"It's not your fault."
"Yeah it is. Man, I don't know what to do. I ruined your life. I don't... I don't know how to fix this. I'm so sorry man. I am so sorry." Andee is struggling to enumerate the ways in which he feels responsible. Nayaa puts her arm on his shoulder with a consoling look on her face.
"Andee!" Ricio snaps at him. "Hey, it's not your fault. It's my dad's fault. And I owe you an apology, but it looks like you're OK now." Ricio stares at them with a squint.
Andee returns the look with a confused glare. "Apology for what?"
"Here, let me show you."
Rico taps a vidrom like screen in the center of the steering-wheel. A 3D hologram appears over the dash. It's a recording of the fight. Andee and Nayaa watch themselves battling the man in blue wide eyed and shocked.
"Where did you get that?" Nayaa asks baffled.
"Those little recorders. They're still following us." Andee responds, and Ricio nods.
"I'm sorry guys, but my dad hired that weirdo to follow you guys around."
Andee stares at Ricio for a moment. "Why are you telling us this?"
"Because it isn't right. Nothing about his is right. I don't like what's going on between our people, and I don't get it. It doesn't make sense."
Andee nods but doesn't know what to say. Nayaa on the other hand is admiring the lightship, especially the interior. Unlike the racer, which is spartan and functional, this ship is luxury exemplified. The interior is elegant and profoundly ornate. Nayaa takes in the details, looks like she's about to say something, but then hesitates. Ricio catches her looking.
"Want' to jump in?"
"Me?" Nayaa looks at him with a shocked but beaming smile. "Of course." And she leaps over the side into the passenger seat. She looks around amazed. She starts touching the soft leather on the arm rests, but then snatches her hand away and looks at Ricio. "Can I?" She asks timid. Ricio nods with a smile. Nayaa is enthralled by the beauty of the interior.
Ricio looks up to Andee. "Jump in. I know you guys want a ride." Andee jumps in the back seat.
Ricio takes them on a ride first heading towards the Crags, now aglow with orange light from the setting sun behind them. Andee and Nayaa are in a beautifully lit heaven as Rico leaves solid ground and make a huge turn over the Salt Sea. He pushes the civilian ship up to 400kph as he heads back onto land. He flies between the mesas and rides up sideways on the long curve. Nayaa shouts in excitement with a huge smile on her face. She's clearly having the time of her life. Andee is equally happy in the back seat. After about ten minutes of riding around the mesas, Ricio slows down to a comfortable 100kph and continues their conversation.
"So who's that guy following us?" Andee asks leaning forward between the two front seats.
"I don't know." Ricio responds looking at Andee in his rearview mirror.
"But your dad hired him."
"Actually, it was the Commander, the man in charge of the Sentinels. But yes my father gave the order."
"Why? I don't understand. Why is he following us?"
"Can I ask you something first?"
"Why did you attack that man?"
"Because..." But Andee stumbles.
"We didn't attack him." Nayaa interjects.
"I'm sorry Nayaa but in that recording he was just leaning against that wall when both of you attacked him."
"Yeah, but if you look at the recording earlier, you'll see that we were just trying to figure out where he was." Nayaa counters.
"Unfortunately, I don't have more of the recording. This is all my father gave me."
"OK, I guess we did attack him." Andee answers. "But that's only because we were trying to catch him.
"Yeah we didn't want to hurt him. That's why I hit him in the foot. So he couldn't run." Nayaa ads.
"Why didn't you just talk to him?" Rico asks.
"Because he was invisible?" Nayaa answers nearly annoyed. Ricio turns to her with a frown.
"Can you play that recoding again." Andee intercedes a bit agitated. Ricio restarts it. They watch the whole thing again without a word.
"What the hell is going on?" Andee shouts.
"This is messed up." Nayaa adds.
"What are you two talking about?" Rico counters confused.
"He's not invisible!" Nayaa responds agitatedly pointing at the 3D display with both open hands. Ricio stares at her suspicious.
"When we fought him he was invisible." Andee continues.
"I don't understand. How could you fight him if he was invisible" Ricio asks confused.
"I'm telling you. He was invisible. We're not lying." Nayaa insist becoming agitated. "Look at the beginning, before the fight started. You can see how we were searching for him.
"I told you. This is all I have."
"Then your father must have the rest." Andee ads.
"Look at the people." Nayaa interjects excitedly pointing at the replaying 3D image. "Look at them. You can tell they couldn't see him. They thought we were fighting each other, high on cactii."
"I don't know. It's not that I don't believe you, but look at the fight. You guys are on him the whole time. If he was invisible how did you know were he was?"
"Because we figured it out. I mean we could see him, but it wasn't easy." Andee struggles flustered. "I'm not lying. I'm telling you he was invisible."
"OK-OK I believe you. But I still, don't understand why you attacked him."
"Because..." But Andee loses steam again. He's getting more and more frustrated. "I didn't attack him. He... was after us."
"You don't understand." Nayaa ads.
"Well, explain it." Ricio counters.
"We didn't attack him. He was following Andee around, but invisible. Andee saw him twice, and I thought he was being crazy. I made fun of him because I didn't see anyone, but then that day I did. Only for a second."
"Still doesn't explain why you attacked him."
"We didn't attack him!" Nayaa scoffs restraining her frustration. "We couldn't see him but I figured out that we could follow his foot prints. So we did."
"And I realized I could catch glimpses of him if I moved my head very quickly, that's how I saw him against the wall, but only for a flash. I couldn't hold the image. So I just wanted to hit him once, knock him to the ground, hold him down and ask questions."
"That's all we wanted, but instead he beat us up." Nayaa scoffs displeased. "The guy is a punking sacred warrior. Can you believe that? All I need now is to get sexually molested by a light-fairy. No wonder my aunt is an alcoholic. This world's crazy."
Ricio pulls his lightship back up the stone carved driveway behind dome rock. He turns in his seat and looks at Nayaa. She's sitting there pouting, arms folded looking sad. Andee is still leaning forward between the seats.
"I'm sorry guys. This is all my father's fault. He hired this man and if he is invisible and following you around, I guess I can see how that would have freaked you out. It explains why you keep asking about invisibility that day. But I've got to be honest. I'm a bit freaked out myself."
"Why? You didn't know your people could become invisible?" Nayaa asks.
"No, I'm freaked out by you."
"Meeee." Nayaa stretches the word exaggerating her own shock. Andee frowns.
"Both of you. I mean that guy was masterful with that staff. A real warrior, and you two nearly killed him. If that staff hand not gone electric, you two would have probably killed him. You saw how he limped away at the end."
Nayaa cracks a smile proud of herself. "You're right. I didn't think of it like that."
"Like what?" Ricio is taken aback by Nayaa's sudden change.
"I've been upset because we lost, and only survived because he let us go. But we almost won, and the only reason we didn't is because he had that crazy Bitani weapon."
"That is not a Bitani weapon." Ricio interjects.
"Of course it is." Andee ads. "How else could it shoot electricity like that?"
"I'm telling you it's not." Ricio taps on his steering wheel console moving the 3D image and freezing it to when the man snaps open his staff. The image is clear and some of the carvings visible. Their design is the only aspect that's different. The rest, even the two metal joints, are identical to Andee and Nayaa's staffs. "Look at it. It looks exactly like yours." Pointing to Nayaa's hip. "You mind if I look at it?"
Nayaa lifts off her folded staff and hands it to Ricio. He takes it, twirls it, admires its strength and well carved wood. "To me this is a work of art. And a functional art in your hands." Handing it back to Nayaa. "His looks the same." Pointing to the 3D image.
"Can't the Bitani make one that looks like ours, but in realty made of tech, and could to that?" Andee intercedes.
"I guess that could be true. Man, this.... this is got me more confused than ever." Ricio scoffs this time. They are all quiet for a moment. "Where did you two learn this?"
"Master..." Nayaa responds.
"Whoa, hey." Andee cuts her off. "Rico, I'm sorry man, but everyone keeps warning me that being friends with you is a mistake. That you're just using me to get information, on whatever. I don't know. I don't really believe that, but... I don't know you that well. What if it's true. Sorry. I don't mean to offend, but I'm sure you care for your people like I care for mine, and I care for the person who thought us this. And I want to tell you, but..." Andee takes a deep breath.
"I understand. My father says the same thing of you." There's a tense moment of silence. "There's something else, and I've been really struggling with this one." Both Andee and Nayaa stare at him inquisitively while Rico struggles with his thoughts. "You're father's missing right?" Andee frowns and nods in agreement. "Do you know what happened to him?"
"No." Shaking his head. Ricio takes a deep breath followed by another long silence.
"You know something don't you?" Nayaa reads it off his face. Andee frowns studying Ricio hard.
"Oh man. I probably shouldn't be telling you this."
"Dude, if you know something about my dad..."Andee's suddenly agitated, his words shut down by a growing knot in his throat.
"OK, here it goes. Remember the Doggstar?" Ricio asks looking at Andee. Andee causally shakes is head side to side indicating no. "Really? You never heard of the Doggstar?"
"Nope. Should I?" Andee looks completely oblivious, as does Nayaa. "Wow! OK, well, how about Hektor?"
Andee nods feverishly. "Oh yeah, absolutely. He was a champion and Carpati I think."
"OK good. Yup, he was, both, and the Doggstar, was the guy who beat him and became the new champion."
"Oh OK." Andee responds mater of fact.
"Man, this is going to be even harder than I thought."
"Ok dude. You need to get to the point." Nayaa intercedes impatient.
"Yes, yes you're right, but this isn't going to be easy. Andee." Ricio measures his words. Holds Andee's eyes with his own. He seems to be struggling to produce the next sentence. "Andee. The Doggstar. The pilot of the Doggstar... he was your father." Ricio finally blurts it out. Andee absolutely does not react at all. In fact, he doesn't even move. Nayaa on the other hand turns into a cartoon character. Her eyes become huge and round. Her jaw falls open. And she perks up turning in her seat, jumping round onto her left leg, to face Ricio and Andee.
"What?" Nayaa can barely make the sound through her shock. Andee still hasn't moved, except his eyes. They're stiff. Hard. Rico waits patiently for Andee. "No way." Nayaa blurts out. "His dad a pilot? And a champion?" Nayaa can't hide her shock. Rico nods in agreement.
"No-no-no-no bull. Pure bull!" Andee finally reacts. "Are you punking me? Don't punk with me like this, I swear..." Andee is suddenly overcome by rage, his breathing getting heavy. He drops away from the front seats, falling back into the comfortable bench seat.
"Andee, I'm sorry, I'm not messing with you. Maybe it's not true, but it's what my father just told me. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said it. It was a mistake. I'm sorry." Ricio looks scared. He knows what Andee can do, and Andee looks furious.
Nayaa, now with a concerned look on her face is on her knees on the seat, leaning over the back rest studying Andee. She looks to Ricio.
"Do you think it's true?" Ricio looks at her, than at Andee. He looks scared. Nayaa catches on. "Hey, don't worry. Andee would never hurt you. I don't think you're making this up. It's what your dad told you."
"It is, absolutely. I would never make something like this up. He said he would tell me the truth, but that I wouldn't like it, and Andee would hate it even more."
"Why would Andee hate that his father was a pilot? Plus you know, we can always ask Ms. Star, so we'll know if you're lying." Nayaa looks at Ricio with a check-mate glare. But Ricio grits his teeth. Andee suddenly snaps forward back between the seats, startling Rico, who jumps back a bit.
"I'm fine." Andee snaps. "I want to hear it. The whole story. Whatever it is." Rico stares at Andee, not so much scared as concerned.
"Are you sure? What if you don't like what you hear?"
"I want to know. Not having my dad is the worst thing ever. I don't care what he did. I just want to know what happened."
After a long deep breath Rico begins the story. He tells Andee everything Brandberd told him. How the Doggstar became a champion. How he got pulled into trading contraband with the troublemakers. How he spied for the Bitani, and moved into the city. He tells Andee everything, even the stories of alcohol and cactii, even the part about his dad cheating on his wife with other women. Andee looks cold, devoid of emotion. Not devastated, but not human either. Nayaa on the other hand looks very concerned as they hop out of the lightship. It takes off, but neither care or are impressed by it. It rides off without fanfare.
Brandberd is at his desk talking with the 3D hologram of the Commander.
"It looks like your plan is working."
"I can't say that I'm pleased. After everything, I can't believe he's down there, in his personal lightship talking to those two."
"To be perfectly blunt sir, it's what you wanted."
"Commander! Know your place. How dare you suggest this is what I wanted. I don't want my son to be a traitor, but he's young and naive. So I'm using that to my advantage. But I'm most certainly not what I wanted. I'm just trying to turn a bad situation into something good."
"I understand sir."
"Yes sir. I'm sorry for questioning you."
"You need to trust that I know what I'm doing, and than follow my orders implicitly."
"Yes sir. I do absolutely."
"You said you had a DNA results."
"I do. Yes sir."
"The girl is definitely related to the aunt, but neither seem to have any connection to anyone in our database."
"No one?" Brandberd looks taken aback.
"Nope. So either the rest of her family has been banished since long before the purge, or our records are not what they should be."
"And the boy?"
"Sir, it looks like it's not him."
"The DNA does not match." The Commander insists.
"I don't believe it." Slamming his hand on the glass top.
"It was tested and retested. My operative got DNA from all three. The boys are brothers and that's their mother, and they are third generation related to the old man who runs the junkyard, but there is no genetic link with Starfighter."
"I, I, ...damn it! Are you sure? Did your operative get the right DNA?"
"Of course sir. He would not make a mistake like this."
"Than he gave you false DNA. That woman is his wife. I'm sure of it. I saw her with him, with my own eyes."
"Sir, that was before the purge. More than ten years ago."
"It was her. I know it was her. She's hardly changed. A woman like her you don't easily forget. This operative of yours, you say he's the real deal. A real Parzor Warrior?"
"You met him?"
"No. His condition was, he would work for me but no face to face contact."
"Then how can we trust him?"
"He's a mercenary. We can't trust him, but we can pay him. I trust him because we're the only ones who can pay him the amounts he wants. He has no reason to give us false information. He would lose a substantial flow of credits."
"I don't like this at all. I'm placing my fate in a god damned Parzor. When the Farii destroyed them all we celebrated. We were glad they were gone. Now I find there's at least one still around, and not only is that bad enough, I'm supposed to trust him?"
"We don't have much of a choice sir."
"How about our Husarii? I thought they were the same thing. Hell those stupid Carpati even worship them, and call them sacred warriors. Are you telling me our army of "sacred warriors" can't keep up with a single Parzor?"
"As a soldier sir, and as a Husarii myself, it kills me to say that no, we can't."
"Unbelievable. Is there any chance your operative is in fact the one training them?"
"Absolutely not sir. You saw what he did to them. They barely survived sir."
"But they did. Why?"
"Because he allowed them to. He only fought them when he got caught, otherwise he would not have done so, unless paid. If we pay him enough he will kill them, if that's what you want."
"No-no, absolutely not. Something's amiss here. I don't know why or how. I have no idea how they are fooling us, but that kid is connected. I don't believe for a moment that he is not Starfighter's son. We need to step back. He's bound to make a mistake. And then we'll have them all."
"I'm sure your son will help."
"That he will, whether he knows it or not."
"I'm sure he's telling the boy your story right now."
"I hope so. We need to unravel this and figure out what's going on. And don't mention the Parzors to my son. As far as he's concerned, those two were attacked by a Husarii."
"I want those kids to fear our warriors." And with that Brandberd turns of the 3D display with angry disdain.
Everyone is back at Old Tom's shed, including Adinaa. She's sitting on a stool with Old Tom at his worktable. Mirceu and The Ghost are working with a large part near the darkened shelves, under a spot light. The door opens. Andee and Nayaa walk in. Mykee jumps off his lounge, his white panel in hand, and rushes them.
"Did you see the Silver Sickle again?" He asks his older brother exited, but both Andee and Nayaa ignore him. They start scanning the place with quick glances of their heads. Snatching them from left to right, looking for anything out of the ordinary in their peripheral vision. Everyone watches them baffled.
"What are you doing?" Mykee asks confused, but Andee and Nayaa keep on. After a few seconds more, they're satisfied. "What were you doing?" Mykee insists.
"Looking for that weirdo in blue." Nayaa answers.
"It's the only way we can see him." Andee adds.
"You think he's here?".
"He could be." Andee answers.
"But he's not. He can't hide from us anymore."
"You two are nuts." Mykee responds. "I can't believe you got to see the Silver Sickle again.
"We didn't." Nayaa answers.
"Ricio doesn't have it any more." Andee responds.
"His father found out he let me into their house, and he took his ships away."
"No way! Are you serious?"
Andee nods in agreement. "It's my fault. He lost his ships because of me."
"Andee knock it off." Adinaa interjects. "He made a choice. At least we know that the Bitani punish their own as well. Was that what he wanted? To tell you it was your fault?" Adinaa counters accusatory.
"No, that's not what he wanted."
"Then what was the big emergency?"
"He had a recording of the fight."
"What?" Adinaa reacts shocked, and turns with a concerned glare to Tom. He looks back at her and both hold the stare for a while. In the background, The Ghost causally looks up at them, still working, but also listening.
"Guys come here." Old Tom signals to Andee and Nayaa. "I need to give you this." Lifting up his right hand.
"What is it?" Nayaa asks as both walk up to Old Tom
"It's a disruptor of sorts."
"What does it do?" Nayaa continues.
"It will block electronics like the micro recorders that are following you."
"Really?" Nayaa responds as she grabs the matchbox sized device out of Tom's hand. Andee does the same.
"Hide them well, and make sure you always have them with you."
"Tom. Do you have a recorder?" Tom stares through Andee without answering. "Do you?"
"Because I don't think that guy can hide from recorders. In the image Ricio showed us, he was never invisible."
"But it was obvious that people around couldn't see him." Nayaa adds.
"If you have one you should keep it on permanently, that way if he comes in here, he'll be visible, maybe on Mykee's panel or something."
Tom still staring at Andee, nods. "I do have one. Sounds like a good idea."
Adinaa is watching them absolutely flustered. She's fidgeting. "This is not good. Why haven't the Sentinels come to take us away?" She mumbles in panic. Andee glares at her.
"You don't understand." She snaps at him.
"Then explain. Who's Doggstar?" Andee blurts at his mom. She looks at him with no change in demeanor and shrugs her shoulders. Andee is taken aback. He looks to Tom. His eyes are hard. He looks stiff compared to a second ago. In the background, the Ghost also reacts with hard eyes as he looks up at them.
"You know." Andee points to Tom, but the old man turns his gaze down and takes a deep breath. In the distance The Ghost is watching with eyes open wide. Mirceu is more restrained, but he too takes a long deep breath then blocks the Ghost's view by locking eyes with him.
"The Bitani boy told you about him?" Tom asks.
"What's Doggstar?" Adinaa interjects, her curiosity peaked by Tom's stiff defensive reaction. Andee looks over to his mom.
"You really don't know?" Andee asks and she shrugs her head in the negative. Andee leans in and hugs her. Nayaa jumps in on the hug.
She's a bit surprised. "What's going on?" She questions as Andee and Nayaa pull away.
"Mom, dad was a pilot." Andee responds.
"And champion." Nayaa ads.
"What?" Mykee's voice echoes in the background. The Ghost drops the part he was holding, his eyes ogling out of his head in shock. Mykee tosses his panel aside and rushes to Andee. "What did you say?" He's besides himself with emotion, but Adinaa is suddenly calmer. Andee looks at the discrepancy between them, then at Nayaa who also noticed.
"I'm not sure Mykee, but according to Ricio, dad was a pilot, even a champion, in fact the champion that beat Hektor." Andee answers to Mykee then looks up to Tom who is avoiding his gaze.
"No way! No way! Ricio's a liar. He's a punk! He's screwing with us. If dad was a pilot he would have told us. He would have given us rides in his ship. No way. He's a liar!" Mykee is bouncing with fury.
"Maybe little brother. Maybe."
"I don't believe it."
"Neither do I, but I need to talk to mom and Tom in private. Let us have this conversation, and I'll tell you what I need to tell you later."
"No! Why are you acting like Tom? He's keeping secrets from us, now you're going to keep secrets from me."
"OK, but you're not going to like what you're going to hear."
"You don't know. I want to heard it."
"Fine. The truth." Turning to Tom. "Why doesn't anyone talk about Doggstar? I've never heard of him and I thought I knew all the pilots." Then Andee turns over his shoulder to the two men in the dark. "Ghost, you know who Doggstar is, right? Mirceu? You know all the old racers. When you were a boxer you used to hang out with them." But Mirceu shrugs apologetically and turns away without a response joining the Ghost back at work. Turning to Old Tom. "See, that was a confirmation. Non of you want to talk about it."
"Who is Doggstar?" Mykee interjects almost nagging.
"Doggstar was Dad Mykee. At least that was the name of his lightship, crew, whatever."
"Dad had a lightship!" Mykee asks beaming. In the background, The Ghost looks up, eyes round as saucers. His eyes then turn hard as he stares at Mirceu baffled. Mirceu ignores him.
"Yup. And Tom knows all about it, but he won't tell us. Tom, what's the point of this? You said clear the air. Don't you think it's time?"
Old Tom fills his lungs then releases a deep breath. "I do son, I do. But you have to understand. We lived through the purge. It was a nightmare, and we had to protect you. And now, it's hard for me to change. Telling you won't help as much as you think it will."
"Of course it would help! I'm going crazy not knowing. Worse yet, now I'm hearing all kinds of crazy stories. I have no idea what the truth is. I just want to know the truth, good or bad. I need to know."
"Fine. Sit down."
"I want to hear it too." Mykee interjects.
"OK, but do you understand that everything we say can never be spoken with anyone outside this room. Ever."
"Yeah I understand."
"And that thing?" Adinaa interjects pointing to the shut off white orb on Mykee's lounge. "We can't talk with that thing in the room."
"Mom, I told you, I changed the settings. If Rico tries to use it again, it will warn us first and ask if we accept the communication. And he won't be able to see us, unless I say it's OK." Mykee pleads with his mom.
"Are you sure?" Andee interjects.
"Yes, I understand how it works pretty good now."
"And my sensors work. There will be no signals leaving this shed. We're safe Adinaa." Old Tom concurs.
"So far only Ricio's been telling me the truth. You're the one telling me stories. You said dad vanished one day, but that's not true." Andee snaps accusatory at Tom.
"It is true. He did vanish one day. We lost contact with him. Just before the purge."
Andee looks to Adinaa. "Mom, did you know this?"
She takes a deep breath. "I knew he was a pilot, but not his name. You know I don't follow the races."
"But he was Doggstar?" Andee turns to Tom.
"And a champion?" Mykee reacts unable to hold his excitement now.
"Yes he was?"
"Did dad die in a crash?" Mykee asks with a pout.
"No. But to be honest I don't know. He was a pilot, and because he was a champion he got to live in the city for a while."
"No way!" Mykee shouts with huge round eyes. Andee on the other hand shrinks. His whole posture collapses in dread.
"Yes." Tom responds
"And is he still up there?" Mykee asks beaming with excitement, followed by a conflicted glare.
"I don't know son. I really don't." Tom shakes his head.
"Wow! Dad was a champion! And lived in the city? Maybe he is still up there, and he's working, trying to get us there too." Mykee perks up. "Maybe that's why he's been gone. There's no way he would hide being a pilot from us. He's got to have a good reason." Mykee continues struggling to convince himself.
"Maybe, that's what it is." Andee responds meekly to his brother, then gives Tom a hard look. "Little man, why don't you go back and help the Ghost fix that light regeneration. Maybe if we can get it working we can find our way into the city as well."
"I'm not dumb. You want to talk in private. You don't believe dad..." But Mykee loses steam. The reality of what he wants to believe is just too much.
"Yes I do. Old Tom and I have a lot to talk about."
"Ok, fine. But you'll tell me later."
"I will, but there's a lot of confusion right now. I want to figure things out. Than we can tell you the truth."
"OK" Mykee responds deflated and walks off. He grabs the white panel of his lounge and joins Mirceu and the Ghost. As he approaches them, The Ghost studies the boy as if seeing him for the first time. He looks Mykee up and down then he turns his eyes to Andee. The Ghost takes a deep breath, and then closes his eyes as he releases a deep exhalation. Then with Mirceu they lift the large part and carry it, following Mykee into a deeper section of the shed. There they enter another room.
Andee and Nayaa turn to Tom.
"There's more. And this is the worst part. I don't believe it." Andee stats telling Tom Ricio's explanation about his father's treachery and eventual breakdown.
"Nonsense." Tom snaps agitated. "Son, look at me. I knew your father since he was Mykee's age. Hell, I raised him. He really is like my son, and you boys like grandsons. And let me tell you. No way. No way in heaven or hell your dad was a traitor, to us or your family. No way. He certainly wouldn't abandoned you for drink and cactii. Wealth was never a desire of his. Justice, yes. If he's up in that city, he's a prisoner. There's no riches in the world that would keep him away from his family. Either he is trapped, or he fears contacting you would get you banished or dead."
"I don't know." Andee counters indecisive.
"I do know. Listen to me. The reason we kept so many secrets from you kids is because the Bitani had no clue you were his. He kept you boys, and your mom, a secret from them because he didn't want you hurt because of who he was."
"But why would anyone hurt us?"
"To hurt him. He was a champion, and to the Bitani a troublemaker. The Sentinels would have tortured you, to get him to talk. Being in his position, having a family, was dangerous back then. So we kept your existence a secret."
"And you knew this?" Andee turns to his mom.
She nods. "A few things, but no details. The less we knew the better. I had to pretend he didn't exist. That's why I tell everyone your father died. If you think it's hard for you, you have no idea how hard it is for me." Adinaa's eyes start to crystallize with tears. Nayaa leaps into her arms with a loving hug.
"I don't understand this philosophy. The less we know the weaker we are."
"The less we know the less they could get from us if tortured."
"No one is being tortured."
"Not now, but back in the day is was the norm."
"Really?" Nayaa interjects surprised.
"But the Bitani know who I am." Andee counters. "And they've got a real sacred warrior after me."
"He's no sacred warrior." Tom counters.
Andee's head snatches back in surprise. "What is he then?"
"His name is not Husarii. He is a Husarii. The Husarii are the real sacred warriors, or at least behind the myth the Bitani created. In reality, they are Bitani assassins. Real bastards. You said this man was invisible. Well, that's what they do. They have ways of making themselves unseen. Sneak into places, spy on people, or hurt them, like he did you. That's who we've been trying to protect you from. It's too late now."
"But that device you gave us. That will make him visible?" Andee inquires.
"Nope. For some reason it doesn't work on them."
"Really? Why not?" Nayaa asks amazed.
"Don't know. Supposedly it's not tech that makes them invisible, but it's hard to believe."
"Then how do they do it?" Andee asks.
"I know about them, but nothing of them. Apparently they have some kind of supernatural power."
Andee frowns. "You don't believe that do you?"
"Son, I've never been face to face with one, you have. You tell me."
Andee shakes his head clearly frustrated. Old Tom pats him on the shoulder.
"Lets end this here. Last horizon is upon us. It's going to be dark soon, and I've had enough of this nonsense for now. We'll talk more another day."
Nayaa, along with Andee and his family leave Old Tom's shed together. The sun is gone and the sky is a deep bright purple, gleaming in the afterglow of the twilight following last horizon. As they step out the door, the old man releases a deep breath looking more tired and despondent than ever. The Ghost approaches and stares at him with focused eyes.
"These kids. They're not who I think they are? Are they?" He asks with a hard curious glare as Tom slams the door shut. Exhausted, Old Tom stares through the Ghost for a moment, then gently nods his head up and down.
The Ghost's face opens up with round eyes again. "Holly punking light-fairies!" And both men just stare at each other for a moment before the Ghost continues in amazement. "Holly hell my heart's jumping in my chest. Are you sure?" He asks staring at Tom with the excitement of a child. Tom responds with a simple dismissive scoff. "Wow! Wow!" The Ghost replies with admiration. Tom nods approvingly this time. The Ghost taps Tom on his shoulder. "Don't be so hard on yourself. You did good. You did real good. These kids... they're real impressive." But Tom's still nodding in the same rhythm as if stuck in a trance. "The young one. He's so smart." Old Tom is still nodding up and down without words. "And Andee, wow, a warrior. I never thought I'd see the day." The Ghost seems thoroughly impressed. "He's not full Parzor yet is he?" The Ghost asks eyes growing wide, but Old Tom shakes his head in the negative.
"No, and he won't be. There's no one to train him further. Sensei took him as far as he could." Old Tom muses still looking dazed. The Ghost too becomes more sullen and joins Tom nodding, but then draws an invigorating breath into his lungs, and with strong eyes turns to Tom again.
"And the girl?" He continues, but Old Tom just gives him a long stare without answering. The Ghost holds the glare waiting patiently, eyes getting harder with the build up of anticipation. After a moment's hesitation Old Tom finally responds.
"You don't even want to know." Tom blurts out the words with a cold tone as he turns and walks away. The Ghost follows him with his penetrating eyes. He watches Tom walk to his worktable and take a seat. The Ghost's eyes get harder and harder as he stares mystified at the back of Tom's head. Then suddenly, his face lights up like a bulb, beaming with awe. "Indiraa!" He blurts out. Tom quickly turns to the bearded man. "She was pregnant. No-no-no-it can't be. You don't mean?" And the Ghost cuts himself off while staring at Old Tom in horror, or shock, or a combination of the two. Tom quickly sweeps his right hand, cutting the air in front of his chest, in a gesture preventing the Ghost from speaking any further. To the Ghost it's confirmation. He lifts his hands up to the sides of face in even greater shock than before. He runs them over his forehead and eyes, seemingly overwhelmed by whatever thought is in his mind. "Holly lord of the light-fairies. She is! That's why she seemed so familiar." The Ghost blurbs uncontrolled staring at Old Tom in shock.
"Now you understand." Old Tom responds sternly. The Ghost nods, eyes wide open.
"She doesn't know?" The Ghost inquires still staring at Old Tom. Tom gently shakes his head side to side in confirmation. The conversation ends with both refusing to speak any further on the mater.
End of Book 1
To Be Continued In Book 2
The Ωmega Obelisk