End of Chapter 1 next Chapter 2 : Rescue Hoppers
Friday, July 31, 2015
Chapter 1 : First Horizon
Book 1 : Sacred Warriors
copyright©2015 Florin Nicoara
“Well, we are not as smart as the Bitani.”
“Then how come they have all the technology and we have nothing?”
“Because... I don’t want to talk about it.”
“All right, whatever, but my history teacher said that if it wasn’t for the Bitani we would have all died. They saved our civilization."
“Dude, are you seriously buying that nonsense!”
“What nonsense? It’s history. Our civilization was being destroyed and the Bitani came and saved us.”
“Is he Bitani?”
“Carpati, as far as I know.”
Andee shakes his head defeated. “So many of our people are brainwashed.”
“Why? If it's not true how do you know?” Mykee counters with a strong inquisitive look.
“Listen little brother. Things are complicated. You’re young. It’s better you not know for a while.”
“You're still a kid. You should be a kid. You're 12 years old. No need for you...”
“Yeah but I want to know.“
“What good is it going to do you?”
“I don’t know... but I know that I want to know.“
“Ha, cute. And what are you going to do with that knowledge?“
“Nothing. I’ll just know.”
"Maybe another time."
"Why not now?"
"Because we'll be late. You wan' a miss the lightship races?"
"No. Are you really going to take me to the outcrop?"
"Now that you're old enough, of course."
"All right then, lets go."
Carpatia's giant red sun is inching towards the horizon, taking up almost the entire western view, except where it's partially blocked by Carpatia's moon. It's a quarter the size of the sun, and hazy blue-ish white in cold contrast to the red hot sizzling surface of the sun. Each is moving in opposite directions. The sun setting, while the moon rising, maddeningly slow in Carpatia's 36 hour daily cycle. It takes three hours for the massive red sun to move from first horizon, when the bottom of the sun touches the edge of the planet in the western sky, to last horizon, when the sun finally sets completely. And then another four hours of hazy purplish twilight before total darkness.
"Come on Mykee. It's first horizon already. We've got an hour before the races start."
"That's OK. The prelims aren't that cool anyway. Plus the lightships look so much better in the twilight."
"Did you grab your snacks?"
"Doing it now."
Standing outside the front door, looking up over the house, Andee can see the wall of the city, Grand Bitania, up on the plateau of Table Mountain, but that's all he can see. A giant, hundred meter tall blackstone balustrade that surrounds the entire mountain top and encloses the city. Few Carpati are allowed in the city. Only those fortunate enough to have found work there, mainly as servants, and all are sworn to secrecy about what the city is really like. Speak of it down on the craggy dry slopes of the Carpatian Township and it could mean banishment into the desert beyond.
"You coming or what?" Andee snaps through the open door. No answer. He turns leaning his left shoulder on the sill. His gaze shoots past the side of the house, past his neighbors, and deep into to the west settling on the broad and jagged mountainous horizon sizzling in the broiling solar red sea that is Carpatia's setting sun. His house is midway up the terraced slope of Table Mountain, and close to the western edge of the Carpati Township which covers the entire north side base of that massive orange stone mesa. A small part of the township extends down into the sandy desert Flatlands below.
Andee's house isn't much different from the other houses in the Township. It's partly dug into the orange stone cliff, but with the front end built out from the same orange rock and adobe clay abundant all around. There's a courtyard up front made up of two terraced levels. The terraces are as wide as the house which is about nine meters. The top terrace extends about five meters out from the house, and ends at a half meter tall stone wall which reaches down to the bottom terrace another meter and a half, and at a slight angle. The top terrace is mostly dirt and split by paved stone pathways, but there is a vegetable garden on the east, and some wild shrubbery on the west of the main central path. The lower terrace is almost twice as big. Most of it is a root vegetable garden with only two berry-fruit trees near the terrace wall. Both about thirty meters tall with beautifully spiraling branches round a center trunk. Each tip has a serrated giant broad leaf just past a cluster of pinkish and ripe red berry-fruit. The far end of the lower terrace is exposed rock and the roof of house below. The entire courtyard, top and bottom, is enclosed by blackstone walls, on all three sides, cemented together with orange adobe.
Andee's eyes look lost in thoughts more distant than the jagged horizon. His gaze is long, far beyond the homes and courtyards shrinking down the horizontal row ahead of him. His eyes move from the fading row of homes, past the edge of the city, and to the moon rising from behind the furthest mountains in the deep west. They are the furthest visible mountains of all, so distant they've never been explored and lie along the shores of the Great Salt Sea.
The moon captures Andee's full attention. It's a strange moon. Hazy blue with whirls of what look like giant white clouds beautifully lit up on the half facing the sun. The top half, hidden from the sun, is shrouded in darkness. Yet strangely, there are patches and strings of lights in some parts of the dark side, but not in others. A mystery Andee has struggled with for most of his life, but never gotten a satisfactory answer. The strange moon and its mysterious strings of lights that come and go used to be Andee's favorite subject as a kid, but he is no longer interested in stories of the Light-Fairies that call the moon home. And he can no longer believe, as some do, that the glow-flies that buzz around during the wet season, lighting up the twilight on Carpatia, are the larva of the moon-fairies come to bring them good fortune.
Arms folded, Andee turns leaning his upper back against the doorframe, and looks to his left. His eyes are still a bit lost as he gazes east at row upon row of homes until they vanish behind the curvature of the mountain. He then focuses nearby on the two meter wide path going up the slope, just over their east side blackstone wall. The north-south path is a rough-cut stone staircase sculpted into the orange rock centuries ago. No wheeled vehicle can climb its uneven and misshapen steps, only people on foot or the ever-present Alcama, the primary beast of burden of the Carpati. Most of the roof of their home is part of the mountain and the next terrace up, which is flat, broad, and primarily used as a dirt road by the Alcama-caravans carrying goods, or pulling wheeled wagons when they have to travel east-west.
Further above there are more rows upon rows of homes, dirt roads, and stair paths carved into the mountain until it becomes too steep. From there on up the slope gets even steeper for another 500 meters until it reaches the vertical orange-stone cliffs that rise for at least another 700 meters. At the top of that, the one hundred meter tall black-stone wall of Grand Bitania rises more than 2000 meters over the Flatlands below.
The same pattern repeats further below Andee's house, with row upon row of houses segmented by east-west dirt roads, and north-south carved stairpaths reaching down to the Flatlands where the markets, factories, and farms are to be found.
"OK, sorry, I'm ready." Mykee finally answers as he rushes out of the house. "Let's go".
The crowd is gathering. The lightship races are Carpatia's most exciting event. Held thought the year, the circuit starts on the unpopulated south side of the mountain and then rounds towards the west where it winds between the Crags. The Crags are giant pillars of stone, some up to 2000 meters tall, and look like they were once part of table mountain when it stretched westward as a single mountain range. Now long ago eroded and cracked it's split up into canyons and mesas. Beyond the Crags, in the distant west, and only visible from high up on table mountain, lies the Great Salt Sea. Thirty kilometers of the circuit races right above the water. On calm days it is one of the fastest parts of the race, but when the winds pick up, or better yet, in the cold season during storms, waves can reach ten to fifteen meters, and lightships occasionally get churned and mangled in the rough waters. But best of all is when top notch pilots surf the waves in their floating lightships, sometimes vanishing into water barrels only to shoot out of the other end at 600km per hour.
"I don't remember it being this far." Mykee mumbles releasing a deep breath, after looking down from the precarious ledge on the western side of table mountain where they are climbing. Mykee and his brother are nearly at the base of the sheer wall and still heading higher on a narrow ledge barely wide enough for a single man.
"You say that every time." Andee responds looking back over his shoulder.
"No I don't".
"How about during the last races? Didn't you need to stop three times before we got there?"
Mykee scoffs, "Why is this outcrop so far?" Then trips over a boulder. "See, and it's dangerous. What if I fall off the side of this cliff?"
"Come on little brother. When I was your age I ran up these cliffs."
"Sure you did."
"My nickname wasn't Leaping Ghimur for nothing."
"Well, I have no interest in climbing the sides of mountains like those little monkeys. These rocks are their home, not mine."
"Too bad, you're missing out. Ghimpour is the most fun you could possibly have."
"Yeah, if you like breaking bones."
"Once. I broke my leg once. Man, when I was your age, I would spend all day up here." Andee suddenly gets nostalgic. "Me, Gono, and Nayaa, we always came up with the best games. The others couldn't keep up with us. We came up with so many games and contests, climbing, jumping..."
"Darn it!" Mykee yells cutting Andee in mid sentence. He looks down the steep trail at his little brother. Mykee is getting up from his knees.
"Why can't we stay down and watch the race on the giant Vidrom like civilized people?" Mykee snarls flustered as he brushes the dust of his pants.
"Next time you can do that if you want. I like to see the races from up here. With my trusty binoculars, I can see the best parts of the circuit. What's better than that?"
"Sitting in the stands of West Market, under an umbrella, drinking ice cold berry-fizz."
"When did you become such a glutton for luxury?" Andee starts back up the trail. Mykee begrudgingly follows. "Plus, the sun is already half set, what do you need an umbrella for?"
"Half... and the sun is huge, if you didn't notice. And this half is just as hot as the other half." Andee smiles and shakes his head. Mykee continues. "I could really use an ice cold berry-fizz right now. This crazy hike is making me thirsty."
"You're a funny little guy."
"Why did we only bring water?"
"Because water is free. Do we have credits for berry-fizz?"
Kicking a rock in front of his feet as he steps Mykee looks down with a sad pout on his face.
"Look, we're almost there." Andee points to a large stone outcrop with a couple of dozen people already on it. "And look, I think that's Gono, maybe he brought his little brother with him."
"I hope not".
"Why? I thought he was your friend?"
"Yeah, when we were kids."
"You guys don't play together any more?"
"I'm 13, I don't play big brother." Mykee responds with sardonic seriousness.
"Fine, so you don't hang out with him any more?"
"He thinks I'm a dork. He plays sports. I like... It doesn't matter."
"Alright, well... we'll be focused on the races anyway."
Andee and Mykee reach the outcrop and join the crowd of guys and girls, most of whom are in their late teens or early twenties. Some brought alcohol with them so there is a real party atmosphere for watching the races from this very high and precarious spot.
"Mykee remember the number one rule. Don't drink anything you didn't bring yourself. Got it?"
"Yup, I know"
"And stay away from the edge, no matter what. Remember last year?"
"Yeah, some drunk idiot accidentally knocked a kid over the edge."
"This is a fun spot, but it can get out of hand sometimes."
"Don't worry, I got my private lounge. I'll be there if you need me."
"Alright. I'm a hang with Gono. Yell if you need me."
With that, Mykee heads up the sheer wall to a large horizontal cut in the rock. After struggling a bit, he settles in well worn balcony. It's clear he's been there before. He leans back into it like its a lounge carved out rock, about three meters above everyone else. The back of his 'stone lounge' shields him from view below. Down on the outcrop Andee makes his way to Gono, who is hanging out with a group of friends.
"I told you he'd be here". Gono announces joyful.
"I'm surprised. I thought you dropped out of school cuz you didn't want to hang with us any more." Dirin responds while flicking his long hair out of his eyes with a flip of his head.
"No us, just you."
"Or maybe you just couldn't handle it". Dirin responds with a smirk.
"Handle what? Being a mindless drone. Learning the same nonsense year after year and being expected to kiss ass. You're a natural ass kisser, not me. I want a real education."
"My education is real. Maybe you're not smart enough." Dirin responds, aggressively taking a step forward.
"All right dudes. If you two still can't get along I'll have to break up this party. Come on Andee, I need to talk to you." Gono cuts the tension and pulls him away.
"Remember how we used to talk about getting jobs in up in Bitania, live in the city, and all that?"
"Yea, we talked about it a bit."
"Well..." Gono comments then stares at Andee with anticipation.
"It's going to happen."
"Yeah, sure, OK." Andee responds dismissively.
"What? It's all bull."
"No it's not."
"Of course it is."
"Dude seriously? You can't even let me have this?" Gono tenses up frustrated.
"What's the point? They tell you they'll hire but they won't. I've never seen them hire anyone under forty. They're just stringing you along."
"No they're not. Remember Jovial Jim?"
"Anyway, you met him, I'm sure. He used to work on my dad's farm. Weird guy. Used to sing and smile all day... all jovial for no reason. He used to prune the trees and make weird sculptures out of them, remember?"
"OK yeah, I think I met him once or twice."
Gono lifts up his brows as if expecting Andee to already know.
"Your little suspense is not working, unless you're trying to piss me off. What are you getting at?"
"He got hired up in the city, and he's twenty-eight."
"What? No way?"
"OK see, that confirms it."
"Uh-please." Gono react flustered.
"I'm telling you. They're not serious. Why would they hire that weirdo and not guys like us?"
"Who says they're not? Besides you."
"Everyone! If this thing with Jovial is true, than he's the only one. Have you ever heard of anyone else under 40?"
"My dad says that many people got jobs up there before 40, and even get to move there permanently after they turned forty. He said half the people he knew as a kid, now live up there, and he hasn't seen them in years."
"I never heard of such a thing."
"Well, they don't do it as much now... but they used to."
"Then where did all those people my dad knew go?"
"Who knows? They were probably banished. The Bitani don't give us anything without taking more away."
Gono shakes his head. "I don't know where you're getting these crazy ideas, but I got mine straight from the Jovial's mouth. Sure the guy is weird, but he's not dumb, maybe a little crazy, but he worked for my father for years, and I'm telling you, now he works in the city. Even my father was happy to let him go for such good fortune, and he was a great worker. We still haven't found a good replacement. Listen, last time I talked to him he promised he would try to convince his employer to hire me too. Up in the city."
"Some kind of gardening, landscaping they call it?"
"Not sure. Something to do with growing plants."
"In the city?" Andee reacts with a suspicious glare.
"I don't know, whatever, but we both know the Bitani don't do farming. We grow all their food, but apparently they like plants. And you know Carpati workers aren't supposed to talk about the city, but Jim, well..."
"Exactly! He sees things in his own simple way so he had no problem telling me all about it."
"OK, now you got my interest."
"So what's the city like? What did tell you?"
"He's never been off the main property, but basically he says that the guy's house is huge, and surrounded by green plants. They're everywhere. Plants, flowers, all kinds of strange and beautiful shrubs that don't grow down here. And trees, lots and lots of trees, some of them huge."
"You saying the Bitani grow fruit?"
"No man, they grow trees."
"That makes no sense."
"I know, I thought the same thing at first, but according to Jim they grow them because they are beautiful and that's why they like them, not for the fruit. They've got everything they need, so they grow them just to look at them. Well, they don't grow them, they hire us, people like Jim, and you and me, to take care of them. The Bitani, they just look at them."
"OK now you're losing me." Andee turns away.
"Dude, the Bitani don't give a crap about farming, you know that. We grow all their food. They grow plants up there just to make the place look pretty."
Shaking his head in disbelief. "You know what, fine. If this is for real then maybe you'll get to see it with your own eyes, but I really don't care right now. I just want to watch the races and enjoy the evening."
"Dude, you really have changed. You used to be a cool guy. Maybe Dirin is right... fine man. If you're not interested, then you're not interested. Have fun watching the races on your own." And with clear disappointment Gono walks away to rejoin his friends. Andee follows him with his eyes. He seems conflicted. He looks down at his foot. With the tip of his right toe he's been mindlessly churning the dirt beneath. He looks back up, takes a deep breath, and glances at Gono and his friends. He was one of them once. With his foot still churning the dirt, he remembers a time when they had no worries, only dreams. Dreams of being lightship pilots and living up in Grand Bitania. Dreams. He looks back at his old group of friends and knows he can no longer dream like that.
'The hell with it!' He hears the though as a yell in his own head. Looks up the cliff to his little brother's hideout, it's the perfect spot. Open to the southwest, it has a clear view right down the Old Road, or at least that's what it's called. Some believe that long ago it was a road that led right up the mountain into the city, but nobody respectable though, only the troublemakers think so. Maybe it was, maybe not. It certainly doesn't look like a road any more. Just an uneven rough stone trail, admittedly a very board trail, over 10 meters wide, and heading up the side of the mountain, starting on its south side. Whether it was a road once or not, doesn't matter. It's now one of the first stages of the race. Andee remembers the race. That's why he's here... the race! It was one dream that he could still take comfort in. It didn't matter that he could never be a pilot. He already accepted that. But he could still watch the races and see those amazing floating lightships with his own eyes.
He looks past the crowd, past the edge of the outcrop at the floating pylons over the old road. They hover 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.
As he walks out of the crowd the red glow of the nearest pylon lights up a memory in his mind as fresh as the moment he lived it. It was the first time he saw a lightship up close. It happened four years earlier, in the West Market, when he was Mykee's age. Old Man Tom took him to see the races, and there, on the edge of the market, next to the official Carpati stands, the ship of Carpatia's greatest champion was on display. Hektor was a legend, but unfortunately for Andee the champion was long ago retired. For ten years running Hektor was the undisputed winner of every championship race. Now his actual lightship was there to be seen in the West Market. To thirteen year old Andee, it was a sight to behold.
The old and retired lightship was a work of art to Andee's eyes that seemed to be powered by magic itself. It floated a meter off the ground on an green pillow of light. It was over six meters long with the front half three meters wide. The front was made of two parallel prongs that came together in the center, around the pilot's bubble, then tapered into one prong at the back. It was shaped somewhat like a tuning fork, but with vertical canards, one each up front, and a horizontal one at the back. The pilot's bubble was hexagonal, made of flat panes of glass in metal frames. Physically separate from the ship, it was attached at the split of the "tuning fork" by shock absorbers. The ship was black with green accents and racing stripes. It was one of the few lightships with hardly any curves, only hard angular edges.
Staring at the wall of rock ahead, absent minded and lost in his memory, Andee can see the ship in his mind's eye. For a moment, the outcrop, the pylons, all of it disappear. In front of him is not just a memory, but the ship. He can literally see it, as if physically right there, right now, on the outcrop, right in front of him, but... there's something else. A man. But he's not in the memory, yet a man in a blue hood and a draping blue robe is standing on the other side of Hektor's ship, and staring at Andee. Startled, Andee shivers shaking his head and widening his eyes snapping out of his daydream... but there's no one there! Taken aback, he concentrates on the spot where he clearly saw the man, but no one's there. Nor even anyone near by. He spastically starts looking around. Everyone is gathered at the southern edge of the outcrop for the best view. There is no one remotely close enough to have stood where the man was just a fraction of a second before.
"Whoa! Weird." He mumbles out loud, his brow stiffened into a frown. He can't help but continue to look around. After a moment he stops his search, takes a deep resigned breath, and shakes off the strange event. He looks up to Mykee's hidden spot. A smirk of a smile softens his face. He heads towards his brother. His mind quickly goes back to the awe he felt when he was thirteen. 'How could those ships float in the air like that?' His internal dialogue quickly takes over. He remembers trying to listen for some kind of engine noise that day, but there was nothing, only silence. 'And the light pillow? It was both beautiful and eerie, streaming down from the underside of the ship like green misty rain. It wasn't just plain light, it seemed to streak, to stream, to move and spark, so strange, yet so beautiful and... but a hard bump into Andee's left shoulder stops him in his tracks snapping his mind back in focus. As it does, he notices a faint image of a blue hooded man flash past his left out of the corner of his eye.
"I'm sorry man, I..." Andee apologizes to the man he bumped into, quickly turning towards him, only to be left staggered, stiff, jaw-dropped, and speechless. He is looking at the spot, a spot just a foot away from him, where the man he bumped should be... but no one. There is nobody there. In fact, there isn't anyone even close enough to have bumped into. He spins around bewildered.
"What the hell?" Andee blurbs out loud as he makes a second, slower, three sixty on the spot. 'OK, I swear I saw a guy in a blue hood. I just bumped into him.' He hears himself in his own head. He continues looking around while his internal dialogue goes berserk. 'What the hell did I bump into? Am I crazy?' Andee's face contorts into a grimace of confusion.
He is still looking around hoping to find the man in the blue hood. He looks at his shoulder. 'Did I imagine... No. The bump was hard. It stopped me. And the blue hood. I wasn't looking at it, but... damn-it, I saw it! I saw it out of the corner of my eye, just as I bumped into him. Where the hell is he?' Andee looks around a bit more, but nothing. No one on the outcrop has anything even resembling a blue hood, never mind a long blue robe.
Flustered, he rushes to the stone wall and starts climbing up to Mykee. "Is there room for one more up there?" Andee's voice announces his presence a moment before he comes into Mykee's view.
"Yeah there's room. What happened? Why aren't you hanging out with Gono and your old buddies?"
"I want to hang out with you."
"Yeah right, whatever."
"Mykee do me a favor. Can you look down over the crowd?"
"Why?" And he turns to look over his right shoulder.
"Can you see anyone wearing a bright blue hood and robe, or something like that down there?"
Mykee frowns at Andee, but then inspects the crowd below. There's about 60 people on the large outcrop. He looks and looks. Everyone's got variations of the typical Carpati style of pants and shirts. Most are earth toned, only a few are colorful, and most are made of a combination of leather and linen. Some are solid, but many are made of inch wide strips cross-woven either in a horizontal mesh, or diagonal. Many are also wearing the typical desert jacket that's so common among the Carpati, which does have a hood, but a stiff wide hood that hangs flat against the upper back and shoulders. The jackets are short, ending above the waist, but with a draping cape hanging from under the 'hood', varied in length. The jackets too are cross-weaved and in earth tones like the Alcama leather they're made from. There's not a single blue one in sight.
"I don't see it. Who you looking for?"
"I don't know. It's just... really strange, never mind."
Mykee looks at him a bit perplexed, then shrugs his shoulders and goes back to the previous subject.
"So what happened with Gono?"
"Then why you here?"
"Because it's cool up here. You know, this is the best seat in the house."
"I do know. Why do you think I sit here? Everyone else just wants to party. I'm here for the races. You can almost see the start, well not really, but it starts down there, right around that hill. After they start, they all come up the old road directly at us, and then past us just below, through that vertical turn, before they head back down towards the Crags. Lots of crashes happen here."
"I know little brother. This used to be my spot before you inherited it."
"Really? How come you never sit here anymore?"
"Like you said, in the past it was more about hanging with my friends and partying."
Mykee nods, then with a more somber voice asks a completely different question.
"Did you ever come here with dad?"
Andee gives him a long glare. He almost seems annoyed, but then quickly softens his face.
"I did." He finally answers nodding his head in agreement.
"No way! Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"You never asked."
"Hey, come on man, you're too young for that. What's the need for dumb language like that? Especially when we're talking about dad."
"Sorry, but now I'm mad."
"Because..." But Mykee cuts himself off.
"Because dad and I came up here to see the races?"
"Yes." Mykee responds with a pout.
"I'm sorry little brother. I know you never had your chance. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about him."
"Hey, you know why I don't sit here any more?"
"No. This was dad's spot."
"Now you're just messing with me."
"No. I was young. Real young. Maybe only four or five when dad first brought me here, and this is exactly where he sat. Right here, in fact right where you're sitting. He sat there and held me in his arms."
"And you never told me this before, because..."
"I don't know. We don't talk about dad. I didn't want to say something and..."
"I think so. I was really young. I don't even really remember him, but I do remember his face. I'll never forget his face."
"Neither will I. Hey, you want to know something else?"
"The way you're leaning back, notice how comfortable it is?"
"Yeah, of course."
"That's not natural."
"What do you mean?"
"Dad stated coming to this spot when he was a kid, like us. He found this spot way back then, and used greystone to carve that lounge shape in this old crevice. That's why it's so comfortable."
"If you're messing with me I swear I'll kick you in the crotch, and ring your bells for the next three days."
"Why do you think I'm making it up?"
"Dun'no. But it's making me mad."
"This is our spot man, yours, mine, and Dad's, forever."
Mykee looks away. He seems agitated, uncomfortable.
"Lets not talk about it then, but see, that's why I never said anything before."
Both look away for a moment. The sounds of drums and sirens echo in the distance. It's pre-start. It means there is a half hour of music, introductions, and clips of past races for those watching the giant vidroms down in the markets. Andee, Mykee, and the rest on that outcrop have to settle for the faint echoes that are the actual sounds coming from the south side of the mountain. That's where the Bitani stands are, at the start and finish line of the race. Carpati are not allowed anywhere near the Bitani stands.
"Is this why you always wanted to watch the races from here?" Mykee's voice startles Andee interrupting his thoughts.
"Wha-wah? Yeah, well, I don't know."
"I get it. It's just that... well, in the market you can see the pre-start on the vidrom, and hear the announcers and all that. They tell you who the racers are... and you know. Here... we're just high up on a rock."
"But I though you loved to watch the races from here. You were so excited when I started bringing you."
"Well yeah, last year, after years of begging you, but now..."
"It's cool from here too, and sometimes people have the portable vidrom's but..."
"See that guy right there, he's got one." Andee points forcing Mykee to turn and look over his shoulder at a guy with a flat panel display in hand.
"I know, but look at that crowd around him." Mykee counters turning back.
"OK well, you don't have to come. I'm sure Old Man Tom would be happy to take to the stands in the west market next time."
"No I mean... well... I didn't know dad used to come here. That makes it a little different."
"Maybe that is why I come here, because of Dad, but the views are pretty good. And we both have binoculars so we'll see the lightships for most the first half of the circuit, well except for the canyons and caves in the Inner Crags. Plus, I know all the racers. You want to know anything about them, just ask."
"OK, so who's in the first lineup?"
"You know that's not what I meant."
"You said you know them all."
"Stop screwing around. You know it's only the championship race that counts. It's 5 laps, and every pilot is a legend. The first race is single lap and half the guys are first timers, most of which don't even finish."
"OK, then how do the lightships work?"
"What? How would I know?"
"You saw Hektor's ship up close. I've never seen that."
"Listen little brother, next time they bring Hektor's lightship to the West Market, trust me, we'll be there, watching the races... hell, from on top of the ship."
"Ha, that would be funny. They would so kick us out if we did that. Hey, why haven't they done that again?"
"Display a lightship?"
"I don't know."
"You're so lucky."
"I guess I am."
"And you didn't notice how it works?"
"Sorry little brother, but no."
"I just don't understand how they get to float in the air like that. Nothing floats in the air. Even bats have to flap their wings, if they stop they fall like rocks. Even the tiny insects, they all have to flap their wings, but lightships, they just float... like magic."
"So do vidroms and the pylons." Andee reminds Mykee.
"I know, but how? How do the Bitani do that?"
"Sometimes I think you're more interested in how they work than the races."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, other than disappointment."
"You don't think I'll ever be able to figure it out?"
"No other Carpati has."
"Are you sure?"
"Can't be sure, but I've never heard of a Carpati that knows how these ships work."
"How about Hektor?"
"He didn't know how it worked, he was just a pilot. He had a whole crew of Bitani who took care of the ship."
"But he was Carpati?"
"No, he was."
"The Bitani say otherwise."
"Since when do you trust the Bitani?"
"I hope you're right..." A loud echo from a siren interrupts Andee. "Ah there it is! That's the horn for the first race." Andee comments excited as the yellow warning light starts flashing on all the pylons. It is then followed by a sequence of flowing lights starting from the center of the pylon with red, followed by orange, changing to yellow, white, then light green, and than to a hard solid green at the very bottom. This will be the color sequence that will start the race.
"Only a few minutes now and we'll see them coming round the hill and right up at us." Andee blurbs becoming more and more excited.
"I wish we had a vidrom so we could see who's racing."
"Hey little brother, look down there." Andee points down past the south edge of the outcrop. This is the point where the circuit takes a sharp turn back down after a straight shot up the mountain on the Old Road. It's a treacherous turn, infamous in fact, called the Tombstone Turn. It redirects the race back down at an extremely steep-near vertical fall before it straightens out following the contour of the base of table mountain into the Flatlands. There, the lightships now moving at near full speed of over 600kph, head into The Long Curve ahead of the Carpati viewing stands. It circles around the West Market, before the course heads into the Crags, which is full of canyons and tunnels.
From their lounge, Andee and Mykee not only have a perfect view of the climb up the Old Road, but also of the steep Tombstone Turn which is literally on the south wall of their vertical stone outcrop. It's a sharp U-turn that forces the lightships sideways, literally 'riding on the wall', to head back down the dizzyingly steep slope towards the market. The people on the outcrop will lose sight of the ships for a moment since the ships turn on the vertical wall just below their feet, but from their lounge, Andee and Mykee will have a perfect lateral view of the action happening about 20 to 30 meters below them.
Mykee is frantically trying to follow Andee's pointing finger.
"Down just past the edge of the outcrop, between The Long Curve and stands, down on the left. That giant vidrom, hovering across from the west market. It's visible from here now. It's a bit at an angle, but I bet you can read the names of the racers on there."
"You're right! I see it. It's never been visible from here before."
Mykee jumps on his seat excited, puts up his binoculars and scans the area. Andee does the same.
"You got it?"
"Not yet not yet." Mykee answers with feverish urgency in his words. "There, there, I got it!" He adjusts the focus wheel on his eyepiece. "I see the screen. I can read the names." A moment later. "Don't recognize a single one of them."
"Neither do I"
"Uh-uh, look they're showing the ships in the 1st lineup! Oh my god, look at 15! It's a junker! It looks like it was made out of parts from Old Man Tom's junkyard." After a pause. "You think the pilot is Carpati?"
"Doubt it. We haven't had a Carpati in the races in a long time." Andee answers mater of fact.
"That's what I hear, but where is he now?"
"I don't know. Maybe living the good life up in the City--but even with a junker I hope the pilot is Carpati."
"He's not, I'm sure of it."
"You can't be sure."
"If he was everyone would be talking about it, no?"
Mykee just shrugs his shoulders in response.
"Plus, I've seen junkers piloted by Bitani before, especially in the prelims." Andee continues.
"I thought all the Bitani were rich."
"Little brother, I have no idea what goes on up there in their mountain top cites, but many of these preliminary racers pilot some real junkers."
Looking away from his binoculars at Andee. "How many cities are there?"
"I don't know." Andee answers still focused on the vidrom through his binoculars. "Supposedly just this one, but Old Tom has seen another."
"Weird. Why don't they tell us this in school?"
"That's a question I've asked many times?"
"Is that why you quit school?"
"One of the reasons." As Andy answers, Mykee looks back through his binoculars.
"Hey-hey, look at Ship1, Oh My God!"
"Whoa, that is beautiful!" Andee muses to himself.
"I thought this was just a prelim race? Who's this guy with such a fancy lightship?"
Holding on tight to their binoculars both brothers are locked on the giant hovering vidrom far bellow. An image of a young guy with his blonde hair sweeping over to one side, like a lazy crest of a rooster, and dressed from the neck down in an all white leather pilot's suit, appears on screen. He raises his helmet high up in the air as the shot cuts away to the crowds cheering before they focus back on the young man celebrating glory.
"Is that the pilot?" Mykee asks bewildered. "Dude, the guy is the same age as you. I didn't know 16 year olds could be pilots."
"He might just look young, and by the way, I'm 17 now."
"Look, his name is Ricio Bret. That's definitely Bitani."
"What else would it be?"
"No way he's 20. I thought the rules say no one under 20."
The image cuts to the announcers.
"Little brother can you lip read?"
"Maybe I can." Andee focuses on the lips of the two sharp suited announcers, but it's futile. He then focuses on the montage running on the background screen between the announcers. It shows the young man piloting his beautiful lightship, training, his crew working on it, and so on. Eventually the video montage turns into a photo sequence and stops on an image that looks like a family photo.
"That looks like his family... maybe." Mykee blurbs out. "The old guy with the beard. You think that's the dad?"
"I guess. Hmm, that's odd."
"He looks familiar."
"Who? The dad? You know who he is?"
"No, but he does look familiar."
"Look-look they're showing his lightship again. It's got a white light-pillow beneath. And it sparks, look! It's like little lighting bolts. That's really odd. Light-pillow's are usually either red, green, or blue, and look like mist of water not lightning. You think that means it has more power?"
"I wish I knew?"
"I believe it does. I think the secret is in the light. I think that's how they float. That light is like..."
"I don't know... like an energy. And it makes the ship float and move and everything. Look! It's called the Silver Sickle. Man that thing is beautiful. Oh look, now they're showing the other ones."
The brothers watch quietly as the specs of each ship is broadcast on the giant viewer.
"Hmm... only 9 racers. I hope the next race has all 15 spots taken." Andee blurbs out loud.
Out of the 9 lightships 1 and 15 are the most unique, each for different reasons. Lightship1, the Silver Sickle is all white, shiny, and brand new. It's decorated with sparkling silver racing stripes and designs. The front is broad and round in the shape of a horizontal sickle, with both points extending back. The body flows from the center of the sickle in long sleek organic curves around the pilot's obsidian black bubble. At the back, it turns into a flat horizontal wing with pointy tips on the outer edges. The pilot's egg-shaped bubble is encased in the center of the body with views above and below the seat. The ship floats a meter above the ground on a glowing pillow of hazy, but sparkling white light, with occasional electric arcs between it and the ground. The light seems to be the mechanism keeping this ship in the air. It is without question the most elegant and impressive of all the lightships in the lineup.
Lightship15 is a Junker with 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 front windscreen, and metal flares on either side around the pilot for some protection against the elements, but he is still mostly exposed. The center body of the ship is a long cylinder with the pilot startling it, leaning forward as if riding a motorbike. At the front and back there are two more cylindrical light engines forming T shapes at both ends, both of different sizes. The front one is wider, but the rear one is thicker. Both light engines have hammer bent metal shields over them. The ship looks like a hodgepodge of formerly crashed parts hobbled together to create this masterpiece.
The rest of the ships are variations in between. Lightship4 is a simple teardrop, larger in the front and tapering to a sharp point in the back. It's the color of rust, because it's completely rusted. Lightship5 is made up of two four meter long parallel cylinders that house the engines, and 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 it does have a triangular metal mohawk pointing backwards as a fin. The solid black metal bubble has a vertical window crossed by another horizontal one, forming a perfect glass cross up front. Lightship6 is shaped somewhat like a classic streamliner locomotive. The center is vertically taller than wide from front to end, and flanked by its engines on both sides, making the bottom half wider. The pilot's bubble is right up front, in the "nose" of the ship. Lightship8 is the same as ship4, a teardrop shape but clean and freshly painted in bright yellow. Lightship9 looks exactly like an almond, a blue almond with a bubble at the very back. Lightship10 is the smallest and a perfect round saucer with a transparent bubble in the middle. Lightship13 is the second biggest after ship6, cone-shaped, but a flattened cone with a pilots bubble towards the end flanked by two light engines on either side. Both engines have small rounded vertical canards with a large vertical one behind the bubble. The ship is gray with black racing stripes and accents.
"Who do you think is going to win?"
"15" Andee answers mater of fact.
"You're joking, the junker? I think it's going to be 1."
"A fancy ship is no guarantee. A good pilot in a junker will outrace a mediocre one in the best ship. Its not just about speed."
"Except for the Long Straight after the Salt Sea. That's all speed."
"Yeah, but I prefer the twists, turns, and blind corners of the canyons."
"Most of the course is pretty hardcore, especially the Crags." Mykee answers shaking his head in agreement.
"Lightship graveyard, that's what some people call the Crags. That's why there hasn't been a race without a crash in more than four years."
"Well, the crashes are pretty cool."
Another echo of what sounds like a distant horn goes off. The yellow warning lights on the pylons flash three times.
"Here we go, they're lined up." Andee blurts out.
"I know, I know, I've been watching the giant vidrom this whole time."
The pylons light up bright in a kaleidoscope of colors.
"Signal for the countdown is up." Andee blurts out as he stares at the vidrom through his binoculars. Above the old road the pylons fade to dark for a moment and then the top red light shines bright followed by the sequence.
"Red, orange, yellow, white, and greeeen!" Mykee counts down the lights to start.
"They're off, little brother, they're off! They should be coming around the corner any second."
"Nah, it'll be a minute." Mykee answers as he takes away his binoculars.
"You and your precise measurements." Andee speaks from behind his binoculars still watching the vidrom. " Lightship5 is pulling ahead with Lightship13 right behind. It looks like it's going to be Lightship5 coming around the corner any minute."
"Man, 1 is falling behind. It's already in fifth position." Mykee resigns disappointed as he focuses back on the vidrom below. "Here they come, here they come!" Mykee shouts as Lightship5 is first to round the corner.
At more than four kilometers away, the ships look small but they can be clearly seen. Lightship5 and Lightship13 are up front fighting for first spot with the rest on their heels. Junker 15 is already trailing last behind the battling cluster.
"Look! Look!" Mykee shouts out. "It's ship1! It's ship1! He's pulling ahead! He's passing. He just passed ship10, and he's coming up on ship6."
"I see it brother, I see it."
"I told you he's going to win-look! He just passed 6. He's in third place and moving faster, he's gaining on 13. Holly crap, he's going to pass 13."
"Oh-oh!" Andee muses.
"What-what? He just passed 13! He's in second place!"
"He better slow down."
"What do you mean slow down, he's gon'a pass ship5, he's gon'a take the lead!"
"He's dumb, he's coming up too fast on Tombstone. He's passing cuz everyone else is slowing down."
"He got it! Lightship 1 is up front now!" Mykee shouts in excitement.
"Damn it, he's not slowing down! He needs to slow down!" Andee shouts concerned. "Mykee squat down man, this dude is going to crash right into us!"
The ships are now moving at more than 300 kilometers per hour, with lightship 1 quickly approaching 400kph.
"Oh my God, here he comes, here he comes! Mykee down!"
And lightship1 takes the turn hard, heading up on the sheer wall vertically, but his momentum is just too great. As he tries to turn back down, the ship skids sideways right up the wall. A second later it spins over, and the top of the ship smashes into the southern edge of the outcrop tearing the ship to pieces, and breaking off chunks of rock from the edge. The impact is so brutal debris and dust fly up dozens of meters into the air, while chucks of rock are now falling like a storm of stone right onto the circuit and into the incoming ships. The spectators on the southern edge are knocked back, both by the impact and the shock of it happening just meters under their feet. All leap or are thrown backwards half of which fall to the ground.
The first three lightships, being directly behind lightship1, 5, 13, and 6, are through before the storm of stone, but lightship10 gets slammed hard by flying boulders and the saucer spins out of control, crashing into the rock below. It skids like a mad sled down the steep and rough slope, but stays in one pierce.
The next two ships are just as unlucky and are damaged simultaneously. A boulder smashes right through the front windshield of lightship4 causing it to immediately crash a fraction of second after lightship10. Smaller rocks and boulders smash into lightship9 some of which get into the engine. Smoke bellows from the ship and it starts wobbling. Still moving fast, it's out control, and hits a protruding stone causing it to spin overhead tumbling violently down the slope breaking into thousands of pieces. Lightship8 passed through the stone storm untouched, by sheer luck, not any particular pilot skill, and is now in fourth place. Lightship15 finally chugs along unharmed as it passes by all the carnage in last place.
On the outcrop, the spectators survived only by the skin of their teeth. By some miracle not a single one was seriously hurt even though many were only an arm's length from the debris flying upward during the impact. Dust, rocks, and ship parts, are now starting to rain down. The spectators on the outcrop are beginning to scramble and panic."Look! Look!" Mykee shouts pointing up in the air. "That's the bubble! It's still intact. Oh no, the pilot!" Mykee cuts himself off as he watches the bubble, with the pilot still inside, stop from its vertical thrust only to then accelerate back down speeding faster and faster towards the jagged edges of the cliff below.
End of Chapter 1 next Chapter 2 : Rescue Hoppers