Sunday, November 1, 2015

Chapter 6 - The Junker






Lightship Chronicles
Book 1 : Sacred Warriors
copyright©2015 Florin Nicoara

Governor Brandberd Bret is standing in the oval walled hallway, in front of one of the purple embossed panels that's missing the light filaments and bust. He is gently taping the upper corner of the panel with his three middle fingers, and as he does, a small square lights around them. After three or so of these taps an intercom voice becomes audible.
"Go away. I'm not talking to you."
"Son. Last race you almost died, and you haven't talked to me since. Now you're going to race again, and..."
"I almost died because you left me to die! Are you going to end me for good this time?"
"Son please let me in so we can talk." The doors slide open.
Brandberd enters with a hint of trepidation. The room's decor is similar to his office. It looks quite formal, like an appointment or waiting hall of some sort. Ricio is standing in front of a 3D mirroring-hologram of himself, while two beautiful female attendants are helping with his white-leather pilot jumpsuit.
"I need to speak privately with my son." The Governor directs his words towards the attendants with an authoritative tone. The two beautiful young women rush out.
"You were not going to die. I had a plan." Brandberd directs his words to Ricio who shakes his head in disapproval without a word, adjusting his collar with his eyes on the mirroring hologram. "I want to wish you good luck. And be safe. You will become a champion, but it takes time. For a rookie just finishing the race is a win, even for a Bret. We Brets are a great people, but you need to humble yourself to the race, and be patient. Do it step by step, and you will be a champion."
"Don't worry. I won't crash, and I won't have secret conversations with Carpati who happened to rescue me, and save my life."
"Son, I just want you to be safe."
For the first time turning to his dad. "Then why the hell did you force my doctor to take me off intensive healing the day after the race? And then you erased part of the recording. You cared more about what that stupid Carpati saw than my life! Get out!"
"No! Son, listen to me. You don't know who that kid is."
"How can I, you tell me nothing."
"You know that's how the system works. Until you finish The Regime, until you enter Husarii training, you will know nothing. Only after the Crossover, only after you prove yourself, only then, can you know it all."
"Why?"
"Because that's the system. If we change it, it will fall apart."
"Are you telling me that kid, who didn't even know what a hopper is, is a threat to our entire civilization?"
"More than you realize."
"Then tell me!" Looking at his father with intensity.
"What did I just say? What have you been trained since you were a boy?"
"Maybe it's time to change things. You expect me to go through The Regime, endure the insanity of becoming a Husarii, all without incentive? Without knowing why? Give me a reason, and then I'll gladly do this."
"You know why. Knowledge and power. But more important, you are a Bitani and a Bret. We are ordained by virtue of our birth in keeping structure and order on this world. That's reason enough."
"No, it's not. I need to know that I'm doing this for the right reasons. The fact that you refuse to tell me the reason, makes me doubt it even more."
"Son, you're 19 years old. Remember, the only reason you're racing is because of me. You're still a teenager. Your heart is bigger than your brain. That's why you crashed and why you refuse to listen to me now. You are all impulse, act first, think later. You want to know everything, now. You refuse to accept that some things can not be known until the right time. I'm not holding information from you to be a jerk. It's simply not the right time. You will know, but only when you're ready. When you are trained to know. That's what The Regime is for."
"I've heard this line a million times. I don't need to hear it again. If that's all you have to say, leave." Ricio turns back to the 3D mirroring hologram of himself and continues adjusting his suit. Brandberd stands watching without a word. Ricio stops and turns his head to face his dad. "How do you not understand that you were willing to kill me? What you did guaranteed my death. Me, your son. But a Carpati saved me. How can I ever forgive you for that?"
"When you're done with the regime and pass the crossover. When you will no longer be just a citizen, but an administrator, and a Husarii yourself, then you will know, and you will see that I made the right choice."
"Get out! I don't want to see you right now. Leave!" With his face pulled down by disappointment, Brandberd walks to the sliding doors. "And this time, I'm not crashing, so there's no chance for you to let me die." Ricio snaps at his dad just before the doors sweep shut.

The outcrop is thumping. Someone brought up a powerful audio system and the Prave music is filling the air with its rhythm and riffs, to the dance sound's base and beat. It's a party atmosphere for another evening at the races. It's been more than an hour since first horizon and the giant red sun is half hidden behind the distant Crags. Lit from behind, the huge pillars look like burning effigies of stone in the fiery light of the bubbling orange setting sun. In fact, the whole sky above the horizon is a bloody crimson red as far as the eye can see. The entire western scape of Carpatia is bathed in a hazy crimson glow. Even the many mesas, with their giant table tops of stone that dot the split between the ground and the sky, are painted in the mystic haze. It's a sunset unlike any other. A truly beautiful sight to behold, yet no one on the outcrop cares. The teen and twenty something's gathered here are far more focused on their party, and upcoming race, to notice the daily setting of this huge majestic sun.
Nayaa is first to step up from the trail. A minute later Mykee huffs and puffs onto the outcrop with Andee following. It's full of people, twice as many as last time. The three head into the crowd when suddenly someone yells at them.
"Hey, there he is! That's the guy!" Several people yell.
Andee, a bit startled, looks around while half the near by crowd turns to look at him. Some begin to cheer, others applaud. He turns to Nayaa baffled, as does she and Mykee towards each other, but a moment later it all makes sense.
"Ah-wow, I guess you really are famous." Nayaa comments at Andee but is interrupted when several people approach to shake his hand. They push her and Mykee aside while congratulating Andee for his amazing rescue at the last races. He humbly nods not knowing what to say.
As the congratulations come to an end, and the people step away, Gono approaches. Dirin and his buddies aren't far behind, but keep their distance, turned away but looking over their shoulders. Seems they are a bit afraid of getting too close to Nayaa, who is now a few steps behind Andee, and focused on Mykee's panel. On impulse she looks up and notices them. She focuses her glare on Dirin, and gives him a giant friendly smile accented by a slight twist of her head. Dirin quickly looks away.
"Hey, hero." Gono greets Andee stepping in between the long distance tension.
"That was weird." Andee skips the greet still looking around.
"Sure, Mr. Humble. People respecting you. So weird." Gono counters while Andee smirks sheepishly. "What have you been up to man? I've hardly seen you in weeks, and guess who was asking for you at the prave last weekend?" Andee looks at him questionably, but doesn't say a thing. "Oh sure, pretend, you know who, that beautiful Bitani light-fairy, Silestra. She came to talk to me. She wanted to know where you were." Just as Nayaa and Mykee step up next to Andee.
"Silestra?" Nayaa blurts with a disgusted look on her face. "What kind of silly-ass name is that?" Gono suddenly gets nervous as he turns to her.
"Yeah-ah, it is kind'a dumb, that's true. Yeah, your name is much, ahh..." But his words freeze up when Nayaa locks her eyes on him, a bit squinty, and with an aggressive glare. She's not angry, just focused, staring right through him, trying to read him. Gono quickly looks away even more nervous.
"I'm sorry man, I've been so busy helping out Old Tom. So did you get that job up in the city?" Andee cuts the tension by changing the subject.
"Ah-no, not yet. It takes a while. They said it could take months, and there's no guarantees." Gono quickly glances to Nayaa after responding. She is once again looking at Mykee's white panel. They are watching the pre-race show.
"Really?"
"Hey man, I know what you're thinking, but... I'm sure there's good reason why. I will get that job. They're not just stringing me along."
"I'm not judging. I don't know how they do things up there. You're probably right. You really want that job so I hope it comes through for you."
"Yeah me too man. Hey, what's that your brother got there? Is it some kind of vidrom?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"I built it!" Mykee looks up off his display to Gono beaming with pride.
"What? How?" Gono asks surprised.
"We found it, and he turned it on, he didn't build it." Andee counters dismissively.
"I fixed it. I figured it out!" Mykee snaps at his brother frowning with agitation.
"Aren't you going up to your lounge to watch the race?"
"You guys don't want to watch it with me, and hear the announcers?"
"I want to talk to you for a second. Come on." Andee changes subject and nudges to Mykee to follow. Nayaa frowns a bit at Andee, confused by his request, but then shrugs her shoulders as they walk away. She turns to Gono.
"What up G?"
"Ahh, not much you know. Just..." Finding himself face to face with Nayaa, alone, turns poor Gono into a mess. He is struggling with his words.
"Are you really getting a job in the city?" Nayaa ignores his nervousness and asks him with a suspicious glare. Gono is fidgeting, and timidly starts giving her mater of fact, and extremely boring details of his interviews while further aside Andee turns to Mykee like he is about to scold him for something.
"Listen man, I know you're proud of making this thing work, and so am I, but remember what we told you last night. Somebody is watching us because they think I'm some guy named Starfighter. If you brag about figuring out Bitani tech, they'll think you're one of them too. I'm sorry, but we have to keep this to ourselves. We have no idea who's on this outcrop. Any one of these people could be spies, and if they hear you talk like that, we're all screwed."
"Sorry." Mykee responds looking down with a sad pout.
"Even having this is a risk, but since other people have vidroms, I figured we could get away with it. But it does look different, so lets not draw more attention to it."
"OK."
"And keep an eye out. If you see any insect flying above, point it to me. There shouldn't be any now that we've passed first horizon."
"Got it."
They walk back up to Gono and Nayaa. Gono is standing frozen stiff, while Nayaa is looking at him out of the corner of her eyes through a squint. She looks relieved to see Andee and Mykee approach.
"Have you two resolved your brotherly issues?" She inquires.
"Yes we have."
"Hey guys! Look!" Mykee shouts pointing at the screen in his arms. "They're talking about lightship1. It looks like it's back, and racing in the prelims again."
"What? Are you serious?" Andee responds snapping the display out of Mykee's hands. He stares at it dumbfounded. "They actually fixed the Silver Sickle?" The announcers go over the new lightship. They describe it as an identical replacement of the crashed one.
"No, its a new lightship but looks just like the old one." Mykee repeats the info to his brother amazed, his eyes glued to the screen. Gono and Nayaa huddle around them to get a closer look. On screen, they are showing segments from the previous race of the Silver Sickle taking the lead and than the crash.
"Wow!" Gono shouts. "Look at that. We saw that!" The footage than shows Andee carrying Ricio to the Rescue Corps and gently dropping him on a gurney.
"Dude! Dude! That's you man!" Gono elbows Andee in his excitement.
"Wow." Nayaa muses.
"Oh, they didn't show how you carried him all the way down." Gono sounds off disappointed. The announcers declare that Ricio is now back to health, and ready to race again.
The video than switches to Ricio. They show him training, inspecting the lightship, looking like a man who means business. Then it goes to a quick interview.
"That was a terrible crash you endured last time. All the race veterans were shocked when you didn't slow down into tombstone turn. Why did you think you could take it at such a high speed?"
Squeezing his lips, looking a tad embarrassed, Ricio responds. "To be perfectly honest, it was a rookie mistake. The Silver Sickle has the best lateral stabilizers out there, and... I over estimated my skill, and their limitations. As great as this lightship is, I pushed it beyond what it was designed to do. It was my mistake."
"And you almost paid the ultimate price for that mistake, your life."
"I did. In fact, if it wasn't for that brave Carpati who rescued me, I would not have survived."
"Dude!" Gono nails Andee with his elbow in excitement again.
"I really want to thank him for what he did. I owe him." Ricio states looking directly into the recorder.
"Dude! Dude!" And Gono elbows Andee again.
"Knock it off man. Just watch." Andee snaps at him.
"My understanding is that the Carpati teen in question is Andee Starfighter." The announcer turns to look directly into the recorder. "We all want to thank you for what you did. I think I speak for all of us when I say that." The announcer finishes his statement with a humble nod than turns back to Ricio.
Andee, with round eyes, turns to Nayaa. They stare at each other horrified. Gono clueless responds irate.
"Dude! They got your name wrong again! But who cares man, you're a freaking hero."
"And I'm sure no one is more pleased that you survived than your long time girlfriend..." The announcer continues as the image pulls back from its close up on Ricio, to reveal a girl standing next to him, "Silestra Orr." The announcer names her, while Ricio leans over and gives her a nice soft kiss. "Silestra, you almost lost the love of your life. How do you feel about him racing again after what happened?"
Both Gono and Andee's eyes bulge out of their heads as they stare at the screen dumbfounded.
"Holly mother of crap!" Gono blurts out loud. "That's your Silestra man!"
Nayaa too recognizes her, but her face is a combination of shock and a bit of mischievousness. She's not sure if she is displeased or happy by the turn of events.
Andee on the other hand looks gutted. He looks devastated, as if his heart was ripped out of his chest. The announcer continues asking them questions about the upcoming race, but Andee looks away and hands off the display to his little brother. Mykee grabs it staring at all of them, catching the tension, but not understanding the cause.
"What's wrong? Why is everyone so weird all of a sudden?" Andee turns away ignoring him while Gono follows. Nayaa leans down to Mykee's ear and whispers.
"That's Andee's Bitani girlfriend."
"You mean that girl he talked to at the prave?" Mykee asks and Nayaa nods. "That's not his girlfriend. He just talked to her for a while, and she told him he would make a good pilot. That's not his girlfriend."
Nayaa makes a questioning face and shrugs her shoulders. "Maybe you're right. But I think Andee liked her a bit more than he wants to admit."
"Really?"
"Don't worry. Pretty soon you'll have a crush on a girl too. Than you'll find out how much it sucks." Mykee just shrugs his shoulders and focuses back on his display.
Gono gently pats Andee on the back who is still walking in a daze.
"Dude, I don't know what to say man. I'm sure there's a good explanation." Andee stops and looks at him. His face suddenly looks strong and his sadness seems magically gone.
"What are you talking about?" Andee asks with forced casualness, but Gono squints at him suspicious. "You mean that girl? She's just a girl who thanked me for rescuing her boyfriend. It's no big deal."
"Dude, I saw how she talked to you. She was flirting hardcore. You can't deny that!"
"She's Bitani, maybe that's how they are. Maybe she thought she was being nice to me, and I thought... It doesn't matter man. It is what it is."
"Did she tell you the dude was her boyfriend?"
"No. But she didn't suggest her and I should..." But Andee cuts himself off.
"Should what?"
"Be more than friends." He answers as Nayaa walks up to them.
"Dude there's nothing wrong with admitting you like her. Maybe she was just being friendly, either way, its OK for you to like her and tell her that you do, even if she is that dude's girl."
"Look who's talking." He responds to Gono while head nodding towards Nayaa, who just  joined them.
"What?" Nayaa reacts surprised and looks at Gono for a clue. He instantly freezes up and looks down. Nayaa quickly looks from one guy to the other a couple of times. "What?"
Andee just shrugs his shoulders and head nods towards Gono. Nayaa focuses her strong eyes on Gono.
"What's up dude?" She asks exaggerating the word dude. Gono is now beyond intimidated. He is literally trembling. Nayaa turns to Andee with a confused squint, like 'what's up with him?' Andee shrugs his shoulders. Nayaa quickly flicks her eyes between the two of them, but without a hint of what's going on, she shrugs them both off and changes the subject.
"Whatever. Listen dudes! Are you guys gon'a watch the race? It's about to begin." And as she speaks the distant horn goes off, followed by the kaleidoscope of lights on the floating pylons. The crowd roars with cheers. The three of them rush to Mykee who is now on the southern edge of the outcrop, just below their cove, looking down the old road.
Andee stops next to him and looks up.
"Lets get up in our lounge. I think we can all sit there with our legs dangling out." Andee suggests and Nayaa instantly leaps and scampers up the three meter stone wall so fast she is in the little cove in half a second. A couple of nearby people in the crowd react with, "Whoa!" startled by Nayaa's swift spider like climb. Gono is pretty skilled himself as he scampers up the stone. Andee helps Mykee up, and then joins them sitting next to his brother who is between Andee and Gono. Nayaa is further back into the carved lounge. She's got the worst view of the Old Road, from behind the guys, but is already leaning back in the comfortably carved stone too chill to care.
The sequence of lights start up on the pylons. Red flashes first, followed by orange, changing to yellow, white, then light green, and than to a hard solid green at the very bottom of the pylon. With the green another loud horn sounds in the distance. The start is seconds away.
"How many lightships we got in this race Mykee?" Andee asks getting excited again.
"15."
"Full race?"
"Yup, and all the lightships that survived that last prelim are back, including 1 and 15."
"No way, the Junker is back!" Andee retorts surprised.
"Oh-oh." Mykee reacts. "Delay."
Both Andee and Gono focus on the display.
"What happened?" Nayaa asks still chilling in her comfortable cove.
"Dun'no. But they're delaying the race a few minutes. Look they're showing the lineup again."
All three watch the display in Mykee's lap attentively. Even Nayaa scoots up and leans over Mykee's shoulder. The line up is 1 through 15. The lightships that survived the last prelim, ship5 the Black-Cross, ship6 the Streamliner, ship8 the Yellow-Teardrop, and ship13 the Winged-Cone are back. Ship4, the Rusted Teardrop is also back, dented and damaged, but apparently still working. The list of lightship is as follows.
Lightship 1 is of course Ricio's lightship, The Silver Sickle. It's all white with shiny silver racing stripes and designs. The front curves horizontally, like a sickle on its side, with both tips pointing backwards. The body extends from the center of the sickle in a long sleek and elegant shape of organic curves, accented by grooves and rounded flares. The very back turns into a flat horizontal fishtail feature with back pointing tips on the outer edges. The pilot's egg-shaped bubble is encased in the center of the body. It has all around views top and bottom. The lightship floats about a meter off the ground on a glowing pillow of hazy white light filled with sparks and streamers like miniature lightning arks.
The new racers start with lightship 2, The Dragonfly. The body is iridescent blue with a bubble shaped like a single dragonfly eye, at the very front of the body. Behind the bubble, the body is made of segments that taper down a point like a short and chunky dragonfly tail. On either side of the front half of the body, and attached to it by flexible arms, are its two light engines that curve inward in front of the bubble like crab claws. The light pillow below is sky blue.
Lightship 3 is The Horseshoe. It has a single light emitting engine curving around the front to both sides, like it's namesake. It's center body is egg-shaped, made mostly of metal with all around black windows. It's attached to its light engine by three flexible arms, two on the sides and one up front. It's leathery brown in color with a sulfur yellow light pillow.
Although damaged, lightship 4, The Rusted Teardrop, is back. It's body is rounded in the front which then tapers to a point at the back. Front to end, running across the top, it has a long tubular bubble like that of jet fighter. The bubble is ringed in two places then crossed over by a middle metal band from front to back, forming a rusted metal frame for more support. The entire lightship is completely rusted and full of dents and damage from the previous crash. It floats on a light red glow.
Lightship 5, The Black Cross, is made up of two four meter long parallel cylinders that house the engines which produce the purplish-blue glow beneath. Between them, the pilot's bubble is attached to both cylinders by flexible arms. The lightship is all black, including the perfectly spherical bubble in the center. It also has a triangular airfoil streaming behind the bubble to a point like a black triangular mohawk. The solid black metal bubble has a cross shaped window up front. Its black paint is matte, and parts riveted together. It has a Gothic dark and menacing aura about it.
Another returning lightship is 6, The Streamliner. It's shaped like an old streamliner locomotive. The body is vertically taller than wide and tapers into a long square fin in the back. The lower half is flanked by its engines, both attached very close to the body. The pilot's bubble is right up front, in the tip of the 'nose' of the lightship, which protrudes slightly forward. It's a large lightship with patchy rusty-red colors, and it floats on a red glow.
Lightship 7 is The Course Crusher. Powerful name but unfortunately a weak ship. It's over one hundred years old, and a civilian lightspeeder made back in the day by the Burebista company, called the Burebista CC. A hundred years ago, Burebista was a top manufacturer of lightships in their time. They were famous for making beautiful works of art that were also the fastest lightships around, and dominated the races. The Course Crusher was the civilian version and their best selling model of all time. The ones in mint condition have become classics, but most are old wrecks and turned into racers by those who can't afford a proper modern lightship, since parts and options for them are plentiful. But without proper modifications, their top speed is only 500kph and will not keep up with the modern lightships. Wedge shaped up front, with a sharp horizontal nose, it has flaring light engine wells build into the body in the front, with two thrusters attached to the tapering back end. It's white and looks in excellent condition for it's hundred plus year age. It produces a hazy light blue glow underneath.
Lightship 8 is The Yellow Teardrop. It's the same design as ship4, teardrop shaped, but looks clean and new, freshly painted in bright yellow. It floats on a light green pillow.
Lightship 9 is The Radd Menace. It's crimson red with the underside in shiny gold. The center body is vertically taller than wide with a circular bubble at the very front. It's very angular with hard edges and the back is segmented and tapers vertically. It's light engines are swept back, starting from the middle of the body and sweeping long behind it. They are tall and thin and slightly more rounded than the rest of the lightship. It floats on a golden glow.
Lightship 10 is The Obsidian Blue. It's engines are one single oval black disk attached by four arms to the central dark blue obsidian looking bubble. The bubble is glossy, as is the dark blue oval engine around it. It floats on a rich purple light pillow.
Lightship 11 is The Orange Almond. Like the crashed 9 it's almond shaped with the light engines built into the body, and the bubble towards the back. It floats on a red glow.
Lightship 12 is The Pearl Beauty, another modified civilian ship. Perl white in color and with chrome accents, it looks a bit similar to old 1930's Earth Automobiles. It has a long sleek body that tapers down in the back. The bubble is in the center with four shapely light engines flaring out like wheel wells. It's beautifully decorated with copper grills at the front with other copper details and stripes flowing with its curves. It floats on a faint greenish-blue pillow of light.
Lightship 13 is The Spear. Shaped like the tip of a spear it's long with a bubble at the back. On either side of the bubble it has two tubular light engines, each with flaring canards both horizontal and vertical. It also has a large vertical canard behind the bubble. It's gray with black racing stripes and accents, and floats on a blue glow.
Lightship 14 is The Green Orb. It's a strange lightship. The body is a creamy green orb with patches of transparent bubble, forming irregular patterns all around it. Out of the body four thin arms extend in each direction with near squares engines on each end. The front and back arms are longer while the side ones shorter. It floats on a bright green light pillow.
And last, and in fact least, is lightships 15, The Junker. This one has no bubble at all. The pilot is completely exposed, with only his suit and helmet protecting him from the heat, wind, dust, and sand at speeds reaching 600 kilometers per hour. He does have a small front windscreen with metal flares on the sides, for some protection. The center body of the lightship is a long cylinder with the pilot startling it, leaning forward as if riding an Earth speed bike. At the front and back there are two light engines forming T shapes, at both ends, each a different size. The front is wider, while the back shorter but thicker. Over the engine cylinders there are metal sheets bent over like streamers to protect them from debris. The lightship looks like a hodgepodge of formerly crashed parts hobbled together to create this masterpiece. It floats on a bright blue glow.
All the lightships have the one common and most important feature. The light pillow glowing below that is part of the mechanism that keeps the lightship floating in the air. It actually applies force to the ground causing rocks and dust to be shot out of the back, as if the ships have wheels. It only allows for forward and backward movement. The lightships do not slide sideways. Forced sideways they will either drift or flip over. The colors vary, and even similar colors have different hues, from red to purple and sky blue, to green sea, sulfur yellow, and orange sunset variations.
 Nayaa is lurching over Mykee and is first to comment.
"Wow, those are some interesting looking lightships. Why are they all so different?"
"No idea. It would be cool if Mykee finds more schematics on this thing." Andee answers pointing to the display in Mykee's lap. "Maybe he could figure out how all of them work."
"Now that would be sweet." Mykee responds. "That memory card. Maybe it has more schematics from different lightships..." but Gono cuts Mykee off in excitement.
"They're talking about the circuit! Hey guys, I want to see it. I haven't seen an overview of it in a long time. Can you turn up the volume?" Mykee nods in agreement and adjusts the display so that all four can hear and see. 
 On screen two mid thirties male announcers in sharp modern suits, 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 somewhat 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 onto the side of the stone outcrop. Go too slow and you simply fall off the side of the wall of mountain in your ready made grave."
"Ha-ha-ha, that's right. Or 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 in the 700kph 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 of the other side like a bullet 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 end completely lit up in green, accompanied by another loud horn. The lightships are off!
"Wow! Look at lightship 1 accelerating off the line." Gono shouts eyes glued to Mykee's display. All three huddle closer around Mykee in growing excitement.
The Silver Sickle speeds off from the start like a rocket, leaving the rest in its trail of dust. In an instant Ricio covers the 2km straight line out of the Bitani stands going from 0 to 600kph in a matter of seconds, but slows down for the turn up the old road. 
"Here they come-here they come!" Gono shouts excited looking up off the display and down the old road.
"Check out 9, the Radd Menace, he's gaining on ship1." Andee shouts still focused on the display."
"And so is 5, The Black Cross." Adds Mykee.
"Yeah, I guess this is kind of interesting." Nayaa muses as she looks over the guys' shoulders.
"There." Gono points at a growing cloud of dust at the base of the old road.
The lead lightships are now visible and speeding up the old road approaching quickly. The Silver Sickle is in first but as he approaches Tombstone turn he slows down substantially this time. The Radd Menace and the Black Cross take advantage and shoot ahead of ship1.
"Wow, that was a quick pass!" Andee muses as the Sickle falls in third.
"They're side by side." Mykee jumps excited pointing at lightships 9 and 5 on his screen. "They better separate into a line. Only one lightship at the time can turn on Tombstone."
The Black Cross aggressively cuts off the Radd Menace, coming fast at tombstone, but breaks hard as it turns onto the side of the outcrop, taking it at 150kph followed by the Radd Menace on his tail. From their vantage point, they can see the lightships about twenty meters below, coming right up at them and then turning away and back down.
"Whoa!" Nayaa howls impressed and lurches back forced away by the power and wind as the lightships first come at her, then turn away from her on the side of the outcrop below their feet. "Look at them go on the side. That's amazing!" Nayaa spouts with awe watching each lightship flash past her like lightning, one by one, each racer rounding tombstone turning in a death-defying snub to gravity and momentum, before they head back down. The crowd on the outcrop roars with cheers.
The Silver Sickle is in third place as they fall at full speed into the long curve. A clear gap is forming between the leaders and the rest, with Ship10 The Obsidian Blue, Ship12 the Pearl Beauty, and Ship6 the Streamliner right behind The Silver Sickle, forming the top six. Ship15 on the other hand is trailing behind the rest and falling even further in the high speed long curve.
The Black Cross, now leading, is first to approach the Long Mesa. It slows down from 700kph to make the abrupt turn left, and head west up on the side of Flat Rock. Like tombstone, the lightships have to once again ride on the vertical side of a stone cliff, but this time in a much longer and gentler curve so the lightships don't have to slow down as much. The Black Cross takes it at over 400kph, as does the Radd Menace right behind him, but The Sickle once again slows down more than most, and all three lightships behind him, The Streamliner, the Pearl Beauty, and the Obsidian Blue, pass the Silver Sickle in a flash on the side of the long mesa.
"Whoa! He's scared." Gono blurts.
"He's not scared." Mykee interjects.
"That crash freaked him out. I don't blame him. He slowed way too much for that turn."
"The other lightships are slowing down too."
"Yeah all the followers, the top five separated because they didn't slow much at all. Look at them. They've all created a full kilometer gap now." Gono continues as the five leaders disappear behind the mesas heading into the Crags. The rest of the lightships all slow down to turn onto Flat Rock, except one.
"Wow, look at 15, he just passed the Green Orb. He's no longer in last place." Andee finally speaks up. "And now he's passing the Horseshoe, and the Rusted Teardrop. Holly crap!" Andee glares into the distance at the Junker making its move. Not only does it not slow down, but accelerates into the turn at its full speed, about 600kph, one by one passing all the slow lightships on the side of the mesa. On the exit down, and out of the turn, he gains on Silver Sickle at the base of the slope, but the Sickle is already in the flatlands between the huge mesas, and quickly accelerates ahead. A few seconds later all the lightships vanish completely between the large mesas at the entrance to the Crags. From the outcrop the lightships are no longer visible so the four turn their eyes back to the panel in Mykee's lap.
"Turn the volume back up. Lets hear the announcers." Gono shouts excited.
 The announcers are watching the 3D holographic image between them which takes up most of Mykee's display. The lightships are clearly visible in 3D, sometimes from up close, sometimes from a distance, with the two announcers hovering above, and just behind, as they give the play by play.
"They've all made it into the crags, Mando."
"Indeed they have Hondo, with ship5, the Black Cross maintaining his lead."
"He won the last prelims, if he wins this one, he will qualify for the final race."
"That's right, that is if he doesn't lose points."
"So true, amazingly enough even Junker 15 could qualify even though he finished last in the previous prelims."
"That's because he never wavered more than 10 meters from the pylons, so he did not lose any points while all the other lightships did."
"If he manages to do the same in this race, he might qualify."
"And he just might Hondo, because just a second ago he amazingly placed himself in 7th position."
"Amazing, but true Mando. This just shows you what a fantastic race this is. Even a hodgepodge of junk like ship15 stands a chance of winning given a brilliant pilot and the right strategy." Mando nods in agreement and squints as he focuses back on the race.
"And here begins the true test of their piloting prowess. They've just entered the labyrinth of the inner crags."
"This is where the chaos begins." And both announcers look at each other and nod looking very serious.
From the hard Flat Rock turn the lightships enter the Crags, but initially the land is still flat, with huge mesas all around and kilometers apart. After about 10km of flatland racing between the mesas they enter the labyrinth of the inner crags. This is where the Crags with the 2000m pillars of stone are clustered. Lightships here have to slow down as there isn't a single stretch of straight course anywhere in sight. Only protruding rocks, crevices, sheer drops, hard turns, and dark twisty tunnels.
The Black Cross is first to enter, slowing down dramatically which forces the other five lightships to cluster close behind him. The Silver Sickle is trailing at the end of the leading cluster as they enter the inner Crags, while the Junker is gaining and a few seconds later is on the Silver Sickle's tail.
"Oh my god!" Andee stares at the display amazed.
"Who's the pilot? That dude's amazing." Gono shouts equally mystified.
"He didn't show his face, they just showed his helmet." Mykee answers. "The guy is really secretive, didn't even use his real name."
"How do you know?" Gono asks.
"The Ghost? I doubt that's his name. Look, he's going to pass 1!" Mykee focuses back on his display.
In fact it seems the Junker would have passed the Sickle already had there been space. They are in a shallow canyon with spans of stone covering it sporadically, making it into an occasional tunnel. It's clear 'The Ghost' has phenomenal piloting skills. He is able to calculate turn radii, approach angels, and accelerate at just the right speed to cut up over, under, or around the protruding chunks of stone with only centimeters to spare. He shoots in and out of the tunnels, around turns and over gullies, with such efficiency that even with his slow lightship he is steadily gaining ground. Ricio's Sickle is in sixth position but after entering a tricky-triple-snaking set of turns, the Junker puts him in seventh as the Ghost skillfully cuts the corners short and passes ship1.
"Whoa, he did it!" Andee muses in disbelief.
"He did it!" Mykee adds equally amazed.
At another turn the Junker gains on ship6, The Streamliner. At less than half the size of the Streamliner, the Junker takes advantage of a cut in the rock wall they are racing past, and sneaks through it, ahead of ship6. The Junker is now tailing ship12, the Pearl Beauty, and ship10, the Obsidian Blue, who are nearly side by side. Ship5, the Black Cross is still in the lead, with ship9, the Radd Menace hot on his tail. The Junker is now directly on the tail of the Pearl Beauty who is closely tailing Obsidian Blue. They're heading towards a hard twist in the canyon. The lightships ahead brake, but the Junker does not, yet rather than slam into the back of the Pearl Beauty, instead, he climbs over its tapered back end, which is essentially a ramp, and suddenly flies right over 12 and 10 gaining a boost of speed while slowing those two lightships down from the force of his propelling light pillow. From his accelerated momentum the Junker also shoots right past the Radd Menace, all in one shot, but has to slow down directly behind the Black Cross, as they enter a hard turning canyon.
Hondo leaps in his seat. "Holly light-fairies! Is that even legal?" Hondo shouts looking at Mando with big round eyes. "I can't believe what I'm seeing. I'm about to jump out of my chair."
"Please don't because I won't catch you, ha-ha-ha." Both announcers laugh. "I'm as amazed as you are Hondo. Just look at 15! This is astounding! The Junker is in second place. In a matter of seconds he went from 7th to 2nd!"
"Amazing! In the previous prelim he never moved up out of last place, it is just astounding that now he is battling with the Black Cross for first place."
"This is a show of true pilot skill, but unfortunately he will fall behind like he did last time in the long straight."
"So true."
The Black Cross is holding on to first but the Junker is only meters on his tail. Both pilots are very skilled, both able to take the best turns, and make quick decisions of speed and angle of approach. They are almost flying in unison they are both so good. The Ghost, piloting his Junker, gets more aggressive as they enter a cave. He gets in less than a meter behind the Black Cross, but since it doesn't have a tapering end, the Ghost's attempt at riding over him like he did with the Pearl Beauty, does not take. He keeps trying to take him left, than right, then left again, but no deal. They both shoot out of the tunnel at 200kph straight towards a giant pillar of stone. They are in a half-pipe with sheer walls on both sides so no passing moves are possible. The Black Cross slows down hard for the turn around the pillar. He leaves a bit of a gap between himself and the sheer wall as he goes wide before the turn. It's all the Ghost needs. The Junker flies past the Black Cross speeding into the turn, and right up the base off the pillar for a few meters, launching sideways into the air.
"He's going to crash! He's going to crash!" Hondo shouts, while the four stare at the screen tense with anticipation. The Junker lands almost at forty-five degrees sideways. The lightship wobbles a bit on its light pillow, but with quick wit and skill, The Ghost recovers his lightship and maintains his position ahead of the Black Cross.
"Oh My God!" Hondo finally does jump out of his seat. "He did it! He's in first place!"
"Amazing!" Mando replies staring dumbfounded.
"Wow!" Andee quietly blurbs, while the other three stare at their small display mesmerized. Down on the outcrop, people clustered around a few vidroms available, shout and cheer as they jump with joy. Being Carpati, they can't help but root for the underdog.
But the Black Cross is not going to let this pass without a fight. He is riding the Junker hard. He is nearly touching the lightship, but there are just too many turns and the spaces too tight for him to make a move, yet the Cross is relentless.
"This is a battle, a true battle!" Hondo, back in his seat, shouts giddy with excitement. "I haven't seen a battle like this in ages. Look at them. They are fighting for first like mad."
The Cross bumps the Junker. The Junker accelerates into a hard turn and the corner of his front engine scrapes the rock. The Cross gains on him and bumps him again.
"This isn't just a race, it's a battle. Look at them go at each other." Hondo continues shouting more like a fan than a professional announcer.
The Black Cross is ever more aggressive. The lightship is bigger and sturdier so he is not afraid to ram into the Junker here and there, although if he hits him too hard they could both crash. The Junker is no longer just racing, but fighting to stay alive.
"I think he's going to crash him." Gono comments concerned.
"Why isn't that illegal?" Nayaa asks.
"Because most pilots are sane. A crash could kill both of them. This dude in the Black Cross is a lunatic." Andee shakes his head.
"I don't want to see them crash. I like the Ghost. I want him to win." Nayaa continues with a pout.
"I bet he's Carpati. He's going to be the next Hektor." Mykee adds nodding his head up and down.
The two battling lightships make a hard long turn on a stone wall into a more open canyon dotted with smaller caves all along its cliff walls. The Cross bumps the Junker again. The Ghost tries to move sideways, to the right, and slows down. It seems like he is about to let the Black Cross get ahead, but instead, the Black Cross swings right as well clipping the tip of the Junker's left rear corner, torquing him sideways a few degrees. That turns the forward momentum of the lightship towards a protruding ramp of stone in the cliff wall. The Black Cross speeds past The Junker, wile it rides up the protruding stone ramp than flies off the angled ledge. It's  heading at an angle towards the cliff wall at over 200kph.
"He's headed for the wall!" Hondo jumps out of his seat again.
"He'll be smashed to pieces." Mando shouts.
But just before impact, the pilot is ejected up into the air. Below him the Junker smashes at an oblique angle into the wall of stone, thumbing into the side of the cliff as if rolling on the ground. The lightship shatters into pieces before the debris rain down to the bottom. The pilot in the air above also slams into the cliff wall from his forward momentum, but at a much slower speed, then bounces off the wall while quickly slowing down in the air. He then gently floats on a glow of blue light from devices attached to the chest and back of his leathery dark brown pilot suit.
"What is that? I've never seen anything like it?" Mando stares leaning over his 3D display.
"He's got some kind of personal photon regenerator in his suit." Hondo is equally flabbergasted.
The pilot floats gently to the gourd landing on his feet, but as they touch he falls limp into a pile. He hit that stone wall hard.
The image of the pilot on the 3D display is small, recorded from a distance.
"It looks like he is hurt Hondo"
"It certainly does, but he may still be alive, witch would not be case hand he not had whatever that device was that saved him. Wait, what? What's that?" Hondo points into the 3D display.
The four are staring at Mykee's panel too amazed to say a word, while on the screen something large and hairy rushes out of one the small caves in the wall of the canyon and grabs the pilot by the leg, then drags him into the cave just as the other lightships speed directly above. Had he been there another second, The Ghost would have been churned into his own namesake by the levitating force under the lightships flying over him.
"Was that a man, or some kind of creature?" Hondo asks with big curious eyes. It's close to last horizon, so the light is dim, and even dimmer down in the labyrinth of the crags. Whatever it was, it pulled the unconscious pilot into an even darker and shadowy cave.
"I've heard rumors of strange beasts in the crags, but this is the first time I've seen one." Mando answers.
"This world still has so many surprises for us. Another reason to love this race." Hondo adds.
"I think it's a man." Mando points as they both focus while watching a replay.
"Hard to tell in the dim light, but look how much bigger that thing is than the pilot. More than twice the size. It's moving like a man, a bit, but it's too big and hairy to be a man." Hondo counters.
"What is that?" Mykee asks baffled squinting at the very small image on his small screen.
"I don't know." Andee answers.
"Wow, that's crazy. I didn't know there were monsters in the Crags. I've always wanted to go there." Nayaa speaks leaning closer over Mykee.
"Not me, I've heard of all kinds of crazy things there." Gono adds.
"I hope it doesn't eat the pilot. He was good. If he had a decent lightship he would have won." Mykee adds.
"That's messed up. I liked 15, but the race is still on." Gono, eager, stares back at the display.
"What a shocking turn of events Mando. Ship15 had the lead there for a while, but just could not hold on to it."
"That's right. The Black Cross put him in an early grave."
"Or on the dinner plate of some monster in the Crags, ha-ha-ha." Both announcers laugh with jolly.
"Inappropriate, but funny Hondo. Now lets get back to the race."
Andee jumps off the edge of their cove to a lower ledge.
"Where you going?" Gono asks.
"I'm done. I don't want to see the rest of this race."
"Ah come on man. Crashes happen all the time."
"You guys keep watching. I'm going to chill for a while."
"OK." Gono counters and looks back at the display. Andee jumps down and walks back towards the path up to the outcrop. Most of the crowd is on the southern edge looking at their vidroms or towards the crags with binoculars. The north face is clear. Andee finds a boulder and takes a seat with his back against it, facing south. The rest of the outcrop extends out to his right while the vertical wall of Table Mountain is to his left. Their little cove is barely visible. Nayaa's head peeks out. She leaps past Gono and out. She rushes over and takes a seat next to Andee.
"You OK?" He nods. "That's why I never watched the races before. Just when you start liking someone they get killed in a horrible crash. If it wasn't for those stupid crashes the race would be very exciting." Andee nods again but he looks lost, staring in empty space. He is looking ahead, his eyes hard, staring at a spot just past his feet. Nayaa studies him for a moment.
"Are you looking at something?" She asks but Andee doesn't answer. A moment later he turns to her.
"That spot right there." Pointing ahead. "That's where I saw the guy in the blue robe the first time."
"Ah. You still think he's real?"
"I don't know. I only saw him twice. Here and at the market. Maybe it was all in my head."
"Who knows? Maybe you did see something, and... I don't know, maybe it was some kind of combination of memories."
"Maybe." There is a moment of long silence again as Andee stares at the spot. "But it was so real. Why is this happening?"
"What's happening?"
"I don't know. Everything." Nayaa waits patiently in another long silence. "Where's my dad? Is he really in the Badlands with cannibals? Why am I seeing some dude in blue? Why are the Bitani treating us like alcamas? Just animals that grow their food. Why are they recording me? What's the point of all this?" Nayaa leans onto him and places the side of her head on his shoulder. They sit there quietly without a word.
 Mykee  and Gono are too focused on the display to notice Andee and Nayaa below, or anything else for that matter.
"I can't believe he's falling so far behind." Mykee muses disappointed.
"It's his first time over the Salt Sea." Gono responds. "Those waves are tricky and he has no experience. If he goes too fast he'll leap off a wave and crash nose fist in the water at 500kph. The lightship will be destroyed and he won't survive. Look how the other pilots know how to read the waves, especially the Obsidian Blue. He just passed the Pearl, and is gaining on the Radd Menace. He's using the waves to his advantage surfing on them to gain extra speed."
"Wow, look at them go on the side of that large wave." Mykee muses.
The four top lightships are all in a line riding nearly sideways on a cresting 3m wave, but just as the top of the wave starts crashing, the four lightships exit in the break between waves only to ride up the next one. The trailing lightships can not do the same because they have fallen further behind and are trapped in the crashing wave. Now they have to slow down even more as they smash spectacularly through the cresting wave at 100kph. They turn the water into mist as they drag it behind them accelerating again on the other side of the long wave. Ricio has slowed down even more, blow 100kph, too timid to tackle the waves. Ship13, the Spear is fast on his tail, and flies past him in a haze as it comes out of the wave leaving the Silver Sickle behind in a trail of mist.
Over the next 20km, to the end of the Salt Sea section, more lightships pass the Silver Sickle. One by one, ship2 The Dragonfly follows the Spear, then ship7 the Course Crusher,  ship3 the Horseshoe, ship8 the Yellow Teardrop, and ship11 The Orange Almond, all passing Ricio. Only lightship 14, the Green Orb and ship4, the Rusted Teardrop are still trailing behind him, bringing in the rear. But as they exit the Salt Sea, and head down the Long Strait, everything changes.
The Silver Sickle speeds up and quickly starts passing everyone again. The Sickle overtakes all the ships that passed him over the Salt Sea. As he moves past the Course Crusher it accelerates. The 100 year old Burebista CC speeds over the 600kph mark, far faster than they were originally built to go. It sticks to the Sickle for a few seconds, but the Sickle continues to move ahead. The Course Curser struggles to keep up... BAM! a loud noise instantly slows it down as flames and black smoke shoot out of its rear right thruster. It's toast. It's done. With its rear right engine on fire, the Course Crusher is rapidly slowing in a trailing cloud of black smoke. The rest of the ships zip past it in flash after flash.
"Wow, another one bites the dust." Mondo reacts.
"Looks like the Course Crusher, got crushed by the course. Ha-ha-ha!" Hondo snarks and both laugh.
Ships5, 9, 10, 12, and 6 are still holding on to the lead but 2 and 13 have joined them in a leader cluster at top speed. They're moving fast yet Ricio is gaining.
"This is where the power of good tech comes into play. Look at the Silver Sickle. He is gaining on the leaders and with 80 kilometers to go in the long straight, it's a sure bet he will pass them all."
"No doubt Mando. And if we look at our virtual odometers here, we can see he is moving at 766kph, while the leaders only, at 710kph."
"He may be playing it cautious, but he does have a chance of breaking Hektor's record. Lets see if he goes for it."
"I would certainly love to see that, but as we have seen, Ricio has been very careful in this race. It doesn't look like he'll take any unnecessary chances."
"And that's smart. Look what happened to the Junker. He fought for first too early and paid the price for it."
"As did young Ricio in the last race. No doubt he has learned his lesson."
"He has also done a good job sticking to the pylons. Hasn't lost a point yet."
"The Black Cross on the other hand is down 120 points, more than a second already lost."
"Due to his battle with the Junker, which will affect the final score when reaching the finish line."
"That's right. He may sweep across the finish line first, but lose the race on point penalties."
"And here comes the young Ricio in his beautiful Silver Sickle."
Ship1 is moving fast. On this straight flat there is little danger other than overheating the lightships or making a miscalculation with the steering. The lightships are quite spread out in a long line following the pylons. Each has 10 meters of leeway on either side of the pylons so there is little chance of collisions. Ricio now starts passing the leaders. One by one he gets past them until he is in second position. The Black Cross is holding the lead and about fifteen meters to the right of Ricio, but as the Silver Sickle advances the Back Cross makes a sudden swing left, his trajectory now merging into Ricio's path at 700kph. Rico flashes his eyes to the right, sees a dark streak headed directly into his path. At these speeds he reacts instantly, and slams his brakes, swings out, far too much, slowing down to 500kph, and way off course, losing dozens of points. There simply was no time to think, or plan, and the other leaders, that he just passed, now shoot past him like arrows.
"Ha-ha-ha." Hondo laughs out loud. "I love this young rookie, but experience means everything."
"Gavor, the pilot of the Black Cross, certainly knows how to use intimidation to control this race. That was a brilliant, if somewhat dangerous move."
"Certainly was Mando."
Ricio frustrated guns his lightship and gets back on course. He quickly catches up and again starts passing the lightships, but as he gets in position two he starts weaving gently. Gavor does not react, and Ricio takes the lead. By the end of the long straight the Silver Sickle has gained at least a one kilometer lead, but now they have to make a hard turn left to the north-east, into the dunes. Like over the salt sea, they have to deal with waves, but this time frozen unmovable mounds of sand. At their speeds the distances are deceptive, and there's something about the sand that makes it appear further than it really is. Once again Ricio has to slow down. By the end of the Dunes he is again trailing at the end with only the Horseshoe behind him. Even the Green Orb has passed him.
For the rest of the race Ricio can not recover. The Low Canyon proves just as challenging. Then in the east hills he starts catching up with the Green Orb, but around a hill, the biggest Baobab tree yet--suddenly comes into view. The Orb swings out to get around it, but one if his four engines clips it, and the Orb spins out of control than crashes into the hillside. Ricio just barely makes it past him at 400kph. He slows down even more. The Horseshoe is now on his tail as they exit the Eastern Hills. With a 15km straight shot to the finish line, Ricio guns it and immediately starts passing the tail end racers, but by the time he gets behind ship13, the leaders ship5, the Black Cross, ship9 the Radd Menace, ship6 the Streamliner, ship10 the Blue-eye, and ship12 the Pear Beauty cross the finish line. Ricio and ship13, the Spear, cross the line nearly side by side, with ship13 just an arm's length ahead leaving Ricio and his Silver Sickle in 7th place.
"Wow what a race!" Gono shouts.
"Yeah, it was really good, but that crash ruined it." Mykee counters.
"You mean the first one, 15?" Gono responds as both climb out of the cove, with Gono giving Mykee a hand.
"Yup. I really liked that guy, The Ghost. Mysterious, with a junkyard of a lightship, but man what a pilot. I'm certain he was Carpati. But now he's dead. Wouldn't it have been cool to have another Carpati win the race?" Mykee muses filling his chest with air.
"Yeah it would have, but I honestly don't think he would have stood a chance."
"Why?"
"The long straight. He would have fallen so far behind, even with all his skill he wouldn't have caught up. Plus Gavor looks to be a damn good pilot himself. He did a good job piloting the Black Cross. He'll do well in the finals. Where did Andee and Nayaa go?" Gono changes subject as he looks around.
"They were by that boulder." Mykee points but they're not there any more.
"Behind you." A voice causes Gono to jump startled.
"Damn it. I hate it when you do that. You OK?"
"Yeah I'm fine." Andee responds.
"You goanna watch the final?"
"Yeah, sure. Did the Silver Sickle qualify?"
"Nope. But the top six did. Ship1 just barely missed it. Maybe Gavor, the guy piloting ship5 might win and become a new champion. We haven't had a good consistent champion since the days of Hektor."
"I don't like that guy." Andee muses. "In fact, I'm going to watch these finals in the hope he crashes."
"He might, he's reckless." Mykee responds. "He crossed the line first but only got third position. The Radd Menace won. Gavor lost too many points, mainly because of his battle with the Ghost. So you could say the Ghost put him in third place." Mykee lifts his brows with satisfaction.
"I like the sound of that." Andee adds.
"OK, my credits are on the Black Cross for a win." Gono counters. "I think Gavor win the whole thing. Lets see what happens."
The final is about to start. It's still daylight, with only an hour before last horizon when the twilight sets in. The final is a 2 lap race that's a little over two hours long, but can last up to three hours. After the short intermission everyone gets back in place, with the four back in the cove.

After the prelim the final is somewhat less exciting. Not a single lightship crashes and in the end the Black Cross finishes first, but loses once again to the Radd Menace on points.
A nudge against her right foot startles Nayaa awake. She rises up from her comfortable cove and looks at everyone.
"What?"
"It's over." Andee informs her.
"Really? I just fell asleep."
"No, you've been sleeping for three hours."
"Really? With all this noise? So we weren't at the prave? Cuz that's where I've been this whole time." The music on the outcrop is thumping once again.
"Nope, that's were we're going." Gono adds excited. "You guys are coming right?"
They all begin to climb down from the cove.
"I don't know, maybe." Andee answers unsure as they head out mingling into the crowd.
"Ah come on you know you want to go."
"I have to take Mykee home."
"No you don't." Turning to Mykee. "Don't you usually go home on your own?"
"Sometimes."
"Nah, I'll take him home."
"Fine, but you're coming to the prave afterwards right?"
"Don't know. I'll decided later."
"Are you serious? Come on man. Sometimes the pilots hang out there after the races. And well... there might be someone there waiting for you."
"Now that I think about it, I'll pass."
"Aw-you've got to be kidding. Now you're afraid she'll be there? Maybe she won't, but even if she is, who cares."
"I'm going. Can I come with you?" Nayaa asks Gono, to which he reacts a bit surprised.
"Yeah of course, sure." He responds startled.
"I'll see you guys later. I'll walk Mykee home. Come on." Andee nods to Mykee and both start walking away just as Dirin and his buddies walk up.
"OK man, but you're coming. I'm going to be expecting you!" Gono shouts over the people at Andee and Mykee as they disappear into the crowd.
"Forget him dude. I don't know why you still want to hang out with that loser." Dirin speaks taping Gono on the shoulder. Nayaa is staring at him with knife-blade eyes. He is avoiding her gaze.
"Yeah, whatever dude. He's a good guy, I don't know why you always have to be a jerk to him." Gono counters but Dirin just shrugs.
"So you coming to the prave with us or what?" Dirin asks Gono still ignoring Nayaa.
"Yeah I am, and so is Nayaa. She's coming with us." Gono responds with a gentle smile to her. He finally looks up and makes eye contact with her. She is already locked on him, slicing and dicing him with her glare. Dirin takes a deep breath.
"Nayaa, I owe you an apology." And he extends his hand. Nayaa is visibly taken aback, surprised by his sudden change of demeanor. "In our last meeting I was very disrespectful. You have definitely matured since I last saw you in school, and I apologize for being so rude and insensitive." Nayaa's eyes soften but now look more mystified. Dirin is standing there, hand outstretch awaiting the shake.
"OK, cool. But if you want me to apologize for ringing your bells, it won't happen." She responds but does not shake his hand.
"Oh no-no, I totally deserved that. No, not at all. I just want to make peace with you. I was wrong."
"O-kay." She turns her face with a slight suspicious glare at him, but than reaches out to shake his hand.
"Sorry. I promise I won't be a jerk any more."
"Really?"
"Yes, I promise. I'll be respectful to you."
"And Andee?"
"And Andee, sure."
"Hmm, OK, that's cool."
"Are we all friends now?" Gono intervenes pleased.
"Sure, why not. So we're all going to the prave, no?" Nayaa asks looking at both Gono and Dirin.
"Absolutely." Dirin responds becoming more lively. "And in fact I would like to invite you as my guest."
"But I'm already going."
"I know. But I would like to make it up to you. For how I behaved last time. In fact, I was hoping... to be perfectly honest, that maybe, if you would like, you know... maybe we could spend some time together, get to know one another."
"Huh?" Nayaa seems baffled, frowning, not understanding.
"I'd like treat you to a berry-fizz, if that would be OK?"
"Now?"
"Tonight we'll hang out at the prave. All of us. But maybe tomorrow, or some other day, I can invite you out, just you and me. If that's OK?"
Nayaa is still stuck with her confused frown. Gono on the other hand is staring at them both with big round shocked eyes.
"Wait. Are you asking me out?" It finally dawns on Nayaa, but she's still frowning with a confused and angry looking glare.
"Ah, I mean, ah-yeah sure. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend. I just want to make up for being rude to you." Dirin asks now becoming more nervous under her hard glare.
"Hmm." Nayaa muses as she looks off to the side. "Maybe she was right." Mumbles under her breath. "OK. Maybe." She responds timid and unsure.
"Oh, really, great." Dirin reacts surprised. Gono looks furious but impotent.
"Or maybe not. I'm not sure, I don't know. Can I just think about it?" Nayaa is suddenly struggling, fiddling with her hair, looking confused
"Yeah sure. No pressure. Listen, lets just go to the Prave, hang out, have fun, and tomorrow will be a new day."
"OK, cool. Yeah, lets do that."
"Great. I can't wait to see you break the floor with your amazing acrobatic dancing. You're quite a sight to behold on the dance floor." Dirin focuses his attention entirely on Nayaa, his own excitement growing.
"Hmm. OK." Looking at Dirin and his buddies behind him. "You guys go ahead I'll catch up with you, I just..." But loses her words. Dirin nods his head and drags his buddies away. Gono turns to follow but with no energy, straggling behind the guys. He looks pissed. He's literally red in the face. Nayaa grabs him by the shoulder and stops him from following. He struggles to look normal as he turns to her.
"Hey G, was that flirting? Is that what he was doing?"
Gono stares at her for a moment, fighting to contain his real feedings. "Yeah." He finally answers with a meek voice.
"Really?" She responds than looks away from Gono and muses out loud. "So she was right."
"Ah-who was right?" Gono asks Nayaa but she's still thinking out loud, and responds but mostly musing to herself and not directly to Gono.
"So every time guys kept offering me berry-fizz they were flirting with me? And this whole time I thought they were making fun of me. Like I looked dehydrated or something." She turns and locks eyes with Gono. "God it was pissing me off. Man, and I was so mean to most of those guys because I thought they were screwing with me, but they were just flirting. Crap. No wonder I don't have a boyfriend."
"Ah, OK, I guess. I don't know..." Poor Gono looks utterly confused.
"Dude!" She shouts and whacks Gono gently in his arm. "Andee's mom's a genius!"

End of Chapter 6                   next               Chapter 7 : Animebot

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