Friday, July 31, 2015

Chapter 1 : First Horizon

Lightship Chronicles
Book 1 : Sacred Warriors
copyright©2015 Zorin Florr


“Well, we are not as smart as the Bitani.”
“Then how come they have all the technology and money 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.”
“Know what?”
“The truth.”
“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."

Chapter 1 - First Horizon

Carpatia's giant red sun takes up almost the entire western view as it inches towards the horizon, except where it's partially blocked by Carpatia's equally massive moon. At a quarter the size of the sun, it's certainly smaller but still a substantial mass in Carpathia's sky. Shrouded in a hazy cool blue with patches of green and white it stands out in cold contrast to the red hot sizzling surface of the large crimson 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 seems to touch the edge of the planet, to last horizon, when the last filament of the sun flickers off as it sets completely. Then there is another four hours of hazy purplish twilight before darkness.
"Come on Mykee. We've got three hours before the sun is completely set, and the races always start two hours before the last horizon."
"That's OK. The prelim races 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, the city's great wall. 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. Then leans his left shoulder on the sill. His gaze shoots past the side of the house, past his neighbors, deep into to the west and settles on the broad and jagged mountainous horizon, now 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 Carpatian 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 than the other houses here. It's partly dug into the orange stone cliff with the front end built out, from the 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 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 second lower terrace is almost twice as big and is entirely a garden of berry-fruit trees and root vegetables. The far end of the lower terrace is also the rooftop of the home of their neighbors below. The entire courtyard, top and bottom, is enclosed by blackstone walls, on all three sides, cemented together with orange adobe.
Still leaning against the door frame, 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 most distant visible mountains of all, so far 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 are beautifully lit up on the half facing the sun, while the rest 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 but never gotten a satisfactory answer to, for most of his life. The strange moon, with its whirling daytime atmosphere, and mysterious strings of night time 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-Ferries that call the moon home. And he can no longer believe, as some do, that the glow-flies that buzz around springtime, lighting up the twilight on Carpatia, are the larva of the moon-ferries come to bring them good fortune.
Arms folded, Andee turns leaning with 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 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.
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 rows and rows of houses segmented by horizontal dirt roads and vertically carved stair paths reaching down into 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 is 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 suddenly escape out on the other side moving 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 of a path 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 did you pick a spot that's 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 nick name wasn't Leaping Ghimur for nothing."
"Leaping Ghimurs are cute, I don't think you were ever that cute."
"Yup, they are. Remember when I caught that baby Ghimur?"
"Yeah, now that was cute. His little hands, he even had hands on his feet. And that furry orange and black ringed tail. And those eyes--those huge round eyes." Mykee goes silent for a moment. "You know, now that I think about it, Ghimurs really do look like people, why is that?"
"Dun' no. When you watch them eat, they sit on their little butts, with their long tail wrapped around their feet, and hold the berry-fruit in their hands like we do. It's kind of eerie."
"Darn it!" Mykee yells out. Andee stops and looks back down the steep mountain trail. Mykee is getting up from his knees.
"You OK little brother?"
"Why can't we just stay down below and watch the race on the giant Videodrome like civilized people?" Mykee snarls his words 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 almost the whole circuit. What's better than that?"
"Sitting in the stands, on the edge of the West Market, under the shade of a large umbrella, drinking some 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 umbrella man. Damn, I want some ice cold berry-fizz 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 crevice. There he settles in a well worn spot. It's clear he's been there before. He settles into it like its a lounge carved out of the side of the rock about three meters above everyone else. The back of his 'stone lounge' shields him from view. Down on the stone outcrop Andee makes his way to Gono who is hanging out with his friends.
"I told you he'd be here". Gono announces joyfully.
"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 all 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.
"What's up?"
"Remember how we used to talk about getting jobs in up in Bitania, get rich, live in the city, and all that?"
"Yea, we talked about it a bit."
"Well what?"
"It's going to happen."
"Yeah, 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 wont. 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... bit slow in the head, 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."
"Well what?"
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?"
"Yeah, way."
"That weirdo?"
"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?"
"My dad says that many people got jobs up there, and even got 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."
"Doing what?"
"Some kind of gardening, landscaping they call it?"
"What's that?"
"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..."
"He's jovial."
"Exactly! He sees things in his own simple way so he had no problem telling me all about it."
"OK, now you got my curiosity."
"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 should 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 is mindlessly churning the dirt beneath it. He then looks up, takes a deep breath and glances at Gono and his friends. He was one of them once. He can still feel the times as if they all happened yesterday. 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, then turns, and 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, heading up the side of the mountain starting on its south side. Whether it was a road once or not, doesn't matter. It is now one the first stages of the race. Andee remembered the race. That's why he was 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 races and see those amazing ships with his own eyes.
He looks over the small crowd at the floating pylons over the old road. They are 10 meters above the ground, and one kilometer apart. Each vertical cylinder is two meters tall and half a meter wide, with antenna like projections extending horizontally from the top in all directions. The lower half of the cylinder has bands of colored lights. Only the band of bright red, around the middle, is currently glowing meaning there is no race in progress. There is a faint yellow band above which only lights up as a warning during crashes, or other issues.  Below the red band there are several more from red to 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 10 lap championship race, many seconds could be lost on penalty points.
As he walks through 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, at 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 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 now retired lightship was a work of art to Andee's eyes that seemed to be powered by magic itself. It floated on an green pillow of light. It was about four meters long and two wide, but only at the front. The front half was made of two parallel prongs that came together at the halfway point, and tapered to one prong at the back. It was shaped somewhat like a tuning fork. The pilot's bubble was hexagonal, made of flat panes of glass in metal frames, all around, top and bottom. It was attached to the ship in the center 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. Most of the sharp edges were painted in bright green, some hard, some fading, and some jagged zig-zags.
Andee can still see the ship in his mind's eye, as if physically right there, right now, on the outcrop, right in front of him--a man in a blue hood and a draping blue robe is standing on the other side of Hektor's ship, looking right at Andee. Startled, Andee shivers shaking his head and widening his eyes as he snaps out of his daydream, and when he refocuses on the spot... there's no one there. He concentrates on the area where he thought he saw the man, but there is no one near by. He nervously starts looking around the outcrop. Everyone is gathered near the southern edge for the best view. There is no one close enough to have stood where the man was just a fraction of a second before.
"Wow! Weird." He mumbles out loud, his brow stiffening into a frown, as he continues looking 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 amazing...' But a hard bump into Andee's left shoulder stops him in his tracks and snaps his mind back in focus, and as it does, he notices a faint blue-hooded images flash past him out of the corner of his left eye.
"I'm sorry man, I..." Andee apologizes to the man he must have bumped into, while quickly turning towards him, only to be left stumped, stiff, and jaw-dropped. He looks at the spot where the man he bumped should be... but no one is there. In fact, there is no one anywhere close enough to have bumped into. He looks around bewildered.
"What the hell?" Andee blurbs out loud as he spins three sixty on the spot looking baffled. '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, struggling to figure out what happened. '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, with 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?"
Mykee turns over his right shoulder. "Why?"
"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 are between 50 and 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 rough lather and linen. Some are solid, but many are made of inch wide strips, that are cross-woven either in a horizontal mesh, or diagonal. Many are also wearing the typical desert jacket that's so common amongst the Carpati, which does have a hood, but a stiff wide hood that hangs flat against the upper back and shoulders. There is also a second under-layer, under the 'hood', that is in fact a cape, most reaching to the back of the legs. Almost all the jackets are in earth tones like the Alcama leather they are made from, and there's not a single blue robe with a hood 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."
"And now?"
"Things change."
Mykee nods, then with a more somber voice asks a completely different question.
"Did you ever come here with dad?"
"I did." Andee answers shaking his head in agreement.
"No way! Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"You never asked."
"Punk off!"
"Hey, hey, come on man, you're too young for that. What's the need for dumb language like that?"
"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."
"Me too."
"Hey, you know why I don't sit here any more?"
"Your friends?"
"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."
"You're serious?"
"Very serious."
"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 understand."
"You do?"
"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?"
"Sure. What?"
"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 Videodromes 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 Videodrome, 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..."
"I see."
"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 hands.
"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 most the first half of the circuit, except for the canyons and caves in the 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 final race that counts. It's 10 laps, and every pilot is a legend. The first races are all 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, they 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 videodromes 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 of what sounds like some kind of siren interrupts Andee. "Ah there it is! That's the horn for the first race." Andee continues 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 top of the pylon this time 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 initiate the start of 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 Vidron so we could see who's racing."
"Hey little brother, look down there." Andee points down past the south edge of the outcrop, below their lounge. In fact 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 seep-near vertical fall before it straightens out with 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 in front of the Carpati viewing stands, circling around the outside of 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 beyond the market, between The Long Curve and stands, down on the left. That giant videodrome, 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! 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'em. 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.
"Hektor's Carpati."
"That's what I hear, but where its 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 and at Andee. "How many cities are there?"
"I don't know." Andee answers still focused on the videodrome 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!"
"Wow, 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 videodrome far bellow. An image of a young guy, with his blonde hair sweeping over sideways 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."
"What'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 flowing 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..."
"Like what?"
"I don't know... like an energy. And it makes the ship float and move and everything.  Man, that thing is huge, its bigger than the other lightships. 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 is all white, clean, shiny and brand new. It is decorated with sparkling silver racing stripes and designs. The front is broad and round in the shape of a sickle on its side, with both points pointing backwards. The body extends from the center of the sickle in a long sleek and elegant shape of organic curves accented by grooves and rounded flares. The very back turns into a flat horizontal fishtail-like feature with pointy tips on the outer edges. The pilot's egg-shaped bubble is encased in the center of the body. It has all around views both above, and below around the seat. The ship floats a meter off the ground on a glowing pillow of hazy, 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 on the other hand 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 front windscreen, and metal flares encapsulating him for some protection from the elements, but he is still mostly exposed. The center body of the ship is a long thin cylinder with the pilot startling it, leaning forward as if riding an Earth speed bike. At the front and back there are two cylindrical light engines forming T shapes at both ends, both of different sizes. The front one is wider, but the rear one is thicker. 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 is 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 one vertical window up front from top to bottom, and a cross window wrapping horizontally from one side to the other forming a perfect glass cross. Lightship6 is shaped somewhat like a classic streamliner locomotive. The center is vertically taller than wide from front to end, 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 similar to ship4, a teardrop shape but with elegant classic lines and groves, and freshly painted in bright yellow. It's a nice clean ship. Lightship9 looks exactly like a seed, 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 ship1, cone-shaped, but a flattened cone with winglets on either side up front, and one long horizontal wing staring from the middle, from behind the pilots glass bubble, extending all the way across the tapering flat back. 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 a 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 videodrome 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 videodrome 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 videodrome. " 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 videodrome 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.
"Goddamn it, he's not slowing down! He needs to slow down!" Andee shouts. "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 back by the gust of air, half of which fall to the ground.
The first three lightships that were directly behind lightship1, ships 5, 13, and 6 are through, 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. Now out of control, but still moving fast, it hits a protruding stone and tumbles violently down the slope breaking into thousands of pieces. Lightship8 passed through the storm of stone 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.
Up on top of the outcrop all the spectators survived only by the skin of their teeth. By some miracle not a single one was seriously harmed even though many were only an arm's length away from the debris exploding 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 into the air. "That's the bubble! It's still intact. Oh no, the  pilot!" Mykee cuts himself off as he watches the dark 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

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