Arnett was the first to raise the mug up to his lips. He glared at the large man over his mug rim. The man obliged a return glance, until he threw himself into his stout. The crowd went nuts, chanting. Arnett looked around.
What a sad crowd. His opponent’s two friends and an old man who had taken a liking to Arnett at the bar. Over at another stool, a patron watched over his shoulder. Arnett slowed his drink.
The stout was rough. The kind of thing you could feel hit your stomach. Arnett was not much of a beer drinker as it was, but here he was chugging the strongest brew in the place. He wondered who he did it for.
The large man had already slammed his mug to the table, empty. With a burp he let out a cheer, eyeing Arnett as he pretended to down his drink. With a drunken grin, he grabbed a second mug of the stuff and begun downing that as well with great fervor. His two friends didn’t even notice Arnett put his mug down after attention was off him.
“You alright, son?” said the old man.
“I was never going to beat him,” said Arnett, “But I can always out smart him. Him and his two friends are so far in already, they won’t know the difference.”
Sure enough, Arnett grabbed his second mug, and switched it with the empty mug his opponent had slammed on the table. His two friends didn’t even look up from their cheering, and Arnett shrugged as if to say, ‘See?’.
Arnett slammed the stolen mug on the table again, immediately picking up his original mug and pretending to hurry. This caught the attention of the opponent's team, who looked and laughed at him only just now starting his second drink.
With a mighty roar, the large man’s second mug slammed the table, and he belched victoriously. Only now his eyes seemed to cross, and his cheer was more of a moan.
His two buddies toasted their own drinks with a cheer, and both took very generous swigs. They were too occupied to notice the look of confusion on their drunk friend’s face as he stared at the full mug in front of him. With an angry growl, the big man grabbed the mug and began to drink violently.
Arnett couldn’t resist a grin. Lowering his mug again, he confirmed all three of the large men were deep in drink before he swapped out the mug once more for an empty one. Returning to his fake swigging, he barely caught his opponent slamming the drink down out of the corner of his eyes.
His friends were beginning to get suspicious as they had finished their celebrating, realizing their large friend had finished a third drink. Arnett’s luck held as the large man belched loudly, his face now showing signs of slowness. He stared blankly at the table, and eyed another mug in front of him. Without a single thought, he scooped up the mug, and began to lightly drink from it.
The man’s eyes were glazing over and he stared through Arnett as Arnett watched in awe as he slowly finished off his mug.
Arnett waited until just the end, and slammed his mug down when he thought his opponent was close to finishing. The old man, cackling at Arnett’s trickery, gave out a fake cheer. The man by the bar rolled his eyes, unimpressed with the gag.
The large opponent allowed his empty mug to fall from his hands, clattering onto the table. He didn’t even let out a burp as his eyes crossed and he slammed into the table, hard. His two friends were drunkenly attempting to figure out what had happened, but one jumped to help their passed out companion and forgot the ordeal, the other was more interested in ensuring Arnett’s mugs were actually empty.
Arnett leaned forward, letting out a small burp with great effort. He snatched up the large man’s purse which sat on the table, and collected his own. Arnett winked to the old man, tossing him a few ciams for aiding his con, and stood up, being sure to add a wobble for the performance.
“Gennelman,” slurred Arnett, a smile on his face, “I bid adieu.”
The large passed out man gave a groan, barely touching consciousness. The two drunken friends struggled to lift him, but only managed in all three falling to the floor.
Arnett dropped the act and walked up to the bar.
“I’ll settle the tab,” said Arnett, grinning as he tossed the drunkard’s purse on the counter, “It’s the least I can do with my winnings.”
The bartender shook his head, subtracting the necessary ciam from the small purse before tossing it back at Arnett.
“I assume you are aware of this man’s silent tax?” smiled the Bartender, fondling two ciam himself, “And I suggest you leg it before he awakes. It’ll be more than a tab he’ll want when he comes to.”
“A gentleman doesn’t stay long,” smiled Arnett, “I would appreciate a water, though.”
“Gentleman? You still pulling small scams like that and call yourself a gentleman, Joel?”
Arnett sighed. He closed his eyes and shook his head. However, the moment passed and he put on a joyful face and turned to the speaker.
“If it isn’t Cornelius Zhao. Old friend.”
“Save the sass, Joel,” said Zhao, “What sand storm washed your sorry butt out here?”
“Work always brings us to Astam,” said Arnett, “We get around easily enough. People always want professional services.”
“Yeah, but good help is hard to find these days,” said the man, “Lucky for you, people settle easy enough.”
“How’s the crab-hunt, Corny?”
“How’s the promotion, sod-ball.”
The two were at each others faces. Zhao was a tall, well built man. His tan skin and ragged close did not hide a much better physical body then Arnett’s, and as they stood, glaring at each other, Arnett could tell he wouldn’t win in a fight.
“You need more legs to do half the work as me.”
“You need more crew before you get to even compare to me.”
“You need a fancy title to feel in charge.”
“At least the title I gave to myself means something, Lieutenant. People know I’m in charge of my ship.”
“Ha! That old clunker? It’s practically a platform with legs.”
The two men took a step back, both eyes shooting to the ground. It was Arnett who first smiled and raised his eyes to meet the new figure approaching. A young woman was walking up to the pair. She held a scowl on her face, eye both of the men with distaste. She wore stained overalls and a stained blouse underneath. Her hair was jet black and ear-length, held back by a pair of gritty welding goggles. She had a pair of heavy-duty gloves sticking out of one pocket.
She allowed her glare to focus on Zhao.
“Captain? I didn’t recognize you, bickering like a school boy.”
“Matching wits with your equal, then?” she said, tutting playfully, “My mistake.”
“Hiya, Cyndi,” playfully sang Arnett, “Aw, did you get all cleaned up for me? I’m touched.”
“You still tightening bolts for this loser? How has he kept you around this long?” asked Arnett, “Let me buy you a drink. I got a bunk just your size on the Scorpios II.”
“I highly doubt that,” said the woman, “Nothing on your ship is my size.”
“She’s above you, Drillbit,” said Zhao, “Cyndelle, I was just-”
“Getting a drink, I’m sure,” said Cyndelle, “Why don’t you make your way to the market and restore us on some rice or something. I think you have to be this mature to order the grog from now on, ok? I’ll handle the Scorpion.”
“Woah, I like that,” said Arnett, who winked at Zhao, “The Scorpion will catch you later, Crutches.”
“Watch your step, Drillbit,” said Zhao, “Every day you get closer to a butt whooping.”
“Aw, for free? Gee Mister.”
Zhao walked away but Cyndelle punched Arnett’s shoulder.
“Drillbit, that one will stick,” she said, chuckling to herself, “Why do you yank that chain, Arnett? One day your life might depend on him.”
“Who? Captain tight ass? No way,” said Arnett, turning his attention back to Cyndelle, “What do you see in him? The Cyndelle Nosilla I know wouldn’t-”
“Wouldn’t what? Maker her own way?” said Cyndelle, “What do you know about me, Joel? The same you know about him. Captain Zhao is a lovely, gallant man. He isn’t like the rest of the crews out here in the desert.”
“Because he scoops some Kovy?”
“Whatever needs to be done,” said Cyndelle, “We’ve relocated them from settlements. Altered migration patterns. Sure, we sell a few of the good ones. It’s a dangerous job. But that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Cyndelle hopped up on a bar stool and ordered a beer. She waited for it to be placed in front of her before continuing.
“He cares for his crew. He’d die for each and every one before he allowed any harm to come from them. But he’s also strong. He sees the greatness in them and doesn’t allow them any time to slack on it. He pushes us to be better, faster, stronger. He’s a leader.”
“Good for him,” said Arnett, “He’s pushy. I can be pushy.”
“You can be a good leader,” said Cyndelle, shaking her head, “You would’ve been a great deckhand, you know. As friends, the two of you would’ve done amazing things.”
“Hey, I do amazing things daily,” said Arnett, “I don’t know if you heard: I have my own ship. I also have a nice crew of my own, minus one you.”
“Joel, you know what I mean,” said Cyndelle, “You know, you aren’t the whippy kid I knew all those years ago. You’ve actually grown up a little, dare I say it.”
“Say it,” smiled Arnett, pretending to bask in the praise, “I have become quite a stud.”
“Just, think about it, ok?” said Cyndelle, downing her beer quickly, “There’s a lot more use out of you when you aren’t doing… this.”
She gestured behind Arnett, who turned at the pile of bodies groaning on the floors. One of the big guy’s friends began to try to stand, cursing as he did so. Arnett turned back, shrugging.
“Abbot likes it. You’d like him.”
“Abbot? Who’s that?”
“Sweet kid. Probably the second best person on the Scorpios II, by far.”
“What happened to-”
“The answer to that question involves something about separate ways and a packed bag,” said Arnett, shrugging, “But Abbot, he makes me forget ol’ what’s his name.”
“Joel, you go through more people than I can count,” moaned Cyndelle, closing her eyes, “Doesn’t that bother you?”
“Come on, That Norman guy. He was just… too gun happy.”
“Alexander? You know, there’s so many Alexanders…”
“You have got to be kidding me,” said Cyndelle, standing up and paying for her beer, “The little nervous kid?”
“OH! Fired,” answered Arnett, “He was, like, three gunners ago, I think.”
“He wasn’t good.”
Cyndelle shook her head, before giving a half hearted salute to Arnett.
“Lieutenant Drillbit, maybe one day you’ll figure it out,” she said, “But for today, I guess you are lost.”
“I accept your apology,” said Arnett, “I’ll see you bright and early on board. Lunch is at three. We’ll ship off as soon as we can.”
“Can’t, I’m needed,” said Cyndelle, “Even if I wanted to, they need me at the Grand Prix. We got a real-”
“Grand Prix? You gotta be kidding me,” said Arnett, “Is that a thing?”
“Catch you around, Drillbit,” smiled Cyndelle as she walked for the door, “My path is to White Haven as fast as we can go.”
Arnett let out a small sigh, before turning to eye the commotion behind him. The two friends of the large guy were stirring, and moth of them were angry. Arnett winced and decided it was time to bail.
Jumping down from the barstool, Arnett lost no time running out of the bar into the hot, smothering sunlight of Astam Junction.
Take Your Places
“The Antiford Grand Prix,” started Abbot, letting out a soft sigh as he did so.
“The largest landship race in the world,” smiled Arnett, “Both because of participation and there are large ships here!”
“I Just… don’t get it,” said Abbot, “I guess I just don’t see why we’re here.”
“Because, Joseph, we are a Landship crew,” said Arnett, “The best crew on the best Landship in the Istoki.”
Joseph let out a sigh. They had just passed a colored tent that was erected and could now see the are outside Astam Junction that had been filled with vendor stalls, tents, and people. Abbot had been roped into joining Arnett to sign up for the Grand Prix. They weaved between people on their way to a organizer’s tent.
“I just don’t think ‘fast’ when I think the Scorpios II,” continued Abbot, “We’re more… sturdy. Dirty, maybe?”
“Speed isn’t everything,” Arnett laughed over his shoulder, “We’re versatile!”
Abbot’s face went white as he stopped dead. One vendor was taking bets on the outcome of the race. In big letters chiseled into a rock slab he had written “One in Three racers will die on average. Place your bets!”
“Uh… Lieutenant,” whined Abbot.
“Landships from all across the world are here today,” said Arnett, “All over the world! They all came here to get destroyed by our little landship.”
“All over the world, huh,” asked Abbot.
“And let’s not forget a big, fat reward,” Arnett said, turning to Abbot, “Fifty. Thousand. Ciam.”
“Fifty Thousand!” goofed Abbot, blinking and clutching his chest, “Ok… there’s a lot you do with fifty thousand.”
“Maybe,” said Arnett, “But we don’t have a shot if we don’t play.”
“I don’t know,” said Abbot.
“It’s a quick trip to White Haven. Point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. Easy money,” said Arnett.
“One in every three racers die on this easy money,” said Abbot.
“Pfffft,” scoffed Arnett, “There’s only two of us. If it makes you feel better, I’ll hire a drunk down the road and pad the odds in our favor, how’s that?”
“I just want to know you are taking this seriously,” said Abbot, “It sounds like they are putting strangers from all over the world together and telling them to race to White Haven. Sounds like a formula for gunfights and danger.”
“Don’t worry,” said Arnett, “I do this all the time.”
“The Grand Prix?”
Arnett said, “Gunfights and danger. It turns out fine. Trust me.”
“I’m uncomfortable with this.”
“Fifty Thousand Ciam.”
“If we win.”
“When, when we win.”
“Abbot, we are more prepared for this then any of these chumps,” said Arnett, who spotted the official stall for racers.
He winked at Abbot before stepping up to sign up. Abbot gave a loud sigh as he followed along behind.
“Names,” asked the husky man behind the table.
“Joel Arnett and Joseph Abbot.”
The man stopped and looked up, “Which one of you is the Captain?”
“I’m in charge,” said Arnett, “Lieutenant Joel Arnett.”
“We’ll be here all day, sir,” said Abbot, upset, “Joel Arnett’s in charge.”
“Hmph,” said the man, writing something down, “How much crew will be racing?”
“Two,” said Arnett.
The man looked up again, “It’s just the two of ya? You realize this is a Landship race, don’tcha?”
“Yehp,” smiled Arnett, “Landship Scorpios II.”
“Scorpios? Hey, I’ve hearda that ship,” smiled the guy, writing something down on his little pad, “I’ve heard things. Nothing about it being fast.”
“Speed isn’t everything,” smiled Arnett, “It’s the best Landship around and that’s final.”
“Speed isn’t everything?” asked the man, squinting at the pair, “You realize this is a race, don’tcha son? A Race.”
“Just tell us where to put the ship and when the race starts,” said Abbot, rolling his eyes, “I could walk to White Haven in this time.”
“Look, this isn’t going to be pretty,” said the man, “I gots to tell you this,” he then picked up a piece of paper and begun reading in a monotonous voice, “To all racers partaking in this event, your loving House of Engineers wishes to warn you about the dangers you may face in our Annual Grand Prix. There is, under no circumstances, any fighting, violence, weapons, murder, or sabotaging of racers allowed. However, we are not blind to the risks. Once you are beyond the scopes of the racing staff, you will be alone in the Istoki Wilderness. There is always danger from the wild life, Highway Bandits, Sky Pirates, and the Elements. You will be racing your peers but also racing the clock for every minute you are out in the Istoki is a minute closer to disaster. Please do not continue the race if you are injured. Please do not-”
“We get the idea,” smiled Arnett, “Maybe you can just give us our number and let us go get out ship.”
The man fixed a stern, cold stare on Arnett as he was silent for a moment, before his eyes shot back to the piece of paper, “Please do not continue the race if you are injured. Please do not forget to pack food and water for your journeys. Please feel free to stop and rest at any and all towns you may come across. Please feel free to go home with honor should the race be too much. A finish line doesn’t have to finish you. All racers must start at the starting line when the artillery salute is fired and start the race. All racers must adhere to our no violence policy, even if not under watchful eye. All Racers must hit the three checkpoints before finishing in White Haven. Your log book.”
The man handed over a small, red notepad with a few pages in it. Arnett looked it over, frowning.
“Any questions you have will be answered by the announcer. Do you have any questions?” The man’s monotonous voice stopped and he looked between the two of them.
“You have got to be kidding me. Drillbit?”
Arnett furrowed his brow and turned, staring down Captain Zhao. He was standing there, looking almost as furious as Arnett.
“Captain Zhao,” said Arnett.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” said Arnett, puffing out his chest.
“She did this,” said Zhao, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “She told you about the Grand Prix, didn’t she?”
“She?” asked Abbot.
“Everyone knows about the Antiford Grand Prix, you’re not the keeper of this all hush-hush secret. Look around you at all these people!”
“You know what I mean, Lieutenant Drillbit,” spat Zhao, “God, you don’t even race!”
“Imagine how embarrassing losing to me will look,” smiled Arnett.
“Joel, tell me we aren’t here because of a ‘she’,” said Abbot, rubbing his temples, “I want to hear those words.”
“Abbot, we are here for Fifty Thousand Ciams.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Zhao, “Fifty Thousand of my ciams. We’re here. We are the best. We are going to win. Not some rookie wannabe from a dirt town.”
“Hey,” said Abbot, standing up straighter, “Don’t talk about our town like that.”
“Yeah,” said Arnett, “There’s rocks too.”
“Name?” interrupted the man at the booth.
Zhao walked passed Arnett and leaned over the table, “Captain Zhao of the Landship Nieznajlak. Reporting in.”
“Can you even pronounce it?” said Arnett, “Nieznajalaka.”
“Don’t you have pile of junk to move to the starting line?” said Zhao, “Or did you find a third idiot from your local dirt-ball team to come along in your dillusions.”
“It’s just us,” said Arnett, “Because we don’t need more people then that to do our jobs well. We’re that good.”
“Yeah,” said Abbot, “Let’s go, Lieutenant. We have a race to win.”
“Yeah,” agreed Arnett, “Catch you in White Haven, Zhao. I’ll save you a dock space next to mine.”
“Piss off,” spat Zhao, glaring as the duo walked back into the crowd.
Zhao found the Landship Nieznajlak already at the starting line. It was a large, menacing presence next to the group of steambikes in the next racers position. They were working on their machines or standing around. One of the bikers glared at Zhao, flexing his muscles clearly visible under his vest. Zhao shook his head before making his way to his ship.
It was quite beautiful. At the moment, his landship was self-docked, sitting low on its legs. The eight, powerful legs had been armored with extra steel plates like tiny shields, and they had plastered massive Skuttlekovy shells all up the outside of it to protect from extra small arms fire. Some of the shells had been painted, and they stood out from the rest of the ship in vibrant colors.
Behind the wall of legs, sat a beautiful little ship. Two stories and a half of pure home. Made from a mixture of hard wood and light metal plating. Although it made him vulnerable to heavier weapons, he found very few desert problems couldn’t either be outrun or handled with light armor. This gave the Nieznajlak her speed. The top deck was left open, and tarps and a tent in the back blew in the small breeze. An iron roof held a massive cage, which was currently empty of Skuttlekovy. Below, a deck where they could relax, or extra cargo could be stored, as well as where Spinner liked to hang out and watch the horizon. Zhao didn’t mind that so much.
Walking between two massive legs, Zhao could see the rope ladder hanging below the ship. Nobody was outside the ship at the moment, so Zhao figured he’d make his way inside. He ducked below a massive metal scoop to make his way to the bottom hatch. The scoop was made of scrap steel, but could dig into the dirt and sand and sift out the unwanted ground and pull up treasures. In the case of the Neiznajlak, it scooped up Skuttlekovy and flipped them over the top, into the massive cage.
Climbing into the hull of the ship, Zhao found himself in the cargo hold. A few boxes of supplies were strewn about. Food, dried fruit, and jugs and jugs of water. All that water would be paramount to the race.
Before he made his way to a second internal ladder, he heard a grumble behind him. Turning, he saw the bulky form of Geoffrey Haggard struggling with a crate behind some boxes. The older man slammed the crate down with some effort, and his eye caught Zhao.
“Cap,” said Haggard, returning his attention to the crate.
“Everything in order for the race, Haggard?” asked Zhao.
“Can anything be in order in here?” said the old man, gesturing around, “We’re more prepared than last year, and that’s something.”
“If we keep doing better each year,” said Zhao, “Then eventually we’ll be the best.”
“Maybe, but I don’t know how many more I got in me,” said Haggard, stepping out from the crates and gesturing to a wooden peg where his left leg should be, “This old man has played his last knick-knack.”
“Don’t talk like that, Haggard,” said Zhao, “Even with no legs or arms, I’ve never known a more terrifying man. There’s a lot of young man still in that old man.”
“Easy for you to say,” said Haggard, raising his eyebrows, “I don’t see you hauling crates. That’ll kill your soul.”
“Mills and factories kill souls,” said Zhao, grabbing the rungs of the ladder to the next deck, “Nieznajlak ensures you die, soul intact.”
Zhao didn’t catch if there was a response, he had already hurried up to the main deck. Here was a sitting area and the door to a “in-house” (an indoor toilet). The curtain to the bunk room was closed. A small kitchen-area made up of a tiny stove meant for the military, a small jug of water, two pots and a frying pan caught his eye. However, he was already making his way to the bridge when Nosilla tucked her head out.
She had a welding mask on and she did not look happy. She entered the common room upon recognizing Zhao and slowly took off two, grease-stained leather gauntlets meant for mechanic work.
“You promised me a new alternator,” she spat, pointing a grimy finger at Zhao, “You told me we would get it three weeks ago. And here we are, on the starting line of the Prix, and I’m trying to coordinate eight stompers without one. Do you-”
“He’s here,” said Zhao.
“Don’t you interrupt me,” said Nosilla with widened eyes, “He’s here. Who the hell is so important you interrupt my rant? Hmm?”
“Lieutenant Scorpion breath,” said Zhao with equal parts disgust and loathing, “He’s here. He’s in the race, Cyndelle.”
Nosilla failed to suppress a small grin. Zhao rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air, “You told him, didn’t you?”
“No,” said Nosilla, “Not to come here. You know Joel.”
“I know him, and you told him, about this whole thing,” said Zhao.
“This whole thing? You know, the Grand Prix isn’t exactly a secret, Cornelius”
“That’s what he said. See? Oh, you two…”
“There isn’t a conspiracy, Zhao,” said Nosilla, walking towards the bridge again, “You need to calm down. He just gets your nerve. You know he only bothers you because you two are so alike.”
“So alike? I am nothing like him,” said Zhao, “I’m a male and I have a Landship.”
“You’re both stubborn,” interrupted Nosilla, “You’re both lacking in perspective. You’re both great leaders, but you have been through a lot.”
“That little womanizer doesn’t know what being through a lot means,” spat Zhao, “And what’s with that stupid hat of his.”
“You’re just mad because he got under your skin,” said Nosilla, “You know, full well, if the chips were down: he’d drop everything for you. And you him.”
“I would never,” said Zhao.
“You’d drop everything for us.”
“Every single one of you on this ship is worth ten of him,” said Zhao, “I would gladly drop it all for you.”
“That’s who you are, Captain,” said Nosilla, smiling lovingly at him, “Selfless and good of heart. Don’t try to be tough because you are angry.”
“Cap’M!” came a scream from behind them.
Zhao jumped at first, before closing his eyes and sighing heavily.
“The command awaits, Captain,” said Nosilla as she disappeared back into the bridge before she yelled, “DAMNIT! Alternator!”
“Cap’M” came another command.
Zhao turned around, but saw no one. The call was coming from higher up. He climbed the next ladder, making his way onto the upper deck. As he emerged he was back outside, but protected from the sun by a tarp canopy that had been erected.
Towards the stern of the Landship stood the last two of his crew. A skinny male Vibranni leaned against the Skuttlekovy Cage that took up a prominent amount of the upper deck. It was currently empty. The second was another scrawny human, his hair wildly loose on his head. They were not facing him as he approached.
The Vibranni was Sashenka, their resident tracker and painter. He was very feminine, in the human sense, enjoying beads in his hair and painting colorful patterns around the ship or decorating Skuttlekovy shells. He wasn’t used to life on the Landship, yet, and was nervous about the coming race.
The human was Spinner. A damaged ex-sailor; Spinner developed a crippling fear of the sea after surviving a shipwreck. Ever since, he had made his way inland looking for landship work. Zhao picked him up shortly after acquiring the Nieznajlak, and he had been onboard ever since. He was a good deckhand and all-around crewman, but a terrible, but enthusiastic, gunner if you needed him.
Spinner turned around suddenly at the sound of Zhao’s foot falls. He gave a wide grin, showing missing and crooked teeth. His eyes were crossed, but they managed to focus in on Zhao.
“Cap’M,” said Spinner, pointing an energetic hand out at an incoming landship, “Look at ‘er. Ain’t she the biggest Landship yev ever laid ois upon?”
Zhao looked passed Spinner at the vessel. It was one of the new Country Liners. A massive ship rolling slowly into a starting position. It had three massive smoke stacks, puffing out exhaust into the sky. The weirdest part of the machine were its massive wheels. It appeared to have two massive wheels just before the bow of the ship and two massive wheel at its stern. The wheels were designed similarly to train wheels, and they rested on a network of rails boxing in the wheel. As it slowly moved along, the wheel turned on a rail section that was flat to the ground, the force of the forward motion plating the next section firmly into the sand in front while the previous section was lifted up in back. This created a sort of “self rail” system that redistributed the weight of the massive landship, only leaving compacted dirt and sand behind it in two massively long tracks.
The landship slowed to a halt in its starting position, and it gave a blow of its horn, sounding like a steam ship at the coast. This brought applause from the crowd.
Zhao shrugged and smiled, “Doesn’t look very fast to move that large of a thing.”
“Slow to start, but it be able to outrun us in time, Cap’M,” said Spinner.
“I’ve heard of these new ships,” said Zhao, “Don’t worry, they can’t take turns worth a damn. It’ll be easy to outrun them.”
“What turns ye be thinking of,” said Spinner, his eyes rolling in his head as he thought, “It’s a straight shot from here to thar.”
“I’m not worried about it,” said Zhao, “One of those big thing? Sitting duck to pirates and bandits. I’m not worried at all. Name one Country Liner you’ve ever seen in the dunes, hmm? Name one.”
“What are you worried about, Zhao?” asked Sashenka, turning and peering through the cage at the other racers, “They are allowing a Steam-biker gang to race. I also heard the sounds of a Rumbler. That can’t be good for us.”
“What Steam Bike or Rumbler holds enough fuel, water, or supplies to get across the desert?” Zhao placed a hand on the Vibrannis shoulder, patting it, “I wouldn’t worry none, Sash. That Rumbler will beat us to the first town, and there it’ll stay. If he’s lucky he can refuel but he won’t make it to the first checkpoint.”
“What if their play isn’t ta win?” said Spinner, “All sorts showing up this year.”
Zhao looked around. Several different landships had showed up. He saw an old Kovy Class landship. Missing its signature long barrel of the cannon, it was painted up like a parade float and a crew member danced at the top of it for the crowd. Below, a few bikers sat on their steam bikes, talking to one another.They held intimidating weapons and pointed and spoke in hushed voices about the racers around them. There was a man checking all his engines of his Paddock's carriage, four engines in total to pull the carriage behind. A man with a regular, Chanka drawn carriage was beside him, ensuring his Chanka were fed and calm with all the noise around them.
A fight seemed to have broken out from a man with a clockwork sled and a man on an enhanced, self driving carriage. It was immediately overlooked by a steam whistle of the MK4 Prushian Armored Landship next to them. It looked as if the crew had salvaged it from a battlefield, with it missing large pieces of armor in some places and having tarps and curtains over areas where the bulkhead doors had been removed with blow torches. Looking further around, Zhao could even see a small pack of Sand Skimmers, their sails tucked away but their pilots and crew brightly dressed and addressing the crowds and reporters eagerly.
“There’s always all sorts here,” said Zhao, “Just keep your mind on the task at hand. Keep us moving at all times and we can outrun any problem. Straight shot through the badlands, no long detours through the open desert. And we’ll stay sharp. We’re a solid crew and I have faith this is our year.”
“Because who we are against?” asked Sashenka.
“Because of who we’re not against,” said Zhao, making a sign with both hands of legs running, “With ‘The Arrow’ wrecked this past year, we have our first true shot at this thing.”
“Oh, woah,” said Spinner, “Just a moment here, is that the Scorpios II?”
Zhao’s head shot up. As the crowd parted, the Scorpios II made its way into the racer’s lanes. Taking a spot directed by a racing official, it stopped dead and waited. Zhao could feel his knuckles crack with the force he was clenching them.
“Who’s that?” asked Sashenka.
“Just an anti-airship ship, custom. Look at her, though,” said Spinner, pointing at it, “Is it fast? Who knows. The commander of the vessel is full of surprises.”
“It isn’t fast and the commander is an idiot,” said Zhao, almost spitting the words through his teeth, “I’ll be surprised if he can even find White Haven.”
“Is he dangerous?” asked Sashenka.
“All fools are,” said Zhao.
"Oi, he's a wild card," said Spinner, "That thar be one of the most haphazard ships oid laid eyes on fer years."
"Perhaps you'd be more comfortable on his junker?" grumbled Zhao.
"You hear he's hoiring, Cap'M?"
Zhao groaned, closing his eyes and banging his head against the railing. Sashenka watched for a moment.
"So, has he won in years prior?" asked Sashenka, "Has this ship had bad run-ins with him?"
"No, no," said Spinner, "Nothing so bad as that. The Cap'M here is just threatened, as seeing the lad has ois for his lady."
"Spinner," moaned Zhao from his place with his head against the rail, "It would be a shame to toss you over the side, but make no mistake-"
Nosilla's screams were immediately followed by a small puff of an explosions and a loud clanging. A burst of black smoke plumed from one of the exhausts and everyone's eyes turned to the opening leading below deck. Nosilla's curses were heard shortly after.
"ALTERNATORS!" she demanded, "I swear, to the moons and back!"
"Your lady calls, Captain," smiled Sashenka, who brought over a skuttlekovy shell and began painted on it.
"She's not my lady," growled Zhao.
"No, she is not," said Sashenko at the same time Spinner mumbled, "Mechanics with benefits."
"Nothing is happening!" said Zhao, "except now I gotta find some parts before the race. Nothing has happened."
"It's a small ship," said Sashenka, rolling his eyes.
"No judgement, Cap'M," said Spinner, "In the Navy, Mechanics with benefits is the only way you can guarantee hazard pay sumtimes."
Zhao gave an exasperated sigh before turning and marching towards the opening.
"Spinner, help Haggard. He's old," he yelled behind him, "Sash, we'll need a clean up before-"
"No," said Sashenka, "I'm painting."
"Now," said Zhao, as he began climbing down into the ship again.
"Sir, yes sir," announced Sashenka, mockingly, before signing and returning to painting, "Gosh, you think that Scorpios III guy is any fun?"
"By the look o that hull?" said Spinner, "He gets a long worse with Antiford then our Captain."