A Wishology Storycoin
Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
“Top straps to Level 4, middle and bottom straps to Level 3,” he instructed his new boots.
The straps tightened into a snug fit around his feet. Too snug.
“Top straps to Level 3.”
The top straps loosened. He took a stroll around his ship, but the fit was still a little off.
Had his mother not showed up, he might’ve never gotten them right. She stopped behind him and watched her son stamp his boots on the ground, trying to shove the mold of his feet into the soles.
“Are you forgetting your left arch is slightly shorter?” she asked kindly.
“Left middle strap to Level 3.5,” he said without turning around.
As always, she was right. A perfect fit. He turned to face her.
“I didn’t think you were coming.”
His mother didn’t answer. She stared up at the one-man craft in front of her. It wasn’t a one-man craft at all to her, really. It was a one-boy death machine — her boy.
“Mom, I’ll be fine,” he said as he grabbed her shoulders. “No one has ever trained as hard as I have for this. The announcers even said so in my physical evaluation broadcast.”
It didn’t help. The same expression of fear had been cemented on her face for days. She refused to be comforted.
While she had expressed her concerns and begged him not to compete, she couldn’t deny a feeling of pride in her son. He was following in his father’s footsteps, despite what had happened all those years ago. She didn’t like it, but she understood it. It was something he had to do to feel worthy of being his father’s son, on this planet or any other.“
I want you to do something for me, Alex.”
“Don’t compete? I can’t do that,” he said with a grin.
“When you reach your father’s wreckage…” She pulled out a sealed envelope, and the grin disappeared from Alex’s face.
“Paper! Where did you find paper?”
“Never mind that. When you get to your father’s wreckage, read this letter to him. You remember where he is, don’t you?”
“Of course. He’s just after Checkpoint 11… nearly the end.”
It was then that Alex noticed Tagarick, his toughest competitor and the only living person who witnessed the wreck of his father, listening to their conversation. How long had he been glaring at them with those yellow eyes of his?
“Racers! Enter your range skippers!” an announcer’s voice blasted over the speakers and echoed throughout the hangar.
Cheers erupted all around, and dozens of racers entered their range skippers while their friends and families, if they had any, cleared the area. Alex put the envelope in his jumpsuit pocket and kissed his mother’s cheek.
He climbed into his range skipper and latched the canopy shut. Flipping a switch on the console released a whoosh of pressure, sealing the cockpit airtight and flooding it with an atmosphere of its own. The air had a chill to it, so Alex bumped the thermostat up a few notches.
Looking up at him, his mother managed a subtle smile as Alex gave her a gesture that meant “I love you” only in their family. In cursive lettering underneath the canopy, she read the name of his range skipper as she made the same gesture back to him, Dustin Relic — her husband’s famous name. Not wanting her teary eyes to be Alex’s last memory of her, she made her way out of the hangar.
After a rising high-pitched whine exceeded the frequency of human hearing, the console of Dustin Relic came to life with lights and indicators and lifted to a hover over the ground. A three-dimensional graphical display projected into the air over the console with the words Welcome, Alexander Relic before morphing into a vibrant blue graph of the entire planet of Valtain.
“Zoom to location.” The graph zoomed to a live bird’s-eye view of the race’s starting line. “POV 1.” The graph rotated down and around to display the terrain directly in front of the craft, with elevation and distance information above every obstacle, even though all Alex could see was the closed hangar door in front of him.
From space Valtain looked like a sphere wearing a jagged ring around its center. The entire planet was a vast valley with its eastern and western hemispheres split in half by a mountain range. The range’s spine encircled the planet from north to south, rising higher at the equators, and its only breaks were at the poles on both ends.
The race would begin and end at the north pole’s plateau, Checkpoints 1 and 12, and the halfway point would be at the south pole’s plateau, Checkpoint 6. The checkpoints were structured like a clock around the planet, and each one would take about a day to reach traveling over 200 kilometers per hour. At each one, the racers would stop to eat, sleep, and study the terrain they’d be speeding over the next day. All the while, their every move would be watched by billions of people from all over the galaxy who would be delighted to see a few deadly crashes.
The hangar doors in front of the racers opened, and a rush of frigid air flung a cloud of snow and ice at their range skippers. The few racers who hadn’t prepared enough to know to turn on their heat barriers before the doors lifted were already behind. Alex didn’t take note of the ones scrambling out of their ships to de-ice their canopies. They were nothing to worry about.
Alex’s console communicator lit up with a call, displaying a profile image of Tagarick. He was a lot to worry about. Alex looked over at him through his glass canopy. Tagarick gave a wave and a sinister smile.
Alex clicked a button.
“What do you want?”
“Oh, just to wish you good luck, young Relic.”
“Really? Is that what you say before making yourself bad luck for everyone else?”
Tagarick laughed so hard he coughed. Alex looked away and ran a final navigation diagnostic while he waited for the conversation to continue.
“Welcome to the 25th Earth year annual Valtain Range Race!” an announcer called, overriding their com link. “The Valtain Range Race would like to extend a special good luck to Alexander Relic on his first ever race! Some of you might remember watching Alexander’s father Dustin Relic, the legendary undefeated champion of the Valtain Range Race 7 years running until his tragic death in the Valtain 15. Now, after 10 long years, we have a Relic back in the pack! Will this Relic be the one to finally take the championship title from Tagarick Anglit?”
Tagarick was laughing hysterically, like he’d just heard the funniest joke ever told.
“At 15-years-old, Dustin… excuse me… Alexander is almost our youngest competitor, but not quite. That title belongs to our next highlighted racer, Clelie Sariss!”
Alex’s heart pounded at the mention of Clelie’s name. Too many underestimated her, but Alex knew she was one of the few racers to worry about. He peered over at her range skipper but jerked his head forward again when she caught him out of the corner of her eye.
The com link with Tagarick came back on.
“Well, wasn’t that nice of them?” Tagarick said with unconvincing sincerity. “So, you’re going to see your old dad, are you? Such a terrible thing… I think about it every day.”
“You should,” Alex said, shooting Tagarick an angry look.
“Oh, don’t worry. You’ll see the wreckage. I’ll show it to you myself.”
“No thanks,” Alex said, reaching to disconnect their link.
“I insist. I’d love to see a Relic reunion.”
Tagarick switched off his own com link before Alex had the chance. Did he mean a reunion at the wreck site or something more literal?
“Racers! Are… you… ready?” the announcer rang out.
Dozens of range skippers vented hissing air in response and filled the com link with cheers, but Alex stared straight ahead, concentrating on the most important moment of his life.
“May you all break the range’s spine!”
A hush fell over everything and everyone. The only sounds were the hum of idling range skippers and the com link static. Alex gripped the control stick of his range skipper. This was it.
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Featured illustration by Ryan Rehnborg