It's so hot out here today, not even the fish are biting!
They're smarter than we think. I'm tempted to jump in the lake and stay underwater for a while!
Jamie reached up with his free hand and wiped some droplets of sweat off his brow. His other hand was lazily holding on to his fishing line as he waded knee-deep into the cool blue waters of Casba Lake. Several yards away from him stood his friend Sam, who was equally unimpressed with the summer temperatures of Motavia.
It's just as hot back in town. Let's stay out here for just a little while longer, Jamie called.
Sam was about to protest, but the two young men heard a strange noise in the distance. Shielding his eyes from the unrelenting sun, Jamie stared out in the horizon and saw an unfamiliar shape heading directly towards them.
Is that what I think it is? Sam asked.
The shiny silver vehicle came to a stop on the shore right next to them. A small hatch opened on top, and a man popped his head out, his light blond hair practically glowing in the bright sun.
Hey, guys, what's up?
Eric! Jamie recognized their friend first, even though he was still squinting.
You're back from Palma!
And you brought back quite the souvenir, Sam said, as he brushed his hand against the smooth metal.
Eric hopped down and joined his friends on the beach.
Yeah, there's a shop in Scion that sells used hovercrafts, I got a great deal! He pulled the small craft out of the water with ease.
They're so lightweight these days, it's so easy to travel with them!
Jamie had last seen a hovercraft when he was no more than ten years old, during a family vacation to Sopia. The village was not far from Motavia's great lake, and Jamie had enjoyed watching the vehicles move swiftly through the water during their trips to the beach. No one in his hometown of Casba had owned one, despite their proximity to the water, so the sight of the hovercrafts zipping around the lake had made a strong impression on the young boy.
Can we go for a ride? Sam eagerly asked.
I don't know, I should be getting home. My parents will be expecting me.
Come on! One quick trip?
Fine. Just for a few minutes, though. He pushed the hovercraft forward a few inches and made his way back up to the top.
Jamie followed his friends and climbed up the side of the hovercraft. He wasn't sure if all three of them could fit inside, but as he peered down through the open hatch, he saw that it was bigger inside than it had initially appeared. It would be a bit of a squeeze, and it probably wouldn't be the most comfortable ride he had ever taken, but he wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to see what it felt like to glide over the water.
This is so cool! Sam exclaimed as they settled inside.
I know! Eric pushed a button on the dashboard and took the controls into his hands. The hovercraft moved forward, slowly at first, but soon they were racing through the water as fast as the small vehicle could manage. Every now and then, Eric would jerk the controls to one side as far as he could and the three young men laughed as they tilted to the side during the severe turns, the water splashing up onto the tiny windows.
After about ten minutes, Eric decided it was time to go back. He drove the hovercraft up onto the shore and led his friends back outside.
Man, I wish I had one of those, Sam sighed.
So go get one! Eric pulled the hovercraft back out of the water and continued walking, the others following close behind. True to his word, it seemed to slide easily over the sandy beach and he appeared to have no difficulties toting it around with him.
I haven't been to Palma in years!
Why not? The space flights aren't that expensive these days. Eric scratched his chin in thought.
Hey, I have an idea.
I saw some posters in Scion advertising a hovercraft race in a few months. We can go down there a week ahead of time and you guys can get your own hovercrafts. We'd have a blast!
I don't know, said Jamie, who had been quiet for most of their walk.
Where would we stay?
Eric casually shrugged off his question.
I just stayed with my aunt in Camineet for the past few weeks, she runs a little inn there. I'm sure she wouldn't mind us staying with her, and it's not far from Scion at all.
Besides, Sam chimed in,
I know you have a birthday coming up soon. We might as well do something fun to celebrate you finally turning eighteen!
Jamie wrinkled his nose at his friend's gentle teasing about him being the last of them to reach adulthood.
Maybe we could manage it, if we start saving our money now...
Eric's eyes had a mischievous twinkle.
Did I mention the prize for winning the race was twenty thousand meseta?
Sam let out a low whistle.
Damn, that's a lot of money.
If one of us wins, we can split it. Between the three of us, we've got to have a shot at it, right? Eric looked at his friends' faces and knew it wouldn't take a lot more to convince them.
Let's do it! It'll be fun! Sam readily agreed.
Jamie felt his friends waiting for a response. He ran a hand through his curly black hair and sighed.
Fine, I'll go, he said, finally smiling. His friends cheered as they continued on their way back towards Casba.
For the next few months, Jamie worked extra hours at his father's tool shop to ensure he would have plenty of money for his planned vacation. He had never ventured too far away from Casba without the supervision of his parents, but as he had reached the age of eighteen, they were willing to let him go with his friends. The time passed more quickly than he had expected, and before he knew it, he was leaving town with his fellow travelers.
This is so much better than walking through the tunnel! Sam said as they scooted across the lake.
I know, right? Eric steered the hovercraft towards the lake's north shore. From there, it was a pleasant walk to the village of Uzo, where they planned on spending the night before continuing on to Motavia's spaceport. Their night in Uzo was uneventful, though Jamie had difficulty sleeping as he was excited to leave the desert planet again for the first time in many years.
At the spaceport, Eric checked the hovercraft with the rest of their small bags before they boarded the spaceship. Before long, Motavia was shrinking behind them as they got nearer to the second planet of the Algol system. Jamie dozed off a few times during the long trip, but was awake for their descent onto the spaceport on Palma. As he looked out the window of the small spacecraft, he marveled at how how green and lush everything appeared to be.
After retrieving their belongings, they were soon on board the moving walkway, heading for Camineet.
Let's drop off our stuff at my aunt's place and then we can go to Scion, Eric suggested, leading the way towards the eastern section of the town.
Eric's Aunt Suelo lived in a yellow house not far from the town gates. She had long, thick hair the same color as her nephew's and a warm smile, and, luckily, she didn't seem to be bothered by three teenaged boys taking over her spare rooms for a few days.
Don't worry about it, she said.
People are in and out of here all the time.
Finally, the three friends arrived at their ultimate destination: the bustling port town of Scion.
See, here's what I was telling you about, Eric said as he gestured to an advertisement posted on the outside wall of a shop.
The race is five days away, that should be plenty of time to get you guys set up with your hovercrafts. Maybe we can do some exploring with them, too.
He led the way to a second-hand store near the middle of the town. The owner was a short, anxious-looking man who couldn't seem to stay still in one place for more than a few seconds at a time. He seemed to constantly be looking beyond them, as if he wasn't sure they had come alone, and for a moment, Jamie wondered if his friends knew what they were doing. The shopkeeper did eventually remember Eric and with a little more persuasion, he led them into the back room of the shop.
There were several hovercrafts, no more than six, lined up against the wall, some obviously in better condition that others. Sam immediately made a beeline for a bright yellow one, laughing about its flamboyant color. Jamie studied the others and knelt down next to one that was reddish-orange in color. It didn't seem to have any noticeable dents or scratches and when he pushed the button to turn it on, it made a reassuring humming noise.
They all work perfectly, I test each one out myself, the shopkeeper stated, still fidgeting.
Mine works just fine! Eric reminded them.
How much? asked Jamie.
The shopkeeper cleared his throat.
Five hundred meseta. Jamie raised an eyebrow.
Hey, a new one would cost you five thousand. This is a great deal.
That's not bad at all, Sam said.
Okay, let's do it. Jamie carefully counted out some of his hard-earned money and handed it to the shopkeeper. The boys collected their purchases and exited the store, only to see that the sky had already grown dark. Deciding that it would be safer to wait until the following day to play with their new toys, they made their way back to Suelo's house. As they traveled over the grassy land, Jamie noted that the hovercraft was indeed as light and portable as Eric had claimed and he had no difficulties transporting it back to Camineet.
Sam, in his excitement, was up with the sun and eagerly woke his friends. After scarfing down a quick breakfast that Suelo had kindly prepared for them, they were off to the beach to the north of Camineet. Jamie set down the new-to-him vehicle at the edge of the water and climbed inside. The inner controls were identical to Eric's hovercraft, so he felt confident as he turned on the machine and grasped the controls as he had seen his friend do before. Sam shot out in front of him in his obnoxiously yellow hovercraft and, applying pressure to the hand controls, Jamie followed after him.
The hovercraft moved easily over the crystal blue waters of the Palman ocean. They zipped through the narrow channels between the mainlands before reaching the open seas. Once they were no longer impeded by the potential danger of jutting rocks, Eric sped up, seeming to fly effortlessly over the gentle waves.
Jamie leaned into his controls, increasing his speed. The hovercraft moved forward and then, without warning, sputtered and stopped in the middle of the water. He fiddled with the controls, but the hovercraft refused to respond to his commands.
Sam had noticed his friend was no longer behind them and circled back around until he was floating next to the helpless Jamie. He popped his head out of the top of his hovercraft and waited for him to do the same.
What happened? he asked as soon as he saw the head of dark curls reappear.
I don't know, when I tried to go faster, it just stopped.
Hmm...did you try restarting it?
Jamie ducked back below and hit the main power button several times. The hovercraft came back to life, but its previously pleasant hum was replaced by an erratic series of buzzes and mechanical whines.
That doesn't sound good. Eric had pulled up beside them.
No, not at all. Jamie shut down his hovercraft again and looked to his friends for suggestions.
Let it rest for a few minutes and then try it again. We'll get you back to shore somehow, Eric said. Jamie obliged, and after several minutes had passed, he turned on the hovercraft one more time. Its normal sound had returned, but Jamie was still apprehensive.
We'll head back now, we'll take it nice and slow, Eric instructed.
Yeah, don't worry, we'll keep an eye on you, Sam tried to reassure him.
Jamie gently steered the hovercraft back to their point of departure, afraid of reaching the high speed that had caused it to stop earlier. When they arrived back at the beach, Jamie jumped down onto the white sands and pulled his vehicle out of the water.
Well, that's no good, he told his friends.
What's the point of entering the race if I can't go too fast?
The carefree Eric shrugged his shoulders.
We'll fix it. I know Aunt Suelo keeps some tools back at the house for all the little things that can go wrong there, and if we need something else, I bet we can get it at one of the shops. He dragged his own hovercraft onto the shore.
I'm sure it can't be too hard, they don't really seem like complex machines.
The trio made their way back to the town and brought their vehicles into Suelo's backyard. Eric flipped all three hovercrafts upside down and stared at their inner workings, scratching his head in thought.
Let me guess - you have no idea what's wrong, Jamie said.
We'll figure it out! Nothing seemed to deter Eric.
Sam was more than happy to join in his enthusiasm.
Yeah, we just have to compare ours to yours and we'll find the problem!
I hope you're right.
The three friends spent the next several days tinkering with the mechanisms of the hovercrafts and running back and forth to the beach to test out their work. Jamie didn't want to admit that they were fumbling rather blindly and weren't quite sure what they were doing, but he tried to remain optimistic. He was a bit nervous while working, though, as he didn't want to do any irreparable damage to his new prized possession. At times, as he was elbow-deep in the mechanical parts, he thought he must be doing more harm than good, as he could practically imagine his sweaty palms melting the thin metal away to nothing.
They returned to the water for one final test drive the afternoon before the race. Inside the hovercraft, Jamie cautiously eased forward onto the controls and breathed a sigh of relief as the small vehicle took off. He gradually accelerated and to his surprise, everything seemed to be in working order. Following his friends, he sped through the water, testing out his ability to make sharp turns at high speeds and imagining himself in the following day's competition. They splashed around in the sea until the sky began to grow dark, forcing their return to shore.
Scion was even busier than usually as competitors and spectators alike eagerly anticipated the start of the race. Eric took it upon himself to register the three of them and returned to his friends with a map.
It looks like a pretty straightforward course, he said, tracing a line with his finger.
Just out to a checkpoint, around it, and back.
They didn't have much time to further study the map, as an amplified voice directed all participants to report to the docks. Jamie stood on his toes and strained to see as a man standing on a podium began to read a list of rules.
The sound of the gun signifies the start of the race, the man said into a microphone.
False starts will be disqualified. Please refer to your maps to see the course — you must travel around the island from south to north. There will be markers in the water to indicate the direction. Anyone who strays from the course or collides with another competitor will be disqualified. You may now proceed to the starting line.
Jamie and his friends headed down to the water. At least thirty hovercrafts, in a wide variety of colors, were lined up at the designated spot, their drivers anticipating the start of the race. Jamie climbed inside his own hovercraft, turned it on, and waited. After what seemed like hours, he heard the amplified voice announcing that the day's main event was about to begin. A loud gunshot rang out and Jamie shot forward, along with his fellow racers.
The hovercraft seemed to be working just as well as it had the previous day, and Jamie was not afraid to go as fast as the small vehicle would allow. Though the water splashed around him, he could still see out the front windshield. There were quite a few people in front of him, but it seemed like they were many more behind him. Jamie briefly wondered where in the pack his friends were, but he chose to remain focused on navigating the course and taking advantage of any openings for the lead.
In the distance, he could see the island that marked the halfway point. It was a small island, with a tall, thin tower jutting up from the center. As he got closer, he could see a small group of people (fans, or referees, or both, he wasn't sure) standing on the beach, cheering the racers on.
The pack of hovercrafts gradually passed the south shore of the island. Jamie tried to increase his speed, but his hovercraft could go no faster. As the edge of the island came into sight, he turned the controls to the left as far as they would go, trying to keep up with those in front of him as they made the turn.
Unfortunately, the hovercraft did not respond. Rather than turning, it made several loud, metallic thunks before shutting down completely. Desperately, Jamie rapidly hit the power button, hoping to bring his machine back to life, but his efforts were useless. The waves created by the other competitors pushed him off course and he could do nothing except helplessly drift away.
As he floated away from the island, he could see more land appearing ahead of him. He didn't know enough about Palman geography to know where he was, but it seemed better to stay in one place, rather than float aimlessly through the wide ocean. The soft waves eventually pushed him towards the shore, where he climbed out of the hovercraft onto the sand.
I can't believe I thought this was a good idea, Jamie mumbled as he pulled the hovercraft out of the water. He glared at it as it lay lifeless on the beach.
Piece of junk, he said, giving it a good kick. He considered flipping it over and trying to fix it, but he didn't think he would be successful.
I guess I'm just not any good at fixing machines, he said to himself, sighing.
I give up.
The tide was coming in, so Jamie picked up the hovercraft and moved away from the beach. As he walked further inland, the smell hit him. Though he hadn't been to Palma in a very long time, he instantly knew where he was.
Bortevo. The Palman dump. This is just great. He glanced down at the broken hovercraft.
Maybe that's the perfect place for you. He picked it up and started walking towards the source of the bad smells.
Bortevo consisted of about half a dozen large huts, designed to keep the garbage from spilling onto the dirt paths. There were people who worked there, but Jamie saw no one as he entered the gates. Covering his nose to avoid the foul odor, he dragged the hovercraft up to the first building he saw. Jamie looked down at the hovercraft one last time, almost as if he were reconsidering his decision. Frowning and shaking his head, he flung open the door, tossed the hovercraft onto a pile of trash, and left the dump.
Good riddance, he said to no one in particular. Jamie tried not to think of the money he had wasted as he walked back to the beach.
I'm never doing anything like that again. With one final sigh, he sat down at the edge of the water and waited to be rescued.
Years passed, and the peaceful Algol star system, once under the benevolent rule of King Lassic, began to decline. There were rumors that Lassic had found a new religion that had turned him against his people, but no one dared speak too loudly against their cruel ruler. Though the governor of Motavia was no ally of the king, he alone was not strong enough to protect the desert planet. Water sources began to dry up and a large cloud of toxic gas suddenly appeared to the north of the great lake.
Casba was one of the towns that began to suffer greatly. Violent monsters appeared in both the tunnel through the mountains and the once-serene lake and the villagers were afraid to get too close to either. No one from the outside was able to get in and Casba was essentially cut off from the outside world.
Perhaps it was the fact that nobody had seen an outsider for at least a year that made Jamie notice the strange travelers. He watched out his window with curiosity as a teenaged girl, a tall, muscular man, a strange figure cloaked in white, and a small yellow cat made their way through the streets of Casba. Eventually, the foursome made their way to his house and there was a knock at the door.
Jamie didn't hesitate to open it, as these strangers seemed relatively harmless. He offered them a simple greeting before asking,
What brings you to Casba?
The girl's big, blue eyes glanced around nervously.
We're trying to stop Lassic, she whispered.
We want to restore peace and order to all of Algol.
I can't argue with that plan.
The girl finally managed a small smile.
Do you, by any chance, have any information that could help us out? she asked.
Jamie stroked his chin, now covered with a dark, bushy beard, in thought. He wasn't sure what exactly made him think of his last trip to Palma, but it was the only thing he thought may help these brave people on their quest.
Have you heard of a vehicle called the hovercraft? he asked them.
The tall man nodded.
I've seen one before. It can move across the water, he explained to his colleagues.
I bought it in Scion on Palma, but it seemed broken, so I abandoned it in Bortevo. Jamie paused.
It probably can still be used, though.
We can go back to Bortevo and take a look, it can't hurt, the young girl said to the others. She turned back to Jamie, still smiling.
Thank you so much for your help. She extended her hand as she introduced herself.
I'm Alis Landale.
He shook her hand.
My name is Jamie. Jamie Kain.