The Great Getabout Race
In a world dominated by ships of the sky, flatter regions sometimes rely instead on wheeled getabouts for transportation. In one such corner, the tradition known as the annual Great Getabout Race showcases "racing getabouts": hulking machines trembling with raw power, ready to conquer the terrestial course before them.Anhala glanced at the time machine on her wrist. Blast, she thought. The race would begin in two minutes—and she was stuck at the back of a massive crowd. The writhing mass was made up of those who couldn't pay to watch from a ship, or only cared about the chaotic first moments of the annual Great Getabout Race. A rather drab name for such a popular event, but no one was here because of the name.
They were here to see the glorious mechanical beasts display their raw power in a way only racing getabouts can. Some spectators marveled at the quick-witted reactions and skills of the pilots, while others gawked at the ingenuity and sheer stupid bravery of the mechanics who hung off the sides of their respective machines, trying to keep it from falling apart at the rivets. Everyone, however, was there to see the getabouts themselves: devouring the ground beneath them with vigorous energy, expelling surges of smoke through the outlets prescribed in the blueprints—and through some not so prescribed, demanding the maternal attention of their mechanics.
First year I actually decide to come to this stupid thing, no way I'm gonna miss the start, determined Anhala. She fought past a particularly boisterous thicket of Galfrens, who always seemed to take up more space than they needed.s like herself were the ideal: short, slim, and efficient. I ran out of excuses for not coming to his crude, obnoxious races two years ago. This year, I finally decide to bite the bullet like a mature adult and now life wants to make me late. Well, life can forget it.
She shoved her way to the ticket booth, her limited military training and physique giving her a slight advantage in the scramble. Stuffing her ticket into the booth's slot, she stole another glance at her time machine. 40 seconds. More time than she’d expected, but she still had to get up to the last spectator ship before it took off. She glanced up the stairwell, and began sprinting up the steps.
A few hundred meters away on the other side of the spectator ship docks, out in the sweltering heat of the suns, Joel ran his eyes over the controls in his cramped cockpit one last time.
"Provy, dear, are you sure you topped off the carbane? Elevator levels look good?" he asked, his heart hammering as it always did before a race. A little faster than usual, perhaps. Although he had raced with Provishia many times before, this was the first race since their marriage. This one was special, and he didn't intend to screw it up.
"The carbane?" she scoffed. "There's three times as many failure points in this thing than in a Cosmellian cruiser's, well, everything, we're about to push them all past what they were designed for in blistering heat, and you're worried about whether I filled up the blasted carbane tank?" She shook her head in exasperation, pausing her own checks for a second to lean into the cockpit and give Joel a quick peck on the cheek. "You worry about making sure we don't crash, and I'll handle the rest, ok?"
Joel smiled and nodded, suddenly distracted by a wave of nostalgia. Growing up, he had been used to his sister being the person taking care of “the rest.” She was the one you could rely on to get things done, keep things organized, that sort of thing. He was… not. Probably why he took to racing getabouts so well. They were antithetical to order and regulation. However, when she left home, he had to learn how to handle “the rest” on his own, and now he was having to unlearn it again with Provy in his life. Briefly, he wondered if his sister had come to the race. Her last letter had been noncommittal as usual, but maybe—his train of thought was interrupted by a muffled shout from the adjacent getabout.
"OI, JOEL!” shouted a large Galfren hanging precipitously off the side of his massive, shuddering getabout. “Don't forget which pedal is which this time!" he said with a mischievous grin.
"Don't bother responding, he's just trying to shake you up," warned Provishia.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," responded Joel, not even looking in the Galfren's direction.
"Oh, of course, the great steel-nerved Joel Berios could never make such a mistake,” the heckler continued, holding his hands out in mock deference. “Tell me, was it your idiot mechanic who got her left and rights crossed again?" Joel didn't mind verbal abuse directed at him; he probably deserved it. Yet insulting Provy—however poorly—struck a nerve he didn't know he had. Before he could retort, though, he was cut off yet again—this time by the announcer.
"THE TWELFTH ANNUAL GETABOUT RACE BEGINS IN FIVE!" Anhala dug harder into the steps, two flights from the top. She heard the spectator ship's engines strain as it launched from the dock. "FOUR!" She could at least see the start from the dock. Of all the stupid reasons to be late, why did it have—"THREE!"—to be an arachnovine stampede? Anywhere else, I could have gone above or below it but this blasted continent is so infuriatingly flat. I'm starting to remember—"TWO!"—why I left this place to begin with. Her breath became labored as she began climbing the last flight of stairs. "ONE!" She had only made it halfway up before a deafening explosion rocked the towering dock. Anhala panicked for a brief moment before the cheering made her realize that must have been the starting signal, not all of the pilots dying in a simultaneous fiery explosion. Although from what she'd heard of this type of audience, the cheering might have indicated the latter. The sound barely had time to fade before another explosion shook the stands a split second later—but this one did not fade. Rather, it increased in volume and intensity rapidly, causing the dock to shiver violently and drowning out the raucous applause. The intense oscillations slowed her progress, but she finally crested the top of the staircase and stumbled over to a nearby railing.
A few stories below, a thick, billowing cloud of smoke and dirt stretched from the starting line a couple hundred meters out, where she could barely make out a few getabouts leading the stampede. Judging by the deafening roar and thunderous earthquake, she surmised there were several more machines obscured by the nigh-opaque cloud. Tired dismay filled her as she had a sudden thought: ...which one is Joel's?
Joel could not see a thing in front of him. He couldn’t even hear his own thoughts, despite the three levels of hearing protection he was wearing. He didn't need to see or hear, though. Piloting a racing getabout was a thoroughly spiritual experience, transcending such shallow physical senses. He got all he needed to know from the bond between Haravel and machine.
That, and he had run this course so many times he could do it in his sleep. Other pilots would forsake the most efficient route to try and get some visibility outside the cloud of dirt, but he knew exactly where he was. He didn't need the crutch of vision for confirmation. Provided of course, nobody did anything stupid in front of him. That was the risk of flying—well, driving—blind, but you don't win the Great Getabout Race by racing safe.
Not that there is really a "safe" way to pilot a racing getabout—they were notoriously unreliable and prone to breaking down often and in spectacularly fatal ways. That's why racing without a mechanic would be laughably stupid. While a pilot had to wrangle the mechanical equivalent of a seven-ton bull into navigating a long and dangerous obstacle course, the racing mechanic's job was orders of magnitude more difficult. Keeping that angry beast in one piece required scrambling to any spot inside or outside, keeping your footing while putting out fires, re-sealing holes, tightening what was left of your bolts, or hammering something back into place. Also on the mechanic's lengthy duty list was keeping carbane and elevator lines unkinked, blasting dirt off the driveshafts, and cleaning off the air intakes.
Provishia's right hand danced over valves and levers, her left hand keeping her steady as the getabout lept forward in unsteady bounds. The ground had been deeply furrowed by the racers in front of them, so firm, solid ground—the best surface for the getabout's hefty toothed wheels to grab—was intermittent at best. She diverted more heat to the static elevator chamber to decrease the getabout's weight, attempting to soften the abrupt dips. They'd lose a little bit of power, but they would lose it anyway in the furrows. She reached for the air blaster, and just barely got a hold of it before the right side of the getabout abruptly dropped, throwing her out of the side. She hooked her feet into a bar and used the momentum to swing between two of the whirling wheels. She slammed unceremoniously into the underside. Her leather pads helped absorb some of the impact, but it still stung every time. Clinging to a handhold on the underside, Provishia pointed the air blaster at the driveshafts and began clearing out the dirt and muck that had already begun to build up, swinging wildly with the chaotic motion of the getabout.
I can't believe it never occurred to me to ask what his getabout actually looked like, Anhala thought, quietly cursing her lack of foresight. She normally prided herself on being able to anticipate problems, and here she was 0 for 2. First the arachnovine stampede, now this. This was her home only in technicality. She continued to watch the storm of getabouts, noticing a few more appearing on the sides of the cloud, trading a straight shot forward for better visibility. She was surprised at how varied they were; some were small and seemed to jump from rise to rise, while some were hulking monsters that plowed through the terrain with reckless abandon. The number of wheels varied from three to...well, too many to count from that distance. Knowing Joel, he's probably in one of the ones with more wheels than he needs, figured Anhala. Soon, the getabouts were lost behind a rocky slope as the course made its first turn, the spectator ships lazily gliding above them. "How am I supposed to get on one of those?" she muttered quietly to herself.
A voice behind her startled her. "They are magnificent things, aren't they? Funny you should ask, darlin'; I've been looking for a pilot myself, and my, do you look the part. You ever raced a getabout before?" said a tall Haravel. Anhala paused for a second, confused.
"What? Oh, no that's not what I meant, I just want to watch—"
"Ah, that's what they all say. Every pilot I've trained started the same as you did just now: staring in slack-jawed wonder at the untamed beauty that is a racing getabout in its natural habitat," he said, gesturing grandly at the course in front of them. "You've got racing blood in you, I can tell. Tried to scratch that itch with the Cosmellian Navy, did ya?" he continued, nodding towards her dirt-covered military-issue trousers. She furrowed her brow, annoyed now. This guy takes a bit too much pride in his observation skills.
Provishia finished cleaning the driveshafts as fast as she could. She was no slouch at rodeoing, but she didn't want to press her luck. Especially underneath the getabout: it was one of the more dangerous places to be. The wheels were set high to create plenty of buffer space between the underside and the ground below her, but as uneven as it was she could still be scraped off the bottom by a jutting rock—a generally unpleasant experience. She released the air blaster trigger and waited a half second for the right lurch to swing back onto the side of the getabout. The dragon’s share of the art of rodeoing was knowing how to ride the chaos and use the momentum shifts to your advantage.
Now properly upright again, she glanced to see what was coming ahead. They were in the middle of a long gradual turn, on a hillside slanted away from the turn’s direction. The cloud of dusty smoke was clearing slightly, finally affording non-zero visibility as the getabouts spread out in the curve—the lighter machines taking a tight path higher up on the steeper grade, with heavier machines taking the longer but flatter route. She smiled, appreciating the genius of the course designers. The next step in the race involved a risky jump onto one of many paths at different elevations, and spreading out the contestants before that jump reduced the risk of collisions. It also helped ensure the racers choose different paths to jump onto. This provided more variety for the eager onlookers above, not to mention the narrowness of the paths only allowed one or two getabouts to be abreast at any given moment. She swung inside and began preparing for the upcoming burst of power they would need to launch onto the path they wanted.
"I'm not interested, thank you. If you'll excuse me, I'm actually in a bit of a hurry." Anhala was trying her best to be polite despite her rapidly growing distaste for this Haravel. Something about his overly friendly mannerisms just didn't quite sit right with her, nevermind his misplaced confidence in her desire to be a getabout pilot, of all things. Never in a million years would she willingly set foot inside one of those death machines.
"Ah, well, sorry to hear you say that, darlin'. I do hope you'll reconsider. Here's my card if you change your mind." He handed her a small slip of a paper, which she brusquely stuffed in her pocket and strode off. He seemed to have given up rather easily, considering his initial enthusiasm. She shoved the conversation to the back of her mind, a mystery she’d deal with later. She had to find a way to get onto a spectator ship.
She cast a trained eye around, taking in the docks. The few stragglers who were up here just to watch the start of the race were now slowly trickling down the stairs, chattering as they went. A few were headed over to a couple smaller ships on the far right side, boarding after showing their tickets. They seemed to be ferries—one shoved off from the dock, and headed off at a good clip towards the large spectator ships in the distance. She walked across the dock with long strides, moving as fast as she could without breaking into a jog. The ferry captain barely acknowledged her as he glanced at her ticket and waved her onboard. A mixed sense of relief and impatience washed over her as she sat down, her view of the race obscured by the rocky ridge. She'd have to resign herself to the pace of the ferry, which she had no control over. She was not fond of giving up control.
Provishia strained to tighten a patching collar around an elevator pipe. Multiple streams of superheated elevator gas hissed from various points along the winding pipe, protesting her efforts to extract more power. I need to time that switch just right, she reminded herself, trying to stay focused amidst the pounding noise of the straining engine. The moment their wheels left the ground she would need to divert as much heat as possible from the rotational motivator to the static elevator chamber, lowering their effective weight to get more airtime. It was a common maneuver—but then again so was wrangling an arachnovine, and that didn't make that easy either.
Joel kept a steady hand on the transmission controls, shifting through gears as they built up more speed. The wheels spun with brutish fury, tearing through the ground as the getabout surged forward, slinging dirt and rock behind it. He coaxed the getabout slightly to the right, hoping to catch the best rise leading to the jump, and pointed the nose of the getabout towards their chosen path. It was the riskiest of the five possible paths, but if you could successfully navigate the subsequent precarious jumps along the steppes—if—it was a significant shortcut.
Anhala bounced her leg impatiently. It's a good thing they don't race these things, she thought dryly to herself. Everyone would die of boredom. Or thirst. Or old age. Looking over the brow for seemingly the fortieth time, she estimated they were technically closer than the last time she looked, but progress was frustratingly slow. The four oarsmen strained to push the ferry through the air, each stroke of the large paddle-sails claiming to shove the ferry forward, though evidence was hard to come by. She couldn't believe that they were using one of the oldest, slowest, most primitive methods of locomotion at a racing event, even for a simple ferry.
Finally, she'd had enough. She stood up abruptly with an exaggerated sigh. The ferry captain looked at her and started to say something by way of inquiry, but she walked right past him.
"Move," she ordered the weakest-looking oarsman. He looked startled, glancing between her and the captain.
The captain started to object. "Ma'am, I'm afraid you can't just—"
"I'm a Lieutenant Commander in the Cosmellian Navy. I can handle an oar. Have him go help his buddy on the other side." The captain paused, weighing whether it was worth it to try and make her sit back down. He was sure this was a breach of some protocol somewhere, but she looked both more capable—and more motivated—than the oarsman did. He nodded his acquiescence, figuring the less of a big deal he made of it, the less chance there'd be that he would be given trouble about it later.
You know, this would be a really bad time for the thermokinetic inducer valve to fail dramatically, Joel thought to himself. If he made a big enough point of it perhaps the universe would deem such an act of mischief too obvious to actually do. Moments away from the jump, he reached back and found Provy's hand and they exchanged a tight squeeze. With his free hand, he pulled the dynamic elevator chamber's control lever all the way back, shoving the chamber all the way to the front and lifting the front of the getabout as they sped off the edge of the cliff. Provishia tore her hand away and spun the thermal actuator as hard as she could, diverting the thermal energy from the furnace towards the static elevator chamber. Joel eased the control lever back forward, leveling their flight as they soared through the air. For a few golden moments the noise abated and the getabout rose as gracefully as an angry bull. Then, gravity reached up and grabbed the getabout once more. It began to fall, and Joel and Provishia braced for the coming violent landing.
The pair were thrown abruptly forwards as a thunderous crash announced their arrival back on terra firma. Provishia saw a flash of light. A stabbing pain in the left side of her temple—no, the right side—suggested she may have hit her head on something in the impact. She knew there was something she needed to do besides just hold her aching head, but she was having trouble focusing at that particular moment. Up front, Joel was not faring much better. Blindly reaching with his hand, he found the lever he wanted and threw it forward. A harsh grating sound screeched from all eight wheels as they scrambled to find purchase in the rocky ground. Provishia groaned. The horrible discordant orchestra perfectly harmonized with the throbbing pain already in her head, creating an unfortunate melody of pure pain.
Despite there being two Haravels on one oar, they still struggled to keep up with Anhala. To her chagrin, she had to reign in her rowing so as not to throw the ferry off course. They were, however, making much better time than they had before. Peering over the bow she could see glimpses of the getabouts between rocky peaks—or at least, the dusty clouds they were kicking up. After a few more minutes that seemed like hours, the ferry captain finally stood up and began preparing to dock with one of the spectator ships. He studiously ignored Anhala, which was just fine with her.
Joel and Provishia were thrown forward again, with the completion of a second, shorter jump. The path they had chosen would lead them through a series of jumps over the many other winding paths below them. It was a grueling course, taking a toll on both machine and occupants. However, the upshot was that while the other contestants were winding around the jutting steppes, Joel and Provishia were skipping across them in a relatively straight line. Provishia grimaced, knowing she'd have to make another foray outside to keep the getabout together before the next jump. She leapt out the left side, using her hands to swing up on to the top of the machine, where she had better access to the engine couplings. She quickly grabbed the hook from her mechanic suit and secured it onto an anchor in case she lost her footing—an all-too-likely scenario, given how much the getabout was tossing to and fro. Sending a quick prayer to the gods, she grabbed a wrench from her belt and began retightening the many bolts that were attempting to wriggle off of the getabout.
The other occupants on the ferry shuffled to the side, making way for Anhala to exit first. She made her way across the gangplank with long strides, sizing up the ship as she went. It was longer and narrower than most ships, especially the ones she was used to in the navy. There were a few spectators on the side she entered on, getting drinks or a fresh bag of Loroseon rolls. A couple hawkers were waiting for the ferry occupants, ready to sell their wares.
"Care for some binoculars, miss?" said one, waving a pair in her direction. "Them getabouts are a real beauty up close!" She shook her head slightly and avoided eye contact, not keen on slowing for a conversation. She quickened her pace, pressing on through a pair of doors to the other side of the ship.
Her eyes widened, surprised by the layout. This entire half of the ship was covered in window panes, with spectators lining the outside edge of every deck. There were multiple staircases connecting each deck all down the middle of the ship where she was. She walked down a couple decks until she saw an open spot on the outer edge where she could see out. I didn't realize there were so many people who cared about landbound vehicles. What's so special about vehicles that can't fly? she thought to herself as she made her way to the windows. The excitement from the other spectators was palpable, with periodic bursts of cheering, animated chattering, and constant pointing and gasping. If they get this excited over some dinky rolling dead weights, they would lose their minds if they saw a real Veskalarian mountainchase. Those clippers are paragons of speed.
Finally, she got to the window. She looked down, arms crossed, at the racing course. Below, the getabouts were each jockeying to get ahead of each other, spread out over half a dozen paths that often crossed over or under each other. Their snarling engines and the complaints of many overburdened mechanical joints could be heard even from where she was, high up and behind the glass. They tore through the ravines and steppes with an unbridled spirit. She blinked, suddenly noticing something. Wha....who's that maniac jumping over the race course? Is that even allowed? And is that—there's someone on top of it?! What are they thinking?! she thought incredulously. Finding herself gripping the railing, she started to get a sense of what everyone else was so animated about. These idiots, that's what. The wildness of the whole spectacle just struck her all at once. It wasn't about the speed, it was...practically a party. With the partygoers strapped inside—or outside—carbane-fueled mechanical beasts, and few rules to get in the way. She may not admit it aloud, but she felt a sort of mad fascination with the whole spectacle. She stood transfixed, mesmerized by the insane chaos on the surface below.
Despite herself, she smiled.
"Getabouts" was a rather whimsical name for such impressive machines. Evidently, most inventors trade in their naming cleverness in return for mechanical ingenuity.
RulesGetabout races have always been straightforward—at least, from a rules perspective.
- First getabout to cross the finish line with an operating engine and still obeying all other vehicular rules wins.
- Getabouts must held up primarily by at least three wheels.
- Getabouts must be crewed by 1-3 persons.
- Getabouts must stay within the course boundaries at all times during a race.