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The way the wind blew into his face, he could not see clearly. No amount of squinting would improve his vision; simply put, Malgovi eyes were not designed for such speeds. Z’Gunok Tel Dungias looked at the console and swallowed hard, looking at the velocity monitor: nearly one-third oligtrams per tanku. He was approaching the speed whereby the shockwaves generated from his slide-sled would create a resounding boom. His inability to see clearly reminded the young Malgovi that his head possessed the same amount of protection as his gold eyes: none! He had been exerting himself to race in such a superlative fashion, but his speed kept pushing the small beads of sweat across his smooth bluish-gray skin. The head band he wore to keep his black hair out of his face would do nothing to protect his skull. Suddenly, limited visibility was not as important as he had thought it was, especially with where the course had led the racers. Gantee’s slide-sled was performing better than Dungias had thought it would. He wondered why his Vu-Zai had never purchased the recreational device for his eldest male child, but it did not take Dungias long to remind himself of his unique circumstances.
“Warning! You are approaching the boundary pharos for this sector!” The automated response had been expected the moment the course for the contest was decided. It was the warning given to anyone approaching the edge of the Iro-Curtain. “Further progression is ill-advised. Sector Facilities are not permitted beyond this point.” The warning was, of course, ignored. The race’s mid-point, and suggested turnaround point, was fifty oligtrams beyond the outermost protection point. It seemed somewhat foolhardy to design a race of such a nature, given what lived outside the Iro-Curtain. But the boys were always trying to prove themselves to be above and beyond the norm; still, none of them could pilot a slide-sled efficiently. Dungias understood the way a slide-sled operated and knew how to lean his body to make for smoother turns and faster accelerations.
The knowledge of his piloting skills had been kept surreptitious, as they had been gained mostly in the simulators at the lyceum laboratories. Dungias had never been a teacher’s favorite, but his condition made it likely for him to volunteer to engage in a custodial capacity after classes. Over twelve orbi-terms, his skills had grown to maintenance, major repair, implementation, and testing. He could build a number of devices, including slide-sleds, from simple parts and had offered to augment his Vu-Prin’s vehicle more than once. He had been allowed to clean it… nothing more. But that was back-trekking. He had set another course! One cross word too many had been said, and he would silence the iro-formers that were his peers. The race was on!
Dungias was at least five lengths ahead of the pack, and his lead was only getting larger. He was about to smile, an expression he seldom demonstrated, but an odd notion prevented him. Perhaps it was his minimal experience with anything resembling happiness or success which gave him reason to ponder. He looked back and noticed his lead had grown exponentially; he was substantially greater than five lengths ahead, as the other racers had stopped and were simply looking at him. Yet none of them looked as if they regretted being beaten by a shay-spawn. There was too much satisfaction and happiness in their glares.
“Their intent to race was never genuine,” Dungias quickly concluded as he put the slide-sled into a very wide turn. He heard an iro-form blast hit the ground near him. He flinched at the flash of the directed emission, but his gold eyes quickly adjusted.
“No!” he yelled, knowing what the energy burst would attract. The slide-sled itself had been only a minimal risk, as the energy output from the machine remained constant and could be mistaken for simple starlight. The iro-form blast had come from the group of would-be racers and was soon joined by another bolt. They were not aiming for Dungias, which was of little comfort. “What are you doing?!” None of them would answer his inquiry, if they could even hear him at such a distance. All four of the young men he had been racing against lifted their hands from their sides as tell-tale glowing lights fired in their eyes. Three of them started bombarding the lands, but only close to Dungias’ location. The fourth young man blasted the ground as well, but only that which was just beyond the Iro-Curtain. All in all, they had yet to deliver their seventh blast when Dungias heard the howls against the swirling winds. The Grenbi
The first to arrive were always the younglings. They were small, a little over half Dungias’ size, but they were incredibly fast. Without serious modifications, no market-made slide-sled could outrun them. Dungias possessed the skill necessary to make the modifications. He had nothing in the amount of time he would need. Fortunately there was plenty of starlight; the young Malgovi would be able to see them coming as they flew low over the ground. The blue-green landscape also aided his cause, as the Grenbi remained black in color, no matter what form they took.
Explaining the Grenbi was often an invitation to passionate discourse. Perspective on their origins and reasons for being shifted greatly, much like the form of the creature. In the most widely accepted Malgovi text, the Grenbi was a sentient anti-energy, or ori-form, that was drawn to and fed upon energy.
Another screeching cry echoed across the sky and Dungias knew they were close. They came down from the clouds, passing low over the ground and split into two groups: one portion of the black matter headed for the steady bombardment of energy at the Iro-Curtain while the larger portion turned for Dungias. Headed toward the naxiarn pole of his planet, Dungias looked to his left, the vestrarn, and he could see a black serpentiform with a single green, glowing eye streaking toward him. He could feel its hunger and the young Malgovi feared for his life. Horror overtook him and his mind went blank as he looked around. The place for the deathtrap had been chosen well. The tract of land was barely eighty trams wide. He could not simply turn around and race his way back to the boundary. He had to find his way around the chasm and quickly. But there was no clear way, no path that called him as a clear resolution to his plight.
“Observation of simplicity is neither simple nor immediate,” Dungias closed his gold eyes and recalled the teachings of one his favored philosophers, the highly revered Traybus Gan Pax’Dulah! “Take for example the concept of fear. To be fearful of an event is natural, to allow fear to control the event, however, is the definition of incompetence. One can never control the existence of an event, or the existence of fear. Why then do we so often allow either to control us?”
“Why indeed?” Dungias whispered as another blast was fired into the ground. This time he did not flinch. If anything, the iro-form burst struck a chord. Dungias continued racing along the given path and headed directly for the naxiarn pole of the planet. He also increased his speed. It would call for the slide-sled to generate more power which would only attract the Grenbi more, but for the plan he had devised, he was going to need both speed and piloting skills. The machine itself provided the speed, but the skill was left up to him. He leaned forward, almost willing the machine to accelerate.
Behind the first chasing youngling, Dungias could see three more, and further to the horizon on his portside, he could see what was either an adult Grenbi or several youths that had yet to separate. Until the creature showed its eyes, such a thing was always difficult to determine. The black form was larger than both Dungias and the slide-sled combined… three times over! It was slower, however, but that was of little advantage with all the younglings Dungias could see converging. He reached to his side and took out his Personal Communicator. His gold eyes focused on the controls and called up a reading on the power reserves to the unit. It was just under ninety-seven percent, and he breathed somewhat easier as he programmed it to call twenty other PCs in just under thirty tanku. After the program was verified, Dungias dropped his PC to the sandy ground and it tumbled, end over end, before coming to a stop, cueing Dungias to attempt a very sharp turn. He leaned to the left and then turned the slide-sled in that direction, calling for even more speed. Despite his misgivings about his ability, it was a perfect high-speed turn.
The young Grenbi were anxious, as was the nature of most young things. In order to overtake most prey, the Grenbi were forced to maintain a softer form. They also expected their quarry to run away from them; all of this Dungias factored into his plan as he continued to turn to where he was racing right toward them, rapidly shortening the distance between predator and prey. The Grenbi did not have time to take another shape or harden themselves as the nose of the slide-sled was pulled up from the ground. The vehicle could not fly, but it was often made to jump. Closing his eyes at the moment of impact, Dungias flew through the Grenbi before he landed the slide-sled, covered in black bio-matter that quickly became vapor and rolled off of his gray-blue skin and the vehicle. He disengaged the forward thrust and allowed the craft to coast under its own momentum. The second wave of Grenbi came to a stop and screamed. Dungias had read the findings of some scientists who had argued the Grenbi were in constant telepathic communication with each other. Though the Grenbi were shape-shifters, unexpected and forced separation could kill them. The death of three younglings caused the others to wail. They looked enraged and disoriented. Dungias also noticed the green glowing eye did not shine as brightly in those that followed the first three. As they wailed, two of the younglings’ eyes started to shine brighter. Most of the wailing stopped at that point, as the two started scanning.
“They are the eyes for the pack!” Dungias thought as his PC activated and started opening communication channels. The two younglings looked at the device and streaked toward it, the pack of Grenbi following quickly behind them.
“Patience, Dungias, patience!” he whispered, trying to remain rational and keep his mind focused on surviving this moment. The first of the youngling Grenbi reached the PC and the front of its mouth formed jagged teeth which quickly hardened into a black crystal-like material. The casing for the PC was no match for the sharpness of the fangs, and it quickly shattered, giving off a small blue spark of electricity before dying. “Now!” Dungias re-engaged the drive for the slide-sled and pulled away from his landing site.
He screamed as he turned the vehicle toward the largest Grenbi he could see. If they were telepathic, he wanted them to feel his anger. But his false rage masked a very real fear. He was nearly two hundred tanku from his destination and only forty tanku from one of the sighted younglings. The slide-sled was not faster than the creature over a long run, but its rate of acceleration was much greater. In order to reach its top speed, the youngling would have to abandon its teeth and fully solid form, another time factor that was to Dungias’ advantage. He pulled away from the younglings and noticed that one of their eyes dimmed. Z’Gunok Dungias gasped as his mind latched onto the possibility his stratagem might have been countered by the Grenbi. Any other time, he would have been for the argument that there was no such thing as a dumb animal.
He did not want to be correct, however, not at that moment.