Chapter 16 - Game Plan

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 Codi felt like a child again, pressing her nose against the glass window of the Orbit-to-Ground shuttle. The tough little capsule was currently ferrying them to the central district of Berlin One, the city of the Gauntlet, but on their way they passed over countless other wonders she never thought she’d have seen. The oceans of her home planet were the colour of dirt, heavy with minerals and polluted by industrial dumping. By contrast Earth’s gleaming blue waterways shone in the sunlight, their immaculate surfaces impossibly beautiful.

Then came snow capped mountains in lieu of the constantly fizzling volcanic peaks of Kantha. The shuttle ferried them over a range of mountains called the Alps, and Codi couldn’t believe how untouched the snow was. When it did snow at home the white flakes vaporised before they could even hit the ground. The trip was almost worth it already just to see the planet.

After the Alps they began passing over the first of the mega-cities. This one – Vasco informed her – was named Wurzberg, sprawling out over some 2’500 square kilometres of the continent. Sunlight glanced and rebounded off of the endless expanse, the silver buildings spread throughout spacious avenues that hummed with traffic. From their altitude Codi could just make out the cars, their engines glowing blue.

It took half an hour for them to cross Wurzberg in its entirety. Then they were out over open country again, speeding over the greenery of Earth’s landscape. Criss-crossing lines of steely grey marked out the highways connecting the mega cities, all of them thrumming with daytime life.

“How do they keep it so clean?” Codi murmured. Beside her, Max craned his neck to look out the window. “Don’t they need natural resources, power plants, shipyards?”

“Earth’s different,” he said. “It’s the centre of colonised space, the centre of an interstellar support net. Means they don’t have to use their own planet’s resources. They get their raw materials from places like Kantha and utilise it themselves.”

“What do they use for power?”

“I think they call them Gravity Loopers.” He shrugged. “I dunno how they work, I’m no engineer. But they’re cleaner and more efficient than the nuclear plants back home. Safer too.”

“You’d think everyone should get that kind of deal,” she muttered.

“They’re not exactly cheap to build.”

They lapsed into silence again as the shuttle banked; changing it’s heading to the right and passing over a handful of smaller settlements over the next hour. Though not as large as Wurzberg, these were still large in their own right, some as large as five hundred square kilometres in size.

Codi wasn’t sure exactly how much longer they spent flying across the main continent – an hour, maybe two – but she spotted something glinting on the horizon well before the shuttle reached the outskirts of Berlin One. Sitting up in her seat she narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out what the object was. Then as they hit the silver rim of the city proper she made the connection.

The thing rose up like an enormous glass pillar, still minute in the distance but she could see the scale compared to the surrounding structures. Her mind flashed back to the picture Vasco had shown them weeks ago. It could only be one building: the Gauntlet Arena.

As they drew closer her conclusion was confirmed. The massive structure dwarfed its surroundings, shaped like an immense rectangle. Its sides bowed outwards and down them Codi saw the flags of dozens of academies draped down them. The reflective silver of the wall gave way to a glorious miasma of colour. However, try as she might she couldn’t spot the green and gold of Brax-Delta. What she did see was a several other shuttles on the same trajectory as theirs, spiralling down around the towering bulk of the arena towards the streets.

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