AAA and Abigails Astounding Race:Part Five
AAA was still in Moltara City, and he was not happy. The Mayor wouldn’t let him through the caves! "I know you let my sister through!" he shouted. "She’s not here, so it’s obvious! What do I have to do, beg? How did she get through, anyway?"
The Mayor responded patiently. "I sent her through with a responsible guide. She assured me that she would exercise extreme caution. I can’t just let everyone through, you know. If anyone gets hurt in there, I will be the one to blame."
AAA paced in frustration. "Look. This is a race. She must have told you that, right? Or did she give you some sob story about a lost Kadoatie in the caverns?!"
The Mayor gave AAA a quizzical look.
AAA waved his hand impatiently. "Never mind. I need to get through, ok? This is very important! She’s ahead of me; I can’t just let her win! Do you realize what that would do to my reputation? Do you realize who I am? I’m THE Games Master!"
The Mayor was used to dealing with ornery pets, but this young fellow was starting to get on his nerves. He may have let him through if he had been polite, but this rudeness was unacceptable. Besides, he didn’t seem like the sort to handle a dangerous situation with caution. "I’m sorry, but at this time I don’t think it’s safe to proceed through the caves. I’m afraid they’ll have to remain closed a little longer."
AAA was furious. "Ugh, why is everyone always so nice to my sister just because she’s cute?! This is ridiculous! All right, fine. I’ll just have to go without your permission. What you don’t seem to understand is that this is actually important!!!" AAA threw his vehicle into reverse, backing far away from the sealed entrance to the caves. Revving his engine, he raced toward the barrier at top speed. Alarmed, the Mayor jumped out of the way as soon as he realized what AAA was planning. Unable to stop him, he looked after him and shook his head as AAA crashed through the door and barreled down the tunnel. "I hope that young Blumaroo doesn’t seriously injure himself," he said quietly.
With Tangor still riding behind her, Abigail passed the final checkpoint and started into the Dark Cave. She was frightened at the thought of a monster lurking here, but she tried to calm down by reminding herself that King Roo wouldn’t have sent her into something that he thought would endanger her.
"There really is a lot of magma in here," thought AAA as another spout of it blasted up right beside him. He was starting to get a little jumpy. Sure, he was an expert driver, but the path he was on was narrow and slippery, and that magma all around him… he shuddered. Normally he would have slowed down some, but he couldn’t afford to now! Then the thought came to him – of course, the plane! Without a moment’s hesitation, he pressed the button to begin the transformation. With a shudder, wings started to sprout out of the doors, and a propeller out of the grille. "Maybe I should have stopped first," thought AAA, but now the transformation was complete, and doing it while going at top speed didn’t seem to have caused any harm. He was starting to take off, and he smiled a little as he thought of the surprise this would give his pesky little sister.
This cave was so confusing! At least Abigail could kind of see where she was going, and she did have her racer’s map, which glowed brightly on her vehicle’s screen in the darkness. She tried to follow it as closely as possible, but the cave had so many different corridors that she felt very lost.
AAA felt great, flying above the magma flows. After just a few minutes, he saw the large cavern that the corridor emptied into come into view. "Perfect!" he thought. He was sure Abigail couldn’t be far ahead. She would have been trying to be SO cautious – and that cowardly mistake would have cost her a lot of time. Suddenly, he started to descend – which would have been fine, if he were trying to! What was going on? It was almost time for him to land, but not yet! He tried to keep it in the air, but it stubbornly refused. He could steer and brake, but that was all. He was landing too early! Panicked, he just barely managed to steer clear of a pool of magma in his path as he coasted along the ground.
That was scary! Fine time for his racer to malfunction, he thought bitterly. He had to stop for a moment to catch his breath, but only a moment. He had catching up to do! Switching back to ground-vehicle mode, he zipped toward the Dark Cave. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a Magma Gnorbu waving for him to stop, but he had no time for that!
He zoomed past the cheerfully green checkpoint that indicated Abigail had already passed into the cave, his headlights coming on automatically. They sure didn’t seem to help much… He slowed down some, confused. How was he supposed to finish the race if he couldn’t see anything? Weird. He kept going as fast as he dared, but after a while, every turn he took started to look familiar. He was following his map, so he was sure he wasn’t lost. Was he?
Abigail had felt like she was lost, but there was something different about the cavern she had just entered. She was sure she hadn’t been here before. In fact, the cavern seemed to be emitting its own bluish light! As she pulled forward into the space, she saw that the light was coming from a large blue orb in the center of the room. She inched slowly toward it, unsure of whether it was good or bad.
He had to admit it. AAA was completely lost. And he hadn’t seen Abigail in any of the passageways. Now, how could that be? Surely she hadn’t finished the race. Unless… "Maybe she’s been cheating!" thought AAA.
Tangor whispered, "That’s it!"
"What?" asked Abigail.
"That’s the Final Orb!"
"Much better than a plain old finish line, don’t you think? It’s what we use here in Moltara whenever we have a race! Just run right into it, don’t worry!"
"Oh!" Abigail was shocked. Even though she knew she was ahead of AAA, for some reason it didn’t fully register that she might actually win! She was almost too stunned to move. Almost, but not quite. "Are you sure I can just run into it?"
Tangor grinned. "You bet I’m sure."
"Ok then, here goes nothing!" said Abigail as she stepped on the accelerator.
One moment AAA was racing blindly through pitch-black tunnels, and the next he was in the Games Room! After taking a moment to register where he was, he said, "Hey! What’s going on? I was in the middle of a race!"
King Roo appeared behind him. "That’s right, you were in a race, and now you’re not." He smiled.
AAA started to protest. "But… I was just about to win! I found out that Abigail was cheating, and…"
King Roo interrupted him. "You’re not in the race anymore because it has just been won, but not by you. However, you may take your place on the pedestal if you’d like." He stepped aside to reveal Abigail wearing a first place medal, standing on the highest ledge of a winners’ pedestal. She looked just as confused as AAA felt. "You came in second," said the king.
"Second?! There were only two people in the race!"
"That’s right," said King Roo.
Abigail said timidly, "Umm, excuse me, King Roo?"
"How did we get here? I was just in Moltara!"
"Wonderful!" said the king.
"Wonderful what?" asked AAA, annoyed.
"The game! It works just as I had planned."
AAA and Abigail, nonplussed, looked at each other, then back at the king.
He laughed gleefully. "Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just too wonderful! I couldn’t tell you two because of course it had to be tested… You were in a virtual reality machine!"
The siblings’ jaws dropped open.
"That’s right, just like in the game Neo… er, never mind, I don’t want to spoil any surprises…! Anyway, that portal I sent you through when you started wasn’t really a teleporter, at least not in the way you thought. It was really a portal into a virtual reality! You’ve been in the Games Room the whole time."
AAA and Abigail just stared at him, dumbfounded.
"I really am sorry to have sprung it on you like this. But you see, I really couldn’t tell you ahead of time! I needed you to test the virtual reality, to see if it really did seem to be real. And since neither of you had any inkling that it wasn’t, that means my machine is a success!"
"Oh!" said Abigail finally. "Wow! So the magma…"
"Of course, I wouldn’t have endangered you! The magma, the monster, smashing into walls, crashing planes… None of it would have actually harmed you. If you had had a big enough mishap, you would have been immediately snapped out of the virtual reality. There was never any real danger. I don’t think your parents would have been very happy with you actually flying planes!" he said with a chuckle.
"So all of that stuff…" began AAA.
"Was part of the game," finished the king. Everyone and everything you two encountered was programmed to be there." One side of his mouth curved into a smile.
"So you planned…?"
"Every detail," said the king. "This was more than just a race game. I strategically placed challenging situations and obstacles in your paths. You did very well, by the way," he said to Abigail.
"Yeah, ok, so she won!" retorted AAA grumpily.
"Ah, but that isn’t what I meant," King Roo replied. "I suppose you could say that this was something of a character test." To Abigail, he said: "I congratulate you for winning the race! Beating your brother is quite an accomplishment. But, more importantly, I commend you on your kind heart and willingness to help others. That is what helped you today, more than anything else. Well done."
AAA stood with his arms crossed. "Way to rub in a loss," he thought.
"Aristotle," said the king. AAA rarely heard his first name used by anyone outside his family, and it caught his attention. "You are a very driven young pet. Ambition can be a good thing. Working hard to develop your skills and trying to do your best is very admirable. But… winning isn’t everything. I think you know that your sister wasn’t cheating today. Remember, everyone fails sometimes, even when they’re good at something. I hate to keep using these old sayings, but it’s not whether you win or lose…"
"… it’s how you play the game," finished AAA. "Yeah. You’re right, I know. That’s what my dad always used to say to me when I was little, back when I would lose a lot." He smiled half-heartedly.
Abigail stepped down from her pedestal and walked over to him. "Hey, don’t feel too bad. I love you, big brother," she said. "Even if you are a meanie-face sometimes."
AAA smiled. "You know, you’re not all that bad, yourself, kid. Thanks for putting up with me." He put his arm around her.
King Roo smiled. It was times like these, when his games brought people together, that he was the happiest.