"The Racers" by Adrian Vonner
“The Braddon-Wentworth® Company was formed in the Year 2122, shortly after the invention of the Wentworth Gyrotor, the world's first practical anti-gravity device. Gyrotor systems, however, were soon found to be impractical for engines of more than a half-tonne in mass, and so the flying motorcycle - or “flyke” - was born.
“The first Braddon-Wentworth® Flyke was the 350cc DG3.5, produced in 2123. Shares in the company rocketed as sales far-outstripped even the nearest ground-bike rival. The DG3.5 had a Vertical Lift Capacity of 15.25 metres, a Lift Velocity of 1.8 metres/second, and a top speed of 149 kilometres/hour...”
From way up there on the rusty crane boom I could just make out thin threads of smoke, maybe five klicks out, spiralling up from a distant smudge of woodland. Probably Westlebury. Neat little village. Some nice ruins. I screwed up my eyes some more. Yeah, there was the church tower with the top missing, just above the peak of Gun Hill.
Christ, the memories! I'd been barely seven years old when my parents had moved here to escape the madness of London, and nearly twenty-one when I'd been forced to leave myself. Yeah, and between those times - my formative years, I guess you'd call them - during then, this lonely stretch of the river had always been my lodestone, always drawing me. A snatch of tranquillity, a momentary release from the desperation.
Twisting round on the cold metal I reached into my tattered green leather. Out came a crumpled and oily pack of cigarettes. Pulling one out, I twisted the tip between thumb and forefinger. As the end began to glow I slipped the pack back into my pocket, took a deep drag and returned to my contemplation of the skyline.
There back along the shoreline to the west, towards London, what was that? A patch of deep green, with precise rows of poplars and a glint of the sun on water. Collhouse Fort, with its park and boating lake. Yeah, I'd used to play there as a kid, exploring the old 20th Century ruins. I nodded to myself, glancing up and down the river. It was only about forty klicks or so from the estuary here, and this bend of the river was riddled with forts and gun emplacements - the relics of three pretty big wars. There was at least three visible from up here on the crane - Collhouse, about three klicks away, and two more on the opposite bank of the Thames.
There was Sharnmead Fort, vaguely south-west of my position. Barely visible, it was little more than a low pile of rubble now. I'd taken my first ground-bike over there on the ferry from Telberton and gone scrambling. Great times!
And there - I twisted round further - almost directly across the river from me, there was Cliff Fort, surrounded by overgrown quarries and derelict cement factories. I'd once spent two nights in the courtyard of that place, huddled in a tent with Jayne Morrissey, not long after I'd got the Tamakaya. First flyke I'd ever owned, that Tammy was.
Memories. And mixed ones at that. The Tammy I remembered with warm affection - lousy pile of AngloJap crap! Jayne Morrissey...now that still felt uncomfortable, even after all these years.
I chuckled to myself. Tried to impress her, didn't I? Took the short route - straight across the river. Good way to die when you don't know what you're doing, flying above waves. Nearly drowned us both!
I flicked the cigarette butt away and watched it spiral down to the mud-flats below. Wonder what happened to Jayne after I left? I shook my head quickly. No, still not a good memory, Jayne Morrissey.
From somewhere behind, a short BOOM! echoed across the fields and made me jump. I shifted round to see, a few klicks to the east, Corton Refinery - a mass of low cylindrical tanks and tall thin chimneys. One huge stack was now spouting thick oily flames as impurities were burned off. That was what I'd heard. It had been a bloody miracle that place hadn't gone up during the War, what with all the oil and stuff they'd had there. Of course it was different now all the crude was finally gone. Corton was mainly organics now, synthetics and veggies.
I followed the line of the river as far as I could. It curved slightly north there, and the last thirty or so klicks were hidden by the bulk of the refinery, but I knew it went on, past the South End and Shoubree, to the Sea. I stretched and settled back, closing my eyes, and drank in the afternoon silence, broken only by the shrieking of the gulls and the faint lap of water below as the tide drifted in.
And it'd only been three years. Felt like decades since I'd left. Why come back now? I didn't know. OK, Mum was pleased to see me, and the heat was sure to be off by now. I'd made her understand that this was only a flying visit though. Just for the Flyke Show at Earls Court. But was that it?
I hadn't come down to look for work. Things were bad up north, sure, but they were bad everywhere. No, there was nothing for me down here. Just a huge antique wharf crane on a desolate and forgotten bend of the Thames. And yet it felt like something had drawn me back...something unfinished...
Suddenly I sat up, alert. The still of the afternoon was broken by a distant and very familiar whine. I scanned the horizon. Sure enough, to the north and fairly high, a bunch of distant specks. Six or seven flykes arrowing in from below the clouds. Shaz! No peace for the wicked.
Somehow I felt this would be the end of my own personal peace for quite some time.