“It was noted that at velocities
approaching 800 kph the TG-1600's Gyrotor system occasionally showed signs of
instability (noticeably an increase in bosun-wave 'flutter'). It was not known
what caused this, and what would happen if the top speedwasever exceeded.
Until 2141, that is, when something did happen. James Joyce, a 24-year old flyke mechanic from Cleveland, Ohio, was seen to vanish astride his 1600 Turbo, above Route 1013, Michigan. Joyce had claimed his intent to “crack the kilo” and break a thousand kph, and at the moment of its disappearance, the flyke was travelling at an estimated 950 kph. Eye-witnesses reported seeing the flyke momentarily surrounded by a bright blue glow, seconds before both machine and rider vanished with a blinding flash. No sound was heard, no wreckage found. There was no evidence of any type of destructive process, and yet the flyke had simply vanished. All Tamakayas with Cyclic Gearing were immediately recalled, and the production of C.G. modules was banned. Unfortunately, the modules were relatively easy to produce, and even easier to install. Thus began the era of the jump-racers...”
I twisted round very slowly, still astride the Harley. Jefferson was on his feet now, thumbs hooked in his belt, with a smile more twisted than I remembered, thanks no doubt to that scar. Crikes, he was an ugly gint! What in hell did Jayne see in this bunch of scags?
Shaz, what had she seen in me? Okay, so Jefferson wasn't about to win Mister 'Merica, not with that face. But he was a jump-racer. Mad enough to take his machine to the limit and beyond, time and again. And for what? A stupid game of 'chicken'. Yeah, he was a racer. And some girls liked that. And wasn't I the same, once?
Yeah, but I swore I'd never race again.
So why was I was smiling back at Jefferson? Why was I saying “Sure, sloke. Place and time. You choose.” Why was I slipping back into the game?
Farged if I knew. But it was worth it just to see the moment of fear on Jefferson's face...or was it amazement...or elation? To this day, I couldn't say.
“Orright Ady, yor on!” Jefferson grinned his crooked grin. “Ow about 'ere an' now! Norf Sea or bust!”
I blinked, momentarily nonplussed. North Sea?
“What, over water?”
“Sure. Why not?” Jefferson stretched theatrically, winking at his cronies. “Issa warm day, innit. Cool us boaf darn!” His audience nodded and chuckled like gorks, the girls exchanged bored glances and, as I watched, a short and scrawny blonde slipped a thin blue tube from an inside pocket and pressed it lazily to her neck. There was a faint hiss, and her eyes closed momentarily.
I turned away in disgust. I'd been right. Jefferson hadn't changed his spots. Still pushing Kyroprene. I'd always clued Jayne as having more sense, but she needed her head examined mixing with this crowd of nobes. I glanced in her direction as Jefferson wobbled arrogantly back to his flyke. She was still watching me, her expression unreadable as she waved away the offered injector.
Yeah, all that time, and here I was, back where I started. Back in the shaz box. I turned away as Jefferson straddled his Triumph. Race? I hadn't raced in three years, not since I'd been tipped off back in '44 and had to run. The Bill had been - and probably still were - after me for racing Ghost.
Y’see, there's only two ways to win a jump-race. Your opponent chickens out...or you jump. That's it. All there is. Well, I raced Ghost back in ’44, and I didn't chicken. But I still lost, because Ghost jumped.
I'd been younger, crazier, then. Well, at that age you are. You reckon you can't lose, they’ll never get you, and you're never going to die. So Ghost jumped? Wasn't my problem. Then less than a day after Ghost has gone and I’m challenged by Jefferson K. An up-and-coming young kreb, already a hard-nosed dealer in the so-called 'phaze-drug', Kyroprene, Jefferson has his first Triumph-Honda, and reckons he’s God.
Still convinced nothing could touch me, I’d accepted. And then the word came, and I ran, telling no-one why or where. Once the Bill got a racer, you never heard from him again (or her...you think only guys are stupid enough to race?). OK, so technically it wasn’t murder, but then no-one had ever managed to figure out where an unstable gyrotor actually goes, so the Fuzz treated it as such. Jump racers didn’t get Life, they didn’t even get the Drop, they just disappeared.
So then why was I shoving the keys in, checking the gyros and the turbine-resistance? Why was I preparing to race?
I guess it’s like any drug. You never quite kick the habit.
I flicked a switch, watching the meters as the ion coils warmed up. Always got to check your coils - it’s only the ion-vortex that stops the wind ripping you off the saddle when you hit the klicks. Everything was green, so I thumbed the ignition, and the Harley coughed into life, followed a second or two later by the tinny “chakka-chakka-ch-chakka” of Jefferson’s multi-cylinder Jap abortion. The Harley’s turbines kicked in, and a deep hum rose amid the roar of the engine. The flyke lifted gently as the gyrotors took over, and stabilised a half-metre or so above the ground. Okay. Ready to riot, as they say on all the best shows. As I leaned down and began slipping on my legstraps, I sensed someone at my shoulder. I glanced down, to find myself staring at Jayne Morrissey. I nodded over at Jefferson.
“Shouldn’t be talking to your boyfriend’s opponent.” I muttered. “He might not like it.”
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Jayne glanced over at Jefferson, now leaning back a couple of metres in the air, swivelling the handlebars and making the Triumph dip from side to side. Surrounded by his giggling clique, Jefferson was oblivious.
“He’s about as interested in me as I am in him.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust, turning back to me. “He doesn’t really care about anything apart from racing. It’s the first time I’ve seen him come alive in months. Nothing matters...he’s like...”
“What? Like me?” I snapped, tugging the leather around my boots. “Jump-racer? Sky-rider? Asshole?” I glared at her. “That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?”
She watched me for a second, her face almost expressionless, then quite unexpectedly the corners of her mouth twitched into a slight smile.
“Maybe. Once. But now?...” She shook her head. “You changed, you got away.” She glanced back at Jefferson, a look of pure contempt. “Stolers like him, they’ll never leave though. And they’ll never change.”
I sat up, looking down at her, trying to appear breezy, though I sure as farg didn’t feel it.
“So why are you still here?” I said. “If you’re so bored with Jefferson’s gang. I seem to recall you were getting bored with me just before I left.”
She looked right at me then, right into my eyes.
“Yeah, Ady. You’re right. I did get bored with you.” She looked round at the rest of the sad little gang. “But then what else is there to do around here?” She shrugged. “We always end up falling back into the same old patterns though, don’t we?”
Yeah. And here I was, about to race again…so mybe she was right. Maybe we did. I shrugged. “I guess you can take the boy out of the Race, but y’can’t take the Race out of the boy.”
I thought I might raise a smile with that one, but Jayne just looked back at me and shook her head. “He may be a kreb, Ady, but he’s good. He’s very good. And he’s never been beaten. They’ve all sloked.”
“I don’t sloke easy.” I said, tightening my gloves.
“I know. That’s what’s worrying me.” she said quietly. “I lost you once, I don’t want to lose you again...”
I shook my head and grinned at her. “Oh now that’s the Jayne Morrissey I used to know! Always on the lookout for the next bounce!” She went bright red as I leaned down and patted her on the cheek. “Jefferson all dried up, so you’re after another orange to squeeze...and who should turn up but old Ady Vonner! Change the tex, Jayne! You never lost me…you left me.” She opened her mouth, but suddenly I wasn’t in the mood for listening. I nodded at Jefferson.
“That Jap Triumph’s mostly chrome, and chrome don’t make you fast or stop a jump!” She blinked as I turned back to her and jabbed a finger at her face, making her flinch. Very satisfying feeling.
“I know I’m better than your boyfriend, Jayne.” I slapped the tank. “This beacher’s been up to the eight-hundreds before now, and that was two-up!”
Suddenly I felt so angry, so pissed. Pissed at Jefferson for being the ugly shaz he was, pissed at Jayne for...well, for being Jayne; and mostly pissed at myself for stepping back into the shaz once more. And maybe pissed at the fact that I just might still have had feelings for the girl standing beside my flyke.
I twisted round and wrenched savagely at the throttle. The engine rose to a scream and the Harley reared up on its hind pods. Jayne stepped back, her hands covering her ears.
The farg with it! Let the past bury itself...
Behind me, Jefferson revved his flyke up to an answering roar.
“Said yer goodbyes, Jayney?” he yelled above the din, “Norf Sea, Vonnah!”
I glanced over at him and nodded curtly at the kreb. Then I made the mistake of looking back down. She was looking at me from under her fringe, and I could see her lips moving silently:
“When you go…take me back with you...”
Was she for real? Did she think I’d just pick up where we left off? I stared at her unreadable expression, and I’m farged if I didn’t find myself thinking maybe…
Yeah, maybe! And I meant it, didn’t I. After all this time, I’d still have her back.
Gritting my teeth, I swung the Harley round to face the river, lowering the machine till the gyrotor pods almost touched ground. I pulled in the clutch and tapped into gear...
Suddenly, with a screech, Jefferson was away. Jeeks! The pull on that Triumph was fearsome! I opened up the throttle an instant later, then felt a lurch as something - someone - landed on the saddle behind me. There was hardly time to register, and no time to do anything about it, as two arms were flung round my midde, and the Harley was off.