The acceleration wrenched at me, but the handlebars remained steady. Funny how you never lose the knack. The wind tore at my face, then suddenly lessened as the ion-vortex kicked in and the flyke began to slipstream itself. Shingle beach and mudflats streaked by below, and then we were out over the open water, following the distant Triumph. Jefferson must’ve been doing a hundred klicks already. My respect for the machine - if not for the rider - increased. Time would tell if he could sustain the acceleration though.
The Harley tore out into the centre of the river and I banked sharply to port, shaking my head frantically to keep the hair out of my eyes. At times like this a bone-hat might come in handy, though it wouldn’t be much help if anything went seriously wrong. Not at speeds like this.
Spray impacted against the ion-field as the portside rear pod ploughed through the waves, and I fought to keep the flyke steady. You need skill to fly over water – a flyke tends to oscillate over the wave troughs and at high speeds you can lose it.
I managed to level out and we began rapidly picking up speed. I tried to yell behind me:
“What the farg are you playing at? You want us to drown?”
I felt her squeeze my middle, but could barely make out the words:
“You said you could do it… two-up!”
In spite of the situation, I laughed. That was the Jayne Morrissey I liked to remember. Mad as a ‘Merican!
We hit the three-fifty klick mark, and I kicked up a gear, as Corton Refinery shot by. Jefferson was a mere dot ahead now, and my blood was up. Okay, so all I had to do was actually keep going, not beat him - jump-racing’s about endurance, not about who comes first - but I didn’t like being this far behind. It was time to give Jefferson a freak. The river curved here, so I changed down and swerved in towards the bank.
Ahead, a lone jetty stretched out above the waves. “Head down!” I yelled back, uncertain if she could even hear me, as the bank sped towards us. I glanced at the clock - three-thirty and holding - then dipped the flyke and dived at the waves as the jetty rocketted towards us. There was a rush of spray through the vortex as we skimmed the water, and seconds later the jetty roared above us like a silent explosion - so close I could have reached out and touched the boards - and then we were through!
Climbing swiftly, I swung the Harley back into the centre of the river. I searched the horizon for Jefferson and grinned. I’d managed to cut off most of the river bend, and the Triumph was now only about fifty or so metres ahead. I changed up and seconds later there was a sharp CRACK!! that faded into a muffled booming behind us – the so-called “pseudo sonic boom” of an ion-vortex hitting seven hundred klicks.
On the straight now, we were both still accelerating, though I recked Jefferson was starting to slow up. I glanced at the clock – Eight-four-five - then back at Jefferson. Was it my imagination, or were the Triumph’s rear pods starting to glow?
Yeah, Jefferson! I’m still here! Party’s nearly over! My eyes flicked back to the clock. Holy Mokes! Eight-sixty klicks! I glanced back up, and yeah, the Triumph was closer. Jefferson had reached his ceiling. I could plainly see the rear gyros giving off a faint cherry red glow. The machine was at its limit, and Jefferson wouldn’t dare push it further...or would he? Time to find out.
I changed up and swerved round to the right, and then the flykes were level. I glanced over at the Triumph, and grinned at Jefferson’s white face, only ten metres away. Come on, then! You can do it, Jefferson! Try and get that last drop of speed! I don’t give a shaz if you win, I just want to see you jump! As if in encouragement, Jayne’s arms squeezed my waist, and I kicked up one more gear. The river banks were a blur now. The only reality was the sky, the water, and the race.
And then suddenly, the Triumph was dropping away behind, and I’d won.
I yelled something - I can’t remember what, it was probably obscene anyway - and twisted the throttle back sharply. The Harley’s engine rose to a tormented banshee wail...and beyond.
Beneath me the machine lurched, and a piercing whine sliced through my hearing. Shaz! I cut the throttle.
Too late. Much too late. The horizon spun as the flyke began to spiral, and I heard a faint scream behind me as Jayne’s arms were torn from my waist, and then she was gone. Arms flailing, I grabbed for the handlebars.
Far too late. I flung my head back as the flyke shot out from the mouth of the estuary, and felt - rather than saw - blinding images shattering in my wake. And then the sea below, and the sky above, all of it vanished in a silent explosion of light.