The Fall of the Phoenix

Chapter One

by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)

Shades of sunset touched the darkening sky over Silverstone racecourse. It was here that drivers of various craft over the centuries had fought their battles out on the soil, tarmac, water, air, and now high up into the sky itself. The different tracks had expanded the course over time, but none more so than the sky track. It stretched in both directions out into the distance over the English countryside and back again, hundreds of tiny lights lining the path. Over and over the drivers completed the laps, camera crews all the time relaying the action back to the main spectator area via a huge screen by the stands.

The eye is drawn upwards over the commentary box over the stands where the crowds roar, over the tarmac of old, over the sign for the onsite racing museum to the sun itself...and the two figures coming out of it at speed.

'Come on, Ling, youíre slowing down.' The larger of the two figures laughed back over the intercom as he swerved his board to let the other pass.

'Pipelineís coming up, Phoenix -- are you suicidal?'

'No, just good!'

The black hole loomed below them; at the last second the first driver cut the boardís power and disappeared down the gap in the ground. Ling slowed and made a corkscrew manoeuvre to follow. As he went below he saw the Phoenix rise over the exit to the vertical u-bend.

'Zed it, youíre suicidal.'

Laughter trickled back over his helmet radio but Ling was concentrating on shooting his boosters up to full as he reached the bottom. Ahead of him, becoming smaller by the second, the Phoenix raced on. Ling flicked on the turbos and headed after her. Iíll catch you yet, he thought as the power hit, propelling him on, you wonít get ahead that easily.

They went head to head again over the waters of Sure Lake; Ling had the feeling sheíd slowed down for him. The Phoenix didnít like going alone over deep water; their manager had often yelled at her for it. Neither of them spoke as they flew over the Lake, Ling knowing how much his racing partner had to concentrate on this part of the track to avoid making the splashlines that would upset the board's hover mechanisms.

With the lake behind them it was all stops out again and Ling quickly lost her ahead again. It wasnít long, though, before he had to focus on his own flying as the Blocks Wall and Jacobsís Ladder quickly followed each other. The final straight loomed up; on the other side of the finish line the Phoenix was waiting. Past the finish line he braked hard, cut the turbos and let the boosters go into their landing sequence.

'Damn it, Tessa, you gave me a heart attack.'

The other rider flicked off her catches and pulled off the flame-painted helmet. Her short hair was dyed bright red and her blue eyes danced in the fading light; she might have been beautiful except for the massive scarring that covered the right side of her face. Laughing at Peter Ling, otherwise known as the Dragon amongst his fans, she rubbed the stiffness out of her hair.'You, my friend, should be more worried about tightening up your wall climbs and drops than chiding me for my famous death dive move.' She winked and smiled at him; the right side didnít quite follow the left. 'After all, how do you think I got the name ĎPhoenixí?'

'By dying your hair and getting the picture of a Phoenix on the back of your jumpsuit.'

She stuck her tongue out at him. 'Youíve got no romance in your soul, Ling. I was born in the roaring furnace of the race.'

'Just make sure you donít die there too.' She opened her mouth to answer but a voice boomed out from behind them. Their racing coach had also been watching their performance...and was less than amused.

'Enjoying ourselves were we, having fun? What in the name of Zed were you doing out there?' Harold Keynes was dressed in the oily overalls of someone who spends too much time around mechanics to bother about appearance; slightly overweight and on a continual short fuse, he was the most hated and loved man on the Hornets team, depending on his mood.

'Flying, coach!' Tessa took the drinking bottle he offered her and swigged before passing it to Ling.

'Then why donít we just save ourselves the hospital bills and hand the Boarders' Cup over to the Mosquitoes. Ling, if you donít put some effort in on that Blocks Wall, you might as well take a damn rope and climb it. Tessa, if I see you slow at that water body one more time, Iíll make you do the Hawaiian roundhouse with that underwater tunnel so many times youíll grow a tail and become a frickiní mermaid.'

Tessa went pale. Ling passed her back the water bottle and she sipped at it gratefully.

Harold took the stopwatch out of his pocket and tapped it. 'That said, good times the both of you. Now hand your boards over to the mechanics for lockup and zed off for the night; I want you brighteyed and bushytailed for tomorrow.' He looked them up and down. 'At least donít turn up with a hangover, anyhow.'

Tessa followed Ling across the tarmac to the pits. 'Do you think he meant it about the Hawaiian circuit? Thatís all over water, apart from the pits.'

Ling slapped her on the back with his free hand. 'Donít get too cut up about it, Keynes just likes to let off some steam before the race. You know how worked up he gets over racing the Mosquitoes; frankly, I donít think he cares if we win or lose as long as we come in front of them.'

Tessa laughed. 'Yeah, I know. Hey, guess who Iíve got coming to see me tomorrow?'

Ling pretended to concentrate and tapped his chin. 'Now let me think. Who could you possibly have coming tomorrow that would set you off grinning and bouncing like a Cheshire cat? Ah, yes, old whatís-his-name... short kid...goggles.'

Tessa punched him in the shoulder playfully. 'Donít kid around, you know his nameís Tennyson, and he's not that short for his age.' She handed her board to one of the waiting mechanics and stopped for Ling. 'And he hasnít come down that often.'

Ling threw up his hands in mock horror. 'Oh, no, only every time weíve come within three hours of London, there he is in the pits waving at you as you go past; and look what happened when you waved back.'

Tessa grinned. 'King Harold really had a go at me that time, didnít he!'

'Well, you did nearly hit the viewing screen.'

'But came in second.'

They went into the changing rooms and Tessa snatched her stuff from her locker and dove into a cubicle. There was little privacy in the world of board racing and she had to trust Ling not to put his head under or over the thin walls while she was changing. She did trust him, though, even if it was only because sheíd explained in graphic detail what sheíd do to him if he did peek. Rough skin passed under her hands as she dressed but it didnít bother her anymore; in the back of her mind she was already thinking about the race, and Tennyson, whom she affectionately called little bro, waiting on the finish line.

In the back of the Hornet garage two sky boards gleamed silver in the light of their security fields. They were near aerodynamic perfection achieved in cross aluminium and plastic. On one the hologram of flames sparked in the weird blue light that the fields gave off, the sleek exterior only slightly dented where the foot pedals were carefully positioned and tailored to the driver. A gloved hand reached out and slid a laser keycard into the slot below the board. The security field flickered for a minute and then winked out. With an electro tool in one hand and an ioniser placed on a table nearby, the figure set to work.

On to Part 2!

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