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Tree-top Flier

by Gwyn Glasser 8 months ago in science fiction · updated 4 months ago

Tree-top Flier

Written to Steven Stills' song, Treetop Flier

“She’s a little dusty, but a holes the only thing thatll bring ya down, and she sure as heck aint got no holes!” It was an old rig, barley my size, and almost too-big-enough to be dangerous.

“She’s beautiful.” I said. Benny laughed.

“Well, eye of the beholder, eh? In any case she’ll be great enough for you until you can earn your own. Try it on!”

I grinned and dragged it to the corner. Stiller and Jon were prepping their rigs; both brilliant forest-green things of tightly-fitted supersilks that glistened like a muscles on a dolphin's back.

Stiller glanced up at me. “What do you think of her? I tried to get the others to pool some cash and get you something new but ol’ Ben says that’s not how we do things.”

“That’s not how we do things here!” Shouted Benny from across the hanger. I slid into the tight piece; it was leather, heavy and unwieldy. The flaps between my arms and legs weighed me down not-unpleasantly, like a child on my shoulders. The hanger door opened and Steph lumbered in with her rig over her shoulder. She saw me struggling into the rig, and whooped.

“What did he think of it, Benny?”

“ ‘She’s beautiful!’ he says.” And Benny chuckled, and stamped his foot.

“You don’t pay him any mind, kiddo. A working rig is a beautiful thing.”

I nodded.

“Couldn’t have chosen a better day for it too!” She grinned, glancing over her shoulder out the broad windows.

I smiled and nodded again, and then what she meant clicked and I gasped “You mean I should jump today?”

“Better than today!” Cried Benny, chuckling some more, “How about now!”

I glanced around the hanger and everyone was grinning at me. A happy little hurricane swirled up in my stomach. I was frozen there, grinning like an idiot, until Jon muttered, “Or you could try tomorrow.”

“Fuck off!” I almost gasped the curse, and spun and hobbled to the hanger doors.

“Don’t trip!” Jon laughed, and then I was through the doors, and in the cold mountain wind like spring water. Before me was the gentle hill of our runway, that dropped off into the steep valley, a huge ravine bursting with tall pines and firs and spattered with those boulders that glaciers throw around sometimes. Two eagles were chasing eachother on the horizon, and I couldn’t help myself. Foot, arm, foot, arm, I started slowly and built speed rhythmically, keeping my arms close so the flaps didn’t catch the wind yet. I heard Steph shouting something after me, but I knew everything she had to tell me. Everything I’d ever learned was forgotten in the moment, and the ultimate joy of running towards that drop-off was the faith that everything was deeply drilled into my head. When I needed to act, my body would do it for me. So now, in that moment, I could run faster and faster, too fast to stop, which was lucky because I might have done when I saw the drop off from this close. But I couldn’t, nor did any part of me want to. Arm, foot, arm, foot, and then I hurled myself over the lip, and for a second I was falling and I didn’t know which way was up, and the only thing in my head was old Ben’s voice telling me to clench my arse like there was a twenty pound note between my cheeks, and the wind was a whirling rush, but my arms were out, and my rig extended, and the flaps became my wings. Suddenly I was moving forward and down, speeding along the mountainside in parallel to the steep slope of the tree tops. Again Benny’s drills took over; locking in my position, arms and legs, fixing my targets, checking for obstacles or rig malfunctions. Nothing. I was clear. And I looked down at the green flying past below me, and the blue above me, and on either side the mountain sloping up above me, and nothing but the air holding me between it all. They weren’t flying past me, I was flying past them! Flying.

I opened my mouth and screamed. The wind ate the sound completely, so I screamed louder, harder than I ever had, and still nobody would hear me. I tilted my arms, and felt my body rise, just as it should. Then lowered it, and I fell just a touch. I was hurtling through space faster than anything. I was in complete control, as long as I only tried to control the things I was supposed to. I screamed one more time, than looked for my landing.

The lake was another few minutes flight down the valley. I should make a grab! I thought. Not everybody tries on their first jump, but all the best fliers have done it. One of the loadtrees on this route was maybe 20 seconds away; I saw it speeding towards me. The delicate pods were hanging from the fine tendrils at its top, with a huge carrelbird nest perched between them. Even from here I could see it. And through the tint of my goggles I thought I could make out one of the creatures gripping the trunk below the nest, with a hooked talon and the fangs on its beak. I tilted my axis a little, speeding towards the pods and the nest. Now I was sure it was a carrelbird. A big one. Probably why none of the others have grabbed at this one I thought. It hasn't noticed me yet—The thing screeched, and leapt off the trunk, hurtling towards me.

I laughed and shouted at the same time as the huge bird became bigger and bigger and bigger at speed. At what must have been the last second, I darted low just a bit, and closed my eyes. ….sssCCRAAHHhhh… The shriek was louder than the wind for just a moment as that beak swept just past my ear, and then I was clear. I didn’t need to look back; our rigs can travel several times faster than a carrelbird, and they almost never follow a flier all the way to the lake. Next was the tricky bit.

I only had a couple of seconds to adjust my position, all the while the green and grey of the valley trees and rocks a blur on either side of my target: A fat Pod hanging low over the canopy of treetops. Bit by bit, I gently shifted up and up above the treetops, and then “One-Thousand…Two-thousand…Three-thousand—” I slapped my hands and feet together and fell like a dart, at the same time pulling the toggle at my left hip that released my sling. The leather pouched inflated quickly under my chest, and I snapped my arms and legs apart again, feeling the wind catch me and once more hurl me forward in its stream. I’d lost about thirty meters. Maybe a meter above the pine tops now; I could smell them even. My pouch would almost touching them; perfect.

Again, I had no time to think: I shifted into position at the last minute so that the pod slammed into my pouch, and my momentum held it in place.

I Whoooooped, and quickly rose up into the air again, hoisting my prize in the pouch below my chest. And then I was home free, almost. The next minute I spent speeding through the air, and every millisecond of it was elation. My first hint were the nets scattered over the treetops like cobwebs. That saved my life, because suddenly the lake loomed before the treetops below me. I hadn’t expected it to appear so suddenly, and I almost panicked. Then Benny’s voice again: “Look. Locate. Flap. Glide! Look. Locate. Flap. Glide!” Without thinking I had swooped upwards, gaining more altitude, and as my climb peaked, I slapped my arms together again, this time pulling the toggle on the right-hand side. My net deployed perfectly, falling among the others against the tree tops below, straining gently, and then snapping, with each broken piece eating up a bit of my speed. I cleared the trees just as the last line snapped, and slammed into the surface of the lake, skipping twice like a stone before plunging into the ice cold water. It was more disorientating than the first seconds of the jump, but this, I had practiced before. I flapped like a manta-ray, until I hit the surface coughing and spluttering and laughing all at once.

Behind me I heard a slap and a splash, and two more rigs hit the water on either side of me. Stiller and Jon’s grinning heads broke the surface. “Beautiful flying!” Shouted Stiller. I couldn’t say anything; I was too busy trying to breath and swim and laugh. They glided through the water effortlessly in their silk rigs. “We almost had a hard time catching up with you! Did Benny ever teach you how to slow down?”

“If you’re trying to slow down on your first jump, you chose the wrong profession,” That made me proud to hear. “You should have seen Stiller’s face when you made that snatch! And then we had a hard time getting clear of that buzzard you stirred up!” He broke off into laughter, “Fucking marvelous!”

I beached myself, rolled onto my back, and lay their panting, the cold completely drowned out by all that adrenaline.

Stiller had recovered my pod, and dragged it up onto the shore next to me. “It’s a heavy one; I be its something good! Crack ‘er open!”

“You do it.” I gasped.

“Are you joking?! I’m not going to open your first pod on your first jump! Even if I wanted to Steph would have my balls—”

“Ok…give me a second.” I hoisted myself up onto my elbow and got to work undoing my rig.

“What are you doing! Open it! You’re killing me!”

“One second!” I got my rig off, shook it off and laid it out to dry, then turned to my pod. Jon had his knife ready, and I slammed it into the first layer of shell.

science fiction

Gwyn Glasser

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Gwyn Glasser
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