Here’s the first (and shortest) story from the book. I hope you enjoy it!
///////////////// Rocketbilly 2315.76 /////////////
We stepped out of my ship at Trexxa jumpgate and the twins went flitting off like a couple of beautiful butterflies. They were princesses on their homeworld but here they were just a couple of tourists eager to explore and learn.
The dockmaster was right up on me, said I hadn’t registered the ship and paid the docking fee. That was a slight problem cause all my wallets were empty. But I had a ship full of moonshine and cargo to sell, and a prospecting claim that would soon make me a gazillionaire. I smiled and offerred him some moonshine to let me take some cargo to sell real quick but he wasn’t havin’ any of it.
Just gimme thirty minutes to ease on down to the Empyreal station and file my claim and them advance credits I’ll get will insta-tranfer to the dockchain I told him, wheeling my rocketbike out of the cargo hold. He handed me a signing pad and I scrawled my mark upon it. “You’re unregistered and in half an hour you’re in default.”
I thumbed on the bike’s gravity shield and lift fans, fired the rockets to life and roared away. Five minutes later I reached the claims office, but had to wait in line twenty minutes just to talk to a robot. I submitted the claim on a data chip and counted the three seconds I figured it would take to process. Then more time. That was weird. The claim was filed but I couldn’t get an insta-loan on it yet due to some delay about “Nebular security.” It had a 24 hour hold.
I staggered out cussing up a storm, attracted disapproving looks from some of the station’s more genteel patrons. To hell with them! My wristcom chimed and noted that I was now in default on the dock fee. I called the dockmaster and told him it would take a wee bit more time but he said I had 30 minutes to pay or I would lose title to my ship and its contents. Them dockmasters was pirates. But that’s what I’d signed.
Another chime on the wristcom and it was the twins. They’d found a bunch of stuff they wanted to buy for themselves and their village and wanted back on the ship to get some treasure they’d brought. Being from a primitive world they didn’t have any tokens, coins, credits or aetherbucks yet. I told them I would meet them back at the ship in half an hour. They blew me kisses and told me how much they loved me and were glad they had trusted me with their lives, hearts and treasure. Dang it!
Relief was in sight - the glowing 3-orb symbol on the side of a pawn shop. I’d pawn the bike then get it back out soon as I sold a little of the cargo.
No such luck! My rocketbike was rocketbilly design, not one of them standard makes. Although it was a fine machine and fast as blazes, fitted with everything including smuggler panels, afterburner, grappling hook and ejection seat, they wouldn’t give me a value on it til the manager got back. In an hour or so!
I glanced up and down the street. A group of rocketbikers eyed me curiously, probably interested in my custom bike. Theirs were fast but standard designs. But I had no time for socializing!
Then I saw my salvation - a bar where they played holo-cards. If there was one thing I was better at than prospectin’ and racin’ rockets around, it was holo-cards! I could practically smell when a feller was bluffing. Easy money.
But them sorry, gutless card shufflers wouldn’t advance me no credit, and wouldn’t take my bike’s title as wager! I said things as I left that guaranteed I wouldn’t be welcomed back soon.
Wristcom chimed a 12 minute warning til I’d lose my ship, its cargo, and the princesses’ treasure. And the twins themselves. That would hurt worst.
I triggered up the lifter fans and blipped the rockets, directly toward the rocketbiker group. All their eyes were on my approach. I pep-talked myself under my breath: “Into the eye of the hurricane I go, again. All or nothing so - No holding back.” I eased to a stop near the fastest looking bikes. “Who wants to race?”
I never set up a race so fast. It was my title versus 500 zoomcreds. “OK,” said this guy Tork, “but - anything goes.” Anything goes? What kind of way was that to talk to a Rocketbilly? We wrote the book on anything goes. Whatever. His friends smirked. I shrugged and nodded.
At the starting line I swallowed a slowdown tab to steady my nerves. The slowdown would at least make the few minutes left seem to last longer. WAY longer. Already time was slowing down. Might help me to strategize better in some split-second moments.
Rules were simple. We’d zigzag through the city, cross the water by the artificial beach and end up by the dock. First one across the dock 51 entryway won. It was already entered onto the racechain so payment would be automatic and instant. Soon as those credits hit my account, they would auto-pay the dock fee.
A local beauty with spiky pink hair and a color-shifting miniskirt signalled the start and we were off!
Advantage mine I thought, twisting the throttle and unleashing nearly pure moonshine to my rockets. Acceleration pulled my eyeballs into my face. Them stations’ fuel is always watered down, nowhere near as powerful as our stuff.
But Tork’s bike zoomed ahead and the color of his rocket flames told the tale. That weasel was runnin’ hypergolic fuel! Not moonshine at all!
We zigged and zagged among buildings. Dodged people, robots, aircars and pets. Cops must have been somewhere else cause there weren’t no red and blue lights flashin’ in the rearview. I got ahead of him with better flyin’ but once we cleared the city and got over water he pulled ahead again. We skimmed above the artificial sea, low enough to cause a wake of exploding water behind us.
But I knew since he was running hypergolic fuel, he most likely had no afterburner. And I did. I tapped the afterburner peg and a ferocious giant plume of moonshine flame shot out the back of my bike. I was about to pass when he swerved up and to the side, slamming into my bike. 2 can play bumperbikes. I dialed down the afterburner to a sustainable rate and slammed down diagonally, hitting the back deck of his bike. It wobbled but he went low and wide, then swerved back up with a harder hit. A few bits fell off both our bikes. My rocketbilly pride flared up and I went high and wide, kicked the afterburner on full and dove down to nail that twerp and bust his bike in half with my skid plate.
I saw him smile as he casually dodged my attack, causing me to miss and dig into the water. Damn his hide! I’d made a rookie mistake. Now I plunged underwater, nearly getting ripped off the bike. Managed to get back in the air without my rockets exploding. I would have been blown to smithereens if they had.
Just above the beach we raced, dodging sunbathers and beach umbrellas. I struggled to catch up. We almost hit some birds and kites and he slowed down nearly to the speed limit. I saw my chance and took it. Blew past him at full afterburner. If I got decapitated by a kite line or a gull, that was better than losing my beloved ship, the twins, the cargo, and all my rocketbilly pride.
But that skunk knew what he was doin’ and again, I was the fool. How could I be so dim-witted! Blue and red lights flashed in my rearview and soon police bots were on my tail signalling me to stop. Like hell I would! The entryway to dock 51 was in sight.
But my bike shuddered and I knew what it was. My rockets sputtered and quit and the gravity shield faltered. Them bots was hittin’ me with suppression fields! Rockets and lift were down! My bike hit the ground and the wheels busted but its speed was such that it kept skiddin’ toward the finish line. I could nearly make it by skidding. But only nearly.
I looked over my shoulder and there came Tork, slow and casual. I think he yawned like he was bored, mocking me.
My bike skidded to a stop, a trailing parts. I fired the grappling hook at a post just beyond the finish line, 50 feet ahead. Hit it dead center and activated the motor to reel it in. It was dragging me forward and would get me over the line, but not before Tork. I had one last card to play and hoped it wouldn’t be my last.
I untoggled the safety and jammed my thumb down on the eject button.
I’d never experienced a seat ejection while on slowdown tabs. It was serene and terrifying both. The rapid sequence seemed slowed down so every phase occurred in slow motion. The explosive bolts tearing the seat free from the frame. Shower of sparks and molten metal bits. A liftin’ charge, magenta, popped me and the seat up 10 feet. Then the seat rocket ignited, sputtered, but still fired despite the supression field. Them suppression fields won’t generally stop an emergency rocket cause they’re solid fuel.
Me, my seat, and the transponder within it flew over the finish line just before Tork and his bike. I knew I had won. Living to enjoy my victory would be icing on the cake.
I calculated my options, debated the odds, and imagined how it would feel to die in slow motion. Figured my best bet was to land on my knees and forearms, stay stable if I could. I’d get the mother of all road rash but I wouldn’t tumble and break my neck.
The plan worked. It was a hell of a jolt and my forearms and knees were scrapped nearly to the bone. But nothing an afternoon in an autodoc wouldn’t fix.
A guy who saw it all became my latest fan. He’d shot video of the whole thing with his shades. “Dude!” he said, "You’re going to be a star on the net when this thing goes viral! "
The twins were there too, beaming and applauding. They helped me up and showered me with kisses. I glanced at my wristcom. The docking fee was paid. The ship and all its contents were still mine. The princesses were still mine. Tork had a sour look, but there was somethin’ new in his expression too - respect.