If you didn’t read Chapter 1 of Jack Scarlet: Deepfire last week, go do that first. Then join me below for Chapter 2, as we meet our hero Jack Scarlet and his adventuring buddy Galahad on the verge of doing something crazy, yet awesome…
Jack Scarlet: Deepfire
2: Above the Chief
“The wind is right,” said Jack Scarlet. “Let’s do it.”
Jack peered down at the swift-flowing Chief River, almost five hundred feet below the south rim of the canyon. His blue-eyed gaze wandered up from the brown water to the north rim, a quarter-mile away, framed against the clear Idaho sky. The lean, dark-haired twenty-something’s agile mind was unconsciously calculating angles, wind speed, air resistance, thrust and a dozen other variables that might baffle a whole team of engineers.
“Remind me again why we want to do this?” said Galahad TwoHawks. His dark brown eyes were hidden behind aviator mirrorshades. Galahad wore jeans, and a custom leather biker jacket with a multi-colored thunderbird image stitched across the back. He had the reddish-brown skin and high cheek bones typical of the Monoga. Straight black hair, held with a knotted blue bandana, reached his shoulders.
“What do you mean ‘we’, red man?” Jack gave his friend a sidelong look and a crooked half-smile. “Looks to me like I’m the only one doing it.”
Galahad nodded solemnly. “That’s because I am blessed with the good sense God above so abundantly withheld from you, kemo sabe.”
Jack laughed. “No guts, no glory.”
Galahad pointed down to the river. “Your guts will be feeding salmon.”
Jack shrugged. “Wrong season.”
“Why would you want to jump this canyon, when there are so many more sensible things we could be doing right now, many of them involving beer? And don’t give me ‘Because it’s there.’ That’s trite.”
“Because Evel Knievel never did.”
“And so he lived to a respectable old age,” said Galahad.
“He tried the jump, Gal.”
“Once. And learned his lesson,” said Galahad.
“He had 1970s equipment,” said Jack. “The jetcycles are much better.”
The bikes, one bright red, one matte black, stood behind them like a pair of patient steeds. With gyroscopic balance and micro-actuators, the jetcycles stayed upright without kickstands.
“The great Knievel also had months of planning and preparation,” said Galahad. “He did not wake up one morning, say to his friend ‘Let’s go for a ride’, lead his friend here under false pretenses, then say ‘Let’s jump over this canyon for no good reason.’ Did he?”
“No,” admitted Jack. “But it’s such a beautiful day. Might as well jump.”
“Don’t give me that bison dip,” said Galahad. “You were planning this from the moment you loaded these rocket bikes on the plane.”
Jack strapped on his plastisteel helmet. It was bright red and oblong in shape, tapering back to a point like an ancient pharaoh’s headdress. The design, in fact, came to Jack during a charity benefit held in the Egyptian wing of the Metro City Museum of History. The shape had numerous structural and aerodynamic advantages over conventional crash helmets, including room for an integrated high-throughput TeraChip HeX processor with modified COLT memory array and a TelVox uplink module dual-powered by engraved solar micro-panels and a piezoelectric fuel cell. Having a networked supercomputer in your headgear was often handy.
“So you don’t think the bikes can hack it,” said Jack.
Galahad shook his head. “Not about the bikes, Jack. You are the master of invention and design, there is no question. If you tell me these bikes will jump the Grand Canyon, never mind this one, I believe you. Your stuff works. Most of the time.”
Jack laughed. “Such faith.”
Galahad scowled. “I have staked my life on your inventions many times. I will do so many times again. When it is necessary. When the alternative is certain death, as too often it is when I am with you, then, yes, I will straddle a rocket bike —”
“— and jump across a lava pit full of laser sharks. But why must you tempt the Soul Taker for no reason at all?”
“Life is risk,” said Jack.
Galahad scoffed. “Life is also drinking and dancing with pretty girls at the Big Sky Saloon over in Knife Point. I say that life is better than jumping over a big ditch.”
Jack grinned as he threw a leg over his bike and settled into the durafoam saddle. “Knife Point is on the other side of the canyon.”
Galahad gave him the finger.
Jack laughed and lowered his visor. He started the bike’s secondary motor, the electric, with a flick of his eyes toward an icon on the heads-up display.
Galahad scowled. “You know, NHTSA says the chances of dying on a motorcycle are 35 times higher than in a car, on a per-mile basis. For you, that’s an underestimate.”
Jack nodded, then turned his bike away from the canyon.
“Come to your senses?” said Galahad.
Jack laughed. Over his shoulder he called, “We’ll want three hundred yards of runway before hitting full speed. Knievel’s old launch ramp is pretty solid, but cheat to the right when you go up. One of the left side struts is almost rusted through.”
“There is no way I am —”
Jack sped away from the rim on the deeply rutted dirt road that wound across the plateau. Galahad muttered a few choice curses in Monoga as he strapped on his own helmet — also plastisteel, but not pharonic, and with a much-simplified HUD. The jetcycle purred to life. Galahad brought it around.
Jack, my brother, you’d be a hundred times dead without me. And the death of me yet.
Gal opened the throttle and followed Jack’s trail.
The approach was reasonably level. The old Knievel ramp still stood, a tower of rusted steel and weathered red, white, and blue planks. The famous daredevil attempted to jump the Chief River canyon in 1974. The much-hyped stunt ended in disappointing failure before a rowdy crowd of ten thousand and a live worldwide television audience. Knievel’s steam-powered X-3 Cloud Cycle roared up the ramp at 400 mph and into the sky. Aerial camera footage showed Knievel’s vehicle did clear the north rim. Unfortunately, his parachute deployed before he was all the way across. Wind dragged him backward from glory and brought him down in the canyon. He landed a few yards from the river, back on the south side where he started. His net forward distance was barely three hundred feet — a real downer, in the parlance of the time.
Jack wasn’t worried about a malfunctioning parachute. The jetcycle didn’t have one.
He throttled up the primary engine, a Boreas ceramic, titanium and carbon-nanotube turbine drive of his own design — compact and powerful. Revving past 10,000 rpm, the Boreas could, in theory, accelerate the jetcycle to 600 mph. Jack had not tested the bike at that speed, for several reasons: the frame wasn’t designed to take the stresses; steering control would be non-existent; the gyrostabilizers would burn out around 480 mph, making it almost impossible to stay upright; and a crash at that speed was more than 99% likely to be fatal. Nor was there a use case for a land bike that fast — if you needed to move 600 mph, it was better to fly.
But 400 mph? No sweat.
Jack and his bike became a red blur. The jetcycle’s tires of adaptive solid-cast hephaestucine with a microdiamond coating devoured the ground, shrugging off every dip, bump and loose rock.
Jack covered the three hundred yard approach in under four seconds, reaching the base of the ramp and his target speed of 400.525 mph at the same time. Less than a second later he was airborne, launching at a 56˚ angle straight into the sky — or so it seemed.
Jack enjoyed the sensation of weightlessness caused by the downward force of gravity being temporarily unchecked by the normal force of the ground. He knew it was an illusion, but that didn’t matter. He was soaring. Floating. Flying. The Chief River was a tiny ribbon far below. The sky was an almost cloudless dome of blue. The north rim of the canyon seemed to reach out for him.
His helmet com pinged a Level Urgent alert.
Jack took the call.
“Jack Scarlet,” he said. “Go.”
“Jack?” said an older man’s voice. “Jeff Settles. It’s about my daughter. I doubt you’ve heard, but her ship —”
Jack’s personal AI was already throwing details on the HUD. “Went missing in the Gulf of Mexico three days ago,” he said. “Just saw it. How can I help, Jeff?”
“Jack, the Coast Guard isn’t telling us anything at all. Marian and I are in Crescent City and —”
“Jeff, excuse me a moment. I need to stick the landing.”
“Landing? What are you —”
Knievel used parachutes in his jump for a reason. At Jack’s airspeed his lungs would shoot out his nostrils when he hit the ground unless something dissipated the impact. The adaptive tires would absorb some of the forces, but if they deformed too much even the gyroscopic couldn’t keep this bike upright. Jack would then become a bloody smear several hundred yards long.
Jack alternately feathered the front and rear brakes mid-air to level out the bike so that his attitude for the landing was about parallel to the ground. He tapped out enough reverse thrust on the Boreas to reduce his landing speed to something survivable without putting the bike into a hopeless flip. Even so, touchdown was bone-rattling. Jack almost went into a slide, but the gyros popped him up and he was two hundred yards beyond the rim in the blink of an eye, with a dust cloud fifty feet high blooming behind him.
Jack brought his nose around in a wide arc and slowed to a stop, facing back toward the canyon. He peered into the scattering curtain of dust, waiting.
A full minute passed.
Then Galahad’s black jetcycle blasted out of the haze, kicking up its own fresh comet trail of debris. Gal brought his bike around, popped a vertical wheelie, and rode on the rear wheel, circling Jack twice before parking beside him.
“Show off,” said Jack.
“Not bad, hey?”
“What kept you?”
“Wanted to see if you’d crash.”
“Race you to Knife Point,” said Galahad.
“You go ahead,” said Jack. “I have to finish this call.” He took Settles off mute. “Sorry about that, Jeff. You caught me in the middle of something. I’ll be in Crescent City as fast as I can.”
Jack Scarlet: Deepfire excerpt Copyright © 2015 Dan McGirt
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this excerpt — post a comment or ping me on Twitter @JasonCosmo and let me know what you think.
Look for Deepfire later this year or early 2016 — exact release date not yet set.