Last week we started something new on Tuesdays. My first entry into what will be a weekly serial fiction story entitled “Last Son of Earth” released. The response was overwhelming and I’m so excited to see how we can adapt this story together. This week I’ve incorporated a few changes per your discussions last week. Alden (our hero) is sixteen. It’s a dystopian, steampunk world and the governing body has been renamed to CON (instead of ICON) to avoid confusion with another series. I’m thinking CON should stand for Conclave of Nations, but I’m leaving it open for discussion. I hope you enjoy the second installment of our story.
Chapter 1: The Gulf
It wasn’t the first time Alden had reached 180 kilometers per hour in the Rumbler, but it was the first time he didn’t plan on slowing down before the gulf. Four man-sized rubber wheels tore through the dust of the flatlands, kicking up a trail of dust behind the dimpled copper chassis of the salvaged vehicle as it rocketed forward. A pair of pressure gauges on the panel were reading well into the red, the glass on his windshield still cracked from a previous crash.
A voice buzzed through the static radio on his control panel.
“Talk to me, Alden,” the voice crackled. “How is she holding up?”
Alden flipped a black dial on the radio and shouted into the speaker over the roar of the machine.
“180 and steady.” The vehicle hit a bump in the ground, jostling Alden around the cockpit like a rag doll. “Smooth as silk, Tin Man.”
“You can’t make the jump at less than 200,” the static voice of his friend replied.
“I know, I need more pressure. I’m tightening the valve.”
There was a pause.
“What’s your mark?”
Alden glanced at the gauge which was already a quarter of the way into the red bar.
“I’ve got room,” he lied.
Tin-Man wasn’t buying it. “Alden, be honest with me. Thirty seconds to point of no return. Do we need to abort?”
“Negative. We’re clear. She can take it. Increasing to maximum pressure. Just keep the camera rolling.”
Alden pushed hard on a valve. The Rumbler began to shudder even more violently as the pressure gauge slid deeper into the red. He knew it wasn’t safe, but if he wanted to be safe he wouldn’t have set his mind on jumping the gulf in the first place.
He had been sneaking junk parts into the flat lands with Tin-Man for the past year in hopes of building the Rumbler. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a permitted vehicle. His designs for modifying the trashed steam car into a high speed vehicle would never have been approved by the CON District Masters. Anything over sixty kilometers per hour was strictly forbidden except for CON men and CON sponsored race drivers – just another way of ensuring the safety of the citizens.
Alden was sick of all the rules. He just wanted to feel free for a moment – to feel like there was nothing holding him back.
“Come on, baby,” he muttered aloud as the Rumbler trembled around him. “I didn’t build you for nothing. Let’s fly.”
The speedometer inched upward to 185…190…
At 190 the steam tank began to groan.
Alden held his breath. The Rumbler was reaching her limits. Every bolt and rivet quivering like it could come undone at any second.
“Ten seconds,” Tin-man buzzed over the radio. “What’s the status.”
“We’ll make it.” Is all Alden said in return.
“You dont’ have room. Abort now!”
Alden didn’t respond. Tin-man’s voice sounded more than a little concerned.
“Alden! Don’t be a fool. Five seconds to abort. Do it now!”
“No can do, Tin-man,” Alden said, “I want to fly.”
Tin-man started to say something else but Alden shut the radio off before he heard it. He knew it wouldn’t sit well with his friend, but he’d have to get over it. In the distance, Alden caught his first glimpse of the rise. It was nature’s perfect temptress – a natural rise with enough elevation to make the 500 meter leap to the far side of the canyon.
With a thousand meters left to the leap, the speedometer hit 200 and for the first time Alden thought he might have a chance, but that was when everything fell apart. The pressure tank burst a rib and his acceleration dropped in a heartbeat. White steam filled the cockpit, blinding Alden just as the Rumbler reached the cliff edge.
With wheels spinning wildly, the vehicle soared out into the open air of the gulf like a copper comet. The afternoon sun glistened off the side of the Rumbler with a magical glow, but the magic didn’t last – Alden was going down. The pressure leak spun the vehicle out of control forcing Alden to scramble desperately for the bail switch.
He pulled the switch and ejected from his beloved vehicle. His captain’s chair tumbled wildly out of control before its chute deployed and steadied him right side up just in time to catch sight of his Rumbler hitting the far side of the canyon wall. His vehicle crunched and tumbled three-hundred meters down to the floor of the canyon. He had been so close to greatness, so close to reaching the other side. Close…but not close enough.
The chair landed hard on the rocky terrain of the canyon floor. Alden collected himself, removed his leather helmet and goggles and messed up his sweaty blonde hair. Glancing skyward he took note of the sun’s position. Four hours to sundown, he’d have to hurry if he wanted to make it back before curfew. Recovering the survival pack and grappling hook from beneath his chair he flipped the switch and tuned in to Tin-Man’s frequency.
“Tin-man, this is Alden. Do you copy?”
There was silence.
“Tin-Man, are you there?”
There was a short silence again, but this time it was followed by an overly dramatic response.
“Why should I even talk to you? You never listen to me. Who do you think you are trying to pull a stunt like that?”
Alden smiled. “Only the best mechanic in Steel City, that’s who.”
“That’s debatable,” came the reply, “You’re only sixteen and you’ve already destroyed the Rumbler and nearly succeeded in killing yourself too. Not exactly something CON hands awards out for. Besides, if they found out we were out here we’d both be reconditioned – or worse.”
“Hey, I survived, didn’t I. That’s worth something, right?”
“Depends on who is valuing your life. You won’t always be so lucky, you know.”
Alden smiled. “Whatever. Did you get the footage at least?”
There was a long pause on the other end of the radio.
The silence broke with a barely audible whisper.
“Hang on, I think we have company.”
Silence again. Moments later a red light flashed on his radio. He recognized it immediately, it was the warning signal that CON Men were in the area. It also meant there would be no more communication between he and Tin-Man. Alden was on his own. He set to work immediately gathering the parachute and using its camouflaged pattern to cover up what remained of his crumpled up vehicle. As much as he hated to leave it in the open, there wasn’t time to deal with it today. He’d have to come back for it another time.
He set his sights on the southern wall of the cavern and picked as good a place as any to start scaling out. With the help of the grappling hook, he reached the surface in less than an hour. Resting at the ridge he scanned the horizon with binoculars from his survival pack. No movement. A half hour later he was back to the cave where he had left his steam cycle. Tin-Man wasn’t there – his cycle was already gone, only Alden’s remained.
Aiden threw his satchel over his shoulder, pulled on a helmet and tore off into the evening sunlight at a respectable and lawful sixty kilometers per hour.
It wasn’t long before he realized he was being followed by a pair of CON-cycles, lights flashing.
Alden’s heart sunk – he’d been caught. If CON didn’t kill him, his latest mother surely would. He didn’t know who to fear more.