My book TALES FROM EARTH ORBIT has published on Amazon. It features 14 short stories by and about the people who colonized the orbitats (orbital habitats) circling the globe in low Earth orbit around 300 years from now. To buy the book from Amazon, click on either picture above — the Orbitat poster or the book cover — or click here.
“The Aercycle Races” is Tale Number 2 in TALES FROM EARTH ORBIT. I wrote this story for a Science Fiction Story Writing contest in 1994. From that seed came this book and the next one, FUTURE CHRONICLES, which will publish in 2017. Here is the story — free to read RIGHT NOW.
THE AERCYCLE RACES
NEW YEAR’S DAY was finally here, bringing Nicholas his first chance to compete in his favourite sport. Nicholas had turned twelve on December 29th, old enough now to enter the NEW ENTERPRISE New Year’s Day Aercycle Races. He had been waiting for this ever since they began the races six years ago.
Nicholas had lived all his life in New Enterprise, the first of Earth’s large Space Colonies. The colony was like a big tin can filled with air, with people living in towns around the inside of the huge cylinder and a slow spin providing normal lunar gravity — one sixth of Earth’s.
People soon started new sports in the low gravity of the colony’s inner surface and the zero gravity at the axis. Aercycles were developed for use in zero gravity. Riding away from the center (the axis) toward the surface brought increasing gravity, and there had been a few crashes. Though even at the surface gravity was not as strong as on Earth, a few people had been badly hurt because of the dangerous speed an aercycle could achieve when pulled along by gravity.
An aercycle is almost like a bicycle. The only difference is that instead of the chain driving the rear wheel it drives a propeller, and the aercycle has wings and a tail for control. To Nicholas nothing was more fun than riding an aercycle.
The race was five kilometres long — from one end of NEW ENTERPRISE to the other. The tricky part was to stay in zero gravity, as close to the axis as possible, while avoiding collisions with other aercycles. (Unlike other vehicles in the colony, sport ‘cycles were not equipped with anti-collision sensors).
There were ten racers in each age group, and Nicholas was the youngest.
It was almost time. Nicholas was using his older brother’s aercycle, the one with the bright blue frame, with yellow wings and a red propeller. All the racers knew that this was the fastest aercycle in New Enterprise.
Now they were ready — lined up for the start at Center South. Parents and other handlers were holding the ‘cycles steady in the zero gravity. Racers were on their ‘cycles. Nicholas smiled at his friends as he looked down the line — five shining aercycles to his right and four to his left.
“’Cyclists take your marks…….. Get Set.”
At the shot from the starting pistol ten propellers began to whir, handlers released the ‘cycles, and the racers were on their way. Center North looked far away to Nicholas, but Nicholas had often ridden the length of New Enterprise’s zero gravity air space, and when he passed the first-quarter mark he was two lengths ahead of the second place ‘cyclist.
Then the disaster happened. Passing over his house he saw his mother and sister waving from the roof next to a GO NICHOLAS sign. In his excitement he reached up with both hands to wave back. Only then did he realize that he had forgotten to buckle his seat belt and fasten his safety tether. He was drifting slowly away from his ‘cycle. He tried to swim back but was drifting too fast. He knew that race scouts would soon pick him up, so he was in no danger, but now there was no way he could win.
Quickly he thought, “If I can somehow reach my ‘cycle I can finish the race.” His tether might be the answer. The line was long enough and the clip might snag somewhere on the aercycle. On the third try it caught between the pedal crank and the frame and he pulled himself slowly back.
The fastest aercycle in NEW ENTERPRISE was now pointed in the wrong direction and the other racers were far, far ahead when he got back on, fastened his seat belt, and attached his safety tether. The red propeller began to spin as he pedaled furiously, got up airspeed, and turned for the finish line.
Pushing hard toward Center North he heard loud cheering. “I’m so late they’ve probably started the awards,” he thought. But no. All the other racers were gathered at the finish, yelling wildly and clapping for him.
Because Nicholas had been careless and had forgotten the most basic safety rules, he came in last. But here were his friends, cheering him on.
He was still the youngest aercyclist and next year he would race again..
[If you liked “The Aercycle Races” and want to read the rest of the stories in TALES FROM EARTH ORBIT click here.]