Cilanter bees fly close to the top of the upper forestsurface in large turquoise swarms. Hookboarders are advised to keep their bee warnings on at all times. Electronic warning systems are prone to malfunction in the Charred Circle area.
Amira runs one hand along the bottom of her board, tracing the skull painted with green and red flourishes on a pearlescent silver, highlighted by the natural wood peeking out from under coats of paint. Planned in reverse, executed with mastery.
It is a gift from a friend.
Hooks should be double-checked by another person.
Amira flips the board over and attaches the large synthmetal clasps to the sides, yanking at them to make sure they hold securely in place. Then she pulls out the wires, tugs at them, runs her fingers carefully around the large hooks on the other ends. No blemishes. No hairline fractures. Fingertips are more sensitive than the naked eye.
The full moon glows above, its size and shape bringing to mind memories of Earth, its patterns evoking different associations. No brave rabbit in the sky, no reminders of sacrifice, no busy maiden.
Two hookboarders are on the moon, holding hands.
Cicadas can grow to a size of thirty centimetres. Visitors to Fabren Region Hookboarding Tracks are advised to exercise caution.
Amira is alone; only the sound of the oversized cicadas coming from beyond the dais surrounds her. But in her heart she knows she is treasured.
She double-checks the hooks herself, then she lifts her arms above her head — her cheeks brushing her smooth, cool skin — and connects the board to the tracks.
She does a few push-ups, putting her palms on the raw griptape of the board, to make sure it will hold her weight. She isn’t wearing gloves.
Riders are advised to keep their main body carabiner fastened at all times.
Amira puts on her gloves with a sigh. They evoke memories; fragments of falling, a high-pitched keening issuing from somewhere between her ears. Her arms stretching thin. Her hands holding on.
In case of emergency, Fabren Region Hookboarding Tracks first responders are on call 26 hours a day.
Amira jumps on; the board shudders, the wires creak. She carefully wobbles her body just a bit, playing with her centre of mass. The contraption holds. She goes down on one knee, ready to start.
Someone is waiting for her on the other side of the forest, over and beyond the Charred Circle, beyond the breeding-grounds of the cilanter bees.
Somewhere to the east, a nocturnal firebird sings, three notes repeating with minute variations.
Amira leans forward, reaches up again and pulls out the stops that keep the hooks in place.
She knows there are only two people on the entire planet.
It is strictly forbidden to use the tracks in a heightened state of magical power.
Amira keeps her breathing steady as the speed ramps up, her board sliding downward among the tops of the trees, along the tracks. She has no body carabiners, no insect shield, and yet she does not feel she is in danger. She has no wish to take unnecessary risks.
She is so filled up with magic that she supposes in a worst-case situation she can simply fly.
Magically active visitors are asked to release any excess before using the tracks. This is mandatory.
The board bumps slightly, a minute imperfection in one of the rails above. Amira’s breath catches.
The Charred Circle is still ahead. How far ahead?
Was this where Uche fell?
Amira closes her eyes even though her goggles protect her from the wind.
Visitors are asked to wear protective gear in accordance with the regulations of the Interplanetary Hookboarding Federation.
When Amira reopens her eyes, she is gliding over remains of prosperity; cocoons of spun fiberglass and delicate clockwork mechanisms, the toys of a planet-hopping elite left over in the wake of yet another economic crash. They glow faintly in the moonlight.
This was definitely not where Uche had slipped, both feet off the board. She’s already passed the spot. She should’ve felt something, she thinks — then she realizes her goggles are busy shunting away her tears and her sleeveless vest is hard at work evaporating her cold, clingy sweat.
Entry tickets are 500C apiece for all sentient species regardless of age, citizenship or other affiliation.
Uche rode first. Uche fell first. Then Amira leaned out from her board and grabbed, hands meeting. An impossible maneuver — but then, as she is now, she was full to the brim with power.
She trusted herself more than she trusted the managers of the tracks. It served her well.
And yet her stomach still clenches when she recalls the fall, the tumble downward, the moment of impossible-to-negate desperation —
Visitors should not attempt to disembark while travelling on the tracks.
She is in thrall to the memory. The nerves in her arms were screaming with bright-hot pain as she tried to hold on, then there was only the relaxation of freefall coupled with the utter despair of certain death —
Then something inside her extended and she took to the skies, folding Uche’s trembling body into her arms, flying.
Uche weighed exactly sixty-two kilograms.
Amira had flown unassisted, previously, under her own power; never while carrying so much dead weight.
Uche wasn’t dead weight.
Uche was full of a different magic, that of warmth, silent trust, even gentle apology —
Amira took deep, filling breaths. Accepting. Rising.
Fabren Region Hookboarding Tracks offers eight beautiful, welcoming tree lodges spread out along the forest’s perimeter.
She blinks as she notices the homely yellow light of the lodge peeking out from between leaves and branches. She passed the Charred Circle without noticing, she was so enmeshed in memory. She doesn’t even remember switching tracks.
Cilanter bees are buzzing around her in a gleaming, organic cloud.
As she nears the endpoint, she sees a small figure step out onto the porch, raise one hand in greeting. The face is shrouded in darkness, a shadow against the light of the opening, but Amira can still feel it carries a welcoming, delighted smile.
She pushes down on her hookboard and springs ahead, detaching, pulling herself up into the sky.
She floats along the remainder of the path, carefully weaving among the thickening and thinning clumps of cilanter bees, while somewhere below, her hookboard comes to a slow, measured halt.
For Karina Meléndez
Story copyright © 2014 by Bogi Takács
Artwork copyright © 2014 by Derek Newman-Stille
Bogi Takács is a Hungarian Jewish author, a psycholinguist, and a popular-science journalist. E writes both speculative fiction and poetry, and eir works have been published in a variety of venues like Strange Horizons, Apex, Stone Telling, and GigaNotoSaurus, among others.
Derek Newman-Stille is completing his PhD in Canadian Studies at Trent University. Derek also runs the Aurora Award-winning review and author interview site, Speculating Canada. Derek has done artwork for Postscripts to Darkness 4 and 5.