"Cancel that jet wash!"
"Move it, mister. The school bus is due any sec..."
Lina Beck, mayor of Tri-plex City, shook her head of graying curls as she continued down the hall to their little kitchen to finish breakfast. She sipped her coffe and watched her oldest pretend to study.
"Itís your fault, Jefrie. You put all those crazy skipping ideas into his head."
J.R. stirred uneasily under his motherís glare. He leafed through his Econ notes, trying desperately to get it solid before his exam later at college. "Skippiní ainít nothiní, Mom...been doin' it longer 'n I been alive."
"After two years of college you still say 'ainít'. You talk like a back alley bum..."
"You are MY son..."
You know that the opposition is watching everything that you and Bertrin are doing.
This cloud skipping is dangerous.
"Nunh unh...safe enough fer us..."
"Your behavior reflects on me..."
Yer still mayor aintcha..?"
"No thanks to you lot..."
"Mom..., give it a rest... Iím trying to study."
She stomped off, "Well, this discussion is not over, Mister. I am sure that your father will have plenty to say about this when he gets back from Earth next week."
"Uh huh..."and he flipped a page.
Bert squeezed into the breakfast knook and whined, "Mom, the Cloud Boys are the max. If I canít sing all of the words today at school, Iíll be outside lookiní in!"
"Well, Bertrin, if you'd just hit the books and left the singing to the Cloud Boys, you would be much better off."
J.R. jammed his elbow into his little brotherís ribs and said, "Yeah, Bertrin, heh, heh."
"A lot you know, Jefrie." Bert replied knocking his brothers books on the floor.
"Thatís my limit, guys. Cease oral functions!"
"...Everybodyís learniní how
...ridiní that ether today"
"I said turn that jet wash off!"
Just then, the busí signal went off.
"Jefrie do you have to ride that thing. Canít you ride the bus like a respectable citizen? You are in College. When are you going to out grow this cloud skipping."
"Hopefully never. That bus is too slow. Iíve gotta meet the guys and do some more studying."
"Dinner tonight is on your own. I have to meet with the Council. Anni will know where to find me if disaster strikes.
Riding to the main dome, Bert looked down out of the clear green skies. Down below,the cloud cover was just starting to thaw over Tri-Plex City. He could see skippers jetting along the softening surface between the domes. He saw his brother and the rest of their club called the Ether Eaters. He could see a younger group headed for High School, the Blue Flamers. He knew that his friend, Ari, and his mate, Sheil were riding with that group and he felt the deep pangs of envy.
How Bert longed to feel those frozen clouds of ether flying beneath a skipper of his very own. He had listened for hours to the stories that his brother and their friends told about ether madness.
Just then, to make his envy even worse,ahead of the Blue Flamers a Bubbler formed.Bubblers developed when boiling ether broke through a crack in the thawing crust on the cloudís surface. All the skippers below formed a line to make a run at it, hoping to get through before it faded. One after the other, Bert saw them enter, disappear, and burst through the other side laughing inside their helmets.
Two more weeks, he thought, then Iíll be old enough to get a skip license. No more riding this old bus. Iím in High School, I deserve to be riding in style. Nothing like it, theyíd said, nothing like it. Then I can hunt those elusive Bubblers and zoom them just like the Flamers, hit their erratic inner core at full throttle, ride the turbulence, and feel that thrill.
Off to the starboard, Bert saw a storm edge.Storms were continuous during the daytime as the Ether thawed. Sometimes, a sheer cut in the cloud cove would be formed, like a cliff shape.
Skippers got their name from skipping off this edge and flying
across the openings that were made by this formation. All the "Ether heads" below knew that the bus was above them.If they were reported for illegal cliff skipping, they knew their licenses could be pulled. There would be a lot more chances when a bus was not around. So, they were good little boys and girls and passed this one up.
'Ride, ride,ride... the wild clouds' was coming in his ear radio as the bus came in gently at the landing bay. Bert looked around just in time to see Sheil hit a hard ramp, do a complete flip, and slide to a perfect landing next to Bert.
He gave her an appreciative leer, pecked her on the cheek, and said jealously,"Whoa, flip landings ainít nothiní."
"Betterín you, oh jet-less one.
"Not for long, Sheil, old girl. In two more weeks, Iíll be old enough and ready to zoom.
Just being near her made his heart race; but, she sure could be infuriating. Makes for unboring matehood, I guess, he thought for the thousandth time. She grabbed his hand in that old familiar way, dragging him into the school. "Weíre gonna be late, silly boy. We canít yack all day."
"Theyíll keep," he said lamely, trotting off to class.
It was the end of the day. Bert was in the class that he hated most, Driverís Training. They were watching movies on how the Skip Jet came to be and how it ought to be driven. Everyone there knew this stuff by heart. He was having a terrible time staying awake. "Originally," the narrator droned on, "Jet boards were used for ground transport. It was discovered that the density of half
frozen Ether was 12% of solid land. One day, a Mech Tech accidently decreased the density filterís definition of ground. The new definition of ground allowed the lift sensor to define frozen Ether as "ground" and the first hard ramp of cloud that they came to, the board just lifted off the ground and Cloud Skipping was discovered. It was like surfing in the old viddys from Earth. Soon, Ether maniacs were everywhere.
The early "clouders" soon found out about " bubblers" and "holes." Trying to deal with these phenomena is dangerous and to be avoided at all times. Remember..."
This was what the whole class was waiting for this man to say. Now they joined in a sassy chorus, "Skippers do not fly!" Mr. Gagness, "Gaggy Gagness" as he was known to his students, quickly flipped on the lights. He was a freckle faced, redhead with a huge Adamís apple and long skinny legs. His Adamís apple that bobbed when he was upset. The students judged how well they had done by how much they could get it to jump. They had done very well this time.
He began to rant at them in a high, nasal voice, "I want all of you to be ashamed. These films are shown for your own safety and edification..."
He was drowned out by the bell ringing to end class. With noisy, yelling, the class emptied out. The kids were oblivious of the little man shaking his head at the front of the room.
The "Zoomers" all hung together, each within a club of their own. The different clubs were distinguished by the color of their Ether Suits which they wore at least two sizes too big. They were the elite of High. Their uncombed hair and sunburned faces set them apart from the regular citizens who hardly ever came above the cloud bank.
"Letís make the mall, Sheil. I want to look at a new skipper. I have been saving my credits for two years. Iím dying to fly."
Then, they laughed, pointed fingers at each other, and yelled, "Skippers..Do Not..Fly." Riding double on Sheilís board, they headed for the mall, laughing.
Going from board shop to board shop, Sheil said, "Yeah, boy, I remember. These next two weeks are going to be the longest of
The Council had passed a law that no new boards could be sold with the 12% density filter. They were trying to gradually do away with cloud skipping and return the population to ground
Seeing the look on Bertís face, Sheil told him that she knew a Mech Tech that could break the code on the density filter. " Donít worry, pal, you ainít grounded, yet."
"Sheil, my sweet, youíre almost worth marryiní" "Bertrin, my sweet youíre.....not!" and she punched him in the stomach and ran into the Jerk, hiding within a crowd of dancers there.
Catching his breath, Bert looked at the gyrating group,all with linked arms, jammed together doing the latest dance, the Blob. He knew heíd never find her in there now, so, he decided that he had better catch a bus home before Anni, their robo-maid had burned his dinner and thrown it out.
Two weeks later, his mom and dad took him to the Hall to get his license. He was so exited that he forgot that he hadnít seen J.R. since breakfast. As they were coming out of the Hall, J.R.slid to a stop with the new blue skip jet that he had been dreaming about at the Mall for these last few months.
"Happy Birthday to you," they all sang, badly off-key.
"Oh, boy, I sure didnít expect anything like this. You folks are the max. Can I drive it over and show it to Sheil?"
" Go on, boy," his father said," itís yours. You be home for dinner."
"Drive safe, Bertrin," was all that his Mom said.
His brother chimed in sarcastically, "Yeah, Bertrin, drive safe. If you donít wreck it, maybe Iíll let you ride a real jet someday."
The very next Saturday found the conspirators lurking in a greasy shed on a quiet, lower level of the Mech Bubble watching a fat, bearded, grease covered Mech Tech trying to break his density lockout code.
"He looks stumped, Sheil. I just know that Iíll be grounded for life."
"Patience, lover boy, theyíre all different and crackiní these codes ainít easy," growled the MT from way down under the jet.
Then, a muffled, "Ahah!" was heard. Out he crawled wearing a very satisfied grin on his grimy face.
"Thatíll be twenty fins, Mack."
"Whew! Sheil can you loan me two fins. Iíll be your slave till I can pay you back."
"Boy, do you ever have any money?"
"Well, it cost me over a hundred fins for that new Ether suit. Itís the max! Just wait until you scope it." "Man, if we donít get married, youíre gonna owe me slave labor for life."
"Okay, okay, Iíll marry you tomorrow; but, today Iím ready to fly!"
She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him and said, "But, darling..."
(Together)"Skippers Do Not Fly!!" and laughing loudly at what Mr. Gagness would have said if heíd heard that, they left the shop.
"Ether heads," The MT mumbled as he watched them head out, "you wouldnĎt catch me out on that stuff for love nor money."
In the middle of the day, the only place where the Ether clouds were hard enough to support jets and soft enough to not be a rough ride was the horizon. They picked up Bertís new suit, two sizes too big, of course.
Seeing the blazing blue color, Sheil whistled appreciatively, "I can see why the thing cost so much. It definitely is the max."
Knowing that Bert would be recognized, they used a garbage gate to get out of the Tech Bubble and headed for the Edge, as they called it.
That evening as J.R. was settling in to watch the fight on the viddy, the caller beeped. He reaches for it absently eyes still glued to the fight.
"Jefrie, this is all your fault. You and your stories of the glory of being an Ether Head."
"Mom, donít give yourself a stroke. What is the prob?"
"A guard called my office. He told me that Bertrin had taken that new board and headed for the Edge. Now, itís getting dark and thereís no sign of him or Sheil."
"Okay, Iíll round up my clubbies and weíll go find Ďem. They will have to have left a trail in the surface. Donít worry weíll be back PDQ."
J.R. hung up and dialed his clubhouse mumbling, " Ether Madness. Iíll get him for this, that swamp gurkey."
Meeting his clubbies, the Ether Eaters, at the gate that Sheil and Bert had gone out of they began to trail them on the half frozen surface. About five zorns out from Tri, they saw two dots moving slowly in the distance. They headed for the dots and got there to find Sheil and Bert running very slowly on one power pack. J.R. had brought a spare pack, so, they hooked him up and headed for home before everything froze up in the growing darkness.
Later they got the story at home. Bert was zooming his first solo Bubbler when a hole opened up on the other side. In the turbulence, he couldnít turn and fell through, landing on a shelf.He had been able to work his way out but he had no fuel left when he did.
"Bertrin, you know we never said you could take that thing out of the Bubbles or off the roads."
"But, Mom, you never forbad me from skipping. We never discussed it."
" You know that we bought you a jet board with a hundred percent density lock. Didnít that tell you anything?" "Gee, I guess the computer must have failed." Bert said innocently.
"Yeah," said J.R.," Iíve heard a lot about these malfunctions lately."
Bert decided right then and there that he would let his brother live now for a whole year for that one.(maybe even an Earth year.)
"Mom," J.R. continued, "I know that holing that thing out was a bone headed stunt; but he replaned to zero, definitely a max move. Heís a natural zoomer."
(Yep, definitely an Earth year.)
"Okay, I canít fight you all. Jefrie, Iím holding you responsible to teach him better flying."
" But Mom....."
(J.R.,Sheil, Bert, and all their friends said together)
" Skippers..Do Not..Fly!"