Spaceman Ross – Origin Story – 4

Of all the things that had changed on planet earth since the dawn of its creation, gravity was not one of them. So the afternoon fourteen-year-old Ross Bronski lost control of his skimmer in the fall of 2114, it was every bit as frightening and painful as a boy crashing a bicycle in 1954 or a skateboard in 2014. The contraptions may have changed over the years, but the experience was timeless. One may even say a right of passage in a young boy’s life. The incident was inevitable.

The skimmer, with its powerful dual thrusters and light weight design, was built for speed, not safety. The rider straddled the vehicle and with the thruster facing downward. Upon starting up, it could hover just long enough to use a shifting gear to point the thruster backwards. Hitting the thrust foot pedal on the left propelled the machine forward with an immense burst of speed. This was called a boost, or boosting. The right pedal, or antithrust, could cut a boost short, but there was no way to completely stop in mid air. Skimmers were not capable of constant throttle. A boost was needed every few seconds to stay aloft. When one boost ended, the thruster would recharge for the next boost. Hence the term skimming, or repeatedly thrusting and descending through the air, like a flat stone skimming on a pond.

While uphill skimming was achievable, the momentum of downhill skimming was much more dangerous and thus highly exhilarating. A lightweight rubber track on the back and landing skis on the front helped cushion landings. Additionally, a brake for the rear track could be applied by a trigger on the handle bar steering controls. Steering was what made for a skillful skimmer. Like skiing, one had to be able to anticipate the clearest straight line before boosting and then pivot upon descent.

Ross’s skimmer, the Mongoose, was one of the more powerful and expensive models and thus the envy of all the boys in his neighborhood. It was a beautiful machine, silver with hints of orange trim and gleaming bushings. The mark of a powerful skimmer was the length of time needed between boosts. The Mongoose boasted an impressive 1.5 second delay. But perhaps what really set the Mongoose apart from other skimmers was the distinct screaming roar of the thruster, which grew in awesome intensity from boost to boost. When those commercials for the 2114 Mongoose X5 with the slogan “Mongoose: It’s on. You’re gone.” danced before Ross’s prepubescent eyes with their shots of pro skimmers pulling off feats of derring-do to a dazzling driving soundtrack, he was sold.

Of course Ross could have whatever he wanted, within reason. Short of buying him a weapon, Stella was content to let her son to whatever he asked. A fact that was utterly lost on Ross. When he asked for something, he got it. It’s not that he was an undeserving child, or especially materialistic either. He simply never learned to appreciate the value of anything because it was all easy come, easy go. He never considered other kids had to work to save up for their own skimmer or settle for the lower model their parents could afford. As a child of one of the elite members of such an unequal society, he was oblivious to the simple concept of work ethic. He was seen by his mother as a kid being a kid. His grades were decent at the Goddard Academy (the exorbitantly expensive private school his mother insisted he attend) and he flew under the radar, never getting in trouble of any kind. Despite his conformity in good behavior, deep down Ross felt there was something gnawing at him. It was a certain zeitgeist, a desire to act out – not in rebellion, but rather manifesting itself in his obsession with skimming.

The incident occurred outside city limits, at an abaondoned quarry the boys frequented often to sneak cigarettes, spray graffiti, engage in fist fights and of course, skim. With its sprawling expanse of earth peppered with ramshackle long-forgotten lean-to shacks, it was an ideal escape from their shirt-and-tie academic worlds. It was a deserted, dusty, veritable playground of boyish freedom. Best of all for skimming, the edges formed a curve from ground to side like a giant swimming pool, and its soft corners were perfect for thrusting around at devilishly heartpounding speeds.

“Come on Ross! Stop being a little bitch and skim!” yelled Kevlar, one of the neighborhood mates, all intensely eager to witness the Mongoose in action.

“That’s too much skimmer for you, Ross!” another boy taunted.

“Shut up! I’m goin’, I just gotta get ready!” Ross shouted from astride his skimmer, set high above the other boys on the quarry’s edge. It was midafternoon. The sun was behind him, and the absence of glare made for perfect visibility of his run. “Alright, you can do this, you got this…” Ross muttered to himself, far from earshot of the others.

“Just do it already!” Kevlar’s patience waned further.

“I’m tryin’, if you guys would shut up it’d be easier!” Ross’s reply was followed immediately by the roar of the Mongoose, met by huge grins on all the boys’ faces. It was “on” and Ross was about to be “gone.”

A second roaring boost and the fourteen year old boy was thrown forward at enormous speed, such that the boys could see his body jerk backwards as he struggled to grip the awesome power of the Mongoose. They yelled wildly as they watched awestruck, their privileged friend skim around the edge of the massive quarry. Ross was truly the star of the group that day, and it felt amazing. For a moment, they were all jealous.

BRRAAAWWWAAARRR!! The Mongoose screamed, kicking up dirt and Ross’s adrenaline as he skimmed ever faster. He was picking up some serious momentum now, and it was becoming harder to anticipate the safest direction for each boost. He was quite far from the boys who were now watching his run from across the quarry through viewfinders.

Then it happened. The young Ross was caught up for a split second too long in the grandeur that was being the envy of all the other boys and lost control of his coveted Mongoose X5. He was cruising at such high speed down the side of the quarry wall that he couldn’t bring the front of the skimmer high enough in time to avoid slamming into the ground nose first with a tremendous crash. While the Mongoose X5 may have been fully capable of negotiating downhill hairpin turns at speeds upwards of 50 mph, Ross learned that day his skimming skills were not. He was thrown over the handle bar controls with such force on impact he landed twenty feet away from his now demolished skimmer, unconscious as they both laid helpless in a cloud of dust and debris.

They couldn’t hear his scream from such great distance, but the boys winced at the silent, digitally enhanced crystal clear image of the horrfying accident in their viewfinders. Between gasps and “oh fuck!” expressions they continued to survey the area for a second to check for any signs of life. When the dust settled and they could only see a motionless figure laying in an unnatural position in the distance, they hurried to their skimmers and sped to Ross’s aid. One of them alerted the local emergency services but none dared to call Ross’s mother.

“Cough!” Ross’s eyes popped open and his body flinched as though he was awaking from a violent nightmare. The boys standing all around him swayed back, startled but relieved to rule out Ross’s death that afternoon.

“There he is! You just can’t kill this asshole!” laughed the ever sensitive Kevlar.

Ross used his last remaining bit of strength to slowly raise his middle finger in gratitude for his friend’s concern. Slowly he began taking inventory of his condition. Removing his dust caked cracked goggles, the sun was in his eyes now like a blinding wake up call and it felt like half the quarry’s dust was in his mouth. He weakly began spitting out dirt and wiping his face. He wasn’t to remain cognizant for long. Lying on his back, he leaned his head forward. One look at his mangled right leg and suddenly his brain allowed him to feel the intense pain of his injury. He immediately passed out again.

After the initial incident, the ensuing hospital stay and months of rehabilitation, Ross decided to steer clear of such dare devil antics as skimming the quarry. His mother was surprisingly mild in her reaction to what happened. This was partly because she was so preoccupied with something unfolding at work, but also because she viewed such things as a normal part of her son’s progression from boy to man. She wanted him to earn his scars and gain the lessons they offered. It was something she felt she’d never been able to do as a child but would have benefited from greatly.

Ross’s skimming days may now be over, but there was wisdom in Stella’s strategy. He would carry the lessons he learned in that quarry and on other boyish adventures many years later in the perils of deep space. He would remember that it’s not the ship that makes the man but how well he controlled it, and to take it easy in situations where he was inexperienced. And he would never again allow his image to his peers to interfere with his best judgement, especially not at high speed.

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