The lovely folks at Talos have provided an excerpt of David Nabhan’s The Pilots of Borealis, and they’ve offered a giveaway of the book as well, so be sure to enter to win using the widget below the excerpt (US only.) Good luck!
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Pilots of Borealis
A colossal holographic torus switched on. It fit snugly into the upper reaches of the Dome, a concentric virtual racetrack, its imaginary center the spire atop the Epsilon Observation Deck. Each pilot wore ankle bands that remained within the volume of the virtual doughnut and a collar that likewise would immediately disqualify the wearer should he fly too high or too low. The wings were tipped with similar sensors—wings, one might point out, of the lightest material ever constructed. Most were fashioned with arcane genres of carbon fibers, but there were many trade secrets connected to the manufacture of the best wings.
The translucent aerodrome turned yellow; the pilots took their marks. The cries went up again, even stronger this time, final encouragement for the pilots. “Good flying, Clinton Rittener!” He always professed that he flew for himself alone, that he represented no one but himself. But his skin-tight, blue and red piloting leotard, the colors of the European Union, said otherwise. The old planet below might be in shambles but here was one son of Earth at least not quite ready to say die. The cheers made him glad that he’d decided to sport these colors; that was his last thought before the torus turned light-green.
The pilots leaped into the air en masse and flew at top speed toward the gossamer ring. There was little room for maneuver at this point of the race; most pilots just clenched their teeth and literally beat their way through with their wings. There were some vague rules in piloting, but not at the start, not really. During the “scrum” no judge ever threw a flag. It was pure aerial combat and almost anything went. Some pounded a path through to the goal of the torus, others spiraled out either injured or with damaged wings, still others didn’t make it within the confines of the holographic racetrack in time. Rittener didn’t try anything tricky and flew straight at the closest sector of the floating halo. So did many other pilots. Converging vectors resulted in a number of “tangles” settled in the air as birds of prey would resolve them, with kicks and buffeting wings.
Nerissa wasn’t among them. She opted for a daring stratagem, flying at a recklessly wide angle, trying to intersect the torus far down the course. While her competitors were making a straight bee-line for the track, Nerissa would have to traverse the much longer hypotenuse she’d chosen for her bearing—but in the same time. Demetrius had taken an angle too but nothing that audacious. Already the torus was blinking on and off at an alarming rate. By the time Nerissa’s wing tips passed the virtual boundary it was flashing like a strobe light. Then it switched suddenly to a dark green. Any pilots’ sensors outside the safe boundary instantly lit up red. They were out. Nerissa had made it with but a second or two to spare and her gambling short cut put her far ahead of the pack. Fearless confidence in her amazing speed was matched by graceful agility which had her hugging the extreme inside of the ethereal race course—“in the groove.” But Demetrius was hard on her heels, coming up fast at a gentle angle of intersection, beating the air like a winged demon fleeing Hell. Just before the two vectors crossed, Nerissa banked out of the groove and heeled into Demetrius’ path. It was a first-class impact. Surprised cries rippled through the crowd looking up breathlessly. Now a real “tangle” ensued, with each pilot trying to maintain speed while blocking the other, and desperately attempting to force their competitor to dip wings outside of the safe boundary. This was nasty flying.
Three circuits around the track were required before a pilot made his headlong “dive” to the finish line, a checkered holographic tape floating above Kepler’s Arch. Nerissa and Demetrius confronted each other again and again over the three laps, frittering away both speed and distance in the lead in an astounding number of tangles, only diverting attention from each other when the pack caught up with them. The two best pilots in existence then broke away, gained a comfortable margin, and resumed another series of feints, blocks, pushes and crashes.
Rittener was out of the race. Oh, he’d made it out of the scrum in time and was still alive, technically. But he was flying way out of his league. He had never really had a chance and was pleased that he’d been able to maintain a decent position in the middle of the pack that chased after the front runners. The spectacle Nerissa and Demetrius were putting on helped him in a way. Their aerial dogfights were enough to take Rittener’s focus off the burning lactic acid building up in his arms and shoulders.
The two combatants reached the terminus of the third lap a fraction of a second apart. This was bad news for Demetrius; no pilot dived like Nerissa. As a matter of fact, not even Nerissa was supposed to be able to fly like Nerissa. Her hallmark dives were nothing less than superhuman. Both pilots skimmed the absolute virtual inside boundary of the race course at the third lap post. Both wheeled to dive and tangled wickedly, like two raptors locking talons in mid-air, whirling and falling. Demetrius broke away and effected a near-vertical swoop for the finish line. For Nerissa’s fans, banking on her patented sprint, disaster struck. She wasn’t sprinting, she wasn’t diving, she wasn’t even flying. She was gliding down in a gentle, defeated spiral, barely pumping her wings. She was quite obviously injured.
Excerpted from The PILOTS OF BOREALIS by David Nabhan, published by Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.