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The Bicyclist

Zachery Jones was feeling on top of the world. Pedaling his bicycle hard and flying like the wind, tracing out huge, smooth sine curves on a wide road he had all to himself. It was an old road, formerly an artery in the interstate highway system, and despite numerous cracks and holes in the pavement Zach was able to navigate quite easily in the gathering dusk. There weren't any other cars or trucks, of course, and the infrequent equestrian traffic was restricted to the crumbling shoulder. Occasionally he would pass a tall pole next to the highway: what used to be a streetlight. No longer was the electricity available for to illuminate these far-flung stretches of roadway, and the deepening gloom made Zach to ride all the faster. It would do him little good to ride into a gang of bandits, for he was unarmed and in a hurry.

The biker slowly lost speed as he went up a long grade to the crest of a hill. He was barely crawling when he rode over the top, and as he slid down into a banked curve on the other side, Zach began to grin. A steep, bowl-like valley containing a dark soup of forest opened up before him. Away to the left, the sun was a crimson circle just touching the horizon, framed by fiery clouds. Perhaps a mile or two away, the twin strips of asphalt rose up out of the forest near a few rectangular shapes which Zach eyed with relief. This was the beginning of the small, well guarded government housing complex wherein he considered himself lucky to dwell.

The acceleration rush was upon him. Gripping the handlebars tightly and hunching down, Zach shifted gears as he fell into the slope. Suddenly he was in the forest. It was cool, dark, and quiet. He passed an old hulk of a car converted into a crude shed. A spiral of smoke curled up from the battered exhaust pipe jutting out of the rusted roof. No one was in sight, and apparently his swift and silent passage went unobserved. This was fortunate - a lone rider's bicycle, or the goods it could be bartered for, would be a tempting enough to some nomads to force a confrontation.

After a stretch of level road through the trees, Zachery began pedaling hard again. He shifted gears, went up, higher, and then the trees fell away from him and he braked to a stop on top of the ridge he had seen at sunset. Now the sun was gone, and the sky above the adjacent herringbone of apartment buildings was sprinkled with stars. Zach thought again of his good fortune: of his uncle who had connections in the Government, of the miracle of being accepted over all those others in his class, and of the luck of being assigned a job out here, "In the Woods," with housing. He looked down at the brightly illuminated gate in the high, chain link fence encircling the buildings, and automatically felt in his pocket for his badge. Thank God for security, he thought. No longer could he deal with the savage, paranoid aspects of life in the city.

Zach suddenly turned his head to the rear. What was that? A low-pitched hum could be heard faintly, Could it be? Yes! It was a car! He saw the two headlights flickering through the foliage, and envied the person who had the credits to operate one of these new fusion-powered models. Commercial automobile production had been virtually nonexistent for at least three decades now, so the few machines on the road today that weren't animal- or people-powered were built by hand, custom made, and usually owned by the Government. Even though Zach was paid well for the menial datapross work he did, the costs of buying and operating an atomicar were affordable by the very few. He was momentarily dazzled by the headlights, and then the sleek shape shot past him. He had a brief impression of a design of colored lights between the headlights, streamlined metalwork, and dark, cowlish windows, but the car was gone.

Zach mounted his bike and slowly rode homeward, eventually rolling down an exit ramp off the old freeway. Soon he was flashing his badge to the statue-like guard at the gate, and then he was pedaling down a well-lit boulevard containing a handful of pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The apartment complex loomed up on his right, and he steered towards a particular stairway set into a slot cut out of the matrix of balconies. Shouldering his bike, he looked up at the stairs and began plodding up them. Six flights and his hallway. Nobody loitering about their doorways? Good. He rode down the hallway, hoping no doors opened, and they didn't. Silently, he braked to a smooth, even stop at his doorway. As he fumbled for his keys, he decided it had been a good weekend. He'd explored lots of territory that was new to him, but tomorrow it would be the same familiar route between home, dining hall, and office. Ah, well, he thought, pushing open his door. At least I'm not some wretch in a city, cold and hungry, seeking out a safe place to sleep in the decaying concrete jungle.

And Zachery Jones went inside and closed his door.

© 1977
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