12: Escape (part 6)

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12.6 Playing For Real

Ladbroke Grove: 13 May 2128

Rick felt the burn of adrenaline and was impatient to make the start. No one could settle and, every few minutes, one of them went to the unglazed window to stare out over the Wall that was just visible as night receded.

Below them, in the games arena, the ramps looked as if they had been abandoned haphazardly. They hadn't – one was ready for its real task.

As the first glimmers of the false dawn crept across an early morning drift of high, wispy clouds, Phil declared it time to move. They donned padded jackets, gloves and stout boots before filing out into the still darkened streets.

They mounted their trikes. Each was fully charged and the storage compartment between the rear wheels contained water, food, clothing, footwear, sheets for constructing makeshift tents, and tools such as hammers, cutters and saws.

The special ramp was as close to the Wall as they had dared leave it. They drove the trikes forwards – Rick in the centre with Phil to the left and Ellie to his right. Ten yards from the ramp, Rick stopped and watched the Wall cameras. The ramp's protrusions on each side were slotted into a corresponding makeshift socket on Ellie and Phil's trikes. Connected up, they waited for Rick's go ahead. He timed three camera buggies – they were running at around thirty-eight seconds.

A buggy moved out of sight. "Go," he shouted. A vivid blotch of blinding yellow cascaded across his sight.

Ellie and Phil dragged the wheeled ramp towards the Wall, disconnecting and circling around at the last moment. The ramp hit the Wall but stayed upright, the built-in stabilisers doing their work.

Phil continued his circle straight up onto the ramp. Rick and Ellie held their breath as he accelerated and watched his wheels sail inches above the electrified monorail. They only breathed again after they heard his landing followed by a yell of success. Ellie gunned her throttle and took the ramp at a slightly faster rate to gain greater height over the rail. Before she reached the top Rick followed. The rumble of vibration as he hit the ramp sent pink and purple waves around the periphery of his vision, causing him to fail to spot the approaching double camera buggy until it was quite close. Ellie's warning cry from the other side of the Wall was too late in coming. For a moment he wasn't sure if he should accelerate or slow down, but then throttled to maximum hoping to beat the camera to the crossing point.

As he approached the summit it was obvious a collision was inevitable. He leaned to the left while aiming his right foot directly at the camera. His boot made contact, snapping a thin support rod that kept the camera platform upright. The unstable buggy ground against the rail in a shower of electrical arcing before slamming into the trike's rear right wheel spinning it a quarter turn clockwise. Clinging on, knuckles white under his gloves, Rick faced north eastwards along the outside of the Wall instead of away from it. The ground rushed up and he bounced down the steeper slope on that side. Despite the noise obscuring his vision, he managed to remain upright and rolled to a stop a few yards later, gasping.

Shaking, he looked up at the Wall. The camera buggy had come to a halt, its lenses angled uselessly downward, dead.

He checked the trike over and, not discovering any damage beyond a few new scratches, headed away from the Wall to join the others behind a stand of trees. Ellie grabbed and hugged him tightly.

"Damn," Phil said. "I thought you were coming off for certain."

From the shelter of the trees they had a clear view of the Wall without the risk of being observed themselves.

They watched as another camera wagon hurled itself into the crashed remains of the first. But an alarm must have been raised as subsequent ones slowed down and halted in a line.

"Okay," Phil said, after everyone had rechecked their vehicles, "let's get moving."

"Hampstead Heath, here we come," Rick said.

"Yet again," Ellie added, with a chuckle.

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