The Coronavirus pandemic prompted me to dust off a whimsical post-apocalyptic tale and provided the setting I had been looking for.
Enjoy 'Kite Boy'
Bayleigh checked his harness for the fifth or sixth time. It felt secure but it was old, worn. His brother Tad had worn it countless times before.
Tad, who had trained him and now stood in front of him, controlling the tether.
The young twins Mylock and Gren waited behind him, the cloth furled in their small hands. At a nod from Tad they allowed the edge of the fabric to drop. A little at a time, they controlled it as the wind caught the sail and it began to fill.
Tad nodded again and they released their grip. The cloth billowed out, mushrooming as it filled, and began to lift into the warm evening air.
Bayleigh tensed and gripped the toggles as the cords connected to the rustling canopy pulled at the back of the harness then suddenly yanked him upwards and off the ground. He looked down at Tad, receding into the distance as he paid out the tether, allowing Bayleigh to soar above him and drift out over the precipice.
He fought down the vertigo and forced himself to focus on the horizon. His training flights had been short, learning the basics of manouvering the kite but this was his first mission.
Breathing slowly to calm himself, he looked down again. Tad controlled the drum around which the tether was wound. The twins scanned the sky behind him with telescopes, seeking his target. He pulled tentatively on the toggles. First left, then right, satisfying himself that the kite dipped to one side, then the other, following his commands.
Looking up at the canopy above him, he tried not to count the patches or focus on the mismatched collection of strings and cables which constituted the oft-repaired control cords. Tears and holes in the original silk had been repaired and replaced with any available materials. Usually coarser and heavier, the weight of the canopy incremented with each repair. Once able to lift an adult, in a good gust, now it struggled to lift Bayleigh’s elder brother, emaciated though he was.
And so it fell to the next-born to don the harness and take to the air.
As the twins searched for prey, Bayleigh’s gaze fell on the Pents, tall buildings built in the shadow of the cliffs. During the Contagion, the Rich had retreated to the safety and solitude of their isolated dwellings, where they had stayed. They rarely ventured out, except in covered, armoured vehicles and wearing protective suits. They had abandoned the Herd, leaving them exposed and unprepared for the plague which would ravage their numbers. But the Herd had endured and, while not every new-born survived the Contagion and the elders fell younger as their immunity waned, they had thrived.
As Elder Harman had told him, earlier that afternoon. He had come to visit, to thank Bayleigh for his service in advance. Kiteboys did not always return and novices were most at risk. He raised his left arm and drew it across his face, burying his nose and mouth in the crook of his elbow.
"Choo" he saluted Bayleigh, who responded in kind.
"Yours is an important task, Bayleigh." He said, his hand on the boy’s bony shoulder "Your brother has performed it well and I’m sure that you will continue your family tradition. To the continuation of the Herd." With a deep bow, he left.
He snapped back to the present, alerted by a cry from Mylock. He squinted to the east.
They were coming.
There was no formation. Each flew their own path, avoiding contact with the others, rotors whirring to keep them aloft. Some were heavily armed; others he knew had rotor tips sharpened as a defence. The Rich had placed their orders, hiding in their luxurious apartments. Now came the deliveries.
He prepared his net, waiting for them to come closer, seeking his target.
There. He could make out the logo, two squares, one above the other. One red, with a single white dot, the other blue with two.
He waved to Tad, instructing him to pay out more line, and drifted further from the cliff edge.
From the corner of his eye he saw the gliders launch. He marvelled at the bravery of the pilots. In their manoueverable fragile wing craft, they were going after the high-value targets. Spears in hand, they would attack the heavily defended drones carrying valuable tech goods. They would fetch a high price at the market. Even a downed drone commanded a high price among the Scavs, but assaulting them was to put one’s life at risk.
He fixed his attention on his own target, tugging at the cords and jinking left to bring himself in its path, but slightly above. The dumb drone did not identify him as a hazard and single-mindedly buzzed onward. Holding his breath, Bayleigh waited until the last minute, then dropped his net. It landed slightly off centre, but it was enough to tangle the blades of the rear rotors. The drone began to buck and rock as it attempted to right itself but turning only resulted in the remaining propellors becoming entangled in the net. He pulled the cord to secure his catch and waved to his brother.
Bayleigh could hear the cheers from below as Tad began to wind in the cable, each turn of the drum bringing Bayleigh closer to earth.
The net landed first and Mylock and Gren fell upon the drone, disabling the rotors before extracting it. Tad helped Bayleigh out of the harness. The twins had removed the cargo pod and handed it to Bayleigh.
Tad slapped him on the back.
"Good job, brother. Go. Deliver your prize."
Bayleigh ran to Elder Harman’s shack and knocked at the door. The old man emerged and Bayleigh knelt, laying the pod at his feet. The elder picked it up and carried inside, motioning Bayleigh to follow. Around a long table sat a dozen or so young children. The old man placed the pod in the centre and, with a long knife, he prised it open.
Suddenly the air was filled with the warm scent of oregano, cheese and tomatoes.
Dividing up the spoils with his knife, Elder Harman handed a warm slice to Bayleigh.
He smiled. "To the continuation of the Herd."