by Sadie O'Deay

Pike took his time strapping the snowboard to his feet while he waited for the noise of the helicopter's engines to fade. He wanted to be sure that asshole pilot wouldn't try to fly around again and pick him up. This was his trip, dammit, and he was paying the guy more than enough lire to ensure his instructions were followed exactly. The last thing he wanted was some dago imposing a pussy set of safety rules on him. The guy hadn't wanted to land once Pike told him he'd be doing the run alone, insisting it wasn't safe, he needed backup. Backup. He was Noah Pike, for chrissakes, not some raw idiot out for a testosterone kick. He knew what he was doing.

The chop-chop of the rotors was finally swallowed by the howling of mountain wind. Pike flexed his toes and stood up, rocking on the board's uphill edge, feeling it bite deeper into fresh powder. He pondered the view from his aerie. The ice-encrusted peaks of the Dolomites surrounded him, biting jaggedly at the sky. Wisps of cirrus clouds twisted miles above them, and the glare of the morning sun warmed his face through his goggles. Pike inhaled deeply and felt the last vestiges of anger drift through his mind.

No idiot pilot was going to ruin his morning. Pike wanted to do this run alone, and he would.

"The problem with Italy," Pike informed the landscape, "is that it's full of Italians."

No reply from the mountains. They had been what they were for a long time, and were indifferent to his presence on their flanks.

"See, and that's a problem," Pike continued, shifting his weight fluidly and eyeing the pitch beneath his ledge. One clean edge had him right on top of his chosen cornice and he settled there, taking the mountain's measure the way he measured opponents in a starting gate. He'd psych them out, cool and confident, feel the throb of the idling motorcycle between his legs as a tactile confirmation of his prowess, knowing he would beat them all.

He would beat these dago mountains, too. Right now. This country would know he was king. A leer touched one corner of his mouth as he thought of the girl he'd left sleeping at dawn. He'd found her last night working in a little tavern; she'd served him strong, dark ale the color of her skin. It had been cold out, and late, and it was a long walk back to his ski villa suite; but she had a little room above the inn. His attempts at conversation had been met with giggles; she didn't speak a word of English and he didn't care. She'd kissed shyly and fucked with abandon, tight and hot, and made little mewing noises in her throat when she came.

Yeah, she just might have called him king, too. Or God. And he'd have another good story for his friends after this run. He hadn't caught her name, but "baby" had served just fine.

All in all, it had been a pretty good vacation so far. Snowboarding was a great break from the motocross circuit, no matter what his factory contract said. All he'd told them was that he was taking a week off in Italy. Hell, he had a national ranking. His sponsors had no right to interfere with this.

This, now, was all about a seven-mile downhill ride on unfamiliar territory: rock, snow, insanity. It was all about the forty feet of sheer vertical under his toes, dropping into a swath of virgin powder that tumbled down the mountain's south face. Beneath his feet, the drop was spectacular. His eyes told him what he was looking at, but his brain disconnected the overwhelming input, pictured, instead, himself standing in that glistening field of snow below, looking up at the cornice. The fall never looked as far if he imagined it from the bottom.

He felt his body wind up with adrenaline, a rush that shot along artery and stabbed into muscle; felt the skin on his balls contract. Tension flowed into readiness, only seconds now before the drop in. Three. Two.

Then a weird moment of hesitation, fear sizzling light and quick across the nerves. In an instant Pike shook it clear and screamed at the gaping maw of broken-toothed mountains.

"Fuck you!" But the wind tore the words from his throat and rendered them meaningless. One. Pike jerked his hips forward, sank down, and thrust the nose of the snowboard into the air. He rode to the edge on the tail and launched over the cornice.

He knew immediately that something was wrong: maybe his weight was unbalanced going over the edge, maybe he'd chosen a bad fall line. His instincts went to full alarm. The wind wanted to lift the board's nose and spin it. Pike pushed down harder with his leading foot, saw the steep snowfield coming up fast, and he was at the wrong angle to meet it. Panic nipped his brain and he hit powder so hard his teeth snapped together. His knees buckled to absorb the impact, but it was too much; his ass kissed the snowboard's tail. He threw his shoulders forward in an attempt to regain balance, arms wind-milling frantically, grasping at air.

Picking up speed down the radical pitch, the board began to shimmy. Pike knew he couldn't bring it under control; this one was going to jack him up but good. Snow rushed past beneath him, shifting its angle faster than he could compensate, flew in his face and blinded him. Zero. He twisted to the left and smacked down on his belly. Fingers became claws as he tore at the snow, but he couldn't slow down, couldn't see where he was going. The snowboard hitched and caught, flipped him into a wild tumble until he lost all sense of direction except down. He was just a rag-doll along for the ride. The board went airborne, Pike's spine arching and his stomach lurching in free-fall. He thought wildly, panic rev. Why can't you have a panic rev on a snowboard, you need one.

Then he was slammed down again, shocked at how hard snow could be. Pike was spinning now, plummeting down an untried mountain hopelessly out of control, inhaling snow, coughing.

Can't stop! he thought, and felt his breath coming in frantic pants. Plunging through a blizzard, an avalanche, the roar deafening from the rush of wind and snow and speed, the snapping drag of the board on his feet, catching and twisting him.

Half-glimpsed, big and dark, something rushed up the mountain, glinting in the sun. Between flashes of snow and sky, tumbling and disoriented, Pike saw it coming for him. Rock! his mind screamed. Shift, damn you!

Pike tried. He kicked the bouncing, hitching snowboard out of the way, snapped his knees back to clear the boulder, arched his spine. It wasn't enough. The right edge of his hipbone slammed into the chunk of granite.

At thirty miles an hour, the human body is not designed to withstand such impact. Pike screamed as his pelvis broke, heard the meaty snap of thick bone giving way above the rush of descent. Pain blasted along nerves, exploded in his retinas. The collision spun him, and his skull struck rock a handspan above the left temple.

Pike's shriek was cut off, and he plummeted another hundred feet in silence, limp and twisting like a puppet without strings, slowing as he slid into the level west edge of a snowfield. He crumpled to rest beneath a small outcropping of rock and ice. The pitch continued steeply to the south a few yards away, dropping toward the in-bounds property of the tiny ski village where he'd stayed for the past week. Pike's prone body lay, half in shadow, nearly a mile below the helicopter drop-off point.

The phone was ringing. Something heavy across his chest, let the machine pick up. Hello, you've reached the Pike residence; please leave a message. Beep.

-Yo, Carp, pick up the phone, you fat TV watching bastard. I know you're there.

His father's house. He was at his father's house in Arlington, lifting weights, knowing he should train for the season's last two supercross races but feeling burned out. Avoiding his telephone, his place in Georgetown. Pete had found him anyway.

-Pete, man, how many times I have to tell you not to talk like that on my dad's machine? You know he hates that carp shit.

-Aw, pops knows I'm only joking. What you up to, hiding out there? Avoiding responsibility again, fatty?

-Shit. I'm doing what you should be, chicken chest, hitting the iron.

-Uh huh. Guess what? I got a full sponsor with the Duchati road team.

-Dude, that's awesome--Pike, remembering how he'd felt landing his first factory MX ride, heard that same elation in Pete's voice.

-Yeah, and they're flying me to Italy to meet the team and do press at the factory.

-That sucks. All those Italians.

-But think of the snowboarding, dude. Why don't you come? We can make it a vacation.

-I'd like to, chicken chest, but you know the contract I signed. And would dad ever be pissed.

-Carp. Come on. It'll be a celebration for us both. You know, for the hard work. We'll get Raul and Jamie to come too…

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