Saturday, July 23, 2016

Frenzy: Weather-Related (Part II)

Click here for the previous installment...
Click here for the entire story.

I tell my car where I want to go and continue to study the map on my tablet. Before I know it, I’m at the City Frenzy headquarters, and I feel like I’ve learned nothing. Oh man, this is going to be tough, what am I gonna do? I step out of the car, still staring at my tablet, furiously swiping and pinching around, trying to get a better feel for the streets. Something hits me and knocks me to the ground.
“Oh my God, that’s ironic,” a voice I’m familiar with says. “Two tracers running into each other.”
“Keilix!” We help each other back up. She must have been studying too, because her own tablet is on the ground next to mine.
“Hello, Serkan. Are you here to support your brother?”
“Uh, no. You didn’t hear? He’s sick, so I’m racing for him.”
She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t look pleased.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. You have a better chance of winning against me than you would have against him.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“You haven’t seen him.”
“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.” Keilix is seventeen years old as well, so this will be her last Frenzy. There’s a lot of pressure on seventeen-year-olds to win, but of course that’s a logistically impractical expectation.
The sun disappears through a sudden appearance of dark gray clouds. Keilix and I look up to the sky. We’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s unnatural for the weather to change so drastically. In fact—I didn’t really study meteorology—but it may be impossible for clouds to form that quickly.
“I guess we better get inside.”
“Yes,” I agree.
When we step into the building, we’re met with looks. Everyone else is already there, and the doors are frustratingly loud. Things are awkward for a moment before Keilix lifts her arms up and pretends to pound on a window. “Elaine!” she cries.
A few people laugh, especially the council members, but most of the youngins don’t get the reference. Somehow, I do, and to add my own personal touch, I curtsy. Now everyone laughs and moves on.
Council Leader Andrews continues the meeting as the two of us are finding our seats in the front row. “As I was saying, the council and I would like to thank you all for coming on such short notice. The meteorology department of my organization has discovered something unusual in recent weather patterns.” Nearly all members of the council have jobs apart from the City Frenzy. Throughout most of the year, that’s what they do. They’re only called to action when necessary, but they have pretty busy careers. Actually, you can’t really get on the council if you’re not already a respected member of society. There’s a firefighter, a superintendent, a few CEOs, and other people in power. Andrews, in particular, runs a scientific research lab, so he has access to data that could potentially affect the race. It would seem that this very thing has happened. He continues, “you have all probably noticed how strangely cold it’s been lately...for July, that is. The situation is a little bit more nuanced and technical than that, but I assure you that my team is working on it.”
“What’s gonna happen with the race?” a kid I don’t know asks.
Council Leader Andrews scans the crowd, but I can’t tell why. It kind of looks like he’s doing a headcount, but not of everybody. He prepares himself for his answer. “The race will go on, but not as planned.”
The same kid calls up again, “what does that mean?”
Andrews is really struggling with responding. He’s always had a level of fear of the kids. It does make sense, though. You can’t register in this race unless you’ve proven yourself physically capable of it. You have to undergo rigorous testing; a physical examination, gymnastics, dancing, parkour, certain track events, and a few other things. Every kid in this room could kick Andrews’ ass several times over, and he knows it. So he’s frozen.
Mr. Rutherford, the resident lawyer, stands up. Unlike the others who were chosen by their clout alone, Councilman Rutherford was selected specifically for his educational background and experience. With a race as dangerous as this, especially one involving minors, you have to protect your own ass legally. “I got this, Duke,” I can hear him whisper to the Council Leader. He takes a deep breath while Andrews is sitting down. “Yes, we are going ahead with the race, but only for contestants sixteen years of age and up.”
The crowd understandably freaks out. The race has been going on for the better part of a decade, and never have they done anything like this before. We’ve had bad weather, and other complications, but the rule has always been twelve to seventeen.
Rutherford tries to maintain control over the room. “Now, I know you’re all upset. I bet even the older kids don’t think it’s fair, but I’m afraid there is nothing we can do about it. The weather has made things entirely too dangerous.”
“Bullshit!” that one kid cries out. He does look like he could be fifteen years old.
“One more word, Thompson,” Rutherford growls, “and you’ll be banned from competing next year.”
“We’re probably gonna move to Mars this winter!” That’s bullshit, nobody’s going to Mars. It’s clear that his friends don’t believe him either, so he has to move on and defend himself. Most of the crowd, however, does not let up.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Rutherford continues. “People have been spitting on lawyers since the dawn of time. Let me have it, that’s what I’m here for.”
As one of the older kids, and because I’m sort of a legend around here, I’ve been placed in a de facto leadership position. Newbies have come up to me to ask for my autograph. I always refuse, instead encouraging to work hard so people start asking them for autographs. That seems to inspire them. Man, I really sound like a pompous douchebag when I talk about myself, don’t I? Keilix would tell me to ignore the haters, and that that’s the price of fame. I consider using that fame to my advantage, hoping to help calm the others with some words of wisdom. As I lean forward, Rutherford catches my eye and subtly shakes his head.
Keilix simultaneously places her hand on my stomach like a mother protecting her child when the car in front of her has stopped too quickly. “This is not your moment,” is all she says.
Andrews looks like he’s gathered his composure, and is ready to get back into the fight. He stands up and gently motions for Rutherford to leave the stage. “It’s okay, I can handle this now. You should talk to the qualifiers.”
“Those sixteen years of age and older, follow me!” Rutherford commands, heading for a door to another room. Without looking back, he yells, “Thompson!”
Too Young Thompson, as he shall from now on be referred to as, sulks and slowly sits back down. Bested once more by Lincoln Rutherford, Esquire. But he will have his revenge.
I’m in a room with sixteen other people, sitting on a little ottoman against the brick wall. Nearly all of us have done this before. Headquarters is like a second home to us. Off-season, we come here to train, and meet up for unrelated events together. This room in particular is a lounge designed for those sixteen years and older anyway, so we all have our special little spots. Keilix lies down across the bar at Braxton’s feet. That guy does parkour even when he’s not doing parkour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him sit down. He’s always been my biggest competition. Jiminy (not his real name) plops down on two bean bags, one of which Alexi kicks out from under him. He has anger problems, and we all just kind of let him vent when he needs to. He’s never hurt anyone.
The Twins sit cross-legged on the interactive mapping screen on the floor, and close their eyes to meditate. The screen is twelve feet diagonal, like a computer that was converted from inches to feet. Everyone uses it to study with the only program loaded onto the system, but The Twins use it the most. They never run, and never win. City Frenzy is a spiritual experience for them, and they take the time to enjoy every moment of it. You would think their race would be boring to watch, but they draw in their own following of loyal virtual tourists that make the organization, and the city, a lot of money. They’re proof that you get out of the program what you want, and you don’t have to do it like everybody else. Oh, and they’re not actually twins, they’re just inseparable.
Rutherford pulls up a chair. “I just wanted take some time to talk with you about what just happened; to gauge how you all feel about our decision.”
“Is it a legal thing?” Braxton asks while balancing on one leg.
“It most certainly is. We’re not doing this as punishment, or with any ill intentions. We just can’t allow children to run under these circumstances. You wouldn’t believe how many legal hurdles we have to jump through just to keep the program running. But every year you kids run comes with new complaints. Every tumble down the stairs—every time someone jumps over an alley...Serkan—is more fuel for our detractors. They’ll take any reason they can find to shut us down. I had to fight just to keep this year from being turned into shit. Allowing the older kids in was the only compromise we could come to. Frankly, I’m surprised we even got that. We only had a day of negotiations.”
Alexi has been pacing around the whole time, steam coming out of his ears. “Did you do everything you could?” he asks in a deep voice that those who didn’t know him would perceive as threatening.
“We did.”
“Thank you,” Alexi replies with the same voice.
“Ever the moderate, Senator Channing proposed we match you sixteen with younger ‘buddy trios’ and make you run together so you could protect them.”
“I shudder to think,” Keilix says.
“I did shudder when he said that,” Rutherford reveals.
“Well...?” I ask. “What now?”
Gabriella and Celestine stand up from the ancient dancing video game platform that’s largely treated as theirs. “Now,” Celestine says dramatically, “we dance.”
As always on the day before...we party. Click here for the next installment...

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