Saturday, August 27, 2016

Frenzy: Enter Rabbit Dog Stage Left (Part VII)

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

I and Thompson, as he shall from now on be referred to as, start running straight for the finish line. It would have been safer and more simplistic to go around the weird pond garden thing, but this is about giving people a show. We have to make it look interesting, which is how we were trained, and every racer agrees to not just get there as fast as possible. We spring from rocks and kick through thick thickets. Burrs desperately try to grapple onto my suit, but it isn’t havin’ none of that. It was designed specifically to prevent that sort of thing. Ah, the future. Is there anything like it?
We cross one main street, and then another. Most people got the memo that this is where the race is happening, so we don’t have to cross at the intersections, but there are still a few drivers there. I stop in the middle of the road to let one pass, but Thompson slides right over the top. He lands on the other side and keeps going as if nothing had happened. He may survive this yet. As I’m running to catch up with him, I realize that we’ve never had any footraces in this event. It just doesn’t happen; everybody’s coming from a different place, everybody’s going to a different place. Keilix once made the suggestion that we pair up so that we could compete with each other directly, but she only said that to me and a few others. Now I’m starting to think how much better it could be if we actually implemented that change.
We run through one neighborhood before coming across a creek. We both jump right into it and keep going like the badasses we are. We say nothing to each other, though. There’s no animosity, and we definitely aren’t friends. We’re just focused and in the zone. Agent Nanny Cam sent a second drone to keep track of Thompson. She is at least okay with him competing, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the council is. I fully expect to run into one of the leaders before we get too far.
Not long after the creek is the highway. Here’s where things get complicated. The reason they map out a path that doesn’t take you straight is because it’s unsafe to go any other way. Lincoln Rutherford’s job as the lawyer is framing the race objectives to make it clear that they don’t condone going off the trail while making it clear that they have no way of stopping it. Fortunately for us, there’s a significant amount of traffic at this juncture that people are not moving fast. They’re doing a bit of construction on both sides so, even with driverless cars, there just aren’t enough lanes to go around. People get out of their cars to cheer. This makes it even safer for us, because even when traffic picks back up, everyone’s stuck. I wave to the fans as I’m running by, but Thompson can’t think about that. He still has to prove himself worthy. I’m mostly worried about what that means for the other children who were disqualified, but weren’t allowed back in simply by not taking no for an answer.
We go through a few more neighborhoods. They’re a little harder to get through because they’ve built tall fences, but we don’t run into any problems with the residents. A few are out watching us, excited for the chance for their fifteen minutes of fame to be broadcast, but most people are either busy, or holed up inside. We end up at a wall to the highway, the other side of which we want to be. Between the backyards of these houses and the wall is an extremely dense forest. There’s no way to know how long the fence goes. Our only chance is going over it. We give each other this look and then simultaneously start scrambling up trees, switching between them as needed. Better-trained Thompson reaches the top faster and disappears.
Unlike the first highway, this one is both busy and unrelenting. It would not be safe to try and cross. This was all a stupid idea. We should have gone forwards to look for an overpass or underpass. Thompson is pacing back and forth on the shoulder, looking for an opening, but I spot a better idea. I consider calling over to him, but choose not to, because this is his mess. I run the wrong direction along the wall. It’s about as thin as a balance beam, which I practice on a lot. This is nothing to me. I hop the gap and start climbing along the metal structure they use for overhead highway signs. I then climb down to run along the median so I can make it to the matching sign structure for the northbound traffic. I get a chance to look back and find that Thompson has made the right call, and is hot on my trail. I should have made sure he did that, though. He could have gotten himself killed, and I would have been responsible for it.
“Wait for me!” he cries out.
“I’m in a race!” I call back, still trying to figure out how to get over this other wall without a bunch of trees.
“I have spring shoes!” he volleys. Okay, that’s a good reason to wait.
I take the time to catch my breath while he’s making his way over the bars and down to me. “Boost me up, and I’ll help you up from the top. No way those spring shoes get you that far.”
Part of our training is to work in teams, even though this is an individual sport. We learn moves and other special tricks together. This one is called The Lonely Diver. It’s an ironic name, because it can’t be done with only one person. With no coordination, he gets down on his hands and knees, leaning his head forward like he’s deep in prayer while I take my position a few yards away.
“Ready?” I ask.
“Pull!” he yells as loud as he can, which is protocol for these kinds of partner moves.
I start running towards him as fast as I can then let one foot land on his back. At just the right moment, he pushes himself away from the ground as hard as he can, letting me fly up to the top of the wall. As a sort of redemption moment from last night when I fell from the fire escape, I manage a tight grip on the top of the wall. I use all my upper-body strength to pull myself up to safety. I can just picture a number of random people at home, watching our feeds and simultaneously shoving their fists in the air with excitement at our success.
The next move is called Social Ladder. I hang the bottom of my legs over the other side, facing Thompson while upside down.
“Ready?” he asks.
“Pull!” I yell back.
He runs for me and uses his spring shoes to jump as high as he can. I catch his armpits with my own so that we’re interlocked. There’s no good position to end up in this, and of course, it always depends on how high up you are, but it’s what you gotta do. He proceeds to use me as a human ladder so that he can make it all the way up to the top. We jump down and land on the ground together, breathing heavily after the harrowing miniature adventure. We give each other another look before breaking the sound barrier and getting back into the race. We run for over three miles just through neighborhoods, and nothing else interesting happens. But then we run into Keilix. Literally.
We don’t fall down this time, but something does fall out of her arms. It’s some weird kind of animal that I don’t recognize at all. I mean, it’s not just a breed of dog I don’t personally know. It looks like something out of a movie about wizards running around looking for mythological creatures with nothing but a suitcase. Okay, so its ears are what stick out the most...upwards, actually. They’re curved like soft tacos, and she’s moving them around out of sync, searching for the best way to listen to her environment. She’s otherwise unmoving, though. And yes, something tells me that it’s a lady; perhaps just the fact that its eyelashes are particularly long, like when Bugs Bunny dresses up as a woman to trick his enemies. The hindlegs are more like a rabbit’s, but the front legs more like a beagle’s. Her muzzle is smushed into her face and you would expect from a rabbit, but then she also has big droopy beagle lips.I seem to remember that rabbits have their eyes on the side, while a beagle’s are more straight forward. Well, this thing’s eyes split the difference between those two poles. Yes, the only right name for this strange creature was Rabbit Dog. It was a rabbit dog.
“What the hell is that thing?” Thompson cries.
Keilix reaches back down and picks up the animal. “It’s a rabbit dog, I guess. Christ, I don’t know.”
“What are you doing with it?” I ask earnestly.
“I just have this need. I have to protect it. I found it hop-running down the street. It wasn’t scared, but it wanted to get away from something behind it. I’ve been running with it ever since.”
“Well, I suppose you’re giving the fans a good show.”
She shakes her head. “I’m not. I’ve not been broadcasting. Look at the drones.”
Both Thompson and I look up at all four drones and see that she’s right. They’re hovering obediently, but the blinking red light from the cameras are off.
“She’s giving off some kind of charge...or something that prevents video from recording.”
“Fascinating,” I say in my best Zachary Quinto impression while petting the rabbit dog.
Thompson is not being subtle about how impatient he is. “Are we gonna stand here all day, or are we gonna race?”
“Go on. We’ve already established that no one can stop you.”
“What is here doing here?” Keilix asks, trying to sound upset, but still enthralled by our new pet.
“Long story,” I answer.
“Hello?” Thompson says indignantly. “I’m still here. I don’t know where the finish line is.”
“Were you just go steal your paper map at some point,” Thompson explains.
I hastily pull the map out of my back pocket, letting it tear before handing it to him. “Here. Go nuts.”
Thompson snatches it from my hand and runs off in our original direction without yet looking at it.
“I have to get back in the race too,” Keilix says. “I’ll be disqualified if I can’t broadcast, but I can’t let this thing go. She needs my help.”
“I’ll take care of her,” I claim.
“Are you sure? I still don’t know what it’s running from.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say, taking the little animal in my arms. “I’ll just keep running. It’s what I do.”
“You’ll be disqualified instead.”
I start jogging away. “Who cares?” It’s true that I don’t care anymore. I can feel the weird effect the rabbit dog is having on my empathy, but I can’t stop it, because it’s making me not want to. It’s also making me worry deeply that someone is indeed after us, so I start running hard again. Click here for the next installment...

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