Saturday, August 6, 2016

Frenzy: The Night Before (Part IV)

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

I immediately regret not taking time to put on my uniform. It’s made of a special material that partially protects from hard falls and crashes, and also beads water. We both reach the balance beam at the same time. Unlike in the Frenzy, you can’t just find the fastest way through the course. When you’re doing the Gauntlet, you have to do everything, and only one person can be on the beam at a time. Theoretically one could get on behind the other, but it bends and wobbles enough with only one person. Braxton shoves his shoulder against mine and lets me fall into the Pit of Lava. No, there isn’t any actual lava, but it is filled with a slimy goop of some kind that’s colored a reddish orange. It’s like a golf course sand trap; extremely difficult to get back out of. It does dissolve quickly in water, and there is a showerhead nearby for this reason. Normally that would be perfectly fine, because it’s near the end of the course, but since we’re going the wrong way, I have no choice but to run the whole thing wet. Have I told you how much I hate water?
I take off my shirt and shoes, because at this point, that’s the only way to continue. I can hear the cheering again, along with several cat calls. Nudity never bothers me, but I try to be careful about making others uncomfortable. I throw my clothes behind me as I’m getting back in the race. Here’s one thing Braxton probably didn’t know. There’s a sweet spot on the beam where, if you hit it just right, it’ll bend just enough so that it can propel you forwards and land you safely on the other side. This works going the right way, and I take a chance that it does backwards, and am rewarded for it. There is an uproar in enthusiasm as I stick the landing and quickly move on.
The next obstacle is a halfpipe with a very specific route between posts. You can run through it incorrectly, but then an alarm is going to ring out nonstop until you go back and correct yourself. Again, apparently everything is fine going backwards. The trick is staying balanced on a curve without holding onto the posts, unless that is, you like being mildly tased. I’ve finally caught up to Braxton after getting through the halfpipe. He’s having trouble getting up to the catwalk. You’re supposed to climb up a rope, and then jump down a series of platforms, finally ending up back at the bottom by dropping into a pit of foam. He’s still trying to figure out how to shimmy up the wall, which is not part of the course. “Betcha wish you weren’t so muscular now, huh?”
Braxton is strong but heavy, which can be an asset, but something like this requires agility and nimble dance moves. With this I have the advantage. I hop back and forth between two load bearing columns against the wall and make it to the first platform with relative ease. From there I jump to the next platform and pull myself up. The Dark Knight ain’t got nothin’ on me, risen or not. I race down the catwalk and slide down the rope. It burns my hands, but I can’t think about that now. I’ve just realized that I actually have a chance of winning, and I can’t let that go to waste.
Behind me I hear a scream. Braxton finally managed to get up to the first platform, but he’s stuck on the second. He’s just hanging there by his hands, unable to lift his own weight high enough to reach safety. The crowd is shocked but unmoving. The bystander effect is preventing anyone from running out to rescue him. Where are the adults? Each one thinks that someone else will do it. He’s my opponent, which makes him my responsibility. I have to get back over to him, but it would take too long to climb back up to the catwalk, and they built a canyon under it that’s far too wide to jump over. There’s only one way, and it’s insane. This could kill me, seriously. While holding onto the rope, I run in his general direction, but not quite towards him. It’s just long enough to reach the edge of the floor. I start running on the wall itself, following the swing radius of the rope. Is this going to work, or am I going to die? The radius pulls me away from the wall and I have to start hopping across posts, poles, bars, and other obstacles intended for completely different purposes. But I’m able to keep going. There’s always something close enough to hold my growing momentum.
Finally I’ve reached critical mass and have to throw myself forwards through the swing so that it will direct me to the other side of the canyon. My heart races, not only to keep oxygen to my brain, but because remember that part where I could die? The room is completely silent as I continue through my side swing. I don’t make it to the second platform, which was my target. Hell, I would have even taken the lower platform. No, my body smashes into the wall and I fall to the floor. The shock of what I had just done presumably causes Braxton to lose his grip. Now normally he might die from a fall this high, but I’m there to break it for him, and we both somehow survive.
“Are you okay?” he asks as we’re struggling to get to our feet.
“I’m not dead at least,” I answer.
He can’t put any weight on his right leg, and I’m in some pain myself. “Betcha wish I weren’t so muscular now, huh?” He asks rhetorically.
I laugh, but the pain is growing by the moment
Finally the audience runs down to tend to us. Andrews and Rutherford push their way through the horde of racers and take over the situation. “Let’s get them to medical,” Andrews says.

I don’t spend long in the medical bay before my mother comes to pick me up. She spends the whole ride back home scolding me for what I did, saying that Braxton’s problem was the result of his own choices, and that I shouldn’t have risked my life for him. “I mean, you could have run around the canyon to get to him.”
“That would have taken too long. You wouldn’t understand, you haven’t seen the Gauntlet.”
“Oh, I understand. I saw the whole thing on Miss Linton’s video feeds.”
“You were watching me?”
“What, you thought your mother wasn’t hip enough to watch that sort of thing? I was one of Agent Nanny Cam’s first subscribers, even before you were a Frenzy runner.”
“I just...I’m sorry, I was just trying to help.”
“I know, and God knows nobody else was doing anything. But you know how much we hate when you leap across buildings. You do it for your city, and we can appreciate that sort of dedication. Running the Gauntlet in reverse came out of nothing but pride, from the both of you.”
“Yes, mother.”
“Okay, well we’ll probably talk more about your behavior next week, but for the rest of the day, you need to study and rest.”
“I still need to do a dry run.”
“The Gauntlet will just have to be your dry run.”
“Mom!” I complain. “That’s not the same thing!”
“You should have thought about that before.”
“You were the who wanted me to register for this race. I wasn’t even gonna do it!”
“Oh, don’t put that on me. I know you better than you know yourself, and you wanted it more than anything. You just needed someone to push you so you didn’t have to take responsibility for your own guilty pleasures.”
“That’s not it at all.” No, that was pretty much spot on.
“I’m not having this conversation.” They were back home. “Go to your room, study the map, and go to sleep.”
“What about dinner?”
“No dinner, I’m starving you.”
I stomp down the hallway.
“And no going to the bathroom either!”
I slam the door.
“And stop breathing!”
I forego the studying and go to bed extremely early instead. The only time I’ll be able to get to the city is if I sneak out at night when my family’s asleep. Alim catches me slipping out the back door, but he lets me go because he gets it. I grab my bicycle from the porch because it’s quieter than opening the garage, and I need the warm-up anyway. It’s mighty cold outside, and clouds are once again threatening rain. As late as it is, there’s still a not insignificant amount of traffic. I would normally weave in and out of it as part of practice, but more and more cars are adapting to it in a way that makes things even more dangerous. You can’t teach a driverless car that I know what I’m doing.
I reach downtown and lock my bike up on the corner. I look at it this way, if I had a school test tomorrow, and I hadn’t been studying, then I would need to take some risks in order to compensate. They say that cramming isn’t all that helpful, but when it’s all you have, it’s what you accept. So I take out a special pair of electronic training goggles. One of Andrews’ competitors built the prototypes this year, and wanted the Frenzy kids to test them out, but the council would have none of it. Still, a few of us managed to steal them, so we could try them out.
They were supposed to be for training purposes only, because these kinds of modifications are against the bylaws, but the adults don’t think they should be used at all. The screen is a special kind of augmented reality called controlled reality. Instead of enhancing your vision, it hinders it. This is supposed to teach you to move around the world without seeing where you’re going too well. It’s been programmed to delete potential hazards, replacing them with what the program thinks it looks like behind it. If you don’t use your instincts, and your other senses, you could just run into it. If you think this all sounds dangerous, then you would be entirely correct, and probably now understand why it was banned by the council. There’s bravery, and then there’s stupidity.
In the darkness, it’s even worse. I can make out the outlines of the buildings and other objects around me, but I’m having trouble pinpointing their location. Either it’s designed to flicker like that to keep me guessing, or it just has rendering bugs. I take a deep breath and start my dry run, or rather I start a wet run. As I knew it would, it’s raining. No, it’s pouring, and I just know that this will not end well. I start by springing myself off of a first floor window sill and reaching out for a fire escape ladder. The second to the bottom rung appears to be in my hand, but then the goggles flicker and show me that I’m about a centimeter short. I have to think quickly, so I open my fist again and try to take hold of the bottom rung; also known as my last chance. I make it, barely. But that rain, though. I swing forward once, then backwards, then forwards again. With this, I lose my grip and fall down for the third time today, this time to my back. That’s all I remember. Click here for the next installment...

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