Saturday, July 30, 2016

Frenzy: Child’s Play (Part III)

I was never much of a dancer in my youth, but I got more into it when I realized how beneficial it could be for my running form. They said that I should either do that or swimming as supplement, or even both. But absolutely not. I mean, I can swim. I wouldn’t drown if someone threw me in a pool, but I don’t like water. It’s...well, it’s too wet. I deal with it okay, and I even sometimes run in the rain on purpose in order to overcome my weaknesses, but I like it dry. And I like dancing. I know, could I be any more gay? Sometimes on the race, when I’m waiting for a traffic light to change—and yes, there are times when it’s too dangerous to cross, and illegal either way—I’ll dance for the cameras. I like to put on a show to generate viewers and revenue. It’s kind of my job, though it would be nice to get paid for it. The crazier the dance, the better, so I generally do the Wobbly Walk, the Donkey Roll, or The Creep.
At parties, however, I do disco dances, even though I’ve literally never heard a DJ or playlist master put on the right track. Whatever, I’ma do me. After a bit of hustle, I take a break and grab some water at the bar. Keilix has her elbows on the counter, watching Feingold and Tick Tock spar with some kind of martial art. I’ve never been much into fighting either. Unlike swimming, it’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t quite see the value in it for my purposes. Feingold and Tick Tock seem to enjoy it, though. “Come here often?” Keilix asks as a joke.
“Tomorrow’s gonna be weird.”
“I don’t think we’ll notice.” She takes a sip of her chocolate milk. Studies have determined that excessive amounts of milk don’t really help build stronger bones, which would be useful to Frenzy runners. Still, a dairy manufacturing company is one of our largest sponsors, for reasons of the myth, so we get free milk.
“Well, I know we won’t individually see fewer people on the battlegrounds, but the city’ll feel different. Fewer people will be watching, little children probably won’t be allowed to chase after us. All I’m saying is that it’ll be a very different kind of race this year.”
“Brave new world,” she replies melodramatically.
“You know what I mean.”
She affectionately taps her head on my shoulder. “Listen, I’m about to leave so I can study before a nap. I just wanted to tell you that I’m glad you’re here. I know I was giving you a hard time about registering late, but it wouldn’t be the same without you. We’re a team.”
“Thanks Keilix. And hey, next year your parents won’t be able to stop you from joining the Tracers, so we can keep running together.”
She exales a breathy laugh. “I’m going to college, Serkan. Probably out of the country.” She turns her hips to face me so I know to pay attention. “I’m not going to be in a gang. I’m gonna get an education, and I’m gonna move on from this.”
“You’re going to stop running?” That would be surprising.
“I’ll run in the mornings before class, and then before work, like any health-conscious individual, but this will be my last race.”
I massage my stubble. “But your feet keep the planet spinning.”
“You’ll just have to run twice as fast.” She wraps her arms around my neck and gives me a kiss on the cheek, and a wink. “Well, more like three times.”
I take one of her hands and plant a chivalrous kiss. “Keep in touch, just the same.”
“I will. One more thing before I leave. Braxton is about to ask you to run The Gauntlet.”
I turn back to watch the crowd and say, “shit” under my breath.
“You haven’t been to HQ lately, otherwise he would have asked you weeks ago, and you’d be safe today.”
I gesture towards Braxton with my hand as I’m talking about him, “he’s gonna beat me. The Gauntlet is the one thing I can’t do.”
“Well, he wants you to prove it.”
Braxton is the kind of guy who isn’t satisfied with being the best. He needs evidence of that, and he needs everyone to know it. He would rather lose then never know for sure. Fortunately for him, there’s almost no way he’s losing. The Gauntlet was installed two years ago, but I’ve always avoided running it in front of others. It’s a fantastically tough maze of obstacles that I just can’t wrap my brain around. Two-foot steps, three consecutive four-foot gaps, a winding rock wall, and a rope to a catwalk are some of the easier obstacles. It was constructed in a completely new gymnasium built as an extension to the original headquarters building. For now, it’s used exclusively for training purposes, but the council has plans to make it a performance venue so that smaller parkour events can be held throughout the year. They’re just trying to work out the legal issues now since no one really knows what that’s gonna do for the economy. It will certainly help, at least in the short run, but the local government is worried it will cause a loss of interest in city landmarks. Tourism was the main reason the race was founded, so if that was ruined, City Frenzy might lose all support.
Seeing me talk about him from across the room, Braxton literally runs over. “Are we doing this or not?”
I take a drink from my water. “Or not.”
“Get the hell in that room, bitch!”
“Your taunts aren’t gonna work on me, Braxton. I’m an adult.”
“Then what the hell are you doing here?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I know you need to get your ass in that gym and show me what you’re workin’ with.”
I laugh. “Oh, if that’s what you’re interested in, then I would be happy to oblige. But I would rather do it in a bed.”
“Please, you know what I mean! Bitch!”
“Call me bitch one more time and see if you get what you want.”
“Please, sir, Mister Serkan, sir,” he says more politely.
I pause for dramatic effect. “I don’t want you boasting and flipping around when you inevitably beat me.”
He slaps his hands together out of pure joy. “My man!”
“I’m serious, Braxton. You have to learn to be a gracious winner.”
“Yeah, man, I got you,” he says, but he’s distracted by his own excitement about the whole thing. “Yo, Tick Tock! Start that clock! Serkie and me are ‘bout to drop a rock!” Dropping a rock is a tracer idiom for running a course you’ve never done before. It refers to landing on a boulder you didn’t know was unstable, and it falls out from under you. Of course, we’ve both run the Gauntlet before; we’ve just never run it together. Braxton mainly wanted to show his rapping skills while he was at it, because he’s that kind of guy.
As Braxton moves off to gather a posse, Keilix throws out her empty milk carton. “Like I said, I gotta go. Make sure Agent Nanny Cam films live on her channel so I can watch in the car.” Agent Nanny Cam is a nineteen year old former racer who only ran the Frenzy once. She became so much more interested in the broadcast aspect that she quit so she could operate one of the drones. She moved up the ranks rather quickly and is now in charge of the whole broadcast department, managing all camera equipment, and directing the live presentation.
“Will do, love,” I promise her.
Braxton yells to me from the doorway as he’s filing everybody through. “What did I say about that ass?”
“I’m coming, I’m coming.”
By the time I make my way into the gym, everybody’s already sitting in the bleachers. Even the kids who are now too young for the Frenzy are in there. Agent Nanny Cam is nearby. “What’s going on?” I ask her.
“I knew you were going to agree to Braxton’s challenge,” she explains. “So I told all my subscribers that I would be going live soon. Some people came back to watch in person. Kind of makes me feel bad, really, like I couldn’t give them a good show online.”
“What have I gotten myself into?”
“Come on, dude, you’ll be fine. This is child’s play. I know you’ve never been happy with your results, but you run it better than you think. Your standards for yourself are just too high.”
“How would you know how I run it?”
“There are cameras all over the place. I’ve been able to see every time you’ve tried it.”
“And you never put it on your website?”
“Of course not.” She looked mildly insulted.
Braxton runs up again. “Let’s go, we’re burnin’ daylight!” Not only is he always running, but he’s always yelling too. In the end, he’s a pretty annoying person, and I should try to distance myself from him. I head for the starting point, but he stops me. “We’re starting at the back.”
“Are you crazy?” It might not seem weird to start a race from the other end, but some of the obstacles are designed to go one way. It’s possible to reverse them, but it makes it difficult. Not to mention the fact that the intended direction gives certain muscles in your body a break at certain times. Going backwards will force you to go hard at all times.
“I told you that we were droppin’ a rock. What, you thought I didn’t know what that meant; that I just wanted it to rhyme?”
“I’m not doing this.”
“That’s your choice.” He motions to the crowd as he turns his back. “I would be more worried about disappointing them if I were you.”
Agent Nanny Cam sidles up to me with her master controller. “We’re not live yet, I still have time to cancel the show.”
No, this is important, because a show is exactly what it is. I don’t have to win, I just have to try, and I have to make it interesting. “Let ‘em fly, Cambria.”
Minidrones shoot out of their nest and start flying around the room, each one looking for a good angle. She activates her shoutcaster microphone. “And we’re hot! Welcome to the First Annual Gauntlet Death Match. Our contestants today are Serkan Demir and Braxton Cosworthy...” I stop being able to hear her as I’m walking towards the finish line, and she’s pacing in the opposite direction.
The crowd cheers as Braxton puts his index fingers over his temples and slides his feet on the floor one by one, mimicking an angry bull with horns. Then they wait, because I’m supposed to do something too, so I harken back to earlier in the day, and present them with a few nice curtsies. They cheer even louder for me than for him.
“You win this round, Serkie.”
“Please stop calling me that.”
He ignores me and takes his action camera from Agent Nanny Cam’s cargo drone. I take mine as he’s fitting it around his chest. “I’m ready.”
“Same,” I say.
The buzzer goes off and we’re gone.

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