Saturday, August 20, 2016

Frenzy: On Your Marks (Part VI)

They made a series of movies years ago based on a trilogy of books. They’re about a post-apocalyptic future where wage disparity had grown so far out of proportion that the rich live in a city, and supposedly never need to work, while the poor live in filthy and dangerous districts. As I guess a sort of punishment for war, these rich people force the children of the poor to compete in a deadly contest every year. The Frenzy is nothing like that, but there’s a certain allure surrounding the competition reminiscent of that story. Certain members of the council have proposed changes to the Frenzy to make it more of an event. They wants kids to run out in front of an audience the day, or even days, before the actual race. They want us to introduce ourselves, and show off in small exhibitions. That would be more like those movies, and I would be okay with it. The only reason we don’t do it now is because we don’t really have anyone available to coordinate such a thing, but no one is adamantly against it.
For now, all we do is wave to the camera during rapid introductions before entering our vehicles that have been preprogrammed to drive us to our respective starting marks. The windows are at a zero percent tint level so we can’t see where we’re going. That usually doesn’t matter. Unless you end up in an expansive neighborhood, there will probably be a landmark or two that you recognize, even if you don’t make a point of studying.
Before you enter your car, you’ll be searched for all illegal enhancements. You’re allowed to wear agility bands of limited grade, take only certain kinds of performance enhancing pharmaceuticals, and wear precisely no navigational equipment. I usually only take one reflex booster and wear special shoes that give me extra bounce, but today I have nothing. My routine was thrown completely off when I almost died and ended up sleeping at someone else’s place. I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that I’ve already won this; the competition this year is not as, well...competitive as it used to be; and I was always going for this underprepared.
I’m usually in the car with at least three other people, but this time I’m riding solo. Others are sharing points, though. My phone was taken away from me, so I can’t communicate with someone I love to calm me down. Instead, I ask the car to play me some heavy metal. I never listen to this kind of music, but it’s fine in small doses, and it does a pretty good job of pumping me up. Even through it, I sit on the edge of my seat, then I try to sprawl out, and then I kind of stand up, but nothing is comfortable. I’m so nervous. I always am, but never like this. It should be easier since I’m not hyperfocused on winning, but maybe I’m just feeling a lot of pressure to represent my family. The council considered adding video feeds to the ride, so people can watch us get ready, but most felt it would ruin the moment. This is our time, our final period of privacy before literally our every move is witnessed, recorded, and dissected. Agent Nanny Cam has procured an impressive fleet of cameras that will broadcast to the world, and the future, my progress. It can be too much for some competitors. A few, mostly younger people, have buckled under the pressure of being broadcast. They end up quitting just before, or just after, the race begins.
I can hear the crowd cheer for me before I even open the door. We’re required to meet at Headquarters no less than two hours before start time. This allows time for the council to release the starting and ending locations to the local population while racers are sequestered. They want people to come and watch us get going, again encouraging exercise and economic participation. But they don’t know who they’re gonna find when the secret Frenzy car arrives at that location. So these people aren’t here for me specifically, they’ll be happy with anyone. They go wild when I step out. I’ve largely been avoiding the news cycle since I announced coming out of retirement. I didn’t do this on purpose, there just wasn’t time. What I do know, however, is that my volunteering to go back in when my brother couldn’t do it has been a not insignificant story. This is just another thing that’ll remind you of that book and movie series. It all started when the main character sacrificed herself so that her sister wouldn’t have to compete.
I shut the door with grace and adjust my suit like a celebrity getting out of a limousine at some world premiere. The crowd cheers, especially excited that they lucked out and got me instead of anyone else. It’s kind of an unwritten rule that you don’t ask for a racer’s autograph before the race, but there are always a few fanboys and girls who didn’t get memo. They scream and squeal, eagerly reaching out with notepads, and their own arms. I humor a few of them, but then move on so I can shake a few hands and kiss some babies. Just kidding, we don’t kiss babies. I’m not some kind of world leader. One hand takes hold and doesn’t let go. He’s strong, but I can’t quite tell who it is yet. Then my eyes land on the culprit.
“Pull me in,” he says to me. The police have a barricade to prevent anyone from getting through. It’s not like the Berlin Wall; if you wanted to get through, it wouldn’t be hard, but they would quickly force you back. I have an army of cops, bouncers, and security guards protecting me who are only leased out for this once a year.
I sigh. “I need to talk with him,” I say to a bouncer who I happen to have met before.
“Are you sure?” she asks me.
“He’s fine,” I answer. “He was DQ’d, but I know him. We just need to talk.”
“I’ll be right here,” she says as she’s cracking open the barrier to let Too Young Thompson, and Too Young Thompson only, squeeze through. He was the most vocally upset about being disqualified just for being too young for the weather.
“Come on,” I say, looking across the parking lot where I can see a rather small clock tower. There’s still plenty of time. The crowd boos as we walk towards the weird little pond garden sort of thing that’s right in front of my actual starting marker. “What are you doing here, Thompson?” I ask, hands on hips.
“I wanna run.”
“I get that, man,” I say, shaking my head. “You’ve been disqualified, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve seen a few other DQ’s in my day, all for different reasons. It’s true it’s never happened on this scale before, but absolutely no DQ decision has been overturned. Not once.
“This is public property, I can run if I want, and they can’t stop me,” Thompson claims.
I look around. “Yeah, this is a community college, so you’re fine here.” I look at the single paper map I was given by a council member I don’t know all that well who was assigned here. It tells me where I start, where I end, and a mapped out, marathon-length suggested route. It’s the same one Google Maps gives you if you tell it you’re walking, and you’re not a crazy person who plans on crawling through sewers. I won’t actually have to go the full marathon, because I’ll be cutting through neighborhoods which have all agreed to let me do this. Actually, the legality of that has always been questioned, it’s one step below going against the third amendment, but we’ve not had any serious law suits about it, with serious being the keyword here. “But I’ll be hopping people’s fences. If they find out a non-racer ran through their yards, and they will, they may not be so happy.”
“Fuck if I care.”
I look around, worried that someone heard that, then I pull him a little farther away from everybody. The crowd looks like they’re speculating about our conversation. The sportscasters probably are too. At this point, only a few cameras are shooting the action, but it’s basically background footage that they run during early commentary, and they keep their distance. “The council does. The city does.”
“Again, that’s not my problem. They should have known this would happen.”
“What? That a little baby would refuse to do what he’s told?”
“Screw you!” he volleys.
“This is exactly why they disqualified you. Generally speaking, kids under sixteen aren’t mature enough to handle a certain level of complication. The weather would be too hard on you, and you’re proving your immaturity by being here right now.”
“I’m gonna run,” he says without leaving room for questions.
“I can’t stop you.” I point to the table where drones are keeping charged in their cradles, and awaiting Agent Nanny Cam’s command to go off and watch. “But I promise you that they will find a way.”
“I’ll jump that bridge when I get to it.”
“They may ban you for life.”
He narrows his eyes. “Then I’ll burn the bridge.”
I’m right in that I can’t stop him, so I have no choice but to let it go. “Your funeral. Maybe literally.”
He turns his neck side to side and hops around a few times to get ready. Now it is almost time. A security guard comes up and fits me with my action cams. One goes on the chest, while the other goes on one of the legs and points downward. They call it the “foot cam” and it’s designed to pull viewers into the action. Uh...there’s a fetishist thing going on there, so there’s a special organizations of unrelated mothers trying to get them to get rid of that one, but they evidently struck out again this year.
Seven drones hover around us. One of them belongs to Agent Nanny Cam, and is just one of many in her fleet. More of those will show up intermittently. The other is a police drone armed with non-lethals. The city requires this drone to be with each racer at all times to protect us from the crazies. That’s just another reason why Too Young Thompson shouldn’t be here. He wasn’t assigned one of those, and I don’t know if he plans on sticking with me or not. The remaining drones belong to each of the major local news stations. They’re allowed at the starting points, and the finish lines, but aren’t permitted to follow the race itself. That honor is reserved for Agent Nanny Cam so City Frenzy can make a profit selling subscriptions and ad-supported feeds.
The news drones hold up little plastic levers they use to simulate raising one’s hand in a crowd. Reporters are allowed in the field, but drones and other technological developments have caused the profession to suffer on the whole. It’s much cheaper to just send one of these things out. I point to one of them. “Mr. Demir,” a voice begins. “Who’s your friend, and is he racing?”
I pause for dramatic effect while I’m shoring up my shoes. Then I look that drone right in it’s tiny little robot eye. “No comment.”
“Get there,” the security guard says.
Too Young Thompson follows me to the flag.
There’s that nightclub air horn that sounds three times in rapid succession. You know what I’m talking about? People often mimic it with their own voices when they think they’re DJs? Well, that goes off, and so do we.

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