short stories collection - a compilation of my short stories.
I bobbed my head up and down, the music reaching a crescendo. My arms lay stretched out in front of me and I did a few punching motions. Rotating my head, I look to my left and right then down at my feet. My laces were undone. And the clock was ticking. 3. I gazed into the distance, where the crowd had gathered. Whooping and yelping, they were in a ravenous mood today. This was to be the big race. Not the championship. The Championship.
How would you respond to a simulated race gone awry?
This short was written with a slightly different goal in mind besides just telling a tale. I basically sat down and speed-wrote the entire story in two sittings in an effort to get the main elements and essence before being weighed down with niceties. In addition, closing my eyes while writing allowed a more unscripted exploration of the universe. I've done this for some stories posted here, but going to do it more often, especially for first drafts. This one is presented in a more raw format. This universe has some promise and was fun to write about; a follow-up is in the works...
BEGIN LIVE FEED.
I bobbed my head up and down, the music reaching a crescendo. My arms lay stretched out in front of me and I did a few punching motions. Rotating my head, I look to my left and right then down at my feet. My laces were undone. And the clock was ticking. 3. I gazed into the distance, where the crowd had gathered. Whooping and yelping, they were in a ravenous mood today. This was to be the big race. Not the championship. The Championship. Few ever got to this stage. 2. Nary a dozen had tried in the last decade, of the tens of thousands of racers. They had all given up, all broken under the weight of it all. The game did that to you. It sucked you in with its allure, glitz, and glamor. Many mediocre racers enjoying celebrity status back home or a least got some chicks at a bar to come home with them. 1. My laces were almost perfect; I looked to my left and saw Array fixing up his elbow pads. His face was like stone, as usually. He took these races way to seriously. To my right bitch-queen, known by name as Jinji, was doing her thing, always adjusting her skin-tight outfit. Her breasts were prominently displayed with a Rickon logo emblazoned on both nipples. She was pretty alright, but...BEGIN!
Without thinking, I dug my heals into the ground and launched forward. I was a little slow off the mark and Jinji had already taken a massive lead. In these races, seconds counted for minutes and minutes for days. But I had won last year. I knew the course and what it did to your body and mind. Array was a circuit amateur-cum-pro who'd spent most his time on the rigged together tracks of the outer colonies. Those were pussy-shit, only showing that someone was athletic enough to get off the couch. I wasn't having that; I wasn't losing to some half-breed. Then there was not-as-sexy-as-she-thinks Jinji. I wouldn't mind playing with her for a night, but she was a class A bitch-queen. Dominating, soulless, and dimwitted: she exhibited all the qualities of a female from the inner sectors. They all thought they were hot stuff because they still had blond hair. And green eyes. Either-way, she was only here because the marketing department needed to get horny males to watch. They both continued to edge away from me.
"And we see Array making a daring move down the stretch. If Michelangelo could SimRun, he would run like this guy. Look at those arm movement, the speed, the raw power. It seems the best his competitor can do is..."
"Now hold on Davis, we all know about this course. That initial lead means squat around here..."
"Did you just interrupt me? I was in the middle of a great..."
I touched my hand to my ear and shut off the chatter. The commentators seemed to get worse every year and there was nothing I could do about it. One year they had brought in this mutt from the outer sectors, some wise guy who had convinced the owners that he know how to get a crowd going, but he was playing them for a fool. Worst SimRun championship ever, probably coupled by the fact that I lost that year. In either case, the real part of the course was coming up and I slowed down a bit. To better admire the mistakes of my fellow racers.
As I took a step forward, a tube formed around me and extended in both directions. For a split second I was unnerved, this hadn't happened in my many years on the circuit. Not once. I had become a bit placid, used to the previous years tricks. There was very little they could do now, given the past hundred year history of the sport. I had studied it all: the very old history, current trends, and predicted future events. You could almost say that I knew what the tournament directors would do before they even got to the planning stages. But this was a bit...different. I reached over and touched the glass that surrounded me. It felt real enough. I leaned down and rush a nearby wall and ended up flat on my butt, my shoulder suddenly very sore. I touched my earpiece.
"It seems the directors decided to try something new this year! Look at Gui's face, he looks absolutely shocked!" I could hear the announcers making fun of me. I looked around, but nothing quite made sense. I felt a slight falling sensation and then suddenly the world went completely black. A moment later all I could see were stars. Left, right, up, down–there was nothing but small white dots on black ink. And my earpiece had cut out.
"Hello!?" I screamed and pounded on the glass walls once more, then thought better of it. They might have actually transported us to space for this race. That would be new. Sitting down, I took several deep breaths and closed my eyes. It was best to reflect a bit before going on. They expected me to panic, to flounder when challenged with a completely new scenario. But I was better than that...
Several years ago, I stood in the same spot. My laces were tied, my suit hugged my skin just a little bit tighter and no bitch-queen jiggled her breasts for the crowd's enjoyment. No, this was a different level. Justin sat to my right, his body a prefect reflect of a modern Buddha. To my left was Ujan, poised and ready to go. He was a good two feet taller than me or Justin and his muscles rippled as he flexed. The clock above had begun to count down.
"Yo, Ujan, how much do you want to lose by this time?" I brazenly called out while doing a little stretching motion. His face hardened even more, if that was possible. He was slightly tan and his bald head bore a tattoo he had gotten after winning the inner sector's championship. A little vain, but that was Ujan.
"Hmmmpf," was the extend of the response I got. But I wasn't quite done yet.
"Yo, Ujan. I heard your sister is bangin' that music artist who thinks he's hot shit in the outer rim. Someone said he's got two man parts..." I trailed off as he turned my direction, his eyes narrowing. But this was too good to stop now. "You know, penises. She probably likes that, one in each hole..."
"Stop," was all he said as he started to edge forward. I backed off a little as I smelt a smidgen of bloodlust waft through the air. Wasn't quite...GO! a voice bellowed out with the crowd erupting into a frenzy.
I planted me feet then dashed ahead, the soles of my feet barely touching the ground as the crow roared. It was lovely, the lights were flashing as a million photos went off. My timing was impeccable, my form timeless, and the look on Ujan's face priceless. Justin had begun to move, which was a bad sign this early. He usually gave opponents several minutes before throughly crushing their dreams and aspirations. But maybe he actually feared losing to me. Or just wanted to put me in my place.
"GO! GO! GO!" I could hear the crowd urge me on and I responded in kind. My shoes began to glow and I was about ready to enter mode-hyper when the field suddenly changed. We went from a scorched desert to a rain-soaked icy tundra. Ahead of me was a mountain that stretched to the sky. Its red form in stark contrast to the blues and whites surrounding me. I reached down and felt the solid ground below me. Still a simulation. Looking back, I could see Justin flexing and Urjan sprinting to catch up to me. I slowed down a bit, took a couple steps then bounded forward at twice the speed I had before.
"And there goes Gui, his signature red and black shoes on display. He has been the rising star of rising stars. The George Washington among mortal men. There is no telling where his story will lead next, but we know one thing: this is his moment," the announcer roared as I dug my foot into the ground even harder. My lungs were going crazy and I could feel my heart attempting to burst from my chest. Luckily this was a shorter course this year. Plowing through the snow, I reached the base of the mountain in now time and felt the ground below me start to curve upward; they decided to actually install a real mountain this year. Nice, even worse for Ujan. Looking over my shoulder, I could see neither of them.
"And what do we have here, Ujan and Justin are duking it out at the base of the mountain with Gui set to decimate the record time!" another announcer said as I squinted to my left and right. Seeing nothing, I started to climb up the mountain at a brisk pace. This was probably more like a massive cliff, they would surely install a plateau to make the race longer. As I scaled the mountain, it began to shift and warp. I looked behind me and saw the world falling away.
"What twist do we have here folks? Is this the long-awaited 'surprise' the directors have been hyping? It seems like the ground is falling into a dark, deep abyss. That fall would surely KILL any contestants. Could this be the FIRST tournament with no winners?!"
I smiled a little and turned around. They hadn't really thought this through. They
BOOM! An explosion rocked me from my recollection. From the next couple hours of pain that had shaped my style for the rest of my career. That championship had left a lasting impression, and not only because I was the only one to finish. No, it was the first when they stopped doing pure simulation and started adding in props, real-world objects and a variety of other obstacles. But that's all they had been, annoying little obstacles. But this was...different.
BOOOMMM! Another explosion shook the tunnel and I looked around, trying to find the source of the disturbance. In the dim distance, I could make out a orange glow that appeared to be getting larger. They might have also changed the rule on there being winners, in which case I was a sitting duck about to be roasted. I tried to power up my shoes, but they failed to turn on. Kneeling down, I took a couple deep breaths, planted my hands into the ground and got into a crouching position. If they didn't charge up in this position, this was about to get to a whole new level of annoying.
"It seems one of our contestants forgot the new rule, NO TECHNOLOGY! This will be a pure race, an endless race, a glorious race!" the announcer bellowed with a hint of Nazi-esque fanaticism coating the last line. The other announcer seemed to have quieted and this man's voice seemed to be changing with each passing announcement. A slightly ominous tone was entering his pronouncements, as if he was lusting for something...
I got up and took another couple breaths then looked around me once more and saw a new arena. We were still in 'space' or wherever the hell they'd transported us to. But now there was a maze of glass tunnels. Several miles in the distance I could see Jinji sprinting down one corridor with Array hot on her heals. There was a desperation to her movements, a jerkiness that meant a survival run, not a race. And Array looked to be chasing her, not to pass her, but to overrun her. I couldn't see his face, but I'm guessing a hint of testosterone and bloodlust were mixed into one.
Looking behind me, I could make out the orange glow racing my way. No better time to get a move on it. I planted one foot in front of the other and was soon off to the races. No sooner had I reached full speed that I lost my footing and started to slide in the opposite direction of the orange glow. As if I was falling down. Then suddenly the space outside started to develop crystals and the stars that filled the background crept into the foreground and began to expand. This was lunacy.
"And now, for a world of fire!" the announcer said, his voice booming. Then with a barely audibly whisper, his voice hissing. "And iceeeeee."
Pure, unequaled ridiculousness. We were all wearing the equivalent of latex suits with very little insulation, we would all freeze. "Who will race to the exit of this stage before they all die of hypothermia!?" the announcer kindly noted.
I continued to plummet downward with no end in sight. I was gaining speed rapidly, too rapidly. Below me was a wall of white that could only mean a solid block of ice. I looked around me, desperate for a way out. There was nothing but smooth ice, freezing water, and glass surrounding me. This was a shitty way to die. Then a cheap idea came to me. I dug my feet into the smooth surface and waited a bit as the friction heated up my shoes. I then jumped to the opposite side of the tunnel and slide down for a bit, my shoes becoming even hotter. I continued to jump back and forth between sides of the tunnel until my descent started to slow, but not quickly enough. I needed an out...
Suddenly, a blast of water and brine hit me in the face and my body was wracked against the opposing wall. The sides of the tunnel were collapsing and I realized that we had never quite been in space, only miles underwater. Clever...cheap, but clever. However, that meant that the situation went from instakill via vacuum to die a slow, painful death by drowning. Not very preferable. They also couldn't really transport us out of this situation. Water started to pour in from above, all the areas were I had bounded back and forth had weakened the walls. The whole things was starting to collapse.
"It seems were are about the witness the first suicide in SimRun history! Folks, it doesn't get much more exciting than this!" the announcer shrieked, putting unnecessary emphasizes on certain words. I'll have to choke him if I make it out of this alive.
I continued to drift downward, but the tunnel was rapidly filling with water and after several seconds of falling, I hit a pool of liquid that had developed below me. Convenient, if I could just stay out of the way of the several waterfalls attempting to drown me, I could just float my way out of this...then I remembered the fucking fireball. Who had the brilliant idea of adding lava to this? Looking up, the orange glow had suddenly made it presence very, very known. The water around me started to heat up and it became apparent that I was about to be party to a little episode between water and fire. Not an event I was privy to join, I took a long breath and dived down into the abyss below, running my hand along the sides of the glass tunnel, searching for a place were the wall had ruptured. The space around me continued to fill with orange-red light and the water around me started to bubble.
HELP! HELP! Off in the distance, I could hear gurgling and a few desperate pleas. I knew immediately it was Jinji, but she wasn't really a priority at the moment. Maybe Array was raping or killing her, either way, she had it coming with her skimpy attire and bitch-queen attitude. Help! help! help... the voice started to trail off and the sound of a struggle could be hear closing in on me. I found an edge and wiggled through, cutting myself at several places in the process. As I swam away, I turned around briefly to see fire and water engage themselves in a length game of tug-of-war. It was pretty, in its own explosive way.
But my oxygen supply was running out, I'd trained awhile to tackle the possibility of swimming portions of a race, but I had a certain hatred of water. Abhor might not even cover the rage being underwater filled me with. It put me out of my element, nullified my abilities, and strained my senses. I looked up and could see a sliver of light. This would be possible. I might pass out before I reached the surface, but this was definitely a water/brine mix, I was floating upward with little effort. I started to swim up, but then remembered that would just waste all my oxygen. So I went against every instinct and floated, slowly but surely toward the surface. Half-way up, I passed out...
Not sure how long I had been out, but the air above me was filled with dust and smoke. I splashed about frantically for a second before calming down. Looking around, I spotted a structure out in the distance. Peering harder, I realized it was a audaciously large mangrove. Its roots were the size of skyscrapers, elevating the tree above the surrounding ocean like classic pneumatophores. And its trunk pierced the heavens. I could barely make out its canopy. Besides its absurd size, it also had an equally bizarre color. The roots and trunk were bright red with hits of black flecked here and there. The barely visible leaves were a shimmering gold with silver running along the edges. And it pulsated. I don't know quite how to describe it, but it pulsated. As if it had a heart. Well, it was pretty obvious were they wanted us to go.
As I swam toward the tree, a body floated by me. I looked over and recognized Array, his throat slit from ear to ear. I gave a muffled yelp and pushed it away from me. That could only mean Jinji was still alive and kicking. And suddenly an all to real threat. I spun about to quickly make sure I wasn't she wasn't sneaking up on me. Looked all clear. I started to begin swimming toward the tree again...
THWACK! A moment later, I was underwater and thrashing. My head throbbed and my hand was bleeding profusely. THWACK! Another blow dazed me and I started to lose consciousness. I waved my arms around wildly, but underwater and in this all-too-viscous solution, my efforts were greatly slowed. The assault stopped and after a few moments, I floated back to the surface. In the distance I could see a form gliding rapidly toward the tree. Fuck that bitch, her massive breasts unmistakable even at this distance. I started to swim but quickly lost my way and had to wait a bit as my head recovered from the savage attack. Around me was a pool of blood and my hand had several lacerations. Where she had gotten such a weapon, I don't know, but I desperately needed to be back on solid footing. I began again at a slower pace, knowing that at any moment the world around me could change.
Some indescribable amount of time later, I finally reached the tree and carefully prodded the red surface. It hadn't seemed to ominous from far away, but now that I was up close, I could see the red color was just a shell, a living, beating moss-like covering that oozed red slime. The tree itself looked to be made of obsidian. I grabbed a chunk of the red ooze and pulled myself up the nearest root. It seemed pretty strong and I grabbed another chunk a foot above me and started to climb. The cuts in my hand were well salted on the way over; the pain that this red ooze presented was minuscule in comparison to that. As I began my ascent, I noticed what seemed like a kilometer up, another figure attempting the same audacious feat as I was about to embark on. No doubt this would rapidly become an unsustainable venture. The tree was at least twenty kilometers up. There was no way we would have the stamina for that. And to make things worse, there seemed to be a six kilometer stretch of trunk between the highest root and lowest branch. Places to rest would approach nil in that region. There must be a different way.
I continued to climb and every once in awhile would knock at the tree's skin where it presented itself. Parts of it seemed hollow and I finally decided to test out this observation. Several minutes later I came across a root that had a massive section of skin exposed and was relatively flat. Walking over, I jumped as high as I could and stomped down on the exposed surface. It gave...a little. Again and again and again I jumped and slammed down until finally it gave way and I crashed through to the inside. I had the luck of picking one of the smaller roots, but I still fell a good ten meters before smashing into the ground below. Light filtered in from above and illuminated the space around me. It was hollow indeed and looked to have been occupied previously. This was just getting better and better.
"Woah, woah, woah, what do we have here folks?" the announcer cut in, his continued descent from benign idiot to malicious, sarcastic overlord all the more evident with each passing word. "It seems one of our contestants," apparently we were no longer racing. "Has figured out a key to this riddle! But what of the fair lady who attacked him earlier. How will she fair? Can she possibly scale the eight kilometers to the nearest branch? What adventures will our protagonist, the pompous, arrogant Gui, have on his way up the tree of death!? Stay tuned!" he screamed and I could imagine him curling his fist into a ball and slamming it down onto the table, the veins on his neck pulsing.
He continued to blare stupid remarks and I tunned them out as I began to explore the massive cavern ahead of me. Tree of death? That was probably just one of his crowd pleasing remarks. We'd already lost Array to the disgusting and unnecessary brutality of Jinji. And in her stupidity and arrogance, she was attempting to scale several kilometers without support. That ruled her out from this
race contest. No doubt they would then try to prevent my death. Right?
As I moved away from my entrance point, the light grew dimmer and I was soon surrounded by shadows. I pulled a tiny flashlight from my shoes and flicked it on. It barely illuminated the space above me, let alone the vast expanse that stretched out before me. I needed to get to the base of the trunk, quickly. A brisk walked turned into a jog and I was soon on my way. Rounding one corner, I jumped back several feet as a corpse swung from the ceiling above. What the fuck? This course had never been used to my knowledge...
"Gui has discovered a past contestant! Look at the confusion and fear written all over his face, doesn't that make you-all feel alive!? This is what the best races are made of. Excitement, death, glory, wonder. Can I get a cheer for our contestants?" a muffled, but long, roar could be hear emitting from the announcers microphone. "I like the energy! Now let's see if the contestants can return the crowd's enthusiasm for this spectacle of spectacles!"
I pushed the body out of the way and started to spring up a nearby passage, it had a gently slope that quickly turned into a vertical accent. I shoved the light into my mouth and grabbed onto small hand-holds that presented themselves here and there. As I began to ascend, I heard a shriek behind me and turned around expecting Jinji. But my blood ran dry when I saw a small puppy looking up at me from the darkness below. Cute things in strange places does that. I could see its bright blue eyes and shimmering black fur, despite the fact that my dim light was pointed in the opposite direction. It glowed. The fucking black fur seemed to emit light. It was a deeper black than the surrounding dark, yet it seemed lighter. Fuck.
The puppy continued to shriek but didn't move. The noise it made didn't correlate with its tiny body and then I saw it. Another puppy, a little further back, but slowly making its way forward. And then another. And another. A whole fucking brigade of blue-eye, black-furred shimmering puppies. This was madness. What the hell was the place?
"And crowd, meet the puppies we've spent years engineering for maximum cuteness...and deadliness! These little buggers will..." I tunned him out once more. I didn't want to know what these little beast were capable of. But I was safely fifty meters above the cavern floor, so I was presumably safe. One of them started to walk toward the vertical section I was scaling and pawed at the wall then let out a muffled mew. I laughed, an awful, slightly crazed laugh. And then the beast seemed to finally take note of me and its eyes went from puppy-cute blue and wide to demon-red and narrow as slits. It growled and all the rest off the puppies followed suit. The sudden transition caught me by surprise, but not as much as the sudden display of claws. The puppy scratched the surface several times then dug its claws into the obsidian and began to scale the wall. Fuck my life.
I started to scale as fast as possible. Rocks fell down as I grabbed at loose outcrops several times. One or two of the rocks were large enough to knock down one of the puppies, but there were hundreds more to replace it. They continued to claw at the surface, the combined sound tearing at my ears and rocking my teeth to the nerves. One hand in front of the other, I continued, sweat dribbling down my brow and blood running along my arms. Several times I could feel my fingers give, not from lack of effort. I hadn't eaten in who knows how long and I'd been in GO mode for a good part of the entire time. Nevertheless, I pushed on.
The puppies continued to gain on me, but up ahead I could see a ledge. As I crawled the last couple of feet, one of the puppies finally got to me and nibbled at my heel. Trying to shake it off proved too risky and I let it slowly destroy my leg as I made the final ascent. Dragging myself over the edge, I turned around and smashed the puppies head again the ledge. It split wide open and brown goo oozed out and slid down my shoe, melting it.
"The fuck!?" I screamed and tore off my shoe, throwing it over the edge. The remaining goo started to eat away at the ground, burning large holes wherever it landed. Awesome, acidic blood. I peeked over the edge and saw the horde approaching. Without thinking I stamped on the ground near the edge and cracks started to form. Just as the first wave got over the edge, the whole thing gave way and went crashing down. Scrapping and bumping against the wall, the gathering storm of debris flattened everything in its path. That should stop those fuckers for now.
Looking around, I saw a slow, stepped incline leading up the trunk. Gazing upward with my light, I could only make out the first tens of meters before the darkness took hold again. At least I had a passage up. As I began to climb, my foot throbbed from the puppy bite and ensuing acid attack. But the fear of facing those red-eyed monsters was several orders of magnitude greater than the pain and I pushed on.
Several hours into my accent, I could hear the shrieks echoing from down below, but here and there I would stamp at the stairs behind me, initiating an avalanche of loose obsidian to crash below. It would stop the yelps for a time, but just as soon they were back. I couldn't see or smell them, but the bloodlust was there. What did those things eat? There couldn't be that many contestants, right? I would have heard of this show by now.
As I continued ascending, I saw a bright light piercing the darkness up ahead. It didn't feel like I'd gone several kilometers up, so it was likely something had pierced the tree's trunk. After the shit I'd been through today, I wouldn't surprised if it was a armored harpy with fire arrows. I turned off my light, hunched over to all fours, and like a ninja, approached the opening. There was no sign of the abnormal, but as I neared I heard a rustle up ahead.
"Go away! GO AWAY!" I heard and a piece of obsidian flew past me and crashed down into the abyss. "You should be dead! Why are you here?! Leave me alone."
I finally made out the voluptuous form several meters ahead of me. Her outfit was torn all over, I'm sure the crowd loved that, and her face was scared here and there. But overall, she still looked like the bitch-queen Jinji that I'd come to hate.
"Realized how idiotic your idea was? I should probably just toss you over the edge after the handicap you gave me," I said all too casually, edging closer. Her eyes grew wide and a slight frenzy overcame her. She lunged at me, no doubt hoping to implement my plan on me, but I had anticipated that. At the last moment, I twirled out of the way, grabbed her hand and slammed the palm of my other hand between her shoulder blades. She went down hard.
"Get off...oh god, your going to rape me on live television. Aren't you!? You'd like that, put me in my place. Go ahead and try, you'll end up like Array..." I smacked her hard in the face at the mention of Array.
"Shut the fuck up bitch, I don't want any part of your STD infested vagina. Either you're going to listen or I'm going to throw you off this edge and the puppies can have their way with you," I said and threw a pebble off the edge and let the sound of it disappear before continuing, staring her in the face the entire time. "And I guarantee you, those things will do more than violate your nasty private parts."
She shut up at that, I think she saw the slight fear that entered my eyes when I mentioned the puppies. No doubt she hadn't encountered them yet. Killing her would be satisfying, but she was better as live bait than dead bait. So I needed her alive, at least until I figured out how to finish this goddamn race. I got off her and walked toward the opening in the trunk, peeked my head out and looked up and down. We were about three-fourths of the way up, pretty fucking impressive for a bitch-queen.
"So here's how we're going to do things. I'll lead and you trail. If any puppies appear, you kick them off the edge then break off that section of staircase," I began to say then forgot, bitch-queen didn't know what puppies were. "The puppies look like puppies," I said, making a gesture outlining a puppy. "You know, those disgusting furry creatures from the old movies. But these ones have blue-eyes, if they haven't seen you, or red-eyes, if they have. Their fur is black, but it glows," she gave me a blank stare and her eyes started to narrow. "...you'll know what the fuck one is when you see one..."
"Why the hell should I do anything..."
I smacked her across the cheek once, then twice and a third time for good measure. "Should I just kill you now or do you want a fucking chance to live? You cut my fucking hands! And bashed me over the head. Consider me an angel for not gutting you right now and feeding you to those ravenous puppies," my voice harbored no room for discussion. I was growing weary with her and a small voice in my head was just saying to end her now.
"Stop hitting me! We're on live..."
I hit her once more. "Yes, we're on live TV. And maybe I should strip you out of those clothes and make you walk naked the rest of the way. That'd sure boost ratings for all those perverts you know whack off to you every day."
A tear rolled down her face and she began to sob, first it little fits then with great heaving motions. This went on for a couple minutes then she looked at me with a level of hatred I hadn't known existed.
"I'm going to cut your fucking eyes out and dump acid into the sockets when we're done here. Then I'll cut your..."
"Shut up, either you follow my plan or I kill you here and now. Yes or no? You're wasting my time," I said and edged closer to her once more. She backed off.
"Get away from me! I'll follow your fucking plan!" she said, a hint of desperation and weakness in her voice was all I needed to know that she was putting on an elaborate show. That calmed me more than anything else that'd happened today. This part, at least, was going to be easy.
"Okay, take flank, it looks to be getting dark outside and I want to finish this thing before that happens," I said and began to climb. She grumbled something but I was past listening to her quips.
We climbed for several more hours without much incident. She had finally stopped talking after I'd pushed her over the edge a couple times, only to catch her at the last second. The show I'd predicted she was putting on came to fruition and she became rather meek by the time we reached the lower branches. There was no real indication of what we were supposed to find or accomplish. I kicked a hole in a nearby and a little light streamed in. It was getting dark and I knew that would mean death. My light was running low and the gash that puppy had left in my leg prevented me from running and recharging it. Jinji was as useless as I had anticipated and she carried nothing survival worthy on her.
"Okay, so here's the plan, it seems that we only ascended one, small vessel of this stupid tree. Blocking that path doesn't seem like it would..."
"You want to wait?" she shrieked, terror laced across every word.
"Will you shut up!? I haven't finished, Jesus. The plan is to continue walking throughout the night. I can slowly recharge my light and we can feel our way up the tree without light for a time."
"That's a stupid idea. Those puppies will catch us."
"Then I'll break your kneecaps and let you fight them while I run," I said, my voice lacking the sarcasm I intended. Her eyes went wide again and I feared she would start her bawling again. "I was joking, good lord, what's wrong with you?"
"Ten points to Gui for having a sense of humour in these trying times!" I nearly jumped out of my skin as the announcer's voiced blared over the intercom. "The night grows near and the darkness will come to consume all in its path. But our crowd wants a show! And a show we will have! The contestants have officially completed stage one. Congratulations! An airship is on the way to take you to the holding cells until stage two commences."
I looked over at Jinji and her face was a mix of joy, exhaustion, and terror. She looked at me, her eyes pleading for me to tell her that he was joking about this just being stage one. And for a brief moment I wished she wasn't a bitch-queen and we'd met at some bar. She was pretty and somehow this horrid series of events had brought that out more than I would like to admit. I shook my head back and forth several times. No. It was just the hormones. Just the hormones.
"What, you want me to tell you it's going to be alright? I bet they are joking about the stages, they just want us to have some crazed reaction for the crowds..."
"And least the contestants forget. There are seven stages! Each exponentially longer than the last stage! Seven stages of fast paced action, blood curdling obstacles, and hero-making life-and-death situations! This is the stuff legends are made from! This. Is. SimRun reborn! Stay tuned for more."
I slumped down against the wall and looked over at Jinji. Might as well get used to that face...
"Gui, can we talk before the airship arrives, I think..." Jinji started to say, her voice suddenly much softer than I liked. It implied something I didn't want to deal with and I looked away.
...or at least stop hating the bitch-queen. This was how they planned to take the race, which had become rather stale over the past decades, and turn it into the new spectacle. We were part of a zeitgeist moment, that much I knew. This would change races all across the galaxy, from the inner to outer sectors. Racers could die. For a brief moment I saw Array floating in a pool of blood and, with a sudden flash of intense anger, Jinji's assault.
"...we should discuss a strategy for dealing with future..."
The rush of lava, the brief moments in space, and those fucking deranged puppies. All this, for a race? No, they had something bigger planned. And I intended to finish this thing to figure out what. Six more stages? I looked down at the cuts in my hand that had begun to heal in fits and starts.
"...hey, hey! Are you listening to me? We need a plan, who knows what they'll throw at us next time? If they built a tree the size of fucking government office-blocks just for stage one," her voice cracked and I looked over briefly to see her eyes glaze over as she tried to image what else they could conjure up. "I'm sure they'll get more creative the next round."
Bring it on.
END LIVE FEED.
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