by Mark Kertzman
Amalia yelled at Ruwena as they rounded the tight canyon curve, each clinging tightly to their own skidding mount. The wind noise snatched her words away, but Amelia knew that Ruwena would not have paid heed at any rate. She was never the type to pay attention to anyone but herself.
The aggravating dust whipped up by their passage made rooster tails in their wake. Hovercams raced along on either side, transmitting the race to the millions hanging on every turn, every jostle, every lead change.
Ruwena used her own momentum and aggressive passing move to get in front of Amelia’s bucking hoverboard. Amelia had to slide into a controlled skid just to avoid slamming into the blurred rocky wall whipping past to her right. She cursed under her breath at her opponent.
One of the hovercams surged ahead, zooming in on Ruwena’s face. Her rictus of anger and concentration caused many in the watching crowds glued to telescreens to cheer. Had she been able to hear them, it would have caused her grin to split even wider.
Behind Ruwena, Amelia strained to catch up. She was determined not to lose, regardless of what kind of tactics Ruwena might use. It is said that anything is permitted in hoverboard racing, especially in the Ouagadougou Classic. The prize money and fame accruing to the winner makes the race a desperate matter indeed. Knowing this, Amelia pushed herself as hard as ever, gritting her teeth and tasting the bitter silty dust.
They broke out from the dangerous canyons and into the clear desert. The dunes blurred by underneath them as Amelia slowly gained ground on her opponent.
“No you don’t,” Amelia breathed softly. The hovercam caught the subtle motion of her lips, but all the spectators were left guessing as to exactly what she said. She redoubled her efforts, catching up to Ruwena.
As if sensing Amelia behind her, Ruwena threw her elbows out roughly, trying to knock Amelia off her perch. The boards knocked, sending sand flying as the anti-g fields interfered with each other. Amelia blocked, grabbing at Ruwena almost instinctively. They grappled as they raced along side-by-side, threatening to spill both of them onto the unforgiving desert floor.
Amelia sensed rather than saw the finish line coming up fast. She let go of her opponent, almost sending her flying. Yet Ruwena was highly skilled, and regained her balance with the reflexes of a cat. Amelia put a few feet of distance between them, giving Amelia the time to push forward, taking the lead.
With the end coming up, adrenaline gave her the final surge to kick for victory. Air rasping desperately into her lungs, she pumped the board beneath her to gain every ounce of speed. The pylons marking the end of the race rose from the desert like twin sentries, dozens of metres apart.
Amelia knew at that moment that she was going to make it.
She was hit, low around the legs. It was a stunning blow, painful and sudden, throwing her wildly off balance. Her board slewed crazily, throwing up a spray of sand and dust. For a moment, she thought that maybe she could hold on.
That moment passed. Rolling instinctively, she hit the dirt. Her board flew off to the side, skipping along on its null-g field. She slowed to a halt in a billowing cloud of dust.
The dust cleared just enough for the cameras to catch Ruwena whipping by, claiming the prize in the race. As she crossed the finish line, she pumped her fists in the air, a wide smile on her face.
That smile would have faltered if she could have seen the reaction of the fans. All across the continent, faces fell, and spectators stood mute as they watched the race unfold on millions of telescreens.
Those same faces broke into smiles, and eventually cheers, as they saw Amelia pick herself up and brush herself off. Bruised, bleeding, with torn shorts and shirt, she slowly walked towards the finish line, crossing it weakly but decisively, hoverboard in tow. On the desert sands, the hovercams captured the moment. Ruwena exulted in her victory while Amelia gamely accepted her defeat.
Yet across the span of homes, bars, and stadiums full of fans and spectators, a different story was perceived and understood. When Amelia slowly crossed the pylons marking the finish line, the cheers and shouts rose to a crescendo, marking the true winner of the hard-fought contest.
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Kertzman