“Rings and speed” by Xtasorcery
The runner leaped between two opposite-traveling cars which passed each other, and he rolled on the astroturf of the Inner Zone. The Outer Zone was full of wickedly fast-racing cars and the Inner Zone was full of men armed with maces and nets — fighters, bashing at each other. It was the job of the runners to make their way between drivers and fighters and get the Three Golden Rings to win.
Crispo the top runner had already secured one ring. He had thrown it in a black hole with bull’s eye marks painted around it and the ding! sound had filled the arena.
(This wasn’t televised; coming here was considered an honorable gift.)
When Crispo had returned to the edge of the Zone, the very edge of the Outer Zone, he froze up for a second, he choked. Two more rings to go. He didn’t want to do it, though. Because of the towering risk of dying. He had so much to live for. The only reason he had become a runner was because they said — everybody said — it was the only thing he was good for. Frankly, he’d rather be armored in a car, shooting bullets at other vehicles in high speed chases than doing this.
Now he dodged a mace coming down toward his head. He took off for the middle platform which held a pile of glittering gold rings. It was against the rules to take more than one ring at a time and the judges were watching. Snatching his second ring, he saw his arch-rival Larren snatch his second ring at the same time. Their eyes locked. Larren raised one eyebrow archly, as if they were at a dinner party. Crispo spat on the ground, pushed one fighter into the deadly embrace — and death-blow — of another, and moved on from the killing he’d caused.
Back at the Outer Track, he was breathing heavily. He wondered what Larren was doing right this moment. There was a third man close behind the two of them — what was his name? Oh, yes, he had a nickname — Sycamore. Larren, Crispo and Sycamore were vying for a prize only one could have. The experience of a lifetime — 20 hours straight in a Pleasure Tube, with orgasmic waves and sensuous dreams. 21 hours would kill you, it was that good.
Crispo tossed the ring in the bull’s eye hole and it went ding! a second time. There was a cry that penetrated the arena. Young Sycamore had just been gored and had fallen. Crispo and Larren returned to the Innermost of the Inner Zone, past the cars, past the fighters wielding weapons, away from the wildly cheering audience. Sycamore had somehow gotten his third ring first and was now crawling, leaving a trail of blood.
Crispo and Larren flung themselves at each other. Beating each other up, pummeling fists, they wasted precious time, but they had negated Sycamore as a factor in their thoughts. Onward, Sycamore crawled. He was retching now, in addition to bleeding out and his difficulty in breathing. He reached the end of the Inner Zone. Now came the hard part. All those cars.
Trying to hold one hand up as much as he could, Sycamore began crawling across the blacktop. Each car, as if sympathizing with the teen, veered around him as it came. Then Crispo caught sight of something. A dead man’s switch of explosives on Sycamore. If Sycamore died, it would detonate on contact, wiping out a car, the car that had caused the death of the teen. And here came the teen almost outside the zone of fighting and contesting.
While the two runners were distracted, two fighters came up and bashed them on the heads, exploding them like ripe watermelons. Sycamore crawled to his bull’s eye and weakly plate-tossed it in. The third golden ring going in caused a RING! RING! RING! sound and the electric cars were deactivated in their power surges, and the fighters were trapped by nets that shot from cannons powerfully and enclosed them tight so they could hardly breathe.
Sycamore looked up at the ceiling of the arena, where the bright lights were, all of them, thousands, zillions, a constellation, and shifted onto his back in a better position to rest.
Resting never felt so good, and the Pleasure Tube awaited him now. Memories of it would sustain him through all the bad times and hard luck in his life to come . . .
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