by Rae Cod
Her heart hammered in her chest and her breath came in short, sharp gasps. Her focus was entirely on this last lap of the pool, not the other competitors, nor the time on the clock. For these moments she embodied one singular purpose: winning. She concentrated on her stroke, practised to near perfection.
There was a roaring in her ears, and she couldn’t tell if it was her own blood pumping or the noise of the crowd. She’d done it! Years of competitions, years of practice, years of working her way up the leader board and she’d finally done it, World Champion!
Tears of joy streamed down her face as she took it all in, then a voice in her ear.
‘Congratulations Aurya, how does it feel to be this year’s Alt Games Swimming World Champion?’
‘It feels…it feels…’
Aurya couldn’t get the words out. Her heart rate still hadn’t returned to normal and there was a wellspring of emotion inside her as she took in what this meant for her family. The prize credits alone would keep them fed for another couple of years, maybe more if she could secure sponsorship. Of course, that meant she’d have to continue to win. None of the Big Three sponsored losers.
‘I’m just so happy,’ she finally managed, though this didn’t come close to describing the overwhelming relief that was coursing through her veins.
‘As I understand it,’ the compere went on, ‘this isn’t the only competition you’ve won? ‘
‘Aurya managed a nod, her breathing finally beginning to slow.
‘Tell us about your past achievements,’ the compere pressed.
‘I was on the winning football team in the Alt Games Nationals around five years ago,’
That one had only fed them for a few months, but it had shown her what she could achieve if she put her mind to it.
‘And am I right in thinking you’re also somewhat of a creative in the Alt music field?’
Aurya felt a flush rising in her skin and was glad nobody could see.
‘I have a channel for my piano music which is quite well subscribed,’
‘Don’t be modest Aurya, over a million subscribers, you must make some beautiful songs.’
Just shame music isn’t a source of credit in the New Reality, thought Aurya, otherwise she wouldn’t have to put her body through this to feed her brothers and sisters. Their Mum did what she could, but this wasn’t her world, the wrong generation. Luckily, Aurya had shown an aptitude for The Games from a young age. Not every family was so lucky.
‘Well, you must have some celebrating to do, but tell our audience before you sign off, what will you be spending your prize credits on?’
‘My family,’ said Aurya, resisting the urge to add that they would be spending the credits as frugally as possible so they could live for as long as possible.
She despised the Big Three and their total monopoly. True, the Games were a way to make some real credits, but they were all so busy trying to win that they didn’t turn their attention to the real problem: The Big Three and this shitty world.
Be happy, she told herself, you won, and you can’t change the system, so just be happy.
‘Congratulations Aurya, on behalf of Alt Games and our Big Three sponsors, we hope you and your family enjoy your winnings.’
Aurya disconnected the neural link with a thought command.
‘I’m done, you can come in now!’
They must have been waiting at the door, because her brothers and sisters practically tripped over themselves to get into the room, jubilant smiles on their faces as they gathered around her chair, chattering excitedly,
‘Aw, sis that was awesome!’
‘…. got to be the fastest time on record.’
‘Can you teach me how to…’
‘Now, now,’ said their mother, as she made her way into the room, ‘give your big sister some air, you’re practically squashing her!’ She said this good-naturedly, but as if suddenly remembering, they all drew back muttering apologies.
‘Mum, how many times? I’m not made of glass, I won’t break.’ Said Aurya.
‘I know you won’t sweetie,’ said her Mum, but she couldn’t hide the sadness in her eyes, as she carefully embraced her, taking care not to pull out any of the tubes or wires.
Aurya looked down at her withered legs. Her muscles had atrophied years ago. Her arms hadn’t fared much better, though she could still lift them for a hug. The catheter was the worst. That she couldn’t even go to the toilet made her feel like she had more in common with the bots that tended her than her own family. But she’d figured out early on that time way from the Games in the New Reality had to be limited if she wanted to be successful enough to help her family. Every minute she wasn’t practising, she could bet her competitors would be. She did what she had to do.
You’re strong where it matters, she told herself.
Her long fingers, the strongest part of her body courtesy of a relic electric keyboard that had belonged to some long distant grandfather, reached out to gently wipe away a tear from her Mum’s cheek.
‘I better go.’
Her Mum nodded, choking back more tears as Aurya’s eyes reflected the New Reality. She was back in the game.