“1000M Synchronized Diving Finals”
by Chris Batchelor
They say the walk to the edge is the hardest part. Don’t believe them.
I blunt my fear by immersing in the viz screens printed on my corneas. A dozen camera drones hover to follow our dive, and my viz merges the views into a 3D feed.
Tani walks beside me, muscles hewn in stone. My twin, except—lucky me—she’s female and unrelated. We’re the first mixed team to make it this far. A fantasy couple in the eyes of a million viewers. Fans send their hopes by viz, that we’ll win gold after it eluded Tani three times before with different partners. That I’ll be the one who wins her heart.
She’d kill me if she knew—any of it. How I viz when we dive. How much I savor the viewers’ false perception we’re an item. Focus, she told me at the diving trials, is how we win.
We turn and balance on our toes, arms out, heels over a thousand-meter drop to a blue pool that looks smaller than my thumbnail. Tani’s fingertips graze mine, setting our Moses gloves tingling. In my viz, sparks shower from our touch.
Tani’s hiss echoes off the natatorium tower walls. “Nico! No distractions.”
I meet her eyes through the lens of a drone. “I’m a hundred percent focused,” I say.
Besides, I’m not breaking any rules, if I don’t access analytical or predictive overlays. Tani should try a dive connected, with spectator emotions channeled through her viz. As I feel them now.
Anticipation—when we crouch and cartwheel our arms. Exhilaration—as we bound into the air. Soar. Give ourselves to gravity. Fall and grab our knees for a series of inward tucks.
Eighteen seconds in the air. Entry at three-hundred kilometers per hour. Every detail streamed through viz, as if in slow motion.
Tani calls maneuvers by private link. My body acts on muscle memory as I watch our synchronization through the camera eyes. We flare and make our first crossover, bodies passing so close I fear a deduction. Air ripples between our chests, as supple as a brush of skin.
Electricity stabs the back of my left hand. The malfunctioned Moses glove unravels and falls away.
The shock pulls me out of my viz reverie. My stomach lurches for the first time since my initiation freefall. We pass the halfway mark. Tani’s voice garbles in my link and I miss a rotation by ten degrees. Horror—like a scream—wails from viewers into my viz. Anger—chiding me for ignoring the sparks from my glove on the platform.
“I’m down one glove,” I viz Tani, and it feels like sending a Dear John text.
Viz reduces conversations to the speed of thoughts. So it’s significant when Tani takes a precious second to answer.
“I’m altering the dive for a tandem entry.”
She knows our bodies pressed together with a trio of working gloves means the smallest risk to life and limb. But the judges will score a single entry, and we lose our individual scores. I won’t give up that easily.
“I’m Superman,” I viz.
The next best option. Hold my left arm against my chest. Make a fist with the working glove. It loops the hydro-field and shoves enough water out of the way. Problem is a splash like a geyser, and the judges won’t overlook my effort to “empty the pool.”
“There’s another way,” she says.
“Make a perfect entry.”
I’d roll my eyes, except I’m glancing down at what might as well be concrete without Moses gloves to part the water. A single glove makes a wedge so narrow, a degree off can maim or kill.
“Tani, you’re the one who makes a perfect entry every time.”
In response, she calls our final crossover. This maneuver plays like a duel where forearms and calves clip, sending us rolling into a final chain of pikes. I fight the urge to yank her into a tandem entry—I have individual events next week. But in my best event, I’m expected to take bronze. It’s settled. We go for gold while we can.
As I grab my calves for the pikes, a Moses glove wraps around my left hand. Tani gave me one of hers. It threads between my fingers and snaps over my palm.
“Focus,” she says. “That’s how we win.”
Viewer comments crash through my viz, overloading its ability to construct emotions. Instead, the inputs reflect my emotions and amplify them.Anguish. Fear. And love, fresh and unexpected.
The blue face of the water expands like an explosion. There’s no time to pull Tani into a tandem. No time to return her glove.
In the moment before we hit, we straighten for our entries. On my viz screens, Tani interlaces her fingers for a stacked palm entry, one hand gloved, one bare. She’s confident in her perfection. Going for the—
I enter the water. Sound and air plunge with me, filling my ears, jolting my viz into white static. I’m a knife thrown into a seam. Water seals over my toes with a kiss.
Deceleration dims my vision. I level off and search the indigo haze.
Tani’s entry trail angles away, below churning waves and the rain of a huge splash. When the bubbles clear, there she is, deep in the blue. Sinking, limbs at odd angles.
I scramble for her, kicking, grabbing pitiful handfuls of water and shoving them behind me.
I replay the viz a thousand times.
Our gloves spark on the platform—my left, her right. She gives me the glove I need, the one from her left hand. Not knowing her right glove is beginning to fail.
Odds are a million to one disparate pairs of Moses gloves will overload each other. Jackpot, on our final dive for top pedestal.
The days blur together. Practice dives. Tears whisked away by water and chlorine.
I grip the edge with my toes, hands above my head, a mere one-hundred meters over the pool. Less than five seconds in the air this time, hitting at a lazy hundred and fifty kilometers per hour.
My viz buzzes with more fervency than my Moses gloves. Viewers heap weighty emotions onto my shoulders. Grief. Anxiety. Popular comments rise to the surface. Nico still has a shot at bronze, if he can pull it together. Bronze, chides a troll. Tani deserves a better memorial.
I turn it off.
For a moment, I shudder at the intensity of everything—the rise and fall of my chest, the air stirred by the camera drones, the cold platform against my feet. This is what Tani felt before every jump. What bound her to the dive.
I breathe in and hold it. In the moment. Focused.
Chris Batchelor lives on a little spread in West Texas with his wife, daughter, and a growing herd of mini donkeys (plus the dogs who long to chase them). Read about his fiction (mostly about the dogs, actually) at astroscape.com. His fiction has appeared at Daily Science Fiction and now Abyss & Apex Magazine.