“Oh! And a major misstep has just occurred!” That was the downside of having the commentators on my ear, they never shut up and only made mistakes sound even more urgent, constantly passing pessimistic judgments on everything.
“Celár, there’s another mass of clouds you need to avoid! GET A GRIP ALREAD–”
He hit the second wall of clouds straight on, tumbling through them while losing most of his diving speed. I was… I just threw my hand at my head in disbelief.
“Oh boy, he just completely flopped the cloud traversal!”
And then I sat down and threw the other hand at my face. I felt like I needed both.
“I think there’s no going back from this, Keilo.”
“What do you—oh, look at that, Celár came out of the cloud in full spread position, he’s back!”
“It’s too late, Keilo.”
Sometimes you just need to gesture desperation at yourself, and that was one of those times. I was looking at the 3D graphs and all I saw was that Celár would not be fast enough to catch the teleporter. I saw no way that he could make it other than to dive non-stop, without experiencing one single moment of slow down, and even then he would still catch some of that mean-looking storm.
I sighed in an attempt to distance myself from him, because I already felt I needed the distance.
“Celár,” I sounded out, a bit more disappointed than I intended to, “you need to drop down. Dive head-first and start heading to your left a bit, I’ll tell you when to stop moving left.”
Celár did so, the feedback hence getting even crazier. I held my breath, ignoring Jik’to’s explanation of why it was too late, instead thinking about whether or not I should tell him.
“Celár, listen closely,” I sighed, trying to normalize my voice into a less surrendering tone. “The only way you’re surviving this now is if you keep diving. Break even once, lose any speed, and you’re dead.”
At that very moment, a memory flashed on the feed-screen so fast Celár didn’t even see it, just heard it.
“I WANNA LIVE!”
I looked and it was of Celár, looking at his homeless self’s reflection on a puddle that was on the ground. He looked so dirty and desperate, and he was crying.
“I’m sick of just surviving! I want to live! TO LIVE!!”
The sheer emotion of it silenced even Keilo Farkto, and I myself was brought a bit low by it. I looked back at the feed from his eyes and it was a bit watered unfocused, by tears that were leaving his eyes, I later realized. I only saw someone trying to survive but I realized then Celár’s motivations were probably about something bigger. Something important.
And then I saw a big shadow fly by, and as Celár looked aside, as I looked at the other cameras’ feeds, I realized he would have to deal with a much unexpected obstacle.
“IS THAT A DRAGON FLY?!” Keilo asked, freaking out.
“It sure is, Keilo.”
“Oh, it seems we have that man who insulted Celár on the line.”
“Well keep him there, we will want to see this,” Jik’hit said in excitement.
And me? I didn’t even hesitate. I ran and pushed the button to launch the vapor gun.
Celár was still shocked by the dragon fly. It was flying further and further away, leaving him behind as it itself dove down, five times Celár’s size, its wings buzzing so loud and so fast they were bothering Celár’s senses, that much was obvious. Still, I talked calmly, or as much as I could, so as not to excite him.
“Focus on my voice, Celár. The dragon fly will circle back and try to eat you.”
“Why would you do this?!” I was surprised by the commanding voice that sounded wholly unfamiliar and, looking aside, I noticed it was another flashback, but it only lasted a second. It was already vanishing by the time I looked so I just kept talking.
“Listen, I’ve launched an item box with a vapor gun, it’s rocket assisted for you to grab it, so grab it and this is how to use it.”
“Why would you disregard an order? You’re no coward, I know you, why didn’t you push ahead?!”
I looked aside again, distracted by yet another one-second flashback. I immediately looked back at the feeds to see the dragon fly in the distance; the green unfocused blob stopped and turned back towards him…the vapor gun a second away from arriving at Celár’s altitude.
“You’re going to power it up until the very last second, you need to blow through the dragon unscathed. Fire it too soon and you might not avoid a collision. Fire it too late and you sure won’t avoid a collision.”
Celár was already opening the item box while I was talking, I remember I was pacing around nervously, very much the fidgety nervous amateur. The dragon fly flew in closer, Celár pointed the vapor gun above his head and down at the dragon.
The yellow eyes possessing innumerable orange eyes got bigger and bigger, the chameleon like face opening its gaping mouth.
A flashback surged.
“What’s there to fight for?!” It was Celár’s voice, clearly, and he was looking at a fellow soldier wearing the same uniform, the soldier we had seen before. “My family’s all dead! I was here fighting for their safety and still they’re dead!”
I looked at the secondary cameras to see the dragon fly getting too close for comfort, and his gun glowing and trembling while letting off steam, in preparation to be fired.
The dragon fly’s eyes were almost the size of Celár himself, let alone its mouth hole, which the beast opened wide and drooling in the anticipation of gobbling up Celár.
I scratched my head and sniffed in anxiety, and then crossed my arms as the flashback came to an end.
“There’s nothing left to live for… let alone fight for.”
“Ocklo…buddy, you can’t just give up on–”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!”
The yell of the memory mixed in with the hollow screech of the weapon along with the sound of flesh being seared and vaporized in a large cone in front of Celár. His own vision blacked out, probably from him closing his eyes, and so for the next one or two seconds, we were left with the exterior cameras showing the vapor gun blasting through the other end of the dragon fly, waiting to see if Celár would show up leaving through the busted up and charred skin of the beast… safe and sound.
And he did.
“HOOOOOLIIIEEEEEEE… WOW!!!” Keilo reacted, his breath absolutely taken.
“That was pretty…amazing,” Jik’hit had to agree.
I sighed hard and nodded to myself, immediately reassuring Celár, just as his main feed, that of his eyes, came back to normal.
“Good work, Celár, you’re still in this. The gun will need a few minutes to recharge, but you should still hang on to it. You never know.”
“Wow! So some quick thinking by coach Rybkin, in league with the courage and timing of our own homeless Celár, have triumphed over a dragon fly!”
“This is a very rare thing to see, Keilo, we’re very lucky.”
“And with that in mind! Bilk, connect us to our caller, and try and get a hold of that soldier we just saw.”
“That soldier has already passed away, I’m afraid. Killed in combat.”
“Ah, what a shame. Rules are against going after any sources not directly involved in memories, we cannot interview anyone else related to him! Well, Mister Danny, are you there?”
I heard the voice sounding out in response.
“Yeah, I’m here! I’m watching, big fan of Freefall Destiny, Keilo!”
“Good man, good man! So do you remember our contestant, Mr. Danny?”
“Not at all, but that sure as hell doesn’t sound like me. I must’ve been going through one hell of a day to say something that mean, you know how it is.”
“Can’t say I do, no,” Keilo diplomatic pushed the accusation aside, with a laugh, continuing the fast interview that lasted for about one minute longer.
During the next few minutes, Celár fell free of any problems, passing by another floating island, this one full of green and an extraordinary waterfall that was throwing water off onto the land far below. The island was gigantic and its seemingly everlasting waterfall was surrounded by rainbows all the way down to where the water mixed with the air around, turning to vapor. It was a remarkable sight that I absolutely allowed Celár to enjoy in peace.
“There is beauty to life,” said a voice, and I again looked to notice it was a flashback. And that one surprised me, but it was good. As I said earlier, the contestants that most usually make it are the ones that go through these memories. The memories react to what they’re experiencing and manifest two things: one, that they are not paralyzed or too wrapped up by their surroundings to forget about what matters, two, because they’re a prelude to an emotional response that is usually akin to motivate and embolden them. This one was of him while at a homeless shelter, it seemed, being fed by a volunteer. “Even if you have no one to share it with, it is still there, no? It is still worth protecting?”
The screen focused the face of the woman, a pretty blonde who seemed otherwise sweaty and exhausted. I guessed she was a volunteer at a homeless shelter, but we never confirmed it.
“I know it still has a lot to offer you, Ocklo…you just need to reach out.”
The memory faded away with her smile and before it disappeared, Bilk was already looking for her contact.
This was what Freefall Destiny was about, it wasn’t just about the adrenaline and thrill of seeing the actual action, but also of having who the participant was vivid on screen for everyone to see. It was a sharing of human nature and experience like no other place offered, to see what went through these people’s minds as they risked their lives in an all-or-nothing freefall for what could save them.
As Keilo and Jik kept the audiences busy with talks of past champions, of reminiscing about the surroundings that Celár was crossing, and what stunts others had gone through involving them, I noticed in my holomap that the migrating birds had changed directions.
“Wait…Jik, take a look at the holomap, they’re telling me there are birds inbound.”
“Oh…what? How is this possible? We clearly saw their trajectory early on…but if this is happening then I’m afraid this is it for Celár.”
And God forgive me…because I thought the same thing.
“There’s no dodging these flocks of birds, there are thousands of them.”
She was right.
“And even if he could survive the collision, which no one ever does, Keilo…”
She was right about that too.
“It’ll still slow him down enough that it makes no matter.”
She was right.
“With the gun, he could perhaps survive it, but it’s still recharging.”
And that was it…it was later analyzed that the birds had set their trajectory because of the dragon fly. With it dead, they simply changed.
With a curse under my breath, I looked at his feed, the visual feed, as he looked to one side and another, seeing the flock of green birds slowly filling up the landscape ahead of him…and quickly approaching him. I forced myself to not look away, but I did not say anything.
I wanted to say I was sorry but a fear that might doom him stopped me…despite the fact I knew he was doomed already. I knew it. But hope is illogical and irrational, we can never really believe something will happen until it does, most especially when it’s something we don’t want to happen. And after that dragon fly stunt, I was soaked in a silly amount of optimism, and it was still in me, so I kept quiet and…irrationally hoped.
That is the thing about champions. About true champions. In fact, I’ll offer you a direct quote since I heard it from the memory that played just before he crossed paths with the birds. It showed a room, and Celár as a kid, and someone told him:
“Being a champion is not about winning… like you’re expected to. Being a champion is about seeing that victory. Seeing it, as a possibility that you can reach for and grab, and then trying. No matter the circumstances, the difficulties, a champion can see the win. He’s usually the only one who can. And he will reach for it even when nobody expects him to even try, let alone make it.”
A memory flashed, but it wasn’t a memory. Celár as if flashed the flocks of birds into his memory and turned up and twisted around in the blink of an eye. And in one glorious moment, without any precedent as far as I know. All the secondary cameras crashed and broke against the bodies of birds, erupting in small explosions around the blurred image of Celár…but he made it through unscathed.
I was in utter disbelief. I am pretty sure my mouth was wide open as Celár regained control to go back to diving straight down again. The roar of the crowd was so loud I could swear I could hear it past the sound-proof wall, but it might have been just the feedback from the commentator’s booth, even though Keilo seemed to be having a stroke all by himself. A very loud one at that…as casters do.
“HE MADE IT PASS THE BIRDS! THIS IS A FIRST! THIS IS HISTORY! THIS IS UNPRECENDETED! NO ONE HAS EVER CLEARED A FLOCK!!!”
Keilo was losing his mind but I, despite the momentary stun, was already re-evaluating his speed and trajectory. I felt compelled not to fail Celár, now most of all. It was not about irrational hope any more, I felt bad for not believing him, I felt like I owed him at least that. He had earned my belief.