fiction by michael werneburg

The crowd of contestants—and now I realized, there had to be at least 302 of them—surged forward in a ragged jumble that would have disgraced a species with any kind of flocking instinct. I stepped on the pedals, and began to head to the left side of the course.

"This is James Tsemensis here with Dan Fairbanks live at the eighteenth annual open cycle race in Dusylin!" said the commentator. From way over on the right came the sound of gunfire.

"Looks like we've had a Political slip through the screening process," the voice continued, sounding almost jubilant. "He's opened fire, and it seems that a number of contestants are down. No word yet on who's claiming responsibility nor on the severity of the injuries, but we're getting reports that favored contestant Jules Conso may be amongst the injured!"

I was right behind Number 48, moving at no more than ten, maybe fifteen clicks, when a shadow passed overhead. I looked up, and saw a small craft floating down low over the crowd. An armored figure was standing on the platform, holding a weapon and firing into the field of cyclists! A label on the bezel around the rim of the craft read Lubimem security. No doubt hired by one of the entrants's sponsors to defend their man. Such forces couldn't initiate a fight with the cyclists, but they could use just about any force necessary to defend their entrant.

"Yes, here comes Conso's defense team, and they're not taking prisoners."

"That's right, Jim," said a new voice. "They are probably firing one of the many stun weapons on the market that are designed to work with a shield system. Yes, see the area effect of the weapon? They're dropping like flies. Conso would have a shield set to the weapon's frequencies in his helmet. It's very much the kind of system that got him to the podium last year."

"Yes," resumed the first voice, "we're getting reports that Conso is down, possibly with one or more projectiles in his lower abdomen. Not a good day for Lubimem security!"

I didn't check to see what was happening to the far end of the pack; I was just glad that it wasn't going down at my end.

Number 48—and most of the rest—pulled ahead of me with ease. With the stabilizing equipment in their bikes, a forty-degree slope was a breeze. I was already using my brakes, afraid of shooting past my intended route as gravity sucked me down the hill.

I passed the route I'd originally chosen, and the next street as well. With a sudden thunderclap, a number of cyclists ahead of me were tossed in all directions, leaving a figure in a light blue form-fitting suit to surge ahead, alone on the far-left side of the street. Even spectators were picking themselves up off the ground. I threaded my way between two of the fallen cyclists and spotted the mouth of the alley I wanted.

explosion during a cycle race

"Well, we've had a stun grenade launched on the far side of the course, now. There are a number of riders down, but it seems that Laurence Hirami -- one of the favorites on Indigo street -- has come out of the fray with a sudden lead."

"Yes, can we get a look at some footage? Perhaps Hirami himself dropped the grenade?" suggested the other commentator.

I couldn't believe they'd referred to the rider as a favorite of the gambling community. Did that make any sense at all?

Then a huge cry went up from the crowd, and I glanced across to see what had happened. Several dozen of my competitors were caught up in a huge collision. I didn't see what started it, but it seemed that maybe as many as a third of the field were down. Fistfights were starting in the riot of colorful suits and bikes.

"Oho!" cried one of the commentators. "What a pile-up. It's been years since we've seen a mess like that."

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