I pound across the rooftop. I leap over a skylight and hit the other side. Two quick recovery steps to regain my balance. I run hard for five metres, each one building the electrical surge in the thighs and calves of my muscle pants. I hit the low wall bordering the roof perfectly with my right foot. The automatic release of the energy stored in the pants is triggered by the acute angle of my knee. It puts all the power I need in my right leg to launch myself towards the laser shining straight up into the sky.
I splay my arms out, trailing them behind my body like wings. I look down quickly. There, just three metres below and four metres away, floating in the midair, is the gate ring. At this angle the shimmer is hard to see; the landscape beyond is mostly blank wall and grey road, but there is a goods truck moving on the ground which shows up the effect I’m looking for. If I’d misjudged this jump, or completely misjudged the location of the transport ring, I’d be hitting that blank wall about now, bouncing off and falling powerlessly towards that grey road. I haven’t jumped too far, so I tuck my legs up, close my eyes for a second and I’m through.
There’s that brief feeling of nausea as the gate zaps me to another part of the city, and then I open my eyes. The first thing I see is gravel. A press of the stud on my glove strengthens the smart fabric around the ankle of my right sneak. I hit the roof too hard and too fast, sliding on my landing foot, and I end up skidding on my arse, throwing tiny stones, cigarette butts and sweet wrappers in a wake behind me. The impact softens the smart fabric around my ankle. I roll out of the crash-landing, grazing an elbow in the process, and head straight on. The gravel gives way to a long and sharply ascending corrugated roof, but it has a concrete buttress along one side and I leap onto that, sheer momentum helping my balance as I slam one foot in front of the other towards the peak. The increased traction sets off the automatic friction grab in my sneaks. Instinct takes over the running and I afford myself a quick look forward. The next laser marker is only on the other side of this roof. I can even see the shimmer of the gate ring floating above the edge of the next building.
At the apex of this roof, the buttress descends symmetrically to another gravel flat roof. I can’t hit the gravel at sufficient speed to achieve the next roof without sliding off this roof completely. Gravel. Who the fuck covers their roof in gravel?
I need to leave this roof not only fast enough to attain the next roof, but to gain the ring itself. I need to fly.
I hit the descent at top speed, give it a few feet of acceleration and then I hit a stud on my glove and turn the friction off in my sneaks. There’s the usual split second of imbalance and then I’m freeskating down the buttress like it was greased ice. I hunch down low to build on the speed and then I’m at the flat roof, millimetres from gravel, when I leap. The pressure drop on the soles automatically cancels the anti-friction on my sneaks, and I’m airborne.
I sail through the gate ring horizontally and see the next rooftop above me. I should have jumped from the gravel, got the height I needed. Shit.
I’m not going to make it.
I’m really not going to fucking make it.
I hit the next roof almost a metre short. I grab for the lip of the building. As soon as the gloves hit a surface, they go solid, ensuring my grip. I scrabble for purchase with my feet. I have no breath in my lungs.
There’s a shout from behind and above as the guy behind me comes through the ring. “Fuuuuuccckkkk.”
His feet land beside my hands, then they’re gone. He doesn’t look down, doesn’t look back. He just goes. Can’t stop running.
My feet find a ledge and I push, hauling myself up and over the edge of the roof. I land on my shoulder and roll onto my back. I allow myself a second to breathe and then I get up and start running. I follow the path of the other runner, trusting that he knows where he’s going. I don’t have any more time to waste finding my bearings. This roof is flat, covered with elevator housings, water containers, wi-fi control hubs and other room-sized boxes that obscure the view. I see a stack of crates to the left that lead up the side of an elevator housing; the top crate is still wobbling slightly from his ascent. I mount them like stairs and hit the top of the housing. There he is, forty metres across the roof, leaping from box to box. He’s good: there, maybe twenty degrees to the right and ninety meters ahead, is the next laser marker, hidden from roof level by the height of all these workspaces. He’s heading straight for it, arms and legs pumping.
I start to catch up to him by the edge of this roof. The next roof is a simple downward jump. He only has maybe twenty five metres on me as I hit it.
This roof is flat, plain and simple. I look down the side of the building. There’s another flat roof running around the building one storey down. Instinct tells me that this roof is too easy. The guy ahead can run but he doesn’t think.
I drop from this roof to the one below in a smooth arc, landing properly and getting back up to pace immediately. I really put some effort into it, giving the muscle pants something to work with later. I take the corner as fast as I can. There’s a drainpipe running down the wall there that I grab, use it as centrifugal force to get me around safely.
Straight ahead is the gate ring, actually on this level. I allow myself a smile of satisfaction. There’s a shout from above me, “FUUuuuccckkkk,” as the other guy jumps for the laser marker one storey too high. He plummets past the ring as I approach it. So much for short cuts.
As I get closer I can see that the gate ring is three metres away from the edge of this roof and with little corresponding drop off. I’m going to have to jump straight through without falling at all. I hit a glove stud, manually releasing the kinetic energy I’ve built up in the muscle pants. That surge, and momentum, takes me over the edge and I leap with everything I’ve got.
The whole city opens out before me and under me.
I reach forward with my hands as if the ring was solid enough to grab if I didn’t quite make it.
I close my eyes.
The sound of the wind ruffling my jacket is all I can hear.
I wait, and pray, to feel the nausea.
The wind fills my head.
I keep my eyes closed.