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Dance the Light Fantastic

Lee Hallison lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. She can be found online at leehallison.com, or you can read more of her stories here on Daily Science Fiction.

Despite the static glare of the vid-screen, the station's com-room was gloomy and dank. I hated coming here to talk to my brother, but he insisted on our weekly chats. Weekly nagging, to tell the truth.
"Please don't!" Static blurred his face. I nodded, not intending to comply. Winning the zero-gee medal meant everything to me. If doping got me there, then I'd suck the damn stuff down no matter what Daveed thought. I distracted him with a story about last night's dinner and signed off as soon as I could.
He'd loved my first routine, and we both thought it had a fighting chance. But then I watched Dani's simulation of her latest choreography--an utterly beautiful air dance that played to my strengths. At the center? An impossible move.
I tried it clean, but my brain objected to the contortion. I spun out repeatedly. Dani said the drug quieted both the fear and balance center. It took users to a "new plane," she said, where one could follow projected visuals into seemingly impossible turns.
Doping no longer was illegal--the world had decided to level the playing field and as long as you disclosed, you could pump up muscles with drugs or speed your metabolism with special diets. Not even the newer psychotropic drugs were banned. Instead, the World Council spent tons on "educating" us about the significantly high risk. Dancers and air swimmers were among those most intrigued. Before we could even travel to the competition station, we had to watch plenty of council-created vids of competitors drooling and spasming as they tried to walk.
I'd been one of the athletes fine with performing clean until Dani showed me a bootlegged vid of the first air swimmer to try the drug. The council had destroyed the original, thinking we'd be tempted.
I was not only tempted--I caved. That vid made my heart sing. It was beyond just winning. I lusted for the glee she'd had plunging through empty space. Dani handed me the cup, 10 ml of bubble-gum pink, and I downed it before Daveed's voice could kick in.
I floated next to the practice cube's walls. Fans wafted air, inviting my arms to eddy the currents and my legs to scissor through. I pushed off, stretched like an eel, and wove an s-shape as though about to surface-dive a pond. I paused. I swiveled the impossible twist.
Dani applauded. She unbuckled herself from the horizontal stanchions.
"See?" she asked, approval resonating. "I knew you could do it."
I swiveled again. I was amazed at how my body contorted. Even more, how free I felt. I no longer feared the distance between padded walls. I bounced, swooped high, swung over and around every part of the hollow cube.
"Ok, session's over," Dani called. "Let's get you down."
She launched off the center post and grabbed my hand as I swept past. We floated to the entry door guard, Dani holding firmly, ignoring my yells for more time. The guard clipped our harnesses to the door holsters and tapped open the transition room. My doped mind observed the abrupt gravity change. Dani upchucked neatly into her unfolded barf bag, but the guard, as usual, was unaffected. He opened the door and we exited the cube.
Walking intrigued me. I high-stepped, giggling, until Dani swung my flailing arm over her shoulders and dragged me down the hall.
"MindTest tomorrow, missy." Dani strapped me into bed. Her words were muffled. The room walls whirled. She injected something into my arm, I tasted metal, and then tumbled, submerging into liquid dreams.
I woke up yelling, yanking at the straps. Dani calmed me down, and reminded me about the drug.
"Shush, you'll be ok." She unstrapped me and brought over the MindTest tablet.
I passed, of course. Brain function down by a miniscule amount. Two points or something silly like that. Daveed was distraught when I called. I had debated telling him, but there was nothing he could do to stop me, not from Earth. And to be honest, I let him know because I was a little wary. Dani was using me, hoping to get famous if she produced a champion. Daveed was the one person who loved me just for myself.
"Once more. I need to incorporate it into the rest of the moves! I won't do more till the competition." Telling him cleared my conscience but didn't change my determination. I glowed, sure of my win.
But the session did not go well. Dani had to up my dose before I could perform the signature move. Swim up, slip, slide over, smooth twirl, then the move. Leg up, over, back inverted, arms akimbo and heel to ear. I failed, repeatedly, until she gave me the higher dose. I finished the dance, but my mind shuddered as they carried me back.
I whirled inside, swimming the air as I lay flat on my back. It took a week before I was able to walk, two before I could do my routine. Dani insisted I practice without the twist. She wanted me ready to compete without help, in case I wasn't quite better.
The day of the Games, I begged for the dope.
"Please? You know I can win!"
Daveed plays the vid of my beautiful routine, whenever I ask. I do wake, every so often, from the soup my brain now dances in. He dabs at my chin and turns my body over. I know where I am when I wake, but my thoughts are fleeting and frightening.
I see water sliding on his cheek but I forget what that means. I surface dive back into my memories.
I swim.
I dance.
I gather light in my arms and poof! let it fly.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 19th, 2015

Author Comments

I wrote this after an impassioned discussion around the dinner table about performance-enhancing drugs. If the unfairness and clandestine nature went away, what might that be like?

- Lee Hallison
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