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 From this point onward, it’s a wild stampede. Bodies of Candidates bombard the water. People pull off their shoes, dive in, emerge. Moments later, Candidates rise up into the air, successfully holding on to their baton-plus-shoes bundles, as they ride the things up to the shuttle.

Now it comes, the actual life-and-death struggle for the batons, now that we know what to do with them. . . .

I stand still momentarily, dazed, watching others around me move. It all seems like slow motion, a strange urban melee.

Gracie’s expression is desperate as she takes my arm—the good arm that’s unhurt—and she pulls me. “Let’s go! Gwen! We need to hurry! Everyone’s grabbing those things, there won’t be any batons left—”

I nod, and begin taking my shoes off. Gracie pulls off her sneakers and then she watches Ethan and Jared dive into the water, followed by Zoe who jumps in holding her nose.

Gracie’s expression is anxious. I remember how Gracie has never been much of a swimmer. When we were very little back here in California, there was a backyard pool we all used over at a neighbor’s house. Gracie tended to splash around in the shallow end when the rest of us kids swam laps or dove into the deeper bowl part.

And now that I think about it, I don’t recall Gracie ever diving, or going underwater for more than a few floundering strokes.

My sister cannot dive or swim submerged.

The grim realization hits me.

And yet, knowing we both have to do it—according to the Semi-Finals rules I cannot do it for her—I know she is gathering herself, getting ready for the inevitable.

“Gracie!” I say, fighting my own dizziness. “Listen, take a deep breath, okay? Just hold it and push forward with your hands! It’s not that far down, okay? As soon as you grab a baton, start rising, it will come naturally—I will be right behind you—”

“Okay . . .” she mutters. But I can see a dangerously lost look in her eyes, a kind of resignation.

We stand at the ledge before the water, while teens jump in all around us. Water splashes up, cool spray striking us.

“Gwen . . .” Suddenly she looks up at me. “I don’t think I can.”

My pulse is pounding and my head is heavy like a brick, and light at the same time, while the sky seems to spin. “Yes, you can. Just hold my hand, Gracie . . . Hold my hand and we will go down together. Don’t let go until I let you go! Now, deep breaths! On the count of three!”

We count and then we jump, holding hands, and the cold shock of water surrounds us. . . .

I am a decent swimmer, and I start moving downward, pulling Gracie’s hand, grasping it with all my strength. But in seconds I realize that I am using my other hand—the wounded, semi-useless, numb hand—to do the bulk of the hand stroke swimming motion.

An instant of panic fills me, together with pain and weakness, and that in turn results in an overwhelming rise of pressure in my lungs. But I continue swimming downward, about seven more strokes, and thankfully Gracie is helping along with her own free hand.

On the bottom, the light is shimmering like in an aquarium. The batons lie before us in a rapidly shrinking pile, glittering softly in the greenish-blue water and fractured sunlight. Agitated bubbles rise everywhere, from all the sudden bodies in the water. I see five other Candidates closest to us reach for the nearest batons, and kick off to rise again.

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