"Sixteen and cocky is a stupid way to die!" Kregger taunted Deacon. "You'll be a two-word headline: Splaaatter ball!"
"Eighteen and forgotten is better?" Deacon shot back. "Who knows, Kregger. Keep playing it safe like that and maybe next time you'll come in third!"
"At least I'll live long enough to have kids." Deacon chuckled at that. Kregger was an idiot. No one would ever have his kids.
Not that Deacon expected to live long enough to have any of his own. If you come from the wrong place, the wrong money (or no money), going out in a big splash might be the best you could hope for, one moment of feeling glorious and righteous.
Growing up around the susting communities made for an easy way to achieve that: Slaughter ball! Slaughter ball wasn't about killing. It was, in Deacon's mind, about staring down death longer than your opponents could, so they let you win.
Deacon had just out stared Kregger in a shallow water time trial for their next slaughter ball race.
Based on the results, Kregger would get one of the middle posts, Deacon a coveted outside post.
Deacon just hoped the next race would come soon.
Returning his tomb to it's cradle, Deacon powered it down and towelled off the excess water that had invariably run in when he'd popped the hatch. Strapping and securing the small, transparent ball, Deacon kept an eye on Kregger.
There just weren't a lot of people that Deacon did trust. Kregger certainly wasn't one of them. There was his mom, ... and Jeshnit, and ... yeah, well, no one else.
Kregger was leaning against the portal, waiting for Deacon, not out of friendship, but distrust. They'd leave together. Deacon had hoped to get some time tweaking his lanyard, but Kregger's grumblings and repeated, "Come on. Hurry up!" pushed Deacon to rush his warm down.
- - -
Slaughter ball wasn't an official sport, wasn't sanctioned or monitored by any regulatory body. It was an amateur rite of passage perpetuated by the sons (and lately, daughters) of the susting farmers of the hydroponic harvesting yards.
No one ever got rich working the hydroponic harvesting yards. It was where people falling through the cracks ended up. A susting worker had a career expectance of about twenty years, twenty-five if you were lucky. There were very few old time susters, and none with all their limbs. If the sust didn't get you, the sea creatures or your co-worker's stupidity would.
As the saying goes: It ain't no place to raise a family.
But families happened anyway, and children took their places in the line when it was their time. The younger ones watched as the older ones died. Then they stepped up. Each generation held to the slim hope that they would be the ones to break the cycle. Each generation became jaded as the fatalities grew. Each generation passed without count or notice.
Over the past forty years, the susting farmers of Melakka had slowly developed a sense of community, a pride of achievement. Now there were heroes, names passed down to the next generation. With each running, slaughter ball's popularity grew within the community and eventually outside of it as well.
It was an underwater race, with each competitor locked into a fragile, transparent sphere - a slaughter ball tomb - salvaged from some of the older susting harvesters. Players were identified by the colour of their outfits. Inside each tomb, was a "lanyard," a gun-shaped tool that fired an anchor beam for a maximum of five seconds. Then it needed to recharge before firing again.
Only a direct hit on a keel would anchor your sphere, and then you could change your direction by twisting or yanking on the lanyard.
The course was unstable, often changing even in the middle of a race. That there could be rapidly moving debris was just another part of the thrill. Posted along what could be expected to be the best paths, there were "keels," large inverted teardrop-shaped balls of wood, that could be used to help you navigate.
YOU ARE READING
Dee, for the WinShort Story
Deacon Carver wants nothing more than to escape his life. Being a kelp farmer ain't great and harvesting the kelp doesn't pay crap. You risk your life every day. Dee's only pleasure is Slaughter Ball, an underwater race that can make you famous, or...