It was raining and the Skateway had issued its third fatality warning of the hour. The mechanical voice boomed around the track, bouncing off the hard steel surfaces, all corners and reflections, echoing oddly in the covered sections and barely audible at all in the underpass. Bryan ignored it, concentrating instead on the hot feeling in his legs as fatigue caught up with him. On his feet, his Adibastard skates hummed slightly, and the water they were slicing through swished each time he switched his weight and thrust his leg forward. The last of the covered sections was approaching, a fifteen metre stretch of tunnel that contracted and narrowed until it was barely wide enough to fit through and the ceiling was a hand’s reach above his head. He felt his stomach contract a little at the thought of going into it. Some of the other skaters made jokes about it, calling it the Womb and talking about rebirth at the end, but he could never shake the dread of losing his balance in there where there was no room to wipe-out. The thought of bouncing haphazardly off the walls, tumbling through propelled by his skates until being spat out at the other end, a broken, bloody wreck, had given him nightmares when he was younger. He’d woken screaming so many times in the night that his mother had taken his skates away. Two days later after non-stop screaming she’d given them back and sound-proofed his room with egg-boxes.
He sped through the covered section going slightly faster, his legs protesting but obeying, and shot out of the other end. The Skateway banked here, of course, and he rode up the bank slightly, getting dangerously close to the top where he could see out and down to the train station six hundred feet below, and then lowered his body and tucked his arms in to his sides. More aerodynamic now he zoomed down the Skateway, reaching the floor of the track and throwing up a sheet of silvery water behind him. The hiss of the water and the thump of blood in his ears took over his senses completely and his legs moved almost robotically until there was a sudden flash of light and he was across the finish line.
“Seven minutes and forty-eight seconds,” said the mechanical voice of the Skateway. This time it came from a local speakerbox rather than the PA system, and was easier to understand. “Time locked.”
Bryan came to a halt, describing several graceful, tightening curves to come back to the speakerbox slowly. His Adibastards purred as they powered down to minimum.
“Time locked?” he asked.
“Time locked. The Skateway is too dangerous for skating.”
Bryan shook his head; the time was his best yet for the course, though still a long way off the five-and-a-half minutes that some of the skaters could achieve. Time locked meant that the Skateway would keep the record but he’d have to petition to have it made public, and of course he’d been there when the Skateway had been declared too dangerous to skate. Which was the only time it was ever empty enough to get a good time unless you could afford to pay for a private session.
“Right,” he said, feeling slightly embarrassed at talking to a computer. “Doesn’t seem that dangerous to me.”
“Your opinion wasn’t solicited,” said the Skateway. Bryan started to walk away, though he cast a curious glance at the speakerbox. Lots of people must have said something similar for that to be a programmed response, he thought.