Sweat poured from Glen’s brow and soaked his sweatshirt. This was by far the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life: one hundred freaking push-ups in a row. With grim remorse, he recalled how he had been absolutely certain that Cain would win United America’s “Next Top Soldier.” He never thought that he’d have to be the one to make good on the bet. But honor was everything with “The Night Crew” at his gym. And a bet was a bet.
“Come on, Glen!” A voice called out from somewhere in front of him.
“Dude, you got this!” Another said from his left.
“Just a few more, bro,” A third voice urged from his right.
Sweat dripped from his chin. He’d already powered through eighty-four push-ups. He’d never completed that many in a row before. And despite feeling a bit embarrassed that he’d picked the wrong dog in the fight, he was still proud. For one thing, he was contributing to the Grid, and that always felt great. It was one of the main points of pride in staying in shape: being able to contribute your stored kinetic motion to the United American State’s power grid. Doing your part to keep the lights on. But this…this was special.
This was a personal best. And everyone loved a guy who achieved a personal best.
“Glen, don’t give up!” A female voice said from somewhere nearby. Glen knew the voice. It was the voice he was secretly hoping he’d hear. Gwendolyn was there. She was cheering him on.
This was his moment. He couldn’t stop now.
He pressed as hard as he could and brought his body to a plank position. “Eighty-five!” His trainer shouted. “Good job, Glen!”
Glen looked up and glimpsed the screen on the far wall of the gym. Cain’s face was splashed all over it. Just as he’d caught sight of it, a huge red “X” appeared over Cain’s photo.
“I told you, bro,” one of the voices near him said, “Corta’s winning this season!”
“I can’t believe you bet on Cain, Glen!” Another voice crowed.
Glen grimaced, half from frustration that he wasn’t quite able to block out the voices, and half from the unbearable fire that burned in his chest and shoulders and arms. He wanted to stop. He wanted to die. He wanted more than anything to go back in time and take back the bet he’d made earlier.
But then, Gwendolyn’s gym shoes came into view. Attached to them, Gwendolyn’s legs, clad in skin-tight yoga pants. And at the top of those legs, he knew, was Gwendolyn’s perfect ass.
That’s all he needed to see.
“Eighty-six!” His trainer yelled. “Eighty-seven…eighty-eight! YES!”
“Come on, Glen!” Gwendolyn yelled. “You can do it!”
Glen dug deep. Somewhere inside him was the remaining twelve push-ups. Through fire and pain, he found them.
“ONE HUNDRED!” His trainer yelled.
Everyone clapped and cheered as Glen collapsed into a heap on the floor.
“Now that’s respect right there, bro!” a voice from somewhere behind him said.
“Way to go, Glen!” another chimed in.
“Of course he did a hundred push-ups,” a withering voice said, “He’s augmented.”
“Dude, not cool,” the first voice retorted. “That’s super Aug-ist. Besides, it’s just his legs that are augmented.”
“Whatever,” the detractor said. “You never know with these Auggies. They say it’s just their legs, but then they get their hearts and lungs and muscles replaced and come to our gym where natural citizens are contributing to the Grid, and set all kinds of records, and, like…you never know! Just look at that traitor MK.”
“MK was different,” a new voice said as it entered the conversation. “I don’t mean to butt in, but I couldn’t help overhearing. Marlowe technically didn’t break the rules. And besides, she publicly stated that she didn’t know–”
“–Oh, don’t give me that tired old bullshit!” the other voice scoffed. “So what, the rules may have said that you have to declare ‘external augmentations’ but you know as well as I do, they meant ANY augmentations! And she claims that she didn’t know she had Augs until the test was modified to detect internal ones? What, you’re fifteen years old and running faster and jumping higher and hitting harder than anyone else in the entire UAFL? And you’re a girl? And you don’t know you have Augs? Bruh…come on.”
“Oh, wow, now you’re an Aug-ist AND a sexist?” The other voice swiftly upgrading in tone from defensiveness to anger.
“I’m not sexist! I believe anyone can play, as long as they score. But seriously…a teenage girl laying out dudes three times her size like she did? And claiming to be natural? Dude…”
“But MK thought she was natural,” the new voice said. “Everyone did. No one knew. The league couldn’t test for nanofiber then.”
“That’s my point! They should have known based on her being a little girl, you know? Because she sure as hell knew, and she lied, man. Just like your boy here is probably lying about his Augs being only in his legs.”
“You’re an asshole!”
“Hey, folks,” Glen’s trainer piped in, “Just…move on, okay? This is Glen’s moment. Go have this conversation somewhere else.”
“I’m done talking to this Aug-ist shitheel anyway!”
“Fuck you, Aug-lover!”
The argument subsided as they parted ways. Still laying face down in a puddle of his own sweat, Glen could barely hear them over the sound of his own blood pumping through his eardrums. It really didn’t matter what was being said. He was proud of himself. Both for achieving a new personal record, and for looking pretty badass in front of Gwendolyn. A smile crept up from deep inside and made its way onto his face.
A beep sounded from his kinetic storage device. A new personal record — and a massive contribution to the power grid.
“I am SO proud of you, bro!” His trainer said, extending a hand to help him up. Glen rolled to his side, reached up, grasped it and let his trainer pull him to his feet.
“Wow,” Gwendolyn said, smiling at him with perfect pearly white teeth. “That was super impressive.”
“Thanks,” Glen said through huffs and puffs. “It really meant a lot to me, you cheering me on like that.”
What am I doing, thought Glen. He was so tired yet so amped up from his achievement that he’d forgotten for a moment that he was normally too much of a wimp to even exchange words with Gwendolyn. But hey, everyone has to have their moment. And he was clearly in the middle of his. He’d had a crush on Gwendolyn since the day he joined the gym. Maybe today was the perfect day to make his move. Maybe this was the moment he’d be telling their kids about in fifteen years; the moment that he finally had the courage to ask their mother out on a–
“–Gwen, you ready, babe?” A voice said from behind him.
A muscular, tattooed guy sauntered past Glen and wrapped his arms around Gwendolyn.
“Hey baby! Yeah, let’s go!” Gwen said as a smile spread across her face. “I’m so glad you were able to make it to town this weekend. Oh, good job, Glen!” She waved over her shoulder as she left.
“Yeah,” Glen said, waving back. “Thanks.”
“Bro!” Glen’s trainer said as he slapped Glen on the back. “Upload your K’s and let’s hit the showers!”
Glen reluctantly smiled and nodded. He removed his kinetic storage unit from the belt around his waist and connected his unit to the rack. Of course she was already taken. Just my luck.
Glen trudged toward the showers. He glanced up at the Feed on the gym wall to see the reporters blaring on about the latest development in the ongoing saga of Marlowe Kana. Her father, General Ashish Kana, had just been arrested and charged with treason for allegedly aiding in Marlowe’s escape.
“Man,” Glen’s trainer said, “Can you believe this MK shit, bro?”
“It’s certainly a mess,” Glen said, delivering his standard line whenever current events came up at the gym. No one could ever get mad at a reply like that. He wished he’d stuck to that policy earlier instead of making the bet. But he had been feeling ballsy. Just like when he had finally worked up the nerve to speak to Gwendolyn.
That’s what bravery gets you. But then again, I just did a hundred push-ups. That’s something to be proud of.
Smiling the first genuine smile he’d had since his accident, Glen made his way to the showers.