“Zip. . . .
“The health drink brimming with the promise of primeval energies. Nutrients garnered from our deepest sea beds — all natural ingredients revered by generations of Pacific peoples. Their ancient customs, and our passion for soda come together in new Zip! The drink!”
The TV lights flared onto a set stuffed with faux foliage and an artificial waterfall. The sound engineer faded up tropical noises. The director called, “And . . . cartwheel.”
Hayley Ball stood by the set, lost in a memory of the last ninety seconds of her beam routine. The Olympic crowd held their breaths for the teenage star taking on the giants of gymnastics from China and Russia. She completed her routine — daring and perfect, landing with a satisfying thump on the suedette beam. Then time for the spectacular dismount — she would attempt two tucked backflips with a single full twist, to thunderous applause. She tensed, sprang into their air and —
“Cartwheel!” said the director.
Hayley said “Oh,” and missed her cue. By the time she cartwheeled across the set, the supporting team of three bouncy cheerleaders had completed their ra-ra-ras and the entire production team was glaring at her.
. . . The Olympic crowd shrieked as Hayley landed on her ass. Everyone said afterwards they heard the coccyx snap. The Chinese got the gold, and Hayley got nine months rehab while sponsor after sponsor disappeared.
The director twirled his finger for a do-over. Everyone groaned.
Hayley scowled. She grabbed her phone. “Barney.”
“Just hang in there,” he said before she even told him how much she hated this.
“What the hell, Barney?”
“Zip is going to be big, very big.”
Hayley snorted. “Do you know what they have me doing?” She cut him off as he began to reply. “Cartwheel onto a TV stage and say I choose to Zip! with a big smile. That’s it, Barney. A cartwheel. Three gold medals for my country and I’m a glorified fucking cheerleader.” She caught the eye of the nearest bouncy girl. “No offense.”
The girl gave Hayley an acid stare. “None taken.”
Barney said, “They’re paying you.”
“Not enough for my dignity.” She ended the call.
The cheerleader girl was still standing there. “Uh, sorry about that,” said Hayley. “I was just . . . it’s been a tough year.”
The girl blinked a couple of times. Hayley Ball’s tough year was global news. “Yeah,” she said after a moment. “Here.” She plucked a can of Zip from a nearby cooler. “On the house.”
“Thanks.” Hayley smiled at her. “You not having one?”
The girl was wearing a Zip jacket and had some sort of Zip lanyard too. Maybe she wasn’t a cheerleader. Maybe she was one of the production team. “I’m good.”
“I’ve never actually tried Zip,” Hayley said, with a conciliatory smile. “—I’m Hayley by the way.”
“I know who you are,” said the cheerleader, and walked away.
Hayley shrugged. She’d done her best. And honestly, the job was pure crap.
She popped the can of Zip and downed it in four swallows. Her head buzzed briefly. Jeez, the stuff was strong. She shook it off and went through some half-assed limbering up motions to distract herself.
When she’d done that and was still waiting for the foliage to be combed or some such crap, she took a second Zip can.
The stuff was sickly sweet, pink flavoured despite its lime-green can. But after the first repulsive swallow, she got used to it, liked it, even. Halfway down the can she was really into it. It had enough sparkle to tickle her throat and — wow — enough kick to revive a dead bison. Except there was no sugar and no caffeine — those were both evil, last time she looked. Zip was different — the world’s first soft drink with all-natural ingredients from all healthy sources. And it turned out Hayley liked it.
“Hayley. If you’re ready,” the director said with unnecessary snark.
She dropped the empty can back into the cooler. “I’m ready.”
Later, in her hotel room, she lay on the floor doing her spinal exercises. Rehabilitation was for life. What passed for her life.
The room door opened and Barney backed into the room. “Hiya.”
She sat up. “Heard of knocking?”
He turned around. He was embracing a pile of papers. She groaned.
Barney was her manager, her ex boyfriend, occasionally her sex-buddy. He was currently in the Ex category, but always looking to move up. He quipped about gymnasts being the best and seemed to actually mean it. She wasn’t sure if that was sweet or perverted.
He said, “Zip loves your work today. They want more.”
“Great.” She sat beside him on the bed, deliberately not touching, and he showed her the papers. Contracts were the worst, so naturally these were contracts.
She signed them without reading anything.
“You sure?” he said.
“Knowing that is your job, not mine.”
“Well, you’ve done it now, anyway.”
That kind of slipperiness was why she’d ditched him. “Barney . . .”
“It’s fine. More commercial spots, some promotional crap with a tour bus. Shopping malls.”
“Well, it’s done now, and the money’s OK.”
“Mall of America will love you.”
A knock sounded at the door. Hayley opened it and took a big paper gift bag off the porter. She dumped it on the bed.
Barney was all over it. “From Zip! Hey, they really did love you!”
The bag contained flowers, a six-pack of Zip and a pen drive labeled Video.
“Well, let’s see it then,” said Barney.
“Nah . . .”
“Give it here.” He shoved the drive into her computer.
“Listen, Barney, about today —”
His nose was four inches from the screen. “Jesus, Hayley, what are you doing?”
“It was nothing, I just wanted to —”
“Your back! If you fall, if you land wrong —”
“I didn’t land wrong!”
Hayley grabbed a can of Zip and necked it.
Barney watched the video again, two more times. By the third go-around he was grudgingly pleased. “Pretty amazing without a sprung floor.”
“My first club couldn’t afford a sprung floor.” She’d landed on pure concrete the first million times. Toughened her up.
He reached for a Zip, and her. His eyes were bright, appealing. His hands were warm. For a moment, she was tempted.
Then, through a pinkish fuzz, she remembered he was her ex. She smacked his hand away. “It’s late, Barney.”
He took the hint, gathered up the contracts, and left.
She sighed and leaned on the door. Then she went back and watched the video.
It was just a segment from her first Olympic floor routine. She’d done it on a whim — cartwheel, pah! — and it had worked better than she could have hoped for. She’d judged the available space just right, taken into account the camera, and basically aced it.
The director had been thrilled. He got on the phone to Zip and one of their people came over from the office. They loved it too. The whole crew got free Zip and the high-ups stood round agreeing how great Hayley was.
Hayley did fifteen more takes, and every time, the Olympic crowd roared louder.
Hayley was in her PJs, brushing her teeth, ignoring the fuchsia buzz behind her eyes, when there was yet another knock at her door. She pressed her eye to the spyhole and saw a girl standing there, a skinny kid with no-brand sweats and a nervous expression. “What do you want?” Hayley said through the door.
“To save your life.”
Great. A freak. “I’ll call Security.”
“No! Please! I have proof!” The kid pushed her face up against the spyhole on the other side, making Hayley recoil. “Proof against Zip!”
Hayley tossed her toothbrush on the bed. “ID,” she said into the door, some attempt at credibility.
The kid slid a card under the door. It meant nothing to Hayley but had a name — Lee something — and the name of some midwestern university.
Hayley opened the door. Frankly the card could have said Mickey Mouse and how would she know the difference? She rubbed her head.
“Thank you.” Lee crept into the room. She looked around.
“Yeah, I’m a pig.” Hayley shrugged at the piles of clothes, scattered empty takeout trays. “What do you want?”
“I must tell you about Zip.” Lee took a breath. “It’s evil.”
“I mean it,” said Lee. She had a slight accent that Hayley couldn’t place. “I can show you.”
“What, do you work for like some other drinks company? Is there a Zing or a Zap just desperate to get their share of the market?” That sounded pretty good, she thought. This business stuff was no big deal.
“No, it’s not that. It’s the ingredients. Look.” Lee wrinkled her nose and took a can of Zip out of her hoodie pocket. “Read it!”
“It’s just a bunch of plant names.” Hayley squinted at the can. “Seaweed and such.”
“These are protected plants.”
“Oh my god.” Hayley sank onto the crumpled bed. “Don’t tell me, these plants are sacred to your people.”
Lee folded her arms. “That is very offensive.”
Hayley couldn’t find words to say sorry. Her back hurt.
Lee sat beside her. “These plants are not forbidden, protected, because they have magical powers. They’re banned because they have certain psychotropic properties. They’re off-limits for food manufacturers. These ingredients must not enter the human food chain, do you understand?”
“Then Zip must have lined the pockets of whoever gives out the permissions.” Hayley shrugged.
“They are not Zip, they are the government. It is the government who want you to do this, and who will do anything to stop me.” Lee glanced over her shoulder like a proper spy. Her mouth trembled.
“OK,” said Hayley. She put the can of Zip on her nightstand.
“Don’t you even want to know why they’re evil?” said Lee.
This was seriously like some movie thing. Late-night visit, evil corporation. “I guess,” said Hayley.
Lee said, “Was there Zip at the TV place today?”
“Free cans for everyone, right?”
“Well, think about the Zip people. Not the crew. The people in suits.”
Lee said, “I promise you they were not drinking it.”
Hayley thought about it. “Everyone drank it.”
Lee shook her head.
“OK,” said Hayley. “I’ve got things to do. Nice meeting you.”
“You mustn’t do this,” said Lee as Hayley propelled her towards the door. “The drink — it makes you foolish. It makes you suggestible. Think how it would be if this drink is launched. Think what the government could do!”
Hayley shoved her into the hall. “Listen,” she said. “I’m just paid to do a job, OK? I’m going to do it. And I did good today.” Better than she’d done in five years.
Lee struggled in Hayley’s grip. She peered into her eyes. “You drank it,” she said. “I’m too late.”
“Goodnight,” said Hayley.
“Hayley, we’re ready for you now.”
“One moment.” Hayley looked around the set. Everyone had a can of Zip in their hand. The crew were on fire today, take after take and no break for lunch. The cheerleaders grinned and bounced and cartwheeled.
Everyone had Zip. Lee’s doomsayer warnings were just BS.
Hayley took a swig of her can. The Zip slid down her throat, tingling all the way. It felt good. It felt like nineteen years old and sports stardom.
The only person without a can was the corporate girl she’d insulted yesterday. She was smiling now, like the rest of them, smiling at Hayley and at the work everyone was racing through today. And, look, a cooler of Zip at her feet, ready to give away.
Hayley’s head buzzed. She stood, and straightened her Zip leotard. The director gestured, and the sound guy set off the tropical noises.
It would be OK. This would be the best routine ever.
Hayley stepped up to the beam, a last-minute addition to the jungle.
Her gold medal was waiting.