I’ve got a story up at Stymie Magazine here. Here’s the opening section:
London, August 2012:
They flip, float and fishtail in perfect unison: two tiny flickers of electric blue, merged as one in the Olympic pool. There is an audacious exactitude about their work: fractions and formulas rendered as a single, seamless slick. Even the size of their splash seems identical, each individual droplet assigned to arc a specific trajectory, to prick the surface at the exact same moment.
The effortless beauty of their work is reflected in the judges’ scoring: a wave of perfect sixes, mere confirmation of what the audience, raised from their seats as if they too have coalesced into a single entity, already knew: that the gold medal belongs to them.
Disengaged from their aquatic environment, the newly-crowned Olympic champions suddenly seem absurdly vulnerable, almost clumsy, as they skirt the pool, as if unsure if they are required to keep in step; to raise their hands and curl their smiles with the same exacting accord. They are ushered from the arena, towels tossed loosely around their slender shoulders, forming an extra protective barrier against those who wish to share their glory. A shoal of minders in identical, warship-grey suits emerges from nowhere to jostle a path through the media mixed zone, swatting all requests for interviews, palming away the prying lenses of cameras.
The global media is keen to glimpse more of these girls, to learn more about their highly-secretive, one-million strong nation, which has won its first Olympic gold medals since it brokered an uneasy independence from Papua New Guinea in 1984.
But the extraordinary synchronized swimmers of Western Berenang are unwilling or unable to give up their secrets. So dominant has Western Berenang become in the sport of synchronized swimming that a joke floats round rival camps that goes something like this: thank goodness we’re not competing against the whole of Berenang.
Western Berenang’s gold medals in London were the culmination of a quest that has seen the tiny Papuan island reign unbeaten in international competition for four years, since it first emerged, as if hooked from the foot of the Melanesian Basin itself, to claim a silver medal in Beijing.
But at a time when the island ought to be celebrating its finest achievement, its rivals have been given renewed hope. Western Berenang’s synchronized swimming revolution may soon be over before it ever really had a chance to begin. In the wake of Western Berenang’s success in London, the media have been unforgiving in their pursuit of the story behind the island’s improbable domination. Human rights groups have collected evidence so damning it is expected to lead to the International Synchronized swimming Federation, the sport’s world governing body, announcing an imminent suspension of Western Berenang’s membership—and by extension its eligibility to compete in major tournaments. Western Berenang’s reclusive head of state, King Mu, has responded by accusing Papua New Guinea of planting the evidence and actively conspiring with the governing body to discredit Western Berenang’s achievements: allegations which have escalated into the renewal of a bloody conflict with the Papuans. It seems Western Berenang is prepared to go to war to keep its secrets.