This was the moment seven-year-old Delta Stevens had prepared for ever since she had seen an Olympic gymnastics tournament as a toddler.
The applause of the crowd, the bright lights and the television cameras - they were more awe inspiring than she had imagined.
The young girl was the highest ranked gymnast in her age category throughout all of America, but she was still overwhelmed by the grand scale of the arena. Without an audience the performance area had looked so much less intimidating the previous night.
For three years she had been honing her technique, practising for at least four hours almost every day. The last seven months had been spent learning and adapting her routine.
Day after day, night after night, landing after perfect landing; with so many eyes upon her now she held her breath, as though letting it out would take her confidence with it.
Delta felt her long, deep-brown curly hair, which had been tied into a bun to make sure it didn’t get into her eyes during the performance.
She looked down at her glittering leotard, which was adorned with red and white stripes; a blue rectangle with silver stars dominated the top-right half of her chest.
Her father, Maxwell Stevens, had recently been promoted to the position of CEO of Atlas Automated Systems Incorporated.
Most of the family celebrated for three whole days, but Delta continued to train as normal, pushing herself to be the best performer she could possibly be.
Her oldest brother, Herc, seemed annoyed at her lack of enthusiasm for their father’s success, but Maxwell understood how she felt to have such talent, yet to be in somebody else’s shadow.
The chatter of the crowd died down at the request of the announcer.
Delta hesitated for a moment; hers was the first name to be called out.
Taking her place on the corner of the performance area, Delta put her hands together over her head, closed her eyes then looked towards the uneven bars.
With a run, a leap, a summersault, then a jump, she grabbed hold of the lower bar with both hands, swinging almost all the way to the top of her arc.
In an expert twist, she swapped the position of her hands and changed direction, this time completing a full circle under, then over the bar - once, then twice - before leaving the bar altogether.
After a 1260 degree twist through the air, Delta grasped the highest bar, changed direction again, and built up the momentum for a return leap.
A double forward summersault through the air was followed by another perfect clasp of the lower bar, three further orbits, and a flawless dismount.
The crowd applauded for a second, before settling to an attentive hush.
Delta took the opportunity to catch her breath and set her sights on her next instrument; the balance beam.
Once silence had descended upon the audience, she began her approach.
This segment of her performance had been practised at least a hundred times, and she rehearsed it one more time in her mind.
Light glistened along the length of the balance beam, its sheen and lustre giving it an unusual glow - even more so than during last night’s practise session.
Delta didn’t notice the extra shimmer; she was too busy planning her next step. Even if she had noticed, she might have thought it was due to the extra lighting for the cameras.
Her foot touched the laminated carbon fibre beam; in every practise session it held fast, giving her time for her other foot to come down next to it so she could find her balance.
Tonight the beam felt different; her first foot didn’t hold still, but instead seemed to slide out from under her.
Instinctively, she held her arms out forward to steady herself, but she was travelling too fast for this to work; a loud thud echoed through the arena.
The crowd gasped as Delta’s spine took the full force of her fall onto the balance beam, before being damaged further as she tumbled face down onto the crash mat.
Seconds felt like minutes as the pain surged through her body.
Delta held her breath for a moment before gasping silently. She wanted to shout - to cry out for help - but she was so overwhelmed that she could only manage a short, high-pitched squeal.
Most of the audience members stood up, as though the extra height would give them a better view of the accident.
Liliya, Delta’s instructor, was the first to run in from the side-lines, closely followed by her mother, Astra.
Her long, curly ginger hair and fair skin made it difficult to tell at a glance that she was Delta’s mother, but the family resemblance was clear to everybody who knew them personally.
“No! Don’t touch,” demanded Liliya as Astra knelt down to be at her daughter’s side.
Astra hesitated for a moment before taking the girl’s hand. “It’s alright, Delta, Mommy’s here,” she said, tearfully.
Liliya carefully felt Delta’s back before standing up and yelling, “Bring a stretcher! NOW!”
Two young men jogged into the performance area carrying an empty stretcher and placed it next to Delta.
Herc, Jason and Gill, Delta’s brothers, also ran to comfort the girl.
Nineteen-year-old Herc grabbed one of the hovering camera drones and said, “Get these damned cameras away. Turn ’em off!” before he hurled it against the padded floor.
The holographic recorder bounced harmlessly off the ground and joined its flock, before whizzing upwards into a hole in the ceiling.
Delta cried out as she was rolled carefully onto the stretcher, before being carried slowly out of the arena.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm,” insisted the announcer as the young girl’s family followed her closely.
Astra looked into her daughter’s eyes when she awoke the following morning.
“Mom? Where are we?”
“We’re at the hospital, sweetie.”
“What? Then it wasn’t a dream,” cried Delta. She tried to lift her head from the pillow, but found herself held down by the restraints over her forehead and chest.
“Don’t try to sit up; the doctor said you need to lie perfectly still for a few days.”
“Mom, help me! I can’t feel my legs.”
“I’m sorry, Delta. I’m right here,” she said, trying to reassure her daughter. She held Delta’s nearest hand in both of her own, squeezing it firmly.
“He’s on his way. I sent your brothers to meet him at the airport. They needed some air, but I’m not leaving you, not yet. I have to give you this first,” she explained as she unfastened the silver bracelet from her wrist.
The sparkling chain was encrusted with six perfectly smooth egg-shaped gemstones, each one a different colour.
“Your lucky band?”
“Yeah, my Mom gave it to me the morning I landed my job at Atlas, and I met your Dad on the same day,” sighed Astra as she closed her eyes and pictured the happy events of the interview. “You need it more than I do, sweetie. The doctor said you might not walk again, but I know it’s not true. I looked around and found the best neurosurgeon available. I think his name is Doctor Douglas.”
Delta’s eyes welled with tears at the thought of her mother leaving her side when she needed her most.
“Stay strong, my plane doesn’t leave for another three hours. I won’t be long, I promise.”
Delta closed her eyes and begged, “Please don’t go, Mom.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow night, but for now I’m right here,” whispered Astra before giving her daughter a tender kiss on the forehead, “My brave, brave little girl.”