June 7, 2016 by Lyn
And just in time
In the right place
Suddenly I will play my ace
She’d done a good job of faking confidence when they started the challenge, but inside, Shahin had been a mess of nerves. She wanted this to work, but they weren’t the brightest cy’ree by a long shot, and they had so many weak links, links that could be yanked at any point by their Keepers or by their old damage.
Or new damage; she wasn’t all that certain of her own abilities, either. But they’d managed all right against cy’Caitrin, with no major troubles from their weak links, then gone on to a shaky win against cy’Fridmar. Even Shahin had trouble facing Baram with a calm stomach.
In the end, though, it came down to teamwork. Her people weren’t all the brightest, but they knew their strengths and limitations, and each other’s. The cy’Fridmar team was hampered by their inability to field an alternate, although each of them did have something to contribute. She’d long suspected that there was more to Rozen than met the eye, but Baram had clearly learned at least a little in his years here too, if only by accident of long exposure. Even Bowen was surprisingly bright, out where he could think for himself. Phelen was their weakest link, and he wasn’t that weak. They had no cohesion, though, no sense of how to work together. While they won, the match was closer than Shahin would have liked, especially since she expected to be facing cy’Solomon next.
She caught her breath before looking at the roster, wishing for a few minutes of time alone with Emrys. To distract herself, she glanced at cy’Drake’s sheet. They’d beaten cy’Akinobu, but then lost to the Misfits; they’d face cy’Luca next.
That one should be easy for them; she let her eyes wander from there to cy’Pelletier’s sheet. They were up against… cy’Doug? That would be interesting. She glanced thoughtfully at Carter.
“The Thornes,” he frowned, shaking his head. “This won’t be easy. All three of them are on the ball.”
“What about their fourth, though?”
“Kylie? No idea. She’s a Fifth Cohort; I don’t think she’s in any advanced classes. I doubt they’ll let her answer much.”
Well, it was a weak spot, then, even if only a small one. She nodded. “Let’s go win,” she smiled, braver than she felt.
“Right. At least we outnumber them.”
Professor VanderLinden read off the categories once everyone was situated, and they huddled quickly to make their plan, with Carter coordinating.
“Math’s a lost cause, either Acacia or Sima will beat even Callista. Sports is likely no better. Ancient Civilizations could go either way. Focus on Asian History and Pop Culture – we may get lucky there. Start with… me, Callista, Shahin, and Kendra, I think?”
Shahin checked the two Kept for their reactions, even as she nodded.
“Okay,” Kendra squeaked; Callista just nodded in turn, unfazed.
“You’ll do fine,” Shahin reassured both of them.
They took their seats, Kendra with some trepidation, and VanderLinden read off the first question.
“In the category of Ancient Civilizations: Which original Wonder of the World was later replaced by the Lighthouse of Alexandria?”
She knew this one! Shahin hit the buzzer and VanderLinden acknowledged her.
“Ishtar Gate.” She’d never thought her hobby studies of Mideast history (based on a few passing comments her mother had made about her father) would matter for anything except her own curiosity, and was a bit startled at the smile stretching her mouth.
“And the bonus?” Professor VanderLinden asked her.
Oh, right. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. “Yes.”
“In modern times, Saddam Hussein ordered a smaller reproduction of the Gate. Who ordered the original construction?”
She knew this, she knew this… Her team was looking at her. The lights in front of VanderLinden, indicating her seven seconds, were fading away. What a way to start the match, if she balked here!
“King Nebuchadnezzar,” she spat out, and as VanderLinden raised the card, hastily added, “the Second.”
“Correct,” he smiled. “You have the floor.”
They were able to retain control for awhile that way in the first round, although they lost it twice. The first time, they were able to slip in after Sima buzzed five questions in rapid succession and finally got one wrong. The next time they lost one, Acacia and Allyse juggled the round until it ended, the score nearly tied again.
Staying in the lead as a team was a giddy feeling Shahin wasn’t sure she’d ever felt before. She fought back a sudden urge to hug her cy’ree, not certain they’d appreciate it. VanderLinden was already preparing the questions for the second round, and her smile vanished at the categories. Physics, Chemistry, Military History. Modern Diplomacy wasn’t much better. The only place they were on even footing was Ancient Literature. Was the Professor actively trying to sabotage them? She glanced over, but couldn’t tell anything at all from his expression.
Carter called the team quickly back into its huddle. “Military History or Modern Diplomacy. Anyone?” Shahin tried not to look as blank as she felt, and looked at Nikolai hopefully.
“Uh,” he said, noting her gaze. “Maybe? I could try.”
“Alright,” Carter nodded. “Shahin’s out, Nikolai’s in. I’m stepping out; Eris, take my spot this round? You can help Callista recover those sciences.”
“Joy,” Eris answered dryly, but she was smiling. “Come on, Callie,” she urged gently. “We can do this.”
Shahin hoped she was right as they took their seats. After a few questions, though, it was clear that that wasn’t the case. The Thornes rotated through categories like a well-oiled machine, Acacia taking most of the sciences, Sima snapping up Military History, and Allyse dominating Modern Diplomacy. Eris was able to snipe in on Chemistry at one point, and the team ran three questions on Ancient Literature, but when they were forced to switch categories they couldn’t hold it. By the end of the round, they’d suffered a significant setback.
Cy’Doug winning didn’t feature prominently in either Shahin’s plan or Kai’s abandoned one. She frowned thoughtfully, wondering if there was any way she could leverage this without actually using magic. It seemed unlikely. They’d just have to wait for the last set of categories and hope for the best…
“Music. Biology. Art. European History. Modern Literature.”
Well, that was better. Bio was Eris’s purview, Shahin could handle Literature… “Channing, didn’t you say you were good at music?”
“I guess? But I mean, that’s different from answering questions about it.”
“Hrm.” She glanced at Carter. “My tastes are a bit esoteric.”
“You’ll do fine, Channing,” he encouraged the girl. “I’ll be up there with you, and Eris. That’s one more for this round; art or literature, Shahin?”
“Literature,” she nodded firmly.
“You’re in, then. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up, but we can do this.”
They had to, she thought to herself, for Callista and Kendra if for no other reason.
It went well for quite awhile. The Thornes’ best category here was Biology, but the cy’Pelletier team was no slouch in that department, and they burned up cy’Doug’s lead in the more aesthetic categories. The real turn came in European History.
“What empire’s downfall and division is credited with the rise and spread of castles in Europe?”
The buzzer sounded, and Shahin glanced around as a startled expression crossed VanderLinden’s face.
“Kylie,” he acknowledged.
The Thornes turned to look at their junior teammate, who bit her lip nervously.
“The Holy Roman Empire?”she quavered.
“I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. Cy’Pelletier?”
Carter buzzed in. “Carolingian Empire.”
“That’s right. And your bonus?”
“What French term is used to refer to the innermost ring of fortifications of a concentric castle?”
That one took him a moment, but finally he said “Enceinte,” his accent horrible but understandable.
“Correct. Cy’Pelletier takes the lead.”
Shahin swallowed the urge to cheer, but the tide had been turned; they were going to win this one. They did, by a narrow margin, and despite Shahin’s inclination to stay as the Thornes cornered Kylie, Carter was herding them down the hall to see who they would face in the semifinal.
That turned out to be cy’Linden. Jamian, although he’d seemed to think he’d be benched the whole time, and, among other people, Yngvi’s nemesis Ardell and, lovely, Agatha. Well, they didn’t have to like people to compete against them. If anything, it might make it easier. She had no illusions that this would be a simple match, though. Cy’Linden was the largest team and had the most Second Cohorts, and they couldn’t possibly be as vapid as they appeared; they did pass classes, after all.
She listened nervously for the categories. They’d come this far; she didn’t want to lose now.
Professor Solomon was running this match, and he wasted no time in quieting the two large groups to read them off.
“The Renaissance. Chemistry. Theology. Sports. African History.”
She watched the other team rather than her own as they went through the listing, picking off reactions to the categories; Carter had done well so far placing them.
Some of these categories were less specifically academic disciplines, so they weren’t all as she might have expected. Joff seemed happy about The Renaissance, but so did Manira. Manira oro’Phelen, she reminded herself with a faint pang of conscience, but that was quickly suppressed as she continued to watch and listen. Most of the older students seemed happy with Chemistry. Theology wasn’t causing any smiles, although Joff wasn’t frowning either; they’d have to watch out for him, this round. Several students, particularly Ardell, appeared to appreciate Sports, but Agatha was the only one who seemed at all sanguine about African History.
Well, they had a chance then, if only a slim one. She looked back to Carter for his thoughts.
“We need Eris or Callista for Chemistry. Kendra, you’re studying World History, that might give you a leg up for either African or Renaissance. We don’t really have a Sports person I don’t think; what about Theology? Anyone?”
“I’m pretty good with it,” Channing offered shyly.
“Yeah?” Carter smiled. “Okay, good. That should work; Eris, Callista, Kendra, Channing.”
That decided, Shahin sat back to watch the match, smiling faintly at Jamian, who warmed the bench on cy’Linden’s side.
He smiled shakily in return, and then Professor Solomon read the first question.
“In the category of The Renaissance: What portrait is believed to be of the wife of Francesco del Giocondo?”
Well. If they were going to be that easy, she could’ve stayed in herself. Two-thirds of the hands came down, but Solomon identified Eris as first. She promptly identified the Mona Lisa and took her bonus.
“The Mona Lisa’s painter, Leonardo da Vinci, was also known as an engineer. What well-known contemporary worked with him on a scheme to divert the flow of the Arno River?”
Eris craned uncomfortably, as if trying to look at her own back, frowning for a moment; Shahin sat on pins and needles. “Niccolo Machiavelli!” she declared at the last moment.
Okay, maybe they weren’t that easy. It was a hundred-point lead right out of the gate, though. The scores crossed repeatedly during the round, one team leading by a hundred or more, then the other surpassing them, only to be leapfrogged in turn. As the round wound down, the less popular categories started getting more hits.
“In Theology, the question is: The Great Schism was caused in 1054 by what pope’s… Yes, Joff.”
“Leo IX. Bonus.”
“Correct. The finish was, ‘what pope’s assertion of authority over the Pentarchy’. Your bonus: Leo sparked further dispute by defending what clause of the Nicene Creed?”
“Filioque,” Joff replied in impeccable Latin, just before the timer sounded the end of the round.
The next round went just as tensely, and the end of the last round drew close with distressing speed, finding them 140 points down, members of the team beginning to grow visibly distressed.
“The first double-helix model of DNA structure was suggested by what scientific team – Yes, Callista,” Solomon said.
“Watson and Crick. Bonus, please.”
“Correct,” he smiled, apparently amused by her self-assurance and the obvious awareness of the impending timer. “What is the term for an organism that stores its DNA only in the cytoplasm?”
“Prokaryote. Advanced Mathematics, please.”
“Correct. The next question, for everyone, requires a visual. What concept is defined by this function?”
The projector flashed an image onto the blackboard:
Callista reached forward to the buzzer; was it Shahin’s imagination, or was she a bit more hesitant than usual? Her hand came down and a single tear welled up in her eye. Shahin’s hand darted forward and slammed her button with bruising force, the room echoing with the double buzz. She looked up at Solomon breathlessly, awaiting the verdict.
“Shahin,” he said. “Your answer?”
Oh, yeah. Now she had to answer. Fuck. Seconds ticked by while she racked her brain.
“The Laplace transform of a function f(t),” she spat out, as the last light winked out.
“Correct. A bonus?”
They were winning now, and she’d only squeaked by on that question. If she lost, they would lose twenty points, making them lose by ten points.
“Shahin?” the professor asked again. “A bonus?”
“I’m sorry, Professor,” she smiled sweetly. “I don’t know where my mind was.” How many seconds did they have left?
“Yes, Shahin. Do you want the bonus question?”
“Oh! I apologize, Professor Solomon. No, thank you.”
“And what category would you like?”
“Oh!” She smiled brightly. “That’s a good question, isn’t it?” So what if they thought she was a flake? They were going to win the round.
There was the buzzer. They’d done it; they’d beaten cy’Linden.