June 7, 2016 by Lyn
There’s saints and sinners
Life’s a gamble and you might lose
There’s cowards and heroes
Both have been known now to break the rules
Kai hated losing. She hated losing more when it involved the smug, self-satisfied look on Agatha’s face. She’d really wanted to beat them, if only to beat Agatha.
She stared at the roster, not really seeing it. If cy’Linden won… well, that had been her original plan. Some good would still come of it. But they weren’t out of the match yet. A single defeat only knocked them down to the bottom bracket, where they’d face… She tried to focus on the page in front of her. Cy’Luca. Well. She wrinkled her nose at the bracket. Playing against her Kept was not really what she wanted to do. She studied the rest of the listings to see how well everyone else was doing.
Well, cy’Pelletier hadn’t lost yet. Kai wanted to be jealous but, she supposed, one of their teams had to lose at some point for their – Shahin’s – plan to work. They were up against cy’Linden next, though, and having just faced that team, Kai couldn’t muster much optimism for their prospects. If the Misfits couldn’t handle them, she was pretty sure cy’Pelletier couldn’t, either.
She could worry about that later. Now, she had to face her Kept… and her friend, Vlad… and Anatoliy. She shook her head and led her team to Professor Valerian’s classroom for the match. The cy’Lucas were already there; their amiable chatter ground to a halt as she approached. She wasn’t very well going to pretend she wasn’t dating a member of the opposing team – how did other couples deal with this? She crossed the invisible line separating them to hug Conrad, feeling both a bit defiant and a bit silly. He hugged her back, looking a bit sheepish. “Hi. Uh. Good luck? But not too much?”
She smiled, thinking through all the words she could say, and any particular way they could be taken as an order, and finally, feeling as if she was outthinking herself, simply said “I love you,” and kissed him. That seemed to be just about perfect. As she stepped back, he was smiling, and… his entire cy’ree was watching them. The entire room was watching them. She felt her cheeks color. Well, it wasn’t as if they didn’t know. She straightened her spine and stepped back to the Misfits, trying not to act as embarrassed as she felt.
“Wasn’t that sweet,” Taro commented. “Now let’s kick their butts.” Caity chuckled nervously; she was, Kai remembered, dating another cy’Luca, and, yes, she was waving at Richard, while Ren was pretending not to look at Mark.
“This is going to be awkward,” Wren noted helpfully. “Let’s get it over with,” Nydia said, as the professor stepped up to read the categories. Suddenly less interested in the academics, Kai had to force herself to pay attention. Professor Valerian cleared her throat.
“Our first categories are: Primitive Cultures. Pharmocology. Physics. Military History. Architecture.” Oh, dear. She looked around her cy’ree curiously. ”I might be able to get some Military History?,” Taro said questioningly.
“I can do Architecture, and probably some of the others,” Caity added. “I can handle Physics,” Kai nodded. That left…
“I might be able to do Primitive Cultures,” Nydia whispered. “That’s four of us,” Taro said. ”It’ll have to do.”
Well, cy’Luca weren’t necessarily the strongest group academically. Kai watched them nervously as they picked their team; could they compete?
Smitty, Anatoliy, Alexander, and Vlad took their seats. Maybe Physics wouldn’t be such a good idea. Still, she was good at it. She could do this. Being smart was what she did.
As the match got underway, though, she started having second thoughts. Both teams ventured into the more esoteric categories, but Pharmacology did neither of them any good, and Primitive Cultures was little better. Anatoliy, Alexander, and Smitty barely let her get a word in edgewise with Physics, so when she finally did, she switched to Military History and hoped Taro was really up to it.
“In October 1917, Lawrence of Arabia led the defense of what ancient city against Turkish and German forces?”
Alexander looked like he was thinking about hitting the buzzer, but Taro made the decision first and Valerian acknowledged him.
“Correct. Would you like a bonus?”
He seemed uncertain, but nodded. “Yeah.”
“Petra has a long history as a fortification; in 312 BC, what people defended it against troops of Antigonus?”
Taro waited several seconds, thinking, then shook his head. “Hell, I have no idea. Assyrians?”
“The Nabataeans, Taro. You retain control, though.”
Kai fretted. What would he choose? If he threw it back to Physics, the cy’Luca boys would just grab it away from her. Maybe Architecture? Caity hadn’t had a chance to really shine there yet.
Apparently he had the same thought. Caity snapped up a question about Frank Lloyd Wright, and they proceeded to chain the next half-dozen, losing control only moments before the round ended.
Kai let go of a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, and looked at her team with a grin. They could do this, they really could.
The second round brought back more traditional categories, and both teams did equally well, with Team Misfit retaining the lead they’d won at the end of the first round. It was a respectable lead, but by no means insurmountable, and when they broke before round three Kai found herself worrying.
She glanced over at Conrad. He was the smartest of cy’Luca, and they’d been holding him in reserve; she wondered why. Would she get in trouble if she talked to him? Even as she had the thought, he turned her direction for a moment, as if subconsciously feeling her will. That’s right – he was hers, of course.
He was hers. She smiled at him warmly, and took a step in his direction. He was hers, and he had to do what she told him to do. The thought was tempting.
Conrad took a step towards her, away from his group, and smiled faintly. “Hey. Kinda tense, huh?”
“A little,” she admitted. No. She could force him to throw the challenge, but she wasn’t the sort of person who would, and that was an important distinction to keep in mind: doing that sort of thing would bring her closer to Agatha. “Your team is really good.”
“Not good enough,” he joked. “I don’t know if we can take you.”
She smiled back at him, even as she cringed inwardly. He just had to give you an opening, didn’t he? “We’ll see.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, before hurrying back to his team as Valerian prepared to read the new categories.
Cy’Luca fielded Finn, Mark, Richard, and yes, Conrad, against herself, Taro, Caity, and Renata. For a moment she couldn’t help but wonder if it was intentional. For an even briefer moment, she wondered how Shahin would handle the situation. She was sure the other girl could find a way to turn that to her advantage.
All she had was her mind, though. She turned away from thoughts of who, exactly, was on the other team, and focused on beating them.
It seemed to be a winning strategy. For a brief moment, the cy’Luca team narrowed the gap, but they never came within striking distance, and the Misfits carried the match.
Kai took a moment to hug Conrad before the Misfits moved on to their last match. She was still afraid to say anything, but she wanted to feel his arms around her.
“Congratulations,” he said quietly as he held her. “Two more matches and you’ll have made it.”
She swallowed several totally inappropriate responses and simply said “thank you.” What else could she say? He already knew everything else.
“Good luck,” he smiled, kissing her forehead. “You’d better go see who you’re facing next.”
She smiled back at him, glad that he was, she was pretty certain, happy, and took his advice. Who would they face now?
“Cy’Doug,” Taro grimaced, stepping back from the board. “The Thornes.”
“Well,” Kai offered, “there’s unlikely to be a combat trial involved.”
“They’re pretty smart, too, though,” Wren noted. “Phelen said they were a ‘triple threat’, and that that was a double entendre; it seems there should be another multiple in there,” she mused.
“A quadruple jump?” Kai mused. “No, that doesn’t work.”
“Single malt whisky,” Caity offered slyly, and then blushed.
“Double eliminated,” Renata said firmly. “Come on, I want that vacation.”
“That’s the spirit,” Taro grinned. “Okay, let’s go get ‘em.”
The Thornes were already waiting for them in Professor VanderLinden’s classroom, along with Kylie, who was ostensibly their teammate but wore a close-lipped, hangdog expression as she sat quietly. Kai wanted to hug her, too, but thought that that could wait; the Thornes wouldn’t be as forgiving as cy’Luca had been.
That applied equally on the contest board, she discovered, as the match got underway. After the first two rounds, the Misfits were holding them to a near-tie, but just that was taking everything they had.
They hadn’t come this far to lose, though. Kai forced herself to focus like she’d never focused before.
At least the final round didn’t have more math in it. She tended to know the answers there, but she couldn’t match Sima’s speed to the buzzer; she knew firsthand how impressive the girl’s reaction time was. They traded questions, with cy’Doug barely leading, until…
“Ancient Civilizations,” Caity requested. They’d done reasonably well in this category; at least, it was one the Thornes had to think about, rather than buzzing after half a question.
“What was the longest-lasting dynasty in Chinese history?,” VanderLinden asked.
Kai had to think about that one herself. Ming? Tang? No, it had to be one of the older ones for this category, like…
“Shang,” Acacia said. Kai had barely registered her buzz as she pondered the question. She could be right, it was either that or…
“That’s incorrect,” VanderLinden said, and she hit the button.
“Correct,” the professor smiled. “A bonus?”
“Yes,” she nodded. They needed it; after that turnaround, if she could add another fifty points, they’d have a lead they might be able to hold onto.
“After defeating the Shang at the Battle of Muye, the king of Zhou invoked what concept to legitimize his rule?”
She remembered this one! “The Mandate of Heaven.”
“That’s right. Your category?”
From there, while it wasn’t easy, they had the round. The Thornes were animalistic enough that even Kai could tell they were getting angry, but it didn’t matter: the Misfits were going to win. When the final buzzer sounded, she hugged her closest teammate – Taro, in this case – with exhausted glee.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he cautioned her, but his smile was wide nevertheless.
“No,” she agreed, “but at least we can see daylight.”