Octagla 2: Rematch
A Space Sport Novel
Red just didn’t have the focus Mai decided as she saw herself take the face-off. She was intent on the teleconference replay of last night’s Celebrity Octagla game between the men’s defending galactic champs, Tamara, and their local Pickup team. Coach Parnthius had called her from Laurion about it.
Retired Genie racer, Jon Melcrist, was moving closer to the wall, then jetting into the Tamara end. With his lean tanned face, dark hair, and compact build Jon was a natural athlete. He gave his stick the additional twist needed to keep the ball from jarring out of the net then he started to run the wall. He only made three strides before Tamara’s young star winger Ranga was on the wall too, moving in fast. Journeyman Larr wasn’t far behind Ranga, and Maras on defense had shifted to cover this wall action. Perfect. Jon was setting her up the way he was supposed to.
Mai had seen this six times already this morning, but her stomach still tightened as she watched Jon risk a quick look to where she, Trevarr, her partner at the sports medicine clinic, and Joran, better known to the galaxy as pop superstar Anton, on the Gingezel Pickup team were crowded together in the middle of the Tamara end, all ready for his pass. He’d risked telegraphing what he was doing. But he’d got away with it.
The hard pass to the center of her net made it so easy! The momentum had the ball deep in the elastic polymer netting. A simple stick twist and there was no risk of losing it. She watched herself jetting in on Maras, the men’s Galactic Octagla league’s tough guy. Maras didn’t know what to do. It showed in his eyes, in the lines of his body. She used the massive black defenseman as a screen and scored, lower right.
Coach Parnthius had not been watching the images. She had been studying the tiny oriental woman who had starred as center in the Celebrity Game last night, holding her own against the men’s galactic champions and looking as good as her Hall of Fame brother, center Torin. The fire she liked to see was there, and Mai was looking a lot better than she’d expected this close after a big game.
“Are you completely sure I can’t tempt you to come out of retirement?” she asked. “We’re talking first string center on the Spirals.” They were likely to take the women’s Galactic Octagla league in the coming season.
Mai shook her head. Coach Parnthius was the highest ranking coach to call her this morning, but fourteen had been ahead of her.
“Last night was just for Daron.”
“Well, if you change your mind once you’ve had some rest, you are on my priority access for calls. It was a great game, Mai!”
Mai favored her right leg as she walked slowly back out to the greenhouse, but the damned right calf throbbed with every step from a deep bruise. She still couldn’t quite believe it. They’d won! She had played center and the Pickup team had beat Tamara! Sure, they’d had a stacked lineup with Tamara’s top player Roban playing for them, and her brother Torin and his Hall of Fame friend roof runner Rall coming out of retirement for the night. But winning had not been a given, and they had won!
Mai wasn’t even pretending to do anything. Rori had moved an old lounge chair to the strongest patch of watery sunshine in the greenhouse and she was alternating between resting there reliving last night’s game, taking calls from friends on her compad, taking calls from coaches and the media in the house on the teleconferencing unit, and imagining spring would finally come to Crescent Bay. Mai eased her tiny frame onto the cushions. Damn! Her right buttock was as sore as her leg. Who had got her there with a check? She had no idea. Well, Rori would have to check out that bruise. She wasn’t going to try to twist to see it in a mirror. Mai tipped her head back staring up at the first leaf buds on the tree that would later shade her garden.
Her agenda was clear. She wasn’t going in to the Sports Medicine Clinic. They had done the important thing, visit Daron right after breakfast and tell him the Pickups won. That was what it had all been about, wasn’t it? Getting Superstud out of his depression and convincing him that his broken neck wasn’t the end of things by setting up the game and having him coach. Torin was still there with Daron, re-watching the part of the game Daron had missed by falling asleep and no doubt analyzing every play in the game ten times.
Her husband Rori, ever sensible, had known she wouldn’t be moving today, so he was taking the day off work too. She could hear him now, starting to cook lunch. Their oldest girl Meku was in kindergarten. Kimi was in her sandbox at the far end of the yard, and baby Tori was blessedly asleep in his carrier on the floor beside her. He had finally fallen asleep about 4:00 AM, around the time Torin, the uncle he was named for, had staggered in.
Tori had given them all a very long night with his breathing problems. That had been a big mistake, taking him up to the space station for the game. Children under a month old travelled in space, but apparently not her little boy! Rori had ended up spending the trip on the periphery of the station in the clinic there where the rotational pseudo-gravity had calmed Tori down enough he relaxed and breathed. But they couldn’t stay there forever, and the trip down ... forget it. She’d remember the game instead.
The call tone on her compad interrupted Mai from remembering that one pass from Roban where she would have sworn he was totally blocked. Mai frowned. It was a local call tone. If Trevarr had changed his mind and wanted her to come in to the clinic to help out with the soccer team, he was out of luck! When he had stuck his head in at breakfast this morning, he’d looked tired, but he was moving. She realized her business partner Trevarr had played a lot more of the game as a utility player than she had as center, but he wasn’t out of shape from just having a baby.
Mai squinted against temporarily brighter sun to read the identifier. Maras? What was he doing calling? Was he still mad at her from the game? She had scored almost all of her goals against him, the league’s biggest, meanest, toughest defenseman. When it came right down to it he didn’t have the heart to really belt a woman.
“Good morning, Maras.” Mai gave him a beaming smile. “That was a great game!”
“You played good,” Maras agreed.
Now that the game was history and he had spent the night partying with his heroes Torin and Rall, Maras was feeling more mellow. But the game weren’t why he called.
Maras came to a full stop. Why were he calling her? No, he knew why he were calling her. What did he say to Mai were the problem. Maras scowled, his black ugly face anguished. He had worked out real good words but words was slippery things. They was gone.
“Been thinkin’ ...”
Mai shifted which hand was holding her compad. Yes, that hand was less stiff. This could take a while. Maras had a slow thought process.
“Yes?” she said encouragingly.
“Thinkin’ about you, and little Tori, and Kimi, and Meku.”
There. It were out. Now they could relax and he could ask how Torin was this morning. Hung over real good were his bet.
“And?” Mai prompted. She had expected a rehash of the game.
She didn’t understand. Damn! Maras squared his shoulders and tried again.
“Time for me to get myself a family, Mai.”
“That’s great, Maras!” Mai loved espousals or weddings. “Anyone I know?”
“Don’t got anyone yet.” Maras swallowed hard, then forced the words out. “Thought maybe you got a cousin?”
Mai’s thought processes were fast enough. Somehow Maras had got it into his thick head he wanted a family like hers. Not just similar to hers but just like hers, with a cousin instead of her. And he wanted her help. The man was insane. Mai studied the embarrassment, and the pleading expression.
“Maras,” she said gently, “it works better if you find someone yourself.”
“Don’t got nobody,” Maras repeated.
Weren’t likely to either. He weren’t good with nice women. “Mai, I want a nice woman. Not the kind I meet. I want a house like you got. Cute kids.” He dried up. That was the longest speech he had made in years.
Mai sighed. “I’ll think about it, Maras. That is real good if you want to settle down.” Mai was not going to discourage any kind impulses the man had.
Maras disconnected before she could say anything else. He could ask about Torin later.
“Well, Tori”, Mai asked the sleeping infant at her feet, “what do you make of that?!”
Maras seemed serious that he wanted to get married and wanted her as matchmaker. After all, he had actually opened his mouth to say so, and the whole call had obviously mortified him. Mai wasn’t sure she thought much of being a matchmaker though. She knew it was the norm in several cultures, but it went against her grain. Still, she had to admit the idea showed a certain realistic grasp of the situation on Maras’s part. Without someone to represent him, Mai doubted Maras would get far.
Mai was not silly enough to think that Maras had a shortage of women available to him if he wanted them. Not with his income and celebrity status. But what he probably got were Daron or someone else’s castoffs, girls who were willing to put up with a glowering graceless type as long as he spent enough money on them and took them to places where they could be seen with a celebrity, any celebrity. He might possibly even find one who would consider marrying him a reasonable price for being a celebrity wife, for a while anyways, as long as he didn’t push the situation and just let her spend his money and avoid him.
But that was exactly what he obviously did not want. He wanted a nice girl and a nice little suburban house, not the mansion he could certainly afford. And Maras wanted babies, lots of babies. He probably wanted dogs too. Mai made a face; she was a cat person. And he would have the guys over for beer to watch every game in the Galactic Men’s Octagla league and a lot of the planetary games, even on their anniversary. Maras was no mystery to her. She had spent her life with his type under foot.
Perhaps most importantly though, since he was going to all of this trouble, he would want the efforts to last for life. That was a rather chilling thought. It would be one thing to get yourself involved with Maras. It would be a very, very different thing to try to walk out on him. Sighing, Mai picked up her glass of herbal tea. Damn! That hurt! She repositioned the little side table and told herself to do the exercises she would advise one of the jocks to do. She didn’t do a single one.
Well, Maras had asked if she had any suitable cousins. That too had been good sense on his part. They all knew the Octagla business as well as she did, and if they bought in they wouldn’t be getting any surprises in the bargain. As far as it went, Mai had four unattached cousins a reasonable age to marry Maras. She was very fond of three of them. The fourth she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. But at a gut level she did not want to give Maras the names of any of the cousins she liked. They were all happy-go-lucky, fun-loving girls, playful, teasing, and very much inclined to stand up for themselves. In fact, they were a lot like herself except that they didn’t have the responsibility of children to settle them down. Maras put up with a lot of teasing and back talk from her and Mai knew he liked it. But she also knew that he only liked the teasing because he got it in small doses. She suspected daily doses would sour on him pretty fast, possibly within weeks, and living in a house with Maras in a foul mood would be horrific.
Then too, there was the little matter of fights. Mai believed what Maras had said up there in the court, that he did not intend to ever really hit a woman. But intent could get lost in a good fight. She did not want to lay odds on how he would react to the hands on your hips, yell back as loudly as you were yelled at approach that she used. Rori got a real kick out of it. He tended to just stand there and watch her, then burst out laughing and ask what she intended to do at her size. Throw pillows? Then she’d get the giggles, and then … well that was a digression. Maras would not laugh. You’d be damned lucky if he just walked out and stayed away sulking for a few weeks. Otherwise you’d be in the hospital.
So her cousins were not a great idea at all. But who else was there? The sort of really nice girl he meant was likely to either be scared off by the celebrity status or by Maras himself. Also, you had to be a pro athlete yourself to be totally at ease with a guy who had started out that big then had deliberately built himself up to the extent that Maras had. That took commitment and a lot of maintenance time. A pro athlete ... an idea slowly started forming in Mai’s mind. Just what exactly were her old teammates doing? What about Urrda? She played defense.
“Mai. Look!” Kimi raised her voice. Her mother hadn’t even heard her the first time.
“What is it, Kimi?”
Urrda was a real possibility. She played defense herself and was a fair match to Maras in size. Think of the kids that pair could produce.
Kimi held up what had been a beetle prior to being caught by a three-year-old, jammed in a pocket, forgotten while a sand castle was built, and now extracted from the pocket. The treasure was clenched tightly in a very grubby fist.
Mai automatically held out her hand as a memory surfaced, not of attending a wedding but of buying two very nice raku serving platters as presents. Surely they were for Urrda?
Kimi deposited the remains of the beetle in her mother’s hand.
“Oh, that’s very nice,” Mai said with automatic enthusiasm. “Is it for me?”
“No. It’s mine.”
Kimi retrieved the beetle. It was the biggest bug she has seen this spring.
“All right.” Mai returned to her thoughts, then as her daughter went out the door to the sandbox added, “but don’t eat it. They only taste good to birds.” Really, Kimi shouldn’t still be shoving things into her mouth, but you just couldn’t trust her.
Kimi looked out the beetle with less enthusiasm. Oh well, it could live in the house. She gave her sand house another loving pat. When first turned out of her bucket there had been four turrets but now it was just a shapeless lump. Kimi was very pleased with the house, but it needed a road, flowers, and trees. She returned to the greenhouse in search of a really pretty flower. That one up by the window was pretty, and she could just reach it. Kimi pulled the flower off, and took it out to the sand house. Now for a tree ...
“Mai, come look!”
Everything was finished, perfect.
“I’m busy, Kimi.”
This matchmaking was going nowhere.
Kimi came into the greenhouse. Her mother was obviously just laying there. She wasn’t even holding her little brother. Tori was asleep in his carrier beside the lounge chair.
“I’m thinking about Maras.”
Kimi looked out around the yard, but she didn’t see him and she couldn’t have missed him. He was really, really big. Maras was her most favorite person. Having convinced herself he wasn’t there, Kimi started towards the kitchen door at a trot.
“Maras with Rori?”
That got Mai moving, and she caught Kimi just as she was stretching for the door contact. That was a firm rule she and Rori had. Whoever was cooking did not need to have the kids underfoot, and he was cook.
“No, Maras isn’t here. I said thinking, not visiting.” Mai picked up her daughter and walked out to the sandbox. “Show me your nice house.”
“No. I want to see Maras.” Kimi squirmed. She loved playing with Maras. When he lifted you ‘way up’ it was better than the swing in the park.
“You can’t see Maras. He isn’t here.”
If she couldn’t see him, she’d call him. That was fun too. He had all that hair, and he made really good faces.
“And I say no.”
It was too bad Kimi wasn’t in her teens. Maras would have to fight her off. Maybe he could wait fifteen years or so and they could skip this matchmaking stuff. She wasn’t getting anywhere. Mai put her daughter down beside the sandbox and pointed.
Kimi’s answer was loud and animated. With the door to the green house ajar, it woke Tori up. He opened his eyes and did not see his mother where he expected her, but he could hear her so the universe was probably fine.
Really, parents could be stupid. Kimi pointed at another lump of sand and continued explaining the obvious to her mother.
Mai wasn’t listening. She was looking resignedly at the lily blossom stuck in sand. The remains of the beetle were carefully placed in the middle of it, and the lily was not in much better shape than the beetle. It was the first blossom this year on that plant, and she had intended it as a centerpiece for the supper table. Well, that would teach her to get there first. She looked back at the castle.
“Kimi, why is there a tree in the middle of the road?”
She assumed the piece of bush was meant to be a tree. Curious, Mai honestly tried to follow the complicated answer but the mix of misused Comlan, residual baby talk, and the private language Meku and Kimi were developing defeated her. Her eyes strayed back to the lily. It really was a lovely color, a rich creamy white with just a blush of pink at the tips and the throat. Just the color Cailla would love.
Cailla? Mai rocked back on her heels. Cailla?
Little Tori, having waited as long as he waited, decided lunch would be a good next move. He started making the noise that usually attracted his mother.
At the far end of the yard lost in her inspiration and with the background noise of Kimi explaining the sand castle, Mai didn’t hear him. As Kimi kept talking. Mai kept thinking. What about Cailla and Maras? The Octagla side would work. Cailla was planetary pro, playing outer right-wing for the Pendrae Nebula. But would she like Maras? Cailla had seen her share of grief from men in her life. It seemed to have taken her a couple of tries to recognize the Superstud type on sight. But Maras wasn’t that type, was he?
Tori decided he was being ignored. He changed to full volume crying, the heartbroken kind.
Tori! She couldn’t let him get breathing problems again. And she should never have crouched down on her knees! Mai forced herself up through overall pain and went to investigate. Not that it would take much investigating. It would be one end or the other he wanted seeing to.
Kimi watched her mother’s retreating back with resentment. She wasn’t through telling her mother about the tree. Oh well, if Mai was busy, maybe it was a good time to call Maras. She started running to the house.
“Oh no you don’t!”
Mai caught her halfway to the door. This running and lunging was loosening her up. Kimi firmly on her hip, Mai went to where Tori was turning purple again. There had been spells like this all night. They should have never taken him up to the space station. But how did she calm Tori down? Sitting down, Mai wedged Kimi firmly between her knees and put a hand down to her son to check the diaper.
“Have you got yourself all wet?”
Tori was not wet. He wanted to eat. Now! The volume rose.
“Problems out here?”
Rori wiped his hands on the bright red chef’s apron. He was equally worried. He was the one who had spent the night at the clinic on the space station trying to keep Tori calm enough to breathe while Mai played Octagla.
"I should have been born with four hands, that's all." Mai doubted that she was managing to sound convincing.
In her eyes Rori was still the young man she had seen at the marina and fallen for on sight. Medium height, square shoulders, a narrow waist for a man. Curly light brown hair, a face permanently tanned from hours on the water, and a smile that still made her melt. He was a partner at a yacht charter service, which sounded a lot more glamorous than it was. The first time Mai had seen him Rori was washing down the deck of a motor launch that was chartered for later in the day. His eyes were a bit of a lot of colors, but right now they looked green, the color they were when he was worried.
"Things are under control in the kitchen. I'll take Kimi."
Mai released Kimi and picked up her son.
Tori decided that this offhand treatment deserved a more serious protest. He kept on crying.
Kimi made a beeline for her father. He’d let her call Maras.
"And how is my Kimi?" He picked Kimi up, gave her a kiss, then swung her up in an arc. Putting her down, Rori looked around the yard. "Is Meku back yet? The chicken will be done in fifteen minutes.”
“No sign of her yet. She’s probably finishing a drawing. You’d better call her.” Mai turned her attention to Tori. “Do calm down. Will you be happier if I feed you?” Stroking him with one hand, she undid the closure of her blouse with the other.
That was better. Tori sucked greedily at the tiny breast.
It was fun when Rori swung her around, but it just wasn’t as good as Maras. Kimi said firmly, “ I want to call Maras!”
Uh huh. Kimi and Meku had talked about that word ‘later’. It had a really nasty habit of morphing into ‘no’ if you didn’t tie it down real fast.
“When?” she demanded.
“After lunch, if you eat your salad.”
See. It had morphed again. Kimi had no intentions of eating her salad. She had eaten lots of green things in the greenhouse. She liked doing that. You knew where something came from if you picked it, and if the bugs liked it it was probably good. You never knew what was in the messes Rori made. And if you didn’t move fast and stop him he put yucky tasting oily stuff on it.
“All the salad?”
“No. You can pick out one piece you really hate and leave it. You eat the rest.”
Well, so much for calling Maras. Kimi sank down on the floor, the picture of dejection.
Rori ruffled her hair. “Tough life, isn’t it kid.” He returned to the kitchen.
Gingezel sci fi art: Ranga, this place I am in.