Yet life was different at school. Despite perfect control of what she sometimes thought her “super senses” she saw more and heard more. Or maybe she just noticed more.
One day she saw two boys harassing one of the nerd herd at his locker. The harassers were some of the self-styled tough guys of the school, not that in this upscale school they were all that tough or that many.
Anger flared within her, and a savage desire to hurt those who would hurt others for their own pleasure.
She pushed in between the two boys and their victim, who quickly made his escape.
“This is the way you spend your time? Bullying the weak? Why don’t you take me on, you sorry ass-holes?”
“Well, look who we have here. The great hero.” The taller of the two pushed her. Or tried to. Time slowed and trained reflexes took over. One of her hands, the farthest from his companion, had him in a painful wrist-lock before he, and for that matter she, knew what was happening. He squeaked and rose on tip-toes as she applied pressure.
His friend made the mistake of trying to strike her. In a flash, to him, she had his arm behind his back and he was on his tip toes also.
It had happened so quickly no one else had noticed. But now a few other students began slowing to watch. A couple stopped.
She brought the two close together, whispered into their ears. “I could break your arms, you know that? And the next time I see you bullying someone I will.”
A male teacher had noticed a change in the traffic flow in the hall as a few more students slowed or stopped to watch. He walked toward the three. He was behind Sasha but from a dozen cues she knew someone in authority was coming, chief among them the alarm which joined the pain on their faces.
She relaxed her holds then released them. The boys would have left but the teacher was too close.
“What’s going on here?”
“We were just disagreeing on something,” Sasha said. The two boys nodded.
“Well, disagree somewhere else.”
The two boys nodded and hurried away trying to discreetly rub strained muscles. The teacher stood looking at Sasha. She looked back.
“Were you starting a fight, Ms. Canaro?”
“No, sir.” She had just ended one.
“Get to class.”
The rescued boy did not appreciate her interference. Sasha knew something about male pride and prepared for a clash. Finally the boy confronted her outside the school at day’s end a few days later.
“I did not appreciate your interference, Canaro.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“I could have handled it!”
She snagged one of his wrists. “Then start working out, Hal. You’ve got good muscles in those arms. Develop them. Take a judo class, or wrestling, or boxing. I know you’re smart enough, disciplined enough to do well.” At the same time she made the wish she had planned. Grow strong quickly, she told his body. Stick with your program despite the pain, she told his subconscious.
He stared as she released his wrist. “You really think so?”
“I know so,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of potential.”
She turned to walk away, then turned back. “You brought it on yourself, you know. Rolling your eyes in disgust when Guy answered that question wrong. Then giving the right answer in that snotty voice.”
He flushed and she left him.
Months later the two boys had mended their ways. And they and Hal, newly buffed and their tutor, were friends.
After she became too tall to manage the somersaulting and aerial twists required by the four Olympic women’s gymnastics events she had tried several other Olympic sports that did not require so much agility. She had chosen trampoline and shooting fairly early. Then she had dithered between taekwando, which involved a lot of kicking and striking against a padded opponent, and judo, which was a grappling event. She had finally chosen judo. It had seven weight classes against four for taekwando. There were more choices to choose from if she had another growth spurt.
The week after Labor Day weekend Sasha flew to Japan with her Judo coach. They joined the other members of the USA team, making 21 competitors, three for each of the seven weight classes.
She won all her first several matches but two. In one she was disqualified when she stepped over a boundary. In the other she lost on points. In both cases she had grown bored with how easy it was to win and gotten careless. In the next several matches she grimly paid attention. Maybe too much attention. She won the matches within a few seconds of the Hajime — Start — command.
Her coach asked her to have dinner with him in the hotel “celebrity” dining room high above the night-time streets. They sat at a table with a curved wall of glass to one side through which they could watch the flash and flow of traffic below. The canyon of buildings stretched for miles, all alit.
After they ordered he looked her over.
“Sasha, are you trying to make enemies?”
She was startled out of her brooding, a habit she had fallen into.
“The last several matches you seemed contemptuous of your opponents. Was it necessary for you to humiliate them by such quick wins?”
“I thought the idea was to win.”
“It is. And it’s an obsession with some who want their country’s athletes to win so badly they will bribe judges. For others it’s big business and they will cheat to win. But I’m old-fashioned. Or naïve. I believe these events should be a way for nations to come closer. That you and I should be ambassadors for our country.”
Sasha stared out of the window. Huge commercials shown on the sides of some buildings. Some moved and flashed and blinked. Red, green, blue.
Ideals had never been a part of her athletic world. It was just what she did. All her thoughts and strivings were focused on the little everyday details of training and competition.
Sasha had been volatile even before she became, if she was, superhuman. In an instant she was her usual happy self, brooding behind her.
She smiled at her balding stout coach. Such a plain man, almost thuggish. Such a lovable man underneath.
“You know, I think this trip might be fun after all.”
From then on she treated each match as a chance to play. It didn’t matter that to her opponents the matches were serious business. Sasha took her time, occasionally winning quickly, more often giving opportunities for her opponents to vary their approaches and exercise their repertoire of moves. Sasha became ever more versatile in her technique. She used less speed and brute force and more finesse to win. Close watchers of the sport took notice. Reviews became laudatory.
The martial art became for the first time for her an art.
When she could, she watched all competitors in all seven weight classes. She came to especially appreciate a Russian and a Frenchwoman in two weight classes other than her own. In her class she came to appreciate a Japanese woman.
Saya Otonashi was at the very lightest of the middleweight class. Every match she improved. Her technique diversified. This occasionally happened in competitions. You might spend hundreds or even thousands of hours of practice, making slow improvements. Slow because you were not stretched by meeting people as good or better than you were.
In Sasha’s last competition she faced this woman. The winner of this bout would earn the gold medal, the loser the silver. The audience was big. Only one time before had any USA competitor come even close to winning the top medals. Japan usually had the most winners, and the highest medals.
The moved around each other, focused on the other, gauging slight changes in motion. Neither made the first move. Often the one who did lost. Much of judo focused on responding to attack, to defending. The best defense in judo was usually NOT offense.
Sasha focused more than usual on Saya as she “danced” with her. For weeks now she had been able see body language that ordinary humans could not even perceive. She could hear another’s heart beat, smell sweat and other secretions. Read the genetic code from cells which floated on one’s breath or wafted off bodies by air currents.
As if she could read Saya’s heart she felt her fear, of losing not pain. Her absolute focus of will.
Sympathy stirred within her. This girl could be one of her sisters.
She knew Saya was trying to read her. Sasha displayed symptoms that would be read as focus. And contempt.
Saya responded with anger, damped it down as quickly as it appeared. Her fear washed away.
Good. That’s what Sasha wanted.
She took another sideways step. Saya glided a step to mirror her. Took another step. A deep calm settled over her, along with a hawk-like alertness to Sasha’s body movements and balance.
Sasha took another step. In the instant her opponent flashed forward, grasped her shirt near the wrist. Sasha broke her hold, secured one of her own. Saya returned the favor. And for several seconds the two essayed grapple and counter-grapple before parting in the same instant.
The audience sighed. They were seeing great art.
For a time the two circled and feinted, then flashed together as if at the same signal. Sasha let herself be thrown but flipped in the air and threw Saya, who recovered too fast for Sasha to try to pin her. Then for several seconds they tripped each other and recovered to counter-trip the other. They ended up near the edge of the mat and simultaneously broke to crouch, eyeing each other and panting. Sasha’s distress was fake. Her energy reserves were vast, her strength much greater than that of an ordinary human, and she used energy so efficiently her reserves were only barely tapped.
Again they circled and feinted. And closed and struggled against each other. And circled. And closed.
Several times one or the other came close to a clean throw of the other onto one’s back. Sasha allowed the first one, then followed by throwing Saya. Several times each pinned or almost pinned the other.
Sasha very carefully kept the competition as close to even as she could. One or the other would win on points, and by only a few. She didn’t care if she took a silver. Even a bronze might well not have kept her from the Olympics.
The referee yelled Mate — Stop — while they were in mid-whirl. They broke apart and bowed to each other.
For a frozen moment the two women faced each other. Then Sasha disturbed the occasion by laughing softly. Then, completely against custom, she walked to Saya with arms wide.
Saya hesitated for an instant, then spread her arms. They hugged, roughly, then parted. Saya bowed to her. Sasha replied in kind.
The crowd applauded. They roared. Some shouts must have been angry. They were drowned out by cheers.
The contestants retired to await the results, let their breathing and hearts slow, and begin cooling off.
The results were unusually slow in coming. Finally they did. To the surprise of many the Japanese judge had awarded a total of one more point to Sasha than to Saya. There were hisses at that, and applause. And many of those applauding were Japanese.
While they were waiting her coach’s cell phone had vibrated several times. He had surreptitiously glanced it its readout but ignored them. Now as they walked back to the locker room area he answered them.
After she came, dressed, out of the locker room after a brief splashing of her sweatiest areas, he approached her.
“I’ve had a lot of requests for interviews. Could you stay over an extra day and take them? Here?”
She thought a second. “Yes. And that gives me an idea. Could you stay a week?”
“I could. Why?”
“Let me check something first.”
She hurried away and found what she wanted. Saya and her coach. She came up to them and they ceased talking to a crowd surrounding them. They turned toward her.
She bowed to both of them, very deeply the way she had seen some others do.
“Sensei,” she said. “I can stay a week here. Would you, if Saya agrees, allow me to train with her for that week?”
The short sturdy Japanese looked at her with a calculating stare. He turned to Saya, said something in rapid Japanese. She said one word in Japanese.
He turned back to Sasha. “Yes. If we can agree on conditions.”