Sasha had hoped that the excitement at home would be less. It was. But not a lot.
Her family met her at the airport and they were escorted home by police. Behind them were paparazzi who had greeted them with a barrage of flash photos wherever airport security let them. At home two Oceanside patrol car were parked outside their home, keeping some early arrivals beyond a line mandated by the paparazzi law. The Oceanside police were expert at keeping photographers at the proper distance. One strip of the beachfront homes were owned by celebrities and the rich.
The next morning Sasha’s mother walked to the sidewalk where the police kept a line. Several reporters and photographers waited just beyond it. Sasha’s father carried a microphone stand and placed speakers to each side on shorter stands. Then he stood back and glowered at the crowd.
Sasha’s mother spoke into the microphone. She was dressed and made up in full attorney mode.
She read from a sheet of paper. “There will be no questions….”
Her words were drowned out by a dozen of them. She waited for them to die down. When they did not she deliberately folded the sheet of paper, turned away, and began walking back to the house.
There was a brief outcry drowned out by enraged hushing from reporters and photographers who wanted something, anything. When silence reigned she turned and approached the microphone again.
“There will be no questions. My daughter’s school has arranged for the auditorium to be used by a press conference at 5:00 o’clock at which Sasha will speak and be available for questions. Afterward, at 7:00, Sasha will be at the Sports Training Facility next to the school. Camera crews will be allowed inside to observe and take pictures and videos of a typical training session by Sasha and other participants. Do not arrive at school earlier than 4:00 o’clock. You will be ticketed and possibly towed if you do. Finally, call the school for information and to make arrangements to enter and set up.”
She then gave a phone number, turned and walked away. She was not bothered. Everyone was too busy making phone calls. This allowed Sasha’s father to get his daughters into the van and take them to school.
There was a WELCOME HOME SASHA banner on the front of the school but no ceremony to provide photo-ops to photographers and videographers. In any case two patrol cars would have blocked such efforts.
There was a good deal of fuss when Sasha walked in with her sisters. Friends greeted them, her friends and total strangers welcomed Sasha back to the school. But Sasha was now an accepted oddity at the school. Even her being involved in a fight was simply another proof of how odd she was.
Anyway it was in another country. There were more interesting scandals close to home. Oceanside High had sons and daughters of movie stars and other celebrities, and one had gotten into trouble recently. Not all the juice was gone from that story.
Teachers at each of her classes welcomed her back but in a pro forma way for the most part.
The press conference in the auditorium went OK. The tour of the Sports Training Facility did not have many takers, but one of those was by a video camera crew which got good material for a news story which featured Sasha and her training buddies. By the end of the week things were pretty much back to normal.
A month later, in the second week in November, Sasha attended the World Trampoline and Tumbling competition in Montréal, Canada. She won the women’s competition, the first time the US had won since 1974. It was so easy it was no fun for her. Stretching herself, becoming stronger and faster and more agile, had always been the biggest part of her enjoyment. Now she had to hold herself back to merely human levels.
Her win did please sports fans in the US. They rejoiced, and in much of Europe. Russia and lately China had been winning both women’s and men’s trampoline since the late 1980s.
Part of the trip was fun. Sasha was able to spend the day after and see Montreal’s sights. Autumn made the city a glory of red and gold and lime green, and a couple of Canadian friends had been able to play hostess to her. They and other friends made during the events had a great time that evening.
She never made less than a perfect score now when practicing the shooting events she had chosen as a path to the Olympics. Trampoline evolutions became trivial. She tried practicing above her own class in Judo. She defeated everyone she tried, even in the heavyweight class. Shortly no other competitor in the L.A. and San Diego metroplexes would work with her
On Thanksgiving day Sasha woke at four, which had become habit now. She needed half the sleep she used to before she had died.
She dressed for a jog but went directly to the Training Center rather than taking her usual roundabout scenic path. No one would show up here this day, at least not this early.
She had her own keys and let herself in the Center. There she suited up in tight exercise clothes from her locker, her nose catching the scent of sweat and soap and many other odors. Her brain idly interpreted the genetic data in the millions of skin and lung cells given off by every moving, breathing human and still floating around. In her imagination hundreds of people shared the silent chill room with her.
In the exercise area she flipped on the lights high above. They came on with a loud “clunk” of relays and flooded the huge room with light mimicking day. The floor was covered in exercise areas and mats and equipment, enough for well over a hundred athletes to practice and receive coaching. The room was silent but in her imagination it echoed with all the sounds that usually filled it, grunts and thuds and sharp commands and all the rest of it.
Gymnastics was still her first love. What could she do now?
First Sasha tried the vault, which started with a run to the vault apparatus, a long padded device which she thought looked like a saddle. Falling forward onto it arms outstretched she used her momentum to somersault into a twisting, spinning double flip. Landing on her feet she flexed her legs to absorb the energy of her run.
Next she essayed the floor exercise. That included dancing and tumbling across the diagonal of the 39-by-39-foot floor, marked off from the rest of the area by white tape. Stepping onto the spring-mounted surface, Sasha felt the floor give ever so slightly beneath her. Then she was running across the floor to end in a series of required leaps, hops, and spins. Then she returned the way she had come, doing many of the required elements.
The third gymnastics event was the balance beam. It was a polished wooden bar several feet above the floor and not quite four inches wide. She mounted it and slowly ran through the required evolutions. All except the leaps and somersaults and twists.
Then cautiously Sasha did a leap with a mild split. Then she leaped higher, with a more extreme split. She performed flawlessly and with no difficulty. In fact she felt she could go higher but resisted the temptation. That would be out of bounds by the rules of the competition. And it would get her too much of the wrong kind of attention if she did it in public.
Then she tried dismounts, a simple step-off first. After that came a dismount with somersault, then a double somersault, then a triple, then a triple with a twist: a longitudinal spin.
She did the triple with a twist several times, flawlessly. In a competition that would set records, records that no ordinary human could ever equal.
Sasha stood before the uneven parallel bars looking up at them. This was the hardest of the four acrobatic events.
Two slender bars almost eight feet long, the bottom a little over five feet high, the top one almost eight high. A fall from the top could badly injure someone. Though not Sasha. She could fall from several stories and not be hurt. Her bones had slowly become very strong, tough, and flexible. Her tissues were similarly tough, the connections of her organs to each other and the rest of her body rubber like. And she would land cat-like on her feet, flexing her legs deeply to absorb the worst of the impact.
She slowly went through the required list of evolutions specified by the Olympic rules, beginning with a simple mount to the lower bar and dismount from the highest. Then she sped them up. Faster and faster she went. To someone watching she would have been a blur.
Then she slowed to normal speed, did a routine as perfectly as she could, which was quite near perfection. Then she added unusual elements, including a dismount that spun her twice around her center. This was something no one had ever done, perhaps only a superhuman could do. To her it was easy.
Slowly she shook her head. She could compete in the four Olympic gymnastic athletic events and win perfect scores in them all. And it would mean nothing to her. It would be too easy. It would also set a bar for other athletes so high no one might ever achieve it. What a disservice to ordinary humans that would be!
She sighed, gracefully eased down to a squat on the dismount mat. Maybe she should not bother going to the Olympics next year.
But what about all the people who had invested in her career, past and present? They expected nothing but the pleasure of following her career, rooting for her to win, seeing her win. How could she disappoint them?
She sighed again. She could not stay home. She must go, must compete. Perhaps do just enough to win close second places. At least in Judo. Saya deserved to win the gold. She would against anyone else likely to attend the Olympics.
That decided, her thoughts shifted. Just how high could she jump? She stood, walked to a spot just under one of the I-beams at least thirty feet above her, where lights and other equipment was mounted. She crouched, gauged the distance, flexed her legs, and jumped.
She peaked with her feet just a little above the beam for which she had been aiming, a little off to the side but not so far off she could not grasp one of the long iron rods which angled away into the distance. This let her swing lightly to the narrow walkway used by people to change the light bulbs in the lamps and provide other maintenance, such as service to the huge blowers for the building air conditioning.
Ick! The iron rod she had grasped had a light coating of dust. She wiped her palms on the front of her exercise blouse.
Sasha turned her attention to her body. It should let her fall to the floor below and sustain no injury.
Better to be safe than sorry. She walked till a thick blue exercise mat was below. Then she stepped off. Her landing depressed the mat deeply. It slowly recovered with a hissing sound as she stepped off it.
At home her father was already up, getting the kitchen ready. She kissed his cheek and went upstairs to shower and dress in comfortable party clothes. By the time she went downstairs the rest of her family was stirring. She sat down at the kitchen table to watch her father cook.
They chatted, he absent-mindedly as he fixed a light breakfast for everyone but himself and also began working on the Thanksgiving feast. The first item was the turkey. He experimented with a new technique every year, and never in her memory had done a bad job. This year it had something to do with aluminum foil, the previous year a brown paper bag.
Her mother touched him on the shoulder and took a cup and saucer from him, slid into a seat beside Sasha. She kissed Sasha, who used the contact to check her mother’s health. It was very good, as it should be since Sasha had been slowly and carefully tweaking all her family’s health toward perfection.
The Elf was already chattering away to the Beauty as they came into the kitchen. The latter was quiet. She always slept well but awakened slowly. Their father ordered them in Spanish out of the kitchen. Everyone picked up their breakfast and moved to the large dining room table. Sasha’s was five eggs over easy, ten strips of bacon, a small loaf of bread pre-cut and buttered, and a quart of hot chocolate in a mug and large vacuum pot.
Silvana, the Beauty, eyed this repast and lifted an eyebrow. The Elf danced around trying to snatch a strip of bacon from Sasha’s plate, who kept brushing her hand away until she was pretend-distracted by Brandon’s entrance, one slice of toast in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.
That worthy lurched over to the table, kissed his mother’s brow, and settled beside Sasha. She put a lazy arm over his back and kissed his near cheek. Under cover of this she sent messages into his body telling it to temporarily increase his red-blood cell uptake of oxygen and metabolize a few extra grams of body fat into blood sugar. He had stayed out late and drunk just a little too much alcohol.
The Beauty leaned closer across the table and inspected Sasha’s skin, shook her head.
“Typical. No makeup. How many times do we girls have to tell you no woman goes out in public in her naked face?”
Their mother raised a brow at being included in “we girls” but said nothing.
Sasha promised she would repair her error “soon” and the talk turned general.
Later Brandon said, “The Twins coming over?”
Sasha said, “Mid-afternoon, after they’ve spent time with their families.”
“The Twin’s parents still spending Thanksgiving at Rocky’s house?”
“Yeah, I don’t understand it either.”
Rocio’s parents were rich old-money Californios, Tina’s parents sturdy middle-class. But the fathers liked each other and the mothers got along.
The Thanksgiving dinner was the usual success, their mother’s unmarried brother and sister showed up for it, and the men and Sasha watched the usual ball game, Sasha seeing actions and possibilities no one else saw (even Brandon, who played at that level) but saying nothing. Meanwhile “the girls” retired to the kitchen to clean up and gossip.
Late afternoon the Twins came over. They and Brandon, home for the holidays, greeted each other like long lost family. Which, in a way, Sasha supposed they were.