Machinations - 10. Arc 1, Chapter 10
As Coral was picking herself up from a fall after her latest sparring session, the master came up to her. “Good work, Coral,” he said. “Beating brown belts now, huh?”
“Thanks,” Coral said, mopping her face with a towel. A memory was telling her to bow, but she ignored it. This dojo wasn’t quite as formal as her last one.
“And you’ve been green for a while. Think you’re ready to move up?”
“Maybe. Can’t do much with my schedule, though.” Coral made a face.
“I think you’ve got a good grasp of the green techniques.”
“Yeah, but I don’t have enough tournament cred. And I’m not likely to anytime soon.”
“I think it’s been long enough we can waive that requirement.”
“Oh,” Coral said, tossing the towel back into her bag. “Then maybe I’ll look into it.”
“Excellent. And now I have a favor to ask.” At Coral’s raised eyebrow, he continued on. “I have an introductory course for kids next, and I need someone to help me out with the demonstration. Could you stay a few extra minutes?”
Coral shrugged. “I guess. Didn’t have any plans afterwards. I do need to text Eric, though. He’s coming to pick me up.”
“He can come and sit if he wants to,” Sensei offered.
“Sure. I’ll let him know.”
A few minutes later, Coral sat on a bench near the dojo’s door, still dressed in her gi. A bunch of kids, some young and some clearly teens, were milling around the seats and the mat. Their parents were seated all over the benches, though there seemed to be a lot more kids than adults.
The doorbell jangled. Coral looked up just in time to see Eric walk in. “Hey,” he said, sitting beside her and planting a kiss on her cheek. “So, you’re a teacher now?”
“Just helping with the demonstration,” Coral said, handing him her shoes.
“I bet you’d make a good teacher. You’re good with kids.”
“Yeah, because a lot of the time, they’re more reasonable than old people,” Coral whispered into Eric’s ear.
“Mister?” A very small child wandered up to Eric. “Are you the Judo teacher?”
“No, I’m just Asian,” Eric said.
“The teacher will be out in a few minutes,” Coral said. “See the clock up there? When the really long hand is all the way at the top, then the teacher will come out.”
“Oh, okay,” the kid said, wandering off.
“See?” Coral said. “If that’d been one of the residents, they would have insisted that you’re the Judo instructor because you’re Chinese. Especially if you told them you’re Chinese and Judo is Japanese. But kids accept it and they’re actually young enough not to know better, so they’re adorable.”
“Point taken,” Eric said, glancing up at the clock. “So I was thinking we could get something on the way home. You up for a sit-down?”
“Nah. I think just takeaway. Maybe pizza? The usual,” she added, since Eric was already pulling out his phone.
The teacher came out of the back. “All right, everyone! Get your shoes off and let’s get on the mat!” There was a flurry of movement as all the kids followed the instructions. Once things settled down, the teacher nodded. “So, everyone is here to learn Judo. You’ve all seen martial arts before, like Kung Fu and Karate.” He made a pose that was probably a Karate move. Coral wasn’t sure, but Sensei was also a black belt in Karate. “They’re about strength and power. Judo is a little different. It’s about using your opponent against themself. I have a student of mine here to help me demonstrate that. Coral, could you come up here?”
Coral hopped up. The moment she walked on the mat, she stopped and bowed to the teacher, who bowed back, and the picture of Kano Jigoro on the wall, which did not. That was probably for the best. Only then did she continue to the teacher’s side, where she turned and waved at the kids.
“If you noticed, Coral bowed to me and to the picture there on the wall. In Japan, bowing is used to say hello and to show respect. It’s a little like a handshake. Since Judo is a Japanese art, when we’re practicing Judo, we bow to the teacher when we get onto the mat, we bow to our opponent before and after we practice with them, we bow at the end of practice, and we bow to the picture up there.” He pointed at the picture. “That is Jigoro Kano, the man who created Judo. Mr. Kano wanted to learn an older art called Jujitsu, but had a hard time finding a teacher. It was fading away, since people were beginning to think it wasn’t important. Mr. Kano decided to become a teacher himself and when he did, he discovered new ways of practicing Jujitsu. He called these ways Judo, the Way of Flexibility. By being flexible, he could control what was not flexible. Let me show you.” He pointed at Coral. “Between the two of us, who do you think would win in a fight?”
The kids looked between the teacher, who was a tower of pure muscle, and the scrawny, pointy, middling-height Coral. She could see where this was going. One kid raised her hand. “You would win?” she asked the teacher.
“Why do you think that?”
“Well, you’re bigger. And musclier.”
“That is certainly true,” the teacher said. “Anyone else?”
Another kid raised his hand. “You’d win because she’s a girl and girls can’t fight?” He snickered as if he’d said something incredibly witty. The kid looked old enough to know better.
“Hey,” the teacher said. “Girls can fight. They can even beat boys. We don’t say mean things about girls or boys or anyone here. Anyone have a different answer?” That was so different from her previous dojo. The master there would have laughed and said that boys would be boys in a way that meant men would be men.
One of the teens raised his hand. “Well, you’re a black belt and she’s a green belt?”
Coral and the teacher both looked between their belts. “That is also true,” the teacher said. “Anyone else?” Nobody raised a hand. “Well, then. Let’s get to the demonstration.” He leaned in to Coral’s ear. “Nage and katame,” he said. Coral nodded.
They backed up, faced each other, and bowed. Once that was done, the teacher backed up. Was he going to charge at her? Well, she could deal with that. She settled into a natural posture and planned her next moves. By the time he began his charge, screaming and flailing his arms, Coral had a plan: the Body Drop and the Armpit Lock. When he got close, she grabbed the front of his gi and his arm, sliding one leg out in front of him and putting her weight on her other. He was knocked off-balance and she used her grip on him to guide the throw, making sure he landed on his upper back and not his neck or head. Once he was down, she twisted his arm around until he was on his front and his arm was securely locked in her armpit. He struggled for a few moments and then went limp.
“I appear to be stuck,” the teacher said. Coral used her free arm to do a fist pump. He tapped the mat and she released him immediately. Once she was up, she held out a hand to help him up, and then they bowed to each other. He turned to face the students, rolling the shoulder of the arm Coral had twisted. “Now, as you pointed out, I’m bigger, stronger, and more experienced than Coral. Who can tell me why I lost?”
None of the students said anything. Then one of the teens raised her hand. “Because she threw you onto the mat?”
“Well… That’s technically true. But why was she able to do that?”
One of the little kids raised a hand. “I know! Because you were running at her!”
“Yes, exactly! I put all my strength and power into that one move. I couldn’t do anything different after I started, meaning that I couldn’t be flexible when I was running. But Coral left herself open. She could do anything and could change herself to meet or avoid my attack. Because I wasn’t flexible and Coral was, she was able to defeat me. Because I used strength and she used smarts, she won. That is Judo: being flexible in your actions so that you can take advantage of someone who’s not flexible. You don’t have to be the strongest person around to win in Judo. You just have to be someone who leaves yourself open for opportunity. But there is another big part of Judo, though: gentleness. We take safety very seriously in Judo. One of the first things we teach students is ukemi, the art of falling.” He turned to Coral again. “Knock me over.”
Coral wound herself up to give him a huge push, and then had a better idea. She struck one hand out toward his face, stopping well before she hit, and then extended one finger. “Boop,” she said as she tapped his nose.
The teacher crumpled bonelessly to the mat, head tucked in and legs lifting as he touched the mat. “I am defeated!” he cried, getting back to his feet. “No, but seriously, hit me with all you’ve got.” Coral shrugged and shoved him, and he fell in the same way, getting back up easily. “I could do this all day, because I know how to fall properly. Now, Coral, do you mind showing them?”
“Go ahead,” she said, shaking out her limbs and checking to make sure nothing was behind her.
“All right, I am going to push her and then she is going to hold the falling pose to show you. Ready?” When Coral nodded, he pushed her. She exhaled, bit the lapels of her gi, twisted her feet sideways and pointed them upwards, slapped the mat on the way down and moved her hands back up before the rest of her hit. The teacher knelt beside her and pointed at her head. “You need to keep your head curled up. This helps keep you from falling on your head, which would really hurt. Coral is biting her uniform, which helps keep her head forward when she lands, but when you get better you won’t have to do that.” Coral spat the lapels out. They tasted sweaty. He moved to her legs. “Moving your feet sideways and kicking them out keeps you from hurting them on the mat.” Coral wiggled her toes. He moved to her arms. “You want to slap the mat to get rid of a little force as you’re going down. But you don’t want to leave your hands there or you could hurt your arms or wrist. Put them down and then back up again.” He moved to her chest. “Try to land on your upper back if possible. Also, breathe out as you fall.” He stood back up, helped Coral up, and then pushed her back over. She did the same thing. “And that’s what I want you to do for the rest of the lesson. Practice falling. Once you can do that, we’ll move on to more exciting stuff.”
Coral got herself back up and dusted off her gi. Not that it was dusty in the dojo, but just out of habit. “Do I get to push them over?” she asked.
“No. That’s all we need Coral for today. Say goodbye and thank you to Coral.”
The kids waved and raised a cacophony of combined thank yous and goodbyes. Coral bowed to them and to the teacher one last time before leaving. After she’d retrieved and donned her shoes, and also gotten the pizza, the two of them headed home.
As they opened the door, Eric went in first and froze, Coral bumping into him. “What…?” She peeked past him and saw a woman sitting on the couch with her wings spread.
“Hello,” Angelica said. “I think we should have a chat.”
Coral’s mind blanked. This was it. They’d been discovered. Were they going to prison? Would she and Eric be allowed to see each other in prison? There were redemption programs. Would she have to become a superhero to get free?
“Well,” Eric said, “this is a surprise.” Good thing he was keeping his head, at least. “I would say come in and sit down, but you already did that.”
“You two seem rather nervous,” Angelica said.
Well, pretend they were innocent until there was no doubt left, she guessed. “Of course we’re nervous,” Coral said, walking in and closing the door behind her. “A law enforcement officer is in our home, uninvited, which is kinda a violation of our rights. Fourth Amendment, I believe? Unless you have a warrant to get in here, which is even more worrying.”
Angelica shook her head. “You’re half right. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. I’m not searching or seizing anything, and even if I did see something, I wouldn’t be allowed to use it as evidence. And it’s true that law enforcement isn’t allowed to enter a home without permission except under specific circumstances. Hot pursuit, for instance, or if the officer has a reasonable belief that someone is in danger. This happens to be the latter, as you are potential targets for a particular supervillain, and as we have no information, anything could be dangerous. The safest path is to talk to you with as little outside contact as possible.”
“How about the Third Amendment, then?” Eric asked halfheartedly. “No citizen has to quarter a member of law enforcement without permission?”
“I don’t think the Third Amendment has that particular interpretation, especially as it applies to military personnel, but you’re welcome to bring it up with the Supreme Court,” Angelica said.
Coral glanced at Eric, who looked back at her. “So you’re here to arrange protection for us?” Coral asked.
“That’s part of the reason I’m here, yes,” Angelica said. “I need to know what level of protection you’re comfortable with, what you need to route through other companies, and what you can handle yourselves.” She looked particularly sharp on that last part.
“I think we can handle it,” Eric said. “I mean, it’s been a month.”
“And you were out of the country for about half that time,” Angelica said. “Keep in mind, we can also help with the financial portion of any security companies you hire. We can also negotiate on your behalf with your landlords, since you rent.”
“No, thank you,” Eric said. “We can handle it.”
Angelica looked doubtful. “Very well,” she said. “If you change your mind, then just let us know and we’ll work with you. Now, that brings me to the other reason I’m here. I want to offer you a job.”
That was a bit of a whiplash. Coral glanced at Eric, who looked back at her. “Both of us?” she asked. “Or just…?”
“Yes, both of you. To be more specific, I need people who can fill a part-time role.”
“As heroes?” Eric asked.
“More or less. You see, our team is rather small. Too small for a city of this size, really. Even our current numbers are barely enough and many non-local heroes refuse to work so close to Blake's Barrow. If a member of the team has to go out on medical leave, the problem gets even worse. At the very least, we need people who can fill in, either when a member of our team is gone or when the problem is too big for us to handle. Not everyone can do full-time heroics, so we have a role available which allows people to continue their jobs and only come in when there’s a pressing need.”
“Why us, though?” Coral asked. “You don’t know us.”
“No,” Angelica said. “To be honest, it’s not really personal. Given our low number of heroes, we’re basically giving out applications to anyone who has powers, and even to a few who don’t. It’s also general Power Corps policy to send an offer to anyone who has metapowers.”
“Metapowers?” Eric asked.
“Powers that affect other powers,” Coral said. “Power-sensing, power analysis, nullification, boosting, and so on.”
“And invisibility can also turn the tide of a fight,” Angelica pointed out. “We’re also looking into rehabilitating the image of some of the so-called villain powers. With those reputations, a lot of kids who find that they have those powers end up believing that they have no choice but to be villains. But the problem isn’t that they’re evil, it’s that society convinces them that they have to be.”
“Right,” Eric said, glancing at Angelica. “So you want to give us a job, but you’re not even offering us full time?”
“Maybe we can upgrade your status, if you have the desire and the skill. But I think for now, we should consider it a trial run. Besides, you may not decide to keep going.”
“You’re assuming we want to do it in the first place,” Coral pointed out. “I mean, aside from the fact that it’s a rough job, you did break into our home.”
Angelica nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re right. But I did feel it was best to contact you as discreetly as possible and the law does allow for situations like this.”
“Whatever,” Eric said. Coral was inclined to agree – legal didn’t mean okay or right.
“Good. Then I have the details here,” Angelica said, holding out a piece of paper.
Coral took it out of curiosity, looking at the benefits. She raised her eyebrows. Full medical, including dental, eye doctors, ear doctors, the works. Gender affirmation treatment was at the top of the list. A monthly stipend just for signing up, which was more than she made in a year. Bonuses for every work-related event they attended and an even bigger one for fighting villains. Not just free, but paid classes. Free housing in headquarters, free housework, legal counsel, financial management, discounts at major retailers…
“I don’t think--” Eric began. Coral nudged him and passed over the paper. He raised his eyebrows as well. “Wow.”
“You do judo, don’t you?” Angelica asked, looking at Coral.
“We also pay all expenses related to training, so your regular judo classes would be covered. In fact, it’s mandatory to take self-defense classes. You may be allowed to test out, if the instructor feels that your skills are sound enough.”
It sounded ridiculous. They would get so much stuff – more than her job caring for the elderly – and all they had to do was run around in costumes every once in a while? For that matter, there was no guarantee they’d even be called on. For a moment, Coral was tempted to take the offer.
“Hang on,” Eric said. “How do you even know we have powers?”
And there was the other part of it. She was sitting in a room with someone who had broken into her home and was using information entrusted to others. What next? Would Angelica read her diary aloud to the family and a therapist to prove she was broken? Start sniffing her underwear to see whether she’d been naughty? Threaten a young police recruit into marrying a girl of fifteen to cover up for the perversions of a man who was nearly 30? Her brother-in-law had still never gotten over that.
“Both Grapple and Enmachina told me about Coral’s powers. Sensing and analysis. Not offensive powers, but Enmachina also mentioned that you managed to fight off the Pteroid. Enmachina told me about you,” she said, turning to Eric. “We’ve had other heroes with similar problems. With the right fabric, we can ensure that your clothes will turn invisible with you.”
“Okay,” Eric said, “but I told Nathan about my powers when we were in private and I didn’t say that he could share that with anyone.”
“Really?” She seemed less than impressed. “I’ll have to have a word with him about that. That is not acceptable.”
“Right,” Eric said.
“We do not condone that type of behavior. I do hope that won’t affect your choice.”
“I don’t see why,” Coral said. “I mean, my mind is pretty much made up. Not doing it.”
Angelica raised an eyebrow. “I understand you may have concerns, but I assure you…”
“Nope. You broke in. Why should we trust you with our information, our privacy, our safety? How are we supposed to trust you to deal with our workplaces if you can’t deal with the most basic things about privacy? And…” Angelica still wasn’t looking convinced, so Coral fumbled for another thing. “We can’t because we have a conflict of interest. So there.”
“Really?” Angelica asked, raising an eyebrow.
That sounded really suspicious. “I mean, well, I’m kinda a big fan of Echo and Couronne. I belong to their fanclub and I fan…” Coral frowned. “What’s the gender neutral term for fangirling or fanboying? Fan-enby? Fanby?”
“I think that’s just fan? Or maybe stan?” Eric suggested.
Coral gasped. “Fanbean,” she whispered.
“Regardless,” Angelica broke in, “poor taste is not necessarily a problem.” Coral glared at her, but she continued. “I can easily keep you off of any cases involving the two. Aside from the fact that it would be a terrible idea to put a fan in charge of arresting someone, your powers won’t do you much good against them.” She paused. ”You’re not fans of any more villains, are you?”
“Yes. All of them.” Angelica raised an eyebrow. “Okay, no. Just them.”
“I think we should consider it,” Eric said.
Coral gave him an incredulous look. “Why?”
Eric stretched out over the couch. “Think of it this way,” he said. “They have a lot of resources and connections. That’s their strength.” Coral frowned. She didn’t see what he was getting at. “It’d be a shame if we didn’t use that. Take advantage of it, really.”
Oh. Oh. “Maybe you have a point,” she said slowly, turning to Angelica. “I still want some time to think, but… maybe I can think about it.”
Angelica looked just the tiniest bit suspicious, but nodded. They worked out a time and date to meet up and discuss it further, and then Angelica stood up. She made a single text, and then Hermes popped into the apartment and took her away.
Coral took a deep breath. “After we have dinner, why don’t we go for a walk in the park?” She wasn’t 100% sure that Angelica hadn’t left any listening devices in the apartment. Besides, the weather was pretty nice outside.
They did just that, walking in the park closest to their apartment. “Okay,” Eric said. “So I take it you got what I was getting at?”
“It hasn’t been that long since the class. Give me some credit.” Coral glanced around. Nobody was nearby, and there were no bushes or trees that could hide someone. “You’re not angry at them for breaking in and spilling the secrets?”
“Of course I am. Otherwise, I’d agree to stay away.”
She couldn’t fault that logic. “So, what’s your plan?”
“Simple,” Eric said with a shrug. “They’re giving us full access to their network. We’ll know when the heroes are too busy to bother us when we don’t want a fight, and that they’re free when we do. They’re tied heavily into the government, meaning we might be able to get higher targets. Finally, they’re never going to suspect another hero turning out to be a villain unless they catch us. We earn their trust and they’ll cover for us no matter what.”
Coral nodded. “It’s risky, though. And… Nathan.”
“We’re supervillains. Since when have we played it safe?” He paused. “But yeah. Nathan.”
“Being a bit of a dick, isn’t he?”
“At least you have an excuse to drift away from him,” Coral said. “Heck, we play it right, and the other heroes will keep him away.”
“Yeah, I know.” She could see the pain in his face at that, though.
Coral drew him in for a hug. “I know it hurts,” she whispered into his ear. “I’ll follow your lead on this.” Even if he decided not to break up with Nathan. Even if she thought it would be a great idea to cut Nathan loose. Even if he’d chickened out of the breakup last time.
“I know,” Eric said, pulling her close. “I know I can count on you. But if this fails…”
Coral nodded. “Then we’ll just have to learn to fall.”
Nathan looked in the mirror. He was finally ready to make his comeback. Sure, he’d helped with the alien threat, but that was more because he was there. Now he was officially back, and now he had a promotion. The phone call he’d gotten – well, the second of two phone calls today – had given him the good news. He was now a coordinator, which put him on the same level as Grapple, and would give him something to do when the rest of the team was out without him. Great news.
The second… well. Eric had called. He hadn’t been happy that Nathan had told Angelica about his powers. Nathan had tried to explain, but the explanations were blown back in his face by the force of Eric’s anger. The one good thing was that Eric hadn’t broken up with him. They were still together. They could fix this. In fact, Coral and Eric were thinking of becoming part-timers. Not only could he be totally honest with them, but he’d be able to see them more often. Coral and Raph could hang out, he and Eric could be together… It sounded perfect.
And yet, the pit of his stomach kept falling.
I will be taking a short break between this arc and the next.
Thank you for reading!
You probably have a crazy and hectic schedule and find it hard to keep up with everything going on. We get it, because we feel it too. Signing up here is a great way to keep in touch and find something relaxing to read when you get a few moments to spare.
There are no comments to display.
Create an account or sign in to comment
You need to be a member in order to leave a comment
Create an account
Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!Register a new account
Already have an account? Sign in here.Sign In Now