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Mirror: Chapter 2

CutOut Mar 31st, 2019 (edited) 134 Never
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  1. "Hey kid, keep your head in the game!" an angry voice buzzed in her ear.
  2.  
  3. Alita snapped from her reverie and dodged the flailing spiked ball and chain. Each time it collided on the metal track the impact reverberated throughout the stadium, followed by cheering from the crowd.
  4.  
  5. "Sorry, Coach."
  6.  
  7. "Yeah, sorry my ass. Stop spacing out."
  8.  
  9. Alita struggled not to yawn.
  10.  
  11. "It seems the Battle Angel is in trouble now!" the commentator bellowed.
  12.  
  13. "Honestly," she murmured to herself, "I'm not." Avoiding the spiked ball required no effort on her part, all it took was her base reflexes.
  14.  
  15. She felt so horrendously bored that skating backward would be no challenge. On a whim, she did so.
  16.  
  17. Chasing her was a cyborg that remodeled his Motorball body to look like a top-heavy pigman, twice as tall as her. He looked ridiculous swinging the ball and chain over his head.
  18.  
  19. Why are inhuman shapes so popular? There's no advantage in comedy.
  20.  
  21. "I'm gonna cave your skull in!" he slurred, somehow, passed boar tusks.
  22.  
  23. Alita snorted and raised an eyebrow. After zig-zagging passed the spiked ball again, she asked, "I couldn't understand what you were saying, what was that?"
  24.  
  25. "I said: I'm gonna cave your skull in!"
  26.  
  27. After giggling, Alita said, "I'm sorry, it's the teeth. They mangle everything you say, piggy."
  28.  
  29. The pig-man-looking-thing roared, tossed the ball into the air, and yanked it down to splatter Alita.
  30.  
  31. In a flash, her face became deathly serious. She dropped the motorball, braked to close the distance between her and Mr. Piggy, and the spiked ball crashed behind her. After catching the chain she flicked her wrist, and Toothy-Mc-Boar-Face got a mouthful of his own weapon.
  32.  
  33. "Look at his expression!" the commentator bellowed over the public announcement system, "We'll get a great look at it when his head lands!"
  34.  
  35. When Alita turned to recover the motorball, she realized how far it rolled away. The spinning protrusions added momentum to it.
  36. "Crap."
  37.  
  38. "Kid, get serious, would you?"
  39.  
  40. "Well, give me a serious match and I will."
  41.  
  42. "This is your own fault, you could be in the top ranks right now instead of stalling in intermediate. But what did you do your first match? You ditched the motorball, fought everyone, and then scrambled. Naturally, your points plummeted. Hurry up and win, get some points, and get where you belong."
  43.  
  44. She bit her tongue and blinked. Coach didn't know, only Ido and a few others knew why she scrambled that night.
  45.  
  46. "Kid! Stop screwing off!"
  47.  
  48. "Fine!" she moaned through gnashing teeth.
  49.  
  50. Alita picked up to three-quarters speed and snatched up the motorball. By her estimation, only three of the other racers had the ability to catch up with her. Of those three only one was brave enough, and Mr. Brave-Hog was currently arguing with a fan about the finer points of body parts and souvenirs.
  51.  
  52. If she went all-out, this match would be over already.
  53.  
  54. What am I doing? I have my ultimate mission: final champion and then Nova.
  55.  
  56. But my penultimate goal? I need a distraction.
  57.  
  58. "Coach, you're right. I should--"
  59.  
  60. "The other racers are falling back! It seems no one has the courage to face the Battle Angel! Wait--what's this? Someone's coming up fast!"
  61.  
  62. "Why ruin the surprise?" Alita spat, pirouetting on her toe to reverse skate, "That jolt would have been more than enough--eh?"
  63.  
  64. She was looking at her own dumbfounded expression.
  65.  
  66. No, a mirror. Wait, it's a reflective face mask.
  67.  
  68. With a crack, his punch blurred and dislodged the motorball from her grip. An instant later he sped past her and recovered her fumble.
  69.  
  70. "What the hell," she complained, "If you're going to use a strike that good at least try attacking me. If you were lucky, you might have even knocked off a limb..."
  71.  
  72. "Get your head out of your ass and recover that ball!"
  73.  
  74. "I'm concentrating! Okay?" Alita said flatly.
  75.  
  76. "Well, that'll be a first!"
  77.  
  78. Something about this racer made her hair stand on end, so she took a moment to study him.
  79.  
  80. What made him stand out was he didn't stand out. His body was proportional to a man's, taller than her but not absurdly so, and his total-replacement body was a mismatch of parts modified to appear uniform. They were the only two human-shaped racers in the entire line up.
  81.  
  82. He had guts. Boy, did he have guts.
  83.  
  84. The swam through the stalagmite obstacle spikes that dotted the track like a fish weaving through reeds. Although he wasn't pushing faster than her, he missed each spike by a mere inch, contrasting her constant swerving. Sometimes he scraped by with a tiny spark. On a track curve? His roller blades were right on the very edge. She was sure he was pulling ahead because his path was much shorter.
  85.  
  86. This was guts and skill, not supercharged power. This is what Motorball racing should be, what martial arts should be.
  87.  
  88. Finally--his body. It... it looked like Hugo's. EEMRs, "expedient emergency medical replacements," or mass-produced stand-ins for amputation victims until they can get proper cybernetic parts, filled in a lot of him.
  89.  
  90. A cyborg with a body like that had no place in an intermediate Motorball race. She could feel anger welling in her stomach at his arrogant lack of precaution.
  91.  
  92. Alita crouched and shot forward, like a bullet out of a gun.
  93.  
  94. A dense collection of obstacle-spikes whizzed passed. Hugo--no the mirrored racer--turned his head to judge her distance. She could see her face, a bloodthirsty lioness pouncing on her prey and she immediately forced it to neutrality.
  95.  
  96. "Kid, take the outside path and overtake him."
  97.  
  98. “Screw that!” Alita bristled, making hard cuts between the spikes in contrast to his own gentle wheat-like swaying, “If he can do it so can I!”
  99.  
  100. "That's not the point--"
  101.  
  102. She abruptly ended the call.
  103.  
  104. After glancing back up, she screamed, "Are you mocking me?"
  105.  
  106. At some point during the call, he had spun to skate backward, to watch her. His swaying was as precise and calm as before, but this time he was standing tall as if to look down on her.
  107.  
  108. “Turn around! Turn around damn it, before you get hurt!”
  109.  
  110. He put out his hand. One gesture.
  111.  
  112. Come at me.
  113.  
  114. "Oh, it's on!" her wheels screeched from maximum acceleration, even at her current speeds.
  115.  
  116. One swing of her Damascus Blade attached on her forearm will severe him in half, the monomolecular edges of the blade promised it.
  117. His own hand snapped behind him, drawing out a combat knife. Or comb? Why was it shaped like a comb with thick teeth? It doesn't matter, I'll cut through that, too!
  118.  
  119. Clunk.
  120.  
  121. "Wha--"
  122.  
  123. Alita's mind went blank as she stared at the Damascus Blade dead-stopped by the much smaller combat knife. No sparks, no loud crash, no severed body parts, not even a satisfying feedback from the hit.
  124.  
  125. It just stopped.
  126.  
  127. Yanking it back did nothing. The combat knife trapped her like a bear trap on a kitten's foot.
  128.  
  129. His knee snapped up with a crack, crashing into her forearm. The blade disconnected and came away with him, his weapon and her own forming a cross.
  130.  
  131. All she could manage was a choked gasp.
  132.  
  133. Smashing her with the motorball, he sent her careening into a spike and used the momentum to spin forward. He was home free.
  134.  
  135. She checked herself, no serious injuries except for her leg which hit the spike at an odd angle. It was useless, and she was not going to catch up.
  136.  
  137. Self-disgust rose up and filled her mouth like bile.
  138.  
  139. "What an upset!" the announcer screamed over the din of the crowd, "It seems racer number twelve has stolen the race from the Battle Angel!"
  140.  
  141. She reached out to his shrinking back, "My sword! Bring it back!"
  142.  
  143. ---
  144.  
  145. “What was that?”
  146.  
  147. This time Coach was pissed. Not bombastic like before, but legitimately pissed. He was quiet and measured his responses.
  148.  
  149. “I’m not sure.”
  150.  
  151. Her leg, mangled beyond use, was being replaced. The coach had waited until the pit crew loaded her in the repair assemblage, locked her in, unthreaded the boltings and reversed the welds, and then he paused the operation. She was effectively cornered so she couldn’t ignore him.
  152.  
  153. “You know him, or something?”
  154.  
  155. “No, I don’t think so.”
  156.  
  157. “Then why did you get so pissed if it wasn’t personal? Up until now you ignored or cut down the other racers. So why him? What is it about him that got you all emotional?”
  158.  
  159. Alita glared at him, before smacking the resume function a beat later.
  160.  
  161. “Fine. Keep your secrets. Soon as your leg is done, we have to update your racer information.”
  162.  
  163. “For what?”
  164.  
  165. “It’s regulation. Your weapon load-out changed.”
  166.  
  167. “I'm getting my sword back.”
  168.  
  169. Coached pinched the bridge of his nose, “He disarmed you, and kept it. According to the rules, it’s his now. Kid, you don’t need it. I’ve seen you fight with and without it. Your style and body shape is not suited for it, and it’s holding you back--”
  170.  
  171. “I need it,” she said adamantly.
  172.  
  173. Her coach stared at her a moment before replying, “Deal with it yourself, then. You lost it, you recover it. One thing, you go into that pit and get in a fight it’s a disqualification. Not from one race, either, for the season and maybe career.”
  174.  
  175. The repair assemblage finished its operation and set her down. The moment her feet touched the ground she marched to the mirrored racer's pit.
  176.  
  177. “Don’t fight!” he called out.
  178.  
  179. If fighting is what it takes, that's what I'm going to do.
  180.  
  181. When she reached the mirrored racer’s pit, she froze. What she saw left her mouth agape.
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