The Sweet Science of Car Park Politics
Miska was where she shouldn’t have been. Again. She was deep in the other team’s territory, on her own, ball hunting. As she skated, nearly silently, through the mocked up streets of the Roller Brawl arena, she reflected that some of the criticisms her teammates levelled at her might have had some merit. She didn’t play well with the rest of the Basilone City Brawlers. The chances of her coming across the player on the attacking team who was carrying the ball were slim. The chances of her being able to do something about it solo were even slimmer. She wondered if she’d just wanted to spend some time on her own before heading to school after the early morning practice.
If you just wanted to be alone then why’d you pick a team sport?
She rolled towards a wall on the split-level street, turning at the last moment so she came to rest with her back against the poured concrete. She couldn’t remember what last night’s argument with her dad had been about but it hadn’t been resolved. She wasn’t looking forward to a day at school. She’d come to terms with high school being something that she had to tolerate, rather than embrace, but the thought of round two of the argument with her dad just made her feel tired. It was the sort of weariness that she was pretty sure that an eighteen year old shouldn’t feel.
That was when she heard the voices. She skated ahead, taking one of the ramps up to the next level, still moving quietly and carefully on her roller blades. She crouched down at the corner overlooking the bowl. A large, high sided, smooth hemisphere moulded from impact plastic, surrounded on all sides by the fake buildings. She listened intently. This was why she didn’t wear a face guard. She didn’t care what the other girls said, wearing one cut down dramatically on what you could hear.
It took her a moment or two to identify the source of the voices. They were coming from a window roughly opposite where Miska was crouched. She could see Krysta’s back. Krysta was a solidly built woman in her early twenties and captain of the other team. She was a really good player, a double threat, strong as well as fast. She wasn’t, however, as nimble as Miska. She was also on the opposing team during this particular early morning training session, and was the designated ball carrier. Krysta had her back to the open window. It was a rookie error but then she probably hadn’t been expecting one of the defending team members so deep in the attacking team’s territory. Miska had an idea. It wasn’t her greatest, but she acted on it immediately anyway.
Miska vaulted the railing surrounding the walkway and dropped vertically into the bowl, her wheels finding purchase as she increased velocity, rolling across the impact plastic and up the other side of the bowl. She crouched low, as she sped up the opposite wall. She knew that if she missed the window then she was going to wipe out spectacularly. On the other hand, a day at the med-centre would mean no school.
Miska bled off speed as she rolled up the wall. She went past the window and then dropped down backwards. Suddenly there was no wall beneath her wheels. Miska grabbed the window frame and pulled herself in. She caught a glimpse of surprised looking faces. Miska extended both her legs, the roller bladed double kick catching Krysta with some force in the face as she turned around. Krysta did wear a face guard. Somehow Miska managed to land in a crouch. Krysta had flown back into her teammates. Miska swarmed up to her and grabbed the ball attached to the stik-pad riding Krysta’s hip.
“Thank you!” Miska said and leapt for the window. She dropped into the bowl, almost losing it, and, crouching, sped out through one of the low tunnels adjoining the bowl. She heard the angry voices of the attacking team as they gave pursuit.
They had hunted her through the mean arena. Miska had led them a merry chase, but she had no idea where the rest of her team were so it was only a matter of time before she got caught. Krysta had slammed her into the wall with a flying tackle that Miska was pretty sure would have cracked her spine if she hadn’t been wearing her armour. The attacking team had retrieved the ball and gone on to score, and subsequently win the practice game. Still, it had been fun.
Krysta had caught up with Miska as she straddled her bike, strapping her helmet on, out in the sports complex’s car park.
“Good practice!” Krysta said. Miska pointed at the medgel covering the team captain’s nose and grimaced.
“That me?” she asked. Krysta nodded.
“How’s your back?” the team captain asked.
“Pretty much one big bruise,” Miska told her. Krysta seemed to be trying to find a way to say something. “Let me guess, something, something, not a team player, something, something.”
“It was a ballsy move.”
“It was spur of the moment,” Miska said. She was pretty sure she saw what was coming.
“This game’s as much about strategy as it is skill. If you’d had your team with you, if you hadn’t gone out on your own, then you’d probably have beaten us.”
“You’re benching me, aren’t you?” Miska asked.
“It’s the semis, those Capital City girls are top of the league, and they will hand us our asses unless we’re all working together. I let you start then I’m punishing one of the girls who plays with the team.”
Miska nodded. She did understand but that didn’t stop her from being angry, she just wasn’t sure who with. She gunned the bike and roared over the near-empty sports complex’s car park as the white morning light of Sirius A washed out the twilight light of Sirius B.
Why couldn’t the colonists of Sirius 4 have embraced virtual schooling like any other sensible colony? It was the same question that occurred to Miska every morning when she pulled her bike into the car park of George W. Bush Memorial High School. Basilone City was part civilian support overspill for Camp Basilone, the huge Marine Corps camp that adjoined the city, and part railhead for the surrounding ranches to haul their beef to Capital City and the orbital elevator there. Between the military and cowboy heritage of the colony there was inevitably a lot of nostalgia, looking back at the spotted history of the colony’s parent country’s Manifest Destiny. They wanted to hark back to some halcyon past that was probably bullshit well before the Final Human Conflict, some three hundred and fifty years ago. Part of this involved so-called ‘family values’, and making sure that children were ‘socialised properly’. By ‘socialised properly’, Miska suspected the civil authorities meant subjected to social Darwinism so that people knew their places. Miska had found the only way to win that particular game was not to play it. The other, darker side of this emphasis on so-called family values seemed to involve some funny, and horribly out-dated, ideas on gender and sexuality. To Miska it seemed that the phrase ‘family values’ was an excuse used to hide all sorts of nasty and cowardly ideas masquerading as good old common sense. On the other hand, Miska wasn’t sure if ‘family values’ was meant for her. She didn’t have much of one. Her mum was dead. Her sister Angela had finally joined the army, good riddance, and her dad’s work as an instructor on the base kept him busy. Mind you, most of the interaction with her dad seemed to involve shouting. Miska had wondered if it was transference. Angela’s decision to join the army rather than follow in her dad’s footsteps into the Marines had hurt Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Corbin more than he liked to let on.
Miska stopped the bike in her normal space. The bike’s gyroscope held it upright as she ordered it to lock itself. She took her helmet off and looked around at the other students. She saw fake smiles, desperation, the pecking order asserting itself, and so many masks. More than anything she suspected that was the problem she had with the place. Nothing seemed real. Her dad had at least been pleased when she’d found roller brawl. That was until he’d realised just how many days she was missing school due to injuries, but Miska knew that she was never going to be a scholar. She was just pleased that roller brawl was played by actual people rather than squawking, frightened mannequins.
“Why’re you treating me like this?”
Speaking of which, Miska thought. She had recognised the voice. Heard the hurt warring with anger. Despite herself Miska looked over. Sarah had been her friend from elementary school, despite some misgivings from Sarah’s parents about the amount of trouble that Miska managed to involve their daughter in. They had started to drift apart sometime around junior high when Sarah had realised, or decided, that she was pretty enough to play ‘the game’. Miska had thought it was a damn shame, Sarah had a pretty good mind on her, she’d always been the clever one. A little taller than Miska, wasn’t everyone, Sarah had long, straight light-brown hair and the kind of effortless-looking classical beauty that Miska knew just enough about hair and makeup to realise that it took a lot of effort to achieve. Nowadays Sarah barely acknowledged her when they passed in the corridor, unless she was without her friends. It hadn’t really upset Miska when they’d drifted apart, or more realistically Sarah had dropped her like a steaming turd. It had been more confusing than anything else. Miska wasn’t sure she understood the priorities of her contemporaries.
Her erstwhile friend was facing up to the king of the school. The two-hundred-plus pounds of crew-cut, entitlement, ‘roid rage and douchebaggery that was Dale Markham. Quarterback of the Bush Hunters, the school’s apparently non-ironically named football team, and son of Sean Markham, Basilone City’s very own cattle baron. Miska knew that her Uncle Jakob had had trouble with Markham Snr. Her uncle’s own ranch bordered some of the elder Markham’s land and there had been some kind of dispute when Miska had been a lot younger, when her mother had still been alive. Miska wasn’t sure of the exact details, though she had remembered her dad using the words ‘range war’. One night she’d been left in Angela’s care and both her parents, wearing dark clothes, had apparently driven up to her uncle’s ranch and that had been the last that Miska had heard of the trouble.
“For fuck’s sake Sarah,” Dale muttered, “cling much?” The laughter that came from Dale’s clique might as well have been canned it was so automatic. Everyone knew their roles in this latest piece of High School psychodrama. “We had our fun, you weren’t good enough.” More canned laughter and Dale turned his back on her. Miska wasn’t sure why she was still watching. Doubtless the same scenario played out on a reasonably frequent basis throughout the week. Douchebags behaving like douchebags and somehow surprising people even though they had come to the situation aware that they were dealing with a douchebag. It was so fucking tedious in its predictability, Miska decided, as she strapped her helmet to her daypack.
“What do you mean, fun?” Sarah demanded. There might have been tears rolling down her cheeks but there was more anger in her voice than pain. Miska turned to walk away. “Have you been spreading rumours about me? Did you also tell people that you couldn’t get it up because of all the steroids, and the only reason that you haven’t been banned from playing is because your daddy bribes the school and the sports board?”
Miska looked back. She couldn’t help but smile and chuckle. One of Dale’s clique, some blonde clone, heard her, glared at her, and then turned to whisper in her letterman boyfriend’s ear.
Dale, however, was staring at Sarah. He had turned a funny shade of puce. Part of his face seemed to be moving of its own accord.
“Oh shit,” Miska muttered. He took a step towards Sarah who, to her credit, held her ground despite the fear obvious on her face. It was almost involuntary but Miska was moving towards the confrontation now. Dale leaned down.
“You act like a fucking whore, you get treated like a fucking whore,” he spat. Then he wrapped one meaty hand around Sarah’s face and pushed. Sarah hit the ground, hard.
“Hey!” Miska was a little surprised to find herself shouting. “What the fuck!” She was at Sarah’s side, helping the trembling girl to her feet. Sarah was far more frightened than upset now. Miska recognised learned behaviour when she saw it. It was clear that Sarah had seen this side of Dale before.
“Here’s your little computer geek to save you!” Dale spat. There was more laughter from the clique but Miska noticed that a number of the girls with them weren’t laughing. In fact they looked quite uncomfortable.
Dale’s words had confused Miska, though.
“Computer geek? That’s what people say about me?” she asked. It was true that IT was pretty much the only subject she excelled at but she’d never really seen herself that way. Sarah was standing beside her now. Miska couldn’t quite read the expression on her face.
“No, we think you’re a fucking dyke!” the letterman boyfriend of the blonde clone spat.
“You think I’m a flood defence?” Miska asked, genuinely confused.
“He means lesbian,” Sarah told her quietly.
“How the hell is lesbian an insult?” Miska asked.
“You’re really fucking stupid, aren’t you?” Dale demanded.
“Yeah, that’s the problem here. Look, maybe see a doctor and cut out a few steroids for your limp dick, rather than picking on someone who’s about a third your body weight,” Miska suggested.
“Miska . . .” Sarah said. She felt fingers grip her arm.
Dale stepped closer to Miska, towering over her. But then who didn’t? Miska thought. She was muscular, wiry but had been cursed with a small, practically petite build. She wondered what the jock douchebag saw as he looked down at her in her leather jacket, the retro black T-shirt of some ancient pre-FHC rock band she’d printed herself, the ripped jeans and biker boots.
“You’re one of those military brats that live on the base, right?” he demanded. “What are you, one of the camp whores?” It took a moment for Miska to realise that it was supposed to be an insult. She knew a couple of the base’s registered prostitutes. They were good people. One of them even played with the Brawlers.
“You should stick to football, dude. I don’t think insulting people is your thing. Y’know, like erections.”
Sarah’s hand shot to her mouth. Even some of Dale’s own clique laughed. He went a funny colour again. Miska could sense imminent violence. She stepped forward, well into his personal space, though it did mean she had to look up.
“Do you really think I’m afraid of you?” she asked. He tried to glare at her but she saw it in his eyes. He had faltered. He wasn’t used to someone half his size standing up to him. Miska was an unknown quantity.
“C’mon, they probably want to lick each other out. Explains why Sarah’s so shit in the sack. I think my dick must’ve known it,” Dale told his friends to the sound of more human canned laughter. The quarterback and his entourage walked away from Sarah and Miska. Sarah turned to look at her, tears in her eyes.
“Why do they think I’m gay? Who cares?” Miska asked, pointing at Dale and his entourage with her thumb.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah told her and fled, leaving Miska more than a little mystified by the whole thing.
Miska felt like her day had been particularly pointless as she made her way back towards the car park. It had consisted of her trying to pay enough attention to her classes so she could graduate from high school. She had already decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the Marines, though she would try for Recon school rather than Scout Sniper like her dad. She intended to go home, go for a run, have a shower and then spend some time on a hacking sim she had managed to get hold of. She wasn’t doing too badly with it but she had to rely on trodes and an external computer. She couldn’t wait to sign up and get some real tech implanted in her head, she thought, as she unclipped her helmet from her daypack and slung the pack back over her shoulder. Then she stopped and stared.
Someone had parked a big, gleaming chrome 6×6 pickup truck, all jacked suspension, bull bars and spot lamps, in her space. That wasn’t the problem, however, the problem was that the pickup was parked on the wreckage of her bike. Dale and some of his friends were sat on the bonnet of the pickup. They started laughing the moment they saw her. Miska swallowed her rage, or rather she forced herself to be calm long enough to deal with this. She made her way over to what was left of her bike.
“What. The. Fuck?” she demanded. Dale pushed himself off the bonnet of the pickup and dropped to the ground.
“Not so fucking smart now, are you?” he snarled.
“You’re parked on my bike and you think it’s my IQ that’s dropped over the course of the day?”
“What?” He actually looked confused.
“You’re buying me a new bike, rich boy,” Miska told him.
“How’re you gonna make that happen? My daddy practically owns this town. Now why don’t you turn around and start walking back to base, you army dyke!” He was flecking her with spittle as he leaned in to try and intimidate her. All his friends were laughing.
“That your last word on the matter?” Miska asked looking up at him.
Miska just nodded.
Miska was sat in the principal’s secretary’s office, slumped in the seat, arms crossed when her dad stormed in. He was still in his fatigues and it was clear that he’d come straight from whatever training session he had been running for the Marine Corps Special Operations Command. Tall, like everyone else in the family other than Miska herself, craggy features, grey eyes, he easily fit the profile of the archetypal Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. He exchanged a few terse words with the principal’s secretary.
“You may go in,” he told her dad. Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Corbin simply nodded before turning to his daughter.
“Come on,” he snapped.
“Dad—” she started.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
Miska stood up and trudged towards the Principal’s office.
Principal Rogers always reminded Miska of an egg with another, balding, smaller egg on top of it. Fleshy was the best way to describe him; fleshy and moist, somehow. He peered up at Miska and her dad with watery eyes as they entered his well-appointed office.
“Ah, Mr Corbin, I don’t think you need to bring the . . . ah, girl in here. We can ah . . . discuss this man-to-man,” Rogers told her dad.
Man-to-man? Miska wondered.
“I’m good with that,” Miska said, “just let me know how long I’m suspended for.” She started to turn.
“Stay right where you are,” her dad told her before looking back to Rogers. “It’s Sergeant Corbin, and anything you have to say to me you can say in front of my daughter.”
It seemed that Rogers didn’t like being contradicted in his own office but the principal had been assigned his authority by the school board, whereas her dad had earned his.
“Very well, please sit down.” Rogers gestured towards the two seats on the other side of his vast hardwood desk. The two chairs looked very low and she suspected that the principal’s chair was on a raised platform. It all seemed pretty petty to Miska. Her dad chose to stand at ease, hands behind his back.
“Thank you, I’ll stand,” he told the principal.
“I’ll sit down,” Miska said and made for one of the chairs.
“Stay where you are,” her dad snapped. Miska audibly sighed but did what she was told. “What’s this all about?” Her dad was clearly less than pleased about being called to his daughter’s school. Particularly as the message would have had to go through the Marine base’s comms network, which meant a lot of people would know that the younger Corbin girl was in trouble. Again.
“Well, your daughter viciously assaulted and hospitalised one of the school’s star athletes.”
Her dad frowned at her before turning back to Rogers.
“Now why would she do a thing like that?” he asked.
“He—” Miska started.
“I’m asking the principal,” her dad snapped.
“It seems that there was an unfortunate car accident which damaged her bike and Miska’s response was to attempt to cripple Dale Markham, our starting quarterback.”
“Oh bullshit!” Miska snapped. “A couple of days in the med centre and they can knit his knee and his nose back to normal.”
“But not, young lady, before the playoffs on Saturday, a game in which a number of college scouts were coming to see Mr Markham play. You have not only jeopardised his chance at a scholarship but perhaps his entire athletic career.”
“The only thing that’s going to jeopardise Markham’s athletic career is if they flush all the performance enhancers out of your pet juicer in the med centre,” Miska muttered.
Rogers pointed at her but looked at her dad.
“And this, Sergeant Corbin, is the problem. Your daughter is uncontrollable to the point of feral. You have not instilled proper family values in her.”
“No, but he taught me to look after myself,” Miska muttered. She was pretty sure she knew which was the most important.
Mr Rogers went quiet for a moment. Then he took a deep breath as though he was trying to control his own temper.
“I appreciate that there has been some tragedy in your family. I appreciate, judging by her bruises, that you’ve attempted to discipline Miska—”
“Hey!” her dad snapped.
“Those are from Rollerbrawl!” Miska shouted at the same time.
“But it’s clear that you’ve failed as a parent—”
“Don’t you talk to my dad like that!” Miska told her principal. She was pretty sure that there was another broken nose imminent.
“You may not be aware but both myself and the school board feel that it’s important to embrace the new masculinity—”
“What the hell’s wrong with the old masculinity?” her dad demanded.
“It is important that our pupils understand how gender roles work, and it’s clear that your daughter has not been taught this. She seems to think she’s a boy.”
“I really don’t,” Miska pointed out. Her dad glanced at her but Rogers ignored the outburst. She’d had conversations with people like him before. They made up their minds and then became impervious to information.
“Because she beat up some asshole who destroyed her bike? Are you kidding me?” her dad demanded.
“She tried to cripple a star athlete over a traffic accident,” Rogers told him.
“Maybe I should have tried to cripple someone a little less important to the team?” Miska suggested.
“This Dale Markham, he Sean Markham’s son?” her dad demanded.
“You know Mr Markham?” Rogers asked.
“Oh, I know Mr Markham. What the hell does Sean Markham’s son need a scholarship for?”
“Should we deny a good student what he’s rightfully earned?” Rogers demanded aggressively enough to make Miska think that her butterball principal was braver than he looked.
“A scholarship he’s earned with steroids and a heavily doctored academic record. Tell me, is it true the faculty actually does his homework, or do you just turn a blind eye when he bullies the smart kids into doing it for him?” Miska asked. She was thinking about hacking the school, seeing if she could find any evidence to back up what she knew to be true. Rogers just pointed at her again and looked at Miska’s dad.
“Do you see, Mr Corbin? This is what I’m talking about. This is exactly the sort of attitude that it is your parental responsibility to nip in the bud.”
It went very quiet in the principal’s office. The only sound was her dad grinding his teeth as he tried to control his anger.
“Can you tell me how long I’m suspended for, so we can get out of here?” Miska asked.
“It’s been discussed with the school board. You’re not being suspended this time Miska. You’re being expelled.”
Miska let this sink in. She was aware of her father shaking with rage next to her. Miska punched him softly on the shoulder.
“It’s okay, dad, I can get my diploma from a virtual college and then sign up when I turn eighteen,” she told him.
“Tell me,” her dad asked Rogers. “Sean Markham sit on the school board?”
“He is the secretary of the school board,” Rogers told him. Her dad nodded.
“Well . . . bye, Mr Rogers,” Miska said and made for the door, and then something occurred to her. She turned back towards the principal. “Just so you know, I will be at prom.”
“Miss Corbin, if you show up at prom I will have security throw you out and we will call the sheriff.”
“Wait a minute!” Miska snapped. “I put up with the whole shitty high school experience! Now you want to put me out in the world as one of the promless? Spend the rest of my life haunted by the prom-that-should-have-been?”
“That’s enough!” her dad snapped.
Rogers was staring at her. He was clearly furious that someone like her would speak to him in that way.
Her dad leaned over Rogers’ desk, his fists on the wood.
“Now you listen to me, you worthless piece of shit,” her dad said quietly, his voice full of menace. Rogers’ head snapped back to look at him. “Tell Sean Markham his son owes Miska a new motorbike.” Rogers opened his mouth to answer. Miska casually wondered if the principal was trying to commit suicide. “Shut up!” her dad snapped. Finally the principal seemed to understand he was in genuine danger. “And my daughter is going to her prom. Don’t make me come back here, you understand me?” The principal just nodded.
Miska’s dad made for the door. Miska mustered her sweetest smile for Principal Rogers, and then turned and followed. Her dad stopped by the door and looked back at the principal. Rogers’s face was covered in sweat.
“The new masculinity, huh? I bet you’ve never even seen a goddamned western.” Then he was out of the door. Miska followed, giving her ex-principal the finger on the way out.
“What did you do?”
Her dad had been quiet since they had left the high school. His battered old 6×6 Dodge pickup had autopilot, but he preferred to drive himself. Miska could identify with that. She suspected that being a control freak ran in the family. The sky was darkening into a classic Sirius deep azure sunset as A sank behind the horizon and distant B hung low in the sky. They were travelling the highway between Basilone City proper and Camp Basilone. A strip-mall flanked the road. Holographic neon promised everything from fuel to fried chicken, light beer to strippers. In the gaps between the fuel stations, dive bars and lap dancing clubs, Miska could just about make out the plains. She could see the lights of the rotor drones high above the turquoise long grass. The drones watched over the little black dots, the cattle that spotted the plains.
“He ran over my bike because I stood up to him in the morning,” Miska said, which reminded her. She didn’t feel she owed Sarah anything but she was still going to call her and make sure that she was okay. “He made that clear when I came out. He had some more of his crew with him and tried to push me around again—”
“And?” her dad asked. He wasn’t sounding angry now, just tired, resigned. It wasn’t a tone of voice she was used to hearing from her dad. She didn’t like it.
“Well, I had my helmet in my hand.”
“So you let him have it in the face? Bust his nose?” he asked. Miska nodded. “And?”
“I may have kicked out his knee, bust it.”
Her dad nodded.
“You angry with me?” she asked.
“You know you played right into their hands, right?” he asked. “Probably didn’t expect to get his ass handed to him by someone half his size, but they wanted to you to try something.”
“Yeah, I know.” Miska went back to looking out of the window. Trying to catch glimpses of the plains. She was going to talk to her dad about working on her Uncle Jakob’s ranch until she was old enough to join the Marines. She was pretty sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to get her High School Equivalency Diploma. The extra money from working on the ranch wouldn’t hurt. She was even considering getting herself an actual dress for the prom, or at least a nice new pair of boots. Though she was wondering how much it would cost to get her bike repaired. She glanced back at the wreckage in the pickup’s truck-bed. The bike looked pretty fucked.
“You gotta’ learn to pick your fights, Miska,” he told her.
She probably knew he was right but she wasn’t quite ready to admit it just yet.
“And no,” her dad added. She gave him a questioning look. “I’m angry, but I’m not angry with you.”
“Well I’m sorry for the shit I caused you, but I’m not sorry I smacked that asshole.”
Her dad sighed. “Sometimes you just gotta stand up for yourself.” He sounded a little distracted. He was continually glancing down at the rear view screen. A Basilone City sheriff’s department patrol car was following them.
“Is that the sheriff?” Miska asked. Then the patrol car started flashing its lights. Her dad sighed and pulled the truck over to the dusty side of the road.
“Anything else you want to tell me?” he asked. The cab of the old truck was bathed in flashing blue light. Miska screwed up her face in concentration as she desperately tried to remember if there was anything outstanding she was still due to get into trouble for.
“I don’t think so,” she said hesitantly.
“You don’t sound very sure,” her dad said. Miska just shrugged. Someone knocked on the driver side window, her dad opened it. Davis Strickland, the Basilone City sheriff, stood by the cab. He was in his mid-fifties but still solidly built, his stomach only recently starting to show signs of middle-aged spread. Miska knew that his Stetson covered the salt-and-pepper stubble of his hair.
“Hey Jon,” the sheriff said. His voice was even, calm and perhaps a little sombre. The sheriff knew her dad because he was frequently called when off duty Marines got themselves into trouble on the strip, and, if Miska was honest, she’d been responsible for some of their contact. Miska wasn’t sure if the two men could be considered friends but she knew her dad liked and respected the sheriff, even if his appearance normally meant trouble for him.
“Davis,” her dad said and nodded. The sheriff glanced back at the wreckage of the bike in the bed of the truck and then over at Miska.
“Heard you had some trouble at school,” he said.
Miska shrugged. “Not anymore.” Miska liked the sheriff. He only ever busted her when she was doing something wrong. He didn’t give kids a hard time unless they deserved it, and he’d gone lenient a couple of times when he could’ve gone hard.
“Yeah?” Davis asked, smiling. “I heard you were going to cause some more trouble when the prom comes round.”
“That sure as hell is not happening,” her dad growled. The sheriff laughed. Miska smiled.
“Let things calm down, then we can talk to Rogers, make him see sense.”
Her dad looked up at the sheriff.
“That’s good of you Davis, thank you.” And Miska knew her dad meant it.
“Yes, thank you,” Miska added. It seemed the whole world thought she was an irredeemable juvenile delinquent with the exception of the sheriff. Davis just shook his head as if it wasn’t anything.
“We’ve had a number of complaints made against Sean Markham. Thing is, by the time we get round to arresting him the victims always seem to change their story. I’m not condoning vigilantism but I’m not convinced you did a bad thing either,” Davis told her.
“Markham come and see you?” her dad asked. Davis looked between a gas station and a liquor shop, out over the plains. He didn’t answer the question straight away.
“Yup,” he finally said, as though he’d come to some decision.
Her dad nodded slowly. “Well you ain’t putting the bracelets on Miska.”
“Nope,” Davis agreed.
“Seems like I owe you a beer.”
It took a moment for Miska to work out that Sheriff Davis had talked Markham Snr out of pressing charges against her.
“Well now, that would come dangerously close to bribing a sheriff,” Davis said, smiling. Just as suddenly as it was there, the smile had gone. “You can do me a favour though.”
“What’s that?” her dad asked, his voice neutral. Miska suspected that her dad wasn’t going to like what he was about to hear.
“Markham’s been doing some talking. Your family’s name’s been on his lips. Seems he doesn’t like you from way back.” Davis glanced her dad. He just shrugged. “Well, he’s been running his mouth.”
“What’s he been saying?” her dad asked through gritted teeth.
“Does it matter?” Davis asked. “He’s a blowhard, but I knew it was going to reach you sooner or later, so I thought I’d come and have a chat.”
Miska’s dad turned to look at Davis.
“Okay, he’s talking about him and some of his nastier ranch hands teaching Miska a lesson.”
“He threatened Miska?” her dad asked. His voice sounded twisted. His knuckles white where he’d gripped the steering wheel, hard.
“It’s just hot air, Jon, and you know that. Go back to the base, let it blow over. I’m not telling you as the sheriff. I’m asking you as a favour.”
Miska reached out touch her dad’s arm.
“Dad, it’s nothing. Let’s just go home,” Miska said. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him this angry, even during their worst arguments. Her dad turned back to Davis.
“Thank you sheriff, I appreciate the heads up,” her dad managed. Davis studied him for a moment or two.
“I don’t have to sit on you, do I? Drive you back to the base?”
“No, sir,” her dad told the sheriff.
Davis looked sceptical but nodded.
“Okay, you have a good night,” Davis told him. He leaned down again and looked across at Miska. “And you, young lady, stay out of trouble, or at least try harder not to get caught,” he told her. Miska laughed. “I mean it, stop beating on the football team.”
“Come and watch the Rollerbrawl game on Saturday,” Miska told him. She’d decided that she definitely liked the sheriff.
“Too damned violent for me,” he said shaking his head and heading back towards the car.
Miska’s dad started up the truck and pulled away. He watched the rear-view screen as the patrol car did a U-turn and started heading back towards town.
“We’re not going home, are we?” Miska asked.
“You sure as hell are,” her dad muttered. It was clear he was seething. On a very few occasions she’d seen her dad work hard to try and avoid fights, mostly with drunk townies, but she suspected that a threat to one of his girls was just too much for him. Hell, Miska thought, it wasn’t as if it wasn’t a fair fight between Dale and me.
“Okay dad,” Miska told him.
Her dad pulled the beaten up Dodge into the dusty car park of a dive bar. The sign, a hologram of a big-titted cowgirl riding an electric bull, proclaimed the place as ‘Rowdy’s’. Her dad opened the glove compartment and pulled out a hardened gun case. He put his thumb on the lock and the case clicked open revealing his antique .45. Pre-FHC, the pistol had been rebuilt by USMC armourers for Force Recon, and was her dad’s pride and joy.
“What’s that for?” Miska asked as her dad leaned forward and slid the .45 down the back of his fatigue pants, slipping an extra magazine into a pocket. He turned to face her.
“I need you to listen to me. I want you to take the truck and go home, okay, and you stay on the base tonight, okay?” he asked. There was just a little bit of Gunnery Sergeant, do-not-fuck-with-me-on-this in his tone of voice.
“Sure dad,” Miska told him. Then she jumped out of the pickup and headed for the bar.
“Goddamnit!” she heard her dad shout behind her.
“Hi, I’m Miska Corbin. Sean Markham and some of his boys are looking for me, he’ll probably give you some money, or a blowjob or something, if you tell him where he can find me,” Miska announced to the bar. It was still early yet, there were only a few people in there, leftovers from the hardened drinkers day shift. Tired drooping faces full of burst blood vessels turned to look at her. The place was a spit and sawdust shithole. Miska couldn’t shake the feeling that whoever ran the bar had worked hard to give it that spit and sawdust shithole feel. The atmosphere felt painted-on somehow, right down to the classic country and metal track ballad, the singer yodelling about the death of his favourite mule, coming from the sound system.
One of the drinkers had stood up and was making her way towards the toilet. Miska assumed she was about to place a call to Markham in hope of a reward.
“Thank you,” Miska called after her. The drinker at least had the good grace to look guilty.
Miska turned her attention to the bar. The barwoman was younger and looked less dissipated than the rest of the clientele, she was all stubble and dreads under the Stetson. She looked as though she was trying too hard to be part of the current CyberBilly revival movement.
“Could I get a beer please?” she asked as her dad burst in through the doors behind her.
“Don’t serve her, she’s not eighteen,” her dad cried.
The barwoman went back to minding her own business and polishing a glass.
“Miska, get back in the truck and go home!” her dad said. Miska turned to face him and backed away. By now he would have worked out that his big mistake was not driving her home himself and then ordering the guards not to let her leave, maybe even have a few of his friends sit on her. All of which would have made it more difficult, but she would have still snuck out and gone looking for Markham. After all, it was her who’d been threatened. Her dad would never hurt her, no matter what Principal Rogers might have thought, but he wasn’t above restraining her and dumping her in the truck. He’d given her and her older sister pretty extensive lessons on how to look after themselves but she still didn’t fancy her chances if he decided to make sure she went home.
“And the strange thing is you’ve known me for seventeen years and you really thought I was just going to go home?” She was playing for time, keeping her distance.
“Yeah, in retrospect that was a dumb idea,” he admitted, “but please, I can’t have you here. If I have to worry about . . .”
“You don’t have to worry about me dad, you just need to have a bit of faith in me,” Miska told her.
“And what happens when ten of them turn up, with guns?” he demanded.
“Well I imagine we’ll use whatever genius plan you’d come up with for such an eventuality.” Miska couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
“Miska . . .” her dad started but the woman she suspected had snuck off to the toilets to phone Markham had come back out into the bar. She was now looking between Miska and her father and she didn’t look happy. She turned to head back to the toilets.
“Stay where you are or I’ll bust you in the face,” Miska told her. “You don’t call anyone else until this is sorted, understand me?” The woman nodded. She looked scared. “Sit down!” Miska shouted at her and the woman did as she was bid.
“You want a drink?” the barwoman asked. Her dad looked between Miska and the barwoman. It was clear that he was less than happy. It was clear that he was worried for her but didn’t have the heart to drag her kicking and screaming back out to the truck. He sighed and walked to the bar.
“What ever you’ve got on draft, and orange juice for junior here,” he muttered.
“Dad!” Miska complained.
“Don’t push it,” he growled. “You’re without a doubt your mother’s daughter.” This last left Miska beaming.
There weren’t ten of them, there were just three, including Sean Markham himself, and if they were armed it wasn’t on show.
It seemed that Dale was a chip off the old block. Sean Markham was a little over six-and-a-half-foot tall, a hulking man, his stomach flowing over his belt. He wore the shirt, jeans, boots and Stetson of a cowperson but it was all designer gear.
Two big, mean-looking ranch hands flanked him, one on either side. Neither wore hats. Their clothing, similar to Markham’s, was worn and well-used. The white one had a ginger mullet. The Asian one’s hair was cropped close to his head.
“Where’s the little bitch who attacked my son?” Markham demanded. His voice was husky. It sounded like he’d been to few bars before this one.
Miska was interfacing with the bar’s jukebox through her pocket slate. She picked a song.
“You got a PA for the carpark?” she asked the barwoman as her dad turned away from the bar and stood up. The barwoman nodded. Miska slid off her stool.
“I think there’s more than a few people in town sick of your fucking family,” Markham Snr was telling her dad.
“I hear you’re looking for me,” Miska said, giving her best impression of the main character in her dad’s favourite pre-FHC western.
“Jesus Christ,” her dad muttered.
“Look,” Markham Snr said to her dad. “You don’t have to get hurt. We’re just going to teach your daughter a little bit of a lesson, understand me?”
It was clear that Sean Markham didn’t have the slightest idea who her dad was.
“You stay in here,” her dad told her.
“Like fuck!” Miska snapped and headed towards Markham and his ranch hands.
“Language,” her dad admonished, but she had already reached the three men who had come to teach her a lesson.
“Coming?” she asked them as she made for the car park.
“Okay, this has gone far enough,” her dad said as he caught up with her outside. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her around. Her song had started playing through the bar’s external PA, a pre-FHC hard rock classic.
“Get your hands off me,” she snapped and tore herself free. There was laughter from Markham as he and his two cronies walked out to face them.
“You just can’t control her, can you?” Markham said. “Don’t worry, she’ll be as timid as a mouse when we’re finished with her.”
Her dad turned to face Markham. This time it was Miska who grabbed her dad’s arm. She knew this was a nightmare for him, but the more she was seeing of Markham, the more she was sure it had to go down this way. Besides, she was worried that her dad was going to kill him.
“Dad, I’m doing this,” she said. Her dad turned back to stare at her.
“You are out of your goddamned mind!” he snapped.
“Sounds like she’s got more spirit than you, Jon,” Markham said. “Some of your dead wife in her, maybe? Tell me, Jon, how’d she die? Oh, that was it, pretending she could do a man’s job, instead of staying home and making sure her bitch daughters grew up properly.”
Her dad spun away from her again. Now she knew he was going to kill Markham. Miska didn’t think. She just reacted. She leapt in the air and came down with all her weight on her dad’s leg midstride. She knew his bones were reinforced, so she was pretty sure that she hadn’t broken his leg, but she heard something crack and his leg went from under him. Miska dodged past him as he made a grab for her. She knew she didn’t have much time.
“Let’s see if you’re as big a pussy as your son,” Miska told Markham. She’d never considered pussy much of an insult, but Markham was an idiot, clearly the inbred result of inherited wealth and too much entitlement.
“Oh, this should be good,” Markham said, turning towards ginger mullet. It was a mistake. Miska decided to make him pay for it. She covered the space to him at a run. He turned to face her but was too slow. She had all the time in the world to kick him hard enough to change the shape of his face. He staggered back. The two ranch hands were moving towards her. Miska may not have been as big, or as powerful as them, but she was fast. She kicked Markham between the legs. She was a little worried that he didn’t even cry out. He did, however, hit the ground like a sack of shit.
The two ranch hands spent a moment wondering what to do, now their boss was on the ground. Miska used that time to skip over Markham and move around Cropped Hair. He followed, stepping in front of Ginger Mullet. Miska backed up, moving them away from where her dad was trying to limp towards them, his sweating face a mask of pain.
Cropped Hair lunged forward. Miska caught him with a jab and then a hook under his chin. She spread his nose all over his face, but it was clear that he’d been in more than one bar brawl. She couldn’t move back quickly enough and felt his big hands encircle her throat. Cropped Hair lifted her into the air. Miska hooked her thumbs into his eyes and pressed. He screamed and dropped her, clutching at his face. Crouching, she kicked out at his knee, groin and then straight up into his face. He staggered back and she swept his legs out from under him. From her crouched position she threw herself into the air as he fell, and landed knee-first on his face. Cropped Hair was still.
Ginger Mullet punted her head like a football. It whipped round and she felt everything going black. She could taste vomit in the back of her throat. It was only sheer bloody mindedness that kept her conscious. Miska managed to push herself up onto all fours. Ginger Mullet’s second kick sent her spinning into the air. The breath exploded out of her and wouldn’t come back. She lay in the dust of the car park, drooling. She watched Ginger Mullet’s boots striding towards her, behind him her dad going for the ancient .45. Ginger Mullet raised his boot to stamp on her head. Miska somehow had the presence of mind to kick him on the inside calf of his support leg. Miska rolled towards him, wrapping her arms around his lower leg and taking him to the ground. The guy may have been able to brawl, but he had no ground game. Miska’s leg axed down into his face, stunning him long enough for her to shift position. She scissor locked his neck with her legs and squeezed, cutting off the blood supply to his head. She hammered her fist into his face, then again, and again. She kept punching him until he stopped clawing at her leg and was still. Even then she hit him a few more times than was strictly necessary.
“Motherfucker!” she spat and disentangled herself from Ginger Mullet. She was still running on adrenalin and fury. The pain hadn’t kicked in yet. Miska managed to push herself to her feet. It took her a moment to understand that the flashing blue light was connected to the sheriff patrol car that hadn’t been there a few moments ago. Miska was trying to make sense of the situation when the screaming started. It sounded inhuman: the mewling squeal of an animal in pain. Miska searched for the source of the sound and found that Sean Markham was back on his feet and pointing a laser pistol at her.
“Look what you’ve done!” His voice was very different now. The front of his jeans was a dark, sticky-looking mess. She was peripherally aware of her dad pointing his .45 at Markham. Of Sheriff Davis reaching for his gun. Miska started to fall forward, at the last moment throwing herself into a forward roll. She heard the bang of superheated air particles exploding. Felt a line of fire across her back. Then she was on her feet, her leather jacket smoking. She locked up Markham’s arm, then broke it, then kept breaking it until the bone poked through the skin. Then she took the laser pistol from his lifeless fingers and kicked him away from her. He stumbled and fell over. Miska levelled the laser pistol at him. The back of her leather jacket caught fire. Through the pain she had one crystal clear thought. She was going to kill Markham. There was shouting. It took a moment to make sense of it through the keening noise Markham was making.
“Stop pointing your gun at my daughter!”
“Miska, put the gun down!”
“Davis, I like you, but I will put two in your fucking head if you don’t lower your gun!”
“Miska, listen to me, if you don’t drop that gun I will shoot you!”
Miska took a moment to look around. After all Markham wasn’t going anywhere. Davis had his gun levelled at her. Her dad had his ancient .45 pointed at the sheriff. That didn’t seem right. Her dad liked Davis, hell, she liked the sheriff, and she wasn’t good with authority figures. Also she was pretty sure her dad would get into trouble for shooting Davis. Miska suspected that she wasn’t thinking straight. The kick she’d taken to the head had rung her bell pretty good. She looked down at Markham squealing in the dust.
“Fuck it,” she slurred, drooling blood down herself. “You’re not worth it.” She safetied the laser, removed its battery and dropped it into the dirt. Her dad and the sheriff lowered their guns. Miska turned back and staggered towards the bar, dropping her burning leather jacket into the dirt as her song finished.
“Gimme a beer,” Miska managed as she limped into the bar. She suspected she had concussion, if not a subdural hematoma, and she was reasonably sure that she shouldn’t be drinking, but she really fancied a beer.
“Ain’t you too young to drink?” the barwoman said.
“Give her a goddamn beer!” her dad snapped as he limped into the bar after her, dragging his leg.
Miska, painfully, sat at the bar. Everything hurt now: her face, her head, almost all of her torso. Her back still felt like it was on fire. Even the cold beer in her mouth, when the bottle finally showed up, hurt.
“The security lenses caught the whole thing,” the barwoman told her. “I’ve uploaded it. It’s all over town by now.”
Miska just nodded.
“Well, there goes my parent of the year award,” her dad muttered as he sat in the stool next to her, a bottle of beer appearing on the bar in front of him. “I think you dislocated my knee. It’s reinforced, you’re not supposed to be able to do that.”
“Sorry dad, but they had to learn.”
Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Corbin just nodded.
Somebody came into the bar behind them. Miska heard boots clattering across the bare boards and sawdust floor. Davis sat down on the other side of her dad and put her charred leather jacket on the bar.
“You need medical attention, young lady,” the sheriff told her.
“I’m-a-gonna-finish-ma-beer-first,” she slurred. He raised an eyebrow, and then a beer as a bottle materialised in front of him as well.
“I told you both to go home,” Davis said to them. Her dad turned to look at the sheriff.
“If it’d been your kid he threatened?” he asked. Davis just nodded. “Sorry I had to draw down on you.”
“I pointed a gun at your youngest, I get it. Do it again and we have a problem,” the sheriff told him.
“Understood,” her dad said and clinked bottles with the sheriff.
Miska drained her beer and winced. “Hospital, please.”
It hadn’t been a hematoma, just a concussion. She’d been kept in overnight. Medpaks and an anti-swelling salve had seen to the worst of her injuries, though she’d cracked two ribs. Thanks to the miracles of medical technology she was ready to play, or at least warm the bench, come Saturday. She did, however, have an angry welt down her back, which hadn’t fully healed yet, from where Markham had nearly blown her spine out with the laser. Markham and his men had decided not to press charges. By all accounts the sheriff had told Markham that if he didn’t leave the Corbins alone he was going to let her dad kill him and then help bury the body. Markham had, however, contested the Corbins’ insurance claim against the destruction of the bike. Miska couldn’t see her getting the money for a new one any time soon.
“You sure about this?” her dad asked. They were parked in what passed for a leafy suburb in the officer’s living area of Camp Basilone, outside Sarah’s house. Miska just shrugged and then jumped out of the truck and made her way up the path to the front door. She knocked and it was Sarah who answered.
“C’mon,” Miska said. Then she turned and headed back towards the pickup.
They pulled into the sports complex’s car park just as Krysta was dragging her gear out of the back of her car. Miska directed her dad to park up next to the team captain. Miska and Sarah got out of the pickup.
“Hey boss,” Miska said. Krysta nodded back and then looked Sarah over.
“What’s this?” Krysta asked, nodding towards the other girl.
“Fresh meat,” Miska told her.
“Hey wait!” Sarah protested. “I can’t play rollerbrawl!”
“Why not?” Krysta asked. “We do.” She pointed between herself and Miska. Miska was nodding. Sarah was just looking at the other two women, wide eyed. Miska could hear her dad chuckling from the truck’s cab. “Six months before you play in a game. We’ll make sure you’re happy on the skates, MMA training, everything else, make sure you’re safe, competent and happy before you join the team. Besides, it’s fun, believe me.”
Sarah looked terrified, but she nodded.
On her skates, wearing her armour (helmet, but no face guard) and war paint, Miska skated into the home team area with the rest of the Basilone City Brawlers. The terraced seats were raised over the mock urban streets of the mean arena. Miska desperately wanted to be part of the starting team but she knew that Krysta was right. She hadn’t been playing the team game. Instead she sat down on the bench with only a slight sigh, and tried not to hope for a teammate to get injured so she could play. She glanced back up the terraces, searching the large crowd until she saw Sarah and her dad. Her dad was saying something to her friend. Sarah was smiling.
Chloe Isherwood Photography