Bonus Story: Benchwarming

on October 19, 2008 in Other Tales

Chapter 300 tomorrow. To celebrate, I plan on being wiped out by the Persian Empire. Meanwhile, enjoy.

“You wanted to see me, Co… oh, sweet Khersis!” Ian said, covering his eyes when he realized what he was seeing. He’d walked into Callahan’s office because she’d barked “enter” when he knocked on the frame of the ajar door, but there she was sitting on her desk with her legs spread wide, using a towel to sponge some kind of viscous red-orange liquid off of her thighs, and between them.

“What?” she asked.

“Pants,” he said. It was all he could get out, but it got the idea across.

“I never wear pants,” she said, gesturing to the segmented leather skirt—and thong—on the floor. “The most successful armies in history never wore pants. Remember that. They’re too constrictive, and there’s no real benefit to them. Even if they’re magic armor pants, if somebody hits you hard enough that it would take your legs off without them, it’ll be hard enough to knock you down with them. Let me tell you, Mason… anybody ever tries to tell you that heat-up massage crap makes a good lubricant, stab them. Stab them hard.”

“Uh, you wanted to see me?” he said again, ignoring the non sequitur and keeping his gaze high. As he was taller than she was, and keeping his distance, this was pretty transparently obvious.

Ian had harbored a number of fantasies about warrior women who dressed like Callahan did, though maybe with more cleavage. Seeing her in the flesh, though… there was something about her that was just off, if not entirely off-putting. He’d heard the rumors about her. He’d even repeated a few of them.

“I did,” she said. She hopped down off the desk and slung the towel over her shoulder, then turned around and seemed to study her face in the mirror that hung on the wall. Her eyes flicked to the image of Ian’s hand, wrapped in white. It was the sort of stop-gap measure the gladiators employed during practice, until they had time to break for healing. The red that had seeped through the bandage had long since faded to an ugly bruising purple.

“Uh… are you going to put on some…?” Ian asked. His eyes were in the wrong place to notice where hers were.

“I’m airing out,” she said, inspecting her mohawk both visually and by prodding it gingerly with her fingertips. “You remember I told you I’m on the winner’s side?”

“Yeah,” Ian said.

“Well, Mason… I watched you earlier, and I am not on your side.”

Ian said nothing. His expression betrayed almost nothing. Looking in the mirror, Callahan noted the set of his shoulders, the tightening of his jaws, the minute flaring of the nostrils, the subtle change in the eyes… that was the smallest sign, but the most telling. There was a touch of fear, I’m a fraud and I’m about to be caught!… most people had some amount of that, and most people who didn’t should have had the most of it… and there was quite a bit of anger, who does this bitch think she is?… but mostly his reaction was surprise.

He’d come in early and been kicking ass all day. He might have expected a “don’t get cocky, kid” speech, but he hadn’t expected this.

“You’re going to lose,” Callahan said, turning around. She whipped the towel off her shoulder and threw it at him. He twitched aside, not able or not bothering to conceal his disgusted reaction as it almost hit him. “You’re going to lose because you’re not in it to win.”

“You think I’m holding back?” Ian asked incredulously.

“I didn’t say that,” she said. “In fact, I’d say you’re running full out… but in the wrong direction. You might blow through one match on raw anger, but your subsequent opponents will be watching. They’ll see where you’re dangerous and they’ll see where you’re careless. Of course, they’ve been watching you practice off and on all afternoon, so maybe you won’t even get the one match… and you sure aren’t doing yourself any favors by wearing yourself out before you step into the pit.”

“Some of those guys have been practicing all month,” Ian said. “I’m making up for lost time.”

“Some of those guys have been practicing their whole lives,” Callahan corrected. “You’re not going to make up for that by exhausting yourself. I don’t expect a miracle from you, Mason, and you don’t need one to win your bouts. People come here to see fights, not slaughters. I’ve put you matched up against people you can beat, if you’re smart about it.”

“So why’d you tell me to come in early if I wanted to win?” Ian asked. “If you don’t want me to practice.”

“Did only that one thing I said to you penetrate your skull?” she said. “Preparation is one thing, but what you’ve been doing… they say you win battles by fighting them in your mind before the first blow has been thrown. From what I can tell, you’re trying to do it the other way around. You’re going to run out of blows before you even think about the battle.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” Ian said. “As hard as I’ve been working, I feel great… better than I have in a long time. I feel like I could keep going forever.”

“Yeah, that’s usually how it feels when you hit your peak,” Callahan said. “Which, in case you don’t grasp the subtlety of the metaphor, is the part right before you start going downhill. If you keep pushing, you’re going to hit your limit and crash hard, and then when you get out in the ring you aren’t going to have anything left to give but your blood. It’ll make for a good show, in the sense that it will give the kids a chance to talk about how much ass you managed to suck in the thirty seconds before you got killed out. Nobody belongs on the B-list, Mason. They’re all either As or Cs waiting to happen. You could be an A, but you’re going to wind up a C. I told you there’s no such thing as gladiator therapy. I told you that you need to leave your encumberances outside the ring. Is this sinking in?”

“It would be more effective if you had more clothes on,” Ian said.

“Funny,” Callahan said. “I’m pulling you out of the line-up.”

What?” Ian asked, his anger boiling up to the surface for the first time. “What happened to ‘the ring takes all comers’? Was that just a bullshit speech you give everybody?”

“It does take all comers,” Callahan said. “A place for everybody, and everybody in their place. I’m taking you out and putting you in the naked ladder.”

“The what?”

“Unarmed combat, Mason,” Callahan said. “Unarmed and unarmored. Just you and another guy, pounding the ever-hating shit out of each other. The real contenders would break you, but I think you can handle the entry level.”

“But I’ve been practicing with my sword all day!” Ian said. “I’m not an unarmed fighter.”

“You won the fight with Grady using your hands,” Callahan said. “What’s more, a sword is not a flail is not an axe is not a spear. That is, unless you get pissed enough. Then it doesn’t matter what you have in your hand… it’s just a big ol’ rod for you to swing around. Anger turns every weapon into a club. Get rid of the weapon, throw it away, and your hands know what to do. Like I said, it wouldn’t be enough to win the tier… it won’t even be enough for the mid-level… but it’s enough to make a start, until you learn to beat your personal demon on your own time.”

“What did you say?” Ian asked.

“Personal demons,” Callahan said. “Your issues. Your baggage. Whatever. You get yourself under control, and you’ll either be able to work on climbing the naked ladder or you can go back to armed combat… or you get six kinds of shit kicked out of you and you go crawl into a hole. Either way is fine with me, really.”

“Callahan… Coach… I have had my sword for years,” Ian said, trying to keep his voice from getting desperate… or worse, whiny. “I’ve practiced with it. If you make me go out there without it, they’ll wipe the floor with my ass, and it won’t be because of my feelings.”

“How many fights have you been in with it?” she asked. “How many with your own hands?” He didn’t answer. “You’ve probably got some idea about ‘focusing your anger’,” she said. “That’s a load of shit. Ninety-nine percent of the people in this world will never be able to focus their anger well enough to do anything with it. Why? Because they’re angry. It’s distracting.”

“What about the one percent?”

“They scare me shitless,” Callahan said. “You don’t.”

“Put me in the unarmed combat if you want,” Ian said.

“I already did.”

“But keep me in the fights I’m already scheduled for,” he said.

“Right, that’s the perfect way to cap off a day of pushing yourself too hard,” she said.

“You’ve already said you don’t think I’m going to win,” Ian said. “What do you care if I lose hard?”

“Honestly, it’s just safer for everybody if a repressed rageaholic doesn’t spend time learning how to swing his sword around in anger.”

“What, this is about safety?” Ian asked. “I thought it was about me not winning.”

“You let somebody push you too far and take a swing at him, that’s a couple guys letting off steam,” Callahan said. “You draw your sword, it’s a whole ‘nother thing.”

“I can’t believe you’d even… don’t you know that the whole reason I came here was so that kind of thing didn’t happen?” Ian said.

“Yeah, you ever reach for your hilt when someone ticked you off before?” she asked. “Fighting in the pit isn’t going to get rid of the things that piss you off… all it will do is give you a new way of relating to them. If that way involves cold… hot flaming steel, people are going to die and I’m going to have to deal with it. Don’t think I’ve got a bunch of big fluffy feelings about you, Mason, but when one of our jocks goes off and does something stupid, it makes life really difficult for us. One of my most fervently held principles in life is to always make things difficult for other people, not for myself.”

Ian didn’t say anything, but glared sullenly at her. There was defiance in his face, but defeat in his posture… especially as he seemed to be slumping by degrees. She knew he’d be experiencing the beginnings of the pain in his back and arms.

“I can see you’re starting to feel it… as the high continues to fade and you start to feel the ache in your arms from swinging that sword like a sledgehammer all day, you’re going to thank me,” Callahan said. “Not only will you not have to lift it, but you’ll have more time before your fight. The unarmed bouts don’t start until after the halfway point. You’ll get a good two hours extra to prepare… and by that I mean getting your head screwed on straight and getting some treatment for your muscle fatigue.”

“Yeah? What exactly do you recommend?” Ian asked. “We’re not supposed to take potions twelve hours before.”

“Well… I do have this massage oil.”

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6 Responses to “Bonus Story: Benchwarming”

  1. pedestrian says:

    We all appreciate a good pep talk.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    Ah, that coach is ridiculously badass.

    Current score: 7
  3. Khalex says:

    “‘Yeah, you ever reach for your hilt when someone ticked you off before?’ she asked. ‘Fighting in the pit isn’t going to get rid of the things that piss you off… all it will do is give you a new way of relating to them.'”

    These might be the truest words I’ve read in just about 300 chapters. Before I started playing rugby, I was never physically violent, but once the sport had me accustomed to using my body that way, the behavior didn’t stay on the pitch and I started using my strength in less acceptable situations. Callahan’s doing Ian a huge favor.

    Current score: 9
  4. Ryzndmon says:

    “Wiped out by the Persians”. Good one!
    And you have NO idea how long it took me to become “normalized” after spending 5 years in nuclear weapons security. Callahan is making a good call. Even better if she suggests him seeking counseling, but she won’t, I think. Callahan is not a warrior. Born, bred, and trained for War, with a capital “W”. She understands what Ian is seeking, from a very personal level.

    Current score: 4
  5. Zeta says:

    I really sympathize with Ian here. There’s few things more infuriating than having a lot of rage and then being told you can’t let it out.

    Current score: 0
  6. anon says:

    where did we hear about massage oil as lube. somewhere in a swanky hotel maybe? I think someone might actually get some at the end of the semester…

    Current score: 1