THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 713, March 24, 2013
"Nobel Peace Laureate with a Kill List"
CHAPTER SIX: Practice, Practice, Practice
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
THE STORY SO FAR: far to the South, where continents meet, a village shaman tells his followers of a warrior spirit, in the form of a girl, who will help their people throw off a murderous dictatorship. Asked if this is a prophecy, he shakes his head, and shows them a worn, dirty newspaper clipping ...
It is several weeks earlier. Colorado Springs high school student Guinevere "Jenny" Knox is a direct descendent of General Henry Knox, one of the American Revolution's greatest and cleverest heroes. From then until now, all of the men in her line have been Army officers, although none has risen above the rank of colonel. Jenny has been determined since she was four years old to become a general.
Giving a report in her history class on the Chinese military genius Sun Tzu, Jenny is laughed at when she tells the famous story of his having trained the Emperor's concubines in the Art of War. The teacher, who has always disliked her, goads her into betting football captain Kip Flanders that she can teach the cheerleaders to defeat his team in a paintball game she describes as "Last Man Standing".
But Jenny is a nerd, and first she has to get the cheerleaders on her side ...
"Put your boots on your feet! Put your boots on your feet!
"Put your hands in your pockets! Put your hands in your pockets!
"Get your coat collar high! Get your coat collar high!
The orderly kick-line broke up as the girls leaped and gyrated with the last words of the cheer, jumping up and down and waving pom-poms. Their neoprene shoe-soles made squeaky noises on the polished hardwood underfoot. Without a big crowd of spectators filling up the racks of folding aluminum bleachers, absorbing noise, the empty gym was full of echoes.
Every gymnasium in the world, Jenny thought, smells exactly the same as this one. It was a heady mixture of athletic sweat, plus dirty socks and underwear. She wondered if ancient Roman athletic facilities still held that odor, soaked into the very stones they had been made of.
Rather than some politician, or an otherwise undistinguished Air Force general, the class of sometime long ago had decided that their private high school had been named after Robert Allen Zimmerman, the "secret identity" of folk-rock superstar Bob Dylan. He'd gone along with the joke -- a framed, autographed photo of him hung in one of the trophy cases. The girls' cheer was meant to evoke lyrics of a couple of his songs. Jenny preferred to think it was the artist, Julius Zimmerman, the school and been named after. When she was a freshman, she'd tried starting a rumor to that effect, but it had never gained traction.
With only one exception, Jenny had no idea at all what to expect, once she had trudged up this hill (everything in Colorado Springs was uphill, ran an old joke) through a buffeting wind and horizontal rain, lugging an outsized and awkward dark green canvas bag. She and her bag were headed for the girls' gymnasium, that dark and dismal Monday afternoon after school, to keep an appointment with the cheerleading squad.
Part of it, anyway.
The practice session had begun with stretching exercises, in which Jenny had enthusiastically participated, knowing many of the motions and poses from warm-ups in martial arts and yoga. Preparing for "the mission", as she now thought of it, she'd read up on cheerleading, consulting Wikipedia, and several sites she had discovered using Google.
She hadn't known, for instance, that in addition to the famous professionals with Dallas, Denver, and Detroit, among other places, over a million and a half girls, nationwide, in college, high school, and junior high school, viewed cheerleading as a sport, in and of itself.
A surprising number of male celebrities had been cheerleaders, too: former Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight David Eisenhower, and George W. Bush among their number, governors Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, movie and TV producer Aaron Spelling, and also comedian Steve Martin.
Somehow she could see Martin, banjo in hand, wearing an "arrow through the head", and shouting badly-written verses through a big megaphone.
She hadn't known that it was a physically dangerous activity, its participants every year suffering more injuries -- and deaths -- than seemingly more rigorous sports like baseball, basketball, hockey, or even football. Owing to that, several famous stunts -- the basket toss and three-tiered pyramid -- had been banned by sanctioning high school organizations.
They were still legal in other venues.
Lost in thought, she didn't notice Pepper Davis approaching her until the cheerleading captain came over and plumped herself down on the hardwood floor beside Jenny and the large, lumpy canvas bag she'd brought. The other six girls sat, too, forming a half circle facing the two. Their uniforms were mostly white because the school colors, traditional puce and chartreuse, looked horrible together. So they were displayed in thin, decorative bands here and there on the white outfits.
"It's like I told you at lunchtime, Knox." Facing Jenny, Pepper started without preliminaries. "You volunteered us without asking us first. Also, my boyfriend -- " she didn't speak his name; she didn't have to -- "is gonna be pissed at me if I do this, win or lose, even though he's the one who suggested it in the first place." She looked around at the other girls. "But this is more important than all of that -- "
She and Jenny were surrounded by puzzled looks.
Jenny added one of her own.
"Don't you see it?" complained a suddenly outraged Pepper. She'd been saving up, apparently. "He actually patted me on the head, the big lummox, in front of God and everybody! He patted me on the frigging head!"
Nobody actually laughed, but a couple came close.
Jenny felt that Pepper Davis was everything that she, herself, wasn't and could never be: long and tall, almost painfully beautiful, agile, lithe and leggy, with long, gorgeously shimmering pale blonde hair. Most days, Jenny could successfully ignore the knowledge that she would never look a bit like the goddess sitting next to her. But on this particular rainy afternoon, she knew it was forever, and it hurt. Pepper would almost certainly end up some senator or corporate executive's wife -- or these days, a senator or corporate executive, herself.
"Damn straight! You don't do that to a 21st century American girl -- " another cheerleader growled, "er, woman, and live." Extremely tall and deep-voiced, with a shining chestnut mane flowing down her shoulder-blades, her name was Emily Sorenson. Her father, Lieutenant Colonel Travis "Splash" Sorenson, was an old friend of Jenny's father from their fighter pilot days in the first Gulf War. Sorenson was now the head of flight instruction at the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy. Agreeing murmurs passed through the little gathering. For all their color and poise, Jenny thought, there was a tribe of truly savage women here this afternoon. It must be the pheromones they'd raised by exercising.
"But I hate guns," complained a tiny black girl, immediately shattering Jenny's anthropological fantasy. It was Margaret Onofrio, a classmate of Jenny's since Kindergarten. "I -- I'm afraid of guns." Despite her size and timidity, when one of the boys had decided to call her "Midge" -- they were in Sixth Grade -- he'd immediately collected what everyone called a "knuckle sandwich", and nobody ever mentioned the nickname again. Small but feisty. Jenny knew exactly why Pepper had chosen Margaret, from among a dozen others, to fight this particular battle. She would have made exactly the same choice, herself.
This wasn't the entire cheerleading team, after all. After talking with Kip Flanders and the coach yesterday and establishing some initial ground rules, Jenny had asked Pepper to select her six best athletes for this game. The cheerleader-leader (as Jenny thought of her) had made some interesting choices. In addition to tall Emily and feisty Margaret, Pepper had recruited Shirley Miller, Elodia Martinez y Salazar, whose father held a diplomatic post down at the Mexican consulate in town, Cao Phuong Ahn, whom everybody called "Ann", and Serenity Peacock, which had struck Jenny as a very peculiar choice, indeed.
She decided it was time for Show and Tell. Fumbling in her green canvas bag -- the bag and its contents had once belonged to her brothers -- she pulled out a very large, very awkward-looking pistol, and before anyone could anticipate it, shot Pepper in the left shoulder.
"Ow! Sonofabitch!" Pepper responded, as deep blue "blood" spread across the pure white fabric of her outfit from the spot where Jenny's paintball had struck her and burst. She narrowly avoided rubbing it, which would have spread it, creating a real mess. "Not near as bad as I expected, though. Good thing you warned me at lunchtime." She turned to her fellow cheerleaders."We had a little confab this afternoon, Jenny and myself." She turned back to Jenny. "Do I get to shoot you, now?"
Jenny grinned back at her, offering her the gun. "If you want to."
Pepper hopped to her feet, ignored the proffered weapon, took Jenny by the hand instead, and pulled her up, too. She pointed at the floor where the paintball carcass had fallen. "Somebody clean that up -- it's water soluble. The rest of us will continue this in the bathroom."
An hour later, the first "practice" of the Zimmerman High School Girls' Paintball Team had adjourned. The broad, tiled shower area of the girls' bathroom had been thoroughly sprayed down and cleaned, the carcasses of hundreds of expended paintballs collected and taken to the big dumpster behind the gym. But the girls, laughing and happy, insisted on wearing the results of their practice home. Each was splattered from head to toe with half a dozen brilliant colors of paint.
There had been numerous questions and many hesitations before they could get started. "Does all paintball paint have to be that color?" platinum blonde Shirley Miller had wanted to know, referring to the eye-catching, almost metallic blue dye that marked Pepper's shoulder. Shirley had that special kind of pale blue eyes that were all but unphotographable. "Won't a shade like that make my complexion look sallow?"
Dark-eyed Elodia Martinez y Salazar wanted to know, "Are there outfits? What can I possibly wear that coordinates with a color like that?"
In answer, Pepper shot them both with bright yellow paintballs, doubling them over with surprise and momentary pain. Jenny pulled something bulky from her bag, which had originally been designed for hockey gear. "Okay, no more unprotected shooting, team. You're all going to have big round shiny bruises the size of a quarter from that." She didn't know if it was true or not, but it stood to reason. "Time to try some body armor and goggles. These are what they use in competition."
She held up a set of eye-wear -- yellow lenses, ventilation holes around the heavy frames -- that immediately provoked grumbling among the fashion-conscious cheerleaders. Jenny knew it was best to ignore them.
"And to answer your question, Elodia, what goes with all colors of paintball paint is camouflage: forest leaf, desert sand, or urban grayscale."
"But camouflage is for school shooters and terrorists!" objected Margaret Onofrio. She was the only black girl on the pep squad, almost the only black individual at Zimmerman. Her father was an Air Force general.
"Think of it as combat paisley," Jenny told her.
"Combat paisley," Margaret mused. "I can go with that."
"Fighting is bad," one of the girls asserted suddenly, her voice rising with each word. Her hands were shaking and there were teardrops clinging to her lower lids. "Violence is bad!" Serenity Peacock. Her parents were what her own father called "latterday hippies" and ran a big comic book store in the old brick downtown section of Colorado Springs.
Gently, Pepper asked her, "How can anything this much fun be bad?"
"That's what my boyfriend always says," offered Cao Phuong Ahn.
Serenity grinned through her tears. Everybody laughed.
"Okay, you're all going to get one of these," Said Jenny, draping a thick khaki vest over Emily's broad shoulders. "I don't know who's paying for them, but since it hurts quite a bit to get hit with a paintball -- "
"Is a bear Catholic?" Shirley rubbed the spot where she'd been shot.
Elodia asked, "We gonna beat the football team?"
Pepper began, "Does the Pope -- ?"
Jenny interrupted, "This out-of-town tourist walked up to a New York street musician and threw a dollar into his guitar case. 'I've gotten lost,' said the tourist. Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?'
'Practice, man,' said the guitar player, 'Practice, practice, practice!'"
And so it began.
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