Bex Blixen is an elite high school cadet trained in deadly Apian Dance combat, living in an accelerated-physics academy designed to win the arms race of the second Cold War. But as conflicting clues surface regarding the whereabouts of her sister Beatrix, Bex becomes convinced her sister has been kidnapped by rebel government agents seeking to turn her breakthrough teleportation research to treacherous ends. Bex must enlist the help of her friends and a mysterious powerful ally to stop the evil Dr. Andronicus and save not only her sister, but her homeland as well.
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The Rival: Part I of Bex Blixen and the Electroleviathans
© Bethany Carlson
Bex thumped the snooze button instinctively. She cracked open one of her sleepy silver-grey eyes but quickly shut it again, turning over on the pillow and pulling the cover over her head. It was Saturday; she could catch another hour of sleep if she wanted to.
But before she had the chance to doze off, Bex heard the validation beep of her dorm door keypad and the quiet whoosh of the hydraulic as it opened. She craned her head to see who could be there. The spiky strawberry blonde hair of her roommate Robyn McInnis looked like a halo in the doorway. “Bex!” she whispered hoarsely, running over to the bed, “what on earth are you still doing in bed?!”
Bex propped herself up on one elbow, rubbing her eyes. “What do you mean?”
Robyn shook her by the shoulder. “It’s like five minutes to eight! Remember? Practice?”
Oh, no. Dress rehearsal. How could Bex have forgotten? Suddenly wide awake, she jumped out of bed and shimmied into her uniform, a one-shouldered bodysuit, purple and gold, with a single sleeve that went down to her wrist, and ankle-length leggings.
Robyn already had hers on under her pullover. Bex ran her fingers through her wavy amber locks, taming her hair into a ponytail. She was glad she had put the rest of her things in her duffle the night before as she threw the strap over her shoulder. She turned as she was about to go out the door and dashed over to her desk. Bex picked up her good luck charm, a particularly fine marble with a unicorn design, and gave it a swift rub. She looked at the photo of her parents, smiling by the cake at a long ago birthday party. They had been on a classified assignment since Bex joined The Academy four years ago. Bex rued the distance separating her and her parents more than ever. Bex glanced anxiously at the photo of her big sister, Beatrix, holding a snorkel at the beach in Hawaii and smiling broadly, her golden hair and golden eyes shining in the tropical sun. Bex could feel the pit gnawing at her stomach again. Everything she knew about competing in Apian Dance she had learned from her sister. But a month had gone by since Bex had heard from her. Bex was increasingly worried that Beatrix had been kidnapped.
“Come on!” said Robyn, interrupting Bex’s reverie, grabbing her by the arm and yanking her down the hall. “If we don’t make it by lockdown, I swear I’ll…” she shook her fist
“Don’t worry!” said Bex. “We’ll be there by eight.”
At the end of the hall, Robyn went to turn right at the door marked ‘Exit’, but Bex pulled her left. A sign said ‘Authorized Personnel Only’. “I’ve got an idea,” Bex said.
Bex’s fingers raced across the keypad on the wall. There was a muffled whirring and click as the door unlocked, then the hydraulics kicked in and it swooshed open.
“How on earth did you get the pass code to that?” Robyn asked, sprinting through the opening. The girls jumped down the steps two and three at a time.
“That’s for me to know and you to find out!” hollered Bex, her voice echoing in the long narrow tunnel. The girls raced down the corridor, Bex counting off the branching
tunnels under her breath. “One left, one right, two right, two left, three left, four left. OK, take a right here.” Bex crossed her fingers, hoping that the underground gate wouldn’t be locked. They were in luck.
They stopped at the bottom of a ladder. Bex peered at the stenciled letters painted beside the ladder many years ago. “This is it,” she said. “Be quiet.” They clambered up
the rungs, trying to keep their leotards clean. Bex crossed her fingers again, this time hoping the cover to the manhole could be budged from underneath by one anxious fifteen-year-old girl. Again, she was in luck. After a quick look around to make sure they weren’t being watched, Bex threw her duffel through the hole in the floor and hoisted herself up and out. She bent down and grabbed Robyn’s hand.
“Nice work,” said Robyn, looking around at the wide hallway with tall ceilings. “Right inside CeDSMA.”
CeDSMA, the Center for Dance, Sports, and Martial Arts, was the central building at The Academy. The Academy was the premier institution of the national military school system, founded by The Federation to quell The Insurgency and prevent a second full
blown civil war. On the south side of CeDSMA, toward the dorms, were rows of studios, locker rooms, and training simulators. But the heart of the facility was the enormous performance gymnasium. It was three stories tall and just as deep, with rows of bleachers that reached to the second-story level. The few chairs on the instructors’ dais were typically used by a handful of teachers and trainers. The gym was designed so that hoops, nets, mats and apparatuses could emerge or disappear behind the walls and floor with a flick of a switch at the control panel. Often the room was set up as an indoor obstacle course when the outdoor one was unavailable. The floor itself actually had several layers — hardwood, a gymnastic mat, and underneath it all, a pool, used more for scuba and water rescue training than competition. Cadets at The Academy spent a lot of time at CeDSMA. They had to be tough as well smart if they were going to defeat The Insurgency and win the war.
Today, the gym was set up for the Apian Dance competition. The blue gymnastic mat floor was a vast expanse, extending the full length of the building. Platforms of various sizes and shapes jutted out from differing levels on the walls. Another platform and an acrobat’s bar were suspended from the ceiling. Shinda Singh, a Seventh Year and a friend of Bex’s, was adjusting the equipment. The tall be-turbaned Sikh gave Bex and Robyn a relieved glance as they slipped in behind the other girls warming up just as Ms. Caspar came through the door on the instructors’ dais, one story above floor level in the middle of the far wall. Bex could faintly hear the bell from the dining hall across the commons chiming six, seven, eight o’clock. That was close.
The crisp voice of Ms. Caspar came commandingly through the speakers: “Cadets, please be seated.”
Bags were stuffed under benches and warm-up jackets tossed into corners. The girls
raced to their positions. Bex and Robyn sat next to each other alongside their third teammate, Robyn’s younger sister Jenny, who had saved them a seat. Jenny shook a be-freckled finger at Bex menacingly, but she smiled as Bex tousled her strawberry blonde hair. They faced the instructors’ dais, which seemed a mile away. Their coach looked tiny from where they were sitting, but imposing nevertheless. Ms. Caspar’s ramrod-straight posture was visible across a football field.
“Girls, as you are aware, tomorrow’s competition against Big Sky is a qualifier for nationals. Moreover, it is a matter of pride. Prior to last year’s defeat, our record against Big Sky was five consecutive victories.” The girls glanced at each other out of the corners of their eyes, sharing knowing looks about ‘the incident.’
Bex winced. She was in no small way connected to last year’s ‘incident’. Her sister, Beatrix, used to be the captain of The Academy’s fourth Apian Dance team. But Beatrix had DQ’d out of last year’s match against Big Sky, costing The Academy an important win. Beatrix was expelled and sent to juvenile detention, which even for The Academy’s strict military standards was extreme. Bex still felt sick about it. But not because of the loss, or even the expulsion, not anymore. A month ago, Beatrix’s regular letters to Bex had stopped coming. A week or two without a letter was not unusual, but as the third week came and went Bex had started to become anxious. She tried to track Beatrix down in the juvenile detention system, with no success. Now Bex was sick with worry, wondering what her sister had been hiding, if she had ever really been in juvie in the first place. Bex prayed that nothing terrible had happened to her.
Ms. Caspar continued on. “I expect your best today. I expect your all tomorrow. I expect The Academy to reclaim our proper place in this rivalry: the top.” Mr. MacGowan, the Academics Head, let out a whoop and a couple of loud claps from the spectators’ gallery but sheepishly sank back down into his chair under the wilting gaze of Ms. Caspar. ”
“Our first round today in Apian Dance will be Mariyah Somoon’s team versus Gisele da Silva’s. Take your positions.” Two of The Academy’s four varsity competition teams took to the floor for their practice match. Tomorrow, against Big Sky, all of The Academy teams would be wearing their home colors of iridescent purple on gold, but for practice today, to avoid confusion, half of the teams were wearing their away uniforms of gold on pearl white. Bex looked down the bench and figured it was not a coincidence that her rival team for this practice match was wearing the away colors; Cezanne Bizet and her teammates were vain, and the white uniforms suited the tall cool blondes better. Bex smoothed down the legs of her body suit while she sat, making sure the hems at her ankles were exactly even. She was glad they were wearing the home uniform purple and gold. Mariyah and Giselle faced off in the center of the gym, about 10 paces apart, each flanked by their two teammates. Ms. Caspar cued the DJ. The music started up.
Bex’s foot was tapping as she watched the dance unfold, the two teams of three people
each facing off with passion and precision. The rules to Apian Dance were simple, but there was a lot of room for the competitors to be creative within the rules. They had free use of the space, including the tiers of platforms and the acrobatic equipment. The team either did the same steps in unison as a group (called ‘synchros’), or complementary steps that rhythmically played off each other (called ‘dynamics’). Apian Dance uniforms were designed to accentuate whether or not the dancers were in sync. The sleeved arm and the bare arm looked different in motion. It took a lot of a work to make all three team members look crisply in unison for the synchros, an area where a lot of teams lost points. Synchros were a count in length, dynamics three counts. Short, long. Modified Morse code. The first round of a match, the teams would use the code to dance out a word or phrase. During the second round, they would dance back the word of the challenging team. The tricky part was managing to get points on the first round for form and technical difficulty while still paying close enough attention to the other team’s dance to decode it for the second round.
Bex leaned over to speak in Robyn’s ear so that she could be heard above the music. “Mariyah does the same moves every time. Straight for the platforms. She copied that from my sister when they used to compete together.”
Robyn nodded. “Bo-ring. It’s a good strategy, though. You can see the opponent better than they can see you if you can stay above them,” Robyn said, scowling. She wasn’t too fond of Mariyah. Never a strand of gleaming black hair out of place and her pert little nose in the air all the time. She was a tough competitor, though. Perfect timing, perfect balance. When she had been on Beatrix’s team along with Gisele, the three of them had been unstoppable. With Mariyah’s exotic Korean features, Gisele’s towering afro-brazilian physique, and Beatrix’s golden curls, on paper it should have been impossible for them to execute synchros, but they had nailed them. Catching the attention of Bex and Jenny on the bench beside her, Jenny made a serious face, tilted her head slightly back, and looked down her nose at her teammates, one brow raised, a look they had gotten from Mariyah many times. They all laughed, but quickly cast a wary eye towards Ms. Caspar and focused back on the performance.
It was a clean rehearsal. At the end of the second round Ms. Caspar awarded points and gave her critiques, then called up the next two teams, Cezanne Bizet versus Bex Blixen. Cezanne knocked into Bex’s shoulder as she walked past, staring Bex down with her icy gaze. “You Fifth Years are lucky you got here by eight.”
Robyn jutted her chin forward. “What’s your point?”
Cezanne looked smug. “Hah. You Fifth Years wouldn’t even be here, if it wasn’t for the
incident last year against Big Sky. Don’t get sloppy and make us lose tomorrow.” She turned her back on them with a flip of her blonde ponytail and caught up to her teammates at the start zone.
“She’s a real piece of work,” Robyn muttered. Jenny made a snooty look and flipped her
hair dramatically, which got another laugh from her teammates. But Bex’s chuckle was half-hearted. Her team was the youngest varsity team by two years – Cezanne, Mariyah, and Gisele were all Seventh Years, and graduating in the spring. Bex was only made captain of the fourth varsity Apian Dance team after her sister Beatrix had been expelled. The responsibility weighed heavily on her shoulders. Still, Bex wasn’t going to take any flak from that nasty witch Cezanne. She straightened her back and smiled at her teammates.
“Right,” Bex said, rubbing her hands, and pushing down her worries as best she could. “I think it’s about time we hit ‘em with the Krypton Roundhouse, don’t you?”
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