Story

Complacency

21 May 2021 · 713 words

"On the red side we have your ten-year undefeated champion, Ping Pong! And her challenger, Markus Tennis! Will this be the year that the Crowne Cup finally switches hands?"

The stadium roars as Ping Pong strides over the carpet onto the battlefield. Her stance is ready, eyes drilled into her opponent who merely stares blankly at her. "Let's have a good fight."

"Agreed." Markus raises his paddle, bouncing on his knees. "Show me what you've got."

The ball starts on Ping's side. All is quiet on this battlefield except for the clicks of cell phone cameras.

"Players at the ready!"

Ping grips the hollow ball a little tighter.

"Begin!"

Clack-clack the ball flies off of her hands and a buzzer rings as Ping aces her first serve. Markus looks shocked.

"Right away Markus is surprised by Ping's masterful serve! It's yet another reminder how she's stayed undefeated for a whole decade!"

"Well, I have to say, I wasn't expecting that," Markus says sheepishly, scratching the back of his head with his paddle. "You're good."

Ping stays silent, and lifts the ball up to her paddle again. Markus follows suit and stops talking, his expression changing to one more serious.

"Ready?"

"Always have been."

The ball flies off of Ping's paddle and again and again Markus can never defend against her serves. Sometimes he sends a couple of balls back, but it's never long until he messes up. She wonders how he even made it to the final. As her hands play on autopilot, she glances at the crowd and notes that a good chunk of them have pulled out their phones. Table tennis is mildly interesting at the best of times but now that she's only a couple of points away from the match, 8-0, they all know how the rest of the game is going to go.

Ping swings her paddle a little too early and Markus scores his first point. He looks like a child who received his first present on Christmas morning. "Ha! How was that?"

"Very good. But can you keep it up?"

The audience is suddenly engaged again at the news of a Markus win. Murmurs among them discuss betting odds and the possibility of witnessing the end of an era. Ping smiles inwardly. This is more like it.

She flubs some more shots and Markus becomes more and more confident, his swings more precise and his reflexes more attentive. As the leading player switches to Markus, the score 9-8, he mocks her. "Sorry to disappoint you, ex-champion. You win some, you lose some, huh?"

Ping stays calm. She's aware that the crowd is holding their breath. With only two points until Markus wins, and one point until a deuce — Ping Pong has never yet entered a deuce with another player — bets and dreams of making a fortune on her loss fly through the air.

Ping serves. Her hand moves in slow motion.

The ball also bounces slowly, and Markus has to lean in to hit it back to her, setting her up perfectly for a smash.

9-9.

"Don't get too complacent," she warns.

"That was a fluke," Markus brushes off, but he's sweating a little more now. "Do that again, can you? I'll be ready for it."

Ping serves.

This time, the orange sphere is sent all the way to the edge of Markus's table near the front of the net. He dives, missing it entirely, and ends up prostrating himself in front of her.

10-9.

"Get up."

Markus doesn't say a word as he gets up and goes back to his side. His gamer face is ready, and he claps his cheeks twice. "Is that all you can do?" he manages to say.

Ping serves.

The ball blurs, and before Markus can even raise his paddle, it's struck the table once on each side and flown off beyond. An ace.

"And with a surprise comeback after Markus's own, Ping Pong wins the Crowne Cup for the eleventh year in a row!"

Ping puts her right palm over her left fist and bows. "You were a fine competitor. I wish you luck on your future ambitions." Without waiting for her opponent's response, she turns around and exits the battlefield, leaving her opponent in the dust.

Revision:

Ⓒ 2022 Daniel Chen

Licensed under the AGPL-3.0 on GitHub and Gitea