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A Series of Jams

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“Why wasn’t this report brought to my desk two hours ago?”

The woman’s tone was cold as she skimmed through the pages with a critical eye. Lucia always had that tone with her these days. Her jet black hair billowed down past her shoulders and danced just above the report Catra had stayed late yesterday and come in early today to complete. She poured countless hours of research into pinpointing the best location for Horde LLC’s next acquisition. She read and reread the document six times before handing it in because she knew the woman in charge of her would sniff out even the tiniest incorrect detail and shove her face into it. It hardly mattered that Lucia was also her older sister. If anything, it only gave her reason to treat Catra even worse.

Catra resisted the urge to fidget under her sister’s condescending stare. “There were a few details I needed to confirm with the agent this morning, and I had to work around their schedule,” she explained.

It was only half true, but it was the most professional information she could present that would be believable. She knew all too well that honesty was never something that Lucia rewarded. Only perfection was accepted by her icy sister.

Lucia’s raised eyebrow relaxed ever so slightly. One of the many knots in Catra’s stomach unwound. Her sister would let the excuse slide for now. “When are you visiting the property?”

“I have an appointment with the Thaymor agent at 8AM tomorrow. So I’ll be going there directly before I come to the office,” she recited the details smoothly and efficiently now that the immediate threat had dissipated.

The older woman glanced over to her computer monitor to compare with her own schedule. Content with what she found, she tossed Catra’s laboriously written report onto a stack on her desk. The subordinate sister fought from wincing at how carelessly her work was handled.

“Very well. Report back to me immediately with an update.”

“Of course,” Catra responded coolly with a slight bow to her head. She knew the steps to this dance her sister required. “You’ll be the first to hear anything, as always.”

Lucia waved dismissively towards her. “Fine. Go on then. I’ll be waiting for tomorrow’s answer.”

Catra released the rest of the breath she’d been holding. Just as her hand reached out to the handle of the private office door she heard, “Oh and Catra…”

She froze in place, the hair on her arms bristling with dread. The voice continued even though she hadn’t turned to face it.

“Try not to mess this one up. I won’t have you drag my hard-earned reputation through the dirt due to your own incompetence. I may have gotten you this job, but I will take it away if you prove that my trust in you was misplaced.”

Catra bit into her cheek to distract her from the way those words tore through her. She couldn’t afford to lose this job. While most people may have been shocked to have their sister speak to them this way, she knew this threat wasn’t empty with Lucia. She always meant what she said – especially her most venomous words. From gritted teeth she forced out a reply. “I’ll get the property.”

“Good. I’ll expect nothing less.”

***

Catra clenched her coffee mug so tightly it shook in her hands. She tried to concentrate on how white her knuckles had gotten instead of the rage threatening to erupt from her at any moment.

“Morning, Kitten,” a playful voice hummed behind her.

The surprise caused some of the tension to involuntarily escape her body. She glanced over her shoulder and made eye contact with her work friend.

“Hey, Trouble,” she replied, the anger deflated out of her voice.

“Looks like you’re having another wonderful day here in paradise,” they observed.

Rowan, or Double Trouble as Catra knew them from outside the office, was usually her pocket of sanity in this stressful company. It had been a major stroke of luck that their head legal advisor also happened to be her teammate in the Fright Zone. Or maybe it wasn’t luck at all. Roller derby had a way of connecting people in unexpected ways. Either way, it didn’t matter. What was important was that there was always somebody around to talk shit about her sister and make sarcastic comments about the other unbearable people in this office. Trouble always seemed to know the perfect thing to say to bring Catra back to herself. Maybe that flawless intuition was what made them such a great lawyer too.

“Stay clear of the dark empress if you can,” Catra replied dryly. “She’s feeling extra bitchy today. Threatened to fire me again.” She scoffed. “You’d think she could at least be more creative when dragging me down.”

“No fun at all,” they giggled. “Oh well, I guess I better handle this situation Robert dragged us into. See you tonight though.”

A hint of a smile peeked out the corner of Catra’s mouth as she watched Trouble trail their arm behind them in a regal wave while walking down the row of cubicles. Always a dramatic exit with them.

The rest of the day passed smoothly enough. Catra stayed busy preparing for her appointment the next morning. She made phone calls, compiled analyses, and assembled a folder of information to bring with her. It was all fairly routine, but she still triple-checked her results at the end of her shift. Too much was at stake for her to be careless in her work. Nothing would catch her off guard.

***

Traffic home was congested as usual. Luckily the trip to her current apartment wasn’t as far as her old home would have been. With her venerable 2005 Honda Rebel she easily weaved between the cars that were trapped in a standstill and cut across the handful of blocks home. The motorcycle’s size made it easy to park relatively close to the building’s crowded entrance too.

As she crossed the threshold of the apartment unit, she spotted a patch of purple through the doorway to the kitchen.

“Hey, ‘Trapta,” she called lazily.

“Oh, hi Catra!” a shrill, chipper voice replied. A pair of goggles and a manic grin surrounded by two long purple pigtails slid into view. “Is it that late already? It feels like I just started!”

How could she even look at her computer screen while wearing those things? Entrapta never did quite make sense, but she was a good person. Her pigtails showed obvious signs that she’d forgotten to shower for a couple days again. Catra made a mental note to have Scorpia help corner her after practice tonight. There was no way she could stomach breakfast in the same room as that kind of funk.

“I’ve been gone about 8 hours already,” Catra shook her head with a soft chuckle. “You better get your gear ready before Scorpia gets home.”

“Oh I will, definitely,” Catra could already hear the other girl’s mind wandering as she spoke. “right after I finish this next line of code…”

Knowing that she wouldn’t get anywhere reasoning with her roommate in this state, Catra instead grabbed a can of tuna from the cupboard and started spreading the salty deliciousness over a pile of crackers. Part of Derby 101 was to never go to a two-hour practice on an empty stomach - especially when she knew it wouldn’t be a regular practice.

“Hey, ‘Trapta,” she called vaguely. “Tonight’s the scrim with those rich dweebs, isn’t it?”

“If you mean the Alliance, then yes, that’s tonight.”

“Great. I really need to hit somebody today,” she punctuated the sentence by crunching down on a cracker piled with tuna.

The font door opened with its signature creak.

“Hey, guys, I’m home!” an upbeat yell greeted from the next room.

“Imm here,” Catra called back with food in her mouth.

A tall broad-shouldered woman with long red hair that was streaked with platinum blonde highlights trundled in. “Ooo, tuna!”

Catra rolled her eyes but slid the plate towards her other roommate.

“You’re the best, Wildcat!” Her eyes sparkled as she double fisted the meaty crackers.

“You’re cheerful as always, Scorpia,” Catra observed idly. “I hope you’re ready to smack down some snotty North-siders.”

“Yes! Double yes!” She waved so excitedly that the other girl was amazed tuna wasn’t flying across the room right now. “I am so ready for tonight! Lonnie and I were talking about it at the gym during work. There’s this girl on their team who’s obsessed with mermaids, and Lonnie said she can’t wait to crush her soul with our walls. Ha ha, what a thrill.”

Scorpia was a trainer at a gym owned by another of their teammates, Lonnie. Lonnie was strong and fit and competitive as hell. She and Catra had somewhat of a frenemies relationship between them. But honestly, Catra worked twice as hard and achieved twice as much thanks to the constant pressure from Lonnie. At the end of the day, the team was family – the way Catra thought family should actually be. It definitely wasn’t remotely like her real family.

Energetically Scorpia recounted the rest of her day in detail until it was time for them to grab their gear bags and head over to their league’s practice space.

***

The three roommates walked into the old warehouse that was full of the scent of dried sweat and the clatter of skate wheels and plastic pads shuffling around. Entrapta, their current coach and strategist, headed over to chat with the referees and the other team’s captain. The northside team had arrived earlier than Catra would have expected since they were coming from the opposite end of town. Maybe the upper class didn’t have to work nine-to-fives every day.

As she and Scorpia made their way to where their teammates were gearing up, Catra sized up the enemy. All the Alliance players matched from head to ankle. They had the same white gear, purple jerseys, and black bottoms - just like dorky little clones. She snorted at how predictable they were. There were a few faces she recognized from previous games. That annoying short girl with pink glittery everything was back with her overly cheerful boyfriend. Nearby there were two people that oddly gave off pirate vibes – one of them must be the girl Lonnie’s gunning for. But there was one player she definitely didn’t recognize. A taller, lean girl with a blonde ponytail was gearing up next to the sparkly one and grinning at whatever they were talking about. She still matched the rest of the team, but her skates didn’t look as new and expensive as everyone else’s. Her expression was soft and warm.

Whatever, Catra thought. She was about to lap circles around all of them – old or new.

“Hey, Wildcat,” greeted a lanky nervous guy with blonde hair. He was flanked by his taller and much more muscular boyfriend, Rogelio.

“Sup, Grief,” she replied smugly.

“You know my nickname’s supposed to be Master, Catra. Master Grief. Grief just makes me sound pathetic,” he said indignantly.

“If the shoe fits,” she teased with a snicker to let him know she wasn’t serious. Not too serious, at least.

Rogelio grumbled beside his boyfriend.

“Calm down, Dragon Tales,” she said, sticking her tongue out. “I don’t mean any harm.”

The shorter man dragged his palm down his face in exasperation. “’Dragon U Down.’ I don’t even know why we make up names if you won’t get them right.”

“Aw, it’s just so you know I care.”

Catra didn’t bother watching his predicted eyeroll but instead sat on the ground and began emptying the contents of her bag in front of her. She donned helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, skates, and wrist guards. She double checked that her laces were snug and her wheels were all spinning correctly before standing up. Immediately a wave of confidence surged through her - one that had been missing before the skates became an extension of her body once again. She rolled in a few circles by the bench and tested her stops. Nothing in the world made her feel as powerful and free as when she was wearing skates and playing derby. The Catra who stressed over her shitty job and cruel sister was gone for now.

Entrapta walked back to their bench and waved Catra over to her. When she rolled to a stop next to her roommate-slash-coach, the purple-haired woman pulled a sharpie out from her overalls and began scrawling on Catra’s upper arms. On each arm she wrote Catra’s number, 666, as well as a “C” to designate her as captain for the game. When she glanced over, Catra noticed the new blonde girl was wearing the captain’s mark as well. Of course, the Alliance players all had sleeves with their numbers on them; so they wouldn’t need to write on their bodies with marker. The competitive nature in Catra activated. She would definitely outscore this stuck-up team.

On the bench before the game was about to start, Catra was in the first lineup with Scorpia, Lonnie, blonde boy Kyle, and Rogelio. As usual, Lonnie had on the pivot’s stripe to partner with Catra’s jammer star. If necessary, Catra would pass the starred helmet cover to Lonnie, who could take over as their team’s scorer. It hadn’t been needed too often, Catra was proud to say; but when it was the right strategy Lonnie always came through. The rest of the time Lonnie blocked with the other three, and they kept the other team’s jammer from passing their bodies for points. The blockers block the other team’s jammer from scoring while also creating opportunities for their own jammer to get by. Every blocker that a jammer passed from the opposing team was worth a point. The more laps you’re able to make, the more points you score.

“Take the back if you can,” Catra instructed to their focused nods. “Scorpia, you take the inside lane as usual so you can carve a hole for me.”

“And the three of us will hang back and trap their jammer in a tripod,” Lonnie chimed in.

“Like parts in a perfect machine,” the captain replied coolly. “We know what we need to do to win. So let’s just stick to what we do best.”

They nodded and bumped fists in the center of their huddle. Just then the official who would be their Jam Timer whistled to alert everyone that the first jam was about to begin. Catra’s line hustled onto the circular track to claim the places they wanted. Scorpia comically pretended not to know where she was supposed to be while actually setting herself in an ideal position to sweep the other team’s blockers aside. Catra joined the Alliance’s jammer behind the jam line, where they are initially separated from the blockers. She stood just to the right of the girl, who turned out to be that same captain from earlier.

“Hi,” the Alliance captain greeted with a friendly smile. “Good luck tonight.”

Catra couldn’t have rolled her eyes any farther back into her head if she tried. “I don’t need luck, Princess. You’ll see.”

A little swoop of amusement shot through her when she saw the girl’s expression droop. Puh-lease, how cliché to wish your enemy luck before a game. The girl’s disappointment was quickly replaced by a cocky grin, and she pressed her body into the side of Catra’s. Her shoulder edged in front of Catra’s, which would make it easy to pin her back once the jam started. Ugh, maybe this girl wouldn’t be such a pushover. She was their captain. But Catra’s a captain too. She spun around the girl’s back and returned the shoulder move on her opposite side. On the way Catra spotted the name “She-ra” on the back of her jersey. What kind of dumbass derby name is that?

At that moment the whistle blew to start the jam, and Catra used her inertia to shove her opponent far to the right before she raced back towards the inside boundary line. Just as planned, Scorpia had plowed her body into the opposing blockers and driven them all away from the left side. Catra raced through the narrow opening. Speed and cunning had always been her greatest strengths as a jammer. The jam referee skating alongside her chirped and signaled that she was in the lead jammer position. She was in control – just like she always loved being.

To her surprise, a streak of purple with a yellow trail came into view beside her. How the hell had that “She-ra” girl gotten past her line’s defenses so fast? Nobody was ever as fast as Catra, but this annoying girl stayed only a few paces behind. They circled the track aggressively and were quickly approaching the backs of the blockers.

“Stop N Rob!” Catra shouted to her teammates.

As rehearsed, they rushed to get in front of the Bright Moon blockers. Catra twisted her body mid-stride to throw her hips into her opponents first and immediately tapped her hands on her hips to indicate that she wanted to call off the jam. Her assigned referee spotted her signal and whistled the end of the jam. Two fingers shot in the air to declare how many points she’d scored. Four points would have been better than two, but as she glanced at the other team’s jam referee she confirmed that they hadn’t lost any points to the enemy either. She had done her job correctly, as had her line.

She high-fived them on their way back to the bench. “Good work, you guys. What happened with their jammer though?”

“Dude, she’s a fucking tank,” Lonnie groused. “She plowed right past us. You’d never know just looking at her.”

“Is that so…damn.” Maybe this game was going to be more challenging than she thought.

As the game continued, some jams they faced She-ra and others they were up against that mermaid girl instead. She went by “Kraken Skulls.” Catra snorted to cover up the fact that she actually thought the name was kind of fucking clever. Kraken and She-ra both followed the strategy of pushing and bullying their way past Fright Zone’s blockers; although She-ra had more graceful footwork to partner with her strength. Mermaid girl had her boyfriend in her line though. He got tons of penalties from pulling stupid moves to defend her from blockers – usually while yelling, “ADVENTURE!” like an idiot. You can’t just flail your arms around like that. Ugh, he better not injure any of Catra’s teammates with that recklessness.

Since this was just a scrimmage on a weeknight and not an official game, halftime was extremely short. Both teams managed to keep the score very close and had even switched leads a few times. As the game clock ticked its final minute, Catra lined up on the track against She-ra for one last jam.

“Ready, Princess?” she sneered at her opponent.

“Ha, you bet,” was the reply.

When the whistle blew, She-ra surprised Catra by funneling her towards the Alliance’s waiting blockers. The four players swarmed around Catra’s body and stood their ground while she shoved and darted around them. Just as she managed to finally break free, she heard a sharp double chirp of the whistle. She-ra was lead jammer. Catra’s stomach dipped. The Fright Zone only had a one point lead, and Catra just lost lead jammer status to the other team. She skated at break-neck speed towards She-ra’s well-defined back. She needed to pressure the other jammer to end the jam before she could bring her team ahead in points. Or at least Catra had to match pace and points with her so they couldn’t make up the current point difference.

Catra’s lungs and legs ached as she pounded the concrete floor behind the other girl. There was no way she’d let this arrogant pretty jammer get the best of her in her own space. Catra had trained too hard to let the Alliance win tonight. She collided against the opposing blockers the same moment She-ra rammed into her own. Catra wriggled her hips and tried squatting under the butts of her enemies in order to get around them. She growled in response to how resilient their tripod blocking formation was holding against her. She stole a fleeting glance at her teammates who were struggling to contain the bulldozing She-ra.

Three consecutive sets of four whistle tweets signaled the jam was over. She hadn’t seen She-ra tap her hips to end the jam. Had they just run out of their two-minute time limit? That wasn’t the most important detail though. Frantically she spotted the jam referees for both teams. Her ref held up one finger. The Alliance’s referee held up four. Fucking shit.

The obnoxious Alliance players cheered and hugged in the middle of the track while Catra’s teammates skulked back to their bench. Before Catra could catch up to them, the blonde jammer rolled up beside her.

“Hey, you played amazing,” she said breathlessly, a huge smile across her face. “I really had to try my best tonight. That game could have gone either way.”

Different emotions warred inside Catra. The other girl’s compliment lit a small flame inside her chest, warming a corner of her she hadn’t felt in a while. But she was also humiliated for losing the game that should have been to her advantage. This “She-ra” was clearly new to the Alliance; whereas Catra had been practicing with her team in this space for two seasons now. It was also difficult for her to believe when people thought positively of her. Lucia definitely reminded her at every opportunity how much of a fuck-up and waste of space she was. This stranger knew nothing about her!

Instinct took over for her mouth. “Jeez, well if that was your best then I’m going to be pretty bored next month at the real game.”

She-ra’s smile faltered, and she subconsciously put some distance between them.

“Keep practicing, Princess,” Catra called over her shoulder as she turned away dismissively. “Enjoy your little victory though.”

She shoved down the pang of guilt gnawing the edge of her stomach that made her want to turn to see the look on the other girl’s face. That must have really put her in her place because she didn’t have any retort. Catra tried to convince herself that it made her feel better, but a small part of her didn’t buy it. She was quiet gearing down while her teammates vented their complaints to one another about the outcome of the scrimmage.