"The Veerball Problem"
"The Veerball Problem"
Mik stepped into the teleporter in the kitchen and punched the coordinates for Olympian Athletic Academy. Instantly his body dissolved, reappearing moments later in Olympian’s main-floor teleporter. He ran to bay 34 and spotted Jart. Sure enough, Jart’s arms cradled the bright orange veerball.
“You knew I wanted the veerball today!” Mik yelled. “You took it just to make me mad!”
“I took it because I’m practicing after school,” Jart replied coolly. “If I don’t practice every day, I won’t make the team.” Jart set the veerball on a desk chair. The veerball rolled from the chair, struck the floor, lurched to a ceiling cabinet, careened across the classroom, ricocheted off a girl’s shoulder, and wedged itself atop an eight-foot potted palm. Jart continued, “And if you don’t port over to Public School Fifteen in the next two minutes, you’ll be late.”
Mik scowled at his brother. “Just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean I can’t play. My school has a court, too. Maybe I’ll buy my own veerball.”
Jart shimmied up the palm tree and retrieved the veerball. “Why not sell all the furniture in the house and buy a veerball court with boomerang walls?” he proposed. “Then you and I can each practice.”
Mik grunted and scurried to the teleporter. He reached P.S. 15 forty seconds late.
The next Friday, Jart slumped in his cafeteria chair. “Only three weeks till tryouts,” he moaned, “and I’m the worst contender.” He shoved a crustacean bar in his mouth and chewed.
“Veerball’s tough,” sympathized his friend Brillan. “You’re a good player, Jart, but those other kids are a year older. They’re used to chasing a ball that bounces any direction it wants. They know whichever way they smack it, it’ll go somewhere else. That’s why you’re practicing as a team ‒ so someone can slam the veerball no matter what arc it makes.”
“They slam better than I do,” retorted Jart. “Yesterday Coach said, ‘These aren’t boomerang walls, Mister! That veerball’s not just flying randomly like when the walls slug it back. Boomerang courts teach mostly speed. Play smart! Watch how one random angle changes to a wilder random angle when a human hits the veerball!’” Jart sighed. “Coach is right. I practice too much against walls. Boomerang shots are weird, but people shots are wild.”
“Practice with somebody who’s not trying out for the team,” suggested Brillan. “At least you won’t look inferior.”
Jart grimaced. “Thanks a lot.”
Brillan shrugged. “I’d practice with you myself, but I hate veerball.”
That evening Jart tapped on Mik’s bedroom door. “I’ve got a deal for you,” Jart offered.
Mik opened the door and glared at Jart.
“I need a human to practice veerball with me,” Jart began. “Will you work with me at the Olympian veerball court from six-thirty till eight o’clock every morning for three weeks? We won’t use the boomerang walls much. We’ll just bash the veerball, you and I. After school I’ll practice with the team, and you can have the boomerang court all to yourself. We’ll port home together. I’ll tell Coach you’re helping me train.”
“What made you change your mind?” wondered Mik.
“Random is too predictable,” Jart admitted. “I need wild.”
Jart leaped sideways and smashed the veerball downward with his fist. Scraping briefly against the floor, the ball rocketed left and struck the boomerang wall seven feet above Mik’s head. Immediately the wall-springs thrust back, punching the veerball away. Arcing right, the ball hit the adjacent wall, which sprang out and banged it to the ceiling. Jart and Mik ran for the veerball as it arced left and down and up, but they missed. The ball bounced crazily from wall to wall as they chased it.
“Let’s shut off the boomerang walls,” panted Mik. “Remember? You need people practice. Besides, we’re only one-person teams.” He switched the dial by the door to Off and resumed his position. “Okay,” he said. “Your serve.”
“Score, zero, zero,” pronounced Jart, tossing the veerball straight up.
The ball rose half a foot, then flung itself rightward in a giant half-circle. Mik tore across the floor, striking the veerball with his palm just before it hit the ground. This time the ball bolted to the corner of the court, slicing back and forth between the two connected walls. Jart ducked underneath the zigzag arcs and banged the veerball from its path. Looping counter-clockwise, the ball bounced twice ‒ a penalty point ‒ before Mik caught up and vaulted it skyward.
Jart guessed the veerball would cross the court, so he raced toward the door. But the ball switched direction mid-flight. Pivoting, Jart raced back. The heel of his hand scooped the ball away from the ground. Flying across the court, the veerball ricocheted off the door and slammed into Mik’s back.
“Hey!” Mik grumbled. “Not so hard!”
Jart raised his eyebrows. “You think I can control that ball?”
Mik sat at the kitchen table eating choco-leaves from a bowl. Why hadn’t Jart returned? The veerball team tryouts had ended an hour ago.
Finally the teleporter hummed. Mik watched his brother appear in the porter and step out, holding the veerball. “I saved you some choco-leaves,” Mik announced. Jart sat down and munched a leaf.
Mik frowned. “Did you make the team?”
“Why not?” demanded Mik. “You practiced like crazy. What’s wrong with that coach?”
“Nothing. I’m not good enough.”
Mik reddened. “Does he know you practiced with real people, not just boomerang walls? Did he see you slam wild arcs, not just random arcs?”
“He knows. He saw,” Jart answered. “I played well during tryouts, just not well enough to join the team.”
Mik shook his head.
“But here’s news,” Jart brightened. “Coach says I’m the most-improved player. He says I’ve got talent. He says if I keep practicing ‒ especially with humans ‒ I have a ninety-eight percent chance of making the team next season. Coach says that’s almost as certain as our reappearance in the teleporter after we dissolve.”
“I hope our chances in the porter are higher than that,” Mik smirked. “Jart, if you’re trying out again next season, we should start practicing now. Of course, if you prefer the boomerang court, I can stay home.”
“No,” Jart countered, “you are definitely wilder than the boomerang court.” They stepped into the teleporter, and Mik punched the coordinates for Olympian Athletic Academy. Instantly the boys and the veerball disappeared.
© Suzanne Werkema