Ari, born Ariel Jacqueline Triton, ducked to avoid the gloved fist that flew toward her face, dodging it at the last moment and taking a small, springing step to the right. As her knee straightened from the bounce, she slammed her boxing glove into her opponent's ribcage. His breath evacuated his lungs with a loud oomph.
"You're slowing down, Daddy," she warned, kicking him in the back of his ribs before he could right himself. In the eleven years she had been kick-boxing, the last nine of which her only sparring partner being her father, she had learned one thing above all else.
The man across from her was her drill sergeant, her boss, her progenitor. He would consider himself her tutelary deity, if he only knew what it was. She had never known her mother; and even now, at twenty-one, it didn't bother her much. She had all the parental care and attention she needed, and frankly, any more of the smothering, demanding devotion would probably kill her. She and her father had been sparring for over an hour; her breathing was becoming a little ragged and her muscles felt weak. If she didn't end this now, they'd be doing this until she collapsed.
Angry that she'd gotten two hits in, he swung his elbow back haphazardly, and she bent entirely backwards to avoid it, curling her spine over and resting the bulk of her hundred and thirty-four pound frame on the palms of her hands. It was not an easy maneuver to execute while wearing padded boxing gloves. Heedless, she followed it through; using momentum to propell her feet up and over.
When her heels hit solid ground again, she didn't hesitate to swing herself in a full circle to the right, leg extended, to sweep his footing from underneath him.
On his way down, he grabbed the collar of her shirt and yanked, hard, launching her over him. Forced to roll or have her neck snapped, she rolled, stopping only when she collided messily with the ropes. Her body felt clammy, hot and cold simultaneously; beneath the layers of skin she swore her muscles itched. She needed to leave, to get to the privacy of her own space.
"Don't mistake confidence for skill, Ariel," he scolded. It was only one of hundreds of "motivational" tips. She rolled her eyes and got to her feet quickly, hopping from one foot to the other to get her heart pumping. The adrenalin of fighting was wearing off, as it was prone to do after an hour of it, and she couldn't afford to lose any small edge she had over him.
In all the movies she'd seen, it was always the lanky, quick underdog that conquered the hulking beast of a man - but in reality, her reality, at least, it didn't seem so likely. Her father stood at six-foot and five inches, and his body matched his height. Wide, thick, he was built like a champion fighter and had a temper like one. The temper, she'd inherited, at least. Ari was not a small girl, really, it was only in comparison to her father that she seemed to shrink, vanish with a quiet poof of what little evidence there was to what once had been. She was five-foot, nine inches tall and built like a figure skater.
Her frame notwithstanding, Ari could take a beating. She could deliver one, too. In her district for her weight class, she had won seven championship belts for women's kick-boxing.
Three in co-ed kickboxing, out of four runs for the title.
She was the proud owner of only five of her original adult teeth, all of which sat in a small dish on her bedroom dresser; every tooth in her mouth was fake, and had been since she was sixteen. "Some girls get fake teeth, other girls get braces," her father had said, "but at least you can beat the other girls up."
For years they had intermingled kick-boxing with various brands of martial arts, but it had always been something she excelled it just a notch or two better than her father. He regularly attributed this "phenomena" to her smaller, lighter, body type. When her father mirrored her foot exercises, working his own adrenalin back up, she took the opportunity. Pushing against the ropes to give herself a little more momentum, she sprinted for a few long strides before leaping off the floor of the ring. Midair, she pivoted her hip and slammed her knee into the side of his cheekbone.
In slow motion, he turned, spitting out a mixture of blood and saliva, before he stumbled back a few unsteady paces. She landed, crouched low to the fading grey of the floor, and whipped her rebellious, cherry red bangs out of her face with a toss of her head.
"First blood, my match." She ripped open the velcro straps of her gloves with her teeth and shook them off, her palms sweating, to topple to the ring. "I have a mission to plan, father, we can rematch tomorrow."
She didn't wait to see if he had lost any teeth or, perhaps, if she had broken any bones. Instead, she bent between the ropes and headed for the showers. As she reached the door, he yelled, "I want those plans in my office by dawn, Ariel. Your plane leaves at noon."