MacGyver stretched down to one foot, then to the other. He looked over the kids in front of him to see the Hunter's Point team doing the same. Several of their team had distinctive, round bruises and, as soon as the green-haired youth met MacGyver's eye, the kid looked quickly away again.
MacGyver stood up straight, pulling on one arm to stretch his shoulder. Over the Challengers kids' heads he saw Mike McKay glance his way, then say something to Tom Counter. They both laughed.
"Ignore them." Hines stepped behind MacGyver, tying his black belt tight. "You'll be fine."
"Right." MacGyver watched McKay pull off his t-shirt, the muscles in his broad chest and back clearly defined. McKay took longer than necessary to find his gi jacket and put it on, acknowledging a wolf-whistle from someone in the audience with a smile and a wave.
"Ignore them, OK?" Hines took hold of the front of MacGyver's borrowed jacket, turning him around.
Nikki parked her car and walked into the sports hall. Two teams were warming up at opposite ends of the mats, and the spectators seats were filling up. Seeing MacGyver at the far end of the hall, she found a seat quickly to avoid being seen.
The kids competed first, in age order. Cody lost his fight after tripping over his own over-long trousers for the fourth time, allowing his opponent to land a chance punch. Sherry won hers, to thunderous cheering from the Challengers end. Her opponent sulked and wouldn't shake hands.
Talking to the mum sitting next to her, Nikki found out about the previous competition, the argument and the rematch. While listening, she watched both teams, thinking how well MacGyver and Hines seemed to work together, and how nervous MacGyver looked. She blinked and frowned. Why was MacGyver wearing a karate suit, anyway? MacGyver didn't know Karate as far as Nikki knew, and he never fought unless he absolutely had to…
Hines stepped onto the mat, cool under his bare feet. He stepped forward, bowing to Tom Counter without breaking eye contact. The sounds of the Challengers lids talking behind him faded as he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and concentrating on the fight ahead. Tom's eyes sparkled with anticipation as he circled Hines, looking for an opening.
Tom lunged in, judging Hines' skill from the way he responded. The two men were similar in height and build, and traded blocks and counters without either scoring a point. MacGyver saw that Hines' breathing remained even long after Tom began to tire. Hines blocked a couple of dodgy-looking strikes and the referee frowned, but didn't comment.
Then Hines struck, landing a fast kick and punch combination that sent Tom staggering across the mat. The referee awarded the points and restarted the match. This time Hines had the upper hand, obvious even to MacGyver's untrained eye, and took only a few minutes to score the remaining points he needed. Tom, knocked down by a flying kick, slid across the mat on his back. Hines walked over to him and extended a hand.
"Did you know about your kids trashing my club?" He watched Tom's expression change.
"Trash? What are you…?" Tom frowned up at Hines, his confusion genuine.
"OK then." Hines nodded and waited for Tom to take his hand, pulling him to his feet.
The referee declared Hines the winner and Tom shook hands with him, following him off the mat.
What's this about your club getting trashed?" Tom wiped blood from his nose. "I don't know a thing about that."
"Come on." Hines stopped, turning to face Tom. "I believe that you don't know about it, but I'm not sure I can say the same of your friend there." He indicated McKay, listening to the Hunter's Point teenagers and nodding his approval of what they were saying. "I'll tell you about it while we watch Mac fight."
Nikki watched MacGyver step out onto the mat. He looked very different in the Karate suit and with his hair pulled back tight in a ponytail, almost like a stranger. He looked small opposite his powerful opponent, similar in height but narrower across the chest and shoulders. MacGyver moved as though he wanted to be anywhere but on the mat, while his opponent swaggered into the centre like a rock star taking the stage. Nikki was surprised at the cheer that accompanied him and turned to her neighbour.
"That's Mike McKay." Her neighbour smiled and nodded. "He was quite the local champion when he was competing. Most of the Hunter's Point kids see him as a hero."
"What do you think of him?" Nikki watched her neighbour shrug.
"He's very good, but he takes a few chances. Plays a bit fast and loose with the rules, you know?" The neighbour wrinkled her nose.
"Great." Nikki watched MacGyver and McKay bow to each other. "He's a bruiser and a cheat." She leaned forwards, seeing McKay say something to MacGyver, but she was too far away to hear.
"I'll make it quick." McKay bowed to MacGyver, his smile predatory.
"Just make it a fair fight, OK?" MacGyver watched the smile drop from McKay's face, replaced by a sneer.
"Fight!" The referee stepped back, leaving MacGyver eyeing his opponent warily. McKay attacked first, making MacGyver dance back out of the way. He spun, firing off another kick that whistled past MacGyver's nose.
MacGyver stepped in, trying to land a punch, but McKay moved fast for such a large man, and swayed just out of reach. A misstep cost him a point as he stumbled and MacGyver's fist crashed into the side of his head. McKay shook his head to clear it and scowled.
When the fight restarted, McKay pressed forwards. MacGyver avoided being driven out of the mat area, but dodging past McKay cost him a point as a kick caught his side. McKay pursued him, but a punch to MacGyver's exposed back earned him a warning.
Up in the seats, Nikki watched as MacGyver fended off the better fighter. She turned to her neighbour.
"I didn't think you were allowed to kick people's knees." Nikki looked back at MacGyver, hopping and assuring the referee he was OK.
"You're not." The Karate mum watched as McKay received another warning. "The new guy sees it coming, though. Did you see him counter that kick?"
"Uh-huh." Nikki turned back seeing the referee once more talking to McKay.
"Do that again and you're out." The referee turned from McKay to MacGyver. "And you – more action, more attacks. You're all defence. I know you're new, but you got to go for it. OK?"
"OK." MacGyver stood on his spot and waited for McKay.
"Fight!" The referee stepped back, casting McKay a warning look.
"Why cheat? All you have to do to beat me is fight fair. You know that, right?" MacGyver watched McKay frown, think, then nod. McKay and MacGyver circled each other. MacGyver jumped forwards and punched, hitting air but earning a nod from the referee. McKay dodged aside, pivoting smoothly on one foot and landing a kick to MacGyver's shoulder. MacGyver stumbled forwards, kicking out behind himself and feeling his foot catch cloth.
McKay spun away, changed feet and brought another stunning kick down on MacGyver's shoulder. This time MacGyver fell, and McKay lowered his leg, his balance perfect.
MacGyver stood slowly, rubbing his shoulder. He stepped forward as the referee announced McKay's victory, holding out a hand.
"Means more when you win it fair, doesn't it?" MacGyver bowed to McKay, seeing him nod as he bowed back.
"Well done, Tourist!" Hines clapped MacGyver on the back, frowning when MacGyver hissed in pain and put a hand to his shoulder. "You hurt?"
"I'll be fine." MacGyver accepted an ice pack from Sherry and turned to face Hines. "Hines, we need to talk to Counter about the vandalism…" he tailed off as Hines held up a hand.
"Already taken care of. Tom had no idea that was happening and while you were having your fight there, he was getting the truth out of his team." Hines nodded to someone behind MacGyver, who turned to see Counter approaching, the green-haired kid grasped firmly by his Karate jacket.
"I believe Shane here owes you an apology." Counter frowned down at the kid, who looked from Hines to MacGyver and back again.
"I – we shouldn't have trashed your place." Shane dropped his gaze back to the floor. "It was wrong."
"And?" Counter prompted.
"And we'll come and clean it up tomorrow and pay for new window glass a bit at a time."
"And?" Counter's voice was stern.
"And we'll play fair from now on." Shane glanced up, eyes widening as he saw McKay had joined them.
"Well now." Hines folded his arms and stared down at the kid. "That sounds pretty good." He looked across at Counter and McKay. "I guess we all learned something about fair play today, right?"
"Right." Counter stared at McKay, who reddened, and then nodded.
"You OK?" McKay turned to MacGyver
"I'm OK." MacGyver shifted the ice pack further up his shoulder. "So does this mean you're going to work together now?" He watched Hines and Counter exchange a look.
"We can surely try." Hines nodded.
"Good." MacGyver grinned, then turned around, running straight into Nikki. "Ow!"
"OW!" Nikki stepped back, putting a hand to her forehead.
"Nikki? What are you doing here?" MacGyver rubbed his chin, where it has struck Nikki's forehead.
"Getting a concussion, I think!" Nikki blinked hard. "I came to find you, expecting you to be teaching wilderness stuff to a bunch of kids or something, and instead I get redirected halfway around a city that likes its streets vertical, nearly get squashed by a tram and eventually find you having a fight in a pair of borrowed pyjamas!" She flicked her fingers at MacGyver's gi jacket. "What were you thinking?!"
"I was thinking I'd take a little time off to decide what I was going to do next!" MacGyver straightened his jacket and tugged at his belt.
"By getting in a fight?!" Nikki shook her head.
"OK, the fight wasn't part of the plan." MacGyver frowned. "And you didn't answer my question – what are you doing here?"
"Bringing food news! Phoenix isn't going to take the money. Pete talked them around to doing the right thing and Davidson quit on the spot!" Nikki grinned.
"What are they going to do about the… about the research?" MacGyver lowered his voice.
"Go public." Nikki nodded. "Uh-huh. Phoenix is like someone kicked the ant's nest right now. We could sure use your help, Mac."
"They're not tasking the money and they're not shielding the corrupt scientists either?" MacGyver shook his head. "Pete really did it, didn't he!"
"Oh yeah." Nikki pulled a folded piece of paper out of her pocket. "Pete asked me to give you this – he really hopes you'll take it back. We all do."
MacGyver opened the paper, reading the resignation letter he'd left on Pete's desk. He'd been so sure that the Phoenix he knew was over, that it had been replaced by cheating and corruption, run by corporate power instead of the desire to make the world a better place. But if he was wrong…
"Tell Pete you got me. Whoa!" MacGyver caught Nikki as she hugged him.
"You're going to come back? Really?" Nikki smiled.
"I am." MacGyver exchanged a look with Himes, who nodded his approval. "We're the good guys after all - we don't quit!"
The sun was setting as MacGyver loaded the last of the gear into the minibus. He squinted into the sunlight, shading his eyes with his hand as Hines pulled out of the parking lot.
Miles away, just outside San Diego, a delivery driver squinted into the same sunlight, shading his eyes with his hand. He pulled out of the Wellforce parking lot, glad to be leaving the package marked 'biohazard' with its new owner. As he turned, he ran over a leaflet lying on the road. The leaflet flapped in the breeze and fluttered free, the words 'fight for a healthier future' now smeared by a greasy tyre mark…