I watched keenly as Nile tossed the ball up. It was always very difficult to actually return or even catch any of his serves; well, Nile was that good at playing table tennis.
The ball listed in the air spun like a torpedo and was sent at me like a rapid little ball of light which was quite hard to see or follow.
I must have tried to return the service, but my bat only cut through the hot afternoon air, and I soon found myself being propelled forward like a blown out projectile.
“Gotcha! And yet again!” Nile declared waving his bat in the air, and his triumph surrounded him like a majestic cloak.
“You just have a really good service, actually I don’t think you’re that good anyway” I muttered dropping the bat on the table.
We were actually in Jimmy’s Gym which was located in downtown Claremont, and it was just west of Rings Cross leading directly to the very outskirts of Seattle. Not that we didn’t have our table back at home, but Nile always insisted on playing here at Jimmy’s.
“Seriously Victor, I’ll beat your grandma at table tennis with my eyes blindfolded, hell; I’ve been playing like forever” Nile gloated.
“That’s not a very pretty thing to say Nile, and I’d honestly make you eat those words sooner than you think” I replied grinning.
“I’ll love to see you try buddy…” Nile started then I noticed that he had long trailed off. His attention had now diverted to something else, his eyes which had been fixated on me were suddenly distant and unresponsive.
“Nile…?” I called, but he wasn’t focusing on me at all, that’s when I knew that his attention had been caught by something behind me.
I slammed my fist on the table startling him out of whatever reverie which he had been caught in, “There’s something catchy behind me right?”
Nile smiled and came over to me panting with excitement; his eyes were still fixated on whatever object that had suddenly gained his interest.
“You bet there is, check out those blondies” he whispered under his breath, “Boy! They are frigging hot”.
I turned around slowly and regarded the two girls, they were quite beautiful, to be honest, but I wasn’t one to be overly interested in women; I could be quite shy.
“So what do you think?” Nile persisted, “How about we approach them and introduce ourselves” he suggested nodding his head vigorously as if in agreement with his suggestion.
I only shook mine in the negative, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea” my eyes were still fixated on one of the girls clad in a tight leotard pant over a t-shirt, and she had her blonde hair done up in a ponytail.
“Why not? Don’t tell me you’re still scared of women Victor? Thought you’d have outgrown that shit” Nile said disappointedly.
“Scared? Of course not!” I protested avidly, “All I want is for us to be very cautious if we’re going to approach them” I added thoughtfully.
From the doubtful look on Nile’s tanned face, I could tell that he wasn’t buying my idea, so I went over to him and whispered: “Look Nile, let’s just keep doing our thing, and trust me they’ll come themselves”
“How do you mean?” Nile asked rather confused.
“Let’s just play the game as always and see if it won’t attract a few spectators” I winked at him.
Nile thought about it for a while and decided to go along with the idea, and I glanced over my shoulder to find the girls doing some fitness exercise; I was honestly hoping that my idea would work anyway.
“I’m serving first” I announced reaching out for the ball, it was for good measure anyway, Nile could make mincemeat out of me if I allowed him serve first.
The ball felt cold with my hands wrapped around it lightly, assuming the penhold grip; I served to send the ball at Nile.
Now, most of my serves were really not as fast as Nile’s, but they could get quite tricky if you weren’t good at playing the game, so even a pro at table tennis like Nile could flop at first in trying to return them.
The ball bounced twice on his side of the table giving me just one point, Nile’s brows were soon furrowed up; he hated having to lose to me.
I served again, but this time the ball bounced way up in the air just a little farther away from the net, and I knew what was coming next anyway.
Nile didn’t hesitate either, and he sent a powerful SMASH at my side of the table which made me recoil.
Just behind us; we could hear people applauding, our game had attracted quite a number of spectators like I had predicted.
“That’s 5-4 now Victor, you sure you don’t want extra service, because if I serve I’ll make sure I pound you so hard,” Nile said grinning wildly.
I moped around a bit and wasn’t even too surprised to find the blonde girls also watching us with keen interest, so I went for my very last service.
I sent the ball with every ounce of strength left in me at Nile, but he returned it accurately, and the incessant ping-ponging ensued.
This went on for a while until Nile noticed one of the blonde girls watching and smashed me again, the ball came at me so fast that I simply put my bat forward and repelled it.
It bounced back again on Nile’s side of the table, and he sent another smash again at me which I actually didn’t bother to return.
“You play really well!” One of the blonde girls complimented heading towards Nile, I just rolled my eyes and dropped the bat on the table.
As I headed to the dispenser which was just at a far corner in the gym, I could hear Nile telling the girls about how to play the game.
The very next day found me holed up in my basement; I had decided to stretch out the rest of the day at home considering the fact that Nile had trashed me out at the gym the day before.
Due to Dad’s work at Skyline Robotics, I had access to lots of gadgets including drones, mini-cars, remote controlled mini-crafts, and AI bots.
The basement was basically crammed up with these things which made it look all dope and techy. Recently, after I had developed a penchant for table tennis, Dad had given me a robot trainer alongside an automated table which allowed me to have personal training sessions with Pingtrix M-70.
Pingtrix M-70 was actually a new table tennis AI robot trainer which had been designed by Skyline as part of their end-of-year projects and contribution towards the development of sports with technology.
So I had been quite elated and nonetheless excited when Dad had installed the table in the basement with the AI, and of course, I didn’t inform Nile about it.
“How do you like your new robot trainer Vic?” Dad had asked the day after Pingtrix had been successfully installed.
“Quite cool Dad, but do you really think I’ll qualify for the Independent Table Tennis Championships? I mean: Nile has already gotten his ticket to the openings.” I was sounding quite grubby.
“Why not Vic? That’s one of the major reasons why I got you Pingtrix, and it was generally part of the company’s goals towards harmonizing sports and technology for youths like yourself” Dad replied smiling at me.
I smiled back, but I wasn’t really convinced, even though I had been training for almost two weeks with Pingtrix I still got my ass whooped at Jimmy’s by Nile and in front of those blondies.
Well, I wasn’t going to be deterred I reasoned to myself as I clicked a button which brought out the table. The table itself was quite automated in the real sense of the word; all I had to really do was to click a button, and it would get set by itself.
A steady whirring sound soon filled the room, and Pingtrix M-70 switched itself on automatically and wheeled to the other side of the table.
“GOOD MORNING VICTOR, READY FOR A NICE GAME OF PING-PONG?” Pingtrix’s automated voice asked.
“Quit it, Ping, it’s called table tennis! Not Ping-pong” I said smiling wickedly knowing I had triggered the AI’s historical database on table tennis.
“IT WAS INITIALLY CALLED PING-PONG DUE TO THE RAPID SOUND OF THE TENNIS BALL BOUNCING BACK AND FORTH ON THE TABLE” the AI insisted.
“Whatever Ping, let’s just play, I’m hoping to drop the heat on you today considering that my friend beat the shit outta of me yesterday,” I said gripping my bat tightly.
“TR GAMEPLAY ACTIVATED, DIFFICULTY MODE?” the AI asked.
“Let’s do normal mode first, and if I can’t manage to beat you, then I guess I’m not fit for the championships” I replied.
“NORMAL MODE ACTIVATED, GAME PLAN: 1- 21 WITH FIVE SERVES IN A ROW” the bot affirmed.
“Great, let’s do this,” I said steadying my bat.
Of course, I didn’t stand any chance against Pingtrix’s serves, and they were just equally as fast Nile’s only just better and more accurate.
After playing back and forth for a while, I managed to repel and return one or two of the bot’s services which rebounded on the table giving me about three points.
By then Pingtrix was having about 10 points while I had only 4 points after the first round, usually; I’d have liked to switch tables with the bot but it was no good anyway, it was still going to beat me either way.
I served quickly sending the ball rapidly towards Ping, and it was easily returned back to me with a backhand swerve making me hurry to the far right of the table to once more return the ball.
The ball hit the net which propelled it upwards, and I managed to send a smash at the AI bot, but something rather unexpected happened.
As the ball bounced on Pingtrix’s side of the table, it switched the bat to its left robotic arm and repelled my smash, and in my bid to return the ball again I backpedaled fast and missed a step which sent me crashing to the ground just behind the table.
“ROUND WON, WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY AGAIN?” The AI bot’s electronic voice floated down to me as I scrambled up to my feet.
“That was one hell of a game Ping, way to go, but I’m done with tennis for today, CLOSE PLATFORM” I instructed.
“PLATFORM CLOSED, PLAY AGAIN LATER,” the AI bot said shutting down automatically.
I groaned rubbing at the back of my head that I had smacked against the basement floor, it was starting to swell, but I knew I had to somehow get some ice on it before Mom who didn’t really like me being down at the basement actually saw it.
I strode briskly out of the basement and headed towards the bathroom which had a medicine cabinet just above the sink. I had sustained a bruise at the back of my neck due to the fall.
I dabbed some alcohol on it which stung a little but subsided after a while, and then I held a pack of ice to the back of my head.
Even though I had failed to defeat my friend and robot trainer, I had learned a great deal about the game of table tennis, and I was looking forward to representing my school at the ITTC Championships which were soon to begin in the fall of September.
I wasn’t really pro yet, but I was willing to give it shot, even if it meant having to train all night with my new robot trainer.
As sleep eluded me, I was soon dreaming about beating Nile at the grand opening.