The indoor recreation center was deserted, except for one figure in one of the batting cages. The figure, a teenage boy, stood up from working on a pitching machine. He turned at the squeak of hinges and saw Nathan Carpenter stepping into the cage.
Nathan was wearing exercise clothes, a plain T-shirt, gym pants and canvas sneakers, and carried a long sports duffel bag, the kind that held equipment like baseball bats and gloves. He greeted the young man. "Morning, Jim. How's it going?"
The teenager stepped back and gestured to the pitching machine. "Morning, Mr. C. I fixed it up just like you asked. Are you sure you want it running that fast?"
Nathan smiled. "It's all right, Jim. I've cleared it with Tony." Tony DeGrava was the manager of the recreation center and a fellow parishioner at Nathan's church.
"Oh, I know. Mr. DeGrava told me." Jim hesitated. "Is it all right if I watch?"
"No problem, Jim. You might want to get behind the fence, though."
The young man exited the cage and closed the gate. He stood behind the wire fence, next to the controls for the batting cage.
Nathan set the duffel bag to the side and unzipped it, extracting a long object that revealed itself to be a scabbarded sword. He drew the sword, the metal singing as it cleared the leather. Dropping the sheath on top of the bag, he walked up the batter's box and stood facing the pitching machine, his feet on the home base. "Let 'er rip," he called out to the boy outside.
Jim pressed the button to activate the pitching machine. Unlike other models, this machine did not use a pitching arm, but actually fired the balls out of a cannon-like barrel using compressed air.
The compressor kicked in, building up pressure. Suddenly, a baseball shot out of the barrel, heading towards Nathan. With a fluid motion, Nathan swung his blade, deflecting the ball and making it smack against the fence. Another ball flew out. Nathan swung again, intercepting this missile too.
The barrage continued, the firing rate increasing to near machine-gun levels. The sword danced in Nathan's hands, blocking each projectile. The pitching machine clunked noisily as the last baseball flew out and suffered the same fate as its brethren.
Nathan relaxed from his pose and wiped the sweat from his face. Grinning, he turned to Jim outside the cage. Suddenly, another loud clunk rang out and a baseball, momentarily stuck in the feeding mechanism, launched from the barrel, its trajectory aimed directly at Nathan's head. Steel flashed, and two perfectly cut halves of a baseball struck the backstop.
Nathan let out his breath, looked at the ruined baseball, and gave Jim an embarrassed smile. "Sorry about that one."
Jim closed his mouth. "N-no worries. Mr. C. We lose balls all the time." He looked down and then back up to Nathan. "Um, is it all right if I keep them?" he asked, pointing to the ball pieces.
"Uh, sure, Jim. Can I ask why?"
Jim grinned back at Nathan. "The guys in the clubhouse wouldn't believe me otherwise when I tell them the story."