Three Weeks Ago.
Every once in a while I wonder who you are, watching me, listening to me, being me. Not later on, when this gets fed through somebody
and turned into a recording and released six or twelve or eighteen months down the road; now. Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes, I've heard the rumors. Right now, right now
, someone -- maybe a few someones, maybe several, maybe many someones -- is hooked up to ego-submersion drugs, receiving the feed coming from my implant. For the tech-heads among you, let me access ... Commlink Evo Tesla 7.216.delta, running Xiao Technologies Bù Shào OS v. 7.12.13 beta. Simsense recording interface gear Yamatetsu Productions/Xiao Technologies YouRThere 2.62 delta, transmitting raw ASIST wet record to node *******-******.*****.
There. Sorry about that last; classified. I don't even know where this goes.
I guess it goes to you.
Sometimes I imagine there being hundreds of you, each of you resting in custom-made recliner-beds and living vicariously through me, all of you fabulously wealthy and paying hand over fist for the privilege of being me, live and in person and in real-time -- or at least live, in-person, and real-time as it's technologically possible to be. Sometimes I think maybe there's only two or five, an intense ad agent along with a crazed screen writer or three, and when I'm asleep for my three hours you come suddenly awake, yammering at each other in an orgy of crazy-hair-tearing creativity until spikes in my alpha waves trigger the receiving system into sending you back unconscious, to go back to receiving my transmissions..
Sometimes I wish there wasn't anybody at all, because I know that when I receive that call, it means there's no privacy any more.
Odd, the things you remember when you're waiting for someone to attack you. Aswang once mentioned that I was as much of a combat monster as Pating, that when I got into it, I was into it until I was down, or all of them were. I suppose I was. I suppose I still am. I think that maybe it comes from what Musashi-sensei
called 'resolute acceptance of death' -- that as one enters battle, one accepts that the result may be, will
be, your own death or the death of your opponent. Killing a stranger is not a natural or easy thing for a human to do; like the man said, nations and megacorporations spend weeks upon weeks training perfectly normal human beings to learn how to do this without first getting angry or frightened.
Maybe it's just competitiveness.
I speak, half to Hibiki, half to the other students, half to you out there. "In a street fight, there are no judges to decide whether your opponent does not get a point because he did not have enough zanshin
. The street's rules are direct and brutal, and there is no appeal. You win, or you are lying in the gutter. Dead, dying, surviving if you're lucky."
But anyhow. You can see him, can't you? You should be able to, you who can see what I'm seeing. That little shift in his attention, even though we can't see his face beneath the kendo mask, the adjustment from 'she should attack' to 'I'm going to kick her ass.' Time for the first lesson for Hibiki-bō
. And for the rest of the class.
Hibiki is starting to move, coming down at me from that ridiculous jodan no kame
stance. For his sake, for Isamu's sake, I hope he never assumes that in a street fight. He seems to be moving so slowly, but I know it's just the power flowing through my veins, through my nerves. Yes, my nerves; belly a little weak, my heart rate is up. Breath rate, too. Fear, that's what that is, fear and adrenaline.
I'm almost always scared during combat.
Does that surprise you? It shouldn't. Any human being, every human being, should be scared when their life is on the line. Even with all my training, all my meditation, the times I am calm during combat are very, very specific. Whether unarmed or with a firearm in my hands, my heart rate goes up as the adrenaline and the 'fight or flight' (or fornicate, but nobody mentions that around the kids) instinct makes every one of my muscles quiver ever-so-slightly. In most circumstances, for me it never really goes away.
My right forearm comes up and across to catch his in a block, because my feet have taken a quick pair of steps, left-right. It's harder to do this against a long blade than against a knife; to strike with a knife, you're already inside arm's reach. I move faster than he suspected, maybe because he was busy when Isamu and I went at our own workout speed. I'm even faster than this
, but for his sake I rein myself in.
Forearms press before he's gone more than five inches, before his movement really has any amount of momentum, and the movement stops him in his tracks for a fraction of a second, too short for him to think about doing anything, because the next thing that happens is that my left palm ascends into his elbow at the same time that my right arm slides to my right. My right catches the back of his wrist and pulls downward, while my left continues to push up on his elbow.
The way the metahuman arm is built, and the way its muscles are connected, means that he can't strength his way out of this maneuver; all of my upper body is behind this, and unfortunately for him, what momentum he has in the rest of his body wants this to happen too. With his wrist now all but locked in my right hand -- he still has both his hands on his bokken
, that's good, let's see if he keeps it -- I step in with my left foot and pivot upon it, sweeping the mat with the bottom of my right foot. His wrist comes with me, and because of the way my left hand is locking his elbow, his entire body's momentum comes around with me, left hand releasing the bokken
in an instinctive attempt to keep his balance. Good; it'd get messy otherwise.
Aikido in motion (lowering my arms to bring Hibiki down to the mat, as gentle as I can) is all about circular movement. Even its straight lines (bending my left knee, Hibiki thumping not-so-gently onto his belly, left arm slapping at the mat to rob the movement of its energy) have circular-ness about them, curving out of the way and then continuing the curve with the opponent drawn into its embrace. I don't know if Hibiki (my thumb sliding onto the back of his hand, the bone that leads to his smallest finger now controlling his hand, arm, entire body) has studied O-Sensei's teachings; I doubt it.
I take the bokken
from him with my left hand, my thumb's pressure on his right hand opening up his fingers. A bit more twist, his palm now virtually parallel to the floor; he cannot move without popping something painfully out of joint, and he knows it.
I turn to my audience. Not you, whomever you are; Isamu's students. Kira in particular, but all of them as well. "Never underestimate your opponent. You may surprise him," Hibiki pats the mat twice, tapping out, and I release him, taking several smooth steps away (I love how fluid I can move; sometimes it's a joy just to walk and feel my limbs move) while I talk, because this is street rules, and what I know and Hibiki might eventually appreciate is that on the street, the only rule is 'Survive', "but you cannot count on that, or on being better, or on not being surprised in your turn." I keep Hibiki in the corner of my eye as he climbs to his feet and turns towards me. "As much attention as you can spare should be for your opponent." I throw the bokken
towards my faceless opponent, who reaches out to catch it.
Even planning to do this, my heart triphammers in adrenaline panic. See how everything slows down for us? Adept reflexes, moving us faster than the bokken
flies through the air. I don't often commit myself to ki
shouts, but digging my left foot in behind the line of his feet so that I can bring my left hand behind the level of his shoulders and twist my torso -- "Hhaa!!" -- while striking his do
over his belly requires the exclamation, just to twist all my body's momentum together and channel it into the palm strike. I am not much stronger than many men, but momentum counts for much, and technique for more.
The way his unbalanced body lets his hips kick backwards and upwards in reaction to the palm strike, my momentum becoming his, is exceedingly
gratifying. My Arnis instructor would have grunted and said something about my form, but Hibiki is practically flying back into my left hand, which I keep as solid as I can, deflecting his upper body downwards while his hips and legs keep going. He again lands on his belly on the mat, this time sliding several feet while the bokken
slaps into my left hand.
"Never give your opponent a moment's rest." I glance sideways at Hibiki who, though armored, has had the wind punched out of him; he's recovering his breath. "Take advantage of every break, no matter how temporary," I add to the class as I walk over Hibiki, letting the hands-smoothed wood of the bokken
slide into position in my palm. You -- not the class, not Isamu over there, but you
, you whomever you are, hearing me think, feeling me breathe and move and calm down -- you can feel my heart slow down as the practice blade eases into my hand.
I love the sword. Everything becomes so simple. There is the edge, and there is everything else.
Stepping next to Hibiki, I lay the last several inches against the back of his neck; he knows, and I know, and everyone in the class knows that he's dead. "Never give him a break.." I smile, and lay the bokken next to him, turn my back on him, and walk away. "Never turn your back upon your opponent."
I speak, but all my attention is on the momentarily-humiliated young man behind me. I can hear his hands and his sandals against the mat. "Never take your attention away from him," I counsel the students, looking directly at Kira, feeling my heart rate more than double in those few seconds.
Hibiki lunges, committing himself to follow the point of his weapon; I side-step, turn, grab the back of his hand as he's lunging past. Pressure against his thumb rolls the sensitive part of its joint against the hard wood of the bokken
, and in an instinctive attempt to escape the excruciating pain, he collapses to the floor.
Doesn't that feel great? This guy has been irritating me since I walked in...
But I'm playing with him. Like his 'death', everyone knows it -- now, anyhow. It's ... well, my Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū kenjutsu sensei
would be very disappointed in me right now. I can easily imagine that Isamu is. As for me, well -- I'm sure you can feel that, too.
Sometimes I hate this thing in my head.
My thoughts should be my own.
So should my shame.
I help Hibiki up, and hand him the bokken
, taking half a dozen steps back. "Most important of all, respect your opponent." I bow, keeping my eyes upon him.
"Respect his skills." The shinai
slides out of my sash, lifted in middle guard, tip pointed at his face; my left foot moves backwards to test one position; you and I both feel my uneasiness with it, so I adjust it several millimeters forward, tightening the angle.
"Do him the honor of taking him seriously." My breathing slows with the feel of a blade in my hands, even this bamboo-strap imitation.
"Do not play with him." Hibiki mirrors my stance, then shifts warily into high stance.
"Finish him as quickly as possible." I take a sliding half-step back, shinai
easing down into an underhand low retiring guard. I can feel his gaze shift over me to try to figure out what I'm doing, and to be honest, I'm playing out my favorite scene from my favorite movie, and from the blockbuster simsense version that helped launch Nicky Saitoh to stardom. If you've seen it, you know what I'm doing; I know Isamu recognizes it.
Besides, Kyūzō was always my favorite of the Seven Samurai
With a shout, Hibiki surges forward, sweeping his sword down hard and fast; unlike the movie, Hibiki's goal is to crack my collarbone, so my stroke needs to be perfect.
It is. Time slows down, the blade is in my hand, everything is clear and precise, my opponent and I a unity of intention and movement.
There's an underground document out there -- I got it from the friend of a friend, never mind how -- in which a man claims that in a fight between an adept who focuses with the intentions of a warrior, and one who focuses with the intentions of an athlete, the warrior adept will be the one walking away. That may be true in his experience, and to a certain extent, it's true in mine; most athletes compete, they do not make war.
This is not true of me, nor of any athlete within the schools in which I studied.
Acceptance of death, your own or your opponent's, does not make you a Warrior, any more than running in a footrace makes you an Athlete. A Warrior seeks to triumph over his opponent; an Athlete seeks to triumph over herself. The Warrior seeks vindication of his skills outside himself; an Athlete seeks purification of them within herself. As an Athlete, I am a harsher taskmaster by far than any Warrior who seeks my blood.
As my bamboo blade describes an arc, my left foot retreats from lead to rear; the point of Hibiki's aim is now two feet further back, stealing the power from his blow. My stroke requires a fillip, and here you can feel how my wrists and arms snap to the side as the bokken
comes to rest on my shoulder as Hibiki reaches full extension. The snap creates a wave in the flexible shinai
,a wave that the bokken
could not duplicate; however, you and I watch how this flexiblity causes the tip to slide under the shoulder-protecting flaps of the men, tracing the gap between that helmet and the body-protecting do, to impact with precise force against my opponent's clavicle. The leather saki-gawa
applies in the strike well over the five percent of his weight of directed force necessary to break the bone, clean and precise. I've had that bone broken myself, so what's going to come next may be a surprise to you at home, but it's none to me.
Hibiki screams in pain.
I catch him and his bokken
before either hit the ground, easing both gently down to the mat. Looking at the class, marking each face and their reaction to the speed of the strike, the debilitating break, the painful lesson inflicted upon one of their number of which they will be reminded every time Hibiki comes to class, I offer one last piece of advice.
"Show mercy if you can."
A Warrior could walk away. An Athlete would not.
Isamu claps twice, ending the bout. "Bug. Nash. Help him to the benches. Suki ..."
"911, what is your emergency?
A few notes on language:
- Bù Shào: Mandarin for 'Sentinel'.
- -bō: Masculine diminuitive, like calling a man named Thomas 'Tommy' or 'Tommy-Boy'.