Whateley: Friday, September 22, 2006
"Well, what are you waiting for? I haven’t got all day!" Hippolyte snapped at me. She may have gotten it into her thick head that she had to share the weight machine, but that didn’t keep her from regarding it as her personal property.
I wilfully ignored her prodding and completed my set of 100 lifts on the Nautilus machine, set at 250 pounds. That done, I climbed off the machine at my own good pace as Hipp growled at me. As I did a cooling down routine, she muttered something in Arabic while she re-set the weights to her preferred arrangement.
Now, I was never really big into exercise before my mutation kicked in, but now I’m on much better terms with my body, and I really enjoy putting it through a good workout. Maybe what happened next wouldn’t, if I hadn’t been on such good conditions with my body.
I was walking down the hall towards my room. After such a good set, I was raring for a shower! Then I heard something coming from Jade and Tennyo’s room. It was Tennyo, and she sounded like she was on the verge of tears. I knocked on the door and poked my head in. "Hey, is everything okay?"
Everything was NOT okay. It seems that Tennyo had just be booted off her part-time job bussing tables in the cafeteria. It seems that some furry-faced brat from Twain Cottage had started a food fight by throwing something at her, and she got the blame for it.
I was more than a tad confused."Y’mean Harry got you fired? I thought that he liked you!"
"No, not _Harry_! It was the butthead ‘Montana’!"
"‘Montana’? Isn’t that the same geek who lodged a complaint against you, ‘cause you won a fight that HE started?"
"Yeah!" Tennyo grated out, her eyes turning a shade of red.
"What did you do to him?"
"I didn’t do anything! He just threw a piece of food at me, and the whole place blew up!"
"No, I mean _after_. What did you do to him after he got you fired."
"DO? What can I do? If I lay a finger on him, that bitch Hartford will try to get me strapped to a table as ‘Dangerous’."
"Well, you may not be able to do anything about it, but _I_ can!" With that, I marched out of their room, down the stairs and out of the cottage, without even bothering to change out of my exercise togs.
As the cool evening air hit my skin, it occurred to me that I couldn’t just punch the asshole out, as much as I’d like to. The Headmistress had made very clear that open displays of violence was frowned on, and besides, Tennyo really didn’t need any more grief right now. On the other hand, stuff like this must pop up all the time in a school like this. When you have all these kids with superpowers running around learning how to use them, you must have some sort of method of letting them blow off steam. Maybe they had some sort of system of ‘duelling’ like they had in the old swashbuckler days, with the appointed time and place being settled by Seconds, and all that. Well, if they didn’t, they’d better come up with one, and fast!
By the time that I came to that conclusion, I’d quick-marched all the way over to Twain Cottage. I didn’t bother knocking, I just stormed right on in. The place was setup pretty much the same way as Poe, even down to the bust of the ‘American Voltaire’ in his niche. There were a bunch of guys lounging around the ground floor common room. At first, none of them noticed me. I took care of that double-quick. I put two fingers in my mouth and let out a piercing whistle.
The boys almost jumped out of their chairs. I set my hands on my hips and glowered at them. One of them gave out a low whistle and said ‘Whoa, Momma!’ Then I remembered that I was still wearing only my red nylon exercise pants and a tank top over a sports bra. Well, backing down now would only make me look weak. "So, where’s that sorry excuse for a wookie, Montana? I wanna have a few words with him!"
One boy who had something that looked like a turtle’s shell where he should have hair got up and said, "Hey, look, I don’t know what Monty’s done now, but I gotta let you know that you ain’t gonna make it any better by getting up in his face."
"Less lip and more action. Is that overrated dust mop here?"
"Hey, calm down! We don’t get many pretty girls in here..."
"Gee, I wonder why! Get. Him. Down. Here. Now."
Turtleshell sighed."Kludge, go get Monty. Y’don’t have to hurry about it, just go get him." A hispanic looking boy of maybe 15 or so in a wheelchair concentrated, and he started to float, wheelchair and all. He floated his chair up the staircase. When ‘Kludge’ was well up the stairs, Turtleboy turned to another boy, this one with a decided greenish cast to his skin, and said, "Newt, go get Mirror. YOU, hurry yourself, y’unnerstand? I don’t want to have to handle Monty without Mister Metal on hand to keep him calm."
‘Newt’ nodded, and he skooted up the stairs using a combination of stretching and hopping that was rather disturbing to watch. Still, he made much better time than Kludge did. Turtleshell turned to me and smiled. "Well, while we’re waiting, my name’s Derek. They call me ‘Carapice’-"
"That’s nice - my name’s Toni, and I’ve gota really good mad on, and I don’t wanna waste it on an innocent bystander."
That put a capper on any further conversation. ‘Carapice’ stood by me with his hands in his jeans’ pockets as I stood there, arms crossed, growling at the staircase. After a few minutes, the stairs began to creak. Something that looked like a blonde Sasquatch wearing jeans and a ‘Lord of the Rings’ T-shirt came bare footing down the stairs. The kid in the wheelchair came cautiously floating after him.
The walking haystack walked up until he was looking down at me and I could feel his hot breath on my face. "What the Hell do you want, Bitch?"
I looked right back up at him and said, "You started a food fight in the cafeteria that cost my friend Billie her job. What are you gonna do about it?"
"Billie? Who’s Billie?"
"Billie Wilson - the girl you lodged a complaint against when she whooped your ass in a fight that YOU started. The girl that YOU threw food at, starting that food fight this afternoon. She didn’t do anything to start it, but it still wound up costing her a job that she needs."
"I didn’t know that." The blonde yeti smiled nastily. "Good t’hear it. ‘Bout time that you snooty glamour pusses go what was comin’ t’ya."
"Yeah? Well, maybe it’s time that you learned that not everybody’s gonna ‘let the wookie win’."
Montana bridled and looked like he was gonna go ballistic. Then there was more creaking on the staircase, and another guy came down. Instead of being hairy head to toe, this one looked ... shiny. He looked like his skin was a perfect mirror. He looked at us and gave a martyred sigh. "Oh God, Monty- what did you do this time?"
I turned from the oversized throw-rug and said, "He started a food fight that cost my friend Tennyo her job! And at the very least, I want him to make a public apology for it!"
Montana gave a grunting laugh. "Yeah, right! Like THAT’S gonna happen!"
"Okay, Tough Guy, try this - I challenge you to a duel."
"What? Are you Deaf as well as dumb? _I_ am challenging _You_ to a fight."
"Why should I beat up your boyfriend? He hasn’t done anything except be stupid enough to get mixed up with you."
"What boyfriend? I’m more than up to folding you up like laundry all by myself!" I took off one of my weightlifting gloves and make a production of slapping him with it.
He started to raise a fist. "Well, I hope you brought a bag for yer teeth."
"Not HERE, Haystack! I’m not talking about a Brawl, I’m talking about a Sparring Match in the Dojo, with one of the senseis acting as referee." I looked over at the shiny guy, who I guess they called ‘Mirror’; I wonder why. "I’m guessing that they have set guidelines for this sort of things at this school?"
‘Mirror’ gave another gusty sigh and nodded.
Montana grunted again. "Hey, if it’s gonna be a big hassle, then I ain’t goin’ along with it. I don’t mind squashing you like a bug, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let some teacher tell me to mind my Ps and Qs while I’m doin’ it. B’sides - WHY should I go along with this in the first place?"
I fixed him with my eyes. "Why there’s no reason, no reason at all - if you’re a coward."
His blue eyes glinted with ice. "What did you call me?"
"I said that you’re a coward. You pick on girls that you think are weaker than you. Then when it turns out that they can drive you into the ground like a tent peg, you go crying to the administration. Then when THAT doesn’t work, you stoop to kiddie pranks. Always hiding behind something, never putting your furry ass on the line. What’s the matter, Chewbacca, aren’t you MAN enough to face me?"
When I called him ‘Chewbacca’, his mouth started to jerk in a jagged tic. He raised a fist again, but Mirror grabbed his wrist. "Not here, Monty. Either you do it in the gym, or you don’t do it at all."
Montana pulled his hand free. "Okay, but what’s in it for Me?"
"If you win, you want me to apologize -"
"At the very least."
"- To yer cry-baby room-mate."
"Not room-mate. Team-mate. Believe me, if you’d dumped on my real room-mate, you’d be sitting on a lilypad, deciding which you like better - flies or junebugs."
"Whatever. You get an apology."
"AND a promise to lay off Tennyo."
"What do _I_ get when I win? Other than the satisfaction of seeing you bleeding on the mat, that is?"
"It’s supposed to be an affair of Honor. You have heard of Honor, haven’t you?" I gave him a cocky grin. "Tell you what - IF you win, I’ll do anything that you want for a week."
"No, but my Dad would skin me alive if I ever accepted a sucker deal like that."
"Two weeks, and - "
Mirror interrupted. "One week will do, Monty. Besides, it sounds like she has due cause. Who do I call, to settle the time and place?"
"Zenith, in Poe Cottage."
"Okay, I get to her ASAP. She’ll fill you in on the details when we’ve settled the arrangements."
I nodded and marched out the door. I was halfway home beforeI realized that I had just picked a fight with a guy who had a solid foot and almost 200 pounds on me, and whose hands reached down to his knees.
The next morning, there was a bit of a buzz in the cafeteria at breakfast, and it seemed to be aimed somewhat at me. I caught a snatch of, ‘What do you expect? They’re ALL whackos!"
But it didn’t really catch up with me until lunch. Then Nikki came up and asked me, "What is this about you calling out some guy in Twain?"
"Didn’t you hear? Tennyo lost her job bussing tables in the cafeteria because she got caught in a food fight. The guy that caused the food fight was the same asshole who lodged that complaint against her that almost got her bundled off to Hawthorne in a straight jacket. So, I went over to Twain and challenged him. Right now, Zenith and Twain’s main fixer, a guy called ‘Mirror’, are settling the details."
Tennyo and Jade walked up at the tail end of that. "What?" Tennyo grated, "You mean that you really DID go over there and threaten to skin him alive?"
"‘Skin him alive’? No, I just trash talked him a lot, and challenged him to a match, all proper and by the book."
"Why didn’t you SAY anything about this last night?" Nikki asked in exasperation.
"You weren’t in when I got back, and when you got in, I was busy meditating."
"Oh. Right. I remember. It was the first time that I’ve ever seen you sit still in one place for longer than three seconds at a stretch." She said aside to the others, "She even tosses in her sleep!"
Then Ayla and Hank walked up. "Hey, Toni! What’s this I hear about you challenging to fight all of Twain Cottage at once?"
Jade asked, "What were you meditating on so hard, Sempai?"
"What else? How I’m gonna fight somebody who looks like King Kong’s Kid Brother."
"No kidding!" Tennyo said in her drill instructor voice. "Have you seen this guy? He’s at least six feet six, and 250 pounds!"
"AND his arms are disproportionately long for his size, giving him greater reach." I added.
"Oh, it gets worse," Ayla added. "Have you heard about the terms of the wager? From what I heard, Toni agreed to blow every boy in Twain if she lost."
"WHAT?" Tennyo almost screamed. "You can’t Do that! I won’t let you!"
"Billie, calm down! It’s not gonna happen. Besides, it was something that I hadda do. If I hadn’t called him out, he woulda just kept ragging on you until you completely blew your cool and vaporized him. Believe me, I’ve seen guys like him before - when they find someone that they can push around, they just keep pushing until something breaks. And then they wonder why everyone's so mad at them. You wouldn’t swat him on the nose, so I hadda. I stand by my friends."
"Besides," I said, shrugging off the gloom, "I know exactly what I’m doing!"
I still haven’t forgiven them for that ‘We’re Doomed’ look that they shared.
Zenith found me at lunch and told me that they’d arranged to use the Dojo’s main gymnasium for the match. Ito Sensei had agreed to referee, and it was scheduled for 6 in the evening. For some reason, Zenith made is sound as if it were important that as many of the elective classes were over.
I warmed up for the match in the Cottage’s exercise room. I paced myself with a few sets with the weight machine and lots of stretching. When I was ready, I was warmed up, elastic and well aerated. That done, I showered, got dressed in my gi, and got ready too. As I dressed, Tennyo came and knocked on my door. "Toni?"
"Yeah, what is it?"
"You don’t have to do this."
"It’s all my fault. I got Montana mad, and made him do all that stuff. If anyone should have to face him, it should be me."
I gave a gusty sigh. Maybe I could say what I had to, and still get to the gym in time. Hey, what the hell - letting Monty stew for a while was probably good strategy. "Billie, let me tell you a story."
"It isn’t a story about how you were being picked on by a bully and how you faced him and got rid of him, is it?"
"No, the only bullies that I ever faced were only too glad to jump on me and beat the crap out of me. No, this is a little more removed than that. Billie, I was nine when the Gloria Conrack affair happened."
"Gloria Conrack? Who’s Gloria Conrack?"
"Oh, they must not have carried the story where you were. Gloria Conrack was an African American woman who worked for the Baltimore Police department. She got caught up in some kind of scandal - to be honest, I’m not too clear on the details. Anyway, there was a lot of feeling that she was being persecuted - or at least shafted - because she was Black. It was front page news for a few days in Baltimore. Then Reverend Gideon Thorne came to town, and got involved."
"Gideon Thorne? Who’s that?"
"Oh, he’s sort of a second eschelon Reverend Al Sharpton, which means that he’s a fourth eschelon Jesse Jackson. Anyway, he called a big news conference and started making noises about blowing off the lid on the departments secret deals, and Justice for Gloria and things like that. I remembered thinking that now things were going to get done. He went around forming demonstrations, meeting with City Hall and police department officials, circulating petitions, and things like that."
"So, what happened with Gloria Conrack?"
"Nothing, really. That’s sort of the point. In all the hubbub, Gloria sort of got shoved off to the side. Thorne made a lot of noise, and got a few bullshit ‘community programs’ that mostly benefitted some of his cronies, but nothing really happened that cleared Gloria in any way, or had any impact on how things were really done. I remember my parents taking my brothers and sisters and me to a community meeting where Reverend Thorne was speaking. The Rev spent most of the night shaking the people there down for ‘donations’. And that’s the real point - the Right Reverend Doctor Gabriel Thorne wasn’t in the business of making things better for his fellow African-Americans. He was in the business of making affluent White folks feel guilty about being White, and affluent Black people guilty about being affluent. He’d hear about at rival situation where an African American was involved somehow, come in, stir things up, get people all worked up, and then hit them up for Guilt Money. Basically, he told people that they were bad, and if they gave him money, that he’d go away and they could feel better."
Tennyo looked at me."Toni, what does this have to do with anything?"
"Billie, watching that man shake down my parent and neighbors like that was one of those watershed moment. ‘Cause, y’see, I’d seen my brother Vince - who, by the way, is an idiot who makes your damn fool kid brother look like King Solomon! - pulling exactly the same stuff! It was all ‘I say that you’re a loser, and you have to do as _I_ say, or you’ll STAY a loser’! People do this All The Time! They set themselves up as your betters, and make you jump through hoops to get their approval. My brother Vince, Reverend Gabe, this yoyo Montana - they all want to make everything wrong YOUR FAULT. But y’see, the thing is, you can never be good enough for them. Not ever. ‘Cause if you somehow prove that you ARE good enough, in any way, then they lose their hold over you. As long as they can make you feel bad about something, about being White or Black, about being rich or poor, about being pretty or not being pretty, about being strong or weak, or not cool enough or whatever, then they can make you do what they want. Whether they want you to buy something, or vote the way that they want, or live in a certain area, or even if they just want you to look at them like they’re the cool one and you’re not, it’s all the same. As long as you keep doing what they want you to do, then they’ll keep making you feel bad, so that you’ll keep doin’ it."
"Yeah, but this is different. This is a whole bunch of stuff and I --"
"Billie, you didn’t do anything wrong. Montana started that fight over at Twain. Those idiot technicians put you in that weapons range. And ol’ Monty started that food fight. YOU didn’t do any thing wrong, but you caught all the shit for it. If I don’t swat this mutt on the nose with a newspaper, then he’s gonna get the idea that he can’t just push us around. And if Monty can get away with it, then every other two-bit social predator around here will think the same thing."
"Toni, you don’t have to do this."
"Yes I do. You’re my team-mate. And even if you weren’t worth doin’ this for - and you are - I’d still havta do it. If Monty can push you around, then everyone else on the team is gonna have assholes trying to see what they can get away with. If I dont’ do this, I can almost guarantee that someone’s gonna start pushing Jade around."
Tennyo stiffened, and her yellow cat’s eyes went feral. "Nobody hurts Jade."
"Good. Then we’re in agreement. Now, let’s get going. I think that Monty has a date with an ass-whooping."
The rest of the team was waiting for us by the staircase, and we started out together. As we came down the stairs, Hippolyte was waiting there. She looked at me strangely. "I hear that you’re going to go fight some boy over at Twain because of what he did to her." Hippolyte indicated Tennyo with a jerk of her head.
"Yeah. What about it?"
Hippolyte just nodded her head, a strange look of respect in her eyes. "Kick his ass." Then she just turned and walked away.
Oh Christ, Hippolyte’s on OUR side. We’re doomed!
When we got outside, I gave Jade a whispered instruction and sent her on ahead. The rest of us walked to the gym together at a more dignified pace. Zenith met us at the door. "Just so that you know, the word has gotten out about this match."
She lead us inside. The place was packed!
Well, maybe not packed, but there was definitely an audience. They’d pulled the bleachers out on both sides of the gym, and there were kids sitting on them, huddled together in distinct groupings. "Who ARE all these people?"
"Well, lessee now - that group over there -" she pointed at the group in the middle of one of the bleachers,"- is of course, the Poe Cottage kids. House honor, and all that. That group over there -" she pointed at the opposite bleacher,"- is, naturally, the Twain boys. They gotta show solidarity, too. The group huddled around the Chinese kid with the shaved head are the Dragons. They’re sort of the local martial arts fiends. WAY too many Bruce Lee films. They’re here to check out your martial arts style. On the opposite bench, are their rivals."
"We have rival martial arts schools here?"
"No, just rival martial arts nuts. The guys around the big black guy with the shaven head - a shaven head seems to be some kind of sign of leadership - are the Tigers, the rival Kung Fuheads. They’re here for pretty much the same reason, and for the fact that you’re Black and Monty’s default White." I noticed that all of the ‘Tigers’ were rather intense looking African American kids.
"Those guys over there -" Zenith indicated a group of large and rather scruffy looking boys."- are the Ultra Violents. They’re into pain. Period. Those over there are the ‘Ninjas’; I’m not exactly sure why they’re here. That’s the Cape Squad over there. They’re here ‘cause Monty dissed Gloriana, their Alpha female, and they wouldn’t mind seeing him get his fuzzy ass kicked. As for the rest, I guess that they’re here because of the betting."
"Betting? Somebody’s making book on this match?"
"Sure. Hazard is taking bets." Zenith pointed to a slender Asian girl dressed in dark, tight fitting trendy clothes. "She’s set the odds at 9-to-7 against you."
"Clever girl. She’s going to make a bundle on this underdog."
Then Jade hurried up and gave me a nod.
I took a deep breath. "Okay, let’s get this over with."
Team Kimba walked up to the mat as a group. We bowed as one to Ito Sensei, and the others broke off to get seats near the other Poe kids. I faced my opponent on the far side of the mat. Monty was sitting cross-legged at the other side of the mat. "It’s about damn time that you got here."
I apologized - to the Sensei - for my tardiness.
Ito Sensei briskly clapped his hands for attention. "Combatants! Attend me!" Ito Sensei was wearing a casual aikido uniform, but his attitude was strictly formal. He had us bow to the sensei, bow to the shrine and bow to the high point of the dojo. "Do you both agree to abide by the rules of honorable combat?"
We both nodded.
"You can agree to fight to either the better of three falls, or to fight to submission or knockout."
Montana beat me to the response. "Submission." He finished with a nasty grin in my direction.
"Even so, a stubborn young student may prefer broken limbs or even death to admitting defeat. This is not something that I will allow in my dojo. If I declare a winner, do you both agree to abide by my decision?"
We both nodded. He rattled off the terms of the contest - stay on the mat, no weapons, step away from your opponent when the referee tells you to, the usual. Then he sent us to our places. Monty made a production out of taking off his shirt, leaving him stripped to the waist, wearing only blue jersey exercise pants. He spread his arms, making a display of his broad chest and long powerful arms. Then he gave out a loud forward leaning roar at me.
I just responded with a Cheshire Cat grin. The decorum of the dojo usually decrees a certain solemness, a sense of taking the combat seriously. But ol’ Monty over there strikes me the sort who takes himself very seriously, and anger is a very good thing to have happen - to your opponent.
Then Ito Sensei barked out,"Hajime!" [Translation:Begin!]
I gave a brief barking "Kiai!" to focus and center myself. Monty was on his mark.
Then I began the wind-up to one of my more aggressive ‘Kiai’ shouts. That was what Monty had been waiting for. He burst forward, trying to catch me while I was in the middle of my technique. But then, I was expecting that. I broke off my faux-wind up, slipped inside his sweeping blow, and tagged him on the nose with the heel of my palm. I felt the cartilage crumple under the force of the blow.
I passed him and spun about. Monty was fazed, and shaking his head to clear his reeling senses. I tried to take advantage of his brief stupor to get in my second blow, but he brushed my leaping kick aside and threw me to the mat.
I turned the force of the throw into resuming my stance. Monty was back to himself, but raging mad. He gave a powerful leap into the air and was wildly waving his arms. I ducked under his leap, grabbed one of the descending legs, and leveraged him so that he landed face first on the mat.
He rolled out of that and apparently decided to take a more cautious approach. He crouched down in a posture that made the most of his long sweeping arms. He had me in a position where I’d have to go on the offensive, where I’d have to penetrate the defensive circle of his arms. Like hell - if he ever got one of those arms on me, he’d rip me apart!
I danced back to the very edge of the tatami, and grounded myself for a ‘Kiai’ yell. Monty spotted this and rocketed out of his crouch. Once he was committed to the strike, I flowed through his arms and gave him a powerful smack square in the center of his brow.
My opponent tried to get behind me by jumping over my head. I used his landing to secure his good arm in a lock. Keeping him off balance, I used my secure position to hold him still while I launched a rapid-fire series of jack-hammer kicks into his gaping open mouth. He teeth chattered with the force of my kicks, and then he got the bright idea of keeping his mouth closed. Perfect. That done, I threw him to the mat. He recovered instantly and came at me with a flying kick. Not a smart thing to do with a person whose as good with leverage as I am. I turned the force of his kick into a face-first throw into the mat, which he miraculously - more out of reflex than thought - recovered from.
Monty reeled again, and I used a circular kick to knock him off his pins. I kept this up for a while, keeping him off balance and unable to mount a real attack. With that second blow, I’d more or less won the match. Now all that I had to do was stay alive long enough to win. I had one more trick up my sleeve, but it was more in the way of keeping my arms and legs attached to my body than really beating him.
Monty broke away from me, and started furiously bounding around the mat. He was trying to manoeuvre me in to a position where he could get in at least one good punch, while staying out of my reach. Not staying in one place where I could nail him with a real ‘Kiai’ shout was pretty big on his agenda, too. Not that I minded - he was doing exactly what I wanted him to do.
I suckered him into thinking that he had a clear shot at me. But just as he landed, I poked him in the left shoulder. His left arm immediately went limp. I dashed out of his reach as he was dealing with the fact that his left arm wasn't working anymore. Then I gave a really obvious crescent kick, which sent him bounding out of its way. But then, I noticed that Monty used both arms very much to balance himself while he was jumping. And since he was right handed, he probably used his good hand as a weapon, thus developing the off limb as a balancing weight. But that balancing arm was now drooping limply, throwing him badly off balance. He went sprawling, and I was after him like a cat on a rat.
I got in a series of nicely cinematic punches and kicks from that point on, but to be honest, I was just marking time while my real plan worked itself out.
Monty’s swings of his good arm went more and more wide, and he left himself open more and more. Finally, I decided to end it before I really hurt him. I intercepted one of his wild swings and threw him to the mat again. But this time, I held onto his arm, and leveraged him into a position where he was face down on the mat, with me using his good arm to force him down onto the mat. He wasn’t in a position where he could use his legs, and his other arm was still paralyzed.
He struggled, but he couldn’t get any leverage to force me from my hold. I looked at Ito Sensei. "Sensei, would you?"
Ito Sensei nodded, and began a count-down. At ‘ten’, he finished with "Yame!" [Translation: Stop!]
I released Monty’s arm and stepped away from him. Ito Sensei gestured at me, pronouncing me the winner. A cheer rose up from the section where the Poe kids were seated, and there was a smattering of polite applause from everyone else, even the Twain boys.
I bowed to Ito Sensei and my still prone opponent. Then I turned and faced the Twain boys. I looked at Mirror, who was seated in the front row. "I trust that Twain Cottage will see to it -"
Before I could finish, I noticed a shocked look on the Twain boy’s faces. I turned just in time to see Monty less than a foot away from me, charging fist aimed at my head. I put everything that I had into a twisting dodge, but I wasn’t fast enough. There was a dull thud, a brief pain, and then everything went black.
Have you ever done anything really stupid, so stupid that you knew that it was stupid, even as you were doing it? Monty knew that he was doing the absolute worst thing that he possibly could, even as his fist was in flight, but he couldn’t stop it. He almost managed to catch the mouthy black chick flat footed, but she turned her head at the last second.
It didn’t help.
Monty felt his fist connect with the side of her head, and his imagination supplied the sound of fragile skull bones crackling and the squish of brains being pulverized by his fist. The force of his punch lifted her up off the ground. She spun sideways a couple of times in mid-air, and then landed in a limp heap on the wooden floor beside the mat.
Monty had a brief split second of absolute silence for the horrible knowledge that he had probably killed her to sink in.
Then the gymnasium erupted in a roar of outrage.
Everyone was on their feet and screaming for his blood. Poe Cottage was screaming because she was one of theirs. Twain Cottage was screaming because he’d disgraced them all. The Dragons were screaming because he’d dishonored the dojo. The Tigers were screaming because he’d sucker-punched a ‘sister’. And everyone else was screaming because what he’d done was just plain wrong
Before anyone could do anything, Monty felt himself grabbed from behind. Suddenly he was face down on the mat, his arm pinned up behind him in exactly the same hold that he’d only gotten out of a minute before. Not that he struggled. Oh God, just kill me now, he thought to himself. And despite everything, he couldn’t help but think that the worst thing was that he’d proven those goddam Alpha bitches right.
The more clear-headed students tried to keep the enraged ones from becoming a mob. As Tolman Sensei secured her hold on Montana, Ito Sensei faced the students, dampening their anger by his sheer force of presence.
Caduceus hurried over to the girl’s still form and laid a finger gingerly on her throat. "She’s still alive. There’s a pulse." Caduceus used her hair to probe Toni’s head and neck. "Nothing broken. I think that she managed to re-direct the force of the blow into all that rotational momentum when she was spinning. Still, I think that she’s badly concussed. Is she an Exemplar, or does she have some other kind of regenerative ability?"
Nikki came up, worry clear on her exquisite face. "Yeah, she’s an Exemplar. Level Two or Three, I think. She’s real strong and tough for her frame."
"Well, it’s still best if we get her to the Infirmary for observation." Caduceus pulled out a cell phone and dialled with her hands as her hair secured Toni’s neck.
Once the students were under control, Ito Sensei gestured for Tolman Sensei to let Montana up. Ito walked up to the hulking teenager and erupted in an angry spate of Japanese. Then he collected himself, and barked out, "You have disgraced this dojo! First, you will take this tatami out and burn it! Then you will return here, and you will scrub every inch of this floor until the stain of your dishonor comes off!"
Monty started to argue, but there was a sound of knuckles cracking. He looked around to see the Dragons and the Tigers standing there looking at him, apparently in agreement for the first time that anyone could remember.
I woke up with a splitting headache. Then I remembered the last thing that had happened to me, and I was glad that I still had a head to ache. Classic, simply Classic. The wookie manages to lay one hand on me and sends me to the hospital.
I lay there for a while, and actually managed to focus enough to put my Ki to work getting rid of this headache. As soon as the ache started to fade, I lay back and tried to relax. But there was the nagging thought - don’t I have homework due today? Do they accept getting clobbered by a teenage Sasquatch as an excuse for late work? The worst part is, I'm not sure whether it’s English or Math. It may be both. Ooog... Doing English AND Math homework with this big a headache. Maybe I shoulda let Monty rip me apart.
Then I felt something small land on my stomach. A squeaky voice said ‘Sempai!"
I opened my eyes and looked up into the felt eyes of a stuffed lion. "Jinn?"
"Are you okay?"
"Well, I thought that I was, but now I seem to be hallucinating. Shouldn’t you be in class or something?"
"It’s Saturday morning."
Saturday? Oh. Right. They scheduled the match for Friday night, so that if either of us got hurt, we’d have the weekend to recuperate. Well, they certainly called that one right.
Once Jinn lost her charge and Jade knew that I was okay, I had visitors. The nurse didn’t want a parade of visitors, but she let Jade and Nikki visit. "Hey, guys! What’s news?"
Nikki looked me over and tsked. "My, my - the doctors promised me that they’d replace that broken thing with one that actually works"
"Ha, ha - Hey, if you’re making bad jokes, then I must be all right"
"Yeah, the nurse said that they’re gonna keep you here long enough to make you eat hospital food, and then cut you loose."
*Blech!* "A fate worse than death! Get me out of here, before they make me eat runny oatmeal and over-steamed green beans"
Eventually, they did let me out, as long as I promised to take it easy for a week and not ram my head into anything.
I spent the weekend being Poe Cottage’s ‘wounded heroine’. Even Hippolyte was nice to me. Man, if only Scott and Greg could see me now, lying in bed with pretty girls attending to my every need. But then again, these girls are lesbians, and dropping in on another pretty girl in her nightgown -- well, there’s probably a smutty book or two in there somewhere.
Unfortunately, all that adulation over the weekend didn’t prepare me for my Monday martial arts class. Ito sensei pulled out some video footage of the match (I swear I never saw a camera), and ripped my moves apart. "See this?" He Slo-Mo’d the bit where I flipped over Monty’s head and boxed his ears. "What is that? That was completely unnecessary! Why would you do such a foolish thing, except for showing off! The tatami is not a place for showing off!"
"Actually, that move was the capping move in my winning strategy."
"Strategy? You actually used strategy? It looks more like you were just hopping around like a cricket on a hot griddle"
"Yes, I had a strategy! You don’t honestly think that I’d go up against someone who out-weighed me, out-reached me and out-powered me without a plan, do you?"
"The thought had occurred to me. And exactly what was your grand strategy?"
"Well, when I issued my challenge to Montana, I noticed that his breath was very hot. I also noticed that he went around barefoot, walked around with his mouth open and he habitually wore thin clothing. Then it occurred to me that Monty was covered from head to foot in long fur"
"That is usually the first thing that most people notice when they first meet him, yes."
"Well, as anyone who’s ever owned a dog or a cat knows, fur-bearing creatures can’t dissipate heat the way that us naked types can, through our skin. Dogs and Cats lose most of their heat through their ears, their noses and through panting. If they get stuck in an over-heated area, they suffer from heat exhaustion. It struck me that Monty must have the same problem. Now, people lose most of their body heat through their hands, feet and their heads. I couldn’t do anything about Monty’s hands or feet, so I concentrated on his head. If you’ll re-wind to the beginning of the match" - Ito Sensei obliged. - "You’ll notice that I finessed Monty into a fast attempt at a first strike. I was expecting it, and did a nose-bash, right here.
"Now, if you’ll examine Monty’s face, you’ll notice that his nose is very large for his face, with very large nostrils, and he has super-developed sinuses, furthering that ‘cave-man’ look that he has. My guess is that his sinuses are that developed so that they’ll help to expel heat when he exhales, thus giving him that hot breath that I mentioned. When I smashed his nose, I caused his nasal passages to swell, blocking off a lot of that. Then I gave him another whack right in the sinuses, to cause them to swell as well. Next, I went after his mouth. You’ll notice that through most of the fight, he keeps his mouth wide open, almost yawning. That’s because he’s unconsciously trying to expel as much heat through his mouth as he can. And here, I use the ‘jackhammer kicks’ to convince him that this is a bad idea. And the last big place where the head loses heat is, of course, the ears. Which is why I boxed them like that, to cause them to swell and retain heat.
"So, my plan from the very first was to cause Monty to over-heat himself, which he did, His moves got sloppier and sloppier, until he got to the point where I could safely pin him."
One of the other students asked, "What about that nerve paralyzing punch that you did on his left arm?"
"What about it?"
"Why didn’t you just paralyze him completely, from the get-go, and get it over with?"
"Well, you have to remember that _I_ challenged Him. If _he’d_ challenged Me, then I could have gotten away with it, since I would have been essentially on the defensive. But since I was the challenger, I had the burden of actually beating him, not just walking away unhurt. The reason that I paralyzed his arm was that he used it to balance himself when he jumped. Without it, he tended to flail about, working up a sweat that he couldn’t deal with. Which was exactly what I wanted him to do."
"Yes, yes, very clever," Ito Sensei snarled. "But then you go and Turn Your Back on him!"
"But the match was over."
"Oh? Maybe you think that the whole World is a nice, safe, civilized place like a dojo? No! It’s not! In the real world, people will try and attack you from behind, just like that! You should have expected that! Consider that your First Lesson in the real world of fighting!"
I folded my arms across my chest. "I THOUGHT that I had a referee who would prevent that sort of thing."
"Oh? Am I supposed to follow you everywhere, and make sure that nasty men don’t come along and attack you from behind? In the real world, you cannot depend that the people who are supposed to keep you safe will always be there! You should know that! Consider that your Second Lesson in the real world of fighting."
After class was over Ito Sensei came up to me with a bucket. "And now, you learn your Third Lesson in the real world of fighting."
"Don’t Sass Sensei. Scrub the floors."