Batman at the Dojo

April 23, 2015

We all have a reason for coming here. I’m a bouncer, building up my toolbox. Daisy’s tired of getting hassled on the street. Kurt just wants to be a badass. Charlie’s a delivery driver who’s been robbed a couple of times.

It’s always been a small group. The core of it’s been the same for years–me, Daisy, Kurt, Charlie–but others have come and gone. The four’ve us have been around so long that none of us can remember when he started showing up. Nobody remembered his name for the first few days. Nobody knew quite how he’d found out about our place, either. You have to know somebody, but we never did work out who it was that he knew. We like it that way. There’s a certain kind of person who takes the time and effort to find an underground club. They’re persistent. Likely to stick around.

Of course, he’s got ways of knowing about things like that.

But nobody mentioned it. We know each others’ stories, and we don’t. It’s not a social club. I think that’s why he came to us. He knew we wouldn’t ask a lot of questions.

Why did he go looking for a place at all? He’s rich, he’s connected, I know for a fact he studied with teachers the rest of us will never have even the slightest hope of meeting, never mind learning from. But once I figured out who he was, it was obvious.

You can’t practice for a fight by yourself. That’s what all those movie training montages get wrong. Punching the air doesn’t tell you a thing about how those moves will work in a fight. You might as well sit on your couch and watch Youtube.

I think something happened. He’s cagey about media, you know. I mean for his vigilante activities. His other life, his public life, the more PR, the better.

I think he lost a fight. That’s the sort of thing you don’t hear about. But there was all this chatter about him going up against some crime boss, even videos and photos of the start of the fight, then it moved out of public view and nobody ever heard a thing about the outcome. You’d find something on Google and by the time you clicked the link, it was gone.

It wasn’t long after that he showed up. I mean, I’ve seen him fight. Not in real life, but I’ve watched the videos like everyone else. I’d call his style abrupt. Lots of jerking motions and quick sideways moves. No flow at all, but it seems to work for him.

But when someone’s been in a brawl they’re going to be a bit stiff afterwards, even if they won. And he was moving those first few days like someone had kicked him in the kidneys. That’s why it took us a little while to figure it out. We might not have recognized his face, but we’d have known him by how he moved. Everyone’s a little different there, and his style, well, it’s distinctive.

I remember the moment when I knew.

We were doing a sticking-hands drill. We do it to learn balance and control, and develop sensitivity to an opponent. It can transfer to being able to anticipate an opponent’s moves. Perfect for getting into a lot of fights with adversaries of unknown skill. I could tell it wasn’t his favorite thing to be doing–his patience is situational–but he went along with it. And there was a moment where I felt an opening. Just a little one, but we’re trained to exploit those, to open them up and use them to reach our opponent. So I did that, closing inside his guard and scoring a palm strike to his chest.

His reaction was extraordinary: a surprised grunt, a widening of the eyes, and then a turn to the side that, had I not anticipated it by the barest fraction of a second, would have ended with me flying across the room and into the wall.

I disengaged, with a nod to acknowledge, and went for my water bottle to cover my consternation.

Obviously he hadn’t wanted anyone to know. That’s the whole point of a secret identity, right? I don’t mean his public face, which all of us were careful not to recognize–it’s not like he was the first local celebrity to show up there, though usually they’re professional sports players or show fighters looking to up their game. I mean who he really was, the identity for which the playboy public persona was just a front and a funding source.

Why took me longer to figure out than it should’ve. I thought back to his evident physical pain those first few days, which we all chalked up to unfamiliarity with fighting, or an unpleasant experience with the personal trainer he could no doubt afford, or, mostly likely, getting mugged. Lots of people don’t try out this stuff until after the first time they could have used it.

But then I realized. He’d been beaten in a fight. The goddamned Batman had been beaten in a fight, and he didn’t want that happening again.

I just hope none of his nemeses show up here too.

Though I guess we wouldn’t know it if they did.

Short fiction recommendation: Nebula edition

February 21, 2015

The 2014 Nebula nominees were just announced, so this seems like a good time to start something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, namely push more short fiction at people. Even people I know who are fairly well-read in the genre (i.e. have read, or at least heard of, most of the Nebula nominees before they’re nominated) don’t read much short fiction or have heard of the authors.

Though I’d hope that most have heard of Aliette de Bodard, whose On a Red Station, Drifting was a previous Nebula nominee. In any case, you can read her nominated short story “The Breath of War” at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. As is usual with de Bodard’s stories–some of which I’ve had the privilege of reading in draft form–the level of craft here is exceptional. The author weaves the details and functioning of this world into the story so that the seams hardly show, and the characters, their relationships, and their concerns remain front and center. Families are often a prominent feature of de Bodard’s work, and such is the case here, but this is no mere character study. There is a broader canvas here, as is also the case with her other stories, and it rewards close reading.

Away and Returning

February 15, 2015
(Image: Woman of the Ardennes)

(Image: Woman of the Ardennes)

Their children were grown.

“I love you,” she said. “But I want to see the world, before I am too old to walk more than a mile in a day, and too bent with toil to care.”

“I love you,” he said. “But this is home, and the wheat is high, the cows give milk, and apples hang in the orchards in autumn.”

She packed a bundle, kissed him goodbye, and set out on the road that ended at their village.

She was gone a long time. When she walked back up the road again, it was with a limp, and she leaned on a stick. There were lines on her face that there hadn’t been before, and at least one new scar. Her clothes were different, and the look in her eyes was different too.

Every day, he had made supper, and sometimes someone from the village had shared it with him, but more often he ate alone.

Now he welcomed her in, and set the plate before her, and opened the wine she handed him from some far land, and the room smelled of sunlight.

“Tell me all about it,” he said, and she did.

The Company: The End

November 8, 2014

The story so far.

It took some days to rejoin the main company, all the while keeping our captive secure, and watching for those of his former companions who had escaped and might try to mount a rescue. But we made it in the end, and the Jarl was pleased.

Olemilekan and his companion remained with the company, somewhat to my surprise. But they pointed out that under the Jarl, they had some protection in a land where the very existence of sorcerers was taken as an abomination.

The swordplayer, on the other hand, used her share of the prize for the capture to buy out her contract. I don’t know where she went. The last I saw, she was riding south.

As for me, after thinking it over for awhile, I decided to stay on. Some people weren’t happy about my bringing in a sorcerer, but more were happy at the capture we’d made with his help, and at the general rise in the company’s fortunes.

We’ll see if I still think so in a few months. I’ve heard there’s a war on.

END

The Company: The Warrior (47)

November 2, 2014

The story so far.

The other Ashadin in the troop followed me back to where the swordplayer lay. By the time we got there, she had lost consciousness. Olemilekan stood to one side, watching, but when the Ashadin formed a circle around their fallen comrade, he and his companion mounted up and rode slowly back toward the rest of the troop.

Our prize was bundled onto his horse and brought back as well. I helped with that, not without a backward glance or two at the Ashadin, who sat so still they might have become statues. After a short while they were lost to sight.

The Company: The Warrior (46)

October 31, 2014

The story so far.

I got up, went to my horse, and rode back the way I’d come as fast as I dared. I didn’t even look back to see what Olemilekan and his companion were doing without me. I encountered the troop leader just riding out of the trees, the rest of her riders behind her.

“What’s going on?” she demanded, as soon as she saw me. “Report.”

“Quarry’s taken,” I gasped. “He’s all right, maybe a bit bruised. But one of ours is badly wounded. She told me to fetch the other Ashadin.”

Surprise, puzzlement, and even fear raced across the troop leader’s face in quick succession. But finally she shrugged.

“All right. If she wants to die with her people around her.”

The Company: The Warrior (45)

October 29, 2014

The story so far.

I knelt by the swordplayer’s side. Her body relaxed on the ground. Her eyes blinked. She groaned, her hands reaching for the wound that speared her front to back.

“Don’t move,” I said, though I couldn’t think what could be done for her. We had a field healer with us, but anyone with the skill to save her life would be back with the main company.

Olemilekan stood back from us, his face expressionless. I wondered whether he’d seen this, too, or whether his vision had enabled him to save our captive at the expense of one of our own.

“Get…the Ashadin,” the swordplayer gasped. A trickle of blood ran out the corner of her mouth.

“What?” I asked, stupidly.

“The Ashadin…with the troop. Get them.”

The Company: The Warrior (44)

October 28, 2014

The story so far.

“Look out!” I shouted, and she spun, her own longer sword coming out of the sheath at her back so fast that I never saw the blade.

Olemilekan shouted something in his own language, reaching toward the swordplayer with his hand outstretched.

The swordplayer froze. It took me a moment to realize that she had not stopped of her own accord. Olemilekan’s sorcery kept her from moving.

Our quarry’s blade sank up to half its length into her midsection.

The sorcerer’s companion and I ran forward together. She reached the man first, and kicked him backward so hard that he lay still on the ground.

The swordplayer, still frozen, slumped to one side, her eyes wide open.

The Company: The Warrior (43)

October 26, 2014

The story so far.

I looked from the ‘Ke woman to the swordplayer in confusion. This made no sense at all.

“Why would she want to do that?” I asked. In a moment, I had the answer: that, not turning Laszlo’s sorcerer in to the authorities–and thereby catching Laszlo up in the resulting prosecution–would be her vengeance for being dragged into this.

I turned to the swordplayer. “If you’re contemplating it, don’t. The Jarl is not kind to those who counter or fail to carry out his orders.”

She stared at me in confusion. “I’m not going to kill him! Why does everyone keep–”

Behind her, the man on the ground lurched. His blade came out from under him, sweeping toward the swordplayer’s unprotected back.

The Company: The Swordplayer (48)

October 25, 2014

The story so far.

Believing that I apprehended his purpose, I put myself between the sorcerer and the man on the ground. Olemilekan was a sorcerer, not a swordfighter.

And if he decided to use sorcery, I had a little of that at my disposal, as well.

“Stop!” Ivan shouted. “What are you doing?”

“What a good question!” I shouted back. “It’s all our asses if Olemilekan kills him.”

“He’s not going to kill him,” the sorcerer’s companion said. “He saw you kill him.”


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