Sunday, July 14, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VII: Fighting for Pacifists

25 Autumn 1926

Lyta scowled as she left the Oxford Institute for Physical Advancement.

It was not, as dozens or hundreds of Badlanders might attest, that she needed to get into fights. Despite the smashed chairs and cracked tables she often left in her wake, she could live without bar fights. She was perfectly content not to be punched in the face or gripped in an arm-lock. What she couldn’t live without was movement.

Oh, there had been ample time for physical activities since her arrival in the Humanist Alliance. At the resort she’d played tennis and volleyball, jogged along perfectly manicured trails, and even taken dance classes. But she had felt all of them lacking the visceral sense of accomplishment of a fight well fought, and she’d found herself looking forward to their arrival in Oxford.

Now that she was here, though, she almost wished she was back at the resort. She had wanted to run the city, the way she had run in Prince Gable and Khayr ad-Din and Port Arthur. When she’d seen the security – widespread, almost omnipotent – she’d realized that running would have to wait. It wasn’t that racing along rooftops was illegal per se, but it would have been… unusual. Deviant. (A word the resort staff had spoken in hushed voices.) And while Lyta might have been afforded some leeway as a foreigner, the whole point of their trip to the Humanist Alliance was to lay low. Drawing the attention of the local Protectors was not what any of them wanted.

So while Lukas was waiting to meet his contact, Lyta wandered the streets. She didn’t speak Intralingua, but Oxford was cosmopolitan enough that she could find her way. There were plenty of gyms, shiny and polished with state-of-the-art machines and helpful personal trainers. Lyta avoided them. The thought of lifting a single weight, over and over, bored her to tears. The idea of running in place on a treadmill was so comical she nearly laughed aloud. So when a helpful desk clerk had suggested she sign up for classes at the Olympic training facility in the eastern part of the city, it was only a matter of minutes before she found herself headed in that direction.

The OIPA was a disappointment. Lyta knew it would be too much to ask for free-style sparring – the Humanist Alliance was pacifist to a fault – but there were martial arts classes, and Lyta browsed the listings with interest: classical wrestling, karate, judo, kendo, fencing, and a number of others. She had been excited for a few minutes; she’d never fought a true karate master before, and it sounded like an interesting challenge. At least, it had until she’d spent a few minutes watching the matches and realized that the masters fought on a point system and the beginners didn’t fight at all. With no formal training in the styles offered by the Institute, Lyta was informed she would have to start at the bottom.

There were gymnastics classes as well. Lyta stood on an observation balcony and watched them, watched the spins and tumbles and flips. Her heart sank. She had been accomplished, extremely accomplished, a decade ago. She had been on the path to the Olympics. She might even have one day competed against some of the gymnasts she now observed. But what was impressive for a girl of fourteen cycles was child’s play for a woman of twenty-four, and she’d let her training slide in favor of more practical skills. She might be able to walk into an intermediate class and hold her own, but the presence of world-class athletes would taunt her with the knowledge of what might have been.

She left unhappy and followed her feet at random. She wanted to punch someone, and held herself back only by reminding herself where she was.

She had gone a few blocks away from the main buildings of the Institute when she paused. In the clearing of a verdant park were men and women, maybe a few dozen of them. Lyta couldn’t decide whether they were dancing or training. The moves were too fluid for karate or judo, but the placement of the hands, the stances they flowed through, were reminiscent of martial arts. Lyta watched them, intrigued.

Without really thinking about it, she began mimicking their movements. There was no leader that she could see; the participants had divided themselves into rows and columns and moved together, with no one calling out time. Still, there were clearly some who were better than others, and Lyta’s eye focused on a middle-aged man in the front row who seemed to be more fluid and more precise than most of the others. She followed what he did, stepping as he stepped and turning as he turned. No one paid her much attention.

After a few minutes – Lyta wasn’t sure how long – the movements ended and the participants left their strict columns. Some left, some sipped water from a nearby fountain, a few stayed and talked.

The man Lyta had been watching approached her with a smile. “Ĉu vi trejnis kun ni antaŭe, frauxlino?” he inquired.

Lyta paused in confusion. “Anglic?” she asked back.

Without missing a beat, the man shifted to excellent, though somewhat accented, Anglic. “I had asked whether you’d trained with us before, miss.”

Lyta shook her head. “No. I’m not from here.”

The man nodded. “So I gather. But you’re welcome to join us if you like. There’s another session in a half-hour. If you’re interested, I could offer you some basic instruction in the meantime.”

Lyta thought about it. It wasn’t like she had anywhere else to be, and it would be an interesting exercise to see if she could learn the whole form before the next class. “What is it?” she asked.

“A meditation, for the mind and the body,” replied the older man. He held out a hand. “I’m Terrance.”

“Ryss,” Lyta said, taking it.

“Please,” he said, gesturing for the main clearing where the group had been practicing. “You start in a relaxed stance, like this…”

He led Lyta through the form, modeling and gently correcting. He was unfailingly polite, even by the standards of the Humanist Alliance, his soft voice always suggesting and proposing, never asserting. He paused before he touched her, waiting to be absolutely certain she didn’t mind that he adjusted her hand position or helped her find the proper center of balance.

In half an hour, they had worked through the whole thing. “You learn quickly,” Terrance remarked. “Will you stay for the next session?”

Lyta nodded. “Yeah.”

He seemed pleased by this. “If ever you have difficulties, don’t worry. Watch me, and find your place. It becomes more natural the more you do it.”

Other practitioners were already entering, finding their spots, and Lyta joined them, taking a position somewhere in the middle. Terrance, again, was in the front.

They began moving together, though no one told them to start. The movements flowed one into the other, pushing and pulling, stepping and spinning. It took Lyta a few times through before she was comfortable enough to stop looking at Terrance, and then she let herself fall into the form. It was nothing like the B’Ti, but it was both calming and focusing. And unlike the perfect solitary skill of the jungle courses, the meditative actions were heightened by the group that surrounded her, all moving in unison.

She was sad when it ended.

She was not out of breath, not sweaty the way she might have been after a bar fight or a long run, but she was limber and relaxed, the stress of her afternoon at the OIPA left somewhere behind her.

Terrance joined her as the others dispersed. “How did you like it, miss?” he asked.

Lyta nodded. “It was good,” she said.

He smiled. “I hope you’ll come back. There are Perfect Form sessions every afternoon.”

Lyta froze. “Perfect Form?”

Terrance paused, noting the change in tone. “That bothers you.”

“That’s… that’s the thing that was invented by the GRELs.”

Terrance nodded slowly in understanding. “Yes,” he said. “But self-enlightenment is not limited by skin color or genetic makeup.”

Lyta shook her head. “I don’t want anything to do with those purple-skinned bastards.”

Terranced looked wounded, and Lyta remembered that people in the Humanist Alliance rarely swore. She wondered if she’d offended him, and was surprised to find that she actually cared about hurting his feelings. “I’m sorry to hear you say that, miss,” he said. “The Perfect Form may have been designed by Jan Sebastopol, but it is no longer a movement only for GRELs. We humans are just as much in need of a balanced mind, body, and soul. I hope you felt that, just now.”

Lyta swallowed. She had felt it, and she’d liked it. She was disgusted with herself. She shook her head. “Thanks for teaching me,” she said with as much courtesy as she could muster.

“Of course.”

There were few practitioners left in the park now, and Lyta hated all of them. Or, rather, she wanted to hate all of them and found that she couldn’t. She missed doing the moves, even as she despised herself for missing them.

“We’re here every afternoon,” Terrance said. “If ever you should want to join us again.” He touched her arm lightly in parting, and then he made his way along the dirt paths of the park, leaving Lyta to struggle with her own thoughts.

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