CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT (draft)

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CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

The next morning I wake up to claxons and day seven of Qualification. It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole week at the RQC.

Suddenly everything is racing, it seems—events, levels of stress, difficulty of classes. Things good and bad, mixed up together.

It’s actually hard to describe that day—and now that I think about it, most of the following days—because after that first week, nothing drastically weird happens, and it all kind of runs together and becomes a blur of general routine.

Everything, all the three weeks of Qualification that remain to us, are leading up to the day of Semi-Finals.

And that time goes by quickly and uneventfully for the twenty-one days that follow.

* * *

We attend classes where we learn more about Atlantis and how to fight and defend ourselves with hand-to-hand combat and with weapons of the Four Quadrants, particularly our own nets and cords. We hone our singing with complicated note sequences. We tone our bodies. Yeah, even those of us who are nerdy klutzes such as yours truly, improve. . . . And while my body still hurts constantly all over with a dull neverending ache, it slowly lessens every night as my endurance increases and my muscles get stronger.

In Agility Training I still get occasional last place demerits for running laps, but only three times in week two and twice in week three. On the fourth week of Agility Training, to my own amazement, I manage to squeak by without a single running demerit. As far as climbing and monkey bars, yeah, I barely learn to hand swing halfway across the scaffolding by the middle of week two, and finally cross the whole distance with my hands by the end of the third week, though inconsistently, four times out of seven. And on week four I make it six times out of seven. Oalla Keigeri gives me a nod of approval the first time I do it. And it feels kind of amazing!

Talking about amazing—turns out, I am actually pretty good in Combat. After that first time when I held my own against Claudia Grito, I find that I am quick and steady with strikes, punches and parries, that more than makes up for my untrained muscle weakness. Er-Du Forms become relatively comfortable if not easy after I learn to hold each precise position, because they make good natural sense, and there’s a logic and beauty to the combinations of movement. When the Instructors start scoring us, I generally find myself in the top third of my class when it comes to Forms. Of course it helps that I get that extra lesson time every night from watching Aeson Kass and Blayne in the evening sparring sessions—but more on that in a moment.

Combat classes get more interesting on week two when we are taught how to use cords and nets as true weapons. The key to our native Quadrant weapon, Keruvat Ruo tells us, is the potential for entanglement of the opponent.

“Think of a spider weaving a web,” he says. “The strands stick together and bind the prey with a combination of adhesiveness and tight bonds. The spider also injects a paralytic to render the prey unconscious. In your case, all you have is one out of three—the ability to create tight restraining bonds. Your opponent is neither paralyzed, nor is there sticky glue involved. All you have on your side is speed and the ability to tie knots and otherwise shape the cord to restrain your opponent’s mobility.”

For all of week two we practice a variety of intricate knotting techniques, so that Tremaine walks around whistling sailor tunes. “We’re in the navy, man!” he drawls. “I’m gonna start tying my locks together in new combo knots!”

After the fancy knots, we are taught combinations of loops and string figures that feel like a complex version of the “cat’s cradle” game, using finger agility. On the first day of week three, Oalla Keigeri shows us how to “hand-crochet” a net using nothing but string and our fingers. It is amazing, because it really does resemble crocheting with yarn, except there is no crochet hook, and in its place you use your index finger to pull the string into loops.

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