Thursday, September 14, 2006

Superluminal

“So, what epic words of wisdom do you have for me this month?’ I asked.

“Grandmaster” Keith Hamster’s frenzied chomping on the mountain of crispy skin chicken and rice before him slowed marginally. “I don’t think much of that tone.”

As usual, I had to fight off the cognitive dissonance of this fat, bearded middle-aged man stuffing his face across the table in his favourite Chinese restaurant, “The Blue Lobster”, billing himself as a “Kung Fu master, with the fastest reflexes in the world”.

I shrugged. “I need an editorial for next month’s edition. I hope you’ve got some new and improved ways to present the same old crap all over again, because I’m tapped out.”

Hamster waved a waiter over. “More rice. And this tea’s cold.”

The slight Asian man looked Hamster up and down, appraising his designer-label black Chinese slippers, and one of the many elaborately embroidered padded silk XXXXXL frog-button Chinese jackets he insisted on wearing everywhere. Hamster had managed to go native in a China which no longer existed except in his imagination, without leaving Australia.

A smile played around the waiter’s eyes, threatening to spread down his face to his lips.

“I gather you’re new here,” Hamster said. His left hand shot out, effortlessly snatching the order pad from the man’s breast pocket before he could react. “Do I have to write it down for you?”

The waiter’s eyes widened. “No sir”. He took the proffered pad back and hurried away.

Hamster used his chopsticks to pack another large piece of chicken into his Insinkerator-like maw, before fixing his gaze on me.

“While I’m financing ‘Cutting Edge Martial Arts’, I won’t tolerate your disrespect,” he told me. “It’s not as if you’re the only magazine editor in the world. Besides, you’re my student, and I expect you to act accordingly.”

I felt like telling him if he treated his students like primary school children he should expect primary school behaviour in return, but I let it slide. Attitude was pointless.

He owned me.

Like he owned most of Chinese martial arts in Sydney.

Fifteen years ago, there had been a healthy variety of Kung Fu schools around the inner city. Then Keith Hamster had stepped off a plane from Hong Kong, with a brace of acupuncture, Kung Fu, and herbal medicine qualifications and certificates from a variety of Chinese masters and institutions, and, I surmised, as many packets of free peanuts he could pilfer from the galley stock.

He started one Kung Fu school, then another and another, saturating the market, intimidating the less brave of the existing school owners with dojo-storming and threats, working on the harder recalcitrants by setting up schools around the corner and drastically undercutting fees, loss leaders financed by his other business, importing Chinese herbs. Here too, he’d similarly cornered the market, like an exotic species with no natural enemies, disrupting the food chain and eliminating biodiversity.

My interest in Kung Fu had started with Hong Kong movies. Being able to beat the shit out of my enemies had irresistible appeal at the time. I was lucky enough to hook up with Luther Smith, a well-conditioned Choy Li Fut instructor whose party tricks included crushing stubbies with grip strength alone. He’d easily slapped around and kicked out the three Hamster goons who’d showed up to threaten him, one night about eighteen months into my training. But Hamster had entangled him so tightly in assault charges and restraining orders as a result, that he had had to close the school.

Luther, angry, and unknown to me at the time, had gone to Hamster’s school in an attempted reverse dojo-storm, but found Hamster’s freakish reflexes were… too freaky. He’d missed Hamster’s large form and punched a hole clean through the cover of a hanging heavy bag during the fight, but Hamster eventually started to run out of breath, and dispatched Luther with a palm slap to the temple.

“I am truly sorry it’s come to this“, Luther, black-eyed, told me as he locked the school for the last time. “But Hamster will send me bankrupt if I continue to teach.”

“So what now, Luther?”

“Security work. Driving around schools and factories late at night. Boring as hell, but it’s a living.” He shook my hand – ouch. “You’ve got some talent. Do what you have to do to cultivate it. Christ, train with Hamster if you have to. Don’t give up. I won’t either. I’m a long way down, but not out.”

I could have travelled eighty kilometres each way to an unaligned school, for which assimilation into Hamster Inc. would have been a matter of if, rather than when. I bowed to the inevitable and began training at the “Hamster Kung Fu” school in my local community centre.

I moved steadily up through the ranks, more a case of regular attendance and a high tolerance for bullshit than any real talent or hard work, and before long came into the inner circle of the great – in multiple senses of the word – man. He wanted a magazine to extol his virtues to a still wider circle, and gave me the job.

I hated myself for taking it. That I didn’t have more backbone. I dreamt of taking Hamster down, one sweetly executed KO. But whatever raw talents Luther had seen in me weren’t nearly enough for those freakish reflexes.

Hamster had a standing offer to match any challenger’s ten thousand dollars with his own, winner take all, should the challenger be able to knock him down.

“The result of a Grandmaster Hamster accidentally eating too much of a meal made from herbs infected by a rare fungus, at a remote mountain monastery in Tibet. He nearly died, but on recovery discovered that his nervous system had been greatly enhanced.”

So I composed the blurb on his website, reprinted in the magazine at intervals only far enough apart to avoid the numbness of incessancy. My thesaurus was falling apart as a result of frantic efforts to come up with yet more ways to rephrase the same old tired crap.

“An unfortunate side effect is that I gain weight so easily,” Hamster claimed. Anyone who had watched in disbelief at the multiple Everests of food he consumed at a single sitting knew different. His body’s gargantuan proportions indicated fitness only for fighting its way to the front of a McDonalds queue.

Whatever the truth, and there were lies aplenty, there was no doubting his reflexes.

There was a challenger every couple of weeks at his HQ kwoon in the early days. One look at his bloated physique and any reasonably fit bloke with mild macho fantasies would want to have a go. But no, he danced rapidly around all comers like one of the tutu-clad hippopotami in Allegro non Troppo, easily brushing off their blows. It was like the school canteen fight in “Spiderman”, had the hero been played by Mr Creosote. Catching houseflies with chopsticks, Mr Miyagi style, hardly stretched him. The challengers became less and less frequent until they stopped entirely.

The waiter returned with a teapot and insulated rice bucket, which he placed on the table without a word. Hamster did not thank him, but immediately began refilling his bowl with steaming white rice.

I waited until his mouth was stuffed full again. “What about these new articles from Steven Morgatelle? ‘Deconstructing Acupuncture’? ‘Modern Martial Arts – Out With Newtown, In With Einstein?’”

He tried to snarl with his mouth full of food. The result was somewhere between a splutter, choke, and a squeal. His chopstick hand flew in an aggressive semaphore as he chomped and swallowed. “NO.”

“But –“

“They’re rubbish, fruitcake stuff, and the man is a fraud! He knows nothing! He’s making it all up! The Chinese government put him in jail!”

I sighed. “And he was released after the charges were dropped. Have you read the articles? They sounded pretty convincing to me – and even if they’re not totally factual, they’re controversial. Controversy sells magazines. Reality doesn’t, as you of all people should be well aware.”

He sneered, looking the impressive distance down his nose and over his multiple chins at me. “What do you know? You haven’t even BEEN to Asia, let alone trained there for ten years, like me.”

“Morgatelle’s been to Asia, too. Kudos up to here from the Chinese Ministry of Science. The guy’s no clueless crackpot, he’s a scientific genius, professorships in both theoretical physics and molecular biology.” I looked into my drained teacup – no tealeaves, no future. “I’m just trying to investigate some new ideas”.

“There are plenty of new ideas I got from Asia that I haven’t told you or anyone else about,” Hamster said. “Enough to keep you and the magazine going for years, while I choose to keep both it and you. Remember that.”

I really wanted to forget it.

As a journalism student with an interest in martial arts, I’d heard all the hype, and seen little of it substantiated. I was promised miracles, I got cheap trickery. The promise of the stories, nearly always followed by exposure as either monstrous exaggeration or outright lies, had eroded my faith in martial arts, and with humanity.

Aside from Luther’s very real skills, the only two things I’d seen that lived up to their claims were Hamster’s amazing reflexes, and an unfortunate experience I’d had about eighteen months earlier.

A pre-Communist Chinese Shaolin Monk was visiting, and, like a fool, I agreed to act as dummy for the impromptu Dim Mak demonstration at his press conference, out of combined senses of participatory journalism and self-flagellation. Unfortunately for both me and my overdeveloped cynicism, it had worked. My back broke out in seven different kinds of boils like the surface of Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io, some two centimetres across, while my visual perceptions went fractal. In the mirror, I watched my pupils alternately dilate and contract every ten seconds out of phase with each other.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to travel to a secret cave in Tibet to beg the antidote from a Taoist hermit. I gradually got better after several days of convalescence, while being berated relentlessly for my foolhardiness by Naomi. Though she’d only been my girlfriend for two months, I was already describing her to acquaintances as “long-suffering”.

That night, after listening to yet another litany of complaints about Hamster, her eyes on the ceiling and her crossed arms and legs slowly ratcheting tighter as I droned on, she threw up her hands and yelled, “Why do you associate with these people? Why are you so obsessed with something that only brings you down?”

She jumped off the couch and stalked off to the bedroom, closing the door behind her. I sat there alone, staring into the Void.

Morgatelle’s articles had been a bolt of sunlight through the drabness of my vocation, which Hamster had done his best to snuff out.

But he’d failed.

Ignoring my normal aversion to courage, and instinct for self-preservation, I picked up the phone, and dialled the number Steven Morgatelle had included on his cover letter.

A synthesised voice greeted me. Rather than telling me to "leave a message after the tone," no, it asked me several questions about the prospective interview, as well as how I liked my coffee.

I came up with "soy late with lemon, mint and chilli" in an attempt to throw it, but it responded with "you're trying to be funny, right?" in that soulless monotone. I apologised (to a machine! Idiot!) and asked instead for a flat white, no sugar. The machine confirmed the appointment in two days’ time (“Mr Morgatelle has a meeting with some ANU research scientists in Canberra tomorrow”) , wished me "a nice day, unless you have other plans", and waited for me to hang up first, as would any experienced human telephonist.

Two days. I had some time for research. Google led me not to martial arts sites, but to various archives of university publications, and scientific papers. Morgatelle was a polymath; trained as a theoretical physicist, with a doctorate from the Sorbonne in France and an associate professorship from Waseda University in Tokyo. A photo showed him posing with a stunningly beautiful Japanese girl, both in academic robes, at Waseda. Then the flood of academic activity dried up for a while.

Morgatelle’s own website, a slick piece of work in black and graduated shades of red and orange, displayed a chronology of photographs taken in China, Tokyo and Australia, over five years.

He had spent most of his time in China, researching herbs, and earning the respect of locals by devising new genetic modification and hybridisation techniques, increasing both the efficacy and hardiness of several plants often used in herbal medicine.

Out of gratitude he was introduced to several of the highest regarded Kung Fu teachers, and he took to the training with his towering intellect, amazing ability for lateral thinking, and formable work ethic for several years, winning a number of provincial tournaments and also putting a number of would-be standover men and robbers in hospital.

“China can still be a lawless place,” he told me later. ”But then, so can Sydney.”

One page of thumbnails showed the Japanese girl, and he, smiling less and less, she growing pale and thin, first in a chair during family portraits where everyone else was standing, then a wheelchair, and then a hospital bed. The final link was to a single formal portrait of the girl in her prime, looking radiant, with the caption

Mariko Morgatelle
13 August 1967- 3 March 1999
Wonderful wife and mother
Never forgotten, always loved

About six months thereafter, Morgatelle registered several patents related to recombinant and junk DNA technology. A stunningly astute move - several drug conglomerates paid handsomely to license the technology. This made him unpopular with some fellow scientists who insisted the information should be freely available to all for the common good, but also gained glowing praises from the Red Cross and several dozen other charities after he licensed it to several non-profit medical foundations for free.

It also made him very rich. His private warehouse cum laboratory cum living quarters took up half a block in an industrial area a few kilometres South of the Sydney CBD.

His final work in genetic and biotech research was to be a paper on “The successful use of Gene Therapy to block the Motor Neurone Disease gene,” the patient being a unnamed five year old girl in which the gene was manifest but in whom no symptoms had yet been apparent. Morgatelle believed he had successfully neutralized it, and possibly increased the efficiency of the patient’s nervous system. Several colleagues concurred.

His published output then returned to theoretical physics - articles on gluons and supermassive black holes in the scientific press, most of it impenetrable higher maths.

I studied the formal photograph on his bio page. He looked scarily similar to Doc Brown, the mad scientist in “Back To the Future”. A full head of unruly white hair, big eyes, both intelligent and wild. The smile looked a bit too wide and tense around the jaw. He looked all too much like a violent lunatic someone had dressed in a suit and got to pose as a joke. I had to reread his scientific achievements several times, and remind myself that the lovely and intelligent Mariko had found him sane enough to marry, but my impressions of unease were not so easily expunged.

Digging a bit further, on the eleventh page of Google search devoid of scientific references, I found something else, on the China Daily website, English version. Steven Morgatelle had been arrested in Beijing, charged with attempting to smuggle illegal drugs out of China – a crime punishable by death. Searching the newpaper’s archives, I found that the charges had been, days later, downgraded to export violations, which carried a large fine and possible two year jail term. I checked the dates; the original arrest had been in November 1998; Mariko had died in April 1999. To call the arrest “bad timing” would have been a gross understatement. I wondered how keen he’d be to discuss that in my planned interview.

A few minutes before the appointed time, I pressed the security buzzer outside the featureless grey wall of Morgatelle's two storey laboratory/kwoon located in a large industrial area a few kilometres south of the Sydney CBD. The same genderless artificial voice asked me my identity and business. "Voiceprint verified. Please remain still for facial recognition scan." A few seconds passed. "Thank you. Please enter." Something heavy clicked inside the grey metal front door. I pushed it inward, then stepped through into a corridor of white tiles, chrome, spotlights and smoked glass.
There were several doors on either side of the corridor, one close on the right with a large trefoil biohazard symbol and "DANGER - RECOMBINANT DNA TECHNOLOGY – AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY" in ten centimetre block letters thereon.

Morgatelle himself stepped into the corridor from a door to the left about ten paces down. He wore a grey T shirt and black military pants over his wiry frame.

His face carried the same wild eyes and constrained intensity as his website portrait, alarming me. But then he smiled and spoke in a measured voice devoid of any trace of the edgy tension I was expecting.

"Mr Hope. This way, please."

I followed him into a large room carpeted with blue and grey mats, equipped with an impressive variety of training bags and several kung fu dummies made out of a matt black synthetic material. The only conventional furniture present were two vinyl and steel couches and a low glass table, on which sat a glass cup of steaming white coffee and a tall glass of greenish liquid.

A pretty little dark haired girl was sitting cross legged on the floor, open books around her on the floor, drawing with coloured pencils. She looked up at me inquiringly; I stood transfixed; she was the image of the photos of Mariko on Morgatelle’s website.

“My daughter. Angela. This is Mr Hope, Angela.”

“Hello, Mr Hope,” she said. Luckily for her she had her mother’s eyes, not her father’s.

An unwilling voyeur to the tragedy they’d shared, I waved to the child, weakly.

Morgatelle gestured to the couch facing the coffee cup, and folded himself into the other, taking a sip of mystery liquid from the glass.

"Spirulina, honeydew melon, ginseng and ginko," he told me. "Enhances brain function."

I hoped the coffee might help me the same way. I sipped - flat white, no sugar, per last weeks order taken by the synthetic voice.

"What do you want to discuss?" he asked.

“I wanted to talk about the articles you submitted to the magazine.”

He shrugged. “Sure”.

“Well, they were great, some of the most interesting and unusual martial arts writing I’ve ever read.”

“Thanks. But …?”

I sighed. “I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to publish them.”

He frowned, but looked more puzzled than angry. “Why not?”

“The publisher – my boss - takes a very close interest in editorial matters. He’s, er, not a fan of yours.”

“Who is he?”

“Keith Hamster.”

“Hamster?” Morgatelle barked, leaning forward. He didn’t look puzzled any more. “That fat arsehole –“

The little girl looked up with a scared face. “Daddy …”

“It’s OK, sweetie, I’m sorry” he said to her in soft tones. Then, to me, more quietly and controlled, “The Keith Hamster that runs Hamster Asia Import/Export?”

“Sounds like him. He owns plenty of companies.”

“Let’s just say, for now,” Morgatelle said, “that I’m not a fan of his either. For good reason. You’d better explain how you’re hooked up with him, if you want any more of my time”.

I started cautiously, talking only about the magazine and Hamster hiring me, but shortly I found myself ranting about my disappointments and frustrations, as if vomiting up a spoiled meal I’d eaten by mistake.

“I kept telling myself things were getting better, but they were slowly getting worse. Little things, nothing bad enough in itself but all added together … I’ve been like a frog – put him in a pan of hot water, he’ll jump right out – put him in cold and bring it slowly to the boil he’ll get cooked alive without noticing it.”

“Here’s a bowl of hot water for you, then. Just so you know what a ruthless fat bag of scum you’re dealing with. I was working in China. Some local scientists and I were looking at boosting the efficacy of Artemesia Vulgaris for moxibustion, via genetic modification.

“I was going to freight some of the GM product back here to continue my work, and still look after Angela, and Mariko, my late wife, who was living her last few months. I did everything by the book, and then, at the airport, my colleague and I have just dropped off the crates at air freight – and a dozen cops show up to arrest us.

“They charged me with drug trafficking. Turned out they’d been ‘tipped off’ by someone in the herbal import business in Australia. Luckily one of my colleagues was a Hero of the Revolution, for his agricultural work, and he was able to mobilise some heavies in the Ministry of Science. But, to avoid making a few bureaucrats lose face, I had to spend six weeks in a Chinese prison.” He sighed, looked tired.

“Six weeks that I could have spent looking after Mariko myself, before she died. I spent the time doing some training drills and meditation. Trying not to think about my poor wife slowly wasting away.”

“I did some checking when I came back here. I found out Hamster was behind it. He’d bribed someone in the Chinese Embassy to give him a heads up if anyone looked to be trying to compete with him, importing herbs.

“But that wasn’t it at all. These were experimental herbs, have to be kept under strict conditions, no telling whether they are safe for humans.

“I hold Keith Hamster responsible. Someday I hope to make him pay. But, I’m in no hurry. Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

I nodded. “I’d love to see that fat bastard go down. Watch someone beat him up, or do it myself. But you know about this reflex thing of his, right?”

“I’ve heard something. I don’t believe that story about the rare fungus. More likely, in my opinion, that he uses acupuncture along two of the extra meridians to stimulate his central nervous system. A closely guarded secret in China, but fairly straightforward conceptually, if you understand graduate neuroscience.

“That explanation also accounts for his concurrent, er, weight problem. Big appetite, right?”

“That’s the understatement of the century.”

Morgatelle nodded. “It figures. Dangerous really. Won’t do much for his life expectancy.”

“You’ve heard about this challenge if his? $10,000 to anyone that can knock him down?”

Morgatelle nodded. “Yeah.”

“Can you think of any way to get around those ultra-slick reflexes of his?”

“I could probably find a way to get faster than him through DNA modification. But I don’t want to screw with my physiology any more – I’ve already done enough, hardening the bones in my hand by using gene therapy to bind titanium to their cells. I’m not that interested in serious fighting any more, for that matter, unless I absolutely have to.”

He looked across at Angela, now happily drawing on sheets of butcher’s paper with crayons. “I have my little babe here to think about,” he said, smiling.

“What about me? Could I do it?”

Morgatelle shook his head. “No. I think it’s morally wrong for me to mess with another person’s DNA … I’ve done it before, but that was where a patient was dying and this was the only possibility for a cure.” He looked up at me. “Besides, you take Hamster’s route, you’ll end up with the same problems he has. Do you want to become a fat bastard like him? You’d turn into that which you despise.”

I must have looked pretty glum, because he said, “Hang on … there may be other possibilities. You’ve seen Hamster in action?”

“Yeah. And I’ve sparred with him. I’ve sparred guys, pros with lots of ring time, and they seem to know what you’re going to do even before you do it. Hamster’s different - you can catch him flat footed and out of position, but his reflexes are so fast that he can still see what you’re doing, and counter or evade it, at the last instant.

“With someone like Luther Smith, my first instructor, I couldn’t get set up before he’d have me off balance or on the floor. With Hamster, you’re getting off what on anyone else would be a solid shot, as his defense is pretty average technically, but he manages to evade it because he’s so fast. If you could move faster than he could see or move himself, you’d have him easily.”

Morgatelle got up, and paced. “Move faster than he can see … faster …” he went to the whiteboard, and started drawing diagrams and equations.

I sipped the coffee, now lukewarm, watching Angela and her father, she with her crayons, he his whiteboard, each engrossed in their project.

Morgatelle held his chin in one hand, marker pen gripped cigar-like between its index and middle fingers, inspecting his scribbles. He stood unmoving for almost a minute. “OK. There should be a way. There is a finite limit to how fast an attack Hamster can track.” He looked back at me. “If you really want to do this, there might be a way. I’ll need a few weeks verify that it is physically possible, but it looks good on the drawing board. You’ll have to do some hard training, and really you should start that now. If you’re serious.”

“But wait, what do I have to do, how does it work – “

Morgatelle shrugged. “Close on him, and strike him, faster than the speed of light.”

So matter of fact was his tone, he might have said, “go down the takeaway, get in line, and buy me a ‘burger.”

“What! How?”

He held up a palm. “Trust me. You’ll need a pretty heavy scientific background to understand it. And even then it remains something you’ll have to experience to appreciate.

“Take off your jacket and limber up. I have some ‘light-body’ drills for you to practice. I’ll show you those, then we’ll run through a little theory.”

He showed me some breathing exercises, "to get the qi up from the Tan Tien to the solar plexus," and some complicated and intense leg exercises and agility drills. "Do these. Every day."

Afterwards, while I was stretching out my cramped thighs, he asked, "How much do you know about tachyons?"

Physics I at university hadn’t been a complete waste of time, then. "Hypothetical elementary particles which travel faster than light?"

"Uh-huh. You understand that you can’t accelerate a body with mass greater than zero to the speed of light, because you’d need an infinite amount of energy?"

“Um…”

“OK.” He used a well-worn felt eraser on the whiteboard. Then he wrote up a series of equations, speaking simultaneous incomprehensible geekery with marked enthusiasm, ending with:

E = mc2/sqrt(1 - v2/c2)

"... so, as the velocity, v, approaches c, the speed of light, the denominator approaches zero and the energy required moves asymptotically toward infinity."

"Errrr ... OK. So how about these tachyons?"

"Well. If v, velocity, is greater than c, then E must be imaginary, like the square root of minus one. UNLESS - m, the mass of the moving body is also imaginary, so that then E is negative - "

"Excuse me," I said, "So to go faster than light, a particle must have imaginary mass?"

"Right!" Morgatelle grinned. “and the same applies for a spaceship, human body, …”

"But how?”

He stared off into space, over my head. "Mmmm. I'm not sure I can explain it until you've experienced the "light body" training for yourself. It's similar, but different ..."

"Can you give it a shot? Please?"

"Well, you do the same thing, but sort of go off in another … direction ... dimension ..." He frowned. "No, I don't think I can explain it adequately. If you're REALLY serious about understanding this you need to experience it yourself."

“Do the drills,” He told me. “Come back and see me in six weeks. But call me anytime.”

For the first four weeks, it seemed to be a slow old business practicing Morgatelle's drills. But if they weren't boring, then they wouldn't be called drills. And I really wanted this to happen ...

I'd been doing the seated meditation in half lotus position. Breathing high in the chest. Even though I was meant to be stilling my thoughts, I was thinking about those Transcendental Meditation guys, hopping around the floor on their knees and butts, kidding themselves and anyone gullible enough to listen that they were learning to fly. "And why was I any better?" I suddenly thought, opening my eyes ...

Which were at the same level as that of the ceiling lamp. I cried out and fell seven feet, landing on my living room floor in a heap. OWWWWWW. I would have a sore tailbone for a few days.

I limped quickly to the phone and rang Morgatelle. "Hey!" I told him. "It works. I was meditating, and all of a sudden I was floating up near the ceiling."

"Of COURSE it works." The effort I could hear in his voice to sound patient and not condescending was palpable. "You have two more weeks on this part of the programme. Use the time constructively. It’s not enough to be able to lighten during meditation, or have it happen outside of your control. You’ve got to learn to apply it when you want it."

After dozing off on my bed one afternoon and waking, barely aware of my nose brushing the ceiling paint, then crashing back down, onto the mattress, thankful and now WIDE awake, I started tying myself to the bed when sleeping.

Naomi, who had been becoming steadily less patient and forgiving with my weird schedules and routines, misinterpreted this auto-bondage as a hint that she wasn't providing me with an adventurous enough sex life.

She refused my request for assistance in applying the straps, screamed an itemized and surprisingly long list of my failings at me, slammed the bedroom door and left the flat to move in with her sister.

Good for the short term, I tried to convince myself, as I was meant to abstain sexually, something I’d avoided discussing with Naomi. That immediate problem was now solved, though my longer term romantic plans were now looking shaky. Still, commitment required sacrifice and if sacrifice was what it took...

Sacrifice. Hah. Who was I kidding? I was doing a job I hated for a man I despised, and while I trained, Hamster’s curriculum was a hodge-podge of “deadly” techniques, most of which, if I were truthful, I would never have attempted if my life were under threat, I was going through the motions – no passion.

Naomi was just one less commitment, one less thing to stop me drifting aimlessly along. The only goal I had that was my own was vaguely possible revenge on Hamster, and the only real discipline I had was Morgatelle’s drills. And even then, I was having a bet each way – I had put out another edition of “Cutting Edge Martial Arts” in the interim, and having meetings with Hamster for another. A real man would have made a firm choice … and I was putting it off as long as I could.

I started putting a heavy barbell over my crossed legs for the seated meditation. Every time I floated up unintentionally, I concentrated on settling slowly back down, mostly avoiding the sudden two inch fall that resulted from distraction. The little drop still hurt, but it was better than plummeting from ceiling height or worse.

The morning the six weeks were up I leapt out of bed in anticipation - what would have been my long parabolic trajectory out the bedroom window was halted by the strap tying my left hand to the bed. I more or less armbarred myself and it hurt, though the alternative of a long arc out the window and into the shrubs at the end of the garden two stories down might have hurt a lot more.

"So," Morgatelle said when I arrived, "You've mastered the light body practice?"

"Mastered" was way too strong a word – the process was in charge, not me. "Something like that," I told him.

"Hmmm. Well, it was a bit of a crash course, only six weeks."

He was right about the "crash" part. I was hurting all over from light body related mishaps. The day before, feeling adventurous and bored, I had tried jumping backwards up into a tree, television ninja style, and missed the target branch.

"OK. So I've learned how to turn my mass negative, right?"

Morgatelle nodded.

"So how do I get it to go 'imaginary'? So I can break the light barrier?"

Morgatelle passed for Rodin's "The Thinker" for a few seconds. "OK. We can see and operate in three spatial dimensions. The fourth, time, we pass through in one direction, but as far as our senses and physical laws are concerned - except at the very large and very small ends of the continuum - we are unable to move with any control within that dimension.

“However, with some slight adjustments to the light body exercises, you should be able to move, not just in a negative direction against gravity, but into a fifth dimension, at right angles to each of the first three. In doing so, your mass becomes imaginary rather than negative, much the same as the way complex numbers, involving factors of i, the square root of minus one, must be represented in two dimensions rather than the single dimensional continuum of real numbers - integers, rational numbers, surds, transcendentals ..."

"So - how do I do this?"

"It's impossible to explain - a matter of experience. In three dimensions you have six degrees of freedom - back, forward, left, right, up, down," he said, moving his hands to demonstrate each in turn. That's basically all our perceptions have been educated to handle. But you have to EXPAND your perceptions to see the other two degrees of freedom. Think on that - freedoms you never know you had, freedoms you couldn't even perceive! Escape your four-dimensional space-time prison! Funny thing is, if you read some of the Buddhist sutras, the I Ching, even some of the gnostic gospels, you'll find allusions to this."

Morgatelle stopped, looked at me, appraisingly. Apparently, he had decided I’d reached my level of incompetence.

He resumed his seat on the couch, remaining silent, giving my brain an opportunity to recover from its TILT! Status, and to finish my coffee.

"So," said Morgatelle. "For you, a new regime of meditation. But keep practising the light-body drills." He demonstrated some new ones, this time designed to localise the mass reduction, in an arm or a leg, much like I'd seen other Kung Fu masters move their qi into their extremities, to do maximum damage to stacked bricks, or the vital organs of their sworn enemies. "Come see me again in a couple of months."

"But ... what am I trying to do? What is the goal?"

"Find those extra degrees of freedom."

I did as instructed. I kept remembering the light-body stuff had worked, and reminded myself of the satisfaction Hamster's comeuppance might bring, every time the exercises got boring or I got doubtful, which happened all too often.

Seeing the two extra degrees of freedom was almost anticlimactic. I had performed the prescribed regimen of acupuncture-based self massage to activate various parts of the frontal cortex, then undertaken the prescribed meditation, visualising the qi circulating around my eyes and though my sensory nervous system. Once done, I opened my eyes. Everything swam for a few seconds, like a reflected image in a pool into which a small stone was cast. The new directions were just suddenly just there. At right angles to forward and back were left and right, at right angles to both of those were up and down, and at right angles to all of the above were these new directions, which, Morgatelle told me later by phone, he called "levo" and "dextro".

Morgatelle told me, "Now work to take your light body exercises in these new directions. But go SLOW. Whatever you do, DON'T try to move fast, let alone go faster than light. It's highly dangerous, and I don't want you trying anything like that except under my supervision."

Morgatelle called me a couple of weeks later to check on my progress.

"Good, I think." I could now stay on the ground when doing light body, though it required concentration. I could "lighten" my arm and lift a ten kilo dumbbell, without muscular effort. I could make my kicking leg go light and hold it sixty degrees above horizontal for minutes at a time. I could jump in the air and stay there long enough to kick ten imaginary opponents.

"Stunts," Morgatelle snorted. "Come in tomorrow, I'll show you some SCIENCE."

I had parked outside Morgatelle's building and just shut the door behind me when three big guys stepped out of the shadows. They wore black T shirts with a large yellow hamster, rampant in kung fu guard pose, thereon, above the legend "HAMSTER Martial Arts”, in large, pseudo-oriental bold font. Idiots! Why identify yourself, especially with Morgatelle's security cameras recording the whole thing? Still, people do stupider things in fights, and too often the guys that did the "smart" things still ended up as victims.

"Hope! You punk!" One of them yelled as the other two outflanked me, "Grandmaster Hamster sends his regards!"

They all closed on me at once, charging with simultaneous blows. No escape - other than straight up, which is where I went, kicking two in the face as I did so, landing on the shoulders of the third, knocking him prostrate. So much for me thinking light body had no practical application. The three of them were prone or supine on the floor, just like in a kung fu movie.

Unfortunately, unlike in a kung fu movie, they all immediately leapt their feet and charged me again. I was blocking and dodging some blows, levitating over others, but I was absorbing as many shots as I was blocking or evading. My conscious mind switched off and went into a fugue state; the two extra degrees of freedom, which, during my exercises seemed hazy an unattainable, were now RIGHT THERE, and I was moving through them just as through the other three - and indeed through the fourth, time, though it seemed I had precious little of that just then.

Reflexively, I punched hard and fast through all five dimensions. Then I felt a sudden resistance, then screamed with pain ... my punching hand felt like I'd thrust it into a furnace.

The three were closing in, raining blows as I huddled crouched over my injured hand, their faces masks of obsessive rage ... then one suddenly uttered a strangled cry of pain and toppled forward, clutching his groin. The other two turned, one directly into a vicious overhand right from Morgatelle ... he was down and out. The third tried to Thai-kick Morgatelle, but he stepped off at an angle, delivering a solid cut kick of his own to the kicker's supporting leg, splitting his stance, followed by a rebounder round kick to the short ribs and a palm-heel to the face.

Morgatelle removed a small silver cylinder from a pocket, and held it in his fist. A yawara stick, I thought, a punch enhancer. But then the top end telescoped out, to form a baton about sixty centimetres long; then, starting at one and of the baton, it grew pointed and flattened itself out, mutating into a double edge blade, two prongs appearing above Morgatelle's hand like tree buds, bifurcating into branches to form a short guard. It cycled back to the yawara and then a couple more times to baton and blade. Showmanship perhaps, but the Glock nine millimetre handgun in his other hand was all business.

"You idiots wanna keep playing?" he snarled at my assailants, pointing the gun at each in turn. "Whatever game you want."

They cursed at him, but hobbled away.

Morgatelle helped me inside. The security door clicked into place behind us.

"My hand. AAAHH!" I cried. It was throbbing, agonised, swollen and blistered to the elbow. He took me into his kitchen, stood me in front of a sink, and turned on the tap. "Put your hand under the water," he said, dragging a stool over for me.

"Sorry," I told him. "I didn't mean to try the faster than light punch ... with all those drills for so long ... it just came out ... Man, but that hurts!"

"Don’t feel too bad," Morgatelle said. "I saw it all on the monitor. You have to be really precise with the angle of the punch ... otherwise the mass behind it is not totally imaginary. So you end up going very close to the speed of light ... but at that acceleration, all that radiation, light, heat, everything gets Doppler shifted into very small wavelengths, X and gamma rays ... so basically what you have is a bad radiation burn. Any faster, your forearm would be a smoking stump of charred bone."

"AAAHHHH ... it hurts ... I have to get to a hospital."

Morgatelle snorted. "You need urgent treatment, no doubt. But I have something here which will heal you far quicker than any hospital. This way." He wrapped my arm in a wet towel, then guided me to the door I had passed on the way in on my first visit, marked with the trefoil biohazard symbol and the legend "RECOMBINANT DNA TECHNOLOGY - AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY."

A black oblong box, about three meters in length by two across and high, stood imposingly in the middle of the room. It’s surface was covered with buttons, switches, dials, monitors and other components. "It can handle a full body treatment, but the small amount of radiation involved means it’s best kept away from major organs and the reproductive system. I need a DNA swab from your cheek." He pressed some buttons on the side of the black box, and two hatches, one about five centimeters square and another about three times the size opened. Morgatelle got me a chair. "Put your arm in there", he told me. I did so, and a black membrane appeared from all sides, enclosing my arm. The swab went into the other hatch, it closed. Morgatelle pressed some buttons. A low frequency humming sound, just audible, started. The searing agony in my forearm began to diminish, replaced by a not unpleasant tingling sensation.

"What's this all about?" I asked.

Morgatelle picked up a remote control, clicked a button, and a screen slid down the wall I was facing. "Nanotechnology. Gene therapy." The screen lit up with two windows, each showing the unmistakable double helix of the DNA molecule. Then both panned back, reducing the magnification until each double helix became a single thread. Along each thread moved something that looked like a railway handcart made of Lego. "Two sets of nanomachines," he said. "One reads the undamaged DNA from the sample from the undamaged area - your cheek, while the other rebuilds the radiation-damaged DNA and then your cells in your arm using the good sample as a blueprint."

Something told me this wasn’t covered by Medicare.

"Stay here for half an hour," he told me. "The machine's on a timer, it'll turn itself off. “That timer” – he pointed a to red LCD digital clock, 28:51 and going backwards – “will go to zero”. I'll be up the corridor."

I watched the timer cycle down. Martial arts were full of grandiose claims and charlatans, with very little new under the sun. Morgatelle had shown me something completely new, no tricks, something real, and helped me every step of the way, kept nothing secret, even stepped up and put himself in the firing line to save me from a beating or worse. He was even treating my injuries.

Taking sides to me had previously felt like a betrayal of some concept of journalistic impartiality I’d entertained. My arrangement with Hamster had always felt like the worst of all possible sellouts, making me a pathetic fraud.

But now I felt a different loyalty. And this time it felt good.

When the timer hit all zeros, the machine released its soothing grip on my arm; it felt much better. A few blisters and red patches remained, and the knuckles were still tender, but it looked as if weeks of healing had passed since the radiation burn, rather than a mere half hour.

Up the corridor, Morgatelle was yelling into a silver cordless phone with a dock that looked like the Starship Enterprise. "… I've got the whole thing on security video, including your stooges assaulting my associate, and then getting their arses kicked."

I heard an agitated tone from the other end.

"Give up the threats, Hamster! Leave me alone, and leave Allen Hope alone! You're just digging yourself a deeper and deeper hole - though it'll probably never be deep enough for your gigantic fat arse!" He slammed the phone back into its cradle.

He stared into space, fuming, for a few seconds. Then saw me. “Sorry. How’s your hand?”

“Much better. Thanks.”

“Good.” He took it with gentle hands and inspected it. “A smaller number of nanomachines remain on your arm, still at work. Don’t wash it until tomorrow morning. It should be healed by then”.

“Jeez,” I said, “I didn’t realise the techniques could be so dangerous.”

Morgatelle nodded. ”This is not qigong, dealing with puny electrical forces via meridians.

”We are harnessing the fundamental forces of the universe – gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces, et cetera. Heavy stuff. But to my mind the potential benefits for science outweigh the calculated risk.”

“Risk? Of what?”

“Well. First, as you just experienced, the consequences of failure. The dimensional vectors have to be exact. If the punch doesn’t move completely through the fifth dimension, levo-dextro, you have a partially non-imaginary mass to move, then you get all the problems of the energy required to reach light speed moving asymptotically toward infinity. The Doppler-shifted radiation bath will fry your punching limb, as you now know only too well. I’ve wouldn’t allow anyone else to follow my example, but I altered some of my DNA to infuse titanium atoms into the bones in my hands and forearms, from supplements I take. Higher resistance to impact, which was my initial concern, but also, as it happens, to temperature. Ceramics might be better than metal in that regard, but it’s hard to duplicate that sort of molecular structure of ceramics without firing them, obviously impractical in vivo.”

“So it’s sort of like iron palm training,” I said.

He made a thoughtful face. “Hadn’t though of it that way. And it’s not ‘iron palm training’, it’s really ‘titanium-carbon fibre palm training’. And, to be precise, it isn’t really training at all, it’s somewhere between implants and gene therapy.”

“Anyway, in some ways success is potentially more hazardous than failure. When you go superluminal, according to Special Relativity, what appears to be faster than light movement in one frame of reference, can appear in another as time flowing backwards.

“In such situations, ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ no longer have any meaning. This can present enormous problems – take it far enough you could go back in time and murder your parents before you were born, creating a horrendous paradox in space-time. What might happen to you in such an instance is not known, and probably can never be. Suffice to say, if it looks messy in theory it may be much more so in reality. Bad karma working in reverse. So – only when nothing else will work.

“And … it’s like anything else in martial arts. Rely on it totally, it becomes a crutch, an obstacle to progress. So many so-called martial artists out there are looking for the magic technique – “If done properly, no can defend” – and admittedly, this comes pretty damn close, seeing as in the guy you’re hitting’s frame of reference, the strike will ALWAYS land before he can perceive it, let alone evade or block, due to the backward flow of time. But Miyamoto Musashi counselled us, ‘do not have a favourite weapon’ – and I think he was right.”

He sighed. “The fact remains that, even with exotic and sophisticated techniques in your arsenal, you still have to have sound fundamentals, basic delivery systems. If you can’t fight without the exotic techniques, you won’t be able to fight with them.” He pointed to the exit. “I just hit those guys out there with basic punches and kicks to soft targets. Nothing relativistic.

“You can enjoy the icing on the cake, but don’t try living on it.”

Angela’s voice came over an intercom. “Daddy, can we have dinner soon?”

“Yes, sweetie,” Morgatelle was smiling. “Mr Hope will be joining us. Could you start setting the table, please? I’ll be there in a minute.”

I felt ashamed, guilty, incomplete. “Look,” I said. “What you are doing here is going to change martial arts more in the next year than Hamster and his ilk have in the last three hundred.”

Morgatelle shrugged. “That’s a big call. But…?”

I shifted from foot to foot. ”I’d like to be part of what happens next, as well as documenting it.”

“Well…I was looking at starting classes soon, just small groups. I don’t need the money, but I do feel my research and its application needs a wider, more popular audience.

“Classes. What sort?”

“I’m going to offer training based on traditional Chinese martial arts and medicine, but with a basis in rigorous science, rather than Hamster-style esoteric chicanery designed to impress the uncritical.

“There’s so much room for improvement regarding scientific kinesiology, strength and endurance training, applied learning principles, and basic physiology which could be applied to Kung Fu, but is not, way, way before anyone starts tinkering with relativity and quantum mechanics as you and I have.

“I’ll be looking for fellow instructors. You perhaps, with a year or so more training and a more detailed understanding of the science.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Sure. And right now, I need to set up a vehicle to explain what I’ve been doing in popular language. I was thinking of a blog on my website, at least to start with, you’re a journalist…”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Come on, let’s talk about it over dinner. Angela’s hungry, and so am I.”

After two more weeks of meditation, it was time. Morgatelle put me in the centre of a techno-black cylinder about six feet long and eight feet high, wearing dark goggles to protect my eyes from the three dimensional matrix of laser beams crisscrossing the interior. I took up a punching stance, slowed my breathing and stilled my mind, seeking the fifth dimension. A slight ripple effect crossed my visual field, and there were my new friends, levo and dextro. I punched. There was a loud “CRACK,” but no other spectacle until a blue glow appeared through the red lasers. Cherenkov radiation. Morgatelle told me it would the result of faster than light travel through a medium, in this case the air.

“One point three six five c,” Morgatelle said. “Congratulations, you just went superluminal.”

I tried a mid-level sidekick as well.

“One point two eight c.”


It took a couple of hours on the phone, but I managed to track down Luther Smith. He’d been doing security work at Parliament House in Canberra, and bouncing at a few nightclubs.

“Fly to Sydney to watch Keith Hamster get his comeuppance?” he said. ”Jesus, I’d fly to Neptune to see that!”

Two days later, I was in the back seat, Luther in the passenger seat in front. Morgatelle parked his black WRX around the corner from Hamster’s gym. I punched the gym’s number into my mobile phone with shaking fingers.

“Grandmaster Hamster, please,” I said to the male voice who answered.

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“Allen Hope.” A few seconds passed.

“Hope!” The dulcet tones were unmistakable. “What the hell are you –“

I pressed the red button. “He’s there.”

“Let’s go.” Morgatelle stamped the accelerator. We got a park right outside the gym. Morgatelle reversed into the space, so he wouldn’t need to reverse out. Good – so far.

Luther wore a loose, zipped bomber jacket, underneath which I knew he wore body armour and carried a holstered Glock nine in a shoulder holster. “I’ve got a carry permit,” he told me casually when I’d raised an eyebrow at this back at Morgatelle’s. In one hand, a walking cane of black carbon fibre. “The gun’s for show, the cane for go,” he had told me. A bank cheque for ten thousand dollars was in his pocket.

Morgatelle was clothed in black, like any self respecting relativistic post-modernist. He wore a complex rig on his head, with tinted visor, a small high definition digital video camera and several other more arcane instruments, linked via Bluetooth to a bunch of devices attached to a belt of black military webbing, to which was also attached a holster containing his own Glock pistol. He fiddled with the apparatuses at his belt, seeming far more concerned with ensuring the accurate measurement of various physical quantities associated with the upcoming confrontation, than with its result.

Unlike me. I was wearing a lycra bodysuit and skullcap with crash-test-dummy dots on my major joints, and various other parts of my anatomy. It was annoyingly tight and inflexible in certain places where various telemetry sensors and transmitters were woven into the fabric.

We climbed the stairs into the foyer of the gym. The guy behind the desk was one of the goons who had ambushed me outside Morgatelle’s building. His eyes went wide – no doubt we looked like aliens from three different galaxies. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

Morgatelle flipped up the visor and snarled, “Where’s Hamster? Tell me now unless you want your arse kicked all over again!”

“Tak..taking a class. Upstairs.”

We took the stairs two at a time, blowing through the swinging plastic doors just as the reception guy announced our arrival via the intercom, in agitated, breathless tones.

The fat man was standing at one side of the jigsaw of green and blue mats, looking over his shoulder. He seemed surprised, but not particularly worried, to see us. “Well, well, well,” he said, “Hope, Smith and Morgatelle. Dressed like some sort of second rate vaudeville act. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“I bought Luther and Steve with me to pick up the ten grand you’ll shortly be handing over,” I said, my voice sounding surprisingly calm and detached, at odds with how I felt. I wished I’d have worn baggier pants rather than this lycra monstrosity, so that if my knees started to shake no one would see.

“You...” Hamster turned to face us, looking at Luther then back to me. “Smith here I could understand wanting another go, but not you.” He shrugged. “What the hell, I assume you have the cash with you?”

“Bank cheque. Right here,” said Luther, opening his jacket and patting his shirt pocket, also showing Hamster and the class his gun.

Morgatelle stood fiddling with his equipment, seemingly oblivious to the gravity and ambient hostility of the situation. “I’m all set to record this. Any time you’re ready, Allen.”

I stepped onto the matted area.

“So,” Morgatelle said to Hamster, “If Allen knocks you down, he wins. Right?”

Hamster snickered. “Hypothetically speaking of course.”

“If he knocks you down, he wins?” Morgatelle said, a sharper edge to his tone this time.

“Okay. Yes. Whatever.” Hamster waddled over to the center of the matted area. “But I’m going to knock him down. Don’t blink, you might miss it.”

Morgatelle tapped the small camera mounted on his head rig. “Ultra high speed video. It will miss nothing.”

“I’ll want a copy of it. After.”

“Somehow, I don’t think you will,” Luther said.

Show time. I was in the balls of my feet, circling Hamster, out of range. I felt like a tiny moon orbiting the planet Jupiter.

Hamster shot in with astonishing speed. No time to sidestep, I used light body and went straight up, Hamster jerking his head to the side, evading the soccerball kick I aimed at it from six feet up.

Hamster pivoted, fast. I touched down across the mat from him. His reflexes were still lightning fast, much faster than mine. I was seeing levo and dextro. I was about ten meters from Hamster. Far enough.

I hit the dextro angle perfectly, and pulled my punch a centimeter short of approximate location of Hamster’s solar plexus – the thick layer of fat he carried meant that only an MRI could have made for precision targeting. From my point of view it took a tiny fraction of a heartbeat. My visual field shimmered and whited out for an instant; then I saw Hamster’s supine form ten meters across the room.

“YEAH!” Luther punched the air.

Three of Hamster’s students tended to their fallen grandmaster, like a bunch of beachgoers considering how to refloat a stranded whale. “He’s breathing,” one said.

The rest of the class turned and moved to surround me, faces full of threat. “Don’t!” Luther yelled, Morgatelle and he brandishing their guns.

“You idiots have two days to pay up,” Morgatelle said. He pointed at the desk guy who had followed us into the gym. “He knows where to deliver the money to.”

I jogged over to my friends, and with Morgatelle in front and Luther walking backward behind, guns in hand, we made our way slowly down the stairs and out the door, then to Morgatelle’s car. Morgatelle opened the driver’s door as Luther covered him, then he opened his window and covered Luther and I as we got into the car, until Luther was seated in the passenger seat, had the window open and was pointing his own gun at the angry mob on the stairs of Hamster’s gym. The fat man had not joined them – perhaps he was still out. Morgatelle put the hammer down and the WRX shot away. Morgatelle drove flat out for about a kilometre, then slowed to legal speeds and took a roundabout route back to his lab, taking the occasional loop to ensure we had no followers.

“What was that I just saw?” Luther asked. “That was weird. What –“

“I’ll try to explain when we get back to my place.” Morgatelle said. It’ll make more sense when you see the video.”

The video looked like it had been badly edited, some frames removed and others inserted out of sequence. The final sequence showed me and Hamster a distance apart. Then, apparently instantaneously, there was a loud “CRACK” like a firecracker exploding, and Hamster was on the floor across the other side of the room, as if frames had been removed from the video. Then I reappeared, suddenly, about halfway between my original position and that where Hamster lay, a streak of ghostly blue behind me, and a smaller one in front, like ectoplasm tracing the trajectory of my invisible punch. It looked like there had been more ham-fisted editing, with badly executed cheap special effects thrown in.

“What happened?” said Luther. “Looks like the vid got messed up.”

“No. No!” Morgatelle was grinning. “Watch again.” He pressed buttons on a small remote control. “That sound is Allen breaking the sound barrier on his way to much higher speeds. If he’d got completely into the fifth dimension a few microseconds earlier, he could have avoided that, but under the circumstances -” he grinned at me, “- I have no criticism. Everything else seems out of order when Allen exceeded the speed of light from the camera’s frame of reference, because anything going faster than light in one frame of reference can look as if time is working backwards in another.

“That blue light is Cherenkov radiation, produced when a body travels faster than light through a medium, in this case the air. Proof positive that Allen broke the light barrier.

“Allen pulled his punch. To actually hit Hamster at superluminal velocity would have reduced both his hand and Hamster’s body to their constituent subatomic particles. No, Allen created a powerful shock wave. That’s what put fat boy there on his back.” Morgatelle clicked another button, and the image on the wall disappeared. “Right. Excuse me a minute.”

He returned with a magnum of Moet et Chandon in a big ice bucket, a bottle of lemonade in the other. Angela followed, carrying four champagne flutes. He poured Angela her lemonade, then carefully filled the remaining flutes with champagne.

“To a great day,” said Morgatelle.

“Amen to that,” said Luther, as we skaaled.

Two days passed. Not a peep from Hamster. Our calls to his academy were routed to voicemail. Morgatelle and Luther drove past, but the place was closed up. An envelope containing a cheque for ten thousand dollars from Hamster Enterprises appeared under Morgatelle’s security door the next evening.

Morgatelle put the video clip up on bullshido.com, with a voiceover and lengthy text explanation. A huge flamewar ran the gamut of internet martial arts forums. Lots of “impartial observers” claimed the video was doctored; many more “ex-Hamster students” were asking where else they could train. They were directed to a page on Morgatelle’s website, detailing the address of Luther’s new academy, “The first year’s rent to be paid for by the $10,000 won from Hamster by Allen Hope.”

Luther, Steve and I were partners. Twelve months later, I was ready to test for my instructor level in “Morgatelle-Smith Green Lotus Kung Fu”.

“Green Lotus?” I asked. “Is there such a flower?”

“No, there isn’t.” Steve told me. “It was chosen deliberately by Luther and me to highlight the importance of the imagination.”

I passed an arduous grading in front of more than a hundred of our students. Both of Steve and Luther embraced my sweat-soaked body afterwards, then carried me on their shoulders around the gym to loud applause.

Hamster’s academy never reopened. Apparently he moved way up north to start a “New Shaolin Temple” for impressionable rich airheads. I could have followed it up journalistically, had I ever wanted to see the fat bastard again. Enough for one lifetime.

Steven Morgatelle has taken out patents on sentient shuriken that can fly superluminal. Sentience, via artificial intelligence, was required to detect the fifth dimension, and thus fly faster than light. Smart bombs? How about smart star-knives?

I sent Naomi some emails. We started seeing each other again. She finally moved back in a week ago. Apparently I’m fun to be around, at last.

Copyright Andrew Nerlich 2005/6

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