Sunday, November 06, 2005


Busted is right, Brother/Sister. I was summoned to the Master Trainer's office today, after the morning's mambo primer. When I arrived, I found him seated at his desk, with his head propped up on his elbow. A pose clearly intended to convey exasperation, with his balding crown cupped in his palm.

"Sit down, Phutatorius," he said, without raising his head to look at me.

I did.

"We've had a complaint from one of the villagers."

I put on my best innocent face.

"It seems a blanket merchant's table was damaged. Do you have something to tell me?"

"Me?" I said. "I don't know what you're talking —"

"It was an American."

"It could have been any —"

"I read your last post on the Internet."

Shit. I hung my head. "Yeah, it was me."

The Master Trainer sat up straight, took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled. "It's important, Phutatorius, that we do our best to remain on good terms with the locals."

I looked at him.

"They are naturally suspicious of us. We are trained — or in your case, training — killers, and we have lived undetected in their midst for more than five hundred years. Now, suddenly, we step out of the shadows. The people don't know who we are or what we're about. It is right and just for them to be afraid of us."

"Master, the guy ripped me off —"

"NO!" My Master flew suddenly into a temper, and he slammed his fist on his desk. "WHEN YOU GO OUT INTO THE COMMUNITY, YOU REPRESENT ME, AND YOU REPRESENT THIS INSTITUTION. The villagers can cheat you. They can rob you of all your money and your clothes, then tar and feather you. AND YOU WILL NOT REACT. Unless you are IN FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE, YOU WILL NOT REACT. Do you understand me?"

"But Master, all I did was punch a table —" like you did just now, I managed to refrain from adding.

"You have talent, Phutatorius. You hear music deep in your soul, and you respond to it in really, er — creative and interesting ways. You have the ability to break entirely new ground in the field of dance-fighting. But you lack discipline and self-control. It is my burden and my role, as your Master Trainer, to teach you these things. And after six weeks of trying, I have to admit I've made very little progress. You have an incurable —" he paused, as though he were searching for the right word, "American-ness in you. An independent streak. I've seen nothing like it. It is perhaps your greatest asset. It is the source of your ambition, your creativity, your determination — but it is also the root cause of these Incidents of yours —"

"Master Trainer, respectfully, I stopped short of an Incid —"

"You need to learn humility, and you need to learn that your actions have consequences. Accordingly, you are suspended from classes for a week."

"But Master, I'll fall so far behind in my studies! It was just a dent in a table —"

"You'll spend the week in the blanket merchant's hut. You'll be helping him and his family. For starters, you can repair the table-dent. Once you've finished that, your marching orders will come from his daughter."

"This seems unnecessarily draconian, Master Trainer. A week's slave labor? Respectfully, sir, I think I'd be better served doing the usual thousand or more push-ups, or KP. Scouring pots and pans would at least work my upper body — wait. Wait a minute. His daughter?"

My Master Trainer smiled at me. "She was the one who came to complain. And according to her accounting, you did more than a few sols worth of damage to her father's marketing table. She says you broke one of her chicken's eggs."

"I sure did. With the back of my head."

"Be that as it may," my Master said, wryly, "my decision is final. Starting tomorrow, you will spend six days working for Señor Pachado. You will leave the Redoubt at sunrise and report back before dusk."

"But Master," I said. "That's ninety minutes' walk there and back every day. Wouldn't it be easier if I just overnighted there?"

My Master raised his eyebrow. "The Pachado home is cramped enough as it is. I don't suppose it would improve our standing in the community if it appeared I was requiring this family to quarter my soldiers."

"No — no, Master. You mistake me," I said, hastily. "I had thought I might be able to put up at the home of PePe's aunt."

"You'll be coming back here, Phutatorius. And I'll be watching for you. As for the length of your commute, you might consider running both ways, so that you don't forfeit your conditioning during your suspension."

I believe I grunted, at this point.

"The Ancient and Very Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting is no joke, Phutatorius. Those who learn this tradition must commit themselves to living serious lives. If you prove somehow — less than worthy of the Art, I will have to answer to the Council for choosing you for my student. You have a penchant for impetuousness that I find both admirable and, well, at times disturbing. You should know that other revered practitioners of the Art are less kindly-disposed toward you, and I cannot be forever bailing you out of one fracas after another. You need to right the ship — or at least appear to right it. So off you go."

"Master — the daughter: she called me a yanqui culo. Do you think I'm really —"

"You are dismissed, Phutatorius."

Did I detect the slightest of winks from my Master Trainer, as I rose from my chair? The most fleeting and evanescent twitch of his left eyelid?

More tomorrow, Brother/Sister — but right now I'm thinking I totally worked The System here. I just fell ass-backward into a week's vacation from training, and I'll be spending it with my fiery-eyed MBGIESP!

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