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Less Than a Week
Monday — 5 Days to Go
Fuck. A whole gaggle of the club’s goddesses was gathered in
Alice’s Tea Shop. One of them was at the counter talking to Mr.
Fredrick; their heads were tucked together in private conversa-
tion. Lucy turned to walk out.
“Good morning, Lucy.” Mr. Fredrick straightened up. “Here
for your lemon tea?” The goddess peeked around at her.
“I am.” Lucy converted her turnabout into a clumsy three-
sixty twirl and walked up to the counter. “You read my mind.”
“I read your schedule,” Mr. Fredrick said. “Today you learn
the message songs for Saturday’s match. You always start mes-
sage song days with lemon tea.” He handed a cup of tea to the
goddess. Lucy was now standing right next to her.
The goddess held the cup under her nose and inhaled.
“Wonderful!” she said. “As always.” She took another peek
at Lucy, then lifted herself up on tiptoes, leaned across the
counter, and whispered in Mr. Fredrick’s ear, cupping her
hand next to her mouth to conceal her secret from nosey lip
She slid off the counter and planted her heels back on the
floor. Mr. Fredrick shook his head, equally bemused and amused,
R. H. Watson
then he pointed at Lucy. “Your tea, my dear, coming right up.”
He went about preparing it.
“It’s a beautiful morning, don’t you thing?” the goddess said.
Mr. Fredrick had his back turned and didn’t answer. Weird. A
moment ago they seemed like the best of friends. The other god-
desses’ chatter turned to whispers, then nothing. Something in
the corner of Lucy’s eye nagged for attention. She turned to see;
the goddess was looking right at her!
Lucy averted her eyes and focused on a dull metal contraption
Mr. Fredrick had on the back counter. “I guess,” she said.
“The air smells fresh, the sky is clear, and there were sun
dogs! Did you see the sun dogs?”
“No,” Lucy said.
“They were beautiful.”
Mr. Fredrick turned around and handed Lucy her tea in a take-
away cup. She leaned her sword against the counter, dug money
out of her coin purse, and laid it out. “Thanks. Keep the change.”
“It was nice talking to you,” the goddess said.
“Ah, yeah.” Lucy made for the door, but something else was
wrong. Fucking crap! She about-faced and picked up her sword.
The little bell above the door let out an emphatic jangle when she
yanked the door open.
She walked fast to the club. “‘The air smells fresh, the sky is
clear,’” Lucy said to herself. “Guardians and goddesses don’t
talk to each other about the fucking weather, they don’t talk to
each other about anything.” She squinted up into the eastern sky;
sure enough, sun dogs, and they were beautiful. “But, what the
fuck? She shouldn’t even have noticed me!”
That was the rule, and Lucy was good at it. She had slammed
the door on her whole life from before she arrived at the
Academy, stuffing an extra half score goddesses behind the same
door was easy―as long as they stayed there. As long as every
body fucking stays there.
“She must be new. She better shape up or they’ll kick her
cutesy little ass out of the club. Fuck! Why do I care?” Lucy
walked through the gate in the security fence and ran into Frank,
the security guard. She splashed tea on his jacket. “Sorry!”
“Don’t worry about it,” Frank said. “You seem preoccupied
“It’s Monday,” Lucy said.
“No. Maybe. I don’t know.”
Frank opened the door to the building. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine. You’re right. Jitters. That’s all.” She headed to the
She sipped some tea, put the rest aside for lunch, and changed
into shorts and a t-shirt. She slammed the locker door on her fin-
ger. “Ow! Shit!”
During calisthenics she kept drifting off the rhythm of the ex-
ercises and was called on it, twice. While running, Serendipity
came up along side her and said, “Hey.” Lucy stumbled.
On their way to the weight room, Frankie dragged her to the
side of the corridor. “What’s wrong with you today?” Frankie said.
“You’re acting like you’ve gone off your drugs or something.”
“Are you sick?” Serendipity said.
“No, and I’m not on anything to go off of. What are you
“You’ve got the coordination of a drunken monkey and the fo-
cus of backward eyeglasses,” Frankie said. “There’s no way I’m
letting you spot me in the weight room. You’ll drop a barbell on
my neck and not even notice.”
“Are you upset about something?” Serendipity said.
“I’m fine,” Lucy said.
“Is it your brother?”
“How do you know about that?”
Frankie pinned her against the wall. “Out with it!”
Frankie pointed a finger at her nose.
R. H. Watson
“All right, it’s the goddesses,” Lucy said. “There was a bunch
of them at Mr. Fredrick’s this morning, and one of them tried to
make small talk with me.”
“You’ve got your head turned inside-out over that?” Frankie
“Ow!” Lucy said.
“Snap out of it!” Frankie said.
“Hit her again,” Serendipity said.
“What the fuck?” Lucy said.
“Just trying to help.”
“Why do you give a shit about that pack of vac-heads?”
Lucy stared back at her. Frankie flicked her eyes down and
adjusted her footing. Lucy grabbed her finger. “You know
what?” She patted Frankie’s cheek, smiled, then slapped her—
hard. “You’re right. Thanks. I feel better.” She poked her finger
at Frankie’s nose. “You spot me first.” She turned and strode off
to the weight room. Frankie and Serendipity jogged to catch up.
After lunch the teams for Saturday’s match assembled in the
practice arena to learn and rehearse the message songs. Frankie
and her team for the first game took to the field. Lucy, Liha,
Serendipity, and Serendipity’s team for the second game climbed
into the row of seats above the north side-wall.
Lucy sipped the last of her tea. Serendipity sat next to her.
“Your new outie is cute,” she said.
Lucy tapped her navel through her warmup jacket. “Second
Pete cleaned up on it.”
“You bet on my outie?”
“Of course. It was obvious you were going to get one.”
“How could you tell?”
“I could see it in your face.”
Lucy started to ask, but changed her mind.
Serendipity tapped the end of her nose. “The nose is the navel
of the face. That’s how I could tell.”
“No it’s not.” Lucy said. “It’s got nothing to do with navels.
You’re so full of shit.”
Lucy turned to Liha and jutted her chin at the expanse of the
practice arena. “What do you think?”
“It’s amazing,” Liha said.
“It’s the reason the club moved into this defunct factory,”
Lucy said. “It had the only enclosed span in the Old Manufactur-
ing District large enough to hold a full sized blood battle arena.
Look at it—half of a whole blood battle field—that’s fucking im-
pressive for a Beta League club. They replaced the original roof
with that greenhouse air tent, and dug out the floor and filled it
with fertile earth, so that’s all alive down there. The hedge is
real. The field is covered with real long grass, wild flowers, and
bushes. And that’s a real stream and marsh in the lowland. There
are even frogs and snakes living down there.”
“Nice,” Liha said. “I like snakes.”
“I wonder what the world would be like if frogs ate snakes,”
Serendipity said, “instead of the other way around, like it is now.”
Liha’s eyes drifted to the top of the temple: a rectangular pyr-
amid that jutted out from the back-wall, between the north and
south plazas. “Yeah,” Lucy said. “That’s the place. While you’re
with us this week, make sure you climb up there when no one’s
around, just you and the arena. Bring both your swords. Stand up
there and feel what it’s like to know that’s your temple, and any-
one who tries to take it away dies.”
“Horribly,” Serendipity said. She was leaning forward to see
around Lucy. “You should always imagine they die horribly,
even if, in reality, they just die.”
“That part’s optional,” Lucy said.
“There’s a straw goddess on the temple altar,” Liha said. “The
goddesses don’t join us?”
R. H. Watson
“Ah . . . No,” Lucy said.
“Since the Goddess is indifferent to the competition,” Serendip-
ity said, “the club goddesses aren’t included in game practice.”
They fell silent and waited for things to start. Coach Kai and
her assistant coaches had climbed onto the opposite side-wall
and were having a conference before beginning.
Lucy was still looking at the straw goddess. “What do you think
they do all day, up in that goddess suite?” she said to Serendipity.
“I don’t know. Maybe they don’t do anything. That’s what
they do, nothing. Maybe they spend all day practicing nothing.”
“Wow, I can’t tell if what you just said was deep or stupid.”
“Thanks? I just called you, maybe stupid.”
“No. You said you couldn’t tell.”
“That’s because I can never tell if conversations with you are
“How’s your brother?”
“How do you know about that?”
“I don’t know.”
Lucy did a ‘Huh?’ take. “Well, whatever the fuck you think
you know, or don’t know—forget it. He’s got nothing to do with
me, not anymore.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“To make conversation.”
Coach Kai held a megaphone to her mouth. “We’re ready to
start. George, it’s all yours.” She handed the megaphone to
George Condor, the singing coach.
Wednesday — 3 Days Left
When Lucy woke up, Charlotte was making coffee and toast.
“Felix is in the shower,” she said. “He seems nice.”
Lucy heard the shower turn off and the fans turn on. “Who?”
A couple of minutes later, Felix came out of the shower room.
Charlotte handed him a cup of coffee. “She doesn’t remember you.”
“I was kidding. Good morning, Felix.”
“Good morning, Louisa.” he said.
“Who?” Lucy said.
“Oh! I meant . . . I mean . . .”
Lucy sat up and accepted her coffee cup from Charlotte.
“Don’t worry, you get a we-met-while-intoxicated pass.” She
took a couple of sips. “And you’re cute when you’re desperate.”
She heaved herself off the bed without spilling, and held out her
hand. “Lucy Star. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “Lucy,” and shook her hand.
She put her cup on the kitchenette counter, then unmade the
bed, tossed the sheets in the washer, turned the bed back into a
dinette, and washed and dried the table top. Felix’s clothes had
been folded neatly on a towel on the floor. Lucy raised an eye-
brow to Charlotte. Charlotte shook her head and pointed at Felix.
“Huh,” Lucy said. She picked up Felix’s underpants from the
stack and handed them to him. “Minimum dress code for sitting
on anything other than a made up bed.” She pulled on her own
undershorts, dug two t-shirts out of a drawer under the dinette,
and handed one to Felix. “And we dress formally when enter-
taining guests.” She picked up her coffee and sat at the table.
“Have a seat.” She patted the settee. “Let’s see if we can figure
out what we saw in each other last night.”
Charlotte put a plate of toast on the table and leaned against
the kitchenette counter. Felix tool a slice.
“What do you do when you’re not eating toast in your under-
wear?” Charlotte said.
“I’m a student at the Polytechnic, in the Social Philosophy
“What’s that?” Lucy said.
“We look at the philosophical implications of social trends
R. H. Watson
“I think you just said the same thing. How about an example.”
“Well, we’re currently studying rebirth, ‘The Cruel Joke that
Changed the World.’ That’s the book my professor wrote.”
“A joke?” Lucy said.
“Sure. At first, it looked like it might be the mythical trans-
formative medical miracle; the one that would allow everyone to
live potentially, endlessly long lives without sacrificing their
youth. But one,” he held up his thumb, “it doesn’t slow
aging―at all. Two,” he flipped up his index finger, “it’s so intim-
ately tied to the female reproductive system, that half the popula-
tion is immediately excluded. Three,” he held up his middle fin-
ger, “it only works between puberty and the end of physical
growth at around twenty-five. And Four,” his ring finger went
up, “it’s ridiculously complicated and expensive to support. To
afford the treatment, a girl’s family has to be beyond rich, or she
needs to be sponsored by a government, or a wealthy private en-
tity. Hence, cruel joke.”
“So, what’s that joke got to do with social philosophy?”
“Because the joke’s on the joke! Rebirth is transformative,
just not in the way people had hoped. Think about it, in the last
twenty years we handed over our most dangerous jobs, including
jobs that protect the very nature of our civilization, to a handful
of young women. Jobs that have traditionally fallen within the
male compass. This raises big ethical and social dissonances, and
the way those are resolved, or ignored, defines how rebirth is
changing our society.”
“Okay . . . ?” Lucy said.
“Take something as trivial as sports. They’re just entertain-
ment, right? Wrong!” He poked the table top with his finger so
hard, the toast plate rattled. “Sports are our most popular rights
of passage, which among other things, define and assign gender
roles. Granted, in our modern versions, most of us participate
vicariously; we appoint just a few elite athletes to actually per-
form the rituals.
“But by bringing rebirth into sports, we’ve essentially revived
gladiatorial games—the most aggressive sporting rituals ever prac-
ticed—and we have licensed their practice exclusively to athletes
who produce ova and are capable of gestating and giving birth to a
memory placenta. Now every week, we watch girls display a level
of aggression that would be impossible, not to mention illegal, for
anyone else to attempt. And it’s wildly successful. In just twelve
years, blood battle has become the most popular sport, world wide,
and incidentally, the most banned—see above, re ethical dissonance.”
“Easy there, ranchero,” Lucy said. “Don’t forget to breath.”
“Sorry, I got carried away. But you see what I mean, right?
Rebirth and its most visible manifestation, the blood sports, has
changed the way society associates power and aggression with
gender. As of last year, sixty-three percent of blood battle fans
identified themselves as female, and identified with the athletes.
The ‘joke’ is changing the world. Today little girls can dream of
growing up and chopping people’s heads off.”
“Little girls have always dreamed of growing up and chopping
heads off,” Charlotte said.
“Yes, but now they may actually be able to do it!”
“Huh,” Lucy said.
“So, what do you two do?” Felix said.
“He doesn’t know?” Charlotte said to Lucy. Lucy shrugged. “I
don’t know how you two met,” Charlotte said to Felix, “and I
don’t know how drunk you were—well OK, you couldn’t re-
member her name—but didn’t you notice the sword?”
“He was distracted by my eyes,” Lucy said.
Felix’s smile turned into, I-don’t-get-it.
Lucy reached around the end of the dinette to the broom closet
and took out her long-sword. She set it on the table and pulled
the blade part way out of its scabbard. “The joke’s on you,
kiddo,” she said.
Felix looked at the sword, at Lucy, and then at Charlotte.
“Me too,” Charlotte said. “Duel à Mort, foil fencing.”
R. H. Watson
Felix opened his mouth and closed it, then his eyes flared.
“You’re Charlotte Marceau!”
“Before you go gaga over my roommate,” Lucy said, “remem-
ber who you had sex with last night, and remember who’s sword
this is, lying right here, in front of you.”
Felix looked from Charlotte to the sword, and to Lucy. “See?”
he said. “That’s just the sort of thing we study! Not the implied
threat to cut off my balls―that’s nothing new―but the casual
understanding that it would be a trivial act, given your experi-
ence and capabilities―experience and capabilities that no one
has been able to acquire before rebirth. That’s new!”
Lucy leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “If I knew you
well enough to know I liked you, I’d say, ‘that’s what I like about
you.’” She sat back and regarded him. “How many implied
threats to cut your balls off do you get?”
“I, ah . . . what?”
Felix bit a corner of his toast, picked up his cup to drink, then
put it down without drinking.
“I think, you think you have a dumb question,” Charlotte said.
“Go ahead; ask it.”
“But be careful,” Lucy said. “You only get one dumb ques-
tion. Don’t waist it on something smart.”
“What’s it like to die?” Felix said. “You must hear this all the time,
and I’ve read about the experience, but still, I can’t imagine it.”
“First,” Lucy said. “Obviously, we don’t die.”
“Yes, but physiologically, your bodies go through a series of
traumas that no one else can survive. You recover from a state far
beyond where I would be declared irrevocably dead.”
“If you’ve read about it then you know we don’t remember
dying,” Lucy said. “The process of converting short term
memory to long term is disrupted. The closer a memory is to the
time of death the less coherent it is, and anything within about a
minute of death is lost entirely.”
“It probably saves us from some uncomfortable recollections,”
Charlotte said. “I remember non-fatal, or not immediately fatal
wounds, but I don’t know if I want to remember losing all control
of my body at the moment of death.”
“Remembering fencing wounds is like remembering bee
stings,” Lucy said. She leaned toward Felix. “I remember hold-
ing my intestines in while chasing the charger off my temple
who cut me open.” She got on her knees and mimed holding her
belly. “I took off her shoulder and punched her in the back of the
head.” She swung her arm, and punched the air. Felix slid into
the corner of the settee. “But that’s all I remember. I died and
lost the game—the bitch did her job.”
She flopped back onto the settee, not at all happy, then she
brightened and turned to Charlotte. “It could be useful though, don’t
you think? If I could remember the actual moments when I die,
what it actually took to kill me, I could refine my own killing meth-
ods and save several hundredths of a second that I’m sure I waste
overkilling opponents. It wouldn’t make a difference for you—you
kill one opponent and the bout’s over—but for me, any extra time I
spend killing a charger gives the next one more time to kill me.”
“Sometimes you even scare me,” Charlotte said.
“Sorry, just kidding.” Felix was still scrunched into the corner
of the settee. “I’ll bet this isn’t your typical college cafeteria con-
versation,” Charlotte said to him.
“No,” he said and sidled out of the corner.
“But this is what you were talking about, right?” Lucy said.
“‘Experience and capabilities that no one else has been able to
acquire.’ We can learn from our fatal mistakes―no one else has
ever been able to do that.”
Charlotte pushed away from the counter. “I’ve got to go, and
sorry to break this up, but you’d better check the time, too.”
“Oh, shit! Felix, I’m sorry, I’ve got to get to the club, and you
know, hone my killer instincts for Saturday’s match.” She gave
R. H. Watson
him a quick kiss, put her sword away in the closet, and ran into
the shower room. “Leave your talk-to address, mine’s on the
Thursday — 2 More Days
“Today we will be performing exercises to challenge your kines-
thetic intelligence.” Bimini, Lucy, and the other guardians were
assembled on the north plaza of the practice arena.
“It is one thing to load your bodies with reflexes and muscle
memories,” Bimini said, “it is another to use that training in con-
flict, where predictable, rote behavior will get you killed; where
there is no time to think, yet you must interpret events and act
“Kinesthetic intelligence is the core guardian skill. It is the
ability to anticipate without knowing, to leave thought behind yet
act with sagacity. It is not just your mind, but the entirety of your
flesh seeking its optimal path through the present.
“You may observe your actions, and after the fact critique, but
do not interfere in the moment. Your opponents are similarly
trained; if you think before you act, you concede action to them.”
Bimini walked up to Liha. “You and they,” she glanced at the
other guardians, “have been hearing similar speeches since you
began training at the Academy. However,” she spoke directly to
Liha, “you do not yet comprehend.”
“With deference,” Liha said. “I think I do understand.”
Bimini walked away. “You do not yet comprehend that under-
standing misses the point. Let’s begin. Liha, swords. Lucy, prac-
Lucy and Liha removed their athletic suits. Lucy checked the
lacing on her shoes. Guardian shoes were lightweight and
provided some ankle support and extra traction for mountain-
goating around the temple pyramid. She pulled on her helmet (a
guardian’s sole piece of armor). It was the same thin carbon skull
cap, molded to fit her cranium, that everyone wore. It fastened
around the back of her head leaving a hole she could feed her hair
through (a stubby black ponytail in Lucy’s case) and was colored
to mimic the fiery red and orange of the Burning Desire rose.
Lucy clipped her practice short-stick scabbard in place on her
short-sword saddle, pealed the backing off the saddle adhesive,
and stuck it just below the middle of her back, to the left of her
spine. She wore her short-sword upside down with its hilt low
and to the left. The scabbard crossed her back, angling up to her
Least armored but most armed, guardians exchanged armor
for maneuverability, and for being the only players allowed to
wield two swords. Guards and forwards had their turtle shell
plating, and chargers had their forearm and foreleg shields, but
with her long-sword in hand, and her short-sword at her back,
Lucy had all the protection she needed, and they had none—not
Liha attached her saddle over her right scapula. “You draw
over your shoulder?” Lucy said.
“So I can bring it into play faster.” Liha saw Lucy’s place-
ment. “You don’t agree?”
“To each her own. I like pulling my short-sword from behind
my back. The move is partly hidden by my body. I can pull it
forehanded or backhanded, and my long-sword is usually far
enough away so my opponent is either distracted by it, or has to
split her attention across a wide field to take in both weapons.
Are you ready?”
“After you,” Lucy said.
Liha vaulted up the temple pyramid; Lucy followed, hopping
up the five, meter high tiers to the top. Bimini was waiting,
standing on the Goddess’s altar.
“You will perform an improvisation,” Bimini said to Liha.
“Confine your scope to the temple. Do not attempt conscious
R. H. Watson
control of your actions. Every moment must be an independent
extrapolation from the previous moment, but one moment must
not anticipate the next. Your kinesthetic intelligence, if you have
any, will be driving you. Disregard Lucy’s presence. She will fol-
low you and tap you with one of her practice sticks every time
you violate these rules.”
“But we’re in the flesh,” Liha held out her sword. “What if I
“It is Lucy’s responsibility to avoid death. If she fails, you are
the standby guardian and will take her place in the match on Sat-
urday. You have another question.”
“Are you going to stay there? You’re not even protected.”
“I am standing on the Goddess’s altar. A guardian’s blades
never violate this space. Now, stop thinking, and start.”
Liha took up her guardian stance behind the altar. Lucy did
the same two meters behind her. Liha breathed in; Lucy stepped
forward and hit her on the shoulder. Liha turned to look; Lucy hit
her in the back of her head. Liha leapt off the first tier, twisting
and lifting her long-sword between her and Lucy. Lucy pulled
her short-stick and rapped Liha’s knuckles.
“I’m not here,” Lucy said. “This is a solo exercise.” She
whacked Liha’s knee with her long-stick. “Stop,” whack, “mak-
ing yourself,” whack, “think.”
Liha stopped for a beat, then another. She dropped to her
knee. Relaxed. Tumbled backward off the tier. Spun with both
blades cutting the air. Landed on her feet. Sheathed her short-
sword. Planted her hand to vault up a tier. Instead used the lever-
age to reverse her direction.
Lucy followed, avoided Liha’s swords, and reached in now
and then, to tap her elbow, her rib, her foot. Liha’s body explored
the variety of options available when time expands to fill the
present. She leapt into kinetic activity, slowed, sliced the air,
jumped across the temple-top, landed with solid footing, rolled
and skipped down two tiers. Once she left both her swords be-
hind on the third tier. That impressed Lucy so much, she almost
got clipped by Liha’s long-sword when she recovered them.
“Please finish,” Bimini said.
They stopped, and found they had returned to the temple-top.
“You have potential,” Bimini said to Liha. “Let us continue.
Lucy, swords. Frankie, practice sticks.”
Twice Frankie tried to hit Lucy, but each time Lucy dodged
out of the way. She was pretty sure she had setup Frankie to have
a little fun, but that’s the thing about kinesthetic intelligence; she
didn’t always know why she did what she did.
When they finished, Bimini said to Lucy, “Very good.”
“I know,” Lucy said. This was a good day to feel cocky, and
you have to go with how you feel. She hopped down the tiers
and off the pyramid.
Saturday — Ø Day
Lucy woke up at six. At six forty-five she climbed out the hatch
with her overnight bag, her long-sword, a cup of coffee, and a
slice of toast. At seven, she arrived at Burning Desire's team en-
trance to wait in the chilly morning air with the other club mem-
bers who were making the trip to Appalachi City.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?