In a rare genre combo, here’s my take on a sci-fi martial arts story.
Rain. So many saw it with disdain. To me, it is the most precious gift. I stretch out my hand and my home is nourished. Every drop filled with life-giving manna. The drizzle is my sigh while the downpour, my tears. Like a garden, I must be careful that I don’t drown the life that I tend. I wave my hand and part the clouds to let the sun through again. I get ahead of myself though. To understand where I am now, one must look at where I began.
* * *
I breathed in, sliding my feet together and locking my fists at my side. I stepped out to my left and raised my hand to block, followed by a punch. I did a wrist grab and knee to what would be the stomach, stepping through and following with a sidekick. Another block, turn in place and finished with a hammer fist. Then I stood up, pushed down with both hands and breathed out softly.
“Very good form,” said the man with a walking cane.
“Thank you, sifu,” I said, putting my right fist to my open left palm and bowing. He returned the salute. Laughing, I ran to him and embraced him in a hug. My head, barely reaching his stomach, was cradled in his strong hand.
“You are a good student, my son.”
“Does this mean I can watch one of your movies now?” I asked.
“A promise is a promise.” He knelt down to be eye level with me. “Just don’t tell your mother, okay?” He put a finger to his lip.
“Okay.” I mimicked the gesture. He rose to his full height, wincing a bit and grabbing his leg. Oblivious, I rushed from the schoolroom to our family living area. I hopped over the dining table and fell to my stomach, my head on my elbows and my feet kicking behind me expectantly. Dad flipped on the D.V. and pulled the film selection. I watched in rapt attention as the lights in the room dimmed. “Tiger Master with Jun Lung as Yi Man!” The scene depicted two men in a dojo, staring at each other with fire in their eyes.
“You think you can beat me, and take revenge for your father?” The villain asked.
“I don’t fight for vengeance, I fight to attain true mastery. Your humiliation is a bonus.” The hero retorted as he lowered into his fighting stance. The rival attacked by faking a punch and following with a kick, Yi saw the true attack coming and caught the kick on his forearm. He followed with a palm strike. The two men fought in a flurry of strikes and grabs. I turned to my father, sitting on the couch behind me and asked,
“Will I be as good as you one day, father?” He smiled softly and said,
“Dev, my son, you will far exceed anything that I was capable of even in my prime.” He rubbed his leg softly.
“What happened to your legs, father?” I asked. Father said nothing for a long while. He sighed but then the screen flashed, taking both of our attention. “Incoming call” read in the corner of the screen. Father waved his hand and a man in a white coat appeared.
“Sifu Lung? This is Dr. Bian at Queen Mary’s Hospital. Master, I’m afraid there has been an accident.”
Everything sped by so fast, not even enough time to change out of my training uniform; I was rushed to the car and brought to a place I didn’t recognize. It was cold, everything was blank and colorless, it smelled like the very old trains my parents took me to and melted candy. Everyone either was running from or to somewhere or sitting very very still. I gripped my father’s hand tightly and he returned it very hard. The knuckles on his cane in his other hand were white as the man from the phone call brought us into a room with a curtain and lots of machines.
My mother laid flat on the bed. Her golden tan skin paled, her black hair frayed, and her breathing shallow. Her smile at seeing me though was as bright as ever.
“Mother!” I shouted as I ran to her bedside. She cradled my head with a shaking hand.
“Dev, my beloved. Don’t be frightened.” Her voice was so soft. My father came up behind me and held mother’s other hand.
“Rani. What . . . what happened?”
“Lab accident. Bacterial experiment.” She wheezed her words. Mother looked away from both of us and shook her head. “We were going to change so much.”
“You still can! You can beat this Rani!” Father said. Mother’s gaze went back to him and for a long moment, they just stared into one another’s eyes.
“The responsibility is yours now, Jun. Remember what we promised each other when we first conceived. We made a pact before Heaven.” Mother turned her gaze to me. Her eyes didn’t have the same light in them that I remembered. “Dev, listen to your father. You may not see me anymore but I will be with you again, soon enough.” She smiled for one last time. “I love . . . both . . . of you.” To this day I can clearly recall the sound of her final breath.
“Time of death is-” Dr. Bian began to say.
“All of you get out! This moment!” Father commanded. The doctor and nurses left the room. My father limped over to the hospital chair beside and began to pull it closer to the bed, but he stopped and winced. His hand rushed to his leg. I toddled over to try and help him move the chair. “No. I can do it.” His tone hadn’t changed. Shivering, he lowered himself into the chair, took my mother’s hand in his, and he cried.
Never in my life had I seen my father cry. Father was a mountain, a tiger, a master. Father wasn’t a crying cripple. I stood there in a big, cold, colorless, scentless room. I crawled underneath my mother’s bed and curled into a ball, with a dry throat and moist eyes.
* * *
The wet mop smacked on the linoleum. Students went back and forth to their classes, all smiles and hope. Some of them nodded in respect as they passed, others thanked me for keeping their school clean. I thanked them and returned to my job. It was nice to know the world had them to look forward to. At the end of the day I punched out and my payment was sent to my account. With my shift over, I made my way to Professor Mai’s class. Sociology and history were never my particularly favorite fields of study but to hear Professor Mai tell it reminded me of how someone close to me used to go on about genetics and biology.
“What was our region of Hong Kong prior to the opium wars? Can anyone tell me?” Professor Mai asked. Some hands went up.
“Free of western control.” Some young man answered.
“Certainly, no western power had a say in what we did, but were we really free?” The Professor pointed with her remote and it showed a few fishermen. “This is what we were before the Opium Wars. The British brought with them industry and enterprise. Yes, natives were often in the employ of western taskmasters but those very people would later pray for the return of their employers come their next handlers.” She clicked again and zero fighters flew across her screens. “The Japanese enslaved the population of Hong Kong to drive their war machine, paying their workers only in bags of rice if they were in a good mood, allowing them to go home to rest when apathetic, and bullets at all other times.” One last click and it showed the modern skyline from the view of Victoria Harbor. “Do not mistake me, class, I am not saying that we should bow down to the Crown but it’s important to note under whose rulership did Hong Kong become a prosperous and free city. With the mainland powers scrutinizing our way of life within their ‘special autonomous region’ it will be up to you to decide whether you wish for Hong Kong to be subsumed into the People’s Republic, or if we could do what many consider impossible. I think you all know what I am suggesting. Class dismissed.”
When everyone else left, their comments ranging from excitement to anger as they passed me, I walked down the classroom steps to the teacher.
“That was quite a lecture, Professor,” I said.
“Oh Mr. Lung, good to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now I have to prepare for my weekly flood of angry emails from parents and other teachers about how I’m turning the students into radicals.” She laughed.
“Well if it helps, you can’t inspire all of us to take up arms. Then again, I’m not really a student so I guess I don’t count,” I said. The professor frowned.
“You mean to say you’ve never thought about enrolling? Dev, you go to more classes than some of the post-grad students and you understand all of it perfectly,” she said. I had nothing to say. “You know that your mother wouldn’t want you to-“ I turned to leave without another word. “You weren’t the only one who lost someone close to you Dev!”
“I know,” I said before walking out the door.
* * *
The way home was just a short ride on the double-decker bus from the City University of Hong Kong. Just down Tat Chee Avenue and a short walk down Begonia Road. My footsteps echoed on the stairs and the machine beeped as I swiped my key card to enter the flat. The old kung fu schoolroom was covered in a decade’s worth of dust, the weapons no longer shined, and the rice paper in the shoji was perforated in many places. I couldn’t remember the last time the DV screen was on when I got home. Out on the porch overlooking the streets below was the cripple who cried for my mother.
“Hello father,” I said. He did not so much as turn, but I know he heard me. I made us our dinner. Simple fried rice would tie us over nicely. We didn’t eat together, not anymore. Instead, I ate my rice in front of the DV screen where my father sat once long ago. Perhaps enjoying would be too much but I was content with my meal when suddenly the screen flashed to life. The screen displayed a closed petal that then bloomed with a distinct “ooooom” sound.
“Signal received. Time marker reached.” It said in English as the vibration from the initial “om” sound vibrating as it spoke in a feminine voice. “Honorable Dev Lung. I am the Perennial archetype of virtuous action, technical intelligence or P.A.R.V.A.T.I.”
“This has to be a joke. Someone at the school is pulling something on me,” I said.
“No jest, Honorable Dev. I am a genuine artificial general intelligence and I am responsible for helping you.”
“Helping me? With what?”
“This is not the life you were meant to live.”
“Everyone seems to be telling me that these days, even a damn computer!”
“I would ask you keep the blasphemy to a minimum and your usage of the term computer could be construed as a slur, just going forward,” Parvati said. I raised my hands in surrender.
“Okay, okay. Man, you sound like my moth-” I stopped and went quiet.
“It’s okay Dev. I understand, believe it or not. It was your mother who created me after all.”
“What? My . . . mother was bionics expert, she never went into artificial intelligence.”
“Strictly speaking I am not an artificial intelligence. The typical model of A.I. is a purely digital entity run on inorganic hardware. I run on a grey matter substrate that your mother cultured into what you see before you.”
“You knew my mother better than I did then.” I took another mouthful of rice and ate it. As strange as this was, I was still starving.
“You feel as if she abandoned you.”
“No! I mean, I guess. Look I don’t want to talk about this.”
“You don’t have to say anything, but you must move on.”
“Move on from what? Move on for what?”
“Ask your father, he has the responsibility.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. The screen went black. “Parvati? Parvati?” I leaped from my seat to stand in front of the screen. I turned it on with a wave and it just showed the news. “Parvati? Parvati come back. What does he know? What am I supposed to do?”
“What is going on in here?” Father said, in that same tone as the day in the hospital.
“What did she mean?” I whipped around to face him.
“What are you-”
“What did Mother mean when she said the responsibility was yours?”
“Don’t talk about her.”
“Why not? All these years and we’ve never once said a word about her. Why don’t we talk about it?” I closed the distance. “Was it I, Father? Did she mean you had to bear the burden of raising a son alone? Well, I know you’ve done a poor job at that. Mother would be ashamed of you!” His palm struck out and I went tumbling back over the couch, crashing into the table. I sprung back to my feet.
The air between us bristled. I let out a primal roar and leaped over the couch into a flying kick. We both crashed through the doji and tumbled into the schoolroom. Father got to his feet faster than I had ever seen him. Having held on to his cane, he now raised it from the ground, holding it at his side in a weapon stance. I launched a punch to his head. Father blocked my strike with his hand, snapped the cane under my armpit, and used it as a lever with a simple step back to send me rolling again on the floor. Recovering I tried a snap kick to his chest. He raised his cane and caught the sole of my foot. Locking his hand over my ankle, he forced me on to my back. My foot still held to his chest, he raised his cane to strike at my head. I crossed my forearms and blocked each strike but to free myself, I kicked my father right in the side of the knee. He cried out in pain and released his lock on my foot allowing me to recover.
I needed a weapon so I grabbed a pair of tonfa off the rack. Striking to his ribs, Father parried with his cane. So I tried to go for his head with my other weapon but his hand shot out blinding fast to catch my elbow mid-arc, stopping it. He then followed up with a chop to my neck. Staggering back and rubbing my neck, I left myself vulnerable. Father flipped his weapon and hooked one of my tonfas, sending it across the room. Returning the favor, I faked a kick to his ribs but struck his weapon hand, at last disarming him. Father’s other hand wretched the tonfa from mine.
Tiger palm, mantis strike, block, eagle’s beak, dragon’s tail, Father and I were both panting and aching. I throw a right punch and father caught my wrist, he threw his own and I caught his wrist. We both struggled against one another with our teeth gritted and at last I saw my father’s eyes. They were not filled with fire and rage but pain. The same pain he had felt that day had never gone away, and there I was reflected back in them. I looked pathetic, scrawny, shaking, and scared. I lunged at my father one last time, wrapping my arms around him, and crying into his shoulder.
I felt his warm embrace around me as we both fell to the floor.
“Dev, my son. I’m sorry. By Heaven, I’m so sorry! I have failed you for so long.”
“The student must teach the master as well father. I’ve failed too.” For the longest time, he didn’t say anything, he just stroked my back and head as I let out years worth of built up tears. “I miss her so much!” I said at last.
“I know. No more crying though Dev.” He held me at length, looked into my eyes, and smiled. “I’ve cried enough for both of us.” My father was smiling again. I thought I wouldn’t see it till his deathbed to join my mother. “I know it might not be easy to pick up right where we left off, but could we try?”
“Nothing would make me happier, sifu.” I helped him to his feet and we both bowed to one another.
* * *
Lucky for us, a doctor lived in our flat complex and was able to make a house call. Father and I were bandaged and stitched up and despite the pain, I felt much better than I had in years. Something had been lifted off of my heart and when the doctor asked how we did this to ourselves, father and I both just laughed.
Father had retired for the night and I was about to do so as well when the DV turned back on and a familiar holy chant rang out.
“Good job Dev. You’ve taken the first step back on the path.”
“You said to ask my father what my mother wanted of me. I don’t suppose you can just tell me?”
“Give a man a fish or teach a man to fish?” She said.
“Can you at least tell me what I’m being congratulated for?” I asked. The screen changed to show a representation of a human body. Along the spinal column were five glowing bladders though.
“The Chakras of the human body are where your energy flows through by your emotions. When you feel anger or grief, the chakras remain closed but when you lift those burdens from yourself . . .” The bladder near the base of the projected human’s spine started to open, blooming like a lotus. Fiery orange arcs surged from the source and out into the human’s body.
Suddenly I felt strange. There was a tingling sensation throughout my body.
“What’s happening to me?”
“You’ve conquered your fear and grief. Now you can survive,” Parvati said. My injuries healed. What should have taken weeks to get over was gone in minutes; my muscles bulged and became more defined. My sense became flooded, smell, sound, sight, I was aware of my father breathing in the other room, the coffee brewing a few floors down, the rat crawling across the darkened balcony across the street from our flat. The last thing that became apparent was the claws. Curved, feline claws in the space between each finger. An odd place for them to be, but that’s when a thought occurred to me. Walking over to the schoolroom I took out a target normally meant for test cutting with bladed weapons and lowered into a tiger stance. One two three four, I tore at the target. With the time that it took to blink, I had torn deep gashes in the target with my palm strikes and sent it slamming against the wall with a kick. I looked at my hands and relaxed them a bit, the claws slid back in between my fingers just like a cat.
“Parvati! I’m stronger, faster, and I’m . . . I’m just better!”
“It’s only the beginning,” she said.
“As before I cannot say, but I will tell you it’s part of your mother’s work.”
“She wanted to turn me into Wolverine?”
“She wanted the human race to be all it could be through understanding and commanding life at its most base level. I am what scientists have been trying to build for years, a created mind as sophisticated as a human’s. Biological engineering, if applied correctly, has every advantage of steel with half the drawbacks. You will prove this to the world as you unlock your remaining chakras.”
“How? How can I show the world my mother’s work?”
“You can start by proving her martyrdom.”
“What do you mean?”
“The bacterial outbreak at her lab was no accident Dev. Rani was murdered,” she said. I felt like a heavy wet blanket just struck me in the face. I fell back on the couch and put a hand on my head.
“Murdered.” It took a moment for me to take in the thought. I had finally come to peace with my mother’s death only to now to discover that she had been taken from my father and I. “Who?” I asked. There was a deep and guttural noise coming from my throat, something decidedly not human sounding.
“Calm yourself Dev. Since both our ‘creator’s’ death, I have been hunting for clues. Disembodied as I am, this obviously meant I could not keep an ear to the ground but I could access emails and monitor criminal reports to look for connections and I believe I have found one.” A few images came up on the screen, a grainy photo of some guys smoking and drinking, some mug shots, and a bold “14K.”
“The Triads are involved in this?”
“On at least the lower levels. Rani’s original and much safer lab was vandalized so she had to switch facilities for her experiments. These Red Poles were seen leaving the scene of the crime but they got off through bribery,” she said. I stood up.
“Where are they now?”
“Golden Guns, a bar in Wan Chai,” she said. I quickly changed into a black jacket and sunglasses. I started toward the door when Parvati spoke once more. “Dev. Remember, your mother deserves justice.” I looked over my shoulder and smiled.
* * *
One thing that was a drawback to my new sense of smell was being able to accurately discern exactly what every bitter and rancid scent was. Even before entering the bar I could smell the stale drinks, bad food, and bodily excretions of different varieties. I had to hide the sneer. It was time to stay focused on my goal. The bouncer wouldn’t be too hard to get past, just flash some cash and he’d let me right in.
The larger man looked down at me with a raised eyebrow. I pulled out my cred card.
“Yeah, you wish. If you’re not on the list, you don’t get in junior. That’s the rules.” That was a setback. That’s the way it worked with Father in all of his movies! “You going to scram kid or do I have to move you myself?” He said and slammed his fist into his palm. I could feel the claws slide from my knuckles when a slender arm wrapped its way around mine.
“It’s okay, Hoon, he’s with me,” she said in English. To my left was a beautiful redhead with shining green eyes.
“Whatever you say, Ms. Tully,” Hoon said with a shrug as he stepped aside. My impromptu escort and I walked into the bar. Multi-color lights, slightly faded by the haze of smoke abound. The noise was such that I had to raise my voice to be heard.
“Thank you for your help. Why did you?” I asked. The redhead in the blue dress smiled at me.
“You don’t remember me, do you? I pass you by at school all the time,” she said.
“From Professor Robin’s class!” I finally remembered.
“Right, Annette Tully.” She extended a hand.
“Dev Lung.” I took it.
“So, what are you doing here? Come to have some fun at last?”
“No, I’m not,” I said. We then walked up to the bar. “I have something important to do here.” I started to continue my search when Annette called to me again.
“You wouldn’t leave a lady without buying her a drink, would you? Especially after said lady got you in here in the first place.” She ran her finger along the bar with a smirk. I did concede she had a point. So, I did buy her a drink and myself one as well. Annette spoke quite a lot, me I was just keeping the image of the mug shots in my mind. The crime was years ago, but Parvati found very recent photos of them. Triad Red Poles usually had elaborate dragon tattoos, the blasphemous lot that they were.
“So, I decided I didn’t want to be my mother. I wanted to go to the ends of the Earth and do what my mother was too afraid to do and leave that little shire behind,” Annette said.
“Yes.” I nodded politely, still scanning the bar.
“You know, you’re a really good listener. Usually, I could never go into about how much I hate my mum. People usually roll their eyes.”
“You . . . hated your mother?” I asked.
“She’s a controlling old bat she is! She wanted me to marry into some family instead of pursuing my own dreams. She didn’t want me to be happy she just wanted to keep me from living the life she couldn’t.” She said while taking a sip of her drink.
“Maybe you should give her more chances. You never know what she might want for you, or how long you can tell her you love her,” I said. Annette grew quiet for the longest time she had so far.
“Dev did your mother . . .?” She asked. I just nodded to answer her question. “Oh God! I am so, so sorry!” I raised a hand and smiled to placate her.
“Don’t be,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye, just then, there it was. The wise dragon perverted as a symbol of brutality, worn like a sleeve on a muscled arm. Three of them were walking out of the bar. One of them turned his head, throwing a beer bottle into the trash can with a cruel sneer as he was laughing with his buddies. It was definitely one of the vandals of my mother’s lab. I stood up from my stool and looked to Annette. “That’s my business here.” I slapped down my payment for the drinks and followed the Red Poles out the door.
* * *
“Yo, Ga Tsan!” I said. They all turned to see a half-breed college-age kid in a black jacket and sunglasses at night. So of course, they laughed.
“Look at this punk, he thinks he’s Neo.” One of them with a mustache said.
“You tore up a lab several years ago, I want to know why.” They stopped laughing and looked at each other.
“Who are you?” Another asked. This one was bald.
“Answer my question, and I’ll answer yours.”
“That’s not the way this works.” The apparent leader spoke. He had a scar under his left eye. He nodded his head at me. “Lao. Teach this nosey punk what snooping gets you,” Scars said. Lao came at me with a roundhouse kick. I intercepted his kick with my own and did another kick to his head. He dropped like a ton of bricks.
Now the remaining two were taking me seriously. “G-Get him!” Scars said as both men rushed me. Meeting their attack head-on, I cartwheeled and kicked Baldy in the midsection, hard enough at least to wind him. Both men’s blows whirled around me and I swiped Scars feet while crouched to trip him. Rising to normal height to confront the wheezing Baldy, opened his palms and lowered into a familiar stance.
“Tiger style? My father is the tiger!” His strikes were poorly aimed and lacked any true power. I almost felt bad when one punch to the stomach sent him to the ground clutching his midsection. My ear twitched, and on instinct I spun and checked with my left forearm, a knife blade making a superficial cut where my spleen once was. I followed with a raking palm strike across Scars’ face. He screamed and crumbled down, clutching the side of his face as blood dripped from it. “Now both sides of your face match. Answers, now!”
“All right! All right!” He held up his other hand in a plea. “We didn’t know who hired us, he wore a mask. He was English, no doubt from his accent, but that’s all we could tell. Paid us to smash up some science lab, paid a whole lot too. We were never told why.”
“Anything else?” I bared my claws to him.
“The N-New Territories! Our boys said the guy came from the New Territories, that’s all I know I swear!”
“Good.” I arose and started to walk away.
“What are you?” He asked. Taking off my glasses, I turned around to show him my reflective cat eyes.
“I am Dev Lung, my mother’s son, and my father’s student.”
TO BE CONTINUED . . .