Read an Excerpt
By Travis S. Taylor
Baen BooksISBN: 0-7434-8862-8
Chapter OneI was trying hard to breathe, but it wasn't coming easy. I tugged at my red team uniform top anxiously. Smacking my fists against my headgear was the only thing that seemed to focus me.
"All right! Bow to me!" the referee began. "Bow to each other. Touch gloves. Fight!"
Seeing that my opponent was dropping his back hand, I slipped to the right. I lunged like a sprinter out of a starting block and jumped. As I prepared to backfist the guy on the side of his headgear, I realized that I had let my elbows rise and I was not covering my ribs. I knew this because I presently spit my mouthpiece in my opponent's face while at the same time a searing pain ran through my ribs on the right side of my body. You see, I fight right side forward since my right leg is more flexible than my left. Not that it mattered this time, since I failed to lead with a kick.
I heard the shouts and cheers for the other guy increase in volume and enthusiasm while I fell to the floor clutching my ribs. That's just the way it is on the International Sport Karate Association (ISKA) tournament circuit. The referee was talking to my opponent,
"Turn and bow!" Then in my ear, "Do you want your sensei or will you make it?" He handed me a slightly dirty mouthpiece.
"Nah, I'll make it okay." I blew dirt off the mouthpiece and noticed my instructor shouting at me as I made to my feet.
"What's that rainbow jump crap! I never taught you that. Let's go Anson, one, two, three. White belt stuff! Stay tight!" He yelled and ticked off his fingers one, two, three at me.
I bounced back to the line with each breath burning like fire in my side. Two ribs were broken at the least. I was sure of it. But, if I had any intentions of staying in this fight, I knew that I had better not show a soft spot.
Mike and I have been friends for years and I'm sure he didn't mean to break my ribs. But he was here to win this tournament just like I was and we were tied in points for ISKA champion. This fight was going to be a tough one. The last fight of the season should be a tough one, I guess, especially if it's for the championship.
"Are you ready?" The ref asked.
I nodded and lined up left side forward this time, my right side being soft.
"Judges call, I got two points, blue uniform." With a look around the ring at the other two judges, it was obvious that I was behind two points.
"Okay touch gloves. Fight!"
Just like in class with the instructor yelling, I could hear in my mind, skip side kick, backfist, reverse punch! One. Two. Three! I got him!
"Break," yelled the center ref. "Judges call!" He held up two fingers in my direction and scanned the other two judges. "That is two red! Two blue! Touch gloves! Ready, fight!"
Skip side kick, backfist, reverse punch!
This time it didn't work as well. Mike sidestepped and down-blocked the skip kick. But that is why it goes one, two, three or skip side kick, backfist, reverse punch! The skip kick occupied his lead hand with a down-block leaving his head open for the backfist and his chest open for the reverse punch. Of course, I caught one to the body in there somewhere. But, I was first and that's what counts in sport karate.
"Judges call? Okay we have three red, two blue. Ready?"
"Time ref!" I called and motioned to my footgear as though it were loose.
I knelt and acted like I was fixing an equipment problem. My ribs ached and the second of extra breathing time helped.
"Let's go red!"
I bounced up like a rubber ball and nodded to the ref. I was thinking I couldn't take another second of this. A punch would mean one point. Not enough and I knew I wasn't going to make it much longer. I was starting to feel queasy but I lined up right side forward! Just a chance I would have to take.
This time I was too slow. Mike rushed me with a barrage of hand movements. He is a Kenpo student after all, mostly hands. I slipped to the right and pulled my knee up and proceeded with a side kick. To my surprise, Mike did the same thing. Fortunately, or not so fortunately-I'm not sure-I'm more flexible. My foot got higher than his and as a result his foot slid down the inside of my leg and caught my cup with full force. I did the only thing I could do to defend against such an attack. I fell to the floor holding my crotch!
"Break! Blue, turn and bow!"
"Where did he get you?" The ref tapped my headgear to get my attention. I heaved twice and rolled over to my hands and knees. I heaved again. Lucky for me I hadn't eaten yet so nothing came up. I realized then, the heaving seemed to hurt my right side. My ribs. Funny how getting kicked in the Jimmy will make one forget how bad other things hurt.
I'm not sure how, but I made it to my feet. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, which was pouring profusely out from under my headgear and down my face as I lined up, left side forward this time. I smiled at Mike and I put my mouthpiece back in. I had him right where he wanted me.
"Sorry man! You okay?" He seemed legitimately concerned.
The center ref called attention and then, "That is a warning blue for low kicks. Ready?"
We both nodded and touched gloves.
"We still have three red, two blue. Fight!" The ref dropped his hand and stepped back out of our way.
I was right, I did have Mike right where he wanted me. Like a freight train, all two hundred and thirty pounds of him came barreling right for me. I knew just what to do; I ran for my life. Without thinking, I turned my back and began to run, somehow I jumped while facing him and threw a right leg, spinning back kick. This was a survival technique only. I don't recommend it as a standard technique. My right foot caught him off gaurd right in the gut. Luck counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, in nuclear war, and sometimes at the ISKA championships.
"Break! Judges call? I got two red! That is five red!" I heard my instructor yelling something, but he seemed too far away and seemed to be getting further and further away. Then there was no longer any light at the end of the tunnel.
The next thing I knew I was back home in my study looking at my whiteboard. There were tensor equations scribbled all over it. In the middle was an equation written explaining that spacetime curvature is proportional to energy per volume, which is proportional to mass times the speed of light squared divided by volume, which is proportional to electricity and magnetism divided by volume.
I had been writing this equation in various ways since undergraduate school and never could figure out how to change the proportionality symbols to equal signs. Nobody could. Einstein died trying, as have many others. The equation is a very simple explanation of the Holy Grail of physics. Einstein's General Relativity (GR) states that space and time or spacetime is curved due to energy. Energy and mass are interchangeable just by multiplying by the speed of light squared, c². So, the curvature of spacetime is proportional to the speed of light in a way. Also, electricity and magnetism are forms of energy, somehow. Electromagnetic forces are most likely the cause of matter having form and in some way the cause of gravity where gravity is the curvature (sort of). The equation means that the spacetime is curved due to the amount of energy in a given volume or that a given curved spacetime causes a certain energy per volume. Each of these phenomena causes the other and this energy per volume can exist in many forms.
There was something else on the whiteboard that really caught my attention. On the bottom right hand corner of the board was the equation explaining that spacetime curvature is defined as the square root of stuff times electricity and magnetism divided by volume.
Of course, both of these equations were written in the Einstein tensor notation so they really didn't look like this. The actual equations take nothing short of years in graduate school sweating over tensor mathematics and things called Ricci tensors, stress-energy tensors, spacetime metrics, and the Cosmological Constant just to be able to read. Understanding them takes even longer. But, this is the general idea of what my lucidly dreamt whiteboard stated. Most importantly was that the proportionality symbol was changed not only to an equal sign but a "defined as sign," meaning that the equation was a fundamental equation describing the universe. After this equation was one that stated that stuff is "defined as" being equal to ...
"Anson can you hear me?" Both of my instructors were yelling in my face and shaking me and I smelled something God-awful as I startled to consciousness.
"What happened!" I jumped up and felt a searing pain in my right side.
"Easy." Someone that I can only assume was the tournament paramedic started shining a light in my eyes. "Can you hear me?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, let me up."
"Hold still, Anson, and let him check you out," one of my instructors said. My instructors are a husband and wife team. She is usually more verbally sympathetic.
I didn't care what the medic did. My mind was still swimming with the tensor math on the whiteboard in my dream and I wanted to read it more closely. I smelled that awful smell again and startled completely to this time.
"Okay, okay. I'm awake!"
"Where are you hurt?" the medic asked.
"I have at least two broken ribs on my right side, maybe more. Did I win?"
The husband member of my instructor duo laughed. "You got him with the ugliest spinning back kick I have ever seen in my life. But you won!"
"Cool. Help me up." I rolled up very slowly. The crowd cheered. "I'm going to change. Could somebody pick up my award and then drive me to the nearest emergency room?"
I didn't expect that a doctor could do anything for me other than prescribe some good painkillers. Doctors, or as I prefer to call them, physicians, databases, quacks, etc., haven't cured anything, not one damn thing, since polio, which was way before I was born. Come to think of it, they didn't even come up with a cure for that; they simply committed something akin to genocide on the poliovirus.
I'm not completely sure why the quacks haven't gotten anywhere over the last sixty years, though it's probably because they don't have to take enough physics and math in school. A physician depends on the miracle of the human body's ability to heal and adapt. Any good physicist or engineer will tell you, if you have a broken support strut (a bone) you either weld that damn thing back together or you replace it. You sure don't sit around and wait for it to fix itself in six weeks or so. The way the quacks deal with a more serious illness is nothing short of magic or alchemy. Whatever it is, it sure isn't science! "My magic book says that if you look this way, smell that way, and have stuff coming out your nose then you should take two of these pills a day for ten days while standing on one foot and praying to Hypocrites. If you don't get better in two weeks then come see me again. That'll be a thousand dollars please." No way that's science. The guy who invented the pill may be a scientist, but not the guy administering it.
An example of the physician's incompetence is aging. Why we still grow old and die is beyond me. All of us are infected with a genetic disorder that causes our genes to break down and start producing "old" cells or cells that are mutated to create the symptoms of old age. This process is either caused by cosmic rays, ultraviolet rays, or other radiation exposure, or maybe some chemical mishap within our own bodies. Maybe it is a statistics problem. But whatever the cause, it is a disease we're all born with.
Physicians accept this as a natural thing because they simply won't do their homework and solve the problem. Fix the damn broken genes or replace them! The local university quit letting me teach the beginner level physics classes the premed and business students take. The student evaluations claimed I was "too hard" and assigned "too much homework." You get the idea. If the first American in space were still alive today (old age got him), you could ask him if he would've wanted to be on top of several tons of ignited explosives that guys who complained about "too much homework" designed. Maybe I'm cynical because I have had broken bones before.
Jim Daniels, one of my teammates and best friend and student and teacher, all in one, got my stuff together while I changed clothes. I still couldn't shake the weird "punch drunk" dream that I had. I mentioned it to Jim a time or two. I think. I was still a little shaky.
I had to have help getting my shirt over my head. I wished that I'd brought a button-up instead of the pullover. Next we went to the hospital, then back to the hotel though I still don't remember a major portion of the transition.
I do remember one part of the hospital visit that reaffirmed my position on physicians. When it was all over the wizard at the emergency room said, "There isn't really anything we can do for broken ribs. You just have to keep them immobile and let them heal on their own. It should take about six weeks. I'll write you a script for the pain." What a surprise. Fortunately, my insurance covers emergency room visits.
"Hell man, I knew all of that. Why'd I need you? Oh yeah I remember now. You bastards have it lobbied so that you think you are the only people in this country smart enough to administer pain medication. I wish you were in my physics class you ..." I get irate when I'm in serious pain and dealing with quacks.
"Anson, calm down!" Jim grabbed me and put a nerve hold on me that hurt worse than my ribs. That was his way of telling me to either shut up or he would shut me up. Did I mention that Jim was my friend?
Unfortunately, my insurance only covered about twenty bucks of the prescription painkillers that cost two hundred. I have some vague memories of speaking very harshly to a short Pakistani pharmacist at an all-night drugstore. Jim has since assured me that the poor pharmacist didn't deserve any of the tongue-lashing. Like I said, I get irate with the whole medical industry in this country. It is an industry, not an art, or a merciful charity, or a scientific profession. Hell, it's not even magic for that matter.
by the time I got back to the hotel, the painkillers were working great. I was so loopy, I would never have made it into the room by myself. It seemed like the next thing I knew my alarm was buzzing at me. I hit it and it stopped. Then the phone rang. It was my wakeup call. I forced myself up and took a shower. Jim must have helped me pack, although I have no recollection of that.
Excerpted from Warp Speed by Travis S. Taylor Excerpted by permission.
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