Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“A Tamborda Eleven-Ess-Two should never be underrated. Treat each one as if it just came off the production line.”

Master Needle’s words are soft-spoken yet carry upward to all in the gallery. On the dojo floor, his whipcord frame stands in an attitude of relaxation amongst the wreckage and rubble that simulates a city street. With a teeth-grating hiss, the mechanical doom that is a Tamborda-11S2 strides into view, its hatchet profile swinging as it searches. With a low whine, it locks onto the Master and moves swiftly in a standard intimidate-and-subdue protocol, the result of which should be another dead human.

Master Needle waits until it looms over him before moving. He hooks his right leg over the extending left arm while pushing off with his left leg. The Tamborda is still selecting proximity subdual protocol when the Master’s right hand shoots forward and round to touch the base of the skull at the spinal junction. With a crackling whine, the Tamborda ceases to move. Master Needle dismounts as the juniors applaud until cuffed into silence by their mentors.

“That is the way. Decision and precision are the true weapons of a Kochola practitioner. When you possess both in such quantities as to allow you to know every joint and seam in every model the Federati send against us, then you might return from your grading. Until then, you study.”

Everyone bows to him, founder of the martial art that allowed us to survive. Where South America fell and Africa capitulated, Europe only staggered. Who would have thought that acupuncture combined with an exhaustive knowledge of the robots sent to slaughter us would mark the start of a renaissance in us, the Resistors? Master Needle took a motley crew that spent more time running and hiding than resisting and fashioned a force to save us, using dojo and biker gang principles.

As we start to turn away, his voice carries a last admonition: “Do not push the robot over to celebrate your victory. Every one taken undamaged is another warrior for free humanity the following day.”

We pause to be sure he has finished the lesson, then carry on.

“Patch-bearer Grace. You are ready.”

Those words electrify me. Without thought I leap the gallery rail and land crouched before Master Needle, head bowed. To think I had come to this day. From scavenging the wastelands of London to the grading challenge that will either prove me a Kochola adept or leave my corpse lying unmourned.

If I survive, I will go out to spread the Art That Keeps for as long as I can survive. The Federati do not like us and have taken to carpet-bombing areas where we are establishing chapters.

I take from Master Needle a leather roll of needles so fine as to be almost unseen, yet strong enough to drive through sealant and polymer, conductive enough to short-circuit delicate systems. These are mine until he comes to take them from my body. Acolytes we have plenty of. Piercing needles are more precious than flesh. I see that the roll has eighteen coloured threads wrapped through its seams. I am to take a roll with provenance.

My dread switches from passing the graduation to not adding enough coup-threads. I feel a burden lift and look up to see Master Needle smile a knowing smile.

“Save your trepidation for avoiding the robot’s masters, Grace. Now take the Art That Keeps and make sure it keeps you riding, counting coup and teaching for a very long time.”

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