"So it's all about how to stand?" I asked doubtfully.
"What would happen if someone built a house on mud?" Garrett asked.
We were in an auto salvage yard at the edge of town. The place had been abandoned since its owner had been murdered last year, and the city hadn't yet tried to sell it for back taxes. Garrett's friend was picking through the junk while Garrett was starting to teach me.
"I supposed the whole thing would fall apart."
"So why is a punch or a kick any different? It's all an application of physics; you push against the ground to get more power. It's true in pretty much all sports. Boxers spend a lot of time working on their footwork."
I'd seen the Rocky movies. I nodded slowly.
"This is the boring part," he continued. "But if you don't get this down none of the rest of it will work."
"All right," I said. "And then we'll start learning to punch and kick?"
"You already know how to punch and kick," he said. "The question is, can you do it well. Bruce Lee once said 'I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."
"So you're telling me I'm going to be doing the same thing a lot," I said.
"You can always quit," he said casually.
"No," I said. "I'm good with it."
"Martial arts takes a lot of patience and attention," Garrett said. "It takes years to get really good at it, and even then a lot depends on how much you put into it. There's some McDojos's downtown that'll give you a black belt if you put the time in, but you still wouldn't be able to beat the average gangbanger in a fist fight."
I nodded, tightening my lips.
Everyone seemed to think that I didn't have the patience for this, that I would play around with it and give it up, like a kid who gets a guitar and plays it for a couple of months before giving it up. This was my chance to make a difference, my chance to not only be safe but make Dad safe.
Brutes didn't really have a chance to change the world in the way that Tinkers did, but I still wanted to make whatver difference that I could.
Despite what he'd told me, he showed me several different punches and kicks, and it was hard to remember which ones to use in what situations.
I stripped down to my undershirt, and he looked carefully at my bruises.
"It looks like you're healing about three times as fast as a regular person. That's pretty crap for a brute, but we'll take what we can get."
He slipped on pads, but the only padding he gave me was for my head.
A moment later he was beating the crap out of me. I tried to fight back, but he was blazingly fast, so much so that I had trouble seeing what he was doing. When he hit me, it hurt. He kicked me, and I went flying.
"Physics is a bitch," he said as he reached down to help me up. "No matter how strong you are you still weigh only a hundred pounds. That means that you'll be easier to throw around than a big man, and it'll be even more important for you to stand right.
A few more times on the ground and I understood what he'd meant. If I wasn't able to set my feet so I could push back against whatever hit I took, I'd go flying. While I was in the air, with nothing to push against I was basically helpless.
Hopefully that wouldn't always be true, but for the moment it was what I was going to have to deal with.
He eventually took pity on me and slowed down and showing me what I was doing wrong. I doubted this was how most martial arts instruction worked; starting with a beating and working backward, but it was helping me see just how far I had to go.
Garrett had told Dad that a lot of McDojos gave their students false confidence where they'd always done everything in slow motion, without full contact sparring. People expected their enemies to react a certain way in a real fight when people were unpredictable.
There were breathing exercises that he expected me to practice on my own before the next time we met. I wasn't sure what the purpose was; something about strength.
That was the best part of the whole session, actually getting to fight even if I was clearly outmatched. I knew I was going to have other bruises to go with the ones I already had, but it didn't matter.
"You're already tougher than an ordinary person," he said. "The thing with the balls helped I think."
I didn't feel tougher. His punches and kicks had hurt, although considering that I only weighed a hundred pounds the fact that getting kicked in the stomach hadn't driven me to my knees meant that he was probably right.
Dodging practice had actually helped me avoid a couple of his attacks, although it was possible that he was slowing them down some to give me a little confidence.
"The thing is," he said. "You don't really get stronger by doing a lot of little reps. You get more toned maybe, but you've got to work with heavy weights to get really strong."
I had an uneasy suspicion as I looked around at the piles of discarded cars. When he got that look in his eye it usually didn't bode well for me.
"My friend has some items he wants you to load into the truck," he said.
I looked over at his friend, the one we'd met in the diner that first day. He was skinny, wearing a green T-shirt with some kind of stylized lantern on the front. He hadn't even bothered to look over at us, even when Garrett was slamming me onto the ground. He almost seemed like he was in some sort of fugue state.
His friend was most likely the Tinker he kept talking about; after all we were in a junkyard and I'd heard that beginning Tinkers had to scavenge parts to build things that their power compelled them to build.
They didn't admit to it, of course.
"So this is the pickup truck thing you were talking about?" I asked.
He stared at me for a moment then chuckled. "Problem with being strong is that people are going to want you to help them move. Yeah, pretty much."
I stared at the first engine. It had already been pulled out of the car and was sitting on some pallets. I reluctantly reached under it, trying to find a good grip on something that was large for my arms. I eventually figured it out, although I ended up getting grease all over the front of my T-shirt and jeans. It was monstrously heavy, and I could feel my arms and legs and back straining as I picked it up and staggered toward the back of the trailer.
"That's why I told you to wear crappy clothes," Garrett said smirking as I tried to wipe the grease off my shirt. "Just twelve more and we're done."
Not all of the engines were sitting conveniently outside on pallets. Some were still inside cars. I had to help rip the outsides of those off until I could get to the engine, although his friend was really good about unbolting them before it was time to pull them out.
Even with my growing strength, carrying some of the engines and heavier parts was difficult. Garrett had shown me how to lift with my legs and not my back; after all a back injury could prematurely end my career before it even started. Still, some of the angles I had to bend and stretch in made my back groan.
If I was going to keep doing this kind of thing I was going to need to do some kind of exercises to strengthen my back.
By the time we'd filled the covered flatbed trailer being pulled behind a heavy duty pickup truck, my back and legs and arms were all trembling and aching. The back of the trailer was full, and Garrett closed it with satisfaction after tying everything down.
"Don't want some crazy Final Destination kind of stunts," he said. At my look, he asked, "Haven't seen the movie?"
I shook my head.
"Philistine," he said. "We're going to have to broaden your horizons."
Dad kept saying that too, but I wasn't sure what he meant.
The truck started up and its wheels spun under the weight before finaly finding traction. A moment later the truck was finally pulling away.
I'd have asked where they kept getting all of their vehicles, but considering that his friend was a tinker with access to a yard filled with parts, it wasn't surprising.
"Why haven't people stripped this place?" I asked, looking around.
There were people in Brockton Bay right now stripping abandoned buildings of their wiring and their copper.
"It's far enough out of town that not a lot of people know about it," Garrett said. "And a lot of the stuff is too heavy to carry, and a lot of it is rusted."
I had little doubt that both of them had already stripped the place of its most valuable and most easily salable parts. I was starting to get the idea that Garrett and his friend tended to be a little sketchy sometimes.
"So it's ok to tear stuff up here?"
"There aren't any owners left," he said. "Maybe the city, but they aren't looking like they plan to do anything with it any more than they did something about the Boat Graveyard."
I let myself slide down the side of a car to side on the ground. I was covered in grease and sweat, and my muscles felt like they wouldn't ever work again.
Garrett handed me a water bottle, and I took a deep drink.
"You couldn't have lifted a quarter of what you just did a couple of weeks ago," he said. "You're getting stronger fast."
"That's not the only thing that's getting better," I said, fininshing the water in one long drink. I pulled myself up and I set the bottle on the hood of the car, turning and walking toward Garrett.
"Oh?" he asked.
"I want to show you something that I just learned," I said.
I turned and focused on the water bottle I'd just left on the hood of the wrecked Chevy Impala. I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling for my Ki.
A moment later I opened my eyes and I pushed outward.
Energy flew from my hand and slammed into the plastic bottle, making it fly off the hood of the car. It had taken me almost two hours to get to the point where I could weaponize my blasts, and they were still really weak, but I I knew they wouldn't stay that way.
Garrett was staring at me, his eyes wide.
"It only hits about as hard as a baseball," I said apologetically "And it tired me out pretty quickly. Still, it's a start, don't you think?"
"What else have you figured out how to do?"
Frowning, I concentrated, pulling my Ki inside myself for a moment. I jumped straight up, five feet into the air, and I hung there, my momentum stopped as I started slowly floating down to the ground.
"That's it," I said.
I was sweating, but it felt pretty good to be able to do it without smashing my head into the basement roof. Dad had insisted that we move down there after I'd broken his favorite lamp.
Doing both of those things in a row tired me as much as running twelve miles, but Dad had assured me it was going to get a lot easier with practice. He'd been able to fire a lot more energy blasts than I had.
"That means you're going to be able to do some Crouching Tiger stuff," he said, looking suddently excited. "This is gonna be amazing."
"What's wrong with your father?" Garrett demanded. "Hasn't he shown you any quality media? I suppose you can tell me which My Little Pony episode jumped the shark/"
"None of them," I said.
He gritted his teeth. "We're explanding your education, young lady. If all you learn is fighting you'll turn into an uneducated meathead. I suppose you can play movies at home?"
I nodded slowly. This sounded like homework, and not the kind that was going to get me closer to my goal.
"The other thing I want you to do is follow me," he said.
I followed him around several cars stacked up on top of each other.
There was a massive old, battered dump truck with its wheels removed sitting on the dirt. Massive chains were connected to it, leading to something that looked like something I'd seen attached to oxen in medieval movies.
It was a yoke.
"Pull it," Garrett said.
"That's got to weigh a ton," I said.
"A regular car weighs a ton and a half, this one weighs a lot more than that. Are you afraid?"
I shook my head and a moment later he showed me how to use the yoke.
It was like pushing a wall; immutable and beyond anything I could do. No matter how I strained myself I couldn't move it. I felt my face going red as I strained, but there wasn't the slighest amount of give to it.
"It'd be a lot easier if it had wheels," Garrett said. "Or if the dirt wouldn't pile up in front of it when you finally do move it. Are you ready to quit?"
I shook my head.
It was twenty minutes before he was finally convinced that I wasn't going to be able to move it.
"They say that Glory girl can throw one of these," he said. "And even she doesn't go up against Lung."
"Crap," I said. I'd been so pleased that I was strong enough to move those engines.
He stared at me for a moment, considering. "Did you ever hear about the story of the man who moved a mountain?"
I shook my head.
"There was a man in India in the late fifties, before Scion or parahumans. He lived in a remote mountain village, happily with his wife. It was only five miles to the nearest town as the bird flies, but the only way to get there was over fifty miles of mountain trails."
Garrett shook his head. "His wife slipped and fell one day, and because no one could get her to a hospital on time, she died."
"That's terrible," I said, although I wasn't sure why he was telling me this story.
"He could have given up, shrugged his shoulders, maybe even moved. Instead, he sold his goats to pay for a hammer and a chisel and he got to work. He quit his job and he beat the mountain every day with his tools."
Cricking his neck, Garrett looked down at me. "He didn't have any parahuman powers. All he had was a will and determination. It took him twenty two years, but eventually he carved his way through the mountain, twenty five feet high, thirty feet wide and three hundred and sixty feet long."
I tried to imagine how much work that would have been, but couldn't.
"Suddenly the hospital was just five miles away instead of fifty. The local children could go to school right next door. He'd beaten the mountain by not giving up, even when the people around him thouught he was crazy."
"This is a true story?"
"That's unfortunately where you're at. People like Alexandria just get to have power by having one really bad day. You're going to have to work for it. If you want to be great you'll have to sweat blood and tears."
He gestured toward the truck. "This is your mountain. You'll come out here and try to move this several times a week until you finally move it."
I stared at him.
"You'll be practicing those blasts of yours too," he said. "And watch the movie; you'll see what I mean."
I watched the movie that night, and to my surprise I actually liked it. The women fighting in it moved like dancers, unconstrained by anything as pedestrian as gravity. They manipulated gravity, using it to anchor themselves, to land accurate strikes, even to hold opponents in place.
Even if I couldn't fly for a long time, if I could do something like that it would give me a massive advantage in at least certain kinds of fights.
The characters hadn't been able to throw balls of energy either. Being able to do that while bouncing all over the battlefield would make me a lot harder to fight.
That wasn't going to happen for a while though. Garrett had given me my first set of weighted clothes, including a one hundred fifty pound weighted vest and bands for my arms and legs. I'd have to wear long sleeves, but I still had remnants of bruises so I'd have had to cover them up anyway.
An ordinary person shouldn't wear weights all the time on their arms and legs because it could cause damage to the joints, but Garrett thought that my puny amount of enhanced healing would be enough to keep it from being a problem.
Additionally, the weights on my arms and legs were only forty pounds, just enough to keep me toned. It wasn't to make me stronger, really, but to help me get faster.
It would slow me down to normal levels and maybe even make me a little clumsy at first. This would help me keep the secret if Sophia tried anything.
The one thing I'd have to watch out for was falling onto my classmates if Sophia tripped me, or having them try to steal my clothes during gym class. If they noticed how heavy they were they'd know I was a Cape.
Speed was as important as strength, and I was going to have to get faster if I was going to fight the way I wanted to. My first time sparring with Garrett I'd had trouble with remebering what kicks and punches to use; part of that was inexperience, but part of it was that I just couldn't think fast enough.
Worse, I knew that he was going slow for me. I'd seen him fighting the ABB guys when we'd first met, and he'd been like greased lightning. I wanted to be that fast, fast enough that I could punch someone before they even realized they'd been hit.
I had the uneasy feeling that I really was going to have to keep chipping away at the mountain if I was ever going to get what I wanted. I just hoped that it didn't take twenty two years.