Tennyson at Tai Chi



A scene of Tennyson in motion, intended for the third novel in the series. This could do with a lot more polishing.


I’d like to tell you that Tennyson moves like a cat, but in my experience most cats make a whole load more noise than Ten does when she’s trying to be quiet.

Over the last few years I've got used to the way she can suddenly appear right next to me without any warning. Its become a bit of a game between us which she wins most of the time and, tell the truth, I suspect she deliberately loses on occasion just so I don't feel too bad.

I remember seeing her arguing the toss with a group of Russian heavies; the only sounds were “Smack”, 'Oof!” and one pained “Bozhe moi!”

I've seen her drop twenty feet from a balcony, nail the landing like an Olympic gymnast, and still not make a sound. When I think back though, in that instance my ears were still ringing from the sound of a Mauser going off in a toilet cubicle, so I might well have missed something.

I've seen her walk right across a gravel path without making a sound, and I still haven't the faintest idea how she managed that  trick.

Anyway you get the idea.

I remember waking up naturally one morning to find the pillow beside me empty. Not that unusual in itself, and exploring gently with my left hand found nothing but cold mattress, indicating Tennyson must have been up for some time. That’s not unusual either, but by now I’d expect to have been woken by sounds of demolition coming from the kitchen, in other words the noise made by her very German bean-to-cup coffee machine going into action.

Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the noise it makes; the thing sounds like it was designed to pulverize granite rather than grind coffee beans. I find it reminiscent of the sound that might be made by a Panzer with a knackered gearbox that has just seen Monty and the whole Eighth Army coming over the horizon.

Anyway suffice to say there’s absolutely no sleeping through it, and even if there were, Tennyson makes her anti-personnel Java so strong the caffeine content of the aroma alone would be enough to wake Tut-Ankh-Amun and send him running for the loo.

I sniffed. Not the slightest hint of coffee.

Curiouser and curiouser.

I still had my eyes closed at this point, it’s another game we like to play; trying to work out what’s going on by sound alone. All I could hear was the slight hiss of my breathing, and the slow beat of my own heart. In the absence of any other sound I was forced to pay attention to the input from my optic nerve.

Nothing. Just the false-triggering of rods and cones on idle. Or was it? Maybe there was a little illumination out there, a candle-power or two trying to break through my eyelids.

Yes, a very slight flicker showing there was at least something to flicker with, and something or someone moving to cause it.

Slowly I opened my eyes a little, and paused to allow the blurriness to pass. As the world came into focus I perceived the room around me very faintly, granily illuminated by the dim light of false dawn rising in the east. The curtains were drawn all the way back from the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up the wall that side. There was little detail, and there were no real colours to be seen as yet, just the impression of the walls and ceiling around me, the windows, and Tennyson standing still with her arms at her sides, silhouetted against the sky.

After a few moments she began to move.

Even now I’ve never got used to the fluid grace that is Tennyson Viterbi in motion, and that she can bring to the most humble and mundane of tasks.

I’ve watched entranced as she hailed a taxi. I’ve stood open-mouthed as she hopped onto a crowded underground train (and nearly missed getting on it myself) I’ve seen her perform a perfect pirouette the Bolshoi would be proud of, while taking out the bin bags. Now however I was treated to one of my favorite shows; Tennyson practicing Tai Chi.

At any time Tennyson practicing her martial arts is pure ballet, but with the benefit of omitting the brainless plot and the idiotic costumes.

This morning costumes of any sort weren't in evidence at all. Tennyson performing her kata naked is even better, and not just for the obvious reason either.

To cap it all, this one time was even better than usual. At that moment she believed I was still fast asleep, that she was alone save for the dawn and her own faint reflection in the glass, ans she didn’t know she was being observed.

Ten is not overly self conscious at any time, but I’d always suspected there was an element of it in her makeup. And seeing her now confirmed it. Yes, I was in for a real treat.

She began slowly and gently. Right arm extended forwards, then flexed at the elbow and drew back as left arm extended palm out. Her right foot swept backwards in an arc, then torso rotated to alter the stance ninety degrees....

I'm not going to describe every move in detail here, if I did that I'd need a chapter at least to cover the 104-move sequence alone and you might well get bored before the end. No, if you've read enough of my stories to have an accurate image of Tennyson in your head you'd probably be as fascinated as I was and not able to put it down. Maybe I'll do that some time, with commentary. Would you like that?

The sequence proceeded in complete silence. No sound of breathing, and however she moved each footfall was as light and silent as a feather.

Most people don't really understand Tai Chi, and think of it as little more than the gentle exercise regime beloved of early-rising office workers in Central Park, that seems to appear at least once in any movie filmed in New York.

True, its certainly good exercise, but it can also be much more than that. Even most of those versed in the martial arts are fooled by its description as a ‘soft’ art, but they are wrong too.

They say that, properly done, Tai Chi exercises every single muscle in the body except one, and right at that moment I could well believe it. Some say even that one gets a good workout, though in Tennyson’s case its pretty much unnecessary, as we make sure to exercise that area pretty regularly too.

Watching Tennyson now I was put in mind of a hunting panther, and reminded (though knowing full well that I was mixing the metaphors) why the Ninja were called ‘The Silent Warriors’.

Eventually Ten finished the sequence, returning to the rest pose with feet together and hands at her sides.

She paused like that, not a muscle moving for maybe thirty seconds, then began again.

A little faster this time.

For those of you in the know I'll tell you a bit more about it. Tennyson's personal training kata are based loosely on Wu style Fast-form Tai Chi, but with a little Tai Kwon Do and a few twists of her own thrown in. The result is still mostly true to the original 'soft' style, but includes the occasional bit of hard-and-sharp.

If you can imagine a feather duvet with a few barbed caltrops hidden in it you'll have grasped the general idea.

Ten is never likely to be tied down to just one way of doing things of course, so she also trains in other martial art styles from time to time. She even does a bit of La Savate, though that makes her look less like a ballerina and more like a psychotic honey-badger on bad acid attacking a pack of hyenas. Seeing that is a bit disquieting, and always make me feel very, very glad we're on the same side.

Ten finished the second run-through, and paused for another half minute.

Then she began a third.

Faster again.

I may have mentioned that the sight of Tennyson naked is a treat that never seems to grow older, (a bit like Tennyson herself oddly enough,) and the current view of her fine, smooth, perfect body in motion was undeniably sexy in the extreme, but as the morning light slowly strengthened towards dawn the scene before me changed. Already it had deepened from silhouette, now it was revealing more detail by the second. Where I had seen what was happening scant minutes before, now the subtle interplay of light and shadow revealed the why, in the working of whipcord muscles just below the skin. I watched Ten's bicep flex for a fraction of a second as she brought her arm up into a lightning block, and on the other side her tricep tightened an instant later to bring the arm to a halt. I saw the muscles of her forearm twitch in sequence, one – two – three – four as she curled her fingers. I saw the piraformis in her right buttock twitch a fraction of a second before she launched a kick with her left  that could have taken someone's head off.

As she progressed the silence fractured a little. Still not a footfall betrayed her, and however fast she moved there was no betraying ‘whoosh — snap’ like you hear in the movies. No, her motion was still as silent as a shadow but her breathing was just becoming audible now as her lungs kicked into a slightly higher gear.

Faster and faster she moved. At one point a slight hesitation suggested she was nearing her limit, but that limit was so high and so fast I wouldn’t have believed it even of Tennyson if I hadn’t seen it for myself.

I’d thought Tennyson might have been a bit self-conscious when being observed. What I was seeing now certainly confirmed that, though maybe not in the way I expected. I’d watched her for a couple of years by then but what I was witnessing at that moment was like nothing I’d ever seen before outside of a dodgy Chinese Kung-Fu flick, and she was doing it all in one take without the benefit of stuntmen, CGI or speeding up the fight sequences.

Now she was nearing the end of the sequence, and this time she introduced a bit of variation. Beginning maybe six moves from the end she began to drift closer to the window. The dawn light was gaining fast now, details sharpening and coming into focus. The transition between her raven-black hair and lighter skin showed clear and sharp, and a momentary gleam flashed from her eyes as they briefly reflected light in my direction.

Two forms from the end now, and a complete change. Instead of a high kick leading to the final block she performed a flying roundhouse landing ninety degrees off, which was certainly not part of the normal sequence. Before I could begin to guess where this was going, she rolled into a forward break-fall over her right shoulder, aimed straight towards the bed rather than across the room like before. I began to wince, expecting Ten to run into the rather knobbly oak foot-board with a bang.

I should have known better of course; Tennyson doesn’t make that sort of mistake.

No, even before I could complete the wince she came out of the roll into a rising leap right over the foot-board, and landed like a cat on hands and knees right above me. I was too surprised to move though, pinned beneath the duvet as I was, I couldn’t have gone far even if I’d wanted to. Ten froze in that position for a few heartbeats, with her eyes no more than four inches from mine. She was breathing hard, and a single drop of sweat ran to the tip of her nose, clung there for a moment, then fell off and landed on my upper lip. I tasted the salt, and smelled both the faintly milky scent of her breath, and the spicy aroma of her sweat.

Then she smiled and leaned forward to kiss me gently on the lips.

“How long?” she asked.

“Three runs-through.” I replied.

“Huh?” She sounded genuinely surprised, “Most then. I only did four and didn’t spot you 'til the last.”

I recalled the brief hesitation. She’d been facing me at the time I recalled.

“How’d I give myself away?”

“Bit of light reflecting from your eyes.” she grinned, “Facing the window there wasn't much you could have done about that.”


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