Chapter 1: Koo Muk Dwan CHAPTER 1 [TIM] KOO MUK DWAN
“So, how’s it going with Jordan?” asked Rafaella Martinez.
The two of us, Rafaella and I, had stopped our bikes and were standing side by side on the bridge we cross on the way home from school. I love the bridge because it gives a great view of the Hevi-Hevian embassy, which is located on top of the big hill in Thorncraft Park. The embassy looks a lot like a huge flying saucer. It dangles from a two-hundred-foot-high hook that arches up from the hill like the top of a coat hanger. The hook is made from some alien metal. It’s only about a foot wide, and looks incredibly flimsy for something so huge.
No matter how often I see the embassy, I don’t get tired of it. How could I? My whole life I had been wanting to meet an alien. So when our teacher, Ms. Weintraub, announced that the first alien embassy on Earth was going to be put here in Syracuse, I thought my head would explode. It’s a good thing I didn’t find out then that Pleskit, the alien ambassador’s son and world’s first purple sixth grader, would turn out to be my best friend. I think the excitement would have killed me on the spot!
Today, as usual, a crowd of sightseers was gathered below the embassy, gawking up at it. I knew most of them would give their right arms to get inside, so I couldn’t help but feel slightly smug about the fact that I visit it almost daily.
“Big crowd this afternoon,” I said.
Rafaella nudged me with her elbow. “Stop avoiding my question!”
She was right, of course; that was exactly what I was doing. But it was a tricky subject. Jordan Lynch had been my mortal enemy ever since he’d transferred into our school two years before, after he’d gotten kicked out of the fancy private school he used to go to. But things had started to change after Jordan, Pleskit, and I had been shrunk by an evil hamsteroid alien named Wiktor-waktor-wooktor. Wiktor wanted to get revenge on us for the fact that Pleskit and I had thwarted the plans of his littersister, Mikta-makta-mookta. Surviving the experience together had changed things between Jordan and me. Only, I still hadn’t figured out exactly what the change was.
“I don’t know what to think,” I said to Rafaella at last. “Jordan still isn’t what you would call a friend.” I shuddered. “I can’t imagine that ever happening! But he’s definitely not as much of an enemy as he used to be. It’s very confusing.”
“Don’t worry,” said Rafaella soothingly. “You’ll figure it out eventually.”
I smiled. I used to get my social advice from my upstairs neighbor Linnsy Vanderhof, until she got merged into a symbiotic link with a crablike creature named Bur. Now she’s off exploring the galaxy. I miss her, and not just because I need her advice—which was often accompanied by a “little punchie-wunchie” in the arm, which was meant to teach me not to be such a dork.
To tell the truth, I don’t actually miss the punchie-wunchies. But the social advice is something I still desperately need, since I don’t have much ability in that direction myself. Fortunately, Rafaella has started helping me with it during the last month or so.
Sometimes I feel guilty about starting to be such good friends with Rafaella, almost as if I were being disloyal to Linnsy in some way. I don’t know why I should feel like that, especially since Rafaella is nicer to me than Linnsy ever was. But as my mother always says, “The heart has reasons of which reason knows not.” As near as I can make out, this basically means that emotions don’t always make sense. Based on personal experience, I would say this is definitely true.
“What I’m worried about,” said Rafaella, changing the subject slightly, “is Doris. Do you think she’s still running around loose in the walls?”
“I’m afraid so,” I said uneasily.
Doris used to be one of our class’s pet hamsters. We had three of them—Doris the Delightful, Hubert Hugecheeks, and Ronald Roundbutt. But a combination of Pleskit’s mega-vitamins and Wiktor-waktor-wooktor’s HAMSTER (Human Attribute Maximization, Strength Treatment, and Energy Raising) Ray had transformed them into intelligent mutants. It turned out Doris had been misnamed; she was anything but delightful.
After Wiktor was captured, each of the mutants chose a different fate. Hubert asked to be turned back into a normal hamster; he was still living in our classroom, happily cramming his face so full of seeds we were always afraid his cheeks were going to burst. Ronald, on the other hand, had gone to live in the Hevi-Hevian embassy—probably the safest place for a miniature mutant, since Earth is not really set up for five-inch-high intelligent beings. As for Doris, she had disappeared into the walls of the school, where she was still lurking, if she hadn’t died or reverted. Now whenever anything small disappeared—pencils, erasers, things like that—people blamed it on the renegade hamster.
I was pretty nervous about her. Everyone was, in fact.
The school had put out mousetraps, but the mutated Doris was far too intelligent to fall for anything that simple. They gave up on the traps after they found one where Doris had taken out the bait and replaced it with a picture of Mr. Grand, the school principal. When the janitor took the trap to Mr. Grand, he tried to take out the picture, but the trap snapped shut on him and almost broke his finger. Somehow Doris had made the spring more powerful.
She is not someone to mess with.
Remembering my final battle with Doris made me remember something else. “Holy cow!” I cried. “I’ve got to get going. McNally promised to give me another Koo Muk Dwan lesson today!”
Rafaella smiled. “You enjoy those, don’t you?”
I nodded. “McNally’s pretty cool.”
McNally—his full name is Robert McNally, but he prefers to be called by just his last name—is Pleskit’s Earthling bodyguard. Recently he started teaching me the martial art he was trained in, mostly so I could stop worrying so much about Jordan. It’s great! For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel as if I can take care of myself.
“See you tomorrow,” said Rafaella, getting back onto her bike.
As I watched her ride away, I wondered why it bothered me so much to have her go. Then I sighed and hurried off to the embassy to meet my geeba-raku. (That’s what you call your teacher in Koo Muk Dwan.)
McNally was waiting for me, already dressed in his black robes.
“You really love this stuff, don’t you?” I asked as we started our session. Well, not exactly as we started. First we had to do breathing exercises, then sit in silence for several minutes to clear our minds, which is probably a good idea, except whenever I sit in silence, my mind just sort of runs berserk.
“It saved my life,” said McNally. “Twice.”
“You mean because you used it to beat off someone who was trying to kill you?” I asked excitedly.
He shook his head. “No, it saved my life when I was a kid. I was this totally dweeby little guy and—”
“Are you kidding?” I interrupted.
“I don’t kid about this stuff, Tim,” he said sincerely.
I looked at him in astonishment. It was hard to believe this big, buff bodyguard had been a dweeby little kid once. Maybe there was hope for me after all.
“What I was going to say,” continued McNally, “was that Koo Muk Dwan saved me the first time by giving me enough confidence that other kids just stopped picking on me.”
He moved into the training posture called “Leg of an Ostrich.”
“And the second time?” I asked, imitating him carefully.
“It kept me from getting too cool,” he said. “I almost got hooked up with the wrong group of kids when I was a teenager. My geeba-raku gave me a choice—I could run with them, or study with him. I finally chose to stay with him.” He shook his head. “There were about ten guys in that group. By the time we were twenty-one, three of them were dead, and three were in the slammer. Who knows where I’d be now if I hadn’t had the right teacher?”
I was listening to this with such astonishment that I forgot to breathe properly, and fell over while I was attempting to move into the pose called “the Giraffe’s Elbow.”
“How come Pleskit doesn’t want to learn this?” I asked.
McNally shrugged. “Hevi-Hevians aren’t very interested in the martial arts. I think they believe their civilization has gotten past the need for fighting.” He looked at me carefully. “Can you tell me what’s wrong with that idea?”
“This isn’t about fighting,” I answered quickly, repeating what he had taught me. “It’s about mastering your body.”
McNally smiled and then spun through a blazing series of leaps.
Man, do I want to be like him when I grow up.
The training session was good but exhausting. My muscles ached as I rode home, but I didn’t mind.
Mom was still at the hospital when I got into the apartment. She works as a nurse in the emergency ward, which means she has great stories to tell, really gory things about missing toes and stuff. It took me a while to learn that you can’t talk about that kind of thing when other people are at dinner, ’cause it makes them kind of sick. But since Mom has to deal with it every day, it doesn’t bother her much.
In the living room I stopped to examine the model of the Tarbox Moon Warriors ship that Mom had given me for my birthday. It was an original, from way back when the show first ran, and when I’d opened it, I had been amazed because I know how expensive they are—expensive and just about impossible to get.
“I didn’t buy it, Tim,” she’d said, smiling. “It belonged to your father. I always intended to give it to you when you turned twelve.”
“You are beautiful,” I whispered now, stroking the little ship with my fingertip.
Then I grabbed a snack and headed for my room.
When I walked through my bedroom door, I saw something that startled me so much, I nearly dropped my nachos.