100

“They’ve recruited you for further succession aboard an Alpha?” Soleil tossed the volley baton end over end in one hand, shield spaces around her flickering on and off. Draig rested his on his shoulder as the two descended to the workout basement.

“Yeah,” the lad replied, “I’m leaving in two weeks for the base off-planet from Foshan.”

“That’s remote.” They emerged from the stairs into a warehouse basement with extremely worn wooden floors. Nothing else lay out in the room, four exact pillars upholding the expanse.

“It’ll be like any other orbit station.”

“So, this may be the last time you spar against this upstart scrub?”

“Don’t call yourself that just because you haven’t won yet. And you’re not an upstart.” Draig effected a front-to-back shield rainbow while they loosened up.

“I’m still technically too young to be allowed to play. I have to notice when my status is the reason I’m given dispensation.”

Draig held his baton end up in a ready position from his zone. “There are ways to earn it. Stubbornly forging a shortcut could be considered one. Where did you learn to write a syllabus like that?”

“Don’t ask. Thanks for daring to duel me all this time.”

“You’re welcome. For what comes next!” They faced off, the younger girl already in a learned stance. They began with chivalry, a dialogue that allowed each other to display their finesse. With their batons, they batted the bright hitpoint between them while producing shielded areas with different rebound modifiers. Some of her moves had evolved past training, and he saw how she used a heavier baton for counterbalance.

As they ramped up their movement, Soleil’s patterns went bonkers, as if she were using three effects instead of two. The hitpoint interacted oddly with his shield placings, bouncing and brushing them at tangents. He saw that she was attracting specific feints, of which he gave some but not all.

There came a moment when Draig realized that something had been achieved. His shields were different. When activated, the planes were ragged with rippling holes. Her ability to achieve damage inside his shielding went from nowhere near his, to completely unfair – but he was smiling. He thought he might have just learned something about this exercise.

Afterward he asked what she did, and she replied, “I used instrument harmonics. Tone and tempo that match the technology. And programmatical geometry. And persistent point-slinging. I was not allowed to get distracted if I wanted to test my theory, because of how annoying you can be.”

“It’s my edge. I think you’ve found yours.”

Soleil’s face showed confusion. “What’s that?”

“The sudden and complete dismantling through study.” He saluted her with his weapon. “It’s been an honor.”

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