“How’s the weather Daniel,” Andromeda spoke into the air as she continued on.
“The space currents are strong today, and blustery, you can probably generate a de-atomizing field of fifteen percent before you start to get pulled by the tachyon currents,” came the reply of her A.I. that only she could hear.
“It must be very blustery; I’ve notice you’ve been having trouble maintaining a steady gravity sim’. This is going to make flying and fighting at the same time tricky,” she commented back.
“Agreed,” replied Daniel, “I will try to keep you steady by tuning your fields focused by your suit itself, but you will have to use the tach-rod fields with skill to keep upwind and get your shots off without being pulled off course.”
“That’ll be tough if the currents keep shifting,” Andromeda adjusted a setting on her goggles, and observed as the sub-atomic currents were visually represented to her vision.
“I’m glad you decided to show-up Ande’,” Donnavan’s voice disrupted her assessment. She turned to see the seedy rep from Charles Gateway making his way towards her followed closely by Aaron.
“So where’s your guy? You don’t expect that kid to take me, do you?” Andromeda motioned toward her intended apprentice.
“No, no my dear,” Donnavan replied. He turned to a crowd of rough looking shard seekers gathered on the edge of the nearby dueling field.
“Five hundred credits to whoever can best the young woman here!” he shouted. Several heads turned and men began to come forward.
“I’ll take her down for three hundred and a keg!” shouted a rider from the back of the group.
The crowd parted to reveal a dark haired man, average in build, in a worn and battered shard harness. He was well known to Andromeda, who cursed under her breath.
“Ah, very well Mr. Hawkens, 300 credits and the finest beer I can find! We have a deal,” Donnavan smirked.
Donnavan and the others moved back as Andromeda and her challenger approached the field. Each leaned their long rail guns against a nearby rock, close to the crowd. Andromeda checked her belt to ensure she had enough ammunition. As expected every spare inch not holding a satchel or holster held a tapered metal bolt. Hawkens meanwhile reached to the quiver on his back and quickly counted the long needle like arrows it held. He shrugged, apparently satisfied with the number, and spoke to Andromeda in a low tone as they both made their way out into the field.
“I heard about Ben. You still searching the rim?” Hawkens asked looking straight ahead as they walked.
“Whenever I’m not dealing with **** from Donnavan,” she sighed before continuing, “Your still a sucker for a keg I see.”
“What’s a boy to do?” Hawkens gestured his arms to the sides as he began to back away, pacing the distance to his starting mark.
“It’s nothing personal, ‘K?” Andromeda shouted across the field as she clipped a tach-rod to her feet.
“Never is Ande’, never is,” Hawken replied while attaching a cord to two of the opposing ends of his double tach-rod. He gave the bow string a pluck and smiled at Ande’.
“Ready when you are Hun’.”
“Cut the Grav-sim Daniel, just keep me steady and safe” she said quietly. Without another hesitation Andromeda leapt into the air as the two tachyon fields formed in front of her rods. She grabbed a bolt from her belt and hurled past her hand and the field in front of her, straight towards her opponent.
As the bolt passed through the glowing aura a hissing burst could be heard and the solid object disintegrated into a blast of energy. The explosion streamed along the trajectory of the vaporized bolt as though it were fired from a gun.
A pico-second later it reached its target and collided with Hawkens’ own field projected in from of his modified tach-rod bow. A spray of sand could be seen as the energy was harmlessly converted back to matter.
“You’ll have to do better than that!” Hawkens shouted as he too leapt to the skies and the crowd below began to cheer.
The pair flitted above the dune, spiraling about each other, getting a feel for the subspace winds and their opponents pace. Andromeda surfed gracefully on one glowing sail while steering with another in her hand held. Hawkens glided through the skies on his single larger hand-held field and used short field pulses from his boots to guide his path.
A blast of energy leapt out at Andromeda as Hawkens paused to release an arrow. He was faster in the air and could fight at longer range with his bow, but Andromeda had agility on her side.
Andromeda dodged the blast, and rounded to the east. As much as she had tried to avoid it the winds were against her already, she tacked in quick zigzags as tried to make way headway against the subspace winds.
Unable to both navigate with her fields and aim them at Hawkens, it was all she could do to dodge his blasts as they sped towards each other. Just at the point where the two would collide Ande’ dodged to the side and barrel rolled around as her opponent passed beneath. She didn’t have time to waste with Donnavan’s little game. She needed to end this quickly.
“Daniel, off,” she said as she watched Hawkens zip below with speed that would be hard to match. If she were going to catch him she would need an element of surprise, and a stunt that her faithful A.I would certainly interfere with.
Andromeda’s fields disappeared, and she flipped gracefully as she began to freefall headlong towards the ground several hundred meters below. The pull of the planets gravity accelerated her descent until she was plummeting to the ground at breath-taking speed.
In the sky above Hawkens was slowing to search out his target. Ande’ waited until she reached terminal velocity a mere few hundred meters above the ground before re-activating her fields. The sub-space winds caught her glowing sails and she was instantly ripped out of her downward trajectory. Large plumes of sand erupted behind her as she skimmed past the planets surface. The G-forces of her graceful arc threatened unconsciousness as she was slung back into the skies directly toward the unsuspecting Hawkens.
“Wake-up Daniel,” She was hurtling at her opponent now, and the speed she had gained from her freefall was too difficult to manage on her own. She could see Hawkens eyes now as he searched the horizon. She had him right where she wanted him.
An instant later they collided. The tach-field ahead of her faded as its energy blended with that emitted by Hawkens shard harness. Her outstretched fist, still clutching her tach-rod, struck him firmly in the stomach.
Hawkens doubled over with the impact and looked in surprise as his adversary continued to push past him. It wasn’t that she disliked Hawkens, in another setting she would have backed him to the death as any fellow shard seeker would. She just couldn’t afford to miss a shot, and besides, she had a lot of aggression to work out of her system. The promise of a black-eye was delivered with a second slug from her free hand as she continued past.
Andromeda, still carried by her momentum, continued upward as the disoriented Hawkens began to fall. Ande' quickly hurled a barrage of bolts at him as her upward ascent reached its peak. But Hawkens too experienced to remain dazed for long. He recovered quickly, blocking her shots and launched an arrow of his own at her as he fell.
The currents suddenly shifted as the blast of energy approached, and Andromeda reacted with her defensive sail to avoid being blown off balance. The mistake cost her. She tried to swing the field at her feet around to block the blow, but was too late. The direct hit threw her further into the air.
“****! Daniel, what happened!”
“I diverted as much of your suit shields as possible to de-energize the blow, however you have suffered some damage,” replied the familiar voice as calm and steady as ever.
Another beam of energy narrowly missed the girl now beginning to fall through the air. Andromeda reactivated her tach-rods and swung around to face her opponent. Hawkens was circling from a good distance, taking advantage of his greater accuracy at range.
Just then the rod in Ande’s hand began to shake. She gripped tighter but the shuttering grew worse. A snapping sound came from her glove and the tach-rod burst out of her grip.
“Damn it Daniel!” She bellowed at the disembodied voice.
“The pneumatics in your right glove have gone off line,” Daniel informed her.
Carried by its energy field the long pole blew out and away from her reach like a kite cut from its string. Unable to focus the energy emitted by her shards as it moved out of range, the sail-like field dissipated and the rod plummeted to the ground.
The blasts from Hawkens were still coming. Andromeda swung her feet repeatedly using the only remaining field at her feet to deflect the blasts. She threw a couple bolts of her own between her boots, but it was no use. She couldn't hit him at that distance.
“Daniel,” she cried after another blast from Hawkens nearly hit her, “I'm a sitting duck out here. We need to get in range!”
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