Christine scrolled through the catalogue of opponents in the computer database, looking for something she hadn’t faced before. She wasn’t familiar with the interface that provided the higher-level opponents, so it wasn’t going as smoothly as it should have.
A few screens back she’d managed to access the Earther database – that in itself was a considerable accomplishment. In her previous training facilities, she hadn’t been able to even look at a database of Earther opponents, and she had to admit she was eager to see how she’d fare against one of the much-vaunted fighters. Or at least a simulation of one.
Now she just needed to pick a species, skill level, and the armament! Ooh – that was a novel feature. Options included a long sword, two short swords, daggers, bare hands… the Earthers really did have some impressive holo technology.
This was so much better than her Academy simulator.
She’d have to choose something mid-range, then – for all her confidence Christine was not insane. A three-meter bear with a two-meter sword would not be forgiving. Cats were supposed to be very sly and hard to get a fix on. That left wolves – generally regarded as a healthy blend of the qualities of the other two, at least in the books she’d read.
Skill level ‘Easy’. No point disillusioning herself on the first try.
And weapons… she knew best how to fight a single long sword, so that would be it.
She tapped the screen a few times, and the holo generator began to hum. Flipping her blonde pony tail over the shoulder of her white fencing suit, she tugged her helmet on and hefted her sword.
Then the holo computer made a disagreeable sound, and red words flashed across it. She frowned and turned to check the floor. There was an Earther standing there, so whatever the problem was didn’t seem to be affecting the holo.
Taking a deep breath she walked away from the panel, watching the Earther as she closed with it. He was wearing the traditional Genesis fencing garb and had two short swords in his belt. Ahh, that must have been the glitch.
Christine slowly approached the Earther with her blade dipped towards the matted floor, then instinctively raised the saber’s hilt to her visor in salute. The Earther seemed to frown as it watched her – as if trying to figure out why a human would be seeking a fight.
Nothing to do but have at it then…
Christine drew her saber up overhead into a hanging guard, then lunged forward with a few testing cuts. The Earther actually looked shocked – probably because he was set on easy – and he leapt backward, quickly drawing his two short swords and bringing them into a defensive position.
She hadn’t faced too many double-sworded opponents before… well, she’d have to attack, keep the initiative…
Again she lunged across the floor – quickly, with quite a lot of deceptive grace – leading with the point, then rolling her wrist up to an outside guard as the Earther dropped back. He was moving just as quickly, and she realized coming straight on probably wasn’t going to work. She backed off slightly.
The Earther came forward with just as much speed, and a good deal more force. His two swords blurred in a counter-strike before Christine managed to get more than two steps back, so she instinctively traversed to the left to keep her blade edge toward him. As the holo came forward with complementary swings from each sword, she lunged, slicing upward, hoping to catch him off balance.
He dropped back smoothly, making her feel rather clumsy as his feet slid across the floor.
Christine’s steps carried her forward towards her target, her guard switching to the inside position and her other arm coming up behind her to maintain balance. The Earther advanced with a lunge, and this time she was able to parry sideways – only to watch the sword in the wolf’s second hand slicing for her stomach. She didn’t turn but instead leapt backward, her sword climbing high with the blade aimed down again.
She was suddenly stuck on the defensive. The Earther came forward with a force and a personal presence that was fundamentally frightening. His blades flew, and every time she got her sword into parrying position, the power of his strokes threatened to knock her saber from her hands.
And the whole time he looked so calm. She fell back, parrying and rolling her saber into a guard every time it was batted away. Her hasty withdrawal carried her across the mat, and the Earther pursued with serene determination. His swords came from opposite angles in economic arcs… If she could just disrupt the rhythm…
Instead of backing away, she suddenly traversed right, and her saber flew up at what should have been the Earther’s unprotected back. But one of the two short swords had returned to the defensive, and the other was whistling at her.
She ducked and the blade missed her narrowly. She fell back a half-dozen meters, and took a second – a literal second – to think.
Time for a new plan.
Releasing her more rigid traditional posture, she leaned forward just slightly and squared herself. Her sword wrist rolled and her blade swept menacingly through the air, a challenge to the Earther. He stood with a raised eyebrow and a bit of a surprised look, his two swords hanging lazily in his hands.
She went forward again, and with a different tactic.
Her feet still moved lightly, but this time it was the edge of her blade that the Earther faced with his blades. She swung in fast and hoped to catch him off guard, but one of his swords was there, and the other was already driving her back. So much for that idea.
Turning her torso away from him again, she hauled her saber back up to the hanging guard and stayed put. She needed to try to dictate the tone of this fight – she’d let him come to her.
The Earther sunk slightly at the knees, then in dramatic and seemingly impractical fashion he raised one short sword over his head and pointed the other directly at her, guard outwards.
He came forward in a blur she couldn’t entirely follow.
Christine traversed away immediately, circling and trying to stay out of range with her light steps. The Earther followed with heavy, impossibly fast strides. Every few seconds he taunted her with a possible strike – a lunge or a slash that she could choose to parry if she wanted to get closer… and every time she backed off. This wasn’t going as she’d hoped.
She had to strike back… she just had no idea of how to get in past the guard of two blindingly-fast swords.
So she’d bitten off more than she could chew.
She angled back toward the panel, hoping to let the Earther’s momentum drive them both that way. As the wolf continued to press forward against her defense with his controlled power, the plan seemed to work. The gym spread before her as she neared its corner. The panel had to be nearby…
She’d just have to step off the mat for the holo to stop.
And… there. Her careful balance allowed her to negotiate the edge of the mat rather handily.
Then her sword was gone and she was pinned against the wall with a blade pointing at her throat.
Oops. Maybe the malfunction was bigger than she thought.
Her hand flailed along the wall and found the panel. She slammed it with her palm, not entirely sure where the off button would be.
“Looking for this?”
Despite the point of the blade, Christine was able to crane her neck to see the frowning face of Graham Manchester. He pressed something on the panel and the holo hummed.
Christine let out a sigh of relief and turned back to watch the hologram vanish.
One appeared in the middle of the mat instead, and the Earther pinning her to the wall cocked an eyebrow, “I think we’ve had a bit of a misunderstanding.”
Completely terrified now, Christine froze.
The blades came away from her throat and chest – that was good – and slid back into the Earther’s belt. He offered a hand, “You’re quite good. I take it you took me for a holo?”
She nodded very slowly and nervously pulled off her helmet. Graham took a long and half-astonished gape, and Lupus smiled politely.
“Beckett Lupus. Pleased to meet you…” he leaned forward slightly in search of a name.
Christine felt a lot of blood rush to her face. This couldn’t be happening to her. No… that couldn’t be the same Lupus…
“G… General Lupus?”
Beckett nodded, “So they call me. I’m afraid I still haven’t caught your name, though.”
Graham retrieved Christine’s sword from the ground and quickly examined its hilt. The gold guard was engraved: “In honor of ArcLieutenant-General William ‘Bill’ Wallace, Sixth Fleet (Genesis) of the Allied Navy, Krogg ‘A’.” He studied the blade, then handed it back to Christine – who was by now completely red.
“This is my new aide, Beckett. Christine Schaeffer. She’s Bill Wallace’s granddaughter.”
There was an undertone of pride beneath Graham’s words.
Lupus’ eyebrows rose notably, and Christine swallowed, “I am so sorry General… I should have realized…”
Lupus grinned and Graham couldn’t fully suppress his smile.
She wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad, but Graham took the initiative on her behalf, speaking to Lupus, “Pat met her a couple of days ago… rather long story, actually.”
Lupus chuckled and nodded, “I imagine it is. Don’t worry Christine, I haven’t actually had a real workout in this gym before. Only been fencing with Graham you see, and I’m always glad for a change of pace.”
Christine’s eyes widened at the remark, and Graham frowned.
“You just took a shot at me,” he looked up at Lupus, and the General shrugged.
“Well, since that holo is standing out there so lonely, I’m going to go warm up,” Graham added. “We’ll see who gets a workout!”
Taking his helmet from under his arm, Graham turned away from Lupus and looked to Christine, “Since you’re here, would you give me a hand with this?”
She nodded eagerly, her complexion moderating again.
As the helmet dropped over his head, Graham leaned a bit closer to his aide, “Don’t be fooled, I’m really quite awful with the damned sword.”
A smile crossed her face and he went to face the holo.
Lupus turned to Christine again, “Now tell me, where did you learn to do that? I haven’t had that sort of bout with a human since I sparred with Sarah Manchester aboard Cerberus.”
She blinked a couple of times and shrugged, “Um. I just picked it up, I guess.”
Lupus frowned in a fatherly fashion and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to our ways.”
She tilted her head skeptically.
On the mat, Graham – who actually wasn’t as bad as he made himself out to be – easily disarmed the Earther holo.