“What’s that called again?” She makes a looping motion with her fist.
“After you catch one? When you wrap your end around the saddlehorn?”
“Yeah, that.” Her horse swishes his tail at flies stubborn enough to stand the hot midday breeze.
“It’s called a ‘dally’, Amanda.”
“Right, right, I knew that. Think I could try it yet?”
Her father shifts in his saddle, glancing towards the house beyond the corral. “Ehh. I dunno, kiddo. I don’t think your momma would much be a fan.”
She sighs, pursing her lips sideways. “I’m good enough. You know I am.”
“I know. I also know cattle look funny enough, but they’ll stomp your guts into the ground if you don’t got your eyes and ears on. You keep practicing on that dummy I welded for you, and we’ll think about it for next season.”
She tilts her head back and lets out the kind of exasperated sigh only an 11-year-old can pull off.
Her father pushes his hat back and grins, wrinkles forking across the laugh-lines in his weathered face.
She can still remember that grin. Papa had a shit-eating grin for days.
She can still remember Mama singing in the kitchen.
She can still remember…
…how easy it is to lose concentration as the rogue Fallen Captain’s blade descends in a sweeping arc towards her midsection, as she pivots just in time to avoid worse than a nick on the arm. Small a wound though it may be, her arm threatens to go limp as a jolt of arc energy jumps through the contact point.
Being surprised on a routine sweep for spare parts (and hopefully, a forgotten cache) hadn’t helped. Some “day off” this is turning out to be.
Amanda shrugs the weakened shoulder, twists her body to boost the momentum of her shotgun, whipping it under her arm and into her hands.
She sidesteps and fires low as the Captain swings his second blade down, rewarded with a blast of cartilage and blood-spattered armor that sends him down to one knee. He roars something in Eliksni – Amanda assumes a curse or swear-word – as she turns, running for the Sparrow, shotgun slung back on her shoulder.
Most of the feeling has returned. Lucky.
She fires up the thruster, foot paused and hovering over the accelerator. The coiled rope snapped to the Sparrow’s saddlebags catches her eye.
She looks back.
The Captain limps her way, blood and fire in his eyes.
Her eyes narrow in return.
“Aw, hell with this.”
She accelerates only by half, leaning into the turn, sweeping the Captain wide as she reaches back and unsnaps the rope.
Doubting his freshly-reduced ability to dodge, the Captain sticks his blades in the earth before unslinging his own Fallen shotgun.
Amanda presses the Sparrow, closing the distance, swinging the rope once… twice… thrice…
The Captain stops in confusion and annoyance as the little human barrels right past him. Cowardice? He turns to draw once more on the Sparrow. Not likely. Stupidity, probably. Lack of tactical knowledge.
He feels good, despite the wounded leg joint. He will keep the Sparrow as loot.
He will feed the human female to the Dregs.
The pull of his finger on the trigger is interrupted by an insistent tugging at his heels.
The Captain looks down just in time to see the loop of a rope, standing impossibly on its side, his undamaged leg already within the trap.
He jumps to the side, frantically, just as she boosts the Sparrow and pulls her slack.
The memory of her father grins – his eyes black as deep space, his face obscured by shadow, his body in the lands of Death.
It’s called a ‘dally’, Amanda.
The Captain has enough time to scream out another Eliksni curse – this one tinted by fear. Amanda tightens the coil around the Sparrow’s front utility bar as she completes her sweep, aiming for the edge of the canyon.
She grabs her pack, jams the booster switch in place, and tumbles off – safely, if not gracefully.
She watches the Fallen Captain’s descent to the reddish hardpan dust, notes the little punctuation of an explosion.
The hot midday breeze moves small eddies of dust in between sparse patches of tall grass. She catches her breath.
No big loss, as far as the Sparrow’s concerned. Perks of being the Tower’s crack mechanic.
She can feel it rising within, and does nothing to stop it. Her laughter echoes across the canyon.
“Heh. Can’t wait to tell Cayde about this one.” He’ll think it’s funny. What’s more, he’ll be proud. He’ll actually get it.
Except… no. Wait.
She can’t tell Cayde.
Cayde’s gone. Cayde’s gone gone.
Her laughter becomes the ghost of a dead thing, vanishing into the shadows where it belongs.
Her hand reaches into her duster pocket, feels the stiff paper of the ticket. One Free Ramen. It will remain there, unredeemed.
She reaches into her other pocket and feels the cylindrical and heavy reassurance of the shotgun slug – the old one. It will remain there, unfired.
She lets out a sigh – the kind only a grownup can produce.
As Amanda begins the trek home, she thinks of Banshee. Banshee – a crafter and tradesperson, like her. An expert. Banshee, with his countless reincarnations. Banshee, with his neural backup deficiencies, his half-stories, his quiet exasperation at his own memory gaps and general forgetfulness.
The light of midday stretches thin, tumbling into blood-red painted haze. The sun has begun to sink on the western horizon, casting mountain shadows on the back of the Traveler. The breeze is losing its heat. She shifts her pack to the other shoulder, balancing out the weight of her mother’s shotgun.
Sometimes, Amanda wishes she had Banshee’s problem.