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Julie Woodcock - Lethal Impulses

Julie Woodcock - Lethal Impulses

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Published by: rachael302001 on Jul 31, 2011
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"Lethal Impulses"By Julie Woodcock
Radm pulled on his heavy synthleather gauntlets as he stepped out of the Rat Warren's main lift, hisrapier and poinard--a long parrying dagger--tucked under one arm. Lifting his blond head as the liftdoors slid shut behind him, he paused, his attention caught by the wash of stars beyond the spacestation's transparent dome. The Veil Nebula shone off to starboard, pastel violet gauze against theblackness. Radm stared for a moment, caught by its glory; even after twenty years of life on the RatWarren, he still wasn't immune to the nebula's beauty."You're late." The voice rumbled out of the silence behind him.Radm grinned and turned. "Think of it as a chance to practice patience."At this hour of the station's artificial night, the Domedeck was still and dim, empty except for the lonefigure standing in the shadows. "Patience has never been one of my problems," the cycop said dryly,stepping out into a pool of light. He was bare-chested, wearing, like Radm, loose white pants and a pairof soft boots. A ripple of reflection danced down the lengths of the blades he carried in either hand."After twenty years of you, I could teach patience to Job.""Your martyr complex is showing, Mik," Radm said. "But since you're in the mood to suffer..." Hepulled his weapons from under his arm and settled into guard with a flourish."We'll see who suffers, boy." Mik fell into his own fighting stance, left leg leading, his rapier in onehand and the poniard in the other.Radm let his grin go feral and began to circle around to his left. Mik pivoted after him, keeping the pointof his sword aimed between Radm's eyes. He was a big man, a fraction taller than Radm, a fractionheavier--and 20 years older, his once-black hair streaked with white, gray in the thick hair pelting hischest and arms. But not an old man, no. The chest under that gray mat was thick with hard striatedmuscle, clean of fat, immune to age. A cycop's life may have grayed him, but his years did not meanweakness.What those years did mean was skill and experience--experience Radm knew he couldn't match.Experience that could easily beat him, despite his young man's strength and speed, unless he couldmaximize whatever advantages he had.
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I'll wait, Radm thought, as they circled each other warily, let him take the offensive, wear himself outwith the first attacks. Knowing Mik, he'll feint with the sword and come in with the poinard, so I'll parryin sixth and ...He barely saw the spinning kick coming in time to leap back. Watching Mik's boot slice a millimeterfrom his nose, Radm knew it would have taken his head off if he'd been a fraction slower.He attacked, driving the rapier toward his opponent's ribs while Mik was still coming out of the kick, butthe other recovered and spun away with a taunting laugh. "Wake up, boy, before I salt that sword andfeed it to you.""I'm waiting, old man," Radm said, faking a smile; luck had been all that had saved him just now. Andyou couldn't count on luck in a fight with Mik. It would eventually abandon you, and then he'd take youapart.A flurry of movement as Mik lunged, coming in hard with the poinard. Radm caught it on his rapier'sblade, felt it scrape down the length of steel as Mik kept coming, intent and lethal. Going on training andinstinct, Radm thrust out his knife--and Mik's rapier was there, just where it should be, coming up underhis guard in a drive toward his heart. With a twist of his knife wrist, Radm deflected it the few crucialcentimeters that saved his life...Only to feel a jarring impact in his side. There was no pain yet, but he knew he'd been hit. Radmdisengaged his weapons from Mik's and scrambled back.How bad, Hari? he thought to the internal computer that wound through his brain as a microfilamentbiocrystal network, as much life form as machine. An incredibly powerful artificial intelligence, Hariand her sensors gave him almost total control of his body and its chemistry.Deep cut, eight centimeters long, between the third and fourth ribs on the left side, Hari replied, hervoice ghostly and feminine in his mind. You can continue to fight for 15 minutes without significantblood loss."Do you want to beg quarter?" Mik asked, his polite tone contrasting with the bloodthirst shining in hiseyes."Not likely," Radm growled, furious with himself for failing to take the parry far enough to keep frombeing hit. Drawing first blood always gave a fighter a measure of psychological advantage. He had todraw some of his own, or Mik would run with the edge he'd gained, straight to a win. And Radm hadlost entirely too much blood as it was.Drawing a deep breath that made his injured ribs howl, Radm attacked, driving hard in a flurry of strikesthat kept Mik too busy parrying to make any counters of his own. He kept going until he was almost
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chest to chest with the older cycop, until Mik's arms were straining to hold off his simultaneous attackswith the two blades. His wound throbbing a kettledrum beat of agony, Radm rammed a knee into Mik'shard muscled belly.Leaping back as his opponent hissed in pain, Radm braced himself to fleche--a lunging run, quick anddeadly and hard to stop. And risky, if Mik should recover and come up under Radm's guard, he couldeasily impale himself.Radm bellowed a battle cry, and Mik looked up into his lunge. Sighting down the length of his sword,Radm saw gray eyes widen slightly as he charged.He waited for Mik to retreat in the blurring instant of his rush. Then, as he came within sword's reach,for Mik's parry, the quick scoop of steel that would push his blade out of line and save M ik from whatwould otherwise be a death thrust.And it didn't come.His point was scant millimeters from Mik's face when Radm jerked his wrist to deflect it. The bladesliced past the cycop's ear.Off balance from the attempt to stop his own lunge, Radm stumbled. Mik caught him, and for an instantthey were face to face. There was a long gash along the side of the cycop's face and across the tip of hisear, exactly on level with his left eye. Despite regeneration technology that could heal almost anywound, a blade driven into the brain would kill instantly. My God, if I hadn't managed to pull mystroke..."Why the hell didn't you parry?" Radm demanded, pulling away. The bout forgotten, he stared at thebright red stream that snaked through Mik's graying hair. The two of them had been practicing withunblunted weapons since Radm was fourteen. This was the first time in all those years that Mik had evermissed parrying an attack so obvious --or so deadly. "You had to see it coming a mile away."Mik met his eyes and shrugged, pulling back. "Sorry. It was an impulse." He turned and walked towardthe chill plastisteel of the dome wall.Radm stared at his broad back, stunned. "An impulse?" In three strides he was on the older man,spinning him around and slamming him back against the wall. "Impulse, my ass! You just came amillimeter's breadth from suicide!"For an instant, Radm thought he saw shame on Mik's face. Then it was gone as he set his jaw. "I think Ineed a drink.""Yeah, well, that's not exactly unusual, is it?"
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