Dust: Chapter 08 Part 1

Chapter 8: The Duellists

Kitty and I recognised the avatar before us. I felt an invisible fist clench around my heart.

Noodles?” Kitty blurted.

[How did he even get here?]

Noodles strutted in. “So.” He said, cocking his avatar’s head to one side. “Did Dust hoodwink you into this gig the same way he did me: wave the old ‘prototype A.I.’ scent under your nose and promise a billion nuyen?”

Kitty opened a private channel. [His cut was a billion nuyen?]

[Our whole pay was a billion nuyen, split three ways it’s still a shitload of money.]

Kitty asked aloud. “What are you doing here?”

Our enemies have coerced me into changing sides. They’ve kinda got me by the balls.”

Kitty’s avatar absently licked her lips. “I remember you liked that kind of thing.”

[Thanks for sharing.]

Noodles forced a smile. “Cute. But when I said ‘by the balls’ I meant ‘they have my brain in a jar’.

They’ve implanted a wire between my hemispheres, on command they can heat that wire up and fry my brain like a cheese sandwich.”

Kitty yelled into the cype. [What? You told me he was arrested.]

[The hell I did. I said he got ‘picked up’. And by the same people who caught up with us in the car park.]

Kitty put on a fake smile. “So, asking you to let me go for old time’s sake isn’t really going to happen is it?”

Noodles summoned a repeating crossbow in one hand and a set of arcane tarot cards in the other. “No.”

The smirk on Kitty’s avatar vanished. She pulled herself to her full height and squared her shoulders. “Honey, I don’t care who your captors are. Your speciality’s proxy A.I., Mine’s PvP. Even if you had a belly full of Jolt Hypercola and I was getting off with my vibrator you couldn’t beat me.”

That was oddly specific.

Noodles hung his head and the hand holding the crossbow dropped by his side.

That’s right.” Kitty said. “Now tell us where you are. If we can find you maybe we can come rescue you.”

Noodles let the crossbow slip from his fingers and it dematerialised. “No, you can’t.” He sobbed.

Then he snapped his head up and looked her right in the eye. “Dust won’t let you.”

Noodles slapped the cards on the ground and a pair of glowing orange lines zipped across the floor towards Kitty.

Kitty fired her pole into the ground in front of her and catapulted herself away, retracting her staff and back-flipping at the apex of the jump.

The lines stopped running along the ground and burst upwards into pillars of light.

[Oh, that’s not good.] I said.

[It’s exactly what I thought he’d do.]

By the time Kitty’s needle-heels touched the ground again Ice Phoenix and Eldwin Stoundheart, Noodles’ most powerful proxy A.I., had fully emerged from the pillars of light.

Ice Phoenix beat her massive wings and rose into the air. The great mythical bird stood three times normal avatar size and was the lightest aqua blue I’d ever seen. Eldwin Stoundheart was a blond, eleven warrior in a green tunic and an enchanted sword and shield combo.

Stoundheart raised his shield in front of him and charged. While at the same time Ice Phoenix shrieked and unleashed a torrent of snow at Kitty. The torrent widened until it felt like the bird had chucked a semi-trailer in our direction. Kitty dropped her staff for a moment, catching it in on her foot before it hit the ground and put her hands together before spreading them wide.

A wall much larger than the barrier Kitty summoned earlier appeared before her. With a crash like a Tsunami smashing into the Hoover damn the torrent was halted.

Kitty kicked the staff back up into her hands, summoned a smaller wall to her immediate right and shot the staff against it, sliding out sideways in a weird display of matrix physics.

Kitty recalled the staff just before she cleared the edge of the wall and skidded the last couple of metres. Almost as soon as she was exposed she was deflecting blasts from Noodles’ new crossbow.

By this time Stoundheart had reached the mountain of ice created by the torrent. He ran up the slippery slope and leapt high into the air above Kitty, his sword raised for a killing blow.

Kitty halted her deflections for just long enough to fire a bolt up at Stoundheart. Forcing him to abandon his attack in favour of his shield.

Kitty moved aside to allow him to land and raised another wall to protect her from Noodles’ attacks.

Stoundheart landed, rolled and circled around to face Kitty anew. He rushed in, bashing aside the staff with his shield before striking down with his sword. Kitty allowed her staff to be turned aside then punched upwards with both hands, putting the middle of her staff between her and the blade. Eldwin pulled his blade back for another strike and Kitty dropped down into a spin and swept his legs out from under him. As he hit the ground Kitty widened her staff until it was the size of a small log and brought its new heavy form smashing down upon Stoundheart, who just barely had time to roll out of the way.

Kitty used the rebound to bring her staff up over her shoulder before firing the end at him. Stoundheart took the onrushing staff to the solar plexus and it carried him a good thirty metres away.

Kitty returned the staff to its default size just in time to hear Ice Phoenix shriek behind her. Kitty fired her staff without looking and let it carry her straight up. The new barrage just missed Kitty on her way up but the freezing flood collected her staff and knocked it down.

Kitty let go and tumbled in the air, bouncing hard off the newly created mountain of Ice. Kitty hit a macro in her command list and for a brief moment her avatar’s feet became heavier than lead, righting her body in mid-air and allowing her to land on the ground as gently as her namesake.

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