Friendly Hands

Fall: 17 years at the Monastery, three months after the duel

Sunar found that he preferred training with laser and plasma pistols over the powder guns for one simple reason: With the slug-throwers he had to choose between hearing protection or having to spend meditation time repairing his hearing. He also tended to disturb others less. Sluggers where just so blasted loud.

Still, if he was going to be serious about being proficient with ‘outside’ weapons, he needed to learn them too. So, he’d set off after his morning katas to fly the valley and set up a firing range, allowing himself time to simply enjoy his flight; the pre-winter air was crisp, and winds coming from every direction gave him plenty of air currents to ride.

He had a place in mind, where the steepest of the peaks came down to meet the valley floor. He’d never really been there, climbing that surface had never seemed like a good time nor an interesting challenge.

He did an over-flight of the corner of the valley at low speed and something about it looked strange. Not anything in particular he could see, more like a sense of something artificial. He beat his wings hard against a head wind and clawed for height, his curiosity piqued.

Once he obtained some altitude, he turned and made another pass over the corner of the valley, and the pattern became clear: there had been a make-shift… something… set up here once upon a time, not too long ago from the looks what was left of it, with long straight lines. I can only think of one thing that would be make-shift, this straight, and open to the air. Could it be that easy?

Another turn brought him to the end of the narrow, straight path, so he furled his wings in and dove. The air rushed by his skin in a torrent and sang in his ears as he watched the valley floor come to greet him. At the last moment he snapped his wings out and cupped them, using them more like parachutes than tools of flight. He groaned with the strain and every muscle in his back tried to lock. His body rose to the challenge and strained against gravity. It was exhilarating.

He won the battle, arrested his fall, and pitched forward just enough to turn the rest of his motion into a swooping flight a hair’s breadth above stall speed, eyes searching the landscape.

When he got to the mountainside he found what he hoped: the rock had been riddled with burns and pock-marks. He reached his hand up and ran it along the wall, feeling the ridges of so many rounds of fire. This was many years ago, but less than a century. Some of the rock was melted by blasters, and there is not much stain from the slugs that penetrated. It is not like the wall we use for target practice in the temple: that thing has been shot at for hundreds of years, ever since the last attempt by an army to take the Temple, back in the days of muskets. He smiled to himself at the image of monks with both pistols and bows beating back an army trying to make their way up the narrow pass. That battle had always captured his imagination.

He nodded to himself and let his hand drop from the wall, then launched himself into the air. Time to see Master Ikthan.

***

Two days later he returned to ready the site with his fellow Titans and his father. He’d been surprised when his father had volunteered to come. What hadn’t been a surprise was that Master Ikthan and Thalon had built the range in their youth.

They put their backs into it and made brisk progress. Gorshun and Seben had taken an interest in guns and wanted the opportunity to shoot more, Lenar had just come to be with his friends. Half way through the day the other temple ground car drove up and the Iron Roses piled out to provide them with lunch.

They all enjoyed a brief break, and good food, then each of the boys gave his girlfriend a moment before heading back to work, then started as the girls moved towards the range and not the vehicles. Four guys looked in astonishment at four young ladies, and each met the same single, arched eyebrow.


Four young men realized their peril, took the better part of valor, nodded, kissed his girl’s forehead, and went to work with them side by side.

With the extra hands, they finished the project in no time, and just as they finished painting the last distance marker, Sunar’s mother and sister came jogging in. Everyone turned to Sunar and gave him an expectant look. He toed the line for the farthest distance they’d marked, sighted a pistol, and then stopped.

Lowering the pistol, he looked around at his friends and family, went over to the weapons rack they’d built, and passed out weapons to everyone. “Thank you, all of you. The honor of the first shot should go to us all.”

They smiled, clapped softly for a moment, took up the weapons, and arranged themselves into two lines, with the guys kneeling in front. Sunar asked his father to do the honors.

The man smiled, nodded, and called out in a clear voice, “Ready weapons, take aim, Fire!”

Blasters, pistols, lasers, and a spear-gun all went off at once. The volley of fire had an amusing effect on the paper target they’d placed at the end of the range: very little remained of it.

They all laughed and smiled at their handiwork, and then someone began passing out saki. The group found places to sit on the ground or railings, and admired the product of their day’s work. They’d done a lot in a short time, and allowed themselves a moment of pride.

After they had spent some time enjoying each other’s company, and the saki, Lenar stood and went back to the cars. He returned carrying a wrapped bundle and handed it to Sunar. “This is my latest art project, something I made just for you. I was going to wait until festival in a few weeks, but this is just too perfect now.”

Sunar took the bundle. It had some weight to it, but didn’t feel heavy. He opened the thing up to reveal a dome-shaped piece of metal. He peered at it from several different angles before realizing what he had: A battery-powered, holo-emmitter! Built to well enough to endure being left out in the elements. He smiled at his friend and bowed, “Thank you! I am not sure I understand, however, why is this perfect for now?”

“It isn’t what you think: it’s not a display device for your room, and it can’t pick up television signals. The gift is mostly the programs I made for it. Set it down and give it a try.”

Sunar gave Lenar a smile and a quirked eyebrow, set the thing down, and turned it on. A menu appeared and settled itself to the appropriate height – the menu was simple enough to read, but he had trouble making sense of the options. Confusion settled on his face, provoking a laugh from his friend.

Lenar grinned at his girl-friend and she smiled back, then turned to Sunar. “Try the third option: flying squares. Yep, now pick level 1.”

Sunar did as he’d been bid, and several cubes about twice the size of his fist appeared in the air. They began to move at a steady pace.

Lenar stood, picked up a rock, then threw it through one of them.

The unit made a noise, and the block disappeared.

Sunar’s eyes went wide and a smile replaced the confusion. A holographic targeting range!

Lenar stepped up beside his friend. “Getting a detector which could track all of the different projectiles you might use meant that I had to skimp a bit on the graphics. It will do shapes no problem, and give you outlines of more complicated forms. You can set size, movement speed, and movement pattern in the menus.” As he spoke, he activated the menu and scrolled through it, pointing to various entries. “It will also sync with a data pad and stay synced for a lot farther than the length of this range, and will keep a record of hits, misses, and by how much each shot missed. There is also a setting to turn on projectile vectors, so you can see the exact path of your bullets – or whatever – through its space.

Sunar’s father clapped both boys on the shoulders, then set a two-foot tall cylinder just big enough to fit the unit on the ground between them and looked around with a broad grin on his face. “So who’s ready to dig another hole?”

Friendly Hands 1

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