I swear, as the blade’s tip grazed my cornea, I saw Lilly.
Not in reality–she wasn’t on this cramped freighter–but in my mind.
My daughter was still five, swishing that long blonde ponytail in the air as she bolted out from behind her father’s leg and toward my open arms. He was spitting venom through the same brown eyes by which our daughter expressed nothing but love. I could smell the flowery shampoo in her hair as I told her to be a good girl and that because mommy and daddy were going their separate ways, it didn’t mean mommy didn’t love her. I wasn’t strong enough to tell her the truth, so I told her I’d see her soon. We rubbed our noses together. I called it our special little bunny kiss.
I knew it would be a long time before we’d meet again.
The warm vision was temporarily knocked away by sweat-filled hair slapping against my cheek, stinging as I ducked my opponent’s follow-up swing. On instinct, I thrust my own knife toward her rib cage.
Not deep, but contact.
She shrieked and I nearly tumbled forward. The nylon rope binding us together dug into my left wrist as my opponent danced backward. My left foot skidded lightly against the corrugated steel floor in the struggle to remain upright. If I fell, I would have milliseconds to recover my exposed neck.
I didn’t need to see the blood pooling onto her tank top to know I’d wounded her. I had felt the tiny chunk being taken out of her. Even in the dim lights of the freighter cabin, the crooked lines on her face spoke fury over the insult.
“Bitch, you got balls, but you should’ve picked another ride,” she said.
I let her keep on.
Waste your breath, I thought. Keep swinging.
She came at me like a berserker of old. I remembered to breathe on tempo. Every lunge, every parry tested my abilities of concentration and patience. It wasn’t long before I saw my opportunity, though. I could hear her panting and gasping over the crowd. She started looking away, growing more disengaged with every jab.
I yanked my left arm back just as she was mid-thrust, sending her on a collision course for the twenty or so grimy, cheering faces surrounding us. Like a swirling mass, they shifted as we shifted. I swept my right foot across her shins and watched her arms fly in the air in an attempt to cushion her descent. When her elbows cracked against the hard ground, the blade slipped from her hand. It clinked as it tumbled end-over-end and was quickly snatched up by the hand of an anonymous spectator. I climbed on top of her, took a handful of sticky black hair, and held my blade to her throat.
I dipped my head to her ear and whispered, “I win.”
She struggled to regain her wind, but when she finally did, she started to laugh–harder and harder until the laughter turned into a coughing fit.
There was no more resistance in her now.
I rose and hovered over her, letting her turn onto her back. She looked older than when she’d first challenged me for twenty credits and now I felt a twinge of embarrassment. The sweat had cleared away some of the dirt on her cheeks and beneath her eyes, unveiling a map of wrinkles and dark circles on her chiseled face. I extended an open hand. She accepted and I hid the reaction to the pain in my own body as I struggled to pull her back onto her feet.
“Bitch, you got balls,” she said, handing me a cryptocard with one hand, pressing her shirt against her wound with the other.
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