part IX

“Here--can you--ah! Where’s your staff?”

Roe lay over the dust devil, her arm nearly up to her shoulder in between its mechanical guts, trying to reach something just beyond her grasp.

“I’ll go grab it,” Ari said eagerly before slipping under the garage door they had propped open some short hours ago.

A slice of afternoon sun shone on the pile of scraps and parts Roe had gathered around the property in an attempt to get the devil working. They laid scattered alongside the makeshift repair stand they had, with great effort, heaved the bike onto after fashioning it out of two of the garage’s old metal shelves.

It had been years since Roe had seen an old model like this. She remembered the excitement of seeing the signature dust trails that gave them their nickname as a kid when she would visit Grandma Bell out at the farm before her parents died. She’d be peering out of the car windows as soon as they got out of the city, searching for the trailing columns of dust rising high into the sky.

She was pretty sure she’d seen this exact model before, a Dean 450a, or so she thought considering the manufacturer’s spec plate was nowhere to be found. A teenager had grounded one outside the farm when she was visiting one weekend, and she remembered her grandmother helping him call his parents, as he had crushed his comm in the process. What was his name again? Roe wondered. DJ or something? It didn’t matter. What she remembered most was her desire to pick the busted devil up and ride it as fast and as far as she could.

She did, of course, ride them on many occasions as a teenager much to Grandma Bell’s chagrin. Bell always said she never trusted a vehicle that didn’t touch the ground, and Roe attributed this paranoia to the early Martian settler ships and their notoriously rocky rides that Bell must have experienced in her youth. But, while Bell didn’t like them, she never stopped Roe from riding, crashing, or fixing the ones she could get her hands on.

Never having one of her own, Roe would have to wave down riders after school, pester the kids from the neighboring farms, attend the weekend amateur races at the Schiaparelli Flats, pretty much do whatever she could to ride the things. And after each inevitable wreck, the only consistent way she could get back into the good graces of the angry owners would be to repair and more often than not upgrade the bike as an added thanks.

The devils were relatively crude machines, most consisting of some variation of a frame atop two field thrusters bound by a regulator or two. And it was that simplicity that Roe loved. With such a simple setup, there were boundless combinations and modifications to explore, and, conversely, it meant you could get one running with next to nothing laying around.

“Here you go,” Ari said, stepping back inside and extending the staff to her.

“Ah thanks,” Roe grabbed and flipped it. She considered the milky-blue crystal at its top, as she stuck the bottom end into the tight section of the bike where she had just pulled out her arm. She adjusted the staff a few times, trying to find the catch, and, after a moment, she pressed down firmly and a mechanical click sounded from inside. “Got it.”

“You think it’ll work?” Ari asked.

“Just a couple more things,” Roe said, handing her back the staff and looking over the pile of parts. “So do all the Adarai have those?”

“Staffs? No,” she said, looking over it with disinterest, “This is just what was given to me.”

Roe fished out a wrench from the small tool pouch she’d packed for the journey and went back to work on the devil, “So everyone gets a magic--thing?”

“Weapon, yeah.”

Weapon?” Roe peeked her head up from behind the bike with a raised eyebrow, “How is a staff a weapon?”

“Oh,” Ari said with a look of confusion, “I guess I never told you, but it’s a staff-sword, actually.”

Roe’s wrench hit the sand-covered floor with a dull thud.

“A staff-sword?!”

“Yeah,” Ari braced the staff under her right arm and twisted it with her left hand. In an instant, a shining silver blade about a quarter of the staff’s length shot out of the bottom with a bright shink.

“Holy--” Roe exclaimed, taking the staff-sword back from Ari’s offering hand. She ogled the intricate script etched into the glimmering blade, “This is--gorgeous.”

“Yeah,” Ari said, half-heartedly.

“You don’t like it?” Roe said surprised.

“I mean,” Ari lifted her gloved right hand, “It isn’t much use with one hand. Unless I wanna end up with zero hands.”

“Oh,” Roe nodded, “Yeah, I didn’t even... But you can’t get something different? Something easier to use?”

Ari shook her head, taking the staff-sword back, as Roe picked up another part from the pile and returned to the bike. “No, it’s kind of one of those ‘the weapon chooses you’ things so... But it has its uses. I can still cast using the crystal, so there’s that.” She twisted the staff once more and the blade retracted into its base.

“Well, I could’ve used that on the train,” Roe said before flinching as one of the devils’ components sparked.

“To what, stab the guy?” Ari scoffed.

Roe shrugged, “Maybe.”

Ari laughed and shook her head, and Roe cracked a smile.

It was quiet for a moment, as Roe tinkered under the bike. Only the sounds of the breeze and W0RM chasing bugs in the sand outside filled the dusty space.

“I--uh...” Roe’s voice cut through the silence, “I wanted to say thanks. For saving me. Again. That’s two I owe you.”

Ari shook her head, a little embarrassed, “It’s--no big deal. We--uh--gotta stick together out here.”

Roe pulled herself to her feet and gave her a dirt-covered but appreciative grin, "Yeah." Her usual guarded expression softened for a moment. She cleared her throat, "Well, uh, if this thing starts and saves both our asses, I’ll call it one.”

Cheeks slightly flushed, Ari could only nod.

“Alright,” Roe said, climbing on top of the dusty devil and positioning herself over the makeshift kick-start she had put together, “Let see what she can do.” And, with a swift motion, she came down on the starter, and the thrusters roared to life.