(Busy times and I realize I’ve fallen behind in posting… sorry!)
By her branding she is now fifteen years old. She has maybe one more year before she must enter the arena and I still have no idea what criteria they use to decide when a new trainee makes her debut in the arena as an official fighter. The way it looks, unless someone notices her and buys her out of this place into concubinage or the sex trade – not much of an improvement from what I’ve heard from the two “demoted” concubines I’m in the process of training for the arena – Deirdre is doomed to die within the year.
I cannot let that happen.
[end blog post #40
[begin blog post #41]
Chapter 18 – Trainer, warrior and worrier
I’m leaving the physical aspects relating to this world’s malaise to the Koronese and their Cydroids for the time being. I’ve been involved in too many physical “rescues” in other lives, other worlds, to hold much hope that we can help this world in such a way. What is needed here is sentience probing. Deep exploration of mind pathways.
Logically, it begins with a withdrawal, or better put, a removal. One woman escapes in physical form and without trace. Thus we create a crack in this stultified structure.
Now have your laugh at me: if that isn’t a physical rescue! Life is fascinating, not because of how much in it ‘fits’ somehow, but in endless contradictions! So, let us proceed in contradictions up to our proverbial armpits, vowing to do thus, doing that instead, to arrive at this!
Deirdre is the one who makes it possible for me to communicate with the ever-changing kitchen slave Cydroid. She takes our messages back and forth, fully aware the discussion is about her. She understands I want her to leave Malefactus and why. She sees the need of it, yet does not want to entertain the thought of leaving me. Nor does she want to hope such a miraculous avenue of escape could be possible. No one escapes Malefactus, she would say. ‘It is the way of it.’
One of the female Cydroids answers my questions with much detail and demonstrates definite concern for the empath, coupled with professional interest. According to Deirdre, she wants to be the one to bring the Cholradil to her home world and perform the preliminary studies of Deirdre’s strange characteristics. She even cancels the two-day shift change to remain in the kitchens in order to probe Deirdre’s mind. On Koron this Cydroid holds degrees in psychology and philosophy.
Convincing others is more difficult. Time, I insist, is of the essence. How long will they procrastinate? Until she is killed? She cannot survive even one encounter in the arena, that we all agree on.
Bal is concerned, certainly. But Koron is a problem. They don’t want another denizen of Malefactus on their world. Their laws currently forbid entry of off-world refugees for whatever reason. My hopes for Deirdre are heading into bureaucratic red tape. I want to get angry; steal the stealth craft and take Deirdre with me — anywhere. Certainly I can find the memory in my mind from our wild days at the controls of jump scouts and crewing on attack ships.
Certainly I remember.
A mad adrenalin rush comes to my head as I consider that kind of move.
The pure ‘shamelessly physical’ engagement as your right hand grips and pushes the thrusters stick; hair literally standing on end and spine tingling from the effects of the electro-magnetic containment force-field of the fusion drive as it now comes out of “hibernation” into a roaring full-blown mini sun-flare blasting the ship forth from its holding surface.
The breathless rush into free space, the stomach-churning pull of multi-g force sensed even through the containment fields, pushing the body into the padding; the rumbling and shaking as the drive kicks into max while on screen the world you’ve just launched from dwindles to a speck, then to nothing in darkened skies.
Left hand poised, tense, fingers splayed, hovering over the weapons’ console waiting for the tell-tale orange or red blip of an enemy ship appearing on screen; for the chase to begin long before your ship has a chance to engage its cloaking mirror and deflector shields. Lifetimes lived in endless moments.
Oh yes, let’s do it!’
I’m not rational. Love, what a terrible and stupid thing to be involved in.
I try to move out of it.
‘When none of it matters, it will all be yours.’ Ah yes, truth that I don’t want to hear at this moment, yet is the only comfort I can receive. I must cling to these remnants, these shreds that kept me reasonably sane in other incarnations. I know so much, too much, I think. Else, I’ve gotten messed up in my feelings. The tail is wagging the dog these days, no doubt of this.
Meanwhile life continues, Malefactus style. We train to kill, we kill. We get killed. We are replaced, train some more and kill more. Each day, more bodies of dead women are carried out to the hearse as I call it now. Many die in their cages, finding ways to terminate their hopeless lives. Owners get upset at their losses in entertainment and money. We are driven to perform more. New recruits arrive to replace the dead. I see more blood each day. I smell more of the piss and sweat at night even though I should be used to it by now.
It’s war with the only difference that the losers can never be allowed to win.
I want it to end and it doesn’t. It’s the way of it.
I’ve finished the training of the two concubines. They are passable fighters. Angry and bitter but not careless. They know the score of the survival game. but they possess an insatiable need to avenge themselves on men. I know they can kill. They work well together. That’s how we mostly trained – two on one. I am trying something new: team work. Like the two men I fought long ago, but that wasn’t team work. This is. They fight as one, each covering the other, aware of every aspect of their moves, how one affects the other. They came from the same crèche and I wonder if they are twins. They don’t understand what I mean, so I can only assume they are. They are not empathic – I’m grateful for that! – but they possess an instinctive awareness of each other’s presence even under stress conditions and rapid movement. This could work to their advantage, prolong their lives, if I can get the concept approved.
More bureaucratic delays. My ‘girls’ are ready for the arena, but only as a team. I explain the concept to a couple of handlers. They shrug, then reluctantly take the idea to their overseer. For two weeks, the answer is no. Then it changes to “maybe” when I involve another group of trainers. Competition between trainer teams I learned to use long ago. If they approve my idea and it pays off, those who do the approval get the tips and bribe money. Finally the concept is approved. The “Concubines” will fight as a team, never as one, at least not until one of them is killed.
A new style of fighting, guaranteed to up the antes, is carefully leaked out of the training compound into the streets of Hyrete. Those who possess ‘the secret’ can sell it.
We train in earnest now, knowing to concentrate on the team work. I introduce another “revolutionary” idea: let it be different weapons for each member of the team. It is approved. We still cannot choose our weapons – that’s another thing I am working on slowly – but the challenger (if only one) must indicate which two weapons or set of weapons he wishes to engage the “Concubines” (now their official handle and fighting title) with. If two challengers, each picks a different weapon and we match the choice.
The day before the fight, as late as they could leave it, two challengers come to the training ground and after watching the twins as I refer to them, decide on their weapons. One is the regular two-handed long blade sword and the other, the axe. It doesn’t surprise me they would choose such unwieldy weapons for themselves. The “Concubines” are of slight build and short even for people of this world. I ask the girls how they feel about the choice. “We fight” they say in a low, throaty tone aimed for my ears only. They say it in unison and with deadly intent.
That’s it. “We fight” which means, “we kill.” Whatever they lack in size I know they’ll more than make up in speed, skill and focused hatred. These two are driven to kill men. Whatever was done to them, and only they and their abusers can know for they’ll never tell, they are going to make someone pay. I almost pity their challengers. Despite the many injunctions against demonstrating open affection I approach my charges to salute them, then hug them quickly. The trainers frown but let it pass. I’m still the Wild Desert Beast after all, approaching an all-time record for kills and survival in the arena. They don’t know about the auto-medic and the stim, of course. Ah well, as I was taught long ago, “What the eyes don’t see the heart doesn’t grieve.” This can be the very last place in the universe where any of us would worry about decorum or honour. Stealth, trickery, lies, deception, hate, greed – these are the values of this society.
I bring out the weapons and hold them for the twins to choose. They decide which one will use the sword and which one the axe. I place them in the special bundles to be taken to the arena in the morning where they are usually, not always, inspected by two officials from the Arena Fighter Council. The twins turn for their cages, only this time I’ve managed to get them assigned to the same one. They are thankful, I know. And it is then, while I have time to think before I eat my own evening meal, that my heart constricts terribly for the two women. I always assume it is easier for me to fight than for any of the others; the dangers to them are always magnified in my mind. I cry those “illegal” tears and this time I don’t care who sees or who questions. I’m ready to punch out or drop kick the first trainer who objects to my current mood. I’m furious and to make matters worse, Deirdre comes to serve me the food. And she knows. She can see it all. There are tears in her eyes too. She leans on my shoulder as she hands me my bowl.
Tonight we will not share our usual pleasure. We will not exchange our exclusive type of loving. We will sit side by side and let our hearts move with our sorrows. It will be a night of vigil and searching. We will let our minds work through their inexhaustible problems. Tonight we will take in the entire compound of women and bring them all within our empathy and compassion. We will cry for them and with them. We will take the twins’ hatred and accept it as part of the gift of life here. Tonight, through self-denial we will practice being “avatars” as I understand the concept and have taught it to Deirdre.
Morning comes and I have not slept, using a technique learned on Altaria for remaining awake without effort. Deirdre has succumbed and is leaning into my lap. I wake her in time to see the twins being taken out. We make no sound, no move.
It is the way of it.
By mid-morning the twins return. One has a long slash on her left arm which she holds as blood drips from the fingers of the limp hand hanging down. The other woman is limping, but they have returned from their first fight and there is a look of triumph on their faces. They have done what they swore to do and thought they’d never get the chance. Two men died to pay for whatever horror other men did to these women. They will survive their wounds and will go on to kill many more. Their hate will never abate, that I know. They have become killers of men. They will never be anything less or more than that, until they are killed in turn. By permission now long granted I escort and turn them in to the medics’ rooms for patching up and brief observation, the costs of such medical treatments having been paid by their owners. Deirdre accompanies me and is permitted to attend to their wounds, thus leaving the medics to just sit and watch, doing nothing.
Expensive fighting animals taken to the vet after the fight: it is the way of it.
[end blog post #41]