The following is a short story from my collection Variant Worlds 1. Read 20% of this collection free as a way to try before you buy.
About this title: Welcome to Variant Worlds 1. This is a collection of fantasy and science fiction ranging from short stories to novellas. In these tales, everyday people like you and I must come to grips with the strange and perilous realities that have been presented to them. Only by relying on their inner strength, their wisdom and their humanity can they forge ahead and survive. Rating: MEDIUM controversy.
Fight Night At The Galaxy Games
“Control your breathing.” One of my trainers, Zou-Ax, cautioned me. He’d leaned in close to my ear to speak, a hint of the Buti-Quay he had for dinner lingering on his breath. Most people couldn’t stand the smell of the exotic fish, let alone the strange appearance of the purplish and multi-tentacled trainer, but as for me, I’d long ago gotten accustomed to both. “You’ve got to keep your heart rate down.”
Believe me, I was trying. I bounced up and down on my toes for a few seconds, clearing my mind and stretching my neck to either side. Then, I went ahead and did what had gotten me riled up in the first place; I looked out past the boundaries of the fighting ring and tried to take in the immensity of the crowd.
Sure, I’d fought in big matches before, with screaming people jammed up to the rafters, either cheering me or jeering me. But those venues might have held some five to ten thousand people. That was a drop in the ocean compared to the Galaxy Games arena, which held in excess of two hundred thousand beings, nearly all of which weren’t even human. That was before even considering the intergalactic video feed, which might have been broadcasting the event out to a few million planets. This was the Quantum Show, the Mega-Purse for the Universe, and here I was, representing the future of all mankind.
Talk about your high expectations.
I paced the edge of the ring trying to calm myself, trying to keep things in perspective before they overwhelmed me. If I won, my dying planet Earth would be allowed to emigrate and colonize any inhabitable and unpopulated world in the Milky Way Galaxy. If I didn’t win, it would be another one thousand years before we’d get another chance to compete in the Quantum Show. By then, chances were pretty slim that our sun would still be giving off enough heat to insure the survival of humans.
Bromah, my other trainer, was shadowing my steps. “Nevah foh-get! Ju ahr dah besss! Ju are dah nummer won!” As you might have guessed from his horrible accent, he was Freycan. He looked like a giant rooster with sharp teeth. For the first few weeks after he’d been assigned to train me, I couldn’t help having nightmares about him. “Ju have no feer! Ju feel no payne! Ju will be vic-tohry!”
I was the best, I reminded myself. I’d been genetically enhanced to the point where I could crack six inches of solid oak with my bare fists, stomp through reinforced concrete, and even spit out acid through a specialized gland in my throat. (Anything went in the Galaxy Games, as long as the combatants didn’t alter their outward physical forms.) I’d taken on the best warriors Earth had to offer, and I’d beaten them all with decisive and rapid victories to earn that top honor.
“Much bettah!” Bromah read my body language. “Ju stan’ tall! Ju keep dis stayte far dah battle, yas!”
“Yas.” I nodded, absently mimicking the trainer’s accent.
Feeling more confident, I strode towards my corner and shadowboxed some of my best combinations.
A concentrated low octave sound wave rolled across the arena, bringing everyone and everything to a dead silence. In expectation, all humans and non-humans in attendance stood up and turned their heads, or what passed for heads, towards the gates leading to the dressing rooms. There, in the focused glow of the spotlights, stood the Galaxy Champion.
Than-Kra-Seyh, the Grinder, they called him. Instantly, the crowd started chanting his name. On Earth, he might have been mistaken for an eight-foot tall sequoia, with his bark-like flesh and his trunk-like appendages that ended in blunt wedges. Not to mention his hideous and gigantic antlers, where he liked to impale his opponents after he crushed the life from them. You heard right. He humiliated the losers even in death.
Yeah, I know. I was fighting him.
Arrogantly, the Grinder lumbered towards the ring with his thorny arms held high, and the crowd ate it up. They started pounding on the arena floor with feet, hooves, tendrils; you name it. Every step the Grinder took forward might have raised the volume by a dozen decibels.
“Remembah, hees farst stryke!” Bromah warned me, carefully eyeing the approaching menace.
Many of the Grinder’s fights had ended before they’d begun, as he had the nasty habit of approaching an unwary opponent and pounding him to death before the first bell had even rung. At first, the rules commission hadn’t known what to make of the debacle. Due to public demand, they’d decided that the move was legal. A warrior should always be ready for combat, they reasoned, and that was that.
I’d like to go back in time and find the jerk-weed who first introduced mixed martial arts to the Galaxy Consortium, and knock the living daylights out of him.
Zou-Ax reached out to massage my shoulders one last time, as my corner kept a close eye on the Grinder playing up to the crowd. Finally, he turned towards the ring, resulting in a nervous exodus by my trainers and a feigned disinterest by me.
With one huge step, the Grinder’s leg went over the top rope. His massive, heavy body swayed into the ring. As soon as he placed his second trunk on the mat, he began grandstanding to the crowd again. I knew this was where several of his opponents had made their fatal mistake.
Deliberately, I turned my back to the Grinder. He seized the opportunity and pounced at me. His huge arm swung down towards my head.
What he hadn’t realized was that my reflexes were lightning fast, measured down to a handful of micro-seconds. I stepped aside just as the blow smashed into the mat, turned and swiveled my hips to achieve maximum torque, and delivered five thousand pounds of pressure from a knuckle sandwich to the side of the Grinder’s thick head.
It wasn’t enough to knock him over, but it was enough to send him reeling and staggering to one side. Not wanting to give away the extent of my power, I’d wisely held back from using my full force.
The Grinder’s bewildered glare told me I’d achieved my goal. I’d shaken him up. Even the crowd’s voice had faltered, but slowly the chant began to lift itself back to its previous roar.
I backed up to my corner, shaking out my wrists and watching out for any more surprise attacks. This allowed Zou-Ax to resume the shoulder massage.
“Good, you’ve put the brute in his place.” The trainer acknowledged. “That’ll keep him wondering what else we’ve got in store for him.”
“Mayhaps we shooda hit dah Grindah with evarah-thing we’s gat.” Bromah wondered.
“No, it’s better this way.” Zou-Ax shook a few of his purple tentacles. “The rules commission would have found fault with our fighter, even though the Grinder keeps getting away with it. Better not to risk a disqualification.”
“Yas, yahr ryte.” Bromah conceded.
As the announcer cautiously stepped forward to declare the two contestants, my trainers stepped into the ring and took their turns menacing my opponent’s trainers. It was all part of the ritual.
I zoned out the announcer and the trainers’ theatrics, using the moment of relative peace to consider my strategies. Foremost among these was: Don’t get squashed like a bug.
Zou-Ax’s tap on my shoulder brought me back to the present. I started jumping up and down again, loosening up my arms, as the trainers left the mat.
Normally, one would want to tap knuckles with their opponent, but in the Galaxy Games, such Earth-born sportsmanlike conduct might have been a costly and even deadly mistake. Instead, I waited near my corner for the opening bell.
It came a few seconds later. Instead of the quick rush the Grinder had employed against some of his more recent opponents-slash-victims, he guardedly took a step towards the center of the ring.
This one’s for all the marbles, I thought to myself. Curling my hands into fists, I began my own advance towards the battle. I took up a boxer’s crouch, ready to defend myself, ready to strike if the opportunity arose.
We started circling each other, trying to size each other up. With every step I took, I felt the fate of all of humanity resting heavily on my shoulders.
Hoping to set the tempo, I leaped forward and made my first move.