Elect City Battle Arenod™.
“This is ridiculous,” said Point–Two. “There’s no way this will work.”
“It’s worked so far, hasn’t it?” Ubik held up the larger of the two registration slates he had received from the front desk after he’d signed Point–Two up as a prospective candidate for the Battle Arenod™. “You passed the basic requirements with no problem.”
“Yes,” said Point–Two. “That’s because you filled in the form with lies. And that was just an automated receptionist. Of course it believed your nonsense. No one else will.”
“Hey, can you keep your voice down,” said Ubik. “We don’t want to attract any attention. We’re wanted men, you know.”
“I know. Believe me, I know.” He looked around the deserted lobby they were in. The carpets were old and worn and the posters framed on the walls looked like they hadn’t been dusted in a while. The whole place had a sad, forgotten feel to it.
“Look,” said Ubik. “I understand your concerns. I…”
“Someone will notice I’m not a woman, Ubik.”
“This is a very mentally uptight society. They’re used to believing what they’re told. If it says you’re a girl then officially, you’re a girl.”
“I look nothing like a girl.”
“Well, you could try smiling more.”
“How does that ma—” Point–Two stopped speaking as a large man came through the doors at the far end. He was tall and extremely muscular, a fact that was highlighted by the small vest and tiny shorts he wore.
He walked past them, his swollen thighs forcing him to walk with a bow–legged gait. He brushed back his golden–blond hair and lifted up the dark wraparound glasses circling his head like a halo to reveal enhanced blue eyes.
“Nice to see you, sweetheart.” He winked at Point–Two. “You want a selfie with the Dragon Master?”
“No, thanks,” said Point–Two.
“Yes, please, Mr Dragon Master,” said Ubik. “We’re big fans. Come on, PT, get in close.” He shoved Point–Two towards the grinning hulk, who put his arm around Point–Two’s waist and squeezed.
“Ooh, you’re a solid girl. I like that.”
Ubik leaned in on the Dragon Master’s other side and held up the smaller slate like it was a camera. The screen blinked like it also believed it could take pictures.
Point–Two slipped out of the Dragon Master’s embrace and gave Ubik a withering look.
“Hey,” said Dragon Master, “what say you and me—”
The slate in Ubik’s hand flashed and a voice said, “Please proceed to the third floor.”
“Oh, you’re auditioning?” Dragon Master’s smile revealed an impossible amount of teeth. “Well, then we’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted. Look me up later.” He pointed a finger at Point–Two like it was a gun and then turned around and strutted away.
“How did he think I was a woman?” said Point–Two.
“Maybe he didn’t,” said Ubik. “Open your mind, PT. Let’s go. We’ve got more hoops to jump through and not much time.”
“We’re going to get found out,” said Point–Two, sounding less convinced now. He followed Ubik while looking back at Dragon Master exiting the building.
They got into an elevator and rode up to the third floor. The walls were plastered with holover images of past champions, lunging out of their frames.
“Here,” said Ubik, handing over the little slate. “Read the rules, make sure you don’t give yourself away. I put you down as an experienced amateur, been doing shows in the sticks for a few years, won a couple of regional contests. They’ll expect you to know your stuff.”
Point–Two looked at the pages of text flashing by on the screen. “How am I going to remember all this?”
“Just improvise. It’s all for show, you’re not actually going to fight anyone.”
“Of course not. You wouldn’t last two minutes in the arena with any of those girls. I saw some of their stats — wooh. We’re just here to pick up some information. Official channels won’t tell us what’s really going on, and we need to have some idea of what to expect if we want to help Fig out of whatever mess he’s gotten himself into. You want to help your buddy Fig, right?”
“He’s not my… I thought we were here to make some money.”
“That too,” said Ubik, “that too. It’s all part of the same tapestry. We find the right thread and pull it...” Ubik made a yanking motion.
“And the whole tapestry falls apart,” Point–Two said, not sounding very impressed.
“Exactly,” said Ubik. “They end up without their tapestry, and we have all the thread we could ever need.” He threw his arms apart indicating the size of this supposed victory.
The doors opened. If the lobby had been shabby and uncared for, the third floor was bare and utilitarian. White walls and cement floors. A ball–shaped drone hovered in front of them.
“Welcome to the Battle Arenod™, a subsidiary of Fight Legends Elect Management. This way please for your preliminary interview.” The drone floated away from them.
Ubik stepped out of the elevator and Point–Two reluctantly followed, a sense of impending doom weighing him down far more than the local gravity.
“Remember, you’re the talent, no one expects you to know anything,” said Ubik. “Play dumb and you’ll pass with flying colours. I’m the one who has to convince them we’re worth taking on.”
“How long will this take?”
“Not long,” said Ubik. “I make a great first impression. Check out the nodes on that drone. Must be ten years old. Vintage. Classic.”
“Thank you,” said the drone. “I am a Mark IV Rigogo service drone with all original parts intact.”
“Nice. You must have a very proficient maintenance department,” said Ubik, and then added under his breath, “Or a very cheap one.”
“The owner’s enclosure is through these doors. The asset will wait in the changing area and dressing rooms. A fight coordinator will show you the facilities.”
There were two doors. One was large and flashy with a glowing sign over it that said: Owner’s Club. The other was a small door with no signage.
“Won’t I be interviewed?” asked Point–Two.
“Assets are tested at a later date,” said the drone, “once preliminary contracts have been agreed.”
“See?” said Ubik. “I do all the work, you get to hang out with the other girls. Make sure you mingle and see what you can pick up.” He walked on with the drone towards the larger door, which slid open as they approached.
Point–Two wasn’t too disappointed to be left to wait with the ‘talent’. He would much rather not be in the room when Ubik pulled whatever nonsense he was inevitably going to pull. Point–Two turned and walked into the door, which didn’t slide open. He rubbed his nose and pushed the door with his hand.
There was a short hallway with three doors leading off it. Each had a symbol indicating males, females and neutral. Point–Two stood there for a couple of minutes before gritting his teeth and going through the one marked for females.
He wasn’t sure how Ubik had managed to convince people he was a woman but clearly he had, and it was best to play along and hope no one rumbled him.
As soon as he went through the door, he was hit by a barrage of noise. He was in a large room full of women in various states of undress. There were mirrors and lights everywhere, and a riot of smells, some perfumed scents, some less pleasant.
There was a lot of chatter, a general sense of ease and looseness, and no attention paid in his general direction, which was fine with him.
The women varied in size and build, but were all athletic. Lean, toned, graceful. Some were applying make–up to their faces, others to cover bruises. Hair was either very short or tied back. In one corner, a girl with dark hair in a bob and very white skin was sobbing while three others consoled her, but everywhere else there was no sense of alarm or aggression.
Point–Two remained by the door, not knowing where he was supposed to go. He didn’t feel awkward about all the flesh on display. He was too distracted by concern for his own safety to leer at naked girls, and the unaffected way the women showed their bodies took any lewdness out of the display.
“You’re the new girl?” said a shorter, less muscular woman wearing a headset and carrying a large slate even bigger than the one Ubik had been given.
“Ah, yes,” said Point–Two, once he realised she was talking to him.
She took the small slate out of his hand before he had a chance to stop her. It wasn’t of any real use to him but the rules and regulations on it had given him a slight feeling of security. All he’d been able to glean was that no organics were allowed, no biological augmentations that weren’t officially sanctioned, no pharmaceuticals that weren’t administered by Arenod medical drones. A mixture of no unfair advantages chosen by the fighter and very unfair advantages chosen by the Arenod.
“I’m Teenha, the floor manager, fight coordinator and drone programmer. Welcome aboard. Just wait over there, Janeane,” said the woman as she checked over the slate. “Oh, interesting, you’re qualified for Heavy Division.” This was the first Point–Two was hearing about it. He wasn’t sure what that implied for zero–G fighting, but he didn’t like the sound of it, especially if Ubik had signed him up without mentioning it to him. “We’ll be going into the arena in a minute.”
“We will? I thought—” He was interrupted by the crying girl breaking into a loud wail.
“Don’t worry about Chrystal,” said Teenha. She leaned closer. “Her sugar daddy up and died on her. Murdered, actually. He was a big shot on the General Assembly. Not anymore, obviously.” Teenha raised her eyebrows, enjoying sharing the scandalous news. “Promised he was going to leave one of his three mistresses and give her an official place in the rotation. Course, he never would.” Teenha sighed. “She’s a silly girl but she pulls off a zero–g ten eighty like you wouldn’t believe.”
The woman seemed like she was going to keep talking forever, which would have been fine if she had anything of value to say, but she was cut off by the slate flashing in her hands and then a voice in her headset which Point–Two could only just register as a mumble.
“Okay, ladies, we’re up. The men have just finished so careful of the slippery floors.”
The women rose as one and headed towards an exit on the far side of the room.
“You, too,” said Teenha, giving Point–Two a nudge.
“I… I don’t have my gear with me.”
“No worries, you’ll only be observing.” Point–Two felt a surge of relief. Teenha noticed and laughed. “We wouldn’t throw you into the deep end on your first day.”
They followed the others through the door into a huge auditorium with banks of seating on all sides and a raised platform at the centre above which were large holover screens facing out in each direction. It reminded Point–Two of the arena on the Garu, but it felt a lot more basic. How old was this place?
They had exited about halfway between the fighting ring and the highest seats, and the women were walking down the steps in a relaxed manner. It was eerily quiet.
“Just take a seat anywhere on the killing floor,” said Teenha.
Point–Two hoped the term was euphemistic and headed down.
Everyone sat in a line on the plush but worn seats. They wore soft, loose clothing — probably not what they’d wear during an actual show — and waited for Teenha to take her place next to the ring, the floor of which was about level with the top of her head.
After talking to someone on her headset, she addressed the gathered women.
“Okay, let’s run through the plays. Chrystal, let’s do you first, get some of that tension out of your system. Faeria, you too. Uploading the fight plan now.”
The two women who had stood up jerked their heads back for a moment, blinking rapidly, and then climbed into the ring.
The women took it in turns to go up, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in quads. Once they were up there, walls rose around them that slightly obscured vision like you were looking at them through water, and the women rose into the air.
On the screens above the ring, the women could be seen clearly with no distortion. Point–Two had never seen this technology and had no idea how it worked.
He watched with great interest as the women fought. It was obviously choreographed but no less skilful for it. The timing required to pull off some of the manoeuvres left him astonished. Point–Two had been in many zero–G fights and he was hard–pressed to explain some of their moves.
They flipped and turned and slammed into one another, executing throws and landing complicated combos at blistering speed. He found himself becoming more and more enthralled as the fights continued.
Finally, the tallest of the women, a muscular blond with a bust she highlighted with a tightly worn corset, stood up. If this was her training outfit, who knew what her showtime costume looked like.
“Sorry, Bam,” said Teenha. “She’s still not here. Someone else want to step in for the rehearsal?”
From the way the other women sank into their seats, it was clear the answer was no.
“Let’s use the newbie,” said Bam making her way to the ring.
“What?” said Point–Two. “I mean, I don’t…”
“Don’t worry,” said Teenha. “It’s just a run–through. Half–speed.”
He was hesitant but he’d seen how the other girls had fought. No one had gone for the kill, they were just practising their moves.
“But I don’t have an ocular,” said Point–Two. He’d figured out the fight plans were downloaded into each girl’s ocular implant, giving them a blueprint to the fight inside their vision. It was a simple and effective way to keep everyone on the same page.
“Me neither,” said Bam. “Stuff’s for cissies. But you look like you’re light on your feet. Let’s improvise some fun stuff. I’ll go easy on you.”
Point–Two got up and climbed into the ring. He was quite curious how this worked, and it would only be a little sparring, more dance than combat.
The walls went up and Point–Two sensed the shift in gravity. He floated into the air. There was no distortion in here, either, but the girls on the outside now looked out of focus.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked the pro.
“I don’t know,” she said. “You’re the man, why don’t you take the lead?” And then she flew at him.