(Continuing with the novel – thank you all for the likes, and the comments!)
[Begin blog post 6]
I begin training. As I said, I top their tallest man by as much or more than a head and that annoys them because they have failed, on first contact, to intimidate me. Well, I would have been properly intimidated if I’d known how, and how important it was to their ego that I be!
Now they have to cow me into submission before they put me on display in the arena. Fighter slaves cannot display any air of pride or superiority. They fight only because that is their purpose, and to survive another round; their sole reason to exist. But I refuse to be intimidated. I am clumsy with the weapons and receive many welts and light cuts. I am tricked into bad moves and tripped to guttural laughter but each time I come back up with increased resolve to get the hang of this hand-to-hand combat idiocy.
I observe their moves and learn to parry quickly. After a while I go on the attack – and wished I’d been able to tie my hair back – it keeps getting in my face and obstructing my vision.
An important looking type I take to be an overseer yells a command and three trainers attack me on every side. I become exasperated by their relentless, persistent rushes and jabs. One of them keeps jabbing at my still raw branding, laughing every time I wince. He comes in with his head low and I lay him flat with a sudden and angry side-kick to the head – and where did that come from? He drops and lays still, face down to the stones. Weapons drop from his hands. The other two stop in surprise and outrage. The overseer yells another command and a man in a white robe runs out and officially terminates the training. I watch as they roll him over to see a slackened jaw and no sign of life in the body.
Not even allowed to clean myself up of sweat and blood or take a drink, my wrists are chained behind my back and I’m shackled to a steel post in the center of the yard. I wait and finally slip down to sit on the cold flagstones whose edges are worn smooth by generations of bare feet running over and slipping on them.
The usual line-ups for washing and eating take place but no one looks in my direction. I am being studiously ignored. No one brings me food or water.
There is a short period of darkness before the false sun, Albaral, rises above the stone battlements but all I hear is the occasional cry of a young woman’s nightmare in the cages. In the wan light I look down and realize that what I’d thought earlier was some dark stain is dried blood, and it is not mine.
I feel my thirst and hunger; my bruises and cuts. I feel the bite in the cooling night wind after the previous exertion. My body shakes and my teeth chatter but I refuse to give in to self-pity. These are not my feelings. They belong to someone else. I have no feelings. I am not human. I am a beast from the wilderness. Think: you must survive this long enough to make some kind of impression upon these people. Shock – you must shock them out of comfort, expectations and abject acceptance of the way things are. You must shock yourself in what you can endure, learn and do. Shock treatment in give and take. You are a wild animal… I fall asleep to dream of teeth tearing into bare flesh – my teeth or my flesh?
Morning comes and two men come over to me, raise me, and unshackle me from the post. I’m splashed with ice-cold water – this seems to be some kind of ritual used to take away your last ounce of resistance. Still in chains – so tight I cannot feel hands or arms, my hair dripping cold water down my back and front, I’m taken into another yard where a man wearing outlandish dress, a living expression of sartorial confusion, stands. He turns to look at me. I stand tall above him. He reaches up and viciously pinches my face. I jerk my face from his hand and get a flash of his eyes: they are filled with absolute malice. He pokes at my goose-pimpled flesh and grunts then nods to some unseen other in a crude hover craft that floats over the ground. I recognize an antiquated type of manually operated “skimmer” or repulsion-drive vehicle with covered seating for two. He calls the vehicle over, “Bring the carriage!” Carriage – what a wonderfully innovative language they have!
I’m taken away, back to the training yard, unchained and fed. My hands are so numbed the servant girl has to feed me as I cannot hold anything. There are no implements as normally we scoop whatever food is put in the light metallic bowls with our hands and use the bowls to drink liquids that remain. So she just scoops the food into my mouth with her bare hand and holds the bowl up so I can drink. When I’m done – we have a set time to eat – I look into her face to let her know I’m grateful. She lowers her face to hide in her shoulder-length dark-brown hair and smiles sadly at me.
The visions of brown-eyed, sad faced girls and young women of Malefactus, I think, will haunt my own visions forever.
I stand and wait. A handler in a skin-tight dark green uniform comes to me and tells me that because of my arrogance and my crime, I’m to enter the arena in two days, to die or claim my place in the line-ups. For now it seems, my “training” is over. It’s do or die.
“Speak?” I ask huskily. Without express permission, speaking is considered an offense punishable by death. He nods affirmatively.
“The man yesterday, what happened?”
“Remember never again ask questions. He careless, now dead. Kick broke neck. Kick now permitted move on fighter list. Good move, we like, not punished this time.”
“Thank you.” I feel grateful so hungry do I find myself for any kind word; the irony of his claim that I would not be punished considering the night I just spent completely lost on me. Much to learn, so much to learn. To be grateful here is dangerous weakness. What did he mean by “punished?” Death by some kind of torture is my guess.
I lower my eyes to the ground and sense they are pleased. They have a new “secret weapon” which they hope will bring them fat tips and bribe money. Yet I know that most of my “moves” were not based on trained skill but simple desperation, the advantage of size and speed and the unorthodox (totally unexpected – including by me!) quality of my fighting. This could be detrimental should I tire myself out in real combat. I must remember to maim and kill quickly and without any hesitation or qualm at the very first opportunity. Can I do that? Is this the woman who claimed compassion as her modus operandi? How is it, I wonder, that humans that have gone through generations, centuries, countless lives, of civilizing, can so quickly return to their atavistic blood lust and do or die survival instincts? Why is it so easy to move backward through time, so difficult to move forward?
In a way, the person I’d evolved into before this incarnation is quickly giving way to this new persona, this Antierra, female gladiator slave on Malefactus and that alters everything. I know nothing of stack worlds theories or even of purpose at this moment. I must bury any residual feeling of caring or compassion. I am a killing machine, nothing else, until the day I am killed in turn. I shall hold that day at bay for as long as possible, though it does not frighten me. In my mind I repeat my old Earthian mantra against fear.
Good! I say to myself in my silent dialogue, you have something to hold on to; you won’t get lost – not this day at least. And for purpose and passion, let these come fresh to Antierra.
The man who looked me over was to be my adversary, the “challenger.” The next day he comes back to observe me again. Before he can approach me, my wrists are again chained, so afraid are they I will charge him and maybe snap his neck or do some sort of damage. They have to maintain my reputation for being “The Desert Beast” – and extremely dangerous: makes the pot go up. I look at that adversary and pity him even though I feel no compassion for him – I cannot afford that at this stage of my game. I watch as he chooses the swords as our weapons – such a choice being his prerogative. Adversary and gladiator use the same kind of weapons in any given encounter, though I suspect, based on unasked for information from a trainer that the point on his short sword will have been poisoned or drugged. I must be very sure never to give him the opportunity to pull it out of its sheath.
As I watch him fondly handle the weapons, favouring the short sword, I already know how I will kill him. He will switch his attention for a split second from the rapier to the dagger and I will spit him through the throat. I feel so sure and so completely deadly — without passion – for beyond this first public kill lies everything I’ve planned to do in this place. First step: survival.
[End blog post #6]