Tag Archives: hand to hand combat

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #42

(continuing with the Manifesto… )

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]
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[begin blog post #42]

I retrieve their weapons from the handlers and as I clean the long sword and bloodied axe, I shudder again. 

Such waste!  Such terrible waste.  No wonder this world is dying.  The black hole my friend the doctor is looking for – look no farther than into the heart of every person on this world.  Look at the blackness there.  That’s your problem, doc!  That and whatever Force is pushing the buttons of Malefactus.  That outside Force you won’t consider to exist.  You bastards who control this world from the spy-moon of Albaral, I’ll find you and expose you yet, I swear it!

‘And when are you going to get Deirdre out of this hell-hole, doc my very good friend?’  I my mind and heart I exude sarcasm and bile.

My thoughts jump naturally to Deirdre and Balomo.  I have to have someone to beat up on in my head at this moment, or I feel I’ll go stark raving mad, make a mad rush into the arena where the organized killing is still going on for the entertainment of thousands of brain-dead boneheads, and “go postal” as they used to say on Old Earth.

I grab the weapons tightly, one in each hand and walk down to the forge to have their cutting edges re-done, hissing my anger between my teeth, imaging this entire stone “fort” blowing itself to dust and joining the rest of the growing desert.  The blacksmith approaches me with his expectant erection and I make a gesture that says: ‘now would definitely be a good time to practice abstinence.’  Fortunately for both of us he understands and laughs his hearty old pirate’s laugh.  He won’t go without.  Some other girl will be available to him shortly.

On the way back I’m greeted silently by a Cydroid disguised as a handler.  As he pretends to escort me he whispers, more into my mind than ear, lips never moving:

“We have secured permission to take your friend to Koron as a special case study, not as a refugee.  You will have to perform your end of the bargain, covering for us, and her.  Are you ready and willing to do so?”

“I have been ready for over a year!  Yes, do it.  When is it happening?”

“Two days.  Dark night of clouds forecast.  The “King” has arranged to have many of the usual complement of guards busy at the court for his personal “protection” while we take her through the gates and alarmed sectors.  You will follow us until we cross the walk bridge across the moat and you will wander away along the water’s edge, then walk in and swim to the other side to make imprints there.  Then return immediately before the alarms are reset and the doors close.  You will have twenty three minutes.  Can you calculate that without chrono?”

“I’ll be swift, never fear.  I’m ready.”

“You cannot speak of this to the Cholradil, you understand?  She will be sedated when we take her.  There is no other way.  You will not say goodbye to her even though you won’t see her again.  You must not let her know something is going on.  Use anger to cover your feelings.  That works for us.  And above all, you must trust us to do what we promise to do.  You must never worry about her safety.  In time, the doctor will let you know how we fared and how she is doing and adapting.”

“You sound so confident… I wish I could be as much.”

“Be.  You must.”

“Thank you so much, sir.”

But he walks away as if he did not hear me.  I know he did.  It’s not their way to bandy or accept thanks, praise or blame.  They do what they program themselves to do until it is done or they reprogram themselves.  Now my mind fills itself with the risks of this enterprise.  Yes, the false king is on our side, of course, but he is only a figurehead in the whole gamut of Malefactus politics and economics.  His word is law only because some greater Force upholds it.  The position of King is used to control the people only.  But the real government of Malefactus resembles more the organization of a secret society.  Its ruling aristocracy is but a front.  There is a tight-knit secret oligarchy pulling the strings on this world.  Who are they and what do they want?

The questioning that will arise from Deirdre’s disappearance will not come from the courts, but from the dark, dreaded official inquisition.  Even the King is subject to the Force that instituted the inquisition.  This much I learned from Bal.  I know now that my greatest trial on Malefactus has begun and won’t end even long after she is gone, if I survive that long.  How much will I feature in their investigations?  What will it cost me?  How much do I love you Deirdre?  Never enough, I know, but in this just enough to see you off this world.  The rest is the rest.  

I step lively back to the training, involving myself in a bunch of details I’d let slip.  I upbraid a couple of fighters for sloppiness, striking one hard on the side of the head to demonstrate how easily one dies.  She flinches and rubs her head and I hit her again on her unprotected side.  She goes down and I jump on top of her, ready to spit her.  There is a look of pure terror in her eyes.

I step off of her and growl for her to stand.    

“Pick up your ‘fucking’ staff and fight me, damn you.  Fight me! You call yourself a gladiator?  You’re nothing but ‘pess.’”  (In our world the term means a combination of excretion of piss and sweat.  It is always used insultingly.) 

And I drive her hard until her fear changes to anger and she begins to return the blows in earnest.  Too late, of course, but an improvement.  Maybe she will last more than a couple of bouts if her challengers are drugged, or certifiable idiots.  We do get those.  Some people get lucky.  Will this one?

“Is there something wrong with your head?” I ask her.

“No sir!”  protocol – if I’m trainer, I have to be ‘sir.’

“Well if you’re not stupid, is it laziness?  Do you want to die on your first round?”

“No sir.”

“Then FIGHT!  Attack me, not to tickle me, but to KILL ME!

I say it so loud the sounds echo against the great walls and everyone stops to listen.  Trainers come running to me and I take a stance of humility.

“What is going on here?”

“Something new, sirs.  I have discovered that certain words help people respond to attack.  Perhaps we could be permitted to test my idea?”

“It will be taken into consideration.  One more outburst and it’s a flogging – for both of you.”

“I’m sorry sirs.  No more outbursts.”  And I watch them return to their brew and dice.  In this instance the threat would not be carried out but protocol was served.  They did their job.

I turn viciously to the trainee and use the ‘high’ language, not their pidgin.

“Do you understand now, girl?  You have some power you can use.  I just demonstrated how easily you can die, one from weapons in the arena, the other by violating rules.  The only reason we are not being flogged to death at this very moment is because of who I am, do you realize that?  I put your life in danger because I seek to save your life.  You owe me this: to listen carefully and to throw yourself body and mind into our training.  There is nothing else here for you.  No escape.  No miracles.  No fairy tales.  You will fight to the death every time you enter that arena. 

“Turn around.”  She obeys immediately.  I read her brand for her ‘age.’

“You have approximately one year left to prepare for these ordeals.  They will not end until you are killed. 

“If you do not wish to survive, tell me now and we won’t waste time I can best spend on those who wish to live longer.  You will go into your first fight and you will be tortured to death, not killed outright.  They will soon realize you don’t know how to attack, or even defend yourself.  And they will toy with you, disgrace and dishonour you and you will make the status of all women on this world even less than it is because of your lack of courage.

“We don’t fight only for ourselves.  We fight for all the women on this world.  The others only suffer and have no means to fight back but we do!  We are the gladiators!  We have weapons and we can learn how to use them.  It’s how we make our way.  You girl are not just one girl; you are all of us when you fight them.  Are we then all lazy, stupid, or cowards, as they like to think?  Or will you show them something different? 

“Every one of you youngsters has the potential to be the greatest female fighter ever to enter the arena.  Everyone.  All you need to do is find the key that opens the door to that new idea and believe you can do it.  Realize that if you can think it, you can do it.  Just follow through with nothing to look back on, nothing to lose.  This world hangs by a thread and the end of that thread is just within your grasp.  There is only one thread.  The men want to cut it.  You are the one called to prevent this from happening.  You get me?”

Does she ‘get’ me?  I fear not in the least.  There is yet no understanding of philosophy, of any sort of personal power one can tap into from within.  With these poor people, everything is physical and external.  If you have a weapon; if you are given permission; if you are challenged; if you are allowed; if you are physically able – you can fight against a man and maybe kill that man before he kills you.  But you gain nothing by it.  You just live to fight another day, that’s all.  You cannot improve yourself in any way. 

It is the way of it. 

And I’m sick to death of hearing that damned expression that says it all for all of us.  How can I communicate abstract ideas to these people?  They express white noise for thoughts and they have the limited vocabulary of a three year old Earthian child, exceptions noted.

[end blog post #42]

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #38

[note: Spring has sprung, the grass is riz… leaving me with much restricted time for blogging.  Fortunately the ‘Manifesto’ is already written, requiring only the usual scan for missed typos, misplaced modifiers and such like.  Continuing on…]

“Yes I do Bal,” saying the name thus almost makes me choke with fear, “I will remember.  I know I cannot survive Malefactus but what’s in my mind I will keep.  I won’t let anyone have it.  No force will take it.  I’ve been under torture before, though not by neuro-inductor but we have a way on Altaria to shift our knowledge into parts of our minds that even we cannot access during times of stress or under duress.  It may be the memory of this power will come to me should I need it and I won’t be lying when I say, “Je ne sais rien.”  I do understand that strange ability to lock information possessed by the Cholradil on this world.”

[end blog post #37
____________________

[begin blog post #38]

He opens the door and I walk out into the sunshine.  Deirdre is sitting on the flagstones just outside the door with the new axe.  She jumps up when she sees me and her eyes light up but there is no smile, only concern.  I let it go, it’s her problem, not mine and nothing I can do about it.  The doctor calls the handlers and the same ones return, in the blue uniforms with the gold braids.  Bal whispers, “They are the King’s aides, not regular handlers or trainers.  Pay attention to anything they may say to you.  They may have information that will save your life.  I know they invested a year’s wages in bond notes on the events of this day, betting that you would overcome the Prince, which you have, and you would also kill his fellow conspirator.  They have already doubled their money but they want to double that also.  They will help you win any way they can.  Be careful, these be men, not Cydroids; I do not control them.”

I heft the new axe and in spinning it I notice a slight discrepancy in one of the curved blades.  I examine it closely in the light of the sun and smile inwardly.  My blacksmith friend has put tiny serrations, like teeth of a fine hacksaw blade on one side of the weapon and has heat-coloured the metal to a dark blue hue on that side so I will recognize it .  Now it truly is a deadly weapon.  I can hack as well as slice through armour with this.  I thank him in my heart and walk back to the arena with the two aides.

“The Torlat means to kill you quickly,” one of them says to me with an unusually soft voice for that of a man.  “He has poisoned his weapons, including his boot blades.  You cannot let him draw blood at all.  We tried to expose it but he, or the Prince, had bought the weapons judge today.  The poison is allowed.  You must take precaution.  Beware if he crouches low – we suspect that the boot blades may be designed to be sprung free and thrown.  That is all we can do to help you.  May the Spirit of the Great Desert Beast be with you and may you win.”

It may have been spoken from greed and not out of any concern for my welfare yet the words warm me greatly.  In such situations even the smallest kind offer becomes a great gift.  Again, in my heart, I thank them, not being allowed to do so audibly.  I nod a brief acknowledgment.

And with the customary fanfare and trumpet blare the fight is on: time to completely change tactics.  I cannot let Torlat know I am aware of his poisoned cutting blades but I can pretend I am afraid of his skills.  To create this impression I circle him backward, wider than the tight circle I normally use to draw in my opponent and strike, usually allowing him to get in and do some damage.  It’s a dangerous game no matter whom you meet.  Always expect the unexpected.

I circle ever wider, dancing around his attempts at stabbing or cutting, following the movement of his feet by staring in his eyes.  Most opponents do not realize how much they tell by where and how they focus their eyes, even those who pretend.  A quick but deliberate look to the left means a sharp thrust on the right; up means down.  There is more psychology in a fight than actual stabbing and slashing.  You have to get inside the mind – that’s where the outcome is determined.  In the mind is where you win or lose.  I look into his mind.  There is no bravado there, just pure concentration and determination.  And that too can be taken advantage of.  Too much concentration and you break if it leads to an expected move that does not manifest.

The crowd grows restless.  Cries of “Kill her, kill her now, now, now!” bounce from the walls and over into Malefactus’ mad and twisted bones and sinews.  After so many battles, my body hears the calls as music to dance to.  I move with greater alacrity, giving him no chance to come at me, and for many of my improved dancing moves I silently thank Deirdre.  How much she has taught me about my body and my perception of the fluidity within the material world!  I wonder, at times, who trained whom the most!

He is sweating profusely now, unaccustomed to having to do so much walking, running and jumping to try to position himself safely within my defence.  And all I give him is a defensive posture.  I make no move to attack him, just keep drawing him to me and moving away. 

“Kill her now!  Kill her now!  Kill her now!”  They stand and chant until a dozen trumpets near the King’s pavilion call for silence.  The last trumpet calls die and you could hear a fly buzz if there were one.  The silence of fear; fear of that which is in authority over you and can get you killed in most unpleasant ways – strange expression, I know of no pleasant way to be killed.  The King, you see (must maintain the image!) wants to hear the blows ring, not a bunch of crazies yelling.  This would be a truly stimulating time for those who study the art of one-on-one combat.  The Torlat and I are as professional a set of fighters as this place has ever witnessed.  Unfortunately only a few of the minds in the stands can grasp and appreciate the deadly art form in our moves and the terrible beauty of our semi-nude muscular and sweating bodies gleaming in the reflections of the afternoon sun and plasma lighting.  Few can feel respect for the terrible discipline that has created this dance between deadly opposites.

Obviously the King knows why I’m not attacking.  Is he enjoying my performance from up there, observing the fight from his holo imager?  Does he care that in the silence he has imposed, I may or may not prevail against the persistent, now crouching Torlat? 

The crouch! 

Watch his right hand drop to his foot, yes, now!  He’s given me the one chance I so desperately needed.  I jump past his guard and complete the serrated edge swing into his arm, cutting through the cheelth super-skin and severing it even as he draws his blade.  I swing the axe end to end, upend him and spear him just below the rib cage, driving the weapon and the body into the ground.  Leaving the axe embedded, I walk slowly back, refusing to stagger, not letting that all-male crowd have as much as one moment to gloat. 

They will not see I’m tired unto death and weak from loss of blood in the earlier fight.  They will see me walk straight and tall out of the bloody arena once more.  And they will go away nursing their hatred and if possible, take it out on some unfortunate female servant.  Compromised morality… what a price I’m paying and causing others to pay.  The trumpets announce the end of the day’s fighting, unleashing a veritable storm of protests, boos and spitting against the ‘unfair’ results of the battle. 

Where’s the light?  Two “suns” and Malefactus remains the darkest world I have ever encountered.

The second fight has lasted over three hours.  Later the doctor tells me it was the longest one-on-one combat fights ever recorded.  Even as Torlat still twitches on the ground the King rises, ends the tournament and dismisses the unruly crowd with a show of force from several hundred black-clad uniformed and armoured Hyrete police held in readiness.  As the police units file down the aisles in the stands all outbursts cease.  The fans file out to consider their staggering losses and a few to rejoice over their winnings.  Despite the mounting evidence that female fighters will overcome their male challengers on an average of three to one, these sick men cannot believe the evidence, going with their feelings of revulsion and hate; believing women are weaker than men and continuing to place their bets on the male challengers.   

I live another day, and to what end?  For the moment, there is but one end: to save Deirdre.

[end blog post #38]

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #36

End of last post: … His face turns into a snarl and he lunges.  I parry and slash.  The blade does its work and cuts between the slit in his coat.  Blood gushes from his thigh and he winces, jumps back and prepares for another assault.  He’ll be more careful and more dangerous now. [end blog post #35]

[begin blog post #36

He’s angry more than hurt.  The cut was not life-threatening and did not slow down his movements.  He manages to slice into my forearm but I pull out of his slash in time, replying with another long wide swing that takes him on the shoulder.  To my surprise, the light axe bites through his protective armour and cuts deep into the arm.  He reels back but recovers before I can jump him and administer the slash across the throat I had anticipated.  I get a double cut on the calf of my left leg and now my blood is pouring out.  Were it not for Deirdre’s gift of stim and the cheelth coating in the laces the fight would have ended there – a sobering realization.

Risking it all I pull within his swing and turning as if to drive my pike in his stomach, I balance on my good leg and let the other rise impossibly high – doing those splits everyday may yet pay off – and having activated the hidden sole blade, I bring my leg down again, the tip of my sandal aimed straight at his heart.  This was beyond anything he could have anticipated or any information he may have purchased because I have never used this move since the day I killed that “careless” trainer, and that was pure accident.  As for the blade in the shoe, I can only guess he thought such a weapon too silly to be of any value, the extra weight on the feet not worth the effort and dismissed the concept. Remember what I said earlier about difference? A weapon does not have to be superior if it can help create the unexpected.

He cannot parry the kick in time and doubles over, the look of contempt for me frozen on his face.  I pull my foot back, regain my balance, swing the good edge of my axe and slash swiftly with my remaining strength.  His head is almost completely severed from the neck and I watch the corpse twitch to its death, the bloodied mustache hiding the rictus smile.  I practically eject myself from the fighter trance I’d hypnotized myself into to make myself aware of my surroundings and the sad shape my body is in. The stim is still working and I haven’t begun to feel my pain yet.

Instead of the usual spitting and cries of “Death!  Death!  Death”  there is no sound coming from the stands.  My trainers come and take me down through the tunnel.  Is it over?  I survived and I’m alive?  Same question each time.  You never get used to this even though you tell yourself each time you will return.

After roughly stripping me of my armour they take me to the shower stall and dump cold water on me.  I almost collapse from the shock and pain from my cuts.  I barely hang on to the edge of the trough, bent over, one hand in my mouth to keep from screaming.  Then I’m walked to the doctor’s clinic and again Deirdre is there, having somehow managed to get herself released from the cage.  She is allowed to follow behind, doing so in an uncharacteristically meek way.  Once inside the doctor’s office and the door closed, he helps me on his working table and quickly goes to work cleaning the cuts to cauterize them with a laser pen and sew up the worst ones. 

Deirdre holds me down but nothing is given to ease the pain.  I want to scream with the added pain but I understand the need of it: I have to return to the arena for round two, so they cannot give me pain killers or any other drug that would slow me down, confuse my thinking or knock me out altogether.  I must be able to feel my body, pain and all.  Also speed is of the essence so no luxury of time for another treatment by the auto-med.

“The slave will wait for you outside; I must speak to you alone,” says the doctor.  I sense another of those moods in him and say nothing.  He continues to examine me carefully.  I feel his emotions.  I must be exuding an extra measure of those pheromones.  I sense a kind of admiration mixed with loathing and hate towards me.  He would have taken me, even in my condition, I can easily tell he wants to, but some greater force prevents him.

After taking several deep breaths and running his fingers through his hair he says, “You are the only fighter on the roster today, I must warn you.  The reason is simple.  You belong to House Tassard.  No, you belong specifically to the King.  When you first arrived here in Hyrete and were put up for auction by the freelance slave hunters who found you, his aides came to look you over and when they reported what they saw, the King decided to buy you.”  

So that’s what the brother meant when he said he’d kill the King’s favourite animal.  I am the King’s fighter.  All the years I’d wondered who owned me until finally I gave up trying to find out and learned to concentrate on my purpose.  Interesting.  That explains a lot, especially the gradual ‘perks’ I’ve been granted with training and in weapons design, choices and handling.  I wasn’t alone.

“Wonder not I know these things.  I am assistant to the King on a regular basis.  He it is who orders me to take care of you…  but I cannot be here all the time.  I spend much time in the castle with the King, dealing mostly with the more serious state matters for politically, things are not well in Elbre.  Because I cannot always be here when you need me, I arranged for the Cholradil to be given to you.  We have taught her many new medical skills so she can take care of you when I cannot be here, or when I’m otherwise busy.  She has not spoken to you of these things because we bonded her into silence.  Once so bonded Cholradils cannot violate the trust put into them, however impossibly they be tortured or put through truth probes.  They cannot unlock their information to divulge it outside of their own minds.

“So I must warn you again that today is a special day.  It is adoption day for the King.  He has chosen a son from a specially raised group of boys bred for leadership among the aristocracy.  That is how they get their heirs here.  As a sign of goodwill he has opened the arena seats free to all propertied and moneyed interests who wished to attend and has decreed no taxes would be levied – today only – on any profits made from the gambling.  The King of course, hopes you will win.  He has promised to put his personal winnings in a special account for his son.  Believe me, if you do win, that money will be considerable.

“So it’s a great celebration but on the downside, it became known that his brother has been seeking to kill the King to take the throne.  There was much hate between these brothers – who were boys from different crèches.    It was the brother who contrived to have you fight the drook.  Your death was to cost the King a fortune and was meant to weaken him financially.  When you defeated the drook, the brother lost a fortune to gambling debts and legal claimants to the drook’s wages.  He went into a terrible rage and made a vow to kill you himself – a vow eternally binding upon the person who takes it if taken before three reliable witnesses, which was done.

“So he had you watched and also came to see you fight himself.  He took special training in the axe because, as you said, it is a most difficult weapon for a female to handle.  But he failed to recognize the value of your new designs.  He also underestimated both your strength and endurance though it was your speed that cost him his life.  Now his hireling and aide has, by contract and previous arrangement, to avenge the death.  Your next encounter is against Torlat whom I am told, you have already briefly met?”

“Well doctor, I only saw him.  He did not speak to me, nor did he come near me.  The Tassard did all the talking.”

“That is how it is.  Another warning: he is taciturn, yes, but highly intelligent and thoroughly into hand-to-hand weaponry.  Likely he will prove to be even more formidable and dangerous than the King’s brother.  With this one, I suggest you take your time for the obvious reason: it is easier to outlast a known opponent once you know his basic moves than to take on a new one.  Well, I don’t need to tell you that, it’s just a reminder. Also, since you are the only defender for the day, it’s all a matter of lasting out the time.  The King will terminate the sport once you kill this Torlat if you make it last long enough.  Otherwise the rule is that you must face a third contender to satisfy the requirements of gambling.  Third contender, triple winnings.

If the King leaves, the fighting ends.  So make it last, for your own sake.  They won’t give you any reprieve in terms of time, not after killing the Prince.” 

He suddenly reaches for me, pulls me up so I am sitting and we are face to face.  He puts his arms around me and holds me tightly.  There are tears in his eyes and even in my pain I feel a moving of my heart for him. 

He takes my hand in his, squeezes it.  “I care for you, Antierra.  I have lived here fifteen classic years and I am cursed with this planet’s madness, ‘tis true, but I know in my clear moments that I care much for you.  Please be careful in this next fight.  One at a time; just one at a time.  Remember no one can do what you do.  No one can fight like you and certainly no one knows weapons like you do.  You can win this next fight.  You must win it and you will win it.”   

His entreaty is genuine.  I reply, “You’ve given me two reasons to come out alive sir.  Deirdre and you.  To be cared for as a slave woman in this place is truly the ultimate gift.  To be cared for by a man?  If I did not honestly believe that all things are possible I’d say to myself, ‘this is impossible; it’s a trick.’  But I believe you.  I want to believe you doctor.  I need to believe you.”

[end blog post #36]

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #35

[begin blog post #3

Chapter 15 – Royal Politics – a Princely Challenge

Several fights were scheduled for that one week and there was an aura of unusual excitement among handlers and trainers.  Two “fancies” in a decorated carriage come to watch me fight a trainer, and another female gladiator.  They sit on folding chairs they had brought in their “carriage” and their driver waits, standing patiently by the vehicle.  From clear bottles they pull out of a sack on their shoulder, they drink a dark liquid that smells like strong liquor.  When I topple the trainer, one of them holds his bottle to me, laughing. 

Momentarily confused, I freeze and wait for the trainer to regain his feet, all the while staring at the man with the bottle.

“A gift.  You must take.” says the trainer.  So I walk two steps to this stranger and reach for the bottle.  I expect him to do something ignorant, like pulling it away and maybe pulling me off balance, so I stay with my legs apart.  Or he may decide to throw it at me, or hit me with it, but instead he just holds it until I take it.  Not knowing what kind of drink it is, I put it carefully to my lips and taste it.  He smiles thinly at my hesitation, the smile becoming broader when he sees I definitely enjoy the taste of it.  It’s at least as good tasting as the best liquors I have ever had.  I drink slowly, swallowing once and offer it back.  He motions for me to have another swallow.  Then he takes it back.

He stands up then, comes close and touches me on the shoulders, feeling my muscles.  He lifts my arms and raises them over my head then runs his hands over my neck, sides and thighs, feeling here and there.  He bends down and examines my legs and even my feet.  Then he stands up once more to look me in the face.  He put his fingers through my short hair, lifting it and examines my head.

“It’s well made,” he says, addressing the four trainers who had gathered to prevent me from doing anything dumb, like reacting to the prodding.  They had not expected me to remain docile during that examination.  “It’s strong and dangerous.  I’m going to enjoy this one.  Maybe it will give me the satisfaction of lasting longer than the others, eh, Torlat?”  He looks at his dark-faced partner who frowns and sips thoughtfully from his bottle.  “What do you say I fight it with that new axe design, the double-sided one?  Seems like just the thing to cut down a wild beast doesn’t it?” 

Looking at the trainers and throwing them some flashy metallic coins that bounce on the flagstones, he disparagingly adds, “Don’t tire it out.  I want it in the best of shape and fresh tomorrow.  I’ll be the first one on – and my dear brother the King will be there to watch me kill his favourite animal.”

As soon as they hear this is one of the Royal Tassards the trainers all get down on one knee and bow to the fancy.  I just lower my head, not knowing what is expected of me this time.  He grabs my hair and pulls me down.  I could have resisted and gotten flogged.  I go down under his pull and drop to my knees, lowering my head.  He releases my hair and backs away, then flicks a whip from his coat and lashes me viciously across the back, but only once.  I bite my lips to stifle an involuntary cry.  Their boots crunch in the sand, they mount their vehicle and it whooshes off with a powerful whine, describing a sharp banked lift and from the corner of my eye I watch it disappear over the high walls to the east, not towards the King’s castle.  The trainers order me to stand and order me to raise my arms, adding four more lashes to my back to ensure I get the message. 

So, gentlemen, what happened to the Royal’s injunction to not tire me out?  Even such a ‘mild’ flogging will affect my performance.  I shed tears, from pain, from anger close to the edge of rage; from despair.  How can I ever win here?  Bastards.  But there is tomorrow.

Punished for failing in protocol when confronted with royalty.  Now I have bloody welts and will carry new scars as reminders that you unquestioningly and instantly kneel in full obeisance when “royalty” announces itself.  I should have known who he was by the shoes – that he was no ordinary challenger – stupid!  But how would I have known I was supposed to kneel?  How can they expect a “wild beast” to know how to behave before royal men?  Well, this one certainly will from now on.  And that explains the excitement: the King himself, the Royal Tassard, is going to attend the festivities.  And his brother is challenging the most dangerous fighter in Hyrete. 

What did that one mean when he said, ‘my dear brother the King will be there to watch me kill his favourite animal.’  That the king has invested money on the outcome of this fight – against his own brother? 

Deirdre takes care of my cut back with her usual skills, washing the blood with clean cold water.  The water bites into the cuts and I wince with the pain, as does Deirdre.  She manages to “beg” a salve from the medics and for the rest of the day I feel fine but once in the cage when I try to lie down, straw sticks poke the wounds and that hurts more than the actual flogging.  But over the years of experiencing so much physical pain within my body and so much mental torment from the suffering all around me, this is a small thing.  I offer this small additional pain as a gift to myself, using this reminder as a means of scanning the sleeping women’s compound and drawing into myself as much of their pain as I can.  Sorrow is my companion this night.

The biggest problem is my clumsy attempts to hide my pain from the Cholradil.  I should know by now it cannot be done and I have to let her share it, distracting her with loving and with my stories from Old Earth, gentle Altaria and my experiences as a fighter pilot in the Melkiar wars which is not so painful to her because I explain we were fighting machines with no feelings, we were not killing sentient creatures.  She accepts it, but still with great distaste.  I change the subject to a past life when I had my own child, a daughter, whom I raised while living on the banks of a beautiful river of green waters that reflected banks covered in trees.  I tell her of the birds and animals that called from the forests, and of the seals that came to the shore to sun themselves.  I can feel her mood changing and a lifting of her heart.  She falls asleep finally and I hope she is dreaming of a better life than this.   

Too early the next morning three handlers I have not seen before, these wearing blue body-fitting uniforms with gold piping at the shoulders, also never seen in this compound, come for me and order me out of the cage wordlessly, with only hand gestures.  I have a moment of panic when Deirdre is ordered to stay in the cage and about to be locked in but she rapidly opens her hand and there is a stim cube in it.  I quickly palm it and the gate slides shut and locks.  She stands near the gate shivering and biting her hand, her eyes wider than usual, a picture of abject misery.  Quickly using the hand language we have developed to use between ourselves and some of the other fighters in the cages, I motion her to desist and lie down quietly and obediently; that her concern is hurting me and distracting me.  She obeys and I feel better. 

Outside I get the usual cold water treatment, food at the cold, wet table and my first opportunity I get to put the stim cube in my mouth.  A member of the blacksmith group brings my new double-bladed axe and as the light increases I inspect it carefully, swinging it as much to test its balance as to try to warm up and stop shaking.  I roll it in my hands, hold it up and gingerly balance the tip of the spike in my calloused hand to truly gauge its weight.  It is a marvel of engineering and design.  The handle becomes a part of me and I can tell without having to look exactly where the cutting edges are. 

A trumpet sounds and I’m led, still drenched and shivering with the cold, through the tunnel.  There is no sexual advance this time, probably out of fear that the fancy would smell it and feel ripped off.  Such would result in certain punishment.  Or perhaps these new handlers have other, more exotic ways of satisfying their desires; a sex-slave hidden in their barracks, likely. 

Once in the arena, amidst the traditional booing and catcalls I pick up my armour and put it on, involuntarily wincing as it rubs against my fresh welts.  Two trainers adjust my straps and help me with the helmet.  The Royal is already wearing his and I can see it’s of much higher quality than mine – and in violation of their own laws, he wears more protection overall.  My armour consists of a short sleeveless coat (without shoulder protectors) of the super strong and light material they call “cheelth” (pronounced “sheel”) that covers me halfway down my thighs with open side slits for leg movement, an innovation I had to insist upon at great risk of “punishment,” and a helmet with no neck mail protection. 

His armour covers from shoulders all the way past his knees and he wears shoulder, arm and shin protectors as well as boots!  His helmet is equipped with the neck chain mail protector also.

My heart sinks within as I watch him move and easily cover the few exposed parts where I could land a killing blow.  I feel totally exposed and again I experience that edge of wild rage rising within my breast.  I subdue it with a closed eye mantra.  The trainer hands me my own designed “fighter sandals” which I eagerly inspect for the requested retractable blades. I’m thrilled to find them mounted and functioning properly. I slip them on, lacing them up, criss-crossing the thongs all the way up my calves.  Then I notice the top of the sandals and thongs or wide laces, are cleverly made to disguise the very same cheelth material used in the coat.  My confidence returns just as I bite through the stim I’d been casually just sucking on.  Its effects are instantaneous and for a brief moment I feel as if I could take on the entire arena.

As I prepare to meet the Royal Tassard brother, I wonder what happens to the female gladiator who has the mischance to kill a Royal?  Will they ignore her and let her live to fight another day, or will they hound her to death the rest of the day?  Who are the other fighters in the arena that day, I wonder?  I haven’t seen any other gladiator being prepared but me.  Me?  All day?  Best to concentrate on this encounter.  One battle at a time.

The trumpet blares the call to “center” and we walk to center ring to stand opposite each other.  Gone is the pretend camaraderie of sharing a drink yesterday.  He looks me over and says in a low voice – another violation: we are not allowed to speak to one-another –  “You’re as good as dead, pess.  Don’t disappoint me by dying too soon.  I want to have some fun and entertain my dear brother.  Fight well, it will do you no good, krosspeeg.”  The term is used commonly by the women in the compound and I recognize a deformed term from Old Earth English: ‘gross pig.’  A new idea has just been planted in my mind, something to work on later.  There is no doubt in my mind I will have a “later” following this encounter.  I am not so easy to kill as they should all know by now.  There is a depth of strength and resilience in this old girl’s body, especially when the old girl remembers to keep her mind on the work at hand.

I think of Deirdre.  I think of her as if she were the one who was going to be killed and I was the one who could defend her.  So this is for her, not for me.  I have to return to her, no matter what I must do for it – I must live through this fight and through this day. 

We raise our weapons.  The next trumpet announces the start of the match and we are at each other.  He knows how to fight and is expert at handling the long handled axe, but then I knew as much.  We circle each other warily, feinting, jumping and slashing.  The axes ring against each other and I notice that his is heavier than mine, of a different design and make.  The handle is longer by several thumbs, another violation of strict arena rules.  Why not, I think bitterly, you don’t become a member of the elites by obeying rules and laws – that is for the despised sheep.

The discrepancies in weaponry and armour do not matter that much.  To a professional fighter a difference is often an advantage if noticed in time.  Now I can evaluate him and gage his abilities. He is not much stronger than me, so we are even there.  I’m much faster, as well as taller and longer-limbed, so I have the advantage there.  The weight of his axe will help him only if he strikes when I’m off-balance or tiring but it will slow him down.  I weigh my options as we perform our death dance.  I have to bring him down quickly, before he tires me out.  I will bring him down, I have given myself no other choice: I do not die today.  And that, psychologically, is a powerful place to be: to have no choice but to perform to the uttermost of all your skills and abilities.  To strip yourself of everything else in the moment and become all that your “cornered beast” self must do to overcome: total focus of energy, not an iota of waste.

‘Sorry guy,’ I say to myself, ‘but I may have to lessen some of your fun here.  After all, this is my place, not yours, you know, home turf advantage and all that.  These idiots in the stands, they don’t know it, but they are cheering for me, not you.  You are Royals and deep down they hate you and your effete, inbred ways which they support through endless thievery and oppression.’  I decide to rile him by smiling at him as we come close enough to be face to face for a fleeting moment.  His face turns into a snarl and he lunges.  I parry and slash.  The blade does its work and cuts between the slit in his coat.  Blood gushes from his thigh and he winces, jumps back and prepares for another assault.  He’ll be more careful and more dangerous now.

[end blog post #35]

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #34

[begin blog post #34]

They eagerly listen and seek to incorporate many of the innovations I propose.   We turn to the design of the axe blade itself. 

“Too heavy for any woman, even I” I say.  “Try leaving just the outline of the blade and remove all the metal inside.  Think of it as a sword blade cut in three sections, the longest cutting edge curved, the other two used as braces.  Weld them here… and here.  See?  Then try a new design – one with two blades opposite each other.  That will cause excitement, guaranteed.  Look, if I roll the handle with a powerful wrist action the blade spins around its axis, thus, and anything it contacts is sheared off as if it had contacted a milling blade…”

“A milling blade?”  The look of intense interest is almost comical, like leading a class of first graders on a field trip.

“Don’t they teach engineering to men here?”  I ask, being deliberately provocative.  The smith’s face darkens momentarily and I know I’ve walked in dangerous waters.

“Begging your pardon sir, but how do you know about blending metals?  Is there teaching for this?”

“This of no matter to gora.  We not speak of teachings here.”  The subject is closed.  I keep my mouth shut and await developments. 

“Tell what you need to fight, we make.”  He raises his finger at me in a warning gesture.

I bow my head and lower my arms, then speak in a much lower, subservient  voice, “Please, light and deadly, always, when designing weapons for females.  Survive on skill and speed we do, not strength.  Longer we last, more money owners make.  They see results from good weapons, smiths get credit, as you say, yes?  Good arithmetic?”  The two I’m addressing look at me quizzically.  No ‘arithmetic’ for these guys. 

Then I show them my relatively larger feet than those of a typical T’Sing Tarleyn female.

“Where I from there be people train to use no weapon to kill – just body.  Feet be good killing weapon in hand to hand combat.  You hear I kill trainer by using sweeping side kick many years ago when first I here, yes?”  Some nod knowingly as I demonstrate by knocking down a bundle of what could have been potatoes, from a ceiling hook, raising my foot higher than the tallest of them.  I pick up the bundle and swing it back into place, hiding the fact it was almost beyond my strength.

There is one thing you learn in these kinds of worlds, not very different from Earth: that those who think themselves stronger are easily impressed to observe those they consider weaker do something they cannot do.  It’s up to the “weaker one” to immediately change the subject, let it go.  Never rub it in that you can out-do a man at anything.  If they see you beat them at something they will accept it, once or temporarily, but if you make it look that you are gloating in the least they will find some justification for nailing you when you do not expect it and they will never miss their chance. 

The only safe place to gloat over a man is in the arena when you know you have beaten him and he still does not realize he is a walking dead man.  If he is a particularly vicious type who has raped or tortured other females, now is the time to let him know that you are taking revenge for their pain and death.  Let him face and feel the terror he has been inflicting on others.  In any other situation, when under an authority that has power of life and death over you, remain subservient even when it is obvious you are superior.  You cannot reject them but they can reject you.  Here subservience is best expressed by always reverting to pidgin talk when addressing men.

“Please, I would like foot weapon is call ‘sandal’ that straps to foot and has blades mounted on it.  Make retractable if that be possible?”

I had to describe what a sandal is.  Except for the richest among them who do so strictly as an affectation, no one wears shoes, having no need of them.  But they catch on quickly especially the head smith after he decides to ease his now huge erection in me.  He takes me as casually as if he were taking a drink of water.  The others watch and smirk.  I have difficulty getting used to that, even after all the years I’ve experienced the casualness of it.  Perhaps it’s because they are also raping you when they do it, stealing your power if you let them by not being prepared for it.  Almost every act of fornication here is an attack upon the woman.  As an act of love it would be a violation of their laws on sex.  But breaking their law on casual sex seems much less of an offence, probably because it is rape, the socially acceptable humiliation of a female.  

“I see head trainer,” he belatedly answers after rubbing his dirty hands on my breasts and feeling my hardened nipples. “Maybe I convince.  He approve, yes, we make for you.  I credit young apprentice here,” – points to a young boy working with a hammer on a piece of what I take to be white-hot steel – “for new ideas.  He be about gora size so he be one to think of thing like that.” 

It was a definite insult, not just a slip of the tongue, a serious goading for whatever reason.  Maybe the head smith does not like the boy and would like to be rid of him.  The boy fires his master a look of pure hatred that could mean trouble down the road.  To be compared to a female is the lowest of insults.  To say to a man, “You’re a gora!” is to guarantee a fight, often to the death.  I suspect this boy has yet to pass his puberty rite and has not killed his first female.  His eyes sweep over me with utter contempt.  I know he’d attack me if he did not already know that would be the most foolhardy, and terminal, thing he could do.  He knows that if he did kill me he could claim I was the cause of the insult he had to avenge.  Probably he would only receive a mild reprimand and have to pay back some of my value by winning a fight in the arena sometime in the future.  Of course, that also depends on who it is owns me and my fighting skills and how much they are worth…  He’s not so stupid that he does not realize to attack me gains him two ways to die: at my hands instantly, or in the arena by and by.

But the white bearded, broad shouldered smith laughs loudly – the first hearty laugh I’ve heard on Malefactus.  And I start to wonder… the smith could be useful if I could somehow draw him into a conspiracy to get Deirdre out of this place, away from Hyrete and off Elbre.  I too have that female ectohormonal power men so dread here.  The power to seduce just by being what nature has endowed me with.  My “rebuilt” body is still very attractive despite its scars.  And he’s had a taste of it and what I chose to express with it.  How much more of it does he want?  He would know many traders I warrant, but how could I trust them not to sell her back into the same situation?  I shake my head to free myself of these mindless thoughts.  Always I comeback to worrying about ‘my’ Deirdre.

Dreams are one thing.  Reality too often plays out differently.  And in this place, reality has a way of hitting you on the side of the head.  Not literally this time, but in my heart. 

The days continue to slip into weeks, the weeks stretch into more months.  Since my healing and interview with the doctor – I still don’t know his name – I have heard nothing.  Deirdre has had many “interviews” with all the men in the compound but she seems not to mind, or care.  She had expected her life to have been as a provider of erotic pleasures and has been thoroughly trained for it.  It doesn’t make it any easier for me though, because I seem to worry about her every waking moment.

In all of that, I am a fighter.  I had anticipated that sooner or later I would be forced to use the axe in a fight and that day has come. 

[end blog post #34]