Friday, May 29, 2015

Lord of the Arena-09

The post-engagement breakdown went by the numbers. No one wounded, not even injured; some bruises and such, but that's it. The rigs and auxilaries need their armor patched up and the magazines for their weapons topped off, but all of that is expected- routine, even. All of that got sorted by the time they reached the expected ambush point, but the road report held true: the State Patrol and National Guard out of Duluth already engaged them and handled the matter. The way to Duluth had been cleared.

Eric and his staff rolled through Duluth and toward the arena down on the shore of Lake Superior. In addition to automotive gladiatorial events, the Duluth arena could open to the Great Lake and host maritime events, which was quite a hit in the summertime. This was one of the bigger arena in Minnesota and Wisconsin, feeding into the big ones in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee, so the smarter major players--like Eric--came to arenas like this often to keep up his fame and seek out new talent.

These arenas, in the smaller cities and larger towns, were the mainstays of the "Amateur Night" tradition. Cheap cars, owned by the arena, driven by newcomers and other wannabees early in an evening's roster of events to bring in fans and occasionally discover a new arena fighter worthy of the name. Eric once did such a thing, and so did all of his peers and rivals; few did not, such as Manhattan Matt, and they were always marked by it- "cutting in line" is how old-timers compared it.

Such events also provided an avenue for the more cunning contract killers to prepare a perfectly-deniable hit on a target. It involved significant risk, so only those already skilled as road warriors tried it, but those willing and able to prepare identities without a reputation as an arena fighter could reliably enter into such events and fight their way up to the usual open slot in the main event card. Most of the time, such a man would be knocked out early in the match, but if he survived and acquitted himself well he'd attract a sponsor and be given a shot at going pro. It is just this Cinderella story that a couple of professional hitmen attempted to do in the Duluth arena, which had a more developed Amateur Night system that most places.

When Eric and his staff arrived, the initial rounds had already concluded; four professionals infiltrated the ranks, and by now only two remained- and those two were due to face off in a midweek main event match, the winner (if he could continue) being seeded into the big card's main event on the weekend. While the staff, by and large, got to the work of setting up in their assigned arena bays and taking lodging in the attached hotel it was Eric's man and himself who--thinking this to be the case--reviewed the last few days' events here in Duluth's arena.

"Yep, pros." Eric said, "I figured that they'd want a deniable kill."

"One is a lifer for the New York Mafia. The other is a contract killer, a true mercenary, who takes bounties between bigger jobs." his man said, "If the scouting report is accurate, count the made man out. Even if he survives the match, he'll be unable to continue; he's bound to be put into the hospital."


Friday, May 22, 2015

Lord of the Arena-08

A massive gang of bandits, swollen by wanna-be hitmen and a few actual hitmen, descended upon the caravan shortly before the turnoff to Hinckley. As they reached the outer range of their weapons' range, the bandits and less-disciplined hangers-on opened fire on the caravan.

"Forty hostiles, most of them small cars or motorcycles. The larger ones appear to be professional models." Eric's man said, "We're looking at a running fight."

"Shift deployment to the other side. Auxilaries, go hot." Eric said, and he powered up his car's systems to full. The deployment rig shifted to go out on the left side, facing the other side of the divided Interstate, and out Eric went in his road car. No sooner was he outside the rig than he popped loose from the bolts holding his wheels his place and brought the car up to highway speed. He turned his car's turreted guns on a motorcycle trying to paint his rig's backdoor, ripping through its armor shell and exploding the bandit's torso. The bike fell and flipped; the rider's corpse separated and landed in two parts along the shoulder.

The rigs and other auxilaries also quickly cut down the cyclists, as they were fools driving by liquid courage and foolhardy delusions of their own abilities. The small cars, on the other hand, had some skilled men behind their wheels; they were road warriors, experienced raiders, hitmen that actually got a job done, and similar desperate men who hadn't managed to get himself killed- until now.

The front and rear rigs did not shy away from using their tank guns. Multiple cars got wrecked utterly by those cannons directly hitting them or the car next to them, forcing those near that sad sack to lose control and crash into something or someone else- taking them out of the fight. Eric and the other auxilaries roamed as needed up and back alongside the rigs to cover gaps and watch blindspots; targeting weak points in the enemy's armor, focusing down targets when they could, and so on.

The second wave soon collapsed and the handful left broke off and fled the Interstate.

"Let them go." Eric said, "Auxilaries return to base. Start damage assessment and repairs."

Once back in the rig, Eric got on a private link with his man: "The third wave will come in an hour; they'll want to take advantage of what the survivors know before liquidating them."

"No, I don't think we'll get a third. Duluth reports an engagement with some bandits. That's likely the wave."

Eric looked at the report and data. "I concur, having seen that."


"The real hitmen will be there already, working to get on the card and win their way into the main event."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lord of the Arena-07

150 miles up I-35 to Duluth should be an easy three-hour drive. Go in a group that looks like it can handle bandits and you'll be fine. That's the routine; even the State Patrol and National Guard do that. The nightly road wrap-up and forecast routinely displays the corpses of fools who didn't alongside the stripped wrecks of their cars.

It was nothing that Eric didn't know well, on both sides. Rare is the arena champion who didn't arise out of the vicious road warrior subculture, and Eric spent plenty of time dealing with and in latter-day banditry. Now, as he and his crew pass through the outer wall of the Twin Cities and go north on I-35, he sat in his road car--which, in turn, sat in one of the rigs in a quick-deploy bay--as he fully expect some fools to come at him to see if he's still hard enough for the open road.

It did not help that his killing of Manhattan Matt the night before put a $10 million bounty on his head by the gangsters and other outraged fans who supported Matt in his own career- and not just by buying his stuff. Extra-legal and quasi-legal actions were common place now, and no one in government gave a shit about anything beyond the reach of their enforcers' guns; people were on their own.

"The first wave will come after we leave the limits of the Cities' guns, around the point where line of sight of that point is lost." Eric said, quietly, as he examined the radar. His man thought likewise; the caravan went to General Quarters, and staff zipped up their armor as they strapped into their positions. Helmets snapped shut, and the veterans double-checked their personal weapons should boarding be necessary.

"Contact, quarter-mile ahead." came over the intercom.

"The second group will close in from the rear in 30 seconds, with whomever remains deploying on our side once we break through."

The front and rear rig in the caravan sported salvaged and rebuilt main guns taken from Abrams tanks, mounted along the spines of the trailers; the front rig fired at the barracade of bandit trucks and vans blocking the road, hitting the middle van with its side panel open. The anti-tank guns' exploded, popping the van like an over-pressured pimple and sending shrapnel across their ranks. As Eric expected, a second group came down from a frontage road and formed up on their rear. The rear rig fired its rear-facing gun at the trunk forming the point of their formation, exploding it into so much confetti; smoke followed, covering mines dropped in their wake and eliminating the group entirely by mobility kills. The lead rig's tractor opened fire with its shorter-range machineguns and cut down the roadblock's wings. The caravan easily burst through and kept on going.

"The second wave will abandon the usual toll-based tactics and bring their better fighters to bear." Eric said, and he got on the intercom, "All auxiliaries prepare to deploy."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Lord of the Arena-06

Interstate 35 still existed, even after the collapse and the Second American Civil War, and it remained the primary road connecting Duluth and next-door Superior to Minneapolis and St. Paul. In those 150 miles (roughly) lay the remains of small towns and First Nations bands, ravaged into ruin first by the global economy collapsing and then opportunists using the war that followed to settle scores going back to the 18th Century (in some cases) while trying otherwise to survive. It was, therefore, something that had to be regularly patrolled and caravanned in force to ensure a traveler's safe passage- bandits were hardly uncommon.

As Eric arrived at the garage, he listened to the daily road report provided--in part--by the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota National Guard. "Bandit activity is light, confined to solo travelers in weak vehicles. Caravans are advised. Patrol response time is 15 minutes." Eric knew what that really meant: they're preying on the side roads that feed into I-35 and they're avoiding both fortified towns as well as the Twin Cities as well as Duluth entirely, so look like you can gank them and you'll be okay.

Eric sighed. This report never took into account deliberate and deliberating trouble-makers, such as bounty-hunters, and neither the Patrol nor the Guard cared much so long as they didn't disrupt traffic too much; a brief fight on the Interstate would be tolerated, but not a long one and not a fight that messed with key commodities or VIPs making the rounds. For all his fame, Eric was not yet important enough to merit official favor of that sort; he and his crew would be on their own once beyond the range of the Cities' artillery.

His tactician and security head welcomed him with a handshake. "I got an update on the bounty. It's crowd-funded, but even that's dodgy; most of the pledges are from locations known to be full of gangsters, and I don't mean punk kids with wardrobe issues. I mean the syndicates, and out that way you know what that means."

"Too much." Eric said, "Matt's always been less than subtle about his ties to the old-time organizations in New York. This also means that we've got a good chance of attracting international attention."

"Italian hitters in supercars stand out here." his man said, "I'd expect more low-class hired hitters, and plenty of wanna-bees looking to make a name for themselves at your experience. That we can handle easily. This is our turf, after all."

Eric had an idea. "Has this hit the feeds yet?"

His man looked at Eric, and nodded. "No, but-"

"Do it. Make those local bandits into assets."

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lord of the Arena-05

After the match, after the post-match debriefing and brain massage--a nice way of saying "10 minutes in the mind-cleaning machine"--Eric relaxed in his home. His tactician, who is also his security head, insisted that he have one of his men on hand until the morning. Eric relented, thinking the man a bit overcautious, but not wanting to gainsay one of his key staff.

Just after 2 a.m., the man awoke Eric.

"Sir, the boss figured that you taking out Matt would cause problems, so he put the word out to his network to keep a lookout for such things. We just got one."

"Price on my head?" Eric said, curious.

"$1 million U.S. Dollars, or its equivalent, for your head brought to a location in New York."

"I just backed up my memory, again. They're wanting more than just a body's severed head."

"Correct. It's $10 million if they also do away with the backups and the clone."

"Aside from turning on the top-tier security measures, what?"

"Get on the road, first thing tomorrow. The boss is already organizing the caravan."

"I want the road car ready. He knows better than to fight me on it."

The night then went without further interruption, nevermind incident, as Eric's staff rotated through the night to get the rigs loaded and ready to roll early in the morning. Duluth expected a good show, and neither they nor Eric could let a credible death threat stop them from appearing at the arena there.

When Eric's man got the order, he sighed but relayed it away; his boss was also an expert road warrior, and his best chances for surviving would be at the wheel of his own road-fighting car. That it's currently kept in one of the rigs made making it ready easy to do; if the arena car was a well-oiled, high-tuned race car of old then the road car was a rough-and-tumble rum-runner from a century before, back when morons decided to make booze illegal. The car that made Eric what he is remained with him, and with it Eric the Arena Ace shifted back to Eric Anderson the Road Viking.