Friday, June 12, 2015

Lord of the Arena-11

The Duluth arena soon found its underground bays filled with arena teams and their staff, preparing for the weekend card of arena matches. Scouts walked about the place, observing international regulations regarding what arena teams can disclose to rival scouts and speculating on the rest; the media hype escalated as the time drew near, and the local hospitals had ambulances on hand to deal with casualties- and representatives for one or another of the cloning corporations set up next to them. Arms merchants large and small set up their booths and representatives began hawking their wares to the public while liasons with the various teams met to dispense the material benefits of sponsorship: free armor, ammunition, arms or whatever they manufacture.

When Saturday came, the ticket-bearing fans came in their thousands to fill the stands as they do in arenas around what once was the United States and enjoy the 21st century revival of gladiatorial combat. No maritime combat today, alas, but instead a full and promising card of car-centric combat that began just after the lunch hour and went on well after dusk- with intermissions for fans to fill themselves on the food offered by the arena's array of carts, kiosks, and short-order restaurants (the last of which also having beer and ale on tap; this is Brewing Country, after all) so no time (for the fans) or revenue (for the arena) is lost.

The undercard events featured private disputes settled in the arena, the final Amateur Night fight, and even one fool taking up Trial By Combat against the State Patrol's best autoduelist. Some events were short and sweet, some long and exciting, some tedious, some disappointing, and in any event lots of money changed hands over bets informal and formal won and lost. All the while, Eric remained segregated from it all preparing for a Main Event match that had more at stake than fame and a fat purse.

When the last of the undercard matches concluded, and the arena organizers called over the intercom for Eric and his fellow competitors to report to their assigned launch bays, Eric's mind totally focused upon the arena match immediately before him. All thoughts of assassins, hitmen, the price on his head, and related treachery washed away. Eric sat in the driver's seat of his arena car, minding the lights and listening to his man up in the team's booth give the final pre-match situation report.

Most of it was nothing out of the ordinary: this team configured for high-speed ramming, that team installed a turreted laser, and so on. What got Eric's notice was that one of his opponents was not at all seen, even by his own team, without a helmet on since two events before the Main Event- and prior to that, he met with a well-dressed middle-aged man with a New York accent.

"Ringer." Eric said, "What's his car again?"

"Full-sized, paired anti-tank guns forward and again rearward. No gunners. Armor is standard grade, thin on top and standard beneath. Maneuverable but not speedy."

Eric punched a few keys into his car's computer. "Marked. Noted."

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