Mutineer's Fate: Bottom Bouts part 2
The lights flashed over him, crimson, amber, indigo, white, and magenta… over and over… faster and faster. Dane looked down at his bare feet in the mud, watching the light change their color, each in succession. His heart beat faster as the pace begin to slow to a stop. The light rain was starting to really come down, he blinked away a few droplets from his eyelashes and just like that he missed seeing the colors stop.
When he looked down, he saw that he was cast in the lurid purple light.
“MAKE YO CALLS! ROUND ONE WINNER!!”
“BONES!!” was called out by nearly everyone watching. Dane did not need to look up to see that the white light was cast on the caitian, but there came a loud gasp that turned into an awed cheer. Dane looked up to see that Brr’mn had dropped his daggers into the mud at his feet. The feral cadet was flexing his clawed hands and baring his large canines, clearly sending a message that he could never be unarmed.
“ROUND ONE ELIMINATION!!”
Again the cadets all seemed to be on the same page as they called out in unison, “MAGENTA!!”
Dane looked at the rest of the combatants. Two of the other humans were armed, one with the shield and the other, with the cutlass. They were leaning subtly toward each other while slightly facing away… they were clearly going to work together but not trying to look like they had planned anything. The klingon had the spear and was eyeing Dane with a warrior’s grin but kept his stance open and turned slightly toward the caitian, along with the point of his weapon. Obviously, he expected an attack. While Kolez, the saurian, who was unarmed as Dane was and not cast in any light, continued to stretch, and flex his joints in preparation. The final human, Sherman was also unarmed, though, he too, was not cast in any light. He was nodding hard to the other two humans, almost openly trying to set up a quick alliance of sorts. They did their best to ignore him; the last time cadets were caught trying to work together in a bottom bout they were all beamed out of the circle fifty meters away… too far to get back in time.
And the caitian? The Caitian had his narrow pupils focused directly on Dane. A long tongue flicked out and slide over his oversized canines.
“Which one lost a ship?” Shelby asked.
“The saurian,” Herthal told her. “Charged into battle against a task force of Breen we’d set up. Lost the Dakota because he wouldn’t follow orders to fall back.”
“Hmm…” the Admiral murmured. “And the other you added? Which one is that?”
“Cadet Dane,” he told her. “The purple.”
“Is that the son of Moses Dane?”
“It is, Admiral.”
Shelby looked past Herthal to see the Admiral sitting to the fore of them both. But the legend showed no reaction.
“Macs, ready yo-selves… BEGIN!!” and the killing started.
The growl that erupted from the caitian, that was really a ferasan, was so powerful, Dane could feel it vibrate over his skin. The alien cadet sprinted across the circle directly at Dane, his clawed hands held akimbo as he ran, ready to slash when he got close.
Behind him the klingon engaged the nearest human with a war cry, and immediately found himself facing off against two opponents. Their weapons met in clangs but the powerful blows from the klingon forced the two humans backward. “Today is your day to die!”
Nearest him, Kolez took a few long steps and shoved Sherman out of the circle. The small cadet cried out and landed in a splash of mud and was immediately inundated by pulsating light.
“RRROOOWWRRR!!” just before the caitain could close the distance between them, Dane launched himself into him. Caught off guard the bigger humanoid could not stop the vicious head butt and with a nasty “crack”, one of his wicked, saber like canines was snapped off at the root.
The crowd of cadets roared themselves into a frenzy as the caitian/ferasan fell backward stunned. So much so that even the saurian, Kolez, was distracted enough that he missed seeing Sherman slip back into the ring and grab up the dropped daggers.
With a snarl, the feral hopped to his feet and faced Dane, his eyes raging. He coiled himself to launch again when the horn bleated.
“ROUND ONE… CRIMSON WINS!!” Dane looked to the far side of the ring and saw that one of the science division candidates had taken the Klingons spear to his midsection and was down on his back choking out a few gasps of blood…
“DIE WELL!” Woy’worgh cried out while pumping one fist in the air.
…and then nothing as he shuddered and went limp in the mud.
“I’m not sure these bouts have value anymore,” mused Shelby. “I haven’t seen one winner make it to commander rank in years. So many of them are alien.”
Ferra bristled a bit at the remark but kept himself from baring his teeth. “Yes, Admiral… for some reason, the non-human cadets seem to get dropped to the bottom of the class, time and time again, only to prove they did not belong there by winning concisely.”
“Care for another wager then. Lieutenant?”
“You think one of these humans will win the bout?”
“No,” the Shelby smirked. “I think though… that I will bet against the ferasan.”
Ferra snuck a quick glance at the other rest of the group, almost all of whom outranked him. “After my… losses, I’ve little to wager with.”
“There is always next quarters earnings,” Shelby suggested, her lips slowly wrapping into a mocking smirk. “But I’ll understand if you’re worried that the fur ball won’t survive. The cadet Dane already took a tooth… once wounded… caitians fall apart quickly after.”
Ferra could not help but to bare one chipped canine in an involuntary snarl. The difference between him and the cadet now fighting for his life became apparent as he was not sporting the longer, saber-like, teeth. Nevertheless, he was clearly incensed.
“Next quarters earnings, Admiral,” he growled. “On the… on Brr’mn to win it all.”
Shelby smiled wickedly. “Well, I’ll admit these games of chance are not my forte,” she threw a sly look to the legendary admiral. “But maybe I’ll get lucky.”
Brr’mn had not relented in glowering at Dane for one moment after the horn stopped the round. The larger cadet hadn’t said a word, only growling and snapping as he shook the mud from his fur. It was subtle, but Dane could see the slight pivot in his hips, made clear from the angle of the feral mans tail. He was worried about the Klingon on his right side. If the Klingon got another weapon in the next round, he would be dangerous.
But not as dangerous as Kolez. The big saurian had been one of the top students of this years graduating class… until his space duty tour. Like Dane, Kolez had done something wrong, getting himself sent down to this year’s bottom bouts. He was cunning and aggressive… he had to be the overall favorite to survive. All the numbers worked in his favor.
“SPIN THE WHEEL!!” again the lights whirled about the circle and this time, Dane lifted his head up toward where his weapon would appear. The spear, he thought, distance would help against his much bigger opponents. He closed his eyes.
The lights slowed to a halt. The yard roared but was followed by a mix of gasps.
“MAKE YO CALLS!!”
“GOLD!!” they called out for the winner.
“MAGENTA!” they called for the loser.
Dane opened his eyes as he heard the resonant sound of transporter beams. There was nothing there but the glare of purple light.
Rarely had anyone gotten the magenta light twice in the bottom bouts… let alone twice in a row. Dane looked at the others. Sherman stood in the crimson light, holding the spear in a defensive stance. The other human cadet held the daggers in the white light while the klingon held the shield with an almost disgusted look now shaded in the blue. Kolez was, again, weaponless like himself although it did not seem to bother him.
Finally, still glaring at Dane, Brr’mn was testing the weight of the cutlass, spinning it through the air with relish. There was no change, however, in who the caitian was secretly focusing on; the shield bearing klingon.
“ROUND TWO…MACS… BEGIN!”
The caitain feinted towards Dane but only for two steps before pivoting and charging the Woy’worgh. A shrill whistle ripped through the air as their weapons met with a clang, white had thrown his dagger. Well placed, but Kolez reacted fast enough to avoid a fatal wound. Instead, his forearm was impaled. Sherman threw a battle cry at Dane, shuffled his feet a bit, but did not move an inch from his position.
Dane muttered a curse, Kolez now had weapon again. .
So, Dane dug his toes into the wet grass and launched himself across the small arena at Sherman.
“Back! St-stay back! I’ll kill…” Kolez threw his blade and as Dane reached the spear, he saw it embed itself in the side of Sherman’s head. He pulled the weapon away from the dead cadet hands as Sherman dropped into the mud.
“ROUND TWO… uh… BRAVO WINS!!!”
When Dane looked up from Sherman’s body, he found Kolez staring at him with those bulbous eyes. A series of deep clicks and pops rolled out of his throat that the universal translator was just a step behind in translating. “You’re next, Dane.”
As the surviving cadets walked back to the edges of the arena, Dane did his best not to shiver in the cold rain.
“Down to four now,” Herthal, noted.
“The four most would have predicted,” Taggart noted. “Until the glitch with the assigned weapons happened.”
“Luck of the draw,” The Commodore muttered tight lipped, trying not to look at the Admiral next to him. “Some are just unluckier than others.”
“Indeed,” the legend agreed.
“Care to double our wager, Lieutenant?” Shelby said with a smile.
The caitian glance at her, “Brr’mn will likely kill the rest, Admiral,” he hissed. “I am if you are.”
“ROUND THREE… SPIN THE WHEEL!!”
The colors whirled, and Dane flexed his hands in anticipation. The spear, he prayed, he needed the distance to win against any of these three.
The color wheel slowed to a halt. There was quick rise of cheers which just a suddenly changed to murmurs and gasps.
Once again, Dane stood under the purple light.
“I think this will be the end of Cadets Dane’s scholastic career, don’t you, commander, Barclay?” Herthal turned in his seat to ask the quiet man but made sure to make eye contact with the older Dane as he did so.
Barclay, however, replied. “No…, Sir.”
“Magenta, again?” The Legend’s voice finally registered some emotion. “For the lone human cadet?”
Herthal shifted just a bit in his seat. “Were you aware, Admiral, that Cadet Dane was placed at the bottom of his class for failing the Kobayashi Maru test?”
“Everyone fails the Kobayashi Maru, Herthal.”
“Cadet Dane attempted to spare the crew.”
“So,” The Admiral grimaced. “…this isn’t a ‘bout’ at all, but an execution.”
“CRIMSON!!!” The crowd cried out and Brr’mn held the spear up high above his head and let loose a deep roar that echoed across the grounds.
“ROUND THREE, LOSER?”
This isn’t what she wanted. Elisa watched as her former cadet captain just stood there in the purple light once more. “They’re going to execute him anyway.” And despite her rage at him for being the cause of her first and only time in an agony cell, she found herself feeling pity for him.
There had been one good day, Dane thought. One good day in his entire life and he could barely remember it. One sun filled day… with a mother whose face he could not picture… one good day before his father turned harsh. So long ago that he was probably inventing the memory.
Every day since had been bitter… pain filled… conflict driven… without end. He had no friends… just allies and had found peace only in engineering, where he could work alone. But in the final years of the academy there was no alone time, only time for fleet prep and he had been forced to succeed at spacing or fail out.
And there was only one way to fail out of the Terran Space Academy.
It had been simple math; either excel or die. Life wasn’t going to get any easier… only a lot deader. So, Dane did the work… all of it, even the ugly and the harsh. He studied everything they gave him and passed every test and he fought when he had to. The only times he had ever fallen short were when he forgot to follow the equation. In those moments when he thought maybe his sunny dream might have been real. When he thought, even for a moment, that his life could be lived instead of endured… that the equation might just break on some unknown variable.
Three opponents now… a klingon, bigger, redundant organs, one good toe claw, and now carrying the cutlas. Overly aggressive. “I will open you bellies and spill your entrails onto into the mud!”
A saurian, strength powered by four hearts, angry and ambitious, wielding the daggers. Slowed down by the cold.
And a caitian, bigger and stronger than the other caitians Dane had seen at the academy, with long saber like teeth… well tooth now. His clawed feet… and hands gave him better traction in the mud, his fur a bit of protection from blows… armed by default, with claws and fangs…
…lethal weapons without even counting the cutlass.
Four combatants. Three aliens and one human. The feral caitian had the heavy advantage… the feral caitian was going to win…
BUT… if the caitian DID lose… it would have to lose NOW, while the eventual winner would have had one less round of wounds to contend with. Four combatants… likely two on two… Neither of the other two would even think of working together. The caitian beats them all easily in a one-on-one match so he’s favored in the next two rounds. Not likely to get as beat up as the others are.
Dane could not count of one of the other two to take out the caitian now. Not if HE wanted to be the one still standing at the end.
It was simple math.
Dane raised a hand and with two fingers, beckoned the caitian to attack.
The cadet battalions went wild with a thunderous howl that rose up and echoed across the campus. Enraged, Brr’mn tried to out roar them only to fall short. This only incensed him even more and he charged Dane, spear above his head, ready to impale the smaller cadet.
Dane leaned hard to the caitian’s dominant side, his own weaker, offhand… and did not move as the that spear drew to within striking distance.
Anticipating his move, Brr’mn gave a half-hearted feint that Dane did not bite on. This made the feral cadet hesitate his strike enough that he drove the spear through Dane’s right arm at a less severe angle. Surprised, Brr’mn collided with him unprepared for the contact and they both rolled out of the arena awkwardly.
At once they were painted in the warning lights.
“I think,” Admiral Shelby noted, “One of those two will be the winner of this bout.” Seated just a bit ahead of her, Lieutenant Ferra’s nose twitched as he gave a snort.
From behind both of them came a low whispered, “Agreed,” from Barclay.
Dane and Brr’mn rolled and slid away from the arena, arms wrapped around each other in a bloody embrace.
“I’ll watch you die then, Dane!” the feline cadet hissed with anticipation. Dane’s only answer was to grab a tighter hold to keep Brr’mn from biting him with that last tooth.
The strategy did nothing to stop Brr’mn from slashing at his shoulders and back with his clawed hands, though he did far less damage there than usual as Dane’s water soaked skin proved a bit resilient to being shredded. Blood was still drawn, however and the wound from his arm still bled.
They rolled even harder as they kicked and fought. The warning lights flashed faster and faster.
He was a bloody mess, Elisa noted, no way he survived this. At least the spear still wasn’t stuck in his arm. She looked back to the other two cadets in the arena. Even if one of the others won the match at this point, anyone OUTSIDE the arena would still be taken out by an orbital strike in the next few seconds.
Dane was an idiot.
Brr’mn managed to stop their tumble across the yard and came up on top in the grapple. Seconds, he knew, they had only seconds, but he couldn't help himself. With a growl he grabbed at Danes throat and roared his triumph into his face. “I will watch you be vaporized, Dane!”
Dane, throttled, could not talk. Brr’mn looked deep into his opponent’s eyes and did not see the fear or panic he expected. Rather he saw… eagerness?
Only seconds… but Brr’mn needed to see… he looked deep… he saw…
“No!!!” he screamed as Dane, with his wounded arm, drove a thick handful of mud into the feral’s eyes. In a panic Brr’mn slashed blindly at Dane, carving a nasty set of gashes across his face, nearly blinding him. But he’d let go his throat and Dane kicked and squirmed free.
The crowd roared again, and Brr’mn rubbed at his eyes, but could not clear his vision for the mud stuck in strands of his fur. A bright ever pulsing crimson light was all he could see.
But he could hear, Dane’s feet splashing through the mud to get back to the arena. There was no time, he used all fours, arms and legs, clawed feet and hands to gallop at nearly twice a human’s speed to get back to safety. Heedless of the other two cadets who might be waiting for him with weapons drawn, he ripped up the yard turf in his powerful haste. The lights reached a crescendo… he heard Dane grunt with a thump as he must have leapt to reach the arena ahead of him. So, he leapt as well, feline form stretching out…
…he heard Dane land with a splash… to his left.
“Hmm,” the legend noted. “…well played by the cadet.” The command cadre watched as the orbital strike vaporized the feral ferasan just a meter from the arena.
“Lieutenant?” Shelby asked Ferra, “, sit back down, please, I can’t see what has happened.” She could barely hide her smirk. The caitian officer flexed his clawed hands and sat back down in his seat, nose twitching up a storm.
“Oh… has another round ended?”
“ROUND THREE WINNER…” the instructor strode into the ring and waited until Dane stood up. He appraised him quickly and decided the cadet wasn’t going to die from his wounds before the start of the next round at least. “MAGENTA!”
The cadets surrounding to arena gasped and murmured hard but eventually cheered a bit and clapped.
“He’s wounded,” one cadet said behind Elisa, “Prolly’ll drop dead next round without even a blow.”
“He just beat Brr’mn, though,” said another. “First human to beat a caitian in a bottom bout.”
“Not straight up,” said yet another, “He tricked him outta the arena. He cheated.”
“He changed the conditions of the fight,” Elisa said out loud without worry of reprimand. “You all should be paying attention.”
With nothing to wrap his wound, Dane settled for simply holding it closed. That seemed to stop it for the moment, but he was sure it would be gushing blood once the fighting commenced…
“SPIN THE WHEEL!!!”
This time when the colors whirled to a stop, Dane was not surprised.
“MAKE YOU CALLS!!!”
There was a resounding call for “GOLD!!!” indicating the now, cutlas bearing saurian, Kolez. Yet just before the instructor called for the losers one female voice called out.
“Magenta!” was followed by laughter and some snorts but some murmurs of agreement as well.
Dane heard her call out and looked into the crowd of cadets. He couldn’t find her though; the blood loss was making it difficult to focus. How could she possibly be rooting for him? After what he pulled?
“MAKE YO CALLS!!! ROUND FIVE ELIMINATION!!”
“MAGENTA!!” was again the consensus call but was followed by a few voices, lead by Elisa that called, “BONES!”
One of the additional voices, Dana recognized as Zarva’s.
The cadets crosstalk grew until the instructor had to blow the horn again to begin the bout. “ROUND FIVE, MACS… BEGIN!!”
For The first time in the bout there was hesitation, with each taking stances squaring off. Clearly neither the klingon nor the saurian was worried about the wounded, unarmed human. They could each afford to ‘save’ him for the last round.
With a proud battle cry, Woy’worgh charged Kolez and daggers met blade with a dull clang. “When I finish with you, jay’naQ, I will used your flesh as my new sash!”
Kolez responded with a nasty series of clicks and pops that the translators could not decipher. Dane watched as they exchanged a set of well defended strikes. The saurian was the stronger of the two, and more disciplined, Dane was convinced he would win.
And there was little he could do to stop that.
“Miserable, p’tak!!” Woy’worgh screamed. “You will rob me of my rightful place!”
But Kolez was bigger and though he was fighting the cold he still fought without fatigue, those four hearts pumping blood to every part of his body. With a sweep of his blade, he managed to upend Woy’worgh, and toss him out of the arena. Then instead of taking advantage of the fallen Klingon, he turned and charged Dane.
The crowd noise rose, with a cacophony of boos and jeers until Dane tucked and rolled out of the saurian path. Unable to stop, Kolez skid to a halt a few meters outside the arena but turned and sprinted back in one smooth motion.
On the other side of the arena, Woy’worgh had regained his footing as well and under the flashing white light he stumbled back into the arena.
Dane forced himself to one knee, ears buzzing with blood loss, and watched as his two competitors stalked closer.
Kolez clicked something to fast for the translators to figure out but Woy’worgh seemed to understand and took a step back.
“Dane…” and some more clicks and pops and Kolez raised the cutlas.
Sometimes the math just doesn’t work out. Sometimes the gear just won’t work.
Sometimes you remember a forgotten variable that changes the equation. A small bit of machine work that sets things right.
Dane pushed off with his off leg, thrusting his good arm under Kolez downward attack, and drove Brr’mn’s saber tooth into the saurian cadet’s bulbous eye.
With a cry, Kolez let go the sword at the apex and it tumbled end over end until sinking deep into the klingons stomach. They both fell simultaneously, Woy’worgh’s legs went limp and Kolez kicking and swinging at nothing on his back.
The only one standing was Dane.
As Kolez scrambled to his feet Dane quickly retrieved the cutlas from Woy’worgh’s torso. His ears buzzed as he walked back over to Kolez, who’s face dripped blood even faster than Dane’s. The saurian hesitated at the edge of the arena, unsure of how to defend himself.
Dane sized him up; attack on his blind side, and he could end all this now. Or… they could both wait for Woy’worgh to die.
But the klingon refuse to oblige. Instead of bleeding out he forced himself up, first to his knees, then, with a garbled cry, to his feet. “I will not die on my back!”
The roars of “MAGNETA” faded as the three surviving cadets simply stood there and slowly the base of the crowd began chanting “FINISH IT!”.
And Dane, the only one with a weapon now, did not make a move.
Herthal stood and stepped to the podium. “If you don’t finish this now, cadet, then none of you three will graduate.”
The threat quieted the crowd, bottom bouts had finished without winners many times before in the school’s history, though not recently.
“Kill me, p’tak!” Woy’worgh cried out, unconvincingly. “Let me… die… in combat.”
Still, Dane did not advance. He looked from one cadet to the next. Then finally he turned his back on both of them and faced the podium.
“We’ve won,” he said weakly.
Absolutely dumbfounded, the Academy commodore stared blankly for a moment before slamming his fist on the podium. “YOU DON’T TELL ME YOU’VE WON, DANE!”
The grounds went dead quiet then, and Dane simply looked back up at him.
“You won’t finish this?” Herthal demanded.
“It is finished, sir,” Dane stated weakly. “We’ve won.”
“He’s delusional from blood loss,” Shelby noted. “Much as he’s lost.”
“Then all he’s won is his way out of the academy,” Herthal condemned them. He tapped his comm badge. “Armory officer?”
“Commodore?” Taggart stepped up to the front of the raised dais. “Before you do that…”
“Step back, captain,” the commodore with deadly intent. “I don’t care how good an engineering candidate Dane is. He had his chance. Unless you’d like him to take YOUR place in the fleet?”
Taggart grimaced at the threat and took a cautious step back. He looked about the rest of the officers on the dais and found no help there, though he expected none… except,
“No, sir,” he admitted. “But the fleet had only two slots available…”
“One lost slot won't be the end of…” Herthal tried to cut him off but Taggart took his chance.
“…until we pulled both Kolez AND Dane into the bottom bouts. So… the fleet then needed to fill only FOUR slots.”
Herthal turned and looked daggers at Taggart until finally, a legend spoke up. “And as I see it, commodore, there are four surviving cadets from these… bouts.”
The commodore did not make eye contact with the Admiral but instead continued to stare violence at Captain Taggart who did his best to remain impassive.
Finally, he turned back to the assembled cadets. “Congratulations, cadets,” was all he said before turning back to the other officers. “There’s a small reception in my office, Admiral, if you wish to join us.”
The legend stood, looked down at the field, at the last three surviving cadets, and at the bloodied and torn face of the cadet named Dane. “Yes, commodore, that would be excellent.”
The horn bleated. “Battalions… diiiismissed!”