Mutineer's Fate: Bottom Bouts part I
episode 103 BETTIES
By the time the cadet divisions had formed into their respective battalions the rain was coming down in earnest. So hard was the deluge that the training field had turned into a shallow swamp with all unlevel portions turned into either grassy mound or muddy pool. The gray morning sky grew darker as the storm approached from the sea, the sound of thunder booming louder and the flashes of lightning growing brighter.
At least the uniform code didn’t call for full dress, the cadets were in their BDUs, still getting soaked but without the discomfort of their formals. Only the cadet brigade, regiment, and battalion commanders were allowed ponchos, not that it help much with down poor.
All four regiments were there, all four classes as well, save for those third-year cadets currently on their sector tours, as well as the support staff, most of the instructors and special guests from a few of the junior academies.
It was a good day for the Bottom Bouts.
The Command Cadre assembled on a wide stage set up on one side of the field. They sat under a small, nearly invisible plasma shield that kept them dry. As the school band wound down the fight song, Commadore Herthal stepped up to podium.
“Never let it be said; that redemption does not exist with the fleet. A soldier who stumbles will always have a chance to regain their footing and move to the front of the hunt. Many of the greatest soldiers in the empire have arisen from the Bottom Bouts; the harshest hammer of the forge.” Despite the microphone, Herthal barked a bit to be heard over the driving rain.
“There are only so many slots in the fleet,” he pointed one gloved finger toward the sky. “And so only those the forge has honed to the sharpest, most hardened points will be able to pierce the veil.”
Behind him, along with the highest ranked individuals from the command cadre, sat a special guest. His chest was covered in only a selection of the awarded medals he had earned, telling a tale of over a long, storied career. Impassive and stone faced, this Admiral, a legend to most, looked almost bored with the proceedings.
Herthal could feel the mans presence behind him. Seldom had the Admiral visited the Academy. The commodore suspected that his visit had something to do with recent fleet losses as well as the purging of last years graduating class. Commander Barclay had been correct in his assessment that the fleet needed talent. Clearly the Admiral was here to inspect the ranks of this… next generation.
“Today ten… ah… twelve of your fellow cadets will strive for the two last available fleet berths. They will earn their positions… in a tradition dating back centuries.”
The band played, all drums, as twelve cadets shimmered into formation along the far side of the swampy field. Five females; three humans, one andorian and one vulcan. Then seven males; four humans, a caitian, a klingon, and a saurian. All of them were nearly naked dressed only in their basics and barefoot in the mud.
“When one ventures boldly into the unknown, far into the black, you need to know that you can depend on the soldier beside you. That every one of your crewmates earned their postings as you have. The fleet accepts no stragglers, no leftovers, there is no last place here at the Academy.”
He nodded then and a large bolian instructor splashed across the mud to the center of the field. He raised a well worn horn to his lips and blew out three discordant bleats then shouted to the dozen cadets.
“Betties take yo places!”
The females, hesitantly at first, started toward the center of the field. As they did laser lights played across the field and outlined a small section, a bright white band marking a circular boundary and criss crossing lines dividing that circle into five triangles. Each young woman took a position inside one of the triangles and waited.
“Bottom bout! Betties! To the death!!” the instructor shouted. “SPIN THE WHEEL!”
The circle was filled with five beams of light, each a different color and each filling only one of each of the triangles. Amber, crimson, indigo, white and magenta, each woman was bathed in one for only a moment before the colors began shifting from one cadet to the next. The illusion of the spinning wheel accelerated as the cadets waited. The instructor gave another bleat on the horn and the ranks of cadets began cheering on their squamate’s chances.
The colors stopped suddenly and the cheer grew louder as the results were seen. In the amber light stood and a particularly brawny human female, who sported a nasty burn scar across her forearms. She smirked and cracked her neck when she saw what color she got.
The crimson light illuminated the andorian who began stretching her limbs as she waited. Standing in the indigo light stood a particularly frightened-looking human cadet, shivering in the rain. The white light filled the patch with the tallest of the group, the last human woman, whose head was completely bald unlike the short crew cuts of the others.
Finally the magenta light belonged to the Vulcan cadet, the thinnest of the women. She showed no reaction to the color, maintaining a stoic demeanor as she simply stared straight ahead.
“The Vulcan gets magenta?” the Admiral asked quietly. “Seems little has changed since my days at the academy.”
The commadore rankled a bit at the remark. “We run a fair bout here, Admiral. We no longer bind the Vulcans fingers for the bouts.”
The horn bleated again. “Make your calls! Round one winner!”
And the ranks of cadets began shouting the colors, while each cadet regiment commander tried to get a consensus from his unit.
“Crimson!” came from the first two regiment commanders.
“Amber!!” got the remaining.
The horn bleated again. “Make your calls! Round one elimination!”
The four cadet commanders had no trouble figuring this one as almost the entire brigade shouted out;
The horn bleated again and the vibrating resonance of multiple transports sounded. Just above the cadet in the amber light, a sword, a cutlas shimmered into existence. She grabbed it out of the air before it could fall to the mud.
Above the andorian in the crimson light, a spear appeared. She, too, snatched the weapon before it could fall.
The indigo weapon was actually a shield, forged in the shape of the empire’s delta symbol. The shield hit the ground in a splash and the nervous woman picked it up with shaking hands.
In the white light two daggers flashed into existence. The tall woman took the blades as they coalesced and spun them in her hands.
And in the magenta triangle… nothing appeared.
The instructor bleated the horn again. “Ready yo-selves! Round one… BEGIN!”
And with a roar of the crowd the cadets began killing each other.
“There seems to be a bit more enthusiasm for the betting,” the Admiral noted.
“I’m not sure, sir,” Captain Taggart sat behind the admiral on the stage. “… if they were assessing successful wagers to mitigate agonizer time for the bottom bout cadets battalion commanders in your time here?”
“Ah…I see,” the Admiral nodded as he watched fight commence.
There were few Vulcans who managed to survive the academy, few still in the fleet itself. Those that managed to make it to their lit final year were usually in high standings. Their cultural proclivities toward pacifist principles made them easy targets for ambitious and treacherous rivals. But their stereotypical leanings toward rational thought made those who could navigate this particularly violent scholastic career… particularly dangerous.
T’Wun, however, had not completely made the transition to dangerous. The frail female Vulcan had managed to excel in her studies but fall short physically. Only the fact that Vulcans were naturally stronger than most of the sub-humanoid species had kept her on track to graduate until recently where she had fallen short in field training.
Never the less, one of the nastier traditional strategies of the bottom bouts still applied; “gang up on the Vulcan first”.
Three of the other cadets converged on the unarmed cadet, Amber, Crimson and white; the light painting their triangles somehow staying with them even as they crossed boundaries. The Vulcan took a defensive stance calmly, resigned to her fate.
The andorian arrived ahead of the others, antennae staring forward, spinning her spear about and preparing to use its length to attack T’Wun from too far a distance for her to defend.
Just before she could, the amber cadet pivoted off her charge and drove her sword deep into the andorians side, right into her heart.
There was a roar and gasp as the watching cadets, caught off guard, realized that the first kill of the bout was made. The horn sounded and immediately the weapons the women had been given shimmered and transported away while the lighting inside the ring faded to normal.
“GOLD wins first bout!” the instructor announced. “Recover!”
The surviving cadets moved back to their original positions and the varying lights illuminating them vanished. The was a mild smattering of clapping, some cheers, followed with some solemn grunts as the andorian cadets body was removed from the field. She was carried off instead of transported, right past her classmates.
The horn bleated and once again the instructor called out, “SPIN THE WHEEL!”. The lights pinwheels about the remaining cadets and shuttered to a stop. The light was harsher this time and each cadet had to blink against its brightness. The wagering began in earnest, with most of the calls going for. “Crimson!”
The tall cadet was bathed in the red light this time. She reached up, grabbed the spear as it appeared, and quickly tested its weight, spinning about.
The magenta light shone down on the brawny cadet, who snorted in defiance. Her confidence was mirrored among the cadets as they called for the color “BONES”, indicating the white light shining down on the Vulcan.
Finally, the nervous cadet stood under the amber light and caught the cutlass clumsily after it materialized. The indigo light flashed only briefly after the colors had spun but vanished when it landed on an empty triangle.
“ROUND TWO… READY… BEGIN!”
The brawny, now purple lit, cadet was the first to move, charging the sword wielding cadet with a battle cry. At the same time the tall cadet advanced on the Vulcan.
Too hesitant, the cadet had the cutlass knocked from her grasp in the brutal collision. The brawny woman then locked her arms around her defenseless head, lifted and tossed her out of the circle.
She slid for a few meters, across the wet grass and mud. At once, the red light tracking her began to flash. In a panic she clawed at the ground to stop her slide and gasping in panic scrambled back toward the circle as the red light flashed faster and faster. The crowd of cadets began hollering in earnest.
Not bothering to watch, the brawny cadet snatched up the cutlass and turned to face the other two. Again she charged, forcing the other two to adjust their stances. But she only had eyes for the spear wielding, crimson lit cadet. The sound of the cutlass coming down on the shaft of the spear rang out over the yard and was followed by the cheers of the cadets.
The amber light flashed even faster as the cadet scrambled in panic to get back to the circle. The brigade of cadets noticed this over the other battling cadets and their collective cheers and shouts rose in rhythm with the flashing, drawing to an inevitable close.
But just as the amber light seemed to flash so fast as to be continuous the cadet managed to claw her way back inside the circle. There was some applause and some boos among the gathered cadets. And then suddenly, a collective gasp of shock as a dagger appeared in the cadets head, dead center of her between her eyes.
Everyone looked, even the two other fighting cadets, to the Vulcan, then just lowering her throwing arm, now empty handed, to her side.
“…round… ROUND TWO… BONES WINS!” there were not quite cheers for the 2nd bout, but nor were they boos.
“Looks like the elf finally found her heart,” The caitian snarled. “Tho it’s probably too little too late.”
“You’re a good personnel officer, Ferra, but you still don’t truly understand sapiens, especially our females,” the woman answering him bore admiral rank on her collar, and a garish cybernetic eye. Admiral Shelby was accompanied by a trio of cybernetic bodyguards she had captured and repurposed herself. “To paraphrase and old terran saying, ‘scents can be deceiving’, Lieutenant.”
“With all due respect, Admiral,” Ferra’s voice came out in a low growl. “The Vulcan won’t surprise us again.”
“Will you back that up with a wager?”
“Church wins,” Ferra growled. “She should never have been placed in the bottom five to begin with.”
“Interesting,” Shelby considered. “But we are talking about the Vulcan… what is her name?”
“T’wun,” The Barclay stated.
Shelbys cybernetic eye whizzed mechanically as she zoomed in on the lithe woman. “A weeks compensation she survives the next round.”
Ferra bared his teeth but was unwilling to back off the wager. “Agreed, Admiral.”
Dane shivered a bit in the cold rain. He knew he should be stretching and warming up for his bout, but he held off, and while appearing to watch the female cadets, he looked over his own competitors.
Two of the humans were pretty non-descript. Both science division candidates seemed fit enough. He only recognized them in passing. The third was a command division candidate out of the tactical school. Sherman, was the smallest of them, but the biggest talker. Dane had noticed his lack of talent years ago but the cadet had managed to finagle his way through classes. Looks like his games had finally caught up to him but he wasn’t quite through playing. He was whispering to the other two humans, trying to talk his way out of getting killed.
The three aliens were the worry though. The Klingon, was named Woy'worgh, a pretty bad engineering candidate. Built everything overpowered, without any attention to detail. Dane was there when the cadets third year project killed the instructor inspecting it. He was strong and aggressive, but rash and inpatient. He’d lost one of his foot claws sometime in his first year but the other was dangerous enough.
The caitian was red furred and particularly nasty, especially to the female cadets. Dane had crossed him once or twice in drills and there was little love lost. His name was Brr’mn, and he was also a tactical school cadet who got dumped into the bottom bouts because everyone was pretty sure he had murdered one of the instructors. The body had never been found, so that instructors allies just made sure to grade the caitian a little harder for the rest of the year and he dropped easy enough. With those claws, fangs and feral strength, Brr’mn was the favored to win. The horn bleated.
“ROUND THREE… CRIMSON WINS!!”
Dane looked back to the female bout to see the tall female, cast in fading amber light, staring in shock at the spear jutting out of her chest. She had been impaled by the red lit brawny cadet, Church, who was lifting her body over her head, by the weapon, for the campus to see.
After the roar died down, she dropped the cadet into the mud, dead.
But Dane was most worried about the last alien, a huge saurian, named Kolez. The academy was particularly hard on the alien recruits, but Kolez had managed to place in the top of his class in almost every category despite this. Aggressive, he took on every challenge placed before him with zeal. Ruthless, he accomplished his goals often by sacrificing his squad mates or eliminating his competition. He wasn’t supposed to be in the bottom bouts, Dane knew. Like himself, Kolez had failed the Kobyashi Maru, a mission Dane now knew to be a test of his resolve and loyalty to the empire. Dane doubted that the saurian had hesitated to kill the crew of defectors. He wondered what had happened.
“WINNER!!!! INDIGO!!!” Dane snapped his head back to the bouts to see, to his surprise, the Vulcan straddling the decapitated body of cadet Church. Shaking but composed, the female winner dropped the shield she had used to win so grisly, and it shimmered away before it hit the ground.
The crowd of cadets’ response was mixed again but there were more cheers than boos. The Vulcan was presented with a trophy, a dagger with a scroll for a scabbard. She accepted the item with dead eyes and was escorted off the field.
“MACS!” the instructor called the male cadets to the field. Dane tried to step evenly through the mud and slick grass. He took his place in a triangle in the circle, which was a bit bigger than the women’s due to the two extra slots.
“BOTTOM BOUTS!! MACS!! TO THE DEATH!!” With bleat of the horn and a dramatic winding of his arm he called out, “SPIN THE WHEEL!!”
“Next time, Lt. Ferra,” Shelby smirked as the caitian handed over a data pad with over half a cycles worth of his earnings. As her cybernetic eye whizzed about she added. “You need to start paying closer attention to what your eyes see.”
“Who is the feral?” asked the legend.
Herthal glanced at him sidelong. “His name is Brr’mn, a caitian from a lost colony.”
But the older man raised one eyebrow. “That is no caitian, Herthal. That is a ferasan.”
The commandant leaned forward at that, as if to get a better look. “Is it?” and he leaned back into his chair and waved a hand. “They all look the same to me.”