“You can’t.” said the familiar deep voice, the one that seemed to speak from the shadows. “It is not your time, scum. You will face a fate similar to your parents if you continue this nonsense.”
I sat in the corner, my knees drawn up to my chest, arms hugging my legs. I had almost lost the feeling I had had, I almost gave up. Then a new force charged through my body, spurring me on. “I challenge Victor, on the conditions that he stop this. I don’t see how the big man in charge can be scared of a kid like me.”
“You had the most luxurious quarters available to dirtbags, you were an inch from earning your freedom, and now you keep pushing yourself backwards. I knew your people were stupid, but your family seems to be the prime example.” The voice paused, as if pondering something. “I so did savor the screams of your mother; she just wouldn’t give you up. She would rather face death than part with something as small and worthless as you were.”
“Don’t talk about my mother!” I shouted defiantly at the darkness.
The voice seemed to only gather fuel from my outburst. “And do you remember how we found you? How your father pleaded with me to stop, tears in his eyes as the coward gave you up?”
“You’re nothing but monsters!” I screamed. The voice always knew my weakness. Each time I challenged Victor he brought up that day, six years before. I covered my ears with my hands, bent my head low.My legs began to shake involuntarily as if I were a marionette.
“-and do you remember what happened afterwards? Do you remember your parent’s futile attempt at redemption? They managed to wound one of my elite guards, I’ll give them that, but altogether they were stupid, just like you are. Criminals should not be allowed to live, and stupid criminals are much worse. When they were executed I cheered with victory at our glorious leader’s hands.”
Even through my hands, I could hear the voice.It seemed to magnify itself to accommodate my action. “Savage creatures! Murderers!” I yelled at the opposite wall. “You are the cowards! You! Viktor spouts his lies and offers you safety at the expense of humanity and you comply!” My voice grew softer as I spoke with reinforced dignity and I stopped my spasms. “You are the coward Murlon.”
“None speak ill of the order boy,” Said the voice of Murlon with genuine contempt. “You of all people should know that. You could have been a champion, a free man within two year’s time. Yet instead of fighting who we tell you, you continue to attempt to fight us. I believe a slightly… stronger punishment is in need. In addition to your de-ranking, you will fight a death match in the arena.”
“I have always been a champion, as were my parents to their dying breaths.” I got up into a standing position, fists clenched at my sides. “I may not be your champion, but I am a champion nonetheless. All who resist you are champions. Throw whatever manner of foul beasts you can conjure at me, if I die, I die a champion.”
Murlon gave a sinister chuckle. “My dear, precious boy. Do you think we would waste your potential by overwhelming you? Wouldn’t be much of a punishment anyhow, not for you. I have a rather special plan in mind.”
I could just imagine the wicked smile upon the man’s beady eyed face. I said nothing, but slumped to the floor back in a sitting position.
“This futile exchange is over. I am going to go eat now, speaking of which, I’ve ordered your guards to deny you supper this night. Hope it doesn’t make you too sad.” With this last mock, the speaker on the wall clicked as the line Murlon was on turned off. I returned to my position, hugging my legs once more. I peered around my solid cement walls. The cell I was kept in was empty save for a small and uncomfortable cot and a chamber pot. One lone barred window high on the wall to my left was my only connection to the outside. The day’s last rays of sunlight shone through it as I did the only thing I could do at night anymore; ponder.
I looked down to my well-muscled arms, honed by forced training and combat in the arena. I was what the order called an ‘investment slave’. They pay parents with newly born children to put their child into slavery when the child reaches the age of ten. The parents don’t actually get a choice, however, and the money they gain is just about null when the special ‘slave provider tax’ is collected. Just like most things the order did, they almost made it seem like they had some semblance of a heart. My parents had been the unfortunate targets of the order, for small acts of resistance, and the investment was forced upon them. When Murlon and his lethal squad of elites came to collect me my parents refused to give me up. I had been hiding in a secret compartment inside our wall that had been carved out for just this purpose. I watched in horror as Murlon beat my mother, her face and arms bruising as the pummeling kept up. Finally my father could not watch anymore and gave up my location. As I departed the only home I had ever known, my parents took out the firearms they had stolen from the order. They shot at the guards, their last and only hope to free me. The guard’s armor protected them from most of the small sidearm’s fire. One shot got through and pierced a guard’s leg. Unfortunately, the handguns only had a limited amount of bullets and the guards and Murlon waited them out behind the cover of a small building. When my parents ran out of ammunition, the guards took them under arrest and they were executed later that same day.
A small tap to my left brought me out of my thoughts as a shadow covered the light coming in through the window. My tense body relaxed when I saw who it was and a flood of emotion rushed through me as I sprang to my feet and walked to the window. I reached my hand through the bars and felt another, softer, hand clasp mine.
“Mariah.” I whispered, withdrawing my hand to look upon the girl’s face. She was a year younger than me, fifteen. Her long blonde hair framed her pale face from which bright blue eyes shined.
“I brought you some food; I heard that they weren’t going to feed you.” She whispered back. She handed through the bars a thin hunk of meat and some bread. I took it gratefully and began ravenously digging in. I noticed her staring at me while I was eating, she looked concerned. Finally, she spoke. “Why do you fight?”
“Your people make me.” I answered simply.
“That’s not what I mean and you know it.” She countered. She was right; I knew exactly what she was talking about. She was not referring to the fights in the arena, to a slave, the only hope of freedom. To the order, the highest form of entertainment.
“I must.” Another simple answer.
“You were so close to freedom. It could have been over.”
“For me maybe, but what about the other slaves? What about the rest of my people? What about the way things are and the way they should be? What about ending it all?”
“It pains me to say it, but the order will never change. Not with Victor in charge. We are isolated here in the city of Varla, and no one outside cares of our politics. No one wants to make the sacrifice for a place like this, the way Victor runs things, to make it look like he does what he does with the good of everyone in his heart.”
“Exactly. Don’t you see, Mariah? In order for things to change, the change must come from within.”
“If you keep resisting, the only thing that will change is that you will be dead. They are already going to move you back to the stables tomorrow, I beg you to stop. They won’t kill you if you just stop. You’ve proved to be one of the best fighters, you could be a champion. You could be free.”
“I already told you, my freedom does not matter.”
“Your resistance doesn’t matter either, you won’t accomplish anything. If you earn your freedom, we could run away together like we planned.” Her voice trembled with emotion.
“That was years ago,” I said looking to the floor. The idea of it was tantalizing. Abandoning this forsaken place and running away as a free man. “I wouldn’t truly be free.” I was saying this to myself as much as I was to Mariah. “I could not consciously leave the rest to their fate.”
“I understand.” Mariah said, it startled me a little when she didn’t argue. “Whatever you do, I’ll stick with you, to the end.”
We both stared into each other’s eyes then. We both wanted to say something, but what we wanted to say was beyond words.
So we just stared.The sun had gone down and the moonlight was creating an almost mystical aura around Mariah. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally spoke.
“Why do you come here?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” She deflected my question with one of her own.
“I mean, well, look at you with your exquisite dress, and me with my tattered rags. Why do you come?”
“Would you like to wear my dress?” She deflected my question with a half-hearted joke.
Neither of us laughed.
Neither of us smiled.
“I have to go. My mother will be worried about me.” She deflected my question with an excuse. “Good-bye Blazer.”
“Don’t call me that. That is my arena name.”
I watched, melancholy, as she got up and departed.