Just as Lexel expected there was a coded message waiting for her when she jacked into the local node network. It wasn’t anything as obvious as your usual ‘you have a message’ notification but for her it was as clear as a crystal oscillator. The concealed communication was as brief as it could be and quite direct – providing the only information needed for them to appear for the games.
“Looks like its show time,” Lexel announced as she jacked out. Zero delighted at the news, the restless robot had already been pacing about nervously in anticipation of the chance to test his prowess once more. “Remember Zero, let’s not get overconfident now; we just need to focus on thrashing anything they send against us.” She had to giggle at that joke – the idea of Zero being arrogant was laughable to say the least.
“Honestly though, we have no real way of knowing what our first arena match will be like except the inevitable fact that it will be a dirty fight.” After the ordeal of their trial bout Lexel felt validated in regards to her expectations about the street fights. “Just be careful, yeah,” Tyrn added as well. “Those games get downright barbaric and if you already have some heat after you then you’re bound to attract some dangerous attention.”
“That is the general plan,” Lexel agreed with a dismissive wave of her hand before bidding the benevolent Tyrn farewell. When she and Zero walked out into the night they found the neon lights overhead already casting the rooftops in a washed glow of electric colors. The streets themselves were already buzzing with the traffic of tourism and trade Taral VII was infamous for. Doubtless a good percentage of the people out and about shared the same destination as they did Lexel estimated.
Tonight, they soon discovered the arena was to be an old abandoned underground transit maintenance yard. Most of the bulky civil transport vehicles had already been removed long ago – probably to be sold for scrap. Even if the facility itself was going to be closed down the powers that be were not about to leave potentially lost revenue just laying down there. Only a handful of old repair racks remained rusted and still formed in the shape of a transports frame. It was kind of sad in a way to Lexel; almost like the stout steel structures were sleepily waiting to be of service once again.
Already a crowd was gathered together in a large part of the yard viciously cheering on a violent match between a pair of cobbled together construction bots. The two looked to both be suffering from severe damage as they struggled to swing massive impact hammers at each other. Mangled manipulators failed and loose locomotive actuators shorted as they stumbled and twitched in their attempted assaults.
When one of the two finally connected with a blow with its only remaining arm the crowd exploded into a thunderous roar of sadistic satisfaction. Immediately some anonymous figure accepted his acclaim while others swiftly removed what remained of the fighters from the floor. The spectacle was just as savage as Lexel had imagined, and for Zero he discovered a strange sympathy in witnessing the scene.
It was one thing to test yourself in a sporting contest; he could even grasp the validity of fighting to defend yourself or another. But the notion of being used solely for others to watch as you were brutally destroyed something that slowed his circuits and made him feel sick in his semi-conductors. Zero had to push such thoughts from his mind as a gruff voice began to announce the next match and introduced him as the challenger.
“You ready Zero,” Lexel asked her prototype partner with a look of determination in her eyes. “Ready,” Zero answered as he initiated his armor mode protocol and shifted to become Lexel’s enhanced exterior. Their minds once more merged and they both laughed as they simultaneously set about checking all the new systems. Everything checked out as being online and operational. All they needed now was an opponent.
But before an opponent could be announced it seemed someone had raised an objection. Zero instantly alerted to the detected presence of Mr. Graystone without even needing to perform a visual verification. He would know that face anywhere, and suddenly something akin to anger began to rise within him.
“What is this guy up to,” Lexel began to ask, but Zero cut her off with a growl. “Doesn’t matter; if Graystone is here then that means it is time for him to get what is coming to him.” Without any real idea about whom this mystery man was, Lexel decided to defer to Zero’s judgment. And as soon as she heard him speak she firmly decided she agreed with her four legged friend.
“It hardly seems fair to allow this fighter to enter a match with an operator on-board as well,” Graystone argued. “The notion almost could be considered an underhanded attempt to stack the odds by some. Let us agree to a civilized contest, shall we?” A sly smile took its place on Mr. Graystone’s face as a large part of the attending audience began to applaud.
“I don’t like this, it doesn’t feel right,” Lexel admitted. “We can’t trust this guy; it has to be some kind of trick.” But for once she discovered Zero didn’t seem to be listening to her. “He hasn’t managed yet to get the project closed, and he is not about to shelve me away now,” Zero declared as he disconnected from Lexel to return to his familiar four-legged form.