Broker sat with his feet propped up on his desk, his arms crossed as he listened to the soothing sounds of Nebur Onerom's "Grandine Al Re," while studying the face of the balding man on his vidscreen. "Thank you again for the information, Paul," Broker said absent-mindedly. "Although I'm afraid that if your rogue reporter comes snooping around here for a story, something tragic may happen to him. What with all these vile criminals working our mining operations, Rykos IV isn't a very safe place for him to be."
"I understand completely, Mr. Broker. Should I hear from him again I'll make certain he is... safely far away from your borders."
"A wise decision, Paul. Broker out."
Broker sighed. Yet one more distraction to keep me away from my conquest, he thought. He needed to loosen up and let out his frustrations. An idea came to him then, and he rose from his seat and entered his personal quarters to dress for the occasion.
Declan, Ian and the other members of the crew stepped forward, led by the dark-skinned man with the mohawk, until they were in the center of the arena. High above the arena, Declan got a closer look at the bizarre slug-like creature. He watched as it looked down at them and opened its mouth to reveal several rows of serrated shark-like teeth. Declan was certain it was smiling and was surprised when it began to speak.
"Welcome to the Arena, Terran bloodworms!" it said with melodramatic disdain. "I... am Zethys. It is here you will prove yourselves worthy to become part of my experiments. Not that you'll enjoy that any more than being beaten to death here, but I promise to keep you alive for as long as it pleases me, should you survive this trial by combat." The creature's bubbly laughter echoed throughout the chamber.
"Any man who beats another in a horribly vile and despicable way gets bonus points. Especially if it involves something as amusing as strangling him with his own intestines like our current champion, B.A., has done," Zethys said, pointing a limb at the dark-skinned man with the mohawk. "But you can't do the same thing he did or I will deduct points. These deducted points will represent how many vile things I will do to you before you die. There are no other rules except to kill your opponent in as gruesome a manner as possible. Now... who loves you and who do you love?"
"We're in deep shite," Declan muttered under his breath as the arena fighters began cheering the slug-creature's name.
There was a loud rumbling sound on the far side of the room as the tumblers rolled back on a large metal door and it slid open to reveal Broker. He was dressed in a pair of baggy white pants with the letters "HMR" imprinted down his right pant leg in black ink, his muscular chest bared and his feet covered in a pair of black tabi. He strolled into the room casually, popping his shoulders and cracking his knuckles as he approached the men. He walked past them eyeing each man and sizing him up.
"Oh my... this is going to be even better than I expected. Woman! Give me my refreshments!" Zethys yelled at the woman chained by the neck next to him. She handed the Cerebrate a bucket full of popped corn in one limb and a bucket of stim-laced Nukie Cola with an oversized straw in another, which Zethys slurped down with excitement. "Mmm. Nukie! The Atomic Cola. Almost as energizing as a Severed-Head-On-A-Stick Ice Cream," Zethys commented to himself, smacking his man-made lips together and burping.
Broker stopped in front of Ian and shook his head. "Pathetic."
"Yah? Let's go a few rounds, ya nancy boy! Then we'll see what's what," Ian said before loudly passing wind.
Broker reached out to strike down the insolent fool but was blocked by the hand of another. Broker stared coldly into the eyes of Declan Anduin, who not only refused to shrink from his gaze but stood his ground, his grip unmoving and as rigid as stone. "This waste of flesh means something to you, Captain? How quaint of you to step in heroically to defend the downtrodden."
"He's mah cousin'. And if anyone'll lay on hand on 'im, it'll be me," Declan replied. He released Broker's arm.
"As much as it might amuse Zethys to watch you beat your cousin senseless, I have a better proposition," Broker said. "I will take your cousin's place in the Arena. If you beat me, you and your men go free. Do you accept the challenge and my rules?"
Declan didn't have to ask what would happen should he lose. "I accept your challenge then. And your rules."
Broker grinned. "Perhaps you should rethink this. I'm not so unforgiving a man that I won't give you the chance to change your mind and bow out with some of your honor or dignity or whatever it is you think you might lose by forfeiting."
"I said I accept," Declan said with clenched teeth.
"So be it," Broker said.
Zethys poured the bucket of popcorn down his gullet and tossed the empty container behind him. "Now this is what I call drama!" he shouted.
Outside the prison on a hilltop, a figure clad in a dark violet Ghost uniform lay on his belly and zoomed his helmet's focus closer in on the facility, watching and waiting silently in the darkness as two others materialized to join him.
The Antioch Chronicles™ © 1998, Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. All rights reserved. The Antioch Chronicles™ trademark and associated logos are the exclusive property of Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. Characters and distinctive likenesses thereof, character names, item names, place names, named events, artwork and all other related material not disclosed herein are protected under the laws of the United States of America and other countries. Any reproduction, retransmission, or unauthorized use herein is prohibited without express written permission.
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