31

Re: Flotsam

Damn, those pheromones must be strong to go through computer text, I'm starting to feel the need

32

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam
Chapter 10: The Arena

I am standing here looking up at a two storey hologram of myself holding a severed head, holographic blood dripping around me like gruesome rain.

“She is magnificent!” thunders Steadfast Freya, clapping me on the shoulder.

“One finds the severed head a bit much...” sniffs Bluebell critically.

We are here to see the gladiatorial spectacle commemorating the end of Shift Change, but really we are here to see Halley-11. After my trip to the Grove, these last few days have been spent finding a routine and not fantasize about green women fucking. Which has mostly meant working in Hank’s bar and learning the basics of space bartending, with occasional solo trips out into the city running errands. Errands I suspect I was being sent on so Hank and Freya could fuck without me uncomfortably listening. On one such errand to buy dried Groveberries from a nice old woman, I saw a hologram poster on the wall of myself, but wearing armour and holding a chainsaw sword. Gladiator Halley. And so here we are at the Arena. Or more accurately next to the Arena, in the Plaza of Champions, standing at the foot of a holographic representation of myself with a severed head. I shake my head in disbelief.

“We should not tarry here,” Freya suggests, “events have already commenced and we would do well to be in our seats before Halley the Destroyer fights.” I nod in agreement, but Bluebell stamps a hoof. “Snacks!” she lows. Freya rolls her eyes. We push into the crowd and begin to tack towards a row of food stalls.

The Plaza is awash in sapients: humans from all over the city, here to celebrate the end of their holiday, with a healthy representation of Reptilians, who, it seems, just love a good fight. Foreign food smells fill the air and busker music rises over the chatter of the crowd. Street performers carve out little pockets of space and amaze onlookers with feats of acrobatics or sleight of hand. Near another towering Champion hologram, hawkers have gewgaws laid out on carpets and bully the crowd to buy their wares. A pair of giant cartoonish monsters stage a battle, oblivious to the crowds, hologram puppets performing a Kaiju show for kids. Small drones zip through the air, trailing colourful streamers, either decoration or advertisement. Grey spheres sedately hover over everything, observing. The entire thing has a carnival atmosphere, a barely contained giant party.

Honestly, I’m feeling more than a bit nervous. The noisy crowd, while a fun spectacle, is triggering all kinds of anxiety complexes. Even before my trailer park days, I always avoided big gatherings like this, missing out on festivals, concerts, and big sportsball games. Which has always been a total bummer. On Flotsam, I’m going to do things differently. What’s a trip to a crowded Arena when you're the clone of a woman abducted by aliens? Deep breaths and try to have fun.

It occurs to me as we squeeze through the throng that the crowd is made of humans and Reptilians. For the first time on Flotsam, I don't really see any Blues. “Bluebell,” I ask, “why are there so few Blues here?”

“This one’s species does not condone violence for entertainment. To be seen attending the  Arena would harm ones Social Standing and enjoying the games is a form of Deviancy,” the cowgirl replies. Freya frowns and scoffs.

“Why did you want to come?” I ask.

“One is here out of friendship and a sense of anthropological curiosity. As one becomes more mammalian, one wants to understand the human fascination with violence, the way it thrills your species.”

Freya snorts and waves one of her hands dismissively, “She is just here to feast on snacks!”

Bluebell moos in amusement, “One does love snacks!”

I spot a group of Blues standing near a towering hologram of a Reptilian gladiator. These Blues are a decidedly punk rock looking bunch of aliens. Their androgynous bodies are taught with muscles, and their bare torsos and arms are covered in jagged tattoos. On their elongated heads they wear skullcaps with bright ponytails or mowhawk-like fans of hair. Three of the group are juggling knives, sometimes launching them back and forth between them, performing for a small audience . “What about them?”

Bluebell smiles, “Other Deviants!” She returns a circle-in-the-air gesture that one of the tattooed Blues makes at her. A Blue greeting? “Unlike this one, who was made Deviant for her perversion, these Blues are philosophical Deviants. They have rejected the Social Contract to practice a life of personal freedom and personal achievement. Their counterculture emphasizes competition and they believe that strength and force are types of personal realization.” Bluebell moos thoughtfully, “They love the Arena.”

Freya nods, “They are a wise band.”

With Freya being the crowd equivalent of an icebreaker, we are soon standing standing by a cluster of foodcarts. Something they are making smells delicious, and my mouth waters. I grimace, the persistent knot of anxiety in my stomach rules out eating. Bluebell happily begins collecting her supplies. From a scarred old Reptilian she buys an enormous bag of something like popcorn sprinkled with bright, orange-red powder. A cute little bakery cart run by masked and robed humans sells the Blue cowgirl a large satchel of sweet cakes. A large thermos of sweetened tea and a tub of custard-analogue later and an excited Bluebell says she has what she requires. “Moo,” she adds a little bashfully, “one’s lactation requires a great many calories.”

Laden with supplies we begin the crowded journey to find our seats. The Arena looms above us, one of the largest structures on Flotsam, a giant cylinder devoted to combat. From the outside it reminds me of an air and space museum crossed with a jigsaw puzzle. Salvaged chemical rocket engines, each unique and multiple stories tall, form columns ringing the structure, each hung with bright cloth banners marking entrances. Between rocket columns the skin of the Arena is a quilt of different perforated steel plating raggedly welded together. From a distance it gives the Arena a uniform look, as though purpose built, but up close it's as improvised as the rest of the city. The substrate of the junk desert made monumental.

At the Fuchsia entrance we scan our Keybands and enter the building, climbing a long ramp that spirals upward, passing level catwalks, to our tier of seats. I stumble on a tricky kind of angled stair, and Freya catches me. Flustered I step into the knave of the Arena. I squint my eyes against the brightness, and goggle at the sheer majesty of the space.

As big as the Arena seems on the outside, somehow it seems larger from inside. The floor of the arena, the actual fighting surface, is a circular pit cut into the red stone of the mesa which is filled with shockingly white sand. Around this pit is the original arena, an ampitheatre of cut red stone benches that step upward from the central pit. Above this are row after row of seats bolted to scaffolding, so steep they are almost stacked. The seats themselves are remarkable, a riot of recovered chairs from all manner of space debris: simple metal seats bolted next to wing-backed command thrones, next to rugged fighter pilot ejector chairs as far as the eye can see. Above the collected space chairs are two levels of steel shipping containers cut with wide windows; scavenged private boxes. Finally, just below the roof membrane is a lattice of scaffold, a hanging standing-room gallery that people clip themselves into with carabiner harnesses. The place is packed with murmuring, chattering sapients creating a living cylinder of people and aliens surrounding a white Circle, lit with beams of sunlight and industrial lighting. It’s huge and claustrophic all at once.

No sooner do we squeeze into our seats then the next event begins. In the Circle below are two slight women, short and wiry, holding bows and wearing small quivers of arrows on their backs, ankles, and wrists. They are clothed in tight shorts and tops like sportsbras and their skin is painted in a dazzle camouflage of colourful lines, one red the other blue. Their hair is worn in tight braids, held in place with arrows, and is dyed in the opposite colour of their paint. They look like twins or, since I’m living evidence, clones. Calmly, they pace out distances and stick arrows head first into the sand.

“They are warrior-acrobats, sisters from the Circus Armada,” Freya informs me.

The two archers strike a pose back to back, arrows notched and bows drawn. A giant hologram like a Jumbotron, a jumbogram, floats in the air showing a close up of the two pretty women smiling in fierce joy. A hum fills the stadium as drones lift off out of trap doors on the perimeter of the circle. The drones have a wing and two rotors, like miniature versions of those Osprey planes in the videogames Clem used to play. Except, in place of a fuselage the engines and wing support a kind of nerf gun looking canon. One of the drones lazily wobbles and with a thump discharges it’s canon, firing a black sphere that expands to a softball, strikes the ground, and keeps growing into a shiny black bowling ball. A warning shot. “Immobilization rounds,” Freya says, “Non-lethal yet very effective.”

The drones form up in a circular formation, revolving sedately around the outer edge of the arena floor. Until, suddenly, by some unspoken command each drone skews off, suddenly with a mind of its own. The two archers spring into motion, tumbling away from a barrage of black spheres in smooth somersaults. Both archers come up with arrows drawn, simultaneously letting fly and sending two drones tumbling to the sand. The women both instantly move, dodging more spheres, one doing a cartwheel where she plucks an arrow out of the sand along the way, nocking and shooting as she lands, dispatching another drone. I grin in delight as it becomes a kind of dance, the drones swooping and shooting, the archers leaping and spinning off each other like dancers. They come together, snatching arrows from their partner’s quiver, and shoot and shoot and shoot, drones raining around them. It is impressive and actually quite beautiful.

I hear a rowdy commotion and see a group of dudes happily berating a friend who is hunched over a hologram with something recognizably like crosshairs on it. “That one is piloting a drone right now,” Bluebell tells me. “As part of their act, the archery performers sell control of the drones to the audience. If a wave of drones manages to immobilize the performers, the pilots will be awarded a significant prize of Currencies.” The rowdy dudes roar in mirth and the pilot curses as his hologram control snaps off. Below a drone, skewered by an arrow, falls almost lazily to the ground.

Freya makes a disgusted noise, “These pilots are such fools! They do not marshal the strength of their numbers and hunt as a pack, or utilize the tactics of the wing.” The Nordic woman thumps her chest with her two right arms, “If I had control of the drones I could quickly dispatch these tumbling archers!”

Bluebell rolls here eyes and moos rudely, tossing orange-red popcorn at Freya.

The two archer acrobats are rapidly running out of drones to shoot down. One archer picks off another drone from her knees and curls up into a ball, Child’s Pose yoga style. The other archer, running, vaults off her back and launches herself through the air, firing four arrows, before landing in a controlled tumble. Only one drone remains, circling for a better angle of attack. The two women launch themselves into a series of backflips, the drone firing a barrage of spheres as it swings around. The women, mid flip, each snatch up an arrow, and arresting back-to-back, let fly, simultaneously hitting the final drone, which plummets to the ground, dead. The pair holds the pose as the Arena erupts in celebration, Reptilians drumming their tails, humans clapping, or whistling, or stamping their feet. I am standing with my fist in the air shouting and feeling a bit silly.

I blush as I sit back in my space fighter jock seat. Freya smiles at me and playfully elbows me with one of her arms. In the Arena Circle the archers alternate between waving, blowing kisses, and collecting arrows from the wreckage of drones. Freya summons a hologram from her Keyband and taps out something in a menu. A troop of beautiful human women and men wearing bikini and brief analogues come skipping out to shovel debris into scuttling robotic trash bins. Bluebell is complacently chewing on snacks, snout and fingers stained with the orange-red dust of her food. A cloud of quadcopter drones fill the arena, one cruising over to Freya, and delivering a chilled, probably alcoholic beverage. The scantily clad pretties finish cleaning and the archers take one last bow; the Arena is reset for the next exhibition.

A huge horn, like one of those alpine things, blares and a hulking creature ambles into the circle. It looks like an ape crossed with a warthog. I almost giggle when I think of a joke from one of Clem’s stupid cartoons. The creature, or maybe Sapient, is covered in a pelt of slate grey fur and absolutely bulges with muscle. He, based on his bulging TV wrestler briefs, would probably be a dozen feet tall but is hunched, walking on all fours like a gorilla, knuckles on the ground. His face pushes out in a stubby muzzle, pig-nosed with sharp looking tusks. His eyes are large and surprisingly soulful. “Aggronotham the Strongest,” Freya purrs with appreciation. “An Orckonian from a high gravity planet. He is a talented bard who fights challengers to earn his keep.”

Bluebell pauses her munching and moos like a sigh. I glance at both women and see a pair of crushes. I look back at the huge Sapient, frowning. “You are both attracted to him?”

“Oh yes,” Bluebell says dreamily.

“He is a warrior and poet both,” Freya says. “Of course.”

“And he is endowed like one of your human horses!” Bluebell says, before mooing lustfully.

Aggronotham stands to his full height, throws back his head and howls. The crowd of spectators rumbles with their appreciation noises. In a wonderfully rich, cultured voice Aggro shouts, “Who has come today to challenge the Strongest!?”

As if in answer, another blast of the alpine horn sounds and four new combatants enter the circle. They are Blues, bared chests and arms covered in lean, ropey muscles, their blue skin covered in jagged swirls of tattoos. They wear loose pants and steel shod boots and gloves and brandish bat length metal clubs that spark with electricity. The four Blues form a loose circle around the Orkonian, shifting their weight from foot to foot. “Deviants!” Bluebell lows happily.

Freya scoffs, “They shall be as chaff before the reaper.”

“Indeed?” Bluebell says, voice a little wounded. “One would not be so confident. These Deviants are versed in the ancient technique of Groupstrike.”

Freya smirks rubbing her four hands together, “Mayhaps we shall make a wager?”

Bluebell moos with determination, “We shall! If the Blues win, you will give this one a dozen jars of Hank’s honey.”

“A steep price,” Freya says happily, “and when they are defeated?”

“If Aggronotham is victorious, one will give you two dewars of her milk.” The two women shake hands, one from a set of four and one snack stained and hoof tipped.

The horn blares and the Blue combatants start to circle Aggronotham. Hidden drums slowly tap out a rhythm in time with their steps. One of the Blues feints a straight on attack, and simultaneously another Blue dashes in from the side. Aggro ignores the feint, turning to meet the second Blue, who throws a very conservative taser chop. The drums pick up the tempo, catching the rush of action. The third and fourth Blue, as if on silent cue, have already launched their own attacks and both strike the Orconian with blows that crackle with electricity, staggering the hulking alien. Larger drums boom like thunder with each blow. The five fighters come apart, the Blues circling, the drums slowing to a cautious tap tap tap. Again the entire Blue group launches a silent, coordinated attack, moving as a unit to feint and strike, drum music swelling to match the action like a Taiko team. This time the Blues press their advantage as Aggro lashes out at nothing and is struck by repeated electrified blows. The drums thud and surge, making the entire Arena shake with percussion. Blindly Aggro throws a mighty arm out, and with the crash of a gong, he lands a glancing strike on a Blue, sending them tumbling. The Blues regroup, and the drums quiet. The Orconian shakes his head and gathers himself for the next assault.

“They use Scentspeak to act as one,” Bluebell says with pride.

“They fare better than I expected,” Freya mutters with grudging respect.

The Deviant Blues set themselves and begin another round of silent, scent signaled attacks. The drummers eagerly increase their beat. This time one of the group, the struck one, moves just a little too slowly and the Strongest manages to catch them with a solid punch that hurls the Blue off their feet and leaves them groaning on the ground, clutching their ribs. The other Blues continue their blitz, coming in waves, landing staggering hits on the Orconian. Drums pound and thunder.  Aggronotham accepts another blow, howling through his pain, and snatches up his Blue attacker, lifts them above his head, and throws them at another Blue. With a reverberating gong sound effect the two Blues smash together in a tangled heap. The Strongest laughs in triumph and scoops up a fallen taser club, turning to menace the final Blue. The Orconian waves his sparking club like a small wand in his huge paw, and takes a shuffling three-limbed step forward. The final Blue drops their club and flees. The drums instantly stop. A victorious Aggronotham lifts his head and howls in victory. The crowd goes wild!

“Coward!” Freya shouts happily. She turns to Bluebell, a huge grin on her face. “I believe you owe me some milk.”

Bluebell moos in disgust.

There is another lull in the action while the scantily clad pretty people come jogging out with stretchers for the Blues. Aggronotham the Strongest helps one of his adversaries limp out of the circle, smiling and clapping the Blue’s back. While the Arena resets, a very fat human in a robe of flashing holographic colours floats into the air in the center of the Arena. “My fellow Sapients!” he booms, “Aggronotham the Strongest remains undefeated in the Circle!” The part of the crowd not distracted by eating food or ordering food roars with approval. The floating man makes quieting motions with his hands, “For our next Exhibition, we are pleased to present a Reptilian Proving! The Matriarch Sssllissa has come to us to bear witness as twelve suitors fight to sire her next clutch!” The huge jumbogram screen cuts to a large brown Reptilian with a sickly crest of rust coloured feathers on her head and arms. She hisses and bears her fangs and her surrounding cohort of Reptilians drum their tails. “Sit back and enjoy the carnage!” Shouts the fat man as he drifts out of the circle and view.

“This is unexpected,” says Bluebell, one hand coated in her custard desert. “Usually a Proving is a private matter, handled out of view.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

Bluebell licks at her custard covered fingers. “When a Reptilian female is fecund but is unsure which male suitor to have quicken her eggs, she offers them a challenge. It can be any sort of contest, but is often combative.” The cowgirl sucks on a finger, “One has never seen a Proving, or heard of one being showcased to the public.”

“Aye,” Freya agrees, “'Tis strange. I suspect that this Sssllissa has designs on becoming Flotsam’s next Dragon, and is using this stunt to increase her prestige.”

“Dragon?”

“Flotsam is an unusual planet, for there are many Reptilian clans here working within a single Syndicate hierarchy. The Dragon is like a judge or monarch and is selected to preside over disputes between clans or Syndicate factions. The former Dragon was recently assassinated, so there exists a power vacuum on Flotsam, with many ambitious Matriarchs vying for the throne.” Freya shakes her head, “If staging a fight in her honour is the best this female can do, she has a poor claim.”

Bluebell moos, “One has heard the interim Dragon is infertile, so perhaps this courtship display is aimed at upsetting her claim.”

Freya grunts and sips her electric blue beverage.

The alpine horn blasts and a dozen Reptilians charge into the Arena Circle. Most are nondescript Reptilian males with brown or black-green scales, but a trio stand out. One emerald scaled male is absolutely giant, bigger even than the female whose eggs he is fighting for and seems like a clear favourite to win. Another male has jet black scales and is tall, but very lean, flexible like a snake and just as trustworthy. The final standout is a diminutive, powerfully muscled male with ruby red and white scales, confident despite his small stature. All of the Reptilians brandish wicked looking curved knives and are sizing up their opponents.

The jumbogram shows Sssllissa the matriarch standing in her private box, holding one of her pathetic rusty feathers. She opens her clawed hand and the feather drifts slowly down, floating and eddying, until it comes to rest on the Arena sand. As soon as it touches the ground, the Reptilian combatants spring into motion, blades flashing. The Reptilians in the audience begin to beat. A steady. Rhythm. With their tails. Thump. Thump. Thump. A brown Reptilian pounces on a Black-green one, wrestling and stabbing. The jet male dashes over, deftly slashes both males, leaving them hobbled and bleeding. Two down. Thump. Thump. Thump. The emerald giant lumbers at a brown male who gamely stands his ground. The giant lands a crushing, stabbing blow and the brown is down, clutching a bleeding and broken flank. Three down. Thump. Thump. Thump. The ruby male hisses and six other males look up, thump their tails, and form a ring around the towering emerald. Treachery! Two black-green males dash emerald at once, one getting smashed off his feet, but the other landing a slash on the giant Reptilian. Thump. Thump. Thump.

“What the fuck?” I ask. “Isn’t this cheating?”

Freya grins savagely, “A Reptilian Proving selects only for the victorious, and cunning is more desirable than strength.”

Waves of Reptilians come at the emerald, hacking and slashing. The giant has managed to smash one of his lesser attackers out of the fight, but attrition is starting to slow the hulking male. Thump. Thump. Thump. Jet slithers around the edge of the fight stabbing staggered and distracted males. Five down. Ruby just holds back waiting, letting other males break themselves. Thump. Thump. Thump. Emerald crushes a male and Jet dances in to finish the job. A black-green male rushes Ruby, who deftly ducks a wild swing and rapidly stabs the male multiple times, one two three four five. The attacking male falls, black blood welling from its chest and the small red Reptilian picks up a second knife. Thump. Thump. Thump. Five are left.

Two drab green males are pressing Emerald, who looks halfway hobbled. The green males rush Emerald at once, one is batted away, tumbling, but the other stabs the huge Reptilian in the side. Emerald roars in pain and snatches up his attacker by the throat, holding him aloft and shaking him. Thump. Thump. Thump. Ruby, sensing his moment, dashes towards the back of the distracted Emerald. Ruby leaps, very much like a bird, and lands on the back of the Emerald, knives stabbing in like handholds. The small red Reptilian stabs and climbs, and then drives both his blades into the back of Emerald’s neck. The towering Reptilian makes a wheezing sound and falls forward, crushing the male he was choking beneath his bulk. Ruby rolls nimbly to his feet. Thump. Thump. Thump. Jet catches the other drab green male watching and coils around him like a lover, slashing out his throat in a spray of black blood. There are two left. Thump! Thump! Thump!

“Cunning prevails!” Freya says merrily, four fists clenched, eyes shining. “But the backstabber is in trouble now!”

The sinuous jet black and small ruby Reptilians stand facing each other, their fellow combatants lay bleeding on the ground, some writhing and hissing, some totally still. The watching Reptilians have stopped drumming their tails, making the Arena eerily silent. The ruby male holds his two bloody knives loosely, stands confidently. The jet male shifts his weight, back and forth like a cornered snake. I agree with Freya, the jet male is clearly outclassed by the ruby, who is still fresh and uninjured, and clearly the better fighter. I feel like the Proving is already over.

The ruby male waves his hand in a signal, and a close up of his face fills the jumbogram. Ruby bears his teeth, “Sssllissa! Are theesssse truly your ssssuitorsss? They are unworthy of me!” The male hisses, “You! Sssllissa! Are unworthy of me! I revoke my claim!” The ruby male turns his back on where the matriarch is sitting and begins to walk to an exit from the Ring.  The jumbogram shows Ssslissa standing in her box, howling in fury.

Jet, seeing an opportunity, lunges after Ruby, knife leading. Ruby waits until the black Reptilian has almost stabbed him before turning, lightning quick, landing a double slash that leaves the jet male laying in the sand clutching his side. “Unworthy!” He roars.

“That did not go as the female intended,” Bluebell suggests thoughtfully.

“No,” I agree, I bet that fucking didn't.

“An embarrassment!” Freya says chuckling. “I sense the scale marks of the Serpent on this debacle!”

“Serpent?” I ask.

“The Interim Dragon,” Bluebell says.

The scantily clad clean up crew comes flouncing out along with a team of rubber suited Reptilians trailing floating drone stretchers. Sssllissa and her entourage make an angry retreat among jeers, mostly from other Reptilians. Fallout already. Freya orders another drink and Bluebell starts in on her sweet cakes. The Circle, empty of injured aliens and raked clean of bloodstains, sits empty and ready for more carnage.

The alpine horn blares again and two armoured figures step into the Circle. The amplified voice of the announcer rings out, “Our Challenger! Vrax The Shamed! A fallen Nordic warrior, exiled from Holmspace for crimes of violence and lapses of moral cowardice! Shamed, he fights not to regain his honour, but to gain your respect!” The jumbogram focuses on one of the fighters, a hulking Nordic man with an enormous axe. He stands as tall as Freya and is wearing red scaled, Kevlar-like armour on his torso and legs. His four arms are bare, the top two holding a menacing looking two-handed battleaxe with a severe looking spike, while his lower right arm wields a short thrusting sword, one that has more of a punching grip than handle. His fourth arm seems to be a robotic replacement, the skin of his bare arm ending abruptly above the elbow and blending into an industrial looking sharpened claw. He has shockingly blue eyes and his long blonde hair is tied up around his head in elaborate braids and tucked under a techy looking headband. The Arena boos and hisses and whistles and jeers. Clearly Vrax The Shamed is what Clem's wrestling show would call a heel. The Gladiator growls through gritted teeth.

"Hailing from the darkest, most barbaric planet in space comes a warrior born of warfare, plague, poverty, and famine," shouts the announcer, "Your Champion! Halley of Earth! The Destroyer!!!" The Arena erupts in cheers and a thunder of approval. The Jumbotron focuses in on me, or, well, her: Halley-11, the gladiator clone. She is wearing a suit of blue ceramic armour and wields a heavy round shield and broadsword. Her face is lean and angular, severe with traces of scars, a deep one running from her left temple, through her cheek, down to her chin. Her hair is undercut, shaved short except for a crest of longer hair on top, held out of her eyes by another techy headband. Halley of Earth looks more like my badass older sister than a clone of me. Halley holds up her sword and shield and the Arena quiets. She bangs her sword and shield together three times and many Sapients in the crowd, her fans, clap or tail stomp along with her. Clearly the hero here.

The Alpine horn sounds again and the Gladiators square off, nodding to each other, before starting to cautiously circle. The hidden drum team starts to slowly tap out a rhythm. Vrax the Shamed suddenly charges, making great sweeps with his of axe. Drums thud and bang. Halley efficiently gives ground, neatly stepping back or around each slash, sometimes smartly redirecting a blow with her shield. She is good at this. Vrax, carried by momentum, throws a particularly wild horizontal slash with his axe that Halley neatly ducks under, immediately springing up to barge the Nordic human in his face with her shield. A forcefield, made by the headband maybe, snaps into view, blocking the shield. Vrax stumbles back, scalp bleeding from where his head smashed into his own forcefield. The drums snap quiet, and Halley stands relaxed, quirks her eyebrow and smirks. Touche. Vrax snarls, blood dripping down his face. Drums thud as the huge man wades back towards Halley, axe held ready to strike. Vrax lunges, making several more wild sweeps of his axe, which Halley deftly manages, until he throws another apparently uncontrolled swing. Halley sets herself to block and counterattack but Vrax somehow reverses his axe stroke and hooks Halley's shield with the spike of his axe. He yanks and Halley stumbles in, her guard ruined, too close to use her sword, vulnerable. I gasp and Vrax punches her with his short sword, stabbing her in the side. Halley growls and head buts the Nordic man, their helmet forcefields flickering as they contact. The gladiators stumble apart, Halley bleeding black fluid from a rent in her armoured side. I wince, suddenly worried for her. She smiles wildly, eyes gleaming, and launches her own attack, advancing behind her shield, launching quick little stabs around her guard, herding Vrax, scoring a small cut on an exposed leg, scratching the steel of his claw hand. Drums rattle the Arena. Vrax tries to counter, throwing an overhand chop with his axe, which Halley somehow blocks squarely with her shield, levering the heavy weapon up and away, slashing in under it with her blade, laying a meaty chop into Vrax's short sword arm. He howls, dropping the sword, clutching his wounded arm in tight to his body. Halley spins free, resetting her guard, eyebrow once again quirked at her opponent, a manic smile on her lips. Vrax splits blood from his mouth and nods.

Drums swell again as the Gladiators come back together in a flurry of motion. Vrax throws an axe chop that Halley catches on her shield. The axe blade skitters and hooks the edge of the shield which Vrax yanks on, pulling Halley forward and ripping the shield off her arm. In the same motion Halley springs, driving her broadsword up, stabbing the Nordic human through the meat of his shoulder. As the sword impales his shoulder, Vrax grabs Halley around the wrist of her sword hand with his industrial claw hand, squeezing. Vrax growls and begins to bring his axe around for another swing. Halley, snagged and shieldless, punches Vrax with her free hand, a long dagger blade extending out of her forearm gauntlet as she strikes. The blade punches through armour and into the Nordic man's chest, the tip emerging from his back. Vrax whimpers and drops his axe, sags slowly to the ground. Halley's arm, crushed in Vrax's claw, is cut free of her body and falls to the sand of the Circle. The drums fall silent.

The Arena erupts in celebration.

My heart is hammering in my chest.

"Your Champion! Victorious! Halley the Destroyer!!!"

My eyes dart back and forth from the prone body of Vrax the Shamed, laying in a spreading stain of blood, to Halley's amputated arm.

Medical drones descend on Vrax. Applause, cheers, and Reptilian tail stamps fill the Arena.

I stare at Halley's severed arm, motionless in the sand.

Jesus fucking christ!

***

(Are you not amused!? Hopefully you are amused! And hopefully my attempt at writing compelling action choreography turned out okay.)

33

Re: Flotsam

Finally caught up with this and this is genuinely fun to read; it is literature that goes above and beyond the smut. I would pay for this as an ebook. But since I can't, have a sticky instead.

34

Re: Flotsam

Haha thanks, I’m glad you are enjoying it. I’ve never gotten a sticky before, it is quite an honour.

Also the added tag line is perfect : )

35

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam 
Chapter 11: Destroyer

I am standing outside Halley The Destroyers chambers being glowered at by a scarred Reptilian bouncer. “I’m here to see Halley?” I say meekly.

“No autographssss,” hisses the Reptilian. He is a big one, a head taller than me, and heavily muscled. He looks not old exactly, but experienced, his scales faded grey and white, his hide chiseled with thick scars. The male snarls, showing a mouth of very young looking teeth, “Ssso bugger off!”

“Sssaka, you old Snake, is this how you treat guests?” Asks Steadfast Freya, stepping into view.

“Sssteadfassst!” Exclaims Sssaka the bouncer. “You know you are alwaysss welcome here.” They step together in a fist clasppy bro hug. “It hasss been too long!”

Freya does a four armed shrug. “Spacer life and the tavern,” she says by way of explanation.

Sssaka’s muzzle grins, a worrying expression on a Reptilian. “Come in! Come in! I’m ssssure ssshe will be glad to sssee you!” He steps aside and beckons us into The Destroyers Chambers.

After Halley The Destroyer fought Vrax the Shamed, Freya, maybe seeing how upset I was, announced that combat watching time was over and that we would go meet Halley-11. I didn’t really want to, didn’t think a post amputation meet-and-greet was for the best, but Freya was adamant. Freya dragged me and Bluebell out of our seats, down the Arena rampways into a stone passageway where she bluffed her way past a guard, and then down into the red mesa-stone tunnels beneath the Arena. A walk through a confusing maze of tunnels, a route that in hindsight, Freya knew quite well, and we were face to face with Halley-11’s Reptilian gatekeeper. Who Freya got past with a happy bro hug. Is there a backstage anywhere in the galaxy that Freya can’t get into?

We step into a large red stone chamber with a high, vaulted ceiling set with bright lighting. The air is filled with a complex perfume of incense, metal, floral and mechanical oils, and something botanical that might be drugs. The chamber is too warm and surprisingly humid. I unfasten my light jacket, hoping I don’t start sweating. 

The Chamber is filled with people in various states of debauch. Pretty young humans lounge naked on piles of cushions, looking sated and content. A handsome middle aged woman lays on a divan, legs spread while a beautiful Nordic man, naked body oiled to a sheen, patiently and enthusiastically eats her pussy. A Blue, evidently male, skin covered in strips of metal like a Deviant tattoo, fucks an unnaturally busty human woman on all fours. The two archer acrobats from the Arena lay in cushions giggling and high while two nude men wearing collars lick off their striped bodypaint. Aggronotham the Strongest sprawls placidly in a corner, crotch draped with a towel, drinking from a tankard the size of my torso, mumbling poetry. Shaped pet-people, a muscular lion-man and tiger-woman lounge together on a mattress, chained by collars to the wall. The tiger seems me looking, and licks her cleft top lip, stretching in a way that emphasizes her eight heavy breasts, striped tail twitching. The male just yawns, flashing sharp feline teeth. A naked young woman, wide-eyed and innocent looking, is locked in a narrow birdcage, watching. It is quite the entourage.

Somewhat apart from the party is another group of sapients. These are sitting around a low steel table strewn with what I'm guessing are space drugs. One is a sinewy man, whose bald scalp flares into the hood of a cobra. He takes a hit of something from a drug inhaler, his lizardy eyes squeezed shut in pleasure. Next to him sits a Reptilian female, hulking but somehow young looking, with a suppleness of scale that I haven’t seen. She has that too serious look that screams intern. The final figure is a human woman dressed in biker punk leather. She has blue and gold scaled skin on her bare arms like tattoo sleeves and a cluster of golden scales on her chest, just above the hollow of her breasts like a medallion. On her face she has an organic domino mask of midnight blue scales and her hair is wound into dreadlocks hung with ceramic snake rattles. She stares at me, judging with slit Reptilian eyes. I shiver. Is this Syndicate muscle?

Freya places a pair of hands on my shoulders and a pair of hands on my hips and steers me deeper into The Destroyer’s Den. Bluebell, gives us a sly look and slinks away, hooves scuffing the floor, over to chat up Aggronotham. Thirsty cow.

We find Halley-11 soaking in a large hot tub, head tipped back in contentment, a cute guy and a pretty girl nestled under each arm. Relaxed like this she looks more like me, the hard lines of her lean face softened by repose. She does not look like someone who just fought a duel to the death and had her arm chopped off.

“Destroyer!” Freya booms merrily. 

Halley-11 startles, eyes widening in recognition. She smiles, “Steadfast!” Halley-11 climbs out of her jacuuz and torpedoes into Freya’s four arms, the pair clutching and kissing passionately. “You finally came back,” Halley-11 purrs, playing with a looped braid of Freya’s hair. 

“Alas, fair Destroyer, this is not a romantic visit.” Freya says, kissing Halley on her forehead. “I am here to present 24th.”

As the two women untangle, I finally get a good look at Halley-11. Her face, lean and scared, is the same as on the Arena jumbogram. It's my face, but battle-tested and devoid of its usual hint of baby fat: the effect is harsh and maturing. The crest of undercut hair is messy and spiked by moisture. Outside of her armour, which made Halley-11 look broad and tall, she is Halley-scaled and boyishly slender, far too small and fragile looking for a gladiator. She is wearing some sort of white bodysuit that completely covers her body from neck to toes. It hugs her small breasts, her muscle smoothed stomach, slim hips, and crotch making her look like a porcelain mannequin . I am deeply relieved to see she has both her arms attached. Maybe the bodysuit is some sort of futuristic healing device? I sigh a breath I didn't realize I was holding.

“Uh, hi,” I say awkwardly, resisting the urge to wave a little.

Halley-11 appraises me with a cool confidence I doubt I could ever manage. I try not to cower. Halley-11 is just a version of me. A version of me that fights alien gladiators for a living. I shiver internally and break eye contact. The Destroyer sees this and smiles a little. “Okay, Rookie, walk with me.” She turns fluidly and leads us through her entourage and into a second chamber. “I bet you have some questions,” she says without looking at me.

“Like, uh, how did you become a gladiator?”

Halley-11 snorts, “Don’t you mean how the fucking fuck did one of me become a fucking gladiator who fights in front of crowds!?”

I laugh nervously, “Exactly.”

“Well...” Halley-11 says gathering her thoughts. “I woke up here, lived with Clem until I couldn't deal with it anymore, and then moved in with Hank and Freya right after they opened the bar. Hank and Freya were lovers, but not exclusively so, and like a silly girl I fell in love with Freya. But it was just fun sex for her and Hank was still her guy and I was hurt and jealous and needed out. So I moved and found myself unemployed and alone on Flotsam.”

Lights snap on as The Destroyer glides into the next room. It is an armoury filled with bladed weapons and suits of futuristic armour hung in racks, mounted to walls, and laid out on tables. I grin thinking about trailer park Snakeguy and his sad little katana and bowie knife collection. He would absolutely lose his shit over this room.

“I managed to find a waitress job at a dive bar out by the Spaceport. It was dark and shitty and the pay sucked, but it was a start. I dated a bartender because he was easy and I was lonely and honestly, because he had a place to sleep. It wasn't the happiest time.” Halley-11 frowns, long face scar puckering. “But I did get to meet a lot of Spacers and hear stories about well, not adventure exactly, but something cooler than being a waitress in a shitty bar. I decided I wanted to be a Spacer too. My friends thought they could get me on a crew, but only if i showed up with my own kit. An experienced Spacer might get loaned a Spacesuit, but an untrained groundpounder needed her own stuff if she expected to be taken into the Black. So I needed money."

“Which is how I entered The Cage.” Halley glances back at me and smiles ruefully. “My Spacer buddies, who were a bunch of fucking degenerates, would frequent an even shittier bar that had a big steel cage in its cellar where amateurs would fight. Tough guys would fight other tough guys for bragging rights or prize money. But there were also, and my degenerate friends loved this, catfights between pretty girls in bikinnis.

“You didn’t...” somehow fighting in the Arena was more plausible.

Halley-11 laughs, “I did! Even though I figured the Spacers were just trying to see if I would actually do it, the money was pretty good. If I won a fight, it was a Shift's wages, and I even got paid if I lost, about what I would make from a night of waitressing. It was stupid and embarrassing, but...” she shrugs, “it was a way forward.”

“But how did you actually get in the ring in your underwear? I would have literally died first!” I was uncomfortable even thinking of it!

“I was desperate and unhappy enough to try almost anything, and angry enough that the idea of fighting was a little exciting. I needed... something.” She shrugs her porcelain white shoulders with smooth ease. “So I bought a conservative bikini, something with wide bottoms and a top with the biggest cups and most straps I could find and took a turn in The Cage."

Halley-11 smiles wistfully as she pokes through a pile of metal gewgaws on a work table. “I’ll always remember that first fight, the crowded dark bar basement with its inadequate fluorescent lighting, the metal smell of the cage and the humid stink of bodies, my opponent, some chick with her blonde hair loose wearing a tiny top and thong, wiggling for the crowd, the gong signalling the fight.” Halley sighs. “The way these things are supposed to go is hair pulling, slapping, some wrestling and maybe a tit pops out, then someone is pinned or submits. Blondie came at me expecting that, throwing a jaunty slap. But I was panicking, locked in a claustrophobic cage surrounded by drunk jeers, and so automatically Halley’s old self defence training kicked in.” Halley-prime’s self-defence classes that one of her therapists suggested she try to be more confident in public. I remember enjoying it and keeping after it even when I'd mastered the basics. It was empowering...until my depression ruined it and the rest of college. “I grabbed the chick's extended wrist, stepped into her, and threw her over my shoulder. She shrieked, her tit popped out, and she smashed into the floor and started wailing. I’d won my first fight!” 

Halley-11 grins, “even though it wasn’t the girly show the crowd was expecting, they loved it, and so i was invited back for more fights. At first it was easy, a novelty, tough girl dispatches giggly floozies. But then word got out about the crazy bitch in the cage and the fights started attracting serious challengers, women who actually knew how to fight a little. I quit my waitressing gig, dumped the loser boyfriend, and started training. I had become the Queen of the Cage, the destroyer of floozies, the Champion Bitch. And i loved it!”

“That's how I came to the attention of an Arena promotor.”

As I’m listening to Halley, I’m gawking at all of her weapons and fighter stuff. I notice the blue armour she had been wearing in the Arena earlier laid out on a heavy work table. I walk over and examine it, reaching out to touch the gauntlet of the amputated arm, laid out casually next to the suit. The suit itself is mostly intact, but the blue ceramic chest plates have been removed, exposing the damaged underlayer. I frown and bite the inside of my cheek. The armour seems to be filled with mechanical, robotic looking things. Actuators and such. It makes sense that the armour would be some sort of... what would Clem call it? Power suit? Mechanical armour that could move itself. But... this suit seems completely full of machinery without space left for a pilot. I can’t figure out how Halley-11 could even fit into it. “Halley?” I ask turning to look at her...

And stare in mute horror as Halley reaches up with her smooth white hands and pulls her head off her body. 

I think I must be screaming because my throat hurts.

The headless white mannequin body calmly holds Halley’s frowning head, neck, and the smooth disk of silvery metal that caps it. Halley-11’s decapitated head snaps at me to “Be silent!”

I stop screaming and take a ragged breath.

Halley-11 rolls her eyes and her white body smoothly carries her head over to the work table, carefully places it on its metallic base, and turns Halley-11’s head to face me. I am hyperventilating. “Oh calm down,” the decapitated head instructs me, “I know you are made of sterner stuff than this.”

“Wh-what happened?” I manage to stammer.

Halley’s scarred head grins fiercely, “The Arena happened!” 

Halley-11 twists her head, stretching until her neck cracks. She smiles in relief. “As I was saying before you lost your shit, my cage fighting got the attention of an Arena promotor who offered me a fight. It was a little thing, what we in the bizz call a ‘Monster Match’: they pit an exotic and violent animal against a group of sapients in a duel to the death. The promoter wanted a bunch of pretty girls from bikinni brawl bars, but he needed a few actual fighters to make the event work. Since I was both he offered me a lot of Currencies, enough to get me a down payment on a spacesuit.” Halley’s head pauses and tilts, stares at me, “But what really sold me on it was getting into the Arena. I thought if I could just get in there, get a fight or two, I could go from being the champion fighter of a dive bar to a real fucking gladiator. So I took the job.”

“It was my first time in the Circle, standing in that white sand, roaring spectators packed in seats all around. I was nervous and giddy with excitement. It felt like destiny.” Halley-11 spat and shook her head, a weird gesture in the decapitated. “It was a fucking bloodbath. Here we were, twenty cute human girls in little metal costumes with spears, giggling and strutting into the Circle of the Arena, thinking this was going to be a silly tits-falling out of tops exhibition. And then they released the monster.” Halley-11 frowns and licks her thin lips. “Picture the mouth of a lamprey, that circular pit of barbed teeth, but on the end of a long, flexible neck. Picture the pincers of a preying mantis, sharp, snapping, and lightening quick. Picture two insectoid legs and a long, grub like body meant to float in a swamp like a manatee, but instead dragging heavily in the sand. They called it a Lurker.”

“The bikinni brigade wasn’t ready for this; they were panicky, and about to break apart, routed before the fight even started. But one of the real fighters, a thick, battleaxe of a woman, who’d fought monsters in the Arena before, barked out commands, told us our advantage was our numbers, our ability to coordinate. Some of us, the brave and smart ones, fanned out, encircled the slow moving, lurching monster. We danced back from the pincers, stabbed and prodded the grubby flank of the Lurker with our spears. A too slow girl was caught by a claw and cut nearly in half, falling down screaming. Another girl was savaged by the beasts mouth, tearing a bug chunk out of her, a gout of blood painting the sand red. I thought I saw an opening, a chance to stab the creature in the base of its neck, and lunged. The Lurker sensed it, and snapped its long neck and head at me. I threw out my arm reflexively and the monster caught it in its mouth.” Halley-11 bares her teeth and snaps them for emphasis. “It completely engulfed my arm and a thousand serrated, barbed teeth tore into me. I screamed as a wave of overwhelming pain flashed through me. And then I was laying in the sand, holding the spurting, bleeding stump of my arm. It was just gone a little below the shoulder, eaten down the gullet of a monster.” Halley grimaces, “It still hurts just thinking about it.”

“Oblivious to me, the Lurker was defeated. All those little stabs slowly built up and weakened and then killed the beast. Leaving, for the crowds enjoyment, a dead monster and a pile of bleeding, horribly injured girls in sexy metal bikinis.” Halley-11s head spits. “Monster Matches are the fucking worst.”

"Sounds like," I say quietly. "What happened with your arm?"

“This is Flotsam, the alien future,” Halley says with a bright, frosty smile. “And the medical technology is totally out of our world. Almost no one actually dies in the Arena; they collect you and stabilize you, and charge you out of what they owe you.” The same frosty smile, “It can cost you an arm or a leg.”

“They don't actually repair you though. Your eaten arm? That’s on you to fix.” Halley-11’s decapitated head attempts a shrug. “There are options of course. For a small fortune they can clone you a new arm and surgically graft it on. But that takes time and more money than I had to spend. Or you could see a Shaper who could grow you a new arm as if by magic. But that costs even more and would take dozens of sessions or it would mean going crawling back to Clem... which fuck that.” Halley frowns and I'm curious. “Or you could do what I did and buy a reasonably priced prosthetic and get back in the ring.” Halley nods at her headless white body which does the Vanna White thing at a particularly industrial looking robot arm mounted to the wall like a trophy. It is made of scratched dull metal, and has chunky actuators with two chunky cleated fingers and a thumb. 

“I went back to the bar cagefight circuit, but with my scary new arm they wouldn’t let me fight the bimbos anymore. I had to fight the real sapient fighters. And i did, and did well too,” Halley smiles with a fierce pride. “My new arm was great in the cage. I was usually slower and weaker than my opponents, but I could use my metal arm as a shield and punch and kick from cover. And if I broke their guard? My prosthetic was slow but it hit like a fucking truck. A couple solid blows from super-arm and victory. I was becoming a cage fighter for real.”

“And that’s when Sssaka showed up with a proposition for me. It seems my story had reached the ears of an up-and-coming Lieutenant in the Reptilian Syndicates, one who placed great value on self-made sapients. Apparently she was impressed by my determination and, being a fan of the Arena, thought it would be amusing to be my patron. Potentially. So she sent Sssaka, a retired Champion, to train me for a Proving-style knife fight with a rival Lieutenant’s pet fighter. If I won, this Syndicate Lieutenant, The Serpent, would be my patron.”

Halley-11 made a yadda-yadda skip ahead facial expression, strange without the accompanying hands. “And so I fought a knife fight to the death in the Arena against a Reptilian Male. It was brutal, close and mean. It was the smell of Snake  and reek of human fear,  the scent of flowing human and Reptilian blood. It was the roar and thrum of the Arena crowd, giddy and inflamed. It was the pain of cuts and stabs, dozens of new wounds. And it was the moment of growling victory when I stabbed something important and felt a hot shower of blood on my arm and face, tasted it in my mouth. I stood dazed, covered in blood, so much of it my own, in the Circle of the Arena and heard the crowd, hundreds of sapients, all roar for me. It was exhilarating! Like a drug!” She smiles radiantly, “I was drunk on victory and only wanted more.”

“And so I was in: the lieutenant would be my patron and Sssaka would train me. I trained, gaining muscle and strength, learning to fight for real. I was given a better arm prosthetic, leaner and faster, more like the one I’d lost but better in every way. I was given power armour and weapons and the skills to use both.” Halley-11 grins, “And I fought in the Circle almost every Shift against other journeyman fighters, amassing small victories and building a reputation for myself. It was incredible, but I was hungry, so fucking hungry for more.” 

The decapitated head licked her lips, “And then I got more, a real fight, one on one, with an actual Champion.”

“I remember this fight like it was yesterday, standing in the Circle, hot in my armour and nervous like it was my first time. The roar of the crowd, so familiar and yet somehow loader, angrier. I felt the familiar tingle of the old panic attacks, could feel my composure like a brittle thing. I bit my lip hard enough to draw blood, raised my sword and shield above my head, and roared curses at the crowds. Across the sand from stood my opponent, an Ürnaut, The Outcast. The cyborg was motionless and composed, armourskin gleaming in the light, face a featureless mirror, empty hands by its sides. Time seemed to hang there... until the horn sounded. I charged the Ürnaut, roaring, leading with my shield. In a jerky motion The Outcast struck me, lifting me off my feet and sending me tumbling across the sand. I rolled to my feet and watched the Ürnaut stomp towards me, lurching with every step. Up close I could see that the cyborg was battered and scratched. As The Outcast drew itself up to strike me, I realized the Ürnaut was damaged, slowed by time and neglect. I could use this, I could beat a broken old robot. I dashed in, dodged a lumbering blow, and hit the Ürnaut with my sword as hard as my mechanical arm could muster. The cyborg didn’t even flinch, simply grabbed my hastily raised shield, and with an industrial strength began to twist, relentlessly to twist, cracking amour, tearing tendons, ripping muscle, and breaking the bones of my flesh and blood arm. I screamed in pain and in a panic kept smashing the Ürnaut with my sword trying to make it let go. The cyborg placidly yanked and my shield and destroyed arm tore free of my body. I howled in agony and rage, kept conscious by stimulants, and hacked wildly at the Ürnaut, trying to break through the dented armourskin. The Outcast headbutted me, dropping me to the ground in a heap. As I tried to pick myself up one-handed, the Ürnaut stomped and stomped and stomped on my legs, smashing bones and hobbling me. Leaving me broken on the ground.” My clones scarred head blinks back tears and takes a ragged breath. “Defeated.”

I swallow, not sure what to say.

Halley-11 grits her teeth. “My body, my human flesh had failed me. I needed to get better, get stronger; to truly commit to the path of the Gladiator. So when it came time to heal, I rebuilt myself instead. My destroyed arm and broken legs would have to be replaced with new prosthetics. But that wouldn’t be enough. Stronger limbs are meaningless without an upgraded core. Enhanced speed is pointless without faster reflexes. I had to go further, replace more. I underwent radical surgery. They removed my hips, my shoulders, my spine and back muscles and replaced them with a powerful mechanical skeleton with integrated robotic limbs. I still had my head, my chest and organs, and crotch, but these were cradled in a robotic chassis built for victory.” The Destroyer smiles, “And when I returned to the Circle, I was unstoppable. No one could stand against me.”

“That is,” she says ominously, “until I fought my next Champion.”

“This time I fought WoManticore, one of the greatest Champions. She was human once, but over a career she Shaped her body into a lethal fighting creature. She stood seven feet tall, with an elongated torso and neck, thin and strong like a snake. Her legs were short, stocky, and powerful while her arms were thin and long, filled with whiplike enhanced muscle. Her skin had been replaced with a thick black exoskeleton, hard as stone. From her spine she had grown a great scorpion tail, tip shod with a curved spike of steel. WoManticore was my shadow, a woman who devoted herself to the flesh to win, while I had chosen the path of the machine. As we stood across the Circle from each other, a monster and a cyborg, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of symmetry and fate. I took a deep breath, stirred the sand with my boot. This time I was ready. WoManticore smiled at me with her beautiful human face and saluted me with her two thrusting swords. I nodded back, wearing my own stern smile.”

“The battle horn blared and WoManticore adopted her usual defensive posture: serpentine torso swaying, long arms cocked to thrust her blades like a mantis. I feinted an attack, and quick as snake WoManticore snapped forward with her torso and arms, blades flashing. She had superior reach and I would have to risk entering her deadly range to attack. And there was still that awful barbed tail to contend with. But I had a strategy. I was more mobile than WoManticore, and with my mechanical limbs, I was stronger too. I carried my shield and wielded a maul, a heavy steel hammer with a long armour piercing pick, ideal for breaking Womanticore’s carapace. I circled the monster gladiator. I would try to keep her turning and attack her flanks, try to damage her long arms if I could. I would wear her down with small strikes, just like that Lurker who had hurt me so long ago."

"At first, the plan worked. I landed solid blows to WoManticore's arms and tail, splitting her carapace and leaving wounds dripping with ichor. WoManticore seemed to be slowing too: her strikes were coming a little sluggish, one arm maybe a little weak. I caught one thrust on my shield, felt the lack of strength behind it, and pushed it aside. Overclocking my leg servos, I lunged, moving inside her guard and smashing her torso with my heavy maul. I felt a satisfying crunch as my hammer bit into the monster woman's side. But then, quick as a snake, WoManticore twisted and struck with her tail, its steel barb tearing through my armour and ripping into my torso, gutting me throat to crotch. It had been a trap and I had fallen right into it."

"We came apart, WoManticore clutching the wound in her side, me standing mechanically, entrails hanging in the air, blood pouring out of my body. My vision became hyper-focused and bright as contingency subsystems flooded my brain with a superoxygenated fluid and cut pain signals from my damaged body. I tried to gasp, but my torn chest and slashed diaphragm just spasmed. My body was dying. And yet... my systems were intact. My robotic limbs and chassis still functioned and my powerplant was reading optimal. My brain could be kept alive by emergency life support and drugs. I could still fight, even stick to my strategy of attrition, but my body would certainly die. I could forfeit and save my flesh or sacrifice it and defeat the Champion." The Destroyer's head grins it's sharkiest smile, "I chose Victory."

"As WoManticore collapsed unconscious to the sand I became a Champion, The Destroyer, the woman who killed even herself to win." 

Jesus fucking christ! I gulp, "and you decided to become a head?" 

Halley-11 rolls her eyes at me, "I became modular". The headless white porcelain body finishes fiddling with a holographic counsel by a pile of battered machinery and glides back to Halley-11's head, lifting her back into its hands. "My body was dead. Why should I replace it, only to have it fail me again? Grey tech could keep my head alive and I could control an entirely mechanical body in battle. All kinds of bodies." The white body cradled Halley's head with one arm and gestured around the armoury. It clicked suddenly that the suits of armour strewn about the room were all Halley's extra robot bodies. I shivered. "A body is damaged or obsolete? I can replace it. A certain opponent calls for extra strength or speed? I can customize. Multiple events in the Circle? Just swap bodies." Halley smiles from the crook of her headless body's arm, "It's very efficient."

"But you don't fight all of the time," I stammer. Right? It can't all be fighting. "What about when you are with friends or lovers or just like, relaxing?"

"It's the future, Halley," Halley-11 chides, "prosthetics can be very convincing." The white porcelain body gestures at itself and cocks a hip, striking a saucy pose. I watch as its smooth mannequin body buds white nipples and its breasts swell into familiar small handfulls. Its barbie doll crotch pinches a seam, which splits and blossoms into white vulva, becoming a perfect clone of my pussy. "I can feel every sensation in this body with perfect fidelity." The white body traces a hand over a breast, down its flat stomach, and cups its crotch. Halley-11s decapitated head sighs and lids her eyes in pleasure. "It can do everything my old body can. And more." The white porcelain body, now resembling a fitter version of my own naked body begins to strut towards me carrying Halley's head. As it walks, its hips widen and its ass plumps. Another step and its breast swell, growing huge and ripe, hanging heavily from its chest. Another step and its clitoris began to swell and lengthen, growing into an erect white porcelain cock. Its vulva drop and seal, inflating to become a perfectly smooth scrotum. The white body lifts Halley's head, holding her face inches from mine. "I can do things now that you can only dream of." She stares into my eyes licks her lips, tongue almost touching my nose. "I could show you."

I take an involuntary step back. Was another version of me trying to fuck me. What the fuck is with this planet!?

Halley-11 snorts and smiles a real, delighted smile. "Fuck! You rookies are too easy!" Her face becomes serious. "But seriously, don't you ever fucking judge or pity me. I am living exactly the life I want to. I am the steel I've made myself. I am a beloved Champion and when I step into the Circle, all of it, all of the fear and bullshit falls away and I live in a moment where I control the outcome. I have power here. I know who I am and what I want." She smiles ruefully at me, "Can you say the same?"

I stammer and blush. 

"Here," The Destroyer says, "hold this." The porcelain body hands me Halley-11's head. I yelp, and fumble her for a moment, surprised at her weight. "Don't drop me please," she scolds. Her head is warm in my arms. 

The white porcelain body, still over-sexualized and sporting a boner, marches over to the pile of machinery and resumes poking a hologram. "That useless Blue fucker, Monk is dusted on Red and getting laid instead of doing his job, so we will have to get me ready for my next fight," instructs the head in my arms. The machinery pile thrums into life and reconfigures itself into a squatting form. It is another robot body, I realize, but an enormous one. Like a walking monster truck. "Okay Rookie, I need you to carry me over to the mech and slot me into it. Can you handle that?" I nod and carry The Destroyer to her body. I survey the mech and bite my lip, unsure of where to stick the head exactly. "See those red lights? Put me into that depression between them." I gently lower Halley-11 into the machine, her neck stump sliding smoothly into place. Halley grimaces and the robot body whirrs. I take three hasty steps back as the porcelain body enters more commands into its interface. The mech revs louder, and lifts itself to a standing position on thick metal legs, arranging arms ending in a huge chainsaw and an industrial scale pincer. A steel dome painted with a cartoon shark face closes around Halley-11's scarred head. A deep, amplified digital voice booms from the mech, "One piece of advice, Rookie?"

"Figure out what you want, and then do anything to get it."

****

(Holy crap that was a long time between chapters! Sorry for the longest wait! Hopefully I can get a couple more done before things get too busy again...)

36

Re: Flotsam

Wow. One, hoo wee it's been a while, and two, hoo WEE that was something.

37

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam
Chapter 12: Faith and Desire

I am meandering at the crossroads of delay and procrastination. I know where I want to go, but I’m really in no hurry to get there. Which probably explains a lot about my life, actually.

At least I know where I want to go for once?

I think again of Halley-11 The Destroyer booming at me from her huge battlemech, telling me in her doombot voice to take what I wanted. Coming from a version of me who killed her own body to win a contest, that advice has a menacing edge. I definitely didn’t want to become a gladiator or sacrifice quite so much of myself to get ahead. A head. Ugh, fuck. Halley-11 seemed like such a cautionary tale about what life on Flotsam could do to me, but also in a fucked way how much potential I had. She was a famed Champion, rich and glamorous, confident and happy, which was all something this Halley had never managed. But that was her path, not mine.

What do I even want?

Do I want to try and get home to Earth? To return to a life of mental illness and hiding in a trailer park? Was that even possible? Do I want to try and find Halley-prime, to figure out why this is happening and why all these clones of me exist? Should I move on and carve out a new life here? Not as a stripper or man or vegetable hippy or cyborg fighter and definitely not as a sexual petgirl but as something else? I have no idea.

But maybe I want to be with Clem again? Clementine, whatever. Clem had been the best guy I knew, who had stuck with me through all the bumps and twists and setbacks of my mental illness. I doubt I would have made it without him. It felt like just a few days ago that he’d been my guy; even if I rationally knew years had passed for Clem it felt like we were still together. Except for the whole sorcerer space princess thing... But so what if he was a girl now? I’ve always liked women and Clementine, for all her strangeness, was more beautiful than Clem had ever been. Plus, Clem the man had always been a study in wasted potential, a talented guy held back by the world or his own lack of... something. Flotsam and Shaping had maybe unlocked that, let Clem grow into the star I always knew he was. She, whatever. I’m attracted to her and maybe still in love with her, or at least the idea of her. Did I still even know her? This is all too weird.

I know that I had to at least talk to her.

My Keyband honks at me, letting me know I’m wandering too far off course. I turn left down a narrow flight of turbine fan stairs bolted to a landing pod bungalow and back in generally the right direction.

After meeting the Destroyer and watching her charge off to another battle, I decided that it was time to get the fuck out of the Arena. Freya and I left a very happy postcoital Bluebell snuggling in the arms of The Strongest and navigated our way back outside to the Plaza of Champions. Freya gave me a staggeringly strong hug and then quested forth to provision for her upcoming return to space. So I was left alone to wander home. Which got me to thinking about what I was doing here, and about Clementine, and about how I really needed to talk to her.

And so I am walking to Clem’s space trailer, just the scenic way is all. Well, I’m at least wandering in its general direction. I’ll get there when I’m ready, which has to be eventually, right? I walk along a curved footpath past a collection of steel wire woven baskets filled with vibrant alien flowers. A tidy human woman with steel teeth sees me looking and smiles. Maybe I should buy flowers? Does Clementine like flowers now? Is that too much? The florist snips the stems from a bouquet with her mouth, delicately chewing on the ends before swallowing. Maybe no flowers.

I hastily climb a ladder hammered into a rockface between two salvaged homes and onto a new path. My Keyband doesn’t yelp, so It must be generally the right way. This path leads to a T junction at a large fuel tank row house with stone stairs leading up or down the Mesa. I’m pretty sure I need to go up, but starting that way earns a squawking reproach from my Keyband. Down it is. I meander down the staircase until it ends onto a tarmac paved street lined with shops. Okay, I think I’ve been here before. I turn in the clockwise direction, which my wayfinding approves of, and look around the oddly quiet street. The sparse foot traffic is thin and very Blue for this neighbourhood and many of the shops are shuttered. I guess most humans are too busy packing for the upcoming work Shift or saying goodbyes to be hitting up retail. Above me the silver cigar of a Grey drone hovers sedately, blubbing off a small sphere which trails quietly after me. The road takes a jig-jag of tight blind turns, a product of Mesa shape and a couple ungainly improvised buildings and...

“Hi! Halley! What a joy it is to see you!”

I startle and peep, blushing and spinning around. There, half hidden in a blind corner was a glowing holographic sign, cycling through alien texts, until it said in perfect English “The Circle of The Sleeping God.” Oh good a cultist, and one who apparently knows me, or knows a previous model of me. Grrrrreat.

My eyes shift to the cultist and are immediately drawn to a long horn growing from their forehead. It is as long as my forearm and sticking up and out, immediately making me think of a unicorn horn. It has a twisted, braided aspect, with a kind of decorative ridge that wraps around a central cylinder before tapering to the the top. It is covered in pale skin and is surprisingly veiny. I look at the tip of it and... what? The flesh horn doesn’t have a sharp point, it has something bulbous and kind of red and... fuck! It’s a cock! This cultist has a giant penis growing from their head! A veiny, twisted about its axis with a urethral swirl, capped by a huge fucking red glans, cock growing right from the centre of their fucking forehead! “What the fuck!?”

“I know,” says my own voice warmly back to me, “it’s beautiful isn’t it?”

My stomach drops into my toes, I see the cultist is another me, another clone of Halley. She regards me with a placid look from my own violet eyes and her wide mouth is quirked with bemusement. Cockicorn Halley looks like me if people said I had a horseface: her nose is a bit too wide for her face with prominent, almost equine nostrils and her jaw juts forward making her mouth too large, with big flat slightly bucked teeth. She has a mane of snowy white hair that cascades over her shoulders and white furry horse ears that stick out the sides and rove around in the air. And of course a fucking unicorn horn made of cock flesh growing right out of her forehead. “Fuuuuckkk,” I whine.

“I know it’s surprising, Sister, but you are truly overreacting.” Cockicorn Halley admonishes.

“Overreacting!?” My heart is hammering in my chest and I take a step back, surveying the rest of my cultist clone. She is dressed in a pink spandex unitard thing that covers her body from her neck to her wrists and ankles, but leaves little to the imagination. She has the usual number of limbs and a decidedly muscular build, with long powerful arms. Cockicorn has the conventional two breasts, although they are quite enlarged and capped with big nipples which aggressively tent the fabric of her pink onesie. Her torso is lean and toned, except for a little belly paunch that sports another pair of small nipples; an equine udder I realize. Her thighs are too wide and her muscular legs posses an equine recurve and end in hooves instead of feet. A snowy white horse tail flicks from her very wide and toned ass. The crotch of her tight purple uniform shows the lewd topography of enormous testicles and what I was unfortunately sure was the shape of an equine cock sheath. It seems this Halley has more than one cock horn. I take a long shuddering breath to calm down. Always breathe. “Seriously, what the actual fuck happened to you?”

“Like you, Dear Sister, I too was once lost and alone...”

“What makes you think I’m lost?” I ask hastily. “Or alone?”

Cockicorn whickers, “Because you are wandering by yourself on the last night of Shiftchange. Only the aimless are out now.”

“I’m not aimless. I’m going somewhere, I’m just not *well* aimed.”

Cockicorn continues, ignoring me, “I can introduce you to the Path, teach you to hear the Voice of the Slumbering King. For in his Dreams you can find Meaning, you can Transcend your Mortal Limitations and be the Light that He-Who-Slumbers needs to see in the cosmos.”

Oh here we go. I try not to roll my eyes. The thing about living in a trailer park is that poverty attracts god botherers, and the crappier the park the more evangelical and weird the preachers that would appear. Our park had attracted some doozies. I’d heard it all before so I’m a bit surprised and disappointed a clone of me had fallen for it. “So you found religion?”

“You make it sound so paltry,” Halley replies with a snort, eyes flashing in annoyance, nostrils flaring. “What I have found is Truth! This isn’t like those pathetic Pretenders who shambled into the park to sell us a sad little creed about an absentee god. What I’ve found is a True Deity, a god-entity that hears our Prayers and Intercedes in our lives. This isn’t spiritualism or superstition, The Sleeping God is Real and one day he shall Awaken.” Halley regards me, a look of raw passion in her eyes, her cockhorn throbbing with the beat of her heart.

With a sinking feeling, I realized that Cockicorn Halley is a zealot. I’d seen this very look before in the faces of the nuns who ran St. Ursula’s Orphanage, where I was taken to live after my parents died. The Sisters there had terrorized us, enforcing a strict code of morals and conduct with a swift disciplinary hand that I’m pretty sure crossed the line into abuse.  But to them they were conducting a sacred duty to raise their little girls to be good Christian women who were obedient and lived according to the Bible. They couldn’t see the way they used fear and their power to brutalize vulnerable orphans because their Faith made them Right and Just. It was sad to see this reflected in my own cloned eyes. I shivered, Cockicorn’s religious zeal was actually more upsetting than her altered body with its forehead dick. Barely.

“That still doesn’t explain the Cockicorn thing.”

“Cockicorn?”

“The whole penis on your forehead, horse-lady thing you’ve got going on...”

“My Sacred Form?”

I rolled my eyes, “If that’s what you call it.”

“It is the Manifestation of my Devotion,” she says, flashing a self-satisfied horsey smile. “When one truly commits to the Sleeping God, one Communes with him by Dreaming together. We Dreamed of horses. You must recall the small farm down the road from the trailer park? Where we would walk to when we needed to get away from Clem and the park for a while? He-Who-Slumbers Dreamed with me about standing at that fence and watching the horses run. He Dreamed with me about feeling so powerless and watching those strong, majestic creatures cantor and run without fear. But then, instead of returning home to my sad little life, He-Who-Slumbers Dreamed me entering the paddock and running with the horses, taking on their Aspects, and becoming powerful and Free.” Halley whinnies in ecstasy, “He showed me a Path to a Truer and Happier Self.”

“And so your god turned you into a cockheaded unicorn?”

“No, Transmigration of the Flesh is a journey, a Manifestation of my Devotion and Worship. It represents my Commitment to Being the Light and following the Plan that Sleeping God has revealed to me,” Halley tosses her head and paws at the ground with her hooves like an excited equine. “I voluntarily entered this Covenant. I Choose to do be this.”

“Okay,” I say for lack of anything else.

Cockicorn Halley looks at me earnestly, but I think without actually seeing me. “It would bring me Great Joy to Introduce you to He-Who-Slumbers so that you might Dream with Him and Learn your Path to becoming the Light.”

Nope. Not a chance in whatever whacky hell she Dreams of. “No, thank you, religion isn’t something I’m looking for right now.” Especially a weird Shapist cult. I look at my Keyband like a cartoon person, “Gosh, the time! I really have to get going.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Halley. I will Pray for you to Him that you might change your mind.”

“Right.” There was one thing I still wanted to know though. “Sorry, but before I go, which Halley are you?”

“I was Halley-21, but now I am Sister Equestria.”

***

I am once again standing at the airlock door to the space apartment of my ex-boyfriend, maybe future girlfriend.

I take a deep breath, trying to quell the butterflies having an orgy in my stomach. I am so completely fucking nervous. What do I even say to Clem? What do I even want from her? Do I even know who this person is anymore? This is fucking crazy! Maybe I should just go... but fuck, I just met a version of myself in a cult with a dick on her face. Life is too short; I have to do this. Preferably without throwing up. Or fainting. If only I had a giant four-armed woman to give me a shove.

I steel myself: gotta grab life by the balls.

I touch the rust coloured steel door which recognizes me, brightly welcomes me home, and smoothly snaps open. I take a breath and step gingerly into the cycling chamber foyer, stepping around piles of fancy womens shoes and brushing against jackets hung from pegs stuck into air vents. I hear a noise and freeze.

Jesus, I should have called ahead.

A woman makes a low throaty groan and something yowls. It sounds decidedly sexual. I should go...

Instead I peak into the living room, eyes sliding along grey polymer to the plush blue rug surrounded by couches. There I see them, intertwined, Clementine and Pussy, having sex.

Fuuuuuck.

I should really go.

They are facing away from me, fortunately, but at an angle where I can see their bodies. Pussy is on all fours, hand-paws and knees on the ground, eight little breasts hanging and bouncing. Clem is behind and over her, on her knees, delicate back and silver hair and her perfectly toned and soft ass clenching and shaking as she fucks her pet catgirl from behind. Doggy style? Cat? Clem’s three round, unreasonably ripe breasts, seen from behind and beside, surge as she thrusts; her large balls slap the catgirl’s yoga ass, and the slick wet pink of Clem’s labia sometimes peek free. Sticking out from between their bodies, Pussy’s long black tail lashes the air. Clem pants and whimpers and Pussy pushes back into her with an inhuman flexibilty of spine and yowls like a cat in heat.

I am dismayed and furious and more than a little turned on. It’s too fucking weird but also weirdly hot. I want nothing to do with this; I want to be Pussy. I stifle a dismayed sound.

I should really fucking go.

Pussy makes an awful cat sound and arches her back even further while the claws of her paw like hands and feet dig into the rug. I blush as I realize she is coming. Clem pauses her humping, letting Pussy savor the moment. Panting Pussy agilely rolls onto her back, rotating her body on Clem’s enormous cock so they don’t completely separate. Now face-to-face, Pussy pulls a Clementine down on top of her, nipping her face playfully, and mewling for mistress to keep Fucking her. Clementine groans happily and starts to slowly work her cock in and out of her catgirl pet who purrs in appreciation. I can see her face now, and Pussy is a vision of feline contentment, like she is getting the best head scratch in the universe. I whimper and one of the black kitty cat ears on Pussy’s head twitch. I hold my breath, hoping she is distracted. Instead the catgirl clone languidly looks at me, pleased recognition flashing on her face as we make eye contact. Clem, oblivious, keeps steadily fucking away. Pussy flashes her clawed paws and drags them down Clementines long shapely back, who gasps in shocked pleasure at the sensation. Pussy, still looking at me sticks out her long rough tongue and licks her pink little kitty nose. Cat’s got your ex. Tears sting my eyes. It’s just so fucking unfair.

Starting to cry I finally go.

***

(Much less overdue, here is a nice short chapter. The next one might be a while coming because, writing schedule aside, I think it might be a loooong one.)

38

Re: Flotsam

Were you playing Cultist Simulator while writing that last chapter? Coming up with silly Lovecraftian cult stuff is always fun.