by Tim Francovich
When Shatterstar awoke, he knew exactly where he was. The knowledge both discouraged and thrilled him. With a brief stretch, he got up and looked around his room. Not much had changed.
It was his room, the room he had lived in for four years during the time he had fought in the arena. It was clean and comfortable, only the best for the elite warriors. Yet compared to the quarters he had shared with his X-Force companions on Earth, the room appeared stark and sterile.
Thinking of Earth made him wonder about Cannonball. He had seen Guthrie survive worse and knew that he was an "External," virtually immortal, yet this was a different world with different laws. He could not count on seeing Sam again.
Mechanically, Star entered the washroom and took a shower. Upon emerging, he found his costume freshly cleaned and pressed, waiting for him. His swords were there, as well. Arena warriors were allowed to keep their weapons at all times, for there was no fear that they would escape. It was unthinkable. It was also extremely rare for an arena warrior to commit suicide. From childhood, the warriors had been indoctrinated with the belief that "where there is life, there is hope."
Star smiled wryly at the irony. The warriors were taught to live and hope so that they would stay alive to entertain the masses. Yet the philosophy of living and hoping was what led so many of them into the Cadre Alliance rebellion. And escapes from the pens were not so unthinkable as the warriors were led to believe, after all.
But Star knew that, although he could not see anyone, he, at least, was under constant surveillance. Mojo was not about to let anything happen to his star.
Sometime soon, Shatterstar knew he would be thrust into the arena again, to fight for his life. Although the idea of fighting for the spineless ones' entertainment repulsed him, he could not deny a thrill of anticipation. It had been too long since he had fought one-on-one against a living, breathing opponent. The training exercises Cable had arranged for them at their various bases had been good, in their way, but Star craved the physical confrontation of the arena. He had tried to explain that to Warpath early on during his sojourn on Earth, but the Native American warrior had seemed reluctant to do more than trade a few well-placed punches.
Star dressed quickly and stepped through another door, entering a hallway he knew led to a training area. If he was about to enter the arena again, he should do it at his peak efficiency. In addition, he might be able to find some of his former Alliance contacts.
Upon entering the training room, Shatterstar stopped and stared, a wash of memories flowing over him. It was just as he remembered it. Not much had changed since the day he escaped from here over a year ago. The training center was huge - it had to be for the four dozen or more arena warriors to have the chance to train simultaneously. Far to the left, he could see the cafeteria. A growl from his stomach reminded him that he had not eaten for some time. Ignoring the warning, he turned to look at the rest of the room.
Dozens of hi-tech exercise machines were arranged in the center of the vast room. On the right side was a mammoth swimming pool and a series of sensory deprivation tanks. On the left, in front of the cafeteria, were two dozen miniature training arenas complete with a holographic control panel which allowed the trainee to program any of hundreds of combat simulations. Multiple television screens hung from the high ceiling throughout the room, constantly displaying Mojoworld's only channel.
Star headed for a vacant holo-arena. He could see many warriors already training, some he recognized and some he did not. But he did not see a single warrior connected to the Alliance. Had they all been weeded out? Or had they escaped, as he had done?
Star programmed an individual combat sequence with a Level 8 holo-warrior as a warm-up before breakfast. He smiled knowingly at the new safeguards that were in place in the programming language. They certainly were not about to let him use it the way he had during his last escape. He toyed with the idea of re-programming a way around the safeguards. It would not be easy, but he might be able to pull it off.
He decided against the idea for now. They would be expecting him to try something like that. Better to wait, bide his time, and seize the proper opportunity when it came. "Where there is life, there is hope," he said softly, stepping into the holo-arena.
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