by Tim Francovich
Shatterstar had just finished his breakfast when he saw the soldiers coming. Two heavily armed fang troopers were maneuvering through the cafeteria tables. Instinctively, Star knew they were coming for him. As he stood, he heard one of the nearby vid-screens proclaim, "Coming up next: Mojovision presents The Return of Shatterstar, the arena's most celebrated combatant. Yes, it's the season premiere of everyone's favorite warrior. Today he faces an opponent that could put an end to his..."
"I believe you gentlemen are looking for me?" Star asked as the soldiers approached. One of them merely nodded and motioned for him to follow. Star did so and the second soldier fell into step behind him.
Shatterstar caught a few resentful glances from some of the other arena warriors as he walked through them. Were they actually jealous of him? He had dealt with it before. For some reason he still did not understand, he was something more than an average arena warrior. Both Mojo and Spiral--as well as Mojo's programmer, Major Domo--had had an absorbing interest in him as he grew up. It was as if they knew something about himself that he did not.
He wondered briefly about Major Domo's whereabouts and smiled. Maybe Mojo had punished him over that fiasco with Arcade.
The next few minutes were a familiar blur. He was led through various hallways on the way to the arena. They stopped briefly at the infirmary for a final medical check and then hurried on to the prep room.
At the prep room, they were met by the arena monitors, cybernetically-enhanced regulators of the games. One of them stepped forward and removed Star's helmet, allowing the second to attach the control device above his left ear. "Your hair's gotten longer," he commented drily. "Mod," he spoke to a small robot hovering nearby. "Schedule a session with the hair stylist for Shatterstar this evening."
"If he survives," the other monitor observed. "Listen up, Shatterstar. There are no survival guarantees in this event. As your premiere, Mojo (all praise to him) has requested a death duel. You are to kill or be killed. This is either the start of a great new season for you, or your grand finale. You decide."
Star nodded, replacing his helmet. "I understand." He knew it was useless to ask any further questions; the monitors were notoriously tight-lipped. He stepped onto the round platform that would lift him into the arena. As it started upward, he thought he heard one of the monitors murmur, "It's a shame..."
Above him, the ceiling opened, making room for his platform to rise through into the arena. It continued to rise, lifting him high above the arena floor. Across the entire arena, similar platforms had risen, each stopping at differing heights. Star recognized the setup. It was an arrangement known as Circles of Chaos. Once the event began, he would have to fight his opponent while jumping from platform to platform. To complicate matters, the platforms would be continuously shifting in height. A missed jump would mean a dangerous and possibly deadly fall.
Roving cameras floated here and there, most focused on him at the moment. On the west side of the arena stood a gigantic vidscreen, displaying what was currently being broadcast across the entire world. Spineless ones everywhere sat riveted to their screens to watch the return of Shatterstar.
Star peered across to the far side of the arena, drawing his swords. His opponent was rising up, but was too far away for him to identify. He turned to watch the screen, which was still displaying him from every possible angle. In a moment, it would profile his opponent and then the fight would begin.
The image on the screen shifted. Star's opponent was female, not surprising in itself--there were as many female arena warriors as male. The first shot of her was from a distance, gradually zooming in. She appeared to be near Star's height, perhaps an inch or two taller. Her body was attractive, slim but muscular and well-toned. She was dressed in a sleeveless yellow skin-tight costume with knee-high boots that were a light green with a narrow yellow stripe on the front. On her torso was a black eight-point star, identical to the tattoo on Star's face. Her long brown hair hung in two braids past her waist.
Star lowered his swords. He knew who it was even before the camera zoomed in on her face, showing her slim features and grayish eyes. "Windsong," he whispered.
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