by Tim Francovich
It had been over a year since Shatterstar had seen Windsong, his genetically predetermined wife. Of course, there had been that one instance on Earth when the assassin Arcade had attempted to use a holographic image of Windsong to force Shatterstar to kill his friend, Adam-X. And, to be truthful, Star had never actually _met_ his wife. He had only seen video of her in action. His mind went back to that day...
"Be seated, arena warriors!" the arena monitor bellowed. The crowd of jostling, laughing young men pushed their way into the chairs assembled before the platform. Hewl, the head monitor, stood in front of them, a semi-circle of vid screens behind him.
Shatterstar was one of the last to find his seat. Unlike most of the others, he took such briefings as these deadly serious. The knowledge that was dispensed by the monitors could often mean the difference between victory and defeat in the arena.
"Pay attention, oh favored-of-Mojo," Hewl rasped. "Today is the day that all of you... are married."
Pandemonium broke out among the warriors. "Married?" "To who?" "Today?" "All right! New living arrangements!" Shatterstar remained silent, his eyes focused on Hewl.
"Quiet!" Hewl shouted. His cybernetically-enhanced voice caused a spasm of pain in the warriors' ears. They immediately fell silent.
"Your lives will not be changing in any way," Hewl explained. "The goal in this, as in all things, is the continuation and improvement of the games. You can forget any lurid fantasies some of you are currently entertaining. The only time you will meet your 'wives' will be in the arena. These marriages are on paper only."
"What fun is that?" a warrior complained.
"The necessary paperwork is being filed today," Hewl continued. "The monitors have chosen your matches based on what we have determined will bring about the best offspring, who will continue the games in the future. When the time is right, your genetic material will be combined to produce the next generation of warriors."
"Ah, the advancement of science," someone else commented.
"To satisfy any undue curiosity you may have," Hewl went on, "you may watch a vid of your new wife. Just enter your name and arena number into one of the terminals behind me and the vid screens will display your genetic match. You are dismissed."
There was a rush of bodies as the young men charged forward to take their turn at the vid screens. Shatterstar took his place in line and waited patiently. Eventually, he reached the terminal and keyed in the required information. In a moment, the screen displayed a full-length photo of a female warrior and a list of pertinent data, including her name: Windsong.
Satyrstar, the warrior at the next screen, glanced over and whistled. "Not bad, Shatter! Not bad at all!"
Several other warriors made some lewd comments, but Shatterstar ignored them, pressing the key that brought up a video of Windsong in action. Immediately, his attitude changed. This had at first been but a distraction, of little importance to Star's continuing life. But now...
She was incredible. Shatterstar watched in awe as she took on a trio of fang troopers, dispatching them with ease. Her movements were so fluid, so graceful. The video ended and Star immediately called it back up again.
"Hey, come on, Shatterstar!" someone called from behind him. "We want to see our wives, too, you know!"
In those brief moments, Star memorized everything about Windsong: her shape, her hair and eye color, her fighting style... everything he could learn from the profile. It was not that he was infatuated or in love by any sense of the word; he was simply fascinated by the abilities of this strange female warrior who had been chosen as his equal, the one most genetically suited to him. Some time later, Satyrstar told him that Windsong was also a member of the Cadre Alliance...
And now... Now he was supposed to kill her or be killed by her. And as he jumped to the nearest platform, Star found himself wondering if he really had any say in what the outcome would be...
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