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Zeo Grey
An Upset 1
Tue May 12, 2009 2:08am
174.18.6.111 (XFF: 70.192.119.56)

Maeko sighed and inclined her head to Erica, signaling the end of the match. Both contestants swiftly removed themselves from the field as the medics looked on, for once not having a heavily wounded contestant to drag off the bloody sand.

In the bowels of the arena Zeo sat in the ready room, a lounge filled with drab furniture and a small bar smoking a cigar. A glass of tonic sat beside him sweating in the humid atmosphere of the room. Most everyone was tense and nervous. The more loud and boastful a fighter was the more likely he was to be suffering from nerves.

“Uh! Yeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah yeah yeah!” Bassmaster howled riffing madly on his guitar. The music wasn't actually all that bad but the edge of nervous energy in the young reploid's voice made it near unbearable.

“Oi! Shut the fuck up!” Bassmaster let the final syllable of his impromptu song fall flat and turned to glare at the speaker.

“Yo pal you gotta learn appre-” he broke off abruptly as Kodiak glared down at him and growled low in his throat. Swallowing heavily Bassmaster swung his guitar onto his back and shuffled swiftly over to the couch Zeo had appropriated, sitting on the far end away from the grim-faced berserker. It didn't take long for his nervously bouncing leg to get annoying. Heaving a snarling sigh Zeo rose to his feet and made his way to the bar. Bassmaster didn't even look up. His face had assumed a blank expression the veteran mercenary recognized instantly. No matter the face it always looked the same. The clenched jaw, thousand yard stare, thin lips, and sheen of cold sweat. It was the look of a man trying not to psyche himself out before a major action.

Sidling up to the bar Zeo sat down on a barstool and plunked his cup of tonic down making the drink fizz slightly. Glancing casually around Zeo reached for an ashtray just as a fat expensive looking cigar slammed against it shifting a heavy cap of ash off the cherry to disintegrate at the bottom of the shallow bowl.

Leaving the ashtray where it was Zeo ashed and took a heavy pull on his cigar. The figure next to him, a massive humanoid in heavy red armor took a snorted at the stench then grinned. “Only one asshole I know smokes cigars that smell like an open sewage pipe.” Turning Dross looked down at Zeo and his smile grew. “Zeo Grey you son of a bitch.”

Surprised Zeo leaned back to look Dross in the eye and offered the massive reploid his hand. “Dross. Heard you got killed 'bout a year ago.”

“Nope. Some fuck didn't set the timers right so the base blew 'bout three minutes sooner than it was supposed to. Whole team left me for dead.” Dross shrugged. Such stories were common among freelance mercenaries unaffiliated with any group or fraternity. “What about you? Last I heard you'd given up the solitary life and signed on with some band of fruitcakes out in Nevada?”

“The Freelance Reploids.” Zeo confirmed, taking a sip of his tonic. “Not a bad bunch.”

“Uh-huh. Bet you don't make near as much as y'did in the old days.”

“True. But then; who is making as much as we did in the old days?”

Dross grimaced making his already ugly face hideous. “S'truth. I've almost settled in with a band myself. Whole mess cropped up in the past few years, it's making finding solitary work a pain in the ass. Jobs ain't what they were. Now it's all precision assassination or sniping some poor son of a bitch from a mile away with your fancy million-credit sniper rig.”

Zeo shrugged. “Times change bub.”

Dross knocked back the rest of his drink, glancing at the screen displaying the current match as he did. “Damn. Had money on that'n.” He noted as a massive blue-skinned monstrosity howled and smashed its fist into a sturdily-built reploid's head crushing it completely.

“You bet against that thing?” Zeo pointed at the victor as it dropped to all fours and started out of the arena.

“Yeah. Steiner is...well...was a friend of mine. He was supposed to bet on my fight too.” Dross explained. “We'd have made a killing.” The big reploid shifted and Zeo noticed the axe laid across the bar beside him.

“Still using that wood chopper.”

Dross grinned. “Aye. Haven't found anything better yet. That beam stuff hasn't got enough heft to it.” Zeo grunted. He'd had occasion to lift Dross's axe in the past. It weighed more than some engine blocks and the big red-armored reploid handled it as though it were no heavier than a twig. “What about you? I notice you've changed your rig back.”

Zeo nodded. “Lost the buster on a job had to go back to the Deacons.”

“And you've got two sabers now. Fancy.” Zeo frowned at the bigger reploid's obvious sarcasm.

“Got 'em from a friend.”

“Uh-huh. Sure you didn't just get jealous of all them ninja-types flailing around with their dual-wielded katana and shit?”

Zeo's slit-eyed glare elicited a burst of laughter from Dross and he slammed his hand into Zeo's back sending him sprawling forward to knock his drink over. Cursing the gray-armored mercenary pushed himself back and elbowed Dross's arm from his back. The bigger reploid calmly settled a muscled arm over Zeo's shoulders sending him sagging forward.

“Don't get all pissy I'll buy you another'n. What're you drinking?”

“Tonic.”

Dross quirked an eyebrow. “Tonic?”

Zeo looked up at the bottles arrayed behind the bar and after a painful moment nodded. “Tonic.”

“Right...” Dross reached across the bar and tapped the barkeep, busy talking with a female contestant in very brief armor, on the shoulder. The barkeep turned, something undoubtedly foul perched on the tip of his tongue, saw just how big Dross was, and meekly moved towards him.

“Ah...can I get you something sir?”

“Yeah. Vodka for me, tonic for the runt.”

Zeo muttered a curse under his breath. The barkeep's lips twitched as he struggled to keep from smiling.

“As you like sir.”

An attendant stepped into the ready room and looked down at his clipboard before scanning the various fighters lounging around the room. “Zeo Grey?”

Zeo swiveled around on his stool. “What?”

The attendant blanched at his rasping voice. “You're up...sir.”

Dross grinned hugely. “Do believe I need to go see a man about a bet.” He rose to his feet at the same time Zeo did and tromped off leaving the barkeep holding the drinks. Zeo grimaced and pulled a wad of credits from his belt to pay the bartender. Taking both he downed the vodka in a single heavy swallow and followed it with a gulp of tonic.

The attendant patted his glistening face with a folded kerchief. “Ready?” He asked as Zeo lowered the empty glass. The veteran mercenary nodded. “Good. Just follow me sir.”

***

Across the vast seating arrangement of the multi-story Frost Coliseum fans voted via small four button pads built into their arm rests below screens that displayed the vitals and a brief synopsis of facts concerning the next two fighters. Those votes traveled in their thousands to the central computer located far below the ring where they were tallied and the results sent to the VR station as well as the Builders.

The crowd watched in anticipation as the ring flared briefly to VR lines and set pieces were moved into place by a multitude of drone construction bots.

Sitting behind the closed door outlined in blue Zeo rolled his shoulder and waited.

From the blue door, veteran mercenary and Hellion of the Free Zone Zeo GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY!

“Hellion of the Free Zone?” Zeo echoed under his breath. Where the hell did the announcer get his material? The bottoms of whiskey bottles?

The door snapped upwards with a hiss of hydraulics and Zeo strode out to find that the arena had been voided of all features. It was once again the gravel and sand circle that Axel had fought in. Standing across from him was a reploid in sleek gray and black armor. He was instantly recognizable to the berserker. They had, after all, worked together as Freelance Reploids.

Grim Ittou.

The ninja-bot obviously recognized Zeo as well because he gave a flippant wave as he strode into the ring, turning the gesture into a raised fist for the crowd who roared appreciatively. Zeo sighed and stepped forward as well.

“Grim.”

“Zeo. Been a while. I gotta say pal, I'm almost sorry I'm gonna have to whip your ass.”

“Sure kid.” Zeo pulled a beam saber from its sheath on his back and held the hilt loosely in his hand unactivated. Grim cocked his head to the side for a brief moment then flexed his hands.

“Figure using the katana'd make this too fast.” He said as beam blades shimmered into being on his arms. “This'll make things more challenging.”

The announcer's voice cut off any further small talk. The massive screen above Zeo and Grim focused in on his face and upraised mic as he screamed. “FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!

Zeo dipped low and to the side gunslinger style and his left hand came up filled with a Deacon XII that belched fire. Grim zipped to the side with speed only a reploid of his caliber and class could have. The crowd roared when, in an act of skill nearly inconceivable, he swept the edge of his beam through the bullet in a shower of sparks, splitting it in half. Unfortunately he didn't have that opportunity with the other four shots as the berserker on the other side of the ring continued his fusillade. It was all he could do to avoid the shots and even then he still felt a sting as a bullet creased his bicep.

Pivoting his weight Grim threw himself forward into a forward somersault and sprang from that into a gargantuan leap that covered the distance between himself and Zeo in a single leonine bound. In the brief span Grim was in the air Zeo activated his beam saber and swept himself into a ready stance bringing his blade up horizontally just as Grim's arms swept down. Energy crackled as Grim's entire weight pressed against the saber. For a brief second the ninja seemed to hover in the air then, with a titanic heave Zeo threw him backwards.

Landing heavily Grim instantly charged forward, meeting Zeo's own charge half-way. The two almost seemed to be dancing as they circled around each other with Zeo blocking every attack Grim made and vice-versa. When they came apart the ninja gaped in disbelief. Apart from a few smoking lines on his armor Zeo had taken no damage. Neither had Grim but that was hardly the point. He was the best there was. How could a drunk stand against him?

Extinguishing his arm blades Grim pulled his katana from its sheath on his back. The blade hissed serpentinely as it slid free to shimmer in the light of the arena. “Not bad old man.” Grim said, modulating his voice to conceal the surprise gripping his mind. “But now the kid gloves come off.”

Zeo swept his beam saber through a lazy circle then dragged the tip across the sand burning a black line into it. “C'mon then junior.”

A flick of his thumb activated the plasma field on Grim's katana and the ninja started forward in a crouched ready stance, his blade-tip flicking through the air like a cobra searching for an opening in Zeo's defense.

The attack was as sudden as a lightning-strike. Grim lunged forward, his entire body given to the attack as he stabbed his Omnium katana towards Zeo's heart. The berserker parried and turned his defensive movement into an offensive slash that Grim was forced to step back to avoid. Capitalizing on his being off balance Zeo stutter-stepped forward twisting his saber around in a horizontal neck-slice that Grim blocked with an arm blade. He retaliated with a laser-precise stab from his katana that caught Zeo in the shoulder joint of his armor. When Grim retracted his blade a brief spurt of blood followed it into the open air and the berserker grunted.

“Heh. First blood.” Grim commented, flicking his wrist to send glittering droplets flying. The momentary lowering of his guard proved to be a terrible mistake. In a single fluid gesture Zeo caught Grim by the collar of his armor and snapped him forward into a headbutt that cracked the ninja's visor and sent him stumbling back, disoriented. Zeo followed through with a left hook that sent shards flying from the already damaged visor. Grabbing a handful of hair the berserker slammed Grim's head down into his knee.

Grim dropped to his knees and barely managed to roll to the side as Zeo's saber swept down in a decapitating strike.

Groggily regaining his feet the ninja known as 'Death' glared at his opponent through vision covered in flashing red warning lights. His audio was crackling so bad he could barely hear Zeo's rejoinder.

“It's last blood that counts.”

Whipping his sword into place Grim charged forward. He didn't bother with snappy one liners any more. This battle was becoming more serious than he anticipated. The drunk was proving himself to be quite a challenge and a few of the warning messages floating in front of his eyes were worrying enough that Grim just wanted to get the fight over with and find a medic to make sure nothing had shaken loose in his head.

The two circled briefly then surged forward to lock blades. Grim slammed his leg into Zeo's thigh. Despite his grimace of pain the red-haired berserker remained solidly standing even when Grim repeated the tactic then shoved with all his strength. Canting his blade suddenly Zeo slammed the hilt of his blade against Grim's faceplate even as his katana slid the length of Zeo's beam saber. Ramming his pommel forward Zeo managed a second tremendous blow. Both heard the crack as the visor shattered.

Hopping backwards Grim warily watched Zeo who seemed content to simply stand there and let Grim remove his face plate, revealing a face with several lumps that were already darkening. Without treatment they would ache abominably.

“Well come on kid. I thought this was gonna be a breeze for ya.” Zeo taunted. Screaming a keening war-cry Grim charged forward, his katana held low and straight. The razor-sharp weapon thunked into meat with a wet sound and Zeo growled in pain. The katana was lodged in the left side of his abdomen and several handspans extended out behind him covered in blood. But Grim had miscalculated, in the last second Zeo had shifted just enough to keep the weapon from hitting anything vital and now the emitter of his beam saber was lodged firmly against Grim's neck. With the push of a button Zeo could send him into oblivion and from the broken look on the ninja's face he knew it.

Grim pulled his katana free with a sharp jerk and then bowed to the victor.

The crowd was deadly silent. None of them had predicted Zeo had even a chance against the legendary ninja, much less that he would achieve victory. Then, slowly, a smattering of applause broke out and like a tidal wave began to sweep across the Coliseum until the arena resounded with the thunder of stomping feet, cheers, and whistles countered by the heavy boos of those who had lost substantial sums in bets.

Pressing a hand against his wound Zeo turned and headed for the medical ward without so much as a wave for the ecstatic crowd. Grim watched him go with a mixture of outrage and rueful admiration. Heaving a sigh he stooped and collected his visor from the sand then made his slow painful way back to the cool darkness of the tunnel pondering his defeat.

I wanted a challenge...guess I found it.

*

“Damn.” Marco Signus muttered. “Didn't see that coming.”

Delacroix's lips curled in a slight smile and he adjusted his glasses. “I did.”

“How?” Marco demanded. “There's nothing in their stats that could have predicted this! Grim Ittou should have had that Zero-Clone from the word go!”

“Hardly.”

“Explain.”

Delacroix removed his glasses and began to clean them with a soft cloth pulled from an inside pocket on his suit jacket. “Zeo Grey was sober and thus had access to the rather extraordinary amount of skill he has acquired over the years. He is a veteran of the first Maverick War you know.”

Marco blanched and shook his head in disbelief. “That wasn't on his file.”

“It isn't common knowledge.” Delacroix agreed smugly. Signus crossed his arms and 'hrmphed' into his beard.

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