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Zeo
Second Chances and Old Relations Renewed
Mon Jun 8, 2009 10:00pm
174.18.19.35

Pain.

Voices.

The world slowly forced itself on his consciousness, pulling him away from blackness and into a reality he quickly found he had no great interest in existing in. As soon as his eyes opened a relieved surgeon gestured towards his face while nudging his fellow who was elbows-deep in his abdomen.

Wondering why his guts were on display led to brief flashes of memory. Plasma blasts ricocheting against his armor, explosions rumbling above him. A fount of white-hot metal burning away his eyes. More explosions and what he had been sure was death.

Apparently not.

A smooth face leaned into view. One he recognized instantly. Not from any personal familiarity but who didn't know Lexander Morningstar, right hand of the Baroness Desdemona Frost and current chairman for the annual Iron Fist Tournament. Beyond that he was the favorite contender to win.

“Dross. I knew you wouldn't die on me.” Lexander said, his voice grating painfully on audio-receptors that were not yet properly adjusted.

“Not fer a lack'a trying on my opponent's part.” He rumbled. Lexander shrugged apathetically and spread his hands.

“That's the nature of the beast. Everyone knows the Iron Fist is about violence and brutality on a scale nearly unimaginable. It's what the people pay for and its what the contestants have got to give them.”

“Seeing as how I've more than fulfilled that obligation I'm a touch curious as to why you're here Lexander. Doesn't strike me you'd have much time for losers.”

A smile crossed the Frost Electronics employee's features. A smile Dross had seen first hand once before during a job in the Atlantic when he'd fallen in the drink along with most of his friends and enemies when the ship sank. With all the open wounds and thrashing around it hadn't taken long at all for the sharks to show up; each of them bearing a smile exactly like that on Lexander's face.

“How would you like a second chance in the tournament?” Dross looked down at his opened guts then up at Lexander. It was a damnably good thing repairs were covered in the contract otherwise he knew he'd have been discarded on one of the Free Zone's innumerable scrap piles hours ago.

“What's the pay?”

“Decent. Nothing compared to actually winning the tourney but enough to make it worth your while. If you win.”

The massive reploid heaved a sigh. “What's the job?”

***

Lexander Morningstar nearly whistled as he ascended to the penthouse seats via elevator where his fellow board members were undoubtedly enjoying refreshments and plotting against each other behind wide grins as they waited for the half-time show to begin. He himself was fresh off his success with Dross and his sixteenth match of the day. A victory. Of course. The doors to the elevator whisked open and Lexander stepped into the penthouse.

Marko Cygnus glowered at him. The last fighter had been one of his and Lexander had defeated him with almost comical ease. Still. The bearded reploid mused, He has yet to face Ophelia.

Rafael Delacroix dipped his head slightly and presented Lexander with a tablet displaying the profits gained from the tournament so far. Already they had tripled the expenditure of credits that had gone into renovating the coliseum and promoting the tournament across all mediums of communication. Lexander took all that in at a glance then handed the tablet back. He was tempted to ask how much Delacroix had made in his betting but refrained. The little man would take it as a personal slight and even the right hand of Desdemona Frost hesitated to cross Rafael Delacroix. His financial firm was nearly as influential in the Renewed World Trade Alliance as Frost Electronics and Syndic-Tech combined.

Settling in his seat Lexander watched as far below him the people of the Free Zone roared.

The Half-Time show had begun.

***

Ladies and gentlemen! I hope you've purchased your half-time refreshments because it's time for the show to start! A voice boomed over the cleverly hidden speakers throughout the coliseum. The first event is the Redemption League! All competitors who failed in their first appearances have one last chance at fame and fortune through a no-weapons-barred free-for-all brawl!

Dross sighed and flexed his fists in their new gauntlets. Essentially similar to his originals in all ways they still felt slightly odd. He couldn't tell if it was the gauntlets or his fingers that were responsible for the strange sensation. His door rolled up and he strode out onto the open arena along with twenty four other contestants that had agreed to Lexander's proposal. Each bore the same determined look and all fingered their weapons.

Among the spectators Dross knew a hundred men, women, children, and reploids were caressing the small transmitters they had won via random drawing. Each transmitter corresponded to a different trap in the arena. A sudden explosion sent a grim smile across the immense reploid's ugly face. He could almost imagine the embarrassment and rage one of those lucky winners must have been feeling at that second. Too bad.

A horn blared out across the arena and every one of the twenty five competitors surged forward even as ninety-nine spectators leaned forward with a hungry expression looking for that prized moment in which to spring their trap to greatest effect.

***

Zeo tossed back the last of his tonic and rewound his tape, watching again as Cross's lean figure twisted through a roundhouse scorpion kick. Pausing the recording he chuckled. The berserker honestly hadn't thought the scummy reploid had any worth-while combat ability in him. Much less such a flashy move.

Beside him Axel sighed and muttered something uncomplimentary in Russian. Both turned as the door to the lounge, filled mostly with Freelance Reploids, hissed open to reveal a disheveled and shell-shocked Liska.

At the sight of her Zeo quickly changed the channels on the the vid-screen bringing up a replay of her bout's final minutes. Axel put a restraining hand on his shoulder when Dross's life signs slowed then went still. Liska's pale features slackened as she saw, from multiple camera angles, the damage she had done to a fellow reploid and the way the crowds had cheered as Dross's mangled form was fished free of the molten metal.

“But...that...I...” She fell silent at the warning look on Axel's face. His grip on Zeo's shoulder tightened. Sentimentality had never seemed to be one of Zeo's virtues but there was no denying the outrage coloring his features.

Shade glanced at the screen then over at the bombadier. “Why're you beating yourself up?” He asked with a shrug. “Looks like a damn solid win t'me.” Liska shuddered at his implications. It was impossible to forget the ease with which Shade had dispatched his opponents in the tournament thus far. It seemed the prototype had little qualms with killing his competition and making their deaths spectacular. He had quite rapidly become a fan favorite.

Zeo shook Axel's hand from his shoulder with a wordless snarl and stepped away from the bar. Heading for the door he shoulder-checked Liska hard enough to send her to the ground. In an unexpected counterpoint to Shade the black-armored berserker had completed all his matches without a single fatality. It split the crowd quite evenly. On the one hand the lack of death was hardly appropriate for the setting, on the other his skill was enough to wow those with some knowledge of the martial arts.

The Freelancers watched him depart, each focused on their own thoughts. Finally Shade chuckled. “Who'd've thought he was such a wussy little girl under all that alcoholism and cigar smoking?”

***

The crowd's cheers reached a feverish crescendo as Dross squared off against the only remaining opponent in the ring. A massively muscled human in a torn flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots. The ugly mercenary briefly tightened his grip on his axe as he surveyed his opponent. For him to be the last of the contestants save Dross himself he must be good.

Or have a nasty little trick up his sleeve.

Kodiak rumbled something beneath his breath and started forward, ripping the tatters of his shirt off as he did. Sunlight glinted from the dog tags jangling against his collarbone. “You're gonna regret this bub.”

“Uh-huh.” Dross had thought himself ready for anything. A sudden charge fueled by cybernetics, a blast of magical energy, even a hold-out plasma pistol stashed away somewhere in Kodiak's tattered clothes.

There was no way he could have been prepared for the large man's ace in the hole. With a grunt of pain that turned into a howl of rage Lucas transformed. His body expanded in every direction as fur shot from his flesh. His face, fixed in an expression of berserker rage and pain extended and took on a decidedly ursine cast. Within seconds the burly lumberjack-looking man was gone. In his place stood a creature as big as Dross himself covered in steel-gray fur and bearing five half-foot long claws on each hand. In the scant few seconds Dross's guard was down the changeling attacked, swiping his claws down the front of Dross's armor. Only his reflexes, honed by several lifetimes on thousands of battlefields, allowed Dross to escape the disemboweling blow. As it was the claws cut through his titanium x armor like tissue paper leaving four miniature canyons across his chest.

Dross responded in kind, sweeping his axe up in a silver arc. The razor-sharp crescent blades tore through flesh and bone with fiendish ease and a kick sent Kodiak sprawling backwards. A long arc of life blood spurted from his chest as he fell.

Dross flicked blood from his axe and glared down at his opponent, breathing heavily and running gloved fingers over his breastplate. “Who's regretting what now 'bub'?” He rumbled. A sudden hush fell over the crowd and the massive reploid's eyes narrowed. He knew the death blow hadn't taken the heart from the bloodthirsty crowd. All told it was a rather tame ending compared to some he'd seen throughout the day. Instead the aura of the place tasted of anticipation. As though everyone in the stadium knew something he didn't.

Just as his eyes turned towards Kodiak's body a roar ripped through the air as the massive creature leapt at Dross rage shining in his burning blue eyes. The reploid responded in the only way he had time for. He jerked his axe up and thrust forward with it, meeting the changeling half-way. The two titans collided with a thunderclap and Dross's axeblades sank to the hilt in Kodiak's chest even as the were-bear's claws sank into Dross's back. A convulsive jerk knocked the axe's haft free from his grip and Kodiak jerked the red-armored mercenary into him knocking the omnium weapon free of his torso. With no other option Dross locked his arms around Kodiak's massive torso and began to squeeze. Claws sharper than a laser-honed katana raked the length of his back rending armor and flesh in a frenzy. Neither combatant missed the whine of servoes and groans of titanium x pushed to the breaking point as Dross overrode all safeties in his system bringing every iota of his being into crushing the life from Kodiak. Blood-flecked foam oozed from Kodiak's muzzle as he continued to shred Dross's back. The mercenary grit his teeth and lifted. Just as Kodiak's feet left the ground something popped then crunched inside him. The titanic creature went limp in Dross's arms, the sudden dead weight sent the reploid staggering forward and both crashed into the sand of the arena.

In the stands Gary Colemier let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and, looking to his left and right at his wife and daughter seated on either side of him, pushed the single red button on his remote. The bomb buried under Kodiak and Dross, a TX-9 'Gutbuster', exploded in a gout of flame and smoke.

As the final ringing note of the explosion faded from the arena the entire audience held their breath, each man, woman, and child leaning forward in predatory anticipation, their hearts beating so hard it hurt.

Through the smoke and flames a strange silhouette began to emerge. A horrendous lumpy shape that matched neither fighter's build. With an echoing clunk the vent system in the arena activated sucking away the smoke to reveal Dross, covered in blood and carrying Kodiak over his shoulder, stumbling towards his axe. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause as the immense red-armored reploid slumped to one knee to deposit Kodiak on the arena's sand and slowly collect his axe up. Rising in a sudden fluid motion Dross thrust his butterfly bladed weapon up into the sky, the massive screens above him magnified to catch the look of triumph on his ugly features made worse by the blood, Kodiak's and his own, covering it.

***

Lexander Morningstar let out a pleased noise as the crowd went wild. “Not a bad little half-time show.” He congratulated.

“Indeed.” Celeste agreed, glancing at Marco Cygnus. The bearded reploid was baring his teeth at the back of Lexander's head in an expression some few might have thought was a smile.

“Quite a show.” Delacroix murmured, examining data on his PDA. He had expected Maeko to go further than she had in the redemption league but Dross had not failed to meet his expectations in the least. He noted that Rufus Spotsworth had a distinctly self-satisfied grin on his face as he watched with rapt attention as medics removed the strange man-bear from the arena.

“Pardon me.” Spotsworth said, rising to his feet and settling his hand on the head of his cane. “I have some personal business to attend to.”

***

Rufus Spotsworth strode down the long hallways of the medical ward with the confidence of a man well-used to such places and indeed, in his exceptionally long life the ancient CEO of CyberGenetica had spent a prodigious amount of time in just these sorts of places. The smell of blood overlaid with alcohol and LiquiHeal were as familiar to him as the features of his late wife. Turning right the aged doctor waved his hand over a security panel and waited patiently as the omnium door's lock cycled then sprang open with a sharp metallic sound.

Before the door was fully open Spotsworth was through the entryway and heading towards the single room at the end of the hallway. It had taken millions in bribes to get the chamber created without the notice of his fellow Iron Fist board members, most especially the Baroness Frost but the money had been well spent. As he surmised Lucas Blackwater had come for vengeance and once more fallen into the hands of CyberGenetica; exactly where he belonged.

Looking up at the badly wounded man floating in a tube of nanyte solution Spotsworth couldn't help but smile revealing white teeth completely at odds with his wrinkled features. “Welcome back to the fold Lucas.” He said, placing a hand on the tank. “My perfect weapon.”

Soon Lucas's memories would be nothing more than the briefest flashes of disjointed images and Weapon Y would be programmed to be the ultimate hunter searching for the ultimate prey.

Soon you too will be back in my grasp Lumina. A wolf cannot hide amongst sheep for long.

    • Blood Sport (1)Benjamin Damascus, Thu Aug 27 1:48am
      NRP: Sorry it's so late. Ben's got nothing to do with the plot, at the moment. He's just fighting away. And lord if I'm in the wrong thread, forgive me. RP: Ben grunted, pacing in the waiting room as ... more
      • Blood Sport (2)Benjamin Damascus, Thu Aug 27 1:48am
        "Well, I guess our next opponent is ready -- he claims he's the product of a lost desert tribe and that he uses their techniques, but it looks like regular old technology to us! Damascus is doing... more
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