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The sword fell from the dead hands of the last Fire Raider as a roar of victory filled the air. Two dozen vultures were released at that moment to feast on the fallen warriors. Carlos and the Blasters were the winners today.They had battled for hours and they were exhausted.
For their efforts they won the right to live another week and all the Earth shrimp they could eat.The creatures of this world were obsessed with seafood from Earth. Carlos and the rest of his gang trudged back to their cells.They were happy despite being bloody and tired.
Carlos waved to the crowds as he left the arena.He was a favorite at only seventeen. He looked much older ,mostly due to the half moon scar across his left cheek and eye. In the dark hallway,a guard shoved Carlos into his cell but did not lock the door
Carlos chewed his lip and waited.Five minutes later he went out to take a look.All clear,he started walking.How Carlos wished he hadn't volunteered to come to this planet.He had caused such grief and worry for his poor mother.He thought this alternative would be better for her but now he knew that was not the case.He would have been tried as an adult for his crimes on earth but he would have been sure of survival.Here he had to fight for every week of his life.He realized he would never see his mother again.
On Mercenaria,all prisoners fought each other for the entertainment of the public.This was the prime season when gangs were formed and pitted against each other until only two remained.Carlos and the Blasters were one of the final two. Carlos rounded a corner and felt a hot flash on his neck
He awoke in a room that smelled like Marl flowers.He knew he was no longer in the prison compound.Marl flowers were found only in Pirella ,the capital of Mercenaria.
A female voice commanded Carlos to bathe and refresh himself.He found a black and gold uniform,towels and all else needed to clean himself up.He hadn't had a real bath since his incarceration.He wondered at the situation but he took advantage of the opportunity.
The tub was immense,more of a pool than a bathtub.Carlos ran the heavy water until it steamed.The liquid was viscous and a bright yellow in color but it felt wonderful.He lingered a long time in the warm caress of the bath.Perhaps it was his reward for making it to the Final Two, he thought.
He almost fell asleep as his tired muscles relaxed after weeks of intense fighting.The sound of the woman's crisp voice brought him back to attention.
"Exit the bath and prepare to dine now."she said .
The lights dimmed and a platform rose up from the floor with a set table upon it.Carlos dressed and sat down as the top slid back to reveal several steaming dishes.
He lifted the lids to find Star Elk,Black bark,Mind milk,Cystic Fibers,and some very cold wet sweets and of course Shrimp.Some of these things were unbearable to contemplate but he was starving.He ate it all,even straining the synapses from the
murky mind milk and eating them separately.He had heard rumors that they gave warriors special mental prowess.
When he finished eating, a Spar Woman came silently into the cool,dark room.She was invisible except for her burning eyes and sharp teeth.Spar Women were often sent in to help train warriors but Carlos still found them frightening.In a brief flash he saw how exquisite and lovely she was.
He felt her touch his cheek with her invisible fingertips and shivered.She floated to the table and pulled out a drawer from which she retrieved an envelope.
"This is for you."she whispered,"if you can take it from me."
She laughed and floated away to the other side of the room
Carlos did not want to take it from her but he knew how things worked here.It was probably another test,another challenge.He went directly to her and kicked in what he assumed was her mid section.She laughed and spun to the side
delivering a return kick that caught him just below the ribcage.
He coughed and bent over double but did not fall.The Spar Woman came to his side and said,
"Sorry,Carlos,I just had to have a little fun before I handed this over."
With that she extended the letter in her invisible hand
He opened it fearfully for there was never any good news to be had on this planet.It was a thick golden sheet with the wax seal of the reigning Governor on it.He sat down to read it aloud ,feeling lightheaded and a bit nauseous .It read:
"Whereas Carlos Staghorn ,prisoner 2654127 Earth,has proven himself to be the foremost warrior on Mercenaria,This is to certify that he is now a free being.All crimes are hereby absolved on all planets throughout the known and unknown universe."
When he finished reading ,the Spar woman whispered in his ear,
"You,Carlos my dear,are free to go.With that,the walls of the room collapsed leaving him standing in the middle of a wide open plain .
He stood there frozen ,his mind in chaos.How could this be happening and why?He had never heard of a pardon like this before.As he watched,a hover craft landed in front of him The hatch opened out accompanied by a loud beeping noise.A voice commanded him to enter at once but he did not.
He did not because he knew that without him,his team would surely lose the championship and die.The Blasters could not make it with him gone and somebody was banking on that. Unbelievable treasures were always wagered on the final battle including gourmet shrimp.This was a way to guarantee the outcome.
Carlos turned around and sat down at the table . For long moments the hovercraft lingered nearby. Finally it landed and a door snapped open on the side. A tiny creature hopped out and ran toward Carlos chattering noisily.
"Get up Earthling! Freedom awaits," it squealed.
Carlos wanted to laugh but he knew that this being held great power in its capacity as Outworld Emissary .
Carlos stood up and bowed deeply saying," Forgive me Ambassador,but I choose to remain and fight. I cannot in good conscience leave my team mates to fight alone."
At that moment an invisible hoard materialized around them playing trumpet like horns and waving colored flags.
They began to chant his name and cheer breaking their circle to make way for the other members of "The Blasters".
Marquad,the Ambassador , managed something akin to a smile and unrolled a golden scroll with a picture of the governing body embossed upon it. The likeness lifted outward from the missive and spoke in unison announcing," Congratulations Earthman. You have passed the ultimate test. Your selfless decision has earned the freedom of your team as well as yourself.Plus you will receive a half ton of fresh shrimp from your home planet."
With that said the scroll sputtered and disintegrated leaving behind only a huge package of seafood.
Carlos laughed out loud and began slapping his compatriots on their backs ,obviously great wagers had been made on the outcome and what his decision would be. The mass of well wishers pounced on the shrimp and began gorging themselves as Carlos and friends boarded the hover craft for home. He watched the planet fade into the distance while his friends shared a vial of Whisper Ale. As he leaned back in the soft seat he felt a weight on his lap. A soft voice whispered in his ear," Don't tell anyone but I'm your bonus prize . Soft lips kissed his cheek . The Spar woman put her invisible head on his chest and fell asleep. Carlos sighed, he would have a lot to explain to his mother this time.
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