The planet Haven appeared like a sparkling, green emerald jewel, incandescent against the backdrop of space; new hope for those who had travelled so far. Its beauty though was deceptive. The world existed as one great living forest, whose plant and animal life had formed an uneasy accord. The coming of the pioneers had negated this delicate balance and the realisation was evident, that the danger was as great as the beauty. Over the next ten generations, the population numbers declined. Through deadly attrition by the flora and fauna and more importantly by a disease that appeared to be endemic to the female population; three quarters of the settlers died, before immunity to the virus became perceptible. What originally had started as an evenly balanced community, had now swung to the men outnumbering the women, one hundred to one. This led to the genesis of a matriarchal based society where women evolved to become the leaders and planners, whilst men took up the position of defenders and builders. This proved to be an equitable way for the colony to survive.
One hundred generations later:
Every ten years, all males between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, of the 360 Sector Towns were recalled to Hub City, to participate in “The Summoning". The competition involved many facets; intelligence, creativity, strength, endurance and mastery of weapons. It had been originally initiated to select the best one hundred of the male population to strengthen the gene pool of Haven. The winners would impregnate as many of the ruling class of women who were judged to be fertile at that time. They would then become part of the Elite Guard; the security force of the city. All female children who were born from this union would remain within the city. All male children would be sent out to the sector towns on attaining the age of five, to be taught the use of weapons and how to survive against the many dangers associated with this world.
It had been a long month for Jonas Hart. He had passed all the intelligence tests, chess and other tactical games, art and creativity challenges, weightlifting, archery and finally the previous day, the marathon race around the city walls. Jonas struggled to prise his eyes open and to get his weary body moving and obedient to his wishes.
‘This is the final day’, he thought to himself. He had proved his right to be there and only the one contest remained. Rising from his bed, he caught his reflection in the mirror. Tall for his age, at just over two meters, his muscles played smoothly beneath his pale skin. Tying his long dark hair into a ponytail, two piercing green eyes looked back at him over a crooked, beaked nose and wry smile. Completing his ablutions, he donned loose-fitting pantaloons, a reinforced metal fibre jacket with a number 75 on its right sleeve and knee length, soft leather boots and proceeded to breakfast. Each of the ten dining halls were capable of holding five hundred men. Jonas was the last person remaining in his. Although not hungry, he forced down some fruit. The sound of a gong reverberated through the large empty room. His mouth instantly felt dry. It was the final “Summoning”.
Moving through the dimly lit tunnel, he was joined by others materialising from the gloom from various passages. They continued until a force of two hundred individuals marched with almost military precision towards the entrance of the arena. Emerging into the welcoming light of day, the smells and sounds of the assembled populace lent a carnival like atmosphere; which contrasted with the seriousness which emanated from the men around him. The temperature could be felt rising from the hard packed, dirt surface. Craning his head from side to side, he hoped to catch a glimpse of his opponent. There! At the far end of the row of men off to his left, he spied a giant of a man standing apart from the others and also wearing the number 75. Seemingly indifferent to those around him; he stared straight ahead. Weathered dark skin, muscles which were large and well defined; a mop of thick dark hair streaked with grey perched like a living animal upon his head. As if sensing his scrutiny, the big man swung his head and looked at Jonas with pale blue eyes, devoid of expression.
He has been told by the other males from Sector Town 23;‘To be brave and courageous, one must first feel fear’.
Jonas felt very afraid. His sweaty palms and the cold chills running through his body were testament to that.
The two hundred were now matched with their opponents and then sorted into four groups. They were then sent to the tunnels to await their turn. Jonas breathed a sigh of relief. He would not be the first to compete, but more importantly he wouldn’t be the last.
All men were expected to have mastery over a variety of weapons; the previous “Summoning”, sabres had been used. Whispers, followed by groans, went through the men assembled around him. Quarter staffs! A two point four metre long piece of iron wood, four centimetres thick; shod at each end with a metal cap. It was a flexible weapon, capable of both defence and attack; a weapon where broken bones were common and death a possibility. Jonas though, allowed himself a small grin. This was one weapon that he was proficient in. His opponents face still remained blank, showing little concern.
Jonas tried to centre himself; to concentrate and prepare for his match. This was not to be. All he could hear were the ear splitting roars of the crowd or the cries of pain, as warriors were helped or carried from the arena, past those who waited. He felt sickened by the parade of deformed limbs, concussions and broken skulls. There had also been three warriors stretchered off, faces shrouded. It was unknown if they were alive or dead. Finally, his number was announced. Tightly grasping the quarter staff which had been supplied, he moved towards the light.
The heat of the day had risen as had the sound and smell of the humanity surrounding the arena. Looking up, he spied the frenzied faces of the thousands of women as they screamed and cheered for the next event. They had not yet been satiated of their blood lust. He and his opponent moved to the centre and faced each other. Jonas stuck out his hand and said his name. The other looked down surprised and nodded. He did not take up the offer, but did say in a low, soft voice; ’Kai’.
Both moved back and took an ‘on guard’ stance.
Setting feet apart, Jonas held the staff with his left hand near the end and his right, quarter of the way up.
Kai did not hesitate. Surprising Jonas with his speed, he moved forward with a powerful downward strike, hoping to catch him off balance and end the match quickly. Moving swiftly, Jonas repositioned his hands equidistant from the ends and managed to catch the blow above his head. It almost ended there. The raw power of the stroke drove him to his knees. Kai followed up with two more hammer like strikes which he only just managed to contain. Moving his hands down and grasping the end, Jonas swung the staff like a cudgel at the knees of the other who leaped high and managed to avoid it. Changing tactics, Kai moved backwards and returned to the ready position. Jonas rolled to his feet and copied the stance. Now he had a better understanding of what he faced.
Kai moved forward once more, duplicating his previous attack and once more relying upon his speed and strength. Jonas did not try to catch it this time, but rather turned his body aside and deflected the blow downward. Keeping up the momentum of his turn, he brought the staff spinning round and connected with Kai's back, forcing him to stumble forward. Recovering quickly, Kai advanced once more and swung mightily at Jonas’ legs. Jonas placed the staff end firmly on the ground and jarringly halted his opponents’ forward momentum. Swinging his own staff upward along with Kai's own, he stepped forward and swung the reverse end into his stomach. The effect it had on Kai was similar to hitting a block of stone. Quickly he stepped back from him. Though they had only a small number of exchanges, both were breathing heavily, as the adrenalin surged through their bodies.Over the next ten minutes, many blows were traded. A series of thrusts, sweeps and blocks to the areas of the body which would bring an end to the bout; knees, eyes, hands, feet, groin and throat. Both of them had sustained some damage; even Kai, but both were tiring.
Jonas knew that he had to bring this to an end and quickly. He had very little in the way of reserves with which to continue. The only way to end it was to risk all and do the unexpected. Clasping the staff at its centre, he began to rotate the staff in a vertical plane in a figure of eight; pushing ever more energy and ever more speed into the rotations. Kai paused, he had never seen this style of fighting. Jonas pushed his staff until it was a blur and the air vibrated with a sound like a buzz saw. Kai approached and tried to thrust through the whirling defence that had been erected; each time being knocked aside. Finally Jonas changed the angular momentum of his staff and chose his moment to bring it sharply down upon the other with an unstoppable force. The vibration between the two hard wood weapons forced Kai's staff aside leaving him open to attack. Jonas took advantage of this and used the rebound to strike upward into the temple of his opponent. Both stood frozen. Jonas planted his staff and clung to it like a lifeline as he struggled to maintain up right. Kai stood motionless like a statue. His staff fell by his feet. Eyes glazed and with a look of total disbelief upon his face, he fell like a tall tree which had been cut down and stretched himself full length along the ground.
The fevered screams of the crowd echoed around Jonas. The painted faces and mouths of those watching were drawn into grotesque caricatures due to the excitement and the many libations they had indulged in. Members of the Elite Guard moved forward to clear the arena for the next bout. One grabbed Jonas's arm and supported him, as he shuffled forward towards the exit. Four other guards carefully rolled Kai on to a stretcher. With an effort, they raised him and also moved into the tunnel. A new pair emerged; ready to do battle for the amusement and honour of those present.
Jonas sat with his head buried in his hands; exhausted beyond belief. Beside him lay Kai, who was just starting to stir. Jonas had achieved what he had set out to do. He was now a member of the Elite Guard who served the ruling classes. This position was the highest aspiration of all men on the planet.
He now realised, that he did not want it.