Two friends get more than they bargained for when they visit the wrong side of town.
|"Traven, get away from the window this minute!"
Traven rolled his eyes at his father and remained where he was. "The glass is leaden, Father, I'm safe from what little UV there is on this dank little world."
"Traven, you may be prince and that may allow you to speak to whomever you wish however you wish, but I assure you that as long as I am your father, you will not speak to me with anything but the utmost respect. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Father, perfectly clear." Traven spoke though his attentions were elsewhere.
"You look down on that pathetic hole like it's some kind of utopic paradise, but I assure you, Son, that this natural order is precisely what is needed for everyone's sake." Traven's father was not a passionate man, but even Traven understood his father abhorred oppression.
Long ago, humans spread themselves among the stars. As a course of survival, so did the vampires. Sadly for the vampires, there was a large amount of ultraviolet radiation on the planets humans typically populated. Some vampires adapted, their minds twisting while their skin took on a tough, leathery feel. Those vampires that stayed the same were known as Royalty. The UV hurt them, so when they built their homes, they used lead-shielded glass to keep out the deadly UV rays.
The vampires that didn't fare so well were known as Feral. They'd absorbed so much UV in small doses that many thought they were immune, but the exact opposite was true. They were so sensitive to UV that they had to live below ground. Direct sunlight would kill them instantly, even a moment's exposure. Brief exposure to UV radiation would hurt but not kill them unless it was a lot.
When they found this world, the humans wanted nothing to do with it, but the Royals found it to be a perfect place. Little UV but enough warmth to support life. They just needed a way to entice humans to come so they'd have a constant stream of food. The Royals had the resources to examine the whole planet and when they found trace elements of some valuable minerals, the humans flocked to Aurora.
Sadly, the process was much more expensive and dangerous than originally thought. If the humans had to pay for the expense of extracting the minerals, it would be too expensive and they would go, which would eliminate the vampire food supply. The Royals that had settled the planet came up with a solution that they felt was equitable so long as the humans kept their end of the bargain. The humans would be allowed to keep Ferals as slave labor.
The deal enraged the Ferals as well as many humans. Some humans objected to the use of Ferals as slave labor, others objected to the embargo on processing minerals the Royals placed on the humans. Many humans felt the planet could become profitable and much more hospitable if they could process the minerals and let greenhouse gasses accumulate and create a stronger ozone, but that would trap much more UV on the planet and the vampires couldn't let that happen.
As it were, the Royals were often targets of assassination attempts, no matter who the Royal was or how old they were. Traven shuddered as he remembered the case of a small group of humans and Ferals that brazenly took the eight year old daughter of one the Royal families and threatened to release her in direct sunlight if their demands were not met. Traven's father was one of the planetary leaders that tracked the terrorists down and killed them, returning the daughter with minimal UV burns on her body.
"Father, what good is being a Royal and a planetary leader if you're imprisoned in your home all the time?"
"Traven, I'm not imprisoned in here. I come and go as often as I please. You will too, as soon as you become a little more aware of what Aurora is like."
"But, Father!" Traven started and then was silenced with the wave of a hand.
"No more, Traven, I have explained myself all that I am willing. Now I'll have no more talk of this. The Ferals and most of the humans belong in that wretched hole, you belong up here. End of story. Now if you'll excuse me, I must meet with the CEO of Aurora Exports. If this meeting goes well, our export numbers will go up dramatically. I know that means nothing to you now, but eventually, you'll thank me for bringing more food to this place."
Traven watched as his father stepped into the lift and when the doors closed, Traven sighed, returning his gaze to the window and the hole below. "That pathetic hole" his father referred to was actually the entrance to the massive excavation complex down below that everyone called "The Hole". Rumor had it that there was an extensive culture that had grown below, and that the people that lived there had their own rules. While attending Academy, Traven had heard some music one of the human kids called "HoleThump" which was a rough sounding music set to a fast rhythm with loud bass.
Traven pulled out his comm and loaded a friend's profile. Soon, a young human boy about the same age as Traven appeared on Traven's screen.
"Remy, I'm bored."
"Trave, you're always bored! What do you wanna do today?"
Traven didn't even have to think. "Let's go down in the Hole. That new kid said they have clubs that let you in no matter how old you are."
"Man, I don't know about that. If we get caught, your dad'll fucking eat me." Traven thought for a moment about how upset his dad would be if he knew he was even befriending humans at Academy and then smiled.
"I won't let him touch you, Remy. I promise."
"Alright, whatever. How about I meet you at the Hole?" Remy waved a loose, black curl from his face. Remington Bonner was the son of some human executive so he got the privilege of going to the Academy, which was reserved for children of only the richest and most powerful humans and Royals on Aurora.
"Sure, I'll be down there in about an hour." Traven turned the profile off and Remy disappeared from his comm screen. Traven then loaded the profile of one of the house's many servants.
"Senna, please bring me some food."
The young lady nodded and a few minutes later there was a knock at the door. Senna came in with a timid looking woman in chains. When the woman saw Traven she started to fight, but Senna was quick with the stun rod. A small electric charge to the woman's thigh was enough to take the fight out of her. Senna offered the chain to Traven but he refused it.
"I won't be long, please hold her for me." Traven opened his mouth, allowing his fangs to protrude. He tilted the chained woman's head to the side and clamped down on her neck. He drank for only a little bit and then released her, draining only enough to sate his hunger and nowhere near enough to kill her.
"Thank you, Senna, please take her back." The young servant nodded soundlessly and led the chained woman away. Traven took a moment to wipe his mouth and then proceeded to the same lift his father had used. Instead of going up to the shuttledock, Traven went down to the garage. Not that he'd be taking a vehicle, it was simply the only ground access for the building.
Traven arrived several minutes earlier than he'd told Remy to meet him, but Traven had planned that. Being the son of one of the most powerful Royals on Aurora had its advantages, but if he was going into the Hole, that would turn into a disadvantage as soon as a guard recognized him. Seeing as Royals were not well endeared in the Hole, none were allowed in without military escort.
When Remy finally arrived, Traven was decked out in his new HoleHood jacket. Many of the Hole's workers lived on the outskirts and many shops popped up to accommodate them. The latest fashion was a hooded jacket with a breathing mask attachment. Remy laughed when he saw Traven wearing one.
"Oh, you are such a HoleHood now!"
"C'mon, I can't be seen going into the Hole. You know Royals aren't allowed!"
Remy softened, "Don't worry, it'll be easy. They won't even suspect a thing."
The two walked down to the entrance and nodded to the guards as they walked up to the gate. Without even a word or a look the guards held their ground and didn't stop Remy or Traven from entering the Hole. Most of the guards' attention was focused on the exit shaft. Not too many people were trying to sneak into the Hole illegally, but sometimes a Feral would try to get out. That's why the guards were armed with assault rifles and UV sticks.
The two boys slipped past the guards but couldn't get much farther. The Hole was full of small corridors that were full of humans and Ferals trying to get past one another. Ahead, Traven could see a fight break out between a human and a Feral. Someone pushed a little too much, one of them protested. The human tried to pull a UV stick but the Feral was too quick and all over the human's throat. He was dead in seconds.
"What's going on?" Remy asked.
"Nothing. Keep your eyes open for a different way down."
They trudged their way through the crowd, but Remy could tell Traven was already having second thoughts. That was Traven's way, though. They'd decide to do something and shortly after starting it, Traven was bored with it. Traven's easy boredom was never usually a problem, but Remy was determined to see this one through.
"Just keep pushing ahead, this can't last forever!" Remy called out.
"Care to bet on that?" Traven asked.
Remy rolled his eyes and pushed his friend along. Remy wasn't a small boy, but Traven was large for his age. Both were sixteen, but Remy was 5'7" and 135 pounds while Traven was 6'3" and 200 pounds. As they pushed through the crowd, it became apparent that they were different from most of the crowd. Both boys were fairly clean and well kept while the crowd was dirty, covered in dust, and their hair was twisted in all types of patterns that reminded Remy of sculptures he'd seen in holovids of other planets.
Remy also noticed that not many people here paid much attention to anyone but themselves or their immediate neighbor. People would push and prod from time to time without so much as a "Sorry" or a "Pardon me". These were a rushed and rude people. For a moment, Remy wondered if his good friend's boredom would serve well in this case.
"Come on, I see something ahead. Might be a club." Traven called back to Remy, snapping Remy from his thoughts.
"Good, I could use a drink." Remy said not sure if he was joking or really meant that.
Traven cast a quick glance back to his friend then turned back to the people ahead of him. They pushed through until they came to a doorway with a neon sign above it saying "Riot Klub" and a bouncer sleeping on a chair next to the door. The boys shared a look and shrugged at each other, then started walking through the door. Without warning the bouncer's arm came up, blocking the entrance.
"I don't think this is the right place for boys such as yourselves. You should run along home to Mommy before you get a boo-boo."
The look Traven shot the man would've made a Surfacer back down, but if anything it emboldened the bouncer. "Not telling you again, Junior. Run along."
Remy sensed things could take a dangerous turn so he squeezed himself between the bouncer and Traven and pleaded, "Listen, we're not here for trouble, we just heard from a mate that there was a club here that would let us in. No questions."
The bouncer sized up Remy a moment before responding, "Your mate was wrong. No place like that in the Hole. Go back to the surface where you belong."
"Not happening." Traven responded coolly.
"Think you're tough, kid?"
Traven only nodded, which elicited a smile from the bouncer, "Alright. The club you're looking for is up a stretch, then turn right. You'll know it when you see it."
"Thank you!" Remy called while Traven glared at the bouncer who simply nodded in response.
The boys pushed their way in the direction the bouncer indicated and found the place. Remy was excited but as soon as Traven saw the name of the place, he was ready to go home.
"What? You intimidated a bouncer, dude! Enjoy that fruit and let's go in!" Remy pleaded.
"No, Remy, I didn't intimidate him. I amused him." Traven bit back his anger a moment before continuing. "The name of this place is Sucker Club. "Sucker" is an insult for vampires."
Remy took it in a moment then leaned in close to Traven, coughing a little as he did. When he spoke, he spoke so quietly to prevent others from hearing that he wasn't sure Traven would even hear, "Dude, you have the hood and breathing mask on. He couldn't tell you were human or vampire. We didn't come all this way for nothing, Man, let's do this!"
Traven thought a moment before deciding, "Okay, we go in for 5 minutes. Then we leave."
Remy smiled and nodded, prodding Traven to the door. They walked through the doors, which was little more than a stiff curtain. When they stepped through, their feet landed on a steel catwalk and HoleThump music reverberated all around them. The club was dimly lit and only by black light. Traven stopped a moment then leaned over to Remy and told him as quietly as he could "The UV light is filtered. Unless I get naked, I should be fine."
"Well then try to keep your clothes on!" Remy replied, a big, toothy grin on his face. Traven smiled in return and gestured to the left of the main entrance. Two small, square cages stood at opposite ends of a larger, rectangular cage. There were smears along the sides of the larger cage that Traven recognized as dried blood.
"That doesn't look inviting!" Traven called out over the din, making sure Remy heard him and saw where he was pointing.
"Just some cages. I hear women down here dance in them!" Remy's attention was on a blue-haired woman sitting at the bar. Traven simply smiled and led the way down a spiral, metal staircase on their right. They walked right up to the bar, Remy paying attention to the blue-haired girl and Traven to the barkeep.
"What's your name?" Remy asked.
"Fuck off." Traven suppressed his laughter well as the blue-haired girl got up from the bar and walked away.
"Two drinks. Something strong. Make his stronger, sounds like he'll need it." Traven gestured at Remy as he placed the order. The barkeep simply grunted and poured two drinks and handed them over. Remy downed his with a single gulp while Traven sipped his slowly.
"That was impressive." Traven complimented Remy.
"What was?" Remy asked, suddenly aware of his empty glass. He offered it to the barkeep and signaled for another one silently while waiting for Traven to reply.
"This stuff tastes awful and I want to gag on it with each sip. How did you drink it so fast?"
"Compared to the swill you get on long-range haulers, this stuff is pretty good!" Remy picked up the refill, tipped the glass slightly towards Traven in salute, and then downed it again. Setting the glass down, Remy asked for another refill.
"I'm going to need you to pay for the last three drinks you two have had, first."
"How much?" Traven asked, reaching around for his CredChip.
"Tinz? Oh-," Traven paused. His Creds wouldn't be good here, they were only good in the city. His eyes became wide as he realized he had no way of paying for their drinks. He and Remy glanced at each other, Remy shaking his head at his friend's silent question. The barkeep pulled out a wooden bat and started coming around the bar.
"We forgot our money, sorry! Look we'll work it off!" Remy called out, suddenly very afraid.
"That's okay, I'll beat it out you!"
The monstrous bodyguard came around and swung once at Remy, but he ducked out of its way. Traven stepped forward and punch the barkeep once in the gut. The barkeep stopped, slumping over and unable to catch his breath. A short, muscular man stepped out towards the three combatants blowing on a whistle. It was high pitched, but everyone in the bar winced as he finished.
"There will be no more fighting. Remember, all fights are to be handled in the cage!"
The boys were shocked to hear such a roar from the crowd. They looked around and saw so many eager faces. Surprisingly to Traven, there was a mix of Feral and human faces chanting for a fight.
"It looks like a couple of young humans, probably don't have a sucker to fight for them? That's fine. The tall one looks scrappy enough! I'll put 500 tinz on my weakest sucker against you if you put your friend up as wager."
The crowd erupted in another loud roar and excited chant as Remy saw the man's finger pointing at him. Remy and Traven looked at each other and shrugged, unable to determine what course to take. The man then pulled out a small bag and started pouring tiny silver coins onto the bar. The crowd cooed at all the shiny coins which, even Traven had to admit, was pretty impressive looking.
"500 tinz, more or less. Probably a touch higher since I also collected some fees earlier. Not to mention I'm sure the bar would forgive your drinks just for doing the fight, considering how much this bar makes on every fight." The short, muscular man offered with a glance to the barkeep who nodded in return.
"If you accept the fight, you won't owe anything."
"What did you say about my friend as a wager?" Traven asked, eyeing both men suspiciously.
"Have you never been to a Sucker Fight?" Traven and Remy shook their heads, prompting the barkeep to continue where the short man left off.
"Two fighters get in the big cage, usually a pair of suckers. Their owners, handlers, friends, whoever, generally place a wager, almost always some human they captured or have rights to. The two suckers fight until one wins. The winning sucker gets to eat the other sucker's wager."
Remy's face paled as the rules were explained until he looked pleadingly to his friend. Traven leaned in close, "Dude, it's either try this or die trying to get out of here. They respond to few crimes here without killing the offender. You feel like dying for stealing drinks, or you want a chance at getting out of here with our skin intact?"
"You're not the one being offered up as a wager."
"Don't be an idiot, Remy. I'm the one in the fight. In order to win you, they have to kill me, first. Hell, I could end up getting seriously hurt and you end up completely untouched. Just shut up and trust me, we don't really have a choice here." Traven snapped at Remy a bit harsher than he intended, but if he was going to fight a Feral, he needed his attention and focus on the fight.
"Do you accept?" the barkeep asked.
"What are the rules of the fight?" Traven asked, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
"Don't eat anything outside the cage," the short man responded which brought about a crescendo of laughter.
"Fine, we accept." Traven and Remy agreed as they walked over to the cage. They got in first, Remy going to the square cage nearest the staircase going up. Once Remy was locked in, the barkeep went to the other cage, locking it shut with the short man's tinz inside. The short man sat in a small, secluded box behind the cage with his money and entering the fighting cage was a young Feral, not much older than Traven and Remy. He looked a bit small to the boys, but Traven knew this Feral could be trouble.
"Look," Traven began in a hushed whisper to Remy, "they still think I'm human, so we have to use that to our advantage. This Feral doesn't look that strong, but his strength is still greater than yours and possibly better than mine. But I can't fight like a Royal or this whole place will crash on us."
"Yeah, I get it. They don't like your people." Remy said, eyes focused on Traven. "I'll call out when I see something, so try to listen to me. If you get him over here, maybe I can punch him."
"He's a Feral, Remy. Your punches will barely distract him. For all I know, my punches may barely hurt him, as well."
"Don't be a dick, Traven, and actually listen to me. I can help if you get him over here. Just listen up and don't do anything stupid!"
A loud buzzer went off, spurring rowdy cheers from the spectators. The Feral charged Traven hard, but his moves were obvious and clumsy. Traven easily stepped to the side and landed a punch to the Feral's kidneys as he ran past. The Feral howled in pain, eliciting cheers from the spectators. The Feral charged one more time, more reckless than last time. Again, Traven had no problem stepping to the side and reminding him what the first punch felt like.
Traven's face was still covered by the breathing mask, making it difficult for Remy to read what his friend was thinking. That didn't stop Remy from shouting excited commands to his friend, imploring him to maneuver the Feral closer to Remy's cage.
Traven tried to feint a body shot to the Feral, but either it didn't fool the Feral or he didn't care if he got punched in the gut, because he charged anyway. Traven tried to sidestep again, but the Feral accounted for this by bringing his arms up in a wide arc. Traven may have avoided the worst of the blow, but he still took a hard hit to his ribs as he fell to the ground.
"Get up!" Remy shouted from his cage. The crowd cheered even more voraciously as both combatants staggered to their feet. Traven regained his wits quickly charged the Feral with all the strength he could muster. The Feral's feet weren't set, yet, as he hadn't fully recovered. The force of Traven's body slamming into his was enough to push the Feral several feet back until he was just about slammed into Remy's cage. The Feral fought for his balance and won just short of being slammed into Remy's cage.
Traven tried another body punch, but the Feral was ready and blocked the shot easily, swatting Traven's arm away like it was nothing. The Feral then roared in Traven's face and punched him in the face, sending Traven backwards several feet before he fell to the ground. Traven glared at the Feral who was still standing right in front of the cage and gloating at Traven. Traven was beginning to second guess taking the fight until he saw Remy's plan in motion.
With a quick motion, Remy had taken his coat off and snapped it forward by the sleeve. The other sleeve hit the Feral in the backside, eliciting a chorus of laughter from the spectators and an angry scowl by the Feral. The Feral leaned close and reached his arm through the bars of the cage, trying to get his hands on Remy. Remy dropped to the ground, trying to avoid the Feral's outstretched hand. Remy expected the Feral to reach down and grab for him again, but by that time Traven was back up and had punched the Feral once more in the kidneys.
The Feral turned around and took a lazy punch at Traven, who dodged backward out of the way. The Feral's back was still against the cage when Remy stood up and whipped his jacket out once more. This time he snapped it out to the right of the Feral and with another flick of his wrist, the jacket swung around the Feral, Remy grabbing hold of the other sleeve. He yanked hard on both sleeves, jumping up and bracing his feet on the bars for leverage and yelling to Traven, "He's yours! Take him!"
Traven's eyes grew big as he realized what was happening. Remy had the Feral pinned against the cage, but there was no telling how long Remy could hold him. Traven leapt forward, slamming his shoulder into the Feral's gut over and over to try and take his breath away. After a few of those, Traven started punching the Feral in the ribs to keep his breath away. The crowd started booing and throwing their drinks on the fighters while the barkeep and the short man exchanged a worried look. Finally the Feral moaned in pain and then slumped as much as he could with Remy still holding him with his jacket.
The barkeep rang the buzzer several times as the short man stomped into the cage and yelled, "This is an outrage! I will take my money and you two can rot for theft!"
Traven ran over to the man and stopped him, "What for?"
Remy, still too terrified to let the Feral go, called out, "Yeah, what for? And get me out of here!"
The short man flung his arms into the air and stammered, "Wha-? What for? What do you mean, what for? You two cheated!"
"No we didn't!" Remy shouted as Traven stalked a step closer to the short man.
The barkeep walked into the cage and went to unlock Remy's cage as he announced in a loud voice, "Yes, you did. Wagers can't involve themselves in a match like that!"
"We asked about the rules ahead of time. You say we cheated, I ask you, what exactly did we eat that was outside the cage?" Traven asked which drew some laughter from the crowd.
The barkeep started to answer, then blubbered something unintelligible as the short man rubbed his face nervously and looking to the barkeep. Finally, with no answer to give, the barkeep simply threw his hands up, "Alright, you win."
The short man was obviously upset and went to shout in the barkeep's face. The barkeep simply put his hand up as he walked over to the cage with the tinz and unlocked it, eliciting a mixed reaction from the crowd. Remy was jumping up, congratulating his friend Traven while trying to put his jacket on. Traven used his arms to keep his friend's excitement from bouncing into him too much, then walked over to the sack of tinz and picked it up.
"C'mon, Trave, let's get out of here!" Remy pulled on his friend's arm as the excitement started to fade and the crowd was starting to turn on itself. The boys ran as fast as they could to the door, pushing people out of their way as they went. They got outside the club and into the massive throng of people still cluttering up the catwalks of the Hole.
They hurried as quickly as the crowd would allow until they got to the exit lines. As they started to go through, several guards rushed over to stop them, "Papers, now!"
"Relax!" Traven called out as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a sheaf of papers, handing them to the guard. As the guard took them, Traven pointed at Remy and added, "He's with me."
The guard looked them over, his eyes widening and almost right away he responded, "My apologies, Sir. Have to make sure, what with all the threats. You have a good day."
Traven nodded and took the papers back, gesturing to Remy to lead the way. When they got out and clear of the entrance, Remy asked, "Your dad really does run everything around here, doesn't he?"
Traven laughed and handed over the bag from the club, "Tinz is used in space, as well, right?"
Remy chuckled, "Yeah, but I doubt I'll be heading to space anytime soon. Dad seems pretty set on his job."
Traven persisted, "Just in case you find yourself in space or in the Hole. Once word gets to my dad about this, I doubt I'll be leaving home for some time. You take it, you'll use it before I will."
Remy reached out and grabbed the bag, "I'll save it for the next time we do something. Just promise me something."
"What is it?"
"I know I give you a lot of shit about always changing your mind and never doing the same thing and how you're always distracted, but do you think next time we could do something different?"
Traven laughed, "See you around, Remy."
Remy laughed and walked off. Traven turned and walked back to his place. When he got home, he went upstairs and took off his clothes to take a shower. He stood and looked at himself in the mirror. Welts and bruises lined his body from the shots he took. Sure, he could have a quick bite and they'd heal right up, but what was the rush? Traven just smiled and remembered Remy's parting words. Traven would have to find someone else to wager next time.