John goes undercover to find the organization trying to bring down the corporations.
I looked up at my opponent, from my kneeling position. He was jumping around the ring goosing on the cheering crowd. Standing up shakily, I braced myself for another attack. He finally took notice of me.
Sure enough, he telegraphed another kick. This time he was standing too far back when he kicked straight at me. It meant he had to overextend his reach to connect his kick with me.
I easily trapped his kicking leg. Twisting into my opponent’s knee with my free forearm, I felt the joint pop sideways and he screamed. I then came straight up with my fist slamming into the bottom of his jaw. He lifted up off the ground and fell flat on the mat, not moving.
The silence of the crowd was deafening. I did not even care. Looking up at the fight controller, he smiled at me and the crowd burst into another cacophonous frenzy. I paid none of them any attention and tried my best to casually stroll out of the octagon cage as if I was not bruised, bleeding, and in a lot of pain.
In the locker room, a nurse was checking my injuries. It was his job to get the fighters ready as quickly as possible to fight again. That’s why I questioned his prognosis when he said my ribs were only bruised. I could feel one of them on my left side clicking. I think his credentials were questionable, as well.
The nurse moved over to the next gurney to check on my unconscious opponent. He mumbled something about a broken jaw as he rattled it about. The nurse then moved his leg back and forth and announced my opponent dislocated his knee. I’m pretty sure I also tore his ACL.
I got up and moved over to my locker area, while I wiped blood and sweat from my face with a grungy towel. Waiting for me at my locker was the fight controller. His name was Steiner and he was lounging in my chair, with a devilish grin stretched across his face.
Draping the towel over my shoulder, I moved past him to my locker. I knew he wanted to talk.
“Ramos,” yeah, that was my undercover name here in the Neutral Zone. “What is your deal?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Swiveling back and forth in the chair, Steiner said, “I don’t understand you. You’ve been here two weeks and you’ve had six fights.”
“I won all of them, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but you’ve nearly lost all of them getting your ass kicked. Then, at the last minute, you pull it out with some kind of vicious combo attack.”
“I’m winning, what more do you want from me?” I said challenging him.
The fight controller stood up, inches from my face, “I don’t know if you have some kind of problem, or you’re just playing it up for the crowd, but if you keep this up there’s going to be a fighter you won’t come back from.” Steiner stepped back and walked lazily down the row of lockers. “The nurse says you have some bruised ribs, but you think they’re broken. I’m giving you a week ‘til your next fight.”
“Hey,” I yelled to him. “When do I get an interview? I still want to join."
With an entire week off, I knew I was going to get bored. I spent a lot of time in the gym, staying off the weights, instead jogging and practicing my Tai Chi. Fights happened daily, so I also took time to check out the competition.
But today, a couple of days into my rest, I decided to explore the outside a little. Fighters are not allowed to stray too far from the compound, so I hiked around the perimeter, until I came upon an outcropping of large boulders. Shimmying to the top of them, I had a great view of the mountains and the valley below where there was a sizeable village. I think they called that village Boulder. The cold breeze made me shiver. I probably needed a jacket out here, but the cold felt good compared to the sweltering sauna that the inside of the compound was. It would probably snow soon. That would make getting out of here more difficult.
Not much is known about how the Neutral Zone came to be. It stretches from inside what was Canada down almost to the border of what was Mexico. The Neutral Zone is also known as the Rockies. I don’t know what kind of disaster might have happened here, but none of the Corporations wanted to settle it.
This area is not controlled by any Corporation, or anyone for that matter. Here it is the rule of the strong. It’s also a place where anything goes. There were really no laws. Here, murder is allowed, drugs are rampant, and any sexual desire you can imagine goes. You only have to worry about pissing someone off.
This place is really popular with the younger crowd from the neighboring Corporations. It’s easy to get into the Neutral Zone. Getting back into your Corporation is a different story. Security Officers will strip you down to search you for any contraband. You’re not allowed back in until you are sober.
I looked completely around me, to make sure I was alone, and pulled a comm-link out of my pocket. It was just like the one my dad used to communicate with Steve, only mine was more advanced. His, you had to connect to some kind of out going communication device. Mine, was able to piggy back off a signal without being connected to anything.
I tapped the center of the comm-link. After a moment, a small holographic bust of my supervisor appeared above the device.
“I was getting worried. It’s been over two weeks since you left, without any communication. Have you made contact in the compound?” He is always terse, but it does not mean he’s upset.
“I’m in, but I haven’t made contact with the man who is recruiting soldiers. All applicants have to fight in an arena to prove themselves. I’ve won all my bouts, so it shouldn’t be too long,” I explained.
“Do you have any idea who is putting together the army?”
“Nothing solid, but I still think it’s the Patriots.”
My supervisor sighed heavily and shook his floating head. “We’ve been over this. There are no organized Patriots. There would be evidence of gatherings or communications.”
How do I tell him I have my dad’s journal that incriminates him in helping organize the Patriots and they were gathering near Alaska? “I’ll find something for you.” I said.
“Just don’t let your hunches cloud your judgement,” and his head disappeared.
I slipped the comm-link back into my boot. It felt good out here. This would be a nice place to come and think. However, next time I’ll bring winter clothes and a jacket. The cold worked up from the boulder seeping into my bones. It was time to go back inside.
The next day, I hung out to watch the first couple of fights. Slipping away while the crowd was in a frenzy, I headed back towards the bunk area and then upstairs. As I was going up to the second floor, the speakers sounded announcing the next fighters. One of the fighters introduced was Reinbeck.
I was torn. Reinbeck was my next fight in a few days. He’s new and I wanted to check out his fighting style. Maybe I could catch him in the gym.
I continued up to the second floor. Peeking around the corner of the stairs, I could not see anyone in the hallway. I slid around the corner and made my way past frosted windows and doors. All the lights were off. Whoever worked up here must have been down at the fights.
Halfway down the hallway, a light shone through the frosted windows. Ducking down, I got right below the window pressing my ear against the wall. This was an old compound. The walls were notoriously thin. Still, I had to strain to hear anything.
“…could it be…?” A male voice said.
“Based on pictures…sent by….it’s him,” A female voice said. That was strange. There were no women here. They did not want any incidents with the fighters messing with women.
“See…next fight…bring him…” The female voice said. I know the fight controller was overseeing the current fight at the arena. So, this had to be someone above him. This must be the person I’ve been trying to meet with.
It sounded like they were finishing their discussion. I jumped up and walked back to the stairs.
“Hey!” came the female voice clearly, from behind me. “What are you doing up here?”
I turned around, hoping whoever it was did not recognize me from the AGU. “I was told there was an office up here where I could order special items.”
The redhead with the pixie cut crossed her arms over her chest. The black leather skin tight jumpsuit stretched as she moved. I did not know her. I hoped that was mutual.
“What’re you wanting to order?” She demanded.
“New sparring gloves. Mine are pretty old.”
“Come back after the fights. Everyone is down there.”
The next day I was in the gym, in the corner on the tumbling mats. I was moving through my Tai Chi movements, concentrating on my breathing and how my muscles reacted to the poses. Turning to the left, I inhaled. Sliding my right foot forward, I brought my right fist up in a defensive position, and exhaled. Sliding my left foot forward, bringing my left hand up in front of me, while pulling my right hand back to my side, I inhaled. Slowly and forcefully I punched forward with my right hand and exhaled. I felt the dull ache and clicking of one of my left ribs as I twisted my torso for the punch.
“Hey, pansy!” came the voice from what sounded like about three meters away. “What the hell is all this dancing?!”
I stood straight, crossing my hands and then bringing them to my sides, finishing my exercise. Opening my eyes, I turned to the voice. I steeled myself when I saw three men standing next to each other. “I was doing an ancient exercise called Tai Chi.”
“Oh yeah? What’s the dancing for?”
I smiled at him as I picked up my water bottle and towel off the mat. “They’re low impact exercises I’m doing while I heal from my last fight.”
“Yeah, you hurt some ribs, or something,” the middle man said as the other two fanned out.
Trying to remain calm and relaxed, I said, “Come on, guys. No fighting outside the octagon. We’re thrown out if we do.”
“Normally that’d be true, but we’ve been sent to talk to you.”
“Why’re you here?” asked the man in the middle.
“Just like you, I heard there was a group hiring soldiers. So, I have to fight to prove myself.”
“That’s right.” He said jabbing his finger in the air at me.
His two friends on the sides rushed at me. Underhanded, I threw my mostly full water bottle at the rushing man on the right. The bottle smashed into his face and his head jerked backwards, bringing him to the ground.
With a quick snap of my wrist the towel flew up into the face of the other rushing man, covering his face long enough for me to pull back and throw my fist into his nose. Blood burst on the towel and the man crumpled to the ground holding his face.
I turned back to the first guy. He had taken a defensive stance. This one was a bit smarter than the other two for not rushing in. He moved in quickly, holding his stance and kicked at my mid-section. I slapped downwards with my left palm redirecting his kick. With my right hand, I punched his left eye.
He stumbled back a little. I realized too late he was making room for a round house kick, which connected with the right side of my jaw.
I dropped down on my left knee, holding my jaw. It was not broken. I saw out of the corner of my eye he jumped into the air with his fist pulled back. He was going to land on me, with that fist pile driving down on me. I rolled onto my back and kicked my right leg up into his groin. His grunt was audible as his momentum and weight carried him over the top of me, to land like a lump on the mat above my head.
Rolling back up onto my feet, I surveyed the three men. The first one I hit with the water bottle was starting to get up. I looked down at him menacingly. He paused and picked up the water bottle, handing it to me. I knelt down in front of the guy. His nose was not bleeding. I must have connected with his forehead. It was a dark red.
“Who wanted you to test me?” I asked.
He swallowed and looked at his two comrades. “She goes by Madam. I think she’s in charge of the recruiting.”
Standing, I walked away. I was feeling better than I thought. I didn’t have any problems with my ribs throwing my punches or rolling on the mat.
Heading out of the gym, I noticed the same woman with pixie red hair and black leather jumpsuit. She saw that I noticed her and walked away. I am willing to bet she is Madam.
I spent the next day staying in public areas with lots of people. I was worried there would be another group of guys that would try something.
I didn’t know what to think of Madam. I didn’t recognize her. She looked clean and well put together, so I doubt she was from around these parts. The only thing I could guess was she was here to do the recruiting. If that was the case, then why send three guys after me? As far as I knew, no one else had been tested that way.
I also spent my day trying to figure out who the new guy was that I was fighting the next day. No one had seen him outside the octagon. Rumor had it, he was being put up in incredibly nice quarters. His manager was some big shot gambler who brought his fighter for fun and games. The fighter was not here for recruitment.
He only had the one fight, the day I was sneaking up stairs to look around. A couple of the other fighters said there was not much to see in the fight. The new fighter was huge, but he moved fast. The new guy set the record for fastest knock out, at twelve seconds.
This told me a couple of things about the new guy. First, and most obvious, he was efficient. Second, he wanted to intimidate all the other fighters. Finally, I would have to be careful with this guy.
The next day was the fight. I started with my usual routine, for when I am going to fight. I started out with a light breakfast of whatever fruit was not ready for the trash and some protein, which in this case, was some burnt sausage. Next, I hit the gym for some more Tai Chi. It helps me concentrate and focus on my body movements for the fight. Before I get my hands taped up and put on my fighting pants, I take a long hot shower. This helps to loosen up the muscles.
Once I’m ready to go, I line up with the other fighters for the day and just wait my turn. Opposing fighters are kept in a waiting area like ours, on the other side of the octagon. That way fighters are not trying to psych each other out or start fighting early. Normally, I’m glad for that, but this time I wanted to see my opponent. I realized I was psyching myself out as my fight grew closer. I focused on stretching and keeping loose.
Finally, it was my time. I stepped out of the waiting area and into the chain link fence that encircled the octagon. My very large opponent was already waiting for me. The referee, who was just there to make sure no one dies, called us to the middle of the ring. I only came up to this very black man’s chest and I’m a little above average height. His arms were bigger than my legs.
The referee introduced us. “This is Reinbeck,” he said pointing to my opponent. “This is John. No killing!”
We were just a few centimeters away from each other and he looked down his wide chest at me. “Hey, mama’s boy. Ready to go to work?”
I didn’t say anything. I’ve fought guys that were bigger than me and I’ve been trained to, but that sadistic smile unnerved me.
The referee stepped back and I took my stance.
Reinbeck threw a punch at the side of my face. Quickly bringing up both forearms and leaning in, I blocked his swing. Before I knew it, his knee slammed into my side just below the broken ribs I had. I went sprawling to the mat.
I rolled back and onto my knees, just barely missing his foot stomping down where my head was.
One thing to do with big guys is knock them down and get on top of them. I lunged at his legs. Reinbeck stutter stepped back a little. His huge hands wrapped around my sides and flung me spinning across the octagon.
How could he throw me like that? He doesn’t have cybernetics, his arms and legs look like normal limbs. With cybernetics you can see the mechanics. You don’t cover up cybernetics because whatever material you use tears too easily.
I stood up and took my fighting stance again. This guy was solid. I can’t punch him and he knows what to do when someone tries to knock him over. I guess I have to play dirty.
Reinbeck walked casually towards me with his hands out to his sides. As soon as he was in range I threw the hardest punch I could at his groin. I was stunned when his left arm brushed my punch to the side and his right, backhanded me. I spun like a rag doll going down on my face.
As I was getting up, Reinbeck crouched down over the back of me, lifting up my head backwards. He wrapped his massive arm around my neck. The bottom half of my face was swallowed up in his arm. I don’t know if it was from the choke hold he had on me or that I was being smothered by his arm, but I could not breathe. I was trained to go limp and control my breathing until my opponent released me, unfortunately I was out of breath and panting from the beating. I tried kicking my legs up backwards and I tried to swing my arms back into Reinbeck. Nothing. It was like flailing against a wall that had fallen on me. I was panicked. He was in a good position to easily snap my neck and be done with me. I fought against my mind and the fear it was producing. I fought against the blackness that was covering my sight.
My head was pounding to the rhythm of my heart. I could tell there was a bright light above me, without opening my eyes. I wanted to lift my arm to shield my eyes, but I couldn’t. I tried my other limbs with the same results. I knew I was lying down. Slowly, I lifted my head and squinted down the length of my body. I was strapped to a surgical table. I slowly placed my head back on the metal.
“Hello, John Carrio.”
I twisted my head sideways and opened my eyes. Sitting cross legged about a meter from me, was Madam.
I must have had a puzzled look on my face, because she said, “Yes, I know who you are. I get weekly updates on all the fighters. When I saw your face come across my desk, I immediately recognized you and I just had to come and see for myself.”
“So, this has been some kind of game all along?” I asked.
“No. We weren’t sure what to do with you. It was only decided a few days ago that you should meet the others. We couldn’t simply ask you to come with us and The AppleGates Union needed to believe something bad had happened to you.”
“That’s why you sent the three punks after me.”
“Yes, they were supposed to capture you. At least our back up plan worked,” Madam slowly shook her head and stared off into space. “That Reinbeck certainly is a piece.”
“You said they want to meet me. Who?”
“The other Patriots. They have been watching you since your father passed away.”
I was right. There was an organized group of Patriots. My father was a part of them. That’s how they knew who I was.
Madam stood up and nodded. I swung my head around to see a guard, who moved to release my bindings. Once free, I sat up.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked.
“What? No handcuffs and chains?”
“You are a welcomed guest with the Patriots, but don’t give us a reason.”
“I have one more question,” I requested. “Doesn’t that leather outfit chafe?”
Madam stood up, with ever so slightly a smile on her lips. “I use lots of baby powder.”
Madam walked out of the room first. I followed with the guard behind me. There were two guards outside the room, who fell in step with us. We wound through the maze of the compound interior. The other fighters and guards watched as we passed. A low buzz of gossip spread through the men that were watching us.
We reached the main doors to the outside. A jacket was tossed to me. I slipped on the coat just as the doors slid open allowing a burst of cold wind and snow to slam into us. Madam had covered herself in a very long red leather coat that billowed in the gusts. She must like leather.
Outside in the open area, between the doors and the main gate, sat a large passenger helicopter. It was the type made for long flights.
One of the three guards that were following us jogged up to Madam in front of me. He yelled to be heard over the top of the wind. “Your flight plan through the AGU has been created. You’ll be clear all the way to Kodiak Island!”
Kodiak Island is just off the southern coast of Alaska. That must be where the Patriot base is. If they got passage through the AGU, then there had to be another mole. That’s all the information I needed. Now it was time to get back home.
Walking up behind the guard next to Madam, I slipped the stunner out of the guard’s holster. I jabbed the stunner into his back. With a quick pull of the trigger the guard dropped. I spun around to the other two guards, who were pulling their stunners. I shot an arch of lightning at the first guard and he dropped to the ground. The other guard got a shot off, but I jumped and rolled out of the way. Popping up, I aimed at the second guard and hit him with another bolt of lightning.
I stood to face Madam. She pointed a stunner at me. I barely remember the lightning hitting me.
When I came to, I was in the helicopter. It was luxurious. White leather seats that you sank into. Normally, a helicopter of this size would hold eighteen passengers. This one had seating for six spread out through the cabin. Wooden tables were positioned between each two seats. At the back of the cabin was a small kitchen and bar. At the front of the cabin was a wooden ladder that led up to the flight deck. Under the flight deck must have been storage. I knew having the fights in the Neutral Zone to recruit soldiers took a lot of resources, but this helicopter spoke volumes as to how well the Patriots were doing.
I felt the weight of my shackles when I tried to reach up for the glass on the table before me. I held up my hands and looked over at Madam with a quizzical look.
“After your little spectacle at the compound we decided you would be more comfortable in chains.”
Staring out my small window, I watched the snowcapped mountains give way to the forests in the Northwest of the AppleGates Union. The helicopter flew out over the water which stayed in my window for a few hours.
I must have fallen asleep because I woke with a jolt to the helicopter slowing down. There were more trees and snow out the window. As we began to set down on a helipad, snow blew up around the helicopter. Once the helicopter was settled and the engine off, the hatch cracked open with a hiss.
Madam knelt down and removed my shackles. “I wouldn’t bother with trying to make any trouble. You’re a guest here,” she stood and gestured me towards the hatch. “Welcome to Kodiak Island.”
I stood and stretched my stiff limbs before I exited the helicopter. At the bottom of the stairs, I scanned the area. The first thing that caught my eye was an older gentleman with a potbelly standing about two-hundred meters from us. We were completely surrounded by snow topped pine trees, but I could see tops of a-frame buildings. A quick sniff told me the ocean was close.
I walked to the potbellied man. He threw his arms out wide, “John! It’s so good to finally meet you!”
I stood before the man, shivering. Even though I wore a jacket, the thin fight pants and sandals did nothing to protect me from the environment. The island was colder than the Neutral Zone.
“Who are you?” I asked.
He laughed out loud. “I’m Jason Moritz. I worked with your father in the AGU to set up the Patriots.”
My mind flashed through my father’s journals and realization washed over me. This was the Steve he talked about in the Journals. My father had changed the names to protect Jason Moritz’s identity.
Jason maneuvered around to put an arm across my shoulders. “We have so much to talk about.”
Appox. 4500 words