She stood, staring at the dirt-crusted metallic doors in front of her. Her breathing slowed as she focused her thoughts and calmed her racing heart. Every time. It’s the same fear every time.
Her sharp eyes caught the doors vibrating against the low thrum of noise and violence barely contained beyond them. Her right ear twitched with each muffled boom. Low hanging lights flickered erratically. She shifted her feet slightly – left side of her body leading slightly and now her right. She flexed her hands as she brought her left foot forward of her right. The chain connecting both ankles clinked quietly in the dark hallway. Slow beads of sweat trailed down her back. Her thick black robe trapped the suffocating heat close to her body. She could hear the volume of the crowd rise and fall.
A dim green light flashed behind her and she stiffened. She felt the hard prod before the man spoke. “It’s time.” He said, simply.
The door swung open and she blinked against the harsh light and ferocious noise. Every muscle in her body tensed by reflex and then immediately relaxed. The woman took small steps forward into the light. A loud, highly amplified voice greeted her.
“LAAAAAAAAAADIES AND GENTLEMEN! THE STAR OF OUR SHOW – THE UNSTOPPABLE, THE UNTOUCHABLE, THE LOOOOOVELY IMMACULATE SISTER MARY PAYNE!”
The roar from the crowd was deafening – nearly drowning out the announcer. Some shouted her name, others yelled out sexual acts they would do to her that may or may not be impossible to perform. Mary ignored everything except for the large cage in the middle of the open arena. Faded signs of old corporations lined the walls of the oval building and she wondered whether any of them still existed in some form or another. After another prod from her guard, she began the slow walk to the cage.
To Mary’s right were the announcer and his entourage – the local Governor and most of his militia. The Governor stood, as always, on the front of a tank liberated the same day his forces captured her. A glitch in the tank’s active defense system showed the mini reactor still online – bits of the sandy yellow tank would periodically blend in with the scenery around it. The Markov 6 Chameleon System would normally render the tank invisible when it was immobile and a queasy blur when in motion but either the system was damaged or the reactor was dying. Mary hoped it was the former rather than the later.
A large brown bear lay on its belly beside the tank. Half of its head gleamed in the unfiltered sunlight – implements to control and enhance linked to a ring on the Governor’s left hand. The thing drooled slightly with unfocused eyes.
The Governor himself was dressed in a mockery of a priest’s outfit. A young boy sat near the man’s feet and turned away when Mary glanced at him. She clenched her teeth at the sight. She tried not to think of what horrors the boy was being put through. Not ‘the boy’. She reminded herself. Jonathan, taken the same time I was. His youthfulness kept him alive where the rest of the captured were killed. His age and his gender. Mary stopped before the single door of the cage to turn and face the Governor. The man touched his small earpiece and his voice echoed loudly over the tank’s speaker system.
“AS YOU ALL KNOW, THE GREAT COUNTRY OF TEXAS FORBIDS ALL RELIGIONS. YOUNG MARY WAS CAPTURED NEARLY A YEAR AGO FROM A LOCAL TERRORIST CELL. WE’VE GIVEN HER EVERY CHANCE TO RENOUNCE HER FAITH AND DIE HONORABLY BY FIRING SQUAD BUT SHE REFUSES!”
The crowd erupted into a chorus of BOOOOOs that Mary ignored. She flexed her shoulder blades, wishing she could bring her manacled hands up to scratch her back. The coarse black cloth and sweat were nearly driving her mad.
“NOW Y’ALL KNOW HOW FAIR WE ARE IN THIS GRAND COUNTRY! IF SHE SURVIVES A YEAR IN THE FIGHTS, SHE GOES FREE. ONE MORE MONTH AND WE’LL CUT HER LOOSE.” The Governor paused to grin. “ALTHOUGH, I HAVE TO TELL Y’ALL THAT THE LADY’S ALREADY LOOSE AFTER ALL THE VISITS I PAID HER! HAW HAW HAAAW!” The Governor’s braying laughter was met with jeers and cheers from the crowd around her. Mary grimaced and felt a loose tooth with her tongue. He’d tried to take her once but she’d laughed at the size of his dick. He’d had her beaten every night instead.
“MARY, MARY, MARY! I’LL ASK YOU THE SAME I ASK YOU EVER TIME – ARE YOU READY TO RENOUNCE YOUR FALSE RELIGION? TO TURN AWAY FROM YOUR FALSE GOD?”
Mary looked away from the bear to stare at the man on the tank. She squinted against the sun and glared for a moment before shaking her head slowly. The crowd was even louder with its cheers – they came for the fight.
“SO BE IT! INTO THE CAGE AND FIGHT FOR YOUR FREEDOM! LET PTERO EAT THE REMAINS OF THE LOSER!” The bear let out a yawn at mention of its name.
The cage’s door opened and Mary climbed up the steps to stand on the hard floor. Her opponent this time was a large woman wearing shorts, a simple top and an insane grin. Her head was mostly stubble and scars. Even from the other side of the cage Mary could see the orange tint to the woman’s eyes. Agent Orange. Tonight would be hard. The woman bowed and preformed a slow pirouette while Mary’s guard unlocked her ankle and wrist bracelets. She rubbed her wrists while the guard backed out and locked the door.
“NOW DON’T LET ME STOP Y’ALL – GET TO IT!”
The noise of the crowd cheering faded away as Mary focused on the woman slowly approaching. Agent Orange. She thought. Deadens the nerves – increased pain tolerance while allowing the user to push their body beyond its own self-imposed limits. Higher speed and strength. Produces a state of euphoria that is increased and extended by its interaction with iron. Some users ate bits of metal to push the feeling higher. Most drank blood and turned cannibal. The drug was incredibly addicting.
Mary wished she could take off the foolish outfit they’d forced on her – a crude attempt at a nun’s habit. Something not even used when her religion was at the height of its popularity. The thought of showing her naked body to these animals stopped her.
The other woman was in the middle of the cage when Mary took her first step. She shrugged her shoulders and watched the drug addict approach. At ten feet away the woman stopped and crouched, hands wide and to her side. Veins stood out all over the woman’s body as her muscles bunched. Mary stood on the balls of her feet, her stance loose and ready. She took a deep breath of the acrid air. The other woman ran a nearly purple tongue along filed teeth.
Time seemed to stop. The woman’s grin widened sickeningly. Cartilage crunched loudly in the woman’s knees as she rocked back and then launched herself forward at Mary. Her speed was incredible. Mary’s reflexes turned her at the last moment and she caught the woman’s out-flung arms, flinging her into the chain walls behind her with a loud crunch. She dropped and rolled as the woman sailed over her head, having pushed off of the wall on impact. Thin red blood smeared the woman’s legs, running freely from several cuts.
Mary could feel a cut burning on the top of her head. Apparently she wasn’t fast enough. The training she received from El Coronel kicked in and she gave herself over to it – years of non-stop training in bare handed fighting and weapons. Years for her to come to love the man behind the stern expression. This love is what pushed her on and gave her the will to live. Her love of God and her love for El Coronel.
The addict pulled herself along the ground with hands and feet, cackling like a hyena and spitting blood from a cut in her mouth. Mary snapped out a low kick but the other woman was faster and she felt strong hands grab and pull her in. Suddenly the woman’s hands and teeth were everywhere, scratching and biting and spitting. Mary’s robe tore in several places as the addict’s claws caught on the fabric. They rolled together as she tried to fight the crazed woman off of her. Finally, as she felt sharp teeth bite into her neck; she wrenched one of the woman’s arms and kicked her off with her feet. She could feel her neck burning from the bites.
Mary ran, yelling wordlessly. When the other woman landed Mary leaped, the heel of her foot catching the woman just below her ribcage. The woman’s jaw snapped shut, severing the tip from the rest of her tongue. Mary was on her before she could recover. Her robe was hitched up to her waist and she wrapped her legs around the other woman’s chest while gripping the woman’s neck in her arms.
Only then did she notice how quiet the crowd had become. With the woman scrabbling and hissing underneath her, she looked over to the Governor and nearly let go.
The Governor stood, shocked, with his hands on his stomach. The little boy, Jonathon was holding something small in his hands. As the Governor pulled his hands away from his stomach, a part of his intestine slipped out of the massive cut in his belly. The Governor screamed in a high pitched voice and reached for the boy. However, Jonathon was already scrabbling up the tank and down the hatch into its belly. The Governor fell, reaching for the opening when the tank’s hatch came crashing down. The scream became wordless as he clutched his left arm to his side, the stump spraying blood everywhere.
The Governor rolled off of the tank to fall beside his pet bear. Only now were his guards rushing into action. Rifles were raised and fired at the tank, uselessly. Ptereo stood, shaking himself as if waking from a long sleep. Well fed and eleven feet tall, the bear was a mountain. It took one sniff of the Governor and tore him apart before wading into the panicking soldiers surrounding the tank. Men were tossed and torn as it carved its way to the stands. Spectators trampled each other in their efforts to get away.
Mary grinned when she heard a sultry mechanical voice. “…INE. CHAMELEON SYSTEM ONLINE. ARMAMENTS ONLINE. ACTIVE DEFENSE SYSTEM ONLINE. CROWD MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS ONLINE. COMMUNICATIONS ONLINE. TRYING UPLINK. TRYING…” A high pitched male voice interrupted the female voice. “STEALTH! GO TO ST…”
The tank vanished.
Mary felt a bubble of laughter escape her lips. She whooped with joy as she watched the ground around the invisible tank compress and form the tracks of the tank tread. A few brave soldiers fired at the tank but were dropped when the tank’s crowd management system (Octopus Ink, Version 2) focused on them. Ultrasonic. She noted, when blood erupted from their ears. She looked down and shook her head – the addict was dead. She stood and watched the invisible tank make tread marks on its way to the cage. She braced herself when it reached the edge and ran into the structure. Parts of the tank became briefly visible and she ran for it.
“JONATHAN!” She screamed, waving her arms. The robe made running difficult but she was practiced. When the hatch popped on the top of the tank it became completely visible again. She yelled again and leapt on top of it, jumping from piece to piece until she reached the turret.
The little boy peeked over the top carefully. “Psst! Mary, hurry! I don’t know what I’m doing here!”
Mary dropped down into the tank, pulling the hatch closed above her. Holographic displays blinked around her. She found the navigation chair and settled in, grinning like a little kid at Christmas. She grabbed the controls and then stopped. Her grin widened.
“Don’t worry, Jonathan.” She ruffled the boy’s hair. “God is with us. Let no man stand before us.”