Requiem to the Stars – Chapter 8

“A deathmatch?” Requiem’s eyes widened at the words.

Ginger nodded eagerly, her long bangs swaying with each bob. “It’s a test of skill. You’re put in an arena, usually some harsh and horrible condition they create. You bring in whatever tools can fit on you can carry. Then you battle. It’s a fight to determine who is the strongest! It’s supposed to just be the last man standing, unconsciousness is immediate loss, but no one even tries to knock people out when it’s quicker to kill them! Not to mention… the androids…”

Requiem frowned. “What do you mean about androids? If androids are weaker than humans, why even use them? Or are the androids modded?”

Ginger shook her head. “No, not modded. They’re very strict about that. They’ll know. You really don’t know about androids? Where did you even come from?”

Requiem scratched his neck uncomfortably. “Well as to that, a place without androids… obviously.”

Although Ginger gave me a strange look, she didn’t press. “Well… even though androids are weaker physically, they still have advantages over people. Predominately, they have faster reflexes. The person who pulls the trigger first wins the fight, after all.”

“Are they even allowed to carry guns?”

“No… but gun or knife, reaction time over strength. Although that’s only a small reason for picking androids. The main reason is they are expendable. The tournament is usually for merchants and nobles. Every year a few commoners try to slip in, hoping to change their fate, but they usually die. Merchants and nobles aren’t going to risk themselves, so they use a proxy.”

“Slaves could be used too…” I offered.

“They can… and they are. Every year a few slaves are entered. However, it’s usually androids these days, as androids have a certain trait that no others have…”

“They keep going, even if they’re damaged.” I offered while Ginger gave a nod.

It made sense after considering the advantages of an android. An android couldn’t be knocked unconscious. Even if they felt pain, their orders from their owner were absolute. Even if a slave was ordered to give his life in service of his owner, he still had a small degree of free will. He could flinch, or run, or hide. He would try to preserve his own life. An android would fight until the end.

“This world is appalling…” the words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop myself.

Ginger’s eyes widened and she grew flustered. “Wh-what?

I immediately tried to quell the situation.

“No… I’m sorry. I was thinking out loud. I just grew up in a world without slaves. Even androids should have fair treatment, although even where I came from that wasn’t the case…”

Ginger was giving Requiem a strange look, and for a moment he was starting to fear he made a bad choice by talking too much. He never used to be this sloppy. Every circumstance was carefully sorted and thought out. Now, though… he was making mistakes left and right. He really needed to analyze this body and figure it out. His mind didn’t seem as sharp as it once was.

“It’s good that you think that way…” Ginger finally said, her eyes turning into a pleading look. “But please be careful who you say that to. The way the world is, it’s not nice to kind people like you.”

It was Requiem’s turn to give Ginger a strange look. He had never been called kind before. This was certainly the first time anyone actually showed concern for his well-being. He didn’t know if he should be amused or not. He hoped he wasn’t underestimated in this new place he found himself in.

He was about to say something when a commotion started outside the door. There were some shouts and the sound of people running. Ginger looked up curiously, and finally approached the door and opened it. Requiem followed her and glanced out over her shoulder.

Upon glancing in the direction of the town square, he saw a large crowd of people up against a certain building. The crowd was getting larger, and the noise was building too.

“What’s going on!” a voice shouted from somewhere down the street. Requiem couldn’t see the source.

“An exodus token! The new tournament is offering an exodus token!” Someone from the crowd shouted back.

There was more commotion, and more people started to crowd around. Requiem looked over at Ginger with a questioning look, but her eyes were focused on the crowd outside. After a moment of watching the growing crowd swell, Ginger finally turned to him and gave a nudge.

“I-if you’re going to sign up, you might want to get in there. That’s the sign up for the tournament. It looks like your tip about the exodus token was correct. I never would have guessed…”

“Is an exodus token that great?” Requiem asked.

“Eh?” Ginger looked very confused. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what an exodus token is either?”

Requiem shrugged, giving up his attempt to pretend he knew more around Ginger. “It hasn’t come up.”

Ginger shook her head in disbelief, but a moment later answered. “An exodus token guarantees the owner of said token will be brought on one of the main ships in the next exodus. At the first signs of Prax, the tokens will be activated, giving rescue crews the holders GPS coordinates. Everyone with a token will be brought on to the capital ships. Of course, the capital ships aren’t the only ships that head on the exodus, but they are built and prepared by the government using the full extent of their resources. They have the lowest rates of loss, and provide the most comfortable journey. Every noble has an exodus token for every one of their family members.”

“It still doesn’t seem that amazing… I mean, aren’t the Prax not supposed to come for 200 years or so? It’s something you’ll never use in your lifetime.”

“Maybe… maybe not. However, the token itself is exchangeable. You sell it to a wealthy merchant and make insane amounts. They’re worth a million credits at least. Although most don’t do that. You pass it to your kids, and they pass it to their kids. It’s like a family heirloom.

“Why is that?” Requiem asked idly.

“Think about it. Your family… your future… guaranteed to survive the next exodus. For two hundred years your family will be stuck on a ship with nobles. Maybe a noble will fancy you granddaughter and hire her family line in as maids and butlers. Maybe a noblewoman will fall in love with your great grandson and he’ll get her pregnant. It’s the best chance for someone to move up in the world. Even those that don’t become nobles make noble contacts, becoming extremely wealthy merchants after the next exodus.”

“So it’s like that…” Requiem nodded, finally understanding what brought on this sudden craze. “Then I better get in line, huh?”

Ginger gave a firm nod. Her eyes looked concerned, but even she seemed to understood the temptation of gaining a chance to become a noble or wealthy merchant. She didn’t attempt to stop Requiem anymore. Requiem began to walk towards the crowd.

“Get in line!” shouted someone who resembled a guard. “Keep in order! No cutting!”

The crowd was slowly being sorted into a line. The line wasn’t as bad as I originally had feared. Half the crowd weren’t even interested in applying themselves. After listening to a few people shouting out jeers or speaking amongst themselves, it seemed like most of these people were just there to see who was stupid enough to kill themselves in this tournament. While possessing a token gave some a hope of a better life, the overall concensus was that it would likely go to a noble with a well build android.

A man walked by who wore far better clothing than most of the people here. He was surrounded by three burly guards. He looked at the line and sneered, moving straight to the front and cutting out the crowd.

“Hey! What the hell!” A man shouted who was only a few places back from the next spot.

A second later, one of the guard slammed him with a baton. It emitted sparks, and the man collapsed to the ground while convulsing. No one else stopped the well-dressed man as he registered, then turned and left, looking at the crowd with disgust as he walked away.

“Damn nobles…” one man in front of Requiem growled.

Requiem only found it a little hypocritical that he was complaining about nobles while trying to win a token that would give him a chance at becoming a noble.

“Well, it’s not like this is a typical tournament this year, is it?” The man next to him sighed. “The nobles only do this anyway to try to get merchants with too much money to open up their wallets. Any idiot knows it’ll be a noble like that bastard who wins, using some punked out android. The rest of us will be lucky to get through this alive.”

“Says a man standing in line…” the other retorted.

He laughed. “I never said I was smart…”

The two men remained silent after that, continuing to wait in line for their turn. The line continued to move forward. Some people were placing bets, although no one sitting in line was the source of those bets. Every few minutes, someone with guards, usually wearing finery, would come up to the line. Not all of them walked, a few coming up in floating chairs or driven in little vehicles not unlike a palanquin.

Like the first man, they would look at the crowd in disgust, and then move past the line, interrupting its movement in order for they themselves to register. Some brought along an android or slave they intended to register. More often than not, it was an android, a green halo wrapped around their pupil. Requiem wondered if the color meant something. He’d have to ask Ginger later.

After each entry, there would be whispers among the crowds.

“Oh, that’s Lord Vesten. That android looks strong. Let’s put 20 credits on him.”

“It’s just looks, they are all capped.”

“I know that… don’t argue with me, just do it!”

“Ah, but look, it’s Testemont! He won three years ago!”

“Well if you want to use that as an indicator, let’s just vote on the prince. He won last year!”

After about thirty minutes of waiting in line, I was about half way through. I might have already been finished had the lines not been continually disrupted by the arrival of nobles and rich merchants. Basically anyone who could afford guards was given priority. Suddenly, a bunch of eyes were turning as the crowd split once again.

A sweaty fat man riding a floating palanquin moved up with a surprisingly large android walking alongside. Once again, the line halted and the man moved up to the front. This time, however, there was something off. No one else seemed to notice, but Requiem was particularly familiar with this facial expression. It was an expression of fear.

The man’s eyes were darting around, and the sweat rolling down his face took on a new meaning. After all, this was a climate controlled colony on an uninhabitable planetoid surrounded by an atmosphere containing dome. There was no reason for the man to be that hot, unless he was nervous.

Requiem prepared himself, lowering his head and watching out of the corner of his eyes. Something was about to happen, he just didn’t know what.

The man went up and started registering. After he finished, he turned around and left. The scene felt impossibly tense to Requiem, although he seemed unique in this respect. He watched the man carefully, then his eyes fell on the android. If it was one thing Requiem knew, it was the mechanics around androids and humans. He knew how they moved, how strong they were, he could read their movements with pinpoint accuracy.

“What is it, Master?” Clippy’s voice asked in the back of my mind.

“Modded Android…” I said.

I said it out loud though. Through the roar of the crowd, not even the person next to me would have been able to hear it. It seemed like I wasn’t the only one who had that suspicion. The fat man was only about five meters away when a group of guards, or I suppose it’d be more accurate to call them police or public servants, blocked his path.

“Detrius Rhine.” The head police nodded. “Just a random inspection. May we look at your android?”

“M-m-m-m-m-m-y android? Wh-wh-why would you need to look at him?” If he wasn’t sweating before, he was a waterfall now.

While the guardsmen focused on Detrius, Requiem had a feeling they had things backwards. They existed in a society where it was expected that the human was in charge of the android. That fear… Requiem had seen it before. As he watched the android, it fiddled with its pocket.

“Watch out!” Requiem let out a shout.

The guardsmen turned in confusion, but it was already too late. The android pulled out something that resembled a pistol. He fired and a moment later Detrius’s head erupted, a giant hole blasting through it accompanied with the sound of a small explosion. The men quickly regained their exposure, pulling similar weapons from their belts and aiming them at the android.

It was too late though, he’d already reached into the crowd and grabbed someone in the ensuing chaos. The crowd of people were running, and even the line quickly shortened as people fled in every direction. A few of the more stubborn remained in line, only ducking to avoid the commotion.

By the time the commotion settled, six guardsmen had guns trained on the android. He wore a hostile face, and he held a woman in his arms, a gun pushed up against her head. It took a moment, but Requiem realized he recognized the woman. She was the same woman with orange coronas in her eyes. The very first android Requiem had ever seen, and she was now a hostage to violent, modded android.

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