Pain seared through Olivia's body as she regained consciousness, a dull ache banging at her head. She tried to move a hand to try and massage her temple, but found that they were bound. Her feet were also strapped down. She slowly opened her eyes, vision slightly blurry as a blinding late glared down at her. [i Where was she? Who had done this to her?] The last thing that she remembered was walking home from school… She had decided to take a short cut down a dark alleyway, she would have been late home… That was when she felt something hard whack against the back of her head, everything went dark and she fell to the cold, wet floor. [i Someone had kidnapped her...]
She struggled against her restrictions and shouted at the empty space. "Let me go!" But nobody answered. Instead people with long white coats, masks and goggles on came filing into the room. They talked amongst themselves, but ignored her shouts and cries. They picked their tools and this was when they finally turned to her. Panic began to rise and she wriggled against the bounding harder. Desperately trying to escape. But, they showed no sign of loosening. She was trapped, forced to whatever these people had planned in their sick minds. A large knife glinted menacingly at her as it started to make its way to her skin. But, before it could make contact with her skin…
Olivia woke with a sudden start, she gasped for air and her hands gripped tightly at the sheets, her knuckles turning white. Her heart beating hard and fast in her chest, her stomach felt twisted and her eyes were wide with fear as she stared up at the white, darkened ceiling. She took deep breaths to try and steady herself. That dream… Or rather nightmare, was a recurring one. It appeared every couple of weeks, it was like a reminder of what she had been through. What she had yet still to do. To this day, she was still bound… But not physically... She slowly sat up, cursed under her breath before she swung her legs off of the bed and planted her feet on the floor. She released the grip she had on her sheets and then made her way to the bathroom of her dorm so that she could splash her face with cold water. After doing so, she dried off with a soft towel and then stared at herself in the mirror.
Cherry red hair hung around her shoulders, deep bags under eyes. She cursed again and simply decided to take a shower. She had a few hours before the day would start and she knew that sleep would not return to her. She stripped off her clothes and stepped into the warm water, sighing in relief at the comfort it provided. She washed away the grime and dirt of the day prior before stepping out so that she could get dressed and ready for the day.
She was soon stepping out of her room, clad in training clothes and making her way to the canteen area. The first tournament of the season was tomorrow and this was her last chance to get some training in and check out her competition. However, she knew she would stay at the top. She had done so for five years in a row. Her getting to where she was now was quite the long story.
Olivia had been born with a faulty heart, it was slow and her parents were poor. They tried to look for donations, took on extra shifts at work but they could never save up enough money. They had just about given up trying to save their little girl when a scientist approached them, offering to perform surgery on Olivia so that she could live. Her parents hastily agreed, signing away a contract they didn't bother to read. They just wanted their daughter to live. The process was long but successful, her parents had cried tears of joy. But, before they could even thank the scientist, he was gone. From then on, she lived a normal life until she was kidnapped at the age of 15. This was where she was experimented on, tortured and kept imprisoned. From this, her right arm, spine and left calf were replaced with cybernetic enhancements. It stayed like that until she was twenty years old and she was sold to the arena.
At first, her new owners wanted to get rid of her. So, they placed her in the Gladiator Games, believing that she wouldn't last a second. However, she came out victorious of that match. Pleasantly surprised, they upgraded her armour and weapons and placed her through vigorous, intense training. She won that season and has now stayed the champion for five years. After her third year of reigning, a wealthy, powerful, influential sponsor approached her. He gave her luxuries that most could not afford on the promise that she would continue to win and that, from time to time, she would give him protection in public.
But, despite all the riches she had, the comforts and fame, she was still imprisoned. She just wanted to see her parents. It had been ten years and she wondered how long they tried to look for her… If they still held hope that she would return… If they believed she were still alive at all… Her parents were very much against technology, they lived quite old school and so they would not see her face on the television. She tried not to think about it too much… But, she would be walking along the pavement and she'd see a young family. Laughing, smiling and playing and her heart would break.
Olivia sighed deeply as she sat down in a booth at the back of the canteen with her tray of food. She picked up the apple first before tapping the left side of her face, but doing this an interactive holographic screen came up, or holos for short. Phones had long since been replaced by these screens and people were able to make phone calls, download apps and surf the internet on the Holo's. It worked by having a small chip inserted near your eyes, it connected through the eyes and projected out before you. It can be accessed with a simple tap to the chip and a tap to dismiss it. Due to the chip only being connected to a person's eyes, only the user can see their Holo.
She had just taken a bite out of the apple and when she saw a figure sit opposite of her. She swiped away her phone and her eyes snapped to the green haired girl. "What do you want, Andy?"
"Why do you assume I want anything?"
"Because it's you."
"Actually, I don't want anything from you." Andy giggled at that and swept her hair to the side. "I've come to tell you that a newbie called Spartacus challenged Oz."
This perked Olivia's interest and she leaned forwards slightly. "Does he have a death wish? I mean, even I can admit that Oz is a tough one to beat. When's the match?"
"Tonight. This Spartacus guy is probably just looking to boost his rank up before the season starts properly." Andy replied, beginning to inspect her nails. "I'll go but I just know that he's going to get squished like a bug. It'll be game over in twenty minutes tops."
"Well, we'll just have to see. Any more news?"
"Not really. All the newbies are all bright eyed and shiny. But, they have no idea what is coming for them." The woman giggled again. Andy had been in the Arena for three years now and had managed to stay within the top ten. Last season, she came very close to having a match with Olivia, but there was a default with her suit and so she was knocked down to 7th place. The two of them had a playful rivalry in almost everything. From the games, to training, better weaponry, armour to even who could eat the most. The other kept things interesting, she was lively and sassy. But sometimes, she really could be a pain. "Right, I gotta love ya and leave ya. Bye Liv!" And with that she was up and gone.
With her privacy back, she pulled her phone back up and began to do her research on this Spartacus. Immediately, news of his previous sponsor's criminal popped up as well as a few articles on the newbies fighting in the lower league… She had never been in those areas, she had been sold directly to this one. But, she would like to fight in them one day. After eating her breakfast, she ended up training. She used the common areas, rather than her own private one in her room. She preferred the social gym, she actually preferred to be alone in a room full of people. It served as a reminder that she wasn't back with the scientists… She never saw the other experiments, she only heard their screams. So, as much as she enjoyed her own company, she still wanted others around her.
However, one day, she knew that she was going to escape this prison and run back to her parents. She didn't know how it would happen or when… But she was determined that it would. It needed to happen. She couldn't just stay away from them forever, not being able to see them… She didn't even know if they were alive. She hoped they were, she would pray if she believed in a God. She just wanted to see their smiles, feel the warmth in their embraces and hear the kindness in their voices. She was holding on tightly to the memories she had of them, but they were slowly disappearing with every day she spent away from them. Olivia's eyes began to blur with tears at the thought of her parents, she wiped them away and set on training. She used the treadmill, the weights and the fighting stimulus.
To ensure that no Competitors were harmed during training and practice fights, the area had a stimuli that replicated the real thing, but with a virtual opponent and a health bar. They were finding that people were getting severely hurt in training fights and sometimes, even death. This would mean that they were out of the competition and they people below them would move up a place.
Many people entered the Arena games. Some wanted to escape from their old life, start anew or escape someone, some wanted to pay off debts, others were thrill seekers and there were those who wanted fame. Any competitor that became top Gladiator instantly became a celebrity, with Olivia holding that title for five years running, she was well known and had become a fan favourite of sorts. She appealed to their wants in the fights, placing on a show for them. She interacted with them, she even had merch all thanks to her sponsor. It was quite funny since she had been asked by several people to just stay within the lower ranks. The Arena games were male dominated. From the fighting and chariot racing to the discus throwing. Very few women entered, very few actually made it through. It was because of this that she gained so much popularity. In the thirty years of the rebooted Arena games, she was the second top female Gladiator. It seemed the public like a strong woman after seeing too many strong men.
The rest of Olivia's day was fairly simple. She trained, talked with her sponsor about the upcoming season before she was finally seated for the first fight of this year's Gladiator Games. Usually, she sat within her own personal, private watchbox. However, she wanted to clearly see what this Spartacus guy could do and study his moves. He was very low ranking so she doubted that she would ever officially fight him. But it was good to pay attention anyways, just in case. She had been a scrawny nobody when she first started, now she was the best of the best.
The fight between the two was brutal, Spartacus surprisingly being able to hold his own and give as good as he got. She watched the game intensely, trying to keep up with the fighting as much as she could.
After the game had ended, she was left rather impressed to say the least. She just knew that she had to talk to the newbie. So, she wormed her way through the mass crowd. Pushing and shoving along the way, and eventually she made it to the locker rooms where she knew Spartacus would be recovering from the fight. She gave a couple of knocks to the open door, signalling that she was going in before entering. She rounded the corner and sure enough he was there. She quickly looked him over before speaking up.
"For a lower ranker, you actually did pretty well… And you got guts for challenging Oz." She stated, moving forwards. Once close enough, she held her hand out for the other to shake. "I'm Olivia." Even though she knew that he would already know who she was, she just thought it was common courtesy to introduce herself anyways.
“Just do what they tell you and I'll be outta here in no time.” Is what Alfred had said to him. “They've told me everything I need to know, and I can't say that I'm happy about it, but it is what it is.” He was always way too laid back...
Alfred had been Malik's Gladiatorial trainer and manager for about two years now, and in that time he's come to know the older man quite well. He was as straight as an arrow; kept his nose. An honourable and disciplined man... Up until a week ago, that is.
Malik Heller, better known in the arena as 'Spartacus' after the Gladiator of old, had been a remarkable Gladiator fighting in the Amateurs League and had signed in to the big leagues just two months ago, his [i real] career just starting in a professional capacity. That was something that garnered a lot of notice, especially since Malik's manager and trainer was the retired nationally acclaimed Gladiator Alfred Burcham. But with recognition and fame, came other problems, and from places you would never expect. Or from people you would never expect.
They were in Alfred's penthouse, celebrating another one of Malik's professional victories when the doors blew open. Despite his cerebral augmentations, Malik found himself surprised and reacted slowly... But that might be because the people flooding in to the apartment were agents. Federal agents. And before Malik could do anything rash, Alfred put a hand on his shoulder, and told him to do whatever it was that they were told. So they did, and after 48 hours in custody, Malik was released and Alfred formally arrested and charged for drug trafficking, manufacturing and cultivation, and drug possession with the intent to sell. In less time than they were in custody, the story was on the news, retired Gladiator turned drug kingpin, and his lapdog Gladiator possibly involved.
It was all bullshit. Every last word. A smear campaign to get certain eyes on Malik by costing him some of his reputation, and costing Alfred all of his.
Barely out of the door upon being released, a black van pulled up next to Malik and they told him to get in. They were more Feds, so against his better judgment, Malik got in and was brought to a secondary location. An old warehouse now used as an operations centre for this cadre of agents. The warehouse was set up as a base of operations for the agents. Computers, installed cubicles, offices, furniture, and personnel. Malik wasn't exactly sure why he was brought to this place, but that was until he was brought in to an office and saw [i her].
[b “Fawn?”] Malik asked, and if he could do more than frown, he would. Fawn Bancroft... Malik's ex-fiance. At first he was surprised to see her and confused; she had told him she was a pilot for an international airline. However, upon seeing her here in uniform, he knew that was a lie. A cover for her real occupation. He was almost insulted considering how much Malik had told her about himself, his past, and childhood... Although, now that he was under scrutiny, both in a professional capacity and now legally, those things wouldn't exactly be hard to dig up. But they were still things he's barely ever mentioned to anyone. The reason for their split was also something in contention now, considering this development.
She regarded him coolly, but he had known her long enough to see the tension and awkwardness resting on her shoulders. [+blue “Its good to see you, Malik. Been a while.”] She was trying to keep he composure. Something to leverage over Malik considering how rattled he was... But he wouldn't give her the satisfaction.
[b “Cut the shit; what do you want with me?”] He crosses his cybernetic arms over his chest. The two starkly contrasted each other, always had. While Fawn was a brunette with tanned skin, Malik was platinum blonde and of a fair complexion. Fawn was also an Unmodified, while Malik was a Modified; his arms, legs until just above his knees, spine, eyes, and certain internal organs were cybernetic, including a few more bells and whistles used for Gladiatorial combat.
Malik could see Fawn's composure waver some, and she excused the two agents that had escorted him in. She rests her elbows on the table she was sitting behind, steepling her hands together as she looked on at him silently. [+blue “Do you want to sit down?”] She asks, and when Malik continued to stand in the position he was in, she sighed. [+blue “Haven't changed a bit I see. I'll cut to the chase then: I need your help.”] And she presses a button on a small keypad near her. A holographic projection is then conjured up just above the middle of the table. It was two people.
[b “That's the Gladiator Olivia and her manager.”] Malik points out, Fawn nodding her head.
[+blue “There's been an uptake in criminal activity, particularly that of cybernetic chop shops and drug trafficking, and we have it on good authority that he's the one behind it.”] Another button push, and a few mugshots come up along with their respective rap-sheets. A few faces Malik didn't recognize, but more that he did. The one's he could identify were all Gladiators. Not big ones like Olivia, but big enough where he recognized them. [+blue “And he's using some of his talent as hired help.”]
[b “Aggravated assault. Unregistered weaponry and cybernetics. Drug possession. How come this didn't make the news?”] Hell, Alfred's story was already being blasted all over the news... Wait... [b “You framed Alfred!”]
Fawn's blood pressure and body temperature rose when Malik's voice did. [+blue “We had to. None of this guy's goons will talk, and what little we might be able to dig up to arrest him on won't stick; he's too rich and powerful, and has too many friends in high places.”] She was getting defensive, and Malik continued to scowl.
[b “And so what? You want me to get in good with this guy so you can destroy this criminal empire from the inside?”] She opens her hands, palms up towards him. [b “So where does that leave Alfred? Why did you have to smear him?”] It made Malik look a little culpable as well, but he didn't give a shit about that.
She sighs again, regarding Malik with that same cool gaze before answering him. Before they had split, he often thought she was just a composed person, but now he knew she was trained to be this way; she was a soldier much like he was. [+blue “We needed Alfred to look dirty. And we needed you without a manager and to look like someone who might not be afraid of getting his hands dirty... But don't worry; we're keeping Alfred safe in a minimum security prison and in PC.”]
[b “Thanks for the reassurance.”] Malik responds sarcastically, but deflates, pinching the bridge of his nose. [b “So what's your plan then?”]
Fawn breathed out some tension she had been holding in, happy to hear that Malik was willing to get onboard. Although, he wasn't sure if he'd have gone along with this if he was speaking to anyone but Fawn, and he didn't like the idea of her or someone else leveraging that over him. [+blue “Get close to Olivia. We're not sure if she's on the take or not, but she's currently our best shot to get in.”]
[b “This isn't your only plan, I hope.”]
Fawn shakes her head. [+blue “You're our wild card, and currently the only ace we have. We're looking in other avenues, but we obviously can't share that with you.”] Yeah, obviously, and Malik wasn't sure he really wanted to know. All he wanted was to get Alfred out of jail and clear his name; something he'd make sure was on the table before he even lifted a finger for the Feds.
She stands up and motions to the door. [+blue “Why don't we wander over to tactical and we can talk more shop with them.”]
[b “Sure.”] Malik grunts more than he says. He turns and puts his hand on the door, but doesn't open it. There was a question he needed answered, one that only Fawn could answer. [b “Why me?”]
Fawn hesitates for a moment, not having expected to be asked that. She finds her words quicker than she expected. [+blue “Because you're the only one I can trust.”] She tells him, and the answer makes him frown a little.
[b “So then bringing me in was your idea. Must be looking at a fancy promotion if this all works out.”]
[+blue “Malik, its not like that. I-”]
[b “I thought I knew everything about you, and it turns out I know nothing. But you still know everything about me, you know things I've never shared with anyone. So you should know that I'm not anybody else's soldier; that part of my life is over.”] But it still haunted him to this day. And after he made that statement, a certain silence hung around Fawn, even when they went to tactical to figure out the logistics of how he fit in, some plans, correspondence, and his own demands.
A week later, and Malik was back in the Gladiatorial Arena, having issued an official challenge to a man who went by 'Oz'. Oz was a Gladiator steadily rising through the ranks, and made it very public that he was gunning for Olivia's position. Often times this was usually just hot air, get the fans riled up and interested, something to look forward to, but Malik figured this would be a good way to get noticed. A newbie Gladiator challenging a proficient and popular one? The fans ate that shit up fast. There was a very loose ranking system within the League, mostly based with a point system, and generally Gladiators stuck to it; the higher you went, the more modified, better equipped, and formidable competitors got, so everyone usually shot within their proverbial weight-class. But some times, like now, there was someone like Malik trying to hop rank, get more points by taking down someone further up the rankings than they were. And often times they got snuffed out, brutally under-prepared and overconfident against the much more seasoned Gladiator.
Malik would be prepared though, mostly in part to the Feds. Some shiny new military-grade upgrades to his Mods and his Gladiator exo-suit would give him an edge in the fight. Not to mention he had the element of surprise. While in the Amateurs League, there wasn't as much good footage as there was for the National Leagues, so that meant Malik had time to study Oz, even before he issued the challenge, and at a greater capacity. If Oz wanted to do the same, then there was less time and less footage of Malik to study, although he doubted his opponent would even bother. Another advantage for Malik. However, Malik would hold no illusions for himself by thinking he'd win because of a few upgrades and some prep time; he'd still fight Oz as if he was a superior opponent.
The stadium was packed to the brim with screaming fans. This was something commonplace in the National League that Malik had only recently gotten used to. The Arena itself was a large flat circular disk at first, as it always was, both competitors standing on either end facing each other. However, teh nature of the Arena would change drastically; a virtual die would be cast and an Arena Template would be selected, shaping the battlefield in to something more suitable and pleasing to the crowd, another difference in this League.
“So you're the one they call 'Spartacus', huh?” Oz asks rhetorically, his face and words being projected on to the jumbotron for everyone to see and hear. He was a tall man, and wore powered armour that seemed to just be bordering the League's standards of being illegal, and was equipped with an equally decked out two-handed power hammer. Being covered by the mechanical carapace you couldn't tell if he was Modified or Unmodified, similar in Malik's case thanks to his exo-suit, but fortunately he did enough digging where he knew that Oz was Modded.
Oz grins when Malik doesn't respond and the die begins spinning on the large screens. A random location is selected, some sort of cruise-liner in a storm, and the Arena begins to mold itself accordingly. Not before Oz has the last word, of course. “I'm gonna have fun dismantling you.” And Malik pulls his sword from the sheath on his belt.