“You fucking idiot!”
Sebastian kicked at Tanaka’s legs to emphasise his point. Tanaka remained infuriatingly calm. His only reaction was to lift his shins up to block the blows. They weren’t very hard. They were meant to show seriousness, not to harm.
“What the hell were you thinking?!” Sebastian asked, his leg scything low.
“I am going to be a hero,” Tanaka said calmly. “A hero wouldn’t back down from a challenge. A hero wouldn’t sneak.”
“This is real life! Not one of your stupid fucking anime! People who do that in real life die!”
Tanaka stuck his chin out stubbornly. “I am Raijin. I will be a hero.”
“You’ll kamikaze and become a corpse!”
Tanaka’s eyes flashed victoriously. “But I’ll die a hero.”
“You’ll die an idiot!”
The guard got up off the sofa and banged the butt of her rifle against the bars.
“Hey! Break it up, and shut it up!” Her voice confirmed that she was female.
Sebastian ignored her. “Trying to shoot thirteen armed people with a six shooter isn’t heroic, it’s stupid!”
The guard’s mouth dropped open. “You were actually going to try that? Are you insane?” she asked incredulously.
Suddenly, Jax, who had been sitting sullenly in the corner unnoticed, lunged for her gun, reaching through the bars. She twisted just in time and stepped back. She neatly jabbed him in the face with the gun stock. Jax reeled back, clutching his eye socket.
“You fucking bitch!”
The woman, with surprising levity, stuck her tongue out at him. She sat back down at the sofa, well out of reach.
Jax sat down, still holding his brow. “Fuck!”
“Nice try though,” Pauly said. He’d meant to sound encouraging and kind, but it came across as sarcastic. Sebastian laughed, his anger cooling, and Jax glared at Pauly with his one good eye. Pauly cringed. He expected another one of Jax’s outbursts, but Jax’s rage swerved and directed itself at Tanaka.
“This is your fault, you animes watching freak!”
“I don’t watch anime,” Tanaka said.
“Not the point, you useless chink. You’ve fucked us over and now we’re caught. Fuck!”
“We’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Tanaka said. “But I don’t watch anime. I was a delinquent, not a child.”
“Whatever, man. You’re a retard, not a loser that watches Chinese cartoons. Hurray.”
Sebastian joined back into the conversation. “How can you guarantee we’ll be fine. This is real life, you dick. There’s no plot armour to save us. The hero doesn’t always win. The hero doesn’t always live. Get that through your head.”
Tanaka sat down on his bunk. “I’m bored with this conversation.” He laid back and pulled his hat over his face. Jax and Sebastian stared in disbelief. Within minutes, light snores started emanating from the hat.
“Motherfucker,” Jax breathed.
It was past midnight by Sebastian’s mind clock when the outer door swung open and a small contingent marched in. Three men and one woman armed with the same bolt action rifles entered first, and lined up either side of the path to the cell’s door. The woman on the couch got up to, but not hurriedly, and she didn’t stand at attention. Sebastian noted this to suggest the group had a respected leader, but not a feared or strict one. A man entered unarmed, and Sebastian assumed he must be the leader.
He was probably just under six feet tall, and he carried himself with self-assured confidence. His blonde hair, presumably bleached judging from his dark eyebrows, was short and gelled into a sea of spikes. His ears, like Tanaka’s, were pierced, but his were wooden gauges that had expanded large holes in his ear lobes. He had a pair of old-timey goggles on his forehead and a large necklace that looped down over his chest. Bright red spheres, made of wood and the size of a fist, decorated the necklace in an unbroken chain. He wore a v-neck that plunged below his sternum, and puffy shorts. What stood out most, however, was his body itself. He had the body of a Greek god, except with bigger lats. What struck Sebastian wasn’t how strong or muscular he looked, but how aesthetically perfect his body was. Whereas Pauly’s pectorals look over-inflated and odd, his were slabs of granite. The way his thighs curved into the knees was a thing of art. His body was the outcome if Michelangelo’s David and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love child. It was the golden ratio personified.
“Any trouble?” he asked.
Their guard nodded. “That one tried grab my gun,” she said, pointing at Jax.
The man walked right up to the bars. “Tsk, tsk. What would you even hope to do with it, locked in there? Take a hostage?”
Jax snarled back. The man took no notice. “Now if you had, I can assure you we would have only gone to every length to kill you all. Do you understand? Down that path lies only oblivion.”
“My grandfather was Scottish,” Jax said.
The man tried raise one eyebrow, and failed. It wriggled like a caterpillar on his face, and then both raised upwards into an arrogant leer. Such imperfection on his face, when contrasted to his perfect body, was jarring. “So?”
“So,” Jax said, and in one smooth motion he’d pulled a knife from his sock and grabbed the man by the neck. He wasn’t as fast as Tanaka, however, and the man had plenty of time to react. He grabbed Jax’s knife hand and back flipped, in a move so effortless and graceful that it seemed to defy gravity. Jax’s arm was twisted painfully and he dropped the knife, screaming. The man adjusted his necklace and picked up the knife. It was, Sebastian saw, a sgian-dubh, a knife traditionally worn in a highlander’s sock. The man passed the knife to the guard, who put it in her belt.
“Give me back my grandfather’s knife, you whore!” Jax screamed, now clutching his arm, with his brow still swollen up from his last injury.
“You’ve lost the right to have that knife,” The man said calmly. “But you can regain it, and everything else: your guns, your freedom.”
“How?” Sebastian asked bluntly. He had no patience for bullshit anymore.
The man smiled. “Simple. The four of you have to fight me, one at a time, fairly. You win, you go free.”
“And if we lose?”
Those words sucked whatever good feeling was left out of the room. Tanaka, Jax and Pauly were stunned speechless. Only Sebastian kept thinking, trying to work out all the details.
“Do each of us have to beat you?”
“No. Just one of you wins, and then you all go free.”
“What are the rules?”
“Keep the fight within the ring. No weapons. No hits to the groin. No eye gouging. Locks, grappling and throwing are all allowed, as are punches and kicks. Only one opponent in the ring at a time.”
“Tomorrow morning. Agreed?”
Sebastian stared the man down with his lifeless battleship grey eyes, or at least tried to. The man’s eyes were shielded by self-assurance. “What if we don’t?”
“You die now.”
The man smiled again. “Great! My name is Hadrian. Prepare to put on a show.”
If this bothered Hadrian, he didn’t let it show. He just left, taking his four person honour guard with him. The guard stuck her tongue out at Jax again, and sat back down on the sofa.
Tanaka leaned back contentedly while sitting on his bed, a smug smile on his face. “You see? Did I not say we’d be fine?”
Jax, still rubbing his slowly recovering arm, was incensed. “Fine?! Didn’t you see the fucker twist my arm like it was nothing?! With a fucking back flip! I can fight dirty, but I’m shit at fighting fair.”
Pauly agreed. “I don’t even know how to fight… I uh, never really had it come to that. Also, he was built like a bear on steroids.” He looked pale, and he was breathing unevenly.
Sebastian nodded, his face unreadable as always. “I’ve only ever gotten lucky in a struggle, and luck doesn’t work on those kinds of backflips.”
Tanaka rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you hear? Only one of us has to win. I was the King of Tokyo back in high school. I was the Lightning God Delinquent, undefeated for three straight years. I can go first, defeat him, and we can all go free.”
Sebastian kicked him in the stomach, not hard but enough to show his anger. “What if you lose, then? What if he’s better than you? We all die? This isn’t a fucking game. It’s real life.”
Tanaka shrugged. “I won’t.”
“You can’t know that for sure.” Sebastian took his foot off Tanaka’s stomach, and strode over to his bunk. “We need to increase our odds. Tanaka, if you’re our best fighter, then you’ll go last. The rest of us, try to win, but if we can’t do that then hang on as long as possible. We need him tired out.”
Tanaka scowled. “That’s not honourable, nor heroic.”
“You don’t get a choice in this decision. Our lives are at stake too. You’ll fight him last, and you’ll fight him with everything you’ve got. You’ll take this seriously. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Tanaka said, but Sebastian saw nothing but defiance and stubbornness in his dark eyes. He closed his own eyes and cursed softly under his breath.
“Pauly, you’ll go first. Jax, second. I’ll go right before Tanaka…” He glared at the Japanese teen who was now absentmindedly relaxing on his bunk. “…And let’s just hope to god or anyone else who’ll listen that he’ll take this seriously.” Sebastian knew the guard could hear everything, but he didn’t care. Their strategy was uncomplicated, and obvious. If they were good enough, it was also unbeatable. If they weren’t, the Greek god of backflips would defeat them.
Sebastian sat down heavily on his bunk, causing a layer of sand that had inevitably formed on the bed to bounce up. “Credit where it’s due, though, that was a good idea with the knife, just bad execution,” he said to Jax.
Jax tried find sarcasm in Sebastian’s words, but where Pauly’s words had been distorted by his efforts to show kindness, Sebastian’s were delivered in the toneless drone he always spoke in. It was devoid of emotion. There was nothing but unbending literalness in that voice.
“Thanks,” Jax said. “Thank my grandpa. He died when I was thirteen, but he was the best of the cesspit of genes they called my family.” As an afterthought, he added, “I hope I get it back.”
“What reason do you think they even bother with this whole charade of a fight. I mean, they ambushed us, captured us, and now want to fight us,” Sebastian wondered aloud.
Jax banged on the bars and pointed to his new lady friend. “Why don’t you tell us, you sadistic bitch?”
The guard scowled at him and looked around. She saw a heavy glass ashtray on the floor by the sofa, a luxury good that was strange to see this far out. She chucked it at his head. It hit the bar instead, bouncing off and ricocheting into the desk. It took a chunk out of the wood. Jax flinched back, and then skulked off to the far corner.
“Entertainment?” Pauly suggested, with some apprehension. He was still getting used to putting forward ideas and putting himself out. Back in New York he’d been too afraid of the social repercussions to put out his own ideas. In Terra Deserta where a missed idea could mean death, he was forced to do so. Every time he did, he felt the same uneasiness as he shed the ghosts of his past. “He said: ‘Put on a good show’, didn’t he?”
“‘ Prepare to put on a show’, but yeah,” Sebastian said, quoting the exact words. “But entertain who? Themselves?”
“Why not?” Jax asked. “You keep looking for rational answers here, Sebby.” Sebastian hated being called ‘Sebby’, and Jax knew it. “It’ll be your undoing. What you need to realise is that here on Terra Deserta, a lot of people are just stark raving mad.”