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Sweat and Blood

 

Underworld Warrior

 

Jack Stornoway

 

 

Copyright 2016 Jack Stornoway

 

Published by the Jack Stornoway at at Shakespir

 

 

 

 

When Chichi Chijindu asked if Artemio Torres would fight Mudiwa Kachote, she knew there was only one answer he could give.

 

“I guess I don’t have a choice,” Artemio answered. “I’ll fight Kachote, but only if it’s a NTF.”

 

A Non-Technical Fight meant no-count out, a fight until someone was either unconscious or dead. Chichi knew it would make for a better fight, but also make fight harder to rig. Nevertheless, the odds were on Mudiwa Kachote’s side, and an NTF would draw a larger crowd, increasing the gambling.

 

If Artemio hadn’t needed the credit as bad as he did, he would never have agreed to fight again. He’d been dodging Chichi for over year, ever since getting out of the Arean Army. He had fought for Chichi before joining the Revolutionary Army, but after almost a decade in the army, he was a different person, and the fight scene was largely illegal.

 

Chichi Chijindu had moved up in the fight scene establishing a Fight Club in the Multan Corporate Mining Zone, one of the few places in the Ares Confederacy were pro-fights were still legal. Multan FC was the only Fight Club in the Multan CMZ, a monopoly which Chichi had registered with the Khewra-Mars Mining Corporation, which owned the Multan CMZ. She had followed the early success of the FC with a monopoly on gambling, and setup Casino Multan.

 

Since the Confederacy had banned professional sports seven years earlier, Chichi had come to financially dominate the Multan CMZ. Before Multan FC and Casino Multan, the CMZ had just been a small mining community of less than a thousand people, now it was a town of over a ten thousand. Every pro-fight in Multan was at Casino Multan, and the casino brought in gamblers year round. Multan had one bank when Chichi had arrived in the CMZ, the Khewra-Mars Credit Center, now it had five banks, and a law office that registered holding corporations for tourists.

 

Chichi owned the largest bank, the Bank of Multan, and her casino was also the largest hotel. She dominated the pro-fight scene, and Artemio had no doubt the fights were fixed. Chichi had always been willing to fix a fight when Artemio had fought for her, although Artemio had never thrown a fight, he had allowed some fights to continue longer than they should in order to cover the spread.

 

Even Yousaf Dulai appeared to be working for Chichi now. When Artemio had been fighting, Yousaf had been one of the biggest promoters in the Sirenum Colonies. Now Yousaf was a manager in the Multan FC; Mudiwa Kachote’s manager, and as far as Artemio could see, not much more than a go-between for Chichi.

 

About the only thing Chichi didn’t control in the pro-fight scene was Artemio, the former Sirenum Fighting League champion. SFL wasn’t around anymore, banned by the Confederacy, but its legacy continued, and most of the pro-fight fans in Multan came from the Sirenum districts surrounding the Multan CMZ.

 

Mudiwa Kachote was the main contender for the Multan FC title. Gilchrist Leslie was the Multan FC champion. Artemio had watched the fight between Gilchrist and Mudiwa a month earlier, during which the title had changed hands. It had been a long fight, and was ultimately decided on a count-out of Mudiwa that many had stated looked suspicious. Gilchrist was a good technical fighter, while Mudiwa was more of a powerhouse, being much larger than either Gilchrist or Artemio. Mudiwa was also one of the dirtiest fighters Artemio had ever seen.

 

Artemio couldn’t hold that against a fighter, he had fought a lot of dirty fighters in his day. Fighters were all driven to win, and in the Martian pro-fighting leagues loosing a fight often meant loosing a life. It wasn’t malevolent, the fighters weren’t out to kill each other, but they were all highly competitive driven men. If it had just been a fight against Kachote or Gilchrist, Artemio would have agreed to the fight as soon as he’d run into financial problems. But it wasn’t just a fight against Kachote or Gilchrist, it was a fight against Chichi’s empire.

 

Chichi wouldn’t allow Artemio to win a fight unless he agreed to sign on as a member of her stable, but Artemio was only agreeing to one fight. Without a contract Chichi only wanted Artemio to be defeated by Kachote, to prove the Multan FC fighters were better than the old SFL fighters. But Artemio was never one to throw a fight, so he was in it for the win, and he’d have to fight every dirty trick in Chichi’s arsenal to win. If it was a Technical Fight, the judges and referee would be against him, and so he’d demanded a Non-Technical Fight. At least in a NTF he had a chance once he was in the fighting cage, it was getting to the fighting cage that was going to be the problem.

 

Given the odds against him, he had no desire to fight, but Chichi had given him little choice. For his time in the Revolutionary Army the Confederacy had awarded him a plot of land in Sirenum at the end of the war. Artemio had been born in one of the Colombian colonies to the north, and orphaned young. He had spent his teen years and early twenties in the pro-fight scene, and then the Eco-Revolution swept the planet, the Revolutionary Council offered free land for anyone that served in the Revolutionary Army. Artemio had never owned anything of significance, and joined the revolution, earning the rank of warrant officer by the end of the war.

 

After the war ended the new Confederate government dismissed most of the Revolutionary soldiers, most of which sold their plot of land, as they couldn’t afford to do anything with it. As a warrant officer Artemio had the option of staying in the new Arean Army, and spent ten years with the Military Police at various posts across the Confederacy. When he had retired he had enough credit to build a greenhouse farm, and bought some wheat seeds. Unfortunately the recent sandstorm had damaged the greenhouse, and killed the plants growing in it. He didn’t have the credit to repair the greenhouse, or to buy new seeds.

 

Chichi offered enough Multan Rupees for Artemio rebuild the greenhouse and buy new seeds, but only if he won. Chichi planned for Artemio to loose, forcing him to sign a contract to get a second fight. His other option was to rejoin the Army for another 5 year contract. By the time he got out there would be nothing left of his farm. Left abandoned, it would be stripped by the first prospector that stumbled across it. He’d have to spend at least ten more years in the Army, and then he still wouldn’t have the credit to ride out another bad storm. He had to take the fight, and he had to win it.

 

And then, there was Casey Callahan. There was no way Carey would wait for years. Artemio had met Carey shortly after leaving the Army, when Artemio had been buying components for his planned farm. Carey was a bartender in New Belfast the closest town to Artemio’s plot of land. They had been together since the first night they’d met. When the components were delivered Carey went with Artemio to help set up the farm. But Carey didn’t like the farm, he wanted to be in a city and dreamed of moving to Pickering or New Edinburgh. Carey might love Artemio enough to live in the middle of nowhere, but he wouldn’t wait if Artemio went back to the Army. The fact was, Artemio had to take the fight. That’s all there was too it.

 

He met with Chichi and Yousaf Dulai to set it up. Then Chichi dropped the other shoe, “There is the issue of the buy-in.”

 

“You expect me to pay to fight?” Artemio asked.

 

“You don’t have a contract,” Chichi stated, taking a drag from her e-cigar. “That makes it a challenger fight, and challengers pay! It’s just business.”

 

“How much?” Artemio asked, not that it mattered.

 

“10,000 Multan rupees,” Chichi answered, “or equivalent Arean credit.”

 

“If I had ₹10,000 I wouldn’t be here,” Artemio stated, knowing what Chichi would demand in lieu of payment.

 

“You could mortgage your farm,” Chichi answered. “Without a greenhouse the farm is essentially worthless, but I could run you a mortgage of ₹10,000 for the land. Go down to the Bank of Multan and set it up, and we have a deal.”

 

There it was, the closed box. If he didn’t win the fight he wouldn’t just be worthless, he’d be homeless. Either way he had the option of fighting or rejoining the Arean army.

 

“I guess if that’s the way it has to be,” Artemio conceded. “It won’t matter anyway. You do remember my record, right?”

 

“That was ten years ago,” Chichi dismissed Artemio’s statement, but Yousaf looked worried. Artemio Torres had the distinction of having never lost a pro-fight during his three years in the SFL. He had lost a lot of fights earlier in life. He had spent his teen years in the Junior Hesperian Fight League, and had lost most of his fights for the first few years. At the time he had fought under the name Chico Violento, and by the time he was seventeen he was wining almost every fight he he was in. He spent a year fighting as an adult in the HFL under the name Chico Violento before leaving Hesperia for Serenum to join the SFL under his own name. Chico Violento only lost one fight that last year in the HFL, and Artemio Torres managed to make it through three years in the SFL without a loss.

 

A fighter that doesn’t loose is a dreadful prospect for a gamblers, and there was tremendous pressure for Artemio to loose. He knew it was just a matter of time until someone killed him, if not in the cage, then outside of it. He jumped at the opportunity to fight with the revolutionaries when they offered all soldiers land. He made it through the war, and almost a decade as an MP without receiving an injury serious enough to need a cybernetic implant, which would have disqualified him from the Multan FC. This wasn’t due to luck, but experience, and an instinct to duck.

 

For Artemio it had never been about wining, it had always been about surviving. He didn’t know if he could beat Mudiwa Kachote in a fare fight, in fact he doubted he could, but it didn’t matter because he could survive a fight with Mudiwa. It was hard-wired into him. For Chichi it had always been about wining, and Chichi always won. Chichi knew she would win against Artemio, he was just a fighter, she was Multan itself. It didn’t matter if Mudiwa was or wasn’t a better fighter than Artemio, by the time Artemio got into the cage, he would be in no condition to fight Mudiwa.

 

Yousaf’s perspective was different, he hadn’t been a winner in more than a decade. He had a good gig, and made a lot of money working for Chichi, but those weren’t his wins, they were losses. Chichi had once been a competitor, and had screwed him over when he proposed they jointly form a fighting league in Multan. He was from Multan, and knew the revolutionaries would ban the fighting leagues if they won the war. Every win she had was ashes in his mouth.

 

Artemio had know Yousaf longer than he’d known Chichi, they’d met when he was still fighting under the name Chico Violento in Hesperia, half way around Mars. Yousaf had been scouting talent, and had offered Chico Violento a contract in the SLF, but Artemio was under contract and couldn’t leave. When his contact ended he headed to Sirenum to find Yousaf, and found Chichi instead.

 

Even though Artemio ended up working for the competition, Artemio and Yousaf had become friends. For the first year of Artemio’s time in the SLF Yousaf had marketed his fighters as Anti-Artillery, fighters that could defeat the undefeatable Artemio. Yousaf was as responsible for Artemio’s reputation as Artemio’s fighting skills. At first it was hype, then it became reality, and then it became a problem. After Artemio’s first year the contenders became scarce, mainly because there was no money in a fight when everyone knew the outcome beforehand. In the two years that followed Yousaf had made far more money than Chichi’s champion by organizing his own elimination tournaments to establish the next Anti-Artillery champion-killer.

 

Yousaf had sent champion after champion against Artemio for two years, and remembered well the feeling that he was about to loose another fighter. He was feeling that again now. Shortly before Artemio left to join the revolutionary army, Yousaf had found out that Chichi was tired of having a fighter that wouldn’t take a dive, and had arranged for him to loose the next fight. Yousaf had warned Artemio, and Artemio had been ready when they came. Five fighters, all of them good, trying to take him by surprise one night before the fight. He had been waiting for them in the locker room, gun in hand, and shot them all without mercy. They hadn’t expected a fighter of his calibre to be carrying a gun. Why would he? For Yousaf it was as much about helping a friend as it was about protecting his Anti-Artillery tournaments. For Artemio it was sign that he need to move on.

 

“That was a mistake,” Yousaf said after Artemio had left. “The more you push him into a corner, the stronger he’ll come out of it. You know that.”

 

“That was more than ten years ago,” Chichi said contemptuously. “Now he’d just a has-been, and soon he won’t even be that.”

 

Artemio went directly to the Bank of Multan to mortgage his farm. The bankers were expecting him, Chichi had clearly planned this in advance. It didn’t matter. After his morning workout, Artemio headed to Cafe Vasu to meet Casey. The Bank of Multan was located within the Casino Multan, but the Cafe Vasu was in the Hotel Vasu next door. Artemio and Casey were staying in the Hotel Vasu, as Artemio didn’t want Chichi getting any more money out of him than absolutely necessary. Casino Multan was connected to the surrounding hotels, apartment buildings, and offices via a network of pressurized cat-walks that allowed guests to move around without the need of respirator masks.

 

Outside Mars was much as it had been for half a billion years, frozen and dry with a thin carbon-dioxide atmosphere. In the century and a half since humanity had begun colonizing Mars, the atmosphere had gained some nitrogen and oxygen that escaped from colonies, as well as gases released from mining and industry. The planet had warmed a few degrees in that time, enough that low-laying lake in the equatorial region would thaw out for a few months each year. But largely the planet was as it had been since before the age of the dinosaurs.

 

Casey was waiting in the Cafe Vasu drinking a bear, and eating a strawberry jelly sandwich. Artemio ordered a whiskey, and a plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce. As he ate he realized he couldn’t stay in Multan if he wanted to fight Mudiwa, the entire food selection was starch and sugar based. Multan had been setup as a Rhodium and Platinum mining colony by the Khewra-Mars Mining Corporation, based in Pakistan. They had built greenhouse farms for growing wheat, sugarcane, cotton, and rice at the colony to reduce the cost of importing these staples from Earth. After the colony had fallen under the British Colonial Zone during the Mars Treaty negotiations, London forbade the importing of anymore species to Multan in order to force the colony to buy food through the British Mars Corporation. When the Eco-Revolutionaries had driven the British government off Mars, the free movement of species within the Confederacy was enshrined in the new constitution, however a decade later the Multan diet continued to be based around bread, pasta, and sweats.

 

He didn’t want to stay in Multan anyway, it would be too easy for Chichi to send someone to beat on him, or worse, to kill him. With the mortgage on his property in place Chichi didn’t need him to survive to fight Mudiwa. Sitting there with Casey, he knew Casey wasn’t going to go with him. He knew Casey couldn’t watch what he had to go through. Casey was cute and could easily survive in any city, but Casey wasn’t strong and he wouldn’t be able to watch Artemio fight.

 

“How did it go?” Casey asked Artemio as the conversation drifted back towards the reason they were in Multan. Casey knew it hadn’t gone well, but they hadn’t expected it to go well.

 

“About what I expected,” Artemio answered. “I’ll be in the cage with Mudiwa in about three months. But the cunt made be pay ₹10,000 for the fight. I had to mortgage the farm.”

 

Casey paused considering, “She really bent you over. What’s she got against you?”

 

Artemio smiled. She still didn’t understand him, after all these years. She was giving him the one thing that drove him to win, she was pushing him into a corner. She was leaving him with only one option, to win. “It doesn’t matter. I came here for a fight, and I’ve go one lined up against Mudiwa. She’s giving Yousaf Dulai three months to hype it. It’ll be a major ticket fight. Regardless of the buy-in, I needed to win. She’s not as smart as she thinks she is. She never was.

 

“Yousaf?” Casey enquired. “Why would he want to hype you?”

 

“He always was my best promoter,” Artemio said. “Chichi didn’t want me to win after the first three months. Yousaf hyped every fight I had, because he wanted his fighter to be the one that took me out. He was always a better promoter than Chichi.”

 

“Then why does she own Multan?” Casey enquired quickly. “Yousaf Dulai just works for her.”

 

“I didn’t say she wasn’t conniving,” Artemio answered. “But she was always about image. I’d bet she’s over extended, that casino must have cost her a lot.”

 

The next day he went to one of the local dojos to work out. It was the first time he’d been in one since he left the army. The real issue wasn’t that he hadn’t been working out, the real issue is that he hadn’t been in a pro-fight in more than a decade. There were underground fight clubs across the Confederacy, but the MPs were charged with shutting them down, and so he’d avoided them. The Military Police had been posted throughout the Confederacy since the war, wherever the local police weren’t enough to suppress the violence.

 

During that time he’d been in many gunfights, and more than a few fist fights, but nothing like league fight. Meanwhile Mudiwa had been fighting, and regardless of Chichi’s machinations, Mudiwa just wanted to fight. He didn’t care what condition Artemio was in when they got into the cage, Mudiwa was planning to take him apart.

 

He worked out at the dojo for a few hours, focusing on dead weights and cardio. The main reason he went to the dojo wasn’t to work out, it was to get a feel for the fight scene in Multan. He learned what he needed to know when realized no one in the dojo was willing to spar with him. It had only been one day since he agreed to the fight, and already the word was out. His suspicions were confirmed when Yousaf happened to wonder into the dojo. There were at least a dozen dojos in Multan, and Artemio had no doubt that Yousaf was there checking on him for Chichi.

 

“They’re trying to rattle you,” Casey said over diner. “If you can’t spar, you can’t get back into shape.”

 

“I know,” Artemio replied honestly, “but it doesn’t matter, I’ve got a plan.”

 

“What is it?” Casey asked curiously.

 

“Can’t tell you yet,” Artemio replied.

 

“You can’t tell me?” Casey pouted. “Since when do you keep secrets from me?”

 

“Did you land that bar-tending job?” Artemio asked.

 

“Of course,” Casey answered. “There was no question of it.”

 

“Good. I’m leaving town,” Artemio stated. “You can’t come. I’ll be back before the fight.”

 

That statement prompted an argument, at least Casey was arguing, Artemio was just in the vicinity of the argument. Later that night Artemio left. He booked a flight on an airship headed west to Hesperia. Airships were used for cargo, passengers generally flew on suborbitals. A suborbital flight could have gotten him to Hesperia in an hour, the airship would take days. But he’d have to register his passport to book a suborbital flight, while the airship companies weren’t required to register anything.

 

Airships had been used on Mars since the earliest corporate colonies had been setup, first for prospecting, and later for cargo. The combination of the low gravity environment, and cold carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere allowed heated hydrogen airships to be economical in a way that they never had been on Earth. Before the war a few Canadian and American airship companies had operated airships as passenger liners, but few of those airships had survived the war. Artemio was flying on a freight airship, billeted in a vacant crew cabin. It was cramped and there was nowhere else he could go on the airship, so for several days he stayed in the cabin, and meditated.

 

He had been billeted in worse conditions during the war. He had learnt to avoid going cabin crazy by focusing inwards. For days he went through every combat technique that he knew, picturing every move and and counter move, remembering every fight he’d ever been in. It was as much about remembering his combat knowledge as reconditioning his mind for what lay ahead.

 

Artemio disembarked in the city of Eko in the Amenthes Fossae region where the highlands sank down into the lowlands. Eko was one of the five largest cities on Mars, originally a Nigerian rhenium and copper mining colony, it had one of the largest populations before the Mars Treaty. After the Colombians gained control of the Hesperia Planum they had organized the eight mining colonies in the region into single colonial territory in order to dilute the influence of the Nigerians.

 

Eko was a city of over a million that sprawled out of the crater the mine was located in. The rhenium mine was one of the most profitable mines on Mars during the Corporate Era. During that time hundreds of the thousands of workers immigrated and the Nigerian Mars Corporation invested a great deal building up the local economy. Greenhouse farms had been built for soybeans, sesame, cashews, cassava, cocoa, Bambara groundnuts, acacia, corn, melon, millet, palm, plantains, rice, rubber, sorghum, soybeans, and yams, giving Eko the second the richest agricultural base on the planet. Unfortunately the rhenium had run out before the Mars Treaty was negotiated, and by the time the Colombians gained control of the area, Eko’s primary exports were copper, foods, and people.

 

During the Colonial Era Colombian corporations built greenhouse farms across Hesperia to capitalize on the abundance of seeds and light in the equatorial region. Artemio had been born in the colonial capital Tercero Mexico, the son of Colombian immigrants. When his parents died Artemio had found himself homeless, and made his way to Eko, the city of opportunity. Unfortunately the only opportunity he found was the opportunity to be raped regularly. He quickly became an angry, violent person, and then found out about the Junior Hesperian Fight League. He joined under the name Chico Violento, Spanish for the Violent-Kid. For the first few years he didn’t care if he won or lost, as long as he was paid enough to have a place to live. Then he realized he was winning, that he was actually good at something, he had become Violento. Now a decade and a half later he was returning to Eko to become Chico Violento again.

 

The HFL had been officially shutdown when the Arean government banned professional fighting, but continued to operate as the Underground Fighting League, moving from city to city throughout Hesperia, Vallis, Morpheos, Nouveau-Quebec, Ascraeus and Ceraunius. The UFL had been a major issue for the Arean MPs as the Confederacy wanted the league shut down, but local authorities generally looked the other way. UFL fights brought tourists and money to their cities. UFL fights were also very popular, and none of the elected officials wanted to be the one to shut them down.

 

Artemio had never been placed on the task-force to shutdown the UFL, instead spending most of the previous decade hunting remnants of the Chinese, American, British, and Russian armies that were largely operating as gangs of bandits throughout the more remote regions of the Confederacy. Nevertheless, he had followed the task-forces’ investigation. The head of the UFL was a woman named Delia Leach, she had been a promoter in the HFL when he was Chico Violento. They had known each other in passing. They weren’t close, but she knew who Chico Violento was, and who he’d become in the SFL.

 

When he’d arrived in Eko he visited some of the old dojos the HFL fighters used to use, but didn’t recognize anyone. The city had changed since the last time Artemio had been there. It used to be all Blacks and Latinos, now there were large minorities of other ethnicities as well. English was beginning to show up on the signs along with Yoruba and Spanish. On his forth day in the Eko, he finally found someone he recognized, a former fighter named Leandros Yates. Leandros didn’t know how to get a hold of Delia, but was able to inform Artemio that the next fight was going to be in Madhubani.

 

Madhabani was in Savitch, high in the Hesperia Planum to the south, a former Indian titanium and zirconium mining colony. It took Artemio another two days in an airship to get to Madhabani. Like Eko to the north, the region had a large agricultural sector built up during the Corporate Era. Greenhouses had been setup for rice, wheat, mangoes, sugar cane, bananas, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, soybeans, onions, chick peas, and okra. The Bharat Zirconium Company had also shipped buffalo, cattle, and chickens to Mars, creating the planet’s first meat and dairy industry. The dojos of Madhabani were full of fighters, and it didn’t take Artemio long to find someone that could get him in touch with Delia.

 

“Last I heard you were an MP,” Delia said when they met in his hotel suit later that night. “Didn’t think we’d be seeing you again.”

 

“Got myself into a bit of a bind,” Artemio stated. “I need to fight for a few months. Don’t have a buy-in, but also don’t need pay, just enough to get by.”

 

“Practice?” Delia asked. “That weasel Yousaf has announced the return of Artemio Torres.”

 

“Practice,” Artemio confirmed, “and a lot of it, under the name Chico Violento.”

 

“Not many fighters wear masks anymore,” Delia observed. “I assume you’ll be wearing one again.”

 

“I’ll have to,” Artemio confirmed. “Chichi will send someone to take me out if she knows where I am. Besides I’m a retired MP, I can’t fight under my own name in an illegal fighting league.”

 

“Alright,” Delia conceded after a few seconds. “I’ll make money either way. No buy in. You fight as much as you want. I’ll cover your costs. And no one finds out who you are. But I keep the profits.”

 

His first fight was a few nights later, against a titanium miner that had bought into the fight hoping to take the prize money. The fight was being broadcast online pay-per-view, and Delia had informed Artemio before entering the cage that they had good sales with over 100,000 subscribed viewers. A cut of that would go the miner if he won the fight. The miner was a local, a brown-skinned decedent of the original Indian colonists. He was taller than Artemio, and obviously a body-builder. Artemio wasn’t exactly out of shape, but he hadn’t taken steroids or growth hormones since joining the army. Artemio took a shot of taurage before stepping into the cage.

 

Across the cage the miner stepped in and the doors locked behind them. Then the miner ran at him. He swung a quick left, and Chico Violento dodged inside and slammed two good shots to the miner’s solar plexus. The miner was winded, but punching his abs were like punching a cement wall. The miner stepped back for a few seconds, and then pushed back in, lashing out with both hands. Artemio caught a right and slammed back into the cage wall. The miner pressed on in, slamming his left knee into Artemio’s body and smashed another right fist into his head. Artemio couldn’t seem to land anything and leaped up away from him, catching the cage roof bars, and then propelling himself to the cage floor on the far side. The miner turned to charge again, but Artemio spun a roundhouse kick up into his mouth and the miner stopped in his tracks with a surprised look.

 

The miner dropped into a half crouch, he clearly had some martial arts training, and then he rushed in again, pushing Chico Violento back to the cage wall. The miner unexpectedly kicked Artemio’s right knee, knocking Artemio down briefly. Violento was angry, this miner was strong, but not that good a fighter, yet he was pushing Violento around the cage like he’d never been a cage before. Violento rose in a rage, slamming a left to the miner’s mouth and hooked a right to his ear that spun the miner’s head. Violento pushed in stabbing the miner with both hands.

 

The miner’s knees buckled and he to dropped to one knee, but Artemio backed off and waited for the miner to get back to his feet. The miner looked surprised, and moved in on Chico Violento again, but when he began throwing his fists there was nothing behind them. He seemed to have misunderstood why Artemio had backed off, perhaps the thought Chico Violento was going to throw the fight. Lots of fighters got paid more by gamblers to throw fights than they would get from the ticket sales, but all Artemio wanted was the fight to last longer. He needed a workout. He needed to get this miner back into the fight, and as the miner threw ineffective fists Artemio struck out slamming a fist squarely into the miners nose.

 

The miner was knocked back, and briefly stunned, but when he returned to the fight he was back in it. The miner kicked up at Chico Violento just missing his chin, and followed through with a right that knocked Artemio back into the cage wall. As Artemio tried to push away from the wall he was met by a barrage of fists as the miner bored in. It was something he hadn’t felt in a long time, a relentless pummeling by an enraged opponent. His body was numb again, as disconnected from his mind as a vehicle he might be driving. It felt somehow good, familiar. Violento waited his moment, and as the miners hands slowed down, drove a fist from the bottom of his feet up into the miner’s jaw, snapping the miner’s head back. The miner stagger back, and fell unconscious into the floor of the cage.

 

A medic entered the cage to check the miner. He was still alive, but out cold with a shattered jaw. The fight was over, way too soon for Artemio, and there wouldn’t be another fight until they got to Yangi Toshkent a week later.

 

Chico Violento exited the cage and Delia approached. “It didn’t look good for you. What did you hit him with?”

 

“My fist,” Artemio answered, somewhat disappointed the fight had ended so soon. “Can I fight again tonight?”

 

“Max one fight per event,” Delia told him what he already knew.

 

“You should pay him something,” Artemio stated. “At least cover his medical bill.”

 

“That wasn’t our agreement,” Delia argued.

 

“I’ll win every fight,” Artemio stated. “I’m sure you can make more than enough off the side action.”

 

They left Madhabani that night, before the Arean MP swarmed through the city looking for the fight cage. Yangi Toshkent was in the Gale Crater far to the northeast at the cusp of the Hesperia Planum and the northern lowlands. It was once an Uzbek Cerium mining colony, founded by Mars Mining and Metallurgy Combinat. MMMC had not invested greatly in agriculture, building a few greenhouses producing a mixture of wheat, barley, corn, rice, cotton, sesame, onions, flax, tobacco, and melons. During the Colonial Era many Colombian farming corporations had built greenhouses in the region around the Gale Crater, leaving the region with a largely agricultural economy.

 

Delia had booked them on a passenger airship to Yangi Toshkent, which took three days, stopping briefly in Noua București. The passenger airship was large and luxurious, nothing like the tiny cabin that he had travelled from Multan to Eko in. It gave him the opportunity to meet the production crew and other fighters working for the UFL. With the exception of the fact that they were criminals, it was like it had been when he was young.

 

The fight in Yangi Toshkent took longer than the one in Madhabani, but not much longer. The fighter he faced was a slugger. There were various ways one could fight, and this fighter had no training in any martial arts. He had one skill-set, he could hit hard and he could hit fast. Violento could have defeated him quickly using a variety of techniques, but the fighter was a good slugger, and so Artemio fought him in a slug-fest. The fight took less than twenty minutes, and ended with the slugger laying unconscious on the floor like miner in Madhabani. The slugger was disappointing to Artemio, but he had kept the fight going as long as the man could hold up.

 

A week later they were in Karaci in Aeolis Mensae, northeast of Gale Crater. Yangi Toshkent and Karaci were connected via maglev system, so the ULF crew and fighters traveled by land. Delia liked to change their mode of transport whenever she could to keep the MPs from tracking them. Aeolis Mensae was a tableland in the lowlands north of the Hesperia Planum. It was one of Mars’ strange inverted features, the remnant of an ancient riverbed that rose high above the surrounding lands that had eroded away since the river dried up.

 

The fighter he met in Karaci was the opposite of the slugger in Yangi Toshkent. This fighter had a mixed martial arts background, and the fight was technical. This was the kind of fight Artemio had been looking for, something that would sharpened up his skills. The fighter was a challenge, not to beat, but to beat without killing. Artemio didn’t want to kill him unless he had no choice, he didn’t want to raise Chico Violento’s profile any more than absolutely necessary. Sooner or later someone would notice that Chico Violento wasn’t loosing, and his profile would skyrocket. When that happened Artemio might need to disappear. Terminal fights would raise his profile quicker. Everyone wanted to bet on a terminal fighter, no one ever threw a fight against a terminal fighter.

 

The fighter knocked Chico Violento down, and Artemio realized he wasn’t paying close enough attention. The fighter stepped back waiting for Chico Violento get back to his feet, he wanted to win a clean fight. Artemio could respect that, he was trying to win a non-terminal fight. He got up and waited for the fighter to close in again before attacking. He dodged the fighters feet and plowed his left fist deep into the fighter’s solar plexus, sending the fighter stumbling back a few feet with a worried expression on his face.

 

Artemio advanced and slammed a right foot into the fighter’s heart that made him stumble back up a couple of more steps. The fighter returned with a quick series of fists aimed at Chico Violento’s head missing all but one glancing blow to the chin. Artemio dodged to the left and feinted a right swing, before raising his left knee into the fighter’s sternum. The fighter had stepped into Artemio’s knee trying to avoid his right fist, and as he stumbled backwards the right fist slammed down into his temple knocking him out cold. Artemio knelled down to check the man’s pulse before the medic rushed in, he was still alive.

 

After the first few fights they all seemed to blur together. For weeks he fought a series of miners, farmers, and mechanics. Several of the fighters were technical, but the majority were just local strongmen that fought in a variety of innovative ways. The fighters weren’t of the calibre he needed to face to prepare for Mudiwa Kachote, but they were all real fighters with some skill-set, that allowed him to sharpen his own skills. As the weeks passed and it became apparent that Chico Violento wasn’t going to loose, Delia started fighting him against the best of the contenders. The unbeaten streak also got the attention of gamblers across the planet, bringing Chico Violento to the attention of Chichi and Yousaf.

 

“Artemio started in the HFL,” Yousaf said. “He’d been fighting in a mask before that. I don’t know the name, but it could have been Chico Violento.”

 

“His style isn’t like Artemio’s,” Chichi said as they watched a replay of one of Chico Violento’s recent fights.

 

“It changes with every fight,” Yousaf said. “I downloaded all of them last night. Whoever Chico Violento is, he’s toying with these contenders.”

 

“You really think it’s Artemio?” Chichi asked.

 

“Yes,” Yousaf answered. “It makes perfect sense for him to run back to Hesperia and fight in the UFL.”

 

“Why the mask?” Chichi asked. “Not many fighters in the UFL fight in masks anymore.”

 

“The UFL is illegal,” Yousaf observed, “and he was in the MPs.”

 

Chichi paused considering, and then looked up eagerly. “Send Brijesh Misra to challenge him. There’s no way the ULF will turn down a challenge from a major Multan FC fighter. Offer them some extra Arean Credits to keep Chico Violento in the dark.”

 

“How much?” Yousaf enquired.

 

“₡100,000 should be enough,” Chichi answered. “The UFL is a pretty small operation.”

 

As soon as Artemio saw Brijesh enter the cage, he knew his time in the UFL was over. Brijesh was taller than Artemio, but not as muscular. He was one of the top fighters in the Multan FC, and one of the dirtiest fighters Artemio had ever seen in the cage. On the way into the cage Artemio had overheard one of the techs say they they had a record number of subscriptions to watch the fight. His ego let him think it was because of him, now he knew it was because of Brijesh.

 

The cage doors locked and Brijesh moved quickly yet cautiously towards Artemio. Brijesh jabbed a left that knocked Artemio’s head back like he was a bobble-head, and then swung a fast right. Artemio dodged the right and moved in close, slamming his knee up into Brijesh’s muscular abs. For most fighters the knee would at least pause them for a few seconds, but it had no effect on Brijesh. He smashed his left elbow up into Artemio’s chin, knocking him back and down to one knee.

 

Artemio dropped and rolled backwards away from Brijesh, rising to both feet and drove a right straight into Brijesh’s mouth. Brijesh stepped back, paused for a second and then advanced on Artemio again, missing with a right, but connecting with his left knee, and then his right elbow. Artemio was knocked back against the cage walls again, and Brijesh pushed in pounding him down with fist and knees. Violento felt the flood of jarring blows beginning to take its toll and struck out with both fists into Brijesh’s solar plexus and the jumped as Brijesh stumbled backwards. He grabbed Brijesh’s head with both hands and drove his knee up into Brijesh’s face.

 

Brijesh was stunned and fell backward to one knee, before rushing at Artemio again, jabbing a vicious right into Artemio’s face. It caught Artemio by surprise, and he tasted blood. Artemio backed up, and Brijesh charged in narrowly missing him as Artemio jumped and caught the cage ceiling bars. Brijesh jumped up at Artemio, but missed again as Artemio threw himself down across the cage. Brijesh followed Artemio back down to the cage floor and met Artemio’s foot in his temple, which sent him rolling across the cage floor.

 

Artemio was instantly on top of him pounding him with both fists moving so fast the subscribers at home could only see a blur. Brijesh shot a quick left up through Artemio blur of fists straight into his throat, that sent him up and recoiling across the cage. Brijesh rolled back up onto his feet, his face a bloody mess. He ran at Artemio, and ducked under Artemio’s fists grabbing him by the waist and slamming him down into the ground.

 

Artemio had the wind knocked out of him and almost lost consciousness, but Violento’s instinct kicked in slamming his hands into Brijesh’s face, his thumbs boring into Brijesh’s eyes. Brijesh was screaming, and blood was running down Artemio’s arms when he realized what was happening. His thumbs were driven through Brijesh’s shattered eyeballs, but slid out as Brijesh jumped back away from him. Artemio rose to his feet as Brijesh fell to his knees groping towards the cage wall. Artemio looked down at him, the fight wasn’t over yet. He walked up behind Brijesh and reached down. Brijesh’s neck cracked in Artemio’s hands, and the fight was over.

 

When he returned to the locker room the MPs were waiting for him. He knew one of them, Tumelo Koena, an Eco-Revolutionary volunteer from South Africa. They had served together briefly during the war. Artemio didn’t recognize the other MP.

 

“Don’t take off the mask,” Tumelo ordered.

 

“Alright,” Artemio said sitting down on one of the benches. “You guys finally shutting down the UFL?”

 

“Not tonight,” Tumelo answered. “The UFL isn’t a primary concern at the moment.”

 

“Not a primary concern?” Artemio scoffed. “I thought your task-force’s mission is to shutdown the fights.”

 

“That can’t happen while as long as everyone is gambling on the fights,” Tumelo stated. “When we shutdown the HFL, it just became the UFL. If we shut down the UFL it’ll just become something else unless we dismantled the gambling industry first.”

 

“Sound like a chicken/egg paradox,” Artemio stated. “And if you’re not here to arrest me, why are you here?”

 

It was an interesting conversation.

 

The death of Brijesh Misra dominated the sports news for several days, with politicians and psychologists giving a jumble of opinions about the morality of professional fighting and ineffectiveness of the laws banning it. The fight-talk always seemed to segway back to the up coming fight between Mudiwa Kachote and the returning Artemio Torres in Multan. Politicians argued about the validity of the Confederacy continuing to adhere to the Mars Treaty, and its Corporate Mining Zones that effectively created autonomous countries within the Confederacy. Psychologists claimed that the army was allowing soldiers to retire without proper medical treatment, which was to only reason a soldier would become a professional fighter.

 

Artemio had no reason to hide the fact that he was returning to Multan, and so caught a suborbital flight back from Sositenya Abeba, where he’d fought Brijesh. The suborbital flight was launched from a maglev track, and propelled out of the atmosphere to just below orbit, where it changed direction towards Multan, and began its decent. The flight took 43 minutes, and when Artemio walked down the catwalk into the spaceport, Yousaf Dulai was waiting for him.

 

Artemio saw Yousaf and walked over to him with a smile, “Concerned I wouldn’t come back?”

 

“Not you,” Yousaf replied. “Just thought I’d see how bad Brijesh got you. Couldn’t see much through that mask.”

 

“A broken metatarsal bone in the left foot,” Artemio reported.

 

“Explains the limp,” Yousaf nodded. “You got some bad eyes too.”

 

“Brijesh was a hell of a fighter,” Artemio observed.

 

“I know,” Yousaf stated. “He was one of mine.”

 

“That’s unfortunate,” Artemio remarked.

 

“Not really,” Yousaf disagreed. “I’ve known him since we were both kids, and he’s never had a braincell in his head. Sure got a lot of pussy though, probably fathered more than a hundred kids. Never did a thing for any of them. Good riddance.”

 

“Mudiwa’s one of yours too,” Artemio observed. “Chichi pissed at you or something?”

 

Yousaf pulled his cigarette from his lips and put it back into the pack to recharge. “We’ve never been that close. We make money together, and that’s it.”

 

Artemio looked at him. Yousaf seemed depressed. His large green eyes didn’t look right. “How many fighter do you have left, Yousaf?”

 

He looked at Artemio. “None that matter, at least not after you kill Mudiwa.”

 

“He could take a dive,” Artemio suggested.

 

Yousaf didn’t bother looking up at Artemio. “No, Mudiwa’s too much like you, he doesn’t take dives.”

 

“Maybe he’ll win,” Artemio stated offhandedly.

 

Yousaf paused again before replying, “I saw it. At the end. You still blackout, don’t you?”

 

Artemo didn’t respond.

 

“I figured ten years in the army might have cleared that out,” Yousaf continued.

 

“Didn’t come up much in the army,” Artemio replied.

 

“Well, doesn’t matter now,” Yousaf observed. “We’re going to need you to making public appearances in the next couple days.”

 

“So everyone can see how banged up I am?” Artemio suggested.

 

“So everyone knows you are Chico Violento,” Yousaf stated. “Since you can’t officially claim to be Chico Violento without getting arrested, we need everyone to see your face.”

 

“And my limp,” Artemio added. “I’m sure it’ll help the odds makers.”

 

“It will make the gambling more interesting,” Yousaf agreed as he pulled another cigarette from his pack. He turned it on, and looked Artemio over again before wandering off towards the exit.

 

That evening Artemio found Carey at the bar he’d been hired to work at before Artemio had left Multan. He looked like he fit right in, but he always did, it was a gift he had. He smiled when he saw Artemio, but Artemio could see something had changed. He’d been through a tough fight, and could see it now reflected in Carey’s eyes. When they kissed he knew for sure that things had changed.

 

“What’s wrong?” Artemio asked. “Everything all right?”

 

“Yes, Artemio, but your face!” Carey replied. “Your eyes are cut!”

 

“Yeah. Brijesh, in the UFL. Maybe, you saw the fight?” Artemio asked.

 

“Everybody did,” Carey answered frankly. “I never watched you fight before.”

 

“Disturb you?” Artemio asked. “I know you don’t like the fights.”

 

“It’s not that,” Carey shook his head. “You have to fight Mudiwa Kachote in a couple days, and you’re eyes are cut. You can’t win!”

 

“I’ve also got a broken metatarsal bone,” Artemio stated. “But I’ll still win.”

 

“I’m sure you have to believe that, or you couldn’t fight,” Carey said dismissively. “But the odds are not in your favour.”

 

“Betting against me?” Artemio asked.

 

“I have to make a living, like everyone else,” Carey answered.

 

“You’ll loose,” Artemio stated. “What are the odds?”

 

“Eight to one against,” Carey reported. “Everyone knows your damaged going into it, and Mudiwa is in excellent health.”

 

“I’ve got some Arean credits. Can you place a bet for me?” Artemio asked. “There’s a CMZ up in Ceraunius, Calabar. They allow gambling.”

 

“I’ve heard of Canaan City,” Carey stated dismissively. Calabar, also known as Canaan City, was a small Corporate Mining Zone that was marketing itself as the new Multan. Almost everything was legal in Calabar, gambling, prostitution, professional fighting, offshore banking, almost everything.

 

“Place a bet up there. Place it on me,” Artemio requested. “At eight to one even a small amount will pay off well.”

 

“Do you really believe you have a chance in your condition?” Carey asked sadly.

 

“I lost the ability to loose a long time ago. I can’t explain it better than that. Go back and watch my fights if you want to know what I mean. Either way, don’t bet against me. You will loose.” With that statement Artemio handed Carey a credit card and rose to leave.

 

He had two days to heal as best he could. Months in the UFL had built his muscle mass, but steroids and growth hormones wouldn’t help him heal. He needed to rest. He retired to his hotel suite, with enough food and meds that he wouldn’t need to leave until the fight, screw Chichi’s request public appearances. He had a gun, but didn’t want to be disturbed, so piled the suite’s sofa up against the door, and went to bed. He woke up a few hours later, his foot throbbing. He limped to the kitchenette, and made himself some bufallo-steak and eggs he’d brought from Madhabani. He returned to bed and watched a movie on the hotel’s pay-per-view. It was an import from Canada, some ludicrous sci-fi thing where astronauts visited Alpha-Centauri and found a subterranean race of intelligent insects. He passed out near the end, and woke up fifteen hours later surprised he’d slept for so long. His foot felt better, but it still hurt to walk.

 

He got up and made something to eat, and then sat down at the window looking out over Multan and the ruddy-brown desert beyond. His mind drifted to his farm, he needed to rebuild the greenhouses, and put up sonic shields, so the next storm didn’t rip the greenhouses down again. If he made enough he might be able to find a used harvester-bot, that would really cut down on his work. He was looking forwards to returning to his farm, to a peaceful life. He wondered if Casey would be there. The idea that Casey might not be there hurt, but not as much as it would have before he left for the UFL. Time. Casey might not go back with him, but the real question was if he would place the bet in Calabar. If Artemio didn’t get the credits from Calabar he wouldn’t be able to buy a harvester-bot, he might not even be able to build a full sonic shield array.

 

The night of the fight Yousaf approached Artemio in the locker room as he was preparing for the fight. “Chichi wants you to fight for her again. She’s offering ₹250,000 for you to take a dive, plus your mortgage.”

 

“She’s that worried about Mudiwa?” Artemio asked dismissively.

 

“There are more than a million viewers subscribed,” Yousaf explained. “Think of how much a rematch would earn.”

 

“You already told her my answer I assume,” Artemio replied.

 

“She was your agent, she already knew what your answer would be,” Yousaf stated. “She’s hoping you’re broken enough to take the dive.”

 

“And you?”

 

“I’m betting on you,” Yousaf stated. “But don’t tell Chichi.”

 

“Thought she owned the gambling scene in this town,” Artemio observed.

 

“She does. I placed the bet in Canaan City,” Yousaf stated.

 

“She’ll still find out,” Artemio said. “I recommend you leave for Calabar before the end of the fight.”

 

“After this fight I won’t have any useful fighters left,” Yousaf said. “I’m heading to Calabar as soon as we’re done this conversation. Going to setup my own fight club up there. Just make sure to win okay?”

 

Artemio chucked and injected his taurage, then walked to the cage. When Artemio stepped into the cage Mudiwa was already there. A tall Earth-born black, with long dreadlocks. The Earth-borns all had a different more-vibrant shade than the Mars-born, which Mudiwa had used to his advantage playing a heal in the Multan FC. His body was chiseled ebony that showed no signs of fat anywhere.

 

As soon as the cage locked Mudiwa advanced and jabbed a fast left at Artemio’s eyes. Artemio ducked under Mudiwa’s fist, and slammed a right to Mudiwa’s ribs. Mudiwa jabbed again for Artemio’s eyes and missed again. Artemio faked a right, and Mudiwa stepped back, smirking, then stabbed left at Artemio’s eyes again. Artemio ducked again, but caught a fist to his forehead which knocked his head back like it was on a spring. Mudiwa followed it up with a right that knocked Artemio’s entire body back.

 

Mudiwa threw another right and Artemio ducked again, rising into Mudiwa’s arms and let it curl around his neck, then smashed both hands to Mudiwa’s solar plexus. Mudiwa stepped back a few steps, but then advanced again, and jabbed a right into Artemio’s mouth that split his previously cut lip. Artemio dodged Mudiwa’s next two lefts and closed in on him, slamming a couple shots into Mudiwa’s kidneys, before Mudiwa connected with a stiff right to Artemio’s head, sending him tumbling across the cage floor.

 

As Artemio rose from the cage floor, Mudiwa caught him with a left to the right eye and a trickle of blood started down his face. Artemio struck a left hook into Mudiwa’s ribs that jolted him backwards a couple steps. Artemio advanced and stabbed a left to Mudiwa’s mouth, then Mudiwa ducked a left and smashed his right knee into Artemio’s ribs, knocking Artemio back a couple steps.

 

By then blood covered both fighters, and Artemio was blinking the blood from his eyes trying to see Mudiwa. Mudiwa spun a roundhouse kick up towards Artemio’s face, but Artemio saw it coming and dropped under it, slamming his open palm into Mudiwa’s knee. Mudiwa buckled and fell. Artemio stepped back waiting to see if Mudiwa could get back to his feet. More than a million people were watching, and he didn’t have a mask on, he’d avoid killing Mudiwa if possible.

 

Mudiwa rose slowly, watching Artemio with a vicious look on his face. Artemio’s stepping back would make people believe it was a rigged fight, even if he killed Artemio. He advanced on Artemio again, now they were both limping. Mudiwa swung at Artemio’s face again, but missed as Artemio dodged, and then took a shot to the solar plexus before stepping back. Artemio advanced as Mudiwa backed up, pounding him with both fists. Mudiwa took a few shots to the face, and then rose his right foot into Artemio’s solar plexus, lifting him off the ground, and knocking him back several steps.

 

Artemio recoiled from Mudiwa’s advance, and then turned suddenly lashing out at Mudiwa’s eyes, cutting a gash under his right eye that started bleeding immediately. Mudiwa moved in again, and slammed a wicked right that knocked Artemio back into the cage wall. Mudiwa advanced pounding Artemio with an unrelenting blur of fists and knees.

 

The next thing Artemio knew he was standing over Mudiwa, who was sprawled on the floor on the other side of the cage. He backed off again and Mudiwa rose, slowly. Mudiwa walked slowly towards Artemio, whether biding his time or sizing up his opponent, Artemio did not know.

 

Mudiwa shot another left for Artemio’s face, which he dodged before pummelling Mudiwa with a barrage of blows that drove him back into the cage wall. Artemio nailed Mudiwa with hard right to the heart, and stabbed two lefts to his mouth, before Mudiwa turned it around with a couple of wicked hooks into Artemio’s torso that knocked him back. As Artemio fell back Mudawi jumped at him, plunging his elbow into Artemio’s face.

 

Artemio fell back and then jumped at Mudawi, lancing his lip with a left hook and then landing behind him. Mudawi anticipated Artemio’s position, and knelt driving his elbow back into Artemio’s body, and then spun around and headbutted him, knocking him back to the cage walls. As Artemio’s head it the cage wall, Mudiwa followed though with a right straight into his jaw.

 

Artemio lashed out and caught Artemio just above the left eye, splitting the eyebrow and causing a trickle of blood to run down into Mudiwa’s eye. Mudiwa came back fast, with a brutal, bloody onslaught of rights and lefts. Mudiwa’s eyes were cut as badly as Aretmio’s, and he clearly wanted to inflict as much damage as possible before it became too hard to see through the blood. Artemio returned the attack focusing on the Mudiwa’s body, pounding shot after shot into the ribs and kidneys.

 

Sweat and blood streamed into their eyes and Artemio tried to wipe the blood away and caught a right hook for his trouble. Artemio ducked into a crouch and dove for Mudiwa’s legs, lifting him off the cage floor before slamming him back down onto it. Mudiwa landed on his back, his arms spread at his sides, and Artemio was immediately on top of him, pounding him with both fists.

 

Mudiwa managed to jab a right into Artemio’s ribs, followed by a left, and then another right, and Artemio fell off him and rolled to his feet. Mudiwa rose slowly again, and then rushed at Artemio jolting him with a shot to the head. Artemio fell and rolled backwards away from Mudiwa, and rose to his feet as Mudiwa closed in and slammed him back into the cage wall. Mudiwa continued his assault with knees and fists knocking Artemio to the bring of unconsciousness.

 

The next thing Artemio knew he was standing over Mudiwa in the middle of the cage. Blood was gushing from Mudiwa neck where his throat had been, and Artemio realized it was in his hand, dripping.

 

The cage unlocked, and a medic rushed in, but Mudiwa wasn’t going to recover. Artemio dropped the throat and headed for the cage door. When he reached the locker Tumelo Koena and several other Arean MPs were waiting for him. He barely saw them as he headed for the shower. The shower’s water automatically turned off after five minutes. It wasn’t enough. The hot air blew him dry, and he walked out towards his locker. The MPs were still there.

 

“Tough fight,” Tumelo started.

 

“How’d it go outside the cage?” Artemio asked, as he opened his locker.

 

“The Multan CMZ has been dissolved by the confederacy,” Tumelo stated. “We’ve seized the offices of the Khewra-Mars Mining Corporation, as well as the banks and casinos.”

 

“And Chichi?” Artemio asked, pulling on his pants.

 

“Dead. Up stairs,” Tumelo stated. “Yousaf Dulai seems to have disappeared. You give him a head’s up?”

 

“He was already heading out before the fight,” Artemio answered, pulling on a shirt. “Canaan City.”

 

“Did he know we were coming?” Tumelo asked.

 

“No. He just wanted away from Chichi,” Artemio observed. “So what happens to me?”

 

“It’s what we discussed,” Tumelo answered. “Your contract was signed before the senate disbanded the Multan CMZ, so Multan Casino’s estate will settle your fee in Arean credits, at your bank account in Sirenum. Your mortgage at the Bank of Multan has also been nullified, of course if you placed any side bets, they’ve been nullified as well.”

 

“That won’t be a problem,” Artemio stated. “And no charges against me for the fight?”

 

“The fight started before the CMZ was disbanded, so the fight was legal. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Tumelo warned. “And we don’t want to see Chico Violento again either. Everyone knows that’s you now.”

 

Artemio returned to his suite, and laid down on his bed. He wanted to sleep, he was sore, and weary, but not tired. He got up and walked to the mirror. He didn’t look good, it was probably a good think Carey wasn’t there. He went to the kitchenette, and took a whisky from the vending machine. It was a local Multan brew, not that good, but strong. He preferred American whiskey, if he had to drink whiskey. If he had his choice he’d drink bourbon, preferably the bourbon brewed in Eko. But at least this stuff was strong, and before long be was asleep.

 

He woke up a couple hours later, still drunk, but hurting too much to lay down. Every part of his body had been pummelled except the bottoms of his feet, but both feet now felt like they had broken bones. He went back to the kitchenette and pulled a package of barbeque flavoured tempeh, and then sat on the sofa. He picked a movie from the pay-per-view and tried to relax. It was a movie that had been popular about a decade earlier, he’d never watched it. Several of the guys he served with had raved about it at the time, but it was about a bunch of wizards and he never got that magic thing. The movie annoyed him, and he passed out before it ended.

 

He woke up a few hours later. There was a noise. His feet hurt, and his hands, everything hurt. The noise was the door chime, and he shook is head. He picked up the half drunk whiskey and took a swig before limping to the door. He looked through the eyepiece and saw Carey standing outside, so he opened the door. Carey had died his hair, and was wearing very tight clothes, but when he saw Artemio’s face his expression changed.

 

“It’ll heal,” Artemio said stepping back to allow Carey to enter the suite.

 

“Does it hurt?” Carey asked entering the suite.

 

“Yeah, it hurts,” Artemio answered, closing the door.

 

“Good, means your brain is still working,” Carey said as he dropped into a chair. “Did you hear what happened during the fight?”

 

“The Confederacy dissolving the CMZ?” Artemio asked walking to the kitchenette.

 

“You heard,” Carey confirmed. “They seized everything during the fight, while everyone was watching you. The casinos, the banks, even the bets on the fights. A quarter of the Confederate population must have been betting on the fight!”

 

“That many?” Artemio asked as he pulled a couple beers from the vending machine. “Yousaf said there were only about a million subscribers.”

 

“He was wrong,” Carey stated as Artemio handed him a beer. “Or maybe a lot of people pirated the broadcast, either way a lot more than a million bet on it.”

 

“And they all lost their bets. Sorry about that,” Artemio said sitting down carefully into a chair across the room from Carey.

 

“Didn’t affect me,” Carey replied. “I placed all my bets in Calabar.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I took your advice,” Carey explained. “I watched some of your old fights. How much of your fights do you remember?”

 

“Depends on the opponent,” Artemio answered honestly. “Sometimes everything. But with good opponents, there are generally gaps. With a good opponent I usually don’t remember the end.”

 

“Ever happen outside of a fight?” Carey asked.

 

“A few times in combat,” Artemio answered, “in hand to hand.”

 

“Never in a relationship?” Carey asked seriously.

 

“Never had a lover that tried to kill me,” Artemio stated.

 

“Well then, I guess it won’t be a problem,” Carey dismissed the issue.

 

“Coming back with me then?” Artemio asked.

 

“Was that in question?” Carey smiled.

 

“I was concerned my farm was too dull for you,” Artemio stated honestly.

 

“Maybe it was,” Carey admitted. “But the Confederacy is changing. The cities are changing. And besides, now it’ll be our farm.”

 

“Our farm?” Artemio asked intrigued.

 

“I watched you old fights,” Carey reminded him. “I placed the money I earned the last few months on you. I’m coming back with you, but I’m investing.”

 

“How much did we make?” Artemio asked with a smile that split his lip again.

 

“Assuming you earned enough from the fight to repair the greenhouse and by seeds,” Carey started. “We made enough in Calabar to put up sonic shields, buy a harvester-bot, and put up another wind turbine, and, well I’ve been looking into the cost of setting up a micro-brewery…”


Sweat and Blood

For Artemio it had never been about wining, it had always been about surviving. He didn't know if he could beat Mudiwa Kachote in a fare fight, in fact he doubted he could, but it didn't matter because he could survive a fight with Mudiwa. It was hard-wired into him. For Chichi it had always been about wining, and Chichi always won. Chichi knew she would win against Artemio, he was just a fighter, she was Multan itself. It didn't matter if Mudiwa was or wasn't a better fighter than Artemio, by the time Artemio got into the cage, he would be in no condition to fight Mudiwa. Yousaf's perspective was different, he hadn't been a winner in more than a decade. He had a good gig, and made a lot of money working for Chichi, but those weren't his wins, they were losses. Chichi had once been a competitor, and had screwed him over when he proposed they jointly form a fighting league in Multan. He was from Multan, and knew the revolutionaries would ban the fighting leagues if they won the war. Every win she had was ashes in his mouth.

  • ISBN: 9780991912438
  • Author: Jack Stornoway
  • Published: 2016-02-26 10:40:15
  • Words: 10731
Sweat and Blood Sweat and Blood