GLADIATOR GIRL
An Alternate Reality Action-sports Love Story

R. H. Watson

Chimaera Ranch, LLC Appleton, WI 2010

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2010 R. H. Watson. This work is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. If you enjoyed this book, please consider buying a copy for yourself, a friend, or as a donation to a library. Links to online sellers are available at, http://www.chimaeraranch.com.
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For my mother, Pearl Watson, who lived a long, full life, although, not the one she dreamed of living when she was young.

Acknowledgements Many thanks to the following people for their invaluable help and support. Bob Larson for encouragement, for reading the first and last drafts, and for letting me work in the back room of his comic book shop: Powerhouse Comics in Appleton, Wisconsin. Be sure to drop by if you’re in the area. Kelsey Grimmer (who was working in her Uncle Bob’s shop) for reading and proofreading the first draft as it rolled off the keyboard. (Bob and Kelsey are both immortalized in the story.) Annie Quick-Laughlin for her critical reading of the manuscript, both the faux-final and real final versions, and for providing indispensable editorial comment and encouragement, not to mention advice on girl-girl sex. Yehoshuah M. Young who kindly pointed out that I had too much exposition. Fixing that turned into a major revision—one I'm much happier with. Tony Vander Pas, who’s mastery of the f-bomb informed the cadence of Lucy’s profanity. The staffs of Harmony Cafe and Acoca Coffee for not kicking me out, and along with the Appleton Library, for providing places away from my cats where I could get this work done when Powerhouse Comics wasn’t open. Special thanks to my mother for always and forever wanting me to succeed at something. I am deeply sorry you were not able to read the finished book.

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Part I .

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Chapter 1 Lucy Star is Born. came out of the Recovery Ward. squishy birth basin. one had done just that. A gurney was parked outside the Monitor Room that Mary had prepared when she came on duty for the night shift. naked girl. mostly organic contraptions stood down both sides of the room. Mary pushed the gurney into the Womb Room. Her umbilical cord trailed back into the womb where her foot was caught in the birth canal. “I got it. was lying in a soft. one of her matron’s aids. A limp. Other tubes lower in the back removed waste. About two-thirds of the way down the room. She picked up the big. . Rows of bulky. Mary sat at the console in the Monitor Room. fluffy towel from its mattress and hung it around her neck.” she said to Mary and headed to the Memory Vault to collect the girl’s placenta jar. each had a vulva big enough to pass a grown woman. The girl’s head was emerging. Again There were thirty-seven buns in the oven and one was about ready to drop. wet with amniotic fluid. fleshy things with fittings at the top to feed in nutrients. In the lower front. Vesper. They were big. She pulled a card from her deck and was making a play when the birth alarm went off. corpulent. The monitor showed that the womb with the bun named Lucy Star had broken its water and was chugging away with contractions.

” She continued through her spine and half way to the other side of her back. remembering the latest version of the girl’s life. A few minutes later the placenta itself followed. “Easy there. Vesper closed the lid and return it to the Memory Vault where it would sit in blissful silence.” she said. Vesper arrived at the womb with the girl’s placenta jar. . and sealed the ends. and tucked her into a postnatal bed with soft protective sides. “Hi. She gave the girl a gentle bath. A beeping alarm went off. “Your heart was cut in two. “and good as new. In a couple of hours Lucy Star stirred herself awake. and her mouth and stomach re-awoke to the delights of digestion. “Let’s see. Watson Mary pulled the girl’s foot out. plopping into the fluid.4 R.” She kept drawing over to her spine. She let her sleep. The jar was lined with a membrane that was a genetic match to the girl’s own uterus and was filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. Sit until you feel like walking. She popped its lid and put it under the womb’s vulva. “Look who’s finally awake. H. It sounded healthy. cleared her mouth. dried her off. The girl suckled.” Lucy said and returned her hug. then lifted the girl onto the gurney. She cut the girl’s umbilical cord. and pressed a rubber teat into her mouth. She put the stringy placenta end of the umbilical cord in the jar. “Your arm was cut off here. swaddled her in the big fluffy towel. Mary pushed the gurney out of the Womb Room and into the Recovery Ward.” She gave Lucy a hug. She released the side of the bed and sat up. but call me before you do. over and over and over. and listened to her take her first gargling breath in over two weeks. Mary. No falling on my watch!” “How bad was it?” Lucy said.” Mary drew her finger across the back of Lucy’s left upper arm. and a minute later Mary came into the Recovery Ward.

and the room was kept at body temperature. The simple act of breathing was intoxicating.” She led the way to the Memory Vault. “Could I take a look at my girl before I leave?” Lucy said. but she also felt brand new and as clean as it was possible to feel—like she had only. This was the best part of dying: she felt weak and a little dizzy. One of the club’s assistant equipment managers would have cleaned it and delivered it to the Laughing Cherub. “You take care. Lucy found Mary in the Monitor Room. after convincing Mary her dizziness was gone and she was strong enough to walk on her own. and glare shields kept waste light out of the sky. The light was dim. not a scratch on you now.” Lucy leaned back. touched the world for the first time. just now. “Of course you can. It looked good. Each was fed a trickle of nutrition and oxygenated artificial blood. She walked over and touched its smooth. Lucy pulled the blade part way out of its scabbard to check the edge. supporting herself with her arms. It made her look like an anime artist’s idea of a matador. She slung her bag over her shoulder and picked up her sword. This outfit was a bit bold and a bit cute. Autumn was settling in. The night was .Gladiator Girl 5 “And you were nearly cut all the way in half yourself. Lucy knew where her jar was. The street lights were dimmed. Mary handed her a glass of rebirth formula. The amniotic fluid was cycled and filtered to remove waste. Lucy got dressed. “Drink it all. The air was cool.” Lucy said. She finished by adjusting her hat in front of the dressing room mirror. “But don’t worry.” Later. back at her card game. It was two o’clock when Lucy left the Laughing Cherub. but the surface was dull. Its walls were lined with racks filled with placenta jars. Mary played her card. She would polish it properly in the morning. warm side.” She patted the invisible line. A display above the jar confirmed that the little world inside was lovely. She kissed her fingers and pressed them against the side of the jar.

partly grown mini-arcologies. even with roommates from the club.” . Lucy could even make out the dim fog of the Milky Way.” She waited. He peddled them away and used the electric motor for an assist up the hill to Wicker Lane. honey. Watson awash with stars.” In fact.” She spoke softly. She could never have afforded this place on her own. She rubbed her key against the door―nothing happened. she wanted to slip naked into their bed and have him wake up to the erection she would give him in his sleep. The cab pulled up. The door opened and there was— “Emily Stone? What are you doing here?” Lucy said. crap. “Complements of the Cherub. it wasn’t.6 R. naked. It felt good to be almost home. Crap. “That’s my robe!” The living room lights came on behind Emily. Lucy got in and gave the driver Brody’s address. You weren’t supposed to find out this way. she promised herself she would pay Brody back for his support. If she was picked up by an Alpha League club next season. Brody was standing in the bedroom door. His gaping mouth would have made a great bull’s-eye for something. I’m home. “Brody. Lucy climbed the outside stairs to the third tier. Now. giving him time to get up and put something on. crap. I’m sorry. She tried again―nothing. holding a cotton robe partly closed. She was about to try again when she heard the sigh of the locks releasing. Mary had insisted on calling a cab. She put the key away and pressed her lips to the door frame. Mary paid for the late night cabs out of her own pocket. Brody’s apartment was in one of the new. H. Crap! She didn’t want to wake Brody. looking bug eyed. “What’s this?” she said to Brody. Lucy pushed past Emily. Emily stood just inside the door. “Wake up. she was craving his warm body and looking forward to making love. It was decorated with blue and orange frogs. “Lucy. She tried to unlock the door three more times.

” . don’t do anything stupid. “That’s mine! I’m going to feed it to the cats behind the city farm and make you eat their feces!” Brody covered his goods. but I. “You’ve got a bit of the post-birth crazies. Lucy swung her sheathed sword at Emily. .” she said. then exhaled and sheathed her blade. I could report you to the League for this. “I’m really sorry to bother you. She leaned her back against the wall. but I went home.” Emily was still by the door. ready to block. “Lucy. pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. fanned it past Brody’s penis and re-sheathed it. are you OK? Did something go wrong at the Cherub?” “No. I almost did something really stupid. the kind they use in movies to let you know bad things might happen to somebody. to Brody’s place. then in one motion. “everything went fine. she drew her blade.” She rubbed noses with him. That’s what I love about you Brody-bear.” Lucy held her ground. Charlotte’s voice said. “You’re so easy to intimidate. Brody was screwing her while I was in the womb.” “Aargh!” Lucy dropped her bag. Emily pulled her own sword from the corner by the bedroom door. and let out a long quiet growl. Lucy dropped her hands and sent an emergency talk-to request to Charlotte. “Ha!” Emily crossed the room to Brody. After a couple of minutes. knocking her off balance. and jabbed it at Brody’s penis. “I was going to have the Cherub send me a notice when she was reborn. “He lost his nerve. . She picked up her bag and walked out. but stepped in front of Brody. forgot?” Lucy said. Emily relaxed. She left it sheathed. Emily was right: strong emotions were hard to control for several hours after being reborn.Gladiator Girl 7 “You said she knew. “Easy there. and Emily Stone was there.” “But you.” She took a deep breath. She went down to the second tier and far enough around the curve of the mini-arcology to not be seen from Brody’s door. ah . drew her sword.” Lucy said.

Watson “Try not to think about it.” Lucy said.” Charlotte took a terrycloth robe out of the closet by the stairs and handed it to her.8 R. When Lucy got to her. “Me too. She sat on the bed and looked at the sleeve of the robe. You can stay with me until we get this sorted out. She was wearing a white nightdress and rubber boots. and you can hang your wet clothes in the stall. “Come on. Charlotte hugged her with both arms while holding the umbrella straight up to block the rain. The fans will blow them dry by morning. it started to rain. Charlotte dropped the dinette table to convert the dining nook into a bed.” .” Charlotte said.” Lucy said. letting her feet splash in the puddles with determined indifference. She let go of Lucy and stepped back. “There are towels in the shower room. She walked across the uneven cobblestone. “I’m all wet. soon. Charlotte handed her a cup of tea.” Lucy said. then followed.” While Lucy was drying herself off. The rain was now a downpour. “Fuck!” It was nearly three-thirty when the public car dropped Lucy at the Winnebago Graveyard. Thanks. See you soon?” “Yeah. The sky had clouded over. I’ll put on some tea. but I wanted to get home. The hatch closed when they were both inside. “I’m so stupid. let’s get out of the rain.” She let Lucy go down the stairs.” She squeezed her eyes closed. now. I should have stayed in the Cherub’s dorm until morning. “Come over here. “They deserve each other. Charlotte pulled a chair up to the bed and put her hand on Lucy’s knee. Lucy came out wearing the robe. She pulled out and dressed the mattress.” Charlotte said. The front of her nightdress was soaked from the hug. “Brody’s a bastard. “I was wearing one of these four hours ago. Charlotte waited next to her hatch with an umbrella. H. Another growl came out of her throat.

“We come out of those wombs physically mature women. used!” “We’ll take care of him tomorrow.Gladiator Girl 9 “Brody. our bodies and minds are tricked into believing we’re babies again. “but for days or weeks. “Fuck! Why tonight? I feel like a . . laid her head in Charlotte’s lap.” She continued to comb Lucy’s hair until her breathing settled into the steady rhythm of deep sleep. It takes a while to get ourselves sorted out. . that stupid son of a bitch!” Lucy said. Lucy curled up. then sat on the bed. Now you need to calm down and get some rest. then she slipped off the bed and tucked in her friend.” Charlotte took Lucy’s tea and put both cups in the kitchenette sink. . She was talking and clenching her teeth at the same time. . and closed her eyes.” Charlotte said while stroking Lucy’s hair. . such a .

Chapter 2 Burning Desire

Charlotte shook Lucy’s shoulder. “Ermph,” Lucy said through squinted eyes. “You’re dressed.” “Yes, and showered—though not in that order.” “What time is it?” “Seven twenty-two.” “How much sleep did I get?” “Except for some excitement earlier this morning, and including your womb time, you’ve had almost two and a half weeks of sleep.” Lucy sat up and stretched her arms, then leaned against the settee backrest. She was still wearing the robe Charlotte had lent her. She let her head loll back so she could look up through the skylight. The sky was blue with a few puffy pink clouds. “Can people see in through that?” “No, it’s frosted on the outside.” “One-way frosting,” Lucy said. “Mmm, it’s making me hungry.” “I made toast,” Charlotte said. Lucy rolled her head off the settee. “Toast? I say ‘one-way frosting’ and all you can offer is toast?” “What’s one-way frosting?” “I don’t know, but when I age-out, I’m using my blood money to open a confectionery that specializes in it.” “I’m going to open a toast store,” Charlotte said.

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“Who’s going to go to a store specifically to buy toast?” “French people.” “There already is french toast,” Lucy said. “Yes, and French people don’t eat it. I’m not going to sell french toast. I’m going to sell toast to French people.” “Huh, it might work.” Lucy looked around. “Where’s the toilet?” “In the shower. It folds out of the wall. The sink folds out too, and there are guest toothbrushes in the cabinet behind the mirror.” Lucy slid off the bed and headed for the shower room. “How many guest toothbrushes do you have?” “Five.” “Five? You can’t even fit five people in here.” “It’s possible,” Charlotte said, “but afterward everyone really needs to use a toothbrush.” Ten minutes later Lucy was out of the shower. Charlotte had unmade the bed and converted it back into a dinette. “Your clothes are in the closet by the stairs,” she said. Lucy slid the closet door open. “So, this is your new house? The one you spent all your prize money on?” “Not all of it. What do you think?” “It’s tiny.” “It’s a winnebago traveling canister, converted to a domicile.” “It’s buried under a cobblestone road.” “Not a road, a former parking lot. It was wasted space ever since private cars were banned from the city. I think it was rather brilliant to turn it into a neighborhood.” Lucy dressed and picked up her coffee and toast. They were both quiet for a bit, then Charlotte said, “You can stay here.” “No, I couldn’t . . .” “You’re not moving back into the club dorm.” They were quiet again. “Thanks,” Lucy said. “If you want, I’ll get your things from Brody’s apartment.” “No, I can deal with him today. I’ve decided he can keep his penis.”

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“That’s very magnanimous of you,” Charlotte said. She went into the bedroom and came out with her workout bag and foil case. She put her hand on Lucy’s shoulder. “I’ll see you back here this evening. We can go out for dinner and discuss the living arrangements.” Lucy nodded. Charlotte headed up the stairs. “I already told the hatch that you’ll be staying.” Lucy stood in the kitchenette, and finished her toast and coffee, then she picked up her sword, climbed the stairs, and went out the hatch, leaving her bag behind in her new home. While she walked through the Winnebago Graveyard to the public car kiosk, Lucy sent a high priority message: “Brody, I’m coming over to get my stuff. I expect to have access to your apartment―starting now. You really don’t want to cross me on this.” Half an hour later, she was standing in front of Brody’s door for the second time that morning. This time, when she pressed her key against the door, she heard the locks release. She pushed on the door and walked in. “Hi, Lucy,” Brody said. He was standing in the living room. It looked like he had just stood up from the sofa. “I’m not here to talk,” Lucy said. “I’m getting my stuff.” She walked into the bedroom and opened the closet. Her clothes were all there, including her blue and orange frog robe. She got her three moving bags off the top shelf and packed her clothes from the closet into the first one, then she pulled out the dresser drawers that contained her things, put the contents into the second bag, and tossed the empty drawers on the bed. She collected her things from the dresser top, the floor, the laundry hamper, and stuffed them in the bag. She sealed the full bags and carried them into the living room. Brody hadn’t moved. “I’m sorry about last night,” he said. “You’re lucky about last night,” Lucy said. She walked around the living room and kitchen collecting everything that was hers and tossing it into the third bag.

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“You wouldn’t really have . . . you know, if Emily wasn’t here to stop you?” Brody’s hands instinctively made a protective move toward his crotch. “If Emily wasn’t here, I would have been making love to your ‘you know,’” Lucy said. In the shower room, she used her arm to plow her cosmetics and toiletries off the shelves and into the bag. Brody followed her to the shower room door. “Given the circumstances, last night, you wouldn’t—” “Brody,” Lucy said, “your genitals were probably safe last night and they are definitely safe today.” She opened the his-andhers sex toys drawer and started tossing the his toys in the toilet and the hers toys in the moving bag. When she was finished, she sealed the bag. “You’re in my way.” Brody moved back. She slipped her sword under her belt, slung one bag over her shoulder, and grabbed the other two by their handles. She hauled the bags out of Brody’s apartment, down the stairs, and to the local public car kiosk. Half an hour later, she was unpacking in Charlotte’s little buried house. She managed to find places for all of her clothes and things without having to move any of Charlotte’s stuff. It helped that all the drawers in the kitchenette and around the dinette were empty. She took over a narrow broom closet next to the dinette for her sword and club gear. She sat at the dinette table with the cleaning kit she had recovered from Brody’s and cleaned, polished, and oiled her longsword, then she opened its scabbard; the equipment assistants never did a proper job cleaning out the blood. When she was finished, Lucy looked for something to eat and found that Charlotte only had coffee, tea, and bread for toast. She picked up her training bag and sword, and went up top for a look around her new home turf. The winnebago canisters hadn’t been completely buried. The cobblestone was raised

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around each one, turning the old parking lot into a collection of oblong patios with the curved winnebago skylights poking through. The denizens had covered their patios with potted plants, cast iron chairs, flags, whirligigs, and whatnots. Charlotte’s patio was bare. “Good morning.” Lucy turned around. A man, maybe in his mid-forties, had come out of the neighboring winnebago and was standing on his patio. “Wicks,” he said, “Dudley Wicks.” He tapped his finger to his hat. He was wearing heavy gloves and coveralls. “Lucy Star,” Lucy said. “I’ll be staying with Charlotte for a while.” “Ah,” Dudley said. “I’m a friend of hers,” Lucy said. Dudley didn’t react. “A friend, friend? From way back? We met at the Academy.” Still no reaction. “The Concepción Academy of Rebirth Athletics?” “Ah!” he said and glanced at her sword. “Nasty business.” He took off his glove and extended his hand. “Welcome to the Graveyard.” “Thanks.” Lucy shook his hand. She had to reach up. “But it’s not nasty.” “What’s that?” “What we do.” “Ah,” he said. “Do you know where I could get something to eat? A cafe, lunch counter?” “There’s a sandwich shop about, oh, one hundred paces past the public car kiosk.” He pointed to the south. “Thanks,” Lucy said. “It was nice meeting you, Dudley.” “Ah, yes,” he said. “Goodbye.” He picked up a crate of gardening supplies and carried it to a collection of box gardens that covered the back half of his patio. ***

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After eating, Lucy took a public car to the Burning Desire training complex and had it drop her at the player entrance. There was a score of fans behind the security fence. “Hey, Lucy!” “Lucy Star!” “Good game Lucy!” She walked over to them. A girl pushed a match program and pen through the fence. “Can you sign this, please?” “Sure.” Lucy signed her name, replacing the ‘t’ in ‘Star’ with a five pointed star. She handed the pen and program back through the fence. “You were brilliant against Bright Savanna,” the girl said. “What you did to defended the Goddess, it was so audacious—” She grinned and blinked back a tear. “Thanks,” Lucy said. “I expect my coach will have a different opinion.” She signed a few more programs, a souvenir wooden sword, and a picture of herself. “Can I see your sword?” the boy with the picture said. “Sorry, no. It only gets unsheathed for cleaning, practice, and for a game.” And for threatening to cut off my cheating boy­ friend’s penis. She waived and walked back to the player entrance. Frank, the security guard, held the door for her. “Where’d they all come from?” Lucy said. “They knew you’d be here this afternoon. Started collecting about an hour ago.” “Really?” “Better get used to it while you’re still a rookie. It’ll only get worse, or better, depending on how you look at it.” “I suppose.” She went in and headed down the corridor to Coach Kai’s office. She could hear the team in the practice arena and wanted to be there with them, but Coach was expecting her at fourteen o’clock. This was Coach Kai’s first season with Burning Desire, and her first season as a head coach. She was old for blood battle—Lucy guessed sixty, or something—her League bio didn’t say, but it did

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say she was ex-army and had applied to coach in the BB League after retiring from the military. Lucy knocked on her door. “Come in. Sit down.” Coach Kai held out her hand to an old wooden office chair in front of her desk. “How are you feeling?” “Fine. How else would I be?” Lucy sat in the chair, it was solid and comfortable. She rested her sword between her left leg and the armrest. “I don’t mean physically,” Coach Kai said. “I mean emotionally, considering what happened this morning.” “How do you know about that?” “The rumor that you tried to cut off your boyfriend’s jizzum stick has been rolling through the local BB locker rooms like a drunken katamari ball.” “Who talked?” “Apparently, it was your boyfriend.” “Ex-boyfriend.” “Yes, well, you scared the Mother’s load out of him. He told a friend about the scheme, who told a friend—” “Scheme?” “Turns out Emily Stone set the whole thing up. She was trying to provoke you into violating League rules.” “Why?” Coach Kai picked up a pencil and twiddled it between her fingers. “How about we get back to her after reviewing your game. What’s the last thing you recall?” “Hmm, I saw their guardian take out Bridgett . . . I never saw Grenada after she went through the hedge. Our forwards were singing that Savanna’s guards had killed her before she reached their temple. With Han and Kelcie already dead, we were out of chargers. Our only chance to win was an attrition fight down in the grass which we were, well, already losing, and they still had two chargers. “In our arena, two of Savanna’s forwards were dead, but we had lost Fausta, Hildegard, and Chiyo. Because of that, our

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guards lost control of the center paths. Then the forwards sang an alert that the two Savanna chargers were skating for the hedge . . . That’s when it gets garbled, so I guess I didn’t last much longer.” Coach Kai invoked the game review. “Here’s the start of your last several seconds.” An overhead view of the blood battle field blurred into focus on the animation board under her desktop glass. It was zoomed in to show only Burning Desire’s arena. She pushed a loose stack of papers out of the way. For ex-military, her office was kind of cluttered. Coach Kai started playing the review. “Their forwards took down Mim and drew Cinnamon to the right,” She pointed with her pencil, “clearing the way for their chargers to reach your temple at full speed.” Lucy watched the chargers skate out of the hedge, race along the narrow paths that were partly hidden by the tall field grass, and jump the lowland stream. They arrived at the plaza, kicked off their skates, and with the forward momentum gained from skating the length of the field, they leapt up the tiers of the temple pyramid, one from the left, one from the right. Coach Kai paused the replay. “Wow,” Lucy said. “Their timing is perfect. Whichever one I attack I expose myself to the other. I’m dead. Fuck!” “Language,” Coach Kai said. “Sorry.” Coach Kai zoomed in to the top of the temple. The girl representing the Goddess sat on her heels on the altar wearing her simple white vestment. Her back was straight; her head was held high. She was serene and indifferent to the furious fight for her neck about to erupt just behind her. Coach Kai set the replay going in slow motion. Lucy watched herself take a step closer to the Goddess. Coach Kai paused again. “Why did you do that?” “I don’t know. This is way into the short term memory shadow. I don’t remember any of this.”

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“Why do you think you did it?” Lucy studied the frozen scene and flipped through several different views, then she remembered Mary’s finger at the Happy Cherub drawing the path of her wound, starting from her left arm and continuing almost all the way across her back. Almost all the way! “I got it,” she said. “Tell me.” “The charger coming up on the left is left handed―” She sat forward. “That’s Emily Stone!” “Indeed,” Coach Kai said. “What happens next?” “I attack the charger on the right with my long-sword while attempting to draw my short-sword to block Emily.” “It won’t work,” Coach Kai said. “Kinesthetic intelligence or not, their synchronization has to be off by at least a couple hundredths of a second for you to switch your attention between the two.” “That’s irrelevant,” Lucy said. “What I actually want is to get my left arm down against my side. I don’t really want to block Emily, I’m trying to provoke her. She’s left handed, and she’s already winding up for a left to right attack, see? By stepping closer to the Goddess I’m reducing the scope of her attack, making her use finesse rather than force. I want my left arm down to get as much flesh and bone in the path of her blade as possible so she doesn’t cut all the way through my torso. And I bet I’m going to put all my weight on my right leg just as her blade cuts into my arm.” “Why?” Coach Kai said. “It’s the other reason I took that step closer to the Goddess. When I die, I want to fall to my left. I’m counting on Emily’s sword getting caught in my ribs, at least for a moment, and I’m now close enough to the Goddess so when my body falls, it falls against her or at least close enough so Emily’s sword scratches her back. Emily causes a foul, and we win. Boo-yah!” Coach Kai started the replay at normal speed. It was over in a second, exactly as Lucy had described.

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“The Savannas tried to claim you caused the foul since you set it up, but by the rules, the moment you lost motor control from a mortal wound it became Emily’s responsibility to prevent the error. “Xaun was the senior surviving offensive player. With no chargers left, it fell to her to performed the penalty beheading of Savanna’s goddess. She made a good, precise cut, not easy to do with a forward’s field sword. Would you like to see it?” Coach Kai reached to advance the review to the next tabbed event. “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.” “Oh? Yes, of course.” She relaxed her finger, picked up her pencil, and tapped the desk. “You were credited with the win and named M.V.P. Better be ready for a cold shower tomorrow.” She pointed the pencil eraser at Lucy. “Don’t let it go to your head.” Lucy sat back and let it go straight to her head, but not for long. “So I tricked Emily into losing the game. That’s what her revenge scheme was about?” “No. The latest blood test for Lilly Aguilar, the top charger for Diana’s Glory, came back with a red flag. She’ll age-out within six months, and she’s not even twenty-five. They tried to keep it quiet, but had to pull her from their active player list and scramble to find a replacement in the farm clubs. The word was, Emily would get the nod, then you tricked her into committing a match losing foul, and the Glories passed her over―for our own Segune, as it turned out.” “Huh,” Lucy said. “What do you know.” “She tried to get you expelled from the League. I spent all morning arguing your case with the Propriety Board. Eventually, they agreed your judgement was impaired because of your just concluded rebirth, and Emily was admonished for not being more sensitive to your situation. You were lucky. Do you understand?” Lucy nodded. “Good. Be ready to work yourself hard starting tomorrow. You’re on the roster for the next match against Beauty Incarnate. Your appointment at Pete’s Tattoo is in fifteen minutes, better get going.”

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R. H. Watson

They stood and Coach Kai held out her hand. “Good to have you back.” Lucy shook it. “Thanks Coach.” “One more thing,” Coach Kai said. “If you ever again draw your sword in the presence of an unprotected person, I’ll be the one throwing you out of the League.” Pete’s Tattoo was close enough for Lucy to make her appointment with a brisk walk east through the Seafront Park in the Old Harbor District. The fans had dispersed so she slipped out the player entrance, unnoticed. “Hey, Lucy,” Second Pete said when she walked in. “Hey, Second Pete.” “The kid is just finishing up with another client.” “Hi, Lucy,” Todd said from his work station. He was leaning over a client’s back, working on a major project. The reference drawing on the wall showed a grizzly bear biting off the head of a horse. “Hi, Todd.” “We’ve been seeing quite a few of the girls from your last match,” Second Pete said. “Great save, by the way.” “Thanks. I do what I can.” Lucy glanced at the pictures hanging on the wall. There were six group pictures of Burning Desire players; Lucy was in the back, top row of the newest one, lined up with the other guardians. Everyone was sporting their team tattoos; some were fresh, done the day of the picture. “You make a killing off of us, don’t you,” Lucy said. “It helps,” Second Pete said. “But we had to put in two extra work stations and we bring in freelance artists every two weeks to handle the work.” He flipped his thumb at the back of the room where a couple of artists were setting up. “Hildegard and Fausta are coming in later.” Lucy moved to another set of pictures showing the best work from the three generation history of the shop. “This is your dad,

Gladiator Girl

21

Original Pete?” She was looking at a picture of a tattoo artist, his own arms and torso covered with ink. He was shaking hands with a sumo wrestler showing off a coiled dragon that wound around his belly. Second Pete wheeled over. “Yup, and that’s the Mighty Calhoun, greatest wrestler of his generation. It’s still a popular sport. No blood version yet.” He cracked a smile and winked at Lucy, but she wasn’t biting. “It’s a pain in the ass that we have to get our tattoos redone every time we pop out of a womb,” Lucy said, “but I can’t imagine committing myself to a permanent one and being stuck with it for the rest of my life. What if I change my mind?” “What if you do? You’re stuck with the consequences of every decision you ever make, big or little, good or bad. A tattoo, even if it embarrasses you years later, at least lets you know you lived your life with some gumption. Why the dark thoughts?” “I just got reminded that my career’s going to last five or six more years, if I’m lucky. Then what?” “You come back here and have Todd give you your first permanent tattoo to commemorate the event. Getting a tattoo is nothing compared to what you did. You let them change your genes.” “No I didn’t. One of my ova was changed so it would grow into my memory placenta, that’s it. I’m the same as I always was.” “Yeah? Well, that’s one hell of an egg.” Second Pete pointed at her belly. “Let’s see it. I’ve got to get my bet in on your innieoutie pool.” Lucy pulled up her shirt, and Second Pete leaned close for a good look at the stub of her umbilical cord. “Hmm . . . I’m putting my money on an outie.” “Pretty risky. I’ve never had one yet.” “I’ve got a feeling this time’s going to be different. I always go with my gut.” Second Pete glanced at Todd’s work station. “Looks like you’re next.” The back tattoo client climbed out of the chair and checked Todd’s work in the mirror. He was nearly two meters tall with

Lucy watched his trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles flex and relax under his skin as he twisted one way and another to see the full tattoo.” Second Pete guffawed.22 R.” “Thanks.” Lucy said to Todd. The client dug a big tip out of his coin purse and handed it to Todd.” Lucy said. “He’s a good customer. strong shoulders. Thanks. man.” she said. Now I’ll have to listen to him tell that story all week. It looked like he had been run through with something. then she realized he had a scar on his belly. “Nice tattoo. he thinks it’s unnatural. Watson wide. He left the shop. she wasn’t used to seeing scars and didn’t know how to read them. “Maybe I could help?” “He’d be a hard nut to crack. and his abdominals were great. about four centimeters long. She imagined gliding her cheek along those undulations. “Good work. “Sorry to hear about your boyfriend. At first she couldn’t see it. For all the stabbing and dismemberment of blood battle.” he said. She couldn’t tell how old it was. she saw a corresponding scar on his back that had been camouflaged by the tattoo.” Second Pete said. His obliques were nice too. She thought it was a surgery scar. Todd brought out Burning Desire’s official inks and stencils. pushing past her without a word.” “He needs to get over it. Todd shook his head. but in the mirror. Ready to go?” Lucy took off her shirt and sat back in the chair. “Ex-boyfriend. H. “He set me up. “I’m not going to deny an old man a laugh. but there was something odd about them that forced her to drop her fantasy and take a professional look.” He pulled a t-shirt over his head followed by a sweater with an outer layer of loose wool that Lucy wanted to run her fingers through. “but he doesn’t like you girls and your swords.” “I’ve cracked harder nuts than his.” .

” Lucy laughed. He drew a couple of draughts and sent them over via the bar-boy.” Lucy held up her sword. “How about there? These tattoos are too itchy for a backrest.” Charlotte said.” “What position?” Toni-I said. Lucy. “It’s nothing. “Guardian.” Charlotte said.” “I’ll have the couscous. “What rumor?” Toni-I said. one with stools.Gladiator Girl 23 *** Charlotte took Lucy to a local pub called the Pony ’n Pony. A couple stopped next to their table.” “Sure. Oh! Are you Lucy Star?” “When is this Brody rumor going away?” Lucy said to Charlotte. “What do you recommend?” “I usually have the lentil stew. Lucy studied the menu.” “Eye and Why? Oh. “I’m sorry.” “Do you also fence?” Tony-Y said.” Charlotte said to them. Who’s your friend?” “Hi.” “Usually? Have you ever tried anything else?” “No. Lucy pointed to a high table against the wall. She signaled the barman with two fingers. “Oh. I play blood battle. “Nope. I don’t recognize you. right?” The bar-boy trotted off with their order. Are you with Diana’s Glory?” “She’s a big fan of the Glories. “I play for Burning Desire. “A pleasure to meet you. “She’ll have the lentil―” “Two couscous.” Tony-Y said. my new roommate. “You only live so many times. “This is Lucy.” “Really?” Toni-I said. . meet Toni-I and Tony-Y.” Lucy said to the bar-boy. “Hey Charlotte.” Charlotte said.

Charlotte picked up a bit of couscous on her fork and tasted it.” “Sex? What about that?” Lucy pointed at Charlotte’s plate. only eat toast every morning?” “Yes. “is who gets the shower room first and how do we handle sex.” Toni-I said.” Charlotte said. The bar-boy wedged himself between Toni-I and Tony-Y to deliver their couscous. “It’s good.” Charlotte ate a fork-full of couscous.24 R.” “Better than lentil stew?” “Different. “The whole League was talking about it. so why don’t you go first. “Humph. “I’ve got a bedroom. “It was great meeting you. losing her chance at the big leagues. Watson “I mean. “The main thing we have to figure out.” Lucy said. so you’ll only have to deal with my lovers when they .” “Some people think cooking makes a house smell better.” “Really?” “Yes.” “We’ll see. Everybody’s got their eye on you.” “That fu―” “Yes.” Lucy said. The Pony ’n Pony was getting crowded.” Charlotte took another taste. As long as I’m in the shower by seven fifteen.” Charlotte said.” she said. “You’ve always been an early riser. “are you the Lucy Star who pulled off that amazing game save two weeks ago?” “I guess. “Yes.” “Okay. too bad. Would you mind if I bought some actual food and cooked it now and then?” “As long as you don’t stink up the place. I’ll be fine. H.” Toni-I said. The Tonies. I and Y. I’ll make coffee and toast. Too bad about Emily Stone though.” “Would you mind getting up and making coffee and toast?” “Do you really. continued to the back of the pub.

I’d lose my ranking.” “I expect I’ll need permission from the Blood Battle League. Who are you fighting?” “Winnie Chaturvedi. “I need to ask you to do something for me. so your life won’t be at risk. Isn’t a second supposed to take your place if you can’t fight?” “In theory.” Lucy said.” They finished eating.” “Sure.” Lucy said. you would formally forfeit the bout. It just needs to be a contract between clubs. Will that be OK?” “Fine with me. supervise my recovery team. when and where?” “It’s a sanctioned event. but private. you collect my things. but that never happens.” Charlotte said.Gladiator Girl 25 walk back and forth to the toilet. The second is really an assistant.” “I’m not qualified. “I have a fencing bout Saturday night.” “Yes it is. She’s ranked number one. The only way I can get you in is to make you my second. The bar-boy cleared away their dishes and they ordered another round of beer. I’d like you to be there.” “You know you don’t have to ask. Your club will be lending you to my club to temporarily fill a non-hazardous support role.” “You won’t be fencing.” “Wow. and make sure my body arrives at the womb-atorium and is safely interred in a womb. and when we go out to the fencing strip. “This is really good. I’m not licensed to participate in another blood sport. that’s why I want you there. You help me prepare for the bout. “if you don’t mind eating your toast off that same table. “That’s a championship event.” She tapped her plate with her fork. Very exclusive―no family and friends box. but that would also happen if you fought and lost. This sort of thing happens more often than you might think. but you’re essentially going to be having sex on the dining room table. and if it did. It won’t . If I lose. you play the second’s part in the bout rituals.

and Burning Desire makes extra money by lending you out for an evening. brush her teeth.” “So I’m being traded around for money?” “You get paid. and drifted to sleep thinking about confections coated with one-way frosting.” It was after midnight when they got back to Charlotte’s winnebago. too. then retired to her bedroom. use the toilet. put on a fresh nightdress. and crawl into her own bed. watched the stars twinkle through the skylight. She laid on her back. Charlotte showed Lucy how to convert the dinette for sleeping. She listened to Lucy rummage around.” “Okay. Watson take any time away from your practice. H.26 R. and went to bed. Quiet settled over Charlotte’s little buried house. They were both a little drunk. I’ll do it. .

and stepped into her. She closed the door and turned around. she leapt off and collided with Bridgett. the day after she was reborn. At the end of the row. Everyone trying to follow was tripping over Cinnamon and Fausta. Lucy slipped her foot behind Cinnamon’s heel. and girls started collecting. emptied her pockets. and put everything on the top shelf. twisting her around and toppling her over the bench.Chapter 3 The Boy from There The next day. stuffed her bag in. “Look who finally dropped. “Hey. Lucy walked into the locker room at seven fifty. Cinnamon reached out to take Lucy’s arm. “Okay. She ambled over to her locker. and pulled. Lucy jumped onto the bench and ran down the row. Cinnamon was next to Lucy and Fausta was on the other side of the bench that ran down the middle of the locker row. “you ready to do this?” The girls relaxed. They tumbled to the floor. set her long-sword in its cradle next to her short-sword. hung it inside. reached under Fausta’s arm and around to her back. They grabbed her and lif- . She bent low.” she said. Bridgett tangled herself up with Lucy’s arms and legs long enough for the others to catch up. grabbed a handful of t-shirt.” Lucy said.” Mim said. She opened the door. Mim. planted her forearm under her clavicles. tripping her back against the lockers. took off her sweater.

making a pirouette twirl with her finger. put her hands on her hips. what kind was it?” “I don’t know. She walked back to the locker room past her club mates. She was thoroughly soaked. “That was nice. Meanwhile. She landed on her feet. reaching in and waving her hand in front of the sensor to keep it going.” she said. The water was already running.28 R. The players who had died along with Lucy in her last game were given the privilege of hauling her ass to the shower. stood up. They tossed Lucy in. and let the water splash off her head and soak her clothes. Lucy clamped her teeth together to keep them from chattering and flashed a satisfied smile.” “Are you sure?” “Oh yes!” “Have you heard about the boy gladiators?” “It’s an urban legend.” She reached for Chiyo and everyone backed up. he cut his lip on a tooth!” “No shit? Hahaha!” . Ollie went down on me. stripped out of her wet clothes. the other girls trickled to their lockers and the gossip gate opened: “I finally had one.” “Describe it. that story’s been going around for years. and hung them to dry on the coat rack by the door. H. “You should try it. Tanneth stood just outside the spray.” “There was no warning.” “Yeah. The shower shut off. Lucy turned all the way around. “Happy now? Can I come out?” “Turn around.” “So.” “But it was in the news. They found bodies. and was doing his thing with his other finger. “You can come out.” Lucy stepped out from under the spray. Watson ted her over their heads.” Chiyo said. when all of a sudden―I’m not sure what happened―but I hit him in the mouth with my pubic bone.

“Time to get busy. You need to be in a womb for at least a week and a half. I’m still learning. and then it was over. Lucy slipped behind Hildegard and Fausta.” “It would be sad if it was true though. was standing at the locker room entrance. Lucy fell for one of those guys and look how that turned out―oh.” Hildegard said. I want one.” Fausta said. too.” “Yeah. Hildegard. they passed a couple of the club goddesses walking the other way. by the way—all three of you. the defensive coach.” “That camp follower you’re shacked up with? You should drop his ass. then closed her locker door harder that she needed to.” . somebody’s always trying to blame it on us. maybe.” “You haven’t been chopped up enough yet. but ever since blood sports started.” On the way to the PT room. “Right Lucy?” “Uh-huh.” Lucy put on her athletic suit jacket over her t-shirt and shorts. No doubt about it. My legs were jerking so much.” “Then I started shaking. You don’t know about the guardian-goddess thing?” “This is my rookie year.” “I’m jealous.’ What bullshit. “It’s the guardian-goddess thing. don’t you think?” “If it was true. You.” “I’d hate to think my Quentin feels inadequate because of me. “Lucy. ‘They’re over compensating.” Lucy said.’ ‘They think they have to die to prove they’re better than us. and Fausta.” “Yeah. “I don’t get it. Two is better. sorry Lucy. “Come on. “What was that about?” Fausta said.Gladiator Girl 29 “Boy gangs have been killing each other forever. Nice to have you back. I was afraid I was going to kick his candy sack! It went away and came back at least three more time.” Angela Sáez.” “That was a Rodeo in a Box. report to physical therapy.

” Lucy said. Oh fuck.” Hildegard said. you know the routine. Lucy?” “Yeah. before our last match. “Hildie. can be real extreme about it. Lucy. “for us it doesn’t matter. Isn’t that right.’” She air-quoted.” Lucy said. . You making a habit of being late?” She closed the door. ‘The Goddess. change the topic.” Fausta said. it’s easier for them to do that if they only ever think of the goddesses as. “I was talking to a goddess last week. “My job is to turn your womb-pampered muscles back into predatory assets. “All right.” “Hey. Fausta. no see.” She mimed swinging a .” Hildegard made a screw motion with her finger and mouthed to Fausta. long time. “I mean. and as you know. “give you back those reflexes you need for no-mistakes lethal sword play.” Parisa said. But now and then. Watson “But we’re three matches into Delta—it’s the last third of the season. “So.” “Sorry. when the opposition is about to botch a beheading and commit a foul. for her. “You’re the last three from your match to pop. guardians and goddesses don’t interact because they don’t want guardians thinking of goddesses as real people. Lucy set her long-sword in the cradle by the door. not guardians.” They turned into the PT room. “I’m not nuts. “Guardians are trained to do one thing—protect the Goddess. She counted on her fingers. right? Well.” Hildegard said.” She lowered her voice so she was mostly mouthing words.” “Don’t jinx me. “Lucy here.” Lucy said. H.30 R. Should I not have been?” “We’re guards. I just . “it does.” she flipped her thumb at Lucy. three weeks ago. .” Parisa Cartwright said.” Fausta said. guardians are supposed hold back and let it happen. I heard every word. “Crazy. “But she gets a little nuts about the whole thing.” she glanced at Fausta’s arm. “About time.

“Outside. “We’ve got someone at the front desk who claims to be your brother. opened the Physical Therapy door and motioned to Lucy. “So. Donna Quinn.” She looked away from the picture and away from Donna.” Donna took a picture out of her folder.” Donna said. without any warning?” . Lucy followed Donna into the corridor.” “You’ve been estranged from your family and legally emancipated since you were fourteen. sixteen now?” Donna said.” “That could be him.” she said to Parisa.” Lucy said. is pretty sketchy. please. . “I guess. “It’ll just be a minute. and work hard. Does he look familiar?” She looked at it. Do you know anything about this?” “No. before you arrived at the Academy. let’s check you muscle tone. Do you even have a brother?” Lucy didn’t say anything. and her muscles were hurting. Do you have any idea why your brother would be here today.Gladiator Girl 31 sword. “It’s a simple question. “This is the guy. “What is it?” She was breathing hard from the workout. but didn’t touch it. By eleven o’clock Lucy was sweating. She wiped the sweat off her forehead with the hem of her t-shirt.” Parisa pushed the girls hard. see where we’re starting from. Ready?” Lucy nodded. you’ll be immune to jinxing.” she said. “That’s sharp. . “Good. Her fingers curled into her palms. and that was his name. but she was feeling stronger and more precise in her movement. and in a couple of days. “You work with me.” “No it’s not. “Are you sure?” “That’s what he says. he’d be . for a security camera. He was ten the last time I saw him. “Yes. We’re checking on him right now. Zachary Knole. the head of the club’s security office. Your background.

and I don’t care.” “That doesn’t sound much better. I haven’t had a chance to clean it until now.” “Go away?” Lucy’s focus came back to Donna. Watson “No. If you want.” Lucy had her lunch tray. “That’s the first thing you thought of to say? How about.” Frankie said. “Was Brody’s penis erect or flaccid when you considered cutting it off?” she said. “It was flaccid.” “It’s not. what do you want to do with him in the mean time?” “Let him wait. and her cleaning kit.” Serendipity said. Donna chuckled.” “Hah! So I heard. ‘Hi Lucy.32 R. H. “Sword training’s next.” “My ‘What the Fuck. Yesterday was busier than I expected.” Lucy said. “It’s still a fucking weird question.’ still stands. “See? Now I’m impressed. “If I didn’t ask.” Serendipity put her tray on the table and sat on Lucy’s other side. I wouldn’t know whether to be impressed or not.” Lucy looked off again. welcome back. “If I decide to talk to him.” Frankie said.” “This is a potential security issue. “What the fuck?” Frankie said. She wiped her short-sword blade with a dry cloth. her short-sword.” “Before you do anything. “You gonna clean that thing here?” Frankie said. it won’t be until the end of the day. can you let me know what you find out?” “Sure. . past Donna’s shoulder. and make sure he gets the message. I don’t want Bimini turning up her nose at my imperfectly maintained blade. Welcome back?’” “You didn’t say.” Lucy said. “Not like that. She sat next to Frankie at the guardian table in the cafeteria. we can make him go away. I can tell him to go away and leave you alone.

she makes a great go-fuck-yourself practice dummy. She started polishing her sword.” “Thanks. I mean. so don’t be afraid to tell her to go fuck herself.” Lucy said.Gladiator Girl 33 “You know Lucy doesn’t do anything with her swords without already knowing she can succeed. She won’t mind. “Sit. The whole cafeteria was startled.” Frankie said.” she said. but she’ll do everything she can to make you feel like an incompetent bug. That was what you visualized. But yeah. nothing else?” “First. “Anybody could cut off an erect penis. in fact. “See what I mean?” . in this case. but if she thought she could cut off a flaccid one and leave the scrotum intact. Her smile turned into a grin. The girl sat and smiled at everyone. “Good luck figuring out what she’s talking about. I wasn’t really going to do it. Frankie pointed at an empty chair at the table.” Serendipity said. “Hi. I thought I could. Lucy raised an eyebrow to Frankie.” “Nice to meet you.” she said. When she had the girl’s attention.” Lucy said to Liha. right?” Frankie stuck a couple of fingers in her mouth and whistled. and pointed at a girl in the middle of the room who had stopped in her tracks.” “I know.” Lucy nodded at Serendipity. I’m Lucy. wasn’t it? Just the penis. “Uvan and Sandeep are wombed up and not expected to pop in time for next Saturday’s match. “This one’s putting on the nice. “A word of warning though. The girl came over. snapped her fingers. “the part about me always knowing ahead of time? That’s bullshit. “And this one. but you can call me Liha. You know that.” she nodded at Frankie. She raised her hand. But I didn’t. so Liha was brought up from the reserve squad to be the standby guardian. I’m impressed. “You don’t mind?” she said.” Serendipity said. “I’m Liliha.” “Good to have you with us.

not really.” Lucy said.” Lucy said. Bimini walked into the room and closed the door. “She’s nice.” Bimini left Lucy alone for most of the afternoon. Donna was waiting. At sixteen o’clock Bimini said. I am fifty-two years old. “warm up.” “I guess I was hoping—” “I know.” she said. but once in a while she came by and put her hand on Lucy to redirect her movement. “Simple exercises today. but old. “Welcome back.” Serendipity said. Please put on your shortsword practice harnesses. Your ex-boyfriend is lucky. “Very good. put on her street clothes (by now they were dry).” She held up her index finger for emphasis.” Frankie said. You three. “She’s the smartest swordswoman I’ve ever met. “Good afternoon. “You are womb weak. what did you find out?” . nothing faster. and your coordination is compromised. and Frankie is the only one in need of an additional anus. “What’s Bimini Tanaka like?” Liha said. If you had attempted a penis emasculation you would likely have shaved off his quadriceps along with all of his genitalia. my skill is adequate for teaching. Lucy adjusted her bag on her shoulder. Watson *** After lunch they headed to the Sword Practice room. I look forward to working with you.” Donna said.” She took Lucy to the side. No risks. “She’ll cut you a new dung hole with one word. “Did you forget?” she said.34 R. “No. Move at the speed of competence.” she pointed at everyone except Lucy. Lucy took a shower. You chose. She walked into the corridor and turned toward the player entrance.” Practice was over. “Liliha. “Okay.” she said to Lucy. H. and picked up her long-sword and bag. To clarify. “Is he still here?” “He is.

they probably have a good reason.” They went into a dim room with a window that looked out on the reception area from behind the receptionist’s desk.” “I got some inter-regional attention because of my last game. “I was looking at that picture yesterday at Pete’s Tattoo. and after poking around today. Zack was sitting with his arms wrapped tight around his chest and his hands tucked into his armpits. “From his side this looks like a picture of the players. and it’s better to leave it buried. I don’t know how he knew you were here. He was wearing jeans and an unzipped jacket over a t-shirt. who ignored him. “but it’s been my experience. today. I’ve got a few of my own. contrary to your basic shrink point of view. so everybody’s got a theory.” she said. “You never talk about your family. There was a waiting area beyond the desk with chairs and a low table.Gladiator Girl 35 “He’s definitely your brother. A backpack sat on the floor between the cheap sneakers he was wearing. or a camera I can use so he doesn’t know I’m there?” “Sure. Have you decided what you want to do?” “I’d like to look at him. Do you have a one-way window. Five days ago he boarded a public transit cabin in your home town. “Is he a security risk?” . You changed your name after you were emancipated. “Maybe he saw the story and recognized me?” “I’m embarrassed. then at the receptionist. right about here.” Donna said. the one the players didn't use.” Donna pointed to a spot left of center near the top.” Lucy watched him.” Lucy said.” Donna led the way to the lobby entrance. then rode free local services across the country until he arrived here. You’re in it. He looked up at the clock. He came straight to the club. “Didn’t anybody give him a magazine to read?” “There are magazines on the table. and then at a spot in the middle of the floor. “I didn’t think of that.” Lucy said. that if someone buries their past.

then turned and gave Donna a what-else-can-I-do? shrug before following. “Yes. I’m threatening to break his fingers again. The situation is still weird enough that we’ll be keeping an eye on him. Zack.” “Will they listen to what we say?” “Do you promise to tell me if you think something’s wrong?” “I promise. “My name’s Lucy. “Give me the word and I’ll kick his ass out. and . She looked back at Donna. Zack started to speak.36 R. “Hello.” Fuck. she’ll throw you out and make sure you never come back. He cleared his throat. Donna stayed back and gave the receptionist a discrete OK sign. Donna’s right.” Lucy shook her head and turned back to Zack. Donna made a gesture with her thumb. “You broke Mom and Dad’s hearts. let him go out first. Yes. see if we can talk about something.” “Okay. If I tell her to. “You see that big woman over there?” Zack nodded.” she said. .” This is absurd. there’s a tea shop around the corner. “Hi Debbie. but his voice was phlegmy. . She led him to the street door.” “If I take him around the corner to Alice’s Tea Shop are you going to have someone follow us?” “You bet.” Sixteen year old Zack was nearly a head taller than Lucy. Watson “Not so far. They went through a door next to the receptionist. “She’s the head of security. H.” Lucy said. it’s stupid to dig this shit up.” Lucy said. “I wanted to break more than that. but first. . I want you to go.” “Then we won’t listen.” he spoke with the accent she had trained herself to lose within a month of leaving—that place. Lucy was pretty sure it meant. I’ll talk to him. He looked up. “Wait. “Do you want me to go?” Zack said.” she said. Let’s go there. Lucy walked over to Zack and stopped a meter away. She held out her palm to stop him.” Zack got up.

Zack was winded when they arrived. She watched Lucy lead the young man to a table. He joined a group. . our mother?” “She caught the flu last month.” the goddess said and paid for her tea. adding a tip and a kiss on the cheek. Fredrick was handing a takeaway cup of tea to one of the club’s goddesses.” Lucy said. “Always at your service. Mr.” Don’t you dare say that! Lucy’s eyes settled on the best place to strike Zack’s neck for a clean decapitation. “Two house teas. The little bell hanging above the door jingled twice when Lucy and a young man walked in. Fredrick shook himself out of the reverie the goddesses always put him in and set about preparing the infusions. Lucy kept up a quick pace and didn’t say anything. She relaxed her hand. “How have you been?” Zack said. “What about your . The goddess glanced at Lucy and smiled.” he said.” Zack said. The goddess bit her lip. Lucy couldn’t think of anything to say. Lucy noticed.” “He did. You changed him. She was feeling dumber every moment for trying to go along with whatever it was Zack wanted.Gladiator Girl 37 Alice’s Tea Shop was one block away and around the corner from the club.” “I don’t believe it. “How about you? Did Dad hit you lately?” She didn’t know she was going to say that! Lucy realized she was squeezing the scabbard of her sword. then she turned and went out the door. . and looked away. please. caught herself. Small talk! “I’ve been fine. “Thank you. Mr. after you left.” . “And he stopped all that. “He never hit me like he did you. jingling the doorbell.” Lucy said.

I’m really good at what I do.” “You’re the one who’s scary!” Zack said. His face went pale. “Start listening. half way across the country. “Try it.” “If he stopped hitting you and . “It’s called the Helping Hand. Fredrick brought over the tea.” Zack said. I have friends. “Yes?” Donna said. everything about you says he’s got you ready to piss in your pants. I didn’t look back. Like father like daughter? No! She waited until she calmed down. She got up.” Lucy said to Zack. and I love it.” she said. “Even here. I shop at their thrift . “You’re lying. “Just a minute. I found a way to escape and I took it. . Mom. She took a sip of her tea.38 R. “I’m sorry I left you there. walked out to the sidewalk. Lucy’s mouth froze half open. and put in a talk-to request to Donna. it’s good. There was cowering in everything he did. and retreated to the counter without speaking. Lucy looking at him. He didn’t move. I’m good at what I do.” They sat for a minute. things changed. Zack looking at his tea cup.” she said. H. I don’t want to look back.” She reached toward his hand. his eyes went wide. then pulled back. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you and Mom.” she said. “Really . all his movements curved back on themselves. Zack hadn’t touched his. They seem like good people. then he’s doing something else. She went back in and sat down. She watched his body language. “There’s a shelter east of here. she felt it’s seams creak.” Zack was blank. Lucy started to growl. Watson “Does he still hit her?” She squeezed the scabbard so tight. You want to know how I’ve been? My life started at fourteen. . “No! He didn’t hit her anymore either!” Mr. “Look at you.” Lucy said. .” Lucy broke the contact. “You hit her too. .

but Zack kept his eyes down.” He stood up with his backpack and walked out.” Lucy leaned forward and tried to make eye contact. “I know. “Can I get this in a take-away?” “Absolutely.” “Thanks.” “Make sure he’s okay. “What a fucking cliché. then it’s personal. but .” “Until you’re caught in it. she thought it might be fun to surprise Charlotte with a home-cooked meal.” she said. Lucy picked up her tea and carried it to the counter. She headed to the public car kiosk by the club. They’ll put you up and help you find work. Fredrick said.” “I’ll see what I can do. pulled open the door. then looked up. Do you understand?” He nodded. While Lucy waited at the kiosk for a car.” Mr. . Donna came up and walked beside her. “Your story’s as old as the hills.” Lucy said.Gladiator Girl 39 store. The bell jingled. “This one’s on the house.” “You’re welcome.” They reached the lobby entrance to the club.” she said. and left.” Lucy said.” “Good night. Fredrick. The doorbell jingled. “For a while.” She took the cup from Mr. “Goodbye Deb―Lucy. “and thanks. . Lucy took out her coin purse to pay.” Donna pulled open the front door of the club and went in. “Are you going to keep an eye on him?” Lucy said. “Take care. . “I hope things work out for you. I don’t want to see you again.

they helped their residents find a place in the world. defensive in posture. She picked up the sheaf of overnight reports and leaned against the front of her desk to read them and sip her coffee. “Have a seat. collected her notebook and pen. ma’am.” she said. Shy. and Wilhelmina Mazur did her best to live up to it. thank you. That would be the young man who had walked into the shelter last night. Christopher knocked on her open office door. She looked up.” She flipped back to the top sheet. “Please come in. That’s what the information sheet said—more or less. “Good morning.” “How did you sleep?” “Fine. They provided temporary shelter and security. he avoided eye contact at all costs. “Morning. She walked around her desk. “Thank you.” Wilhelmina showed him to one of the two arm chairs in her office.Chapter 4 Duel à Mort The Helping Hand Social Services Society was in the business of attracting lost souls who had been cast adrift. “Your first interview is here. and if they could.” .” she said to the new lost soul.” she said to Christopher. and sat in the other one. He was standing behind Christopher.

at least a little. “I don’t think I’d be good at that. blood drained from his cheeks. . “That’s a nice accent you have. I’m asking in case there’s anyone back home we can contact for you.” “We can do that. “We have an opening in the thrift store. is that correct?” “Yes.” “I’m curious why you came to the city. but then said. who told you about us?” Zack shifted again.” “That’s good to know.” “What about here in Heritage? Do you know anyone here?” Zack shifted in his chair.Gladiator Girl 41 She checked the admittance report. “You’re Zachary Tang. I was told you can help me find work. but you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. We ask. Let’s go see Christopher. Christopher checked a list. “May I ask. Do you have any skills we should know about?” “I helped out on the yeast pond this summer.” Zack took a step back.” he said. “Is there anything you need that we can help you with?” Zack shook his head. . I’m sure we’ll find something for you.” She led Zack to Christopher’s desk in the outer office.” He didn’t relax. “No.” Wilhelmina said. “I . It’s a long way from home. Anyone who might be worried about you?” “No. Given the opportunity to choose their preferred form of address. “No.” “Do you prefer Zack or Zachary?” “Zack. .” “OK. “I need a place to stay. may I ask where you’re from?” “They said last night you didn’t ask questions.” Zack shrugged. just heard people talk. and I need work.” “It’s not difficult―” “Maybe you could find something else?” Wilhelmina said.” Zack said. most interviewees relaxed. Syphoning and raking. “That’s not quite correct.

“The girl the Glories picked up to replace Lilly Aguilar?” “Right. I guess.” Bimini said. H. industrious kid. “I was brought up from the reserves two weeks ago to replace Sigune.” Lucy said.” They finished the exercises. If you hadn’t messed up Emily Stone’s record. a good. She nodded at the other charger.” Lucy said to Andrea.” “I’m in the next match against Beauty Incarnate. He’ll show you what the job entails. I’ll be charging on Frankie’s team. They started maneuvering through the predetermined steps.” Kelcie broke the exercise pattern and hit Andrea on the back of the head.” “How will I know what to do?” “You’ll be working with Neil. We have a contract with the city to empty the trash baskets in the Old Harbor Seafront Park.” Lucy said. This was the weekly joint charger-guardian practice. maybe I’ll be charging for you.” “Hi Lucy. “Ow!” “Never wish for a third game. Serendipity. Frankie. Mana was the charger sword coach. Watson Christopher flipped through a stack of cards. “One group at a time.” Kelcie said. Lucy and the two chargers put on their masks and faced off. They were starting with rote exercises: good for warm-up. “It’s bad charm. “You could work on the trash detail.” “I suppose.” “Thanks. “Kelcie.” Andrea said. Liha. not for meaningful training. “Warm up with basic attack-block-counterattack exercises. I wouldn’t be here. . How does that sound?” “Okay.” “Good for you.” “If the match goes to three games.” Andrea said. “I should thank you.” Mana Ebner said.” Lucy said.” “Lucy. “Congratulations on your last game. “I haven’t seen you before.42 R. “Free-form attack and defend.

“Her skill is crap. Real sword fights were almost always over in a second or less.” He consulted a calendar. For this exercise. They walked off the floor. block. Andrea. Let Andrea get her hits. and was only four days out of a womb. was beating her. they never lasted more than two.” Bimini said.” There was a rectangle marked on the floor to match the size and dimensions of the temple-top. Frankie had killed both chargers. Frankie’s two chargers conferred.” Lucy said. ten times in all. By Monday. yes. She could handle Kelcie. Lucy won six fights. and moved in. she was full of frustrated energy from a day of practice that her body hadn’t been ready for. They went again. and Bimini took Lucy aside.” Lucy didn’t sit.” “You are too aggressive. Second . spread apart.Gladiator Girl 43 then Lucy. Please. kill. Liha won four. the girl had been killed in Lucy’s last match. Better. “Your body is not ready. not yet. Any practice stick strike on a padded suit that would have resulted in a kill counted as one. “How may I help you?” The receptionist’s gaze lingered a moment too long on her sword. I expect you to beat her ass. it gave the chargers a fair chance to win and stressed the guardian’s ability to confront multiple attackers in a confined space. Attack.” The next time they were up. have a seat. Serendipity won seven. Today she is better than you. “Ah. the brand new rookie boiling with enthusiasm. kill. “Lucy Star. her reflexes were slow. She walked to a wall of pictures displaying the champions who had represented the East Slope Fencing Club throughout its history. Like Lucy. Madam will be with you shortly. “but she keeps getting the first cut. Frankie won six of her fights. I’m here to see Charlotte Marceau. But not good. the guardian had to stay inside the rectangle. Andrea wasn’t so successful. Frankie walked out and took up her waiting stance within its bounds. And Lucy—three.

“Guess what. “I see you’ve been checking out our wall of renown.” “I’ll have a word with him. “Is that a blood battle sword?” she said with some yuck in her voice. I’ve already run into it at your bouts. and the receptionist looked like he wanted to put me out with the trash. and they turned down a hall. Watson Pete’s wall of heros was more colorful. A younger girl ran over to join Tiffany. I like knowing where I stand with people. “That is. then noticed Lucy. H. This long tradition was so different from blood battle. Need to clear up a few last minutes before Saturday evening.” Charlotte said.” Lucy said. Duel à Mort fencing was merely the newest form of the sport. Lucy. “I’ve got to warn you. which had been created brand new by Gunda Thorstenson just twelve years ago. she’ll cut your head off with it. “Charlotte.” As he swept by. Charlotte came into the lobby wearing fencing protective gear. Come on back. “there’s a significant amount of snobbery here toward blood battle. “They’re waiting until I age-out to see if I’m good enough to be an august member.” Charlotte said. he gave Lucy a quick up-down look. indeed. and if you’re not nice. but said to Charlotte.” “You’re not on it.” “Don’t worry. Tiffany. “I know you can do it!” Tiffany grinned.” “Don’t. An august fellow walking in the opposite direction didn’t quite stop as he passed. “Let’s talk tomorrow. “This is my friend.” she said.” She led Lucy through the door she had entered the lobby by.” .” Charlotte said. “Who’s your friend?” she said. but these formal poses made the same point: we’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive. I’ve got my appointment to tryout for the Academy next month!” “That’s great. a blood battle guardian’s sword.44 R. A girl of about fourteen ran up to them. I’ll show you around the place.” They cut through a room of fencing strips that were in use by a junior league.

” Lucy whispered to Charlotte.” Everyone shook hands. and this evening he’ll be playing the part of the referee for our rehearsal. “These are East Slope Fencing Club slacks and blazer uniforms. Madame Verbeek. but she doesn’t have what it takes to really finish off an opponent―no blood lust. “Mansion?” “The bout is the main attraction for an old money charity fundraiser. We’ll wear them for the limousine ride to the mansion. then patted the girl on the head. “What’s all that?” Lucy nodded at a clothes rack and a table of paraphernalia.” “Then why are you encouraging her?” “Because she could be a remarkable conventional fencer. Two people were already there. is using us as bait to pull in the deepest pockets in the city so she can shake them down. “How much is she spending?” . Charlotte walked over to the clothes.” “She’s paying for a championship event so she can raise money for charity?” Lucy said. Right now. Charlotte led Lucy out a door at the other end of the room.” Charlotte said.” she said to the girls. No expense will be spared. “We’ve got to go.Gladiator Girl 45 “Don’t start another rumor.” Charlotte whispered back. “Tiffany seems enthusiastic. and this is Amy. Tiffany’s friend looked scared and watched Lucy over her shoulder. “He’s a referee. she’s the captain of my recovery team and will be playing the part of the whole team.” “Limo ride?” Lucy said. your head’s way too pretty to cut off. “Bye!” they ran off.” They went through a door into a room that had one fencing strip.” “Yes. I wrote a letter to the Academy recommending they don’t accept her.” “That didn’t help. “This is Hamal. She’ll get over it and redirect her energy. Our host. trying to get into the Academy is what’s driving her. “Don’t worry.

so we take an enema. and as my second. enema syringe―” “What?” Lucy said. practice foil. “Chalk dust for the chalk pan. and her second also gets to attend. “And these are various toiletries. H.” “I’ll try.” She moved to the table. the refined taste of the fencing aficionado can only celebrate so much fleshy mortality. “Like the Academy says. We’ll wear them out to the fencing strip for the bout. ‘Blood sports celebrate the fleeting nature of our mortal flesh.” Charlotte partly unzipped two garment bags revealing silk evening gowns. “Back to the clothing tour. “are for us to wear if I win the bout. too?” Lucy said.” Charlotte opened the case and the one next to it. .” Lucy said. less than she’s expecting to raise.” “You bring our own chalk?” “Some of us are obsessive about our chalk formula.46 R.” Charlotte said. disposal bags for the used wipes. blood wipes.’ Although they do it by making our own existence not quite so fleeting―I’ve never understood that slogan. This is the mask and protective gear you’ll wear so I can use you as a practice dummy when I warm up before the bout. but the bowels need some help. Anyway. Watson “I hope. you prepare it for me. “What’s this?” “Makeup so I look pretty. oil.” “Hah. These are club athletic suits.” “A fancy dress ball? You better win. cleaning cloths. The winner will be the guest of honor for the soirée. but not be honored. they’re uniforms―not to be used for actual athletics.” She opened it. “Fighting foil. A voided bladder or bowel upon death is too much for them.” She pointed at a case next to the bag of chalk. And these .” “I suppose some of you are obsessive about this formula. “I’ll bet you are.” She moved down the table. . We can pee before a match to clear our bladders. alive or dead. “My foil case. . so my feet don’t sweat and get slippery. Like the slacks and blazers.

but it will be your responsibility to double check everything and sign off after I’ve been interred in a womb. I’m sure you’ll be able to do fancy tricks too.” Charlotte said.” . “When you get your blades next year.” Lucy moved to the last item on the table. I guess so. cosmetics. Ultimately.” “I never thought I’d say this about anything blood sport related. There’s no one I trust more with it. “but that’s disgusting. my life will be in your hands. My recovery team will be standing by. Lucy blew air out her nose.” Charlotte walked to the fencing strip. “Show off.” She stood up and took the foil from Lucy’s hand. I always assumed you used butt plugs.Gladiator Girl 47 Charlotte pointed at a card in the lid of the case. She reached over to her desk and used the tip to flip open a book and turn the pages. while visiting Charlotte in her dorm room. “How can you do anything with this?” “Give me that. “before you poke your eye out. The plug would be voided along with everything else.” “And you with mine. She zipped it open and poked through the contents. novelty tricks don’t win bouts. but seeing isn’t doing. You’ve seen them before.” “Hmm. let’s start with the match ceremonies.” One time. “They’re pretty simple. and watched the tip whip around out of control. It stopped wiggling.” “Wouldn’t work. “Of course. “Clothes. “The club uses the Live Long womb-atorium.” Charlotte said. one at a time. wiggled it. “There are the instructions. at the Academy.” Lucy said.” “Don’t worry. “All right then. a book for the trip home— looks ready to go. “Your womb-atorium bag?” “Yes.” She closed it. and will know where to go and what to do.” Lucy said.” Charlotte said.” She lifted the foil and lunged at an invisible opponent. Lucy picked up her fighting foil.

and with this. “The brain is the hardest to get at. but still.” She pressed her finger against the tip. it’s a last resort. It’s either eyes. but what would be the point if it was? Foils were never meant to be true dueling weapons. I can’t hack someone up like you’re learning to do. Slow death attacks. “The most straight forward attack is through the rib cage. then put her finger in her mouth and sucked off the blood. Their tips weren’t sharpened until blood sport fencing was developed.” “OK.” She poked the invisible opponent in the ribs. don’t work because the bouts never last long enough for anyone to bleed to death. The foil is too flimsy to make its own holes in the skull. The nose is easiest. guardians strategically sever. And we don’t hack. or nose. We practice the art of separating an opponent’s desire to act from her ability to act. Watson “So. “Fuck. H. so you have to go in through natural weak points. but find the right entry point and thrust true? I’ll drop you before you even know you’ve been penetrated.” she waggled the tip of her foil. “Impressed?” “No. “They’re frail and bend with the slightest lateral pressure.” Lucy said. “there are only two viable ways to do it. between the ribs. but you have to attack through an intercostal gap.’ All I can do is kill (that’s the art of separating an opponent’s life from her body.” She lunged. They were designed for practice and later used for touch scoring in competition. by the way). like causing arterial bleeding. The other options for attacking the heart are to come up from under . twisted the foil. ears. how do you kill with that thing?” “It’s not easy. showed Lucy the sanguine drop oozing out of the pin prick wound. Any failed attack is pretty much the end of the bout. If you hit one.48 R. the foil bends and you’re wide open for a counterattack. I can’t ‘strategically sever. “Always go for the heart if you can. you either attack the heart or the brain. and pulled back.” She pointed her foil at the head of her invisible opponent. but your making me horny.

” “When will I get it back?” “The president’s secretary has agreed to stay here and let you into the office as soon as you return. or down through the neck. and most of the bleeding is internal.” Charlotte said. A limousine as large as three public cars was waiting. “Starting now. then down and to her side.” She demonstrated the attacks. .” After the sword was locked away. The foils poke tiny holes through the skin. Lucy caught a car back to Charlotte’s Club and changed into her slacks and blazer uniform. “Who are these people?” Lucy said. Obtaining a waiver for a private car was expensive. Come on.” “Nobody touches it but me. There were also security guards: a couple of girls—they looked like twins—whose age suggested they were protected by rebirth. He took their bags.” Charlotte twisted on her heel to face Lucy. “Foil fencing is a remarkably non-bloody blood sport. “You’ll have to leave your sword behind. The Limousine came with a handsome chauffeur who didn’t actually drive.” “Nobody but you. except for the brain.Gladiator Girl 49 the ribcage. “Exactly how horny are you?” After Saturday practice at the Burning Desire complex. I’ve arranged for you to lock it in the club president’s office. The brain is messy. then retreated. That’s not an appropriate fencing weapon. and was smart enough to not try and take Charlotte’s foil case. they carried the gear for the evening out to the club’s car dock. getting one for a car this size required a fortune. you’re representing the East Slope Fencing Club. “How much am I getting paid for this?” “A lot.” Lucy fingered her scabbard. loaded them into the storage compartment. She brought the foil up to her nose. Sorry.” “Okay.

Every wall was painted with a mural. . down hallways. I need to warm up. Flirting with the other guests is.” “Sounds complicated. Watson The cabin door slid open. Lucy suited up in her padded jacket and breeches. “We’re stepping into a more striated society than you’re used to.” Charlotte said. Lucy tickled his palm on her way in. “But he’s so cute. and into a suite of rooms that belonged in a fairy tale. merely inappropriate. especially between strata. at worst.” They worked for half an hour. we’re doing fine. and not fun. “Get ready. not down.” “Then why am I wearing all this?” Charlotte shrugged. where they were escorted from a garage.” Lucy said. “Just in case. “That wasn’t proper. Flirting and power get confounded. Put on your mask. Charlotte wore an old athletic suit.” He gave Lucy another once over.” The limousine whisked them northwest to the Verbeek Mansion. up an elevator. Charlotte handed Lucy her practice padding and mask.50 R.” Charlotte said after the door closed.” he said. “One hour to the bout. The august fellow from Thursday popped in. She picked up her fighting foil and tossed Lucy the practice foil. You’re a guest.” “Just make sure you flirt up. then someone knocked on the door opposite to the one they had entered through. and the chauffeur offered his hand for assistance. “Come in. “Watch your step.” Charlotte said. “You don’t need to fence. I won’t even touch you. so flirting with the staff caries an implied threat. H. just strike the poses I tell you. “I thought this was a non-hazardous job?” “Don’t worry. and I’ll do the rest.” Lucy looked at the sewing needle sharp tip of Charlotte’s foil. “Is everything OK?” “Thanks Perry.” There was a partial fencing strip on the floor long enough to include the two en guarde positions.

The recovery team slipped in and waited just inside the doors. cooling. princely-handsome young man. remember?” “I’m always nice. Can you get my enema ready?” An hour later they were showered. . Lucy carried her womb-atorium bag. Lucy walked three paces behind Charlotte. The chairs were occupied by people who seemed as out of place in this fairy tale mansion as Lucy. but she snuck a glance. (“If Charlotte loses we’ll have her prepped. They were dressed in modern elegance that had no regard for the whimsical excesses of their surroundings.” He ducked out the door. Charlotte’s recovery team waited next to a portable processing station and a refrigerated coffin. She carried her foil case.Gladiator Girl 51 Perry gave a brisk nod. “Who was that?” Lucy said.” Amy had said at the Thursday rehearsal. if one imagined him without his inappropriate tuxedo. “The club president. and they were admitted into a ballroom.” Charlotte put her foil away. Charlotte had instructed Lucy to not look directly at the spectators. Be nice to him. A fencing strip had been laid out in the middle of the room with a row of chairs on each side set at a sufficient offset to be out of range of any unexpected sprays of arterial blood. He. cleaned up. He flashed her a covert smile. and chalk dispenser. They were standing in front of a gilded set of double doors. Winnie Chaturvedi and her second were entering from the opposite end. made-up and in their never-used-for-athletics East Slope athletic suits. and on her way within five minutes of CD. “The countdown clock is ticking.) A chime sounded. the doors opened. She made eye contact with a gorgeous. and she looked away. fit the fairy tale part. Charlotte’s hair had been pulled back in a french braid to keep it out of her eyes and away from her arms. Your sword is in his office. at least. “Let me know if you need anything.

Madame Verbeek had been regaling the assembled deep pockets with a history of the art of fencing. To extend the event. the Master of the Bout stepped to the center of the strip. passing Winnie’s . She handed them to Lucy who folded the suit. She is currently the number-one ranked foil fencer in the region. “Seconds. and Lucy put the womb-atorium bag on a table provided for that purpose. He faced the fencing strip. To my right. Charlotte opened her foil case and took out her weapon. The referee was introduced and saluted. H. and laid it and the slippers next to the womb-atorium bag. I present Winifred Sandpiper Chaturvedi representing the Crystal Hill Fencing Club. “To my left. held up his arms. it is my pleasure to welcome you to this Republic Fencing Society sanctioned bout between the top ranking Duel à Mort foil fencers in the North Coast region. having silenced thirty-three opponents in succession.52 R.” Winnie stepped forward and saluted.” Charlotte walked out to her en guarde line and saluted the audience. She is currently the number-two ranked foil fencer in the region. having silenced twenty-seven opponents in succession. Lucy shook some of her chalk mix into the chalk pan. Watson They arrived at their end of the strip. She has remained undefeated for fifty-one weeks. you may inspect the weapons. The evening’s entertainment was one bout which meant it would be over within seconds of starting. As the projection faded. and flicked his fingers. untied. I present Charlotte Isabel Marceau representing the East Slope Fencing Club. Charlotte unzipped. “Gentle friends. Charlotte tapped her feet in the chalk and tested her foot work. She has remained undefeated for fifty-nine weeks. Charlotte put her case on the foil stand.” Lucy walked along the right side of the strip. While she stepped through a few practice moves. and removed her East Slope athletic suit and matching slippers.

and arched her spine to give her backhanded thrust the correct angle of attack. At the the opposite en guarde position. It never hurt to send conflicting signals to the other team. Charlotte kicked into a jump. Lucy let out a resigned we-don’t-have-a-chance sigh. Winnie retreated toward the opposite side of the fencing strip. The tip of Winnie’s foil caught in her flesh and dug in. She stabbed three more times before landing her jump. then took their stances. “Ladies. but she couldn’t resist putting a little sorry-you’re-going-to-lose sympathy into her glance. Charlotte had told Lucy to remain neutral. Winnie lunged—Ting!—recovered and lunged again. and caught her eye.” Charlotte and Winnie saluted each other. The referee flicked his fingers and Lucy returned to Charlotte’s end of the strip. “En guarde. Charlotte retreated. Charlotte stepped forward.” the referee said. Lucy balanced it on her fingers: the center of gravity was where it was supposed to be. Winnie closed―Ting!―their foils crossed. She slipped a rubber pad over the end of her middle finger and pressed it against the tip. He looked from one to the other. Winnie pushed her hilt out. For a moment. but she kept her foil up. “Fence!” For a moment nothing happened. It had the proper flexion: not too stiff. Winnie handed over her foil. She handed the foil back to Winnie. Charlotte felt its edge slide against her ribs. She turned and nodded to the referee. . Winnie’s second did the same.Gladiator Girl 53 second at the midpoint. stepped forward. The tip scratched across Charlotte’s skin. She lifted up on the ball of her foot and raised her arms with the foil pointed down. When she passed Winnie’s second. her neck was exposed. moving along the outside of Winnie’s arm. Charlotte cross stepped and closed. then Charlotte advanced on Winnie. “Ready?” The referee waited a beat. Winnie was pulling it back for a thrust and using the edge to feel for an intercostal gap. and stabbed down through Winnie’s neck and deep into her chest. moving herself out of Charlotte’s line of attack.

” the referee said.” The spectators―many of them were already on their feet―applauded. right there. “Ready? Fence!” Lucy watched Charlotte advance and retreat. He winked. “The winner is Madame Marceau. It wasn’t necessary. Lucy was sure at least half of them had never seen a live blood sport event and had just discovered the visceral thrill of watching a duel to the death. . Watson Charlotte retreated into her en guarde stance. she took them and jogged back to the end of the strip. Winnie stepped back and to the side—the tip of her foil was against Charlotte’s ribs! Charlotte leapt. H. It didn’t look bad—just a big scratch. She found him and made eye contact. and nodded. Charlotte moved in for a strike. She came forward. Winnie’s team moved in with a stretcher. “Halt. ready to attack again. Charlotte handed her the used blood wipes. Lucy used the first-aid kit to clean and disinfect the wound. She pealed the backing off a bandage and pressed it in place.” He moved up and felt Winnie’s neck for a pulse. and handed the wipes to Charlotte. All the residual muscle tension went out of Winnie’s body. From their faces. Winnie collapsed. and she dropped to the floor in a loose jumble. stabbed down several times. ran out to the center of the strip. then motioned to the captain of her recovery team. The referee called.54 R. and retreated from the ballroom. Charlotte was bleeding from Winnie’s failed attack. in the flesh. It was over. The referee held up crossed index fingers. She picked up the first-aid kit and some blood wipes. But she had duties. picked up her body. Winnie lunged— twice. Lucy looked for the handsome princely guy. some cheered. she smiled back. checked Winnie’s vitals. “The match is complete. While Charlotte cleaned Winnie’s blood off her foil and wiped her hands to remove any blood splatter.

and led Charlotte out of the ballroom. and picked up her foil case. She put her foil away. . picked up the chalk dispenser. saluted the audience one more time. walking three paces ahead of her.Gladiator Girl 55 Now that her blade and hands were clean. and walked to her end of the fencing strip. dressed in the athletic suit and slippers. Charlotte shook hands with the referee and the Master of the Bout. Lucy slung the womb-atorium bag over her shoulder.

Chapter 5 Lucy and the Princely Guy

“That was great!” Lucy said. She imitated Charlotte’s finishing strokes. “Thu-thu-thu-thu! You were like a sewing machine set on murder!” They were back in what Lucy was calling the fairy tale locker room. Charlotte put her foil case down on the sideboard, then turned, picked up Lucy, and spun her around. “Whooo!” She said and put her down, but held her by her shoulders. “I couldn’t have done it without you!” “That was all you,” Lucy said. “You could have done it with an orangutan for a second.” “No, you’re my rock.” “What?” “Ever since I first saw you at the Academy, you had such a desire to succeed. It was feral and frightening, and I pitied anyone who would get in your way. I was technically good, but you taught me how to win―what it really took to win.” “No way.” “Don’t under estimate yourself. You lend out strength and you don’t even know it. I needed you here tonight, this bout was too important. I needed you at my back.” “I’ll always have your back,” Lucy said. “You know that.” “And I’ll have yours,” Charlotte squeezed her in another hug,

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released her, and took a deep breath. She wiped her eyes, then shook her fists in the air, “YES!” Charlotte unzipped her jacket, peeled the bandage off her ribs, and held it up. “She almost got me.” A line of blood had soaked into the gauze. She lifted her jacket away from her side. Blood was dribbling from the end of the wound where Winnie’s foil had dug in. She wiped it up with her finger and sucked it off. “But I’m the one who can still bleed!” Her grin was fierce. Someone knocked on the door. “Yes?” Charlotte said. Amy stuck he head in. “I need to check your wound.” “Sure, come in. Lucy, this is Amy—oh, right. You already met.” Amy set her bag on the makeup table and pulled out the chair. Charlotte took off her jacket and sat. “The chair’s for me,” Amy said. “Stand up and lift your arm.” “You’re not putting me in a womb,” Charlotte said. “I want to feel this win now, in real time, not when I’m waking up and trying to remember how to chew my food. I’m due for a three month conjoining a week from now anyway. Surely, we can wait until then.” Amy pulled on sterile gloves and cleaned the wound. “Lucy, you did a good job. Was that your first time dressing a wound? . . . Lucy?” “Huh? Oh, yeah.” Lucy said. Amy put on magnifying spectacles and broke the seal on a pair of forceps. She leaned close and poked them in the wound. “My concern is the point where Winnie punctured your skin. If her foil penetrated your chest cavity, even with a pinhole, the danger of infection goes way up, and we’ll want you in a womb ASAP. Hmm, doesn’t look too bad. She got into the muscle tissue, but not by much.” Amy put down the forceps, cracked open a sampling swab, and stuck it in the wound. “If this tests clean, you should be OK.” She sealed the sample, opened a bottle, cracked open another swab, and dipped it in the bottle. “In the mean time, I’m going to cauterize the puncture. Ready?”

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“Yes,” Charlotte said. “Want something to bite on?” “No.” “Tongue clear?” “Yes.” Amy pushed the swab in; it fizzed while she worked it around. Charlotte clenched her teeth, or was still grinning from her victory, Lucy couldn’t tell which. Amy pulled out the swab, daubed the edge of the puncture with a cotton ball, and put a new bandage over the wound. “That’s it. Enjoy the party.” She packed up her bag and nearly collided with Perry on her way out. Charlotte grabbed her athletic jacket. “Sorry,” Perry said and averted his eyes. “I should have knocked. The excitement . . . I apologize.” He backed out the door. Charlotte put on her jacket. “You can come in.” Perry stepped in and took a furtive look around. He relaxed when he saw propriety had been restored. “Fantastic performance!” He extended his hand. Charlotte shook it, but he didn’t let go; he clasped her hand with both of his. He was shaking. “Do you know what this means? You’re the number one ranked Duel à Mort foil fencer in the region!” “It means everyone will be out for my blood,” Charlotte said. “Including Winnie.” “Yes, I suppose so,” Perry said. Charlotte pulled her hand out of his. “I’m number one for as long as it lasts, and I’m representing your club. Go milk that for all the P. R. you can.” She pushed him toward the door. “Now get ready for the ball and leave us girls alone.” He turned to face Charlotte, “Congratulations!” He ducked out. “Poor man,” Charlotte said when the door closed. “Why?” “He wanted to bring blood fencing into his club to keep up with the times. But he doesn’t really know what to make of us. He’d be happier if blood sports and rebirth had never existed.”

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She took off her jacket. “The dressers will be here in less than an hour. I need a shower, and my adrenaline is just about sapped; I could use a nap before they arrive.” Lucy nodded toward the garment bags. “We need help putting those on?” “Yes we do.” Charlotte smiled, but fatigue had taken over. She went into the shower room. Lucy hadn’t broken a drop of sweat. She was still emotionally wired, not sleepy at all, and on top of that, she hadn’t had any sex since being reborn. She flopped into a chair―an incredibly fantastic chair―and looked at the mural painted on the opposite wall. It showed a sun-dappled clearing in a forest. A young woman with pale skin and pink cheeks was riding on a swing hung from a tree limb. She was wearing a frilly dress with so many layers of petticoats that the skirt opened up like a mushroom top. A young man was pushing the swing. The girl seemed ecstatic. Lucy imagined a knobby wooden dildo carved into the swing seat and imagined she was the girl in the frilly dress. “Wag-mump,” someone said. “Huh, what?” Lucy said. “Wake up,” Charlotte said. “The dressers are here.” Lucy jumped up, groggy with sleep. She checked the chair’s seat cushion for stains. There weren’t any. “I’ll be right back,” she said and stumbled to the toilet. Lucy stared at the elegant woman standing in the mirror wearing the gorgeous blue evening gown. She turned this way and that but couldn’t see any seams or fasteners. She didn’t know how the dressers had gotten her into it, or where they had found that bosom. It was strapless, but didn’t constrain her breathing, and when she moved, the skirt felt like a natural extension of her legs. Charlotte was studying herself in another mirror. Her gown was white with an opalescent shimmer. It gave her long fencer’s

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body an ethereal lightness, yet tethered her to the earth just enough to keep her from floating away. Half an hour earlier a fussy team of style magicians had swarmed into the room to transform Lucy and Charlotte. A makeup artist had tsk-tsked over the state of Lucy’s skin tone, and almost fainted when he saw her Burning Desire club tattoos; a hairdresser had struggled to do something brilliant with her short, black hair; and a―whatever you call a person who puts jewelry on people―found just the right neckless and earrings to complement everything. After approving their ensembles, Lucy and Charlotte were escorted back to the same gilded doors that had admitted them to the fencing venue. “Is there anything I should know about etiquette in there?” Lucy said. “They’re not going to pay any attention to you. Even if they’re carrying on a conversation with you, they won’t be paying any attention. As long as you don’t belch, fart, or burp through your nose you should be fine.” The doors opened and they stepped in. A man next to the door, dressed like a toy soldier, announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the guest of Honor, Madame Charlotte Isabel Marceau, accompanied by Lucinda Marcia Star.” Madame Verbeek came over, took Charlotte by the arm, and spirited her off into the throng. The toy soldier gestured for Lucy to move away from the door. She started circling the room to take in the spectacle. This was the same room that had been mostly empty an hour and a half ago when Charlotte murdered Winnie. Now it was bright and filled with chairs, settees, tables, sideboards, waiters, a chamber orchestra, and many more people than the handful who had watched the bout. “Champagne, madam?” A waiter offered a tray of champagne flutes. Lucy took one. “Thank you,” she said, but the waiter was already moving off.

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Except for the incredible wealth and stage managed courtesy, this wasn’t any different from the parties Lucy went to in taverns or apartments: People collected into groups of acquaintances or common interest. There were several seduction games going on, and a few people stood around the edges, alone and watching. Like me. When she had gotten a quarter of the way around the room, Lucy spotted the handsome princely guy standing with a group of other handsome princelies. He looked at her and she raised her glass. He held up his finger in a just-a-moment gesture and said something to the other princelies that she hoped was, “Pardon me while I go bed that commoner.” He walked over. “Lucinda Star?” he said. “Every day,” Lucy said. “Jayzen Verbeek, at your service.” He offered his hand. Lucy shook it. “Hello Jayzen. You can call me Lucy.” “Jay will suffice for me,” he said. “Hi Jay.” “Impressive victory on the part of your lead,” he said. “You bet.” “You are also a Duel à Mort fencer?” “No, I’m a friend.” “But you were the second. What if you had to fight?” “That would never happen, but if it did, I would have forfeited. I was helping Charlotte out. She asked me to replace her regular second.” Jayzen lowered his voice. “Don’t tell anyone else. These people only pay for the best. If they found out, they would feel cheated.” “What would they do, slap me in the face with a glove? Challenge me to a duel? “Nothing so honorable.” “Anyway, they weren’t cheated. Charlotte’s club hired me for the evening. Tonight I’m officially representing the East Slope Fencing Club.”

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“Ah,” he said. “You sound disappointed I’m not a fencer.” “I’ve been training recently with an épée. I was hoping I could get some pointers.” “Even if I were a fencer, I doubt I could have helped,” Lucy said. “Conventional fencing has all sorts of rules to let contestants score points without getting hurt. The blood sport versions pretty much throw out all those rules for the only one that matters—the duelist left standing wins. I’m not sure I could have given you any pointers that would have been useful for touch scoring.” “You do know something about the blood sports then?” “I do. I’m a blood battle guardian.” “That would be for . . . Diana’s Glory?” “No, Burning Desire.” She pointed at her chest tattoo. “Lovely. A rose, is it?” “A Burning Desire rose,” Lucy said. Jayzen smiled polite indifference. “You don’t know much about blood battle, do you.” “I apologize, no,” he said. “The clubs are named after breeds of roses. This is an official club tattoo. There’s another one on my right shoulder, see?” She turned to show him. “And my player number is here,” she turned the other way to show him her left shoulder, “and on my back.” She held up her index finger in front of his face. “And here, just below the finger nail, see it? It’s tiny and almost matches my skin color.” “Ah, I believe I do . . . ?” “That’s my club ID and player number. They’re tattooed all over my body. Makes it easier to sort out everyone’s parts after a game.” “Where’s your sword?” He looked at her hip. “I thought you blood battle girls never went anywhere without them.” “Thats just for guardians, like me, and chargers. But you’re right. Since I’m representing Charlotte’s fencing club tonight, I had to leave it behind.”

He spread his arms wide and walked backward into the center of the space.” He slid his fingers behind the bodice and between her shoulder blades.” “I’m not. I don’t know how they did it. and into a gymnasium. He opened another door.” He walked to cabinets in the opposite wall and opened a set of doors revealing samurai practice gear.” Lucy said. “See?” Lucy stepped out of the gown. This is the Verbeek Family Club House. It split down the back and fell to the floor. There are pressure points that release the bonds. took off his tuxedo coat and tie. “Let’s give it a try.” Jayzen glanced around the room. or how to get it off.” Jayzen finished removing his shirt and came over. “I don’t want to. “This soirée is dull after watching your friend’s victory.” “Blood battle swordsmanship isn’t the same. “I’ve been training in the samurai arts since I was six years old. walked through an enclosed courtyard garden with a fountain and skylight ceiling. like tonight. It’s used for entertaining and making deals. He started removing his shirt. “What do you think?” Jayzen said.” “Maybe you could give me some pointers after all. “Not bad for a home gym. Perhaps you could show me something now?” “Sure.” he said.” She mentally punched the air. “You’re not going to fight in that are you?” he nodded at Lucy’s gown. What am I doing? “But I should be able to help you with something. The lights came up when they entered. and hung them inside. Jayzen picked it up and hung it in the cabinet. There’s a gym downstairs. It uses molecular zippers that seal the gown around you. No one actually lives here except for the staff. Jayzen led Lucy out a side door.” Lucy said. He re- .Gladiator Girl 63 “You don’t sound pleased. “Turn around. They took a marble stairway down two flights.” “This isn’t a home. but it took three people to get me into it.

all over. It’s aggressive. “Just to make you feel comfortable. I want you to feel comfortable.” Lucy looked him up and down.” Lucy looked him over. and walked to the center of the gym. modern samurai martial arts training is built around formal rules for scoring points in competition.” “Flesh has blood. He spread his arms wide again.” she said. “I’ll be careful.” She tossed him a padded helmet and a samurai practice stick. remaining clothes. we kill as efficiently and quickly as possible while avoiding getting killed. “Do we have to?” Jayzen said. Nudity has beauty. but I’m very good at killing flesh.” Lucy said. I don’t know how to kill nudity. like fencing. that you won’t hurt me unless you want to. took another practice stick.” She handed everything over to be hung in the cabinet. and I’m sure. shoes.” Lucy started pulling a padded practice suit out of the samurai cabinet. There’s a significant difference between the two. even with practice sticks. it’s conceptual. “As much as I’d like to play your game.” Lucy said. Watson moved his pants.” “I don’t see it.64 R. “but before we start I want to make clear that. Jayzen came out and performed a few flourishes of his own. “We compete in the flesh.” . then she put on a helmet. socks and underwear while Lucy watched. “not in the nude. He was so pretty and handsome. but you know I won’t be able to touch you. “You fight in the nude. “We’ll at least use head gear and masks. “I appreciate your concern. despite your eloquently delivered point. “Practice versus competition. That’s your first pointer. In blood battle we don’t score points. H. training rules are training rules. then took off her shoes. She stepped through some maneuvers to get a feel for the stick’s weight and balance. it’s physical. and it’s not civilized. It would be dangerous for you to fight me in the flesh. and the jewelry.

She brought her stick down. “This isn’t working.” Lucy said.’ you break off. If they had been wearing full padding. If this were real. “Wait.” He attacked. This felt wrong. “You better.Gladiator Girl 65 “You’ve made your point.” He assumed a samurai fighting stance with his practice stick raised. letting her stick slide up under his arms. and only then deal with any residual energy remaining in his attack. Do you think you can pull your punches?” “Yes. Lucy assumed her relaxed guardian stance: facing him with the point of her stick resting on the floor in front of her. lowered her center of gravity. He moved to block. but it felt strange not having her shortsword attached to her back. you would have been dead twice already. She stopped just as it reached his armpits. and moved into his body. ready to attack or defend. that’s what she would have done. Stop!” she said. but Jayzen brought his stick around and tried to attack her ribs. Right now I’m blocking to stop you from hitting me.” “Can you pull your punches?” Jayzen said. “Let’s get started. Her instinct was to duck under his stick and split his gut open. She blocked. I can’t teach you anything like this.” he said. “I guess I can. and when I say ‘You’re dead. Lucy stepped forward. too.” Jayzen took up his starting stance. “Why don’t you attack this time?” “I play defense.” he said.” “Give it a try. . although her instinct was to simply cut off his arms. but you have to. severing his spine from his pelvis. “I don’t think this is going to work. Lucy stepped in with her stick raised for a high attack. and raised her stick to block. “Yes. slipped it under his hands. I don’t start fights.” Jayzen said. “Are you ready?” he said.

Pointer number two. she would have drawn it and cut off his hands. Lucy stabbed at his heart while blocking his leading sword arm with her left hand.” she said. I would have cut through your pectoral muscles and sliced the top off your ribcage. The blow sent him staggering several paces. then attacked. She ignored his attack. And then I would have finished you off. pulled back to block.” “Maybe your skills and mine aren’t so different after all. just below his sternum. He was so inept that she didn’t even consider blocking. I would have split your pubic bone. and he hit her on the shoulder. Lucy planted her practice stick on the floor and put her left hand on her hip. “You’re dead. That wasn’t competition samurai. He tried again. stopped before hitting him.” “Let’s go again. brought her stick up into his groin. Samurai practice helmets had heavy neck padding. “you’ve been keeping a secret from me.” she said. “If this was real.66 R. you’ve been learning cutting patterns. gasping for breath.” he said. “You’re dead. This time he attacked her right side. killing your momentum. and he stumbled to the floor. Lucy brought her stick around and hit him on the side of the neck. but left himself wide open. then slid my blade out of the wound to block your attack.” “I have?” “Someone’s been teaching you killing moves. “I don’t know what . Watson Her mouth was next to his ear.” she said. but before that I would have used the leverage I had while my sword was still in you groin to twist you around. She looked down at Jayzen. then stabbed up.” She tapped the tip of her stick against his xiphoid process. Jayzen didn’t pull his punch. H. but he came back with another attack. She hit him in the ribs. “Pointer number three.” Jayzen said. where it had stopped. “Also. below the ribs. “If this was real. If she had her short-sword. “Ouch! Fuck! That hurt!” she said.

“The eyes are the tell. Lucy flicked her stick up and hit his wrists. Pick up your helmet. He began falling and brought his arms down to catch himself on the floor. and he sprawled to the floor. ‘one more time. but I’m tired of it. that’s where your testicles are going to end up. or should I leave?” Jayzen took off his helmet and pulled himself to his feet using his practice sword like a cane. Instead. My eyes are waiting.” Jayzen faked an attack toward her sword hand. She rolled her eyes. “Come on. You take yours off.” “No. “One more time.Gladiator Girl 67 your deal is. “it’s your show. Lucy cracked him on the inside of his advancing knee.’ one more time. Are you up for it.” she said. I came down here to get laid. She stepped over to his practice stick. . and helped him limp to the .” Then he pointed at her eyes. but if you’re willing to give it a try. held him around the waist. I want to look in your eyes.” He pointed at his own eyes with his index and middle fingers. Lucy put his arm across her shoulders. She hunkered down in front of him and put her hand on his shoulder. . “but this is it. The move knocked his stick out of his hands. there’s a nice stack of exercise mats over there. “If you say. “If you don’t want to . He reversed his attack.” Lucy didn’t move. Lucy stayed put: one hand on her hip. “The eyes keep the match honest. It looked like he was expecting her to move in and block his stick. “I’m concerned the mood has been ruined.” she said. She pointed at it with her practice stick. her practice stick planted on the floor.” Lucy took off her helmet and tossed it to the side. I’m waiting. “Okay.” he said. sending it skittering across the gym floor to clatter against the far wall.” Jayzen struggled to his feet.” Jayzen’s breathing was heavy and he was holding himself up with his hands and sore wrists. “Did your sensei tell you that?” Jayzen assumed his fighting stance. hooked its hilt guard with the tip of her own stick and flicked.

Lucy flopped Jayzen onto the stack. Jayzen orbited a breast with his hand.” They arrived at the mats. A sensei who kept his students alive did it by being practical and paying attention to what kept them alive and what didn’t.” Lucy said.68 R. H. “This is the big one. then buried her nose in his neck. He grimaced when she brushed his sore ribs. but she’s a better sword master than any of your how-to-score-points senseis. pushing her hands up against the lay of his hair. then she rubbed her palms across his shoulders and into his armpits. “Don’t be so smug. Lucy crawled on top of him. because for us. She dug into his scalp. He moved down and kissed her throat. It used to be that the master’s training either kept his students alive or it got them killed. She felt a sympathetic tingle deep in her groin.” He pressed his hand against her shoulder and she rolled onto her back. covering them with sweat and oil. across her hip to the inside of her thigh.” she said. He smelled good. She had worked him hard enough that his sweat was overpowering his cologne. and up to her la- . it’ll be worth it. She pressed her hands against his pectorals. Jayzen kissed his way down her belly. “Ah!” “Don’t hurt yourself. and kissed him. once again. She felt his penis grow against her thigh. Jayzen rolled onto his side.” She kissed him. bad training gets us killed. He had to constantly revise his methods to pass that simple test. A sensei who got his students killed pretty much lost his sensei license.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” Jayzen said from his flipped turtle position. The problem with all that mystical sensei bullshit is. it’s lost its edge. Watson mats. “Work through the pain. pulled him down. “My sword coach doesn’t have any fancy ratings or pretty belts. pinched his nipples. “Here’s pointer number four. even the ones that teach you nasty little killing tricks. then circled the nipple with his thumb.

turned to Lucy. wrapped her legs around his thighs. . and pressed them on the matt to push herself back up. One one­thousand. and pumped her pelvis against his. his puff of hot breath against her genitals was the thing that set her on the physiological cascade to orgasm. She closed her eyes and hung her head back. pressed his tongue against her clitoris. and rolled her hips to his rhythm. Lucy was looking into her brother’s six year old face—puffy. She opened her eyes and saw the point of Emily’s sword sticking out of her ribs. trapped between her back and the mat. but it wasn’t her. and full of uncomprehending fear and betrayal. He eased two fingers into her vagina. “Ahuungh!” One one­ thousand. like a thunder storm walking off to the horizon. two one­thousand. and pulled. she was oozing off the crest of the mat pile. was turning into a viscus slick. She watched it cut into the Goddess’s back. kneading the bundles of his erector spinae muscles. and again. and to her surprise. “Ah!” he said. not the Goddess. then welled up again. she guided his penis into her vagina. The orgasm flooded up her spine. and the girl. “What the fuck?” She grabbed Jayzen’s ears. She slipped off her elbows. and nudged her tissue back and forth.Gladiator Girl 69 bia. Blood soaked into her white vestment. down her legs. reached down. then worked them under his pelvis and took hold of his penis with her toes. across her belly. collected two handfuls of his hair in her fists. then kissed him hard on the mouth. Her sweat. two one­thousand. . Lucy sat up on her elbows and watched him while walking her heals up and down his back. three one­thousand . It ebbed. Jayzen wrapped his lips around her hood and sucked with a light pressure. . then felt herself collapse against someone. As his groin came up to hers. and washing everything away. Lucy let herself sink into the sensation. She slipped her feet off Jayzen’s back. running with tears. Lucy opened her eyes.

then into a shower room. They walked across the gymnasium to a locker room. you used me to put the finishing touch on your recent womb visit?” “Do you feel used?” “I feel privileged.” Little nozzles at the ends of bendy. “How did you know I was just reborn?” .” he said. Rodeo in a Box. The shower room offered her a shower cap. “Fancy showers. Unicorn’s Rainbow―” “So. tiny brushes started to whir. “We should shower before getting dressed. Other little brushes descended to soap and scrub. Jayzen lay on top of her until they both caught their breaths.” Lucy said.70 R. He pulled her off the mats and winced.” “What?” Lucy sat up. The top mat was glistening. She found she could walk around the shower room and the washing would be handed off to other nozzles that dropped down from the ceiling to replace the ones retracting behind her. “Was that one of those rebirth orgasms I’ve heard about?” “Oh yeah. “Wow. long tubes wriggled down from the ceiling like jellyfish tentacles and surrounded her. “You made a mess. Kiss-Bang-Boom. “Huh.” “I think you’re patronizing me.” Lucy said. Another collection of wet little widgets washed and combed her hair. “but I guess they’d have to be to fit in around here. Jayzen came over. She declined. Jayzen was favoring his right leg. The spasms receded and she felt like she was waking from a dream.” Lucy took his hand. They sprayed her from head to foot and weaved around finding ways to wet every part of her without getting water in her eyes or mouth. Watson Jayzen tensed and shivered several times. That was a Super Juicy. “Whoa!” she said when a little nozzle wiggled between her butt cheeks.” Jayzen stood and held out his hand. H. He pushed up and looked at the mat.” “You have names for them?” “Yup.

’ I was wondering how bad ‘worse’ gets in the Verbeek Family Club House. “What?” Jayzen said. Jayzen moved behind her and pressed his fingers on the inside of the bodice hem.” “You girls regularly spill each other’s entrails. The gown closed up and once again looked fantastic.” “Hmm. but not wet. All the water ran down the drains. “Curious isn’t it? The only wound that can’t be healed in a womb is the one from cutting our umbilical cords. and the nozzles shut down when their skin was moist. I think your worse tops anything that happens here. Lucy spotted Charlotte. How do I seal up this dress?” She stepped into the evening gown and pulled it up. Verbeek picked her guests’ pockets for charity. They walked to the cabinet in the gymnasium where Jayzen had hung their clothes. but took her time. They’ve seen worse.” Lucy looked down and felt her belly.” Lucy stepped into her hosiery. “What about the mats?” Lucy said. She was actually dressed appropriately for the fairy tale room which meant she was dressed entirely inappropriately for the soirée. maybe three or four years younger than Lucy.” The nozzles stopped spraying water and started blowing warm air. . Huh. “The staff will take care of them. She seemed out of place. All the tentacles sucked back into the ceiling. They were strolling the room and stopping at various groups to chat. Couldn’t help noticing as I passed by.Gladiator Girl 71 “Your navel. leaving the floor dry. Jayzen and Lucy slipped into the ballroom.” “Good point. it looks like I’m getting an outie this time. Charlotte was being shown off. She was the misdirection while M. Jayzen motioned to a young woman. The brushes and combs finished fussing over their hair. She came over. still in the company of Madame Verbeek. It took a moment to see why. He balanced on one foot to pull on his sock. “Lots of things could fit under ‘worse.

“Who was that show for?” “For the room. “Come on. “I expect. “He wanted some sword fighting tips.” Francine said. were dressed in fairy tale wear. H.” another girl said. .” She nodded toward Jayzen. “I don’t mean to be cruel.” The group was silent.” “Who?” “The fencer. I want you to meet my friends. They all looked. this is Lucinda Star.” She nodded toward a chattery group of girls who had a princess look about them.” He made a slight bow and walked away. He was back with his princely gang favoring his right leg. I expect it’ll take two or three days before he forgets about me. and Gilbert.” “What brings you here tonight?” another boy said. She made my brother limp.” Francine said. like the European provence. Watson “Lucinda. Call me France.” “Hah!” Francine said. like her. “For anyone he imagines is watching him out of the corner of their eye. “How did you do that?” one of the girls said. “Let’s not pry too deeply. “How did that come about?” one of the boys said. Francine. “Hi Guys. And a lot of them are. “Madame Star. “This is Beth. “I’d like you to meet Lucy.72 R. Lucy watched him go. it has been an honor. “I won’t burden you with other names until they say something.” He turned to Lucy.” she pointed to each of the three who had spoken. “That’s Aldan. only realistic. he’s probably already forgotten about you—” She took a closer look at Jayzen.” They walked over to a group of people about Francine’s age who.” “I’m with Charlotte.” Francine said. a most accomplished swordswoman.” Francine said. Would you be so kind as to accompany her? I have some business to take care of. Helena. “I hit him with a stick.” “And I’m Lucy. the old fashioned way.” Lucy said. this is my sister Francine. He glanced at her chest tattoo. “Is my brother limping?” “Yup.

Kind of surprised though. “The more cynical among us. . “Excuse me. none of them actually saw your bout. our Charlotte. and then to Lucy. .” “You’re not banged up. I hope you’re not embarrassed. “I guess.” their Charlotte said.” Lucy said. Lucy’s Charlotte.” “Before any rumors get started. “think my mother’s charity events are nothing more than confidence scams.Gladiator Girl 73 “Oh.” Charlotte said to the group. Where’s your sword?” “I had to leave it behind since I’m—” “Oh mother goddess!” Helena said.” “No. “I recognized your rose.” Francine said. Everybody gets a little banged up from practice. not yours. not embarrassed.” “That’s Roger.” Francine skewered Aldan with a look.” “I apologize. “he really did want some sword handling tips. “It’s time for us to leave. I. “I’ve had more practice.” Gilbert said to Lucy’s Charlotte.” Aldan said. Everyone chimed in.” Francine said. “Accepted.” “The what?” Lucy said. ah . “This is Charlotte.” “Absolutely. “We’re BB fans. don’t you?” one of the girls said. “You play blood battle. “Yes.” “Congratulations on your victory. “Did you?” Lucy’s Charlotte said.” “Of course.” “Didn’t think people like us followed blood battle?” Beth said. “Yes.” Lucy said. “Lucy? Are you Lucy Star?” “Now you know why I wanted you to meet my friends.” “I knew it! You’re with Burning Desire.” Their Charlotte said. .” Francine said. The more cynical among us should think before they open their mouths and make disrespectful comments.” Francine said. I’m a guardian. the come-on.” Charlotte came over. “I’m surprised Jayzen still has a leg.

” Lucy said. just two people trying to kill each other for no other reason than to see who lives.” Francine said. not spiritual.” “I appreciate that. Duel à Mort is primal. Without her sword she didn’t know what to do with her hands.” Beth said.” “It was great meeting you. Charlotte sat next to her. “Burning Desire is playing Beauty Incarnate next Saturday.” Lucy said to the group. Watson “Yes. them. and Charlotte and Lucy walked out the gilded doors.” . “You disappeared for a while. no fuss. Despite it’s civilized trimmings. “Compared to blood battle.” Lucy’s Charlotte said.” She kept her hand close to her chest and poked her finger at the milling guests. “and I agree. personal. the son of our host. it was . H.” “We can use one of my family’s cross-country cabins for the trip. “Thanks France.” Aldan leaned in. . .” They all waived.” Lucy flopped into the limousine seat. “honest.” Francine said. “It’s an away match in Appalachi City.74 R.” Gilbert was consulting a match schedule. I found it upsetting. No muss. “We should go to Lucy’s next match. “That was an experience and a half. They were dressed in their club slacks and blazers. She got a bad feeling. “Who’s being disrespectful now?” “Not disrespectful. no meaningof-everything metaphors. the woman who might be concerned that her son came back with a limp.” “He should be fine by morning.” Charlotte said. I snuck in dressed like. “Did you get a proper lay?” “Oh yes. “with Jayzen Verbeek. Francine saw her brother watch them leave. but this was hardly the first time her family made her uneasy. the woman who paid for us to be at her soirée this evening.

Gladiator Girl 75 “Is that what made him limp?” “No. “He pissed me off.” Charlotte didn’t say anything.” Charlotte leaned back. “You’re not a black sheep. but don’t worry. “I think he wanted a real fight.” “I’m never going to see him again. and I didn’t want to see him again.” “You should be careful. These old money families can be dangerous. You should have let him win. Do you think they were looking for a laugh at my expense?” “No. so I gave him one.” “You shouldn’t trust him. or at least made him think I did. Every old money clan has one. “You’re an orphan in the storm.” “What about his sister? That was her and her friends I was talking to when you came over. he wanted some sword fighting tips.” she said. She’s the black sheep of the family.” “Are you OK?” Charlotte put her hand on Lucy’s arm and leaned forward to look at her face. I guess. “Yes. “Her— My brother showed up the other day. I’ve got your back.” “What did he want?” “He wouldn’t say. put her arm around Lucy’s shoulder. France is OK. I told him his life and his family were behind me.” Lucy said. I expect he was only trying to make a boring evening a little more interesting. The limousine hummed around them.” . They said they were BB fans. and pulled her close.” Lucy was silent for a while.

2nd 15th ’47 TIME: 9:00 ITEM: Burning Desire Roses QUANTITY: 1 Score DELIVERED TO: Lucinda Star CARE OF: Charlotte Marceau. Thank you for a charming and enlightening evening. . I would be honored if. I don’t have the time. thanks for the roses. You should have donated the money to your mother’s charity. but . Canister 17. .Chapter 6 Other People's Problems IMMEDIATE DELIVERY DATE: Sunday. without crossed swords. informal: Winnebago Graveyard) SENDER SAYS: “Dear Lucy. .” Francine She walked into the breakfast parlor in the main house of the Verbeek Estate and heard the tail end of a message: “. . Jayzen Verbeek” RECIPIENT REPLIES: “Dear Jay.A.K. but for now. but you shouldn’t have. you would consider sharing company some evening. Always at your service. Sunshine Village (A. Best wishes―” Jayzen cut it off. I’ll think about it. . Delta. really. I appreciate your offer of a less confrontational evening. at your pleasure.

The second seemed like a good choice. You’re not going to pass that limp off as a side effect of your sexual prowess.” . She’s a blood battle guardian.” Francine reached over and patted his cheek.” “Whatever possessed you to do that?” “The party was boring. “Honey please. dear brother. but next year she’ll be eligible to move to the Alpha League. are you?” Jayzen shrugged.” Jayzen said. “She might be with a Beta League club now.” Jayzen ate a spoonful of oatmeal and sipped some coffee. She’s known for never―ever―giving up. you’re a raving romantic.” Jayzen said. Someone who wasn’t of championship quality. “It was interesting.” “I know you. “It sounded like Lucy Star. “No one.” Francine said. another club will. didn’t it?” Francine said. Jayzen handed her the honey pot. If Diana’s Glory doesn’t take their option on her. “I’ve been trained in the sword arts since I was six. It seemed like a better opportunity to test my mettle than fencing. You wanted to get as close to that experience as a boy can get. Did she just turn you down?” “She’s busy.” “Lucy said she was giving you some pointers.” “The fencing match got you excited. “I thought it would be interesting to test myself against one of those blood sport girls. “I asked her to give me some tips.” “On a beta team.” he said.” “Lucy Star isn’t a fencer.” “You poor boy. You were jealous. The rule for any team going against her is to not consider her out of the game until her head is at least three meters away from her body.” “It’s better.Gladiator Girl 77 “Who was that from?” She sat and poured a cup of coffee. She stirred some into her coffee. “How’s your knee?” “What about it?” “You were limping last night. You wanted to be the one killing a rival in a duel.

H. I’m so glad she won.” “Why?” Madame Verbeek said. “There’s something fishy about that whole rebirth business. right. those complainers will be silenced by guilt.” Mister Verbeek came in.” “You should be more careful. “What a charming young lady. that one’s true. “Good morning dear. “Oh. and only for a short time? I don’t believe . when we announce the total raised.” they both said.” “Good morning Mother.” “Actually. Watson “Is that true?” “No! But people are already telling tall tales about her.” He bent and kissed his wife.” Madame Verbeek came into the parlor. “Jayzen.” “The Children’s Educational Fund will be pleased with the results.” they both said. She smiled at him. I can’t believe you allowed blood sports to be practiced on family property. “Good morning Jayzen. I expect. Francine. what happened to you last night? You were limping!” “It was nothing Mother. I had a little too much champagne and banged my knee on a chair.” He sat opposite his wife. “What for?” “You paid a small fortune to stage a championship bout and the fencing public is upset that it was kept private. Good morning Francine. I hope it was worth it.” “I see your event is causing a stir this morning. It only works on females. “Good morning.” Jayzen took another swallow of coffee. Be careful you don’t end up the joke in the next one. “Did you know she won her last game after she was dead?” Francine said.78 R.” Mister Verbeek said. “Morning Jayzen. “Isn’t Charlotte Marceau a dear?” Madame Verbeek said.” “Even so.

’ They’ve been saying that for twenty years!” “It is complicated. “and you certainly didn’t expect that. Dr. and old fools like you put her in prison. “The Verbeek Fund has spent billions on research to figure it out.” “That didn’t stop the army from using her work to make girls into bomb disposal experts and Special Operations soldiers. She hasn’t said a word since.” “She committed murder.” “And two weeks later. her victim was walking around and talking. Give us five more years and we should have something. made a handful of genetic disorders go away. by then she’d crawled back into her shell.” “Poppycock. learned to make blue eyes brown.” Francine said.” The other breakfasters ignored him. never have. it was murder.” “Sure. Azulai woke up one day. “Good luck with that. and a few other parlor tricks. We cured a few cancers.” Mister Verbeek said.” “She was an autistic genius.” “Someone should make her talk.” “At the time.” Madam Verbeek tapped Jayzen’s arm and pointed at the plate of toast. and all those scientists can say is.” Francine said. Something that complicated and it just works. saw a clear path through the chaos and wrote the genetic code that .Gladiator Girl 79 it. we can read the raw code. “Dr. ‘It’s complicated. but its expression is too chaotic to follow. “Gene therapy has been around for years. yet no one understands why? Somebody’s hiding something. fixed some heart problems. He handed it to her.” “The law was changed and she was pardoned. it was one of those insights that springs whole from a genius’s head. Gene therapy hasn’t led to the breakthroughs you expected. It wasn’t concocted. It’s likely she couldn’t explain how her code works even if she did talk. “The only big breakthrough was rebirth.” Mister Verbeek said. but that’s it. Amanda Azulai is the only one who ever understood it.

We keep growing until we’re about twenty-five. “I will not allow my daughter to participate in that vulgar spectacle.” “Saved them? Gretchen climbed a mountain so she could jump off.80 R. next year she’ll be hanging herself to determine which hosiery makes the best noose. Didn’t your scientists tell you anything?” “Humph!” Mister Verbeek said. It looks vulgar. You’re either a genius who can see the whole thing. Her path is too chaotic to be mapped or understood in any linear fashion.” “That’s a necessity to keep you and the other Verbeek girls safe until you’re old enough to act responsibly.” Madam Verbeek pointed at the jam caddy. The Goddess represents the spirit that arrises from our struggle to find a worthy―” “The family womb facility has saved several of your cousins’ lives. Watson creates memory placentas.” Mister Verbeek put his elbow on the table and leaned toward Francine. She’s sixteen.” Mister Verbeek said.” “I read books and go to museums.” Francine said. I wanted to do something meaningful with this ability. Do you want me . We have bodyguards to keep us safe―bodyguards who are also protected by rebirth. H. Last week Mirabella took poison―for the third time. “Why does it stop when the girls reach twenty-five?” “Memory placentas seem to work by amplifying the natural human growth process. but it’s not. or you don’t see anything. “I still don’t want it practiced on family property. Once we stop growing. That’s the only reason it’s there. I wanted to be a blood battle goddess. but you said it was frivolous. She says she wants to find the best one to use when she turns twenty-five.” “You’re such a hypocrite. We have a private womb-atorium in the mansion. Gunda Thorstenson tricked everybody. they stop working. “You don’t understand. Jayzen passed it to her. “I’ve received rebirth gene therapy and so have all my girl cousins.

” “You weren’t listening earlier. “Down. I’m going with my friends. “I’m off too. little sister.” Mister Verbeek and Francine stared each other down. “I have no desire to cause her distress. and as I suspect you learned last night. “You better not do anything stupid. and contrary to what most people think.” Jayzen said. quite the contrary. against Beauty Incarnate. “Has Lucy Star stolen your heart?” Jayzen gave her an impatient scowl. in Appalachi City.” Francine finished her coffee.” she said. “Be a good boy and pass the jam. Ned was the antithesis to them all: . do you know when the next one is?” “Are you smitten?” Francine said. but careful to say the right thing. requires significant skill.” “Whatever. brilliant asses.” “Do you know when Lucy is playing her next game?” “It’s called a match. Francine stepped through. I have a museum date with my friends.Gladiator Girl 81 to keep going? The Verbeek girls are using your wombs for recreation and attention dramas. and her teachers were pompous. “Good morning.” She stood and left. The elevator settled into place and the gate folded open.” Francine said.” Jayzen turned and walked off.” She smiled at the security dispatcher. quite spiritual. “All the way. He caught up to Francine at the central elevator. you and your friends actually follow blood battle. “If you will excuse me. Ned. “How are you today?” Her family drove her crazy. It’s exciting. “We do.” She walked off the elevator onto the house car dock.” “It’s this Saturday at nineteen o’clock. the house staff was friendly. I’m not worried about her. until he blinked and turned to Jayzen. “France. and you can’t join us.” “Thanks for your concern. don’t you?” Francine turned around.

A mouth was eating the road behind him. Zack felt the teeth grind from side to side . Zack He wandered around in the dark city and felt safe surrounded by these old dead structures. annoying twins. and he began sliding backward. His un-tailored uniform gave away more about the underlying shape of his body than he probably realized. The mouth caught up with him. aren’t you?” “You see right through me. He realized they had been facades glued to bio structures. He kicked at its teeth as it took a big bite just behind his buttocks. H. and he fell. The mouth sucked in more roadway and bit down on his stomach.” Francine said. all blood and flesh. these were meat and bone. “It's a good day to be alive. but his feet slipped.” He was tall and fit. he couldn’t get any traction. Francine stepped into the car. The meaty ground tipped up.82 R. He tried crawling. He looked down and saw that his belly had been torn open by a talon growing out of the road. “but you’re really a teddy-bear. They tangled around his legs. Ned snapped his fingers and a pair of bodyguards came out of the Standby Room.” A car pulled up to the dock. Will you be needing transport?” “I will. Despite being staff. but not the normal wood and grass kind. Watson calm. “No doubt the security service hired you for your intimidating appearance.” she said. “Come on girls. and his feet were sliding on a pile of his intestines. They were identical.” Ned returned a generous smile. several years older than Francine. then the ground convulsed and the buildings began falling apart. The ground was slick. but couldn’t get any purchase. sucking in and biting down on mouthfuls of juicy flesh. “Thanks for asking. confident. His guts were spilling out. good-natured. He tried to run. he was the closest thing to an adult friend she had.

We’ve got to get going.” Neil headed to the dorm shower room.” Neil said.” “That’s Max. . he had an erection and desperately wanted to do something with it . He tried to scream.Gladiator Girl 83 as they bit through his spine.” Neil lifted a trash basket out of its holder. “Hey. “Don’t worry about it. “What’s he do?” Zack said. and a job. he followed Neil. food. Neil. “It’s important to plan for your future. but he likes to live in the shelter. Neil seemed okay. Morning.” he had said. “I’ve seen him in the cafeteria. He sat up and realized what Neil was talking about. The Helping Hand had taken him in. We’ve got to start work. you must have been having a great dream! If you want to take care of that. just like Debbie had said. but instead of sound. They gave him a bed. Monday. she helps out in the office. then we got to get to work. My girlfriend. Wow. He gives them lots of money. It was still dark when they arrived at the park with their trash wagon. Then he realized that. “Who’s that?” Zack said. He was looking at an old man standing by the railing that ran along the former quay. from five to eight and again from seventeen to twenty. The schedule gave them time during the day to look for better jobs. “Ache-up. but the eastern sky was starting to brighten up. and they let him do whatever he wants. They were scheduled to work four days a week: Sunday.” Zack said. When he could stand without feeling embarrassed. Zack waited for his salmon squirter to go away. do it quick. . “He’s there most every morning. He piled his blanket around his crotch. or take classes. and Friday. wake up. Christopher had made a big deal about that. she says he’s rich.” “Is he on the staff?” “No.” Neil said. .” “Ah. Kathy. he regurgitated his lungs. Oh.” Someone said. “Sit for a minute if you need to. Thursday. despite everything.

” “It’s a good thing you landed at the Hand. they got me in school. I’m taking a night class too. did you know we got a blood battle club in the neighborhood? How fantastic is that?” Neil waited for a reaction. why is he here?” Zack said. He dumped the basket contents into the trash wagon. Hey. *** . “If he’s got a choice. “Why are you here? We all have a choice. no offense. “So why are you here?” “I. We’re making a new world. She always takes the tough cases. . Did you see your counselor yet?” “My first session is this morning. None of us has to be here. behind Burning Desire. . They sat on their saddles. They really try to help. Watches the sun come up in the morning.” “I. H.” Zack said. You don’t have to answer. ah . Watson “Hangs out at the old guys table in the cafeteria. I’m learning to be a structural topiary engineering assistant. Martial arts. Wilhelmina Mazur. so I can help grow the city.” “Never mind. The last place I was at was shit. . Sits in the park drinking coffee and talking to people. you must be fucked up.” “That was rhetorical. I’m doing it on my own―taking the initiative. . You’ll be fine. Here. Don’t worry about it. didn’t get one. after our evening shift―they don’t know about that one. ah . “Wow. Train the mind and the body. and peddled past Max to the next section. “Who’s your counselor?” “Huh? Ah. Visits a tea shop over that way. The sun broke the horizon. when we’re done working. and I’m gonna be part of it. We were just an excuse for them to get charity money.” Zack dumped the last basket for this section of the park into the trash wagon.” Neil said. you don’t have to answer.84 R. He put it back in its holder. you know?” Neil noticed he was holding an empty basket.

They were identical twins. Jayzen was particular about their appearance. “if I ever had cause to use it in a real fight. “You tried using the sword arts with one of those blood sport girls.” Jayzen said. They wore loose. and bowed to Hashimoto Sensei.” “I was curious how useful your training would be. eyeliner and red lipstick.” “How do you know?” Bob waggled his thumb at Eduardo and Faustus who were at the other end of the dojo. “She said you’ve lost your edge. you weren’t even using a proper weapon. That’s what your two ninjas are for. “Your friends snitched on you. From what I heard. you’re encumbered by rules for scoring points. whose real name was Bob.” He nodded at Jayzen’s bodyguards standing discretely to the side of the dojo floor looking. “She said your sword training was nothing but a collection of tricks. entered the dojo. too.” “A real fight? This isn’t feudal Africa! We don’t have real fights.” . I had a word with them about honor. “Of course not. “I couldn’t even touch her. “What were you thinking?” said Hashimoto Sensei. black jackets with lots of pockets concealing who-knows-what scary weapons. looking sheepish.” Jayzen said.” Jayzen said.” Bob folded his arms to indicate frustration. “What?” Jayzen stood upright. How could you expect to perform properly?” “She was using one. I’m inclined to agree. you’ve forgotten how to kill. They were dressed head to toe in matte black bodysuits that covered everything except their faces. like ninjas.Gladiator Girl 85 Jayzen He changed into his training gear. Their faces were decorated with makeup. in fact. After seeing her perform. You were using a practice stick.

” “Really?” That was another joke. “It’s part of winning. let’s get started. Rules you are incapable of playing by because you cannot come back from the dead.” Bob said. To defeat her.” “They wouldn’t be allowed to do that. “My last for today. it’s the modern world. “She may talk about killing and death. .” Wilhelmina She wrote her notes on the session with Zachary Tang while they were fresh in her memory. Bob thought on this. wait until she’s twenty-five and have one of your ninjas shoot her in the head. sowing you noggin with confusion and doubt. but deeply troubled.” “Hmm.” Jayzen said. You would have to become a real samurai. you could defeat her.” “How?” Jayzen rubbed his noggin. If you really want to defeat her. He seemed like a decent kid. challenging and killing rivals more skilled than yourself. unless you corrupted them with your charm. Rules that are not as constraining as ours. or money. This isn’t a movie. You didn’t have a chance against her because you were playing by her rules. They only appear to. If you survived. but it’s all play acting. Make her afraid for her life. you would have to change the rules to your advantage. roaming the countryside. H.” “Of course they wouldn’t. You want to defeat her? Get her into a real fight to the death.” Bob reached out and woodpecker tapped Jayzen’s head. then said. He was hiding just about everything. then maybe. Now. one she can’t recover from. “That was a joke.86 R. She suspected he had given a false name. No one actually dies in the blood sports any more than they do in a samurai competition. Watson “She was taunting you. “But first you would have to make yourself unafraid.

“The more we help him. We’re keeping an eye on a young man who moved into your shelter last week. but yes.” “And keep an eye on him where you can’t?” “It would be reassuring to know you were.” “Commercial exploitation of minors program you mean. won emancipation from her family through the BB recruitment program.” “Who is this lost soul?” “Zachary Knole.” .” Donna said. called Cliffside. wants to talk to you.” “This conversation is private. “You know I can’t tell you anything about our residents. The BB program gets more government scrutiny than you do.” “Yes.” “Why are you interested in him?” “I can’t tell you that.” “His sister plays for Burning Desire. Mina. previous to her first rebirth. but if I share some of what I know. Which of our residents are you concerned about today?” “Right to business. the less you have to worry about. She left home when she was fourteen. “Hello. “He’s from a nowhere town in Moraineia. just between us. “Donna Quinn. I looked up this girl’s physical exam. the more we can help him.” Wilhelmina said.” Wilhelmina said. Donna.” “Good morning. How are you?” “I’m doing well. from security at the Burning Desire BB club. just between us? You’re not making any kind of a record?” “You’re paranoid. The sponsored girls are better off for it.” “The more I know.” “Thanks. He seems to be settling in—” “And you would have preferred him to move on?” Wilhelmina said. Maybe you can use it to help the kid out.Gladiator Girl 87 Christopher knocked on her open door.” “Don’t start.” Donna said. “I appreciate that. and changed her name. It took several seconds for the talk-to request to arrive. We may have saved her life.

” Wilhelmina said. the store manager. somehow.” “How can you tell?” “She always has a sword with her. . now that you mention it. not interfere.” Samantha She approached the scene wearing full body armor. including her face mask.88 R. H. “Hi. We don’t know why. Do you know if any of your customers are Burning Desire players?” “I expect some are. We want him to stay away. That’s all I can tell you. He’s living in your shelter. said. and watched for anything. and the thought of working in our store frightened you.” She sat forward and sent a request to the Helping Hand thrift store.” She eased back in her desk chair until the springs creaked. observe. lurked in the background. figured out who she was and showed up last week.” “That’s a curious name. . She’s a sweet girl.” Wilhelmina said. Zachary Tang né Knole. Her job was to stay back. Is there a problem?” “No. She circled.” Wilhelmina ended the contact. how are you?” Zemar. or anyone.” “We’re not an extension of your security operation. nothing to worry about. you have a sister living in Heritage City. but she had a small arsenal of mostly non-lethal weapons tucked into her jacket and holstered around her hips. Watson “Who is she?” “Somebody who changed her name after leaving home and doesn’t want anything to do with her family. “. “Thank you. this will help. but thanks. Mina. and only act to protect lives. She wasn’t obviously armed. “So. . Her brother. “It sounds made up. “I’m Fine. but there’s only one I know of for sure.” “I guess it does. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.” “Really? Do you know her name?” “Lucy Star. suspicious.

“but I was wondering if you had an opinion as to who might have done it?” “Ah.Gladiator Girl 89 A forensics examiner arrived and spent some time studying the remains.” They arrived. “Could you look at the wounds and tell me what you think?” Samantha looked over the body.” Samantha said. . and feet are missing.” the examiner said. “I’m not qualified to offer binding testimony. looked around. it was just a game.” “I was wondering if I could ask your opinion on something. then he straightened up.” He turned to walk back but stopped when Samantha didn’t follow. No clothing. “You heard the story that I received my rebirth gene therapy at the Concepción Academy?” “It’s in the gossip that gets passed around. that’s all it was. she disregarded the stumps where the extremities had been cut off. that’s it. “This is entirely unofficial.” Everyone thought her time in the BB program counted for something—it didn’t.” Samantha said. “I’d rather not call attention to myself.” the examiner said. “late teens or early twenties. “It complicates my job if I need to take some action.” “You need to look at the corpse. “Yes. Two years going the wrong way when she was a naïve kid. “Lieutenant Villanueva?” “Yes.” She glanced around the backdrop of the scene then followed the examiner to the middle of the overgrown lot.” “Does the gossip explain that I was only in the BB program for two years before I switched to Police Special Operations?” “The length of time varies with each telling. probably to prevent identification.” she said.” “I understand.” Samantha said. hands. and walked straight over to Samantha. “The body is male. “Someone chopped up this poor kid.” he said as they walked. Gunda Thorstenson had conned everyone. The head.

It’s handled by chargers and guardians.” “So. The examiner said to her. deep cuts like this one. obviously. sharpened on one edge.” the detective said.” She pointed at the wound on the body’s left side. “These aren’t blood battle wounds. “A secret sports league would be too complicated to hide.” “Blood battle has two types of weapons.” she pointed. they could be blood battle wounds?” “No.” she said. Guards and forwards use a field sword. It would be capable of making that cut.90 R. It has a short. H. had laid it on its back with the arms and legs spread to display the wounds. wide blade with a sharp point and two sharpened edges: good for stabbing and hacking. but may have used guardian style swords. “The other main weapon is the long-sword. but about half the length. Whoever did this doesn’t have that level of skill. Watson Whoever had put the body here. and he’s using these kids for practice. “I don’t know either. “Guardians have a second sword. isn’t it?” “You seem sure. It’s long. a short-sword. straight and thin.” . I think we’re still looking for a killer who fancies himself to be a swordsman. It started in the ribcage and sliced down through the abdomen into the pelvis. Practice for what? I don’t know. not good for making long. “That’s what you wanted to know. This stab wound in the right armpit. The girls who wield BB swords are highly trained swordswomen before they’re ever allowed to hold real blades.” she said. “You think maybe we have boys trying to play girl blood sports?” “Not in the urban legend sense. She stood and stepped over the legs to the body’s right side. nearly cutting off the left a leg.” The detective was listening in. It’s pretty much the same as the long-sword. “would be typical for a guardian’s short-sword. “but he needs more practice. Samantha crouched to look at the big cut on the body’s left side.” They both looked at Samantha.

” Lucy converted her turnabout into a clumsy threesixty twirl and walked up to the counter. A whole gaggle of the club’s goddesses was gathered in Alice’s Tea Shop. The goddess held the cup under her nose and inhaled.” Mr. Fredrick said.” Mr. “Here for your lemon tea?” The goddess peeked around at her. “Wonderful!” she said. “I am. . then lifted herself up on tiptoes. One of them was at the counter talking to Mr. leaned across the counter. Mr.” “I read your schedule. “Today you learn the message songs for Saturday’s match.Chapter 7 Less Than a Week Monday — 5 Days to Go Fuck. cupping her hand next to her mouth to conceal her secret from nosey lip readers. Lucy.” She took another peek at Lucy. You always start message song days with lemon tea. Lucy turned to walk out.” He handed a cup of tea to the goddess. She slid off the counter and planted her heels back on the floor. Lucy was now standing right next to her. Fredrick’s ear. their heads were tucked together in private conversation. “As always. Fredrick straightened up. “Good morning. Fredrick shook his head. and whispered in Mr. “You read my mind. Fredrick. equally bemused and amused.

Mr. “It’s a beautiful morning. then nothing. Fredrick had on the back counter. sun dogs. they don’t talk to each other about anything. Fredrick had his back turned and didn’t answer. coming right up. The little bell above the door let out an emphatic jangle when she yanked the door open. Weird. stuffing an extra half score goddesses behind the same door was easy―as long as they stayed there. “I guess. the sky is clear.” “It was nice talking to you. “‘The air smells fresh. sure enough. She better shape up or they’ll kick her .” she said. “Ah. Fucking crap! She about-faced and picked up her sword. She had slammed the door on her whole life from before she arrived at the Academy.” She squinted up into the eastern sky. and laid it out. Something in the corner of Lucy’s eye nagged for attention. the sky is clear. “She must be new.” He went about preparing it. H. She walked fast to the club. She leaned her sword against the counter. As long as every­ body fucking stays there. “They were beautiful.” the goddess said. Watson then he pointed at Lucy.” Lucy said. what the fuck? She shouldn’t even have noticed me!” That was the rule. yeah. my dear. the goddess was looking right at her! Lucy averted her eyes and focused on a dull metal contraption Mr. “Thanks.” Lucy made for the door. but something else was wrong. “Your tea. and there were sun dogs! Did you see the sun dogs?” “No. The other goddesses’ chatter turned to whispers. “But. dug money out of her coin purse. Fredrick turned around and handed Lucy her tea in a takeaway cup.92 R.’” Lucy said to herself. and they were beautiful.” Mr. Keep the change. She turned to see. don’t you thing?” the goddess said. A moment ago they seemed like the best of friends. “The air smells fresh. and Lucy was good at it. “Guardians and goddesses don’t talk to each other about the fucking weather.

While running. She sipped some tea.” Frank opened the door to the building. “Is it your brother?” “How do you know about that?” Frankie pinned her against the wall. I don’t know. and I’m not on anything to go off of. Frankie dragged her to the side of the corridor. “Are you OK?” “I’m fine. “Pre-match jitters?” “No. and changed into shorts and a t-shirt. Jitters. “Out with it!” “It’s nothing. “What’s wrong with you today?” Frankie said.” She headed to the locker room. “Hey. “Sorry!” “Don’t worry about it. .” Lucy said. “You’re acting like you’ve gone off your drugs or something. She slammed the locker door on her finger. twice. “You seem preoccupied this morning.” Lucy said. “Ow! Shit!” During calisthenics she kept drifting off the rhythm of the exercises and was called on it. “There’s no way I’m letting you spot me in the weight room. What are you talking about?” “You’ve got the coordination of a drunken monkey and the focus of backward eyeglasses. You’ll drop a barbell on my neck and not even notice. “No. Fuck! Why do I care?” Lucy walked through the gate in the security fence and ran into Frank.” Frankie said. “I’m fine.” Lucy stumbled. She splashed tea on his jacket.” “Are you sick?” Serendipity said. On their way to the weight room. the security guard. You’re right. Serendipity came up along side her and said.” “It’s Monday.” Frank said.Gladiator Girl 93 cutesy little ass out of the club. put the rest aside for lunch.” “Are you upset about something?” Serendipity said.” Frankie pointed a finger at her nose. That’s all. Maybe.

It was obvious you were going to get one. “You spot me first. “Hit her again. Serendipity.” Serendipity said. Frankie flicked her eyes down and adjusted her footing. Frankie and Serendipity jogged to catch up. Lucy glared. “Just trying to help. Liha. “What the fuck?” Lucy said. “Snap out of it!” Frankie said. then slapped her— hard. Lucy tapped her navel through her warmup jacket. Serendipity sat next to her.94 R. it’s the goddesses.” “How could you tell?” “I could see it in your face. “You’re right. Frankie and her team for the first game took to the field.” “You’ve got your head turned inside-out over that?” Frankie slapped her. Thanks. “You know what?” She patted Frankie’s cheek. “There was a bunch of them at Mr.” “You bet on my outie?” “Of course. “Your new outie is cute.” . smiled. “Ow!” Lucy said. Lucy. Lucy grabbed her finger.” “Why do you give a shit about that pack of vac-heads?” Frankie said.” She turned and strode off to the weight room. H. After lunch the teams for Saturday’s match assembled in the practice arena to learn and rehearse the message songs. and one of them tried to make small talk with me. Fredrick’s this morning. Lucy sipped the last of her tea. Lucy stared back at her.” She poked her finger at Frankie’s nose.” “Me too.” Lucy said. Watson “All right. and Serendipity’s team for the second game climbed into the row of seats above the north side-wall. I feel better. “Second Pete cleaned up on it.” she said.

“instead of the other way around. The field is covered with real long grass. Stand up there and feel what it’s like to know that’s your temple. make sure you climb up there when no one’s around. in reality.” “I wonder what the world would be like if frogs ate snakes. They replaced the original roof with that greenhouse air tent. “It had the only enclosed span in the Old Manufacturing District large enough to hold a full sized blood battle arena. “It’s got nothing to do with navels. “That’s the place.” Serendipity said.” Liha said. Bring both your swords. wild flowers. they just die.” “Nice. “The nose is the navel of the face.” Lucy said. and dug out the floor and filled it with fertile earth. Serendipity tapped the end of her nose. even if. That’s how I could tell. “What do you think?” “It’s amazing. “The goddesses don’t join us?” . “I like snakes. like it is now.Gladiator Girl 95 Lucy started to ask.” Lucy said.” Lucy said.” Liha said.” Liha’s eyes drifted to the top of the temple: a rectangular pyramid that jutted out from the back-wall. The hedge is real. She was leaning forward to see around Lucy. Look at it—half of a whole blood battle field—that’s fucking impressive for a Beta League club. so that’s all alive down there. There are even frogs and snakes living down there.” Liha said.” Lucy turned to Liha and jutted her chin at the expanse of the practice arena.” “That part’s optional. between the north and south plazas. but changed her mind. “There’s a straw goddess on the temple altar.” “No it’s not. “It’s the reason the club moved into this defunct factory.” Serendipity said. just you and the arena. and bushes. and anyone who tries to take it away dies. You’re so full of shit. “You should always imagine they die horribly. While you’re with us this week.” Lucy said. And that’s a real stream and marsh in the lowland. “Yeah.” “Horribly.

nothing.” She handed the megaphone to George Condor. or don’t know—forget it. You said you couldn’t tell.” Serendipity said.” “No.” Lucy heard the shower turn off and the fans turn on. Wednesday — 3 Days Left When Lucy woke up.” she said. George.” “I know.” They fell silent and waited for things to start. up in that goddess suite?” she said to Serendipity. maybe stupid.” “Wow. “Who?” .” “That’s because I can never tell if conversations with you are conversations.” “Thanks? I just called you. it’s all yours.96 R. “We’re ready to start. “He seems nice. “What do you think they do all day.” Lucy said. “Well. “Since the Goddess is indifferent to the competition. I can’t tell if what you just said was deep or stupid.” “Thanks. H. not anymore. “Felix is in the shower. No. Watson “Ah . “I don’t know.” Coach Kai held a megaphone to her mouth. He’s got nothing to do with me. That’s what they do. “the club goddesses aren’t included in game practice. the singing coach. Charlotte was making coffee and toast. Maybe they spend all day practicing nothing. . Coach Kai and her assistant coaches had climbed onto the opposite side-wall and were having a conference before beginning. .” Lucy did a ‘Huh?’ take.” “How’s your brother?” “How do you know about that?” “I don’t know. whatever the fuck you think you know. Maybe they don’t do anything.” “Then why did you ask?” “To make conversation. Lucy was still looking at the straw goddess.

and washed and dried the table top.” She patted the settee. Good morning. dug two t-shirts out of a drawer under the dinette. I mean . “Minimum dress code for sitting on anything other than a made up bed. . She put her cup on the kitchenette counter. Felix’s clothes had been folded neatly on a towel on the floor. She picked up Felix’s underpants from the stack and handed them to him. you get a we-met-while-intoxicated pass.” he said. Felix came out of the shower room. “And we dress formally when entertaining guests. . “And you’re cute when you’re desperate.” “I was kidding. “Huh.” “Good morning.” and shook her hand. “Lucy.” “What’s that?” Lucy said.” Charlotte put a plate of toast on the table and leaned against the kitchenette counter. “What do you do when you’re not eating toast in your underwear?” Charlotte said. “Don’t worry. “We look at the philosophical implications of social trends and behavior.” Lucy sat up and accepted her coffee cup from Charlotte. Nice to meet you.” She heaved herself off the bed without spilling. . Felix tool a slice. “Lucy Star. Louisa. Felix. and handed one to Felix.Gladiator Girl 97 A couple of minutes later. “Oh! I meant . Lucy raised an eyebrow to Charlotte. and held out her hand. “Have a seat. .” “I’m so sorry. “I’m a student at the Polytechnic. tossed the sheets in the washer.” .” She pulled on her own undershorts. in the Social Philosophy program. Charlotte shook her head and pointed at Felix.” Lucy said.” he said. “Who?” Lucy said. turned the bed back into a dinette. Charlotte handed him a cup of coffee.” She picked up her coffee and sat at the table. then unmade the bed. “Let’s see if we can figure out what we saw in each other last night.” She took a couple of sips. “She doesn’t remember you.

a girl’s family has to be beyond rich.” “Well. “Sure.” “Okay .” his ring finger went up. Granted. it looked like it might be the mythical transformative medical miracle. Jobs that have traditionally fallen within the male compass. including jobs that protect the very nature of our civilization. “it only works between puberty and the end of physical growth at around twenty-five.” he flipped up his index finger. in our modern versions. right? Wrong!” He poked the table top with his finger so hard. or a wealthy private entity. what’s that joke got to do with social philosophy?” “Because the joke’s on the joke! Rebirth is transformative. They’re just entertainment. Three.98 R. to a handful of young women. that half the population is immediately excluded. most of us participate vicariously. “Take something as trivial as sports. we appoint just a few elite athletes to actually per form the rituals. endlessly long lives without sacrificing their youth. H. This raises big ethical and social dissonances. just not in the way people had hoped. “Sports are our most popular rights of passage. “it’s ridiculously complicated and expensive to support. cruel joke. .” “So. “it’s so intimately tied to the female reproductive system.’ That’s the book my professor wrote. we’re currently studying rebirth. . . How about an example. or she needs to be sponsored by a government. Think about it.” “A joke?” Lucy said. ‘The Cruel Joke that Changed the World. which among other things. define and assign gender roles. the one that would allow everyone to live potentially. To afford the treatment. defines how rebirth is changing our society.” he held up his middle finger. Two. or ignored.” he held up his thumb. And Four. and the way those are resolved. At first. ?” Lucy said. Hence. in the last twenty years we handed over our most dangerous jobs. Watson “I think you just said the same thing. the toast plate rattled. But one. “it doesn’t slow aging―at all.

” Lucy said.” Charlotte said to Felix. at Lucy. “I don’t know how you two met. Felix looked at the sword. right? Rebirth and its most visible manifestation. Lucy reached around the end of the dinette to the broom closet and took out her long-sword. you couldn’t remember her name—but didn’t you notice the sword?” “He was distracted by my eyes. As of last year. sixty-three percent of blood battle fans identified themselves as female.” . “and I don’t know how drunk you were—well OK. we watch girls display a level of aggression that would be impossible.” Charlotte said. She set it on the table and pulled the blade part way out of its scabbard. foil fencing.” Lucy said.Gladiator Girl 99 “But by bringing rebirth into sports. “So. what do you two do?” Felix said. world wide. Now every week. But you see what I mean.” Charlotte said. the blood sports. “Yes. kiddo. and then at Charlotte.” “Sorry. And it’s wildly successful. “The joke’s on you. we’ve essentially revived gladiatorial games—the most aggressive sporting rituals ever practiced—and we have licensed their practice exclusively to athletes who produce ova and are capable of gestating and giving birth to a memory placenta. Lucy shrugged. ranchero. the most banned—see above. re ethical dissonance. “He doesn’t know?” Charlotte said to Lucy.” “Little girls have always dreamed of growing up and chopping heads off.” “Easy there.” Lucy said. “Me too. “Duel à Mort. and incidentally. The ‘joke’ is changing the world.” she said. I got carried away. has changed the way society associates power and aggression with gender. I-don’t-get-it. and identified with the athletes. but now they may actually be able to do it!” “Huh. not to mention illegal. for anyone else to attempt. “Don’t forget to breath. In just twelve years. Today little girls can dream of growing up and chopping people’s heads off. blood battle has become the most popular sport. Felix’s smile turned into.

” “First.” .’” She sat back and regarded him. your bodies go through a series of traumas that no one else can survive. “remember who you had sex with last night. ‘that’s what I like about you. and anything within about a minute of death is lost entirely. ah . ask it.” Lucy said.100 R. “How many implied threats to cut your balls off do you get?” “I.” Lucy said. in front of you.” Lucy said. then put it down without drinking. what?” “Never mind. you think you have a dumb question. given your experience and capabilities―experience and capabilities that no one has been able to acquire before rebirth. You recover from a state far beyond where I would be declared irrevocably dead. “If I knew you well enough to know I liked you. . lying right here. but still.” “Yes. and to Lucy.” Felix bit a corner of his toast. and remember who’s sword this is. we don’t die. “Go ahead. I’d say. “I think. . “The process of converting short term memory to long term is disrupted. “Obviously. “You only get one dumb question.” “But be careful. “You must hear this all the time. “That’s just the sort of thing we study! Not the implied threat to cut off my balls―that’s nothing new―but the casual understanding that it would be a trivial act. That’s new!” Lucy leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.” Felix looked from Charlotte to the sword. I can’t imagine it.” “What’s it like to die?” Felix said. picked up his cup to drink.” “If you’ve read about it then you know we don’t remember dying. The closer a memory is to the time of death the less coherent it is.” Charlotte said. and I’ve read about the experience. “See?” he said. H. Don’t waist it on something smart. “You’re Charlotte Marceau!” “Before you go gaga over my roommate. Watson Felix opened his mouth and closed it. but physiologically. then his eyes flared.” Lucy said.

and sorry to break this up.” Charlotte said to him. and you know. “I’ve got to go. “‘Experience and capabilities that no one else has been able to acquire.” Charlotte said. “I took off her shoulder and punched her in the back of the head. “I remember non-fatal. “But this is what you were talking about. It wouldn’t make a difference for you—you kill one opponent and the bout’s over—but for me. “I’ll bet this isn’t your typical college cafeteria conversation.” She gave . “I do?” “Sorry. but you’d better check the time. I died and lost the game—the bitch did her job. but I don’t know if I want to remember losing all control of my body at the moment of death. or not immediately fatal wounds. any extra time I spend killing a charger gives the next one more time to kill me. and punched the air. too. I’m sorry. “But that’s all I remember. not at all happy.” he said and sidled out of the corner. right?” Lucy said. then she brightened and turned to Charlotte. don’t you think? If I could remember the actual moments when I die.” Charlotte said.” “Sometimes you even scare me.” Lucy said.” “Oh. “I remember holding my intestines in while chasing the charger off my temple who cut me open. just kidding.” Charlotte pushed away from the counter.” She swung her arm. shit! Felix. Felix slid into the corner of the settee. “It could be useful though. I could refine my own killing methods and save several hundredths of a second that I’m sure I waste overkilling opponents.” Felix was still scrunched into the corner of the settee. She leaned toward Felix.Gladiator Girl 101 “It probably saves us from some uncomfortable recollections.” She got on her knees and mimed holding her belly. what it actually took to kill me.” She flopped back onto the settee. I’ve got to get to the club.” “Remembering fencing wounds is like remembering bee stings.’ We can learn from our fatal mistakes―no one else has ever been able to do that. hone my killer instincts for Saturday’s match. “No.

but the entirety of your flesh seeking its optimal path through the present.” “With deference.” she glanced at the other guardians. It is not just your mind. you concede action to them.” she spoke directly to Liha. “Kinesthetic intelligence is the core guardian skill. put her sword away in the closet. to leave thought behind yet act with sagacity. “you do not yet comprehend.” Bimini walked up to Liha. “I think I do understand.102 R. She pulled on her helmet (a guardian’s sole piece of armor). H. and the other guardians were assembled on the north plaza of the practice arena. “it is another to use that training in conflict. where there is no time to think. Your opponents are similarly trained. rote behavior will get you killed. However. It was the same thin carbon skull . but do not interfere in the moment.” Bimini walked away. and after the fact critique. Liha. mine’s on the message board. Lucy. “Leave your talk-to address. yet you must interpret events and act upon them. “You do not yet comprehend that understanding misses the point. where predictable. Lucy. Guardian shoes were lightweight and provided some ankle support and extra traction for mountaingoating around the temple pyramid. practice sticks. if you think before you act. “You and they. swords.” Bimini said.” Lucy and Liha removed their athletic suits. Let’s begin. “You may observe your actions.” Thursday — 2 More Days “Today we will be performing exercises to challenge your kinesthetic intelligence. It is the ability to anticipate without knowing.” Bimini. Watson him a quick kiss.” Liha said. and ran into the shower room. “have been hearing similar speeches since you began training at the Academy. Lucy checked the lacing on her shoes. “It is one thing to load your bodies with reflexes and muscle memories.

pealed the backing off the saddle adhesive. Lucy had all the protection she needed. “You don’t agree?” “To each her own. The move is partly hidden by my body. and for being the only players allowed to wield two swords. and my long-sword is usually far enough away so my opponent is either distracted by it. meter high tiers to the top. Least armored but most armed. I can pull it forehanded or backhanded. to the left of her spine. Liha vaulted up the temple pyramid. I like pulling my short-sword from behind my back. angling up to her right shoulder.” Liha saw Lucy’s placement. standing on the Goddess’s altar. Lucy clipped her practice short-stick scabbard in place on her short-sword saddle. and chargers had their forearm and foreleg shields. Lucy followed. guardians exchanged armor for maneuverability. Bimini was waiting. and her short-sword at her back.” Bimini said to Liha. that everyone wore. or has to split her attention across a wide field to take in both weapons. Liha attached her saddle over her right scapula. She wore her short-sword upside down with its hilt low and to the left. It fastened around the back of her head leaving a hole she could feed her hair through (a stubby black ponytail in Lucy’s case) and was colored to mimic the fiery red and orange of the Burning Desire rose. “Confine your scope to the temple. molded to fit her cranium. Guards and forwards had their turtle shell plating. “You will perform an improvisation.Gladiator Girl 103 cap. Are you ready?” Liha nodded. but with her long-sword in hand. and they had none—not against her. The scabbard crossed her back. Do not attempt conscious . and stuck it just below the middle of her back. “So I can bring it into play faster. hopping up the five. “You draw over your shoulder?” Lucy said.” Lucy said. “After you.

If she fails. jumped across the temple-top. avoided Liha’s swords. Lucy hit her in the back of her head. “I’m not here. Your kinesthetic intelligence. A guardian’s blades never violate this space. Every moment must be an independent extrapolation from the previous moment. Liha breathed in. sliced the air. if you have any. slowed. and reached in now and then.” “But we’re in the flesh. her rib. Sheathed her shortsword.” “I am standing on the Goddess’s altar.” whack. rolled and skipped down two tiers. Lucy did the same two meters behind her. Instead used the leverage to reverse her direction.” Liha stopped for a beat. Lucy pulled her short-stick and rapped Liha’s knuckles. “What if I kill her?” “It is Lucy’s responsibility to avoid death.” Liha held out her sword.” whack. landed with solid footing. “Stop. Relaxed. then another.” She whacked Liha’s knee with her long-stick. will be driving you. She will follow you and tap you with one of her practice sticks every time you violate these rules. Lucy followed. “making yourself.” Lucy said. Landed on her feet. Liha turned to look. Lucy stepped forward and hit her on the shoulder.104 R. Planted her hand to vault up a tier. “think. Once she left both her swords be- . Liha’s body explored the variety of options available when time expands to fill the present. She leapt into kinetic activity. and start.” “Are you going to stay there? You’re not even protected. Now. to tap her elbow. She dropped to her knee. Liha leapt off the first tier. Watson control of your actions. Tumbled backward off the tier. Spun with both blades cutting the air. twisting and lifting her long-sword between her and Lucy. but one moment must not anticipate the next. stop thinking. You have another question. “This is a solo exercise. her foot. H. you are the standby guardian and will take her place in the match on Saturday. Disregard Lucy’s presence.” Liha took up her guardian stance behind the altar.

When they finished. she arrived at Burning Desire's team entrance to wait in the chilly morning air with the other club members who were making the trip to Appalachi City.” Lucy said. practice sticks. and a slice of toast. “Very good. They stopped. her long-sword. she didn’t always know why she did what she did. She was pretty sure she had setup Frankie to have a little fun. At seven. “Please finish.” Bimini said. and found they had returned to the temple-top. but each time Lucy dodged out of the way. At six forty-five she climbed out the hatch with her overnight bag.” “I know.” Bimini said to Liha. and you have to go with how you feel. . swords. She hopped down the tiers and off the pyramid.Gladiator Girl 105 hind on the third tier.” Twice Frankie tried to hit Lucy. a cup of coffee. Bimini said to Lucy. Saturday — Ø Day Lucy woke up at six. That impressed Lucy so much. “Let us continue. but that’s the thing about kinesthetic intelligence. This was a good day to feel cocky. Frankie. Lucy. she almost got clipped by Liha’s long-sword when she recovered them. “You have potential.

Jana.” “See? It’s a mistake. she’s a prep team intern. too. Toshi. “Huh?” .” Mathilda held out the seating list for Lucy to see.” Mathilda said.” “Chrysanthemum. “in cabin twelve. “Here they are.” “All of them?” “Yes. She’s a goddess. and Chrysanthemum. but for now. Bethany. “Toshi Sanchez. nice girl. and Chrysanthemum—her real name—Story. Lucy. They’re collecting over there.Chapter 8 Who is Chrysanthemum? “Good morning.” Mathilda said. Goddesses aren’t supposed to be traveling with other team members and especially not with a guardian. Coach Kai had the players and staff assigned randomly to cabins so they would have an opportunity to meet people outside their usual circles of skills and friendships. she was managing the cabin assignments for the outbound trip.” “That’s a mistake. Carnation should be there. She was one of the assistant equipment managers. Esmerelda.” “Who were the last two on the list?” Lucy said. “Where are the other goddesses sitting?” Mathilda flipped through the list pages.” “That’s what it says. “You’ll be in cabin five with Glenna.” she said.

the defensive and offensive coaches. “I suspect that idea is wrong. “There she is.” Coach Kai said.” “Not for goddesses.” “It’s a random list. “Yes?” “There’s a problem with the seating assignments.” “But. like the notion that guardians and goddesses shouldn’t interact. all to make it easy for you to treat them like things. yet you’re told to put them in a box and only see the symbol. “It’s a lie. Oh shit! “It’s not a mistake. “Coach Kai approved it. One of the goddesses got assigned to my cabin. and for my purposes. I think living that lie makes you a little less of a person.” “But—” “The girls who represent the Goddess are living. . doesn’t this violate a prime directive or something?” “It doesn’t violate anything.” Mathilda looked around.” Lucy hurried to where Coach Kai was talking to Angela and Sky. and a lot of those ideas stuck without ever being tested or scrutinized.” “Who made the list? I’ve got to get this changed. Chrysanthemum’s an interesting girl. I want you to feel for the . with no more regard than for carbon fiber practice dummies.” Lucy said.” “Where’s Coach Kai?” “Ah . “See? Her initials.” Mathilda held up the last page. .” “That’s kind of the idea.” Lucy poked her finger at the cabin twelve passenger list. I think you’ll like her. breathing human beings. A lot of ideas were bandied about when Gunda’s people cobbled together blood battle. a little less of a guardian. and to not even acknowledge their presence off the field. And it’s not random.Gladiator Girl 107 “Her name’s Chrysanthemum.” “Thanks.” A pleased-with-herself smile crossed Coach Kai’s lips. “Coach Kai?” Lucy said.

“Cabin five!” Mathilda called out. isn’t it?” “I trust you can handle it. real pain because of your decision. She clambered aboard. and I want a whole Lucy Star standing on the temple.” she said. and may remember. “Where’s Chrysanthemum?” Mathilda said. Red ear flaps dangled from her knit. Once the passengers had their bags stowed and were buckled in. Toshi picked a window seat. . “Wow. . Old canvas shoes were on her feet. Lucy and the others followed. and a girl burst from the mingling players and staff. The next centipede cabin pulled up.” “Crap.” She held up her cup. H. There was a commotion. you should be willing to accept the responsibility that a real person will feel. at least.” “Go on. Lucy and her cabin mates stepped forward to board. Bethany started .” Lucy walked back to where the cabin five passengers were gathering.” “This is one of your radical ideas. look at that!” she said. “Sorry. Esmerelda and Jana broke out a deck of cards. and a second hand.108 R. Who the fuck is Chrysanthemum? Why the fuck did Zack come to see me? I like my boxes closed . not one with a chunk of herself boxed away. She had a rucksack over her shoulder and was holding a steaming cup from Alice’s Tea Shop in a rainbow colored knit glove. Accepting that makes you whole. Fredrick. get to know Chrysanthemum. and when you have to make that decision to withhold your protection to win a game. “Had to get my tea from Mr. A big pompom flopped around at the top. “Is this our cabin?” Mathilda nodded. the centipede cabin moved out to find its way to Appalachi City. baggy wool sweater over the dress. Watson girl you’re defending. She was wearing a shapeless cotton dress over leg warmers. orange and yellow hat.

guardians and goddesses aren’t supposed to talk. Toshi grinned and went back to her window.” “Coach Kai thinks we should give it a try. “We met before. Chrysanthemum had pulled a knitting project out of her rucksack before stowing it. The suspension system of the bridge flickered by outside her window. .” Chrysanthemum said.” “Betty Kai is a smart lady.” . Their seat restraints released. She turned to the others. hello. We were talking about sun dogs. The centipede moved uptown at a brisk clip.” she said to Chrysanthemum.” Lucy said. like Toshi. Glenna fell asleep. “the Winnebago Graveyard!” They shifted onto a city express lane and joined a local centipede. “Ah. they slipped onto a cross-country expressway and joined a high speed centipede heading southwest.” “That was you?” “Didn’t I just say so? You didn’t say much. From the Great Bridge. then the cabin broke off for the Great Bridge—one of the last of the old. you know.” Chrysanthemum said.” “I know. Lucy decided it was time to start Coach Kai’s experiment. thanks for saving me. “Look.” “Well. no one else seemed to be looking. rushing through the tree tops of a resource management zone. heroic engineering projects. .” “We’re talking now. one of the impromptu trains the cabins formed to draft each other and reduce drag.” “We did?” “At Alice’s Tea Shop. “It’s pretty amazing. “I’m Lucy. looked out a window. Lucy.” Toshi said. I . She put down her knitting. The cabin rolled up onto a former elevated railway bed and shunted over toward the Old Warehouse District.Gladiator Girl 109 reading. “Look where we are!” Toshi said. “By the way.

” This is going nowhere.” Chrysanthemum put down her knitting. you’re welcome. “This is one of Mr. he’s studying to be a surgeon.” she said. Chrysanthemum took another sip of tea while walking in a circle. Thad hasn’t cut anybody open yet.” Lucy said.” She flipped it over so Lucy could see the back.” Lucy said. “Chrysanthemum is such a mouthful.” “I’m sorry. that means a lot.” She took a sip of her tea.110 R.” She bent over until her nose was between her knees and her palms were on the floor. yet that’s what you do. “Once you didn’t. “What does?” “You can’t stand sitting. that’s pretty accurate.” Lucy was beginning to think the reason guardians and goddesses were discouraged from getting to know each other was to prevent guardians from cutting the goddesses’ heads off themselves.” Chrysanthemum said. stood up.” “You don’t cut up everyone you see. twice. “What are you knitting?” Lucy said. Lucy wasn’t sure that made any sense. “You saved my head. “It’s an anatomically correct sweater depicting the thoracic and abdominal viscera.” “That’s all right. You died trying. blended specifically for me.” Chrysanthemum said. Chrysanthemum held up her project. yet that’s what you do. “Seems ironic. Watson “When did I do that?” Chrysanthemum tapped the side of her head. It’s for my boyfriend. It’s the thought that counts. “I guess so. “Oh. If she would just stand still long enough. I can’t stand sitting around on these long trips. “Thanks. You’re the guts expert.” “Oh. Fredrick’s personal infusions. H. then she straightened up . and stretched. “Call me Chrissy.” Lucy said. “Wow.

as mountains go.Gladiator Girl 111 and bent back. wasn’t it?” Bethany slid down and sat on the floor facing Chrysanthemum. then said. She moved her seat next to Toshi who was watching the forests. Does anyone else want some?” “I will.” she said. Lucy excused herself and dug through the fresh produce and cooking supplies in the kitchenette. “Sure. “Pigeons was good.” Chrysanthemum sat on the floor in front of Bethany.” Bethany looked up. “That’s a good one.” The thought of food broke up Esmerelda and Jana’s card game. and small towns zoom by. “First away match?” Lucy said. “but that one’s much deeper.” Toshi said.” She went to the kitchenette and checked the prepared food list. Specially blended for me and millions of other people’s taste. stretched. She looked at the book Bethany was reading. “I’m making pasta with mushrooms and artichoke hearts.” Chrysanthemum said. Thanks.” “Not yet. fantastic. “Mmm. These were new mountains. grabbed her feet. She put the soles of her shoes together.” Toshi said. fields.” Lucy said. “Yes. Saved by the Pi­ geons. sharp and pointy. then continued discussing Bethany’s book. “They look friendly. The cabin was traveling through the foothills of the Eastern Appalachi mountain range. then she stretched to the left and to the right.” Toshi said. so I thought I’d give this a try. you’re probably used to it. Lucy walked over to the kitchenette and drew a cup of coffee. Chrysanthemum glanced over at her. Sweet Potato Burritos. “I’m hungry. . “Isn’t this great? But. “Last year I read his. and looked around. and bent forward while still looking up at Bethany. Glenna woke up at lunch time. It looks like you got to the part where Harradonnus has to choose between Peppermint and Rosemary?” “Oh yes. they hadn’t heaved up above the tree line. but so far.

“It comes back when I see the old mountains. It took a lot of imagination to turn that into nursery rhymes. I’ll see what they know.” Esmerelda said.” Lucy said. and I never heard them from anyone else. Unfortunately.” “What about you. In the spring. Their burps sounded like nursery rhymes because of all the children they ate. “Look at that waterfall!” “That’s the Soup Stock cascade. so they burped. They ate their soup in the winter. H.” “Could you really hear the nursery rhymes?” Toshi said. the major ingredient was little boys and girls. They slept all through the summer and didn’t wake up until the autumn leaves tickled their noses. but growing up in the mountains. Toshi pointed. Watson “I’m in. Lucy.” Toshi said. they would stop here in the autumn and use water from the fall to make soup stock. “When giants used to walk these mountains. For a couple of weeks in the spring. When Lucy served up the food. “My granny told us that story. “Do you have any granny stories?” Chrysanthemum turned to Lucy. “I never thought about that. Esmerelda tried to get . the pasta eaters moved their seats over to Toshi’s window.” Esmerelda said. when you heard nursery rhymes wafting out of the moun tains. you knew it was safe to go outside.” Esmerelda said.” “I never noticed your accent before. “Sure. My brothers and sisters are coming to the match.” “Did your grandmother make up the story?” Chrysanthemum said. and by spring they were full. the wind blows through a gorge seven kilometers up the mountain and makes a kind of singsong moan. “I grew up around here.112 R. because the giants had full bellies and would soon fall asleep. She had lots of stories.” Everyone had stopped eating. imagination was all we had.

“What do you mean?” “I understand going through the gene therapy. That was a disingenuous answer. “What about you?” she said. Chrysanthemum came over and picked up a towel to dry. by some conventional definition.Gladiator Girl 113 Toshi’s and her attentions with a discreet finger-across-thethroat gesture. “but you first. we’ll both be almost rich. we’re reborn—quite reliably. But you’re right.” Lucy said. I’m not interesting.” Lucy said. “My friend would say the medical definition of death is pushed fur- .” “But it’s not imminent. giving birth to a memory placenta. “Where are you from?” “Oh. the money’s good.” “My point is.” “Yes. Chrysanthemum got the message. Toshi didn’t. “Where did you grow up?” Toshi said. south of the city. Chrysanthemum put her hand on Toshi’s knee.” After lunch Lucy collected the pasta eaters’ plates and utensils. “No. When we age-out and get our League stipends. and started washing them. You play blood battle because it’s exciting.” “Maybe. It doesn’t kill you if you do it wrong. “So what’s your deal?” Lucy said. Nothing challenges my ability to.” “You’re doing it for the money?” “You’ve got to admit. but you sit on your butt and meditate.” “No. I’m a local girl. it’s similar for me. but now I get paid for it. grew up in the Quills.’ like the prospect of imminent death. right?” “More than that. But we still die.” Lucy said. It’s not dangerous. and betting your life that this crazy scheme will work if it let’s you do something exciting or im portant that would be impossible otherwise. ‘just be.

“Small world shit re - . She’s my roommate. She re-washed the clean plate she was holding. I want the world to be big enough so I can be sure I never will. H.” Lucy said. our experiences.” “Why?” Lucy didn’t say anything.” “What do you mean?” “Well. and as long as our memory placentas exist. .” “She’s my best friend.114 R. but all the rest of me doesn’t. Who’s your friend?” “Charlotte. She’s the number one ranked Duel à Mort foil fencer for the North Coast.” “Yes. “You do?” “Yes. Tall. but we are very much alive in them. they’re part of us. ever again. Their brain tissue specifically organizes itself to hold us: our memories. “Light skinned—almost Old Epoch European.” “Fuck. . people I don’t want to run into. I see what you mean.” “I know Charlotte. Hair down to here. so I can put them behind me. Watson ther out for us than for other people. You might have heard of her. and doesn’t want to die. “There are people . “What?” “I hate that small world shit.” Chrysanthemum said. for good. Charlotte Marceau.” She reached around to the small of her back. “Are you OK?” Chrysanthemum said. our emotions. Genetically they are us.” She held up the plate and watched the suds bubbles drip off.” “You’re proud of her.” “How do you know her?” “We sit together in the East Slope Xen Center. Lucy stopped washing and looked straight ahead at the shelf of cleaning supplies above the sink. and my tiny rational mind might know this. we can’t be considered dead. It might be in a kind of suspension.

Lucy warmed a couple of cups of apple cider. She rested her sword across her lap.” Chrysanthemum said. Do you know there’s a form that uses a sword?” “Should I be worried?” “Of course not. “What do you mean. cleaned and polished it.” Lucy said. Chrysanthemum pulled Lucy’s and her seats away from Toshi’s window.” She rinsed the lingering suds out of the basin. and sat.Gladiator Girl 115 minds me I can’t do that.” “You have? Do you watch game reviews?” “No. pulled the trap. Esmerelda was telling Toshi about the local lore associated with the passing landmarks. handed one to Chrysanthemum. roughly following the course of the Mayfly River toward Appalachi City. “One of them showed up. meditative martial arts like dai gi.” “There’s no chaos on my temple.” Chrysanthemum took the plate before Lucy could wash it a third time. tea ceremonies. You’re not meditating all that time are you?” “We practice yogic ballet. “How about some hot cider?” The cabin was on an expressway branch winding its way down the west side of the Appalachi main range. “There are also goddess specific exercises to train and test our ability to remain indifferent in the middle of chaos.” “You’re paying attention? I thought you were supposed to go elsewhere in your head or something. wiped it down. “What do goddesses do all day? You show up in the morning when we do. I pay attention to the games while I’m in them.” Then to herself. She turned to Chrysanthemum. “Not like I need a reminder. and you leave in the evening when we do. “I’ve noticed. you don’t need a reminder?” Lucy flipped the stopper and watched the sink drain. now. flower arranging.” .

What is important is. I like it. yet intertwined forces. .” Lucy took a breath.” “I can’t even conceive of . The League’s emancipation program gave me a way to . .” “Wow. . That’s why her people decided guardians shouldn’t interact with goddesses.” “Yes. Your turn. could you be trusted to sacrifice your lover when the effigy has outlasted its purpose and become detrimental to the good of the people?” “Good of the people? It’s a game. “From those people. . It is exciting. or worse. it’s stillness. “Your confidence in yourself is genuine. We’re opposite. I don’t—” “You have to make cruel decisions regarding the Goddess. If I react.’” “I— What’s that?” Lucy said. I cause a foul and lose my head. not a boast. .” Chrysanthemum smiled.116 R. H. “Blood battle saved me.” Chrysanthemum said. This isn’t one of your metaphors. And I’m good at it―really good at it.” She took another breath. “It’s not important. “It’s from the book Bethany’s reading. a game.” “I’m sorry. . It’s what Harradonnus says when—” Chrysanthemum waved her hand. For me. If we were friends. well. I think that’s what Gunda was afraid of. . lovers. “What is it?” Lucy said.” “Yeah. escape. It’s . The ones I don’t ever want to meet again. “For what?” “Why do you play blood battle? You said it was exciting. I just don’t react. um. Yes. I prefer to notice everything that goes on around me. but a game wrapped in powerful metaphors. And I love it. but there was more to it. don’t you think? ‘I am your center and you are my existence. . How is that even possible?” “For you. that’s my standard answer―and it’s true―but . Like lovers. Watson “Some of the girls do.” . survival requires instant action and reaction.

Everyone buckled their seat restraints. . or dying. The centipede cabins were arriving one after the other in the order they had departed. I hope. “I don’t know why I thought I could talk to you about this. . Every now and then. she glanced at Lucy. for.” “Why a guardian?” Lucy brushed her fingers along her sword scabbard. the other as- .” Lucy said.” “Yes. put the cup down. but he’s gone.” she said. “No.” “It’s not your fault. Her venous blood hissed passed her ears. She glanced at Chrysanthemum. “May I ask one more question.” But I didn’t. Eventually a gong sounded alerting the passengers that the cabin would be leaving the expressway. Elizabeth. She waited for the adrenalin to dissipate. about blood battle?” Chrysanthemum said. “I’m sorry. “not him. She stood and moved her seat to a window on the opposite side of the cabin from Toshi’s. they slipped into the visiting club car dock of the Appalachi City blood battle stadium. “Because . “I guess. I do. Chrissy.” “Too dangerous?” Chrysanthemum said.” She had to look away to say it. but this conversation is getting too . and moved her sword a centimeter to the left on her lap. . Chrysanthemum picked up her knitting. I like you. “He frightens you?” Lucy shook her head. Lucy nodded. .” “I apologize for bringing it up. She couldn’t understand why she felt like a thief for needing that moment of reassurance she saw in Chrysanthemum’s eyes. Sure. then sipped her cider. but I can’t. I ran away. It was fifteen thirty. again.” The back of Lucy’s neck tensed up. Fucking adrenalin.Gladiator Girl 117 “Except you did meet one of them. in a staccato rhythm driven by her racing heart. Twenty minutes later. protecting someone is the only thing worth living.

they felt like clumsy prosthetics. and the rest of cabin five was herded toward the visiting team’s locker room. Her swords weren’t hers. H. She finished and knew she was off. Watson sistant equipment manager. Nobody got in her way. In a few minutes the team would fill these rooms. . She opened the door (the hinge squeaked because of the new dent). Elizabeth shooed her off to the goddess dressing room. it caught on her toe. Lucy pulled the stadium door open.” “With Lucy?” “Yup. She went into the first one and closed the door. stood on the car dock routing players and staff to their assigned locations. “I’ll be fine!” She went through the door. Toshi left to do whatever prep team interns do. who knew everything about everybody. Rather than extensions of her body. “Shit! Fuck! Crap!” Frankie came up behind her with the cabin six players. “Now what is it?” Glenna.” Frankie grabbed Lucy’s arm. took both swords. There was no lock. said to Frankie. put on her practice short-sword harness. Everyone around her stopped talking. She jammed a chair under the handle like they do in the movies and hoped it worked in real life. Her short-sword was inside. and started a kinesthetic exercise.118 R. but the exercise forced her to concentrate or risk slicing off a piece of her own leg or arm. She stripped off her clothes. walked to the center of the room. and walked out of the locker room and down the corridor to the practice rooms. along with her other locker contents. “There was a goddess in our cabin. “See you later. she punched her locker door with the heel of her hand. placed there by the advance team. “You gotta get it together!” Lucy shook her off.” Chrysanthemum waved to everyone with her re-gloved rainbow hand. She was getting tunnel vision. In the locker room. and she hit her head on the edge of the door. She unsheathed her swords.

She sheathed them. Someone was knocking. full speed. .” she said. She walked back to the door and leaned against it. and turning it in disorienting ways that were out of sync with the exercise. “Thanks. changed into her warm up clothes. Lucy lifted her swords and moved like a slow speed replay. and the chargers were standing outside the door waiting to get in. .” Lucy turned.” Frankie. Bimini released Lucy’s head.Gladiator Girl 119 “Start again.” she said. Lucy went back to her locker. “Slow motion. The movie lock hadn’t worked. Lucy had to let go of everything to finish without stumbling. “You’ll do fine. and started moving her head: nodding. Bimini kicked the wedge out from under the door and held it open. When she finished. The chair was lying on its back.” Lucy said.” she said. . They finished together. she had jammed a wedge under it to keep it closed. and returned to the practice room. Bimini Tanaka leaned against the door. tilting. she cupped Lucy’s jaw in her hands. “I know. her swords were hers again. Serendipity. Lucy started . From behind. Bimini came over. she even had to let go of her concentration. “One more time.

” “What?” Lucy said. Lucy poked her in the crotch with the hilt of her sword. What is it?” she said. Now and then Lucy noticed Frankie watching her. They broke for a light meal. Serendipity.’ idea we . I don’t know what the fuck your issue is. then turned back to Lucy. You were crazy when we got here.” Serendipity said to Lucy. and Frankie headed for the cafeteria. “You were acting a little weird in there. She spoke to both of them. When they were out of the practice room Lucy stepped in front of Frankie. Lucy glared at her. Lucy. ‘crazy. then took a moment to compose herself. Scary crazy. “Coach Kai has this. Some of the girls thought you were going to kill yourself.Chapter 9 The Match Against Beauty Incarnate Bimini ran her guardians through low-impact muscle memory exercises to wake up their bodies from the long trip and remind them what they were capable of. “Hey!” Frankie said.” Serendipity said to Frankie. Frankie gave Serendipity a nasty look. “That’s insane!” “You were acting pretty crazy. “You’re pissing me off. “It’s you and those goddesses. “Nothing. but you’ve got to get over it.” Frankie said.

then laughed.” “Who?” Frankie and Serendipity said. Great. Lucy turned and poked Serendipity in the sternum with her finger. had noticed the Incarnate guardian her team would be facing tended to step back when she moved to con front an attack from her right. “Chrissy. so they would play a classic game to feel her out. Sky Molina.” “I’m not worried. I don’t know how talking to a vac-head can screw you up so much. they’ve got names. “You too!” “I just wanted to point out that we’re going to be last in line for the food. She put Chrissy in my cabin so we could talk. Frankie would play the first game.” Lucy said. “Just kidding! So. The Incarnate guardian opposing her was a new girl promoted from the reserves in mid-season. “then make sure you fucking win your game!” She moved her arm as though to poke her again. and I don’t care. . Frankie flinched.Gladiator Girl 121 should get to know the goddesses. Great. Sky had put together a strategy to take advantage of that foible and attack her hard on the right side.” Lucy scowled at her for a moment. “Ah. “Yeah. But I do care if you’re going to screw up on the temple.” “If you’re so worried about me.” “They have names?” Frankie said. Serendipity would play the second game. She didn’t have much of a performance history to build a strategy around.” Serendipity said. all right. Short for Chrysanthemum. the offensive coach. They can talk. After the meal everyone stayed in the cafeteria while the coaches reviewed the match plan for the last time. let’s go. And stop worrying about me. That’s her name. guys?” Serendipity said. both of you. Lucy poked her in the crotch again. The goddess in my cabin.

Some of her club mates were coming out to watch the first game or at least the start of it. Her team would be assembled from the survivors of the first two games. The sidelines were behind the one-way glass that made up the long side-walls of the field. the one Beauty Incarnate would be defending. Once a team took to the grass they were on their own. but she could get reckless if pressed hard.” Lucy’s jaw tightened. Lucy took her long-sword and walked up the tunnel to the Burning Desire sideline. H. The spectators churned in the stands looking for their seats. I don’t get it. “to accept whatever—” . I guess. Lucy and maybe one of the goddesses were the only ones who had the luxury of waiting to see if there would even be a third game. The waxing moon itself stood high in the sky over the east arena. Lights had been launched to bathe the field in artificial moonlight bright enough for everyone to see clearly while still suggesting real moonlight. A clear greenhouse tent had been inflated above the stadium to trap heat against the chilly autumn evening. The gardeners were putting the final touches on the field flora. An animation board was mounted at each end of the side-line so the coaches and off-field players could watch game-play taking place on the far sides of the temples. they might have to play short handed―third games were heavy on improvisation. “Normal.122 R. . “What was she like?” Lucy turned to see Serendipity standing next to her. Watson Lucy was the clean-up guardian: she played if either Frankie or Serendipity lost. goddessy kind of way. She’s content to be a passive . no more communication was allowed with anyone off the field. If the casualties were too high. Incarnate’s clean-up guardian had a tenacious reputation like Lucy’s. in a weird. Frankie and the team for the first game headed to the locker room. .” “What do you mean?” “Her reasons for doing what she’s doing. The one-way glass insured no signals were passed back and forth.

“But yeah. “Coach Kai is a smart lady. “It’s a game.” “Okay. “That was easier to do last week. Francine didn’t know their names. So?” “Two isn’t a crowd. fate.” “How did you .” Serendipity removed her hand. increasing the pressure until the pane flexed out. . Except there is no fate—not when I’m up there. “Your brother and Chrissy?” “Yes. ‘shit. we have our own. ? Chrissy said the same thing.” Lucy relaxed and dropped her hand. so they weren’t wearing their grey . I can understand how a goddess might zone out. Serendipity put her hand on Lucy’s arm. the one Burning Desire would be defending.” the bodyguard in the brown coat said. before my life got crowded with people I didn’t ask to be in it. and expect me to do something about it?” She closed her hand into a fist and pressed her knuckles against the glass. She turned and strolled down the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room.” “Thanks. but to sit there and know someone is swinging a sword at your neck. “You have the two seats behind mine.” Serendipity said.” “I’m going to go oil my swords. “She said she actually pays attention to the game while she’s sitting on the altar. Francine and her friends shuffled into their seats on the south side of the stadium. Lucy stayed and watched the gardeners walk off the field.’” Lucy said. that I don’t need fucking up my life. She insisted her bodyguards dress like her friends. three. two people too many. They overlooked the west arena. See? It is a crowd. No. Don’t over-think it. “Whatever fate the game hands to her?” “I was going to say.” Serendipity leaned close.Gladiator Girl 123 “Fate?” Serendipity said. .” She tapped once on the glass where it intersected with her view of the temple-top. and passively accept it. Francine handed a couple of tickets to her bodyguards. Add Coach Kai and her crazy ideas. think about clouds or something. so she wouldn’t see what was coming.

” Brown Coat said. She and Dark Green Coat slipped off in different directions to blend into the crowd.” it said. As Brown Coat scanned the stadium. “Friends. He looked further along and saw her dressed in an athletic suit.” The two god- . welcome to this evening’s blood battle match between the visiting Burning Desire from Heritage City. standing by herself. “Then you can tell me. Brown Coat ignored her while discreetly inspecting her seating area and the surrounding spectators. Jayzen was sitting above Burning Desire’s sideline.” Next. “Guardian: Lucinda Marcia Star.” “That’s privileged information.” “We’ll be nearby. . Then the announcer said. “Third Game (If needed).124 R. Guardian Francesca Antoinette Starling: four wins. He looked through his stadium glasses at the team wearing their armor and holding their swords. “Number twenty-two. and you’re not playing?” He checked his match program. “What? I came all this way.” The public address came alive. please welcome the Goddess. Watson body armor.” The announcer introduced the team members one at a time. After all. I am a daughter of privilege. . “You must know if you have colleagues here with Jayzen. H.” she mumbled to herself. ending with. five losses. “Bitches. and Appalachi City’s own Beauty Incarnate. Beauty Incarnate’s players were introduced to whoops and hollers from the home crowd. “Gentle friends.” Brown Coat said. Under. “Burning Desire’s team for the first match will be . she regularly took in the other two girls from her agency standing behind Jayzen in his private box on the north side of the stadium. She suspected what they were wearing would stop bullets just fine. but he couldn’t see Lucy. “Is my brother here?” Francine said.

“It’s the desire that counts. The stairs retracted.” she said. In a curious ritual introduced by the fans during the second year of blood battle. and everyone settled into their seats.” Stairways extruded from the front of both temple pyramids.” “It doesn’t matter. hands clasped in their laps. Francine stood and pressed her hands together. her friends. “This is crazy. and in a single move. “We offer our Guardian. The goddesses climbed to the altars. “To sustain our quest for a worthy life. who had been saying the same prayer. they were never named and were always referred to as a single en tity. “I don’t think that makes sense.” Jayzen said. “The Goddess who guides us.” Francine said. “To stand in defense of the Goddess.” Aldan. Their hair had been braided into tight topknots to kept it clear of their necks and to provide a convenient handle for the match officials to use when checking for a valid beheading. “We ask for a place in your earthly bosom. space-filling sound. even her own blood. turned while spreading their vestments (so they wouldn’t sit on them) and settled into place. “In humility. Francine. The horns emitted a thrumming. the spectators rose in silence and many of them prayed. “And proffers. “Mother. *** . They sat on their heels—knees together. leaned over to her and said. therefore. heads held high—and looked into each other’s eyes across the full reach of the field. Two men dressed like monks stepped onto high platforms on each side of the midfield and blew on long horns that curved down ten meters and then out toward the hedge line.Gladiator Girl 125 desses walked onto the field in their white vestments.

The reverberations of the start horns faded. making it impossible for players to see what was happening in the other arena. The coded message songs—a large collection of short vocalizations based on yodeling. The forwards for both sides advanced through their six. thorn-enforced one-way paths in the midfield hedge. it was possible for a goddess to die or be wounded even when her team won. Then Burning Desire opened a charger path. Even guardians could only see the top half of the opposition’s temple. like guardians. Bridgett and Vanora took off. . or if there was a third game. like guardians. Not the best plan―a temple fight between a guardian and two chargers required near flawless execution on the chargers’ part to give them the advantage―but the forwards’ message songs indicated the branching paths near the temple were clear. Each path had a kink to block sight lines. Watson Frankie’s Game Lucy watched Burning Desire’s goddess climb the stairs. overtone singing. and whistling—were the only way to coordinate strategy and send warnings between a team’s guards in their own arena and their forwards in the opposition’s arena. but neither team was having much success with their game plans. H. pig calling. Was it one for each game.126 R. did the surviving goddess reprise her role? She decided it would have to be one per game since. Incarnate’s untested guardian waited patiently behind the Goddess until Bridgett and Vanora reached the top of the temple. The guards and forwards fought hard. looked to see who it was. She was relieved it wasn’t Chrysanthemum. giving them room to maneuver and set up an attack from different directions. Then she hoped this goddess would survive the game. and then she realized she didn’t know how goddesses were assigned to games. and for the first time. then she wondered what her name was. and Lucy was on her feet moving back and forth to watch the game develop in each arena. skating in tandem.

but was considered an even fight when done well. then jumped after her and stabbed her in the chest when she bounced off the second tier. so far. The third charger came up the north side of the temple and sliced Frankie open from shoulder to pelvis when they met on the temple-top. Neutralize the immediate threats. She bounded back up. This one wasn’t. then finished her off with her short-sword. cut off both her legs. but couldn’t wield it two handed. then cleanup all possible loose ends—leave nothing to chance.” Lucy said. Frankie turned to regain the top. unseen third charger.Gladiator Girl 127 She ducked under Bridgett’s sword. but was nervous about the. She scrambled up the pyramid to setup a second defense at the top. but Lucy understood. but there was no sign of the third charger in Burning Desire’s arena. She impaled the lead charger. and her balance wavered. “I like you!” While the spectators were distracted by the fight on Incarn ate’s temple. A three charger attack was harder to pull off. leapt over the temple-top. spun and kicked Vanora off the temple-top. one of the chargers was lagging behind the other two. Frankie’s forwards had sung a three charger warning. That charger had been delayed in Incarnate’s arena and was now skating fast through Burning Desire’s lowland along the inside north route. their forwards cleared two paths and three of their chargers headed for the hedge to attack Frankie. “You’re a feisty little hornet. Frankie jumped down to meet the first two who were approaching on the inside south route. cut off Bridgett’s sword arm. It might have seemed an overreaction: Bridgett was fast bleeding to death and could only crawl with her arms. Frankie still had her long-sword. but Burning Desire’s guards sang a warning. . She moved her short-sword arm to compensate. Lucy ran along the sideline to follow them. and the second south-side charger arrived in time to cut it off. Frankie couldn’t see her from the south side of the pyramid.

The fake monks blew their thrumming horns. Watson The Goddess could only be effectively beheaded from two positions—the sweet spots—one on each side of the altar and slightly behind the Goddess. descended her stairs. and inspected the cut. and signaled their decision by placing a purple satin pillow on the spot where the head had come to rest. . The spectators got into the spirit. resting on its cheek as though asleep. H. you fucking bitch!” Lucy averted her eyes from the sight of the goddess’s head tumbling down the front of the temple. “You screwed up. Three officials wearing purple gloves ran out to check the goddess’s head. single stroke causing instant death and minimal damage. entering between the mid-points of the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and exiting just below the larynx—a clean. They were directed by spotters high up in booths. Everyone stood their ground. the Beauty Incarnate goddess stood. They approved the cut. A piercing horn blew. The collectors finished and ran off the field laden with with their bags of fallen players. Burning Desire sent out a special collection team with a purple body bag to claim their goddess’s body and head. signaling a temporary halt to the game. and laid it on the pillow. The charger stepped into the left sweet spot and decapitated Burning Desire’s goddess. They lifted it with care. handling it by its braided topknot. The charger who had cut off the goddess’s head stood guard over it while collection teams for each club ran onto the field with body bags to pick up the dead and their parts. The surviving players stayed on the field and helped point out the location of bits they had cut off. It had to be respectful. After they cleared the field. The steps extruded from the front of the temples. The spectators hushed themselves and rose. who had been keeping track of the injured players and their dismemberments. and the first game was over.128 R. cheering when a finger that had been trodden into the muck of the marsh was finally retrieved. They closed its eyes.

but she was the team’s lookout until she had to engage char gers on the temple. It helped if she had a feel for what made this arena unique. You know something Angela doesn’t?” . so I’ll win. she trotted down the tunnel to the locker room.” Lucy said. The players on the second game team were pumping up each other’s emotions. “You want to play so bad you can taste it. Serendipity’s Game Lucy prowled the sideline for a while and inspected the field. blood. plazas. “Hi. Coach Molina was huddling with her chargers. Dippy. and charger paths. and waste off the temples. The basic layout of all BB fields was the same. On the field. Lucy. gardeners touched up the flora. The surviving players ran to their sidelines. ending the post-game rituals. “You want to psych me up. Lucy turned the corner to the guardian lockers. Lucy didn’t have to worry about running and fighting down in the grass. There was a forty-five minute break until the next game. She turned to Serendipity and opened her mouth.” Serendipity said.” Serendipity said. but the soil and vegetation varied with the local environment. “Hey. She walked behind Serendipity and ran her fingers along the new indentation in her own locker door.” Lucy said. right?” “Fuck yes. getting them psyched for the attack she had planned for the Incarnate guardian. She was putting on her helmet and collecting her hair into a curly red fireworks burst to stick out the back. The survivors of the first game had retreated to the showers to avoid infecting the second team with their loser’s energy. When she’d seen enough.Gladiator Girl 129 and walked off.” “That sounds insanely confident. and cleaners scrubbed dirt. “Don’t worry.

Burning Desire sent their forwards through the three northernmost one-way paths. It’s so dark and mysterious. They’re dark—yes. This time Lucy avoided looking at the goddesses for either team.” A gong sounded and the team for the second game whooped. I just think you shouldn’t worry so much.130 R. It tastes bitter. they curved enough to prevent players from seeing through to the other arena. though. Yeah. H. There were four narrow charger paths through the hedge. Sky Molina’s plan was to quickly gain dominant plaza to plaza control over the two north charger paths and their branches. The message singing started. but honest. and knew the Incarnate guardian was alerting her forwards to Burning Desire’s asymmetrical attack. I like bitter. You can’t hide anything in them.” “It tastes like butterscotch to me. slapped fannies. Like the forwards’ paths. Watson “No. Don’t even try.” Serendipity said and whisked herself up the tunnel. and headed out to the field.” Serendipity reached out and brushed a strand of hair off Lucy’s forehead. but they were already in the hedge and committed to their opening moves. I wouldn’t know what to do with eyes like that. Between the hedge and the plaza. Lucy slapped her cheek. I don’t want your eyes.” “I’m not worried. I can taste it. Serendipity picked up her long-sword and tapped her butt with the scabbard.” “They will. All four chargers were waiting on Burning Desire’s north plaza. It was a complement. The horns sounded and the game began. “I wish I had your hair. cow eyes. They used to call eyes like yours. and not worry about the south paths. . “Make sure they die horribly. Serendipity reported on Incarnate’s attack strategy. those paths branched into a dozen interconnected routes. Incarnate launched a symmetrical flanking attack designed to control the north and south charger routes and force Burning Desire’s guards into the center of the field. I want to win. and I’m counting on you to get me on the temple. butted helmets.

They had killed half of Incarnate’s forwards and only lost one guard. Esmerelda stabbed under her arm and into her heart.Gladiator Girl 131 Four Incarnate guards were covering the charger paths on the north side of their arena. They pounced on . They both stepped away from the hedge. had been stabbed deep in her thigh by the second forward and was bleeding to death. Usually. there weren’t enough guards to successfully ambush forwards as they came out of the hedge paths. holding her sword up and forward. Burning Desire’s guards were massed on the north side of their arena. Even at those odds. Enough forwards always get through to flank the ambushing guards. The guards were singing the tally. forwards sacrificed most of the back armor that guards wore. Incarnate was starting to adjust to Burning Desire’s strategy: their remaining forwards were moving to keep control of the south paths and to try and cut off at least one of the north paths. and only trying to control the north side of the field. on the outside path. guards were hard to kill. All twelve Burning Desire forwards came out of the hedge and fell on them. but by committing to Sky’s plan. They spread out along the center line of the arena. an instant kill. the other two were pushed back.” Cinnamon. Two fell. ready to block or attack. The second forward saw her teammate die and came out sideways facing Esmerelda. Fausta stabbed underneath the strip of armor the forward wore across her upper back. taking two forwards with them. Chiyo stepped behind her and chopped her in the back. “One from the inside north path two each from the middle and outside paths. they had the depth to stage a successful ambush on the three north paths. Esmerelda and Fausta took up positions on each side of the middle north ingress path. another instant kill. She held her position in case there was another forward in the path. She fell on her stomach and Esmerelda stabbed her in the back of the neck. To make themselves lighter and faster. Another forward jumped out of Esmerelda’s path. An Incarnate forward rushed out.

Serendipity was the one she most enjoyed watching. Serendipity was regularly singing out. They backed the other one into the north east corner. “Warning: three chargers on the two south paths!” When the chargers took off. Their chargers were spread out: two on the north plaza. the coaching staff knew they were giving Incarnate an opening to make a similar attack on Serendipity along the south side. The girl had a deceptive way of moving so you never saw what was . Xaun sang out to Serendipity.132 R. “Outside path open. but with only six forwards left. Casualties were mounting in both arenas. Florence. They were trying to flank Burning Desire along the back end of the field. and contrary to Sky’s plan.” Sky’s plan required both north side paths. the Burning Desire forward captain. but they would have to put their attack together on the fly. H. Esmerelda and the other guards had done their job and taken control of the two north paths in Burning Desire’s arena. By staging such an asymmetrical attack. Erdoza. inside path closed. Watson the guard closest to the temple and killed her. Of her fellow guardians. and Candice rushed to the north plaza to cut off those two chargers before they could move to the south plaza. “Two north paths open. was singing. but pulled back when they realized all four chargers were on the north plaza. Lucy hustled to the west end of the sideline to watch the looming temple fight. two on the south.” What was taking the forwards so long on the other side of the hedge? Xaun Henatta. Incarnate was the first team to open two charger paths. Chargers normally stay out of the defense. Incarnate didn’t want to risk drawing them into the fight. A guard wounded Florence giving one of the chargers time to slip around the front of the temple.

Serendipity reversed direction with such a light touch of her foot. the other toward the front. Lucy couldn’t see how it had the force to so completely change her direction and momentum.Gladiator Girl 133 coming next. Off the field. The girl’s legs stopped working. They kicked off their skates and leapt to the first tier. The two chargers on the inside route arrived first. but Chiyo and Mim blocked the branch path she was angling toward. but Lucy was beginning to suspect that was all an act to trick people into not seeing the wrath she was bringing their way. The charger reached the fourth tier. shoulder. The charger at the front of the pyramid leaped off the second tier on her way to the Goddess. and she fell on her face. one vault away from the sweet spot and the Goddess’s head. Serendipity skipped down like a naïve fairy about to be caught between them. forcing all three chargers to approach the temple on Serendipity’s right. She removed the arms and legs from a forward who happened to be standing too close. (For a weird moment Lucy thought she had sprouted wings. “Yeah! Wow!” . She impaled the third charger just as she reached the temple. Serendipity didn’t have a right-handed foible to exploit. then curled. Serendipity flew by and slipped her short-sword into the charger’s spine. Lucy pounded the glass with her fist. and landed on her feet at ground level. the leader angled to the rear of the south side of the pyramid.) She dragged her long-sword through the back of the paralyzed charger as she breezed by. One of the Incarnate chargers tried to flank Serendipity. and head of the rearward charger flew off her body. tumbled off the pyramid while extracting her sword. They were skating straight into her wrath. she was a ditz. turned. and flitted back up the temple. Serendipity again completely changed direction with a slight kick and dove head first down the pyramid with her long-sword extended. then she slipped to the rear of the pyramid. Her long-sword flickered like gossamer and the sword arm.

and Candice had been holding the fourth Incarnate charger at bay in the northeast corner of the plaza. closed on Grenada and stuck her long-sword under her shoulder blade. Bethany collapsed in full paralysis. not dead. not yet. Watson *** By the time Serendipity reached the temple-top. and with two running steps. Kelcie jumped for the temple-top and stabbed up through the guardian’s ribs. damaging her spinal cord just below its exit point from her skull. When she saw all four Burning Desire chargers burst through the hedge. Grenada was on the temple leaping for the sweet spot. two on each path.134 R. . staying slightly to the rear of the guardian. swinging her long-sword at Bethany. killing Erdoza and the already wounded Florence. She pushed Florence’s body into Candice. twisted the guardian off balance. They had succeeded in pulling the guardian to the rear. The guardian and Grenada tumbled down the pyramid. Florence. She kicked off her skates and ran for the temple to replace the guardian as the Goddess’s defender. She again stepped back. she fought her way out. The guardian swung around. H. Bethany and Nara arrived first and ascended the temple. Burning Desire’s forwards had opened both north routes. away from the Goddess. The guardian stepped back to meet Nara and blocked her sword with a crosshanded twist that brought the tip of her blade up through Nara’s ribs and heart. skating in tandem. and kicked her feet out from under her. For a moment the guardian’s right side was exposed. looked at the temple and saw her guardian sliding down the pyramid tiers with the limp articulation of the raggedy dead. Bethany deflected the sword. Erdoza. all four chargers were on the move through the hedge. but the guardian had her short-sword out and stuck it up under Bethany’s jaw and into her atlanto-occipital joint. but she wasn’t sure if she had scored the heart. She wrenched her blade around.

then drew and sheathed her short-sword a . and win. The Incarnate charger reached the top a moment too late. “That’ll muddle up everybody’s plans for attacking you in the next few games. it’s fun. get in the water fast. non-ditzy smile crossed Serendipity’s lips. a slight. her blade entered and exited the goddess’s neck. the defensive coach. she went back to her locker and stripped down for the game. She ran for the altar.” She disappeared into the shower room. strictly amateur. When she was satisfied she had it. “See? Your turn to win. She was looking for the relaxed but ready state that she could maintain indefinitely while waiting for Beauty Incarnate to bring her a fight. came over. A swan dive would have taken too long. You really shouldn’t have worried. You should try it. As she ran through the sweet spot. fastened her short-sword scabbard to its harness.” she said. during the off season. pealed the backing off the harness saddle.” Angela.” For the tiniest moment. then she tapped the tip of Lucy’s nose with her finger. Lucy’s Game There was an hour break between the second and third games to give the second game survivors time to cleanup and prepare to play again. and stuck it to her back. long. She tied on her shoes. Lucy picked up her short-sword from her locker and warmed up in a practice room. Keep ’em guessing. starting to swing her sword.Gladiator Girl 135 *** Kelcie didn’t hesitate after flinging the guardian off the tem ple-top. Lucy cornered Serendipity on her way to the shower. “Nice move with the dive. “You did a swan dive off the pyramid! Where did that come from?” “Not a swan dive—a swimmer’s dive: low. I like to swim.

” Coach Kai said. then slapped butts and backs as the team headed up the tunnel. H. “I’m going to kill anyone who sets foot on my temple.” “Doesn’t change my plan. They might try a flanking attack again.” “Yup.” “Except the Goddess. with seven guards. Screw Coach Kai’s plan! . Incarnate could field a full team. “I didn’t think it would. We’ll concentrate on the south most path so we can keep our backs against the side-wall. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. She let everyone go ahead of her since she would be the last player on the field. The forwards will try to open up as many branches in Incarnate’s arena as they can. She pulled on her helmet and picked up her long-sword. Watson couple of times to be sure her arm knew where it was. “Anybody who steps on my temple dies. we’re going to concentrate on holding one charger path open.” The warning gong sounded. but if I were them. The casualties in the first two games had been high. I’d come right up the middle to get control of the other three. “It will be entirely up to our forwards to block those paths in Incarnate’s arena. Lucy’s team would be short two guards and one charger. Angela Strong came over to talk strategy. Lucy butted helmets with everyone around her. except her.” “I’m not worried. I wouldn’t worry about our one path. but so you know. they just don’t know if we’ll defend north or south. She was about to head up the tunnel when Coach Kai came over. “What do you think?” she said.136 R.” Lucy said.” Lucy whooped and ran up the tunnel. Incarnate’s going to expect this. so there’s a better-than-usual chance you could get hit with a full.” Lucy said.” Lucy said. “They’re worried I’m going to screw up. “Everybody thinks I’ve gone crazy. four-charger attack.

Ah. It was nothing. “Like what?” Aldan said. wiped it from her face. Guardian Lucinda Marcia Star.Gladiator Girl 137 Serendipity was at the top of the tunnel dressed in street clothes. Coach Kai's experiment was only half finished. . “I don’t know. She gave Lucy a thumbs up. She closed it immediately. I can’t de­ fend the Goddess and avoid looking at her. Lucy turned forward and assumed her relaxed stance with the tip of her long-sword resting on the temple surface in front of her. The team ran onto the field as they were announced. She gave in and looked at the front edge of the altar.” Lucy unsheathed her long-sword.” . “Did something just happen?” Francine said. turned while spreading her vestment. She waited while the other team was announced. Then the goddesses came out. seven wins. . The Goddess's face came into view. Francine’s entourage cheered and waved their hands. The stadium fell silent. then didn’t quite suppress a grin. . winked back. ending with. three losses. and then . and winked! Lucy’s mouth gaped. “Go Lucy! We love you!” Francine yelled through cupped hands. This is crazy. and slapped her ass. looked up. Lucy felt a vibration in her feet as the steps extruded from the front of the pyramid. in perfect coordination with the Beauty Incarnate goddess. ran onto the field and up to the top of the pyramid. She kept her eyes on the other temple and watched the Incarnate goddess climb the steps. Jayzen watched Lucy lope up the pyramid tiers and couldn’t stop thinking about the previous Saturday night on the exercise mats. . “Number fifteen. Chrysanthemum stepped onto the altar. With his stadium glasses. I thought I saw . Chrysanthemum smiled a sly little smile. and settled in place on the altar.

except with a big fat sword. just in case. but . H. Two Incarnate forwards ran down the field and swung in to isolate the guard on the temple end of the line. and as she turned to run back up. she stabbed down through the forward’s neck and into her heart. but the winks had made her giddy. They forced her back. She ran down the pyramid. The guards shifted and spread out to protect the south charger route. One of those forwards angled dangerously close to the temple―dangerous for her. The message songs from the Incarnate arena said Burning Desire’s forwards were attacking across the width of the field. Gunda Thorstenson’s make-believe monks blew their game horns. All three chargers waited on the south plaza for their south-side route to open. wounding her in the abdomen. ready to take on the world to defend Chrysanthemum. Down in the grass. and giddy made her nervous. and she flipped back a thumbs up. Burning Desire’s guards pressed against their line to deny them clear control of the inside south route. Just like Charlotte did it. Incarnate controlled the two north charger routes. Watson *** Jayzen sat forward with the stadium glasses pressed to his eyes.138 R. As Angela had predicted. Lucy decided to help even the odds for her guards. She lived for this. She didn’t see how giddy was going to help her kill chargers. I mean the Goddess. Lucy was pumped. The two guards on the west end ganged up on the other forward who had become disoriented when her teammate dropped dead for no apparent reason. hit the front corner of the bottom tier. but he didn’t know why. The guards gave Lucy a nod of thanks. the Incarnate forwards came through the middle of the hedge. the guards had positioned themselves to defend against a flanking move. There were no threats to the Goddess in Burning Desire’s arena. He felt jealous.

“Four chargers on four paths!” On learning that Burning Desire’s guards had lost. She pulled out her short-sword and leapt across the temple to meet the charger arriving from the left rear. traveling fast and unhindered. For Lucy. took a step down toward the charger on the right. They arrived: two on the left. The fight deteriorated until only two guards remained alive against six healthy Incarnate forwards and the wounded one. Incarnate’s guards attacked hard on the other side of the hedge. Burning Desire’s guards couldn’t sustain a long fight: two were dead. Lucy continued turning and handed the long-sword back to her right hand. They took heavy losses. Four chargers on four paths gave them every advantage. she should have been the biggest threat. Bimini’s kinesthetic training was in charge―thinking took too long. The Incarnate guards were pressing back on the north side to get at least two paths open for their chargers. They skated out of the hedge. They were falling back and getting pushed up against the south path―they were losing.Gladiator Girl 139 pushing harder on the south to open the south charger path. move to intercept part of the attack. She sang out a warning. She shifted her attention to the first three Incarnate chargers. Burning Desire’s forwards sang an alarm. calling Han off. She caught the . time began passing in hundredths of a second. it wasn't a big stumble. Incarnate’s forwards controlled all four paths in Burning Desire’s arena. Lucy saw Han. and handed her longsword off to her left hand. one was wounded. one of Burning Desire’s chargers. but instead Lucy turned. She had seen one of Incarnate’s chargers stumble. one on the right. There was something odd about the charger coming up the forward end of the pyramid on the left side. but cleared all four paths long enough for their chargers to get through. just enough to make her arrive late―that evened the odds. She reached out and stabbed the charger through her eye―brain blood sprayed out. Lucy didn’t want her chargers risking injury by playing defense.

The kick twisted Lucy around so she landed back on the temple-top facing forward. The charger on the front left. but not mortal enough. The impact spun the girl around. Lucy’s hand was inside the girl’s belly. but her instincts were in charge and they were screwing up! They let the momentum of her landing carry her into a low crouch. she cut through the girl’s belly from her rectus abdominis to her spine taking away her ability to articulate her thorax and cutting her descending aorta. What the fuck? From there. Taking hold of it with two hands. splitting her kidney and severing her latissimus dorsi along with her abdominal obliques.140 R. was swinging at Chrysanthemum’s neck. stopping her attack. Lucy tried to tell herself to stand her ground and let the charger split open Chrysanthemum’s back. that told her everything she needed to know. Her foot landed in the sweet spot and slipped―she was going to miss! Her blade would hit Chrysanthemum in the shoulder. A blade buzzed by. the one she ought to have attacked first. she stabbed up and into the charger’s armpit. Lucy used her long-sword to twist the front charger away from Chrysanthemum. she felt her muscles relax as she died. The fourth char­ ger! She realized what was wrong: the girl she had stabbed was faking her miss. . toppling her down the pyramid. but she could see her sword swinging away. H. Watson charger’s long-sword between her crossed blades and used her own long-sword to push the girl’s blade away while slashing through her side with her short-sword. the fourth charger would have cut off her head. Lucy sheathed her shortsword while bring her long-sword around. then she twisted it up and shoved it into her heart. She was mortally wounded. She couldn’t see the fourth charger and didn’t have time to look. She would be unconscious in seconds. just above Lucy’s head. She reached back with her short-sword and felt it go into the charger’s gut. Her instincts had sensed the trick. Lucy kicked her in the other kidney. pulling her punch. If she had stood her ground.

long-sword tip resting on the temple-top in front of her feet. They looked back in disbelief. Lucy assumed her relaxed waiting stance: short-sword sheathed at her back. The song came back from the other side of the hedge. cutting all the blood vessels to her brain. she scanned around the field. Incarnate had sent their remaining healthy forwards onto the temple to backup their chargers. upper arms. The only Incarnate player left alive in . grinning like she had just received the best present ever. Lucy waited a full second for the first forward to reach the penultimate pyramid tier .Gladiator Girl 141 Despite the sword in her armpit. Oopsie! Lucy sang out. “All paths open. The rookie.” She looked down at her chargers. and she wasn’t at all concerned about six forwards scrambling up the sides of the temple. she grinned back and all three took off. Four Incarnate chargers had just swarmed up the temple. the front charger was trying to swing her blade at Lucy’s shoulder. three chargers ready. and abdomens were all available. Andrea. Lucy looked around. more than she needed. but their necks. leaving all the charger paths open in Burning Desire’s arena. arms at her sides. As the last dying forward tumbled off the temple. A couple of seconds later. was staring at Lucy. Bethany and Kelcie nodded back. sending her backward. thighs. . Off my temple! The girl’s body fell onto one of Incarnate’s forwards. then her face lit up. She wedged her foot up against the girl’s chest and pushed out. they were all dead and Lucy was dripping with their blood. shoved her short-sword through her neck. and pressed it back against her cervical vertebrae. They had bet everything on their trick either killing Lucy or wounding her enough so their forwards could finish her off. Forwards were almost as heavily armored on their front upper bodies as guards. . Andrea had to be careful not to out-skate her teammates. Lucy stepped inside her reach. “Two center paths open!” Lucy tipped her head toward the Incarnate temple.

” “No. turned. . You can see Lucy’s bloody hand print on the goddess’s shoulder. then cleared her face and turned forward. Chrysanthemum was startled and looked up. a dangerous move that Lucy wasn’t happy with―she was risking committing a foul on the Goddess. Then Lucy sheathed her short-sword. “Did you see that?” Francine said. and beheaded the Goddess. bleeding from her abdomen.142 R. Their timing was off. Lucy winked.” Francine said. Lucy squeezed her shoulder. The guardian stepped over Han’s blade and ducked under Kelcie’s. walked up. one from each side. The monks blew their horns. Giddy works. and opened Kelcie’s belly. “I mean over here. Andrea was running up the front. alongside the altar. look.” “No. There was movement on Incarnate’s temple. it’s not. They looked at each other!” “You must have been seeing things again. Half way through her twisting dodge. She plunged her sword into the guardian’s back. “I sure did!” Aldan was looking at Andrea who was guarding the head of Beauty Incarnate’s goddess. Han swung at the guardian’s legs. . and put her hand on Chrysanthemum’s shoulder.” “That’s just some blood that splashed on her from the fight. It happens all the time. H. and Kelcie at her torso. almost grinned. but Andrea was leaping over the corner of the altar. “I think . in a coordinated attack. Han and Kelcie approached. Lucy touched the Goddess. Chrysanthemum smiled. The officials approved the cut. The game was over. let go. and trotted down the pyramid to help the collectors find the pieces of those foolish forwards. A blush colored her cheeks. Watson Burning Desire’s arena was the wounded forward.” . she cut off Han’s head. She and her friends were standing and cheering.

He tossed his match program in the trash on his way out. Jayzen said. .” to his bodyguards. “Let’s go.Gladiator Girl 143 “Think what?” “I think you wouldn’t understand.” On the other side of the stadium.

She moved her swords and cleaning kit to a weapon cleaning table. and walked off the field. then Chrysanthemum rose. Chrysanthemum. Andrea came over. Lucy and the two surviving guards. plus the three goddesses. Serendipity’s goddess. but the empty locker room swallowed the sounds of celebration. Including Serendipity. These unique features of blood battle locker rooms looked like baby changing tables. They ran off the field in high spirits. seven forwards and Andrea were the surviving members of Burning Desire’s offense. the wounded Incarnate forward had been taken away by her collection team to be put in a womb. and put on fresh street clothes. Chiyo and Mim. “Mind if I join you?” “Please. descended the stairs.V.P. often were. and Amrit.” Lucy said. a forward who hadn’t played in the third game. Andrea laid out her cleaning supplies and long-sword. Lucy took a shower. were the only players left in Burning Desire’s arena. and in fact. with a new label. “You should have been M. Over in Beauty Incarnate’s arena.” .Chapter 10 Lucy’s Dream Beauty Incarnate carried their goddess away in her purple body bag. It was an expensive victory. fifteen Burning Desire players survived the match out of the full named roster of fifty-three.

Chrissy. so she was only now hearing the club stories and trying to figure out which were true. Anyway. new to this season. running up the front of the temple right past the Goddess. and which were bullshit. A moment later Andrea said. short for Chrysanthemum. If I’d known you were going to do something so potentially dangerous to her―to her neck―I would have run down there and killed you myself before you left. Serendipity earned it.” “Thanks. Any other approach would have gotten you killed. The game is halted and a member of the opposing team is offered a free swing at the neck of the violator’s goddess. One rule stipulates that only one defender . There aren’t many rules in blood battle.” “You don’t think I should have?” “I’m not criticizing you. One story.” Lucy said. Am I the only one who knows she has a name?” “Are they all called Chrysanthemum?” “No. told of Lucy’s first game as a rookie guardian.” “I thought you were amazing. right?” Andrea said. but the penalty for violating any of them is the same. But if you had touched their goddess. I think. It made me nervous.” “You’re kidding. “Oh!” Andrea was the newest rookie.Gladiator Girl 145 “Nope. “That was a pretty risky move. and they would have gotten a free swing at Chrissy. “The goddess for our game. it would have been a foul. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect her neck. She was flawless. just her.” “Who’s Chrissy?” Lucy rolled her eyes. Lucy gave Andrea her best do-I-look-like-I’m-kidding look. She had been pulled out of the reserve squad just four weeks ago. when I’m on the temple. which were fables. It worked. I lost track of that last charger and almost got my head cut off.

“Oh!” she had realized the story wasn’t a fable. “Great move.” “It’s not true. “She wants you to win and will do everything she can to help. “A guardian’s loyalty is to the Goddess. Not even to her coach. You do what you need to do to win. her goals and mine aren’t always the same.” Coach Kai said to Andrea. “using the Goddess to mask your approach. so the story goes. When Andrea said. cut off the guard’s arm before her hand touched the tier.” “That’s the lesson. but if it’s going to put my goddess’s neck at risk. I was making sure she knew it was true. not to her teammates.” She turned to Lucy. “I was just explaining that. “And it won’t ever happen again.” Lucy didn’t react. In Lucy’s first game. but only because that is the best way to protect the Goddess. Lucy.” Andrea said. not her first.146 R. “Not exactly. a guard. Watson is allowed on the temple at a time. Her cleated shoes slipped on its smooth. make sure I don’t know about it. seeing that she was about to put her hand on the first tier of the temple pyramid to keep her balance. and it wasn’t bullshit. “I won’t do it again. leapt down in two diving steps.” Andrea looked confused. . it seems. she saw a fellow rookie. H. “What’s she been saying to you?” Coach Kai said.” Coach Kai said to Andrea. it happened in Lucy’s second game.” Coach Kai was walking around talking to the players. and kicked her away so she wouldn’t fall against the temple. “That’s not my point.” she said to Andrea. right?” “As long as everybody stays clear of my temple. skate-friendly surface. even though we’re on the same team. so intent on trying to intercept a forward that she ran onto the plaza.” “Did you tell her about the arm?” “I think she already heard about it.

when a game can be won by allowing the other team to kill or injure the Goddess with a bad stroke. Sorry if I messed up your experiment. that way. Fredrick prepared a tea bag and sent it to the Euphoria House. but for now she was back on the car dock sorting the living into their assigned cabins for the return trip. Katixa. swords. “Mr. “Why did you stop the charger from committing a foul?” “I didn’t want to stop her. right?” “You didn’t. “You’re sharing cabin three with Glenna. Chiyo. See you both at the game review tomorrow. Despite the casualties. This time Chrysanthemum was already waiting—with a fresh cup of hot tea. “Where did you get that?” Lucy said. Bimini’s kinesthetic intelligence. but you saw it was a trick. “They brewed a cup and ran it over. it would still take several cabins to get the surviving players and the staff home. I did. did.” Andrea said. After each game. packed into refrigerated caskets. “Coach Kai is kind of weird. It’s five streets over. the dead and wounded players were taped and stapled back together.Gladiator Girl 147 “The only exception is when she has to face that crucial decision. Toshi. and personal belongings.” Lucy’s swords were now pristine. polished.” Elizabeth said to Lucy. flooded with almost freezing artificial amniotic fluid. and yes. then ship everything back to Burning Desire. “Some people say she’s a smart lady.” . and oiled. She took her short-sword scabbard apart for cleaning. It always got so full of blood. and shipped to the Laughing Cherub by express transport. “What do you think?” “I hope they’re right.” She walked away to talk to Chiyo and Mim. but my instincts.” She pointed. and Chrysanthemum.” Coach Kai looked at Lucy.” Lucy said. Elizabeth and her interns would spend the night cleaning and packing their equipment.

.” “Great game!” “Wow!” “Fantastic!” they said.” she said. “That’s . .” Lucy held the cup under her nose.” “You can have Mr. then back to Lucy. .” “Maybe I will. and inhaled the infusion’s aroma.” “What a beautiful name!” Francine said. “Wow. various bits of plant matter. “Do you want another sip?” “Ah . not what I expected.” She walked over to the fence. . Mr. past her entrails and settled in her―womb? What? “What’s in this?” “Tea.” Lucy said.” “Lucy! Over here!” Lucy hadn’t noticed the yelling while she was under the spell of Chrysanthemum’s tea. “Do you want a sip?” “Thanks.148 R. Fredrick doesn’t reveal his secrets. We’re trying something different. It had a mild lilac taste followed by strong cinnamon. . no. “See? I told you. “I’ll be right back.” “I knew it!” Francine said. “Is that the Goddess?” Francine was looking at Chrysanthemum. Fredrick prepare a personal infusion for you too. Thanks.” “My coach thinks that might be a load of crap.” she said to her friends. I can’t believe you came all the way here. She looked and saw Francine and her friends at the security fence. She handed the cup back. you know.” Lucy took the cup and sipped. H. Now she’s a person. Short for Chrysanthemum. Watson Lucy laughed and shook her head.” “What’s her name?” “Chrissy. the game’s over. The cinnamon faded to a warm licorice that diffused down through her stomach. “Not now. “There was some kind of mystical . waking up. . spices. “I thought guardians and goddesses . closed her eyes. “Hi France.

” Toshi said.” Chiyo said. She twisted in her restraints to look around the backrest.” Toshi said.” Chiyo said. That’s why you were short by two in the third game. I just haven’t seen them for two weeks. “Hey.” Lucy said. Lucy was sitting next to Toshi. “How are you doing?” Lucy said. you still killed four. “I think I screwed up.” Katixa said. “Nothing. It saved both your heads!” “I don’t know. You started out short handed.” “People always say ‘lucky’ when something happens they can’t explain.Gladiator Girl 149 bond between you and the Goddess. The problem was in the second game. “You guards did fine.” . I miss my mom and dad. I mean Chrissy―well. “You’re boarding!” “I’ve got to go.” “She’ll have other opportunities. “I feel bad for Esmerelda. but family is important. They strapped into their seats and the lights dimmed. I guess she was the Goddess then―a bond that gave you some kind of second sight.” Oh. but got lucky.” “You killed one of the forwards. The forwards took too long to open their charger paths. “They’re fine. Lucy!” they all said. It was nearly midnight when the cabin departed.” “Bye.” “We fell apart in the last game. Lucy jogged back to the dock and climbed into the cabin. that forced you guards to take more losses than you should have.” “Bullshit.” Francine said. and killed five forwards and wounded one.” “I know. fuck! “What happened to them. “Okay. Thanks for coming.” Lucy said. Lucy!” Elizabeth yelled. but she didn’t get to see them. She was really looking forward to it. “Her brothers and sisters were at the match. “That’s why Esmerelda didn’t make it.

but she spoke under her breath and pointed only with her finger. and let blood dribble into the soup while she stirred. It needed more salt. She put her thumb in her . and Glenna on the other. The night was clear and the vast field of stars shimmered through the settling night air.” “Wrong game. stars and constellations. nightdresses. Lucy. a forward. She took a knife from her apron. “I was on the sideline. The return trip would take all night. Chiyo and Glenna kept reading lights on. They converted their seats into beds. The windows curved up into the ceiling. To Lucy’s right.” “You can’t see shit from the sideline. cut open the end of her thumb. Watson “What do you know?” Glenna. or whatever. Lucy relaxed and sat back.” Katixa. She mumbled to herself while pointing at. The beds were arranged so the passengers could look up at the sky. also a forward. I saw everything. The cabin lights dimmed and went out. Chrysanthemum was doing the same thing. She nodded off . said. .150 R. No one’s talking about missing mom and dad now. Much better. changed into pajamas. She lifted a wooden spoon to her lips for a taste of the soup. At the top edge of her field of view. Chiyo. The cabin eased onto the expressway and let them out of their safety belts. “Wow. and naming. Katixa. and Chrysanthemum were on one side of the cabin.” Lucy said. arm pointed at the sky.” Toshi said. H. . took turns in the toilet. You couldn’t see what was happening down in Incarnate’s grass. She staunched the blood flow with her index finger. Lucy looked at the cold twinkling sky and didn’t name anything. Toshi. and settled into bed. and tried another sample. “Perched up on your pyramid. marking the west horizon. said. dark silhouettes of tree tops sped past the window and black cutouts of distant mountains drifted along. She was lying on her back to Lucy’s left.

She didn’t know how that was possible. Her daughter plopped to the ground and sat in one of those impossible postures only a child can manage. She licked it off and dried her hand on her apron. She stopped biting and pulled out her thumb. She stuck her thumb back in her mouth and used her tongue to push the nail in place. She reduced the heat under the pot to simmer the soup. She bit so hard the pain made her eyes tear up. Perfect! Blood welled up in the shallow gouges the grater left behind. The grass in the yard was green. She stirred and tried it again. Her daughter was running around in the yard wearing a grass stained cotton dress and trying to catch the flakes in her mouth. She still couldn’t believe she had made this wonderful. sometimes incredibly frustrating. She pointed at the sky and started naming the shapes she was seeing in the clouds. then set the wooden spoon to the side and noticed that it was made of bone. the clouds were assuming the shapes of the things she named. The sky was blue and scudding with cumulous clouds. Lucy realized her daughter was Toshi. Toshi was not naming the things she saw.Gladiator Girl 151 mouth and bit down hard on the cut. She felt around inside her mouth with her tongue and found it. little person. . held her arm over the pot and used the grater to shave slivers of flesh off her forearm and into the soup. What was missing now? She dug a grater out of the drawer next to the stove. She pressed her hand against the bleeding forearm and squeezed the saliva into the wounds. and Lucy watched her make the world into something new. She walked out of the kitchen onto her porch. It was healed but the nail was missing. Lucy sat on the porch steps to watch. The air was warm and it was snowing. She licked her other hand several times from the heel of her palm to the tips of her fingers until it was wet and shiny with saliva. When she took her hand away. her arm was healed. just a few flakes. but worn down to dry mud in spots. She tried the soup again. Toshi was the creator. but some of the blood was now on her palm. She looked up.

that’s wonderful. trust. she hadn’t noticed him standing next to her with his hand on her shoulder. Lucy returned the kiss. . danger. They were lying in bed.” he said. looking at her.” Lucy looked up into his face. Lucy looked around the side of the house.” . A dead monster was slumped in the road. She loved the feel of her back muscles flexing and relaxing under her hand. desire.” Chrysanthemum said. Lucy nodded. As Chrysanthemum tickled her fingers up and down Lucy’s vulva. I was so proud of her. “Don’t worry. She wrapped her arms around Lucy. No! Lucy woke up . it was the middle of the night. reached under Chrysanthemum’s arm and around her back. H. “I forgot to tell you what our daughter did today. In the next bed. She needed to share this feeling and turned to the only person she knew who would understand: her husband and co-creator of this marvel. Then she needed to pee. “She commanded the clouds.” Chrysanthemum slid her hand down Lucy’s side and around to the inside of her thigh. The world tipped and shifted. always new. Until now. “Both of you will always be safe as long as I’m here.” She felt her love flow into Toshi like a stream of energy powering her cloud sculpting fingers.” “We made an amazing girl. “You were having quite a dream.” She kissed her lips. naked. Lucy buried her face in her neck and said. and love―always familiar. Lucy licked her fingers and caressed Chrysanthemum’s nipple. something washed over her: an erotic mix of craving. “Yes.152 R. He was holding a smoking rifle in the crook of his other arm. When it settled. Watson “Honey. selflessness. . “She takes after her mother. Chrysanthemum was leaning on her elbow. She pushed her hips against Chrysanthemum’s hand. Chrysanthemum pressed her hips against Lucy. Chrysanthemum kissed her forehead and the tip of her nose.” “Tell me. didn’t we?” Chrysanthemum said.

actually feel that they do. I was making soup. fuck. pulled down her pajama bottoms. People always say that.” “Okay. keep going. . “Tell me about your dream. Parts of me. “How did I have to pee so bad? So soon?” “The tea does that sometimes. more like a purr. . Anyway.” “Thanks.” Lucy said. .” Lucy lied. well.Gladiator Girl 153 Lucy reached down to feel her pajamas.” “Never mind. me. “What time is it?” Lucy said. The frilly strap of her nightdress slipped off her shoulder. .” Lucy glanced over.” “Hmm. Chrysanthemum was still leaning on her elbow. Lucy looked back at the impersonal sky. “Ah .” she said. “Toshi was my daughter.” She scrambled out of her bed. Toshi was snoring. but the rare ones. . and sat. rushed to the toilet. the best ones.” Lucy pointed her thumb at the next bed. they were dry.” Chrysanthemum said. “What the fuck was that?” Lucy returned to the cabin and got into bed. My blood. “Fuck! Fuck.” “That’s all?” Lucy turned to Chrysanthemum. it wasn’t loud. Chrysanthemum’s strap was back on her shoulder. the ingredients were kind of weird—” “What were they?” “They were. .” “You’re a good cook. “but ah . Chrysanthemum shrugged. Anyway. The sound of heavy peeing drowned her out. I’ll be right back.” “You put yourself into your cooking. “I only had a sip. “About one fifteen. My skin. She put her elbows on her knees and held her head in her hands.” . fuck. then I went outside and Toshi. She put her hands behind her head and looked up at the stars. “It’s fading away. and she did something with clouds that I wanted to tell my husband about—” “Was he handsome?” “Ah .

Glenna came over.” “Curious transference.” “Then I thought I was going to pee on you.” Glenna said.” Chrysanthemum said. “Do you mind if I tell it?” They were silent. and it pissed her off. or I thought my husband was a man until I wanted to say something . and I was in bed with. my ‘husband.” Lucy sat up. H. I was married to Chrissy. and he said it was . “In the dream. “Hey.” Chrysanthemum’s strap slipped off her shoulder. “How far did you get?” “She woke up because she had to pee. and ‘he’ turned out to be you.” Chrysanthemum said.” Glenna said. “I heard you guys whispering. . “Well.154 R. I can’t sleep either. was a threat to me and Toshi.” “Too bad. “I’m honored." Chrysanthemum sat up. because she took after her mother. and made room for Glenna to sit on her bed. our daughter.” A messy collection of emotions rose up in Lucy.” Lucy rushed through the last phrase.” She delivered the last bit like an accusation. it’s my dream. What are you talking about?” "Lucy had an erotic dream with me in it. She choked up when she said it. but she was a man. and then I woke up. “Then ‘he’ kissed my forehead. Glenna and Chrysanthemum waited. “You’re the hero type in real life. Watson “My ‘husband’ had just killed a monster that. things changed and it was night.” “I’m doubly honored. pulled her strap back onto her shoulder. . “I’m jealous. keeping low like she was playing a soldier in a game. Don’t you dare say you’re triply honored. and looked at Chrysanthemum.’ and I told him about the amazing thing Toshi. There was a rustle on the other side of the cabin. She collected herself. apparently. Then we started to make love. “Is that when you woke up?” “No. had done.

we were starting to make love.” she pointed over her shoulder at Toshi’s bed. .” “Because you had to pee. and he turned out to be Chrissy. Well.” “Was I in the dream?” Glenna said. Oh yeah.” Glenna said.” Lucy returned to the world. huh?” “Ah. then I woke up. Toshi was our daughter. “Toshi was our daughter.Gladiator Girl 155 to him about Toshi. and then we started to make love.” Lucy said. “What’s up?” Katixa said. and they had a baby that turned out to be Toshi. “Close enough. Lucy made room on her bed.” Lucy said. She wanted to strip naked and swim in that contradictory flood of desires. yeah. and just before . and suddenly it was night.” “Only Chrissy and I made love. So. “Yes. “Because I had to pee. She remembered the dream with more clarity than she expected. “No. just asking. “That good. but avoided eye contact with Chrysanthemum.” “How was Chrissy as a lover?” Lucy thought back. my dream was restricted to this side of the cabin.” Glenna said.” “All three of you?” Glenna said. “She and Chrissy got married. . What? With my daughter? That’s disgusting! How could you even think that?” Lucy said. “No. and she had just done something that made me proud.” She pointed at Toshi and lowered her voice like she was trying to not wake a child. “And then Chrissy turned back into a woman. I wanted to tell my husband about it.” “Really?” Katixa said. . I guess. and Lucy made crazy mad love to her until she had to pee. There was more rustling from the other side of the cabin. then Chrissy turned into a man. and Katixa came over. “Lucy was telling us about her dream. “Hey.

William. . Toshi crawled into bed and was soon busy finding food for her giant pet chipmunk. The cabin arrived at seven fifteen. earning a friendly smile. Lucy half expected her to skip away.” “Yes I do. They disembarked. Thank you. The cabin gong sounded several times. . “There was a chipmunk the size of a house. Fredrick said.” She stumbled out of her bed and into the toilet.156 R. And it’s a very nice head. for real. “And . They unmade their beds. Watson “Did you have an orgasm?” “Are you asking. Fredrick’s for her next shot of tea. “I see you retain your head. She was waking up and slurring her words.” Chrysanthemum said to Lucy.” Toshi said. and settled in for the last stretch of the trip. “Good morning. “Hello. “Didn’t anybody else have a dream?” “I did. Mathilda checked them off her list and reminded everyone they were due back at noon for the game review. She waived goodbye to her cabin mates and walked off to Mr. and the beds nudged their occupants awake. Everyone was back in their own beds and falling asleep.” Lucy said. I’ll be right back. daughter. “Both. scheduled toilet time.” She sat up and spread her arms wide. The bell above the door jingled. There were no other customers in the shop. Lucy was surprised how strong the mother-daughter bond from the dream still felt. The eastern horizon was bright from the approaching sun. or in the dream?” Glenna said. By the time Toshi returned from the toilet. .” “No. H.” Chrysanthemum said. the impromptu campfire meeting had broken up. “It was nice to finally talk to you.” Mr. got dressed. don’t you think?” She raised her chin in profile.

“How could that happen?” Mr. Guardian heroics are supposed to be part of Gunda Thorstenson’s spectacle.” Mr. Her teammates know not to ask her about it.” he said.” “And you . Fredrick strained Chrysanthemum’s tea into a take-away cup. but I think. Fredrick raised an eyebrow. “Was your trip eventful?” “Maybe.” . She arranged for Lucy Star to meet and talk to me during the trip. I’m worried she may need to be willing to die. Fredrick leaned his own elbows on the counter. Did you know she won’t talk about her past?” The teapot chimed. Fredrick said. Mr. A complicated dream. We really did talk. it’s real. . “She even dreamed about me on the return. She has so thoroughly locked it away. ?” “You know me. Fredrick scooped bits of leaves and spicy debris into a small pot of water from jars he kept under the counter. Lucy is the girl without a childhood. .Gladiator Girl 157 Mr.” “Interesting. she would be willing to die trying to save us. “What’s wrong?” “I’m worried about her. even without wombs and rebirth. He put a cover on the pot and turned up the heating pad. for Lucy.” Chrysan themum put her elbow on the counter and rested her chin in her palm. How can I not swoon for the woman who saves my head or will die trying?” She dropped her hand and bit her lip. More than she was willing to say.” Mr. “Betty Kai has contrarian ideas about the goddess-guardian dynamic. it’s as though she didn’t exist before arriving at the Academy. “More than you do. I think. “I think my guardian has fallen in love with me. “I hear all the gossip from the club.

reached under her dress. Watson “So I found out. for what it’s worth. My advice is. She put on her hat and gloves. then leaned across the counter and kissed him on the cheek. Chrysanthemum called a cab to take her home. “Nothing. and turned for the door.” Chrysanthemum watched Mr. if you want to help Lucy Star. .” Mr. “but what’s been cast on the wind can’t be snatched back. slung her bag over her shoulder. The bell jingled.” she whispered. I was curious and selfish. “I’m sorry. and now. “What was that?” the cab peddler said when they passed Tom’s Vista. I encouraged her. and masturbated while imagining making love to Lucy Star. my dear. Fredrick’s face through the steam rising off her cup. “Thank you.” Chrysanthemum said. H. During the ride she worked on her boyfriend’s anatomically correct knitted sweater. you need to find out whom she couldn’t die trying to save. it was a mistake. raising her cup in a salute.” he said. Fredrick set Chrysanthemum’s tea on the counter and slid it across to her.158 R. She removed her hand and went back to knitting. I think. but between Green Street and Tom’s Vista she stopped knitting. But she tried to tell me.

Part II .

.

.” .” “That good?” “I didn’t realize there was so much ceremony involved.” “Hi Jessica. . I never saw a whole blood battle match before. “This is Jessica. . not what I expected.” Lucy tried not to sound like she couldn’t care less.” “We make people wait for the blood and guts. “I’ll finally be rid of Winnie’s damn scratch. the first place there was room for a hug.” Charlotte said.” “Jessie’s an artist.Chapter 11 Where Did Normal Go? The public car dropped Lucy off at eight fifteen.” “I’ll have to see it sometime. We watched her match last night.” Lucy said.” Charlotte said. “Call me Jessie. Charlotte touched the shoulder of another woman who was in the winnebago. was hoping to talk. and she hurried through the Winnebago Graveyard. “I think you’d like her work. Jessica. It was . Lucy. . So the canister’s yours until Tuesday.” “Oh. She hugged her when she got to the dinette. ah .” “Is something wrong?” “I. “Fantastic game!” Charlotte said when Lucy came down the stairs. “I’m going in for a three month synchronization this morning.

“You cut your hair!” “I was ready for a change.” Jessica nodded.” Charlotte picked up her womb-atorium bag. H.” Charlotte said to Jessica. “We’ll talk more on Tuesday. I have a favor to ask. You were blazing fast. . “Just relax. and your intuition was razor sharp. “Enwombment can be difficult to watch.” Lucy said. “What do you think?” “I like it. Do you think―” “Sure.” The East Slope Fencing Club used the Long Life womb-atorium. Watson “Give us a minute.162 R.” She stood back so Jessica could go through the narrow vestibule leading to the hatch stairway.” Lucy and Charlotte went out the hatch. built with modern techniques of structural topiary: all wood and evergreen on the outside and broad leaves.” “I know. and ceramic on the inside. . Charlotte took a shower and put on a simple white cotton smock. It was the newest one in the city. “That fucking match last night. .” Ten minutes later they walked back down the stairs. OK?” Lucy nodded. but .” “Great. grass. “The game was great.” Charlotte said. “Are you sure about this?” she said to Jessica.” Charlotte said. “Now. Jessie wants to come along and observe my enwombment. “I’ve got to be back at the club by noon for the match review. “Jessie.” Lucy said.” Lucy said. Lucy grabbed coffee and toast off the counter and followed Charlotte out. you first. “just―” “Don’t do anything stupid. I’ve never seen you that good.” “I wasn’t kidding. “What is it?” Charlotte said. “Let’s go up top. but I’m free until then.

That’s about the minimum possible womb time. “This is the Prep Suite. I took care of that yesterday. but in this case. I’ll lie down on this table.” She pointed at a large bottle sitting on a shelf under the table. I’ll be out in two days. “Hi Tez. they’ll be observing the proceedings. “but I’m thinking about keeping this one.” “If my body had arrived dead from a bout. “I don’t either.” Jessica looked at Lucy. “I’ll lose consciousness and bleed to death shortly after. The blood is sent to the city blood bank―we make great donors. After I’ve passed out.” Two women in green coveralls were in the room.” Lucy said.” “What's that?” Jessica pointed at a thing that looked like a pepper grinder with teeth.” She led them into a room that looked like a surgery. “They’ll wait fifteen minutes. “The button saw.” Charlotte said. “They’ll drain my blood into that reservoir. “Tez and Ronda will prepare me for the womb after I’m dead.” She put her hand on a ceramic table in the center of the room. I don’t. “they would also do something pretty gruesome to clean out my gastrointestinal tract. “When we’re ready.” “That’s why you didn’t eat anything last night?” . “It’s my first outie. Hi Ronda. they'll use it to cut out my navel.” Charlotte lifted her chin and tapped the side of her neck. they’ll stop bleeding me. then Tez and Ronda will stick this tube with this large needle into my carotid artery. Some girls keep their old navels. and while I’m dy ing. right here.” Charlotte said. more than enough time for my memory of lying down to be stored in long term memory. the quicker our bodies get into a womb the less there is to repair and the shorter our gestation will be. Actually they’ll start while I’m dying. As soon as I’m dead. “This is Jessie and Lucy.Gladiator Girl 163 “I’ll explain everything first so you’re not caught off guard. By inflicting an insignificant but fatal wound right here in the womb-atorium.” She pulled up her shirt to show Jessica.

including. my memory placenta is as much a part of me as any of my organs. It was once the height of animal husbandry science. Then my placenta and I dream the shared memories of my life.164 R. it puts them back in my head. My memory placenta and its amniotic sac are already settled into this womb. and staple it to the wound where my navel used to be. functional. staple the sac closed. but this is so . it fixes my body. revived now to support rebirth. “Finally. She shook her head. and .” Charlotte led them through swinging doors into the Womb Room and stopped in front of a womb close to the Prep Suite doors. top off the amniotic fluid. “I was expecting a hospital. What do you think?” Jessica looked at the rows of wombs and the plumbing that supported them. they’ll cut open the amniotic sac. “They’ll bring my body here. “Once we’re rejoined in a womb.” “And you trust this? You’re not afraid you’ll . It’s me. It kills. H. Then they’ll insert my body. I dream the story of me since the last time we were connected. It’s not a thing.” “That’s where the womb technology comes from. and stem cells. and it absorbs and remembers it all. and expels anything that’s not me. raising the vulva to a comfortable working height. digests. . Watson “Yes. fish out the umbilical cord. .” Charlotte put her hands on Jessica’s shoulders. If any are missing due to brain damage. . I didn’t want to sully the mood by explaining. It grows nervous connections to my spinal cord and brain. and it can even replace some missing tissue―even missing brain tissue. folding me into a fetal position. antibodies. The staples will dissolve as the umbilical cord heals itself to me. my placenta sends out its armies of white cells. It had been rotated. Like the way they used to handle livestock. waiting for me. and remove the speculum. . not come back?” “Do you trust your liver? Your heart? Lungs? Your brain? Genetically. Tez and Ronda will use that speculum hanging from the ceiling to open the birth canal and cervix. cut off the end.

After Charlotte was safely in her womb.” .” “Isn’t that the same thing as going insane?” “I don’t know.” “It’s a strange life. They reached the kiosk. She didn’t look away. “She came to my show opening at the gallery last week. no more than three months are allowed to pass between conjoinings. our love making last night. it’s one of the many mysteries surrounding rebirth. Some people think they get lonely.” “So you don’t risk losing too much of your memory.” Jessica said. who knows? I think they’re in love with us and they die of heartache. but that’s a side benefit. “You have to do that every three months?” Jessica said. and only flinched once from a short spurt of blood when Tez poked the needle into Charlotte’s neck. “When did you and Charlotte meet?” Lucy said.” Lucy shrugged. Lucy and Jessica took their leave and walked to the public car kiosk. but how can you not get emotionally attached to something that regularly saves your life?” “You don’t strike me as the romantic type. “maybe it’s just my own feelings.” Lucy said. “Anyway. “Ready to get started?” Charlotte said. Memory placentas start to die after four or five months if they haven’t been rejoined to the girls who created them. “Not exactly.” “Really?” “The only outside stimulation they get is through absorbing our experiences. in case of brain damage?” “Yes. If that source dries up. or they go insane.” She placed her fingers under Jessica’s chin. tipped her head back and kissed her. No one knows why. to allow a safety buffer. we have to do it if it’s been three months since our last rebirth. Lucy thought Jessica handled it well.Gladiator Girl 165 especially.

” “Don’t you wish you could do that?” He mimed swinging his butter knife at an opponent. want to see my tattoo?” Neil pulled up his sleeve. You seem nice. There was a fox tattooed on his shoulder. and spooned a huge dollop of strawberry jam on top. They’ve got to get their tattoos redone each time they pop out of a womb. girls are coming in. nontrivial way. one after the other.” He swung the butter knife back. aren’t I?” Jessica said. coming in low with a two handed grip. Zack and Neil had breakfast in the Helping Hand cafeteria. Oh crap. I’m just not good with people I don’t know. It was nice meeting you. “I’ve got to go. “Shook! Cut somebody’s head off. she likes you.” Lucy got in the car.” “I’m one in a long line. . Don’t you want to know what it feels like to do that?” Neil loaded up his knife in the oleo dish. I’ll take you over there if you want. If you pick the right day.” “Hey. “My work will be there for the next two weeks. Watson “Ah. spread it on his toast.166 R.” A car arrived indicating it was there to pick up Lucy. Obviously. “Come by the gallery. “I mean that in every possible. I know what you mean. “Hey. “Shlerk! Spill somebody’s guts on the floor.” Jessica said. That means I don’t speak for her.” “No. haven’t you?” “What do you mean?” “Having to make small talk with Charlotte’s lovers. Enjoy the moment.” Lucy said. “There’s a tattoo shop not far from here.” “No!” Zack said. Do you think it’s fair? They get to fight with real swords and we don’t?” “I don’t know. “Thanks anyway.” “You’ve been in this position before. all day long. “Charlotte is my best friend. The girls from Burning Desire go there. H. those girls can be intimidating. it’s OK.” After their morning shift.

“Oh.” “No shit! Who is she?” “Debbie. They go into those wombs and when they come out. even if they got chopped to pieces.” “I like ’em on top. okay?” “Sure. They can fuck anybody they want and not worry about catching anything! It’s not fair. liking ’em on top.Gladiator Girl 167 “Those girls get all the fun.” “My sister plays for Burning Desire. it’s a secret. Did you know they can’t get pregnant until they’re twenty-five? They can’t even get sick.” “Rough. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or anything.” Zack fidgeted with his spoon. “Hey. sorry. She ran away when . on top of the building. Lucy? Your sister’s Lucy Star? If shit were honey! Did you see her game last night? Did she ever show you any of her moves? Can I meet her?” “No! She― We don’t talk. you know.” “My sister .” “I told you. “Yeah?” “This is a secret. No injuries. sorry. Still. WOW! I’ve got to tell my teacher about this. Forget I said anything!” . . or not for long. but she told me to go away. no diseases.” Neil said.” “What position does she play?” “The one on top.” “Your sister’s a guardian? Guardians are the deadliest bitches on the planet! Hey. . Shit. a long time ago.” “I mean.” “On the temple? Guardian or goddess?” “The one with the swords. I came here to see her. she might cut my balls off! Wait.” Neil said. your sister. but now she calls herself Lucy. don’t tell her what I said about. . They’re all put back together. ” Zack said. . to be one of those blood girls. everything’s fixed.

We’re not crazy.” Liha said.” “Isn’t that dangerous?” Zack said. “but you impressed Bimini. When they’re practicing.” Lucy and the surviving members of the match teams assembled in the club’s auditorium. hey. You know that martial arts class I go to? We learn to fight with swords just like blood battle girls. Lucy hurried to the other side of the auditorium and sat with her fellow guardians. we’re going to be ready. She pointed at the back of the auditorium. Everyone who was not in a womb attended game reviews. That’s why we can learn to be just as good as them. don’t tell your sister that!” “I told you. the goddesses were sitting behind .” “Standby’s rarely do.” “Thanks. and when they do.168 R. isn’t it? All guys can say is. and we wear padded suits. Tough shit! “But. Shit. they use the same practice sticks and wear the same padding we do. Lucy caught up to her. we don’t talk. Serendipity and Uvan. Liha made her way to sit with the reserves. Sandeep was due the next day. what if I get hurt?’” Neil raised his hands and mimed fear. you told me a secret. though? So do the blood battle girls.” Uvan said to Lucy. H. Watson “It’s OK. She’ll tell the other coaches and the word will get around. right?” “I didn’t get to play. Frankie was in a womb. probably for two weeks. ‘Oh. even better. Look. “You did good. “You know what happens if you get hurt? The same thing that always happens―you get hurt. You know what. including the girls fresh out of the Academy on the reserve squad. we use practice weapons. it’s only fair I tell you one. You know that.” Lucy said. “Look what you’ve started. because one day they’re going to figure out how to make that rebirth shit work for guys. “What if you get hurt?” “That’s the problem. Now that her stint as standby guardian was over.

she slipped or something and it was cut off while she was getting her balance back. “How do you know?” “I heard the talk when I got here. “But. That means we’ll be calling up some girls from the reserve squad for the next match. it was blocked in our arena. the south. “Is there anyone who did not see the match last night?” A few timid hands went up. I think. their forwards opened the two in side routes. “How many chargers was she facing?” “Three. she ran through the water to the north inside route.” “Good. That should have been it. Uvan mouthed. Running . The room whooped. ah. “Rosalie.Gladiator Girl 169 the reserve girls. Coach Kai took the podium and everyone hushed up.” “How did that happen?” “Well. which game did we lose?” “The first. It doesn’t make sense.” Coach Kai moved to the next girl. Several girls nodded.” There was another whoop from the reserve girls. “What the fuck?” to Serendipity.” “Winda. our forwards were blocking the other inside route between the plaza and the marsh. instead of jumping the stream. no.” she said. inside route was open so the two chargers on the south plaza took it. In their arena. Chrysanthemum smiled and waved back. “We won. In our arena. but one of their chargers on the north plaza took the outside route.” “Let it get cut off?” “Well. Coach Kai pointed at one. which seems stupid. Lucy turned and waved to Chrysanthemum. and took it up to the hedge.” she said.” Winda looked around for confirmation. “We also took heavy casualties.” Coach Kai pointed at another girl. why did we lose that game?” “The guardian let her arm get cut off. “Tamia.

” “Except when she got to our temple she killed Frankie. I hear their feet and the tips of their swords moving on the surface of the temple. See? Right there.” Winda said. Everybody’s talking about it. I could tell by the way Lucy stopped fidgeting that she saw something. I could tell she was about to sing an alert.” “Then how do you know?” “She fidgets. Later. That forward.” Coach Kai said. but changed her mind. then skating uphill—she would have lost all her momentum. H. “I was getting to that. all the guardians fidget while they’re standing behind us. the second one in from . “I think I know what she’s talking about.” “Backup the replay.” Chrysanthemum said.” Winda said.” “Lucy?” Coach Kai said. “Glad to hear it. There was a commotion when everyone turned to see who Chrissy was. while discussing the events that led to the collapse of the defense in Lucy’s game. Chrysanthemum raised her hand. “You both seem to know a lot for not having seen the match. Watson through the stream.” Coach Kai brought up the replay. “I’ll show you.” Tamia said. watch the match. and then more commotion when they realized she was a goddess.170 R. and even though you didn’t see the match. except Serendipity. “Everybody’s talking about it. I saw what it was.” “Did the two of you discuss this after the match?” “No. you already have a good understanding of what happened and why. and just now. From her breathing. “Lucy saw an opportunity for the defense to remove two of Beauty Incarnate’s forwards. Stop. and I hear them breathe. “Yes Chrissy?” Coach Kai said. That’s a sign of a good club. But next time.

very simple but precise. Chrissy.” Chrysanthemum said.” “That’s interesting. it would have been too late. “This was an exploitable opportunity.” “This wasn’t one of those. not imminent warnings. then changed my mind. then the forward right next to the hedge would have been isolated and she and. They’re not something we can build a strategy around. that’s my goddess. by the time I sang an alert. twenty-five could have ganged up on her and possibly killed her. and the players and staff hurried to leave and .” Lucy sat up.” “Ah. “It’s an interesting idea. number thirty-two―sorry I don’t know her name―but thirty-two is paying attention to the third forward in. the second one in. she’s turning to her left. and she doesn’t see it. excellent observation.” Lucy said. thanked everyone for attending.” Coach Kai said. too. I was wondering if we could reserve a class of communication. exposing her side to our guard. ‘thirtytwo look right. In this case it would have said. those simple phonemes are wasted on maneuvers that aren’t dependent on fast communication. George?” Coach Kai said to the Message Singing Coach.” “What do you think.” Chrysanthemum said. Thank you. “The problem is in the message singing.Gladiator Girl 171 the hedge.” “Exactly.’ Presently. made up of the most basic song phonemes. “but games are full of moments when a slight change of fortune could have affected the outcome. “I remember seeing this and realizing that. Coach Kai summed up the lessons of the review. ah. it would have prevented Lucy and me from being put in such extreme jeopardy a few minutes later. We’ll discuss it tomorrow. I took a breath to sing. She sat back and grinned at Uvan. The semantics are designed to carry strategic alerts. Like Chrissy said. If acted upon. If she had killed that forward.” “Great.

maybe too elaborate considering it was all based on a minor quirk of the guardian’s. you’re not easy to kill. “Why me?” she said to Coach Kai. They took away your short-swords and that helped. It made the guardians more maneuverable and even more deadly. and the temple fights became real fights.” Coach Kai led Lucy through the stage-side doors into the practice arena. but the fans hated it. H. so they took that away. those two chargers didn’t have a chance. can you believe that? Gunda’s people didn’t realize how deadly they had made the guardians. Games were won and lost by attrition down in the grass. “What did you think of Sky’s plan for attacking Beauty Incarnate’s guardian in the second game?” “Pretty elaborate. fighting against insurmountable odds. “you wouldn’t believe how much time coaching staffs spend trying to figure out how to kill guardians. but instead. “Did you know. You guardians are formidable. The temple fights were meant to be the climactic moments of a game.” “That’s a legitimate criticism. “The first guardians wore body armor. the guardians always won. “Why yesterday?” “Let’s go someplace quieter. The fans were happy because now. the first blood battle teams only had two chargers. They loved their fearless little guardians and they didn’t want you looking weak. We ran out of general strategies a few years ago. but it worked.” “It gave Incarnate a wide open shot at Serendipity.” “That was a risk we thought worth taking. “My point is.” Coach Kai said. when you die. Coach Kai stopped and looked across the lowland stream at the temple. now . With rare exceptions. Finally. you die a hero’s death.” Lucy swished the end of her scabbard through the knee high field grass and wild flowers. Watson make the most of what was left of their Sunday. Gunda’s choreographer added two more chargers. Lucy went down to the podium.172 R.” They were walking near the hedge. they became foregone conclusions.

” “This whole experiment of yours was to mess up Susila’s plans?” “You hate lies. you were the only guardian who got upset about it. I needed to introduce something new.” Lucy said. like I was ten years old―” No. When I changed the schedule so guardians and goddesses crossed paths. She heard the belt come out and tried to crawl away. “Chrissy winked at me when she reached the altar.” “It was as though we made a compact to not take this shit so seriously. individually. I think you’ve always sensed the lie inherent in the guardian-goddess status quo. Last night. something no one would see coming. someone you knew. I actually felt giddy.” “I saw that too. Susila’s analyses didn’t have a chance. the Goddess. Sky built a whole game strategy around that Incarnate guardian’s behavioral tick. but he stepped on her hand. “All of Susila’s analyses were based on you standing on that temple defending an idea. If anyone was going to find a way of getting to you. now she’s Incarnate’s head coach. I figured it would be her. impenetrable brier of the hedge. “And I winked back. Even though this is your rookie year. some little chink. She was a brilliant offensive strategist. The belt slashed . all to try and find something. “I apprenticed under Susila Fuentes. every club has volumes of notes on every little thing you do on that temple.Gladiator Girl 173 we have to focus on each one of you.” Lucy looked into the dense. that will let a charger get inside your blades. like a kid. You want to protect people. but you felt it in your bones. you don’t give a dung bucket about Earth Mothers and Goddesses. a unique person. you were defending Chrysanthemum. don’t go there! “You evil little bitch!” He grabbed her by the back of the neck and pushed her down to the floor. maybe not consciously. “I noticed it on the game review.” Coach Kai said.

Chrysanthemum watched Lucy jog down the aisle to Coach Kai. Finally. but her lungs were empty. She opened her mouth like a suffocating fish trying to gulp in water that wasn’t there. She tried to speak. “Lucy. When she was younger.” Chrysanthemum said. but she was still afraid she would die if she cried. ready to draw. Her eyes were unfocused. A low growl rumbled out of her throat. we sit and wait for the end. She pressed her face into the carpet and breathed in the years of dry dust that had been ground into its fibers. They spoke. She stopped growling and blinked a couple of times. She buried her face in the carpet. She gripped her scabbard with one hand and squeezed the hilt of her sword with the other. she was able to suck in a chest full of air. “To help the teams play better games.174 R. H. taking the stairs two at a time. then with one last lashing. This hasn’t happened since . she thought the dust was all that was left of other kids who had been beaten into the carpet. “Why were we here?” “To critique. . gritted her teeth. then she turned and ran through the doors into the auditorium.” “But their strategy is irrelevant to us. Now we’re supposed to comment on . then walked through the doors into the practice arena. are you all right?” Coach Kai said. The belt came down again. She ran up the aisle. then she threw up. She thought they must have cried until they were all dried up like corn husks. and growled. She kept going until she was on the street. She didn’t believe that anymore.” Chenina said. No matter what they do. Her eyes were dry and itchy. like hitting a bag of flour with a rolling pin. She couldn’t breath in. “I don’t understand these changes. they exploded into dust. . Watson across her back. Lucy took a step back.

we should be club mates. What happened?” “I don’t know. looking pouty. Her son came over. “Not scary in the least?” Chenina said. . She lifted him onto her lap.” Coach Kai said. “You know she won’t talk about her childhood. “The front entrance. starting with the cabin arrangements and going through to the conversation in the practice arena. I’ve never heard someone do that before. Chrysanthemum followed.” The doors to the practice arena banged open. what is it?” “I think we have a problem with Lucy.” “Not in the least. up the aisle. body temperature.” Frank said. and mingle with the players and guardians? I don’t see the value. They ran to the lobby and out to the street.” Coach Kai said. right?” .” “We’re part of the club. Lucy wasn’t in the corridor. There was no sign of Lucy except for a puddle of vomit in the gutter. Donna was enjoying an afternoon with her husband and children when an urgent request came in from the club.” Donna made her explain everything. “Haven’t seen her.” “I wish I’d been there. Then she started hyperventilating . “Hello Betty. Several girls had to jump out of her way. “It’s still hot. They went to the player entrance. . Coach Kai ran through the doors and up the aisle.” “Like waving at your guardian?” “Her name is Lucy. Chrysanthemum put her finger in it. “like she was ten years old.” “I hear she’s scary.” Chrysanthemum said.Gladiator Girl 175 games. “She said she felt like a kid. She was slower than Lucy. and out the back door. Lucy ran into the auditorium.” Donna said. and growling.

She looks out for her club mates. Last week part of that past.” “It does. H. and a smart lady. walked back into her life―we don’t know why. you’re a great coach.” “What do we do?” Coach Kai said.” Coach Kai said. She doesn’t want to remember it.” “Betty. she tried to conjure it up. Some of them told me about the growl. a real nice girl. she growls.” “I talked to some of your players to see if anyone could shed any additional light on her history. And today. Then. and as far as I can tell. . couldn’t breathe. takes care of them. She ran out of the facility.” “Did you read my report last week. Apparently. She seemed to come out of whatever state she was in. everything from before she was fourteen. doesn’t want to think about it. She slammed the door on her childhood. That memory never existed. By the time we reached the street she was gone. “What happened next?” “I asked her if she was OK. she doesn’t cry. but now and then you can be as stupid as a happy dog in a barrel.” “And?” “Nothing. My guess is. and all she found was the hell she wants to forget. but I kept hearing how she was real sweet. but it scares the crap out of anyone who hears it. I think she had a panic attack.” “So you know Lucy grew up in a dysfunctional family. Watson “Yes. about her brother?” “Just the summary.” “What do you mean?” “She used the BB League’s emancipation program to escape her family. you’ve got her trying to remember when she was once a happy ten year old. with a father who beat her?” “Yes. I’m told it’s not loud. unintentionally intimidates every one of them. except Serendipity―I can’t figure her out at all.176 R. when Lucy gets seriously upset. couldn’t talk. her brother.

or I like them all?” . “Can you make one that hides a person’s essence?” “From whom?” “From me. You tell me which you like the best and which you don’t like. and let her keep cutting up girls into little pieces.” “What if I don’t like any of them. Fredrick put the glass in the sink. “Can you make me one?” “Of course.” Lucy batted the cinnamon shaker into the honey bottle. “I am going to have you smell potential ingredients in groups of three. she should be OK―as long as you let her keep that door closed. and for your winning record. The honey bottle slid into her other hand. “Do they really capture a person’s essence?” “Some people think they do. “Is there something wrong?” Mr. Fredrick set a glass in front of Lucy and poured two fingers of a clear brown liquid into it from a bottle he kept under the counter. Fredrick said.” Lucy said. You could get her a shrink.” “All I do is make the infusion. and she sat at the counter. If she shows up tomorrow.” Lucy played with the cinnamon shaker.” Mr. Swish it around in your mouth and spit it back in the glass.Gladiator Girl 177 “I’ll have someone shadow her.” She did and he inspected the edges. Oh. Mr. “That’s a pallet cleanser. The doorbell jingled. She’s had a lot of practice shutting the door to her past. A trace of vomit oder lingered about her. then he took a blindfold from under the counter. She won’t be hard to find. “Tell me about your personal infusions. not from us.” Lucy started walking and ended up at Alice’s Tea Shop. She felt better. “Put this on. but as soon as she spit it out the taste was gone and so was the flavor of vomit. It does what you need it to do.” It had a vinegary taste. she’s hiding from herself. but her friend Charlotte is worth ten shrinks and she’s free. does wonders for all that suppressed anger.

but do tell me when to move to the next one. then like watermelon with a bitter edge.” she said. It tasted like tree bark. less of others. “It may take a while to taste the full essence. She sniffed and he repeated the same steps a third time with the same jar. When the pot chimed. then picked up the same jar. removed its lid. selected a new jar. “This is me?” Lucy said. “First one best.” Mr. He began scooping and pinching the ingredients into a pot.” Mr.” “Good. Fredrick put the cover back on the jar and placed it under the counter. “She’s OK.178 R. Fredrick said. Mr. and then a mild flavor of sweetened fall leaves that seemed to linger into the first snowfall of winter. Seven jars were lined up on the counter. “Thank you.” “How much do I owe you?” . and only one. then he removed her blindfold.” Mr. About half way through his samples. H. “Well?” “I think―” “Don’t think. Fredrick set the jar on the counter.” Mr. “Okay. “Don’t tell me what you think until you have experienced all three. Watson “That won’t happen. There will always be one. Fredrick selected a jar from under the counter. He mouthed the words. and repeated the test.” Lucy took a deep sniff. He continued the tests until Lucy had sampled all the jars. and left. Mr.” Chrysanthemum mouthed back. Mr. “Here is the Lucy Star infusion. react.” blew him a kiss.” “I liked the second one the best and didn’t like the first. and held it under Lucy’s nose. Fredrick poured the tea through a strainer into a cup and handed it to her. didn’t like the third. More of some. removed the lid. Fredrick set that jar back under the counter. and held it under her nose. She blew on it. Fredrick saw Chrysanthemum watching through the front window. you don’t like. then took a sip.

“A difficult afternoon. so I can have some for myself?” “Sure. She took a big gulp and sputtered. “Could you spare some change for an old man. The gibbous moon was asserting itself half way up the eastern sky.” she said.’” Lucy laughed.” he said. “You got your tea from Mr. but clean clothes.” Lucy handed him a couple of coins. Do you want to sit?” “Thank you. “It’s kind of boring. “Had a difficult day?” the man said. casting the city’s shadows out to the horizon.” he said.” he said.” “Why do you say that?” She swung her cup through a wide arc. Someone was standing beside her. There was hardly anyone in the park except for two city employees emptying the trash baskets. but sometimes boring is just right.” “I suppose so. The doorbell jingled on her way out. . What gave it away?” “‘Sometimes boring is just right. The sky had turned dark blue. “Nice view. “I think the view is anything but boring.” Lucy said. then the normal price for a cup of tea.Gladiator Girl 179 “The first one is free. She tried to figure out what it said about her.” “Thank you. “That looks good. “What brings you down here? It couldn’t be for the panhandling.” He was neatly dressed in worn. then felt stupid. She walked to the Old Harbor’s Seafront Park and sat on a bench to sip her tea. It was still hot. Fredrick. The sun was setting opposite the harbor. She sipped and watched the sails of cargo carriers arriving and departing the new harbor out in the sound. stars were popping out and beginning to twinkle. The sails winked between light and dark as they eased from shadow to sunlight to shadow.” she said. “Not many touches.

Just yesterday. Next time you’re at Alice’s Tea Shop ask for Maxton’s infusion. “What did the magic tea tell you?” “That’s between me and the tea. savored. “Maybe it is. H.” He handed the cup back. Watson “Is this some kind of guessing game? Because if it is. “You are a remarkable young lady.” It was now dark. It’s only fare you taste mine. Want to play some more?” “Why not. I bathe every day and brush my teeth. not touching the cup with his lips. He poured a dollop into his mouth.180 R.” “That is one of Mr. “How can you tell?” “I watched you sample it.” Lucy handed him her cup. . “I see. “I am healthy. Fredrick’s vanity? It doesn’t matter. in fact.” Lucy turned the cup’s label to face him. “I’d better be going. He swished the tea around. and I do my laundry once a week.” “Humph. The illusion of magical tea is more powerful than any real magic could ever be.” He pointed. “You think I’m humoring you?” “I think it’s just tea.” He nodded at the cup. “I appreciate you did not react to me with fear or suspicion. “I tasted your tea. See what it tells you about me.” Lucy said.” “And this is play acting to indulge Mr. Fredrick’s personal infusions.” Lucy said. May I have a taste?” Lucy looked him over.” Maxton said. you just cheated. and swallowed. You weren’t savoring the flavor. you were trying to understand what it meant. and I have everything to fear from you.” “Why would I?” Lucy shifted her position and moved her sword.” “I didn’t mean that. “I sleep in the Helping Hand shelter right over there. You have nothing to fear from an old man.

The idea is. Charlotte put her hand on Lucy’s back. Lucy sent the message. They’re hard to get. I understand. and eat. A message was waiting for her: Hi Lucy. I want you to know I really liked meeting you last week.Gladiator Girl 181 “The tea doesn’t lie. Later. . Thanks for thinking of me. Then dream Charlotte hummed a lullaby until dream Lucy fell asleep. My roommate had them and he couldn’t use them. I know you must be busy. not interested. or you know. I don’t know what to say. I saw your match. drink. See you then. you show up. How about I pick you up at eighteen thirty? I’m assuming it’s informal dress. “Where did normal go?” she said. .” she whispered. This is Felix. The Potato Bar? Sounds simple and basic.” He walked toward the Helping Hand Shelter. it was great. The reservations are for Tuesday night at nineteen. then she looked around the empty canister. but I’d like to see you again. When he was gone Lucy rolled her head back and looked straight up at the zenith. .” Maxton stood. They’re for the whole evening. If you’re too busy. She went into Charlotte’s bedroom and lay face down on the bed. “Good night. “Just relax. She replied: Hi Felix. I could really use simple and basic right now. and dance all night. then got up and walked home. and you’ve got to be incredibly focused to do what you do. I’ve got a couple of reservations for this little restaurant called the Potato Bar. She smelled her friend each time she breathed in. You were .

The class is five nights a week at twenty-one. from Sunday to Thursday. we’ll be better.” . Max. Zack watched the old guy. That’s why I got this fox on my shoulder. That’s what Grizzly says. and that meant the nights would reverse and get shorter. Every evening it was getting dark earlier than the day before. Zack wanted it to keep getting darker and never stop. sure. I don’t know anything about her.” “Why?” Zack said. He was talking to a girl. “The teacher is Grizzly.” It was getting dark. “I said. What?” Zack turned back to Neil. If we get to be as good as them. She left when I was ten. “If you join.Chapter 12 Grizzly “We all have code names. He picked up a trash basket. I’ll bet Grizzly would love to meet you. maybe you can be better than her.) He sat next to her on her bench. rebirth upset the natural order of things.” “Yeah. maybe you can make her talk to you. He wished everything would go back with them. He says guys are the proper defenders of the Earth Mother. (For a moment. and she let him have a taste of her hot chocolate. “If he wants to meet me because of my sister. I’m Fox. they’d go back to summer. because guys are naturally stronger than girls. Zack thought the girl might be Debbie. But Year Day was approaching. You should join us.” Neil was saying.

” “We’re going to do it with practice swords and padded suits. and Wolf. The two scary ninja girls with the red lipstick got out and waited while the students got in. he wants people to be impressed. Neil was the last one to arrive.Gladiator Girl 183 “Why do you use code names? It’s not illegal to practice with fake swords. Neil and the others warmed up. If people saw us now. It’s to make a point.” “No! Everybody will know. Catamount.” “You’ll all die. we’d win!” Neil dumped his trash basket.” Neil pulled his off. The windows were always opaque. He watched Max get up and say something to the girl. and they moved off.” “Okay. The ninja girls handed out the hoods. The ninjas led them through halls and down stairs. the door closed. See for yourself. “Just come to a class.” “Grizzly’s got a secret patron. In a few minutes. the big limo pulled up. After each session the students were given a new pickup spot. Everybody will know. . and he wants us to kick their asses. They were back in the fancy gym. The class location was a secret.” Zack said. They always seemed to take a different route. Finally. and walk away. “Gentlemen. you’d all get killed. Grizzly had three assistants. When he shows us to the world. The guy wants us to keep this quiet until we’re really good. We’re not crazy. “I’ll tell Grizzly about you tonight. probably something classy. Everybody put on padded suits. they’d laugh. After a long ride. you may remove your hoods. Neil heard the limo door open. Walrus.” Neil changed and left for the rendezvous. Neil and the other students put them on. if it was real.” “What point? All you’ll prove is you’re a bunch of pansies with sticks and padding. banging it hard on the edge of the collection wagon. Neil heard Grizzly say. “Great!” Neil said. He wants to challenge some blood battle girls.

” Badger stood. but he’s slow. “I challenge you. but Grizzly was off to the side talking with Walrus. “It’s time for challenges. We’re supposed to challenge someone better than us. Catamount and Wolf walked around giving advice and demonstrating techniques. Neil scoffed.184 R. Hyena’s big.” The students sat on their heels in a wide circle and laid out their practice swords in front of their knees.” Badger said.” he said. do you have something to say?” Grizzly said. if Fox fights Hyena.” . Out with it. “What about Fox? Would he also be a worthy challenge?” “That little shit? I’d bleed his ass all over the floor!” “So. The best students moved on to guardian training class. you’re challenging Hyena. Neil was practicing with Stoat and looking for an opportunity to get Grizzly’s attention. blocking. “No sir. He pointed his stick at Hyena. “Do you really think Hyena is a worthy challenge?” Grizzly said to Badger. and walked around the ring. then paired up and practiced attacking. making a ring.” Neil said to Stoat.” Neil said. “Yes you do. picked up his practice stick. Watson They practiced sword handling. I think he should join our class and―” “All right gentlemen. you’re up. They were being trained to handle swords like chargers.” Grizzly said. “His sister plays blood battle. smart. and counterattacking. I think Badger’s cheating. “Badger. you know. He had walked over to the students.” “Bullshit!” Badger said. Hyena got up. “Fox. “I’ve got to tell Grizzly about this new guy I’m working with. “Yes.” Grizzly said to Badger.” “W-well sir. he won’t have a chance?” “I don’t―” “Sit down. “Fox. and not very. H.

also like he had said.” Grizzly said. “Good challenge. Walrus spoke to someone outside the door. The fights were fast. Badger. Neil held up his stick and blocked Hyena. They handed him a purple body bag. you just washed out of the class. “Now!” Grizzly said. Please sit. but he was almost knocked off his feet. Walrus jogged to the gym door.” Grizzly said to Hyena and Neil.” Neil stood up and put on his helmet. Neil dodged to the side of Hyena’s next attack.” Grizzly said. Catamount and Wolf brought out the altar. Wait over by the exit. “We have a special guest this evening. When the challenges were finished. the one legitimate female role . This was the part where they practiced the ultimate act of blood battle: decapitating the Goddess. the one the students never used. but slow. and swung. or a girl who aspired to be a goddess. “Fox is the winner. It was a wooden box the size and shape of a real temple altar. Badger got up and did as he was told. His stick hit Hyena in the ribs.” Grizzly named the next challenger. “Gentlemen. they ended as soon as the first killing blow was delivered.” Badger’s mouth dropped open. then he looked at Neil with a face full of hate. Take off your gear and put on your hood. “Break off!” Grizzly said. He held it open and a girl walked in wearing the white vestment of the Goddess.Gladiator Girl 185 “What? Yes sir. She was blindfolded. He walked into the circle and held up his practice stick. Hyena was strong. like he had said. “Gentlemen. But the straw goddess was missing. “please welcome the Goddess. Hyena swung down on Neil. Wolf and Catamount spread a tarp on the floor in front of the altar. and like real blood battle fights. He and Hyena circled each other. “Fight already!” Grizzly said.

and led her to the altar box. She knelt and sat on her heels. Grizzly took a charger long-sword from the class armory. and handed it to him.186 R. Lynx stepped up to the sweet spot. then stepped onto it and turned. and the shoes. Lynx shuffled back. extending his hand in a magnanimous gesture. “That’s it. of a charger. Grizzly said. H. forearm and foreleg shields. She stood up and tried again. less skates. When she was facing the front.” Lynx said. sure. Grizzly stepped back. “We try to be egalitarian in all our training. but this offer requires us to put forward our best student.” She started to kneel. held her hand. Grizzly walked over to the girl. but thanks to a prosperous and benevolent father. She was denied her dream. indicating just-a-little with his thumb and index finger. will you accept this honor?” “Ah. He was having a hard time getting his hands . It is time for this girl to make her three month return to a womb. When he returned. It was wrapped around her knee and pulled on her shoulder. He took off his practice suit and put on the helmet. Grizzly held her vestment so it wouldn’t get caught. unsheathed it. but leave the skates off. Grizzly steadied her. She almost fell off the box. charger armor and boots. Grizzly motioned him back. but she was standing on a corner of her vestment.” Lynx went over to the portable wardrobe. Lynx.” An antsy shuffle spread through the students. She wishes to experience a little of the dream denied her. She banged the side of the box with her toe. “If you please. she was gifted with rebirth. The girl looked to the front with her blindfolded eyes. she will generously grant one of you the privilege of performing a real Goddess beheading. She was nervous. To make that possible.” he said to Lynx. Watson in blood battle. Grizzly continued fussing with the vestment until it was settled properly around her. Her breathing was shallow. “Then gear up.

He came back and whispered to Grizzly. Walrus motioned to Catamount. hit the underside of the wound. Neil whispered to Stoat. “He was talking and she looked at him!” “She was blindfolded!” “Well. They carried it to the door the girl had entered from and handed it out to whoever was waiting on the other side. she turned. Neil heard the sound of the zipper opening. He wiggled the sword to dislodge it.” Lynx started his swing. . Lucy Star. “What did you say? It better have been worth it. just moved into the shelter last week. He’s new. “What was that?” “It was Fox!” Lynx said. under her eye sockets. he should be here for this.” . Walrus closed the door. The girl’s body crumpled forward. he’s got a sister who p-plays blood battle for Burning Desire. . She’s a guardian. His sister’s a guardian with Burning Desire. They moved up. but his blade hit her in the back of the head. “I w-was telling Stoat about this guy I’m working with. Finally. The girl turned her head toward Fox. “Shit! Fuck!” Lynx said. opened the body bag. Lucy Star. he pulled back to start his swing. and sprayed out like a greenhouse sprinkler. The blood from her arteries pumped up. especially on Lynx. It didn’t have the force to cut all the way through and got stuck in her upper jaw. You’re this close to washing out with Badger!” Neil was still spitting blood out of his mouth. “Lucy Sta―?” Lynx tried to stop. Walrus zipped it closed. splattering blood on everyone. “That guy I was telling you about. and lifted the girl into it.Gladiator Girl 187 to settle on the hilt of the sword.” “Who the fuck cares about another loser!” “His sister . I don’t know why.” Grizzly turned on Lynx. “I told you this was a bad idea. followed by an angry exclamation.” “Fox!” Grizzly said.

I was telling Stoat the guy should be here to see this. in the showers. as usual. Make sure you wash off all the blood.” Grizzly shook his head.” “Did you tell him about us?” “No! Well.” The girl’s blood had splattered over the floor. mostly missing the tarp. But he doesn’t know anything.188 R. Everyone. a little. You’ll get tomorrow night’s rendezvous in the limousine. “Thanks to your fiasco. He looked around at his cohorts. Don’t be late!” . and excited. Grizzly nodded to Neil. I though you’d want to meet him. “I wanted to tell you about him. Watson Grizzly stopped being angry. instructors. and students. “we’re done for tonight. “Bring him along tomorrow night. H.” he said to Lynx. You’re lucky. They were nervous. “Good thing the staff doesn’t ask questions. His sister is Lucy Star? She better be.” Grizzly put his hands together and pressed them against his chin.

” Zack said. pre-dawn air and hustled him away from the Helping Hand. “You can’t back out! Fuck!” “But I’m not anybody. Why am I so important?” “I don’t know.” He spooned more sugar. Please!” . This might be a bad idea. I gave my word that you’d be there. “Not yet.” he said. It’s a fucking point of honor! Don’t screw me. And fuck. “Get up.Chapter 13 Just Relax “Hey. Grizzly thinks you are. “Grizzly wants to meet you.” “What is it?” Zack said.” Neil stopped and planted his hand on Zack’s chest. “We’ll talk when we’re outside.” Neil wanted to pick up a coffee in the cafeteria. “Shh!” Neil said.” Neil stood over Zack’s bed shaking him awake. “Wha’ time zit?” Zack said. He spooned sugar into his cup. “if you don’t show up tonight.” he waved his cup around.” He led Zack into the damp.” “I don’t know. I’ve got news. I don’t think she’ll like it. scattering splashes of hot coffee despite the safety lid. “I’ve been thinking. You’re alarm’s gonna go off in five minutes anyway. I’m gonna get kicked out of the class. “You’re in. “I stuck my neck out for you last night. if this gets back to Debbie. Zack opened his mouth.

hosiery. wide. panties. . then brushed her teeth. When Emanuel Jhadav created the Burning Desire rose. “Crap!” She had made the usual pot.” she said. “Was at your match. “Two boxes. Spit. earrings. white gloves.” Neil said. It also contained a necklace. She put the other box on the dinette table and opened it. Spit. put them in. he did a great job on the smell. incredibly red. Watson “What if I don’t like it? Can I leave?” “Sure. I’ll go. There was a note. A delivery agent peddled his parcel wagon through the Graveyard and stopped in front of her hatch. I’m not go ing back. Brush. filled a pitcher with water for the roses. One was an obvious flower box.” She carried the boxes down the stairs. “Just relax. The air was full of mist.” “OK. She wiped the counter and filled her cup. and set them on the kitchenette counter next to the plate of too much toast. pouring slowly.” “You got it. If you don’t want her to know. he’ll respect your wishes. but only tonight. and a matching overcoat. “Who are they from?” “Jayzen Verbeek. shoes.” Lucy looked at herself in the mirror.” He opened the wagon and lifted them out. If I don’t like it. The coffee came out of the pot too fast and splashed on the counter. and flat. H. the other was big.190 R. “Packages for Lucinda Star.” Lucy said. She dressed and poured a cup of coffee. Gargle.” “That’s me. She held one of the flowers under her nose and inhaled. Canister seventeen. “Whatever you want. It contained a dress: incredibly beautiful. of course!” “I don’t want any of this getting back to Debbie. but Charlotte wasn’t there to take the first cup.” “Grizzly’s a good guy. She picked up a piece of toast (she had made too much) and headed up the stairs.

” “There must be someplace you know where that dress would turn heads. He knocked on Wilhelmina’s door. blah blah blah. Zack changed out of his work coveralls. “Good morning.” Zack said.” Zack sat in the same stuffed chair he sat in last week. and went to the administration office. You pick me up at twenty this evening.” “Try it once. “How nice of you to contact. Please. Lucy.” “Morning.” he said. *** . before you return it?” “Where were you planning on taking me?” “You can pick. “Good morning.” he said. “Nice dress. We’re going to Rude Red’s Follies and Burlesque Show. I don’t have a clue where to go. Call the delivery service. after all.Gladiator Girl 191 blah blah blah. “Come in. Zachary. Jay. put on a clean t-shirt and jeans. appropriately.” Lucy thought it over.” “It’s an arrogant gift.” “I don’t know your world. have a seat. “Mina’s ready for you. on her way to the club.” “You’ll see. Did you receive my gift?” She was surprised he was available. he was trying to seduce her. Jayzen Verbeek. “but underwear? Do you think us poor people don’t own underwear?” “It’s special. “Here’s the deal. wonderful performance. she sent a request to Jayzen. ma’am. tell them to pick up the dress tomorrow morning and deliver it to the Helping Hand Thrift Shop. have an evening free? Always at your blah blah.” “Thank you.” She was late. How about tonight. I’m sending it back when I get home this evening.” After the morning shift. From a car.” she said.” “I’m afraid to ask. and then not. Christopher looked up from his paperwork.

“His topiary class?” “No.” “I guess it’s not . “You’ve been with us for a week.” He crossed his arms tight around his chest and stuck his hands in his armpits. . fingers knitted together in his lap. but he was stiff and symmetrical. .” “He wants me to go to his class. He tried to relax. “Call me Mina.” “Why don’t you tell me anyway.” “Yes ma’am.” “I haven’t heard about that.” She settled into her chair and took a minute to observe Zack.” “How’s work?” “Fine. “He what?” “It’s nothing. His teacher wants to meet me. .” “Are you getting along with Neil?” “Yes. He doesn’t tell many people about it. He started tapping his right leg. . He made eye contact with her chin.” Zack looked away. Talking about something unimportant can help you relax. I see you’re nervous. Wilhelmina consulted some papers in a folder on her lap. His martial arts class. Watson Wilhelmina stepped around her desk and sat in the other stuffed chair. It’s kind of a . “It’s the most comfortable nickname I can pull out of Wilhelmina. knees a little apart. How are you getting along?” she said. H. “Is martial arts something you’re interested in?” “Not really. . .” “Do you know why?” Zack looked for something on the wall behind Wilhelmina.” He unclasped his hands to scratch his right leg. . “Okay.192 R. He sat in the middle of the cushion.” she said. His fingernails were chewed to the quick. He . feet parallel.” “Are you going to go?” “I guess.

You can say it.Gladiator Girl 193 “These questions aren’t important. “About your sister?” “About the class. Wilhelmina sat back. if she was. I just want you to feel comfortable talking to me. “Good. I didn’t realize this was such a difficult topic for you. Is she older or younger?” “Older. “Who’s that?” Zack looked down at the armrest of her chair. I won’t ask you any more questions about her.” Zack turned ashen. “You were telling me why Neil’s teacher wants to meet you. Wilhelmina wondered if they were constricting his breathing. wrapping his arms so tight around his chest. but when you’re ready. Can you tell me something about her? It doesn’t have to be important. “It’s OK.” He stuffed his hands deeper into his armpits. let’s change the subject. I would like you to tell me about your sister. They were wet and desolate. He grabbed two handfuls of loose jeans at the sides of his legs. in the city?” “Why do you want to know?” “I thought. How about this. his eyes made real eye contact.” “My sister. Wilhelmina leaned forward. “The teacher is interested in her?” “I really shouldn’t be talking about this. Tell me about the Helping Hand. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong?” . maybe that’s why you came here. “I’m sorry.” He blinked and looked back at the armrest.” He stopped tapping his leg and remade eye contact with her chin. Will you do that?” Zack nodded. I didn’t know you had a sister.” “Let’s talk about something else then.” “Is she living here.” For a moment.” “It’s because of who I know.

then started writing her notes on Zack’s session. Helping Hand’s policy was to not invade their clients’ privacy. “What can I do for you?” “Do you recall that boy. sat behind her desk.” Donna said and broke the contact. And Mina. As long as it’s reciprocal. Watson *** At the end of the meeting. and I’ll talk to him. It sounds like the teacher is interested in Zack because of his sister.” Wilhelmina closed the door. H. Zack.” Zack said. It sounds secretive. Thanks ma’am. if you want my cooperation. another boy he works with. Did he tell you?” “No. you have to tell me everything you know and everything you suspect. Wilhelmina had just taken a big step across that line. She made a decision and put in a talk-to request to Donna Quinn. “If you’re feeling pressured into going to Neil’s class. *** . I’m concerned the boy.” “Oh?” “One of our residents. Let me know.” “It’s okay. is pressuring him to attend some sort of martial arts class. you don’t have to. Something that may involve his sister. and stared through her office window into the outer office. but I’ll ask around and let you know what I find. She hoped it was the right thing to do. is getting mixed up in something. “and how I know is beside the point.” “Deal. the brother of your player.” “Good. Something feels wrong. “Make sure you don’t spook him. Deal?” “Deal. but I don’t remember mentioning her name. “I want to go.” Donna said. Wilhelmina opened the door for Zack. Mina. and not too late. “Hi.” Donna said. I was wondering if you could follow the boys to the class―maybe find out what’s going on?” “Do you know when and where it meets?” “Not yet.194 R. Lucy Star?” “I do.” Wilhelmina said.

“These are the Bonnies.” Jayzen said. She put them on. Just right for Rude Red’s. . Jayzen must have picked them out. The material didn’t wrinkle when she moved.Gladiator Girl 195 The special panties were made out of a molecular elastic something. Especially handy for him. both could be adjusted. and ran her fingers from back to front on each side. Handy for me.” “I’m not planning on attacking you. They turned her butt crack into a smooth concave curve.” “The Bonnies?” “They’re identical twins who’ve both received rebirth gene therapy. The panties tightened up all around. “Who are they?” Lucy stuck out her chin at the two girls in ninja outfits and red lipstick. that sort of thing. The earrings were small and held tight to her earlobes with a clever clasp that was secure. The consultant understood she would not have pierced ears. held them in place. Better nonverbal communication skills. She substituted an old pair of guardian shoes that clashed with the dress. The panties were removed by reversing the pinch direction. They came with instructions. and didn’t show any labia cleft. The seams were invisible. Jayzen arrived in a private car. She was used to precise control of her body. The necklace had a snug fit and didn’t dangle. The shoes were high heeled and totally wrong. although.” Lucy said. It was a minor but thoughtful thing. but didn’t pinch. She set the skirt length to just below her knees and kept it loose enough to not hamper her full range of motion. The belt was thoughtfully equipped with loops for her scabbard. pinched the top seam. She adjusted the bodice to give a hint of cleavage. Jayzen must have hired a consultant. “They’re my bodyguards. The dress was even more adjustable. a loose necklace that added a chunk of random momentum around her neck would have made her uncomfortable. The security agency thinks twins make a superior team. according to the instructions.

“Sure. Jayzen reached for her sword.” Lucy set her scabbard to the side and accepted the champagne flute. “So your note explained.” “What did you think?” “The matches were short. Watson “Father insists we have bodyguards at all times when we’re off family property. blood battle games are designed to last about twenty minutes.” Jayzen stood aside to allow Lucy to board the car. They’ll be quiet. Beyond that. too. even for rebirth girls. “I was at your game on Saturday.” “Ah. She created blood battle. “My apology. Anyway.196 R. You carry that for display.” Jayzen said.” Lucy said. after a while. We don’t know how long a girl’s body can lie around at room temperature before she’s irretrievably dead. like movie samurai. Your sister was there. it’s temporarily halted at thirty minutes to allow the casualties to be removed and processed―” “Champagne?” Jayzen said. If a game goes long. She lobbied the regional councils to make sure we had the right. the military has the best data since it’s a high risk profession. to add to our mystique. We know an hour is safe. To err on the side of safety.” “They were still short. The event is a match. then he and his bodyguards followed her in.” “The opera impresario?” “I guess she was that. yes. but they’re not telling.” “Gunda?” “Gunda Thorstenson. you won’t even know they’re there. H.” “They’re kept short for safety. That right is to carry our . too. The car departed the Winnebago Graveyard siding. yes? Would you ever actually use it?” “Gunda wanted guardians and chargers to carry their swords in public. “Don’t touch it.” “They’re called games.

” “You’re being evasive.” “Really? Right now. her assistant.” A chime sounded.” “When would that be? It would be difficult for someone to threaten your life. I don’t know yet if you even have a heart. I don’t think I’d be good at wounding.” “I haven’t thought about it. I’m better protected than you. Kwan Esposito. my skills are very nuanced in the ways of killing. you wouldn’t have a chance. “they would be quick enough to stop me?” “I’m not at liberty to discuss their means. . not to use them. if I had no choice. and the guards: uniformed guards like Frank and plain-clothed guards like the receptionists sitting behind the lobby desk at the front entrance. “But maybe . The car was approaching Rude Red’s.” She poked him in the chest with her scabbard. at least not until you’re twenty-five. “I’m harder to kill than you. or even draw them. not easily. if it was to protect someone else. “As you know. “You know. not in the whether-or-not of killing. Donna’s security staff consisted of herself.” “You wounded my heart. You can’t be killed. I guess I might.” She gave Jayzen a teasing smirk. “I’ll take credit for wounding your pride.” The Brody incident flickered for a moment. if I decided to poke you in the heart―your fleshy physical heart. .” he tipped his head toward the Bonnies.” “You could wound them. thanks to my girls here. but yes.” she poked him again. I don’t have to spend time in an incubator. Any off site work was contracted out to the Esposito & Associates Tracking Agency run by an old buddy of Donna’s. I don’t know if I could fight someone who might actually die at my hand.” “I don’t know. She pushed it away.Gladiator Girl 197 swords.” Jayzen said. and there is no expiration date on my protection. .

Watson Jandeet was a junior member of the agency. Two security guards stepped out. and lethal and nonlethal weapons to spot. This was most likely a simple trick used to mask the limousine’s ID while it was on its own. Jandeet requested its ID. Neil. Ten minutes later they emerged wearing nondescript street clothes. They picked up a public car at the local kiosk. pulled down his hat. The boys filed into the limousine. The kids were working the trash detail in the Seafront Park when he picked them up. Over the next five minutes a few more boys arrived. then it drove off. looked jumpy. By the time Zack and Neil reached their destination. it would have to identify itself. Zack and Neil walked for fifteen minutes to an abandoned siding on an old. . the guards would spot him. Jandeet noted the car ID. He didn’t think he had been spotted. multiple assassination attempts. but their best city tracker. lest it give him away. He pulled the assignment to follow Zack. He had to be careful to remain inconspicuous exiting his car this close to his subjects. contained enough surveillance devices. he got back a high pitched squeal that would have left him temporarily deaf if his dampeners hadn’t filtered it out.198 R. The guards’ body armor and jackets were black. His car hur ried to catch up to the one sporting the ID he had provided. then a large private limousine slid down the street and stopped. then requested a car to pair with it. These were exclusive. Now he was angry. Jandeet had no doubt. Their shift ended and the boys hurried to the Helping Hand. but in contradiction to the usual strategy of remaining inconspicuous. He slipped deep into the surrounding shadows. and flipped up his collar to trap as much body heat as he could. Jandeet was right behind them. H. top-of-the-line bodyguards wearing full body armor and jackets that. unmanaged street where several other boys had collected. The other boy. but if he ran after it to try and catch the ID. When it moved into managed traffic at the end of the street. they wore red lipstick. and stop.

Part of good tracking was knowing things like. A public car running a premium express passage could accelerate to 160 kilometers per hour and maintain that speed by negotiating an optimal path through the managed street level traffic. He grabbed its ID while it was still on the managed road alongside the mansion. It arrived while he was still running. Jandeet would beat the limousine to the mansion. Twin Security owed their existence. almost exclusively. the one with the self-referential name. Twin Security. He opened the door and slipped one of his agency tokens into the handle to pay for the premium service.Gladiator Girl 199 He wasn’t a noted city tracker for nothing. but he could wait. and his bodyguards disembarked. Rude Red’s was a year-round costume party. There was only one security agency in the city that used twins. Three minutes after he arrived and found a good hiding place. This was the end of the trail. There was a car kiosk five minutes away―one minute at a brisk run. He played a hunch. who are the biggest clients of competing agencies. As soon as the limousine was out of sight he started running to the kiosk and requested to be met by a car available for exclusive use. to the old-money Verbeek family. then it accelerated while requesting clearances along its path. Jayzen. and only one member of that family tarted up his bodyguards like the ones Jandeet had seen. If he had guessed correctly about its destination. Jandeet saw the limousine drive up the street and turn into the mansion garage. “Express passage to the Verbeek Mansion. Those bodyguards had looked like a matched set. garish. Lucy. The patrons loitering in front of the entrance were ostentatious.” The car didn’t move until he buckled himself in. The car drove away to wait in a local siding. He couldn’t get inside without violating his agency’s license. A big limousine like the one that picked up the boys would need to use the underground cargo transit tunnels to get around. and .

“Shh!” he said. He clattered to a stop. “Don’t worry. but Red bent down and waggled. bent over and mimed kissing Lucy on both cheeks. or his costume made him look that way. and colored his palm and fingers bright red. “What do you mean?” Red waggled his finger at her. “Don’t think people didn’t notice!” He lurched upright. and flesh colored tights covered in curly fake hair. “Yet. His mouth was a meter above her head. Then again bent low feigning a whisper. “We don’t talk about it. Rude Red himself strutted their way on the tallest stilts in the house.” They walked in and made their way toward the runway.” He tapped the side of his nose. A meter long dildo swung from his crotch.” Lucy said. Red held his finger to his lips. you are an honored guest!” He held out his arm and led them to seats next to the runway. “Lucy! Lucy!” Lucy looked around. “we’ll fit right in. then took it away leaving a red hand print be hind. annoyed. Waiters on stilts moved through the crowd. She wrapped megaphone hands around her mouth. Lucy slid onto a stool. A one-man band competed for attention on the stage. “Please.200 R. swaying upright. Red cupped his hand behind his ear. Watson riotous in the variety of their costumes. its glans painted bright red. you know. The man turned around. He wore a top hat. The room was filled with boisterous yelling and hundreds of conversations. stories are being told!” He lurched upright. took a huge lipstick dispenser from his pocket.” Lucy said something. “I loved your match!” he said. H. He bent low and placed his hand on a pat ron’s shoulder. held up his left hand. At least of my town. until he saw it was Rude Red. this way. “You’re the talk of the town. “Come here. a coat with tails that curled up his back. even your ninja girls―especially your ninja girls. sit upfront! Tonight. He was bulbous.” with the fingers of his red .

“Do you or the Bonnies have something I can use to clean this off?” They ordered. and talked about nothing much. Billy was the skinny runt Viking warrior. The lights didn’t dim. The piano player knocked out an anthem. strutted onto the stage and along the runway. The dildo won and he strapped her into it. He held each up to the ‘volunteer’ for audience approval. “Do it. Beth ordered Billy around. She wore the white robes and horned helmet of the Razzmatazz era opera singer. drank. Rude Red wanted his performers to demand the attention of his raucous customers by the force of their performance. He took her hand. Lucy stood and reached up. then reared up and strutted away. then the burlesque show started. Beth charged up. “Gentle friends and lovers. stretched her arm up. Billy’s voice boomed across the room. and he pointed with his wooden sword. her! Umm―” he raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders. grabbed the Bonnie by her upper arm and hauled her onto the runway.” Jayzen said. Billy pulled a huge strap-on vulva and a huge strap-on dildo from a box of props. “Him! Umm. But that wasn’t enough. Beth and Billy. I am here to tell you.Gladiator Girl 201 painted hand. “I’m not. “You didn’t tell me you were a celebrity here. The first act.” She looked at the red lipstick smudged on her hand.” Jayzen said.” The Bonnie looked at Jayzen and shook her head. He in turn ordered the volunteer to help Beth remove robes and . He kissed her hand. “I’ll be safe. It was a classic burlesque show. they needed an assistant from the audience. Beth was the original fat lady. His eyes fell on one of the Bonnies. Billy strutted up and down the runway looking for tonight’s victim. and bent so low he was teetering on the verge of toppling over. ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’” Despite his small size. or I wasn’t before.” He put his arm around Lucy’s waist. I have my own personal warrior to protect me tonight. from near and far.

She turned to retaliate. The limo stopped.” a girl’s voice said. Zack heard the other boys shuffle to the door. . a man . She looked at the other Bonnie. He was big and looked strong. no. The sounds of the other boys faded. The performance was over. He thought it was one of the ninja girls. even though she wasn’t on stage. The ninja girl pushed him in a different direction. “Leave it on.” Lucy held up her hands.” “Who are you?” The man didn’t say. Lucy’s guardian hindbrain realized she was vulnerable. and the volunteer was revealed to be a man. then the piano player played Beth and Billy off the stage. . Beth was a man. Billy gave up and mugged another shrug to the audience. He was the last one out. “Whoa there. her twin. Someone slapped his hand. “Shh!” several of the boys said. who tried to seduce the volunteer. “Hello Zachary. “Good show!” Lucy said and slapped the Bonnie’s ass as she stepped off the runway. Watson replace them with big feathery boas while the piano player beat out a grinding sexual rhythm. she took him by his upper arm and put a hand over his mouth. . Billy was a woman. He reached up to the elastic band that held the hood around his neck. a woman. Billy helped the Bonnie to the edge of the runway.202 R. A man sat. facing him. but on stage she was flustered. no. “Neil?” he said. H. She pushed him into a chair and pulled off his hood. They went through a door and another one. She had to be highly trained. this was the time to take her down. gotcha both. Gotcha. Lucy watched the Bonnie. Billy tried to seduce Beth. At the end of the performance there was a big reveal. she seemed equally flustered. Zack heard them walk away and started to follow.

your mother. Debbie. I’m told you tried to visit your sister. Is that why Debbie left. So did this guy. but . and your father. like the girls.” “She calls herself Lucy. because your father failed at being a good man?” . “He really did. “Yes. “Do you hate him?” “No. I understand if you don’t want to talk about her. no arms. “Do you love him?” Zack’s hands were sweaty. but you don’t hate him either?” “He tried to be a good man. She changed her name the first chance she had after winning emancipation from your family―you.” “What has Neil told you about us?” “You want to learn blood battle. What happened back in Cliffside to make her want to leave and never again have anything to do with you?” “Why does everybody want to know about Debbie?” “Who else does?” “My counselor. . Knowing something about your sister helps me know you.” Zack said. . It’s a pleasure to meet you. Lucy Star.” “That’s not quite right. I’m curious why you came to Heritage City.” Grizzly sat forward.” Zack liked Wilhelmina. but she made him nervous. but she sent you away. I see you don’t. now.” “But he failed? Is that why Lucy― I’m sorry. but you want to be better than them. “Ah.” “At the Helping Hand?” “Yes.” They both sat on simple.” “Huh. “I want to know about you.” Zack said. You don’t love him.” Grizzly sat back.” “There’s nothing to tell.” “You want to know about my sister. hard chairs: straight-up backrests. but it will do for now.Gladiator Girl 203 “You’re Grizzly. He rubbed them on his jeans. “Yes. Tell me about your father.

” Grizzly waited. “Go on. He’d punch her—once.” .” “So what did she do to earn your sister’s hate?” Zack was silent.” Grizzly took a moment to think. she especially hated her.204 R. . she . He shifted his butt.” “That’s interesting. when he wasn’t good?” “I don’t think so. “Did you hate him.” “Yes. Did she hate you?” “Yes. not then. but Debbie would punch her and kick her. It helped a little.” “Why did your sister need bandages and ointment?” “Because Dad would hit her. I think she hated her more than she hated Dad.” “I’ll bet she was afraid of him. Watson “He wasn’t trying to be good. after Debbie was bad. even in the face.” “Really? Why was that?” “I don’t know. you can say it. “Zack?” Grizzly said.” The chair was making Zack’s sitz bones hurt.” “She hated everybody. He punished her with his belt.” “No. and with a cut off broom handle when she was older. “When Dad was gone. then said. after he punished her. “Did Debbie hate him?” “Yes. or ointment. Mom would try to put bandages on her.” “You don’t think so?” Grizzly scratched the end-of-day stubble on his cheek.” “What did he hit her with?” “His hand. “Did your mother hurt Debbie?” “No. . H.” “Did she hate your mother?” “Yes. sometimes.” “I’ll bet she didn’t punch and kick your father.

” Grizzly crossed his legs. “Did you ever tell?” .” Grizzly seemed to think on that. They’d lie about what happened and they made me lie too. “How badly did he hurt her?” “Pretty bad.” He rushed through the words so he could look away. She said if I ever told. Sometimes they had to bring her to the hospital. I imagine she wishes you were dead. and leaned back. A broken jaw from the time he punched her face. “Zack!” Zack twisted back. Zack heard the ninja girl snicker. He looked comfortable in his chair. Grizzly looked at her. You remind her of it. And the studs in his belt left scars on her back. the childhood she’s been able to scrub completely out of her life using those rebirth wombs. knit his fingers together and pointed at Zack.Gladiator Girl 205 “Oh my!” Grizzly said. so completely wiped away it might as well have never been there. all that evidence of her past is gone. those were the hardest to lie about. I imagine she hates you more now than she ever did then for coming here and making her remember. clasped his hands behind his head.” Grizzly sat upright. she’d break my fingers. When Mom and Dad were gone.” “What did you lie about?” “She had bruises. or weren’t looking. angry. “Your sister doesn’t want anything to do with you because you’re part of the childhood she hates. planted his elbows on his knees. she’d punish me.” “Interesting. and by accident. thanks to rebirth. looked into Grizzly’s eyes―caught. and those broken bones that are never quite the same after they heal. keeping time with his fingers to something in his head. “Yes. Another time he stepped on her hand and broke her fingers. “And now the scars. “Did she ever hurt you?” Zack looked around for the door. He broke her ribs with the broom handle―more than once.

Lucy Star. He got better. “Answer my question. “No broken bones or scars for you?” “No. . your real sister. .” “Oh. .” “But something sent him back to his old ways.” “Yes.” Zack looked down. . he might kill her.” Grizzly said. if Dad ever found out . His elbows squeezed against his ribs. Moraineia to Heritage City because you wanted to tell your sister something.” Zack’s head was bowed. your sister who hates you. You spent five days bumping along from town to town all the way from nowhere. .206 R.” “Because you were afraid of her. not nothing. but his head was bent so low Grizzly didn’t realize it until he saw tears drip onto his jeans. I was afraid he’d get so mad. He held the sides of his chair seat and pressed down on it. but that’s not why. “He made her hate me. he changed. “Do you love your sister?” Zack was silent again.” Grizzly mulled this over.” “Oh? Then why?” “Because I was afraid. you’ve helped me understand Debbie. . After Debbie left. despite what you did for her. H.” “Yes .” Zack started crying. Grizzly sat back.” “You were protecting her?” “I guess. You said your father tried to be a good man?” “Yes. not that sham.” The words were quiet. . back when he wasn’t good?” “Some.” “Did your father ever hit you. “Zachary.” “Yes. thank you Zachary. “But we still don’t know why you’re here. Watson “No.” “I’ll be damned. What did you want to tell her?” “Nothing. “Well .” “Like he hit Debbie?” “No.

“Was it your mother?” “Yes. . “Yes? Then what?” “I hit him with the rolling pin.” Zack said. “Could you speak up?” “She’s dead. . “Then I cut his head off.” “Go on. “Zachary.” Zack said. knocked him down. but we recognized her.” Grizzly held him. Mom cried. . it was something about how she won a game. Until?” “Until I couldn’t recognize his face any more. “Wow!” to the ninja girl. then he left. just like Debbie would do it.” Grizzly leaned forward. There were knives in the drying rack. but I could see he was getting angry. You’re not alone. And one . When he came back he was drunk. and like he was before she ran away. Zack grabbed Grizzly’s shirt and buried his face in it. Dad didn’t say anything. from the drawer. “Tell me what happened.” Grizzly mouthed. “I’m so sorry to hear that. they had a fight and he pushed her. he said. he had been holding his breath.Gladiator Girl 207 “What happened?” “We saw Debbie in the news. They called her Lucy. When he came home.” Grizzly said. did someone get hurt?” Zack released a gush of air. In the most compassionate voice he could muster. I didn’t stop until . knelt on one knee next to Zack. . then said to Zack.” “I want to die. .” “It was in the kitchen. “Sons have killed their fathers throughout history.” Grizzly moved off his chair. and I cut him. and put his arms around him. I grabbed one of the other knives. “How badly is she hurt?” Zack said something.

H. She sipped her champagne and closed her eyes. Watson Grizzly patted Zack’s back. Is that why you came to see your sister? Do you want Debbie to kill you?” “Yes. Jayzen handed Lucy another champagne flute. and her pelvis sent it to her pubic bones which distributed it into all those happy nerve ends in her genitals. just centimeters away. “Huh? Ah. and the shirt split down the back. She reached under the back of his collar. “Of course you do. Damn molecular zippers. This time the Bonnies took up positions in guard stations forward and aft of the main cabin. She held it while he poured. He kissed her. The wasp would be female and it would be using my body to host and feed its nasty parasitical young.” After midnight they floundered back into Jayzen’s private car. slid her fingers around to the front. and just like her fancy panties. She put her hands on his shoulders to slip off his blazer. preparing to thrust its ovipositor into her belly and lay its eggs― Wait. “Is something wrong?” Jayzen said. Then she felt Jayzen take the champagne glass from her hand. But she was getting used to them. She smelled him. then adjusted her scabbard so she could slump into the wide seat.208 R. like some magnificent wasp arching its body over hers. She slid her hands to the front of his shirt to undo the buttons. It was already gone. her glutes transmitted it to her pelvic bones.” she said. she pinched. Stick to the ba­ sics: muscles. She thought of the girl on the swing in the painting on the wall of the fairy tale locker room in the Verbeek Family mansion. penis. no. like an insect molting out of its old skin. vagina. . The seat picked up the hum of the wheels on the road and transmitted it into her gluteal muscles. There weren’t any.

She closed her eyes and listened to the wet syncopating sounds as they each hunted for their orgasms. She rolled with him and straddled his hips. After a little bit. She pulled his shirt away and realized he was naked. He seemed as unknown to her as the girl in the blue evening gown she had seen in the mirror on the night of Charlotte’s Duel à Mort soirée. his pants loosened. She bit the skin covering his abdominal muscles. She leaned forward. removed them. “Do you want to release the magic panties. Then wedged her foot against the seat and pushed his shoulders to heave him onto his back.Gladiator Girl 209 She pinched the top seam of his pants and ran her fingers from back to front. and kissed his lips. but she pushed his hand away. Lucy reached down and massaged her clitoris. She slid her hips down his abdomen and slipped his penis into her vagina. she relaxed. She straddled his belly and studied his face. grabbed the back of his neck.” he said. She pulled back his foreskin and kissed his glans. Lucy reached around to the back of her neckline and pinched the pressure points to release her dress. and maybe herself. but she wouldn’t let him. then twiddled his testicles in her palm and squeezed them enough to scare him. Lucy rolled off Jayzen and lay next to him . laid down on his body. “Who are you?” she said. She threw the belt to the side and pulled off the dress. Jayzen tried to roll her over.” She stood up. kissed the soft bulge of his mons pubis. Jayzen tried to help. Nothing. Her contractions were quick and sharp. “No underwear? Or are they built into your fancy pants?” “The latter. She sucked at his mouth to distract him. and pulled his head close until she could kiss him. She tried to pull it over her head and remembered the belt. She tried front to back. More pressure points. She slid them down his legs with her feet. Jayzen came. or should I?” “You can. then his nipples. then the blood ebbed from his erectile tissue.

H.210 R. if I were killed. “The girl needn’t worry. She looked up and out of the car’s skylight.” “That’s true.” “What?” “Don’t worry. He jogged a street over to the siding where he had left his exclusive-use car. it reemerged. sir.” She stood up and started dressing. “Where are we going?” “To the family summer home on Seagull Island. “If anything happened to you or Lucy.” he said. I’ll have you back in time for your morning practice. pulled it part way out of its scabbard to inspect the blade. now!” “Relax. If we had an accident. Isn’t that right?” “What’s that. “Are you just going to lie there?” “I was thinking I would. Lucy picked up her sword. He spoke up. Watson with her head on his arm. “The Bonnies are in the same situation. Jandeet confirmed the ID. letting it make a loud clack when the hilt guard hit the scabbard throat.” “See?” he said. emergency services out here aren’t prepared to handle a rebirth body. Two and a half hours after the limousine arrived at the mansion. You should have told me before we left the city.” the Bonnie said. His public car couldn’t . We’re almost there. We’ve got to go back. the security company would be here within a half hour and they’ll be prepared to handle her body along with yours. then slid it in. “I still don’t like it.” “It’s not that.” She sat up.” Jayzen said. sir?” said the voice of one of the Bonnies. but sat up and began pulling his clothes on. A question tickled her consciousness. I can’t be this far away without a refrigerated casket and a prep team. “This is too far from the Laughing Cherub!” “What do you mean?” “It’s a safety issue and an obligation to my club.

but the Twin Security bodyguards would. This wasn’t easy. The boy ended up at a city shelter. The limousine departed. Jandeet was waiting. If he made a mistake. If he paired with the limousine. but optimal route to the latest destination. Twenty minutes later the limousine exited the tunnel. Jandeet bribed the clerk to give him the boy’s name. Instead. randomly picked one of the boys. then turned onto another unmanaged street. but that would risk calling attention to himself. but it wasn’t designed for stalking. and he would lose sight of the limousine. Jandeet snuck through the shadows until he was close enough to look for Zack and Neil―they weren’t with the other boys. Jandeet had to constantly give his car new destinations that would trick it into following the limousine at a discreet distance. and followed him. He could have the car find it again with the ID. his car would veer off on an unexpected. then headed back to the mansion to spend the night waiting and watching.Gladiator Girl 211 follow the limousine into the underground transit tunnels. Zack and Neil wouldn’t have noticed the difference between pairing and a centipede. The limousine stopped halfway down the street. but now that he had its ID. Now what? He wasn’t sure if it was intentional or bad luck. The sidewalks weren’t lit. . Jandeet jumped out of his car and sent it to wait in an empty siding. his car would catch up and follow just centimeters behind. but he’d been tricked. He peeked around the corner. but he suspected he’d end up waiting back at the mansion. He could pick up his car and follow the limousine again. he dismissed the car. He needed a detailed knowledge of the streets and a subtle feel for the dynamic routing system used by the autonomous traffic. Several boys exited the cabin. he could find its exit point and pick it up there. not as many as had entered earlier―four were missing. The limousine worked its way through several lesser roadways. Car pairing was a handy way for large groups to stay together.

then the garage entrance was quiet until morning. They sat together in the dark on a veranda that looked across a wide beach to the ocean.” . they will hear. “Is there anything that’s yours?” Lucy said. The veranda was sealed and warmed against the cold autumn night.” “Family is everything. The Verbeek family summer home was big and empty. Watson Several public and private cars arrived and departed during the next few hours.” Jayzen shifted to see the side of her face. I don’t keep up on the threats―they do. Most likely. “It is?” “You don’t agree?” “I don’t talk about it. but there was still comfort in sharing body heat. I’m sure your security service did a background check on me.212 R.” “She received rebirth therapy?” “Along with every Verbeek girl in the extended family. like in the car. let’s change the subject. they are not listening. but otherwise. Jayzen made a couple of hot toddies.” “Doesn’t seem like a pleasant way to live. just in case. Jandeet popped their IDs. they watched us make love. H. No. having them constantly around. “What about you? Your womb-atoriums are guarded against fanatics. If I raise my voice in a certain way. no. read it sometime. “Everything seems to belong to your family.” “To what?” “Do you really need bodyguards all the time? Is someone out to get you?” “Probably. Now. and don’t you have fans that get over enthusiastic?” “Your sister seems to be my biggest fan. Were they watching us fuck in the car? Are they listening right now?” “Yes.” Jayzen said. How over enthusiastic is she?” “I’ll ask when she gets out of her womb.

” “Really?” “Yes. “I want to check on my sister’s status.” “That seems unlikely. the Bonnie’s voice was back. But that’s not important. Why would you even ask?” “I don’t know. I assume. “When France is out. or something serious happened to her before she went in.Gladiator Girl 213 “Why is she in a womb? Did something happen?” Lucy faced Jayzen.” “They say she’ll be in for a couple of weeks this time.” A few minutes later. Do you care for your sister?” “Of course. “Jay. she should be out by Wednesday. sir. They said sometimes it takes longer. “What do you think?” . You need to find out what happened. I should see if she and her friends would like a tour of the club. Which womb-atorium do you use?” “We have our own in the mansion.” “Who said?” “The womb-atorium staff. or whatever you call it.” Jayzen said. If she went in on Sunday evening.” “Bullshit!” Lucy said. “Bonnie. She fell down a flight of stairs and received a severe head injury.” “Charlotte went in yesterday too.” “What went wrong?” “Nothing.” Jayzen raised his voice. “They say she had an accident just previous to her enwombment. Either way.” “Yes?” said the disembodied voice of one of the Bonnies.” “Thank you. I have reason to believe the womb-atorium staff is hiding something. last evening was her regular three month update.” “Of course you do. something’s wrong.” “Check anyway. whoever told you this is normal is lying.” Lucy said. Something went wrong. really. He lowered his voice to normal conversation. “No. I’m sorry.

His wrists began to ache. Watson “It could be true. He felt its weight. and especially if it included memory loss. He could bury her body in the dunes—probably wouldn’t be the first one out there. No wombs. no Lucy. if there was significant brain damage. he slipped out of the bed. “I have to be home by seven and at the club by eight. taking his time and practicing silence. It was hours before dawn. eased himself in. He pulled it away. bringing it to a stop millimeters above Lucy’s throat. careful to not make a sound. When he was sure she was sleeping. and laid on his side counting her breaths until he fell asleep. “Sure.214 R. then with her mouth pressed to his ear. She wasn’t even dreaming. and returned it to its place between the night table and wall. Jayzen wanted to make love again. He swung the sword over his head in a long. the blade wavered. He held the blade under his nose. then slid the blade out. then watched her again to see if his movement had woken her. they wouldn’t dare look. slid it into its scabbard. there was a faint oder of oil. but none of blood—disappointing. and stepped through one of the handling exercises Hashimoto Sensei had taught him. He set the scabbard on the night table. I’m going to bed. He walked around the bed. He slipped around the foot of the bed and picked up her longsword from where she had propped it in the crook between the night table and the wall.” Lucy said.” Lucy sat up. She let herself drift in the hypnogogic state between dreaming and waking. no rebirth. He watched Lucy and listened to her breathing. not wanting to let go of her last . she whispered.” She leaned over and kissed Jayzen. It was the slow consistent rhythm of someone in deep sleep. “They’re still lying. not on Family property. H. He held the blade and watched her breathe.” Jayzen woke up. slow arch. held the sword up. The sun came up glorious and white over the ocean horizon.

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phantasm. The dream played with Jayzen’s sexual manipulations, folding them into its scenario. When he penetrated her, she mumbled, “Oh, it’s back.” He took his time composing and savoring his ejaculation, then he crawled down and cajoled her tissue until it released a quiet orgasm. She breathed out and spoke a name. This part of the summer home was built like an old vacation hotel. There were several suites off the veranda, each was self contained with a bedroom, sitting room, kitchen, and bath. Jayzen and Lucy occupied one of the suites. By the time Lucy was fully awake, Jayzen was in the kitchen. She swung her legs off the bed, sat up, reached for her sword, and stopped. She had left it propped between the wall and the night table. It was still there, but it wasn’t sitting the way she had left it. It was twisted more toward the wall and the scabbard tip was further out from the night table. Jayzen came out of the kitchen wearing an apron and nothing else. “Breakfast?” he said. “Just coffee,” Lucy said, “and toast. I want to get going.” “It won’t take long.” “I want to get going, now.” She got up and dressed, then picked up her sword and checked the blade. There was something wrong about the way it was seated in the scabbard. She pulled it all the way out and looked over the full length of its edge, then re-sheathed it. “Don’t ever play with my sword again,” she said. “Let’s go.” She tossed Jayzen his clothes. “You can dress in the car. Tell your Bonnies we’re leaving.” “They’re the Veronicas this morning,” Jayzen said. “They changed shifts during the night.” He followed her out to the car and said, “Who’s Chrissy?”

Chapter 14 A Busy Morning

Jayzen’s car pulled into the Winnebago Graveyard siding at seven twenty. He stepped out and Lucy followed. She took his hand, led him over to Charlotte’s canister, and down the stairs. Jayzen looked around. “Two of you live in here?” Lucy waited for the hatch to close. “Yes. I wanted to be out of earshot of your Veronicas and your car.” “They can still hear us if I tell them to listen. This buried cottage is no impediment.” “Are they listening?” “They shouldn’t be.” He caressed her arm. “What did you have in mind?” “I want to make sure you check on France―as soon as you can. I don’t know how intrigue works for you people, but I’m worried. Find out what really happened to her and let me know. I can tell you if it’s bullshit or not.” “This isn’t what I anticipated when you brought me down here.” “Fuck, Jay. I’m serious.” She pushed his hand off her arm. “Alright, I believe you. If anyone has harmed my sister, they’ll pay.” “Great, do whatever it is you do. But make sure she’s safe, first.” “Definitely,” Jayzen said.

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“Thanks.” Lucy kissed him on the cheek. “Now, get going. And don’t forget to have the dress picked up. I’m leaving by eight.” Lieutenant Samantha Villanueva checked the status board and saw a request directed to her from Inspector Olia Fournier. She approved the contact and a minute later Olia said, “Good morning Lieutenant. I met you at a crime scene last week.” “I remember,” Samantha said. “We found four more bodies since then. I was hoping you could take a look at them.” “Because of my blood battle background?” “You’re the closest thing to a sword expert we have on the force.” “You must have forensics people who know more than me.” “They have better technical knowledge, but they don’t have your eye for the skill of the sword work.” “I appreciate your confidence, but I was only in the BB program for two years. That was eight years ago and I was a teenager. You need a real expert. Why aren’t you consulting directly with the Blood Battle League?” “We’re trying to keep this quiet, and some members of the investigative team continue to suspect the killer may be involved with the League, despite your comments at the crime scene. My superior supports that view.” “On what grounds?” “On the grounds she doesn’t like rebirth and doesn’t trust anyone involved with it.” “That would include me, wouldn’t it?” Samantha said. “Yes, but you’re already on the force. I don’t need to have an expense voucher approved to bring you in.” “She’s hobbling your investigation.” “You see my predicament then?” “I do, but I’m really not qualified.” “At risk of sounding desperate,” Olia said, “you’re all I have, unless you know someone, maybe someone you’ve kept in con-

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tact with from the Academy? Someone who might be willing to take a look at the bodies, unofficially and off the record?” Samantha laughed. “I’m sorry. I apologize. But you do sound desperate.” She composed herself. “Like I said, the Academy was a long time ago, and by now an insignificant part of my life. I wish I could help, but . . .” “Yes?” Olia said. “All right, this is a long shot. I worked with a sword instructor at the Academy who I thought was brilliant. Mind you, I was sixteen. These days she’s the guardian sword master with Burning Desire. She still sends notes to her old students on the anniversaries of our first rebirths. I’m probably just a name on a list, but I can try contacting her.” “Thanks Lieutenant. I appreciate your help,” Olia said. “No problem, Inspector.” Jayzen took the car to the family estate. He showered, shaved, dressed in fresh clothes, ate a quick breakfast, and returned to the garage. “Leaving again, so soon?” Ned, the security dispatcher, said. “Indeed I am.” “Where to?” “I’ll decide when I’m on the road.” An empty car slid up to the dock. The Veronicas came out of the standby room, putting on their jackets of weapons and things. “I’d like a different pair of guards for a change, I’m sure the Veronicas have had enough of me for today.” “These are your assigned guards.” Jayzen looked in the standby room. “What about those two?” “They’re your sister’s,” Ned said. “Why aren’t they at the mansion?” “While Francine is in her womb, she’s protected by mansion security. Until she returns, her guards are assigned here to cover unexpected situations.”

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“Well, there you go,” Jayzen said. “I’m presenting you with just such an unexpected situation. I would like to try my sister’s guards. Perhaps they can tell me why they allowed France to be injured on the way to her womb.” “These guards weren’t covering Francine during that incident.” “I want them,” Jayzen said. “I insist.” Ned gestured for the Veronicas to return to the standby room. “Katrinas, you’re covering Jayzen today. Let’s go.” The Katrinas were wearing the standard grey armored body suits and jackets. They followed Jayzen into the car. “To the mansion,” Jayzen said after the door closed. He turned to the Katrinas. “Who was guarding my sister on Sunday evening?” “That’s privileged―” “Do you know what I could do to ruin your lives? Starting today?” The Katrinas exchanged a glance. “The Noreens,” the one on the right said. “Do you know what really happened?” “We only know what’s in the report.” “Which is?” “As Francine approached the landing on the stairway descending into the courtyard garden, she turned to speak to the wombatorium matron who was escorting her from the car dock. Her foot slipped off the stair tread, she lost her balance, and fell, striking the back of her head on the nosing of a step.” “Do you believe that injury is consistent with a two week stay in a womb?” The Katrinas looked at each other. The one on the left said, “We suspect such a lengthy gestation would require a more severe injury than the one described in the report, but your friend, the blood battle guardian, would know more about the effects of injury on gestation time than we do.” “My friend agrees with you.” The Katrinas looked at each other again. “Would you stop doing that?” Jayzen said.

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“Sorry sir,” the right Katrina said. “We like your sister and have our own suspicions about the truth of the report.” The left Katrina said, “We normally cover France on the evening shift, but Sunday we were replaced by the Noreens, and as you see, we remain on the day shift. Last minute schedule changes are not uncommon, but considering the apparent deceit surrounding Francine’s injury, we do not currently trust the Noreens.” “Is my sister safe in her womb?” “There has never been a report of a catastrophic womb failure,” the left Katrina said. “There are multiple levels of redundancy and safeguards built into the system, including bacteriological, viral, and toxin counter measures. Yet, although difficult, it is possible to sabotage a womb. However, in light of their current safety record, such an act would draw a full investigation by the Health and Safety Board, and be counter productive to maintaining a coverup.” “We think your sister is safe,” the right Katrina said. “As long as the conspirators do not feel forced into a desperate situation,” the left one said. “I suppose visiting the mansion womb-atorium and asking questions could make them nervous?” “That seems likely.” “Change of destination,” Jayzen said to the car. “Wait,” the left Katrina said. “We should exit this car at the next siding, and send it to the summer house as a diversion. Then use public transport.” Lucy stripped off the red dress and packed it in its box with the jewelry and all the other accessories. She considered whether she should donate the panties without washing them, then tossed them in the box. The delivery service arrived at seven forty and took Jayzen’s gift away. When the dress was gone, Lucy showered, dressed in her real clothes, and at the kiosk, requested a public car to the Long Life womb-atorium. Charlotte was due around eight. With such a

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short gestation, she should be ready to leave by nine. Lucy had arranged to skip morning training so she could meet Charlotte and finish unloading the crap from the last few days. The Long Life womb-atorium security confirmed her identity and found her name on Charlotte’s approved visitors list. A matron’s aid showed her to the waiting room. Charlotte’s parents were there. “Lucy, great to see you.” Charlotte’s mother, Kathy, kissed her on both cheeks. Charlotte’s father, Paul, wrapped her in a bear hug. “Come, sit. How have you been?” “Fine,” Lucy said. “Ah . . . what are you doing here?” “We came down to the city yesterday and dropped by the club,” Paul said. “To take Charlie out for lunch,” Kathy said. “They told us she was in a womb,” Paul said. “We stayed in a hotel so we could be here when she revives.” “I hope she’s alright,” Kathy said. “Don’t worry, Bugs.” Bugs was Paul’s nickname for his wife. “They know what they’re doing. She’s done this dozens of times.” He patted her arm. “Twenty-eight,” Lucy said. “This will be her twenty-ninth. It’s not like she’s being discharged from a hospital, it’s more like a spa.” “Twenty-nine? I didn’t realize it was so many.” Kathy squeezed Paul’s hand. “How may times have you been in here?” “We use a different womb-atorium, but anyway, twenty-five.” Kathy put her hand on Lucy’s arm. “Are you all right?” They still don’t get it. “She’s been doing this since she was fifteen,” Lucy said. “You were there the first time, right? You know this is normal for us. It’s nice. Like they say, ‘The best thing in life since the first thing in life.’” Kathy’s face went pale. Lucy tried again. “It means she’s back in a womb, the best womb since your own.”

“It’ll be okay. Lucy heard the birth alarm go off deep in the womb-atorium. Watson Kathy burst into tears. I’m buying. “Oh honey! Look what happened to your long.” “Not since I was your little girl.” Lucy headed for the exit. I guess. “I thought maybe it happened. I suck at this. He’s as afraid as she is.” Kathy leaned against Paul and tried to dry her tears. Charlotte’s mother ran her fingers through what was left of her daughter’s hair and started to cry again. . not since . “I’ve never felt better. H.” “Lucy. the way you support her all the way. inside. . Lucy watched him hold her shoulder and kiss the top of her head. . I don’t understand parents.” Fuck. “I’ll talk to you later.” Paul said. Lucy picked up her gym bag and sword.” Paul said. It was almost inaudible in the waiting room. “let’s get some breakfast. come along. beautiful hair!” “Don’t worry Mom.” Charlotte said. She tells me how great it is. Family gets first dibs. At nine twenty-five Charlotte sauntered into the waiting room with her womb-atorium bag over her shoulder.” “Not since.222 R.” Charlotte said. it was a bother to take care of. “Come on.” “Oh. “Thanks.” “I’m fine. really. but no. Or they’ll be dead from grief by the time Charlotte gets out.” Lucy said. according to Lucy. Her parents jumped to their feet and hugged her. “She’s been doing it for seven years. “OK?” “Okay. I’ve got to get to practice. I cut it before going in.” Charlotte had to bend down to hug her mother.” Kathy said.” “I’ll just have toast and coffee. Her father embraced them both in a bear hug while Lucy waited.” Charlotte said. “It’s best to eat light for a few hours after rebirth. She started to mention it. then decided to keep her mouth shut.

and fed. He went to a city shelter. That’ll go out to all the local blood sport clubs and womb-atoriums.” Donna walked to Christopher’s desk in the outer office and picked up the bed report. “Our tracker followed them to the apparent location of their class. but couldn’t confirm if they left. “It’s adequate. Beyond that I can’t do anything unless they show up. keeps them out of the rain. I’m going to tag Zack and Neil as potential security risks. like I said.” “Just a minute.” Wilhelmina said.” “What do you think that means?” “It means we’re at a dead end. Where are they?” “Have you heard of the Verbeek family?” “Yes. “wonder what sort of martial arts class meets in secret at the Verbeek Mansion and caters to transient boys. The only thing we can do is wait. including Zack and Neil.” “I know it. They were picked up by a limousine and delivered to the Verbeek Mansion. “Zack and Neil rendezvoused with a group of boys.” “What can we do?” “Nothing.” Donna said.” “My instincts. “Did Zachary and Neil get back there last night?” “Shouldn’t you already know?” Wilhelmina said. then contacted Wilhelmina at the Helping Hand.” . No real supervision or support beyond that.” “What do your instincts tell you?” “Our tracker followed one of the boys who was dropped off. “I can’t afford to keep that mansion under surveillance and the police won’t care if a couple of your transients have disappeared. The one in Gurney Hills. see if they show up. “It doesn’t look like either one slept here.” Donna said.Gladiator Girl 223 *** Donna read the tracking report from Esposito & Associates.” She walked back to her office. Four were missing. Three hours later it dropped off the boys at a different location.

Watson “I have someone I can check with. “Max is a popular guy today. Fredrick said.” Maxton said. Such a sad blend for such a bright young lady. and I’ll let you know if I find anything out. H.” .” Wilhelmina closed the contact and looked in the outer office. said. It tasted of autumn and winter.” “What do you mean?” “His nephew was looking for him earlier. And you?” “I’ve been getting by. but I can’t tell you my source.” Wilhelmina said. It’s my tea.224 R.” Wilhelmina said. let me know what you think. He sat on a stool at the counter and groaned with the effort.” “OK. “Hello Max. Maxton took another sip.” Mr. It almost brought a tear to my eye.” Maxton said.” “I tasted one of your personal infusions Sunday evening. Fredrick shook his head. Christopher hadn’t returned to his desk. “How have you been?” “I’ve been getting old. Fredrick handed a cup to Maxton. “My brother’s been here?” Mr. “You’re trying to trick me.” “The tea is not always easy to understand. “Your brother’s son. “Try this.” Mr.” He took a sip. “Does anyone know where I might find Max?” She asked of everyone. “Who’s that?” “I can’t say. one of their resident clerks.” The doorbell jingled. “Hello William.” Mr. the one around the corner from the BB club. “He’s probably at that tea shop. I know we agreed to share our information. Fredrick nodded toward the back of the room.” “Thanks. Kathy. as soon as you know anything. “It had a sadness about it.

He sloshed the pallet cleanser in his mouth and spat it out. Lucy Star. “I believe your nephew knows the same young woman you met. “You’re worried about Francine and you’re doing something about it because this girl. yet there they were. “Something’s wrong. I have them on loan while she’s in a womb. Can there be such a thing? And then clear. though he hasn’t tasted her tea. Fredrick.” Jayzen took a minute to collect his thoughts. Is that what you get?” Maxton took a sip and considered. I didn’t recognize you without the coquettes. and the saliva of an angry dog. “See what all the fuss was about. Enough for both of us. I don’t even know what those things are supposed to taste like. When he was finished. “You changed your bodyguard style.” Jayzen picked up his cup and took a sip. Today I taste meat. then to Mr. “That’s remarkable!” “What did you taste?” “Granite.” Mr. “Jayzen?” He held up the cup.” Jayzen said. pure melt water. “Pallet cleanser please. “This is you?” “I thought I’d indulge.” “Then make a pot of her blend. What happened to her?” “I’m trying to find out.” “These are France’s guards. Tell me why you’re worried about Francine.” “What are you doing here?” Maxton said. a nobody who plays blood battle. “No. Maxton brought it and two cups over to Jayzen’s table. Fredrick poured a shot of cleanser into a glass. He filled the cups.” Maxton studied Jayzen. Then mud―sad mud. told you to?” . then explained everything he knew and everything Lucy had said.Gladiator Girl 225 Maxton looked around. Maxton said. piss. When the infusion was ready. “I have it on good authority―” His eyes flared.

I smell your father’s stink all over it.” “Do you know what’s going on?” “No. I met the same girl Sunday evening and I’ve now tasted her tea. even when they’re being used. but I know the sort of thing: Verbeek conniving.” “Not intentionally. Understand?” “Yes. We’re using public cars.” Jayzen said.” Jayzen said.” “Humph. You’ll be safe. to reach any destination. but from what you’ve told me. but maybe I was wrong.” “Can that be done?” “Those wombs are built to be moved in an emergency. H. “I had to prove I was your nephew.226 R. I’ll buy out your contract. “Did you bring a car?” “No.” “I can’t believe that. then we should assume your sister is in danger. “Remarkable. There are risks. “Can you trust them?” “They say I can.” the left Katrina said. Until today I assumed you were no different. If you double cross us. you will be breaking your contract with Twin Security and putting your continued access to rebirth at risk?” “We know.” Maxton looked at the bodyguards. two or more. she’s actually given you some backbone. It’s why I walked away.” both Katrinas said.” the right Katrina said.” “By the way. but he’s a fool. if you help us.” Jayzen said. “how did you find me?” “A clerk at the Helping Hand said you visit this tea shop most mornings. “He would never harm France. Watson “She seemed convinced. If she’s worried about France. “We sent the private car on a long trip as a diversion. We have to move her.” He spoke directly to the Katrinas. twice.” “They shouldn’t be telling strangers my whereabouts. I suspect your sister’s―my niece’s―life may be in peril. “You realize.” . “In that case.” Maxton said to Jayzen.” “They didn’t. you won’t be.

I don’t want her getting involved. and we need to arrange a safe place to keep Francine until she’s reborn. We need to borrow a womb transport wagon.” “Where to?” Jayzen said. Maxton said to Mr.Gladiator Girl 227 “That’s unfortunate. . “Please tell Lucy Star how much I appreciated meeting her the other evening.” The doorbell jingled. You’re going to need every drop. Fredrick. But I won’t be going back there until this is finished. “The Laughing Cherub. and do not tell her about Jayzen. There’s courage in this tea.” He topped off both their cups with the Lucy Star infusion then held his up. Let’s be on our way. On their way out. twice. “Drink.” They both finished their teas in one gulp.

” Serendipity said.” Lucy shot Uvan a quizzical eye. When the team came in to change for practice.” Uvan said. “Got me. Everyone changed into shorts and t-shirts. “There’s still time to get in on her innie-outie pool. “Don’t know. Uvan swaggered over. it looks like she needs more guardians.” “Slept late?” “Yeah. “Whatever Bimini’s up to. then headed out for sword practice. she warmed up on her own in the locker room. They sent us over from the Reserve’s Annex to join your practice today.” .Chapter 15 A Complicated Afternoon Lucy was back at the club earlier than she had planned.” Serendipity said.” Uvan imitated one of Parisa Cartwright’s dexterity exercises. Liha and the other two guardians from the reserve squad were waiting outside the locker room. Is Sandeep back?” “She’s in Physical Therapy. “Learning to wiggle her fingers again. and strapped on their practice short-sword harnesses. Rather than catch the end of calisthenics. Liha. “Where have you been?” “I took some personal time. “Hey. what’s up?” Lucy said.

“Looks like you goddesses are joining us today?” Chrysanthemum tightened her lips. right? . “First. Serendipity walked by. Uvan shook her head. supervisor.” she said.” Lucy slipped her hand loose. touched Lucy’s elbow for a moment. Serendipity had her impeccable naïve persona in place: “Serendipity Banerjee.” she said. “Hi. Fredrick’s the last two days.” She tipped her head at the practice room door. Chrysanthemum hung back and took Lucy’s hand.” She avoided Chrysanthemum.” Serendipity said to the goddesses. then looked away and walked into the practice room. behind the reserve girls. and you are? What a pretty name.” She followed Chrysanthemum in. Uvan introduced herself with enthusiasm: “Uvan Marek.” Bimini said.” The guardians and goddesses shuffled around making introductions. “You’re such a jerk. “This can’t be good.Gladiator Girl 229 They strode around the curve of the corridor and saw the goddesses entering the Sword Practice room.” Uvan said. This is Monica Karanzinski.” Uvan said. “That’s a Bimini-Uvan thing. Lucy.” “Oh?” Lucy said. didn’t have time for tea. Lucy was last in. “They actually like each other. Bimini was waiting in the room along with the goddess trainer? coach? wrangler? “We’re going to try something new. “I was worried about you. “I am Bimini Tanaka. nice to meet you. the guardian sword coach. Ah. “Big surprise. They already knew each other. the goddess supervisor.” “I’m fine.” Lucy greeted everyone with. “I warned you about your eyes. Bimini waggled a finger at her.” “Thank you for the commentary. how you doin’?” She repeated all the goddess’s names as they were told to her. please introduce yourselves. She addressed the whole group. some introductions. “I was looking for you at Mr. Everyone. “I was busy.

” she said. I was an asshole earlier. H. Bimini had the guardians practice advanced kinesthetic maneuvers while Monica did something with the goddesses at the back of the room. “It was frightening.” “Well. “You’re not OK. Lucy was paired with Chenina. Lucy sheathed her swords.” Bimini said. Lucy walked over to Chrysanthemum. Bimini had the guardians run through simple sword handling until everyone. not at all. What do you mean?” Chrysanthemum stepped up to Lucy’s face. Bimini called a break. “You know. “I want to apologize. “Don’t know.” Lucy said. The guardians collected at the side wall racks where they kept their swords when using practice sticks. I guess you saw me run out of the auditorium the other day?” “Yes I did. was comfortable with the new situation. “and since there are more goddesses than we presently have guardians.” Chrysanthemum said.” “What? I’m not . . They cleared away the altar boxes. and the guardians and goddesses separated. They pulled out altar boxes. or their long-sword scabbards when using real blades. She looked past the reserves. The reserve guardians were listening in. After a half hour. . the reserve squad is joining us.” Lucy said. guardians and goddesses. I’m okay. The goddesses had collected in the middle of the room. real goddesses sat on them. “It’s as big a mystery to us as it is to you. like today. “I’m sure it will be interesting. Today. Watson “We will be conducting goddesses-guardian exercises.” “Stop lying!” Chrysanthemum said. no doubt for a similar discussion. .” She split everyone into guardian-goddess pairs.” Serendipity said.230 R. “What do you think she’s leading up to?” Uvan said. and everyone who cares about you knows―that wasn’t something you just get over with a day later!” This wasn’t the conversation Lucy had expected. this wasn’t even close. Begin with basic weapon handling. that’s over now. and I know. “Chrissy.

Yourself!” Chrysanthemum poked Lucy in the sternum three times as she spoke. and in anticipation of.” Bimini said. She was now holding an exposed. until the last poke forced Lucy to take a step back. Lucy backed away from Chrysanthemum. “Goddesses. “Huh?” Lucy said. you will perform the advanced improvisation. She was paired with Serendipity. and slipped it back into its scabbard to remind her left arm where it was. She reached around her back. neither their actions nor yours will be predictable. Begin when you are ready. Yet. She walked to the section of floor that had informally been designated for Chenina and her. That had been impressed upon her and every girl in the Academy blood battle program since the first day of training. “You can’t die― Trying. pulled out her short-sword. deadly weapon. The goddesses will perform their own exercise within the same space. Good. Things aligned. harder each time. Here it comes. then took a deep breath. let it out. your own actions. The only way to keep herself and those around her safe was to maintain an attitude of respect and confidence. but it felt like wondering.” Lucy looked for Chrysanthemum. She picked up her long-sword and waited a moment to clear her head. and drew the blade from its scabbard. She was distracted. This is bad. To save. The goddesses stepped into the exercise space and faced the guardians.” Bimini said. They will move in reaction to. you can’t see that you’re the one who needs a champion! You can’t fight this alone!” “Fight what?” “Back to work. they always did. please take your starting positions. confining your scope to a rectangle the size and shape of the temple-top. . “Guardians. Move at the speed of confidence. “You’re so busy taking care of everybody else. then walked to the sword rack.Gladiator Girl 231 “Who’s the one person you can’t die trying to save?” Chrysanthemum said. and stop in your own time.

Lucy felt fantastic! Bimini’s exercises always got her excited. directly into the path of the blades. until now. legs. kinesthetic intelligence space. He’s eating his way back into my life. Watson She turned to Chenina. not by any definition Lucy understood. sometimes pulling back at the last moment. Their last move eased from frenzy to a static pose. and Chenina enlarged her scope of actions. This wasn’t meditation. She started to have fun. and if there was one thing Lucy could appreciate. and I don’t know how to stop him. The goddesses are trained in kinesthetic intelligence? Eventually they stopped. and I’ll still have one unassailable center. Chenina had turned assertive. She found she could screw with Chenina: trick her into reacting to actions that didn’t materialize. Chenina nodded. rather. sometimes fearlessly. but this was exceptional. But Lucy was getting to know Chenina. By the time Lucy had eased up to higher speeds. H. Everything was happening in Bimini’s faster-thanthought. not the person. forcing Lucy to compensate with radical changes that threw off her momentum and balance. Lucy picked up her pace. this aggressive presence that. and sometimes her whole body. her eyes were still closed and she was crying. Now what did I do? .” Chenina closed her eyes. Chenina was invading her sword space. She looked at Chenina. But you know what? My whole fucking world can fall apart. Lucy started. but Chenina would trick right back. had been hidden behind the goddess mystique. Lucy watched her slow her breathing and hold her arms out to her sides. At first Chenina’s movements were contained and slow. seeming to fall for Lucy’s ruse and then dodging toward the real blade path.232 R. They were the last ones to finish. “When you’re ready. Chenina brought her palms together in the prayer position. This. it was aggression. threatening her balance by thrusting her arms.

She began clapping her hands and the goddesses joined in.” *** . The guardians didn’t know what to do.” She looked at Monica.” Chrysanthemum was watching alongside Serendipity. Not every day. . Serendipity started to clap and the other guardians followed her example. “We will be doing more of these combined exercises. Chrysanthemum came over and squeezed Lucy’s hand again. and fucked up.” Lucy said. “I gave it to Thad to celebrate his finishing the Human Anatomy course.” Monica said. it is. “Yes. I wish you could be there. He’s taking me to a mystery restaurant tonight for the sweater’s public debut. wiped them with her hands. and smiled at Lucy. right?” Chenina opened her eyes. of course. “How’s that sweater project going?” Lucy said. Lucy grinned at Chenina and she smiled back. “That’s my guardian. that’s good. Everyone filtered into the corridor.” she said under her breath. “It’s done. I can’t tell which one feels better. Monica stopped clapping and motioned everyone to quiet down. “Thanks everybody.” Uvan laughed.” Bimini said.” “So. “How are you feeling?” “Great . “Yes. “That’s a joke.” Bimini said.” Chrysanthemum kissed her on the cheek. “That is all for today. Serendipity gave her a shrewd glance. then followed after the other goddesses. We may even have the guardians learn the goddess tea ceremony. not even in a womb.” Chrysanthemum turned and walked backwards. “I’ve never felt so safe in my whole life. right? Right?” Lucy and the guardians sheathed their swords. very impressive. “Are you okay? Did I hurt you?” “You didn’t hurt me at all.” Chenina said. “That went well. .Gladiator Girl 233 She stepped over to Chenina. “The thing is.

” Coach Kai laughed once in astonishment. She was adjusting its fit in the mirror when there was a knock on her office door. of course. “How did it go?” “No one died. Watson Bimini changed from her informal coaching clothes to a business suit.” “Perhaps .” Bimini adjusted her collar in the mirror. but she is haunted by her childhood.” “How did she do?” Bimini finished fussing with her suit and faced Coach Kai. Did you read Donna’s report?” “I have now. It would be unethical to try. She is more willing than anyone I have ever worked with to push herself to the absolute limit of her abilities. She is always as good as she needs to be.” “It is a thorough. It’s not my concern. objective assessment of the security implications posed by her brother. both physically and emotionally. But the subtext suggests Lucy is at risk of an emotional breakdown. I suppose. Serendipity continues to hide her true abilities behind a cloak of misdirection.234 R. “If I can manage it. Yes.” Coach Kai stepped in. “Come in. I’d like you to come along. her true potential. Betty. and she may never know. We may never know. . Her kinesthetic intelligence is the best I have ever seen. “Lucy is an outstanding guardian.” “If I did get such a job. What do you know about Donna’s past?” “Nothing. You should not have let her meet her brother. “That’s not something I can control. terrified it will catch her up. If you are offered that job coaching an Alpha League team. but is so deceptive it could hurt her career. .” Coach Kai said.” “We will see.” “What job is that?” “The one every Beta League coach wants. I recommend you take her with you. you are correct. H. “You’ll go where Lucy goes. I sus- .” “Donna’s childhood is as hidden as Lucy has kept hers.

” she said.” Samantha led Bimini through the check point and deep into the building. releasing a puff of chilly air. put on her suit coat. “Please come in. asked me to consult on a matter of murder by sword. I’m sure this is complicating your schedule.” and pulled it open.” “A happy accident. She pressed her ID against a door labeled. feet.” Bimini said. and heads. who is now on the police force. “Good afternoon. There are several living people eager to talk to you. The tables were arranged . “I hope so. “I couldn’t miss a chance to visit one of my best former students. The bodies were missing their hands.” Samantha stepped aside and opened the door. “I suppose so. I was trying to win a match. Bimini. I have to go. Thanks for coming.” Coach Kai said. That was luck.” “As do I. The room wasn’t big. but I don’t deserve such a compliment. “Now. And she is worried.” Bimini showed Coach Kai out. “Active Investigations. Was that your intention?” “No. Samantha was waiting when Bimini’s car pulled up to the morgue’s main entrance. “Lucy has the potential to define the role of guardian for a generation of players if she doesn’t destroy herself first.Gladiator Girl 235 pect she understands Lucy’s situation better than any of us.” Bimini opened her office door and held it for Coach Kai. and adjusted the sleeves and shirt cuffs. “Thank you.” “Does it have anything to do with those rumors of blood boy leagues?” “I’ll let you know. The three people waiting inside were almost crowded out by fifteen bodies on tables.” Bimini stepped out of the car. An old student from the Academy. Fortunately she has acquired a powerful ally in the Goddess Chrysanthemum. pungent with the smell of preservatives.

” “How inefficient. Guardian Sword Coach for Burning Desire.” “Thanks for coming.” Olia held out her hand. Bimini looked at the cut end of the arm and then at the neck where the victim’s head had been removed. The left arm had been cut off and placed on the table next to the body. Inspector Olia Fournier. Natashia Hannech. Most of the heads required two chops. the leading investigator.” “The heads. “Olia. Bimini nodded. “This is Bimini Tanaka. but not the head. after death. “I suppose it does. The fourth most recent showed up yesterday. alarmed actually. the next seven within the last three weeks. They’re arranged in the order they were found. Watson side-by-side in three rows with just enough space between them to walk around. “One chop each for the hands and feet. The amputating cut continued into the torso. Bimini leaned in for a close look at a wound on the nearest body. hands. Investigative Medicine. and Emil West. starting with the oldest. could you explain the history of these discoveries?” “We found the bodies over the last six months.” . H. Samantha tells me you suspect these unfortunates are victims of sword attacks?” “The depth and thin profile of the cuts along with the extension from the draw-out suggest a sword or sword like weapon. “The weapon you described cut off the arm. She let the door ease closed behind her.” Natashia said.” “I’m amazed you have been able to keep this quiet. “I will do what I can.” Bimini said. Social Pathology.236 R. “Hello everyone. The first eight over a five month period.” Olia touched the corner of the table nearest the door.” Natashia said. “The relative putrefaction makes the arrangement clear. and the last three this morning. here.” Bimini said and walked down a row of bodies. We’re concerned. at the sudden increase in killings. and feet were likely removed with a cleaver. Bimini.” Samantha said.

and tests of metal residue from the blade are consistent with a longsword’s composition. This led some of us to suspect an indi vidual involved with the BB League. both long and short-swords. one group of two.” Bimini and Samantha finished moving the tables. See the difference here. A properly made sword would not have done that. but Lieutenant Villanueva disagreed. “I would like to rearrange the tables.” Bimini said. could you help me?” Bimini said.” The investigation team pressed themselves against the wall. but the manufacturing is hurried. Decent amateur blades made using the proper alloys.” Bimini said. You can see here. “These wounds were not made with blood battle swords. the edges lack precision. “Understandable. “Approximately sixteen to eighteen years old. “Natashia wasn’t convinced. “The victims are young. and one body by itself. Bimini and Samantha wheeled three of the tables out of the way against another wall to make some maneuvering room. The bodies were now arranged in four groups of three.” Bimini nodded.” she pointed at the end of a cut. The weapon fits the profile of a blood battle long-sword.” She sucked in her stomach so Samantha could swing a table past her. “The blade pulled minute bits of bone and flesh out of the wound when it was removed. The differences between the two types of wounds are easier to discern if you understand the strategy involved. “Please continue. they were facsimiles. “Samantha is correct. and here.” “Samantha. “These bodies were cut with imitation guardian weapons.Gladiator Girl 237 “Our killer’s style looks enough like the blood boy urban legends to be dismissed as rumor. and this stab wound here?” “The lieutenant pointed that out on a body we found last week.” said Olia. Samantha always had a sharp eye and a . Natashia cleared her throat.

Please continue. though it helps—to an extent. and there are bodies missing. “I like what I’m doing. “The wounds not only suggest an improvement in the technique of the killers. However. not the psyche. He seems to be getting better with practice and wants us to know it.” Bimini glanced at her. “I do. ah. Watson keen intellect. maybe more. “No. thank you. “You are probably correct about the sex. “Yes.” “How many more victims?” “At least twice as many. These boys were attacked by four distinct swordsmen. I would think.” “You will be aging-out within a year. That extent is achievable across the gender spectrum. “Yes. Everyone was looking at her.” “You mean we have four killers?” Olia said. “Is there anything else?” “Obviously we’re dealing with a serial killer. which suggests he’s building to some climactic event. “And he’s accelerating his murder rate. but also an improvement in the technique of the losers. You may want to inspect the results of a BB match. I do need to amend your analysis. She turned back to the investigation team. Imparting effective energy to a blade requires more than strength.” she said to Emil.” Emil said. he’s allowing us to find his victims. “The force implied by the depths of the cuts suggest the attacker had the upper body strength of a male. “He’s―” “He?” Bimini said. but not identify them.” Natashia said.238 R. I understand swords and sword wounds. but your reasoning is flawed.” Bimini said.” “Mother Goddess!” Olia said. I have a copy of my profile if you’d like to read it. The progress in technique from one to the next suggests there should be several more incremental improvements in the killers’ skill.” He held out a bound collection of papers.” Emil looked at Natashia who nodded. She would make an excellent coach.” . H.” Samantha said.

” She pointed at the group of two bodies. you look skeptical. “here it is?” “Not exactly. “It is because he killed these two boys. the fourth group consists of earlier victims of our dead killer. a right hander with more interest in precision than force. Olia.” “How can you tell?” Natashia said.” . are they not?” The investigation team nodded. He has the muscle development of a right handed swordsman.” Natashia said. and the most recent ones were much improved in their skill over the first few. I can’t make claims like that without empirical evidence. clear evidence of the sex of at least one of them. “This is one of the killers. “I’m sure you noticed this victim is older than the others?” “A bit. and depth of the cuts on these bodies suggest a forceful right handed opponent of about his height. “The angle and placement of the killing cuts indicate the victims were increasingly skilled at deflecting easy attacks. And incidentally. “Because he’s older? He doesn’t fit the established victim pattern?” “Victim patterns are within your purview.” “It sounds like a lot of speculation.” “Wait. well. “The wounds to the boys in the other groups were delivered by a left hander.” Bimini walked over to the body she had left isolated from any of the groups.” Bimini said. a significantly taller right handed duelist. angle.Gladiator Girl 239 “The losers?” Emil said. yes.” Olia spread her arms. “The direction. and of course. See how direct these cuts are compared to these?” Bimini pointed at wounds on the first and third bodies in a group of three. These are the three bodies you found this morning. Natashia. close to two meters tall.” Emil said. “You’re telling us the urban legend might be true and. Twenty-five to twenty-six. “These boys were all participants in sword duels. and Emil leaned in to look. Natashia.

” “You are excited. I am speculating. “I think this boy and the gentleman over there killed each other.” “I understand. H. I didn’t mean to disrespect the victims. I got carried away. “I apologize. Emil stepped forward. “I think you have a small group of men who are training younger boys and then dueling with them. “I’d appreciate that. to improve their skill. I think the older group is dedicated to becoming skilled to a level that can only be achieved by facing increasingly well trained opponents in death duels. but they have gotten to the point where. These are dangerous men―they’ve found something. in every match. Whoever delivered it was likely dying himself. a once-in-a-career case. more important than the social restraints against killing. This cut was the decisive strike.” “Thanks. people who crave pushing the edge of their skill. but we have a sword fighting club?” Olia said. In this case the skill is blood battle swordsmanship. “If I may?” Bimini nodded. but everything I say is based on examining the wounded and deceased players after every game.” Bimini walked to one of the boys killed by the dead man. I have coached. Watson “Of course. Bimini is describing extremists.240 R.” Bimini said.” “But they’d be risking their own lives. “They keep getting better and leave us more progress reports?” . a calling.” “What’s next?” Olia said. often at risk to their own lives.” Olia said. They would see them as inferior because they lack the courage to face real death. “I expect they would despise the girls who actually play the game.” Natashia said. “These wouldn’t be typical serial killers. they must face opponents who are at least their equal. but it is crude.” “So we don’t have a league. I can show you the detailed evidence for my assessment after this meeting. If you like. but this is unique.

” “But your girls will be safe won’t they?” Natashia said. They’ll want to fight the real thing. We don’t want these guys knowing we’re onto them. they would be training themselves to fight chargers.” “Sorry. you people. “No. you should realize our girls are as mortal as you are. They may try to destroy or steal the memory placentas of the guardians they want to challenge. “I’m superseding you’re authority. “These men will want a duel to the death. “This has to be kept quiet. Your killers’ ultimate challenge is the forbidden challenge.” Emil said. “Perhaps you can help them understand?” She spoke to Emil. “Wait a minute. “Samantha. You said they desire an ulti mate challenge.” Bimini shook her head. yes? Both parties must be at risk of a true death?” “I believe so. Without refrigeration. as dead as these poor boys. “If they’re imitating blood battle guardians. if their bodies are kept away from their memory placentas and a womb for only a few hours after conventional death they will be dead.” *** . The accelerated murder rate suggests the event is imminent. “an ultimate challenge. I know I promised confidentiality. inspector.” “The womb-atoriums should be warned.” Olia said.” He looked at Bimini.” Samantha said. but I must tell the BB League. they could put hundreds of girls in jeopardy. not to mention the mythos.Gladiator Girl 241 “They’re still working up to a climactic event. Yet.” she said to Samantha. The rules. “Even if these guys manage to kill one of them?” “Honestly. of blood battle forbid guardians from fighting each other.” She looked at Samantha. They will want to fight a guardian. especially the police. that hasn’t prevented fans from arguing endlessly over the hypothetical outcomes of such duals. Depending on how crude their methods are.

It held six wombs. I’d say your niece was a blood battle goddess. it looks like a botched goddess beheading. One was in use. your niece is healing nicely.” “Don’t let anyone near this womb.” Maxton said to the other Katrina. help her and do whatever she says.” she said. “Guard this jar. “It looks healthy. H. She led them into the Womb Room. I want it loaded and on its way. The matron pointed out Francine’s. As soon as the wagon arrives. the almost mythical black sheep patriarch of the family. made a quick visual inspection.” The matron took them to the monitoring station. “Oh my!” “What?” Maxton said.242 R. officially.” “Thank you. Watson “Show me my niece’s womb. and that looks like a long-sword cut. sir. Give it permission to cross the Mansion security perimeter. “Now. “This is it.” “Look at this echo picture. In fact. “Your niece looks to be in excellent condition. the matron’s aid they had picked up at the Laughing Cherub. “A womb transport wagon should be arriving about now. If I didn’t know better. Miriam sat and studied the data. but she didn’t hit her head.” he said to the matron.” “How?” “It’s not my position to say. Miriam. “Show us her placenta jar.” Miriam and Jayzen left for the Womb Room.” Maxton said to one of the Katrinas. the monitors.” .” The matron jumped at the sudden appearance of Maxton Verbeek. It held twentythree jars. Please prepare to move Francine’s womb and jar.” “Miriam?” Maxton said. The top half of her skull was nearly cut off. “They told you she hit her head?” “That’s right. Jayzen. but we service the local blood battle clubs. The Memory Vault was directly off the Womb Room. I’d like to see the monitors. Maxton said to the matron.

The door to the transport dock was open at the other end of the room. nodding toward the monitoring station door.” He pointed at Francine’s echo picture. “What?” Jayzen looked up. “Tell me what my nephew wanted kept quiet. They pushed the transfer pallet to the wagon. It was still an accident. “It was an accident. There was an accident. The boy who performed the deed missed. “I see it.” “I wanted what?” “Quiet!” “It’s the charity program for the disadvantaged boys. “Now. He didn’t want people getting the wrong idea. They wanted to demonstrate a goddess beheading. into the Womb Room.” Maxton said to the Katrina guarding the womb. “Jayzen. Miriam and Jayzen had the womb maneuvered onto a transfer pallet. “You help her.” “That’s crazy!” “We’re ready to move the womb onto the wagon. “Him?” Maxton said. You have one chance to explain this.” . “She says you’re behind all this.” Maxton took her by the arm and pushed her through the door.” “How did self esteem lead to my niece being attacked with a sword?” “They teach boys to be like blood battle girls. and signed its access request.Gladiator Girl 243 The matron checked the transport queue.” Maxton said. Miriam was disconnecting the womb from the local circulatory system and hooking it to the self contained system on the pallet.” she said. “My niece did not hit her head!” “I know. Maxton could see the wagon. Francine agreed to play the part since she was due for her synchronization. but he wanted it kept quiet. pointing at Jayzen. “Thank you.” Miriam said. The one to build self esteem.” “Who? The wrong idea about what?” “Him.” she said.” she said.

” “You signed the papers. they do miss sometimes. the womb-atorium staff.” Jayzen said. Miriam was back. “Jayzen?” Maxton said. H. “I don’t know what she’s talking about. “Who actually ran this program?” “Mister Grizzly. “Mother made me administrator for some of her funds. so they used code names.” she said. That’s pretty irresponsible on their part. pushing a second. They wanted to keep it quiet until they had some success stories to tell.” the matron said.” Miriam said. “Hmm. Watson “Missed?” “Yes.” “Ask the Katrina in the Memory Vault to help you. only agreed to help because it was one of your mother’s projects. I guess.” she said.244 R. but Sunday evening they met here in the gymnasium so Francine would be close to the womb-atorium. . “I need to move the girl’s placenta jar. I didn’t pay much attention. “The two Memory Vault standby units are out for maintenance. “It’s a good thing we had our own portable circulatory system.” Maxton said.” Miriam and the other Katrina came out of the Memory Vault pushing the pallet with Francine’s placenta jar. The only real name was Jayzen’s” “Where do they run this program?” “I don’t know. Miriam pushed the pallet into the Vault. “We. I could have.” “I didn’t know. then to the matron. smaller transfer pallet. I signed some papers. “Mister Grizzly?” “Teaching boys to play blood battle could be controversial with all those rumors about secret boys leagues. Jayzen signed the approval. approved some projects.” Maxton said.” She nodded at the matron.” Jayzen said. She said she wanted me to learn the virtue of helping others.” “Well.

“I will personally return your womb after Francine is reborn. “No.” “Then he’s a lecher. shouldn’t we?” “Yes. “Shouldn’t we be meeting the wagon when it arrives?” “The womb-atorium staff will know what to do. “Who’s Maxton?” Uvan said after Mr. jingled.Gladiator Girl 245 “To summarize. He lives in the Helping Hand shelter. “Maxton came by and mentioned how much he appreciated meeting you. yeah. “we snuck in here to steal my niece’s womb because she was accidentally injured while helping out one of my sister-in-law’s charities that is being run by a mysterious person who calls himself Mister Grizzly and is administered by my nephew who doesn’t know anything about it?” “I lost you somewhere in the middle.” Maxton said. we should. They nodded and gave the car a destination nowhere near the Laughing Cherub. Mr. “The transport wagon is on its way.” the matron said.” he said to the matron. “He’s an old guy I met Sunday night in the Seafront Park.” “After you ran out of the auditorium?” Serendipity said. he’s a bum. I don’t trust the mysterious Mister Grizzly. and the Katrinas out of the mansion and to the nearest public car kiosk. Thanks. Uvan.” Maxton said. Miriam came back in with the Katrinas. We should be going. They took a table at the side of the room. and Lucy walked through the door. When they were in a car. “Ah.” He led Jayzen. Fredrick brought over a round of cinnamon tea. and I want time to think. “Is he rich?” Uvan said. and jingled as Serendipity.” . Fredrick retreated to the counter. “Sorry to trouble you.” Lucy said. “Who? Oh yeah.” Lucy said. Miriam.” he said to Lucy. “Why are we still sneaking?” Jayzen said.” The Alice’s Tea Shop doorbell jingled. he held up two fingers to the Katrinas.

” Uvan said. He told me I could try it. Lucy. “Not everything is what is seems. Fredrick likes the spiritual nuance of things. that sort of stuff.” “Not funny at all. “Hey.” Serendipity said. “He asked me about my tea. Serendipity kept speaking to Lucy.” “He was a lame lecher. . we’re all part of the Goddess. do you?” “Mr. it’s the best thing since lollipops for picking up little girls.” “Get a room.” “It wasn’t just tea.” “Some of yours?” Uvan said. if I can have some of yours. Fredrick made me one of his special infusions.” “Sure he did.246 R. Mr. “You don’t believe that bullshit. Mr. “Not funny.” “What did he want to talk about?” Serendipity said. .” Serendipity said.” “I once got a part of the Goddess in my eye.” “That tea that’s supposed to taste like your soul?” Uvan said.” “Only if you give me permission or if you’ve had some of mine. H. My eye swelled shut for two hours!” “What does your tea taste like?” Serendipity said.” “I think you should. Lucy got up and went to the counter. . Watson “He was a lonely old guy who wanted somebody to talk to. I had an allergic reaction. Are you going to have some?” “I don’t know . “Especially after meeting them today. “You can have some of mine. does the lecher have a tea?” “He said he did.” “He wanted to get in your pants.” “You’ve got to. you two!” Uvan said.” Serendipity said. Fredrick was delivering tea to a table at the front. She mimed digging a piece of meat out of the corner of her eye. “Why don’t you try it? I gather you can order some if you want.

“So. “What was it like then?” “It wasn’t sexual. “This is just for you. you’re waving to them. she was so hot for you.” .’ ‘I don’t know if I had an orgasm.” Mr. how can you tell?’” “I liked it. And my first time. penetrating weapons.” Serendipity said. “What do you mean?” “A month ago. “It’s on its way. if you saw one. After that last exercise.” “So. I mean.’ ‘It was over so fast. I’ll bring it over when it’s ready. blah-blah-blah and the exercise wouldn’t have worked unless we were both willing to share that space in a pretty intimate way.” Lucy said. holding their hands. what was it like for you?” Lucy said. sure. I had an orgasm. but I am interested. “The other night Maxton said I could try some of his tea. at least not like you’re implying.” “Falling in love with me?” “That one you were working with today? Chin-in-in . ‘It didn’t hurt as much as I thought.” Lucy returned to the guardians’ table. Not them.” “Chenina. and they’re all falling in love with you. my dear?” he said when he returned. and when I pop. “This is getting too strange. I’ve got swords. . . I mean. you’d run the other way.” Lucy said.Gladiator Girl 247 “What can I do for you. “The exercise.” “It wasn’t like that. Then I spend a week and a half in a womb. what’s up with you and the goddesses?” Uvan said. and began pinching and scooping samples into a pot from eight jars. “Whatever. she was leaving wet little footprints wherever she walked. We sound like teenagers talking about our first times. Fredrick pulled his tray of ingredients from under the counter. but―” Uvan had an ear-to-ear smirk.” “Your friends put you up to this?” “Yes.

Mr. Fredrick brought Maxton’s infusion over in a demitasse.” Mr. you know? Like when you get some in your mouth during a fight. Lucy looked at the demitasse. “Whoa. There was a richness about it. then the tea spiked―like a mouthful of hot peppers―and was gone. He made a show of crossing over his arms to deliver the personal infusions to Serendipity and Lucy. She poured the tea into her mouth and stirred it with her tongue. A specific person’s blood. “What?” Serendipity and Uvan said. “and can you bring a cup of my tea for Serendipity?” “And one of mine for her. Fredrick came over with a mop to clean the floor.” Lucy wiped her mouth with her sleeve. For the longest time. “Not .248 R. It lingered for several moments. Finally. “Don’t worry about it. and was replaced by― Lucy turned and spit the tea on the floor. They waited. “Fuck!” she said. “Thanks. “Going from that last conversation to the old lecher’s tea is creepy. like a soft silk chair.” Lucy said. “Sorry.” Uvan laughed. “Well?” Uvan and Serendipity said. Fredrick nodded and departed. Uvan watched with her elbows on the table and chin in her hands.” Uvan said. Fredrick brought over the new infusions.” Serendipity said. “Enjoy. followed by a mild melt ing in of dark chocolate. Serendipity’s tea didn’t taste like anything. then drank. the flavor of smoke crept in. Fredrick took the demitasse. “It tasted like blood!” Mr.” Mr.” Lucy and Serendipity picked up and clinked their cups. “That’s some strange tea. Lucy used it and handed the glass back. “That lecher did a number on you.” “It really tasted like blood. kid.” Uvan said. H. Watson Mr. Lucy picked up the cup. He also brought a glass of palette cleanser. or pipe tobacco.

” Serendipity said to Uvan. You took him home. just like you.” Uvan said.” Serendipity said. From what I see. “No child should ever have to go through that. Her placenta jar is in- .” Uvan opened her mouth to speak.” “What? It couldn’t possibly―” “Lucy’s tea is complicated. How about his?” “The same. How about some bar crawling?” “Sorry.” Lucy stopped at the counter on her way out. “It will take a couple of hours until we have enough data to project the time remaining in her gestation. Fredrick said. It’s Guardians’ Night Out.” “I remember. I’d guess her rebirth is at least a week away. “Now we’re talking like we’re eight?” Uvan said.” Serendipity said. Who is he?” “He prefers his anonymity. She leaned over and whispered in Lucy’s ear.” Lucy said. .” Mr. Serendipity finished swirling Lucy’s tea around and swallowed. “Your tea would taste like butt. “Tea time’s over. “He was sweet. Serendipity maintained a poker face.’ than ‘who. “With a cute boy I met during last week’s Guardians’ Night Out.” She winked at Serendipity.” It was early evening by the time Francine’s womb was installed in the Laughing Cherub. kids. his past. “Sweet and syrupy.” Lucy said. Maxton hovered over her shoulder in the Monitoring room. “I’ve got a date. “Her progress looks good. like a lost puppy. She was the evening matron and had come on duty an hour earlier.’ Something I think you’re familiar with .” “Oh Yeah? Mine’s catching up with me lately.” Rothmira said. “I should get me some of that special tea. “I don’t need tea to figure that out. “Maxton’s not a bum. “Not with the old guy. “Who’s he hiding from?” “More ‘what. .Gladiator Girl 249 bad.” Uvan said.” Lucy said. but nice.

“We’ve received a security alert. The Katrinas had been stripped of their jackets and body armor. but you will follow mine. “What now? We haven’t committed a crime. “Head of security.” “I. and I understand you’re not used to following orders.” . Someone had given them white terrycloth robes.” “She better be. She will be fine. and inspect that womb and the jar they brought in for any abnormalities. I’m Inspector Olia Fournier. All you can do is evict us. however. “What’s going on?” Maxton said. “Disconnect that womb and the girl’s placenta jar from our infrastructure.” she said.” “I’ll just be a minute.” She led him to a waiting room. “Come along Mister Verbeek.” Bristol said. He turned to face a sternly uniformed woman. “An unknown party may try to sabotage one or all of the city’s womb-atoriums. immediately. “Bristol Roth. can arrest you.” A police inspector walked into the room. Watson stalled in the Memory Vault. this puts you under suspicion. Its environment looks stable. Jayzen and the Katrinas were under guard by two police Special Operations officers. I think we’re all settled in. I would like to ask you some questions. “I know who you are.” “What about my niece?” “You heard my orders. You understand.” he said. Support them with a portable system.” Maxton said. Jayzen Verbeek. Then check our circulation for any contaminants that may have been introduced. Her womb and jar will be run off an isolated system. officers. “You can’t arrest us.250 R. I need you to step out of the Monitoring Room. “Mister Verbeek. then she spoke to Rothmira. H.” “Maxton Verbeek?” “Yes?” Maxton said.O.” He eyed the S.” Bristol put her hand on her electric stunner.

“Inspector.Gladiator Girl 251 “I demand the right to call an advocate.” . please ask your questions.” Maxton said. “Calm down.” Jayzen said.

Fuck. which means he didn’t believe it until now. Lucy left a reply: Really? It seemed like whatever I said today. after the game review. We should be back around twenty-one or so.Chapter 16 An Interesting Evening There was a message from Charlotte: Jessica and I are going out for a light dinner. the goddess I told you about who. You’re amazing. Then there was Chrissy.) . I finally gave up and didn’t say anything. but I’m fine now. I kind of went crazy. you know. (The sound of a deep sigh. I told her I was okay after Sunday— Wait. I thought I was making Kathy and Paul more upset. people heard the opposite. and Dad says he always knew they were. apparently. Mom says she’s not going to worry any more when I’m in a womb because you told her they were safe. that’s what I told Chrissy and she accused me of lying. you don’t know about Sunday. for a while. I don’t know what you said to my parents this morning but it worked like magic. Every time I opened my mouth Kathy started crying.

” “Is it sharp?” “Yes. Felix Yassin. The first two guests.” . “Yes. Oh. He’ll probably get offended and walk out on me. “Tell me about the Potato Bar. especially from the boys. but strange. “Huh? Ah. I wasn’t threatening to .” She walked over to the waiting area.” she said. do you want me to show you?” “No! I was just asking! You don’t have to get so huffy!” “I didn’t mean . The next two sit at the far end of the table from the first two. . and smart. .” Felix said. He felt his hair. and the last two sit in the remaining center seats.Gladiator Girl 253 Anyway. boring ignoramus. I’ll play it safe and tell him he’s an ugly. She leaned her sword against the desk while she dug his room number out of her bag. “Did I forget to comb?” “Let’s go!” They walked to the car kiosk.” she said. “They encourage their patrons to extend their social circle beyond the people they came with. remember him? So I won’t be back until late. When Felix arrived she kissed him on the cheek. Lucy picked it up. Lucy stopped at the front desk of Felix’s dorm at the Polytechnic. unless I tell him he’s handsome. interesting. never mind. Is that real?” The student behind the desk was staring at her sword. You have a guest. I have a date with Felix. She didn’t mind the attention. room 504. . but these Polytechnic students were more overt in their sidelong glances than the normal population.” she said. “It’s fun. no more than four people from the same party per table. whether they know each other or not. The two after that sit at the other end. sit across from each other in one of the center places. Lucy was used to her sword drawing notice. “You look good. “Room 504. Everyone sits at long tables with a bench on each side: eight guests per table. .

“No.” The Potato Bar was built from old-style carved wood and shaped stone. Watson “Sounds like a social philosopher’s kind of place. my goddess. a determined. The girl sitting on the near side turned.” “Call me Chrissy.” “It is. “Chrissy?” Lucy said.” “Aren’t they the same thing?” Thad said. “Chrissy didn’t know we were coming here.” Thad said.” Thad said.” Thad said. “Please sit.254 R. “I have to agree with Goddess Chrysanthemum on that point. and sat opposite Felix. during the match this weekend. there is no such thing as a coincidence. And who is this?” “Oh. Felix picked it. . “Have you been here before?” Chrysanthemum said. I mean.” Chrysanthemum said. “No. He already had reservations. “The former implies a truly random. this is Felix. the latter. she was the goddess for my game. “This is Lucy Star.” she said to the boy across the table who was standing to let Lucy in. This is one of those. Felix. “Thad. is this a coincidence?” “As the only representative of the Goddess present. The atmosphere inside churned with conversation.” “Same with us. however. A waiter showed them to a table where they would be the last two guests. inscrutable mysteries. “Thad. undeterminable universe.” Chrysanthemum said. “I must point out. So.” Felix said.” “Still sounds the same to me. She put her scabbard under the table and leaned it against the bench. but ultimately incomprehensible one. The people on the end got up to let them in.” Chrysanthemum said. this is Chrysanthemum. H. It was almost full when they arrived. how wonderful!” Chrysanthemum said. There are.” Lucy sidestepped in. “Lucy. the guardian who saved my head this weekend.

” “I’ll try it. “It means. “Thad and I don’t know you.” Samantha said.” Chrysanthemum said. and a house ale please. It’s true that Lucy and I know each other.” Chrysanthemum said.” Lucy said.” “I disagree. “Yes.” Lucy said to the waiter. but only one way. “on the ceiling. apple of the earth. so they fit together.” Hanna and Finn on the far end of the table joined in on the introductions. “What’s ‘La Pomme de Terre?’” “It’s French for potato. “Hi.” Lucy said.” “Thanks.” Lucy said. “They fit together. “with apples. We should rearrange ourselves. “We’re breaking the rules.” She turned to the woman sitting next to her. “Carl Moretti. The menu is on the chalk boards. We know each other and we’re sitting together in a group of four.” The older man sitting across from her (he was about twice her age) said.” “No they’re not. Nice earrings.” Lucy moved her head to see both. “Thad was telling us about his sweater.” he pointed up. but you can see it in the way they reflect hi-lights.” Chrysanthemum said. but not grouped together. I work with Sam. I’m Lucy Star.” Carl said. “but you do have a point. Lucy turned back to Thad. Isn’t that a lovely name?” “But here. he said.” “Hello Sam. “Nice sweater. not quite symmetrical. That’s neat.” Lucy leaned back. “It’s subtle.” Felix said. and Lucy and you don’t know Thad. Each has a slight double curve.” “I thought four was okay?” “At a table.” “Samantha Villanueva. call me Sam. but we’re sitting kitty corner. After Felix ordered. it’s a particular potato dish. “Should we be ordering?” she said to Felix.Gladiator Girl 255 “Felix is studying philosophy. “Each one is half a circle.” “See? We’re legal.” .” “They should. “they’re a family heirloom. She noticed the waiter was lingering by their table.

Watson “Chrissy made it for me. I wished you could be here. “You’re a blood battle guardian.” Lucy said.” Chrysanthemum said. Inspector?” . “Excuse me. “Yes. “A team is an ad hoc collection of the club members who play in a partic ular game. you two are on the same team?” Carl said.” Samantha said. “and here you are. “Courtesy conference. H. She whispered into her ear.” She brushed against Chrysanthemum and felt the fine hairs on their cheeks slide across each other . “If we had lost our game.” “Thad. but I haven’t had time lately. “Excuse me. I didn’t get that. I saw it on our trip to Appalachi City.” Lucy said. “She wants her guardians and goddesses to get to know each other.” Lucy said.” “I take it. I’d be in a womb. They both sat down.” Lucy said. and you’re a goddess? And you’re friends?” “Our coach likes to screw around with the status quo. “What was that about?” Thad said.’” Chrysanthemum said. . “I told you this afternoon. What club are you with?” “Burning Des―” Samantha received an emergency talk-to request. “We’re members of the same club. “Is this okay? I don’t want to intrude on you and Thad. Lucy heard her say. She walked to the Potato Bar entrance. ‘yes.” Finn got up to let her out.” Chrysanthemum said. “Sorry. Didn’t I say it was wonderful? What about you and Felix?” “The same.256 R.” Chrysanthemum whispered. Do you follow blood battle?” “I used to. I have to accept this. and motioned for her to do the same. Lucy stood up.” “What she meant to say was. you should thank Lucy. and your sweater wouldn’t be finished.” “I know. leaned across the table toward Chrysanthemum. .

“This is an interesting place. It’s what she looks at. trainer. but they lacked commitment. And she has a kind of confidence that comes with rebirth. but knows its limitations. How could you tell?” “Her eyes. “and the soup is fantastic. She’s not a guardian though. I support the team. I’ll bet Sam could take them. easy. The first thing she wants to know when she meets someone is how to neutralize them. and well. She knows she has an edge. They were in it for the money. “That’s right. Lucy figured it out. That leaves military or police Special Operations. but stay far enough back to not get shot. I’d try to exploit their lack of commitment. The first course arrived: potato soup. She has guardian eyes. “Carl.” Samantha and Carl re-joined the table. what she notices.” “What about you?” “My training is narrow and completely focused on the sport. They were highly trained. but if I had to fight them. she doesn’t have a sword.” “What about private security?” Carl said.” Samantha came back.” Thad said. It’s unconscious. or at least know of her. and supervisor. “I’m a weapons specialist.” “Special Operations?” Carl gave her a wary look. .” . “They know we’re Special Operations. “I had a chance to meet a couple of those girls recently. They talked by the bar. She motioned to Carl to join her away from the table. “Not so easy to rebuild?” he said. “You two work together? What do you do?” “We’re with the police. Without their jackets full of tricks they’re not formidable.Gladiator Girl 257 Lucy said to Carl. very capable. if she was I’d know her. .” He spoke to Samantha. but always there. looking on edge. “What do you do on the team? Obviously.” Lucy said to Felix. you’re not .

“Carl.” Lucy said. but―” Finn said. including Taliba. They brought two of them in and paired them with two senior officers for field training. “On Sunday.” Finn spoke up from the other end of the table.” “Yes. They spend their first three years working with the senior officer they will replace. and I’m going to retire. H. there was a hostage incident at the Woods Hotel. . Ruth Kozlov and the girl she was training. but now you have to stay back. Everyone in the unit was there. Fifteen years ago I was on the team. how does that make you feel? Fifteen years ago. I went to Alice’s Tea Shop and asked Mr. “The next day we worked out a plan to reorganize the team around these remarkable young women. they can move into a supervisory or training role. because you’re a man. She was in perfect health. and we didn’t like it when the superintendent decided to add these inexperienced girls to the squad. “Sam is in her last year on the front line team.258 R.” Carl said. . were ambushed. after I .” The entrees arrived: eight fancy potato dishes. Fredrick to create a tea for me. Then. Next year she’s going to replace me. They were both killed. A week later we attended Ruth’s memorial service. like mine. left the auditorium.” “An old man. Watson Samantha gave Lucy a sharp look. Taliba. if they want. “See?” Lucy said. “I know you have issues.” . and spend their next three years working with the junior officer who will replace them. Carl leaned over to him. “I couldn’t help but overhear―” “I think overhearing is the idea in this place. dead. you might have been on the Special Operations team. Finn gave her a pinched smile and continued. Lots of people do. “but I see your point. “It’s in the eyes. but none of them are worth risking the lives of good officers. Lucy said to Chrysanthemum. Not long after.

but I wanted to. complex. Everybody seems to get something different.” She mouthed. he was composing your tea. “Didn’t I just say so? You were sitting at the counter with Mr. You were in good hands.” Lucy whispered across the table to Chrysanthemum. winter. I gave him some change. so today I tried it. Fredrick. “Did he tell you?” “I followed you there.” “I expect your infusion is deep. “blood.” “Who’s Maxton?” “This old guy I met that evening. old leaves. “What?” “There are several mild. .” “You did?” Chrysanthemum reached across the table and took Lucy’s hand. I walked over to the Old Harbor and sat in the park with my new tea. I didn’t actually believe it. natural hallucinogens in those jars under Mr.” “It is. Others seem to get more out of it than I do.” Chrysanthemum said. Fredrick. Hallucinogens explain a lot.” Chrysanthemum said.” “Real magic could never be as powerful as the illusion of magic. Fredrick’s counter. “It tasted like .” . honest.Gladiator Girl 259 “I know. subtle.” Chrysanthemum let go and picked up her fork. He said he had his own personal infusion. so I left. “What does it taste like?” “It’s kind of dull: tree bark. “That’s what Maxton said. It’s like it’s drugged. May I try it?” “Of course.” Chrysanthemum said. It explains his tea for sure. and we talked about tea and Mr. and above all.” “It’s not magic tea?” “Are you disappointed?” “Kind of. .

“I get to not tell you.260 R. “Outside.” Samantha said. “Why are you upset at the possibility this person could be Maxton Verbeek?” Lucy looked Samantha in the eye. H.” Samantha said. does this have something to do with Francine’s head injury?” Samantha’s eyes widened. but I do know Jayzen and Francine Verbeek. “Excuse me. “I don’t know. “Maxton Verbeek is a party in a current investigation. Wait. Why do you want to know?” “I can’t say.” . Thad stood so they could get by. “More small world crap.” Samantha said.” Lucy said. shit!” Lucy said. “I don’t know anything about a Maxton Verbeek or if this guy is him. Watson “Mmm.” “I do get to.” “Safe from what?” Lucy said. Samantha said.” “Was he Maxton Verbeek?” Samantha said. I’m going to have to try it. Lucy didn’t say anything. “What is it?” Chrysanthemum said. “How do you know about her?” “Safe from what?” “Please. “You’re weird.” Lucy said. it makes sense.” Chrysanthemum said.” “You don’t get to drop this on me and then not say why. “Would that be Maxton Verbeek?” “Oh.” “Other than the tea thing I just mentioned. then Samantha said.” She waited.” Lucy said. Lucy picked up her sword. When they reached the sidewalk.” They stared each other down for a few seconds. you can help by answering my questions. “Can we―” “Have a conference at the bar? Sure. I hate this. “That’s really all I can say. “It does! Is she alright? Don’t give me that you-can’t-say bullshit!” Samantha looked around. “Francine is safe. but in my screwed up life.

and I told him her estimated gestation was bullshit. so I . “Okay. Lucy realized Samantha must have sent a talk-to request on her way out to the sidewalk. well three times. Lucy glowered at Samantha. and once. I made him limp. “Hello.” “Did he mention a charity program? A class in blood battle technique for disadvantaged boys?” “No. figuratively. He said France had gone in for a synchronization on Sunday.” “You assaulted him?” “It was practice. Sometimes you get banged up.” “How do you know about Francine?” Olia said. Safe from what?” “Hello. I think he thought he was pretty good. He was being immature and reckless. He wasn’t. A what?” . I have someone here you should meet. I want to make that clear. She knows about Francine Verbeek. This is Lucy Star. He told me about France.Gladiator Girl 261 Lucy tapped her scabbard against her leg a couple of times. he wanted some sword fighting tips. if you count this morning.” Samantha said. Inspector. even for the head injury they were claiming. . I told him that was bullshit.” Lucy said. “Yesterday I went on a date with Jayzen. . and their womb-atorium staff estimated her gestation at two weeks. put him in his place. I had a date with Jayzen. Lieutenant. so I disarmed him.” Olia said. by the way. literally.” “What do you mean?” “I showed him some of the gaps in his training. We were using practice sticks. “Please. “Last night.” “Figuratively?” “I met him last weekend. “How well do you know him?” “I fucked him twice. That involved making him limp. she’s a guardian with Burning Desire. and he was being a jerk. and she knows both her and Jayzen.” “I knew Jayzen wasn’t smart enough to figure it out on his own.” Olia said. This is important.

I thought I could pack that away. I don’t.” Samantha said. what I tried to tell you. “I’m done!” She turned. She’s a blood battle fan.” “Sorry. there. “You have to trust us. How am I involved in this?” “You’re a possible witness. H. You can’t intimidate these girls. What happened to her?” “That’s confidential. the same night I met Jayzen. . . She’s actually one of my fans. “What’s wrong?” Chrysanthemum said. and went into the Potato Bar. “Let me handle her.” she said when he got up again to let her out. She heard Samantha say.” “What are you investigating?” “I can’t reveal the nature of our inquiries.262 R. Lucy closed her eyes for a moment.” “No. “Sorry Thad. Watson “How do you know Francine Verbeek?” “I met her last week. “What I told you in the centipede cabin. about how I used the BB recruitment program to escape from . everything from . “This is a pretty crappy date.” he said. when wasn’t she safe? Yesterday? This morning? Will she still be safe tomorrow? Did I do something that put her in danger?” “We can’t answer those questions.” Lucy said.” “Why is it significant that I’m a guardian?” “I don’t know what you mean?” “Don’t lie to me! I heard it in your voices.” “I think it’s exciting. pulled the door open. She and Chrysanthemum went over to the bar. nothing more―” “Witness to what?” “I can’t say at this time―” “If France is safe now. then back at Chrysanthemum and gestured with her head for them to get away from the table. then faced Chrysanthemum.” Lucy said to Felix when she sat down. Lucy looked at Carl.

I attack weaknesses―all plans have them. it’s not over. What happened outside?” “Fuck. I’m involved. But somehow. born―not reborn―no past. they run up the pyramid with all sorts of clever schemes for killing me. I know it. I made this life. and I take those schemes apart. “You’re right. .” She looked at the polished. it’s better not to know. sorry. The first time I came out of a womb at the Academy. Francine. It’s not something I think about. make it never have happened. who was naïve enough to be my fan. I wanted to be brand new. I’m . Sensing a weak point and attacking it are pretty much the same thing. what happened on Sunday.” Chrysanthemum said.” “I’m what?” “It’s nothing. Chrysanthemum reached toward Lucy’s hand. and not just forget it. still in conversation. “You told me there was no chaos on your temple. You saw her Saturday night after the match. after the match review. She’s hurt because of me. I don’t need to know what they are. It’s mine!” “You’re growling.Gladiator Girl 263 then. I don’t want to know. The other team has plans. You don’t need to know the plan to see the weak spots.” “I remember. .” Lucy said. “But he’s not going to win. everything I love. but literally. “I’m scared. I don’t have a plan. that would be stupid. I’m afraid of losing it.” Lucy was gripping her sword hilt. and she caught a glimpse of Samantha on the sidewalk. . until now. dark wood surface of the bar. . Someone opened the Potato Bar door. “The police won’t say shit. What did you mean?” “I mean I’m ready for anything. In fact. “I just found out somebody hurt this girl.” She clenched her teeth. nothing to tell. Everything I’ve made. I haven’t felt like this since . with a new name and everything―Lucy Star. but hesitated and pulled back. for four years. And it worked. by the security fence.” .

“It says. Maybe that’s true. “Your gut is telling you this girl was hurt because of you. “All that faster-than-thought kinesthetic intelligence Bimini cultivates in you. you attack weaknesses?” “Yes.” “What is it?” Lucy said.” “I carry this sword for show. and I understand you desperately want to put that behind you. interpret your gut. and it isn’t just good for saving goddesses’ heads.” “But I still don’t know what it is.264 R. . I think. both to her and to everyone around her.” “Then I have to wonder why you’re spending so much time trying to blame yourself . it might be that abused girl trying to make sense of the world by blaming herself for everything bad that’s happening. but you can’t let her sneak in. Nobody messes with Lucy Star’s temple. you have to be careful of your gut feelings. ‘guardians are confident to the point of arrogance. when you’re off the temple and in the messy real world.” “Weren’t you listening to yourself? You’ll know the weakness when you attack it. but wouldn’t that be part of a plan? Didn’t you just say you don’t want to know the plan.” Chrysanthemum said. I think. if you let Lucy Star. “Do you know what the Beginners Guide to Blood Battle says about guardians?” Lucy shook her head. When you’re blaming yourself for what happened to Francine. Watson “It’s a different state of consciousness. “I know something about your background―no details. I can’t actually use it off of a blood battle field. you’ll find it’s not telling you who’s to blame. however. the guardian. it’s telling you it’s sensing a weakness.” . . and someday you might be able to let her back into your life. it’s a form of meditation. My heart goes out to that girl. maybe it’s not. but I know you were physically abused. Chrysanthemum put her hand on Lucy’s arm.’ That’s you. H.

sat. it’s your decision.” Lucy said.” Thad said. “We met at the medical school. Everyone was eating dessert. Some of us coordinate that with volunteering to be practice patients for the surgery labs.” She turned away to talk to her friends. You can help or not. Are you ready to go back?” Lucy looked at their table. Lucy side stepped past Thad. too?” Felix said. We have to synchronize with our placentas at least once during the BB off season. Maybe you can help one of these police officers figure out who to arrest. Felix was speaking to Thad. Samantha had returned from the sidewalk. I’m going to find out what happened to her.” “What are you talking about?” Chrysanthemum laughed. and when they’re done. and it got Francine hurt. “Yes. “When you’re not being a goddess?” “No. we go in a womb. like a cougar.” “I do?” “Yes. “Whatever your case is. it’s quite frightening. and laid her sword across the table between her and Samantha. “When you get upset. and all the incisions and mistakes are wiped away. The students get to cut on living people. Chrysanthemum shifted her attention away from Samantha and said. Thad and I met last winter. you growl. The medical school has to pay the extra womb-atorium costs since it means a longer gestation.Gladiator Girl 265 “Don’t be so literal.” “Maybe. I like France. but not by . “I’m involved.” “Are you studying medicine.” Lucy gave her a blank stare. “You don’t even realize you’re doing it. It suits you.” she said.” Lucy said. “You’re not growling anymore. “Human Anatomy? Are you studying medicine?” “I want to be a surgeon.

you’ll perform with a skill that will amaze your instructors and be the envy of your fellow students. It would make you a better surgeon.” “How?” “It’s like what Coach Kai is doing with her guardians and goddesses. “Wouldn’t that also be true of the best surgeons? I think. this would allow guardians to make better.” Thad said. and accept. they are doctors. “You’ll be taking your first surgery lab during the next quarter. ‘do no harm. and for the whole team. at a deep level. Watson much. he pulled his hand away. with those they protect.” He picked up a piece of dessert on his fork and it fell off. “Coach Kai thinks a fully empathic guardian is better at making hard decisions because she’s willing to face. “It would be good for your concentration.” “I don’t know.266 R. We used to avoid each other so guardians could maintain the illusion that we were abstractions―symbols of the Goddess. “I don’t think I could do that!” Chrissy took his hand. not less. Their goal is. The notion was. . “See? Even thinking about it makes me nervous. She . Asking them to treat a goddess as an abstraction forces them to treat themselves as something less than they are.” Thad said. It creates more emotional dissonance. “I think I’d be too nervous to hold the scalpel steady. “derive their strength from their ability to empathize.” she glanced at Lucy. After all. both for the girl sitting on the altar. . the consequences her actions have. “Maybe you’ll get to practice on me. if you walk into your surgery lab and find me lying on the table. “However. Wouldn’t that be fun?” “I never thought . for surgeons.” Chrysanthemum watched Thad stab the piece of dessert. more objective decisions if they weren’t emotionally invested in protecting a real person. the best guardians.’ or as little harm as possible. H.” she said to Thad.

I’m doing some good for real people. but the more I trained. My friends and I would go into town on the weekend. Of course. the moment I stepped off the Academy grounds. my skills were worthless. Leave the police work to us. no matter how good I was. “Agreed. then pulled it part way out of its scabbard and inspected the blade. . but guarding what? It wasn’t real. She put it down. the more I felt boxed in. I’ll tell you what I can.” she said. just a big show. I spend most of my time training. “May I?” “Yes. “Before I turned seventeen.” she said.” Samantha glanced at Carl. “What about you? Lucy says you have the eyes of a guardian. “It suits you. then took a token out of her pocket and handed it to Lucy. I’m the police―you’re not. If I had accepted them. I switched to the Police Academy. She slid the sword back in and set it down. “I actually received my rebirth gene therapy at the Concepción Academy. but most of my information has to remain confidential. Samantha looked down at Lucy’s sword.Gladiator Girl 267 turned to Samantha. and remember. Agreed?” Lucy took the token. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. I would have committed myself to an illusion.” Samantha’s fork was half way to her mouth. At least in the police. “I wanted to be a blood battle guardian and stand on that temple every two weeks to save my little part of the world. weighed it in her hands. let me know everything you find out. She breathed on the polished metal and watched the condensation from her breath evaporate. and I’d realize. I would have taken the swords and stayed. I’d be a guardian. Perhaps if I had met your coach back then.” She picked up the sword. just before I was to receive my swords. “This will send a priority request directly to me. Contact me tomorrow morning. By then those swords had begun to seem like handcuffs. cleaning my weapons and filling out paperwork.” She looked at Lucy’s sword for a moment.

remember?” Lucy pulled her sword out of her belt and rested it against her thigh. follow me. I remember. They walked over to a couple of empty chairs at the edge of the dance floor. “Quite a coincidence. A few people were moving onto the dance floor. and Sam all showing up here tonight.” “Where did you learn?” Lucy said as they started sashaying across the floor. “It started in Europe. Show me.” Felix said. on the beat. But I don’t believe in inscrutable.” Carl leaned over. a band set up and started to play. It’s just now showing up here. we’re club mates. all mysteries have answers.” “How do you dance to it?” “Watch. She slipped her scabbard behind her belt.” Felix said.” “She’s not my girlfriend.” Hanna let Carl out and Thad let Lucy out. “and all sitting at the same table. Chrissy’s inscrutable mysteries.” By the third song Lucy was leading and picking up some advanced steps from the other dancers. H. The back third of the Potato Bar had a dance floor and small stage.” “I don’t know how. your girlfriend.268 R.” Lucy said. you. “Put your left hand on my shoulder.” Carl said. “My daughter taught me. I didn’t know the Potato Bar was this avant-garde.” Felix said. OK. “And it’s not a coincidence. After dessert.” Felix said. “What’s that?” Lucy said. “That’s crazy. “Come on. After the fourth song Carl needed a break. “I didn’t expect a polka band. “Polka.” “I’ll lead to start with. “Do you think someone planned this?” “No. I think it’s one of your girl― I mean. Watson Lucy pocketed the token and tried her dessert. and take my right hand.” Carl said. “This is fantastic! What is it?” “Potato fudge cake. Yes.” . but caught on big in the African Coalition.

but next time you watch a game. kicking. dart pistols with drugged darts. “Of all the dating issues that came up with my kids. we never covered how to neutralize their dates’ bodyguards. Thad and Chrysanthemum were getting the hang of the basic steps. my sword coach. and flipping goes on. The key point is. his bodyguards could neutralize me so fast that my training was irrelevant. electric stunners. If you were to engage them. Samantha was leading Felix around the dance floor. I do. “Their body suits have an embedded layer of carbon-based armor that can stop bullets and will certainly stop your sword. likes to say. You might be able to cut through it there. Hanna and Finn were still sitting at the table. Do you know what he was talking about?” “Why do you want to know?” “I’m not going to attack him. You’ll be surprised how much punching. lightweight weapons: guns―the lethal kind.’ Everyone sees the flashing blades. right?” Lucy shrugged. I’ve seen them lose focus. and necks to break bones. legs. “You could still twist their arms. right?” Carl laughed and shook his head. you couldn’t give them any warning until they were within your range of attack. now I need to know how to take advantage of it. but I’d feel more comfortable if I knew how to take down his bodyguards. Their jackets will be loaded with small.” “My life has been pretty crazy lately.” “OK. ‘Your body is your third sword. I know they can be vulnerable. Bimini. they have stand off weapons and you don’t.Gladiator Girl 269 They listened to the music and watched the dancers. and knives―some of them will be throwing knives. not that you would. The armor is thinnest over their hands so it won’t adversely affect their dexterity. but I suspect you don’t have much hand to hand training. “On my date with Jayzen. .” Carl said. pay close attention.” “Actually. You can understand. he said if I were to try attacking him. “Their means aren’t going to be significantly different than Sam’s.

She was a little girl sitting on a toilet. or break their necks?” “Or their arms or legs. looking at wallpaper glued to the opposite wall. “I’m getting drunk. a pink one.” “So. but I expect they have armored masks tucked in those jackets. There were four bouquets: a blue one.270 R.” Carl said. Each diamond enclosed a bouquet. and stone. It seemed to spin. the washroom had been build out of old stuff by craftspeople using hand tools. but she hesitated to let it go. . Are you going to tell me they’re wearing bulletproof makeup?” “No. as long as they don’t put on their masks. and sat on the toilet. There was a bouquet of flowers painted on the back of the wooden stall door. H. Save another dance?” Like the main room. yet remain upright. Lucy went into the middle stall. “I’ve got to go to la femme pissoir. The purple one was her favorite.” “Why? They have memory placentas.” “You’re a scary young lady. a yellow one. . put her elbows on her thighs.” Lucy stood up. A memory swam into her head . and rested her chin on the heels of her hands. and a purple one. The lines were made up of eight little flowers that repeated again and again. It was all scrubbed tile. The wallpaper was crisscrossed with lines that divided it into diamonds. the best I can do is get close enough to poke them in the face. Their faces are vulnerable.” “Don’t worry. try to cut off their fingers. She rested her sword diagonally across her lap. but I’d still have to break their necks to stop them. dropped her pants and underwear. “If that was the only way to slow them down. dead wood. Watson “The bodyguards’ faces aren’t covered. .” “I hope I don’t regret telling you this.” Her bladder was filled to aching.

Her shoulders shook so much her elbows slid off her thighs. and held it. She blew and wiped her nose. she could be alone and happy. “I love this place!” she said. She liked the way it settled into the eye that was screwed into the door jam. Her pee flooded into the toilet. She held her pee. still convulsing with sobs. She laughed. She wiped her hands and arms. For the first time since she was a little girl. and held it. and stopped. Lucy sat in the Potato Bar stall . it was wet from tears that flooded her sinuses and dripped out her nose. . yellow rubber. . The balloon rolled its eyes in ecstasy.Gladiator Girl 271 She looked at the hook on the toilet room door. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh . Tears ran off her hands and down her arms. It was the closest thing to a lock in the house. It made her feel safe. Even her thighs were wet where the tears had run off her elbows onto her legs. . wanted to go! She gave in. her underpants were hanging from her shoes. then a drop. . let it go. She tapped her heels against the toilet bowl and watched them bounce off. almost as much as she was crying.” Her pee slowed to a dribble. She looked down at her feet swinging above the floor. She held her pee to make her time in the toilet room last as long as possible. Her balloon bladder had shriveled down to an empty little tongue of happy. She wiped her scabbard. she imagined that happy faced balloon inside her. . then started to cry. She pulled out some toilet paper and noticed there was a little flower pot sitting on top of the paper dispenser with an actual. then pulled out more paper and wiped her eyes and cheeks. live flower in it. and finally . really. By then she was laughing again. its mouth opened and a big cartoon dialog bubble came out saying. . She imagined her bladder was a yellow water balloon with a happy face painted on it. She put her face in her hands and sobbed. . she put them back. She wiped herself. For a few minutes. only now it was a grimace because it was ready to burst and it really.

Chrysanthemum picked up a hand towel. that feels good.” Lucy said. Chrysanthemum cupped Lucy’s cheeks in her hands―they were still damp from washing and felt cool against her skin―then . Chrysanthemum came out. She leaned over. “What happened?” “I’m fine. She folded the towel and hung it back on the towel bar. inside and out. smelled one. When she felt steady. stepped out. “Have you been crying?” “Yes. “Oh. I’m not lying.” Lucy was still weak. She stood. pacing herself to the sounds from Chrysanthemum’s stall. There were two potted flowers on the wash basin counter. She waited a couple of minutes to be sure she was cried out. I even forgot that. “I tried so hard to forget.” She felt tears beginning to puddle in her eyes again. I was happy. and kissed it. and wiped it away.” She was limp.” Chrysanthemum said. She felt like she was fresh out of a womb: weak but clean. The toilet flushed and churned up a cool breeze that swirled around her butt. genuinely happy. then had to put her hand on the top of the door because her legs were shaking.” A tear ran out of her eye. and washed and dried her hands. “Stay right there. sometimes. stepped close and looked in her eyes. she opened the stall door.” Lucy said. pulled up her underwear and pants. Watson The crying and laughing dwindled away until she was just breathing. and almost ran into Chrysanthemum who was rushing to the next stall over. sure.” “Ah. She leaned back against the toilet cover and accidentally pressed the flush lever. She put her hand on the counter to steady herself. It was a moment when I was really. “Don’t go anywhere. She put her hands on Lucy’s shoulders.272 R. “I really am. She turned around and pointed at Lucy as she backed into the stall.” Lucy slipped her sword under her belt. While she was washing her hands she looked at Lucy. “I’d like to kiss you. H. I remembered something from when I was little. if that’s all right.

she dropped her hands.” . She tried her balance. a light touch on the lips. Lucy felt her head spin even more.” Chrysanthemum said. At arm’s length. what did you taste?” “You.” She kissed Lucy. then eased back a little more and rested her hands on Lucy’s chest. She felt Chrysanthemum’s scapulae slide out as she moved her hands from Lucy’s cheeks to the back of her head and neck. then turned and left. and tasted her. “Sam’s been keeping your boy distracted. She pressed her forehead against Lucy’s. Carl pointed at the dance floor. Fredrick’s tea. She walked into the main room. She reached back and grabbed the counter with both hands to steady herself. Lucy leaned against the wash basin counter until her head stopped swimming. traced the soft curves where her ribs dissolved into her breasts. It wasn’t a long kiss. “Not so much solved as replaced. Chrysanthemum shifted her weight back. just her. “Mystery solved?” Carl said. and with her thumbs. She pulled Chrysanthemum closer. With every breath. She looked into her eyes and caressed her collarbones with her fingers. It wasn’t perfume. Lucy reached under Chrysanthemum’s arms and held onto her shoulders. Already slightly drunk. Lucy brought her hands down to Chrysanthemum’s sides. Chrysanthemum pressed her against the counter with her hips.” “That’s it?” “That’s a lot. just enough to end it. Lucy drew in more of Chrysanthemum’s scent. her gaze lingered along with her fingers. “So. kissed her.” Lucy sat next to him. it seemed okay. held Lucy’s eyes for an extra moment. It made Lucy even more dizzy. and stepped back. “I couldn’t wait for Mr.Gladiator Girl 273 Chrysanthemum kissed her.

H. She rested her head on his shoulder and wished she could fall asleep.” Lucy said. but . “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.” Lucy said. “Yes. The night spun along. It was after midnight and cold on the sidewalk. and yelled above the music. But I’ll take you back to your dorm.” Lucy said. Samantha smiled. “I can afford it. Watson “Thanks for waiting. Their breath was condensing. See you then!” Lucy patted them on their backs. She worked her way across the dance floor to Thad and Chrysanthemum. “You’re a great girl. and that I’m with you tonight. “Club mates. Lucy waved. It was great meeting you.” Lucy said.” Chrysanthemum said. Lucy stuffed her hands in her pockets.” Lucy said.” She looked up the street and raised her arm to hail a cab. you can’t. . Eventually Felix begged to leave due to exhaustion.” “You don’t have to. Felix picked up the dance steps. They started shuffling around the floor. and Carl gave her a thumbs up. she cut him off. “I’ll catch a cab.” She walked over to Samantha and Felix. Felix held up his hand to protest. I wanted to invite you back to the Winnebago Graveyard. threw her arms over their shoulders. “but I’ve got to pass on another dance. . Thad!” “It was nice to meet one of Chrissy’s teammates!” he said. “We’re leaving. Samantha and Carl were sitting together. I can’t believe I met you. She worked her way back to Felix. “Teammates are―” “I’ll see you tomorrow at the club. “When we started the night.” . Felix turned her around.274 R. “Just a minute.” “I like you too.” “I’ll pay for it. I wouldn’t be a good partner.” “But I saw what was going on between you and Chrissy.” Felix said. but too much has happened. Lucy made two more uneventful trips to the washroom. I’m sorry. Samantha handed him off and walked over to Carl. Lucy gathered Felix up.

I hope not.” Charlotte said.” Lucy laughed. “She’s been having a rough few days.” Charlotte heard the hatch open. “Fuck! You scared the shit out of me! I mean. “How was your date?” Charlotte said. Lucy kissed Felix on the cheek.” “Yeah. Felix hailed it. I’m way too fucked up for that.” “She would be very pissed off if you told her that. He sat in the cab. drop the dinette table and make the bed. sounds great. She’s―” “In love with you. and made tea in the kitchenette. closed the bedroom door behind her. She listened to Lucy put away her sword. “Your turn. sure. Lucy came out of the shower room wearing her frog robe. but I don’t understand her.” She put on her robe. because I can’t figure her out. She heard her go into the shower room and begin brushing her teeth. and yours?” “Jessica was full of questions about rebirth. They sat on the little sofa built into the wall of the living room and put their feet on one of the two swiveling arm chairs bolted to the floor opposite the sofa. “See that he gets home safe. I like her. She was very jealous when I told her we stop menstruating until we age-out. Not at all. The driver peddled to a stop at the curb. then she paid the cabbie generously for the trip to his dorm.” Charlotte disentangled herself from Jessica. followed by Lucy’s footsteps on the stairway. . thanks. “Complicated.” “Oh.Gladiator Girl 275 “You did? Maybe you can explain it to me. but I’m gonna feel stupid asking teenager questions when I’m twenty-five. “I’ve got to talk to her. “Would you like some tea?” Lucy jumped.” Charlotte handed her a cup.” A cab turned onto the street.

Charlotte put her arm around Lucy’s shoulder. “This is going to sound stupid. “This is called. but can we just sit and drink our tea. How is she?” “Fucked up.” Lucy rolled her head to see Charlotte. “She’s back.” Charlotte ran the back of her toes along the sole of Lucy’s foot.” Charlotte waited. for her. My Dad used to sing it to me.276 R. H. and put her head back against the sofa. and not talk?” “Of course. every night. Lucy lifted her head to accommodate.” After a minute Lucy said. “How?” “I saw her in your face on Sunday. Frightened. “What is it?” Charlotte said. “I know.” Stirring the waters That hug the cockle The fish in forever motion Slip baby ’cross the waves They gather around to taste the dreams The dreams that dance in the ocean And soften sleep with a gentle potion Extending her hands To cup the wet brine Following an old notion Night drinks the world anew While the fish swim ’round the dreams The dreams that dance in the ocean And soften sleep with a gentle potion . The Dream Ocean. “Do you know any lullabies?” “Do you want me to sing you one?” “Not for me. Lonely. Watson Lucy sipped her tea. Mad at the world.” Charlotte kissed the top of Lucy’s head.

bzzzz. A few minutes later she rifled through her drawer and they heard a muffled.Gladiator Girl 277 *** They finished their tea. and get into bed. .” They laid together listening to Lucy wash the tea cups. “How is she?” “I don’t know.” “See you in the morning?” Charlotte said. rustle her sheets and blanket. Thanks. but I don’t know. “I’ll wash up. “Yes. Jessica said. She’s tough. Lucy took the cups.” Back in bed.

“Mmm. cut three generous slices of bread. “I was just―” “Stop. wrapped in a sheet.” Charlotte said. then undressed her bed. “How are you feeling?” Jessica said. then got up and put on her blue and orange frog robe. and made toast. pulled her sword out of its scabbard and wiped the blade with a dry cloth. Charlotte came out.” Lucy sat at the dinette. She started the coffee. and having coffee and toast with Charlotte. “About what?” Lucy took her sword and cleaning kit out of the broom closet. The bedroom door was open. She put down her coffee. She listened to Charlotte in the shower.” Lucy took her shower. pushed Jes- . Jessica was asleep on the bed. the coffee smells good. brushing her hair. Lucy closed the door and ground enough coffee to make three cups. “Last night.Chapter 17 What’s Next? Lucy turned off her alarm a minute before it was set to nudge her awake. and got dressed in her anime toreador outfit. Jessica was up. By then. raised the dinette table. and washed and dried the surface. brushed her teeth. you―” “Last night didn’t involve you.

let’s go back out there. but Charlotte pulled her back.” Charlotte said.” Jessica said.” “Sure. in fact.” she said to Jessica. “I’ll apologize. quite the opposite. She slid the sword back into its scabbard and picked up her gym bag. you should either not say anything or stick to small talk. and don’t apologize. “Nice meeting you again. she seemed so vulnerable. “This house is tiny. “That’s her secret weapon. and out the hatch. not to be confused with fragility.” Lucy took her coffee and toast. “It’s just.Gladiator Girl 279 sica into the bedroom.” She turned to open the door.” Lucy finished wiping her sword with an oiled cloth. “It can give you a false sense of intimacy. “I was just concerned―” “You were being disingenuous. It works because it’s true. “Don’t confuse last night’s emotional stress with a delicate personality.” she said. Whether it’s swords or words.” “I’m sorry. last night. but like I said. using the reflected hilights to check the edge. “See you this evening.” “What’s up?” Lucy said.” . seems hush-hush. “Just you and me. It’s an easy mistake to make. Lucy glanced at Jessica. She sighted along the blade and twisted it. Frank held open the player entrance door. “You’re to go directly to the auditorium.” Jessica said. She doesn’t just attack with swords.” “I get it. You don’t know her well enough to be concerned. jogged up the stairs. they slaughter.” Charlotte laughed. “Why don’t we go out for dinner?” Charlotte said. “Don’t know.” she said to Charlotte. you’re this close to a verbal disemboweling you may never recover from. and closed the door. Now. guardians don’t fence. For your own good.

They were still waiting for Uvan and one of the reserve girls. really dead―got it?” She had their attention. You don’t tell club mates. “As you know. “but I doubt it has to do with those urban legends.” Sandeep held up her hand. attract controversy and the protestors that go along with it. “The Blood Battle League has received a security alert from the police. “Since it’s an active investigation.280 R. That means everything we’re about to discuss stays only among those of us in this room. She looked at Lucy and tapped her finger against her arm. There may be a small group intent on injuring. specifically. some of whom can get overly zealous. Watson “Is it a club meeting?” “Nope.” . “I don’t know the details of the threat. “Look who’s back from the dead. H. the blood sports. “Right then.” Donna said. Sandeep. Understood?” Everyone mumbled in agreement. We usually handle security issues quietly so you don’t need to be concerned.” “I hear you’ve been freaking people out. Uvan and the reserve girl arrived. and blood battle in particular. friends. Only guardians.” Bimini and Donna were standing in front of the stage. as in. including the reserves. BB guardians―that’s kill. They have evidence of a possible threat directed. Lucy slapped it and sat next to her.” Lucy raised her hand.” Lucy said. they have asked us to keep this meeting confidential. family. or even attempting to kill. That’s why my staff and I are here. Donna motioned Lucy to come down to the front where everyone was sitting. at guardians. “Hey. Donna stepped forward and waited a moment until she had everyone’s attention. but in this case the police have deemed the risk serious enough to involve you directly in more overt safety measures. “Does this have anything to do with reports of boys being taught blood battle sword fighting techniques?” Bimini was standing with her arms folded. or anyone else. all the guardians.

Don’t play with these tokens. It was a picture. of her standing on the temple next to Chrysanthemum after their Beauty Incarnate game. . your name and a description of the situation. Get back to winning your games. . Donna picked up a box from the stage. “No fucking way!” Lucy walked over to the fence for a better look. Several called her name. The air was chilly. obviously amateur quality. Everyone got that?” Donna spent the next half hour demonstrating some nifty trade secrets and explaining the new security procedures. Lucy was looking down with a benevolent smile and Chrysanthemum was looking up into . but if you feel threatened. Let that sink in for a minute. “.” she said. She had her answer in the subtle surprise Bimini had shown. She waived. Lucy’s bloody hand was on Chrysanthemum’s shoulder. sorry to keep you for so long. then if possible. the police have issued these contact tokens. Lucy hoped. don’t hesitate to use them.” all the guardians said. give them your location first. “All right then. One of Donna’s new rules was to avoid close contact with fans. staining her white vestment with a dripping red hand print. Then something caught her eye.” Lucy walked out to the car siding by the player entrance and toggled Samantha’s token. “Yes ma’am. They will connect you directly to a dispatcher prepared to deal with this threat.Gladiator Girl 281 Lucy nodded. but first. “We’re going to go over methods for avoiding being followed and for avoiding putting yourselves in vulnerable situations. but stayed away. There were more fans standing behind the security fence than two weeks ago. unauthorized. They’ll send both the nearest available patrol officer and a Special Operations officer to your aid. Broken clouds cast the world in alternating moods of grey gloom and bright sun. that all of you will follow―no exceptions. If you contact them. A girl held up a poster. The police are committing considerable resources to protect your asses.

” “What about Maxton?” “Same answer. That injury wouldn’t look like a goddess decapitation would it?” “I can’t discuss the details of the case. “Fans. Lucy. “Why did you bother giving me your token?” “Because I once wanted to be you. I doubt it’s Jayzen.” Samantha said. Lucy stepped back. “The Guardian and the Goddess: A Love Bound by Blood.” “She wasn’t safe at the Verbeek mansion? You can’t tell me the Laughing Cherub has better security. all the womb-atoriums are operating under enhanced security protocols. I don’t want you running around like some junior police patrol mucking up six months of Inspector Fournier’s work.” Lucy said.282 R. Francine.” “You’re not telling me much. She’s at the Laughing Cherub. haven’t you?” “Yes. I expect you to go live . “but Francine is safe.” She walked away from the fence. “I have to take this contact. romantic BB fan is in a womb with a head injury. and for now. Bold letters proclaimed.” Samantha said.” Lucy said to the girl. it’s not a surprise. “I’m sorry. a sweet. Don’t kick anybody’s ass.” “You shouldn’t be near them. You’ve been briefed on the security situation by now. “Good morning. “What’s that noise?” Samantha said.” “Oh. and after last night. H. Is Jayzen behind this? Should I go kick his fucking ass?” “We don’t know the source of the threat. and Jayzen’s sister. Some mystery group wants to kill guardians. “I know your type: headstrong and arrogant. your inspector asked me if Jayzen mentioned a class that teaches blood battle techniques to boys. remember?” Samantha said. Watson her eyes with open mouthed wonder. this is so romantic!” The girl rolled up the poster to stick it through the fence for Lucy to sign.

” Lucy said. “But between you and me. our head of security.” Lucy heard Samantha sigh. “Oh shit! I didn’t say that. and I am telling you to not take any action. But we found several bodies. Did you know she used to teach at the Academy? It might even have been when you were there. this is very serious. here. It was just the four rebirthed club guardians.” “Bodies?” Lucy said. “Yes. Here.” “At our security meeting. Bimini Tanaka. “I asked Bimini to consult. Do not ask her about it. Sword practice started at mid-morning.” “They’ve already murdered someone? Who was it?” “No one you know.Gladiator Girl 283 your normal life. Don’t take any chances. was surprised by the question. She’s under a confidentiality agreement. “And please. I asked about the BB boy’s class. she pooped out three butt nuggets. and here. Leave that to us.” Lucy closed the contact and looked at the fans. Will you promise to leave the police work to us?” “Yes. “No goddesses?” Uvan said. Donna Quinn. “It sounded like a good time.” Samantha lowered her voice. I think she knows more than Donna. but my sword coach. didn’t know anything about it. “Sorry I missed yesterday. unofficially. I am asking you to let me know if you hear or see anything suspicious.” Samantha said. So you see. They look like practice killings.” “Okay.” Sandeep said. on the investigation.” Uvan tapped three spots on the floor with . They haven’t tried attacking a guardian. yet. boys―late teens. but since that life seems to be tangled up with some of the subjects of our inquiries.” “I had mine so scared. she spent ten minutes looking at the bodies and told us more than we learned in the last six months. She was glad they were on the other side of the security fence.

H. “What’s the point?” “The point is to stress your skill. By adopting to the inconceivable. “Feel free to improvise.” Bimini worked with Sandeep to revive her dormant muscle memory. Watson her scabbard. Or less likely to take the inconceivable as inconceivable? “Let’s start with attack-block-attack exercises. When everyone was ready Bimini said.” Lucy said.284 R. Lucy watched Bimini. “It’s just new to blood battle. Bimini called a halt.” she said. How would you attack? What role does your short-sword play when you each have one?” Lucy and Sandeep faced off. She pulled and sheathed the short-stick a few times on her way out to the floor. “Welcome back Sandeep. “I thought we might try to answer that favorite fan question: what would happen if two guardians fought each other?” “But that’s specifically forbidden by the rules. and they were dressed for a workout. “Both opponents armed with two swords isn’t new. you will be less likely to take the conceivable for granted. “What do you think?” Sandeep said.” “Don’t let her mess with you. “Uvan was very nice to her goddess. Sandeep shrugged her shoulders. I’d like you to join the next exercise. The other guardians ran advanced exercises on their own. “Guess she forgot to put on her goddess diapers or whatever they wear under that bed sheet.” Serendipity said. just like us.” Bimini came into the room. “This will be fun. please put on your padding and switch to practice sticks.” “Huh?” Uvan said. Everyone.” The padded suit pushed the short-sword scabbard a centimeter out from its normal position on Lucy’s back. “Everyone equip yourselves and warm up. After an hour. “Sandeep. then pair up: Serendipity and Uvan.” Bimini said.” Lucy said. Lucy and Sandeep.” Uvan said. You want to go first?” .

“Now. It can work great against a charger. Lucy stayed back and blocked the attack with her short-stick while cutting up through Sandeep’s abdomen with her long-stick. but that doesn’t work so well if your opponent also has a short-sword. “Having fun yet?” Sandeep was smoldering. Guardians like to move in as they counter to bring their short-swords into play. “Switch partners.Gladiator Girl 285 Sandeep attacked with her long-stick and pulled out her shortstick as she moved in. I’m having fun. “You okay?” Lucy said. Sandeep countered Lucy’s attack but stayed back.” Bimini said. Lucy attacked. Lucy performed one of Charlotte’s graceful and aggressive forward leaps: arms and legs spread wide.” Sandeep took Lucy’s offered hand to get up. “Fuck you. At first Lucy tried to match her detachment and misdirection. It was a classic guardian maneuver: distract with the long-sword.” Sandeep said. She found there was no value watching for subtle emotional cues. then move in and disembowel with the short-sword. they weren’t there. Enough of this shit. She blocked Lucy’s next attack and twisted her short-stick out of play just long enough to close in and stab her in the side with her own short-stick. This time. that Sandeep couldn’t react and was knocked on her ass.” Lucy said. Lucy worked with Serendipity and experienced her inscrutable presence from an opponent’s point of view. Lucy followed through and disemboweled her. or trying to pick up unconscious anticipatory gestures. Lucy pulled out her own short-stick and hit Sandeep’s wrist. but Serendipity took her apart whether she was attacking or defending. Sandeep dropped her short-stick acknowledging that her hand had just been cut off. long-stick aimed at Sandeep’s heart. Sandeep had learned a lesson. Before she could even think about it. She crossed the space so fast and hit so hard. Next. when Sandeep attacked. “I think I’m getting the hang of this. Lucy stopped trying to disguise her ac- .

but she hasn’t responded.” Bimini said at the end of the session. intact.” a goddess said. trying to shake her. Is Chrissy going to be eating with you today?” Winona shrugged.” Uvan said. “A love bound in blood? Sorry. “Hi. The guy across the street was sold out this morning or they would’ve been stuck up all over the locker room.” Lucy rejoined the guardians. and relentlessly. “They’re eating with the rest of us now.” “What about Thad. “Hi. can’t. She started winning. Lucy was sure she saw the real Serendipity flash with anger. “Good work. can you tell her I’d like to talk to her?” “Sure. “Would you look at that?” She said. She let her emotions loose and went after Serendipity head on.” she said. “I’ll be right back. Serendipity’s persona went back up. Winona. no matter which of them was initiating the attack.” .” The goddesses exchanged smiles and a couple of mouth-covered giggles. “If she shows up. You’ve seen those?” “They showed up late yesterday. “Hi. Lucy. her boyfriend?” “Sorry.286 R. but it didn’t work. Once.” “Oh. “Yeah! You’re in there! I saw you!” Lucy said. “Looking for your lover?” Uvan said. for an instant. “You’re lucky.” Several goddesses sat at a table across the room. Uvan sat at the guardian’s table in the cafeteria. H.” “Is she sick?” “We don’t know. “Would you leave it alone?” Lucy said.” Winona said. “She’s not here. Watson tions. “Thanks. Monica sent her a request. crap. ah―” “Winona.” Lucy got up and walked over to them.

” “I’m sorry.” “Huh?” “The Cliffside police found them yesterday. “your parents are dead. There was a stranger in the Security outer office.” Donna said and led the way. “If my parents are here looking for him. but I insisted he let me talk to you first. She walked over to the guardian table.Gladiator Girl 287 “I think they’re sweet. Donna closed her office door.” Donna said. I don’t want to see them. Nothing good came from the last time Donna approached her during practice.” She sat forward and grabbed the edge of Donna’s desk. “I need to talk to you. The . “I’ll bet that’s what they were snickering about. “That’s Inspector Malaki. “He’s going to ask you some questions. probably since before your brother left. “I don’t know who that is. She looked at the goddesses’ table. Lucy followed her out.” Serendipity said. “This is something else.” “Has something happened to Francine?” Lucy said. “Who?” “Your lover. and sat behind her desk. “Please!” “Lucy. It may be why your brother came to see you. “In my office. “Please sit. “She’s not my― Fuck you!” Donna stepped through the cafeteria door and scanned the room until she saw Lucy.” she said.” Lucy felt the back of her neck tense up.” Donna said. where is she?” Serendipity said.” She pointed through her office window at the guy in the suit. He wore a suit and was looking at the notices on the bulletin board.” “So. “Outside. Lucy’s stomach twisted up.” Uvan said.” she offered the standard wooden armchair. she tried to control her breathing. the guardian case. “Don’t even start your cute bullshit!” Lucy said.” The tone of her voice killed the conversation at the table. they had been dead for a while.” “She’s part of this case.

“He was just a little kid. forever. “I understand. “but .” “I don’t know where he is. Her body was purging the adrenalin rush and taking all her energy with it.” Lucy said.288 R. and no one to flee. “but the inspector doesn’t. her finger nails. Her heart was pumping like mad.” “Don’t you know? Weren’t you supposed to watch him for me?” “We did.” Donna said. He’ll want to know if you’re hiding him.” she said. . ?” “They suspect he killed your father. You’re Zack’s sister. he’s not little any more. “Answer his questions.” “He has to ask. Apparently they did that every year in the fall?” “Yes. I told him to go away. and try to .” “I know that. “The inspector has a warrant for Zack’s arrest. I treated him like shit. there was no one to fight. .” “The inspector is going to ask if you know where he is. He was the only one I could get back at. but now he’s missing. He was staying at the Helping Hand shelter.” She let go of the desk and slumped in her chair. . H. He has to suspect you would protect him. The growl stopped. don’t embellish. dug into the surface of Donna’s desk.” “No it wasn’t! It never is! He killed her!” “Zack?” “No.” Donna said. which she compulsively trimmed short.” “Why would I fucking do that? I didn’t want to see him. Your mother’s death may have been an accident. “Did Zack . . Be honest. Watson neighbors thought your family had gone away on a fishing trip.” “I suppose we’re not. him!” Donna finally heard the growl.” Lucy crossed her arms and stuck her hands in her armpits. Her sympathetic nervous system was buzzing. but all of a sudden.

without even getting out of her chair. may I call you Lucy?” “Yes. He pulled up another wooden armchair to face her. “Well?” he said.” Lucy said.” Donna left the office and Inspector Malaki came in. Lucinda. and strike his tibia with just enough force to cleanly cut off that fucking tapping foot at mid calf. She was sure she could do it. it’s a pleasure to meet you.” “I’m not. “Yes. He’s going to ask why you changed your name. like a lump. To him. fan the blade around its center of gravity while twisting the edge to bear. “You didn’t ask a question. and didn’t tell me anything. When he didn’t get one. “You were once known as Deborah Knole?” “Yes. ask a question.” He waited for a reply.” she said.” “He visited you exactly two weeks ago to the day.” “What did you talk about?” “Nothing.” “My name is Jonas Malaki. He started tapping his foot in the air. if you want an answer. “Next time.” He continued tapping his foot in the air. he crossed one leg over the other and held his notebook on his knee. but mentally she walked her muscles through a finessed attack: draw. Are you ready?” Lucy nodded. you’re still Deborah Knole living under an assumed name. She didn’t move.” Lucy said nothing. “Stay here.Gladiator Girl 289 stay calm. He didn’t sit behind Donna’s desk. “Hello. Zachary?” “Yes. yet stop before touching his other leg. Lucy slid her scabbard back to bring the sword hilt in position to draw.” “You have a brother named. “There’s no need to make this difficult.” Malaki frowned. . He sat in his chair.

Why would I know his friends?” “Your head of security had Zack followed when he went to some sort of a class with this boy. Neil?” “I don’t know him. I can’t―” “That wasn’t a question.” “I told you.” she said. Watson “I know my parents are dead. well. I never saw Zack again until two weeks ago. “Are we done?” “I have a few more―” “You already know I don’t know anything. aren’t you?” Malaki cracked a condescending grin.” “What sort of class?” Malaki flipped note pages.” He lost his grin. then he left the outer office.” Lucy watched him through the window in Donna’s office. put his notebook away. H. so let’s get this over with. Donna sat behind her desk. he looked back for a moment and saw Lucy watching him. She laid her sword across the desk and leaned in. “Donna told me. He talked to Donna. “Feisty doesn’t begin to describe me.” Lucy said. they shook hands. I legally changed my name because I didn’t want anything to do with them. “I can’t divulge that. “Yes. Lucy hustled out to Donna. but the scars are gone. He uncrossed his leg.” she said. and stood up. “I may be questioning you again. “Back in your office. Lucy remained standing. I could show you why. I told him to go away and I haven’t seen him since.” “Because you don’t know.” Malaki stopped tapping the air. Do you have any more questions?” “You’re a feisty one. You think Zack did it. “A self-defense class?” “What kind?” He shifted to sit a little straighter in his chair.290 R.” Lucy said.” “How do you know?” . “Tell me about this class Zack went to. I left that house and those people when I was fourteen. ever again. “Do you know your brother’s friend.

Neil. “This morning’s security alert has something to do with a charity that teaches blood battle style sword handling to street kids. Short of an immediate and obvious emergency. We’ll apply for a search warrant for the Verbeek Mansion. They never came out. “What is it?” Samantha said.” “Was it the Verbeek Mansion?” “Yes. but for now.” “Even with this?” Lucy said. “Mina. I’ll pass this on to Inspector Fournier. “It’s still speculation. was suspicious and asked me to have them followed. “Tell me about that class. but it won’t be granted.” “My brother’s in there!” .” “Zack told his counselor this kid. “Like I told you earlier. .” “What’s next?” Lucy said after Donna finished her story.” Donna got up.” Lucy said. Oh Mother!” Donna said. teenage boys. we’re not getting in there. “I have someone here you need to talk to.” “You’ve got dead bodies!” “And no evidence showing where they came from. I’m sorry. We’ll put the mansion under surveillance.” “I shouldn’t talk about it now that the police are involved. you. The police have found bodies. that’s it. “I might be able to catch Malaki before he’s out of the building.” “Don’t bother.Gladiator Girl 291 “He told me.” Samantha said. practice killings they call them. . was pressuring him to go because the instructor wanted to know about . We tracked them to a secure location. “you go live your life. I’m sure she’ll want to talk to you and Wilhelmina.” Lucy pulled out Samantha’s token and toggled it. If that’s where Zack went―” “How do you know all that?” “In a minute. Lucy.” “How about I tell you something I shouldn’t talk about and then you tell me about the class?” She didn’t wait for an answer. his counselor. Donna.

“Lucy.” At the end of the day. She put her shirt on and slipped her short-sword behind her belt. Look at that naïve. but before she could speak. “Nothing. it would be easier to manage there. and held it against her back until the glue set.” Lucy wiped her eyes quickly and then looked up. both of you.” . I’m late for everything.292 R.” Lucy said. She looked down at her sword.” “What was that?” Samantha said. the last two victims were found the morning after your brother disappeared. She set her longsword on the bench and took off her shirt.” she said to Donna. and put it in her locker. remember what I said. H. pressed. You need to be prepared―” “No I don’t. “Nice evening. Lucy reached over and pressed a finger against her lips. but didn’t. She took it down (careful not to tear the corners).” she said. “Yes it is. one of the ‘Bound by Blood’ posters was stuck to Lucy’s locker door. and walked out to the player entrance. “I’ve got to go. for now. “Can you call a car please?” “Sure thing. Lucy turned back to the poster. “Don’t. picked up her long-sword. Watson “We don’t know that. reached around. She took a long shower. Uvan started to say something. “I’m late for field practice.” Samantha said. thanks. Don’t worry about me.” Frank said.” “OK. By the time she was dressed. Lucy. She picked up her long-sword and was ready to leave. stupid girl. “He was just a little kid. rolled it up. The sky had cleared and dusk was closing in.” Lucy said. Let us handle this. She applied an ad hesive pad to the saddle of her short-sword harness. she was one of the last girls in the locker room. She put on her jacket. Uvan closed her mouth.

she got in and directed it to the Winnebago Graveyard. don’t tell anyone. “I need your help.Gladiator Girl 293 Lucy stepped over to the car siding. She sent a request to Jayzen with an attached message. My brother is missing. Tonight. Keep it quiet.” A public car slid through the security gate and pulled up to the siding. I think he’s in that family club house of yours. I need you to get me inside. . Leave your bodyguards behind. This was another new rule: no walking to the public car kiosk. She had a dinner date with Charlotte and needed to go over a few things with her. and I’ll bet you know why I think that.

” the second bodyguard said. even in the scabbard. “This is a dart pistol.” “Then why are you here? I told him. “No. The sky was slipping from deep dusk into night.” Lucy said. no bodyguards.” “He didn’t think that was wise. “I want to let my friend know I’ll be late. “Okay.” Lucy stepped toward the first bodyguard. not . The second one was behind her. “Where’s Jayzen?” she said.” “Stop. “We’re to bring you to him.” the first bodyguard said. “But I’m going to put it on the ground. I’d rather hand it to you.” the second one said. “He’s not here.” the first bodyguard said. She stepped out with her sword and bag. Lucy moved to the side to check her back without losing sight of the first bodyguard. A black figure with red lipstick stepped in front of her.” “Did he get my message?” The girl hesitated. They both backed away. Please drop your sword and bag. “Can you give me a minute?” Lucy walked backward into the Graveyard. “Yes. The drug will knock you out within seconds.Chapter 18 Back to the Mansion Lucy’s car pulled into the Winnebago Graveyard siding.” “That could damage the blade. She pulled something from her jacket.

The windows were opaqued. She backed into the car. She kept the second in her field of view. “Slide off your seat and onto your knees. we don’t always protect the same subject. slowly. “Put both of them on the ground.” Lucy followed her in. The bag was gone. “No questions. Keep your hands visible at all times. “Sit there. The door closed. Her eyes were on the first bodyguard. A private car rolled into the siding.” Lucy did so. You can sit again.Gladiator Girl 295 drop it. and the car accelerated. Now!” Lucy set her long-sword and gym bag on the pavement. hips against the seat. “Please get in. “She has both swords!” the second bodyguard said. “Turn around. “How many different pairs of bodyguards does Jay have? I’ve met the Bonnies and the Veronicas. Lucy felt an electric shock. remember?” Lucy sat and put her hands in her lap. She glanced back and saw the second bodyguard pick up her swords and bag.” She crouched down.” The first body guard pointed to the seat farthest from the door.” “We move around. The guard reached forward. “What was that?” “I shorted out your talk-to.” the first bodyguard said.” “What are your names?” . “I’ve got to stand up to take the other one out of my belt. probably stowed in the luggage compartment. then placed it next to her long-sword. knees and ankles together. pulled her short-sword scabbard out from behind her belt. She wedged the swords between herself and the side of the cabin. Hands always visible. “What’s going on?” She stood up. not people?” “It preserves objectivity and avoids the complications of personal entanglement.” She stood. The second one sat in the seat farthest from Lucy.” the first bodyguard said.” “The people you protect are subjects. Lean forward and put your hands on the seat back. its door slid open.

” Lucy said. I always am. It smelled different since Lucy had moved in. handed the peddler the fare plus tip. one was from a Lieutenant Samantha Villanueva of the police Special Operations unit. She went down the stairs.” the first Noreen said. H. “I’m crossing my arms. There were several messages waiting. They both blinked. “Pardon?” “That’s what Jay called it.’ Is he resorting to kidnapping to get dates?” “Sit and be quiet. “Maybe you’re not. little shrug. Some of the inside air swirled up when the hatch lifted open. ‘the Verbeek Family Club House.” “We’re not on a temple. “Where are we going?” The first Noreen glanced at the second Noreen. . One was from the head of Burning Desire’s security office. food. and another person. then said. Watson They looked at each other for a moment.” “The Club House. They were all locked except for Jayzen’s. “You wouldn’t last two seconds in a blood battle temple fight. “We’re the Noreens. but in a sense. but it made the Noreens nervous. it had just come in. The second Noreen extended her pistol. Lucy settled into her seat and crossed her arms. and one was from Jayzen Verbeek. don’t you? Less than one second for each of you. Lucy shrugged a quick. “To the mansion. all for Lucy.” Lucy watched the Noreens and felt the car maneuver through traffic. her little buried house had become a home.” She wasn’t sure what that meant. Charlotte’s cab trundled up to the Winnebago Graveyard.” they both said. You’re safer with them crossed.” the second Noreen said. Sometime during the last two weeks. Lucy shifted her position slightly.296 R. one was from Bimini Tanaka. “Hands always visible!” the first Noreen said. She got out. The perfume of cleaning supplies had been suppressed by the lingering odor of coffee. and walked to her canister. You know that.

” “Ah.” He half rose. “I’ve never seen Lucy as―lost―as last night. It was returned— her talk-to didn’t exist.” Charlotte said. Contrary to your instructions. “Jayzen Verbeek. at your service.” Jayzen said. Charlotte held up her tea cup. “There’s a cup of tea on the counter. slipped up the stairs.” He picked up the tea and gingerly sat in the chair.” Jayzen said. bobbed his head and sat back down.” Charlotte said. she thinks you can help. Charlotte sent Lucy an emergency request. Have a seat. I killed someone in your ballroom two Saturdays ago. I’m on my way to your friend’s little underground cottage to see if you’re there. She made two cups of tea. but you’re not showing up when I reply.Gladiator Girl 297 Charlotte played his message: I received your request. and I gather from your message. Uncle Max is not happy about your plan. We can trust them. he insisted I bring bodyguards. yes. “Let’s not waste time. crouching to see under the ceiling. A bodyguard slinked down the steps.” he said.” She used her foot to turn the nearest of the pedestal mounted arm chairs toward Jayzen. Uncle Max bought their contract. “You can send your master down. and Jayzen sauntered down. “not fragile. . “Sorry to bother you. She’s in trouble.” he said. Charlotte gave him permission.” The bodyguard looked around. “My home is small. “It’s safe. We haven’t formally met. and sat on the sofa with one of them to wait for Jayzen.” “Yes. You won’t break it.” “She asked me not to talk about it. it’s quaint. but says I’m a fool if I think you can be dissuaded.” Charlotte said. “Please come in. A few minutes later he requested entry. “Charlotte Marceau.

“Keep your hands above your head. Ready? Let’s go. You are going to get me into that mansion. “The kind that could get my friend hurt. Are you still ready to help?” “Yes. She wants to rescue him and needs me to let her in. The worst kind of hubris.” Jayzen looked puzzled.” “No it’s not. “That doesn’t include me. Here’s what we’re going to do.” “She’s going to try and do what you won’t let the police do? What the police should be doing?” “It’s more complicated than that.” the first Noreen said.” The car stopped.” Charlotte said. Lucy crabbed sideways so she could . but not the one used by the limousine on the night of Charlotte’s fencing bout. Is Maxton Verbeek involved?” “He’s at the estate.’ he says. “It’s hubris. The second Noreen picked up Lucy’s swords and stepped out. and while we’re on our way. They were in a garage. but I haven’t been able to reply. where you committed your murder. The door opened.” Jayzen adjusted himself in the chair.” “And now her talk-to has gone missing. H.” The first Noreen followed Lucy out. Uncle Max thinks she’s taking the initiative because we won’t let the police in. it’s at your mansion?” “Yes. ‘sniffing around the money. “Why would you think otherwise?” “Is she correct? Whatever is going on.” Jayzen said.” “You mentioned your Uncle Max. “She thinks her brother is being held at the family mansion. She sent me a contact. It seems like she trusts you. She gestured with her pistol to keep walking. Watson “That doesn’t include me.” “When did she send you the request?” “About a half hour ago. “Please exit the car.” “She was quite clear―” Charlotte leaned forward and spoke with precise enunciation.298 R. you will explain everything that has led up to this.

“Stop!” the first Noreen said. They climbed two flights of stairs. “This way. Several dogs milled around. The car stayed at the dock. The door closed. Each hunter was followed by a servant holding dead pheasants.” “No. but keep them visible. With her swords locked away.” “And my swords?” “You’ll find out. He likes my banter. Lucy lowered her arms. When she was ten meters from the car. the second Noreen put her swords back in. “and I don’t think Jay will be very happy if you shoot me. Lucy found herself able to identify with everyone in the picture.” The first Noreen walked around Lucy. keeping her distance. A real harness has a saddle custom made for each guardian. Lucy heard the whisper of its lock engaging. alive and dead. and the shoes look too big. human and animal. The first Noreen opened the door under the girl on the . “You can lower your hands. the Noreens relaxed. They looked at each other for a moment.” Lucy said. Change. The second Noreen was standing under the hunting mural pointing her dart gun at Lucy.” She tipped her head toward the dressing table. A short-sword harness and a pair of guardian shoes sat on its mostly-empty top. attentive and uncomprehending. “I don’t have my swords.” The Noreens glanced at each other. That’s amateur junk. The mural above the door they had just come through was of a hunting party armed with old muskets.Gladiator Girl 299 watch both bodyguards. “Get changed. Lucy turned around. now. The ecstatic girl on the swing was still frozen on the far wall.” Neither Noreen spoke. walked along unadorned hallways meant for staff use.” She led them deep into the mansion. “Where’s the helmet?” “You won’t need it. and ended up in a familiar room: the fairy tale locker room where Lucy had helped Charlotte prepare for her fencing bout.

The ceiling was divided into quarters with a painting in each. “This is a shootable situation. then she closed the door and moved back into position.” the second Noreen said. Someone knocked on the girl-on-swing door. He wore jeans and a t-shirt. unless we give you authorization. *** . but said nothing.300 R.” She looked at the Noreen’s dart pistol. Lucy didn’t move. Watson swing. Lucy looked at her. “If you give me an opening to attack. “Our guns only shoot for us. he went in. “You’re not going to shoot me unless I try to escape. An amateur quality short-sword harness was stuck to his back. Lucy laughed. “It won’t work.” Lucy said.” the first Noreen said. He was in excellent condition and wore guardian style shoes. Lucy put her hands in her pockets. you’ll be dead before you can shoot. She reached up and stretched back. “You’re not going to shoot me just because my hands are in my pockets. a boy―held it. The Noreens flinched. After they were out of the fairy tale locker room. both useless with her talk-to burned out. Lucy stepped through the door. She waggled her pistol out the door. The naked man ran ahead and knocked on one of them.” “Or if you try to attack us. H.” Lucy pulled her hands out of her pockets. then pulled it all the way open. “Hands!” the second Noreen said. looking up at the ceiling. She had a whispered conversation with someone standing outside. A naked man stood to the side. They approached the familiar gilded double doors. A second man―no. The first Noreen opened it enough for another conference. There were more murals up there. “We’re here!” The door opened. She felt the tokens in her pocket: one to contact Samantha.” the second Noreen said. and retrieved the short-sword harness and shoes meant for her. one to contact the police dispatcher.

she’ll receive her gene therapy and get to play at being immortal for the next eleven years. A pile of pinwheels lay on the floor next to a nude fake hill. complete with counter. The boy who let you in is Fox. “Hurry up!” Fox opened the door. if all goes well. a new guy ran in. “Who’s having a party?” “Eustace Verbeek.” “The what?” “I’m back.” the other man said. and foam hills covered in fake grass and decorated with hundreds of pinwheel flowers. The pinwheels waved back and forth on thin wire stems. nearer the opposite set of double doors. and the guardian who escorted you from the dressing room is Walrus. some slowly spinning in ventilation driven air currents. tables and chairs shaped like mushrooms. He was wearing an athletic suit and carrying Lucy’s swords. “Keep those away from her!” . stools. Six years from now.Gladiator Girl 301 The ballroom was even more fairy tale than the night of the fencing bout soirée. “Call me Grizzly.” “You’re not Jayzen. and an ice cream cooler. Grizzly motioned him to the side. A soda fountain had been set up on the opposite side of the room. “There’s someone coming!” He jogged across the room toward Grizzly. and something was hidden under a tarp. soda dispensers.” Lucy said. Other party decorations had been pushed against one side of the room: balloon trees anchored by fake rocks. “Tomorrow is her birthday. she’ll be eight years old. The decorations weren’t finished. Unicorn piñatas hung from the ceiling. Lucy walked toward the middle of the room and stopped when she felt a comfortable buffer of space all around. He was muscular and nearly two meters tall.” someone yelled from the other side of the double doors behind Lucy. A second naked man stood in the middle of the floor.

then they heard two muffled shots. said. He nodded to the Noreens. “Who was it?” Grizzly said.” Grizzly said. Jayzen. He shook his head. Watson “Sorry. “He had the Katrinas working for him. “He’s one of the security dispatchers at the estate. now Ned.” “Who’s that?” Grizzly pointed at Charlotte.” the new guy said and jogged through a long arc around Lucy. Did you know that?” one of the Noreens said. Walrus listened at the door while aiming his pistol roughly in Lucy’s direction. “Where are they?” “Down the hall―dead―for now. The first Noreen signed Walrus’s palm with her finger. opened the doors. Walrus jumped away from the doors. real guns and slipped through the doors.” Grizzly. A minute later there was a knock.” he said. but they’re kind of incompetent. Charlotte collected his arm in hers. “Open up! It’s us!” Walrus and the kid. I saw a couple of your bodyguards get out.” “Hello. not making a sound.” “Huh? what?” Jayzen said. “Another car came into the garage just as I was leaving.” Lucy said. H. “I see you’ve gone back to pretty. “Why are you here?” . Fox. but stupid for your girlfriends. “Is there anything happening?” Grizzly said. The Noreens pushed Jayzen and Charlotte into the fairy tale ballroom. Jayzen. Lucy didn’t know which was which anymore. “No I didn’t. the second Noreen put hers in her jacket.302 R. These have to be the people the police warned us about. “I don’t know. “What’s going on?” “Ned?” Jayzen stared at Grizzly. They both pulled out small. “Hi. We shorted out their death alarms so there shouldn’t be a recovery team response. handed her dart pistol to him.” Grizzly was angry. and pointed at Lucy. then I ran here as fast as I could. “Who’s Ned?” Lucy said.

” Charlotte said. yes. I’ll keep that in mind. “Ah.” “Okay. so I must insist you stay. keeping his distance from Lucy. We’re twenty-five. One Noreen had her dart pistol out. “I prefer Grizzly. “I take it. When they passed Walrus. “Who are you when you’re not looking ridiculous? Wally? Wilber?” Walrus clenched his jaw. whispered argument that Ned seemed to win. “we have some important business here.” . you and your friend will be shot with knockout darts. They had a heated. I prefer to not drug you.Gladiator Girl 303 “I wanted to see the decorations. little girl. “Why are they helping you? They should be protecting Jay.” He motioned to the fake grassy hills. he handed over the dart pistol and the Noreen put away her real gun. the other. her gun. not holding him at gun point. Ned.” She turned to Walrus.” “Oh come on.” The Noreens nudged Jayzen and Charlotte to walk. but Ned can make us rich. They’re working for me. those aren’t Jay’s bodyguards?” Lucy said.” “I don’t get it. “Over there. thanks to Jayzen’s mother’s charity fund. Twin Security’s stipend is more than generous. and to help legitimize our actions within these walls. but if you try to interfere.” “Why the black body armor and red lipstick? Did you want to make Jay the bad guy if someone got suspicious?” “That. despite their appearance.” Lucy said. making his beard flair out. She pointed at the guy who was still holding her swords. what should I call you?” Lucy said to Ned. “No. “Jayzen.” Jayzen said. we can’t risk you alerting anyone. Unfortunately. “How about I call you Marvin. “We were going to bust open one of the piñatas and make love on the candy. It helped reassure the mansion staff and security that we were working with the Verbeek Family blessing. “It’s the money.” he said.” “So.” one of the Noreens said.” Walrus trotted over to Ned.

He knew what he was doing. She stopped.” Catamount handed over Lucy’s short-sword. splintering the wood tile. Each was handmade and balanced specifically for the girl who would wield it.” Ned said. “Be careful. Watson “And you. One of the Noreens was pointing a real gun at her. The League contracted one bladesmith to custom build guardian swords. rolling the scabbard from palm to fingertips and back. “Where’s my brother!” She took a step forward. a gun fired and the bullet ricocheted off the floor in front of her foot. Do something reckless and people you know will die. look-alike long-sword.” Catamount handed it over. tied on guardian shoes. . and mounted one of the amateur short-sword harnesses to his back. A short-sword was in his harness. He’d never held a real guardian sword. He pulled off his athletic suit. How quaint. manipulating the blade with confidence.” His eyes darted back and forth. . He pulled the blade out. handed the scabbard to Walrus. “You don’t know the stakes. but wasn’t used to her sword. Catamount came back from the wardrobe carrying an unsheathed. Ned slid Lucy’s sword back in its scabbard. “Give Walrus the short-sword and then get ready. “Are you Neil? Are you Zack’s friend?” She turned on Ned. He stepped through a warmup maneuver.” She turned around to the kid who was standing by the double doors. “Catamount. He stopped to look at the symbol Lucy had had etched into the blade collar. He went through all the proper motions: weighing it in his hands. Just the sort of thing an abused .304 R. then jogged over to a portable wardrobe that was against the wall. then sighted along the edge. He was frightened and shaking. “You’re not a part of this . “The Northern Guide Star. H. behind the soda fountain. Ned made a show of admiring Lucy’s sword. give me her long-sword.

” Lucy said in a low voice.” “I don’t.” “You’re crazy.Gladiator Girl 305 little girl might dream up to go along with her make-believe name. all full of hate. the children of abusers turn into abusers themselves.” He flicked the sword all the way in with a solid. Walrus ran off on his errand and returned with two more sets of guardian swords. You even threatened to break his fingers if he told. He killed your father. He understood an important truth. You said so yourself. did you know that?” “Yes.” “What do you mean?” “Zachary told me all about you. “Where’s my brother?” “Why do you care? You never did before. and handed it to Walrus. “Debbie Knole. “The father kills the mother. clack. He knows you have it in you. They might well have killed us. You killed innocent kids. He came to see you because he wants you to kill him. and bring our weapons. It just goes to show.” “Don’t be so sure. Wolf fell in a challenge just three days ago. His mean big sister. That’s why he came to see you. one did. Down in the gym. It’s an old story. You gave the same advice to Jayzen over there: Mod- .” “You’re the murderer.” Lucy said. right in this mansion. then the son kills the father. and a son’s duty. In fact. “A little less than two weeks ago. “and I won’t. taking out her frustrations on the only family member weaker than herself. “Put Debbie’s swords and gear on the soda counter. You can’t fight with deadly weapons and achieve true mastery without facing the ultimate consequence of losing. He died honorably. as did his opponents.” Lucy said.” “Did you kill him?” “I’m leaving that for you. to avenge his mother when there’s no one else to protect her.” Ned said.” “We trained worthy opponents and challenged them.

” “I think the heart of a true warrior beats in your breast. They think they can use me to force you to fight. She was dressed in a goddess vestment. “Chrissy?” Chrysanthemum’s feet and knees were bound together. if I’m right. “Let’s get started!” Neil was startled. They set her on the floor so she was sitting on her heels in a distorted cari cature of the goddess sitting position. “Fox!” Ned yelled. “Those bodyguards took me this morning. They were carrying something―no―someone between them. “Out of the way. If I’m wrong.” “Zack. but when I read Jayzen’s security transcript for that night. He ran the length of the ballroom from one set of double doors to the other. “Zack!” Lucy called. I was messing with him. I told them it wouldn’t work. H. Fox. “I’m sorry. Zack knelt on one knee behind Chrysanthemum. staying far away from Lucy. on my way to the club.” Chrysanthemum said. He went out and a minute later came in with Zack.” Ned said. you may live.306 R. and her wrists were strapped together behind her back. but the straps binding her made it look like a sack. “Are you alright?” Then she realized who they were carrying. Watson ern senseis have lost their edge because they no longer understand what it takes to kill. Neil backed away. “What’s going on?” . you’ll die. I knew you were a kindred spirit. between Lucy and Ned. and it yearns to test its mettle in a real death match.” Lucy said.” “Kindred spirit? Jay was being an asshole. Zack and Neil carried her to the very center of the ballroom. then ran to the far corner of the room behind the soda fountain. I thought you were just another silly blood battle girl playing warrior dress up.” “Did they hurt you?” “No.

“You’re going to fight us to a real death―kill or be killed.” the Noreen with the gun said. remember what we talked about? About plans and weaknesses? About empathy and the decisions guardians have to make? I trust you. Your own staff is being tricked by a simple cross feed of data from other jars in their vault.” “We followed you and watched you last night. The Noreen with the gun stepped over to the thing covered by the tarp and pulled it off. “The Laughing Cherub’s security isn’t designed to counter a stealth intrusion.” She looked at Jayzen.” the Noreen said. This isn’t what the po­ lice warned us about―not at all. “They saw those posters yesterday.” Zack didn’t look at anybody.” Lucy said.” “Show her our little secret!” Ned called to the Noreens. They think we’re lovers. Two placenta jars sat on the floor. “How did you get those?” Lucy said. “Your own womb-atorium has no internal security at all.” “I won’t.” Ned said. I play a game. He put his hand under Chrysan- .Gladiator Girl 307 “Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Ned said.” “Stop bragging. “We know you are. each hooked to a portable environment unit.” “If you harmed them―” Jayzen said.” Chrysanthemum said. We want you to try to kill us.” “Lucy. “They’re being looked after by the Laughing Cherub staff. do you recognize them? They’re yours and your lover’s. “Zack. Not one of your makebelieve rebirth deaths.” “My what?” “Me. “The jars of a couple of Verbeek nieces are taking their places in the Cherub’s Memory Vault. It’s time. I trust you with my whole life. the best in the business. “The point is. “I don’t kill. “No.” “Be quiet!” Ned said. a technique that would not have fooled the Cherub.” “You want me to kill you?” Lucy said.

like it’s supposed to be. “You will fight us for her life and yours. “I think it’s her.” Ned pointed at the placenta jars. Watson themum’s jaw and bent her head back. . “She’s growling!” “You want me to kill you?” Lucy said. . but he seemed distracted.” Walrus said. It wasn’t your fault. as good as new. He pulled out a knife from the back of his jeans. let’s do it.308 R.” Ned said.” Zack looked up at her. “Mind if I put them in your wardrobe so they don’t get bloody?” Walrus was stand- . It was his. for real. he was shaking but held tight. and cut her throat.” Zack looked away from Lucy. Out of the corner of her eye. back at the house. “Don’t Zack! Please!” Lucy took a step. Blood soaked into her vestment and pumped onto the floor. You and your lover will be dead. “It looks like a tragic death. “Zack!” Ned said. If you lose. Her body slumped. both placentas will be destroyed. “I know what happened .” Lucy said. “Spread out. Catamount moved toward the fake hills and Walrus toward the soda fountain. In the flesh. Lucy watched Chrysanthemum’s eyes until the blood stopped. She stopped and spoke quietly. “Fine. She watched until Chrysanthemum’s eyes stopped looking back. “Don’t listen to her! Do it! Like I showed you. Her body spasmed from the shock. He put the knife against Chrysanthemum’s neck.” She undressed and carefully folded her anime toreador clothes into a neat stack.” Lucy held them up. Zack lost his grip. and the tension went out of her body. “but she’s just another humpty-dumptied rebirth girl who can be put back together again. “I like these clothes. H.” Ned said. Zack sat on his heels.” Ned was trying to be dramatic. she saw the Noreen raise her gun. transfixed by the dull red pool spreading around his knees. forever. and she collapsed into the puddle of her own blood. “What’s that noise?” he said. “You shouldn’t have made him do that.

His ankle shattered. She planted her left foot against the side of his right knee. leading with her left knee. Lucy scanned the room. and bent his arm back. “I’m unarmed. then started forward. Using it as a pivot. she swung around his back like a trapeze artist. “Leave your swords behind!” Ned said. She held onto his hand and let her momentum turn her upside down.” he said. She continued around. collect her clothes. Ned hesitated.” Lucy said. lifting and toppling him forward. His face smacked the floor with the full force of his weight.Gladiator Girl 309 ing between her and the wardrobe. He reached back for her with his left hand. The shattered end of his radius bone poked through his arm. Lucy took hold of his thumb and little finger. She hit the outside of his elbow. I’ll always have your back. She let go with her leg and flipped over onto her feet. Walrus put his swords on the floor. Lucy and Charlotte locked eyes for a moment. grabbed his foot. Everyone was watching except the Noreen guarding Charlotte and Jayzen. She jammed her shoulder into his groin and stood up. sliding between his legs. It broke across her knee with a sharp snap. She leapt up. then walked toward Lucy.” Walrus gave Ned a frustrated look. and broke them. She grabbed his left foot and twisted it inward. pulled and twisted until his . Walrus had almost reached her. She pulled on his arm and hooked her left leg around his neck. carrying her landing into a crouch behind his back. flinging her body around his leg to add torsion. too. “You might know how to take people apart with your swords. one in each hand. When his arms were fully extended. “Walrus.” Lucy held out her clothes with both her hands. “but without them. she flipped the clothes into his face and grabbed his right hand with both of hers. you’re just a naked girl. Walrus came just close enough to reach out and take them. His arms were too damaged to break his fall.

” Walrus bared his teeth. and what’s-his-name. I’ve got your back. and she began to collapse. . and jammed the end of the pinwheel stem up into her nose. “It’s not that I know how to take people apart with swords. The guard raised her gun to shoot and brought up her other hand to cover her nose. they were meant to be stuck directly into the foam―nothing fancy―a dangerous thing to have at a children’s party. She pressed her mouth next to his ear. took hold of two of the pinwheel flowers. Ned. The stems were straight wires with no safety fittings on the ends. “Don’t even think about trying to bite me. distracted. Blood gushed from her nostrils. H. Charlotte made eye contact. Both bodyguards caught her movement and started to react. it’s that I know how to take people apart. fast leap toward the other guard. When the bodyguards moved Jayzen and Charlotte over to the foam hills with the fake grass and pinwheel flowers. she had to go for the superior orbital fissure at the back of her eye socket. but what she saw stopped her cold. Both bodyguards glanced at the commotion. She came in low at the closest one. When Lucy looked around the room. She crabbed around his torso. Don’t worry little sister. It didn’t matter. Charlotte couldn’t reach the second bodyguard with a low strike. She was counting on Ned not wanting the Noreen to actually shoot her.” Lucy looked up ready to dodge and distract the Noreens. and everyone was suddenly. You really don’t want to know what I could do to your jaw. pulling them out of the foam hill. She couldn’t believe the Verbeeks were so careless. seriously. Charlotte saw a stack of unused pinwheels. keeping his bulk between her and the Noreen’s gun. and stepped forward. Charlotte reached behind her.310 R. Then Lucy attacked the guy foolish enough to get close to her. Watson knee snapped. Charlotte launched herself into a broad. the one holding the dart pistol.

nontrivial way.Gladiator Girl 311 The best way in was along the inside edge of the socket. She touched Zack’s arm. Charlotte took a quick look past Catamount toward Lucy. She stuck the end of the pinwheel stem against his neck. and wiggling her hand with fingers spread. and Charlotte. what else did she expect? Both Noreens were dead. you’re dead. Zack was still kneeling behind Chrysanthemum’s body. “You didn’t kill her. along the inside of her eye socket. Lucy was crouched behind him. and couldn’t believe what she saw. This was one of the first tricks beginners discovered and one of the first tricks beginners learned to not be fooled by. Amateur! She reached out with the end of the pinwheel stem.” She combed her fingers through his hair and rested her hand on the side of his neck. almost body temperature. She stroked Chrysanthemum’s cheek with the back of her hand. and let her leap carry it into the guard’s eye. Ned was in shock. . Charlotte reached to the side with her right arm. He threw both swords away. Charlotte poked his neck enough to make him bleed. The guard turned her head toward Charlotte’s hand. through the superior orbital fissure and into her brain. She stood up.” she said. her best friend in every possible. She was still warm.” He hesitated. and the best angle was achieved if your opponent was looking a little away from your attack. then she could. was holding what’s-his-name at bay with a pinwheel flower.” she said. Lucy looked up from dismantling Walrus. Charlotte stirred the wire once for good measure. She walked forward and crouched in front of Zack with Chrysanthemum between them. “Don’t move. looking at the floor. Walrus’s body was obviously broken and useless. She’ll be fine. then side stepped into a run over to the guy called Catamount. As she leapt toward the second guard. Of course. Drop your swords. “If you even twitch without my permission. “It’s okay.

” Lucy said. so I expect I will have to. His face was a kaleidoscope of conflicting emotions: anger. and we’re not children. and when it does.” Lucy said. “Give me your knife. fear. “I’m sorry. Are there more of these straps.” Zack ran over to Neil.” She leaned forward and kissed the top of his head. They stood up. At least it’s fear for me. “Please?” Zack handed it over. Lucy heard Neil say. disbelief.” he said and looked up. Watson “I can’t take back what I did when we were children in that house. I’ll have even better traction.” “Can you get them?” “They’re just down the hall. “Me too. The blood will dry fast. but I’m great. She realized he had beautiful eyes. “I need your help. take your friend. like the ones Chrissy is tied up with?” “Yes.312 R. and both of you get the straps.” “Good.” Lucy said to Ned.” “He’s strong. Neil. H. except to make sure there was fear in them.” “How many do you need?” “I’m not sure.” Lucy said.” Fear was back in Zack’s eyes. and did you see what the other one did?” “I guess it’s just you and me. staying clear of Ned. Now. “You’re standing in her blood! Your feet are going to be slippery!” “It’ll be okay. not of me. in a closet.” she said. “and he might be good. They talked and headed for the doors. Zack looked at her feet. Lucy twisted around and threw it into the corner farthest from anyone else in the ballroom. “Your sister is fucking amazing. and he’s good.” “Are you going to fight him?” “He seems kind of stupid. “Get a lot. get going. but we’re not there anymore. I never paid attention to his eyes before. “Strength is over rated. She turned back. We’re going to take care of each other. just in case. de- .” She squeezed his shoulder.

“Yes she is. and wiped the blood off her hand. isn’t she?” Ned said. How about you?” “She’s your friend. She stopped and sheathed her short-sword. “You brought Chrissy into this because you think that poster has some deep meaning?” Ned watched her. The shoes Ned had provided were too big. Zack was right. She picked a short one. Take your pick. We do. they would be worse than no shoes. Next time you hold a champion foil fencer hostage I recommend you don’t back her up to a whole forest of long bendy pieces of sharp metal. Four girls who were a lot better trained than you.” “I don’t think she’ll kill Catamount. She elected to go barefoot. She attached her short-sword scabbard to the harness in the middle of her back. I guess I was wrong. then unsheathed her long-sword and walked back to the center of the room. Chrysanthemum’s blood was making her feet slippery. She was leaving bloody foot prints everywhere she walked. and let him die with some honor.” Lucy crouched and placed her left palm in Chrysanthemum’s blood. She stepped through the same warmup maneuver Ned had used. “It does. She didn’t wipe them off. found a towel.Gladiator Girl 313 termination. and be distracted. You had a chance to kill Walrus―you could have broken his neck and been done with him―but you didn’t. Blood ran down her forearm. I thought you had a warrior in you. but took her time while waiting for her feet to dry. You took extra time to maim and humiliate him. then stood and held it up. “It means I killed four chargers in less than two seconds. None of you girls know what it’s like to really kill. . She leaned over the counter.” Lucy walked over to the soda fountain. the fencer. You should have killed him. but performed it with elegance and flow beyond his skill. and she wanted Ned to notice. “I’m ready. to think about them. but one that made the air around her shimmer with death. Then she pulled her short-sword and segued into one of Bimini’s advanced exercises.

Watson “Pick up your swords!” he called to Catamount. Zack and Neil came in. “Let him go. Lucy had farther to go. He jumped forward and reached for his swords. left hand on the floor. “Do it. she’s going to defend the placenta jars. She kept running and curved toward Ned. She ran back at Catamount.” “What about Charlotte?” Jayzen said. Her feet and hand squeaked on the polished wood tiles. “Stay there!” Lucy said.” Lucy said. each holding two fistfuls of straps. but he was afraid to move his neck. Nothing you or I can say will stop her. This guy’s not stupid enough to hurt a Verbeek. he had thrown them away. cut off his left foot above the ankle. Charlotte twisted the pinwheel wire a little further into his neck. you protect my brother and his friend. He was standing up and looking at the blood squirting out of his stumps. Her soles and palm got hot enough to blister. “Jayzen.” Jayzen didn’t look entirely convinced.314 R. Think of your Uncle Maxton.” Charlotte hesitated. cut off his hands. if you put your heart into it.” The double doors behind Ned opened. . but it took Catamount a moment to realize what was happening. “Call their bluff!” Catamount tried looking at the floor for his swords. Lucy charged Catamount.” Lucy said to Charlotte. She came in low. protect her body and get it to the Long Life womb-atorium. “If I die. Lucy swept by at a full run and with a two handed grip on her long-sword. He had time to react and was waiting for her. “You can do it. “and get away. “If anything happens to me. left leg tucked in tight. You can be real scary. If she’s killed. H. She flattened out into a skid: right leg extended. and nearly cut off his right foot. Run!” Charlotte pulled the pinwheel away from Catamount’s neck and jogged several meters away while looking over her shoulder. He hadn’t just dropped his swords.

“What’s so funny?” Ned said.” Lucy said. throw that guy’s hands and his foot in the ice cream cooler. you know.” Lucy watched him get ready for the fight of his life. They should be able to put him back together. Charlotte―” “Tourniquets. whatever happens.” Lucy shook her head and let out a short laugh. It was an all-power two handed attack taking full advantage of his strength and mass. it would reduce her options.Gladiator Girl 315 She didn’t want to run into his defense.” she said. He swung at her laterally. She spread her feet apart . fighting an opponent armed just like you. It’s not the same. guardian on guardian.” Charlotte said. She slowed to a walk. “Zack and Neil. “We defend. “Guardians don’t attack. “When I’m done with Ned. Lucy’s instincts took over. Just as his blade connected. al­ most as good as new. He meant to cut her in two. Ned held his long-sword up.” Lucy stopped three meters in front of Ned. “Are you still going to do this?” “You arrogant little bitch!” he said. “Guardians protect. She would take the force of his strike between her hands. Stay clear of Ned. “We practiced for this. but she was in control. then attacked.” She took up her relaxed temple waiting stance with the tip of her long-sword resting on the floor ahead of her feet. ready to fend off her attack. You don’t know what you’re in for. aiming for the soft muscle above her pelvis. bring your straps to Charlotte. “You’ve never had a sword coach like Bimini Tanaka. and she bent her arms to absorb the impact. He pushed her. “You’re no guardian. She brought her short-sword out and braced the collar of her long-sword against the back of it’s blade. We’re not here for vengeance. she hopped to take most of her weight off her feet. You’re nothing but a fucking murderer. It’s your move. and pointed her long-sword back at Catamount. kept her eyes on him.” He adjusted his grip.

grabbed her long-sword and ran after him. cutting the flexor muscles that allowed his fingers to grip. She felt his blade stab into her lower ribcage. She fell on the floor and pulled his sword out of her torso. Instead. had left her right side exposed. preventing him from backing it out. She hacked at his elbow joint. She brought her own short-sword around and cut through his bicep. He had made a mess of her in- . H. he buried his short-sword up to its hilt guard. Lucy scrambled up. She was still alive. He lost control of his arm. “You’re dying!” He turned and ran for the placenta jars. Lucy’s weight turned his blade down and she started to slide off onto the floor. but her faster than thought kinesthetic instincts wouldn’t do it. He struck with so much force. Ned reached around for his own short-sword. into her heart. He grinned. He dropped his long-sword. Wounding. then down at her.316 R. and used her elbow to press his hand and his short-sword hilt guard against her ribs. His eyes were wide with fear. making him hit her low and miss her heart. His arms were disabled. he was wide open for Lucy to slash through his ribcage with her long-sword. but he was bringing his short-sword around to stab through her chest. It took two strikes to cut off his forearm. She jumped. she pulled her long-sword up and across the inside of his right forearm. grabbed his forearm. but with his long-sword pushed up and out of the way. but he could still kick. She couldn’t avoid his attack. rather than killing. he had to pull the point of the blade out from between her ribs and jam it up through her viscera. Watson and bent her knees as she slid. The point came out between her ribs on her left side. He still had some control of the sword with his forearm muscles. She felt him trying to twist it. turning her block into a push up with her short-sword. Lucy saw Charlotte pick up Catamount’s long-sword and start running. She dropped her long-sword. Ned looked at the blood spraying out of his elbow. but Ned would get to the pumps first. To kill her instantly.

It looked familiar. she could feel her abdomen distending as it filled with blood. it cut through his gluteal muscles. including probably nicking her descending aorta. The guy from Pete’s Tattoo! Ned reached Chrysanthemum’s pump. Lucy saw feet arrive. It didn’t come off. She collided with him. It was an image of a grizzly bear biting off the head of a horse. She tried to breathe. Lucy was losing her balance. but it started to leak. Ned raised his foot to stomp on the fitting. She looked up and tried to say. Ned had a back tattoo.” but all that came out was a gargle of blood. Her lungs and chest cavity had been punctured. but coughed blood. Lucy ran and focused on it to keep her concentration.Gladiator Girl 317 sides. . and her lungs were collapsing. “Save her. Lucy stumbled and swung her long-sword with both hands. Then she died. He kicked the attachment for the tubes returning filtered amniotic fluid to her placenta. her vision was closing down. and they both toppled over next to the pump. she was drowning in her own blood.

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Part III .

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” He stopped. She cinched up his arms with the tourniquets. And tell them it’s an emergency.” “Leave me alone!” He started jerking his shoulders and flailing his right elbow joint. “If you don’t settle down. She looked up at Charlotte. I’ll keep cutting muscles and tendons until you do. Ned. “What are you doing?” Ned said. “Jayzen! Contact your womb-atorium and get a recovery team up here. Tell them to bring a portable placenta pump. then used Catamount’s sword to cut his hamstrings. made eye contact. then pulled him away from the placenta jars. Charlotte rolled Lucy’s body off of Ned. . Ned’s glutei maximi were cut so deep he couldn’t control his hip joints.” She crouched down next to Ned and pulled a strap from the collection she had tucked behind her belt. There wasn’t enough air left in her lungs to cough.Chapter 19 Aftermath Lucy was bleeding all over the ringleader. “I’m going to put tourniquets on your arms. and died. but he was still kicking at Chrysanthemum’s pump with his forelegs and pushing himself closer with what was left of his arms. Charlotte held her sword in front of his face. Her mouth was moving. but all that came out was blood and spittle.

An S. Let them know you’re on your way and to start preparing a womb.” The aid spoke to another girl on her team.” She pointed at . Samantha Villanueva.” “Then you have to put it in a womb. and ran. was trying to contact Lucy.” Jayzen said. Go. Tell them to bring ambulance teams for three trauma cases.” The girl picked up the jar. not back into the jar. “Where’s your portable pump?” “They’re both out for maintenance. It’s over there. “Wait. two with severed limbs. The womb-atorium team rushed in through the double doors at the back of the ballroom. “Put her in it.” Charlotte said. her unit will be able to blow them off their hinges.” “Good. of course. turned. officer. H. these are them. do as Lucy said: put that fellow’s hands and his foot in the ice cream cooler. “Over here. Try her first. “This is bad. Make sure you tell her it’s OK to do so.” the matron’s aid leading the team said.” She reached Chrysanthemum’s pump and switched it off. “Take it to the Womb Room. Watson “The womb-atorium people are on their way. “After you call the police. Next load her. The team had one casket with them. right?” Charlotte said.” She waved and pointed at Chrysanthemum’s jar. “Quick. it’s been pumping amniotic fluid onto the floor.O. “Yes. How many more caskets do you have?” “Five. “Now call the police and tell them they can come in. The placenta is dying. They stared gap mouthed at the broken and dead bodies spread around the floor.” She pointed to where Ned and Lucy had had their sword fight. “That’s her placenta you just sent to a womb. Its display was flagging emphatic warnings.” “Why?” “Because if the mansion doors give the police a hard time about entering.322 R. you’ll need three more.” Charlotte pointed at Chrysanthemum’s body. and also this one’s forearm. as fast as you can.

“Do you want a local anesthetic?” “No. Lucy touched the stitches that held together the cut across the bridge of her nose. . “Ouch!” She was standing in front of a mirror in Burning Desire’s locker room.” Charlotte looked around.” she pointed at Lucy’s placenta jar. before the police arrive to arrest everyone and bog everything down with paperwork.” She pointed at the doors at the other end of the ballroom. She had snapped on her rubber gloves and dug out her suture kit. and up into her eye sockets. Both her eyes were black and blue with a bruise that spread from her nose. “Pack them in the other two caskets.” Lucy had said. “Stop whining. A minute later she regretted her decision. “These two bodies and that placenta over there. “That’s too superficial for a womb stay. the club nurse.” There was a distant boom from somewhere beyond the double doors Charlotte and Jayzen had originally entered through. “Do what she says. or at least out of this room. I don’t know where they go. so you better do a good job. “They’re Twin Security’s problem. That should do it. “Sounds like the police. but not as much as Dita did. had said when she examined Lucy after her game in Saturday’s match. Once that’s accomplished.” Charlotte said. She had pealed the bandage back to look at the stitches. you’ll find two dead bodyguards in the gallery out those doors.” Dita Hwang. Hurry up. They work for Maxton Verbeek.Gladiator Girl 323 Lucy’s body. “ship them to the Laughing Cherub as fast as you can.” “We’re not authorized―” “Jayzen.” Dita had said as she stitched up Lucy’s nose.” “And those two?” The matron’s aid pointed at the Noreens.” Jayzen said. Four weeks later. across the top of her cheeks. “I want them on their way. and make arrangements to transfer the injured placenta to the Cherub as soon as possible.

In the mirror. The Auspicious Day charger had made a quick flick at the side of her head and surprised her with a longer reach than she had expected. They had been balanced just for her. She had had the symbol of the Northern Guide Star etched into their blade collars. you got stitched up once. Play was stopped. “Hey. Lucy jerked back and only received a nick across her nose. but she lost her balance and fell against the Goddess Temira. Fausta. thirteen days after the incident in the Verbeek Mansion.324 R. The court would hold them for fifteen years along with the other evidence in the Blood Boys Case. she took a car from Pete’s Tattoo to the Magistrate’s jail. The day after Lucy was reborn. and she had to watch the charger. Serendipity had taken the field for the third game and won. Back on the sideline Lucy had wiped the blood off her longsword. causing a foul. stand in the sweet spot and lop off Temira’s head. putting Burning Desire in the championship. with a fucking bloody nose. H. How long does it take these fucking things to heal?” “Forever. Bimini had actually gotten mad at her. the one who had nicked her nose. instead of the one from hell. Watson Samantha had confiscated Lucy’s swords as evidence. She wanted to blame the loaner swords for losing her game. She didn’t trust herself any more. “Didn’t you ever get sewn up when you were a kid?” I’m not going there. She shouldn’t have been playing. Not now that I have to be a real big sister.” Fausta said. The jail was almost as cheery as a womb-atorium. and then thrown it against the retaining wall. but it was a lie. They were the swords she had been given at the Academy on her seventeenth birthday. I’m your center. Now they were gone. The visita- . and you’re dead. the hilts fit her hands and no one else’s. slipped it into its scabbard. Lucy saw the reflection of Fausta walking behind her.

” Zack laughed.Gladiator Girl 325 tion lounge was filled with comfortable chairs and sofas arranged around low tables. they’d stick me in one of those wombs.” Lucy said. for good.” “You said you weren’t a killer. I’m Debbie’s brother. If I’m going to be yours.” “No. you are not.” He sat in the other chair. he almost killed you. Zack. You would have broken his arms and legs and then called the police. but you weren’t there.” His foot stopped. I want to be Ace. “I don’t want to die. “I am. . not anymore.” “I know. I killed Dad.” “I guess I am.” “They’re worried I’m going to kill myself. If I tried. “You’re crazier than me. They took my belt and my shoe laces. I need a new name.” “What?” . I wasn’t the same.” “You’re not like me. We never remember the last minute or two before we die.” “You didn’t have to fight Grizzly. “That’s the way rebirth works.” “Are you going to kill yourself?” “If I was like you I couldn’t. “How come you ran away and left us.” “Yes I am. you could have killed him. Instead. just like you. They watch me eat so I don’t steal the knife and fork.” “No I’m not. I want her to come back. Lucy was shown to an armchair sitting across a table from another armchair.” He started tapping his foot. I can’t trust her. You’re not my sister. You ran away.” Zack said. He didn’t seem as reserved as when he had shown up at the club.” “I don’t remember. “You’re all better. it’s just . A guard brought in Zack. you are my brother. whether I wanted them to or not. but you didn’t. you could have run away.” “She’s not gone. . You really are Lucy Star. “When you did fight. but you didn’t run away from Grizzly?” “It wasn’t the same.

” “We can do it.” She glanced at the guard. “I have to go and meet with your advocate. “Yes. You’re either going to be in prison or an institution for a long time.” “That’s the only kind there is. Watson “Ace Star. I guess it shows. but we’re all impressed with how you handled yourself.” “I was ten years old when I made up my name.” Coach Kai said. “Please. She stretched up on her tip-toes and kissed his cheek.” “See you. She stepped around the table. Zack stood up. old chair in front of Coach Kai’s desk. H.” “So says Lucy Star. Lucy took a public car to Burning Desire to meet with Coach Kai. He was nervous. Earlier that day. “Welcome back. and she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him tight.” . Ace Star. then spoke quietly. “This isn’t going to be easy.326 R. He nodded. but I’ll be back in a couple of days. See you then. “It must have been difficult.” Lucy could see Zack’s jaw muscles bulging and relaxing.” “I can do it. “Can we hug?” she said to the guard.” “Crazy Zack. “Are you serious about this?” she said.” “That sounds kind of cornball.” Lucy said. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.” “I can do that.” “Thanks. “Does Ace want to kill himself?” “No.” Ace said. “You’re going to have to impersonate Zack for a while.” She leaned forward.” Lucy sat in the familiar.” Coach Kai said. sit.” Lucy stood up.

He believed Gunda’s blood battle mystique. We’ll give you the time you need.” . even when I was fourteen.” They both stood.” “How is he?” “I’m going to the jail to visit him this afternoon.” “Don’t worry about your commitment to the club. The League is commissioning a new set. “I’m glad to have you back. and Lucy shook it. They’re planning a ceremony after the end of the season to present them to you. tapped her desk top a couple of times. “And we’re all hoping for the best for Chrissy. Winning would have put us in the championship.” “I’m not required to carry a sword off the field. “Yes.” “Got it. I’ll keep the new swords in my locker. One Ned is enough. just strongly encouraged. Honor is bullshit.” Coach Kai held out her hand.” “Thanks. but now our only chance is to win the last match of the season.” “Bimini has some you can use for now. He wanted to be a warrior and die with honor. I was going to save you until then. and then I’m meeting with his advocate.Gladiator Girl 327 “I wanted to save my brother since the police couldn’t. “The police took my swords.” “Honor? Ned killed kids for honor. He despised us because we didn’t. That’s all. She frowned.” “The League won’t like that. I don’t want to ‘strongly encourage’ any more. in two weeks. And guess what? He’s right.” Lucy said. right?” Coach Kai picked up a pencil. we lost. and to honor your bravery and poise. We’re just a bunch of girls playing a game until we age-out and finally have to grow up. I read my contract. If we had won. Can we talk about something else? We lost Saturday’s match. I’d like you to be ready to play. When’s my appointment at Pete’s?” “As quickly as you can get there. and set it down.

I can’t curse.” She pointed at Neil. Lucy turned to Second Pete. and looking down and to the side.” Seedy looking on the outside. Grizzly. “It’s me.” “Do you know anything. “I’ll be here at eight tomorrow. Neil. Watson “Thanks.’ “That’s my face from that fucking poster!” “I tried to talk him out of it.” Neil said.” the client said.” “Hi. You cursed me when you bet on my outie. I got it because of that fucker. ‘this time was going to be different.’ No shit. kid. that could have helped her?” “I’m sorry. “I thought the League got those off the street.” Todd said.” “Not before I bought one. Todd.328 R. It nearly got me and that kid killed. Her signature was underneath. “but. but you used to be in the army. The client started wiggling.” Second Pete said.” He twisted around to show her his shoulder.” Coach Kai said. things you can’t discuss. “Lucy! Hey.” “Oh. “Your bio doesn’t make a big deal of it. then stopped halfway to the door. “I’m sorry. The fox was being obliterated by her portrait. She was smiling. crap. Lucy. Lucy.” “Hey. I don’t want to look at it any more. Neil sat up. I’m getting rid of my fox. “Hey. Lucy nodded. “Settle down. You said. H.” “Hi.” Todd said.” Todd had a client in his chair.” Lucy said. Second Pete.” . “Look. “This is all your fault. spotless on the inside. Were you with the military rebirth program?” “I can’t discuss that. Pete’s Tattoo was always the same. the way she signed it for fans: with a five pointed star replacing the ‘t’ in ‘Star. Lucy.” Lucy said.

“You can bet. He pointed at her nose and raised his eyebrows.” “It better be. and the evenings were cold. Lucy tapped the counter. and quickly wiped her eyes with her sleeve.” “Oh sweetie. “I won’t make any bets on you. lifted her shirt. a much better outie.” she said.” “That’s a deal. She went out the front entrance of the club. He hugged her as best he could from his chair. “He was here when you called my outie. The first hit of chilly air usually cleared her head. Lucy looked and saw Maxton. “Hello. Mr. She walked to Alice’s Tea Shop. as long as you bet things will be better. let’s see what you’ve got. Now.” “Why?” Mr. Fredrick shrugged. Second Pete took a close look at her umbilical stub.” Lucy said.” . Come here. but this evening it made her cut nose and bruised eye sockets ache. Lucy bent down. “Do you remember? Todd was tattooing his back. I forgot about that.” She felt the weird hairs on his shoulder tickle her nose.” Maxton said.” Second Pete held out his arms. but this time. At the counter.” Lucy walked over to Maxton’s table and sat across from him. please. ever again. “I say outie again. “Guess who’s not who they seem to be?” “It’s a pleasure to see you again.” “It looks painful. The nurse wants it to heal the old fashioned way. All she did was dig her fingers into her palm.” Lucy straightened up.Gladiator Girl 329 Lucy tightened her grip on her scabbard. She wasn’t carrying a sword. Fredrick nodded toward the back table.” she said. “Cook up a demitasse of his infusion. “I screwed up in my last game. “He’s been waiting for you. but it wasn’t there. It was deep autumn.

” Lucy said.” “I’m not sure growing up as a Verbeek is a good thing. it’s impossible to completely walk away from your family. but none of us are ever as innocent as we claim. “Where have you been?” “I’ve had to temporarily take over management of some Verbeek interests. “Who was pulling Ned’s strings?” Maxton shrugged his shoulders.” “Enough to be manipulated. Often. he may finally be growing up.” “But they’re not going to find anything more. anything he did fell under the Verbeek ‘no peeking allowed’ blanket of protection. Watson “It feels a lot more painful than it looks. messed it up. use of its facilities.’ What really happened?” “The police are still investigating. and best of all. With Jayzen’s signature.” “Do you want my sympathy?” “Some understanding. She brushed the sugar off the table into her hand.” “Fuck you.” Lucy said. but thanks to you. Except you. self-centered boy. “Was Jayzen as innocent as he claims?” “He’s a naïve.” “That’s where the evidence points.” “He was innocent.330 R. She folded it up. As you know. Ned is a sociopathic mastermind with a death wish. Case closed. then drew a five pointed star in it.” “He was convincing and dedicated.” She folded her arms and studied him. perhaps. he had access to the mansion. are they? Ned conned Madam Verbeek and tricked Jayzen. “Was it you?” .” “Sorry. unfolded a napkin from the dispenser. ‘the Blood Boys Club. H. tight. and drew a smiley face. “The news calls them. and brushed the sugar from her hand onto the napkin. I don’t understand you people at all. that is enough.” Lucy spilled sugar onto the table from the shaker.” “He wasn’t smart enough to pull it off.

“Jutht a few dropths.” Maxton squeezed four drops of his blood onto her tongue.” Maxton took a penknife out of his pocket. it won’t happen again. It tasted like blood. “How much do you need?” Maxton said.” “Do you know I can taste the difference between people’s bloods? It’s one of the perks of getting the occasional splatter in my mouth.” “As far as it goes?” “Take it or leave it. Who was pulling Ned’s strings?” “It wasn’t me and it wasn’t Jayzen. “Hold out your tongue.” “And that’s as far as the truth goes?” “For now. “You weren’t lying. opened the blade and poked his thumb with the tip. as far as it goes.” Lucy turned around and waived to get Mr. then stuck out her tongue and used the napkin with the sugar folded into it to dab the blood off. Fredrick brought over the demitasse of Maxton’s infusion. Whose is it?” “Not mine. Lucy closed her mouth and considered the flavor. She opened her mouth and made a wiping motion with her .” “What’s the wager?” “The truth. then swallowed.Gladiator Girl 331 “How would you know if I’m telling the truth?” Mr. “It still does. Fredrick’s attention. It’s not your blood in the tea. held it in her mouth for several seconds. You wouldn’t believe how much money I make on bar bets. Lucy picked it up. “I tried your tea once before.” “But you know who it was?” “Yes.” “Is that the family business you were managing?” “Yes. She moved her tongue around to mix in some saliva.” Lucy tipped her head back and extended her tongue. It was from a long time ago.” She took a sip. then one more.

“I’ve got to go.” she said.” Lucy said. Lucy drifted awake. The little bell above the door jingled.” “She’s too headstrong to be talked out of anything she has set her mind to. came in. “Take me to the Memory Vault. Esther. I heard about your friend.” “Not always.” She turned back to Maxton. She used it. Her head swam. She rolled onto her belly.” . once. You girls always emerge from your wombs in perfect health. the day shift matron. The bed was raised to standing height.332 R. Watson hand.” Lucy said. Lucy picked up her tea at the counter. “What are you doing?” She rushed over and wrapped her arm around Lucy’s back. “I hope you tried to talk her out of it.” “Francine has adopted you as her role model. On the sidewalk. She was wrapped in the soft terrycloth towel. Memories collected and condensed.” Maxton said. she sent a request for a peddle cab.” Lucy stood up. “I’ve got to check Chrissy’s placenta. You have my sympathy. “Ah.” Maxton said. dropped the sugar napkin into the glass. please―regular tea. “Be seeing you. I need to spend time with real people. I’ve had enough of myself for a while. “Thank you. yes. pulled the towel around her. She was meeting Charlotte for dinner and didn’t want to be late. and tried to walk. “How’s Francine?” “She’s fine. and handed it back.” “Goodbye. Maxton. Her eyes began to focus on the familiar Recovery Ward. slipped off.” Lucy said. I won’t be staying. Mr. just like her role model. “Chrissy!” She fumbled with the latch for the recovery bed until the side fell open. And put it in a take-away cup. H. Fredrick brought over a glass of pallet cleanser. “I’ll have a cup of tea. she held herself up with a hand on the bed.

We stored her in a refrigerated casket for three days to give her placenta time to heal itself.” “Come on. “When you’ve recovered enough to be discharged. “You girls can be so stubborn. We’d used up all of Chrissy’s safety margin. eight days.” “Do you know when she’ll be out?” Esther shook her head.” Lucy said to her. “She should rest and give her body time to absorb the formula. . is in the waiting room. “Chrissy seems to be healing.” Lucy took another swallow. please sit on the bed.” Lucy said. or if it can succeed. Her placenta nearly died when that crazy man damaged its pump. Charlotte helped steady Lucy. but after seventy-two hours we had to rejoin them. You need to calm down.” Ester said.” “For how long?” “So far.Gladiator Girl 333 “It’s not there. “Drink up. “Drink it all. then raised it until she was at eye level. “Put these on. “Your friend.” Esther lowered the bed so Lucy could sit. We don’t know how long it will take.” The glass was empty when Charlotte came in. Charlotte.” Lucy took a sip. nineteen hours. but it’s taking longer than usual.” Esther said. “I want to see Chrissy’s womb. now.” Charlotte helped her off the bed. She took a robe and slippers from a closet.” “I want to see her womb. Lucy grabbed two handfuls of her smock. Esther brought them to a womb near the far end. It was making progress. “Her placenta has been severely compromised.” Esther said. “What about Chrissy?” “They’re both in a womb.” “Lucy.” “But she just had her throat cut.” Esther handed her a glass of rebirth formula. Would you like to see her?” “Yes. “It’s a long walk.” They shuffled to the Womb Room.

H. “What happened?” Lucy said. you took away his legs. I didn’t want to kill anyone. but she shrugged it off.” “But if I had killed him. Watson Lucy shrugged out of Charlotte’s grip and rested her hands on the womb. “The last thing I remember is waiting for Ned to attack. She leaned against it and pressed her cheek to its corse flesh.” .334 R. He tried to kick apart Chrissy’s pump. Then you died.” Charlotte tried to put her arm around Lucy.” Lucy pushed herself away from Chrysanthemum’s womb. I thought I could do it. forcing Charlotte to step back. not even him.” Charlotte held Lucy’s shoulders and rested her cheek on top of her head. And this is the result. What an arrogant bitch. “I put her here. “I can walk on my own. “I should have.” “Could I have killed him?” “You’re not a killer. and she would have been reborn by now?” Charlotte squeezed her shoulders. and you took away his arms. Chrissy’s placenta would have been safe. but not before he mortally wounded you.” “He attacked. “I’ve got to get out of here.

“Can she play?” “Her rote sword handling is as good as it has ever been. Her blades are always where they should have been.Chapter 20 Championship Year Day was less than a week away. “I should have resigned in protest. On Tuesday. or even alone. She would likely kill her partner or injure herself.” Bimini said. The results were disastrous. She attempts to think through everything.” Bimini said. but I held out hope I was wrong. “but she has lost her instincts. I won’t allow her to perform complex improvisations with a partner. She called Bimini in when the session ended. never where they need to be.” Betty Kai looked into the empty Sword Practice room. and the Alpha League match in the afternoon.” . Coach Kai watched the guardian sword practice from the safety of the Observation Theater. Heritage City was hosting the North Coast Championships: The Beta League match in the morning. “Did we lose her?” “I recommended you not play her in the last match.” “You think it’s my fault?” “We have to accept the consequences of our decisions. She is not capable of playing a match game.

and updated its reservoir of everything Chrysanthemum to include her newest experiences. Chrysanthemum’s displays were flagging alerts: Her placenta’s heart had stopped pumping. Chrysanthemum’s placenta was inert. and her oxygenation levels were crashing. The latest guess for this agonizing gestation put Chrysanthemum’s rebirth at about thirty-six hours away. At one thirty-six Saturday morning an alarm howled through the Laughing Cherub.” Mary said to the matron’s aids who were arriving. if needed.336 R.” Chrysanthemum’s body had finished healing almost two weeks ago. Lucy would be the standby guardian and play if one of the others couldn’t. H. It was hemorrhaging and dumping Chrysanthemum’s blood into the amniotic sac.” Mary said. She pressed it with her open hand. another pushed in a gurney. Mary jumped out of her chair and ran to the Womb Room. The process was almost complete. while performing its final memory tweaks. Since then the placenta maintained her health while it audited and synchronized memories. The North Coast Beta Championship had sold out faster than the Alpha Championship. “We have to cut her out. Everyone wanted to see the guardian who had taken down the Blood Boys Club. but Frankie would replace Lucy in the second. Vesper ar- . a third charged the resuscitator. Its brain was failing. The placenta was dismantling the nervous connections it had made with Chrysanthemum’s spinal cord and brain stem. her blood pressure was dropping. Watson During lunch Coach Kai announced a change to the match roster for the championship against Sublime Harmony: Serendipity would still play the first game and Sandeep the third. “we’re so close. “No. Coach Kai knew the fans were not going to like her decision. The big red ‘Off’ pad for the alarm was on the monitor console next to the womb. In the Monitor Room. Two aids brought over a birth basin.

I remember those men who wanted to use me to force her to fight them. Lucy. Yes. There was a big room. It was like something out of a fairy tale. . Chrysanthemum spilled into her arms.” “Who?” “Lucy. That’s who you’re talking about. Did something go wrong?” The matron held her up. . “Oh!” she started to tip over despite trying to hold herself up with her arms. And there were unicorns―” “Unicorns?” “Papier mâché unicorns. She stuck a rubber gasket between her teeth to prevent her from biting. Mary was about to call for resuscitation when Chrysanthemum sucked in air and coughed. isn’t it?” “I . . She was reborn three weeks ago. I told them it would never work. its shape allowed her to cut through the fleshy wall of the womb without harming Chrysanthemum’s amniotic sac. One of the last things I remember is looking up at them. so she must have.Gladiator Girl 337 rived with the placenta jar. Did she? I’m here. She must have saved me. they were hanging from the ceiling. The most beautiful room I’ve ever seen. Mary broke the sterilization seal on an excision knife and opened the large blade. “And weak. then flipped open the small blade and cut the sac. Mary lowered her to the birth basin and clamped off her umbilical to stop the blood loss. “I’m very dizzy!” The matron helped her sit up on the recovery bed.” . “Do you remember what happened before you died?” “Yes. I think I do.” “Who’s eyes?” “My guardian’s. . then reached into her mouth and cleared the mucous plug out of the back of her throat. What happened to her? Is she all right?” “Lucy’s fine. Everyone held their breath . And I remember her eyes. Lucy Star. She cut the womb wide open with three quick incisions.

Watson The matron moved in front of her. Lucy. “Wait.” “Mary. “It failed this morning.” “Now that you mention it. “Why would I need a name?” “Your name is Chrysanthemum. Do you know my name now?” “You just told me.” Mary said. should I?” “I’m Mary. H. why wouldn’t I have a name?” Chrysanthemum said. “Humor me. was reborn almost a month ago? How long was I gestating?” “Thirty-four days. You said my guardian.” Mary said. The night you died. “This was my last rebirth? I have damaged memories. it’s what happened to your placenta. something did go wrong.” “How is it now?” “It wasn’t able to heal both you and itself. and my poor little dopple-girl is dead?” “There are experts here from The Rebirth Institute. You think my memory is damaged.” “What happened to me?” “It’s not what happened to you. forty-eight minutes.” “To see what they can learn from the holes in my mind and from my dead placenta? I think I need you to give me a hug. “Lucy did everything she could to save you both. Your friends call you Chrissy. it was badly injured.338 R.” .” “Do you know my name?” “No. Your memory synchronization was almost complete.” “Now tell me your name. “Do you know who I am?” “Of course I do. five hours.” Mary enveloped her. We had to pull you out of the womb or you would have died. We put your placenta back in a womb to give it a chance to revive.” “What’s my name?” Mary said and got back a playful smirk.” “That’s it then?” Chrysanthemum said. but it was too late.

The butterfly bruise across Lucy’s nose and eyes had disappeared. “She’ll catch up in a minute. Charlotte. She intercepted Lucy. and a thin pink line of scar tissue was all that was left of the cut across the bridge of her nose. Then let’s get those experts in here and figure out what’s missing from my head. then let go and sat up straight. “I need to talk to Lucy’s friend. early. There are all kinds of rumors. The guardians walked to the cafeteria after sword practice. “Enough of this. the day before the championship match.” Chenina said. Can you put through a request to her for me? It’s urgent. She . but this morning.” she said to the other guardians and pulled her around the corner. The only answer ought to be. I might not have remembered her name. the fencer. I overheard Monica. our supervisor.” “Charlotte Marceau?” “Yes. Wait. You know. Chenina was lingering by the swinging doors. did anything happen to her?” “Not as far as I know. She was talking to Coach Kai. “Chrissy was reborn this morning. You shouldn’t believe any of them. was all about managing the players’ emotions so they peaked on the field the next day. before practice.” “No one knows. “Fine.” Saturday. her roommate.Gladiator Girl 339 “I expect she did everything she could to save everybody.” Chrysanthemum held onto Mary for a while.” “Thank goodness. That she had to be cut out of her womb.” “What are they saying?” “That her placenta died. the stitches were gone. That she was born with only part of her memory.” “Is any of it true?” “I can’t say for sure. but I remember her.” she said. or with none at all. “How is she?” That should have been a dumb question. That the scientists from the Rebirth Institute want to take her back to their laboratories.

“and this is yours. She acknowledged the season with a warm coat that had an unkempt wool collar and with rainbow colored knit mittens instead of gloves. She pushed open the door and almost collided with Chrysanthemum. then she closed her eyes and swallowed.” She took a drink and watched Lucy while she held the tea in her mouth. they’ll all be watching to see if I’m finally going to crack. you had to be cut out of your womb!” . she decided to treat them with respect. don’t get upset about the talk. She lifted another cup. “I know you wouldn’t.340 R. After all. After the throwing incident. It was dark out and cold. I still haven’t tried it. “I know.” “It’s not much to go on. your placenta was dead. H. just to watch them squeal and run. Watson said they would have to treat Chrissy like any other goddess who aged-out. She was dressed in a combination of colorful handmade knitwear and second hand frump. but really.” “I wouldn’t run. to avoid her club mates. “Here.” Lucy took the cup. when I walk in that cafeteria.” “Thanks. The main thing is.” Chenina said.” Chrysanthemum said. “Howdy stranger.” Lucy put the loaner swords in her locker.” Chrysanthemum said. “What have you been doing to yourself?” “You’re okay!” Lucy wanted to grab Chrysanthemum. She opened her eyes wide. One of these days I should. You know.” Lucy said. She held out a cup of tea from Alice’s Tea Shop. or so she told herself. “That’s my infusion. “They said your memory was gone. Lucy left through the front lobby to avoid fans. but she had this fucking cup of Chrissy tea in her hand. they had been made for a guardian and bore a personal mark etched into their blade collars. I wanted to look into your eyes when I did.

That’s why she thinks I haven’t actually forgotten the names. I could write their birthdays. missing. I can’t be tricked by a wrong name. all of us. She said I actually know everyone’s name.” “But they let you leave. but the pointers to the information have been randomized. .” She looked up. If she wasn’t finished. “Drink me. “I’ll go back. ages. height. right?” “They couldn’t make me stay. but not their names. but I had to see you.” “You remember everyone. early this morning. “And my memory is a bit screwy. “What’s wrong?” Lucy said. . I know it’s wrong.” Lucy said. “I’m talking to you. but you know there’s so much more to it. . but the scientists are pathetic. I may be missing part of who I am. they’re excited. Sometimes I think he’d make a better advocate than surgeon. “The doctors on the Institute team know how to hide their concerns.” Chrysanthemum looked at the lid of her cup. so it can’t be that bad. he made sure they understood that.” Chrysanthemum tapped the cup Lucy was holding.” “Do you know who I am?” Lucy said. You must know that.” “I’m sorry. I could remember. aren’t I? Yours was the first name I was told.” Chrysanthemum said. Our girls preserve us. Mary did have to cut me out. They expect there’s more .Gladiator Girl 341 “Most of that’s true. hair and eye color . “She asked me to write down facts about my friends and family. As soon as she told me the correct name. sex. Not until I’m told what they are.” . I can’t remember peoples’ names.” “What do you mean?” “So far. but not their names?” “A cognitive psychiatrist from the Rebirth Institute spent all day asking me questions to start mapping the missing parts. “My placenta died. “We talk about memories. I may not just be missing names and facts. . Thad was there.

342 R. She was about to swallow. The flavor didn’t sneak up like the first time. just like the scent Lucy had inhaled in the washroom of the Potato Bar. “I’m sorry I let this happen to you. . H. Watson “Huh? Oh. Not the bloody metaphor of power and violence that dominated Maxton’s tea. It was bitter. “I’d like you to be there. “The police confiscated my swords. Chrissy had lost her ability to be reborn.” “I’m off. . “However. And look at me—there are issues. “I really want to give you a hug. . This isn’t your fault.” Chrysanthemum pushed back and took Lucy’s face in her hands.” She wrapped her arms around Lucy’s neck and spoke into her ear. a difficult flavor to accept. yes—but I’m mostly healed. at this very moment. in the orchard at the Academy. tasting exactly like Chrissy.” Lucy took a drink. She was sure this was what Chrissy’s vagina would taste like. Lucy rolled her tongue around in the tea and wanted to be there when it happened. but compelling.” “Please.” Chrysanthemum said. It was immediate. set it and hers on the pavement. Some of the wool from Chrysanthemum’s coat got in Lucy’s mouth.” She took Chrysanthemum’s cup.” “Of course. Did Charlotte really say that?” “No. she never would. and held her close. I could hear the worry in her voice. when the taste shifted to a dark unsweetened licorice. a bit. you’re not.” “Huh?” “I talked to Charlotte. She swallowed. This was something else. “Stop that. an important one to cultivate a taste for. Within six months her menstrual cycle would return. sure. she didn’t care. You’re fucked up. A coppery flavor of blood slid in.” Lucy said.” Lucy hugged her tighter. “Well?” “Not at all like the first time I tried it. but . “We’ll be burying her next week. and the loaners Bimini gave me don’t feel right.” Lucy said.

“I don’t have my key.” “No! You’re not protected any more. “They look like good weapons. but that’s exactly what you don’t need. She dragged Lucy in. If I even nicked you. because I expect you to go very slow.” “You don’t know that. “I know whose they are. “What about the teas?” Lucy said. I don’t want to see any of your arrogant self-confidence.” “You’re not going to hurt me.” She grabbed Lucy’s hand and pulled on the front door. It was locked. Do you have any extras? I don’t want to run up to the goddess suite. Chrysanthemum was still pulling on the handle.” Chrysanthemum stepped back. I want you to be so afraid of hurting me that you’re crapping in your shorts.” “I do. or why Bimini had them.Gladiator Girl 343 She’s afraid you’ve been broken. “Get changed. She’ll do everything she can to protect you and keep you safe.” “They were custom made for a guardian. “Do you remember the guardian-goddess exercise? We’re going to do it again. you could end up with a permanent scar. It opened.” They finished changing.” Lucy said.” Chrysanthemum looked at the symbol etched in the blade collar. “I don’t know for who. “We’ll get them on the way out. She handed Chrysanthemum a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.” “What are we doing?” Lucy said.” Lucy rubbed her key against the door frame. She’s a remarkable friend. and up to her locker. “Don’t you recognize this?” . and not take any chances.” Chrysanthemum pulled Lucy down the hall. I could kill you. t-shirt and short-sword harness. light sword practice clothing: shorts.” She held up the sword and pointed at the symbol. “Are those the loaner swords?” Chrysanthemum lifted the long-sword out of Lucy’s locker. “Come on. into the locker room.

344 R. “The earrings that police officer was wearing at the Potato Bar?” “Samantha?” Lucy said. H.’ of the building adjusting to the dropping outside temperature.” “It doesn’t matter. Bimini always stayed late to attend to her own skills. Bimini hesitated.” she said. a championship match the next day didn’t make any difference.” Chrysanthemum tapped the blade collar. “Yes. Watson Lucy shook her head. “The guardian-goddess exercise is . Lucy pulled the practice room door closed. The morning report from the Laughing Cherub had said Chrysanthemum’s placenta was dead. This was incredibly dangerous. “She said she refused to accept her guardian swords when she switched to police Special Operations. unsheathed. Samantha. You’re the one who saw the trick. Each earring was a half circle. She walked to the center of the wooden floor. here it is. Chrysanthemum was standing face-to-face with Lucy: eyes closed.” Lucy took the sword and ran her finger down the not quite straight lines that bisected the circle. “You’re womb weak. Well. Your reflexes will be off. “This is crazy. They began the guardian-goddess improvisation. She opened it enough to see in. She walked around the curve of the corridor and saw the door to the Sword Practice room close. Bimini’s been holding them ever since. ‘ting. Everyone was gone. She walked around to the Observation Theater and watched through the oneway window. She held her short-sword to the side and tapped Chrysanthemum’s shoulder with her long-sword. hands pressed together. Lucy was holding her swords. how their dividing lines were slightly curved so they could only fit together one way to form the full circle.” Chrysanthemum said. then backed out of the door. The Burning Desire training facility was silent except for the whisper of ventilation and the random. closing it without a sound.

She brought her long-sword up. For it to work. She closed her eyes. On the temple. She knew she was smelling the blood. “About how alive I feel on the temple. touched Chrysanthemum’s shoulder. Lucy unsheathed her longsword and walked onto the floor to face Chrysanthemum. relaxing as the air left her lungs. Your reflexes are important. but it came to her as taste. Chrysanthemum with her eyes closed. She could feel the air shifting as it was displaced by bodies and blades. Lucy wasn’t surprised how much a trained goddess could sense with her eyes closed. As the blood spilled in a game. her own senses were acutely tuned to approaching threats.” Chrysanthemum stood with her feet parallel. “That must be how Bimini’s kinesthetic intelligence senses the world. Her sword had swung too close to Chrysanthemum’s hand. not mine.Gladiator Girl 345 about trust in the guardian. pressed the palms of her hands together. The temple pyramid was solid. maybe you should daydream more. It’s like they’re merging into some sort of super sense. Even before hearing or feeling a bleeding charger trying to sneak up from behind. taste their blood. She drew her short-sword and lifted it out to the side. fuck!” Lucy said. but she could feel it vibrate with the movements of her opponents. “Oh. They began to move: Lucy with her eyes open. she could taste her. and breathed out. we both need to trust that you can perform the exercise with all its inherent aggression and not harm me. All my senses are hot and feel like they’re working way beyond the range they’re supposed to. . her mouth would water. “I was daydreaming. What were you thinking about?” They continued the exercise as they talked. She could smell their sweat and if they were wounded. “What?” Chrysanthemum said.” “You were doing fine until just now.” Chrysanthemum said. and lifted it away.” “A synesthetic perfect storm.

346 R. You said you trusted me with your life.” “That’s not what you told him―your brother.” Lucy swung her long-sword horizontally just above Chrysanthemum’s head while cutting the air in the opposite direction with her short-sword just in front of her belly. came to a stop. sometimes spiraling around each other.” “I should have killed him. like not recognizing a weakness until you attack it. while carving a safe space around Chrysanthemum. “Who should you have killed?” “Him.” “I almost got you killed is what happened. they used the whole space. “Instead. With only two of them in the room. “Your father?” “Yes. Her swords sped up. what’s your brother’s name?” . and he would have destroyed both our placentas. He didn’t have anywhere near the skill he thought he had. and moving in and out of sword range. The sword nicked a loose fold of her t-shirt. He deserved to die.” “You almost got yourself ‘really’ killed too. H. sped up. If you had collapsed a second earlier. She wasn’t looking at Chrysanthemum. They slowed down. Chrysanthemum slipped between Lucy’s blades and around to her back.” They were moving fast enough to play with the tempo. I’m sorry. next to her ear. You’ve never killed anyone. He’s a serial killer. I ran away and made my brother do it. Watson Sensing is knowing is doing.” Lucy said. you wouldn’t have stopped Ned.” Chrysanthemum circled back into the fury of Lucy’s swords.” “I should have. and I almost got you really killed. I do it all the time. ever. “You don’t do anything of the sort all the time. Sometimes running. They made the surrounding air deadly. You told him it was your father’s fault. She opened her eyes and spoke over Lucy’s shoulder.” Lucy said. It’s all one thing. and then picked up again with a burst of activity. “Charlotte told me what happened after I died.

“His name was Zack. Because of that. but we didn’t. a girl. I can’t wish that away. My cognitive psych will want to hear about that.” “Ace Star. I like it.” “Charlotte remembers me saying I trusted you with my whole life. “And you almost died. He says if he’s going to be my brother.” She pushed Lucy so hard she nearly lost her footing. Telling me his new name fixed my memory of his old name. because I’m still alive. Wombs don’t heal them. then stepped right up to Lucy’s face. because you’re not some fantasy fucking super girl. but still. tripping her so they both fell. and they didn’t. to try and save me and everyone else―which you did. “You couldn’t bring yourself to kill Ned.” She pushed Lucy again. including dying. “It means I knew my whole life might have ended that night. That’s what the shrinks always say. “It means I knew you were going to do everything you could. I almost died. things would have turned out better.” She pushed Lucy. and not a killer. forcing her to step back. “It means I understood you might not succeed.” “I don’t see the difference. “It is now. he wants to change his name to Ace Star.” Chrysanthemum said. you’re still alive. “I don’t know about you. huh.Gladiator Girl 347 “Ace. right? “Those consequences are the scars we live with for the rest of our lives.” Lucy said.” Lucy laughed. You trusted me and I fucked up. Guilt is a kind of wishful thinking―if only we had done something different. “You almost screwed everything up!” She hooked her foot behind Lucy’s leg and pushed. but I can live with that. and I want my life to . You’re Lucy Star―an amazing girl. Where was I?” “I think you were going to tell me to stop feeling guilty. Chrysanthemum landed on top of Lucy. but everything we do has consequences.” She pushed Lucy again.” “No it’s not. We try to do the best we can.” She pushed her again. Chrysanthemum walked up to Lucy through the swirl of her swords.

“What is it?” Betty Kai said. As the exercise became more complex.” . Finally. “This is where you either lose the swords or use them to cut off our clothes. their conversation became more animated. They used the full room. Lucy nodded. I just watched them perform the guardian-goddess exercise. at the club―” “How is she?” “She appears to be in excellent health despite her extended gestation. then she did it again. even as Lucy continued lacerating the surrounding space. “You need to put Lucy back in the game. . and the exercise was over. But it wasn’t . but it was too late. Chrysanthemum undid the buckles on Lucy’s sword harness. then stopped and looked at her. “What’s wrong?” Betty spoke in a half whisper. Chrysanthemum tripped Lucy.348 R. then pushed her t-shirt over her head and along her arms.” She kissed Lucy. She wanted to stop them. requiring full concentration. Bimini realized they were talking. They had become caught up in what they were talking about even as their bodies drove the exercise at a life-threatening pace.” “Did something happen to Frankie?” “No. giving the exercise the feel of choreography. Bimini left the Observation Theater and made sure the door was locked. Chrysanthemum walked up to Lucy and pushed her. They started slow and picked up speed as they learned to trust each other.” Bimini watched Lucy and Chrysanthemum develop the exercise. Chrysanthemum is here.” Bimini said. and again. “Keep your voice down. H. by now any distraction would be more dangerous than letting them continue. . something happened to Lucy. Watson have you in it. She walked down the corridor and sent an emergency request to Coach Kai.

” “How could you―” “They had already started when I found them. “I’d like to speak to you both when you’re dressed. I’ll tell Lucy. “I watched from the Observation Theater. the tip of her nose. it only seems like a few days ago to me.” Bimini came out of the storeroom.” Betty said. “That’s not a reason to leave her in the game. then pushed both weapons as far away as she could reach.” Lucy said. and walked back toward the practice room. Chrysanthemum kissed her forehead. Lucy cut off their clothes with her short-sword.” “With your permission.” She closed the contact. good for them. Bimini walked over and handed her the two athletic suits she had gotten from the storeroom. on the overnight return from the Beauty Incarnate match?” “Of course. I’m just thinking about how to break it to her. “Well.” “I know.Gladiator Girl 349 “With practice sticks.” Bimini reached the equipment storeroom.” “Ah.” she said. I hope. “Oh. locked the door. She was holding a bundle of shredded clothing under her arm.” “This is it. She unlocked the door and went in.” . “Frankie’s not going to like getting bumped to standby. “What is it?” “Do you remember that dream I had.” “They’re still performing the exercise?” “They have moved on to a more intimate version.” “With real blades. and her mouth. wow. Eventually Lucy peeked out.” Betty said. They reached a level of execution beyond anything I have seen. Bimini waited a discrete distance from the practice room. as soon as she and Chrysanthemum are finished.

“Ow!” Lucy said. and tasted them. Then we talked.” Lucy kissed Chrysanthemum and drifted her fingers down to her genitals. Send them to me.” Chrysanthemum shifted to the side and slid her hand across Lucy’s hip. then massaged her earlobe between her thumb and middle finger. but you were impenetrable. “Okay. . “If you hadn’t.” Chrysanthemum ran her fingers around the curve of Lucy’s ear. brought them up to her mouth. H. you told us all about it. then something that had been there forever let go and was replaced by the giddy delirium from the temple. Watson “Yes.” “In the dream. Despite everything that happened to you. she felt herself choke. you killed a monster.” She pinched Lucy’s earlobe.” Lucy said. “I think you’re right. you dreamed about nurturing a child. me. “I was besotted with you the first time we were in a game together. At first. Fredrick’s tea than hallucinogens. it would have swallowed Toshi. “you’ve got a deal.350 R. and you didn’t see me at all because of the goddess-guardian embargo.” Lucy touched Chrysanthemum’s cheek and neck. “By the time you told me about your dream. I told you that.” Chrysanthemum tasted her own fingers. I was so little-girl excited that I felt foolish. crazy. everything.” “You don’t have to fight your monsters alone. Lucy crawled up. “There’s got to be more to Mr. And then you seduced me on the temple. rested her hands on Chrysanthemum’s breasts. We’ll kill them together. We had a daughter. You didn’t tell us it was a dream about love. and propped herself on her elbows to look in her eyes. After a while. “It was complicated. I tried to subvert it. Coach Kai virtually handed you to me.” Lucy’s throat tightened. “but you left out the most important part.” She pressed them into Lucy’s mouth. You were singular among the other guardians.” she said. then on the trip to Appalachi City.” “I know. I was in love.

but this . The muscles in her legs and feet quivered. “I am so glad I don’t have to pee. .” Lucy crawled down and kissed the fresh stub. . “Anuugh!” Lucy held her knee to prevent another cramp. Ow. Lower. . we’re never in a womb for more than five or six days. “Ahh . After a few more spasms Lucy said. . “Oh. “Ah!” Her back arched. Anuugh! Is this one of those rebirth orgasms?” “I think so. Anuugh! How long does it go on?” “I don’t know.” Chrysanthemum said.” She pressed down on Chrysanthemum’s knee and flexed her foot to stretch the muscle. .Gladiator Girl 351 “What is it?” Chrysanthemum said. “How’s your leg?” Chrysanthemum nodded. “No. “Here?” “Uh-uh. “They’re real?” “What do you think?” “We get beheaded with such clean cuts. Don’t you dare!” They broke into a giggle fit. I’ve wondered about some especially good orgasms after rebirth. I’ve got nothing to compare to that. then sucked on the soft tissue below her pubis. then contracted. “That’s making my umbilical stump hurt. then. She kept going.” “Yes?” Lucy grinned. Her buttocks clenched. “I’ve been thinking some more about my dream . “Anuugh!” She slapped her leg. Maybe it’ll be like one of those cases of hiccups that never go away.” Lucy said. “Cramp!” Lucy put her hand on Chrysanthemum’s thigh. because if you did.” Chrysanthemum tried to choke off her giggles.” “Too bad. and you were in a womb for five weeks. this is frightening. chewed on the ends of some of Chrysanthemum’s pubic hairs.” . Chrysanthemum’s back arched again. . “Better. everybody’s different.” Lucy put her hand on her calf. “Uh-huh. I’d be triply honored―” Lucy put her hand over Chrysanthemum’s mouth.

then tucked them under her arm. . When she came out. Lucy collected their shredded clothes and used them to wipe up the floor.” Lucy crawled up and pressed the back of her hand against Chrysanthemum’s cheek.” Charlotte was waking up.” Charlotte said.” Chrysanthemum said. “Are you awake?” “Um. There was no response. what do you think?” “About what?” “About her. Yes. it is. “I think we should move to the Winnebago Graveyard while you’re recovering. She opened the door and whispered. That really revved up your metabolism. “She says she’s in love with me.” “That’s wonderful!” “Is it?” “Yes. “You’re hot. “Alone?” “Yes. Watson “That’s not funny. H. “Did you see who’s out there?” “More heard than saw. then rolled out of the dinette bed and went into the shower room. we have a deal. I think it’s―ugh―mostly over. “Sorry about that. “This isn’t funny. she put on her blue and orange frog robe and knocked on the bedroom door.” Lucy said.” “Charlotte won’t mind?” “No. “I’ll see if anyone’s out there.” “But what do I do about it?” Charlotte laughed. Do you think you can walk?” “I think so. So.” She pulled Chrysanthemum’s hair off her wet forehead.” Lucy looked at the bedroom wall in the direction of the dinette bed.” She shut off her alarm a minute before it was scheduled to shake her awake.352 R.” Lucy went in and sat on the bed.

yes.” “Follow your heart. Well.” Lucy flopped backward onto the bed. and the two steps back. and looked at her fingernails. well . “Well. Anything.” “I don’t know that much.” She hopped off the .” Lucy blinked.” “There.” Charlotte said. “That wasn’t a yes-or-no question. corniest advice in the world . your supposed to be my rock. I don’t know what she’s going to do next. then crawled onto the bed and hugged her. . “You’ve never been in love before.” “That’s it? With all your lovers? That’s the best advice you’ve got?” “You’re on your own with this one.” She said. . for this sort of thing. crap.” “She’s the most exciting person I know―completely unpredictable. have you?” Lucy hiked herself up on her elbows.” She flopped back down.” “It kind of was.” “But. “Yes.” Charlotte said. “I really like her hands.” “Yes. You probably know her better than I do.” “That was a no question.” she said. I’ve never been in love. “Tell me about her. maybe it was a maybe question. What do I do about that?” “Now you find out what it’s like. “Yeah. “Fuck. who’s in love with who?” “Aw. She stood in front of Charlotte.” “Let’s stick with.” “Tell me anyway. please.” Charlotte sat up.” She grinned at Charlotte. sure. “Thank you. . “That is so corny.” Lucy held up her hands.” Lucy got up and paced the two steps across the bedroom. and I can’t wait to find out. “I could give you the oldest. . “So. From your Xen Center.Gladiator Girl 353 “I don’t think it’s something you do something about.” Charlotte said. “I like her hands. curled over her fingers. you see? I didn’t know that.

and hung on tenaciously at her jaw line. but stopped and turned.” There was a bit of dried crust in the corner of Chrysanthemum’s eye. her leg was twitching in sympathy to a dream.” Charlotte slipped off the bed and put her arm around Lucy’s shoulder. She was asleep. Octavius. How they absorb all our memories. “Oh.” Lucy lay back and looked out the skylight. hugged her.” Lucy looked up at Charlotte. but all those memories—they’re not us. “He almost won. Chrysanthemum squinted up. Octavius Butler Knole. What a dopey name. but I couldn’t fight it. and put them back if we lose some of them. . Frosted on the outside. it’s one-way. Charlotte closed the door. “Can anyone see in through that?” She pointed at the skylight. “I thought I’d lost her. then left the bedroom. Lucy rolled onto the dinette bed and rested on her elbow.” Lucy said.354 R. She made me want to live again. around the corner of her mouth.” Lucy said.” She blinked. guess what? I’m playing in the championship today. I gave up. “about how our girls work. one-way frosting. “I’ve been thinking. and a tear edged its way down her cheek. I tried not to. I thought I’d lost everything.” “That’s fantastic. wrapped in the bed sheet and blanket. sounds yummy. She licked her finger and drew a slick of saliva around Lucy’s nipple making the areola shiny for a few seconds. Watson bed and opened the door. “Ned?” She shook her head. H. “My father. “What time is it?” Chrysanthemum stretched herself awake. They’re our . keep them safe. It’s beyond amazing that they can do that. What happened?” Lucy looked out the door at Chrysanthemum. “And then.” “Mmm. Lucy bent down and licked it out. “Seven fifteen. “Nope. Chrysanthemum pulled Lucy’s robe open and rested her head on her shoulder. . last night .

We can loose a lot of stuff and still be us. . It’s spread among everyone who knows you. you know?” Chrysanthemum sat up. “Believe in your girl. I think she made sure you could finish fixing yourself. Like that thing you said. and when they fix us. you’ll get it back.Gladiator Girl 355 stuff. because I don’t think she ever had . “Shh. and you’re worried she may have lost some of who you are along with it. and while we’re in a womb with them. “I’ve got to go. “Our girls are in love with us.” she said. “How do you do that?” “Do what?” “You hand out courage like it’s the most common thing.” she whispered. they remind us who that is and help us find the person they remember us to be. Lucy sat up. I don’t think that’s possible.’” “I said that?” Chrysanthemum said.” “Really?” “We were encouraged to remain aloof and not become involved in the fortunes of the club. Not too much later.” “I don’t know what―” Chrysanthemum put her finger on Lucy’s lips. The thing is.” Chrysanthemum reached up and cupped Lucy’s cheek. if she couldn’t. your girl must have known she was dying. “It was in a book you read. Your poor damaged girl lost some of your stuff. and if some of you is lost. you. “I think.” Lucy licked her finger and drew her own shiny circle around the stub of Chrysanthemum’s umbilical. Ask Bethany about it. when we’re with them. I’ve never actually watched a whole match. sound familiar?” . . they learn who we are. ‘We’re their center and they’re our existence. She’s a charger who was in our cabin for the outbound trip to Appalachi City. too. we’re lovers. “I’d like to see it. “Championship match.

She kissed Lucy. “For great luck. Excitement was spreading through the second game team with the word that Lucy was back as their guardian. was Lucy still crazy? Well. right?” “Yeah.356 R. “I’d like Thad to be there. and back up to her arm. Watson “That’s changed. I always give two to Charlotte and throw the other two away.” Lucy grinned. not today. “She’s is one of the goddesses.” She started to crawl off the bed.” Lucy combed through Chrysanthemum’s hair. Charlotte can tell you how to collect them at the stadium. Club seats are just for club members.” Lucy put her free hand on top of Chrysanthemum’s. yes. H. but she and two of the other goddesses will be in the stands watching from the club seats. or was she ‘fucking’ .” Lucy said. You can use them.” Lucy squeezed her hand. slid her hand down to her hip. but Chrysanthemum pulled her back and got up on her knees. “For good luck. You’re still a member of Burning Desire. then squeezed her butt and slapped it.” Chrysanthemum took Lucy’s hand. but I get four family and friends tickets. “Now. “But if I survive the match. I understand. We talked about you the other night―I mean five weeks ago―after the Potato Bar. You know her. “She did?” “No. “He can’t sit with the club. Chenina even bought a souvenir guard’s breast plate. He knows how I feel about you. “Thanks. The question was.” Chrysanthemum said. was she still ‘fucked up’ crazy. and he was at the Cherub yesterday. You can join them. I’ve really got to get to the club. “Oh.” Chrysanthemum said. I don’t want to meet him again―not yet. the question was.” Chrysanthemum didn’t react. Is that okay?” “Yes. one of the perks of being a guardian.” The players and staff were gathering at Burning Desire’s training complex to board cars to the Heritage City BB sta dium.

” She patted her stuffed gym bag. pretty fucking good.” Serendipity walked over from the first game team. Turns out. she couldn’t enter the locker room. “I got laid. I told Coach Kai to cancel the order. She would be sitting in the club’s stadium seats waiting for Lucy to trip and accidentally stab herself to death. The team was moving in to listen for details. Lucy could see Frankie wishing for just that. like I was still on standby. “I talked to Bimini. but as standby guardian. It doesn’t make any difference to me who I’m playing against. “I didn’t have a choice. How is she?” “Apparently. “Have you looked at Sublime Harmony’s game roster?” Serendipity said.” “Those are Bimini’s blades.” Frankie said. “These are good weapons.” Lucy said.” Lucy said.Gladiator Girl 357 crazy. with the blessing of the guardian they were originally commissioned for.” Frankie said.” Kelcie said.” . “Did you see her take those chargers apart? She’s fucking crazy!” Lucy stepped out of the public car and walked over to her team. They were made for a guardian and deserve to be used.” She held up her long-sword. “She’s doing well. after practice. “She officially handed them to me last night.” “Oh yeah? Just what happened last night?” Frankie said. She was carrying her swords―both of them. “No. “Did you get your new swords?” Esmerelda said. so I’ve got bring everything with me. She was traveling with the club. Lucy leaned close. I never do. that’s all I needed. “I thought you weren’t going to carry those off the field anymore. “Nope. The locker equipment had already been sent to the stadium by the time I was put back on the team. or something. “I heard Chrysanthemum was here yesterday. as in.

She’s charging against you in the second game. after that Blood Boy thing.” “She was traded to Sublime Harmony while you were in the womb.” And the team knew ‘fucking’ crazy Lucy Star was back. H. Watson “Do you remember Emily Stone. I thought you’d like to know.” Lucy smiled. then grinned. Thanks. “I do like knowing that. I remember Emily ‘Fucking’ Stone. .358 R. the Bright Savanna charger who tried to get you kicked out of the League?” “Yes.

Epilogue .

.

filling her mouth with a slurry of saliva and the milky liquid from the nipple. She gagged. There was a sharp tug at her belly. Her arms and legs felt limp. she didn’t want to stop. A fuzzy outline came into view. leaning over her. and she hadn’t realized she was beginning to suffocate. then a chewy rubber nipple was pressed into her mouth. then she forced the air out so she could breathe in again. It made her dizzy. Her whole body shuddered. She swallowed. Her stomach convulsed and secreted. She bit down and sucked. The air was rich and cool. A finger dug down into her throat. The finger and rubber thing were pulled out.How Charlotte Met Lucy Charlotte’s eyes wouldn’t focus. She filled her lungs until she couldn’t get another milliliter of air in. Yes! I remember! This is being alive! She woke up from her postnatal nap wrapped in the big terrycloth towel and surrounded by the soft padded sides of the postnatal . She hadn’t realized she wasn’t breathing. and she breathed. The flesh under her tongue erupted in an ecstatic rush. forcing her jaw open. Once she started breathing in. she heard wet slapping and sucking sounds. When she tried to move. Who? Matron? A hard rubber something was pushed into her mouth.

“Who’s here with you?” “No one. “Ah. indeed.” Matron said to Lucy.” The proctor cleared her throat. There was a girl on the bed next to her.” “Why do you want to know?” Lucy said.” “What about your parents?” Lucy looked away. “Lucy. Deborah. like. Watson bed. “You’re up. This is my first. She had lowered the side of her bed and was sitting up.” the girl said. just in case. Oh.” Matron said. “Yes. with disapproval. met. dangling her feet above the floor. Debbie?” Lucy winced again at the name. Matron came in with one of the Academy’s tutelary proctors. You should have pressed the call button before sitting up. I’m Charlotte.” she said. “Have you met our new girl.” Charlotte said. “This is my tenth. “Lucy and I have. that’s why I’m here. There was a delay in submitting the application to change your .362 R.” “How many rebirths have you had?” Charlotte said. ‘How old are you?’” “I’m fifteen. “Welcome back. “Proctor. “Yes. your first rebirth! Congratulations!” Matron hugged her. congratulations. We want to be here. She rolled her head to the side.” The girl looked at her. “I guess we had better get used to it. “It’s just one of those things people ask each other.” “Really? Congratulations!” Charlotte lifted her head to look around. “What’s your name?” Charlotte said. Charlotte.” “You and that silly name. but look at you.” Matron saw that Charlotte was awake. Lucy Star. “and you found the latch for the bed side.” Lucy flinched when the proctor said “Deborah. “Hi. H. but didn’t say anything. what do you say?” “Yes.

She stretched her right arm over her head. she touched her fingers to her palm. but it has to be done.” She hurried out of the room. Lucy took them. and you do indeed wish to legally change your name. “Sure. Use the call button when you’re ready to try walking.” Lucy’s eyes widened. and it needs to be signed and submitted today. “Yes please. and up and down. “Would you like to sit up?” Matron said to Charlotte. and the proctor took back the pen and clipboard. It sounds silly.Gladiator Girl 363 name. I see your back. . Charlotte saw panic on her face. she felt the ribs on her right side. “It took a week to straighten the mess out. Matron lowered the side wall and helped Charlotte sit up. She stopped and looked at her left hand. With her left hand.” she tapped the side of the bed facing Lucy. The Magistrate’s Office didn’t receive a copy of your emancipation certificate. It says you are indeed the Deborah Knole who was granted emancipation.” “Would you touch it?” “What’s going on?” Charlotte said.” She left the Recovery Ward. Both of you. “Careful!” Charlotte said. so they attempted to contact your parents.” She slid off her bed. Now you have to sign one additional affidavit. “Can you do me a favor?” Lucy said. then repeated the action several times with just her little finger.” Lucy signed.” The proctor held out a pen and clipboard. “What do you see?” “Ah. “Call before trying anything. Lucy was working her jaw from side to side. Lucy turned around and slipped the towel off her back. “I’ll get this delivered immediately. “Which name do I sign?” “Deb— Your old name. Charlotte thought she was grinding her teeth. but then decided it was more like she was feeling how her jaws fit together. One after the other. this side.

I was gonna go to the dorm. Four hours later they were both discharged from the Academy’s womb-atorium. You were just reborn. H.” Lucy wrapped herself back in the towel and hiked up onto the bed. “I don’t remember the dreams.” “Yes. This was your first rebirth. your whole life passing before your eyes. She was shaking with the effort. Watson “Please.” “Wait. just do it. That’s a gift and a privilege. “It felt like it was smooth.” Lucy said. “Goodbye. A deep grin.” “Good. Now. I’ve got to catch up. Start at the top. Come on. . “but my memory placenta remembers my whole life now.” “Okay.” Charlotte reached out and touched the middle of her back. right?” “Yes. You can’t go and study. feeling embarrassed. You want to remember this day. “Was it smooth?” Lucy said.” “No. “Now run your fingers all the way down. There are only a handful of girls in the whole world who get this ability. The memory dreams are supposed to be like that old. Whatever is making her happy.” Charlotte said. What are you going to do about it?” “I don’t know.” Lucy said. This is an occasion. thing. “Just you and me then.” Lucy said. like most regular dreams. Study. we’re going to the commons to celebrate. “It was very smooth.” “I don’t want a party. but you don’t remember because. Throw down a marker. You can study later.” Lucy said. That’s a big deal. you forget them before you wake up.” Lucy said. When she turned around she was grinning. I’m starting almost six months behind most of the girls.” “Thanks. “It was nice meeting you.364 R.” Charlotte put her fingers on Lucy’s shoulder and slid them down to her hip. it’s profound.

out pops you—Lucy Star—a whole new person. “It’s only right that we should raise a glass to her passing. “Twelve days ago somebody named Debbie went into that womb. spread across her face. “Our G.” “She’s gone. “Who was she? It’s OK. isn’t she?” Charlotte said. twice. especially yours. first rebirth gestation is about two weeks. you were REBORN.” Charlotte ate a spoonful of soup and washed it down with a swallow of lemonade.” she said. What was yours?” “Twelve days. who was Debbie?” Lucy’s face clouded over. She tasted the soup with trepidation and decided it wasn’t so bad. walnut pudding with apple bits.” A smile curled into Lucy’s lips. weren’t you?” “What do you mean?” Lucy said. tracts have been out of the digesting business for a while. It wasn’t a normal smile. The first time she broke two ribs. She’s not here anymore. Lucy looked at her food.” She held up her glass of lemonade. . She looked at the glass. Charlotte was sure she saw victory and huge relief in her face. It was watered down lemonade with electrolytes. “She used to get a stitch in her side when she was out of breath because—so the doctors were told—she fell out of the tree in the back yard. huh? You weren’t just reborn today. three ribs. and the second time. One of the ribs she broke the second time was one of the same ribs she broke the first time.’ is never going to describe this kid.I. and lit up her eyes. “It’s not the greatest party cuisine. “So. in capital letters. three hours.Gladiator Girl 365 In the cafeteria they sat at a table with their trays. and today.” Lucy raised her own glass and planted her elbow on the table. fifty-two minutes. “Lucy Star. “Her teeth didn’t line up quite right because—so it was said—she fell down the stairs and broke her jaw on the bottom step. “I don’t want to talk about her. pureed bean. and for dessert.” Charlotte said. and tofu soup. “Here’s to the passing of Deborah Knole. I have a feeling ‘normal.

” At first Charlotte thought she was being patronized.” Lucy bent her little finger down and touched her palm. “What program are you in?” she said. Looking Lucy straight in the eye. scraped her back with it. “I think you’ll be a good guardian. and little fingers of her left hand. then Lucy said. Charlotte nodded.” Lucy held up the middle. and tried to blame her little brother for hurting her.366 R.” “And never be spoken of again.” . Watson “She once—so her parents explained to the social worker— slammed the kitchen door on her hand. “What about you?” Lucy said. may she—finally—rest in peace. “It’s too picky and precise.” “I could never do that. ring.” she said. I’d get bored. H.” Lucy looked from her glass to Charlotte.” Lucy said. but also to signal Lucy that she would keep her promise to leave Debbie in the past.” Charlotte saw her brace for the usual come back: Only the best of the best qualify. fixing Charlotte with a hard look. “You bet!” What a punk. partly because she wanted to know. They were told she pounded nails through a board. Charlotte reached her glass forward and clinked it against Lucy’s. she said. “Ever since then she couldn’t touch her palm with her little finger. They drank. breaking these three fingers. and Lucy clinked her glass against Charlotte’s. The police were told she put them there herself. “Blood battle” “What position?” “I’m going to be a guardian. “I’m a foil fencer. not bad. I love it. Lucy smiled back. She was supposed to have done this because she was an evil little bitch. are you sure you want to set your goal so high? Charlotte tapped her spoon against the rim of her pudding cup. “To Deborah Knole. Charlotte put her glass down and tried the walnut pudding. “And she had scars on her back.

I know how this place works. “You know. “This is good.” Lucy finished her pudding. I can show you how to make it work for you. You might throw up. then Lucy said she had to go study. and Charlotte contacted her parents to let them know she was out of her womb.” Charlotte said. . They don’t want you to eat very much so soon after rebirth. fifteen o’clock?” “Sure.” They talked blood sports for another half hour.Gladiator Girl 367 What an arrogant little bitch! “I take it back.” Charlotte said.” Lucy headed to her dorm. Want to get together tomorrow. They never mentioned Deborah Knole’s name again. “You won’t be a good guardian. “I could help. Do you think they’ll let me have some more?” “Maybe. you’ll be a great guardian. I’ve been here for three years. back here at say. if you come back in a couple of hours.

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Watson wrote this book. accessibility and how to test for those properties. More recently he designed websites.Gladiator Girl 369 About the Author R.) He studied mime in Paris. He hopes you like it. as in. and worried about usability. H. writing. Now he is writing. and hoping some of you will be so kind as to buy one of his books. Wisconsin. Before that—way before that—he was born and raised in Kaukauna. writing. (That’s caw-caw like the crows say it. followed by na. not gonna. . drove a cab in New York City. and lived almost under the Brooklyn Bridge for seventeen years while plying a trade as a graphic artist.

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