2307: Fireflies and Empty Skies

Posted: February 23, 2014 by Kelly in Uncategorized

Kristian has only been asleep for an hour or so when the buzzer for his doorbell cuts violently through the silence of his apartment. “Fuck you,” he growls at the buzzer and turns over in his bed, intent on going back to sleep again. The glowing numbers on his alarm clock tell him that it’s just shy of 3am. It is going to be a busy day tomorrow. He needs his sleep and for fuck’s sake, the fact that the rest of Amsterdam gets drunk on Friday night doesn’t mean that /he/ has to suffer for it.

The buzzer goes off again. Longer. More incessantly. On and on, like it will never stop.

And of course the control panel is on the other side of his room. Kristian lets out a sound that holds the middle between a vile curse and a sigh of exasparation while he stumbles out of bed and slams on the control pad. “What the fuck do you want?” he asks into the intercom.

There’s laughter on the other side. Female laughter. /What the hell?/

“Wake up Kris, we wanna fight!” a bright voice sounds over the connection. He half-recognises the voice but is unable to place it, so he calls up the video images next to his front door. When the image comes through three seconds later, he recognises Lannie Willams immediately. His main ammo supplier for the Arena, but most of all a very good friend. They’ve known each other for years. She is leaning heavily against the wall, grinning lop-sidedly into the camera with a cheer that goes beyond her usual brightness. She’s drunk as balls. Stimms and booze, he guesses. There’s another girl with her, but her face is in the shadows and Kris cannot even begin to guess who she might be.

“Lannie,” he sighs, rubbing over his face. “Do you know what time it is?”

“Stupid o’clock,” she giggles. “Like us. Please Kris, let us fight. Just gimme the key to the arena, I promise we won’t burn the place down!”

“Like hell you will,” he bites back. “Lannie, I love you to bits but seriously; are you out of your fucking mind? I just closed the place down, I want to fucking sleep. Go and fight in an alleyway if you want.”

She falls silent for a bit, looks over he shoulder to the other young woman behind her. “But I wanna fight Valentina!” she whines in that tone of hers that she only uses when she /wants/ something. “Valentina wants it too, right Val?”

The other young woman steps forward; enough to be illuminated by the camera lights next to the door. “Pleaaaaaase?” she asks, grinning sunnily, leaning against Lannie.

“Yeah, pleaaaaase?”

For a moment, Kristian Kardusen cannot think. His heart skips a beat. He stares at the two young women before his front door and blinks. Once, twice, just to see whether he’s seen it right. “Lannie, is that Valentina Marin?”

“Yeah!” she shouts enthusiastically, obviously glad that he’s out of his denial mode for now. “So we wanna fight. Can we? Please Kris? You’re my best friend, can you do this for me?”

He blinks at the six fold Northern League Champion; leaning heavily on the shoulder of his friend, the identical pleading expressions on their faces. There’s one moment where he thinks of the great press it would be to have promos of the actual fucking Northern League Champion and arguably the best arena fighter in the history of the goddamn /world/ shooting up the shit in his City Arena in Amsterdam. About how fun it would be to see her fight Lannie, whose Rookie League career started in his own Arena. Just one moment.

The next moment his hand is on the intercom and he says: “Give me five minutes, I’ll be right with you.”

He’s grinning like an idiot while he picks up his clothes from the floor.

~

It’s not the first time they’ve had this discussion. Hell, it’s not even the tenth time. They keep circling back to this point whenever they drink.

“I can totally take you,” Lannie says, her mouth curved in a shit-eating grin as she wipes dark red hair out of her face.

Valentina grunts. “This fucking barstool can take me at this point. Fuck. Why even is tequila?”

“No, I mean, I can totally take you dude. Like, in the city arena,” Lannie insists. “It’ll be fun. I know the arena, so that cancels out all the benefits you get from…” She gestures at Valentina, who looks down at herself.

“…From wearing a shirt? I’m pretty sure I get no benefits from wearing a shirt.”

“Ugh, no, from being you, with all your championniness. The benefits that come with being ‘Valentina Marin, champion of destiny’!” Lannie gestures wildly as she speaks. Her drink sloshes dangerously in her hand.

Valentina narrows her eyes at the other woman. “Are you mocking me? Is this your mocking face? I can’t tell, because it’s so close to being your ‘going to lose’ face.”

That’s how they find themselves outside of Kristian Kardusen’s apartment building two hours and multiple drinks later, ready to bash down his door if he doesn’t give them the keys to his kingdom, or at least the arena. Luckily he seems more than willing to cooperate after seeing who is at his door.

“Woah, he’s a pushover,” Val says, leaning heavily on Lannie, “I didn’t even have to offer to suck his dick in exchange for the keys. How am I supposed to get my wild and irresponsible side on when everyone’s all… honorable?”

“Awe, poor baby. He won’t say no to a blowjob from you though… he’s totally got a boner for you,” Lannie laughs, “although it may just be a boner for the publicity he’s going to milk out of the footage he’s going to get tonight.”

“You’ve got a filthy mouth, you know that right?” Valentina frowns at the door, wondering why Kris is taking forever to get dressed. Of course that’s when Kris bursts out of his apartment building, just in time to see Lannie shove Valentina off her shoulder and send her sprawling on the street.

“Ow.”

~

Less than half an hour later the three of them are standing in the dressing rooms of Kardusen City Arena. Both Lannie and Valentina are geared up in their sensors. Lannie glows white, Valentina glows gold. Whenever either of them is hit, they’ll flare up red. A hit will make them glow green, just to communicate how well they’re doing to people who might be looking up from above. Lannie has done this a million times before. The Kardusen City Arena has been her favourite the moment she set foot in here six years before. Kristian was one of her first real sales as an ammo sales person, and over the years he’s not only proven a loyal client, but he has been an awesome friend as well.

He’s the one who’s gotten first Walter and then Lannie their sponsor contracts with David Vermeer, but he has also always been there with booze, consolation and good advise throughout all of their problems over the years. After Walter got himself shot in boot camp, Kristian was one of the first to visit him in the hospital. He’d held Lannie tightly as she sobbed against his chest in the hospital room. He was the first person she came to when she needed to talk about someone about joining the Rookie League. he let her train for free for the League when she could not afford the admission fee. And through it all; he’s never even once told her /I told you so/. Well, he did say that once; when she won the Rookie World League championship. Then he did tell her /I told you so/.

“You’re such a great friend, Kris,” Lannie tells him earnestly as he stands before her and gives her sensors a last quick checkover with his handheld.

He smiles at her. “You’re drunk.”

“Drunk people tell the truth,” she laughs and gives him a spontaneous kiss on the cheek.

“Does Walter even know you’re here?”

She laughs. “Yeah. He has nightshift. He says hi and he told me to have fun and to own Valentina’s arse.”

Valentina, sitting on the bench next to them to tie her shoe strings, snorts. “Dream on, fucking hopeful.”

Lannie looks back and grins brightly at her new friend. “This arena, though… welcome to my backyard, bitch.” She laughs lightly, though, to show that she means no harm with her shit-talking.

“Oooh, now it’s on,” Valentina says, standing up and steadying herself for just a heartbeat. “I’ll own your ass extra hard for that one.”

“Ladies, ladies, save it for the Arena please,” Kris says. “I’ve got you two all ready for your match. Your sensors are all in working order. It’s going to be instagib, non-lethal. You play for two out of three; kills and moves in this match will count for your overall tournament stats, Lannie. Valentina, I can make you an account if you like.”

Lannie shakes her head. “Make this one off the record, Kris. You have our permission to tape the shit out of it, but I don’t want this going to my overall stats.”

Valentina laughs and pokes Lannie in her side. “Afraid I’ll beat you too badly?”

“Those last two tequilas might have been a terrible idea. I’ve never done a drunk match on the record, I’m not about to start right now.”

“Same,” Valentina nods. “I don’t want the Corporation looking over my shoulder.”

Kristian nods and makes a few swiping motions on his handheld. “Off the record, as you please, ladies. Well then. If you’re ready… the arena is waiting for you. I’ve put the timer on five minutes. Valentina, you have the north entrance. Lannie, you’ve got south. Have fun!”

“We will, thanks!” Lannie kisses her instagib rifle as a salute to Kris and then turns to grin brightly at Valentina: “Here we go then. I’m sure those red sensors will look good on you.”

~

The strobe-lights alone are enough to give Valentina a headache. She turns left again, her footsteps swift and silent along the concrete floor. She’s smooth, but nowhere near as smooth as she would have been, many shots of tequila ago. Still, she has fought deathmatches while hopped off her mind on stimms, and those had far higher stakes. Like death. This is just a matter of pride.

“Bitch is going down,” Valentina softly sings to herself as she rounds another corner. She can hear movement on the other side of the arena, but she can’t see Lannie yet. It’s only a matter of time though. Lannie might know the arena better, but Valentina knows Lannie by now. It’s not hard to figure out how she wants to use her knowledge of the arena to her benefit.

She runs down a few corridors, confident that Lannie is still on the south end of the arena. The blacklight shines off her sensors, making her a prime target. “Fake-ass shit,” she grumbles, ducking around a corner and pressing her back to a wall. “Dumbass kids games. How they expect these kids to survive in an actual arena is beyond me.”

She falls silent when she hears Lannie’s footsteps approach her from the west side of the arena. She isn’t quite running, but she’s close to it. Her breathing sounds loud in the arena, probably worse so than it would if she had been sober. Valentina is sure she wouldn’t have heard her if she had been moving herself. As it is, she’s sitting motionless, crouching against the back wall in a dead end of the maze. The tension in her thighs makes her legs shake slightly, but her hands are steady.

Lannie rounds the corner, nowhere near as cautious as she should have been. She glances over the dead end, her eyes skimming over the darkened corner where Valentina is crouched. She takes another step, moving into view, and Valentina can see the moment her brain tells her something is off. She stumbles, and Valentina pulls the trigger twice, hearing the satisfying humm of the blanks. Lannie’s armor flares up red just as Valentina’s shines green. It’s a perfect hit.

“Gotcha!” Valentina shouts, laughing as she sprints past Lannie into the arena.

~

“Bitch!” Lannie hollers after the Northern League Champion, as the other woman sprints away past her. She’s unable to shoot for the next five seconds anyway. While her sensors are flaring red, her gun won’t fire. Valentina doesn’t deign to respond, intent on making her way out of here.

Lannie’s anger at herself doesn’t allow it, though. Her legs feel like they’ve been filled with concrete and her heartrate is much higher than it has any right to be in the City Arena, but that’s all alcohol. She just needs to be smarter. Valentina has a drink or two on her, she should be able to outsmart the other woman. /Heh, outsmarting a six time League winner, have fun with that,/ a cynical part of her mind mutters, but she pushes the thought away in favour of focus. Valentina might be a champion, but Lannie is a champion as well. And even though the world might smirk at the danger of a Rookie League, they’re failing to see the thrill there is in non-lethal fights – the risk taking, the attitude, the sheer thrill and fun of it… that is something that the actual Arena just does not have. Ever. It takes itself too seriously.

So Lannie takes a deep breath and follows Valentina through the maze. Valentina ducks almost randomly into corners, hides, listens. Lannie stalks her, her beathing shallow and sharp in her chest. Still, she’s learned her lesson. At some point she’s pretty sure that Valentina has holed herself up behind some pillar; ready to shoot, ready to take out Lannie once again.

Lannie’s not planning to flare red once again. So she strategises. If Valentina’s behind that pillar, then she could try to circle around and take her competitor from behind once again – only the other woman has already proven to see that coming. The only other option would be to try to get close and then just charge in.

This is not a death match, this is a City Arena. There are no losses, there is no death. And Lannie has nothing to lose anyway (except for, well, her pride – but if she looks deep in her heart she’s always known that if she goes up against Valentina Marin, she’ll lose). And that’s fine. But she won’t go down without a fight, dammit.

She creeps by slowly, stalking. The lights are blinding; the strobo is annoying as hell. It always has been, but she knows just how to cock her head so the lights won’t bother her as much. Valentina is quiet behind her pillar as if she isn’t even there. Still, the way the light glows off the painted parts of the wall is all wrong. Lannie knows this fucking place like the back of her hand. Someone’s definitely there.

Creep, creep. Slowly then. She takes a deep breath. Counts. Checks the lights and the glow again.

One. Two. Three.

She jumps.

Cocks her gun, mid-jump.

It’s almost easy to aim and pull that trigger. Valentina’s lightning fast with her response, but in the City Arena, your shot is negated when you’re hit. If these would have been real bullets, Valentina would have nailed Lannie in the face as much as she would have taken two to the chest.

In the City Arena, Valentina’s sensors only flare red and Lannie is laughing. “Got you! Damn, that was fun.”

~

It takes a lot of effort not to scream when Lannie leaps out from the shadows and hits her, Valentina’s own gun useless in her fingers as her shot is blocked by the system. “Motherfucker!” she shouts, “Motherfucking fake ass system! Just let me shoot!”

She can hear Lannie laughing as she sprints away from the scene of the crime. The tinny voice in her armor tells her she has three seconds to go before her gun becomes useful again. “I’m going to fucking kill you,” Valentina growls. She can hear Lannie in the distance, her breathing interspaced with giggles.

Despite the frustrations that come with the non-lethal weaponry and the continuous flashing lights of the city arena, Valentina finds herself grinning. Lannie is good. She’d known as much already, of course, from watching her Rookie League matches. It’s different to see her in action now, even though she is drunk as a skunk. Her hands had been steady when she jumped Valentina earlier.

“Reckless…” Valentina mutters. Maybe that’s the answer to winning in the city arena. No matter what stunt she pulls, she’s not going to die if she makes a mistake. Her feet are moving before she’s even made the conscious decision to chase Lannie. She stalks after the other woman, cautious to stay out of her line of fire.

“Come to mama, little duck,” she sings as she takes cover behind a wall. The arena around her lights up brightly as Lannie takes a shot, hitting the wall where Valentina had been seconds ago.

“Shut up!” Lannie laughs, laying fake fire down in Valentina’s general direction. It stops her progress forward, and she knows she won’t be able to circle around to surprise Lannie now. She’s just a wall away, and they have the makings of a stand-off.

“God damn it,” Val mutters. Lannie has the upper hand again, with her knowledge of the arena.

“I’m gonna get you!” Lannie shouts over the wall, firing another few shots in Valentina’s direction. “You’re going to be so red when I’m done with you!”

“I’ll show you red,” Valentina says, looking up at the wall she’s hiding against. It’s too high to scale in one go, with too little distance between the walls to get enough speed. She huffs and stares angrily at the opposite wall, wishing it was further back. It’s slightly lower than the wall she needs to scale.

“Huh. I guess I could…” she muses, looking between the two walls. All she needs to do to beat Lannie is get over the wall. “Well… fortune favors the bold.”

Again her feet are moving before she’s really made up her mind. In two steps she’s at the opposing wall, leaping up high. Her right foot connects perfectly, and she levers herself up. Her left foot slips slightly, but by that time she already has her hand on the edge, and she can pull herself up easily. From there on it’s easy as pie to turn around and leap onto the other wall. Lannie will never see her coming.

She feels the error of her ways the second the pushes off the wall. She’s going to overshoot. “Oh shiiiiiit!” she shouts just as she’s sailing over the wall. Lannie looks up at her wide-eyed as she comes tumbling down, hitting the concrete hard at her feet. A sharp pain shoots up in her ankle.

“Oh my God!” Lannie exclaims, dropping down on her knees next to Val. “Are you insane? Are you okay? What the fuck was that?”

Valentina pulls herself upright, groaning softly. “Fuuuuck… that was stupid. I sprained something.”

“Yeah, your brain, dumbass. Why would you do that?” Lannie still looks wide-eyed. Valentina looks down at the gun in her hand.

“Huh,” she utters, pulling the trigger. Lannie’s armor lights up red again. “Gotcha…”

“…Seriously?”

~

“Are you sure you don’t want to visit the med center?” Kristian asks for the third time, while he programs his pod to take the ladies home. “Any other help?”

Valentina shakes her head. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to sue your Arena or anything. I was the one who thought it was a good idea to scale that wall. I just sprained something. It hurts like a bitch, but I’ll be fine.”

“You deserve that pain,” Lannie grouches. She’s suckling on a water infusion in her mouth. “Fucking cheater.”

“Are you still on about that? You were the one who dropped your guard.”

“I thought you were in pain!”

“Lesson number one: never trust your competitor in the arena. They’ll kill your ass for it.”

“My poor pretty arse! It’s an outrage!”

Kristian listens to their banter and smiles as he uploads the coordinates to the homes of both ladies. He’s suprised when he finds out that Valentina actually is a neighbour of his business contact David Vermeer, but doesn’t comment on it. In his head he’s already busy uploading the hilarious yet exciting footage material to the feeds. It hardly needs any editing; the software has beautifully taken all the best angles while shooting the footage, and the fight itself has been full of energy and excitement. Over the years he’s seen a lot of happy people taking the piss out of each other while stalking one another through his Arena, but this might be one of his favourite fights.

It takes him back to one of Lannie’s other fights in his Arena; the one she had with her boyfriend. The one that landed Walter Lane the Vermeer contract and got him into bootcamp. What should have taken him into the League, had fate not intervened. That’s where Lannie’s career had started. It made sense to end her victory streak with her taking on the Northern League champion in a friendly match. No one better to lose from.

“All aboard, ladies. My pod will take you home.”

“Aren’t you coming with us?” Lannie asks. She takes his hand and squeezes it softly. “I can offer you a drink for all of your hard work tonight. It’s the least I can do, I owe you big time.”

“It’s fine, Lannie. I’m off to find my bed. Long day tomorrow.”

“What did you think of the match, then?” she asks, blue eyes gleaming with the remnants of excitement, adrenaline and alcohol.

The answer is out of his mouth before he knows it. “You two were glorious. You were a joy to watch, and anyone who watches it will agree.”

“They’ll undoubtedly clamour for a real Arena match at some point,” Lannie muses, watching as Valentina makes herself comfortable in the pod.

Valentina shrugs as she sits down, trying not to set any weight on her painful ankle. “They can clamour all they want. It’ll never happen.”

Kristian looks at the two young women in his pod and smiles as the pod boots up and the door closes. “Maybe for the best. Well, good night ladies. Be sure to take your water infusions before going to sleep, or the hangover will be a bitch.”

“Yes, daddy,” Lannie says sweetly through the open window, as if she’s much younger than her years. Both women crack up with laughter as the pod takes off.

Kristian watches them go, until the green-yellow light underneath his pod has joined with the myriads of other podlights in the night red sky.

~~

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