• One: Fall of a Titan

    [Beep! Beep! Beep!]
    The alarm went off for the fifth time that morning, attempting to wake the occupant of the bed nearby, a man named Alastor Griffin. Once again, though, he leaned over and sleepily hit the snooze button. This time, however, he would be woken by another source.
    Thump Thump!
    “Hey, Al, you still asleep, man?”
    Alastor groaned and got out of bed. Why do I have to get out of bed…it’s only…
    “OH CRAP!” It was Saturday. And it was almost noon.
    For most people, Saturday was a day of relaxation, and for this reason, Al had to get up. He was an entertainer, an HTBS pilot. HTBS was short for Human Transport and Battle System. Alastor was one of the best pilots in Future City, and easily could have a good career in it ahead of him, assuming that he showed up when he had matches. Like today.
    Alastor got dressed quickly, grabbing his pilot’s suit and slipping it on quickly. Running downstairs, he grabbed a bagel and ran out the door, right into his friend.
    “Oof! Hey, watch it, Al!”
    “Sorry Jason! Thanks for waking me up!” Alastor ran past him, munching his bagel quickly as Jason called after him, “Dude, Jess is gonna KILL you! This is that special match!”
    CRAAAAP! The special match was one they’d been waiting a few months to arrange. A pilot from across the ocean had come to battle, a rarity in HTBS battling. The pilot’s moniker was Goliath, real name Marston Akein. He was supposed to be ruthless, a man who’d do anything to win. As he got closer to the arena, panting and wishing his cycle wasn’t in the repair shop, He saw a small group of people waiting outside the arena. They pointed at him and livened up as he approached, but as a well-known fighter, he was used to it. What he wasn’t used to was ‘fans’ grabbing him and slamming him into a wall.
    “Hey, there, Al. How’s it going?”
    Only now did Alastor notice the patches each of them wore. A shovel in a pile of dirt. The Graveyard Gang.
    “Hey, I’ve got no quarrel with Tony. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m a bit late.”
    “Yeah, we noticed. We’ve been waiting out here for, oh, how long Bruce?”
    “Half an hour. You been keepin’ us waitin’ for half an hour.”
    “Sorry guys. If you wanted to chat, you could’ve called.” His small attempt at humor was lost on the mildly irritated gang members. However, they weren’t roughing him up, which he thought was a good sign.
    “Anyway, ‘Thunderboy’, Mistah Bones has an offer you really shouldn’t turn down. Trust me.” The large man named Bruce grinned at this and cracked his knuckles. Alastor wasn’t very intimidated, but pretended to be for the sake of the man’s feelings.
    “So, what’s it gonna be, then?”
    “Well, here’s tha deal. This fight against the guy from Deren holds a large amount of profit for Bones. The guy’s good, but we seen you fight. No way he’d win normally. However…”
    “He want’s me to let him win.”
    “Ah, good. Nice ta see you’re not just a big muscle head.”
    “Nah, that’s Bruce’s job, right?” Bruce nodded, smiling happily. Alastor just rolled his eyes, an the man speaking to him smacked the larger man upside the head.
    “Anyway, you remember what we said, huh? Tony ain’t a man to forget favors fast.” At this, the gang members chuckled and walked into the arena.
    Yes he is. He owes me for all the fights I WON. Alastor shook his head and walked into the arena. He could take the Graveyards. Tony may not remember favors for long, but the same went for offenses.
    “AL! Jeeze, man, Jess is breathing flames down there! Literally!”
    “Sorry, Brian. Literally?”
    Brian rubbed the back of his head. “Well, figuratively speaking, of course.”
    Al just chuckled. “So she’s literally breathing flames, figuratively speaking?”
    “Ye…hell, just get in the pit so she can kill you and spare me. Get, shoo!”
    Brian made little sweeping motions with his hands, and Alastor descended the stairs to the green side pit, still chuckling. However, he stopped when a large HTBS manual smacked him in the head.
    “Oh, good! It’s you this time!”
    “Ow, Jess, that hurt! Wait, this time?” Alastor suddenly felt bad for Brian. Jessica stared him down from the pit floor, her eyes looking as though they could shoot lasers at him. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and Alastor noticed she missed a bit of oil on her cheek. So she’d checked up on the Zeus before the match. His HTBS stood on the lift to the arena, waiting for its pilot.
    “Yeah, this time. I’ve thrown it four times trying to hit you.”
    “Poor Brian. Four times you hit him? You’d think he’d learn.”
    “Nah, it was Daniel once.” Daniel was the ring announcer, and the oldest person working in the light of the arena at fifty-three.
    “Dan? He’s okay, right?”
    “Yeah, I missed.” Alastor reached her as she said this.
    “Yeah, missed this, too.” He smeared the oil drop across her cheek, then ran for his HTBS as she swung at him.
    “Dammit, Al! You’d better win!” Alastor waved at her as he strapped himself into the opening in the humanoid mecha’s chest cavity. As soon as he was in, the doorway to the outside world closed, and gloves as well as foot panels rose to meet him. He slipped on the gloves as the foot panels strapped themselves to his boots. He put on a pair of goggles linked with the Zeus, allowing him to see what his mecha was seeing through its head. He was in his element. Through his goggles, he saw that the lift was already carrying him to the surface where fans were cheering both his real and stage names. Across from him, he could see a strange round mecha rising into the arena as well. They’d delayed Goliath’s rise until the same time as his. Nice touch.
    “Ladies and gentlemen, please, take your seats!” Daniel’s voice boomed across the stadium, amplified much louder than it would naturally be. Alastor looked to the announcer’s booth, and saw Daniel stroking his moustache and giving him a nod. He also noticed a young man seated near the booth. He wouldn’t have caught his attention except that it looked like the man had bleached his hair a light shade of silver. Odd color. Blue and green were in nowadays. As the arena became quieter than before, Daniel continued his introduction.
    “Now, as many of you know, today’s battle is a treat indeed! If you didn’t notice, please check your wallets to make sure!” A chuckle echoed around the arena. Alastor’s comm crackled on, and his opponent’s voice came over the onboard radio.
    “So, you’re the Thunderboy, huh? Wolf Type? Psh, you don’t look so tough at all.”
    “So, Goliath, huh? I hear you don’t look all that tall.”
    “Shut the hell up!”
    “Guess I touched a nerve there? Hey, shush now, I love Dan’s intros.” Alastor switched off his comm. The audience laughed again, but Alastor missed what it was during his short conversation with his opponent.
    “Now, on the green side, you know him, you love him, you’re hometown Thunderboy! Alastor Griffin!” The crowd roared as Alastor lifted one arm, his mech following suit.
    “And, on the red side, the beast from across the sea, the unstoppable, uncrushable, incredibly short, Goliath! Marston Akein!” The crowd roared again, but mostly with laughter.
    “OH, COME ON!” Goliath roared, “THAT’S CRAP!”
    “Alastor switched on his comm again, “Hey, told you he has great intros.”
    Daniel whipped the microphone around as he shouted with a smile, “Let the battle begin!”
    The round mech pointed at Alastor as Goliath said, “You’re dead, little boy lightning.”
    “Tough words for the vertically challenged.”
    Just as Alastor expected, Goliath flew into a rage and small missile pods popped out of his shoulders, firing in rapid succession. Alastor put his arm in front of him and a green electrical shield spread out from it, frying the missiles before they struck. The dead missiles bounced harmlessly off of the Zeus.
    “Hey, man, I think you scratched my paint job! Uncool!”
    Naturally, the short-tempered Goliath rushed him, extending tentacle-like arms. Sharp blades emerged from the palms of the Goliath’s arms, swinging wildly. Rather than run, Alastor shot towards his opponent, limiting the use of the tentacles. Goliath turned them around, attempting to skewer the Zeus, but Alastor jumped, the boosters on the bottom of his mech’s feet firing him well over Goliath’s head. Instead, the Goliath stabbed itself with one arm, stopping the other before it hit. The blade was stuck in the mech, and after a few unsuccessful tugs, the Goliath’s arm released the blade, leaving it stuck in it’s round body/head.
    “I don’t need two blades to beat you!”
    “Sorry, small fry, but that blade in your face says otherwise.”
    The goliath swung it’s remaining blade at Alastor, but instead of dodging he drew his own blade, a short sword when compared to the HTBS, it’s edge glowing red. A heat knife. The blade sliced neatly through the metal of Goliath’s tentacle, sending the hand and blade sailing towards the arena wall. The blade bounced off the glass-like substance without even leaving a scratch. No one in the arena ever figured out how that worked. Good thing it did, too, because that stuff was expensive.
    Meanwhile, in the audience, four men with shovel patches on their shoulders looked at each other. Al wasn’t losing. If he didn’t, they knew what they had to do. The skinny man who’d accosted Alastor outside, seemingly the leader of this little group, noticed an albino man in a biker’s jacket glancing at them muttering. He wasn’t smiling.
    “Oh, are we whispering too loud for you, freak?”
    Daniel, the announcer, wasn’t amused. “Hey, Bone-Boy, he paid to be in here just like you did. And he’s not the only one you’re irritating.”
    A few other audience members glared at the Graveyards, and they fell silent.
    “You’ll all get yours…” the skinny man muttered.
    Back in the arena, Alastor slowly advanced on a retreating, unarmed, Goliath. HTBSes were dangerous, even when unarmed, but a heat knife when wielded with skill would easily disarm an opponent, as had been proven already.
    “Come on, Goliath, that can’t be all you’ve got.”
    “Okay, you caught me.”
    Small panels on the Goliath’s legs opened, shooting a short of giant taser at Alastor. The electricity running through his mech didn’t even seem to bother him, however.
    “What in the hell?”
    Alastor didn’t answer as he placed one of the Zeus’s fingers on the metal blade sticking out of Goliath’s body for a moment. A moment was all it took for the electrical energy in the Zeus to also transfer through Goliath, the metal spike shooting a bolt of electricity directly at its pilot. The other mech collapsed, its pilot unconscious. A moment passed, then another, and Alastor ripped the taser cords from the Zeus. Daniel’s voice boomed over the stadium.
    “I believe we have a winner! And who would’ve guessed it…oh, right, most of us, it’s Thunderboy!” A loud booming cheer echoed through the stadium, drowning out any dissent. Alastor looked towards Daniel and saw some people were already leaving. He zoomed in, and saw the patches on their jackets. Graveyards. Off to tell Tony Bones, probably.
    The entire arena began to sink into the ground, taking the two HTBSes down to the pit level. The entire platform moved because depending on where an HTBS was disabled, it wouldn’t be able to reach the normal lifts. This was the only time that the green and red pits were connected, and often mechanics would spy on each other’s work during this time. Alastor walked the Zeus over to the green pit, Jessica standing there with her arms crossed, and a smug look on her face. Alastor took off the gloves and goggles, unstrapped his feet and safety belts, and jumped out as soon as the chest cavity opened. Jessica bopped him on the head when he landed.
    “Hey, good job airhead! You won the first cross continent match in ten years!”
    “Yeah, we’re gonna be famous!”
    “Well, you DID help fix the Zeus. Several times.”
    “Oh, I know. But all you did was shoot stuff in it.” The two shared a laugh, then Jessica looked over the HTBS.
    “Huh, not bad. Few dings, but nothing serious. Did he really suck that badly?”
    “Nah, he was okay. I just ‘disarmed’ him early on.” Alastor pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the dismembered hand of Goliath’s HTBS. Jessica grinned, then noticed a small medical crew pulling Marston’s unconscious form out of his HTBS.
    “Holy crap, Al, what’d you do to him?”
    “Well, he kinda did it to himself. Taser. Big one.”
    “Okay…” Jessica took one last look at the Zeus, then decided she could work on it later.
    “Hey, how about a celebratory dinner, huh? You still owe me one.”
    “Oh, come on, you treated of your own free will.”
    “Yup. Your turn.” She grinned and Alastor shook his head, smiling.
    The two headed up the stairs out of the green pit. Brian was standing at the top, making sure no civilians wandered into the pit. He eyed Jessica carefully for anything heavy, then decided it was okay to relax. She bopped him with her hand anyway.
    “Hey, what was that for?”
    “You were tensed up. You worry too much.” Brian just rolled his eyes as the two walked away.
    “Hey, boy what a match!” A breathless Daniel caught up to them just as they were about to leave. “What, not even gonna congratulate us?”
    “What’d we make, Dan?” the two asked at the same time.
    “Four times the usual. FOUR times. We’re gonna have to set this kind of stuff up again!”
    “You work on that, Dan.”
    “I will, thank you very much!” The older man marched off, already planning away. He liked money.
    Jessica and Alastor pushed their way through a mostly congratulatory crowd, and finally reached the employee only parking lot. Jessica’s vehicle wasn’t in the shop.
    “’Ey, Al. Kept us waitin’ again.”
    Alastor slowly turned to find the same four Graveyards he’d met out front standing against the building wall. The big one, Bruce, was cracking his knuckles.
    “Hey, Jess, tell you what. You head on home, and I’ll come by your place later. Free dinner tomorrow.” She nodded and headed off. She hated it when he run-ins with Tony Bones.
    Alastor turned back to the gang members as Jessica walked off into the darkening lot. Her hover zoomed off as the four members of the gang formed a box around him.
    “So, boys, you want me to kick your asses again? Come on, surely you guys have learned by now.”
    “Yeah, Al, we have actually. You’re a better fighter. Big whoop. We got these!” The skinny gang member whipped out a short L-shaped object. A pistol.
    “Where the hell’d you get that?”
    The skinny man grinned. “Courtesy of that little punk you just whooped. He called on us to turn the tides of chance. You know how those Derenians are.”
    s**t. He could beat them in hand-to-hand combat, but he couldn’t outrun a bullet. Tony must’ve been expecting quite the payoff to break the gun law.
    “Well, it’s been nice, but it’s time ta say goodbye, thunder boy!”
    The man raised his gun and fired. Alastor braced for the bullet, but it never hit. He opened one eye and saw the white-haired biker from the arena. He’d pulled the gang member’s arm just before he’d fired.
    “Hey. You don’t want to do that.”
    “Like hell!” The skinny gangster pulled a knife and attempted to stab the biker, but he grabbed that arm, too.
    “Don’t say I didn’t warn you guys.”
    The biker snapped the gangster’s wrist back, causing him to cry out and drop the knife. He then threw him by his other arm, sending the gangster flying at one of his partners, but still holding the gun. He dropped the clip out of the gun and kicked it away, then fired the remaining shot into the ground. He tossed the now empty gun somewhere over his shoulder. All this in the time it took the other gangsters to pull out firearms of their own and aim them. Alastor forgotten, they fired at the new threat, but he was fast. He dodged the first and second volley, but the third caught him right in the chest. Again and again they fired, two more bullets each, and the biker collapsed.
    s**t. Alastor hadn’t been able to sneak away in time. The gangsters looked at each other, at their fallen comrade, clutching what was probably a broken wrist, and then at the biker.
    “Hey, man, check him.”
    “Make sure he’s dead, man.”
    One of the gangsters walked forward, keeping his gun trained on the biker. He kicked him onto his back.
    “Hey, he looks dead, huh?” The gangster looked closer. Thought the biker had been shot several times, he wasn’t bleeding. “What the hell?” The gangster zipped open the biker’s jacket and found he was wearing some sort of bullet-proof vest. He looked up and saw the biker was grinning at him.
    “Arrgh!” The gangster was wrenched up in front of the biker as a human shield, the biker holding his gun. Two shots, Bang Bang. Bruce went down, the two rounds burying themselves in his leg. The large man howled in pain as the fourth gangster looked at him, then at the biker and hostage.
    “Sorry, man, but I think I’m gonna have ta shoot you.”
    “Don’t! He’s got some kinda vest!”
    “What are you, man, a cop?” The biker smiled.
    “Not exactly.” He then kicked the side of the third gangster’s leg, and it collapsed inward with a loud crack. The two remaining men stood, staring each other down, each with their gun trained on the other.
    “So, what’s this, cop-man? A standoff?”
    “Nah, not really.” As he said this, Alastor reminded the last standing gangster that he was still there by hitting him hard in the back of the head. The blow didn’t knock hi out, but it dropped him, his gun clattering away on the pavement.
    “Come on, Al.” The biker spoke to him as though he knew him. It was unnerving that such a dangerous man could talk like that. The biker walked away, dropping the gun he’d taken. It had been empty. Alastor hesitated, then followed him. He had to go home anyway.
    “You just wait, Alastor! We’ll get you and your damned bodyguard!” Alastor shook his head. He knew they wouldn’t believe a complete stranger that could kick their butts so soundly would just happen to arrive in time to help.
    “Excuse my phrasing, but who the hell are you?” The biker glanced at him.
    “I’m a representative of an organization called the Resistance. You’ve probably heard of us.”
    The Resistance. They’d been on the news a few times, a group of madmen who thought they could take on the Empire that was slowly taking over the southern end of the continent. They figured they cold do it better than the Federation was doing at present.
    “Yeah, I’ve heard of you guys. What do you want with me?” The Resistance member stopped.
    “I saw what you did back at the arena. You electrified your opponent with electricity coursing through your own mech.” Alastor saw where this was going, but still denied any knowledge.
    “So what?”
    “You were completely unaffected. You know what I’m talking about. Chosen.”
    Damn. And so the secret was out.
    “You don’t know-”
    “Everyone in that place saw that. What excuse are you going to use, rubber shielding in the cockpit?” Alastor raised an eyebrow. That was the excuse he’d used last time.
    “So what is this, then, blackmail? Just because I’m a fighter doesn’t mean I’m rich.”
    “No, it means you’re good at what you do.” Alastor saw where this was going.
    “You want me to join? No. HELL no. Never.”
    “You’d rather die?” Die? Was the biker threatening him?
    “You don’t know how much Bone’s bet, do you? He’s down three million bits because of you.” Oh. s**t.
    “Three mil…? You’re joking, right?”
    “See for yourself.” The biker pointed to a black vehicle that had been shadowing them. The vehicle turned and sped off when the driver had seen that he’d been noticed.
    “He was following us?”
    “Probably waiting for us to split up.” Now Alastor KNEW no one would believe him that some sort of spy or something had come to his rescue. Huh, this guy would be quite the bodyguard.
    “You know, I don’t even know you’re name. I assume you already know mine.” The biker chuckled.
    “Yeah, Alastor Griffin. They sort of announced it before the battle. Mine’s Brian Chaine.” Chaine glanced at Alastor sideways.
    “So, you thinking about it?”
    “About what?”
    “The offer.” Alastor didn’t know what to think. If Chaine wasn’t lying, he’d likely be dead before his next match. Three million bits was a LOAD of money. And money was all that Tony Bones cared about. Not his men, not the city, just cash. He’d stand to make more by betting ON Alastor, but he wouldn’t be thinking clearly right now.
    “I don’t know, Mr. Chaine…”
    “You can just call me Brian. And listen, I can’t protect both you and your girlfriend indefinitely. I need an answer. Believe it or not, we DO have other things to do besides watch HTBS battles.” Alastor hadn’t even thought of that. Jessica would be their next target if they couldn’t get to him. She wasn’t his girlfriend, but they were best friends, often seen together. It didn’t take a genius to see the connection. Alastor looked up and saw they’d reached his home. He glanced two doors down at Jessica’s place.
    “That’s not fair…”
    “But that’s the way it is. Accept it, or don’t. I can’t force you to make a decision either way. You just think on that. I’ll be back in ten minutes. I’ll take your answer then.” And just like that, the biker walked away.
    Alastor stood outside, watching him leave, then rushed inside. His life was his most valuable possession. He couldn’t fight people with guns, like the Resistance man could. And Tony had proven he was willing to go that far. He threw as many of his possessions as he could into a suitcase, pausing only as he picked up an old photo. It had been taken seventeen years ago. Little Alastor and Little Jessica had gotten too close to the camera, almost obscuring their father’s laughing behind them. It had been the first time Alastor had gone fishing.
    He had to warn her. He quickly scrawled a note, then ran out and stuck it on her front door.

    ‘Dear Jessica
    I’m sorry about this, so much. I have to leave the city, and you should, too. Tony has taken matters to a new extreme, and I can’t take any chances with my life, or with yours. Please forgive me for doing this to you.

    And with that, he went back and finished packing. A few minutes later, he heard a sort of screechy noise outside. He looked down to see Brian Chaine riding a strange looking cycle. It had not back wheel, instead hovering off the ground with a low blue glow. Alastor hurried downstairs and threw the door open, dragging the suitcase with him.
    “You have an answer, then. Nice suitcase.”
    “Yeah, thanks. Let’s get out of here.” Alastor hopped on the back of the vehicle, strapping his suitcase to his back. Only after the two had zoomed to the city limits did he remember he was supposed to have met Jessica at her place.
    Jessica waited alone at her home, the TV blaring in the next room. Alastor should’ve been there by now, right? Nah, maybe he forgot. Yeah, he must have forgotten. And that’s when she heard it.
    “We have a news update! Suspicious sounds were reported behind the HTBS arena in north Future City just a short while ago! Police arrived to find several empty bullet casings, and blood on the ground. As for who…” The reporter’s voice just seemed to fade away. Bullet casings. Blood. Alastor.
    “Nononono!” Jessica rushed out of her house, not even stopping to put on a jacket. She threw the door open, vehicle forgotten, and ran towards the arena, not noticing the note on her door that had become loosened by the force of her opening the door. The note gently drifted away on a breeze.