“Hey little brother, it’s your big sis calling from Fleet Academy! Are you still fighting to put food on the table? ...there will be another intake for pilots in a couple of weeks’ time. It’s not been announced yet, but I wanted to give you a heads up, so you can maybe get a head start and join me here… You really should go for it. You’d be set up for life. It would get you out of the fighting ring... You’ve always loved flying. I really want you to go for it; you deserve to make something of yourself, you’ve got so much potential. You won’t regret it; you need to get away from there. The Fleets look at potential and you’ve got just that....you hate the segregation in Vegas; there isn’t any in Fleets... Anyway, I’d best go, some of us have some work to do in the morning. Hopefully I’ll see you here soon, brother.”
His sister’s words replayed through his mind, and he missed the bell ringing. Caught off guard, a punch to the gut knocked the wind right out of him. Staggering back, he looked up from the mat in time to see the green glove shuttle into his cheek, spinning him around, by sheer luck catching the cage wall and staying upright.
The world blurred and spun, he could just about make out the sound of the small crowd, cheering for his abuse. The lights and holographic screens streaked in his vision, as the taste of blood replaced the rubbery taste of his gum shield. He heard the chant for his opponent, could sense the predator stalking the prey. He’d be damned if he was going to go down now though, there was too much money at stake, and he had a burning desire to eat this month, debts to pay.
Pushing away from the cage as the angry, desperate red mist descended, he turned around and time seemed to slow down. Dodging a wild right hook that was clearly aimed for where the back of his head had been, he jabbed the big green adorned fighter’s abdomen with his red glove, followed by a series of quick jabs again to the abs, he finished with a shove of the chest, pushing the big guy back into perfect distance for a lunging uppercut to the chin.
Green staggered back, head skywards from the uppercut. The hungry young red adorned fighter grabbed green’s head, pulling him closer again as he drove his knee into the gut, followed by a frankly brutal head butt to the nose. Seeing the end, red pushed green back a few steps and the now bloody nosed opponent took a few moments to gather his bearings.
Unsteadily, green stepped forwards, only for red to sidestep, planting an arm across green’s chest, a leg behind his opponent, and with a guttural growl, threw him straight to the mat. Flailing to the mat, green tried to push himself up on his hands and knees, but found himself kicked in the chest. Knocked back up into a sitting position, green simply staggered to his feet, practically the walking dead. He looked at red, bleeding from the nose.
“Sorry.” He hated this part. One last surge of energy, and he rushed forwards, ducking a wild swing of the fist, and rising sharply with a blunt elbow to the face. Green was knocked straight off his feet, knocked backwards and hitting the mat like a sack of meat. Splayed out like a limp corpse, green’s head rolled to the side, out cold, face bloodied.
The referee appeared as the victor paced, breathing heavily, and wiping the blood from his mouth briefly. A few moments later, the referee gave a cut-throat signal to the time keeper, and the bell rang. A medic entered the cage for green, as the referee raised red’s hand in the air. The time keeper, who was also the promotion owner, called the match to the cheering crowd.
“Here is your tournament winner, winning by KO, Kyle Norton. The Cyclone!” Kyle raised his one arm in the air, not really soaking up the joy of the crowd. He felt no joy in beating another human to a bloody pulp; he took no glee in pulverising anyone. He wasn’t a brute. It was simply a necessity; it was his only means of income. There wasn’t much else for an unqualified eighteen year old college dropout in Vegas. There wasn’t much for anyone, never mind a kid who’d given up all education, albeit against his will.
The small crowd that occupied the dockland warehouse cheered or jeered, depending how they felt about the result, or how much money they’d made or lost on the outcome. He didn’t care, he wasn’t going to pander to any of them, his night was over, he just wanted to collect his money and go home. Turning to leave the cage, he found the door held closed, Joe holding it. His friend didn’t look too pleased.
“Stay in the ring, Kyle, you’ve got one more job.”
“Wha...” removing his gum-shield, Kyle spat some blood away. “What do you mean? I just floored the last guy, the tournaments over. Give me my money and I’ll be on my way.”
“No way, you’ve got one more, and then the money’s yours. Don’t worry; it’s a piece of cake, and easy money.” Joe tapped the cage door and then looked to the time keeper and promoter for the dockland fighting. The all-round man grinned back to Joe, and then to Kyle, before raising his microphone.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the incredible Cyclone has accepted one more challenge. One more challenge for him to complete and he will be the winner of five thousand dollars!” Bardon’s announcement brought cheers from the crowd, all too happy to see another fight. Kyle sighed, shaking his head as he paced to the other side of the cage, looking around the shabby warehouse.
Holographic screens replayed the knockout blow from his last round, robotic cameras hovering around the warehouse filming everything. He saw his red hair, well-toned body speckled with blood, sweat glistening all over.
“And here comes his opponent... from the Nevada Slums...” as soon as the slums were mentioned, Kyle’s eyes widened, and he turned around to face the walkway from the changing rooms. His fears were confirmed as soon as the crowd booed at new volume levels. Being dragged down the walkway in shackles, beaten with a cane as it was dragged, was an Anniheilos. The four legged, shrimp like alien was weakly trying to resist its captors as it was dragged forwards, the chains rubbing its four pink fleshy forelimbs raw.
“Whoa! I’m not doing it!” Kyle shouted at the booker, the referee, Joe, anyone. He hit the cage walls to get the booker’s attention over the crowd’s jeering. “Cancel it! Joe! I’m not fighting it!”
“Kyle!” Joe appeared, looking confused. “What are you on about? This is easy money! Just knock it down, you can’t lose! It’s only a freaking Annie!”
“I’m not hitting an Annie, Joe! They’ve got the thing shackled!” his voice was almost raw already from shouting his objection. Joe just didn’t seem to get it. “But, Kyle, that makes it even easier. How much easier could this money be?”
The cage door opened, and the five foot shrimp was pushed in, door slammed shut behind it. The shackles hadn’t been removed, its arm-limbs chained to its front legs. The referee spat at the alien’s eyes. Cowering away, the Annie tried to cover its face, but the chains pulled taught and jolted its legs forward, causing it to stumble, much to the crowd’s amusement. Kyle looked over the crowd with a scowl, felt a red mist descend over him, for the blatant abuse of this alien. As his sister had reminded him in the earlier message, he couldn’t stand the segregation and mistreatment of these settlers, these visitors to Earth.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the bottom dweller is the final round for the paramount Cyclone and your final show for the evening! Ring the bell!” the crowd cheered loudly, the bell rang, and Kyle just stood there, looking at the helpless Annie. He shook his head, feeling pity and remorse. He didn’t want to fight it.
“...you hate the segregation; there isn’t any in Fleets...” his sister’s words rang through his head again.
Unlike other human fighters, whom he had no objection to fighting; the Annie was here against its will. It was not here to win money; it wasn’t here to enjoy a good fight. It was here by force, a slave to entertain the hateful humans. Kyle would not lower himself to such a level as to injure a shackled, unwilling punch bag. He shook his head, turning away from the Annie, removing his gloves and tossing them aside. He walked to the cage door, as Joe waved his hands for him to stop. “Kyle?! What are you doing?! You’ll get no money!”
“Open the door, Joe, I’m done.” He heard boos of the crowd rain in, but he didn’t care. “Joe, open it.”
Reluctantly, Joe complied, looking to the booker with a shrug and a mouthed ‘sorry’. Bardon took no time to get on the microphone to the booing, jeering crowd. “The cowardly Cyclone refuses to fight the alien! By refusal to fight, he loses the prize money! Cyclone, the merciless!”
Not even looking at the angry crowd lining either side of the walkway, Kyle just headed straight to the changing room. A half-eaten burger slapped against his face amongst other things, a token of the crowd’s disapproval, but he ignored it. He wasn’t an animal, he wasn’t a bully, and he wasn’t an oppressor. No Annies would be beaten by his hands.
The night time cityscape of Las Vegas was as bright as day, countless lights of the cheap and nasty city caused unbelievable light pollution, lighting up the dirty air and smog like a megalopolis sized gas light. Even from these slums, the light pollution hid the stars.
Turning away from the light of the city with his kit bag over his shoulder, Kyle looked back at the warehouse door, wondering if he’d done the right thing. He knew he didn’t want to go against his morals and fight a helpless alien, but could he not have done it for the money? How else was he going to afford rent or food now? He’d barely scraped by the last month, let alone save anything towards the coming month.
A commotion and clattering of metal bins around the side of the warehouse caught his attention. Stopping, he backtracked and looked down the side alley of the warehouse, to see the Annie he’d refused to fight being thrown out of a door into some garbage, two ruffians spitting at it, then slamming the door shut. With the door shut, the two ruffians circled the cowering, bloodied Annie, and laughed, cracking knuckles.
As the first fist struck the soft fleshy exoskeleton of the Annie, Kyle saw red again. Dropping his bag, he ran down the alley toward the beat down. “Hey! Leave it alone!”
One of the ruffians started to turn, as the second kicked the downed shrimp. It squealed in pain, another fist caught the back of its head, sounding remarkably like a cracked flesh plate. As the first ruffian turned around to see what was coming, Kyle struck him with a forearm to the face. He hit the floor, and Kyle carried his momentum over to the second, who jumped out of the way. As Kyle stopped and turned to face the bully, he caught a punch to the face, but simply turned back to the bully and returned the punch.
As the man grabbed his jaw in agony, Kyle grabbed the back of his head, and dragged him over to a garbage dumpster, slamming the head against the metal. The bully slumped to the floor, apparently they were both very easy to take care of, yet they both seemed to feel so big and tough hitting the Annie.
Kyle turned around to face the shrimp, which shivered and cowered away. It held its forelimbs out to Kyle in a plea for mercy. He held his own hands up in innocence, lowering to a crouch in front of it. “I’m not going to hurt you; I think I’ve proven that already.”
“Why won’t you hurt me?” The clicks and squeaks of the Annie, Kyle understood at a basic level. He frowned as he concentrated to translate the series of clicking squeaking sounds. “You all hurt us.”
“I won’t hurt you. You’ve done nothing to hurt me, we’re not enemies. Let’s get you out of here before someone else tries to hurt you.” He went to help the Annie up, but it squealed, cowering away more. He backed up in peace again. “I want to help.”
“Please, leave me alone.” With that, the Annie crawled to its four feet, and scuttled away through the garbage. Kyle stared in the alien’s wake, and couldn’t find it in himself to be disappointed in its reaction. Why should it trust him? Every other human on Earth probably would hurt it; the humans of Earth despised the alien settlers.
While the countless alien races of the rest of the galaxy embraced humanity, and humans themselves were as wide spread as the stars, the home grown humans isolated themselves. Earth was practically disowned by the dozens of human colony worlds throughout the galaxy, scorned for its xenophobic ways. The brave or desperate aliens that did move to Earth, presumably for the very cheap living costs, were bullied and discriminated against by the Earthling population, even the government.
Kyle had always hated it, but never really had any first-hand experience of the discrimination. But now that he’d been practically forced into the discrimination and bullying, he hated it. As he crouched there in the alley, he realised his lack of money, his financial and living situation was nothing in comparison to the ailment of the Annies and other non-humans that lived on Earth. Like him, they couldn’t afford to leave Earth, but unlike him, they couldn’t integrate. He could go by his day without being spat at, or struck by passers-by, they couldn’t.
Looking at his hands, stained with dry blood from his earlier fights, he felt ashamed to be human. Every other species in the galaxy accepted each other, integrated, but not ‘Earthlings’. He felt ashamed to have done nothing about the alien’s discrimination before, and that he could no longer ignore it. His sister was right, he didn’t belong here, and he didn’t want to be a part of a xenophobic society.
Humans had always needed someone else to be superior to. Local towns came into conflict, different states, countries, continents, different skin colour, sex, anything. When a whole galaxy of ‘aliens’ came to the fore, it was the only chance humans would have to finally be completely united, and it was the aliens like Annies that suffered as a result.
Kyle wouldn’t be a part of it anymore; he didn’t want to live his life as a racist by association. He was going to become so much more...
Standing up, he looked back across the Vegas cityscape again, at the distant space ports. It was time. He was going to join his sister in the Fleets, and one day, hopefully he would leave this disgusting world... Maybe, just maybe, one day he would be able to make a difference to the way the settlers of Earth were treated. First, he had to get somewhere where integration was encouraged, somewhere where he could make something of his self. If the Fleets were that place, then that was where he would head. One day, he would make a difference to this world, somehow.
Annies, or any other non-Human, would be able to live on this planet without persecution. Earth would not be a Human only world. Like the rest of the galaxy, it would be a place of integration, acceptance, and prosperity. He didn’t know how long it would take, but he felt it in his heart, he needed to do this.