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A Short Story
Shade ... Copyright ©1995
The buzz of 3-D Feelies flying overhead warned him she was close. He nestled back in the thick alien growth of the Tuma bushes and tried to disappear amongst the tangled thorny branches. Touching just one against his naked skin meant instant, painful death. The tips of the thorns were hollow ... filled with the most pungent acid known to man.
Ray risked a quick peek into his multi-media visor plate before turning the power off again. If she was this close it didn't matter whether her sensors found the leaking energy from it or not.

They were down to the last hour of the Olympics anyway... and to think they'd both been friends up to this point. Even fought in the pairs section of the Olympics just a few short months ago back on Earth. They'd been good together. Too good. That's why they'd finally split. Each knew they had it in them to make it on an intergalactic scale, and with the help of a growing rich brew of sponsors, each one had.

He smiled tightly as one of the 3-D Feelies swooped in for a close-up. His handsome face still showed some of the ravages of being on the most deadly planet in the universe ... Hell, it was expensive showing the intergalactic Olympics live here, but the sponsors got their money's worth. One reason he'd made it this far, other than being an excellent warrior with good reflexes, was he happened to be a consummate actor as well.
He put his musings aside and sipped on his air straw. His tank read only 45 minutes of air left before the naturally deadly poisons of Hell's surface atmosphere would have him writhing on the ground coughing out his lungs in a matter of minutes.
Half the battle was just dealing with the deadly planet. It made it interesting for the folks back home. He adjusted his shoulder harness and moved slowly towards her back.

She had taken a moment to rest in the small clearing. Her shoulders were slumped and he felt a sudden stirring of compassion. Not too much, though. She'd taken a surprise attack early on when they were dumped at base camp. His shoulder still ached from the slice of meat she'd taken as a trophy with her. Just enough to surprise the audience into wild applause and weaken him for the last encounter.

He wasn't strong enough to use his bull male strength against her and win any longer. She'd taken care of that. It was a game of craft and seduction now ... a woman's game. The only weapon he had left was the sharp Stilo-knife grasped in his sweaty hand.

"Hello, Ray..."

She looked up at him without lifting a finger. What was going on? Ray stood where he was, every muscle tense, every nerve humming, ready for anything ... except this.

"Sarah ..." He bowed with sweeping hand ... the ripple of applause in his feedback meter made him feel good. Whomever won this final battle still had to battle against the planet to make it back to base on time or ... even the sponsors wouldn't help bring them out alive. It was part of the romantic aura of the Olympics ... man, or woman, can conquer all, pitted against the audience's natural desire to see even the mighty sometimes die while they remain alive.
Ray danced aside as Sarah came to her feet in one smooth motion. Her teeth bared and flashing in the hot reflected light of Hell's close sun. Everything appeared red and misty around them. Any manner of alien fauna could be lurking ready to lunge at them for a tasty bite. Being 80% water made them an enticing desert.
Sarah slipped under his first rush ... almost tripping him at the last moment. He rolled and came up short of the Tuma bushes by a few scant inches and pushed up onto his feet ... circling for advantage.

"Want to get married when this is over?" He taunted. They were fighting like old times. Their 'history' together had been recently popularized by the press. No-one knew how close the news articles had actually come to the truth for a change.

"Honeymoon is over, sweet thing ..." Her turn to smile. Her knife now at the ready. Her breasts heaved in the sultry red light that never left this part of the world. She was a magnificent creature. Her long mane of silky hair swept down over her like the mane of a lioness.
They were both still sparring, waiting for their sponsor's cue before getting really serious. The sudden twist of the lens from one of the 3-D Feelies caught Ray's attention and he leaped into the air, turning it into a somersault as one of Hell's Horny Beasts charged underneath him.

Dust hid the effects of the attack upon Sarah, making it hard for her to see the beast's daredevil lunge ... She took one of the horns in the side ... before splitting the skull of the Horny Beast with her air tank.
Ray panted and acted like he'd twisted an ankle, wondering what was keeping his sponsors from giving him the go. This was the best chance he'd had yet to finish her off. Was it a set up? He hadn't heard of payoffs at this level of the Olympics before ... but you never knew.

Sarah slapped a plasta-aid on her side to stop the blood flow and winced back into fighting position, obviously reeling. The medi-pad was already doing it's thing .. feeding her blood stream with a rich supply of drugs, cauterizing the wound while holding her split skin together. It made a good armor shield for that side of her body and Ray switched the knife into his other hand as he approached her.

"That wedding date still open?" He heard her laugh. The Horny Beast had gone on into the bush, scattering a flight of Talon Birds up into the sky. Their sharpened beaks and claws were as deadly as anything on Hell, but they got in their own way ... killing each other off as first one got close to the presumed prey and then another, feeding off each other. Giving the audience a bit of nature to ahh and ooh at in wonder.

"There's still time ..." Ray muttered, surprised at the seriousness in his own voice. He meant it.

She took the moment, springing at him with blood lust in her cry. The drugs pumping her up to an impossible degree until only her olympic heart could bear the burden. "Go ..." He heard the whisper from his own sponsors and met her ... testing her strength ... it would give out quickly with only the drugs to keep her going.

His fingers caught hers and twisted, wrenching her against her wound and driving her to her knees, but she was quick ... she butted him hard where it would do the most damage ... between his thighs.

"That wasn't lady like ..." He heard the announcer's laughter, and Ray stepped back once more, trying to stop the rigid spasms. She lunged with her knife and back lunged again, pushing him backwards towards the thorns.
The 3-D Feelies were all buzzing like flies overhead, turning the sky dark with their shadows.

"Watch out, Sarah. Horny Beast!" He shouted. It was back in play again, but he didn't know if she would listen to him or not. Sanity wasn't anywhere on her pretty face at the moment. He didn't have room to move and would have to take the charge.

He gripped her knife arm with both hands, dropping his own weapon as he lifted her over his head and threw her rolling to the side of the Horny Beasts charge. No time. He used his momentum to fling himself to the ground ... one chance in Hell ... his hands and feet sliding through the dust and pushing at the Horny Beast as it snorted ... unable to stop it's plunge. Ray lifted and kicked ... sending the ugly animal up into the air, the remaining birds darting down and eating it alive before it landed ... it's vulnerable stomach torn open, and intestines spilling into view ... driving the birds into a quick fevered pitch of war with each other for the spoils.

She was gone. Ray lifted himself up ... seeing his air tank had taken a rock and the hiss of air meant even if he won, he probably wouldn't make it back to home base.

He felt the knife against his throat as Sarah stepped up silently behind him. "Thanks, sport ..." She whispered. "Good show ... but now it's time to finish this don't you think?"

Ray waited ... steeling himself for what had to happen next. "Couldn't happen to a nicer lady." He grated, somehow it was still worth it, knowing he could have taken her and hadn't. Dying wasn't such a hard thing to do ... people did it all the time, and usually did it the first time quite well. It's what you died for that mattered. That's what being in the Olympics had taught him. He would have died for the money and glory before this day. Now it was different.
"I love you, Sarah ..." He smiled up into the 3-D Feelies floating above him as she drew the knife across his throat ... the words never leaving his thoughts.


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Revised: March 11, 1999
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