Illo patched together by ShelVy from Jungle Stories

he American lion leaped. Mangas held his shield high, but the half-ton cat slammed full force into him. The blow knocked Mangas flat and his shield aside. "Not good!" he thought, grinding his teeth. The crowd screamed, a million voices' deafening roar. The lion sank short, sharp teeth into the beast fighter's bare left upper arm. Bones snapped like twigs.

"Has Mangas Dynatos met his final end?" Tsu Tai Woo Sportzmod 1600 screamed at the top of his synthlungs.

Mangas grit his teeth in pain, yet his eyes stayed clear and calm. He rammed his short sword hilt deep into the lion, straight into his heart. The lion's grip loosened. He slumped to the ground. Blood gushed from his side. Mangas's blow instantly killed him.

Da Kolozon Amfyathire went mad. Gamblers leaped up and capered, Ring citizens, Martians, Lunars, and Spacers alike. Multi-hued confetti and guided balloons rained down on the giga-arena's towering tiers. Spectators danced madly in the aisles. Red and white lights flickered everywhere as eyecams flashed pix.

"Yes," Tsu said. "Mangas Dynatos, the Iron Spartan, the Hero Hoplite, does it again. A stunning victory. Full kill on the biggest cat in Sol. Best sportzday this year in the Wide Open Zone, in whole wide Sol. Oh, how cyberbookies will weep."

Simultrans rendered the sportzmod's slang-ridden Chindolese into a dozen other Ringer languages including Insectile Buzz, Marzz, Lunar pidgin, and Spacer Slangee. Virtually every living soul in Sol from the asteroid belt inward witnessed Mangas's feat. Gamblers stared through the Ring's glaz shell as fireworks erupted from megaluxepods all over Luna, the ivory orb looming large nearby. Holos big as megacondoblocks flashed jubilation scenes Ringwide and from Sol, even a shot of Spacers' spidery victory dance atop a hurtling asteroid.

A full caste Medkat ran to Mangas. Her long tail twitched through the slit in her blindingly white lab coat. A medbot followed. The Medkat bent over Mangas. Feline eyes flashed anxious concern, the only part of her face Mangas could see.

"Don't worry," she said through her facemask.

Mangas managed a weak smile. The Medkat took her caduceus from her lab coat. The two-headed snake slipped forked tail ends into the Medkat's delicate earholes. The right head jabbed fangs into Mangas's left arm and pumped synthmorph into a vein. The pain stopped. Mangas drifted on a golden cloud. The other snake tongue flickered over his skin to let the Medkat monitor vital signs. Waldos gently put him inside the medbot.

"Stat amputation and regen," the Medkat commanded.

Nanosaws within the medbot neatly severed Mangas's crushed arm just below the shoulder. A white plaz cast in the exact shape of his arm grafted to the stump. His genome was previously encoded so the medbot could replicate any part of him at the molecular level. Aggravating, but necessary in his occupation. Billions of biogens attached to blood vessels, cracked bones, marrow and ruptured muscles. The slow, horribly itchy regen began even as the medbot scurried from the arena with the Medkat behind. A burden bot slipped a noose over the lion's rear paws. The dead beast was dragged from the arena to be stuffed and added to the Wide Open Zone's Beast Fighter Gallery, Mangas's seventeenth kill so honored.

"Don't go anywhere, sportzfanz," Tsu said. "Up next, wooly mammoth fighting a troodon, the most cunning dinosaur of all. You won't believe the savage cuts those serrated teeth make. Got a REAL blood bath in store. Keep your seats for this exciting match."

***
angas convalesced in his private pleasure pod. A flying Grek temple, the bronze and marble pod floated by the Ring's glaz shell with spectacular views of Terra, Sol, and the Wide Open Zone. Other pleasure pods kept a respectful distance. Get well messages and sympathy gifts poured in from all castes, even black roses from Teddon Wydboy himself, Lord Autocrator of the Zone. The new arm worked well, but Mangas preferred to play the bouzouki instead of sword drills.

"E agape mou," he sang, voice deep and clear.

A holo manifested, tall and severe in black bizcloak. Pseudolus, his virtual Cyberlain. "Sir, a high caste young lady wishes to speak with you," the virtual man said. "Her cyberblasts breach our firewalls. I explain you convalesce, but she won't take no for an answer. She insists."

"Esztel Bizzer 3000?" Mangas asked, with grudging anticipation.

"Yes, sir," Pseudolus said.

"Like you said, she won't accept no. Put her through."

"Thank you, sir."

A small holo manifested, Esztel's orange face, yellow and green hair done up in a spiky Medusa do, a cable jacked into her left eye socket. Blotches of binary code flashed by on her remaining pink orb. Mangas concentrated on chord progressions. His new left hand deftly worked the bouzouki's ivory and ebony inlaid neck.

"Darling Mangas," she said. "How are you? So glad to vid you, even by holo and not in person. Your new arm looks fabulous. I can't even vid the seam. Listen to the wonderful music you're making. What's the tune?"

"It's an old Grek song," Mangas said. "What do you want, Esztel?" he added, with a touch of impatience.

Esztel assumed a hurt look. Mangas wondered if genetically programmed bizgenes would generate tears from her eye. Fortunately, she took another tack.

"Mangas, how can you say that?" she said. "We go so way back, since at least Ringyear 301. I wanted to vid how you are, dear. Has biz made you so angry you won't talk to friends anymore?"

"What does Fol Hurabzaatta want?" Mangas said tersely.

"He wants to vid you personally, Mangas, find out how you are," Esztel said. "He's a real friend too."

Mangas snorted. Fol hadn't had a friend since his mother died hatching him in a brood creche at the foot of Mount Olympus. The Martian had biz in mind. Beast fights were big. Mangas was on top again, hottest property in Sol. However much Fol hated him, the gigacred Mangas could earn was too tempting. Mangas almost holokilled, but curiosity overcame him. "Fol can meet me for lunch tomorrow at eleven-thirty Greenwich."

Esztel's one-eyed double take was gratifying.

"Really, Mangas?" she said. "This isn't some jock joke, please?"

"No, Esztel," Mangas said, with forced pleasantry.

"Can PT come?" she asked. "He wants to vid you too."

"That's no problem. At least he speaks plain Anglospan. I'll see you tomorrow."

He holokilled.

"Pseudolus."

The Cyberlain manifested. "Yes, sir."

"Lunch for four tomorrow, eleven-thirty Greenwich," Mangas said. "One guest will be Fol Hurabzaatta. Lay on enough splendidium and toadjuice martinis to kill five ordinary Martians," he added, grinning.

"Exactly, sir," Pseudolus said. He demanifested, leaving Mangas to concentrate on the tricky part of the bridge.

***
he Wide Open Zone spanned a seventh of the Ring, a multi-thousand kilometer arc, a colossal wedge of the titanic glaz structure that encircled Terra's equator in space. Bathed in light from old Sun himself to Luna and the Milky Way's multiple beams, there was no conventional night and day. Rich Zoners set hours to suit themselves. If others suffered, that was too bad. The Zone was the high caste playground, strictly real rollers, Sol's richest. Mangas used Greenwich time. So low caste he had no number, his high caste guests would nonetheless punctually arrive. They wanted something.

Mangas wore a stark, simple, black oldsuit. In his library, he read an ancient paper book, protected inside an envirobox.

The meaning of the words, art, love, beauty,
purity, passion, all this was made clear to
me by the simplest of human words uttered by this workman.

Mangas blinked twice. A precisely articulated, tiny waldo turned a faded, fragile page with utmost delicacy. Pseudolus manifested, tactfully harrumphed.

"The guests?"

"Yes, sir," Pseudolus said. "Their wedge is in the landing dock. Shall you meet them in the atrio?"

"As you say, Pseudolus, 'exactly.'"

Pseudolus faintly smiled.

The atrio was a high walled, glaz ceilinged, large room. Servbots laid out lunch, chicken in walnut sauce, salad, lavash bread, and bananas for PT. Mangas snacked off bread and chicken. Esztel dashed in and fell on Mangas.

"Mangas," she gushed. "So fabulous to see you."

The tiny orange bizzer squirmed against the massive beast fighter, smothered him with kisses. Mangas gently held her at arm's length and said, "Have a seat, Esztel. Try the chicken."

Used to Ring gravity after decades there, a gnomish Martian waddled determinedly into the atrio, red eyes focused on a porcelain plate where massive lines of gleaming scarlet splendidium were laid out. He snorted one with a titanium straw that hung by a gold chain from his neck. A servbot provided a toadjuice martini while he wiped splendidium dust from ginger whiskers.

Fol Hurabzaatta knocked it back and said, "Awzzz Mangazzz zidzoo zpedderzoo. Etzz armz bezzerbe?"

"Same old Fol," Mangas said, disparagingly. "Like you give a Spacer's fart."

A rhesus monkey in a dark blue bizcloak scampered into the room, accompanied by a bizbot. A bulbous glaz globe topped his head to accommodate the pink folds of his biojeer-augmented brain. PT Buzzbrain, Fol's personal attorney slave.

"Mangas, how's the arm?" he screeched.

"Just fine," Mangas said. "How are you, PT?"

"Exhausted." The monkey took his place at the high chair Pseudolus had thoughtfully placed at the table.

Esztel picked at a piece of chicken. She said, "DeepWeb OK? I need to do biz."

"Why don't you?" PT peeled a banana. "That would make things easier."

Esztel jacked a cable into her left eye socket and put the other end into a sparkly red, valentine shaped iAll. She went into DeepWeb. Binary bits flitted across an unblinking pink eye. Esztel steadily tapped with the fingers of her right hand on the keyboard cybertattoo on her left forearm. Fol snorted more splendidium and held out his hand for another toadjuice cocktail.

"How do you stand them, PT?" Mangas said, with disgust.

"I have a choice?" PT said. "Cut the crap, Mangas. Fol needs you. You'll make serious cred."

"Izzevverbbezzervivit," Fol said.

"Exactly," PT said. "Marz is crazy about you. Spacers named an asteroid after you. There's talk of Wydboy adding you to the Golden Gladiator Pantheon. Think of it, Mangas."

"People always carry on about a hot thing," Mangas said, with a shake of his head. "I've been here before. One Ringweek. Two or three if I'm lucky."

"That's why we do this now," PT said. "See the logic, Mangas. Sign a Biz K and we book Da Kolozon for next Thrillday. You easily sell out, minimum fifty billion cred, not to mention luxepods' rent over the Amfyathire and vid rights."

"Two questions," Mangas said.

Fol slurped his martini. "Zzzbberviertiz etzz?"

"First, how much?" Mangas asked.

"Fifty percent of the net gate," PT said. "For starters."

"You'll add the pod rentals if I ask," Mangas said.

"Pzzeeddcrrctostoszp."

"Keep quiet while I negotiate, Fol," PT said. "After all, it's what you bred me for. Sure, that too. Now will you sign or are you just jerking Fol around to settle old scores?"

Mangas chuckled. "You know I've got reasons, PT. But I'll talk straight. My price is to live on Terra," he said, firmly.

Fol paused mid-snort. PT dropped his banana. Both regarded him wide-eyed, plainly amazed. Only Esztel kept calm, pecking at her arm, safely in DeepWeb.

"That's crazy," PT said. "Nobody lives on Terra without an Autocrator's permission. I can count the number of cases on one paw."

"That just shows it happens," Mangas said. "Fol brags about a direct circuit to Wydboy. Now he can prove it."

"Zwydboyz zzzdevverfifirtst."

"Hear him out, Fol," PT said. "So, say we arrange you live on Terra. Just to satisfy my curiosity, why go to that forsaken place? Terra's empty except for savages and whatever weird experiments the Autocrators do down there. Why is that howling wilderness so attractive you'd leave the Zone where you're the biggest star in Sol and anything you possibly want is available?"

Mangas blinked twice. His eyecams projected a holo of a hilly island in a turquoise sea, slopes green with old growth pines and oaks.

"Zzzggrrkkkiizz etzz?"

"It's Grek or was centuries ago," Mangas said. "Mytilene."

"And what's there?" PT asked.

"Fish, shrimp and lobster," Mangas said, dreamily. "Lynx, wild boar, and deer to hunt. A stone hut and Homer on a scroll to read by an olive oil lamp's light. Birdsong in the morning and no human sound. No holos. No biz deals. No paparazzbots. Peace and quiet."

PT drew back his lips, baring gums and sharp teeth. "Let's say we do what we can."

"Mytilene or no Thrillday. Non-negotiable, PT," Mangas insisted with determination.

"Izzbeedevibit."

PT glanced at Fol, then Mangas.

"OK. You win," PT said.

"Before the fight," Mangas said. "A warrant signed by Wydboy himself under his wax seal and algokey. You understand?"

"I'll take care of it. What's your second question?"

"Thanks for reminding me," Mangas said. "What do I fight? I'm not walking blind into this one."

"This is where the anger comes from?"

"Don't analyze me, PT," Mangas said, grimly. "Answer the question. I'm not going to be ambushed again."

The Martian giggled, a low and rumbling snort. Mangas recalled a special charity match Fol arranged, where Mangas stepped into the arena only to have it flood without warning. Trapped underwater in heavy bronze armor, Mangas didn't even run out of breath before an orthacanthus, a four-meter long, prehistoric shark, head mostly composed of razor sharp teeth, swam up and literally tore him to pieces.

"Total regen," Mangas said, bitterly. "Ever done it, PT?"

"No," PT said. "Being a mutated monkey slave's Hell enough, thanks."

"It eats you," Mangas said. "Inside I mean. You look like you're in one piece, even without a scratch if the Medkats do their job. But there's fog in your head, like memories aren't real. That was the second. After the third, I'll be a drooling idiot like Hanuman the Monkey King."

He fixed Fol with his level gaze. "That what you want, Fol? To make me a zombie?"

Bulging, red eyes pinpoint pupiled from splendidium, Fol kept quiet. Despite Solwide notoriety as the ultimate Marzz party cyborg, Mangas knew hate drove Fol, even more than greed or vice.

"An achillobator," PT said.

Mangas smiled. "I'd heard Fol bred something big on his biojeer farm in the Valle Marineris. That shouldn't be hard."

He laughed bitterly. Prehistoric raptors were notoriously difficult, usually avoided even by experienced beast fighters. Cyber quick, armed with razor sharp teeth and claws, raptors were too primitive to know fear. They would strike to kill until slain themselves. All the worse with an achillobator, a half-ton, brightly feathered monster.

"Zssbbvverververbeet etzz, Mangazzz?" Fol said.

"Yes, I'm game, Fol," Mangas answered. "I'll sign a Biz K when you produce Wydboy's warrant."

"Sign the Biz K now," PT said. "Then we can book Da Kolozon with no down payment."

"Not without a warrant, PT," Mangas said, determinedly.

PT screeched. "Always stubborn, Mangas. I guess that's why you're free. Wished I had your guts. How about some toadjuice? My glaz case is about to crack."

A servbot gave the monkey a drink. Fol kept glaring at Mangas.

"Shouldn't have bred me with a brain," Mangas said.

The bizlunch ended on that sour note.

***
hrillday 15,034 arrived as per Lord Wydboy's decree. Every soul in Sol kept at least one eye on a holo, eager to see the upcoming mayhem, the return of Mangas Dynatos to the arena. Even the condemned in insect houses, violent crims and indigents, were treated to holos of the spectacle courtesy of Lord Teddon's largesse, as they waited to be rendered alive for their body parts by pitiless mantis surgeons. Da Kolozon's tiers were packed, filled with gamblers for the last two Ringdays, happy to squat sleepless on hard plaz benches for a chance to see a millennium fight. They knocked back stimbeer and wolfed roasted bronto. Periodic fights broke out between rival gangs. Mangas's supporters were recognizable by blue and white colors. Enemies waved long, narrow banners with crude orthocanthus cartoons to taunt them. Burly cyborg cops waded into the melees and beat brawlers and bystanders alike senseless with telescoping finger truncheons. Various clever corporate holos flashed on and off above Da Kolozon's enormous green arena. When the games started, the gamblers' patience grew short. They urged each match to end and only showed real enthusiasm when a Euphoberia race with baboon jockeys ended disastrously with a pile-up near the finish line. A gnarled, twisted mass of interlocked giant centipedes and sharp-fanged primates snapped viciously at one another.

"Who can believe, sportzfanz?" Tsu Tai Woo Sportzmod 1600 enthused. He spun his meter long pigtail around in a blinding, propeller-like blur. The sportzmod paused to dramatically fix his audience with red and green eyes. His eyecams flashed special bet info, visible only to high caste subscribers.

Deeply serious, Tsu said, "Big event soon. Mangas Dynatos in Da Kolozon, in the all-time battle of his life. But now special treat. Ready get. Interview Lord Autocrator himself, Supreme Gambler Teddon Wydboy."

Teddon Wydboy appeared, casually sprawled in his curule chair of office. Formally dressed in puff-sleeved white poet's shirt and black leather breeches, the Autocrator's tousled raven locks gleamed in his numinous halo.

"Lord Autocrator, we deeply thank you for your condescension," Tsu said, head bent submissively low, Marzz buzz gone. "Do you have any personal comments on this upcoming bout? Every gambler has a bet, so anything you might say is extremely important."

Splendidly languid, Lord Teddon opened the scarlet cupid's bow mouth in his deathly pale face. "Subservient to ask, sportzmod," he said with a toss of black curls. "These are high stakes. This is no ordinary purse, brother gamblers. More's riding than I can recall in three hundred Ringyears. I've given my personal warrant on this. Should Mangas win, he gets his own personal island on Terra, a boon never granted before."

The applause from Da Kolozon was near seismic. The luxury of being alone on Terra, at one with nature, was inconceivable to most Ringers, crammed in eat/sleep cubes, doomed to crap servjobs.

"Thanks for that point, Lord Autocrator," Tsu said. "Any comment on notorious rivalry between Mangas Dynatos and former manager, Martian impresario Fol Hurabzaatta?"

The Autocrator smiled faintly. "I avoid personalities, sportzmod. Whatever promotes Zone competition is welcome, whether sportsmanship or just plain old determination to defeat the enemy."

"Brilliant insight, Lord Autocrator. Every gambler in the Zone submits."

Lord Teddon blessed Tsu and repurposed. He appeared high above Da Kolozon, seated cross-legged on a floating dais. Tsu resumed spinning his pigtail.

"There you have it, sportzfanz. The Autocrator himself in Da Kolozon. And now, the event you've waited for. Mangas the beast fighter."

Mangas strode into the arena. Every gambler in Da Kolozon screamed, a hopeless mess of love, hate, fear, desperation, and longing focused on him. His image flashed on holo and vid devices, the handsome, smiling face, familiar Solwide. A tall crest of gray and black feathers arched down his helmet. Kilobeams' light gleamed off his gem studded cuirass.

"Let the bout begin," Tsu enthused.

A peal of synthdrums and horns and a huge, feathered lizard ran into the arena. The achillobator towered over Mangas, five times his size, perched on two massive hind legs. A razor sharp, sickle claw topped each foot. A long plume of white and brown feathers arced back from his tail. His triangular head split wide to reveal innumerable, sharp teeth.

"Can even Mangas face this enemy?" the sportzmod said. "But wait, something's happening." Two more achillobators charged into the arena.

"Nobody said how many, sportzfanz!" Tsu shouted. "Fol Hurabzaatta has played yet another mean trick on the gullible gladiator."

The achillobators formed a single rank. Fol had trained them well. The giant raptors shrieked, pawed the arena, kicked up flurries of sand, and waved their claws.

"What can Mangas do?" Tsu shouted. "Submit? Throw down his sword and live? Or show us a real beast killer? What do you say, sportzfanz?"

"Give up, you fake Grek," a gambler screamed. "You can't win. Admit it and live."

This earned him a punch from another gambler in a blue and white bizcloak. Somewhere overhead, in a super luxe corporate pod floating over Da Kolozon, Fol Hurabzaatta snorted splendidium and laughed while he waited for Mangas to throw down his sword and give way, marked a coward, his Terran refuge lost forever.

Jaw firm, Mangas didn't give Fol the satisfaction. Having expcted trickery, he squared his shoulders, raised his sword and shield, and charged.

"What's this?" Tsu said. "Has Mangas gone mad? Taking on three achillos? This is suicide."

Mangas ran to the middle achillobator and jammed his sword into the dinosaur's chest. The beast opened his massive beak and slammed his powerful jaws shut on the beast fighter's head.

Gamblers moaned and shouted.

"That's it for Mangas. But wait-" Tsu shouted.

A muffled crump and the achillobator screeched, an awful wail of pain. The dinosaur spat Mangas out and fell onto his back, half his head blown away, black blood gushing out, writhing in his death agony.

"Explosive helmet plumes," Tsu said. "The Golden Grek has a few tricks himself. But is it sportz? Really fair? But now the other two are on him. How does he get out?"

Like a human tag team, the achillobators attacked Mangas from opposite sides. They caught him by the arms and legs with their sharp forearms. Sickle claws ripped and tore at Mangas.

"Even a biojeered beast fighter can't take that for long," Tsu said.

Despite powerful jaws' crash and claws' deadly work, badly beset on two sides, Mangas somehow held on.

"Flexon armor," Tsu said. "Another first. Plenty surprises today."

Mangas shoved with both feet. The blow broke one beast's grip, sent him momentarily sprawling. He grabbed the other achillobator by the neck and swung onto his back, so quick he almost seemed to manifest. Gamblers went wild. The achillobator screeched, but Mangas lopped his head off at the neck with one blow.

"Sportz Thrillday, sportzfanz."

The headless achillobator crashed into the live one and knocked him flat. Mangas leaped onto the remaining achillobator. He clung by his legs to the beast's mid-section. The achillobator tore with his claws, but Mangas grimly, methodically, repeatedly stabbed his sword into the achillobator's soft white underbelly. A bloody, deep wound gaped like a black, oozing spring.

Mangas jammed his arm into the achillobator's wound. With one convulsive heave, he tore the monster's heart out. Riotous applause. Every gambler in Da Kolozon, everyone Ringwide, everybody in Sol, gave way to unrestrained rejoicing unlike anything ever known in sportz. Even sportzmods like Tsu were reduced to silence in the face of Sol hailing its newest and greatest hero.

Legs shaking, heart pumping from adrenaline, Mangas walked slowly but steadily to the arena's center. He held the achillobator's heart high with one hand. Pale blood steadily dripped from the dark red heart, big as a man's head.

"Happy, gamblers?" Mangas asked, with grim satisfaction. "Got your show? I hope so. Happy, Fol? I guess not since I'm still in one piece. Anybody who wants a souvenir, here."

Mangas threw the heart down and walked to the exit. A holo of PT Buzzbrain manifested.

"You were right to figure Fol for cheating scum," PT said.

"Get to the point," Mangas said.

PT said, "You broke the Biz K with pyrotek feathers and the flexon suit. The K specifically requires Mangas Dynatos, beast fighter, in hoplite armor alone."

"It said nothing about modifications," Mangas said.

"Get technical with your own attorney, Mangas," PT said.

"Fol cheated," Mangas said, "you admit it. I knew he would pull something so I took precautions."

"What Fol did was within Biz K," PT said. "You didn't. Kiss the gate goodbye, not to mention luxepod revenues. Not one cred from Fol on this one."

With satisfaction, Mangas laughed. "That was just bait. I got what I wanted."

"You mean the Autocrator's warrant?" PT said. "You're really serious about Terra?"

"That was the reason."

PT said, "You're a character, Mangas. It might be nice in its way. Let me know if you need company."

Mangas said, "If that's a backhanded request for an invitation, come when you get out from under Fol's thumb like I did."

PT laughed again and said, "Who knows? This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

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A FEW WORDS FROM THE AUTHOR--

I'm a novelist who supports his family by working as an attorney. My work has recently appeared in Danse Macabre and Midwest Literary Magazine. A Western, The Pirooters, is published by Treble Heart Books. www.trebleheartbooks.com/SDMellon.html My fantasy novella, Escape From Byzantium, published by Withersin Press (www.withersin.com), won the 2010 Independent Publisher Silver Medal for fantasy/science fiction. www.independentpublisher.comwww.independentpublisher.com

A steampunk/alternate history novel, Napoleon Concerto, is also published by Treble Heart Books. Most recently, Roman Hell, a horror novel, has been published by Amber Quill Press. www.amberquill.com A website featuring my writing is at www.mellonwritesagain.com.