The Sentinel's Promise Ch. 29
News of my upcoming match against the Red Sleeves was all the talk in the prison. Which mostly meant Terry and I. The guards seemed quite amused at my blunder. They told me they were excited to see the match but did little to hide their smirks. The only one that didn’t seem to find it amusing was the guard I’d conversed with the most. I’d finally learned his name was Greg and he actually seemed concerned about my plan.
”You really wanna die, don’t you?” he grumbled as he slid my food through the slot.
”I need them to listen.”
”Hard not to, when you won’t shut up.”
”You believe me?”
”Didn’t say that.” He rolled his eyes. “Robert and Terry like you though. Gotta be something decent about you.”
”Aww.” I grinned as I swallowed. “That was almost kind, Greg.”
”Fricking won’t shut up,” he grumbled as he left.
They had set the fight two days out from my temper tantrum. My previous results had been thoroughly deleted. I began to be increasingly convinced that I should have gone about trying to gain an audience as a respected Peacekeeper as opposed to throwing it all away on this wild last-ditch effort. Robert had already said my marks had been higher than any Blue Sleeves he’d seen before.
But the firey and arrogant voice in the back of my head was adamant it wasn’t enough. They wouldn’t listen unless I got their attention. Everyone was watching me now.
Robert relieved the guard the morning of the fight. Terry had released himself after another stint of disorderly conduct and they gathered outside my cell to talk strategy.
”You get one to submit and you’ll pass,” Robert explained, stroking his chin thoughtfully. Terry mimicked the gesture and I held back a snicker. “The trick will be staying out of reach until you can isolate one and take them down before the others can submit. You need to do the thing you do.” He jabbed his hand forward several times.
I raised an eyebrow. “Poke them?”
”No! The thing you did to me. Hit me in the weak areas. They’ll be just like me, assuming we don’t have such things. It’s your best chance.”
”She needs to be careful,” Terry chimed in, now squishing his cheeks, still mimicking the thoughtful expression. “They’ve already attempted to take her life once before. This opportunity will be too tempting to pass up.”
I grimaced. There had been no more assassins in the night. But the lack of attacks was almost worse as my mind went wild wondering what Thirteen was up to.
”I’m afraid you’re right.” Robert folded his arms and Terry followed suit. “They’ve been reluctant to release the names of your combatants and I know for a fact that Tobias has been involved in the selection process. Not that I’m conceding to the full breadth of your conspiracies, mind you. I still believe there is more to it.”
”Believe what you want,” I said. “He’ll show his true self at some point if we push the right buttons.”
”I can show you my rolling technique,” Terry suggested.
”Thanks, man. Not sure I could pull it off.”
”Leverage your unique skills,” Robert reiterated. “And do it wisely. They will learn quickly and you can’t rely on using the same trick more than once. You also have one last advantage we have not yet addressed. We are not accustomed to working together. Use that against them.”
We were still talking when they came for me. Robert escorted me back to the grand auditorium. The rest of the applicants were not on the field, their testing now complete, although I thought I spied some of them amongst the crowd, which had swelled considerably since the last time. Word must have spread about my bet with Anton.
I felt a pang in my chest as I thought about Kleiner. If only I had him and one of his jetpacks, we’d put Thirteen down and be on our merry way. But would that be enough? It was more than just his influence. The Sentinels were oppressed and submissive people even if they didn’t recognize it. But I could show them better.
”Where is the fight?” I asked Robert.
He gestured broadly to include the whole training ground. “They won’t want to be cooped up. Just don’t be stupid and try to make a break for it. That wouldn’t end well.”
”Hmm.” I considered the towering pillars of rock from the first exercise. “Interesting.”
The hologram fizzled to life and the grinning Arthur’s face filled the entire view. “Welcome one and all to the first testing of a Red Sleeves in many years. What a momentous occasion.”
I was surprised by the loud cheers that followed. It reminded me of the raucous crowd betting on the Crawler fights. They’d come for the entertainment. Probably ready for me to get squished like a bug.
”Rules are simple,” he continued. “First to submit loses. In the case of the applicant, they merely need to achieve two of three submissions for victory.”
I started and my eyes met Robert’s eyes. He gave me a panicked look. I looked away, trying to calm my pounding heart.
”Due to this special occasion, our beloved representative and President of Hyperion has offered to speak briefly. Please give him a warm welcome.”
The cheers magnified as Thirteen stood and took the old man’s place. His gaze pierced through the hologram directly into my skull
”Greetings, heroes of Chicago!” he began. Cheers broke out and I grimaced. “I was just a child the last time we had a challenger for the title of red-sleeves. It is truly a momentous occassion.”
I rolled my eyes, annoyed as I saw Robert watching avidly, excitement evident in his posture. Terry was nearby and he looked exceptionally concerned. When he saw me looking he changed it to a grin and nodded.
”The one who comes before us today is a well-known criminal,” Thirteen continued. “You’ve seen her face plastered across the city. We know of the war-crimes commited by her people.”
The cheers turned into a flood of boos and jeers all directed toward me. I should have been expecting a shift like this, but it startled me all the same.
Tobias held up a hand. “While I understand your concerns I wish to make it known that I know her personally. We’ve spoken on multiple occassions. She is passionate, she is powerful, and she is wiser than you would think. Let the events of this day not be shaped by her mistakes but by her willingness to find redemption. She has come to us willingly ready to make peace.”
I started. What was he on about?
”Ah!” Robert let out a deep sigh. “I knew you were mistaken. He doesn’t hate you.”
”Don’t be so sure,” said Terry, approaching from behind. Robert’s smile drooped. “Listen.”
”She is taking her very life in her hands to complete this trial. Pitting yourself against the strength of our strongest warriors is the epitomy of bravery. Look beyond our differences to appreciate her willingness to put it on the line for her redemption.”
This was followed by a loud roar and my stomach sank.
”I don’t understand,” Robert said.
”He’s laid the groundwork for her death during the fight,” said Terry. “Their going to kill her.”
I rolled my head around my shoulders, bouncing up and down as I tried to psych myself up.
”Call it!” Robert hissed. “What point are you going to prove by getting slaughtered.”
We stood atop the tallest platform in the building. I was on level with the audience. Across from me where three of the sketchiest Sentinel’s I’d ever seen. There was a hardness to the defined lines in their faces that was more than a little concerning. I had no doubt they were Thirteen stooges, just like my would-be assassin, especially groomed to complete his dirty work.
”He’s been trying to kill me for years,” I grunted as I continued my stretches. “If not here and now, he’ll come for me later.”
”We can protect you,” Terry insisted.
”For how long? I didn’t come here to mess around. Look around, guys.” I gestured to the crowd. “How many Sentinel’s is that? If I can’t convince them with words, maybe they’ll find meaning in my willingness not to back down. They can’t ignore me now.”