In the Arena

Well, since I just had some discussion about orbits and other fundamental physical concepts in science fiction, here’s a short scene I’ve been sitting on. It’s set in the Cathedral Galaxy, and I’m not quite sure what I want to do with it yet.

~

The Kite stretches his solar wings wide, spanning over five hundred meters. He fans out his array of electromagnetic membranes, thermal structures, transceiver antennae, and weapon emitters, flourishing. The Kite’s voice booms out over the electromagnetic spectrum, mingling with the others in the Coliseum, as they announce themselves to the assembled spectators:

“In salute, we die and live by the will of the Imperium!”

The Kite pulls one solar wing out from the light flux to tack. He wheels around, scanning and assessing his competitors. He catalogues their capabilities but pays special attention to their faces – distended from all the grafts and alterations, stone-gray and glassy-eyed from the environmental treatments, yet still faces. The younger competitors growl and sneer at him, while the more experienced repay his cool appraisal in kind. Today, The Tiger and The Worm worry him.

Silence falls across the EM bands, leaving The Kite with only the intermittent discharges from the Coliseum walls. His stomach (though no longer really a stomach) lurches in anticipation. A moment drags on in the flickering silvery shell of the Coliseum, buried in the sparse mist of an orange nebula. This could be the day, thinks The Kite, when I die. Again.

The call:“Begin!”

The Kite pulses an electromagnetic field, launching himself away from the spherical inner surface of the Coliseum. The others do the same.

Two of the newest competitors, starting near one another on a sector of the Coliseum wall, immediately clash. The Kite watches their fiery exchange: blinding, cutting lasers; immolating jets of plasma; grappling, interfering electromagnetic fields; slashing membranes. One of the fierce combatants twists his shape around and manages to set up a gravitational gradient that draws the other into an unfavorable position. He sweeps one solar wing edge-on into the fragile structure of the other’s wing. The gossamer half-kilometer structure strains, distorts, fractures, and finally breaks under the impact. Shattered photocells spill out into the abyss, shimmering in the wan light of the Coliseum’s central star. Screeches in the radio spectrum. A purple flare: the coup de grace of a plasma jet, and now there are eleven combatants in the Coliseum.

The Kite’s receivers pull in transmissions of appreciative applause.

Now The Kite watches as the young gladiator, flush with victory, turns towards him. The Kite drifts for a quarter orbit, keeping the other competitors within his expanded senses, then angles his wings into the stellar flux to slow his orbital rate. He stretches forth with an electromagnetic field, pulling on the closest Coliseum wall segment. It sparks and snaps in response as The Kite’s perturbed orbit drifts towards the Archaean sphere. His opponent sees the maneuver, adjusts, closes the distance. A challenge rings in The Kite’s receivers.

The Kite remains silent. He counts down mentally, waiting for the attacker to bring his weaponry to bear before springing his trap.

A violent electromagnetic pulse lashes the artifact wall. The responding flash of energy erupts from the metal sphere segment. The Kite furls his solar wings: he knows how to protect himself from the wash of energy, deflecting and directing it. He flutters his wings, cunningly crafted electric currents jetting plasma towards the younger gladiator. The young competitor flinches, writhes – tries to shield himself, tries to keep The Kite in his senses – overcompensates. His radio challenge trails off into a scream of frustration.

Frustration turns to fear and pain as The Kite expertly fillets his quarry with a razor-sharp appendage.

“Next time,” broadcasts The Kite, “don’t take on more than you can handle.”

He waggles his wings, extending his senses out for—

The Worm! She crashes into The Kite at full force, her many magnetic booms working to propel herself at high speed along and away from the metal inner surface of the Coliseum. The Kite shudders, quickly folding his wings back to limit the stress on them. The Worm’s face is directly against his own; the leathery, slate-gray countenance snarls silently into The Kite’s eyes.

The Kite struggles, pushing back with his own magnetic fields, slapping at The Worm’s booms with cutting surfaces, and trying to keep his delicate solar wings out of reach. The Worm tries to entwine her long body around The Kite, but he sweeps away. The Kite forces an electrically charged bayonet toward his adversary, trying for an arc.

The Worm struggles, shaping her magnetic fields to deflect the dangerous probe. She retaliates, trying to attract The Kite’s delicate solar wings with her powerful magnetism. The Kite manages to get an appendage onto The Worm’s structure to apply physical force. The Worm sputters a laser beam at The Kite’s face in an attempt to blind him.

They struggle in a deadly dance, slowly tumbling about near the Coliseum wall. From a quarter orbit away, there is a radio scream. With half his senses, The Kite sees The Tiger and a pack of other combatants. The Worm sees them, too.

The younger, more inexperienced competitors have banded together; they are attacking and dismembering The Tiger. Two dead bodies drift nearby. The disparity in experience is matched by the difference in numbers. The Tiger falls, the frantic motions of his slashing membranes and arcing cutters shuddering to a stop.

The pack turns toward the Coliseum wall. The Kite and The Worm share a glance and disengage from one another. They face the onslaught.

More than two months after combat began, The Kite and The Worm coast across the bodies of their adversaries, failing systems straining their power budgets. They refuse to engage one another. The Annunciator declares an end to combat with a rare joint victory, and the tugs appear to claim the gladiators. The spectators cheer, as if they had always rooted for the small alliance of Kite and Worm.

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