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God and Mind - Volume III - Freedom
By Dark

Presented by: Xenogears: God and Mind

Chapter 25
Life Sentence

     For the second time in a short while Fei woke to find his body aching.  But this time he could be certain of the intense throbbing in his skull that pulsed as if something inside his head were inflating and squashing his brain.  He groaned and turned over, feeling a sting in his ribs and in the arm beneath his body as partially healed skin tore.  He turned onto his back and lay assessing the pain in his blistered arms, his throbbing head and aching, bruised ribs.  For some reason there was something heavy and cold around his neck, what was it.  He could feel the tiny cross-shaped pendent lying against his chest as normal, but what was the other thing.  Still keeping his eyes closed he raised a hand and felt a heavy metal strip about his neck, thick lumpy and ugly.  He felt a second of pure stark revulsion as the irrational thought that a boa constrictor was wrapping cold smooth coils about his throat flashed across his concussed brain, but when he opened his eyes and sat up, He saw with a twinge of relief that he was in a white medical bay lying on a hospital bed, hard clinical starched sheets pulled up to his chin.  A green and white clad figure over in the corner turned, and Fei saw the doctor's face break into a warm welcoming smile.  
     For a second he wondered where he was, then the dull bloody memory of the fight with Rico sidled lazily back into his consciousness just as the doctor began to speak.  "You're awake."   Fei muttered something incoherent in answer, trying to get his eyes to focus.  At the same time he raised one hand to the cold hardness about his neck and felt a collar of heavy metal.  The doctor hurried over to him in a swift dash, stopping on route to pick up a small glass bottle from a wall shelf with a quick deft sweep of one hand like a bird of prey snatching it's meal.  
     "What's that?" Fei croaked, looking dubiously at the thick emerald liquid in the little medicine bottle.  
     "Aquasol --- here."   She measured a few drops of the sticky poisonous looking liquid onto a long spoon and, walking purposefully over to the bed, poked it in the direction of Fei's mouth.  Fei swallowed instinctively.  The liquid tasted bitter and it's thickness made his mouth dry.  But as the medicine entered his system, he saw a soft cascade of emerald sparks wash out of his skin and fall into the air like a firework, fanning out and then fading.  With a start he realized that this was one of the etheric medicines that altered the flow of the mind's energy so that it healed physical wounds.  But it still tasted foul.  Fei screwed his tanned face in to a grimace of distaste.  "What's wrong?' The doctor was instantly concerned, her angular dark eyes melting with worry.  
     "Nothing.  It just tastes awful."  
     "Oh --- I'm sorry" Fei lay back, feeling a little guilty for it was true that the instant he swallowed the medicine the nausea and throbbing pain had lessened considerably.  
     "Sorry --- I didn't mean to be rude."  
     The doctor smiled and packed the bottle back into a cabinet hung high on one wall.  She slammed the white metal door with a final click and then turned a key in the lock.  "That's alright --- it doesn't matter."  
     Again Fei fingered the metal collar about his neck, he turned it and felt it stick against his hot skin --- it was certainly uncomfortable.  He remembered the bronze collars that Rico and the other battlers had worn and wondered sourly if this was their idea of making him one of the crowd.  He ran sensative fingers along the collar looking for a seem or opening mechanism but could find nothing.  Already the pain in his arms head and ribs had faded to nothing and he sat up in bed, hands still scrabbling futilely at the collar.   "What's this?"
     The doctor glanced idly over from where she was standing beside a sterilizing unit dropping the spoon she had used for the Aquasols and turning on the machine.  "That? --- Oh it's a bomb."   Her tone was off hand, almost light.  
     Fei's eyes widened in surprise and horror.  A bomb! He jumped out of bed sending starched sheets raining to the floor as if he'd found a hornet's nest between the covers.  Matted hair fell over his eyes and he brushed it back with a swift unthinking gesture.  He sat down heavily, feeling his T shirt and combat trousers sticking to his body.  "A bomb!"
     The doctor nodded and turned to face him, her hands by her sides her eyes running over his crumpled and slightly fragrant clothes.  "Yes, it's a bomb.  It's the D block bomb collar, didn't you know?"
     Fei's bemused expression was plainly answer enough because she sat down on one of the hard white skeletal chairs that lurked in the corners of the medical bay and started to explain.  "All prisoners are fitted with restraint collars which have a built in explosive --- that's it in the square box" Fei's fingers felt a square shape in the smooth lumpy metal and he drew his hands away quickly as if the metal were red hot.  "If you try and leave D block the collar will be activated and the bomb will go off ---"
     "And I end up headless."   Fei's voice was resentful as he stared down at his strong hands folded in his lap.  So this was it, he'd spend the rest of his life here in this Kislevian dump! Well --- at least nobody else would get hurt by him.  Tears started to prick his eyes like a crowd of tiny demons behind each eye poking needles outward, but he fought them back angrily, if he was condemned to spend the rest of his life as a prisoner he may as well start acting like one --- and that meant being as cold hard and ruthless as Rico or Suzarn.  He gritted his teeth and clenched his hands hard, trying not to think of Bart or Citan.  
     "It's not so bad here --" The doctor smiled encouragingly, her dark Kislevian eyes filled with a sympathy that reminded Fei so much of Citan he almost broke down completely, but he gripped his emotions like a bucking rearing bull and fought them down.  The doctor leaned forward and placed her competent delicate hands on her crossed knees.  "--- you're an A rank prisoner, you know."  
     "So?" Fei's voice was sullen and gray as Nortune itself.  
     "So you get a lot of privileges.  You get to sleep in the A rank bunk, you get extra food --- a cut from any mercenary money anybody brings in."   Fei was too dispirited to ask what mercenary money was.  Ignoring the doctor's attempts to make friends he asked peremptorily for a shower and change of clothing.  She pointed through the double doors that separated the medical bay from the dormitory to a door behind the ranks of bunks and handed him a set of dark red overals made of coarse cloth.  "You'll have to make enough money to buy some proper leathers --- but that won't take long."   Fei grunted a reply and walked over to the bathroom.
     After he had showered he dumped his bundle of clothes on the bunk which the doctor had indicated as the A rank bunk and wandered disconsolately out of the dormitory, his boots clacking hollowly on the austere boards of the prison floor, sending echoes bouncing round the dull whitewashed walls.  
     Without thinking where he was going he let his feet take him down the corridor and out into the smoky pawl of Nortune, the smell of damp rainy air combining with the chemical factory odor of the city.  There were a few people, some in leathers and other wearing heavy overalls like himself mooching around like lost souls, leaning idly against hard stone walls of the prison buildings.  Fei wondered where you went to make the bomb collar go off --- but he knew that even if he found out where he wouldn't have the guts to end it all.  He scuffed his feet on the stones and wiped rain out of his newly washed hair.  So this was the end, the end of his story --- his life.  He didn't know why the Kislevian government had seen fit to put him here, but he could think of a good few reasons --- like the boarder fleet --- Bart and Lahan.  It was amazing Fei thought, that after all the destruction he caused he'd end up in a slate colored prison with nothing but the prospect of fights and gang warfare to look forward to.  
     "Hey, Bro."   Fei whirled ready to strike, but even as he moved a soft obsequious voice was saying "Don't get nasty, I'm on your side --- Hammer's on everybody's side."   The creature who spoke faced Fei, eyes gleaming behind light executive spectacles from which the rain bounced and dripped.  Hardly before the information his eyes told him had reached his shocked brain his arm was gripped and the whiney wheezy voice of the thing called Hammer was prattling again.  "Yeah man --- you sure got the looks --- not quite as beefy as some but well --- muscle ain't everything, in a rumble with some guys what you need is speed and skill and well man! From what I heard you sure got skill! Hey can I get you a drink, don't bother paying it's on me."   By now the creature that was still gripping Fei's arm --- not so much tightly as persistently had frog-marched him towards a low granite building that looked just as dismal as the rest except for the small forlorn wooden sign reading "Bar" that hung hopefully over the pokey inset doorway, paint pealing from it's rain washed surface.  
     By now Fei's brain had caught up with his eyes and he was able to look at the thing that was so forcefully propelling him bar-wards.  It was tiny, scarcely over four foot five, though this may have been an elusions caused by the stooped almost furtive crouch that brought it's long brown hands on a level with it's bandy scurrying knees.  It was dressed --- or rather covered in a waist length dark green felt overcoat with flex of dim red at the lapels and a silver badge reading: "Hammer --- General supplier" Pinned gaudily to the felt of the coat.  
     Fei looked down at the brown hands gripping his forearm and saw with astonishment that they were covered in short light brown fur soft and wirey like a rodent.  Beneath the coat the strange apparition was wearing a pair of tight shorts that left most of it's legs bare, displaying the long agile hairy legs clad in knee length leather boots that scampered surprisingly quickly over the cold hardness of the rain washed concrete.  
     "This's the prison bar, you'll meet the guys here and make connections --- and bro I can help you there, if you ain't got the right connections you might as will kiss your ass goodbye --- the bar's neutral territory but hey there's a lot of dark alley's around here."   Fei stared down, the eyes behind the spectacles were like two tiny jet stones set in the fur of the face --- or was the right word snout.  Hammer's head was hairless except for the light brown fuzz that covered all of its twisted little body, but it's nose and mouth seemed to protrude out in a pointed snout like that of a rat, and when ever it spoke Fei could see a row of protruding front teeth.  Behind the spectacles perched precariously on the nose Fei could see the sharp little black eyes shining like coals, assessing calculating and weighing up the value in everything they saw like a mad salesman with a pair of world measuring scales.  
     "Who the hell are you? And what do you want with me?" Fei asked petulantly, as the creature dragged him through the door of the Bar like a wolf dragging its kill back to the lair Fei though unpleasantly.  
     "Hehehe --- nothing bro, nothing at all just a little basking in your reflected glory is enough for me.  Here sit down and I'll get the drinks, --- oh I'm Hammer by the way, the biggest fixer in D-block."  
     "Fixer?" Fei asked worriedly, but his ratty companion had already scurried off to the bar and didn't here.  The bar itself Fei saw was little different from the prison canteen, wooden tables and bare brown floorboards beneath the hard white lights of the prison.  Fei guessed rightly that this must have been a prison dormitory until a short time ago.  The bar itself was simply a wooden table higher than the rest, and behind it sat a heavily made slightly dumpy barmaid in a pink dress, her long brown hair draped over her shoulders with the artful caution of someone who cared about her appearance, but not enough to put any effort into it.  At the tables various men and women --- some in bizarre leathers others in plain overalls sat with drinks in front of them, talking in a quiet depressed buzz of suppressed noise.  Fei wondered if there was any friendship here, any love joy or lightness but probably not, the people were as hard and gray as the city itself.  But at least here he was safe --- from Grahf, from himself and from causing any pain.  What did it matter if he had to fight to survive, it was all he was good for.  He leaned his chin on one hand, pressing his elbow into the stained and scarred wood of the table, listening idly to the conversations of the two men on the next table rather than listening to his thoughts.  
     "--- I got three of 'em, big bastards --- fetch a good 120G I bet!" The man who spoke was a blonde bearded hulk whose bare muscley arms were displayed nonchalantly by his dark tank top.  He pulled a cigarette out of one pocket and lit up, puffing smoke in Fei's direction his gray eyes flicking idly over the young man in the dark red overalls before he turned back to his skinny denim clad companion.  
     "Some cash could really come in handy, I need some new boots and anyway I want a decent meal for a change --- instead of that muck the government serves out."  
     The thin man sitting next to him scratched his crew cut red hair with one long finger.  "No point in paying the commissary for some decent grub --- eat it and then it's gone.  If you ask me the best thing to do with your dough is keep it stored --- that way you can keep out of the sewers --" The weasely man shuddered, shrugging his thin shoulders in a gesture of combined disgust and fear.   "- that place gives me the creeps --- no wonder they get us poor suckers to clear out the mutants."  
     His beefy companion gave him a searching look, shaking his shaggy head in denial.  "Naaaah, there's nothing wrong with the sewers --- safer down there than up here if you get on the wrong side of the champ."   The big man puffed greedily at the cigarette, scratching at his beard like a grizzly bear with an itch in its fur and staring unseeingly around.  His nervous companion gripped the top of the table with one hand whilst he took hesitant gulping sips from the indeterminate liquor in his mug with the other moving his bony head backwards in a series of short sharp movements as if he expected some predator to chase him away from the drink.  
     The big man suddenly sat up, noisily draining half of his drink in one draught while impossibly it seemed to Fei, holding the lit cigarette dexterously between his thick hair-covered lips.  
     When he spoke his voice was filled with the excitement of a man who'd just struck fresh rumor.  "Say talking of the Champ, you heard about the new kid --- creamed his way right to A rank and even gave the Champ a run for his money --- a demi-human from what I heard, ten feet tall ---" He gestured expansively with his half full mug, waving his brawny arm like a windmill above his head.  "With long sharp claws and teeth like daggers" He finished in a reverential whisper.  
     The red haired man accepted a proffered cigarette and puffed derisively, his thin fingers showing the tobacco stains of a paternal smoker.  "You shouldn't believe everything you hear --- I heard he was one of them Gebler guys they've got over in Aveh --- could kill you just by looking at you."  
     "Naaaah, no normal human could give the Champ grief."   The big man shuddered, making his biceps swing.  "I remember my baptism --- wow I was almost glad when Leonardo got me in that strangle hold, that way I didn't have to fight the Champ."  
     "Here you go Bro --- it's not the best of course but as soon as you earn yourself some dosh you can really start living it up --- and earning cash won't be hard for a guy like you bro."  
     Fei took the mug that Hammer was holding out in one paw and sniffed at the nondescript liquid inside it --- it smelled dreadful.  He took a cautious sip then immediately almost choked, the taste was foul, Fei had never been too fond of beer but this! It felt as if a party of snakes were writhing in his inside and killing off his taste buds one by one by slow torture.  "People drink this?"
     Hammer looked up from his already half empty mug, his hairy chin only just clearing the table top, his nostrils twitching.  "It's not the best I grant you bro --- but I can get you better" Hammer stood up and leaned forward so that his nose was close to Fei's ear.  "You see Bro, I'm the guy with the know, anything you want, better beer, clothes washed, weapons, women, drugs, you name it --- I can find it for you."  
     "Whaaa!" Fei felt a slight blush suffuse his face at the mention of women.  Then abruptly the embarrassment turned to annoyance, he didn't have to take this.  He stood violently, hitting the table sharply with his leg and sending a dribble of mud colored beer foaming down the side of his untouched mug.  "You're a --- a --- a creep" He finished inadequately.  
     Hammer stood, his eyes twinkling with intelligence and humor behind their gleaming glasses.  "Look bro ---"
     "And you can stop calling me that as well --- my name's Fei!" Fei was petulant and full of sullen sulking highlights.  He scowled down at Hammer his brown eyes darkening.  Around him the buzz of conversation never slackened and he knew that even if he picked up the little demi-human and hammered his ratty head against a wall the crowd would take no notice --- it was non of their business.  
     He stared round noting the sullen watchfulness in every gray prison face, the bare walls and sagging plaster, the hard unshaded light bulbs.  He caught the eye of several people --- including the barmaid but all looked away studiously as if afraid.  Then his loneliness rolled up and struck Fei like a cold salty wave --- he was alone and friendless in a place full of violence and fear.  Slowly he sat back down and looked at Hammer again, his wide brown eyes full of liquid sorrow.  He had kicked the only friend he had --- not much of a friend it was true but a friend non-the less.  "Sorry Hammer I just --- need to get used to --- being inside ---"
     "Never mind Br --- Mr.  Fei sir ---"
     Fei smiled in spite of himself.  "--- call me "Bro" if you like Hammer it doesn't matter."  
     "Okay bro I will."  
     "Look, Hammer --- if you don't mind I need some time on my own."   Fei's voice held the hard dulled serious tone of a person trying to admit their own faults to another, in keeping with the tone his eyes were downcast and his idle fingers plucked at the sleeve of his overall.  
     "Fine --- I'll see you later."   Relived Fei stood and started threading his way with deft quick movements between the ranks of tables and stools.  
     "Hey bro!" He turned to see Hammer weaving one glove like sinewy hand to attract his attention.  "You want this?" He gestured at Fei's still full mug.  Fie shook his head, feeling an echo of the pounding pain that had suffused his skull when he had woken return.  Fei gestured perfunctorily for Hammer to take the drink then mooched out of the low bar door, not waiting for Hammer's thanks.  
     He plodded aimlessly across the rain splashed paving, feeling wind buffet him and play with his long hair where it hung in its habitual pony tale.  From all around came the continuing droning rumble of giant factory machines "dom-dom-domdom" which seemed to take on an eerie demonic song like the dull droning choir of the damned "alone-alone-alone"
     Following his feet Fei walked into the bare, cheerless cafeteria where an orderly handed him a bowl of some kind of meat soup and a chunk of thick dry bread.  He sat at one of the low tables like a wolf in it's den and ate quickly, hardly noticing what the food tasted like, letting the tides of prison conversation wash over him like wreaths of drug induced smoke.  When he'd finished he stood and walked with the same zombie-like shuffle to the door and out into the cold and slamming noise of the Kislevian weather.  Fei saw the faces of people turn away from him with blank unseeing looks, saw the weaker prisoners huddled in corners in threadbare dirty clothing - and Fei felt the sadness guilt and loneliness were beyond endurance.  
     "Hey, you" Fei looked up, startled to hear a human voice addressing him, to find a young guard in a green and blue uniform with immense brown boots on his feet glowering at him from beneath her heavy black eyebrows.  He looked around, finding that his feet had taken him to where the massive steel linked fence surrounded the prison compound --- though the dull gray buildings and rain soaked pavement Fei could see outside the fence seemed just as barren and uninviting as the closed compound within.  
     "You --- Wong!" Fei gave the guard a steady cool look.  "The imperial battling committee representative wants you --- in the prison dormitory on the double."  
     "What?" Fei asked surprise cutting through his fatalistic revere like a hot tropical sunrise through gray clouds of steam.  
     The guard shrugged.  "Don't ask me I was just supposed to tell you."  
     "Right ---er --- thanks."   Fei didn't know what the imperial battling committee was --- but it sounded important and political.  Then like a shining star over the mast of a storm tossed ship a dazzling idea came to Fei --- Bart! Could it be that Bart had won through and found him and sent messages to Kislev to try and nigotiate his release? With a new spring in his steps the young martial artist made his way back to the dormitory, ignoring the sudden shower that soaked him from head to foot.  
     As he approached the door of the long low room with it's meager lines of washing hanging from wall to wall and the rows of bunks standing like sentinels, Fei saw that two guards were waiting in front of the door, two guards holding what looked like rifles with their heads covered in brown combat masks, and their hands in large leather brown gloves with reached to their elbows as if they feared infection.  Their blue and green uniforms were pale and unadorned and they held themselves with the competence of professional soldiers.  
     "What do you want? This area is temporarily off limits to D block prisoners" Growled one of the soldiers, his hard eyes behind the brown leather of the combat mask calculating and unfriendly.  
     "I'm Fei Fong Wong, I was told someone wanted to see me."   Fei said innocently, taking measure of the two men.  
     "So this's the famous Wong --- not much to look at.   Hey, Grumen, I'll give you ten G on his first fight"
     "Waste of a bet Parry" Growled the first soldier, turning to face his companion but keeping his hands firm on the rifle.  Fei could tell from the tones of both men that beneath there obscuring brown leather sneers were playing across harsh experienced faces.  
     "Well you better go in boy ---" The soldier leaned forward and suddenly Fei felt something hard and cold pushing into his stomach --- the muzzle of a rifle.  He didn't move, remembering the swaggering leather clad convicts and the threatened knife in the kidneys and knowing that he couldn't show a sign of weakness.  "--- You keep civil when you speak t ---"
     "Grummen! Parry! --- Is that Mr.  Wong, well get out of the way and let him in you military morons."   The speaker was blocked from Fei's view by the broad dark blue covered body of one of the guards, but he could tell from the tone that it was a woman used to getting her own way.  
     "Sorry miss ---"
     "Get out of the way you idiots."   The woman cut through their stammered apologies and a moment later she had shouldered them both to one side of the door and with a sweet smile beckoned Fei into the room.  "I'm sorry if those two fools caused you any inconvenience Fei --- I can call you Fei right? --- Good.  Well I'm Rue Cohen, official representative of the imperial battling committee --- well that's my official title but really the committee just sits back and leaves all the controls to me."  
     Fei felt bewildered and totally outclassed by the smooth tinkling flow of her upper-class bantering talk --- as was clearly her intention.  She was perhaps five years older than Fei, with a cloud of long light brown hair cascading down her back.  She was Kislevian but clearly had Aveh blood too, because though her face had the angular eyes and sharp hawk like beauty so often seen in Kislev, her skin was fair and pale --- her natural good looks artfully accentuated with the merest touch of make up.  
     "So Fei ---" Suddenly she stopped and gestured to one of the bunks as if she were a hostess grandly guiding a guest to a favorite chair.  "Oh, do sit down."   Her cream silk dress swirled rustling smoothly, the dark green trims that complimented her hazel eyes flashing and flickering.  
     " Miss Cohen ---"
     She tossed her head unthinkingly, sending soft brown hair swirling and flowing.  "Oh call me Rue please Fei --- everyone does --- except for those military cretins."  
     As if mentioning the soldiers had reminded her of an unpleasant task she leaned forward abruptly, and her voice, which had up until then been soft and socially nice, took on a clearly accustomed note of command.  "You two get out!"
     "But miss ---" The two tough soldiers looked suddenly unsure, and Fei guessed that they had been ordered not to leave Rue Cohen alone with a dangerous prisoner.  
     "I said go!" The two soldiers shrugged their thickly clad shoulders, cast a resigned glance at each other then slipped out of the door and banged it shut behind them.  
     Rue Cohen gave a great sigh and flopped down on one of the bunks opposite Fei, crossing her long legs beneath the whickering folds of her skirt.  "A tip for you, never work with the army if you can help it --- I request a minor escort and those two idiots refuse to let me out of their sight for one minute --- they would have gone to the lavatory with me if I hadn't put my foot down! Honestly! You'd think this place was full of criminals."  
     Fei laughed richly at the sidelong joke but then he became serious --- what did this clever, beautiful and commanding woman want with him? "What do you want?" He asked in a dull serious voice.  
     Rue Cohen gave him a calculating probing glance with her sharp hazel eyes.  "In your prison baptism you almost beat Ricardo --- oh the Champion" She corrected seeing a puzzled look flow across Fei's face at the mention of "Ricardo."  
     "That sort of thing gets around --- particularly if your listening out and that's one of the things the I.B.C.  is good at.  You're a very lucky man Fei --- we want you to fight in the battling tournament for us."  
     Fei's face fell, a dull darkness suffusing his liquid eyes, he dropped his head and studied his boots on the cracked scarred and dusty floorboards.  So they wanted him to fight --- not much of a surprise --- everyone wanted him to fight.  But at least with Bart he had fought for something worthwhile and noble and what would he fight for here? To please the roaring crowd --- never!
     "Fight."   He said dully, not questioning her words but simply stating his feelings.  
     The woman in the silk dress looked a little taken aback at the utter misery in his voice.  "Yes fight --- in gears of course."  
     "No."   His voice was flat and pitiless as the blistering deserts of central Aveh.  
     Rue Cohen seemed surprised, even shocked, she looked at Fei her pretty face a study in unexpected shock as if he had just turned down the chance for immortality.  "Don't you know how big the battling tournament is? Or what's at stake? We don't just ask anyone you know, most prisoners go through about a year's hard training before they're even allowed to apply."  
     "No --- I don't like gears and I hate fighting."   Fei's voice counted all arguments with the iron finality of a wall across a highway.
     "Did something happen?" Rue's voice was gentle astute --- the sort of thing Citan or that compassionate soldier Elly may have said.  The tone --- the compassion almost made Fei blurt out his whole story --- almost.  But what would happen if he spoke? The Kislev government would want to use him, to make weapons of his power --- the power that he so deeply hated --- the power of the mother of destruction.  "Look --- I'll leave your application open ended so that if you change your mind ---" The young woman's voice trailed off, and as if to fill the silence she reached behind her and pulled forward a clip board and pen and started to write with quick neat strokes like a master swordsman.  After a moment she stood up, her skirt rustling as she walked across the drab dormitory with incongruously stately grace.   "Well --- f you do decide to come to us just come to the battling arena --- someone'll show you the way.  We'll have a gear ready for you."  
     Fei nodded wordlessly, feeling too choked and sick to speak.  
     "Good bye then Fei."   She said, her voice slightly reproving.  
     "Good bye."   He responded woodenly, then with a quick flutter she was gone and thee was the sound of the two soldiers heavy footsteps and the light tree rustle of silk as they made their way down the corridor.  Fei sat brooding and silent, thinking about how much he hated his power, and idly twisting the bomb collar to ease the sore it was raising on his neck.  
     A minute later Fei heard a quick clatter and patter of furtive feet outside the door.  Then the ratty little creature from the bar scuttled in, his furry hands held in front of him as if he were a squirrel with a nut.  "Hey Bro --- so it's you the I.B.C.  came to see --- did they give you a place?" These last few words were spoken in a quick excited whisper as if it were some great and solemn privilege that had to be treated with reverence and awe.  
     "Yes."   Said Fei hesitantly, his eyes still downcast.  
     Hammer seemed to explode, his two coal black eyes gleamed with a manic kind of sympathy and he started hopping from one leg to the other rubbing his velvet-covered hands together in glee.  "Hay Bro, that's great! You won't believe the amount of privileges you get as a battler, they give you freedom of the city, extra food, free medical the works! And they just took you on straight off with no tests ---" Hammer raised his eyes to heaven then lowered his snout to glower intensely at the young martial artist.  "--- You are one lucky son-of-a ---"
     "I turned it down."  
     "Whaaaaaaaaaaatt!" Hammer reeled backwards as if he'd been struck, his spectacles in danger of sliding off the back of his head as he leaned backwards, nose to the ceiling in utter and total disbelief.  Fei couldn't have shocked him more with a picture of Rico picking flowers in a nun's habit.  "Your crazy bro, crazy.  Don't you know that if you win the tournament you get out! Free, vamoose!" With each output of freedom Hammer punched the air in front of him with almost vicious delight.  
     Fei looked at his antics and did not smile, but laid his tanned face in his hands, his liquid brown eyes full of a misery that this bouncing demi-human seemed unaware of.  "I hate gears, and I hate fighting."   He said with flat coldness like arctic tundra.  
     Hammer grinned apologetically and shook his head, straightening his glasses and then hopping up to sit cross legged on the bunk across from Fei, looking like some bizarre mountain elf against the snow white blanket on which he sat.  "Well --- all I can say is bro, you fight dam well for a guy who doesn't like fighting."  
     Fei didn't reply but went back to the in-depth study of his shoes.  A moment later there was the sound of an engine outside the windows and then the dull click, click of footsteps on concrete.  Hammer jumped off the bed and paced the room like a hungry tiger, his eyes flicking to the white portal of the medical bay as his forest green felt overcoat whipped around him like bat wings.  
     "The new prison doctor."   He said gleefully.  
     Fei looked up, his interest suddenly caught like a mouse being snatched by the tale from a slavering cat.  The young man shook out the dark hair that had fallen over his eyes and smoothed it down behind him, feeling common and dirty in the frayed dark red overalls.  "What new doctor --- what happened to the old one?" He couldn't keep a note of concern for the light and pretty girl who had shown him a fleeting friendship out of his voice.  
     Hammer looked around impatiently then went back to his pacing.  "Oh --- she couldn't cope, gotta transfer but this new guy ---" He made that odd rubbing hands gesture again, lowering his snout to his two furry paws which he held in front of him almost as if he were preying, rubbing them vigorously palm to palm as if he were sanding a piece of wood.  "--- maybe he'll want a bit on the side --- there's a big black market for drugs and medical supplies in the prison you know."  
     But before Fei could answer, there was the sound of footsteps in the corridor, then the door at the end of the room opened and a man in a green and white Kislevian uniform stepped in, a black leather medical bag cradled in one hand, a man with strong Kislevian features in a lined and bronzed face, a man who's long black hair was held in a straight ponytail over one shoulder.  A man who moved with the unconscious energy saving grace of a warrior --- a man who's kindly abstracted eyes Fei had gazed into over card tables of chess boards for all the years of his life that he could remember.  
     "Doc!" -- People have said the word "God" in the same tone.   

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~ End of Chapter 25 ~

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