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God and Mind - Volume III - Freedom
By Dark

Presented by: Xenogears: God and Mind

Chapter 27
Black Hole

     The sphere seemed to float in space, like a great glowing sun, wrapped in blackness it revolved slowly and deliberately as a cosmic gyroscope.  Ignorant of the walls floor and ceiling that surrounded it, the massive ball glowed and pulsated, red, blue and silver, the glass screens that pocked it's surface firing their images off into the darkness like invisible bullets in an intangible war.  The elusion of some celestial object was accentuated by the hoard of spherical pods that orbited the main glowing mass, spinning in a ring around it and turning as it turned, slaves to their parent's motion.  A slow and unearthly throbbing filled the air as the massive sphere twisted grated and pulsed, filling the dark metallic hall in which it hung with rhythmic atonal sound.   Yet despite its resemblance to some stellar monster, the sphere was not an unthinking lump of unordered matter.  It was a computer, powerful as knowledge, far seeing as a God, complex as a dance of snowflakes.  
     Within it's teeming circuitry the awareness's flitted like randomly charged particles, assessing, conversing, calculating, at a speed and on a level that would make the most brilliant chess strategist seem slower than a snail, flowing engines of cold logic, as alien to warm human freedom as creatures from another world.  
     Yet even before the thirteen beings had quit their aged human bodies to flow in streams of cold intellect through the databanks of the spherical computer, they had been cool, calculating emotionless.  
     "It is faster than expected --- the awakening of the untouchable one" One awareness pulsed, and in the collective mind's eye of the shared thoughts of the thirteen the image of a young man appeared, a young man with long dark hair and wide expressive brown eyes that glowed with emotion.  
     "It is seven years since we had news of him' another awareness commented.  "He is in Nortune now --- our memory cube surveillance system detected his presence."   For an instant the image of a memory cube tracking device appeared in the no man's thoughts between the thirteen, yellow pulsing with energetic life, the elegant little tracking system made of pure energy --- invisible to most, sensing and relaying the etheric vibrations of all those within it's field to it's masters.  
     "It is wrong that he is in Nortune."   Cross-references whirled, connections were made, bridges of thought spanning time and space.  
     "If only he did not exist, then the lambs would not have become the animus" All the thirteen shuddered at the mere mention of the thought "Lambs" and the idea of the animus in their control --- unpredictable.  
     Other connections were made, the image of a dark figure, cloaked and masked in indomitable black appeared before them.  
     "Five hundred years since our fall in the days of destruction that he caused."   A cold wave of regret swept the thirteen, and a hypothetical image of how subjugated creation would have been had they not been set back so profoundly.  
     "They would not have caused us to do this in such a troublesome manner as they do now."   One awareness commented, and an image of the young man flowed into view --- a young man under their control utterly.  But it did not manner, they would win in the end, the plan would continue.  
     "Excavation of the anima relics in each area is continuing in accordance with the master plan."   There was a quick review, a projection of what the plan might be, and every one of the thirteen speculated on the odds of power and control that would be theirs when humanity's purpose was achieved in the great all consuming fire of deification.  
     "We do not know from which route it will travel."   A slight discord of fear and disgust at the uncertainty that, for all their calculation still remained inherent in the plan.  
     "We are fortunate the gate keeper has been activated --- Etrenank will not be harmed so long as the gates stand."  
     Another flicker of thought, one awareness returned to the complex question of the animus.  "From where will the animas be chosen --- from the Ethos or --- "
     "It doesn't matter --- the untouchable one is our main priority at this time."   There was a pause, pure cerebration fizzed and crackled down a million wired pathways, a projected plan, flames and destruction.  
     Several cries of descent came from some of the thirteen, but the proposer of the plan turned on them, it's mind full of chilly resolve.  "Are you saying we shouldn't break the surface's equilibrium --- remember, it is the surface and the land is unclean."  
     "That is just an excuse" Another of the awareness's cut through with injured, inanimate petulance.  
     "It is a justifiable reason --- even Cain would not object."   The image of Cain swam for a moment in the mind's eye, the skull like face, the long brown robes --- the pathetic love of Lambs.  
     "But surely the gaetia key could be applied to --- "
     "No! Not until the proper time, this scenario produces the best projected result."   The opposition crumbled, the plan was accorded as if thirteen brass trumpets were blaring out the same harsh melody.  The awareness's turned their attention to the mechanics of the plan.  
     "There's a third fleet in Bledavik and their reserve units should do" The logical equivalent of thirteen nods of ascent.  
     "Your orders?" One enquired of the plan's originator.  
     "To purge!" The mental voice was tinged with something like pleasure, for eons they had been trying to produce more and more perfect humans --- a goal frustrated by the lambs, and any excuse to destroy the surface dwellers was almost welcomed.  
     "We must give no motives, if he knew our motives he would do something unpredictable."   A second mind's eye flash of Emperor Cain on his mirrored throne.   A micro second passed, the plan was reviewed, all projected predictions of possible disaster were looked at, fires flared in the mental universal within the sphere.  
     "Wouldn't we need more men to raize the entire area of Nortune to the ground?"
     "There is an ancient nuclear reactor in Nortune, we'll use that.  Once its core has been detonated the half-life fall out will be 1000 years.  Nothing will be able to live with in 300 Kelts of the explosion."   They scrutinized the projection coolly, logically, stoically, the thirteen visualized the radiation creeping like an invisible predator, or unnatural virus across the surface, silent, twisting, deadly.  "But they have lived through nuclear holocaust before they will not perish so easily."  
     "That does not matter" the plan's originator stated flatly.  "We must at least eliminate him --- his survival could be detrimental to the final plan."   The tanned handsome face swam into vision once more, long dark hair falling over one shoulder, eyes glowing.  
     "Yes" Came one ascent.  
     "So be it."   Came another.  
     Then a chorus of mental affirmations, like an intangible crowd jeering down the image of the young man with the expressive liquid eyes.  
     "If it is a direct hit the plan will continue."  
     "Then your orders are given --- initiate the operation" The sphere spun on, the odd musical thrumming howls filling the steel lined room, the gray pods orbiting their parent in a ceaseless dance.  But this was no kind, innocent, natural star, to guide travelers home to rest, perhaps the only interstellar body to which it was akin was a supernova, sending flairs of violent red destruction scorching out with indiscriminate menace --- the thirteen had spoken --- Lambs would die.  

*  *  *  *  *  

     "I've signed you up Bro! If you head down to the arena now you can get stuck in straight away!" Hammer's long ferretish nose twitched, and his hairy tale gave a quick suspicious shudder.  "It's not usually that easy to get into the tournament --- I think Ms Cohen pulled a few strings if you know what I mean Bro."  
     "That doesn't matter as long as I can start --- this thing's really painful --- what are you in for?" Fei reached up to the ugly strip of bronze that bound his neck with an invisible chain of detonation and twisted it, feeling it chafe the already sore skin and winced.  For the first time Fei's gaze was drawn to Hammer's collar, he had hardly noticed it before for the demi-human wore it so naturally, like in accustomed piece of clothing, a constant part of his tiny imprisoned body, its deadliness dulled by drab familiarity.  
     Hammer sat down on one of the bunks in the empty dormitory, bunching his ratty little legs in their soft knee length leather boots up to his chin protectively, covering the glinting strip of metal as if ashamed.  "Debt and contraband" He chirped shortly.  "Missed a whole load of government tax payments so I got a nice little operation smugglin' stuff into Aveh but we got rumbled by the Kaiser's troops and they slung me in here.  --- " Hammer leaned back and stared up at the cracked ceiling his eyes narrowing as if contemplating some distant impossible dream.  "They say if I can pay off all the tax I missed they'll let me out of here."  
     Like a sudden burst of light Fei understood, all the frantic efforts to make friends, the sneaking selling and supplying --- a wave of remorse swept him as he remembered his harsh bitter snapping at hammer in the bar when they first met.  But as if sensing that the young man was close to his feelings Hammer leapt off the bed and scuttled in the direction of the door, a squirrel that secret cache had been discovered running for cover.  A brief fleck of sunlight lit his faun colored snout, gleaming from his tiny spectacles and giving him a transient strangeness.   In one of his familiar sudden jerks Hammer turned and pointed his twitching nose at the young man like the unsteady muzzle of a gun.  "Think you'll win Bro?"
     Like a cunning blow, the question caught the young man off balance, his expressive brown eyes clouded in sudden confusion.  "Well I --- that is --- I --- well maybe I ---"
     "Great! I'll go get my betting slips --- see you round man!" And before Fei could say another word the tiny creature frisked through the dormitory door in a blur of green felt and ratty tail.  
     Fei sat down on one of the beds and looked around the empty cheerless room, bare and stark and ancient as a granite plateau --- the sunlight didn't improve it, like the eye of some disapproving surveyor it only seemed to accentuate the barrenness of the room, the peeling paint and graying whitewash.  But even if Kislev were paradise he couldn't stay --- he had a job to do and a promise to keep.  
     "A galray for you thoughts Fei" Fei turned and smiled, Citan was standing in the doorway, his abstracted face set in it's familiar professorial smile, the long dark hair waving at his shoulder like a banner.  "How is your health on this fine morning Fei?"
     Fei grinned impishly, his liquid eyes flashing with gleams of quick mischief.  "You're the doctor, shouldn't you tell me?"
     Citan wagged a long tanned finger warningly.  "Now Fei ---" He began in a sonorous lecturing stile.   "Clinical observation is of the most extreme importance to the medical profession that is the detailing and documenting of symptoms and this means ---"
     "I was joking."   Fei cut in quickly, stopping his old friend's flow of words as if turning off a bubbling stream of water --- avoiding a flood.  
     Citan looked non-pleased, he pushed his spectacles up on his nose and then thrust his hands firmly into the pinkish sash that he wore on his familiar olive green coat.  "Oh."  
     Fei smiled and crossed to stand beside his mentor.  "That doesn't matter --- I was only being sarcastic."  
     "The lowest form of whit --- sarcasm."   Citan muttered distractedly, staring out of the window.  
     "Is there a problem, Doc?"
     Citan shook his head.  "No --- I just wonder if you're up to this."  
     Fei squared his shoulders, the muscles on his arms rippling.  As if in preparation for battle he had donned his old familiar shirt and khaki trousers, which to his surprise had appeared neatly folded and washed on the A-rank bunk the previous day.  When he had commented Hammer had said, "A-rank perks" and told Fei that it was a free service.  Fei had felt uneasily that he was living on the fear of others, but since he didn't know who had done his laundry he couldn't pay anybody.  
     The past two days had however been reasonably pleasant, he had spent most of the time resting, chatting idly with Hammer or Citan, thinking back to those fights in the diamond bright dune sea of Aveh, trying to work out some kind of strategy.  Citan had kept offering incomprehensible packages of advise like: "Don't over use etheric projectiles or you will overload the main fuel-power interface and maybe even burn out the main generator unit which would in turn cause a short in ---"
     Hammer had been more practical.  "The arena's got lots of cover so you'll wantta make sure you use it --- watch out for the other guy stabin' you in the back, and don't get boxed in a corner."  
     And now the day was here, finally and inevitably, and once more Fei thought he would be first to fight, to cause death and destruction --- but then Bart's slim pirates face swept into view, rakish, confident and dependent and Fei knew he had no choice.   "I'll be up to this Doc --- I've got to!"
     Citan shrugged, and then in an almost resigned manner started walking across the creaking wooden boards to the door, his face pensive, like some caring sergeant leading his youngest recruit out to his first major battle.  
     They passed along the corridor and out into the misty gray of the prison compound, a pale ghost of sunlight peering through the factory smoke of depression that hung constantly above Kislev's capital.  In one corner Fei saw a small church, topped by a spire and an old priest in black robes standing by the door.  It was strangely comforting to see this familiar sight in the dark dun deadness of D-block, like a man locked in a deep dungeon finding comfort from barred sunlight, Fei was jolted back to the little church in Lahan and the familiar, achingly, wonderfully, peacefully familiar liturgy.  
     There were still the furtive glances, the way that no one met his eyes, the thin weakling prisoners huddled in corners whilst battlers swaggered around in their bizarre barbarically splendid leathers, but now Fei felt immune to this nest of fear --- he would escape! He clung to the bright sliver of hope like a sailor on a gray and bitter sea clinging to a sun bright solid board.  
     Abruptly Citan stopped, and following his friend's gaze Fei saw a line of coal filled trucks, each covered with a damp green tarpaulin, they were quite ordinary looking wagons --- accept for the fact that they were suspended 200 feet in the air on a single bar of metal that jutted over the chain link perimeter fence like a cold accusing finger.  Fei smiled, typical of Citan to find some exiting new gadget to explore.  
     "What're you gauping at?" An old man in frayed overalls glowered myopically at them from beneath long bushy eyebrows.  His wrinkled face was set in the lines of a perennial scowl and at his belt two pistols hung ready, his gnarled hands resting firmly on their well polished buts.  
     "I was just observing this fascinating construction --- are the wheels of the cart held by some kind of static electric charge --- no!" Abruptly Citan snapped his fingers, his angular eyes taking on a look Fei knew well.  "There must be some kind of magnetic pressure or else they would not stay on the single rail --- that is if the wheels are not grooved to --- "
     "It's none of your business how it works.  Now get lost before I call the guards."  
     Like a puppy denied a favorite toy, Citan slouched disconsolately away from the monorail, his hands thrust into his pockets his feet scraping along the dull gray floor.  "A distinctly ill tempered and erasable custodian --- I was merely making an enquiry."  
     Fei grinned impishly, the comic little display had for one moment taken his mind off the battle ahead.  "Maybe he thought you were trying to escape, Doc?"
     Citan shook his head and quickened his step to a brusque march.  "I would surmise that that route of escape has been well tested and guarded."   Fei didn't reply for just then they came up to the massive hedge of steel chain that guarded the D-block like some spindly, skeletal forest growing out of the dull concrete, stretching up into the dank misty sky.  At the gate stood the same blue and green clad guard as Fei had met before, his brown hair damp with condensation.  
     "Going to the battling arena?" Fei nodded.  "Go straight along, you can't miss it --- and don't go out of the city or ---" The guard gave him a sidelong look.  
     "Boom."   Fei said with feeling, remembering Hammer's miming of an exploding collar and fingering the heavy bronze bond around his neck, the guard nodded.  
     "It would be difficult to forget such an important fact would it not?" Citan commented.  
     "You'd be surprised."   The guard muttered darkly.  
     "What! Do you mean someone actually forgot about the bomb?" Fei asked, mystified, how could anyone forget something so big, so fundamental.  His mind filled with the picture of some one just idly strolling through a gate and ---
     "Yep --- though I wasn't sure whether that was a suicide.  Anyway, if you're going to the arena you better go if you want an early fight."   Fei nodded and followed Citan through the gate and down the uninviting street, the continual throb of factory machines echoing around him like a doleful march, thrum - thrum --- thrum.  
     At the end of the street they came to a featureless gray granite building with the words "Battling arena reception" painted over the door in large bold letters.  Fei stared up at the shear walls, only occasionally pocked with small dim windows --- hardly an encouraging sight for potential battlers.  
     Opening the plain wooden door they found themselves in a cheerless steel corridor lit by bare bulbs, which hung on the ceiling like hard bright stars.  To one side was a bare metal desk, with two boards looking women sitting behind it dressed in green and white uniforms like those, which the prison doctor had worn.  In front of them, the hard metal top of the desk was populated by stacks of papers, and in the harsh light Fei could make out the regular sparse calligraphy of forms and certificates, though he wasn't close enough to them, they seemed to denote the same formulaic hopelessness as the walls of the building, like black clad ink troops marching endlessly across white deserts.  
     "You a contestant?" One of the girls asked, Fei nodded but before he had a chance to speak she had whipped out a clipboard and was glowering at him fiercely with hard Kislevian eyes.  "Name?"
     "Fei Fong Wong."   Fei said mystified, the girl made a small sharp tick on the clipboard and then pointed across the corridor with a languid finger.  
     "Waiting area --- that way."  
     "Friendly."   Citan muttered behind him, but Fei didn't answer, only walked straight ahead like a robot --- wondering what he had got himself in for.  To one side of the corridor was an alcove filled with slightly padded chairs, and a squat metal jukebox lurking silent and scarred in one corner.   "I am curious ---" Citan began, sitting down next to Fei, his lined hard face pensive, but before he could finish the double doors at the end of the corridor opened and a figure in a rustling sheathe of cream silk strode through two guards in full combat gear trailing in her wake.  
     "Oh Fei!" The woman paused opposite the alcove and Fei recognized the silken brown hair and pale sharp beauty of Rue Cohen.  "I'm so pleased you're here --- of course we'll have to put you forward to now --- after what I heard about you your fight should be something special --- I'll look forward to seeing it."  
     Fei nodded woodenly.  
     "So what made you change your mind?" The angular hazel eyes gave him a sharp knowing glance, like sudden arrows fired from forest cover.  
     Fei shrugged, for some reason Rue's easy silken talk made him feel nervous.  "I suppose I could get used to living with sewer monsters but well --- " He shrugged helplessly, feeling like a specimen on a slide beneath that hard hazel stare.  "Well --- I ---" The throbbing pain in his sore skin gave him a sudden flash of inspiration.  "--- I really hate this collar!"
     Rue laughed, a tinkling cocktail of sound that echoed incongruously in that cheerless corridor.  "Well for what ever reason, at least you're fighting.  --- Think you'll win?"
     Fei frowned, his brown eyes darkening.  Rue leaned forward slightly, hands on her hips, her sharp face intent.  "I --- suppose I could win."   Fei said slowly fearing a trap.  
     The Kislevian burocrat nodded in satisfaction, as if what Fei had said had settled something.  "You're more confident than most for your first battle.  Well I must dash --- I'll fix your fight now and then I'll see to your Gear --- just go through into the paddocks when your name's called --- oh, and the rules state you fight until one combatant is incapacitated --- ok --- fine."   With quick rustling steps she went to reception, and after brief words with the receptionists she swept back up the corridor like a bright trim Galion on a gray featureless sea.  Just as she passed him she glanced over her shoulder to her two hurrying guards.  "Give him the black gear."   Then almost instantly she vanished between the two big glass paneled doors at the end of the corridor.  
     "Hmmm" Citan muttered, looking after the Kislevian with shadowed angular eyes.  "A most businesslike person --- well Fei at least now you won't have to wait long."  
     "I know."   Fei muttered, already imagining gear grips beneath feet and hands, and already rehearsing the best way to beat his opponent without destroying them.  
     Citan stood and paced the alcove restlessly, occasionally peering through his spectacles at the battered jukebox and clicking his tongue at such a plainly badly maintained machine.  
     Fei simply sat, tension building in him like a pinnacle of stone high sharp and bitter.  He remembered all the fights he had been in, in the burning ruins of Lahan, the harsh desert light --- even that strange and frightening last encounter with Elly --- could he win? He remembered Rico, the smelly wet darkness of the alley, and the massive demi human's hands gripping twisting and pummeling his body --- but no! He had to win --- for Bart and for himself.  
     "Wong! --- Pilot F.  F.  Wong!" Fei started and jumped nervously to his feet, looking around with wide eyes as if expecting a blow.  With Citan trailing a few steps behind him, he made his way slowly to the metal counter with its inch high stacks of white forms.  "You're on in ten minutes --- go get your Gear through there."   The girl waved a languid hand towards the two glass paneled doors that had swallowed Rue Cohen.  Without a smile she turned away from him dismissively, her short cropped dark hair giving her the look of a badger disdaining a newly killed animal.  
     "Come on Fei ---" Wordlessly, the young man trudged after his Solarian friend, watching as Citan's ponytail swung back and forth, back and forth like a pendulum, ticking away his last few precious seconds.  
     They passed through the doors into a high ceilinged room with steel walls and floor and tiny lights suspended from the roof meters above them like circling asteroids in a flat, dead sky.  The room reminded Fei with a startling jerk of the Yggdrasil's gear bay, the same oil and welding smell, the same litter of tools and odd pieces of metal scattered about like flotsam on a shore, the same huge double doors at one end of the room, shut fast like those on the Yggdrasil, the same stands around the walls, with a number of gears squatting on them --- and the same purple black gear standing ready in one corner.  
     "Weltall!"
     "Indeed."   Citan prowled towards the massive machine and paced back and forth, his sharp angular eye running over the gleamingly polished expanse midnight colored armor, noting the ether projectile weapons on each hand, the jets protruding out at the machines back and the waiting cockpit.  After scanning the entire Gear he turned to Fei his lined face cracked with a paternal smile.  Fei couldn't be sure but he thought he caught a brief flicker of what seemed to be relief in his old friend's dark eyes.  "Well this is a most fortunate occurrence."  
     Fei was staring at the gear in deepest suspicion, remembering the slim elegant power beneath his hands, and thinking whether it was such a good fortune as Citan had thought --- with this gear, he could not fail to win, to conquer, to destroy.  "Why is it here? --- Wouldn't the Kislevian military have wanted it for themselves?"
     "Hmmmm ---" Citan frowned and pursed his lips, distractedly picking up a long dagger like shard of metal from the floor and thrusting it into the air as if trying to attack the problem like a physical opponent.  "I suspect ---" He began, and then stopped.  
     Fei looked nervously from Citan to the familiar purple black shape, his liquid brown eyes full of unspoken doubt.  "Go on doc."  
     "Well --- Hammer seemed much taken-aback by your easy entrance into this battling tournament.  Not to belittle your fight against Rico, Fei --- but I suspect that they have an alteria motive for letting you fight."  
     Fei thought of Rue Cohen, the artful upper-class agent of politics --- charming though she undoubtedly was he knew that she would be more than likely to conceal hidden duplicity beneath her hawk like beauty and sweet rippling talk.  "--- I suppose that's possible Doc, but why would they want me to pilot Weltall in the tournament --- what good would it do them?"
     Abruptly, like a striking snake Citan raised one arm and snapped his fingers, the sharp almost metallic sounding click echoing around the empty docks with a quick violent click! "Data --- they must want to collect some Data on Weltall's performance in combat ---"
     "What kind of data? And why get me to pilot it? Why not just open it up and have a look inside?" Fei walked over to Weltall's stand and leaned his weight on it, his tanned face anxious as he stared up at the enigmatic dark giant looming over him like a tower on the point of collapse.  
     "Weltall is a most complex machine --- both the ethos in Dazil and the Yggdrasil mechanics could make little of some parts of it's circuitry --- I surmise that as the Kislevian authorities see prisoners as so expendable it is more expedient to have Weltall tested this way than to carry out a full analysis."  
     "What kind of data do you think they want?" Fei asked again, he wasn't really worried about what the government were doing, but he wanted to put off the moment of doom as long as possible.  He imagined the intoxicating adrenaline rush as his ether blasts bore down the other gear, and remembered the horrible triumph in Grahf's voice before he vanished --- he didn't need that power.  
     "I do not know --- but in essence that question is academic, at least you will be fighting in a familiar gear."  
     Just then there was a clack of boots on the floor and Leonardo swaggered indolently in his bizarre leathers gleaming as if freshly oiled, two minions in prison overalls walked behind him as if escorting royalty.  The arm that Fei had broken hung stiffly; plainly some one had performed some potent etheric cures on it though it was not completely healed.  The hard faced battler noticed the direction of Fei's glance.  "I don't need two hands to beat you."   He snarled, from beneath his forest colored leather cap and gleaming flame badge, brown Kislevian eyes flicked over at Fei with hard sardonic hatred.  "Wong --- you're dead, you jumped me in the alley but now ---" One hand, the arm clad in creaking winking leather came up and made an unmistakable thumbs-down sign at Fei, then with a mocking smile he turned and walked over to a fast looking white gear at the other end of the paddocks.  
     Fei looked after the battler with an almost sad expression, he remembered the snap of Leonardo's breaking arm, and how the battler had been two slow to recover from his punch --- without any degree of arrogance, Fei knew he would not loose.  With out a backwards glance he shinned up the ladder to Weltall's cockpit, and as he rose the gear to it's full height he saw Citan, waving one hand in a sign of good look fade down onto the metal floor of the gear dock, dwindling to a speck of green, far below, distant.  
     A red light flashed above the doors and a voice crackled across Weltall's radio, the distorting crackle doing nothing to compensate for the flat, business like tone, as dead and utilitarian as the bare metal scattered floor of the gear bay.  "You will advance into the center of the arena, and when given the signal you will begin.  The match will continue until one gear is incapacitated --- any gear attempting to leave the arena will be obliterated" Then, with no pomp or gaudy ceremony the radio clicked off.  
     As Fei walked the gear out, his body moving in the microcosm of the cockpit and the grips amplifying his movements, he felt a twinge of that same warm familiarity he had felt before, a peculiar womb like safety as the steel and armor and ether of the massive war machine covered him like a blanket.  From inside this safe cocoon Fei's eyes scanned the arena, looking for advantages in the terrain.  

     The word ‘Arena’ had made Fei think of a flat stone or steel pit, like the sun drenched warm tournament ring back in Bledavik, but the designers of Kislev's arena had plainly attempted to recreate as natural a gear combat situation as possible.  The floor was covered in short verdant grass, except for the brief patches of sand in one corner, stretching like yellow scars on the green skin.  In another corner were blue green stretches of water, shimmering and rippling beneath the sullen smoky sky.  To complete the elusion, in the center of the ring were several massive pillars and jagged panicles of brown gritty rock, some smaller than a gear, some towering twice Weltall's height into the clouds.  But all the pseudo nature was spoiled by the 200 feet of hardened Grey steel that encircled the battling space, pocked hear and there Fei saw, by tiny observation windows from which (though he could not see them) Fei supposed the blood thirsty crowd would watch avidly for the kill --- making idle bets on the winner as he and Leonardo battered each other's machines into scrap metal and blood.  Atop the massive rampart Fei could see gun muzzles and gears with the Kislevian sun symbol blazing on their backs like wounds.  An armada Fei thought, waiting to chase down and destroy any prisoner foolish enough to make a break for freedom --- there was no hope of escape that way.  
     From outside Fei heard a loud rude dull honking sound, some massive foghorn, and he knew it was time to begin.  Leonardo was backing away from him, slowly retreating into the shelter of the many pillars and rocky posts.  Fei realized that if he allowed his opponent to gain their shelter Leonardo could blast him with ether power from a distance.  Putting on a burst of speed he caught up with the white gear just as it reached the pillar.  Fei sent one fist crashing forwards, trying to sever the white gear's fuel lead and bring about a quick, painless victory, but the battler ignited his jets and soared upwards to land on the pinnacle of a mountain like tower of dun colored stone.  
     As Fei began to follow a blast of ether flashed down at him, like the blazing stones thrown down the side of a volcano.  Fei knew that he would be in the prisoner's line of fire while he was atop the pinnacle so he dodged the stream of blazing energy and skipped quickly backwards, forcing the battler to follow.  Then the battler made his mistake, floating down from his high throne like a piece of white thistle.  Instantly Fei moved, speeding forward he raised one of the gear's massive legs in a brutal kick at the white machine's stomach, The battler's gear fell slumped against the side of the rock, a dent in the thin cheap armor showing the force of Fei's kick.  Then Fei attacked again, fists smashing down in a crushing double-handed blow, aiming for the prison gear's chest and the fuel tanks and circuits, which he knew, were there beneath the thin white metal.  
     But once more Leonardo surprised him; rolling away he sprang to his feet and simply ran, fleeing across the arena towards the massive uncaring bulk of the gray wall.  Fei followed puzzled.  Slashing a blue white finger of ether energy across the white gear's back as he went, but to his surprise the prisoner didn't swerve or try to evade.  
     Above the howl and thud of Weltall's engines there was a sudden, horrible insistent bleeping.  Fei looked down at the gear's controls and his wide brown eyes grew suddenly dark and fearful.  The long gauge which indicated the internal temperature of his gear was dangerously high, a thin bar of red extending a long --- oh so long way like a bloody streaming finger.  Frantically he hammered on his controls, if he could get to the water --- but abruptly the clear fluidity of motion that he was used to had stopped, and Fei could do nothing but stand and listen to the slowly rising tortured howl and bleeping alarm as the meter grew steadily larger.  
     With desperate fingers Fei thumbed the radio switch, but like all the other controls on the board it was dead and lifeless.  The cockpit started to throb and shudder, and the choking awful chemical smell of gear fuel and heated metal wafted to Fei's nostrils.  He had to get out.  Sweaty fingers clawed at the grips tugging off straps and buckles, his long hair streamed with sweat and his fingers seemed clumsy and useless.  Then with out warning the escalating howl of tortured engines stopped --- and everything went suddenly, violently black.

     Watchers on the wall saw smoke pour from the purple gear's armor.  Then with a sudden wounded roar flames started to pour and gout from joints and plates, bright, arterial red as if the massive machine were bleeding.  Then with a slow, almost leisurely movement, Weltall keeled drunkenly, flames searing the emerald turf which covered the arena floor, the it feel with a mighty crash of tons of metal onto it's face like an exhausted warrior, finally admitting defeat.  

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~ End of Chapter 27 ~

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