AntipodeanSF

Issue 304

By David Dumouriez

It was all even. Until it wasn't.

28 turned 67 around and began to beat him repeatedly in the face and head. Some of the more wild blows hit 67's neck and shoulders. But, misdirected as they were, the punches from this barrage wore 67 down until he could barely raise his own arms in return, let alone his fists.

But, 28 suspected, he wasn't dead. And 28 needed him dead. 

So the punches continued, to the point where 67's face was no longer a face. Then 28 put him in a headlock and applied the necessary force until he felt no more resistance.

For all concerned, it was just another day at the office. And not a particularly remarkable day at that. The viewers, brought up on a much more varied and exciting diet, were by no means impressed.

"Is that it?" Little Bert complained to his mother.

"I'm afraid so, dear."

Bert kicked a cable in frustration. His father, meanwhile, shook his head. "Rubbish!" he exclaimed. "The whole thing's gone downhill. In my day, these fights used to be exciting. There was artistry. Now it's just brutal. All they want to do is get it over with quickly."

Bert's mother laughed. "George, you're beginning to sound just like your father. And that's not a compliment."

George got up in a huff and flounced off to the shed.

Mother winked at Bert. It was a strange kind of wink, to tell the truth. More of a blink, in fact.

And so it went on.

There were fights between men and men, between women and women, tag contests between men and women. The result was always the same, just as it had been from the very inception. Bodies were transported from the arena in zip-up bags that were stained and ingrained with the blood and other fluids that had accumulated over the course of years, if not decades. In any case, no one was counting. One group didn't have the time; the other didn't have the interest.

George was right in one regard, though. The recent editions of The Perfect Specimen really were no match for the original ones. The excitement was missing. The showmanship. The personalities. 

“Now I just don’t care who lives or dies,” George’s buddy, Ralph, said when they were recharging their batteries down at the club. “It never used to be like that. They’ve really let it slip …”

And who’d let it slip? Why, Thomas, of course. Former Number 73 from The Perfect Specimen 20. Probably the most celebrated edition of them all. Thomas had claimed the title, and had consequently won his freedom and, with it, the right to choose himself a name. This was as big a deal as it got. Freedom equalled life. For all but one of the contestants, though, the prospect of remaining alive was so remote that you didn’t even consider it unless you had some kind of imbalance. You were brought up to fight, sent to training school, then introduced into the arena for entertainment. Or, more specifically, as fodder. As a sacrifice to what was, effectively, a death cult. You couldn’t dream of life, because you didn’t even really know what it was. You were expendable. All you could think of, like Thomas, like the ones who went before him or after him, was which name you might pick if by some chance you were actually crowned The Perfect Specimen. And the funniest thing was that, when it finally happened to those few winners, they couldn’t think of anything more exotic or interesting than “Thomas” or “Dan”, or “Jane” or “Lucy”!

When you won — if you won — then you were free. Free to live. As opposed to dying, that is. But only free up to a point. You had to stay within the business. Either becoming a trainer or a commentator or, if you were privileged like Thomas, you could be some kind of figurehead. Something as close to an impresario as you could ever be. As they would let you.

“That Thomas,” George whined, “he’s sure got a lot to answer for!”

Ralph nodded. Another friend, Ed, shook his head.

Meanwhile, in his office, Thomas didn’t even have the energy to move his head. “I’m sick of it, Sarah. Just sick of it!” 

Sarah was his assistant. The most popular female fighter of her time, winner of The Perfect Specimen 37. She looked at him sadly. What more could she do than that? She’d never known anything other than fighting. Preparing to fight. Fighting. Killing. Training others to do the same. There had never been anything else.

“It has to end.”

Her face became serious, disturbed even. “End The Perfect Specimen?”

“Yes.”

“Then we’d have nothing to live for!” She thought it over. They both thought it over. Maybe her words were more profound than she’d intended.

“Most of us are dead already. Or they will be, soon enough.” It was an attempt at a joke, but it wasn’t in the least humorous. Sarah could only nod. “What are there: five hundred of us, a thousand, at any one time?” 

“Probably. I suppose.”

“And we live for this.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes. 

“I think I know a way to end it.”

Sarah, who’d seen and not been shocked by so much suffering and so much carnage, most of which she’d perpetrated herself, was now more shocked than she’d ever been in her life. “But … how?”

“You’ve got to hand it to old Thomas.” (George.)

“Surprised the Fight Federation agreed to it. But fair play to them.” (Ed.)

“Dunno what we’ll do for entertainment if he pulls this off.” (Ralph.)

“Wow!” Bert exclaimed. “A battle of all the champions. And if Thomas wins, it’s cancelled forever and we let the humans live.” He laughed. “Maybe we’ll fight after that! A kind of Perfect Specimen: Take Two!

“Don’t be daft!” George scoffed. “Why would we fight? We’re perfect already.”

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

David Dumouriez once won a poetry competition by accident and the memory of it still haunts him.

His hobbies include cricket, horology, and finding new ways to avoid talking about himself.

Issue Contributors

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