Chapter 0.5

The pessimistic believe that once you're kicked down, you can't get up. Especially if it's six guys against one.

The game presents an option that only the optimistically cynical would accept. Everyone who signs up forfeits their lives for an opportunity. Just one little needle, and a few cc's of pure Myria-Blu.

Round one. Henry Tavish, he called himself. He liked kicking, aimed for the head and bared his teeth when he went in for a hit. I had to give him credit because he was fast, but he came in so fucking high that I ended up denting his head against a metal pipe in the basement. Dented the pipe, too.

That was last week, the day I signed up. Henry never made it into the game. Probably lying in a hospital somewhere, thankful he's not dead and wondering why he ever wanted to play in the first place.

They gave me instructions to wait at the bar in the Blue Magnolia for my next fight in a week. The lounge is a myriad of noise, conversation and a sultry voice fronting for a jazz band. The lounge area is filled with escorts, businessmen and performers dressed like flappers. If I'd been alive in the 1920's, I doubt the Blue Magnolia would look remotely accurate. The whores are too-clean or too-dirty, the lights too bright and everyone is high on some mixture of cheap cocaine, moonshine and diluted capsules of Myria-Blu.

It feels like a scene from a movie and they told me that drinks are free to players. I sit at the bar, staring into the mirror behind the liquor shelf where a sleepless dog of a man looks back. The brunette bartender leans over to me as she hands me my drink.

"See you tonight," she whispers, a small smile sliding onto her face.

"You?" I ask.

"Of course," she replies, leaning back from me. "I'm the FR, gotta weed out the weak ones, the ones who got lucky when they signed up. We have a standard of quality here, y'know. We don't like to waste our time."

"Right," I say, finishing the rest of my glass.

She smirks. "I get the feeling you won't be here long."

She waits for a reaction. I don't reply, but her smile never wavers.

"Come back in three hours. If you're late, I get a second weapon."

I nod and make my way out of the busy lounge.

"An FR's a free radical, fancy term for 'unstable bitch'," says Victor. "So, who is it, anyways?"

"The brunette bartender with the curly hair, you know her?"

I stand in the guest room of Victor's mansion, staring out at the city from a tall window as he sketches something on a large notebook. His house smells faintly of cigarettes. The smell is suffocating me; I quit last year. There's a long pause of silence, and I realize Victor's become distracted with something else.

"Any tips?" I ask.

"No, I've never heard of her."

"Great."

He puts down his sketchbook and turns to me, "So, what'll it be? You'll have to take a gamble, I'm afraid."

"Agility. She gets a weapon, so I'll have to tire her out before I can even start fighting."

Victor nods and pulls out a set of keys from his pocket, unlocking the bottom drawer to his desk. Inside are numerous, tiny little bottles, all nearly identical with the same white caps. He seems to take one at random and then grabs a syringe from the drawer above it. He waits for me to approach the desk, but I don't move.

I eye the bottle suspiciously. "Aren't there side effects I should know about?"

"There's nothing to worry about as long as you deliver, " he says, filling a syringe with the clear, blue tinted substance. "We're the ones paying you, as I recall. Here, give me your arm."

He stands up and makes his way over to me. Palm up I stretch out my left hand and he injects the mixture straight into my veins. I can feel it rushing in, mingling with my blood. Then he plucks the needle out, none too smoothly and makes his way back to his chair.

"Let's see how it works," he says, leaning back.

He signals at something behind me. I hear a rush of air and turn to face a middle aged man wielding a long blade. He makes a swing at me, aiming for my right shoulder. I stumble back to avoid the blow and fix my stance. This time he lunges forward with the sword out in front of him and I dodge to the left, using the momentum to somersault a distance away. He's now at a disadvantage because I'm out of his range. I kick out my legs, aiming for the back of his knees and he tumbles over before he can turn to me and get another hit in.

"Not bad," says Victor. "You have an hour left, better go practice."