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Annoyed at being disturbed, two large orange and brown galabrits chastised the Viranian with raucous cries as they flew up into the leafy canopy. The disgruntled squawking and flapping continued above his head as Drake walked past the old stone ruins and pushed his way through the tangled damp undergrowth. He brushed the leaves and twigs from his clothes as he emerged onto a well worn path. He was relieved Gillian was holidaying on Xyrania. After all she had been through on Nigma's world and the trouble they had encountered on Tarl, he was glad he hadn't brought her to Tritan. He found it astounding that he, a Viranian, actually missed the Earthling's company.
He glanced at his meldkey to briefly check his position then peered up the track. He was in luck. A few yards ahead, sporting eagle emblems on their tatty shirts, walked two men. The taller pushed a covered barrow, piled high with goods. The other carried a large bulging bag over his shoulder. An eagle decorated flag fluttered from the front of their creaking two wheeled cart. Drake's long legs quickly brought him alongside.
The red haired man pushing the barrow, silently eyed the tall well dressed newcomer. His black shirt, trousers, boots and grey vest with tools in front pockets suggested he was a techie-worker and not one of the idle elite. He studied Drake for a few more paces before deciding he was worthy of conversation.
"Greetings citizen, are you heading to the games today?"
"Greetings to you citizen. Yes, I thought I might take a look."
"What do you mean, might? You'll regret it if you don't go. It's Eagles versus Serpents. You don't want to miss it. The name's Eric by the way and this is Lucas." He affectionately slapped his smiling bald headed friend. "We were just discussing this months line up."
"Pleased to meet you both. I'm Drake. I take it you two are Eagles supporters?"
Eric grinned and nodded. "Most definitely. Wouldn't miss the action for anything."
"Eric and I sell a few things on the food stalls before gates open," explained Lucas, heaving his heavy bag onto his opposite shoulder. "Then we go in and join the others."
"I take it, the arena's not far away."
"No, it's just down here, onto the main thoroughfare, then along a bit," explained Eric. "We take the barrow rather than the skimmer because we can skirt around any jams. It's a lot quicker."
The track opened out on to a bustling sealed road and by prior agreement, Eric swapped the barrow for Lucas's bag.
Traffic of every description headed one way up the polluted, noisy thoroughfare. Rough dilapidated hand made vehicles, skimmers, wheelers and hovers, all pushed and jostled, bumper to bumper with factory-mades and the occasional 28th century limousine.
Merging with other pedestrians, Lucas pushed the barrow onto the busy walkway beside the road and shouted to Drake. "See what we mean?"
Drake nodded. With so many people about, he was glad CC was safely nestled beside the ruins in the forest at the edge of the city.
They passed run down paint peeled houses and the remnants of a large 25th century prison complex, now taken over by squatters. Washing draped untidily over rusty railings and bedraggled flags bearing assorted symbols fluttered from flat topped roofs. A black limousine with an Eagles emblem on the side and darkened windows floated past and Eric and Lucas let out howls of delight. Their howls were answered by deriding calls from supporters of the Serpent loving opposition. Various rude faces and gestures in turn answered the calls.
Small patrolling orbs floated over the crawling traffic and gathering crowds. Occasionally, when supporters became too unruly they were gently zapped by the orbs.
Green light encompassed them, creating a localised calming effect. The results lasted a few minutes and by the time the offenders recovered, the trouble had usually dissipated.
Drake watched the orbs continue their crowd control. They were leftovers from the days Tritan was a prison planet. Following his usual routine when preparing for a task, he had studied up on Tritan's history.
Releasing the prisoners a century ago without proper laws or infrastructure, had meant the strongest and more powerful had formed gangs to survive. These gangs had gradually evolved into orders, headed by ruthless Barons. Large arenas had been built and now gladiatorial games were a monthly event in every city. The planet's leaders, when some were finally elected, more or less turned a blind eye to the many illegal goings on in return for kickbacks from the Barons. Patrolling orbs were a cheap way of keeping the citizens under control.
The aroma of hot meals greeted Drake and his two companions as they reached the busy pre-erected market stalls outside the huge arena. Lucas and Eric parked in a line of more than a dozen stall holders already open and doing business. They proudly hoisted their flag on the framework of their stall's canvas roof then quickly set up their fold out tables.
Bread, jars of pickles, large thick sausages, cheeses of all varieties and jugs of alcoholic brew appeared. Whatever a famished supporter needed to sustain them, they sold. Even before they finished setting up, the popular providers were inundated with hungry customers.
"I may see you later," called Drake, over the heads of the noisy throng. The busy men nodded a friendly farewell.
Swept along with the surging crowd to the wall of many entrances, Drake managed to extricate himself from the tide outside the off world visitor's gates. Attending gladiatorial games wasn't the sort of thing he wanted to experience, but it was part of the information collecting process his occupation required.
As Drake walked through the gate, his meldkey automatically sent information about the arena and the size and make up of the crowd back to CC. His ship had been gathering data and relaying it back to the elders of his planet since their arrival on Tritan.
Drake joined the line of excited interstellar visitors, some humanoid, some not. He read the notice board for currencies accepted and reached into his pocket for some universal credits.
"Eagles left, Serpents right," shouted a one armed man on the turn style.
Bustled along with the Eagles' crowd, Drake turned left into a graffiti daubed corridor then out to the arena's undercover seating.
Coloured banners draped from private boxes and many in the noisy audience waved their flags excitedly. Eagles' section was filling fast with fans of all ages.
"First combat in twenty," called a voice and the crowd cheered and thumped their feet in anticipation.
Drake chose a seat five rows up at the end beside the gladiator's entrance. Open to the elements, the sandy ring baked in the sun. Beneath the seats at ringside were various grills behind which unfamiliar animals crouched and cowered.
Feeling the fear from the animals and sensitive to the negative energy emanating from the crowd, Drake didn't know how long he would last.
Performing animals and groups of acrobats came and went, entertaining the audience, building their excitement. Finally, trumpets blared and a hush fell over the packed arena. The crowd yelled with delight as the speaker introduced the first warm up fight.
Armoured gladiators from both sides jousted on small hover bugs, knocking one another off to excited yells. The size and danger of the fights increased, till Drake had seen enough. He stood up ready to leave when suddenly there came a terrific roar from the crowd. He turned back and was shouted at to sit down. Two men, one young, one older ran out into the arena from the Eagles' entrance.
The young man didn't appear particularly enthusiastic but the crowd urged them on. They wore no armour, just loincloths. Both carried shields and laser swords.
Two partially armoured opponents jogged out from the Serpents entrance to an equally loud roar. Obviously this fight was going to be a big deal. Those nearby claimed it could be a battle to the death. As the pairs fought and the crowd screamed, Drake studied them unable to understand their fervour for blood sports.
Gasps of awe suddenly filled the arena, followed by a complete hush. A lone drum began to beat. The largest Eagles' gladiator had been slain and the younger was left to battle the Serpent pair on his own.
Faster and faster beat the drum as the youth battled for his life. When he fell, the drum stopped but an eerie silence remained with the crowd. Suddenly the arena erupted with yells for and against the victors. Clean up crews rushed out with hover stretchers to pick up the dead or dying.
As the stretchers passed by on their way back to the Eagles' entrance, the youth, barely alive, glanced up. His eyes met Drakes' and in that brief instant the Viranian felt the young man's fear and pain. Drake sensed the gladiator reaching out for help. Without thinking twice, he stood up and leapt over the wall to the ground below and followed the stretchers to the Eagles' preparation yards.
He was jostled roughly against the iron gates as other gladiators rushed by on their way into the arena.
The men in the yard stared in disappointment at the bodies brought back.
"Baron Gorman's not going to be happy," said one of the bearers, as he dumped the older ones body unceremoniously on the sand. He proceeded to wash down the stretcher. "Losing Gareth and his protégé in one day will be bad for business."
Drake caught up with the young man's stretcher, only to find he had lost consciousness. He took his thought laser from his vest pocket, placed it on his index finger then unlocked and removed the slave band from the gladiator's ankle. He angrily tossed the band away over the nearest wall, returned his thought laser to his vest, quickly took out a small pouch then opened it. The contents expanded into a medical kit, an addition he felt necessary since his time on Tarl. He pulled out the emergency supplies containing strong superfine dressings then began to work on the young man.
"What do ya think ya doin'?" asked one of the workers. "Can't ya see 'is left leg's 'angin by a thread and there's them other wounds on 'is arm and chest. 'E's lost a lot of blood and e's a goner for sure."
Ignoring him, Drake continued to work on the young man, stemming the flow of blood and stabilising him. His treatment would be very temporary but it would last till he could get him to safety.
"I need this hover stretcher to take him out of here."
"Ya can't do that. The Baron wouldn't like it."
"I don't care whether he would like it or not," growled Drake. "I'm taking it."
"It'll cost ya," said the greedy worker, changing his mind.
Drake reached into his pocket then threw all his remaining credits at him.
The worker gathered the coins out of the sand then stealthily pocketed them before walking over to a bench. He picked up a heavy bundle. "Ya might as well take this too," he said, coming back and thrusting a large bag at Drake.
"What is it?"
"It's 'is armour, it's been specially made for 'im and won't fit no other. Can't sell it anywhere. Means a lot to 'im. E's fond of it. Should have been wearing it. Go on, take it with ya!"
Drake sighed resignedly. Eager to leave the stench of death behind and get his patient help, he hoisted the large bag over his shoulder then took off. Pushing the stretcher before him, he hurried as fast as he could through the maze of dark passages until he found an exit.
The noise of the crowd yelling for blood in the arena echoed in his ears as he quickly headed up the now deserted thoroughfare.