Axiom - February 2000
Preoccupations - karne
Glass Dragon - michelle
(page 17/18)

Preoccupations

"...the newcomer Deep Red, female, 6 years, much excitement about this one, she's done spectacularly well so far this tourney..."

The communications tower is by far the tallest structure in the city. It makes a useful landmark but I only really discovered it after my first serious tourney. Before I always assumed it was out of bounds, but afterwards it became a sort of eyrie, a special place.

I was extremely excited at that tourney, until a bout got out of hand and I felt my Fury burn for the first time. I don't remember much of the fight but I do know I hurt my opponent far more than I had ever intended to. After that, all I wanted was to hide away somewhere, someplace Keeper couldn't find me and I couldn't hurt any one any more. The tower was such a place, with a flat top so high only one of the kin could get there without a skimmer. Keeper can't send to me up there either, it's too far up, out of her range. Isolated.

I stayed there for hours until the Cold forced me back to my stall. Keeper shouted at me when I returned - but for running off - not for trespassing on the tower. She thought I'd gone rogue and I didn't much care really. After I'd won my citizenship and hence my freedom, I flew back up there, and I've been returning throughout the tourneys, throughout the years. Maybe that will change now..

No - I mustn't start brooding - time was I wouldn't have survived the tourneys this long. They used to eat us. Did you know that? Pit, pet or stews as the saying went - the Keepers don't like to be reminded of the past but those words run alive with us, passed from dam to chick. Blood and fire.

With the help of offworld genetechs, our blood solved the greatest problems of this world. There are beast herds now, meat that survives the Cold as well as we, but mindless. Humans never gave thanks to the kin for that gift, but at least they stopped the killing and life is longer and sweeter now.

Kin herd the beasts and farm the fields, we carry goods and heft and lug. But the arenas still exist, stinking of blood and fire, and there are still the fighters. Citizenship isn't a right, no more for us than it is for them. It costs money and that's far easier won than earned; the gold at my neck didn't come cheap.

But you know all that, you want to be a citizen as much as I did. That's why you fought so hard - but why didn't you say something? I would have..

Let me win? No thanks, that wouldn't have been fair on either of us. Deep Red shifts closer beside me then leans over and licks gently at the shallow cuts on my throat. Anyway, I wanted to prove I could beat teacher.
This time. She chuckles softly at that, multicoloured rain pattering in my mind. Well - good luck on the morrow. My sending is a little stiff but I've unmelted for most part. I like her too much to stay angry for long and the licks help too.

You'll be watching me then? I nod and feel the warmth of her pleasure. You're right, I need the gold. My Keeper wants to take me offworld.

As if it were prearranged, the rumbling thunder of a shuttle shatters the night. The noise distracts me from my spluttered confusion and I turn my head to watch. A tongue of fire like a dragon's flame but a thousand times more bright.

As the noise fades I turn my attention back to Red.

Offworld!? But why? There are none of the kin offworld - why go out there?

Why? To see new places and new people and to let them see us/ She blinks slowly, /or better still, let them *pay* to see us. We're something different after all, something special. It'd be easier than the arena.

US?

Us. She yawns and stretches. If you're interested. Think on it. Nothing will happen for a year at least - even if I win the tourney - it will take that long to get permission. I'll ask you again closer to the time. She touches my neck - gently - then pushes off and up into the sky. See you later.

Stunned and silent I watch her rise, red and gold against the stars - and then, a tongue of fire like the shuttle's flame but a thousand times more beautiful.

(In honour of 'Heart's Blood' by Jane Yolen)

karne

'Glass Dragon', by michelle