For Nathaniel.

LAST MAN STANDING

by John Dodd

“I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly, I was the best because the crowd loved me.”

Proximo, "Gladiator "

It’s a dead world, this one, the decay and death roams the streets like a living beast. Here in downtown, the world could end in fire and fury, and unless someone stopped the benefit cheques, no one would notice. These are my streets here, this is my time, here I reign supreme, unchallenged by man or beast, I roam the way looking for the lost and the damned.

My name is Adam, I don’t have a second name, this one was picked out of a book when my mother died giving birth to me. My father never had any time for me, I don’t know his name, and in truth, I don’t miss that, if he could not be there when I needed him, I don’t see why I should want to know him.

I grew up in one of the many “childcare” facilities in the city of Mort, surrounded by idiots, morons, and people who really didn’t want to be there.

You ever been to one of those places? You wonder why the kids always misbehave? I’ll tell you why, they don’t want to be picked, after all, this is mort, the city that never sleeps, the only people wanting a child that’s not their own are paedophiles or other scum who would use children for their own degrading purposes.

Several of my friends escaped with me at the age of eight, we learned to fight and survive on the streets, rats aren’t particularly appetising fare, but when cooked properly, they can be enough to survive on. We fought, and we stole, and we made a small part of hope for ourselves in the darkness of dowtown.

It went bad one day, we’d stolen the weekly ration of food from the local Kwik-Store, we run outside into the waiting arms of a passing monarch unit. The first one takes my boot across his face.

“RUN” I scream to the others, they know better than to disobey me at this time. I follow up my attack, planting my other foot in the other monarchs groin. He doubles up with a muffled curse. They’re stronger than me and they’ve got weapons, but they’re not used to dealing with something my size. I figure if I can keep them off guard long enough, I can make my escape. I spin on one foot, delivering my imitation of the Patented Sour Blood Jack Hammer boot to the first monarch. I learn why that useless git gets killed so often, the monarch, untrained as he is, raps his stick down on my leg, then across my forehead.

I kiss the floor with a noise that to me sounds like a thundercrack, things go black for a second, when my vision comes back, I’m on my front, with my hands tied behind my back, and there are adults talking above me.

I hear money change hands and decide to wait my time for a while, I can’t break out of these cuffs at the moment, they’re not the normal key type, they’re those bloody cuff tape things. Useless against any adults, who just flex the muscles they were born with, however, against kids (and, I might add, when applied in triplicate), they more than do the job.

Things go dark again, I’m not sure why, I wake in a comfortable bed, with clean sheets, and the smell of fresh bread drifting in from the next room. Not good, I’ve definitely been sold off to a paedophile, I mean, who cooks their own bread these days, must be some freako who doesn’t go to the shops at all.

I sneak out of the bed silently, my clothes are clean, washed and pressed at the end of the bed, they don’t feel right, my army of fleas has been long vanquished, my clothes feel like starch, they no longer have that nice “moving by themselves” quality. I dress, find that my shoes have been replaced with some shiny calf boots made out of some soft material, nice and quiet. I glance surreptitiously around the door, there’s a huge guy cooking food in a massive kitchen, I scuttle past him and down into the hallway, to find the door locked. I pause, the key must be around somewhere.

I sneak back to the kitchen area, the big guy is cooking something that smells suspiciously like fresh meat and vegetables. I pad silently into the next room, it’s a bedroom, for someone distinctly larger than me. I look around it quickly and quietly, nothing resembling a key in here. I sneak back to the door and glance around it.

The hand of god plucks me from my hiding spot and deposits me unceremoniously on the chair at the end of the table. There’s a plate of potatoes and beef, smothered in gravy like soup, with a fresh cut loaf of bread, still steaming in the centre of the table. Beside the loaf is what appears to be the remains of the cow and the rest of the sack of potatoes. I’m stunned by the vista of food in front of me, I’ve never seen this much in one place at one time. My shock fades as I realise that the big guy has say down opposite me, took up his fork, and is now shovelling pieces of meat down like there’s no tomorrow.

I sit there for a second, not sure what to do. He looks up with eyes like a dying star in the sky and motions with his fork at my plate.

“Eat” His voice is calm and deep, but with an edge of violence to it, like the sea after a storm. I try for a short while to use the fork, It’s a big thing, weighing a good kilo, I find that I’m unsuited to it, but dare not do anything else, I sit there miserably looking at the food going cold.

“Boy” He speaks again, putting his fork aside, moving his hand onto his plate to scoop up a handful of food, he raises it to his mouth, eating the food directly out of his hand. He indicates my plate with the gravy covered hand “Eat”

I put aside my fork gratefully, taking a small mouthful of the food with caution. No searing pain, no sudden unconsciousness, no turning green and choking, the food can’t be poisoned, I wolf down my plate in no time, then sit there quietly.

“More” I think he intended it as a question.

“Yes” I answer without thinking.

He goes on eating as if I hadn’t spoken, after a minute, he pauses for a second and glances up at me with one eyebrow raised.

“Please” I finish.

The shadow of a smile quirks at the corner of his mouth, he rises up from his seat like one of those great cats from the jungle, seemingly at ease and laid back. He leans over the table, and takes my plate, scooping another fifteen or so pieces of beef and three enormous scoops of potato onto the plate. Placing it down In front of me, he raises a jug, there’s gravy dripping down the side of it.

“Yes please” I say without hesitation.

He pours a generous helping of the soup onto my food and I tuck in with relish, I know its not smart, but I don’t’ know what tomorrow brings, I could be back on the street, and if I pass this up, I’ll not forgive myself.

We finish the meal in silence, at the end of it, there’s still half my food on my plate, and my stomach is protesting at my attempts to break it, but the cow is mostly gone. Big Guy brings me a drink of water, I sip at it, not sure what is actually going on, but I’ll not be turning down food and drink if they’re on offer.

There’s a thought, maybe he’s going to eat me. He’s just fattening me up for the kill. I panic for a second.

“Easy Boy” He smiles again “you’re not here for any bad thing, if you want to leave when you’ve finished, you can go.” He pauses, leaning back in his chair.

“Reall” my voice contains a little bit more hope than I had wanted to be evident.

He leans forward “Really, however, you do owe me something for the meal.”

Here it comes, this is the bit when I wake up in the streets being stomped on by Monarchs.

“You have to do the drying up boy.”

It takes a few seconds for that to sink in, I gulp nervously “That’s it?”

He smiles, kindly, like a father might, I suppose “That’s it.”

Fair enough, he washes, I dry, I sit in the kitchen afterwards, waiting for what he’ll say next. He sits opposite me again, waits a while, pours me another drink, then places something on the table in front of me, I’ve seen these before, it’s a series four energy blade. I reach forwards tentatively.

“Stop.” It’s not a command, its not a request, I glance up at Big Guy.

“If you pick that up, then you are agreeing to my terms.”

My hand slithers backwards reluctantly, then I think for a second “What are your terms?”

“Before I answer that, why did you stop the Monarchs from catching your friends?”

“Because they were my friends” the answer is out before I can stop it.

“Is that reason enough?”

“Always.”

A curious look passes over him for a second.

“You have the potential to be so much more than you are.” He says quietly;. “I can teach you, you may die, you may be crippled, your life will probably be infinitely shorter than if you lived on the street, I shall only ask the question once, after that, the choice is gone.”

He pauses again, I get the feeling he has some training in the art of drama.

“There is your choice boy, life on the street for as long as you can live, or the life I offer, which will almost certainly end in pain and suffering.”

I don’t know whether I was just awed by him at the time, or if the meal had dulled my senses, but I heard someone say yes, it took me a second to realise that it was me.

He began to teach me the next day, I learned all manner of things, he showed me the way that weapons work. I learn how most of them are not so much weapons as instruments, if you learn how to play them, you’ll never be limited by what someone else has written for them. He showed me videos of GoreZone and Slaughterfest, and points out where the combatants had gone wrong. I see the number of times that Sour Blood has died, each time using his signature move, and I despair that others will try and copy this person, almost certainly suffering the same fate as he does, although without the large LAD account that he possesses.

I learn that imitation is death, anyone can copy something else, it is only those who innovate who will progress to anything, those who stagnate will surely die. I still don’t know the name of Big Guy, I resort to calling him Sir, it seems to fit him rather well. I learn that politeness is a virtue, that I will one day have to understand and be familiar with to progress in the world that I am being put into.

The art of combat is made available for me to study, I see the difference between large scale and small scale conflict, how each shares similarities, but it ultimately a completely different game. We go hunting every once in a while, down into the sectors where I used to live. I always try to sneak food out with me, it’s irrational to expect that my friends are still here, but if they are, and I can help in any way, then It will be worth it. I suspect that Big Guy realises what I am doing, but he makes no move to stop me.

The years pass like days, I think I am near the age of Twenty, Big Guy does not seem to have aged a bit, but I sense that the time of testing is near.

Sure enough, It is. One day in the centre of the week, Big Guy takes out a suit of armour, carefully crafted to fit me. It’s a mottled Green, with red streaked through it, and on the belt buckle, the name, Azrael.

We go DownTown, the armour fits me like a second skin, my weapons are in my belt and over my back. We sit on the edge of the wall overlooking DownTown sector 4, and Big Guy speaks to me

“It’s the biggest Gorezone in years, all people are allowed to enter it as long as they have weapons and are willing to use them.” He pauses “We’re going to show them what true warriors can do today.”

He’s dressed in a suit of armour similar to mine, carrying only the long sword that he laid on the table in front of me all those years ago. On his belt buckle, the title of War. A flash of memory from many years ago, there was once a team of fighters that ruled the gorezones, known as the four horsemen, Three of them continued as operatives when the team broke up, no one knew what had happened to the fourth.

The Gorezone starts, we look from high above us as the carnage spreads across the sector. At the peak of the madness, we jump down into the thick of it.

It is both terrifying and exhilarating as combat ensues, I feel sick with excitement as the moves that I have practised for so long are finally put into practise. A stormer lunges at me from my periphery vision, I reverse the angle of my sword, taking both its forearms off at the elbow as I spin around, I finish the strike with a straight thrust through its eyes, it drops as if poleaxed.

I continue the spin, drawing my pistol from its holster, I put rounds through five heads, the heap shells bursting the helmets like baked potatoes in a microwave, as I holster the pistol, I keep repeating to myself that it’s all a game, it’s only a shooting range. I draw my other pistol and glance over at the main street.

Big Guy is knee deep in corpses, his blade an eldritch weapon of immense power, nothing is getting close to him, he moves through the melee like the maestro before his orchestra, a symphony of destruction written in blood on a parchment of broken bodies. The madness continues for what seems like hours, and suddenly silence descends on the field of battle. I spin around to see Big Guy standing in the centre of the corpses, arms held aloft, his weapon held between his hands. A memory from a long time ago surfaces, the victory cry of the four horsemen.

My arms mirror his and the cry of ages goes out :

“JUDGEMMMMMMEEEEENNNNNTTTTT”

We lower our arms in unison, he executes a perfect bow to me. I return the bow and glance back up in time to hear a single shot ring out. Big Guy is catapulted backwards into the mass of corpses he created. I twist, pinpointing the shooter, a single round from my pistol takes his life, I run over to Big Guy, his armour is shattered and cored, the round has taken most of his lower spine with it. I cradle his body in my arms, watching the blood flow our over my hands, helpless to stop it. He reaches up with a trembling hand, raising his visor.

“Well……..Well Done Boy.” he coughs, his voice cracked and broken
“Hold on.” I’m nearly crying “Just hold on, we can get the medics here.”
“No.” he coughs, bright arterial blood splatters my chest plate “no, here’s where I…………..I stay.” He looks up at me with those eyes that have seen far too much “You must go, go back to the flat, look in your room, there is something there for you.”
“No” My eyes are wet with unshed tears “no, you can’t die, you can’t.”

Big Guy smiles painfully, blood trickles down the side of his face into his helmet.
“Yes Boy, yes I can, but,” another cough, more severe this time, he grimaces “but I have no regrets, I die as I have lived, weapons in hand, foes before me, there are no regrets, remember that.”
“I will” my tears splash softly on his chest plate, and with that sound, he’s gone, and the words I want to tell him will not come out. I have won the Gorezone, I am the last man standing, I have the fame every boy dreams for. My future is now at hand, and there are none who can stand against me, I can do all the things that I had always wanted to do, but I would fight slayer himself for just one more minute with this man.

I return to the apartment, sure enough, the letter is there is my room, on the bedside table. I open it, inside are the deeds to the apartment in my name, and a numbered bank account with upwards of a couple of million credits in it, also in my name. These matter nothing, there is also a small hand written note, it reads

Adam.

If you’re reading this, I’m dead, there are so many things that I should have told you before I died, this I am certain of, for I never was any good at telling people the things that need to be said. You have the potential to be the very best, I know this for a fact, and you will learn more as you go on. It was by chance that I stumbled across you all that time ago, although I had been roaming the streets for years looking. Your mother and I would have wanted to have been normal parents for you, but this was not to be. I hope that what I have given you in these past few years will somehow make up for what you lost, and I am sorry that I could not tell you in life how much I love you, and I can only hope that you knew.

Forgive me, my son.

Dad

I fold the letter carefully and put it back in the envelope.

It’s a dead world, this one, the decay and death roams the streets like a living beast. Here in DownTown, the world could end in fire and fury, and unless someone stopped the benefit checks, no one would notice. These are my streets here, this is my time, here I reign supreme, unchallenged by man or beast, I roam the way looking for the lost and the damned, for I am the one who will save them, for the memory of a good man gone too soon.