Genre: humor, adventure, scifi
Fandom: Naruto sci-fi AU, inspired loosely by Ratchet and Clank
Notes: Short chapter 2 of the 100th fic I posted on ff.net, completed while half-asleep.
"Tell me, Yongbax," Ino purred, setting her pointed chin on her palm. "You ever heard of the Gladiatorial Fights?"
"The Imperial Fight Fest?" Tenten said in surprise, using one of the more common terms for the Imperial Gladiatorial Tournaments. There were many names for it: the Circus, the Rings, the Blood-dance. There were alien worlds with a thousand native tongues, and each tongue had a thousand names for the sabong, the 'fight of roosters' in one dialect and 'the songs' in another and both understood to mean the same thing.
They all meant the same thing, of course: the endless rounds of tournaments and battles that the gladiators staged for the entertainment of the people, under the auspices of the Imperium; the biggest, baddest, most broadcast spectacle in the galaxy; the absolute focus of billions of lives, followed more fervently and by more people than could be claimed by any one of the myriad religions that the Empire was home to: not even the Holy Imperial Church, official state religion of the Imperium itself, nor the Star-worshippers of the Rashad system, nor the Jaddites of Sarantium could possibly compete with the gladiators for sheer attention-span. (And it was rumored that the Patriarch, the Star-father and the Pontifex - heads of the three largest religions in the galaxy - were themselves fans of the Battle-Circus.)
The Gladiatorials - the Games - were an entity unto themselves.
"Of course I know about them," Tenten replied, eyes narrowing. "I've also heard of breathing and eating and sleeping. What kind of question is that?"
Ino laughed, a delicate sound like tiny silver bells fluttering in a spring breeze. This sound had presaged many of the more harrowing moments in Tenten's life and she realized she was gripping her OmniWrench 3000 so hard her knuckles were turning white.
"Then - would you be interested in competing in them?"
Tenten gaped at her for a moment. "Um, no, because I'm not interested in signing myself over to slavery?"
According to law, only a few - two hundred or so, the number fluctuating slightly according to Imperial whims - slave stables held the exclusive rights to train and provide the gladiators needed for the Games. It was a law jealously enforced - not only was it impossible to submit a gladiator for the Games without a proper accreditation from one of the slave-stables, but any operation purporting to be at all like the Games was brutally and swiftly shut down as soon as any stable heard about it. Something so small as a dirt-pit behind an unregistered bar on some borderworld might expect a swift reprisal. And everyone knew why - it was to establish precedent.
No one but the stables got to supply gladiators.
The stables, obviously, had a vested interest in establishing their oligopoly. The enormous profit generated not only by the prizes awarded their gladiator-slaves (who had to turn everything over to their masters) but, moreso, by the huge and intricate betting going on at every level of the Games meant that they were not keen at all on the idea of diluting their chances by introducing new fighters - worse, freelance fighters who were affiliated with no stable, who might not be leaned on to throw a fight.
The Imperium itself had an interest in making sure gladiators were a body made up exclusively of slaves. Gladiators could become enormously popular, and the ones who reached the top were also incredibly dangerous, probably able to kill the Emperor ten different ways if dropped a hundred yards from him, stark naked. It was a combination to give any government nervous twitch-fits. And so they enthusiastically supported the slave-stables in their drive to make sure gladiators remained a slaved class - the idea of a non-slave gladiator, someone without an instant-kill device of some sort permanently grafted onto their bodies, of a dangerous immensely influential super-warrior who was not instantly killable by fat rich males (or females, or hermaphroditic alien gender-categories) planets away with remote triggers - it was a horrible idea, to their way of thinking.
So - slave-gladiators. Slave stables with exclusive rights they enforced with great vigor, to the tune of 'send our private armies to decimate half a city three hundred parsecs from here'.
No, becoming a gladiator was not something Tenten had in mind. She explained this in deep detail and ringing disdain to Ino, and was just seguing into a lecture on the political considerations facing the top gladiators and why most had AT LEAST THREE failsafe kill-bombs implanted in them when the Jayd'thi held up something that brought Tenten to wide-eyed silence.
"I never ask people to do something that's impossible for them to accomplish," she announced crisply. "Waste of everyone's time.Let's try this again: If I gave you this imperial finding, with the imperial seal stamped in gold on it, would you be interested in joining the Games?"
Stunned at the impossible document, staring - but with a cool, calculating corner of her mind weighing up the pros and cons before she spoke - Tenten nodded once, licked her lips, and replied. "I - I am interested."