Hyperia Jones and the Olive Branch Caper

Chapter 1

I slammed into the glowing, blue virtuwall of the TwistCube ring, the impact hard enough to make me gasp. Despite that, I rolled with the blow, taking advantage of the shift in gravity to propel myself back to my feet and across to the left wall. I slapped the orange tag patch in the middle of the field forming the wall. I’d already tagged two, so only another three to go, but nobody wants to win by commandeer—the punters don’t like it.

“That was an incredible Full Body Avalanche!” yelled lead commentator Donk “The Donkey” Vansteenb, the announce system managing to temporarily overpower the screaming crowds that filled the arena.

“Have to agree, Donk.” Rutzali Strogonar, the second announcer, was an old-school rassler who’d come up the hard way as he was fond of telling everyone. He and Donk made up the FIRE—Federation of Interstellar Rassling Entertainment—lead announce team. “These two ladies have a long and bitter rivalry that’s been reaching fever pitch on the run up to PowerFall—and that’s only a couple of months away now.”

“And you know neither of these two are gonna back down.” Christine “Crazy” Conner sat at the end of the announcers’ table, with Rutzali between her and Donk. “They’re fighting for the number one challenger slot in the All-Realms Women’s Title. A winner-takes-all match against Courtney Bonor at RassleFrenzy Twenty-Three in three standard months.”

“That may be so.” Donk deliberately didn’t acknowledge his ex-wife. “But tonight it’s all about this fight right here, right now!”

Glacia, my opponent, recovered her footing, and I crouched in readiness. I pushed off the virtuwall, using my leg muscles to drive directly at her. As I reached the gravity null point at the center of the TwistCube, I pulled into a tight ball, using the lack of inertia to perform a dramatic spin, and hit Glacia in the midriff, smashing her into a corner.

“Oh my god!” screamed Donk, slamming his meaty fist into the announcers’ table. “A Pulsar! Hyperia just hit Glacia with a massive Spinning Pulsar! I felt the impact all the way back here. This could be it, folks. It may be all over. I don’t think there’s any way Glacia can recover from that. Let’s see it again in flashback.”

I drew a breath, knowing the broadcast channels would run the slo-mo replay of the last bit of action. This was the time to land the final blow and end the match with my signature move.

The lights next to the announce table switched to green, telling me the flashback was over. Glacia was slumped between the two opposed gravity fields, her face distorted with agony, emphasizing the icy blue cracks painted on her face. I bent my knees and drew my head tentacles back so as not to damage them and tensed the spine on top of my skull to push it up from my skull. She weighed over twenty kilos more than me, not that it mattered—this was all part of the script.

“This is it! The Venomous Spine, ladies and gentlemen. Hyperia is about to unleash the deadly career-ending Venomous Spine!”

“It’s all over now, Donk,” Christine hissed, reaching across Rutzali to slap Donk’s wide-brimmed hat.

I suppressed a laugh. I’d never ended anyone’s career, and the small vestigial spine on the top of my head was anything but venomous. In fact, if I didn’t relax it a fraction of a second before impact, it would bruise and give me a nasty headache. Glacia staggered upright, apparently disoriented by my last attack. As she turned away, I launched myself at her back.

My timing was out, and I caught her off-center. The hit still made a resounding thud and the fans cheered wildly, but it wasn’t as clean as it should have been. My inertia twisted me around and I landed awkwardly, my legs slamming into the virtuwall, which gave off a metallic bloop as the force-wall absorbed the impact. I grabbed my knee and screamed in pain. Glacia wriggled from under me and wrapped her burly arms around my neck. Her teeth bit into my seventh head tentacle, which was definitely not in the script, and I reminded her by slamming my elbow into her gut.

“That was a clumsy mistake, Hype,” she whispered into my earbud. “Should have finished me.”

She tightened her grip, and I relaxed slightly, letting her know I was ready to submit. But, instead of backing off, the bitch piled on the pressure—sometimes she plays her part a little too well. I slapped her muscular leg several times to indicate my surrender. The crowd erupted in a mix of jeers and booing, the din rising as Glacia dropped me against the virtuwall.

“What an upset,” bellowed Donk. “This is incredible. Glacia took the win! Who knows how this will turn out when these ladies meet again. Remember, you can see them at PowerFall in a few weeks at Wassertor Stadium, Capital City on New Emslariat III. Tickets are on sale now, but they’re selling fast. Don’t miss out!”

“You know that’s one match nobody wants to miss, Donk,” Rutzali broke in, his pasted-on grin as big as ever.

“Absolutely. What’s your call on who’s gonna win, Rutz?”

I quit listening when Glacia kicked me in the torso. Her toes weren’t rigid, as she didn’t do it to cause more damage. She was putting on a show for the crowd and rubbing my nose in her unplanned “victory.” The lights flashed red around the base of the TwistCube, warning that the gravity was about to return to normal, and I slid down to the real floor as lasers and holograms projected Glacia’s graphics into the space above the ring, while her thumping theme tune blasted out from all sides. The virtuwalls faded, and I dragged myself out of the arena, leaving Glacia to her gloating and posturing. I limped toward the backstage area. The collision with the wall had banged up my knee and wasn’t entirely fake.

The ramp seemed a lot longer than when I’d run down it twenty minutes earlier. Partly because of my limp, but the marks love to see the defeated suffer—even when they’re your fans. I wiped my forehead dramatically and staggered again as the heat from the lights tingled my skin from all sides. Every stadium has its own individual character, and O’Herlihy Park was no exception. The atmosphere was a heady mixture of adrenaline, the sweet scent of beer, and the thick odor of grilled banthawurst—the local specialty dish.

“Talk about clash of the titans!” Donk’s voice sounded over the PA. “Mandraago is up next against his rival, Pinhead. Those two have been duking it out for weeks, and the feud has only gotten hotter!”

“That’s true, Donk.” Rutz added to the bluster. “And with the Cazarinis at ringside, who knows what might happen.”

Mandraago was a red-skinned reptiloid from Nienus. He’d been part of FIRE since long before I joined and was a big crowd puller, especially since he’d developed a second career as an actor. Pinhead had been a roster fixture for years, with a solid reputation in the business as a heel.

As I turned the corner, Denton was waiting in the wings. I sensed his concern through the floppy-jowled prosthetic canine mask that covered his head completely. He looked like a Terran-dog hybrid and, according to his publicity, was some ancient god reborn. In reality, he was one hundred percent Terran, though a physically imposing one. He spent at least six standard hours in the gym daily, honing his strength, stamina, and technique. Impressive dedication, especially for one of his species, most of who tend toward the flimsy and unremarkable.

“You okay, white-eyes?” His words came out as a series of snuffling growls due to the mask’s built-in vocal distorter.

“I’ll be fine.” My eyes aren’t entirely white, but from a distance can look that way. They’re more of a silvery gray with black-slitted pupils, part of my heritage as a septapoid. “Twisted something.”

“You should let Dr. Lee take a look.” Denton put his hand on my arm.

“Doc” Lee was our internal physician. Some people find Artificial Personalities cold and difficult to relate to, but with the mix of races among the FIRE rasslers, there wasn’t anyone better qualified. Besides, we were mandated by Realms’ regulations to have a doctor on staff at all times.

“Don’t think so.” Denton being so close bothered me, despite him being a completely different species, and my skin color started to flush from blue to yellow. “I’m going to rest up in my room. I’ve got a medipak.”

“I’ll talk to Glacia. We’re a family—sometimes people need a reminder.”

“Don’t.” I didn’t need his help to fight my battles. “I was clumsy.”

His signature music started playing, booming through giant speakers, loud enough to make the walls tremble.

“That’s my call.” He barked several times. “Gotta go. Dinner later?”

“Sure. Maybe.”

He pulled off his shirt revealing his glistening dark chest, ready to impress everyone in the audience, slapped my ass, and ran through the stage door. A moment later I heard the crowd erupt as he emerged into the stadium.

“Here he is! Here he is!” Donk was getting worked up again. “The winningest pro-rassler of all time. With over twenty championship titles to his name. CEO of FIRE. The hound they can’t pound. The pooch who can’t be screwed. Dog. Face. Denton!”

The roar of the crowd sounded like an earthquake, and I smiled. Denton loved to make a big entrance and he’d made plenty of them. He was currently running a feud with Brachyura, who stormed past me as I made my way backstage, waving his giant left claw in the air as if he’d already won the bout.

While I appreciated Denton’s attempt to comfort me, what he’d said wasn’t accurate. I didn’t have a family, not anymore, and the FIRE rasslers were only people I worked with—most of them outcasts like me.

I locked the door behind me, then set up a close-field soligram on the couch. It wasn’t especially smart, but if someone poked their head into my room, it would fool them for a few minutes into thinking I was resting. Then I opened my wardrobe case and pulled off my rassling suit. The clothes I wanted were concealed in a locked, hidden partition on the right-hand side.

The outfit looked similar to one of my early rassler costumes, a feature I’d insisted on in case someone caught me wearing it, but was actually a jet black nullsuit that covered every part of me. Rather than the usual costumes designed to emphasize the titillation factor for the audience, this was reinforced with virtually impossible-to-detect conforming body armor, and came with a number of built-in devices that were handy in emergencies. After pulling it on, I flattened my tentacles and slid the seamless mask over my head.

It took only a few seconds to unseal the narrow window and slip onto the slim ledge outside—that was the reason I’d chosen that particular dressing room. I was about sixty meters up, and the traffic below was far enough down to send a twinge through my stomach. The next building was higher than the stadium and rose into the sky like an ancient multi-generation settlement ship waiting to launch. It was an impressive sight with its glittering obsidian and glass facade, but I had no time to waste admiring it. My excuses and the soligram would only provide a cover story for so long.

I clicked my heels together three times to activate the suit’s built-in gravboard, and its faintly glowing bubble formed a meter-wide curve under my feet. The power reserve display appeared in front of me, showing all the vital information I could want. The mask was one-way transparent, and the display gave me a range of information and navigation signals. Power was in the green, so I kicked off from the stadium wall, plunging and then arcing back up as the magfield adjusted to demand.

I wasn’t worried that anyone would spot me—the nullsuit’s built-in distortion matrix took care of that. It was possible a rogue IR scanner might pick me up from the small amount of heat generated by the board and suit, but few places run those unless they’re specifically looking for an IR target, and Grigstown had nothing that warranted such surveillance routinely.

Sweeping around the large obsidian building, I zipped along the eight kilometers or so to my destination with barely a hindrance to my journey, though I kept a sharp eye out for air-traffic—Iotromia II was one of the planets that allowed civilian flying vehicles. My suit was also equipped with enhanced vision capabilities, but the planet’s main moon was so bright I didn’t need to activate them.

My objective was a wide building rising up from the midst of extensive cultivated gardens. It wasn’t as tall as the skyscraper near the stadium, but was still twenty stories high. The navigation display zoomed in as I approached, guiding me to the right balcony, and I cut power a couple of meters above it, dropping silently onto the concrete pad. A sense of relief washed over me. I’ve never liked heights, and the higher I get the more nervous I become. That said, I don’t let it interfere with my work.

No, I’m not talking about my life as a pro-rassler—that’s my fake pseudo-identity. I mean my real pseudo-identity—the one I keep hidden from everyone.

I’m Tekuani—interstellar thief for hire.

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