The Games of Fifth Avenue
by Arthur Davis
This was Breal’s second trip to Earth.
His first had been three years ago, when his cruiser had to stop for emergency repairs before re-engaging the Thron fleet in battle. That was before the Throns had finally been conquered and what remained of their savage race sold off as slaves and their planet drained of resources.
What little Breal had seen of Earth on that first visit he instantly didn’t like. He didn’t like the place and sense of it, the feeble solar system in which it spun, the history he read, nor the species itself, which was so passive they would have hardly survived a day on the planet he called home.
This time, Breal was on a short leave. Exhausted by combat against other warriors from distant planets, his battle group had been diverted to Earth to experience the Games of Fifth Avenue for the sport and for the distraction of an easy kill.
His eight-man team marched in silence to the corner of what was once defined as Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. There was no pageantry and few rules. The team from his ship with the most successful throws over an Earth hour would be declared the victor. In anticipation of the games, and his plan, he had already taken his three-day allotment of Frieze, a powerful and potentially deadly brew of temporary, strength-enhancing chemicals.
Quarlo Ren stood silently at the head of his own team. As each warrior passed him at 81st Street and moved up Fifth Avenue, they handed him an offering, not all the Frieze they had, but symbolically enough to acknowledge his leadership, and for how many of them owed their lives to his skill and relentless ferocity.
They felt invincible. Their leader was acclaimed on their planet as “The Beast of a Thousand Kills.”
Using the Earthlings’ arcane measurements, Quarlo Ren’s massive ten-foot frame, even without the protective battle armor, was over five hundred pounds. His size, matched only by his fearless grasp of the nuances of hand-to-hand combat, made him a devastating fighting machine.
Combat uniforms were stripped down over their waists, as the atmosphere on Earth, as well as the summer climate, was a near mirror image of that of their own planet. Their red bodies glistened with sweat and strut. Each warrior in the ten teams was marked with scars and wounds from previous battles. Each was an expert in tracking and killing. Most understood that, on this day, the Games of Fifth Avenue was a race for second place.
Pick-up squads rounded up the local Earthlings and drove them into the scattered holding pens that faced the museum along Fifth Avenue between 80th and 84th Streets. Quarlo Ren spotted an Earthling that had found cover, and he made up the two-block distance in less than a breath.
Quarlo Ren’s razor-sharp claws closed across the chest of the large Earthling, hoisted him overhead, and with a bellowing grunt — which was more for show — tossed him clear across Fifth Avenue. The young man landed in a flailing heap, living only minutes longer as he tried to crawl away up the granite steps of what had once been The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the city of New York.
Each warrior in each team in turn picked out a specimen from the pens, and with little urgency — though often with exaggerated posing and flourish — took his turn until the sidewalk along Fifth Avenue in front of the museum ran red.
“Those are mine!” Breal, the warrior leading the second team, rushed for the two men who had been flushed from one of the tattered buildings along the avenue and also covered the distance in a blur before they could see him advance.
Ignoring the smaller one, he grasped the other and heaved him into the air in a single, flawless motion. Slightly younger and equally as powerful as Quarlo Ren, the high arc of the throw landed the large Earthling well beyond the writhing row of dead and dying citizens fronting the full four city block length of the museum.
There were bones and desiccated skeletons of those who had been claimed on previous games. When they left at dusk to celebrate the outcome of the games, the hunting packs of Rennik wolves that inhabited the woodlands of what had once been Central Park and often took refuge in the museum itself, would descend and feast on fresh carnage.
When their forefathers conquered the planet generations ago, New York and several other great cities were at the heart of their ambition.
“Earth child!” Quarlo Ren trumpeted loudly enough to be heard blocks away and laughed openly at Breal’s impressive throw. It was an insult. An open challenge. “You chose a child!”
“Better an Earth child than the puny specimens you throw for sport,” Breal barked back, grasping the hilt of his sword and realizing that Quarlo Ren’s nature itself would present him with the opportunity his had hoped to exploit.
Quarlo Ren’s fighting tactics and the ability to master time-warp were taught at the Combat Academy. Though reading about the giant and watching him move as if time and space were his to command and fear his to dismiss were two entirely different experiences.
“This will be my greatest throw,” Quarlo Ren snarled in contempt as the young officer advanced on him.
Up and down Fifth Avenue, the teams paused. From their holding pens, Earthlings squealed in desperation. Breal could count the steps and the distance he was closing between them, the words he had spoken in preparation, and the moves he believed would finally silence the Beast.
Suddenly, a distant crack rang out, a gunshot, a kind of weapon that was used so many years ago on Earth that it was considered a relic of a primitive world. The weapon was discharged from a window high overhead, a block away in building number 1020 on Fifth Avenue, where a small pick-up squad was foraging for game. There were screams.
A man and two women were tossed from an upper story and landed close by. Cheers cut the silence, though not Breal’s advance.
“Here,” Quarlo Ren claimed as he picked out the bullet from his shoulder. “And they used this weapon to kill each other?” He flicked the bullet aside. “Our children play with more formidable toys.”
“You want formidable, old man, well, here it is,” Breal said defiantly, still stinging from the insult. “My sword will not be so easily removed from your ancient carcass.”
Many warriors in the teams had fought Breal, and just as many had lost to his cunning mastery of tactics and the nuances of time displacement. It was said at the Academy that the first thing he ever killed was his own manifestation.
Quarlo Ren and Breal were less than half a block apart, neither resorting to the advanced firearms lashed to their hips. Soldiers stood edgy. Waiting.
A light rain drifted in from the barren, burned-out heartland across the wide river to the west, soaking the few remaining stadiums where Earthlings once played games called soccer and baseball and football, and where yesterday slaves had been brought in for sport killing.
It started as a fine mist, then the wind picked up. The teams stopped and buckled up their combat suits and helmets until they were indistinguishable from each other. They were a culture that had conquered much, but the rains that fell on this planet brought with them toxic poisons and harsh acids and a corrosive chemical mix that foamed up from a planet still healing from a millennium of its own wounds.
A dozen miles overhead, the mother ship, flanked by a pair of heavily armored gunships, had taken up a position to make sure the games went off without incident.
“Old man?” Quarlo bellowed, ignoring the rain and neglecting to cinch up his armor.
Farther up Fifth Avenue, a ship descended from the clouds and slowly hovered down. It was a small Command transport, used only by senior warriors and the political officials that infested every gunship and battle station. Finally, it came to rest directly in front of the museum.
“Yes, old man, for what else but old could you possibly be, unless maybe a nearly extinct life-form?”
Several of the warriors standing close to Breal laughed openly. Quarlo Ren might be the most feared warrior on their planet, but these were the games, and the unexpected was as much a part of the tradition as the sport killing itself.
Quarlo Ren moved his massive frame in what appeared to be two different directions and warped half a city block, dodging the vacuum of his own image when he gained on the young soldier — or where Breal should have been.
Anticipating Quarlo Ren’s opening move, Breal already parried and countered in a blur that startled many in the nearby teams who thought this would have been an easy distraction for Quarlo Ren to quash.
While Breal’s rise in the warrior class was remarkable, a win or even a draw against such an opponent at the Fifth Avenue Games was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, nor could he ignore Quarlo Ren’s penchant for insult and outrage.
Quarlo Ren anticipated Breal’s next move, but the young warrior had already moved to the steps of the museum, and thrusting his sword into the air as if he had conquered the entire planet, bellowed, “I ask my comrades to join me in a salute in honor of the memory of the recently departed Quarlo Ren.”
Offended and enraged, Quarlo Ren summoned reserves from the very fiber of his being and, in an explosion of tactical virtuosity, breached time and space and reason and appeared from out of the ether behind Breal at the top of the steps at the entrance to the museum.
Breal caught the faintest change in the energy-force around him, obscured more by the rain, and dodged Quarlo Ren’s crushing blow, but not entirely.
A pair of Rennik wolves moved about in the shadows of the entrance to the museum, ultimately deciding not to take advantage of what at first looked like a fresh meal.
Instinct may have warned them otherwise.
The doors to the transport opened. Stepping out onto Fifth Avenue was Catchun Orr, First Political Officer in command of the mother ship, and two warriors, their weapons drawn at their sides.
“Quarlo Ren!” Catchun Orr summoned from the base of the museum steps.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Quarlo Ren grasped Breal’s throat with one hand and lifted him into the air while brushing off the downward thrust of Breal’s sword. “Old man? Old man?” he roared, grabbing Breal’s ammunition belt with his other hand and threw him a block and a half toward the far side of the steps, where he landed in an overgrowth of poisonous tatter-ferns.
A cheer rose from the teams who would return to their planet with another tale of the undefeated Quarlo Ren. The line broke ranks as the howling praise continued, only further infuriating Catchun Orr, and feeding his contempt for disorder and disrespect.
Another notch in the legend that was Quarlo Ren, whose reputation on the field was only matched by his prowess with women, most who would have gladly sacrificed themselves at his request.
“I am Quarlo Ren, and I am the fighting-master on this planet, and any planet on which I stand.”
Catchun Orr quietly gave orders to the soldiers at his side as Breal appeared from the bushes as though he had merely tripped and lost his balance. He ripped off his damaged helmet and tossed it into the street and, sword in hand, pointed the tip toward Quarlo Ren. Breal’s team cheered loudly, along with other teams who realized a winner had not yet been declared.
Breal knew of Quarlo Ren’s brother, and the incident where the younger warrior’s disobedience was exaggerated before a military tribunal by Catchun Orr for his own political advancement.
Catchun Orr called out, “Quarlo Ren, you are hereby ordered to return to the mother ship at once. I will not ask twice, Commander.”
“You can ask three times and more until your flapping tongue rots in your gaping, mouth,” Quarlo Ren answered from the top of the steps of the museum without taking his gaze from Breal.
Fighting back the pain and unwilling to sheath his sword, Breal advanced toward Catchun Orr, whom he considered a particularly unpleasant infestation of political duplicity.
“One final time, Quarlo Ren.”
The rain eased, as if it feared the greater torrent building below. The wind became a whisper of discretion. Teams along Fifth Avenue closed ranks in an open, threatening display of force.
Quarlo Ren considered his options. “I came for the games and will remain with my comrades,” he answered, slowly moving down the steps.
Catchun Orr had prepared for such a possibility and offered his open hand to one of the warriors who handed him a scroll. Catchun Orr unfolded the document. “Quarlo Ren, you are hereby ordered to give yourself up to the officer presenting these charges without incident or resistance.” Catchun Orr tossed the scroll back to the warrior, who barely caught it in flight.
“And the charges, or should I say the groundless fabrications, that sent you here to interrupt this event and test the patience of my comrades?”
“Those are meant to be heard in the privacy of the Council of Elders.”
A giant in every way, Quarlo Ren paused several paces away, but the power of his presence was not lost on Catchun Orr and his two warriors. “I will hear them now and waive my rights to be charged in front of the Council.”
The scroll was returned to Catchun Orr. “That you did, on numerable occasions, consort with the wife of Councilman Danni Row and the wife of Councilman Battan Kell, and as such dishonored those women and their families and will be held accountable to the Ordinances of The Sacred City for your recklessness and impropriety.”
Quarlo Ren knew that Catchun Orr’s presence and timing were scripted to dishonor him in front of these elite troops more than to accuse him of such unpleasantries, though he was certain Danni Row and Battan Kell, two powerful Councilmen, would seek the harshest retribution.
“I find your timing ill-placed, Catchun Orr. At the very least it is made for show and less to honor justice,” Breal offered before Quarlo Ren could respond. “I suggest you scurry back to the safety of your transporter and take these two fangless clingers with you before they accidentally injure themselves on my sword.”
Hearing the open rebuke, the rest of Breal’s and Quarlo Ren’s team stepped up behind their leaders.
“Of course, it is only a suggestion, but one made in the spirit of the games and respecting the honor of your position.” Breal added, with little conviction.
“I think you should seriously consider warrior Breal’s generous offer,” Quarlo Ren added.
Catchun Orr feared being put in harm’s way when both Councilmen insisted that Quarlo Ren be openly served in the middle of the games. But they were safe at home on their planet, while he had to confront Quarlo Ren, and now Breal, in front of a horde of menacing warriors.
“Out of respect for the games, I will honor that request and grant that you should complete the event before you return, and more than likely again be required to risk your life in the protection of our world.”
Breal and Quarlo Ren nodded their acceptance as one. Catchun Orr returned to the transporter which lifted off into the dank haze.
Quarlo Ren turned to Breal. “I owe you for putting yourself at risk for me.”
Standing next to Quarlo Ren, Breal recognized the mask of age that the remarkable warrior wore. “You owe me an explanation, nothing more.”
“And what would that be?” Quarlo Ren said, finally noticing Breal’s wounds from the impact of a throw that would have killed a lesser warrior.
“I find Catchun Orr’s charges hard to believe.”
“In what way, since I can assure you they are true?”
“That your philandering was limited to the wives of only two Councilmen. A warrior of your skill and reputation should be held to higher standards.”
Quarlo Ren burst into laughter.
“So, you can understand my suspicion about the charges?”
“Yes, yes, now I do, and of course you are right,” Quarlo Ren admitted.
“And, now, we have games to play.”
Quarlo Ren paused, taking in the sum and substance of the warrior facing him, and withdrew the remaining red vials of his Frieze from a pocket in his combat uniform and handed them to Breal. “You will need as much of these as you can get.”
“For even the slightest chance of defeating me.”
Breal took half of the vials. “There,” he said, leaving the rest in Quarlo Ren’s massive hand, “just in case you get too tired later to compete.”
A pack of a dozen huge, snarling Rennik wolves sprang from the darkness of the museum, howling wildly at the overwhelming scent of blood and dead bodies that fired their madness.
“Maybe a diversion, something to get us into the mood, before we return to the games?” Quarlo Ren considered openly.
“The two of us against a pack of crazed wolves?”
“Hardly seems fair.”
“For the wolves?”
“I agree,” Breal said, unsheathing his sword, as both men vanished in a haze of time-warp and instantly reappeared at the top of the steps to a terrified pack whose number and ferocity were of little consequence to sway the outcome of the carnage that ensued.
Copyright © 2017 by Arthur Davis