The following is an excerpt from the Prologue of ‘Kill Switch: Serial Escalation’, you can find the full novel on Amazon in eBook and paperback form.
The roar of the crowd filled the cavernous space. It drowned out the grunts of effort from the two competitors and the wet snarls below them. Camera drones circled, capturing every drop of sweat, every strained muscle, and every line of effort on the two men’s faces. Two raised platforms were suspended high above the arena, just barely within striking distance of one another. The round arena floor was dotted with outcroppings of upwardly jagged fake rocks. Baying and snarling, a pack of genetically altered attack dogs circled the raised supports of the two platforms in anticipation of their dinner. The crowd was pushed in tight around the arena cage. The rusty iron stench of blood, sweat and animal stink filled the room.
Both men had completed and survived the other rounds of the TV show Real Gladiators with roughly equal scores. It all came down to the final death match. As the two men fought, the supports below them started to smoothly but relentlessly shrink into the ground. If the platforms got low enough the mutant dogs would tear the competitors to pieces. The only way to stop them was for one contestant to knock the other off their platform.
Player One was a big man with a grey beard who had gone for raw power over speed when it came to selecting his weapon. His iron club looked like a cross between a sledgehammer and a meat mallet. Hunks of dreadlocks hung around his sweating face. Arms extended, the man’s grimace showed rotten teeth shot through with flecks of black. The spiked head of his massive hammer whistled through open space. It was slow and cumbersome but Player One would only have to land a hit once and it would be all over for his opponent.
Player Two danced clear of the hammer on the limited space of his platform. He was younger, slimmer, and sweat gleamed off his shaven head and bronze skin. Tattoos covered his arms and neck, and a stylised skull was inked under his left eye. He was carrying a long, staff-like weapon with a weighted bulb the size of a fist on each end, a faster, more graceful weapon with more reach but it couldn’t hit as hard as Player One’s hammer. Both men were wearing padded armour, not out of concern for their wellbeing but to make sure the fight wasn’t over too quickly.
Player One staggered after almost overextending on his swing. Catching glimpses of him, the dogs howled with bloodlust, deformed faces full of hunger and lips pulled back from curved fangs. Player Two waded in, twirling the weighted staff. One of the bulbs slammed into Player One’s ribs, covered in padding, and another glanced off his shoulder pad. The staff clipped the bearded man across the ear.
“Go down, pops! Why don’t you just go down, old man?” Player Two shouted.
Player Two jousted at the man’s chest but Player One snatched at the staff, almost pulling it out of Player Two’s hands. Player Two yanked it back, terrified he was about to lose his weapon and be left helpless. He stumbled almost right to the edge of his platform. Player One grinned, showing off his blackened teeth again in the midst of his grey beard.
The crowd was steeped in shadow thanks to the hidden spotlights all directed inward, into the arena. The barred sides rose in front of them like a massive birdcage. Little could be seen of the spectators, just a single dark mass of contorted faces and clutching hands, shaking with excitement and something close to rage. In one of the middle rows, pressed between two larger men, a single spectator watched the two fighters on the raised platforms with a sour expression. He seemed, at least to himself, to be the only person in the crowd not cheering for blood. Popcorn spilled down the man’s shoulder. Hidden in his glasses, a tiny camera simultaneously filmed and snapped pictures of the fight. The two men cleaved and swung at one another, fighting for their lives and struggling to keep their footing. Suddenly, as if he could take no more, the quiet spectator stood up and squeezed out of the row apologetically then headed for the exit.
The platforms were getting too low. Incensed with chemical rage and bloodlust, the largest of the dogs were leaping and scrabbling at their edges. The men had to be more careful of their footing than ever, even as they became more desperate. Toeing the edge of his platform, Player One swung his enormous hammer and put all the reach he had into it. Player Two just barely avoided it, reaching the opposite side of his platform and bowing his body backward. As soon as he could, Player Two lunged inward, twirling the weighted ends of his staff. One bulb-shaped end connected flush with Player One’s face this time, whiplashing his head to the side. Several rotten teeth sprayed from Player One’s mouth. They rattled against the side of the cage but a static force field stopped them from flying into the crowd and they dropped to the floor of the arena instead.
Dizzied, Player One went down on one knee, still clutching his hammer. He swayed dangerously from side to side. One of the bigger dogs boosted itself off a rock outcropping and lunged, getting its paws on the lip of his platform and almost snapping its jaws closed on the cuff of the man’s pants. The crowd howled as Player Two closed in for the kill.
Explosively, Player One straightened. The blow Player Two had aimed at the bigger man’s head bounced harmlessly off his shoulder. Player Two’s footing was thrown off and he couldn’t retreat backward in time. With all his strength, Player One brought his massive, spiked hammer around and caught Player Two in the chest. Even through the padding the hovering camera drones could pick up the sound of the younger man’s ribs and sternum shattering.
Player Two was lifted off his feet and thrown clear of his platform. He fell a short distance onto one of the jagged outcroppings of rock on the arena floor with another sickening crunch. Unfortunately, the fall was not far enough to kill the contestant instantly, as it might have been from the height at which the platforms had originally started their descent. Player Two weakly raised one hand as if trying to claw his way back up, letting out a ragged gurgle. The reaction from the bloodthirsty and genetically engineered attack dogs was instantaneous. Motley collections of a variety of savage breeds, all muscle, bristly fur, teeth and claws, they swarmed on the downed man. Shredding effortlessly through his padded armour and into flesh they attacked like sharks in a feeding frenzy.
Blood streaming into his beard from both corners of his mouth, Player One slowly stood and waved. The two platforms, one now empty, juddered to a stop. Baring his bloody and rotten teeth, the man raised his spiked hammer over his head. The crowd went wild with admiration, cheering for the brutal match and the gruesome spectacle below. It made little difference to most of them which contestant had won and which one had ended up as dog food on the floor of the arena. A harness slowly lowered itself from the ceiling to carry the winner out while the dogs were still fixated below.
Once the crowd had filed out the dogs were called away. An ultrasonic signal hypnotised them and drew them back to their kennels, leaving behind the steaming remains of Player Two. Another door opened on the arena floor to one side of the cage. An electronically boosted voice echoed over the arena.
“Reset, reset the stage for the next match.” The voice said.
Half a dozen stagehands in white coveralls, complete with booties and gloves, spread out across the arena. Several of them hurried to bag the grisly leftovers of Player Two. Not much more than bloody bones and rags of skin and clothing had been left behind by the dogs. The kill had left blood and fluids sprayed across half the arena. The other stagehands wore tanks on their backs and held long, nozzle-shaped guns. Spraying a quick-drying cleaning solution, they hosed the blood and grease off the rocks and ground. Pink pools swelled and then swirled away into hidden drains.
One of the stagehands surreptitiously circled the outskirts of the arena, eyes darting from side to side. The drones had retreated back into the ceiling but there were still cameras everywhere. He was a skinny, pale man with bright orange hair and a thin goatee. As he looked around, sick with nerves, another one of the stagehands took notice.
“Hey, Earle, you alright, man?” The second stagehand asked.
“Oh, yeah? Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, just-, cleaning up.” Earle said.
He let out a short squirt of cleaning solution at some scrap of blood and skin and the other stagehand shrugged and moved on. Going about his duties, Earle kept looking. There, against the wall of the cage, Earle spotted several rotten teeth. They were the same ones that had been knocked out of Player One’s mouth in the last match. Trying to look casual, Earle dipped over and scooped them up in one gloved hand. The white suits the stagehands were wearing had no pockets or places to hold anything. Instead, Earle had cut a small tear in the white material at his right hip. It was just enough of a hole that he could access his pants’ pocket and slip the broken teeth inside.
Once the caged arena was reset the cleaning techs retreated back through the doorway before the next crowd would be let in. Beneath the arena was a maze of dark and cluttered tunnels. Producers, technicians and stagehands ran back and forth, always in a hurry as was the nature of live television. Since their team had a short break though, Earle stripped off his white suit.
“Where are you going?” One of the other techs asked.
“Going to grab a smoke.” Earle said.
Earle walked away before anyone asked any more questions. Behind him, the remains they had collected were being transported to the studio’s incinerator. Darting through the corridors, Earle came to a rarely used exit and pushed his way out into a shadowy alley at the back of the studio lot. The stench of garbage filled his nostrils and the sky was black and murky. There seemed to be no one else around. Earle immediately started to worry that he’d been played and his contact was never going to show. After a few moments, someone stepped around the shadow of a nearby dumpster.
“Earle, right? Did you bring what I asked for?” They asked.
Earle jumped, “Yeah, I got something, teeth. That’s alright, alright?” He said.
“Teeth should be fine.” The stranger said.
Earle dug around in his pocket and removed the teeth. The stranger took them and tipped them into a baggie which he then sealed. In return, the man handed Earle a wad of crumpled notes which Earle stuffed into his pocket. They still couldn’t trace cash, not in most places anyway.
“What the heck did you want them for anyway? Teeth, or hair, or blood, like you were talking about?” Earle said.
The stranger stared at him for several seconds and Earle remembered they’d agreed on no questions. The deal had been set up through encrypted emails. Earle needed the money and at at the time hadn’t cared why someone would want genetic material from one of their contestants. They’d all be on file somewhere after all, since the studio was only allowed to source contestants who were already on death row or facing life imprisonment. Murderers, rapists and all-around scumbags. It was only as they got closer to the actual exchange that the possible consequences of betraying his employer had begun to gnaw at Earle.
“When they hired you, you signed a contract saying all biological material must be incinerated and can’t leave the building, right?” The man said, “Them not wanting anyone to have it is a good enough reason for me.”
The stranger retreated back into the darkness and the two men split. Earle returned through the open exit, heading back to his work station before he’d be missed. He shoved the wad of cash deeper into his pocket.
High over the studio building, a single security drone was hovering. The drone was too high for either of the men to have seen or heard it during their exchange but its powerful camera had captured every single detail.
Enjoy? Want to know what happens next? You can find the full novel, ‘Kill Switch: Serial Escalation’ by Sean E. Britten on Amazon in eBook and paperback form.