T. Frederic Knowles awoke. His eyes tried to adjust to the surroundings. It seemed, from the faint blue light on the small digital readout, that he was in an egg-like unit, similar to the tube-way. As his eyes acclimated to the low-light, he realized that he lay in a bed-like place. The covers were warm and comfortable on his bare skin.
Bare skin? I’m naked again? He wondered. He tried to remember the events of the last night.
He’d upset Vrennj by insulting the Dragon’s mother. He knew that the fight was going to be a fake “fight to the finish” and that Vrennj herself was injured in negotiations with the dragon and his agent.
They took the tube-way after the debacle at the arena. When they arrived at the…What was this place anyway? He stopped musing. All he knew is that it seemed like some sort of laboratory.
Vrennj gave him a pill to calm down. He remembered lying in a small bed in one of those fake wall portal things that, apparently surrounded Vrennj’s lab/office/home.
Vrennj assured him she would wake in in plenty of time for the battle.
How did I end up naked? He wondered. The armor he wore seemed to be on rather tight. How did Vrennj get it off of him?
He sat in the bed and reached for the top of the pod. It was out of reach. He knelt and tried again. It seemed just out of the reach of his fingertips.
He stood. He didn’t want to open the pod in his state of dress, but then, it wasn’t anything Vrennj hadn’t seen before. He reached for the top to open the pod.
It was just beyond the reach of his fingertips.
He stood dumbfounded.
He looked at the blue digital display on the far wall. He took a step.
The mattress was soft, yet with a firmness that was good for his back. As his bare feet walked over the sheets and covers, he noted that they seemed softer than silk.
He actually was able to reach the wall. His hands rested on the cool metal frame. He peered at the display.
He saw some sort of figures in a soft blue background. The numbers moved, almost like a countdown. This must be some sort of alarm, he imagined. He touched the display hoping it would open the pod.
The display went dark.
He stood in absolute darkness.
He began to panic. His breathing became forced. He stood transfixed by fear and panic. He did the only thing he could think of.
He reached out and touched the place where he remembered the display was located.
The soft blue light once again filled the pod.
His breathing became easier. He felt the sweat on his body cool.
The smart thing, he realized, would be to lie down and cover himself and wait for the alarm. Perhaps doze and get a little more strength for the fight.
He looked at the display and touched around it. His fingers probed for a switch or button that might be invisible to his eyes. The panel was small, enough space for the display and a small frame. He took care not to touch the display again.
He touched behind the panel. It seemed that nothing supported the panel and that is must be floated. He pushed and tried to move it about the room. It remained steadfast.
He sat on the comfortable bed with the softer than silk covers.
Oddly, he realized, his mind was not racing. Normally, he knew, he would be all about making some sort of plan, deciding how he would execute it. But now, nothing. All he could do was wait.
He hoped that Vrennj would have spent this time giving him pointers, a way of fighting the Dragon. He believed that it must all be rigged. They should at least tell him the moves they expected him to use. At the very least tell him the choreography of the event.
He noticed a soft smell in the pod. It reminded him of honeysuckle.
He tried to focus on breathing, it would calm him enough to fall asleep.
The bright light awoke him. He sat up in the pod. Vrennj stood at the foot of the unit, flanked by two women of identical looks, except for the hair. One had bright green hair and the other had bright blue hair.
It took him a while to comprehend.
“Greetings,” Vrennj said at last.
“What’s going on? What time is the fight?” Knowles asked. He didn’t want to ask about the other women, but thought better of it.
“These are my sisters, Vrenni and Vrennk. I thought I would need their help.”
“For the fight?” Knowles was still in a slightly confused state.
“Yes, for the fight. I needed their help to prepare.”
“That makes sense, so let’s prepare,” Knowles said pulling the blanket over himself.
“Oh, you needn’t worry,” one of Vrennj’s sisters said. “It’s all been handled.”
“Handled? You mean I don’t have to fight.”
“No, you do not,” said the other sister.
“How did you manage that?”
Vrennj smiled. “Oh, that fight happened, actually. You were killed”
“Rather quickly, I might add,” blue-haired sister said.
“How can that be? I don’t understand,” Knowles said more confused than ever.
Vrennj climbed into the pod and sat on the bed, her sisters did the same.
“I had a suspicion that the dragon would not abide by our agreement.”
“So, we used your map while you were compress,” said the green-haired Vrennj “and made a clone.”
“A clone? You can do that in one night?”
“It wasn’t easy,” said the real Vrennj. That’s why I needed my sisters. I worked on decompressing the copy you and they removed your suit and stored some of your memories.”
“Yes,” the blue-haired Vrennj explained. “We needed to explain to him what was going on, we certainly didn’t have time for questions you had when you arrived.”
“How do you know what questions I had?”
The blue-haired Vrennj blushed. “Why, we were monitoring everything. Vrennj was given the more social aspects of our personality, while we are more of the analytical skills.”
“What are you saying?”
Vrennj rolled her eyes. “Ted, we are clones. We are all from the original Vrenn-1 strain. As far as I know, we’re up to Vrennx, although I haven’t met her myself.”
“You wouldn’t want to either,” said green-haired Vrennj.
“So, am I the real me, or am I like you?”
The sisters gave each other a knowing glance. “You are you. Your clone is what the dragon devoured.”
“And rather quickly at that,” the green-haired Vrennj said.
“I heard that,” Knowles growled. “So, am I stuck here? What happens now?”
All three women smiled. “No, you are going back to earth,” Vrennj said. “And we are going to take you.”
“How can you do that? Doesn’t it run like a gazillion dollars?”
“We made a gazillion dollars at the fight,” blue-haired Vrennj said. “I predicted the dragon would act as he did and made appropriate wagers. We could probably buy Earth right now.”
“But,” Knowles tried to talk.
“Relax,” green-haired Vrennj said. “We have it all figured out. Since you know Vrennj the best, she will be your mate. Vrenni will go to your financial city of New York and invest our winnings, and I will work on bringing technology to your world. It’s a win-win-win situation. I already have a new program language I will bring to that adding machine company that Vrenni is going to buy. I call it For-Tran, for fortune transfer.”
“So, what happened to the dragon?”
“Oh,” Vrennj said glumly. “He’s in jail. Not only for killing you, which he agreed not to do, but for assaulting me, and worst of all…”
“Killing you in less than a minute!” the sister shouted.
“No one ever wins that quick,” Vrennj said. “All the fights are designed to last quite some time. Between concession sales, last minute and side wagers. Killing you is one thing; not making it profitable for the house is entirely something different.”
Knowles felt light-headed. He reached up and made sure the crown was on his head. He stepped forward out of the darkness.
He was surrounded by Vrennj and his sisters. Samir bowed as Knowles walked out of the cubicle. Samir hand Knowles a bag with his name taped to it and pointed to a room at the back of the store.
Knowles held the bag in front of him and walked, after handing Samir the crown.