Chapter 6: Confusion and Casualties
Only a handful of hours after the qualification course, Ace was ordered to go into the main area of the DreadZone station, known as the Battledome.
After being dropped off by the DZ carrier he observed his surroundings, finding himself to be in some sort of huge arena. There were thousands of fans on the stadiums in the surrounding area, all screaming and cheering.
Soon their attention was caught by Ace Hardlight’s presence. They all fell relatively silent for a moment, as a news commentator started speaking out on the megaphone…
”Daryn Aygo here, as another show begins live tonight here at DreadZone! The brand new show of the Shadow sector, set to bring in the high ratings from all across the galaxy! And oh, look who we have down here; Ace Hardlight? The guy who had destroyed an entire planet mere days ago? This ought to be interesting! Let’s see if he can survive the first 5 rounds of DZ strikers and other killer robots alike!”
The crowd could only stare down at Ace; some booing was heard from the spectators, some even threw rubbish in his direction.
Ace suddenly felt very insignificant at the presence of all these distasteful fans, and he tried to ignore the remarks from the commentator at the same time. Trying not to show any sign of grief, he stood up straight and glared at the battle course ahead just as it began.
He dashed ahead with his launcher and shot at any incoming robots, some were even larger than him and weld guns, firing constantly in his direction as he ran. It was a thrilling experience; more robots came from left and right, trying to lay a hit on Ace as he dodged them and he threw a few punches towards any that were too close to get a good shot at with his weapon.
The DreadZone fans seemed to be quite impressed with his performance and some were even cheering for Ace, rather than booing.
When Ace became more overwhelmed with the onslaught of robotic fighters, he readily pressed his HL clone device trigger and disappeared for a split second. He reappeared with four hard-light clones. He controlled his clones and shot rapidly at the robots, coming from all directions and many were going down, as robotic pieces scattered everywhere and were starting to pile up in the arena.
The crowds were stunned with what they saw and they cheered even louder. It was not long for Ace to clear his first Battledome course. Ace stood there in the centre catching his breath, relieved to have cleared them off with only a moderate amount of effort. He switched the clones off and people in the crowds were clapping their hands together.
”Oh would you look at that! A very strong start for Mr Hardlight, don’t you agree? But as I always tell the newcomers, this is only the beginning… and who knows how long this killer hero will last here at DreadZone!”
Ace ignored the commentator again and awaited the next DreadZone challenges, bracing himself for what was to come next.
Ace had a very good start at the Battledome, the main fighting area of the DreadZone challenges. He now realized that he truly was kidnapped for a reality holovision show. It was blatantly obvious after seeing all the fans in the Battledome, and the DreadZone advertisements on the HV screens displayed throughout the station. He learned that his new ‘boss’ was Gleeman Vox, someone he had never even heard of; a criminal he hadn’t dealt with before.
Ace also found that he was in the Shadow sector of the Solana Galaxy, a lawless region on the very edge of the known galaxy. He knew that no authorities from Solana would go beyond this point of the galaxy neither, as Vox had already explained earlier on.
Over the next few days, Ace began to become more used to the idea of being a gladiator, fighting for the pleasure of millions of eager fans. But underneath his fighter performances, he was still very distraught about what had happened a few weeks earlier. Yet he found that doing these challenges at the Battledome would take his mind off the pain and let him fight in relative peace.
It was actually better than sitting around in his containment area. Sometimes he would even be forced to do challenges on a handful of other planets within the Shadow sector of the galaxy.
But what he didn’t realize yet, was that he wasn’t the only superhero imprisoned here at DreadZone. He did know there were other contestants around, but he hadn’t come across anybody else yet. At least until he came close to finishing a battle course on a particular planet…
Racing through the dark murky swamps, Ace was on planet Sarathos; a ruthless, gloomy place, plagued with leviathan creatures from all over, waiting to devour him and anyone else who happened to come too close for comfort. The atmosphere was also dirty, not a very comfortable place for an organic contestant like Ace Hardlight without an H2 mask of some sort.
Nevertheless, he completed the challenges, not wanting to have another choking shock from his deadlock collar. He had experienced a shock a few days earlier when he was refusing to eat anything offered to him at the DreadZone station.
He raced through a Sarathos challenge on a DZ hoverbike, speeding past deadly leviathans as they tried to kill him from various directions, some even positioning their scorpion-like tails in his way; ready to blast an acidic fire at him. Ace was a very skilled biker though, thanks to his experiences in the past from competing in hoverbike races in the Bogon galaxy. He fired his blasters from the hoverbike as he sped past the dangerous creatures of Sarathos, watching them go down one by one and at the same time, avoiding the DZ robots lurking around each cliff and ditch.
Ace was near the finish line of the hoverbike course, until he spotted something very odd on the other side of the area. Noticing there was no more nearby enemies, he stopped his bike to get a better view of what he saw on the other side of the valley. Switching his visor into sniper view, he zoomed in and saw something disturbing. He could see a woman in a heroine outfit, fighting off a large leviathan creature, but that wasn’t what caught his attention. He also saw another person who looked like a superhero - a man, lying on the ground, presumably dead.
Ace charged up the hoverbike and headed over in that direction quickly, and was relieved to see that the woman had killed the leviathan by the time he got there. He hurried in closer on his bike to find out what they were doing here in the first place.
Ace arrived at the scene of the fight. The corpse of the leviathan was lying a few meters away from them. The female heroine knelt over her fallen partner. They were both a duo, forced compete for DreadZone, just like Ace Hardlight.
”…Eric… I should have been looking out for you, I am so sorry…”
She said, weeping over his body. She wore a blue and black outfit, identical to the one of her partner. They also had their own hero logo imprinted on them. Ace hopped off his hoverbike to see them up close. He felt sympathy for the woman as she cried, and she seemed to not have noticed Ace’s presence.
”I am sorry about your loss, but I have to ask… what are you doing here?”
The heroine looked up and noticed Ace standing near her. She wiped her tears to see him properly and once she realized who he was, she frowned angrily. Ace could now see that both her and her partner had deadlock collars, meaning that they were contestants - just like him. Her frown grew more before replying to him,
”What do you THINK happened here?! I have lost my partner, no thanks to this, this horrible show! The last thing I need is to see is somebody like you”
”Well then. I am sorry if my presence is disturbing you, but I’m only trying to help!”
”Your help? After seeing the disaster you and your team are responsible for? I don’t need your help, so please… just leave us!”
She screamed at him. Ace felt slightly hurt by her words but tried not to show any of it on the outside as he glared back at her. He wasn’t sure what to do.
Moments later, he felt the presence of holo-recording cameras flying around him and the heroine continuously. He took a few steps back towards his hoverbike. The heroine returning to grieve over her dead partner in silence…
Ace was utterly spooked. He stood there, motionless, wide-eyed and disturbed. He could only stare back at the female hero… but her head was gone!
Her collar had detonated, blasting her head instantly and leaving nothing but a charred and burnt upper body. Her body slumped over her dead lover. Ace was deeply disturbed at the sight of it. He guessed this is what Vox meant by contestants becoming boring.
He hurryingly got onto his hoverbike, speeding away from the horrific sight, as quickly as he could.