I soak in the primeval chanting as I descend into the sea of spectators. The eight trigrams, my team’s emblem, pulses on my chest in sync with the crowd’s roar. Our notoriety in the Immortals League has uplifted the world in these dark times. All I wish for now is to return into a human body.
Jaie sits in the front row with her arms crossed. I miss her touch. The first time we jacked into the Earth’s energy stream, we were wrapped around each other. Since I entered the League, even her spirit struggles to embrace me. She says it’s like crossing into the abyss.
My uncle is here, too. His engineers developed the machine that hosts my mind. No one expected us to get this far. The top defense constructors whose teams dominate the League proclaimed our tech is second-rate and cannot compete with theirs. We showed the world that their pilots’ minds are undeveloped and require deeper training. The war profiteers are losing face. They bully us to gain an advantage.
Today is the main event and my chance at the title. Uncle wants me to throw the fight—he has been promised a large contract in return. The word of this got out, and the bookies’ odds are sky-high against me. Damn uncle’s profits. I took my winnings and placed a bet on myself. When it comes in, I will have enough credits to regenerate my flesh. I need to get out of this hellhole.
My opponent dances down the steps of the arena. With the energy field around his metallic body shimmering red, white, and blue, he resembles a bioluminescent deep-sea predator on the prowl. The crowd loses all control.
We sit in our respective corners. I focus on my breathing. Pneumatics expand and contract silently as air rushes in and out. The rhythmic movement brings to life a swarm of nanobots inside my heavy fluid channels. The nanobots align my field with Earth’s. A few more breaths blast open the electromagnetic torrent, and my hyper-powered consciousness goes into overdrive. Time slows.
I ignore the protracted murmur of the announcer as we step into the center of the ring. My sensors lock onto the opponent’s systems, and his awareness melds with mine. His emotions imprint on the data stream. He exudes confidence and aggression. Does he register Jaie’s presence? Her bond with me has faded, but it is still there.
The bell sets us in motion. He starts circling to my left in an attempt to get an angle. I stay with him. Each time his foot touches the ground, a wave of charged particles flows up the bronze cables that wrap around his charcoal carbon fiber chassis. His fists glow. Our light dances on the mirror surfaces of the darkened hall while I wait for him to pounce. The fear of losing everything redlines my concentration.
As a wave of particles comes up his body, he carefully rotates the fist closest to my face until I can see the back of it. His index and middle fingers open. The particles follow the gesture to the fingertips. My knees go weak, and he slams into me with a combo. I stagger, roll, and land half-kneeling on the opposite side of the ring. He turns away and hypes up the crowd with more fancy footwork. Cheers and boos beat down on me like toxic rain.
What was that movement with his hand? Uncle’s team must have pre-programmed the nanobots to guarantee my downfall. I feel depleted. I cannot even stand up. Is this where I lose Jaie forever? I desperately try to reconnect with the Earth’s stream, but all attempts to break through the electronic locks just crash against a wall. Before I waste what little strength remains, I stop.
I sense Jaie’s dear warmth around me. Now that I’m not pushing against it, her energy rushes into my field—the nanobots only prevented me from reaching outward. I clutch Jaie’s stream and with it, Earth’s. When the champ returns, I’m on my feet and at full charge.
He attempts his trick again, but I hold onto the power stream. I feign weakness, misstep, and leave my knee too open. He takes the bait and comes in with a kick. I catch his leg with mine; he loses balance. A hard shove sends him flying. I stick to him, place a palm where his liver would be, and follow him to the ground.
When we come to rest, he is on his back with his arms and legs splayed. I kneel next to him, my hand on his midriff, and my head bowed. I remain there until the last of his life force absorbs into mine, and he shuts down. I look at Jaie. My Jaie. I will hold her once again.