With all the fights concluded, twenty-one contestants remained. Tonya and Beth walked side by side through the tunnel to the final event located in the mega-dome. Few people spoke and when they did their voices echoed off the concrete walls. The group crammed into an elevator and the metal lattice gate sealed them in before lifting them to the next level.
The domed building was enormous. Tonya saw it on television a few times and the massive size and mirrored finish of it always surprised her. The stadiums Tonya watched professional sports teams play in could fit inside the mega-dome structure with room for an audience around it. The group walked past a cluster of monitors broadcasting a live view of the stands and every seat was filled as well as people standing in the aisles and along the guard rails. Razor wire looped the upper portion of the high fencing, separating the audience from the live action, while stern security guards were positioned along the inner fencing. Never had she seen so many people gathered in one building. And she was about to compete in the final event of the Arena Games. Beth was equally awestruck by the sight and more vocal about it as they walked.
Tonya kept more of her thoughts to herself. It feels like I’m in prison. The only thing I’m missing is an orange jumpsuit.
They were escorted single file to a locker room fitted for the elite. The room was clean, carpeted, and full of luxury. Armed security guards on constant surveillance were everywhere including several lining the walls of room where they waited. A man in black military apparel came and addressed the group.
“Give me your attention. You are the finalists in the Arena Games. Congratulations. This is the final event and your last chance to back out. Once the event begins, you must continue or suffer the consequences. Are their any questions at this point?” A man at the back of the room raised his hand. “Yes?”
“What happens if we change our mind after it starts?”
“You will be eradicated from the Arena Games forever.”
A female spoke, “What is the event?”
“A race. First to the end wins. Any other questions?”
That’s a loaded question. There is so much that isn’t being said about this place and what is going on.
“Okay. You will have cameras mounted to your head and chest so that the audience can see what you see. Before we suit up, does anyone want out?”
“I do.” It was a woman with freckles covering her body. Her hands were trembling and two fingers were taped together.
“Seriously? Okay. Come on up.” He spoke in a radio and had the woman escorted out. When the door shut behind her, the man spoke again, “Direct your attention to the screen.” The front panels of the room came to life with a live feed from the arena.
A voice over the speakers said, “Arena Games fans, put your hands together for the four-time, Arena Games grand champion, Jesse Roman!” The crowd rent the air with enthusiasm as a man dressed in jeans and a near-bursting muscle shirt walked onstage.
“Thank you. Welcome to this year’s Arena Games.” The crowd erupted with more shouts and applause. “We have twenty-one contestants making it through-” He put a finger to his ear. “They just told me that one of those contestants has chosen to withdraw from the competition. Let’s get them out here and find out what’s going on.” The crowd booed as the woman came to stand next to the man. “Let me ask you what’s burning in everyone’s mind; why quit now when we’re minutes away from starting the final event?”
She was flustered trying to get her answer out. “I, I don’t want to go through any more. I’m tired. My finger is broken and I want to go home. What if something else happens to me? I’m not doing this any more. I’m done.”
“You’re done? What the hell kind of answer is that? Do you know it’s a privilege to compete in the Games? I had to bust my ass every single time to make it this far and you’re quitting.” The woman shrank away and put her hands over her ears. He turned to the audience, “What do you think?” The crowd near the floor level banged on the fencing as the whole building rattled with the disappointment from the people. Guards shouted for people to get away from the fence. Two people were tased and left lying where they fell until other spectators picked them up.
Jesse turned back to the woman. “Now, as I was saying, are you sure that you want to quit? I’ll give you one last chance to change your mind.”
The woman shifted from side to side. “I-I just want to go home. I don’t have a chance at beating the others in the final. I’ve been trying the whole time. I want out before anything else happens to me.”
“Fine, get your ass out the door.” He shoved her towards a door to the left of the stage. A spotlight followed her movement as did the heckling from the crowd. Halfway there, she fell through a trapdoor, screaming in terror. It shut with a thud, silencing her scream.
Tonya’s mouth gaped. Oh my god! Why did they do that? She just wanted to leave.
A familiar voice slithered up Tonya’s neck as he spoke, “You should quit while you can. ”
Tonya stared straight forward as Beth rubbed the back of her neck with her middle finger.
“One of the few rules here is that you can’t have outside help. I heard at least one of you has had some help. I don’t want to be the one that points it out to the officials. Seems a little childish, don’t you think?”
Tonya faced him. “I figure we’re even after that little stunt you pulled with my drink.”
“Hey! Face the front.” The man at the front of the room said.
“That’d be you, Sweetie.” He smiled and winked.
“Watch your step out there.” Tonya faced the front and listened to the rest of the instructions for the event.
Once everyone was geared up, they were filed onstage, forming a line for the audience.
“Here are your finalists.” Several of the contestants raised their hands to the crowd, chief among them was the man in the red jersey. “They are playing for two million dollars and a chance to become a gladiator in the Arena Games. One more thing I must mention before we start the event; word has it that some of the contestants have been cheating. The Games were built for surviving until the end without outside help. This year, the stakes are changing for some of our contestants. If they lose this event, they also lose something else. Let’s have a look.”
On the mega screen, two women and a man with black material over their heads sat in chairs with their hands behind them. The man slumped in his chair next to a woman and the other woman sat some distance away. An armed guard came into view and removed the cloth of the single woman. Tonya and Beth felt their hearts sink; it was the janitor woman that delivered the message. He then revealed the other two people; Ash and Jimmy.
All color washed from Tonya’s face.
Oh god, no. They caught him. If they have him, why am I still here? Now what do I do? How do I get him out of there?
“These three were caught assisting a couple of contestants, so we’ve chosen to make them a part of the Games. If the cheater loses, so do they. If the cheater wins, their only prize is to walk away with their friends. It’s no longer a race for prize money, but for their lives.” The crowd cheered with renewed energy. “Now, let’s start our final event; the Race!”
Tonya looked to the smirking, red jerseyed man, he held up his hands, claiming innocence.
This can’t be happening.
Loud hissing came from the center floor as it opened from the middle outwards. The circle grew until it was more than one-hundred feet across. A rigging lowered from the ceiling, suspending ropes to the darkness below. The man walked to the front of the stage, “Contestants, please come stand in this box.” As the group came forward, they squeezed together in a yellow outlined box. “When you get up there, pick a starting place and wait for the buzzer.”
The man stepped back and a whirring electric motor pushed metal railings up from the floor and then the yellow outline became the edges of the lift. They were raised level with the railing over the hole and each contestant chose their starting point. Tonya and Beth started as far from everyone as possible.
“Start the countdown.”
TO BE CONTINUED…