Disclaimer: The X-men and their world belong to Mavel/Fox. No profit or copyright infringement is intended.
Note: set during Gaveedra 7's time on his homeworld. There's grahic violence and some gruesome examples of life as disposable property.}
The adult arenas for Northwestern Canton channel Prime were always noisy; a haphazard collection of barred sleeping cells, dank washing rooms and cramped feeding chambers. The Northwestern arenas and cell 272v, blue section, had been his home since the winnowing and comforted him with familiarity. It had been uncounted battles since then, and growing taller, wider and more skilled. In a world without skies, where yellow sodium lights burned endlessly, Gaveedra didnt even have names except in the abstract back of his pre-programmed mind for day or night, month or year.
He had grown bitter too, vicious in the arena, desperate for attention. Northwestern Channel Prime was a great fall from his crèche fantasies of being a star of the arena, famous, personally owned by a Spineless One. He barely had fans, his personal ratings; shining ghostly blue above his cell were little higher than when hed survived the winnowing. Sleepless, Gaveedra stared at the blue flicker of the ratings, numbers shifting beside the unwinking eye of the cells vid-feed. The Audience endlessly surfed the channels, watching him sleep, eat, wash and most importantly fight. The hammock below creaked rhythmically as Yavvin26 and Err2 coupled, their displays flickered, creeping upward as the Audience watched. If sex ratings were stable, Gaveedra would have joined them, but hed seen this before and by morning the ratings would drop again. Yavvin and Err were coupling for pleasure but it didnt seem worthwhile to waste anticipation and thought on sex when all energy should be turned to battle. Gaveedra, rubbing his fingertips delicately over the bruised ache where his collarbone was healing, watched the ratings until the shifting blue numbers followed him into sleep.
Feeding was always the same. Gaveedra grabbed one of the cleaner feeding bowls and elbowed his way to the slop line, sidestepping the subsonic snarls of Heche singular survivor of its type and a mystery even to Gaveedras inborn knowledge. No one knew anything of Heche, what it was, who had bred it, even how to speak to it but everyone gave the towering creature wide berth. Even the Overseers feared it, using shock sticks to prod it into the arena for battle. Gaveedra had learned the hard way that those heavy, yellowed tusks Heche bared as it swaggered to the top of the line could crush a mans arm and his wrist ached with memory.
Food was the same, if higher protein that his crèche days, a tepid mash the color of old muscle. Sometimes bits of bone or strands of hair escaped the grinder but Gaveedra always ate it all, nothing was wasted. Food was another motivation to victory, the most basic sort; eat or be eaten.
The server behind the bins of slop fumbled with the ladle, spattering Gaveedras practice clothes. He bared his teeth at the cull and the scrawny creature cringed back, shielding a battered face with scarred, misshapen arms. "Food!" he snapped, banging the bowl against the edge of the counter, other warriors in the line growled, shoving at each other at the delay. The cull fished the ladle from the warm slop and hurriedly served him, arms shaking with terror. Gaveedra wrinkled his nose at the stink but moved on, he had no interest in wasting energy on a cull. Culls were rejects from the hatchery and as likely to end up in the pot as serving it. Gaveedra wondered for a brief moment if any of the food he was eating had once been someone that cull had known. The thought made him not hungry so he pushed it aside.
He scanned the feeding chamber for his group, finding that Err and Ticca2 and scaled Ssi18 had staked out a secure spot where they could crouch on the floor and eat with their backs to the soiled wall. Gaveedra joined them, jostling low status Ticca6 from a competing alliance and making her drop her ration. Ticca2 grinned at him and shuffled aside to make room, then leaned a scabbed, battered elbow on his shoulder. Gaveedra shrugged it off, watching for threats in the crowded feeding chamber as he shoved his food into his mouth with two fingers; Ticca2 wished to couple with him and he would not. She would tire of her pursuit, eventually, everyone did. He had a name, among the fighters Coldheart because he took no close allies and coupled with neither allies nor the helpless culls. Gaveedra had no heat, for ally or enemy, and loved only his ratings so the whispers among the stable went.
Still, he understood enough of alliances to catch Yavvins attention with a finger flick as his cellmate made his way through the slop line and make room so Err and Yavvin could sit skin to skin. Allies watched each others backs and, in those times when rations or water or heat ran short, shared warmth and food. It was only the foolish and the weak who thought alliances lasted into the arena and Gaveedra didnt ally with fools. At least, he frowned and watched Yavvin and Err from the corner of his eye as they fed each other, he tried not to. He suspected that Yavvin and Err would be foolish, given the opportunity, and had no wish to be caught up in it.
Gaveedras life was always the same; practice, feeding, sleeping and the arena. There was nothing else in the world and nothing else he could imagine doing. It was only the arena and the Audience that made the world alive; lights and heat, the burning joy of adrenaline, the bite of pain and the hunger for victory. Everything else was just waiting.
Gaveedras group split after feeding; Err was to appear in the afternoons fights, Ticca was scouting among the newcomers for promising young allies, Gaveedra had a practice session with the stables trainers. Though there was no place of real safety in his life, Gaveedra was familiar with the passages of the stable and untroubled by his solitude as headed towards the practice rooms, picking at his sword calluses and hoping for a victory in his next scheduled battle.
Noises ahead made his heart suddenly race and he slunk forward to peer cautiously around the next corner. Gaveedra's lip curled in disgust and he straightened up from his stalking crouch. It was nothing.
Less than nothing.
One of the culls had been unwary and had been cornered by a couple of bored warriors. From the blood on the floor, it was half-dead already; Gaveedra could see little of it amid kicking legs and flailing fists. The warriors, as low ranked as he, were laughing and dancing breathlessly around the writhing cull. The smell of blood and sweat was hot in the dank hallways and Gaveedra was tempted. He had no match today, only practice under the bored eyes of trainers who would waste no time on him. A fight would be good, adrenaline and risk and the hope of victory.
He could join the others, beat the cull, share in the laughter and the momentary alliance. Gaveedra found himself walking over there but the sight of the creature on the floor, all bones and bruises, changed his mind before he had any thought to put to it.
"What practice is this?" he asked, lip curled in well-practiced scorn. "Readying yourselves for a bout against cripples? No wonder we suffer in the ratings."
Vee5 and Saliia22 turned to glower at him. The blue of Saliia's eyes was distracting, stirring memories, and Gaveedra blinked them quickly away. "It's no concern of yours, Coldheart. Go away."
Gaveedra only gave them a glittering smile, rocking onto his toes, fists clenched. The blood smell was like the arena, the ritual of insults were the challenge. His eyes flicked to the dim red eye of a camera lens, even here the Audience watched and Gaveedra's breath quickened eagerly. He could earn ratings. He jerked his chin at the others, daring them to respond. Forgotten, the damaged cull struggled to drag itself away.
Vee bared her teeth. "Soon it'll be your blood drying on the floor -" and she leapt.
It was an old trick and Gaveedra had been watching her hips not her mouth. They crashed together with a meaty thunk before Gaveedra spun away, ducking under Saliia's sly strike. Vee was heavy, Saliia was fast and - Gaveedra discovered - the floor was slick with the cull's blood. His knees slammed into cracked concrete, a shadow loomed over him and he rolled, lashing out with a stiffened hand.
Saliia's wail made him shout triumphantly, transformed to a cough of pain when Vee's foot caught him in the ribs. The shock left Gaveedra gasping. He could barely roll onto his back, helpless and knowing it. But the expected blow didn't fall. He heard Vee snarling curses instead and Gaveedra stared in amazement as the cull threw itself at Vee again, sinking broken teeth into her calf in a fit of clumsy, snarling fury.
Gaveedra leapt back to his feet while Vee threw the cull into a wall with a howl. Then it was dodge and leap and Gaveedra hammered a fist into Saliia's nose and she fell back with an agonized cry and a rush of bright blood. Then it was Vee and her heavy fists and dangerous reach. They scuffled in the cramped hallway, panting, Gaveedra grinning at the heady rush of violence. This was good, this was right, this was victory. A moment's carelessness, a weakness in his opponent and Gaveedra lunged, driving an elbow into Vee's soft side. She folded with a grunt.
"Come on!" He yelled, dancing forward to give Vee a kick. "Come on!"
But they didn't. Measuring the worth of a back room brawl against needing her strength against assigned matches in the arena, Saliia had already fled. Vee rolled to her feet and backed warily away from him. Gaveedra watched them go, teeth bared but unwilling to call them back. It was a risk, taking them both on and a foolish one and he knew it now that the heat pounding in his ears was cooling down. A risk; his gaze fell to the bloody floor under his feet and then to the cull huddled against the wall, for no real reason. The cull noticed him looking and cringed.
The thing had attacked Vee, with no hope of victory still it had joined the battle as if Gaveedra were some ally. His lip curled, the cull was no ally of his and yet it had a warrior's courage. "Why?"
The cull shook but lifted it's misshapen head to meet his eyes. They were like silver coins and Gaveedra's skin crept in recognition. "Knnow you," it slurred, teeth still red with Vee's blood. "We know you, Ga-vee-dra seven. We know you. Ga-vee-dra, we know ."
"Get away from me," he snarled, turning away to hide his face. Fear sickened him, bitter in his throat, fear like he'd not known since his days in the crèche. "Stay from me."
Those silver eyes in that mashed, deformed face, were a mirror to his own.