Hello everybody! The next Robot Pulp short story is finished and set to be released soon. This one is based off of Ed's awesome print, The Hideout. When Ed first showed me the scene, he told me that he imagined it was a story similar to the famous manga Battle Angel (now a major motion picture). I haven't seen the movie, but Ed and I are both fans of the original comic and the animated adaptation from the 90's, so you may notice some less than subtle influences (though I think they are largely superficial). Please enjoy the first four pages of The Hideout!
By Aaron Walther
Based on an idea by Ed Bickford
Edited by Jason Green
Find more robot art and stories at www.robotpulp.com
Kelvin’s beating heart pounded against his rib cage. The sound of blood pumping through his torso pulsated in his ears. The blood itself oozed across his chest, over his shoulder, and onto his mechanical right arm, where he lost all physical sensations. The Pit Fights were a dirty, loathsome place.
For most of the inhabitants of the planet Sahra Two, Pit Fights were the only distraction from an arid, boring life. For Kelvin, they were a way to pass the time and pay the bills.
Kelvin was a rising star in the Pit Fights. His career only just started a little over one Sahran year prior, but he maintained an undefeated record in all that time. Gamblers, commentators, and business insiders speculated that he could become a real Champion. More conservative Pit Fight fans decreed that the odds were against him. He may have Champion potential, they conceded, but it was evident to anyone that watched Kelvin fight that he lacked a certain ferociousness that all Champion Pit Fighters have. They were not wrong.
At first glance, Kelvin appeared to be an average Pit Fight challenger. He was part man, part robot...in Kelvin’s case, he had an oversized robotic right arm and entirely mechanical legs from the thighs down. Each fighter had their own combination of flesh and machine, but they all shared this man-machine-hybrid quality. As long as there was a human brain making decisions, nothing was off limits.
Kelvin was tall, nearly two meters, and thanks to his metallic limbs he weighed much more than the average person. He regularly exercised his organic left arm, but it would forever be dwarfed by the monstrous attachment on his right.
Kelvin’s opponent was a scrawny, sorry excuse for a fighter. He was a short, potbellied rascal with two robotic fists that ended at the wrist and nothing else. He boasted that his Rocket Punch™ was his ticket to the championship. Kelvin had just taken one directly to the chest and was not impressed. It struck him hard, yes, and even drew blood, but any serious attack should have killed him upon impact.
Kelvin spat out a black mix of mucus and blood before following through with his counter attack. In one swift motion, he leaped toward his opponent, spun his large right fist around, and smashed him into the ground. The boastful enemy struggled to breathe as he found his neck pinched between two large rusted steel fingers and the dry rock that made up the Pit floor. He impotently fired off his second rocket fist, which flew into the elevated fan stands and maimed an onlooker.
Kelvin’s opponent struggled and choked out an admission of loss before losing consciousness completely. A true professional, Kelvin relented just in time to save his handless opponent’s life.
The elevated seats that surrounded the man-made pit were filled with spectators. Kelvin lifted his giant right arm and waved toward the crowd, causing an eruption of cheers. He came out victorious, as he always did, because he was not a quitter, but he felt no exhilaration of joy because the Pit Fights were not a life he chose. He did not revel in his victory and quickly exited.
“What in the Seven Desert Hells was that?!”
Kelvin followed his normal after-fight routine and sat on a bench in the back room while the medic patched up his open wounds and the mechanic fine-tuned his lifeless limbs.
“How did that little goblin manage to hit you?! What were you doing, daydreaming or something?”
Kelvin’s manager, Jerome, was yelling at him.
“I mean, I understand the need for showmanship, you know, give the crowd a bit of shock and awe and all, but come on! If that scrub had been a serious contender, he could have broken your streak! Did you even know the fight started?”
Jerome unconsciously scratched at a scar on his left forearm as he berated Kelvin. Like Kelvin, Jerome also had a transplanted arm, but unlike Kelvin, it was no mechanical abomination. Jerome was fortunate enough to have an organic transplant from a donor. He was unfortunate, though, that the transplant was a wildly different skin tone than the rest of his body. An organic transplant was difficult to acquire and usually only affordable to the executives and middle managers of the Kyper Corporation, the mining company that owned Sahra Two. Finding something that matches your own skin was nearly impossible.
Jerome’s sleek, ebony arm contrasted strangely with the rest of his hairy, olive complexion. An Off Worlder may instinctively take a second gawk were they to see it for the first time, but for the inhabitants of Sahra Two, mismatched skin tones and body parts were a relatively common occurrence. Regular injuries from the dangerous mining conditions and the birth mutations and deformities caused by Sahra Two’s weak atmosphere have created a large demand for “clean” limbs and organs. Most people had to make do with clunky mechanical transplants, but if you were flush with currency you could obtain an organic replacement. Jerome was flush with currency.
Jerome, however, did not work for the Kyper Corporation. He made his money playing off-world stocks. He got the organic transplant to replace a deformed hand that never fully developed in utero.
“I put a lot of money into you, kid! I expect a return on that investment!”
Kelvin’s back hurt. The mechanic fiddled with two large bolts affixed to Kelvin’s trapezius muscles. They were designed to provide structural support for his oversized, robotic right arm. Without them, or the planet’s slightly weaker than normal gravitational pull, the heavy metal transplant would rip right off the body. Most practical robotic limbs were made of plastics and other lighter materials, but Kelvin’s limbs were made of sturdier stuff. Kelvin was made for the Pit Fights.
“Are you even listening to me!?” Jerome shouted, jabbing a dark finger into Kelvin’s face.
“Everything worked out,” Kelvin flatly responded.
Jerome scoffed, “Yeah, well, maybe it did this time! Next time you might not be so lucky.”
“Don’t worry about next time. I’ll do better.”
Jerome took a swig from a hidden flask which contained expensive liquor, another privilege of the wealthy, before sighing and turning to leave.
“Fine. I hope you do. Don’t make me regret sponsoring you.”
Kelvin sat in silence as the medic and mechanic finished checking him over. He didn’t particularly like Jerome, but he felt a certain amount of gratitude and obligation toward him. Jerome may have had a churlish temperament, but he’d never done wrong by Kelvin. In fact, he’d saved Kelvin’s life.
For amputees on Sahra Two, life was difficult. To survive, you had to rent space from the Kyper Corporation. The only honest work that paid a sustainable wage was mining, though a few people had carved out careers in niche pop-up industries such as The Pit Fights.
Two centuries prior, scientists of Earth cracked the barrier of faster-than-light travel and the first Great Expansion began. Though the vast cosmos now appeared to be within reaching distance of humanity, finding habitable planets was still difficult, as they were paradoxically rare. Most of the early explorers and settlers were large corporations who could afford the insurmountable costs of space travel. One such company, The Kyper Corporation, was not looking for a second Earth. They were looking for a planet with exploitable assets. They found one such planet, named it Sahra Two, and claimed and settled it for themselves under InterSpacial Earth Law.
Sahra Two was not even that rich in resources compared to other planets, but its relatively lower gravity made it easier and cheaper to launch rockets to transport heavy minerals off its surface than a richer planet with a thicker atmosphere. The profit margin was thin, but it was there. Despite the land itself not being ideal to live on, it was valuable to rival corporations with interests in undercutting Kyper Corporation’s monopoly of the planetary mineral rights.
At one point in time, Kelvin had his entire life planned out ahead of him. He was practically guaranteed a job at the Kyper Corporation, if for no other reason than his father was a veteran miner that held a lot of sway in the Union. Even without the familial connection, as a healthy young man he would have been eagerly accepted. Though not conventionally handsome, the fact that he was purely organic with no visible mutations or amputations made him very popular with young women as well. It didn’t take long before he found himself in a committed relationship with a beautiful young girl and a long, dependable career with the Kyper Corporation.
But fate can be cruel. Months into his tenure on the mining site, he was the victim of a terrible accident. He awoke in a hospital several weeks later. The beautiful young girl was gone. He was informed that he was now paraplegic as a result of his own carelessness. The union conceded that the company owed him nothing. He had lost an arm and the use of both legs. He was lucky to be alive, depending on your point of view.
Robbed of the ability to work and support himself, Kelvin was now a dependent. His father had a good job and could probably have afforded to take care of him, but Kelvin would have remained a burden for the rest of his life. If he had lost but one limb in the accident, an inorganic transplant would have been reasonable. He probably could have gotten his job back, too. But with the loss of his legs, he was almost a lost cause. Even a Kyper Corporation upper middle manager would struggle to cover those costs.
Fortunately, Kelvin did not have to ponder his dire situation for very long. Shortly after he awoke from his coma, he was approached by Jerome, who sought to be Kelvin’s sponsor. On Sahra Two, it was common for transplantees to pay for their operations by way of a sponsor. The sponsor would front the money for the transplant, and in turn the transplantee would agree to a subservient contract for a specified amount of time in order to effectively pay back the cost. Most sponsors were Kyper Corporation management and shareholders who accepted whatever part-time work the transplantee could perform, such as cooking, housekeeping, or mechanical repair.
Jerome did not need any such services. He was looking to enter the world of Pit Fighting and was willing to gamble his money on Kelvin, which Kelvin accepted. Thus, Kelvin found himself thrown into the world of underground fighting. And though he had no great desire to be a Pit Fight champion, Kelvin’s stubborn sense of obligation motivated him to try.
TO BE CONTINUED! The full story will release on Friday, August 7, 2020. ROBOT PULP and THE HIDEOUT are ©2020 Aaron Walther and ©2020 Ed Bickford. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means (except short excerpts for review purposes), without express written permission of the copyright holders. All names, characters, and events in this publication are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), characters, or events, without satiric intent, is purely coincidental. All rights reserved.