***Important note: I’ve just found out when I did an update on this chapter some time ago the first few pages didn’t come over. I’ve just now added them back [2020.02.02] so if this chapter didn’t make sense to you, it now has the complete text. Sorry about that!***
It was a balmy autumn night in the executive bay of the eastern observation deck of Zalem, but then the technology level in the sky city was such that those with power never had to suffer through seasonal unpleasantness. The man looking over the railing at the far-off spectacle of the opening game of the Motorball Autumn Season had held all the power for as long as anyone beside he himself could remember. Nova grinned broadly, his elite, chrome optics showing him the far-off Motorball event as if he was only a handful of yards away. His shock of white-blonde hair moved gently in the evening breeze, like a deadly sea creature waiting to ambush prey. His nanofabric, white-on-white, evening-wear suit, with the subtle, repeating pattern of the Zalem emblem made him look like a bleached military man of the highest order – which, in reality, was part of the position he held in a vice-like grip.
Nova was in a good mood, despite all the rumblings amongst the Zalem elite of unrest at his despotic, and if rumor was to be believed, haphazard rule. That was the sort of thing those without the intellect to understand the ‘grand plan’ would say, and in reality, there was nothing they could do about it but complain. He held all the cards. All the power. Anyway, Nova had been busy, actually busy, setting plans in motion so he could have more direct control over events in Iron City, far below. It was a necessary move, given the rise to fame and seeming invulnerability of his recently-acquired primary subject – Alita. Or rather, reacquired. He’d dealt with this one before, and expected to do so again. This one was special – like a karmic tornado – she just kept popping back up, and despite near-total amnesia, it hadn’t taken her long to work out what her old mission was, and where to go to continue it. Of course, her original mission had been to kill Nova himself, and after the events of the past few months, which Nova had enjoyed more than anything in the past few decades, Alita really had ramped up her enmity toward him.
A sadistic smile crept across Nova’s features as the lights at the Motorball track went green and the race began. As he’d expected, Alita was quick off the mark, in the front 3, jostling for position to snag the motorball as it was launched onto the track when the first Paladin reached 100 mph. It really was too easy to manipulate dirtsiders when they wanted something. Alita, for example, desperately wanted to get to Zalem… to get at him. So, Nova let her think that it was possible by becoming Final Champion of Motorball. And like a dutiful hound, she was now fighting tooth and nail to become the best of the best, and win that title. So predictable, and therefore, easy meat for his other games. Games forming experiments that would start as soon as his new field asset was properly set up in Iron City, and what games they would be. She would…
“Sir?” the voice of his executive assistant derailed Nova’s train of thought. Nova spun, his optics wiring as they adjusted to a more normal depth of field. He hated being interrupted when he was ruminating on his plans, and that disgust showed on his face. The man Nova beheld in the doorway to his viewing sanctum was tall and slim, with a cut to his clothing almost as fine as Nova’s, but not quite. He also held himself slightly stooped, so as to take attention off his height, as he could have easily towered over Nova. This man knew how to show deference – one of the reasons he was Nova’s Executive Assistant.
Seeing who it was, Nova sighed and gestured him in. The EA stepped into the room, and no longer lit from behind, Nova could see that he was as immaculately presented as always. His blonde hair – short back and sides while still thickly-wavy at the top – and blonde eyebrows, aquiline features and thin, light pink lips in a pale but not bleached face, showed him to be of Scandinavian heritage. The only splashes of color were his bright, kaleidoscopic blue eyes and the purple gem in his forehead. He was one of the finer subjects produced by the MiB, and that was why Nova kept him around. His mind was even sharper than his looks.
“I have the latest monitoring report for you, and a list of 15 prime targets for your personal attention in the next cycle,” the EA continued, passing Nova a pad which he scrolled through quickly, and then discarded on the desk where several others lay. It deactivated as soon as it hit the surface.
“I’m not that interested in your hand-picked targets tonight,” Nova said languidly, “I have my primary subject, and that will do me.” He turned back to the railing and zoomed back into the Motorball race, not seeing the glare the EA gave him for dismissing the many hours of work out of hand – a glare that was gone almost as quickly as it had been delivered.
“I expected as much, Sir,” the EA said calmly, “which is why Alita Ido was the first on that list.” This quick wit made Nova grin mischievously as he watched the mayhem on the track, far below. “The second on the list, Jashugan, the Motorball Paladin, may give your new field agent a good ‘in’ to begin the Karmic Chi experiment you planned some time ago.”
Nova caught a gasp and spun, his optics wiring wildly to focus back to normal distances, an angry grimace torn across his face showing far too much and too many teeth. “How do you know about my new field asset, and what I plan with him?” Nova demanded. The EA’s muscles tensed, as if he was fighting not to take a step backwards towards the door, yet his tone betrayed none of the reticence his body displayed.
“The resources you expended to produce your new asset had to come from somewhere,” the EA began, “and I’m tasked with tracking all the resource use on Zalem, by you, in fact. As the use did not come through official channels, it was either black market – unlikely – or you, Sir. To be sure, I did some research – not involving any underlings – as to what was produced, and that provided a simple answer. Then I crossed referenced with your recently published research data, specifically the future experiments section of several dissertations, and it became clear. The rest was simple deduction, based on our past conversations on the matter of Alita Ido, your intentions towards her, and motorball in general, as a tool for your research.”
Nova stopped grimacing, and started slowly nodding. Then a smile lit his face, making it look almost human again. Almost. “Well, my boy,” Nova finally said, clapping an arm around his EA’s shoulders, “you have impressed me. I’d forgotten some of your other duties, and didn’t bother deleting the template from the synthesizer, in case I needed another. But I would have never thought that one of my underlings would have pieced all that together!”
Nova walked the other man over to the drinks cabinet, withdrew his arm and poured two glasses of rich, orange-brown spirit. He handed one to the EA while sampling the other. Seeing Nova drinking from the same source, the EA gingerly sipped the expensive liquor, after sniffing it experimentally. While Nova drank, he reminded himself to talk less about his plans, and encrypt all data. He’d been in charge so long, and surrounded by pretty airheads so much of that time, he wasn’t used to having an intellectual challenge on his hands. But now he had two.
“Have you told anyone else of your conclusions?” Nova asked casually over his glass, his tone almost sickly-sweet, while his mind was formulating ways to quietly dispose of this EA if he became troublesome. “Especially not that annoying Advisory Committee?”
“No one,” the EA assured him, and Nova’s wetware went to work analyzing the stress levels in the man’s voice. A few moments pregnant pause, and Nova’s augments assured him this man was telling what he believed to be the truth. Nova decided to let the EA live, for now. His mind would be a shame to waste, and later, if he performed admirably, he could be dissected and studied for further insights.
The EA was almost smiling – almost. Nova sensed a very guarded personality in this one, the effect of overthinking everything, no doubt. “Why yes,” Nova said suddenly, “you are quite right. Jashugan will make an excellent first engagement in the Karmic Chi line of inquiry. But there are a few things I’ll need taken care of first.”
Nova walked back to look over the balcony at the game in progress. He could feel an obsession forming with the subject in question down there, and he had to be careful with that, as well. Nova began outlining production cues and operational parameters to his EA, who put down the barely touched glass and dutifully took them down on another pad he produced from within his jacket, while his mind reeled with possibilities.
When Nova wound down, the EA pocketed the pad. “I will see to these preparations with all haste,” he told Nova, and headed for the door.
“And Bigott,” Nova added, using the man’s name for the first-time-in-a-long-time for added emphasis, “if you deign to become untrustworthy, you, and everyone on Zalem and dirtside with the surname Eizenburg will come to an unfortunate end. Do we have an understanding?”
Looking over his shoulder at the Chancellor of Zalem, Bigott could not resist swallowing hard before replying. “I fully understand, Sir,” Bigott said carefully, and Nova’s wetware assured him that the EA did.
Nova’s smile was self-satisfied as he turned back to watch the game.
Bigott’s attempt at a smile as he left the room was determined. Nova had held the reigns of power for far too long, and Bigott had to progress in his plans to do something about that, pronto.
Alita’s armor flashed highlights of silver and purple, reflecting the stark glare of the floodlights as she hit the banked turn at high, almost reckless speed. But she’d done this many times before, and already knew the outcome, shifting the weight of the motorball she held in anticipation. Using the bank to launch herself into the air, Alita swung back onto the track and down towards the hulking, exhaust-spewing form of Skaramaticus. His large cyborg body was facing away from her, focused on Claymore who, moments before, had slowed and turned to skate backwards, allowing him to attack Skaramaticus. The big shields on his arms were defending against a swing from Claymore, so Alita felt sure her attack from above and behind on Skaramaticus would catch him off guard.
She was wrong.
Almost too late Alita realized that Skaramaticus had rotated his arms up and over his head, forming a roof over his body almost faster than she could follow, and angled to take any further hits from Claymore on his shoulder. If she continued with the attack, she would get coat-hangered in the mid-riff by the edge of the skull-decorated panels. Still falling towards her now-ready foe, the stink of burnt hydrocarbons filling her nostrils, Alita used the motorball as a pivot and rotated her body around to be above the ball as it hit Skaramaticus’s defense. Sparks flew from the motorball’s buzzing nobs as they skittered across the shields, and she hung on, swinging over the ball as it threw her to the side and out of the path of Claymore’s next blow which would have collected both her and her target. Pivoting to get her wheelfeet under her again, Alita couldn’t resist using the last of her momentum to deliver a delicate kick to the back of Claymore’s left leg as she landed. She sped off, still in the possession of the motorball, as Claymore succumbed to the destabilizing force, crashing to the track in front of Skaramaticus and whipping him off his over-sized wheelfeet as well! The pileup was ferocious.
“Ohhhh, that’s going to leave a mark!” the announcer exclaimed, and the stadium almost vibrated with the crowd’s cheers.
Not quite what I had in mind, but it’ll have to do, Alita thought to herself as she sped around the next bend, picking up speed and passing the third red ring – the start line – for the second time. She had to keep reminding herself these weren’t low-league punks. These were the pros, and it showed.
“And after a close call with Skaramaticus and Claymore, who will need more than a little buffing after that pileup, Alita picks up her 6th point of the match. Are any of the other Paladins willing, or even able to stop her, with Jashugan having mechanical issues? We might be looking at our next Final Champion here, folks…” the Announcer crooned, his tone suggesting reverent awe mixed with a healthy dose of excitement. Alita smiled, almost believing the hype as she left the first banked turn after the main straight and entered a short, tube section called ‘the clincher’… and that was where Ajukutty and Bargerald were waiting for her.
It was illegal to back up on the track. One of the refs would surely pick up on backtracking and call a penalty. But these two hadn’t backtracked. They’d waited for her to come back around. Now they swung in, one on each side, attacking simultaneously. Ajakutty was on her right, a blur of black and green, arm chains buzzing, coming for the motorball. Bargerald was on her left, his glossy orange and white livery blurring at speed and he positioned himself, the pile-driver cocked, ready for use.
Alita tensed, ready to explode into action.
“Now,” came a command from Kutty, and Alita moved.
Faster than either of them could expect, thanks to Ido’s overdrive-limited reflex chip, Alita dropped into a high-speed crouch. She used the motorball to deflect Ajukutty’s attacks, his chain blades eliciting sparks form the surface of the battered projectile. Simultaneously, she shot her left leg out, catching Bargerald’s right and sweeping it out from under him. The big Paladin fought to catch his balance, and while momentarily distracted, Alita used the motorball to drive Kutty away with a hard strike to the chest. Freed from one part of the attack, she turned to see Bargerald’s piston firing, aimed not at her head or torso, but at the leg Alita hadn’t retracted yet due to the need to stabilize through and banked turn.
Alita retaliated with the Damascus Blade, two quick slashes, too fast for an unaugmented human to see, flashed out as the impact from the pistoned pile-driver caught her a glancing blow in the mid-calf, rather than the thigh as Bargerald had intended. Alita had to work not to destabilize and crash out – there really was a lot of force in that weapon! She looked down and saw her leg armor deformed, but not broken. There was, however, a new telltale in her peripheral vision warning her of structural and mechanical damage to her left calf. That wasn’t good.
Bargerald, buoyed by his seeming victory, pivoted to place himself for another strike, and began to retract the pistons in his weapon. That’s when the end of the double piston arrangement fell off, clattering behind them on the track and throwing up sparks. A stunned noise came from his vocalizer as the end of his right arm dropped off, and then his upper torso slide sideways, off his lower body in a spray of cyberblood and sparks. The crowd cheered at this dismantling, and the announcer cut in.
“Well it looked like Alita was in trouble, with 2 other Paladins, Ajakutty and Bargerald, tag-teaming her, but she’s dealt most harshly with Barg, and now it would appear to be Kutty’s turn…” The announcer stopped to watch, as Kutty, enraged at the dissection of his track-mate, closed in yet again. Alita was ready, deflecting Kutty strikes again with the motorball and the Damascus Blade, watching for a curve or other opening to give her the advantage to finish her foe. She saw him lean in, looking to get within her swing radius, which was very, very close at 180 mph, and Alita took the strike. But Kutty was ready, dropping backward suddenly, as if doing a backward dive off a cliff. Alita saw him hit the track, but rather than starting to tumble and break apart, Kutty rolled along on his back. Alita remembered seeing small protrusions on the Paladin’s back while reading up on the starting line, but she’d never considered they were some sort of ball bearings, enabling him to roll along the track off his wheelfeet!
Kutty suddenly spun, relative to the track, his arms and legs, and their dangerous, spinning chainblades, swinging towards her. Alita went to jump over the whirling dervish of blades, but her damaged ankle didn’t give her the lift it normally would have. Kutty saw this, and homed in on it, swinging his bladed arm out to catch Alita, mid-air, in the calf. The sound of gnashing chainteeth on her armor almost brought tears to her eyes, and when she landed, the strain was too great.
Her left wheelfoot separated from the leg, clattering away from her across the track. Ajakutty grinned ferociously as Alita was forced to drop the motorball to fight for control and avoid wiping out. The track could often do more damage than the other Paladins, as Alita knew all too well.
Alita slowed carefully, coming to rest up against the wall of the track, as Kutty correctly predicted the bounce of the careening motorball, and shot off around the next curve, triumphant.
“And we have a real upset on our hands here, folks,” the announcer proclaimed, as the crowd gasped in collective disbelief. “It took 2 on 1, but Ajakutty has wrestled the motorball from Alita’s possession, and… she’s damaged, folks. Alita is missing her left wheelfoot, and has half the length of the track to limp through to the pits.” Screens all around the stadium, across Iron City, and even in Zalem showed a zoomed-in shot of Alita, leaning against the wall, rolling slowly but determinedly toward the pits. Her left calf trailing cables and blue cyberblood. Alita’s mouth was drawn into a line, and her brow furrowed in concentration. “Her pit crew stands ready,” the announcer continued, but can they repair this damage in time to stop Kutty taking the match, and the favored 99 from Alita’s shoulder?”
Alita wobbled back toward the pits. The mask of determination she showed the cameras was accurate, but it wasn’t about getting back to the pits. It was a mask of determination that she would not show the rage boiling inside of her. Rage at herself for falling into the 2 on 1 trap, and for not digging herself out of it successfully.
She was going to get a new leg slammed on just as quickly as possible, and then get back out on the track and run that bastard down. She was 99. Had been for 300 years, and none of these upstarts would take that away from her – ever. Alita was determined that Ajakutty would pay… and pay dearly.
Author’s Note: I do not make any claim on the IP of Alita: Battle Angel, the characters used here as a homage to the original (movie, novels, OVA or Manga), nor intend to make any money from this fanfic. Consider it free advertising, and getting the fandom interested in a sequel. Which we all want. So much so I’m writing one myself!
And to Cameron’s Lawyers – please don’t shut me down!