Chapter 3 – Perceptions and Realizations

<– Chapter 2

Mel had been a security guard at the Motorball Arena for over 12 years. Most people found it surprising that a meatboy – abet a bulked out one –  could hack it as security around so many powerful cyborgs, but Mel had his ways and means. He was also an expert in the use of a shockstick, shockglove, zappad, and the rarely employed EMP grenade, when cyborgs went completely off the rails. Thankfully, that wasn’t very often. 

In his years around the track, Mel thought he’d seen it all. That was, until the Battle Angel arrived. He was there when Alita had participated in her ‘tryout’ – which was a nice way of saying Vector had tried to have her murdered. Rumor had it that Alita had returned the favor, with interest, but that was the sort of thing that people said about an almost unstoppable player. Although Mel often considered that, based on her meteoric rise to Pro League, they might just be right.

Mel remembered the first time he’d laid eyes on her. That smooth-talking street kid, Hugo, who did work for Vector and so had the run of the place, brought her down to the pits to ‘show her around’ and was probably trying to impress her. She’d been little more than a wide-eyed kid then, gawking at the Paladins tearing it up on the track, and their professionalism in the pits. But even then, Mel knew there was something different about this kid. It was the way she watched the players, with an expert, almost appraising eye. Mel could see she took everything in, and it all came to light during her ‘tryout.’ The entire tryout team tried to kill her, and she took it upon herself to redress the balance, wiping them out to a player, according to sources on the track and on the street – some permanently. That was no loss, Mel considered, as they were punks, burnouts and street metal that were sent to kill the killing machine. Vector should have known better, and it cost him… dearly, if you believed the rumors.

Then there was that mess near the derelict cathedral, the bounty laid on Hugo, and the word around the traps was that he was dead. Mel noted he wasn’t around the track anymore, so it was probably true. It was so hard to get anything verified if you weren’t there. People just didn’t want to get involved.

And then the Battle Angel appeared on the track, right in the middle of the Second League season, and tore the place up. It was Alita, but not like she’d been before. It was as if a light had been doused within her. She was cold, and hard… and deadly. The rumor mill said that Alita and Hugo had been an item, and she was taking his death pretty hard. Two weeks after her Second League debut, she rolled out to the start line with an all-new body, all shiny purple and chrome. Again rumors said it was top-notch work from Umba, her official tuner, and Doc Ido, who was retired from the track except when Alita needed something. Whatever the source of the new hardware, it looked really professional, and Alita played like a true Paladin. No one in the Second League could touch her, and Mel thought she may have got a little used to that, judging by the look on her face as she limped off the track and down onto Pit Lane.

Mel was pretty good at reading people. You had to be, in the security business. What Mel got from Alita’s face and movements spoke volumes. She was moving quickly, for someone missing the bottom part of a leg, but at the same time, she was slightly slumping. Somewhere in her head, doubt was creeping in, Mel concluded. Her face was dominated by a scowl. She was good at scowling, but this one was a doozy. Her lips were drawn into a straight line, and her eyes darted around. Mel had seen this look many times before… on people who were looking for something, or someone, to hit. That wasn’t good.

Mel was moving toward her before he realized what he was doing. He’d become quite friendly with Alita over the past 2 months, and had even bet on her in her first game in Second League, and walked away with a fist full of big credit chips. But he’d never had to even reprimand her for improper or rowdy behavior. Now he might have to detain her, or even stun her out. This didn’t sit well with him – and he wasn’t exactly sure why.

Alita was 10 yards away, with the sword she usually had clamped to her left arm detached and in her right hand – probably for balance – when she staggered slightly, swaying toward a pillar to her left, at the side of the entry ramp. Her eyes locked onto it, her fist clenched by her side, and in one rapid, fluid movement – punctuated with a guttural growl – she punched the corner out of the column, exposing the reo within and sending smashed fragments of concrete spraying through the air. Several small pieces hit Mel in the chest and bouncing off, to scatter across the entry ramp. Alita looked up at Mel coming toward her, some of the anger gone from her face as she realized what she’d done. She dropped the sword point to the ground, probably a disarming gesture which Mel was grateful for, and she turned her head slightly to hide one large, expressive eye behind the locks of her hair that hung down the right side of her face. Mel found the look adorable – something firmly at odds with the girl’s vocation as an on-track combat monster – but he still had to do his job.

Mel slowed as he approached, and Alita stopped, probably expecting a reprimand. Instead, Mel stepped up beside her on her left, turned back, and put a supporting arm around her waist. Alita accepted the assist, putting her left hand on Mel’s right shoulder, and he proceeded to help her quicken her pace towards her waiting pit. Alita’s torso felt solid and well armored, but not overly heavy. She was built for speed and precision, not overwhelming power.

“I saw what they did,” Mel said, his expression clipped. “It was not cool, ganging up on you like that in a cutthroat match.” Alita’s expression softened a little. “But,” Mel added, his tone firm, “that’s still no reason to try to take the pits out by breaking the supporting columns!” Alita’s posture stiffened a little, but relaxed again when Mel chuckled. “But y’know, that’s what it’s like in Pro League. Some will do anything to win, even if it’s just a number they want to wear.”

“It’s not just a number,” Alita replied, a little absently as they approached her pit, “It’s my number. And I’ll teach that to anyone I have to, in whatever way I have to.” Her face hardened again.

“Just think about it this way,” Mel said, as they turned past the big purple and grey “99 Alita” banner hanging down next to Alita’s pit, “you were always so disappointed with the level of skill in Second League. Now you have opponents worth your time fighting. Enjoy that, at least!”

“Huh,” Alita said, looking Mel right in the eyes for a moment, and then looking away as a pit tech took her weight from the Security Guard and helped her settle into her personally-tailored pitting brace. Alita looked up at Mel when she was settled. “Thank you, Mel,” she said, a genuine smile gracing her face. Mel marveled at how her eyes danced with light when she did that. “You’ve helped me more than you know.”

“A pleasure as always, ma’am,” Mel said, inclining his head before turning to walk back to his security station, “but please, no more breaking the pits!’ 

“OK, OK,” Alita responded, and chuckled quietly as she watched him go until her pit banner blocked her view. She had been thinking about this all wrong. She did want true combat challenges – needed them, in fact, to get flashbacks to her old life, her old training. Without them, she wasn’t sure she could improve on the Panzer Kunst techniques she already remembered. Somewhere in the back of her head, she was sure there were so many more and better fighting moves she could relearn. She just had to dig them out!

“Finally warriors worth fighting,” Alita said, more to herself than anyone else. She’d been coasting too long. She would need to be a razor’s edge of purest Martian steel for the trials to come. She would rise to the challenge, and complete the mission. But first, she needed a new leg!

“Umba!” Alita hollered, “get me a new leg – fast!”

——

“And two minutes into the second half, Alita’s lead had been all but devoured by Ajakutty, putting him into a prime position to win their personal bet and take the number 99 from Alita, and give Alita her first loss since she came to the game. It’s unknown at this time what is keeping her in the pits, but it must be significant to stop her defending her favored number. Alita seems to be having almost as many ‘mechanical issues’ as the other highly-billed and conspicuously absent Paladin, Jashugan.

We’d really like to see either one of them out on the track to wipe the smug grin off Ajakutty’s face, in light of his dirty double-teaming of Alita with Bargerald. Besides a few points nabbed by Crimson Wind after the jump for the second half, Ajakutty has had the lion’s share of the motorball.

Will it continue??”

The announcer actually sounded worried, Alita thought, as she tried to sit still while her chance to keep the 99 – her number – on her shoulder slipped away. 

“Uh… there,” Umba said, lifting his head up from the tangle of sensor couplings at her left hip. Umba had been a short man even before he lost the bottom half of his torso in a mechanical accident and had it replaced with a tracked unit. Most people preferred cybernetic legs, but Umba needed the extra stability and power to enable him to heft the bulk of a multi-armed precision operators’ suit that stayed contained in the back of the tracked unit until needed. It was unfurled now, and the extra arms with tools, clamps, probes and grippers worked furiously at Alita’s left hip. The cybernetic visual enhancements that Umba perpetually wore across his eyes dialed in on her misfiring neural connections. “Try initiating the leg again, Alita,” Umba said, his tone flat as his mind was focused on the job at hand. “You’ll know if it works, it will sting a bit.” Alita concentrated, but it didn’t seem like the sensor net was connected, or if it was, it wouldn’t initialize.

“Nothing,” Alita said for what must have been the dozenth time. “If we don’t get this leg working soon, I’m going to lose my 99!!” 

“I’m really sorry, Alita,” Umba said, his tone slightly admonishing, “but I did ask you to fit the spare appendages and give them a chance to sync with your core before the new season started.” Alita turned her head to hide the right side of her face in her hair.

“Um, yeah,” Alita said, looking down at something that was suddenly extremely interesting on the pit floor, then up again through the loose strand of hair that often occupied her forehead, “I never really thought I’d get that damaged that I’d need them…”

Umba rolled his optics – which was exaggerated to the point of comical due to the artificial nature of his eyes – and then got back to work. Tools and probes were zooming in and out at Alita’s hip when Dyson Ido came rushing into the pits, barely acknowledging the surprised and happy greetings from the motorball pit crews, who all knew him well.

“What’s the holdup?” Ido demanded, waving his arms at the mess of tools, parts and diagnostic equipment haphazardly spread around the bay. “Alita needs to be out there. Her number is on the line!” Alita fought back tears as a happy smile threatened to sneak onto her face. Of course everyone in the pit knew what was at stake, but the love and concern in Ido’s voice almost overpowered her.

“Father,” Alita said, reaching up to grip his waving arm to still it, “Umba is doing everything he can, but this is my doing. I didn’t sync the spare limbs with my core, and they are refusing to do so in any sort of hurry. Do you have any ideas to help Umba? Any at all?” She tried not to plead, and almost succeeded.

“Oh, is that all?” Dyson said, as he rolled up his sleeves. “We had that happen all the time when I was a tuner.” He grabbed a set of interface cables and kneeled down to pick up the discarded, damaged leg. “When that happened, we just linked the old leg to the new one and copied the sync data from the old to the new. Like this. It’s not perfect, but it’ll get you out on the track soonest. Umba, you’ll have to disconnect the new leg from Alita’s neural network before we begin.” Umba complied, and within a few seconds, Dyson had the old and new legs wired up, and stood, a little shakily, wiping his brow with the back of his arm. “I forgot how warm it got down…”

Ido’s gaze fell on the frenetic activity two bays over, and he lost his train of thought. Alita glanced up at his silence, saw him gazing intently, and lifted herself a few inches in her pitting brace to stare in the same direction. Father and daughter saw Jashugan, his head lolling to one side, his cranium cracked open and cables running from his temporal lobe. There was arguing and shouting coming from the bay, and then a tech drew a privacy curtain across, blocking the view.

Alita and Ido looked at each other. Ido could see there was something significantly wrong with Jashugan, and not the mechanical issues that had been reported. They were treating something… neurological. Alita saw someone she was really beginning to admire not competing. She didn’t want that, she wanted to play him, and win!

“Do you think he’s OK?” Alita asked Ido, and he gave her his trademark ‘I don’t know how to answer that’ look. 

Ido was about the say something to Umba when a cry of “Yes!” went up from down the pit lane, and then Jashugan, fully kitted, helmeted, and looking 100% the unbeatable Paladin came roaring past Alita’s pit moments later, heading back out onto the track. Alita and Ido looked at each other again, Alita looking pleased, while Ido looked concerned.

“It’s transferring,” Umba said, drawing the other’s attention back to their own pit bay, “but slowly, due to the damage to the leg. I’d say we’ll have it done in 10 minutes.”

“You’ve got 6,” said Dyson and Alita in unison, and they almost burst out laughing, except this was no laughing matter.

“If Jashugan goes straight after Ajakutty,” Alita said, “and I expect he will, then I have to be back out on the track in approximately 5 minutes and 52 seconds, or I’ll not be able to stop him outscoring me and winning.”

“We’ll get you out there in time,” Umba and Dyson said simultaneously this time, and that did bring a modest smile to Alita’s face.

Chapter 4 – The Will of Warriors I –>

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!

One thought on “Chapter 3 – Perceptions and Realizations

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