The harsh, unforgiving, martian winds blew across the red sand plain. Further out, it was punctuated by rifts and crags, and dust devils danced in the heat haze. Alita marveled at the view for a few moments, but then recognized that there was a great presence behind her. She slowly turned to see that she was at the foothills of a giant red mountain, so massive it was still far off in the distance. The peak was so mammoth it filled up the entire northern horizon, and it soared so impossibly high, disappearing into the grey, static-colored clouds that hung at a uniform level, like an eggshell across the sky. But this mountain wasn’t the focus of the moment. The voice of her Lehrer, Gelda, sounded heavy in her ears.
“Today, you continue your journey on the road to mastering Panzer Kunst. Every day has a beginning, and today you will begin with the training technique, Schatten Forgen. You have seen it demonstrated, and have mastered the richtung. Now it is time to test your knowledge against each other. Begin.”
She couldn’t see her Lehrer, but she looked to her right and saw a lythe blonde girl, somewhere in her early teens, slightly taller, right eye natural, the left one a convincing cybernetic replacement, grinning mischievously at her and sizing her up.
“C’mon, Yoko,” the blonde girl said, and she knew somehow this was her childhood friend, Erica, and she was called Yoko in this place. “If you don’t make a move, I’ll shadow you all the way to Earth!”
She moved, and this Erica did likewise. The Shadow Battle began…
Crimson Wind, her red and silver livery sparkling under the tracklights, swooped in as she completed a lap and scooped up the motorball without slowing, from where Jashugan had dropped it when he entered the pits. She shot off down the straight to the cheers of the crowd, her speed the only thing that helped her narrowly avoid an attack from Ajakutty as he exited the pits, his chainsaw arms swinging wildly in an attempt to get any contact on the red rocket that was number 7. She dropped into a squat, still at full speed, spun away from the attack and then sprung up, angling perfectly for the banked corner at the end of the straight.
But Ajakutty was right behind her, determined to catch her up, and the extra weight of the motorball was slowing her down enough that he was making headway.
“And there’s number 7, Crimson Wind scooping up the motorball at Pit Lane, and narrowly avoiding an attack from the returning Ajakutty,” the Announcer proclaimed, as Crimson Wind practically flew through the corners to the first hoop of the course. “And she scores her third point for the game. But here comes Ajakutty, moving in for another attempt…”
Ajakutty powered in on the entry into a sharp, banked bend. He swung a low leg sweep that Crimson Wind easily jumped, but the landing was difficult because of the camber of the track. In the moment she worked to readjust her wheels to a more balanced footing, Ajakutty attacked again, his hands shooting sparks as he used them for balance on the tarmac, producing a kick to the midriff that would flatten a buffalo. Crimson Wind swung in, down the camber of the turn to avoid the kick, but realised too late that it was a feint! ‘Kutty closed his leg around Crimson Wind’s torso, and the chainsaw around his thigh spun into action. Crimson Wind struggled to escape as the blades cut deep into her midriff, spraying shattered parts and sparks across the track. Her torso came loose from her hips in a spray of fluids and dislodged parts. ‘Kutty snatched the motorball out of her hand as he straightened, and Crimson Wind tumbled out of the turn in two halves.
“Oh and there you have it, folks,” the Announcer enthused. “Ajakutty might have been downed by Jashugan, but he’s certainly not out! It’s Crimson Wind who’s out, sawn in two by the leg blades and Asian Arts of Ajakutty. Truly a champion amongst motorba…” The Announcer came up short. “But what’s that? There’s another Paladin closing on ‘Kutty at high speed. Let me see if I can get a clear look… YES! YES fans, it’s her, it’s number 99, Ahhh-leee-taaa!!!” The crowd buoyed with thunderous excitement. “Finally out of the pits and ready for some payback. This is going to be good!”
Good? thought Alita, rounding the bend past the remains of Crimson Wind and spotting Ajakutty disappearing around the next bend, I’m going to make him wish he’d never been ‘borged!
‘Kutty grimaced, glancing over his shoulder as he approached the second hoop, and saw a purple and silver blur closing on him. That snot-nosed broad just won’t give in and recognize I’m the better Paladin, Ajakutty thought, adjusting the weight of the motorball to power through a bend and into the slalom tube. Well, I’ll just have to show her, twice in one match. She’ll never live that down, and I’ll have the number 99 that is rightfully mine! Ajakutty’s grin was cruel as he began plotting.
“And that’s another point for Ajakutty,” the Announcer proclaimed as ‘Kutty crossed the second hoop, “bringing him into equal lead position with Jashugan. Alita has to make up three points, with four hoops left in the match. Can she do it?”
“Can she do it?” Alita mumbled to herself as she set up her attack vector on ‘Kutty, “if I can climb Olympus Mons, I can surely beat down some upstart, spikey-limbed pretender to the 99!” Alita dropped her stance and shot forward out of a turn and into the slalom tube, no time to consider how she knew she’d climbed the largest, extinct volcano in the solar system. “Game on!”
The pair slalomed around the randomly placed spikes in the tubular part of the track. Ajakutty’s track speed dropped despite his best efforts, with his concentration split between keeping obstacles between Alita and himself, and not running into any that were ahead. This suited Alita perfectly, as she positioned herself for a run up the sidewall as the tube bent to the right.
As they hit the bend, Alita shot up the wall and used the curve of the roof to guide her towards her prey, the edge of the Damascus Blade trailing sparks where she used it to fine-tune her trajectory. Ajakutty was taken by surprise, having just glanced forward to check for obstacles around the bend, and it was all he could do to change course as Alita dropped on him. He managed to use the motorball and the whirring teeth of his right arm to deflect the edge of the Damascus Blade as Alita leaned into it, dropping her left arm on her foe. Landing just behind her target, Alita pivoted 180 degrees so she was skating backward mere inches from Ajakutty, and used the rotational force of her turn to attack ‘Kutty’s left side with her blade. He managed to recognize the intent in time, and again deflected martian steel with whirring blades on that arm.
Ajakutty was suddenly being attacked from behind, and this wasn’t something he liked at all. He accelerated suddenly, then spun quickly, using the mass of the motorball as a club, swinging it behind him to collect Alita before she could dodge. It was a lightning-fast move. It should have smashed her off her wheels. But when the motorball got there it swung on through empty air and he ended up facing forward again, skating along seemingly alone, the motorball still held out in front of him. He glanced around, confused. Did she wipe out? Surely not.
“Where are you, you tired old man’s junkyard retread from a washed-up team?” Ajakutty goaded her, feeling more confident now the Battle Angel was away from him. If Alita was still dogging him, and he could anger her into making a mistake and… he felt a tap on his shoulder.
Ajakutty twisted right to look behind him, and all he could see was part of a purple and silver leg and wheelfoot, heel to heel with his own. He quickly twisted the other way, as he saw the same on his left side. The bitch was right behind him, sticking to his back, like a shadow! He accelerated forward, ducking left and right, but he couldn’t shake her. He was starting to panic. They were coming up on the next bend, and beyond that, another scoring ring. Ajakutty slid the motorball under his left arm, ready to take the bend and shake the bitch off, except that must have been what she was waiting for, because the motorball wasn’t under his arm anymore…
It had been easy to find purchase on Ajakutty’s torso, with all the bent and damaged ports and the filler and tape. Alita kept away from those chainsaw arms, not wanting to lose some much-needed fingers for holding onto the motorball, once ‘Kutty finally made a mistake and gave her the opportunity. And then he did. It was almost like he fed her the ball. She took it and repeated the move on him that he had tried on her seconds before, but he wasn’t a master of Schgatten Forgen. Her spin was perfect, the ball catching him on the left arm which deformed and buckled, teeth from the chainsaw scattering across the track as the motorball continued, slamming him into the banked curve and macerating the right arm. Sparks, ball bearings and chain teeth flew in all directions as Alita rode her quarry to a stop, the motorball released and momentarily forgotten.
Astride Ajakutty’s torso, the damaged Paladin totally at her mercy, Alita’s face was a picture of wild wrath and she leaned over him. She had her left elbow swung up, leaning down on it and the Damascus Blade as it bit into Ajakutty’s faceplate. The prone Paladin’s eyes were wide with terror as he watched the blade slowly descend through his face shield towards his goateed face. At an inch away from his nose, Alita gripped the handle of the blade with her right hand, and a blue flame danced along the length of the weapon, singeing the synthskin of his face and melting the face shield further.
If Ajakutty could have soiled himself, he would have. She’s going to kill me…
Ajakutty stared into those beautiful brown eyes, massive when so close to his own, and saw a heartless killer about to finish him. Her teeth were grinding together, lips drawn back in a feral snarl. This was no Angel. This was the Devil come to collect on him. If his arms would have worked he’d have tried to shield his eyes from this ignominious end… and then he saw it. The deep well of sadness in those kaleidoscope eyes. Of knowledge, known and forgotten, of trials, of pain, and of triumph. Hers was an old soul, and one that set goals, and achieved them, no matter the cost.
She must have seen something in him, too, for her eyes cleared, and her face relaxed. She yanked the Damascus Blade from his face shield, and leaned back as the blue fire on the sword flickered and died. Further back from him now, he could take in her whole face as she spoke.
“You say one more disrespectful word about me, my team or my Father, and I will end you. And the 99… it’s MINE!” The last word echoed in the slalom tube like a gunshot. Alita was back on her wheels in an instant, as ‘Kutty could hear a pack of Paladins approaching through the tunnel behind them.
“Stay down, if you know what’s good for you,” Alita concluded, pointing at her defeated foe, her tone as hard as martian steel. “If I see you again in this race, you’re dead.” Ajakutty didn’t doubt it. She sped off, snatching up the motorball from where it lay while still accelerating.
Ajakutty lay there, breathing fast, waiting for his team’s Scavengers to arrive. His arms were trashed, so he had no way to get to his wheelfeet anyway. He’d been totally defeated by the Battle Angel. Ajakutty would take her advice to heart, and then some.
“And using some moves we’ve not seen on the track before, Alita totally wrecks Ajakutty, and – if she’s staying true to her second league form – scared the piss out of him as well, before taking off with the motorball and leaving ‘Kutty lying on the track, beaten. Don’t mess with this little lady if you know what’s good for you, folks!”
The cheering of the crowd overcame even the voice of the Announcer for a moment, and he waited for the cacophony to die down.
“But Alita still has an uphill battle on her hands. She needs 3 points to equal Jashugan and Ajakutty, who sit tied for first place, with 4 points left on the track. Surely Jash will be back out before those hoops tick down, and Alita still has to beat Ajakutty’s score to keep her 99. She needs all of those points!
And here comes the Paladin pack!”
Alita zoomed through the turns as fast as she dared. She knew she needed all the points to win the match. But she was sure she’d see Jashugan as she passed pit lane. After some seriously quick pit turnarounds, she had Claymore, Skaramaticus, Juggernaut and Zariki closing on her. If she wasn’t careful, she was going to be the meat in a Motorball sandwich. Alita crossed the start/finish line and got one point closer to her goal. She ran wide of Pit Lane exit, but it was quiet. It felt like the calm before the storm. A very bad storm…
“And as Alita draws one point closer to Jash and ‘Kutty in first place, the pack are on her, and… here comes Jashugan!” the Announcer’s voice rose to fever pitch. “He’s out of the pits and trailing the pack by only a few seconds. This is gonna get messy!”
Alita took a deep breath, centering herself. She was ready, as Zariki came thundering in on the next turn. He was all-powerful petrochemical engines and sything blades. He attacked on the turn, as she expected, zooming in and trying to cleve her through the midriff with his left blade arm. Alita was ready, jumping into the air and spinning, running her wheels over the flat of the blade that Zariki was trying to bisect her with, and using the extra momentum of the motorball to help drive the Damascus Blade through the control lines behind his head shield. The metal parted like butter, wires fizzing and sparking as she left a smooth gash in the armored surface. She hit the track behind the now careening Paladin, and swung quickly around him, picking up speed again as Zariki tottered and fell over. There was a shower of sparks and the howl of tortured metal as he ground to a halt, and at the back of the dwindling pack, Jashugan had to jump the prone cyborg as he worked hard to catch his prey. The crowds in the stands bayed for more carnage.
“Zariki goes down in a screaming heap, no match for Alita’s speed and precision,” the Announcer crooned. “Who will be next to taste the Damascus Blade?”
It turned out to be Juggernaut, his bulk closing in behind Alita like a nuclear train just after the fireworks jump. He rolled up behind her, grinder and cutter arms flailing at her back in a maddened attempt to put her down. But Juggernaut’s weapons found only empty air. Alita had dropped into a deep squat, her left leg out for stability into the next turn, still holding the motorball in one hand, and something else in the other. A piece of heavy-duty faring that she’d torn from Zariki before his fall. Juggernaut looked down and focused on the squatting Battle Angel, skating backward in front of him at high speed. He saw her grinning up at him, and then she plunged the section of sharp-ended faring into the rubber of his right front driving wheel. Alita swerved away on the bank of the turn as the faring reached the wheel guard and the driving wheel in question disintegrated. The exploding fragments smashed into Juggernaut’s other wheels, with a cascade effect that had the massive cyborg wiping out in a shower of smashed fragments, flaming limbs and the sound of a hundred angry cats fighting. Alita turned, rising to her full height as she pirouetted to face forward again, and powered on towards the finish line.
“And there goes Jugger, as Alita picks up the third last point of the match, now one behind the leaders. I guess the big guy was no match for the small girl. But when that girl’s our Battle Angel, all bets are off!” the Announcer sounded almost jovial. “So who’s next, boys?”
That’s what Alita was wondering as she shot down the main straight, past where Ido had retaken his seat next to Gerhad. Alita risked a glance his way, and saw him sitting bolt upright, his eyes wide, and his left hand clutched in Gerhad’s right. I wonder if he’ll ever get used to this? Alita mused as she reached the end of the straight and shot around the first bend for the last time. Claymore and Skaramaticus were moving up on her, but neither looked to want to attack. Good, thought Alita, they are finally learning. But I can’t let them wait until Jashugan joins the party, or it’s three big guys vs one small girl. Almost fair odds, and we can’t have that!
Following the doctrine of ‘the best defense is a good offense,’ Alita slammed the Motorball into the track. The ever-spinning nobs on the ball bit and ground at the surface, as Alita leaped into the air, balancing above the motorball like some sort of extreme gymnast. The motorball decided that Claymore would be her target by the way it threw her in his direction. Flipping her torso down toward the track, Alita used her rotational energy to lift the motorball off the track and fling it, and herself still doggedly holding on, towards Claymore.
But Claymore had seen this move before, and he was ready, lifting his weapon to deflect the ball. Alita could read that he was going to try to collect her on the backswing, so she yanked the motorball to Claymore’s left, and as they went past, she slashed at the back of his left leg with the Damascus Blade.
The motorball hit the tarmac, and Alita let go of it with her left hand, using her momentum to spin herself and the ball around so she was facing forwards again. She then swung her body down, planting her wheelfeet wide, and fighting the bucking of the motorball, lifted it up and accelerated away.
Claymore didn’t fare as well. Having lost control of his left wheelfoot, it decelerated hard, and he was put into a rapid spin by the revs still running through functioning wheelfoot. Spinning wildly, he crossed the track and slammed into Skaramaticus, who was closing in to attack the ball holder and not expecting an attack from another quarter. Claymore lost his weapon, Skaramaticus had one arm pinned back by impact damage, and as happens regularly in situations like these, then became entangled.
But in the commotion, Jashugan had caught up. He shouldered the two, spinning Paladins out of the way with ease, and closed on Alita as the hapless pair wiped out and a rupturing fuel line on Skaramaticus produced a very satisfying fireball. The explosion echoed in the cheers of the crowd.
“Skaramaticus seems to like the tangled pile-ups tonight, folks. It’s his second one with Claymore this match. Could there be a blossoming bromance in that blossoming fireball?” Alita almost expected the Announcer to laugh at his own joke. “But now we have the main event, Motorball fans. Jashugan vs Alita. It didn’t look like we were going to see them square off against each other tonight, but here it is! Alita still needs one point to tie, and two to win. Get behind your favorite, Motorball fans! Let’s hear it!”
The crowd were on their feet now, the Jashugan faithful cheering and waving placards about his greatness and his destiny to be Final Champion, while the Alita Army were chanting ‘Ah-leee-ta! Ah-leee-ta!’ and waving blow-up Damascus Blades and placards professing their love for their angelic cyborg and creative ways for her to decimate her opposition.
On the track, Jashugan bore down on Alita, his arm rotors spinning up, looking all business. In his shining, black and gold armor, he was an avatar of Motorball. But Alita was the tenacious scrapper, the Kunstler who would never give up. Alita was grinning maniacally as her Damascus Blade deflected Jashugan’s arm rotors for the first of many times. Behind his helmet’s faceplate, Jashugan’s smile was less intense. He loved the thrill of Motorball combat, and fighting a strong, up-and-comer like Alita was certainly a joy, yet worries gnawed at the back of his mind. Since the accident… the same one that ended Esdoc’s career, he’d suffered blackouts. Flatline Attacks was what the cyberdoctors called them, caused by the injury to his brain that fateful day.
While Jashugan looked like he’d recovered fully from the incident, and Esdoc had had his career ended by it, Jashugan knew that the only difference between them was a matter of time. The Flatline Attacks were happening more often, and it was getting harder for his crew to pull him out of it. They hadn’t expected him to wake at all from the attack that took him out of the first half of the race he was now fighting to win.
He’d been told a Flatline Attack could kill him inside of twelve minutes. The last one had been eleven and a half. Jashugan knew all too well he couldn’t become final champion if he was dead…
…and the distraction of his wayward thoughts nearly cost him his head!
Alita was actively retaliating to Jashugan’s probing attacks as he looked for an opening to divest her of the motorball and leave her a smoking wreck trackside. His mind was not completely on the game at hand, and one of Alita’s blocks of his rapidly spinning arm rotors turned into a repost. It was all Jashugan could do to whip his head back as the tip of that devilishly sharp blade she had attached to her left arm – rumor had it she’d taken it from the missing and disgraced Hunter-Warrior Zapan, and that it was of Martian manufacture – cut a shallow gouge across his helmet. The active sensors in the headgear sparked and died, and Jashugan had to do the only sensible thing he could with it – he tore it off. The helmet went clattering away behind the two racing Paladins, and Jashugan knew he was in for the challenge of his career thus far.
Alita had drawn away from Jashugan in the moments it had taken him to recover from her strike, and the two Paladins stared at each other over 4 yards at 150 mph, properly face to face and battling on the track for the first time. Alita looked to Jashugan like she was totally in her element. Born for the track. Her exuberance infected him, and his face lit up with a feral grin. Concerns were for the pits – this was time for MOTORBALL!
“And on the first exchange it looks like Alita has had the best of it,” the Announcer exclaimed, as the crowd cheered and wailed in excitement. “She’s still got the motorball, has passed the second last hoop, drawing equal with both Ajakutty and Jashugan, and has damaged Jashugan’s helmet enough that he’s discarded it. Just the jump, 2 turns and the straight to go, and 1 point that will decide the winner of this amazing match. Who will it be?”
The crowd at the stadium were on their feet, or at the very least, on the edge of their seats. All across Iron City, those that were not already watching the match rushed to their nearest screen to see the outcome of this titanic battle. In Zalem, the bulk of the population were glued to their screens, and one particular Zalemite, who didn’t need a screen to watch the battle, leaned a little further over the railing as his chrome optics picked out the confrontation in ludicrous detail. His smile was self-satisfied and hungry for carnage. He hoped for more blood, and death, always more blood, and death… and heartbreak.
Alita was in her element. The grin on her face reflected the feeling of escape that the high-speed combat of Motorball gave her. It was a chance to step away from all the heartache and loss, time to dull all the emotional pain with frenetic action and to push her agenda to become Final Champion. Once she defeated Jashugan, that was…
…and her momentary lapse of focus nearly cost Alita the race.
Jashugan cut in, looking like he was going to go to the left side of the track for the fireworks jump, but then cut back hard, coming right at Alita, his arm grinders howling. He swung his arms out wide, then back in as if he meant to grind Alita’s torso to shards between them. For once, Alita was a little slow off the mark, and did the only thing she could think of as the track disappeared from under her wheels as they jumped, walls of fireworks leaping up on either side. She thrust the motorball at Jashugan and used the opposing force to escape the range of his deadly weapons.
Jashugan must have been partially blinded by the gold firework columns flashing up all around him, as he continued on with his attack. Alita looked on in shocked surprise as his arm rotors clamped onto the sides of the motorball, and with a tortured howl of steel and a manly holler of presumed triumph, Jashugan’s attack deformed, and then smashed the motorball into torn casing and shredded internal workings. The parts fell like rain across the track as Jashugan touched down, taking but a moment to realize his error.
Alita hit the track hard, taking the impact on her right shoulder and trailing sparks as a warning sigel lit up in her peripheral vision. She started to tumble, and the speed boost chip, recognizing her plight, went into overdrive. The world slowed, and Alita was able to achieve lift by pushing off from the track with her right hand. She flew and tumbled at 100 mph, straightening herself out instinctively thanks to the intense zero-G training of Panzer Kunst. She was almost amazed when she regained her wheelfeet, and wasted no time in accelerating forward to get out of Jashugan’s attack zone.
“Wow, folks. I expect you didn’t catch that, but slowmo shows me that Jashugan made an all-out attack on Alita during the jump, only to end up destroying the motorball instead. Alita hit the track hard but has miraculously managed to regain her wheels, and now these two Motorball Maniacs have to race to the replacement motorball, 50 yards from the finish line!” the Announcer sounded delirious. “The Paladin who carries the ball over the line will score the final point and win the game. It’s all or nothing!”
Alita knew the rules. She was skating at top speed toward the main straight. Jashugan was right with her, but he wasn’t angling to attack. This was a pure speed race, speed and timing to snatch the motorball off the pylon, and get it across the line without being bisected, or ground to pulp, or wiped out. Just another day in the life of a Pro Paladin, Alita thought, looking at Jashugan as they whipped along. His strong features were calm and his mouth held a hint of a smile. His skating rhythm was smooth. It was like he knew what she would do, and was already ready for it.
They took the turn into the main straight, neck and neck. The noise from the enraptured fans was deafening. Alita knew Ido would be standing, cheering her on, but she didn’t look. Her entire concentration was on Jashugan. She calmed her breathing and reached into her training, centering herself, reading for the sudden stop at the end of the drop. She felt like she could almost see what Jashugan was going to do, half a second before he did it! Almost. And then the pylon was upon them.
She saw Jashugan reach out a lazy hand to grip the motorball, his arm rotors running at full tilt. Alita saw a slight vibration the rotors set up, putting off his reach by the barest fractions of an inch. But it was enough. She threw her arm out, tapping the motorball a fraction to the left. Jashugan’s grip to snatch the ball faltered, knocking the ball off the pylon, rather than picking it up, and he had to decelerate lest he overshoot the finish line without the ball.
The new motorball bounced once, its nobs spinning hard, and jerked towards Alita! She snatched it as Jashugan came at her, but the ball was between them again and he didn’t seem to want to attack directly lest he destroy another motorball and receive a penalty that would cost him the match. The line was closing on them rapidly, mere seconds away, and Alita had the motorball, but not securely. She grabbed it in another set of grip holes with her left hand, the two-handed grip giving up her opportunity to attack or defend. She went to draw the motorball away, but found she was unable to reel it in.
Jashugan had a grip on it on the far side! And he had an arm free. An arm that was coming for her, rotors buzzing like a swarm of angry bees!
Alita couldn’t pull the motorball out of Jashugan’s iron grip, but she could tilt it, angling the ball so the Damascus Blade took the blow from Jash’s whirling rotors. Alita was concerned for its safety, but she needn’t have bothered. It was her left hand that gave out first, sheering across the palm, the pressure of holding onto the ball and the sideways thrust and vibration of Jashugan’s rotors shaking the hand to pieces.
Alita winced, but now had an arm free to fight back. The Damascus Blade, locked in it’s mount on her left arm, meant she didn’t need to hold it, and she used it to drive Jashugan’s attacks back. They were at a stalemate again, but Jashugan took this lul in the combat to take a two-handed grip of the ball, ready to pull it out of Alita’s one-handed grasp, or pull her off her wheels!
“Oh no you don’t!” Alita yelled, clamping her fingers even tighter into the ball holes. She turned away from the ball, squatted down as low as she could, and slammed on her wheel brakes. Alarm sigels littered her peripheral vision for both her hands, and her entire right arm, as the yank of the sudden resistance caused one of Jashugan’s hands to slip from its grip on the motorball. His arm flung out, the momentum causing the pair to start swinging around the ball. Smoke from the burning rubber of Alita’s wheels obscured the scene as the pair of embattled Paladins, decelerating all the while, crossed the finish line.
The crowd hushed as they waited for the result.
Officials rushed in to help, extinguishers at the ready, and to ascertain the situation on the track. As the smoke cleared, two silhouettes became visible, standing either side of a circular object. It was Alita and Jashugan, both still holding onto the motorball with one hand each, facing each other, horizontally across the track so neither were in the lead.
When the crowd saw the situation, they lost their minds! The noise was deafening.
“And there you have it, folks,” the Announcer had to yell over the cheering. “In the closest game I have ever seen on the Motorball circuit, Jashugan and Alita have fought each other to a standstill! I have the official result in, now, and as there is no way to ascertain if either Paladin crossed the line first with the motorball, one point is awarded to each, making the final result Alita and Jashugan tied on ten points each, with Ajakutty, retired from the race due to damage, on nine points!”
The cheering was like waves on the beach, tsunami waves!
“The tie on ten points puts Alita a mere one point ahead of Ajakutty, but it’s enough for her to win their personal challenge. We knew she could do it, and the Battle Angel keeps her favored number 99!” Alita’s fans screamed and cheered at this news, and Alita relaxed a little, at least one goal for the race met.
“I tell you, folks, if this is the level of play we’ll see out of these two this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if a Final Champion round is called before the end of the season. This is one match you’ll be telling your kids about!”
Neither Jashugan or Alita were listening to the final pontification of the Announcer. They were staring at each other, across the ball, their minds awash with the thrill of competition. Alita was impressed no end by the mighty Paladin who stood before her, and while Jashugan was also impressed by his diminutive opponent, he was also concerned.
Do I need more than I have to compete against this Battle Angel, this Alita, and win? He asked himself, smiling on the outside all the while. And can I achieve that before my time runs out? He indicated to take the motorball, which she allowed. Jashugan put it down between them and then held out a right hand – as Alita’s left was shattered and gone – to shake it. She had a firm, confident grip, and the sparkle of future battles in her eyes.
“Well played, Battle Angel,” Jashugan said, and meant it. “I look forward to our future battles.” Alita smiled back at him, yet he saw a haunting sadness in those big, brown eyes.
Jashugan smiled honestly this time, and waved Alita towards the winner’s podium, which was quickly being reconfigured for two first-place positions. They walked together, the motorball forgotten, to the adulation of their fans.
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!