‘L90′: [4] - Ronald Algernon; October 11

 

Marvellous.
Absolutely marvellous, not once in the entire history of my underground ventures have I ever seen something so ghastly. The very epitome of ‘monster’, ferocious and yet, there was intent to destroy. No fight has ever pulled such a deep and peculiar feeling of satisfaction and entertainment from my stomach before today. 
    I’ve never witnessed something so vulgar on stage. His style is unrefined and revolting but that’s what is pumping the united heart of the audience. He fought with an unusual, tension-fondling grace. When weakness was made clear, his advantage was obvious. I must have him. Tell me, how could this half-dead abortion of life understand the very definition of showmanship?

    The tingle beneath my chest that is excitement has never been so powerful. I can almost feel my blood boiling throughout my veins. Sure, sure. I’ve found an immense warrior, a figurative goldmine wrapped in uncomfortable skin. I’ve also managed to outsmart my walking encyclopaedia of a father. 
    He may believe he’s the authority on Zeds but he put his money on the wrong horse; as soon as the smaller one perished, he vacated the scene. My father is a book-smart man, he doesn’t have the keenest of instincts. In that patriarchal tone, he warned “the little fellows always come out on top, just you watch. There’s something interesting going on beneath those bulging eyes, that I can assure you.” In any other case, I could admit he is correct.
    Before the inevitable destruction of the Civilised Australia, my father was a busy man. In practise, he was a chemist - a mad man, fuelled by the desire to synthesise a new volatile substance in the hope it could replace petrol. Behind all that, a unkempt eagerness in biology wrapped up in the mind of a businessman. 
    A true role model, slipping dollars into the pockets of great men, doctors and all sorts to secure the future. So, when the Zeds came around, he donated his wealth to the scientists brought into the city. He wanted to join them, to lead them and to personally fuel their desire to research these creatures.
    He never announced his findings, perhaps there was nothing to find in the first place. He would simply spend days in his study: scribbling, blathering on about how one Zed might react to the smell of food, whilst another would simply devour himself. “Of course he would,” I argued, “you’ve kept him locked in a shed for weeks.”

Now, the doctors won’t help, the researchers won’t answer his letters and the doers won’t accept his hypotheses. His fortune flushed away on ideas far too large for his wallet, leading him to turn his eyes upon a new venture: gambling. The Z-Games, formed beneath the surface of Sydney. He bets, buys and battles Zeds to earn the money he needs and then, once he’s content, releases the chaps back into the wild. I believe one of those P.E.T.R.D members finally got to him, otherwise, why bother?
    He’ll split the money equally between city taxes and research until the time comes to fight once more. I’ve argued with him before, it appears to me that my father has lost his business sense. Surely, if the Zeds can earn such great sums of money, we should not release it. As humans, we have this incredible ability to turn uselessness into usefulness, can we not consider the living dead tools? 
    This unique specimen will change his chord. That passion that lies behind smoked glass eyes burns brighter than any other. Is it revenge that he so lusts for? A darkness in the back of his mind that corrupts all peaceful thought, the very anger that flows from the infection. To fight is the only proper way for a Zed to function, it seems. A delicious and disastrous thought but I must admit, it does excite me.
    This one will cost more than I have earned in my entire life, perhaps more than we earned from the last romp. I assure you, he will reimburse every cent. Just look at him, he’s almost self-aware. That’s not something you see everyday, some humans lack that capability. It results in the most powerful of fighters. He doesn’t even fall into one of the PMA strains, I’ve practically shaking with excitement. 
    Come, come!
    The contestants have been removed from our sights and convention calls for those with holes in their pockets to funnel into the auction hall. Anybody can enter the hall but the starting bid filters the rich from the peasants. The chamber, fit with concrete surroundings and a nearby cage, is home to the auction today and there’s only one item on the register: the nameless Zed.
    The poor chap is forced into the cage with limbs locked in cuffs and chains, fingers strapped taut with cable ties and a convict’s noose hung around his neck. His stomach leaks cloudy fluids between crude staples which hold the battered skin in place and several more teeth have fallen from his head since the fight. Zeds aren’t priced on any misguided notions of beauty, it’s all about the character and how impressive the fight was.

In this case, I am already much out of my depth. Ninety eight million from the get-go, a hush follows. The auctioneer is a rather large chap with arms like two watermelons packed into a thick leather sock. His face is littered with scars and there’s a pin-prick tattoo on his top lip that reads ‘FUCKER’. 
    A man, not of the shadows, but of the sewers and the bins of supermarkets. His teeth shine as he opens his mouth to speak, plated with gold. He lisps, “listen up. This is a prime quality Zed! Strength, smarts and everything in between and there ain’t none of that groaning shite either. This motherfucker ain’t got a voice box. So, ninety eight million.”
    “Who’s selling him? The Prime-Fucking-Minister?”
    “None of your business. And don’t you mention that dickhead here,” the leather-jacketed auctioneer shouts at the jeering crowd, coating the front row in bitter spit. “Who wants to start?” I stand, annoyed at the very sight of his face. The tattoo - recently scored into his face with a bottle of block ink and a needle - scabs at the corners. It writhes with infection more so than the creature he’s selling, he’s lucky he’s not dying. I heckle, in a manner that my father would find distasteful in this situation, “$98,000,001?”
    He tosses his gavel in my direction, narrowly avoiding the elderly woman to my right before retrieving a similar item from beneath his podium. Then, irritated, he repeats my sarcastic bid. The old bird beside me speaks into a plastic cone to amplify her time-ridden voice and takes the bid that step further. “$101,000,000.”
    “$110,000,000.” I reply instantaneously. It is rather annoying to battle against a crone, why is it that the elderly always have such large pockets? After all of the complaints and the pension scandals, one would assume they were simply starving. I’m digging deep here, no matter what. I must make it very clear that I really, really want this Zed. “$130- no, $150,000,000!” The old bird is stunned into submission, dropping her sequin-encrusted purse to the ground as the hush returns to the rambunctious crowd. 
    The prize fighter is declared mine.
    Once.
    Twice.
    Three times, the gavel hits the wood and I bury my sense of excitement alongside my anxiety. The echoing of wood on wood rings closer to a fusion of Sinatra and Beethoven to my ears, the floral embrace of lavender and rose on a warm summer afternoon and yet, it swims through this dark and mysterious air like bitter poison. The silk curtains unfold and my thoughts begin to dissipate, I realise my father will react less than well to this news. He will decide that I am spoilt, that I am a drain to his resources. 
    “You’re just like your mother,” he’ll tell me. There is something special about this one, he’ll see it eventually. Any moron can think about tools, even the wild undead can consider branch-swords. I’ve never witnessed disfigurement nor purposeful violence. I can already smell the polypropylene bank notes rolling from the punter’s fingers.
    The other bidders and bystanders, all wrought with foolish irritation, file out behind me with disappointment awash their faces. This leaves myself, the auctioneer and my brand new project all alone. His lips puckered in an uncomfortable but necessary fashion, his elbows nailed into wood with a sheet of hand-drawn, napkin-based contract paper between two loose fingers. Anywhere else, this would undoubtedly be some textbook example of a scam and perhaps, in fifteen minutes or so, I would be laying in the back of a George Street alley, missing a kidney or something similar.
    I file the address of our personal storage cabana as I have done twice before. It’s nothing major, just a pool house my father had converted into a cool-room early on into the disaster. It neighbours our building, as well as our personal trainer, a mastermind in the sport, converted to practising for the Z-Games. You toss a Zed into the cabana, he freezes up, and then you can retrieve him whenever training can commence.

The auctioneer - with his squinting, whiskey-glass eyes - looks me up and down with envy plastered across his face. He scans my suit, my trimmed hair. I’m just a rich kid, living off Daddy’s credit card, the life he desires as much as the rest of us. His words whistle through cracks in the gold encased teeth, which wobble with every syllable. “You’re a clever one, you are.” I return the paper back with a single item filled in, along with the finalising signature. “What? You ain’t got a name, boy?”
    “Do you need that?” I reach into my wallet, retrieve my personal credit card and hand it over to him. The account is limited, and I’ll cancel it when need be, but I don’t think this man will have any qualms once he reaches it. “Take this, there’s a little extra for you.”
    “How much extra?” He licks swollen lips with a tongue naturally browned, coated in the sinister lifestyle he’s lived for years.
    “More than you’ll ever see.”
    “Thank you,” he snatches it away as though my offer is timestamped, “pin number?”
    I turn my back and start to leave, “on the back. Don’t spend it all at once.”
    This man is polite, all of a sudden. “You’d better head off now, I suppose.” I hear him slapping the credit card on the back of his hand, checking it’s authenticity or something inane. In any case, I’m okay with leaving the rest to him, the Zed will be ours within the next few hours and then, I’ll let him know the deal.

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