I’ve done nothing for the past day except punch holes in sandbags and feel like absolute shit.
I’ve been handed to the Groundkeeper because neither the rich kid or his father want to see me until my training has been completed, and I don’t think that will be for another couple of days. Since I don’t have to rest, training sessions take place every two hours, and last for another two.
But the Groundskeeper is not all bad.
They call him Fredrichson and, to me, it sounds like they made it up so he’d fit in with Ronald and Edwin. The two of us have been developing not only fighting techniques but a sign language of sorts. It’s simple and incomplete but I’m managing to string whole sentences together.
Fredrichson is a boxer himself, so that’s what we started on. I’ve got the strength and the speed to cause some “serious damage” but I’m too short. “You’ve got the body of a prepubescent child,” he mocked, “so today, we’re going to talk about using your surroundings to your advantage.”
I’m still a bit annoyed by the size comment.
“From what I’ve seen, the tournaments will take place in pits so in general, the immediate surroundings will be of little use to you.”
I respond with a blank; rolling my shoulders back and shrugging them. His eyes mimic the same movements after a delay like a crap mirror. For his age — which is quite old — Fredrichson is a sarcastic made who I’ve been reluctant to grow fond of but, according to him, it’s inevitable. I think that’s what he said, it’s inevitable that we’d become close in a situation like this and I guess he’s right.
“Go for chunks of concrete, bricks, you might even come across some glass if you’re lucky. It is, however, more likely that you’ll come across nothing.” He takes a second to breath a heavy sigh like he’s blowing his wisdom onto my damp skin, “so you’ll have to take inspiration from the common street rat. You can always try to beg for a weapon from the audience, or steal one. If something — say a box-cutter, is tossed into the ring — you’re going to want to grab it as soon as you can because you’ve got skin like paper.”
Recreating his hand motion, my hand chops through the air and he nods, “yes, like that. You have to be careful because otherwise I’m going to have to train another one, and I’ll never get to retire.”
Confused, I hold up a single finger.
“Yes, last Zed. The Masters Algernon have stated that you will be their last purchase, after which, you’ll be released back into the bush. You’ll be free to wander, as will I.”
My hands form an impromptu gate, fingers pass each other and lock, only to be opened slowly. I didn’t realised they would release me. It doesn’t make sense from a business point-of-view. The two of them spent a ridiculous amount of money on me and, even if they can double that, why would they not want to work me to the bone?
Not that I’m complaining, I guess.
I’m special though, not to toot my own horn.
I’m almost offended.
“I know what you mean,” says Fredrichson, after taking in my parade of explanatory gestures. “You’re miffed because you believe you’re special, more powerful. Old Master Algernon has a certain belief system when it comes to your kind,” he takes his gaze away from me for a second, pausing to clean the dust from his spectacles. “Through his research, the Old Master believes that you are still human inside. After training with you, I can say that I believe I know where he is coming from. I’ve never trained anything like you: one who cannot speak but delivers such interesting dialogue. There’s youth and splendour in there, if coated in expected cynicism. If there’s evidence of humanity in your kind, it is held in your hands. And humans,” he says, “were not born to be locked behind walls.”
We switch back to silence as the training session continues, hits a bump, and comes to an end. I’m soon directed back to my living quarters which, from experience, is cushier than a zombie’s usual homestead. “I understand that one of your kind does not sleep,” I nod. “But still, you ought to do something to help your body repair itself in whichever way it can manage. Read, meditate, try to remain collected. After all, tomorrow begins your journey to freedom, Albion.”
I wink at him, it’s our code for a question. Then, two fingers from my eyes to his: will I see him again?
“One might hope,” he says, extending a gloved hand to shake my own. “However, I wouldn’t bet on it. The Masters Algernon will be waiting adjacent to the main hall, I will be unable to see you off.”
With another hearty farewell, Fredrichson departs and I am left with an uncertain feeling in the pit of my stomach. My innards swell as though they contain an entire ocean of unsure premonitions; I had all but forgotten this sensation of anxiety. Is it the thought of isolation outside of the walls? Where would I even go? It’s not like I could stay in Sydney without being force-fed kibble on a leash but the closer to the Northern Beaches I get, the more likely it is that I’ll get shot.
Would I find more like me?