“Sentient entities of the cosmos!” the announcer spoke, her voice booming through the arena that floated in free space. “Welcome…to GROWL!
The audience cheered, waving their flags, waving their extremities, and shouting the names of their favored fighters. The announcer paused until they settled.
“Our first contender on tonight’s mind-blasting roster, is also our first human ever. Hailing from Earth, wielding the powers of biological science, I give you….Molecular!”
The crowd cheered again. The arena began to glow with neon lightning bolts in many colors.
Molecular—known on her home planet as Kaia Demeter—ran into the arena, waving to either side of her, the lightning bolt on her wristband glowing in response to those of her fans. She hopped into the ring and raised her hands, winking, grinning, and bowing to her fans. She moved to her corner of the ring.
“Molecular has quickly become a favorite,” the announced continued. “But tonight, she’s up against the galaxy’s sweetheart. The gorgeous Equinid from Godiva, riding upon rainbows, I give you…Unicorniora!”
Now the arena lit up with rainbows lights and fluttered with rainbow flags.
Unicorniora trotted into the arena. She leapt into the ring, reared up on her hind legs, and twirled around, tossing her rainbow mane, and catching the arena lights in the gleaming horn that rose from between her ears.
Molecular tipped her head to the right, then the left. The referee summoned the fighters to the center of the ring, where she and Unicorniora bowed their heads to each other.
The fight began.
They circled each other. Unicorniora tipped her head forward and charged Molecular. But Molecular nimbly climbed atop the rings and jumped up past the horn and onto her opponent’s back. She leapt off, landed and swept her feet across the Equinid’s hind legs. Unicorniora stumbled, but did not fall. She turned, and now Molecular attacked, rolling under Unicorniora until she lay on her back, and thrusting her legs up to kick her opponent’s chest. The audience moaned in reaction.
They fought like that, one advancing, the other defending, one striking, the other parrying or dodging, until their standard attacks gave way to less physical, but more spectacular displays.
Unicorniora began to trot, toss her head, and flicker in and out of view in a move she called the “rainbow dance.” All that Molecular and the audience could see was flashes of color. Molecular tried to punch and kick and swipe, but it was as if she were fighting light and air.
Molecular raised her left hand. The audience began to react, lightning bolts glowing in anticipation. They knew the move she was going to do next. To disrupt the rainbow dance.
The lightning bolt on Molecular’s wristband glowed, but unlike the bolts in the audience, Molecular’s bolt discharged. She called the move “electrophoresis.”
Unicorniora became visible, stumbling as if disoriented. Molecular had the upper hand.
Or so thought she did.
Unicorniora was twirling her head around and around. It was not disorientation.
A rainbow ribbon appeared in the ring, twirling gracefully before Molecular.
Unicorniora’s signature move.
Molecular backed away. The bolt on her wristband dimmed. She concentrated, and summoned one of her special moves to counter the ribbon.
“Double Helix!” someone from the audience shouted.
Molecular smiled. She summoned the “double helix.” Two ribbons to match Unicorniora’s one.
The fighters sent forth their attacks. The ribbons collided. The force of their collision threw Molecular to the ground.
She propped herself up on her elbows and looked up.
The still-standing form of Unicorniora loomed majestically over her, her ribbon twirling around her.
But Molecular had lost her helix.
The audience was neither cheering nor booing.
“There is no shame in admitting defeat, young one,” Unicorniora said, her voice regal and melodious.
“Keep fighting, Molecular!” a lone voice shouted.
Then another. “You can do it!”
And then, someone shouted, “PCR!”
Someone else shouted the three letters. Then a few others.
Molecular rose to her feet as the audience began to chant. Some chanted the three letters. Others chanted the words that the letters represented.
Molecular’s signature move.
Molecular held her hands before her chest. The lightning bolt on her wristband began to glow again.
“I’m not ready to admit defeat yet, my lady,” Molecular said, as the energies she was summoning raised her off her feet. A ball of sparking light formed between her hands. She rose above Unicorniora’s head. “I’ve got one more trick up my wristband.”
She dropped her left hand, holding the ball of sparking light in her right. She drew back her right hand, as Unicorniora’s ribbon flew toward her.
Molecular whipped forth her right hand and launched her attack.
Power Crush Reaction.
When the dust cleared and the lights dimmed enough for all to see, Molecular was no longer floating in the air.
She was standing in the ring with her hands upon her hips, looking down at a fallen Unicorniora, who was raising her hoof and waving her white ribbon of defeat.
The referee approached Molecular to raise her arm in victory. But she first helped her opponent up. She stepped back and bowed to Unicorniora.
When the referee raised Molecular’s arm, Unicorniora nodded and laughed. She blew a kiss to Molecular, and as she left the ring and trotted away, she blew kisses to the audience.
The audience cheered.
A gracious winner. And a gracious loser.
It was why the audience loved Molecular and Unicorniora.
But it was also why they were the first fight of the final series.
There was certainly excitement, splendor, and action in their fight.
But there was no drama. No…scandal.
Molecular—Kaia caught her opponent backstage. “Good fight, my lady.”
Unicorniora grinned. “Good fight? It was an incredible fight! Can you hear them? They’re still cheering. I feel a little sorry for whoever is going after us, don’t you?”
Kaia laughed. She was friendly with the Equinid, and they had, of course, rehearsed it all. But it was different in front of the audience.
“What a night for my kids to be in the audience!” Unicorniora said.
Kaia’s smile faded. “Oh no! I’m sorry. They didn’t get to see you win. Please, let me know next time. I don’t mind changing choreography last minute.”
Unicorniora waved her hoof. “Are you kidding? They’re ecstatic. You’re their favorite, you know. And they know how this all works. They know you’d never really hurt me.”
One of those pesky moments of doubt struck Kaia. “People like to see an underdog win.”
Unicorniora tossed her mane. “Doctor Demeter, if you were an under-creature of any kind, you would not have been chosen for GROWL.”
Her words were true. And Kaia knew it. Her smile returned. She bowed her head. “My lady, please, call me Kaia.”
“If you insist, but then I must insist that you leave off all this ‘my lady’ business. Are all humans always so formal? My friends call me Horny.”
Kaia winced and bit her lip in a failed effort to hold back a laugh. “Apologies. That means… something different on my planet—how about we settle on Unicorniora?”
“Consider it settled. See you at the victory feast…Kaia.”
She trotted off just as Kaia felt the grip of long thin fingers on her arm.
“What’s up, Beth?” she said, as she turned toward her best friend. But then she frowned. “Wait, aren’t you up? Next up, I mean?”
Kaia glanced up at the guidance monitor that was now signaling the next fighters to get ready. “You’ve got five.”
“Wait for me after my fight,” Beth said in her deep husky voice. Normally it sounded too serious for the jocular Geckan. But the voice matched her current tone.
Kaia nodded. “Yeah, of course, I was planning on watching this one. I mean, I’ve never seen Grayscale fight—not live anyway. Is it true, she never comes to rehears—“
“Kaia, listen. Watch from the booth. Keep an eye on the boss, during the fight, okay?”
Kaia looked into her friend’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”
But Beth had run out of time. She had to get in the ring. Kaia agreed to her friend’s mysterious request and made her way to the manager’s booth.
Kaia had been with GROWL, the Galactic Ring of Wrestling Ladies, for over a year. But she’d only begun really understanding the ins and outs of the organization—she felt anyway—over the past few months. When she started, there had been over a hundred fighters auditioning. The number had gotten whittled down, bit by bit, until there were about a dozen. And only seven had made it to the final rounds.
Kaia expected that would mean she’d get to know her six fellow wrestlers pretty well, or at least the five she didn’t already know well. Beth had been the first person she’d met on her first day. The day that Kaia had decided she’d be outgoing and introduce herself to everyone. The day she ended up sitting in the back after all and deciding she’d take it easy. Beth had approached her, sat next to her, and invited her to lunch.
It was best friends after that. At least, best friend away from Earth.
So when Beth brought her to the Lazy Rocketry, a dive bar not far from the arena, and told her about a heated conversation she’d overheard between their boss and some executive from Astronomicola, Kaia didn’t tease the Geckan about her “accidental” eavesdropping. She listened.
And she learned.
“I’ve been around for a while,” Beth said, shaking her head, “and even I didn’t know some of this.”
Despite being the most popular wrestling show in five galaxies, with opportunities to expand further, GROWL was in danger of being shut down. The shows were free for all to watch, but not, of course, free for them to put on.
Their boss and fellow wrestler, Celestial Star, was wise and long-lived (even immortal, according to some). It seemed she had decided to drop one of GROWL’s largest advertisers, Astronomicola. She’d learned that the company had been supporting an oppressive regime in some galaxy far, far away. And there were a number of other, less awful, but still troubling things she’d learned.
The executive had warned Star that if they pulled all of their advertising, GROWL wouldn’t have enough money to even finish off that season. They would have to line up a new advertiser before the final fight between Celestial Star and Gullible, a fight that was only a week away. But despite their popularity, supporting GROWL was a major—some might say “galactic”—undertaking. There weren’t many companies who could manage it. The obvious solution was for multiple smaller companies to sponsor GROWL. Hundreds of businesses, maybe, with smaller pockets but higher ethics.
“But there’s a problem,” Beth said. “Even if we can find those hundreds of businesses in the next few days, we wouldn’t be able to accept their help. Apparently, when the GROWL contract was originally written, however many centuries past, it didn’t allow for more than a handful of corporate sponsors.”
Kaia took a breath. “What if we break the contract? Or rewrite it? Can we do that? Can Star do that?”
Beth shook her head. “We can’t just break the contract without studying it. There’s no telling what downstream consequences there could be. It’s not a corporeal contract. It’s not like a scroll or a digital document. It’s…I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a metaphysical thing. I don’t know if you or I could ever comprehend it, even if we became philosophers today and lived another hundred years.”
“So, Star might be able to?”
Beth nodded. “And I think that’s why they’re threatening her too.”
“If someone else was in her position. Someone corporeal maybe, and easy to persuade…”
Kaia leaned forward, her hand curling into a fist. “But they can’t fire her, can they? Wait, who can fire her?”
“I think it’s a voting thing. All the board members of the sponsors.”
“Let’s go talk to Star, then. Let her know that we know what’s going. I’m sure she’d forgive you for eavesdropping.”
“I wasn’t eavesdropping and if Star wanted us to know, she would have told us.”
“Why didn’t she?”
“Maybe because there’s nothing the rest of us can do.”
“We could try. We should.”
Beth grinned. “You know…I’d heard you humans were cowardly. Glad to know it’s not true.”
Kaia ignored the weak insult. It was spoken in a tone that was trying too hard to be cheerful.
The two sat in silence for a few moments.
Kaia snapped her fingers and pointed to Beth. “I’ve got it. We approach some of the richest patrons of the show. We explain the situation and ask them to support GROWL, knowing that they won’t get to advertise in any way.”
Beth shook her head. “The contract forbids that altogether.”
“I asked about it my first year. I think it’s the same reason. Trying to keep corruption out as much as possible. Having a small number of supporters makes it easier for us to keep track of them and their integrity. But individuals giving that much support would have expectations of…influence, I guess, over the show.”
“Okay, then what about rest of the people? We could make it voluntary. I’m sure people would want to help. But…” Kaia sighed. “I don’t know if I’d feel right taking money that people might have otherwise put towards something else, either for themselves or another cause. I want to keep the show free.”
Beth smiled at her. “You know, I’d heard that humans were greedy. Glad to know it’s not true.”
Kaia balled up a napkin and threw it at her face.
Beth’s tongue flicked out and parried the napkin.
Kaia laughed. She took a deep breathed and sighed it out. “Smaller businesses,” she said. “It’s got to be smaller businesses. It’s a great partnership both ways. GROWL could serve to advertise their products and services, and we get support from collecting a portion of the earnings from sales. We could put a portion of that money towards hiring a staff to be the ‘integrity watchdogs.’ All that stands in our way is that contract.” She leaned toward her friend. “Beth, we have to go see Star.”
Beth too sighed. Then she nodded. “We have to go see Star.”
But they were already too late.
“What happened?” Kaia asked.
She wasn’t crying or shaken like the others.
Madame Minion was near-catatonic. The tiny toad-like Frynokian had to be sedated.
Gullible, the Seagullian who played the part of “the evil one” both inside the ring and often outside, was heaving furious breaths.
Unicorniora had sent her family home, and was weeping into her ribbons.
And Beth…Beth had fallen to her knees.
But Kaia remained steady.
She wasn’t crying or shaken like the others. Because the sight before her still looked beautiful.
Celestial Star was a mostly incorporeal being known as a Cosmic Sea Star. Her usual appearance was a star-shaped radiance of nebulous light. Seeing her always made Kaia feel like she was staring up into the night sky, cool, calm, and at peace. It was one of many reasons that Star was the best boss Kaia had ever had.
Star was no longer radiating. She was behind some kind of glass, floating in a chamber filled with artificial radiance that was keeping her stable and alive.
She had been poisoned that very night.
Kaia took it upon herself to speak to the medical team.
She learned what she could so she could tell her friends and fellow wrestlers whatever each of them was ready to hear.
She was glad that some of the news was good.
Celestial Star was not dying.
But nor was she responding to treatment.
The team could not determine what was wrong with her. They could not even determine what had poisoned her and when.
Kaia was anxious to know if it had happened when she was supposed to be watching over Star.
She thanked the medician who spoke to her,
She didn’t have many answers to give, but she went to give them.
“Ladies, it would seem there are three problems before us,” Unicorniora said, sniffing as she stepped forward. “First is the question of who poisoned Star. Finding them and bringing them to justice.”
Kaia glanced at Beth. She could see that they both had the same suspicion.
“That is already being handled by the system authorities,” Unicorniora continued. “Second is the question of treating Star and bringing her back to Radiance. The medicians are handling that.”
“Poorly, it sounds like,” Gullible said. She and Star were close friends.
Unicorniora bowed her head slightly. “Let’s give them some time, Gull. The third problem is for us to solve. And that is the problem of continuing the show.”
The meek Madame Minion squeaked. “How can we think of the show at a time like this?”
“We have to,” Unicorniora said. “Star told me tonight that Astronimicola has rescinded their sponsorship of the show. I think they plan on announcing it tomorrow morning. She wanted to meet with all of us to discuss a few changes to try and attract a potential new sponsor. She didn’t tell me who, but she was going to meet with them sometime this week.”
Kaia and Beth exchanged another glance, but said nothing.
Unicorniora was right. They had to continue on. Now they would have no choice but to make changes. It wouldn’t be just Star’s matches that were affected, but Madame Minion’s as well. Her signature move was “Let Me Call My Boss.” When she used it, Celestial Star would appear from overhead to assist her fighting her opponent.
The group was in agreement about carrying on, but there was some dissent about who would be in charge. Gullible insisted she take over as boss, as the oldest member of GROWL after Star. But Madame Minion suggested they take a vote.
They did, and to no one else’s surprise, even Gullible, Unicorniora was voted the interim boss. Unicorniora herself however was taken aback. Her ribbons started fluttering. She was obviously feeling overwhelmed, but most of the others assured and reassured her that she could do it. Minion even divulged that Star had intended for Unicorniora to be her back-up, and was in the process of drafting official documents to the effect.
Kaia wanted to glance at Beth again, but thought it would be too obvious. They would speak when they had the chance.
The next day, six of the seven final fighters arrived at practice. Unicorniora arranged new pair-ups and adjusted their routines. They practiced, and as news broke of the fallen Star, the public speculated whether there would be any more shows.
Unicorniora had already drafted and sent out an announcement that the scheduled fight was still on.
Beth and Kaia did not have a chance to catch up.
That night, they watched the arena fill up. The audience was in a skittish mood.
The scheduled fight began.
Molecular versus Madame Minion.
Kaia and Minion fought. They wrestled and when they grew tired, they started using their special moves.
And then came the time for their signature moves. Minion would go first. Kaia could feel the audience holding their breaths when Madame Minion cried her catch phrase.
“Let me call me boss!”
Some heads even turned up, as if waiting for Celestial Star to descend from above.
She did not, of course.
But then they heard it.
Unicorniora appeared. She came to Madame Minion’s aid.
The crowd started a hesitant cheer that grew into a sincere cheer by the time Unicorniora entered the ring.
“We meet again,” Kaia— as Molecular—said.
She took her stance to fight.
But then, a terrible cry echoed through the arena.
A terrible, but familiar screeching cry.
Gullible swooped down from above.
She screamed in defiance of Unicorniora being boss. She tried to claim the position.
It was all Unicorniora’s idea. This new drama, an exaggerated reflection of real life, she thought, should keep the audience engaged. Everyone thought Gullible would argue against it. But Gullible had been impressed with the idea. She had agreed to it.
Unicorniora and Minion started fighting Gullible, while Molecular stood at the ready, watching, waiting to see the outcome.
Gullible was defeated of course.
And Molecular, who was technically still in play, bowed to Madame Minion, and forfeited.
The whole time, the fighters were all focused on their fight, not knowing how it would go over with the audience.
The people loved it. They cheered when Gullible was defeated. They cheered when Molecular conceded the match. And they cheered when Madame Minion gestured toward her boss “for now.”
Kaia gazed at Unicorniora.
Well done, my lady, she thought.
When Kaia next visited the Radiance Chamber, the following morning, summoned by Beth, she did not expect to get caught up in solving another of the three problems that Unicorniora had presented.
“I know technology,” Beth said. “But I don’t know much about biology.”
Beth, unable to keep her nose out of anything she truly cared about, had convinced the medicians to let her take a look at all of Star’s health data. To her surprise, they had agreed. Star had apparently given her consent to let certain people see her data. The medicians couldn’t tell Beth who else had access. So when Kaia arrived, they were both surprised to learn that Kaia too was on the list.
“I know why these metaphysical medicians are having trouble figuring out what’s wrong with Star,” Beth said. “They’re not thinking simply enough.”
Once again, she explained what she’d discovered.
Star was stable in the Radiance Chamber, but she would soon become dependent on that chamber, if they couldn’t find a way to drain the poison that was still in her system. She was losing her natural Radiance, the very Radiance that defined her being.
Beth had discovered that Star’s matrix—which she had expected to be mostly energy—was a surprising combination of technology, biology, and metaphysical energies.
Kaia began to manage Beth’s expectations about what she would be able to understand, since she’d only studied molecular biology on Earth. But as Beth swiped through images, she recognized a structure in one of them.
“What is it?” Beth asked.
Kaia gazed at her, incredulous. “It’s a double helix.”
The double helix was the typical genetic structure of corporeal living beings, especially on young and developing worlds, like Earth. It was most unexpected in beings that were mostly incorporeal, like Celestial Star. Her genetic material could take on unstable forms like multiple helices or zigzags or spheres, anything that her metaphysical energies could hold together.
Beth had discovered something unexpected herself. Nanometer-scale machinery in Star’s matrix.
The two friends pondered over the data.
Kaia huffed out a breath. “Could the technological and biological parts of Star be part of a back-up system? Or maybe something akin to an immune response?” She shook her head. “But then, the medicians would have known about that.”
“Keep working on it,” Beth said. “I left notes for you on what I found. Call on me if you have questions.”
“Where are you going?”
“I need to see if I can help the authorities find out who poisoned Star.”
Kaia opened her mouth, but shut it when a new figure swooped into the room.
“I’ll join you,” Gullible said. “Or rather, I’ll let you join me.”
“For all we know, you could have poisoned Star, so you could be boss,” Beth said. “But that got thwarted.” She glanced at Kaia. “Maybe we should keep watch over Unicorniora, just in case.”
But Gullible would not be goaded into a fight.
“Someone put my friend—my sister—down,” she said. “I’m going to find that someone. They will answer to the great cosmic authority.”
Kaia leaned toward Beth. “That doesn’t mean what I think it means, does it?”
“What about us? You don’t suspect us?” Beth asked.
“No, I have a gut feeling about you two, which for my people is actually a quite reliable measure of integrity.”
Despite her challenge, Beth did not really suspect Gullible. She didn’t want to partner with her either, but agreed to it, knowing that they were likely to get farther along with each other’s help.
Kaia bid her friend a “good luck” and a “stay out of trouble.” She checked her communicator often for the rest of the day, and she kept at her task. For the first time in over a year, it felt like she was back home doing research.
Unicorniora had given them a day off. But they would not have time the next day. They were scheduled for another day of practice.
Kaia was surprised at how quickly she was able to learn the instruments and assays at her disposal in the medician lab.
And even more surprised when she put together the puzzle pieces from the various tests and saw the image they formed. She briefed the medicians, and then she started calling the others.
If Kaia was right, if the medicians confirmed her findings, then she might have found a way to restore Star’s Radiance.
They met at the Lazy Rocketry again. Kaia had called everyone. Most were present. Beth and Gullible had their own tale to tell. But Kaia made them wait until she told them hers.
“In a nutshell,” she said. “I found evidence that Star purposely incorporated technology and biology into herself…in an effort to understand the GROWL contract.” She looked at Beth. “So that she could break it. That’s what made her vulnerable to being poisoned. She encoded her notes in the nanomachinery. She wasn’t trying to hide it. The notes weren’t even encoded. It just took me some time to get through it. The medicians are checking my findings as we speak.”
“That’s great news,” Unicorniora said. “That means they can find a way to purge the poison, right? Or just remove the parts that are poisoned?”
“I thought the contract was metaphysical,” Beth said.
“It should be so,” Gullible agreed. “Star would not have needed to…modify herself to understand it.”
“There’s a lot the boss wouldn’t tell me about the contract,” Minion said. “But I think Molecular might be right. It makes sense for such an important contract to be secured in such a way that a single being could not tamper with it.”
“It seems like Star was trying to get around that,” Kaia said.
“That is why she was poisoned,” Beth said. “And we may know who did it.”
“You didn’t answer Unicorniora’s questions,” Minion said.
Kaia glanced around the table. “I think there may be a way. We need Grayscale. I left her a message to meet here. Does anyone know where she is?”
Beth frowned. “Why? Why do you think we need her?”
“Isn’t she made of metaphysical energies? We need to ask her to help.”
“We…can’t be sure that we can trust her,” Gullible said.
Beth and Gullible relayed the reason for their mistrust.
They sent Madame Minion to sort through Star’s correspondence and look for anything suspicious. Meanwhile, Beth and Gullible themselves tried to hunt down Grayscale.
She was a mystery. One of the final seven, and yet even Star did not know where she hailed from, what her people were called. It was only that proximity and that mystery that made her a suspect. They couldn’t conceive of any motive. They ran into the system authorities while snooping around Star’s quarters and were told to leave off.
Thus thwarted, they decided to try and interrogate Grayscale right after her next match. She never came to rehearsals, but sent a stand-in. It was by special arrangement with Star. But that’s why even those who’d fought her in the ring—like Beth—didn’t really know much about her.
Gullible and Beth returned to the office to help Minion go through Star’s correspondence. Beth suspected the executive at Astronomicola. But Gullible pointed out that poisoning would be a sloppy way for a corporation to get what it wanted, when it could just throw a bunch of lawyers and space-pence at Star. Her poisoning may have been unrelated.
In the office, they found Minion passed out on the floor with Grayscale, in humanoid form, looking through Star’s correspondences. Grayscale turned and put her hands up. She shook her faceless head. But Gullible reacted by reflex. She told Beth to cover her ears, which Beth managed to do in time. Beth also used her tail to whip Minion out of the way as Gullible drew in a breath and launched her signature attack, Sonic Whisper. The attack disrupted Grayscale’s form, and she whisked away in a gray cloud.
When Minion regained consciousness, she said that someone had knocked her out. But couldn’t confirm that it was Grayscale who had attacked her.
“But I don’t think it was Grayscale,” Minion said. “The hands. They felt too solid.”
“In hindsight, I should have found some way to detain her instead,” Gullible said.
Beth shook her head. “We’ll have to do what we have to do without her.”
“Okay,” Kaia said. “How many other metaphysical beings do any of you know?”
There was silence at the table.
Kaia leaned forward, glancing at each of them in turn as she spoke. “We need to work together. We need biology, technology, and metaphysical energies to bring Star back to Radiance.” She stopped and gazed at her friend. “Beth, it won’t work without her.”
“Even if we can trust her, we don’t know where to find her,” Beth said. “And even if we find her, why would she want to help us, after we’ve accused her of villainy?”
Kaia sat facing the door. As Beth spoke, she saw the shadow that appeared in the doorway, the human-shaped shadow.
“Because when all is said and done,” Kaia said, “we are a team.”
Three days later, Kaia and Beth watched from backstage.
The last fight, between Gullible and Madame Minion, was about to start.
Kaia could see in their expectant expressions and postures that many in the audience expected that Star might return that night, having heard that she was making a recovery. She saw in the animated discussions that some disagreed, speculating that she was still recuperating. But just that morning, news had broken that the authorities had found and contained Star’s attacker, and found evidence tracing the attack back to a certain executive at a certain former sponsor corporation. So hopes were high.
The fight commenced.
The moment came when Madame Minion cried, “Let me call my boss!”
Unicorniora galloped into the arena. She entered the ring.
“You’ll have to settle for me…at least for now.” She winked at the audience.
“She’s really good at this,” Beth commented.
Kaia nodded. “A natural.”
The guidance monitor begin to flash.
Unicorniora and Madame Minion fought well. But unlike the last time, they were not able to defeat Gullible.
“She’s grown too powerful!” Minion lamented.
“Maybe we can help,” a voice resounded heroically through the arena.
The crowd recognized that voice, but they waited for the arena light to shine on her.
It was Molecular.
She was in the stands, as if she’d been sitting there watching the fight. She had on a long coat. She threw it off, revealing that she was in full costume, and she leapt into the ring.
She put her hands on her hips, soaking in the audience’s raucous reaction. Lightning bolts flashed.
From the other side of the arena, Beth appeared to more wild applause.
The two met in the middle of the ring, high-fived, and went to stand beside Unicorniora and Minion as Gullible soared above them cawing and cackling.
Kaia grabbed Beth by the tail and flung her up to grab onto Gullible and bring her plummeting down to the ring.
But Gullible used her “sea chanty” attack, knocking Beth and Kaia down instead. They grabbed their ears in pain.
Gullible clapped her wings together, blowing Minion out of the ring altogether.
She squared off against Unicorniora.
From where she lay, Kaia watched the audience. Their eyes were on the last fighters fighting. They believed this was it. This was the end fight.
Unicorniora began to twirl her head, preparing to launch Ribbon Routine.
But suddenly, Gullible jumped on her, grabbed her horn in her beak…and snapped it off.
The audience gasped.
They’d never seen that happen before.
Gullible leapt up into the air again, tossing the broken and powerless horn aside, as Unicorniora collapsed to the ground.
Beth and Kaia rose, and Minion climbed back into the ring.
All three were visibly exhausted.
Still, they gather around Unicorniora, stood before her, shielding her.
Kaia gazed up at Gullible. “We need to work together.”
Beth wheezed. “Molecular, I don’t know what else we can do. I’m afraid my bag of tricks is empty. Minion, if you’ve got anyone else you can call on, now would be the time.”
“Alas, my bosses are all gone! I…I…”
Madame Minion trailed off, because as she spoke, a gray fog was filling the arena.
The fog seeped up to the ring.
The audience was silent.
The gray fog condensed. It condensed into human form, right in front of the heroes.
The audience began to “boo.”
Unicorniora had known they would.
Gullible began to cackle.
The heroes moved into their fighting stances in front of Unicorniora.
Grayscale turned her back on them. She watched Gullible swoop her way, and whooshed toward her in a flashing gray cloud.
Gullible came tumbling down into the ring. She got to her feet and faced her new opponent.
“Grayscale is fighting with us!” Kaia yelled, feeling foolish for stating the obvious.
But the crowd cheered. They cheered louder than they had all night.
Attagirl, Gray, Kaia thought. Days before that moment, Grayscale had indeed fought with them. To save Star’s life.
“Then let’s fight with her—I mean…let’s go help,” Beth cried.
Madame Minion put a flipper on Unicorniora. “You rest, boss. We’ll handle this.”
The audience was screaming now. Kaia was certain they were not hearing a single word of the script that Unicorniora had crafted.
Grayscale had Gullible in her Blender, tendrils of gray fog swirling. Feathers flew everywhere.
Kaia approached and grabbed hold of Gullible’s beak with her “double helix” attack. Beth approached from the other side and wrapped her tail around Gullible’s wings.
It looked like they had her.
Minion leapt up and slapped her beak. “That’s for my boss!” she said.
The audience gasped, afraid that Minion’s outburst would loosen the “double helix.” But it didn’t.
They had Gullible.
“Okay! Where do we go from here?” Beth said.
The audience began to yell out each fighter’s trapping moves. But as they did, Gullible suddenly burst out of Beth’s tail and Kaia’s “double helix.”
Just then another ribbon was darting toward Gullible. The audience saw who launched it. Unicorniora, still slumped on the ground, was holding her broken horn. She had thrown her rainbow ribbon.
But she was too late.
Gullible opened her mouth.
She sent forth the Sonic Whisper.
No one heard a thing, but the Whisper struck Grayscale, disrupting her form. It knocked all the others down. Gullible flapped and screeched as a gray fog rolled out through the audience. It started to condense again, but Sonic Whisper disrupted it again.
Gullible leapt into the air and circled the ring, sending down relentless waves of sound.
At last, she stopped.
The arena was dark, dark with gray fog that wouldn’t dissipate and wouldn’t condense.
It was so quiet that Kaia heard the tiny whisper from the audience.
“Mom, look. Up there!”
A glow appeared, far above their heads, far above where Gullible was hovering.
It was dim at first, but it brightened.
It was not the arena lights.
This was an ethereal light, a heavenly light.
A celestial light.
When the audience realized what was happening, they were stunned silent.
Celestial Star descended from above, her light bright, but not blinding, at least not to any but one. A ray of light beamed upon Gullible, who cawed and flapped away from the bounds of the ring, into the darkness of the arena, but the light followed her, driving her back.
Gullible did not flee backstage. She flew over the crowd and away.
There was a moment, a moment where everyone just watched Celestial Star descend into the ring.
“You saved us,” Beth said, as the Star descended to meet them.
Star’s light beamed on Unicorniora, and her horn was restored. She rose.
Molecular knelt down and waved her hand in the gray fog that still lay on the ground. “Not all of us.” She turned to Star. “Is there anything you can do for her?”
“I alone can do little for Grayscale.” Star beamed at Molecular. “You were right, Doctor. We have to work together. I will need your help. And Beth’s.”
“What about us, boss?” Minion asked, beaming, not with light, but with supreme joy.
“Be ready to help your friends. Once this is done, they’ll be drained. They’ll need you.”
Beth, Molecular, and Star made a circle. They combined their powers.
Technology, Biology, and Metaphysics—or as some in the audience called it, Magic.
At first, nothing happened, then the audience began to shift and react, as they saw first what was happening. The fog was retracting from where they sat, contracting and rolling toward the ring. It contracted all the way into the ring, and began to condense within the circle.
But it didn’t condense into a humanoid form, or any form. It remained a gray cloud, sparking with lights within.
A reverent applause began to roll through the audience, followed by cheers, whistles, blaring, cawing, honking, weeping. They bore their rainbow flags, lightning bolts, lizard robot masks, and glowing.
And they stood and cheered, as the arena lights were raised and sparkling confetti dropped on them all.
Gullible was waiting for them backstage. She quipped that she would like for someone else to be the bad guy next season. They all asked Star if she was all right.
They fussed around her so much that she rose in the air and radiated on all, relieving true exhaustion in the others.
“I have energy to spare now. Thanks to all of you.”
“Well, that’s good because we still have a few problems to solve,” Beth said.
“But you were on your way to solving them, weren’t you boss?”
“I was, but I made a mistake when I tried to solve them on my own, didn’t I? An arrogant mistake in thinking that I shouldn’t trouble your minds. How gracious of you to let the audience think I saved you when it was you who saved me.”
“Well, we are all known for our grace,” Kaia said, smiling.
“Come, everyone!” Unicorniora said. “Away to the victory feast!”
And so they went.
All of them.
All seven champions of the Galactic Ring of Wrestling Ladies.
Copyright © 2021 Nila L. Patel