Fan Fiction

Gladiatrix, Part 4
By Ramon 51

I dedicate this Fan Fiction to Sarah, Kreibs, Cosmic F, Big Red, and Craig whose support inspired this work. I also want to thank Dave Vincent for his comments and assistance.

The year is 3006. Leela has overcome her revulsion at the thought of entering the Arena once again. Will she go on and win freedom for herself and her crew?

Excerpt from "Terraforming Terranos Prime," from the Encyclopedia Romanicus, Sosius Brothers Publishing, Rome, Terranos Prime, 3010.

"Like all major Imperial Colonies, Terranos Prime was extensively terraformed. It took nearly 40 years to produce the exact geography of Italia on Terranos Prime. This included building the cities, roads, and planetary defenses as well.

"With the exception of Ostia spaceport, the technology sector and space fleet shipyards were located in areas well-removed from Italia to minimize their corrupting influences on the citizens.

"Corruption of their way of life by technology was an ever present fear of the Space Romans. The genocidal war that had nearly destroyed their civilization in the Multarra System had its roots in the moral weakening of their society by technology to a point where a more robust, less technologically advanced society had nearly overwhelmed them.

"So, while they would terraform a planet or maintain a space navy, they steadfastly refused to admit technology into their day-to-day lives, particularly within Italia. This included medical, communications, or transportation technology.

"In many ways it is hard to argue with their attitude. In nearly 3,000 years, the only significant reverse they suffered was at the hand of the Brain Spawn."

Marcus Marcellus' office, Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome

Marcellus sat in his office, pondering the events of the night before. The Sicarii attack had been a spectacular failure that opened some breathtaking political vistas for him. "Appius Claudius," thought Marcellus, "he is the only person with the gall to back this outrage…all in the interest of the mos maiorumi, of course. He is probably tied in knots with anxiety, knowing that I hold one of the Sicarii. Most likely, Claudius will try to silence him. So how can I use the prisoner to our best advantage?"

His reverie was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Yes, who is it?"

Corvo's voice responded, "It's I, Domine, may I enter?"

"Enter!" Corvo entered, clad in a travel stained cape and tunic. Marcellus pointed to a chair, "Take a seat, I need someone to test the soundness of my thought. You'll do nicely I should think."

"Domine, how is everyone? I heard about the attack late last night at the inn where I was lodging near Capua and set out at once. My horse is quite blown from the ride, I can tell you."

"We only suffered one casualty, Antistia."

"How badly was she hurt?" Corvo asked with genuine concern in his voice.

"Quintus Tuccius says her right lung is damaged," Marcellus replied in an even tone. "He applied a poultice to her wound to stop infection and drained the blood from her chest. He says that the next three days should tell the story."

Marcellus' brow furrowed in thought as he envisioned his daughter Julia lying on a pallet next to Antistia's sickbed. She had absolutely refused to leave Antistia's side. What was it that his little Ju-Juii saw in Antistia? Was it because Ju-Ju believed that Antistia had saved her from death? Or was it something else? He resolved to spend more time pondering the issue once he dealt with the more pressing matters at hand.

Corvo sat patiently, knowing that Marcellus was thinking. How often he had seen the same expression on his old friend's face when personal matters had crossed his mind. The year of Lavinia's death, Marcellus had worn that expression like a mask, Corvo reflected with a tinge of sadness. An intangible something had gone out of his friend when Lavinia died, something only his closest friends noticed. He rarely laughed and worked inhuman hours, as if to numb the pain of his loss with work. So sad…

Marcellus spoke abruptly, "What do we do with the Sicarii prisoner?"

Corvo looked and sounded a bit startled, "A prisoner! That bit of information wasn't in the gossip!" He appeared lost in thought for a moment. "Have you managed to wring any information out of him yet?"

"No, nothing of importance," Marcellus answered, "but I believe he might be useful in causing the ones behind this outrage to run for cover until the election is over."

"The ones behind this outrage?" Corvo nearly shouted, "Forgive me, Domine, but can there be any doubt? Appius Claudius and his band of reactionaries are on everyone's lips as the only ones who could be behind this infamy. The stinking little…"

Marcellus held his hand up to check his old friend, "Calm down, Corvo. We do not have anything sufficient to bring him before the Senate. As a matter of fact, the best thing I can do is to ignore this childish attempt on my life."

"Domine, I do not understand."

"But of course you do, Corvo. First, if I seek vengeance, it will distract me from the election." Corvo nodded in agreement.

"Second, by refusing to look for the perpetrators, I will damage the dignitasiii of anyone the public suspects of complicity in this bungled attempt. That might make them desperate enough for another try. Or, they may just lay low. Either way I win. The first is not likely, as we hold as insurance a Sicarii prisoner. Ergo, I will win."

Corvo asked, "Why not push to get the evidence to convict Appius Claudius and his cronies? I'd love to see him thrown him from the Tarpeian Rockiv."

"I'm surprised at you." Marcellus said in a tone like a school master admonishing a prize student, "You are a Roman! How can you fail to see that I need opponents to sharpen myself against? Kill a man to defeat him? Without others against which they can take my measure, how will my fellow Romans know my worthiness? No, you need opponents in the arena, worthy opponents, to keep you sharp."

"Roman I am," said Corvo with a touch of irony in his voice, "but I prefer to see snakes killed before they try to bite me. Besides, Appius Claudius and his ilk are not really worthy opponents. They have stooped to using assassination as a tool."

"I hear you, old friend, but the reactionaries are all that I have to shine against," Marcellus replied. With a smile, he continued, "Well, we may as well get into the atrium and meet with my clientsv." Silently, both men rose from their seats and exited the office into the atrium, already crowded with clients.

Excerpt from "Praetorian," by Dr. Johndar Axi, University of Cunaxa Press, 3010.

"The Praetorians of New Space Rome are very different from those of ancient Earth Rome. They shared with the Praetorians of ancient Earth the function as military guard for the Emperor. However, it was at this point that they diverged.

"In New Space Rome, they performed both counterintelligence and law enforcement functions across the Empire. Each region was headed by a Prefect, who took orders from the Praetorian Prefect of Rome. Sub regions were under the command of various grades of centurions. Their network of informers makes them feared and respected by criminals and foreign intelligence agents alike. Unlike the Praetorians of ancient Earth, they have a reputation as practically incorruptible.

"They are powerful, but are not allowed to make and break emperors as they had on Earth. This is accomplished by rotating the Prefects for the various districts on an annual basis and rotating centurions every two years. The rank-and-file normally spend no more than four years in one assignment. The funding for the Praetorians is controlled by the Senate. Promotions within the Praetorians are the province of the Emperor, with the advice and consent of the Senate."

Office of the Praetorian Prefect for Ostia Spaceport, Ostia, Terranos Prime

Ray GunZ strode into the Prefect's office like he owned the place. It had taken weeks to get to Terranos Prime, but he was not willing to waste another second. Ray knew the Praetorians from his days as a Gladiator. He was willing to bet they hadn't changed much. Still mostly military men, they would be impressed with a "take charge" personality, if he didn't overplay his hand.

The Prefect, Titus Marcellus Vopiscus,vi cousin of the Consul Marcus Marcellus, took stock of the tall, fit man entering his office. His papers declared him the DOOP Ambassador to the New Space Roman Empire…news to him, since he wasn't aware that formal diplomatic relations existed between DOOP and the Empire. Still, this dark haired, green eyed man seemed somehow familiar.

"Salvevii, Prefect!" Ray said in a booming, parade ground voice, "Have you had time to inspect my papers?"

Startled momentarily, Vopiscus quickly recovered, "Salve, Ambassador," he responded in a smooth tone. "What brings you to Terranos Prime?"

"My mission is to negotiate various matters with the Senate," Ray answered in a manner just right for a superior to a subordinate. "However," he said conspiratorially, "I can tell you in strictest confidence that my brief includes full normalization of relations between the Empire and DOOP."

Vopiscus made an effort to look startled by the news. "Gotcha," Ray thought as he chuckled inwardly. Ray had ensured that the Altair 5 communications officer sent this information in a message to Foggy Bottom using a code broken by the Empire six months ago.

What Vopiscus didn't know was that the Star Chamberviii, headed by Turanga Munda and Turanga Morris had broken the top level Imperial Quantum Encryption (IQE-27) codes three weeks ago. They were decrypting traffic faster than the Imperial Signal Service. The Giant Ear station on Minos Four intercepted every bit of traffic between Terranos Prime, the Fleet, and their Embassies within DOOP, the Lothian Federation and Dai-Nihon.

When Vopiscus finally spoke, he asked "You seem familiar, have you ever been in the Empire before?"

"Yes, Prefect, I spent time in Old Space Rome as a soldier of the sand. I was known as Hydrargyrumix, perhaps you may have heard of me?"

Vopiscus' eyes seemed to bulge out of his head, "That can't be…you'd be over 100 years old!" His eyes narrowed, "But you do look like him."

"I'm a Cygnian, so it is quite possible. We live for 900 years, give or take a decade or two. I know you have DNA scanners here at the spaceport, but I'll bet they aren't set to process Cygnians. I'll almost bet you only match DNA patterns for the past 80 years, am I right?"

Vopiscus merely nodded.

"I'll wait while you run a comparison."

The Prefect pressed a series of buttons on the console in his desk. After a few moments, he looked up in wonder. There was a positive match. This man was Hydrargyrum.

"My grandfather said you were the greatest that ever strode the sand," Vopiscus murmured. "Well," he continued in a brisk tone, "I'll get your clearance expedited at once." He shuffled some papers and called out, "Centurion Malleus, get in here!"

A tall, craggy, muscular man entered the office. "Your orders, Prefect?"

"Expedite the Ambassador's clearance, understand?" The centurion nodded. "He is to have an escort to Rome and a liaison officer as long as he is here as well."

"Thank you, Prefect," Ray responded in a tone of genuine thanks. He then allowed himself to shimmer slightly as he extended his hand.

Vopiscus and Malleus gasped at the sight. Vopiscus shook hands and said, "I wish you were here for the funeral games and not as an ambassador."

"What is it they say? ‘That is in the lap of the gods.' Stranger things have happened. Once again, thank you for your prompt and kind help." Ray released his grip, turned, and exited the office followed closely by Malleus.

Vopiscus waited a few moments before seating himself at his desk. Within seconds, he was furiously scribbling a report to his cousin. Hydrargyrum was back! What insurance that could be for his cousin in his quest for the Imperial Throne!

Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome

Antistia lay on her right side in her bed. Her heavily bandaged chest was rising and falling in a rhythmic manner. Occasionally, she would gasp or cough, but soon her breathing would resume its steady pattern. Her short brown hair was plastered to her perspiring brow. The small scar on her left cheek, pressed against the sheet, was slightly red.

At her feet on a pallet was the sleeping form of Julia, the seven year old daughter of Marcus Marcellus. She was laying loose limbed, like most children in a deep sleep. Her long platinum hair lay across her face. Her breathing seemed to be in synch with that of Antistia.

In a chair next to the bed sat Fry, watching them sleep. He was trying to remember a time when he had not been on Terranos Prime. Funny, but everything else in his life seemed so unreal.

Ginny, was she still waiting for him? She showed such passion for him when they were together. And they hadn't even done the Hippity Dippity. Despite that, she made him feel so special, like a hero.

Leela, now she was another matter. His peek inside Leela's soul during the awful aftermath of Achillea's death had surprised him. Such fear and anger inside of her! In spite of the distance Leela maintained from him emotionally, he dreamed of her as much as he did of Ginny.

Life was never easy, Fry reflected.

Antistia began to cough spasmodically. Her eyes opened and she seemed to be choking. Fry reached down and got her a bowl, into which she spat bloody mucus.

"Thanks Fry, where's Amy?" Antistia asked in a raspy whisper.

"I let her get some sleep. Between caring for you and Ju-Ju, helping Leela prepare for the funeral games, and teaching Marcus, she's been stretched to the limit. All I've been doing is caring for the peristyle garden. So I thought I'd help out," he replied with his best boyish grin.

Antistia looked into Fry's face, "Now I know why Leela loves you."

Fry nearly fell out of is chair. "Me? Leela doesn't love me. We're best friends…well…maybe just friends. Every time I ask her for a date, she turns me down flat."

Antistia closed her eyes for a second. "If you ask again, she will not."

"Whatever you say Antistia, I'm not here to argue," smiling as he spoke. Hopefully she would just quit talking about Leela. He had his hopes dashed so many times that he just wasn't sure…besides…there was the matter of Ginny.

There were the sounds of footfalls outside the door. Corvo entered the room, followed by Marcus Marcellus and a tall, thin Senator that Fry didn't know. Juncus the Steward trailed them, carrying a scroll and a writing table. Fry rose to his feet, "Salve, Domine."

"Salve, Fry. How is your patient?"

"Ask her, Domine. She is awake."

Antistia opened her eyes, but averted her gaze from Marcellus. She thought, "Oh Lord, that he should see me looking like this." It made her wilt inside.

Marcellus smiled at Ju-Ju as she slept, then turned his gaze on Antistia. "Antistia, why do you look so downcast?" he asked.

"Domine, I am ashamed that I allowed myself to be wounded. My skills failed you."

Marcellus knew enough of Antistia to know that her answer lacked the ring of truth. A smile flitted across his face, "Antistia, pardon my lack of manners. Allow me to introduce my cousin, Sextus Julius Caesar, the Urban Praetorx. Cousin, allow me to present Antistia, to whose courage I am greatly indebted."

Caesar smiled a genuinely warm smile, "Charmed, I am sure."

He turned to Corvo and the Senator and rapped out in an official manner, "Titus Albinius Corvo and Sextus Julius Caesar, will you be my witnesses?"

Both men answered "Yes" in unison.

Juncus stepped forward and placed the writing table next to the single chair.

Marcellus knelt by Antistia's bed, gazing at her face. He found that something in his spirit was stirring, something he had thought long dead. He pushed it aside with the thought that such feelings could find expression after he was Emperor. Instead, he said, "You saved my children from death or worse. Duty so honorably performed deserves a reward."

Antistia looked at him searchingly, blushing in spite of herself.

He reached out and took the clan disk that was around her neck between his thumb and forefinger. He spoke softly, "You have always been a lovely wild flower, Antistia. Wild flowers should be free." At his last word, he snapped the disk in two. Once again assuming an official tone, he said, "By the laws of the Senate and People of Rome, you are now free." He then gently took her right hand and slipped a gold ringxi onto her ring finger. "I call you witnesses forward to sign this document of manumission."

Corvo and Caesar came forward and signed. After they finished, Marcellus rolled and sealed it. "Tomorrow, I will personally lodge this with the Censorsxii. Henceforth, you may call yourself Antistia Marciporxiii, if you desire."

Tears came to Antistia's eyes, she was free! Struggling to control her emotions, she managed to say, "With all my heart…" before she began to cry.

Marcellus placed his hand gently on her shoulder. Speaking softly he said, "For my own part, I shall always call you Antistia Marcipor Auspicaxiv. A fitting name for a new beginning of life, is it not?"

Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome

Lady Vibia crossed the threshold into her old home. So many memories! Her husband, Marcus had carried her across the very same threshold fifty years ago. She had had both her sons and three daughters in this house. Then her husband died…an unexpected blow.

Quintus had just been born when they came with the urn. She hadn't even known Marcus was dead, but there stood the Consul, Gaius Julius Caesar. He spoke comfortingly to her about how bravely her husband had died. As if that helped her pain! Men! What did they understand of a woman's heart? Were it not for the need to care for Quintus, she would have opened her veins and followed Marcus into the underworld.

Then eight years ago, Quintus was killed in action. Her daughters were all happily married, firmly ensconced in their own lives, and Marcus was deep in political life. Who needed her? How did she weigh in the scales of life? She again pondered terminating her life, only to decide to throw herself into supporting her son Marcus in his bid for Emperor. The death of her beloved daughter-in-law Lavinia had been another grief, Pelion piled on Ossaxv.

Now she had come full circle to the house on the Palatine Hill. She had a sudden thought, making a bee line for Marcus' office. When she got to the door, she saw that he was seated behind his desk reading.

"Marcus, I need to speak to you."

"Yes, Materxvi is there a problem?"

"No, no problem. Marcus, have you noticed our assistant gardener, Phillip Fry?"

"Yes, Leela's friend…he seems to be one fine gardener and he fought well that night."

"Son, have you noticed anything else about him?" she asked, feeling a bit frustrated at her son's lack of perceptiveness.

"No, not a thing other than that he could pass as my dead brother Quintus," he replied in a matter of fact manner.

"Ecastor, so you did notice!"

"Yes, Mater I noticed." He looked at her searchingly. "So, what do you want me to do, free him?"

"As a matter of fact, Marcus, I want to adopt him."

Marcus' jaw dropped open, "Edepol! Mater, have you taken leave of your senses?"

Lady Vibia straightened her back, ready to fight. "Maybe I have, but for a short while, I'd like to have Quintus back."

"Mater, he isn't Quintus!"

"I know that, but he has his spirit. Oh what's the use…" her voice trailed off.

"Mater, I will free him today to please you. I'll even allow you to adopt him, much against my better judgment, after the election. The reactionaries would cheerfully eat my liver if they could because they fear my upsetting the mos maiorum. I don't need you to provide them with a juicy scandal as ammunition."

Sounding contrite, Lady Vibia said, "Of course Marcus, I would never want to damage your chances to be Emperor. We can hold the ceremony of manumission in the peristyle garden tomorrow."

Marcus smiled wearily at his mother. "Mater, that's fine. At the rate we are going, we won't have a bound servant in the household! Now, I really need to finish my reading."

"Ave, Marcus."

"Ave, Mater."

Gladiator Chambers beneath the Flavian Amphitheater, Rome, Terranos Prime

"Corvo, what are the games really like?" Leela asked.

Corvo looked at Leela with a look of utter astonishment. Then he began to laugh. "By Hercules Invictus, you don't know! Rome's most beloved Gladiatrix, with Twenty-two victories has never seen a day at the games from start to finish." He began to laugh again, holding his sides. "Oh, this is too good."

Leela punched Corvo softly in the shoulder. "Well, are you going to spend the afternoon laughing at my expense, or are you going to answer my question?"

Rubbing his shoulder in mock injury, Corvo said, "Well, you've been in all of the processions, so I don't have to tell you about them. In the morning the Venatoresxvii hunt wild animals, around noon there are the public executions, and in the afternoon Gladiators fight. First they fight in groups, then pairs, and then in single combat. If there is a Gladiatrix match it is always staged last, as it is such a treat."

Leela felt her stomach turn when Corvo mentioned wild animal hunts. She couldn't bring herself to ask about the public executions, either. "Lord," she thought, "how could such a place as the Arena exist? How can I be a part of it?"

Corvo seemed to sense Leela's thoughts. "Leela, everything dies. Try to understand that we Romans attach a great deal of importance to the manner of our deaths. To us, to die fighting is the noblest of deaths. Death is but a part of life. We live with death every day. That is why we have chosen to live with so little technology…because we see it as sapping the will and weakening the character."

"But we don't watch people and animals die for sport," Leela protested.

Corvo gently noted, "On Earth you have a technology called television. As I understand, you watch television and on it you may see thousands of people and animals slaughtered every year. The Arena is our television…but it feeds us no illusions."

Leela felt a sudden shock as she realized how gory many of the shows she watched were, "Well, Corvo, television isn't reality…at least not all the time."

Before Corvo could respond, Morrigan and Amy entered the chamber. "Time for your rub down, Leela," Morrigan almost growled. She shot Corvo a "get lost little man" look. He returned his best "not until I'm ready" look.

"Corvo, could you be a dear and place a bet for me?" Amy asked in her sweetest tone. Corvo's right eyebrow flew upward and he grinned. "Something's afoot, or you wouldn't be trying to sweet talk me out of here. Alright, I'll play along."

Amy smiled. "Why Corvo, I have no idea what you are talking about. Here's the money, 1,000 Denarii on Leela."

"Right, I'm off to place your bet." Corvo left the chambers.

Once he was out of the room, Leela began to undress for her rubdown. "Tell me, Amy. What's going on?"

Amy smiled and said, "Let Morrigan tell you."

"Okay, Morrigan, what is the big secret?"

"I am with child."

Leela's jaw dropped, "Oh Lord, you and Orm! I should have known." Sounding confused, "But it's been less than a week! How could you know?"

"I have been with child once before, from a master not as principled as Marcellus." With a pained expression, she continued, "The child did not survive. I know not how it is with your people, but the morning sickness starts quickly with us."

Leela still looked shocked, "Does Orm know?"

"Yes, and he plans to buy my freedom if Marcellus will allow it."

"Who else knows?" Leela asked, almost in a whisper.

"Lady Vibia and Antistia both know. I told Antistia, but I swear that Lady Vibia has the second sight. She just knew."

Leela sighed. "I guess congratulations are in order. Antistia is wounded, you're pregnant, soon I won't have anyone to help," she began to laugh. "Maybe Lady Vibia just heard you barfing and added two plus two."

They all laughed, like sisters retelling a funny family story. The laughter continued for a few moments until it gradually subsided.

There was a moment of silence and then Leela spoke, "Let's prepare for the match. Corvo will be back to brief me on my opponent and he won't come in until I'm dressed. For a Roman, he sure is an old prude.

" Amy added, "He's a prude alright. And I'm darned glad of it."

They all laughed again as Leela stretched out on the rubdown table, wondering if she would have to kill again.

The Sand of the Flavian Amphitheater.

Leela climbed the steps from the Gladiator's chambers to the Arena level. Corvo had taken pains to bring her to the Amphitheater before she fought to learn the layout. They had spent two days, methodically checking out every aspect of the biggest Amphitheater in the Empire. She was glad that they had when she reached the top of the steps, because the effect of coming from the lower levels into the sunlight Arena was mind numbing.

She could see there were close to 70,000 people in the Arena. "Standing room only," she thought. When she set foot on the sand, the noise became absolutely stupefying as 70,000 voices greeted her. A chant of "Cyclopia Victrixxviii" began, gaining in volume as she walked toward the Imperial Box.

Next to her strode a tall, blonde woman named Roxanne, who carried a two handed sword, and wore a breastplate and helmet, but no other armor. She seemed well muscled, but Corvo had been unable to tell Leela much about her, as this was Roxanne's first fight. Corvo had explained that this could be a dodge by Mamercus, who was sponsoring the games, to detract from the luster of the fight.

After the salute, a referee joined them on the sand. The two women assumed their positions as the crowd grew silent in anticipation. The referee raised his wooden rod and roared, "Begin!"

Roxanne swung her sword in a slashing horizontal arc in an attempt to decapitate Leela. It all seemed to be occurring in slow motion to Leela, who ducked under the sword slash. "I could gut her like a fish," she found herself thinking. Instead, she slashed at Roxanne's midriff, scratching a line across her breastplate.

The crowd roared its approval. The noise seemed to stun Roxanne momentarily, causing Leela to think, "Oh great! This kid is so unskilled that the crowd will demand her blood." Leela brought Roxanne back to reality by punching her in the chest with her small shield. After backpedaling a few steps, Roxanne returned to the attack, clumsily thrusting with her sword.

Sidestepping, Leela used her shield to deflect the thrust. As Roxanne went past, Leela smacked Roxanne's buttocks with the flat of her spathaxix. The crowd laughed uproariously and then fell silent. Roxanne raised her sword over her head. Giving a cry, she charged straight at Leela.

"This is stupid," Leela thought. At that point she made up her mind to try something different. Once again deflecting Roxanne's sword with her shield, Leela stepped back a few paces and planted her spatha, point down, in the sand. She then moved nimbly forward, once more deflecting a clumsy slash. She followed that up with an uppercut that dropped Roxanne to the sand, temporarily stunned.

Leela picked up Roxanne's fallen sword, tossing it well out of reach. Then she walked back to her sword and placed her shield next to it. Roxanne began to stir as Leela walked back. As soon as Roxanne stood up, Leela assumed a fighting stance. Roxanne imitated her, but Leela could see that she was off balance.

Though her mobility was limited by her breastplate, Roxanne was still game. She shuffled forward and tried to land a punch. Leela parried it with ease, countering with a sweep that dropped her opponent to the sand. Roxanne sprang up and dove for Leela. In a split second, Leela decided to add wrestling to the fight.

Locked together, the two women began to roll in the sand. The crowd went absolutely wild, screaming its approval. Leela smiled, knowing that her decision had probably saved Roxanne's life. For a few moments, they wrestled as though they were evenly matched. In reality, Leela was only listening for the right moment.

"She's strong," Leela thought, "but terribly unskilled. What idiot put her in the Arena without proper training?" The thought of someone so ill prepared thrown into the Arena made her terribly angry, but she curbed it. "No," she thought, "keep your cool Leela. Concentrate on making this look good." She sensed that the crowd was ready, so she shouted at Roxanne, "Goodnight, kid." With consummate ease, she applied a sleeper hold. In a few seconds, Roxanne was out cold.

Leela slowly staggered to her feet, feigning exhaustion, trying to add drama to the end of the fight. It worked. As the referee raised the wooden rod over Leela's head and shouted, "Victrix" the crowd showed its approval with the thumbs up and shouts of "Missus.xx" Marcellus, the sponsor of the games, gave the thumbs up as Roxanne was getting to her feet.

A shaky Roxanne was led by the referee toward the Porta Sanavivariaxxi as Leela trotted beneath the Imperial Box. Both Marcellus and the other candidate for Emperor, Mamercus Aemilius Regillus were in the box. Both dispatched freedmen with hefty bags of coins to the sand. "Ecastor!" Leela thought, "If those are Denarii, I'm nearly home free."

She gave her best salute to both men. To the delirious chant from the crowd of "Cyclopia Victrix," she trotted around the Arena in a victory lap, smiling her best smile. As she waved at the spectators, she thought, "Keep cheering, for soon you will see me no more." She finished the lap with some satisfaction and went bounding down the steps, still smiling her Arena smile as she headed for her chamber.

Marcus Marcellus' office, Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome.

Marcus Marcellus sat behind his desk, awaiting a visitor. Next to him on his left sat Corvo and on his right was Sextus Julius Caesar. The men sat silently, each alone with his thoughts. The water clock in the atrium chimed the second hour of the night when Juncus entered the room.

"Domine, a foreigner named Ray GunZ to see you. Shall I send him in?"

"By all means, do Juncus. And bring some Falernianxxii and water as soon as you can."

"As you wish, Domine." Juncus left and was back in less than a minute, "Ambassador GunZ, Domine."

Marcellus rose from his desk and extended his hand, "A very great pleasure, Ambassador. I am honored to have you in my home."

Ray strode up to the desk and they shook hands, each man taking the measure of the other. After a brief silence, Marcellus spoke, "What brings you to the Empire, Ambassador?"

"Mutual interest has brought me here, Consul. You have something I want, in return for which I am willing to give you something of value."

"That sounds interesting, please continue."

"Six months ago, the Earth ship Planet Express and its crew were taken by the Augustus for violating an Imperial Military Interdiction Zone. The DOOP government wants them back."

Marcellus shifted slightly in his seat and pressed his fingertips together. "And in return?"

"I am authorized to conclude a treaty giving full normalization of relations with DOOP."

Marcellus thought for a moment, then called out, "Juncus, please bring Leela to my office."

"At once, Domine," the sound of Juncus hurrying away intruded briefly into the office.

They sat quietly for a few minutes, neither side wanting to speak first. The silence was broken by the Juncus' arrival with the wine and Leela. "Leela is here, Domine, as you ordered." Juncus placed the wine on the side table and departed without a word.

Leela could not suppress her look of utter surprise. She blurted out, "Ray, what in the world are you doing here?"

Marcellus, Caesar, and Corvo laughed at her outburst. Ray replied, "I was in the neighborhood, so I just thought I'd drop by for a visit." This caused the three to laugh even harder.

Leela frowned and thought, "I hate people laughing at me." Her face set in one its most menacing looks.

The laughter died under her withering gaze. Marcellus spoke, "Leela, the Ambassador is here to negotiate the release of your crew and ship. I wanted you here for the rest of the negotiations. I cherish your good opinion, so I will do nothing behind your back."

Leela's look softened, "Thank you Domine."

Ray's eyes narrowed when he heard Leela address Marcellus as "Domine." Was she beginning to get the Stockholm Syndromexxiii? That could really complicate things.

Marcellus spoke, "Ambassador, as you no doubt are aware, I am standing for Emperor. The election is but a week away. Leela is one of the key elements to my quest for the throne. She is the most popular Gladiatrix of our time. I cannot dispense with her services until after the elections. Once the elections are over, I shall either manumit her – if I lose – or award her the rudis – if I win. Whatever the outcome, I pledge to work ceaselessly to achieve a full normalization of relations between DOOP and the Empire."

"Marcellus, I know you are a man of your word. Could I make an alternative proposal?"


"I'm sure the Prefect at Ostia sent you the information on who I am."

Marcellus nodded "yes."

"Would you be willing to take my service in the Arena in place of Leela?" Ray locked eyes with Marcellus, "You know it would really provide a treat for the paganixxiv."

Marcellus was opening his mouth to speak when Leela interjected, "Hey! What about me? Isn't anybody going to ask what I want?" All four of the men looked as surprised as if one of the statues in the room had begun to speak.

Her voice became progressively louder, "Damn it! I'm tired of being treated like a killbot! Give the Ambassador his treaty, by all means, but I just found out that Amazonia is my final opponent…and that Appius Claudius is sponsoring her."

She was nearly shouting when she said, "All of Rome knows Claudius was behind the assassination attempt. That bastard nearly killed one of my best friends."

She lowered her voice, "Besides, I'm already on the program. If I back out, it will look like cowardice."

Her face hardened into a look of pure determination as she spoke through her clenched teeth, "Amazonia has sworn she will kill both Antistia and me on sight. I've faced her and know what she's capable of. Even if I leave Terranos Prime, she'll come after Antistia. I have to settle this once and for all in the Arena. This…is…personal."

It was some time before anyone spoke. The loudest sound in the room was Leela's breathing as she attempted to get her temper under control.

Caesar broke the silence when he said dryly, "Well, cousin, I for one am betting heavily on Leela in this fight…and the upcoming one in the Arena."

Marcellus roared with laughter. "Leela, I shall never figure you out. May Hercules Invictusxxv help us!" Turning to Ray, Marcellus smiled. "Ambassador, would you accept another proposal?"

Ray, looking somewhat bewildered answered, "What do you have in mind, Consul?"

"What would you say to a defensive alliance between Rome and DOOP in exchange for a single fight the day before the election?"

Ray pondered for a moment. DOOP could certainly use Rome as an ally. As the head of the GIA, Ray knew of the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. He also knew that Marcellus was an advocate of improving relations with all of the Empire's neighbors. After a moment's silence he said, "I accept."

Smiling broadly, Marcellus gestured toward the side table, "Let us drink to our success." In a few moments, Marcellus mixed the wine and water. After Leela, Caesar, Corvo, and Ray had their glasses, he raised his, "Health, money, and the time to enjoy them!"

They all drank quietly, each wrapped in their own thoughts of the future.

Peristyle Garden, Domus Marcellii, Palatine Hill, Rome.

Fry stood dressed in a white tunic, waiting nervously for Lady Vibia. He was excited about the prospect of being free again. He had asked Leela if she wanted him to obtain her freedom too, but had been surprised by the hint of anger in her voice as she simply said, "No thanks."

Her response filled his mind with troubling questions. Why did he have such bad luck with Leela? Why did he always seem to ask the wrong thing at the wrong time? What was the point of even chasing Leela?

Almost the entire household was gathered there in the garden, which made for a tight fit. Orm and Morrigan stood close to one another, obviously a couple. Fry had begun to really like Orm, who rarely spoke without thinking. When he did speak, it was always to the point. Morrigan looked somehow different, but Fry couldn't put his finger on it.

Antistia was there, lying on a litter. She couldn't stand for very long without pain, so Orm and Morrigan had carried her in. She was still heavily bandaged, but her color was better. At her side were Leela and Amy, both dressed in white stolaxxvi and matching palla. He thought they both looked very pretty.

Fry looked at Plautius and his wife Iocasta as they stood at his side. He loved them both, as they had treated him with true parental love. He laughed inwardly to see them together, though. They just didn't seem to match.

Plautius was muscular, bald, tan, and weather beaten, always wearing a coarse brown tunic. He had been a slave for many years and it had hardened him. Iocasta was petite and very feminine, wearing the latest fashion that she could afford. Her skin was smooth and almost cream colored, while her hair was abundant, waist length and jet black. She was a free born Roman as well, who never knew the pain of slavery. Still, for a couple with 17 years age difference they got along really well.

Fry heard the sound of Lady Vibia coming into the peristyle, accompanied by Marcellus, Corvo, and Caesar. Trailing behind was Juncus, the steward, carrying a writing tablet and a scroll. As they entered the peristyle, all present gathered around Fry.

Marcellus said in an official tone, "I, Marcus Marcellus call all present to witness that I manumit my servant, Phillip J. Fry without reservation or purpose of evasion. I further call you to witness that I accept the duty of patron toward him. Is there anyone present who knows of any reason why Phillip J. Fry may not be freed?" No one spoke.

Marcellus reached out and took the clan disk that was around Fry's neck between his thumb and forefinger, snapping the disk in two. Continuing, he said, "By the laws of the Senate and People of Rome, you are now free." He then slipped a gold ring onto his right ring finger. "I call you witnesses forward to sign this document of manumission."

Corvo and Caesar came forward and signed. After they finished, Marcellus rolled and sealed it. "Tomorrow, I will personally lodge this with the Censors. From now on, you may call yourself Phillip Fry Marcipor, if you wish. Congratulations."

Everyone crowded forward to congratulate Fry. The men all shook his hand. Orm's handshake was the biggest surprise. For a man of his size, he was surprisingly gentle.

Amy and Leela helped Antistia from her litter. One by one, all of the ladies kissed him. Lady Vibia, Iocasta, Antistia, Morrigan, and Amy all gave him a kiss on the lips. Leela merely brushed his cheek, afraid that she would lose it if she kissed him on the lips. To Fry it felt like having a hot iron applied to his cheek.

Lady Vibia spoke, "Let us all go to the atrium for some wine and other refreshments."

Talking among themselves, the crowd moved toward the atrium. Corvo put his hand on Fry's arm and said, "A moment, Please."

Fry slowed to speak with Corvo, "Wassup?"

Corvo smiled involuntarily at Fry's expression, "I just wanted to tell you that after the reception, we need to talk. You need to know what your duties are to Marcellus as your patron."

"Sure, no problem."

Corvo grinned, "Then let's get into the atrium before Orm eats all the food."

"I heard that!

Domus Marcellii, Rome, Terranos Prime

Leela paced back and forth alongside Antistia's bed, where Antistia lay with a placid look on her face. Leela, on the other hand, was obviously agitated. "Damn it, Antistia, I just can't seem to let my guard down whenever Fry is around. I just don't know what is wrong with me. Oh God, I couldn't even trust myself to kiss Fry in front of everyone."

Antistia smiled, "Leela, you fear failure. No other man has ever really mattered to you before, while Fry does. If you admit you love him, you risk him not returning your love…or growing cold…or anything else that happens to lovers."

Leela nodded. "You're right. Ever since the Orphanarium, I've tried to maintain tight control of my emotions. It's just that I was hurt every time I tried to show love. When I look at how spontaneous Fry is, how he always bounces back from emotional shocks, how gentle and kind he is, I envy him so much. It's funny; he's often complimented me on how smart I am, or how brave I am. If only he knew the truth."

"And what is the truth, Leela?"

"The truth is that I am scared much of the time. I maintain a tight control over my emotions to avoid losing control and letting the real me show. You know, I don't fear failure. What I do fear is losing Fry's good opinion of me." Leela could feel the tears beginning to well up in her eye. It all seemed so hopeless.

Antistia spoke, "Leela, look at me." Leela looked into Antistia's eyes while blinking back the tears.

She spoke quietly, "You will never know a moment's peace until you accept the truth. You can never lose Fry's good opinion…it is not yours to lose…only his to give. If you continue to fret over things you can't control, you will live a dreary, unhappy existence. Tell Fry how you feel…without delay. You never know what will happen in the Arena, or in life. Don't condemn yourself to the hell of unexpressed love."

Leela thought for a moment. "After the next fight, I'll tell him."

Antistia frowned, "You should tell him now. Otherwise, one thing will follow another and you may lose your chance."

"No, after the fight tomorrow will be in plenty of time."

Gladiator Chambers beneath the Flavian Amphitheater, Rome, Terranos Prime

Leela sat on the rubdown table, wrapped in her thoughts. Amy was fitting her shin guards onto her legs, while Morrigan was oiling her shield. Corvo was late, which was very unlike him. Her twenty-fourth fight was coming up and she had grown to find comfort in the tidbits of information Corvo brought her about her opponents.

There was a knock on the door. Morrigan growled, "Who is it?"

"It's me!" came Corvo's reply.

Morrigan went and opened the door. Corvo swept into the room like a whirlwind, obviously agitated. Leela looked at him with an unspoken question evident on her face. "What could have him so off balance?"

Corvo spoke in a concerned tone she had never heard before as he hopped nervously from foot to foot, "Leela, you must listen very carefully to all I am about to tell you."

"Corvo, what has you so worked up?"

"Do you ever remember what I told you about Elektra?"

"Sure, she was the greatest Gladiatrix of all time. She retired two years ago with fifty-two victories and no defeats. Her nickname was Libitiniaxxvii because only two of her opponents survived their fights with her. And they were permanently crippled. What about her?"

Corvo frowned, "As you know, the candidates for Emperor take turns at sponsoring the games. Mamercus pulled a substitution on us. Perfectly legal, you know. So, you will have to fight Electra in the Arena today. Somewhere, Mamercus found the money to entice Elektra out of retirement." With a touch of despair in his voice, he said, "It must have cost millions."

Leela responded with a confidence she did not feel, "Well, they are wasted millions. I plan to do as little dying as possible. So, what's her style?"

Corvo raised an eyebrow, "The same as yours, I am afraid. She is a shade shorter than you, which should give you an advantage in reach. She punches with her shield very well, but only to stun. All of her kills are with a single thrust. Our only hope is that she has lost a bit of her edge during her retirement."

Leela found that instead of thinking of tactics, she found herself thinking, "Why didn't I tell Fry that I love him?" She shook her head like an ox shaking loose a fly.

"Corvo, she'll regret ever coming out of retirement."

"That is in the lap of the gods." He looked at the ceiling, raising his hands in prayer, "May Hercules Invictus help us!"

Morrigan stepped forward and clamped down on Corvo's shoulder, squeezing it until he felt pain. "My sister does not need to hear such things. If you have nothing good to say…say it somewhere else!"

Corvo looked embarrassed. "You are right. I know Leela will win, but she must fight with all of her skill."

For a moment everyone stood in silence until Leela spoke up, "Come on, ladies, and finish helping me dress. I have a fight to win."

The Sand of the Flavian Amphitheater.

The sound was absolutely dazzling as they emerged onto the sand. Leela had thought that the Amphitheater had been packed on her last appearance, but this time there was not a square inch of space. Everyone with the exception of those in the Imperial Box was standing. If Corvo was right, that meant 80,000 people had crammed the Amphitheater like sardines in a can to watch this match.

To hear eighty thousand people shouting themselves hoarse was quite an experience. Mamercus had spent heavily on these games, stinting on nothing. So many men and animals had bled and died that day that the stench of blood hung like a pall over the sand. Arena slaves were still frantically raking the sand as Leela and Elektra marched toward the Imperial Box, side by side.

Both women appeared perfectly fit and ready for combat. They were almost identically armed and armored. The only visible differences were that Leela wore a red tunic and her shield had an owl engraved on it, while Elektra wore a silver tunic and had a lighting bolt engraved on her shield. They reached the Imperial Box, faced it and shouted in unison, "We who are about to face death salute you!"

There was no referee for the fight. Both women walked to the center of the sand and assumed a fighting stance. The Amphitheater became as silent as a graveyard, as eighty thousand waited to watch a match they would tell their grandchildren about.

Elektra took the initiative, attacking with a series of thrusts and slashes that Leela parried with some difficulty. Having survived the first onslaught, Leela found herself thinking, "Is this all she's got?" She could feel some of her old confidence returning.

Elektra aimed a sudden thrust and then punched with her shield, but Leela had seen it coming. She parried the thrust with her shield and countered the punch with her spatha.

"Let's see how much Kung-Fu she knows," Leela thought as she stomped down on Elektra's instep. Elektra moved quickly, but not quickly enough to avoid the entire force of Leela's attack. She crow hopped for a second, just long enough for Leela to shift to the offense.

She rained blows on Elektra, concentrating on pounding her shield. After all, the arm holding the shield took a terrible beating in any fight. If she could just disable Electra's shield arm, she could pick her apart at her leisure.

Elektra retreated under the attack, looking for an opening. Leela continued her relentless pounding, determined not to yield the initiative.

Slowly, Elektra's arm began to tire. The two years of retirement were beginning to tell. In desperation, she charged Leela while thrusting for her midriff.

Leela met her charge with one of her own. She put her full weight behind her shield, slamming it into her opponent's right breast while avoiding the thrust.

Staggered, Elektra fell back a few paces, trying to regroup. But Leela continued to attack, concentrating on her blows on Elektra's shield arm.

It began to work. After a flurry of blows, Elektra's guard began to drop. Leela could see the mixture of surprise and fear on her opponent's face. Grimly, she continued her attack.

When she judged that Elektra was tired enough, she feinted a thrust at the throat, which caused Elektra to dodge…right into Leela's punching shield. The blow landed with a resounding thud. Elektra staggered, dropping her sword.

Leela kicked her hard in the ribs, dropping her to the sand. Elektra attempted to regain her sword, but Leela got between her and the sword, with her spatha raised. "Yield, damn it!" she shouted.

For what seemed like an eternity, their eyes met. Then Elektra raised her right index finger above her head. Until that moment, the crowd had been silent. They erupted in a cascade of sound that reverberated through the Amphitheater like a sonic eruption.

Wave after wave of sound crashed against the walls, seeming to shake the very foundations of the building. The cheering went on for a full five minutes before it subsided.

Leela looked expectantly at the Imperial Box, waiting for a response. The crowd took her cue and began to shout "Missus, Missus!"

Mamercus looked extremely uncomfortable. He had a deal with Claudius. If Elektra lost, she died. So, he ignored the crowd and gave the thumbs down.

As soon as he did it, he realized it was a serious mistake. The crowd emitted a growl that caused all who heard it to blanch with fear. They began to crowd in on the box, shouting "Missus, Missus!" threateningly.

Marcellus, who was also in the box, looked at Mamercus, "Have you gone mad? Do you want to be torn to pieces?"

Seeing the sense of what Marcellus was saying, Mamercus gave the thumbs up. After all, his deal with Claudius did not include being torn to pieces by an angry mob.

Cheering once again, the crowd subsided from the Imperial Box.

As soon as she saw the thumbs up signal, Leela ran to the Imperial Box. There she received a golden crown from Marcellus as well as several bags of Denarii from Mamercus. To thunderous cheers and applause, she completed her victory lap. "One more fight and freedom!" she said to herself over and over as she ran down the steps to her chambers in the bowels of the Arena.

i - The mos maiorum is a concept very dear to the Romans. Although it literally means "way of the ancestors," it has additional meaning. It really means the way things were, are, and always will be.

ii - Ju-Ju is a diminutive form of Julia.

iii - Dignitas means far more than mere dignity. There really is no equivalent word in English. It is the sum total of a person's reputation and character.

iv - The Tarpeian Rock was a cliff from where Roman citizens who committed treason were hurled to their death on sharp rocks below.

v - A feature of the day for the powerful in Rome was the reception of clients every morning. The patron, as he was called, dispensed favors and money to those who visited. In return, the client owed allegiance to the patron…particularly in politics. Great men, when in Rome, were almost always surrounded by a swarm of clients who were there to attest to their patron's greatness.

vi - Vopiscus means "surviving twin."

vii - Salve is Hello or Greetings in Latin

viii - The Star Chamber is a covert code breaking organization that works under the Deputy Direct for Intelligence.

ix - Latin for Quicksilver.

x - S. Julius Caesar was appointed Praetorian Praetor for Rome in 3007 and Supreme Praetorian Praetor in 3008.

xi - By placing a gold ring on Antistia's finger, Marcellus was eliminating any of the legal impediments of her servile past. She was now considered eligible for entry into the equestrian class.

xii - The Censors were a pillar of Roman society. One of their functions was to maintain the census of citizens.

xiii - The "por" ending meant that a person was a freedman (or woman) client of a particular family.

xiv - Auspica is Latin for "she who protects."

xv - In ancient legend, the race of giants had piled Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa in an attempt to scale heaven. Over time, the expression to pile Pelion on top of Ossa came to mean two things. The first meaning was that the speaker would go to any lengths to attain their objective. The second (the one intended here) means that the speaker had the weight of the world on their shoulders.

xvi - Mater is Latin for mother.

xvii - Venatores were a type of Gladiator that hunted wild animals in the Arena.

xviii - "Victorious Cyclops."

xix - The Spatha is a long, straight sword. It is slightly wider at the end than at the tang. It can be used either as a stabbing or slashing weapon.

xx - Missus means "excused" or "let off" in Latin.

xxi - A special gate through which those spared in a fight (Missus) exited the Arena.

xxii - Falernian is a particularly fine vintage of wine.

xxiii - The "Stockholm Syndrome" is a psychological phenomenon where a captive begins to identify with the captor to the point of actively aiding them.

xxiv - "Pagani" literally means "country folk" in Latin.

xxv - Hercules Invictus means "Conquering Hercules" in Latin. He was the god of the triumphing general. As such, he was a god of men only.

xxvi - The stola was the dress of a Roman lady. The palla was a sort of shawl that often accompanied the stola.

xxvii - Libitinia was the goddess of funerals.