But the Vuri weren’t docile, they weren’t less technologically advanced. They were smarter and stronger. And they were vicious. They were from a planet plagued by constant warring. All of their space advances had been for fighting each other. They had the type of space defense program that President Reagan had dreamed of, their very own Star Wars program. There were three major powers on their planet. They battled for resources, for old slights, and to collect slaves from each other.
When we first encountered them, it was through one of our satellites. Images were sent back to earth and broadcast on television. We saw images of cities, advanced technology, and of these new, odd looking aliens. Their skin had a gray tint to it and their eyes were large like owls’ eyes. They were bipedal with two arms like us. But unlike us, they seemed to have a lizard-like quality to them. Scientists were interviewed on almost every news program, talking about them. Some explaining that our own planet could have gone the way of lizard-like people had it not been for the extinction level event that wiped the dinosaurs from the planet and gave us the time of the mammal.
The Vuri were interested in us and came to find us on our planet. They had no lofty ideals, though. They saw a planet of weaklings to conquer. They brought ships with weapons strong enough to destroy our buildings and cities from space. They brought ships with enough Vuri to conquer the remaining humans. They set up a trade in which goods were taken from our planet and sent to theirs. One of the goods they took from Earth was slaves. Human slaves.
I was born on Vuri, the son of a mine worker. I was told the stories of the demise of the human race. The stories of how the Vuri united, finally, and turned their aggression towards us pink skins. I was supposed to feel sorry for the human race. But I never did feel sorry for us. We had been stupid enough to think no one was as powerful as us, that we could fly through the galaxy in little ships with no weapons and only a flimsy metal casing between us and whatever we would encounter.
I was only twelve when the miners, including my mother, led a strike. It lasted for only a few days before the Vuri came and killed workers, making an example out of them. To further punish the humans, they took their children from them, myself among those children taken. We were brought to one of the many games arenas where humans fought to the death for the amusement of the Vuri.
Five years of training later, and I was a fighter in the arenas. My mother had not lived to see this day. In my heart, it was one of my deepest wishes that she could see me fight - that she could see what happens when you rebel against the Vuri. The Vuri were awesome creatures, gods compared to us. She should see it, she should know what she caused.
I was a popular fighter. I could take down the vicious beasts they brought in to the arena. Some of the pleasure of the spectators was watching the humans gored by animals. However, it seemed more enjoyable for the spectators to see us beat those animals. They brought animals from Earth that were new and exciting to the Vuri. They particularly enjoyed elephants who shared their same gray colored skin. I had killed many an elephant, and presented their tusks to the governor.
It was my misfortune to have had made a great friend out of another fighter. I did not see it as a misfortune at first. We had grown up together learning to fight, training beside each other for five years. We shared similar viewpoints on the Vuri and the humans. Some days we wondered what it would be like to be a Vuri. He had similar success in the games, fighting against the beasts. We were two of the most popular fighters of the games. We were on posters and commercials for the games.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, that we were tasked to fight each other in the games. It was near the end of the fighting season, when the weather would turn cold and the Vuri’s sheet snow would come out and make visibility an issue. It was time for a climactic finale to the fighting season and what could be more exciting than watching the two best fighters take each other on?
I faced off against my best friend, looking across the arena at him holding his long spear. If we did not kill each other with spears, one of the native weapons of our people, we would move up to more dangerous weapons. From spears to swords to guns to blasters. I bowed to my best friend across the arena. The crowd loved it. The human animal showing grace and deference.
We were both smart enough to not try to throw our spears at one another. Instead we danced around each other, jabbing, thrusting, parrying, blocking. This went on for quite a long time. The audience that had originally ooh’ed, aww’ed, and winced for us had begun to grow bored. Would these two never kill each other?
They gave us swords next and not much changed. We were both trained together. We knew what move each other would make and could dodge and parry. There were no weak spots in our defences that could be gotten through. The audience had stopped being bored and started to be impressed. The large screens showed where the video recorders were zooming in - on our muscles, on the sweat glistening off of our skin.
We fought for hours. We were never given guns or blasters. Instead the show became about our prowess, about our physical bodies, about even our friendship. The recorders had zoomed in on our faces and seen the looks we gave each other. You could see the love and the pity in our eyes but you could also see the determination to win and to live. It was the first time in the history of the games that two contestants were allowed to live, that the games were stopped before one of the fighters died.
We were going to be the talk of the season. Every program wanted to interview us. We had to talk up our friendship. We had to be shown to still care about one another. However, at the end of the match, we both realized we would have to fight again in the beginning of the next season. There was no way they were going to let this outcome happen again. One of us had to die.
It was a long off-season. We went to all of the interviews and made show of our friendship. We talked of being together during our formative years in the training centers. We told them how we met, when we first fought against one another in practice, when we both had a crush on the same Vuri girl who spat in our direction when she found out. All of this we did with smiles. While off camera, we grew apart. We ate at separate times to avoid seeing each other. We didn’t speak to one another in the boarding house.
I lost my best friend in the arena, not to bloodshed but to the dread of upcoming bloodshed. Now on the eve of our next battle, the first battle of the season, I am unable to sleep. Now that we are so distant from one another, can I take his life? Or should I, instead, miss? Should I thrust with the wrong timing and allow him to kill me? Would he do the same? Would our fight look ridiculous this time around?
One thing is certain, only one of us will survive tomorrow.