Arena Dogs, Book Two
Unregistered Transport Vessel
Earth Alliance Beta Sector
Jupiter had heard of the fiery afterlife the humans called Hell, but he’d never expected to end up there. It wasn’t that his soul wasn’t black enough; he just didn’t think the humans would allow an Arena Dog entry.
Flat on his back and feeling like his muscles had turned to molten metal, he battled the fogginess in his brain. The soft texture of fabric against his bare shoulders proved he no longer lay on the dirt floor of the arena. The whoosh and suck of flames ate their way closer as he weighed the unlikely prospect that any human would tolerate his presence—even in eternal damnation.
Was he being set on fire as a special punishment, or was this just the usual hellish welcome to new residents of the afterlife? He laughed at the thought then coughed violently when he sucked in a lungful of noxious fumes. A chemical tinge burned his nose and turned his stomach. The smoke gathering over his head, hung close to his face. Apparently Hell had low ceilings.
A loud boom that seemed to come from everywhere—as if he were inside the sound itself—focused his mind like the air-shot at the beginning of an arena match.
His heart beat hammered against his chest faster and faster.
The possibility of Hell aside, where was he and where were his pack brothers? He remembered the pain of a spike piercing his chest, dangerously close to his heart. He remembered a voice telling him to hang on. He remembered the verdict of the games master—death. Death, not only for him, but for Carnage and for Seneca.
The memory of Seneca’s blood splattered face sent another surge of adrenaline to his heart.
The heat of the flames intensified until one side of his body crawled with sizzling prickles. He tried to roll away from the flames, but his efforts gained him nothing. A restraint stretched across his chest. He pushed against it weakly, his right arm wasn’t moving and he couldn’t feel his hand at all.
That would have raised his heart rate, if it hadn’t already been beating too fast to count. The flames licked closer.
Jupiter pressed his chin to his chest and studied the restraint. His eyes stung from the smoke and he blinked to focus. He pushed against the material with his left hand and found it stretchy and thin. He was pinned to a strange bed, built high along the wall. The restraint clearly wasn’t meant to prevent him from getting free, but it might be meant to keep him from rolling out of the strange bed in his drugged stupor. Yeah, there had definitely been drugs in his system. The pounding at the base of his skull and the jittery twinge of his muscles left no doubt. He flicked out his claws on the good hand and the material fell away in a shredded heap. Rolling to his side, he swung his legs over the edge and kept his body hunched below the gathering smoke. As he suspected the floor was near a meter below.
He jumped to the floor only to double over in pain. His left hand shot to the spot where the spike of a gauntlet had driven through the muscle and tissue below his ribs. His fingers found a soft patch of something clinging to his skin. One quick look told him someone had patched him up with a stark white bandage.
A door to his right scraped open and the flames jumped higher, licking the ceiling like a viper tasting the air for prey. A bark drew his spinning head back to the door and an unfamiliar figure. His wide facial features and prominent canines marked him as an Arena Dog; but his long, wide-legged pants and a soft, clinging shirt provided a sharp contrast to Jupiter’s stretchy black training leggings.
The Dog barked again and tossed a white canister toward him. “Fire suppression is down. Move now, brother.”
Jupiter tried to reach out to catch it, but his damn right arm failed him again. The cylinder hit him in the chest and he managed to cradle it against his torso. He growled his discomfort at the assumption of leadership in the strange Dog’s words, but good sense won and he quieted. This was not the time for a fight for dominance.
The one who’d commanded him, grabbed another of the canisters from a storage bin and held it in front of his body. “Point the nozzle at the flames and press the red button!” He had to shout over the cacophony of something mechanical nearby grinding metal against metal.
Jupiter struggled to work the fire suppression canister without the use of his better hand. A blue powder sprayed out, dousing the flames as it bubbled and expanded wherever it landed. It changed the scent of the fumes—no less vile—but the burning in his lungs seemed to dull.
He could see now that he was standing in an aisle with beds like the one he’d crawled out of built into the walls. Across the aisle, the bunks had been empty and were now blackened with soot beneath the blue skin of the suppressant. He jogged further along a corridor chasing the flames into a chamber with some mechanical purpose. Pipes and cords and steaming conduits hung from the ceiling and twined along darkened control panels.
Jupiter still had no idea where he was and he wanted answers. “What’s happening?”
“You’re on board a resistance transport. I’m Gaius. We snuck you off planet and we’re trying to get you to our haven.” The other male’s name plucked a cord in his memory. A dead gladiator from another of the great houses. Jupiter had lived his whole life a slave of House Owens. Gaius? He couldn’t remember the dog’s lineage.
“We’re not on Roma?” He’d known their lifeless rock was only one of many planets. The arena fans and patrons came from other worlds. The idea of being anywhere but Roma, seemed implausible.
“Right. We’re in a transport vessel and we’re under attack.” Gaius tossed his canister to the floor and barked for Jupiter to follow back the way he’d come. “We have to keep our attackers from boarding long enough for the pilot and the mechanic to make repairs and get us moving again.”
Jupiter had never heard of the resistance or been aboard a space craft of any kind, but he was used to adapting to unexpected situations, so he followed. They made it back to the chamber where they started and Gaius showed no sign of stopping.
When Jupiter approached the bed he’d vacated minutes before, he spotted the still form on the bed below. “Seneca!”
Jupiter dropped to his knees and pressed his ear to his pack brother’s chest. Relief flooded Jupiter at the faint rise and fall of the chest beneath his ear. Seneca’s heart beat strong and steady.
A clipped bark brought Jupiter’s attention back to the stranger. “We have to go.”
Clutching Seneca’s still arm, Jupiter stared at the other male and spoke through a locked jaw. “He’s alive.”
The Dog nodded. “He’s deeply sedated. He’s smaller, lower body mass. It’ll take him longer to come around.”
Jupiter wanted to stay with Seneca, to wait for his lavender eyes to open, but he understood they were in danger and had an enemy to fight. He lurched to his feet knowing the best thing he could do for his brother was to keep whatever danger approached from reaching his slumbering body. He and Gaius thundered along a narrow corridor of dull metal walls and grated floors that shook beneath their weight.
The stranger slapped a palm against a panel beside a door and it slid open. They were barely across the threshold when Jupiter spotted the humans trudging through what appeared to be an external hatch. He spotted the burst weapons they were carrying and roared out a warning. He dived low as the miniature explosion of the guns blasted over his head. The other Dog collapsed to the floor beside him. Most of Gaius’s chest was so much bloody meat and the only thing keeping his head attached was a fragile column of charred bones.
Jupiter had seen too much death to react to the gore. He bunched his leg muscles and leapt toward the two men still standing in the hatchway. He kept low, aiming for their legs. Two more bursts exploded over his head as his targets tumbled to the floor. Bulky uniforms cushioned their fall and muffled the sound of his success. A familiar pain flared in his gut, but Jupiter pushed it from his mind. He crawled over the closest downed man and struck a fast sharp blow to his throat. The crunch of the human’s trachea fueled his determination. He made a grab for the other human, trying to wrestle the burst gun from his grip. When he couldn’t break the man’s hold, Jupiter snapped his arm near the elbow. The man squealed in pain.
“Wait!” The shout of a human drew Jupiter’s head up.
Damn! There were at least a dozen humans on the other side of the hatchway. He rolled, pulling the whimpering man over him as a shield, but no blasts fired. The small army kept quiet as the leader shouted orders. “Don’t shoot,” the man warned. “He’s worth more alive.”
Hope swelled in Jupiter’s chest. The weapons were the only chance they had against him. Hand to hand, no number of humans would best him. He shoved the injured man aside and bounded to his feet.
“Wait. Heel. Whatever the fuck you call it.” The leader stood well behind his team with his hands up in the universal sign for stop.
Jupiter growled at the men who still pointed weapons at him, drawing back his lips to show more teeth. He wanted to give them an eyeful of the deadly incisors he’d been cursed with, but the shake in their hands, fingers still on the triggers, kept him frozen in place instead of lunging for his prey. Their leader might have ordered them not to shoot, but instinct told him their fear was stronger than their obedience.
“Listen, Dog.” The leader paled, but he stepped out from behind the humans that had provided him cover. “There’s no reason to fight. Even if you kill us all, what then? Where are you going to go? I’m Captain Fitzhew and my ship is your only chance at survival. Your ship is damaged and your pilot’s dead.” He stepped forward, hands open, and pointed.
Jupiter’s nostrils flared and he snarled. He knew someone was dead where the leader pointed. He could smell the blood, singed flesh, and the smell that comes from a man when his insides are exposed. He chanced a glance in that direction. The pilot, still strapped into a chair that looked to be surrounded by view screens and controls, slumped forward. Half his torso was gone, but he was clearly human.
Why would a human help Arena Dogs escape the powerful reach of The Roma Company?
When Jupiter looked back to the human leader, the man grinned. It was the grin of a whip-master before he announced the number of lashes he intended to rip into a Dog’s back. The grin of the game-master before he stepped onto the platform where arena verdicts were handed down. It didn’t bode well.
“Unless you can pilot a space ship, there’s nowhere to go.” His brows wiggled like worms arched over his eyes. “Can you? Are you a pilot?”
The mockery in his voice should have outraged Jupiter, but he didn’t have the energy for any sort of rage. He swayed on his feet, thinking of his vulnerable pack brother in the compartment down the corridor. He should fight. The thought flickered in his mind, but his body didn’t respond.
“Or,” said the human leader, “We could just wait here until you pass out from blood loss.”
Jupiter’s chin dropped. He saw the crimson splash at his feet before he saw the blood soaked bandage across his belly. Another stream of blood trickled across his collar-bone and down his pectoral muscle. He touched his fingers to his shoulder and found it wet and slick. He pressed hard against the wound, hoping the jab of pain would provide a much-needed surge of adrenaline, but it was too late. He’d already lost too much blood.
His legs buckled and the jarring impact of his knees slamming into the decking sent shock waves of pain through his body. His eyes fluttered, the rush of weakness could no longer be put off. It left him powerless.
He thought again of Seneca, regret and longing for his pack brother settled painfully in his heart. As the humans circled closer, he huffed out his bitter shame.
For the second time in as many days, he was going to die.
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