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Dempsey’s Debut

Copyright 2014 by William Mangieri

“The purpose of this tape is to prevent your hands from disassembling?” Korlish asked, his clicking mandibles only barely clashing with an extraordinary command of English language pronunciation.

“Not exactly,” Jack Dempsey said as he stifled a laugh.

The bluish, man-sized praying mantis hadn’t exhibited any signs of anger in the few months since Jack had been abducted and brought to Krill (either to become a part of the Korlish’s small collection of off-worlders, or to augment his captor’s Earth Theater cast of organic robot replicas as the only authentic human being, Jack wasn’t sure.) Krill females (who outnumbered the males twenty to one) were the ones prone to rage – the males seemed singularly passive. Still, as much as Jack prided himself on being able to read his captor, there were too many differences in culture and anatomy to chance insulting him.

“It will keep me from hurting myself when I punch my opponent,” Jack said, “but no, my hands won’t fall apart without it.”

“Such a brutal activity,” Korlish said. “May that Mihsil will be impressed.”

Mihsil was Korlish’s desired mate, and he was placing a lot of store on the human boxing exhibition he was staging at The Pit later that week. Killian mating rituals were a highly competitive series of showy one-upsmanships. Korlish had decided to play toward his chosen female’s fascination with violence. He had purchased Jack specifically for this one event, but had allowed the human to serve hors d’oeuvres at their previous courting exposition, with express instructions to observe Mihsil’s reactions. He had hoped that Jack might spot some additional tendencies in her that would give Korlish the advantage in his pursuit.

Jack had seen Mihsil’s mandibles quiver with glee as she watched two Centaurian centislugs gut each other, and was sure that the surest way to please her was to stage a blood-bath. Since Jack couldn’t regenerate like the centislugs, he didn’t see any sense in spilling his own blood for the cause, so he had arranged to have the bleeding done by the robot simulacrum Korlish had manufactured just for this event. It hadn’t been hard to convince Korlish; Earth was barely on the outskirts of his neighborhood, so human acquisitions didn’t come cheap. The Krillian had already invested a sizeable portion of his estate on Dempsey, an investment he wished to preserve, so using his organically enhanced robots were more in line with his available finances.

Korlish had a passion, as well as an amazing talent, for special effects and robotics that made the inclusion of one of his creations that much more appealing to him. Jack wondered if it was something internal to the Krillian psyche that made them so good at imitation, or if it was simply their obsession with Earth video. Jack sometimes cursed his planet for spewing all their footage out into space, and wondered if he’d still be living a normal life on his home planet if they’d kept things to themselves, instead of shouting out to the neighbors. Korlish himself had spent hours on end viewing several screens at once through his multi-faceted eyes, and had a far more extensive visual memory of Earth history and entertainment than Jack would ever achieve. Of course, Jack had a better sense of what was real than the Krillians.

“I guarantee you that she’ll fall for you after this, or I’m not Jack Dempsey.”

That he wasn’t the Jack Dempsey whom Korlish thought he had purchased, well, that no longer entered into the conversation. Jack bore enough of a resemblance to his great, great,… great grandfather that Korlish saw no reason why Jack shouldn’t be able to perform up to the same standards the Krillian had seen in his library of old Earth videos. The fact that Jack was not the same, that boxing had been outlawed generations earlier, that Jack had never boxed a day in his life and had learned most of what he knew from Korlish? None of these inconvenient facts had held any weight with the eager Krillian.

So Jack had trained both himself and the Rocky Balboa robot that Korlish had assembled. As non-existent as Jack’s own boxing experience was, he at least shared the same basic anatomical functionality as the subjects Korlish had studied. He might not have professional mastery of the sport, but at least his joints were designed to bend the same way. Rocky had at first thrown punches in a dangerously double-jointed manner, making it difficult to know when a hit was on its way or where it was heading. Jack had to expend quite a lot of effort to convince Korlish to make Rocky’s arm movement more realistic (and less hazardous to Jack.) It wasn’t until the night before the exhibition that Korlish finally gave in and adjusted Rocky.

“Now that’s how a human being moves,” Jack said.

He had just finished sparring with Rocky, and was standing outside the ring, watching Korlish put the finishing touches on their final dress rehearsal in The Pit.

“I believe you are mistaken concerning this,” Korlish had argued. “I have seen many videos of humans moving their arms in this way.”

“I keep telling you, that’s just computer generated.” Jack said. “I don’t understand why you have so much trouble with Rocky here, when you’ve done such a great job on Inga.”

They both stopped to watch the tall blonde robot prance around the ring, carrying the “Round 1” card. Korlish had reprogrammed her as a Ring Girl, put her in red boots and a bikini, and she strutted her stuff so well that Jack wondered if she really was just another robot.

“She moves in exactly the fashion as the women I saw in those same videos,” Korlish said. “Are you sure she is moving as a real woman?”

“It doesn’t matter – she’s perfect,” Jack said, and finally ripped his eyes away from her. “You know, if you came back to Earth with me – if I was going back Earth – I bet you could work in any special effects studio on the planet.”

“Please – you will make me blush,” Korlish said.

The Krillian finished resetting Rocky’s blood bladders, then clattered back on his fours and allowed himself to admire his own handiwork. The only blood to be spilled in the bout was from the numerous bladders Korlish had installed in the robot. The well-engineered spurts created such a realistic effect that it almost sickened Jack to strike the robot.

“Well, I mean it.”

“I am honored that you should say so,” Korlish said. “Would that Mihsil would believe so as well.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

“Females can be so unpredictable,” Korlish said, then sighed wistfully. “Perhaps she will bite my head off.”

“You say that like you want her to.”

“Why would I not?” Korlish said with a quizzical tilt of his head. “That is the ultimate purpose of the male – to mate and then be devoured by the female to provide for our offspring.”

“Wait – you mean like real praying mantises?” Jack asked.

“What are real praying mantises?”

“They’re… Never mind,” Jack said, and shook his head. “That’s messed up.”

“It is the Krillian way, as it has been for time immemorial.”

“We’re going to all this effort to get her to kill you?” Jack said. “Don’t you want to be around to help raise your kids?”

“I will most assuredly be around,” Korlish said, cradling his forelegs under his chin. “Mihsil will be able to hold my head up proudly as she teaches my sons the nobility of their purpose.”

“Mothers raise their children to do this?”

“Whom else?” Korlish asked. “Their fathers are all dead

“I don’t want to be a part of this.”

“Yes, but you are,” Korlish smiled. “Is it not marvelous?”

Then came the night of the big fiasco. That’s what they should have called it, but Korlish had decided to advertise it as The Big Event. He had elevated the intensity by inviting the cream of Krillian society. Most things in Krillian culture were treated as spectator sports, especially something as consequential as courtship, and Korlish’s nest mates would bear witness to the thrill of his victory, or the agony of his defeat. Now that Jack understood the objective, it seemed more like agony either way.

The spectators began filing in at dusk, emerging from the tunnels that linked their own nests to the amphitheater and taking their respective sling benches in their viewing boxes. The place was filled with the echoing sounds of Krillian whispers, mingled with the bass resonance of a Krillian gourd orchestra trying their best at some Earth boxing classics. “Gonna Fly Now” just isn’t the same when you substitute bassoons and oboes for sharp, screeching trumpets. Still, there was a shiver of excitement running through the largely female audience.

Ten minutes before the announced starting time, Korlish, peered through the curtains at the back of his own box at the full house. Well, mostly full – he was staring directly across The Pit to where Mihsil should have already been sitting.

“She will not come,” Korlish sighed. “I will be humiliated and unfulfilled.”

“Don’t worry, she’ll be here,” Jack said.

He didn’t remind Korlish that he hoped otherwise. Despite Jack’s abductee status, he liked the gentle Krillian, and thought being “unfulfilled” was a better option than being head of household the Krillian way.

But then Mihsil did show up, sweeping into her box with her fashionably bored entourage of three girlfriends. The four proceeded to fan themselves with shimmery gold leaves and tried to appear totally disinterested as they glanced around the crowd to see who was there.

Korlish heaved an immense sigh of relief, parted the curtains and stepped into his box, and the entertainment began.

First on the card was an encore of The Centaurian Centislug Slaughter, only instead of the small private showing it had been in Korlish’s nest, now it occurred in the ring at The Pit, under the glare of the spotlights and five hundred some-odd, mostly female Krillians. Inga’s prancing circuit of the ring pleased Jack in ways that did not interest the rest of her audience.

Unfortunately, the centislugs were also disinterested – in each other. Whether it was the size of the crowd, or the lights, or that they hadn’t fully regenerated from their last bout, the normally combative Centaurian’s wouldn’t budge from their respective corners. Jack glanced up at Korlish’s box, to see the Krillian looking uncomfortable askance toward Mihsil, who seemed not to even notice him; he had to endure the full three-minute round with nothing to distract from the gossipy murmurs going thru the crowd, and the bored looks from the females.

Korlish signaled the Krillian referee, who declared the match a draw and ushered in the next act. This was an appetizer to warm up the crowd: a pair of Krillian clowns in full, brilliant gold courtship regalia, portraying the male and female in their slow mating dance, the male practically groveling as he circled the imperious female, seeking that final glance that signaled acceptance.

This was too much like begging to Jack, and not at all how he thought you should get a girl, but Krillian mores being what they were, what could you expect? It was being mirrored for all to see as Korlish continued to make green puppy eyes across The Pit at a totally unimpressed and indifferent Mihsil.

Finally, the female clown consented; she dropped her golden robe to reveal a bright magenta, arousal-colored robe beneath, and the male switched to magenta also as he approached her, but just as she made to bite the male’s head off there was a flash. The ring went momentarily dark, and when the lights came up, they revealed the male’s body lying prone with his cloak hiding his real head, while the female stalked around the ring holding a realistic looking Krill head aloft. The stage crew dragged the inert male backstage, his cloak kept over his head to maintain the illusion.

As stilted and overly theatrical as this seemed to Jack, it appeared to have the desired effect on the assembled females. An appreciative chattering hum grew in the crowd as the head continued to make the circuit, and many of them shifted from their normal blue through violet toward a more vibrant purple as though they were trying to match the female in the ring. This was the beginning of Krillian blood-lust, and Mihsil was now displaying it as well, much to Korlish’s misguided relief.

Jack wanted to correct his master’s perspective, but with the courtship melodrama complete, the lights came down in The Pit, and then a single spotlight began circling around from the upper boxes as Korlish held a gourdaphone, through which his voice boomed as impressively as any ringside announcer’s.

“Welcome to The Big Event! Live in the heart of Krill, in this very arena, two legendary barbaric battling beasts of Earth will vie for your approval.”

This was a very liberal interpretation of what was about to occur. Jack wasn’t feeling at all legendary, and the robot Rocky had never been to Earth.

“In the red corner, weighing in at two hundred and seventeen pounds, ‘The Italian Stallion’, Rocky Balboa!”

The orchestra struck up “The Eye of the Tiger” as the spot settled on one of the lower entrances, and Rocky jogged out onto the floor of The Pit, his fists pumping in the air. The robot danced his way to the ring and took his corner to a scattering of polite applause. This reaction was more subdued than it had been moments before, and Jack noticed that the purple hue of the crowd had begun to dissolve back toward a watery violet.

“And in the blue corner, weighing in at one hundred and eighty-seven pounds, ‘The Manassa Mauler’, Jack Dempsey!”

Jack made his entrance and also danced his way to the ring. He thought Korlish had done an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the classic boxing announcer patter, but the crowd just didn’t seem to be into it. The violet, however, had completely faded to blue by the time he reached his corner. Jack could see some of the females pointing at Rocky and shaking their heads disapprovingly, and there were whispers of “he’s not real.”

Korlish rolled out a final “Let’s get ready to rumble…..!” and looked rather pleased with himself – until he caught on to his audience’s lack of enthusiasm. He settled slowly into his sling bench, and, afraid to make eye contact with his guests for fear of rejection, kept his focus on the match.

The Krillian referee motioned Rocky and Jack to the center of the ring.

“You both know the rules,” the referee said. “Bump gloves and then we will begin.”

They hadn’t rehearsed this part, so as Jack held his gloves up at chest level he reminded the referee, “We’re supposed to return to our corn…”

Jack’s attempt at tutoring was interrupted as Rocky landed a solid right to his jaw, and Jack went down.

Korlish’s eyes bugged out – this wasn’t the way the evening had been planned at all. Jack lay face up on the mat as the referee began the count. Korlish glanced across the ring to Mihsil’s box; if possible, his prospective mate was looking even less interested than ever.

“Four…Five,” the referee continued.

Korlish hung his head in his hands as a large portion of the crowd began disappearing from their boxes. Jack lay there in a fog, thinking how this wasn’t supposed to be him down for the count, and that the salty taste in his mouth wasn’t Rocky’s blood, and how the whole point was supposed to be to avoid getting himself hurt.

“Six… Seven.”

Jack was mad – mad at the situation that had put him on an alien planet. Mad at the stupid Earth customs that had set this up. Mad at the doubly stupid Krillian culture that had fed into it. Mad at the triply stupid Rocky the Robot that couldn’t even stick to a simple game plan.

“Eight… Nine.”

Jack got to his feet purple with rage, pushed past the referee, walked right over to the immobile Rocky and hit the robot’s noggin harder than he knew he could while shouting “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you even throw a fight like you’re supposed to?”

Rocky went over like a ton of bricks, and the thundering echo of it caught Korlish’s attention, as well as the notice of Mihsil, her entourage, and those few Krill who hadn’t yet left the arena. Korlish looked up hopefully, but this was dashed almost immediately. Rocky fell so hard that his systems completely shut down, without even a dribble of the anticipated gusher of blood that had worked so well in rehearsal.

It was then that the bell sounded for the end of the round, and Inga strutted her stuff around the ring again, holding “Round 2” high over her head in a way that emphasized her assets better than ever, and a dazed Jack, still flushed purple with his draining anger, completely forgot that she was just a robot and leered at her all moon-eyed, in a manner that rivaled any of Korlish’s pitiful stares.

Mihsil noticed Jack’s dumbfounded attraction to Inga and his purple hue, and the purple tinge began to return to her carapace, as it did to the rest of her entourage.

“Her!” one of them screamed. “Have her fight him!”

Jack was still befuddled, but Korlish caught on quickly.

“Put the gloves on her!” he called to the referee, who began to comply.

“No! No silly gloves!” cried out another of Mihsil’s girlfriends.

“Let’s see some real blood!” shouted another.

“Gladiator!” screamed Mihsil.

Jack and Korlish both looked slowly around The Pit. Korlish seemed to know exactly what was going on, but Jack was confused.

“What did they say?” Jack asked of no one in particular.

“Gladiator!” all the females screamed in answer.

In truth they were paying no mind to Jack’s question. A rising chant of “Gladiator! Gladiator!” enveloped the arena. Korlish seized on his opportunity and scampered backstage, surfacing in the ring with two armfuls of high quality Roman Coliseum film props. He dropped one set at the feet of the referee.

“Put those on her!” he said, and as the referee complied with fitting Inga, Korlish rushed a still stunned Jack.

“Quickly!” Korlish said, and when Jack just stood there, the Krillian, himself becoming more deeply purple by the minute, stripped Jack’s gloves from his hands and replaced them with a gladius and shield, and then forced a helmet on his head.

“What are you…?” Jack said.

“Done!” the referee shouted, and climbed out of the ring.

There stood Inga, still wearing her red boots, but otherwise fully clad in gladiator regalia. Well, to be honest, not fully clad, and there was something about the placement of those leather straps that seemed designed to keep Jack distracted.

“Wow!” Jack whispered.

His adolescent infatuation wasn’t lost on the increasingly aroused females, and they began to glow rather ominously.

“Excellent,” Korlish said, rubbing his hands together excitedly.

He moved quickly to Inga, entered new settings in her back control panel, and then quickly climbed out over the ropes.

“Give them a show!” he shouted over his shoulder as he scrambled back up to his box.

“But she looks so…”

That was all Jack had time to say before he realized that the suddenly advancing Inga had murder in her little robot heart, as well as, it appeared, a sizeable amount of technique. It was all he could do to duck and avoid an otherwise decapitating swing of her sword.

“Hey, take it easy!” he shouted as he backed away from her. “I haven’t been trained for this!”

“That is not a problem,” Korlish called from above. “Inga has.”

“I can tell!” Jack said,

Obviously, fighting against non-mortal foes in Korlish’s Earth Theater didn’t require Inga to hold anything back – Jack had to dive to the mat to keep his head, which was now just under the rope. He knew he was a goner; he could feel Inga’s feet on either side of his waist as he waited for the final blow. The crowd went wild in anticipation.

That’s when he noticed the referee’s bell was just within reach, and he slammed his hand on top of it. The bell rang loudly, and Inga dropped her sword, stepped over him, and grabbed the Round 3 sign and began strutting.

Jack stood up and watched her, admiring what a fine piece of work she was. But then a clattering of scurrying limbs pulled him out of his reverie, and he saw Korlish, now enveloped in a brilliant magenta totally beyond thinking as he rushed toward the bell. The entire arena was bathed in a vibrantly pulsating and thrumming purple as the Krill blood-lust reached a fevered pitch.

And Jack, knowing that he didn’t stand a chance against Inga if they started another round, despite his admiration of her assets, did the only thing he could think to do. He stepped behind her, grabbed a handful of her golden tresses, and swung his sword at her neck just as the bell sounded. Her head popped off, leaving Jack holding it by the hair as the rest of Inga fell to the mat.

The reaction was immediate. The audience went dead silent, and the magenta glow that had flooded the arena dropped instantly to blue – at least from the female audience members. Korlish stood out as the only purple beacon in sight, still caught up in the excitement of thinking his moment with Mihsil had finally arrived. Then the shouting started.

“Look at him – he likes it!

“Pervert!”

“Abomination!”

“He beheaded a female!”

“Shun him!”

“He must never mate!”

“Shun him!”

Korlish’s glow faded as the situation finally seeped into his hyper-aroused consciousness, but too slow and too late. He scrambled down to the arena floor.

“No – wait!” Korlish begged. “It was an accident. Come back, Mihsil.”

But there was no answer to his pleas, no turning back. Just a mass exodus of indignant females and desperate males from The Pit that left Korlish as the only Krillian in sight.

“It’s over. She will have none of me,” Korlish sighed. “No female on Krill will choose me now as a mate.”

“At least you’ll keep your head,” Jack said, still holding Inga’s.

Korlish groaned. “There is nothing for me here. What will I do now?”

“I have some ideas,” Jack said. He set Inga’s head between the prone robot’s pretty shoulders. “For starters, can you fix her?”

***

“And she will look real?” the short, nervous-looking business man asked. “I essential I make a good impression on our president.”

“As real as my girl, here,” Jack said.

“But a redhead!” he insisted.

“Yes, a redhead,” Jack said. “Inga, would you show Mr. Fein to the door?”

“With pleasure.” Inga purred.

The tall, curvy blonde reached down and took Mr. Fein by the arm, and Jack looked on as she led him out of the store. He never tired of watching her.

“Thank you for doing business with Dempsey’s Debutantes,” Jack called after them.

He walked into the workshop that customers were never allowed to enter, where Korlish was putting the finishing touches on a brunette Kathy.

“We’ll need another Sonja model by Tuesday.”

“Busy, busy, busy,” Korlish said, barely looking up.

Busy was good. Business was good, and it was sure to keep coming. All males are desperate, but they’re not all so desperate that they want their heads chewed off.

*****

You can connect with William Mangieri, see the full list of his works, his writing blog, and links to his current promotions on his WordPress writing page at https://williammangieri.wordpress.com/   

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