Excerpt: XWF Broadcast, live from Georgia

(Live feed of an empty battle arena, with several men wearing black shirts with the white word SECURITY emblazoned on the back walking over each section of the many iron structures and concrete embankments. Camera pulls back to the announcers box, revealing the two commentators.)

Jerry Dylan: Folks, I don't know what to make of this. We're still waiting to find out what happened to the combatants in the Last Nova Standing Battle Royale.

Dustin McShane: Thatís right! None of the participants seemed responsible for the strange portal that swallowed the entirety of the Royale. Theyíve simply vanished!

JD: Weíve got security combing the building and the arena right now. But so far, there are no signs of Crater, Shadow Serpent, the Untouchable, or any of the other combatants.

DM: Frankly, folks, although this is definitely out of the ordinary, Iíd have to say this is classic Xtreme Warfare, the unchallenged leader in Nova sports entertainment. Displays of awesome quantum power like that are commonplace occurrences here, though I havenít seen one like this since the Superbeast destroyed Cpl. Punishment.

JD: Who, as everyone knows, Dustin, was mysteriously attacked that very night. Possible revenge on the part of the late Corporalís Teragen contacts?

DM: Personally, JoJo, I think everyone is grasping at straws connecting Punishment to the Mal wannabes. After all, the Corporal once said, and I quote, ďFuck the Teragen.Ē

JD: Thatís true, but you canít deny that some very prominent Terats showed their faces at some of the Pay-Per-Views where the Corporal had some of his biggest matches. Letís take another look.

(Dissolve to scenes of past matches. Corporal Punishment, a very large and well-sculpted red-haired man dressed in camoflauge with a green beret, wins the Silver Circle belt, parading with it held high over his head. Cut to a shot of the Catalysts in attendance: Magma, Father Tom, Ashnod, Apep, Pandora, Marshall Legend, all of whom are applauding. Switch to Cpl. Punishment defeating Amazon, then grabbing Lilí Amazon from behind and throwing her from the ring and into the audience. Cut again to a shot of Apep and Ashnod in the audience. Switch to the final moments of the Superbeast/Cpl. Punishment match. Cut to Pandora, Machina, Scorch, and Daedelus in attendance. Superbeast looks in their direction standing above the bleeding Cpl. Punishment. Scorch flies Machina to the ring. Superbeast begins making threats. End flashback with a still of Machina kneeling beside the dead Corporal.)

JD: A heartbreaking scene, Dustin.

DM: Yes indeed, JoJo. Those of our more scientifically-minded fans will recognize Dr. Allegra Ramsey, the Canadian Nova known as Machina and suspected Teragen sympathizer, attempting futilely to use her regenerative powers to save Seth Larenís life.

JD: But Iím certain everyone recognized the face of Apep, one of the most feared Novas on the planet, and her ever-present comrade and Catalyst spokeswoman Ashnod. Both of whom, Dustin, have made their Teragen allegiance very well known.

DM: No question about that. But what I found even more interesting that that, JoJo, given the recent events of the last month are the presence of Dr. Florian Gessler, the Nova known as Daedelus, and Shannon McLyre, the Nova Pandora, alongside them. Neither of those two have ever made public their feelings on the Null Manifesto, but many of our viewers have long suspected the two of them to secretly be members of Divis Malís terrorists. I guess you might say that you saw it first here, folks. Live on the XWF, undeniable proof that Pandora and Daedelus have always been sympathetic to the Teragen.

JD: Itís quite obvious to me, Dustin, looking at these old matches that the Corporal probably had some very questionable, and very secretive allegiances that he didnít want the fans to know about.

DM: You know, after seeing that, I think youíve got something there.

JD: Damn right. Folks, while we wait for word from security, letís take another peek at some of the highlights of the career of one of the best the sport has ever seen, tragically taken from us.

(5 minute montage splicing footage Cpl. Punishmentís best matches. Sentimental, tear-jerking remember the champions type music plays in the background.)

JD: He's dearly missed, both by his peers and the fans.

DM: Yes, indeed, JoJo. But thatís what happens in the XWF, the unchallenged leader in Nova sports entertainment.

JD: Only the very best survive here, Dustin, thatís for sure. Folks, if youíre just joining us, weíre still at a loss here as to the whereabouts ofÖwhat the hell is that???

(Cut to the center of the arena, reality suddenly twists in a nauseating spiral, much like the center of a tornado or whirlpool. When it fades out, Ashnod is there, eyes blazing and anima banner glowing like a bloody aura.)

DM: Oh my god, Jerry, thatís-

(When Ashnod speaks, her voice echoes through the arenaís P.A. system, though she carries no visible microphone.)

Ashnod: I am Ashnod, speaking for the Catalysts.

(A deafening wave of boos and jeers erupts from the crowd, bottles and other various items hurled from the stands into the ring. A few are well-aimed, and either shatter upon or bounce off her forcefield.)

JD: Listen to this crowd, Dustin!

DM: Theyíre certainly making their feelings known, arenít they?

JD: I see a few fans who look like theyíre cheering, but the roar of the others is drowning them out.

(Object continue to hurl for about two minutes, Ashnod patiently stands unmoving amidst it. When the last object falls, she resumes speaking.)

Ashnod (using Awe-Inspiring): Are you finished?

(Arena falls mostly silent.)

A:I thought so. For almost a decade, you have spent hard earned money to watch gladiators spar off in contests that echo the days of Commodus and Caligula. You have cheered and clamored for the spilling of blood, the cries of anguish, and the bellowing triumph of victory.

JD: Oh my god, you donít think-

DM: Shush!

A: The blood of Homo Sapiens Novus. Billions of dollars in revenue have been amassed in this trafficking of Nova injury and death. Many of my brothers and sisters have been put into the ground for your viewing pleasure, and you yet beg for more. You pay for recordings of their deaths, watching them over and over with a reverence possessed only by the most dedicated of killers. You wear T-Shirts with their profiles, masks with their visages, encouraging them to battle on for your entertainment.

DM: No one forces these Novas-

JD: For godís sake, Dustin, shut the hell up!

(Ashnod turns to face the announcers box)

A: My comrade Dr. Gessler has just cut-off the feed to your microphones. You two have said more than enough this past decade. A few minutes of silence will do you good.

(Ashnod turns back to face the audience)

The Romans, a society that has gone the way of the proverbial dinosaur, were wise enough even in their decadence to one day understand that ritualistic combat, for entertainmentís sake, was a vicious and unhonorable way for a civilized people to behave. Even they, with the due respect they paid to their gods, knew that it was barbaric thing for one human to fight another to the death purely for the pleasure of an audience. And yet, in the shadow of the planetís greatest era, its Utopia if I may borrow the use of that word, I see that youíve not changed in the two thousand years since Rome. You still hold true to the beliefs of your ancestors, that two men should not fight to amuse a third. No, that would never happen in todayís enlightened world. Instead, you have us fight one another for you. Eighteen years ago, before N-Day, when the old WWF was at the height of its power, would youíve seen a combat that was not rehearsed? An injury that was not accidental? Would youíve allowed one man to end anotherís life on national television, and then sell licensed copies of the match at Wal-Mart?

(Ashnodís anima flares out once)

I donít think so. I can hear the cries of outrage now, the earnest pleas of a society who would demand retribution and justice for such an inhuman activity. The scandals that would follow, the trials watched with held breath, the prison terms for those who arranged everything, I can envision this with looking-glass clarity. Such a morally reprehensible slaughter wouldíve been dealt with a speed and precision normally unseen in modern judicial practice. But no! When Nova blood is spilt you look the other way. If Nova limbs are snapped in two, you cut deals with N! for repeat viewings. If a Nova life is taken, you cheer the victor without guilt. After all, isnít this what you expect of us, isnít this what we do? Do we not fight each other, and you are entertained? How many times have you watched a Nova fall before Caestus Pax, and then rewound to watch it again? Didnít you fix popcorn that night with your friends, before gathering around the screen to watch Totentanz impale Slag?

(A brief pause) But no, you arenít the only guilty parties here. If only it could be so simple. Homo Sapiens Novus, I ask you all to hear my words now! If the baseline world wouldnít allow one of their own to die bleeding on the arena floor, why is it that we are exempt from that standard? Arenít we human like them, just like the Zurich Accord declares? Then how is it that weíve allowed ourselves to become nothing more than gladiator slaves, chained not by iron and steel, but coin and applause? It is our blood that is spilled, not theirs, and they beg of us for more. It is our bodies they bury, and they release action figures with our likeness complete with a scale to fit burial coffin and limited edition print run. No human death would be treated with such indifference. But we arenít human, are we, and I urge everyone of you prostituting blood and bone for baseline adulation and currency to reconsider your choice of profession. Reconsider, and realize that you are nothing more to them than a product, one that is easily replaced when you become crippled, or used-up. We already took the time tonight to have a chat with your Battle Royale participants, and I donít think youíll be seeing them selling themselves for your pleasure in the near future. Thatís right. Your most expensive heels and faces have since had a change of heart, and have even asked me to deliver a message to those us still enslaved. Everyone of you is more than a mere poster, a stuffed doll, or inflatable punching dummy. Stop squandering your potential on a society that would never tolerate the ritual killing of one of their own, but routinely turns a blind eye when it one of us.

(another pause)

Of course, some of you probably arenít yet convinced. I know it took quite some explaining for Crater to come around. He sure loved those paychecks, and Iím certain heíll find himself missing all of your adoring faces wherever he finds himself in the coming years.

(pause)

I hope Iíve given you all, Nova and baseline, something to think about when you crawl into bed tonight. To those Novas who still think of us as a stepping stone, that a victory in combat over the Catalysts or the Teragen is the final rung on your ladder to fame and fortune, I ask that you know we arenít your enemy. We donít, and have never, actively sought to wage war upon our sisters and brothers. When we have engaged you, it was never for sport, never for money, and rarely with a guilt-free conscience. What we do, we do for the benefit of all Novakind. I know that coming from me, that sounds ludicrous, but I hope one day you will understand that. And to those baselines who continue to insist that our responsibility lies in cleaning up your messes, curing your maladies, and being your gladiators, I offer this advice. It is a poor thing to enslave another with chains, but even worse thing to enslave with ideology and the burden of responsibility. If we choose to help you, it should be from the goodness of our spirits, not because we are expected to because of our genetics. If we choose a path that doesnít involve a life dedicated to altruistic goals, we arenít evil, only exercising the same right of self-determination that you all hold very dear yourselves. Our lives arenít disposable. They arenít for sale, and they certainly arenít yours to fashion. I, and my comrades, grow weary of repeating this to you. Let this be your moment of clarity, your own epiphany, just as it was for those you no longer see in the arena before you tonight.

(reality spirals inward upon itself, the opposite direction as it did when Ashnod arrived. When it calms itself, and space returned to normal, she is gone.)

JD: Are we live again? Is this thing on? Holy god! Did you hear what she said? Crater and the others no longer with the XWF?

DM: YouÖyouÖyou donít think theyíve joined the Teragen, do you JoJo?

JD: I donít know, Dustin. Folks, Iím sorry, Iím a little speechless given everything weíve just heard.

DM: I can hardly breathe, JoJo, I feel Iíve just survived ground zero at an atomic test site.

JD:The crowd can feel it too, Dustin. Listen to them! IÖIÖI never thought Iíd see anything like this in the XWF!

(Camera pans away to the arena, images of the crowd chanting, ďCA-TA-LYST! CA-TA-LYST!Ē It centers on one fan holding a sign that reads, ďIím Malíicious!Ē Fade to commercial.)

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