The Contestant

Lisa Gomes-da-Cabral stepped onto the expansive deck rusting iron hull of the ship. The blast of salty air mixed with pungent industrial fumes assaulted her olfactory senses. She gazed at the activities around her. The Stigmata's monolithic smokestacks were still belching out steam, while machines and technicians of all sorts scurried around the kilometer long flight deck. Several zeppelins were landing, depositing materials from the onshore trading outposts, and several combat gyros were landing from their air patrol routes. One of them landed a few dozen meters from her, and the machine's engine blasted steam out of the screw-propellers mounted on both wings.

Out past the flight deck, Lisa could see the endless expanse of blue that unfurled in all directions. Lisa had the urge to look over the edge of the deck, but quickly dismissed it. There was safety nets installed on many rim areas, but she did not want to test it. Besides, the only things to see under the sides would be the flotilla of houseboats, transport barges, factory ships, and fishing ships that were dependant on the Stigmata for protection. The overall Cabral Drift was a maritime city unto itself, and that did not count the network of automated undersea mines that provided the Drift above with raw materials.

The transport and salvage submersibles would dock in special ports off to the side and the bottom of the Stigmata, each giving the Drift presents of raw ore from the ocean floor, awaiting delivery to the refinery and factory ships for additional processing. Lisa looked away from the supporting flotilla and further out to sea. Lisa turned to get a view in all of the cardinal directions. The eternal blue ribbon wrapped around the horizon in all three-hundred-sixty degrees, interrupted only by the massive smokestacks of the Stigmata and the factory ships.

The Stigmata itself dated back long before written history, to the days of the Latini Imperium. The ship's thaumechanical negation engine had stopped working, but a jury-rigged series of steam engines had filled the vessel's power requirements quite nicely. Such was the general rule among Drifters: Where Latini thaumechanics failed, use simpler steam and clockwork. Of course, Lisa doubted anyone alive today understood the original engine that had once powered the Stigmata. Of course, the Xianese and the Necropolitian League might have some idea, but they weren't saying anything. Both nations stuck to their secrets like the Drifters stuck to their flotilla-cities.

Looking at the sky, Lisa noted it the setting sun. Looking at her pocket watch, it was clear that the Contest would be starting soon. She was already prepared for it. She had dressed in her athletic wear, which exposed her tanned, muscular torso and legs to the twilight dusk sky. She moved to a white circle painted on the rusting red carrier deck, and sat inside. Within a few minutes, others began to show up. It was quite obvious they were spectators, as they did not step inside the circle. This Contest would be a quick one, as only a few spectators had gathered.

Out of tradition, one did not know who their opponent would be until each round of the Contest started. The goal was to tap-out or submit your opponent as fast as possible, but broken arms and legs were not unknown. If one did not know the opponent, one would be forced to improvise more. Normally, matches would be decided by the Drift's league Coach, and told only to both contestants shortly before the match. Soon enough, two familiar faces arrived. Her brother Helio appeared next to the Coach, Royce Valente da Cabral.

Royce began to explain the rules and expectations to the spectators, as was the standard pre-Contest requirements. The victor of the Contest would be allowed to bed any of the spectators they choose, with their permission, of course. Most Drifters would be honored to be chosen, but a few neophytes and foreign tourists may be unfamiliar with the practice. Of course, people could refuse, and just enjoy the show. Of course, the Rewards system was one way of ensuring passionate audience interaction and following.

That was how Lisa got involved, after all. She was once a spectator when her brother selected her as one. While many of the foreign tourists were shocked at the apparent lack of incest taboo, it only extended around the Contest's circle, and not into many other places in society. Since then, she had made it her quest to finally surpass Helio. She had learned from him, from Royce, and from several other Contestants for several years. Lisa did a quick skim of the audience. There was a fair-skinned young boy with mechanic's goggles, various tools, and a rotolock pistol on his belt, likely an Eirean mechanist. There was an elderly Xianese man, who was apparently a tourist. There was a few of her friends, and her brother's friends also nearby, who she had known for years. She turned her attention to Helio, who had just entered the ring.

Lisa quickly put thoughts of Reward selection out of her mind for now. She first had to figure out a way to defeat her brother, Helio. She was more of a striker, while her massive brother was more of a grappler. It was only logical he would use his massive size to submit his smaller sister. That's how he normally tried it in most of his sparring matches. The Coach ordered them both to begin, and blew his whistle.

Helio and Lisa began to circle each other, and then Helio acted first. He dropped down and went to grab Lisa's hips, in an attempt to force her to the ground with his massive size. Either he was being stupid, or being nice. Lisa instinctively backed up, yanked his shoulders down, and raised her left kneecap to meet her brother's head. Her brother exhaled his humid breath with a grunt of pain. A quick sniff revealed to Lisa why her older brother was fighting so brazenly simplistic. It was the telltale smell of alcohol on his breath. He had likely joined his friends for one too many beers on one of the ship's taverns before the Contest.

It would be best to end the fight now, before her brother acted too rashly. A quick sidestep, followed by a hip-toss, thrust her brother to the ground in a prone position. She grabbed his arm, positioned her legs over his windpipe and head, turned to the side, and began to apply pressure to the straightened forearm and elbow. This created the basic arm-bar, a favorite submission move that Helio had used on her a countless number of times. There was always the risk he could try to resist, which could work for a person of Helio's size, but apparently, all he could do now was grunt. While he was drunk, he retained enough common sense to tap. After all, Lisa did not want to break her brother's elbow needlessly.

Lisa released her brother, and alerted the Coach to his drunken state. The Coach took Helio away and would likely chastise him later. For now, Royce raised her arm, and the spectators began to cheer. Lisa pointed to the Eirean machinist, and he stood up, unsure of how to act. Apparently, he had no qualms on being the Reward, and followed Lisa down to her chamber in the bowels of the ship for the night. While she had won one Contest, Lisa knew there was always more. She would normally be a marine guard on the Drift, but she would always be a Contestant at heart. Rewarded or not, the Contest was always a great distraction. And it was fun.