This is a story I wrote in response to a challenge issued by The Oatmeal. He challenged the internet to write an epic love story involving cage-fighting nuns and tanks. It was written for fun; in jest - but I'm fairly proud of how it turned out. I'll post the rest over the weekend.
An Epic Love
“Get her! Push her down!”
“Come on! Yeah!”
“Twist her arm! Alright!!!”
The crowd went wild as Sister Mathilda fought her opponent. She twisted Sister Henrietta’s arm behind her back; up towards her neck. As she dropped Sister Mathilda kicked her mid back, and straddled her as she lay gasping on the ground.
Sister Mathilda examined herself while she waited for the count, noting ruefully how torn her tights were.
She touched the rosary belted snugly to her waist and reached down the neckline of her gown, lifting her cross into the air above her head as the crowd roared its approval. Her victory was complete, and it was customary to follow this ritual after winning.
“You ok, Henry?” she murmured.
Henry grunted, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
She’d held back to avoid injuring her friend, but her superior strength might have caused an injury anyway. She was glad this wasn’t the case.
She rose, sighing at the red curls bouncing over her shoulder and bumping her nose. Her habit was in complete disarray. She’d lost her veil at some point, and her coif was askew. Her wimple hung around her shoulders. Naturally, her hair had come loose. She was resigned to it.
The habit she wore for fighting was hardly traditional, anyway. It had been modified to allow her maximum mobility and ease of movement. It resembled a sort of mini-dress with long slits up each leg past her hips. She wore black tights for modesty; but they were hardly modest now, what with the way her silver skin shimmered through the numerous gashes in her shredded leggings. Mathilda bit back a wave of shame, along with the desire to cover herself. She wasn’t used to it yet. Any of it.
She strode over to the gate as it was raised, calm, cool, and collected. She was being publicised as an ice princess, and she tried to act the part. When she lifted a silver hand to shield her eyes from the lights flashing as her picture was taken by the many fans in the crowd, she carefully passed it off as a casual, dismissive wave to them. She was elegant, even in her state. She carefully hid the shame she felt.
For the convent. For the sisters back home… A wave of homesickness swept over her. She missed St. Augustine’s, back home on Asteria. They were her family; the only home she could remember. As the lone survivor of a shuttle accident when she was a child, left without family, the sisters at St. Augustine’s had saved her in more ways than one. She would do anything for them. Even if it was to pack up and leave, to help in the new convent established on Isteria. Even if it was to don an immodest habit and cage-fight. She’d do it without hesitation or delay. And do it she had.
She ignored the whistles and catcalls and stalked through the gate with her head held high.
“You look attractive,” whispered Sister Georgina, who was waiting outside.
“Shut it, George.” She shot her fellow sister a withering glare.
Georgina snorted in barely-contained laughter. “Sure thing, Matt.”
The names were part of an inside joke that had been carried on for over a thousand years.
Around the finish of the Great Intergalactic War, the nuns of Earth had decided that some of the names of their new intergalactic inductees were too seductive-sounding, and had them all change their names to ancient Earth names. It became required for every new novice to change her name to an ancient Earth name.
In response to this discrimination, many of the new converts began secretly changing their new names to a masculine form. This “secret code-name” way of speaking to each other had continued to the point where the current Intergalactic Mother Superior, named Francis, was known as “Frank” to her friends.
It was, Mathilda supposed, just one of the things about being an intergalactic nun that would cause the sisters of Earth to die of heart failure. You can’t exactly bring convents and gospel across the galaxy without being able to make a few adjustments along the way, heretical and unorthodox or not.
“Congrats, Matt!” George’s smile was genuine, and Mathilda – Matt – hesitantly smiled back. She felt so out of place here. The other nuns had been sent to Isteria because they were physically fit and active, able to handle the rigors of the cage. She had been sent because she was an Iluthian, and far stronger than humans. She smiled more genuinely, remembering that despite her teasing, George had always been kind. Her silver lips stretched across her white teeth.
For all it made her feel awkward to acknowledge it, Matt was attractive. All Iluthians were. Their primary features were their shimmering skin, shockingly bright hair, and their extraordinary beauty. Their exotic features were enhanced when they were mixed, as Matt was.
Not that she could remember her parents, or anything before the accident. Any doubt’s they’d had had been settled; the tail she’d started growing when she hit puberty cinched it. She had small – compared to a dragon’s, anyway – fragile wings that were carefully folded and wrapped before each fight, or foray into public, and her tail was coiled round her waist and wrapped as well.
She and George were in the changing area, away from prying eyes, while George helped her undress and uncoil her tail and wings. George had never said anything or treated her differently for having them. It meant a lot to her. Having dragon blood wasn’t something everyone was willing to accept, even all these years after the war.
She unfurled her wings, shaking them out to get rid of the shivery feeling they had after being bound for so long. They were similar in design to a dragon’s wings; only far more delicate. They had the same silvery sheen the rest of her body did, though in places the webbing was almost translucent. Matt had always liked her wings.
“They’re very pretty,” George offered; almost shy as she admitted it.
“You can touch them,.” Matt’s offer was just as hesitant. As George reached out she added a hasty, “Be gentle!”
George nodded, then stroked the tips of Matt’s wings. “It’s a shame they make you bind them.”
Matt shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
So many years since the end of the war, and it still made people uncomfortable that there were dragons and Iluthians or humans who mated. Not “married”, or “fell in love” – people just said they “mated”; like they were talking about animals.
There were “people” – Iluthians and humans – and there were “dragons”. Never mind that they were all intelligent beings; it was still “us” and “them”.
George sighed. “Let’s get them wrapped again, while you get dressed.”
Matt nodded. George was one of the good ones. She never forgot that.
“Let’s go, Jason.”
Jason Kinneman, a bright, handsome man of about twenty-six followed the man in the lab coat. He stared at the man’s dark, receding hairline as he followed. It was unusual in this day and age; especially with the kind of access this guy had. Jason wondered why he chose to go bald.
They turned down a corridor. Jason was already lost; all the walls were white, the doors and halls all looked the same, and he knew he’d never find his way back on his own if he tried.
He glanced around in excitement. He wanted to know what was behind all of the doors they were passing, what experiments might be conducted behind them. What theories were being concocted, what creations were being constructed?
He knew it would be on a smaller scale than back home, on Esteria. That was to be expected; as Esteria was a hotbed of scientific research, discovery, and exploration. Isteria, where this science complex was located, focused more on physical strength and prowess; sports and the like. Any labs here would definitely be underfunded. But he couldn’t help feeling excited to discover what this new world had to offer.
He was here for one reason – he was an engineer.
Dr. Paul Jarvis glanced at the young man before him. He was a young white man with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. Goodlooking, with his handsome face; finely sculpted nose and cheekbones, and a well-defined jaw. He was tall – and most important – he was well built.
This one looks like a fighter, Jarvis thought with some excitement. He might be the one.
“You have an impressive resume, Mr. Kinneman.” He smiled. “We’ll certainly be glad to have you.”
“Thanks.” Jason smiled back. “I’m happy to be here.”
“Now, just a few more questions…”
“What’s your understanding of Isterian politics?”
Jason blinked. “I know that the political structure on Isteria was established more recently than on the other six Intergalactic Planets. I know that, like the other six, it’s a no-man’s land, as far as taking any direct guidance or influence from any one race or species; all home planets may send a set quota of settlers, but they’re to abide by the laws of the planet they settle on and by the treaty.
“Also like the other six, it has its own focus; or specialization, if you will. Isteria’s would be athletics, and it influences the entire culture; even their politics.”
Jason sighed. “That’s about all I know, I’m afraid. I didn’t have much time to study up on it before I left.”
Jarvis nodded. “That’s fine. I can fill you in on the key parts you’re missing.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jason inclined his head slightly.
“Like the cage.”
Jason looked up, puzzled. “The cage?”
“On Isteria, the politics are dominated by athletics. So any group formed outside of athletics has to compete for funding. Everything hinges on this competition. It’s using a sport that is universal to all cultures; fighting. All fighting styles are permitted; but the only weapon used must be your body. The fights are held in a giant cage in the center of the city.”
“Oh.” Jason wasn’t sure what to say.
“So, you look like you work out.”
“What do you do for training?”
“Oh, and I do yoga!” Jason added, brightly.
“Yoga,” Jarvis repeated. His heart sank. “Have you ever fought?” He clung to a faint hope.
“No; I’m a pacifist,” replied Jason.
“A pacifist.” Jarvis wanted to face-palm. “They sent us a bloody running, yoga-practising pacifist.”
“Wait…” The light bulb clicked in Jason’s head. “You mean you wanted…”
“Wasn’t it obvious?” Jarvis waved his hands in the air, upset. He always waved his hands in the air when he got upset or excited. “We need more experienced fighters if we’re ever gonna beat those nuns!”
“Nuns?” Jason wasn’t sure he heard right. This whole thing was starting to feel a little surreal.
“For some reason those damn nuns keep winning the cage fights! Every bloody year, they somehow manage to make it to the top! This year we got a good fighter, but then they brought in an Iluthian! We’re lost unless we manage to bring in one more talented fighter! This is about precious funding! Do the people on Esteria think this is a joke?”
“I see.” This whole thing was definitely surreal, Jason thought. No wonder the people on Esteria hadn’t taken their Isterian brethren seriously.
“Don’t you get funding from Esteria?” Jason asked weakly.
“It’s not enough,” replied Jarvis. “There are limits on the amount of funding we can receive from outside sources. We’re not like the other organizations, who could continue to exist without the winnings. We can’t survive without more funds!”
Jason finally understood that the threat facing the Isterian Science Association was serious. “I’ll do whatever I can,” he offered, his heart sinking.
Jason didn’t quite like the look on Jarvis’ face when he said that, or the way he rubbed his hands together.
Jason collapsed back onto the mat, panting. The training was rigorous. Sato Kyosuke; the young man who was training him, was talented in martial arts, and had the hopes of the entire Isterian Science Organization pinned on him. But they needed a backup, and that’s why he was undergoing the training.
“You’re good.” The young Asian man’s brown eyes seemed to sparkle as he smiled. He tossed his head, sending his dark, damp bangs flying back away from his face.
So he did break a sweat, thought Jason, slightly relieved. It wasn’t just me.
“Bet you never saw yourself doing this when you signed up to work intergalactically.” Kyousuke’s tone was teasing.
“Nope.” Jason shook his head. “Definitely not.”
“Me neither. Thought I’d be working in a lab.” Kyousuke grinned. “But we’re still doing something important here, you know. Making sure that others can work in labs is almost as important, I think. ”
Jason nodded. “I know.”
They sat in companionable silence for a bit. Kyousuke spoke up first.
“There’s a fight on; wanna come watch?”
Jason was surprised. “I thought the opening matches weren’t for two months?”
“Yeah, but the organization that wins needs to schedule regular matches between their members as part of the conditions for getting the funding. It entertains the people for free.”
Jason hesitated. He wasn’t as thrilled at the idea as Kyousuke seemed to be.
“Think of it as research, against the team to beat.”
Jason nodded, slowly. That made sense.
“Ok,” he agreed. “Lead the way, Kyousuke.”
“Call me Kyou.” Kyou grinned. “We’re friends, aren’t we? Brothers in arms, you could say.”
“Yeah.” Jason grinned back. This might not be so bad after all.
They approached a giant open building that reminded Jason of the Coliseum in Rome. Not that he’d actually seen it; but he’d seen pictures and they came to mind as they drew closer to the area where the fight was taking place. He wondered if the design had been intentional.
They made their way inside and pushed through the throng of people cheering on the fight and finally got to a good vantage point. David was reminded of the football stadiums on Earth when he saw the large flatscreens mounted high above the cage, on thick pillars rising from outside each corner of the cage. They were larger than any he’d ever seen before. But what caught his eye the most was the cage. Or, more accurately, what was going on inside the cage.
Two nuns were fighting each other, going at it with intensity that left David rather breathless. He’d never really watched fights before; but he figured there was something different about seeing it in person, anyway.
They were donned in the strangest and most oddly attractive habits he’d ever seen. The one girl was trying her hardest, but she was clearly no match for her opponent. She was a stocky, white girl, whose wimple had been knocked off and she wiped sweat and strands of blonde hair from her brow with a grimy hand.
What caught Jason’s eye was her opponent. Her silver skin glinted in the sunlight as she back-flipped over the blonde’s head. Her wimple went flying off and bright, flaming red curls danced around her head as she landed.
“An Iluthian!” Jason was thrilled. Kyou just nodded, not moving his eyes from the drama playing out in front of them.
The Iluthian spun around, back-kicking her opponent as she did. The girl went flying and landed on her back on the mat. The Iluthian was after her, before she even hit the ground. She planted herself on the girl’s stomach and seemed to exert no effort whatsoever in holding her there. She looked bored; disinterested. She was somehow regal, refined; in spite of the circumstances. She was breathtaking.
A half. Jason thought excitedly. She must be. He said nothing, knowing that the attitude towards mixed blood was much different on most plants from the way it was on Esteria. He kept it to himself, secretly thrilled at the possibility. Of course, he couldn’t help looking for telltale signs of a tail or wings, bound tight for secrecy.
He’d only been a boy the first time he’d met a half; and he’d fallen in puppy love for the first time as well. They were just children, too young to understand racism or public opinion – they had fun together, and that was that. Then he’d had his heart broken for the first time when she left for Asteria and never came back.
He got over it, but he’d never stopped being fascinated by and drawn to mixed blood Iluthian-Dragons.
He watched her walk out of the cage with growing interest. She seemed so elegant. It was hard to believe she was fighting. She waved dismissively to the crowd as she left, and the crowd ate it up.
Of course. Jason grinned. That’s why they hate mixed blood so much – because individuals who have it are irresistible to them. And to me. He added, mentally, deciding to be honest with himself. He was already trying to figure out how to meet the girl when Kyou spoke up.
“Wanna meet her?”
“You read my mind.” The men grinned at one another, enjoying the feeling of camaraderie.
“Hey! Sister Henrietta!” Kyou was waving to the blonde from the fight earlier. She was walking with two other sisters, and Jason wouldn’t have recognized her in her traditional habit if she hadn’t turned at the sound of his voice.
“Kyou!” A massive smile spread across her face. She was pretty cute, Jason decided. But he only had eyes for the girl beside her. She turned, and he felt lost when he saw her electric blue eyes. They were the kindest, gentlest, most intelligent eyes he’d ever seen. Before he knew it, he’d been thrown back into his memories and couldn’t help calling out.
All three sisters – and Kyou – stared at him. The Iluthian’s eyes held only confusion; no recognition.
“Excuse me, but what’s your name?” He couldn’t help asking her.
“I’m Sister Mathilda,” she responded, looking slightly uncertain. Much less intimidating than the queenly presence she commanded inside the cage.
“I don’t mean to pry, but before you joined the sisterhood, was your name Ishtar?” He had to ask. He couldn’t help himself.
She looked even more confused, and he hastily added, “It’s just that you remind me of someone I know. I mean; it was years ago – we were just kids – but… You remind me so much of her.”
“Ah,” she didn’t seem to know how to respond.
“You must have been mistaken. Sister Mathilda grew up in the convent.” The third sister, a dark-skinned beauty with black hair and deep brown eyes, put in. She smiled at him, and he flushed in embarrassment.
“Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“I was thinking that was quite the pick-up line,” observed Sister Henrietta dryly.
He blushed an even darker shade. “No! That wasn’t what I-“
Everyone around him burst out laughing.
“It’s ok,” Sister Henrietta informed him. “Sister Mathilda could do worse.” She winked, and this time both he and Sister Mathilda blushed while the rest of them laughed.
“So,” Sister Hentrietta looked him up and down. “You had a thing for an Iluthian when you were younger? Poor sod.”
He shook his head. “She wasn’t Iluthian; she was a half.”
The others widened their eyes. Kyou whistled. “Too bad,” he offered.
“Well, Sister Mathilda’s Iluthian, so I hate to break it to you…” Sister Henrietta winked again. “Better luck next time.”
“Hey Kyou,” she turned to him. “Any tips from what you saw?”
“You mean you getting your ass whipped?” Kyou grinned, and Jason thought he saw something in his new friend’s eyes as he looked at the blonde. Kyou and Sister Henrietta began carrying on a heated debate over exactly how badly she’d been beaten, and a soft voice in front of him cleared her throat.
He turned back.
Sister Mathilda was looking at him expectantly. “They’ll be talking for a while, now,” she gestured with a jut of her chin to Kyou and the blonde sister. “Tell me about your friend,” she invited; and Jason couldn’t refuse.
“Ishtar was my friend,” he started. “We were just kids when we met – about 7 and 8 years old – and we loved playing together. Her father was a Dragon and her mother was an Iluthian. On Esteria, the discrimination isn’t that bad – kind of like how it is on Asteria – and we never knew there was anything strange about it. We were friends for about a year before she moved to Asteria.”
He shrugged, slightly embarrassed. “That’s about all.”
“I see.” She gazed at him with such intensity, he felt like an animal trapped in a spotlight. He shifted.
“Thanks,” she smiled. “For humouring me.”
“No problem.” He wished now that he’d told her more; taken the chance to talk to her longer.
Kyou and Sister Henrietta were still bantering back and forth, and if Jason was any judge of body language, they were definitely flirting.
What’s going on? He felt confused. Aren’t they nuns?
“Henry.” George frowned at her fellow sister. “Are you forgetting you’re supposed to be a nun?”
“Huh?” Henry looked confused.
“Oh. That.” She shifted. “We’re just friends.” It would have been more convincing if she hadn’t looked guilty as she said it.
George sighed. “I know it’s none of my business –“
“It isn’t,” interrupted Henry, frowning.
“-But I just don’t want to see you hurt. That’s all.”
Henry turned away, and Matt thought she saw a look of great sadness in George’s beautiful brown eyes.
She looked down, feeling slightly guilty herself. She’d been drawn to the stranger – Jason; he’d told her his name right before they’d parted, and invited her to talk to him again anytime. “In case you want to know more,” he’d said, and she had a hard time denying that she did.
The way he’d seemed to recognize her, the strange pull she felt from him, and the story he’d told all made her a little dizzy. She thought she didn’t need anything except the convent and the sisters. She didn’t need to know who she’d been before. And maybe this Ishtar was someone else. But she wanted to know for sure. That was all she wanted – she just wanted to know if she had been his mysterious friend who disappeared without a trace.
Is that really all?
She walked a little faster. Being an intergalactic nun, she thought to herself. Is certainly complicated.