ANTARES by Alex J. Alex
In the arena where nude combatants fight like old west gunslingers, usually to the death—ala The Quick And The Dead—gladiator training usually begins at eighteen and few live to see their next birthday. Any who survive are usually retired within ten years.
At forty, Antares and Maximus are the greatest champions in history. Maximus has been consulting a soothsayer for years. Antares thinks such is silly, but he convinces her to see the old Tarot reader. When the five of Pentacles appears, the reader predicts hard times, suffering, poor health and rejection and recommends that Antares retire.
Antares ignores the advice and her next fight is the most brutal event in arena history. Badly wounded, she beheads her opponent, but suffers a terrible disfigurement and disability that forces her to retire. Antares is shunned, becomes addicted to several vices and ends up a vagrant.
Contacted by a writer/journalist who senses a great story, Antares is rescued and rehabilitated by a shady, unlicensed, but brilliant doctor. Visiting the soothsayer once again, she is urged to seek out Maximus.
Maximus’s life has not turned out well either. He was supposed to meet a wonderful woman, marry, have children, etc., but he never met her—she’s the woman Antares killed in the arena.
The question is, what will Antares find?
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Antares didn’t put much stock in the soothsayers, but Maximus had talked her into a session with the Tarot reader. She sat there while the ugly woman played with the cards. A concerned look came over the old woman. She looked up and placed the card in front of Antares.
“This is a bad card. The five of Pentacles. It foretells hard times, suffering and ill health. It also indicates rejection.”
Antares looked down her exquisitely formed nose at the card. “It doesn’t look so bad to me.”
“Ah. But that’s what you have me for. I can tell you what it means.”
Antares squirmed in her chair. I don’t have time for this, she thought.
“You are a gladiator, aren’t you?”
“Are you any good? Well, of course you are. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be alive, would you?”
The old woman grinned up at Antares who just stared back at her.
“In what event do you compete?”
Antares cleared her throat. “I’m a gunslinger. I’m the top shooter in the arena. I’ve never even been nicked. Most of my opponents are dead before they can even draw, never mind get off a shot.”
The old woman nodded. “Mmmm. Your health is good?”
“You look good. You are very beautiful.”
Antares laughed. “That is true. That is why I command such high rewards to compete.”
“Your hand is steady? Your vision is good?”
“Excellent. And I’m the fastest shooter they’ve ever seen, anywhere. They’ve timed me with a chronograph. And I’m accurate. I shoot to kill. And I’m very good at it.”
“Yes. You’ve killed many women, haven’t you?”
Antares frowned. “That’s my job. It’s what I do. People pay a lot of money to watch me kill other women, especially if they’re pretty, or sexy.”
“Mmmmm. I’ll wager they would pay even more to see someone else kill you.”
Antares squirmed in her chair. This interview was getting uncomfortable. “They probably would. A lot of people bet against me every time I enter the arena. They lose. I wouldn’t bet against me if I were you.”
“Mmmm. Well, the cards don’t lie. Be careful. It may be time to retire.”
Antares laughed. “Retire? I’m the best there ever was, and I’m at the top of my game. Retire? Shit. That’ll be the day.”
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