The long narrow corridor stretched ahead of him, its smooth metal floor slapping against his bare feet as he ran. He could feel the pleasantly cool contact with every stride he took. It would be a tough, dangerous match, the hardest of his career. With the odds stacked heavily against him, there was every possibility he would not survive it. One way or the other it would be his last. No one got a second chance.
Hobart Fenn felt no fear, no apprehension. For too long he had looked towards this point in his life to let anything stop him, least of all his own fears and emotions. Now they were no longer terms in the equation. For the past year the contest had been uppermost in his mind. All other considerations, all other desires, had been suppressed. He knew it was necessary, if he wanted to carry off the outstanding prize that was essential to the progress of his plans. It had been a year of discipline, hard training, and self-denial. But it would pay off, if he was successful. If he wasn't... Well, he wouldn't be around to care. One way or the other he was determined to get off the God-forsaken lump of spinning metal. Everything had been leading up to this one confrontation. The time for fear, doubts, and thoughts of defeat had long since passed.
The previous matches in his career had paid him well, but the Exchange Units he had earned had never been enough. They had allowed him, amongst other things, access to the forbidden section of the library. And he had been able to pay for the many other privileges that few could afford. This final bout would earn him far in excess of all his previous purses put together - or send his body to the recycling dome. It was the chance he had worked so hard for; the chance he had to take. There was no other way he could acquire sufficient means to allow him to complete his project; the one thing he really cared about. It was all or nothing now.
His breathing was becoming laboured, his legs aching with the constant pounding against the hard flooring. He drew his arm across his forehead, wiping the sweat that dribbled into his eyes. The moisture felt cool on his arm as it was quickly evaporated by his body heat, and the cooler air circulating through the long corridor. Freedom was the real prize. It was what he longed for most; freedom from the hard struggle that had kept him at the top of his profession for the past two years. And freedom from the metal prison that was his home.
Joining the Warrior Class had been an act of necessity, of desperation even. It had conflicted with his peace loving disposition; a legacy he had received from his gentle-natured mother. He had always been more interested in acquiring knowledge than in the physical pursuits of the Astra Dome, spending a lot of his youth delving through the data disks in the library. But his father had been a Warrior, and an above average height, muscular physique, and agility, had been his legacy to the only offspring prevailing population controls had allowed him. Following his father's footsteps was the only way he could amass the E.U.s he needed.
Now the end was in sight. One final conflict and he would have all he had aimed for - or oblivion. The final door had been slammed behind him. He could not turn back. There were still thirty minutes left of his training schedule and it had to be completed. With only two days left before the Games, he could not afford to slacken his efforts. Nothing short of being one hundred percent fit would do. He was only too well aware that his life would depend on it.
The floor sloped upwards gently, almost imperceptibly. He was in the main service corridor looping through the centre of the enormous spinning wheel that had been the home of his race for many generations. It was deserted, as it nearly always was during the night period. Only essential repair work would bring the Crawlers out during those hours. And then there would be a burst of concentrated activity, rivalling the industrious ants he had read about in the central library. He turned his mind to other data he had assimilated, consciously making an effort to shut out the pain in his legs and rasping lungs.
Luna 2 had been built over two hundred years ago. After many years of cold war and mistrust, the major Earth powers had finally agreed to put aside their differences and collaborate in the massive undertaking. Originally it was conceived as an international, self-supporting research station. But world-wide objection to the proposed immoral expenditure had put it on hold for many years, until eventually it was redesigned to include a mineral plant for the processing of Lunar ore. It was hoped that the massive cost of such an endeavour would, in time, be defrayed by the production of these minerals. Only in this way was the funding by the participating Governments considered justifiable.
Its original specifications had been for half a million people, research scientists, mine workers, repair crews, administration staff, and the hundred and one other occupations required to feed, clothe, and run a self-sustaining city. Five hundred thousand, he thought sardonically. Now it was home to three and a half million.
But the horror and sadness conveyed to him by his reading, and the knowledge of how beautiful the Earth looked on the picture disks, had remained with him vividly. It had gnawed and worried at his subconscious, until he knew that life in confinement under the tyranny of the Forcers, was no longer tolerable. There had to be some other, better way of living. The Warrior Games offered him the only solution of pursuing his plans.