Excerpt of a TNN Debate concerning the ANML (Arena Nanotech Monster League).
Pro ANML Pundit: Look, the bog standard arguments that the ANML combatants can feel pain, or have souls is ludicrous. These are robots that break down the reagents used in the creation phase of the competition determine the characteristics and qualities of the bot. Just because the bot comes away looking like a fierce animal like a Tiger, or a Dragon, or even a harmless one like Proxie's famous... infamous? Killer rabbit doesn't mean that beyond the nanobot skin they aren't hollow.
Anti ANML Pundit: Take me through the Mental vs Guydan Championship Finals, in which Mental's animal seemed to be cowering in the corner and howling in pain, and you can't tell me that wasn't blood. ANML suffered a major loss in viewership during the debacle, and a loss in consumer confidence....
Pro ANML Pundit: That wasn't blood, it was acid, and I wouldn't say they were major, Jane... And Klaxon INC has already...
Anti ANML Pundit: Don't intterupt me! But I'll go ahead and entertain your interruption with facts. 17% of concurrent viewers turned off their televisions during that scene. The battle was far from over. If one in 5 people decides that can't watch your programming at the same time, you don't consider that major? That's pretty myopic. The 100 point drop in the stock market the next day was 33% loss of confidence, that's major. Companies tend to fail after that kind of loss...
Pro ANML Pundit: It was only 89 points...
Anti ANML Pundit: Ohhhh, only 89? That's close enough to 100.
Pro ANML Pundit: Speaking of interruptions.... Regarding Mental vs Guydan Klaxon INC has already shown the fault in the programming of the nanotech, and opensourced the fix to any owners of previous tech. Furthermore, they ran 51 bouts using the exact measurements of reagents and truecounts of nanobots used and found that Mental should have won that bout roughly seven times out of 10. They awarded Guydan the metal, but also awarded Mental and Guydan a winners purse. That sort of care for the people involved and previous iterations of their tech is something the consumer can get behind in the ANML hobby. Furthermore that "howling in pain" was actually quite a powerful sonic attack that was malfunctioning due to the same programming fault.
Anti ANML Pundit: Then why won't Klaxon INC release the sheet data of the bout Brian? The one evidence set that will help cement your stance.... In fact...
Pro ANML Pundit: We've covered this, it's because it clearly demonstrates a weakness in the technology that is susceptible to attack, Klaxon INC isn't in the business of helping other people hack their products.
Anti ANML Pundit: You're so rude Brian! I wasn't finished. It's also possible the papers are being covered up, and Dr. Meltether, the lead nanotech developer at Klaxon-Seattle's harsh critique of the nanotech and subsequent termination are unrelated I suppose?
Pro ANML Pundit: I can't speak to that Jane, I don't know what happened there.
Anti ANML Pundit: Of course you don't.
Kevin Jensen Brenton sat on his bed, knobby knees drawn to his chest, wiry arms wrapped around ankles in the sweltering attic of his two story home. His sweat soaked, shaggy hair nearly touched the central beam that formed the slanting peak of the house. The bed was a single person sized bed, that barely fit into the space of the attic. The knobs on the bedposts gouged and knocked against the brown but graying two by eight boards making up the slanted roof of the house that was his ceiling. In order to get to the door and sharp dropping stairs that led into the proper second story of the house he had to crawl through a small triangle that was the ceiling/roof of his house, and the metal arcing footboard of his bed.
Kevin sat praying for two things, rain to cool off his house so he could sleep tonight, and food. Kevin was hungry. He had passed the point of ravenous hunger three days ago, and passed the point of shaking hunger yesterday, and he was at the point of weak hunger, which was a few hours before the point of fading vision hunger.
"Guess I better get to it." He said to himself. Just like his father used to say before starting on a carpeting project. He felt a slight twinge of pain at his fathers untimely death, but he fought through it. He had to win food for himself and Rose, his sister, or they wouldn't eat again tonight. He crawled through the triangle and crumpled onto the rough unfinished board floor spraying motes of dust into the air. When he had a full belly, he liked to think of his bed as a space-ship and the triangle entry into it as a docking port to be navigated through, sort of a passageway into his imagination. Today it was just metal, wood, and hunger. Maybe tonight he'll climb into his spaceship and save the world from invading aliens with a full belly, but right now he was gathering his ANML kit, and heading into the badlands to scavenge for reagents for his nanotech to re purpose and transform into his an animal to fight for he and his sisters mealticket.
Kevin passed through the attic and took a sharp left turn onto finished, but chipped and fading, rich brown finished floor. A flight of 7 stairs down a hallway so narrow he, unthinkingly, had to turn his shoulders to an angle to avoid bruising himself on the white victorian moulding jutting out from ocean blue wall. As he came to the landing, he saw his seven year old sister sitting in her black pajamas with a kittens face made of gold buttons embossed on the front. Her hair was thin and stringy, a sign of the tolls of malnourishment. Even at such a tender age, Rose had a world weary look in her eyes when they weren't full adolescent wonder. She was incredibly creative and intense, but it had been two full days since she had also eaten.
Roses midriff was showing between top and bottom, and she was mindlessly playing with her bellybutton when Kevin came down the stairs at a half stumble.
"Let's go earn some food Rose, get changed."
"I can't get my shirt off, can you help?" she whined.
The pajamas that Rose wore were the size of a 5-6 year old, and even malnourished, she had grown larger than the pajama's were meant to cover. Kevin helped pry her shirt over her head, being careful to tug the shirt around the studs in her ears.
"Ouch! You're pulling my hair" she whined again.
"Sorry sis, we need to get you some new clothes too, huh?" He smiled, trying to hide his turmoil. He only had a few dollars in his pocket, and that was so he could bet on himself in today's ANML match. Even if he won, he couldn't afford clothes too. How a boy of thirteen could end up taking care of, and feeding a seven year old with parents in the house always angered him, but it was no use. His mom was too far gone to take care of them, and his step-dad just didn't care.
They dressed rose in a pair of jeans that still fit, snugly, and an ANML UNDERGROUND! shirt he had gotten from a competition he had done fairly well at 8 months ago. The shirt was big on her, but at least she was covered. Red bleeding letters spelled the word UNDERGROUND! over black background.
"Shirts gonna be hot, Rosey Posey" he smiled and tussled her hair "But at least your wearing one." He tied the front of the shirt into a knot that hung off her hip and tightened the shirt around her.
They both walked down the stairs quietly and glanced at his mom, Becky, and step-dad, Keith, sitting in their online immersion units. Becky and Keith languished online, playing videogames for roughly eighteen hours a day, it was rare that either of them thought to take care of themselves, let alone take care of the kids. Ever since his dad had died, his mom seemed to only log out once every two weeks to spend her wellfare check on some food before logging back in. That was the last time they ate, 3 days after the wellfare check was spent. Keith didn't spend as much time logged on, but he simply didn't care to take care of the kids. Kevin winced as he saw a rotting half-eaten sandwich sitting next to his mom on the console of the immersion unit.
"Goddamn" he grunted.
"Kevin!" Rose shot at him. "My ears!" She loved to tease her brother about his cussing.
"I know, just... nothing" He couldn't bear to tell his sister, that food was being wasted in a house they were starving in.
They opened the door, and the storm door squeaked open, and clattered behind them as it slammed shut. The heat was oppressive, and the drought had rendered even the most professionally manicured lawns to yellow and brown fields of stubble. What had once been a lush green lawn was now a gravel field in front of Keith's house, Kevin kicked a few rocks off of the crumbling sidewalk as they approached the chain link fence that barred their home from the street.
As they were passing through the fence gate, the window to the room the online immersion units were in flew open and Keith poked his head out. Thowing a shoe aimed at the kids, it careened wide and bounced off of the fence into the rocks.
"You fucking kids better goddamn stop slamming my door!" He screamed. "I'm so tired of you little shits not taking care of my house! You're lucky I love your mom."
"Sorry Keith" Kevin rolled his eyes as he tried to placate his step-dad.
"Sorry's not gonna cut it! I want the kitchen and the dishes clean by the end of the day." Some money dribbled out of the window on to the ground "Here's 10 bucks, I want a pizza from the corner store for supper tonight. Bring it back after you get done fucking around with your stupid ANML shit."
A weaker, feminine voice leaked through the window past Keith as Rose walked back to under the window to get the money off the rocks. "Honey, be nice to the kids, they're still young."
Keith's voice honeyed for a moment as he talked back to her, saying a few things that Kevin couldn't understand.
Rose yelled through the window "Love you mommy! We'll be back soon!" As Keith was talking. His arm shot throught he window and snatched Rose by the shirt.
"Don't interrupt me again." His voice was low, and fire filled his eyes.
"Love you too honey, have fun out there." their mother's voice drifted off even as she spoke, something in the game she was playing seemed more important.
Keith shook Rose for a moment before having another inaudible conversation inside the house, pushing Rose away as he shouted "Wait for me!" clattering to get back into his immersion unit.
Roses tanned skin was a few shades lighter as she tried to maintain composure in the face of being threatened by Keith, tears formed at the corners of her eyes.
Kevin hugged her tightly. "Don't waste your tears, it's energy we don't have to waste. Let's get out to the bads, maybe the wild onions will be ready!"
Rose twisted her face, she was hungry, "But I hate onions..." she said quietly.
The walk was mostly silent as they walked a few blocks to the edge of the city. It was nice living on the outskirts of city, being able to take a left out of his front door and walk for three minutes up the road as it transitioned from asphault to gravel to the large white and red diagonally striped End Of Road sign. Beyond that laid great orange and red sand badlands dotted by sagebrush and cactus, and a fantastic collection of insects gathered around a relatively easy to navigate creek.
Kevin picked Rose up under her arm-pits and lifted her over the fenceline before climbing over it himself.
"I really want to find a scorpion, a grasshopper, and a roly-poly bug today squirt" Keith mandated "Good armor, and a jumping poison harpoon attack will really surprise everyone, especially since I've been doing a lot of low attack and pinch attacks lately. It should be an easy win"
"I hear Brian the Brain is going to be there, I hope you get him, he's an easy win." She chirped back. Her spirits were already lifting, even in the oven-like heat.
"I don't know, he's got a lot of money to throw at this stuff, one day he's just going to be better." Kevin half believed what he was saying. Today probably wasn't that day, though.
"But you always beat him, Kev, always." Rose looked at her brother with love and respect smeared across her face. She was right, he hadn't lost to Brian yet, and Brian was pretty terrible, but it made no sense to be cocky.
"Stick with the gameplan, squirt"
They walked to the trickling creek moving away from the city and started paying attention to the wildlife. It took no time at all to drive out hundreds of grasshoppers. Cottony wings aided panicked jumps creating a clicking rattling sound as they hopped away from danger. Rose sang silly songs as she chased the grasshoppers along the dried up creek bed. While the creek was drying up this late in the summer, a nice rainstorm had brought a rush of water through, and there were several pools in some of the wider spots. Several of the grasshoppers that hopped into the pools found themselves stuck in the water and were easy to snatch and place in holding containers.
After they had cought a dozen or so grasshoppers, they turned their attention to wide, flat rocks along the most barren areas with the least vegetation. Scorpions and Roly-Poly bugs would both be under rocks like these, and it wasn't long before Kevin found a hutch of several of these bugs and a few larvae.
Rose was several yards away, moving flat rocks with a long stick, when Keith heard a more distinct rattle. His head snapped to his left and he saw Rose only a foot from a rattlesnake! She was coiled, ready to strike and incredibly pissed this human was near her hutch.
"Don't move" he said slowly, I'm coming around.
"Kev, help" she pleaded.
"Just, don't" he commanded again. He slowly drew his pocketknife and worked his way around behind her, holding it just above her shoulder.
"What are you doing Kev, I don't wanna get bitten, we're too far from town" Her voice was shaken and raspy.
"It'll be ok. when I say 3, I want you to fall limp and fall backwards, ok?"
Rose gently nodded as Kevin wrapped his arm around Rose. The rattling was getting more intense. A sign the Snake was tired of the interaction and getting ready to make a decision.
Kevin took a moment to panic, and then gather himself.
"1, 2" he shuddered "3!" He flicked the knife at the rattlesnakes head, and pushed backwards with his feet throwing Rose behind him. The rattlesnake lunged and snatched, then recoiled and snatched at the ground, again and again. Each strike becoming weaker and weaker, pounding against the ground with the pocket knife blade entering the mouth, and sticking directly out of the back of her head.
Kevin worked quickly, pulling the knife back out of the snakes mouth, cutting the head off of the snake, and gutting and peeling the snake efficiently. Rose sat on the ground sobbing, rubbing her head and pulling a few cactus needles out of her shoulder. Kevin felt bad for a moment, but this snake was a huge score! The fangs will be far more effective than the Scorpion's tail, and they could cook the snake meat! He opened the tacklebox that he had turned into his ANML kit and lifted a single Sterno can out of it. After lighting the fuel he took some distilled water and rinsed the snake meat before taking a few metal mixing rods and skewering snake over it. In less than 10 minutes they were eating charred snake meat.
"This doesn't taste like chicken" Rose giggled. It was the first real smile she'd delivered all day.
After they ate, they packed their reagents and headed back into town. The walk to the ANML arena was a good 45 minutes, and they made good time. Several matches had been going on all day, and just outside the doorway Brian the Brain stood outside a great tan warehouse waving them in.
"Hey there DangerX" he called Kevin by his dueling name "God that's a stupid name, how old were you when you picked that turd?"
"Shut it, Brain boy." Kevin popped Brian in the shoulder as they walked through the entrance together. They were competitive friends, in that they would probably never talk on the outside of an ANML arena, but they routinely matched against eachother because they were in the same competitive range.
"Gonna whip you today, bitch" Brian poked again.
"Right, just like the last 8 times?" Kevin fired back. "Your mom buy you some new Nano's?"
"Even better, but you're not going to find out till I've crushed you" Brian used his hand, and crumpled a soda can to emphasize the word crush. The aluminum popping and tearing as it collapsed gave theatrics to an otherwise hollow statement.
"We'll see" Kevin rolled his eyes. He had energy, and it was easy to deal with Brian's shit today. If he were still hungry, this conversation would have gone a lot differently.
Kevin pulled the betting money out of his pocket and handed it to Rose. "You know the drill, put it on me to win before round 3." Rose smiled and nodded and walked away.
Brian put his arm around Kevin and corralled him towards the registration booth as Rose walked up to the betting desk. It took a few scant moments to sign up. The guy running the booth was scrawny and lanky.
"Hey Beanpole" Brian cajoled. "You ever gonna get back in the ring again?"
James "Beanpole" Ranson snorted. "Tell you what, you learn how to beat DangerX here a few times in a row, and I'll think about it. You're just a waste of my time right now."
Beanpole was a former National ANML circuit contender. Having retired amid a reagent scandal, he ran underground ANML duels as a hobby, and seemed just content to cruise from day to day on his riches from a few nanotech contracts that still used his images in their adverstising.
"Beat the whimsy out of this kid, eh?" Beanpole smirked at Kevin. You guys are on in ten minutes, creation phase in five. Arena 2.
There were 3 arena's in this battle location, and Kevin surveyed the location for the hundredth time. The warehouse was dirty, with graffiti covering nearly every square inch of once fading white interior. The floors were hardened, chip resistant concrete, that had been hastily swept prior to laying down the arena boundaries themselves. Dust hung in the air through shafts of sunlight that peeked through the rusted metal roof.
The arena itself was the mechanism that gave life to the nanobots inside. There was a central combat ring, on opposite sides of the ring, smaller ANML creation circles created an arena boundary that looked like a bulbous cartoon nose viewed from directly ahead.
Brian sat crosslegged on the floor and unfolded his tacklebox. Rose sat down next to him crosslegged and jammed the gambling ticket into her pocket.
"I get to pick the color!" she mused.
Kevin ignored her as she picked the color vials out of the box and began attempting to mix a bright pink hue. He arranged the reagents on an ANML guidepad to make sure he didn't forget any crucial ingredients. Reaching into his tacklebox, he grabbed the snakes head, and his pliers, and carefully plied the snake's fang, from the head. Venom sack pulled free with the fang and dangled from his pliers dripping yellow ichor. He laid it on the "weapon" section of the ANML guidepad. Next he grabbed a couple of grasshoppers and pulled the strong jumping legs off of the hoppers as he grimaced, and placed them onto the pad."
"So barbaric" Brian teased as he poured fine white powders from glass bottles onto his own guide pad.
"Not all of us have parents who think they can buy our love with refined reagents, asshat" Kevin's anger was real. He wasn't a fan of torturing animals, but this was the hand he was dealt, he was making the best of it.
Next Kevin pulled the roly poly bug's body shells off after dispatching it with his pocketknive. arranging them in the "armor" section of his guidepad. Finally he added a few powders for strength, and extended nanolife to the mix before taking a fist sized silver ball out of a velveteen bag and placing it squarely in the middle of the pad. A magnet in the pad held the ball in place in the middle, as Brian took out a dark pearlized black ball and placed it on his own pad.
The creation phase was almost up, and a 1 minute warning alarm went off, as Beanpole stood in the middle of the battle arena.
"We have DangerX versus Brian the Brain in this Arena! Battle to the death of the animal, class 3 battle! If I see any Class 2 or above reagents or activities, you will be disqualified, capiche gentlemen?" Kevin and Brian stood up and walked to the center of the ring and shook hands.
"Agreed" they said in unison.
"Good luck" Kevin emphasized the word luck.
"You need it this time DangerX" Brian winked back.
The creators placed their pads in their designated arena circle and stepped away from the arena. Beanpole stepped on a footpad that had a long wire attached to the arena, and a spotlight beamed down on the center of the ring.
In Kevin's creation ring, the silver ball began to dissolve into a liquid and spread out over the whole of the pad, waves and vibrations moved over the the quicksilver puddle as nanobots sprung to life and began to swirl and form a vortex arcing blue electricity between millions of tiny bots. Brian's ring did roughly the same, except the puddle and bots were shiny black and the electric arcs were a brilliant color of red.
The battling creatures took shape, and Kevin realized quickly this would be no easy task. Rose began to cheer and several dozen people gathered around to see this fight.
Kevin's animal retained the strong grashopper legs both front and back, with an elongated body and a single stinger on the bottom center of its greyish belly. Cream white and pink shells protected its back, and a single black shiny eye formed on the front below a mouth full of fangs and teeth.
Brian's animal was lizardlike, orange and firely yellow with a thick shell and four sturdy legs, with 2 great crabclaws for arms. It was incredibly low to the ground and the most worrying part about the animal was a great tail with a gigantic bone ball on the end clearly intended to crush the victim. Brian usually had some hairbrained idea that involved trying to rely on some gimick instead of putting together a solid fighter. This, on the other hand was a serious problem, because the injector needle on Kevin's animal would need to pierce a relatively thick shell on the back of a Brian's animal.
The creatures moved to the center of the ring, Kevin's hopping in and dancing left and right, baring great fangs, Brian's animal raised its flared claws into the air and pounded its tail on the ground menacingly as it slowly shambled into the center of the ring.
"We've got to outlast this one Rose, hopefully we're too fast, and it can't catch us, there's a lot going on, so we should run out of batteries last." Rose saw it too and fell to the ground on her bottom. They were simply out matched. She screamed and wailed urging their animal on.
But the match didn't last long.
Kevin's animal lept into the air, going for a quick kill aiming belly needle at the head of Brian's lizardturtlecrab. It landed directly into crab claws, both claws piched against Kevin's creations legs and began to smash the body of the Grasshoppersnake brutally. It took only three good smashes before all of Kevin's nanobots dissolved into a puddle and regrouped into the metallic sphere.
Brian threw his arms up into the air and cheered loudly. "Hah! Gotchya fucker!"
Kevin looked down and saw tears streaming down Roses face.
"Rose, it's not that bad hun. We'll be fine. Let's pack up and go buy Keith's stupid Pizza."
Roses eyes were red and obviously stinging as diamonds fell to the ground. she pulled the ticket out of her pocket.
"Kevin, I messed up. I bet Keith's ten dollar bill along with all of our money that you'd beat Brian. You always beat Brian."