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Saturday, September 8, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Korba’s Revenge,” by Preston Dennett

Though he was far from the arena, Korba could already hear the sounds of the festival: the piercing shouts of the hawkers, the hiss and clunk of the machines, the chatter of the crowd as everyone speculated about who would win the battle of the beasts. The leather straps dug into his shoulders while behind him his wagon squeaked, heavy with the weight of his creation, his pride and joy. On this day he could win. He had a chance.

As he expected, those around him laughed and pointed. “Look at Korba,” they said. “He enters again.” “You shall lose, old man!” “Stay in your shop, Korba.” “Korba, the fool!” They spit at him and threw pebbles.

He ignored their taunts and pulled his wagon along the dusty trail. The smell of grease, smoke and metal fought with the odors of manure from the animals, perfume from the ladies and cooking meats from the many stalls. Children ran along his wagon, trying to peek under the tarp that hid his creation.

He paid them no mind and continued to lead his wagon past the many huts and workshops of the city. The crowd thickened as he approached the arena, which brought more stares and laughter. Others, recognizing him, shook their heads sadly. So many people! A few of the old ones, Korba noted, nodded with respect. Korba had entered these games for many years. And each year, he lost. He was simply no match against those with greater riches and larger shops to create their fearsome beasts. But if he hadn’t won, he was, at least, remembered. This day, he thought, they shall do more than remember.

The streets around the arena were packed with people, all of them dressed in their finest colored shirts and robes. He could afford no such luxury. He spent his spare earnings on his creations and wore only a rough canvas shirt and pants.

He pulled his wagon into the line leading into the backside of the area. Here gathered all the other entrants, each of them with their creation. Most rode atop the shoulders of their metallic beasts, though some had built a protective cage inside the bellies or necks, where they now crouched, furiously manipulating the levers and buttons that controlled their movement. Cowards, thought Korba. A true artist would neither ride his beast nor hide inside it. A creation should be able to fight for itself. Few, however, thought like Korba.

He eyed his competition. Horses stomping and screeching and spouting steam from their nostrils, giant black iron bulls strong enough to knock down a house, an elephant twice normal size with a knife-edged trunk. He saw wolves with huge metal fangs, great lumbering bears, quick-moving lions, and more. But Korba was most impressed by an enormous snake-like creature. It looked to be hundreds of feet long, its entire length covered with shiny scaled armor. Its head was huge, and its body seemed wide enough to swallow several of the other beasts. And how swiftly it moved! Already much of the crowd was focused on it, oohing and aahing as its owner showed what it could do.

And then silence fell upon the crowd. Gornel! Korba grimaced inwardly. As expected Gornel had arrived with his dinosaur. It resembled a tyrannosaurus, except it was larger. Gornel had won the contest with it for the past three years. He sat there inside the hollow head of his creation and defeated all who attacked him. No beast was a match against Gornel’s monster, which could crush nearly every beast around with one foot.

Korba could see that Gornel had made several improvements this year. The arms looked longer and more fully equipped. The tail was larger. The beast could now spit fire, which Gornel continued to demonstrate to the stunned on-lookers. Most of all, the giant lumbering beast moved more swiftly. Its speed was shocking. Korba could see that many—if not all—of the beasts would be destroyed by Gornel’s monster. Except mine, he thought. How he wanted to beat Gornel! And on this day, he had a chance.

Few paid much attention to the contents of his wagon. He chuckled at those who rolled their eyes at him. Yes, his creation was small, but soon they would see.

A loud horn sounded three times: the time for the contest had arrived. The matches would begin shortly.

As usual, the smaller beasts would be pitted against each other first, with the victor taking on progressively larger beasts. This meant that Korba would be among the first to compete. Only if he survived would he be given the opportunity to fight the larger beasts. He had never been able to earn such a chance yet. This time, he hoped, would be the first.

The stands were packed with people. All around him in the waiting stalls, the various beasts hissed and groaned and thumped.

The contest overseers called out two of the creatures, both of them giant-sized rats.

And the fight began.

The two metallic creatures clanged loudly together, clawing and biting at each other. They fought viciously and without mercy. Soon pieces began to fly. In moments it was over and one of the rat creatures crowed loudly as it stood atop the scattered remains of the other. It then trotted back to its keeper and waited for the next contestant.

And so it went, one metallic beast fighting the next. The rat defeated one after another of the smaller ones: a giant cockroach, a spider-like thing with knife-tipped legs, another crab-like contraption with rotating blades.

Then came Korba’s turn. One of the overseers walked up to Korba and bid him to uncover his machine and enter the arena.

Korba pulled off the covering and revealed a curious sight. The crowd grew silent as they tried to discern what they were seeing. Korba knew they were difficult to see. They were so small. And they crawled all over each other so quickly that they were difficult to watch. How they fluttered and buzzed!

There were nearly a thousand of them, each one armed with powerful jaws and more importantly, the ability to fly.

“What is it?” several voices called out. “Show us your creature, old man!” “Korba the fool!” Necks craned and people stood in the stands. Laughter rippled back and forth in the crowd. They thought of him as a joke, he knew. No longer!

The large rat-like creature stood on its hind legs and bared its metal fangs.

At that moment, Korba released his creatures. They flew up in a large swarm and headed directly for the rat.

The laughter died as the crowd gasped. “They fly!” “What are they?” “See how many!”

The swarm descended upon the rat, who swiped vainly with his paws. The crowd of mechanical bugs covered the entire surface of the rat. In seconds, it became helpless. It ran madly through the arena, trying to fling the biting creatures from its body.

Korba grinned inwardly, knowing that each of the creatures had magnetic feet and could not be easily removed.

As Korba suspected, his insects made quick work of the rat. In only moments, they had eaten their way through the armor and disabled it. The rat thrashed around and after a fierce struggle, finally grew still.

Korba’s insects rose from the carcass and returned to their cage, ready for the next contender.

It was a mechanical wolf. Korba snorted. This would be easy. And it was.

In less than a minute, the wolf lay unmoving on the floor of the arena. The crowd was shocked and remained silent. Then suddenly the applause began and Korba couldn’t believe what he heard. It was his name, he realized. “Korba! Korba! Korba!” They were chanting his name.

And so it went. One creature after another challenged his insects. And Korba’s insects defeated each of them. In some cases, they even fed upon the carcasses, harvesting them for necessary parts. It mattered not how fast the challengers were, or how large, or the size of their fangs. Korba’s insects were always quicker and could disable any machine in less than a minute. Of course, it was not without a price. Not all damage could be repaired, and each fight cost him many of his precious insects. With each fight, his swarm grew smaller. More and more of their tiny bodies littered the ground. Still, they fought. How hard they fought!

Even the giant metallic snake proved powerless against Korba’s swarm. It snapped its giant mouth and rolled its gargantuan body, but it was no match. Korba’s insects could fly. Nobody, he knew, had even thought of making a creature so small. Everyone who entered the contest assumed that larger and stronger creatures would win.

It was a weakness only Korba had foreseen, and one by one, each of the creatures fell to his.

The crowd grew louder with each victory, and Korba could see that they looked at him with new eyes. Their expressions nearly made him laugh. How they stared with such disbelief!

Korba wasn’t ready to celebrate yet. He still needed to defeat Gornel.

The moment soon approached. All the other beasts had challenged Korba, and he had defeated each one.

Gornel sat inside his beast. Korba saw his grim expression of determination through the face-hole. It would provide a perfect entrance for his insects, he knew. And yet, his swarm was much smaller now. His heart thumped with fear.

The horn sounded and the battle began. The giant beast roared and stomped forward as Korba’s insects rose and approached.

The great beast belched a cloud of fire that enveloped Korba’s swarm. Korba winced as he saw many of his insects fall to the ground.

Those that survived quickly settled on the beast and began to burrow inside.

The other beasts had been easily dispatched. But this one, Korba realized, was so large. It would take some time—and he was not sure he could afford it.

The metal tyrannosaur continued to spit out plumes of flame, killing great numbers of the insects. It sliced at them with its bladed arms. It crushed them with its monstrous tail.

So many were dying! And still the tyrannosaur showed no signs of weakening.

The cloud of insects was visibly thinning. He was going to lose! The beast was too large!

Then the moment Korba had been waiting for happened: the great beast faltered. One of its legs trembled. As it attempted to walk, it limped weakly. The other leg began to tremble. Still it fought. There were very few insects now.

Without further warning, the great beast collapsed. It roared and thrashed and clawed at the insects. And suddenly, it was still, the massive body clinking and hissing slightly as it lay there.

Gornel crawled from the wreckage and limped away, embarrassed and angry. Korba’s insects, the swarm now much diminished, rose from the tyrannosaur’s body and returned dutifully to their cage.

The crowd rose to their feet as one and roared with approval. “Korba! Korba! Korba!”

He had won! Korba couldn’t help but grin. He had finally won. As the others swept up the remains of their beasts, the crowd surrounded Korba, slapping his back, patting his head for luck.

They roared with approval as Korba took the bag of coins promised to the winner. It was more money than Korba had ever seen.

Korba left the arena, trailing a crowd of people who questioned him. “How did you do it?” they asked. “What will do you do with your coins?” asked others.

Korba remained silent and only smiled. He would reveal his secrets to no one. And as for what he would do with the money: well, they would find out next year. He already knew what type of beast he wanted to build. It wouldn’t be insects. Instead it would be a beast he had been designing for most of his life. Now he had the funds to produce it. He could scarcely wait for everyone to see it. He had surprised them this year. Next year, if he could complete his creation, he would become a legend. For his beast would be undefeatable, even by his own insects.

Next year, his beast would be a man.

Preston Dennett has worked as a carpet cleaner, fast-food worker, data entry clerk, bookkeeper, landscaper, singer, actor, writer, radio host, television consultant, teacher, UFO researcher, ghost hunter, and more. He has written 22 nonfiction books and more than 100 articles about UFOs and the paranormal, but his true love has always been speculative fiction. After a long hiatus, he started writing again in 2009. He has since sold 37 stories to various venues including Allegory, Andromeda Spaceways, Bards & Sages, Black Treacle, Cast of Wonders, The Colored Lens, Grievous Angel, Kzine, Perihelion, Sci Phi Journal, T. Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog, and more, including several anthologies. He earned twelve honorable mentions in the Writers of the Future Contest before winning 2nd place for Quarter 1, 2018, (Volume 35). He currently resides in southern California where he spends his days looking for new ways to pay his bills and his nights exploring the farthest edges of the universe.


ellen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GuyStewart said...

Well done! This had the "feel" of a sort of prequel to FRANKENSTEIN...not exactly, of course, but that was what it evoked in me.


Guy Stewart