Power Play, chapter 5

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    Chapter 5
    Russian Roulette

    "Gold Coast?!" Chalky recoiled. "You already borrowed it for Redcliffe last week!"

    "Chalky," I said, "I wouldn't ask if it weren't that important."

    He grimaced as he wiped the bar. "So what's so important about goin' clubbin'? And why should I help some overpriced dive take away one o' my customers?"

    "What customer?" I smirked. "All I get is the touchscreen game, one cup of caffsub and no booze."


    "C'mon, Chalk, the barbie went great. I need to follow up on this. If I impress 'em enough, it might mean a better job. I could actually afford some grub here."

    He thought about that a second. "Sorry, no."

    With an elbow on the bar, I assumed Rodan's Thinker pose. "I didn't throw anything important out by mistake when I cleaned up the ute's cab, did I?"

    "Nope. Freshest it's ever looked. Practically factory new. You're on my Christmas card list. Answer's still no."

    I watched him go over to the pumps and casually asked, "So, when's Karen gonna be done with inventory?"

    "Oh, no ya don't. You ain't our teenage son, rest his soul."

    "Look, Chalky–"

    "No, you look. You wanna know where my pride is, mate? I've had to fight tooth and nail to keep this place afloat since I opened it. You know how much whiskey and beer costs since the American wildfires? Wholesale? And Karen, God love her, always was a sucker for a sob story. Soft hearted ninny would give away the keys to the pub if I didn't put my foot down. But something MY pop hammered into MY head is, If You Don't Take Care Of Yerself, Nobody's Gonna Do It For Ya. Yeah, it's tough on you. Tough on me, tough on all us blokes all over. So don't try to wheedle a ride outta my wife, bucko. If you think I'm gonna let you drive our ute right outta here for another joyride, think again."

    That's when Karen, who'd silently walked up behind him when she heard her name, softly but deliberately nudged the back of his skull with her chest.

    "I gotta top off the petrol tank first," he quickly added.

    "It's okay, luv," she said, wrapping her arms affectionately around her husband from behind. She fished the keys and a fifty Aussie dollar note out of his shirt pocket and handed it my way. "We need to stay here and make money. I'm sure Monty can figure out the pumps and fill it up himself."

    I didn't take them just yet. "Sure you're okay with this, Chalky? For real?"

    He glanced over to the rugby-ball biceps by his head and scowled sheepishly. Then he muttered, "We better get a wash and wax outta this."

    Now I took them. "Done deal. And gas money as soon as I get it. Thanks again. You know, I honestly envy you, Chalk. I wish I had a wonderful wife like her."

    "Feelin's mutual," he said, as Karen kissed his temple. "Some days, I wish you had her, too."


    "And in other news, the Bureau of Global Safety, Surveillance, Transfer and Redistribution have just arrived to aide New South Wales police in a search for the motorbike riding robbers of an armoured car on the Pacific Highway just fifteen kilometers north of Bangalow last Thursday. The vehicle was discovered torched and buried in the Lamington National Park just south of the Queensland line. The Bureau is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bandits. The contents of the armoured car are unknown."

    After turning off the ute's radio and engine, exiting, and locking down, I left the parking garage and went to the street corner. And two minutes later, walking right up was Francis. "Right on time, Monty. Ready for some fun?"

    "You bet."

    We ambled down the sidewalk. "Just one thing I'd like to talk to you about man to man first, though."


    "It's about Angela."

    I steeled myself. "What about her?"

    "You had a thing for her, didn't you?"

    "Thing for her?"

    "C'mon, boyo. When my muscle was Zapped, I learned to use the rest of me. And my eyeballs plainly saw Ange show you her ring, and how well you took it."

    I thumbed my cap. "So, how about them Panthers?"

    "American gridiron's been dead for years and you know it. Now did you have a thing for her or not?"

    It was like bracing for a tetanus shot. "Yes," I said through clenched teeth. "What about it?"

    "I figured. Can't rightly blame ya. Very sweet girl. Smart, funny, sings really pretty, too." He sighed excessively dreamily. "You know how rare a soprano is nowadays? And she ain't exactly harsh on the eyes, either."

    "Tell her I said hi," I growled. And I made a 180 degree turn. But Francis caught my elbow.

    "Wait, wait, wait. What is this, grade seven? You survived an angry Mass'emoiselle, and you can't take a pipsqueak having a go at ya?" I wrenched away. "Hmnh. You had it BAD."

    "Please. Shut. Up."

    "Why her imparticular anyway? Any lass around here'd like ya. Cor knows they've always complained on how us Ozzie blokes don't know how to treat 'em."

    I didn't reply. I'd already spilled a lot of my soul and broken down like a baby at the pool table, and that sure didn't raise my stock with Angela at all. Most probably didn't score any points with Dr. Jean Monroe, either.

    I knew the real answer. Her touch. And how personable she was.

    There was another thing. I remembered Dan, my mass comm buddy, had snagged part time stringer work for a tiny town's newspaper. He covered the local high school sports. The football, baseball, boys' basketball teams and coaches gave him a lot of guff because he had given unbiased press and coverage, including the fouls, unneeded roughness, and other unflattering stuff. When he'd written a commentary criticizing the football team's refusal to shake hands with their opponents after a game full of bad calls, the coach had banned him from taking photos on the sidelines.

    Dan said that he enjoyed reporting on girls' sports much more than the guys'. He said the girls' sports department was much mellower and cooperative, even thankful. Word was that the teams hadn't gotten this much coverage by the paper before, and definitely not as much as the boys'. He also told me he thought the girls had a better team spirit, and less attitude and Neon Deionism.

    Maybe. At first I reckoned it was really because he'd rather look at a girl in motion than a guy, or that he was more of a humor columnist than a sports fan, or he was one of those sensitive types that always had lots of female friends, but never a date. Me, I was guilty as charged on that last one back in college, too. But deep down, I figured that females were much more pleasant than males because they had to be. They sure weren't going to push someone aside to get what they wanted.

    Now that had totally changed. With women the stronger sex now, they mostly still were more cooperative and social, but many were figuring out that they didn't have to be anymore. The Harpies, Louise and Uni were proof positive of that. The Americans were still pre-Zap sized, and thus had to get by on old grace and charm.

    Then I saw a spat in front of a Japanese comics and animation shop.

    "Hiro!" yelled a 5'4" Asian-American woman at her boyfriend. "I wanted volume 2 of this series, not volume 3! Go back and get it right! And where's the milk Pocky? Why didn't you bring me back any Pocky?!"

    Hiro cringed away from her. "You never said anything about Pocky, Raye!"

    Raye smacked him over the head with the DVD box. "Do I have to spell out EVERYTHING to you!?!"

    Eugh. Now my own countrywomen, too.

    "Anyway," Francis said, "Angie and I talked, and since I'm partly to blame here, we thought we'd try and fix it. Up for a blind date?"

    I looked at him a bit uneasily. "Who?"

    "Her name's Martissa. Real career oriented Yank girl. Dedicated, so much so, she's pretty rusty to the dating game. Angie told her about you, and Martissa thought she'd meet someone new, too."

    "So what's she look like?"

    "If I told ya, it wouldn't be a blind date, now, would it?" I shook my head. "Trust me; I think you'll appreciate the surprise."

    I looked at my ratty khaki slacks and drab button-down shirt. "I'm not exactly dressed for the occasion."

    "S'okay," he said. And he put a hand alongside his mouth and whispered, "If all goes right, your get-up'll be too small anyway."

    I chuckled, then got very serious. "Okay, but one question."


    "You've met me only once ever before. Why are you doing all this for me?"

    He looked at me very soberly. "Simple. We're blokes. Gotta look after each other. If we don't, we might as well go out to the Outback, sit under the satellites in the open skies, and wait."

    I silently mulled that over. And two blocks later, down the street I saw a grand sprawling mountain shaped building with simulated snow and a smoke and lava light show right at the top. Cristofan Fujiyama Hotel and Casino. "Spectacular."

    "Ain't it, though?" said Francis. "Shame that's not where we’re going tonight."

    "Say huh?"

    Instead of going toward that ritzy, glitzy casino and hotel row, we walked toward a seedier section of town. Though there wasn't much in it, I put a hand over my wallet-and-keys pocket. I wished I were somewhere better patrolled.

    Then I instantly changed my mind. Rounding a corner, we saw two navy blue Hummers straddling the street ahead. And I read the white letters B.G.S.S.T.R on the fenders, and saw a globe emblem with a superimposed minimalist silhouette of a strong woman protectively holding a young boy painted on the hoods. And close by on foot were two towering, brawny female officers in white uniforms with navy buttons, epaulets, and other accents.

    "Roadblock," muttered Francis.

    "Should we double back or take a side street?" I whispered.

    "Excuse me, boys," called the blonde one, "Would you come over here?"

    "Guess that answers that," went Francis. And we moseyed on over.

    The two officers stood over Ozzie's average ladies at 6'9" tall easily, and weighed in at I'd guess 270 pounds each. By Blondie's accent, though, I realized she was from around here. I guess membership had its privileges.

    "Evenin' officers," Francis said with a cheery wave. "What can we do ya for?"

    The brown haired officer glared. "You can start by standing right there, not moving until we say so, and answering our questions." He did that nonchalantly. I did that less so.

    "Uh, what's going on, ma'am?" I asked.

    "Routine security check," Blondie said tersely. Hmph. If Big Sister was personally involved on the street, it was hardly routine. Where were they when the Harpies hit a week before yesterday? Why were they here now? I bet the armored car raid had something to do with it.

    "Could you please show your hand for standard quantsig ID confirmation?" Brown-Hair asked.

    I stuck out my hand. She held out a hairdryer sized and shaped device, and pressed a button on it. After waving it across my hand, she flipped up a small LCD screen on its side and read it.

    "Hmm. Mr. Montgomery Winston Bank, is it. You're a long way from home."

    "Yes ma'am."

    "So what are you doing in this corner of Gold Coast?"

    "Just looking for a spot to hang out and have a good time."

    She squinted. "Gold Coast is a pretty expensive city. And this neighborhood isn't the safest spot to party, you know."

    I shrugged. "Guess I'll have to mooch off him and remember the buddy system," I said, thumbing to Francis.

    Blondie glanced him over. "How about your quantsig?" she demanded.

    He smiled like a winner and stuck out his arm. "Go for ya life."

    I bristled. Would that skeinsuit and those buttons actually do the job? I wanted to be ready to run for my life, but I knew that was pointless. They had my own signature on call there and then. If I ran, one button press would drop me flat as a board, and thin as a fishing pole. All I could do was stand by helplessly as they ran the scanner over his hand.

    Yikes! I realized that his hand wasn't covered by the fabric!

    But then, Blondie snickered. "Okay, Mr. Elliott, Francis Percival… Percival? You must've been teased a lot in school."

    "Ehh," Francis grunted casually.

    "No priors, no warrants, just an unpaid parking ticket." She looked my way. "Your visa, though, Mr. Bank."

    Ulp. "I'm sorry?"

    "It'll expire in a month. You may want to get that looked at."

    "Oh. Thanks."

    "Thank you for your cooperation. Please be safe and smart."

    As we walked away, I wondered how he pulled that off. As if reading my mind, he held up a finger. "Save your questions until we've arrived safely," he whispered.


    This was a very dirty, smelly, smoggy, littered side street. A wino-to-the-left, panhandler-to-the-right side street. And down our alley with more bodily secretion aromas than a truckload of Febreze spray could stop, we saw a flickering electric sign over a dusty, grimy door. "Kikkatinnalong Tavern and Tattoo Parlor." He knocked three times steadily, then twice quickly. A small window slid open, and after the guy inside took a glance, it slid shut, and they opened up.

    Francis and I cut through the thick smoke in the dingy little dive. It made Chalky's place look like Spago. All it had was a bar, some cheap tables and chairs, and the stench of a few patrons and stale beer. We moseyed over to the bar in the back and sat on the leftmost stools as the barkeep gave me the hairy eyeball. "Name ya poison," he grumped.

    "Two Jostas each with a splash of Jolt," said Francis. "Oh, and tell my bride from Candy Rock we're here to play."

    The barkeep nodded, reached under the counter, and pressed something. Right beside Francis, a door marked "Private" buzzed.

    "Let's go," Francis whispered and he hopped off his stool, pushed it open and subtly beckoned for me to follow.

    Francis led the way down a wrought iron spiral staircase. It was pretty long; we must've headed down about five or six floors. I hoped there was an elevator to the surface.

    After we hit the landing at the bottom, I saw a steel fire door with muffled hard rock music trying to blast through. The bouncer, a white T-shirted, blue jeaned burly woman of Asian descent, maybe Filipino or Indonesian stood with folded arms and looked us over coolly. Francis flashed a card and thumbed to me. "He's with me, Pearl," he said. She nodded, stepped to one side, and opened the door. Francis stepped through. "Mate," he said, "welcome to the Golden Apple."

    We went down a corridor, and I finally recognized the tune: "Back in Black" by AC/DC. The right side had thick plate glass windows. Behind them, I saw what looked like a cross between a nightclub and a gymnasium. The decor looked like the proprietor had been in an Outback Steakhouse and decided to get even. Over the juice bar was the front end of an old style New York yellow checkered taxicab. In the odd spot that didn't have a weight machine or a barbell rack were life sized wood carved North American animals: I saw a grizzly bear in one corner, a bald eagle over a treadmill, and an elk's head over the Pec Deck. And countless other bits of Americana. And yes, I even saw a tin sign reading, "Welcome to Mayberry" with Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife posters by the inner thigh press. I nearly choked up on that one.

    But what got my attention? All those guys with muscles. Some were simply well toned; others actually had some Governor Ah-nuld beef on them. A couple looked like the Governator back in his body building days. Not one shrimp in the bunch, though. And the women? Also comparable to their Aussie cousins topside. Except for a couple of African-Americans, though, they all looked Anglo to me.

    And what really blew me away? In all my days of gym, phys ed classes, and workouts, I'd never seen a person smile and exercise at the same time. It just didn't happen. But for a bunch of people actually busting their butts pumping iron… they looked like the happiest people on the planet.

    It was hard not to cry again.

    "Hey, Monty!" Francis called. "The fun starts over here!"

    I hustled down the corridor. The door at its end led to a small anteroom with two more doors: one due right toward the gym club, the other straight on. Francis led me through that one.

    Now I was what looked like a doctor's office. Dr. Jean Monroe stood there in a muscle t-shirt, shorts, and athletic shoes as if she were going to do a few sets of reps as soon as she were done. Out of her skinsuit, she'd have stood shoulder to shoulder and muscle to muscle to big Gracie. "Ah, Monty, Francis. How was the trip down here?"

    "Made it in one piece," said Francis.

    "Bumped into Big Sister, but nothing came of it," I added.

    She wrinkled her forehead at that, but shrugged and checked something off her clipboard. "Well, you're number three. Just need Larry Billamontonga here and do his checkup and we'll be set."

    "Checkup?" I asked.

    "Oh, yeah. When's the last time you'd seen a doctor?"

    "Since back in America, when I got thrown out of my arcade."

    "Oh. Well, we're going to check your health out, too, before we begin. Make sure we don't find any surprises. No diseases, pre-existing conditions, syndromes, addictions, wires, mikes, hidden cameras, knives, guns, bazookas, weapons of mass destruction, undeclared produce or rubber chickens, that sorta thing."

    "I'll be heading out to the green room while she does that," said Francis, as he exited.

    And after 30 minutes of questions, poking, prodding, examining my mugging injuries, and even the rubber glove/turn-your-head-and-cough test, I was handed a clean bill of post-Zap health. Then she handed me a heather grey t-shirt, navy blue shorts, and a white bath towel. "We'll keep your clothes and pocket stuff locked up safe," she said. "Shower up over there, suit up, and then we'll take you to the green room."

    I stepped into a closet with a shower stall, toilet, and a liquid soap dispenser. I started to follow the old water saving rules back in summer "camp" rebuilding a hurricane-hit Jamaican town: water on, wet skin, water off, soap up, water on, rinse off, water off.

    Aw, forget that! I had nothing but my sink and a wash cloth for over a year! I turned the knobs to full blast, soaked up all that hot water, and belted out "The Marriage of Figaro" as best as I could fake it. But just as I got to "Feeeegaro! Feeegaro! Figaro Figarofigarofi–", I felt funny, just like before my weekly strength drain. Then though everything else physically stayed put, the whole universe felt like was turning about 90 degrees off kilter. I wobbled around like Captain Kirk after the U.S.S. Enterprise had taken one across the port bow. After I caught the shower door to reclaim my balance, I looked myself over. I didn't look any weaker. I didn't feel any weaker. Pretty much the same as I did since this morning.

    Then I heard Dr. Monroe at the door go, "–garo!"

    "Aahh, figaro!" I shot back in my best mock "Aahh, shaddup!" tone. And I finished my aria as I rinsed, dried, and donned the duds.

    I walked out to Dr. Jean's clapping. "Bravissimo," she said, taking my towel and handing me my shoes and socks. "Think you can wait a while in the green room while we take care of Mr. Billamontonga? we'll be right with you once we're done." She pointed to yet another door.

    I showed myself into the lime green walled room, complete with a flat screen TV playing music videos, a water cooler with paper cups, a coffee table with magazines, two club chairs, and a sofa with two women sitting on it. Both were quite pre-Zap normal sized. The darker skinned one, though, had quite a bit of "junk in the trunk," if you know what I mean. She looked up from Run DMC's "It's Tricky."

    "Hey," she said.

    "Hey," I said back. "Where ya from?"

    "Brooklyn. You?"

    I thumbed my Panthers cap. "Straight outta Mayberry."

    The other woman, a brown haired Anglo sniffed. "Hick," she muttered.

    I looked at her. "I'm sorry?"

    "You heard me," she said, "hick."

    I turned to Brooklyn, but she shook her head. "Sorry, no small talk." So I simply grabbed a Newsweek and started to read.

    "Huh. Gay, too," went Rude Girl.

    I looked up. "Excuse me?"

    She looked at me plainly. "You. Heard. Me. Gay. Hick." And she thumbed to the magazine that was atop my Newsweek: an old Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

    I hammed up the accent. "Ah'm sorry, Ah'm not totally familiar with th' customs o' yer low-cal-uh-tee. Are yew try'n to be blay-tant-lee offensive, or are yew jus' bein' an idjit?" Then back to normal: "And why do you automatically assume that a male that's not a horny mental incompetent is gay?" I settled in a club chair and flipped back to my article. "You probably are stupid enough to think that offends me, anyway."

    "Yeah, well–"

    "You heard the good woman. No small talk." Amazingly, she shut up.

    About thirty minutes and a couple of articles later (Warner Bros. had completed relocating its studios to Bollywood, India; Japan finally lowered a trade ban on importing rice; and Moscow vodka makers and Ukraine farmers were feuding over grain prices), Dr. Monroe and a dark skinned fellow entered the room. "Hiya, mates," he said. Must've been an aboriginal Aussie.

    "You must be Larry… what was the last name?"

    "Billamontonga," he said. "Your name?"

    "Monty Bank. Pleased to meetcha." To Dr. Monroe: "Where's Francis? And Gracie?"

    "Out in the audience," she said. "Ready for the game?"


    In the dark, I looked down on the large round platform I stood on. It looked like the cylinder to a gigantic six-shooter, and the three foot circle below my feet like a bullet's chamber. With me at six o'clock, Brooklyn stood at my right at the two o'clock spot, Rude Girl right next to me at four, and Larry flanked my left at eight. And off behind the empty ten and twelve circles was a grandstand with the club's patrons. I scanned around for Gracie or Francis there, but didn't spot them. Right beside each of our spots, standing on a post like a parking meter was a square box with three small hand dumbbells racked on it. A slot machine lever jutted out the box's side. I was tempted to give it a tug and see what happened…

    And right up the middle between Rudy and myself, from a walkway leading to our platform was a spotlit 6'2" woman in a red sparkly long-sleeved t-shirt with blazer lapels, buttons and a tie stenciled on. Her hair was so brightly blonde; I'd swear she dunked it in a vat of lemon pudding. The audience clapped and cheered with gusto.

    "Good evening, folks! Atalanta here! It's the second Friday of the month at the Apple, and you know what that means!"

    The crowd shouted in unison: "RUSSIAN ROULETTE!"

    "Yes! Tonight, one of these four gamers is going to get a brand new bod, and a stunning suit to keep it in! Let's meet our lucky contestants!" She pointed. "From Brooklyn, New York, USA: convenience store clerk Chantelle Johnson!"

    An electric light clacked on over and lit up Chantelle, who looked around coolly and nodded.

    "From Chicago, Illinois, USA: hotel night auditor Vicki Andrews!" Clack! Vicki folded her arms across her red husbandbeater shirt and smirked.

    "From Banner Hollow, North Carolina, USA: inventory processor Monty Bank!" Clack! My bright light masked out the crowd in the dark. Ah, well. I just looked their way, gave a Cub Scout salute, and flicked my fingers in a howdy.

    "From Yalleroi, Queensland: ranch hand Larry Billamontonga!" He seemed a little bewildered, but simply waved hi.

    Atalanta smiled brightly. "Okay, here's the rules one more time. We are going to ask a multiple choice question. One player, the challenger, will choose another player to answer it and do ten curls with the half-kilo weight. If the person answers it right and finishes the set of ten, he or she will get some extra muscle, and becomes the challenger. If the answer's wrong or if the player can't finish ten curls, the challengee loses his or her extra strength to the challenger and has to play Russian Roulette."

    The high noon spot across from me then glowed an ominous red. "They'll pull the lever and send the red zone around. If it misses them, they'll stay in the game and be the challenger for the next question. If it lands on them… they drop out of the game."

    Over our heads, four laser-cannon-looking devices lowered from the ceiling. "And just because we're so nice, we'll start each of you off with a stake: three kilos of lean meat just for showing up."

    I heard a whoosh. Then right below my lungs, I felt a very warm trickle, like someone turned on a faucet inside of me for a hot bath. Then that warmth washed all around inside my torso, and into my limbs. I closed my eyes. It felt magnificent.

    "Okay," said Atalanta, "now reach into your shirt collars and pull out the tag. Whoever has the one with the star will be our first challenger."

    I reached in. Then I did a double take at my upper arm. It was like someone took a toothpaste tube worth of muscle and injected it in. Cool. I ripped out the tag and showed it. Dang. It was blank.

    "Right here," said Chantelle. And she showed her tag with the red star.

    "Very good," said Atalanta. "In round one, each question will be worth three more kilos of muscle. It'll last 5 minutes or until someone drops out, whichever happens first. Let's play the game."

    A signboard flashed a question: "Which James Bond movie was the first one with Pierce Brosnan?" Ha! The first Bond I'd seen in the theater!

    "Chantelle," Atalanta asked, "which player do you want to challenge?" Whoop. Better not act too confident. I tried to put on a blank face. Chantelle looked at Vicki. Then me. Then a puzzled Larry.

    "Give it to farmboy Larry," she said.

    "Larry, give us ten curls, and the answer."

    And the screen showed the choices:

    The Living Daylights
    Tomorrow Never Dies

    A timer ticked off ten seconds, and Larry puzzled it as he pumped the weight. "Uh…"

    "Three seconds."

    "Uh, The Living Daylights?" And he finished his exercise.

    Bzzt! As the other answers dimmed, "Goldeneye" lit up in yellow letters. "Sorry, Larry," Atalanta said sympathetically, "that wasn't it. The Living Daylights was Timothy Dalton's first Bond film."

    I heard a whoosh, and his limbs deflated a little, and Chantelle's plumped up a bit. "Now it's time to play Russian Roulette. Unlock Larry's zone," Atalanta said. Shunk! went something under Larry's feet. His spot glowed white. "Now you've got one red zone. Pull the lever, and it'll spin. You've got a five in six chance. Ready?" Larry nodded reluctantly. "Let's play Russian Roulette!"

    He tenatively reached forward, grabbed the lever, tugged and released.

    Clackclackclackclackclackclack…! The red zone zipped around the platform for two seconds, then began to slow down.

    …clackclackclack clack, clack, clack, clack… clack….

    And it stopped right on my own spot. Nothing happened. Larry sighed in relief. The red spot faded from my feet.

    "Next question," said Atalanta. And two spots lit up this time: the ten and twelve.

    The signboard read, "What do the letters in the clothes brand FUBU stand for?"

    "Who do you want to challenge?"

    "I want my strength back," Larry answered indignantly. "Chantelle."

    I shook my head. Idiot. He didn't even try to read our faces. I saw her smirk. The answers shone on the screen:

    For Us, By Us
    For Unity, Brotherhood, Understanding
    Forever United, Forever Unchained

    Chantelle didn't even wait for the timer. "For Us, By Us."

    And she peeled off ten reps easily enough.

    And with a guitar chord fanfare, "For Us, By Us" shone in gold. "Correct! Good for three kilos," said Atalanta.

    The machinery whirred again. "Mmmmmngh," when Chantelle, as she spread out her arms. And her arms puffed out some more. She flexed a little to show: her biceps was about the size of a Hostess Muffin Loaf snack cake.

    "So, now Chantelle's got nine extra kilos of muscle, Vicki and Monty have three each, and Larry… well, at least he's not overweight. Now, next question, three red zones."

    The signboard read: "Which author, who wrote 'It was a dark and stormy night,' has a yearly bad writing contest named after him?"

    Larry fidgeted. Vicki stood there like she was waiting for the bus. I raised an eyebrow.

    Chantelle looked right at me and pointed. "Let's give Opie here a try."

    "Ten reps, ten seconds, three choices," said Atalanta. "Ready?" I nodded. The choices were:

    Charles Dickens
    e.e. cummings

    I smiled. "I sent a few entries in, and got a dishonorable mention. Bulwer-Lytton."

    Atalanta tilted her head. "What about the curls?"

    "Curls? Oh, yeah!" And I quickly bent and opened my arm to do them. It took effort, but wasn't as bad as I expected. I guess the little bonus helped.

    "Very good, Monty. Bulwer-Lytton, is he correct?" One strum and a highlight showed that I was. "And now you're on the dance floor with three."

    The warm flow trickled again through my body. My shorts and shirt felt a little less baggy, as they rode up. I checked it out: Yes, not quite near the Bruce Lee level yet, but it was getting closer.

    "Fourth question, four red zones." Atalanta chuckled. "If you miss this one, the odds are better that you'll be out of this game than in it. Here we go."

    The question: "Which of these is not considered part of the earth's atmosphere?"

    Hmm. Larry didn't know, but didn't have any muscle to give up. Chantelle seemed like the obvious target, with her strength stockpile. Vicki had three, but I couldn't read whether she knew this one or not.

    "Chantelle. The only atmosphere they probably have up in Brooklyn is smog."

    Chantelle put those hands on her hips and did her neck bob, and nodded. "Mmm hmm." And she squinted at the answers:


    She didn't look too sure, but curled the iron. "I'll jus' go with bathysphere; it looks a bit wack."

    Atalanta: "Bathysphere, is that right?"

    It was. "Oh yes, thank you," Chantelle said to me. And now, she got a little bit of height to go with her flesh. I guessed she was close to a pre-Zap man-sized 170 lbs. While definitely bigger, she didn't look quite as rotund as she did before.

    "That's right," said our hostess. "A bathysphere is a diver's submarine. And if you miss this next one, you're probably sunk. Five red zones out of six. It's as dangerous as it gets. Next question:"

    "Which of the original 50 American states is the furthest south?"

    Chantelle looked us over. I tried to look unfocused. "I bet Larry doesn't know this one," she said.

    Larry shook his head no, and for once he looked halfway confident. Atalanta said, "Okay, Larry, here's the choices:"


    He smiled smugly at Chantelle as he worked the weights as best he could. "I can (grunt)… read… a map, girl… answer's Florida."

    "Is it?" asked Atalanta. "Florida?" Bzzt! Hawaii lit up. Larry's face twisted like he'd stubbed his toe on a table leg. He must've been very sure.

    "Aww, so sorry, Lar," our hostess reassured. "The good news is, you don't have any bonus strength to lose. The bad news is, you've gotta play Russian Roulette with 5 red zones. Odds are this may be it for you. Anything you want to say before you pull the handle?"

    He looked balefully at the five lit spots on the platform. Then he growled, "Viva Mexico." He got more than a few boos from the audience. Vicki flipped him off. I waited it out.

    "All right then," said Atalanta. "Unlock Larry's zone." The platform's underside went "shunk!" again. "Let's play Russian Roulette."

    He looked at the lever balefully. "Do I have to?"

    "If you don't, I can pull it for you."

    With that, he reached forward, jerked it back, and sent the red zones and clear one into a clacking spin. And just as it started to slow down he whined, "Aw, no! This ain't fair, this ain't fair!"

    The one safe spot just passed him by, and landed on Chantelle's zone. Larry's final result was red.

    "This ain't–"

    K-CHUNK! "Aaaaaagh!" The circle he stood on quickly opened and swung down in two halves. And he plummeted through the trap door screaming. Chantelle's eyes popped wide open. Vicki leaned forward trying to stare down it.

    The audience cheered wildly. Atalanta beamed as the trap door swung back shut with a click. "Time after time, nobody ever gets tired of that. And in Round 2, after a quick break… we'll drop another one!"

    My forehead got sweaty. And not from pumping iron or the stage lights. What did I get myself into?!

    To be continued in Chapter 6: You Bet Your Life.


    Hehe. Nice chapter. You have quite an imagination. I wonder though, how do they hide such a place as "The Golden Apple", when more then a few men and some American women start bulking up?

    Look forward to the next chapters. I hope we get more female muscle soon.



    The depth you’ve given this story makes it very entertaining.

    The B.G.S.S.T.R (Big Sister) organisation’s logo is amusingly oedipal. 😈

    The Golden Apple along with Atlanta sticks some nice mythology references in there.

    You’ve got an eighties gameshow of death vibe with Russian Roulette that can’t be beat. A very cool buildup of a broken world just to give us a hint of what bizarre social rituals grew in the corners of the fridge when Big Sis wasn’t looking. 😈

    You keep this up and there will be "Free Monty Banks" t-shirts at the next Arnold Classic πŸ˜‰

    Thank you for sharing and I can’t wait to see the next chapter.


    I call shenanigans.

    But it a good way.

    Whatever happened to Mark L. Whalberg anyway?

    (if you’ve never seen Russian Roulette, for crying out loud, go get Game Show Network and watch it. He’s right. Nobody *ever* gets tired of that!)

    Entertaining, to say the least. πŸ˜€


    Thanks, folks. And to answer a few questions…

    There’s more than one entrance, and the clubbers take care not to use the same one twice in a row.

    The BGSSTR logo was NOT meant to be oedipal. Honest. 😳

    And yes, I picked that Greek myth as my way of saying savvy and cleverness will beat pure physical conditioning. His or hers.

    And I had to look up http://www.arnoldclassic.com to learn what that was. Very good. Though if I can continue the series, I WILL feature that T-shirt idea if I can work it in.

    And GSN’s Russian Roulette was one of the big reasons I ditched my basic cable, and got satellite TV back in the States. (That, and the Adelphia scandal broke out.)

    And you call shenanigans? Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Ataski?

    And as for Mark L. Walberg (if you mean in the story), I assume he got lost in the shuffle when Los Angeles fell to La Guarda Mexicana.

    And http://www.gsn.com/specific_page_elements.php?link_id=S23 should give you information on the real Russian Roulette show (no muscle being awarded, just cash. Pity. πŸ™„ ).


    Hi there Jimmy

    Sorry for the lateness, but again great work on this story. It is so interesting in itself that even without the fmg element, I still find it interesting to read on its own. I like the main character because of is wits and is completely fleshed out, which is not seen everywhere in this kind of fiction. Plus the global scope of the story is always great to follow.

    Now at the risk of sounding annoying…WHEN can we expect part 6! We are dying here! Looking forward to seeing the next part of the show. Those commercial breaks are a killer πŸ˜†

    Thumbs up and keep up the good work!



    Chapter 5’s been deboogered.

    Oh, and I was wondering… there wouldn’t happen to be a charitable artist that wouldn’t mind doing some pro-bono artwork on this little story by this humble man-of-means-by-no-means author, would there? πŸ˜€

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