The italicized worldbuilding text is carried over from the first snippet, but don't let that bother you.
In other news, I've established this tiny subgenre as...(brace yourself)...
Transdimensional Noir Mech Gladiator Speculative Pulp Fiction
Or TNMGSPF, for short. ;)
* * * * *
“...and in our countdown of the Top Ten most spectacular arena defeats in recent memory, here's number four, Jered Kramer piloting Judah at Berva Proxima.”
“That's right, Chred, we've all seen it, over and over, but let's look again at the footage. Experts are still perplexed to this day why Kramer, who came from the fighting clan of the Fourth Gate Kramers, just threw caution and tactics to the wind with a straight-boost charge to his death.”
“His fellow human, Masamune, was waiting for him, though, Denk, and the result was not pretty. They never recovered Kramer's helmet camera or interior cockpit footage, you know. It was completely destroyed when first the open-field cannon shot, then that power claw-”
“'Oh' is right, Denk, look at that thing sink into the cockpit, right up to the elbow. You can't even read the sponsorship stickers, Masamune's in so deep.”
“Truly dread, Chred. You hate to see a fighter as accomplished as Jered Kramer go out in a flash-and-crash.”
“Truly. Oh, that's not nice, pulling the corpse back through the hole and washing it down with the jets. That's got to affect one's afterlife, I don't care what you believe.”
“That's become one of Masamune's signature moves, Chred, and this is the match where he earned the 'Desecrator' nickname. Up next, arena fans, stay tuned for the top three in our countdown...”
Jessica Kramer was not in the mood for this bar, yet here she was, waiting for the next tap on the shoulder and the inevitable ethanol-breath challenge. For the next wink and nod between two mech pilots as they looked in her direction and shared a joke. For the next snide remark about her brother or her now-fallen family name.
“The Fourth Gate Kramers.” It was once a badge of honor, a phrase that paid. Feh. That and a five-credit debitpress could get you a beer in a place like this. In a chipped glass, of course.
“Jev, another, please,” she said to the bottender.
“Mech Pilot Kramer, you advised this unit that you are due for a match tonight at Red Iridium Arena. Your customer profile preferences indicate you are to be served only four beverages on fight day. Do you wish to override?” said the beverage attendant.
“Yes, please. I'll be fine, thank you, Jev.” She pressed her glowing thumb to the proffered data pad. It was easy to be rude to drones and bots, even though Jev's rudimentary AI appreciated the courtesy at some small level of semi-sentience. Being polite to a machine might be silly, but it showed humanity, which was a scarce quality in this little pocket dimension.
The glass was one of the models that filled from the bottom up through a one-way valve. Jessica watched the level rise in thirsty anticipation. This was the last one, she promised herself. Well, maybe the one after this one...
Something in the room shifted. One hand accepted the beer, the other went for the grip of the pistol on her ribcage.
“Sentients and sapients, I greet you in the old ways. May the light of the eight gates shine upon this establishment,” said an smooth electronic voice from the doorway of the bar. A large metallic pod filled most of the doorway, its gleaming body lined with low pulsing lines chasing each other. Two bodyguards in heavy armor stood on either side of the pod, their weapons pointed at the bar patrons.
“We wonder if there are any among you gentlebeings from the house of Kramer, of the Fourth Gate?” the voice said, almost like a purring coo. “If so, we have a proposition of a business nature.”
Jessica smirked, and pulled her hand from the butt of her revolver, and looked over her shoulder to the Gatekeeper in his floating armored pod. Both of the bodyguards already had their weapons trained on her. “Mikralos, is that you, you payment-stretching, Gate-damned pustule, after all these years?” she said, lifting her fifth beer to her lips.
The Gatekeeper's reinforced life chamber was a gleaming pink pearl shrouded by the rest of the protective silver chassis, filled with life support fluid, useless, flabby limbs, and an oversized cherubic contortion of a human face. The Gatekeepers were not an ancient race, not like the Szran->click< or the Redfolk, but they were a powerful one. They controlled Junctionworld and the Eight Gates, after all. Mikralos may look like a grotesque baby in a glass ball floating on a giant silver jelly bean, but he packed more firepower and advanced shielding than a Concordium main battle tank. The bioprinted Model Ninety-Nine bodyguards were almost for show.
“Ah, daughter of the Fourth Gate Kramers, Jessica. We greet you in--”
“--In the old ways, yes, yes, Mikralos. Spare me the Gatekeeper formalities and 'in the old ways' crap. What do you want?” Jessica said.
“Very well. Direct and to the point. Very Human.
“You know we are still in possession of your sibling's combat armor. Collateral for his unpaid debts, of course,” the Gatekeeper said. Jessica bristled and turned her bar stool to face the hovering overlord. Mikralos's bodyguards flicked off the safeties of their weapons with an energy-charged whine.
“Yeah, you still own what's left of the family ride, I know. Jered's death broke my father, tore the heart out of my mom, and busted us out. It's a sad story, sure,” Jessica said. She tried keep a nonchalant tone in her voice, but her knuckles were turning white around her beer.
“Not to mention the accompanying murder-suicide of your parents when insolvency collapsed your valiant and once-prosperous team. A series of regrettable occurrences, indeed, mech pilot Kramer,” Mikralos said. “We understand you're still piloting in the Light Exo Leagues? Limited Ordnance class, yes?”
“How quaint,” Mikralos said.
She wasn't sure if the reminder of her parents' death or her diminished status in the minor leagues of the mech arenas stung more. She began to stand up from the stool, and the bodyguard weapons edged closer as she rose. “Why you encephalitic, atrophied waste of a--”
“--Consider your next words carefully, mech pilot. We have come to this lowly, loathsome place to conduct business, not to recount your tedious and pedestrian past miseries. Sit down, and consider this token,” the voice coming from the Gatekeeper's armored module said with a stern tone. A smooth metal claw emerged from the skin of the Gatekeeper's pod. It pulled a cylindrical object from another compartment in the silvery hull. The proffered object was scorched on one side, dented on another, and had an array of wires and conduits sticking out of it. A small red light glowed in the middle of the scorched patch when it dropped into her hands.
“You...you pulled Judah out of the wreckage,” she said, slumping to her stool as she touched the blistered paint.
“Yes, pilot Kramer, the recovered command module from your family's mech. 'Judah.' Arkathan circuitry. A very handsome component in both structure and capability. 'They don't make them like that anymore,' we believe is the parlance of your home world. A shame, but since they were wiped out, no one has been able to replicate the miniaturization genius of Arkathan electronics,” Mikralos said.
“I know, trust me. My current suit's brain is a bumbling idiot that can barely keep me walking and shooting at the same time. It's a basic module, but it's all I can afford. Barely semi-sentient, and non-learning. I haven't even bothered to--” Kramer said.
“We offer this to you, human, but not lightly. Do you wish to hear our terms?”
Jessica took a long drink from her beer glass, draining it. She looked over her shoulder to the bar bot.
“Jev, set me up another, please. Put it on the kind Gatekeeper's tab, here.”
She took the new glass, blew the foam off the top in the direction of the nearest Nine bodyguard, and said, “Let's hear it, Mikralos.”
* * * * *