Fighting an alien champion in the boxing ring was always a risk for a human. Larry Filmore only has two choices: he can run or he can fight.
Larry Filmore stared at his beer and cursed his fight manager.
Human beings were supposed to be the toughest race in the Galaxy, but as a fighter, Larry didn’t have much faith in that theory. He had fought a variety of other alien species throughout the Galaxy, and, although he had always come out as the winner, he had plenty of scars to show for it.
He looked around at the bar. It was full of aliens of various races. Only he was human.
What am I doing here? he asked himself. I’m sitting in a cheap little bar on planet Dornel 4, far from Earth. And I’m waiting for a Dornellian fighter to kill me tomorrow.
But there was no way out of the situation, Larry thought bitterly. Blackmer, his manager, had set the whole thing up. Larry had found out, three months before, that Blackmer was cheating him—but that had been too late. According to the contract, Larry had to finish the season or go to prison. If he quit, according to the law, he would be cheating his manager.
On the other hand, if he got killed during the battle, his entire paycheck would go to Blackmer.
So Blackmer had done the smart thing—for himself. He had lined up Larry with Fornax Kedrin, the champion fighter of Dornel.
The Dornellians were big—eight feet tall, with fingers that ended in razor-sharp claws. Of course, Larry would be provided with steel extensions on his fingers for fairness, but they wouldn’t help much; Larry had never learned to use them. Fornax Kedrin would kill him in the first round.
Larry took another sip of his beer and stared numbly at the bar. With his fingers, he traced meaningless words in the moisture left by the cold glass.
Maybe he was taking the coward’s way out—but it was the only way he could see. It’s better to be a coward who’s still alive than a hero who’s dead.
“Another beer, bartender,” he called, finishing the one he held.
“Coming up, Earthman.”
The beer arrived and he took a sip. Training? Forget it, he thought happily. He was going to get himself completely drunk tonight. What is it that celebrities always say? Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse.
Or maybe it would be better to simply get aboard a spaceship and try to get away. Maybe the Interstellar Police would never find him.
He shook his head hopelessly. That wouldn’t work, either. Nothing would work.
If only he’d had some practice fighting a Dornellian!
He reached out for his beer, not noticing that someone had taken the vacant seat next to him. His elbow bumped into a glass. The glass tipped over, pouring a green bubbling liquor all over the Dornellian sitting next to him.
“Stupid Earthman!” snapped the Dornellian hatefully. “A clumsy beast like you should be allowed to enter a public place!”
With one hairy paw, the Dornellian shoved Larry’s shoulder, intending to push him off the bar stool. Larry moved back, more in astonishment than anything else. He hadn’t known that Dornellians had any particular prejudice against humans, but there was unmistakable racial hatred n the alien’s voice. He grabbed the edge of the bar counter to stop himself from falling off the stool.
“What do you think you’re doing!” Larry growled. “I hit your glass on accident, and–“
“Are you trying to argue with me? Here is the rest of the drink!” The Dornellian laughed and heaved the rest of the green drink in Larry’s face.
A blinding tide of fury washed over Larry. Without thinking, reacting purely on instinct, he lashed out at the Dornellian.
His fist missed. It was blocked by the heavy forearm of his opponent. A hand raked out at Larry—a hand with six fingers, each tipped with long, cutting talons. Larry moved his head aside barely in time. The talons raked across his cheek, drawing blood. If he hadn’t ducked, the cut would have ripped his throat open.
The Dornellian’s other hand slashed out. Larry blocked it with his own arm and sent a hard left punch to the belly of the eight-foot beast.
The Dornellian backed away, snarling. The fight was on for real, now. “Little Earthman, I’m going to kill you!”
He leaped forward suddenly, and his fist smashed against Larry’s face. Larry rolled with the blow, but it brought the taste of blood to his mouth.
His feet moving fast, Larry backed away from the giant. He felt a glow of pleasure within himself. Here was his chance to practice fighting against a Dornellian! What better training was there for a championship fight than a bar fight? He had to watch out for those claws though—those deadly razors that sprouted from the Dornellian’s fingertips.
Two other Dornellians started to move in, but another species—a huge reptilian beast, slow-moving but powerful—stepped in front of them.
“Keep back,” he hissed, in his snake-like voice. “Don’t meddle in a personal quarrel.”
Larry heard another alien who looked like a spider, “Yes, let the Earthman fight it out by himself.”
Larry wasn’t too worried. He had fought to the death on about 50 other planets, and he hadn’t been killed yet. An ordinary Dornellian didn’t bother him much. He moved in confidently for the knockout.
He threw his fist, but his opponent was faster. Larry’s punch hit nothing but empty air, and the Dornellian’s claws raked down his side as the other hand slammed against the side of his head.
Dazed, Larry staggered back. His arm was dripping with blood, and his head felt groggy and heavy.
The Dornellian threw a left jab, and Larry blocked it with his own left arm. But the giant had done something unexpected. Instead of striking with his closed fist, he had suddenly extended his fingers. The sharp claws stabbed deep into the muscle of Larry’s forearm, sending a wave of pain to his shoulder.
Again, Larry backed away, his arm aching from the wounds. Quickly, he reversed his direction and stepped back in. This time, he used a kick but the Dornellian sidestepped. The toe of Larry’s boot caught his hip. Cursing, the Dornellian closed in.
He punched forward, claws extended. Larry stepped to one side and grabbed the hairy wrist. Using the giant’s momentum and weight to his own advantage, Larry propelled the monster across the room, slamming him against the bar counter. Then he leaped forward to smash in the Dornellian’s ribcage with his heavy boots. He was not quick enough. The giant rolled aside and jumped to his feet. Snarling viciously, he advanced toward the Earthman.
One hand came down in a hard, chopping blow. Larry managed to block it, but the Dornellian’s other hand slugged into the pit of his stomach.
Weak with pain, Larry staggered back. He aimed a kick at the alien’s shin, and it connected hard. Taking advantage of his opportunity, Larry stepped forward. His heel came down on the Dorneliian’s toes at the same time that his fist slammed into the rough jaw.
The giant stumbled backwards, his taloned hand slashing through the air. He regained his balance and came forward again, but this time Larry was ready for him.
The Dornellian stepped right into another blow to the stomach.
Oddly enough, it didn’t seem to bother him much. Then Larry remembered that the Dornellian nervous system wasn’t much like a human’s. The nerves weren’t in the same places. But where were they? Again, he cursed Blackmer. The manager hadn’t told him anything about Dornellians, and had let him sign for the fight against Fornax Kedrin even though it would kill Larry.
Well, Larry thought, I’ll learn tonight. If I ever get out of this bar alive.
He took a deep breath and glanced at the giant, who had recovered from Larry’s onslaught. The Dornellian stepped in with two fast swipes—a rake across the face with his left and a smash to the heart with his right.
The claws to his face alerted Larry for the blow to the heart. He stepped back just enough to avoid being really hurt. But the Dornellian’s talons had raked his forehead, cutting in deeply. Blood was pouring down over his eyes.
He took a quick look around the bar. The customers were gathered in a ring around them and were watching the contest wide-eyed, as if they were in actual ringside seats.
The Dornellian still looked relatively unscratched, while Larry knew he looked as though he’d rolled over a barbed-wire fence. But in spite of the blood, Larry had finally gotten the measure of his opponent. The eight-foot giant weighed close to 500 pounds. His mass was too great to move smoothly, no matter how fast his reflexes were.
Larry moved in again. He planted a hard right punch directly in the giant’s throat. There had to be nerves there. The Dornellian gagged and dropped his head. Larry smiled and slammed his fist into the giant’s rib cage, making him double over. Larry could almost hear the crowd cheering now as he moved in for the kill.
He sucked in his breath and lifted one foot from the floor. His right fist came up as he jumped, gaining speed as it rose. Like a hammer, it crashed into the hairy jaw of the Dornellian, and Larry could feel bone splintering against his knuckles.
Like an oak tree with rotten roots, the great Dornellian toppled to the floor. He landed with a crash that seemed to shake the building.
Larry stood over the fallen giant for a moment, catching his breath, wondering when the referee was going to start the count. Then he realized there wasn’t going to be any count. There wasn’t any referee. There was only the bar.
His arms were quivering, and his face was dripping with blood. He turned away, mopping his face clean. He started to pick up his unfinished beer when the wailing of sirens echoed through the bar.
Police! Someone had called the Dornellian police!
The spider-looking alien walked up to him. “Well done, Earthman,” he said in his whispering voice. “Come with me. I have a car outside.” Without another word, the spider alien scuttled toward the door.
Larry paused for a moment before making up his mind. There was nothing to do except to trust the spider. If the police caught him, his life wouldn’t be worth anything.
No one tried to stop him as he ran out the door.
A car was waiting outside. Larry climbed in, and the spider alien slammed one of his many feet down on the accelerator. The car shot off into the night, its turbo-electric engine humming smoothly.
“Well, Earthman,” said the whispering voice, “You crushed the Dornellian in that fight. Frankly, I was surprised.”
“So was I,” Larry said. “I don’t know why I’m bothering to run away. All they’ll have to do is come to my hotel to find me.”
The spider chuckled. “No. I don’t think anyone recognized you. Don’t forget that all Earthmen look alike to other beings. The only reason I knew who you were is that I’m a fan of yours. I was glad to see you beat that Dornellian, believe me.”
“Thanks,” Larry said. “But it’s not going to do me any good when I get into the ring against Fornax Kedrin. If an ordinary Dornellian citizen puts up a fight like that, what am I going to do against a professional boxer?”
The spider laughed again. “Just get in there and fight, Filmore. You can handle him. I’m sure you can.”
The car pulled up to the hotel where Larry and his manager were staying, and Larry got out. The spider alien waved to him and drove off.
Wearily, Larry dragged himself inside and into the elevator.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Filmore,” said the Dornellian elevator boy.
He pushed open the door to his room and dropped on the bed, dead tired. He didn’t dare look in the mirror. He was afraid to see what a mess the Dornellian had made out of his face.
“Blackmer?” he called.
There was no answer. The manager was not around. Larry got up, peaked into the other room, and, seeing no one, dropped off into a deep sleep. Before he fell asleep, his last thought was: Tomorrow, I’ll get into that ring and do my best. I’ve already beaten on Dornellain. How tough could Fornax Kedrin be? And what did it matter anyway? He was bound to get killed sooner or later anyway. That was the unspoken truth of every fighter.
When he awoke the following morning, he didn’t feel quite so certain about things. The brawl the night before had taken a toll on his body. He knew that he’d be butchered if he stepped into the ring with the Dornellian champ. He was in no condition to fight.
“Blackmer? You here?”
The manager’s bed had been slept in, but there was no sign of him. Larry grabbed the hotel room phone, called the front desk and asked, “Do you know where Mr. Blackmer is?”
“He’s in the bar, sir,” said the receptionist. “Do you want me to call him for you?”
A moment later, Larry heard the manager’s harsh voice. “This is Blackmer. Who’s calling?”
“This is Larry. I’m read for that fight, Blackmer,” he said, hoping he’d have the strength to go through with it. “And after I get through with the Dornellian, I’m going to knock your teeth out of your mouth. This is my last fight for you.”
“Now Larry,” Blackmer said. “Just calm down. I—“
“Shup up! We’re over! I may get killed in that ring, but I’ll fight just this once and—“
“What? Haven’t you heard? The fight is off!”
Larry blinked in astonishment. “What do you mean?”
“It’s been all over the news. That’s why I didn’t bother to wake you. Fornax Kedrin is in the hospital. He got his jaw broken in a bar fight last night. Nobody knows who did it. But I got another fight for you lined up on planet Domerang 6 with—“
“Skip it,” Larry said. “I’ll discuss it with you some other time.”
Larry slowly dropped the phone receiver back on the hook. He grinned. And then he began to laugh.
About this story:
This short story was published in April 1957 by Ivar Jorgensen and is now in the public domain. Here, it was edited by Judy Shinohara for advanced English language students to enjoy.