The Rugged Explorer
Sergeant Schmidtt and his cackling cronies sat in the stands above, kept safe by the arena walls and ready to gun Jack down if he did not fight to their satisfaction. Jack didn’t want to fight, but he didn’t want to be gunned down, either.
He surveyed his opponents. There was Trotsky, the titan who must have been nine feet tall. His shins were cut and bleeding from the first arena bout of the day, and he now sat with his massive back leaning against the wall, a child’s expression of misery on his guileless face. Even if he was injured, Jack wasn’t eager to start in with a man whose hands were the size of bear-traps.
Then there was the panther-woman. She had claws and fangs, but she was still a woman, and that meant Jack couldn’t fight her. He would rather die than hit a woman.
That left the Spartan. Jack eyed the strange figure in the helmet and saw that this warrior was much leaner than Jack had first assumed. The thick wolf-pelt cloak, the concealing helmet, and shapeless, bulky armor had all made the Spartan appear larger. Now that Jack had a chance for a closer look he could see that this warrior’s legs and the arms were muscular, but very lean and free of hair.
He must be a youth, Jack realized. But that’s one dangerous boy. He had seen the Spartan crack the carapace of a gargantuan scorpion using little more than a pair of sticks. This, too, would be a tough fight, but it seemed the only option.
Jack threw away his sharpened sticks and assumed a boxer’s stance, gesturing a challenge to the Spartan with open hands. “Come on,” Jack called. “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even have those sticks. Do the honorable thing and throw them away.”
The Nazis roared their approval; evidently they were much happier seeing the prospect of a long, brutal fistfight than a short, decisive armed duel. Or maybe they were hoping the Spartan would gut Jack for daring to throw away his weapon.
The Spartan answered in a strange language. Jack had no idea what was meant, but a warrior’s honor needed no translation: the Spartan dropped the sticks and hunched down into a low stance, arms out front, fingers spread wide.
A wrestler’s stance, Jack thought as the two circled each other. Dammit, this is going to be even tougher than I thought.
The Spartan lunged in, attempting to seize Jack’s legs. But Jack had battled wrestlers before, and he was ready. He sprawled backwards, keeping his legs out of reach while he brought his fists down on the back of his opponent’s head. Against the helmet, he couldn’t do much more than scuff his knuckles, but he hoped it would at least make a hell of a ringing sound inside. As he felt the Spartan back off, he grabbed the red mane of hair that ran down the helmet and yank it up and away.
The chinstrap came free and the helmet rolled away into the arena sand. Black hair spilled across the Spartan’s lean, muscular shoulders. Jack pressed in, drawing back his fist while seizing his opponent by her throat.
Jack froze, his fist cocked back, unable to land the blow. The helmet, the thick cloak—it had hidden her female physique so completely that Jack had not recognized what he was up against.
This was no Spartan. This was an Amazon.