After receiving our challenges, I was forced into the company of the beefy luchador Giant Swell.
“Uh, hi. I’m West. I, uh, guess you’re supposed to teach me how to be a Gladiator.”
He stared at me for a moment, then stabbed me in the face with a syringe full of a performance-enhancing drug.
“Weenie-boy get strong,” he grunted, then dragged me into the hold of a spaceship reeking of sweat and beef jerky. “We go to Earth. You too wussy to be Gladiator of Intergalaxy. Gladiator of America good nuff for little you.”
I rubbed my face and pulled the broken needle out from under my skin. “We don’t have to take a ship, though. We could just—“ My words were choked off as Giant Swell put me in a headlock and poured a protein shake down my throat.
“We take flying gym. You work out. Get strong. Be good Gladiator.”
Those next few days were the hardest of my life as I bench-pressed, push-upped, chin-upped, squatted, injected, protein-packed and carbo-loaded every muscle in my body, but by the time we hit Earth’s orbit, I was still as scrawny as ever.
“Can I stop now?” I groaned as I gasped and panted on the floor of the gym, having toppled backwards over a medicine ball.
“Yes. Stop. Eat raw egg before we land.”
I did, then puked all over the ships controls during a turbulent entry into Earth’s atmosphere, making Giant Swell panic as the spaceship’s steering short-circuited. We crashed a few miles south of San Diego.
Giant Swell strapped weights to my arms and legs and forced me to run through the desert while he sat on my shoulders. I thought my back was going to break and I tried to get him off me by flying, but every time I lifted even an inch of the ground, he put me in a choke hold and said, “Be good or voted off you go.”
The stench of his beef jerky breath still lurks in my nostrils. God help me.
We got to the US border when ICE agents in an SUV stopped in front of us, guns drawn.
“Hell yes!” I answered. “I’m West Rosen, alien god and king of the night sky, keeper of the ultimate destiny, friend to supermodels, and fourth place winner of Sylar’s Bachelor.”
“Leave ‘im,” the other ICE agent barked. “They don’t make um that dorky on the other side. Take the big one, though. That’s a mask of a foreigner for sure, and we can’t afford another incident like the Ron Paul convention.”
I tried to make a break for it, but they shot Giant Swell with seven elephant tranquilizers and loaded him onto their SUV, and Swell had me too weighed down to fight. As they sped away, I sat in the blistering desert and cried. I was sure to have lost the challenge now.
As my tears evaporated in the heat, I took the weights off my arms and legs and vowed to soldier on. I would fly to LA, compete in and win American Gladiators, and make Giant Swell proud.
Something was amiss in Los Angeles, though. Buildings burned, bricks were thrown through windows, and teenagers ran through the streets shouting. My cell phone rang.
“Rosen! Do you know how much I had to pay my lawyers to get Giant Swell out of the custody of your planet’s barbaric immigration agents? Too much! You owe me big time, bucko!”
“Who is this?”
“J’onn Sinew Nu, and if you had bothered to meet me you would have known that, you two-bit wannabe punk! I own you; don’t you forget that! Now, to pay me back, you need to fix the situation in LA. Superboy’s little fanclub, the ‘Cult of Kon-El’ or whatever, are pretty cheesed off about you booting off their teen idol. Hence, the riot. So no more reality shows: no Real World, no Big Brother, and no American Gladiators. So if you wanna prove yourself, kid, you’ve got to find his fanclub president, a chesty blonde called Wonder Girl. You’ll know what to do.”
The cell phone flew out of my hand as I tripped over a golden rope.
“I assume you’re Wonder Girl?” I said, looking up at what was indeed a chesty blonde.
“You want to be a Gladiator, punk? Well fight me, then. I’ll smash you into a pulp and avenge Kon-El.” She flew into me and punched me in the stomach. I puked up the rest of the raw egg.
“Jeez,” I said, wiping my mouth. “This is worse than the reaction when David Cook won American Idol.”
Wonder Girl put out the fires in the buildings around us, and then turned back to me. “Meet me in the Bottled City of Kandor at noon tomorrow.” She handed me a Q-tip. “This will be your weapon.”
At the Fortress of Solitude, where the Bottled City of Kandor was held, some dude named Atom Man shrunk me, Wonder Girl, and all those crazy fans so we could fit inside. The Q-tip I held could actually be used to push someone over, and I focused on all the training Giant Swell had given me as I made my way through that miniature Xanadu.
“They took my Kon-El from the battle, so now we take the battle to them!” Wonder Girl announced to the cheering crowd before turning to me. “Your journey ends now, Rosen,” she spat.
I charged. She blocked. I thrusted. She parried. Back and forth we went until I realized that Wonder Girl had a secret weapon: she had used the Q-tip before shrinking down, and I was stuck to the floor in her earwax. I struggled to escape. I strained harder and harder, until all the steroids that Giant Swell had pumped into me kicked in, and my muscles ballooned outward. The exponential growth of my muscles cancelled out being shrunk by Atom Man, and the Bottled City of Kandor shattered around me.
I collapsed under the weight of my expanding musculature as the Cult of Kon-El fled screaming.
When I awoke in the hospital on Hacknor the next day, J’onn Sinew Nu and Giant Swell stood by my, now normal-sized, side.
“Well, kid,” Sinew Nu said, “the Pay-Per-View from the Kandor fight managed to take in just enough to pay for Giant Swell’s legal bills, but don’t think this makes you IGEs cash cow. Now it’s off to the accountants for me to count my money!”
Giant Swell beamed at me, swelling with pride. “That’ll do, wuss. That’ll do.”