HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Soldier Field is empty and quiet.
The electric energy that coursed through this very space but 24 hours ago could not be denied. Night 1 was a spectacle, an event, as some might call it “a happening.”
Funny how a space can go from raucous to silent in the span of a few hours, isn’t it?
There’s something different with the ring tonight. It looms high above and despite the cabling and chains, it sways an inch this way and that as it hangs from expertly erected scaffolding: The UltraViolence Cage.
Yet Soldier Field isn’t completely empty.
Ten men and two women stand nervously near the base of the ramp on the way to the ring. They’re dressed not much differently than members of the ring crew. Black PRIME shirts, dark jeans, boots, tool belts, ballcaps, nothing particularly out of the ordinary.
But they do all wear red suspenders.
A sign of solidarity.
Something steadily heavy bludgeons the metallic entry ramp.
There’s a lighter, staccato to the heavy sforzando of the initial footsteps.
Ivan Stanislav walks steadily, but the weight and strength of The Russian Bear hearkens what sounds like an earthquake, while Alexei Ruslan pads behind him. The laborers straighten their backs. One or two of them chew gum, but they stop when Stanislav nears them. He eyes their distinctly colored suspenders and smiles a truly happy smile.
No one says a word as Stanislav’s eyes angle up to the cage, which looms ominous overhead. He has to lift his chin, when the angle of his eyes won’t suffice, to truly take it in. He nods.
Ivan Stanislav: Lower it.
Whirring motors and clanking chains ring out while the monstrous structure descends. Ruslan walks with his hands behind his back and eyes each person who clearly had the task of putting the cage together.
Ivan stands at attention while he watches them. His voice easily overpowers the mechanical sounds and clattering above.
Ivan Stanislav: You are certain you put this together correctly, my countrymen and women?
They nod as one and speak with distinctly Russian accents.
Russian Laborers: Yes, Praporshchik Stanislav!
Ruslan stands behind them. He gives Ivan an approving nod as the cage slams to the floor. Ivan turns and looks at the structure from the outside.
No time for pride. Stanislav fishes out a dark case from his pack pocket and opens it. He stretches an impossibly large pair of half-rimmed bifocals over eyes, and they rest on his prodigious nose. With a hand behind his back, he inspects the cage. He eyes the links, angling his head this way and that to look through the lenses of his glasses. He barks at one laborer and points at a corner, speaking loudly.
Ivan Stanislav: Affix this tighter afterwards!
The man nods his head and returns to where he stands.
Ivan walks quietly around the rest of the cage. He points here and there meticulously directs repairs and adjustments. When he, and Ruslan, finally make it around to the side of the cage where he started, Stanislav replaces his glasses and nods, his back away from the cage.
The others watch quietly, if not fearfully.
He’s done inspecting. Now, he wishes to take it all in.
Ivan turns and looks at the cage once more. He brings both huge hands to the steel links and grasps them. He closes his eyes and savors the metal against his skin. Far from home. Just like him.
Many would view this structure as something threatening. But for Ivan? It’s home away from home.
It surprises the onlookers, even Ruslan, but Stanislav leans forward and presses his cheek against the cold steel, feeling the coolness fade away when it fails to penetrate his thick beard. And then, just like his ursine namesake?
Quickly for a man his age. He scales the cage, one huge hand up and then another. His boots dig into the wall, far too large to find much purchase. His legs don’t do much of the work. It’s his arms that haul his four-hundred pound frame up with frightening ease. The workers at the base of the cage fidget. Yes, the cage is solid and made from Russian steel, but the structure isn’t adequately anchored, let alone the fact that Ivan Stanislav is certainly stress testing the thing! He stares down at Alexei, and the others.
His words were still relatively quiet before. But now? Thunder in Soldier Field.
Ivan Stanislav: I stand atop Brandon Youngblood’s tomb!
His triumphant grin is true, and yet it melts with thought. He reaches into his right pocket and squeezes an unseen object held within. The climb to the top of this cage was difficult. The Tropical Turmoil Tournament led to a match against five of the absolute best in PRIME. The ring is far below, semi-shielded by Russian links. Still, echoes of Culture Shock cannot be forgotten. Even if one tries to climb down from such lofty heights, it’s damaging. Some think that gravity would make it easier.
Not so easy for The Russian Bear.
A harsh lesson already learned once.
Still, his voice is laden with pride.
Ivan Stanislav: Built by most sturdy steel in world! By best hands in world. By proudest people in world! I show you my faith in my country. In my people! In metal the comes from her mountains and hills and deep within her earth.
Stanislav leaves the edge of the cage and walks to the center. He eyes his boots as they press into the ceiling of the cage. It doesn’t matter how sturdy it’s built, it sags beneath his bulk. He inhales slowly, all eyes on him. He tightens his jaw.
And jumps vertically.
Not a great jump, because the cage below doesn’t offer him much to push off from. But in that rare moment, Stanislav’s feet lift into the air, and his weight crashes down atop the cage.
It bends. But it doesn’t break.
No half-assed Culture Shock cage, made from half-assed American steel and put together by half-assed American workers.
He’s slower climbing down the cage than he was climbing up it, but Stanislav nods to the assembled workers. Even Alexei looks pleased. But Stanislav’s face is awash with consideration and gratitude. He points back at the cage.
Ivan Stanislav: Well done. Fix those issues I found. Brandon Youngblood will not get out of this cage tonight. You have made me proud. And I shall endeavor to do the same for each of you, and our fathers and mothers abroad.
He takes one last look back at the cage, a sudden wash of emotion crossing his aged eyes.
Then, the thunder recedes as Stanislav walks back up the ramp, with Alexei in tow. It’s almost time. Just some repairs and then the cage can be raised again, waiting to trap its main victim.
Soldier Field is empty and quiet again.
But not for long.