Day of Infamy
-Minerva, Moon of Rayden, Third Planet from the Suns-
“I gotta admit, kid, I’ve never seen someone handle themselves so well out there. You’re bound to be a legend after your performance tonight.”
“Collin? Collin!” Coach Stephen Cado punched me in the arm and efficiently tore my attention away from the divine beauty unfolding beyond the glass pane of Rayden One’s only Presidential Lounge.
“Collin, this is General Wright. You should lend him your attention; he’s a cabinet member.”
“My bad, bro, umm sir, I mean. I’m quite . . . Distracted by the view out there.”
“Quite all right, brother. It certainly is one hell of a view.”
“Yes, it is.”
We stared off into space, past those windows, where the glow of the setting suns pierced through the light layer of clouds. The clarity of the sky gave way to an ever-present planetary nebula, stretching over the curvature of the world.
It looked as if a bright and vibrantly illustrated ocean was directly beyond us, stained with fire, where exotic shades of orange and blue intervened. And in the center was Minerva’s asteroid moon. It was in the heart of the spectacle, the star of the show.
I couldn’t help but relate myself to it, the star of the show. I mean, the president was here, A-list movie stars, legends in the PGL, but despite all of them, and the status they had gained, I was the center of attention. That feeling was something I craved for a very long time. Me, always the outcast and never too good with people. Despite how much I loved my people they never treated me with reverence until I rose to greatness. Greatness as they had defined me, a gravball star.
“Coach Stephen Cado. What’s it been? Three years?”
“Sounds about right, General. So has anything popped up on your radars yet? Our people are concerned.”
“Nothing yet, that’s why they are called rumors, Coach.”
“The Kingdom of Salaras and their king are not particularly fond of us, Wright.”
I ignored their stupid political conversation and continued to stare out the large floor-to-ceiling pane of glass at the sunset (or whatever you would call a sunset in space). Then something caught my eye. It was my co-captain, Mickey. He smiled at me and waved me to come over to him. I stumbled off the bar rail and headed towards him and left General Wright and the coach to their small talk.
“Hey, boy! Where are you going? General Wright wants to ask you something!”
“Another time, Coach. I’ve been looking forward to something since the day started!”
“Hey, Collin! Get back here, boy! That’s an order!”
“You can shove that order up your ass, Coach! This can’t wait.”
Mickey shook his head as we left the dimly lit room and strolled towards the elegantly sculpted hallway. “You know, man, you got some serious balls to talk to the coach like that. Got millions of people applying for the captain of the Rayden Comets every week.”
“Please, Mick. We’ve dominated the PGL for the past five years thanks to me. He would never replace me.”
“Don’t be so sure, Collin.”
“Did you bring it?”
“Yeah, I got it right here. Anybody wish you a happy birthday yet?”
“Only about half of our people. Give it to me, Mickey.”
“Hold out your hand.”
I presented my hand to him, and after reaching into his pocket, he placed a condenser in the center of my palm. I pressed the button on the top, the quarter-sized container expanded, and out of it fell a laser syringe. Within the canister, I could see that glowing red liquid that everyone in Eden knew. I could only imagine the radiant expression that lit up my face.
“Mickey, is this . . . is this what I think it is?”
“That is exactly what you think it is. You are twenty-five now after all. The perfect age for it.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready.”
“Collin. Do you want to live forever? Or not?”
I smiled at him and swung my left forearm up to him. He took the syringe from my hand and placed it just above my forearm, directly on the vein.
“Now don’t go thinking you can dodge bullets, or survive the 200-kilometer drop to the surface.”
“I know it doesn’t make you invincible. Virgil has said he’s lived for over one thousand years thanks to the injections. I could get in on this whole semi-immortality thing.”
“Just make sure you buy another one when we leave here, Collin.”
“Well, being professional gravball players we aren’t expected to live that long. But even if you miss your shot, get hit, and slam your head into the edge of the sphere, as long as you have another injector, it will save your life.”
“The injection can bring me back from the dead?”
“No, idiot, listen: only near death. Nothing can bring you back once you die. I know your head is spinning, but damn, you are ignorant, my friend.”
“That’s incredible. Hell, maybe it can heal that nasty scar I got in basic.”
“It will, Collin, it will cure almost any ailment. It’s the Alpha Genome, the holy grail of modern medicine.”
“Whatever, dude, hurry up. I need that drink.”
“You’re welcome. Oh, and happy birthday—jackass.”
About ninety minutes past by as Mickey and I walked into the bar next door to the VIP lounge. That was fun leveling with the everyday people that made our society. They cherished us, and they made the time fly by with all the drinks they bought us. I was sitting next to Mickey, and it was late enough that most of the annoying fans had already passed out drunk.
“Happy birthday, Collin.”
We tapped our drinks together and slammed them down on the bar. I exhaled that foul shot of my mixed drink and clenched as it entered my stomach. Mickey shook his head at me and laughed.
“You never could hold your liquor, kid, just like your pops.”
“Oh I can hold it, we’ll have a contest right here. But this drink is awful, Mick. I can’t swallow this garbage.”
“Yeah, yeah. You and that shield you put up around yourself.”
Mickey laughed the deep way he did and once again raised his glass to me.
“Hey, another toast.”
“To your dad. He would be so proud of you.”
I diverted my eyes to the bar rail, let out a chuckle of anger, and set my glass down. I always had a habit of smoking a cloned cigar whenever someone would mention my father. It always seemed to relieve the stress that even his name brought up.
“No. He doesn’t deserve one.”
“But that’s your father, Collin. Are you ever going to let that go?”
“No. You know I have my reasons.”
Suddenly our conversation was interrupted by a girl with platinum blonde hair who leaned in and laid her soft hands on my forearm. “Sorry to intrude, but are you, Collin King? Captain of the Rayden Comets?”
I quickly shed the disgusted look I had on my face and turned to the girl. And my goodness, she was gorgeous, my mind immediately changed subjects. So I smiled and confidently greeted her with my full attention.
“I sure am, miss. Fan of my work?”
“Absolutely. Can I buy you a drink?”
Then something unexpected happened, and honestly, I damn near crapped myself when Coach Cado tore me away from the girl. He grabbed my forearm, hard, and began dragging me to towards the hallway.
“We need to have a talk.”
“Collin! Come back!”
“I’ll be back soon enough, sweetheart.”
He unhanded me as he led me into the empty ballroom that was just around the corner from the lounge. It was an exquisite room lined with limestone pillars that supported a ten-meter ceiling; covered by intricate ancient artwork enveloping the entire expanse. Marble floors stretched to a glass wall at the far end of the room that provided a fantastic view over the curvature of our home world, Minerva, and the western hemisphere of Rayden hanging above us.
The spectacular sunset reflected into the room and upon us, as we walked out of the darkness of the unlit ballroom, and into the light. The echoes of our footsteps had ceased, and I finally spoke to Coach Cado.
“What’s your problem tonight, boss? It’s a celebration!”
I continued to puff on my cigar as he began to pace in front of the glass wall.
“My problem? My problem is my MVP for the last four years is on real thin ice.”
“Mickey warned me already I sensed it, you would never fire me. My contract would be bought out in a heartbeat by any other team.”
He looked at me and scoffed at my remark. “No, they wouldn’t. No coach in their right mind would ever hire someone as ungrateful, and arrogant, as you are, Collin.”
I got infuriated and threw my cigar at the window.
“I am the only reason! The only reason Rayden won the gold tonight! Your team is nothing! They are nothing without me!”
Cado stepped towards me and stomped on my burning cigar. “I can’t wait to prove you wrong, you little punk! I was going to give you a chance to redeem yourself!”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Do you think that you’re some kind of god over me? YOU ARE NOBODY!”
He got in my face and pushed me back. “That’s it! You are done! I’ve been waiting a long time for an excuse to kick your ass off my team and back out into the slums where I found you!”
Then I hit him. Hooked him in the jaw and he collapsed to his knees.
“Why, Coach? Why are you doing this to me?”
“Quit your damned whining, you brat.” He spat out blood and continued to rub his jaw, still wearing that straight look on his rugged face.
“Living in the stars has destroyed the compassion you used to have. Gravityball ain’t what it used to be. Collin, I thought you were to be the light that would guide us Raydenites out of the darkness. You’re too selfish; you are projecting that image to all of the collectives in Eden. I cannot have that.”
“I never wanted any of that! All I wanted to do was play gravball! I never expected to be the Raydenites’ golden boy.”
Cado smiled and began to chuckle under his breath. “Stupid boy. You don’t even know, do you?”
“Know what, Coach?”
“I was trying to protect you. Because you are special, you are very special, Collin.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
In an instant, he vanished. A projectile struck the giant glass wall, and the change in pressure began pulling everything out into space. The room became completely unstable, and it took every ounce of my strength to hold onto something. The wind was incredible due to the oxygen vacuumed into the void, and I began to suffocate.
The pressure-stabilizing iron shutters were too slow.
Mickey, previously eavesdropping on our conversation, managed to burst into the room and pull me back into the hallway before the intense pressure sucked me out into space. It was so silent, and through the hole in the terrace, I could see the curvature of Minerva, where an ocean of ironclad warships was converging beyond the blood-red horizon.
We had all heard the rumors: “Arcoh the Eminent will purge all of the Outlander civilizations, starting with the Raydenites, the most sinful and decadent race of humanity.” We just wanted to be different, that was all. The kingdom, led by their all-powerful leader, did not see it so. He wanted to repeat history, revive war and destruction; because of destruction, to Arcoh, was the only path we had left to creation.
“Collin! Are you all right? Can you stand?”
It took a minute to get my bearings back. I could barely hear Mickey’s question over the alarm and Rayden One’s defense batteries firing at the endless stream of ships on the horizon. And the screams of the wounded; the horrid ringing in my ears made it all the more surreal.
“He’s gone, Mickey!” He pulled my collar and lifted me back onto my feet. “Collin, we have to go!”
“Where will we go?”
"Rayden One is falling from orbit! It will collide with the surface in seventy-seven minutes!”
“This . . . this can’t be happening . . .”
“It is happening, Collin! This is no time to grieve. We have to move! Now!”
We sprinted down the hallway dodging all sorts of bursting electrical interfaces, shattered holos, and Raydenites who were consumed by the chaos that surrounded us. Mass looting, groups of hopeless people praying to their different deities, they were all unable to grasp the gravity of the situation.
“You never answered my question, Mick!”
“We’re going to Rayden. It’s the only place they can’t follow us!”
“They will kill billions of us before we reach the Motherworld, Mickey!”
“We have to try! Otherwise what the hell is the point of living?”
Just as we ran around the next corner, I completely collapsed. I remember this pain, this unbearable pain. And this pain surged throughout my entire body in a synchronous pattern. I’m glad it only lasted but a few minutes, but —I could feel it ever lingering, and moving almost as if it was changing me.
Mick managed to grab me and post me up next to the wall when something greater caught his attention. A child.
“Oh Christ, the kid. The boy, Collin!”
Mick ran towards the kid, who couldn’t have been more than eight years old and snatched him up in his arms.
“Mickey! What are you doing? Put that kid down!”
“I can’t just leave him here! Where are your parents, buddy?”
“I don’t know!” the child cried profusely.
“Hey, calm down, little man, we’ll bring you to the atrium. I’m sure your folks are waiting there for you.”
“Mick, look out!” The hallway rumbled furiously when a crusader drop-pod crashed through the hull ahead of us. The shockwave knocked all of us to our feet; I heard footsteps and soldiers mumbling as they stepped over me. The one in the head of the pack used his foot to turn my head with, and he laughed when he discovered who I was.
“The King of Kings, the Iceman, you know something? You’re a lot shorter than you look on the holo.”
I laughed back as I saw the boots he wore on his feet.
“What shoe size do you wear?”
“Twelves are a perfect size to crush a skull, gravball boy.”
“They most certainly are.” Just as he was about to stomp my head in, I grabbed his gravity boot and pressed on the heel where the trigger was and activated the jump.
He flew into the ceiling and broke his neck on impact, then came the other three.
Most people are not aware of how intense the PGL is. We are soldiers—we are the faces that represent the people in our districts—and we wage war by sport. That is the only difference between a gravball player and a soldier. And something else, we survive the most intense close combat training program in all of Eden.
“Get King! His Eminence wants him alive!”
I clutched the arm of the soldier on the left and broke it, and then ducked as a soldier behind me attempted to shock me with a TNC (temporary nerve corruptor). He missed and hit his squadmate, causing him to fall over completely paralyzed.
I struck him in the face with a right hook, when the soldier behind me jabbed the butt of his rifle into the back of my head. He tried the stunt again, but before he could knock me out, I grabbed the rifle and flung him over my shoulder.
Then quickly, I jolted up to the other soldier and grabbed his boot.
“Stop resisting, or I’ll blow your head off!”
“What a terrible waste of perfectly good boots.” I grabbed his rifle and pointed it at the soldier I had previously flung over my shoulder, and as he rushed, I broke the soldier’s leg. Out of pain he clenched the trigger and fired a dozen rounds into his squadmate, who fell dead on our side.
Only one remained, we fell to the ground, and I once again tapped the back of the heel on his gravity boot. We shot like a rocket across the floor and flew into the wall right beside Mickey and the child.
I used the soldier’s body to absorb the impact, but Mickey still had to lift me to my feet when the struggle had subsided.
“Collin, that was freaking incredible, man! Those reflexes are on point!”
“That’s why they call me the juggernaut, Mick.” I wiped the blood off my face and removed the boots from the first soldier I had just killed.
“What are you doing?”
“Terrible waste of good boots, don’t you think? Here.” I threw him the pair I removed from the soldier beside him. “He’s a size 10½. That’s you, right?”
“Yeah, a perfect fit.”
I moved back over to the first soldier, and as I began to remove his boots, we felt the entire platform quake below our feet.
“I want my daddy!” the child cried.
“Collin, let’s get going, man.”
“I’m done here, just let me latch these.” As I tied my boots I heard a laugh coming from behind us; it was the only soldier left alive, a broken arm and paralyzed by the TNC.
“And where will you go, heathen?”
“None of your business, asshole. Come on, Mick, let’s get to the atrium.”
I found myself unable to leave, gravitated to the cackling laugh of the soldier. “It doesn’t matter where you go, our King will find you. His Grace will burn all of you to ashes; destruction is our only way to salvation.”
“Shut up!” I kicked him in the head rendering him unconscious. As we made our way to the atrium something deeply concerned me that I never shared with Mickey: every time I had killed, or mortally injured, another PGL athlete in a match my hands would shake. Eventually, I got used to it. Fatalities are common in a PGL event, but no matter how many times it did happen, my hands would always shake.
They didn’t this time, and even more so—this wasn’t gravball, this was my home. And my body was aching; it felt like spiders were crawling across my nerves. I couldn’t help but think it was a reaction to the genome, even though it was a one in a billion occurrence. So I stayed silent until we had finally made our way to the atrium, which was overflowing with desperate souls.