About ninety minutes past by as Mickey and I walked into the bar next door to the VIP lounge. It was nice 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 nasty 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 drink 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 kind of 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. It had been 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 an amazing 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 toward 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 extremely angry and threw my cigar at the window.
“I am the only reason! The only reason Rayden won the gold tonight! Your pitiful 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 spit 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 was gone. 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 being 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 destruction, to Arcoh, was the only path we had left to creation.