“Collin! Are you all right? Can you stand?”
It took a minute to get my bearings back. I could barely hear his 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 that being said—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 kid, Collin!”
Mick ran towards the boy, 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?”
“Twelve’s 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 by 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 match, 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.