When Zeb arrived at his place, he hurried down the corridor towards his bedroom.
His mother shouted something from her room, her words muffled. He detected the sounds of her Zeeplayer. Stopping, he pressed an ear to her door. A spacefront reporter was in the middle of an update on the asteroid mining disputes. ‘Growing even more unstable,’ the male voice said. The voice cut off and Zeb heard the strains of a drippy soap opera. His mother had flicked channels.
He pushed on down the corridor. ‘Hi, Mum,’ he yelled as he passed her door. ‘Gotta study. Like we agreed.’
He imagined her in there: propped up on a pillow, Zeeplayer turned to maxiwidth and smothering the opposite wall in embracing arms and bodies, couples tangled together. Her glass within easy reach. If his dad weren’t off spacefronting, it would be a different story. Forget it, Zeb told himself. Who needed a father? Focus on the v’gaming. There was nothing like it. The real world could go suck.
He booted his door shut, kicked some strewn clothes out of the way and crouched before his Magnum 50, which sat on an old plastic crate near his bed. He hit the small switch on its face and waited. When nothing happened, he slapped it. ‘Wake up!’ he growled.
A dull red light flickered and a square opened at the console’s center, gaping like a hungry mouth. Digging deep into his bag, he seized the v’game. He drew it out, removed the shiny black cube from its packaging and fed it into the console.
Jumping up, Zeb dragged his bedroom’s dusty curtains closed, cutting out all light from the real world.
‘Attention Magnum,’ he said. ‘Seal room for sound and start game.’
Turning, he watched as the v’game kicked in. His messy bedroom melted away, replaced by …
A first-person shooter
(Deleted title – pay no more than $650.00
plus 10% World and 30% Local Solar System Sales Taxes.)
Zeb skipped the recommended instruction and training and went straight in at the first level.
Immediately, a groaning sound like the bending of steel engulfed him, and the floor shuddered as a complete street scene wrenched into existence, materializing beneath his feet and stretching out on all sides.
He let his gaze wander, turning a full circle and taking it all in.
It was a bright, virtual version of a sunny day. A deserted street. Early century by the looks of things. Something like 2013 – his parents would have been kids. He squinted in the light, searching for signs of enemy activity. Nothing.
The small shape of a zipcar buzzed into view and shot on by. Zeb frowned. This v’game scenario was set in pre-ziptech times. They didn’t have zipcars back then! Did they think all v’gamers were kactoheads? A tram rattled past in the distance. It travelled on the ground. Well, they’d got that right.
A door banged somewhere and Zeb swung around, tracking the sound. Four zombified men clutching the necks of broken bottles staggered from a nearby pub, their blank, undead faces pasty and dry, even in the heat. Their coarse grey coveralls bore the distinctive logo of space miners – a sparking drill over a lump of spinning rock. Zeb groaned. Another mistake in the v’game. Asteroid mining in 2010? No way.
One of the zombie spacers noticed Zeb and pointed him out to the others, grunting and murmuring. The others murmured back. ‘Urgh, urrrgghh.’ They elbowed each other and staggered forwards.
‘Attention game,’ Zeb shouted. ‘Weapon!’
‘What weapon do you choose?’ said a voice in the air. It was the v’voice, female, polite. The zombified spacers continued in his direction, unperturbed by the disembodied enquiry.
‘I don’t care – anything.’
A pair of boxing gloves appeared, laced tightly at his wrists. Zeb stared at his hands in disbelief. ‘Attention Game.’ He nodded towards his opponents. ‘I know I said anything, but boxing gloves against jagged beer bottles? Seems a bit mismatched. How about a dagger?’ The gloves disappeared and a giant, zip-powered machinegun appeared in his arms. ‘Or a ginormous gun,’ Zeb added.
He clutched it, fighting against its weight; he was barely able to keep its barrel from dragging on the ground. His fingers accidentally tightened on the trigger as he tried to level it and bullets ripped into the tarmac inches from his toes. At the same time, the weapon’s butt recoiled into his chest, pushing him backwards.
His opponents halted.
Zeb dumped the gun to the ground. ‘Attention game. Too easy! I’d mow ’em down in a nanosecond.’ It wasn’t really the v’game’s fault. His Magnum’s v’graphics card was Jurassic – eLusions were only as good as your DVP. ‘Game, give me something more challenging.’
‘Confirmed,’ said the v’voice.
Zeb held out an arm and a long whip appeared in the air before his hand. He snatched at it before it fell to the ground. It crackled with blue and white sparks at its tip. He grinned. ‘Zoomin. This is more like it.’
He eyed the words Ammo Count: 10 as they appeared in the sky above his head. Ten? Hah!
‘Urgh, urrrgghh,’ said the spacers, moving again.
Zeb flicked the whip. Sparks crackled down its length and it reared into the air like a battle stallion. ‘Come and get me!’ he cried in triumph. But he let the whip fall back to the ground. One weak blue spark dripped from it before it lay still.
The ammo count changed to 9. Zeb glanced at it, then stared at the whip and up at the spacers. He slowly backed away.
The spacers, looking enthused, raised their arms as they drew close. Almost upon him, their zombie murmuring grew in intensity.
Smiling, Zeb raised the whip and lashed out once more. This time it cracked loudly and the air sizzled as the whip cut through it. A small electric storm discharged from its sparking length and streaked at them. The first spacer took the brunt of the shock and stood stock still, electric bolts of changing color running through him. He fell backwards, rigid, connecting with the others, and the bolt ran through them all. They collapsed into a muddled heap and lay there.
The ammo count flicked to 8.
‘Score,’ said the v’voice. ‘Zeb Redman: twenty; space miners: zero.’
Zeb surveyed the scene, waiting and hoping for better combat.
A heavy scraping sound broke the silence, and a short distance away a manhole cover pushed up and sideways. Zeb watched as long white fingers appeared from beneath it. A rich, moist smell snaked into the air. He tensed, his whip poised. Rake-thin creatures, wet and grey, like eels with elongated limbs, scrambled from the dark hole. Four, five, six, they stood hunched and held their bony arms out towards him.
Zeb watched, unimpressed, hands on his hips. Was that it?
With a flick of their wrists, things changed. Each of the creature’s arms now ended in a fistful of bristling needles. One flicked his wrist again, and a long needle streaked from it. Zeb leapt to one side as it spiraled hooly, hooly, hooly past his ear.
‘So you’re the Hoolyguns, eh?’ Zeb said to himself. He sucked in a deep breath. ‘Attention game,’ he cried. ‘Shield!’ He held out an arm in readiness.
‘Confirmed,’ said the v’voice.
A shield, long and brilliant white, appeared and Zeb grabbed it. In the same instant, an ice blue Defense bar meter materialized below the ammo count. Zeb grasped the whip firmly, and shifted himself sideways behind the shield as the Hoolyguns circled him, flicking their wrists and sending needles spinning at him. Zeb dodged, blocked, rolled and ducked, lifting and twirling the shield as if it was a natural extension of himself. The gyrating needles whistled hooly, hooly, hooly past him or shattered into splinters against his shield. Zeb glanced up at the defense meter, now half drained of color.
The Hoolyguns hissed in frustration.
More scrambled from the manhole to join them. There were now fifteen and they tightened their circle, hunching down and shuffling from side to side, reminding Zeb of a cross between orangutans and a line of clog dancers.
But something else also happened. Further down the road a bed appeared. Zeb recognized it: the messed-up sheets, the graffiti scratched into the wood. It was his bed.
The Hoolyguns turned and saw it too. They pointed at it, shook their heads and shrugged at each other.
Then Zeb’s heavy studistation materialized on top of the muddle of defeated space miners, flattening them further into the ground.
‘Oh what!’ Zeb cried.
At the sound of his angry voice, the Hoolyguns turned back towards him. Spitting and wheezing, they approached again.
‘Oh, come on,’ said Zeb. ‘You’re going to keep playing? There’s my bed over there! Realspace is leaking in everywhere.’
The Hoolyguns took another look at the bedroom furniture, shrugged again, then hunched back into fighting positions.
But Zeb had had enough. ‘Attention game, you can forget it, I’m shutting down.’
‘Confirmed,’ said the v’voice.
‘Thanks for trying. It’s not your fault. Attention Magnum, you piece of garbage, shut down the v’game. And yourself too, while you’re about it.’ He hurled his shield at the nearest Hoolygun.
It threw up a skinny arm but had clearly not been expecting the maneuver and toppled over backwards.
The street trembled and began to retract, tugging at further surroundings. Whole buildings collapsed inwards with a crash of bricks and a shattering of glass, whomping thick dust into the air. Structures everywhere folded, rolling up like rugs and exposing beneath them the walls and floor of Zeb’s bedroom. The Hoolyguns coughed in the dust, horror widening their eyes. One after the other, the Magnum’s shutdown program whipped them off their feet and dragged them spinning into its folding. Bricks, bitumen, flattened space miners, frightened Hoolyguns, all spun into a tight, bright spot of light and hung there, at the center of Zeb’s room. Then – pop! – the spot disappeared.
Zeb marched over to the Magnum 50 and raised an angry foot. He wanted to kick it hard. He wanted to feel it crumble and smash under his feet. He wanted to dance on it until there was nothing but shattered pieces crushed into the floor. But what would he do after that?
He let his foot drop.
Sighing, he went in search of a tool kit.
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Genre – Young Adult / Science Fiction
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