As promised here is a sample of the novel I have been working on. Bit of cover art and it should be good to go.
No fancy formatting here. It’s straight text. If you would like to read the full novel message me via Facebook and I’ll set you up with a copy. Catch is you have to agree to give me a short review on Amazon when it is released. Honor system.
So here’s the sample to see if you would like to read the rest… Hope you enjoy it.
The screen on Hayden Vance’s laptop was an array of blue and white tools that looked like a cross between a science fiction movie and a NORAD command center. Leaning back slightly in the old office swivel chair his long fingers flicked idly over keys. He glanced around the bedroom but nothing seemed interesting.
He couldn’t decide what he wanted to do for the evening. He could try out the new free-to-play he heard about at school from Francine or he could look for what his friends were doing. Nobody was currently on Skype or Twitter, but he ate early and most of them were still finishing dinner.
Hayden had a spare, gangly frame and always messy hair. He munched on a small bag of chips as he considered choices.
Francine was still trying to impress him, so she was trolling the net looking for new games that might make him notice. Hayden had noticed her weeks earlier. She was an intelligent, slender redhead with soft hazel eyes, and a shared-secret smile. He grinned at the thought.
But Hayden was still in trouble from a little Photoshop magic last month. His dad had been cool, but his mom wasn’t amused. So, at the moment, girls – even gamer girls – were a low priority on his daily planner. A new girlfriend could work them up again. Heck, they might take his laptop away.
“Something that’s not going to happen,” he thought.
He worked through the summer vacation for the sleek black machine. It had cutting edge touch-screen graphics, 3D-positional audio and enough disk space to hold all his favorite games. Next summer he’d be working for VR glasses, and a multi-button gaming mouse.
The game Francine found sounded intriguing, but wasn’t from a big name company. That made him a little nervous. With many free-to-plays arriving with hidden back-doors and keystroke viruses, he would need to be careful about letting it into his shiny new computer.
Hayden spent an extra couple of minutes making sure all his malware tools were running with the latest virus definitions. Finally, he typed in the URL she had given him. It led to an IP address link, which was unusual. He wrote down the numbers and clicked the link.
The screen went black. He thought for a moment the website was dead. When he saw his cursor spinning, he decided it was just a long upload. When he looked at his net traffic monitor there was no activity.
“What’s this website doing?” he wondered.
He was just about to disconnect when the network traffic spiked to maximum and held there. The screen began to change. Pieces of the blackness began to dissolve. A scene emerged from the darkness.
“Awesome!” he thought.
The screen divided.
On one side a futuristic city beckoned. Deep blue sky and clouds framed towering glass structures. Sleek monorails wended through curved buildings bordering a park and children’s playground. Cars hovered above a suspended highway flanked by walkways filled with brightly colored joggers.
The other side showed the remains of a nuked city, its sky filled with brownish-gray clouds. The jagged peaks of buildings jutted into a smoking mist. Broken glass, shattered concrete, twisted steel, and burned-out vehicles littered the landscape.
There were no people.
Both images were so accurate that Hayden thought they were movies. He watched for a while before he recognized that he was seeing through cameras in the game!
He grabbed his headphones and slipped them on. He plugged in a gamepad and pressed a button panning to his right. Both images scrolled smoothly with no hesitation.
“This is incredible!”
Beneath the camera images appeared a dialog box.
He leaned forward and brushed back a lock of brown hair, reading the message.
“Based on your IP and system configuration, we identify you as Hayden Scott Vance of 1026 Butler Avenue, Waltham Massachusetts. Your age is 16. You are accepted. Please choose your side…”
Hayden almost dropped the gamepad he was so surprised.
“It knows who I am!”
The bottom of the screen began to change. Two buttons formed slowly as his heart began to beat faster and his mouth went dry.
Beneath the idyllic city was a large gold button with the words, “Peaceful Coexistence” etched in forest green.
Below the wrecked city was a silver button. Bloodred letters formed the words, “Pointless Resistance”.
For Hayden, who spent most of his teen years in first person shooters, there was no choice. His finger stabbed down as he joyfully prepared to take on whatever the game would throw at him.
He jumped as thunder cracked and echoed from his headphones. The scene shifted and the idyllic city swept away as the ruined one pushed it aside filling his screen. Clouds roiled in the sky and a dirty wind began to howl in the background.
The computer’s response, “Conflict Selected” faded to black as he jumped up, nearly hitting his head on the sloped bedroom ceiling. He grabbed his cell and started dialing his friend Josh.
“The team is going to love this one,” he thought.
* * *
The next day in the school cafeteria Hayden and his friends clustered together at one end of a long table while the general noise of the lunchroom washed over them. All they could talk about was the game. It was electrifying. Each of his friends started at a different destroyed location.
Josh, Mike, and Christopher were the members of Hayden’s FPS team, Coiled. They started out playing fantasy games together. Hayden usually played the tank and called out directions as team leader. Mike was ranged DPS. He liked to watch from a distance and critique. It annoyed the others a bit, but he stayed calm in a fight, even when the team was losing. Christopher was the team’s healer. He was a bit excitable with a knack for keeping track of six things at once. It was an excellent trait for his profession. Josh was combat DPS. He liked to jump in and see what happened. He stayed cool under pressure and had a wry sense of humor in the middle of a fight. He could think seriously, but usually it came after he was already committed to action.
Lately the team was taking more interest in military shooters. They had been playing together for almost two years and knew each other’s styles and combat moves well.
“It’s unbelievable!” Josh said. “I think I’m somewhere near New York City. The buildings look like the ones I saw on the school field trip last year.”
Already Mike was equipped. He had a rifle with a sniper scope and infrared. He found an old armory building and looted it. He had rocket propelled grenades, a launcher, several boxes of conventional ammunition, and a Humvee.
Mike thought he was someplace west of Boston. He was traveling slowly on a major highway. It was taking him a long time to drive around collapsed bridges. Road signs were illegible. They were all knocked flat and scorched. Power lines were down too.
The boys were a bit surprised when Francine came over with two other girls and sat next to them. She listened to the boy’s excited chatter for a few minutes while she ate.
“You found a really great game. Thanks for sharing the link.”
Francine smiled back.
She brushed away a stray bit of hair. Hayden thought she was looking for something to say.
“So where are you in the game?” he said.
Francine looked unhappy.
“I picked the ‘Peaceful Coexistence’ button just to see what it was like. I wanted to look around that amazing city. I was hoping I’d be super-powered or something. But, the whole thing is just crafting! All they want me to do is make stuff using this dumb order box. Then an automated truck comes by, loads the stuff up, and takes it away.”
“Why don’t you restart?” asked Josh.
“I can’t! It’s bizarre. I can’t find any way to start over. The game knows my IP and as soon as I connect it puts me back to stupid crafting.”
Mike spoke up.
“How about suicide? Jump out a window.”
“Doesn’t work. I always restart high up in a skyscraper, but none of the building windows will open. I can’t break them either. I tried different buildings. Each time, a fence or a high ledge was there to block me.”
She took a bite of her sandwich.
“I even tried to step in front of a truck. It just stopped.”
She sighed. “It’s so boring I logged off.”
Then she brightened.
“But, Christine and Emily said they would get on with me while we tried to figure out what’s going on.”
She took another bite.
“Crafting can’t be the whole game. There’s got to be more.”
Christine and Emily nodded.
“Can you go to the forums or support?” offered Christopher.
“Haven’t you noticed? There is no support. There aren’t any forums. I haven’t found any fan sites either. I can’t even find out what company is running it.”
Hayden thought for a moment.
“That is weird. Now that you mention it, there was no License Agreement before I started playing, either. And I don’t remember seeing any copyright or credits on the screen.”
“Is this a new Altered Reality Game?” Ben asked from the table beside them. Ben was OK, but not part of any regular team. He usually sat alone. His mom didn’t have enough money for a decent gaming rig, so Ben used an old Mac. It looked good but the OS was several years behind and he couldn’t upgrade it any higher.
Hayden knew Josh from grade school. Francine had been around then too. But she moved away and only recently returned. Ben was gone for a long time after he and his family were involved in a car accident. Ben mostly surfed the web looking for retro, strategy, and puzzle games. Hayden knew he played a lot of the earlier 2D strategy games.
Hayden shook his head.
“I don’t think so. I think it’s an FPS.”
“But we haven’t found anybody to shoot at, yet.”
“I wanna try it. Any chance it would run on my Mac?”
“I don’t think so Ben. Graphics are way up there.”
Ben’s grin dropped.
Hayden tried to be encouraging.
“But, you could try. It might be a new type of streaming game that takes your system hardware into account. It mentioned my configuration when I started. I didn’t have to set up a thing.”
“Come to think of it, there’s no way to tweak the settings.”
Ben brightened and shrugged.
“Sure sounds like an unusual game. I’ll try to see if I can get on tonight.”
Hayden nodded. He doubted Ben could get into the game. His system was too old, but he could try.
Francine piped up.
“Anyone else notice the game doesn’t have a name?”
The boys looked at each other then laughed. They all missed it. There was no title screen.
The bell rang and they gathered trays reluctantly starting off to their next class.
Hayden kept thinking as he walked.
“Sure is a weird game.”
* * *
Hayden’s first meeting with the enemy aliens was that evening. The game was vast. He has been moving steadily east towards the ocean. The team decided to travel east and make for the sea. Once there, they would walk the coastline to find their location. The world was so realistic they felt they could use Google Earth to rendezvous. They all agreed to avoid towns – too easy to die in house-to-house fighting.
Hayden first arrived on an old country dirt road. He had inspected a series of farms as he made his way. After searching several houses and barns, he still had not picked up a decent weapon. A partially burned shack yielded an old pitchfork. Hardly the weapon he thought would be good against an alien attacker. He entered the bordering farmhouse where he found a few more useful items, but no real weapons.
Hayden wasn’t sure why he thought that it was going to be aliens. His entry to the game led him that way. He hoped he wasn’t going to find himself knee-deep in zombies after this terrific lead in. Zombies were getting really old.
Just in case, after his arrival, he made a few Molotov cocktails with materials he got in a run-down barn. The game was demanding on some fronts. For example, he first found a full gasoline can on a shelf next to a tractor and an old wine bottle in a garbage can. Next, the game made him hunt for a suitable piece of cloth for the wick. It came from a shirt on a clothesline. Finally, it required an old lighter he found in the glove compartment of a junked car. The test bottle worked well though, sending volatile gas spilling realistically in a wave away from his toss. After the fire went out he could see shards of glass on the ground.
He had just left the farmhouse when he heard sounds of gunfire. He carefully made his way towards the conflict. He didn’t want to get picked off by a stray shot. 3D positional sound in the game was very accurate through his headset and it seemed like a small war had erupted just ahead. He was certain it was aliens before he reached the base of the hill.
The gunfire was a mix of traditional effects, and a high-pitched whine and slap sound that he was sure would be an alien gun. Alien guns never sounded like regular weapons, so if you heard weird sound effects in a firefight… He worked his way to the crest of the hill and made sure he was not silhouetting himself before he looked over. Below, as expected, a group of US soldiers engaged alien troops in battle.
The invaders looked like a cross between a goat and a praying mantis. They moved forward on four legs with armored boots that made the feet look like cloven hooves. Two upper limbs featured wicked looking barbs on the forearms and they cradled something Hayden thought looked like an energy rifle. He could hear the devices humming. They carried a backpack, a bladed weapon in a holster at their side and wore an armor plate strapped to the forward part of their bodies. Hayden looked at the plate closely. It was covered with wire mesh and electronics.
“Bugs,” he thought. “Not original. But, not as bad as zombies.”
The bugs didn’t seem too smart about tactics or strategy, but their superior weaponry were clearly giving them the upper hand in this battle. Their armor used a force field that turned away body shots and their return fire was accurate. The human soldiers had superior numbers and were using standard covering fire but the aliens ignored the bullets and simply pressed forward. A soldier moving to a flanking position was cut down. An alien rifle made a long whine and then a snap. A pulse of intense blue light shot out and nearly cut the soldier in two. Another tried hand-to-hand combat using a wicked looking knife. The blade slid harmlessly to the side of the force shield, but a drive into the alien’s side was successful. Dark purple blood pulsed outward from the wound. Hayden decided the field was only forward facing.
The soldier lost his life gaining this information however, as a swipe from the alien’s forearm barbs neatly beheaded him. The remaining soldiers tried to retreat but the aliens moved faster on the open ground. Their four legs moved them forward surely and rapidly, more like an insect than a mammal. They formed an arc with their forward facing armor, overran, and cut down the retreating soldiers.
The wounded alien went on for a short distance, but its left side was bleeding uncontrollably. It made no attempt to treat the wound. The graphics were stunning, the alien was leaving a trail of purple blood on the ground. Another bug hesitated then returned to the first. The wounded alien was seeking something, but Hayden couldn’t understand the clicking sounds they used as language.
Suddenly, the alien who returned raised its weapon. It fired point-blank into the side of the wounded one. The wounded bug collapsed and its weapon fell to the ground. The second bug put down his weapon nearby and advanced to search the body of his murdered companion. After taking several items it made a small ritual salute – pressing its palms together and bowing. Reaching down, the creature pressed a button on a small box. Hayden saw a small light flash on the box. He saw an answering flash on the stock of the dead bug’s weapon. The strange creature turned, moved crab-wise a short distance, snatched up its own rifle, and raced off after its comrades.
With the aliens out of sight, Hayden went to examine the dead. He had seen many dead creatures in games in the past. But these bodies were disturbingly lifelike. He found himself turning away from the dead soldiers and examining the body of the alien.
The strange weapon was tempting but Hayden was certain it was booby-trapped. He found one of the rifles the soldiers were using. It was a realistic looking M16. He scouted the bodies of the soldiers and found ammunition, a first aid kit, a combat knife, rations, water, a better looking lighter, and a single hand grenade. There were more M16s, but Hayden reached an encumbrance limit. He couldn’t pick up a second rifle without dropping other items. There was a badly damaged military radio. All in all, a good haul. In fact, Hayden thought it was too good.
The temptation of the alien rifle and force field armor was powerful. But he was certain the alien had activated a trap. There was one way to tell.
He retreated a fair distance up the hill and turned his rifle on the enemy weapon. He aimed at the stock.
“If it’s not booby-trapped I might be able to still use the gun.”
He doubted it would be permitted, but he thought it was worth trying.
“It’s worth a shot.”
He was familiar with the M16, and grinning, he made sure to flip it to single shot mode so he wouldn’t waste ammo.
He aimed. One bullet was enough. The resulting explosion destroyed the body, weapon and shield. Small rocks and dirt rained down on him – even at the large distance he had gotten away.
Well that explained the good haul.
“A reward for avoiding the trap,” Hayden thought.
But, he noticed something important.
“Aliens booby-trapped their dead by hand…”
“And if there’s no one to set the booby-trap…”
Hayden moved out in the direction the aliens had gone.
He wanted one of those guns…