Book excerpt: EleMental: A First-person Shooter
Whenever I am asked to do a reading (at a local bookshop, at a school…), time and again I go back to the simple choice of reading this first chapter from EleMental. It has every aspect of what is present throughout the remainder of the book. The emotion, the angst and frustration, the thrill and spills, the humor, and some quirky, thought-provoking ideas (I hope they are thought provoking, anyway!).
I particularly love reading out loud how a virtual video game starts up and shuts down, both of which are present here. I hope you enjoy reading it.
– Steven O’Connor
Chapter 1: ‘Attention game’
Willis was weak. He was ill. And he was lost.
The city’s buildings reached high, throwing out long shadows and reminding him of the Shade Specter monsters from a virtual game that was all the rage a few years back – not that he’d ever played the v’game himself, or any v’games at all. V’gaming wasn’t his thing.
He stood in the darkness of one shadow with his back to a department store wall and gazed out at the moving crowds, avoiding their glances.
As soon as his mother’s zipcar had lifted from the curb and buzzed away, leaving him alone, he felt nauseous. What was he doing here? He had no idea which direction led home. Cities were foreign to him, and yet here he was, smack bang in the middle of the biggest one he could imagine. Fool. He knew how this dumb outing was going to end: with him contacting his mum or dad and one of them coming to fetch him.
No! He would not message home. He was practically fifteen. This might be a new place to him, but he was capable. He’d find his own way home. Somehow.
Then Willis saw him. Zeb Redman. He’d know him anywhere; only the coolest kid from his class. Correction. The whole damn school.
He shot past Willis on his hyperboard, crouching low for speed. The hyperboard’s erupter – the small suspension laser generator fixed at the back – thrummed loudly.
Maybe if Willis followed him, he would learn a thing or two about living in this place. Or at the very least, he could point Willis in the right direction.
Willis raced after him.
Zeb Redman cursed as he spun around the corner, balancing on his speeding hyperboard, and saw the last thing he wanted to see. The queue at Screamers V’Games Universe was mammoth. It snaked from somewhere deep within the store, out through its snapping auto-doors and stretched out of sight down the street. The disappointment gnawed at him. Wagging school had made no difference.
The store’s flashing signs seemed to taunt him: Experience the new Plush. Free trials all day. Don’t miss out.
Zeb sighed, flipped from his hovering hyperboard, and landed on the street curb. Far in front of him, perched at the head of the queue, some lucky guy was set to be the first to experience the new Plush DVP – deep virtual player – v’games console. Zeb gazed the other way, down the shuffling queue of hopefuls. At ten minutes a turn, it would be nighttime before his chance at a free try-out came around. The place would be closed by then.
He closed his eyes and released a slow breath, relaxing as he’d trained himself to do prior to taking on a high-level boss enemy. As in v’games, so in life. He decided to go in anyway. With all this commotion going on, you never knew what you might find. Behind him, he was half-aware of some kid approaching. He looked wet. No one worth knowing, that was for sure. He ignored him, stepped forward and worked his way through the queue and into the store. People glared, but he held up his arms, all innocence. ‘It’s all right. Not queue jumping. Just trying to get in.’
With the rack full, he was forced to carry his hyperboard. He wandered the aisles of expensive v’games that filled the store’s shelves, thoughts of which monopolized his every waking moment. Especially the gleaming rows of gloss-wrapped 2050 first-person shooter new releases – v’games with packaging that sported moving images of exploding army death-tanks, multi-headed trolls with weapons the size of cannons, grinning aliens with scarred and bloodied bodies … Xtreme-rated horrocore. All bearing the latest in ziptech security seals. Impossible to steal.
But his instinct for an opportunity had been right. The crowds fussing over the new v’games console provided an excellent diversion. After a period of frustrated browsing (everything was out of his price range!), he spied something he knew he could have – with a bit of skill and luck. An old first-person shooter called Hoolyguns. It was sticking out of the corner of a weightless sales bin otherwise chock-a-block with dated v’romances and offworld tour guides.
He slung his hyperboard across his back, straightened his bag at his side, and spent a long time stalking the bin as it floated through the store’s aisles. Waiting for the right moment. And as it drifted towards an out-of-the-way exit, far from the winding queue and the onlookers clustered at Plush v’space-windows oohing and aahing at the virtual action within, Zeb’s own excitement mounted. Though it wasn’t Xtreme-rated or anything, it looked compatible with his old Magnum 50. So who was he to complain? He, with only a Magnum console at home and nothing decent to play on it. He, who hungered for any first-person shooter. New, old, secondhand, whatever.
And it bore an ancient security imprint. As far as Zeb was concerned, it was a giveaway and the disappointment about the Plush try-out slipped from his mind.
He watched. He crept forward. He waited.
A security zipcam meandered up and stopped close to the bin. It clicked and hissed as it lowered itself to the floor, its many lenses rotating. Then it lifted again and moved on, heading down a nearby aisle.
Now! Moving in, Zeb hustled the bin up against the wall. Using his body to block the view of anyone who might be watching, he snatched the v’game from the sales bin, pulled a screwdriver from his pocket, squeezed it until a sharp stick of hard blue laser shot out, and slash, cut, strip! Security imprint: gone. No zipcam would bother chasing and recording him.
Plunging the v’game into the depths of his bag, he was out that door.
Careful to keep his distance, Willis had been watching Zeb Redman as he’d cruised up and down the aisles. But when at last he’d summoned up the nerve to approach him in the store, Zeb suddenly sped out by a side exit. Willis ran after him and pulled up abruptly outside. Zeb was right in front of him, facing down the busy street, his hyperboard in his hands. Annoyed pedestrians maneuvered around the pair of them.
Willis raised a hand, reaching out to touch Zeb’s shoulder. ‘Excuse me,’ he said. It was unlike him to be this forward. ‘I was wondering if you could help—’
Without turning to look at him, Zeb slapped Willis’s hand away. ‘I don’t know anything and I didn’t do anything,’ he barked. Dropping his hyperboard to the ground, he jumped on it, kicked at the erupter with his heel, and sped away.
Willis watched until he disappeared around a corner. Then he reached for the Zeepad fixed at his waist. It was time to message home.
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 …
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Genre – Young Adult / Science Fiction