02 November 2012

Read ECKSDOT Chapter 1

Today’s my first day of real revision. And this is a brand-new Chapter 1 for ECKSDOT. We’ll see if it sticks... And feel free to leave comments—even if they’re constructive criticism (*he said through gritted teeth*). You’re also invited to sign up as a beta reader



Ecksdot used to be imaginary. Just make believe. He was something inside my mind. Just in my mind and that’s all.
But not anymore.
Now he’s in your mind too.

Chapter 1: I Crash and Burn
I came falling out of the sky—a million miles an hour. So friggin fast. Dad tells me not to use that word. But I don’t see the problem. It’s a lot better than the real F-word.

I was falling head first, my arms at my sides and my hands pointing toward my feet. Which was up. The wind rushed against my helmet screen, a noise like the static on an old TV. I held my neck tight against the strong air resistance. I gritted my teeth. I was surprised my armor didn’t catch fire like the end of Apollo 13. That’s usually what happens when you freefall from outer space.
I was several miles up, and my black armor would have been a blurry streak to anyone watching—if anyone had been watching. But this was a stealth mission—a surprise attack—so hopefully no one had.
The sky boomed, shaking me so hard my clenched teeth clacked against each other. I fought against the wind to turn my head back—a large patch of smoke floated in the sky behind me.
My arm shook as I brought it to my helmet—pressing the side of it, I heard an electronic clink. The visor turned my vision red, and a digital line swept back and forth across the ground in front of me. It beeped as it found a small black mark:
Anti-aircraft turrets.
They swiveled around and pointed at me from the ground far below. The smoke poofed from the long, dark barrels, but the shells were invisible. And silent. That is, until I heard the next boom behind my head. For a half a second, everything was spinning, and I was afraid I might barf in my helmet. But I didn’t. Another shell exploded near my back, hurling me down even faster. Fortunately, the air current kept me from going too far past supersonic. The earth was zooming up at me, as if I were scrolling in on a map as fast as it would go.
Tiny cracks in the earth got fatter and fatter—the top of the sky city. I had to go between the cracks—past the starscrapers—to get down to the streets at the city floor. And I couldn’t release my chute till I’d entered the cracks—below the guns. Which meant if I missed my trajectory, I would splat against the rooftops.
The explosions continued, rattling my jaw.
The cracks leading to the streets got wider and wider, till I only had seconds left. But I had to push it as long as I could—till I got below their scanners, which was also dangerously close to dying.
I imagined myself crashing into the roof, face first. Though my armor added a lot of strength, it would never be enough to break the fall. My jaw would snap, and my face too, across my nose. And my fingers would probably break, along with my wrists, as I instinctively held them out to break my fall. The reactor in my suit might actually explode on impact too.
And waiting till the last second meant there’d be no time to throw the emergency chute if the first one didn’t deploy.
This thought—the terror of it—gripped my throat. But I held fast, bulleting upside down toward the earth.
The first of the starscrapers spiked upward. I held my palms flat behind me, curving them at a slight angle like tail fins, which pushed me forward and around the building. Another rocket exploded behind my back, throwing my curve off course. I pushed against the wind harder, and at the last second zipped over the lip of the building, falling next to its side. The gritty alien surface sped past, near my stomach. The ground was a mile away below.
“Hey, dude.”
The universe tilted around me.
“How’s it going?”
The rough surface of the building below my stomach grinded to a stop, my velocity frozen to walking speed.
The surface wasn’t next to me—it was beneath me—I was standing on it. And it wasn’t alien either. It was just a patch of gravel next to the road.
What had been far below me was now ahead of me: And I could see the red-brick school up in the distance—where the road curved. My school.
A horrible chill ran right through me. It was gone. The world was gone. And so was the glory. Even if I’d died in the freefall, it wouldn’t have mattered—because of the glory. But there was no glory here. This was my life. The desert of the real.
“Did you hear about the Bulls?”
It was Danny who’d interrupted me. I should have noticed him sooner, and I would have, but my focus had been locked on the turrets. Danny was just as dangerous as they were. Only it was social danger. Uhh.
The gravel made a crunching sound as I walked along.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“The Chicago Bulls.”
“Yeah. What about them?”
“They beat the Kings.”
“Oh. That’s cool.” But obviously it wasn’t, and my tone said so. But I sort of thought Danny wasn’t smart enough to catch that sort of thing—even if it was obvious. Danny was wearing a red jersey with white and black trim that said “BULLS 23” on the front. It seemed a little dorky on him—I’m not sure why. Maybe because I was more of a Suns fan. But mostly I just wanted to imagine things—to get away from this mundane place.
I don’t exactly know how to describe how I felt right then. My dad would call it longing, I think. It’s more than that though. It was a feeling I felt a lot, but didn’t know how to describe—something inside of me was missing. I could catch a glimpse of it when I was pretending like that. But I could never hold on to it. Kind of like smoke through your fingertips. Of course, I’ve never tried to hold smoke in my hands, but I think that’s what it would be like. I wanted to be a hero. That’s all I wanted in the whole world. But I was surrounded by stupid every-day sort of stuff. Like school. And friggin Danny.
And now I was going to have to show up with him next to me—like we were walking to school together as friends. Which we weren’t.
I don’t know why, but I pulled on the straps of my backpack and heard my pencils clunk against the fat book I was reading—Blood of Heaven.
When we got to the playground, we watched from the edge of the pavement court, standing on the cracked-paint three-point line. My machine-armor was gone, and I was vulnerable.
They were playing bump. About six other kids stood on the side—the ones who’d gotten out.
Rudge was one of them. Freaking Rudge.
If there was ever a shooter at our school, it would probably be him. I mean, if someone was going to snap. You could see it in his eyes. And you could tell from his oversized green coat too and his pumped-up kicks. He just seemed like the type. So I always kept an eye on him.
Anyways, back to bump. Everyone was out except Austin and one other kid. Those two shot from the free-throw line and raced for the rebound, switching places until one lapped the other. I always wished I were Austin. He was cool.
I wasn’t.
Right then Austin threw his ball like a pitcher and nailed the other kid’s ball, which went flying into the grass by the slides; then Austin banked a layup, ran to the free-throw line, and swooshed it.
“That’s game.”
Dang. He was so good.
All the kids lined up again behind Austin at the free-throw line.
“Hey, Rudge!” someone whined. “You were out before me!” Rudge didn’t say anything, and the kid stepped in front of him, putting Rudge at the very back of the line. That meant Rudge was the first one out in the last game. He held his fist forward and popped the kid in the back of the head. It wasn’t a full-out punch—more like a Jet Li one-inch punch. But Rudge was a lot bigger than the rest of us, and it didn’t look like a love tap. The kid didn’t say anything. He just scowled at Rudge and stood a bit to the side so he could keep an eye on him. Smart.
“Hey, guys,” I said, a little too quietly, “can... I play?” I hovered on the I for a moment as I said it. I was going to say we, but I was too afraid, I guess. I knew they thought Danny was a loser, and I didn’t want to seem like I was his buddy, even though I maybe knew it was the right thing to do.
No one responded for a second. In fact, it was sort of like they were trying not to look at me. But they looked at Danny. Finally, the kid Rudge had punched said, “Yeah, man, just get in line. You don’t have to ask anyone.”
I tossed my bag in the grass and stepped in line behind Rudge, who was wearing his poofy green coat even though it was fairly warm outside, and even though this game made you sweat. No wonder he always smelled.
I motioned Danny in front of me—I didn’t want to be behind Rudge, because then I’d have to get him out. And I figured there was no chance Danny would. I’d had a run-in with Rudge before, and I didn’t want to repeat it.
I looked over Rudge’s shoulder, hating him a little. His hands looked bony and old—like they were from a full-grown man. Maybe because he’d punched so many people. Maybe that’s why all grown men had hands like that. Actually, I wasn’t sure my dad had ever punched anyone, and his hands kind of looked like that.
“Danny, you know how to play this game?” I asked.
“Yeah.”
“Okay.” He’d told me that yesterday, but I didn’t really believe him. He was pretty new around here.
The game started. Austin swooshed his shot, then bounce-passed his ball to the third guy in line.
The backboard was attached to a huge metal pole sunk in concrete, and it barely wobbled at all—so when the second kid bricked his shot, the ball went flying. The third kid caught Austin’s pass and sunk a basket. “You’re out, Freddie.”
Austin moved to the back of the line, and I could feel his eyes on my back. I fidgeted with the skin on my elbow. I usually felt pretty confident playing basketball—I’d gotten good playing with Dad and my older brother Zach. But not today. I pinched the skin on my elbow again. The line kept growing behind us, and pretty soon Rudge was at the front, Danny right behind him. One kid bumped the other guy’s ball and then did an easy layup. “You’re out.” Then they passed to Rudge and Danny at the same time.
The ball made a hollow, echoing slap noise as Danny dribbled it off the pavement—it’s hard to describe, but the sound seems important for some reason.
Rudge leaned back and plopped his ball in a high arc with just one hand, as if he had great form, but it looked pretty awful. It hit the back of the rim, and popped straight up, real high. Danny, instead of shooting with his arm like a catapult, shot with both hands, propelling it with his thumbs—bad form, Dad would say. His shot had almost no arc, and it went straight in—just like Luke Skywalker’s proton torpedo.
A millisecond later, Rudge’s ball dropped down and through the hoop.
“You’re out,” someone said.
Rudge swore. “That freaking little turd. Who said he could play?” He kicked one of the basketballs into the grass. Danny didn’t even look at Rudge. He just picked up the other ball and passed it to me like he was supposed to. Right then Rudge shoved him hard, and he caught himself with his hands as he fell on the pavement. He stood back up, looking at his hands. I couldn’t see blood, but they looked like they got scratched pretty good. He put them under his armpits and looked up into the air.
The rest of the boys stood there. I wasn’t shooting, and they were waiting for someone to get the other ball.
“Who said you could play, punk?”
Danny looked Rudge in the eye, not in defiance. More like he was waiting to be shoved again. Or like he was in the process of figuring out how to react. Rudge shoved him into me.
I dropped the ball. “Leave him alone, man,” I said, stepping in front of Danny and holding my hands up by my chest—not like I was putting up my dukes, but just as sort of a scared instinct.
He leaned his face in toward mine. “You think you’re tough, punk?” And when he said punk, a speck of spit flew on my cheek. I wiped it off with the back of my hand. Danny was still right behind me, and Rudge glared at him. Maybe Rudge was going to reach over me and hit him. Just to show me. I turned toward Danny—my back toward Rudge. It was a dumb move—I know now. “Danny, go find your sister. I’ll take care of him. Just get out of here.” But he just stood there, looking at Rudge, then at me, then at Rudge. I pushed Danny back. “I mean it. GO!” My tone was mean that time. And he turned and ran.
Right then, Rudge kneed me, like you’d knee a soccer ball. Right in the butt. Right on my tailbone. And he hit so hard I could feel it in the front... you know what I mean—my cojones. And it even knocked the wind out of me. I’m serious. I don’t know how that’s even possible, but it really happened. I crumpled on the ground, wanting to grab myself, but I just put my hands on my knees. My stomach was tight, and I made a moaning sound, trying to suck in air. For a moment I forgot what happened because all I could think about was how I could get no air.
No air.
No air.
My stomach finally relaxed, and I gasped:
Huuuh.
Huuuh.
Huuuh.

Rudge stared at me. With this mean look in his eye. He hated me. And if my face weren’t controlled by pain, I would have glared back. I hated him too.
RIIIIIIIIIIINNNGGG!—the bell rang—class was about to start.
And he just walked away.
I breathed in and out, and the pain flowed with it.
Austin crouched over me. “Are you okay?”
I rolled from my side to my back, with my knees bent, together, up in the air.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I grunted.
“Are you out of breath?”
“You didn’t see what he—? He—. When he was behind me—. Nevermind.” And I just closed my eyes. I was about to cry. I’m such a crybaby, I hate it. But I let the anger fight against the crying.
I hate Rudge.
I hate Rudge
.