The Rookie gfl-1Scott Sigler
( Galactic Football League - 1 )
Set in a lethal pro football league 700 years in the future, THE ROOKIE is a story that combines the intense gridiron action of "Any Given Sunday" with the space opera style of "Star Wars" and the criminal underworld of "The Godfather." Aliens and humans alike play positions based on physiology, creating receivers that jump 25 feet into the air, linemen that bench-press 1,200 pounds, and linebackers that literally want to eat you. Organized crime runs every franchise, games are fixed and rival players are assassinated. Follow the story of Quentin Barnes, a 19-year-old quarterback prodigy that has been raised all his life to hate, and kill, those aliens. Quentin must deal with his racism and learn to lead, or he'll wind up just another stat in the column marked "killed on the field."
Galactic Football League: Book One
This book is dedicated to Coach Irv Sigler, my father, the greatest football coach and greatest man I have ever known.
This book is dedicated to the Junkies, the most rabid fans a writer could ever ask for. Let’s go tailgatin’!
A team of talented friends made this book happen. Y’all are a world-class offensive line that make this journeyman quarterback look like an All-Pro:
Kevin “The Franchise” Capizzi at Kevin Capizzi CGI for the GameDay program layout and 3D modeling
A “Future Hall-of-Famer” Kovacs and the team at Audacity for overall project management
Donna “Chalkboard” Mugavero at Sheer Brick Studio for interior book design
Greg “The Bomb” Poloynis for the killer alien designs and art
Jerry “SI Coverboy” Scullion for team logos and a book cover that will become a cultural icon
Carol Sigler, who never missed a game. Go Chiefs! Go Redskins!
Jody Sigler, always subject to the first draft. Go Pack!
Scott Christian, for reading with a critical eye. Go Bama!
Shannon Fairlamb, for solid proofreading. Go Bears!
Rob Otto, talented commentator with a knack for stats. Go Titans (and Vikings, and Colts whoever else you’ve decided to root for this year because they happen to be winning this season)!
Irv Sigler III: The second-best football player among the Sigler Brothers (okay, that’s a dirty lie, but it’s my book, so I can say whatever the heck I want).
Looking forward to watching these guys play football
Tyler “Redneck” Sigler
Caden “The Crusher” Sigler
BOOK ONE: THE PNFL
1. TALENT SHOW
Semifinals of the Purist Nation Football League (PNFL)
Outland Fleet Corsairs (7–2) at Mining Colony VI Raiders (9–0)
Micovi Memorial Stadium
7:25 pm PNST
Holocast: Channel 15 Promised Land Sports Network
Translight Radio: 645.6 TL “The Fan”
Third and 7 on the defense’s 41.
Micovi’s three tiny moons hung in the evening sky like pitted purple grapes. Their reflected light diffused into the night’s mist, making them glow with a fuzzy magnificence.
Smells of Human sweat, iron-rich mud and the saltwater-like odor of Carsengi Grass filled the frigid air. The endless hum of the atmosphere processor echoed through packed stands, but the players — and the crowd — had long since tuned out its ever-present droning.
Quentin Barnes slowly walked up behind the center, head sweeping from left to right as he took in every detail of the defense. Well, some would call it a “walk,” most would call it a “swagger.” A step left, a half bounce left, a step right, a half bounce right. He stood behind the center, his hands tapping out a quick left-right-left “ba-da-bap” on the center’s ample behind.
From his crouch, the center smiled — the ba-da-bap was the kind of thing other players would tease you for — that is, unless your quarterback was Quentin Barnes. The center smiled because Quentin only did that, did the ba-da-bap, when he saw a hole in the defense. And what Quentin saw, Quentin took.
Behind Quentin, the tailback and the fullback lined up an I-formation. Two wide receivers lined up on the left side, with a tight end on the right.
“Red, fifteen! Red, fifteeeeeen!” Quentin’s gravel and sandpaper voice barked out the audible. His breath shot out in a growing white cloud, which seemed to break into slow motion as the crystallized vapor rose almost imperceptibly into the windless night. Across the offensive and defensive lines, similar start-stop breaths filled the air like a thin fog of war, each puff illuminated by the powerful field lights.
“Watch that shucker!” the Corsairs’ outside linebacker called as he pointed to the tight end. The tight end had caught six passes on the day, four of them in third-down situations, racking up 52 yards and a touchdown. And it wasn’t even halfway through the third quarter. The linebacker’s jersey, once blazing white with royal blue numbers, was now a torn mess of brown streaks, green smears and splotches of red fading to pink. The linebacker moved to line up directly over the tight end.
From his stance, the tight end smiled. Now he saw it, now he saw the same thing Quentin had seen almost the second they broke from the huddle.
The center snapped the ball into Quentin’s wide hands. The linemen launched into their endless battle, huge cleated shoes kicking up clods of tortured grass and well-worked mud. Quentin dropped straight back as the fullback and tailback moved to the left and to the right, respectively, ready to block. The tight end shot off the line, big legs pumping and big arms swinging. The linebacker backpedaled, eyes wide and angry — he wasn’t going to let the tight end beat him this time.
The linebacker watched Quentin’s eyes as they locked onto the tight end. The tight end stepped to the right, like he was breaking outside, his head looking up and his shoulders turning out in an exaggerated move before he cut sharply left, to the inside, and curled up at eight yards from the line of scrimmage. Quentin’s left arm reared back — the linebacker snarled as he jumped the route: it was payback time, an easy interception.
Quentin’s arm came forward as the linebacker closed on the tight end — but the ball never left the tall quarterback’s hand. Pump fake. Quentin reared back again, lightning fast, and lofted a smooth, arching pass. The linebacker leapt, but the ball sailed just a few inches over his outstretched fingers to fall perfectly into the arms of the sprinting tailback, who had come out of the backfield on a delayed pattern. The tailback turned upfield, never breaking stride.
The tailback threw a head-and-shoulders juke on the free safety, who couldn’t change direction quickly enough to catch the streaking runner. The tailback cut to the right, towards the sidelines, and turned on the jets — the strong safety had a good angle of pursuit, but there just wasn’t enough field to catch up. The tailback strode into the dirty end zone standing up. The record crowd of 15,162 roared its approval.
Micovi Raiders 34, Purist Nation Outland Fleet Corsairs 3.
Quentin Barnes reached down and plucked a few blades of the tough Carsengi Grass from the muddy, cleat-torn field, then held them to his nose. He breathed deeply, smiled, then rolled his fingers, feeling the grass’ rough texture before the blades scattered to the ground.
• • •
SMILES SEEMED LIMITLESS that day, particularly to players and fans of the black-and-silver Mining Colony Six Raiders. And for Stedmar Osborne, the Raiders’ owner, the smile was so big it looked almost painful. He sat behind the smoked glass of his luxury box, enjoying an illegal Jack Daniels on the rocks and smoking an illegal Tower Republic cigar. Normally he was down on the field
, as any young owner should be, but this week he was entertaining a visitor — a Quyth Leader, forbidden both because of his rap sheet and his species. Not that it was legal for any species other than Humans to stand on Purist Nation soil. But out here on the fringe colonies, such things were often ignored if you had enough influence.
“What did I tell you, Shamakath,” Stedmar said, respectfully using the Quyth word for ‘leader.’
Gredok the Splithead nodded quickly, his three sets of foot-long black antennae bobbing like dreadlocks. Gredok had to look up — he was tall for a Quyth Leader, but at three feet, two inches, he was exactly half Stedmar’s height.
Out of all the galaxy’s known species, Humans and Quyth shared the most similar body plan. Most similar, which was actually not very similar at all. Both species had evolved from primitive quadrupeds into bipeds, giving them two legs and two arms. From that point on, however, any similarity broke down. The average Human stood at twice the height of an average Quyth Leader, and weighed three times as much.
The Quyth Leader’s body looked as if a sculptor had taken a Human child’s arms and moved them down to just above the hips. Both arms and legs ended in three-pincered claws, which provided solid footing but were incapable of manipulating any tool. The proximity of legs and arms meant the Quyth could move with equal ease as a biped or a quadruped, although no respecting Quyth Leader would ever be caught walking on all-fours. Such behavior was fine for Warriors and Workers, but never for a Leader.
The trunk continued up from the arms, a long, smooth, furry body that ended in a head dominated by one softball-sized eye. A small, vertical mouth sat under the eye. A set of pedipalps extended from the sides of the Quyth’s vertical mouth — what were once tools for killing and eating had evolved into long, dexterous appendages the Quyth used like Human hands.
“I don’t know why he hasn’t thrown deep more,” Stedmar said. “With that kid’s arm, they should be going for the bomb on every play, you know?”
Gredok looked back at the field and rolled his eye, marveling in the Stedmar’s idiocy. Gredok caught himself in the act, then stared straight ahead — rolling one’s eye was an expression of derision he’d picked up from hanging around Humans for far too long. Any neophyte could see that the quarterback had been setting that play up for at least the last two offensive series.
Gredok looked to his left, at Hokor the Hookchest, also a Quyth Leader. Hokor had forgotten more about football than Gredok would ever know. Hokor’s single eye glowed slightly yellow with an internal light. The tips of his three sets of flexible, foot-long antennae spun in tiny circles — there was nothing Human about that expression. Hokor’s stubby legs were the only things that stayed still: his tan-striped yellow fur raised and lowered with subconscious excitement, his tiny three-pincered hands flexed involuntarily, and his pedipalps twitched, as if they were searching for food to stuff into his small mouth. Gredok reached over and gently nudged Hokor. Hokor’s antennae immediately stopped circling, and the yellow light faded until his big eye was perfectly clear.
Hokor was a great coach, but he had little of what the Humans called a “poker face.” Gredok, on the other hand, remained calm and collected. His antennae and pedipalps sat perfectly still, while his own fur, silky-black and impeccably groomed, lay smooth and undisturbed.
It might have been a casual outing of three business acquaintances, not much different than what went on in the stadium’s other luxury boxes save for the fact that there were probably no other non-Humans in the stadium, nor were they packed with lethal-looking bodyguards: four Humans, who belonged to Stedmar; and two thickly muscled, six-foot-tall Quyth Warriors, their furless, hard-shelled carapaces showing battle scars and the hand-painted emblems of combat tours and various war campaigns.
“Greedy, I’ve got to hand it to you on this football team stuff,” Stedmar said as the kicker knocked through the extra point to make the score 35-3. “I had no idea how lucrative this could be, but you were right — I’m moving at least five hundred keys of smack every road game, and coming back with a bus full of money. I never dreamed smuggling could be so easy. Local customs officials barely look at a team bus. Even the shucking bats don’t bother.”
“The Creterakians introduced football,” Gredok said, noting how Stedmar still called to the ruling race as ‘bats,’ a reference to some Human animal Gredok had never seen. “Football supposedly reduces interspecies violence. They don’t want to rock the boat over a little thing like smuggling.”
Stedmar lifted his glass. “Well here’s to interspecies cooperation,” he said, then took a drink as the ice cubes rattled wetly.
“And you have a Tier Three team,” Gredok said. “Imagine how valuable it becomes with a Tier Two team, and you’re moving across entire systems, or even a Tier One team, and you’ve got complete immunity across all governments.”
Stedmar nodded. “Tier Three is good enough for now. It’s going to take me a few years to buy out a Tier Two team. But hey, if I can hold on to Barnes, I’ll be competitive from the start.”
“Don’t be sure Barnes can carry your team,” Gredok said. “There’s a reason no Nationalite quarterback has ever led a team to a championship. It’s one thing to be great in an all-Human league. It’s a very different game when Barnes has to throw past eight-foot-tall Sklorno defensive backs and dodge 400-pound Quyth Warrior linebackers.”
Stedmar shrugged. “The boy thinks he can handle it.”
“The rest of your team can’t. Your repressive government barely allows non-Human trade let alone bringing in other races to play football. In Tier Two ball, you need Quyth Warriors, Sklorno and Ki. It would be fun to watch your puny 400-pound linemen try and block a 600-pound Ki nose tackle.”
“I’m working on it, Shamakath,” Stedmar said. Stedmar did an admirable job of pronouncing the word correctly, no small feat considering his Human vocal cords were only half as versatile as the Quyth voice chamber. It was a clear sign of his respect towards the leader of his syndicate. Hokor genuinely liked Stedmar, and had big plans for his lieutenant. Assuming, of course, that Stedmar lived to see the end of this game.
“Football is becoming too popular, even in the Purist Nation,” Stedmar said. “You know how the Holy Men are, how much they hate the Planetary Union and the League of Planets. It drives the Holy Men crazy to know those two heretic systems have fielded so many championship teams over the past twenty-five years.”
“Heretic?” Gredok said. “Is that what you believe?”
Stedmar laughed. “How can you ask that? I don’t follow this system’s damned religion.”
Gredok pointed to the infinity symbol tattooed on Stedmar’s forehead. “You seem to have all the trappings of a Church member.”
“The cost of doing business in this system.” If you’re not a confirmed member of the Church, you can’t get near most of the business. Corruption abounds, and is quite profitable.”
Gredok let out a rapid click-click-click of disgust. “Still, the Purist Nation is not going to allow non-Human races inside its borders, and you need other races to win in the Galactic Football League. Governments have been working on that for three centuries — the GFL has only been around for twenty-three seasons, and three of those were suspended.”
Stedmar shrugged again. “The bats have been here for forty years.”
“That’s different,” Gredok said. “They conquered all the Human planets. Your people don’t have a choice.”
“The scriptures also say no non-Humans on any Purist Nation planet, but you know the Holy Men — when they want something, the Book is always full of loopholes. If it wasn’t for out-system smuggling the border colonies couldn’t even survive. Our economy is a disaster and everyone knows it. Things are going to change, and soon.”
“You forget I’ve been alive three times as long as you. I’ve always heard about ‘coming changes’ in your system, yet it’s one fundamentalist coup after another. If it wasn’t for the Creterakians, the Purist Na
tion would have torn itself apart long ago.”
“Look at Buddha City,” Stedmar said. “They’ve got every race in the galaxy on that station, and it orbits Allah, the very seat of the Purist Nation. But that’s allowed, because the aliens can’t set foot on Allah itself. That policy has survived through the last three regimes, because even the radicals know the economy can’t sustain itself without at least some official out-system trade. There’s even talk of allowing a limited non-Human presence on outlying food and research facilities, space stations and, you guessed it, mining colonies.”
“And you think you’ll still have Barnes when that happens?” Gredok leaned forward, the football game forgotten, his game, the power game, now fully underway.
Stedmar shrugged. “The Holy Men might not open things for another ten years, so who knows. Besides,” Stedmar said as he turned to look straight into Gredok’s big eye, “I’ve got offers on the table for Barnes’ contract.”
Gredok showed no emotion, he kept his antennae still, but inside he felt a combination of disappointment and a rush of excitement. Of course the Human knew why Gredok had come.
Gredok turned back to the game. The Corsairs were driving, using their fast-passing game to move forward five or ten yards at a crack. Both teams wore simple uniforms: pants with no stripe, jersey decorated with only the player’s number, front and back in block-letter style, a helmet decorated only with the first letter of the team name. Every team in the Purist Nation Football League wore uniforms that were identical save for the team colors. The Raiders had silver-grey pants and helmets with black jerseys, while the Corsairs wore royal blue pants and helmets with white jerseys.
“Who would want Barnes?” Gredok said with disgust. “Purist Nation quarterbacks can’t handle the Upper Tiers, it has been proven time and time again.”