The ChampionScott Sigler
Also by Scott Sigler
The Galactic Football League Series (YA)
The Galactic Football League novellas (YA)
(COMING IN 2014)
(COMING IN 2014)
(COMING IN 2014)
The Color Series short story collections
Blood is Red
Bones are White
Fire is Orange
(COMING IN 2014)
Galactic Football League:
(The Galactic Football League Series, Book V)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Empty Set Entertainment, LLC
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Published in the United States by Empty Set Entertainment
For more information, email [email protected]
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sigler, Scott (print)
The Champion/ Scott Sigler.
1. Science Fiction — Fiction 2. Sports — Fiction Library of Congress Control Number: 2014932144
Book design by Donna Mugavero at Sheer Brick Studio
Cover design by Scott E. Pond at Scott E. Pond Designs
Limited Edition SEPTEMBER 2014
Empty Set Entertainment
San Diego, California I www.EmptySet.com
To my nieces and nephews,
Riley, Sydney, Caden and Tyler.
I am so proud of all you do in athletics and in life.
Your uncle loves you.
“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice
for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”
— Mia Hamm
A “Future Hall-of-Famer” Kovacs
every team needs a great coach, and she is ours
Donna “Chalkboard” Mugavero
interior book design
Scott “Big Fish” Pond
cover design, color insert design
John “The Franchise” Vizcarra
Melanie “Mad Dog” Mallon
Kelly “Lethal Weapon” Lutterschmidt
Dr. Joe “Annihilator” Albietz
Dr. Jeremy “The Eraser” Ellis
alien physiology consulting
Carmen “Gmork” Wellman
BOOK ONE: The Off-Season
1 Press Conference
2 The Plan
3 The Request
6 The Ship
7 The Biggest Ship
BOOK TWO: The Portath Cloud
10 First Contact
14 Welcome Committee
16 The Portath
19 History Lesson
21 The Pit
24 Uncle Johnny
25 Free to Go
27 Gredok the Splithead
28 The Tier Three Tournament
29 The Blessing
BOOK THREE: The Preseason
30 Preseason Week One
31 Preseason Week Two
32 Preseason Week Three
33 Preseason Week Four
BOOK FOUR: The Regular Season
34 Week One: Isis Ice Storm at Ionath Krakens
35 Week Two: Sheb Stalkers at Ionath Krakens
36 Week Three: Ionath Krakens at Coranadillana Cloud Killers
37 Week Four: Ionath Krakens at Yall Criminals
38 Week Five: Ionath Krakens at Neptune Scarlet Fliers
39 Week Six: Alimum Armada at Ionath Krakens
40 Week Seven: Ionath Krakens at D’Oni Coelacanths
41 Week Eight: Bye
42 Week Nine: To Pirates at Ionath Krakens
43 Week Ten: Ionath Krakens at OS1 Orbiting Death
44 Week Eleven: Buddha City Elite at Ionath Krakens
45 Week Twelve: Ionath Krakens at Wabash Wolfpack
BOOK FIVE: The Postseason
46 Week Thirteen: Themala Dreadnaughts at Ionath Krakens
47 Playoffs Round One: Buddha City Elite at Ionath Krakens
48 Playoffs Round Two: OS1 Orbiting Death at Ionath Krakens
49 Galaxy Bowl XXVII Ionath Krakens vs. Jupiter Jacks
THE GREATEST MOMENT OF HIS LIFE passed by in a blur of pain, the experience washed thin by anguish.
Quentin had faked his way through the locker-room celebration. He’d forced a smile when people congratulated him, pushed down his despair long enough to tell every player how he or she had contributed to the championship. John and Ju ran interference for him, gently guiding away the over-stimulated Sklorno — who wanted to jump and scream with their godling — or any players that had drunk too much champagne and were looking to sing songs and celebrate with their Galaxy Bowl XXVII MVP quarterback.
Other than the handful of players and staff who already knew, Quentin wasn’t telling anyone that his sister, Jeanine, and his friend Fred, were lost in the Portath Cloud: a place from which ships did not return.
The Krakens had seized the greatest prize in all of sports: the GFL championship. That put them in the history books, granted a form of immortality: Quentin and his teammates would be remembered.
And he couldn’t enjoy any of it.
He’d received the bad news right after the on-field awards ceremony. Messal the Efficient had pulled Quentin aside, taken him to Doc Patah’s training room. There, Messal had played a holo of Fred saying the Hypatia was under attack and that the only chance for survival was plunging into the Portath Cloud. Quentin could do nothing other than watch helplessly — the holo was already several days old before it arrived from halfway across the galaxy.
He had made his decision to go after them. Many of his teammates had decided to come along. One teammate in particular — Cormorant Bumberpuff — had promised to acquire a ship that could take Quentin and his friends to the Cloud. Getting that ship would take time; for now, all Quentin could do was wait.
And, while waiting, he had obligations to fulfill.
He blinked, returning to the moment. The post–Galaxy Bowl press conference. Seated at a table lined with a blue drape decorated with GFL logos. Messal the Efficient, on his right, standing on a step stool that let him look out over a podium engraved with the Galaxy Bowl XXVII logo, choosing whose questions would be answered. And to Messal’s right, mostly
blocked by the Worker and the podium, the owner of the Ionath Krakens — Gredok the Splithead.
From beyond the bulletproof crysteel wall that separated Quentin from the press, the multi-headed monster called out to him, screaming his name over and over, each head vying for attention, demanding he answer yet another useless, utterly obvious question. He stared out at the reporters, his eyes narrowed against the glare of camera spotlights. A dozen species represented, perhaps a hundred faces in that crowd, all packed into a space built for maybe fifty sentients, all hanging on Quentin’s every word.
Messal pointed to a fluttering Creterakian dressed in a white bodysuit lined with repeating pictures of bananas that peeled, then zipped themselves back up, then peeled again.
“Kinizzle,” Messal said. “Go ahead.”
The multi-headed monster quieted, a cluster of carnivorous worms sitting still for a moment before they would once again stretch their heads up looking for prey.
“Kinizzle, Creterakian Information Service,” the winged reporter said. “Quentin, do you think the Krakens will be able to repeat next year?”
Quentin stared. He shook his head in disbelief. He started to answer, to let his rage do the talking, but he controlled that natural reaction.
“We’ve been champions all of four hours. Could you at least wait until we shower before asking us about next season?”
The multi-headed monster laughed. They thought he was joking, that he was being charming. Let them think that.
Messal pointed to a black-skinned Human. The man nodded his thanks at Messal, then addressed Quentin.
“Jonathan Sandoval, Net Colony News Syndicate,” the reporter said. “During the game you banged up your hand just a little bit, did you?”
The multi-headed monster laughed again, this time uncomfortably.
Sandoval always flashed a charming grin, but Quentin saw through it. The reporter grinned like that when he thought he’d asked a particularly clever question. Sandoval stood out because he was so tall — at seven feet, he was the only reporter who could look Quentin in the eye. The only reporter that didn’t fly, anyway. Tall, but skinny: Quentin wondered if that bony frame carried even two hundred pounds. With Yolanda Davenport on his back, Sandoval still wouldn’t weigh as much as Quentin.
Quentin held up his hand, showing the bandaged stump that was all that remained of his pinkie. In the fourth quarter, the finger had snagged in a facemask, been broken so badly that Quentin could barely see through the pain, let alone play football. To stay in the game, Quentin had ordered Doc Patah to amputate the mangled digit.
“What, this?” he said, waving the hand slightly and forcing a smile. “Just a scratch. Rub some dirt on it and get back in there. That’s what we always said in the Purist Nation.”
The multi-headed monster laughed louder, more at ease when Quentin played along with Sandoval’s horribly inappropriate joke.
Sandoval’s grin widened. He clearly enjoyed being in the spotlight, if only for a moment.
“I’m sure you’ll get more questions on that,” he said. “It’s one for the storybooks. But my readers—” he said the words as if only the most discerning sentients in all the galaxy were smart enough to listen to him and not to some other, lesser reporter “—will want to know about your decision to play Rebecca Montagne as your backup when you injured your hand. Yitzhak Goldman was listed as second on the depth chart, but you sent him off the field. Was Montagne getting reps in practice, or was it a spur-of-the-moment decision?”
If one question could pull Quentin’s thoughts away from his missing sister, even for a second, that was the one. Playing Rebecca had been the right call, had been just as critical to the win as Quentin sacrificing his pinkie, but the decision gutted Yitzhak. Zak had worked his whole life for a moment like that, for a chance to play in the Galaxy Bowl; Quentin had ripped that moment away. He had actually overruled Coach Hokor, forcing Yitzhak to leave the field as the largest broadcast audience in history had watched. Yitzhak hadn’t just been overlooked, he’d been humiliated.
“Becca has ample QB experience from her days in Green Bay, on Earth,” Quentin said, searching for the words to make it less embarrassing for Yitzhak. “We always kept her in mind as a secret weapon, for trick plays, that sort of thing. Tonight she’d been on the field for every offensive play. She knew the flow of the game, she had a feel for Jupiter’s defense. Those are things you can’t know from watching on the sidelines. Zak would have done great if he’d had a series to get acclimated, but there wasn’t time for that.”
The subject of Yitzhak had finally come up, and Quentin’s uncomfortable response was like blood in the water. The reporters smelled drama, and drama was what they lived for — the multi-headed monster switched targets.
Gredok! Gredok! Gredok!
Messal pointed to a black-striped blue Leekee, the species that resembled a streamlined cross between a fish and a pig.
“Kelp Bringer, Leekee Galaxy Times,” the reporter said. “Gredok, now that Montagne is clearly the go-to choice for a backup quarterback, will you release Goldman? And if so, what are you going to do about your fullback position?”
Quentin leaned back, looked behind Messal at the owner of the Ionath Krakens. Gredok’s single softball-sized eye was clear, as always, because the Quyth Leader remained calm no matter what lies he was spinning, no matter whose life he was destroying. Gredok’s sleek black fur and expensive jewelry gleamed in the spotlights.
Was it you, Gredok? Did you try to kidnap my sister so you could control me? Giving me a fake father wasn’t enough?
Gredok stared at the reporters until the multi-headed monster’s babble faded to a mumble, then to only a few whispers.
“The Ionath Krakens just won the Galaxy Bowl,” Gredok said finally. “One would think that even vile subcreatures known as reporters would let the players enjoy a few moments of satisfaction before you start hunting for your next source of controversy.”
“That’s not a denial,” the Leekee said. “So, you are cutting Yitzhak?”
This time, Gredok waited until the entire room felt his stare, until there wasn’t even a whisper to be heard.
“Kelp Bringer, I would like you to think,” the Leader said. “Think about the potential impact of continuing to ask a question that I already brushed aside ... which I did rather politely, I might add, considering the reputation that has been erroneously assigned to me by those who are envious of my success as a businessman. And by impact, of course, I mean how people will view your credibility as a reporter — I wouldn’t want anything to happen to your stellar career.”
Even in a press conference, Gredok couldn’t avoid a threat or two. That was his nature: he succeeded by bullying, by making threats, and — when need be — following up on those threats.
The reporters said nothing.
Messal broke the awkward moment.
“Mister Moloronik,” he said, pointing a pedipalp at a bleach-white Human wearing a cheap blue suit. “You had a question for Gredok, I believe?”
Moloronik stared out, blankly. He looked to his left, then to his right — for once, no one was screaming to ask the next question. The reporter slowly stood, trembling slightly.
“Uh, thank you, Messal. Harold Moloronik from ... hoo, is it hot in here?” He pulled at the collar of his shirt, wiped a bead of sweat from his temple. “Yes, Mister Gredok ... I mean ... Mister Splithead ... uh, it’s no secret that you have intense rivalries with several GFL franchise owners, such as Gloria Ogawa of the Wabash Wolfpack and Kirani Kollok of the To Pirates, but your most recent rivalry with the league’s newest owner has been front and center as of late. Can you comment on how it feels to beat the OS1 Orbiting Death in the semi-finals, then winning the title game and leaving owner Anna Villani to wonder what might have been?”
All heads turned back to Gredok.
“An excellent question, Harold,” the owner said.
r /> The room seemed to sigh in unified relief. Moloronik eased himself back down onto his chair.
“It feels good to be the champion,” Gredok said. “It felt good the first time I won a tide, and it was just as satisfying tonight. Yes, I have won two championships — Villani has won nothing. While I admire her efforts to build a quality organization, it will be years before she experiences this sensation. Many years. Perhaps not even in my lifetime.”
The reporters laughed. Quyth Leaders often lived for three centuries or more, while Human life expectancy was, at most, a hundred and fifty years. Quentin understood the well-worded insult: Villani would die of old age before the Orbiting Death won a championship.
Unless she cheats ... unless she does whatever it takes to win her own title, because all the owners are gangsters who do whatever they want regardless of who gets hurt...
Could it have been Villani who had tried to kidnap Jeanine, who had forced Fred’s dive into the Portath Cloud? If Villani had Quentin’s sister, she could make him throw games next season, especially if the Krakens and Death again met in the playoffs. That was a solid motive.
And then there was Kollok and Ogawa. Kollok, who had wanted to make Quentin the To Pirates’ franchise quarterback, an offer Quentin had spurned in order to stay with Ionath. Kollok was a gangster, just like Gredok ... did Kollok want payback for that slight? Or Ogawa, with her bitter rivalry against Gredok — rumor was she’d assassinated Bobby Adrojnik, the last Kraken QB to win a GFL title. Kidnapping Quentin’s sister was nothing compared to that.
But what if it wasn’t another owner at all ... what if it was the Creterakian Empire? Could the ruling government think that the “Church of Quentin Barnes” was becoming too popular? How many followers did the CoQB now have — something like forty million Sklorno? Did the bats want leverage over Quentin?
So many enemies. All he wanted to do was play football, build a team, practice hard; to earn victories with blood, sweat and tears. He wanted to win ballgames, win titles and be the best there ever was. Off the field, he didn’t hurt anyone, didn’t give a damn what anyone else did. But these people, with their hatreds and fears and agendas, with their plots and scheming and power plays, their petty rivalries and manipulations, they wanted to drag Jeanine into it.