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Scott Sigler


  D’Kow War Dogs

  * * *


  * * *

  Defensive end

  Ryan Nossek

  Isis Ice Storm

  Steve Owens

  D’Kow War Dogs

  Aleksandar Michnik

  Ionath Krakens

  Interior lineman

  Stephen Wardop

  Wabash Wolfpack


  Sala Intrigue


  Lu Juggernauts

  Outside linebacker

  Douglas Glisson

  New Rodina Astronauts

  Richard Damge

  To Pirates

  Jan Dennison

  Neptune Scarlet Fliers

  Inside/Middle linebacker

  Mike Dowell

  Jang Atom Smashers

  Chaka the Brutal

  Isis Ice Storm



  Jupiter Jacks


  Mars Planets


  Coranadillana Cloud Killers

  Free/Strong safety


  Shorah Warlords

  Ciudad Juarez

  To Pirates


  Neptune Scarlet Fliers

  * * *


  Punter: Ryan Allen

  Chillich Spider-Bears

  Place kicker: Shi-Ki-Kill

  Coranadillana Cloud Killers

  Kick returner: Chetumal

  Hittoni Hullwalkers


  Alan Roark

  Wabash Wolfpack


  Rick Renaud

  New Rodina Astronauts

  * * *

  August 2683

  QUENTIN BARNES WALKED DOWN the stone steps of Smithwicks Arena. Another Sunday, another packed stadium.

  But this time, he was just a spectator.

  He headed for the best seats in the house — lower level, against the glass, at the midfield line. Two burly HeavyG guards walked in front of him. Just behind him walked John Tweedy and Rebecca Montagne. Behind them, two additional guards. Heads turned as the group descended. Some of those heads were for Quentin, he knew, because his face had become more than just a little bit famous during the recent 2683 Tier One season. Only some of the looks were for him, however, because most heads turned to stare at the woman walking by his side.

  The 6-foot-6, blue-skinned, spike-mohawked lead singer of Trench Warfare — Somalia Midori.

  His date.

  “Quentin, this is wild-wild,” she said. Somalia looked around the stadium’s shallow bowl, taking in the strangely dressed League of Planets natives. “You take a girl out for bloodsport? Such a classy-flashy act.”

  He wasn’t sure if she was being genuine or sarcastic. He was never really sure with her. But it was only their second date. He had yet to figure out the nuances of her sense of humor. Any time he wasn’t sure what she meant, though, just one look at her made all the confusion worthwhile — perfect blue skin, a tall, blonde mohawk sure to block the view of anyone sitting behind her, an outfit that would barely qualify as undergarments back on Micovi. The singer of his favorite band of all time and she was his date to Dinolition.

  Quentin felt a fist pound his left shoulder, hard enough to hurt, hard enough to almost make him tumble down the stadium’s tan stone steps. Quentin didn’t react with violence, however, or even a hint of surprise — when John Tweedy was your best friend, you were going to get hit all the time for just about any reason conceivable. John was what people called excitable.

  “Q!” John screamed, practically in Quentin’s ear. “Thanks again for the tickets. This is going to be great!”

  Quentin hoped so. He had to admit, this was pretty exciting. He hadn’t been a spectator at a non-football sporting event since leaving Micovi. He’d seen plenty of football games, for certain, traipsing around the galaxy with Krakens head coach Hokor the Hookchest for Tier Two and Tier Three ballgames, scouting for players that might fill a spot on the Krakens’ 2684 roster. Sometimes team owner Gredok the Splithead came along, sometimes backup quarterback Donald Pine.

  The hunt for players was what had brought Quentin here, to Wilson 6, for the Tier Three tournament. The two-week tournament hosted games mostly in the big football cities: Jang, Hittoni and Einstein. The Jang Atom Smashers and the Hittoni Hullwalkers played in Tier One, while the Wilson 6 Physicists were a Tier Two team from the city of Einstein. Dinolition, on the other hand? You only found that fringe sport way out in the Wastes.

  The two guards in front stopped at the bottom of the sandstone stairs. They turned their backs to the clear, twenty foot high enclosure, then gestured to the right, along the row of fold-down seats. Beyond the high crysteel walls, Quentin saw the dirt playing field some ten feet below.

  He went down the row first, followed by Somalia, then Rebecca and John. It still felt weird to get the star treatment, even a bit uncomfortable, but he suspected that he’d get used to it pretty fast. Free transport to the Wastes, four on-the-glass tickets to the spectacle that was Dinolition, full personal security and four-star hotel accommodations? Yeah, stardom had some perks.

  John sat for only a second before he stood — wild eyes wide and grinning mouth open — to shout over the top of Rebecca and Somalia. “Holy crap, Q! On the shucking glass? Do you have any idea how awesome this is going to be?”

  “I hope so,” Quentin said. He wasn’t as excited as John — no one ever was, about anything — but Quentin was still pretty fired up. He’d seen holocasts of Dinolition’s insanity, but word was you had to see a match in person to really appreciate the carnage.

  If it hadn’t been for an invitation from the Dinolition Commissioner and the commissioner’s promises of high security, Quentin would have never thought to attend this match. He didn’t travel much. When he did, it certainly wasn’t out in the open like this, as a celebrity.

  The people who had bombed the Ionath Krakens’ victory parade eight months earlier could still be out there. Gredok had “taken care of” the cell directly responsible for that lethal attack, but no one knew if there was a bigger organization behind it, possibly plotting another attempt on Quentin’s life. If, indeed, Quentin had been the actual target. Such threats reduced the desire to travel, to go anywhere that involved a crowd.

  But the Dinolition invite had come from the top. Even Gredok the Splithead, owner of the Krakens franchise, had looked into the trip and declared it safe. Relatively, anyway — their team bus, the Touchback, was the only truly safe place for Quentin and his fellow Krakens.

  Quentin would have had the trip checked out by his private detective, Frederico Esteban Giuseppe Gonzaga, but Fred hadn’t been heard from since halfway through the Tier One season some seven weeks ago. Frederico was supposedly off searching for Quentin’s family. Quentin didn’t know if the hunt was successful, didn’t have any information at all, really, save for Fred’s pay that came out of Quentin’s bank account every week.

  When the Dinolition invitation had come in, Quentin couldn’t think of a better person to take along than his teammate and friend, the deadly John Tweedy, Ionath’s starting middle linebacker. John loved all sports, really, but seemed extra-special-crazy for Dinolition. Quentin had planned on inviting Coach Hokor, since they were all on Wilson 6 for the same scouting trip, but the second John learned there was a total of four tickets, he asked if he could bring Rebecca.

  Becca “The Wrecka” Montagne, the Krakens starting fullback and girlfriend of John Tweedy. Becca was an excellent blocker, smart and she caught everything thrown her way. She had taken over the starting slot from veteran Paul Pierson near the end of the Tier One season. Off of the playing field, however, Quentin couldn’t stand the HeavyG woman. She didn’t get football, didn’t get that it was a violent game and that sentients got hurt, sentients died. The look
on John’s face, however — so excited, so eager — had made Quentin say sure, bring her along.

  That, of course, left Quentin needing a date of his own. A check of touring schedules resulted in a wonderful coincidence — Trench Warfare was playing five shows on Wilson 6. A call to Somalia’s management resulted in an instant date.

  Quentin reached his open seat. Seats in most stadiums barely accommodated his 7-foot-tall, 380-pound body, but this one was quite comfortable. The League of Planets had more HeavyG citizens than any other government. Laws prohibiting racism ensured that the massive Human variants weren’t discriminated against with Human-sized facilities.

  Somalia sat in the seat on his right. Graceful and athletic, she curled her long legs up onto the seat and slid her sinewy arms around Quentin’s right bicep. Quentin was aware of sentients taking pictures, shooting holos — that had happened on their first date, a dinner in Ionath City. The paparazzi had come out of the woodwork. Quentin had no idea how the camera crews found out so quickly, but that was their business and they were probably very good at it. The experience had made dinner quite uncomfortable — he didn’t like the attention. He was already nervous enough dating a superstar. Dozens of cameras stalking his every move made it even worse. Pictures and holos of the couple hit hundreds of networks before the appetizer was even served.

  The Dinolition crowd consisted mostly of modded Humans and minority HeavyG. Plenty of Quyth Leaders, Warriors and Workers dotted the stands, as did several well dressed Ki. Very few Sklorno were in attendance — the species was not welcome on League of Planets worlds.

  To Quentin’s left sat an overweight Human with a long, white beard. The man dressed in the strange, slightly fuzzy clothing preferred by League citizens. Quentin quickly looked him up and down, searching for any protrusions that might show the handle of a knife, the shape of a gun. He saw nothing.

  Quentin turned to look at the people behind him, giving them the same once-over. Some of the spectators recognized him, smiled at him, the expression people have when they unexpectedly find themselves near someone famous. Quentin’s eyes paused on the person directly behind him, a Human teenager not more than sixteen.

  The kid’s eyes narrowed in anger.

  Quentin’s body tensed. Was the kid strapped with a suicide bomb? Normally, Quentin would just run, but that wasn’t an option with Somalia, Becca and John sitting right there.

  The kid sneered. “What are you lookin’ at, butt-nugget? Turn around. And by the way, the Krakens suck.”

  Quentin’s gaze dropped to the boy’s shirt — white, with the boot-print logo of the Hittoni Hullwalkers, a team the Krakens played every year.

  The kid was just a football fan.

  Quentin felt the stress ease away. “Good luck to your Hullwalkers this year.”

  “In all games but one,” John Tweedy said. John had turned around in his seat. He stared at the boy. John had a full-body, subdermal tattoo that let him flash colors, images and words anywhere on his skin. He usually used it to scroll messages across his face. This time, his forehead read: I’M PUTTING THE HULLCRAPPERS IN A SHALLOW GRAVE, SO START DIGGING NOW AND SAVE US ALL SOME TIME.

  “John, knock it off,” Quentin said. “He’s just a kid.”

  John shrugged. “He’s gotta grow up sometime. Hey, kid, you’re going to watch the match all nice-like and not bother my friend, right?”

  The kid’s eyes widened as he looked at John Tweedy. Quentin was quite a bit bigger than John, but perhaps people just feared linebackers more than quarterbacks.

  “Sure,” the kid said quietly. “Yeah. All nice-like. Sure.”

  The scene was a little embarrassing, but the fact that John hadn’t come over the seat and started a brawl made Quentin count his lucky stars.

  Movement from out in the wide, circular arena drew Quentin’s attention. On the dirt oval’s far side, the arena walls receded. A hover-platform slid out, floated to midfield. On the platform was a tall wheel split into twenty pie-like sections, each a different color. In front of the wheel stood three Humans and two HeavyG, all holding long, brass trumpets that gleamed in the noonday sun. Red banners dangled from the trumpets, banners that matched the trumpeters’ red, gold-braided uniforms. A small, Human woman stood off to the side. She wore a yellow dress with silver stripes that complemented her silver boots, gloves and tiara. Quite the spectacle.

  Quentin leaned forward to look to his right, to John Tweedy. When he did, Quentin locked eyes with Rebecca — she had been staring at him, an expression of narrow-eyed anger on her face. She instantly looked away.

  “John,” Quentin said. “What’s going on?”

  “Opening ceremonies,” John said. “Pageantry and all that.”

  The trumpeters ripped out a short bit of music that echoed from the speakerfilm lining the stadium walls. Smithwicks Arena wasn’t as large as the Krakens’ home field. Ionath Stadium seated 185,000 screaming fans, while Smithwicks held maybe 40,000 at most. The playing area was larger and rounder than a football field, the size used for some obscure sport called cricket. At the ends of the oblong stadium, fifteen rows of seats were cut away to make room for ornate, thirty foot high double doors.

  John pounded on the glass.

  “Here it comes, Q! Time for the big boys.” The words PALEONTOLOGY ROCKS danced on John’s face.

  The trumpet music stopped. The woman in the loud, yellow dress spoke, her voice magnified by the sound system.

  “Welcome to Die ... no ... litionnnnnn!”

  She waited for the crowd roar to die down. “I am your host and league commissioner, Rachel Guestford. This contest is a three-round affair with a 10,000 total kilo weight limit. No replacement mounts allowed. And now, your contestants. Hailing from Roughland on Rodina, with a record of seven wins and two losses, I give you, the Roughland Ridgebacks!”

  The big double doors to Quentin’s left opened. He knew what was supposed to come out, yet when it did, he could barely believe his eyes.

  “High One,” Quentin said. “Oh ... my.”

  A giant, lizard-looking creature, covered from head to toe in gleaming, red armor. It stomped out of the doors, head low, powerful legs carrying it forward. A long tail trailed behind, parallel to and ten feet above the ground. Behind this huge creature’s head rode a Human wearing ornate armor of black and red. The Human sat in a leather saddle and carried a long, black lance. The monster walked forward. Its jockey raised the lance high, saluting the crowd.

  High above midfield, a holoscreen flared to life. Quentin saw a close-up of the huge animal and its jockey — a squat man covered head-to-toe in high-tech armor that was designed to look ancient, lined with runes and scrolls and filigree. Various holologos advertising dozens of products blazed from the armor’s curved skin. He looked as decorated by endorsements as the Essadari rocket-sleds of the racing leagues. Above the image of monster and jockey, Quentin saw the red and black logo for the jockey’s team, the Roughland Ridgebacks.

  Text scrolled out below the images.


  And below that:


  John pounded the glass even harder. “That’s Pete! Come on, Pete! Eat someone!”

  Quentin remembered John’s description of Poughkeepsie Pete. The Human stood all of three feet tall. Hard to tell when he was on the back of a shucking red-armored dinosaur, that was for sure.

  Pete’s mount walked out fifty yards, halfway to the center of the arena, then stopped.

  “He’s always on Old Bess,” John said. “That’s his favorite ride. I can’t wait to see what he brings out with him.”

  As if on queue, more red-armored dinosaurs strode out of the doors. Three fast-and lethal-looking creatures, much smaller than the T. rex. Quentin thought he saw feathers sticking out from spots in the red armor, from the short arms and from between head-armor plates. He looked up to the overhead holo.

br />


  “John, why are those so much smaller?”

  “They’re speedsters,” John said. “You never know what game will come up on the wheel, Q. You only get ten thousand kilos total weight for all three rounds. Twenty games, different strategies for each game, sometimes you need mass, sometimes you need speed, sometimes both. Just wait and see.”

  The trumpets blared anew, as did Rachel Guestford.

  “And their opponent,” she said. “Hailing from The Reef in the outer reaches, I give you the Reef Stompers!”

  The big doors at the opposite end swung open. Giant, blue-armored creatures strode out. These looked more like huge, six-legged spiders, or perhaps six-legged crabs — and all had one eye.

  “Eww,” Somalia said. “Those are just disgusting.”

  The first creature’s lance-wielding jockey didn’t look Human. Quentin looked up to the holodisplay. The image showed a spinning logo for the Reef Stompers. Below that, a live image of a blue-armored Quyth Leader rider.


  The Leader caste dominated Quyth culture. Even though they were all of three feet tall, they controlled both the Worker and Warrior castes. The Warriors on the Krakens roster were all six feet or taller, around four hundred pounds. Like the Warriors, Leaders had two legs — thighs that pointed up and back, forelegs that angled forward and down, kind of like a frog. The body rose up from those low hips. Two large middle arms extended from the sides, ending in clumsy hands good for hitting or walking on all-fours. The real dexterous work came from the pedipalps — limbs that stuck out from the bottom of the head, below the species’ single eye. On a Warrior, the pedipalps were as thick and muscular as a Human arm. On a Leader, however, the limbs looked thin, more suitable for delicate work. A Leader’s softball-sized eye looked huge in its head, while the larger Warrior’s baseball-sized eye stayed mostly hidden behind thick ridges of chitin. Other than those differences, the Warriors had hard-chitin skin, while fur covered the Leaders. Workers were somewhere in the middle on all counts — about four feet tall, thickly built for manual labor.