Tiny confession: we're supposed to do flash fiction about the equinox, I think. I'm not a real big fan of writing flash fiction nor am I well versed in the intricacies of the equinox PLUS I did a flash fiction with the titles of classic books just a couple of weeks ago in this very space. Moving merrily onward, I'm flash fictioned OUT.
(Saturday SFF7 person is a bit rebellious this week. Been having visual migraines the last couple of days, which are kind of stressful.)
So here's an exclusive excerpt from my latest novel Trapped on Talonque, in which the heroes are observing the local ball game, sapiche. They have to learn to play, well enough to win and save not only their lives, but also the alien sleeping beauty. (Ball game=football=Fall, right? Unless you want me to talk to you about the eleven seasons of "Making the Team" about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders that I've been bingewatching lately....but so, I'm staying in the theme of Fall. Somewhat.)
Fall is my favorite time of the year!
Will an alien sleeping beauty awaken to save him, or destroy everyone around her?
When a Sectors Special Forces soldier and his team crash land on an alien planet, they’re taken captive and given a challenge–win at the violent ball game of sapiche and live. Lose, and they die, sending a mysterious, alien beauty to an even uglier fate. To survive, these soldiers must win the game and find a way to free the dangerous prisoner from her locked chamber.
Nate Reilly and his team are in deep trouble. Prisoners on a backward alien planet, they’re brought before an alien ‘goddess’, sleeping in her high tech seclusion. Nate is astonished when she awakes and establishes a psychic link with him. But her news is not good–he and his men must win a brutal challenge set by their captors, or they will die. She’ll give her aid, but in the end their courage and strength must win the contest.
Bithia sleeps in her chamber, as she has for thousands of years, since her own people unaccountably left her there. Viewed as a goddess by her captors, she must hide her ancient secrets to survive. But only the bravest of men may free her. Can she use her psychic powers to keep Nate and his men alive long enough to help her escape, or will her only hope of freedom die with them?
The ensuing game was exciting, engaging Nate’s attention despite the circumstances. Opposing teams of four players each strove to capture a black leather ball as it shot at random, apparently, from one of the wall openings. The men fought to ram the sphere into one of the openings on the other side of the court. The other team did its best to steal the ball and inflict maximum damage on the other players in the process. Violence and aggression met with roaring approval from the crowd.
The game progressed rapidly, limited to three scores. Whenever one team or the other managed to get three balls into the wall despite the defenders’ best efforts, the proceedings came to a halt. The winning team paraded around the court, arms held high, accepting the cheers of the crowd, eventually moving out of sight into the holding area under the amphitheater. The four members of the losing team were dragged to the middle of the sand and knelt in a line, facing the king and queen.
As the last man on the winning team left the arena, a complete hush fell over the crowd. A quartet of black-clad priestesses escorted by guards marched onto the court. Moving quickly, each woman looped a heavy golden chain over the head of an unresisting player before leading him out through a different exit. Servants carried anyone too injured to walk.
Groundskeepers emerged to rake the sand, hiding the bloodstains from the rough play of the previous round. The crowds fell to animated chatter and wagering, coins changing hands. Servants brought the nobility refreshments. Harsh-voiced vendors hawked food and drink on the commoners’ side. At first nothing was offered to the prisoners, although their guards accepted free drinks from vendors willingly enough. Later in the afternoon, as the games continued, two servants appeared with flagons of watered wine.
“Doesn’t bode well for the losers, you think?” Thom asked as the same grim ending repeated after each round.
Nate shook his head. “Our captor has to be showing this to us for a reason. Are you paying close attention? I’m watching for any kind of strategy at work, or is victory obtained primarily by brute force? I thought I noticed a pattern to the passing, especially when the red team was working their last ball.”
“You think we’re going to be the visiting team?”
Nate sighed and stretched as far as the chains allowed, settling on the bench with a satisfied chuckle as he realized the guards were getting nervous. “Not today, I hope. But why else drag us out here?”
“Reminds me of soccer, or Betyran tisba,” Haranda said, clearly enjoying himself.
“You play?” Nate asked.
“Tisba. I was lead wing on the varsity team at the Star Guard Academy, two years running.”
“Don’t get cocky,” Thom said. “I don’t think you had the same kind of rules. The Sectors Star Guard generally doesn’t want its recruits killing each other. These guys are out for blood.”
The day stretched on. Nate watched four more matches, each as rapid and as brutally played as the first two. The final match was played late in the afternoon, and the team in red shirts and shorts was clearly the crowd favorite as the chanting rose to a high volume. “Do you think Kalgitr is the team name or the guy who scored the goal?”
“I’m guessing the man. He’s a bruiser, all right.”
Nate nodded. “Plays dirty too. I think he broke the other guy’s arm.”
“Win at all costs or die,” Thom said. “Nice rules.”