EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT FROM ZEROBOXER by Fonda Lee
Carr gripped the rungs and climbed. At the stadium entrance, the rumble of the crowd suddenly faded as the music and lights dimmed and blue spotlights began sweeping back and forth. The announcer’s bass voice bellowed, “Fighting out of the red corner, with a mass of seventy kilograms and a record of four wins, one loss, CAAARRR … ‘THE RAPTOR’ … . LUKAAA!”
Carr kicked off the final hallway rung and through the entrance. He somersaulted tightly, then uncoiled, reached, and landed in a dramatic crouch on the deck, gripping it easily with the balls of feet and fingertips. The crowd roared its approval, and as he straightened, Carr saw close-ups of himself on the huge screens hanging around the stadium.
Great stars, there were a lot of people. They filled the tiered stands that stretched in all directions, blurred into shadow beyond the stark, glaring lights. Carr’s pulse sped up, beating in his palms and the soles of his feet. Zeroboxing was the sort of thing people watched on screens at home; most planet rats couldn’t afford to travel beyond atmosphere very often, and even those that could generally liked their artificial gravity. These spectators were the really hard-core fans, the ones who would rather be strapped into seats, drinking beer from squeeze bottles and brushing away floating globs of spilled orange soda and candy wrappers in order to see the fight live. Tonight, there were thousands of them, some still pulling themselves along the guide-rails to their seats.
Below the deck hung the Cube, empty, like an enormous minimalist ice sculpture. The sweeping spotlight beams distorted on its transparent surface, tingeing its edges and corners with cool blue light. Even experienced zeroboxers got shivers looking at the thing. To willingly enter it was to be completely imprisoned and utterly exposed. It was the prism of truth. There was no hiding in the Cube, no angle from which you could not be seen, and no way out until you had been proven victor or vanquished.
The announcer, Hal Greese, had a thick neck and a gut that, without gravity, migrated upward from the region of his waist to fill out his torso in a kind of general bulbousness. He turned in a slow circle in the center of the deck, one arm raised in anticipation. “Fighting out of the blue corner, with a mass of seventy-one kilograms and a record of nine wins, three losses, JAY…‘DRACULA’… FERRRANNOO!”
Jay Ferrano shot through the entrance, twisting like a corkscrew, and caught the landing deck neatly. A wave of enthusiastic noise vibrated the Cube beneath his feet. Carr looked across at his opponent. He seemed larger than he had in the videos Carr had studied. “Dracula” had gotten his nickname after an early fight when he’d let loose a bellow and accidentally swallowed a floating bubble of his opponent’s blood. The fans had loved it and the clip had gone viral. Ferrano had apparently taken to his name, because the suspended screens zoomed in for a close-up of the liquid tattoo stretched across the back of his neck: a bat flapping its wings.
They met in the center of the deck, both of them ignoring the rails and walking steadily on gripper shoes alone. The referee said a bunch of the usual stuff about wanting a good, hard, clean fight and so on. Carr didn’t hear any of it. He watched Ferrano. Sometimes you could tell what kind of a fighter a man was by looking at his face in the seconds before a match. Some guys looked cool as ice and fought the same way, patient and technical. Those who didn’t even look you in the eyes were either too nervous or, in their hearts, nice fellas who would rather not think of their opponents as human beings they would have to hurt. The ones who growled and glowered as if they wanted to rip your limbs off—they fought because they were angry people.
Ferrano sniffed and cricked his neck from side to side. He looked strong, and mean, and here to play.
The referee told them to touch gloves. They did, and retreated to opposite sides of the deck. Carr was tingling from fingertips to toes. Uncle Polly was murmuring, “You’re ready, you’re ready. I’ll be in your ear the whole time.” DK put Carr’s mouth guard in, then spread coagulant gel on his face; it lessened the chance he’d get cut, and in the event he did, it would keep most of his blood on him instead of mucking up the air.
The attendant technician held an activation penlight up to his eyes and told Carr to look at a point straight ahead while he fixed the beam on each eye in turn. After a couple of seconds, he said, “Connection’s good,” and one of the screens above flickered and shifted into the view from Carr’s optic cameras, now being fed live to his subscribers.
The deck, which took up one entire outside surface of the Cube, had two entry hatches set into it. The border of Carr’s hatch flashed red and slid open. He went to the edge of it and stood like a man with his toes on the lip of a cliff, staring down into two hundred cubic meters of empty space. Then he dove through the opening like a swimmer into water. He piked his body backward and flipped, catching the wall behind him, hands first, feet second, finding spread-fingered purchase on the textured surface, the magnetic pull on his gripper gloves, shoes, and the waistband of his shorts holding him against the wall.
On the other side of the Cube, Jay Ferrano shot through his hatch. Both entrances flashed once more— Ferrano’s blue, Carr’s red—before sealing off. The bell rang loudly outside the Cube for the benefit of the audience, more quietly in his ear. The fight was on.
A Sci-Fi Thrill Ride Set in the Action-Packed Sports Arena of the Future
A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.
As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.
ZEROBOXER BUY LINKS:
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/zeroboxer-fonda-lee/1119693789?ean=9780738743387
Indiebound – http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780738743387
Powell’s – http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780738743387-0
Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. Zeroboxer (from Flux/Llewellyn) is her debut novel. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, an avid martial artist, a fan of smart action movies, and an Eggs Benedict enthusiast. You can find Fonda at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.
Goodreads profile: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7705004.Fonda_Lee
Add Zeroboxer to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20320562-zeroboxer