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!”