An excerpt from POP KULT WARLORD, the second book in the Soda Pop Soldier series, by one of the best-selling authors in science fiction, Nick Cole!
The phone rings. It’s Irving Wong. My new e-sports agent. We met during the Razer party. He also represents the new Batman actor. So he must be big-time, sorta.
“Hey, PQ!” he says in his cigar-smoke-ravaged voice. I see his name in the caller ID.
“Mr. Wong.” My parents raised me to be polite. I’ve been thinking about them a lot as surreality has become a new reality. Like they’re some anchor I must hold on to, or otherwise go spinning off over the cliffs of insanity.
“PQ! Rock star! Baby!” Irv erupts at just after dawn, Havana time, as the multi-colored city surrenders to the full glare of an unrelenting tropical morning. I can see people in the streets below from the wide window of my top-floor suite. Still dancing. But many are streaming away to wherever it is they’re staying. It’s expected after almost twenty-four straight hours of nonstop Super Bowl partying.
“Call me Irv, PQ.”
I agree to.
Again. Politeness. I’m tired so I kick off my loafers and lay the suit jacket I had made in Rome across the emperor-sized bed. Maybe it’s time to go back. Have another one made. I liked Rome a lot.
“Okay, cutting to the chase, kid,” Irv begins. “I already got something for you. Something very hot. A booking that starts now-ish. You game?”
“Now-ish?” The thought of throwing myself into another e-sports combat game seems impossible at this moment. As in… triathlon impossible the day after you’ve quit your habit of smoking and eating three cheeseburgers a day.
I exhale, involuntarily. I’m not just suffering from game fatigue, or binge tiredness… I’ve got a serious case of game hangover. It’s been six months of straight matches every weekend, and we’ve been winning pretty consistently. You’d think winning makes it easier, but it doesn’t. It makes things much, much harder. Every match… every engagement… every bullet… develops some massive psychic weight of importance that must be constantly accounted for and dealt with. Gaming isn’t just fun at this level… it’s become a business.
And I’m beat tired.
I sit on the bed and feel its whispering invitation to sweet oblivion. Darkness. Just sweet silent no-monitor-or-flashing-smartphone-lights darkness. I could seriously do that.
“Ever heard of a game called Civ Craft?” barks Irv over the faraway phone in my hand.
I have. It looks pretty awesome. But it’s team-based. And I already play for a team in WarWorld.
“Well you know it’s got national teams, right?” asks Irv.
“Sure,” I mumble distantly. Giant bed is calling to me. Singing a song really. A lullaby just like the kind mermaids were supposed to lure sailors to their deaths with.
“Okay, so, follow me here, kid. You know that a lot of national entities field teams to compete within this Civ Craft world, right? They all work together to build living-world civilizations from the ground up. People actually go on virtual vacations in the top-tier one. That’s cray-cray,” says the old man using his old man lingo.
I’ve vaguely heard stuff like this. Again, I don’t really know much about the game. WarWorld and its military team combat are more my thing. Infantry operations especially.
“Okay, well one of these entities is interested in recruiting you for their national team. And there’s some big money involved. Rich country, lots of oil reserves. They’re going to pay you, and me my fifteen percent of course, in gold to come down and fight for them. They’ve got a big thing going down and they want pro gamers who are willing to merc for cash. Except the cash is gold which is way better. So, they called about an hour ago and they really want the MVP of the Super Bowl to come help them out. Interested?”
I’m really too tired to go anywhere in the near future. I’m pretty sure a week in this bed turning back into a human being is all I’m capable of.
“It’s a one-month contract with an option for another. Five million in gold per month.”
I’m wide awake.
“Kid…” growls Irv low and conspiratorially like we’re spies, or mobsters. “This is…”
“I’m in,” I shout, hearing my voice bounce off the walls of the suite.
“Ha-cha!” erupts Irv triumphantly. Like he’s just won a hand of pinochle or got the high score on a Super Mario Bros. upright he found in the back of a liquor store that still takes vintage quarters when you can find ’em. Some old guy thing only old guys ever get excited about. “Knew you would be. Okay. Car’s waiting downstairs in front of the hotel to get you to Havana International directly. Private jet will take you over to LAX, and then I’ll deliver you to the client myself.”
Nah, I think to myself. Five million in gold. I’ll get some coffee. Who needs bed?
I stand and feel vaguely drunk. And washed out. And dehydrated. And papery and thin. And I need a shave. I slip on my loafers and jacket and grab my Samurai Leather messenger bag containing my laptop.
I take one last look at Giant Bed.
It would’ve been real nice.
“Where am I going, Irv?”
“Calistan, kid. The Gold Coast of Calistan. Used to be called Southern California… before the Meltdown.”