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Enlightened Ignorance Snippet #1

 

With the next book in the Opus X series, Enlightened Ignorance, coming out March 6, I thought it was time to tease you a little bit. Hehehe I also want to call all of the old Michael Anderle Pitchfork and Matches Crew back! Let’s let Michael know on Facebook that he needs to launch faster! I mean come on! We all read or listen to the books within a day of getting them, and then we have to wait 6 weeks? Seriously, Michael! You’re torturing us! LOL

Well, I guess I’m going to torture you a little bit with this snippet! Come back in a few days to get the next one. Trust me, it’s sooooo worth it!

 

Snippet #1

April 27, 2229, Neo Southern California Metroplex, Aurum Sphere Ball Stadium

 

Erik’s wide grin was one of the few in the sea of glum humanity choking the main arena’s long tunnel. The sphere-ball fans marched out like a defeated army, many with their heads down. The occasional red-faced man or woman muttered angrily, their stomping joining the shuffling footfalls of so many others.

Jia’s gaze slid toward Erik, suspicion clouding her dark eyes. “You’re not a traitor, are you, Erik?”

He chuckled, his eyes sliding toward his annoyed partner. “What are you talking about?”

“All loyal Dragon fans know what we just saw,” she insisted, nodding behind them. “But you’re acting like we played a great game.”

“The team won.” Erik shrugged. “I don’t see the big deal, but I’m smiling about something else.” He nodded toward where they had been sitting. “It’s just a weird thought I had during the game, and now that we’re leaving, it came back.”

Jia’s brow wrinkled. “Weird thought? Like what?” She wasn’t sure she should stop pursuing her mental accusation toward her partner yet.

“I never thought about it much,” Erik began, “but it’s the antigrav tech. You can’t play sphere ball without antigrav tech.”

“True enough.” Jia glanced at the area of play. “I’m sure there is all sorts of interesting sociology and psychology related to the Purist movement to explain how physical sports have lingered and haven’t been taken over by virtual sports, but it helps to see people doing something entertaining and impressive in real life. In this case, the tech enhances rather than distracts. If you want to read an interesting book on the history of sphere ball, there’s one I finished the other night I could recommend. It’s called Sphere of Destiny.

Erik shook his head. “No, thanks. Not interested in the history. It’s the tech that’s got me thinking. I know humans were halfway to inventing it anyway, but everything I’ve read says the key parts were figured out by reverse-engineering Navigator tech. It’s not as awe-inspiring as HTPs and FTL travel, so no one cares.”

“Yes, so?” Jia blinked a few times, more confused than before. She slipped past one fan who’d had two or three alcoholic drinks too many to pay attention to her smaller body as he wandered along with the herd. “I’m not following you.”

Erik’s smile disappeared when a rowdy fan yelled right beside the two of them, and both winced.

A moment later, the fan took off after two of his friends who were whooping ahead of them, and Erik’s smile returned. “Think about it. The Navigators are dust now, probably for a million years, if the scientists are right. We and the other races took their stuff and spread out across the galaxy. The Navigators might have even wanted something like that, but did you ever think they were sitting around saying, ‘Man, I really hope some other race finds our crap a million years from now, so they can make up new sports?’”

Jia’s confusion melted off her face, and a soft smile replaced it. “Oh, I understand your question now. Um, who knows? Sphere ball is a thinking person’s sport. I’m sure an intelligent, advanced species such as the Navigators would appreciate it if they were still around.” She shook her finger. “Perhaps they wanted us to develop zero-G sports instead of spread across the stars.” Her smile faded. “But today, we could have ruined their legacy by losing.”

Erik laughed. “I doubt the Navigators are weeping in the afterlife because the Dragons almost lost a match. They’re not the only sphere ball team in the UTC, and for all we know, aliens play sphere ball, too. Besides, almost losing is just another way of saying they almost won.”

“We only won because that Calgary wing turned idiot toward the end.” Jia glared over her shoulder, despite the opposing player being nowhere in sight. “If it weren’t for that, we’d be out of the semifinals already.” She sighed, turning back to him. “Don’t you get it, Erik? We squeaked through the quarterfinals, and now we’ve squeaked through the semifinals. The team needs to trend up going into the finals, not down. Otherwise, they won’t have a prayer of making it to the Earth League Championship, let alone the UTC finals. I think I’m wondering what all the fans are wondering.”

“What’s that?”

“We’re all asking ourselves the same question: what would have happened if Shin hadn’t gotten suspended?”

Erik stopped himself from laughing in Jia’s face. He enjoyed sphere ball, but she took it to obsessive levels. While that didn’t make her unusual in Neo SoCal, it amused him. He remained mindful that a little too much mirth might also attract an unnecessary confrontation with a drunken opposing fan looking for a revenge outlet.

“The Dragons either win or they don’t,” he offered. “If they don’t make it this year, there’s always next year. It’s not the end of the world if they don’t go to the championship.”

“I suppose.” Jia stepped to the side as a sniffling man advanced, his tears marring his green and gold face paint. “It gives me something to look forward to, but again, Shin.” She rolled her eyes.

Erik slowed. The crowd thickened as they approached the end of the tunnel and the elevators for different parking levels. Jia would be fine once they got away from the stadium, and she could dive back into obsessing over stats and fantasy matchups.

“The league had no choice but to suspend him.” Erik couldn’t stop a loud laugh this time. “That idiot tried to import a restricted animal to Earth. Did he really think he was going to get away with it?”

Jia sighed. “Did you see the interview with him? I believe him when he said he thought it would help the team.” She shook her head. “That’s just sad.”

The crowd began to thin in one direction but remained dense in others. Erik and Jia followed the natural flow toward fewer people. The Lady might have smiled on them and given them a cluster of people who had parked on a different platform.

“Yeah.” Erik shook his head, the smile growing again. “I don’t think he understands that the genetic engineering allowed in Venusian luck rabbits has nothing to do with actual luck. Hard to say, though. That’s athletes for you.”

“What do you mean?” Jia asked. “I haven’t read anything to suggest athletes import illegal animals more often than other people.”

“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about athletes being superstitious. Shin should have stuck to wearing the same socks through the finals or eating the same breakfast, but he was taking it to a new level. At least it was only a luck rabbit. Imagine if he’d tried to bring in something like a heliokite or a ruster.” Erik snickered. “Not that they would last long on Earth.”

The crowd abruptly cleared and the pair stopped, now acutely aware of the unusual situation. It wasn’t the Lady serving up convenient foot traffic that explained why they’d had an easy time advancing through the tunnels. Instead, three red-faced men who stank of beer were responsible.

The drunks lingered in front of the elevators, glaring at anyone who dared look their way. A few droplets of blood stained the ground. Had there already been an altercation?

Erik turned to Jia. “Emma can call Security, in case someone hasn’t already, or they haven’t noticed. We should keep it calm until Security arrives.”

He wasn’t worried about being able to take the men down, but fights near crowds were always dangerous.

The two of them looked around.

The lack of nearby security guards surprised him, but given the sour mood of the fans, several incidents might have occurred all over the stadium complex. They might have underestimated the need for security, as well. Compared to some sports, sphere ball fans, especially on Earth, tended to cause less trouble at home games. “Less” wasn’t the same thing as none, however. And there was another small, more personal motivation.

“But we’re the police,” Jia insisted, eyes narrowing. “We don’t have to be afraid of them, even if we don’t have our firearms.”

Even though they were cops, because of recent changes, there were annoying procedures associated with bringing their weapons into the game off-duty, so they left them in MX 60. Security scanners would detect any illicit weapons, and the nearby on-duty police could respond in minutes.

“Not talking about fear.” Erik spoke softly to her. “I’m talking about reports. I don’t want to have to spend the rest of my day off filling out reports because of some drunks. We’ll miss our appointment, too. I thought you were looking forward to it.”

Jia’s mouth formed an O as she nodded. “It doesn’t have to turn into a terrible situation. We’ll just scare them off by showing a little authority.”

She looked relaxed. There was no hint of unnecessary bloodlust on her face. Erik had wondered when she’d reduced her visits to the counselor, but she’d had plenty of opportunities to lose control both on- and off-duty in recent weeks, and she’d had no trouble.

“Let’s hope it goes that easily, but get ready to fill out reports.” Erik advanced toward the trio. “Excuse me, guys, but you’re blocking the elevator.” He gestured toward it. “Let’s move along. A lot of people need to get home.”

The broad-shouldered and thickly muscled drunks were larger than the average fan, but Erik wasn’t a small man either. Their physical presence had little effect on him.

One of the drunks, a dark-haired man with a scowl deeper than the others’, hocked a gob of spit at Erik’s feet. “The Dragons are going down because we don’t support them enough. People like you. I saw your cocky-ass smile all the way back there. Go back to Alberta, you damned Calgary-lover. We only want Dragons fans in Neo SoCal.”

“Nah. I’m a Dragons fan.” Erik cracked his knuckles. “And before you do anything stupid, you need to understand something important.” He gestured to Jia. “We’re cops. We don’t want to arrest you, so the easiest solution would be for you and your buddies to get in the elevator and head back to your flitters. Go home and sleep it off. Remember, our team is still in it, even without Shin.”

“Security is coming,” Emma reported directly into Erik’s and Jia’s ears. “They’ll arrive in a few minutes.”

The dark-haired drunk nodded to his friends before snarling at Erik, “Sometimes you just got to get rid of the anger.” He took a few steps forward, his face twisting into a hateful sneer. “You’re no cop, and the last guy who told me to get moving got a broken nose out of it. We’re not messing with anyone who’s not messing with us. We’re real peaceful guys.”

His friends chuckled.

“You’re blocking an elevator and scaring people.” Erik let a taunting smile take over his face. “And you just admitted you assaulted someone. But this doesn’t have to be rough if you cooperate, or you can just walk away and not cause more trouble.”

He wasn’t worried about them getting away with assault. Security would likely inform the local EZ about the assault and had already sent over the footage. The drunks could be arrested without anyone in the crowd or Erik’s free time being at risk. The men didn’t appear to be armed, but he couldn’t be sure.

The confrontation attracted more people to fill in the gaps in the crowd. Several of them watched with curious or uneasy expressions.

“Sir, you’re drunk,” Jia interjected. “If you don’t want to be arrested, you should go to your flitter and let it fly you home. I understand you’re upset. We all are, but even without Shin, it’s not like the season is over. We can still get to the finals, and then we’ll be laughing at the other teams.”

Erik wasn’t sure she believed what she was saying, but she delivered her suggestion with a strong conviction in her voice. Commiseration might yet save them from the dreaded reports.

“Screw Shin,” the drunk snapped. “And screw you, fake cops. I work hard every day at my company. I do what I’m supposed to do, and when I decide to relax a little and come to the game, I expect some relief. That means I want a good game.”

Erik grunted. “It was a good game, and our team won. It’d be boring if they wiped the floor with the other teams. I prefer things to be a little closer. A balanced league is a more entertaining league.”

The drunk’s nostrils flared. “What did you say? You’re saying you wanted the Dragons to lose?”

Jia took a deep breath and shook her head. “You clearly understood his intent. You don’t have to cause trouble.”

“Maybe I want to.” He took another step forward but stopped when Erik squared his shoulders and blocked his path. “You better get going, fake cop,” the drunk growled. “This is your last warning before I take out my frustration on you.”

Erik stepped back with an easy smile on his face. “You don’t get it. I was mostly trying to save myself trouble, but you already admitted to hitting someone. I was thinking about letting Security and the local cops handle it, but now that I’ve thought about it, that seems lazy. And you’re not just being stubborn, you’re being an idiot.”

The other two drunks stomped toward him, vicious grins growing on their faces. Jia muttered under her breath as she walked forward.

“I’m going to enjoy beating your arrogant ass down,” the dark-haired drunk bellowed. He brought his fist back.

Erik didn’t give the man time to punch him. He slammed his forehead into the man’s nose. The drunk’s head snapped back and he stumbled into his friends, blood pouring from his nose.

“You broke my nose!” the drunk shouted. “How could you do that?”

A collective groan swept the crowd.

Erik shrugged. “I figured you needed a little reminder of what it felt like. Maybe next time, you won’t start a fight so easily.”

“I’m going to pound your face in,” the drunk roared as his friends gave him a helpful shove to help him stand straight again.

He charged Erik.

The other two men moved forward but stopped when Jia moved toward them. When one of the men threw a wide hook at her, she rotated and slid under the blow but used the momentum to spin and start raising her fist. She launched her fist, connecting with the large man’s chin with a loud thud. He staggered backward, gritting his teeth, his eyes watering.

The spectators gasped at the blow.

Erik didn’t mind the audience, but their presence meant he and Jia would need to keep the drunks focused on them.

The dark-haired drunk continued his attempts to pummel his opponent, but Erik’s easy dodging ensured the blood being spread was from the drunk’s nose. The man obviously lacked hand-to-hand training, and the alcohol didn’t help.

His moves were slow and obvious since his eyes telegraphed them. Erik let the man continue to throw punches. Every new attempt would tire the drunk out, allowing Erik to finish the fight without breaking anything more than the man’s nose.

Jia took advantage of her off-balance initial target to close on the third man. He tried a few jabs, but she slapped them away. A palm strike to his face put him off-balance, and she followed with a solid roundhouse kick to the side of his head. The crowd let out another loud collective groan as the man spun around before collapsing to the ground.

Erik glanced over quickly and chuckled. The fans might have come to the stadium to watch a rough sport, but most of them had probably never seen a fight in person.

It was a free after-game show.

___________________

Don’t you just love Jia? What about Erik? Oh yeah! I can’t wait for March 6th!

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