Read an Excerpt
VIRTUAL CRIME. REAL PUNISHMENT. TOM CLANCY’S NET FORCE®
Don’t miss any of these exciting adventures starring the teens of Net Force…
The Net Force Explorers go head-to-head with a group of teenage pranksters on-line—and find out firsthand that virtual bullets can kill you!
THE DEADLIEST GAME
The virtual Dominion of Sarxos is the most popular wargame on the Net. But someone is taking the game too seriously…
ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER
The Net Force Explorers have exiled Roddy—who sabotaged one program too many. But Roddy’s created a new “playroom” to blow them away…
THE ULTIMATE ESCAPE
Net Force Explorer pilot Julio Cortez and his family are being held hostage. And if the proper authorities refuse to help, it’ll be Net Force Explorers to the rescue!
THE GREAT RACE
A virtual space race against teams from other countries will be a blast for the Net Force Explorers. But someone will go to any extreme to sabotage the race—even murder…
An exclusive resort is suffering Net thefts, and Net Force Explorer Megan O’Malley is ready to take the thief down. But the criminal has a plan to put her out of commission—permanently…
A “wearable computer” permits a mysterious hacker access to a person’s most private thoughts. It’s up to Net Force Explorer David Gray to convince his friends of the danger—before secrets are revealed to unknown spies…
SHADOW OF HONOR
Was Net Force Explorer Andy Moore’s deceased father a South African war hero or the perpetrator of a massacre? Andy’s search for the truth puts every one of his fellow students at risk…
The Net Force Explorers must delve into the secrets of their commander’s life—to prove him innocent of murder…
To save a prominent scientist and his son, the Net Force Explorers embark on a terrifying virtual hunt for their enemies—before it’s too late…
A gamer’s convention turns deadly when virtual reality monsters escape their confines—and start tracking down the Net Force Explorers!
A member of a fencing group lures the Net Force Explorers to his historical simulation site—where his dream of ruling a virtual nation is about to come true, but only at the cost of their lives…
When suicides are blamed on a punk/rock/morbo website, Net Force Explorer Charlie Davis goes onto the site undercover—and unaware of its real danger…
The only ring Net Force Explorer Andy Moore finds in a virtual circus is a black market ring—in high-tech weapons software and hardware…
Playing detective in a mystery simulation, Net Force Explorer Matt Hunter becomes the target of a flesh-and-blood killer…
Tracking down a runaway friend, Net Force Explorer Megan O’Malley discovers that the web is just as fraught with danger as the streets…
CLOAK AND DAGGER
A game of hide-and-seek on the web pits the Net Force Explorers against the CIA…
TOM CLANCY’S NET FORCE® DEATH MATCH
CREATED BY Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik
Written By Diane Duane
BERKLEY JAM BOOKS,NEW YORK
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Martin H. Greenberg, Larry Segriff, Denise Little, John Helfers, Brittiany Koren, Lowell Bowen, Esq., Robert Youdelman, Esq., Danielle Forte, Esq., Dianne Jude and Tom Colgan, our editor. But most important, it is for you, our readers, to determine how successful our collective endeavor has been.
—TOM CLANCY AND STEVE PIECZENIK
The score was tied all around, it was four minutes until the end of the third half, and Catie Murray was sitting literally on the edge of her seat, her fists clenched, staring into the gamesphere. All around her, arranged in concentric, nested spheres, hanging in what seemed like floodlit darkness, were the virtual “seemings” of about fifty thousand other people. Most of them were yelling with excitement, though some of them were silent and rigid with tension, and to Catie’s amazement, one of these silent ones, sitting next to her, was her brother, Hal, whom she had last noticed being silent sometime in 2009, just before he started learning to talk.
The sphere was transparent, and of full tournament size—ninety meters in diameter. Away down at what was presently the red goal “end,” seventeen people were gathered, floating just outside of the safe zone, jostling one another gently as they jockeyed for the best positions or tried to steal a little impetus from one another. They wore shorts and socks and T-shirt “tunics” in their team colors. One group of six wore a truly astonishing lime green with a blue horizontal stripe, another group white with a red chevron, a third group yellow with a pair of black circles emblazoned on each shirt, front and back, like eyes.
Five of the team wearing yellow were currently floating in front of the red “end” zone, marked out in the space by a red hexagonal gridwork of holographic lines, as the other goals were by hexes of green and yellow, at 180 degree angles to this one. The sixth player in yellow was hanging in midair not too far from the wall of the transparent sphere, holding a fluorescent orange ball, slightly smaller than a soccer ball, in both hands. As Catie watched, he let go of it. It hung in the air in front of him, wobbling only slightly. There was a sudden slight burst of pushing and shoving from the players not dressed in yellow as they boosted themselves off one another and toward the man in the end zone—
In a flash the man bent himself almost double, it seemed to Catie, planted his feet against the wall, and hit the ball with his head. Despite the best efforts of all the players of the other teams, it somehow managed to squirt straight through them, though their arms and legs flailed out in an attempt to stop it. There was a roar of satisfaction from parts of the crowd, and much waving of yellow objects, some of them resembling giant inflatable bananas. Still using the impetus from his push, the player who had made the throwback went after it as his teammates also used the curve of the nearby walls to launch themselves in various directions, but not, Catie noticed, at the ball. The other teams were left to chase that for the moment—
“Where are they going?” she whispered. Her brother didn’t say a word. Catie glanced at him, but got no response. He was sitting there tensely crouched over with his arms folded, all his attention fixed on a spot around ninety degrees around the sphere from where the team captain had taken the ball out for the throwback. In the center of the sphere, players from all three teams were now tangled up in what to Catie looked like a rugby “scrum”—a shapeless-seeming mess of people trying with all their might either to get at the ball, or to keep others away from it while passing it to another friendly team member. For a moment it was lost among them, invisible in the huddle of bodies and tangle of legs, as people strove for purchase in the near-zero gravity, trying to exploit what acceleration they had leftover from the energy of their last push against the wall, trying to exploit the others’ energy for their own uses.
Suddenly the ball emerged, flying out of the tangle at about a thirty-degree angle to Catie’s left. A couple of the players in blue freed themselves from the tangle and launched themselves after it, pushing off with their feet against the huddle of other players who were all jammed together in the middle of things. The whole tangle of men and women wavered a little backward in equal-and-opposite reaction as the first two players pushed off. Then the tangle broke up and went after them, players tightening themselves down into “cannonball” configuration to increase their spin, or to improve the results of a push against some other player. One of the players in blue, a big redheaded, long-legged, slender guy, snagged the ball in the bend of his knee, pulled his arms close to his body like a skater, and spun on his longitudinal axis—then, a second later, used the force of his spin to fling the ball away from him, straight at one of his teammates. This one batted it with the flats of both hands down out of the air and kneed it to a third. The third one boosted himself off one of the players in red and white, sending the other one spinning, and hit the ball with his chest, aiming at one of the other two goal hexes, the one glowing yellow almost directly across the sphere from him—
Except it suddenly wasn’t the goal anymore. It went dark, and 180 degrees around the sphere from it, and about forty-five degrees up, a different hex was now glowing gold. The other goals had both changed position as well.
Another mad scramble for position began, players “swimming” or cannonballing themselves through the space to get at the walls, where there would be purchase for a good hard push, or contenting themselves with a less vigorous push off other players. Here and there several players gathered together and braced to give a single teammate more mass to push against. The ball was in free fall, no one in possession for the moment, but that was about to change, for the players in yellow had so coordinated their launches that four of them were now converging on the ball from different directions. Other players in green or white were arrowing at them from the walls, folded up with arms wrapped around knees, determined to hit them and throw them off course. One got hit and caromed off toward the wall, but as he went he managed to snag the White-team player who had hit him, adding to his mass temporarily and so slowing the speed at which he was being knocked out of play. For a moment Catie watched with some amusement as the two of them struggled for the best position in which to use the other’s vector. Her attention was caught by one of the other Yellow team people, whose T-shirt read 14, as she arched her body so that a White-team forward, aiming for her, missed her by inches. Then 14 Yellow tightened down into cannonball configuration herself, first giving the forward a shove with her feet in passing that simply aided her again in the direction she had originally been going. The white forward flung arms and legs out, spreadeagling, trying to lose some speed, but the move was too late, and a moment later he went smashing into the wall.
He yelped and bounced back, clutching his knee. One of the other White team members, their captain probably, started waving her arms at one hex of the sphere, which abruptly went clear and emitted the referee, an older woman in the traditional pure white.
The ref’s whistle went, and play stopped. The spare-time clock started running in big glowing yellow digits that hung in the air in the middle of the sphere. “Injury check,” said the ref over the annunciator, “San Diego, Sanderson, number eight…”
Sanderson hung there curled up like a poked caterpillar, gasping for breath. Muttering and the occasional sarcastic shout of “Aww!” came from the crowd, some of whom were plainly not convinced of how real the injury was…and they had reason, considering the venue in which this game was being played. But the ref soared over to Sanderson, kicked just hard enough off the wall to stop herself, and braced herself against the man. The two of them floated a little farther away from the wall with spare inertia. After a moment spent studying the hand interface she pulled out of her back pocket, and checking with the computer that monitored the vectors and forces expended against the wall, the ref said into the annunciator system, “Verified simulated injury, class-two fracture—”
A great moan of annoyance went up from about a third of the spectators. “Player withdrawn,” said the ref, “Sanderson, number eight. San Diego has fallen below six men and has no replacements left. San Diego is eliminated.”
The groaning turned into active booing as the remaining San Diego team members, their faces now twisted with anger or disappointment, spreadeagled or cannonballed themselves at the walls, to adhere, not to bounce, and made their way out of the access hex into the free space outside the sphere. “Resume play,” said the ref, taking herself out through the ref-hex again, and the count-up clock froze at 00:18:33, then zipped away and minimized itself into one of the display hexes scattered around the circumference of the sphere.
“Now we’re in for it,” Hal said, squirming a little in his seat. “Two-team game…”
Catie nodded, watching intently. In the regular season, play stopped and the game went by automatic forfeit to the highest-scoring team of the three when any one team dropped below minimum permitted strength, but this (as Hal had been crowing for the better part of a week) was no longer the regular season. This was the “shoulder season” during which weaker teams got shouldered out, and the number of stronger ones slowly started to reduce, preparing for the “high season” when only the best ones would be left. Looking into the sphere now, though, Catie began to suspect that she was presently looking at at least one of the best ones—and she started to see why her brother had been getting so excited about it lately.
In a flicker the goals had rearranged themselves into two-team configuration, one at each end, but even as they were reassigned to new hexes, they changed once more, mimicking the rotation of the volume as it would have shifted were this game actually being played in an orbital facility of the classic type. The computer managing the space snagged the virtual ball and slung it back into play along the same vector it had been following when the injury clock started running.
Green and Yellow players flung themselves at it from all sides, some impacting again into a central scrum, some jockeying around the sides of this for position, estimating or guessing where the ball would come out when the forces presently slamming into it from all sides finished their initial impacts. From outside the transparent sphere, cries of “Go, Slugs! Go, Slugs!” were getting deafening.
Can’t see a thing, Catie thought. Let’s try something different—