Jay Schiffman's Game of the Gods is a debut sci-fi/fantasy thriller of political intrigue and Speilberg-worthy action sequences in the vein of Pierce Brown's Red Rising.
Max Cone wants to be an ordinary citizen of the Federacy and leave war and politics behind. He wants the leaders of the world to leave him alone. But he’s too good a military commander, and too powerful a judge, to be left alone. War breaks out, and Max becomes the ultimate prize for the nation that can convince him to fight again.
When one leader gives the Judge a powerful device that predicts the future, the Judge doesn’t want to believe its chilling prophecy: The world will soon end, and he’s to blame. But bad things start to happen. His wife and children are taken. His friends are falsely imprisoned. His closest allies are killed. Worst of all, the world descends into a cataclysmic global war.
In order to find his family, free his friends, and save the world, the Judge must become a lethal killer willing to destroy anyone who stands in his way. He leads a ragtag band of warriorsa 13-year old girl with special powers, a mathematical genius, a religious zealot blinded by faith, and a former revolutionary turned drug addict. Together, they are the only hope of saving the world.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
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The guards open the door to my chambers and usher in a girl, eighteen years old, smelling like urine. Fresh blood is dripping from her nose. Her hair is dyed neon green. I tell the guards to leave. I hand the girl a cloth for her nose and tell her there's a change of clothes in the bathroom. I've gotten used to the fact that teenagers' nerves get the best of them. The Federacy tried to remove the biological impulse to empty our bladders when scared. But nature's a stubborn thing.
What I can't get used to is that so many candidates think they can seduce me. They come out of the bathroom naked — begging with their bodies. Dariox is no different. The second she slithers out with her top off, I force a fatherly smile and guide her back to the bathroom. She sobs on the other side of the door, knowing she has probably just made a terrible mistake. I try to convince myself it will not impact my evaluation.
But it will.
I ask Dariox a question. After years of evaluating candidates for citizenship, I almost always know the answer before I ask. "Why do you have a bloody nose?"
"A rock from the border," she says. "I volunteered with the Civilian Brigade to monitor the Nyton Border Post and a protester threw rock at me."
I don't want to embarrass her and call out the obvious lie. This is her last year to become a citizen and each year her performance gets more and more desperate. Last year she told me she could see the future. She claimed she predicted the riots in the Azarks. For this year's encore, she decided to slam her face into a brick wall and pretend to be a Federacy patriot.
What Dariox and the other citizen candidates surely don't realize is that I have no desire to decide their fate. I have no desire to determine who's in the Federacy and who's outside its protection. I have no desire to handpick the lucky few that will be guaranteed a lifetime of safety. I have no desire to be that important.
I am so incredibly important, in fact, that the Federacy's Premier and secretary of war buy my children birthing-day presents. I am so important that I travel with ten guards, three of whom are hardwired with detonators. My guards are trained to blow themselves up if it will save my ever so important life.
Although Dariox has little chance of becoming a Federacy citizen, I try to give her a fair hearing. It's her last chance and she deserves whatever negligible amount of justice I can dispense. I take Dariox's hand in mine. This is a technique I learned as a young judge. It comforts the candidates and makes it easier for them to be honest. I ask her dozens of specific questions and it doesn't take long before her pile of lies can no longer withstand their own weight. I bite my lower lip, no longer knowing if this is empathy or affect.
"This is your last year, Dariox. I think you attempted the citizenship process as best as you can. But each year I recommend, above all else, that you come back next year demonstrating your character — the character of a Federate. Unfortunately, each year you return my advice with dishonesty." I look out the window and see a small government building on fire in the distance. It looks too small to be the work of the National Freedom Force (NFF). It must be rioters. "No more lies, Dariox. I simply want you to tell me a story about yourself. Don't think about its meaning or how it will impact my decision. All I ask is that it be true."
Dariox looks around the room as if looking for her life's story. The walls are blank but for fourteen plaques — plaques I am legally required to hang — celebrating the fact that for all fourteen years of my service, I have had the highest efficiency rating of any judge. How so very proud it makes me to see these plaques celebrating how so very important I am.
High Judge Maxomillion Cone Highest Judge. Highest Efficiency. Highest Honor. The Truest of Federates.
"You won't find anything at all on these walls, Dariox." I take my finger and point to her heart, then her head. "The story I want is here and here." It's trite, but surprisingly effective.
Dariox has a number of false starts before she launches into a story about how when she was young she wanted nothing more than to be a Federate soldier. Her story, at turns riveting and at turns pathetic, is a direct outgrowth of our educational system's schizophrenia. On the one hand, we teach our young children to have character. The slogan above every education center is:
Honesty + Morality + Conviction = Character Become The Federacy
On the other hand, we teach children the great myths of the Federacy. We teach them the great myths of Our God. We teach them the great myths of the End of the Old Order. We teach them the great myths surrounding the Nation of Yerusalom. Not only are they instructed in the intricacies of these mythologies, they are taught to embellish upon them with great vigor. "Embroider the Nation" is the Federacy's national anthem. Our children and citizens are taught to stretch stories in ways that go against the imposing sign that hangs over every education center's entranceway.
Dariox's story, like so many other candidates', is deeply symptomatic of our education system's split personality. I let her spin her tale for about five minutes before becoming frustrated. "No, Dariox — I want a true story. I'm trying to save your life, for God's sake!" Any other judge would have assigned her to one of the most miserable settlements in the Outer Regions by now.
Dariox snaps. "Fuck you," she yells. She pounds her fist on my writing table. "Go fuck yourself — you hypocrite. I'm just trying to survive." I try not to smile, but I can't help it. For the first time, I believe her.
"Don't smile at me. You make it seem like I'm playing games with you. You're playing games with me. What do you want? What do you want fromme?" Tears stream down her face. "What do you want to know ... that my little sister and I were raped by soldiers from the NFF. That a Federacy tribunal deemed my mother an 'inconsequential casualty' of a stray Federate bullet. That my father and his bastard sons are all addicted to morzium. Tell me, Judge — what do you want from me?" From the yelling, her nose begins to bleed again. I take out a cloth and wipe it dry.
"Should I tell you how much I hate the fucking Federacy? Should I tell you that if I wasn't so scared of being raped again or captured by mercenaries or strung up by the Rogues that I would never want to be a citizen? Is that what you're looking for?"
I sit back in my chair, satisfied at having won the battle for truth but sad for having heard it. I look out of my window and see three ambulatory transports hovering over the burning government building while suctioning out lives. I put my arm around Dariox and walk her over to the window. "What do you see out there, Dariox?"
Dariox closes her eyes for a moment. She doesn't need to look out the window to know what's going on. She takes a deep breath and opens her eyes. "I see people suffering. There are people in those buildings and they're probably being burned alive." She closes her eyes again and this time keeps them closed. "I see people burning. They're in pain. They're probably terrified." She puts her hand on the window. "I see people dying for no good reason."
"And who's to blame for that?"
Dariox pauses to think. Lies easily roll off her tongue. The truth, however, is a sticky mass. "I don't know — the NFF, the Rogues, the Nation of Yerusalom? I don't know, maybe the Federacy." She removes my arm from her shoulder and thinks some more. "Actually, maybe you — maybe you're the one to blame." Her nose is again bleeding and I go to wipe it, but she pushes my hand away. "You're a good person, right? That's what every single Federacy paper says. Max Cone, the Highest Judge, is a man of character, a true Federate. And you were this great military commander before that. You've got all this power and you do absolutely nothing."
She wipes the blood from her nose on her sleeve and looks up at me. "I think I'll blame you!"
After I dismiss Dariox, I call in a handful of my clerks to record my decision and file the appropriate documentation. I deny Dariox citizenship. She is smart and passionate — traits I greatly admire. But citizenship is strictly limited and she does not exhibit the character of a Federate. In my professional view, she never will, and maybe that's not a bad thing. I dictate a lengthy outline for my decision, and my clerks fill in the details. Though I cannot assign every rejected candidate to a relatively safe place on the borders of the Federacy, I do for Dariox. She has earned that right, in my opinion.
I leave work just after nightfall. It has been a long week. The Federacy has sustained thousands of casualties at the hands of the NFF and the Rogues, and there are rumors circulating that the Premier is going to ask me to reassume my role as the high commander of the Federate Forces, a request I will have no choice but to refuse. I will never fight for these people again.
My guards open the door to my transport and I am home in fifteen minutes. My two boys greet me at the door and my little girl, Viole, follows close behind. They squeeze me tight, and for a brief moment, I feel something other than numb. Viole wiggles her stuffed bear in my face and pretends to be the bear. "Did you have a good day?" the bear asks. I nod yes — a lie my little girl deserves. My children are my only happiness.
I walk down a long hallway and see my wife staring vacantly out the window watching the owl that lives atop the lone tree in our backspace. I spin around her wheeled chair and kiss the top of her head. As she struggles to squeeze out a smile, drool runs down her cheek. I take out a cloth and wipe it dry.CHAPTER 2
Ten months pass without the Federacy winning a single major battle. The NFF has taken some small settlements in the east, while the Rogues continue their raids in the west. So, I'm not surprised by the early-morning call I receive from Veriton Glass. Like me, he's a former high commander who was later "asked" to become a judge. At one time, I considered Veriton a friend.
All receivers are bugged and monitored by the Federacy, so Veriton's words are guarded. The official policy of the Office of the Premier is that bugging is necessary for the purposes of ensuring that the NFF and the Rogues do not monitor our communications, even private ones. This is partly true. The other part is that there was an insurrection twenty years ago. This insurrection was led by the commander of the military academy Veriton and I attended. All future premiers have been vigilant ever since.
The only place I'm sure is not bugged is my transport. Official transports cannot be bugged. The technological challenge of keeping a supersonic transport off the NFF and Rogue radars, while simultaneously receiving bugged transmissions, is too steep. When Veriton asks me over my home receiver to pick him up on my way to work, I understand he wants to talk about sensitive matters. So, too, does the Premier.
"Things are getting really bad, Max," Veriton says as soon as we start moving. It's a quick trip to work and he has no time for formalities — no time for how're the kids, how's the wife. As we speed through the Valley of Pines toward the Federacy Omniplex, Veriton stirs nervously in his seat and talks quickly. "Did you hear the NFF and Rogues are in serious talks to reunite? I hear that Chancellor Vrig had Commander Phode over to his summer estate and things went well ... very well. Vrig wants to bring the Rogues back into the NFF, and however pure Phode is, I believe Vrig has named his price."
Veriton looks over at my guards, who are seated in the front compartment of my transport. He wants to make sure they cannot hear us. He leans close to me and lowers his voice. "Our brilliant Premier thinks he can keep the Rogues and NFF apart by conducting some kind of amateurish propaganda campaign. He thinks he can fan the flames of dissent by artificially inflating the price of hydrogen-based military commodities. Of all things, this is what he thinks will stop them from reuniting. He doesn't get it. He doesn't understand the first thing about military strategy or politics. His naïveté is pathological." Veriton genuinely dislikes the Premier — probably because Veriton, quite wrongly, believes he could have been Premier.
"Does the Premier really think the Nation of Yerusalom is going to help us fight the NFF," Veriton says. "He can't possibly trust the Holy Father. He can't be that stupid." Veriton can tell I'm getting uncomfortable, so he decides to throw the Premier a backhanded compliment. "Look, he has effectively consolidated power within the Federacy and limited the influence of the Abstainers over the last decade. My hat's off to him. But he has no focus — no strategic hierarchy. The NFF is gaining territory every day. We are supposed to be the most powerful nation in the world. We have the greatest military. We have the greatest intelligence apparatus. How can we be losing the war? It makes no sense. It's almost as if he's purposely letting them win." Veriton rubs his forehead. "While we fight the NFF and Rogues, our good friends in the Nation of Yerusalom are growing stronger. The Holy Father has been meeting with cartel leaders in Kolexico and there are rumors that one of his senior lieutenants is about to marry a powerful ally. That sneaky son of a bitch is up to something." I shake my head in disgust. I have my doubts about the Holy Father, but Veriton shouldn't be talking about him this way.
"The Premier is blind to what's happening, Max. Our military leaders are losing faith. And I don't need to tell you, when commanders lose faith, soldiers lose faith, and that's how wars get lost." He looks up at my guards again. "You know the Premier better than I do. What the hell is going on with him?"
"Don't ask me questions like this, Veriton. You know I don't get involved in politics anymore. I leave the politics to people like you. I'm just a judge."
"You've become a cheerless bureaucrat, Max."
"You're right about the cheerless part."
As we weave our way through the Calcium Mountains, Veriton continues asking me about the Premier's motivations. He thinks I know more than I do. He is persistent and focused, just like when he was the Federacy's chief law advocate. He made a much better advocate than judge. But I'm a terrible witness. Unlike Veriton, I'm quite adept at saying nothing. This drives him crazy.
"Throw me a bone, Max. For God's sake, we went to the academy together. We fought together. We were inaugurated together. You're like a brother to me." I remain silent. He knows I no longer see him as a friend, and I never thought of him as a brother. I don't trust Veriton. It's nothing he specifically did. I just can't trust his kind anymore. Not after what they did.
Veriton quickly loses his temper and strikes at me as only he can — like an angry child. "You're too serious, Max," he says. "Way too serious." He knows exactly where he wants to take his insults — where he wants to lead his witness. "You need some fun in your life, right? Some adventure? Some debauchery, don't you think? How about we get you a whore? I know this gorgeous girl with really big breasts, a nice round behind, and beautiful soft brown skin. This girl's a real pro. You need a good time, Max. When's the last time that wife of yours was able to ..." Veriton's voice trails off. He wisely doesn't finish his sentence. I can take a joke, but not one at the expense of my wife. She has suffered enough. Veriton knows that she and I can no longer have sex. The Federacy made sure of this.
I unlock my restraints and slowly stand in front of him. I firmly place one hand on Veriton's shoulder, while motioning to my guards to stand down with the other. My thumb is near his jugular. He immediately understands my intent. I was a junior officer in his brigade before I took away his command. He has seen me exercise my will before.
Veriton waves his hand as if holding a white flag. "That was out of line, Max. A bad joke at the expense of one of the Federacy's great women." I take a deep breath — one that could remove all the oxygen from my transport. There are few things I work harder at than controlling my temper. And there are few things that make me angrier than a slight to my wife. As I said, she has suffered enough.
"There was a day, Max, when you would have bashed my skull in for such an insult. Now, you can just snap your fingers and your guards will drag me to the gulags. It's a better form of power, don't you think?" "Actually, I would prefer to bash your head in."
Veriton gives me an uneasy smile and an even more uneasy laugh. He tries to direct the conversation back to safer ground. "Seriously, don't you prefer political power over the brute strength of commanding a brigade?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Game of the Gods"
Copyright © 2018 Jay Schiffman.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Federacy,
1. Dariox Vinyl,
2. Veriton Glass,
3. Pique Rollins,
4. Emmis Cone,
5. Spiro de Yerusalom,
6. The Holy Father,
Part II: The Abstainers,
7. Nayla Rollins,
8. Aquarius Rollins,
10. Jax, Viole, and Kase,
11. Ray Tyne,
12. Trace Rollins,
13. Emile Phode,
14. Colonel Frayne,
Part III: The Rogues,
15. Mavy Sway,
16. Kene Yorne,
17. Shifa Teal,
18. Asio Yorne,
20. Cecilia Forque,
21. Mavy and Emile,
22. Jo-Jo a Go-Go,
Part IV: The NFF,
27. Anther Vrig,
29. The Pretty Scientist,
31. Guard 512,
37. Three Elite Guards,
Part V: Kolexico,
40. Cartels of Kolexico,
42. Xylo Borne,
43. Echa Magor,
45. The Holy Father,
47. Leader Borne,
Part VI: Yerusalom,
Part VII: The Beginners,
About the Author,