ZIGZAG Chapter One

ZIGZAG COVER

*This is the first of five sample chapters from the revised Grand Slam Edition. Cover by IMbeta.

A game as old as humanity was starting in the peaceful Diamond Kingdom, darkness falling over the beautiful agricultural land and sprawling concrete sidewalks. But it was held back by an intense neon purple light radiating from the kingdom’s center, where a massive purple beam shot from the Earth to the sky, connecting the Diamond Castle to the heavens above. Some believed the Electron Gods looked down on the game as it played out, waiting to record the first point on the scoreboard.

And then the all-knowing Chatter, the streaming voice of the millions of people posting across the city’s internal social media system, broadcast its commentary into the purple night sky.

“Feels like there’s a weird spark in the air tonight,” said the first contributor. “Too bad the city’s a powder keg.”

The comment got a quick reply. “No joke. It looks like riots have broken out at the north part of the kingdom, and it appears that every Diamond Knight is on the clock tonight.”

Only one person was completely plugged into this datastream, collecting people’s thoughts from across the Diamond Kingdom, listening to their hopes and fears, day in and day out.

The Diamond stadium was a major part of the kingdom’s south side, but, tonight, the quiet complex’s few lights were focused on the lone batter at home plate.

A pitching machine stood on the mound, its basket down to six baseballs, a few dozen more scattered about the outfield. A young, light-skinned blonde woman with black metal headphones over her head stood across from the machine in a white raglan shirt with blue sleeves, jeans, and black batting gloves. She stepped a black left shoe snugly into the dirt left of home plate.

The pitching machine sucked a ball into its spinning wheels and shot it out at ninety miles an hour. The batter swung a silver baseball bat with ‘.357’ sprayed on the end in runny red paint, crushing the ball into the air. The batter watched it bounce hard off the outfield barrier. She got back into position.

The chatter continued. “I don’t like what’s happening in the city, but what do the royals expect?” it said. “I have been complaining about my life for years and no one took me seriously.”

A long, metal, cylindrical canister, with a handle grip in the middle and a shoulder strap attached at the ends, leaned against the low wall separating the batter from the field-level seats. A black zip up sweatshirt hung from the canister’s hinged cap by its hood.

Yet another poster replied. “That’s why Zack Gunn has gained so much interest, he put a voice to problems many people didn’t even know existed. Plus, his meme about the king was pretty baller, not gonna lie.”

The smartphone in the batter’s rear jean pocket lit but she was too focused on the chatter and popping a ball straight over third base to notice it.

No sooner had the call ended did a face pop on the massive hundred-foot video screen staring down at home plate from the top of the stadium, a middle-aged man with a thick white beard that matched the hair under his gold crown. The young woman’s blue eyes looked up at the man and then to the camera staring at her off first base. Her back pocket lit again, but this time she heard it ringing. She tapped the button on the side of her headphones, and they connected to the call.

“Hi, dad,” the young woman said and retook her batting stance.

“Hi, Alex,” the king on screen mouthed and his voice came over her headphones. “You ditched your guard again.” The auto-pitcher shot another ball her way.

“Sorry, just needed a break to work out some tension,” Alex said and smacked the ball. It sailed deep into left field and a strong clack sound bounced around the stadium from the impact. She reset her stance.

“It’s time to come back,” he said. “Drake says fights are spreading throughout the city. He has the Diamond Knights on all-hands alert. He’s on his way here with his report.”

“I’ve heard similar,” she said and pointed at her headphones with her left index finger. “But really, it seems like people just want to be heard and feel like they are contributing. Do that and things will cool.”

“Magnus and Drake disagree,” he said as the feeder sucked a third ball through.

“I know our people,” she said and cracked the ball firmly into the air. She looked to the first base camera. “Meet with Zack Gunn. I heard his name months ago but it’s being thrown around more and more. He’s influential.”

The king looked at her a moment, batting a thought around in his head. “Square up your hips,” he said as the second to last ball entered the machine, “lift your left elbow. Chin up.”

Alex’s fingers tightened around the .357’s rubber grip and she made the changes to her stance. She set her left foot out, twisted her waist so the foot rolled onto its toes, and brought the bat back so it ran down her shoulders behind her head. She wound into a tight coil, locked and loaded in her batting stance. The baseball launched her way.

Then Princess Alexandria Diamond pulled the trigger.

Her body snapped back around, whipping the red spray painted .357 out, and smashed the ball so hard the vibration pierced the night air like the gunshot from a magnum revolver. The ball shot through center field and struck the second level seats opposite her. The concussive gunshot echoed throughout the stadium. Home run.

The king smiled. “I’ll have Magnus set up a meeting with Gunn. We’ll get a better understanding of what they need.”

“Thanks, dad,” she said.

“Please come back. You can make the train if you sprint.”

She nodded. “I’ve only got one ball left anyway.”

He smiled. “Be safe. I love you.”

Alex smiled back, said, “I love you t-” but the call dropped before she could finish.

With the connection lost, her headphones automatically switched back to the chatter. The datastream was still online.

The pitching machine sucked down the last ball and shot it her way.

Then another voice overtook Alex’s ears: “Communications jam successful. We have a limited time to move against the castle.”

“What?!” she said, her surprise forcing an awkward swing. The last ball whizzed past her- she only struck air.

The message ended with “Time to Steal Home.” A terrible realization set in. This was broadcasting on the military channels. These were her men.

Alex yanked her batting gloves off and shoved them in her back pocket, pulled out her phone, the newly released Circuit Breaker 9000, and redialed her dad.

After a pause, the phone beeped three times and a recording said, “We’re sorry, your call cannot go through.” She hung up, ran to her things, jammed the .357 into the metal canister to close the lid, grabbed her stack of clothes, and ran, sliding one arm into her hoodie’s sleeve as she dashed out of the concrete stadium.

Alex had too many questions about the message for it to make sense, so she focused on the only thing that did: getting word to her father. She threw the metal canister diagonally over her back to free her hands and tried her phone again. Circuits busy. Her only option was the train to the castle. General Drake would have to protect her dad until then.

Alex navigated the south side streets while the datastream of voices provided her the play-by-play on events throughout the whole city.

“Let’s not pretend there is only one side here,” someone said. “I’ve worked hard and succeeded while you were sitting around” but that got push back from someone else with “lol, whatever, I’m just calling it like it is.”

Alex’s footsteps slowed in the alley leading to the shopping center and train station filled with angry people. She casually stepped into the light under a billboard that proclaimed, “The Electron Gods Are Watching,” her sweatshirt zipped up the middle, the metal canister slung diagonally across her back, and her face shadowed inside the hood. Another voice in the chatter wanted an update, not a fight. “I know the west side of the city is on lockdown. How about in the south?” Alex surveyed the area in front of her.

The gathering in the shopping center was some sixty people deep. Two teams faced off, young protesters wielding makeshift weapons versus middle aged shop owners defending their shuttered businesses, separated by a squad of the city’s Diamond Knights clad in grey armor. Spectators at the station filed cautiously onto the train, watching the show with a mix of curiosity and unease. Alex stood at the sidelines.

The change within the kingdom had been so gradual only those tuned in had noticed. The social landscape had slowly shifted under everyone’s feet until friends found themselves on opposite sides of a battle without moving an inch. With it, every element of their culture was one more front in the war. The mob of people was sad proof.

The train’s doors slid shut and red caution lights blinked to life above the platform. The train pulled away from the station and gained speed down the track.

An angry voice overtook the chatter. “Let’s be real for a second; these animals are destroying our city. Drake’s men better be able to serve and protect tonight.” Alex looked to the soldiers in their plated armor and steel mesh face masks, short swords attached to their hips. They were more than capable of maintaining the order. The chat supported the conclusion. “Don’t worry about Drake. The king put him in charge of the Diamond Knights for a reason.”

The mass of people was thickest outside the Circuit Breaker outlet. The store was plastered with marketing material for the hyped CB9000 phone, the same thin model featured in a dozen posters. Professional reviewers had heaped universal praise and local news reported record-breaking sales and pictures of lines circling the block. People on both sides of the conflict had the phones in their tense hands. With its significant presence, the Circuit Breaker 9000 was cast as the official sponsor of the war. Alex continued to the plaza, keeping a low profile in the crowd.

A man nearby wearing a dark blue outfit and white scarf typed angrily into his phone. A few seconds later, his message reached Alex’s hoodie. “‘These animals are destroying the city’?” he quote-replied the earlier comment. “You mean the freedom fighters? Show them some respect.”

“Yeah right, ‘freedom fighters’,” came a sarcastic response. “I’m looking at a gang of them in the south side right now. The roads are so clogged, the Diamond Knights built a checkpoint at the train station.” Alex could see that it was true: an emergency road sign marking the checkpoint flashed “STOP” from the rows of orange lightbulbs. “The phone lines are jammed and everything’s running late,” the comment continued, “the only thing you petty children have liberated me from is spending time with my family.”

Alex looked around, finding two Diamond Knights working the checkpoint. One lifted a bulky black radio to his face. There it was, she thought, the emergency frequencies are still open. But not knowing who to trust, she would have to proceed with caution.

Unfortunately, the internet tough talk was escalating. “What the hell did you call us? I’m getting tired of this.” Alex put a hand to the side of her hood, listening intensely to the argument. “You’re in the south, too? Why don’t you call me a child to my face?”

 “Damnit!” she said and quickly turned towards the checkpoint, cutting the line for the train.

The Diamond Knight with the radio had a metal badge pinned to his chest in the sharp diamond shape of a baseball field, the bronze star on second base denoting his rank. “Sergeant,” she said, “I need to radio the king. It’s important.”

But the knight was too overworked to be patient with the shrouded young woman. “Return to the line, we’ll be with you soon.”

Shouting broke out in the middle of the square. The man in the black scarf yelled “Not so tough in person, are ya?” over the line of knights to a trucker-hat wearing man on the other side. “Just a stupid Diamond sucker defending the status quo. Where’s your king now?” The hatted man shouted back “working, unlike you lame re-faux-lutionaries.”

Alex could sense the rising anxiety. “Please,” she said to the Diamond Knight, “the king is in danger.”

“If your message is that urgent,” the sergeant said, “then let me pass it on.” But Alex couldn’t risk trusting him with it. “I didn’t think so,” the knight said. His suspicion aroused, he peered into the hoodie for a better look inside, but a loud crashing drew his attention away. Alex turned and squinted at the brewing fight.

The hatted man pushed past the line of knights to the protesters and shoved his scarfed opponent. The guy fell onto his allies who shouted bitterly in return. “Why don’t you go get a job,” the king’s supporter said, “rather than hang out here with your loser friends?” While the push irritated the group, the insults made it mad. Someone chucked a bottle, missing the hat but smacking a Diamond Knight.

The sergeant forgot the young woman and barked “break it up!” to the fighters. A few of the other king supporters pulled the hatted man back, but they further provoked the protesters who moved in to isolate their own. Things were spiraling out of control.

Alex stepped forward. “Sergeant!” she said forcefully, “I just need to make a call!”

The knight looked to her and drew the double-edged three-foot-long blade from his hip. “Get back!” he commanded. Emphasizing the knight’s threat, the platform’s twin red lights popped in the distance above his head, blinking in time to the sounding alarm. A rumble grew down the tracks as the next train approached.

Alex knew she had stepped out of bounds and backed carefully away. She couldn’t be exposed now, she had to reach the castle. The guard moved to the small brawl breaking out.

More members of the agitated mob pushed each other, and fists started to fly, the violence spreading from the two that had started it. In response, the Diamond Knights unsheathed their weapons and tightened their formation. The chatter returned to Alex’s ear: “Why hasn’t King Diamond made a statement? Why do we have to figure out what’s going on all by ourselves?!”

Panic rose above the crowd and Alex knew things were about to get worse. She watched the two men who had instigated the fight remove their scarf and hat and quietly slip away from the fight as if they were never there. Something wasn’t right.

Another train pulled into the station and the two knight guards onboard were surprised to see the fight outside. The train’s three sets of doors slid open and scared bystanders rushed the platform and into the cars.

Alex squeezed past the river of bodies flowing her way, desperately pushing towards the sergeant. She saw him bring his radio to his faceguard and made out a “yes sir” in response.

“Diamond Knights!” the sergeant bellowed. “Stand down! By decree, the activists have been granted the right to protest. They are authorized to express their grievances.”

One by one, the armored units returned their swords to their sheaths. The protesters and shop owners were surprised at the turn of events; both groups looked among themselves, before remembering the other.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

The protesters flooded past the guards. They swarmed the shops and overran the shopkeepers. The gang had diverse interests: those that hated consumerism smashed the electronics store’s windows shoulder to shoulder with the ones fighting corporate interests by beating the family owners while those there for the free stuff made off with the TV’s and cameras inside.

Alex looked from the group to the train and back, caught between needing to get to her dad and this situation turning to madness.

The protestors had moved first, but it didn’t take long for the shop owners and king supporters to form their own unified front. They barricaded the doors, provided medical aid to the injured, and took up arms to fight back looters.

“Halt!” the sergeant said to those protecting their property. “Your aggression is unlawful! Diamond Knights, move in!” The armored peacekeepers marched on the shop owners, tackling all who opposed.

Alex looked on the perverse spectacle in shock. The same questions occupying her mind rushed to her ears. “Have the Diamond Knights flipped on the residents?!” the chatter asked as the shoe store was emptied. “What’s happening?” it questioned as the Diamond Cutter’s memorabilia store was destroyed. Alex stood there, paralyzed with confusion. Then she saw a Diamond Knight viciously box an old man as his convenience store was ransacked. Alex’s blue eyes twitched. She pulled the pair of gloves from her back pocket. “Why would the king allow this?!?” the chatter asked in desperation.

“He wouldn’t,” Alex said, pulling a batting glove snugly over her left hand.

“This wasn’t the king’s orders,” the chat realized as she cinched the other glove around her right wrist.

“It was Drake’s,” Alex and the chat concluded in unison. She reached over her shoulder and grabbed her bat’s rubber handle through the gap in the tube’s face.

The General of the Diamond Knights had taken over the military. The game had begun.

She lifted the black handle inside the canister, hitting the button on the underside of the metal cap. It flipped open.

The sergeant was caught in the fray. He pinned a man belly-down to the ground with a knee and handcuffed his hands behind his back. His captive secured, the sergeant lifted his radio and said “come in HQ, backup requested at Stadium Station” but it was swatted from his hand before he could finish. The radio flew like a bullet to the convenience store and blew apart on the knight’s head as he boxed the old man. The sergeant watched the knight fall, furious at Alex’s defiance but impressed by her skill. He turned as the end of the bat with the words ‘.357’ written in runny red paint struck him across the facemask. He dazedly turned back: Alex stood wielding the bat like a sword, one foot back, holding the rubber handle down by her hip. She was poised, her stance stable and sure, the bat pointed at its target.

“Stop this at once!” Alex said as the knights suppressed the crowd. “Stand down!”

“Can’t,” the sergeant said and stood. “Everyone’s got their orders.”

Alex rushed the knight. “Let him go!” she demanded, swinging the .357.

She caught the knight off guard. He struggled to block the first strike, leaving an opening for Alex to drive the bat into his belly and smack him across the face. The knight was shaken.

The sergeant fingered his dented mask. “You still need to get a message to the castle?” he asked. “I’ll personally take you to deliver it.” He turned, but Alex had vanished.

From inside the thicket, Alex watched her opponent spastically search the crowd for her and realized Drake’s training hadn’t focused enough on mindfulness. The knight was impatient and impulsive. It was a weakness she could exploit with the havoc raging all around. Their fight had drawn attention from the train, and Alex saw a knight step from the car and pull his blade, his focus squarely on her.

The sergeant was guarding his detainee when he was jabbed in the side but turned in time to see the red tip of the .357 pull back into the surrounding mass of people. He got it again from the left but was able to snag the weapon midair. He pulled and yanked Alex from the crowd, her gloved hands locked around the silver bat’s handle. She could tell she’d chipped away at his strength. He swung his sword with waning power.

Alex calmly swatted the slashes away, quickly sapping the sergeant’s energy until she had an opening to jab him in the face. The handcuffed man kicked out the sergeant’s knee as the bat cracked against his head, sending the knight to his stomach. He crawled towards his captive, but as he raised his sword, Alex’s shadow passed above.

Alex lifted the .357 so high over her head the blunt tip grazed the center of her back. She brought the bat down with so much force that the impact cracked like a magnum revolver in the air, and its kick blew the hair from her sweat-soaked face. The crowd dispersed from around them.

The knight by the convenience store got to his feet, bits of circuitry embedded where the radio had burst against his helmet. He cracked his knuckles at Alex.

Alex helped the handcuffed man to his feet. “Get out of here,” she said as the two knights charged. He ran, his hands still secured behind him.

Alex was caught in a pickle, the two guards coming at each side. The Knight from the train charged with his sword extended as the one from the convenience store led with his fists. Alex switched her grip to hold the bat upside-down, shielding her right arm from hand to elbow. She breathed calmly, her hands held in front of her face, staying focused for the incoming blitz.

Alex diverted the boxer’s fist and pushed him away, then caught the sword knight’s downward swing. She uppercut her foe and kicked him in the gut. With fluid motion, she stepped back and jabbed the bat into the boxer’s stomach as he snuck up behind and flipped the bat back up to block an incoming sword. The two fighters were locked in a draw. Alex saw only madness around them – people overran the train while the vandals flipped trashcans and raided storefronts. Her heart sank.

“Why are you destroying your neighborhood?!?” she cried out to them. “Your friends and family live here!” She didn’t understand.

The chatter picked up. “Oh, my Gods, anyone else seeing this video?” someone asked in disbelief. “It’s gotta be fake.” But another refuted. “No, it’s real. King Diamond was assassinated. Drake seized the throne.”

Alex’s world collapsed beneath her.

She tripped over her shock. “What?” she said stupidly to the man before her. She was so numbed by the news she didn’t feel the punch to her gut until she was decked across the face. She fell backwards but somersaulted smoothly to her feet.

The chatter blew up, the streaming conversation repeating the news faster than she could process it: “No! King Diamond!” and “Finally! Dying’s the only thing Quentin Diamond ever did right.” The entire city was talking about it. “This video’s a keeper,” someone said, “it’s got a nice angle, excellent resolution.” It was all too much for Alex.

She was socked in the ribs and realized she needed to keep her head in the game. No, block it out, she told herself as she ducked a sword strike from the side. Focus on what’s before you. The boxer kicked, but Alex twirled away. She swung the bat up over her head and slammed it down on his shoe, bending the steel toe guard to a bone breaking crunch. The knight howled, gripping his foot in agony.

The knight on the train was overrun by passengers rushing the engine room. The spectators onboard weren’t sticking around to see who won the fight outside.

The sword knight unleashed a flurry of stabbing thrusts at Alex. Digging the toes of her back foot into the ground, she held the .357 in front of her and braced the shaft by palming the back. Dozens of attacks hit the metal, kachacking with every strike. In the background, the stuffed train lurched down the tracks. Alex staggered under the continued barrage; her feet slid back along the asphalt, fighting for grip. She was being overwhelmed.

Then she heard “King Diamond is dead” again and her rage reignited.

The guard went for a finishing blow but got a clear view of the face in the hoodie: the blue eyes pierced his own, driving deeply into his mind. He recognized them immediately.

“You’re supposed to be at the castle!” he exclaimed in terror. His words stoked Alex’s rage while the chatter reiterated why. “The king is dead.”

“It’s too late for that!” Princess Alexandria Diamond screamed at him.

The words repeated in her thoughts. Alex roundhouse kicked the knight in the head, sending him face-first into the back of the flashing road sign beside the train terminal. In one fluid motion, she stepped forward as “Quentin Diamond” echoed in her mind, rerouting the momentum into a powerful 360-degree spin, and whipped the .357 out with so much force the runny red paint seemed to streak further around the silver shaft. The words “Quentin Diamond is dead” bounced uncontrollably around her head.

As her bat flew towards the knight slumped against the electric sign, every thought disappeared from Alex’s mind except the name filling her mouth. She screamed it out, calling the man to the field. “DRAKE!”

The bat slammed against the knight’s back, cracking like a magnum gunshot so powerful the lightbulbs blew out the front of the sign, sparks and glass erupting in a fireball. At the explosion, the second train shot from the station while everybody in the plaza ducked, obeying the stop sign’s final message blasting into the air. No one moved.

Alex stood over the unconscious Diamond Knights, shoulders rising and falling as she gulped air and squeezed the silver baseball bat in her hands.

A siren rose in the distance – the Diamond Knight’s backup. The crowd scattered. The protesters hauled their loot, and the business owners abandoned their stores from fear of having protected them. Alex was alone.

The chat took over her ears. “The mill is being overrun! This isn’t over yet.”

Lifting the bat over her shoulder, Alex smoothly slid the .357 back into the metal canister across her back. Its weight snapped the cap into place.

She reached into her hoodie when the chatter said, “This is nuts, what are we going to do now?!?” and yanked the headphones off her head. As if beckoned to it, she turned her eyes north: the massive neon purple pillar of light shot proudly from the castle in the center of the city, color splashing out from its base.

Alex stared at it as the last voice came over her headphones. “You fools, don’t you see?” it asked the chatter condescendingly. “We’ve been saved. Long live Drake, our champion.” The first point had been scored. She needed to make a move.

But instead, Alex stood there and enjoyed the silence.

Continued in chapter two.

The ZIGZAG paperback is available on Amazon for $14.99, the Kindle eBook for $2.99.

NAM

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