*Gold Medal – Teen Literature Fiction – 2013 Global Ebook Awards*
The galaxy is on the brink of war and only four dysfunctional, hormone-driven teenagers from Earth stand in its way. God help us all.
It didn’t take Cooper long to come to the conclusion that space sucks. It seems everyone there despises humans, everything’s too far away and the travel makes you heave. Worse still, Cooper’s stuck there with his best mate, The Ginge – who can’t tell where games end and reality begins – and two other former classmates who want to beat the crap out of him.
Oh yeah, and people, well… alien people are trying to kill them.
Space does have some good points. The boys can have anything they wish for, all they have to do is ask it … or think it. Plus they are now, somehow, Earth’s leaders – as in, more important than the President of the USA.
If Cooper can only stop the other boys from gorging on their every desire, chasing the most human looking alien women and fighting each other, he might convince everyone that humans aren’t the galactic equivalent of white trash.
But things are about to get a whole lot worse. War looms and Cooper and his inept sidekicks are caught in the middle. They, the Earth and the Galaxy will never be the same again.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to create a world where four typical, modern day teenagers and handed powers and abilities beyond anything they could ever dream of. Not only do they have to come to terms with these fantastic responsibilities as they are ripped away from Earth and planted amongst the galaxy’s best and brightest, they have to find a way to get along with each other and change the reputation the rest of the intelligent galaxy have for the humans from Earth. Oh, and then there’s the whole political backstabbing, galactic war thing. Oh, and did I mention they take galactic relations to Bill Clinton level?
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The four ‘kings’ are typical teens – game obsessed, self-absorbed, social media focussed. They don’t even like each other very much.
Part 1: Earth
Things weren’t going well. The crowd gyrated – a seething, sweaty 4000-eyed beast thirsting for blood. Cooper Simpson and his mate, The Ginge, glanced at each other across the stage. They shared a look that meant, ‘Keep playing and for God’s sake, don’t look up’.
The booing reached critical mass. Surely no amount of ‘cool’ could overcome their lack of ability and save them now.
Cooper glimpsed what looked like a whiskey bottle as it fizzed past his head. He heard a shriek of pain behind him. The drummer missed his beat, not necessarily evidence the missile struck him, given his lack of talent, but it definitely hit someone.
I’m going to die, he thought. Death by unimpressed fans. Great.
Things went from bad to worse as the power meter started flashing red – not good news. The power meter was the life blood of Rock Nation – the music simulation game they were currently jumping around in their respective bedrooms trying to master.
“Do something,” Cooper yelled in a manner which would’ve sounded like a perfect mix of aggression and panic had his voice not broken mid something.
“I was,” said The Ginge.
“In that case don’t do anything!”
“What?” said The Ginge. He looked up from his guitar in the kind of confused manner that led Cooper to think it was strung upside down. Either the guitar or The Ginge.
Cooper knew if anyone was going to save this gig it was him. Time to bring out the big guns, it was time for his go-to lead singer pose. He had been working on it in secret in the three weeks since the game had come out. Now was the time to unleash it. Cooper had crafted his go-to pose to be a subtle mix of lady-pleaser suave and bloke-respecting hard-arse rocker.
The flashing red meter intensified, definitely situation critical. This was the moment. He unleashed his move on the world–the world being the 2000 strong virtual crowd before him.
“Do we rock? Aww yeah!” he screamed triumphantly in full pose.
The first critic disagreed in a review that struck him between the eyes. At least the missile was only a hotdog this time. Like the professional he was, he jumped to his feet as if nothing had happened. The drummer missed another beat – the hotdog could have ricocheted.
Bam! Everything changed. The words ‘You Lose’ filled the apprentice fake rockers’ view. In an instant their world was transformed into a whirl of pixels and light. Then a blur. Then reality–real reality. They had lost; time for recriminations.
“What the hell was that?” sniped Cooper through his headset.
“I’m tired dude,” said The Ginge. “I only had five hours sleep last night and it’s already 1am! Speaking of ‘what the hell’, what the hell were you doing at the end?”
“That? That was the go-to move I was telling you about.”
“I thought you were doing something obscene with the microphone. I was about to grab the mic stand to try and prise you two apart!”
“Don’t diss the go-to move.”
“Only if you do me a favour and don’t go-to it again.”
“Yeah, you’re funny,” said Cooper. “Man I love that game! Shit, did you say 1am? I’m calling it a night–seeya out the front tomorrow.”
“No wuckers. What’s first tomorrow?”
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
Cooper eased into consciousness despite the blearing of his alarm. BEEP.
He contemplated just lying there and forgetting life, exams, graduation, his future and every other boring formality that was dominating his life.
Alarm crisis over. Now it was only a matter of time before drill-sergeant Mum would come bounding through the door and shout…
“Up you get Coops, breakfast time!”
Like clockwork, he thought. “Urgh”, he said.
Cooper gave in to the inevitable and hit the shower. After a pleasant, but timed, four minutes of refreshing warmth, he studied himself in the mirror. Cooper had fared well in the looks department, despite the attempted rebellion from his teenage body. The occasional pimple protruded but didn’t dominate. He was slim without being skinny, had dark hair, olive skin, brown eyes and a broad smile.
He messed-up his hair, played with the angle of his collar and ran cold water over the bags under his eyes. All the while one word ran through his thoughts: Knuckles.
Breakfast. Toast, Vegemite, honey, orange juice, questions from mum. Cooper’s dad, Brenton, had already left for an interstate conference leaving him easy prey for one of his mum’s ‘motivational’ talks. It seemed far too early in the morning to deal with such things, the general plan of attack would be to keep the responses short.
“Have you finished your Politics presentation?”
“Good. It’s only three weeks until exams then it’s all over. Then you’ve got summer to relax and earn some money with the job I have arranged for you. You could even stay up to one o’clock in the morning playing those silly games on occasions.”
It was a clear message that last night’s Rock Nation session hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“Mmmm,” responded Cooper with an unmistakable lack of enthusiasm and a mouthful of toast.
His mum had a good heart but seemed obsessed with making him a success. Success in the Simpson household was defined as a good career, ideal partner, investments, financial freedom and, most importantly, producing another generation to repeat the process. It was a family obsession. His elder brother and sister were both star graduates of the Simpson family Designing Better Children program. His sister, Hannah, ten years his elder, was a doctor; while his brother, James, was completing his Masters in Physics.
Then there was him, Cooper. He was by no means a failure, quite the opposite, he was a good student. The problem was he couldn’t help but think everything he was achieving was less a reflection on him and more the result of his parents’ good programming.
Eight o’clock. Time to call The Ginge.
“What man?” spat the response from the other end. “Have you any idea of the time? It’s only…what time is it?”
Cooper could almost smell the morning breath. “8am. Get your arse out of bed.”
“Dude, I have only had four hours sleep.”
“But we stopped at one.”
“You stopped at one, I just kept on rockin’,” said The Ginge as he pulled out his best air guitar pose for no one’s benefit but his own.
“Whatever, man. Meet you outside in ten.”
As he headed outside he thought a follow-up call to The Ginge was in order. “You ready?”
“Ready? I’m standing next to you!”
It had been ten minutes since The Ginge had woken yet he’d beaten Cooper outside. Did he shower? Eat? Change clothes? Clean his teeth? Some things are best left unanswered. Either way, before Cooper stood his best mate, displaying his trademark beaming smile, no attempt made to hide his far from perfect teeth.
It was a gesture that summed-up The Ginge perfectly. He was not blessed with a physically appealing exterior, but he never let that hold him back. Not that he could fade into the background with his glow-in-the-dark orange hair. Regardless he embraced it.
His actual name, Wesley Ellis, just didn’t suit him. He was, and would always be, The Ginge.
“Ginge! Whaddup?” said Cooper in his best home boy speak, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
“Just chillin’ wit my peeps, aii,” responded The Ginge in kind. “That was a good sesh last night. Despite getting slaughtered in the last gig we’re getting there.”
“Totally. I never thought we’d get past that record exec after our first demo. And what about the groupies,” said Cooper.
The Ginge offered a knowing smile, then a confused frown followed by an extended pause. “What groupies?”
“The groupies. After the TV appearance.”
“So, let me get this straight,” said The Ginge, “while I was meeting with the stage manager to plan the gig, you were doing… whatever it was you were doing… with groupies. Typical.”
“I was attacked by them; I had no time to get you. Besides it’s only a game,” said Cooper. “I wish it were real life though. Not just the groupies, all of it.”
“Could you imagine? That’d be awesome. I’m sure in real life you’d save me some groupies.”
“Hell yeah. Let’s face facts though; nothing even remotely interesting comes close to happening to us in real life.”
“Plenty happens to us,” said The Ginge.
“Well for one, how about that fishing trip to the Southern Ocean last spring? That was amazing! Serious big-game fishing. And how ‘bout when that pod of whales swam right up to the boat?”
“That doesn’t count.”
“That was another game,” said Cooper.
“But we experienced it.”
“But it wasn’t real,” said Cooper, slightly slower for ease of comprehension.
“Oh. Yeah. Sure. Anyway heaps of real things happen to us too.”
“Remember the time…what about…ah, when we…I know…what about the time we were at the football and some of the players were injured in that bus crash on the way to the stadium and we had to fill in for them? I quite clearly remember scoring twice and passing a goal off to you too. Talk about experiences–there must have been 60,000 people there that day!”
“That was a game too.”
“No not a sport game, a game game,” said Cooper.
“Are you sure?”
“Ginge, we can’t even play football.”
“I know that but the way I remember it we just kinda got on a roll.”
“Got on a roll! You signed a multi-million dollar contract with Manchester United!”
The Ginge remembered it fondly. “Yeah.”
“You made TV commercials.”
“’Yeah.” More fond memories.
“You were treated like a rock star.”
“It didn’t happen, did it?” said The Ginge.
Cooper made a mental note to let The Ginge enjoy his fairyland thoughts next time.
It was a short walk to school with two basic choices of direction: the creek or the street. Both had their advantages. The street was quicker and passed by Rhiannon Richardson’s place. She was the local hottie, the thought of bumping into her in the morning was very appealing to both boys. The creek offered serenity, nature and the chance to ruin it all by throwing rocks into the pond, sending the birds scurrying.
But when choosing the path to school there was only one meaningful factor to consider; avoiding Bradley Thomas. Bradley went by the alias Knuckles; a moniker he had given himself to sound more threatening. He was also referred to as Knuckle-head; a name The Ginge created, strictly for use when Bradley was out of earshot.
The single most feared creature in the schoolyard, Knuckles strutted around inside a body a 22-year-old would be proud of. And he had facial hair; a true schoolyard status symbol. It was a goatee so thick it popped up and said, ‘Do you see that – I’m on the face of a frickin’ man’.
Knuckles had only been in the area for six months but in that time he had taken a particular dislike to Cooper. In the last week or so things had escalated. Knuckles had been camping out to intercept the boys on their way to school. Every day. Most disturbingly of all, he walked several blocks out of his way to do so.
He wanted a fight with Cooper, a battle surely only Knuckles could win.
So the choice of two roads to school had now become a 50-50 road to conflict.
“Heads street, tails creek,” Cooper announced as he flicked a $5 coin into the air.
A coin toss was an important part of the boys’ decision making process. Cooper enjoyed the freedom he felt by leaving decisions to fate.
“The coin says… creek.”
They jumped the hedge at the end of Watson Avenue and began walking along the path to the creek. There was a walkway that opened out to a reserve on the southern side. Backyards lined the reserve for a couple of blocks before the pond. Beyond that things turned more industrial with warehouses and depots replacing the houses; from there it was about a five minute walk to the school turn off.
“Poor Rhiannon will miss out on the chance to get a perve on us before school,” said The Ginge.
“At least her breakfast will stay down.” But Cooper couldn’t help thinking of Knuckles. “Alright – let’s do this. I’ve got to say I’m not in the mood to see numb-nuts this morning.”
“Seriously. What is that guy’s problem, man? I’m really starting to worry about your future health and wellbeing!”
“So am I, my friend, and comments like that aren’t bloody helping.”
Cooper looked left, then right, then behind, then left and right again. The good news was the coast was clear and, even better, there were a number of other people in the park, jogging or walking, themselves or their dogs.
Phew. Plenty of potential witnesses, Cooper thought. Wait, that’s not good. For there to be a witness there needs to be a major crime!
“You know, Ginge, I have enough problems in life without worrying about when this tool is going to jump out from behind a bush and head butt me.”
The Ginge studied his friend. “You? Problems? As if you have problems. You want problems, you talk to me.”
“That sounds like a challenge. You’re on,” said Cooper. “Graduate school. Go to university. Get a good Job. Find partner. Invest. Marry partner. Buy house. Breed. Build nest egg. Retire. My life seems like it has been planned to the letter from now until when I die. The worst bit is I have no idea what I actually want to do. The more I think about it all, the more I want to spend my life just doing what I want to do, but I don‘t know what that is!”
“Oh, I’m going to be a success and it’s such a bore, poor me,” mocked The Ginge. “My turn. I’m 17. Unlike you, I have no idea what I’ll be doing when school finishes for, like, the rest of my God-dammed life! The only thing I’m any good at is playing computer games, but I doubt I’d make the pro circuit. Which leaves me with my back-up plan, which is, oh, hang on a second, nothing! Oh and I’ve never had a girlfriend. Ever. I did get to third base with Jenny Anderson at a party once. That was until some prick turned the light on and she realised she was with me and scurried off with her hands over her eyes saying ‘What have I done?’. Which is hardly a surprise when you look at my face!” The Ginge added emphasis by pointing at his face.
“How many times do I have to apologise for that? If I had known you were getting busy I would’ve stayed well away!”
“Doesn’t matter. It‘s all about our little challenge right now and I do believe I win!”
“Hang on, let’s not forget I also have the fat-headed, goatee-growing, shit-for-brains, future-high-security-inmate who calls himself Knuckles, wanting to pummel me. Knuckles, I mean, who calls themselves that? Probably someone who drags said appendages on the ground when he walks.”
“It’s a draw,” Cooper declared. He looked at The Ginge for a response but all he got was stunned, open-mouthed silence. The Ginge appeared to be looking at something… oh no, please no…
“You talkin’ about me?” came the deep and instantly recognisable voice from behind.
“Oh shit,” whispered Cooper. He closed his eyes and turned around knowing what he would face when he opened them.
“Fancy meeting you here, Knuckles,” he said in the most relaxed manner he could muster.
Knuckles towered over Cooper, despite being not much taller. He wore a smile but he did not look happy.
Standing beside Knuckles was one of his followers, Pete Bates, smiling in anticipation. Pete was a short, wiry fringe-dweller who emitted a creepy vibe. He wore his straight black hair down to cover as much of his face as possible. His attire, as always, was as black as his hair. The only relief from the hue came from his pale skin and the words Bite Me written across his t-shirt.
Knuckles stepped forward. “I said are you talking about me?”
“No. Not really,” lied Cooper. He would’ve sounded almost believable had his voice not decided to break again.
“You said my name. And you also said something like fat-headed-future-high-security-inmate,” Knuckles said.
“You forgot goatee-growing,” Pete said.
“And shit-for-brains,” said The Ginge. Cooper elbowed him in the ribs.
Knuckles eyed his quarry. “If you’ve got a problem with me at least have the balls to say it to my face… loser.”
Time stood still.
Cooper weighed up his options. He could see no positive outcome but he was already in far too deep to talk his way out. He looked at Knuckles; there was no way he could take him on. He looked at Pete who had his camera phone at the ready, waiting for the carnage to unfold so he could send the vision on to everyone he knew.
Then he shot The Ginge a look, which he was hoping would be translated as ‘get ready to run, very fast’.
Finally he addressed Knuckles. He knew what he was going to say, he knew the consequences but he just couldn’t help himself.
Pete hit the record button. Knuckles saw it, everyone saw it. Whatever happened next would be captured on video phone for all to see.
In a flash The Ginge whipped out his video phone and started recording too.
Did The Ginge think that was what the signal meant? It meant run! Not film me getting beaten up from a second angle.
Time started again when Cooper opened his mouth. “I said you were ‘a fat-headed-goatee-growing-shit-for-brains-future-high-security-inmate who drags his knuckles on the ground.”
Knuckles stood over him breathing heavily through his nose. He was either contemplating how he would destroy Cooper or what cool one-liner he could make for the benefit of the two-man film crew.
“You’re dead!” grunted Knuckles as he swung a roundhouse punch at Cooper’s head.
Cooper ducked, successfully. As he heard the whoosh of air pass over him he yelled ‘run!’. He knew he could outrun Knuckles any day of the week. Sure, it would not look good on the video but when the flight instinct kicked in there’s no going back. He bolted.
Everyone else took a couple of seconds to react. When Cooper turned around he realised he had a good 3-4 metre lead on Knuckles and another couple of metres on the paparazzi.
It was at that point that the problem with his plan became apparent. He was carrying a school bag, full of text books and paraphernalia, which probably weighed in at 10kg. Knuckles was bag free.
Cooper looked around, now he only had a two metre advantage. He could drop his bag; it would lighten him up and he could get away. But then he would be giving his worldly possessions to Knuckles; phone, iFlex, homework – not going to happen.
Suddenly he felt Knuckles’ hand brush his shoulder. He shook it free. He had to do something and fast. There was a tree a few metres ahead. He had no real plan but the tree seemed better than wide open space. If nothing else it could be something to hide behind.
Cooper felt his shoulder crush as Knuckles latched on, in a flash he dropped to the ground.
Knuckles maintained his grip but the downward momentum threw his upper body forward. Then his legs met Cooper’s collapsed body knocking his feet from under him. Before he knew what hit him he was airborne, tumbling forward at speed.
Until he hit the tree.
Like the legendary R M Williams, Matt was born in Jamestown in rural South Australia. But that’s where the remarkable similarities between these two end. While Reginald went from bushman to world renowned millionaire outback clothing designer, Matt is a complete dag who was lured by the city lights of Adelaide. Kindergarten in the big smoke was a culture shock, but it is here he first discovered his love of storytelling.
In high school that love found an outlet in a series of completely unflattering cartoons about fellow students and teachers alike. He survived long enough to further his art into a successful career in multimedia design but, like a zombified leech, the lure of the written word gnawed at him, forcing him to pen his first novel, the award-winning sci-fi comedy epic, Kings of the World. It was followed the next year by Amazon Australia dystopian sci-fi best-seller Apocalypse: Diary of a Survivor.
Matt donates part-proceeds of each book sold to find a cure for Rett Syndrome, a neurological condition the youngest of his three children, Abby, has. As a gorgeous Rett angel, Abby cannot walk, talk or use her hands in a meaningful way. So, not only is each of your book purchases a ticket to fantastically rounded, character driven, hilarious and poignant sci-fi awesomeness, it wraps you in a warm feeling that you’ve made a difference to people who deserve your help the most. Like the zombified leech it’s a no-brainer.
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