Josh is a gamer. After his parents' divorce and his move from Chicago to a small town where he doesn't know anybody, he copes by staying up way too late playing Killswitch online. Then he discovers a "mod" version of the game that is an exact reproduction of his new town. Strange things start to happen in the game, and they are somehow connected with events in the real world.
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Copyright © 2017 Sean Rodman
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Rodman, Sean, 1972-, Firewall / Sean Rodman. (Orca soundings)
Issued in print and electronic formats.ISBN 978-1-4598-1453-0 (softcover).—ISBN 978-1-4598-1454-7 (pdf).—ISBN 978-1-4598-1455-4 (epub)
I. Title. II. Series: Orca soundingsPS8635.O355F57 2017jC813'.6C2017-900833-1C2017-900834-X
First published in the United States, 2017 Library of Congress Control Number: 2017933024
Summary: In this high-interest novel for teen readers, Josh discovers a virtual town that is eerily similar to his own.
Orca Book Publishers is dedicated to preserving the environment and has printed this book on Forest Stewardship Council®certified paper.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Edited by Tanya Trafford Cover image by Dreamstime.com
ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERSwww.orcabook.com
Printed and bound in Canada.
20 19 18 17 • 4 3 2 1
To my family, who support my writing habit with passion and patience. I couldn't do it without you.
Preview of Tap Out
I’m made of high-caliber awesome.
Check me out. I’m the hulking guy dressed in combat gear, lurking in the shadows of a bombed-out building. My blue-uniformed torso is draped in ammunition, a one-man arsenal. And the gun I’m holding—there’s no way on earth that anyone could realistically grip this massive multi-barreled weapon of destruction.
But I can. Because—like I said—high-caliber awesome.
All right, full disclosure. Obviously, that’s not actually me. In real life, chicken-bone arms stick out from my faded black T-shirt. I have puffball brown hair and a spattering of zits around my nose. I’m a little short, just enough that I never get picked for basketball. That combined with my baby face makes everyone think I’m in ninth grade—even though I’m in eleventh. Not too surprisingly, I prefer the on-screen version of myself. It’s part of the reason why Killswitch is my favorite video game. In the game, I’m a “warfighter.” A cyborg warrior. Here in the real world, I’m a gamer. And a nerd.
I find the can of Monster Juice next to my keyboard and take a swig. Readjusting my headset so the microphone is closer to my lips, I wipe each sweaty hand on my jeans before grasping the controller again. I make my warfighter turn in a circle, surveying our bombed-out headquarters.
“Griggs?” I say into the microphone. “You logged in?”
“Keep your diaper on, Josh.” His voice fuzzes out from my headset. “My connection sucks, and I’m a little laggy tonight. Let me try again.” A few seconds later, another warfighter appears next to me on the screen. Identical blue super-soldier armor, except for a glowing green “tag” floating above his head. That shows that this soldier is on my side.
“I’m in,” Griggs says. “You see me now?” His guy moves a little jerkily, stuttering in little pixelated jumps as he turns around.
“Yep,” I answer. “All right, let’s go. First stop is the helipad.”
Both warfighters start jogging smoothly out of the ruined building, and the view opens up. It’s a battlefield, the scene of a war in progress. A war that won’t end as long as we keep playing. The camera tracking our two characters follows us down into a crater. Griggs stops and covers me while I inch forward carefully. I peer over the far edge of the crater. Tracer fire in the distance arcs between two broken-down skyscrapers. I hear a rushing sound in my headset and flatten to the ground. Just in time, too, as something huge swoops by overhead. It looks like the evil love child of a military helicopter and a dragonfly—a bugchopper. The roar in my headset is deafening. I tap on the keyboard to drop the volume down.
“You got that one?” I say. Turning around, I see Griggs is already aiming his massive weapon at the bugchopper as it soars away. There’s a flash of yellow light that obscures the screen. The missile quickly closes in on the helicopter, trailing jagged clouds of exhaust. There is a second flash of light as the target disintegrates.
“Yes!” says Griggs. “Suck it!” The tag above his warfighter flashes as he racks up some extra points. His super-soldier does some weird little jerky moves—Griggs’s victory dance, I guess.
“Yeah, yeah. You’re the big man,” I say. “Just watch my back, okay?” I push my controller forward and clamber over the side of the crater. Gun up, crosshairs floating midair, ready for anything.
Almost. I’ve walked right into an ambush—a group of soldiers is waiting for us. Warfighters just like Griggs and me, except their armor is red. Other players sitting in their bedrooms somewhere, ready to atomize us. I key the button on my controller to bring up my flamethrower. Pulsing red crosshairs appear, floating over an enemy soldier’s helmet. A clean head shot. The flamethrower will be overkill. Satisfying though.
Before I can squeeze the trigger, my world dissolves into jittery static, filled with bullets and laser fire. Messages in tiny script start scrolling up from the bottom of my screen—[low health, critical hit.] My warfighter jerks randomly and stumbles backward. The screen is so full of gunfire that I can’t even see the guys who are killing me. This isn’t right. They shouldn’t be able to deliver that much heat. Whoever this is, they’re cheating somehow.
Dimly I hear a muffled hammering sound. I ignore it and keep jamming the buttons on my controller.
“Griggs!” I call out. “What the hell is going on?” Stabbing the controller buttons, I slowly manage to turn my character around. It’s not dignified—I’m running away in slow motion. As I inch forward, I see Griggs’s warfighter lying on the ground. There’s a red X floating over the body. He’s toast. Dead. His voice crackles through my headset.
“Sorry, man. I think they got me with a grenade.” I flinch at the crunch of an explosion on-screen and watch my warfighter suddenly fly through the air. He lands in a crumpled heap on the ground. I’m tagged with a red hovering X as well.
“Dammit,” I mutter. I was pretty proud of my warfighter. Spent way too much time grinding through levels, loading up on weapons and armor. And now he’s dead—I’m dead. Just like that. On-screen, a group of soldiers dressed in red combat armor jerkily run around our bodies, scooping up gear and ammunition. Then they disappear out of sight, leaving my digital corpse behind.
“Who were those guys?” I ask Griggs.
“Wolf Clan, I think,” says Griggs. “There was something sketchy going on there. Think they had cheat codes?” I can hear the disappointment in his voice too. “Want to respawn? One more game?”
The muffled hammering is back. Louder. More insistent. I realize it’s not a sound effect from the game and pull the headset down from around my ears. It’s my dad, banging on the bedroom door.
“Joshua? Open the door. Right now.” My dad is a cop, and he’s using his command-and-control voice. The one that makes perps drop their guns and piss their pants. I’ve built up an immunity to it. Mostly. I slap the laptop lid closed. Pull out a random binder from my backpack and flip it open, hiding the laptop beneath it. Then I open the door.
Dad’s in his pyjamas, which does nothing to make him seem more cuddly. A broken nose that never set right sticks out from his round, jowly face. His friends on the force call him “Big Dog,” and it’s an appropriate nickname. Bark, bite—both are unpleasant.
“You know what time it is?” he says. Gray eyes bore steadily into mine. I make a show of looking around for a clock.
“I don’t know, but it’s really late. Thing is, I’ve got this math test tomorrow, and I don’t want to screw it up. Still trying to get used to the new textbook. It’s all different from my old school.” Dad still feels guilty about the divorce. About moving us away from big-city Chicago to rural little Valleytown, two time zones away from everything and everyone that I grew up with.
I play the guilt card whenever I can. But he’s not buying it tonight.
“Don’t give me that bull. I heard you shouting to your buddies, playing that damn game. You think I’m deaf and blind?” He stomps into the room, filling the doorframe and crowding me out of the way. He looks down at the open math binder and flips through a few lined pages. “This looks pretty blank to me.” He nudges it aside, revealing the laptop. Dad lays a big meaty palm on it for a moment.
“Your computer feels pretty warm, like it’s been running for a couple of hours.” It sucks having a cop for a dad. “I’ll hold on to this for a while.”
“No, c’mon. That’s not fair,” I say. It sounds like begging—it is begging—and I wince. He hates that. Dad’s face toughens up even further. He tucks the silver laptop under his arm and turns toward the door.
“Mom wouldn’t do this to me,” I say. I snap the words out like tracer rounds, and they stop Dad cold. He half-turns back to me, his bald head shaking slowly back and forth. He grimaces like he’s swallowing something he doesn’t like.
“Get to sleep. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.” He turns away and doesn’t look back, just turns out the light and clicks the door shut.
I flop back onto my bed. Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I text Griggs.
Busted. AWK for tonight. Away from keyboard. Maybe permanently. I flip through the incoming texts on my phone. A couple from Jane, back in Chicago. That’s complicated. I can’t handle texting her back right now. Not that I ever can. It’s been weeks.
So I shut the phone down and lie there in the dark.
I can imagine a bright red X hovering over my body, just like in the game. I’m dead in the virtual world, and my real life sucks even more.
„Ich bin wirklich begeistert. Auch die Möglichkeit des zusätzlichen eReaders im Abo finde ich persönlich toll.”
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Mikka liest das Leben...
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