Incident on the Bridge
AS A KID, QUENTIN BARNES HAD DREAMED of seeing the galaxy.
He'd spent the first fifteen years of his life on a tiny, backwater colony called Micovi. He'd been an orphan and a miner, which were nicer terms to describe his real role in life: he'd been a slave . A slave earning subsistence wages that didn't fully cover his company-provided food and housing, wages that would never be enough to pay off the criminal debt incurred by his brother for the horrid crime of stealing bread. Quentin had been trapped, destined to live a life of dangerous labor, fighting every day just to survive long enough to hear the mine whistle that signaled the end of his shift.
Then he'd found football. Or, rather, football had found him.
Football threw the universe wide open. At fifteen years old, he'd signed with the Micovi Raiders of the Purist Nation Football League. He'd moved out of the miner's shantytown and into a dorm owned by the team. The next season, when he took over the starting quarterback position at just sixteen years old, he'd earned enough money to get his own apartment - it was the first time in his life he'd had any privacy, any room that was just his .
Then there was the travel , actually getting off of Micovi to visit the four planets, six colonies and the orbital station that made up the Purist Nation. He had traded slavery for the stars. He had seen more of the Nation than an orphan miner could have ever hoped for.
And that was just the beginning.
His natural talent, his work ethic and his intensity carried him even beyond the borders of his homeland and into the Galactic Football League, where only the best of the best played. He became the starting quarterback of the Ionath Krakens. He saw not only the planets of the Nation, but stars and worlds and stadiums all over the galaxy.
Playing in the GFL brought so many changes, the biggest of which was dealing with non-Human species for the first time in his life. He'd grown up in a system based on hatred of anything that was not like him. His grade-school education included training on how to kill all of the "lower races."
In the GFL, however, he had to play against and alongside those races. He'd entered the league as an uneducated bigot but quickly learned that his attitude would not bring him the thing he wanted most in life - victory on the football field. Quentin learned to let go of his preconceived notions, learned how to evaluate each sentient as an individual. Those once-hated aliens became his teammates, then became his friends and, soon after, became his family.
Discovering the universe. Meeting new races.
These two things had seemed like a dream.
Now, that dream had become a nightmare.
Quentin Barnes stood on the small bridge of the Touchback , the ship that carried him and his Krakens from system to system, from game to game. His body throbbed with pain, remnants of being smashed around like a toy when enemy rounds had ripped open his gun cabin. He'd been in an actual starship battle, he'd taken out a pirate fighter craft - in doing so, had he taken the life of a sentient? Quentin had damn near died himself as the cabin depressurized, had almost been ripped into space through a hole far too small for his 7-foot-tall, 380-pound body. His friends - Crazy George Starcher and Mum-O-Killowe - had saved him, risked their own lives to pull him out.
Quentin looked to the bridge's sealed bulkhead doors, where George and Mum-O stood. His two teammates stared out the bridge's floor-to-ceiling viewport windows. George looked shocked and mesmerized. Mum-O had no expression, at least not one Quentin could read on the Ki's black-eyed face. Stoic as ever, M