QSFer Matt Doyle has a new inclusive sci fi book out: The Spark Form Chronicles Collected Edition.
An over the top performer guarding his companion’s right to life.
A genius programmer striving to retrieve her boss’s property.
An ex-mercenary sick of the abuse that she and her girlfriend receive. A teenage girl desperately seeking to understand her past. An old man intent on living on his own terms.
Five professional card players. Five reasons to fight. One thing in common: Their lives will be touched by the existence of the AI known as Carnival.
The Spark Form Chronicles combines card gaming with the excitement of professional wrestling, and tells a complex story that asks a simple question: Can an AI every truly be alive? Now, WICK, CARNIVAL, GIFTS, and MOTT, all collected into one volume for the first time! This collection also includes both the official Spark Forming rules, and some example card art.
JOHN FORRESTER – 10:58
The outside of the E(E)SFC is pretty nice, you know, as far as large but pretty ordinary sports arenas go. The new statues either side of the main entrance are pretty funky. No idea what they’re supposed to be though. They look like some sort of bizarre four-dimensional something or other. Well, not really four-dimensional. An artist’s rendition of a three-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional…I dunno, mess. But a cool mess, that’s the main thing. It doesn’t really matter how bad something is, as long as it’s cool.
I take another quick glance at my watch. Two minutes to go. The doors are already open, at least to competitors like myself, but I have to time this just right or I forfeit the game. Carnival may be at the other side of the building, but she’d know if I cheated. Plus, there’d be no fun in that. No-no, no head starts for me. I shall just have to be content with dancing back and forth in front of the strange statues and waving to the fans as they pass outside the gate. Being a non-discriminatory sort of guy, I also wave to the people who clearly have no idea who I am. I really don’t know which ones make me smile more, the ones that look confused or the ones that shoot me looks of pity.
Time check. And I’ve been foiled by the evils of ‘the mysterious gust of wind that blows your hair into your eyes’. I always loved the look of long hair. It has that vintage rock star feel, ya know? I can’t think of a single video where the wind machines swoosh it across the guy’s face and obscure his vision at an inconvenient time though. Nope, I don’t think there has ever been even one hit song about not being able to tell the time because the wind has a vendetta against shoulder length hair.
That’s OK though. What was that old saying? The hand is mightier than the naturally occurring inconvenience? And so, with a quick turn and a flick of my wrist, I vanquish my foe, just in time to see that I’m now…fifteen seconds behind. Whoops.
Ah well, can’t be helped.
I grab my bag from beside the four-dimensional mess on the right and bound through the main doors and up to the reception desk, where I face obstacle number one, ‘staff who follow the rules’.
“John Forrester! Welcome back champ,” says ‘man in suit with rebellious red tie worn surely for no other reason than to stand out from his black tied compadres’. And so begins the search and chat formalities that comprise the opening stage of the game. While I’m trying to find a way to speed through the process, Carnival will no doubt be facing her own set of challenges. Or repeated singular challenge anyway.
See, this is a race. It’s an obstacle course too. At my end, I have to go through the checking in process, the everyday interactions with staff and colleagues, all the little things that make up a normal day but slow you down when you’re trying to get somewhere. It’s a challenge for me because while I probably could speed a lot of things up, I can sometimes get carried away with verbal detours and quirky small talk and end up letting things drag on far longer than I intend, much like this train of thought right here. Yup, time may fly when you’re having fun, but it’s not near as quick as Carnival when she has an open run.
Lucky for me, an open run is one thing she’s not likely to have. It’s the first day of the tournament, so most of the staff will have arrived early so that they can check everything is up and running. Plus, the race officially started at eleven, so I’d put money on the vast majority of the other competitors already being here too. Which means the corridors should be fairly active, which is great because her challenge is to reach our changing room without being seen.
It’s actually quite dangerous too, because if she were to be seen, then we’d both potentially be in a lot of trouble.
Not to worry though. She’s not been caught yet, not once in the last three years, not here, or anywhere else.
Obstacle number two is ‘staff that keep you informed’ and I’ve somehow ended up wrapped up in that one before I even clear the first obstacle. Which means that I don’t get an early opportunity to make up some ground. On the positive side, I am getting a verbal rundown of my schedule for the day. Apparently, I’m expected to be filming my interview for the requestable content thingy in a little over an hour or so. I guess I’ll have to get changed pretty sharpish. And what’s that ‘Mr. doesn’t want to leave me to my own devices’? My match is on last? Well, I knew that already. The defending champion always closes night one.
I’ll be closing night two as well. Losing just isn’t an option. Not for me, and not for Carnival.
I finally clear obstacle two somewhere around halfway to the finish line and quickly pick up the pace, breaking into a jog as I turn the corner of one corridor and start heading down another. Being able to pick up speed like this is a new experience for me. Last year, the spare Data Wick in my bag weighed me down a lot more than I expected so I made sure to gut it before packing this time. The shell is pretty strong, but it’s definitely the insides that give it the weight. I’m sure there are plenty of techies that would have heart attacks seeing the mechanical carnage back home but rendering it useless really isn’t a big deal. No one knows it’s just a spare other than Carnival and me, and it’s really only here because a competitor turning up without a Data Wick would lead to a whole bunch of awkward questions so it’s kinda essential for me to carry it with me until the I reach changing room. That’s cool though, pretending is fun.
Another corridor goes by and I speed past several obstacle threes, ‘the friendlies’, giving them just enough interaction to satisfy their needs, while I try to get a clear picture of where I am. I know where the changing room is because I’ve requested the same one every year, so I’m kinda running on autopilot at the moment. The problem is, I know that I’m probably way behind Carnival right now, so I need to figure out a short cut if I’m gonna win.
There’s no prize for winning. Actually, no, there is a prize. If I win, she doesn’t taunt me. She does sulk though. Which is kinda cute. Not cute like the chibi version of her from the Spark Force cartoon, or the cuddly-plushie-thingy they made of her after my first tournament win, just, you know, cute. And pretty amusing. But then, so are her taunts. So, I don’t really lose, even if I lose. Which sounds ridiculous in my head.
I glance down another corridor as I sail past, then remember four corridors later that I probably should have turned there and cut through one of the interview rooms. I guess I could double back. Ah, but if the interview room isn’t empty then that would probably take longer.
No, I think I should probably just keep going.
I’m nearly there now anyway. It’s pretty clear too, which means I’m still in with a shot, so I give myself a little internal cheer, mostly because the tongue-in-cheek self-adoration of a mock-narcissist is harmless fun, but also because an external cheer risks drawing the attention of stealth obstacle threes hidden behind closed doors. It takes until I finish pointing out to myself that that last part isn’t as paranoid as it actually sounds to realize that if it’s clear at my end, it’s probably equally as clear at Carnival’s end, and she’s a fair bit quicker than me so …
I round the last corner and sure enough, there she is, casually leaning against the door to our changing room. She tilts her head towards me with a big toothy grin, pushes the door open and walks inside, moving just slow enough to make sure that I catch the triumphant flick of her tail.
I bet she’s been there a little while, just waiting to make sure that I see her snatch the win.
I let out a nice big laugh and trot up to the now open door, smiling happily as I prepare myself for Carnival’s inevitable decrees of victory.
CONNOR FORD – 11:47
Thoroughly depressing is what it is. Every day, I swear my reflection looks a little older and every day my hands find some new bump or crevice.
“Oh, to be young again,” I sigh.
My eyes scan the room as the mirror sees it and I catch sight of my new robe hanging on the rail by the door.
“Awkward bloody thing”.
It’s actually a replica of my original robe from the first championships. All red with white fur trimming and some sort of ridiculous feather motif embroidered in silver all over the front of the monstrosity.
“Third I finished that year, third, yet what do they remember me for?” I ask my reflection. “The bloody robe.”
The worst of it is that I threw the damned thing on at the last minute because no one told me that I was supposed to have a costume until ten minutes before my first match. I found it in a bloody closet and the sodding thing became so synonymous with me that I was stuck with it after that.
I looked ridiculous in the thing in my 20’s and I look infinitely worst in it now that I’m in my 60’s.
I catch the light at the bottom of the door becoming obscured just before the inevitable knock comes. Feeling as cantankerous as I do, I wait for the shadows to start shifting awkwardly before responding with a suitably gruff, “Well open the bloody door then”.
The young lad that pushes the door open looks petrified. Good. He can suffer my indignation the same as every other …
“Sorry Mr. Ford sir, I’ve been sent to give you these,” he says, holding out a small wad of papers. “They, um, they want you ready for filming in fifteen minutes”.
“Interrupting my train of thought, are we? Well, you presumptuous little shit, you can tell them I’ll bloody well be there when I’m ready and not a damned second earlier. Are we quite clear?”
He puts the papers down and starts to fidget awkwardly, clearly unsure what to do next. I wait for signs that he’s about to say something then cut him off with a hate-filled glare and a cry of, “Well fuck off then,” sending him fleeing from the room, pale as a sheet.
Now that made me smile.
Matt Doyle is a speculative fiction author from the UK and identifies as pansexual and genderfluid. Matt has spent a great deal of time chasing dreams, a habit which has led to success in a great number of fields. To date, this has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler, completing a range of cosplay projects, and publishing multiple works of fiction.
These days, Matt can be found working on multiple novels and stories, blogging about pop culture, and plotting and planning far too many projects.