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A reward for my constant readers

This week I thought rather than me giving you insight into the world of the Indie Publisher, I would give you a taster of the latest published book, The Supremacy Games. Apologies to those who have read it already. I’ve you’ve not read it, I’m hoping this might give you enough of a taster to entice you to give it a go.

 

The USA’s search for a winning competitor had widened inexorably in the years following the 4th 100/1 Tournament. The huge cost in administering this was accepted in their search for supremacy. That most entries were not made in the hope of winning was countered by heavy penalties for anyone suspected of trying to lose. All modern performance measures were used on each applicant, and the punitive fines applied to those seen not honoring the contract they signed prior to the pre-prelims, increased to prison terms in the latter stages of selection.

What had been designed to diffuse tensions across the globe had become a bitter conflict each year. Moreover, the Supremacy Games caused difficulties within nations themselves. First, and still remained, the question over morality that Ducret unwittingly raised. For every person who willed their country onto victory there was another who called for them to withdraw. Protests and counter demonstrations are common place where one side would denounce what they described as encouraged barbarism, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since gladiatorial Rome, whereas others point to the lack of any major wars in recent years as full justification for anything that happens within the Games. More recently, other social arguments have been raised. Russia was the first to allow women to apply. When Olga Avdeyeva not only made it through to represent her country, but performed well at the 2025 tournament, narrowly missing out on the final stage and escaping serious injury, many other countries, including the USA, permitted female applicants.

That no woman had gone on to represent the USA was increasingly being overlooked in favor of another glaring omission. Despite their dominance in many major sports in the country, no African-American had made it through. What’s more, when it came down to the national televised stages this group was significantly under-represented.

‘And besides, like Martin says, have you ever seen a black person get selected?’ Ethan added, unable to disguise an element of bitterness in his tone.

The look Gabrielle gave him was far worse than the one from earlier, but his comments had served to sever the conversation. An awkward silence descended whilst Martin repeatedly checked his phone in the hope that time would pass quicker, and he would be able to escape to the confines of the school bus.

‘I think I might do some stretches in the front yard,’ he suggested weakly, his patience having run out. The atmosphere cleared a little as both his parents wished him luck and gave him a rare hug to see him on his way.

As Martin walked off the porch of his smaller than average house on Highland Avenue, he drank in the sights and sounds of the spring morning. They were dominated by the GM Truck plant beyond the railway to his right but, aside from that, he could be in any one of a thousand suburban streets up and down the United States. His parents had moved out from the city just before he was born, benefitting from the low interest rates of the time to secure a home in a much safer area than downtown Detroit. Bloomfield Township was nowhere near as fancy as neighboring Bloomfield Hills, whose mansions and gated drives attracted the elite, but some of the sparkle rubbed off. That he went to the same senior school as many of the middle-class residents there was seen as an advantage by his mom, but whilst Martin was grateful for his upbringing he couldn’t fail to notice the inequality between himself and many of the other kids.

This was no more felt than when he arrived at school. For whilst he was still catching the bus, many of them arrived at Bloomfield High, despite living in walking distance, in brand new cars gifted to them by their wealthy parents.

But none of this was even close to the forefront of Martin’s mind that day as the bus trundled down Telegraph Road and onto its final destination in the picturesque setting on the shorefront of Orange Lake.

‘You’ll do awesome,’ said Nathan, sat next to him.

‘I wasn’t even thinking about it,’ he replied coolly, only to burst out laughing a few moments later. There was no point trying to hide his feelings from his best friend, whom he’d known since their moms used to make the short walk together to Franklin pre-school.

‘Yeah, sure! Listen though, I hear there are a record number of people taking the test this year, so you know what that means, don’t you?’

‘Look man,’ Martin said, putting a good-natured arm around Nathan’s shoulder. ‘We got this. If we can’t get through the pre-prelims, then no one from Bloomfield’s going through.’

‘I don’t know bro, I may have to drag your big ass over the finishing line and that could cost me valuable time.’

‘Not as much as me having to stop to throw your skinny ass over some of them obstacles,’ Martin responded.

‘Not before I Ducret your ass!’ Nathan managed before they both fell into fits of laughter again. Whilst neither of them would accept such insults from many others, the truth was that their contrasting physiques benefitted them in different areas. Who would win in a sprint race would usually come down to how far they would be travelling. Martin’s more powerful frame would see him take it over 100m, and probably 200m, but Nathan’s slimmed build gave him better stamina over longer distances.

Today saw them look more alike than at any point in their lives. Much of Nathan’s preparation over the past months had seen him using the free weights at the school’s well-stocked gym, whereas the majority of Martin’s exercise had been focused on cardio-vascular machines, where he split most of his time between the treadmill and the cross-trainer. Whilst any individual event between them would be a far closer call than ever before, they still liked to believe that they held the edge in their previously favored disciplines.

Their humor stopped abruptly as the bus made the long sweep into the large parking lot and the faculty member on duty guided them to one of the drop-off points at the front of the school. The entrance was bedecked with banners of support, along with an enormous arch of balloons in the High’s colors of blue and white; reminiscent of the annual homecoming parade. But what caused the passengers to stop and stare was all the military vehicles parked to one side. Everyone knew that the army was tasked with administering the physical tests throughout the country, not least because no organization had the sheer manpower required to deal with the numbers involved, but the collection of Humvees and personnel carriers was awe inspiring.

To Martin it reminded him of one of those post-apocalyptic movies he’d seen where some catastrophic event, like a zombie outbreak, had required the National Guard to take over; in an attempt to restore order.

‘Just a day like any other,’ he muttered, more to himself than to Nathan, as they got off the bus, and into the pandemonium that awaited them. The presence of not just other students to greet them, but the teachers as well, spoke volumes for the importance placed on this day by the school. For somewhere like Bloomfield High, whose results always compared favorably nationally, they saw the pre-prelims as a way of further enhancing their reputation. Given what the assessment was meant to ultimately lead to, they fell short of actively recruiting students to take part, for fear of parental backlash, but did nothing to dissuade those who expressed an interest.

In fact, Martin had been treated differently the moment his gym teacher had enquired with a casualness betrayed by a glint in his eye, whether he was thinking about entering. The school must have been compiling a list long before any of the papers were signed because, from that moment, life at Bloomfield High changed for Martin. Having always been unexceptional in class he got a glimpse into what things had been like all along for the high-flyers. He was no longer just 1 person among 1700 others, he was now part of an elite band of students. Staff who had never taught him, suddenly knew his name and greeted him warmly in the corridors. Nathan had similarly cottoned on to the change of atmosphere and together they tried to see how far they could exploit the teachers’ good will. The answer was nowhere near as far as they’d hoped, given there had been no let-up in either the volume of assignments or flexibility on when they were due.

However, it was now, as the rest of the bus passengers tried to push their way past the crowds and into the building, that Martin considered what it would have been like if he hadn’t ended up signing the papers. Surely there must have been some students who had decided to back out of it before it was too late. If for no other reason, there would be many parents like his mom, who were dead against it. Although the law had been changed to allow 17 year old’s to sign up without parental permission, there must be plenty of 12th graders under pressure from home not to make the commitment. Martin couldn’t help but feel the school’s favorable treatment towards him was a subtle way of trying to exact their own, opposite, force compelling him to go the distance.

He shook his head to dispel such thoughts. It wasn’t as though he’d experienced the slightest moment’s hesitation, irrespective of his mom’s protestations. Even if a better college place wasn’t riding on his success in the pre-prelims, he knew he was good enough to pass and he wanted his day in the sun.

Martin wasn’t sure when he first realized something was wrong. With all the explosions and sounds of gun fire that Captain Dubrowski had warned them about, and not to mention the sheer torture of the course itself, Martin had found it hard enough to focus on the task at hand, let alone everything that was going on around him.

On reflection, he supposed it was the demeanor of the soldiers. Initially they had acted the same as when they had lined the route of the run yesterday, barking out instructions and supposedly motivational insults, but with a detachment that suggested they would have rather been doing anything else that weekend. Martin had stuck to his plan of striking out at a fair pace and found himself in the front five of the people in his billet. His natural strength was proving advantageous as he climbed ropes and scaled walls. His physique also provided him with a degree of insulation when it came to the freezing pits of water that were interspersed between the more physical obstacles. His footing did escape him when he attempted to traverse a long series of wooden posts, which caused him to lose time restarting the section, but he was buoyed by the fact that, at no point, did he spot the Hillbilly Boys closing in on his position.

Martin had little time to consider how Nathan and Marcy might be getting on behind him, and he just hoped that they didn’t lose too much of whatever advantage they had gained yesterday. For now, more than anything, he wanted to see the three of them through to the next stage. Whatever the future held for him in the Games’ qualification process, he knew that it would be much better if he had their companionship.

As he approached a part of the course where he would need to climb over a series of increasingly high horizontal logs, he cast his usual glance over at the soldier manning the start in case there was a specific instruction associated with the obstacle, or if he had any warnings about areas to avoid. But although the guy was facing Martin, he was clearly distracted by something on the radio. Keen not to lose time to this man’s incompetence and, with what was required fairly obvious by the way the logs were set out, Martin continued; only to find a similar situation at the next obstacle. Whether anything was amiss further on he couldn’t say for certain because after that point he hit the wall of his endurance. Having to retreat into his own consciousness to find the physical and mental might to complete the course, he nearly collapsed as he reached the end.

He took the crowd of people gathered there as a good sign, believing that he had managed to catch up with the tail end of the previous billet. But his exhausted sense of satisfaction disappeared as soon as he saw Marcy with a blanket wrapped around her.

With his fatigued brain trying to fathom how she had managed to get past him on the course without him noticing, when he saw the look on her face as she stared up at him, he knew that she hadn’t. And judging by the horror etched onto her features, her failure to complete meant she was out of the competition. He just hoped that whatever injury that had prompted her withdrawal was no worse than a sprained ankle.

‘Are you okay?’ He asked, instantly regretting asking such a stupid question when clearly, she was anything but fine. He was sure he would feel the same under similar circumstances.

But rather than see any bitterness in her expression, all he witnessed was confusion as she studied him. ‘Don’t you know?’ Marcy asked.

‘Know what?’

‘You mean you didn’t hear? You weren’t stopped?’

‘What is it?’ Martin demanded, a sense of dread washing over him.

Marcy didn’t answer him straight away; she couldn’t. She broke down into a flurry of sobs.

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