Authors: Marc Cerasini
Dedicated to the memory of Godzilla's creator,
In the year 1999, in the seventh month,
from the sky will come a great King of Terror...
Century 10, Quatrain 72
by Marc Cerasini
Deep space, a long time ago...
For a billion years, a swarm of asteroids sped across the universe, propelled by the momentum of a galactic catastrophe.
For a long time, the chunks of rock, ice, and debris traveled through space, unaffected by the celestial bodies around them. Finally, the swarm fell into an enormous elliptical orbit in a galaxy at the edge of the universe.
Part of that orbit included a small solar system with ten planets, many moons, and an unimpressive yellow sun.
* * *
Time passed. The asteroids circled in their immense orbit. Every sixty-five million years or so, the swarm of rocks and ice would cross the orbit of the little ten-planet solar system.
On one such pass, a huge asteroid in the swarm struck the system's fifth planet, annihilating it utterly. Some of the debris from that collision drifted into a set orbit around the yellow sun, forming a belt of asteroids.
Most of the swarm, however, remained unaffected. It continued in its immense elliptical orbit, speeding away from the little solar system once again.
* * *
Another sixty-five million years passed, and the swarm returned to these same planets once more. There was another collision. This time a huge asteroid struck the third planet from the sun.
Before the collision with the asteroid, the planet was a verdant world covered by living oceans and land thick with jungles, swamps, plains, and thousands of species of reptilian creatures of all shapes and sizes.
Although life on the third planet was not eradicated completely, the changes caused by the impact were such that evolution there took an entirely new direction.
The reptiles were all but destroyed. A new breed of warm-blooded creatures took their place as the preeminent life form on this blue-green planet.
Meanwhile, the rest of the asteroids swept out of the solar system once again. The swarm of rocks would not return for another sixty-five million years.
And life on Earth continued...
Friday, October 30, 1998, 1:23 P.M.
A video game arcade
Los Angeles, California
Kip Daniels stepped from the sun-dappled sidewalk into the dim video arcade. He blinked his blue eyes, waiting for them to become accustomed to the gloom. Although this place was only a few blocks from the campus of the University of Southern California, there were no students here.
Today the arcade was practically empty. That was lucky. Very lucky.
Kip had risked the coach's wrath by cutting gym class. It was the only way he could beat the afterschool crowd and claim his favorite video game. There was only one BATTLEGROUND 2000 machine in Los Angeles, and competition for it was fierce.
Playing BATTLEGROUND 2000 was worth any punishment, as far as Kip was concerned, and it was especially worth missing gym class. Kip wasn't good at baseball, basketball, or football. He hated push-ups and sit-ups. He couldn't even swim very well, and for a kid who lived in California, that was kind of an embarrassment.
But here at the arcade, Kip was the champ. All because of BATTLEGROUND 2000.
Kip pulled a five-dollar bill from his baggy jeans, stepped around a man in a black suit who was loitering near the door, and headed for the change machine. He turned his paper money into quarters, then went straight to the back of the arcade. Kip's heart raced when he saw the familiar blue-and-violet glow of the BATTLEGROUND 2000 machine.
Unfortunately, his hopes of claiming the game for himself were instantly crushed. A trio of Latino kids from another school had beaten him to it. Even worse, the teenagers were wearing gang colors.
Gangs were another part of life that Kip just couldn't get used to. He'd been living in Southern California for three years, but he couldn't stop comparing L.A. to Grand Rapids. He'd never had to deal with street gangs back in Michigan.
Warily, Kip eyed the gang members. Two of them were watching a third, who had a hair design displayed on his shaved scalp. Pretending disinterest and praying for invisibility, Kip checked the score in the right-hand corner of the screen.
Baldy's not doing so good
, Kip thought with some pride.
I can usually reach 250,000 points with my first Bullettchopper. This loser's on his third!
The two Latinos who stood behind their friend were also unimpressed. "Why're you so stupid?" the tall one cried, smacking the player on the back of his head. The blow broke the player's concentration and he lost his third and final Bullettchopper. The blue lights on the game changed to red and an alarm went off, announcing the end of play.
The kid with the designer head got up, and his friend pushed him out of the way. "Lemme show you, man!" the tall kid cried. "Gimme a buck."
But as the bald guy rose from the cockpit, he spotted Kip, who quickly averted his eyes.
"Hey, kid," the guy called. "You wanna play?"
Kip's face flushed. He didn't know what to say. At school, these were the type of kids who tormented him. But to Kip's surprise, there was genuine admiration on the Latinos face. "Come on, man," he called. "I watched you play yesterday."
The tall kid objected to Kip taking his turn at the game, but the other two silenced him.
"Wait till you see this kid play," Baldy insisted. "He's a terror, man!" He turned to Kip again. "Come on, kid," he called. "I ain't gonna hurt ya."
Kip nodded, then hesitantly approached the game. The tall kid moved aside and let him by. As he sat in the familiar cockpit and reached for the control stick, Kip drew some quarters out of his pocket. But to Kip's surprise, the Latino kid fed the machine with his own change.
"Go, man," he said, standing back and crossing his arms over his chest, watching as if Kip were a champion boxer and he was Kip's proud manager. The other two gang kids stepped back to watch, too.
Kip swallowed hard. He pressed the button marked PLAY and the blue-and-violet lights flashed. The eerie ultraviolet glow seemed to reach out and envelop him like a soft blanket. It was always this way when he played BATTLEGROUND 2000. It felt satisfying, predictable, even comforting - maybe because he was doing something that he was good at. Kip didn't know. Or care. He just wanted to play!
His hand gripped the control stick. Instead of shoving or jerking it, the way a lot of players did, Kip smoothly eased it from side to side, safely guiding the Bullettchopper through computer-generated valleys and mountain ranges. Even at high speed, Kip easily avoided the obstacles thrown at him.
Soon, he knew, things would become much more complicated. He didn't have to wait long.
First a gigantic bird swooped into his path. This surprised him. Usually the Spider-Robots attacked first. But despite the shock, Kip managed to dodge the Swooper's attack and fire back. He took the bird out cleanly.
Kip glanced at the screen. His first thousand points were displayed in the upper right-hand corner.
, he thought, remembering a quote from his favorite movie.
"Our first catch of the day."
After the Bird-monster - or Swooper - was duly dispatched, the attacks came fast and furious. The Spider-Robots, the Buzz Bees, the Razor Wasps - they all descended on Kip's little Bullettchopper. These were just some of the denizens that swarmed the cyber-world of BATTLEGROUND 2000.
As he concentrated, Kip barely noticed the gasps of awe and surprise that came from the gang kids behind him. The Latinos began to duck in time with the perils that appeared on the game screen. Their whoops and hollers got louder and more enthusiastic as the game progressed.
Kip was in top form today. Usually he had to play two or three times just to warm up. But today, for some reason, he was scoring better than ever.
Maybe it was the audience, he decided.
Suddenly, the score reached 500,000 and the game jumped to the second level. For a moment, the action eased. Kip permitted himself a breather. He noted with pride that he had never before reached the second level with his first Bullettchopper. He usually lost at least one along the way.
The game lights dimmed and flashed, and he was off again.
The second level - set against a cityscape of towering skyscrapers and street-spanning bridges - added a whole new set of obstacles. The occasional Swoopers, and the swarms of Buzz Bees and Razor Wasps were more numerous than ever.
But added to the mix were the Laser Bats and the deadly Flying Toads. The bats were tough to shoot down. And they shot back. Initially, Kip handled then threat deftly, easily downing the first three who came at him before they could fire a shot. He even managed to take out a swarm of Razor Wasps, too -
they could disperse and surround his Bullettchopper.
Then, unexpectedly, a virtual shadow fell over the Bullettchopper. Faster than Kip could possibly react, the Flying Toad slammed down on his fighter, crushing it to pieces.
Releasing the control stick, Kip watched helplessly as the debris fell to the virtual streets below. He glanced up at the scoreboard. He was nearly at the 700,000 mark, and he still had two Bullettchoppers left.
Kip was still ahead of the game. The lights dimmed and flashed, and he was quickly back in the war.
He heard oohs and aahs behind him, but he ignored his audience. Kip was too focused on the game to notice that more and more gang members were gathering around the BATTLEGROUND 2000 machine - and getting more and more excited.
Kip cried out in frustration when he lost his second Bullettchopper - again to a Flying Toad. But this time, he took the toad with him, reaching a total score of 950,000.
Kip exhaled in astonishment. He had never scored 900,000 before. It actually moved him to a third level. He hadn't even known a third level existed!
Kip's hands were sweating on the control stick, and his heart was racing. Usually he relaxed and got into the game. But as he moved to this new level, he felt an ominous sensation of someone Watching him - and not the gang kids who continued to mill around and shout their encouragement, either.
Kip shook off the feeling and forged ahead. As play resumed, he got his first glimpse of the third level's playing field.
It, too, was a cityscape. But this one was wrecked, as if a war had been fought among the towering skyscrapers. Some of the towers were demolished and leaned to the side, creating obstacles. Bridges were broken, and the tops of several of the tallest buildings were blown off.
Virtual smoke billowed from the wreckage. As Kip flew into it, he was temporarily blinded. His vehicle emerged in time to be attacked by a swarm of Laser Bats. He fired rapidly, dispatching all but one of the creatures.
The final Laser Bat took up a position behind Kip's vehicle, and he had to use all of his skills to dodge the beast's destructive rays, even as he raced through the virtual canyons of the ruined city.
Time and again, as Kip outran the Laser Bat, he had to defend himself against other creatures. Buzz Bees, Spider-Robots, and Razor Wasps threw themselves at him. He managed to dodge each attack and destroy every adversary.
But still the persistent Laser Bat dogged him.
Finally, in a desperate move, Kip deliberately flew into another billowing cloud of smoke. In the middle, he changed direction suddenly. When his Bullettchopper emerged once again, it had turned around and now faced the Laser Bat.
The audience cheered. Kip fired, and the bat exploded. But even as it did, a Flying Toad dropped out of the sky, its shadow covering the hovering Bullettchopper. Kip dived and turned - and two more Flying Toads were facing him.
Kip depressed the button, and his chopper spit fire. Two toads exploded. Kip stood his vehicle on its tail and fired upward, eliminating the third toad.