David is a forty-eight-year-old divorced accountant from Flint, Michigan, who finds himself drawn suddenly and without warning through the use of a virtual reality game into a world five hundred years in the future: the Planet Ethos. Flint, Michigan, still exists on Ethos, but it is a city rocked by colliding and seemingly contradictory forces. Advanced biotechnology coexists with avian species that have devolved to resemble ancient pterodactyls. Human beings are racially and religiously tolerant as never before, yet they've organized themselves along a tribal division between the Immortals and the Bereft. And Flint and Detroit are locked in a dangerous, violent conflict—a war that could annihilate the human race or secure lasting peace for the first time in history. Along with his adopted teenage son, Malcolm, David learns that on Ethos, humans have evolved the genetic capacity for immortality, a trait they earn by discovering their purpose in life, or their ethos. Does David, a consummate drifter, have such an ethos? Will he fight on the side of the Immortals, or join the Bereft, a group of humans who age and die naturally and eschew the idea that life has a singular, unchanging purpose? Join David and Malcolm in their struggle for meaning and their battle for the future of the human race itself.
|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
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Recent data from the Pew Research Center suggest that Flint, Michigan, continues to lag far behind the rest of the nation in job recovery —"
"Sabina. New station," David said tersely, interrupting the news report droning through the speakers of his car stereo. Sabina, the voice-activated computer running much of the car's processes, switched seamlessly to another station at David's command.
"— we'll be speaking with families who say their children are still affected by the water crisis of 2015," a different, saccharine voice was now saying.
"Sabina. Off," David interrupted again.
How could they call it "news" if none of it was new to anybody?
The car stereo speakers fell silent.
David shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Now the whisper-quiet engine of his hybrid car felt oppressive. He'd been searching for something to drown out his racing thoughts, but the latest news in Flint obviously wasn't the answer.
He lowered the driver's side window and let one elbow jut out. It was mid-summer in Michigan, and as if the heat weren't bad enough, the air was thick and heavy with humidity. He could almost feel condensation gathering on his elbow the moment his skin hit the outside air.
He shifted again and closed the window, muttering unconsciously to himself.
"Sabina, Max AC," David said to the dashboard console. A blast of cool air answered instantly.
These drives to Lila's house were always intolerable.
In the days leading up to his weekends with his teenage son Malcolm, a kind of pressure would begin building behind David's sternum. It was a curious and rattling mixture of joy at the prospect of spending time with his son and dread at the prospect of seeing his ex-wife Lila, even just for the few minutes it took to pick Malcolm up and drop him off.
Those shuffling minutes standing on the front porch of the home they had shared only three years before were always excruciating tangos through minefields. They'd start by exchanging strained pleasantries, and then — almost inevitably, no matter how desperately David tried to keep his voice measured and his conversation trivial — there would be some unintended offense. And then would come the accusations and the recriminations, all while trying to keep their voices low and their tone light, for Malcolm's sake.
Maybe just this one time, Malcolm would have his overnight bag packed and ready when David got there, so he'd be spared those minutes on the porch. Just this once.
But of course David knew this was a lost cause. Newly eighteen years old, Malcolm was all gangly limbs and pent-up energy. He was so thrilled by life and books and his friends and school and sports and girls and everything, all of it, that he couldn't contain himself. Any square yard he passed through was instantly a disaster zone, strewn with some weird, dog-eared Tolkien novel or a stray sneaker missing its mate or an open packet of new guitar strings, uncurling and jutting out at crazy angles.
"Of course his bag won't be ready," David breathed. "I'm doomed to the porch."
But just the thought of Malcolm's casual disarray had somehow cheered him. David felt himself soften back into the driver's seat at the promise of seeing his son for an evening and two whole days. Lila and he had agreed on joint custody in their divorce proceedings three years before, although David had a hard time understanding what exactly was "joint" about getting to see Malcolm only every other weekend and occasional, pre-determined holidays. Never for Passover or the first night of Hanukkah. He was always stuck with holidays-lite: the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve, when Malcolm understandably wanted to be with his friends like any other self-respecting teenager. This left David and Malcolm's holiday time together restricted to dreary Yom Kippurs.
David smiled unconsciously, thinking of a much younger Malcolm at the synagogue, the lone Black boy in a sea of white children rushing happily around their parents' knees. His kippah, the small skullcap worn by boys and men in the Jewish tradition, was perpetually askew. The bobby pin that secured it in place refused to stay in his hair, so David and Lila were forever following along behind him trying futilely to adjust it. There was no one to advise them on proper kippah securement on a tiny Black head. This was niche territory, to be sure.
Malcolm had come into their lives like all miracles, gradually and then suddenly. When it had finally become clear after years of trying that Lila couldn't conceive, they'd decided to do what they could to serve the growing ranks of Flint's children in desperate need. They'd gone through the counseling, the in-home social worker visits, the background checks, and had finally been added to a waitlist of prospective adoptive parents ... where they had languished, for years, without so much as a phone call from the agency.
And then, out of the blue, early on a Wednesday when Lila was already long gone to her job as an elementary school music teacher and David was in the middle of downing a too-hot Pop Tart so he could get to his accounting office before his first appointment, a call had come.
"We have a two-year-old boy," the social worker had said. With no ceremony, no fanfare, no hint that this moment held any momentousness whatsoever. Just, "We have a two-year-old boy." And then, "We need you here this afternoon."
David had choked on his pop tart, its molten strawberry contents catching in his throat as he repeated dumbly, "This afternoon? For an interview?"
"No," the woman answered, sounding bored. "You're already approved. We need you to pick him up this afternoon." "Pick him up?" David had turned into a cartoon parrot. "You mean, for ... forever?"
David could almost see the social worker rolling her eyes across the phone line. "Well, yes, for forever. That's what adoption means."
And that was how David had become a father: gradually and then suddenly.
He'd stopped being a husband in exactly the same way: slowly at first, and then all at once. He and Lila had both known for years that the warmth was gone, but speaking only for himself — he couldn't even begin to fathom what was going on in Lila's head anymore — David had hoped it might return. He'd clung to the idea that something could be salvaged, through bitter arguments and the much worse, days-long silences that followed. And then, one evening when Malcolm was at jazz band rehearsal his freshman year of high school, Lila had appeared in the kitchen doorway and said simply, "Let's not do this anymore."
And David had agreed. Not because he thought it was the right thing to do, but because he didn't really know what else to do. He'd never been particularly good in moments that required decisiveness; this had always been Lila's territory. David was usually two steps behind and ten minutes late.
He wasn't lazy or incapable. It certainly wasn't that he didn't care. He just didn't have Lila's knack for immediately discerning the heart of the matter and springing to action. He was the hemmer and hawer in their relationship. He had hemmed and hawed through much of his life. But as agonizing as the divorce had been, David had never regretted the marriage for an instant. It was without a doubt the sheer force of Lila's volition — from the moment her OB/GYN had gently, smilingly told them that she and David would never have a biological child — that had initiated every single step leading to Malcolm's adoption. As far south as things had gone with Lila, David knew he would never have become Malcolm's dad without her.
Sure, he had wanted to be a parent as badly as she did. He had been just as onboard for and invested in the process as she was. But he just wasn't one for reaching out and grabbing the bull by the horns. Had he been on his own, he would have become intimidated by the endless interviews, the checks and rechecks, the bureaucracy. As with so many other things in his life, he would have had the vision for it, but not the follow-through.
"That's probably why I am where I am now," David thought to himself as he eased his steel-gray Toyota Prius into Lila's driveway. What had once been his own driveway. "A forty-eight-year-old, divorced accountant."
He stood wearily and made his way up the slab sidewalk that he himself had laid when they first bought the place, when Malcolm was five. He noticed absently that the grass was un-mowed and felt a brief, less-than-generous flicker of satisfaction. He had been the one to mow the lawn, diligently, every Sunday in the late afternoon. So there was one thing that he'd gotten right. And there was one thing that hadn't gone smoothly without him.
Lila swung open the door before David could even ring the bell — a practice that still made him chafe, even after three years of divorce, ringing the bell to a house he'd once paid the mortgage for.
"He's eighteen years old," Lila said, without greeting.
"I —" What the hell did that mean? "Well — yes?" David stammered.
"Eighteen years old and I can't get him off these infernal video games. Why did you have to buy him that stupid machine?"
"It's actually virtual reality games," David said lightly, trying to joke his way out of a confrontation. "That's the new cool thing. Way cooler than video games."
"Whatever," Lila snapped. There was tension around her eyes, and her hair, which she almost always wore in a loose, messy bun, was even more askew than usual. She was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the elementary school where she'd taught for twenty years, and David could see in the early evening light that it was splattered with some kind of food.
Was it ... tomato sauce?
Lila followed his gaze down to her t-shirt.
"What?" She snapped. "I'm cooking."
They stood awkwardly looking at each other for a moment.
"Here we are again," David thought. "The Porch Wars."
"Well, are you going to go get him?" Lila asked. "I've been calling down to him for two hours that it's time to get his bag ready, but I don't even think he can hear me through those stupid headphones. This better not be wrecking his hearing for life, by the way. He's going to college in a month and a half and I can't even get him to pack a bag for the weekend —"
"Okay, okay," David said, interrupting her stream of consciousness rant. "I'll go down and get him."
She stepped grudgingly out of the way, granting him entrance to the home he'd lived in for a decade.
David made his way through the small, sunlit front hall, the familiar photos of Malcolm hanging on its walls, to the top of the basement stairs.
"Hey, buddy?" He called down. "I'm here!"
"I'll just go down and tell him I'm here," David told Lila.
She waved an exasperated hand as if to say, "Do whatever you want," and disappeared toward the kitchen.
When David got to the bottom of the basement stairs, he could feel instantly that Malcolm wasn't there. The lights were all on, and David could see all kinds of evidence of Malcolm having been there not long before: a cereal bar wrapper, a basketball jersey turned inside out and drooping off the arm of the couch. But no Malcolm.
In the center of the room, the virtual reality gaming set was strewn half across the floor and half across the low coffee table that stood in front of the couch. It had cost David a pretty penny. Malcolm had been the first among his friends to get one when the new consumer model was released only a month earlier, just at the time of Malcolm's birthday.
David wasn't sure why he'd been willing to go in for what amounted to an insanely expensive toy, except that something about the way that Malcolm talked about it had impressed him. Malcolm had actually done research on the thing for years before its release. He had followed the new developments, the prototype models and the consumer tests, in every tech magazine and blog of note. He had signed up for a focus group that the manufacturer had held in Cincinnati and, with David and Lila's permission, had driven all the way there to be among the first members of the public to try it out.
Sure, gaming wasn't exactly at the top of David's list of wholesome activities for Malcolm — but Malcolm was actually smart and thoughtful about virtual reality, or VR, as he called it. He actually had a working understanding of how the headset functioned and had tried, however unsuccessfully, to explain the engineering behind it to David.
David had felt proud of his son. Maybe this interest would blossom into a computer science major in college. Who was he to second-guess? He'd decided it was worth encouraging Malcolm's interest, and so he'd gone ahead and bought the system.
And "system" was the right word for it. On the coffee table was a headset that strapped over the top and sides of the gamer's head and covered his eyes with large, boxy goggles. This allowed anyone playing the game to see the virtual world in 360 degrees: wherever he turned his head, the virtual landscape would appear in three dimensions before his eyes. Not only was the virtual reality created visually, the headset also included a set of headphones that fit neatly over the gamer's ears and created a complete auditory experience, synced with the visual world.
Next to the headset and earpieces was a pair of large black gloves. They looked almost like old-school leather driving gloves, except that they were structured with metal ribbing across the knuckles. Malcolm had delightedly explained to David that the gamer could simply slip his hands inside ... and experience the physical sensations of the virtual game world. The gamer could reach out to touch anything in the game world, and the gloves would create the tactile sensation of that object. In real life, the gamer was grasping at air, but within the game, he might be swinging a sword or clutching the reins of a horse.
The most astonishing thing to David about the whole system, however, was the treadpad. He looked down at it now, where it sat slightly elevated above the basement floor. It was a circular, black rubber platform, about six feet in diameter. It functioned like a treadmill — except that it could carry the gamer in any direction. One moment the gamer could walk forward, and the tread beneath him would move with his feet so that he had the experience of taking steps without actually covering ground. And then, if he wanted to change directions, he had only to do so, literally, and the direction of the tread would shift with him. He could walk — or even run or jump — in any direction and never actually step off the pad. And of course — this had been a major concern for Lila — the treadpad included straps just like any treadmill at the gym, to keep the user from flying off when it was moving at high speed.
Absent mindedly, David picked the VR headset up from the coffee table and turned it over in his hands. For a moment, he thought of the many hours he had sunk into video games when he was a college student — and even, embarrassingly, a twenty-something procrastinating on finishing his accounting certificate. Those were the days of the old Nintendo and Sega consoles. David grinned to himself. He had thought those pixilated two-dimensional games were extraordinarily advanced. Zelda ... Commando ... S uper Mario Brothers.
And now he was holding in his hands a portal to another world. He could never have imagined such a thing then.
David glanced around the room. Absolutely no sign of Malcolm. He felt a quick tug of annoyance. Where could his son have gone off to? David carried a nagging insecurity that Malcolm resented their weekends together. He was usually able to brush this aside; after all, Malcolm was an eighteen-year-old young man, preoccupied with his last summer before college. Of course he wasn't necessarily itching to hang out with his old man.
But it did bother David. He felt a growing distance from Malcolm. And he had to admit that he was terrified at the prospect of his son going off to college. How would he and Lila handle seeing Malcolm now that he was an adult and off on his own? He'd only get a few weeks off during the school year here and there, and technically, the custody agreement was meaningless now that Malcolm was a legal adult. David was worried that his son would slip away from him.
And now here he was to pick Malcolm up for one of their rare weekends together, and Malcolm was nowhere to be found. What was he supposed to take from that?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ethos Rise Of Malcolm"
Copyright © 2018 Aaron Dworkin.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
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