by Leah Tesch
Two teens pulled into a video game must win in order to escape. But when they're warned "Two Lives Remain" it stops being a game. #PitProm
Save and Quit is not an option in the game of Paravel.
When Cora Wyatt and Matthew Liu win advance access to a revolutionary virtual reality system, they are the first gamers in the world to play the video-game Paravel. But one toggle of the controls, and the graphics become reality when they are physically pulled into the game. Free from earthly laws, they feel invincible in the interstellar, scientific research city, especially once Cora points out there is no health meter.
To win the game, Cora and Matthew must find the blueprints for a weapon that will defeat the Headsman, a rogue doctor determined to overthrow the city. While he holds Paravel’s Empress hostage, his clockwork androids round up civilian test subjects to sacrifice for his twisted immortality research. With Cora and Matthew’s help, the resistance must defeat him in time, or the city will fall.
As Matthew searches for a Save and Quit option, wanting nothing more to free them from the game, Cora is ready to play. In her recklessness, she takes a wrong step and falls to a painful death. When she regenerates, the message “Two Lives Remaining” forces her to realize there are real-life consequences in the game. If they fail to complete the mission, then it’s Game Over, and Paravel will be their grave.
PARAVEL, a young adult soft science fiction complete at 81,000 words, is a standalone novel with series potential. It combines the otherworldly escape of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One with the adventure of Doctor Who in a world inspired by Bioshock. This is my debut novel.
~ Leah Tesch
First Ten Pages:
Cora pummeled the front door with one fist while the other pinned the doorbell. She would kick over the welcome mat and use the key underneath if Matthew didn’t answer within the next ten seconds. Lucky for him and her excited nerves, his tall shadow rippled behind the glass in nine.
Matthew pulled open the door. “That was fast. I only called five min—”
“Where is it?” She stared up at him, chest heaving. “They mixed up our addresses. It should have come to my house.”
“The family room, downstairs. Cora, it looks so cool.”
Her heart lurched against her ribs. “You opened it?”
Cora lunged inside, squeezing between Matthew and the door frame. Her foot punted the rolled Seattle Times off the stoop, and it tumbled into the manicured bushes on the side.
“Hang on a sec,” Matthew called. The door slammed shut, rattling the window, and his hurried steps followed her down the stairs. “Cora, slow down!”
“Some best friend you are. I biked over as fast as I could and you couldn’t even wait two minutes.” She kicked off her sneakers mid-stride and pushed open the door to the large room, her gaze raking over the corners of the basement.
Cora lurched to a standstill.
There, on the scratched coffee table, a sliver of beckoning metal.
Behind her, Matthew released a startled curse. Cora glanced back to see him trip over her abandoned shoes, but she didn’t expect him to slam into her back. She staggered forward with a yelp. Hands grazed her arms, grabbing a fistful of her overalls to steady her, but her bare feet snagged the area rug.
Toppling to the floor, Cora’s shoulder rammed into the wooden table leg.
She stiffened at the rattle of objects on its surface, the varying clunks of them rolling off. Sprawled on the thin carpet, her pulse racing, she said in a shaky voice, “I can’t look. Matt, is it…? Did I break—”
He released a loud gust of air. “Too close.”
She raised her head to peer over the table, only for her arms to buckle from relief.
Matthew pushed the box back from its teetering position on the edge to the centre of the table. He picked up a remote from the floor and sank onto the couch. “Hurricane Cora much?”
“I’ll punch you if you think I did that on purpose.” Rubbing her smarting shoulder, she blew an unruly caramel curl away from her face and sat beside him on the suede sectional. “I still can’t believe you opened it without me.”
“I’d say I’m sorry, but look at it.”
They stared into the depths of the plain box. Tingles rippled along Cora’s spine. “Months of waiting and it’s even more beautiful than I imagined,” she whispered.
Nestled in white packaging, the corners protected by bubble-wrap and Styrofoam, was a smooth panel. The iridescent silver reminded her of the skin of a soap bubble. Raised lettering winked at them in the dim light, spelling the name EIDOLON.
“I still can’t believe we won,” Matthew murmured. He wrung his hands together.
“And you didn’t think we’d have a chance. I hate to say I told you so—”
“Don’t.” He huffed. “Your film editing skills are on par with godliness. No one in the history of Hollywood will ever create a winning video like you did. That good enough?”
“It’ll do for now,” Cora replied with a smug grin. She inhaled deep, as though the fresh smell of metal and plastic was victory itself.
The EIDOLON was the most revolutionary virtual reality gaming system in the world, and now Cora and Matthew were the only gamers in the world to own one.
Cora’s eyes were drawn to the glove controllers—they were as lustrous as the console, except a deep black. Her hand darted out, eager to finally hold one. Before she could part the bubble-wrap, Matthew grabbed hold of her wrist. “Did you wash your hands first?”
She yanked her arm from his grip. “Are we going to do this or not?”
His gaze shifted between her and the enticing contents of the cardboard box. With a determined set to his mouth, he nodded and stood. Together, with a hand supporting each corner, they lifted the console from its wrappings and placed it beside the television.
“It’s much lighter than I expected.” Matthew pulled his shirt sleeve over his fist and rubbed at an invisible smudge on the console’s faceplate.
As Cora sank cross-legged to the floor and tugged cables from the box, yanking off twist-ties, Matthew settled into the couch with the EIDOLON user manual.
Cora’s fingers froze in unravelling the blue cable. “What are you doing?”
“Reading the set-up instructions.” He flipped a page, his eyes roaming back and forth across words and diagrams. “Need to figure out what plugs in where.”
She leaned over the coffee table and snatched the manual away. Before he could protest, she slid it under the couch to join the hoard of cat toys.
After a beat of silence, he said, “O-kay … Or we could do that.”
Shaking out the kinked wires, Cora rolled her eyes. “Matthew, I love you, but manuals are for people who want to waste half the fun by double checking everything.”
“Just because you delight in winging it.” He flicked a twist-tie into her face, eliciting a flinch. “Go on then, since you’re so clever.”
“Fine.” Cables in hand, Cora shuffled over on her knees and turned both the television screen and console. “One.” The red wire’s connections snapped into each device. “And two.” She scooted to the side and plugged the blue one into the wall. “Easy peasy.”
“Are you sure—”
Cora dove onto the couch. She drew the box towards her, hands almost trembling with anticipation as she lifted a glove controller. The material glided like silk over her skin. The gleaming black seemed to absorb the surrounding light and made her flesh seem cooler than its normal honey-tone. When Matthew stared at the pair she placed in his lap, she urged, “Come on, put them on!”
He peered at her out of the corner of his eye, a knowing smile pulling at his lips. “Would you calm down?”
She cringed. “I’m sorry! I just—I feel like I’ve waited forever for this.”
Matthew snorted and slipped his gloves on. “One of these days, Cora …”
“Oh, don’t even try.” She pulled on her gloves, her scowl lifting as they moulded to her hands. The holes for her knuckles and fingertips lined up perfectly. “Don’t try to pretend you’re all cool about this. I have text messages from last night that say otherwise.” She flexed her fingers, marveling at the light weight of the controllers. Stitched along the thumbs was a silver 2.
Part of what made the EIDOLON so revolutionary was the gloves. The unique wiring threaded through the shiny material sensed the user’s movements and translated them into actions on screen. Fighting, collecting items—everything was acted out by the player. Along with the special wireless glasses still in the box, the EIDOLON developers claimed the gloves were the biggest game-changers to electronic gaming since its conception, and the feature Cora was the most excited about. To be able to do more than just mash a button—she couldn’t wait.
Matthew shook his head, but turned to look at his own gloves and the stitched 1. “Before the manual was so kindly taken from me--
“Don’t start, Matt.”
“—I think it said to …” He pinched together his right thumb and pinky finger.
They gasped at the ensuing faint whir. A large E glowed blue on the console’s faceplate.
Cora’s knee bobbed up and down while she waited for him to finish the general set-up.
His fingers tapped out the Wi-Fi password in mid-air for the second time—he had pressed Enter too soon and missed a character the first time—when a shrill voice startled them.
“What is this?”
They peered over their shoulders at the short, dark-haired woman in the doorway.
“Matt-chew, why is my laundry not folded yet?” She pointed to the overflowing basket in the corner, sleeves and pant legs spilling over the plastic sides.
Cora always teased Matthew over how his mother said his name, her accent a relic from a childhood in Beijing.
“Mom, I already told you, I’ll do it tomorrow!” The television chimed, and the screen blazed white. “We have to play this today! Do you have any idea how many people would kill to be in this room right now?”
“No, and I will never understand why. You two should be outside! Go to the movies, the mall. Socialize. None of this playing games all the time.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll stop. Cora, are your parents back from Jamaica yet?”
Cora shook her head, and Mrs. Liu asked, “Would you like to stay for dinner?”
“Could I?” She ripped her gaze from the black dots spiralling on the screen. When Mrs. Liu nodded, she added, “You’re a lifesaver. They come back from visiting Grandma tomorrow, but I really don’t want mac and cheese again. Especially if my sister is making it tonight.”
Mrs. Liu smiled her approval and rounded on her son again, her expression stern. “I need your help upstairs.”
“Now?” He threw his head back with a groan, dark hair flopping askew. “With what?”
“Don’t give me attitude. You are taller than me. Buy me a stepladder for Christmas if you don’t want to help.”
Matthew stripped his hands bare and stormed out as Cora giggled behind tight lips. “Hurry!” she called.
When his stomping feet were overhead, and indistinct Chinese issued through the ceiling vent, Cora was already restless with impatience. She removed her own gloves and shifted aside the remaining bubble-wrap to find the very thing she’d dreamt of for the past year.
“Paravel,” she whispered, running a hand over the game’s cover. She grinned at the shiny city suspended in outer space. Inside its protective force field, it looked like a science fiction snow globe. Cora flipped over the case and read the game’s summary for the millionth time.
Paravel … a city of peace and prosperity. Until now …
A utopia founded in the deepest depths of space, Paravel has become a haven for the advancements of technology and science. Those who reside here work to better the lives of humanity, but now the biggest threat to humanity comes from one of their own.
For one rogue doctor, the freedom of the city destroyed him after his illegal experiments searching for immortality went horribly wrong. Bent on exacting vengeance, the Headsman has kidnapped the Empress and ordered his clockwork minions to roam the streets. Those who defy him are claimed as test subjects for his dastardly experiment.
A resistance has risen against him. Working in the shadows, they have a way to stop him, but need your help to achieve victory. Join the two galactic agents summoned for the task as you fight your way through the cobbled city streets. Develop your Knack, gather the scattered weapon blueprints, and free the Empress to defeat the Headsman.
Be the hero Paravel needs.
Cora tore off the shrink-wrap with help from her teeth.
Matthew had laughed when she’d shown him the contest, last May. All they had to do was show how excited they were for the release of the EIDOLON system, and Paravel, and they could win the coveted opportunity to try them before anyone else. Cora had convinced him to join her three days before the global competition closed. Like him, she hadn’t believed they had a chance. Not when millions of entries had come in within the first week alone. But she’d refused to let that stop her from trying. She had cobbled together cosplay costumes, built a green-screen in her garage, and pulled an all-nighter editing their entry. Failed her tenth-grade math test as a result, but it was worth it when she’d received the email saying their video had been selected for the top ten. A month later they’d received the most votes, and now here they were.
Two months before the rest of the world could even stand in the same room with it, she held the most anticipated game of the year—no, the decade—in her hands.
“Unbelievable!” Matthew fumed as he stamped back down the hall. “She tells me to put the biggest serving dishes on the highest shelf so they’re out of the way, but then she uses them almost every …”
His exasperation fizzled with his words. Cora looked up to find him frozen in the doorway, his gaze fixed on the game.
“Is that it?” he breathed, coming forward.
She nodded, still beaming, and cracked open the case. With as few fingers as possible, Matthew picked up the disc and placed it in the EIDOLON’s waiting compartment. They fished out the metal-framed glasses from the box and sat on the edge of the couch cushions.
“Expert level?” Cora asked, perplexed at Matthew’s choice of difficulty. She donned her glasses. The tinted lenses wrapped around her face, dimming the world. “I know we’re good, but for the first time through?”
“No! Crap, that’s not what—I wanted easy!” He waved his hand to return to the options, but instead selected Start.
With a shaky chuckle, Cora shifted to sit more comfortably. “Well, here we go then!”
As game developer logos flashed and faded across the screen, Cora snuck a glance at Matthew. A green light winked on the side of his glasses. He turned to face her, but only to seize her gloves before she could pull them on again.
“Hey!” She made a wild swipe for them. “Give them back.”
“Just wait,” he said. “You just saw what I did, and knowing you, you’ll accidentally press something and skip us through the whole introduction.”
Cora opened her mouth to gripe, but the pleading voice that filled the room cut her off.
“Help us … Please.”
Chapter TwoCora shuddered as a chill coursed through her body. The screen dissolved to black, and a low, haunting melody played as the female voice continued.
“The Empress did not want these documents falling into the wrong hands. They must be used to end the bloodshed, not allow it to continue. We know where they are, but we can’t get to them.”
The game’s title glared through the darkness, and the music rose in a triumphant crescendo.
Matthew reached out and found her hand resting on the cushions. His fingers trembled as he gave them a quick squeeze. “I don’t think my heart should be beating this fast,” he said with an embarrassed laugh.
“You’re such a dork.” Cora couldn’t admit she felt the same. She hadn’t been wound this tight with excitement since the first time she was tall enough to ride a rollercoaster.
He shushed her as the opening scene—inside a flight cockpit—unfolded across the screen. Buttons and switches were arranged in rows around a window that showed a long tunnel, lined with strips of red light. It wasn’t the clarity of the graphics, or the sudden awareness they were the first players to watch this that made Cora and Matthew gasp in unison.
It was their glasses activating with a soft click.
The moving image on the television screen transferred to the lenses, and the basement vanished from existence. The three-dimensional view fully immersed her, feeling all too real. Even tilting her head offered a parallax effect, letting her observe more to the sides and above and below. She pulled the glasses down and peered over them for a moment to observe the same clip still playing on the television. It was a pathetic imitation.
In the centre of the crowded console, a yellow light came on. A tinny, crackling voice demanded, “Attention, Fleet Ship A18LT. G.U.O. Command requests your flight status.”
Loud and clear, a new voice, female and lilting, spoke through the speakers embedded in the arms of the glasses. “This is Fleet Ship A18LT. Pre-flight check completed. We are ready for launch.”
“Understood. Stand-by. Initiating countdown sequence.”
The sight of an arm reaching from beneath Cora’s field of view almost made her choke. Disorienting was the word that came to mind as her stomach dropped. If her own hands hadn’t gripped her knees, Cora would have sworn she was the one flicking switches, even if the flesh was far too light to belong to her. A second, larger pair of pale hands moved into her peripheral view to imitate her avatar’s actions across his side of the control panel.
A reedy robotic voice emanated from the loudspeakers within the ship. “Countdown sequence, initiated. Ten … Nine … Eight …”
“Are you ready for this, Ivy?” Matthew’s avatar asked over top of the thrumming noises.
Cora’s head remained motionless, but her avatar’s—Ivy—tilted down to look at a portable screen. In the message displayed, Cora could just make out the word “Help” in the corner. Ivy sighed. “You know me, Jake. Always wanted to visit Paravel.”
“… Two … One … Lift off.”
The cockpit’s bright lights were doused. Only the red and green lights on the console continued to flash. The bass thundered, the rumbling shaking the couch. Cora was certain she heard Mrs. Liu shout for them to turn it down, but it didn’t fit into the reality she inhabited. The tunnel before them exploded with a pyrotechnic radiance, and they rocketed upwards. Daylight surged around them and thick clouds raced by. She leaned back into the cushions, trying to ground herself while her belly clenched involuntarily. Soon darkness, peppered with tiny spots of starlight, claimed the view beyond the ship.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,
please vote on your favorite pitches.
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To see the individual pitches, click the title below in "Categories" or you can scroll down. The Sci Fi category will take you to all the Sci Fi pitches and same with Fantasy.