Through the long span of human history, sports and religion have both served as the primary conflict metaphors through which humanity has identified with the world, oscillating in ascendancy like twin stars ever chasing each other around a gravity well, athletics gaining in popularity during times of relative peace, religion in times of war. Needless to say, religious history is more exciting and detailed, as there was ever more war than peace before the Ascension.
Our own athletic traditions have their roots in ancient earthbound contests, the most clear example being our game of football. The game now played across the verse began back on the old rock, with a history as violent and chaotic as the history of humanity ourself.
At the time of our narrative there were, in fact, two distinct, near polar opposite, versions of the game of football. One of these versions we mentioned earlier, as the little boy discovered physical capacity of the biological carriers standing awed before the wall of televisions – this version involving the pads, and the hitting, and the brain damage.
From what we can tell, this iteration only preserved the name ‘football’ because the eventual ball bore a remarkable similarity in shape and size to a biological human foot, in a loose sense. The gameplay itself involved trying to hit whomever was holding the ball in their hands, as hard as one could, and hadn’t much to do with feet at all. The other game sharing the name is the more direct predecessor of the game we know and love today, called football because the primary game mechanic involved the manipulation of a ball with feet, for the most part.
The majority earthbound games, like basketball and baseball, and footishball, depended in a great part on the parabolic return to the ground forced by gravity. None of those games survived the move to zero gravity environments, though romantic earth fetishists do still throw together a game now and again, when-where they can.
Football, the one played with feet, on the other hand, did not just survive the z-grav shift, it thrived, with nothing more than an evolution from a flat playing surface, to field shape bearing startling similarity to the ball of its historic homonymic counterpart. Already the most graceful and intellect demanding athletic contest concocted by the human species, the move to z-grav elevated the game from graceful to majestic.
And that was before the addition of Acoustic-Kinesthetic Input Converters, AKICs, into the shoes and uniforms, translating the impact of the ball upon a particular body part of a particular player into a singular sound broadcast over the stadium speaker system, transforming managers into conductors of their competing football-orchestras, and adding the definitive aesthetic component to the contest, and creating the competitive industry of uniform-instrumentation as a by product.
Back in the gravity bound days, though, the game of basketball approached the aesthetic and athletic heights of football, building the game mechanics around the ever upward reaching nature of humanity by setting the basket-goal over three meters off the ground. This had two distinct effects on the nature of gameplay: the taller one was, the easier it was to attack and defend the basket, and second, most scores involved throwing the ball up with such a precise trajectory that it would fall through the small circular goal.
Against a backdrop of trees contrasting with low hanging clouds, a pair of boys were practicing that exact feat, the larger one with the ease of many hours of dedicated repetition, the smaller one with a furious kind of concentration. Brows knotted, Kid bounced the brown leather ball a few times before swinging it up to hold poised above his forehead, one hand underneath it and the other to the side.
“Don’t forget to use your legs, not just your arms,” Benji offered from the side.
Kid grit his teeth, lowering the ball as he bent and straightened his legs, bouncing the ball again, before crouching a bit while raising it back above his head and springing up to launch the ball at the rim. Which the sphere hit with a clang, careening off to the corner of the fence enclosing the basketball court.
Benji laughed, jogged over to gather the ball. He dribbled back toward Kid, then took a little hop back, away from both Kid and the rim, squaring and rising for a shot as soon as his feet touched the ground, smooth and easy. The ball arced and fell through the tattered remains of a net, not touching the iron rim showing specks of orange paint. Benji grinned as Kid stomped over to the ball.
“Why is this so difficult?” Kid grumbled, “For me, I mean. It’s easier than walking for you.”
The weeks following Kid’s initiation had been pleasant, the highlight of which was discovering that Benji frequented the basketball court near an entrance to Kid’s underground abode. After hanging around the fence watching, and then approaching to attempt a few cautious shots, Kid had begun talking to the taller boy, who offered his assistance at learning to throw the ball through the hoop with greater regularity. For Kid, greater regularity meant making any shot at all.
“I been playin’ my whole life.”
Benji shrugged as Kid’s shot missed the entire rim, net, and backboard collection.
“I mean, I was always big, biggest kid on the team.”
He grabbed the ball from under the basket with a single hand, rising up to bounce it of the backboard and through the hoop before he dribbled back out to turn and drain another shot.
“But that’ll pro’ly change when I hit high school. That’s why I work on the jump shot.”
Kid recovered the ball and took a few methodical bounces, looked at the rim, took a step forward and shot, clanging off the back of the iron. Benji kept talking, tossing the ball back to Kid without shooting.
“Cos I might not have another growth spurt, I mean, I think I will, but even without it, I’m tall enough already, so I gotta make sure I got that outside game, you know?”
Kid threw up another shot, the ball bounced, three, four times, and fell through the hoop.
Kid swung a fist in a tight smack against his other open palm, caught the ball from Benji, bounced it back and forth between his hands, shifting his body right to left along with the ball.
“Tall enough for what?”
Benji shot him a look. Kid raised an eyebrow. Kind of. The other brow fought its way up.
Thought we had that one.
“The League, bro,” Benji said as Kid bounced another shot off the side of the rim. “I know that I’m better than a lot of kids my age. I think I got a shot.”
Benji snagged the rebound out of the air, rising in a single bounce to drop another shot through the net remnants.
“I think Blaze thinks so, too. Think tha’s why he ain’t put me on any real work.”
Kid grabbed the ball, and turned to look at Benji.
Um? Real work?
“Blaze?” Kid asked trying to bounce the ball off the backboard like Benji had, getting it on the second try.
“My O.G.?” Benji said.
Kid dribbled out past the long arc that separated two point shots from the farther away three point variety.
“The dude by the back door, usually, flames covering both his arms?”
Benji slapped his forearms to clarify. Kid hunched low, ball held in front of him, then exploded up, raising the ball over his head as he jumped, heaving the ball toward the basket, where it grazed the dangling shreds of net before bouncing into the chained links enclosing the court.
“Wait, why does being good at basketball matter? I mean, about doing real work?”
Kid asked, trying not to look anywhere in the direction of the basket, the ball, or the grin on Benji’s face. Benji grabbed the ball with a smack on the leather, taking one long, lunging step toward the basket and rising to let the ball flip off the end of his fingers to creep over the rim and through the hoop. He caught the ball on descent, and turned to look at Kid. Then he looked away, and dribbled to the line in front of the basket.
He rolled his neck, took a few dribbles and then took a shot. The ball hit the back of the rim, square in the center, dropping through the hoop and bouncing right back to Benji’s hands. He gave a short nod and waved Kid over to the spot, then walked over to stand under the hoop. As Kid took shots, Benji corralled the rebounds and bounced the ball back to Kid to keep shooting.
“It’s like this: basketball is a way out,” Benji explained. “They’s not a lot of us make it out the hood, right? I mean, there’s drugs, and prison, an’ y’don’ see a lot of old ganstas. An’ it’s not just for me. League minimum’s like 500K. A year. Minimum. It ain’t just that I get out. My little sister don’t gotta turn tricks in few years, my baby bro… I mean, e’erybody knows someone who made it, took they whole family with’em: Klay, Nate, Jamaal, Ike, The Jet, back in th’day. Shit, one’a Big’s own brothers balls down in L.A..”
Benji caught the ball, held it for a moment, and bounced back to Kid.
“But e’eryone knows someone who di’n’t make it, too. Lot’s of those guys round, talking ’bout how they used to do up so-and-so back in’a day, right. See, mos’a those guys, one’s who almost made it, think they could’a made it, mos’a them are short, though. Excep’ for Nate, all the ones who make it are tall. I’m pretty good, but better, I’m big. Blaze knows if I get out, I can help his family out, and I would to, cos he al’ays looked out for me. So he keeps me out of the harder shit, when things get blasty ‘r drug heavy. You know, just in case. Hey, hol’ up.”
Benji held a hand up, and Kid stopped his shooting motion, lowering the ball. Benji looked up at the rim, then back at Kid.
“Y’know, you miss a lot of shots just on the lef’ side o’the iron.”
“Um, so aim, ah right?” Kid guessed.
“No, um, look at the basket,” Benji instructed, “With both eyes. Hold your arm out, like this.”
Benji extended his arm and made a circle with his fingers and his thumb. Kid copied the pose.
“Line the basket up inside the circle, then close one eye,” Kid obliged, Benji continued, “Ok, now the other one. Which one did the basket stay in the circle?”
Kid withdrew the extended hand to point at his left eye, Benji laughed.
“Sucks, bro. You’re goofy eyed.”
“Huh? Like Twitch?”
“Hah! Naw, that shit’s the goofiest. I’sa saying “goofy eyed”. Right hand, left eye dominant,” Benji explained. “Kid on my team is like that. Got to pull your hand to shoot from above the other eye.”
Kid raised the ball to shoot.
Huh. It does settle just above our right eye.
Which isn’t helpful if we are left eye dominant. That’s a nice catch, Benj.
Isn’t having friends great?
Get sappy later, let’s try the dude’s advice.
Kid shifted the ball over to hover above his left eye and found that he couldn’t see the hoop at all through his own arms. He lowered the ball as Benji laughed.
“Mos’ goofies have to learn to shoot with the other hand. You know,” he said, “since you are just learnin’, you could just switch?”
Kid alternated which hand was under the ball, and practiced raising it above his head, testing the motion.
Both boys turned to look at the newcomer slipping through the gate in the fence.
“Uh, hey, Rojo,” Kid answered, “What’s up?”
Rojo walked across the court and nodded at Benji, then looked at Kid. He didn’t smile.
I don’t think he smiles. Um. Ever.
Maybe he had an accident, like us, but instead of losing his memory he lost his happiness.
“Big figured ou’ whatcha gon’ do nex’,” Rojo said. “Wan’s ya t’com roun’ the place t’nigh’, make a drop.”
The boy shoved his hands in his pockets, shifting his glare from Kid to the ball, to the court, to anywhere his eyes pointed, which was just about everywhere except at Benji.
Benji’s eyebrows pinched together a bit. Kid bounced him the ball.
“Yeah, ok,” Kid said, shooting a quick glance at Benji. “What time?”
Rojo looked at the larger boy, who turned to snap a shot, the ball rattling around the rim before bouncing free. The three boys looked at the bouncing ball spending its momentum in the corner for the moment, the roar of traffic crashing like the tide. Rojo looked back up at Kid.
“8ish, ‘e said,” Rojo turned to go, “also sai’ y’shoul’ getcho fuggen phone turn on.”
Rojo turned and walked out the gate, throwing two fingers over his shoulders to Benji. Benji walked over to scoop up the ball, flipping it over to Kid, who caught it, dropped into a crouch, and popped up to release the ball, left hand hanging loose from a straight arm. The ball flew up, dropped right through the center of the hoop. Kid looked over at Benji.
“Um, I think I’m going to end on a positive note,” Kid said, and Benji laughed. “Thanks for the help. This was fun.”
Benji waved the thought away.
“You know I’m out here,” Benji said, “Come roun’.”
The smaller boy walked by the larger, reached out and they slapped palms, dragging their hands against each other, slipping off to curl into fists, which tapped knuckles.
Wait, um, do we have any idea…
“Benji?” Kid turned back at the gate.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Hol’ up,” tucking the ball under his arm, Benji fished a phone out of his pocket, powering alight the screen, “6:30.”
“Thanks! Catch you.”
Enough time to snag some food, swing by the cave to grab the bag.
And the phone. We should really keep that with us. Especially since we don’t have a watch.
Agreed, the phone might be an all the time kind of thing. And then we do the thing. Maybe this will be the final test before membership.
Fucken right. We should come up with a street name.
Idiot. All we have is a street name.
No, I mean, like, a second name. Everyone else gets a second name. We should mix it up when we become full members.
We had a second name. Or first name. Whatever. Something doesn’t not exist just because you don’t know it.
What is the capital of Albania?
Wait, what? I don’t know.
That doesn’t mean Albania doesn’t have a capital. Just because you don’t know our name, doesn’t mean we don’t have one.
So, food, and the bag? And the phone.
Then the thing.
While Kid retreated to the underground to gather his things, the sun retreated behind the clouds gathering over the eastern peninsula, surrendering the city to the night earlier than was normal for the time of year. When Kid exited the metro tunnel he found the courtyard almost empty, the inhabitants of the city having scurried to cover in anticipation of the inclement weather the way children might flee to their bedroom upon recognizing the storm fronts dancing in a parent’s eye.
In the event said child had either parent, or bedroom.
Kid checked the clock on his phone before tucking it back into a pocket and relaxing the pace of his walk. A quick scan saw he had the entire street to himself as he turned down the alley toward his meeting and the future it would decide. Burnt light fell from the few bulbs in the alley, shielded from accident and abuse by iron cages, casting twisting orange grids across the wide expanse.
Ah, looks like the doorman isn’t standing in the recess tonight.
Lucky for us, then, that this guy wasn’t the minder the other night.
I wouldn’t even say that he is ‘standing’ so much at all.
Would we call that hulking?
Um. If not, then they need to change the word.
Still confident about the whole “We need to do things without Twitch” bit?
Less so at the moment.
Ilk looked up, and sneered as he saw Kid approaching.
“‘Bou’ fuggen time,” he snarled.
A small backpack that had somehow rested on his enormous shoulder dropped into his hand, and the man slung it at Kid, who grabbed the bag as much to keep from getting hit in the face as anything, trapping the bulky contents between pinching elbows and forearms. Kid looked quick from the bag to Ilk, around the empty street.
I don’t think he’s minding the door.
Do you hear anything inside? I don’t think anyone else is here.
Ah. I might be regretting Twitch position.
“Um, where’s,” Kid began, but Ilk cut him off with a grunt as he thrust from the wall with a heave of his elbows.
“Shi’th goin’ down,” he rumbled, “E’rbo’ieth ‘ere ‘lrea’y.” He gestured at the bag in Kid’s hands. “Cor’er Firth ‘n’ Wethern,” he said, “Num’a two-ten. Brin’ th’ cheez back her’ when y’ur done.”
We can’t do anything about Twitch not being here now.
Any of the stuff in the book we can use?
You mean to make friends with the monster?
If by making friends you mean convince him not to leave our body in the alley, then yup.
Consistency. We use the consistency part, do what we are committed to doing.
Do the drop bring back the cash.
“What if there’s no one here?” Kid asked, trying not to stammer.
Ilk grinned like a broken clown, and leaned close.
“Pleathe, fuck thith up.”
Kid could feel the hot breath on his face, shivered before he could help it.
“Pleathe,” Ilk said again, and turned to lurch in down the alley, twisting orange grids rotating across his retreating form.
Kid stood there holding the bag for a moment, then turned to walk in the other direction.
If we had our phone service turned on we could call
But we can’t. Ok. What happens if we do the job?
We get in the gang.
Maybe get beat up again?
Maybe they jack the stuff, or don’t pay?
In which case Big shoots us, maybe Twitch.
Um, what if we don’t do the job?
Big shoots us, maybe Twitch.
What if we run?
Big shoots Twitch.
So. We do the job.
Don’t get jacked.
Don’t get shot.
I like it when we work together!