The Alternate History Fiction of Lou Antonelli

Sunday, February 5, 2017


By Lou Antonelli

My football-scarred ass was floating on a neat little maglev plate in a sonic􀀀
whirlpool. I was just beginning to relax. I had to fill two piss pouches that􀀀
day, the regular daily doping test, which was only going through the􀀀
motions, of course, as well as a second one to show that the regen nanites I􀀀
had taken for my ACL tear had washed out.􀀀
Everyone cheated. You were expected to. Those regen nanites I took􀀀
for the ACL tear--yeah, the ones Doc gave me washed out, but I pumped in􀀀
some silicon ones gray-marketed from Vilnus. I got them from a trainer.􀀀
Those little Lithuanian buggers didn’t react to anything. Of course, I’ll􀀀
probably never get rid of them. I’ll be pissing out sand when I’m old. If I􀀀
live that long.􀀀
Brad Carlisle sidled up to me and bent down. “The Hillman is going􀀀
berserk tomorrow,” he said quietly.􀀀
I didn’t turn my head. “How do you know?”􀀀
“I heard him tell Coach we’re sure to win.”􀀀
The Hillman. That was his nickname, because of his name as well􀀀
as because he was as big as a hill. Hylton Hawkins had been a defensive􀀀
lineman with the Cowboys for ten years--a long damn time in pro ball,􀀀
especially when you’re constantly being doped with nutraceuticals, nano-􀀀
particles and gm-protein supplements. It took a toll.􀀀
The Hillman was really sort of dumb and sweet; he was just a big􀀀
East Texas country kid out of Texas College in Tyler. For years after he hit􀀀
the big time he threw away his money on drugs, whores and cars. Of course,􀀀
team owner Joe Jenkins got a cut of it all. It was Jenkins who spread the􀀀
money around to pay off the police and the media. And it was Jenkins who􀀀
sent the word down that a berserker payoff was available.􀀀
Not that it was very common, or people might have wised up. Even􀀀
as corrupt as the U.S. and especially Texas was, you couldn’t pay someone􀀀
to go berserk very often.􀀀
The summer of ’27 we were a tight race in the west division with the􀀀
Raiders. Oakland was coming to town for the second-to-last game of the􀀀
season and everyone knew it was an important one. Tuesday that week􀀀
Coach said it was a “must win”. We all knew what that meant. That was the􀀀
I thought we could win anyhow, so I didn’t give it much thought.􀀀
Then Carlisle dropped me the word.􀀀
He slipped away as quickly as he came. I muttered under my breath.􀀀
“Oh, Hillman.”􀀀
Three years earlier he had met a nice gal and married. He really􀀀
settled down, in every way. Had his mook block the drug dealers, stopped􀀀
going to the titty bars. Christ, he traded in the candy apple red Viper for a􀀀
fuel cell SUV.􀀀
Last year they had a sweet baby girl. His wife brought her to the􀀀
sidelines during training camp. Adorable little booger.􀀀
I’ll never have any kids. I went to a Big Ten school. The steroids I􀀀
took in college turned my cojones to stone. In the big leagues you didn’t get􀀀
anything as crude as steroids--unless and until you went berserk.􀀀
The news from Carlisle hit me like a horse dose of respirocytes.􀀀
Goddamn, why didn’t I think of it? Hylton has squandered millions over the􀀀
years. Even from the nosebleed seats you could see he was struggling this􀀀
season. His pro career was coming to a close--and he had a wife and a􀀀
daughter he probably couldn’t provide for in the future.􀀀
I was a strong safety slash corner back. The shit I took to do my job􀀀
would probably make me hobble and wheeze by the time I was 60. That was􀀀
the trade-off for being a pro. A big lineman like The Hillman--he’d proba-􀀀
bly be in an augmented wheelchair by the time he was 45.􀀀
Well, now he’d never have that problem.􀀀
I must have looked stunned when I got out of the whirlpool and went􀀀
over to the physical therapist doing rubdowns.􀀀
He rubbed his mech-gloved hands over my calves and thighs.􀀀
“Marcos, man, you look puny.”􀀀
Nanites are supposed to be too small to cause an immune reaction,􀀀
but the silicon jobbers from Vilnus didn’t seem to know that. Between the􀀀
nanites and the bad news, I was sweating like a hog.􀀀
I faked a smile. “I had to give two UA samples this morning. I feel􀀀
squeezed like a lemon. Sometimes it’s awfully disconvenient, as Coach􀀀
would say.”􀀀
Berserker􀀀 5􀀀
The trainer laughed. “You’ll bounce back soon enough.”􀀀
Hylton was already on the field by the time I was suited up. I􀀀
slapped his shoulder pads as I ran by. He didn’t turn or acknowledge me.􀀀
With those carbon nanotube plates, he might not have even felt it.􀀀
He was subdued and held back somewhat from the other players􀀀
during practice. There wasn’t much of the normal macho chatter and􀀀
cussing, and what there was sounded tinny. I think the word had begun to􀀀
spread. The grunt trainers and second stringers might have􀀀thought we were􀀀
all concentrating on the next day’s game. In a way, we were.􀀀
The locker room bullshit and bragging seemed forced. A few of the􀀀
players hailed Hylton as they walked by; he only grunted or said “hey” in􀀀
that squeaky voice of his. He showered and dressed quickly. He didn’t look􀀀
to the right or the left. He looked down, and then walked out.􀀀
A few of us shot glances at each other. We really couldn’t say􀀀
anything that might get back to Jenkins. I just shook my head a little.􀀀
“Goddamn Jenkins.” I thought.􀀀
Running a pro football franchise was a big business. In an evil way,􀀀
he was real smart. He made millions, but spread a lot around. The league􀀀
and the officials were kept happy.􀀀
You know, by then, some people had begun to wonder why we were􀀀
still using cash in the U.S. If you ever saw an official pick up a fat envelope􀀀
before a game, you would have known why. No smart chips in cash.􀀀
I was doing well myself. I had a big ice machine that rattled the􀀀
bridge over the condensation canal as I pulled out of the parking lot.􀀀
That year the canal was almost overflowing all summer as the􀀀
cooling towers sucked the moisture from the domed stadium. Welcome to􀀀
the Texas Tropics. And God bless Houston, the poor bastards. I paid a fat􀀀
fee for the right to drive that internal combustion engine. It was worth it to􀀀
hear the roar and watch people turn as I rumbled down the streets in North􀀀
Other players lived in the gated community. Carlisle was one of􀀀
them, and I banged on his door as soon as I got out of my car.􀀀
“You went straight home, too, I see.”􀀀
“I guess I’m like you, I don’t feel like going out tonight.”􀀀
“Where’s Melissa?”􀀀
“She’s off with some friends at the Galleria.”􀀀
We sat down with some microbrews.􀀀
“You know, when I was in high school and a player would drop􀀀
dead, I thought it was like they said, stress, you know, and the strain of pro􀀀
OG’s Speculative 6􀀀 Fiction􀀀
“It’s not like it’s common,” said Brad. “Hard for the public to see a􀀀
pattern. John Tomachevski with the Pats two years ago--from what I heard,􀀀
he really did have a aneurysm.”􀀀
“Yeah, but was it caused by drugs, anyhow?”􀀀
“Welcome to the Big Leagues. The point is, he didn’t go berserk.”􀀀
For the past few years, once or twice a season, a player had died􀀀
either after being stricken on the field or in the locker room. When I was a􀀀
rookie out of college, I thought it was the drugs and the stress, too.􀀀
“I’ve only been on the team a few years. I’ve never seen this happen􀀀
with the ‘Boys.”􀀀Brad smiled a thin smile as he wagged his beer bottle.􀀀
“Yeah, well. Money talks and bullshit walks. The Hillman wants his wife􀀀
and kid cared for.”􀀀
“You think she knows?”􀀀
“What do you think?”􀀀
“What will she think after the game?”􀀀
"She’ll probably think he took one hit too many.” He stared down􀀀
the long neck of his bottle. “At least, that’s what she’ll be told.”􀀀
Brad was an offensive lineman. The calcium-carrying nanocrystals􀀀
he took for his bones had begun to affect his face. When he looked serious,􀀀
it looked like a mask.􀀀
I stood up and looked out the window. “Do you think it’s really􀀀
his idea?”􀀀
“He probably thinks so. I’m sure Jenkins somehow dropped him a􀀀
hint. Maybe he read the􀀀News􀀀 on Sunday. You saw that story about J.J.􀀀
“J.J. was in a fight in a bar."􀀀
“Yeah, well, I'm sure Jenkins knew about his contract."􀀀
“You don’t think he’d arrange for somebody to beat J.J. up?” Brad􀀀
took a long swig. “Well?”􀀀
J.J. left the team the year before, banged up and broken after􀀀
spending years on the line. He was killing the pain the previous Saturday􀀀
night when he got in some kind of fight in a West End bar. The beating left􀀀
him brain dead.􀀀
Usually people go years before passing away and having their􀀀
organs harvested.􀀀
“Everyone knew he signed that organ contract so he’d have some􀀀
money for himself and his wife,” Brad continued. “But he only collected a􀀀
few months. Hardly got anything at all. His wife’s screwed now.”􀀀
“What do you think it would take to take J.J. down in a fair fight?”􀀀
he asked bitterly. “It was obviously a set-up.” Also, J.J. didn’t read the fine􀀀
print. The company he signed with exercised its option once he was on life􀀀
Berserker􀀀 7􀀀
support. Instead of pumping him full of hyper-accelerated regen nanites,􀀀
they parted him out.􀀀
“Shit, you think Jenkins would do that just to drop a hint to The􀀀
“Hey, he’s not the sharpest guy in the world, but he knows what’s􀀀
coming at the end of the season,” he said. “He sees someone like J.J. push􀀀
off and leave his woman high and dry, and then a day or two later, a􀀀
berserker bonus is hanging out there. A sure ten million dollars.”􀀀
Something about quoting an actual dollar figure startled me. “Is that􀀀
the going rate?”􀀀
Brad flipped open another bottle. “From what I hear.”􀀀
“I wonder if he knows how much his wife and baby girl will miss􀀀
“I think he sees it as a self-sacrifice, which it is.”􀀀
The sun was setting over Dallas. The late afternoon monsoon rain-􀀀
bow was fading into the orange twilight.􀀀
“You know, what pisses me off the most is that we can’t say􀀀
anything,” I said. “You know what a businessman like Jenkins would do.”􀀀
Brad shook his head in a short jerky kind of way. “There’s not much􀀀
guys like us can do.”􀀀
He took a really long swig. “We’re just twenty first century gladia-􀀀
tors. Sometimes, you win, sometimes they drag you out by your heels.”􀀀
“Yeah, well the gladiators were forced to do it. Or they did it for the􀀀
glory. We do it for the money.”􀀀
Brad gave a bitter chuckle and raised his bottle in a mock salute.􀀀
“God bless America!”􀀀
I could tell how he was dealing with his feelings, so I left him to􀀀
soak and slouched over to my apartment. I kept the TV on flat as I watched􀀀
the news and sports; I wasn’t keen to have the sports AI’s jumping across􀀀
the room at me. The old pro, Dale Hammond, was live and real, though, and􀀀
holding forth.􀀀
“The Cowboys’ game tomorrow against the Raiders is an important􀀀
one, but both teams are in the playoffs. The only thing to be decided is who􀀀
plays against whom, and for Dallas, whether they can put the hurt on a􀀀
tough Oakland team which will try to keep them from making it out of the􀀀
“It’s an important game, a big game, but let’s get past the hype,” he􀀀
continued. “Nobody needs to go berserk, if you know what I mean. Cool􀀀
heads will prevail.”􀀀
I sat up like a shot. “Goddamn, he knows!”􀀀
“Troy!’ I shouted. My mook came on.􀀀
OG’s Speculative 8􀀀 Fiction􀀀
“Yes, most worthy buster of butts?”􀀀
“I need an e-mail to Dale Hammond. Just say, ‘I saw your report on􀀀
the 10 o'clock news. Hylton Hawkins is a player to watch in the Oakland􀀀
“Do you want to send this as ‘anonymous?’’’􀀀
I thought hard for a few seconds. I guess it was time to be a standup􀀀
man. “No. Fuck Jenkins. Use my proper name. Marcos B. Taylor.”􀀀
“Yes, sir. Sent.”􀀀
I know it wasn’t much, but it was something. If anything came􀀀
down, well, shit, I could make a dash for the Pacifica Republic. That would􀀀
be funny--I might even play for Oakland.􀀀
I thought about Hylton as I drifted off to sleep listening to my restful􀀀
playlist coming through my audio chip. I saw the face of his wife and􀀀
daughter, who would not have a husband and father tomorrow night.􀀀
I thought about what Brad had said. “Yeah, bread and circuses,” I􀀀
thought. “Beer and football.” I rolled over. “Let’s not forget about drugs􀀀
and nanites,” and after the endorphins kicked in, I slept.􀀀
I saw the video bots buzzing around under the dome like vultures as􀀀
I looked out the runway. I had to wait my􀀀turn as we all were dosed with􀀀
our protein/calcium supplement. I didn’t see Hylton at all; he was in a back􀀀
room probably being prepped like an Aztec sacrifice.􀀀
The supplement was supposed to be simple gm-proteins and miner-􀀀
als; we knew Jenkins, as well as all the other owners, paid off the league to􀀀
look the other way. It was a witch’s brew of nanoparticles and crystals that􀀀
looked as ugly as swamp water and tasted worse; we bitterly called it􀀀
The linemen on both sides of the ball also got a shot of respiro-􀀀
cyctes, to carry extra oxygen in their bloodstream during the game. One of􀀀
the few things they dosed us with that was actually harmless, but still illegal.􀀀
It was given under the guise of a vitamin shot.􀀀
I was on the sideline when Hylton came out right before kickoff.􀀀
They obviously didn’t want him talking to anyone. I saw the head trainer􀀀
wave a little hand-held device alongside his helmet. He was disabling his􀀀
MEMS chip so the medical staff wouldn’t get an accurate reading of his􀀀
vitals during the game. The doctor had to be in on this, too, for it to work.􀀀
I took my place for the opening kickoff. From behind I could see􀀀
Hylton and could tell everything was ready to kick in. The Hillman looked􀀀
like he was ready to take off like a rocket. In addition to our normal􀀀
Berserker􀀀 9􀀀
pre-game preps, he was now full of nanites to increase his muscle metabo-􀀀
lism, along with others carrying steroids. He also probably was pumped a􀀀
few gallons of enhanced methamphetamines. His metabolism sped up to the􀀀
point that I could almost see the heat coming off his helmet.􀀀
He probably had a normally lethal dose of nutraceuticals to fuel all􀀀
this, and probably some narcotic happy juice for good measure. I just caught􀀀
out of the corner of my eye his wife with their daughter on her knee sitting􀀀
in the third or fourth row on the fifty yard line.􀀀
The other corner back took the ball and sprinted up the field as􀀀
Hylton cleared a swath. He batted and banged away the Oakland line and􀀀
secondary like so many toy soldiers. Our runner tripped over his own feet􀀀
at midfield because he was running so fast.􀀀
On the next down, Oakland made a line shift. One of their largest􀀀
linemen, Dexter Ward, lined up opposite Hylton. I thought, “poor chump,􀀀
he doesn’t know what he’s in for.”􀀀
On the next play, the pair hit squarely. The stadium almost shook.􀀀
The play stacked up in the middle.􀀀
I couldn’t figure out what happened. I looked over to Brad on the􀀀
sidelines. His eyes just got real wide. I guess he got a better view from􀀀
where he was. Then it hit me.􀀀
I hadn’t cussed like that since when I was in college and realized􀀀
what the steroids had done to me.􀀀
That had never happened before, two players at the same time.􀀀
Oakland had a player going berserk, too.􀀀
I learned later the progression of the nanites and other drugs was􀀀
accelerated by the increase in a player’s metabolism and adrenaline as the􀀀
game progressed--but normally a player went a few quarters before he got􀀀
real sick, because he was batting away his opponents.􀀀
Now with two equally enhanced and aggressive players facing each􀀀
other, they quickly went out of control. After a couple of downs, our􀀀
quarterback was shouting at Hylton in the huddle, who couldn’t hear􀀀
because of the blood rushing in his ears. The Oakland QB was screaming at􀀀
Ward, too.􀀀
You could tell from the hush that fell over the stadium that the fans􀀀
knew what had happened. All the players, both on the Dallas and Oakland􀀀
teams, were stunned and weak-kneed. To see a player go berserk was bad􀀀
enough. To see two players killing each other on the 50-yard line was a􀀀
horror show.􀀀
The pair began to hit each other so violently blood splattered on􀀀
other players, who began to shrink away, afraid of being infected by the􀀀
OG’s Speculative 10􀀀 Fiction􀀀
raging nanites. The refs looked like they were trying to walk backwards out􀀀
the stadium.􀀀
And neither team was scoring.􀀀
After a punting the ball back and forth a couple of times, neither QB􀀀
could keep either lineman in the huddle. They paced the line of scrimmage􀀀
and groaned like animals.􀀀
At the seven-minute mark of that first quarter, the pair hit each other􀀀
so hard and evenly they both bounced back three or four feet from the line􀀀
of scrimmage. The ref’s whistle was futile. They shouted and went after􀀀
each other.􀀀
Ward landed a crushing blow on Hylton’s head that crushed the top􀀀
of his helmet. Hylton’s simultaneous blow, to the side of Ward’s helmet,􀀀
obviously broke his neck.􀀀
It was over.􀀀
Ward was dead, but Hylton was still breathing, and now the medical􀀀
staff had to go through the motions of trying to help him. Jenkins mean-􀀀
while had come down from his sky box and, as he so often did, put on a􀀀
show of fake concern over the injured player.􀀀
The doctors and trainers were mumbling and looking at each other.􀀀
Hylton began to convulse.􀀀
Jenkins stood next to Doc. “Can’t you do something for the boy?”􀀀
he shouted. For the record.􀀀
He looked down and over at Hylton. In one gigantic spasm,􀀀
Hylton’s back arched in a violent thrust and the contents of his stomach􀀀
erupted all over Jenkins.􀀀
Hylton’s body relaxed and as his head turned sideways blood ran􀀀
out onto the artificial turf and towards Jenkins, who stood there with puke􀀀
all over his face and suit. You could see him raise his hands like he was􀀀
ready to scream, but then he saw Doc’s face and he froze.􀀀
Doc saw Jenkins had aspirated some of the vomit. A trainer dumped􀀀
a water bottle over Jenkins’ head. Another began to wipe his face with a􀀀
towel. Coach spun Jenkins around and told him to run towards the locker􀀀
room, and then shoved him ahead of him as he ran.􀀀
Brad came up to me as everyone stood there stunned. We listened􀀀
as the ref called off the game.􀀀
Brad took off his helmet. “Can you believe this?”􀀀
I thought I heard a baby crying in the stands.􀀀
I looked towards the runway where Jenkins disappeared, and said􀀀
the most hateful thing I ever have said in my life.􀀀
“I hope he dies, too.”􀀀
I meant it.􀀀
Berserker􀀀 11􀀀
Hammond went live after the game, and bless his artificial heart,􀀀
laid it on the line. Some of the other sportscasters still couldn’t get over their􀀀
fear of Jenkins and they hemmed and hawed and babbled from the sidelines.􀀀
Hammond was live and livid. Everyone who saw it remembers it. I􀀀
was ten feet away.􀀀
“Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it does make it over,” he􀀀
declaimed as he began.􀀀
When he was done and the lights went off, he muttered, “The suits􀀀
can have me fired, but I don’t care.”􀀀
I went over to him. “We hold these goofs to be self-evident. There’s􀀀
no turning back.”􀀀
“Thanks for the e-mail, Marcos.” He smiled. “You confirmed what􀀀
I suspected.”􀀀
“You didn’t know, for sure?”􀀀
“No, not really, but with my experience, I had a real good hunch.􀀀
Actually, I was more sure of Dexter. There is much more freedom in􀀀
Pacifica and I have good sources in the Bay Area.” He threw his bag over􀀀
his shoulder. “In fact, I feel a trip to the West Coast coming on. I have a jet􀀀
at Addison Airport.”􀀀
He turned away.􀀀
“Hey, you old sports hound, can I come?”􀀀
He smiled a crooked smile. “What do you plan to do out there?”􀀀
I threw my helmet to the sidelines.􀀀
I was still wearing my uniform when we arrived in California. On􀀀
the way to the hotel we watched the video as a representative of the Pacifica􀀀
Council met the Oakland team at the airport. The coach was quickly in jail,􀀀
the owner in France.􀀀
Reforms haven’t moved as quickly in the U.S. That’s why I have􀀀
welcomed the opportunity to testify before this congressional committee. I􀀀
think every intelligent and honest person in the U.S. supports the nanotech􀀀
legislation proposed by the Administration. Although I am no longer a U.S.􀀀
citizen, I urge its passage, and I hope my first-hand account of Bloody􀀀
Monday has been enlightening.􀀀
OG’s Speculative 12􀀀 Fiction􀀀
I hope you understand my reasons for not coming in person. There􀀀
are still people like Joe Jenkins in the U.S. ready with bucks and bribes. I􀀀
think I’ll stay put in Pacifica for the time being.􀀀
Jenkins hasn’t died, yet. They’ve been trying to purge the nanites, I􀀀
understand. Apparently he’s little more than a zombie . Mrs. Hawkins and􀀀
her daughter received a $50 million settlement from the court-ordered sale􀀀
of the team.􀀀
Because of the reforms enacted by Pacifica after Bloody Monday, I􀀀
have enjoyed playing football for the Raiders. I know the abuses in the U.S.􀀀
are disappearing. Let’s finish the job.􀀀
Sometimes I have nightmares. Nightmares neural-interface chips􀀀
can’t control. I see a metal box designed to hold ashes, sitting on a mantel􀀀
in a home in North Dallas. It’s late at night, and there’s not a sound.􀀀
I can see the box move just a little. And I hear it groan􀀀

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