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.
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
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 havethought 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.”
“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
“He probably thinks so. I’m sure Jenkins somehow dropped him a
hint. Maybe he read theNews 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
“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
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
“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 myturn 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
“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
Posted by Lou Antonelli at 7:13 AM