Better Ballers

By Savatore Difalco

sfgenreJohnny Quanta stared at his shattered prosthetic leg in disbelief. A full bot had speared him in the knee. It was a cheap shot.

“Johnny,” Dr. Fagan said, “we have no replacements left.”

“What are you talking about? There were three good ones last week.”

“What can I tell you? You play hard.”

“The game is close. I need to get back in there.”

“Don’t worry about it. They put in the kid.”

Johnny bowed his head and shut his eyes. This thing called the kid was a full bot that could run a 40 yard dash in two seconds flat and throw the football 100 yards on a rope. Even with Johnny’s enhancements, he could never crack the three second mark in the 40, and although he could fling the ball as far as any bot, his accuracy had become suspect, notwithstanding corrective eye surgery.

“All due respect, Doc,” Johnny said, “that kid and his like spell curtains for us half-and-halfs.”

Dr. Fagan smiled and touched his stethoscope. “You’ve had a good run, Johnny. You’re rich and famous. Be grateful. We can’t put brakes on the future.”

It was true. Quarterbacking the Silicon Valley 49ers from 2045–2065, Johnny Quanta had shattered every NFL record in existence and had won six Super Bowls and worldwide acclaim. After the disaster of 2025 — when, on live television, a player was decapitated in a freakish end zone play—the NFL, under unremitting pressure from government, legal bodies and human rights organizations, essentially closed shop.

But not everyone was horrified by the incident. After a 20-year hiatus, and an exponential leap in human enhancement technologies, wealthy nostalgists restarted the NFL with six teams, including the 49ers. Human players with significant technological augmentation — half-and-halfs as they came to be known — played for these teams. Johnny Quanta, for instance, had been outfitted with two pneumatic prosthetic legs and carbon fiber deltoid replacements, among other tweaks. Thus the startling 40 times strength and throwing power. Still, despite initial worries about a lack of character intangibles common to elite human athletes, the newly introduced robots outclassed all half-and-halfs and demonstrated no lack of “fire in the belly” as some called it. Spectators, needless to say, relishing speed and violence, delighted in watching the machines perform.

“Tell me something, Doc,” Johnny said. “I see the writing on the wall. Change is here. But what will become of this league with these bots? I mean, if the half-and-halfs get replaced will people still be interested? Will they really want to watch a bunch of banging tin cans?”

Dr. Fagan nodded reflectively and rubbed his chin. “That’s a good question, Johnny. As you know, until now there have been team quotas on robots, but I’ve heard rumours they’re lifting them altogether.”

Johnny couldn’t believe his ears.

“The owners, ticket-buyers and media platforms want more robots,” Dr. Fagan said. “They may keep a few half-and-halfs for optics and nostalgia, but let’s face it, the bots are better ballers. Period. The way they run and tackle — the collisions! My word.”

Johnny shut his eyes and held his breath. Although resigned, the idea of robots taking over a sport he had helped revive after two dormant decades still wounded him. Sure, this bot they called “the kid” could play. But it had no soul. Didn’t really care if it won or lost. How would fans bond with something incapable of returning their affection, of responding to their worship? He heard a crowd roar and for a moment thought he was imagining it.

Dutchie, the trainer, galloped into the locker room.

“The kid did it! Threw a bomb last second! Touch-down!”

Dr. Fagan raised his arms and made a guttural sound. His stethoscope fell off his neck. Johnny picked it up for him, but he had followed Dutchie out to the field.

Wonderful, Johnny thought. A new hero for the masses; a heartless one.

The celebrations continued in the dome. Soon the players would file back inside black-slapping and trading high-fives. Desiring solitude, Johnny quickly fitted his walking legs and donned his street clothes. He wore a hat to disguise himself and exited.

Chanting and banner-waving fans huddled round the locker room. Security bots cantilevered to keep them at bay. Johnny pulled his hat low and skulked through the crowd without drawing stares. Then as he stepped through the gates and started for the players’ auto-lot, a little boy wearing a 49ers jersey with his number 7 stopped him.

“Hey,” the boy said, freckled face squinting. He turned around, raised his hand over his shoulder and pointed to the name on the back: QUANTA.

Johnny was moved. He took out an old school Sharpie he kept for such occasions.

“Let me stop you right there,” the boy said. “I know what you wanna do. Daddy said first thing you’ll wanna do is sign my jersey.”

Speechless, Johnny watched the boy pulling off the jersey. His head got stuck.

“Help me,” he said.

Johnny tugged the jersey over his head. It was warm in his hands.

“Thanks,” the boy said, bare-chested, his skin like peameal.

Johnny tried handing back the jersey.

“Nah,” said the child. “Don’t want it. You’re history.”

“I’m what?”

“Daddy said you’re history.”

The boy shuffled off, not looking back once.

Johnny continued toward his auto, crestfallen. As he approached it, he spotted a spindly parking enforcement bot noodling around the charging units. This enraged him. What the hell was it doing? Rather than call it out, Johnny got down in a three point stance, powered up his haunches and burst for the bot.

Thing didn’t see him coming at all. He knocked it uglily into the humming capacitor, where it folded up like a cheap metal chair.

“Suck on that, bitch!” Johnny shouted as the bot whirred and popped, but in his heart the words rang hollow and the entire episode gave him little satisfaction.

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About The Author

Salvatore Difalco

salvatore difalco 200Salvatore Difalco is the author of two story collections, Black Rabbit (Anvil) and The Mountie At Niagara Falls (Anvil).

He currently lives in Toronto Canada.


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A King May Look At A Cat
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Applicants Must Be Able To Cackle
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Invisible Giants And Little Types
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Infinite Monkeys
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Kitting Up
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She's Dead
by Mark Towse

Surfing On Neptune
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The Forgetful Visitor
by Barry Germansky

The Sin Of Envy
by George Nikolopoulos

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

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