Larry Hodges – The Pushovers of Galactic Baseball Fame

The Pushovers of Galactic Baseball Fame

By Larry Hodges

Baseball. It’s my life.

Grandparent Two once said that baseball started out in some world with bipeds, where the best players played in front of huge, screaming crowds. Why would anyone want to watch the best players? It’s like rubbing in your face that you’re inferior. I think Grandparent made that up.

Today we’re up against the Sirius Suckers, and it’s my turn at bat. I clutch the bat in four tentacles and take a few practice swings. I’ve trained my whole life for this. Parent One said if you want to be good at something, you must be single-minded about it, so while the other kids were tossing balls around and growing neuron connections, I spent years trying not to move or do anything that might develop tentacle-eye coordination. Our fans love that I have the skill of a blind snapanzee, and I need to stay that way. I get paid for being a klutz. I play center field for the Polaris Pushovers, and once almost caught a ball.

Now I glare at the purple-eyed pitcher, and she glares back. I take a deep breath and stare at the ball balanced on the tee in front of me. It’s bottom of the ninth, two outs, and as usual, nobody’s scored, though we came close in the fourth when the Suckers committed five errors on one play but our guy tripped six times and was out at the plate by half a snoogal, bless his two hearts.

Our fans cheer, not wanting me to do anything skillful that might show them up. I’m good at that, though I tapped a foul in the third. I’m going to put all my weight into my swing, like in the sixth when I accidentally let go of the bat and sent it over the left field fence. Now I’m using an unfamiliar bat, which should help me mess up.

I swing high and whiff and fall flat on my eyequills. The opposing fans scream about my body odor, but not showering is one of my trademarks. Strike one.

I step out of the batter’s box and call a snack time-out, and out comes the trainer. He stuffs a spoonful of live grubbies into my beak. I’ve never fed myself–learning to navigate a spoon means developing coordination, which could translate into baseball and ruin my career. I swallow the grubbies and step back into the batter’s box. The newfound energy should make my swing a bit more wild, since that last swing was actually kinda close.

I stare at the ball, still perched on the tee like a black hole wrapped in skafelly skin that’s determined not to budge, and it’s probably right, but we gotta play the game. I swing even harder. This time I swing too low and smack the tee, and the ball wobbles. Ow!!! That stings. But I’m a pro so I’m used to that. The opposing fans jeer how stupid I am, and I have the IQ tests to prove it. Strike two.

We’re down to our final strike and we’ve done nothing well, thank goodness. Our fans are on their tentacle tips and the opposing fans chitter they want a hitter not an underwear snipper. I stare at the ball and try to smack it, but swing two feet over it. But I stumble, and just before I fall on my skoofal the bat somehow hits the ball. It’s a screaming grounder that’s slowly making its way to the shocked pitcher, who hasn’t touched a ball all season.

I vaguely remember what to do in this situation and pull all twelve tentacles into a tight ball and roll toward first base. The pitcher trips over the ball—she’s a pro. I roll into first, and I’m on to second in a glaringly stupid baserolling mistake—there’s no chance I make it to second on time, and I’ve never made it to second base before. The pitcher, after fumbling the ball three times, finally kicks the ball really hard with a tentacle and the ball’s rolling faster than me and beats me by five snoogals, but the Sirius Sucker at second watches the ball roll between his suckers, and his fans nod and cheer him and the pitcher, knowing they could have made those plays.

I continue to third, slipping only twice, as the three outfielders collided and fall down with concussions, a real problem for us professional athletes. One groggily swats the ball toward home as I round third. Some are booing displeasure at my heroics, but it was an accident, honest, and the play isn’t over. I could still mess up.

The catcher trips over home plate but the ball rolls into his beak and he clomps down on it like he’s hungry, but at least he doesn’t swallow it, since he’s a pro. They got me beat, but I roll on cuz like I said, I’m a pro too. The catcher flings himself down and his head smacks into mine, and somehow he holds onto the ball but loses three incisors. I’m out.

“Safe!” screams the mistaken umpire, who like all umpires can’t see straight. She’s a pro too, can’t blame her mess-up since it’s the first time she ever called a play at the plate. And we win!!!

Our fans race onto the field, flashing red and feeling inferior, and tear off three of my tentacles before I make it to the safety of the clubhouse. It won’t hurt my game. But I’ll be released for sure. My agent is going bonkers—on the one tentacle, I’m a free agent and I’m so bad, I might get big bucks, but on the other, I just made a whole crowd of fans feel bad about themselves, a really rotten and unprofessional thing to do. It’ll knock my market value down. But the talent scouts, they’ve seen me play, and if they can convince ownership that I’m still a klutz, then big money, here I come!!!

Larry Hodges, from Germantown, MD, is an active member of Science Fiction Writers of America with over 110 short story sales and four novels, including “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions,” which covers the election for President of Earth in the year 2100, and “When Parallel Lines Meet,” which he co-wrote with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn. He’s a member of Codexwriters, and a graduate of the Odyssey and the Taos Toolbox Writers Workshops. In the world of non-fiction, he has 17 books and over 2000 published articles in over 170 different publications. He’s also a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame, and claims to be the best table tennis player in Science Fiction Writers of America, and the best science fiction writer in USA Table Tennis! Visit him at larryhodges.com.

Geoff Hart – Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing

By

Geoff Hart

The trout slides through the water, skin tingling with the electric fields of its environment, hunger driving it upstream. Flowing water alternately compresses and caresses its skin; sounds boom around it, tiny variations of water pressure on its inner ear and along its lateral line. Light flickers and dances on the silver surface above, and on the clean umber sand below. Silt tickles its gills, and there’s a faint sense of prey coming closer. It waits in an eddy for sustenance to arrive. There is movement everywhere, then one particular movement perturbs the surface; the trout’s mouth gapes, and it surges upwards and breaks the surface, capturing the fly, and its stomach fills. But it’s not enough. It slides back into its eddy. And now, there’s another fly drifting downstream, coming within reach, and the trout lunges for it….

The fisherman’s in his element, savoring every moment whether or not it will end in a fish. He’s seen them in the eddy pools, lulled by the current to a somnolence that would let him slip his hands beneath them and tickle them from the water’s embrace, or even just net them. But he’s a sportsman, and that’s not the point of being here. Wind tickles his hair where it protrudes from beneath a spectacularly ugly hat. It’s a sunny day with cloud-dappled skies, and when the sun peeks between the clouds, it gets warm. There’s a scent composed of clean water, of growing things, of sunwarmed rubber waders, of clean sweat mingled with DEET. An occasional breeze carries away the sweat and DEET. The stream murmurs, a soothing background noise, and lulls him like the water lulls the fish.

He projects the fly, flimsy line sweeping back, forth, back again, until at last it’s far enough out he can let it drop. The hand-tied fly alights upon the water’s surface with the slightest ripple, hesitating a moment before drifting downstream. His thoughts drift with it and with the water sweeping past his waders. He remembers, in his muscles, setting a hook, wrestling with a fish, fatiguing rather than overpowering it. He remembers the shock of bashing its brains out on a rock, and remembers cleaning and dressing it, building a fire, and eating the juicy pink flesh, still half raw in places. He senses as much as feels the trout rising to the bait, adjusts his footing, and prepares to snap the end of the rod and set the hook….

The alien ship hovers invisibly in geosynchronous orbit, cloak engaged. Electromagnetic radiation sleets about the ship, but the cloak is multifunctional; the same property that bends light around it also diverts radiation that would harm the occupants. The sun’s above the horizon, and the planet glows beneath them, brilliant blue of oceans with diamond glints, glaring white of clouds, brown and fresh green of soil and vegetation. It’s a lovely place, but the aliens aren’t here for sightseeing. At the Science station, one leans over the scanner, intent on fulfilling the search parameters. An AI assistant narrows the data, searching, progressively homing in on the ideal solution. There’s a large, sunlit continent, with a narrow waist near the equator and sparsely settled, that stretches nearly from pole to pole, but the locale of most interest right now is in the northern hemisphere.

They’ve come many light years for this moment. The technological achievement is impressive, particularly the part about cheating physics to arrive here within days rather than lifetimes. But the biological achievement will be even greater: the chance to prove not just that life exists elsewhere in the cosmos (they’ve done that already in their own solar system), but rather that tool-using intelligent life exists,  never mind the decades wasted fruitlessly scanning for it on every gravitational and dark energy frequency known to science. There are those who still believe intelligent life is unique to their one lonely planet orbiting an insignificant sun. Today, they’ll be proven wrong.

The sensor station pings quietly, and Science station transfers the location to the Ops console. A nervous operator takes a deep breath, streamers of methane exiting through frilly gills, then focuses the scanners on their target. There’s a clear gravitational signature that shows a carbon and calcium frame containing large quantities of liquid water, covered from apex to nadir by a synthetic inorganic sheath and surrounded by external water that flows past, bearing many lesser life forms. The target is making motions consistent with an effort to capture those lesser life forms. The Ops officer manipulates an algorithm, and a credible facsimile of one of those life forms instantiates in the flowing water. It moves slowly towards a synthetic extension of the target. There’s a capture device at the end of that extension, and Ops guides the simulacrum towards that device. The target moves to capture the life form, and Ops moves to capture the target….

In a higher dimensional pocket of space-time, the energy being watches, bemused, as its creation moves towards the alien ship’s bait. Wheels within wheels, and where does it end? The being glances back over what would have been a shoulder before the singularity, suddenly nervous that it too is being watched. Nonsense, it concludes. There are, and could be no watchers. It extends a tendril of spacetime towards the spaceship….

 

Startled by an aggressive dictionary during the 9th month of her pregnancy, Geoff’s mother was shortly delivered of a child who showed a precocious antipathy towards the users of words. Over time, he was able to transform this antipathy into a more functional, if equally passive-aggressive, career as an editor. After nearly 30 years, the verbal flame burns as intensely as ever, leading to an errant, semi-evangelical career ranting against the evils of words from pulpits at any editing or technical writing conference that will have him, tirelessly seeking new recruits for his cause. In his spare time, he roams the globe, entertaining and enlightening locals with his creative and uninhibited interpretations of their linguistic conventions. He also commits occasional fictions. Visit him online at http://www.geoff-hart.com/.