WHAT HAVE WE LOST WHEN NO ONE LOSES?
The New Texas Storm havent won a game in two hundred years, because every game ends in a tie.
Following a worldwide pandemic and The Concord, which brought peace to a troubled post-apocalyptic world, winning was condemned as primitive behavior. Since then, citizens have been divided into two classes: a wealthy class of people who lives forever and a lower class of Temporals who just try to live.
Soccer player Ledger Dent has been offered an opportunity to join the wealthy Eternals, which seems to be a triumph until he meets an old coach and slowly begins to unravel why competition is unacceptable. It’s then that he realizes more than his personal glory hinges on a victory.
Published under the pen name M.E. Lynne
THE STORM HADN’T WON a game for more than two hundred years, but: Today could be the day.
I feel it as I race toward the goal. Brecke, one of our strikers, shoots. Hard. The goalie manages to get a hand on the ball, batting it away. I volley the ball in mid-air and it curves toward the upper left corner. Everything slows down, or seems to slow.
There’s no way the goalie can get to that shot, though he tries by jumping at an angle, arms outstretched. The ball is just out of his reach and headed for the net.
It’s going in. I’m going to score. For once, we’re going to win.
It can’t happen.
At the last possible milli-second, the ball lifts and smacks into the crossbar, rattling the entire goal. After the rebound, there’s a scramble in front of the goal, and a defender clears the ball away. The ref blows his whistle—three short blasts—and that’s it. Game over.
One to one.
The large crowd that’s dressed more for a party than a soccer match claps politely. In the higher up seats are a few true fans. I wave my hand overhead to acknowledge them and jog off the field, heading for the locker room.
My hair is still wet from the shower when I walk out of the locker room. I’d hung back waiting for most of the fancy fans to clear out in their limos. It’s not a long wait; they don’t like hanging in this neighborhood.
There’s five, maybe six Storm fans waiting on the sidewalk for their favorite players. A kid, who looks to be about thirteen and is wearing a Storm jersey, holds out a tablet and stylus for me. From the way he’s dressed, I’m certain he’s a Temporal.
“Could I get your scribe?”
I don’t get many requests compared to Brecke or Fally. The kid must’ve liked my last shot. Feeling flattered, I reply “Sure,” and take the stylus to scribble Ledger Dent on the screen. When I hand the tablet back to the kid, he taps the capture button and gives me a gap-toothed smile.
On the other side of the street I spy Colie dressed in something sheer and pink, looking like Ma’s once a year bouquet. She’s waiting for me with Gaines. I make my way through the a cluster of Temporal fans and check twice for delivery vans before crossing the street. She runs up, throws her arms around my neck, and hugs me. I nestle my face in her hair, inhaling her perfume, which is as pink and flowery as her clothes. I run my hands down her back. The material of the dress, gossamer as a spider web, feels silky beneath my hands.
“Ledge, I thought that last shot was going in. I actually held my breath. Such an exciting finish!” Her tone is breathless; she clasps my hand. It’s warm and dry.
I chuckle to hide my discomfort with her suggestion. It’s borderline illegal.
“Don’t be foolish, Colie.” Gaines says his lips pursed in disapproval. He’s dressed in in crisply pressed pants and a sports shirt with the Eternal logo on the collar. How typical of him to go out of his way to advertise the fact. His silver hair would indicate aging, but his face is completely unlined. He shakes my hand roughly and raises one eyebrow. His stare is intense. “What were you thinking Ledger? Did you think it might go in?”
There’s a hint of animosity in his voice and the question is taboo. Every hair on my neck stands on end.
I swallow hard. “Don’t be foolish, Gaines,” I say, making a joke of his question. “I hardly think I’ll be the first person in history of New Texas to win a soccer match.”
“Right you are.” He nods, but continues to stare, a threat in his eyes. “We should go Colie. I’m sure Ledger needs his rest.”
She pouts, which is how she usually gets her way. “I wanted him to walk me home. Do you feel up to it, Ledge?”
“Fine.” Gaines claps me on the back. The hypocritical gesture irritates me. “I’ll see you tomorrow at Holistech, then?”
Of course he’ll see me. I need to keep the power on. I merely nod.
Gaines strolls a half block up the street to his auto. He’s one of a handful of Eternals that own one. The doors silently lift open like a set of wings for him and he eases into the low-slung leather seats. The doors close with the same slow, automatic motion. I relax once he’s behind the dark-tinted windows. I’d practically been holding my breath the entire time.
“He’s not that bad,” Colie says.
“A-yeah. You might have mentioned that before,” I tease. She tells me not to worry about Gaines every time we’re alone together, but she’s his adopted daughter. I’ve never understood why you still need a parent when you live forever. Regardless, she has him completely wrapped around her finger.
Colie smiles, her small porcelain face is framed by loose auburn curls. She takes my hand. “Let’s go.”
Colie’s heels click on the uneven pavement as we walk away from the Storm stadium. “Ugh! These things are killing me.”
“I’ve never understood why Eternals get all dressed up for matches, anyway.”
“Because we’ll see other Eternals and because that’s what we do. I’d rather wear some denim than these clothes.”
“Well, take them off.” I raise an eyebrow, teasing, and glance at her heels. “Your shoes, I mean.”
Colie laughs at me, and scans the area immediately surrounding Storm stadium. It’s home to me, but I try to see it through her eyes. It’s made up of mostly Ones, boxy apartments set aside for singles or marrieds without a family. The paint is peeling on a few of the buildings and faded on all the others. The residents of one building have put in a garden to grow their own veg, but all the other buildings are surrounded by weeds. There are a few small businesses, which have cropped up in this neighborhood in recent years: a thrift shop, a furniture rental place, and, most notably The Pitch, a pub where all the Ballers hang out. A battered wood fence runs along the sidewalk where we’re standing. Intermittent gaps show the devastation left behind from The Concord; piles of dirt, steel and debris make up the ruins that continue to decay. A small crew is working on clean-up of the ruins today, and at this rate they’ll be able to use that land in another thousand years. Beyond all of it, far off in the distance, are the New Texas city walls.
She makes a face. “I’ll think I leave them on and bear the pain.”
As we work our way through New Texas, she chatters about shopping and spa treatments and dining out and museum exhibits. I don’t have much to add except an occasional a-yeah. My life compared to hers is routine. Work and soccer practice, or sometimes a game. Time with my family. That’s it.
Soccer makes it bearable.
We wind our way past the Twos, which could be a carbon copy of the Ones except for an extra window. Colie eyes the buildings. “Where is it that you live again?”
“Three blocks that way, a left and two more blocks.” I motion with my hand to indicate the general direction. She’s only making conversation, there’ll never be a day she visits my Two.
“Ah, right. I get all turned around in this part of the city.”
“It’s easy to do. Everything looks the same.”
And it does to Eternals, I’m sure. But to Temporals, well, we notice the small insignificant differences. Like the Two that has a row of terra cotta pots filled with veg. Or the corner where someone scrawled their initials in the still wet cement. Or the road where I turn to head home that’s directly across from a still-standing building in the ruins. Its multi-colored windows are only partially broken. A tall steeple with a cross can be easily seen over the wooden fence that separates it from my neighborhood. Ma says it was a special place, a sacred place. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I hope if they ever get around to tearing down the ruins that they’ll leave that building alone. It’s my landmark.
I’m about to point it out to Colie when she asks, “Did you decide? Are you ready to become an Eternal?”
This has been an ongoing conversation that, at the moment, I’d rather avoid. I don’t want to talk, or even think about it. My family needs me. Without the paycheck from Holistech, I’m not sure how Ma would make ends meet. I can’t even bring myself to mention Colie’s offer to her because last year when I told her about Trenton’s decision to become one, Ma had looked away with tears in her eyes. Then she told me, “You should do it, too. Your life will be so much better.”
Colie stops walking and squeezes my hand. “You know, Ledge, you won’t be a Baller forever. You can’t put off this decision indefinitely.”
I shrug. Some days are so hard I barely want to go on. Why would I want to live forever? How long is Eternity anyway? It’s hard to fathom. “How long have you been around?” I ask Colie.
“I was made Eternal shortly after The Concord. Before that everyone had been Temporal.”
“I knew that,” I say and then laugh when she screws up her mouth with an inquisitive look. “Not the part about when you became one, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked. But the part about everyone being Temporal. They taught us that in school.”
Colie arches one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Really? I didn’t realize they still taught The Concord. There’d been talk a generation ago about dropping it from the curriculum.”
I freeze. Her admission stuns me the way a tackle from behind would. Why would they want to eliminate history? Who can make that kind of decision? Colie probably wouldn’t answer that even if she could, so, instead, I ask, “Do you remember being Temporal?”
“Barely. That part of my life is more like a dream. A very bad dream.”
We’ve reached the end of the residential district for the Twos. Small, grimy businesses line the streets in the shopping district. A tattered green awning hangs over the bakery. The sports store has last year’s Storm Jersey hanging in their dust-covered windows. A mural of Gaines looking self-important covers the side of the butcher shop.
Up ahead, the regal gates for Olympus Heights loom large. There’s no gradual transition from the Temporal neighborhood to that of the Eternals. One barricade, however gilded it may be, separates the two.
It seems strange that I never see Eternals in any of these stores, they’re right in their backyard. If they don’t shop here, where do they go? Are their lives more different than just a gate? It brings me back to Colie’s remark. “What did you mean a bad dream? Is that what you think of my life?”
She stops walking and tilts her chin to gaze up at me. “There’s an event next Saturday to help fund the art museum for the next twenty moons. Gaines is a major sponsor. You should come.”
“Why? So I can rub elbows with a bunch of Eternals? So I can spend more time with Gaines?”
She pouts at me. “Have it your way. Eat your lousy ground meat and veg instead. I was trying to be nice and show you the difference.”
Now I feel like a heel. “Colie, I didn’t mean it. Look, I probably don’t even have the right clothes for a fancy Eternal party and I have practice on Saturday.”
She lays her palm flat against my chest and pats it gently. “You can come after practice; the party will just be getting started. And, don’t worry about clothes. I can take care of that if you promise to come with me.”
Her smile is as big and bright as the arched, golden gates at the entrance to Olympus Heights. “Fantastic!”
Fantastic? I doubt it. The only thing that could make it tolerable would be if Trenton were there.