by Ember Nickel

A generation ago, professional sports been home to the finest athletes in the nation. Here was where the attention of the normal people went, where they watched with bated breath to see these well-trained and skilled young men strife for victory.

That was no longer the case.

Today, the One loomed beyond the reaches of Z-Space. Everyone who could acquired the morphing technology and set off to fight. A fight they might be doomed to lose, but a fight that they would not be able to live with themselves if they bypassed. Those left behind-disabled, incompatible with the technology, or ineligible for other reasons-populated the leagues.

The NBA finals still drew a crowd, however. Many of these fans were older, who remembered the game they knew from their youth. The names had changed, but in their heart they felt the same bond to the teams-legit or not. But one woman couldn't care less.

Her hair was a darker shade of blonde, like a half-brunette. Anyone who looked at her would not see a face they knew, for it was the face of none while yet the face of many. Those she'd met, those she'd shaken the hands of monotonously, did not know that their DNA ran through her veins, nor were they likely to ever.

She knew the rules of this game from years spent in gym class, back when her academics mattered. But she was no fan, did not follow sports at all, and would never have known this game was taking place without a message from an old friend of hers who was hovering somewhere innocuously, watching the game through a window with his magnificent eyesight.

About an hour and a half after she had entered the stadium, she took a bathroom break. When she returned, she checked the scoreboard. The game was drawing to a close, and the home team had a large lead. But the visitors were rallying.

Their squad was not likely to win that game. In past decades, that would be a big deal. But this year it was not. They had had quite a successful season by the current standards-their team had made a profit (rare for businesses outside the war), and that in itself would have been enough to brag about. But they had another accomplishment as well.

Number eight, who was backing up behind the free-throw line to get away from a defender, did not wear his name on his jersey like his teammates. It didn't matter-everyone knew who he was. Although he qualified to fight against the One, he was perhaps the only person on the planet exempt. He'd done "enough" already.

A pass soared to him. He leaped up and caught it, then began dribbling as defenders closed in. There was only one way he could go-backward.

The clock ticked away the final seconds of the game. The visitors were now only behind by two.

As Jake crossed the three-point line, heading away from the basket he was trying to score at. He looked up at it, and then beyond it. Cassie was looking directly at him, her gaze not disguised by the morph.

The ball seemed to spin off his hands as the clock was sounding. Nobody in the stadium could speak or do anything except follow its parabolic flight. Up and up it went, boundlessly, until gravity had its revenge and brought the ball homeward through the hoop.

Jake's teammates mobbed him, and he broke contact with the bleachers. They jumped up and down spontaneously as teams had in the "old days", holding their fists skyward.

Jake contributed only his index finger. It might be interpreted as a sign of triumph, but it represented the game he couldn't win.

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