ohn knocked, and waited.
He knew something was up. Charly had made the net call pretty late at night. A little hesitant, asking him to come over. He had been expecting something like this for weeks. He’d seen the signs. He knew what Charly wanted and he knew he could help. If John was wrong though, well, tonight would turn out awkward.
He had called for an autocab before Charly had even finished the call, using gesture controls so as not to interrupt. He’d cleared his calendar at the same time, and tapped the air to have his voicemail call up Steve and cancel his previous plans. If he was right, Steve was going to be ecstatic! The autocab was waiting for him by the time he stepped out his front door. He had put on a masking screen before he got in the cab, preventing any and all cameras or sensors from getting a good look at him. a common thing, nowadays, ever since the privacy war. Well not a war exactly, more like the privacy flashmob and sit-in.
The autocab ride didn’t take long, and there he was. Less than ten minutes after the call. On Charly’s doorstep.
John felt like he’d been waiting forever. The door finally opened. Charly stood on the other side, a little embarrassed. He gave John a little hopeful smile, and let him in. John took a deep breath, and entered, popping his mask as he stepped inside.
John sat on one end of the couch, a dominant piece of furniture. He was a little amused that the couch faced a screen, a big one. He noticed speakers in the corners of the room, at least six.
“That’s cool,” John said. “A flat screen TV with surround sound.”
Charly tossed him a beer. John caught it easily.
“Yeah. I know. Old tech. An antique. I like sitting here and watching, uh, stuff.” Charly hesitated. John wanted to tell him he knew already. But it was important that Charly say it. “I’m a––.”
Charly started to say it, that three letter word so full of meaning, but he chickened out.
“––I’m an antique lover. The glasses don’t capture the same effect. Not really. And the contacts are worse. Glad you know what it is.”
John chose not to press him.
“No, no. I’ve always liked how important this was in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. It’s, uh, good to remember.”
Charly sat on the same couch, other end, and tapped the top of his beer can. A small actuator slid aside and allowed vents to let compressed air release quickly. Once freed from the coiled tube inside, the sudden pressure release caused the can to cool quickly. In a few seconds it was frosty. The can changed colors, letting Charly know the beer was ready to drink. Later, when he was finished with it, that same actuator would reverse, squeezing all air out and causing the titanium can to compress down to the size of a pea, ready for recycling. John popped his can too.
Charly took a deep breath and looked at John.
“I need to tell you something––”
John focused. This was it.
“Sure Charly. What’s up?”
“I’m a fan.”
Calmly John looked Charly in the eye. He didn’t want to scare him. He had said it, things would be OK.
“I suspected you were.”
“You knew?” Charly looked surprised. “I thought I had it pretty well hidden. The people at work, they don’t understand.”
“You’d be surprised at what some of those same people are into.”
“I see you all the time. And I figured if anyone was, it would be you. Once, I could tell you were wearing a jersey, under your shirt.”
John smiled. He remembered that day, he’d made sure Charly saw it, and changed right after to keep anyone else from knowing.
“So, what kind of fan?”
“Football, mostly. A little hockey. Baseball. Basketball.”
“You know why they were made illegal?” Charly asked.
“Yeah. I know. Repetitive head injuries. Displays of naked aggression. Broken bones. Riots after games. Competition is seen as the root of selfish behavior. Blah. Blah. Blah. It was made illegal a long time ago. For the children.”
“And things changed,” John stated. ”People began to look at fans like there was something wrong with them.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me!” Charly glared.
“Easy, easy,” John spoke calmly. “I know. Trust me. I know. But after the crackdown on the networks and the changes in laws. All the court cases, and then the aversion therapy. It’s been pretty hard on fans. They say now that they can ‘cure’ it. They say aggressive competition is a gateway to criminal behavior.”
“No. I don’t want to be cured. I’ve been keeping it pretty secret for so long. Found some darknet sites. They put entire seasons up on multiple streaming casts. Encrypted and well hidden. They get taken down once in a while, but I find them again.”
“Sports Central?” John smiled.
“Yeah!” Charly smiled back. ”And ESPN archives.”
“Really!” John smiled. “I’d lost track of that after the last crackdown. I’m gonna need the address for that.”
“So, um. How big a fan are you?”
“Nothing too crazy,” Charly hastened to add. “I got some memorabilia stashed away, a baseball signed, a couple a jerseys, a keychain with a few thousand games on it. Stuff I can hide easy.”
“Yeah, good plan. If you get caught with it, next thing you know they think you are bringing kids home and making them watch it with you.”
“I know. I know. I won’t go that far.” Charly hesitated before asking, "Um, how far have you gone?”
John looked Charly straight in the eye, “I’ve played.”
“No way! How did you get enough people together for teams?”
“I know a few guys. There are a lot of us. Lot of women too. We meet in secret and have resorts we go to. Weekend excursions where it’s just us, some benches and a field. No webcams or e-glasses allowed. EMP field for blocking signals. A mask covering the whole area. Not just teams. Leagues.”
“Holy crap. That explains the bruises that time––”
“––Yup. Told people I fell down the stairs, and I’m allergic to the repair nano. But it was really football.”
“Wow. Football. You, uh, you wanna watch a game?”
“We soundproof here? I tend to yell.”
“Awesome. Start it up. Say, can I call Steve to come over?”
“Steve? Steve’s a fan?
“The biggest. He’ll bring pretzels.”
“Hot damn, call him up!”
“How about Susan?”
“She’s kind of flaming, wears her jersey in public and all, will she be, y’know, discreet?”
“Not a problem.”
“Okay, but we gotta keep this secret.”
“You got it. We’ll just tell people it’s an orgy.”
“Okay. Good. I’ll make popcorn.”
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Laston lives in a small two bedroom apartment with his wife, three daughters and an old cat. He writes with one hand, gently holding the rest of the world at bay with the other. He's fond of tabletop boardgames and all things nerdy.
A collection of his science fiction short stories and novellas, "Copy Me," will be out this year published by S+™.