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The explosive final novel in the Endgame trilogy, by New York Times bestelling author, James Frey.

Two keys have been found. The strongest Players are left. One final key remains to win Endgame and save the world.

For Sarah, Jago, Aisling, Maccabee, Shari, An, and Hilal, Endgame has reached its final phase. The third key, Sun Key, is all that stands between one Player saving their line – or perishing along with the rest of the world. And only one can win.

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West Bengal, India: Maccabee is Playing to win. He has Earth Key and Sky Key and he is determined to find Sun Key. But in Endgame, fate can turn in the blink of an eye. He must Play carefully. He must watch his back.

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Kolkata, India: An Liu is Playing for death. His goal: stop Endgame, and take the world down with him.

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The Rules of the Game The Evolution of Rollerball By JP Trostle Let's face it -- most fictional sports created for the screen or page tend to come across as contrived, silly and, well, fictional. 'Rollerball' is not one of them. The futuristic game of 'Rollerball' has achieved a rare state among fictional creations. In the 1975 movie starring James Caan, the filmmakers were effectively able to convince an audience they are somehow watching a real sport. (In fact, some of the stuntmen and athletes who appeared in the original film actually looked into starting a league and playing for real after the movie was a hit.) I had always been fascinated that someone could make up an imaginary game that seemed so believable, and over the years I tried to track down the rules and figure out how they were conceived. That it was a sport which combined roller derby, lacrosse and motorbike racing (and was set in a shiny dystopian future), only added to the appeal. ••• Rollerball was invented by author William Harrison in his short story 'Roller Ball Murder,' which first appeared in the September 1973 issue of Esquire. Mr. Harrison was a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas and was inspired to pen a 'little experimental story' after seeing a fight break out on the court during a college basketball game. The fans went wild, the home team was energized and came back for the win, and afterwards Harrison began to wonder just how violent sports in the future might become. He pictured men balls fired out each other with explosions, and such a sport.
'on a great roulette wheel, dodging huge metal of cannons, while they skated around slashing at spiked gloves.' He later added motorcycles and imagined what sort of society would encourage
The game described in 'Roller Ball Murder' is deliberately improbable and over-the-top, with the rules constantly changing to increase the mayhem to the point were it is impossible to survive a game. The sport itself, while central to the action, isn't the point of the story -- this is a cautionary tale about a corporate-controlled future and its corrosive effects on society. Harrison, who is not a science fiction writer, was a surprised as anyone when his science fiction story sold, and even more surprised when it was optioned for a motion picture. He wrote a treatment for the film, describing the game in greater detail, and eventually went on to write the script. The sport in the unpublished script is similar to the one in the short story, with a few basic changes, but still keeping many of Harrison's original ideas such as multiple balls in play and passengers on the cycles. As they prepared to begin filming, Harrison worked with Producer/Director Norman Jewison and the production designers, and the script began to mutate to fit the practical needs of a movie set (and the requests, ahem, of the movie studio.) 'Great attention was paid to the game,' said Harrison. Now here's where it gets interesting. According to a speech the writer gave back in the 1970s, the director quickly lost control of the shoot to its star, James Caan, who began to make up his own lines. The stuntmen, some of whom were friends with Caan, began to demand their own lines and even rewrote one of the scenes. The whole set apparently became quite competitive and a 'kind of jock atmosphere prevailed.' Even when they weren't filming, the stuntmen would often play on the track, coming up with their own rules for the game. In the Special Edition DVD of the film, Jewison said they played the game over and over until they figured out how it should work. By the end of filming, much of Harrison's dialog had fallen by the wayside, and the game continued to mutate beyond his initial design. After the movie was edited, additional voiceovers were created for a sports announcer who wasn't in the original script. Eventually, someone in United Artists' marketing department collected together most of the rules to be included in the press kit that went out to the media when Rollerball was released.
Copies of these 'real' rules have been almost impossible to find and have never been posted online until now. The movie was an international box office hit, and generated a great deal of press regarding the violence it portrayed. ABC's Wide World of Sports apparently did a segment on the movie -and by extension, the growing concern over violence in sports in general. Over the years, even as the sets and futurism of Rollerball became dated and cheesy, the action scenes of the game were still exciting to watch -- and still feel like you're watching a real sport. ••• The first rule of Rollerball is: Nobody talks about the Rollerball remake. Okay, well, I guess if I'm going to do a complete history of the game, I have to write about the disastrous 2002 remake. 25 years after the first movie was released, Director John McTiernan decided it was time to update the original. The initial response from the public was 'why?' In the intervening years, the 1975 film had become one of those movies that had such a distinct feel, and captured a particular time, most people didn't think it needed to be 're-imagined.' However, if anyone could probably pull it off, McTiernan (who had directed both Die Hard and Predator, two of the best action and sci-fi movies of the past 20 years) was a likely candidate. It turned out to be an unmitigated mess, a disaster worthy of skewering on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The remake was delayed almost a year after test audiences laughed it out of the theater, and when the studio finally dumped it in the dead of winter, it was universally panned -- and a certified box-office bomb. Critic Roger Ebert said he would love to see a book about what happened behind the scenes: 'My guess is that something went dreadfully wrong early in the production. Maybe dysentery or mass hypnosis.' It is difficult to take the game presented in the remake seriously, as the filmmakers certainly didn't. Players are in costumes that wouldn't make the cut in the pro wrestling world -
- come on, tutus? -- and they don't even bother to follow the few rules that are presented. In some ways, the game track in the remake is not unlike the one in the original short story (oval, not round), and the idea the game is made more dangerous to increase audience interest is reintroduced -- but there the similarities end: whereas Roller Ball Murder is an improbable sport, the one presented in Rollerball 2002 is absolutely impossible. There is no way the players could perform the actions we see them doing unless they were on wires. Still, one good thing came out of the remake debacle: it is perfect to show to film students on how NOT to make a movie. And it did lead to a resurgence in interest in the original movie -- and the rules of the game. Sources: 'The Mutations of Rollerball' by Willam Harrison, courtesy of the University of Arkansas Rollerball: Fact Sheet and Rules of the Game, United Artists Corporation 'Return to the Arena: The Making of Rollerball' documentary on the Special Edition DVD release of the 1975 film, MGM's remake website
ROLLER BALL MURDER Description and Rules of the Game [Taken from the short story by William Harrison]
TRACK SPECIFICATIONS (OVAL TRACK): The track is oval, fifty yards long and thirty yards across, and is described as 'high banked.'
THE TEAMS: Each team consists of twenty players: ten roller skaters, five motorbike riders, and five runners (or clubbers). Runners have heavy leather gloves and carry a lacrosselike paddle, which are used to either field the game ball or bash opposing players. Each team has five bikers, riding on 175cc motorbikes. Bikers are permitted to give runners a lift. Players — each team: Skaters — 10 players Runners — 5 players Motorbikers — 5 Total — 20 There are no substitutes.
THE CANNON AND BALLS — SPECIFICATIONS: Cannon: Firing velocity — Over 300 miles per hour Ball:
About the size of a bowling ball Weight — 20 lbs., and made of ebonite. Balls are fired counterclockwise around the track, in the same direction players move. Later in the story, the shape of the ball is changed from round to oblong, to randomize its movement and increase the likelihood of players being struck The cannons are positioned on top of the banked area of track. If a ball goes to ground on the infield or strikes a player, another is automatically fired. At the start of the story, only one ball is in play at a time; additional balls are added throughout the season until, in the All-Star Game at the end, 4 oblong balls are in play simultaneously.
OFFICIALS: (1) Judge: One judge keeps track of the points scored. (2) Game Referees: Two Game Referees on the track, 'whose job it is to see nothing amiss.'
SCORING: A point is scored when a team's runner manages to pass the opposing skaters, pick up a ball and pass it to one of their bikers.
'ROLLERBALL': BASIC RULES AND PENALTIES: (1) Play time — two hours. There are no rest periods or breaks. By the end of the story, there is no time limit and games go until there is no one left to score points.
(2) The only penalty mentioned in the story is: if a player fails to keep up and is lapped by his own team, he is forced to remove his helmet.
HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED: 'The bikers ride high on the walls ... and swoop down to help the runners at opportune times. The skaters, those of us with the juice for it, protest: we clog the way, try to keep the runners from passing us and scoring points, and become the fodder in the brawl. So two teams of us, forty in all, go skating and running and biking around the track while the big balls are fired in the same direction as we move -- always coming up behind us to scatter and maim us -- and the object of the game, fans, as if you didn't know, is for the runners to pass all skaters on the opposing team, field a ball, and pass it to a biker for one point.' --Jonathan E
ROLLERBALL Fact Sheet and Rules of the Game [Transcribed by JP Trostle from a 1975 United Artist press release ] [Here they are at last: THE official rules of the game of Rollerball, as seen in the 1975 movie. I took these directly from a 13-page press release -- complete with typos -- that came with the movie's original press kit.]
TRACK DESIGN: Productions Designer -- John Box Track Architect -- Herbert Schurmann (Olympic Track Architect for Rome, Mexico and Munich) Skating Consultant for Track Design -- Peter Hicks TRACK SPECIFICATIONS (CIRCULAR TRACK): Top circular dimensions -- banked area: Circumference -- 547 feet (167.863 metres) Diameter -- 175 feet (53.426 metres) Lower circular dimensions -- banked area: Circumference -- 312 feet (96.113 metres) Banked Surface -- track area: Width -- 40 feet (12.30 metres) Flat surface -- track area: Width -- 19 feet 8 inches (6 metres) Infield area: Circumference -- 190 feet (58.434 metres)
Top of bank from flat floor level: Height -- 12 feet 2 inches (3.71 metres) Degree of banked track: 18° Two doors -- built into banked area of track: Outside dimensions of doors when closed --Length: 22 feet (7 metres) --Width at top: 7 feet (2.20 mtres) --Width at bottom: 6 feet (1.90 metres) Size of opening when doors are open --Height: 6 feet 6 inches (2 metres) --Width: 6 feet 0 inches (1.90 metres) Pneumatically operated. (Open to let players and game personnel in -- closed during game). The track area -- both the flat and banked portion -- have a smooth wood surface. Surround the top of the track there is a 3-foot-high 6 inches thick steel barrier. Attached to the barier [sic ] is a 2-inch steel hand-rail covered with rubber. Surrounding the track on the top of this steel barrier is a 4 feet 4 inches high steel mesh fence. Surrounding the bottom of the track there is a 3 feet high 6 inches thick steel barier [sic ] with 3 feet wide player entrances at opposite ends of the Infield. A 6-inch gutter surrounds the bottom of the track. If the ball goes into the gutter, it is a 'dead' ball.
THE TEAMS: Each team comprises seven (7) Skaters, plus three (3) Motorcyclists. There are eight (8) Substitutes on each team. These Substitutes, players and motor-cyclists, are positioned in the Infield area during play until called into action. Players -- each team: Skaters -- 5 players (Combination Offensive & Defensive) Skaters -- 2 ball catchers Motor-cyclists -- 3 [total ] -- 10 Skaters -- 5 Substitutes Motor-cyclists -- 3 Substitutes [total ] -- 18 Infield -- each team: Team Executive -- 1 Team Coach -- 1 Team Trainer -- 1 First aid men -- 2 Motor-cycle mechanics -- 2 Uniform & equipment: 1. Studded motor-cycle helmet with face guard 2. Cotton jerseys with team numbers 3. Ice hockey shoulder pads 4. Leather pants 5. Adapted baseball catcher shin guards
6. Motor-cycle boots for Motor-cycle drivers 7. Skate boots for skaters 8. Spiked leather gloves 9. Ball Catchers used adapted ice hockey goal-keepers glove. 10. Various protection pads: elbow, back, knee, etc. Motor-cycles: Each team has three motor-cycles in play and three substitutute [sic ] motor-cycles. The motor-cycles used are Honda CB 125's, which have been specially adapted by the addition of steel protection pads on the front and sides, plus a steel towing-bar at the back, which the skaters hold when being towed. The cycles travel counter-clockwise when in play. They are capable of very high speeds and during a game can reach a speed of up to 50 miles per hour.
THE CANNON AND BALL -- SPECIFICATIONS: Cannon: Pneumatic powered (compressed air) P.S.I. (Pounds per square inch) available -- 600 Maximum power ever used -- 400 P.S.I. Firing velocity -- 0 to 135 miles per hour Cannon fired by computer from Controller's Bubble Ball: 3 ½' Diameter Weight -- 21 lbs. Made of solid resin core with an outer steel skin. The ball is fired from the cannon clockwise around the track.
Method of Firing -- cannon and ball: The cannon is positioned on top of banked area of track, which opens up mechanically to fire, then closes. The firing of the cannon has been worked out by a computer which has been programmed. Only the computer and the Controller know when the cannon will fire. Only one ball is in play at a time. If it is not picked up and reaches the gutter around the inner barrier (Infield), the ball is 'dead' and a blue light flashes signaling the fact. If a player drops the ball and it rolls down into the gutter or reaches the gutter for any reason whatsoever, the ball is also 'dead', or out of play.
OFFICIALS: (1) Game Controller: The Game Controller is stationed high in the centre of the Infield, in a glass-enclosed revolving bubble, from which he can see the whole game laid out before him. He is seated in a mechanically-swivelled chair within the bubble; a small computer console built into the chair arms shows the speed and velocity at which the cannon will fire the ball. The Controller operates the signal light tower which hangs from the arena roof over the bubble in full view of the spectators and players. Yellow flashing lights indicate -- Cannon has fired, ball in play. Blue flashing lights indicate -- 'Dead' ball Red flashing lights indicate -- Goal scored Green flashing lights indicate -- A penalty has been called (2) Game Referees: Inside the Infield are two Game Referees, each with his own elevated station, from which he supervises one-half of the track. The Game Referees are audio-connected to the main Controller, and their chief function is to call penalties and enforce the rules of the game. (3) Team Executive:
The Team Executive is the General Manager of the team, and is responsible for all the operations of the team on and off the track. (4) Team Coach: The Team Coach is second-in-command to the Team Executive and assists him in all team operations. (5) Team Trainer: The Team Trainer is responsible for the physical fitness of the team players and the maintenance of the team equipment. (6) Team First Aid: First aid personnel are positioned in the Infield area. They are equipped with portable first aid equipment and stretchers. They deal with the injured, getting them as quickly as possible off the track. Those players seriously injured are placed in the elevators (lefts) which take them below the stadium for expert medical attention. (7) Motor Cycle Mechanics: These are similar to the First Aid teams. They deal with motorcycles in the same way as the First Aid personnel deal with the players.
THE GOALS: The two magnetic goals are positioned on top of the banked area above the steel barrier. The goals are mounted into a back board 8 feet 4 inches wide and 4 feet 10 inches high. goal is a cone-shaped opening in the back-board, 21 inches diameter.
track glass The in
SCORE BOARD: There are two large score boards positioned above the spectators behind each goal. The score boards contains the following information: Team Names Players' Numbers
Goal Score Period of Play Time Clock MULTIVISION CONTROL-BOOTH: This is an Information Centre located in a glass booth high above the spectators in the Stadium. The game is completely recorded on Multivision screens from remote Multivision cameras positioned in the stadium, and simultaneously transmitted to the Multivision sets throughout the world. The Multivision Broadcasters watch and describe the game from here. SCORING: The game is formulated on the basic fact that the team picking up the ball has to get round [sic ] the track with the ball and put it in the opposing team's goal within three laps of the track. A team gets one point for every goal scored. When a goal is scored, the red lights flash, a klaxon sounds, and the score board registers the point. SCORING AREA: Behind each goal on the banked track is a 6-foot-wide red area in which a player must be in order to make a try at scoring a goal. If the ball carries attempts to score from outside this area, it is disallowed and a 'dead' ball is called.
(1) Play time -- three (3) periods, each of twenty (20) minutes. After each period, there is a two-minute rest period. If the score is tied after three periods, an overtime period is called and played until a team scores. (2) The skaters and bikers can only move counter-clockwise around the track. If a skater or biker is seen moving clockwise by the referee, a two-minute penalty is called against the offender. The player is sent off the track and cannot be replaced during the penalty period.
(3) After gaining possession of the ball, the offensive team cannot try for a score until the ball has traveled one revolution of the track. This revolution starts from the point of pick-up by the ball catcher. (4) In the event that the offensive team ball carriers have been unable to try for a score within three revolutions of the track, the ball is considered 'dead' and must be guttered. A new ball is then fired from the cannon. (5) The ball carrier is not allowed to deliberately hide the ball from the defensive team. The penalty for doing so is for the team to forfeit possession of the ball (the ball must be guttered). (6) No more than ten (10) players per side can be on the track at any one time. Of the ten players on each team, only five are allowed to score goals. The three motor-cyclists cannot handle the ball. The two ball-catchers can only field the ball after it is fired and pass it to one of the five skaters, who can pass it to one another and attempt to score. (7) No permanent goalie or goal defender is allowed in the scoring area. Defensive and offensive players can only be in the 6-foot-wide red scoring area when an offensive ball carrier is making a try for a goal. If the ball carrier passes the red scoring area, the defensive players who are in the red scoring area must go after the ball carrier. (8) The motor-cyclists are not allowed in the top half of the red scoring area. If a biker is seen in this area by the referee, a three-minute penalty is called against the offender. (9) A motor-cyclist must not deliberately injure a skater. If he does so and is seen by the referee, a five-minute penalty is called against the offender. (10) A skater must not deliberately injure a motor-cyclist. If he does so and is seen by the referee, a five minute penalty is called against the offender. (11) The ball must not be used as an offensive weapon. Penalty: three minutes.
(12) The Infield personnel of each team are required to remove from the track as soon as possible injured players and damaged equipment. (13) A defensive player is allowed to intercept a ball being passes, or pick up the ball that has been knocked out of the offensive ball carrier's glove and can try to pass or score with the ball -- providing the ball is on the track and has not reached the gutter. (14) Each more than one time. the track
team may substitute players as long as there are not seven skaters and three motor-cyclists on the track at This, however, does not apply to players removed from for penalties (there is no substitution allowed.)
HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED: The teams in formation on the track: the Controller fires the ball by acting on instructions from the Game Computer. The teams are spread out in order that the two catchers of each team can cover as much of the track as possible, while still being protected by the other skaters and bikers. Once the ball is fired by the cannon, the teams pick up speed to be in a good fielding position when the ball comes off the rail. Any of the two catchers on either team can field the ball and move forward as fast as possible in order to pass the ball to one of the offensive players; once the ball is held by an offensive player, the balance of the team forms in order to allow the offensive carrier to move once around the track (360ϒ), then to try for a for a score in the opponents' goal. [Note: I'm including the final two paragraphs in the interest of completeness, but they are so badly written they make no sense whatsoever in relation to the above rules. -JP ] The carrier has as choice of trying to score or make another circuit of the track, in which case the opposing defense must brake and make another circuit also. The players on defense move around the track circling with and against the offensive team, trying to get possession of the ball. As the skaters move around the track, they alternate positions in defending the goal. The motor-cyclists assist in defending by towing skaters as on offensive play, and using their speed to move between the patterns of the offensive team.
##### [Notes & observations: Okay, clearly there are some items missing here, at least as far as explaining certain events seen in the film. For example, do the series of small, white lights next to a player's number on the scoreboard mean anything? I always imagined that -- like in basketball -- a player could only have so many penalties before 'fouling out' of the game, and that these lights kept track of the number of infractions. No explanation is given for the lights (other than the dramatic effect they have in noting players disabled and killed), and their in-game purpose is still a mystery. Also, early in the movie the Madrid team is upset when a referee does not see Moonpie strike a player who is obviously stunned and just getting to his feet. It seems pretty clear by the actions of the characters that there is some rule against attacking players who are down -- think late hits in football -yet this restriction does not appear in the above list. Finally, if you read my article 'The Rules of The Game: The Evolution of Rollerball,' you will discover that, yes, they really did pretty much make up the game as they went along. Given the chaos of the shoot, and the number of people involved in creating and marketing this movie, it is highly unlikely that a complete and total set of rules was every created -- much less written down. ]
ROLLERBALL 2002 Description and Rules of the Game [Information taken from the web site and DVD of the 2002 remake. If they sound silly, it is because they are. ]
TRACK SPECIFICATIONS (OVAL TRACK): The track is a figure eight, about 40 yards long and maybe 20 yards across. There are two raised islands in the middle of the track -- called 'pods' -- where the two teams sit. The surface of the track has smooth tapered curves, like those found in a skate park, and the entire track is surrounded by a vertical plexiglass wall. There are a series of ramps on and over the track that allow skaters to enter play in dramatic fashion, or to jump to an elevated platform and tube that is directly above each team's 'pod.' [Think Habitrail, and you get the idea. ] On either side of the center of the track, there are two large elevated gongs that must be successfully targeted to score a point.
THE CANNON AND BALLS — SPECIFICATIONS: Cannon: Balls are fired straight down from an air gun into a tube, and have a 50/50 change of moving either clockwise or counterclockwise around the track. Ball: From the DVD: 'The Ball makes a baseball look like a wad of marshmallow fluff. Be fast or take a blast from this chrome globe as it flies from glove to glove to goal.'
It is impossible to determine exactly how many skaters and bikers should be on the track during a game, and it is never stated how many players are on a team. However, it does appear each team fields at least 2 motorcycles and 5-7 skaters at any one time. Frequent substitutions are allowed.
HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED: 1. A team must capture and carry the rollerball over their pod and through the players tube (aka 'the rabbit hole'), they must then make one lap around the rink to score. 2. If another team has fulfilled requirement 1, the opposing team may capture the ball and score without fulfilling it. Any player -- biker or skater -- may score.
SCORING: An American announcer tries to explain the Rollerball rules: 'There's only one way to score and that's when a player takes one of the balls and flings it at one of the iron bowls hard enough to set off the pyro. As for the rest of the rules, well, the rest of the rules are Russian and complicated...'
OFFICIALS: Several referees are seen on the track during the games, and they do appear to call penalties, but it is unclear what the infractions are. Later in the movie, when all penalties are removed to make the game more 'exciting,' there is no visible difference in the way the game is played, or the way the characters behave.
Roller Ball Murder he game, the game: here we go again. All glory to it, all things I am and own because of Roller Ball Murder. Our team stands in a row, twenty of us in salute as the corporation hymn is played by the band. We view the hardwood oval track which offers us the bumps and rewards of mayhem: fifty yards long, thirty yards across the ends, high banked, and at the top of the walls the cannons which fire those frenzied twenty-pound balls-similar to bowling balls, made of ebonite-at velocities over three hundred miles an hour. The balls careen around the track, eventually slowing and falling with diminishing centrifugal force, and as they go to ground or strike a player another volley fires. Here we are, our team: ten roller skaters, five motorbike riders, five runners (or clubbers). As the hymn plays, we stand erect and tough; eighty thousand sit watching in the stands and another two billion viewers around the world inspect the set of our jaws on multivision. The runners, those bastards, slip into their heavy leather gloves and shoulder their lacrosselike paddleswith which they either catch the whizzing balls or bash the rest of us. The bikers ride high on the walls (beware, mates, that's where the cannon shots are too hot to handle) and swoop down to help the runners at opportune times. The skaters, those of us with the juice for it, protest: we clog the way, try to keep the runners from passing us and scoring points, and become the fodder in the brawl. So two teams of us, forty in all, go skating and running and biking around the track while the big balls are fired in the same direction as we move-always coming up behind us to scatter and maim us-and the object of the game, fans, as if you didn't know, is for the runners to pass all skaters on the opposing team, field a ball, and pass it to a biker for one point. Those bikers, by the way, may give the runners a lift-in which case those of us on skates have our hands full overturning 175cc motorbikes. No rest periods, no substitute players. If you lose a man, your team plays short. Today I turn my best side to the cameras. I'm Jonathan E, none other, and nobody passes me on the track. I'm the core of the Houston team and for the two hours of play-no rules, no penalties once the first cannon fires-I'll level any bastard runner who raises a paddle at me. We move: immediately there are pileups of bikes, skaters, referees, and runners, all tangled and punching and scrambling when one of the balls zooms around the comer and belts us. I pick up momentum and heave an opposing skater into the infield at center ring; I'm brute speed today, driving, pushing up on the track, dodging a ball, hurtling downward beyond those bastard runners. Two runners do hand-to-hand combat and one gets his helmet knocked off in a blow which tears away half his face; the victor stands there too long admiring his work and gets wiped out by a biker who swoops down and flattens him. The crowd screams and I know the cameramen have it on an isolated shot and that viewers in Melbourne, Berlin, Rio, and L.A. are heaving with excitement in their easy chairs. When an hour is gone I'm still wheeling along, naturally, though we have four team members out with broken parts, one rookie maybe dead, two bikes demolished. The other team, good old London, is worse off. One of their motorbikes roars out of control, takes a hit from one of the balls, and bursts into flame. Wild cheering. Cruising up next to their famous Jackie Magee, I time my punch. He turns in my direction, exposes the ugly snarl inside his helmet, and I take him out of action. In that tiniest instant, I feel his teeth and bone give way and the crowd screams approval. We have them now, we really have them, we do, and the score ends The years pass and the rules alter-always in favor of a greater crowd-pleasing carnage. I've been at this more than fifteen years, amazing, with only broken arms and collarbones to slow me down, and I'm not as spry as ever, but meaner-and no rookie, no matter how much in shape, can learn this slaughter unless he comes out and takes me on in the real thing. But the rules. I hear of games in Manila, now, or in Barcelona with no time limits, men bashing each other until there are no more runners left, no way of scoring points. That's the coming thing. I hear of Roller Ball Murder played with mixed teams, men and women, wearing tear-away jerseys which add a
little tit and vulnerable exposure to the action. Everything will happen. They'll change the rules until we skate on a slick of blood, we all know that. Before this century began, before the Great Asian war of the before the corporations replaced nationalism and the corporate police forces supplanted the world's armies, in the last days of American football and the World Cup in Europe, I was a tough young rookie who knew all the rewards of this game. Women: I had them all-even, pity, a good marriage once. I had so much money after my first trophies that I could buy houses and land and lakes beyond the huge cities where only the executive class was allowed. My photo, then, as now, was on the covers of magazines, so that my name and the name of the sport were one, and I was Jonathan E, no other, a survivor and much more in the bloodiest sport. At the beginning I played for Oil Conglomerates, then those corporations became known as ENERGY; I've always played for the team here in Houston, they've given me everything. 'How're you feeling?' Mr. Bartholemew asks me. He's taking the head of ENERGY, one of the most powerful men in the world, and he talks to me like I'm his son. 'Feeling mean,' I answer, so that he smiles. He tells me they want to do a special on multivision about my career, lots of shots on the side screens showing my greatest plays, and the story of my life, how ENERGY takes in such orphans, gives them work and protection, and makes careers possible. 'Really feel mean, eh?' Mr. Bartholemew asks again, and I answer the same, not telling him all that's inside me because he would possibly misunderstand; not telling him that I'm tired of the long season, that I'm lonely and miss my wife, that I yearn for high, lost, important thoughts, and that maybe, just maybe, I've got a deep rupture in the soul. An old buddy, Jim Cletus, comes by the ranch for the weekend. Mackie, my present girl, takes our dinners out of the freezer and turns the rays on them; not so domestic, that Mackie, but she has enormous breasts and a waist smaller than my thigh. Cletus works as a judge now. At every game there are two refereesclowns, whose job it is to see nothing amiss-and the judge who records the points scored. Cletus is also on the International Rules Committee and tells me they are still considering several changes. 'A penalty for being lapped by your own team, for one thing,' he tells us. 'A damned simple penalty, too: they'll take off your helmet.' Mackie, bless her bosom, makes an O with her lips. Cletus, once a runner for Toronto, fills up my oversized furniture and rests his hands on his bad knees. 'What else?' I ask him. 'Or can you tell me?' 'Oh, just financial things. More bonuses for superior attacks. Bigger bonuses for being named World All-Star-which ought to be good news for you again. And, yeah, talk of reducing the two-month off season. The viewers want more.' After dinner Cletus walks around the ranch with me. We trudge up the path of a hillside and the Texas countryside stretches before us. Pavilions of clouds. 'Did you ever think about death in your playing days?' I ask, knowing I'm a bit too pensive for old Clete. 'Never in the game itself,' he answers proudly. 'Off the track-yeah, sometimes I never thought about anything else.' We pause and take a good long look at the horizon. 'There's another thing going in the Rules Committee,' he finally admits. 'They're considering dropping the time limit-at least, god help us, Johnny, the suggestion has come up officially.' I like a place with rolling hills. Another of my houses is near Lyons in France, the hills similar to these although more lush, and I take my evening strolls there over an ancient battleground. The cities are too much, so large and uninhabitable that one has to have a business passport to enter such immensities as New York. 'Naturally I'm holding out for the time limit,' Cletus goes on. 'I've played, so I know a man's limits. Sometimes in that committee, Johnny, I feel like I'm the last moral man on earth sitting there and insisting that there should be a few rules.'
The statistical nuances of Roller Ball Murder entertain the multitudes as much as any other aspect of the game. The greatest number of points scored in a single game: 81. The highest velocity of a ball when actually caught by a runner: 176 mph. Highest number of players put out of action in a single game by a single skater: 13-world's record by yours truly. Most deaths in a single contest: 9-Rome vs. Chicago, December 4, The giant lighted boards circling above the track monitor our pace, record each separate fact of the slaughter, and we have millions of fans-strange, it always seemed to me-who never look directly at the action, but just study those statistics. A multivision survey established this. Before going to the stadium in Paris for our evening game, I stroll under the archways and along the Seine. Some of the French fans call to me, waving and talking to my bodyguards as well, so I become oddly conscious of myself, conscious of my size and clothes and the way I walk. A curious moment. I'm six-foot three inches and weigh pounds. My neck is 18'/a inches. Fingers like a pianist. I wear my conservative pinstriped jump suit and the famous flat Spanish hat. I am 34 years old now, and when I grow old, I think, I'll look a lot like the poet Robert Graves. The most powerful men in the world are the executives. They run the major corporations which fix prices, wages, and the general economy, and we all know they're crooked, and they have almost unlimited power and money, but I have considerable power and money myself and I'm still anxious. What can I possibly want, I ask myself, except, possibly, more knowledge? I consider recent history-which is virtually all anyone remembers-and how the corporate wars ended, so that we settled into the Six Majors: ENERGY, TRANSPORT, FOOD, HOUSING, SERVICES, and LUXURY. Sometimes I forget who runs what-for instance, now that the universities are operated by the Majors (and provide the farm system for Roller Ball Murder), which Major runs them? SERVICES or LUXURY? Music is one of our biggest industries, but I can't remember who administers it. Narcotic research is now under FOOD, I know, though it used to be under LUXURY. Anyway, I think I'll ask Mr. Bartholemew about knowledge. He's a man with a big view of the world, with values, with memory. My team flings itself into the void while his team harnesses the sun, taps the sea, finds new alloys, and is clearly just a hell of a lot more serious. The Mexico City game has a new wrinkle: they've changed the shape of the ball on us. Cletus didn't even warn me-perhaps he couldn't-but here we are playing with a ball not quite round, its center of gravity altered, so that it rumbles around the track in irregular patterns. This particular game is bad enough because the bikers down here are getting wise to me; for years, since my reputation was established, bikers have always tried to take me out of a game early. But early in the game I'm wary and strong and I'll always gladly take on a biker-even since they put shields on the motorbikes so that we can't grab the handlebars. Now, though, these bastards know I'm getting older-still mean, but slowing down, as the sports pages say about me-so they let me bash it out with the skaters and runners for as long as possible before sending the bikers after me. Knock out Jonathan E, they say, and you've beaten Houston; and that's right enough, but they haven't done it yet. The fans down here, all low-class FOOD workers mostly, boil over as I manage to keep my cool-and the oblong ball, zigzagging around at lurching speeds, hopping two feet off the track at times, knocks out virtually their whole team. Finally, some of us catch their last runner/clubber and beat him to a pulp, so that's it: no runners, no points. Those dumb FOOD workers file out of the stadium while we show off and score a few fancy and uncontested points. The score 1 feel wonderful, like pure brute speed. Mackie is gone-her mouth no longer makes an O around my villa or ranch-and in her place is the new one, Daphne. My Daphne is tall and English and likes photos-always wants to pose for me. Sometimes we get out our boxes of old pictures (mine as a player, mostly, and hers as a model) and look at ourselves, and it occurs to me that the photos spread out on the rug are the real us, our public and performing true selves, and the two of us here in the sitting room, Gaelic gray winter outside our window, aren't too real at all. 'Look at the muscles in your back!' Daphne says in amazement as she studies a shot of me at the California beach-and it's as though she never before noticed.
After the photos, I stroll out beyond the garden. The brown waving grass of the fields reminds me of Ella, my only wife, and of her soft long hair which made a tent over my face when we kissed. I lecture to the ENERGY-sponsored rookie camp and tell them they can't possibly comprehend anything until they're out on the track getting belted. My talk tonight concerns how to stop a biker who wants to run you down. 'You can throw a shoulder right into the shield,' I begin. 'And that way it's you or him.' The rookies look at me as though I'm crazy. 'Or you can hit the deck, cover yourself, tense up, and let the bastard flip over your body,' I go on, counting on my fingers for them and doing my best not to laugh. 'Or you can feint, sidestep up hill, and kick him off the trackwhich takes some practice and timing.' None of them knows what to say. We're sitting in the infield grass, the track lighted, the stands empty, and their faces are filled with stupid awe. 'Or if a biker comes at you with good speed and balance,' I continue, 'then naturally let the bastard by-even if he carries a runner. That runner, remember, has to dismount and field one of the new odd-shaped balls which isn't easyand you can usually catch up.' The rookies begin to get a smug look on their faces when a biker bears down on me in the demonstration period. Brute speed. I jump to one side, dodge the shield, grab the bastard's arm and separate him from his machine in one movement. The bike skids away. The poor biker's shoulder is out of socket. 'Oh yeah,' I say, getting back to my feet. 'I forgot about that move.' Toward midseason when I see Mr. Bartholemew again he has been deposed as the chief executive at ENERGY. He is still very important, but lacks some of the old certainty; his mood is reflective, so that I decide to take this opportunity to talk about what's bothering me. We lunch in Houston Tower, viewing an expanse of city. A ice Beef Wellington and Burgundy. Daphne sits there like a stone, probably magining that she's in a movie. 'Knowledge, ah, I see,' Mr. Bartholemew replies in response to my topic. 'What're you interested in, Jonathan? History? The arts?' 'Can I be personal with you?' This makes him slightly uncomfortable. 'Sure, naturally,' he answers easily, and although Mr. Bartholemew isn't especially one to inspire confession I decide to blunder along. 'I began in the university,' I remind him. 'That was-let's see-more than seventeen years ago. In those days we still had books and I read some, quite a few, because I thought I might make an executive.' 'Jonathan, believe me, I can guess what you're going to say,' Mr. Bartholemew sighs, sipping the Burgundy and glancing at Daphne. 'I'm one of the few with real regrets about what happened to the books. Everything is still on tapes, but it just isn't the same, is it? Nowadays only the computer specialists read the tapes and we're right back in the Middle Ages when only the monks could read the Latin script.' 'Exactly,' I answer, letting my beef go cold. 'Would you like me to assign you a specialist?' 'No, that's not exactly it.' 'We have the great film libraries: you could get a permit to see anything you want. The Renaissance. Greek philosophers. I saw a nice summary film on the life and thought of Plato once.' 'All I know,' I say with hesitation, 'is Roller Ball Murder.' 'You don't want out of the game?' he asks warily. 'No, not at all. It's just that I want-god, Mr. Bartholemew, I don't know how to say it: I want He offers a blank look. 'But not things in the world,' I add. 'More for He heaves a great sigh, leans back, and allows the steward to refill his glass. Curiously, I know that he understands; he is a man of sixty, enormously wealthy, powerful in our most powerful executive class, and behind his eyes is the deep, weary, undeniable comprehension of the life he has lived. 'Knowledge,' he tells me, 'either converts to power or it converts to melancholy. Which could you possibly want, Jonathan? You power. You have status and skill and the whole masculine dream many of us would like to have. And in Roller Ball Murder there's no room for melancholy, is there? In the game
the mind exists for the body, to make a harmony of havoc, right? Do you want to change that? Do you want the mind to exist for itself alone? I don't think you actually want that, do you?' 'I really don't know,' I admit. 'I'll get some permits, Jonathan. You can see video films, learn something about reading tapes, if you want.' 'I don't think I really any power,' I say, still groping. 'Oh, come on. What do you say about that?' he asks, turning to Daphne. 'He definitely has power,' she answers with a wan smile. Somehow the conversation drifts away from me; Daphne, on cue, like the good spy for the corporation she probably is, begins feeding Mr. Bartholemew lines and soon, oddly enough, we're discussing my upcoming game with Stockholm. A hollow space begins to grow inside me, as though fire is eating out a hole. The conversation concerns the end of the season, the All-Star Game, records being set this year, but my disappointment-in what, exactly, I don't even know-begins to sicken me. Mr. Bartholemew eventually asks what's wrong. 'The food,' I answer. 'Usually I have good digestion, but maybe not today.' In the locker room the dreary late-season pall takes us. We hardly speak among ourselves, now, and like soldiers or gladiators sensing what lies ahead, we move around in these sickening surgical odors of the locker room. Our last training and instruction this year concerns the delivery of deathblows to opposing players; no time now for the tolerant shoving and bumping of yesteryear. I consider that I,possess two good weapons: because of my unusually good balance on skates, I can often shatter my opponent's knee with a kick; also, I have a good backhand blow to the ribs and heart, if, wheeling along side by side with some bastard, he raises an arm against me. If the new rules change removes a player's helmet, of course, that's death; as it is right now (there are rumors, rumors every day about what new version of RBM we'll have next) you go for the windpipe, the ribs or heart, the diaphragm, or anyplace you don't break your hand. Our instructors are a pair of giddy Oriental gentlemen who have all sorts of anatomical solutions for us and show drawings of the human figure with nerve centers painted in pink. 'What you do is this,' says Moonpie, in parody of these two. Moonpie is a fine skater in his fourth season and fancies himself an old-fashioned drawling Texan. 'What you do is hit 'em on the jawbone and drive it up into their ganglia.' 'Their ask, giving Moonpie a grin. 'Their goddamned Bunch of nerves right here underneath the ear. Drive their jawbones into that mess of nerves and it'll ring their bells sure.'
Daphne is gone now, too, and in this interim before another companion arrives, courtesy of all my friends and employers at ENERGY, Ella floats back into my dreams and daylight fantasies. I was a corporation child, some executive's bastard boy, I always preferred to think, brought up in the Galveston section of the city. A big kid, naturally, athletic and strong-and this, according to my theory, gave me healthy mental genes, too, because I take it now that strong in body is strong in mind: a man with brute speed surely also has the capacity to mull over his life. Anyway, I married at age fifteen while I worked on the docks for Oil Conglomerates. Ella was a secretary, slim with long brown hair, and we managed to get permits to both marry and enter the university together. Her fellowship was in General Electronics-she was clever, give her that-and mine was in Roller Ball Murder. She fed me well that first year, so I put on thirty hard pounds and at night she soothed my bruises (was she a spy, too, I've sometimes wondered, whose job it was to prime the bull for the charge?) and perhaps it was because she was my first woman ever, eighteen years old, lovely, that I've never properly forgotten. She left me for an executive, just packed up and went to Europe with him. Six years ago I saw them at a sports banquet where I was presented an award: there they were, smiling and being nice, and I asked them
only one question, just one, 'You two ever had children?' It gave me odd satisfaction that they had applied for a permit, but had been denied. Ella, love: one does consider: did you beef me up and break my heart in some great design of corporate society? There I was, whatever, angry and hurt. Beyond repair, I thought at the time. And the hand which stroked Ella soon dropped all the foes of Houston. I take sad stock of myself in this quiet period before another woman arrives; I'm smart enough, I know that: I had to be to survive. Yet, I seem to know nothing-and can feel the hollow spaces in my own heart. Like one of those computer specialists, I have my own brutal technical know-how; I know what today means, what tomorrow likely holds, but maybe it's because the books are gone-Mr. Bartholemew was right, it's a shame they're transformed-that I feel so vacant. If I didn't remember my Ella-this I realize-I wouldn't even want to remember because it's love I'm recollecting as well as those old university days. Recollect, sure: I read quite a few books that year with Ella and afterward, too, before turning professional in the game. Apart from all the volumes about how to get along in business, I read the history of the kings of England, that pillars of wisdom book by T. E. Lawrence, all the forlorn novels, some Rousseau, a bio of Thomas Jefferson, and other odd bits. On tapes now, all that, whirring away in a cool basement someplace. The rules crumble once more. At the Tokyo game, we discover that there will be three oblong balls in play at all times. Some of our most experienced players are afraid to go out on the track. Then, after they're coaxed and threatened and finally consent to join the flow, they fake injury whenever they can and sprawl in the infield like rabbits. As for me, I play with greater abandon than ever and give the crowd its money's worth. The Tokyo skaters are either peering over their shoulders looking for approaching balls when I smash them, or, poor devils, they're looking for me when a ball takes them out of action. One little bastard with a broken back flaps around for a moment like a fish, then shudders and dies. Balls jump at us as though they have brains. But fate carries me, as I somehow know it will; I'm a force field, a destroyer. I kick a biker into the path of a ball going at least two hundred miles an hour. I swerve around a pileup of bikes and skaters, ride high on the track, zoom down, and find a runner/clubber who panics and misses with a roundhouse swing of his paddle; without much ado, I belt him out of play with the almost certain knowledge-I've felt it before-that he's dead before he hits the infield. One ball flips out of play soon after being fired from the cannon, jumps the railing, sails high, and plows into the spectators. Beautiful. I take a hit from a ball, one of the three or four times I've ever been belted. The ball is riding low on the track when it catches me and I sprawl like a baby. One bastard runner comes after me, but one of our bikers chases him off. Then one of their skaters glides by and takes a shot at me, but I dig him in the groin and discourage him, too. Down and hurting, I see Moonpie killed. They take off his helmet, working slowly-it's like slow motion and I'm writhing and cursing and unable to help-and open his mouth on the toe of some bastard skater's boot. Then they kick the back of his head and knock out all his teeth-which rattle downhill on the track. Then kick again and stomp; his brains this time. He drawls a last groaning good-bye while the cameras record it. And later I'm up, pushing along once more, feeling bad, but knowing everyone else feels the same; I have that last surge of energy, the one I always get when I'm going good, and near the closing gun I manage a nice move; grabbing one of their runners with a headlock, I skate him off to limbo, bashing his face with my free fist, picking up speed until he drags behind like a dropped flag, and disposing of him in front of a ball which carries him off in a comic flop. Oh, god, god. Before the All-Star game, Cletus comes to me with the news I expect: this one will be a no-time-limit extravaganza in New York, every multivision set in the world tuned in. The bikes will be more high-powered, four oblong balls will be in play simultaneously, and the referees will blow the whistle on any sluggish player and remove his helmet as a penalty. Cletus is apologetic. 'With those rules, no worry,' I tell him. 'It'll go no more than an hour and we'll all be dead.'
We're at the Houston ranch on a Saturday afternoon, riding around in my electrocart viewing the Santa Gertrudis stock. This is probably the ultimate spectacle of my wealth: my own beef cattle in a day when only a few special members of the executive class have any meat to eat with the exception of massproduced fish. Cletus is so impressed with my cattle that he keeps going on this afternoon and seems so pathetic to me, a judge who doesn't judge, the pawn of a committee, another feeble hulk of an old RBM player. 'You owe me a favor, Clete,' I tell him. 'Anything,' he answers, not looking me in the eyes. I turn the cart up a lane beside my rustic rail fence, an archway of oak trees overhead and the early spring bluebonnets and daffodils sending up fragrances from the nearby fields. Far back in my thoughts is the awareness that I can't possibly last and that I'd like to be buried out here-burial is seldom allowed anymore, everyone just incinerated and scattered-to become the mulch of flowers. 'I want you to bring Ella to me,' I tell him. 'After all these years, yeah: that's what I want. You arrange it and don't give me any excuses, okay?' We meet at the villa near Lyons in early June, only a week before the AllStar Game in New York, and I think she immediately reads something in my eyes which helps her to love me again. Of course I love her: I realize, seeing her, that I have only a vague recollection of being alive at all, and that was a long time ago, in another century of the heart when I had no identity except my name, when I was a simple dock worker, before I ever saw all the world's places or moved in the rumbling nightmares of Roller Ball Murder. She kisses my fingers. 'Oh,' she says softly, and her face is filled with true wonder, 'What's happened to you, Johnny?' A few soft days. When our bodies aren't entwined in lovemaking, we try to remember and tell each other everything: the way we used to hold hands, how we fretted about receiving a marriage permit, how the books looked on our shelves in the old apartment in River Oaks. We strain, at times, trying to recollect the impossible; it's true that history is really gone, that we have no families or touchstones, that our short personal lives alone judge us, and I want to hear about her husband, the places they've lived, the furniture in her house, anything. I tell her, in turn, about all the women, about Mr. Bartholemew and Jim Cletus, about the ranch in the hills outside Houston. Come to me, Ella. If I can remember us, I can recollect meaning and time. It would be nice, I think, once, to imagine that she was taken away from me by some malevolent force in this awful age, but I know the truth of that: she went away, simply, because I wasn't enough back then, because those were the days before I yearned for anything, when I was beginning to live to play the game. But no matter. For a few days she sits on my bed and I touch her skin like a blind man groping back over the years. On our last morning together she comes out in her traveling suit with her hair pulled up underneath a fur cap. The softness has faded from her voice and she smiles with efficiency, as if she has just come back to the practical world; I recall, briefly, this scene played out a thousand years ago when she explained that she was going away with her executive. She plays like a biker, I decide; she rides up there high above the turmoil, decides when to swoop down, and makes a clean kill. 'Good-bye, Ella,' I say, and she turns her head slightly away from my kiss so that I touch her fur cap with my lips. 'I'm glad I came,' she says politely. 'Good luck, Johnny.' New York is frenzied with what is about to happen. The crowds throng into Energy Plaza, swarm the ticket offices at the stadium, and wherever I go people are reaching for my hands, pushing my bodyguards away, trying to touch my sleeve as though I'm some ancient religious figure, a seer or prophet. Before the game begins I stand with my team as the corporation hymns are played. I'm brute speed today, I tell myself, trying to rev myself up; yet, adream in my thoughts, I'm a bit unconvinced. A chorus of voices joins the band now as the music swells. the music rings, and I can feel my lips move with the words, singing.