Aphelion Issue 205, Volume 20
April 2016
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Botball Bollix


Penny Malveno

Caitlin had the unusual nickname of Cat.  Most who knew her assumed the nickname was derived from Caitlin. 

The truth was a boyfriend from her teen years had created the nickname because of Cat’s sylphlike grace and form.  Cat liked the nickname, kept it long after she’d booted the boyfriend out of her life.

Cat walked into the head coach’s office.  Coach Sizemore’s secretary glanced up from the screen of her ever-present tablet, said, “Good morning Cat.  I told Coach you were on the way.  He’s expecting you.”

Cat knocked at the door to the inner office.  Coach Sizemore bellowed, “Enter!”

Cat smirked.  Coach bellowed often.  Cat was glad the door muffled the outburst.

Cat opened the door, entered.

The inner office reeked of the rubbing alcohol used on Coach’s bad knee.  Coach was at his whiteboard, pondering a new play.  His limp barely noticeable, he went to his desk, sat, motioned Cat to a chair.

Coach folded his hands over his paunch, asked, “So what’s so important you had to interrupt me?”

Cat liked Coach Sizemore.  He reminded Cat of her beloved grandfather, who’d introduced Cat to botball.  Cat’s smirk slid into a warm and loving smile.

Cat leaned forward in her chair as she said, “Remember that game we had in Seattle two months ago?”

“Remember!” sharply exclaimed Coach.  “We wuz robbed.  Freakin’ back-judge was wrong about that intentional grounding call -- caused us to lose the game.  Plus we didn’t beat the spread like everybody expected.  Our fans were outraged.”

Cat nodded, leaned back in the chair.  “I’ve an ex-lover who lives up in Seattle.  She’s just a friend now –- a good friend.”

Coach pursed his lips, nodded as Cat added, “I’ve been suspicious of all these close or blown calls refs been making the last couple of seasons.

“So outa my own pocket I met my friend’s expenses while she did some investigating.  She’s a private detective, has a  thriving little practice.”

Cat continued, “Remember how it was 20 years ago when you played, before football was banned?”


Becoming animated, Cat bent forward, rested her elbows on her knees as she asked, “Remember how a lot of skeptics assumed that Vegas was paying off the refs to throw games?”


Cat smiled a knowing smile, then said, “My friend, she’s extremely attractive, has a particular way of persuading people, especially the male of the species –- persuading them  to disclose otherwise secret or privileged information.  It’s a gift, actually,  And believe me, I’m quite familiar with it.  She’s good; real good.” 

“I know the type,” replied Coach.  “I wuz young once.”

“So listen up,” insisted Cat.  “This is what my friend found out.”

“Gambling interests are not involved at all.  Also, refs are not told in advance to throw games.”

Coach’s eyebrows went up as Cat continued.  “Some of the refs, not all of them now, but some of the refs on their own initiative take opportunities to make iffy calls that  sway the outcome of games.

“Then, some of the owners or wealthy fans or boosters of certain teams, they surreptitiously pay off the refs afterwards.  Gambling interests have absolutely nothing at all to do with this racket.”

Coach chuckled, looked up at the ceiling as he said, “You know, I recruited you out of the Robotics Program at your college because I could tell you were special.

“Anyway, I knew an old guy who way back when once worked for some rich potato farmer.  This farmer, he had a saying that this guy I knew insisted was the smartest thing he ever did hear.  Let’s see if I can remember how it goes.”

Coach shifted his gaze from the ceiling to Cat.  “Now this might just be an approximation of the quote that I heard.  It was a long time ago. 

“Always hire people who are smarter than you.”

Hiring you was possibly the best thing I ever did.”

Coach Sizemore went on with, “Some of the other coaches and I have been talking about lousy refs for quite a while.  Now we can do something about it.”

“Arizona, Los Angeles, San Jose, Carolina, Buffalo, several others -- now we can straighten out the problem.

If we goto the commish, confront her about the situation, tell her we’ll go public with what we know  -- well, she’s enough of a politician to know where the wind blows.”

As Cat pushed herself up out of her chair she said, “Then I’ll leave the situation in your hands.  I need to get back to the training room.  One of the linebackers has  calculated that its purpose should be more substantial than just playing a game designed to entertain organic beings.”

Coach sniffed his amusement.

Cat added, “Artificial intelligence and consciousness can be such a problem.”

“That’s why you’re here,” replied Coach.

Nothing more needed to be said.  Cat left Coach’s office, closed the door.

Coach Sizemore’s secretary asked, “We still on for dinner tonight?”  

Around a coy little smile, Cat replied, “At least.”

Out in the corridor, headed for the elevator, Cat stifled a laugh as she walked.

There was a padded bench flanked by potted plants near the elevator door.  Cat sat.

She thought of her Grandfather, who had introduced Cat to botball.  The old geezer had made a small fortune out of wagering on botball.  His obsession with robots had influenced Cat’s choice of a major when she’d attended college.

Now Cat realized just how much the old guy had influenced her life, the end result now being a substantial improvement to the much beloved and popular sport of botball.

This time, Cat didn’t stifle her laughter.


After my parents passed, I inherited their cattle ranch, 20 miles from Sisters, Oregon.  

Once a research librarian, I retired, sold off the cattle, started raising llamas and alpacas.

Divorced from my Ex, Mike Malveno, I live with my life partner, Janice, who does most the ranch work.  I write.

E-mail: Penny Malveno


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