HarperCollins. Out of print.

Blood Sport

Bill Burkett
8 min readMar 20, 2024

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My second published novel, 30 years after my first. A writer’s block eligible for Guinness?

CHAPTER ONE

The way it started on Pondoro was ordinary enough, if you can call any of my life ordinary since Ball came into it.

We went aplanet without a hitch. Ball got passenger instead of baggage status due to the fact the ship’s crew were more like be-tentacled Balls and less like octopod humans. I never did get straight what star-cluster they called home. When the Pondoro Health Authority robots had pretty thoroughly impressed us with their fastidiousness, we finally were allowed as far as the Customs Shed via floater. Ball balanced his weight on a bench seat meant for three more or less human types and made little feedback noises about the sanitizing process. I had been around him just long enough to know the muttering meant trouble.

We were last off the floater and went into the last unoccupied Customs cubicle. As soon as the balding Cervantes caricature behind the counter did a double-take on Ball, I knew how the trouble was going to start. Pondoro thinking is that experimental men should be made in man’s image. Ball’s thinking of course is just contrariwise.

The customs agent of the sad countenance looked from Ball to me and shook his head.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I passed my passport, ID chip and media rep carte across his counter.

“How does it seem now?” Sad asked.

“Not as good,” I admitted. “But I was drunk then on good free whiskey, and things looked brighter then.”

“I trust your host’s cabinet justified the error in judgement.”

Pretty good for a petty bureaucrat on a back-planet. Ball, of course, didn’t think so.

“The only mistake here apparent,” came the sullen rejoinder from somewhere in the neutral sphere of his manbuilt exoskeleton, “is that your mother’s rapists were spermatically effective.”

I cringed, but the agent hardly batted an eye. Customs work on the gates of Pondoro could harden one, I suppose.

“It’s a pity, isn’t it?” Sad asked me, ignoring Ball.

“What? — Ball?”

“A pity robot designers no longer revere Asimovian ideals,” he said. “The non-standard shapes are part of it, too, mark my words. Decay, that’s what it is. Just decay.”

Ball applied power and bounced sharply up onto the counter, scattering the news flimsy the agent had been reading. The voice he chose was sweet reason.

“How can simple vocalization of a glaringly evident fact be considered at variance to those venerable duties of robots — if I were one, which I’m not?”

The sphere-shoving act startled the agent, but he stood his ground manfully.

“Your classification, InterGalactic Cybernetics TS-T-210 (Experimental Cyborg), is, under Pondoro statues, closer to machine than citizen,” he said. “On Pondoro, injury to a human, per Asimov, has been defined by our highest courts to include oral abuse.”

“Oh,” said Ball, in a small voice.

The customs man started to relax, having trotted out the law.

“Oh,” said Ball again, “are you what passes hereabouts for human?”

The customs man vibrated like a strummed guywire and came out of it rigid and with his shape-prejudice showing.

“I think that’s enough, machine,” he said, deadly calm.

“Not a bit of it, citizen,” Ball breezed. “Enough is yet to come…”

As the Customs man had completely forgotten my existence, and since Ball has never been entirely sure of it to start with, I walked on through the turnstile. Out on the crowded movewalks I skipped walks until I found a bar. By the time Ball had reduced the Customs man to legal action or a strait jacket, I had time for at least one quick one. I wasn’t sure whether the Pondoro jails served cocktails or not, but the frontier nature of the planet argued against it. I figured to have a head start on them.

The bar was crowded with hunters and guides, and there was a ratty insect-chewed hide sprawled the breadth of one wall, with golden small-lights moving on its purple-black sheen. I’ve seen better pelts after the wolves back on Acme, up in the North Continent highlands, got through with a winter-weak fragle. Still, it was the last temporal remains of a Pondoro wolverine, and some of the obvious tourists were staring at it fixedly.

Others glanced at it from time to time with a look of impossible superiority on their faces. Those would be the successful hunters, waiting to space out, back to the fat central planets and whatever empires they were building.

A couple of the faces were easy to pick out as regulars on newscasts. Others bore the stamp of idle millions. I had come to know that particular look pretty well in the jungle of never-ending party-going and gaming and the rest of it that followed as naturally as royalty payments when I finally got the good parts and the bad of Acme out of my system and down onto words that could be sold. The jungle those faces were carved in was rougher that the big woods of Acme, and probably was rougher than the wilds of Pondoro, the Pondoro wolverine notwithstanding. I looked at the hide again and sipped my drink.

When the writing finally went stale and I knew nothing else was going to come out clean, I lost all of it but the journalism. I was living in the pocket of ones like those whose faces I saw here, and they enjoyed me, and used me for whatever satisfaction they got from it. The women especially had been bad, though some weren’t too bad. Some of the men never did understand that when you’re born and shaped in a place like those old Acme highlands, some things just won’t work.

By the time I understood it again, and got ready to break it off, nothing really seemed to have any point anymore, not even getting away from that pack and into real air again. I tried to go home to Acme but it was no good. To be the way I had remembered and then wrote it, it had to be grown up in. I could not have written it if I had stayed there always, but after I wrote it I couldn’t go back and be that way again.

The you-can’t-go-home-again theme has been pretty well mined out over the ages, and there was nothing for me to write about my life since Acme, except a deepening and complete self-disgust. Enough of that has survived the various civilizations and their collapses that got mankind to here. Too much.

I was ripe for any new thing when I came across the old drunk at a weeklong party where it was over with the cybernetics heiress for the final time and I couldn’t see anywhere left to go but under. A full-mounted Pondoro wolverine in the host’s trophy room caught my eye. The old man noticed and came over.

“They named ’em wolverine from some animal of Old Earth,” he told me. “One of its most ruthless hunters. On Pondoro, they call ’em greers. Bigger than a soponik, smaller than a kodiak. This was my best one, so I spent enough to support a poor planet for a fiscal year to have this done by the robot who did my Earthtrout and tiger. My worst took my right leg and I had hell’s own time getting a proper new one that grew just right and everything.”

“I’ve never read anything about it, though,” I said. “I’ve never even heard of Pondoro.”

“Nobody’s ever written the greer,” the old man said. “I can tell you about how it is to hunt greer, but there’s no way I can make you see it. Haro was better at it than me, but last season his best greer of all was faster. There wasn’t enough left to build a new body on, and that was the end of Haro. He kept going back and going back, until he was dead. These” — with a disdainful wave at his guests — “just don’t understand that kind off thing at all.

“But nobody has ever written the greer. Nobody ever could, until you. You could write the greer and make us all remember and maybe some others really see. You could write him and make them taste the fear. I went to Acme once because of what you wrote about the fragle. I never did get a decent trophy. But a man who grew up hunting fragle could hunt the greer and then write it. You could do it, but if you don’t, I guess it may never get done.”

Drunken sentimentality, but it got something going again in me way down deep, and I guarded it and never let anybody know it was there. I took an advance on Sirius III royalties and started outfitting. Right up until departure it seemed impossible I truly was leaving all that.

Some idiot cousin of the cybernetics heiress, who didn’t know about how that had ended, or maybe who did and was extracting a subtle family vengeance, built a fantastic farewell party and in the middle of it unveiled Ball, the newest creation in his company’s cybernetic/organic symbiotes.

Designed as the ever-perfect secretary, Ball was the peerless prototype, the like of which would never be built again. The cousin said Ball was a spherical super-Friday for a stellar Crusoe, losing me as to which mythical heroes he referred, and offered me Ball at cost, a mere half of what I had left, which was still enough to buy a good-size fiefdom on a backward world.

In the midst of all those to whom I had become the house-trained hairy man in residence, I was too much of a social coward to refuse. Anyway I was drunk enough to somehow get the idea Ball could do all my word-processing, take pictures of me and my trophy or my trophy and me, whichever came first, drive away autograph seekers and mix manhattans in a special compartment in his neuter globe. As I told the Customs agent, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Mr. Ramsey?”

I looked up. The Customs agent was at my elbow, post abandoned.

“You found me easy enough.”

“Your credentials, sir.” He handed them across. I noticed that Ball’s disk was in order.

I looked at the man. He had a certain vague aspect about the eyes.

“Are we free to go?” I asked.

“You are more than free,” he said with sudden animation. “Listen: go anywhere you like. Pondoro is free. Also large, though with lots of ocean. But go. Please go. Please take your — your — “

“Ball Friday?” I suggested.

“Friday ball,” he said. “Take your Friday ball and get the hell away from me!” He collapsed on a stool.

I caught the eye of the bartender. “Twice what he was going to drink. All doubles. Bill me at Hunter’s Rest. Keith Ramsey.”

The agent looked up at me. “Can’t. Duty…”

“Screw duty,” I said. “You’ve done yours for the week.” I took the credentials from him and started for the door. He was ordering before I got out, and it looked as if he was going to take me seriously. To hell with it, it was only money.

Wondering how it was that I wasn’t in jail already, my first day on Pondoro, I went to look for Ball before the broken man in the bar could let my liquor fire up the vengeful side of his nature.

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.