Purgeball is a sport, a religion, a furnace, a space elevator, a way of life and death–we recruit from schools, slums, wombs, the unconceived. Our genetic projections trace through populations and lift up the greatest seeds. One out of a thousand survives and they become part of the dream.
P U R G E B A L L
City street: one day until Qualifying Game 1
She’s playing with the grass in the linear park while the billboard shines voices over the wall, sovereign as a cloud.
I say something and she comes over and we walk the curving path to the exit. She’s talking excitedly about how she hasn’t seen grass up close before and I’m reminded of my own poverty as a youth and I feel sick and I blame her for this feeling. I remember the naive, gangly kid with the thin wrists wondering how people avoided cutting themselves on all that sharp grass, because through the television I’d always perceived it as a kind of green crystal.
When I got my algorithmic sponsorship the first thing I did with my new freedom was go to a park. The grass was soft and cool and my fingertips dug into the roots like I was clutching someone’s hair. But it was greener and brighter on screen. The grass in my hands was weak and grey and stayed crushed where my palms pressed into it.
I look at her by the light of the street, straining to hear her through hot gusts of street chat and auto-bus groan. I look at the billboard with the shimmering odalisque, cool and immanent.
I want to fuck the woman in that advertisement. I make a phone call. I want ten-foot tall lips and a smoky beach of mascara. Not this porous creature clinging to my arm.
Basal Court: Qualifying Game 1
The ball reaches the center of the Basal Court. We lost eight. They lost five. Brief fear. Suppress. Subside. We got one of their best. Lanning. He held the ball too long after it started flashing. Thought he could make the pass to his team across the chasm of the bisected court. Now his body is part of the arena.
I raise my arms to the crowd. Grin as I slide backwards.
Something slams me into the wall. I go spinning off that momentum before they can pin me and duck low to catch them with my gaze and see if I want to run or kill.
I remember her from last year. I broke her arm in three places. I remember something like trying to see if I could pull a human being’s fingers off. Ended up degloving her.
She spits out her mouth guard and her eyes are deep-rimmed and vein-fried and she has blood foaming across the shining bow of her teeth.
She slams her fist so deep into my belly it feels like she’s grinding the shit in my intestines for me. I’m looking around for my team. I hear the ball bounce across the court, too far across the court. Thin watery fluid burns from my nose and mouth as my knees hit the ground and
the scrape-clip of skates close to my eardrums
Locker Rooms: Qualifying Game 1
Taken out in the first inning. Teammate Barr failed to cover me. Let that woman do all kinds of things to me. By the time my team got me to safety most of my ribs were broken and my face was swollen up so tight I couldn’t see out of my eyes. Highly ambiguous situation, no blame from the analysts.
Blame from me. I felt his weakness stretch through the web of bodies in motion and affect me.
End of game. I come into the locker room, ripe with painkillers, wrapped up in medical tape. I move stiffly like one of those old movie monsters, my face a purple ruin.
Barr looks up at me, face perfectly neutral. His throat contracts as he starts to say something.
I grip his testicles in my hand. Dig into the soft flesh of his perineum, feel each ball rotate under my fingers. “Don’t ever embarrass me on the court again.” His head goes up and down until I let go. Without breaking eye contact I lick his ball sweat off my palm and taste the fear.
He staggers out the room clutching between his legs. I sit down and flick the needle of my DemiSol injection. As the steroid floods my system I imagine tearing Barr’s genitalia from his body and making him my woman.
I am regenerated through Purgeball–in the fire of the basal and apex courts–in the freezing ice of steroid twitches–in the grappling nexus of torn, tearing limbs.
Basal Court: Qualifying Game 2
Neon plane. Skidmarks of blood, brutal arcs where we skated through the fallen. Icy garish splendor. Bisected intestine. My bare, chiseled abdomen trickling with pink sweat. Distant leaping bodies framed by court-light.
Basal Court: Qualifying Game 2
The slap of my perfectly calibrated 1 million dollar insured arm takes him by surprise. He reels, blood gushing from his ear.
He is a False Athlete and this court will be his tomb.
He’s scanning right left for flashes of team color. Just you and me Adison. My hot breath in your face, on your back, as we tumble, grapple, and your panic sprays from your body in vitamin-yellow gouts of piss.
You know my numbers, know I’m stronger, know my sponsors. I am more expensive than you.
I strike his abdomen with my $500,000 fist one two three times. Admire his taut belly under my knuckles. He knows when to go soft and go hard. Knows he would have died if he wasn’t tensed when I hit him. I respect his reflexes in the same way you enjoy the smooth handling of a luxury car. Breaking his body under my fists is like smashing beautiful pieces of art with a baseball bat. Decadence.
And somewhere inside all these high feelings is the bone-white face of fear. By destroying his body I purchase brief moments of immortality. By this act I prove I am alive.
After all, I fear being caught in a lonely, isolated alley of the court and beaten to death, mutilated, broken down irreversibly. I fear it so much that I will do it to another person. And by doing so I am no longer afraid.
I don’t see the ball once that game but I kill Adison.
The sportscasters talk about luck. Random chance. When will the arena cleave apart, when will a firetrap flare up and toast a star player.
No luck. No chance. A True Athlete can divine the thrums of the field. Separate the slam of the ball and the clash of skates and the crash of bodies and the seismic roar of the crowd and the shudder of distant explosions from the intimate rinksteel tremor of the arena. Pulsating leylines, underworld tremors.
Don’t get mad if the arena claims a limb, an eye, your life. Blame yourself.
Hotel Suite: 11:36 PM, 2 days before World Game 817
I can’t get hard. I sit there silently on the edge of the bed as her soft fingers caress me. I feel the fear in her hands at what she thinks I’ll do to her if I can’t get hard. The cracks in her makeup fade and reappear as she shifts in the suffused light.
I’m sitting there knowing she’s beautiful but nothing sparks inside my brain. She’s much smaller than she was on the billboard.
I’m thinking of my nemesis. I’m thinking of Morello. His body writhing under mine as I slide my dick into his shit-lubricated athlete’s tube. A real athlete’s gastrointestinal tract, pure and muscular, not her weak, naive anus. I’m thinking of the sweat, I’m thinking of the screams of the crowd. I get a little hard.
I grind into her thinking about Morello and the smell of his shit and sweat cutting through the air above his muscular ass. I look down and my shrunken penis is just sliding around between her cuntlips, slapping her ass, jamming flaccid in an itching sludge of fluids. I slide from her body leaving a trail of foul lube across the bed. Go to the window.
I can see the arena from here, a glowing crater in the city grid. My fingers claw between my legs, stroking for hardness they cannot find. My body is weak in this place. The seal has been broken. My nutrition profile is distorted, my discipline is faltering.
Her voice clicks in her throat, starting, stopping, subsiding. She slowly tucks her knees up into her chest, looking away from me.
Our genders twist and tangle in the air between us. I’m just another invincible trash supermale wrecking everything I touch, until my organs spontaneously fail from the steroid regimen or blink out one by one as I get kicked to death on the court.
But even this guilt is a purely intellectual afterthought, something I think I should be feeling, but really can’t. I’m a hollowed out colossus of dripping muscle with a skinny little boy drifting around inside. He’s weak enough for guilt.
I eat him when I’m hungry and I’m always hungry.
I love the government. I love the crowds. I love my team. She is one person. She has no team.
And she has no smell. She showered just before we began. So clean. So scentless. It’s like she isn’t even alive. I go back to the bed and stick my nose in her hair, behind her ear, as she holds perfectly still. Faint perfume. I sniff down her spine. Flimsy film of sweat. Little more than water. Her anus smells like condom, lubricant, an elusive, fragile shred of shit.
I am frustrated at her insubstantial odors. I feel blind. This entire hotel room has been stripped of smell, sanitized. I walk from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen and nothing rises above a neutral chemical odor. I pour myself some water and sit down in the corner like some specter, rattling the ice back and forth until it melts.
For the last thirty years, people saying it. Treason, but you hear it.
The arena-mind is degrading. That’s what they say. The algorithms and patterns of the arena-mind are stagnating, breaking down.
I don’t know. I just play the game. But it keeps me awake at night, after I’ve masturbated three, four, five times and still can’t sleep, my steroid-shrunken penis lying in a web of frost-white semen. When that happens I take a pill that puts me to sleep inside a minute. But in that minute, as I careen into the dark place where I have not dreamed for seven years, I am afraid.
I want our race to live forever. I want to believe that the city-states will endure based on their doctrine of genetic purity and algorithmic sponsorship. I want to think that in a thousand years we’ll still be alive, still thinking, still sentient, still defying this cold burnt-up universe where we hurtle on a single living rock in an immeasurable void of dead rocks, crawling across a thin green film sustained only by a delicate wisp of atmosphere that we’ve all but destroyed.
I don’t watch a lot of television. No, I don’t watch the sports dramas. Why watch a fake version of what I do?
For the story? You’re right. There isn’t much romance in the real game. If a crisis comes up, it gets resolved instantly. We have systems in place. Maybe watch a made-up story to see some interpersonal shit get stretched out over a couple seasons. Me, I don’t see the appeal.
Favorite movie? I don’t get out to the movies much.
They never ask me anything interesting. My favorite smell? New car leather and the effluvia of anal sex seeping into the cracks. Ask me something real. Something to do with my senses, not another flickering screen. I am what they put on the screen. How could I enjoy something that was just a shallow, dry, edited copy of that?
I live for wetness–the spray of piss when someone empties themselves across your legs as you hold them in a death grip, feeling their organs slide around inside their torso, nowhere to go. I love the smell. I get hard thinking of the smell. I sit there after each game and let the smell of bodily fluids fill my nostrils. The soup of my cum-filled crotchguard and if I get hit in the kidneys that game, piss. I lower my nose to my shit-smeared ankle and I smell the shit and I whisper the name of the athlete and I have their scent.
The outside world is a dull, dead place next to the game. Purgeball is brighter, messier, more aromatic than anything in the real world where they fine you for so much as spitting on the sidewalk. Do you get what I’m saying? It’s a struggle–a struggle to feel alive in this world.
Pre-Game Ceremony: World Game 817
50k for induced vomiting, bleeding. 100k for eye gouges and kneecaps. 1 million bonus for Morello.
That means I need to catch him away from his team. Where I can kill him. Permanent brain death.
The sea of cameras whips my body, firecracker constellations broadcasting my sculpted form planetwide. It is impossible for the camera to capture a frame of me that is not perfect. Surgery and training and steroids and genetics. I can do no wrong. When I am athletic, I am beautiful. In repose, I am beautiful. Shitting myself on the court because I am dying of multiple torso punctures, I am beautiful. All that emanates from my platonic form is beautiful. My gift to the world is my existence.
I am praxis without tragedy. That’s the beauty of the game. Against the clearly delineated boundaries of the basal and apex court we may define victory, unlike life outside the game, which is meaningless and horrifyingly infinite.
Basal Court: Baseline Mode, World Game 817
My nose is bleeding but the athlete who punched me is on the floor with bruises in the shape of my plastec knuckles and I think I felt an organ pop under my fist on the third blow.
I’m laughing and gasping and getting my breath back and I hear the snap of bones breaking as my team tangles in a flurry of swinging skates and pistoning gauntlets and somewhere the ball is changing hands and the commenters are going wild and they should because more people are maimed and taken out in these early seconds than by the end of the game. We’ve forgotten how to be afraid since our last match.
Two teams at their peak, the interplay of long, articulated limbs, the gangly, sinuous forms that the arena-mind’s genetic algorithm selects for. I love the endgame myself, where it comes down to 2v2 and 1v1 matchups and you really get an appreciation for the individual personalities and tactical nuances of the athletes involved, not this brutal, chancy blow-out. So I roll flankside, hook a straggler, and when he realizes I’ve got him all to myself, his fear is delicious to behold.
I slam his head into the rink, knocking his teeth out his head. He comes up gargling red and I knock him down again, he’s getting up and I slam him another time, laughing until I can barely see.
His hand shoots around my ankle to drop me. I twist my skate and slice something off his body. Squatting I wrap his skull with my fingers and slam it against the rink until the hard snap of teeth gives way to the soft thud of wet hole. I make him a fucking baby and he’s got stuff coming out his ear.
The night air above the atmosphere of arena radiance. The noble, fatal trajectory of Purgeball, the steroid velocity. We jump high because we don’t have to worry about hitting the ground–we burn up in the atmosphere.
Apex Court: Kinetic Mode, World Game 817
“The athletes are moving onto the apex court.”
The apex court screams as it reconfigures itself. I feel the thrum of rinksteel plates shifting to the symphony of harsh beautiful world-machinery.
The arena is lighting up in sudden segments,
Each snapping radiance chills my spine, raising goosebumps. Tears course down my cheekbones, my lips, my neck.
When my dark plain floods with light–this field of death and desire–where weakness cannot survive, where body-lies are rooted out–
The ball emerges from the center of the arena, glowing like fire from the gods. Perfectly equidistant down to the micrometer.
I have fed this arena my blood, my sweat, my shit, my semen, my piss, my tears. I am part of this arena. When I die, it will drink me.
Apex Court: Kinetic Mode, World Game 817
Fountain of red to my right–irrelevant. He was expendable.
The ball flits across my vision then disappears halfway along its arc. Chameleon Mode. I was fortunate to be looking at the ball during its mode shift. I slow down and try to predict where the ball landed, absurdly reminded of dropping my mobile phone in the thick grass of a linear park.
I catch the faintest distorted outline and suddenly I have the ball and now everything is about me, cameras flooding the world with my gorgeous body as I careen through volatile mazes of rinksteel columns.
Flash of enemy colors to my left–I swoop into a sliding crouch. We thread through pillars, dancing back and forth as he tries to funnel me toward the rest of his team. Which means I have to kill him or I will be caught by a pack of my worst enemies and they will destroy my body.
I lose sight of him for a second then
his body on my body
we skid across the arena, muscles locked, spraying sparks,
and slam into a pillar.
The crowd sees two forms perfectly entwined, unmoving, but to us, our micro-movements signify entire worlds of meaning as we look for that one opening that will finish everything for the other. An ice shelf, frozen until the day it cracks with sudden, terrifying weight, and tumbles into the sea.
I stare into his beautiful, mottled eyes, yellow green, watch the sweat drip into his sclera like boiling water. Spit fouls our faces and salt burns our skin.
The worst mistake a system can make is not accounting for outside systems. But this isn’t about our struggle. Even I thought it was about our struggle–for the first two seconds. Then I knew it was about the turret whirring up like a deadly jungle flower, silent as razors through water, the flit-flit-flit of air skipping across my skin. I let him drop me and he grabs the ball, face contorted in triumph, just before his body is filled with serrated blade that drags him whirling around and around and around and I get up and chase after him, prising the ball from his death grip. Blood lilts through the air like a sprinkler, spiraling red stripes up and down my body.
I skate through the maze as razor-flowers blossom from turret buds, a garden coming alive in my presence. I skate low and let them fan my naked back. The world is gazing rapt at the knotted ridge of my spine. At the vestigial angel nubs of my shoulder blades. My crotchguard soaks with cum at the thought.
The court turns red.
Apex Court: Punishment Mode, World Game 817
Scorpion shells crack under my bootskates. Someone is screaming. I’ve lost momentum. I’m slowing down. I look behind me. A trail of blood.
The apex court hasn’t gone into punishment mode for 613 games. The prevailing belief was that the arena-mind deleted that mode from its system.
Someone is staggering past me, covered in so much blood I can’t make out team colors. She’s holding her own intestines. She looks at me with hatred or blindness. I smell the bloody shit pouring through her fingers.
The hot summer wind blows her death to me.
Through the smoke I find the athlete who got himself killed on the razor turret. He’s still spinning around. Beautiful spirals of blood in concentric circles around his draining body. Strange to see motion on the court I don’t have to respond to. No threat. Nothing to learn from his whirling corpse. It’s just art.
I pick up speed. Pass through a maze of glowing walls. Some corridors are mouths of blood down which I shall not go.
I count the bodies of my teammates along the way. I need to know if anyone survives to stand by me when I reach the Goal Zone. Maybe I’ll be alone, murdered on emergence. But I can’t stop.
A flash of silver
and faster than thought I jerk my arm up and something rings off my gauntlet.
Razor-disc turrets. I slide low and watch the discs shriek like panicked birds across the night sky. One slides past, ricochet faded, and I close my fingers around it.
Apex Court: Punishment Mode, World Game 817
I sink the disc into his neck. He doesn’t look scared or surprised, just mad. I know the feeling. He’s disappointed in himself. I wait a beat to make sure he’s really dead and not just being cute and coy with ten inches of razor disc in his neck, but yes, he’s dead, and I’m already picking up speed, scanning the field for that purgeball glint.
Sliding around the corner of a blood-smeared wall I see the iconic arch of the Goal Zone–a religious moment for any athlete. Most games you never even see the goal. Even if I die here and now, I’m so proud.
This game will be remembered forever.
Apex Court: Punishment Mode, World Game 817
Morello just finished killing Tidehog. I know why he spent time on Tidehog. Tidehog was a wall of scarred meat, the kind of bulldog that doesn’t stop coming at you. Last game someone thought they shook him when he got spun into a pulse turret and knocked into a Hot Zone. Minute later, Tidehog comes up behind them missing half the skin on his torso, ribs exposed, face cracked by Hot Zone heat, nose charred off, and does a 200 km/h tackle that leaves a skid of blood, flesh, teeth all the way across the arena.
That’s why Morello is a star player. He knows exactly how much time to spend on each problem that comes up. He knows how much time he needs to spend on me.
I see two teammates closing fast with the enemy. Three enemies plus Morello. But Morello is going clear with the ball and leaving his team to kill or be killed. I build up speed until I lose all control and make the leap.
My prostate drains as I shred someone’s thigh and break free on the other side of the blockade, like skating through cream, incredible. Such perfect, slicing speed. Any slower and I’d be tangled in limbs and hit the floor and ruin my velocity.
My skates clack to the arena floor once more and as I bear down low I feel fluid displacement in my tight crotchguard cup as my surging movements squeeze my testicles and penis and thigh meat back and forth.
Going so fast everything blurs and I am in a world without details, an endless whir. This is it. This is joy. This is ecstasy. I am alone in hyperspace. I see the blur I must kill cradling the blur I must control, I slide low and my face is centimeters from the ground and if I slip I lose my face and lose World Game.
The arena is a red glacier but the goal is still shining like a portal of white light. Morello is framed black against the portal, a hyper-kinetic silhouette, a living shadow clutching a ball of pure essence, muscles rippling and distorting the edge of his shadowform.
The crowd is silent. Just the spin of razor turrets like sprinklers. My tongue drags around inside my mouth. My bared teeth are shredding wind-sucked saliva.
I close the gap. Soon it will be too late to slow down without hitting the end of the arena. But that doesn’t matter.
He looks back at me. I’ve always been looking at him.
The ground turns a color it has never turned before in all of Purgeball and the ground moves in a way it has never moved before and everyone in the stadium leaps to their feet and screams at the top of their lungs and I don’t see this but I hear it, and I do what I was going to do anyways and slam into Morello with all the force of my suicidal velocity and my head feels light and torn off at the hinges because I know this is history, this is Purgeball history, I–
Apex Court: Unknown Mode, World Game 817
The arena shudders as the ball travels on a dead man’s momentum. The slam pulses through the ground and slap the red pools around my body, making the blood jump. I wonder if my legs still work and decide to try. Everything looks strange. Unbalanced. Did the arena–tilt? No. The answer lies a few meters away where my left eye got knocked out.
I’m laughing. Click drip click drip of my bloody throat. Morello is trying to get up.
Millions of people watch my lone fist, the fist of a single man, smash into the unique features of another man, leaving behind a disordered, ugly mess. As I break him down I feel little of the satisfaction that I dreamt of on those nights, every night, when I masturbated thinking of his ruined body. But the same trick of the mind is with me, that feeling of immortality gained from destroying another human being. I know I am dying but that feeling persists.
Another feeling–excitement at this new color. They were wrong–the arena-mind is not degrading. The arena-mind is learning. Do you see? Do you understand? We are being tested. We are proving our godhood. We will not be found wanting. The eternal victory of our city-state–the purity of our race–the immaculate algorithm of our genetic prediction–our divinity cannot stagnate as long as the arena-mind is thinking in lightspeed generations.
The game has changed. Long live the game.