The Game Is Afoot

This article was written by James Breaux

This article was published in the The National Pastime: The Future According to Baseball (2021)


New Amsterdam Domed City, Mars Colony, Baseball League Game System Diagram (JAMES BREAUX)

New Amsterdam Domed City, Mars Colony, Baseball League Game System Diagram (JAMES BREAUX)

 

Emma Hasford cycles through the civic dome at a leisurely pace. She keeps an eye on the crowded lanes, an ear on her comm, and her hands on the bars. The bike’s autopilot and gyros keep her upright and dodging the unconcerned pedestrians.

This evening she will be meeting her partner Daan Markus and can’t help but wonder if this is a real stakeout of the fence Milo Cardoza, or if Daan is taking advantage of the police department expense accounts to have a night of dinner and baseball. She grins to herself, but her mien turns severe as her sound implant crackles to life. “All telemetry for surveillance operation #6157558 is being recorded following regulations under the authority of Sargeant Ujarak Jansen, Police, New Amsterdam.”1 Well, that answers that question, she thinks.

Daan Markus is on a public shuttle in a tunnel below the dome when he receives the same recorded warning. Daan speaks softly, “Lewis, are you online?”

Lewis coos, “In your ear, Constable!”

Daan rolls his eyes and pulls up from his usual slouch, involuntarily trying to look more masculine. “Roger that.”

Daan has done all the prep work for the stakeout: processed all of the orders and forms for surveillance approval, as well as requisition forms for the tickets, drinks, and dinner for himself and Emma. When Daan had first arrived in the colony as an investigator after the 2030 dome collapse, he had found that taking part in team sports provided relief from the stressful work. Enterprising colonists had imported football (soccer) from Earth, though the game had to be modified greatly to be played in Mars gravity. He naturally migrated to the batting cages in 2040 when they opened.

The first small shop had opened up with four batting cages. To create a realistic experience, batters faced a virtual pitcher with the ball feeder under randomized control. The cage shop owners soon found that they were making more money from the VR feeds out of the cages than on the cage rentals themselves. VR is used for so many things in the colony—education, training, communications with family, friends, and corporate liaisons back on Luna and Earth—and, of course, entertainment. And watching the local heroes smash the ball is great fun.

Daan shifts in his seat as he waits for his stop. As the long-term constable, he habitually sizes up the other riders, sorting and categorizing them. The shuttle lurches to a halt, and Daan hefts his bulk off the bench and pushes into the exiting crowd.

Emma is already at the door of the sports bar as Daan saunters up. Attending the game’s public viewing at the local watering hole is Daan’s idea. It’s a big game, and Milo will be there. Daan shows the door the tickets, and the bar drops, allowing them entry. Emma pokes Daan and says, “I almost didn’t recognize you without your headgear. You do have hair after all.”

Daan shrugs and tugs at his stubbled chin. “We’re over there, I think,” he says, ignoring her comment. It is well known that Daan has a perfect record of one demerit at every monthly readiness and presentation inspection for his unshaven chin—twenty years of consistency.

They move through the loud crowd to find their assigned table. The multi-screens scream various sports, from cards to team sports to individual endurance contests. But tonight, the big screen is all about the two local teams battling to avoid elimination. As always, the hype is high for this early October game. One team will be eliminated, and one will compete in the semi-finals.

The two undercover constables are there to continue their surveillance of Milo Cardoza, whom they suspect is fencing stolen bicycles. They don’t know who is stealing the bikes or buying them, but most iffy goods seemed to be in Milo’s orbit, so he is a good one to watch.

What they do know is that organized gangs have followed humans into space seeking easy profits and weak prey. The strongest gang in New Amsterdam is the Infinity Soldiers (IS). This high-tech group of modern-day pirates has roots back in Curagao. They play in the hijacking of technology and command an enormous bankroll of grey market currency, while keeping up their mainstays of blackmail, racketeering, and loan sharking. The IS are the “usual suspects” whenever something comes up smelling rotten in the colony. A veil of secrecy covers the IS, bolstered by the occasional accidental fatal airlock malfunction. The constables suspect Milo is a member, or perhaps just a tool of the IS.

After ordering some food and the weak beer allowed to officers on surveillance, Emma keeps pumping Daan for conversation like the manual air pump on a broken airlock—it works, but it is work. At least until she hits upon one of his favorite subjects. “I did not expect to find baseball on Mars, Daan. How’d it start here?”

Daan straightens up and starts talking. Really talking, not like his listless reports and observations, but with feeling and a few uncharacteristic gestures. He tells her how it all began with the batting cages and the unexpected popularity of the VR feeds of the hitters. “My friend Hiroshi Hirokawa, a baseball fanatic and communications technician who spent hours at the cages, began to organize tournaments between the batters. Eventually he organized into competitive batting teams under a league.”

“So it’s just batting?”

“It was at first, but Hiroshi doodled up a plan using the available technologies to create a game that added pitching and fielding, too. It didn’t take too much hacking to allow the opposing team to control the Shugs Autofeed BP 3 Mark 16 pitching machine.” Daan describes how the amped-up three-wheeled machines can throw nine standard pitches with near-infinite adjustments. “A human pitcher is projected holographically behind the machine to give the batter somewhat normalized pitching cues. Instead of a ball, the pitcher holds a release switch which controls the ball’s ejection and the pitch. A catcher still squats behind the batter signaling the pitcher.”

The food and drink arrive, but Daan ignores the food and instead opens an app on his comm and begins finger typing furiously, referring to the posted game lineup on one of the screens.

Emma, though not usually curious about Daan’s communications, has to ask, “What are you doing?”

He does not look up. “I’m preparing a sheet to score the game.”

“Doesn’t all that come across the screen?” Emma makes a q with her mouth.

“Oh, yes.” Daan smiles and looks up. “The announcers will tell it all, we will see it all, and there will be a record of the game available for download immediately afterward. But I like to hand score. It keeps my head in the game; I can see the strategy, and it’s fun to look back on sometimes.”

“Crazy!” she mouths. The bar is getting louder. She can’t understand why a tech-head like Daan would need a more tactile, personal experience of the game, but there it is. Emma learns more about Daan all the time.

“Not everything about the game is super-duper high technology, you know,” Daan says.

“No?”

“The ball, for example.” The Rawlings ball in the pitching machine is still “dumb” and made in the same manner as the 2030 MLB rule 3.01 calls for. “It’s a sphere of yarn wound around a synthetic core, covered with two strips of tightly stitched together synthetic leather. They import them from Earth.”

“That is what we call an anachronism, Daan.” Emma loves to tease the older constable about his age and the past he holds onto. It makes him squirm, and she considers getting any reaction from the normally staid policeman to be a victory. “Are you betting on the game?”

“No, I never bet on baseball. But Milo is a longtime member of the New Amsterdam City gambling cooperative.” The cooperative is a special committee of the City council which seems to operate under the motto If you’re going to have organized crime, it should be organized. He gets to vote on licensing all of the participants and organizations involved and setting the gamblers’ rules and houses, and there will surely be heavy betting on tonight’s game.

Daan sets his comm to generate a privacy bubble around the table, to keep their conversation private from all but the most sophisticated AI snooping. “Tonight is a historic first, you know,” Daan volunteers.

Emma leans in to hear him, curious because he started the conversation this time.

“The Highlanders have added a late-season pitcher to their roster, and she is on Earth.” As Dan speaks, the pitcher, Kathy (child of Budi and Natalen), is shown comfortably warming up on Earth in a pitching cabin set up in South Tangerang, Indonesia. The text scroll reads that she is a college ballplayer in an Indonesian city that is now shockingly coastal due to rising water. Her family relocated from Jakarta following the terrible storms and floods of 2034.

“They can do that?” Emma asks.

“The league rules allow late-season additions,” Dan explains.

“No, no, I mean, have a player on Earth while the rest of the team is on Mars? What about the time delay?”

Daan explains that the expensive telemetry which allows her to participate with imperceptible lag is via the new quantum comm link satellites. The cost is being underwritten (in exchange for advertising rights) by the communications giant HNC (Hefei National Communications).2 Yes, Mars’s little pastime is growing into big business.

The game starts with a patriotic recital of the New Amsterdam jingle and the ceremonial recognition of some dignitaries, including the current Earth-based MLB commissioner, seated at a special remote field box. The presence of the MLB commissioner seems to give credence to the fan mags reporting that the New Amsterdam leagues might be under scrutiny to join the global MLB conferences.

The first pitch is thrown out by a local religious and charitable figure, Johana van Galen. Emma leans toward Daan. “Isn’t that…?”

Daan nods. He knows Johana is popular with the baseball organizations, but didn’t expect to see her recognized so publicly. Her slim, sturdy figure is hard to miss. Her self-sewn flowy robe exaggerates her motions as she overhand pitches the ball to the catcher, who seems surprised when the changeup drops obediently into his waiting glove. The catcher gives her a nod of approval, and the AI umpire declares, “Play ball!”

The game is between the home team Valles Mariners—named with a nod to the US Seattle team and the largest canyon on the red planet—and the Columbia Hills Highlanders Baseball Club, named with a nod to the old nickname of the Yankees and the Mars rover Spirit’s landing site.3

The media color team announces the team lineups to great fanfare in the bar, and after a few warm-up pitches between Kathy on Earth and the Highlanders catcher on Mars, the first Valles batter steps up to the plate. Emma sees he is Center Fielder #7, and he and the catcher are in the same physical space. “Where are the rest of the players?”

“The defense is in separate fielding cabins,” Daan explains. “They can see the catcher virtually, and vice versa. One of Hiroshi’s best ideas.” Not only that, sensors routed to an AI judge replace field umpires, while the Master Umpire is a human with expertise in the rules.

Number 7 crouches into his stance and is hit by the first pitch. The Highlanders fans in the bar sigh and groan as he takes his base. Next, Valles Short Stop #8 steps up, makes her adjustment, swings on the first pitch, and drives it straight to the Highlanders Right Fielder. The Highlander fans breathe a sigh of relief. The Valles Right Fielder #21 steps in but quickly backs out, signaling time. After a long look at the bat and his shoes, #21 steps in and cocks the bat behind his shoulder. Kathy throws a ball, then a strike, then a ball, and another strike, painting the corners and tempting the batter with off-speed junk. Her final pitch to #21 catches him looking, and Daan scores a backward K with a smug grin. With two outs on the board, #18, the Valles Left Fielder, steps into the batter’s box, and at a 3-2 count, Kathy slyly picks off the Center Fielder #7 at first, and the side is retired.

Around the second inning, Milo comes in and takes his regular table. A drink and some appetizers appear, which Milo ignores, busy with his comm. Later a slight person-built like a teenager—sidles up to his table, drops a small package without a word, and leaves. Emma gets a good video of the transaction using the optic recorder, but the small person’s glasses and hoodie will make facial recognition difficult if not wholly inconclusive.

“How’s the game going?” the mysterious Lewis again.

“Terrific,” Emma replies, pleased with their ability to surveil Milo, at the same time Daan says, “Terrible,” because the Valles Mariners have two on and their best hitter at the plate.

Hoping to ID Milo’s messenger, Lewis immediately starts pushing the video through NALANI.4 To avoid looking directly at Milo, Emma returns her attention to the game. “If the fielders are in separate cabins, how can the batters run the bases?”

“The unused batting cages are converted into running lanes,” Daan says, eyeing the simulation on the screen anxiously. “The batter runs between two bases only, with their VR hood showing the correct bases’ view. The batter can see the defenders but can’t physically contact them in a slide because they are in the other fielding space. Besides, sliding on Mars is terrible because the runner rarely comes back down in time to touch the base.”

At the bottom of the fourth, a pair of well-dressed businessmen greet Milo, sit down, and begin eating his appetizers and ordering drinks. It appears to be a convivial meeting, the men ignoring the game except for the peak plays when they stop chatting to watch the replays.

One of Milo’s guests speaks with a soft accent, asking, “This game. It is so much inaction and then… well, I don’t know what? What do you see in it?”

Milo leans forward with a grin and says, “Opportunity. Casual viewers watch the games from a standard subscription feed; those proceeds are shared with the teams, players, and the physical site owner. But that isn’t the only way players earn money. The ALLFANS app allows fans to support specific players and participate in the games from the player’s visual perspective. ALLFANS supporters have access to a simultaneously curated AV feed of the player and special pre-and post-game experiences.”

“And you are a big fan?” the other guest asks.

Milo’s grin widens. “I own the app. Combined with my position in the gambling cooperative; it is a great opportunity. Besides, what can you do for fun on a hole in the vacuum like this one?”

The men have a chuckle and go back to discussing their other business and, after reaching an agreement, slip away from the table, pick up their bodyguards and exit the club.

As the game moves into the late innings, the Valles Mariners are clearly in the hunt, scoring despite the best efforts of the Highlanders. The Highlanders bring in a relief pitcher, then another and another, but can’t catch the Mariners. The final score is Valles Mariners 6 runs to the Highlander Baseball Club’s 4. The Valles Mariners are advancing in the playoffs! The Highlanders are sent packing.

Milo finishes up and leaves as well. Once he goes, Emma and Daan climb down from their stools and direct Lewis to end the surveillance recording. Emma is happy to get a few more players onto the case board back at her workstation. The loss by his dear Highlanders let Daan down, but all seasons come to an end, and there is always next year. 

JAMES BREAUX is an engineer, futurist, and sci-fi writer working in Houston, Texas. He teaches part-time at the University of Houston, College of Technology, and works in the Oil and Gas industry. Follow him on Twitter @bagelx. This story is a chapter from a novel that James is working on, set in 2050 at the New Amsterdam Colony domes on Mars. The book is expected to be published in the first quarter of 2022 – currently under the working title, Bicycle Police of New Amsterdam.

 

Appendix 1. “Formation of Mars Colony New Amsterdam”

From an early commercial settlement with company hierarchy interspersed with UN military oversight to a city-state member of the UN, the New Amsterdam political evolution has been straightforward. In the mid-2020s, the UN commissions the Cooperative Mars Initiative (CMI) to join the global efforts of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the other aligned countries. The CMI spends billions of dollars to spur large-scale commercial interplanetary development. The CMI had begun as a subcommittee of the Security Council—a peer to the Climate Change Refugee task force. The latter begins to demand action in the face of weather disasters on a previously unknown scale. In 2034 Earth’s food supply becomes more precarious as arable land declines. The political chaos of food insecurity leads to a willingness to loosen the apron strings, allowing the Mars colony to organize as a city-state, incorporating governance documents, form, and spirit similar to modern Singapore. By 2037, most government decisions and citizen interactions are ceded to an AI (Artificial Intelligence) modeled on the UN governance algorithms. Elected mayoral, parliamentarian council, and a minimal professional bureaucracy and police agency serve as the human face.

 

Appendix 2. “Quantum communications network”

The new Mars satellite system linked to Luna and Earth orbital relays improves the early 20-minute radio wave communications delay between Earth and Mars. The best light-speed comms required just over three minutes but were extremely temperamental and consumed an uncomfortable amount of power. Quantum communications introduced in 2045 cover the gap with instantaneous manipulation of transmitter and receiver elements. But it is expensive. The quantum comm units require cryogenic temperatures and exotic calibration. They are best disposed to be in orbit, where they can be reached for the occasionally required maintenance, maintain near-constant temperatures, and receive and retransmit to line-of-sight stations on the ground.

 

Notes

1. Refer to Appendix 1, “Formation of Mars Colony New Amsterdam.”

2. See Appendix 2, “Quantum communications network.”

3. Team names suggested by Matt Glose, avid baseball fan and supportive friend, via text 2/22/2021

4. NALANI – New Amsterdam Local and National Intelligence (Hawaiian for “silence of the heavens”)—Acronym for the AI that watches the cameras and integrates all of the criminal data bases and detective queries for local and national Martian colonies.

 

 

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