Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 13
Beautiful Winter
by Eugie Foster
Hologram Bride: Part Two
by Jackie Gamber
Second String
by David A. Simons
Command Transfer
by Darren Eggett
Folk of the Fringe Serialization
by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
by David Lubar
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Second String
    by David A. Simons
Second String
Artwork by Kevin Wasden

I watched Ribaldi's 4,200th career goal from the sidelines, from my little metal folding chair.

It was a typical Ribaldi goal. No artistry, no foresight, no teamwork. He just ran to an open space on the left flank and waved his hands in the air, calling for the ball. "Hey! Look at me! I'm the superstar! Feed me!" Our midfielder, Jackson, did like always: beat his man, then lobbed the ball Ribaldi's way. Ribaldi corralled it with his chest, dribbled past the last defender, and launched one of his curling drives on goal. The Saudi keeper should have stopped it, but of course he didn't -- it grazed off his fingertips, into the net. Two-one, Australia.

And then Ribaldi did his little dance. His damn Brazilian samba. Shuffling his feet, swinging his hips, twirling his finger in the air, while the stadium's resonators blared his mongrel music, the buzz-cams circled his head and ninety thousand taxpayers screamed their delight.

In my twenty-six years as Ribaldi's backup, I'd watched this routine hundreds -- no, thousands -- of times, all from my little metal folding chair. All the while knowing how much Ribaldi hurt our team, that his undisciplined, selfish play was the reason Australia never advanced past the third round of the Dues Cup. But I would remain passive no longer.

This goal would be Ribaldi's last.

While Ribaldi and the other first-stringers finished their celebration, I activated a hidden transponder in my shoe, setting off a buzzer in the pocket of one of the Saudi defenders. The defender, Musahan, turned to me and grinned. Idiot! I stared at my knees.

The game resumed. Ribaldi's goal had given Australia a late lead, but there were still twelve minutes remaining, plenty of time for the Saudis. They pressed an attack, searching for open space in Australia's zone. Ribaldi, of course, didn't help defend -- he stayed in the offensive end, waiting for a counter. Musahan tracked him.

Jackson gained possession, dropped the ball back to our keeper, who cleared it up field into the Saudi zone, into Ribaldi's open left flank. Ribaldi gave chase, eyes wide, nostrils flared, charging full speed, his 4,201st goal in sight.

He never saw Musahan.

The defender reached the ball just after Ribaldi did and slid into his path, swinging his thick right leg. Of course, Musahan was nominally aiming for the ball, but he connected instead with his primary target: Ribaldi's shin. The crack could be heard across the pitch.

Ribaldi dropped to the ground, clutching his leg. The referee landed his platform at the scene and tagged a flashing yellow card to Musahan's jersey. Musahan bowed and retreated.

Ribaldi did not cry out or complain -- he'd never let the cameras see that. Instead, he sat on his rear, stabilizing his broken leg with one hand and calmly motioning for our surgeon with the other. The surgeon jogged onto the field, rolling the leg mender behind her.

The crowd used the short break to empty bladders and summon refills. Coaches lowered their eyeglasses, studying alignments and replays. Players milled about, some oiling muscles, others inhaling salted drinks. No one was concerned -- Ribaldi had broken bones dozens of times, and he'd never missed a minute.

I sat in my chair, feigning nonchalance, but in reality, my attention was transfixed on the leg mender, slowly making its way across the pitch.

The surgeon sat down next to Ribaldi, put her hand on his back, said something to him. He motioned impatiently for the mender. She slipped it around his broken leg, sealed it shut, and turned it on.

Ribaldi smiled at first, winking at the buzz-cams, but then, slowly, his expression changed. Furrows appeared on his smooth bald head, and his round eyes darted from the cameras to the surgeon, questioning. Then he grimaced.

And then he screamed. A toe curling, jaw popping, musical scream.

The stadium silenced. Players froze and turned; coaches flipped up their glasses; fans gaped, clutching their half-finished beers. More buzz-cams surrounded Ribaldi, hovering next to his face and leg. He pointed at the leg mender, pounded the ground with his fist, screaming, screaming.

The surgeon scrambled to stop the mender and popped it open.

Ribaldi's leg was gone. In its place was a red mush of melted flesh and bits of bone, bubbling, seeping into the grass. Ribaldi's clean white shoe rested a half-meter from his knee, the foot still enclosed. The shoe perched momentarily on its heel, then fell to the side.

Ribaldi's eyes rolled up and he slumped backward, his head thumping against the ground. The young surgeon sat next to him, her mouth open, staring at the red stain in the grass. The only sound from the pitch was Ribaldi's incessant moaning.

A single spectator behind Australia's bench screamed, and the surgeon's training kicked in. She injected a sedative, cauterized Ribaldi's leg, and summoned the stretcher. With help from two players, she loaded Ribaldi (and his shoe) onto the stretcher, climbed aboard, and jetted up, out of the stadium, a trail of buzz-cams following them like a swarm of locusts.

Slowly, I uncurled from my little folding chair. I stretched my arms, swinging them in circles, and sprayed warm-up oil on my legs. The warm tingle was delicious.

Our manager, McDermott, stood frozen on the sideline, his glasses perched crooked on his forehead. He stared blankly at the two stains on the field: the black singe from the stretcher's jet, and the red. I could see his mind slowly piecing together the consequences of what he'd just seen.

Ribaldi would not be mended on the field. He'd be taken to hospital to have his leg re-grown from scratch. It would take weeks. Months maybe.

Ribaldi would miss the Dues Cup.

McDermott groaned, pulled off his glasses and squeezed them in his hand.

"Coach?" I said. "Coach!" He turned. The bozo actually had to be reminded.

"Oh yes. Andrews. Get in there. Stay within yourself."

I jogged onto the pitch. No one cheered. Two ref-bots buzzed me, scanning my pulse and oxygen sats, testing me for illegals. They flashed green and flew away. Of course I'm clean.

I took Ribaldi's spot at left striker and the game continued.

I didn't plan to do much in the final minutes of this game. No matter what happened, the coverage would be all about Ribaldi's injury, and the game itself was just a meaningless pre-Cup friendly. I'd defend my position, "stay within myself," and let the game end.

But then, in the 88th minute, an opportunity presented itself. The Saudis pressed a reckless attack, and Musahan was caught up field, out of position. I moved into the open flank and signaled our fullback, who sent a nifty crossing pass my way. Musahan raced backward, but he was off-balance and too far forward. I cut abruptly, Musahan fell, and I broke in alone against the Saudi keeper. He dived right, expecting one of Ribaldi's curling blasts. But instead, I pulled back my leg and tapped the ball with my instep, skipping it along the ground, under the diving keeper. 3-1.

After the goal, I didn't pound my chest or dance or wink at the buzz-cams. Instead, I pointed at the fullback who passed me the ball, clapped my hands twice, and jogged back to Australia's side of the field for the kickoff.

Football, the way it was meant to be played.

After the game, our lockers were swarming with buzz-cams, and even a handful of live reporters. They clustered around McDermott, asking him about the injury, the leg mender, and what-in-the-world-he-would-do without Ribaldi in the Dues Cup. McDermott stood up straight, his hands clasped behind his back, answering questions with the usual clichés.

"We will miss Ribaldi, no doubt, but there are fifteen players on our squad, eleven on the field. The others will step up. I have full confidence in them. Andrews is a highly capable backup -- you saw his skills on display today in the 88th minute. We have the talent in this locker room to better last year's multiplier."

McDermott was right, of course (except the part about me being a "backup"), but he didn't believe his own BS. And the media didn't either -- the journalists scoffed, and the buzz-cams zoomed in on McDermott's iris, measuring his pulse and resp rate, displaying his "confidence level" for all the world to see.

McDermott's run as National Team Manager was nearly finished. Players held their spots for decades, or, in the case of media darlings like Ribaldi, indefinitely. But not managers. They wore down in ways the anti-aging treatments couldn't prevent, and the game evolved past them. After twelve years, McDermott's double-flank attacks were no longer the next new thing, and the team's performance was in steady decline. A poor showing in this year's Dues Cup and he'd be done.

I finished dressing and slipped out the locker room exit. The live journalists ignored me, but a few buzz-cams followed. Now that I was a starter, they'd follow me all the way home.

I passed up the player limos and went instead to the public subway. I picked an open seat in the middle of train and sat with my gear bag over my lap, the buzz-cams circling my head, imaging me and the subway surroundings simultaneously.

A few locals pointed, whispered. It was rare to see a National Team member on the subway, let alone a starter who'd just scored the final goal. One chubby taxpayer with thinning hair pulled away from his wife, sat across from me.

"You're Andrews, right?"

I nodded, forced a smile.

"Nice goal there, mate. Totally fooled that Arab keeper."

"Thank you."

The man licked his lips, gathering courage to say what he'd planned to say. He glanced back at his wife. She snorted and turned away.

"Think you blokes can advance without Ribaldi?" he asked quickly. "At least to third round. I mean, no disrespect to you, but Ribaldi's been our leading scorer for --"

"Forty years."

He licked his lips again, nodded. "I mean, that result last year. That multiplier. That was tough on us . . ."

Last year, Australia was eliminated in the second round of the Dues Cup, an embarrassing shutout loss to Thailand. The loss gave Australia a 1.2 multiplier, meaning every Australian's international taxes went up twenty percent. Of course, I didn't play a minute.

"Another year like that, and I'm not sure what we'll do."

Judging by the man's thinning hair and pudgy stomach, the brown spots on his face, he'd skipped a few aging treatments. His wife, though, was pristine.

"We'll do better," I said. "We'll make the fourth round. Maybe even advance to the large cap rounds. I guarantee it."

The man grinned stupidly, shook my hand, moved back to his wife, and said something to her. She scowled and lowered glasses over her face.

All of this, of course, was recorded by the buzz-cams. Maybe taking the subway wasn't such a good idea.

I got off one stop early and walked the last ten blocks to my flat, my glasses covering my face, two buzz-cams still following me. I'd had enough of the subway, and still had fifteen minutes to kill.

Several news nets were already showing my encounter with fan boy, the dull parts and the rumble of the train seamlessly edited out. The commentary was mostly positive, so far. Many applauded me for taking the public subway after a game, for chatting with a taxpayer. Comments on my "guarantee" were mixed, though, and worsening. Most agreed with Fan Boy's scowling wife.

One thing I already knew: I would never be as good at public relations as Ribaldi. People loved his white toothy smile, his smooth bald head, his harem of young women. No one seemed to care that he's not a real Australian, that he immigrated from Brazil back when FIFA allowed such things, so he wouldn't have to play second string for his country's team.

As for me, well, I saw how they drew me. The narrow head, the flaming red hair, the gap between my front teeth that I refused to fix. No one recognized that the team would be better off with me at left striker and Ribaldi on the bench. Not yet.

At the entrance to my building, one of the buzz-cams pinged me, requesting a live interview. A young female voice, I noted. I politely declined, telling her I had an appointment, and slipped inside the building. The buzz-cams, by law, stayed outside.

I lived in a modest square flat on the 140th floor, overlooking the Harbor. It had a bed, a worn sofa, a galley kitchen, big windows, and not much else. I spent my time on the practice field.

I pulled off my glasses and stared out the window at the Harbor Bridge. Some tourists still scurried across the top on foot, ant-like, while others flew past them on levi-surfs, taunting. They're talking about tearing the bridge down, again, to make way for more flats.

I realized I was stalling. I set down my registered glasses and pulled out the unregistered ones I kept under the sofa and slid them over my face.

I navigated through my six layers of security, my dozen false IDs, arriving at the designated room a few minutes after the appointed time. Musahan was already there.

His avatar was a rusty oil well with a football bouncing up and down off its tip. So reckless. Fortunately, I'd taken enough precautions for both of us.

I stuck a medallion in the bowl of his drilling arm, and it instantly transformed to an envelope overflowing with cash. Musahan counted it and bowed, the football dropping from the tip of his oil rig, bouncing now at my feet. He disappeared.

It had taken surprisingly little -- only a few weeks wages. That should have made me suspicious, I suppose. But I figured the Saudis were all so dirt poor, he just hadn't thought to ask for more.

I navigated out through the security layers and took off the glasses. The same set of tourists were still crawling across the Harbor Bridge.

I felt no guilt, of course. Only frustration that I'd been forced to resort to this, and regret that I hadn't done it sooner.

I was the best forward from Western Australia in more than a century. From grade school through university, my teams lost a total of four games. I was the captain, the leading scorer, a throwback, they said, to team-oriented, disciplined football. I made the regional squad at twenty-two, the National Team before I was thirty. And then I ran into Ribaldi.

In the old days, football players lasted ten, twenty years tops. They aged, they accumulated injuries, and younger players took their spots. A natural progression. Evolution. But now, old superstars hang on forever -- even lazy, selfish mongrels like Ribaldi -- and the young never get their chance.

I am better than Ribaldi. I've known that for twenty-five years. And the next three weeks proved me right.

In the opening round of the Dues Cup, we swept our group, beating Polynesia, New Zealand, and Burma by a combined score of 8-1. I scored only one goal in group play, but I made none of the defensive lapses that plague Ribaldi's game. In the second round, we beat Indochine, and in the third, we smashed Thailand 4-1, avenging last year's embarrassing exit.

The commentators were duly impressed, though of course none credited me. Most cited better team discipline, better balance on McDermott's double-flank attacks. (Well of course -- without Ribaldi hogging all the chances, the double-flank attack actually had two flanks!)

In the fourth round, we beat Japan 2-1, and I scored the equalizer. A smattering of commentators finally wrote that the team was better without Ribaldi, though not because I was the superior player.

It was in the fifth round, against Korea, that I fully arrived.

We had already clinched a multiplier of 1.0. If we won two more games, we would qualify for the Large Cap rounds, a chance to play against the Europeans, the North Americans, the Chinese. Ribaldi's Brazilians. A chance to play for a tax-free year.

We faced Korea in the new grand stadium in Pyongyang, before 120,000 screaming fans. The pre-game headline was that Ribaldi was back. He claimed his right leg was fully re-grown, though it appeared a bit smaller than his left, and the new ligaments were likely still stiff. McDermott announced that Ribaldi would be available to play, but would start the game on the bench, as a reserve.

The Koreans played with ferocious speed and energy -- suspicious energy, I thought. They took an early 1-0 lead on a free kick from just outside the box. It was lucky we were playing in Pyongyang -- back home, the crowd would have begun chanting for Ribaldi. He fidgeted impatiently on the bench, scratching his pasty new leg.

In the 67th minute, I tied the score off a corner kick, my narrow head directing the ball sharply to the side of the goal. It would be the defining image of the game -- my mouth open, my red hair flying, my toes pointed horizontal as I laid out for the ball.

And then, in overtime, I scored the game winner on a solo breakaway. My celebration was the same as always, a few quick claps, though this time, there was no teammate to point to, since I'd scored the goal without any assist. After the game, I was first in line to shake hands with the drugged-up Koreans.

We were now one win away from the Large Cap tourney, and a chance to play for a tax-free year for all of Australia. Our final opponent would be Iran.

I took the subway home from the airport, chatting with a dozen grateful taxpayers, buzz-cameras swarming us. During the walk to my flat, I granted several interviews, discussing each of my goals in detail. I would never be an icon like Ribaldi, but I would be respected. People love winning.

I left the buzz-cams behind at the entrance to my building, removed my glasses and rode the lift to my suite.

Standing next to my worn sofa, waiting for me, was Musahan, the Saudi defender I'd paid to take out Ribaldi. Seated next to him was a scrawny man with a mustache and small, dark eyes.

I froze. "How did you get in here?"

Musahan pointed out my picture window, at the Sydney Harbor Bridge. "I read they will tear it down," he said, in thickly accented English. "More apartment. Would be shame."

I slipped my glasses back on, checked my flat's perimeter defenses, found the breach, sealed it. I snooped Musahan and his scrawny friend for bugs. Clean. I took off the glasses.

"How dare you barge in here! Were you seen?"

"We come for payment," said Musahan. "Payment for my help."

"I paid you already."

Musahan waived his hand dismissively. "In next round, you play our benefactor." His eyes darted to the small man seated on the sofa. I studied the man's face, his silk suit, the cow-leather shoes. He was Persian. Rich. And judging by his piercing beady eyes, probably government. "You make sure Iran win."

Double-crossing bastard. I should have known. Nothing is ever easy for me.

"And if I won't?"

Musahan smiled. "I expose you." He held up a small chip. "We have recordings. You second string again."

He was bluffing. I'd taken precautions. Dozens of precautions. And yet, he and the Persian had managed to enter my flat. Could they have traced me?

No. They were bluffing. They had to be.

"Get out," I said softly. "If you don't, I'll summon security. I'll tell them you broke into my apartment, threatened me. Who do you think they'll believe?" I held my glasses in my hand, halfway to my face. Now I was bluffing.

The little Persian stared at me, his face passive, maybe amused. I held his gaze. He had no readers, so he couldn't tell my pulse was racing, couldn't sniff the sweat building in my palms, under my armpits. The corners of his mouth twitched into a thin smile.

"It's better this way, no?" he said. "No war, no spies. Only football. You agree?"

I stayed silent. He stood slowly from the couch, nodded at me, and walked to the door. Musahan followed.

"We help you," Musahan said. "After."

And they were gone.

We played Iran in Baghdad Stadium, one week later. It was the only international match scheduled for the day and had the attention of the entire football world. Two hundred-thousand live fans jammed the stadium, mostly wearing Iran's traditional white, with scattered pockets of Australian green. Hundreds of buzz-cams swarmed above the field, at least two tracking each player. A dozen tracked me. Players and coaches from the large caps, including Brazil and Europe and China, sat in the near decks, glasses perched on their foreheads, scouting the small cap wildcards. This was the game I'd dreamed of for forty years.

McDermott started me at left striker, of course, but in a grand gesture, had Ribaldi announced as the "twelfth starter." Ribaldi forced a toothy smile, waved to the pockets of green in the stands, shuffled his feet in a Samba dance, and sat down on a metal folding chair. He stared at me, his hands locked behind his bald head, eyes filled with jealousy, bitterness, anger. Emotions I knew all too well.

I'd seen videos of the great Pele in the American leagues, when he was too old for real football. He would waive to ignorant fans, show flashes of his former genius, but mostly, he was a symbol, not a player. For a moment, I felt sympathy for Ribaldi, and wondered if he might suffer a similar fate.

Then the game began, and I forgot all about Ribaldi.

Iran has six times Australia's population and perhaps three times its GDP. Their defenders are bigger, their forwards faster, their keeper a gazelle. But this was Australia's year, and we were up to the challenge.

We took a 1-0 lead early in the second half, on a curling free kick by our brilliant midfielder, Jackson. We then went into a defensive shell and tried to hold on.

I stayed mostly in our end, content to clear the ball deep when it came my way. Unlike Ribaldi, I would not place my stats above the team and risk allowing the equalizer. Perhaps the Iranians knew that, and that was why it happened.

In the 72nd minute, an Iranian fullback sent a lazy pass across midfield, to my territory. It was meant for their left midfielder (or so I thought), but the pass was too far in front, and I reached it first, clearing it safely into Iran's zone.

I never saw the Iranian forward.

He arrived the moment after I cleared the ball, sliding into me from behind, kicking me squarely behind my left shin. I went down.

My leg throbbed and turned numb. Just a bruise, most likely, but a bad one. Play stopped. On the sidelines, our surgeon picked up the team's new portable leg mender and trotted onto the field. The Iranian forward glanced down at me, at my shin, and quickly jogged away.

Then I saw Ribaldi. On our sideline, he'd stood from his folding chair, and had begun rubbing warm-up oil onto his legs. His eyes tracked the leg mender, slowly making its way toward me.

When I first began playing football, I discovered that I have a rare gift, a gift shared by all the great strikers. At critical moments, the game slows down for me. When I break through a defense, leading a rush on goal, the other players freeze in place, like chess pieces, giving me time to think, to plan. Do I take the ball in myself, deke the keeper? Do I pull up and shoot on goal? Pass to a teammate? Abandon the attack and force a corner? Where others just react, I can stop, look around, and plan.

Time had stopped for me now. I saw the surgeon, frozen mid stride, cradling the new leg mender, her expression focused, professional. The Iranian who'd kicked me, running back towards his teammates, calling for a huddle. Our Manager, McDermott, frowning, glasses lowered over his eyes. And Ribaldi, old Ribaldi, rubbing on oil, eyes glued to the leg mender.

Had I underestimated Ribaldi? Could he do what I had done? Had the Persians found him? Paid him? Perhaps. But unlike Ribaldi, I would not play the fool.

I pushed myself to my feet, testing my bruised leg, and waved off the surgeon. She stopped, halfway onto the field, confused. "Go back!" I shouted. "Go back! No mender! I'm fine!" She shrugged and turned around. Ribaldi froze, one hand squeezing his half-oiled thigh. McDermott raised his glasses and glared at me, arms crossed in front of his chest.

I signaled the referee to begin play and jogged back to my position. Each step sent a surge of pain through my calf and knee, and my body dipped whenever I put weight on my left foot. "Limping," it was called. The old-timers played hurt all the time, so I could, too.

In fact, I remembered that Pele and Marguso used to pretend they were injured worse than they actually were, to fool the other team into lethargy. So I exaggerated my limp, hanging around the center line, wincing.

It worked. Iran's right fullback left me, joining the attack. I was alone in a wide swath of territory.

One of our defenders gained possession of the ball, deep in our zone, and I raised my hand, shouting. He lofted the ball past me, into the open terrain abandoned by Iran's fullback. I raced forward. I had only one man to beat -- an out-of-position midfielder -- and I'd be alone on the keeper. I had the angle! I'd score our second goal! The clincher! We'd advance! We'd play the Brazilians!

But I'd miscalculated. I was injured. I could manage only three-quarters speed. And the Iranian midfielder was fast. Faster than Ribaldi, even. He beat me to the ball, turned, and cleared it up field, to the fullback I was supposed to be guarding.

In horror, I watched Iran's attack unfold in slow motion, like a choreographed ballet. Jackson left his post to challenge the open fullback. The fullback passed to a midfielder. The midfielder one-touched to a striker in the corner. The striker turned, lobbed the ball back toward the net, straight to the forehead of the charging fullback I'd left unguarded. A classic give-and-go. Our keeper never had a chance.

As the Iranians celebrated, I leaned forward, my hands on my knees, all weight on my good leg. A buzz-cam hovered directly in front of my face. I swiped at it, swearing. (The picture it took -- my hand swinging in the air, my teeth bared, my soaked red hair strewn chaotically over my forehead -- would be on the front page of every Australian net for the next two days.)

I heard McDermott shout my name.

Ribaldi was jogging toward me, holding the substitution card. He slapped it onto my chest, gave me an open-palm pat on the rear, and winked at me. I "limped" slowly off the pitch, and Ribaldi reclaimed his post at left striker.

And so, when Ribaldi scored his 4,201st career goal, I was watching, on the sideline, seated in my little metal folding chair.

My new uniform is scratchy -- some kind of synthetic cotton -- and it traps sand underneath the shoulders and waistband. The logo is a Phoenix, rearing from the ground, its wings spread over a pair of pyramids.

My new stadium holds about fifteen thousand, though it's rarely filled. There are bleacher seats on both sides of the pitch, but the areas behind the goals are open to the desert. The field is green, nicely kept, but when the wind kicks up, sand from beyond the goals will blow into the face of a charging forward.

Alone in the locker room, I'm dressing for a qualifying match against Aswan. I stare at my unfamiliar face in the locker's mirror. It's an important match, I remind myself. Tens of thousands of fans depend on me.

Despite Ribaldi's heroics, Australia lost the match to Iran in an overtime shootout. The day after, the blame focused squarely on me. Why did I wave off the surgeon? How could I put my ego above the team, above Australia's taxpayers? And how could I abandon my post in our defensive shell, when I knew I couldn't move at full speed?

And then, one reporter suggested a connection to Ribaldi's injury and called for a new investigation of the malfunctioning leg mender. One of my neighbors reported seeing two Arabs, a scrawny, beady-eyed one and a tall athlete, enter my building before the match. And the speculation began. Nothing was proven, of course, or ever would be, but I was finished in Australia.

Musahan and the Persian tracked me down and honored their promise to "take care of me, after." (Evidently, they thought I'd thrown the game on purpose. I didn't persuade them otherwise.) They whisked me from Australia, changed my hair, my skin color, my face (the gap between my teeth is gone), and planted me in Wadi-Halfa, in the Egyptian League, where the teams play only for local taxes. The name on my jersey says "Khalif."

I never found out if Ribaldi had altered the new leg mender -- it was replaced after the match, exchanged for a fancy new Chinese model. And I never asked Musahan or the Persian if they'd orchestrated my injury. It didn't matter.

I close my locker and trot onto the field with my teammates. It's a windy day, so I wear plastic sunglasses, strapped to my head with elastic.

This isn't the International League, but it's football, real football, and I'm my team's leading scorer. Everyone in Egypt knows Khalif, and his tricky right foot, his mysterious western style. Everyone knows he's nobody's backup.

I will get back to the Dues Cup. I will choose my moments carefully, patiently, but I will get there, even if it takes me sixty years.

And I will never be second string again.

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