The year is 3097, and the place is a null-gravity nexus mid-space in the binary star system Kalaxon and Kalamar. Moments from now, on the face of an artificial asteroid, the final round of the Interstellar Ballblazer Championship - the greatest tournament of all time and space - will begin, and history will be made. For the first time, a creature from the planet Earth has battled through countless qualifying rounds and eliminations, enduring and then triumphing, across vast parsecs, to win the right to compete for the honor of his planet, and the ultimate title any being can possess: Masterblazer.
Ballblazer: The Game
You're strapped in a Rotofoil. So is your opponent. The screen is split so you each have your own view of the game. You see your opponent's Rotofoil, Your opponent sees yours.
You face each other. One of you presses START and the ball is fired. Go for it and get it before your opponent does. Now find the moving Goalbeams and blast the ball through for a score. It's total speed, power, and points - one on one until time runs out.
The one with the most points wins. It's easy to play - difficult to master. But go to Step One and find out for yourself.
Slan, it definitely beats working. On the other hand, there are times I'd like to be back in a Rotofoil, working the grids like any other blazer.
Arboster, this is the first time an Earthling has made the final round of the Interstellar. What are his chances?
Frankly, I think he's in trouble. These Terrans are a young species - they were barely out of their atmosphere when the game was invented.
Which Was Then?
Centuries ago, Slan, at the end of the Great Madness - back when there was still war. For deep space dogfights, you had to maneuver your vehicle under the incredible g-forces of close combat - reverse thrust instantly, sustaining plasma-torpedo blasts on your energy shield, that sort of thing. The g-forces during space combat would snap your neck like a toothpick.
And so a new breed arose, right? The thick necks, the shortened synaptic connections, the triple-walled lungs.
Exactly. Part of it was old-fashioned genetic engineering, of course. But Ballblazing developed from actual military training exercises. They used vehicles like our Rotofoils, and forcefields to simulate sudden changes in direction and acceleration. Deadly stuff. They busted up ten recruits for every one that saw action in space. Praise Mind, the Great Madness is behind us, and what we have left is the finest sport of all time.
Crockett on Forcefields:
"Any Blazer who doesn't understand forcefields doesn't understand the game. Imagine that your Rotofoil is surrounded by a big pillow of energy - that's your Bumpfield, and objects, like other Rotofoils, bounce off it."
"When the Plasmorb gets close - about seven and a half meters - your Pullfield is activated and captures the ball. Of course, this is a 'smart' forcefield - it centers the ball on the goal side, as your Rotofoil snaps around to face it. Then you're ready to make a charge downgrid and make a goal."
"Finally, you activate your Pushfield with the fire buttons. It's as if the big energy pillow is suddenly pushing out. It only works when the Plasmorb is within ten meters. You can tell when the ball is close enough to use the Pushfield by listening for the buzz."
Is it true that a Masterblazer such as yourself has the most highly evolved nervous system of any creature in the galaxy?
Oh, gee, Slan, I don't know about that. The Scylliac venom hunters on Trogon - the guys who actually grab the fangs - those are pretty fast boys.
Modesty aside, Arboster...
(Deep Sigh) Well, Slan, Ballblazing isn't just a sport. It's deep discipline for the nervous system. When the on-board computer rotosnaps you ninety degrees, just keeping a clear head can be the toughest part of it all. But it's worth it. Once you have the pace of Ballblazing, dealing with the rest of the galaxy seems like vacation.
Excuse me, Arboster. Here are the two Rotofoils now, vectoring onto the field. Crockett, from Earth, is in purple, and Xarta, representing the Minotaur System, is in orange. In the background we're hearing the traditional "Song of the Grid." That's auto-improvised, of course...Based on the contributions of former Masterblazers, it is really an honor to hear my own melody in there among those of the other Masters.
The musical essence of Masterblazers of old is heard, as each Rotofoil takes its place, ready for the first face-off. And the two best Ballblazers in the galaxy are starting down the grid, meditating on the "Song," waiting. Xarta attracted some attention coming up through the preliminaries, didn't he?
Sure he did. The scaly Minotaur can shut out a Level 9 droid in less than a minute, But beating a Droid doesn't mean you can beat a human. Wherever you go, there's one regulation Ballblazer game - three minutes, two players, one victor.
Stirring words, Arboster - and here we go! The Plasmorb blasts in from our left, and both Xarta and Crockett are already accelerating downfield. Each had full stick forward even before the orb appeared.
All these boys are hearing now is that freeball rhythm, driving, driving...
All right! Crockett's Rotofoil has captured the orb in its Pullfield and now he's veering right, heading for the goal, trying to get around Xarta.
The goal is moving, of course, in the same direction the ball is fired.
There you go. Crockett's sighted the goal but he's reversing direction, backing up, faking out Xarta. He's back to where the goalbeams must have already disappeared over the horizon - but he blasts anyway. That's it! Three points for the Earthling with an early over-the-horizon shot!
And you do want to get those OTH shots in early, Slan, before the goal begins to shrink.
Arboster, you're often credited with perfecting the OTH shot...
Somebody had to.
OK. Here we go, second face-off, the ball blasts from the right this time, with Xarta out in front. The Minotaur has it! - and his Rotofoil rotates to face the goal.
Sign of a good player here is not losing his orientation Rotosnap. Move forward, forward...
But Crockett is catching up alongside him now - part of the Minotaur's Rotofoil power goes into that activated Pullfield. But Crockett's not using his Pushfield yet.
Good play You want to get in close, really hear that electromagnetic buzz in your helmet before you blast. "Max the buzz," is what we teach the nestlings on my planets.
All right. Crockett blasts the ball away from the Minotaur, but Xarta recovers. Crockett is blocking but - there it is! Straight past the Earthling, into the goal, two points for Xarta.
Classic goal defense there by the Earthling - stay between your goal and the opponent. But it's no match for a good angle shot.
Arboster, we've seen some quick scoring here today.
That's right. These boys have been competing since age twelve. This is the Terran's chance to make a big splash in the galaxy, so a lot is riding on young Crockett.
And here goes the third faceoff. Ball in from the right this time, the Rotofoils race down, and Crockett is there a microsecond before Xarta - but he doesn't immediately capture the ball. He's...
What we're seeing here is some fine Pushfield dribbling. Crockett knows that if he captures the ball he'll lose power, so he's keeping his Pushfield activated. Each time he gets near the ball, the Pushfield bounces it forward. Fine control there, by the Earthling. But he has to capture the ball to score.
There - he captures, swings the ball to the left of his field view and blasts...
...and misses. The ball bounces off the electroboundary and to the left of the Goalbeam. Xarta accelerates, captures...
Crockett is already moving back. He's going to try a block midfield, but Xarta is out ahead.
The Earthling has the right idea - the key to active defense is to keep moving, keep moving...
Incredible! Xarta makes an angle shot, the orb bounces off the electroboundary and back into the Grid. He maneuvers around the Earthling, captures the ball directly in front of the goal...
--and that's it! The horizon flashes with the scoring electomagnetic pulse, and that's another point for the Minotaur. Comment, Arboster?
That score looks close, but I think it's obvious that we're seeing an outclassed player here. I'd wager to say that a few hundred million hearts are sinking on Earth now.
As indeed there are. For the next two minutes, billions of Earthlings, scattered throughout their tiny solar system, hang on every word of the distant ethercast, hopes rising, then dimming, as face-off after face-of, Xarta from the Minotaur system holds the Terran to a handful of points.
|Crockett on Offense:
"Offense is ball control - learning the ways of the Plasmorb. At the face-off, have your stick forward, move out and capture the Plasmorb - it'll change to your color, and you'll rotosnap to face the goal. Don't blast the instant you capture the ball. Wait for the Rotosnap, get oriented, then head for the Goalbeams - they'll be moving in the same direction the ball was blasted in."
"Watch your screen. When the Plasmorb is aimed between the Goalbeams, blast. If you're in close, you get one point. Farther back, two. And if you can't actually see the Goalbeams - you get three. The Goalbeams narrow after each score, so go for two- and three-pointers first. If you get ten points, it's a shutout. Otherwise, the winner has the highest score at the end of the game period. If you're tied, you go into overtime, and the next score takes all."
"Once you get the feel of it, try some angle shots. Let the Plasmorb swing to one side of the viewscreen, then blast - it will go in that direction. To get around a blocker, use an angle shot off the wall. Bounce the ball off the electroboundary, past your opponent's Rotofoil, then rush forward and capture it again."
"When you get good, try Pushfield dribbling. Keep your firebutton down as you approach the Plasmorb. Instead of catching it in your Pullfield - which uses 25% of your energy - just nudge the Plasmorb along in front of you. Then capture it when you want to blast a goal."
Crockett on Defense:
"Even the best Blazer doesn't have the ball all the time. When you don't, you're on defense and you've got two choices: buzz-blasting and blocking."
"If you're chasing downgrid, don't get directly behind him - jam in from the side to buzz-blast the ball away. Then you've got to grab that free-ball for yourself."
"You know you're within blasting range when you hear the buzz. The closer you are, the louder the buzz, the better the blast."
"The toughest part of buzz-blasting is knowing when you've rotosnapped to face the ball. Keep rotosnapping back and forth and listen for the sound of the rotosnap - that's how you know you've changed direction. Then when you overtake your opponent, you've got to remember which side you're on. It's easier to just do it, than try to talk about it."
"Blocking is a tougher kind of defense - at least for tyros. It means situating yourself between the goal and the opponent. Keep him centered in your viewscreen. I usually know telepathically what the view is from my opponent's rotofoil. And I try to keep myself right between his goalbeams. You can do it, too."
Now with fewer than fifteen seconds remaining, the Terran Crockett is behind nine to one and the face off begins.
And here we go with the last face-off; the clock is running, the orb blasts in from the right. Look at that Earthling move!
He's captured the ball and rushes the goal - but pulls back - catching Xarta by surprise.
And there are the first notes of the final countdown...
It's an impossible long shot...
Incredible! He made it! The horizon is flashing, the clock stops with just 2.5 seconds to run...three points for the Terran pushes his score back to four points against Xarta's six.Slan, we're seeing history here. One more point and the score goes to five all. Then the game could go into sudden death overtime.
Face-off, the Rotofoils in front of their goals, the orb blasts in - 600 meters per second - the Terran rushes and...
One second, Xarta has captured the orb. He's backing up, killing time...
And that's it! The clock hits zero, the Terran's Rotofoil spins out in the traditional loser's penance, the atmosphere over the asteroid glows with the orange color of the victor from Minotaur system.
One remarkable contest, Slan. I think...
Wait one microsecond. Xarta has remained on the Grid, to accompany the Terran Rotofoil off the field. It's a gesture I don't think we've seen in this tournament for centuries! Arboster?
It's a brand-new Masterblazer's tribute to an up-and- coming species, Slan. I'd say that we're going to be hearing more about Earthlings. A few millennia from now, these Terrans are likely to be real contenders.
Thank you, Arboster Kipling. This is Slan Sterling, Voice of the Void, returning you to your local ethercast. We'll see you here, next solar cycle, same place, same game. In fact, the only game: Ballblazer. Three minutes, two players, one victor!
S: An incredible match, Xarta.
X: Great Mind, I'm a wreck. Where in the void did this Terran come from?
S: Little G-class star, nothing fancy, just off the Main Sequence.
X: What a Blazer. His neurons must fire at warp-speed.
S: But not quite fast enough. Xarta, by Tournament law, you're now retired. Care to pass on a few tips to Blazers on the way up?
X: As long as it doesn't get back to the Earthlings.
S: Of course.
X: OK. Here's an old Minotaur trick for over-the-horizon shots. Shoot when you can still just make out the Goalbeams. The reaction of the blast knocks you back, over the horizon - and the score is based on your position when the Plasmorb actually passes through the goal. Best trick in the galaxy for turning two points into three.
S: How about the way you escaped the Earthling in the second minute?
X: Simple. I'm moving downgrid with the ball, and I know he's right behind me. I can almost see his viewing screen, with me right in the middle of it. So I blast. The ball goes forward and I recoil back right into him, blasting him back to where I can get to the ball first.
S: Anything for close-in goal play?
X: Here's one I learned from Arboster. If you have the Plasmorb, but you're up against the boundary and need to move back to shoot, hold your stick forward and blast - you'll blast back to three-point range, and you can catch the ball on the rebound.
S: How about for the tyros, just starting out?
X: Go out on the Grid, and practice aiming just outside the Goalbeams. The Plasmorb bounces back, instead of going through the whole goal sequence. You get more practice in a short time.
S: Anything else?
X: Yeah. Stay away from Earthlings. Something tells me those guys are really gonna be trouble.
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