Excerpt for The Nar-Nar Conspiracy by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


By Chad Descoteaux

Kratek. (Neptune’s capitol city)

Walking briskly through the offices of Neptu-Net, his home planet’s largest media outlet, investigative reporter Zurtaugh was holding something in a firm fist. He was holding it so tight that his knuckles turned a lighter shade of green than they normally were. Pulling his brimmed hat down, to avoid making eye contact with the other reporters in this newsroom, Zurtaugh could still hear their conversation.

They were talking about people that Zurtaugh had heard about many times before, ad nauseum. But it wasn’t his coworkers’ family or friends. In fact, these coworkers were talking with fervent enthusiasm about people they themselves had never met in person. Yet, they knew quite a bit about them. Or at least everything they had gathered from media interviews. Particularly their statistics, how well they had performed for their respective sports teams. Or whether or not they should be traded and where. And what team would benefit the most from what player’s inclusion.

Tronim was a terrible center when he played for Peak City. He’s better with Blichik in charge.”

Yeah, but Tronim is a veteran. Blichik should at least listen to him. The whole Warriors team could learn a lot about defending the line during a double run.”

True that. Especially Zwim. He’s such a show-off.”

Occasionally, these conversations about Neptune’s most popular athletes was spiced up by a comment about how beautiful the player’s girlfriends were. Since most of them dated models and movie stars, that was the only aspect of the conversation that Zurtaugh would ever throw in his two cents. God, I’m lonely, Zurtaugh thought to himself, the newly-divorced father brushing that thought aside to focus on his work.

Closing the door to his office in the midst of a heated sports conversation, Zurtaugh opened his fist, revealing a spherical data disc that contained a story that he had written the previous night. Zurtaugh knew the impact that this story would have and the controversy that it would cause. This is why he put forth extra effort into his normal, professional habit of checking and triple-checking his sources.

The photos that he had been given blipped onto his computer’s hologram sphere screen as soon as it was popped into the drive. He saw Graktu, wealthy owner of the Kratek Knights’ professional sports team, having dinner with a powerful union leader. Papers were slipped across the table and signed in between pricy, spicy appetizers and strong, exotic alcoholic drinks. Zurtaugh knew all the ethical questions that this meeting would raise. Especially for someone like Graktu, who had just been picked as the Vice Elder runnimg mate of the current Grand Elder Thortu. Thortu was running for his second term in a few months and his former Vice Elder had just resigned after a messy scandal involving eavesdropping on private citizens.

Odd choice to sell the team to, Zurtaugh said, scrolling through numerous photos and video interview clips with a swipe of his finger. I know he has to sell the team before he’s elected, but Graktu’s got enough trillionaire friends that he can…

Zurtaugh’s heart jumped into his throat when the silence around him was shattered by a commanding man’s voice. He went from thinking that he was alone and focusing on his work to letting out a frightened scream and tripping over his desk chair. He stumbled backwards when he heard the man in the shadows speaking to him.

“Mr. Zurtaugh,” said the Neptunian man who had been sitting silently in the corner since before Zurtaugh had walked in. He was wearing formal business attire, the kind one would expect from a Neptunian government official. “Pardon me for startling you, but we have an urgent matter to discuss.”

“Are you from Planetary Service?” Zurtaugh asked, putting his chair back under his desk.

“I am from a branch of the Planetary Service Guild who works directly with Grand Elder Thortu.” The man stood up, pulling an envelope out of the pocket in his necktie.

Damn, Zurtaugh thought. High-ranking. Pressing a button that closed down his hologram computer, or at least blacked it out momentarily, Zurtaugh asked, “You here to make me shut down this story?”

Seeming offended, the shadow agent nodded, opening his mouth like he was surprised to hear this very insulting suggestion. “Mr. Zurtaugh. That would be a horrific breach of our planet’s Constitution. Freedom of speech, the press…”

“Which doesn’t answer my question,” Zurtaugh stated, clearly suspicious of his visitor.

“Of course not,” the man answered directly. “I am simply here to ask a favor of you. I want you to publish your story, by all means, just as you intended. But I want you to wait two calendar days to do so.” Placing the envelope on Zurtaugh’s desk, the man pointed to the day he was referring to on a desk calendar. “If you do, your bank account will increase…by this amount.”

His journalistic integrity firm as a rock in what he saw to be an assault on it, Zurtaugh glared at this government intruder, not even looking down at the envelope. “That’s it? Wait two days before I drop this bomb and you’ll pay me a bunch of credits?”

“I know you like to double-check your sources. You take tomorrow to do just that. And you’ll be doing your planet an invaluable service as well,” the shadow man stated, clearly planning to leave as he backed towards the door of this office. “Just think about it, Mr. Zurtaugh. In a free society, that is all we can ask…as your public servants…is for you to think.”

When this government agent was gone, Zurtaugh did not hesitate to send his expose on Graktu, via a secure computer network, to Kru, his editor, with a note denoting its urgency. And he slid a government check for a considerable sum of Neptunian money into his laser paper shredder.

He knew what this was about…and what was so special about two days from now.

It was the start of nar-nar season.

Nar-Nar, the most popular sport on the blue, watery planet of Neptune, would be “kicking off” (to coin a strange human phrase) in two days with a large patriotic ceremony and a game between bitter rivals. The Kratek Knights would be playing the Coast City Thwips, a rematch of last year’s Stinger Cove championship game. It was all Zurtaugh’s coworkers could talk about for weeks. They had planned catered parties to watch it after Neptu-Net’s relationship advice columnist lost his season tickets in a bitter divorce. “I would have gave her the stupid boat!” Zurtaugh had heard this die-hard nar-nar fan lament.

Zurtaugh knew well of certain government agencies and their tendency to do things only on days when a nar-nar match was being televised. Because most news networks on Neptune used satellite-projected brain algorithms to determine in what order stories should be presented to the public, nar-nar matches always ended up on the front pages of these news networks, even when something far more important to the planet or educational was in the news. Even news about the Neptunian-Lunar War, a military skirmish that had just ended a few months prior, was upstaged by news of a rookie linesman from the desert moon of Triton being drafted by the Gnarpin Gladiators. Neptunian residents cared more about the game, the escapism, than what was actually going on in their world.

This Planetary Service agent knew, that if Zurtaugh’s expose ended up in the news at the same time as the nar-nar opening day game, that it would receive considerably less attention from the masses. And Zurtaugh knew that he knew. Zurtaugh wanted what he had discovered to be exposed to the largest audience possible, especially in the same year as what he saw as a pivotal election. That is why he submitted the story to his editor anyway.


Zurtaugh woke up the next morning and got out of bed very quietly. He knew that his six-year-old daughter would not have to go to school today and that she would want to sleep in. Zurtaugh walked into his living room and opened shades and curtains that gave him a breathtaking view of one of Neptune’s smaller oceans, reflecting the bright sun off his purple, segmented eyes. He turned on his laptop comm-link and opened the browser to Neptu-Net. To his horror, his Graktu/Union story was nowhere to be found on page one.

Did they pay off Kru? Zurtaugh asked, slamming his device shut. That scum-sucking cagpus! He grunted with frustration as he headed into his kitchen to make breakfast for himself and his daughter. He knew that she liked to wake up to the smells of fresh cooking and, with all the difficulties that she had been dealing with lately, least of which her parents’ divorce, he wanted to provide a home-cooked meal for her. Plus, cooking would calm him as well.

Zurtaugh saw the top of someone’s head, running by his kitchen window as he washed a few dishes in the sink. Dismissing it as one of the neighborhood kids shortcutting through his yard to get to the beach on such a nice day, he paid it no mind. Probably Bloxnor, he thought. Such a nice boy. His mom is gorgeous too. I should go over and say ‘hi’ after breakfast. God, I’m lonely.

Right then, there was an explosion, on the side of Zurtaugh’s house that faced the beach’s expansive parking lot. This explosion resulted in his daughter’s bedroom and the bathroom next to it abruptly caving into the house’s foundation. There was a spray of blistering green flame and smoldering debris that buried what remained of this little girl’s bed, furniture and toys.

The police investigated. Fire fighters pulled Zurtaugh’s daughter out of the rubble and she was pronounced dead on the scene. The official report stated a malfunction in the house’s thertak heating system, one that had resulted in the boiler exploding.

But who was that running through my yard? Zurtaugh wondered from between tears and the deepest pits of his grief. None of the eyewitness interviews conducted by the police answered that question in the least. Contrary to Zurtaugh’s initial assertions, the young neighborhood boy Bloxnor was nowhere to be found, as he was shopping with his mother when the explosion happened. I saw someone running by. And no one saw nothing! What is going on here?

Two days later.

In the direct center of the planet’s largest and busiest walled city was Mercurian Ale Stadium, named after the beverage company (from the planet Mercury) that had purchased it decades ago. Mobs of Neptunian citizens and one-eyed, purple-skinned Triton immigrants (from their neighboring moon) flooded into this sports arena, most of them wearing jerseys of their favorite teams and players. Flags of each team flapped above them in the afternoon breeze as the line moved at a snail’s pace. Even though a war between Neptune and Triton had just ended months ago, this interracial group of fans were united by the enthusiasm of this exciting physical contest and genuinely felt like family, more so when their fifth or sixth Mercurian beer set in.

Mercurian beer is the only beer in the solar system that is made from meat (of a Mercurian crab) and not plants like most beer. This made it a very special treat for all the adult fans who sipped this interplanetary delicacy, watching intently as both nar-nar teams took the field. Two lines of players, wearing numbered jerseys, jogged out of adjacent, subterranean tunnels to the tumultuous enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands of cheering fans. These players were wearing thick, protective pads under their jerseys, raising curved sticks into the air to greet the spectators.

The Planetary Anthem was sung by a young, teeny-bopper pop sensation whose music, clothes and other aspects of her image were carefully manufactured by the powerful Martian record company that put her music in front of the Neptunian public. This meant that veteran defenseman Drohmr would have no idea who she was. But, being old-fashioned, Drohmr appreciated that she was dressed a bit more modestly now than she did in her music videos and concerts. Her belly button was covered, as were the scaly, smooth, pointy bumps on her green head. This, in his mind, was a sign of respect for their planet’s anthem, a song that boasted about the freedoms that were granted to all Neptunian citizens.

And it also meant respect for Neptune’s army. This made Drohmr think of his brother, Drachma, who had fought in the Lunar War. Standing and placing his hand on his chest, Drohmr listened to the song with the same appreciation that he had during his first nar-nar match over twenty years ago.

“Nice young lady,” Drohmr muttered under his breath as the already-tipsy crowd applauded the skillful high notes of this talented singer. He was positive that he would never remember her name, but was glad she didn’t flaunt her body shamelessly during this dignified song about Neptune’s history. Drohmr remembered a pop singer that had done this during the championship game one year and was happy that she had been banned from all future Planetary Nar-Nar League games, even as a spectator. Years later, families of slain Neptunian soldiers would spit on her as she walked down the street, despite being surrounded by bodyguards who were afraid to start fights with people who simply felt they were supporting the military.

The players took their positions on the field. The centers for the Kratek Knights and the Coast City Thwips faced off in the center circle, on the fake grass of this field. There was a linesman and a defensemen to their left and two more players to their right. And the goalie, the guy with the really thick pads and thicker face mask, was far behind the center, defending the goal, slapping his padded glove with a curved stick, a stick that was much thicker than the other players’. He was trying to keep himself psyched up for the game. “Come on!” he called out, his voice unrecognizable, muffled by the mask. “Let’s do this!”

Two teams’ worth of nar-nar players crouched into their ready stances, holding their curved sticks tightly in anticipation for the start of the match, as the crowd got quiet fast. When a small hole popped open in the ground beneath them, a poisonous, wing-less insect with sharp, dripping pincers on its face was shot into the air by an air cannon, its six legs flailing. The angry buzzing of this insect, nicknamed a ‘stinger’, was drowned out by the roar of the crowd when the center for the Kratek Knights, the home team, caught the stinger in mid-air, pivoting his feet before passing to his right linesman.

Each time the stinger was passed, every curved stick that the insect found itself in, made the stinger angrier and angrier. This was why very few nar-nar players had the courage to run more than a few steps with the football-sized insect before passing it off. Even though they had pads that were supposed to protect them from most bites, the stinger was very diligent, crawling up the stick towards the player as soon as it could regain its balance, its pincers biting the surrounding air with venom dripping.

Waiting until the left linesman for the Thwips had caught the stinger after a long pass from the center, all broad-shouldered Drohmr had to do was chest bump this quick, limber, but unusually-skinny rookie for him to drop the stinger. Drohmr knew he couldn’t jump high enough to intercept the stinger and didn’t want to get penalized for pass interference, so he waited until the kid had the ball in his stick and clobbered him promptly.

But since both Drohmr and the rookie were in an open part of the field, there were no other players to catch the airborne insect. The stinger hit the ground, sprung onto its feet, and immediately started running angrily towards the rookie linesman, chopping his pincers fervently. A few of his teammates offered shouting words of warning as the stinger grabbed onto this rookie’s leg, found an exposed piece of flesh between the pads, and bit into it.

A whistle was blown that failed to drown out the pained scream of this collapsed athlete. Biting a player meant that this particular stinger was now out of play. Whipping out a spear that doubled in size with the flick of a wrist, a referee stabbed the stinger through the shell, killing it and taking it off the field to be disposed of. The player was helped off the field by speedy medical personnel who immediately tended to the painful, purple inflammation of the stinger venom. This rookie, like the stinger, would soon be replaced on the field, but only after the two minute “bite penalty” was over, which would leave the Thwips short-handed for a time.

It was a low-scoring game for both teams, somewhat unusual in this particular sport. But Drohmr was in rare form, setting team and league records for blocks and interceptions as his fellow Knights bested the Thwips in this season opener, 2-1.

The veteran defenseman managed to sneak out of the stadium without being interviewed by any of the reporters who were always sniffing around after the game, looking for a sound or video clip for their bosses. But he did overhear one such interview as he was tiptoeing past the locker room, towards the outside door, ignoring the usual aches and pains that came with his age.

“What do you think was the key component in your victory here?” asked the reporter.

“I think the main thing was that we kept the stinger out of the hands of the other team,” replied the Knights’ team captain, their third-year right linesman. He made it obvious with his direct, simplistic words that he got through school on a sports scholarship (and his looks, getting pretty girls to write his reports for him) and not necessarily ‘scholastics’, per say. “And got that stinger into the intended goal in a consistent way, so that we scored more points than the other team.”

Thanks for explaining the rules, kid, thought Drohmr sarcastically as the door closed tight behind him. All the fans are drunk now, anyway.


There would not be another Kratek Knights game for three more days. While most of his teammates stayed in fancy hotel rooms in the Kratek area before flying to the city of Gnarpin for their next game, Drohmr wanted to spend time with his family. He drove for two hours through the claustrophobic traffic of clear, underground traffic tubes, from which he could see trash of all kinds that had been buried in the soil all around him.

Driving down Tubeway B-52 and seeing the neon sign for airborne Tubeway C-21, which would have taken him in the opposite direction east, Drohmr was reminded of his youth, growing up on a farm. C-21 was the exit that his father used to take to get back home every few months after going to the farmer’s market in Kratek to sell their produce.

Drohmr remembers roughhousing with his younger brother Drachma in the back seat of the family hovercraft as his father navigated the traffic. Although his father normally didn’t mind his sons slapping each other all the way home, one year, his father fervently instructed them to stop and was adamant about it. Dad was afraid that his sons would accidentally damage the precious cargo in the rear hold, something that he had purchased at the fair and that was essential to the future of his business. So, that year, Drohmr just gawked at the other kids in the surrounding vehicles while his brother did the same from the other side.

Drohmr remembers the towering waterfalls of various widths that fell from the surrounding mountains and irrigated the farms below. Even though Drohmr grew up around these waterfalls, the sight of them after a long trip reconfirmed that he was back home in the farm town of Squanto.

Drohmr remembers the hard-working farmhands who toiled tirelessly to compete with surrounding farms, farmers with corporate backing who could afford various robots to assist them. Drohmr knew that the big smile on his father’s face when he got out of the car meant that he was confident in his plan to up the farm’s budget by a considerable margin. He opened the rear cargo hold and pulled out a crate that seemed to be heavy for him.

It was filled with stingers.

For years after that, Drohmr’s father bred stingers and made extra money, when the farm was falling behind, by selling them to both the Gripthar University athletics department and Planetary Nar-Nar League. When Drohmr reached secondary school, he was put in charge of their care. He dumped small pellets of mineral feed into their enclosures after school so they could eat and just watched passively as they devoured the food, even fighting amongst themselves if two stingers wanted the same pellet. It was his profound respect for these vicious little creatures that served him well when he joined his secondary school’s nar-nar team.

Of course, playing nar-nar at the high school level did not involve an actual poisonous insect. Parents in this small town would never have allowed such a thing. The small, electronic ‘play-stingers’ that they used had sensors on them that could only be held in the stick for a few seconds before beeping. This was designed to simulate how long it might take a stinger to crawl up a player’s arm in the pros. If you were holding this electronic ball when it beeped, you were sent to the penalty box. Drohmr appreciated this ‘training wheels’ version of nar-nar a lot more than his young, macho, trash-talking teammates. They were eager to play with the real thing. But, on the farm, Drohmr had seen first-hand how vicious these insects really were. Especially when the farmers wanted them to either breed or die.

There is a chemical called gnarznian stek that is used to enhance breeding on stinger farms. When this chemical is absorbed through the stinger’s skin, it heightens the equivalent of adrenaline in these insects and drives them into a crazed, venom-foaming frenzy. If a male is exposed to this chemical and he is around a female, he will immediately ‘jump her bones’ (to coin a human phrase…stingers don’t have bones) whether its mating season or not and her womb would be bursting with pupa-filled eggs within the hour.

If a male is exposed to this chemical and he is around another male, the heightened sexual arousal will make him see this other stinger as a rival for the next female that comes along, even if there is none around at the moment. And he will attack, ripping that insect to bits in under 6 seconds. Farmers who were raising stingers used this chemical for both purposes, to have more stingers to sell…and to weed out the weaker stingers that the PNL wouldn’t want to buy anyway. Drohmr himself had tossed quite a few weak, frail, sickly stingers in the same glass box with a frenzied stinger, just to watch the ensuing melee. Even though they were just insects, who would likely die after biting a nar-nar player on the field, the sight of their white insides splattering on the enclosure’s glass was horrifying.

Drohmr excelled at his athletics all through his schooling and was a first-round draft pick to the Kratek Knights the year of his graduation from Gripthar U. Drohmr’s dream of playing in the PNL with his younger brother was shattered when Drachma signed up for the military right out of secondary school, turning down an offer from the Sand City Finkerals to be their goalie.

Drachma would always keep in touch with Drohmr, sending post cards from whatever planet or moon he happened to be on in his military-sanctioned travels. Drohmr knew how tough his brother was and that he could take care of himself. He was so confident in this fact that he didn’t even worry much about his brother during the Neptunian-Lunar War. He knew that Drachma was stationed on Triton, right in the combat zone with his best friend Blichnor. Despite this, the only worrying that he did was after the war, when he saw all the troops coming home on the news, but got no messages from his brother.

Landing his hover car in front of the endless strip of condos on this mountainous peak, Drohmr’s heart was warmed that the first person he saw upon arriving home was his seventeen-year-old daughter Aluhna, who had just finished her daily jog around this housing complex. Her face immediately lit up and Drohmr wasn’t able to open his hover car door the whole way before she ran up to give him a big hug.

They immediately started talking about sports. But not nar-nar. They discussed Aluhna’s track and field team at school. Drohmr’s wife, Aluhna’s mom Quee, wasn’t home from the grocery store yet, so they went downstairs, into their gym area to talk.

Drohmr’s heart was warmed by how understanding both his wife and his daughter were at all the traveling he had to do as a pro athlete. They appreciated the compromise that Drohmr had made, that Aluhna and her mom would travel with him during the two months of the nar-nar season that she wasn’t in school. Aluhna knew that her father wasn’t abandoning her to party with the younger members of his team. Her mom knew that as well. They trusted him and his sadly-old-fashioned, honor-bound sense of morality implicitly.

Drohmr wasn’t proud of the way he was when he was Aluhna’s age, attending secondary school. He certainly didn’t think he was a good role model for his own daughter, the way that he focused on sports and barely squeezed by with his grades, even getting girls that he dated to help him cheat on the harder tests.

But Drohmr’s daughter thankfully had her mother’s smarts and his athletic ability, which is why, when Aluhna was showing her father the trophy she had just won in her last 3-plutar (100-meter) race, Drohmr quickly changed the subject to her classes and her grades. He asked her how she did on her biology test, a subject that she had struggled with the year before. He strongly encouraged Aluhna to “attack it from both sides”, meaning her adult life after school. Partially because the body, especially for an athlete, doesn’t last quite as long as the mind.

“Even if someone goes senile when they get old, like your old man,” Drohmr told his daughter with a playful, self-effacing quip. “The mind still lasts longer than your tendons.”

“Yeah, but Dad. There are way more rich athletes than there are rich scientists on Neptune,” Aluhna replied, bringing a harsh reality of his home planet back to Drohmr’s mind. “No one asks scientists for autographs that they can charge money for, no one puts scientists on collector cards and they never get endorsement deals that they can do after they are old and retired.”

Unable to counter his daughter’s reasoning, Drohmr replied, “You want your face on a cereal box, don’t you?”

“And my own atheletic shoes,” she replied, teasing her father with her pretty smile. “Air-Luhna!”


Sitting on his couch, sipping a Mercurian Ale and trying to relax while his wife cooked dinner, Drohmr’s mind was torn by the nar-nar match that he found himself watching on his hologram TV. He tried to watch it passively, just as a fan who has always loved the sport. But because the visiting team in this particular match was the Gnarpin Gladiators and the Knights were set to play them in a few days, Drohmr couldn’t help but be in ‘work mode’ when he watched this game, studying the skill and strategies of these amazing players.

LIVE…from Glipnu’s Processed Meat Stadium!” boomed the announcer over an aerial view of a sports arena that was named after a large corporation, like most on Neptune. “The Sand City Finkerals…versus the Gnarpin Gladiators!”

“Have you seen Pernick play yet, Dad?” Aluhna asked.

“I have not. I’m a little behind with the college games. He’s supposed to be the best rookie the league has seen in years.”

“Oh, he is.”

Per usual, the game started with the Planetary Anthem, sung by a spirited choir from a local arts school. The viewing audience of trillions of Neptunians watched sweeping shots of the players from both teams as they put their hands on their chests. But this particular viewing audience got an unusual ‘treat’ when they noticed that Pernick, a one-eyed purple-skinned immigrant from the desert moon of Triton (and a refugee from the Lunar War) was standing on his head.

There were other Triton members on the Planetary Nar-Nar League, most of them Lunar War refugees. They all knew what standing on one’s head meant in their culture. It was a sign of respect, something they did for their own moon’s anthem. But most of the Triton immigrants on the PNL conformed to the Neptunian tradition of putting one’s hand on their chest while the anthem was playing.

Cultural ignorance swelled in the stadium until Pernick walked onto the field, being announced as “the newest member of the Gnarpin Gladiators!” What should have been a moment of tumultuous applause, a standing ovation for this star rookie, became a barrage of livid booing in between ferocious cursing and taunts by the mostly Neptunian audience. Some fans were even so bold as to throw trash onto the field in protest. While these fans were not kicked out of the stadium because they were in the good seats and likely wealthy, the owners of both teams took notice. Because their wealthiest season ticket holders were very upset.

“Well, that kid just screwed his career,” Drohmr muttered under his breath. “Disrespectful punk.”

“Dad, you realize that’s the way they salute their leaders on Triton,” Aluhna replied, recalling one of her social studies classes. “It’s a sign of respect, putting yourself in a vulnerable position so the one in authority could push you over if he wanted to. But they return the honor if they don’t.”

Drohmr had to admit that he was not aware of that particular Triton tradition. “The other Triton nar-nar players don’t do that,” he said, thinking of his brother again. He was still worried about not hearing from him since the war ended, fearing he had been killed by Triton insurgents. “They respect where they’re standing. They’d better…after all the Neptunian soldiers who freed their people and brought them here.”

“Like Uncle Drachma?”


When Pernick was interviewed after the game, he very easily could have explained the misunderstanding to the sports reporter, that he meant no disrespect and that he was simply trying to include his own culture into his work…to bring hope to other displaced Triton immigrants on Neptune.

But he was angry. He was angry for being booed by people who didn’t get him. The fans were so angry about the anthem that they even refused to cheer for him when he scored goals. And he had scored nine, a league record for a player’s first PNL game. The Gladiators had won the game 10-2 and Pernick got no credit for his overwhelming contribution. You do what the man wants you do to and you still gotta take crap on this planet, Pernick thought, angrily tossing his helmet onto a bench on the sidelines.

So, walking into the long hallway that led to the locker room, the adrenaline of the game still pumping into his singular eyeball, Pernick let his anger out when he was asked about standing on his head.

He told the sports reporter that he stood on his head out of protest. And then, he started rattling off 100% verifiable statistics about the disproportionate amount of unarmed Tritons that get killed by Neptunian police officers in the larger Neptunian cities. He didn’t mention his uncle Raju by name. To most Neptunian officials, Raju had become one of those statistics.

“News networks refuse to give Triton immigrants an outlet to talk about this stuff,” Pernick said, staring directly into the largest camera that was pointed at him. “You score nine goals in a row. You make enough noise…that’s your outlet, God’s children!”

The sports news media had enough material from Pernick’s relatively-brief statement for the next couple of days’ worth of all-day programming, as countless league commentators threw in their two cents about his actions. Some thought he was disrespecting the troops who had just won the Lunar War, given that the lyrics to the Planetary Anthem were all about defending freedom through war (somehow). Others thought he had a valid point, but disagreed that this was the appropriate way to voice it.

“I’m sure that kid’s going to get invited on a bunch of talk shows like this one, especially the way he played today,” the Warriors coach said on a podcast called ‘Box Seats’. “I do believe that he should have saved his political views for then.”

“Well, he was asked,” the host of the show chimed in.

“True, but I’m sure he could have inspired a lot of people with his passion instead of overshadowing his amazing performance in today’s game by shoehorning negativity into something that families all across this planet use for escapism.”

Drohmr tried his best to ignore it all. He went into his basement and trained hard, to get his aging body ready for the next game, which would take place in Gnarpin, in Zermin’s Butt Cream Stadium, home of the Gladiators, in a few days.

He shouldn’t have been surprised that a reporter asked him about Pernick’s comments before the game, as he was emerging from the locker room, swinging his nar-nar stick like it was a knight’s sword. Drohmr had forgotten momentarily that he was scheduled to appear on ‘Box Seats’ after the game. He felt this would have been a better time to discuss things that really had nothing to do with the game itself. And he was a little annoyed that this question had broken his pre-game focus.

“My brother’s a veteran of the Neptunian Lunar War,” Drohmr told the reporter stoically, slapping his padded glove with his stick. “I have no damn clue if he is alive or dead. I think that kid needs to learn some manners.” Just then, a game announcer was addressing the crowd, signaling the start of the game. Drohmr’s teammates were all filing out into the team’s side box. Drohmr joined them, muttering, “And I’m gonna teach him some.”

Drohmr was not surprised to see Pernick standing on his head for the anthem again. But he was surprised at the drastically different response he got from this, his team’s home field crowd. Yes, Gnarpin has a larger Triton population than Kratek and this was evident by the beautiful mix of purple and green skin in the crowd. But what surprised Drohmr is that other Triton members of both the Gnarpin Gladiators and his own Kratek Knights were standing on their heads as well, in support of what Pernick was trying to say. The crowd reacted with the same cheerful abandon that they normally did at nar-nar games and gave the ballsy new rookie a 6-minute standing ovation for his first home game. A few scattered boos could be heard from the crowd, but nothing like that last game in Kratek.

Brushing away the perceived disrespect to his soldier brother, Drohmr refocused his attention on the game. He swelled with tense anger that would result in this nar-nar veteran playing rougher with Pernick when he was covering him than he ever did with anyone in his whole career.

The crowd was not kind to Drohmr. This was somewhat expected, being that he was on the visiting team. But Drohmr was booed worse than he had ever been after checking the outspoken Triton rookie with his elbow, making him kiss the needlessly-rough astro turf hard for the third time.

Another brutal elbow check by the veteran defenseman,” observed one of the sports announcers in a booth above the field, whose comments were being broadcast through many Neptu-Net Sports networks. “Kinda makes you wonder if this is what Drohmr meant about teaching him manners.”

He certainly disagrees with his political views, Kirp,” the second announcer added as a referee picked up an air cannon so that he could shoot another stinger into play.

The gameplay was just as intense as the game moved forward. Other players started playing rougher, thanks to Drohmr’s example of declining sportsmanship. But then, something startled the veteran defenseman. And this was unusual. Drohmr had been playing and excelling at nar-nar for so long that there were few things on this court that could surprise him. This was his house, no matter if he was on the home team or the visitors. It was a nar-nar field. He ran things here.

Drohmr was startled by a smell, an intense smell that both shriveled the hairs in his nose and brought him back to a simpler time. It was something that he remembered from growing up on the farm, from the assignment he had as a teenager. Slowly, but surely, as Pernick sprinted up the field, running with the stinger more than is normally safe, Drohmr remembered what this smell was.

And it terrified him.

Pernick was hit hard by the other defenseman and the stinger popped out of his stick. Instead of hitting the ground though, the stinger grabbed onto Pernick’s jersey, swinging by the neckline as the crowd gasped. Looking down at the stinger, Pernick noticed something different about the insect. He didn’t have time to wonder if it was drooling venom more than usual or if there was a crazy look in its eyes before the stinger found some purple skin between Pernick’s mask and jersey, on his neck, and chomped down.

But the stinger didn’t stop there. It kept crawling into Pernick’s shirt, biting more and drawing blood, every time it encountered a new patch of skin to rip open. Pernick dropped to his knees, screaming and pawing his shirt desperately as the referees blew the whistle to halt gameplay. Finally, the immense pain caused the rookie Triton boy to black out as the officials ripped open the boy’s shirt with their retractable spears to find the stinger. Using the taser button on these spears, they killed the insect quickly as medical personnel rushed onto the field with a stretcher to carry Pernick away. The other players, on both teams, watched in horror as they saw the level of swelling and deformity on this boy’s chest and neck.

They were scared. This was the first time they had seen anything like this. Stingers usually only bit players once. This was eerie and unusual.

That smell, Drohmr thought to himself, picking up the boy’s stick to hand to the opposing coach. Showing improved sportsmanship to the crowd, Drohmr looked down at his glove and saw the familiar pink powder. Why would someone put gnarznian stek on that kid’s stick? Drohmr looked around the field at the other players. He could tell they were stunned. How many other sticks have that chemical on it?

Relieved that his own stick did not and checking the stick of one other teammate, Drohmr’s head was filled with questions and farm memories, memories of throwing two insects together and sprinkling them with this powerful powder. It was outlawed for use by farmers years ago, considered cruel for the insects to die that way. And before that, farmers needed a permit to get it. How the hell did it end up on the nar-nar field?


The game resumed and there were no other incidents involving a crazed stinger for the rest of the game. The Kratek Knights won 5-3. After showering and changing into his normal clothes, Drohmr jogged back to the field and saw that it was swarming with Gnarpin police officers. The coaches and owners of the team were standing in the home team’s penalty box, chatting with the chief as the rest of the field was blocked off with caution tape.

Graktu, owner of the Kratek Knights, strutted confidently over to Drohmr when he saw him, giving him the traditional handshake and hug combo that symbolized the respect and friendship that existed between the two colleagues.

“This is big, huh?”

“Yeah. Poor kid’s in the ICU,” Graktu stated with sympathy in his voice. “Typical, because the stinger bit his neck, so the swelling closed off his air tube.”

“My goodness,” Drohmr muttered, fatherly sympathy kicking in, as Pernick was not much older than his own athletic daughter.

“Cops are just trying to get to the bottom of this. This kind of thing has never happened before and, well, pays to be safe.”

“Can I talk to the officer?” Drohmr asked. “I noticed something unusual on the field and…”

“Yeah, sure,” Graktu replied. “They’ll be taking statements after they’re done checking the field. Hang around for another hour?”

“Okay,” Drohmr replied before remembering ‘Box Seats’. This will be a great story for the show. If I’m allowed to tell it…this is an active investigation, after all.

Drohmr was greeted by a whole line of sports reporters, holding whatever camera and microphone combo they preferred, when he walked into the player’s parking lot with his duffel bag on his shoulder. He was bombarded with questions about what happened to Pernick on the field.

“Look, guys! I can’t talk about it!” he said, hopefully loud enough for all the reporters to hear. “I’m sorry.”

“Have you made a statement to the police?” asked one of the more stubborn reporters.

“Not yet, but after I do, I am supposed to appear on ‘Box Seats’. So, if I can say anything, I’ll say it on there,” Drohmr said with a mischievous smirk, proud of how he cleverly slipped a plug for his next media appearance into the recordings of these pushy reporters.

“Do you still feel strongly about Pernick’s behavior during the anthem?”

“Yes, but no one deserves what happened to that kid,” Drohmr replied, backing away from the crowd and towards his vehicle. “I wish him a speedy recovery, so he can go back to being a worthy opponent on the field…and not laid up in some hospital bed.”

Drohmr spun on his heels and started walking towards his car. Out of the many questions that were shouted at him after that point, one of them boiled Drohmr’s blood. It was a reference to something he had said before the game, something that this reporter was now using to prod Drohmr, to try to make him do something angry or stupid on camera.

“Do you think he learned some manners?” the reporter asked.

Taking deep breaths and thinking about his daughter, the example that he always wanted to set for her, Drohmr ignored the question and popped the trunk on his vehicle. Tossing his duffel bag in, Drohmr resisted the temptation to tell that reporter off, punch him in the face or whip out an obscene gesture, video that would no doubt go planetary viral within seconds.

When Drohmr got back to the field, the only person he saw there was Graktu. He was sitting in the grandstands, sort of staring out at the field in a reflective manner. “Where are the cops?” Drohmr asked the obvious question on his mind, as the field was empty.

“They wrapped it up,” Graktu replied. “They said they had enough information to file a report with the planetary council.”

“They didn’t interview any of the players? That’s unusual, isn’t it? We were all eyewitnesses to an attack that put a kid in the…”

“If Pernick’s family wants a financial settlement with the team or the league, they’ll have to go through the council.”

“Yeah, I know,” Drohmr acknowledged, puzzled as to why Graktu was being so distant all of a sudden. “But I think something else was going…”

“The matter is being handled,” Graktu said abruptly, nervously adjusting his jacket before continuing. “Soon, people will be able to watch this sport without thinking about all the controversy Pernick caused. People come here for escapism, not deep, philosophical thoughts on post-Lunar War race relations.”

Feeling he had no reason to stick around, Drohmr excused himself to Graktu and headed back out to his car. Something about what Graktu had just said made him take special notice of all of the souvenir stands in this particular stadium, places that sold jerseys, pennants and toys of different kinds to the fans, many of them families, who flooded the stadium for each game. Across the way, there was a food vendor, one who had dedicated an entire menu to the wide variety of beer they sold.

In the parking lot, Drohmr saw someone’s reflection in his car window as he unlocked the cockpit. He would have ignored him, or told him to buzz off, thinking it was another bold, nosy reporter, if this lone figure did not utter a familiar word that sent chills up the spine of the aging athlete.

Gnarznian stek…”

Slowly turning to glare at this Neptunian man, a man wearing a trench coat, a brimmed hat and eyes that clearly had very little sleep, Drohmr was sure that he did not recognize Zurtaugh when he asked, “what did you just say?”

“You recognized it, when you picked up the kid’s stick,” Zurtaugh said, strutting closer to Drohmr. “You grew up on a farm that bred stingers for the PNL. The other players probably couldn’t pinpoint the stench. They thought it was just the normal stinger venom smell, amplified a few times because he got bit more than once, but you…you recognized it!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Someone wanted that kid out of the game,” Zurtaugh said. “Badly. Bad enough to kill.”

Pretty sure there were no cameras around at the moment, Drohmr grabbed Zurtaugh’s coat with his fist and got in his face. “And what the hell are you saying? I sold the farm after my dad passed.”

“To Dozer Tech. I know. I do my research.”

“Which means I haven’t had access to that chemical in years.”

“I know. You’re clean. No motive. No access. But whoever wants that kid out of the picture might be trying to frame you. Or maybe they’re sloppy and, since you were the only one on the field who recognized that chemical, you’re the perfect person to follow the bread crumbs.”


“You have more access to the inner workings of the PNL than I ever will. And since Graktu is running for…”

“Hey!” shouted someone behind Zurtaugh. Drohmr watched as three security guards stormed Zurtaugh and wrestled him to the ground, beating him with spiked billy clubs. Drohmr slowly backed off and let these men do their jobs. He knew that only players and press were allowed in this VIP parking lot. While Zurtaugh was once one of the most popular journalists at Neptu-Net, he had lost that job (and his valid press pass) a few days ago, right after the tragic death of his only daughter.

“We told you!” said the security guard that handcuffed Zurtaugh. “No press pass…out on your ass-ass!”

“This goes higher than the PNL!” shouted Zurtaugh as he was dragged away from the emotionally conflicted nar-nar player. “Follow the bread crumbs!” Zurtaugh’s voice was muffled when he was tossed into a van, basically a holding cell on wheels, that drove away shortly after.

Running the events of this day through his befuddled mind once he got into his car, Drohmr decided that he wanted to visit Pernick in the hospital. He knew what it was like to be bitten by a stinger, just once. He knew that he and Pernick were fierce competitors on the field. But getting bit that many times at once was something that Drohmr would never have wished on anyone. And he was a bit ashamed of himself for letting something that had nothing to do with the game itself get him so riled up that his sportsmanship suffered.

I’m supposed to be the one teaching the younger players about honor, Drohmr thought about Aluhna. To play fair. I’ve played that way for twenty years before politics got in the way. I shouldn’t have anything to prove. This is my last year anyway. I need to step aside and let the kids have the game, so I can be there for my kid.


Drohmr got quite a few curious stares as he walked through the halls of the hospital, holding a bouquet of colorful balloons in his large, hairy fist. Some people recognized him from the nar-nar matches on TV, but others just stared at him because he was such a big dude. And they probably thought he looked familiar. Drohmr asked a receptionist where Pernick’s room was. She explained that Pernick was in the ICU and the waiting area was the furthest he could go. Drohmr said that he understood and that he just wanted to meet the boy’s family.

Pernick’s father Burnick’s face lit up when he saw Drohmr shuffling into this waiting area, sheepishly waving at him while holding balloons. “My goodness,” Burnick said, tapping his wife, Perl, with his veiny, flipper-like hands to get her attention. She too was surprised to see the all-star defenseman for the Kratek Knights in this particular hospital room. But both of Pernick’s parents were very welcoming and offered their visitor a seat so they could chat.

“None of my son’s teammates came to visit,” Perl told Drohmr angrily and bluntly as one of the reasons she was so surprised to see him. “His coach called, but he only talked for, like, two minutes.”

“Really? That’s a shame,” Drohmr said, genuinely saddened to hear this.

“Probably afraid of what people will think,” Perl added. “Cuz my boy tells it like it is.”

“That’s still poor sportsmanship, ma’am. You play this game. You support your teammates. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves about the PNL now. Things have changed.”

“I thought things would be better for my son here than back home,” Burnick said, his singular eye drawing a tear. “That’s why my wife and I defected to the Neptunian Army in the first place.”

“You fought in the war?”

“No, but we sold General Psykal a bunch of secrets in exchange for passage here and a residency pass for my family. We used to work for the Triton president, Ghus Ral. I worked on his security systems and my wife was one of his maids.”

“Wow!” Drohmr said, genuinely honored to be meeting the ones who had provided his beloved brother with necessary intel to finish his important mission.

Perl pulled a photograph out of her handbag. Handing it to Drohmr, she proudly told him that she and her husband had the chance to meet “the hero that assassinated Ghus Ral”. Drohmr looked down at the picture and immediately got choked up at the sight of his brother Drachma, posing with Pernick’s loving parents. “He had a friend that went with him on the mission,” Perl explained, talking about Blichnor. “The friend didn’t make it.”

“What ever happened to this guy?” Drohmr asked. “Did he make it home from the war?”

“From what I hear, Mr. Drachma joined a refugee commune, a space station called ‘Phase Six’,” Burnick explained. Drohmr had never heard of Phase Six. “Bunch of people from different planets and moons, trying to prove that we can all just get along. It’s orbiting Venus right now, I think.”

“He asked us to come with him,” Perl added. “But we wanted to stay here and support our son’s career.” Burnick reached over and held his wife’s hand, as he could hear her starting to sniffle with emotion again.

“I know our son is a little outspoken about the way people are treated around here,” Burnick said, semi-apologetically. “He talks about making noise and all that junk.”

“Gets that from his mama,” Perl chimed in with a friendly smile.

“But I keep telling the boy that, no matter what planet we ended up on, we would have to deal with some kinda crap. Things are still better here than under Ghus Ral.”

“True,” Drohmr replied. “But it doesn’t make the crap right. Neptune can do better.”


Drohmr was still sure that Neptune could do better when he arrived at the media station from which Box Seats was broadcast. The chubby Triton security guard recognized his second favorite nar-nar player and gave him a spirited wave as he walked into the studio without flashing any kind of ID.

Walking down a long hallway, faintly hearing the voices of the show’s two hosts, Drohmr was tapped on the shoulder by a man that he didn’t recognize. But he did recognize the badge that was flipped open in front of his face. This man was a member of the Planetary Service Guild and, unbeknownst to Drohmr, he was the same government agent that had visited Zurtaugh a few days ago, on the day of his daughter’s “accidental” death.

“I was wondering if I could ask you a favor, sir,” said the stoic Neptunian man, wearing dark shades in this dimly-lit hallway.

“Yes, of course,” Drohmr replied, trying to stand up straight out of respect and patriotism. “What can I do for you?”

“Earlier today, you witnessed an…incident…on the field during your game over at Butt Cream Stadium,” said the agent, sticking his ID back into the pocket on his tie. “Involving a young Triton male named Pernick.”

“Yeah, the stinger went nuts and bit him, like, fifteen times,” Drohmr said, fully aware of what the agent was trying to tap dance around.

“Indeed,” the agent replied, pulling an envelope out of his inside jacket pocket. “Must have been frightening. Such an unprecedented occurrence.”

“Not really,” Drohmr replied, suspiciously. “I’ve seen stingers act like that before, just not on the nar-nar field.”

“Well, seeing that this is still an open investigation…and seeing that the Gnarpin Police Department foolishly neglected to get the players to sign non-disclosure agreements, I would like to ask a favor of you.” The agent handed Drohmr an envelope. Drohmr took it into his hand and just stared at it in disbelief. He felt like he was being bribed and this bothered his conscience, one that had prevented him from getting involved with gambling throughout his entire career in the PNL. “Do not say anything about what you saw…to any person or media outlet…and your bank account will increase by that amount in two days.” Seeing that Drohmr was a bit taken aback by this, the agent smiled and started to back away towards the door. “Of course, you have every legal right to spill your guts on this talk show. I’m just asking you not to…as a favor to your planet…and to me personally, as an agent of the state.”

When the door closed behind the agent, a second, creakier door opened and the two hosts of the show, a Neptunian man named Herdak and a Triton man named Kraju, stepped out. Beaming with delight, these two energetic media hosts greeted the nar-nar superstar, hugging him before leading him into the main studio, where the interview would take place.

Soon, Drohmr had a large pair of headphones on and a microphone in front of his face. The interview started with both hosts talking about Drohmr’s long and star-studded career, including the all-star games and championships that he had been involved in. While answering these questions and trying to be as entertaining as possible, Drohmr’s encounter with the agent burned a hole in the back of his mind. It burned a hole in both his planetary patriotism and his sense of justice.

During this part of the interview, Drohmr decided that he was going to, as the agent stated, spill his guts on this talk show…about everything, when he was asked about Pernick. This would include the chemical, gnarznian stek, what it could do and the odd behavior that he had noticed from state officials, including Graktu, the owner of his own team who had recently ventured into public life.

The podcast went to a commercial…and then came back. The two hosts went right on talking about league statistics and who had a better chance at the championship this year. Drohmr tried to change the subject. “Guys, guys…were any of you actually watching the Knights/Gladiators game today?” he asked.

“Well, yeah.”

“Duh. We’re big fans.”

“Well, I’m surprised you haven’t asked me about what happened with Pernick. I was right there.”

“We can talk about that if you want,” Herdak said, nervously looking at his co-host.

“Well, there’s a lot of stuff about this incident that sports reporters aren’t talking about,” Drohmr said as Herdak and Kraju stared at him with their eyes wider than usual. “As many of you know, I grew up on a farm over in Squapton and, for a few years, we used to breed stingers to sell to the PNL and some of the college leagues.”

“I read this about you once,” Herdak chimed in, annoying Drohmr as he seemed to be trying to interrupt or stall. “So, you have a longer history with the league than people think.”

“True that,” Drohmr replied. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a chemical called gnarznian stek.”

“Whoa, bro! I took my drug test,” joked Kraju, holding up his hands and laughing.

“Yeah, bro,” Herdak added. “I’m clean.”

Their laughter was loud, obnoxious…and clearly forced. Drohmr was sure that they were trying to drown out his voice on the broadcast. The agent spoke to them first, he thought. Obviously. He was sitting there waiting for me.

Suddenly, the power went out. In the blink of an eye, the whole studio went black, including all the flashing lights on the computers that were broadcasting the show. But instead of somebody saying “whoops” or something about “technical difficulties”, both Herdak and Kraju were silent as well.

“Hello?” Drohmr called out, increasingly frightened. “Guys?”

Drohmr felt himself being grabbed from behind, around the waist. He was hoisted into the air by someone quite strong and taken a short distance away from where he had been sitting, his limbs flailing wildly. Then, the entire studio was illuminated, not by back-up lights, but by a bomb.

It was a bomb that blew the chair that Drohmr had been sitting in to smithereens, a device that would have at least blown Drohmr’s legs off if he had been sitting there. In the light of the fires left behind from this bomb, Drohmr could see that the two hosts were gone. They had jumped ship silently after the power went out, making it obvious that they were in on this attack. Or at least knew about it beforehand.

Being placed back on his feet, Drohmr could now see the face of the man who had saved his life. It was Zurtaugh, no longer wearing the brimmed hat covering his eyes.


“Come with me if you want to live,” Zurtaugh directed. That was enough for Drohmr.


Sitting in the passenger’s seat of Zurtaugh’s hover car as he whipped in and out of traffic on Tubeway B-55, Zurtaugh explained to Drohmr what was going on.

“They’re trying to get rid of Pernick. That’s why they put the chemical in his stick so the stinger would injure him. But you probably figured that out already.”

“Who’s trying to get rid of Pernick?”

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