The Long Game

What if history was cyclical?

*  *  21  *  *

“Go, Spartans, Go!”

“Bat, Bat, ooooh, Bat!”

 The two teams charged at each other from opposite ends of the field, stopping in the middle to civilly shake hands with each other according to tradition. At least, from the stands things looked civil, which was what was important. Specifically, the alumni section couldn’t see the players trying desperately to injure each other’s hands or hear them muttering horrid threats. The rivalry between the Spartans and the Bulldogs ran deep.

Leo, the Spartans’ mascot, strutted around in front of the alumni section, working as hard as possible to keep them focused on him and not on the players. The members of the Perioikoi, a spirit fraternity, stood around him shouting and ringing their large bells.

After the teams had taken to their respective ends of the field to continue warm-ups, Leo and the Perioikoi took to the fifty yard line where they formed a circle with Leo at the center. He walked around the circle dramatically, gesturing and bobbing his enormous, helmeted head as though giving a rousing speech. The members of the Perioikoi each took a knee to listen, constantly ringing the bells. As tension began to mount, Leo raised a fist and the Perioikoi stopped their ringing.

The stadium fell silent.

One finger at a time, Leo released his fist until he held up his palm which he displayed proudly to the crowd. When he dropped it only to bring a fist right back up, the Perioikoi leapt to their feet ringing their bells louder than ever as the stadium erupted into thunderous applause.

Leo was escorted off the field by the fraternity as the crowd began to return to a dull roar.

The mascot entered a locker room where he was met by an identical copy of himself who high-fived him as the two swapped places. He was just sitting down on the bench when the door opened once more. Having expected it to be his doppelganger returning for some forgotten item, he didn’t even turn to welcome the visitor until he heard a throat clear.

Turning around, he saw nothing. When he heard the throat clear again, he looked down to see a small brown and white bulldog looking up at him.

“Heya, boyo,” said the bulldog.

“What are you doing here?” Leo asked, jumping to his feet. “How did you get in?”

The bulldog laughed. “That was easy.” He looked up at Leo, making his eyes as wide as possible and flopping his tongue out slightly. “See?”

Leo huffed. A cloud of red smoke enveloped him and when it dissipated, what remained was a lanky young man with a goatee. “What do you want, Bat?”

“Straight t’business, eh? Fine. I want an explanation.”

“Regarding?”

“How you did it.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“How’d you build up such a cult? The rumor going around is that yours wasn’t a coincidence like mine.”

The young man grinned as he sat back on the bench. “You’re worried about the judge, aren’t you? She’s going to be born in, what? Three years? Four?”

“Isidore’s estimating five right now.”

“And you’re worried she’s going to take all of this away from you before the end of the cycle, right?”

“Actually,” said the bulldog, “she ruled on a similar case last cycle, so I’m confident the coincidence of a bulldog mascot whose name happens to be Bat will end in my favor. What I’m worried about is the next cycle. The odds of that coincidence happening again aren’t great.”

“Well, I started over three thousand years ago.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope. After the previous cycles that I survived by the skin of my teeth, I managed to weasel my name into the society that history always seems to remember as being complete badasses.”

“You mean Sparta?”

“Yep.”

The bulldog looked confused. “But that’s not your name.”

“Which is exactly what everyone told me at the time,” the young man retorted. “But I was playing for the long term. I knew the culture would fall away, but also that its legacy would remain, so I waited. Sure enough, with the rise of these competitions, I made my comeback.”

“But you name isn’t Sparta.”

“Think through it, Bat. What are those people screaming out there? They aren’t yelling, ‘Go, Sparta, go!’ You’re still thinking as short-term as everyone back then was.

“You see,” he continued, “humans are predictable with their language. Someone from a society called ‘Sparta’ would be referred to as a Spartan. Then, when sports began to take hold, the name was morphed into a plural. Thus, ‘Go, Spartans, go!”

The bulldog looked dumbfounded. “That’s incredible.”

The young man smiled. “Like I said, I was playing the long game. I wasn’t trying to survive like so many others. I was trying to become a god.” He held a hand up to his ear. “And listen. You can hear my cult even now chanting my name. Most importantly, however, I can do the same thing again next cycle with enough power from this one to compound.”

“Any advice for a lowly luck-rider?”

“Bribe the Seven?”

The bulldog scoffed. “Alright, Spartans, I’ll get right on that.”

The young man smiled. “You better get out there. You wouldn’t want to miss your precious Bulldogs getting beat by the Spartans again, now would you?”

“Oh, no. This year’s going to be different.”

“Care to place a wager on that?”

“What’ve you got in mind?”

“A hundred souls?”

The bulldog smiled. “You know what, Spartans? You’re alright.”

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