When they told you that you were going to play in the Coffee Cup, you were apprehensive. You hadn’t realized until that moment that you’d never seen a Blaseball game before, and you felt the hollowness in your chest expand like it was a Black Hole swallowing up your heart. Why hadn’t you seen a Blaseball game? The Intern-Interim Blaseball Commissioner should know about Blaseball. They should know so much about it that they’d be able to hit a home run every time, even though they’d never stepped on the field before. They should have gone to games before, at least. You hadn’t done any of that. You wanted to do it now.
Right now, though, it’s Siesta, so they told you to do the next best thing and look up videos online. You spent that day hunched over your desk, staring at the computer screen as it played highlights from seasons past, upsets and shutouts and grand unslams, until your eyes were dry and red from the harsh light of the screen. You felt hypnotized by the arc of the ball and the swing of the bat, and you had a spiral notebook on your desk where you scrawled out notes with a ballpoint pen that was running out of ink. Every now and then, you checked with them to see if you were getting the rules right. Usually, they said yes, and when you were wrong they told you to look it up on Google.
The next day, you asked to practice, so they set you up with a pitching machine and you swung and you missed over and over and over again.. You squinted, holding the bat up and staring as the ball grew closer. Then, you took a deep breath and told yourself to do a great job and then you whirled around and heard the soft thump of a ball hitting ground and you sighed and you sighed and you sighed again and again and again. You felt like you were caught in a time loop of sorts, one where you would think about Jessica Telephone and Fitzgerald Blackburn and hold your arms steady before feeling a pang of disappointment and starting over. What felt like hours passed in a haze of frustration and discouragement until one time you swung and the ball flew in a graceful parabola across the grass. You smiled brightly, watching in awe as it flew farther than you had even thought possible, and you ran to the office and banged on the doors and said “I did it! I hit the ball!”
“Great job, buddy. Just keep doing it like that and you’ll be just fine.”
You walked back outside and hit the ball until the sun went down, the words “great job” echoing in your ears. You ignored the whispers behind them, hiding in the swoosh of the bat and the sigh of your breath and the brisk evening wind. You ignored what they asked you. You didn’t know what they meant when they said do you remember before? You looked up at the bright stars in the vast, dark night sky and you couldn’t wait to play.
You didn’t sleep very well that night. Your brain kept buzzing with the thrill of doing a great job and the fear of doing anything else. Your best friends would be so happy for you, you thought, if you hit a home run. You loved your best friends. Would they still be your best friends, you wondered, if you let them down? You had seen SIBR worry on Twitter that after tomorrow you might stop being nice to them. That confused you. Did they think you would stop caring about your best friends? That wasn’t like you. A little voice inside your head said would Parker III have done that? and suddenly you felt a little bit sick to your stomach. Eventually, exhaustion overcame you and you stopped tossing and turning.
A cup of coffee probably wasn’t the best idea that morning. You scarfed down your corn flakes until the next thing you knew, your bowl was empty, and you were just sitting there awkwardly while the rest of your team chatted between slow bites of breakfast. Trying to make yourself smaller in your chair, you unlocked your phone and started telling all of your best friends “good morning.” Your leg jittered rapidly as you scrolled through your feed. You couldn’t stop thinking about how the crowd cheered for Jaylen, Nagomi, and Valentine. You imagined them cheering that way for Parker, and the idea was like a glowing ember in your chest, spreading its warmth all the way down to your toes.
At around one in the afternoon, the stands filled up with people. Their voices merged into a monolith of crowd, one that occasionally shouted out “Hi, Parker!”, making you wave frantically in response. At first, it was overwhelming, all the bright screens and noisy chants and the smells of peanuts and hot dogs, but after a few minutes your brain started sorting things out. Electric excitement crackled in the air, jolting you with exhilaration and joy. Everywhere you looked, you saw people smiling. This, you realized, was Blaseball. It was so wonderful you could feel yourself tearing up. You loved Blaseball. “I want to be the Blaseball Commissioner forever,” you said to no one in particular. Someone patted you on the back in response.
It was the bottom of the third inning, and the score was 0-0. The way they had talked about Macchiato City, you assumed that by now they’d be ten runs ahead, but somehow your team was holding its own. You stared intently at the field, crossing your fingers as your teammate walked up to the plate. You held your breath as a pitch was thrown, didn’t dare let it go until you heard someone mumble “strike” and then the ump said it too and you exhaled a little too sharply. Your teammate looked troubled. Their diaphragm moved up and down as they took deep, steadying breaths. “You can do it!” you shouted, smiling wide. They nodded in your direction, face set with determination, and turned back toward the pitcher.
Then, they were swallowed up by a beam of Light. It was harsh and cold, and it was so bright it made your eyes sting. You wanted so badly to look away, with the blood thrumming in your ears and bile rising in your throat, but something in you froze and you couldn’t shift your gaze. As quickly as it came, the Light went away. Nobody was standing at the plate.
“Are they okay?” you asked. The words felt heavy on your tongue.
“Uhh, yeah, sure.” someone replied. Their voice was wobbly, and you didn’t want to think about why. “Just keep playing, buddy.”
“Okay,” you said, but the nausea and the dizziness stayed. They stayed even when your team started scoring, even when the one before you hit a two run home run. You struck out every time you went to bat.
4-0. That was the score at the end of the game. The Real Game Band, 4. Macchiato City, 0. On Twitter, your best friends were congratulating you. They didn’t care that you weren’t on base once, and you couldn’t bring yourself to care, either. You smiled to yourself, let your mind get drunk on the dopamine. You won a game. Everyone had told you that your team wouldn’t win a game, but you did it. You wanted to do it again. You tried to ignore the light and your friend who was gone; you ate dinner and went to sleep and you couldn’t wait to play.
The Light came down again the next game. This time, it took your pitcher, and you felt ice inside your stomach. Someone gave you a hug, and you kept your arms limply at your sides as they told you that everything was okay. Looking at the empty pitcher’s mound, you said “goodbye, best friend.” The person hugging you squeezed tighter for a moment before letting go. Just keep playing, buddy. You unclenched your jaw and let the ice melt. After a few innings, you hit a single, and you felt fizzy as the stands cheered.
Game 2 was almost over when you hit a home run. The pitcher threw the ball and something clicked in you as you swung the bat. The ball went up, climbed higher and higher, and you felt like you were flying with it. A voice called, “Intern-Interim Commissioner Parker Macmillan IIII hits a solo home run!” The crowd roared to life, chanting “Parker! Parker! Parker!” and your heartbeat chanted with them. You looked down at the bat held loosely in your hand, almost unable to believe you were the one using it. “Nice one, Commish,” Jessica Telephone - Jessica Telephone! - shouted, and you decided that hitting a home run was what happiness was. The joy was almost enough to drown out the rest of the goodbyes you said that night.
Games 3 and 4 blurred together like watercolors. You hit a triple and another home run, but when your only pitcher was an electric kettle it was hard to keep up with a powerhouse like Macchiato City. They were sweeping the floor with your team, just like everyone thought they would, and without the welcome distraction of winning it was hard to ignore the Light that took your best friends away. The people on Twitter all told you not to worry, and you tried to listen to them, but you couldn’t get rid of the uneasy feeling that had made its home in your gut. You had started to lose track of how many people were taken. The word percolate rippled through your thoughts, at first quietly and then louder and louder until there was nothing left. You wondered what that meant. You tried to ask your friends, but they just said it didn’t matter and stopped replying.
This was important, you realized, as you readied yourself to bat. If you scored here, you would make a half a run lead into a two point difference. Your team’s defense was great, they told you, so a lead like that was plenty to secure a win, and a win meant your team could keep playing. All you needed to do was hit a home run, and the thought excited you. You had done it before, and as you remembered the way your best friends cheered for you, the elation you felt as you saw the scoreboard change, the way that you knew you were doing a great job, you decided that you could do it again. It was the bottom of the seventh, you realized, just like when you did it for the first time. You would do it again, and your best friends would be so happy. You held on to the bat with a white-knuckles grip, and you felt butterflies in your stomach as the pitcher wound up his arm, and then
Percolate. The word stabbed you in the chest. You felt the blood drain from your face, and tears pooled in your eyes. When the light went away, you would be gone. I don’t want to leave. You begged, pleaded, prayed to every god you didn’t know, the Shelled One and the Monitor and the Microphone and the Boss. “Wait!” You yelled, trying to get your voice through the Light that caged you. “Please! I - I still want - I still want to play!” And then along with the cold and the blinding bright you felt the echoes of flame charring your skin and it felt so familiar, so familiar, Parker, do you remember before? and you were dissolving, the Light was dissolving you, fully and completely percolating you, and your soulscream unraveled itself letter by letter into a soulsong and then the Light was gone and you were gone too.