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News & Features » January 2018 » “Tennis” by Michael Morshed

“Tennis” by Michael Morshed

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, a robotic American future is encapsulated in a tennis game . . .

by Michael Morshed
America, the future

“Fifteen-love,” Georgia says then serves.

With my rusted knees, I can only lunge and flick my racket at it. Ace.

I’m still getting used to her being left-handed. Her bot coach, Tito, thought she’d have a better chance at the senior circuit if she re-routed her dominance to the left side. She’d have a skidding slice that opponents would have to chase way outside on the AD-court. He knew a doctor who did it with only a two-month recovery. Georgia was back on the court in three. However, the cost for the re-route and her Strategy Chip update means I’m the only hitting partner we can afford. I picked up a job at Tooley’s, so we can keep Tito. He’s standing center-court beside the net, hands clasped behind him, eyes all over the mechanics of my wife’s serve. “Your wrist!” he yells. “Keep it stronger!”

She takes in a gulp of air then mentally kicks herself. She has a qualifying tournament in Turin next month, and Tito has come back from a three-day film study with the conclusion that Georgia’s wrist strength is a major limitation. Her serve and forehand lack snap, and in Turin, Tito says, that will cost her.

Georgia pulls a ball from her skirt. “Thirty-love.” She serves again.

Tito scoffs. Limp left wrist, even I saw it.

My forehand return is a steep parabola that pops up sweetly for her. She runs to her backhand, biting her tongue, which the chip doctor said could be a reaction to the update. She whacks her shot down the line, and I have to hit the adrenaline booster to reach it. I get a headache whenever I do that, but Tito says I’m genetically slower than players in Turin and need to play faster. My vision goes red. I swing as hard as I can and grunt like a beast. The red goes away, and, wow, the ball went in.

Tito yells, “Georgia! You’re more accurate from that location when you hit cross-court. Stay present!”

“He’s right,” she says to herself. “He’s always right.”

I worry about Georgia. She doesn’t look happy. She looks driven, determined, but I prefer happy.

This all started when she was lying in bed, and I asked her to hand me my phone. I had to call China. She was watching a TV show and someone had won a singing contest. She said, “I’ve never won anything,” and looked so sad that my very own tear dropped. My therapist had recommended an Empathy Chip for my rage issues, and just that night Georgia and I had marveled at its calming influence on me. The next day, I quit my job. Georgia spun a WishBall and set her finger on Tennis. We found Tito’s ad and went on universal income. Two surgeries later, Georgia’s quest for a victory—“of stature,” she’d qualified—starts in Turin.

“Thirty-fifteen.” She serves.

This one has whip and sends me way outside. I’m ready for it though, and I chop the ball back. It lands shallow, and I should be dog meat, but Georgia’s charge is over zealous. She swings like a buffoon and sends the ball into the bottom of the net. I think she hit her adrenaline button. She groans, disgusted.

“Five push-ups!” Tito yells. “Don’t be careless.”

Georgia drops.

Before Tito started his work, he identified Georgia’s main source of motivation: punishment, physical and mental. He told us she responded to being talked down to and the tact he recommended was destroying her then building her back up. It’s been hard to get used to, but we’re seeing results.


Georgia fires the serve, no limp wrist there. I send it back to her forehand. She returns it a foot wide.

“Ahh!” my love screams.

“Foolish! Windshield wiper.” Tito pantomimes the swing with his left hand.

“Let me see it.”

She addresses him and swings twice, full intensity.

“Now, for real!”

Georgia holds up a ball. “Forty-thirty.”

I don’t know how she’s not exhausted. She’s so strong. Her game isn’t though. She needs my help.

I hit my return into the net.

She fist-pumps.

Tito eyes me.

“That one had snap, honey.”

“The serve was out,” Tito says.

“The bell didn’t go off.”

“The bell is insufficient technology.” He turns to Georgia. “Forty-thirty. Second serve.”

She serves again.

I hit the ball into the net.

“They’re coming in hot now, Tito!”


MICHAEL MORSHED is a story of the month winner at Bartleby Snopes and his work has been published in Akashic Books’ Thursdaze series. He earned an MFA from UCR Palm Desert. Read his soccer quarterly at RoyKeaneIsMyDaddy.com.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jan 22, 2018

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , ,