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Rayburn didn't hit him. As Chapman scrambled backward from his grasp, he collided with September Vigil, one of Toronto's tanks.

With one massive tank arm, Vigil hugged Chapman's threep to her.

With the other, she reached down and tore off his head.

"I didn't know," Vigil said afterward, and anyone who doesn't believe threeps can convey emotion simply did not see Vigil in her personal rig, sitting there in obvious shock. "Duane screamed when I took his head, but we all scream when that happens. We're 'supposed' to scream. You want to distract and confuse the other player. I thought he was trying to make me lose focus."

Vigil didn't lose focus. She tossed the head to Rayburn, who ran it in for eight points.

By this time Siegel knew something was wrong with Chapman. "I got a call from Alton, Duane's caregiver, telling me his heart rate and brain activity were all over the place," Siegel said. "I pulled up his physical stats on my glasses and confirmed it. Alton was yelling at me to disconnect him from the threep. He was convinced something was going haywire with it. But it wasn't the threep. Or if it was, I couldn't tell." Siegel pulled the plug on the threep anyway.

From the point of view of the spectators and other players, nothing special had happened. Players had been unplugged from their threeps before, when there were connection issues or major damage. A cart came onto the field during the reset and took the headless threep away to scattered applause. Pena called in Warren Meyer as a substitute for the remaining minutes of the game. There was nothing to suggest that 140 miles away Duane Chapman was suddenly fighting for his life.

It was a fight he would lose minutes before the end of the game, which the Bays would win, 58 to 41. Pena was informed by Alton Ortiz as the final seconds counted down.

After a game players normally head to the press zone for interviews almost immediately, pausing only to switch to their personal threeps. That didn't happen this time. Both the Bays and the Snowbirds were sent, still in their game threeps, to the home and visiting locker rooms, where Pena and Snowbirds manager Linda Patrick quietly informed their players of Chapman's death.

Nearly every Bays and Snowbirds player withdrew from the postgame press scrum, heading home stunned. Only Pena, Siegel, Silva, Rayburn, and Vigil remained to meet with reporters, who were now independently receiving reports about Chapman.

"We don't know what happened yet," Pena said, at the press conference, when asked how it was that Chapman died. He said it would take days or possibly weeks to figure out what caused an otherwise healthy Haden athlete to suddenly die. Washington police and medical examiners would look into it, as well as the FBI's desk for Haden affairs, and the league itself.

When Pena was asked how Chapman's death would affect the league, the manager looked at the reporter who asked the question like he was a bug. "At the moment, I couldn't give a damn about that," he said.

The right answer, but the question wasn't out of line. The Bays- Snowbirds exhibition game was meant to be a showcase for what has been the quickest-growing major sport in North America, with four new franchises up for grabs in the next year; representatives from China, Russia, and Germany attended with an eye toward creating one or more international leagues in Europe and Asia. What should have been a triumph for the league, including a star turn by Silva, the league's biggest draw, had now been overshadowed by the league's first athlete death.

As for Chapman, the journeyman player who had hoped for his star to rise, he has found his way into Hilketa's record books in another, more tragic, fashion.

"It's unbelievable," the visibly emotional Pena said, near the end of the press conference. "But it's also just like Duane. He gave everything to the game. Everything to the league. He never wanted to leave the field."

He never did. Until he left it forever.


CHAPTER ONE

I almost missed seeing Duane Chapman die.

I didn't know it at the time. All I knew was that I was running late for the "special exhibition game experience" that I was supposed to be having along with my mother and father. The North American Hilketa League really really really wanted my dad to be a minority investor in the league's upcoming Washington, D.C., franchise, and thought wooing him in a luxury skybox would do the trick.

I was doubtful about this—Dad knew his way around skyboxes, as both a former NBA player and current real estate billionaire, and didn't see them as anything particularly special—but I did know that my flatmates, Hilketa fans all, were glowing green with envy that I was attending the game. This had been literally the case with the twins, Justin and Justine, who for the last three days had set the LED piping of their threep to pulse green at me anytime I walked past them. I thought that was overdoing it, personally.

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