The sun was blisteringly hot, scorching the air and crisping the ground. Mirages danced on the horizon, heat waves radiating up. The temperature had already crept up so high that in all directions the land had baked and cracked, acquiring a tortoiseshell-esque appearance as it stretched into the distance.
Still, the game continued: one team sitting patiently in the dugout, the other defending the field.
Were it any of the traditional games, play would have long since been called off, conditions untenable. However, were it any of the traditional games, the diamond would never have been located out in the middle of the desert in the first place. For Mechanoid League Baseball, this was their home.
Established almost forty years ago, the league’s popularity had grown so quickly it now dominated its two human predecessors. Traditionalists still clung to the older leagues; die-hard fans of the players they’d grown up knowing and loving. Modernists, however, often had no such attachment, and the gleam of the new metal players, the feats of performance they were capable of, had pulled them in like moths to a flame.
There were still advantages in supporting the traditional leagues. Most notably, you could actually watch their games in person. In its early days, the Mechanoid League had been deemed dangerous to attend, the batters easily capable with a good hit of sending the ball flying into the stands at over 220 mph. As such, in person viewing was forbidden.
Instead, Mechanoid League Baseball was captured in real-time by a swarm of drones and beamed live to fans worldwide. As the games were played out without an audience present, they could be located anywhere. The Death Valley stadium location had been chosen because it was a safe distance from any nearby human settlements, and the extreme heat added an additional level of excitement to play; from time to time mechanoid players still overheated, sometimes in spectacularly explosive fashion, though these instances had begun to be few and far between as manufacturers took the hostile conditions into account. Such was the thrill of the unexpected heat disruptions however, that there was talk of a second stadium being established in the Alaskan icefields.
If new environmental challenges were presented, manufacturers would no doubt address them. For the moment, in their attempts to outdo one another, they mostly focused their efforts on improving playing ability: increased speed, enhanced accuracy, optimised artificial intelligence capable of more accurately assessing and predicting opponents’ strategy and tactics. Fans drank it all in; television channels were dedicated to reviews and examinations of new models, presenters describing in minute detail technical specifications, and bantering with one another as to whether or not the enhancements would be enough to overcome rival manufacturers’ designs. Message boards were alive 24/7, supporters championing their personal favorites and decrying their challengers.
Teams were still predominantly established and organized by city; each team populated by mechanoids from a variety of manufacturers. It had initially been hypothesised that manufacturers would establish their own teams as it would be cost-effective for them to do so. As it transpired, manufacturers had quickly learned to specialize. No single manufacturer produced mechs capable of filling handily all positions on a team as they achieved far more impressive results by focusing on specific roles. To generalize meant too great a division of resources, and performance suffered. As such, certain manufacturers were well-known for their pitchers, others for their batters, and still others for fielders.
The game in progress today was between the Kansas City Ironmen and the San Diego Circuits. It was one of the most watched games of the season, and at present the Ironmen were losing.
Already in the seventh inning, the Circuits had pulled ahead by a sizeable margin. The two teams were usually relatively evenly matched, but this game was special; both teams had fielded brand new mechanoid models, never before seen on the field. Both teams only had one new model each as it was considered foolish to invest heavily in a product that hadn’t been field-tested before. Nevertheless, it was still quite possible for a single new mech to make a huge impact. As a result, fans worldwide had quickly dubbed it an exhibition game, even though the effect on the teams’ rankings would be very real.
The Ironmen had purchased a new pitcher, the Pitch-o-Mat 5000. The latest model from PitchTech, it was said to retain the incredible throwing speed of its predecessor, the Pitch-o-Mat 4000, but with a greatly enhanced A.I., capable of superfast processing, improved strategy simulation, and optimized decision making. In the game so far, the Pitch-o-Mat 5000 had already shown off its enhanced abilities by securing a remarkable fifteen strikeouts. Commentary had been flowing in; fans were raving about its accuracy, its strategy, and its timing.
The Circuits, on the other hand, had invested in a different direction, acquiring the newest model of batter from Suzuki; their latest offering, the Ichiro, was a hotly anticipated release. Controversially, its batting statistics were relatively average, and Suzuki had made no great advancements in this area. Instead, they had been channelling all of their research and development into maneuverability. According to their press releases, the Ichiro was supposed to be faster, more agile, and quicker off the mark than any other mech on the market. So far, to fans’ surprise, despite its batting remaining relatively average, and the Pitch-o-Mat 5000’s impressive performance notwithstanding, the Ichiro seemed to be the better investment; the Circuits' run count continued steadily creeping ahead of the Ironmen.
The secret to the Ichiro’s success?
It was stealing bases; constantly.
Unbelievably, under the constant burning gaze of the sun, and the awed eyes of the spectators, the Ichiro had already stolen an unprecedented thirteen bases. The message boards were going wild. Would this mark a new global shift in research and development? Was agility the real trump card, worth more than all other statistics put together?
The mechanoids continued to play, unconcerned. They weren’t programmed to think about such things; all they had to do was play. To them, winning this game was all that mattered, and that’s what they focused on, their levels of concentration far surpassing what their human counterparts were capable of.
On the pitcher’s mound, the Pitch-o-Mat 5000 began to wind up for its next throw. The burning brightness of the sun shone dazzlingly off its metal frame as its servos spun, its magnetic actuators monitoring the build-up and preparing for the release of the pitch. Behind it, nestling in the relative blind spot of first base, the Ichiro waited patiently. Third base was currently occupied by an older Crawford Inc. batting mech, but second base was vacant.
Forum traffic increased further still, commentary posting thick and fast as fans’ excitement grew to fever pitch. Would the Ichiro steal yet another base? The Pitch-o-Mat 5000 was good, but it didn’t seem to be able to compete with the unbelievable gall of the Ichiro!
The Pitch-o-Mat 5000, oblivious to the pandemonium that was erupting across message boards globally, shifted its weight to its back support and reared up on the front, preparing to release and throw its mass fully behind the pitch.
The Ichiro, taking advantage of the Pitch-o-Mat 5000’s further reduced situational awareness, as well as its balance differentiation, made its move; with an acceleration and take-off speed far outstripping what a human would be capable of, it shot out from first, its steel legs pumping the ground as it ran, dirt and sand flinging up with every footfall. The live feed from the drone swarm captured it all in glorious high definition, each particle of thrown up earth recorded and transmitted globally in an instant.
It was halfway to second base when the Pitch-o-Mat 5000 released its pitch, the ball screaming through the air at 190 mph. When it reached its target, the Ichiro’s head exploded in a cloud of metal and glass, shards blossoming out and scattering across the desert. The Ichiro, its head and central processing unit completely obliterated, tumbled to the ground, bouncing and somersaulting over itself in a twisting dance of destruction. The distorted mass of metal slid and rolled to a stop a short distance past second base and slightly out into the infield, its trajectory shifted and knocked off course by the sheer force of the impact.
The Pitch-o-Mat 5000 straightened its front support and settled itself back onto the pitcher’s mound. Mechanically, it shifted its attention to the umpires and waited for the decision.
The prior chaos of the message boards was nothing compared to the uproar that ensued.
PitchTech engineers were scrambling, the entire company on alert as they struggled to work out what the hell had just happened. Suzuki was furious, demanding answers. Technicians began sifting through Pitch-o-Mat 5000’s A.I. logs, searching desperately for an explanation. Meanwhile, Pitch-o-Mat 5000 just stood patiently by, waiting for the umpire to either resume play or suspend.
In the end, the answer was clear and straightforward.
The Pitch-o-Mat 5000’s A.I. hadn’t glitched; it hadn’t stumbled over some bug in the targeting software; it hadn’t experienced corruption in its processing net.
It had simply run strategy simulations.
The Ichiro was clearly the main obstacle in obtaining victory, its presence on the opposing team irrefutably the deciding factor, which at this point in the game, the Pitch-o-Mat 5000 had calculated, would ultimately result in the Ironmen’s loss, so it had simply removed the obstacle. It had even gone so far as to predict that it itself would be removed from play and determined the chance of success for the Ironmen despite its removal.
It had followed its enhanced programming perfectly.
The crowd went insane; screams, tears, laughter, ecstasy, anguish.
The Pitch-o-Mat 5000 was suspended indefinitely pending review, and after the wreckage of the Ichiro was removed from the field play resumed.
The remaining mechanoid players had no concept of the questions now erupting across the planet. They had no apprehension that given the spike in viewing figures, serious debates were now being held as to the future of the sport. First and foremost among them was simply this: should such a tactic actually be allowed?
Mechanoid League Baseball’s popularity skyrocketed further still.
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