Simmons blocked the ball with his chest, expertly deflecting it so that it landed right at Gavin Aylford’s feet. Gavin reflexively stopped its sideways roll with his foot, then used a series of light taps to keep it in front of him as he moved downfield. He knew the stakes better than anyone; after all, this game was history to him.
It was the 2038 World Cup, the final game. There was one minute left on the clock and that was ticking away fast. Neither side had any points on the board. Local pundits said the fate of the United Kingdom rested on this match; Gavin was the only one who knew how literally true that was.
His jaw had dropped when they told him.
“A football game, Control? How can one football game have that large an effect on history?”
“You know better, Agent 141; it’s the ripple effect. You’ve seen what happened since the last change. This football game is our best chance to prevent the rise of the Empire of the Americas and the subjugation of the world.”
“Can’t I just shoot someone?”
“Sorry, 141; this battle is being fought for the hearts and minds of people. It has to be the football. You’re being dropped into the mind of Gavin Aylford, wide midfielder...”
“...and known drunk. A man whose chance of influencing anything is about nil.”
“He’s all we’ve got. Everyone else is too high profile to drop you in.”
And so here he was, Agent 141, riding in the mind of Gavin Aylford. Time was running out at a full gallop and both strikers were covered. Gavin started toward Chesterton; 141 had to act now.
Gavin, take the shot from here! You can do it!
Gavin, pass to Chesterton! Stick to the plan!
The other mental voice threw Agent 141 for a moment; an EoA time agent was riding in Aylford too? Things had just gotten complicated.
Chesterton is covered! You have to take the shot!
He’ll open up! Do as you’re told!
Gavin, don’t listen to the other voice! He’s lying!
Gavin, you know the shot is too hard; pass to Chesterton!
There’s no time to pass! You have to shoot now!
Missing here makes you a failure! Chesterton can make the shot! Pass!
Faced with two mental voices shouting in his brain, Gavin did the natural thing. He stopped.
“Shut up, both o’ yers!”
A Brazilian guard shot past him, surprised by his sudden halt. Gavin ducked back towards his own goal.
Gavin! Both voices screamed in unison.
“Oi said shut up ye cheeky bastards! Bugger off, oi know how ta play football!”
With twelve seconds left in the match Gavin shot wide of the Brazilian goal. Everyone slowed; a shootout was a foregone conclusion now.
The ball hit the ground and bounced sideways, straight over the astonished head of the goaltender and into the net.
“Told yers oi know how ta play football.”