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EP379: Concussion

By David Glen Larson
Read by Mat Weller

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For a list of all Escape Pod stories by this author or narrator, visit our sortable Wikipedia page

Rated 13+ for mild language

Special thanks to users costaipsa, iankath, mario1298 and DJ Chronos at FreeSound.org who created and/or recorded the sound effects used in this episode!

Concussion
By David Glen Larson

He scrambled from the fire that was snaking through the corridor when another explosion jolted the ship, and just like that he was dead again. A moment later he was someone else, gazing down with another’s eyes at the mangled green body he’d left behind.

Never before had Tyler experienced such terror. Sure, he’d been afraid—afraid his knee would give out again, sidelining him for the big game; afraid he’d let down his teammates and make a fool of himself—but he’d never been terrified of being incinerated in an alien system countless light-years from the home world he was forced to flee. Not until now.

Staring up at the night sky, the stars were dim under the glare of the stadium lights. Which star was theirs? He caught himself and shook his aching head. It was only a dream, after all. The frog people weren’t real.

The doctor shined a penlight into each pupil. “Any headache, nausea, or dizziness?”

“What do you think? I was just hit by a freight train.” Good old Number 32—the biggest, meanest linebacker in the NFL.

“You may have a concussion.”

Coach Landis spit tobacco juice on the grass only inches from Tyler’s head. “We’re down 22-27 in the fourth quarter with under a minute to go. Montoya’s out, Casper’s out, and now you’re saying I’m out my third string too? Uh-uh, Doc. I need Harden in the game.”

“If he takes another hit—”

“A few aches and pains go with the territory,” said the coach.

“Forget aches and pains. I’m talking stroke or death. Those go with the territory?”

“Ordinarily no, but this is the Super Bowl and I’m out of quarterbacks.”

“I can play, Coach.” Tyler rolled onto his knees and wobbled to his feet with a groan. Lights flashed and popped behind his eyes, some internal wiring knocked loose, but he didn’t let on. “I’m fine.”

Tyler teetered backward, but the coach steadied him, pretending to pat him on the back.

“That a boy. See, Doc? It was just a tap.”

“All right, but I’ll need to check his cognitive function after every play.”

“Whatever you say,” said the coach.

“I’m going to ask you to remember a list of five words. If you can’t repeat them back to me, you’re a NO-GO.”

“Apple, wrench, sombrero, parrot, porcupine,” Tyler said with confidence.

“But I didn’t give you the words yet.”

“Sure you did. Last season against the Colts. It was the only time I played. Number 24 clocked me from behind on our 15.”

“Well I’m glad to see your long-term memory isn’t impaired, but it’s your short-term memory that concerns me.”

“Fine, but make it quick. I have a qweetah to win.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“I said, make it quick. I have a game to win.”