The worst part was, Philipp would never know what Beckenbauer had been thinking, calling up ten forwards and a keeper to determine the fate of the planet. At best people said he’d finally gone senile; at worst they painted him as a traitor, the first to roll over and present his belly to the invading fleet.
Some nights, Philipp lay awake and tried to justify it all to himself. They’d all seen the broadcasts, the way Lennox had loomed over Messi, the way Choktar had intercepted nearly every pass with inhuman speed. The Hurakan team had been so stacked it was a wonder they’d even bothered to field eleven players. Just one would have ripped through any defense like tissue paper.
Beckenbauer had to have known there was nothing he could have done. Maybe that was why he’d fielded the team he had. Maybe he’d thought their only hope was to rack up enough goals before the Hurakan could counter in time.
Philipp could run it through his head as many times as he liked. Whatever the Kaiser’s master plan had been, it had died with him out there in low orbit, along with Earth’s only hope of staving off the Hurakan invasion.
“Fucking radio’s broken again,” said Thomas.
“Kick it,” said Basti. “That always works for me.”
“That’s why the fucking radio’s broken!”
“Hasn’t been a message in in weeks, anyway,” said Basti. “You expecting one?”
“He is tired of hearing only Radio Müller all of the time,” called Javi, and ducked as Thomas made as if to throw the radio at his head.
“Something,” said Thomas, “anything, as long as it’s not Mourinho again,” and Basti grinned and dutifully made the sign of the cross.
Once the radio had spat out part of an interview, some encrypted pirate station, a replay of a pre-Match Mourinho describing the kind of bus he would have parked at the end of the world, and for all his professional respect for the man it had made something dark and angry coil in Philipp’s gut. Thomas had turned it off after five seconds, and nobody had stopped him, even though the underground was all they had these days, a few precious seconds of information, rendered choppy and near-inaudible with static.
“I hope there are roaches in his bunker, wherever he is,” said Manu, with feeling. He looked as if he were about to continue, but the radio suddenly spluttered to life, and Thomas yelped and nearly dropped it.
By popular consensus the radio was hurriedly passed over to Javi, who had fixed it in the first place, and the rest of the team watched intently as he coaxed the static into words they could all understand.
At first Philipp thought he was imagining what he was hearing. He didn’t know much about radios, but he knew soundwaves could be distorted by distance, atmospheric conditions, just about anything getting in the way. Maybe that was it: maybe that was why the voice emanating from the radio sounded so much like Jürgen Klopp.
But then he saw the expressions on everyone else’s faces, and he knew what he was hearing was real.
--is a broadcast from friends. We are all present and accounted for. Any available assistance is appreciated. Message repeats in three seconds.
This is a broadcast from friends--
Nobody moved to turn it off. For a long while the only sounds in the bunker were the tinny voice emanating from the radio and the hushed whispers of Javi translating for Thiago.
It was Thomas, of course, who finally broke the silence.
“What frequency is that, Javi?”
“90.9,” said Javi. Someone snorted--Philipp couldn’t see who--and that did it, that opened the floodgates.
“It would be, wouldn’t it?”
“It’s almost too fitting.”
“If this is real--”
“It can’t be,” said Toni, with uncharacteristic force. “Do you know how much they’d have to boost the signal for us to get it here in Munich?”
Thomas bristled. “Are you saying it’s a trap?”
“If the signal were coming all the way from Dortmund, maybe,” said Pizza slowly, cutting off Toni’s retort. “But they were due to play Augsburg when the Hurakan came.”
Philipp stood up. He could feel everyone’s eyes on him.
“Basti,” he said, quietly, “a word with you. Alone.”
The Hurakan could have razed every stadium on the planet if they’d wanted. They hadn’t wanted. They’d leveled a few to make a point but left almost all the major ones standing, because after all they’d needed somewhere to house the surviving footballers.
It was some kind of ancient ritual for the Hurakan, as Philipp understood it, one that had served them well for millennia. They saw it as a more civilized means of conducting wars, which Philipp would have appreciated more if the ritual hadn’t also included the ceremonial vaporization of the losing team.
Of course there had been riots, after, but they hadn’t lasted long enough to become full-scale rebellions. Not when the Hurakan fleet could have vaporized the rest of Earth in the blink of an eye. They’d lost the war, inasmuch as it had been a war for all of fifteen seconds, and thinking about what might have happened if they’d won was an exercise in futility for even Philipp.
“I know that look on your face,” said Basti, as they ducked into Philipp’s room. “You think it checks out.”
Philipp had long ago stopped pretending Basti couldn’t read him like an open book. “Don’t you?”
Basti pursed his lips. Finally he said, “If it’s real, they’re taking an enormous risk.”
“The Hurakan don’t seem big on subtlety,” said Philipp. “This isn’t their style. If they’d really wanted to get our attention, they would’ve marched into the city and started shooting civilians until they got an answer.”
Basti stared at him. “You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?”
“There hasn’t been much else for me to do,” said Philipp drily. “No, I think they’re perfectly happy that we’ve decided to stay underground. I imagine these days they don’t care what we do, so long as we don’t cause any trouble. The fewer repeats of Manchester and Madrid, the better.”
“So this signal--”
“It could be the real thing. There wasn’t anything in that message that could’ve been used to identify whoever created it. No codenames, no hints--”
“Just the radio station,” said Basti. “And the time. 19:09? Come on.”
“I think that was a calculated risk,” said Philipp. “And one too subtle for our Hurakan overlords, at that. I think it’s from Dortmund. Maybe even from Augsburg.”
Basti looked at him. “Is that what you really think, or is that just what you want to be true?”
Philipp faltered. Basti was right, of course, like he always was: Philipp wanted it to be true. He wanted it desperately. But Basti was looking at him like he wanted it to be true because he--had cabin fever, or was going mad from the strain of doing nothing for so long, and was starving from lack of contact with the outside world.
It wasn’t like that at all. He wanted it to be true because if it was--if he could just have this tiny, absurd flicker of hope--
“A little of both,” he said, at last, and Basti smiled, just a weak twitch at the corner of his mouth, barely even anything, and put a steady arm around his shoulders.
“I’ll talk to Javi,” he said. “See if we can figure out a reply.”
A few times a month Philipp sent out foraging parties to Unterschleißheim and Garching, since venturing too close to the city proper was a risk he wasn’t willing to take. Philipp had no doubts that there were people still living out here--it wasn’t as if they had anywhere else to go--but when the foragers turned up the streets were all suddenly a little too empty, the curtains a little too drawn. There were consequences for aiding footballers. Even if the Hurakan seemed to have relaxed their scrutiny in the last few months, their sentry ship still hung in the sky over Munich, a raised fist over all their heads every time anyone ventured outside.
Once Thomas had run into a grandmotherly sort sweeping her front step, because apparently even after the end of the world you had to have standards. Either she hadn’t known who he was, or she’d recognized him and simply hadn’t cared. She’d invited him in and told him what she knew, which hadn’t been much.
It was the cell phones that had really fucked them over. They’d been using some kind of new Samsung tech during the match. Mario had mentioned it during one of his rare calls from the training center. Whatever it had been, it had played a role in the team’s first and only goal of the game, or the Hurakan seemed to think it had, because after the Match the phone towers and satellites had been the first to go.
These days, she’d said, you were lucky if your town had a couple reliable bicycle couriers. The last one to pass through was a woman who had come all the way from Frankfurt, and she’d said what was left of the city proper was pretty much under martial law. She didn’t know what had happened to the footballers. At some point the old lady had patted Thomas’s knee and asked if he wouldn’t be interested in becoming a courier himself. Thomas had talked his way out of it, but he’d refilled her box of kindling and done a few simple chores for her as thanks.
The next time the foraging party went through Unterschleißheim the house had been abandoned, all of the windows broken, the door swinging open on one hinge. Thomas hadn’t said a word for an entire day, and after that they’d stopped talking to anyone they saw in the streets.
At dinner David came up to him after most of the mess hall had cleared out and said, without preamble, “I want to help.”
“Great,” said Philipp, and pulled out his battered notebook. “We can always use another hand. Do you want to join up with Toni? He’s organizing a run out to that abandoned research center. Javi says we need more copper wire. I haven’t asked him why.”
David stared at him. “No, man,” he said. “I want to help with the other thing. Whatever you’re planning with the BVB.”
“We’re not planning anything,” said Philipp. Which was true, as far as anyone who wasn’t Basti was concerned. “We don’t even know if it’s really them.”
“Don’t give me that,” said David. “You know it is. Anyway they’ve gotta know about Mario by now.”
“Yes, along with the rest of the world,” said Philipp. But then he stopped: David was watching him warily, as if that hadn’t been what he’d meant at all. Slowly he closed his notebook, put it away, and waited.
“Mario noticed,” said David. His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. “He was talking to Beckenbauer on the phone, right after the aliens appeared. He said Beckenbauer hadn’t called up any Bayern players, and wasn’t that gonna make the aliens suspicious? And Beckenbauer said it was a risk he was willing to take, in case it all went downhill in the end.” He looked down. “You can guess what Mario had to say to that.”
“He volunteered,” said Philipp, and David nodded slowly.
Of course he had. A kid like him, reviled by his former team, mistrusted by his new one, with nothing to lose and everything to prove. It made all the sense in the world, and Philipp hated that it did. It would have been easier to think of it the way everyone had, Beckenbauer sending the fresh meat out to die, trying to protect his beloved Bayern one last time. Philipp didn’t want to think of the alternative: that Mario might’ve known what was going to happen from the start. That the two of them might’ve planned this behind everyone’s backs.
He hadn’t wanted to think: It should have been me.
“Why are you telling me this now?” he said.
David somehow managed to look both embarrassed and defiant at the same time. “I heard you talking to Basti.”
“David,” said Philipp, a pit opening up in his stomach. “It’s not what you think it is. The plan—”
“It doesn’t matter what I think it is,” said David, and lifted his chin. “I want in.”
The research facility to the west was full of lab equipment, but as far as anyone could tell most of it had been intended to keep a lot of small flasks of cells at a very specific temperature for as long as possible. Toni’s team brought back the copper wire Javi had asked for, along with duct tape, batteries, and four bottles of Augustiner they’d found at the bottom of what had probably been an ice machine but was now just a very expensive tub of lukewarm water.
Meanwhile the radio station kept broadcasting every night at 19:09 for one minute straight, the same message, without fail. It was starting to make Philipp nervous: sooner or later the Hurakan were bound to notice. Or maybe they already had, and were choosing to ignore it. Or maybe they were only waiting to see what would happen. It was impossible to know for sure.
It was a week before Javi gathered them all in the stadium’s old broadcast room. “Antenne Bayern,” he said by way of explanation. “They used to report on matches here, but it was all with the computer, it doesn’t work now. So I play around with the equipment a little. What frequency do you want?”
“The same one they’re using,” said Philipp. “I’m sure they’ve been listening for a response. We’ll broadcast as soon as they go off the air.”
The problem was, he realized as Javi fussed with the microphone, that he didn’t know what he was going to say. He hadn’t been planning for this at all; had thought maybe someone else would step up to the plate. Thomas, maybe. But--and here he glanced to his left, where Thomas was grinning horribly and giving him two thumbs up--nobody else had volunteered.
“Live in three, boss,” said Javi.
“Yellow, this is Red,” he said into the mic. “We are all present and accounted for. Tell us how we can help.”
Silence descended in the room again. Philipp held his breath, suddenly aware of how stifling the air was. The last time any of them had spoken to anyone from Dortmund had been the Champions League final. But did that matter at all, after the end of the world?
Then, suddenly, a burst of static.
“We hear you,” said the voice of Jürgen Klopp: steady, but Philipp could hear the relief in it, creeping in at the edges. “We’ll be in touch shortly.”
Basti was the first to exhale, and then everyone else did too, a collective rush that seemed to clear the room. With great ceremony, he popped open one of the bottles of Augustiner and passed it to Philipp. “Don't tell our sponsors,” he said, and grinned.
Afterwards Philipp went out into the stands with what was left of the Augustiner and stood there, looking out into the gathering dusk, the pitch below him bathed in odd shadows. It had always looked a little strange when the lights were off, and now, as empty as it was, he half expected to see the ghosts of old matches still being played out on the yellowed grass.
A few of the others had followed him out into the open air. He could hear their murmured conversations around him. David and Jérôme sat near each other, their heads bowed close together. In the distance Rafinha was playing his battered ukulele, Dante beside him singing softly, nossa, nossa, assim você me mata, and in the vastness of the stadium it sounded almost wistful.
“Hey,” said a voice. “Expired protein bar for your thoughts?”
Philipp turned. Thomas had slid noiselessly into the seat beside him, draped his long legs over the back of the seat in front. He raised an eyebrow, waggled it exaggeratedly.
“I was just thinking about the grounds crew,” said Philipp, and gestured out towards the pitch: the faded lines, the tattered corner flags, the patch of torn-up turf near the Südkurve where Tom had tried and failed to start a vegetable garden. “Wherever they are.”
“Probably safe at home, the lucky bastards,” said Thomas. “They wouldn’t count as footballers to our alien overlords.”
It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. If you weren’t a footballer you thought the team was eleven-plus men who ran around on a pitch for ninety minutes and then went home. You didn’t think about everyone who kept the grass watered, or painted the goal lines, or did the laundry, or stayed up half the night calling airlines and hotels to keep the gears turning smoothly. You didn’t think about how quickly it could all break down.
He supposed the Hurakan hadn’t thought about that either. Maybe Thomas was right. Maybe they didn’t have kit men where they came from, and they’d all made it home safe.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Thomas had turned his gaze back out to the pitch.
“You ever think about it?” he said, quieter than Philipp had ever heard him before.
“The end of football,” said Thomas. “And, consequently, the end of the world. You ever think that would happen?”
“Not like this,” said Philipp.
“ Not with a bang but a whisper ,” said Thomas, in passable English, and then, at Philipp’s look of mock surprise, “Oh, come off it. I studied for the Abitur, you know, for all the good that did.”
“I’m glad you decided to grace us with your presence instead, Herr Professor,” said Philipp, and passed him the bottle of Augustiner.
Thomas grinned, drank, pulled a face. “Just think, if I’d gone to university I could’ve been hiding in a bunker in the city right now, instead of hiding in a stadium in--well, it isn’t the country. Not really.”
A few stands down, a minor squabble broke out--too hard to tell who was involved. It sounded like Franck. “Have you heard from your family at all?”
Thomas gestured ambivalently. “The couriers don’t come this close, you know that. No news is good news. Besides, they’re probably safer staying away.”
Philipp made a muted noise of assent. The squabble below had drawn Jérôme and Rafinha, who pried the others apart with no small amount of squabbling themselves. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” said Thomas. “You may as well apologize for being a footballer, for all the good it’ll do. Although if I had to pick one to blame it’d be Elber. I don’t think I’d be here, otherwise.”
“I was going to retire, you know.”
The words burst out of him before he could help it. Thomas looked at him, startled.
“No, but--” Philipp waved a hand. “From the national team. After the World Cup. No matter what happened.”
“After we’d crashed out of the semifinals, then.” Thomas, only half-joking.
“No matter what happened,” repeated Philipp. “It seemed like the time to do it.”
“Guess we’re all a bit retired now.” Thomas took another pull of lukewarm beer, grimaced. “Shit, how do the English enjoy this?” When Philipp didn’t reply, his expression turned shrewd. “We are retired now, aren’t we?”
“If you want to put it that way.” Philipp forced a laugh he didn’t entirely mean. “Let the treble stand. We were the last to win it all.”
Thomas’s teeth flashed in the gloom. “Think about it a lot, do you?”
“No. Not anymore. Like you said, it wouldn’t do any good.”
The end of football, he thought, and rolled the words around in his brain. He didn’t much like the feel of them. He wasn’t sure he believed it, either. Down in the stands, Jérôme was saying Now shake on it, and try to remember we’re not a bunch of fucking children.
“Well,” drawled Thomas, clearly unconvinced. He stretched, rested his elbows on the back of his seat. “If it had to end like this, I’m glad it ended with us.”
Mandzu woke him in the middle of the night by looming over him in a vaguely menacing way until he opened his eyes.
“There’s something you need to see,” he said.
Philipp blinked up at him. “Are you going to tell me what it is, or are you going to leave me in suspense?”
“We’ve got company,” said Mandzu, and Philipp sat up immediately, reaching for his coat.
During the first month of the Hurakan occupation, anyone attempting to reach the stadium had been shot on sight, which was how they’d learned the range of whatever guns the ship hovering over Munich had. The second month, they’d downgraded to warning shots, but by then they’d made their point abundantly clear. Even now Philipp wasn’t certain what the point of it had been. There were too many things about the Hurakan that remained a mystery. He’d figured it was part and parcel of trying to understand an alien race, but it didn’t mean he had to like it. And for someone to approach the stadium now, under cover of darkness--well, he didn’t know what that could mean, either.
“Several someones, actually,” said Jérôme from his vantage point on the stadium roof, as Philipp climbed up the last of the service ladders. “Spotted them coming out of Fröttmaning station about five minutes ago. They’re still a good kilometer or so away, but yeah, I’d say they’re headed for us.”
Philipp glanced down at the loaded shotgun in Jérôme’s hands. They’d raided the nearby Olympia shooting range during one of their first foraging runs, but that didn’t mean any of them were much good at using what they’d found, and in any case he wasn’t entirely certain a weapon intended for shooting clay pigeons would do much against an alien opponent. “Can you tell if they’re armed?”
“Not from here. They’re human, though, I can tell you that much.”
Philipp peered out at the distant U-Bahn station, where several shadowy figures were making their way steadily up the road to the stadium, their path lit by the occasional unbroken streetlight.
“And the Hurakan haven’t tried to stop them?”
“They took a couple potshots. Might’ve hit one of them, but they didn’t stop.”
Philipp frowned. It should have been suspicious. All the signs pointed to it being a setup. But there hadn’t been any news coming out of Munich lately: no people and no messages, and nothing indicating the violence had started up again. And there was a tight feeling in his chest he couldn’t identify. He wasn’t in the habit of listening to his instincts as a general rule--at least, not until after he’d had time to think things over--but he was suddenly certain this was the beginning of something he hadn’t planned for, and for once it didn’t frighten him.
In the distance, the Hurakan ship was hovering, hidden from them for now by the night. And the figures had finally slowed to a halt in front of the stadium: four of them, hooded against the winter cold, their faces obscured with scarves.
Philipp didn’t say anything. Waited for them to speak first. But they just stood there in front of the gates for what seemed like an eternity. Then the figure in front stepped forward, pushed her hood back, and lowered her scarf, and Philipp felt his jaw drop open.
Kathleen Krüger smiled up at him. “I heard your broadcast,” she said. Behind Philipp, Jérôme whooped, thumped Philipp on the back so hard he thought he’d fall off the roof. “When do we start?”
“That was Klopp on the other end, wasn’t it?” said Kathleen. “I picked him up on the radio about a week ago and I thought it might be the Borussen, but I wasn’t sure until I heard you respond last night.”
They’d brought her, with great fanfare, into what had once been the executive lounge, which despite the lack of electricity was still the nicest part of the stadium. The rest of her entourage had turned out to be former staff, too: Sandra and Michi, two of the bus drivers, and Dominique, a team manager, all of whom were immediately surrounded by the team and plied with hot chocolate and coffee.
“It’s him all right,” said Philipp. “God, but I’m glad to see all of you. And so is everyone else.”
“I think Franck might actually be crying,” said Basti.
“Man, fuck you,” said Franck, from somewhere near the back of the lounge, but he didn’t deny it.
“You looked so surprised,” said Kathleen. “You really thought there was nobody else listening?”
“I--didn’t think, I guess,” said Philipp. It felt strange to admit it, but it was true; he’d been so focused on making sure the Hurakan didn’t hear that he hadn’t considered who else might. “I didn’t know what happened to all of you. I didn’t want to hope.”
“We’re like cockroaches,” said Dominique, her hands wrapped around her mug of coffee like a lifeline. Philipp hadn’t spoken to her much before: she’d mostly wrangled sponsors, checked out team hotels, did the groundwork before the team arrived. “We figured it was probably better to stay underground for a while. Now we’re poking our heads out.”
“Sticking our necks out, more like,” said Michi, but he was smiling.
“The Schickeria got in contact with me first,” said Kathleen. “That was a month ago, give or take. They said they wanted to do something. For the longest time I wasn’t sure what that could be. Then yesterday--” she gestured. “It sounded like something we could help with.”
“You know there’ll be consequences for all of you,” said Philipp, thinking of the old lady in Unterschleißheim. “Including the ultras. You weren’t subtle about coming here. The Hurakan have to know by now.”
“Fuck them,” said Dominique, easily. “Anyway, you weren’t exactly subtle, yourself--”
But Sandra leaned forward, and Dominique subsided immediately.
“You listen to me, Philipp,” she said. “It’s high time we started acting like the family we’ve always said we were. And some family that would be, if we weren’t here for you when you needed help.”
From anyone else it would have sounded needlessly sentimental. But Sandra had been driving the first team around Europe since he was five years old; she knew all their lives inside and out, as much as anyone could in this business; and now when she looked at him, he found whatever answer he would’ve given stuck in his throat and wouldn’t come out.
“Stephan Lehmann sends his regards, too,” said Kathleen briskly, into the silence. “I wanted him to come with us, but he said something about how we all run faster than him now. Anyway, he wants in on whatever you’re planning.”
“Everyone thinks I’ve got a plan,” said Philipp, a little crossly.
“Well,” said Kathleen. “Are they wrong?”
“We’ll need some way of getting to Augsburg,” he said, in lieu of an actual answer. “If the Dortmunders had a way of getting here, they would be here by now. But they must be having the same problems we are: no working buses and no way of getting far from the stadium without being noticed.”
Dominique smiled at him. “Leave that to us.”
Two days later, he found himself in a BMW hybrid bound for Augsburg, with Michi at the wheel and Manu and Basti in the back seat. The roads were mostly clear; most people had been at home during the Match, and nowadays the lack of fuel kept cars from being as practical as they’d once been.
“We noticed they’d stopped really trying to hit us whenever we got near the stadium,” said Michi. “We figured there had to be a reason for that. Sandra thinks it’s because they don’t think of you as a threat anymore.”
“And you?” said Philipp.
“Personally I think it’s because they want to see what we’ll do. Maybe they want us to start trying again.”
“Could you maybe think of a happier idea?” said Basti.
Philipp glanced in the rearview mirror. Sandra’s car was still in sight behind them; Kathleen’s had peeled off earlier, bound for the Italian border as a distraction, the way they’d planned. In the distance he could still see the Hurakan ship, hanging motionless in the air. To Philipp it felt almost like they were children trying to hide from their parents, but the ship still hadn’t moved when they’d left the stadium, or when they’d finally merged onto the A8.
Michi was right. They had to know something was going on. Philipp stared out the window at the scarred landscape blurring past. It was hard not to look at the blasted earth and matchstick forests and think Football caused this, even though the truth was closer to Football tried to stop this, and failed.
He’d lied to Thomas. Sometimes he still dreamed about the treble: floodlights on grass, the catch and give of his studs in the turf, Munich to London to Berlin, the heart-pounding rush of maybe, maybe, this time.
He never dreamed about what came after--not the motorcade to Marienplatz, not the banquet or the afterparty, not Basti curled drunk and affectionate into the crook of his neck. He was only ever on the pitch, alone, facing down the world, and when he woke it was with the dying songs of the crowd in his ears.
There was a smaller Hurakan ship hovering over Augsburg, and Philipp half fancied it spun to face them as they entered the city limits. As they passed through a residential street he thought he caught sight of a few worried faces staring out of windows, but they were gone as soon as he turned to get a better look. Manu frowned uneasily, and Basti adjusted the shotgun in his lap.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have taken a car,” he said.
“You want to bike the four hours back, be my guest,” said Michi.
There were a few guards on the roof as they pulled up in front of the stadium. Philipp squinted up at them, but they were too far away for him to make out who they were. Instead he turned his attention to the stadium gates, where three figures were emerging: Kehli, Mats, and to his immense surprise and delight, Andi Ottl, who broke into a run as soon as he spotted Philipp.
He’d hoped, but he hadn’t dared voice the thought to himself, in case some higher power was listening. The broadcasts hadn’t mentioned FC Augsburg, after all, and as much as Philipp had assumed it was because they were trying to protect as many people as possible there was also the possibility that the stadium had been hit hard by the Hurakan. That Borussia Dortmund might have been the only team left in the city. But no: Andi was here, smiling fit to burst, and Philipp could only grin helplessly back at him and let himself be swept up in a hug.
“I can’t believe you wore a suit,” said Andi fondly, pushing him back.
“I had to look my best,” said Philipp, as Basti and Manu came up behind him. “Imagine if I’d died in a tracksuit.”
Kehli took a long look at the three of them and said, “You’ve got some nerve bringing a Schalker to a meet like this.” But he was grinning too, and Mats had that look on his face that said he was pleased about the situation but thought he was too dignified to show it.
Kehli explained as they made their way through the stadium. It wasn’t much different from what had happened to Bayern. They’d been at the team hotel when the Match ended, and less than an hour later the Hurakan had turned up and ushered them all unceremoniously to the stadium. The Yellow Wall had tried to get help to them several times and failed. And then--nothing. Just the occasional foraging run, which the Hurakan hadn’t interfered with, and the attempts at contact.
“And now,” he said, “we’re here. And so are you.” He paused. “What did the three of you come here for, anyway? I know we asked for help, but we were thinking more along the lines of--buses and shit. Or guns. Anything to help us get out of here.”
“I want a rematch,” said Philipp.
There was a pause.
“Of the Champions League final?” said Kehli.
“Of the Match,” said Philipp.
There was a sudden murmur of surprise behind him. At some point they’d accumulated a crowd of players.
“You’re fucking with me,” said Kehli.
“I wouldn’t have used up half a tank of petrol for that,” said Philipp.
“Right. Yeah, no, you wouldn’t have.” Kehli stared at him, then scrubbed his hands over his face. “I’d better get you to Kloppo, then. He’ll want to hear about this.”
“It’s a fucking fantastic idea,” said Klopp.
“I thought you’d say as much,” said Philipp.
They were in the stands, one of the upper tiers, watching the rest of the players mingle on the pitch below them. They’d done a better job of gardening here: a couple of sad tomato plants, a scraggly patch of herbs. It was the drainage system, Philipp thought.
“My lads are fed up with this shit,” said Klopp. “And so am I. I expect you lot are too. At some point it’ll all break down and I don’t want to be here when it happens.”
“My only concern--” began Philipp, and Klopp laughed.
“You’ve gone a bit out of order, haven’t you? I thought I was supposed to be the one telling you how shit your plan is.”
“I only want to give you an idea of how little a chance we have,” said Philipp.
“I don’t need convincing of that,” said Klopp. “But go on.”
“My only concern is how easy it’s been to get here,” said Philipp. “After everything. You remember the first few months after the Match--and now we’re here. They didn’t bother us the whole way. What changed?”
“Maybe they want us to challenge them again,” said Klopp. “Properly this time. Without fancy cell phones or flashy lights.”
Philipp sighed. “That’s what Michi said. I’m starting to think you’re all right.”
Klopp turned to look at him. “Either way,” he said, “we’re in. We’re all in. Better to go out fighting, eh?”
“Yes,” said Philipp. “Better to go out fighting.”
It was later. Philipp and Klopp had just joined everyone else on the pitch when Marco spotted it: a small white object that looked remarkably like a football, rolling past at the edge of the pitch, veering oddly as it passed close by the nearest cluster of players.
“Droid!” he shouted, and at the shout the ball turned on a dime and began to roll toward the stadium tunnel.
“Get down,” said Klopp sharply. Piszczek was already in motion, running forward to meet it as an Augsburg player cut off its escape route. At first Philipp didn’t understand what was happening; he watched, baffled, as Piszczek slid into a smooth tackle and intercepted the ball neatly, and then Philipp found himself looking at dirt and grass as Andi dragged him down.
“Spy droid,” said Andi into his ear. “They must’ve seen you coming.”
Philipp struggled to look up. Weidenfeller was taking a run at the ball: a thunderbolt of a strike that sent it far into the away stands. As it fell back toward earth it flashed red, just once, and exploded.
For a moment there was a ringing silence. A moment longer, and the smell of burning plastic and metal reached them: a few of the seats had caught fire.
“Mario said they tried something like that in the training center,” said Marco. “Said they’d tried to steal data on the team, but Casillas got to it first. There’s been a couple of them already.”
“It sounds like he told you a lot of things,” said Philipp. The unspoken things he didn’t tell us hung in the air like a Hurakan ship.
“Yeah,” said Marco, lifting his chin slightly. His eyes were bright. “He did.”
Philipp thought: He volunteered. Aloud he said, “I’m glad,” and almost smiled at Marco’s expression. “Really I am. I’m glad he felt he could still talk to someone, before the end.”
So there it was: the Hurakan weren’t perfect. Weren’t omniscient. They could only guess at what his intentions were by what they saw and heard, and they couldn’t see through walls; they couldn’t hear everything. They had tech that had been cutting-edge compared to what Earth had had even before the Match, but what difference did that make? Cutting-edge tech hadn’t helped Earth. When it all came down to it, it would be eleven men on a pitch and a ball. Eleven men, and whoever stood behind them.
And anyway, even the first team had scored a goal. It wasn’t impossible. Anything but.
He did feel a little guilty about how much he’d lied, but it wasn’t as if that was a new feeling.
After that things began happening at an alarming rate. Michi and Sandra must have used the Schickeria, or else leaned on some of Dominique’s connections, because suddenly they had enough fuel for a bus to make the trip out to Augsburg. Overnight the old radio broadcast room turned into some kind of communications hub; Kathleen and Dominique more or less moved in, and Javi spent the better part of his time running errands for them, looking enormously busy but happier than any of them had seen him in a long time.
“You can’t expect a response,” Kathleen said. “We have a limited range, even if we boost the signal. And we can’t be sure anyone else is listening out there.”
It made sense, of course, and he’d never been the type to succumb to unfounded optimism. But Philipp had the vaguest sensation that wheels were turning somewhere he couldn’t see, the same way they’d always turned when Kathleen had the reins. And in the meantime, there was a community to run, lodgings to be arranged for the arriving players, supply runs to be organized.
The first message to come was from Leverkusen: Bernd and Stefan, saying they were on their way. And then, slowly, more began to trickle in. Mainz. Zürich. Milan. A couple of amateurs in Salzburg who harbored no illusions about their ability to make the team, but who wanted to offer their unconditional support, and also the use of their ham radio network.
The last message to come was five seconds long and almost entirely static, the English words mangled by accent and distance until they were almost incomprehensible.
Ciao, Philipp. You will need a keeper.
They met in an abandoned chalet in South Tyrol. Heavy snows had broken the windows and then melted in the spring, leaving behind the smell of mildew and dust. Philipp and Basti arrived first, as Philipp had thought they would, and he spent the better part of an hour clearing unopened mail from the doorstep and opening all the unbroken windows to clear the air while Basti went through the cupboards and closets for supplies.
When Buffon entered it was with a small army. What seemed like half the national team fanned out behind him with a practiced ease that Philipp found a little unsettling; they were followed by a few men who looked as if they were actual bodyguards, and Philipp wondered what could have happened in Italy to warrant all of this. But the embrace Buffon offered to both Philipp and Basti was hearty and genuine, and when they had pulled away he only said, “So. You got my message?”
“This is a very long way to come to tell you that we already have a keeper,” said Philipp, slowly. He’d spent most of the trip rehearsing the words in his head. Basti had offered to stand in for him--his English had always been better--but this had been something he’d wanted to do himself. It wouldn’t have felt right otherwise.
Buffon smiled, showing all his teeth. “Maybe so,” he said. “But not the right one.”
“No?” said Philipp. “I trust Manu very much. Do you think you are better than he is?”
“Philipp,” said Buffon. He pronounced it Pheleep, drawing the vowels out with exaggerated care. “It’s not about being better. You weren’t the only man to lose a friend on that ship.”
And now he saw the savage glint in Buffon’s eye, how his smile only went as far as the edges of his mouth, and a chill went down Philipp’s spine despite the fact that none of it was directed at him.
He’d gone into this thinking there would be no room for emotion. It wasn’t until now that he finally realized how wrong he’d been.
On an impulse he extended his hand. And now, like lightning, Buffon’s smile lit up the rest of his face, and he seized Philipp’s hand in a grip so crushing he had to clutch his own knee with his free hand to keep from grimacing.
“Welcome to the team,” he said, and Buffon laughed.
(The thing about Manu was you could never be entirely certain how he’d react to something like this. Oh, Philipp knew exactly what he’d think--he’d never said as much out loud, but there really were quite a lot of similarities between the two of them--but what he’d do was a different matter.
In the end, Manu was there, waiting for Buffon, and the two shared a long, wordless look before Manu nodded once, stiffly, and Gigi stepped in close to clasp his shoulder. There were some things, Philipp decided, you had to be a keeper to understand, but he was grateful for it.)
“I’m not staying for training,” he said, as Sandra and Michi unloaded their bags. “Get Lichtsteiner to fill in for me at right-back today. Sandra and I are headed for England in an hour.”
“I don’t get it,” said Basti. “What the hell’s in England?”
“José Mourinho,” said Philipp.
Mourinho, for once, did not speak at all. He only listened as Philipp laid out the plan with painstaking slowness, willing his stubborn tongue around the foreign syllables.
He hadn’t wanted to do so much of this in English, but what choice did he have? Nobody else could know. Not when the risk of failure was so immense. And yet the idea that he might be misunderstood was unbearable.
It was, he reflected grimly, almost as unbearable as the idea that he might be understood too well.
“What you are proposing,” said Mourinho, once Philipp had finished. “It is madness.”
“Yes,” said Philipp. “I thought you would say that.”
“Ten defenders,” said Mourinho, and sat back. “It is as foolish a plan as Beckenbauer’s was.”
“I know,” said Philipp.
He didn’t say: and yet I came to you, out of all of the managers in Europe, because I knew you would be the only man who would agree to do it.
“It is--” Mourinho searched for the right words, and could not. Instead he muttered something under his breath in rapid Portuguese which Philipp could only guess the meaning of, and then, looking up, said sharply: “You will not win this match.”
Philipp looked at him and felt only sudden, overwhelming relief.
“I know,” he said.
He had a vague, ominous feeling during the trip back to Munich, a sense that things weren’t falling into place quite as neatly as he’d hoped. The feeling worsened when he pushed open the door and found Basti and Thomas waiting for him in his room.
“When were you going to tell us?” said Basti.
Philipp had enough sense of mind to let a little surprise bleed through onto his face. Having no expression at all was as good as giving the game away. But he could see at once it wasn’t going to work on either of them.
“Tell you what?” he said, anyway, just as a matter of pride.
“That you weren’t planning on coming back,” said Thomas.
“I’m not--” began Philipp. But then he closed his mouth, half-twisted it, gave up.
“That’s what I thought,” said Thomas. There was something jarringly bitter about the satisfaction in his voice.
Philipp sat. That was the thing with Basti and Thomas: once they had you, you were had. “How did you figure it out?”
“Thomas, mostly,” said Basti. “He thought it was weird that we didn’t even try to sneak past the Hurakan when we went to Augsburg. Just waltzed in in broad daylight. I hadn’t even thought about that. But you planned it, didn’t you? You wanted to see what else the Hurakan had. You wanted to see how they’d react.”
“I leaned on David a little and the whole thing with Mario came out,” said Thomas. “But I didn’t know what that meant until the Italians made contact. It wasn’t just for Buffon, was it? You wanted their defense. All of them. That’s why you made the trip out, to make sure they would all want to be in the squad. Because you knew you wouldn’t be playing in the rematch.”
Basti leaned back. “What neither of us can figure out is why. We have more defenders in this stadium than we know what to do with. For what? What do you need ten defenders for?”
“So we can make it to extra time,” said Philipp.
They looked blank. To be honest, he was more disappointed in Thomas than Basti for that.
“That droid in Augsburg Arena,” he said. “You saw the size of that explosion. I talked to Marco and he told me Mario said the droid they sent to their training facility did the exact same thing when it was trapped. They have to have at least dozens of them in every Hurakan ship. Maybe hundreds. Thousands. And every single one of them is rigged to self-destruct under the right conditions.” Now he could see the understanding dawning in Thomas’s eyes. “I just need time to activate them.”
Silence. Basti took a deep breath, but Thomas beat him to it.
“You’re a bastard,” said Thomas. “What the hell do you think this is, a movie? You can’t make up for Mario any more than Buffon can make up for Casillas. Only he’s being noble about it and you’re--” He gestured, exasperated.
“I’m being me,” said Philipp, as blandly as he dared.
For a moment he thought Basti was going to deck him. “Well, don’t,” he said instead, and he didn’t even look betrayed, or angry, or anything: just tired, and that was almost worse.
“Where did being noble get us?” said Philipp. “Manchester and Madrid and Barcelona were noble , and now they’re smoking craters. Do you honestly think the Hurakan are just going to leave us alone if we win a fucking football match? It’s just--it’s just football.”
“You know it isn’t,” said Basti.
“I have a question for you,” said Thomas. “Just one. And if you can answer it honestly, I’ll let you fuck off into the sunset like the hero you want to be.”
Philipp looked at him.
“What if we win?” said Thomas. “Sensible team lineup. A couple good wingers. None of that ten forwards bullshit. What if, Philipp? You know this isn’t football. Not the way you want to play it.”
Philipp hesitated. Football was--
Football was Basti and Javi and Andi and David and Thomas. It was grass-stained knees and torn shirts and cold nights sliding in rain and muck. It was the roaring tide of the Südkurve, hearts and flares and banners blazing red, red, red. But it was also Kathleen and Sandra and Dominique and physios and kit men and everyone in between. It went on forever, until it stopped.
He hadn’t thought he might ever need to die for it, but now he couldn’t imagine anything else.
“I know,” he said, quietly, and hated the uncertainty in his voice. “But it’ll still be football when this is all over. I promise.”
That night he dreamed of the treble again, standing alone, blinding lights and harsh shadows, and this time when he ran the songs turned dissonant and alien, reverberating around him until he thought he might drown, and when he clawed to the surface everything was red.
In the dream he thought he saw land. He thought: maybe, maybe, this time.
The summons, when it came, was brief and unceremonious: a single shuttle, a Hurakan pilot, two guards with alien weapons, sleek and twisted, who gestured for them to come. Everyone instinctively looked to Philipp: he pointed at faces, called out names, no time at all to argue.
Someone called his name. He looked up; Kathleen and the rest of the staff were standing by the nearest gate. They didn’t wave, didn’t cheer: only nodded at him as he lifted his hand. Nearby, David pushed past him onto the shuttle, and looked a little surprised when Philipp didn’t move to stop him.
He looked for Thomas and Basti, and wasn’t surprised to find that they weren’t there.
As soon as they were all seated the doors hissed shut and the earth dropped away below them with gut-churning speed. They hadn’t had time to change out of their training kits, much less find matching uniforms, but there was something reassuring about the clashing colors, around him, the grass-stained boots. Something--human.
“You know,” said a voice, “I had an interesting chat with a few of your players last night.”
Philipp turned. Gigi Buffon had dropped into the seat next to him.
“Is this a last-minute intervention?” said Philipp.
“Me?” said Gigi, with exaggerated surprise. “I would never presume. No, I’m here to make sure the last-minute intervention stuck.”
“It didn’t work,” said Philipp.
“You left Mourinho behind, didn't you?” said Gigi. “And some of these defenders can certainly push far up the pitch. You do have a romantic streak, after all.”
Philipp stared at him. “I really don’t.”
“You’re a footballer,” said Gigi, and smiled. “We’re all romantics, in the end.”
Philipp took a deep breath. Through the window the pale curvature of Earth was already visible, stark against the vastness of space.
You really thought there was nobody else listening, Kathleen had said. Well, he hadn’t. Not really. Not until now.
He exhaled. He sat up a little straighter, and waited for the whistle to blow.