Early in the 21st Century, THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE advanced Bird Mascot evolution to the PHOENIX phase – a being virtually identical to the big natural long-beaked mascots – known as a Cardinal.

The PHOENIX 2020 Cardinals were superior in strength, agility, and Succession-based-memeability to the previous versions, and at least equal to the branding engineers who created them.

Cardinals were used off-league as punching bags, in the hazardous exploration of the inhospitable wasteland of Arizona, and as a 17-week offseason for Sunday night bingo league for most of their geriatric fanbase.

After a bloody, five-year mutiny by a PHOENIX 2020 combat team in the off-world colony of RedAssArians, Cardinals were declared illegal in the United States – under penalty of death.

Special police squads – BEAK RUNNER UNITS – had orders to shoot to kill upon detection of any trespassing replicant.

This was not called execution.

It was called retirement.

Kliff Kingsbury sat in the stark white room.  He knew every exhale, microperspiration, and wave of his meticulously groomed hair was being monitored for signs that his beak was anything less than large.  A rectangular panel hissed as it retracted into the ceiling and Kliff sat up as a nearly identical clone walked in.  Wait, no, this intruder was significantly more handsome and talented than him. “Hello, I’m Gyan Rosling, the Beak Runner. Can you state your name for the record?”

“Uh, Clif-, wait no, Kliff Kingsbury.  I’m sorry, I’m not qwhite sure why my parents loved the letter K so much.”  For the first – and maybe the last – time, Kliff cursed his parents for giving him the most wonderbread-ass robotic name this side of Russell Carrington Wilson.

“That’s all right, but please answer only the question asked,” the Beak Runner intoned, with Oscar-worthy gravitas.  “Interview with suspected Cardinal, Kliff Kingsbury, begins at 1348 hours.  Now, Mr. Kingsbury, please answer the following questions as quickly and honestly as you can.  Do you understand?”

Kliff realized that it was now do-or-die, not unlike a 4th-and-short in enemy territory, and attacked it with his trademark aggressiveness.  “I would like to kick a field goal.”

It took all of Rosling’s prodigious natural talent and practiced craft to not pull out his weapon and obliterate Kingsbury right there.  Instead, he merely cocked an eyebrow that, to the practiced observer, conveyed a novel’s worth of subtext.  “Did you coach Patrick Mahomes for two years at Texas Tech?”

With Chip Kelly-like rapidity, Kliff fired back, “I would like to ki-…Yes.”

“And did you go 12-14 over those two seasons, placing 5th and 6th in the Big 12 and lose 56-27 in the 2015 Texas Bowl?”

Channeling his mentor, Michael Leech, Kliff gave his most mendacious and mealy-mouthed answer: “Send in the field g-… I mean, yes.”

“Did you accept an offer to be the offensive coordinator at the University of Spoiled Children in December of 2018 and then resign and accept an offer to coach the Arizona Cardinals in January of 2019?”

Running out of people to analogize with, Kliff Kingsbury did his best Kliff Kingsbury impression: “Field goal time”

His patience nearly extinguished, as evident by the microscopic droop in his shoulders, the way he held his head so slightly askance, Rosling brought forth his final question.  “Are you, or have you ever been, Daddy’s number one candy baby?”

A trillion-trillion synapses fire at once throughout Kliff’s pseudocortex.  Parallel processing speeds up this facsimile of cognition to a blistering pace.  Quantum bits flip back and forth and in-between as possibilities coalesce and disperse.  As Bayesian probabilitalistics merge with Monte Carlo simulated simulations, the best possible answer emerges.  His biologic functions have remained perfectly controlled with random fluctuations designed to fool the most sophisticated sensors and pattern recognition programs. The image of a field goal unit blooms in the center of his mind.  With the confidence of a white man who has relentlessly failed upward, he opens his mouth.

Showcasing the practiced ease of someone who has professionally imitated characters for decades, Gyan Rosling whips his regulation RCW sidearm out and blasts Kingsbury’s head to smithereens before his diaphragm can even begin to push air past his vocal cords.  His earpiece chirps and his supervisor’s voice pours into his ear: “Woo! You can’t win the game in the first, second, or third question, but you can sure lose it in the fourth.” Rosling could hear his boss, the futuristically-named Cete Parroll, chewing his traditional gum. “I’m so jacked up that we caught another one of these tiny-beaked bastards.  You obviously figured he posted some of the smallest beak energy ever captured on our radar.”  Rosling had, in fact, picked up on Kliff being a Cardinal from the second he walked in the door.  No human parents would be so cruel as to name their child Kliff Kingsbury.

Gyan leans into his door’s opti-lock, dilating his pupil on command like a true thespian.  The door asks for a password and he whispers “Gyan Rosling, the Beak Runner.”  The door retracts at a pace befitting a lower/middle-class income home in a futuristic city.  His salary could buy him a nicer place, but anti-Cardinal prejudice limits his options as a buyer. 

Did he feel bad about hunting his own kind?  Not particularly.  He had a role in society; these rogue Cardinals did not.  In many ways he felt as different from these so-called disruptors as his human neighbors must have felt from him.  He felt no affinity for the Arizonian desolation and worshipping a trophy case that was somehow even more desolate held no appeal.  He was alone but not lonely.

Gyan’s agency-provided tweetpad beeped, the red Beak Runner logo spiraling faster.  “Download case,” intoned Rosling.  Despite all assurances of their silence, he felt his implants whir to life as they started projecting the dossier information onto the back of his eyelids.  “Target: Kylar Murray. Elimination strategy: Most Violent Prejudice. Deadline: Nov 19th”. 

The information retained, Rosling drifted into sleep.  And despite the fact that there is no evidence that androids dream, his mind raced with action green spin moves, wolf grey touchdowns, and howling rain.

To be continued…