The Scrambler

John A. Broussard ©

They were an unlikely trio. Dr. Charles Darcy was pushing 60,balding, of medium-height and with obvious evidence of long hours spent in a laboratory and a consequent lack of exercise. In marked contrast, Taz Stevens was in his late teens, with a massive shock of jet-black hair, broad shoulders, slim hips and six-feet-two inches of muscle with a body that promised even more growth. Louie Simms was short, heavy-set, showing the unmistakable signs of Down's Syndrome and the indeterminate age that seemed to go with it.

The three of them were gathered around a topless glass cage in the middle of the animal lab. Wire cages stood in phalanxes along most of the wall space in the large room. The smell of wood-chip bedding and the inevitable odor of laboratory animals was pervasive, even though the place was clean and well kept.

Darcy, speaking to Taz, pointed to one of the half-dozen rats in the bottom of the cage; the one distinguished from his all-white cell mates by a brown coat and dark muzzle. "See if you can catch George."

Taz reached a large hand into the cage and George easily eluded it. Two hands fared no better. Each time, as Taz almost cornered the creature, it would escape untouched. Five minutes of effort produced the same results. Louie grinned. Darcy laughed aloud, saying, "Okay, Louie. Show him how to do it." Louie reached into the cage. George hesitated a moment, then came up to the outstretched hand. Louie picked up the lab rat, patted him, and in moments the animal was crawling on the lab assistant's shoulder.

"You can hold him for a while, Louie, and then get back to your cleaning. Taz and I have things to discuss in my office." Taz stretched his long figure out in one of the overstuffed chairs that served as office furniture. "I know you have a lot of questions about that performance," Darcy said, settling down behind a paper-strewn desk. "One answer is easy. Louie likes the rats and they like him. He feeds them and handles them, so they aren't afraid of him. In fact, they expect treats when he shows up. George, as you saw, is one of his favorites." As an afterthought, he added, "He likes them so much, I always make it a point to send him out on errands when I have to sacrifice any of them." Taz looked puzzled. "That still doesn't explain why I couldn't catch George. I could have picked up any of the other rats without half trying. That cage is only three by four."

"That's the tough question. I don't have a complete answer to it, but it has to do with time perception. Have you ever had the feeling that time slowed down?"

Taz grinned. "Time slows way down if you smoke enough pot."

"Exactly. But the accompanying lethargy keeps you from taking advantage of the heightened time perception."

"That's for sure. I can remember someone at a party dropping a glass, and I could follow it all the way to the floor as though it were in slow motion,but I wouldn't have been able to catch it in time. My arms were like lead."

"Well, George has that same time perception, but he's able to action it. He sees your hand coming toward him and he can take evasive action far faster than you can respond to it."

"You mean like house flies? I saw a TV documentary showing how flies see things in slow motion and that's why they're so hard to swat."

Darcy laughed. "That's not so far off. My specialty is animals, and I think I've found out how to stretch out time for them. I don't have the complete explanation, but here's part of it. There seem to be several parts of the brain involved in time perception, some that note longer passages of time and others that prepare the organism - a rat or whatever-for split-second response.

"You talked about that glass falling. In a way, those were your split seconds stretched out by the effects of the marijuana. Now I think I've found a way to take advantage of that stretching. I've found a way, with some modified brain scan equipment, to temporarily alter the segment of the brain - the basal ganglia-which seems to be most directly involved in that split - second perception. George will be back to normal in a couple of hours but, in the meantime, a second for you or me seems to stretch out two or three times longer for him."

Taz looked thoughtful. "Could that work with humans?"

"Do you mean could you have caught that glass?" Darcy shrugged.

"I'm sure I could stretch out a person's time sense, but there are limits on how fast a human being can move in response to that new time sense. There's the time it takes to flex muscles, there's air resistance and a lot of other factors. But for sure, you would have had a much better chance to catch it."

Taz's thoughtful expression intensified. "Could you do that for me?" Darcy's expression didn't change. It was a question he'd expected - planned on, in fact. He'd planned on it even before the visit from his former college classmate, Selwyn Lockhart several weeks before.

Sel had followed a different path once he'd graduated. While Darcy was busy working on a Ph.D. in biology, Sel had taken a job at a brokerage firm, invested most of his earnings in stock and succeeded amazingly well. As he himself admitted, he had a knack for picking the right horse and did his share of gambling in land investments, sports, and "everything but the casinos" with equal success.

Darcy had invited him to the lab to make use of that expertise,but approached the matter from a different direction. "What are Midwest Tech's prospects this football season?" he asked, as they settled down to two cups of strong Columbian.

"Hey! When did you start showing an interest in football? And in your old alma mater's team, no less. Why, you never went to a game all the time you were there, and you didn't know the difference between a cheerleader and a wide receiver."

Darcy laughed. "I still don't, but I have some spare cash, and I thought you might help me to invest it wisely."

Sel's eyes narrowed. "I've been around you long enough to know you aren't a gambler. You must know something I don't know."

Darcy shrugged. "Maybe. But any betting I do will be on M.T."

"Not the best choice. I figure they'll win about five or six in their 11-game season."

"Any outstanding players?"

As a matter of fact, yes. One, anyway. They've got a young sophomore quarterback who's showing a lot of promise. It won't do them much good,though. He won't last the season."

"Why not?"

"He's a scrambler."

Darcy looked a question.

"He runs with the ball. In fact, he likes to run with the ball. Any coach'll tell you that's bad news. The quarterback is supposed to outguess the opposition, not outrun it. He's supposed to do a lot of passing. That way he gets a lot of protection, since he can get rid of the ball before he's hit. But if he runs with the ball, even as fast as he is, he's bound to be clobbered - and hard - sooner or later. I look for Stevens to last about three games before some linebacker creams him, breaks one of his legs, or at the very least causes one hell of a sprain - something that will put him out of the lineup for the rest of the season."

"What's he like, otherwise?"

"Otherwise? Smart, except for scrambling. He could move into the pros if he used his smarts. Actually, he wants to go on to med school, so a broken leg shouldn't prevent him from achieving that. Lack of money might,though."

"Don't the alumni provide money to the players?"

"You're thinking of the old days. They look for jobs for them but it has to be pretty much aboveboard. No $50 an hour and a Jaguar for mowing lawns."

"How about a job here in the lab? I'd pay the going wage, even tailor his hours to fit his class and training schedule, and it would fit in with his medical career plans."

"I can see something's brewing here. The athletic director is an old buddy of mine, and I'll pass the word along. I know there's no point in trying to pump you, but keep me as informed as you can."

"I will. I will."

And so Taz Stevens had come to work at Darcy Labs, Inc. some three months before the season opened. The two of them had had more than enough time to work out the schedule, and there were plenty of practice sessions to try out Taz's new perception of time. As he reported, there was a whole new learning involved. He had to slow down his responses and speech in everyday situations. He had to learn to adapt to the molasses flow of the world around him.

A week before the opener, Darcy called on Sel. "What's new?" Sel asked, as his visitor settled down into the lush visitor's chair in Sel's office.

"What's new is that I'd like to bet some of my hard-earned cash on M.T. Have I come to the right place?"

Sel laughed. "Sure. I know a choker or two who will be glad to take your money."


"Professional gamblers. Professional bookies, really. They don't gamble, since they have the odds figured close and in their favor."

"So you know the odds ahead of time?"

"More or less. I can get on the phone and have them quote me on just about any game in any sport."

"What kind of odds would I get if I were to bet that M.T. will win every one of its 11 games this season?"

Sel broke into a fit of coughing. "They'll break your arm reaching for your money. Name your odds."

"Maybe you'd better check so I could have some idea."

As Sel replaced the phone, he said, "How about a thousand to one. I'm sure he'll do better than that once he stops laughing."

"No. That's fine. Now could you place $10,000 for me? I have a cashier's check right here."

"Ten-million dollars!"

"That's what I'm aiming at. I need to branch out from rats to monkeys, and that isn't cheap."

"I suspected that you knew something I didn't, but let me warn you. If drugs are involved, the college football commission will catch it for sure."

Darcy shook his head. "No drugs. Absolutely none."

"So you really think M.T. is going to win all of its games?"

"I think $10,000 dollars worth."

"That's good enough for me."

By the first game of the season, the brain scanning had been fine-tuned. Three hours of altered perception seemed to be optimal.

For the first time in his life, Darcy sat down before the office TV to watch a football game. Louie hung around for a while, became bored, and went out to visit with his rats.

M.T. was the favorite. It promised to be a good, easy beginning. By agreement, Taz was to minimize his running game. He ignored the agreement, and it was fortunate he did. Four touchdowns ahead in the first half, things began to go wrong in the second half. Taz had two interceptions.Two touchdowns behind! By the fourth quarter of a now seesaw game,even as an amateur fan, Darcy could see desperation on the M.T. side.

Taz ran and was tackled by two burly defenders. Darcy watched in horror as they carried him off the field. Only a last-minute field goal saved the day for M.T.

As Darcy reached for the phone to find out Taz's condition, it rang in his hand. Sel's voice came booming out. "One down, ten to go."

The conference between a bruised Taz and a concerned Darcy took place in the latter's office the following morning.

"It wore off, right around those last ten minutes," Taz reported.

"We can extend it," Darcy said, but you'll have to be careful when you're not playing. You still speak too fast and you move too fast."

"I'll watch it. Let's make it five hours. That will give me an easy hour before the game and some extra time just in case there are a lot of time outs the way there were with this one."

The season wore on. The phone rang regularly at the end of the games, with an increasingly amazed voice at the other end. "Five down, six to go."

"Nine down, two to go."

"Ten down, one to go. M.T. has only Farnsworth U. to beat."

The tenth game produced a second conference across town.

* * *

Lars Nelson was morosely punching the remote while his secretary-gopher, Chin Clay, read him off stats from his laptop.

"What's the total the other chokers have out on that eleven-game streak?" Lars asked.

"Two-point-five million, and you have close to ten."

"Don't remind me."

Chin shrugged. "The others, at least the regional ones, have hedged. They're taking M.T. to win against Farnsworth - offering a hundred and ten to one. They'll about break even, no matter what. Don't you think..."

"No! I'll be damned if I'm going to end the season just breaking even."

Chin knew better than to pursue the subject, especially since Lars was growling over the tapes of M.T.'s previous games. "Gimme the figures on the Alabama game." Before Chin could answer, Lars muttered, "There was no way M.T. could win that game. No way."

"Forty-seven to forty-one."

"How much of it was that damn Stevens scrambling?" Lars had rewound to the Alabama game and was watching a gruesomely bad M.T. defensive play as he waited.

"All of it. Seven touchdowns."

"Drugs! It has to be drugs."

Chin shook his head. "The whole team has been tested twice this season. If they'd so much as eaten a poppy seed, the commissioners would have barred them."

"What about that linebacker at L.M.U? The one who runs the hundred-yard dash in 15 seconds or whatever. How did he stack up against Stevens?"

"Zibrowski? He never laid a hand on Stevens." Lars had the M.T.-L.M.U. game on the screen and was leaning forward in his chair.

"That him? Number 73?"

Chin nodded.

"Jeezus! He almost had Stevens. Missed by an inch."

"That's the way it's been all year. There's no stopping Stevens."

"There's something really strange about the way he runs. He's not all that fast. Somehow he just seems to be able to avoid anything that's thrown at him. But there is a way to stop him."


Lars flipped off the VCR. "Call the Muskrat."

Chin's eyes opened wide. "For Stevens?"

Lars nodded. "If their star quarterback doesn't play in that game, M.T. doesn't have a chance."

* * *

The time schedule was solid. Darcy looked out the window,watching Taz as he left for the last game of the season. As an extra precaution,Darcy had allowed a five-and-a-half-hour window for altered time perception. He could see, as Taz walked across the lot, that the effects had already taken hold.

From the corner of his eye, Taz caught sight of a small sportscar, its windows heavily tinted, roaring in his direction. Flexing his legs, he jumped, only to be caught by the edge of the car's body.

He never lost consciousness and never stopped feeling the pain in his ankle, despite the shot the ambulance attendant gave him. In spite of the pain and the pain killer, he managed to get to the game before the toss.

The team physician was adamant. Taz would sit this one out.

The game was strictly a defensive one. Darcy had originally planned to go, but was too dismayed at the turn of events to do so. Instead, he watched the game unfold on his office TV. During several of the timeouts, the camera picked up the injured quarterback on the bench. Taz looked unhappy. The M.T. fans looked even more so.

With Farnsworth leading six to nothing, and with minutes to play,the stadium erupted as Taz hobbled out on to the field. A quick pass succeeded.

Six to six. Down to the remaining seconds, the kick after touchdown would do it. The crowd quieted to a murmur. Then, the next moment, that same crowd was on its feet. So was Darcy.

That's when he became fully aware that Taz wasn't going to risk having the kicker try for a field goal. He was going to run the ball,himself. So there was no kick. Instead, Taz took the ball, skirted the right end and plunged over the goal line. M.T. finished an undefeated season with a winning score of eight to six.

Darcy barely noticed Louie as he came in carrying George. It took him a moment to understand what Louie was saying. "Something's wrong with him." His voice choked. "Look!" The dark muzzle had turned grey. The rat's eyes were dull. Instead of climbing all over Louie, it lay stretched out limply in the attendant's arms. This was no longer a young animal in the prime of life. There was no mistaking it. George had suddenly grown old.

The raucous voice of the announcer broke in, and a tired Taz, with microphones being pushed up into his face, filled the screen. The close-up showed wrinkles. Darcy flinched, but it was Louie who said it, pointing at the picture. "His hair's got grey in it. Look at his face! He's old-just like George."


About the author, John A. Broussard:

John was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1924. He served in the Navy during World War II, in the Pacific. Earning his B.A. at Harvard in 1949 and taking a Ph.D. at the University of Washington, John pursued a career as a college teacher, from which he is now retired. He has had several non-fiction articles published, is a reviewer for AAAS, and commercial reviewer of travel writings, histories and mystery novels. He writes for Quill Publications, and has sold a dozen stories recently. Details are available at

Back to the Front Cover.