Rule One of Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O'ahu Frenzy): Always look fierce for the cameras. The whole crew is counting on us to make the show look good. Nobody makes money -- not us, not the producers, not the scientists -- unless we get good footage, and that means you need to look like your mind is on the game every goddamn minute.
Rule Two of Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O'ahu Frenzy): Always refer to the sponsors by their brand name. You don’t need a drink, you need a Romanoff Vodka. You don't need a snack, you need some Churritos Dew Spicy Blast. Our tech doesn't come from a bunch of ivy league rejects, it comes from BrainLink Aquatic.
Rule Three of Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O'ahu Frenzy): These rules are bullshit, Kelly. It's just a ritual we put on for you new competitors so you think you're joining some kind of sacred brotherhood. Forget the rules. But I'm gonna keep standing like this so the others think I'm running you through the rest of the rule ceremony.
Rule Four, Written By Me, Joey the Operator, Returning Champion (Season 2, Brisbane Bloodlust): Don't believe anything they tell you about the conservation efforts. Oh, the producers don't lie. We make the sharks kill each other, the show gives a stack of money to aquariums and nurseries; that's all true. But it's a cover. A distraction. Why do you think the implanters always work? You aim it one-handed while you hold the kayak paddle; those thousand electrodes could end up almost anywhere in the brain. You never wondered by the control never fails? There's a reason, Kelly. The system has another layer, waiting to step in if the implant needs help. Here's the secret: the relay buoy is one big computer-to-shark interface, built from hundreds of pre-wired shark brains. Fresh every match. The viewers think the slaughter happens out there on the waves, but that's nothing compared to what the producers do off-screen.
Rule Five: You know this is bullshit. That's why I'm talking to you. And because I know you used to volunteer for Sea Shepherd back in college. You still keep in touch with them, don't you?
Rule Six: Trust Joey the Operator. Don't give me that look. The nickname? It's because I'm the best with the controller, that's why. Look, I'm not gonna tell anyone else about the Sea Shepherd thing. I need your help. Let me put it this way:
Rule Seven: You have to help me, Kelly. Together we can end this mess. You heard me. I love the sharks, I do; that brutal perfect bite, the flick of their tail, the moment when you find the sweet spot on your controller and it feels like the shark's motor centers executes your commands before you've even finished. Shit, we all love the sharks. But I'm not doing this just for them. If you and I blow this open on live TV, we can launch our careers on the wreckage of this gimmicky fight-show. Wherever we go next, we'll get to choose our sponsors, and we'll always stand center frame.
Rule Eight: I know how to crack open the relay buoy, no problem. I've got the tools. The trick is making it happen on live TV. That's where you come in. During the match, as soon as you have a shark implanted, go straight for Chalise Steel, Returning Champion (Season 3, Daytona Beach Devastation). She has the starting position closest to the buoy. Relax, I'm not asking you to beat her one-on-one. Just get her near the relay buoy and keep her busy. Make it colorful, keep the cameras on you. I'll come around like I'm gonna pick off the winner. I'll be right in your frame when I pour out those backup brains for the whole world to see.
Rule Nine: Backstab you? Don't be ridiculous. I'm not going to throw away my shot at real fame, and our chance to save the next thousand sharks from slaughter, just to win another stupid title. Why would I do that? I told you, back in rule--six, right? Trust Joey the Operator.
Rule Ten: Shit, here comes Chalise. We have to sound like we're doing the rules thing.
Rule Ten: Repeat after me: I, Kelly Skullbreaker, swear to play hard, play fair, never talk shit about my competitors off-camera, and give mercy to no shark. Now chug this Powerthirst-and-Romanoff, and join the brothers and sisters of Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O'ahu Frenzy).
Rule One of Cyborg Puma Battle (Season 1, Anarchy in the Andes): Listen close, boys and girls. I don't do ceremonies, and I don't do rules--except for one, and it goes like this: No games. No schemes, no alliances, no secret promises from the producers. If you give me the slightest reason to think you're going behind my back, I will destroy your sponsorships, your bike, your life, and your precious TV show too. You know what happens to people who try to mess with Kelly the Champion-Eater, All Time Winner (Cyborg Shark Battle).
This story originally appeared in Cat's Breakfast (Third Flatiron Press).
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Benjamin C. Kinney is a SFF writer, neuroscientist, and the Assistant Editor at the science fiction podcast magazine Escape Pod. Find him online at benjaminckinney.com or follow him on Twitter @benckinney.