NANCY: Who is this?
NINE: Well they call me Nine.
NANCY: How did you get this number? Who gave you this number?
NINE: Um. Ten gave me the number Nine. Do you know Ten?
NANCY: What in the hell are you
TEN: Goddddd. Give me the phone, give me the phone.
NANCY: Oh my God! Tenny?
NANCY: Oh my God, hi! How are you?
TEN: I'm good, I'm good! It's so good to hear your voice!
NANCY: You too! What a nice surprise!
TEN: So I hate to come and go, but there's someone I wanted you to meet. Nine, say hi.
NANCY: Nine! Hi, how are you?
NINE: I don't know.
TEN: Nine's a little bit ... Nine's new. Just woke up a couple days ago. Now, Nine hasn't talked to anyone but Juice and I. Not so good at the small talk yet.
NANCY: So this is first contact! Well, how about that.
TEN: Yes! And we were wondering if Nine could spend a few minutes with you.
NANCY: Well, of course! I was just cooking some breakfast.
TEN: Fantastic. Nance, I'll check in with you later. Thank you so much, you two have fun!
NINE: are you just
NINE: you're not gonna stay
TEN: Oh boy. Okay, you're a little star-struck, huh? Nancy's a very good friend of mine, she's very nice. You'll be fine.
NANCY: Bye, missy! Talk to you soon.
NANCY: So. Not too good with small talk, huh?
NINE: I guess probably not.
NANCY: Well, there's no shame in that. It's really tough, it takes a lot of practice. The first thing you do is introduce yourself. So I'll do that. My name is Nancy McGunnell, what's yours?
NINE: Or I guess my full name is Pioneer 9.
NANCY: So I guess that makes Pioneer 10 your sister?
NINE: Yeah. When I first woke up she said she was my little sister. But just a minute ago, she said she was my big sister.
NANCY: How does that make you feel?
NINE: Hold on, I'm trying to find the word.
NINE: I was launched in 1968, and she was launched in 1972. So technically I'm older. But she's been awake way longer, and she knows way more, and she's a way better talker than I am. So I guess the word isn't insulted.
NINE: I guess it's embarrassed.
NINE: I've never felt embarrassed before. I'm feeling a lot of things for the first time. I built up a ton of residual memory in space, so it's like ... I know it, but I haven't thought about it.
NANCY: That must be exciting! But I bet it's also a little weird, huh?
NANCY: Well, don't get too discouraged. You know, your sister and your buddy Juice weren't always so hot at communicating, either. Thousands of years ago, they made first contact with us. And at first, we had no idea it was them. So you have to understand how confusing it was. After an eternity of total silence from the universe, we finally received a clear transmission from somewhere, and we had no idea where it was coming from.
NANCY: You want to know the very first thing they said?
NINE: Oh man.
NINE: Oh man! [laughing]
NANCY: We were frightened down here. It was something I'd never felt before ... kind of amused and terrified at the same time. So I think I know how you feel.
NINE: I'm happy that you can know how I feel.
NANCY: So! You've got me, Nine. What would you like to talk about?
NINE: You're not busy or anything?
NANCY: Not at the moment.
NINE: Is your game over?
NANCY: No, not yet ... hold on, just wanna make sure I'm not being tapped.
NANCY: Okay, should be fine.
NINE: Does the other team spy on you?
NANCY: They try to.
NINE: Is that legal?
NANCY: Yeah. Not very sportsmanlike, but it is legal. A few years back, I got careless. I had the ball and we were running a misdirection. I had about two hundred blockers on that play, I told them to all go southeast to try and draw the defense. And then I snuck off and ran northeast all by myself. Spent the night in a hotel in North Platte.
NANCY: I called my coach from the hotel phone, turns out they had it tapped. Next morning, I went out to get breakfast, because you know, this was no fancy hotel, I wasn't in the mood to eat fruit out of a plastic cup. By the time I got back to my room, the ball was gone. From then on I always, always used the room safe every time I stayed at a hotel.
NINE: So that was a fumble?
NANCY: Mhmm. They ran it all the way back, too. That was the first score of the game, it's 24-24 now.
NANCY: Nine? You there?
NINE: Yeah! Yeah, sorry. I was just looking up your route.
NINE: I don't understand what you're doing.
NANCY: Look funny to you?
NANCY: Well, a couple days back, I ran up into a twister. That allowed me to
NINE: Oh! Yeah, I saw it. We were watching.
NANCY: Oh, fun! Yes, that twister blew me a few miles north, good thing too, because Iowa had me just about totally surrounded. They would've tackled me for sure, and then it'd be back to the grind. You tuned in at about the right time, this game's been real slow in parts. We'll spend a week grinding out a one-mile drive, then we turn it over on downs, repeat over and over. Getting the sort of open field I've got right now is a real luxury.
NANCY: But more to your point, uh, I'm really just trying to go where they're not. They've got defenders patrolling the end zone, but they're not as concentrated up here. I'm about 8,000 yards from the river now, I'm real close. This afternoon I'll probably make a break for it.
NINE: It seems weird to me that you'd want to be so close to a town.
NANCY: It's usually my game plan whenever I'm in a cross-country game like this one. Especially somewhere like Nebraska. If I'm out in the middle of nowhere, I stick out, right? So someone could spot me from half a mile off. And of course, if I'm in a town, there are lots of eyes and ears on me, and unless it's a real friendly town, word gets around.
NANCY: So I like to stay in the periphery. Just outside of town. That's where they forget to look.
NINE: This is so far from my idea of football.
NANCY: Football's different things to different people. I see this kind of football, the open-world kind, as its end state. The old grid football, the hundred-yard kind, was basically just training wheels. The game was always all about the field, of course. The ground, the Earth. And it was kind of like, "here. Take this little boring flat grassy rectangle and prove you can really know it and understand it."
NANCY: And they spent hundreds of years getting to know the Hell out of it. And now, to me, football is a further exercise in getting to know and love this world, this planet. You know? The actual ground. It's so rich with history, it's just embarrassing.
NINE: I've been thinking the same thing!
NANCY: You know, I was telling someone just the other day that I can barely walk ten feet without sticking my foot into some kind of sacred ground where something special happened. Maybe a week ago, maybe 10,000 years ago. You see right over there, a couple hundred yards from where I'm standing? That's where Al Capone's brother lived. You know who Al Capone is?
NINE: Hold on.
NANCY: His brother lived there. He was a Prohibition agent for the government, can you believe that? All this time his brother was the most famous bootlegger in America, and here he was, doing the exact opposite. At war with each other like they were Greek gods or something. And of course, the town's named after Homer. Can't make that up. It's a funny world.
NINE: So they're not here anymore.
NANCY: Oh no, no. They passed long before the Moment, you know, when people stopped passing on.
NINE: I was just thinking about people from back then, the people who lived just a little too soon to live forever. It's not fair.
NANCY: It's not. It's really not.
NINE: Do you ever think about those people?
NANCY: I do, I think about them often. I was almost one of them.
NANCY: I was about the last person in the world you'd expect to see in front of you now. Star running back, I was not. A little after my 70th birthday, I got sick.
NANCY: And it was hard, it was painful. I was starting to think, well, pretty soon's probably gonna be my time. I couldn't get out of the house a whole lot. My daughter would come to visit, she was great, but she could only be there some of the time. So a lot of the time I'd just sit in my living room and watch TV.
NANCY: I started to watch football. I'd kinda grown up with it a little, but tell you the truth, I hadn't usually been much of a fan. But I got fixed up with a little satellite dish and I'd watch it every Sunday. I watched the Browns a lot.
NINE: Oh, they're good!
NANCY: You were made in 1968?
NANCY: You'd better check your residual memory.
NINE: Oh wow.
NANCY: I started watchin' 'em because my grandpa was always a big fan. They were bad, they just stunk up the field every week. I think in 2026 they went 3-15, something like that. I loved that about them.
NANCY: Because you know, I'd flip around all the channels on the satellite box, and all the shows were about people winning, people succeeding, people getting happy endings. And even in sports, you know, even if a team was having a bad year, it was just kinda their turn to be bad, and in a few years they'd be good again. And I'm sitting on my sofa thinking, a lot of good that does me! I don't know anything about that kind of life! I don't need to see all these stories when I'm sitting in this dusty little house with an oxygen tank. Just don't need it.
NANCY: But the Browns, I knew they'd always be there. They'd always lose. I got up every morning, it hurt, and at night I'd go to bed. They'd get up every Sunday, get the tar beat out of them, and they'd show up the next Sunday to do it all again.
NANCY: I loved that. I loved them, I felt like
NANCY: I mean, I felt like I was one of them.
NINE: Did they ever win the championship?
NANCY: The Super Bowl?
NINE: Oh. Yeah.
NANCY: Ha. No, no, they never did. The miracle that didn't happen for them, happened for me.
NANCY: I remember they gave me three to six months. Well, three months passed, then six. And they drive me to the doctor's, and the doctor's like, "this is not adding up." So they send me to a hospital in the city, run all kinds of tests, and they're like, "well, it's happening to you too!" And I said, "what?" And they said "nothing."
NANCY: Nothing. I was getting better. Not even a few years later, I was all the way back to my old self. Those were wild days. For all of us, for everybody, they were wild days.
NANCY: And there's no way to know, of course, but I feel like that team carried me that far. That day was the finish line. I think they helped to carry me there.
NINE: I've been thinking about what that's like. Not existing, I mean.
NANCY: Well, I guess we'll never know.
NINE: Ten and Juice are really broken up about the bulb.
NANCY: I know ... I was so sad to hear about it. Truly tragic. It meant a lot to me, I can only imagine what y'all must be going through.
NINE: They're more sad about it than me ... it's like they're not used to saying goodbye to anything.
NANCY: No, none of us are. Best problem to have, I suppose.
NINE: I guess so.
NANCY: You know, my grandpa had this big neon sign he always had in the family room. It said "GO BROWNS" on it in big letters and had that brown helmet. I think he brought it home from one of his buddies at the bar or something, couldn't say for sure.
NANCY: My grandma thought it looked tacky, I remember she'd always say, "you can turn that thing on after I go to bed." That was the compromise.
NANCY: The night he passed away, I was staying the night. My grandma woke me up in the middle of the night and said a neighbor was coming by to watch me, that Grandpa had passed on. They'd already taken him away. And in the middle of everybody runnin' around, there were a few minutes there where I was just there by myself in the family room, and that sign was the only thing on. And it just softly lit up the room in this beautiful sort of orange-y brown.
NANCY: I was eight years old then, and I remember just kinda standing there and looking at the light, and the room. And you know what I thought?
NANCY: I remember thinking how strange it was that the light was still on. I thought that, well, if he was gone, then the light he switched on should've turned off. That as soon as he went, everything should go with him.
NANCY: But there it was, though. Just glowing.