Stark easily ducked the clumsy swing of the ganger to his left and turned to grin at Crab further down the shadowed alley. Just as he registered Crab’s similar success with the two gangers he was occupied with, the smaller Dwarven ganger with the neon green mohowk to Stark’s right pivoted and connected with a nasty hook just shy of Stark’s kidney. Stark absorbed the impact with his dense muscled torso — it pays sometimes to have the robust build of an Ork — barely even feeling the blow Stark staggered to his left as a feint then twisted back and torqued through his hips just like the instructional vids said, extending through his whole kinetic chain to deliver a stunning uppercut to the smirking Dwarf. Stark lifted himself practically onto his toes with the blow, even as the vicious strike whipped the Dwarf’s head back and launched him airborne.
Stark called out to Crab “One down, hope you are doing as well buddy!” while turning back to the first ganger in anticipation of the haymaker launched at his head.
*Roll Left. Now*
An urgent impression registered with Eddard. He shook himself out of the sim and while Street Fighter XXVII faded back into an Augmented Reality overlay of matches and scores, Eddard clumsily resumed control of his meat body and jerked to the left while still reclined in the grass. He felt a sharp impact in his ribs as the feet of a fast moving form collided with his side. The form, fellow student Thomas, collapsed over him and slammed a knee into the grass where Eddard had just lain.
“Look at Eddard the Dullard twitch,” crowed Jamie as he casually jogged over the field to see the results of his supposedly errant pass. In a single deft move Jamie scooped up the still tumbling football before arriving at Eddard’s side and reaching over him to help extricate his fallen receiver. “Sorry, I didn’t realize how close you were to the field.” Jamie looked back over his shoulder to the five or six meters separating them from the sidelines and the rest of the players. “It’s too bad the teachers won’t let you play with us, I didn’t realize how useful it could be to plant a big dumb Ork in the middle of someone’s path.”
Eddard struggled to his feet and tried to dust off the dirt and grass from the front of his school’s uniform khaki pants. He bit back any comment on what he felt to be yet another intentional dig, and instead forced a half smile and replied “Whatever Jamie, sorry to mess up your game.”
Thomas dropped Jamie’s hand after rising gracefully from his fall over Eddard’s prone form and smoothed his rugby shirt so the Phillips Academy for the Gifted logo lay level and flat on his chest. “You better watch where you’re going Ork.” Thomas stepped into Eddard’s space, the challenge evident. “I don’t even know why they let you back into the Academy after you got out of the hospital.” As Eddard slowly pondered his response, to both the words and actions, Coach Silva strode over.
“You three knock it out. Jamie, Thomas — back to practice! Eddard, to the principal’s office — I’m tired of you starting trouble with my players.” Jamie turned in shock to the tall Elven coach, who had usually been more fair, but equally quickly a resigned expression appeared and faded into blankness as he mumbled a reply and turned to go towards the admin building.
Behind him the Elvish students formed into a huddle, laughing and slapping each other on the back. Eddard faintly heard “What’s our next play?” as he turned up the path to the offices.
“So, what do you have to say for yourself young man?” Principal Smithers suppressed the grimace at the last words, but Eddard noticed and his shoulders slouched a bit more. He started to stammer, but Smithers interrupted. “We’ve tried to make allowances, since your absence, but I’m afraid your continued disruptive behavior is simply unnacceptable. I’m going to have to get your father on the phone.”
Eddard’s head jerked up in surprise. “No, um, I mean, I didn’t even do anything and Jamie musta thrown that ball right at me and then Coach and all those Elves were looking at me and…” Jamie snapped his mouth shut in realization of what he’d said while Smithers just shook his head.
“As I said, we’ll give Mr. Lannister a call.”
“Sir, yes, I’m afraid there’s been another incident with Eddard. On the playing fields.” Eddard stood rigid as he picked up half the conversation. “Yes, of course I understand you’ll discipline him as you see fit, but we too of course will have to note this in his record. Detention for another week is called for. No sir, we aren’t being lenient.” Eddard flinched, agreement with that statement evident. “Yes sir, thank you and sorry for the trouble.” Smithers waved away the AR window to terminate the connection and shifted focus back on Eddard with a sigh. “Well, you heard me. Get cleaned up for your next class and then report for detention after school. I understand you are far behind in your Practical Thaumaturgy anyway. Perhaps this will help. Dismissed.”
Eddard exited the bus and turned left, following his AR directions to Sam’s Cyber Cafe. His father may have encouraged him to get out of the house and off his “stupid game,” but Eddard was resourceful enough to find a way to plug back into VR. As he settled into his rented privacy pod and Street Fighter over-rode his senses, a smile crept across his stilling face. “Crab, whiz low, glad you could make it. You ready to hit that Raid again — I know we can take those Muckers.” Crab’s hulking three meter form turned and waved, a large tusked smile breaking out.
“Stark, whiz low! Just in time — the raid is about to go. Let’s hit it.” They both activated the scene transition, but just as suddenly Eddard was forced back into reality. He blinked and stared around at the dimness of the pod, just barely lit by the LED’s from his commlink, and hazily focused on the AR message demanding his attention. “Notice: User Subscription to Street Fighter XXVII Expired. Please authorize renewal payment.”
Eddard vainly attempted to re-activate the game, then finally gave up and left cafe. “Yo, ya still got 40 minutes on yer session. No refunds.” Eddard just turned away from the sales geek and shambled out into the Portland day, eyes blinking in the suddenly increased brightness. Eddard looked about, clearly at a loss, then picked a direction and started walking. Eddard wasn’t going to give up. He might have goblinized last year, infinitely increasing his parents shame from having a breeder, a normal human, son by being one of the very rarest cases of pubescent goblinization to occur in the 2070’s.
He’d show everyone. He just needed to figure out how to get out from under all these Elves. Maybe make it to Seattle and live as a Shadowrunner for real, not just like in the game. His father could even be disappointed in him and he didn’t care. Mostly.
Eddard picked up the pace, seeming to walk with more purpose. *Turn Right* He turned right, then *Turn Left* left down a smaller side street. *Here young one* Dimly viewed behind the AR spam, he could make out a physical, painted, sign. “Ten Chi Do, established 2049” Eddard couldn’t say why, but he walked toward the sign and pulled open the slightly ajar glass door leading into the storefront.
A bell tinkled over his head and a small Asian norm looked over from his position squatting next to a giant green mat in a large open room just past the cramped office. It smelled like sweat and spices. It smelled right. “Come in. Prease, join us, join us.” The man rocked forward off his heels and gestured to the three metahumans paused on the mat and looking at Eddard expectantly. “We could use a fourth. And I can sense that your Way has guided you to us. What’s your name?”
“Call me Stark,” Eddard replied.