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Chapter 11 - Tale of the Minnow[]

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11/22/3046 Location: Masamori, Hachiman

The Hachiman Technical Institute founded by Hugai Kurita was created as a concept modular city occupying a prime position on the River Yamato’s western bank. Although it started small the legacy buildings were added to until the whole complex sprawled all the way to Yoshitune starport. Hachiman Taro Electronics had been formed from HTI’s working group and eventually the company’s prosperity was reinvested into the Technical Institute. HTI’s campus was expanded upon until it being completely relocated in 3038 toward the more tranquil and less developed Headwaters (Hachi-Machiya) district of Masamori City. Its junior academy was open to any candidate with the appropriate testing scores (which would be given upon request no more than thrice a year and came with a full day’s meal and two nights board) regardless of former caste or immigration status.

Within one of the subdued buildings on campus a young teen boy in a black Gakuran uniform leaned over a stainless-steel workbench. Oscilloscopes and other instruments danced in front of him casting their pale green light onto his loupes. His hands nimbly and carefully cut wires leading to various black boxes or soldered contacts onto motherboards. White acrid smoke rose from his tools wisping around a computer screensaver showing a teenage girl and older woman posing next to a verdant hillside bright with pink sakura blossoms.

Another boy leaned over to his left side just inside his peripheral vision. “Who’s the babe, Minnow?”
“My sister, Omiko. She probably knows six ways to stop your heart in two strokes. Haoku”
“You know I hate that name.”

“You think I like being called Minnow Dereck?”

Dereck pulled up a chair and attempted to upset the carefully ordered clutter on Minoru’s desk earning him a feigned slap. “Touché, She’s out of my league anyway.”
“Definitely and almost five years older than us.”

“What are you working on anyway? A new robot?”

Minoru paused his labors, unlocked the noteputer, and let his friend scroll through the recently approved research abstract. “You are trying to use a neurohelmet to directly control one of those Ibuki Robotics Kendo bots? To do what?”

“I want to try to teach it more natural movement. So, it becomes like a little 'mech with more accurate movements than you’d get with an exoskeleton’s neuroband.” “Sounds expensive, you’d probably need an exceptional MechWarrior and Martial Artist to make it happen.”

“Fortunately, we live in the Draconis Combine and have an abundance of both. Its only expensive once, but I have the full support of Chandreskar-sama. He wants to use them for hazardous tasks and to improved exoskeleton control systems.”

The other man picked through one of the boxes of miscellaneous electrical gear housed above the benches. “While selling more HTE produced hardware.”
“Which will need to be refined by trained engineers here in Masamori. Or you know runners-up”
“Being fifth out of six hundred isn’t bad. Competition is fierce. Speaking of which, finals at
Denshi shi no kami no kyūden. (Palace of the Electronic Death God) tonight.

You didn’t forget right?”

His voice cracked before he could cough and muscle through with a bassy, “I did not”

Both boys pulled out and tied their matching 'Tōkon' (Fighting Spirit) Hachimaki headbands before embarking on cleaning up the lab and departing to Neon Arcade all the while talking strategy with their classmates.

Minoru stepped off the tram into a kaleidoscope of bright neon lights, ‘creative’ cuisine from the night market’s food stalls, and competing sounds of aspiring idols, kei bands, and their fans performing in each of the five plazas on top rate gear only available on Hachiman. Denshi shi no kami no kyūden. (Palace of the Electronic Death God) loomed over the neighborhood. Towering seven stories tall the peaks of the Shiro (castle) like structure reached seven stories up making it visible even through the haphazardly dangling banners and lights bringing attention to the stalls, smaller shops, arcades, bars, and karaoke clubs frequently by the crowd of fellow young people flowing through it.

The school badges on their uniforms and Dereck’s gaijin height brought attention to the crew as they pressed through the crowd finding space to make it to registration on time. A girl about his age (15), dressed as a Miko, bumped her way to walk beside them with her basket of flowers.

“Hey Hachi!
Buy a pretty flower from a pretty girl. Twenty yen. Almost out for tonight.”

Her smiled beamed as she demurely reached into the partially filled basket. “Going to need something else to do for the evening.”

He reached into his breast pocket a pulled out a 20 Ryu bill. His grandfather’s face glowed on the polymer bill under a nearby black light. “How about quit bothering me. I’ll take the whole lot.”

She took the money and put it in between the folds of her top revealing slightly more about what was or rather wasn’t underneath. “Twenty Ryu will get you a whole lot more than that, if you’re interested.”

“I’m not. Just quit bothering me. I am trying to focus.” She pushed the basket into his hand, “Here’s your flowers.”

Minoru whispered under his breath but turned to face her as they were met with a wall of people watching an acrobat perform. “I will keep one and you will leave me alone.

The girl pulled out the finest Tsubaki flower placing it daintily in his jacket pocket. “If you change your mind…” As the wall began to disperse, she drifted into one of the smaller shop entryways a well painted sign hung above ‘Kokoro’s Flowers’ displaying a classic painting of a field bursting with vibrant flowers. “I’ll be here”

As they cleared the way through MMK 'MiPS', HTE 'Blues', and the 'Candy Stripers' of the ISF patrolling the plazas surrounding the venue Dereck leaned down, “You just gave a flower girl a hundred times what she asked and didn’t get anything for it.

What’s wrong with you?”

“She was bothering me,” as they entered the wraparound holo-tank E-Sports Arena at the heart of Denshi shi no kami no kyūden the Hachiman Technical Institute’s Tiger Sharks saw their opponents.

The rough looking crew of Isesaki Shipping’s Scoundrels right off a van from Yoshi Town.
Tanadi Computers' Templars hid behind mirrored glasses reflecting the lurid glow of their computers through peaked fingers
Their rival Murasaki Central’s Stormbreakers wore matching polo jerseys and brought their own cheer section which extorted them from the arena's bleachers.

Minoru stared down Hiro, son of one of the leading finance firms across the river and the Stormbreakers’ Team Captain.
“I don’t need the money.
I just want the competition.
Because I am a Kurita.”

Monsters and spirits appeared out of the Aether moving with inhuman grace as tall and monstrous in mid-air as if they were summoned from a nightmare. The crowd roared in approval as ‘Fighting Spirits’ threw forth brilliant bolts of energy or their claws tore at each other spreading inhumanely colored blood over the technicolor battlefield.

Far above the cheering crowd and the pit like computer circle where a purple clad referee held aloft a branded Gunpai fan like those of sumo matches. As the first round of matches were completed, he pointed toward the winners and incremented marks on the fan.

Five men sat around a table a sake bottle and remnants of their dinner laid in the middle. A DCMS “Back in my day there were no video game leagues. We played cards. Now Hachiman has the largest consumer electronics market in the entire Draconis Combine and beyond.”

Franklin Sakamoto juggled a deck of flowery hand painted hanafuda cards between his hands while his sculpted cane leaned against the chair facing the darkened mirrors looking over toward Murasaki’s bronze shark fin buildings. “Isn’t the Department of Indoctrination supporting Stormhaven Entertainment Sho-Sa Fujiwara? That’s why you’re here right?
Aren’t those Shujin manning the booth downstairs yours.”

A white gloved hand slammed the sake cup upside down onto the table. “Yes! For recruitment.”

He leaned forward as Franklin paused his juggling as the officer leaned forward ever eying the wakizashi at his side. “Ever since the Ghost Regiments were disbanded…apparently, we are low on personnel to police the colonies’ rampant violence…from former Ghosts.”

Franklin returned his cards to the worn lacquered wooden box, the last gift from his late mother, with a flourish before it disappeared into his inside pocket. “Maybe you should increase the pay then.”

“It is their responsibility to defend the Draconis Combine!”

Fujiwara’s breath was hot on his face as Franklin serenely grasped the gnarled end of his hanbo. “I joined because the Gunji-no Kanrei asked real nicely…and the DCMS paid off the rest of my indenture to Isesaki.”

He gestured to the DMCS officer who returned to stand beside his chair. “And I’ll tell you it was no small sum. Technical school is expensive.” Franklin reclined, unbuttoning his jacket pulling out a 500 Ryu bill onto the table handing it to waitress right before she arrived with the table’s bills. “Now I just get rich moving cargo throughout the Combine.”

“Pay your own bill then Fujiwara. No skin off my marked back, but I feel it is my patriotic duty to offer dinner as a gift for one who has served so honorably.”

Sho-Sa Fujiwara curled his middle finger in and expanded his hand toward Franklin, the Azami equivalent of another middle finger gesture that the DCMS’s dominant one lacked. Franklin responded by showing the partial pinkie on his left hand to his back as he stormed downstairs.
“Glad we had this chat.”

Across the table one of the salarimen looked through the menu for something additional to add as his treat. “Another pitcher of beer will be enough.” They looked out as another match ended with a gory ‘Fatality!’ “Glad this youth entertainment venue has booze.”

“I tell you what though. I expected some team moms here, something interesting to look at.”

His team was sitting on the bench while the Tiger Sharks and Stormbreakers took the mandated rest period before the tie-breaker match. His team had won a quick victory over the Templars, “Makes sense that’s all you guys did while we in orbit.”

One of his companions pointed at the team waiting in the winds for the next round against the winner of this match, “Which Scoundrel is yours?”

Once more he leaned back, “All of them.”

“All of them?
You’re joking right?”

“Nope, I’m a spacer.” They might not be his children, but he was proud of his little brothers.
Almost more than anything else he wanted to keep them safe and make them successful.

Except then he caught sight of the blood red headed man below from the convention. Shadowed just like he was all those years ago, when he slaughtered his village and killed his mother. He gripped the cane in his hand, the one with a concealed blade of razor sharp ceramic.

Almost more than anything.

The five players of the HTI Tiger Sharks huddled together under the Arena’s purple and red lights. “What are we going to do to beat them Minoru?”

Minoru Kurita nodded slightly, “I have an idea, but I need to get Yamanaki in a one v one.”
“Which champion are you going to use?”

His friends incredulous looks told the whole story. Large promo posters for ‘Fighting Spirit’ featuring the vampy mermaid with impossibly long flowing hair, claws, and little else were posted every where online. Her claws looked fearsome however she was one of the smallest and weakest but fastest of the 25 playable Champions in the game inspired by the classic Book of Five Rings and a liberal lifting of mythic creatures. A character almost never played competitively despite prominently featuring in ads because of her sultry voice, svelte character model (what little you could see of it through her hair), and provocative animation set.

“Seriously, what are you going to do with her. Distract him with your character’s looks?”
“Just trust me.”
“Fine, but if you wanted eye candy. You already had a chance with a cute girl in real life…and turned it down for this.”
“I will have plenty of other opportunities, Dereck.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re a Kurita. You just need to bandy about that big name of yours.”
“There are thousands of us so I’m hardly exceptional in that regard. My cousin’s entire job is attempting to keep track of them all.” Minoru leaned back, holding his shoulders high as he stretched his hands before the next round, and stared down the calm and collected Hiro Yamaneki across the pit. “But I’ve got my hands and a game winning smile.”

Dereck smiled back showing a big gap as he cracked his calloused knuckled. Results of a misspent youth. Minoru looked out toward the crowd and saw Ninyu-sama keeping a close tab on him within the shadows although he couldn’t hide his artificially red hair. It was almost to the parody point of some of the Fire champions.

A familiar looking man stood beside the Isesaki Scoundrels, intently listening to one of the players, wildcards that had smashed the Tanadi Templar’s streak. He seemed familiar in some way. Maybe they met at a different event?

The referee’s gunpai fan ticked down, “Two-minute warning. All players return to your rigs.”

Minoru walked back to the rig putting the goggles over his head, put his hands on the optimized fight controllers, and rolled the movement ball to Rusalka. The random map assignment shuffled through the fifteen different tournament options settling on Coastal Desert. His VR goggles filled with sky and ocean blue as his character spawned just where he wanted her to. From the first person view he looked down to see Ru’s talons flexing in expectation.

Within the massive holotank mounted above them petite Rusalka stood over the mauled remains of a great Oni, her white hair covered in its ichor as its immense Tetsubo club embedded itself in the virtual soil nearby. A brilliant light fired outward from a totem marking its capture.

“What an upset by Minoru and the Tiger Sharks!
With that final capture they move on to tonight’s final round against the Isesaki Scoundrels. Which will start in ten minutes.”'

Dereck and Minoru’s friends high fived him as Hiro Yamaneki scowled at him and the Stormbreakers crew retreated to their now silent cheer section. A tall, handsome man with unruly blonde hair separated himself from the crowd and stood before the team with a pair of burly bodyguards behind him who were eying the nearby Scoundrel’s Team Owner. The other man brushed the shoulders of his immaculately tailored suit jacket when he noticed their attention. Their attention then was drawn momentarily to another man further away with almost clownishly red hair.

“That was an impressive play young man, lagging out your opponent and disguising your movements under that demoness’ mane. Apologies, I don’t believe we have been formally introduced although I know you have been on-world for several months with Chandreskar. However, he and I operate in very different circles.” He bowed deep to Minoru who returned as appropriate, his cologne cutting through the spiced Quillar roasting outside. “I am Percival, son of Daimyo Rex Filington, owner of Stormhaven Entertainment, and it is a pleasure to meet you, Minoru-san.”

Percival sighed and looked down at his comm-pad to the rapid-fire messages populating ‘Fighting Spirits’ forums. “Unfortunately, it’s something we will have to patch in the next update. My devs wasted so much time animating that character and most of the model is hidden. What a waste of time and resources.”

“The animation rigs and assets are used for…other games and media or so I’ve heard…”

“Other games and media…” He brushed the stubble clustering at his chin before his eyes lit up with a surprisingly exaggerated response. “Ah! I will bring that up at our next staff meeting.”

Ninyu Kerai Indrahar appeared out of his native shadows with neither party knowing until he was already upon. His trademark hushed tones sounding like veiled threats even if unintended. “Apologies, Percival, and Minoru. I’m afraid there is a potential security situation that I must attend to. I will update you immediately if I hear anything.”

Percival’s bodyguards closed around him at the mention of any threat their hands closing on unseen weapons. “Is there a threat to us, Ninyu-san?”

“Improbable. However, there has been an uptick in Yakuza violence and corporate sabotage lately,” Ninyu looked over his shoulder at Franklin Sakamoto and his Scoundrels, “and not just in the normal places.
You have the Powders and MMK on hand in case something happens,” he nodded to them, “so enjoy your games Minoru-kun.”

Ninyu passed close by Franklin who the older man didn’t seem to notice or care about and departed out the back followed closely by ISF ‘candy stripers’ clutching their blocky Wakizashi 0-12s.

“Aniki! You okay? You look stressed.” Franklin looked down as Jerri’s fist gently socked him out of his stare-down with a closed door and empty corner.

He relaxed his white-knuckle grip on the ornate hanbo with its concealed cargo, “I’m fine.
Just need a smoke break.”

The young man made a stylized gesture of lighting a cigarette and then tossed it toward the Tiger Sharks with a slight ‘bang’ effect. “Well don’t take to long I want you to watch us show that Minoru kid whose MVP of this tournament.”

His brown hair tousled gently as he pointed to himself with both thumbs, “Me & Jerri.”

The rest of the Scoundrels gave him a quick jab as they huddled up for the next round.
“Yeah, right. We always carry you mid-game. Esper has better moves than you.”
“Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t play games.”
“Hey, I’m a closer. Just like Frankie.”
“Whatever you say, Jerri. Get to your rig. We’ll see you when we finish up. This should be quick.”
“Beers will be on us when we get back to the place as thanks for staking us.”
“It was a lot of fun to show up those Templar nerds. I think Esper distracted them.”
“I’m wearing the same shirt as you.”
“But so much better now than six months ago.”

Franklin Sakamoto withdrew to the underground garage one of the comfortable industrial spaces devoid of anything but idle machinery waiting for their operators. The only noise that of outside traffic and thrumming elevator machinery.

His electric lighter sparked brightly as smoke drifted lazily in the sterile fluorescent lighting. He squatted down against cool, damp concrete walls and stared at the Isesaki Shipping van he had borrowed from the spaceport terminal. No passengers or new cargo were due for shipping out or had arrived in weeks, maintenance was deferred, and his other business had dried up due to Khadan’s gang while their boss was conveniently off-world.

“Ninyu, it seems you are my harbinger of hardship.” He pulled the short sword out of his sword cane, its matte gray construction seeming to absorb all the light around him.

“One of these days. I will get my opportunity.”, he told Franklin

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