If Sean hadn’t known what he was looking for, he’d have never spotted the place. From the outside it looked like all the other rundown, nondescript buildings on the street with grimy coatings that spoke more to age than to disrepair. The only indication that he was in the right place was the tiny number plate at street level that matched the address he had been given. There was no sign, no other evidence that the place was a business at all. A dim stairway led down to a door painted in peeling green.
Sean double-checked the address, glanced around to see if anyone was watching him, and then descended the stairs. As he got closer he could see that the door, which looked from the street like it was made of wood, was actually fairly hefty steel. There was a small intercom speaker next to it, and a button. Sean pushed the button.
For several moments there was no reply. Then the speaker crackled. “Yeah?”
Sean took a deep breath. “I’m looking for the dojo. Is this it?”
“Who wants to know?” The voice was firm but not hostile.
“My name’s Snake. A guy named Gretsch told me about the place. I was hoping to get in. You know, sign up. Heard this was the place to go to get taught right.”
There was a pause. “Gretsch, eh? Haven’t heard from him in awhile. How is that dwarf, anyway?”
Sean smiled. “I wouldn’t know—the guy I talked to was human. Big guy, dark hair, tattoo of a dagger on his arm.”
Something behind the door went click. “C’mon in. Class is in session right now but we can talk after.”
Slowly, Sean reached out and tried the door. It was open. Before the person on the other side (was it Ocelot? he wondered) could change his mind, he slipped through and closed it behind him. It clicked again.
He was standing in a short hallway. There was no one else here, and no furniture, just two doors on either side of the other end. The one on the left was slightly ajar and he could hear voices behind it. After a moment’s hesitation he opened the door.
The first thing he noticed when he stepped inside was the smell: the mingled scents of sweat and leather and canvas, along with the faint metallic tang of bodies working hard. It was a smell he was very familiar with after years of study at Watanabe’s. He looked around, taking in the padded floor, the mirrored wall on the other side of the room and the others hung with practice weapons, the benches.
There were four other people already there, and it was a testament to their discipline that three of them weren’t looking at him. The fourth, obviously the teacher, was. He motioned Sean toward one of the benches and then continued the lesson without a break.
Sean did as he was told, sitting down on one of the wooden benches and watching the class go through its exercises.
One of the students was human, as was the teacher. The other two students were an ork and an elf. All of them were dressed in nondescript workout clothes, a vast difference from the starched black gis Sean was used to a Watanabe’s. He could see the contrast almost immediately, not only by the surroundings, but by the types of exercises the students were doing: the purpose of Watanabe’s was to train up some upper middle class suburban corp kids to learn a useful skill and maybe be able to defend themselves if they were attacked. The purpose of this place was life or death. Sean could see it on the faces of both students and teacher: they took this very seriously.
Sean was impressed. Everyone in the room moved with quick, fluid grace—he was sure they were either adepts or wired, as no one without augmentation could do the things they were doing with such ease. At the moment they seemed to be going through an intricate kata of some sort, but Sean couldn’t place the style. It wasn’t the one he’d been taught, he was certain. If anything, it looked like an amalgamation of at least three or four, possibly more. He watched and tried to commit the moves to memory, planning to try them out in his room this evening.
Mostly, though, he watched the teacher. A tall, well-muscled human, the man had dusty-blond hair pulled back in a long ponytail, a short neatly trimmed goatee, and a hard no-nonsense expression in his eyes. Was the man Ocelot? Sean couldn’t be sure: he certainly looked like the man in the picture, but he appeared to be at most in his late thirties. The man Sean was seeking, if the birth certificate could be believed, would be close to fifty by now. Knowing he couldn’t answer the question without talking to the man, he leaned back on the bench and waited.
Ten minutes later, the teacher gracefully returned to facing his class. “Okay, that’s it,” he said, bowing. The students returned the bow. “We’ll pick up from where we left off on Thursday.” As the students headed for the bench to pick up their towels, the man raised a hand. “Otto, hang out a minute, will you?”
The human student paused. “Sure. What’s up?”
The teacher looked over at Sean. “So you want to join the class, do you? Think you can keep up?”
Sean stood. “Yeah,” he said firmly. “I do.” Of course he didn’t: there was no way he would be able to compete with wires and magic, but he’d give it his best shot. Maybe he’d impress the guy.
The man gave him a tight little smile. “Okay, let’s see what you can do. Otto, go easy on him. I just want to see how he moves.”
Otto grinned a little predatorially and moved into the center of the padded floor. “C’mon, kid. Let’s see it.”
Sean kicked off his shoes, bowing out of habit as he stepped onto the mat. Moving in closer to Otto, he met the human’s gaze and began circling slowly, trying to get a feel for him.
Otto didn’t attack him right away—in fact, he seemed to be doing the same thing Sean was. For several moments the two circled, eyes locked. Then, suddenly, Otto struck with a punch. It was fast, but Sean saw it coming. Even so, he barely got out of the way, off balance so he couldn’t counterattack. Otto was fast, faster than he was. He knew he’d have to be careful if he was going to make even a decent showing. He readjusted his perceptions and dropped back to circling.
“C’mon. Take a poke at me.” Otto’s tone was mocking as he made a come on gesture. “Scared?”
Sean wasn’t flustered by the man’s words. Taunting was part of the game, and the guy who let it get to him was the guy who’d lose the fight. He’d seen it too many times. “I’ve got time,” he said.
It continued like that for another minute or so: Otto taking shots at Sean, and Sean either barely getting out of the way or getting clipped by a fast-moving punch or kick. None of them connected fully, however. Sean could see Otto was getting impatient, and inwardly he smiled. The strikes had hurt and he’d probably have bruises tomorrow, but they were worth it if they could make Otto screw up. From the corner of his eye he saw the teacher circling around outside the edge of the fight, his eyes never leaving the two opponents.
Otto struck while Sean’s attention was distracted. It was a two-part attack, and the first part, the punch, connected solidly with Sean’s shoulder. Grunting in pain, he staggered back, and Otto followed up with part two, a blazingly fast round kick. That, however, did not connect. Sean let his body take over control from his mind. His hands shot up and trapped Otto’s leg, spinning him around and dropping him unceremoniously in a heap on the mat. He stepped back, breathing hard and rubbing his sore shoulder.
“Stop,” came the teacher’s voice from behind him.
As Sean reached down to give Otto a hand up, he could sense the teacher’s eyes on him. “Not bad,” the man said. “Not bad at all. Okay, Otto. Hit the showers. Thanks.”
Otto nodded, giving Sean a look back over his shoulder that was half respect, half challenge. “Next time, kid. I won’t go easy on you.”
Sean turned back to the teacher, who was watching him with his arms crossed over his chest. “Where’d you learn that?” the man asked.
“I’ve been studying since I was four years old.”
“Oh, yeah? Where?”
“Back East. You probably haven’t heard of the place.”
“Or you don’t want to say.” The man shrugged. “That’s okay. We don’t pry around here. We all have our reasons for wanting to be here. What’s yours?”
“I told you—I want to learn. I heard you were the best.”
The man didn’t look satisfied by his answer. “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. But the fact is, everybody has a reason why they want to learn. You don’t come to a place like this so you can compete in tournaments and win trophies.” His gaze raked over Sean and the younger man could tell he had seen through part of his cover already.
Sean kept his cool. “I’m new in town. Looking to—make my fortune, if you know what I mean. Fighting’s what I’m best at, but I know I’m not good enough yet. So, are you gonna take me on or not?”
“Maybe.” The man wouldn’t be baited. “I want to see something, though. Let’s see how you do against me.”
Sean tilted his head. “You?”
“Hey, it’s your school.” Sean dropped down into a defensive stance and waited to see what the teacher would do.
This time, the fight didn’t last long. Sean gave it his best shot, but he was hopelessly outclassed, and the teacher wasn’t holding back. His skill at guessing what his opponent was going to do next was no match for this man’s superior speed, skill, and strength. Sean’s blocks were there, but the teacher drove right through them, connecting with punches, kicks, and throws one after the other. Sean never even touched him with an attack. He realized early on that his shoulder bruise was soon going to have a lot of company. Finally, less than a minute after they’d started—almost as if he’d been waiting for just the right opportunity—the teacher plucked one of Sean’s punches out of the air with easy grace, grabbed his hand, and twisted his arm around behind his back. He held it there just long enough to show that Sean had no choice but to take it, then shoved him forward and dropped him on the mat in the same spot where Sean had taken Otto down just moments ago.
The teacher waited while Sean picked himself up off the floor and dusted himself off. “Where’d you learn to do that?” he asked, standing back.
“I told you—back East.” Sean was puffing, brushing dirt from the mat off his T-shirt.
The man shook his head. “No, I don’t mean the skills. I mean, where’d you learn to anticipate like that?”
Sean tilted his head. “I don’t get it.”
The teacher pulled a practice sword off one of the nearby walls and began spinning it in lazy circles. “What I’m talkin’ about is the way you always seem to know what I’m gonna do. You’re not fast enough or skilled enough to do much about it, but I could tell by your eyes that you knew it was coming. That’s strange, since my style is that most of the time I don’t know what’s coming until I do it. Who taught you that?”
“I—nobody taught me. It’s just the way I fight. I’ve always done it.”
“You sure you’re not an adept?” The teacher picked up another sword and spun the two of them together. They interleaved like a pair of gears, never touching.
Sean shook his head. “I got tested,” he said a little bitterly. “I’m mundane all the way through.”
The swords stopped spinning. “Got a problem with that, don’t you?”
He looked down. “Yeah. But it can’t be helped. I’m a little old to start showing adept powers now.”
“Yeah, probably,” the man agreed. “So you say you’re new in town. How new? You got a place yet?”
“Yeah. I was in Seattle for awhile. I’ll probably go back there someday.” It was only a small lie—he would have to go back to pick up Jay before they headed back home. “So am I in?”
The man nodded. “Yeah, I’ll give you a shot. I’ll put you in with the advanced unaugmented class—you should mop up the floor with those guys from the look of things. If you do, we’ll see about some extra lessons.”
“Hundred a week. That’s for three lessons and unlimited time in the dojo when the place is free. You don’t have the money, we can work something out. You said you were here to ‘make your fortune.’ If that means what I figure it does, I might be able to line you up some small-time jobs to help finance your schooling.”
Sean nodded. “That’s okay—I’m all right for awhile.” He pulled out his credchip and handed it over. “That’s for the first week.” After a pause, he met the man’s eyes. “So—are you Ocelot?”
“The one and only, kid.” He grinned, but it didn’t reach his pale blue cybereyes. “Now get outta here, will you? Come back tomorrow, same time. Wear somethin’ you can move in, and be ready for a few bruises.” He looked Sean over and amended, “A few more bruises.”
Sean nodded. “I’ll be here.” He headed for the door, but stopped before he reached it. Slowly he turned back.
Ocelot was gathering up the pads and practice weapons and hanging them back up in their spots. He gave Sean an odd look. “There something else?”
Sean sighed. His plan was to come back to the class a few times, observe the man, get to know him a little before he said anything. Now that he’d finally located him, though, he found he couldn’t wait any longer. He came back into the room, never taking his eyes off Ocelot. “Your name’s Terry, isn’t it? Terry Symonz.”
Ocelot stopped in the act of hanging up a focus mitt and moved closer. He moved like the predatory cat that was his namesake, smooth and quiet and a little dangerous. “What makes you think that?” he asked. The tone in his voice was deceptively soft, steel under velvet.
“Because if it is—I think you’re my father.”
Copyright ©2001-2003 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.