The lobby was filled with Iskandar images and trophies.
She was only two steps inside before a human female waved her over to the front desk. “Hi, over here,” she smiled. “Welcome to Iskandar Bestmartin.”
Her greeter seemed to be a standard humaniform. Short blonde hair, some makeup and a ready smile. “Nice to meet you, I’m Heather,” she continued. “What’s your handle? I never met a Necris before.”
“Raven,” she replied.
They shook hands.
“What brings you to Central?”
“I…I came to apply for a try-out,” she stumbled, silently cursing her nervousness.
“Oh, one minute, please,” expressed Heather who circled behind a counter and began pressing buttons.
Raven wondered if she were calling Security.
“Josie, I need you quickly. Walk-in to deal with.” Raven overheard.
A thrill of fear shot through her.
Heather came back smiling. “It’s close, but I got you in. You’ll have to hurry, there’s a free-for-all in five minutes.”
Another thrill shot through her. Now? Right away? Her mind spun.
This is my chance, she thought. Have to go through it no matter the circumstances.
Josie was a dark human who stripped Raven of her beltpack and backpack, and led her in a trot down corridors. Before Raven could get her mind around it, she was in harness and being pushed into a pod. She had a brief thought as to how comfortably fit the harness was, when she was immediately on the field.
Her first thought was this is Niflheim. Then she was nailed. The match had already begun. It was a free-for-all deathmatch with Instagib. She was nailed twice more within the first minute, but then got her first frag. After getting nailed again, she became angry. She channeled it into concentration, and began to get frags. However, she was getting nailed too often. There must be 50 players on the field, she thought, and she was constantly getting nailed from behind. It was a tough grind. No subtlety here, too many competitors. Spawn and frag, or be fragged.
The bell rang. Raven was exhausted and depressed. Those 15 wild minutes had passed quickly. She went through the traditional final greeting with the smile she could muster and then was back in the pod. No extractor was there, so she let herself out of the pod and harness, and redressed.
She hadn’t looked at the scores all match and didn’t now. She knew she did badly. Raven started down the hall, saw the sign for the lobby and headed that way.
She did not get far and she heard herself being paged.
“Raven please report to the main office, yellow, third level.”
The message repeated twice.
“At least I’ll get a ticket home,” she sighed to herself. Raven was close to tears. It seemed as if all those years had suddenly amounted to nothing. What was to be her future now?
The main office was a huge room full of desks and one large counter. As she entered, a few people looked up and she noticed how diverse the workforce was. Almost every race and civilization, except Necris.
“Raven, I’ve got a ticket for you,” said an older human female.
Raven noticed her belongings leaning against the counter. Very efficient in getting rid of people, she thought. Makes sense, they probably have thousands of walk-ins. Raven took the ticket and sighed, glancing at it.
It was for Carson Main. Everyone in the universe knew Carson Main. That suburb of Central City was the heart and home of the professional Tournament.
“This…this is for Main,” she stuttered.
“Yeah, they want you up at Prime,” began the older female.
A thrill of fear shot through Raven. It almost didn’t register. She was speechless.
“They want you up at Prime as fast as you can get there,” came a male voice from the side. He was a Skaarj.
Raven’s stomach flopped and her mind slipped a gear.
“They want you for an assault match at 19:30 and if you get the next shuttle, you’ll have time to eat and rest before the match.”
“Uh,” was all that she could get out. She’d never trained for an assault.
The Skaarj smiled, which was a frightening display of pointed teeth. “When we saw the stunts you were pulling on the field,” he continued. “We piped a feed up there for them. They watched the last five minutes and want to see you in person. Congratulations.”
“And good luck,” added the female.
Raven heard a beeping and the Skaarj touched his earpiece.
“Grab your stuff quickly. There’s transport waiting for you outside. You can just make the next shuttle if you hurry. Go girl!”
Raven grabbed her stuff and ran. Heather shouted ‘Good Luck’ as she ran through the lobby. The transport door was open and waiting for her. For an ordinary Necris girl, having a plush two-seater all to herself was luxury. However, she didn’t have much time to even breathe as the driver made the shuttle in ten seconds, and they hurriedly waved her through the gate.
The FA, a ‘bobblehead’ from Tractis Minor, ushered her to First Class and showed her a triple. “We saved you a row so you can relax a bit,” he lisped. “I’ll be right back with a menu.”
She managed to choke out a ‘Thank you.’
“Special dietary?” He inquired hesitantly, turning back.
“Anything human, Earth, Tractis, whatever,” she replied quickly.
He murmured thanks and departed.
Raven flopped into the large over-stuffed seat and breathed deeply.
The realization hit her.
She was headed to the Iskandar Prime facility at Carson Main. They wanted to see her!
She dissembled that it was probably Secundus that has the assault, but she might get a chance to meet some of the Prime team. A long-forgotten fantasy from when she was 12 years old came back: meeting Grabby and having him fall in love with her. She shook her head to clear it.
Grabby was the top player in the Top Tier. No others came close. He was the only male player on Iskandar Prime, and had stood on the pinnacle of fame for longer than Raven had been alive.
She smiled thinking that they’d probably keep her now. Where would they fit her in? Even if it was back to Bestmartin, that would be excellent. The taunting she endured from friends and family would fade away finally.
The ‘bobblehead’ came back with an immense tray. It was a Tractis cold seafood platter. It didn’t matter: Raven began sampling everything. Being wary of the upcoming match, she tried to limit herself, and only wash it down with surgis. No stimulants because it was a match, and no depressants so as to keep her quick.
Between the good food and wide soft seats, Raven inadvertently fell asleep.