Coach Panagakos, Eldest and Most Revered
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The open-aired cafeteria on Alexylva University’s NorthWest Quad was a bustling hub of activity throughout the day, but was rarely busier than it was at lunch. As classes let out and the students filed out the open doors into the fresh autumn air beyond, the wafting scent of fresh meat and drink drew flocks to the long tables and spacious lawns of the quad. This was no less the case for the starting quarterback of the Alexylva Unversity Visigoths, Cron Apostolou.

He wasn’t much for hunger, though his artificially constructed body did have functions in place to convert food to fuel. He mostly followed the crowd towards the cafeteria because that’s what the crowd was doing, and following the crowd had become his mantra. Blend in. Don’t stick out. Act human. As he strode idly towards the line of students forming in front of a gyro stand, a towering bulk of a man approached him from behind, eagerly throwing a massive hand across Cron’s back.

“Comrade!” Yuri Pato bellowed, his voice sounding through his meaty chest like a man shouting in a cave, “it is good to see you. How is class? You are finish for today, yes? Join Yuri for the lifting the weights, yes?”

Cron smiled. Yuri was a year older than he, but they shared many of the same classes. Yuri had been recruited less for his academic prowess, and more for his towering frame and bulky physique. The offensive line coaches called him “Hadrian”, and his fellow linemen called him “Hoss”. He was the largest man in the region, but was about fifty cards short of a full deck. He had just come from the Mathematica building, no doubt after leaving Counting 101, a class he had taken three times.

“Yeah, Hoss,” Cron said, “let me get something to eat, and we’ll head over after we’re done. See if Rosco and JaMarcus want to come, too.” He paused. “And see if you can find Peter. I want to work on snap counts with him.”

“I do it!” Yuri shouted, lumbering off to find their friends. The sea of people around them parted for Yuri, and promptly closed up as he passed.

Cron worked his way through the crowd, nodding and smiling at the occasional well wishing from his fans and classmates. His appearance around the quad was not uncommon, but there were plenty who could come around just to say a word of appreciation after a big win. He picked himself out a gyro, some fresh greens, and a sparkling tea before sidling up next to a rock on a hill and enjoying his meal. In these few quiet moments, Cron could almost block out the noise enough to actually believe he was—

“Did you hear about that coach at East Byzantium?” Cron heard a voice from behind him say. He leaned around the corner of his boulder, being careful not to raise undue suspicion.

“I hadn’t,” the other man said. They were two students, definitely not players, and one of them clutched a bright blue scroll Cron recognized as being the latest edition of the Mediterranean Post. “What about him?”

The first student shook his head slowly. “A righteous shame. Gods have mercy. Turns out he was implementing technological enhancements into his running back. Steel legs, jet packs, that sort of thing. Unnatural business.”

“Gods,” said the second man, “a cyborg football player? Blasphemy. Football is meant to be played the way it was designed, for humans, demons, summoned deities, and drunken fans. Next thing you know they’ll be trying to get actual robots on the field, too.” He spat.

“It’s because of all these robot apologists nowadays,” said the first man. “Letting robots attend schools and live in our cities. I hear somebody up north even petitioned the government to let them marry their robot.” He shook his head again. “It’s just not right.”

The second man nodded in agreement. “I saw in the Post the other day where that guy from Portlandis, Vincenti Andersopolis, is even trying to make human robots. Real sick stuff.”

“Hard to believe, really,” the first man said. “Almost like something out of fiction.”

“Nah,” said the second, “they’d never make fiction like this. Too unbelievable.”

“Hmm hmm,” said the first man.

“Mmm hmmm,” said the second.

They both nodded furiously in masturbatory agreement, before wobbling to their feet and leaving for their next class. Cron sat silently, the servos in his mind feverishly spinning. East Byzantium? His bronze heart shook. Their running back was Bihgus Diqqus, that’s right. In his mind’s eye, Cron could see the replay broadcast—

Diqqus lined up in the slot, Iles waits for the snap. Ball is to Iles, he looks left, fakes, fakes, tucks to his right, and Diqqus is open across the field! Iles to Diqqus, and he’s got it! He’s got— oh, oh my. Diqqus is down, one of the Atlantis defenders had him against a stone-skin, and he’s down on the field. My gods, folks, this is not looking good…

—and remembered how many people had said that Bihgus would never play the game again. He had spent the entire offseason in physical therapy, struggling to do even minor tasks. But when he made his triumphant return by sprinting onto the field at Constantine Stadium, he had made converts of all the nonbelievers.

Until now.

Cron sat in silence for the rest of his meal, idly pushing his greens around until the bell rang. He stood, deposited his trash, and left for his next class.

That afternoon at practice, the team stood in hushed silence as the gathered coaches drew a summoning circle on the ground around a small metal folding chair. The smell of incense hung thick in the air, and the special teams coordinated lit thirteen green candles to place at ordained points around the circle. When the circle was complete, all of the coaches, except the offensive and defensive coordinators, stepped back to join the team. Coach Demopolous, the offensive coordinator, raised his hands.

“Oh Great and Terrible Champion of the Gridiron,” he said, his voice echoing through the practice facility, “we summon you for this, our last rehearsal before the conference opener.”

Coach Christakos, the defensive coordinator, raised his hands as well. “Guide us in these times, O Bringer of Touchdowns, Architect of Jet Sweeps, Master of the Two Minute Drill. Lead us to victory in your name, Coach Panagakos, Eldest and Most Revered!”

A fierce roar followed, as a rift appeared in space and time before the team. Beyond it, they could see twisting seas, endless worlds, a dimension that knew no boundaries or limitations. Within this gaping maw they saw a grisled, hunched figure, slowly growing closer and larger until it was the size of a man. With a sudden thunderclap and a flash of light, the rift disappeared. Standing in its place was an old man wearing a grey hoodie and sweatpants, his hair trimmed close to his head and his eyes hidden behind large, dark sunglasses. He grimaced around the room, causing the coaches and players to cower.

“You’re late, goddammit,” Coach Panagakos said, his voice a wolfish growl. “I said practice starts, on the field, at four. It’s three goddamn fifty-six; by the time we’re done with warmups it’s going to be quarter after.” He peered at his coordinators over his glasses. “For fucks sake, get it together.”

Coach Christakos stepped forward meekly. “I- I- I’m sorry, Coach Panagakos—”

“—Eldest and Most Revered,” the team said in unison.

“—but th- there was a fire drill in the dormitories earlier this afternoon, which held up class for ten minutes. We assembled as early as we could after classes dismissed.”

Coach Panagakos could have glared a hole through his skull. “Gods, fine. I didn’t want to win this weekend anyway.” He swept his gaze towards the players, who huddled together in terror. “Alright, chucklefucks. We looked like hot asshole on Saturday, and Yale is a whole goddamn tier above Macedonia State, and we needed some last second heroics from Plucky the Wonderkid over here to beat them,” he nodded towards Cron, who grinned sheepishly. “We’ve had a few good practices this week, and we’re looking sharp. But if you dick masseuses think that you’ll be able to relax like you did last week, you’re in for an abrupt and brutal throat fucking.”

He gestured with his left hand, and conjured a blackboard. “Yale is bigger than us, stronger than us, and has a better spellcasting unit than us,” he paused, “despite the tireless efforts of our highly compensated magic training staff.” His eyes fell on the Magics Coordinator, Coach Balaban, who withered under the Head Ball Coach’s gaze.

“What that means is that we’ll have to play faster than they do, and force them to keep up. Cron, we’re going to be running a lot of option sets, keep them on their toes. Devin,” he looked at the offensive coordinator, “if we see an opportunity to do so, please do not hesitate to use our talented young running back to fuck them with the ball. I’m sure you think 150 yards is commendable, but JaMarcus could’ve had three times that number with how little effort they were putting into playing at the line. We could’ve at least tickled them with the fucking tip.”

The team waited with bated breath for the next word, but the coach only sighed. “Look, we’ve still got work to do tonight. Our conference is a goddamn bloodbath, and if we want a shot at a championship berth we’re going to need to find ways to win against bigger teams. That starts tomorrow, with the goddamn Yale Bulldogs. Get your asses out of your asses, and your heads out of those asses, and let’s go break some fucking bones.”

The team roared their approval, and scurried away to the practice field. The last person to leave the room was Coach Christakos, who was caught in the Head Coach’s paralyzing gaze. Coach Panagakos hovered across the room to him, stopping just short of the fearful coordinator’s face.

“I win 300 championships with this team over a millennia and a half,” Coach Panagakos said, his words a knife, “and the best you can do is ‘Bringer of Touchdowns’?” He shook his head and floated away. “Goddamn pathetic, Kevin. Get your shit together.”

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