Inside a large white room with bright lights, a well-built 40-year-old man with a short dark brown hair was seated on top of a cutting-edge recliner at one of the corners of the room looking up.
Above him was a low-hanging semi-transparent screen that projected a certain television program with loud cheering sounds in the background and a fast spoken commentary out front.
It was a sport match.
Specifically, a 'Battle Arena' match!
Battle Arena was the current largest and most viewed official sport in all of the Space Stations. It Featured two opposing teams of fighters that battled over the dismantling of each other's 'towers' until one side finally came out on top.
This was the first ever large scale team fighting sport. And also the first sport to have allowed the usage of genetic modifications and metaphysical abilities for its players.
Even when it first became an official sport, Battle Arena had already broken through many barriers of its previous generation counterparts.
And it had been Irvine's passion for all his life.
The seated older-looking man, Irvine Lang, was currently watching the television screen above him with great intensity. His heart's filled with both yearnings and envy as he looked at the players lining up on the field.
[...Coming out of their slump from the last couple seasons, the Pyro Red Dwarf is once again rising up to challenge their first playoffs' opponent in a while!]
The commentator was currently in the middle of hyping up both the live and home audience with hot topics regarding the two matched teams.
[Will the Zeta Androids be able to stop the Red Dwarf's momentum in this match? The cheerings of Zeta City's fans can even be heard from...]
'They made it into the playoffs a few short years after I retired...'
No longer listening to the commentator's rants, Irvine started to reminisce the days he'd spent playing for the Red Dwarf...
Sitting on the bench for most of his career, he only managed to make the regular starters during his final years on the team. And that hadn't been the worst of it.
The worst was that those had been the years that the Pyro Red Dwarf had continuously failed to make the playoffs.
'Small wonder they terminated the contract before the end of regular season...' Irvine smiled deprecatingly at himself.
Ironically enough, in this important match, the only person who had sent him a message was not any one his old teammates but rather his sister who was a managerial member of the opposing team.
[From Althea Lang: Are you at home? Watch us crush them tonight.]
The similarly semi-transparent screen of the mobile device in his hand had been displaying the same short message for a while without him pressing anything on it.
'When did it all start to go wrong I wonder...?'
'I played good in college, although it was not the most stellar record for a player, the highs came together with the lows. I felt myself improving albeit slowly and I even managed to get drafted into the pro scene a year after graduation.'
'...I guess it started spiralling downwards after that. I realized that my skills were very average within the league shortly after joining, but at that time I didn't know what to do about it and just kept practicing and playing mindlessly...'
'I took too long to develop my own specialty. A weapon or an asset I could call my own as a pro player.'
'And by the time I just started touching that barrier, my age and performance were already bad enough for me to be forced into an early retirement...'
After his contract had been terminated, Irvine was left with little to no options to continue playing.
Even if he'd wanted to become a free agent, an athlete reaching close to 40 years of age with no outstanding records in them wouldn't have been taken in by any of the active pro teams in the league.
They would rather take their chances with a newly graduated college player than him who had shorter years left in him to play.
By the time he stopped reflecting on his life's journey, the two teams' players on the television had already finished greeting each other and were getting ready for their match.
The groups of pro players on the field were all wearing the same style of tight-fitting helmets and exosuits that covered almost their entire body except for some parts on their joints.
From the bird's-eye view of the camera, all of them looked like human-shaped mass-produced robots walking around. If not for the flexibility and fluidity in their movements, they might actually be mistaken as one.
Battle Arena Suits. A high-tech exosuit that's used to protect and calculate the player's HP in a match.
The only visible differences between each suit of armour were the sizes, the colours of their paints and stripes, and the player numbers on the chest and back of their armour plates.
The players on-screen were shuffling back and forth towards their respective positions in full armour as they waited for the countdown of the match.
Irvine also waited for the start of the match with focus in his eyes when the metal door at the other end of the white room suddenly slide open following a beeping sound.
Turning his head away from the screen to see who's coming, Irvine's field of vision quickly reached the rest of the room's decorations from the corner of his eyes.
He was in a laboratory.
The entire room was filled with all sorts of intricate equipment and testing devices, coupled with dozens of computer screen projections displaying complicated graphs and calculations all around the room.
Unlike what he had implicitly told his dependable sister previously, Irvine was not at his home at the present.
On the opposite end of the room, a black-haired man wearing a white doctor coat had just entered the lab as the metal door behind him automatically slid to a close.
"Congratulations Mister Lang! The results are out, your body condition is all ready for the new genetic modification serum trial." The man exclaimed.
"Good." Irvine nodded in response.
"Must've been hard on you, following our prescribed daily regimen to a T. But at least now your body is conditioned perfectly for our experiment."
"I'm used to discipline." He replied, "So... What are my chances on this doctor?"
"As we've explained previously, you are part of the first batch of our human testers for this trial Mister Lang, so there are no substantial data yet." The man smiled wryly as he continued on,
"But you shouldn't have to worry, we have been approved by the government to move on with the clinical trials only because we have passed the safety benchmark on the non-human test subjects. Health complications are already down to under 1% too."
"However, the success rate on those non-human subjects are... Still fairly low even after following the post-treatment procedures. I just hope you don't get your hopes up too much and end up falling even harder when--"
"I know." Irvine quickly interrupted, "I understand doctor, but if it happens to succeed..."
The doctor gave a reassuring smile at him and answered,
"Then you'll regain your peak physical state and youth! We estimated it to be around your 29 to 33-year-old state. Of course, the changes will be gradual and you'll have to follow our post-treatment procedures in the facility."
Although Irvine's answer seemed calm and nonchalant, his clenched fists showed the contrasting emotions within him.
'I will be able to play again!'
'I might've taken too long in creating my own styles of play previously, but if this succeeds, I can try to enter the pro scene one last time!'
This was his chance to change the various teams' coaches perception of him and put himself back on the market.
The doctor who saw this only sighed with sympathy at the figure in front of him. He'd known about Irvine's situations and decision through the files on him.
Irvine had been one of the very first people to apply when they were just starting to openly recruit volunteers for their human trial phase of this new gene modification serum.
Truth be told, this new type of genetic modification actually carried great importance for a lot of people in many fields.
The serum based its genetic coding and materials from a newly discovered creature with the metaphysical ability to regenerate their bodies to its optimal state by means of time reversal.
It was nothing short of unbelievable even for a metaphysical ability.
The successfully applied effect that had been given to old and near-death animal test subjects previously had shown the small number of them to be able to perform a complete recovery to their peak state by themselves!
Unfortunately, further testing also revealed that those subjects cannot invoke the ability a second time after that, so there were currently still a lot left to be studied for the serum's completion.
But alas, Irvine had been lucky enough to be one of the very first human testers chosen amongst the thousands of applications that had come their way.
A washed-up athlete who was trying to make a come back to keep playing the sport he loved. That was the doctor's impression of him.
"I'm ready!" Irvine firmed himself one last time before gesturing the doctor to start with the procedure immediately.
"...Right, then. Why don't you lie down on the chair first." The doctor agreed to the request and nodded in response as he began preparing for it.
He started attaching various contraptions to either Irvine's body or the high-tech reclining chair that he was lying on.
A number of sensory devices, cables, and IV tubings were stacked onto his well-built upper body one after another.
During this preparation, a number of assistant scientists in the same white coat had also started flooding in from the door upon the doctor's cue. They soon began to operate the many computers placed all around the laboratory.
[Aaand the initiative was taken by the Red Dwarf as they successfully break apart the 1st and 2nd sections of the Androids front tower in a row!! Nice assist by the Ranger Alistair...]
The somewhat loud announcement prompted the initially relaxed Irvine to reflexively look up at the game for a second time to find out the details.
"We're about to begin..." The doctor reminded.
It looked like he was destined to not watch this live match.
Irvine nodded obediently and gave his affirmation.
The television screen was promptly turned off and the black-haired doctor started leading and commanding the group of assistants behind him to begin the trial procedure.
"Prepare the first injection of the serum! Increase the concentration proportionately to fit the human body's standard according to the calculations!"
The moment a command was laid out, the rest of the research team moved together in sync as they operated their respective machineries.
"We'll begin with 10% injection first, on my mark!" The black-haired doctor held up his hand before stopping himself from continuing.
"Mister Lang, I'll administer the anesthesia now. Leave the rest to us and hopefully you'll wake up feeling more invigorated than ever before!" He smiled sincerely.
"I hope so too." Irvine replied flatly as he tried to hold his expectations down to a minimum.
The doctor then cued one of the assistants to place the oxygen mask on Irvine and put him down for the procedure.
"Alright Mister Lang, please count back from 10..."
For a little while after that, all Irvine could feel was the blurry haze of his fleeting consciousness.
His brain started slowing down its process as every thought disappeared from his mind.
His last thought was of him wishing fervently for the trial serum to work as intended after he woke up.
Time seemed to freeze as he felt himself getting engulfed by nothingness without the ability to move or respond.
After not knowing how long he'd been unconscious for, he finally felt his senses starting to recover as he perceived the feel of his own body and the noise around him.
The calling sound got louder and louder by the moment until he could make out his own name being called.
Slowly regaining his clarity, before long, Irvine noticed his drastically changed surrounding the moment his vision returned.
He discovered that he was currently standing inside an infirmary.
Behind him was a short line of young students in uniform getting ready to be examined by a female personnel seated on the sole desk in the room.
'What happened? This place is...'
He felt a nostalgic feeling washed over him.
'Is this... Greenwood High? Why am I back in Zeta City?'
"Boy, you're holding up the line! Come here!" Seeing the person not responding to her call, the woman in front pulled Irvine forward impatiently before scanning the back of his neck with some sort of handheld device.
Without the chance to react properly, Irvine was easily pulled towards the female doctor.
The device, reacting to something at the back of his neck, let out a beeping sound as it processed his information.
The scanning went on without a hitch, prompting the monitor behind the desk to display the data and some statistics from the scan.
Name: Irvine Lang
Muscle Strength: 14.8
Physical State: Stage-1 Human
Genetic Enhancement: x1
Genetic Modification: -
'18... Stage-1 Human?? Wha...?'