"Frack! What's that smell?" Most of the students had been lounging about the room. Whoever is closest to the Sidecar begins spluttering coughs, gagging on the wretched mix of burning hair, burning plastic. The antique school desks scrape as the teens scatter.
The gullwings on either side of the kiosk open with a punctuated hiss, and the Headmaster of the Wilson Memorial Academy tumbles out, retching, on his hands and knees. A beat later, Mateo thumps to the floor on his side, still in a sitting position, the 'trodes dragged from his head by the too-short wires. The stupefied expression of his staring eyes plays counterpoint to the saliva running from his mouth, the blood drooling from his ear.
"You killed Mateo, man!" This from Marco.
Punter waves a weary hand, head still. Between huffs, he gasps, in an attempt at unconcern, "No, no. He's just resting. He'll be fine in a moment. I'm sure we all could use a breather."
Aubrey moves through the desks to Mateo and tries to find a pulse. "What happened, teach? I thought this was a milk run."
Punter doesn't look up, still trying to catch his breath. "That was supposed to be a run on an unprotected data node. Somehow we ended up running on Roar-Sol's archival unit. Very puzzling."
Someone opens the door to let some fresh air in (or at least it would be different air). The students are looking at each other, looking at Punter, but always drawn back to the fascinating spectacle that Mateo has become.
Marco says, "Uncle Vito ain't gonna like this."
They are magic words. Punter suddenly regains possession of himself. He draws himself up to the floor. Looks at Mateo. Looks around the room at all of his fine, young apprentices.
Very deliberately, he says, "Class dismissed." Then he runs from the room.
Then he sticks his head back in the room. "Jayne, be a dear. There's a derm patch and an IV under the seat in the Sidecar. Mateo would no doubt appreciate their application immensely and immediately. Spit-spot, now!"
And he is gone again.
Hey. Don't think of him as a coward. Think of him as, well, as a survivalist.