Issue #55 – Beer Money

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 5

“I’m really sorry.” Kevin said quickly. He didn’t dare take his eyes off the armed man to make eye contact with Elanor before plunging into the crowd.

Maybe he’d seen too many action and crime movies, but the image that painted itself in his head was one of Duncan being roughly led outside, followed by a gangland style execution. And all the while, he berated himself for supporting this scam, for not protesting more vehemently when Duncan mentioned Big Sky.

All over beer. All over a party. This was supposed to be their big summer. The first summer where they were adults, off from college and out on their own. And all because of some bastard deciding to take what wasn’t theirs they were now in what was likely mortal danger.

No. While he was headed toward what might be his doom, he felt the need to be honest. The thief had done wrong, but they had made the choice. Not only did they make the choice, but they made the same choice they faulted the thief over. Now they were facing the consequences.

He pushed past a white haired girl wearing a gold halter and skirt just as a revelation hit him. Just as he somehow knew how to interpret the new sense in his head, he also knew there was more. What he could sense, he could alter. A smug grin twitched his lips as he sprang into the path of Syndicate man, Rook.

“Stop right there!” He shouted, throwing up the hand with the ring and focusing. “Not to tough without your gun… huh?” The last part was more panicked than it sounded in his head, mostly because the senses and the metal control that came with it were fading away.

The ring turned from silver to gold to the sounds of the band tuning up behind the curtain. “Oh shit.”

Rook’s eyes narrowed. If there was one thing he knew, it was how to conceal his piece. There was no way this kid could know that. He glanced up and saw that his original target had spotted them. The kid looked scared, which meant the one in front of him was probably a friend. That, Rook could work with.

“Oh shit is right.” He grabbed Kevin’s shoulder and squeezed, driving his thumb into a particularly painful pressure point. Kevin howled with pain and almost went down as his knees weakened. The noise was devoured by the crowd and the tuning band. A few of the crowd standing nearby stopped to gawk, but a meaningful glare told them they didn’t want to be involved.

“Kev!” Duncan ducked through the few people between him and his friend to try and render aid. “Hey man, let him go! Who do you think you are messing with my bro?”

Kevin was oblivious, and it wasn’t because of the pain any longer. At first, he thought his skin was itching, only to realize it went deeper than that. And then it came to him: it wasn’t itching, he had suddenly become highly aware of every part of his body down to a cellular level. Not just aware, but in command. Years of learning that weren’t his kicked in. Extra fat that wasn’t needed, scar tissue long since healed; both were consumed and added to muscle mass. They didn’t add a great deal but the ring multiplied every bit.

His hand came up and grabbed Rook’s with pressure that made the other man’s bones creak. Slowly, with an almost calculated menace, he straightened his spine and removed the offending hand from his person. A reconfiguration of his vocal chords dropped his voice a few octaves when he spoke. “It’s time for you to leave.”

Rook didn’t let the pain make him grimace, didn’t let the implied threat registers on his face. Reflex sent his freehand into his concealed holster and before Kevin could react, the pistol was pressed to his chest, concealed from the other club-goers by his sleeve and jacket. “How about me, you and your friend go outside and have a chat instead?”

“I could break your arm.” Kevin said with certainty that was also borrowed form an unknown source.

“And I could shoot you in the heart and walk out of here without batting an eye.” It wasn’t a bluff. Rook knew the club scene, knew that the panic would get him out past the bouncers. Before the police arrived, he could be out of town courtesy of the Syndicate. It might be a mark against him, but he was valuable for his experience and the message would have been sent, so they couldn’t claim he didn’t get the job done.

“Bro, we need to find Reg and get out of here.” Duncan urged.

“There’s no getting out of here.” said Rook, his eyes still locked on Kevin as they had their standoff. “I got guys all around here. You think you can rob Big Sky and not pay for that shit?”

“All this over maybe a hundred bucks in beer?”

“I told you not to go in there.” Kevin hissed at Duncan.

“Yeah, but seriously, he’s going to pull a gun on us for that? Is it a slow crime day or something?”

Rook snarled and pushed the gun into Kevin’s chest.“ It’s not about money, it’s about reputation. Nobody shows up the Syndicate in their own house. Especially not you psionics. Now let go of my arm, or I’m putting you in the ground right here.”

Something like suicidal overconfidence filled Kevin; a perfect knowledge of his own immortality. It felt like insanity, but he knew it was true like he knew he was flesh and blood. “Yeah, well we,” He grabbed the gun with his other hand and pressed it even more roughly into his chest, tightening the finger on the trigger with his grip. “Are not psionics.”

And then he pulled the trigger himself. It was a gambit that left him terrified and smug all at once. A shot to the heart that would do nothing. If that didn’t convince the man to leave them alone, nothing would.

The crowd noise and the sound of the band couldn’t cover the pop of the gun going off. Panic rippled out from the people closest until it infected everyone. Screams pressed in on them and an ever widening clearing opened around the three men.

For Kevin, there was pain, but it passed quickly as nerve impulses were switched off and his flesh began to knit, pushing the bullet out of the flesh and steadily toward being ejected from his body. The only flaw was that he hadn’t warned Duncan about it. The only think Duncan knew was that he’d head a shot while a pistol was aimed at his friend’s chest.

He couldn’t even think to form words. Kevin was more of a brother to him than his actual brothers, Reggie too. It seems like they’d lived on the same street since as long as he could remember. Reggie was always the one to drag them into new things, for good or for ill, and Kevin was the one to find ways to get them out of it when it was for the ill. And Duncan himself, despite never being the biggest guy around, or the toughest, always went to the mat to defend the other two. Brothers, blood be damned.

Panic and instinct took over and he prayed that what happened at Big Sky would happen again. He couldn’t see the doors of the club, but he could see the stage and the slight gap in the curtains. He could hide Kevin there and then find Reggie. The power responded almost at the same moment that the idea formed in his head. Grabbing Kevin, he teleported.

***

Tune-up sessions for Snackrifice were mostly theater with Adel no longer in the drummer’s seat. While Lisa did tune her base a bit, the noises the audience heard were almost all coming from Kay’s throat. JC was taking over the duties of pretending to play the drums for the night, practicing spinning the sticks in his fingers, and Juniper was taking the opportunity to stretch her arms and do some deep breathing.

She didn’t even notice Sonja was there until she spoke. “Juniper?”

It was the last voice Juniper wanted to hear tonight, but she kept herself from showing it. Instead, she put a pleasant smile on her face. It was almost genuine; after all, Sonja was going to make her friends’ dreams come true. “Oh hi, Miss Remington.”

“You can just call me Sonja.” the other woman swiftly corrected. “Anyway… hi, first of all. I know we’ve met, but we didn’t really get to talk then.”

“I’d really like that.” Juniper lied, “But we’re about to go on…”

Sonja nodded nervously. “I know. But you really need to hear this before you go on. My manager talked to me earlier and he overheard something; something that’s not true. Juniper I’m–”

Outside, there was a gunshot, followed by screams. Both women looked at the curtain as one, but as they moved to check, the world went wrong. A space just behind them flickered and the air puffed out before the space it formerly occupied became filled with two men; one dark skinned, one merely tanned.

The latter was holding the former by the shoulders and the former had a hold in his chest. Not a bloody hole, just a hole, as if it was made intentionally. As Juniper watched, it was closing up, but also working something out of it. The end of the bullet appeared just as the power faded and the ring’s third stone burst into a light show of robin’s egg blue, warring with a milky sheen that reminded her of Sonja’s skin.

The tanned man was too horrified to react to their new surroundings. His friend however, suffered no such issues.

“What the hell?” Kevin asked. His question was punctuated by the bullet dropping to the floor.

“We could say the same to you!” Kay exploded. No one interrupted her when she was doing work for the band and left unscathed. “Are you the ones that just shot? Big mistake, buddy.”

“Kay, careful.” Lisa said, well aware to how close her friend was to saying something dangerous. She fixed both with a serious gaze she used to reserve for JC when he was being problematic. “Tell us what’s going on?” The ring didn’t go unnoticed to her either. There was powerful, but subtle magic there and the central stone had become a war between not only the blue and oyster-shell hues, but also rose and red.

None of this got Kevin’s mind off task, and he was also being pounded by an instinct in his head to choose, even if he didn’t know what he was supposed to be choosing. “I’m alright, Pinky.” He assured Duncan. “Short story for everyone: the mob wants to make an example of us because we stole some beer from them. Now if you excuse me, I’ve got to find my friend.”

Somehow, this make the decision for him, because rose won out in the clear stone. He closed his eyes and slowly pointed. “There. Duncan, go get Reggie. He’s in that direction.”

“What? How do you know that?”

“Divination doesn’t lie.” Kevin said offhandedly, not even hearing himself talk. “In the meantime, I’m going to stop that gob-head before he kills someone.” He heaved a weary sigh. “And after that? We turn ourselves in.”

“Kevin… what?”

“You heard me, Duncan. This is our fault. All because we couldn’t handle that someone took our beer money. And they’ll just keep coming after us for it unless we make an example of ourselves, get me? It’s this or a body bag, bro.” Duncan pressed his lips and nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll explain it to Reggie after it’s all over.”

His next action was to summon one of Occult’s signature shields, centering it over one arm. He and Duncan shared a nod before charging through the curtain.

“He cast it without a focus.” Lisa murmured under her breath.

Juniper cast a haunted stare at the others. “Should we…”

“Stay here.” They were all shocked to find that it was Sonja that said what they all (besides JC) expected to say to her in the next few moments. With their reaction, Sonja looked like she would blush if her skin allowed. “Someone needs to help them and I’m the only one with powers around here. Don’t worry though: I am a member of the Mayfield Irregulars, after all. I’ve got a medal and everything.”

With that, she ran out after them.

As soon as the curtain settled, Lisa nodded to Juniper. “Yes, we should help them. But we’ve got to keep a low profile unless we have absolutely no choice, okay?” Juniper nodded and went to peek through the curtains.

***

As hardened as he was, Frank Rook was not accustomed to the world of super humans. Yes, he had a general idea of what they were known to be capable of, but his old school ways expected a certain result when you shot someone and disappearing wasn’t it.

Panic had already hit the people around him though, so it was time to go whether the job was finished tr not. He slipped the pistol back into its holster and replaced it in his hand with his palmtop so he could feign calling the police. But when he turned around, he nearly walked into himself.

And it really did look like him; same strong chin, came weathered skin, same thinning brown hair only a few years from needing a comb-over. The voice was different though, not low enough and heavily accented like a stereotype from Jersey.

“Hey. Where you think you’re goin’ my friend? Cops are gonna be here for ya in a coupla minutes, fella.”

Rook took a step back and shifted the palmtop in his hand and drew his gun. But an unseen force took hold of his family heirloom and caused it to unravel like a badly made sweater until he was holding a handful of metal ribbons with a puddle of molten bullets dribbling down his sleeve.

He barked a harsh curse and his the button to direct link to the Syndicate driver. “Burton!” He shouted into the phone. “There’s more of ’em. Send everyone!” That was as far as he got before his doppelganger grabbed the device form his hand and threw it across the room.

With no options left, Rook drew back his fist and—was promptly clocked across the side of his head by Kevin’s conjured shield, sending him sprawling. That left an incensed Kevin facing the second Rook. “I don’t know who you are,” He warned, “But I…”

The second Rook’s form slimmed considerably and his skin darkened. The hair shortened and went black to match the old growth stubble on Keven’s head. A thousand subtle changes turned Rook into Kevin. “I’m on your side.” said Cyn. “Or the closet thing you’ve got to a side.”

She rolled her eyes at his disbelieving expression. “We don’t have time for bullshit. That’s more coming.”

“Hey.” said a voice behind Kevin. There stood Duncan with three Reggies in tow. “You’re wrong about you being the closest thing he’s got to a side. We’re on his side.” He raised his fist in solidarity. “All the way with you, bro.”

The Reggies laughed and copied themselves from nine to twenty seven. “Not only does Kev have a side, but dude, check out how many of us have his back.”

As touched as he was at his friends’ loyalty, Kevin couldn’t accept that kind of sacrifice. “Guys, maybe you should just get out of here. Like I said, once this is done, I’m turning myself in.”

“Yeah? Well so are we.” Reggie said. “This is my fault. I came up with the stupid plan and convinced you it wasn’t wrong since we’d be the drinks away for free.”

“And if I didn’t get full of myself and go after Big Sky’s micro-brew, we wouldn’t have a hit on our heads.”

Kevin shook his head. “If I said a firm ‘no’, we would have stopped. I know you guys well enough to know that. I just… part of me thought it would be exciting.”

“I do admire that kind of loyalty, guys.” Sonja strode up to them, ignoring the looks of surprise on their faces. “But did I hear that more men with guns are coming? We need to get ready and get all these people out of here.”

Cyn looked at her curiously, but she was saying what she was about to, so she nodded. “Right. Multi-guy, get to as many people as possible and send them out the back. The rest of us need to keep their attention on us instead of all the potential witnesses they might want to cap. Spread out so they can’t see us all right away.”

The others didn’t try to question here and spread out as the Reggies ran to direct civilian traffic.

Kevin stationed himself at the bar. He was starting to get the hang of the ring and its powers now. While the mechanism of how and why eluded him, he did know that it would periodically present colors to him that corresponded in some abstract way to a power. And by choosing it, he could use that power as if he’d been born with it for a short, apparently random time.

The stone was gold now, but as he stepped up to the bar, it turned silver again before suddenly adding an iron gray to the mix. It seemed that it had given him a choice again. He’d already experienced silver, so he chose gray now.

And his blood suddenly felt like it was on fire.

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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