Side: Strength

Excerpt from Chapter 1

The dim lights and high-walled booths made the bar seem dark and secretive. While many restaurants have a few private booths, every booth here was a private booth. There were no tables and definitely no patio seating. The servers wouldn't even come to the booth unless you pressed the bell at the table. Those unworthy of a booth sat at the bar, quietly sipping their drinks and avoiding each other's eyes. It felt like it had been built just for meeting with unsavoury company.

On the inside, it took all of my willpower not to gush over how cool the place was. I had never been inside a bar before tonight. Everything I laid my eyes on seemed incredible, especially since I had been given permission to order my very first cocktail. Could the night get any better?

"Jeremy? Are you there? Can you hear me?" the voice of my angel spoke into a discreetly hidden earpiece. Mandy was her name.

"Don't drink that too fast, Itsubishi."

And the voice of God, or Gabor, after it.

I bit my lip to prevent an annoyed sigh from escaping my lips. Even though I had come here alone, I was still here on company time. Of course, I never would've been able to get in here without said company since the law still considered me a minor and all. Heck, I never would've thought to come to a place like this at all if my esteemed employers hadn't been led here by a clue. Since no esteemed looking officer could come here without rousing suspicion, they sent the most unassuming, most unimportant-looking person in the entire company to investigate-me. One of the LIONS, or Law Intern Officer Neo Service. It was a glorified way to say 'cadet'.

Even though I knew I had to be discreet, I couldn't help peeking around the bar. A real bar! It looked so much cooler than the bars I had seen in television shows and movies, back in the day when I had time to enjoy them. I glanced to my right to see a depressed looking man levitate his cocktail without spilling a drop.

"No dyna use at the bar please and thank you," the bartender recited dully as he walked by the man. "Drinks are meant to be enjoyed by consumption, not tomfoolery."

The way he repeated the words so automatically made me think that he had said the exact same thing to thousands of other customers. Our eyes met briefly before I quickly looked down into my drink: a strawberry daiquiri. I stared into it until the bartender walked past my seat to the other side of the bar again. Whew.

In my home, Geminate City, everyone possessed a unique power called a 'dynamism', although everyone called it a 'dyna' for short. Some dynas were really powerful, some only affected the user, and so on. Attempting to categorize dynas was the same as trying to categorize people: each one was too unique to label with a single sentence description. Not that it stopped my esteemed employers, Defence Against Negative Dynamism-or DANDY-from trying. With great power came great responsibility. Busy people tended to forget their responsibilities, so DANDY existed to remind them. That's why I was at the bar. A strange illness called the 'repulsion illness' caused a person's dyna to disappear. Officially, DANDY was working around the clock to solve the mystery with reports of having made 'great progress'. The reality? Few to little leads on the actual origin of this illness.

Until tonight.

Apparently, a person who might be linked to the outbreak of the illness worked at this bar. My job was to sit quietly and watch for anything 'suspicious'. The only problem was that everything looked suspicious. With any luck, I blended right into the crowd.

My thoughts were interrupted when a woman, trying to sound younger than her actual age, approached me. "Hello, handsome!"

Mandy's sweet voice hissed in my ear. "That could be our target. Try to act mature and friendly, but not too friendly, okay?"

I coughed into the microphone clipped inside my coat sleeve to show Mandy I had understood. I then turned to the woman and gave her the brightest smile possible. "Hey! How's it going?"

"Better than I expected for tonight." She tried to give me a sexy smile. "You?"

"Pretty good, pretty good." 'Until you got here,' I wanted to add, but I thought that would be too mean for this aging doll. I sipped my drink to keep my mouth occupied.

She sat down beside me and crossed her legs in an attempt to be alluring. The attempt failed miserably. "So what brings a handsome child like you into our humble establishment?"

"Hey, I resent being called a child. I'm 18, you know! I can prove it-"

"The fewer people you show your ID, the less likely you'll get caught," Gabor snapped.

"Mature people don't talk about their age! Besides, she sounds like a cougar. She wants to know if you're fresh meat!" Mandy growled, sounding very much like an actual cougar herself.

"-I mean, how could someone of my obvious maturity be a child?" I laughed nervously, earning groans from the other end. All that mattered was whether the 'sexy' lady beside me bought it.

She bought it hook, line and sinker. "Oh, anyone younger than me is a child, I guess, not that it stops me." She gave me a sly smile, revealing her predatory teeth. "After all, the fresher the meat, the better."

I tried to hide my shudder. Yeah, because you were pulled off the shelf a few years ago, Grandma! This conversation could only end in misfortune if it continued. "Ah ha, I'm very flattered, miss, but I'm in a committed relationship with the most beautiful girl in the universe."

"Oh, I see." Her smile melted. She didn't look happy, but at least I had been saved from becoming her next meal.

"I'm sorry; I just don't like to lead people on. I don't blame you for being interested, though." I nodded. Flattery was the last word to describe my feelings but better to be nice than honest.

"Well, good for you!" she snapped. Whipping her hair around, she walked away towards some stairs at the other end of the bar.

Before I could take a much needed sip of my drink, my earpiece talked. "I hope that wasn't just for my benefit, Itsubishi."

I leaned my chin on my left hand and spoke as softly as I could into my sleeve. "It's the truth!"

Gabor had a hearty chuckle before he returned to business. "What did that woman look like?"

"Old enough to be my mother, only with more plastic. Blonde hair, slightly dark skin and a dress that she's struggling to fit in," I replied honestly, even though that was me being nice about it.

"Blue eyes?" Mandy prompted.

"Yeah ...?"

"Congratulations, Itsubishi, you just blew off our target. That was Shannon Nanet," Gabor told me with a hint of annoyance. As he said that, I heard Mandy slap her forehead.

I didn't feel proud for spotting my target so quickly. "Uh ... don't I get points for fidelity?"

"Get up after her. She's the whole reason we're here."

I guess that meant 'no points for you'. "Can I take the cocktail with me?" I asked hopefully.

"NO!" both Gabors cried simultaneously.

My supervisors just couldn't understand the danger I put my sanity in by going after that woman. "Awww ..." I grumbled as I placed a napkin over my half-finished cocktail. If I couldn't have it, no one else could. I went to follow the target up the stairs. "Hope I don't gotta pretend to like her and make out or something. I could never picture Mandy's precious face on ..." I searched for the best term to describe the woman. "... that."