It had been her first Friday night off in over a month, but for Colleen Kay, some splinter in the back of her mind was stopping her from fully enjoying it.
The heat had kicked in and she had covered herself up with a warm blanket on the couch, and yet still she couldn’t focus. Colleen shuffled around, trying to get more comfortable as she focused her eyes back on the pages of this particular romance novel.
But as she tried to read, the words just seemed to melt off the page.
Her ears perked up. Now she realized exactly what was bothering her.
For whatever reason, there was no booming music coming from Michael’s room. The apartment was so silent, and she knew for a fact he had come straight home after school. Unsure of what to do with herself, Colleen looked around, then back down at her book.
She sighed heavily in the next moment, throwing her book to one side of the couch in frustration.
It dawned on her just how used to Michael’s loud music she had become, and just how empty everything felt without it.
Colleen leaned back, her black hair falling to one side as she momentarily stared up at the ceiling.
“Hey Mike.” she called out loudly, though not moving an inch. “You okay in there?”
Colleen sat up, and in a few strides she was at Michael’s door. His enormous poster of the Bee Gees seemed to serve as impromptu doormen as she debated knocking first.
It was a short debate. Colleen slowly opened Michael door, and was met with the sight of him sitting cross-legged on his shag rug.
His back was facing her and he was completely silent, save for the faint sound of music coming from his headphones. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and clearly Colleen could see a sheen of sweat that could only have come from strenuous exercise.
Colleen was a moment away from apologizing for bothering him in what looked like a private moment, when Michael’s whole body gyrated in one smooth motion. With all the grace of a gymnast, he flipped himself onto one arm, eyes still closed as he focused on his music and nothing else.
Despite how lazy she’d often seen her brother act, his abdomen didn’t quiver for a moment as he kept the handstand. Michael now blinked, noticing her and smiling wide in response.
“Oh hey Colleen!” he exclaimed, before pushing back with all his might. With a quick back flip, he was back on his feet.
“What’s up?” he then asked, stretching his arms up high as he exhaled from the previous strain.
“Didn’t mean to bother you. You working out for dance club again this year?”
Michael’s mind fizzled for a moment, delaying his response.
“Dance club…” he said sort of flatly, only to catch himself a moment later.
“Yeah! Dance club, of course! I can’t be slacking on dancing. I mean, it’s like the only thing I’m good at.”
Colleen smiled before messing with his hair. “That and being a real pain in the butt. But it’s nice to see you doing something else besides being holed up in your room, little brother.”
Colleen’s nose twitched uncomfortably once she picked up the general scent of his room.
Even he wasn’t so oblivious to not know what she was thinking.
Michael grinned. “Probably need a shower, don’t I?”
“You think?” she replied, heading back out the door as he closed it behind her. He heard her yell from outside though as he searched his room for a serviceable towel.
“Try not to be out too late tonight, Mike!”
Michael was only half-listening at this point.
“No worries, Colleen.” he replied, though probably not loud enough for her to hear him.
With the towel hung over his shoulder, he grinned to himself at the thought of his recent success.
For the past hour he’d had Canned Heat on constant loop, and not once did his subconscious tap into the song effect, even when his mind wandered aimlessly while he practiced his dancing.
It had been one month since Kim had caught Calvin tailing them in Central Park. From their few training sessions, with Aeris still showing up to watch, Kim had made it abundantly clear to Michael that he was still awful in a fight.
As Michael stepped out of his room and into the shower, he mentally recounted the events of the past few weeks.
The cool warm water shrunk his afro into curls with its spray.
Even after texting him twice, Michael was once again reminded that he hadn’t heard from Calvin since they’d last seen each other in September.
Whatever Last Record was, Michael still had no clue. And Kim had proven to be no help as well, since she either avoided the question or simply didn’t know the few times he had asked her about it.
Michael winced as the water hit his inner thigh, reminding him of the nasty bruise he’d gained from messing up a handstand.
He’d gotten better, but every time Michael went up against Kim during training, it seemed like it was never enough.
He put a hand against the porcelain tile wall, letting the soothing water run down his back. He didn’t even want to begin to think about what would happen if Aeris decided to show everyone what she could really do. More than anything, Michael Kay didn’t want to be the group embarrassment in all this.
A few minutes later, Michael’s shower was done, and he went about the usual ritual of drying out his impressive orb of hair. He glanced at his phone more than once as he inspected himself in the mirror.
Any hope of it buzzing with a response from Calvin was dashed quickly though.
Annoyance building, Michael’s mind slipped as he forgot where he’d left his hair pick. He rummaged through the counter drawers, some of which clearly hadn’t been opened in years.
Finally, Michael spotted the elusive orange implement. Grabbing it impatiently, he was almost so fast about it that he didn’t notice a dusty set of photos underneath.
MIchael’s eyes widened in an instant. He snatched them up, scanning them like they were classified information.
One was of Colleen when she looked about his age, clad in a green cardigan and her expression making it seem like she didn’t have a care in the world.
The second showed two people he didn’t recognize; a young woman with mocha skin and long, curly hair, and a young beanie-wearing man who sported a small mustache.
But it was the last picture that mattered the most. It was both of those people, but between them stood Rob, his cap pulled down, bass guitar case slung over his shoulder, and a surprisingly calm smile on his face.
They were standing right outside the door of a lit nightclub, one that Michael vaguely remembered passing by with his uncle at some point in the distant past.
The photo was an old Polaroid, and written at the bottom was a date and a few words.
Jamiroquai at the Supper Club –
That would have been cool enough, but what really caught Michael was the two words below that. They were simple, seemingly innocuous, but they stuck in his mind in an instant. He spoke them out loud.
It was like hearing the words Last Record all over again. His mind couldn’t take the unknown implications. Then the obvious hit him like an oncoming train.
Could Rob have been a Music Master too?
Michael wanted to punch himself for not realizing the notion sooner. How could he have been so blind? It all made so much sense now.
A mixture of excitement and impatience washed over Michael Kay. Ignoring his hair for the moment, he instead grabbed for his phone, beginning to text furiously.
He wondered if he was going to regret this. Kim wasn’t going to be happy, but he was more anxious than he was afraid of the consequences.
Sending the dreaded triple text, Michael set his phone down, went back to his hair, and hoped for the best.
Her fist slammed square into his jaw, and Michael slid back as he struggled to stay standing from both the impact and the pain. Canned Heat flared hot on his heels, singing the rock below.
“You sure you’re not enjoying this too much, Kim?” Aeris remarked as she watched the two of them spar, legs curled up to her chest to help warm her from the cold night.
Kim simply cracked her knuckles as she allowed Michael a moment respite. “After four weeks of the same thing? I wish I could say I was.”
“Hey, that was a cheap shot!” Michael argued, before surging forward with a burst of Canned Heat. Unfortunately for him, his frustration caused him to forget his surroundings.
He made it about four feet before one of Walking Disaster‘s hydra-arms grabbed onto his leg and threw him to one side.
Kim just crossed her arms in response. “What do I keep telling you? There are no cheap shots.”
Thrown by the arm, Michael flailed wildly towards Aeris. Luckily for her, he’d gone through this more than once now. He was just a mere two feet from her before he was able to just barely land on one arm, transitioning into a handstand and then back upright.
“Now that’s what I like to see. Less complaining, and more of that.” Kim remarked, before she willed the clawed arms to surge around her like striking serpents bent on the attack.
Finally though, it seemed the hours of working on his reflexes and dancing seemed to pay off for Michael Kay. He spun around with the beat of his song, dodging grasping purple claws in the process. Some came from the front, and Michael quickly moonwalked a few steps back just out of their reach. When they came from the side, he did the limbo to slide right under without even breaking a sweat.
And in that perfect moment, when all six of Kim’s summoned hydra-arms were jumbled together like a canopy, he focused everything into his right hand. A beam of red-orange thermal light sliced through all six in one destructive motion, as Michael rolled underneath, stopping right in front of Kim.
His hand was right above her chest, still pulsing with heat, as her musical constructs fell apart behind him and dissipated into nothingness.
Kim was speechless for the moment, but Aeris, not so much.
“Now that’s how it’s done! Way to go, Michael!” she cheered excitedly. Smiling in response, Michael moved his hand away from Kim’s front, and for once, even she seemed somewhat impressed.
“Huh. Not bad.” she said simply, cracking a slight smile. And once he heard clapping, Michael’s smile just grew that much wider.
Unfortunately, any hint of happiness on Kim’s face sank beneath the ocean once Michael’s one-man audience began to speak.
“Not bad? Really, Kim, you give Mike here so little credit. That was a veritable stomping if I’ve ever seen one.” Calvin said plainly as he now stood right beside Aeris. He smirked with the same smug look that Kim remembered from four weeks ago, which only ignited her anger at his mere presence further.
“I’ll show you a stomping! You don’t listen very well, do you?” she growled with fury, going headlong for Calvin.
Michael was quick to put his non-heated hand on her shoulder though, speaking quickly lest she lash out.
“Hey, cool it for a second! I invited him.”
Kim turned, her growl directed at Michael. “You what?”
Calvin interjected though, his tone lowering to his best mediator voice.
“Relax, I didn’t come here to start a fight. Mike asked me to come, so I came.”
Calvin addressed Michael now, his tone apologetic. “My bad for missing your texts. I had some phone issues.”
Of course, the truth couldn’t have been further. By ignoring him all these weeks, Calvin had pretty much guaranteed that Michael’s impatience would get the better of him. Because of that, he had gained his opportunity to squeeze into their little group.
“No worries.” Michael said, though he could still feel the tension on Kim’s shoulder. “There’s some stuff I still wanted to ask you about anyway.”
Calvin put one finger in the air, feigning his memory just coming back to him.
“Last Record, right!” he quipped, snapping his fingers. “Well, I’m here now, and I’ll be happy to stick around.”
Kim still continued to shoot her death glare straight at him however, but Calvin looked down at Aeris instead.
He smiled. “That is, if I’m wanted here.”
Finally speaking, Aeris seemed oddly comfortable with the whole situation.
“I mean, is it really that big of a deal?” she asked innocently. Part of her just wanted to stop the fire before it started, but another part of her wanted Calvin to stay. For what reason, perhaps even she didn’t want to admit that to herself.
Kim was clearly surrounded. She prepared to bark a nasty response, until she looked back at Michael and he cued those sad eyes and that somewhat unsure smile. Though her expression didn’t immediately change, it was at that point that she instantly saw Seth in him yet again.
Who was she kidding?
She had seen her older brother in him since day one.
Otherwise, she would have beat him into the dust when they first fought in that back alley. And she certainly wouldn’t have offered to teach him like this. She was using her valuable time on this afro-headed idiot and clueless country girl, and now Michael wanted to add this obvious con artist to the mix?
Michael’s expression still didn’t change though, and his tone of voice was as welcoming as always.
“Come on, Kim. Can you let it go, just this once?”
The tension dissipated as Kim’s anger began to subside. She smirked back at Calvin, rubbing her chin as she realized that the least she could do was take advantage of the situation.
“Okay.” she began. “You can stay.”
Calvin nodded, unsurprised. “I appreciate it. So Mike, about Last Record, let me tell y-”
“On one condition.” Kim added, much to everyone’s surprise. She stepped aside, her hand out towards Michael as she allowed him a path to pass across the rock face.
“Let’s see how you do against Afroboy here. Maybe he can wipe that smug look off your face for me.”
Calvin, for once, was a bit taken aback. Did she seriously think that this guy would even so much as touch him?
Nevertheless, he did have an audience now. This was his chance to make that good first impression.
Meanwhile, Michael seemed instantly disappointed. If this was the only way to get Calvin to stay, then it seemed Last Record would have to wait.
“Alright.” Calvin agreed, rotating one shoulder as he whipped out his music player. “If that’s what it takes.”
With a click, he had his song of choice going. And for once, Michael recognized it. The synthesized noise reverberated in the air, its lyrics ever so catchy as the neon effect formed around Calvin’s outstretched hand.
They were but two-dimensional squares, though they came in all sorts of bright colors and each one pulsed to the beat of his music. As Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger swarmed around his palm, Calvin just bled confidence in both his posture and expression.
“Make me proud, Michael.” Kim suggested, patting him hard on the back as he activated Canned Heat. His heels flared up, but Calvin didn’t seem too worried. He addressed Aeris one more time with a wink.
“Wish me luck.”
She didn’t say a word, but it was becoming increasingly obvious by the smile that crept up on her face that there might be something just a little charming in those blue eyes of his.
Both Michael and Calvin dashed forward, and Kim was quick to make it to the safety of where Aeris was watching, as red-orange heat and colored cubes roamed in the night air with reckless abandon.
The punk girl didn’t say a word, but Kim couldn’t hide herself this time. On her face was a relaxed, somewhat carefree expression that seemed so unlike her. For the moment, she wasn’t pissed, or angry, or even annoyed.
Aeris smirked to herself at the sight. Unfortunately for her, Aeris let out a stifled laugh.
“I heard that.” Kim murmured, though her expression didn’t change.
“Sorry. It’s just nice to see you like this.” Aeris observed, watching the fight continue to unfold. Though Michael was fast, especially with Canned Heat, it seemed there was more to Calvin than he let on. He moved with surprising grace, almost like he was used to it all.
“Don’t get used to it.” Kim was quick to point out, though her tone said otherwise. “My money’s on Afroboy, by the way.”
Aeris didn’t respond this time, and Kim left it at that. She noted the twinkle in her eye as the blond girl focused on Calvin in particular.
Nevertheless, for the first time in a long time, Kim just let it be.
And if she didn’t know any better, when she watched Michael flash a grin as he deftly dodged Calvin’s projectiles, she almost thought she saw Seth.
It was a strange, but comforting thought.
And for once, comfort was all Kim Ramone needed right now.
For Renaldo, there were few things scarier than being in a Symphon waiting room and to be constantly glared at by the First Beat on reception duty.
But at least Helia was elsewhere.
He sat alone in a pristine white chair, with nothing more than a small table and other empty seats to keep him company. With both hands clasped together, he could do nothing more than wait.
They had failed in their task to retrieve Kim Ramone, but worse still, he had chickened out at he last second. By now, Renaldo had resigned to his fate, and knew for a fact that Helia was going throw him under the bus for everything. He was her trainee after all, it only made sense.
Renaldo could only pray silently as he hoped that the worst thing to happen to him today would be nothing more than Helia verbally abusing him as usual.
Meanwhile, just a short walk and a few doors down, Helia sat in a dimly lit room, having just finished giving her report.
Her superior liked it dark, and so his face was all but hidden. A loud squawk erupted from his direction, as a crow ruffled its wings on his shoulder.
He finally spoke, having been listening intently for five minutes straight.
“So that’s everything then?”
His voice was like velvet, but there was a sinister quality to it that made even Helia visibly uncomfortable.
“Yes.” she repeated. “Everything.”
He laughed. “You know, most First Beats don’t just admit to failure.”
“I would have stayed and finished the job.” she clarified again, though there was shakiness clearly in her voice. She debated blaming Renaldo again, but something told her that might not be too smart in this situation.
“I’m sure you would have. Fortunately for the both of you, it turns out something useful came out of it all. The boy with the afro you mentioned is of particular interest.”
“He was using disco music. He’s clueless though. I can’t imagine there’s anything to worry about.”
The man just laughed, spreading his arms out on his desk. Black and red-stoned rings were present on his fingers, and a large amulet of unknown origin hung down from his neck.
His crow squawked again with what seemed like impatience.
“You’re right. For you, at this moment, there’s nothing to worry about.” he continued, his threat just so thinly veiled.
“But for this Music Master, it’s a different story. We all remember Last Record after all. Quite a tragedy it was.”
Helia’s heart was now practically in her throat. Renaldo was lucky to be waiting outside.
“And more importantly.” he finished, his words coated with venom. “Because of that tragedy, we all know how Zero Beat feels about disco music. There can be no exceptions.”
Turning to his shoulder, he put on a mocking tone of sorrow, rubbing on the belly of his crow with one ringed finger.
“What a poor, poor boy…”