Ollie never was one for meetings and discussion. Even in a place as nice as this, the aptly named Everclade, he found it an utter waste of time to be debating when he could just be hitting the streets instead.
Still, the leader of the Pop 5 was as direct as he could be, and across from him this senior Music Master, his once sandy blond hair now grey from decades past, listened intently.
“Rob Prototype has been spotted. One of our contacts, a local who runs the music store Semi-Sound, confirmed it. You know what this means. You know what kind of problem this could become.”
Ollie sat on a white-gold seat on the edge of a huge table. The dining room was quite marvelous, crafted from ebony stone with a massive fireplace down from where the long table ended.
At the head, right beside him, was the man known as Iberius Altberg, a long-time retainer of the Ensemble that owned this place, the Purebeats.
Iberius’s voice was soft, but mature in its years. “And you are expecting that I just send off associates to die?”
Ollie kept on, his voice echoing within the gigantic dining hall. “You assume too much. Rob Prototype doesn’t kill. We can use that to our advantage. Zero Beat wants him alive, and we all know what happens when a Synkronized Music Master loses their instrument.”
Iberius’s knuckles were dusty and white. He fixed his gnarled fingers before continuing.
“I apologize, but as a representative of the Purebeats, we must respectfully decline.”
Ollie’s fist clenched with sudden anger, and Iberius noticed it immediately.
“Do you truly intend to attack me, in this place?” he asked, calm as ever.
“Of course not.” Ollie reassured, relaxing himself. His frustration was beyond apparent. “I just don’t understand the apprehension. You’re letting your fear of him get to you. Everyone is. Why do you think they rolled through countries until Japan before someone was willing to take him on?”
Ollie, for once, was becoming incredibly impatient in regards to the entire situation. The longer they pointlessly debated, the farther the prospect of securing Rob became.
The two mentioned Music Masters, brother and sister Nami and Arashi Nagataki, were already on their way to capture Rob as tribute to Japanese and American Zero Beat alike.
Of course, Ollie hoped they failed. He wanted the honor of intercepting the bass warrior himself.
“Fear is often what keeps us alive. Rob Prototype is a name known throughout most of Europe; and not for the concerts he’s played.” Iberius stated.
The door into the hall then opened forth, and a tall, Asian butler made his way towards them. He set down two glasses of champagne, one of which was given to Ollie but remained untouched.
Iberius took one soft sip from his own glass. “My daughter and her husband are dead because of a lack of fear. I stepped into business that I thought the Ensemble could handle, and they paid the price with their lives. I believe I’ve learned my lesson, unfortunately.”
Ollie narrowed his own eyes seriously in response. “That’s not going to happen again. With the Pop 5 on my end, and your resources, it’ll be under control. I can promise you that.”
Iberius shook his head. His mind was made up.
“I’m sorry, but no. I’ve lost too much as it is. Rob Prototype is not our problem.”
Finally, Ollie snapped. The champagne glass shattered as his resting fingers tensed up. One shard stuck into his index finger, but he ignored it. He was too angry to care.
“Fine! You want to be a coward, then get me someone above you! Who really runs this place? I want to speak to them!”
Despite the closed fist so near him and aching to strike, Iberius Altberg was absolutely calm and collected. This was not his first time near an angered Music Master, and it would most certainly be far from his last.
“I assure you, Ollie, that my word is my bond. “
He stood up from his chair. His nice slate blue suit seemed perfectly pressed even upon his aged body.
“And I represent the Purebeats, which means my answer is final. If there’s nothing further for us to discuss, I am keeping my granddaughter waiting.”
Iberius’s eyes shot back at Ollie with intensity. Ollie knew that none of this was worth starting a fight over, despite the shaking sensation in his fingers.
Ollie scoffed, but left a few words before making his leave from the room.
“Enjoy it then. I heard you had a grandson too. Calvin, I think was his name. You ever wonder if he’s still alive?” Ollie said, and in response, Iberius’s eyes widened.
“Every day.” he admitted.
Ollie looked away. “Then looks your cowardice is about to cost you. You keep on wondering.”
Iberius didn’t say another word, and Ollie left it at that.
Within his stone blue eyes, the old Music Master sifted through Ollie’s words, wondering if it was a bluff or something else entirely.
Soon, the boy was gone, and Iberius was left with no one but himself and the timely ticking of the grandfather clock a few feet away.
Could his lost grandson be out there somewhere?
Iberius could only hope.
“So no luck, huh?” Lily asked, hoping not to strike a nerve in the process.
On the other side of the limousine, Ollie seemed lost in his own thoughts as he stared through the window at the road speeding by.
This far in up in Jersey, there were more trees than houses, and it was a far cry from the overstuffed city only an hour’s ride away.
“They’re all scared of him. Everyone’s scared of him.” Ollie said in a low voice, as Lily scrolled through her phone while she spoke.
“I don’t blame them.” she replied. “Some people think he’s the second coming of Highlord Funk or something.”
“He’s not.” Ollie said, his hand resting on his cheek as he continued staring out the window. “I’ll show everybody. Just you wait.”
A few seconds of silence passed, and then Lily’s face lit up as incoming text came in.
She spoke quickly, scooting closer to Ollie in the process.
“Oh, this is big, Ollie! I’m not at all sorry, but please, check this out.”
Slowly, he turned his eyes, and he was reading in an instant.
It was correspondence from Helia, a local Second Beat who had a recurring problem with a girl named Kim Ramone in the Washington Heights neighborhood.
“He’s got a nephew.” Lily said, scrolling slowly, even though Ollie was an astoundingly faster reader. “Her and Renaldo fought him too. He was using disco music.”
Disco music.Ollie noted that fact in his mind.
It meant that whoever he was, the boy would be on Zero Beat’s list of problems. Since Last Record, to showcase disco music was cause to fall under Zero Beat’s suspicous gaze.
But more importantly, this was Rob Prototype’s nephew.
That meant more than Lily realized.
Rob had a nephew. Someone close to him, who he cared for enough to come back to after all this time.
Ollie made a small smile, as he felt a rush of euphoria at the coming realization.
He had a nephew.
He had a weakness.
The M5 bus rumbled along through bright lights and busy streets, as nightfall came over the New York City skyline.
Ollie’s body remained in a state between readiness and relaxation as his eyes locked onto Rob Prototype’s living weakness.
Minutes turned to hours, hours had turned into days, and days into weeks. Months of meetings, gathering information and relentless training, only for the chance to lay Rob Prototype low to be taken by some Japanese nobodies.
Ollie had lost his first chance, but his second one was up ahead in his bus seat, absentmindedly staring out at the passing streets outside.
Ollie only moved slightly in his seat, but his thoughts were anything but quiet. Once Michael was dead, and Zero Beat was satisfied, then it was only a matter of time before the news made its way to the infamous bass warrior.
Rob would come back with righteous vengeance against the one who killed his precious nephew. But without his twenty-year old chrome orange bass, the scale was balanced now.
Even Ollie wasn’t so confident to take him on without song effects, despite his sudden handicap. But with song effects, he could manage.
Soon enough, he would be known for taking out a threat that had long plagued Zero Beat for the last twenty years.
It was about fifteen minutes before Michael Kay finally stood up from his seat, rushing to get off as the bus chugged to a stop. Ollie noted the stop in his mind.
Harlem; a neighborhood he’d been to before. Streets that had been bloodied by his fists on numerous occasions.
Even as Michael rushed out, red sneakers smacking onto the pavement, Ollie kept his distance as he made his way off the bus.
He was calm and patient, the veritable opposite of Michael right now.
Ollie gave him twenty feet of berth, before melding into the walking line of pedestrians as the bus soon pulled away, leaving Michael to his fate.
Beyond lost in his own thoughts, and concerned with the matter of the Pop 5 and his fellow Audio Knights, Michael didn’t immediately realize his mistake until a good minute after the bus had already left him.
He was walking with the Gibb brothers singing in his ears, when he finally realized he had not gotten off in Washington Heights. Michael turned in place, surrounded by a very much unrecognizable neighborhood.
His local bodega was nowhere to direct him, neither was any hint of Audio Empire.
Still, Michael wasn’t too bothered in the end. With his vague memories of walking through neighborhoods from Midtown in the past with Rob, he’d eventually find his way. There would be detours for sure, but he’d still make it back within reason.
But for now, at least, checking in with Colleen would have to wait.
Michael whistled along to the Bee Gees classic as he walked through unfamiliar streets. Behind him, Ollie followed with non-descript grace, always just a block away. With Michael’s giant orb of hair, it was easy to keep track of him even among the crowd.
Eventually, as the night progressed, the streets thinned as Michael approached what looked like a shortcut; an old Harlem park that had certainly seen better days.
Michael crossed the threshold through the iron gated entrance, his shoes now hitting blacktop as he saw the quickest way through appeared to be a long unused basketball court that hadn’t seen service in over a decade. From this distance, its once proud hoop was rusted and slightly bent at the center.
Michael paid no mind to it however, hurrying his steps. He had so much to tell the others, more so to Calvin. The intel gained from seeing Denny must have been valuable, but more importantly, he’d have to make sure he convinced his fellow Audio Knights that she was no threat. With Calvin, Michael sensed that might not be so easy.
So focused on this, Michael almost didn’t notice the figure standing in his path, guarding the only exit out of the court with silent dominance.
Ten feet away from him, Michael stopped. He said nothing at first, but looking at him closer, the afro-headed teen wondered if this was just some mundane stick up.
He looked the part, as the stereotype rolled through Michael’s mind. Michael didn’t smile, but he wondered if this guy had any idea who he was about to try and mess with. And for nothing but a few bucks in his pockets.
But more than anything, Michael wasn’t looking for a fight. He tried to sound as cordial as possible.
“Hey, man, come on. I got somewhere to be. Plus, I got like nothing on me.”
The would-be mugger said nothing. Instead, he focused his brown eyes on Michael and began to slowly walk forward.
Michael’s heart beat faster in his chest, but he wasn’t about to surrender just yet.
He puts his hands up, speaking louder now.
“You don’t want to do this. I could seriously hurt you, man. Come on, think about it.”
Ollie stopped five feet in front of Michael. His backwards cap, his dark gold hoodie, even his nice white sneakers all seemed to only accentuate the foreboding aura of threat that surrounded him.
But that stone-cold expression, and those uncaring eyes; that was what really made Michael question his own ability.
Then he opened his mouth, and his words were just as cold as his gaze.
“I have thought about it. Now you think about who you love most.”
Michael’s eyes widened, hearing words that were nothing less than the kiss of death.
Then, in the next second, Ollie burst forward.
Having fought Nami in Semi-Sound, Michael was no stranger to speed, but this was something wholly different. Ollie moved with both Arashi’s calculation and Nami’s inherent skill, hitting Michael in the stomach as his other hand reached for the headphone wire connected to his orange earbuds.
Michael’s choked in an attempt to breathe, but he still managed to limbo back in an effort to ride with the blow.
Ollie’s hand grasped thin air, and in their suspended moment, Michael’s hand went to press fast forward on his music player.
Three clicks, which he’d memorized from this song, and the familiar synth bass dropped as Canned Heat began to rise in his ears.
Just as he had Harmonized, Michael felt two punches hit him in painful succession. One in his face, blinding him in one eye for a moment, and one in his side, causing him to just about keel over completely.
Ollie’s fingers were inches from grabbing his headphone wire, when the heat flared brightly in Michael’s heels. It lit up the darkness of the park as Michael skidded backwards as if on ice, charring the aged ground in the process.
He stopped near the basketball hoop, giving him distance as he found himself leaning against it for support. Michael’s breathing was loud as his opponent seemed completely undeterred as even as Canned Heat now played in the air.
His size and face now both ached horribly, and it was only now that his vision began to normalize. Ollie’s footsteps echoed as he approached.
Michael raised his hand, urging the heat to flare brighter as a warning to Ollie.
“Back off, man. This stuff will melt your face off.”
Michael was about as threatening as the children that once played in this park. Ollie didn’t stop for a second.
He was running forward now, and Michael zoomed towards him, his right hand burning bright in the night.
Flashbacks of facing Kim for the very first time came into Michael’s thoughts, but he struck out his nonetheless, intent on burning Ollie’s hoodie if it would scare him off.
But Michael wouldn’t even come close. Instead, Ollie’s hand grabbed his right wrist, ignoring the radiant heat just enough as he caught Michael off guard.
His fist crashed into Michael’s nose. Once, twice, and then a third time. Michael felt strikes of pain in succession, and then the strongest one of all as Ollie kicked him hard in the stomach.
Too distracted by pain, Michael couldn’t roll with the blow this time, painfully tumbling on the hard ground before stopping just up against the chain link fence.
His exposed forearms were scratched and dirtied now, and he could feel bombs of pain all over.
Michael’s mind was rushing in ten different directions.
This wasn’t just some random mugger. He’d gone for his headphones, confirming the terrible truth that this person was indeed a fellow Music Master.
It was a guess, but from his show of fighting skill, Michael could only assume this was one of the deadly Pop 5.
Ollie was winning. Easily in fact. He didn’t move any faster even as Michael forced himself upwards.
Ignoring all the pain for a brief second, he clicked fast toward twice on his music player.
He had the space, and with this guy, he couldn’t afford to take any chances.
A loud guitar strum signaled the incoming titan that was the Big YMCA, forcing Ollie to stop in his tracks as the Sentonal made its grand entrance.
But unlike Helia and Renaldo before him, Ollie just looked up at the gigantic being with an unchanging, almost disappointed expression. Hands in his pockets, he didn’t shiver or move so much as a muscle as its shadow fell upon him and its myriad of arms moved in an effort to protect Michael.
“Last chance, man!” Michael yelled, unfortunately showing his pain in the process.
Ollie said nothing, instead analyzing the situation before him.
The Sentonal was huge, and certainly looked like it packed a punch.
As if reading Ollie’s mind as opposed to Michael’s, one massive gloved fist zoomed downwards with intent to crush him. Michael’s thought was quick, and Ollie noticed the widening of his eyes with precise timing.
He sidestepped quickly, hands in his pockets as the fist missed him completely.
Mental control, Ollie noted.
If he couldn’t focus, the Sentonal couldn’t do much. It was slow and ponderous as it was, despite those six arms.
Ollie noted an old soda can on the dirty ground nearby, and he moved faster than Michael could react. With one clean hit, it was rocketing towards the afro-headed teen, smacking him hard in the forehead and breaking his concentration.
Dizziness wrapped around Michael, and the most horrible deja vu of getting whacked by Kim all those months ago followed.
As the Big YMCA remained in its position, Ollie just shook his head.
Slowly, he removed his Z-phones from his hoodie pocket, mouthing low words as the voice-activated mechanism responded.
“Typical amateur. Get a big Sentonal to fight for you, thinking it’ll be your shield against everything. But I just get stronger.”
The time for a song effect had arrived. Ollie took in a breath before he’d fully harmonized, a familiar series of robotic lyrics accompanying the neon purple aura that now framed his entire form.
Michael just willed his Sentonal to attack, another huge white fist coming down like a heavy comet.
This time, however, it was stopped, held back by one energy-shrouded hand as Ollie didn’t move an inch despite the tons of force pushing against him.
Ollie then pulled back, and the incoming right hook was strong enough to force the Big YMCA’s fist back a good ten feet. It staggered for the first time, and Michael looked on in complete disbelief.
He tried to stand up straight, fighting the pain all over. Michael never intended on giving them reason, yet Zero Beat seemed insistent on taking his head.
And unlike with Nathan or Paul, this cap-wearing teen seemed to be another monster entirely. Michael spoke as honestly as he could, holding the Big YMCA back as Ollie eyed the tall but old basketball hoop right next to him.
“I don’t care about Zero Beat! Man, I didn’t ask to be a freaking Music Master! Can’t we just both walk away? Is it really that crazy?”
Ollie didn’t immediately respond. The lyrics of Kanye West’s Stronger were the only thing blaring from his vicinity, until he put both hands on the old basketball hoop and gave it a good pull.
A horrible wrenching noise could be heard as the teen uprooted it like a weed from the asphalt itself. The ground crumbled and dirt sprayed out before he finally had it in his hands like a huge makeshift weapon.
Hoisting it as easily as a lacrosse stick, Michael’s eyes were drawn to the vicious spike of distorted, rusted metal at the very bottom of the pole. Ollie held it up, readying his stance as he finally replied.
“Nobody asks for anything.” Ollie said, quite coldly. “But we all have to pay for our actions. Zero Beat wants you dead, then you die. That’s on you.”
He pulled his cap down, and Michael responded in kind. Clearly, there was no talking his way out of this one.
The Big YMCA threw all six of its fists as Ollie, but he leaped forward, cracking the ground from the force as he swung the huge piece of metal like a mighty instrument of destruction.
Time stood still as the empowered Ollie and The Big YMCA were on the edge of conflict.
Down below, behind the shield of his Sentonal, Michael’s heart skipped a beat.
Fear channeled through his very being.
He found himself wanting the company of Kim. Of Aeris, or Calvin, or even Denny.
Most of all though, he wished for Rob. The fear gripped him, and he could feel the fear that a child might feel when trapped in unknown darkness.
Because right now, in this moment, as he watched the massive metal spike slash down upon one of the Big YMCA’s crimson arms, Michael understood.
He finally understood what Calvin meant when he said the Pop 5 were no laughing matter.
Ollie was already ten moves ahead, even as the arm was completely slashed off and disintegrated into nothingness in the next instant.
In his mind, Michael Kay was already dead on the ground, and Rob Prototype would be next.
He then slammed back down on the ground, ready to rip apart Michael’s Sentonal piece by piece.
Seeing the vicious damage, Michael’s heart thumped in his chest, and his mind went wild with anxiety.
Ollie didn’t even blink.