They weren’t strictly legal. Places that sold them always claimed to be on the level, but everyone knew what really went on. It was only a matter of time before someone slipped up and the place would get shut down. Others would pop up as soon as one fell. Overnight, multiplying like a virus. They served anyone and everyone who wanted a taste. The problem was, one taste could be too much. Many died after one dose. Some people gained unnatural abilities, most of which were temporary. Just enough to make a man feel immortal, and that was the draw.
Martin never considered trying them. The thought had occurred to him, but he kept to alcohol for any inhibiting drugs. It was predictable, slow, and his body could cope with the recovery. No risk of instant, permanent damage. Genetic Altering Tonics, or GATs, were the latest craze that had created a lot of problems for the city. To Martin, GATs were only slightly worse than cocaine or heroin. He’d never been interested in trying them but he found himself in a DNA bar nonetheless.
It was near midnight on Thursday and he’d wondered down the steps from the street, past a dark-haired man with glowing blue eyes smoking a cigarette, and through the solid wood door. It looked like any other bar. Tables spaced around the room. Booths along two walls. The lights dimmed and music playing just loud enough so no one could overhear your conversation. Martin picked a booth near the back corner and ordered a whisky; two fingers, no ice. At first, he sat quietly and sipped his drink. When the waitress brought his second one, he pulled out his screen and flipped through some news and pop-culture videos. The bar filled up and the noise rose. Martin saw a young man following a waitress through the crowd. He got up and headed toward the hallway where he presumed the restrooms were located. His timing was exact and he exited the crowd to fall in line behind the young man. The waitress passed the restrooms and knocked on a door at the end of the hall. She said something and the door cracked before opening all the way. Martin feinted toward the restroom door then followed the waitress and young man inside.
“Who’s this?” a voice said as Martin stumbled into the room.
Strong hands grabbed his shirt and lifted him up against the wall. Martin’s eyes followed the hands against his chest, down the forearms, and up to the eyes of the bald brute holding him in place. The brute broke eye contact to look at the waitress for an explanation. She pointed to the man that had followed her.
“I don’t know. He’s the only one who followed me.”
The brute cursed under his breath and turned back to Martin.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m just here for a drink,” Martin said. The bald man stared at him so he offered more. “Whiskey. Maybe a G if you have it.”
The brute lowered him to the floor and let him go. “We don’t. Whiskey is out front.” The bald head nodded toward the door.
“Too bad,” Martin said, brushing his jacket, “I came prepared.”
The bald man raised an eyebrow. Martin pulled a small wad of cash from inside his jacket. The man smiled, took the cash and flipped through it. He patted Martin on the shoulder. Then he turned toward the young man who came in with the waitress. He also pulled out a wad of cash and handed it over while managing to look bored through the entire interaction.
The bald man turned toward the waitress. “Get back to work.”
She scurried back into the bar as the bald man walked to a small table and sat down. He gestured for Martin and the younger man to sit. Martin took the chair opposite his new friend.
“So, what’ll be?”
Martin remained quiet, letting the younger man go first.
“Good choice. And you?”
Martin wasn’t expecting to make a choice that quickly. He was hoping to see how the younger man fared.
“Elemental. Lightning.” He managed, hoping he sounded genuinely informed of what he was doing.
The bald man smiled. “Looking for a little extra kick? Your wife’ll appreciate you tonight.” He nudged Martin.
Martin smiled. “Someone will at least.” This brought a laugh out of the man while the younger one sat there impatiently. Martin placed his hands in his pockets. His left one gripped a pistol, the right rested on a button.
The bald man opened a cooler and brought out two tumblers, setting one in front of Martin and the other across the table. Then he rummaged around doing something out of Martin’s view but eventually planted two cocktail shakers on the table. He shook one and held the shaker over the young man’s glass.
“You’ll have to drink this one fast I’m afraid. Not much to savor but gives a good kick.”
He flicked the top off the shaker and let the contents pour into the glass. He quickly pulled the shaker away but some of the liquid started rising out of the glass, floating as if untouched by gravity. The young man gulped down the tumbler’s contents and then rose from his seat to sip the three orbs of liquid floating above the table. He sat back with a smile on his face. His eyes glazed over and his arms rose, then the rest of his body lifted from the seat and he hung suspended in the air. Limbs moving glacially. His hair rising independently as if he were underwater.
“Alright,” the bald man said, breaking Martin’s attention from the young man, “Your turn.” He shook the container and poured it into the tumbler. The liquid was opaque, but glowed blue and white as electricity flickered through it like lightning within a cloud. Martin stared at the drink. He’d already forgotten about the man floating across from him. Something irrational and unnerving fluttered through his chest.
“Drink up, before the spark fades.”
The voice brought him out of his thoughts. He pressed the button in his jacket before reaching for the drink with his right hand. His left remained on the pistol. He’d pressed the button too late. There wasn’t enough time. The bald man would become suspicious if he didn’t drink the lightning in front of him. He held it in his hand and watched the flickering light inside the liquid.
“Go on,” the bald man said.
Martin took a sip and hoped a small amount wouldn’t be too strong. He felt the liquid crackle down his throat. He placed the tumbler on the table before his muscles began flexing involuntarily. His mind shifted into overdrive as his synapses fired rapidly. He fought to remain conscious as he began to see the lightning firing inside his eyes. He lost track of time but what little he took in of his surroundings showed him that his team had arrived and were detaining the bald man and strapping the younger one down.
He barely recognized his partner’s face as Skolfield hovered in front of him. His body was shaking violently as his muscles contracted so strongly he thought they might break his bones. Skolfield was yelling something at him but he couldn’t hear anything except the crackling in his ears.
Then his vision turned to pure white, as if looking into the sun, and he lost consciousness when his body discharged the energy that had wreaked havoc upon him.