Final word count ended up being 1053, so that disqualifies me, but I hope you enjoy the read.
Shane scanned Lupara’s from the bar, sipping a Luna Sapphire, the pain fading as the alcohol counteracted the tumor emissions. Aside from the near-absence of patrons, the pub seemed the same, save for the smudged glassware—that would have mortified the girls—and a gutted bank of taps, formerly hidden behind a sliding wood panel. “Now What?“ he thought.
“You look like you know fine beer, good sir!”
Shane turned. A man in a suit sat to his left, about Shane’s age, early thirties His head was shaved.
Shane gave him a puzzled, but friendly smile. “I’m no expert. Just consuming my evening ration.”
“Sir, you lie.” The man’s voice had a subtle, but hard southern accent. “No one comes to a place like this out of obligation and drinks the most expensive Guild beer unless they value brewing. You’re a Crafter.” He grinned. “Isn’t that right Shane?”
Shane clenched his pint glass. “What do you want?”
“Same as you. I’m looking for Brewmaster Shaw.”
“I looked. I couldn’t find anything.”
The bartender watched them from the corner of her eye as she washed a pint glass, her mouth tight. The suit arched his eyebrows.
“You’d give up that easily on—? Okay, I understand. Let’s try this.” He snapped his fingers at the bartender. “Sazerac; no bitters and extra bourbon.”
The bartender frowned. “Sir, we’re under new ownership. Our selection is Guild approved.”
The man put $200 on the bar. “And I’m sure you complied and turned in all prohibited spirits.” He placed another seventy-five in her palm. “Especially the fancy brews that would appeal to my friend here.”
Shane ordered. The waitress went to the back, brought their drinks, and disappeared. The man sipped his cocktail while Shane took a long pull on his new pint, focusing on the bitter floral and pine taste and the smooth thickness of the beer.
The man sighed contentedly, then appraised Shane’s beer.
“Double IPA. Your taste is superb.”
“ABC or not, the same goes to you. Talk.”
The suit turned back to his Sazerac. “It’s a sad world when a man can’t just enjoy his drink.”
“I didn’t realize you wanted a drinking buddy.”
“You misunderstand. I’m talking about before The Guild took power, before the Tremens Gas was released, before people didn’t literally need a drink every morning and night. I miss drinking things that weren’t state-mandated piss. That’s why I want to find your friend.”
“Why don’t you do it? And why Jessica? She was small-volume.”
The suit swirled the ice in his glass. “Ms. Shaw was small-volume, but she was working on something far more ambitious than quality beer, something that scared The Brewers Guild. My associates and I have great interest in anything that scares them. As for you, I need someone unknown that has solid brewing knowledge and won’t give up easy. Plus, you have a personal stake in this. Two, if I’m not mistaken.”
Shane almost choked on his beer. “Katherine’s okay?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘okay’, but she is alive. The Guild thinks she has information. But if you help us find Brewmaster Shaw, we’ll have enough leverage to sway The Guild to almost anything.”
Shane took a long swallow of beer. “What do you need me to do?”
The suit passed Shane a thumb drive. “The two people on here can help find where your friend is hiding and bring her plans to completion: The Agronomist, and The Populist. Find them, talk to them, and you’ll find her.”
Shane pocketed the drive. “Then what?”
Before the suit replied a man shouted; “FREEZE!”
They turned to find seven ABC agents blocking the door. Each of them stood with a glass of carbonated gold liquid in one hand, a shot glass of wine-colored liquor poised to drop into the larger glass in the other.
“I don’t know how you jammed our bugs, but we’re going to need you to come with us for a chat.”
The suit narrowed his eyes. “I hate Jaegerbombers.” He turned to Shane. “You need some liquid courage?”
“Got some of my own,” Shane said.
Like gunslingers, Shane and The Suit drew flasks from their pockets, opened and gulped in one fluid motion. Shane tasted citrus, and more pine than there were trees in the North. He assumed a fighting stance just as the Jaegerbombers tossed their glassware to the floor. They roared as their muscles inflated like life rafts and they charged the duo; three to Shane and four to The Suit.
Shane felt slow and ponderous as he moved, but he also felt strong. The first agent to close the gap was reckless, running straight into the punch that Shane threw, destroying most of his face. The others were less cavalier, but still aggressive. They struck fast and furious across Shane’s body, but he simply walked backwards, absorbing each blow. During his retreat, he saw The Suit fighting two agents over two of their collapsed partners. His cocktail wasn’t as quick, but it matched theirs for raw strength, and his simple yet refined technique surpassed their haphazard strikes.
Shane bumped into a wall. Exactly where he wanted them. He tensed his body, guarding his face, and let the Jaegerbombers pound away at his arms and upper body. One of them unleashed a flurry of punches on his torso, only realizing his broken fingers twenty punches in. He stopped, screaming in pain, and went down like a sack of flour when Shane backhanded his temple.
The final Jaegerbomber ran. Shane lumbered after him, but the high-gravity’s effects were making him sluggish. As they re-entered the main room, he ran past his fallen comrades and The Suit, collapsing halfway out the door. The Suit studied him.
“That’s why I don’t drink energy cocktails. I’d like to die from heart failure after thirty-five.”
Shane vomited a little, then stood back up. “So what now?”
“Now, we go our separate ways. Everything you need is on the drive. You don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
“What do I call you?”
The Suit smiled and straightened his lapels. “You can call me Arthur. And once you’ve got the whole gang together, we’re going to change the world.”
He turned and walked out into the night. Shane purged the rest of the adrenaline and excess beer, then followed suit.