Natural Consequences

Two young men entered the pub together, one on the heels of the other. Their boots clunked against the old synthwood floor. They crossed the narrow room without looking up, swirls of dust visibly following them as they passed through a pale sunbeam slanting through one of the greasy windows. The first young man carried his head down and had a lopsided forelock of brown hair hanging over his eyes. He sat down at the bar and leaned his right forearm against its edge. The sleeves of his navy shirt were rolled up, revealing his smooth, nut-brown skin.

The second fellow was shorter in the back, but long-legged enough to be taller than his companion. He looked around warily through dark, hooded eyes and sat with his back to the bar and his round head turned slightly to his right. His hair was black and pulled back in a tight, short ponytail. Unlike his friend, he sported the beginnings of a beard on his chin and jaw. His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his black jeans.

They weren't the only ones in the pub. The publican and the sole server on duty had their hands full with the patrons. It seemed unnaturally quiet. The atmosphere was subdued. It was early, though. The activity and noise would pick up later in the evening, when the dinner crowd arrived. It was just past four o'clock now, the best time for the two young men to be there, really. Even with the relaxed strictures on underage drinking, even though they had an arrangement with the publican, two sixteen-year-olds were likely to be met with skeptical adult eyes after seven o'clock.

A few minutes passed.

"Kevon..." the second young man began.

"Give it another moment," Kevon Leonard replied, looking to his friend as he did so. His hazel eyes were set in a face that seemed designed to look steadfast and patient, the direct antithesis to the other's apparent restlessness.

"It's already been—" that one started to reply. However, he was cut off by another voice.

"So sorry to keep you waiting." The voice, which was light and unassuming, belonged to a slight girl in a pink dress with plaited red hair and a spray of freckles across her nose. She stood before them on the other side of the bar with an electronic notepad in one hand and a push-pen in the other. "What can I get for you today?"

The black-haired fellow swiveled around quickly in his seat, his hands coming out of his pockets to rest as fists on the bar top. "I want a burger, chips, and a pint o' bitter," he said, casting a warning glance in Kevon's direction. "Assuming that's all right with everyone."

Kevon's heavy eyebrows drew together. "Lani..."

"What? I'm hungry." He folded his red-sleeved arms across the bar top and rested his chin atop them.

"And you?" the girl chirped in Kevon's direction, seeming to ignore Lani's apparent ill humor.

"Oh." Kevon peered thoughtfully over her shoulder. "Adam's ale for me, I think. The rest, the same, please."

The girl's mouth made a pretty moue. "Water's off. Sorry. Something got in the cistern."

"Bloody 'ell." Lani buried his nose under one forearm.

Kevon fixed a piercing look on the girl's eyes. "Do you know what it was?"

She shook her head, causing her plait to swing back and forth across her shoulder blades. "Couldn't say. We just checked it this morning, and it was bad. Right funny smell it had, too. Sorry. Can I get you something else to drink?"

"I'll just share his." Kevon smiled and cocked a thumb at Lani, who looked up sharply and started to protest. Kevon simply raised his voice. "Thank you!"

The girl bobbed at them and disappeared through the door to the kitchen. The eyes of the two young men followed her. As soon as she was gone, they turned to look at one another. Lani spoke first:

"Dammit, Kevon. Who, might I ask, is paying for your drink, then? Hm?" His dark eyes smoldered with a challenge.

Kevon sighed and absently rubbed the back of his neck. "I'll get it, if it makes you feel better. Come on. You know I don't really like the stuff. There's just nothing else. Christ! That's not the first I've heard of water going bad this week, either. Something foul is going around."

"So what else is new?" Lani growled. "I'd like to know what you're going to do about it, Captain Planet."

"You're kidding me. Where did you dig up the media? What was that, the twentieth century?" Kevon was amused.

"Shut up. It was a good show. Now answer the damn question."

"I'll think of something." He looked away and stared into the middle distance for a moment. Someone entered the pub and headed for the far end of the room. His shadow floated over the two companions as he walked past them, casting them momentarily in blue and gray.

"You're not helping anything, you know," Kevon said.

Lani blinked. "What?"

"That girl. You could show a little more respect."

"Oferchrissake, not this again. Kevon, she's a server. It's her job."

"Yeah, and somebody has to do it, but that doesn't mean you have to be a dick about it. A please or thank you wouldn't kill you. There's a difference between servant and server, you know?"

"It's not like she cares. She just wants to get the order so she can move on to the next jerk-off, get paid, and go home. Am I wrong?"

Kevon frowned again. "Maybe not, but that's not the point. You should care, Lani Christoph. How the hell do you think this planet got the way it is? People not caring, that's how. Why do you think nothing works anymore? You're lucky you have anything to play ancient media on, you know, because your uncle knows how to fix that stuff. I don't suppose you thanked him."

Lani glowered right back. "I don't see what this has to do with a polluted cistern, Leonard."

"Everything." Kevon stared steadily until Lani glanced away. "Everything. If people don't have any respect for each other, how can they respect the world they live on?" He sat up straight on his stool and took on the affect of an oh-so-important western corporate head. "'Well, who cares about the water in Eireland? It's been their job to be poor and dirty since the dawn of time, and it's not like it's ours or anything, never mind that the water on this planet moves and recycles itself regularly.' That's exactly the kind of thinking that allows us to treat the planet badly. It's the only one we have, though. What happens when it finally has nothing left to give?"

Lani arched a black eyebrow at his friend and leaned his cheek into his propped-up fist. "Well, it won't come to that, will it? Captain Planet's going to save us. Look, here's our lunch."

The red-haired girl in the pink dress was back with a tray holding two ceramic plates of questionable cleanliness and one large mug of dark bitter beer. She put the tray down on the bar and passed a plate each to the two young men. The mug she set between them.

"There you are," she said brightly. "Is that all for today?"

"That's it," Kevon replied. "I'll get the tab." He extended his right arm, and the girl scanned the credit chip implanted in his wrist with the laser-eye on the underside of her notepad. The device gave off a comforting beep.

"Very good," said the girl.

"Thank you," Kevon said and looked pointedly at Lani.

"Thanks," Lani echoed with flat eyes.

"Have a nice day." The girl turned to go look after one of the other patrons, but Kevon called after her to wait a moment. She paused and turned back, an uncertain smile wavering on her face.

"What's your name?" the young man asked. Beside him, Lani rolled his eyes and started in on his burger.

"Oh." The girl was surprised at the question. "It's Torrie." She glanced toward the end of the bar.

Kevon smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way. "Okay, Torrie. I thought you probably had a name, I just wanted to make sure. Now I'll know what to call you next time we're in here. That's all."

She shrugged her bony shoulders. "Okay. Bye." And she was off, making her rounds among the subdued afternoon crowd.

Kevon turned his attention to his plate with a satisfied smile on his face. "There. That's a start." He picked up his burger and tore a great chunk out of it.

Lani swallowed what he had in his mouth and washed it down with a swig of bitter. "Urgh. I hate this bloody textured soy crap, don't you?"

Kevon shrugged. It was better than nothing.