Presenting “Apple,” written by the inimitable Kieron Gillen, from the upcoming Scion: Origin.
Everyone liked Donnie. They always liked him.
Donnie served the girl her cappuccino. She glanced down, and her eyes widened in delight. Written in the froth, in perfect foam writing, was the word “Brittany.”
“How did you know my name?”
Donnie shrugged a sculpted shoulder. “When you walked in the door, I just looked at you and thought… there’s a Brittany.” He unleashed his matinee-idol smile for a second. “Was I right?” Her cheeks reddened as she looked down at her drink and then, with a calm determination, raised her gaze.
“This isn’t a thing I’d normally do but…” she said, “do you want my number?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve got a girlfriend,” said Donnie, who didn’t.
This wasn’t enough to stop her. She pushed a business card across the counter. “Well, if you ever don’t have a girlfriend, call me.” She gave him a smile that made him suspect she wanted Donnie to call her, girlfriend or not, and left.
Donnie examined the card. Brittany was a model. He could have guessed. She was, by any reasonable standard, beautiful, but Donnie’s standards were far from standard. Even in L.A., where every second barista looked like a sex-symbol-in-waiting, Donnie was something else. A week didn’t go by when someone didn’t try to scout him for one agency or another. When he told them about his life story — abandoned as baby, terrible foster families, all the misery-porn human interest a marketing department could ever hope for — they offered to virtually bury him in cash to convince him to sign.
Donnie always turned them down, much to the annoyance and envy of his fellow model-actor-whatever baristas. That’s not what he came to town for, he’d explain, though he was never able to precisely articulate what he hadcome to town for. The best he managed was that shoulder shrug, his smile, and a vague “It just feels like it’s where I’m meant to be.”
Donnie knew he’d figure it out and, until then, enjoyed the game of the place, the endless stream of tiny offerings, digits he knew he’d never call pushed across his coffee-shop altar…
His musing was disturbed by Martha. She was the oldest barista, somewhere in her late 20s, maybe even edging over the 3-0.
“Hey, Donnie — it’s your turn to close up today,” she said. “Time to see if you can even make mopping look good.”
Donnie locked eyes, then lowered his head faux bashfully, looking at her through a rainforest of lashes.
“Martha, do I have to? I had other plans…” Martha froze, and then visibly melted, but just at the moment when Donnie knew she was going to let him off, she stiffened.
“No, Donnie. You have to stay late tonight,” she said, seemingly as surprised as Donnie at the words coming out of her mouth.
She turned away, before Donnie even managed to deploy a military-grade pout. This was unprecedented. He’d done this job for a year, and was yet to touch any mop other than his surfeit of luxurious hair. He didn’t know why he was doing this job, but it certainly wasn’t for dousing the ?oor with… whatever you douse the ?oor with when you’re mopping. It was only then that Donnie realized he didn’t actually know how to mop. He’d never had to. The normally iron-willed Martha could never say no to him, for obvious reasons. Few people could.
Everyone had always liked Donnie. Mostly they really liked him. In Donnie’s universe, “platonic friend” roughly translated to “friend who is biding their time.”
He sighed. He’d have to skip the gym. Not that that was a huge problem — his friends were always shocked and envious at how little he had to work out to maintain his body — but it was always a good opportunity to gather a few more digits.
Donnie had stopped going by his given name within a day and a half of arriving in L.A. A writer had glanced at his name tag, up at his face, then leaned across the counter to say, “Don’t you think that’s a little on the nose, kid?”
Donnie smiled back and, when the writer had left, googled “on the nose” and realized he agreed.
Ever since then, Adonis went by Donnie.
* * *
While he didn’t necessarily want to repeat the experience, staying after hours had its appeal. Donnie had never seen how the amber light of sunset almost miraculously transformed the workaday cafe. As much as a Santa Monica coffee place could look magical, it did. It distracted him so much, it took until the ?oor was as clean as it was going to get for Donnie to notice the cell phone.
He couldn’t see how he had missed it. He couldn’t see how anyone could miss it. It was gold-plated, wafer-thin, and beautiful. He didn’t recognize the model. He couldn’t even identify the brand until he ?ipped it over, and saw a crisp apple logo. Perhaps a prototype that someone in R&D had left? He scoured the locked phone for any sign of identification.
On the back, there was an inscription carved in its metal casing:
For The Prettiest One
The door opened. Donnie could have sworn he locked it, and was halfway through saying that they were closed before he turned around and momentarily lost control of all language.
In the doorway was the most beautiful woman Donnie had ever seen. He would have guessed she was in her late 30s, but as exquisitely preserved as Greek marble. The business suit was simple, a picture frame on her Mona Lisa. Her hair was arranged in thick braids, a crown high on her brow. For the first time since he was 16 and had met that impossibly lithe Russian gymnast, he felt the urge to offer someone his digits. Back then, the athlete had pre-empted him by passing Donnie his first, but now, Donnie could feel himself reaching for a pen and a napkin…
“I think you have my phone,” she said.
Donnie came around. A conversation. He remembered these. He could handle a conversation. He raised the phone, glinting in the light.
“I may have. Do you have any ID?”
She made the sort of expression Donnie could imagine her offering someone who interrupted a business meeting to tell an extended fart gag. She sighed, and then aimed one inevitably perfect finger at her face.
“I think you’ll find this is all the identification I need.” She smiled for the first time, a cold moon rising on a chill paradise.
Donnie found himself about to pass her the phone when they were interrupted.
“Oh god, don’t listen to her, Donnie. It’s not her phone,” said the new voice, “It’s mine.”
Small matters like how the newcomer knew his name, or the fact that the door hadn’t opened again, were forgotten as Donnie glanced in her direction. She had the sort of self-confidence that could make Donnie imagine her running a gym or a laboratory, or else ruling a library where there was little reading and much pining. She had the sort of looks that made him want to dive into a thesaurus in hope of finding better words to capture them.
She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Donnie glanced back at the first woman. Actually, maybe not. It was hard to tell.
“My phone. I’ll take it now…unless you want things to get rough,” said the second woman, hand outstretched, “but I really don’t want that.”
Donnie was a half-foot taller than her, but felt sure that in any fight, this woman would kick his ass. If he was pressed, he’d admit that actually added to her allure. But was she more beautiful than the regal business woman? It was difficult to tell but was, as far as dilemmas to consider go, an enjoyable one. He was no closer to a decision when a third voice interrupted.
“Oh, darling. Don’t. It’s so obviously my phone…”
Donnie turned towards the new voice. That it was the third time in as many minutes this had happened didn’t diminish his sense of awe in the slightest. She was the youngest of the three, with neither the grandeur of the first or the appealing threat of the second, but instead radiated lightness and joy. Her smile was a promise: dawn when it was cold, rain when it was hot, whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it, better than you could ever have wished.
Yes, it was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. There were a lot of them around.
“If you threaten my boy, I’ll make you wish you were never born,” she said, before laughing. “Oh, I’m sorry — of course, you were never born, Little Miss burst-from-Daddy’s-brow.”
“Don’t try to do clever. It’s not your thing. It’s my thing,” said the second woman to the newcomer, before turning to the first. “Why did you never teach this blond bastard her place?”
“Do not be too proud of yourself,” said the original. “You thought it wise to enter a contest of beauty against the queen of all heavens and the Goddess of sex. That third place is the best you can hope for is hardly the strongest argument for you being ‘Goddess of Wisdom’.”
Donnie looked between the three, and then back at the golden apple on the phone, and he started to understand. Three Gods, a difficult decision… and something bad happened afterwards? Paris? Something about going to Paris, maybe? Donnie didn’t think that sounded too bad. Paris was great. Maybe it had rained when they were there?
But the other part, the most important thing: The latest arrival had called him “my boy.”
The first was Hera. The second was Athena. The third was Aphrodite.
And Aphrodite was his mother.
He was a Scion of the Gods. He was a Scion of the Gods, and his blood was a?ame. He was a Scion of the Gods; his heart was filled with an endless choir of boys and girls like Brittany singing for him, and only him. He was a Scion of the Gods, and his name was the accelerator to the world’s pulse, He was a Scion of the Gods, He Who Breaks Hearts, He Who…
In the abstract, Donnie knew what a word like “demigod” meant. The general knowledge was revealed to be as meaningless as knowing the sun is merely a ball of hydrogen and helium. True, but oh so small, so insignificant to the purging incandescence consuming his every part.
He’d always had an interest in extreme sports, but everything paled to this. Divinity was the ultimate high.
By the time Donnie had returned to something resembling consciousness, he was shocked to find his knees still worked. The women watched, patient as only the eternal can be. As he tried to recover a passing facsimile of his easy charm, his golden blood sang a warning song to him.
This choice? This petty, shallow, vain little decision?
It was the most important of his life.
“So…girls. I get it. I have to give this phone to who’s the most beautiful,” he smiled, remembering how this story went. “Aren’t you meant to try and offer me a little motivation?”
They all looked at Donnie at once, equally harshly, then glanced away, innocent. The phone vibrated in his hand, a new message on the screen.
The only gift worth having. Power. Only I can make this world yours. – Hera
Hera met his eyes, dark as a million shadowy boardrooms.
The phone vibrated again.
Strength and the wisdom to know how to use this strength. Imagine your perfection. – Athena
Athena had folded her arms. Her expression implied that if he was considering any other offer, she’d think him a fool.
The phone vibrated once more.
Someone as beautiful as you are, my child. – Aphrodite
Aphrodite winked. Donnie was aware from how the world treated him that such temptations are always the sweetest.
Donnie turned from the women, face hidden from them as he came to his decision. He knew this would entirely define his future. Those he didn’t pick would despise him. He’d have humbled them, and the one thing he knew about these women is that they would never, ever forgive him.
Did he really want to live with this?
He smiled. Of course he did.
Donnie turned back, holding up the phone.
“I’m sorry ladies, but there’s clearly been some confusion,” he said. “You’re all extremely beautiful, of course, but this phone is for the prettiest one.”
He put his thumb on the reader. The phone unlocked.
“This is my phone.”
The temperature in the room dropped several degrees. Literally. A sheen of ice covered the windows, the surfaces of the tables, the badly mopped ?oor.
“You don’t know what enemies you’ve made today, boy,” said Hera.
“Oh, I do,” said Donnie with absolute sincerity, feeling alive for the first time, like the rest of his life had just been a prologue. “I’ve made the best enemies a man can have.
“You’ve got my digits. Don’t be strangers,” he said as he held the door open for the three Goddesses. “Now get out.”
Everyone liked Donnie.
And he was oh, so bored of that.
Scion: Origin and Scion: Hero are currently available for pre-order via BackerKit.
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