“Yes, ok, sure. But where exactly is Mr. Chen? What was that, you haven’t seen any chinks lately? I see. Mr. Wallace, was that? I have it on good authority that it is indeed your offshoot that has him in Detention. Well, I see. Well, if it’s a mistake, I’d be glad to come personally to rectify it. Of course to make it over the Barricade Region, I’ll have to hire some Party People and I’m betting they’d love a more specific face to who’s protesting the food efforts as would our readers. At this point, we could sell it to the local papers as the top human-interest story. What? You say he’s already been released, but he was roughed up by one of the Broken? I’m sure, that’s absolutely true. But do make sure he makes it back here safely and quickly as I wouldn’t want to have to jump the gun and do something I might regret. Yes, lovely command of the English language, talk to you later, bye bye.”
Verna hung up the phone and began to stretch her arms. As far as she could tell, this story hadn’t even fully broken locally and taking the long term had finally traced most of it out. Communications from Atlanta and D.C. have confirmed similar structural stories, so with some polishing, Chen could be seeing his first cover story for the next Global Weekly. Well assuming Carpathia didn’t really try and follow through with his Global Czar idea. Well, they could sell the story to the local papers as well. Front-page credit was always a reward unto itself. Even these days. Maybe especially these days, as anything that could knock the ever-present Event stories below the fold was a prize unto itself as well as a welcome distraction.
She let herself dwell on the scene. The normalcy and the feeling of peace that seemed less fought against. Perhaps, Alice was right and even after all this, some uneasy normal could be regained and strength would breed more strength. Solving the little problems, the small fry, seemed to make the Big Things less scary. They were bigger, The Event was still a mystery, but all mysteries could be solved and all it takes is finding the right source.
For the first time in three weeks, she was allowing herself to feel good and the novelty of it alone was exhilarating.
Then the door swung open.
“Alice, what is it?”
“Who-“ Verna began but knew who she was talking about. “But it’s not Monday,” she protested feebly hating herself once again for that seeming slip of weakness and then again for caring. So much for the good mood, she thought bitterly.
“Yeah,” Alice began to shift to leave quickly again.
“Wait. Close the door first.”
“I should be getting back.”
“That’s fresh makeup. All of it. What happened?”
Alice tried a smile, “I just wanted a new look.”
“The doctor called back didn’t he?”
“They’re overbooked in the hospitals. ‘Elective’ surgeries are on hold. It’s ok, I’ll just keep looking. Besides, what’s a few more years’ wait, really?”
“I’m so sorry.”
Alice laughed. “That’s a silly thing to say. You’re not responsible.”
Verna stood stock still for a second as Alice began to laugh more and more out loud.
Alice continued. “Oh, I needed that. I’ll send in Cameron. Oh, also on the Agenda, Tiny is getting stitches from a Broken who tried to attack him with a broken bottle for apparently stealing his kids for the Government. That and The Center wants us to try and look into some of the people on the list after we finish up here.”
“Right,” Verna responded, re-entering her stoicism. Hmm, perhaps there would be an excuse to look into a few other things. Hadn’t some of the names been in the suburb where people were talking about Captain Steele? Her journalistic sense became piqued as she began to return to her desk and wrote herself a handful of notes.
“I said, good morning.”
Verna shook herself and looked at the clock, which read 2:35. She nodded carefully. “Cameron, I didn’t expect you till Monday.” It was a true statement. Cameron “Buck” Williams was a “maverick” and his favorite way of demonstrating that was to constantly procrastinate and never put forth more than the set amount of hours. If he wasn’t Steve’s personal escort as it were, he would probably have been demoted or fired long ago.
“Just checking in,” Buck said smoothing his hair and…striking a minor pose, a rather metrosexual pose at that. Verna found herself literally stunned into silence for a moment. “You can call me Buck”.
Verna looked down onto her desk where the last issue of Global Weekly sat still seemingly hot off the presses as Distribution was yesterday. In it, the cover article she had written going into the global issues and fallout that would occur if Carpathia’s UN plans were actually implemented as well as a brief coverage of the shooting incident itself. It had been a joint project between her and a number of the International Branches that she had to put together and finish once it became clear that Cameron hadn’t even bothered to show up for his scheduled interview with the newest wanna-be dictator. She had finished about 12 minutes before final printing after literally three full days not leaving the office or sleeping and in which one of her other story’s main leads ended up shooting himself, setting her back probably a month on that hook. For all that work, she could see it as cover story, what would have been her first under the byline: Cameron Williams, Senior Writer.
“I’ll call you Cameron, if you don’t mind, and-“
“I do mind,” Buck responded, his voice quivering in full pout. He puffed up his chest and tried to look important or threatening, but Verna was looking at the headline and felt herself struggle once more.
It was a stupid thing, meaningless, trivial crap that she had long become accustomed too. It wasn’t even like that was the first make-up story she had written for him. His famous “Disappearance” story had been written a week earlier by herself as well as his follow up working off his source material of “God did it” in full. She had been the one again pulling his slack and actually interviewing the subjects and figuring out what all the theories were and which had already been debunked. In short, she had been running three jobs for the dim-minded queen in front of her.
In light of everything, it shouldn’t have bothered her. Who cared? What were three jobs at work, when she had volunteered for even more off duty. Her life had more or less had always been devoted to covering slackers for the good of the craft. It’s more or less how she scrabbled each slow step up the ladder, how she kept her lovely eye of the hurricane from giving into the chaos that surrounded them.
But at the same time, here he was, chastised, found out, a source of enormous scandal at Head Office, free from his previous protection with the flight of Steve Plank to greener pastures. And directly believing that she of all the people in the world would show him deference at this point. It was petty, but it was hard to resist the control over the pettiness and the shame it spawned. How dare he try to force his stupid self-given nickname on her, one entirely based on his lazy disregard for the good of the craft? If the center was to hold, if the Chicago Branch was going to keep afloat Head Office, then this shit would not stand on her watch.
Buck continued obliviously. “Please call-“
“Then I’ll call you Cameron, even if you do mind.”
There was a moment of regret. She saw his face begin to tear up with this blow. Oh god, she thought, he was using his ego to keep from floating under the weight of the times. That was what was keeping him afloat. She wondered whether she should apologize, then kicked herself for the weakness in thinking that. Even if it was true, she needed to shake him up. A deliberately deluded person was not only a bad worker, but more likely to trigger DBs. Heck, a DB was practically a rite of passage for the brave remainder. One proved their mettle by returning. Paralyzed, she did nothing, while Buck recovered with the oddest of shakes.
“Help me,” he whispered, before shaking again.
Verna was struck by his eyes, first and foremost. Had they always been like that, or was it new? She couldn’t quite access enough of her memory, but she knew that they stuck out greatly from the terrified pleading eyes of only a moment before as well as the sick quiver that preceded the change.
The eyes were that of a predator, or rather more, the cool calm focus of intense blind hate, seething almost preternaturally from some outside force. She quietly moved her heavier desk objects closer to herself and stood up to her full rather unimpressive stature.
“I’m afraid I’m rather busy at the moment, but if you would be so kind as to make an appointment with my secretary for a time we can settle you in, that would be great. Now, I have to check up on one of the other reporters, so if you’ll excuse me…” She motioned her arms for Buck to leave, but he seemed unwilling. He almost seemed motionless as if stuck in some form of static point, but for the quiver and the eyes of hate, she would have assumed it so. “And do give my regards to Steve when you next see him.”
There seemed to be a twinge of self-disgust on his face and then a different veneer, similarly predatory, but now once again filled with the rampant ego of earlier on.
“Jealous, you’re all jealous, whore,” Buck muttered before marching himself out. “You’re all whores.”
With a sigh of relief she closed the door afterwards and felt a shake of fear she hadn’t felt since…a memory she didn’t want to face right now. Verna shook herself violently before breathing heavily back into her professional headspace.
There was a moment of full personality change there. If the reports and the rumors of Buck’s greater than normal ego behaviors were true, then there was something, alien or otherwise, going on.
She returned back to work, picking up the phone and redialing the last number, trying desperately to ignore what Buck had said during the shudders.
She had enough jobs after all. Including his.
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