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Archived

Part 1

"Time is of utmost importance. Get to the escorts right NOW."

"W-wait, what? Who is thi--"

There was no response before the line disconnected. Hell, she barely had time to speak before the caller hung up. The silence from the other end of the line was juxtaposed by the murmur of endless questions as Olivia Clarke sat motionlessly in her cubicle. What the hell was that all about?

If it weren't for the fact that she had just donated blood the day before, Olivia might have wrote this incident off as a crank call but something simply felt offbeat. Olivia stared blankly against the soft blue glow of her computer screen, mentally trapped in a bout against denial as she sorted through every possible reason as to why she'd be burdened with such an urgent call. It can't be anything serious... could it? If it was a legit call they would've at least stayed on the line to answer my questions.

"Olive?"

Olivia heard the faint trace of a familiar, husky voice calling out her name. She didn't reply. ...But what if it's something serious? What if I'm sick, or infected with something? Nah. I'm in the best shape of my life.

"Hey, Olive?"

She snapped out of her thousand yard stare.

"Olive, you okay? You look a little pale." It was Dean. Olivia was grateful to see a friendly face to distract her from her thoughts.

"Hi Dean," Olivia tiredly rubbed her eyes before she softly muttered, "Yeah, I'm fine. What's up?" What a damn lie.

Dean's cheeks began to softly flush with a light shade of red before his eyes nervously locked onto everything but Olivia's. He slowly but surely worked up his courage to brave Olivia's daunting beauty head-on, "So uhh... I know we're work partners and everything, but um... you wanna' get some lunch together today? My treat."

Olivia cracked a weak smile, "Y-yeah, uhh, I'd like that!" She was caught off guard by his request to eat lunch together, but she was flattered nonetheless. Olivia typically caught Dean gazing at her with a lingering stare before he quickly turned away with a very apparent blush in his cheeks; luckily for Dean, Olivia felt the same way. "I'll come get you at 12 o' clock." Dean's grin went from ear to ear, "Sounds like a date." He briskly walked away so as not to risk making a fool of himself to change Olivia's mind.

Olivia felt all of her worries slowly melt away, gently rubbing her eyes once more to help herself wake up before getting back to typing up her report. I guess today won't be such a bad day after all. She allowed herself to bury her face into her hands, briefly daydreaming about the lunch date she was going to have with Dean. Can't wait.

Then she noticed it. Her hands. There were small blotches of smeared blood. What the hell. What's happening... Oh God, what's happening to me? Olivia grabbed some tissues on her desk and nervously dabbled at her eyes: there was no more denial left to pander to with the spots of bright red blood unmistakably contrasting against the white tissue. She sprung up from her desk and began bolting for the exit. The police escorts. I have to get outside to find the police escorts! A sense of urgency flooded Olivia as she turned the corner and nearly ran into a couple co-workers, narrowly sliding between them and their mugs of hot coffee. She ignored their grumpy remarks as she burst through the stairwell door and began scaling down the steps. What the fuck is going on? WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME!?

10th floor. Am I dying?! Why is this happening to me!?

7th floor: I can't die just yet.

4th floor: Please God, tell me this is just some sick joke.

2nd floor: Almost there. The damn escorts better be there. I'm not dying today. I can't

Olivia nearly tripped on herself as she climbed down the last of the steps, lungs gasping for air as she swung the stairwell exit wide. She wiped the spots of sweat beading on her forehead, leaving a trail of the nearly dried blood from her hands as she ran toward the building entrance. She ignored the greeting from the security at the front desk and practically charged through the glass doors. Olivia's eyes nervously darted side to side, sweeping the scenery to find the police escorts; panic had kicked into full gear. Where are they? Where the fuck are they!?

"Miss Clarke?" a strange, muffled voice said. Olivia quickly turned to find two men in full HAZMAT suits with a small group of police officers briskly approaching her. The officers were securing the perimeter with pistols drawn, their weapons expressing more authority than the orders they were barking at the bystanders to keep away.

"Yes th--" the suited figures didn't hesitate to grab her by the arms and practically carry her in full sprint. They didn't need Olivia's identity confirmation with blood now trickling out from her nose and ears. "H-hey! Where are you taking me!?" Olivia's shouting went completely ignored as they dragged her toward a black van parked on the sidewalk past the small courtyard of the business park. The officers escorted the suits toward the vehicle, their fingers ready on the trigger in case anyone nearby tried to intervene. "What's going on with me?? Where are you taking me??" Olivia continued to protest to no avail.

One of the officers swung the van door open, and the suited pair practically threw Olivia inside before slamming the door shut. Olivia rolled inside with an audible thud, softly letting out a painful groan before attempting to gather her bearings. She weakly stood up and found a man in a black suit and tie. The face was unrecognizable with the respirator and the lack of proper lighting inside the van. The man banged on the wall separating them and the driver, and within moments the car sprung to life and began to drive down the street.

"I told you... time was of utmost importance." It was the voice from the phone call. He sounded even colder in person.

Olivia began sobbing. She wasn't sure if the liquid forming from her tear ducts was blood or not. "P-please, what the hell is going on with me?"

The man leaned in to get a closer look at Olivia, briefly flashing his badge before tucking it into his jacket pocket, "I'm Agent Dunham, currently working for the FBI and former savior of your life, Miss Clarke. The symptoms. It's already begun and your... sickness... has metastasized. If only you had come down sooner." He leaned back into a comfortable, upright position and reached for a small, sturdy briefcase near his feet, taking his time to unlock the latches before gently placing it on top of his lap to open it. "Pity... we had the cure too."

Olivia's eyes widened, "What do you mean... 'the cure'?" She tried to sit up and desperately reach for the briefcase, "Please, let me have it. I don't want to die!"

The man slammed the briefcase shut and drew a Walther P22; it had a slim suppressor attached to it and the barrel aimed directly at Olivia's forehead. He spoke in a calm, stoic tone, "Not. Another. Inch, Miss Clarke. I gave you the window of opportunity that most have not been fortunate enough to receive." Olivia nearly fell to the ground from the sudden sharp turn of the van, but the man remained steady in both position and aim. "We unfortunately do not know how you contracted this disease, but the fact of the matter is... you're contagious, and you're terminally... ill."

Olivia had a thousand questions swimming in her head, but the only one she was able to surface past her quivering lips was, "W-what am I supposed to do now...?"

The agent switched off the safety with his thumb and slowly moved his index finger onto the trigger.

"I'm afraid you must accept your fate. Goodbye, Miss Clarke."

Part 2

Part 3

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Archived

Lila Middleton hugged every inch of the shadow cast from the gargantuan bookshelves, practically tucking herself into a ball as she held her breath. A handful of 3rd years, and even a prefect, were on the hunt for the newcomer, and their tones reflected as much darkness as the intent in their hearts, "Mudblood! Hey, Mudblood! Where aaaaarrrreeee you?"

Another aspiring wizard chimed in, "Yeah, we won't hurt you, we promise!" The bruise on Lila's cheek certainly said otherwise.

Lila remained quiet, hoping that she could at least survive another day without being bullied. Life wasn't all that different for Lila in her previous Muggle school; students were as ruthless and the social pressures to succeed were just as cumbersome. Had it not been for her magic-attuned father and her plea to transfer elsewhere--anywhere--than that former living nightmare of a school environment she would've likely received worse than a mere bruised cheek. Then again, she didn't anticipate the same level of harassment at the famous Hogwarts that her father would not stop raving up and down about.

Lila has been uncertain whether she could cut it as a wizard; her father expected highly of her, but she simply didn't understand the nature of Magic. When she nearly blew up her potions class last week with an ill-concocted attempted at creating an Erumpent Potion, it became much clearer to her that she might not be cut out for even the most basic of classes--and her classmates certainly haven't lived it down, especially when they found out she was Muggleborn.

When the coast seemed clear, Lila finally drew air into her lungs, no longer able to hold her breath to maintain absolute silence. She quietly grinned as she saw the head librarian shoo away her bullies from creating too much ruckus. Lila weakly stood up, her knees giving way from crouching for too long; her left leg gave out and forced her to lean her body weight onto one of the shelves, causing several books to tumble downward from their original resting places. Lila found her footing, but not before a final, heavy tome landed square on top of her head as she stared at a book titled, "Minding Your Environment"; she covered her mouth to stifle the shriek of pain.

As she rubbed the top of her aching head, she leaned forward and picked up the large book, and softly whispered to herself the title, "Lord... of the Rings... volume one." It had no author or any engravings on the leather cover to indicate any sense of ownership or documentation in the library's inventory; for all intents and purposes, the book was unaccounted for. It rather piqued her curiosity, at least enough to tuck the book into her leather satchel to thoroughly study its contents in privacy. Despite her low attunement to magic, her placement into the House Ravenclaw was anything but erroneous.

Lila scurried out of the library, weaving in between the hubbub of students going to and from classes; the entire scenery gave her anxiety as she narrowly dodged running into much bigger students, as well as the occasional spells the mischievous cast on each other before a nearby professor's nonverbal spells froze them in place. She hastily scaled the spiral stairs leading to her dormitory, huffing as she finally reached the doorway and darted straight into her bedroom. She weakly removed her satchel and placed it on the bed, taking a moment to catch her breath before finally opening the book.

Lila only had but a few minutes before her next class was to begin, so she began scrolling through the pages without regard for missing the continuity in the contents of the book. As she flipped through the pages she came across Chapter 10, and eventually came across a poem:

"All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king."

Lila read the poem over and over in her mind, drinking in the seeming wisdom the words reached out to her with. She was fixated on the first two lines: "All that is gold does not glitter; Not all those who wander are lost." It gave her some hope that maybe even she could aspire to something greater than her self-esteem allowed her to be. Lila scrolled through a few more pages before she noticed something glint between the pages, and despite the dimly fire-lit room Lila was able to ascertain the nature of the object: it was a ring.

It had no engravings or any initials; it was as anonymous as the author of the book itself. She picked it up and hovered it in her view toward the fireplace, admiring the jewelry. It almost had an aura to it, as if it reached out and touched her soul. Lila began hearing soft, almost ghostly whispers, but she couldn't ascertain the origin of the language. All she knew is she felt drawn to it... wanted to treasure it. She needed it.

Lila suddenly came to, realizing she had been sitting on her bed for what felt like ages. She hurriedly tucked the ring into her pocket and grabbed her satchel once more, practically sprinting out of her dorm room to make it to her next class. She wasn't sure what to make of the ring, but she would at least try wearing it when she got home from her last class of the day.

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As I slowly drew my hand toward the spider lackadaisically loitering on my bedroom wall, a wad of napkin separating the palm of my hand and the kill-to-be, I heard a barely noticeable squeak. I chalked it up to nonsense, perhaps it was a child outside in the distance playing in the grass. I hovered it closer toward the spider, casting a formidable shadow over it to assert my over-sized dominance, when suddenly I was able to make out the words, "Wait! Please, wait!"

I was taken aback by it: the spider, this mere pest no greater than the dust bunnies multiplying under my bed, had spoken to me. I stood still in silence to ensure my mind was not becoming unhinged before I heard another audible squeak, "Please, human, allow me to live and I will reward you greatly."

I slowly leaned away from the wall and set the tissues down on a nearby shelf. I'd entertain the arachnid's plea. Am I really losing it? I'm about to talk to a spider for Christ's sake.

"Well, on with it then. Why should I let you live?"

The spider wiggled its rear end, and I was unsure whether it was a gesture of thanks or an expression of mockery. "Thank you, human. Don't you see? I bring so many benefits into your homestead as is, and I certainly don't interrupt you from your daily life! I never impede you from your accomplishments."

I scoffed, "Never? What about the time one of your friends hovered over my face and caused me to fall back from my chair?"

The spider quickly replied, "That wasn't me! That was Areadne, she was the prankster of our family; we always knew she'd get her due from the constant danger she put herself into for the sake of a good laugh."

"And what about the time one of you nearly poisoned me when I was camping? I could've died you know."

"Those are the more menacing of my kind. I'm but a humble house spider, and I rid your home of the other pests that plague you: flies and ants to be exact."

"Yeah, but for a house spider that touts 'cleaning', you sure leave a lot of mess behind with your webs. I have to clean that up. I do. If you picked up after your own trash we wouldn't be having this conversation."

The spider reluctantly agreed, "Y..you're right, I have been getting rather lazy picking up after myself. Would you agree to letting me go if I pick up after my cobwebs from now on?"

I offered a light grin, "Sure, buddy. Sure. You go on your merry way now."

The spider exclaimed, a rather adorable squeal coming from something so alien, "Yay! Thank you, kind human. I will tell tales of your kindness to my friends. Good day to you!"

As the spider started scaling the wall I thought of his words for a moment; it was then that I realized that if his stories of my kindness spread to other spiders, they were more likely to congregate in my home. I swiftly slammed the surface of my palm on top of the spider; the force was such that the thud of my hand against the wall drowned out its deathly screech.

I ran my hand under the faucet and went back into my room to dial my therapist. I'm really losing it. I just had a conversation with a spider for Christ's sake.

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Archived

The ISIS agents lept from the safety of the C-130 and into the evening sky; the sun was beginning to set in the West, and with only but an hour of daylight left the timing was most opportune for them to enter Syrian territory via air insertion, hopefully without detection.

As Sterling Archer and Lana Kane dove through the frigid air, Archer bellowed into the comms, "Hey! Hey Lana, I can see your thong under your skirt! And why the hell aren't you wearing your sneak suit anyway!?"

"Because YOU took the last one, asshole, and a women's size at that! How you fit into a size 6 is beyond me!" "That's because I'm a Renaissance man, Lana. You wouldn't understand."

Their altimeters simultaneously began to ring, alerting the agents to deploy their parachutes lest they face certain death against a losing war with gravity. Lana and Archer hooked their thumbs onto the para-cords, but Lana's had flown into the wind the moment she put some tension onto it; the manufacturer defect caused her to panic, not because of her impending doom but because of what would inevitably follow next.

"Archer? Archer! My parachute is a defect, come over here and grab me!"

"I thought you said we're going to maintain a 'platonic and professional relationship' from now on."

"Now's not the time, god damn it! Get your dumbass over here and save me!"

"Not if it's going to be platonic, Lana. You know I don't go the extra mile without the promise of sex."

"ARCHER! I swear to god, if you don't save me I'm going to shoot you in the face so we both die!"

Archer rolled his eyes, "Fiiiiiiine. I'll save you, only if you promise we bang during this mission."

Lana scoffed, still finding herself surprised at his expected antics, "God damn it Archer! I'd rather just die!"

Archer shrugged, his casual demeanor clearly angering his partner. His cocky grin was followed with a hasty nosedive toward Lana, wrapping his legs tightly around her hips upon contact before pulling the cord of his parachute. The canopy fluttered upwards, fanning out with a loud fwop before gently guiding them both down toward the ground.

Archer wrapped his limbs around Lana to ensure she didn't land on the ground prematurely, "Hey. Hey Lana, I'm grabbing your boobs."

Lana crossed her arms and leered her gaze off to the side with a well-practiced bitch-face, "Go to hell, Archer."

"So ungrateful towards someone who just saved you. You know, for a field agent, you're pretty unprepared... failed parachute, no sneak suit... so unprofessional."

Lana rolled her eyes once more, "Ugh."


The ISIS agents landed softly onto the designated landing zone, hastily removing the parachutes from their backs before checking their personal gear and weapons. The red-orange sun had sunk into the horizon, prompting them both to don their night vision goggles before the long trek to the suspected ISIS leader's homestead.

A soft, static voice rang in their ear pieces simultaneously, "ksst Ar-- ksst Archer? Come in, Archer." Mallory Archer suspiciously sounded sober.

"Go away Mother, Lana owes me a sexual favor for saving her ass. That sweet, sweet chocolate ass."

Mallory's impatience immediately rang through, "Sterling, now is not the time for your insolent deviance. We're running on a very strict timetable."

Lana chimed in, "We're in the designated LZ, a couple kilometers from our target. Any updates?"

"No, nothing yet. Stick to the plan; you only have three hours until that sunburnt Syrian prick Abdelhamid Abaaoud carries out the next step in his filthy, sand-slinging crusade to tarnish the organization I built with my own god damn hands."

Archer replied, his mind still distracted with anything but the mission at hand, "That's plenty of time for me and Lana to get down and dirty before we finish this cake-walk of a mission. Now leave us Mother, we have business to attend to."

Mallory slammed her fist against the table, causing the ice in her stiff drink to clink around and remove all doubt of her state of sobriety, "Archer! We don't have time to entertain your stupidity! Get your ass over to Abaaoud's compound and get the job done."

Archer sighed heavily, "Fiiiiiine Mother. I'll be the hero to save the day." He narrowed his eyes, "But I won't like it." "And Sterling, dear, just a reminder: despite all of the missions you've botched in the past and required Mommy to save you, should you fail this one I'm not spending a dime to rescue you from these filthy sand ni--" Archer shut off his communication device, "Oh would you look at that. Comms are down."

Lana and Archer began to trek across the desert, pistols drawn and ready, to begin the first phase of their mission. "Hooooooooolllllllyyyyyyyyyy shit baaaaallllllls!" a familiar voice cried out in the silence from above.

A large, dark figure had swooped in from the sky with a parachute wide open, toppling on top of Archer and causing him to stumble onto the warm, grainy desert sand. Archer spat out the clumps of dirt from his mouth, desperately reaching around for his pistol as he panicked, "Lana! Lana! It's the enemy! Shoot this bastard!"

Lana quickly spun around with her pistol aimed in Archer's direction, only to lower her weapon as she let out a heavy sigh, "...Really? And you said I'm unprofessional?"

Archer was still struggling underneath Pam Poovey's weight, "Lana what are you doing!? Save me, you stupid hot piece of ass!"

Pam replied while pulling a Ziploc bag filled with donut holes from her utility pouch, "Screw you Archer, if there's any hot piece of ass anywhere in this god damn desert, it's me."

Lana interjected, "Pam? What the hell are you doing here? You do realize we're on a mission?"

Pam choked out a response, still chomping at her snack, "Yeah, but my fatass is stuck behind a desk all the time and you assholes get to have all the fun. So I snuck on board and jumped out a couple minutes after you guys did." Archer struggled himself free just enough to visually confirm that it was indeed Pam, "God damn it Pam. Of all the people to swoop in and ruin the success rate of this mission--wait. Wait wait wait. Is that my sneak suit you're wearing?"

Pam confidently replied, "Yeah, so what?"

"Th--there's tears on the seams! You've ruined the sanctity of my custom-made sneak suit, Pam!"

Archer gently rubbed his forehead, a heavy sigh exuding from his sand-ridden lips as the stress of the mission yet to be completed amplified in his mind with Pam's unnecessary presence.

"Sigh... Pam, you fat tub of lard... you owe me a new sneak suit."

Pam dug into her bag and pulled out a glazed donut hole, "How 'bout a donut instead, jackass?"

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Archived

"...if it's any consolation Mr. Kent, you were certainly the easiest of my prey."

Jack Nixon stood over his newfound victim, rhythmically sharpening his knife over him with a cocky smirk, "Usually, my works of art are pleading for their lives or attempt to bargain with me for their survival. You, however, are doing anything but... and before I kill you, I must know: why?"

Clark Kent revealed no tell, and instead chose to calmly lay restrained against the wooden table which he was rather professionally bound to, "Mr. Nixon, I don't understand why you must resort to such monstrous tendencies. I only complied at gunpoint because I wanted to try to help you."

Jack erupted in laughter; his icy cold demeanor would've unnerved anyone else, but not Clark. "Help me? My friend, you're just another journalist in the Daily Planet. The only help you've been providing me is rudely exposing me and my artful talent to the city; I much prefer to work in solitude among the shadows." He finished sharpening his blade and grasped the grip of his blade tautly, "I work better in solitude, you understand, don't you?"

Clark softly grinned, "Surprisingly, I do. However, I was just doing my job...am I to be punished for being a contributing member to society?" Clark shifted his body around to find more comfort in his current predicament, causing some of his bindings to quietly snap from the movement.

Jack slowly hovered his knife over Clark's throat, his grin widening as he relished the moment before the kill, "No, I suppose that's no fault on your part. The fault, however, does lie in the fact that you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Jack hoisted his arms above his head, ready to add another masterpiece to his already growing collection, "You still haven't answered my question, Mr. Kent; pray tell, why in the world are you so calm about this?" He felt unnerved--almost offended--that his victim wasn't satisfying his God complex. Clark let out a tiresome sigh, "I suppose I accepted my fate a long time ago, long before we ever crossed paths Mr. Nixon, but please. I implore you, let me try to help you. It's not too late to make this right. Turn yourself in." Jack didn't budge; his need for bloodshed had clearly overrode any sense of humanity that Clark hoped Jack would have. It was time to end this charade.

He then mockingly mimicked the killer's words, "If it's any consolation Mr. Nixon, you were certainly the easiest of criminals to bring in."

Jack's grin quickly turned into a menacing grimace, "Quiet yourself, vermin! Your words tire me, now die!" Jack thrusted the knife downward toward Clark's neck, and upon impact the knife shattered into several pieces. The shards flew out like shrapnel, causing one of the bigger pieces to fly and lodge into Jack's stomach. He let out a shriek before dropping the handle of the knife, clutching his abdomen before slumping against the wall behind him.

Clark casually tore out of his restraints and brushed off the dust from his humble suit and tie, taking his time to adjust his glasses before standing upright in front of the killer, "Sorry about that. I know you were looking forward to turning me into another uhh... what did you call it... masterpiece, but those days are over." Jack winced as he looked up at Clark, squeezing out a weak reply, "Wh-who are you...?"

Clark grinned as he adjusted his tie before cocking back a punch he'd hold back just enough to knock out Jack, "You wouldn't believe me even if I told you."

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Archived

I will be much happier this way.

I can embrace this as a fact:

I could be in full bloom.

I can proudly display my beauty to the world,

But as long as I believe that

"I think I'm hideous",

That "They will judge me"

I take to heart

Growth will always be a hindrance, because

It's easier to wither and die.

Some days I know that

I too can take a risk.

Others chose to grow.

I avoided the sunlight

Instead of embracing my potential beauty,

I chose the darkness;

Once the icy grip of fear had me,

There was no hope

"It's just not worth trying anymore."

It is foolish to think

I can become something beautiful.

I won't feel differently unless I turn this around.


It's my first attempt at a reverse poem, I hope it will be up to snuff!

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Edit: /u/SycoJack, thanks for requesting a sequel/follow-up. I had a lot of fun writing this story from the Agent's perspective. Hopefully there isn't too many tropes or cliches, I certainly didn't intend on them being prevalent; I tend to write as I go and make adjustments from there. Anyway, all three parts are good to go. Enjoy, and by all means I'm happy to receive critique on my work!

Cheers.

Part 1

"Time is of utmost importance. Get to the escorts right NOW."

"W-wait, what? Who is thi--"

There was no response before the line disconnected. Hell, she barely had time to speak before the caller hung up. The silence from the other end of the line was juxtaposed by the murmur of endless questions as Olivia Clarke sat motionlessly in her cubicle. What the hell was that all about?

If it weren't for the fact that she had just donated blood the day before, Olivia might have wrote this incident off as a crank call but something simply felt offbeat. Olivia stared blankly against the soft blue glow of her computer screen, mentally trapped in a bout against denial as she sorted through every possible reason as to why she'd be burdened with such an urgent call. It can't be anything serious... could it? If it was a legit call they would've at least stayed on the line to answer my questions.

"Olive?"

Olivia heard the faint trace of a familiar, husky voice calling out her name. She didn't reply. ...But what if it's something serious? What if I'm sick, or infected with something? Nah. I'm in the best shape of my life.

"Hey, Olive?"

She snapped out of her thousand yard stare.

"Olive, you okay? You look a little pale." It was Dean. Olivia was grateful to see a friendly face to distract her from her thoughts.

"Hi Dean," Olivia tiredly rubbed her eyes before she softly muttered, "Yeah, I'm fine. What's up?" What a damn lie.

Dean's cheeks began to softly flush with a light shade of red before his eyes nervously locked onto everything but Olivia's. He slowly but surely worked up his courage to brave Olivia's daunting beauty head-on, "So uhh... I know we're work partners and everything, but um... you wanna' get some lunch together today? My treat."

Olivia cracked a weak smile, "Y-yeah, uhh, I'd like that!" She was caught off guard by his request to eat lunch together, but she was flattered nonetheless. Olivia typically caught Dean gazing at her with a lingering stare before he quickly turned away with a very apparent blush in his cheeks; luckily for Dean, Olivia felt the same way. "I'll come get you at 12 o' clock." Dean's grin went from ear to ear, "Sounds like a date." He briskly walked away so as not to risk making a fool of himself to change Olivia's mind.

Olivia felt all of her worries slowly melt away, gently rubbing her eyes once more to help herself wake up before getting back to typing up her report. I guess today won't be such a bad day after all. She allowed herself to bury her face into her hands, briefly daydreaming about the lunch date she was going to have with Dean. Can't wait.

Then she noticed it. Her hands. There were small blotches of smeared blood. What the hell. What's happening... Oh God, what's happening to me? Olivia grabbed some tissues on her desk and nervously dabbled at her eyes: there was no more denial left to pander to with the spots of bright red blood unmistakably contrasting against the white tissue. She sprung up from her desk and began bolting for the exit. The police escorts. I have to get outside to find the police escorts! A sense of urgency flooded Olivia as she turned the corner and nearly ran into a couple co-workers, narrowly sliding between them and their mugs of hot coffee. She ignored their grumpy remarks as she burst through the stairwell door and began scaling down the steps. What the fuck is going on? WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME!?

10th floor. Am I dying?! Why is this happening to me!?

7th floor: I can't die just yet.

4th floor: Please God, tell me this is just some sick joke.

2nd floor: Almost there. The damn escorts better be there. I'm not dying today. I can't.

Olivia nearly tripped on herself as she climbed down the last of the steps, lungs gasping for air as she swung the stairwell exit wide. She wiped the spots of sweat beading on her forehead, leaving a trail of the nearly dried blood from her hands as she ran toward the building entrance. She ignored the greeting from the security at the front desk and practically charged through the glass doors. Olivia's eyes nervously darted side to side, sweeping the scenery to find the police escorts; panic had kicked into full gear. Where are they? Where the fuck are they!?

"Miss Clarke?" a strange, muffled voice said. Olivia quickly turned to find two men in full HAZMAT suits with a small group of police officers briskly approaching her. The officers were securing the perimeter with pistols drawn, their weapons expressing more authority than the orders they were barking at the bystanders to keep away.

"Yes th--" the suited figures didn't hesitate to grab her by the arms and practically carry her in full sprint. They didn't need Olivia's identity confirmation with blood now trickling out from her nose and ears. "H-hey! Where are you taking me!?" Olivia's shouting went completely ignored as they dragged her toward a black van parked on the sidewalk past the small courtyard of the business park. The officers escorted the suits toward the vehicle, their fingers ready on the trigger in case anyone nearby tried to intervene. "What's going on with me?? Where are you taking me??" Olivia continued to protest to no avail.

One of the officers swung the van door open, and the suited pair practically threw Olivia inside before slamming the door shut. Olivia rolled inside with an audible thud, softly letting out a painful groan before attempting to gather her bearings. She weakly sat up and found a man in a black suit and tie. The face was unrecognizable with the respirator and the lack of proper lighting inside the van. The man banged on the wall separating them and the driver, and within moments the car sprung to life and began to drive down the street.

"I told you... time was of utmost importance." It was the voice from the phone call. He sounded even colder in person.

Olivia began sobbing. She wasn't sure if the liquid forming from her tear ducts was blood or not. "P-please, what the hell is going on with me?"

The man leaned in to get a closer look at Olivia, briefly flashing his badge before tucking it into his jacket pocket, "I'm Agent Dunham, currently working for the FBI and former savior of your life, Miss Clarke. The symptoms. It's already begun and your... sickness... has metastasized. If only you had come down sooner." He leaned back into a comfortable, upright position and reached for a small, sturdy briefcase near his feet, taking his time to unlock the latches before gently placing it on top of his lap to open it. "Pity... we had the cure too."

Olivia's eyes widened, "What do you mean... 'the cure'?" She tried to sit up and desperately reach for the briefcase, "Please, let me have it. I don't want to die!"

The man slammed the briefcase shut and drew a Walther P22; it had a slim suppressor attached to it and the barrel aimed directly at Olivia's forehead. He spoke in a calm, stoic tone, "Not. Another. Inch, Miss Clarke. I gave you the window of opportunity that most have not been fortunate enough to receive." Olivia nearly fell to the ground from the sudden sharp turn of the van, but the man remained steady in both position and aim. "We unfortunately do not know how you contracted this disease, but the fact of the matter is... you're contagious, and you're terminally... ill." Olivia had a thousand questions swimming in her head, but the only one she was able to surface past her quivering lips was, "W-what am I supposed to do now...?"

The agent switched off the safety with his thumb and slowly moved his index finger onto the trigger.

"I'm afraid you must accept your fate. Goodbye, Miss Clarke."

Part 2

Part 3

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Archived

I open my arms to receive her for the thousandth time, and I know exactly how everything plays out step-by-step: She's kneeling by the garden in our front lawn, tending to the beautiful multi-colored roses she takes so much pride in growing. I quietly sneak up on the grass, looking at her family recording the surprise as her family distracts her with conversation near the flowers. I utter a quiet "Hello", and she turns around with a look of disbelief before she breaks into tears. I open my arms wide, a wide happy grin overwhelms my face as I see her running toward me. It takes exactly 10 steps from the moment she turns around to see me as I surprise her to her hugging me so tightly my cover flies off my head. Her parents cheer; her dad tries his best to keep the camera still while she wraps her arms around me, kissing me like she's never kissed me before. It's been 9 months since I deployed, and that's a long while to test a relationship against the sands of time. She can't stop crying, and exactly three seconds later, I wipe the tear from her cheek and whisper to her that everything will be okay. Then I get to start all over again.

I see her every now and then. It used to be far more frequently--hell, practically every day when she first started--but I'm happy to say I don't see her the way she used to be when we'd meet on a regular basis: eyes puffed up and red from crying, nose raw and red from the tissues I told her not to use since they cause her irritation, tears trailing down her face like a faucet with an irreparable leak. Now I'm so fortunate to see her smiling with such warmth and remembrance, because I know now that she's become stronger, and accepted the reality of things.

I know I can't talk to her, or reach through the computer screen to tell her how proud I am of her for being such a strong, beautiful person, but every time this .gif loads I re-enact the day I came home to her unscathed despite the sheer horror the war had to throw my way the best way I know how. I swear, for as long as she continues to visit me I'm going to tell her that everything will be okay like it was the first time all over again.

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There it was. It was stuck in the dirt, undisturbed and unclaimed; it certainly wasn't hard to miss with the way it protruded upwards toward the sky, as if to proclaim its defiance against nature's intent to bury it within its bosom for good.

He was exhausted: it's been roughly three miles into the hike and already the humidity of the Australian forest was getting to him. He set the pack down against the Blue Grevillea tree, taking a seat just on top of his gear before taking a hearty swig of his canteen. Something caught the man's attention from the corner of his eye; something among the endless hue of brown and green stood out unnaturally. He set his canteen down and trudged over, earning each step with a wince, kneeling down briefly to pick up the object. It was a rather fancy looking fountain pen. The texture looked like it could've been carved out from a block of marble. Thankfully the cap was still on, so he figured it'd work once tested against paper. He felt something odd on the surface, as if the small bumps and grooves indicated to the hiker that perhaps there was some writing on it--not that he'd be able to see it clearly with the dirt filling every bit of the engraving. He'd certainly not give up his water to wash off the dirt for a lousy pen.

It took a couple hours for the hiker to maneuver through the woods to get back to the campsite; he's seen enough nature and its inhabitants for a week's worth of vacation time. He set his pack down once more, rummaging through his gear to pull out a personal-sized skillet and a tiny propane stove. It might've been against the rules, but he'd be damned if someone tried to spoil his one last meal in absolute peace.

He needed this getaway: work had becoming far too overbearing, and his daily march into the boss' office was spiritually challenging in every way. Getting yelled at work for not meeting his quotas was one thing, and it was something else completely to come home late to a wife and children who showed no signs of appreciation for his dedication to family. How many hours of unpaid overtime must he work before they're happy? How much spending allowance do they need more of before they express some form of gratitude for the days he had been unable to spend with them? He gritted his teeth as he finished cooking his last meal in the wilderness, promptly cleaning up afterwards before snuggling into the one-man tent that was his nirvana.

He was on the plane ride back home. He felt refreshed, but still felt anxious having to return to the monotony waiting for him the moment he stepped in back home. It had to be done though; he certainly couldn't run away from his life's cumbersome trials forever. He reached into his carry-on and wrestled past his pile of dirty clothes to find his MP3 player, but he brushed his finger on the pen he found in his last day of hiking. He gently drew it out, only to find it as dirty as the clothes he brought onto the plane; the man quickly sprung up and briskly walked to the bathroom to wash away the dirt still stubbornly crusted onto the engraving. He scrubbed with mild excitement. What could possibly be written on this fancy little pen? As far as he knew, they were probably initials or the name of some upscale restaurant or business.

When the last of the dirt washed down the drain, he stared intently at the engraving: it was a quote, though he knew not from where, and it wrapped around the pen in a spiral so as to fit the many words:

"You've got to forge ahead. Keep moving. Even if your path isn't lit trust that you'll find your way. -Love, Dad"

He felt guilt: guilt for holding grudges against his family; guilt for quantifying the extent of his love for them; and it took him to be thousands of miles away from their loving embrace to realize how shallow and blind he'd been to the fortunate life he'd taken for granted. What made him scoff despite the small pool of tears welling in his eyes was the fact that this realization was achieved by something so inanimate. He still had several hours before the plane landed, so he placed the pen inside his pocket and drifted off to sleep.

He turned the key to the front door, but stopped as soon as he heard the lock disengage. How was he supposed to face his family? He left on a whim and left nothing but a note. Would his wife forgive him? What about his kids? Are they even home anymore? He certainly couldn't blame them if they left for their mother-in-law's home to blow off steam. He removed the key and gently turned the door handle, taking in a big step before he was surprised with his wife and children waiting by the kitchen. It smelled wonderful: she was baking her famous blueberry muffins; the kids were playing tag around the house; life was very much the same. He closed the door shut, and upon the loud thud of the door his wife and children looked up. Their faces lit up as the children scrambled toward their father for a hug, the wife trailing just behind them. In their tight embrace, he whispered, "I'm sorry for worrying you," and his wife simply replied, "We missed you. Welcome home."

He went into work, and it felt refreshing to return with a clear head. His first customer was waiting in line bright and early for the day, so he got up from his cubicle and marched over to me, patiently waiting in line. "Good morning sir, thanks for coming in. Please follow me to my desk I'll help you with whatever you need." As he led the customer in, he felt the dagger-like eyes of his boss watching him close; today, he simply didn't care.

We sat down, dealing with a brief awkward silence as the banker logged into his computer to start the transaction. "What can I do for you today," inquired the banker.

"I honestly don't know. I'm in need of $50,000 as soon as possible. I haven't been able to pay off a few mortgage payments, my wife is on the cusp of leaving me, my children won't speak to me, and I have too many bills to cover working at my dead end job. Please, I need this." I didn't know how else to say it other than with forthcoming honesty.

The banker didn't say much. Maybe I made him too uncomfortable by burdening him with my personal problems. He offered a sympathetic smile as he replied, "Let's see what we can do for you." He began typing into his computer, most likely to see what my credit history has been like; my guess was he'd be surprised how much damage has occurred as a result of being in debt for so long, but outside of robbing the place this loan was my fair shot at trying to control the insanity in my life. He began typing into his computer again, and behind him the printer hummed quietly as some papers began to print out. Had I been approved? The banker grabbed the small stack of legally binding documents and placed them on the table; he then gave me a grin as he sat down to utter some of the most melodic words I've heard in years, "Let's get you started on turning your life around." Luckily he didn't watch me as I tried to fight back some tears while he searched in his desk for a pen. When he didn't find one, he sat still for a moment before reaching into his jacket pocket for his own personal pen. It looked quite elegant and expensive: it was a fountain pen. Must've been something he had enough money to spend on for appearance's sake.

When he placed the pen on top of the paperwork, I didn't even hear him begin uttering the legal explanations behind signing for this loan. There it was. It was my father's pen, found and claimed. I lost it 10 years ago on a trip to find myself, and I've been quite lost ever since. The engraving was still somehow in good shape, and I can remember the words on the pen as if Dad was reciting it right beside me. I've suffered for as long as I can remember ever since he left, but in that moment my burdens seemed to feel a little lighter. I didn't tell him that it was my father's pen, or that it was my only memento of him. It meant the world to me that it wasn't just rotting away from when I lost it during my trip; I could only hope that this man would take my father's words to heart and perhaps become the better man that I know I'm going to be with this chance I've been given.

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I saw him up there looking down at me. I sensed his smug expression, grinning wide as he reveled in the fact that he had clearly been dealt the upper hand. As I found myself trapped down in this narrow square pit I couldn't help but over-analyze my miscalculated steps which led me to this gleaming moment of abysmal failure.

I shouldn't have tried to outsmart him in the alleyways. Yeah, no kidding genius. How was I to know that he'd box me in? He can physically MANIPULATE objects, what did you expect? My inner voice didn't let up with the guilt-trip; I was to die, and I was going to die today.

"Fancy a last word before I end your sad, pathetic life?" he mused, standing over me with an outstretched arm--and just above it, a long, metallic block hovered gently; its vertical shape and weight would fit perfectly into my unnatural chasm. It was his Excalibur, and I was to be Lord Viper to its final killing thrust.

"As a matter of fact, yes, I'd like to speak my piece before you end me." Gotta' buy time somehow.

He stared at me, using his free hand to rub behind his shoulder from the ache of holding his arm up. "Well, go on then! I don't have all day."

"N-now, let me entertain the possibility of you NOT killing me," I spoke, attempting to hide the desperation in my voice. He didn't look amused. "Say you let me live; what could you possibly have to lose by not killing me today?"

He felt his impatience grew like wildfire, "Why the hell would I let you live!? Do you know just how close I am to reaching the next level of my world domination!?" His fists clenched as he spoke, causing the elongated metal block to creak and crunch from the pressure of his will. " I will NOT allow you to impede my upward progress! You cannot convince me otherwise!"

I wasn't quite sure how to get myself out of this predicament, but it seemed that his figurative buttons were quite easy to press. I did my best to improvise, "Strictly speaking from a dead man's point of view, you should know... that no matter how hard you try, your reign will only be dethroned by someone who's far more skilled and patient than you'll ever be."

He let out a primal roar, clenching his fists and swinging his hovered arm down in wild abandon, "DAMN YOU TO HELL! DIE!" The metal pillar plummeted toward me, and as it began to blot out the sunlight I closed my eyes, openly accepting my fate.

BOOM!

A loud crash bellowed several feet above me. I couldn't see anything, not even my own two hands as I hovered them in front of my face. Is this what the afterlife is like...complete darkness? Just then, I heard a barely audible voice of my executioner.

"Damn it! ... why d-... moved sideways ... Aaaaarrrghh!!..."

I couldn't make out all the words, but the pillar seemed to have landed on its side. I was glad my plan had worked: in his anger he must've swung his arm too far down, putting just enough spin on the object to save me from my imminent death. I stood there in the pitch black, softly chuckling at my plan succeeding, but it wasn't too long after my fleeting moment of joy that I realized how screwed I was.

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She stood at the gateway to the portal, marveling at the aesthetic allure of the gentle, liquid-like surface of the portal. Its zen-like motion was a stark contrast to the chaos from the building collapsing all around her.

"Elaine! Elaine, you must go right now! The portal won't hold any longer!"

Elaine Fitzgerald slid her hand into the portal; it felt cool to the touch, like gliding her fingers through the surface of a cold bath. The wormhole underneath them became increasingly unstable, but amidst the destruction she somehow found serenity: she may never see him again, but staying here waiting to die was the most surefire way to ensure that scenario. She had to trust in Howard's calculations--and put the mission above her needs, even if it meant leaving him behind.

Elaine slowly turned her gaze toward Howard, a heartfelt smile overcoming her as tears slowly streamed down her cheeks. "Elaine! What are you doing!? You have to leave now, the portal will close any second!" Howard couldn't believe how stubborn Elaine was being--then again it's precisely why he married her many years ago. Her unwavering drive to discover the truth behind the collapsing state of this planet would precisely be the kind of determination that she would need to solve this puzzle. It had to be. This was their only shot.

A steel beam narrowly grazed Howard's head as it flew off the concrete wall and plummeted to the ground, causing him to instinctively duck before locking his gaze onto his wife's. Elaine's shouted over the conundrum, "I hope I've made you proud, Howard. We've come so close... if we only had a little bit more time."

Howard replied, "I'm honored to have been your husband. Should you find me again on the other side, you'll know what to do to fix this planetary crisis once and for all."

Elaine saw the portal softly flickering. It was time to go; all Elaine could think of was how much she wished for nothing more than to kiss her husband one last time, "I love you Howard. I promise I won't fail you..."

Howard didn't cry as he bid his wife goodbye. He had full trust in her wits and ability to see this through. He was going to die--there was no other way around it--but he took some solace in the possibility of his alternate self to look after his beloved Elaine. "I love you too, Elaine. In this life, and the next."

Elaine shut her eyes as she turned toward the portal, the last of her tears in this dimension rolling down her cheeks as she stepped in moments before the portal closed. Howard loosened the knot of his tie and unbuttoned the topmost button before sinking into the chair behind him. All he could do now was wait.

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The curtains drew in for intermission, gently gliding past the pool of Darlene's blood steadily forming underneath her as the crowd stood up for a brief encore.

"Darling... your words... they slay me," she softly whispered before her head tilted weakly against the stage floor.

Darlene breathed what little life she had left to her final, departing words: her commitment to theater astounded even herself as her vision slowly began to fade away. Darlene laid nearly motionless as she glared at him, wondering what reason he could've possibly had to do her in like this. She stumbled backwards and landed on her back, but she could not find it in her to let out the slightest of sounds upon impact. A loud bang rung extravagantly within the stage, its deafening blast echoing to every inch of the theater. Steven placed his finger on the trigger and aimed steady at Darlene's chest before he anxiously pulled the trigger. Steven bellowed, almost as if the line was straight out of the script, "Be gone, wretched jezebel." You won't cheat on me anymore, filthy whore. He hastily drew the pistol from the holster of his costume; the crowd would certainly have no idea whether the pistol was real or not.

Darlene nervously looked at Steven, her eyes widening as she tried to quietly mutter, "Steven, stick to the script!" Steven looked at her dead in the eye; his suspicion that she had been cheating on him had roused from the depths of his suppressed emotions, "You... you've been unfaithful to me." He could stand it no longer, he had to confront her. Steven knew this day would come and luckily he had been prepared long before she revealed her true intentions to him. How dare she?? After everything I've done for her on and off stage? I made her career! After all these years spent acting together on stage, reciting line after line and rehearsing every motion down to absolute perfection, how could she say she felt nothing for him?

Darlene was briefly taken aback by Steven's pause, but did her routine crying method--it didn't take much, just a few thoughts of sad, dying animals and her eyes were as leaky as the faucets in her studio apartment, "Sir Thomas... I--I don't love you!" Odd... he usually nails that part.

She wasn't just saying the lines: she meant it--she doesn't love me. The voices, they were right all along--it was such a shame he had suppressed them for so long. He froze on stage; his mind had suddenly snapped in two, and he couldn't concentrate for a moment. "Here comes the worst part of the play," Steven was lost in his thoughts when he stuttered through his preparatory piece to set up the twist in the play. Each word was spoken with utmost passion; the director clearly had an eye for creating the perfect match between actors, because he and Darlene had an undeniable chemistry. He did his best to hide the increasing sense of panic and anxiety as he recited his lines down to the letter. They were nearing the end of the 2nd act: so far so good.

He certainly couldn't leave now; the crowd had filed into their assigned seats. No, the show must go on. He began to wonder whether his anxiety was from performance jitters or the beginning of his symptoms. Steven forgot to take his medication. It was mere minutes away before opening night, and he had begun to panic.

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The spacious office was filled with a thick plume of cigar smoke, and the sunlight shining through the large arching window overlooking the degrading city made the room appear even foggier. The floor-to-ceiling shelves lined along the walls of the Senator's office were overflowing with instruction manuals, training pamphlets and guidelines: they've become quite the collectibles ever since the machine industry bloomed far beyond what Senator Welch had thought, at least prior to his insider knowledge of the market. Jobs became scarcer, and before long he became one of the few with control over the primary industries of job production in the world. He was one of five striking hands that blew the coup-de-grace to any notion of a free market: they controlled the jobs, thereby controlling the world. Damn, this ivory tower couldn't be any more comfortable.

Senator Welch rested his cigar on an ashtray and got up from his pristine leather-bound armchair. He quietly strutted over to the window to take in the morning view, but winced at the hideous scenery: it was as if the city had adopted the urban sprawl of Rio De Janeiro, and according to the automated news broadcasts, the rest of the country--hell, the rest of planet Earth--wasn't faring any better. He grew tired of the view and pressed a button adjacent to the window frame; a transparent heads-up display hovered in front of the glass as the Senator pressed another button to cycle through the options. He grinned when he found his perfect choice: Space. He pushed a button once more and the grim state of the world softly blurred out; as far as Senator Welch was concerned, he was now hovering in space looking down at Earth itself. It furthered his belief that he was far above the rest of the common folk beneath him--and he was right. He was only one of five other people on Earth who had a job. And he'd be damned if he wasn't going to exhaust this comfortable position for the rest of his life.

The senator's personal house droid gently rapped at the large, double oak doorway. "Come in," said the Senator. Senator Welch turned around to greet his favorite servant with a wide grin, "Ahh... H-0U53. Always a pleasure. Now what do you want?"

H-0U53 replied, "GOOD MORNING SIR. YOUR GUESTS HAVE ARRIVED. SHALL I SEND THEM IN?"

"Yes, and be sure to provide them with some refreshments before you send them up. I suspect we'll be up here for quite some time today." The Senator cracked a deviant grin. He was certainly going to win it big today.

H-0U53 gently bowed, the gears and hydraulics of his inner workings quietly whirring as he did so; the droid softly stomped away and left to fetch the Senator's guests. Senator Welch walked over to his personal liquor cabinet, turning an up-ended glass over to pour out the 15-year aged whiskey as he patiently waited for his friends. He swirled the glass in his hand and took a deep breath in, filling his nostrils with the sharp, distinct scent of the liquor before taking a small sip. Mmmm... My favorite.

He slowly turned as he heard several footsteps near the doorway; three other Senators had shown up, alcoholic drinks in one hand and an extended reach in the other to shake Senator Welch's.

"Well well, if it isn't Senator Robert Welch," bellowed a rather heavy-set male. It was Senator Henry Lions, the sole owner of the powerhouse company "ServBot" in the Service Industry; his automatons have swept the service jobs without a hitch when it became clear that the general population was fed up dealing with belligerent, and oft snotty workers of food and retail locations. His droids and service bots were friendly, prompt, and 100% accurate with any and every want the people had in mind. Lions was slow to approach Welch, but eventually he came within reach for Welch to firmly shake his hand, "How ya' doing, Henry? Wife and kids up to no good as usual?"

"Hahaha, only because you keep tempting my wife, Robert!"

Just behind him trailed a rather thin-framed, balding gentleman. His posture reminded Welch of royalty in the 1800s: upright, proud, and terribly pompous. Unlike Welch, Senator Liam Erickson was an "old-rich"; the Erickson family was one of the few billionaires alive long before the technology boom. He and his family were pioneers of the Legal Industry: they developed automatons that executed the law in every way, from drafting low-level municipal laws to ensure maximum efficiency on a community level to adjudicating sentences in court. His bots enforced and upheld the law down to the letter, and were as fair as they could be--at least that was his marketing ploy before he drafted laws in his financial favor.

Welch offered his hand first, knowing Erickson wouldn't, "Senator Erickson, always an honor to meet the 'Lawman' himself." Erickson gave him a glare before returning the gesture, "Senator Welch. Still a student of comedy, I see." Welch responded with a hearty laughter, "Hardly a recruit of it, I'm afraid. I'll get you to laugh soon or later, just you wait."

Senators Erickson and Lions walked over to the round, extravagant maple oak table in the center of the room to take their seats. Welch looked up at saw the final guest waiting to be greeted.

Senator Brian Wilson was new to the rich man's world: he was quite possibly the luckiest man on earth when his company, "Nucleo-Trans", skyrocketed in stock value just before the rest of the Senators overshadowed any other technology companies. Wilson's company created the fastest teleportation device this century has ever seen: his R&D team discovered that humans could actually be broken down into nucleopeptides and be transferred on a microscopic level from one Dyna-Pad device to another, whereby upon their arrival, consumers would be rebuilt from molecules to humans again. Welch wasn't sure how it all worked, but he knew it was mind-blowing enough for the average person to give up other methods of transportation in the first place--he certainly did, but not before the initial side effects made him vomit for most of the day. He was fortunate that the average civilians in the slums couldn't afford to get their hands on these devices anymore.

"And last but not least, Senator Wilson. Wonderful of you to join us," Welch bellowed.

"Thank you Senator Welch, you know I enjoy coming over for this," Wilson replied.

"I should hope so, we have so much at stake this morning! Why don't we get started?"

The remaining two Senators joined the others at the table, and almost in unison they placed their drinks down and scanned their thumbprints onto the dimly lit scanner in front of them. The scanners softly hummed as the lasers read the surface of their fingerprints to validate their identities, and within seconds a large display of multiple screens hovered in the center. Welch smiled wide; he could never get used to seeing the majesty that was this game they played.

This form of entertainment for the elite was not too outlandish: they each had full control of an individual sector of the primary markets that made this planet run in one way or another, and as a result each Senator had ownership of different countries, states, and cities. The objective of the game was simple: make the bets, manipulate the economy--and in turn, the people, and relinquish each other of large sums of money. Senator Welch began to grow old of this tradition, but the choice between maintaining the facade of enjoyment as a rich man versus becoming one of the poor to be played like pawns on a chessboard was easy for him. He always made good money every year, but with each passing anniversary of the game he began to feel rather uneasy: ballooning prices of basic sustenance; making the cost of living unbearable one year, while giving everyone a roof over their heads the next; altering the demands of certain skills and trades to have citizens flock toward for potential employment, only to pull the rug beneath them by making minimum requirements absurdly unattainable; betting on how many children will die that year as a result of water magically becoming scarce; it was beginning to become too much for him. But what else can I do...?

Welch left his thoughts for a moment and lifted his glass to propose a toast, "Gentleman... As of today we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our game. This pastime of ours, one of stratagem, wit, and cunning, is the reason why we have power... and will remain in power for all of our days." The Senators all raised their glass and united them in the center, resonating an audible clink as if to announce the start of the game.

"And may the best man win."

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Archived

I sit down to turn on the television. I reach for the remote and turn the TV on; it's the Lifetime network. Honey Boo-Boo is on, so I try to turn it off but the battery dies. The chair locks me into place and forces my eyelids open. Dear God.

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