It’s been a few weeks since the ordeal at the Northern Shores outpost. I am pleased to report that the replacement Accord team sent to the outpost held off the Chosen advance and pushed them back into whatever hell lies on the other side of the cloud. Not that it matters – whatever is on the other side obviously doesn’t faze them, after all. But it keeps them out of here, which buys us valuable time.
I find myself in a comfortable chair under a large cloth overhang just outside of Copacabana. My drink is cold, and the sound of ocean waves crashing against the beach is strangely comforting. But in the back of my mind, I know better. I have seen what untamed hell is out beyond the relative safety and comfort of the city walls, and I know that nobody in this converted resort is even remotely prepared for the hell that is coming.
Such realizations make it hard to write. After all, what is the point of telling our story if it’s just going to be swallowed by the cloud or burned by the Chosen or eaten by a giant brontodon? So now I sit, sipping at my drink and waiting for my editor to arrive to try and convey the finer points of my job.
It doesn’t take him long to arrive, with his expletive-laced screeching that cuts through the small crowd that had incidentally formed around me to take in this otherwise lovely afternoon.
“Almas,” he shouts. “Almas! Where the hell are you?”
I give him a wave, never leaving my seat as I place the beverage on the table next to me. I offer him the chair next to mine, but in his aggressive state of mind he stands above my seat whilst breathing heavily. I presume it’s from his hurried stomping across the pier.
“Why are you sitting here?”
“It’s a nice day,” I tell him, minding the least amount of attention necessary to acknowledge his presence.
“Yes, it is.” He confirms. “Where is my story?”
“I’ll get to it.”
“Yes, you will. Now.”
I sigh and sit upright, stretching my back as I look up at my Editor. “Look, you will have it when I swing around to writing it. But before I can come to terms with actually penning the thing, I need to first know what I’m going to write. So if you can just excuse me, I’m going to return to that rather intense brainstorm.”
“What do you mean you don’t know what you’re going to write?” My editor begins pacing back and forth, brushing a hand through his considerable hair. “You are going to write about how New Eden is thriving. You’re going to write about how the Accord will fight back the Chosen. You understand?”
I take a sip from my rather strong and decreasingly cold beverage. “If you ask me to write that, you’re asking me to lie.”
“How the hell am I managing that,” he asked. “It was how you pitched this whole damn thing to begin with!”
“Because I’ve seen how things are, my friend.”
“Don’t call me your friend.”
“I have seen how this new world operates and, frankly, it’s forced me to reevaluate my earlier enthusiasm.”
“The hell does that even mean?”
“It means that I’ve seen what happens out there.” I say. “When I started this assignment, I thought that we had this well in hand. I thought the Accord was in complete control of the situation, and I thought that we wouldn’t have anything to fear.”
“So what happened?”
I turned my head, and caught the view of the Arclight jutting out of the ocean in the distance. That ship – the crowning jewel of humanity’s advancement into the stars – was meant to usher in a new era of prosperity. But there it sits, jutting out of the ocean as a constant reminder that it has brought us to death’s doorstep only to hold back oblivion’s final advance.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s playing games with us.
“I saw what we’re up against. I saw the twisted creations that the cloud spits out at us. I’ve seen how brutal the Chosen are. But worst of all is I’ve seen how worn and weary our guys are.” I sit up and turn my attention back to my editor. “You don’t hear it over SIN, or over the conventional news wire, but we are getting our asses handed to us on almost every front.”
This realization seems to have come as something of a surprise to my editor, who stands still in complete silence. He’s lost in momentary thought as he tries to wrap his pea-brained mind around how dire the situation actually is. It must have clicked sometime after his eyebrows raised but before he nearly stumbled over himself to take a seat next to me. In a panic he hopped into the vacant chair to my side, leaning uncomfortably close to me as to not speak too loudly. In the moment, neither of us thought that a big, long-haired man in a Hawaiian shirt leaning uncomfortably close to a drunken writer in shorts and flip-flops wasn’t already conspicuous enough.
“So how bad is it,” he asked, barely above a whisper. I chose to speak in my normal conversational tone.
“The Chosen excel at run-and-gun attacks. They can slip out of the Melding, anywhere, and hit us square in the mouth while we have our pants down.”
“Why are our pants down?”
“It’s a metaphor.”
I shake my head and continue. “Regardless, we have to be at full alert all the time to even have a prayer of fighting back these guys. That takes its toll after a while. Even the brass in Trans are starting to feel the pressure – especially with them being so close to the wall.”
“So then what do you think,” he asks. I sit there for a few moments pondering the question before I glance back at the Arclight.
“Honestly? I don’t know. We are in such a dire situation, with odds that seem downright insurmountable, that I couldn’t honestly begin to picture how we’ll come out of this in one piece. At the same time,” I continue. “We’ve never faced a threat like this before, and I’ve never seen the Accord so united - the front-line soldiers, not the bloviating blowhards cooped up in Trans-Hub. I mean, on one hand we brought this hell down on ourselves, but at the same time I look out over the ocean and I am reminded, every day, of what we can do.”
My editor sat there a moment, nodding his head solemnly. After a moment, he looks up. “Well, Manny, I think you found your angle.”
“The human aspect. Write about the human aspect of this whole thing.”
“You swine,” I shout. “You were just thinking about that damn article!”
“It’s my job!”
My editor stands up, his arms held out in front of him as if he were trying to show that he didn’t steal my wallet. “Look, I’m just looking at this from the angle of what keeps people upbeat! You sitting here getting piss drunk and moping about how we don’t have a chance isn’t going to inspire. It isn’t going to motivate. It sure as hell isn’t going to make the Accord happy!”
“Make the Accord happy? You honestly think I care about making the Accord happy?”
“You should! If you piss off the Accord, especially if things are as bad as you say they are, do you know what they’ll do to you?”
I shake my head. “Not really.”
“Neither do I – and that’s scary.”
“The Accord won’t abduct us in the middle of the night and haul us off to some undisclosed internment camp. Hell, there aren’t that many places left for them TO take us to!”
“I’m not worried about that,” my editor says. “I’m worried about losing their support or, even worse, drafting us into the ARES Initiative.”
We both stop for a moment and think. I hate to admit it but he has a point – not about the ARES thing, but about the morale issue. If I publish something that’s all doom and gloom, especially while sitting in this retreat from the war that is Copacabana, I wouldn’t hear the end of it.
“Okay,” I finally say. “What would you have me do…”
My editor smiles. “I want you to think about this, but not for too long. I want you to find an angle that works. I want you to highlight the struggle and the resolve of the frontline soldiers.” My editor slowly pushes himself up from his chair and walks around mine. “Make this about the people, Manny.”
I nod. “I’ll give it some thought.”
“Good man.” My editor begins to walk away, snapping his fingers as he does. After a few feet, he turns back to look towards me. “Oh, and Manny – I still want that piece about Palmeiro. I don’t know what kind of goofball can declare himself ‘mayor’ of a damn hotel, but he has got to go.”
I smile. “Agreed.” As he turns and walks away, I let out a sigh and sink back into my chair. I reach over and grab my drink, taking a sip and nearly coughing it back up. “Much too warm…” I tell myself before putting it down and looking out at the Arclight. Hell, I think. Maybe my editor has the right idea…