Thursday the 13th was an unseasonably cool day with skies of uniform steel gray that groaned and buckled with the weight of a looming storm. The Jameson camera arrays swept back and forth over barren streets, safeguarding the community from packs of squirrels and the occasional food wrapper carried by the cutting wind. Whatever negative effect this threat of rain may have had on the community, whatever dampening of the usual commercial activity, there was at least one person uncowed by nature's threat. Walking boldly through the weather was Will Scarborough, messenger bag stuffed with fliers, marching from shop to shop in an attempt to recruit anyone - owner or passerby - into his campaign. There were few takers - Will's thoroughly established status as a "colorful" local character certainly didn't make it easy to take him seriously - but each rejection only filled him with vigor for the next attempt.
Will's campaign had taken him halfway down Icaria Street when he arrived at "The House," a local independent coffee shop. The House had always sidestepped the more gratuitous hipster cliches, shunning the usual eclectic minimalism for a more rustic décor, but it still had the expected trappings - indie music, a surfeit of power outlets, and an oversized corkboard hung just where everyone could see it. There were a few people around at that time of day - a young couple on a day-after date, a cluster of foreign workers from somewhere in Asia (Will didn't dare speculate, not after the night before), a pair of young women idly chatting about this and that, a frustrated writer banking on his latte being enough to buy a day's worth of internet access, and a scowling, diminutive man in the emerald blazer of a Jameson Lab VIP.
"Tommy!" Will neared the counter with a wad of bills already in hand. "Chai latte in a to-go cup. And throw in a big cookie. Something with more than one type of chocolate."
"You got it, Will." Tommy flashed a boyish smile as he turned to prepare the beverage. "Gosh, does this mean you're off the diet?"
Will flipped a ten dollar bill onto the counter. "Diets, who needs em?" He nimbly flicked a five into the tip jar. "For your troubles. And keep the change."
"Wow, thanks!" said Tommy. "If it was anyone else being so nice, I'd think they wanted a favor."
"You're psychic, Tom," said Will, sliding a flier onto the counter. "I've got a little promotion in mind, something big. You mind if I add it to the board?"
"The board's for everyone, you know that."
"And if I wanted to leave a stack of these on the counter? Maybe you could send a little attention my way?"
"That's a maybe, Will," said Tommy. "The owner's a little touchy about what we keep up here. Mostly stuff for his friends, their projects."
"But you'll give it a think, right? I won't blame you if you say no."
"All right, Will. I'll have a look."
"Cool." Will edged away from the counter with a handful of fliers crumpling in his grip. The corkboard was in terrible need of ablating. It had the expected collection of job ads, sales pitches and inside jokes, but the board was layers deep and some of the fliers were old - an ad for a New Year's Eve show, guitar lessons from someone who'd moved out of town. Will discarded the most obsolete ones and shuffled the rest around until his own flier had its own special perch, dead-center in the board amid a swirl of paper:
DANCING AT THE BRINK OF THE APOCALYPSE.
The end of the world is coming. The place? Patmos. Don't miss the world's last party or opportunity to witness the biggest event in human history! Barbecue, liquor, and soft drinks will be provided. Live it up beneath the ultimate light show!
Sunday, April 16th, starting at 8:00 P.M.
Kiyama Hill, overlooking Jameson Labs
No cover, all admittance
Miss it at your own peril!
"Uh...Will?" Tommy rapped on the counter, drawing Will's attention away from his task. "Is this for real?"
"Well...all of it. I don't want to be rude here, but golly, the end of the world is a strange gimmick."
"Oh, it's no gimmick. And it's very real. Just you watch." Will threw out a thumb's up, the gesture rising before a mischievous grin. "So? You have room for a few on the counter?"
"Geez, Will, I don't think the owner would like that. It's a little dark."
"I don't think it's dark at all. Man, when did everyone lose that spirit of grandeur?"
"I couldn't tell you that." Tommy placed Will's order before him. "But I hope you have a good day anyway."
Will slapped his forehead. "Man, this is not my day."
"Excuse me." The man in the green Jameson blazer delivered Will a firm nudge. "I hate to eavesdrop-"
"Hey, don't be ashamed, we all do it." Will leaned in closer to the man - his was a familiar face, though not from town. "You want to know what I'm up to, right?"
"I want to know what the fliers are for. Is this a party?"
"It's the party, friend. Biggest one there'll ever be."
"Can I take a closer look?"
"Sure, take one. I've got plenty." Will slid a flier over to his new confidant. "Say, you look really familiar. Have I seen you interviewed? Are you someone important?"
"More so than you can comprehend," he muttered as he scanned the flier with a joyless brow. Once he was finished, he glared back at Will for a moment, grabbed his phone and headed for the door. "Excuse me."
"Go ahead and tell your friends, everyone's welcome! We're happy to have Jameson guys, believe me. I don't hold anything against you."
Granting himself a brief respite from his grand project, Will sank into a lumpy chair in the corner with his snack. He considered his beverage first, inhaling deeply of the aroma before quaffing half of it in a single shot, letting out an exaggerated sigh as he swallowed it. As he unwrapped his cookie, he glanced at the women sitting a few feet away. Contrary to his first thought, they weren't having a casual chat - this was formal, more like an interview. Will listened closely, a pair of fliers clutched in one hand, waiting for a moment of air to make his introduction.
"Your father doesn't actually have a formal position in the company, but I notice Jameson mentions him a lot. Could you clarify what exactly it is he does? If you're free to talk about it, I mean."
"Everyone asks me that question. My father hasn't exactly been open with me these last few years. I know he helped some engineers from Shanghai get work visas, but beyond that you know exactly what I do."
"Those two are friends from way back, right?"
"Ever since father snuck out of the old country and went to San Francisco."
"So have you met his son? He's been absent for a long time, and everyone wants to know what he thinks about all of this. I think we were in high school together, but I never met him."
"Yes, we...I've met him. I don't know any gossip, if that's what you're digging for."
"...Right. As long as we're talking about people, I'm wondering if you knew a man named Roderick-" The woman stood up, staring straight at Will. "What are you doing here?"
"The girl from the diner...Sara, right? Hey!" Will smiled broadly and pulled out a flier. "These things came out great! Oh, didn't mean to interrupt. This is...?"
Sara did her best to conceal a grimace. "This is Lidia Zhang. I'm interviewing her for-"
Lidia's expression hardened immediately. "You again?"
"Well isn't it a small world!" said Will. "I meet two new people yesterday, and they're both in the same place."
Sara pointed at Will. "He's the guy who was bothering you at the Orientale?"
"I still have to make that up to you," said Will. "How about a cup of tea on me?"
"My nausea is coming back," said Lidia, pressing her face into both hands.
"They got herbal. You know, a good peppermint tea can really settle your stomach. Best thing." Will reached for his wallet. "I will be right back."
"Excuse me for a second." Sara grabbed Will by the arm and dragged him to the door. "Is this a joke, Scarborough? Are you following me now?"
"Oh, it's coincidence," said Will. "It's a small town. There aren't that many places to be, and everyone has to be somewhere, right?"
"I can't believe this. It was bad enough when you eavesdropped on me and Zoe, but now you're about to ruin another interview. If I lose one more subject because of you, I swear I'll burn you alive." Sara took a deep breath, preparing for the kill. "I was going to let this slide, Will, but enough's enough. Last night, I called up a few old friends, asked about you, and boy did they tell me some stories about Will Scarborough."
"I don't know what they told you-"
"Oh, I'll tell you, Will, I'll tell you everything," Sara spoke in an angry whisper, barking at the perfect volume to draw attention from even the most polite of onlookers. "They told me that you were a screw-up. That you barely squeaked through high school with a 1.4 GPA. That you got fired from your first job after ten days. From your second job after two weeks. That you had a nice chunk of change from your survivors benefits and you blew it all in less than six months on scam investments and doomed personal projects. You're a loser, Will, and you're not going to make me a loser too."
Will dropped his eyes to the ground for a moment before answering. "If that's how you feel-"
"It is." Sara jabbed her finger at the door. "Get out."
"I wasn't going to do anything."
"Well, don't do it outside." Sara pushed open the door. "Don't you have fliers to hang?"
"Yes, I most certainly do." Will shoved a flier into Sara's hand. "Take one. Maybe one of your subjects would be interested in some free beer and barbecue."
"Fine." Sara waved at the door with the flier. "Now move."
Will crammed the entire cookie into his mouth and traipsed through the door, his chai latte leading the way. There wasn't time to nurse a wounded ego - plus, hadn't Sara done him a favor? There was no time to chat, not with a bag full of fliers and a strategy in mind. Downtown was only the start - there were the residential neighborhoods to cover, the apartment buildings, the ritzy salons in the new part of town. The town was on pause as it waited for the rain to come, and there was no better time to take care of needed business.
A pair of police officers were waiting outside as Will emerged, one of whom approached with a granite expression. "Excuse me, sir, can we have a moment?"
"Uh...okay." Will stepped out to the sidewalk, silently cursing the delay that was to come. "What do you need?"
"Are you William Scarborough?"
"Yes. Did I do something wrong?"
"Can we see some ID?"
"ID?I'm on foot. You need a license to walk now, or something?" Will laughed, but swiftly clamped his jaw shut when the officer didn't reply in turn. "…Seriously, what's the issue?"
The officer extended his hand. "Don't make this difficult, sir."
"Okay." Will handed over his wallet. "You'll excuse me if I don't get it. You know, because of the beverage."
The officer opened the wallet, eyeballed Will's driver's license and handed it back. "We've received some complaints. It seems you've been harassing employees and patrons at some of these businesses."
"Harassing? I'm handing out fliers." Will dug into his bag and withdrew the remaining fliers. "See? Just advertising a little get-together." Turning his head, he caught a glimpse of the Jameson Labs employee leaning against the side of the building. "Look, he knows. He took one, isn't that right?"
"Calm down, sir," said the officer. "We've received complaints. If I wanted to, I could arrest you for disturbing the peace-"
"Are you kidding?" said Will. "That's like if I send in a bomb threat, isn't it? Or start a fight or something like that?"
"...and confiscate those fliers as a public nuisance," continued the officer, ignoring Will's protests. "However, if you dispose of those fliers and promise to stop your harassment, we'll be willing to let it slide with a warning this time."
"What are you talking about?" Will threw up his arms. "Did they get rid of the First Amendment when I wasn't looking?"
Both officers stepped back and reached for their belts. "Put your hands on your head. Now."
"What are you doing?" said Will. "I don't have a weapon. All I have is this tea drink."
The first officer lifted the flap on his holster. "I won't ask you again. Hands on your head."
"All right, Officer Finn, that's enough." The lab employee stepped away from the building and approached the officers. "Don't shoot him, that's a mess we don't need. Besides, this one's clearly a little soft in the head."
"Yes, Mr. Bellamy." The officer slid his hand away from the holster, keeping it on his belt should he need to make a move.
"Thanks for that." Will looked at his savior. He was short man - easily two heads below Will, if not more - with pale skin and a head of thick black hair. His eyes were hauntingly intense, with the kind of piercing gaze one might feel carving through the skin on the back of the neck. "Holy shit, that's where I saw you! Aaron Bellamy, I should have known. Didn't recognize you with the jacket and all. Remember me? I was in the audience watching you at-"
"Shut it," snapped Aaron. " Don't get chummy. The sole reason you're still breathing is because it would be too much of a headache for me if you were dead."
"Hey, that's fine by me," said Will. "Any day I end alive is a good one."
"Your cute and stupid act isn't going to fly with me." Aaron pulled out the crumpled remains of the flier and waved it in the air in the general area of Will's face. "Now what is this shit?"
"A...flier?" Will scratched his head. "I don't get what you mean."
"This end of the world bullshit," said Aaron. "Where did that come from? Huh? You're clearly not bright enough to dream this up on your own, so someone gave you this idea. So who was it? Some media fearmonger? A disgruntled lab worker?"
"I don't know," said Will. "I mean, it was an anonymous email."
"An anonymous email."
"Yeah. It had a bunch of technical stuff with it, too, but I didn't get any of it."
"An anonymous email."Aaron grit his teeth, clearly trying his hardest not to scream. "All right. I'll deal with this. But first things first." He swung out his open hand. "Give me the fliers."
"No way!" Will leaned forward, looking down at Aaron. "I spent a lot of money on these, and I don't have time to get another order printed up!"
Aaron removed a stun gun from inside his blazer. "Back off, fat boy, this isn't a fight you can win. Now, if I wanted to, I could have these officers arrest you for resisting. They'd have all the proof they'd need." Aaron pointed the stun gun at one of the cameras, which was aimed directly at Will and flashing a small blue light. "Four high-ranking Jameson Lab employees - the three manning those cameras plus the one standing in front of you - will swear that you were acting erratic and the police had to restrain you by force. The recording we send to the station will back that up. You might beat the charge, but some unfortunate computer glitches will assure that you stay in lock-up until after Sunday night. So, you can hand me the fliers, or we can take them from you." He extended his hand. "Well?"
Will glared back at the coffee shop as best as he could without visibly turning his head. Several of the patrons were gathered, their gadgets leveled at the fracas. "I've got witnesses, too. And video."
"You sure?" said Aaron with a hint of malicious whimsy. "Check your phone. Go on."
Images of bullets flying through the air flickered through Will's mind as he reached into his pocket. The phone awoke exactly as normal, but he was greeted with an odd sight when he turned on the camera. There was no picture to be seen - no police, no Aaron Bellamy, no coffee shop - just a black screen with the Jameson Enterprises logo and the words THIS AREA OFF LIMITS TO AUDIO/VIDEO RECORDING in garish green system font.
"The world sees what I want them to see," said Aaron. "Got it?"
"You can do that too, huh?" Will glared down at Aaron for several seconds before sullenly reaching into his bag, removing the rest of the fliers and handing them over. "Fine. You win."
"Right." Aaron waved the stack of fliers at Will. "You people. You depend on the work of the scientist every day of your life, and you still act like a bunch of frightened witch-burners." He nodded to the officers. "All right, we're done here."
Will stood motionless as Aaron and the officers departed, counting each breath like they were in limited supply. Moments later, the door to the house opened and Sara and Lidia stepped out onto the sidewalk. "What was that about?" said Sara.
"Oh, the head of Jameson Lab security shook me down for my fliers" Will flashed an okay sign. "Joke's on him, though. I only brought half of them with me."
"That narcissistic thug." Lidia took out her phone. "I'll make some calls. The last thing we need is that freak ruining things with these power games of his."
"Are you okay?" Sara shook her head in dismay. "I knew Bellamy was disturbed ever since Ed Page and that Trivia Master shit, but this is entirely too much."
"Hey, I'm cool," said Will. "I didn't get shot, I still have a big stack of fliers, and very soon I'm going to pick up my historical preservation chamber."
"Your what?" said Sara.
"Just a little personal project of my own," said Will. "You'll see."
"How are you not more shaken up by this?" said Sara.
Will tipped his head to one side and the other. "…I guess I don't want to miss the party."
"I'm…" Sara rubbed her face. "…I'm sorry I called you a loser."
"It's okay," said Will. "There's plenty that can happen to someone that's worse than a little name-calling. Lots worse."