Haiku Horrors: Fiends

Stay in the light, child!
Only from deeper shadows
Can the Fiends arise!

Night is falling child,
All we can do is flee now!
Do not leave my sight!

Keep back from them child!
For if they take your shadow,
Your soul soon follows.

Be silent now, child!
Still your voice and close your eyes,
Fiends are approaching!

Heed not their calls, child!
Their voices mimic loved ones
Their words like honey.

Do not trust them, child!
The Fiends are great deceivers
Who toy with their prey!

Why do you run child?
Please do not abandon me,
You will draw them in!

Where did you go, child?
All I can see is darkness,
I am so frightened!

Are those your eyes, child?
I feel a chill in my blood.
Why am I so cold?

Ahh, there you are child.
Thank goodness you have returned!
I feared for the worst.

Don’t be frightened, child.
For dawn is now upon us
The Fiends soon depart.

Now join me, my child,
Come closer. Here in the shade.
The sun hurts my eyes…

Image created by Skaramanger from deviantart.

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Writing Exercise: The Character Profile

Objective: Describe a character in the form of a story from the perspective of another character.

Ralph and The Riverfish

It takes a special something to be known by everyone while having them know nothing about you. Whatever that something is, bartender Ralph has it in spades.

Nobody really knows where he came from but from the day he walked into town he seemed to know the place like the back of his hand. Everyone knows everyone in Solhaven so new arrivals who don’t announce themselves are usually met with distrust and suspicion.

The day he walked into my shop, I sized him up with that same suspicion and all the while he spoke to me like we were old friends. A couple years older than me and half a foot taller, he had the build of a guy who’d done some heavy lifting in his life. His hair’s got grey specks these days but back then, it was a thick brown mane tied back in a ponytail with some thick stubble coating the edges of his face. No matter what we spoke about he always kept this big smile on him like he’d found his place in life. That sureness of self quickly chipped away at those walls I’d put up and despite myself, I began to like him before I’d even realized it.

He asked me about my business and I asked him about his. Mine was simple enough but when he told me he was going to be the new owner of the Riverfish tavern, my caution shot back quick sharp.

You see, Patch Grayson was the owner of the Riverfish and a real bad bastard. He’d owned the Riverfish since before I’d even bought my little shop. Everyone had learned from the get-go that Patch would never sell and he didn’t appreciate the offers he got one bit.

A few folk had tried to buy it from him over the years, seeing what a shithole it had become under his leadership. One of those people tried to get pushy with Patch about it and ended up with a knife between their ribs. Not many folk drank there anymore unless they had shady dealings to make over a few dirty beers. Folk could only speculate on how much involvement Patch had in them but those shady dealings were the one thing keeping the Riverfish running these days.

I told Ralph the exact same thing, with eyes open wide and sweat on my brow but it didn’t mean a thing to Ralph. He just gave me a wink as he paid for his cigarettes, thanked me for my service and went off about his business. The most curious thing…

So curious, in fact that I spoke to a few of the neighbours about it later that day as they stopped by for their own goods. It turned out Ralph had told a bunch of them the exact same thing. We didn’t know what to make of it but most of us thought Ralph would be lucky if he got to leave the Riverfish alive. It’d be a damn miracle if he was planning to force Patch to sell up like the last bunch. He was a big guy, sure, but big doesn’t stop a knife and it certainly doesn’t stop the knives of every lowlife skulking around the Riverfish.

Not that that mattered though, I don’t know why but I didn’t see Ralph as that kind of guy. Then again, who can judge someone they just met? Either way, I decided not to pay any more mind to it. People come and go pretty often in Solhaven and those who stay get used to expecting the worst.

Closing time came and I started heading home. I don’t know why but I took a longer route home, passing the Riverfish. It still looked banged up to shit. A couple of drunks sat outside bickering away, both slurring threats and insults but neither with the sobriety to stand or strike. By the sounds of it, a fight was breaking out inside too: The usual crowd, no doubt. No change after all.
I stepped up my pace a little just in case gunfire started up, you could never tell with Patch’s place. Once I was round the corner, I let out a deep breath that I didn’t remember holding in the first place.

I spent the rest of the walk wondering to myself what I’d been thinking passing that place; nothing changes in this town. I got in my front door, changed for bed and poured myself a drink before lying down with a book, putting the Riverfish clean out of my mind. Sleep took me sometime shortly after my third whiskey.

Morning arrived to the sound of a banging on my door. My shop was shut for the weekend so I wasn’t best pleased at a wakeup call. I threw on some clothes and opened the door to find Annie Mires from next door waiting for me.

“Annie,” I hollered, squinting as I see the sun on the horizon, barely dawning. “What damn time do you-”
“Hal, you gotta come see this!” She had the strangest expression on her as she grabbed my hand and started to drag me down the street, not caring for my foul mood or the fact I had no shoes on.

Outside the Riverfish people were frozen all over the street, mesmerized with what they were seeing. The old sign for the Riverfish was smashed on the ground and Ralph was stood up on a ladder banging a new sign up with a hammer. A few of the smashed windows were already fixed up and a big pile of broken tables and chairs were dumped round the side of the building.

“The banging started a few hours ago.” Annie said, letting go of my hand as I stepped ahead for a closer look. “Gerry on night watch said Old Patch left Solhaven late last night through the gate, not a scratch on him.”

Annie had a good heart but she had a damn scary way of hijacking the gossip around town.

A few days later the Riverfish reopened with Ralph’s big smile waiting for us all behind the fanciest looking bar I’d ever seen. A few of the older folk who’d been around when the Riverfish was first built swore they’d never seen the place look better. We drank the place dry – or tried to at least – as we danced the night away, our own little welcoming party for Ralph who was now an official member of our dainty little town.

It’s been a few years since then and Ralph still hasn’t told us how he got Old Patch to sell. I don’t think he ever will but I like to try my luck now and then. No matter how much I ask, it’s the same every time. He just gives me a wink as I pay for my beer, thanks me for my service and goes about his business.

We rarely learn more about who Ralph is or where he’s from. Some folk wouldn’t trust someone that mysterious but there’s not a soul in our town who gives a damn. Ralph’s one of us now and these days, the Riverfish is the busiest tavern in Solhaven.

Dream Lab (Chapter 4) by Anthony Cosimini

“Nothing is impossible in the field of the dreamer.” – Elliott Fyres, V-Ware seminar of 2039. 

Lance opened his eyes but there was no change to his vision. His eyes strained for a moment, trying to see through the shroud of darkness around him. He felt like he was standing upright but there was no sensation to prove otherwise when he tried to wiggle his toes towards the floor. As uncomfortable as it was, it signaled to Lance that he was exactly where he needed to be.

The first time Lance had come here, he had been left frightened and disoriented by the nothingness, by the brief loss of his senses. Uncharacteristically, he’d assumed that the experiment was a failure and that he had just trapped himself inside a motionless body, forever alone with nothing but his thoughts. How wrong he had been.

These days, he found this brief moment of solitude a comfort. There was no sense of time here and as a result, no sense of urgency unless he indulged it himself. As he basked in the silence that was so rarely found in a city like Ulysses, his eyes relaxed and an opening in the darkness began to glow dimly up ahead.  

Lance didn’t need to step forward, the light washed over him, briefly blinding him and sensation rushed back into his body. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he wiggled his toes once more and felt grass under his feet; this was no longer Floor Forty.

He looked out onto a lush green valley from the top of a large hill, its’ tall grass decorated with an assortment of flora that had been left seemingly untouched by civilization. In the distance, he could see a large waterfall cascading down from the top of a small range of mountains. The base of the waterfall oozed out the cleanest water Lance had ever seen into a riverbed which glowed a beautiful transparent blue, reflecting the cloudless skies above. Lance forced his jaw closed; he had been here many times before but the sight always left him briefly dumbfounded. In the industrial world of today, to call it a rare sight was an understatement.

He turned to observe his closer surroundings. Encircled around him lay the tour group, some of which were now stirring from sleep. One by one, they began to sit up in a daze while others lay looking up at the sunlit morning skies, uncomprehending.

Miss Yale was the first to stand. She walked to the edge of the hill to watch two hummingbirds in flight. She said nothing but small noises of mixed awe and delight escaped her as they made extraordinary dives through the flowerbeds and rose just as magnificently, playfully pursuing each other.

“Where…where are we?” came an anxious voice from the group. The break in the silence caught the attention of the others and their heads turned in unison towards Lance.

“I welcome you all to your first experience inside the world of dreams…” Lance replied. “…in this case, my dream.”

It took great effort not to laugh at their disbelieving stares. Lance tucked his hands in his pockets, admiring his own work with pride as he spoke.

“How many times have you had a dream you wished you could have again?” Lance asked. “How many times have you wanted to remember a dream, but couldn’t? With the Dream Lab, it has become possible to immerse ourselves like never before in the World of Dreams and explore it however we desire…Create with it.”

The power of the statement seemed lost on them. Questions began to echo throughout the group.

“Is this real?” “Where the hell are we?” “How did we get here?” Lance finally allowed himself a small chuckle before answering, much to the bewilderment of the group.

“You are all currently asleep in the IDT tower as we speak. The Dream Lab has simply connected your subconscious minds and allowed you to partake in a single shared dream together…but what’s reality without the pursuit of dreams? Can you really say this feels any less real to you?”

Some of group were beginning to understand while others shifted uncomfortably. Ms Gunter, on the other hand, stepped forward with an expression of outrage.

“Mister Lawson, I have no interest in spending another second being lied to!” She said, pointing her finger at him in challenge. “This is clearly just a large V-Ware simulation room that you are attempting to trick us with! If you think you can fool me talking about dreams and other nonsense you will have to try harder than that!” Others in the groups seemed to fall in behind Ms Gunter, muttering their agreement.

Lance arched an eyebrow at her, withdrawing his hands from his pockets.

“Very well, Ms Gunter…but you should be aware that the rules of this world are entirely dependent on my will. If I wish it then it is so…”  

Lance clicked his fingers and felt his feet rise from the ground. Gasps rang out among the group as he began to levitate before their eyes.

“…and who among you hasn’t ever wished to fly?” 

The investors began to shout and scream as they too began to rise into the air. Some tried to cling to the ground or flailed in panic…yet Miss Yale was not the only one among them smiling now.

“The Dream Lab wasn’t just created so we could live our dreams, but share them!” Lance shouted over the noises of panic. “You’ve been invited here because you are the regarded as the most successful dreamers today’s world has ever seen! Well, now it’s time to prove it! Come fly with me!”

With his laugh echoing through the valley, Lance soared upwards into the sky. The laws of science didn’t apply the same way in this world. There was no resistance as he flew faster, the air didn’t feel thinner as he rose higher.

He looked down and could barely see the ant-sized group below him who were still floating aimlessly. Lance arced around and descended with his arms outstretched, willing gravity to once again play its’ part.

His descent was rapid and he could hear shrieks of horror from the group as he approached the ground. He surged forward horizontally at the last second and shot off down the valley, whooping with joy.

He flew low, his hand brushing the lush green foliage while he circled back to observe the others. Gradually they were beginning to get the hang of it. What they were willing to try gave Lance an insight into each of their individual personalities.

They had tested the rules of this world cautiously but many of them were now flying higher, cheering and screaming with exhilaration. Others weaved through the trees or circled the mountains, exploring their surroundings at a leisurely pace. The older gentleman from before seemed to be an instant natural, doing loop de loops and dangerous dives on par with Lance’s own experience of the Dream Lab. The sternness and frustration he had taken out on Walter Velmont back in the conference room was forgotten and he was now grinning wildly, wide-eyed like a child at Christmas. Lance had a sneaking suspicion that he had imagined flying many times in the dreams of his youth.

Never as vividly as this I expect.

Lance raised his hands and clapped them twice. A deep sound rang out through the entire valley like a large gong. Even those who had flown far into the distance turned their heads towards him.

“Everyone gather up!” Lance called out. His guests were happy to oblige, eager for the next part of the show. As they formed up, Lance seated himself on a rock protruding from the top of the waterfall while the others floated around him.

“So, what do you think?” He asked.

A string of voices called out excitedly at once. Any skepticism they felt before had been completely lost to them now. Words like “amazing,” “immersive,” and “impossible” were all they had to say for it now.

To Lance, they were all wrong answers. To their surprise, he shook his head in disappointment.

“This may seem impossible to you but to me, this is just a sample of nature to be found in the real world.” He said, stretching an arm out across the beautiful expanse of land they had just explored. “This does not display the true power of the Dream Lab. I think it’s time we went a little deeper.”

“There’s more?” breathed Ms Günter.

“Infinitely more…” Lance replied, pointing a finger down the valley that was followed by every head around him.

A rumbling sound grew louder in the distance and the ground began to shake. The terrain started to twist, crack and merge in ways the eye could not explain. The cracks carved out an island which began to rise up from the valley until it was floating alone in the sky. Even as it rose, it continued to shape itself, taking new form with each passing second.

Lance stepped off the edge of the waterfall and began to fly towards the island. He could sense the others following close behind and turned to find them slowly forming a V formation. The island was still a good distance away, it was time for Lance to show exactly what the Dream Lab was capable of. He dug through the depths of his imagination and weaved his will where he pleased.

Below them a herd of large white-furred creatures formed seemingly from nothing. They were shaped like large geckos but their legs galloped like horses. They ran together in a pack without a care even as the ground below them shook and reformed.

Grass turned into snow, trees shed their leaves and instantly grew new ones in unnatural colors like they had been painted. The orchids that filled the valley curled up before rising all at once as starlings. The small birds scattered in every direction before finally gathering as a large flock that danced around the group. They shone brightly in the glow of the sun, alternating their colors like Christmas lights whenever they changed formations.

Far on the right side of the group, a hilltop rose higher to form a great mountain formation rising high into the clouds that were gathering above. The mountains shook and three colossal stone figures climbed out from the cliff side. They waved to the group sluggishly before marching in single file in the opposite direction like members of an ancient tribe.

“My God! How…How is all this possible Mister Lawson?” called a voice from behind Lance. Before he could answer, he heard Miss Yale at his side.

“The Dream Lab taps into the will of the host’s dreams and creates them as a reality!” She replied joyfully. Lance turned to look at her and she gave a small look of shame. Clearly she thought she was intruding upon his tour. “At least…that is the thesis!”

“You’re exactly correct Miss Yale! To sum it up, if I can imagine it then it can exist in this world!”

There was a short silence as the group watched the titans take each other’s hands as they stepped into an endless body of water and begin to cross it together as one.

“Goodness…you truly have a beautiful mind, Mister Lawson…” Said the small voice behind him in appreciation.

Finally, the group reached the edge of the floating island. A beach coast formed up further in and water seeped from the ground, creating the edges of an ocean around the edges. Children played in the water, seemingly fearless of the edges of their new world where the water cascaded back down into the valley below.

The starlings raced ahead of the group and seemed to merge together, fusing into the shape of a dragon which soared directly over the investors. A giant wing glided close by, causing a ripple of screams and startled shouts.

Lance quelled those nerves by making the dragon explode into a series of fireworks. The children below looked up with wide eyes, pointing and laughing in wonder.

“It’s easy to forget that you are simply sharing the experience of a dream.” Lance called out. “Don’t be concerned, there’s nothing that can harm you here.”

That was a half truth at least. Physical pain couldn’t be exerted on someone in the world of dreams but there were, of course, other ways to damage a human being. It mattered little, none of those ways were anything Lance would ever dream of using here.

The group descended on a deserted part of the beach as the sun began to set. It had seemed like midday just moments before but time acted differently here. They sat together silently for a time on the crystal sands while they watched the horizon slowly turn a comforting shade of orange. Despite the encroaching darkness, the mood of the group had lightened considerably since their first arrival on Floor Forty.

“This is all quite incredible Mister Lawson, but what can you do with it?” asked a gruff voice from the group. It was the old flyboy from before. Lance considered the question for a moment.

“What’s your name sir?” Lance asked. “I’m afraid I was unable to get acquainted with you all the beginning of today’s event, my apologies.”

The old chap leaned over, extending a hand in greeting.

“Seamus Conlin, CEO of Cyclone Entertainment.” He announced proudly as Lance returned the handshake. Lance recognized the title.

“Cyclone… That’s a Film Studio isn’t it?”

“It’s the Film Studio in today’s age Mister Lawson.” Seamus replied with a coy smile. Lance laughed, knowing full well that another Film Studio rep was among the group and was now likely scowling to himself over their exchange.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mister Conlin,” Lance said with a grin. “That was some damn good flying you pulled off back there…” The grin was warmly returned and Lance decided to himself that he liked this old geezer.

“Well to answer your question…the uses available are why we have you here today, Mister Conlin. The technology is still new and the full capabilities are yet to be tested but you can all see for yourself that there is unfounded potential here.”

As if to show off further, Lance used his will once more and the sand turned a shimmering blue, lighting up the entire coastline. It glimmered off the surface of the water, reflecting shapes with each falling wave.

“What we do know is that ‘The Dream Lab’ is the next-generation in virtual entertainment…Each experience can be recorded and implemented as a new V-Ware product or edited for holofilm use, completely streamlining the filming process…”

Seamus wasn’t the only one licking his lips at that prospect.

“…and it doesn’t end there! We believe with the right commissions we can create fully immersive training simulations for professionals in any environment. Surgeons, pilots, even engineers can gain hands-on experience completely risk-free…”

“Are you saying there aren’t any risks Mister Lawson?” asked Seamus.

“I wouldn’t say that.” Lance replied. “Dreams more often than not are chaotic and out of a dreamer’s control. For a host such as myself to enter the Dream Lab’s Core can be extremely dangerous if unprepared…”

The group exchanged nervous glances but Lance continued on. Best they know the dangers now.

“To have both dreams and nightmares amplified to the point you can feel it? It can be even worse for those who try to enter such a dream. There is no way for them to understand the rules of worlds like that. IDT takes these risks very seriously. As a result, the Core of the Dream Lab will always be limited to a very select few members of trained individuals.
Unfortunately, this also hinders our progress. We take all commissions into serious consideration but do not have the manpower or resources to take on more than five or six commissions per month due to a lack of fully-trained lucid dreamers.”

“‘Lucid dreamers?’” Small frowns queried the term.

“Lucid dreamers have a natural control over their dreams but it takes training to have perfect control over dreams like what you have witnessed today.” Lance explained. “Even then, it takes time to construct a dream via commission as it is dictated by the ideas of others. Controlling your own dream is one thing, creating the dream of someone else is quite another.”

The group murmured in assent. They could never fully fathom the complexity of such a task but they seemed satisfied with what he offered. It was widely known that Imminent Dreamer Technologies had heralded in an age of great scientific discovery but even they had barely scratched the surface of what this new technology could mean for the world.

“The Dream Lab changes the way we write stories, the way we learn. It allows for people to see the worlds they’ve envisioned in their minds up close. The ideas in our minds can finally be unleashed to their full potential for the whole world to see.” Lance concluded.

The silence returned as the group mulled this over in their heads. Lance stood and stepped forward, turning to the group.

“We have the technology to make that happen. It’s here, right before your eyes. We’ve taken the largest step but with your investments, we can make this a reality for the whole world.”

As he spoke, a giant blue whale leaped out of the ocean into the air and shattered into what seemed like millions more of the colored starlings from before. With the darkness of night slowly approaching, they glowed brighter now, flying in every direction trailing streaks of light behind them and for a moment they lit up the sky above Lance.

“With your help, we can finally make dreams come to life.”

A small ripple of applause grew in a crescendo among the investors. Lance gave a small smile despite the urge to fist the air in glory.
We’ve got them right where we want them. We did it Elliott! 

Lance raised his hands to silence the applause.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the presentation! If you would like to negotiate an investment today or have any more questions regarding the Dream Lab, my partner Elliott Fyres will be awaiting us outside the Lab…but first, I think it’s time we woke up.”

With one more click of his fingers, the lights above them went out.

“Dream Lab” by Anthony Cosimini (Chapter 1)

Chapter One

“The most powerful and beautiful worlds – and the most terrifying – are born within our dreams… Why should they all stay there?” – Edgar Gehring, Professor at Ulysses Central Academy.

“Evan…”

Elene’s nose sleepily nudged the shoulder she’d been using as a pillow. The summer heat filled the room and the humidity gently urged for her to return to sleep but somehow she persevered.

“Evannnn,” she repeated, annoyance twinging at her now. “you snoozed the alarm! Get up…”

“Hrrmmwad…”

“You can’t be late…Up!

There was nothing this time save his slow, steady breaths. Elene was unconvinced that his first protest could even be regarded a real response.

She lowered the arm around his neck and gently caressed his chest with her fingers. This time he began to stir despite his mouth still hanging open. Her light strokes began to trail downwards and were met with small appreciative noises that encouraged her expectantly.

Those expectations were shot down by a sharp poke to his rib cage.

Evan jerked up with a spasm and a sharp yelp. He rolled away from her and she shifted her way to the center of the bed, smugly smiling to herself.

Evan sat himself up with a groan, holding a hand to the pain in his side.

“Urgh…” He groaned. “I’ll get you for that kiddo…” Resting his elbows on his thighs he leaned forward, feeling sorry for himself as he gathered the will to begin another day. Turning to the bed he gave a sharp glare at Elene who was already fast asleep again.

Lucky woman… Despite himself he smiled. His cruel awakening didn’t make him feel any less the lucky one.

He reached for the bedside table with a clumsy hand and closed it around a thin pair of designer glasses. Placing them on the bridge of his nose, he looked up and squinted as his eyes resisted the bright glow that shone through the skylight above. His vision began to clear and his eyes flickered to the clock on the wall.

“Shit!” Elene gave a small start at his outburst but Evan ignored her. He had already sprung off the bed and into action.

He scooped up a used white shirt from the floor and gave it a quick smell. It would have to do. Throwing it over his shoulders, he grabbed a can of deodorant and sprayed the vital points before buttoning himself up. Next was a pair of pressed work trousers that hung over the bathroom door, followed by a fight with a pair of damp socks which received the same deodorant treatment.

Professionalism at its’ finest…

Slipping on his shoes, Evan checked himself in the mirror. A quick tousle of his long blond hair and he began to look less like he’d been dragged from his bed. He grabbed his keys from the dashboard and fished his phone out of his coat pocket. Judging by the light shining in from above, the coat wouldn’t be necessary today.

The final glance in the mirror was no more helpful than the first.

“Eh. You’ll do.” He said to himself before dashing out the door.

Thousands had gathered in the streets of the Northlight District, home to everything ‘tech’ here in the city of Ulysses. Roads were separated from the pedestrian walkways by a long line of barricades and a sparse group of security guards who stood at the ready behind them. Only those working within the district were authorized to traverse the roads today.

It seemed like someone had neglected to read that memo since the guards were physically forcing some poor idiot’s leg back over the fence from whence it came. It all seemed strangely hostile to Evan. He grabbed his work identification out of his shirt pocket and held it out the window for the sour-faced guard blocking his way.

Doctor Evan Rothman, ID 02819
Imminent Dreamer Technologies
Chief of Virtual Science Analysis

The guard raised a handheld scanner to the bar code and began observing the picture, clearly comparing it to Evan’s face. His eyes darted between the two as if there was any doubt to be had so Evan attempted the same photogenic smile as his photograph to assist.

The scanner gave a high pitched tone and the guard stepped back.

“Busy day for you doctor.” He called out joylessly, motioning for Evan to get moving.

“Not as busy as yours I hope.” Evan muttered to himself, setting off deeper into Northlight.

It was the easiest commute Evan had ever taken. The streets were empty save for a few company cars on the road ahead. All of them traveled in the same direction, turning the same corners with no oncoming traffic to delay them. Looking to each side Evan noticed that the hordes on the sidewalks were moving with the same organized unity now. Usually that would be considered abnormal, especially during rush hour. Today though, there was only one place worth going to in Northlight.

The IDT tower was no mere office building; it was a technological wonder. While not the tallest building in the world it was certainly the most provocative Evan had ever seen, taking up several district blocks for itself.
By day, stainless glass reflected piercing sunlight in every direction. As evening drew in, the lights came alive around the edges of IDT, forming a myriad of neon around it that could be seen for miles. The very building seemed to be screaming for attention.

The main entrance to IDT was being kept clear by scores of security guards that had been hired especially for the Northlight Science Expo taking place today. Crowds filled the Plaza Square outside the tower, eager to see what exciting technologies would be on show today. A variety of stalls and stages were set up around the plaza by some of Ulysses’ most intelligent entrepreneurs seeking to get word of their inventions out into the world.

For now though, they would have to wait. The attention of the crowds seemed to be focused on the gigantic LCD screens on each side of the building above them. Even as Evan parked his car in the staff park around the corner, he could hear the voice of a reporter echoing through the speakers around the base of the building.

“Imminent Dreamer Technologies is the leading computer software company of the era who first made their mark on the world with their groundbreaking range of ‘V-Ware’ products; the most advanced and affordable Virtual Reality software available on the market. From virtual classrooms and online stores to immersive gaming simulations, co-founders Elliott Fyres and Lance Lawson are mostly known today for bringing the world into the ‘Golden Age’ of virtual technology…”

“Elliott is bound to love that…” Evan smirked to himself.

“Earlier this year, Fyres and Lawson invited some of the world’s richest faces to visit IDT for a sneak preview of their latest technological breakthrough which they have so far kept very close to their chest.” The report continued on. “The presentation will be hosted personally by Mister Lawson in hopes of acquiring shareholder interest before the product is revealed to the public later during the week-long Northlight Science Expo. Whether they’ll be presenting the newest range of V-Ware or something new altogether, you can rest assured that it’s going to be a big one!”

“You don’t know the half of it, buddy.” muttered Evan as he flashed his identity card at the doorman.

Lance Lawson’s penthouse was located eighty floors up on the top floor of IDT yet the noise from below still faintly reached his ears. He was tempted to take a peek out the window to see exactly how many people were gathered…but that would require moving from the nest he’d built around himself here on the couch.

-Ding-

The sound of the hallway elevator signaled trouble for Lance. The door behind him opened and violently slammed shut again. Lance didn’t need to turn around to recognize the walking tantrum that stormed towards him.

“Are you fucking kidding me Lance?”

Lance arched his neck over the arm to see his oh-so-lovable partner standing over him scowling, a slick layer of sweat glazing his balding hairline. Behind him stood Victoria Yale who had been worked as Lance’s personal assistant for almost a year.

“How’s it goin’ Elliott…” Lance said, completely unperturbed by Elliott’s huffing.”Miss Yale, good to see you! Would you kindly switch to Channel 5 News for me? I can’t seem to find the remote…”

“Certainly Mister Lawson…” Miss Yale replied with a curt smile as she approached the television and changed the channel. A pair of news anchors appeared on the screen and were in mid-announcement.

“…now going live to George Marlow who’s hoping to catch some of the action in the big reveal. How’s things down there George?”

“Lance…” Elliott warned, leaning over him but Lance put a hand over Elliott’s mouth to stifle him.

“Hold up Elliott, they’re talking about us!”

Elliott growled but his curiosity got the better of him and for a moment his head turned to the screen where a reporter with a peculiar ginger afro was bouncing from foot to foot excitedly.

“Thanks Stacey! I’m standing outside the IDT Tower and I am not alone! People from all over have gathered for a look at the big reveal which CEO Elliott Fyres has claimed will ‘Change our world forever!’ If co-founder Lance Lawson has been overseeing this development personally then that claim may not be exaggerated…”

Lance looked up at his partner.

“What do you think Elliott?” He asked with a mischievous grin. “I think they like me!”

Elliott’s attention shot back to Lance, his anger instantly reignited.

“Tell me you’re joking…You realize you should be downstairs, yes?”

Lance shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the television.

“Elliott, when am I ever serious?” He asked, holding back the urge to roll his eyes. “Can’t we save this until after I’ve finished my coffee?”

“You’re not drinking any coffee!” Elliott spluttered.

“Exactly!” Lance retorted, swinging his legs round and sitting upright. “Miss Yale, would you kindly fetch me a coffee?”

Miss Yale silently made her way towards the espresso machine. Elliott looked ready to stop her but decided against it. Instead, he stepped in front of the television blocking Lance’s line of sight with his stout, beefy frame. The frown he wore seemed at risk of eating his eyeballs.

“Lance, some of these investors have been here since business hours began! They’re all waiting for your presentation!”

“Well that was stupid of them,” Lance said, cocking an eyebrow. “My presentation wasn’t to begin until twelve.”

Lance!” Elliott shouted, finally snapping. “Marissa Günter is threatening to leave and she won’t be the only one if you don’t move now!” He didn’t need to indicate to the clock, they both knew it was long past twelve.

“Here you are sir…” Miss Yale offered a small steaming cup, heedless of the bickering happening in front of her. Lance reached over and took it with a grateful nod before proceeding to rip open the sweetener packs on the side of the saucer. After adding his sixth sweetener, he looked up at Elliott who was still visibly seething.

“One coffee, Elliott;” Lance sighed, raising his index finger. “Just one coffee and I’ll be ready for action, okay?”

There was a visible struggle going on in Elliott’s mind but he wasn’t going to start a real argument today. He wouldn’t risk having Lance walk out on the presentation. It certainly he wasn’t above that kind of behavior.

Elliott seemed to realize it too. Stepping to the side he beckoned to Victoria with his hand.

“Miss Yale, the list if you will.”

Lance sipped his coffee, casting a knowing grin at Elliott as Victoria pulled a sheet of paper from a clipboard that Lance could swear had appeared out of thin air.

“Everyone who is waiting downstairs is on that list,” Elliott began. “you won’t have time to get too friendly with them… but try your best to be…”

“…an ass kisser?” Lance suggested, crinkling up a corner of the list absentmindedly.

“How about approachable?” Elliott corrected him, his eye twitching slightly.

Perfect. I hate these high class meet and greets.

The look on Elliott’s face told Lance that he suspected exactly what Lance was thinking. It was no surprise really; the two of them had been in business together for almost twenty years despite there being a gap of fourteen years between them.

Lance felt a small shred of guilt ribbing his elder partner.  Elliott would be fifty this year but looking at him now, he seemed much older.  They’d always had minor conflicts like these but it was far too easy to beat Elliott around on a day so important for the company. It was no fun when it was this easy.

Lance finished his coffee and place it down on the stand next to the couch. Miss Yale moved to collect it but Lance raised a hand to stop her.

“Miss Yale, you will be joining today’s presentation.”

Her face exhibited more shock than Elliott’s.

“Sir,” she began. “I’m supposed to be helping out in Imaging today, they…”

“Will make do without you.” Lance interrupted. “Get down to Floor Forty and inform our guests that I’ll be joining you all shortly.”

Miss Yale was uncharacteristically hesitant to move. Instead, she turned a nervous glance to Elliott who nodded and gave a small noise of assent.

“You’ve been here a while now Miss Yale, I suppose you’ve earned it.”

It seemed to take a moment to sink in but hesitation quickly turned into elation.

“Oh! Yes sir…I…I mean, Thank you, sir!” She said it with such eagerness as she made for the door that both Lance and Elliott shared a smirk. Not that she noticed; she had already left the room.

Once the door was closed behind her, Elliott turned once again to Lance. Now that things were finally in motion his demeanor was gradually relaxing.

“You should get down there too Lance… Please don’t keep them waiting any longer.” The calmness and sincerity in the request was the final straw to unravel Lance’s cockiness. Lance took a breath, glancing around the room as if he expected someone to be listening in on them.

“Elliott… I’m sorry…I know how important this is to you…” He struggled to look Elliott in the eye but the grumpy sod deserved that much.

The creases on Elliott’s forehead softened but he still wore his grimace.

“Lance…It’s not just me. This is important to the company, to all of us! If these investors don’t take the bait then the cost of this project, it… It could ruin us…”

Lance was all too aware of that but the severity of things rarely affected him much. Still, he empathized with Elliott who had taken on the brunt of the CEO paperwork on Lance’s behalf over the years while Lance tinkered with his toys.

Thinking of those things weighed on Lance more than he’d expected them to. He placed a comforting hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“They’ll bite Elliott.” He said with confidence. His guilt didn’t change the fact that they’d be mad not to want a piece of the pie.

Elliott nodded weakly, saying nothing but Lance persisted. He was eager to end the talk on a high.

They will and you know it…” he grinned, tapping the sheet of paper in his hand. “This is what IDT has been working towards from the very beginning… and now we can finally do it Elliott!”

“We can finally change the world…” At that, Elliott finally cracked a smile to match Lance’s. They began to laugh and for a moment the bond that had held them together so long was proudly showing itself.

“You go ahead Lance…Think I’ll grab myself a coffee too and see what the news has to say about us while you get things on track.”

“No problem. Don’t listen to a thing they say about me, chief.” Lance said, raising his hand in a mocking salute. “You and I know who’s really running things around here…”

As he approached the door he began skimming the list of names that he was about to get acquainted with for the big reveal.

Until a name caught his eye, freezing him in place. A name that didn’t belong.

Lance turned back to his partner. Elliott must have heard the list crumple in Lance’s fist for he was already sitting up straight watching Lance, his breath held.

“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” Lance asked. A disbelieving laugh escaped his lips but a quiet fury was rising within him.

“Lance…Ju-just listen…” Elliott began to stammer. At least he had the decency to look ashamed of himself.

“No Elliott, you listen!” Lance retorted. “You…you just…don’t even start!”

“…What are you going to do Lance?” Elliott asked, a hint of fear in his voice. Any moment of confidence and camaraderie they’d shared was instantly forgotten. There was only anxiety and raw anger between them now.

Lance tapped the crumpled piece of paper, mouthing wordlessly. Finally he gave up on providing an answer and simply turned away.

“Lance!”

Lance closed the door and made his way to the elevator.
“In charge,” my ass.