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On An Equal Footing
Mars tossed and turned that night, doing a kind of restless bedroom ballet beneath his sheets. Ever since the announcement at CESS, he became a ball of worry, and no amount of sleeping pills, wine, nor any combination thereof, was helping him to sleep. It seemed that the advice of many other tech superstars was to be taken with a grain, or perhaps even an entire 50 pound bag, of salt.
He got out of bed and went to the living room. Turning on a Wangchung 98.5" 56K television that took up an entire wall, he laid back into a reclining seat and stared at its surface, praying that its soft glow would soothe his soul and bring some peace to his troubled mind.
The first thing that it landed on was a commercial for some kind of perscription drug. One could sense the irony as a friendly-sounding voice started to read off an entire laundry list of side effects.
"...may include involuntary sexual arousal, oily discharge, vaginal dryness and itching, shrinkage of the penis, early onset male pattern baldness, hyperventilation, restless leg syndrome, heart attack, coma, and death."
"Well, that got serious. I wonder if they covered everything," Mars mused to himself.
He started to flip channels. An ad for an alcoholic beverage, a deceptive infomercial about some kind of kitchen gadget, an ad for a late-night "talk to sexy women now" phone line, another drug commercial disguised as a news story. The similarity in content made it seem as if all of the channels were bluring into one another as he clicked through.
"Ugh! 200 channels of nothing! Isn't there ever anything else on!," he shouted. He forcefully pushed the off button on the remote and threw it against the wall in frustration. Its cheap plastic casing shattered into a fine dust and the large, flat rechargeable battery within it flopped onto the floor next to his feet.
He placed his head into his hands with a sigh and started to massage his temples. After a moment, he perked up and thought to himself, "I know! I'll call my psychologist!"
He hastily searched for "Gertrude Frauline" within the contacts of his smartphone, and pressed it with his thumb when he found it. About to resign himself to hanging up after eight rings, he was surprised that she finally answered on the ninth.
"Hello? Who is zis?," an elderly German woman answered.
"Gerdy. It's me, Mars."
"Mr. Sugarhill, tis so late! Vat can I do for you? Did you haffe a dream about your mother again?"
"No, I can't sleep."
"Zen, vould you like to talk about your mother?"
"No!...What is your obsession with my mother?...I called because I am worried about my future Gerdy! This media circus about the leaked tape is not looking too good. It could affect my chances of working with Orange Inc...I've always wanted to work with Orange..."
"Are you sure vat is the issue Mr. Sugarhill?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean zee media hass never gotten to you much."
"...You're right....I also keep thinking about my childhood...about my computer running Portholes98...and about growing up with Johnny..."
Mars started to reminisce out loud, "After chess club, AV club, and boyscouts we used it to play games and try out all of the stuff that we read in a textfile of The Anarchist Cookbook. Ha! Those were such fun times!"
"Ah! Zee young children cauzing mischief!", Gertrude snickered.
"Yeah, we phreaked the payphones and used them as modems to do DoS attacks on the websites that we hated."
"Vat? I'm sorry Mr. Sugarhill, I don't sprachen geek."
"Oh, right...well...what's something you can understand...One time we emptied out all of the vending machines at school and sold everything back to our classmates for twice as much."
"Haha! You naughty boys!"
"Naughty? That's how we learned business! We did that all the way up to college, and used some of the extra money to buy a ZBox 270, to party, and to try to impress girls."
"So vat happened to your relation?"
Mars stayed silent for a moment.
"Are you still zere Mr. Sugarhill?"
"To be honest Gerdy, we had a falling out. I thought that we would always end up working together on Facepalm, but he left to start Tweeker. Things were never the same after that."
"Hmmm...", Gertrude thoughtfully reflected, "...I still don't see vat that has to do with your mother."
"DANG IT GERDY! Goodnight!", Mars bellowed as he hung up the call and slammed the phone down on the couch.
As odd as her methods were, Gertrude had a point. It was more than the media attention that was getting to him. As he laid his head back on the cushion, he contemplated what his next move would be. He felt a warmth in his toes. This sensation of warmth started to turn into a burning. Startled, he leaned forward to look down at his feet.
The battery that had landed near him was on fire. He let out a little screech and jumped up onto the couch. Trying to smother the flame with a throw pillow turned out to be a mistake, as its polyester surface also caught fire. Throwing it down onto the floor near the battery, he grabbed a cup of water off of the coffee table and tipped its contents out to douse the flames.
Noxious fumes rose up and triggered the fire alarm overhead, and a few seconds later, the emergency sprinkler system.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! Maaaaaaarrrrrrrrssssssss!!!!!!", Melody yelled from the bedroom.
After cleaning up the mess made from his involuntary shower that morning, Mars decided to go to his home office, a glass box filled with computers and other equipment. If he couldn't rest, then maybe he could at least work off his nervous energy.
Hour after hour he wittled away, programming new features for Facepalm, only to anxiously delete them a minute after. Finally, overwhelmed with delirium from a lack of sleep, he placed his head down on his keyboard and sobbed. Melody came into the room.
"Hey, I'm going to go to the spa."
Mars raised his head and Melody gasped.
"Are you...uh...ok?," she asked.
Mars began to cry uncontrollably, attempting to explain through his heaving, "I don't...*breath*...know what...*breath*....to do Mel!...*gulp*...I just...*breath*...want to...*breath*...work for Oraaaaange....waaaaaahhhhhhh!"
He dabbed at his eyes with some papers from a nearby fax machine as if they were tissues. Printer ink stuck to his face and mucus was dribbling down into his mouth. With a look of shock, Melody slowly backed away and turned the corner. One could see her head bobbing on the other side of the glass as she walked quickly away from the office.
As fate would have it, Mars had little to worry about. A curious series of events was about to unfold under the ever watchful and judgmental eye of the public...
Johnny's media empire was thrown into jeopardy by a single person, a "has-been" B-movie actor named Duck Horn. After his directorial debut flopped at the box office, Duck aspired to be the future president of, well, anywhere really. He just liked having the power to tell other people what to do. Johnny made the mistake of taking some "gift money" from Duck in exchange for a Tweeker account that was allowed to bend the Terms of Service agreement to some extent.
However, the straw that broke the camel's back was a post of Duck's that contained a selfie of him slapping a visiting dignitary and a message in all caps that read, and I quote, "I WILL NUKE ALL THE NATIVES FIVE TIMES OVER AND PEE ON THEIR GRAVES!!!! #DuckHornforPresident".
After growing tired of riling up the public with emotionally charged headlines about gender, race and violence, all of the news stations latched onto Duck's connection to Johnny like a leech sucking all of the blood out of its unfortunate victim. Giant sensationalized article titles accompanied by suggestive photos adorned all of the newspapers and magazines the next morning, one of the most tasteful being, "SEX! MURDER! MAYHEM!: The Real Story of Duck Horn and Johnny Orca".
Tweeker's stocks immediately began to tank. By the end of the day, Tweeker and Facepalm were neck-and-neck for becoming the business with the largest losses in a single quarter. Some strange gods seemed to have answered Mars' prayer, or at the very least, agreed to put Facepalm and Tweeker on equal footing for the time being.
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