Today brings us chapter 17 with Russ’s last chapter. He’s learned a lot about the worlds throughout his previous two chapters, and he has to decide what he wants to do about his knowledge in this one. Enjoy everyone. And don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of the novel through here.
Russ’s heart wanted to jump out of his chest and flop on the floor. His lungs wanted to push all the air out and never suck in anymore. His brain wanted to close all channels and end any synapse firing for all of eternity. He did it!
Well. He did something at least. He had been told what to say when he was elected. He was supposed to be humble and show his gratitude at the owners’ charity in providing for him to make the movies he made. That’s what the speech director had told him to do. The writer had given him the same in the script. He didn’t have much time to practice it, but he was used to that. He was an actor after all. It was his job to be ready to take on any role at a moment’s notice. And this role—the role of the voice of the entire creative community—this was a role he had practiced—and fulfilled—for many years already. But he was too prepared, he could act too well. He had acted so well, in fact, that he had fooled them into believing that he was going to read their script and play their part, but that wasn’t his intention from the opening credits.
He followed his own script. He said what he wanted to say. At least he thought he did. He did, right? They had to know his words meant more than what they said. Didn’t they?
The elevator door slid open and Wes was in the hall, waiting for his own elevator.
“Russ!” he said. “Russ, Russ, Rrrruuussssss. Just the star I wanted to see. How’d it go, Russ, baby? You did great, huh? I mean, who am I kidding? I know ya did!”
“I did what I had to do,” Russ said, hoping Wes caught the undertones. He was such a subpar director, he probably didn’t.
“Oh. Ho ho. Russ, my boy. I know you did. You always do. Right?”
Russ didn’t answer. He wanted Wes to get out of his way and let him through to his dressing room. It was as if the idiot didn’t know that he couldn’t get into his elevator until Russ left his own and sent it away. He grit his teeth and tried not to let his adrenaline drive him to punch Wes in the face.
“That’s right,” Wes said. “It is. I know it. Now. About that documentary, Russ. The slip, snap, clicking. You know. I—”
“Don’t you talk to me about slip, snap, clicking!” Russ snapped.
“Wh—What?” Wes shook his head. “No,” he said. “I—”
“No. You have no idea. I know what slip, snap, clicking is really like. I’ve seen a real assembly line. You have no place to tell me how they would act when you yourself have never stepped foot on a line in your life. I’d say it’s safe for you to take my advice as the most viewed actor in the history of actors when I say an assembly line worker might act a little differently than you think they would. You got that!?”
“I—No,” Wes said, waving his hands and shaking his head. “Woah ho ho. I—I have to follow the script, you know. And the producer tells me what to do. I didn’t have a choice, Russ. It wasn’t my decision.”
“Yeah yeah,” Russ said, shaking his head. “You do have a choice, though, Wes. Everyone has a choice. You have the same choice I’m making right now when I tell you to fuck off. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He stepped out of the elevator and let the doors close behind him. “I’ll be heading back to my room to get some rest.” He opened the door to his dressing room and stepped in before Wes could respond.
There went his heart again, trying to escape from its rib cage. His legs wouldn’t let him sit down, they paced back and forth between his couch and mirror.
As he walked toward the mirror, he marveled at how great he looked. Not just his hair, clothes, and makeup, though, it was something altogether more than that. His face seemed resolute and somehow more confident—if that was even possible.
As he walked toward the couch, he thought about what he could do next to keep this energy flowing. He wanted to go out and yell at Wes again, but Wes was probably long gone by now.
Ugh. But it felt so good. It felt so right. He went back in his head through all the times he should have done the same thing in the past, starting with those two stupid pieces he was forced to put together for the last documentary shoot. He should have said no then. He should have stopped working when the bell rang. He should have dashed off home where he really wanted to be.
He slumped down on the couch, angry at himself for going along with everything he was ever told for so long. He was out of breath and his heart rate was finally dying down. He rubbed his palms on his thighs and took a few deep breaths.
He stood up and walked over to the window. He put his arm up on the glass and rested his forehead on it, looking out on the scene below.
His dressing room was at the top of the tallest building around. Well, not the top, but it was higher than any of the surrounding buildings. It was so high he couldn’t even see the ground without sticking his head out the window, but the window didn’t open so that wasn’t an option anyway. He looked up at the fluffy white clouds, floating through the blue skies, then down at the windows below him. He wondered if the buildings were all windows with no walls. It looked like it from where he stood. He wondered what it would be like to live in a glass building, who would live there.
Now that he thought about it, he had never seen those buildings other than from his window. He had asked them to keep the real view, but he had never stepped outside to experience the view in person. How many years had it been? Well, what better time to finally do it than when he was doing what he never would have done before?
His stomach growled in response.
“Not now,” he said to it. “Not now, you! Why do you have such poor timing?”
He opened the door to the hall and looked up and down it, hoping to see Wes, or a writer, or—even better—a producer to yell at, but the place was empty. They didn’t have a speech to give, so they were probably all out eating a Christmas feast at some fancy restaurant. Too bad.
He pressed the button to the elevator, and the doors opened almost instantly. There, sitting cross-legged in a big velvet couch, dressed in red with fluffy white trim and wearing—as always—stark red lips was Jorah. He smiled and bounced his foot like he had been waiting in that pose for Russ to call the elevator.
“Jorah,” Russ said, taken off guard.
“Russy, dear,” Jorah said with a smile. “Don’t look so surprised. I can visit my besty on Christmas, can’t I? You know you’re like family to me.”
“Right,” Russ said. “But I—”
“How did the speech go, darling?” Jorah said, ignoring him. “You wowed them, I’m sure, but what’d you say to do it?”
Jorah stood from the velvet couch and embraced Russ. “Where are you going, dear? Don’t you have some time to tell your Jorah about it?”
“No. I was—” Russ remembered the speech he had just given and the people he had seen, he remembered yelling at Wes and the feeling it had given him. He decided to be direct instead of regretting this instance like he regretted so many others. “I was going to take a walk,” he said.
“Take a walk?” Jorah frowned.
“Oooh. The park!” Jorah clapped his hands. “Let’s go to Central Park. I love that one.”
“No.” Russ shook his head. “I—”
“You’re so right,” Jorah said, frowning. “It’s too cliché, isn’t it? Hmmm.” He tapped his chin. “I know, the Garden of Fortuna. Have you ever seen it?”
“I’ve never seen my front steps,” Russ insisted.
“The Myfront Steppes?” Jorah said, grimacing. “I’ve never heard of them. Oooh. Is it something new?” He grinned. “Who told you? Tell me all about it.”
“No, Jorah.” Russ sighed. “It’s not a place. I mean here, the bottom floor of this building. Where does the door go out to? Those are my front steps!”
“Oh…Ooohhhhh! Ugh.” Jorah put a face on like he smelled something terrible. “Really? That?”
“Well, I’ve never seen it, Jorah. I mean, I look at it through my window, you know, but I’m so high up I can’t see it. Have you ever been down there?”
“Psssh.” Jorah scoffed. “No, sweetheart.” He shook his head. “And there’s a good reason for that. There’s nothing out there. All the good places to go are somewhere else, and that’s why Fortuna invented elevators.”
“No, Jorah,” Russ said. “But there is something—” His stomach growled so loud it interrupted him.
“Oh, dear,” Jorah said, putting a hand to his mouth. “Did you hear that? Your stomach says food, not walking.”
“My stomach doesn’t control me!” Russ stomped a foot, half-jokingly.
His stomach growled again.
“It begs to differ,” Jorah said with a smile.
“I beg to differ!” Russ flared his nostrils, made his breath heavier, and scrunched his brows into the perfect “I’m in charge here” pose.
Jorah clapped and laughed. “Good show, Russ. Good show! Now. Do you have any reservations, or should we go back to your place?”
“No, Jorah,” Russ said, crossing his arms to keep in character but slowly losing his resolve. “I’m going downstairs for a walk. I want to do this, and you can’t stop me.”
“Oh. No no, dear,” Jorah said, shaking his head. “Don’t you worry. I won’t stop you. But I must tell you that I’m not going down there with you, and you’re not going to make me.”
Russ lost character at that. “Um,” he said. “Wha—No. I wouldn’t. I wasn’t—”
“Okay, then.” Jorah nodded. “Do you have time to tell me about your speech and eat a little Christmas feast, or is your walk too urgent for that?”
“No. I—” Russ could just go down there after he visited with Jorah. And his stomach did keep growling. There was really no reason to say no. “Of course I have time for you,” he said. “But reservations are another story.”
“That’s perfect, dear.” Jorah touched Russ’s chest. “To be honest, I wasn’t up to facing the public anyway. My makeup is just hideous today. I couldn’t bear the stress.” He looked away and covered his face.
Russ shook his head. He couldn’t believe that Jorah actually meant what he was saying. His makeup was perfect, as always. “Oh no, dear,” Russ said. “Your face looks like a painting. I wish I looked half as good as you, and I just came from in front of an audience.”
“Oh, please, sweetheart,” Jorah said, waving a hand at him. “You’re just being kind. Your face is twice as beautiful as mine. It always is. You have the newer battle station model, dear. It’s inevitable. But forget that. I want to hear about the speech. Come come.” He grabbed Russ’s arm and directed him back into the dressing room, closing the door behind them.
Jorah plopped Russ down onto the couch and went back to the printer. “So, dear,” he said. “What do you want? Christmas ham and turkey. Oooh. And we have got to get potatoes. And stuffing. And deviled eggs. Fortuna, I love Christmas! Thank you owners. What do you want, Russ?”
Russ wanted to get up, but the couch was so soft it took too much effort to struggle out of. “I don’t want—” he said.
“Pie!” Jorah cheered. “Apple pie.” He clapped his hands. “That’s what we need. À la mode. What did you say, dear?” He went on ordering food and stacking it on the serving cart.
“Jorah,” Russ said as he did. “Do you ever wonder where all that stuff comes from?”
“Where it comes from?” Jorah pushed a full cart over to the couch and started putting everything on the coffee table in front of Russ. “It comes from the printer, silly. Where else would it come from?”
“No,” Russ said, shaking his head. “I mean, where does the printer get it?”
“It makes it.” Jorah shrugged.
“Out of thin air? Just pressing a few buttons is all it takes to create anything?”
Jorah sat on the couch next to Russ and started scooping food onto a plate. “I don’t know, Russ,” he said. “I’m not a scientist. I’m an actor. We have mechanic bots and engineers to take care of all that. What does it matter?”
“What does it matter?” Russ scoffed. “What does it matter? That’s where we get everything we need to live, Jorah. You have one, too.”
“Duh. I’m a pretty big star myself, Russ. In case you’ve forgotten.”
“No. I haven’t forgotten. That’s the point. We’re both big stars. We have the privilege of owning our own printers. But what about the community actors? What about the camera operators, and set builders, and extras?”
“What about them, Russ? They go to a store with a printer, and they buy what they need. No one ever starves. No one sleeps in the streets. What’s the problem?” Jorah forced the plate—piled with food—into Russ’s hands and started filling another plate for himself.
“Well,” Russ said, ignoring the food. “Why do they have to buy anything if all it takes to make it is to press a few buttons on a printer?”
“Because they don’t own printers. Why else would they be in the store?”
“Exactly,” Russ said. “I mean, how do we get printers anyway? Does it just take a few button taps to make one of those, too?”
“I don’t know.” Jorah chuckled. “I’ve never ordered a printer from a printer. Maybe you should try it.”
“That’s—that’s the point, though, Jorah! The point is that if it doesn’t take anything to create anything, then why are we selling everything in the first place?”
“Fortuna!” Jorah sat back in the couch and started in on his food. “I don’t care, Russ,” he said with a full mouth. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about anymore. I just want to hear about the Feast and the speech. What were the owners wearing? Are they all still stuck in retro tuxedo land? Have they gotten fatter? Have their hats gotten taller? What did you say? And why don’t you eat something to shut your stupid stomach up already?”
Russ looked down at the piles of food sitting on his plate. He picked up his fork and poked at the ham and turkey, all slopped in gravy. It reminded him of the food on the tables of the owners he had just ranted at. He pictured their fat fingers, stuffing their fat faces with equally gravy-slopped food, and their flabby cheeks chugging drinks until they couldn’t speak straight or listen to a stupid short speech.
“Oh. I forgot the drinks,” Jorah said, setting his plate on the table and standing to order some. “How does a mimosa sound? I know, I know, it’s Christmas, we should be drinking eggnog, but ugh. I hate that stuff. Don’t you?”
Russ poked at his food some more as Jorah got the drinks. He didn’t want to eat anything, or drink mimosas, but he was hungry, and the food did look good. He poked at some turkey then scooped up some potatoes and took a big bite. The gravy felt warm and comforting as it slid down his throat and into his stomach. Why had he been fighting the food for so long? He squirmed back further into the soft couch and dug in.
“There you are, dear,” Jorah said, setting a drink on the table in front of him and sitting back to his own plate. “Now that’s the Christmas spirit. It’s delicious isn’t it?”
“Ughm. Yes. Om nom.” Russ didn’t stop eating to talk. He couldn’t stop eating.
“Now, dear,” Jorah said. “Why don’t you tell me, how was the big Christmas Feast? Were they still listening to the same old carols played by an old-timey symphony?”
“Ugh. If I ever have to hear an entire orchestra play This Land is My Land one more time, I think my head will explode.”
“Ah ha. Oh, and what about Hand Bless America?” Jorah said. “The worst.” He sang a line of the song in a nasally voice.
“Fortuna. Stop!” Russ almost spit out his food with laughter.
“I know it. And were they wearing those hats, too?” Jorah held his hand high over his head, puffing out his cheeks and crossing his eyes to illustrate the point.
“Fortuna, yes,” Russ said, covering his mouth to hold back the laughter. “And tuxedos.”
“Ugh. Really?” Jorah frowned. “They are so conservative. Haven’t they ever heard of fashion? Turns out trends change.”
Russ laughed. He took a sip of his drink and set it back on the table. “At least I was there to brighten up the scenery. What do you think?” He struck a pose with his fork and knife in hand and plate on his lap.
“Oh. Just beautiful, dear,” Jorah said, clapping. “Be—e—au—ti—ful. You always did know how to dress the best.”
“Oh, you’re too kind,” Russ said, blushing.
“No, dear. I’m honest. It’s not kind when it’s honest. It’s just true.”
“Thank you for your honesty, then.” Russ winked.
“Of course, dear. What else would you expect from your besty? Now. Tell me. What did you say to those fat fatties?”
“Well…” Russ poked at his food with his fork. “They gave me a script, you know, like they always do, and I did my job.” He stuffed a few big bites into his mouth so he couldn’t talk anymore.
“Yeah,” Jorah said, nodding. “So. Did you read it? What did you say?”
“Muhhm,” Russ replied, stuffing more turkey into his mouth.
“Russy, dear,” Jorah said, tapping him on the arm with the back of his hand. “Manners! Now tell me. I want to hear all about it. It’s the biggest, most exclusive event for the entire year. So drop the gossip.”
“Oh…well…” Russ had to say something. He was going to have to say something on his show, too. But would they understand? Would they hold it against him? What if he started spreading what he had said and the protectors came back? What if he didn’t spread what he said and all those people kept getting forced to work on the assembly lines? There wasn’t any right course of action. “I don’t know,” he said, stalling for time. “I just crammed. Short term memory, you know. I can’t remember.”
Jorah put down his plate. “Russ,” he said. “C’mon. I’m going to watch your show. You don’t have to advertise to me. Just tell me what you said.”
“Well, I…You know—I told them that we were thankful and all that. I don’t know.” Russ shrugged, eating some more.
“That’s it? Just like that? We’re thankful. Bye!” He said it in a monotone voice and waved his fork and knife around with jerky, robotic movements. “No more showmanship than that?”
“No,” Russ said, shaking his head. “Of course not. I mean, I—well…I kind of went off script.”
“No.” Jorah gasped. Russ couldn’t tell if he was acting or not, Jorah was one of the best. “Off script. You don’t say?”
“Yeah. Well, you know…They had the usual patriotic, Christmasy thank you letter, filled with historical quotes, and I didn’t want to give them another rerun.”
“Oh no,” Jorah said with a shrug. “How cliché. So what did you say?”
“I don’t know.” Russ shrugged. “That Christmas wasn’t enough, you know. That we have to work our whole life to give them what they deserve.” He stuffed some more food into his mouth.
Jorah looked him in the eyes. “Give them what they deserve? Did you say it just like that?”
Russ shrugged, stuffing his face some more.
“You know…they might have taken that the wrong way,” Jorah said.
“What do you mean?”
“Ha! What do I mean?” Jorah laughed. “I think you know what I mean. You badass you.”
Russ spit some food out onto his plate. “Badass? No. I’m no—”
“Yes you are,” Jorah said. “You said it exactly like that, didn’t you? We’ll give you what you deserve. I know you, Russ. Better than anyone. You can’t help but act the part. You gave them a lecture. You want a feast as big as theirs, don’t you?”
“I—Wha—No!” Russ shook his head. “That’s not what I want at all.”
“Uh huh. Sure, buddy.” Jorah rolled his eyes. “I believe you. But I’m right there with you, too. They eat while we work. Who asked them to take it all, right?” He stuffed the last bite on his plate into his mouth and set to piling it with food again.
“What do we need more for, though?” Russ asked.
“What?” Jorah said, giving him a look. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I’m serious. Look at all this.” Russ dropped his plate on the table, and it made a loud clatter, sending food everywhere.
“Russ!” Jorah snapped. “What are you doing?”
“Look at all this,” Russ repeated, waving his hands as if he were displaying a prize on a game show. “We have more than we’ll ever eat, we’ll throw more than half of it down the trash chute, and you’re talking about a bigger feast?” He stood up, red-faced and breathing hard.
“Now now, Russ,” Jorah said. “Settle down.” He set his own plate on the coffee table and guided Russ back to the couch.
Russ hesitated but gave in. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself. This was Jorah he was talking to. Jorah who he loved and who had no more idea of where the food he ate came from than Russ himself did only yesterday. It wasn’t Jorah he was mad at, it was the people who kept Jorah ignorant of what the world was really like. “I’m sorry,” Russ said under his breath.
“Excuse me, dear,” Jorah said, cupping his ear.
“I said I’m sorry,” Russ repeated a little louder.
“Sorry, dear,” Jorah said, nodding. “That’s right. Now eat your food so you’ll feel better. You’ve barely touched it.” He forced the plate back into Russ’s hands.
“I don’t wan—” Russ complained.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Jorah said. “Eat!”
Russ took a bite. Then another and another. His anger and frustration seemed to drift away. He forgot what he was even talking about in the first place.
“By the way, dear,” Jorah said after some time of silence. “Did you get a chance to see the Christmas Award Ceremony pre-show? I mean, I know you had work to do, but they have a pretty nice green room over there, right? I’d imagine they’d have to. Wouldn’t they? One day I hope to see it.”
“Not if I can help it.” Russ smiled and sipped his mimosa.
“Oh, you can’t, dear,” Jorah said. “Don’t worry.” He winked.
Russ flicked a glob of potatoes in his direction but missed by a long shot.
“Ooh, girl,” Jorah said. “You’re lucky you didn’t hit me.”
“Nothing.” Jorah shook his head. “Just don’t. Now you got me all off script. Look at you. What was I talking about?”
“The red carpet show,” Russ reminded him.
“Oh. Ooohh whee. Yeah, girl.” Jorah put his plate down and took a quick sip of his mimosa. “You didn’t see it, did you?”
Russ shook his head.
“No? Good. Well, you’ll never believe this. Okay. So Paige. You know her, right? Cute little girl. Well she was wearing the most sheer, see-through dress you have ever seen. I swear, Russ, it was made out of saran wrap or something.”
“Ugh.” Russ sighed. “She didn’t.”
“She did. And—predictably—the papos ate it up. I swear to you, I’ve seen more angles of her vagina today than my battle station back home gives me angles of my face.”
Russ spit out some mimosa, and this time, he managed to hit Jorah square in the face. “Ha!” he laughed.
“Ugh. Sweetheart,” Jorah said, wiping his face and standing up. “Well, now the jokes not even true, because your battle station is gonna give me more views of my face than I’ve ever seen of her anything.” He swept over to Russ’s battle station to redo his makeup.
“I’m sorry, dear,” Russ said. “But that was funny. And oh so typical. I mean, if I went out in saran wrap, I bet you’d be saying the same thing about me.”
Jorah sat back on the couch, his face in perfect condition. “I don’t know, Russ,” he said, shaking his head. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“I was under the impression you didn’t have a vagina to see.” Jorah grinned. “Silly me. In the future I won’t assume. After all, ass out of you and me and all.”
“No, Jorah. Ugh. I would tell you if I did that! We’d have a party. You know me.” He slapped Jorah on the arm. “You know what I mean.”
“Yes, dear,” Jorah said, smiling wider and chuckling. “I do know what you mean.” He grinned. “And I agree. That’s why I wanted to get your opinion on my New Year’s Eve outfit decision.”
“You can’t be serious.” Russ shook his head, matching Jorah’s grin.
“Well,” Jorah said. “It’s not going to be saran wrap exactly. I was thinking of going for more of a silhouette, you know. Leave a little to the imagination. There’s this LED fabric. Have you heard of it?”
“That stuff from Tesla?”
“Yeah, girl,” Jorah said, reaching over to touch Russ’s arm. “The best new designer in the business. She says I can make it so the lights turn the dress into a shadow play screen. You’ll be able to see every little movement underneath.” He stood and did a little dance with a lot of hip gyration to illustrate his point. “What do you think?”
“It is interesting,” Russ said, putting his plate down to think about it. “Definitely more subtle than the saran wrap, full see-through dress. And I really like the shadow play imagery.”
“I know, right?” Jorah said, smiling and full of himself. “I’ve been practicing getting it to move like a puppet, too.” He danced some more.
“Well,” Russ said, tapping his chin. “I’d say as long as you incorporate some of the history of shadow puppetry into the design of the dress—and your makeup and accessories, of course—you’d attract more attention and be less gratuitous about it.”
“Ooh, dear. I love it!” Jorah’s voice got so high it sounded like he was going to scream. “We’ll make the rest of the dress the scenery for my little actor. You see, that’s why I always come to you for fashion advice, sweetheart. You never fail me.” He hugged Russ, spilling food off his plate.
Russ blushed. “I just helped you edit, dear. It was your idea.”
“And humble, too,” Jorah said, smiling. “No wonder you’re the most viewed actor in all of history. Who wouldn’t want to watch the perfect human being?”
“Oh, now,” Russ waved a hand. “That’s going a little too far.”
Jorah put his plate down and stood up. He pulled Russ up, too. “Let’s go to Tesla now,” he said. “Tell her the idea. She can get started on it right away.”
“Don’t you think she’s at a feast, though,” Russ said. “It is Christmas.”
“No, dear,” Jorah said, shaking his head. “Uh uh. She’s a designer, and a new one at that. For us, she’s free. It’ll be like a Christmas present for her.”
“Yeah. I guess, but—”
“And we can take a walk after that,” Jorah said. “We’ll go out to the Garden of Fortuna. You’ll love it.”
“I did want to go for a walk…”
“It’s settled then.” Jorah smiled. “Let’s go.”
# # #
Thanks again for joining us. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. If so, please do think about picking up a full copy of the novel right here. And have a great weekend.