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To the Victor Go the Spoils

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       Few buildings offered as stunning a view of the city as the highest accessible level of Network 23’s headquarters. Which was exactly why Edison Carter was headed there- though not to admire it on his own. Rather, he knew someone else who might want to, and if his instinct proved correct…

       Stepping through the doors of the abandoned meeting room, Edison immediately spotted a black silhouette imposed like a psychologist’s ink blot across the expanse of windows. Right again, Carter, as always. He wasn’t sure if the thought amused him. The silhouette didn’t budge, but as Edison came closer, a greeting sailed through the air. “You quit the party early, did ya, Eddie?”

       The unwarranted warmth in Paddy Ashton’s voice relaxed the tension between Edison’s shoulders, something which the champagne hadn’t managed to do. The only part of him that had loosened was his tongue. He slid up beside Paddy and gave the city’s skyline a cursory glance. “No loss on their part.”

       “Oh, come now.” Paddy chuckled. “It’s all in your honor. You’d best get down there before anyone takes it into their head to conduct a search-and-rescue mission.”

        Edison chuckled too, but he couldn’t shake the vague feeling lurking in the back of his mind that something was wrong here. Even though tonight’s accomplishments and revelry suggested that he should feel right. Frustration twisted in his chest.

       “I’m surprised no one’s out searching for you.”

       Paddy snorted. “I’m old news, Eddie. A has-been, compared to the man who’s just won a Vidi.”

        And off he goes. Edison fought to keep from grimacing. Already Paddy was playing right into his fearful fantasy. He wished he hadn’t left his half-empty glass behind at the party, or that he’d traded it for a full one before departing to the elevator.

       “Aw, c’mon, Paddy. Don’t bother with that crap. This award changes nothing between us.”

       “Doesn’t it?” Paddy asked rhetorically. At last he turned to meet Edison’s eyes, his lips curled back in a smile. “I’m happy for you, Eddie. Really I am.”

       Studying Paddy’s face, Edison wasn’t sure if “happy” was the best descriptor. Though Paddy’s smile didn’t dim, a strange, desperate sadness lingered in his eyes, as if he were crumbling to pieces below the surface. Briefly Edison considered challenging Paddy’s statement. On the one hand, Paddy knew better than to hide from Edison. But on the other hand, Paddy was just as hard-headed as Edison and getting him to talk when he wasn’t in the mood would be coaxing blood from a stone. Sure enough, the sadness in Paddy’s eyes disappeared after a heartbeat, restricted behind an internal wall. But Edison knew he wouldn’t forget what he had seen.

       “Thanks,” Edison murmured.

       “Welcome to it.” Paddy turned back to stare out the window, with the tender familiarity of an elderly man greeting his wife of fifty years. “Lovely night, isn’t it? All the windows illuminated… uniting us as one nation under television.”

       “It’s beautiful,” Edison said, without looking at it. This city had astounded him when he’d first moved overseas, but over the course of his service to Network 23 it had lost its luster, resembling  a lover to whom he’d grown cold. Besides, more important matters currently pressed on his head. He shifted his weight, all too aware of his breathing and how it had fallen in sync with Paddy’s.

       “So, uh… you never did tell me what you thought of my story.”

       Paddy’s response was short and precise, like knuckles rapping against a door. “Ah, it could have been better. Which is not to say, mind you, that I could have done it better. For what it’s worth, you managed to work an achingly human tale of heartbreak into a viable commodity. Packaged and presented with the appropriate graphics, run through Censor to ensure that it doesn’t violate their statutes, and stirring up just enough emotion to get viewers thinking, if only for the broadcast’s duration. No wonder the folks upstairs commended it.”

       Before Edison could summon any words- either to protest Paddy’s objections, or brush them off with a quip- Paddy turned again to Edison, level with his gaze.

        “But you didn’t come all the way up here just to hear my unpopular and slightly biased opinion, did ya now?”

       Edison inhaled deeply through his nose. “And you didn’t come all the way up here just to admire the view.”

        They stood silently for a few seconds, at a stalemate. In those seconds, Edison wondered if the situation wasn’t nearly as dire as he’d believed it to be. Maybe he was overestimating the importance of this award, attaching hidden meanings that weren’t there. But surely it hadn’t escaped Paddy’s notice…

       “It should’ve been-” he began, but Paddy cut him off.

       “Would ya listen to the nonsense you’re about to spill? It shouldn’t’ve been anything, Eddie. In a perfect world it wouldn’t’ve been. But you and I don’t live in a perfect world, do we now? Isn’t that what your little story was about?” Edison couldn’t tell if the hard light flaring in Paddy’s eyes was borne from gentle teasing, or mockery. It was extinguished before he could puzzle out its intent.

       “You’re acting like this award is a portent of doom, when it’s nothing of the sort.” Now Paddy’s voice grew soft, a cat’s purr. “Come on, Eddie. This is your night to live it up. Go have some drinks, kiss a few pretty girls.”

       Edison slid his hands into his pockets, his voice escaping in a dry mutter. “You think I haven’t done all that already?”

       Paddy’s eyebrows shot up. “And who’s the lucky lady? Don’t tell me-” He waved his hands. “Was it Linda from control station B? I’ve seen her making eyes at you.”

       Edison shook his head. “A gentleman must never kiss and tell.” Besides, he hadn’t kissed, so there was nothing to tell. He hesitated, air caught in his chest like champagne about to explode from a corked bottle.

        “Sometimes… we just want to see how our disadvantaged friends are doing.”

       Paddy gave a dismissive jerk of the head. “I’m all right, Eddie. I already said I’m happy for you. You don’t have to feel guilty.” A wry grin played upon his lips. “I swear, you’re the only person in the world who could find the downside in winning TV’s highest honor. You can’t just let things be.

       Edison had to admit, now that the glow had died down, that he wasn’t sure if he shared TV’s opinion of the Vidi Awards, but he wasn’t going to argue the point and let Paddy off the hook.

       “Maybe that’s why they say I’m cut out for this line of work.” And they’d be right. Journalists were never content to enjoy the surface, always digging until the muck was revealed... The exact reason Edison had chosen the profession, come to think of it.

       Paddy shrugged. “You’re at the top. Just enjoy it while the public’s still interested.”

      The words stirred an unpleasant emotion in Edison’s gut, although he told himself he couldn’t care less about the public’s reaction. It was only fair for Paddy to make such statements, if it helped him come to terms with his situation, but he’d been so supportive throughout their budding careers. Did he now intend to doubt Edison’s abilities?

        “Hey. I’m not just some… flash in the pan, you know.”

       A deep laugh spread through Paddy, his chest and shoulders vibrating. “With a technique like yours, of course not. I’m just saying, you’ve got to watch out. When you make it to the big leagues, your beloved audience is only going to see the man behind the story- or rather, in front of it. They’re not going to care about what you have to say, only how you look when you say it.”

       “Sounds like you’re the one who should watch out,” Edison said. “You’re getting dangerously cynical here.” He nudged Paddy’s shoulder, though without any real heart behind the action. “It’s not a good look on you.”

       “Ah, only with you, Eddie,” Paddy replied. “You know how it is. It’s a telejournalist’s responsibility to speak out for the oppressed. To shed some light on the injustices suffered by those who’ve been dealt a bad hand.” Paddy reached out to pat Edison’s shoulder, his grin never leaving his face. “When you’re famous, it’s all too easy to get used to comfort. Keep yourself on your toes by reminding yourself of the ones who haven’t got any.”

       WHEN you’re famous hung in the air over Edison’s head, like an anvil in an ancient cartoon. Like yourself, he wanted to say. There was no getting around it. By the network’s standards, a man with a Vidi Award deserved a high status- such as lead reporter on a top producer’s prime-time program. Edison was the man with that award, and Paddy was not.

       Edison couldn’t imagine life improving for Paddy, because the award wasn’t the only thing he had over him. He also had a home, family back in the States to whom he could flee were his luck to turn sour. And most importantly, he had the edge. If Paddy had gotten to Edison’s story before him, he would have railed against the injustice he witnessed without objectivity. The only sort of radicals that Network 23 needed were those who could be confined at a moment’s notice, who’d do the story and then trot back to their ivory towers to watch the late-night replay. Paddy didn’t fit into that box because he was too committed. But Edison…

       Edison found that he was grinding his teeth, his chest having grown tight. He forced his muscles to unclench, but a frenzy of thoughts still spun through his head.

        “I’ll never be Network 23’s pet,” he said aloud, and Paddy nodded.

       “That’s the spirit. Keep fighting the good fight, and maybe one day I’ll be proud to say I knew you when.”

        Turning towards Edison, Paddy offered his hand. They shook, sharing a hard stare. The same sort of desperation Edison had noticed in Paddy’s eyes returned, but now they were coated with steel. He knew as well as Edison that his career at Network 23 was soon to be over, but he wasn’t going to put up a fight. No tears, no pity. He was Edison’s final opponent, and with his defeat, Edison was left alone at the top. 

        Right now it stung, but he couldn't say he hadn't wanted it this way. Or that he didn't deserve it.

       “Why don’t we get back to the party?” Edison offered.

       Paddy shrugged. “As long as you saved a bit of it for me.”