Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hollywood.bomb, Chapter 1

A few years ago, I wrote this thing that we used to call a "book."  Nowadays I think that the kids call them "long-form e-zines" or something.  I went through the normal avenues, submitting it to agents and trying to find a publisher, but at a certain point I ran out of energy and set it aside.  The characters and the story have stayed in my mind, however, and now I've decided to share it, in the hopes that others will enjoy it and I will find the inspiration to revisit the story.

So here you go, friends: the first chapter of Hollywood.bomb.  Enjoy, and feel free to offer constructive comments.  I'll post at least a chapter a week.




Chapter 1


The sharp jab in his arm came again, insistently prodding Stephen out of a deep sleep.

"Huh? Honey, can't you get her this time?" he mumbled groggily, trying in vain to open his crusty eyes before settling into a slightly more comfortable position.

"Time to go to work, sleepyhead," a voice near his ear said. Not the voice of his wife, he noted. Not, in fact, the voice of anyone’s wife, unless she had serious hormone problems. This voice was definitely male. Time to try that eye-opening thing again.

This time he succeeded, though the view didn’t exactly improve. The soothing darkness behind his eyelids -- which he already missed desperately -- was replaced by a close-up view of a grimy window, cracked upholstery, and a rolled-up copy of yesterday’s Boston Herald, which he surmised to be the source of the jabbing. He followed it blearily with his eyes as it drew back and stopped next to a grizzled face under a black peaked cap: the source of the voice.

"Unless you’re planning to go back to Worcester with us, Rip van Winkle, you need to get off. We’re leaving in five minutes."

Stephen sat up, wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, and grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, thanks. I didn’t sleep much last night. Or the night before that. Or, come to think of it, the week before that. We have a new baby. It's our first."

"I don’t really care; just get off of my train." The conductor's smile took the sting from his words as he added, "Congratulations." He touched the Herald to the brim of his hat and wandered down the aisle, whacking the seat backs with the paper as he walked.

See, this is why I don’t like talking to people, Stephen thought as he hurriedly exited the train, one of us always sounds like an idiot. This new parent thing would take some getting used to, and not just because of the lack of sleep. He climbed slowly up to street level for the short walk to his office, stopping as usual for a large coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the station. Coffee had never tasted so good, nor been so necessary.

There were benefits to working in the Hub, he reasoned as he took his first sip, one of them being that he could sleep through his commute without dying in a fiery car crash. Of course, the train schedule was a two-edged sword: he had lost count of the number of times he had sprinted from the office only to watch in frustration as the dirty purple butt-end of the commuter train pulled away from him. At least his company paid for the cab rides home on the nights he really worked late, though he doubted he’d be doing quite as much of that now if he wanted to have a home to return to.

Maybe that was why the coffee tasted so good today: because it was seasoned with freedom. He loved his wife, and he dearly loved the little bundle of limbs and hair that she had birthed, but after three weeks of paternity leave, going back to work seemed like the real vacation.

A month ago, he and his coworkers had joked about the "sabbatical" he would take when his baby was born. In the software world, no one ever missed more than a week of work unless they had just undergone a life-changing event -- getting married, having a baby, having their stock options vest -- and even then they were usually back before two weeks had passed. In his colleagues’ eyes, Stephen’s decision to take full advantage of his company’s paternity leave policy was simultaneously revolutionary and old-fashioned, and it had people wondering if he was going to come back at all.

It was bitterly cold this morning, the Boston wind cutting through his thin jacket as he exited the station. After a moment's thought, he decided to walk along the street rather than cutting through Copley Place, hoping that the cold would clear his head. Stephen had never been out of the loop for this long, and he suspected that the re-entry into office life would be quick and painful. The development project he had been running -- a public relations portal for the Department of Defense -- was nearly complete and safe in the hands of another project manager, but another project was already waiting for him. The email from his boss, Jack, had said little, but Jack seemed to be excited about this one, which was both unusual and unnerving. Stephen was intrigued.

Maybe, for once, I’ll get a project before it turns into a cluster--.


Stephen stumbled and nearly spilled his precious coffee, catching himself before he could even think the curse. Jenny’s voice came back to him, full of righteous, pregnant indignation. "No more bad language. Do you want your child born thinking that her Daddy is a drunken sailor on leave?" Even in utero, she claimed -- citing several reliable sources available on Amazon.com in both hardcover and paperback -- the baby could hear him and was beginning to make emotional associations based upon what it heard. The time to start setting a good example was now.

The fact that his father had, in fact, been a drunken sailor on leave made this task much more difficult for Stephen. Creative cursing had always been a family trademark, whether in times of stress or celebration. The family still spoke of his uncle's five-minute, profanity-laced tirade after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. Just thinking about it brought a proud tear to Stephen's eye. He could see his wife's point, but there was something deeply satisfying about letting it rip with an ear-blistering expletive. Trying not to curse at all was like giving up English in favor of speaking French with a Chinese accent: it felt both foreign and wrong. Exhaustion only made it more likely for the words to slip out, so now he was trying to head them off at the pass by not even thinking them.

As he turned the corner toward the gleaming new building that housed his office, Stephen idly wondered if it counted as cursing if you spelled the word differently. He tried it out silently: clusterphuck. That was easier, but somehow he didn’t think Jenny would appreciate the subtlety. Oh well, he thought with a quiet sigh, I’ll get used to it.


Not that I really have a choice.

Stephen’s pocket buzzed. It took him a moment to realize that it was his cell phone. He had set it to vibrate mode immediately after the first time it rang and woke the baby, in a preemptive move designed to keep his wife from smashing the thing underfoot. He supposed that he would have to get used to that joy-buzzer feeling in his pocket now, since the next several years seemed destined to revolve around his daughter’s sleep patterns. He pulled out the phone and read:

Whre RU? Git yur as in here. -J.

"Oh good, Jack's discovered texting," Stephen muttered, shifting his coffee to the other hand so that he could type with his right thumb, the fast one. He thought for a moment and then sent:

Fatherhood’s nice. Think I’ll stay home for another week.

"That ought to throw him off the trail for a few minutes." Slurping the last of his coffee gratefully and tossing the cup into a nearby garbage can, he pushed through the doors to his building and pressed button for the elevator. While he tried to take the stairs as frequently as he could -- a poor excuse for the long runs that he had been used to before pregnancy, but better than nothing -- the prospect of a 12-floor climb was singularly unappetizing this morning. Maybe at lunch, he thought, if I haven’t decided to book a room for a nap instead.

The elevator doors were nearly closed when Stephen heard feet running at top speed and a voice calling for him to hold the elevator. He stuck out a hand and stopped the doors, watching in amusement as Anthony Compton, CTO of Accelerated Dynamic Development, Inc., hurtled to a sliding stop just inches short of the back wall. As usual, Anthony looked like a graduate student who had woken up late to realize that he was missing his dissertation defense. He carried an overstuffed messenger bag over his shoulder and was dressed in jeans, a button-down shirt, and a sweater, the tails of the shirt already beginning to peek out after his sprint for the elevator. Within twenty minutes, the shirt would be completely untucked, though Anthony wouldn’t notice it unless he tried to tidy up for a client. Despite the frigid weather, he wore no coat.

Unable to stand still as the elevator slowly climbed to their floor, Anthony paced back and forth, checking the floor number on each turn. Stephen stepped back to give him room, grateful that they were the only ones in the elevator. Anthony was clearly having an "up" day, and Stephen knew from experience that nothing short of pinning him in the corner would stop him. Better to be still and hope that he forgets I’m here, Stephen thought.

During his second year of working on dual masters degrees in Computer Science and Business at MIT, Anthony had realized that he had a distinctly different work style than his classmates. Other students signed up for four or five classes every term, took their finals, and moved on to the next courses. Anthony, on the other hand, took a double load every fall term, finished all of the coursework early, and then pestered his professors for extra work to tide him over until finals. By January, though, he could barely find the energy to register for the spring term, much less attend the classes. He disappeared from every class after the first week or two and lay on his bed in the dark to wait for spring. Since he was an engineer, most of the other students just assumed that he switched to a nocturnal schedule in the winter to honor the solstice. His professors appreciated the break too much to investigate its cause.

That spring, it occurred to Anthony that this might not be normal. However, as he was too busy just then to do anything about it, he decided not to think about it until summer. Halfway through the summer, as he sat up for the fourth night in a row rereading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and cross-referencing it against Stephen Hawking’s Theory of Everything, the idea struck him again. Since Sagan’s simplistic approach was beginning to bore him anyway, he entered his symptoms into an online database and discovered that he was bipolar; more precisely, a bipolar savant, if Wikipedia could be believed.

Drugs and psychotherapy could have smoothed the waves of his mood cycles, but Anthony enjoyed the productivity too much to let it go. Besides, he decided, he was at least as smart as that John Nash fellow down at Princeton, so he would find a way to make his condition work for him, too. He finished graduate school in one more year by doubling his workload again in the fall and spring and taking extra night classes when they were offered. He also bought a more comfortable bed for the winter months.

As he grew older, Anthony’s moods stabilized to a cycle of approximately six weeks up and four weeks down. Over time, his friends and coworkers learned to pinpoint the next cycle to within a week, which significantly impacted vacation requests at ADD.

Around the seventh floor, Anthony realized that someone else was in the elevator with him. He abruptly stopped pacing directly in front of Stephen, leaned in, and peered owlishly up at him through his glasses. "Oh, hullo Stephen. Just back from DC again? How’s that Department of Defense project going?"

As he often did when talking to Anthony, Stephen had to fight the urge to lean back. "Actually, I wrapped up my part of that project last month. Keith’s closing it. This is my first day back from paternity leave."

Anthony blinked, redirecting another two percent of his brain capacity away from whatever ideas were swirling around in there and toward this conversation. "Oh, right, right. You'll be going on that new project. Should be… interesting." The elevator lurched to a halt on their floor and he spun around to lean against the door, tapping it impatiently as he waited for it to open. "I'm sure we'll talk later. Say hello to Joanne for me."

"Jennifer. I will. Watch out for the plant," Stephen called. Anthony dodged, barely missing a miniature palm tree that had been in the exact same place for the past three years, and half ran, half walked toward his office.

Stephen turned the opposite direction, heading toward the bullpen. The room was already half-full, the dimly heard rhythms of indie rock from multiple headphones merging with the quiet clicking of keys to create a pulsating hum of technological hyper-achievement. ADD's open seating plan encouraged collaboration, but at this time of the morning everyone was still waking up and checking their email. The volume level would gradually rise over the course of the day, making noise-reducing headphones standard equipment for all employees. Stephen paused by his desk for a moment to savor the quiet energy of the place. It was good to be back.

"Connelly!" Jack’s voice cracked across the room, causing several recent hires to cringe and slouch down in their seats, trying to look inconspicuous. "Where the hell have you been? I texted you at least five minutes ago!"

Stephen sighed. That was nice while it lasted. "Morning, Jack."

"I’m glad to see that your wife let you come back to work." Jack thought he had a way with words; his three ex-wives tended to disagree. "Come on, everyone's waiting." He grabbed Stephen's arm and steered him back toward the lobby.

"Can it wait a little while? I haven’t even checked my email yet. I probably have a couple thousand messages," Stephen asked, testing Jack's grip on his arm. He was held fast.

"Don’t give me that crap, Steve." Jack angrily jabbed the elevator button as though it had offended him. "You’ve been checking it every day, haven’t you?"

Stephen gave a last longing glance at the unattainable sanctuary of his chair and sighed, "Not every day. Jen made me promise to really take some time off this time, which I interpreted to mean that I couldn’t check email while she was awake. Fortunately, I took the midnight feedings, and Sarah won’t tell on me yet. Where are we going?"

Jack pointed at the glowing elevator button. "Down."

"So helpful. Down where?" Sudden hope gleamed in Stephen's eyes. "You're not taking me out for coffee, are you?"

"Not that far down."

"But what else…." A horrible thought occurred to Stephen. "We're not going to the client area, are we?" He tried tugging his arm free again, but Jack, anticipating the move, had already tightened his grip.

"They've been here since 8:30 and they're very eager to meet you. We told them that you're the only one who can do the job for them."

Stephen stopped struggling, for the moment. He glared at Jack. "This is to get even with me for taking the whole three weeks, isn't it?"

Jack shrugged. "I didn't even know we had a leave policy. Did you know that I could have taken bereavement leave after my last divorce? We really have great benefits." The elevator door slid open and he pulled Stephen into the elevator before pushing the button for the eleventh floor. "But no, it's not payback. I genuinely think that you're the only one who can do it." He turned and smiled, showing gleaming white teeth.

It was the smile that took all of the fight out of Stephen. Like a ticking sound from inside a package, Jack's smile was never a good sign for the recipient. As far as anyone knew, the only thing that made Jack truly happy anymore was conflict, so if he was grinning already, it was going to be one hell -- heck -- of an assignment. Jack saw Stephen's capitulation and released his vice-like grip on Stephen's upper arm.

As they stepped out of the elevator together, another worrying thought occurred to Stephen. "Hey, are you going in there too?"

Jack grunted. "Yeah, it's that big. I have to meet with the clients."

Despite being ADD's head of professional services, Jack rarely spoke to clients in person anymore. No one could say exactly what had happened the last time that Jack led a project himself, but one of the most popular rumors was that after the client changed the entire scope of the project for the seventh time just two days before the product launch, Jack attacked him. Halfway through the list of new features, the stories said, Jack gave a roar of rage, jumped out of his chair, and launched himself six feet across the conference table. It took the entire project team to drag him off the client and pin him to the ground, but not before he had bitten off a chunk of the man’s ear. They said that Jack kept it in a jar on his mantle at home, to show to annoying dinner guests. After that incident, in honor of his service to the company and his still-formidable problem-solving skills, he was promoted to vice president and told not to meet with clients anymore.

There were other stories, of course, each gorier than the last, none of which Jack would either confirm or deny. Nor would any of his old teammates tell what they knew. If asked, they simply shook their heads sadly and walked away. Regardless, Jack was never allowed to be alone with a client. He always had to be accompanied by at least one strong coworker, two if they were small.

In his current weakened state, Stephen wasn't sure if he could handle Jack himself if push came to shove (or bite). Jack noted his hesitation and said, "Don't worry; you'll have help if you need it. Not that you will: they're your clients, after all." He grinned again, sending a little shiver down Stephen's spine. "If anything, I'll be pulling you off of them."

They reached the edge of the client area, a chrome-and-glass wonderland intended to inspire confidence and awe in prospective customers. Stephen had never determined exactly how shiny surfaces translated to quality software -- he was always afraid to touch anything here for fear of leaving smudges -- but apparently it worked. Across the spacious lobby, a group of people waited outside of a richly appointed conference room, and Jack led the way toward them. "You have most of your team from the DoD project back, though I had to replace Rollin. He’s in Tibet. No one knows why, but we suspect he took a sabbatical and forgot to tell us again. The new guy's name is Stuart Troyer. Seems solid, but if he doesn't work out then I'll give you first pick of the playground for a replacement. We don't want to lose this one."

Stephen stopped again, halfway across the lobby. "Jack, you keep saying things like that. When are you going to tell me what this project is? You don't expect me to walk in there blind, do you?"

Jack thought about it for a moment before shaking his head. "I don't want to prejudice you. Don't worry; no one's expecting you to say anything. Just go in and listen." He took Stephen's elbow again and led him toward the door. "Oh, and try to keep an open mind."

"Don't worry, and keep an open mind. Gee, Jack, you make it sound so fun, you should be in sales."

"I was," Jack grunted. He gave Stephen a sideways grin. "It didn't go well."

Stephen returned the grin. "I can only imagine." Squaring his shoulders and resigning himself to his fate, he approached the group waiting with various levels of nervousness and annoyance outside the executive conference room. They turned as one to greet him, offering murmured congratulations and well-wishes that seemed genuine despite being an obvious ploy to delay the inevitable entry into the meeting.

James Chavez, ADD's CEO, stuck his head out of the door and interrupted the reunion. "Are you guys coming in or what? I've got them all warmed up for you."

Stephen exchanged looks with Jack. "Give us one or two minutes to prepare, OK?"

James nodded and gave Stephen a dazzling smile. "Takes a while to get your feet back under you, doesn't it? I feel the same way whenever I get back from the Caribbean. I'll let them talk to Jack for a couple of minutes while you and the team make yourselves presentable. Oh, and welcome back." He jerked his head and Jack and pulled back inside, leaving the door ajar behind him. Jack, with a semi-apologetic grin, slipped in behind him and eased the door shut.

James and Anthony had met ten years ago through a business incubator in Cambridge that specialized in pairing the brilliance of MIT with the hardheaded practicality of Harvard Business School. James had just received his MBA from Harvard, half a year ahead of schedule. This greatly surprised his advisor, who had assumed that James would follow other famous Harvard dropouts by going directly to his first million dollars without detouring for the degree. James’ thesis project was a feasibility study of the economics of an ice franchise in northern Alaska. The results of the paper were inconclusive, but he sold the idea to a venture capital firm for $950,000, thus proving his actual thesis, that there was a buyer for everything. He left Harvard planning to test the limits of that theory.

James was the perfect foil for Anthony's relentless, nerdy energy: suave, smooth, and unruffled, unwilling to let something as simple as emotion get in the way of a sale. Actual understanding of the product was superfluous: for him, the only necessary knowledge was "the hook," that thing that made the product irresistible to a buyer. Once he identified that, he grew bored with the other details. This suited Anthony fine, since there was nothing he hated more than explaining himself more than once. They had quickly worked out a partnership, harnessing Anthony’s energy during his up periods to create new product lines, new services, even new companies as quickly as they could. When Anthony slumped, James used the time to test the ideas in the market. Those that stuck were divided into two groups: the interesting ideas were passed off to competent managers within ADD to maintain and grow, while those with less revenue potential were sold to venture capitalists or competitors. The rest of Anthony’s plans, which were usually years ahead of their time, they patented and hoarded until the time was right.

James made it a point to meet with every prospective client at least once, even if only for a few minutes. It gave him the opportunity to size them up, weighing them on the scale of potential profitability. The fact that his charismatic air accelerated the sale was not lost on him, either. Since this client had already signed a contract, though, his presence added another element of mystery: few clients were unique enough to hold his interest past the close.

As he shook hands and accepted pats on the back, Stephen conducted a mental roll call. His core team was here, plus one: his three programmers, Frank, Mark, and Kelvin; his designers, David and Ricky; and a sturdy-looking bearded fellow whom Stephen had never seen before. He had the faintly bemused expression common to sleepwalkers, folk musicians, and new hires, so Stephen assumed that he was Rollin's replacement.

Frank Lasher and Mark Moore -- or the Brothers Grim, as they were known around the office -- were related neither by blood nor by disposition, but they were a perfect team nonetheless. Frank, tall and rawboned, his shoulder-length hair pulled back in a ponytail, was a smoldering volcano, his volatility matched only by the speed with which he could generate software code. Mark, on the other hand, had a physical presence could best be described as "soft, and a bit blurry around the edges." He was on the short and portly side, with a bushy beard that matched the pelt covering the rest of his body. He was the goat to Frank's racehorse: a calming presence that brought greater performance. For everyone's benefit, the two were rarely separated.

Where Frank was fire, Kelvin Tsong was ice. His imperturbability was unbroken by either laughter or anger, leading more than one project teammate to openly speculate that his ancestry tended more to Vulcan than Chinese. After working with Kelvin for the past six months, Stephen knew him to be both intelligent and helpful, with a dry wit that appeared at the strangest moments. He rarely smiled, though, and had never, as far as anyone knew, laughed at a joke. It was as though he understood humor but just didn’t see the point of it. At the moment, he was bestowing a rare smile on Stephen as he congratulated him on the birth of his daughter.

The scent of clove cigarettes drew Stephen's attention to David Chretienne and Ricky Nilsson-Martinez, Stephen's designers. David -- pronounced "Dahveed," thank you very much -- was one of the best visual designers at ADD, and therefore extremely and self-consciously unique. Born of Quebecois immigrant parents, he pined, sometimes visibly, for a return to the mother country, France. His French accent, usually faint, grew strong when he was agitated, though even in a true rage he more resembled Pepe Le Pew than Cardinal Richelieu. Besides being a wizard with PhotoShop and other graphics programs, David was a fabulous tailor and made all of his own clothing. His skill with needle and thread were surpassed only by his imagination, and he was constantly in pursuit of the perfect look to suit his moods. A fellow designer had once remarked that the real reason David had never quite attained the perfect look was due to the inferiority of Earthling materials, but Stephen suspected she was just being snarky. Today, David’s slight frame was covered head to toe in black, save for a short cape that sported a deep purple lining. He removed his beret and offered Stephen a short bow before nearly being bowled over by the much larger Ricky, who leaned over him to give Stephen a meaty pat on the shoulder.

What Ricky lacked in astuteness, looks, or fashion sense he made up for in genetic variety. In fact, if his genealogical claims could be believed, Ricky met all of the diversity requirements for an entire university all by himself. While he had grown up in New York, his family hailed from a small group of islands in the Caribbean that had apparently been the crossroads of all nautical traffic for the past several centuries. Through trade, intermarriage, slavery, and frequent pillaging, the natives of these islands carried the blood of the world in their veins, and Ricky was determined to identify and catalogue every drop. The fact that every new bit of heritage he discovered came with its own set of holidays was, he claimed, merely a happy coincidence. Today, Ricky wore what looked like the traditional garb of some African nation. Apparently we've discovered a new great-great-grandparent, Stephen thought with an inward sigh. I wonder how many days he'll need off this time.

After everyone had finished offering their congratulations, asking after the health of both baby and mother, and making half-hearted excuses for not having sent a baby gift, an uncomfortable silence fell.

"Well, should we go in?" Mark asked uncertainly.

Stephen leaned around the door and peeked through the window. James and Jack were engaged in small talk with two other men seated on the opposite side of the large oaken conference table. Jack, a constipated smile pasted on his face, caught Stephen's eye and jerked a thumb in a clear get-in-here-now gesture. Stephen replied with a little wave. "I think we have another minute or two. Have you introduced yourselves to the new guy?"

Frank glanced over his shoulder. "Him? You mean he's one of us? I thought we decided that we were just going to wait until Rollin came back from sabbatical rather than replacing him."

"Where did he go this time?" Ricky asked.

"Tibet, I think," Mark answered.

Ricky brightened. "Really? I have family there."

"What a surprise."

"Sure! Apparently, a group of very lost Tibetan monks sailed to our island in about 600 AD, looking for Shambhala. Their leader had decided that the ancient descriptions of mountains actually referred to ocean waves, so…"

"Why don't we save that for later?" Stephen interrupted. As much as he wanted to stall, this story was likely to take more time than they had to spare. He turned to the newcomer. "I'm Stephen, the project manager, and I assume that you're Stuart Troyer."

"Stu, please. I just started today." The older man stuck out a hand. He was short and wiry, with wire-rimmed glasses and a full beard that was starting to go gray. His grip was surprisingly strong, yet Stephen had the unmistakable impression that Stu was holding back so as not to hurt him. As he stood there, feet spread wide, he reminded Stephen of an old apple tree: strong, gnarled, with roots deeply planted in the ground. The kind of solid presence we could use on this team, Stephen thought.

Stu turned to shake hands with the others, spending an extra moment with Frank as the younger man tried to engage him in a hand-squeezing contest and quickly lost. Surreptitiously rubbing his hand, Frank asked testily, "Tell me again why we all have to be here? We’ve never had to attend the client kickoff before. They don’t like engineers to have too much contact with the clients, especially during the contract's escape period."

Stephen shrugged. "Don't ask me; I just got here, remember? Maybe it's part of your anger management therapy." Frank grimaced. That had been several hundred dollars of company money wasted, though he had received a free stress toy at the end and had filched two of the foam bats for personal use. Stephen continued, "I promise that if it gets unbearable I’ll make up a technical emergency and the developers can leave."

"Us, too?" asked Ricky hopefully.

"No, you’re stuck for the duration. Unless you know how they think, you’ll never be able to create a design that they like," Stephen said. Ricky sighed and rolled his eyes.

Stephen put his hand to the door. "OK, team, client faces!" He looked around. David and Ricky were smiling, though David’s fingers kept fidgeting as though they needed a cigarette between them. Mark was probably smiling, though it was hard to tell through the beard. His eyes looked happy, anyway. Frank was baring his teeth and looked as likely to go for someone’s throat as shake their hand. Stephen turned back and moved him to the back of the group. Kelvin was impassive, but in a friendly way. Stu, after looking around at the others confusedly for a moment, smiled tentatively.

Satisfied, Stephen put on his own smile and reached for the door. "Let’s go meet our new friends, shall we?" he suggested through gritted teeth. Truth be told, he wasn't especially looking forward to this either. Nonetheless, he girded his proverbial loins and stepped into the lion's den.

Continue to Chapter 2

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