Just One Easy Day
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As the crowd swirled around him, the youth glanced at his watch.

Three minutes.

He grabbed another one of the hot dogs, slathered it with all manner of toppings, and handed it to the man in the pinstripe suit standing before him.

"That'll be six dollars, please."

The man didn't miss a beat - pulling out a few dollars and slamming them on the counter as he yammered away into his wireless headphones.

Polluting, capitalist pig.

He forced a smile.

"Thank you sir - please come again!"

As the man disappeared into the crowd, the youth's eyes scanned across the scurrying bystanders attentively, looking for any signs of undue attention, his mind mentally snapshotting the scene —

A young man in a rainbow parka and thigh-high shorts, with a furry rave hat and a sign taped to his front proclaiming "EAT THE RICH", smiling as he hands out pamphlets advertising a local gathering of Marxists — the youth spares a smile back in his direction. I wish Nadia could see this… He looks like one of Abba's old photos, from before he found us, ran the Home… Before the Mission, maybe? —

A pair of children, chasing each other in circles holding up plastic dinosaurs as they pretend at predator-and-prey, and then they giggle as their father snatches them up one under each arm, hugging them close as he weaves through the crowd to their waiting mother – and in his mind's eye as he sees them he sees himself, running along the riverfront with Nadia and Charli, and Abba yells at them to come back in for supper, and Nadia grabs his arm and starts running, and as he protests that he wants just another minute to feel the sun on his face, another moment away from the Home, she yells behind her, "Jakob, I am NOT missing supper again for you!" and she giggled as she runs ever so slightly faster — I wish I could be that young again. Not a worry in the world —

Two teenagers in jeans and matching hooded sweatshirts, strolling along hand-in-hand, the one trips and drops his ice cream cone and the other laughs as he proffers his own. It reminds the youth of a day, not even a year ago, where he walked hand-in-hand with her, and unbidden, the thought springs to his mind — Nadia, my first and only, I hope you found peace without me, and I'm only sorry that I couldn't find my peace with you —

And then, his attention was elsewhere.

Above him, the massive screens blaring their gaudy advertisements above Times Square switched to a tall man in a white room - bearded, wearing a garment of living, pulsating flesh, eyes filled with a quiet anger.

And so it begins. A brief shake of his right hand, an old tic that he quickly brings back under control. His foot starts tapping nervously, and this he can't rein back in, despite his best efforts.

"People of the world! I bring you good news!"

The children began to look up, some pulling out their phones to record. He heard them muttering - "Is this a new advertisement? Some kind of movie trailer?"

"For too long, we have raped and pillaged the natural world! We have depleted its resources, burned its forests to the ground, poisoned its seas, and slaughtered ourselves in the process. And, only now, do we begin to pay for it - the oceans rise, the storms brew, the heat is relentless. We have broken the natural order of things - and now, we will reap the consequences."

The whispers intensified - and now he could see police officers scattered around the plaza murmuring among themselves, speaking into shoulder-mounted receivers. The crowd was growing restless, every phone now pointed upward. Some of the poor fools were taking selfies with Abba in the background.

"And yet, despite this, we cannot stop. We are addicted to drinking the blood of nature. We continue to harvest our oil, burn it for fuel, and we refuse. My children, know this - I understand. I understand what it is to be a slave to addiction. And today, I come not to berate you - I come to bring you freedom."

The youth's eyes swept over the crowd - a few of the tourists were already scanning for exits, moving towards the subway stations - the ones who knew a bad situation when they saw one. The rest were held rapt by the television screens. He checked his watch again.

Twenty seconds.

His grip on the hot dog stand tightened, knuckles whitening, as he slowly reached for the button underneath. He fixed his gaze on the white van, a few meters away, filled to bursting with innocuous-looking barrels.

"I liberate you - from the tyranny of choice, from your wicked hearts. You are all slaves to death and pollution. I will free you all from the responsibility to save yourselves - Nature's reclamation begins today!"

Hands shaking, he pressed the button.

"We've cleared YouTube, but some of the dark web links are still up - every time we kill one, another three mirrors appear. We may need to resort to more extreme measures on that front."

"Very well, Agent. Any updates regarding the on-the-ground containment efforts?"

"We've neutralized all signs of the contagion in the subway tunnels - Seems like the media's bought the chemical attack story, and I'm working with Disinformation to figure out a cover for the neon flooding and incineration work, but that's a secondary priority for now. All other efforts proceeding as planned."

"Excellent work - thank you for all of your efforts, Agent. I'll check back in at noon - keep me updated in the meantime."

"Yes sir - signing off."

As the videoconference ended, Valdez leaned back in his chair, taking a long moment to stretch. He stood up, touched his toes, swung his arms - took a sip of his morning coffee.

And then he sat back down at his desk, and switched back to the tab he'd had open just prior to the discussion.

From a Foundation chopper, a live view of Manhattan, and more importantly - the argon-rich forest full of fatal toxins currently occupying Times Square, slowly retreating from the Foundation damage control teams encircling it.

Just one easy day. Just one. All I'm asking for.

He sighed, picked up the phone, and got back to work.

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