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"Can you tell me why you're here?"

Believe it or not, it was a cat that did me in.

In high school, I had an assignment to volunteer for a local mayoral candidate's campaign office for an afternoon. So two friends and I decided to get together and work for the same guy.

Our parents dropped us all off at the headquarters of the campaign office. They settled on having us go knocking door to door handing out fliers. We hopped into a truck and they drove us out to this apartment complex where we were supposed to go campaigning. The person who drove us there left, saying they would be back in two hours.

Not two minutes after they left, I heard a tiny meow coming from somewhere nearby. Now, I love animals. So if there was a kitty nearby, I wanted to pet it. I looked around and saw nothing, but then I heard the same little meowing again, this time coming from an abandoned box in a corner of the parking lot. I approached it and found two kittens. One of them lay still, apparently sleeping, and the other was mewling desperately, trying to move around the box.

The sleeping one was black and the other was tabby. They couldn't have been more than a few days old, and their mother was nowhere to be seen. My friends and I gathered around them and named them. Pablo was the black one and Sebastian was the tabby. Wanting to see them play, we tried nudging Pablo from his sleep. He didn't budge.

He was dead.

I felt terrible, you know? I wanted to do all I could for Sebastian. Keep him from suffering the same fate as Pablo. I had seen a payphone at a nearby corner store, so I asked my friends if they had any change. I managed to scrounge up two quarters from them, and we decided to split up. One of my friends would stay behind with Sebastian while my other friend and I would head to the corner store.

We booked it to the store, and I shoved the coin in while dialing my mother's number as fast as I could. She answered after a few rings. I told her about Sebastian, desperately explaining that he need to see a vet, and all she did was start scolding me; for worrying over a dumb cat, for abandoning my responsibilities, and, above all else, for wasting her time.

Can you believe that?

I managed to convince her to look up the city animal shelter in the phonebook for me. My friend took down the number and we hung up on my mom, hoping to get a more sympathetic answer from someone at the shelter. They answered and I pleaded with the woman on the line to please come to pick up Sebastian; he desperately needed help. She said they were full up on cats and wouldn't be able to pick up any more. I thanked her for her time and hung up. I didn't know what else to do.

My friend and I walked back to the apartment complex. The three of us met up again in front of the box. Our only hope now would be the person who dropped us off. So we waited. We waited for two hours in silence, occasionally interrupted by Sebastian's cries for food, help, and care.

Eventually, the person showed back up. We pleaded with them to please let us bring Sebastian with us and to drop us off at a vet. You know what they said? "I'm allergic to cats. No way." If I were older I would have fought with them to let us bring Sebastian. But I was a kid and afraid to upset an adult. So I took one last look at the box and left Sebastian behind, getting into the truck.

When we got to the campaign office, the campaign manager asked for us to hand over any fliers we had left and since we didn't go knocking on doors, we simply handed her back the full piles. She was very upset with us, and yelled at us about our lousy work ethic and about how we were just a bunch of lazy, lazy teenagers. She refused to sign our slips saying we had worked for her campaign, so my friends and I all got F's for that assignment.

Never in my life have I felt more useless than I had on that day. And let me tell you, my whole life I had wanted to do something special. And saving a dying kitten seemed pretty damn special and achievable to me. But I couldn't, and I didn't. If you were to ask me what the worst day of my life was I would easily tell you it was that.

And then I came into the Foundation as a field agent. I was a model employee and scored really high on the loyalty tests they do every now and then. I did so well, in fact, I was scouted to join this department. It started simply enough. Go here, watch this person. Go there, watch that person. Rough up this guy's cousin, beat up that guy's father.

Eventually, it got to killing people. People who had nothing to do with the Foundation. At first, I didn't want to do it. I think most people would have reservations about killing their fellow humans, you know what I mean? It started with indirect killings. Slip someone this ricin. Give that person a lethal injection. But then the requests got more violent. Shoot this guy in the face. Drop this schmuck into a vat of hydrochloric acid. And I followed along with it.

They fed me their schpeel, and I bought into it. "You're helping the Foundation by doing this; you're helping save the world!" I believed every bit of it. After all, I was special, wasn't I? I was already special enough working for the Foundation and I was the most special among the special for having been scooped into this department. I was here because I was the best of the best, willing to do whatever it takes to protect the world.

It made sense to me at the time, you know? My whole life I had wanted to be special and suddenly there I was, being told I was the most special of them all, just for following instructions. I was desperate for validation, and the department was there for me when I needed it. How sad is that? Geez, whatever positive opinion you held of me is gone by now, isn't it? Or maybe it was gone the moment I turned up on your docket, heh.

Before that though, it's yesterday. Researcher Allison down in R&D wants to leave Foundation employ. And our department sends me to take out a target of crucial interest to Allison. It's her sick and dying cat. No problem, I think. I've killed plenty of people before, what's a cat going to matter?

So I come to her house while she's still at the Site. I step inside and I see this old, skinny cat lying on the couch. I look at it and see Sebastian. Same tabby pattern. Same sad face. Same pathetic meow. Suddenly, I'm a teenager again. Suddenly, I'm back in that grimy apartment parking lot. Suddenly, I'm having the worst day of my life all over again.

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The worst part is I know you sent someone else to do it after I failed to kill the cat. I'm done playing these games. I just can't do it anymore. I want out.

I know what that means for me. I know what we do to people who want to leave. I know you don't actually care, so just do what you have to do to make me believe in this again. Because we both know I'm leaving here as your tool.

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