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All The King's Men

Chapter Text

 Spokane, Washington, USA.

May 10th, 1968.


   Initially, this wasn’t what Ms. Pauling had expected when she was accepted into TF. Industries. Of course, she was well aware that in these technologically advanced post-industrial times, endless fights for power, corporate greed, and vast espionage were practically socially accepted aspects of the modern way of life. It was the modern way of life. Technology ruled the world- that being especially true for the global superpower known as good ‘ole USA. A God among nations, the United States earned the notoriety of being friendly-yet-dangerous in the '30s when scientific advancements previously not foreseen were developed faster than one could sing Blood on the Risers. Ever since then, this strength has only continued to grow.


But despite knowing that, Ms. Pauling still had not expected this.


Yesterday she had landed in Spokane, a beautiful city in the state of Washington. But Ms. Pauling didn’t have much time to take in the beauty of the city, her body was fatigued from jetlag, and she longed for a bed- even a park bench would do - she considered it at the time. Luckily it didn’t take long for her to find a rest stop. After grabbing her luggage and exiting the lobby, Ms. Pauling immediately spotted a cozy hotel that was conveniently located a few blocks from the airport.


The location’s perfect, business there must be pretty good , she thought. If this job doesn't work out, I think I already have a backup in mind.


But enough about that, Ms. Pauling told herself. Her legs were killing her, and her arms felt like noodles against the weight of her luggage. It was time to find a bed. Quickly.


     Ms. Pauling received the letter of acceptance a week prior, it was a response to her request for hire, so it said. According to the letter,  she was wanted, but instead of giving contact information, she received instructions on what to do next. 


     “On May 10th, ” it read, “ you are expected at the TF. Industries HQ at 1 PM.” 


Ms. Pauling booked a flight to Spokane, Washington from Geneva, New York that would arrive on May 9th. That would be ideal, she thought, since she was certain that rest would be a priority after an 8 or 9-hour flight. When she awoke the next day, Ms. Pauling decided to leave around noon, earlier than instructed.


However, that afternoon was plagued with a heavy downpour. Great gray clouds hung low and thick, but Ms. Pauling wasn’t going to let one bad storm ruin this major job opportunity. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often, especially not with folks in her profession. With her black umbrella held close above her head, Ms. Pauling sprinted through puddles, almost slipped crossing a corner, even got a few big splashes of cold water on her black dress; yet the small woman treaded on until she reached the entrance of TF. Industries HQ. For a moment Ms. Pauling eased her anxiety. She performed a few routine breathing exercises, inhaling and exhaling in even breaths. As she did, her eyes flicked around and studied the scenery. 


     TF. Industries chose an interesting place for their headquarters, she noted. It was elevated, built on a hill, and stood out among the other structures in Spokane. The giant ivory building itself appeared almost ominous in the storm as it loomed over the muggy, humid city below.


When she entered through the auto-sliding doors, the first thing that caught her attention was such a spotless, clean lobby. The ceiling's lights reflected off the shiny floors, almost blinding her when it flashed onto the lenses of her ivory cateye glasses. Ms. Pauling blinked repeatedly, allowing her eyes to readjust to the lighting, and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose before closing her black umbrella and walked across the unusually vibrant tiles, her white heels tapping lightly as she approached the politely smiling blonde woman behind the front desk.


     “Good afternoon.” The woman greeted. 


     “Good afternoon.” Ms. Pauling replied with a grin. “It’s really coming down, huh?”


     “That it is.” The woman answered. “How may I help you?”


Ms. Pauling handed the woman the card that was mailed to her, along with the letter of acceptance. She was instructed to hand the mysterious card to the informant behind the front desk, who Ms. Pauling assumed this woman was. The blonde took the card and examined it, before glancing back to Ms. Pauling and smiled. She slid the card across the orange reader behind the counter, and a small ding along with the sound of sliding doors opening echoed throughout the large room. Intrigued, Ms. Pauling glanced around the room, trying to find the source of the noise. Despite growing up in what some would consider a rather advanced city, all this technology was still new to her.  


     The blonde chuckled, seeing how silly Ms. Pauling looked as she stumbled around like a child, and said “Up the stairs, you’ll see a large elevator. Press the 15th-floor button.” She gestured to the short, spiraling staircase. “Welcome to TF. Industries, Ms. Pauling.” The woman held out the card to her.


     A sudden wave of happiness flushed over Ms. Pauling as she took the card back from the blonde. “Oh- T-Thank you, Miss…?”


     “Diana Watney.” The blonde responded.


     “Watney,” Ms. Pauling repeated quietly to herself. She smiled, waved to Diana and turned for the stairs. “Right. I’ll remember. Thank you, Ms. Watney!”


Ms. Pauling quickly disappeared up the stairs. She was eager to see her new employer, whoever that was, and begin what she considered to be a new life. This was the big break she was looking for. This was that perfect opportunity her mother had told her about, this was what she had worked so hard for.


No, Ms. Pauling never expected this.


     After arriving on the 15th floor, two armed guards held their rifles up to her head the second she exited the elevator. Ms. Pauling had squeaked in surprise and held up her hands. With their large weapons and intimidating black uniforms, the guards demanded to see her business ID card, to which she quickly complied. The two men examined the legitimacy of the card, searching for specific details, Ms. Pauling assumed. Afterwards, they nodded, then directed Ms. Pauling to their boss’ office. Well, escorted her, of course. Can’t be too careful these days, Ms. Pauling supposed.


Now, she sat across from a mature woman, perhaps in her late 50’s, gray strands peeking through her fluffy dark hair. She oddly seemed both unenthused and intrigued simultaneously. On the left side of her chest, her white name tag was fastened tightly. In bold print, it read, Caldwell.


     “Security is a priority.” The old woman explained. “TF. Industries is a powerful company, you see. Jealousy is expected… we have a lot of enemies.”


     Ms. Pauling nodded. “I understand.” She glanced behind her, where the guards still stood, blocking the exit. At the sound of shuffling papers, Ms. Pauling turned back to the old woman.


     The crone skimmed through a box of various folders as she spoke. “You performed remarkably in school. You graduated at the top of your class, earning you internships at the most respectable of companies.” With her slender wrinkled hand, she pulled a thick folder from the box and placed it on the desk. She pushed it towards Ms. Pauling. “You did, as many have done before you. It is nothing exceptional.”


All former excitement within her faded. She wasn’t impressed. How could she not be impressed?  Hours upon endless hours of hard work and preparation, sleepless nights dragged on with long and boring study sessions, all the anxiety and stress built up before every big milestone… 


     Before Ms. Pauling could question, the old woman continued. “Your file caught my eye, Ms. Pauling. Not because you performed well in school, or your work experience matter how useful that may be... Your file caught my eye because of your...  listed mentors.


     Ms. Pauling sat quietly. Her mentors? She knew that her future employers would look into who she interned for; the more strict the company, the better it looks on one’s record. But what exactly would be significant about her mentors? They were just names. Surely the company itself shows more significance. “...They are very intelligent men, ma’am. What about them?”


     “That they are, and they are also jointed informants for TF Industries.”


Ms. Pauling’s eyes widened as her head tried to wrap around the statement. TF. Industries HQ is in Spokane, in Washington state, on the west coast. Ms. Pauling herself grew up in New York state, and interned at decent businesses in her home city of Geneva, on the east coast! How could people so far apart connect that quickly?


     The crone continued. “Every intern that begins under their supervision is listed in our combined database. If they show promise, I take an interest, and I monitor.” Her long index finger flipped open the folder and pointed to the name Derek Anderson. “Mr. Anderson is a long-time acquaintance of mine, and is responsible for bringing me some of my best employees.”


     “Anderson… Anderson Weaponry. Yes, I was his accountant.”


     “You appeared to be more than just that, Ms. Pauling. Mr. Anderson gave you several different tasks to do, and you excelled, according to him. Everything from espionage, intimidation, and hitman work.” A small curt smile appeared on the woman’s aged face. “Fascinating.”


     Ms. Pauling shifted in her seat. “Well, I was just doing what he asked, ma’am.”


     “Oh, do not give me that.” The old woman closed the folder and focused on Ms. Pauling’s face. “Anderson wouldn’t have given these assignments to just anyone . He gave them to you because he knew you would accept them. That innocent, harmless act you have does not fool me, Ms. Pauling.”


As the old crone held her stare on the younger woman, Ms. Pauling tapped her heel on the ground. She performed her absolute best in school. She refused to do the bare minimum. She fought to excel in everything. This wasn’t forced upon her, she wanted to do this. Her mother warned her about what could happen if she failed to meet the expectations of the highest employers, there was a fate waiting for those that failed to succeed. 


It’s a battle out there, and she wasn’t going to lose. 


Her mother made sure she knew the consequences of failure. Her mother taught her how to fight against it. She told her not to be afraid of what she might have to do.


She told her about the bigger picture.


She told her it would all be worth it in the end.


There is no shame in climbing up the ladder.


     “Silence, Ms. Pauling?”


     “Oh,” Ms. Pauling quickly crossed her legs. “Yes, I won't deny the things I’ve done.”


     The crone opened a drawer from her cabinet and pulled a paper from it. “I am not shaming you, dear. I want someone with such a versatile skill.”  She slid the paper over to Ms. Pauling.


     Ms. Pauling glanced down to the sheet, Employee of Interest Survey Form, it read. She raised her head and looked back to the woman. “What will I be doing, ma’am?”


     “You’ll be assisting me in my affairs. That is all you need to know, dear.”


Ominous, but Ms. Pauling was more than intrigued.


     “Additionally,” The woman continued, tapping a finger on the weekly amount section of the form. “The pay is rather handsome.”


1,000 dollars a week.


Ms. Pauling’s eyes widened. How could anyone possibly pay someone that much a week?  Everything about this interview was more than strange, and far from normal. But despite this...


     After a few seconds, Ms. Pauling took a pen from the holder and tapped it open. “Where... will I be staying?”


     “We have employee housing.” The crone answered.


     “Good…” She whispered to herself. “Good… Um, Ms. Caldwell-” 


     “Do not call me that, please.” She responded.


     “What- What would you prefer me to call you?”


     The old woman thought for a moment. “Just call me… Administrator.”


No, there was never an idea, a thought- nothing that would have caused Ms. Pauling to ever expect this.


Something about this building, this company, and this woman felt very unusual. Ms. Pauling recalled her mother's words.


There is always a bigger picture.


Perhaps she was simply overthinking it, but she couldn’t help but feel as if that statement applied here. Ms. Pauling wasn’t stupid. She knew this woman was in for herself, and she was only an asset.


There indeed is a bigger picture.


In an age like this, when is there not?