"We stand upon the precipice of a great change. The pivotal scene of society's advance. How we shall be perceived shall shape the events of the future; both theirs and ours, lest we forget our own inevitable mortality."
A cold chill hung in the air. Men and women walking the streets pulled scarves and coats tightly around themselves. Clouds, ashen grey, swam through the sky and a dull mist clung to the streets.
A young couple walked through the park, arms linked and smoke billowing from their lips. Their hats were pulled down low over their ears and their shoes crunched over the gravel upon which they walked.
Skeletons of trees, their branches bare of leaves, hung over the park; dew clinging to their limbs. Birds sat perched upon them, watching the citizens below.
Lanterns glowed gold and swayed from the street lamps, overhanging the street. Banners had been draped from beams extending from the sides of the lamps. Gold against a black background, a serpent wound its way across the cloth.
Ava sat on the bench of the park, wringing her hands together to fight the cold. Her thick coat had been fastened up over her chin, and the hat that she wore was pulled down low. Wisps of dark hair poked from underneath the wool and hung over her face. Faded grey eyes watched the traffic rolling down the street, almost as if she were waiting for something.
A man walked up behind her and stood with his hands in his pockets for several minutes. His dusty blonde hair hung in front of his face and the scarf wrapped around his neck was pulled up to his nose.
"What do you want, Nat?" Ava asked, still watching the road.
Nathaniel stepped around the bench and sat next to her. "Do I need a reason to come and talk to you?"
"I'd say so, considering I told you that I never wanted to see you again."
"You know that wasn't my fault, Ava."
"No, I don't. Seemed like you had a pretty good handle on things at the time. Now I don't have a job thanks to you." She breathed heavily and rubbed her hands faster. They had already turned red from the cold. It felt like needles were pricking at her skin.
"I told you I couldn't do anything," he argued, purposely keeping his voice low.
"And I told you I'm sick of your bullshit," Ava retorted. "Now if you don't mind, I'm meeting someone and I'd rather you not be here."
"I didn't know you had a boyfriend," Nat said, following her gaze with his eyes and joining her in watching the street.
"I don't. And even if I did I wouldn't tell you. It's none of your damn business who I associate with."
"I'm your friend, of course it's my business."
"No, you were my friend," she retorted. "Now leave me alone."
Nat rose to his feet and looked down at Ava. "You can't keep this up forever."
"I can give it a damn good try," Ava said, still focussed on the road.
As Nathaniel walked away, she dared a brief glance at him. Feeling her eyes on his back, he turned his head over his shoulder and broke into a grin.
Feeling her face flush red with anger she looked back at the road, just as a taxi pulled up beneath one of the banners hanging from the street lights. Stepping out onto the concrete, the man in the taxi swept his hand back through his oiled hair.
Ava stood and walked to meet him; hands in her pockets. Smoke billowed from her nose as she reached the edge of the park.
Snapping his lighter open, the man lit a cigarette and took a long drag. Exhaling, he pointed the blazing tip towards her. "You alright? Your face is red."
Folding her arms over her chest, Ava looked back at Nat, still somewhat visible in the distance. "It's nothing."
"If you say so." He took another drag. "He's quite impressed with your résumé."
"Well he didn't shred it, which is a positive."
Ava didn't know how to respond. She took a deep breath and forced out a smile. "That's good."
"Keep that attitude," the man smirked. "You're going to need it if you meet him. He's not the easiest person to get along with."
"Is it true what they say about him?" she asked, staring sheepishly at her associate.
"That depends what they say."
"That he's full of himself. That he's... Different."
"Insane?" He broke into another grin as he finished the cigarette and crushed it underfoot.
"I didn't want to say it..." she bashfully retreated in on herself.
"He's not insane. He's a man that knows what he wants."
Looking up at the banner above them, Ava's eyes lingered on the golden serpent. "And what does he want?"
"Everything," he chuckled. "But right now... you."
"So I got the job?" Expectation and excitement welled up in her chest. She held her breath.
"You got an interview. Tomorrow afternoon at two." He lit himself another cigarette and looked Ava up and down. "Make sure you look nice, alright?"
"What's wrong with the way that I look?" Ava asked, defiantly. Her grey eyes narrowed into daggers.
"Nothing, nothing." The man held up his hands in comical defence, the cigarette still clasped between two fingers. "You're just... Not his taste."
"Not... Not his..." She blushed, her face turning bright red.
"Don't get me wrong, you're a very attractive girl. It's just that he's very..." He stopped to think, puffing on the cigarette. "Particular." Pulling out a roll of notes, he held the money out to Ava. "Buy yourself a nice suit. Get your hair done. Maybe some earrings."
She stared at the money, dumbfounded.
"Go on, take it." He shook it half-heartedly. "Get yourself something nice."
"I am not taking charity, Charlie!" she said in disbelief.
"It's not charity. It's... a loan. Once you get the job, pay me back." He forced the cash into her hand before giving her a business card. "Head down to this shop, buy a suit and I can guarantee that he'll love you."
Just as Ava was about to continue to protest, Charlie's phone began to buzz inside his pocket. Whipping it out, he checked the name on the screen.
"I'm sorry, I have to take this. I'll see you later, okay?" He broke into a smile. "You'll be okay."
Ava stood and watched Charlie answer his phone and walk away. Clasping the roll of notes tightly, she looked down at the currency. There must have been close to four hundred Daric there. Pocketing the money, she withdrew her own phone and called the number on the card.
"Um hello, yes, I'm looking to buy a suit."
Ava stepped out from the shower, wringing her dark hair over her shoulder. Wiping the steam from the mirror she stared at her face, skin red from the hot water and shimmering wet.
She wasn't unattractive. Far from it. And yet Charlie had still told her to "look nice" for the interview. As if there were something wrong with the way that she usually looked.
Walking from the bathroom, she left a trail of damp footprints along the floor. Rubbing herself with a towel, Ava made her way to the bedroom. Laid out on her bed was the new suit she had just bought.
Even the woman fitting her suit had given her a look of distaste.
Dropping the towel, she looked over herself in the full length mirror fixed to the door of her wardrobe. She smoothed her hands down the flat of her stomach and turned to the side.
Ava was slender, but not without curves. Her skin was pale and her hair dark, creating a subtle contrast. Her breasts were pert and well-shaped, and her legs muscular.
Dressing herself in her underwear, Ava broke into a sigh. Picking up the suit, she held it to her body and looked back in the mirror.
Was the job really worth all of this effort? Going out of her way to buy a new suit, to prep and pamper herself, to make sure she looked her absolute best, was nice; but was it really right to be doing this just for some eccentric billionaire? And only on the off chance that he could like her and maybe give her a job.
"It's worth a try though. Pride be damned."
Ava dressed slowly, making sure that everything was in place, before starting on her hair. Once she was done, two French plaits adorned each side of her head before coming together into a tightly bound bun upon the back of her scalp. Her makeup she made a point of being extra careful with. Not too much and not too little; just enough to highlight her features well. Once that was finished with, Ava draped a gold necklace around her neck and slipped on her new pair of shoes.
Taking one last look in the mirror before setting out, she sighed. "At least you look nice."
Wrapping her coat tightly around her body, Ava fought against the chill in the air as she left her apartment complex. The cold still bit against her skin and without her hat, her ears were left exposed, soon turning bright red.
The midday traffic was fairly light, especially considering the time of year, which allowed her to easily dash across the road to the bus stop. Traffic lights blinked red and green as she waited. The banners hung above the street billowed in the wind.
Ava caught herself wondering what her new employer would be like. About whether the rumours were true or not.
The head of a conglomerate business, he practically owned the entire city of Uruk. Branded merchandise and chain corporations were all but unseen; everything in the city bearing the mark of his company. In a very narrow sense of the word, it could be said that this man owned everything. Grocers, tailors, electricians; even the police force was inside his pocket. If this were three hundred years earlier, he might have been a king.
Eccentric was one of the many words used to describe him. That and mad. Beautiful was another word that was thrown around often.
Ava had never before heard of a man being referred to as beautiful. However, speak to anyone who had seen him, be it in person or on television and that was the description that they offered. She herself had seen him on the news many times, but never really bought in to all the hype.
"I guess he's just not my taste," Ava whispered bitterly under her breath; words all but disguised by a cloud of smoke.
The bus pulled up to the side of the road and the doors hissed open. Withdrawing a handful of change, the metal gripped her skin like ice.
"Enûma Eliš, please," she said as she stepped up to the driver.
"Two Sigloi," the driver muttered, as he printed off her ticket.
Tipping the silver change into the tray, Ava took the ticket and stepped to the right. Reaching up, she grasped hold of one of the hanging supports; not wanting to sit and risk creasing her clothes. The bus lurched into motion and began to roll along the road.
"Though it's not as if I'm actually going to meet him, myself," she thought to herself, her mind still on her potential employer. "It's just an interview. Surely they pay someone else to do that? They must do. But then why did Charlie tell me to dress myself up?"
All of a sudden, Ava became terribly aware of herself. She was stood at the front of the bus, isolated from the other patrons. That in and of itself wouldn't have been too dire a situation, however she had just realised that the coat that she now wore hung lower than her skirt. Anyone who didn't know otherwise could assume that she were in a state of undress under the coat.
Ava averted her eyes from the rest of the bus and looked out of the windshield at the city unfolding ahead of her. Vibrant colours met her gaze, setting her at ease until she saw the tower. The tallest building in the city by far, it was visible over the top of any skyscraper that dared impose upon it. Seen through a gap in the buildings, it was two blocks away at most.
Suddenly registering that this interview was very real, Ava gripped the hanging support tightly. A lump rose up in her throat, despite her best efforts to banish the feeling.
Before long, the bus had pulled up outside Enûma Eliš tower. Stepping out onto the pavement, she looked up at the massive structure. Mostly constructed from glass, and bearing the symbol of the golden serpent across the door, the tower instilled a very real feeling of insignificance.
Taking one final deep breath, Ava mentally counted to ten before pushing her way through the doors and into the reception hall. Walking up to the woman sat at the front desk, she broke into a smile.
"Hello, my name is Ava Ragen, I'm here for an interview at two."
"Ah, you're Charlie's friend," the woman smiled. "Let's see, you're on..." she stretched out the end of the word for several seconds, "floor one hundred and two. Wow, you must be going to see someone important."
Ava stood dumbstruck. Her mouth may have even been hanging open. "I... I'm sorry, what floor was that again?"
"One hundred and two. The elevator-" she pointed across the room with her pen, "is just over there. You'll have to change at floor forty seven, but after that it will take you straight up."
She walked across the room in utter shock. As she stood waiting for the elevator, her mind whirled into overdrive. "Why is my interview on such a high floor? I only applied for a secretarial position. Okay, calm down and take this one step at a time." She pushed the button to call the elevator. "Maybe this is just some kind of informality? But the woman at the desk acted so surprised." The elevator arrived with a pleasant and high toned 'ding'. She stepped inside and removed her coat, draping it over her arm. "This is too much; I can't take this. Okay, breathe. Breathe. It'll be okay."
She reached the forty seventh floor much faster than she expected. Underneath her coat, her hands were shaking. She changed elevators and watched the city recede beneath her through the glass. Before long, Ava had arrived at her destination.
Swallowing, hard, she walked up to the secretary and forced her face into a smile. Her words felt like they were going to catch in her throat; however she managed to get them out without issue. "I'm here for the interview at two."
The secretary's hair matched her lips; both shimmering blood red. Her eyes, green and clear, scanned Ava quickly.
"Take a seat," she said, dismissively. "He'll call you in soon."
Fighting back the urge to snip back a sharp reply, Ava forced a smile and turned towards the couch on the far corner of the waiting room before sitting down. The girl sat behind the desk was most definitely not her kind of person.
Ava sat for several minutes, watching the secretary potter about her "work". If you could call it that. It consisted, mostly, of tapping away absent-mindedly at her keyboard and painting her long, manicured nails.
"Scarlet, would you send her in for me, please?" a voice suddenly said. Ava nearly jumped out of her skin; thinking that someone else was in the room before she realised that it was the intercom.
Scarlet depressed the buttom on the intercom with the knuckle of her middle finger to save the polish on her nail. "Yes sir." She turned towards Ava with a brief flash of disdain. "Gilgamesh will see you now."