This story is an entry in the Labyrinth Forum February 2015 Writing Contest
Prompt: Choose One of the following as the first line of your entry:
1. I had never been so sorry in my life…
2. 'Excuse me, is this seat taken?'
3. 'Okay, everybody, we go live in three… two… one…'
The Future has Been Televised
"Okay, everybody, we go live in three. Two. One."
The massive screen at the front of the television control room that went from floor to ceiling cut away to a high-definition image of a gorgeous square called Dealey Plaza. Grassy knolls rolled through the center of this small sliver of nature in a sprawling metropolis.
The sidewalks saw massive crowds with signs of red, white and blue lined along the side of the street as if waiting for someone to drive past.
At the back of the control room, the Producer stood wide-eyed and full of youthful enthusiasm. This was his first shot at the big time, and he wouldn't drop the ball. If he managed to produce a killer episode, they'd bring him back. Hell, maybe they'd even bring him on full time. If it worked out, the Producer thought it was entirely viable that he could make Executive Producer - or even showrunner - before long.
He had to get through this episode first.
The Producer brought the mic to his lips. "Agent Oswald, what's your status?"
"Almost there," Said Oswald through labored breath. "Alright. I'm ready."
"Let's go over this one more time."
"No need," Oswald said coldly. "My target's in the middle of the convoy in a convertible. Take the shot. Wait for the distractions to go off and then make for exfil."
"Sounds like you've done this before," the Producer said with a bit of a nervous chuckle.
"Maybe I have. Maybe I haven't."
The Producer nodded, completely satisfied that Oswald would execute his role to the letter. Everything hinged on his performance. Everything.
The wide-angle perspective on the massive screen showed the first car in the convoy turning the corner that would bring it along the street to cruise past the amassed crowd.
"Okay! This is it. A-camera, stay wide. B-cam, I need a two shot on the husband and the wife. Charlie-cam, be ready to snap off the reaction shots. We're on."
The Producer expelled the air from his lungs that he'd been holding without realizing it.
"Agent Oswald, whenever you're ready."
The second car in the convoy rumbled around the corner and sitting atop the back of the car, a man in a blue suit with his hair parted down the left side. Next to him, a beautiful woman with the highest of fashion draped over her. They waved to the crowd with curt waves and rehearsed smiles. Then...
One shot rang out, grazing the man in the suit. The second one hit its mark, a clean headshot. The third missed.
Then the scene before the cameras dissolved into utter chaos.
The camera crews were quick to paint all of the proper angles for the broadcast, but the Producer didn't care. Whatever else happened now on the scene was immaterial, he'd already gotten the shot he needed. He just hoped that Network was satisfied with the broadcast.
An Associate saddled up to the Producer and handed him a phone. The Producer gave him a once over, "Well, who is it?"
The aid stammered before getting his answer out, "The President of the Network. He wants to speak with you.
Fuck, the Producer muttered under his breath.
"Mr. President," the Producer started.
"Save the bull shit formalities Producer Man. I wanted to talk to you about tonight's broadcast."
Here it comes, the Producer thought to himself.
"Ratings are through the goddamned roof! You've got a bright future here at the Network! I want you in my office first thing in the morning to discuss."
CLICK. The President hung up before the Producer could even mouth a yes, sir. He turned to the aide with a sideways smirk. "We did it. We fucking did it."
-Five Years Later-
"Alright. We go live in three. Two. One."
The massive screen at the front of the television control room that went from floor to ceiling cut away to a high-definition image of a quaint two story hotel called the Lorraine. The smaller screens lined alongside the massive panorama all showed different perspectives of the very same hotel.
The Producer stood near the back of the control room as directors, sound mixers and other assortments of technicians bustled through rows and rows of monitors, keyboards and touch screen interfaces. He nestled his ears underneath a pair of headphones and brought the mic in line with his mouth. The producer looked tired. Bags had formed under his eyes. Wrinkles on his forehead and at the side of his face hinted at burdensome worry. If that didn't do it, his hair, once brown, had been peppered with streaks of silver, especially at the temples.
The last five years had aged him.
"Agent Ray. Are you in position?"
There was a brief moment of hesitation before Agent Ray on the other end came back. "I'm ready to go. Before I do this, do you absolutely promise that my family will be taken care of?"
The Producer looked to his left at an Associate scrabbling notes frantically onto a yellow legal pad. The Associate looked up and nodded back to the Producer with a thumbs-up.
"You have a job to do, Agent Ray. We will uphold our end of the bargain. You just make sure that you hold up yours." The Producer lied. He knew damn well they weren't going to uphold their end of the bargain. Agent Ray was on his own, and from the Producer's experience since being given this job, it wouldn't end well for him or his family. He thought back to his first production. Back to Agent Oswald, arrested and paraded around before another Network got one of their agents - some mope named Ruby - to eliminate Oswald.
"Copy that," came the resigned response.
On the screen, a man stepped out on to the second-floor balcony with a cigarette. He was a dark-skinned man, with sharply lined hair and a narrow moustache. It wasn't the immaculately tailored suit that gave him a regal presence. In fact, as he dominated every screen in the control room, the Producer couldn't even begin to try and articulate the kind of air that surrounded him.
"A-Camera, I want a close up on him as soon as he steps to the edge of the balcony. B-Cam, get ready to give me a wide angle. Do not fuck this up, people. We are only going to get one look at this."
The Producer eyed the smaller secondary screens at the front of the room and from the moving perspective's shakiness, that his camera operators were moving into position.
A handful of seconds later...
One shot rang out, and instantly, the black man fell. On the primary screen it was a gruesome sight. The bullet tore through the man's cheek, and into his body. His body flung back so violently that the black necktie he wore snapped from around his neck.
The Producer winced at the gruesome nature of the shot. They'd gotten too good at this and it was starting to become increasingly harder to watch.
The Associate approached holding the phone with a smile on his face.
"It's the President of the Network. He sounds happy."
The Producer rolled his eyes as he took the phone, "Mr. President."
"Goddammit Producer Man. You've done it again. I don't know how, but ratings just doubled! Great fucking work!"
The Producer looked over his shoulder at the massive screen, at the black man resting in a puddle of his own blood with a .30-06 sized bullet hole in his cheek. A wicked shiver traced up and down his spine.
"Yeah, thanks," the Producer said before handing the phone back to the Associate and walking off, leaving the Associate with a confused stare.
-Many Years and Many Broadcasts Later-
The Producer popped a couple of pills out of an orange prescription bottle and chased them down with a coffee-cup filled with bourbon. The years had not been kind to him - especially after all the plastic surgeries, that thing with his prostate, the multiple ex-wives, the multiple alimony payments. He stood with the help of a cane and ran his hand over his few strands of gray hair that he clung hopelessly on to.
He approached the black haired Associate. She was new - fresh meat for the Network grinder - but she was good at her job. The Producer knew she had designs on climbing up the ranks as he did all those years ago. Who was he to dissuade her? If someone tried to warn him back then, would he have listened?
She handed him an iPad with the shot list for today's broadcast. The Producer studied it up and down three or four times before slamming it down on the desk.
"Get the Network President on the line right now," he shouted.
"Jesus christ. What the fuck are we doing? With all the others, it meant something. They were people that were going to change the system . That's just a fucking kid. For fuck's sake, we're just rate baiting at this point. Making the lowest common denominator to entertain the lowest common denominator. I won't do it."
This was only the second President in the history of the Network, and the Producer knew that with the transition would come some changes. But this? This just wasn't right. It wasn't how things were done.
"Tough shit," said the new President. "You tell yourself it's different. But it's not. You're looking at it from the perspective of an old fossil, because, well, you're an old fucking fossil. Back then, the agents of change were few. Today, the world is much smaller and agents of change are all over the place."
The Producer listened to the words that came from the other end of the phone and they were on the mark. All of them except for one.
Today was no different from back then. He'd just couldn't live with it anymore. The price his soul had paid just wasn't worth it.
"Here's what I'll do. You've put in a lot of good work during your time here, Producer man, so we'll let you out of your contract. You get your pension, keep your benefits and you get to walk."
"What's the catch?"
"Just be mindful of the confidentiality agreements that you signed when you took the job and you're done. If there's nothing else, there's a broadcast I need to watch."
The call ended and the Producer sat there for a handful of wordless moments with a blank expression on his face.
It's over. Finally.
He stepped out of the private office and walked out to zero fanfare, everyone hard at work on the next broadcast. As he headed for the exit, he nodded at the black-haired Associate and felt a hint of regret. She got her start the same exact way that he did.
Then he heard her say: ""Okay, everybody, we go live in three. Two. One. Agent Wilson, are you ready?"