The blaring music just made it worse! He grumbled to himself wondering why they had to play these loud, obnoxious songs long before the rally was set to start, and he answered his own question as he heard footsteps trotting above his dressing room. He couldn’t believe supporters were actually arriving well ahead of the warm up speaker stepping onto the stadium’s stage! His blood raced, his heart pounded wildly, and his chest tightened up just thinking about the crowd he would likely face! They told him that his skyrocketing poll numbers would draw a larger audience than before, and now he feared that their prediction would get proven right! His stomach churned at the very thought! He couldn’t take it! He grabbed a pack of cigarettes and dashed outside.
The cold air amplified the smoke that he exhaled. Watching it slowly get bigger before it vanished helped him take his mind off of his anxiety a little bit, but not completely since he could hear the clamor of his spectators above him. He sincerely hoped an avid fan wouldn’t venture into the restricted area, he just wasn’t ready for that kind of attention yet! He briefly noticed a security guard trying to get his attention, but he paid them no mind. He couldn’t! He didn’t have much to himself, so he had to take what little he could get when he got the opportunity! Lately, every minute of his life got stolen to cater to other people’s needs, so he had to take some time to decompress! He couldn’t wait until election season came to a close! But then it occurred to him that if they succeeded that this practice may not change! A part of him wished that he would lose so he could go back to living in luxury thanks to the wealth he earned during his ad man days, but then he bitterly wondered if he would have enough money let after this folly finished to return to his old lifestyle! Then again, he knew that if they didn’t emerge victoriously, nothing normal would ever exist again! He had an enormous weight on his shoulders, and knowing the importance of it all didn’t help him feel any better about all that he had to do!
Bella found one of the venue employees and addressed him, “It’s starting to rain pretty hard out there! Is there any way to put some kind of cover over everyone?”
“No way, lady! This is a football field, not a convertible!” He saw that she didn’t appreciate his sense of humor, so he quickly followed that with, “I can offer plastic ponchos to them though!”
“Good! See if you can get them some umbrellas too!” Bella ordered.
As the worker hastily ran to adhere to her bidding, Rialowe briefly had the urge to laugh, but he couldn’t muster up any sign of enjoyment right then. He could feel Bella’s eyes on him, but he ignored her. He had no obligation to give her any more of his time than he already had! As she marched over to him, he realized that she clearly didn’t share that viewpoint! “What are you doing?” she barked.
He took another drag that shrouded her face from his vision. “I know when showtime is! I don’t need a reminder! You have plenty of peons around here to yell at if you’re bored!”
Before he could take another puff, Bella snatched his cigarette away from him. “I told you not to mess with these things anymore, especially right before showtime! We need your vocal chords to stay in pristine condition!”
With his vice out of his hands, Rialowe began to tense up again. “You know, screw you! You put the fate of the human race on my back and then expect me to function just fine without a goddam break! What’s the point of surviving if you won’t let me live?”
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you so…?” Bella took a good look at his body language, and then she concluded, “Wait, are you nervous?”
“Don’t worry about it! My opinion never mattered before, so why should it now?” Rialowe tried to walk away from her.
Bella thrust her arm out to stop him. “Your opinion doesn’t matter? I thought we were all on the same page here!”
Rialowe assured her, “I’m not backing out of the plan, but it doesn’t mean I like going through it!”
“You didn’t have a problem with it before!” Bella pointed out. “What changed?”
“I don’t know!” Rialowe stared out at the storm clouds and remarked, “Something in the atmosphere just feels different…”
Bella guessed, “You mean like the rain?” Rialowe glared at her and showed signs of leaving, so she elaborated, “I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass! I just meant the bad weather might be making you feel gloomy.”
Rialowe shrugged. “Maybe that’s part of it.” He pulled out his cigarettes without thinking about it. “It didn’t feel so daunting at first, but seeing the numbers grow and…” He almost lit another smoke, but when he saw Bella’s reproachful expression, he grimaced and put everything away again. “It’s just a little… unsettling… knowing that a lot of the people who come to see me won’t come back! The more my popularity increases, the more…” He didn’t finish his sentence partly because of the flurry of movement happening around them but mostly due to the sinking sensation he got when he broached the concept.
“Listen…” Bella took him to the side so no one else could hear them. “I know the process isn’t easy, but think about the end goal! You’re doing this for the greater good, they’ll thank you later!”
“You’re right!” Rialowe couldn’t deny her logic, but he still didn’t feel completely reassured. “Why does one feel so different though?”
Bella heard someone paging her on the headset she wore, so she hurriedly advised him, “If you want us to do well today, I suggest you quit feeling and starting doing something more useful! We can’t fail!”
As she scampered off, Rialowe almost pulled out his cigarettes again. He heard someone approach him, so he let out a noise of annoyance as he stuffed them back into his pocket. When he turned to face his visitor, he expected to see someone of high authority. It caught him off guard to see the face of a beautiful woman wearing one of his campaign hats! It also shocked him to see a group of like-minded companions behind her since he hadn’t detected a large gathering coming his way! He really hoped that his devotees hadn’t seen him in a more vulnerable state, and it vexed him that he had to deal with them before he had mentally prepared himself to do so! Despite all that, he knew he had a job to do, so he tired to rapidly switch on his usual bravado. “How can I help you guys?”
“We’re from the Ohio Independent Party Committee,” Gwynivara fibbed. “We need to talk to you before everything starts.”
“I’d love to, but I’m on a tight schedule, and I…” He trailed off as he noticed something familiar about the figures that stood before him. He had his suspicions, but this bunch seemed so harmless, so he doubted his ominous theories. He spotted another security guard passing by, and as he eyeballed this congregation, Rialowe’s curiosity got the best of him. Besides, he didn’t want to cause a fuss if he could help it! He invited them, “Let’s talk in my dressing room, ‘kay?” The security guard gazed at him questioningly, and even Rialowe couldn’t fully explain it. He waved him off and ushered these mysterious strangers to a place of privacy. He didn’t think that they would prove themselves as foes, but if they had, he reassured himself with the fact that they were heading to a place with no way out!
Cody surveyed his surroundings with a set of binoculars, and then suddenly, he saw a security guard heading backstage. “Bingo!” he exclaimed right before he high-fived the Rebel sitting next to him. That Rebel did the same to the person next to him, and she did the same to the person next to her. They did a chain of this until they reached Cedric, who sat at the end of the row. He discretely pointed his palm by the railing, and he made the security guard freeze in his tracks by causing a small explosion! The attendees close to the area all screamed, so the security guard had no choice but to investigate the incident. Cody espied Rebekah on the other side of the stadium and gave her a thumbs up, a gesture that she returned back to him. He smiled and then continued to investigate the rally territory.
Rialowe shut the door behind him and offered the Rebel Officers, “Have a seat.” Gwynivara, Emorick, Bernadette, Riley, Naama, Niqun, John, and José all found a spot on the floor to sit while Rialowe perched himself on a cushioned bench in front of a vanity mirror. As he sifted through a stack of papers on the table next to him, he apologized, “Forgive me, but I do have a very large speech to give, so I need to read through a lot of notes, but I promise I’m listening!”
“That’s totally fine! We understand!” Gwynivara regarded him genially, but inwardly, she maintained a healthy level of skepticism. After their adversaries spent so much effort in trying to prevent this meeting from ever happening, it seemed odd to her that the Rebels made it happen so seamlessly! Furthermore, Rialowe acted kind to them, and so far, she didn’t detect any hints of deception! She considered the possibility that Kierram’s defense of him had been warranted, and the only thing that kept her from completely buying into this notion that they may actually achieve their goal through peaceful measures was the fact that he continually promoted dangerous messages that fit Rafeneita’s agenda perfectly! She supposed that he could have come up with his campaign themes on his own and unwittingly assisted Rafeneita’s scheme, but just in case that didn’t turn out to be true, she kept her guard up and watched for indications of physical altercation.
“What can I help you with?” Rialowe asked them as he continued to skim through his papers.
Emorick answered him, “Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but we have a high level of quarantine victims in this state. Thousands of innocent people are locked away indefinitely, and thousands more have given up their freedom trying to avoid that fate. We really admired your views on creating more liberty for everyone, so we hoped that you could help us promote this movement on a grander scale.”
Still rummaging through his belongings, Rialowe cordially responded, “Yeah, that’s a huge problem! That’s why I plan to cover it extensively tonight.”
“We were hoping you could go a little further with it,” Bernadette conveyed to him.
“How so?” Rialowe found a specific packet and began reading through it.
Bernadette explained, “They’re never gonna stop hunting people down so long as they can spin this narrative that Venenatus Sanguis exists, and it doesn’t matter how how many of us deny it, they’ll keep doing this as long as they can convince at least half the population that it’s real. We may not be able to persuade those sheep of the idea that it’s all a hoax, but we can convince them there’s a cure.”
Rialowe, while studying the packet with grave concern, probed, “How can I say there’s a cure for a disease that doesn’t exist?”
“That’s easy!” Riley asserted. “You tell all of your supporters to take the cure, let them know that it doesn’t matter if it may be a placebo! If everyone thinks that they’re cured, then the government can’t keep capturing people with that same old excuse! Piece of cake!”
“Wouldn’t doctors just point out the cure is fake?” Rialowe brought up while keeping his eyes on the data in front of him, gazing at it as if it would help him make a decision.
“Not if we convince some doctors to speak out on your behalf,” Gwynivara countered his argument. “The PHC may have lost credibility, but doctors sure haven’t! They’re overwhelmed by the mishaps from this charade, so they’ll be happy to find a way to-!”
Before Gwynivara could complete her thought, Rialowe aimed both of his palms at them! It came so fast and unexpectedly that none of them could defend themselves let alone process what was happening! Rope appeared out of nowhere and bound them all together! No one could move their arms, so no one could fight back! Rialowe strolled over to them and showed everyone the paper he had been staring at so vigorously- it was the FBI’s most wanted list! “You guys really believed you had me fooled, huh?” he sneered.
Gwynivara stammered, “You… You can do incantations?”
Bernadette snapped, “So, you’ve had Venenatus Sanguis this whole time that you’ve been trying to convince people it’s not real?”
“Yes, that’s right! But don’t look so shocked! You really think I could face these massive spreading events without getting bit by a beast? Incidentally, I took the easy route to get there!” He showed them one of his “Rialowe ’76” lollipops and threw it back onto the table.
“Why are you doing this?” Emorick grilled him.
Rialowe indulged him, “Because eventually we’re all gonna get it, this will be the new normal! The sooner we can infect everyone, the sooner we can get our lives back again! And of course I lied to them! They wanted me to!” He pulled off Emorick’s “Lie to Me” hat and threw it to the ground. “The virus will spread more with everybody’s guard down, so naturally I decided to feed them that line! Quite successfully, might I add!” He ambled his way around their captured bodies. “My numbers having been growing by the thousands each day! I’m more popular than Ford and Carter combined! Soon, I’ll be president and the most powerful person in the world! I can save our entire species!” He ceased his gait directly in front of Gwynivara. “That’s why I can’t have you imbeciles out there peddling your snake oil! I’m the salesman here! You will not beat me at my own game!” He used another incantation towards Gwynivara and drew the vial with the cure out of her pocket! “I can’t let you sell this to anyone!” Gwynivara’s heart pounded manically while she watched helplessly as he held the cure up in the air threateningly…