Stroke of Genius: A Love Story

At this very moment, high above the clouds, there is a building floating in the sky.

From this building, twenty-fours hours a day, seven days a week, inspiration in all its forms is distributed to Mortals on Earth by a corporation known as the Museum.

It is here that we find a newly minted Muse on her first day of work.

Her name is Agapé. Some of the younger sprites make fun of her because they have more modern names like Jason or Michelle. She can’t help it if her mother is a goddess of love who tends to take things, like names, a bit literally.

They won’t be laughing now.

A coveted position, only the best of the best are chosen to be Muses. The others usually become Nymphs of this woodland or that spring. To Agapé, becoming a Nymph meant becoming part of a dull and overpopulated profession.

Agapé got ready before the sun crested over the eastern hemisphere and arrived at the ancient headquarters bright eyed and bushy tailed. (Although, her own tail is quite sleek thanks to a touch of cougar on her father’s side of the family)

When she arrived, Agapé realized that it was her first time seeing the Museum up close.

Unless you are a Muse or on official Muse business, you are not allowed to take the Light Rail to its front doors. Until you were granted access, it was forbidden to step foot on the ancient platform.

A crime punishable by death, for inspiration is a very serious business.

If a Mortal were to look upon the colossal building—however unlikely that may be—they would see the Pantheon’s columns, strong and tall. They would see the ogival towers of Angkor Wat, rising like budding lotus flowers towards the heavens. The light from the top of the world would glitter on stained

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glass of Notre Dame, warm the terraces of Machu Picchu, brighten the colors of St. Basil’s Cathedral, and slide down the canopies of Potala Palace. And of course this is what they would see, it is the birthplace of inspiration. It is not a mash-up of the things they would see on Earth but a catalogue of possibilities. The architecture of Earth is but a mere imitation of what the Original Nine had created with the Museum.

Agapé was feeling inspired herself.
“This way! This way! The others are waiting inside! We were just about to start!”
A lavender skinned woman sashayed over to Agapé with her long purple plumage swishing on the

ground behind her. It was apparent she was in a hurry.
“Come on, babe! Inspiration waits for no one!” She led Agapé by the hand through the front

doors of the Museum, who upon entry stood at the back of the medium sized crowd with her mouth, well, Agapé. Full of music and color, the atrium of the Museum was crowded (in the way that stars crowd the universe) as Muses congregating in clusters, sharing thoughts and ideas amongst themselves.

One pair Agapé passed was discussing how a sunset really sounded:

“No, no, no, it’s about the hum of the purple! NOT the click of the orange!” Said the equine Muse, her broad hips rolling as she paced in place.

“Well,” the other replied, “that’s just wrong, isn’t it?”

As they continued their debate, the gliding violet woman assumed her position at the front of the throng and addressed the group:

“Hello and welcome to—drumroll please—the Museum! My name is Aileen and I will be your guide! This tour will move very quickly, because as I have said before and have no problem saying again, inspiration waits for no one, so please try to keep up! This way!” Aileen led them down a dim hallway occupied by nine podiums, each bearing the marble bust of a woman illuminated by spotlights. Their names were emblazoned on brass plates affixed to the stone base beneath them.

“Founded by the Original Nine just before the dawn of time, the Museum has grown as fast as the population of Mortals. Even with its great strides in expansion, the Mortals now outnumber Muses twelve to one. While our credo is that anyone can be inspired, we simply cannot afford to give every single one the attention they would need. So, here at the Museum, we apply a very sophisticated method in order to match a Muse with the Mortal most likely to manifest signs of their Muse’s influence. Each of the Origi-

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nal Nine is the head of her own department. Each of you will be sorted based on the results from your entrance exam and Oracle reading. From there you will be assigned a team lead. Then you will realize your full potential as a Muse and unleash your gifts, whatever they may be, on the world below. Won’t that be a delight? Oh, but don’t worry, they are all just as fabulous as the next! Oh, I love that word! Fab- ulous. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I was there when it was invented! Oh, just seeing you all gives me so many ideas, so many good feelings! I can’t wait to share them with my Mortal, Hiro. Anywho! No time for rambling, time to move on to the next stop in our tour!” Agapé did her best to keep up as they darted through the hanging gardens and hurtled up the stairs in the ancient library. The observatory and dance studios on the uppermost floors had unobstructed views of the world below and heavens above.

“Views you will have the time to see once you are assigned a department and Mortal,” she re- minded everyone with a smile. At the end, Aileen turned on her heels and led the group into a room where two more agents of the Museum were waiting on the opposite end of the room in front of a heavy wooden door. The rest of the room by comparison was just as heavy. Thick velvet drapes cascaded down the walls in crimson, navy, and aubergine and the floors absorbed the sound of their footsteps.

“Right this way! Wrap around everyone! There, that’s perfect. Now, this room is where you will all be receiving your assignments. My lovely friends at the other end of the hall will call your name. You will step up to the Oracle, who will read your flux and let you know what department best suits you. It is imperative that you remain quiet, otherwise the Oracle will not be able to get an accurate reading and your time here at the Museum will be very unpleasant. I remember one Muse who was misassigned. Poor thing didn’t last a month. Very sad. And with that, I bid you all adieu! Like I said earlier, inspiration waits for no one! Welcome to your new home, Muses.” She sashayed away, off to do whatever it is she did to conjure inspiration.

The group of new Muses stood there silent and exchanged nervous glances with each other. Be- fore long, all eyes were fixed on the two standing on the other end of them room from them, holding their fates in their hands.

The Muse holding the clipboard stood opposite the other, who was seated on a raised pedestal surrounded by pillows swathed in silk and satin. In its lap, there was a brazen cymbal and felt covered

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mallet. Between them, the floor was warped from millennia of new Muses standing in place, awaiting their judgement.

In a booming voice much larger than his body, the clipboard Muse called the first name.

With an enthusiastic gait, the chosen one walked up to the Oracle and stood before it. The Oracle then raised its cymbal, lifted its other arm high above its head and struck the disk. The sound rolled through the air, each tone deliberate. The Oracle leaned in and and peered over the waiting candidate.

The room quieted and in less than a minute the Oracle spoke.
“Epic Poetry.”
The wooden door before the newly classified opened and they were ushered through to the other

side by someone waiting out of sight. And that was that. The door closed and the next Muse was called forward.

On and on they were shuffled towards their destiny. To Agapé and the rest of the new recruits, it was the same old bwong every time. The process was not as romantic as Agapé had imagined. For the root of all inspiration, it was all quite bureaucratic.

Before too long, it was Agapé’s turn. The clipboard Muse called her name with that booming voice and she excused her way from the back of the crowd. She walked the short aisle, which seemed a mile long, and settled into the grooves left behind by her predecessors.

Agapé stood before the Oracle, whose pedestal was much higher than it seemed from the other side of the room, and wrung her hands together as she waited. She looked to the clipboard Muse, who was much smaller than it seemed from the other side of the room, and hoped for some looks of consolation or comfort but it was an indifferent stare she received.

The Oracle leaned in with its magic gong and struck it true, sending those deep vibrations throughout the room. Agapé felt them at her core, bouncing around like she was full of mirrors before they left her body.

The Oracle gave Agapé a once over with milky eyes and sat back in its seat for a moment. “Lyrical Poetry.”

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The wooden door opened before her and she was ushered through by those waiting on the other side. The one waiting for her was a Muse not much taller than she was with colorful designs running up both of her blue arms and onto her chest.

“Hi! The name is Idalia. I’ll be your team lead in Lyric Poetry. Agapé, right?” She extended her hand and shook Agapé’s wildly.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said after reclaiming her numb hand.

“Great! Follow me and I’ll show you where you’ll be working.” She turned on her heels and led Agapé through the atrium from the beginning of the tour. Agapé looked over all the groups clustered to- gether and wondered which in one she would find herself.

“Excited?” Idalia asked, snapping Agapé out of whatever trance she was in.
“Yea, I suppose Iam.”
Suppose? You better get sure, girl! You are in the home of inspiration! We have the power to

change the course of mankind! All those love poems and heroic deeds for the hearts of fair maidens, that’s all us baby!”

Just off the atrium there were nine hallways, branching off towards their respective departments. Idalia led Agapé through the third hallway from the left down a hallway marked LYRICAL POETRY.

“And it doesn’t stop at poetry, either. Since our expansion, we’ve been able to incorporate sculp- ture, painting, and even architecture! As long as it’s about love, it’s all good. So! Welcome to the Lyrical Division’s Inspiration Hub!” She said with a flourish of her arm.

The wall in front of Agapé stretched tall as she could see like a giant honeycomb. Each pod glowed with light and sound. Platforms carrying Muses to their stations whizzed by her head. Idalia pushed a button on the wall closest to her and summoned a platform for them. She stepped on and beck- oned for Agapé to follow her.

“Come on! It’s not so bad once you do it. Before you know it, we’ll be at your very own inspira- tion console.”

Agapé stepped up onto the platform and grabbed the handle just as it began to zoom away to- wards her pod. In the blur, she could make out sounds of laughter, crying, shouting, and even the occa- sional moan of ecstasy.

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“What is going on?” She thought out loud.

Idalia turned with a smirk on her face and answered. “You’ll see. Inspiration does different things to all of us. Who knows how you’ll react when you smell the color purple or find out what flying through the air really tastes like. Even madness has it’s place in creativity. But you also have to know yourself, it takes a strong Muse to keep her head once the Creative Juices start flowing. Once we arrive, we’ll see what mortal you are assigned to and then you’ll patch in.”

“Patch in?” Agapé asked as they slowed in front of an empty pod.

“Here we are! Be careful, it’s a long way down.” Idalia helped Agapé step off the platform and to a panel next to a glass door.

“Okay, put your hand up to the pad and let it scan your palm. Once you register, you’ll be able to come here anytime. Only I or Erato can access your pod to check on things but it’ll most likely only be me. Erato checking on us is something that never happens. So go on now, put your hand on there. That’s right, nice and firm.”

Agapé placed her hand on the cold scanner and found it was more squishy than she thought it would be. The gel pad read her palm and a melodic voice greeted her.

“Welcome, Agapé.” The door swooshed open and Agapé stepped into a room just big enough for two people to stand. The console before her lit up as it powered on. There was a large chair with a helmet and wired gloves in the seat in front of it. Under the helmet there was a folder. Idalia picked it up and handed it to Agapé.

“This is the file on your Mortal. Take a peek and then insert the startup disk into the Reality drive. You’ll find basic information on your Mortal as well as their potential for change. This potential is calcu- lated in the form of our Change Index, a tool developed when the human race grew past our ability to match individual demand for inspiration. The higher the number, the greater the chance they will change the world. The lowest needed to be assigned a Muse is two hundred but I’ve seen some as high as one thousand!”

Agapé opened the file and a photo of a young man was paper clipped to the front. His curly hair formed a halo around his brown face and made his gap toothed smile even brighter. His name was Xavier and he was a writer. An only child, he had grown up in the warm climate near the Equator to a school-

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teacher mother and a father in law enforcement. Both were killed in the ongoing civil war the country has been locked in for the past twenty years. His score on the Change Index was a whopping 789. Agapé smiled down at his picture and grabbed the circular disk with his Reality from its pouch in the back of the file. Idalia showed her where to insert it and the console accepted the disk with a soft whirr. The screen in front of the chair was illuminated and a status bar flashed across it. A circle below it revolved as the Real- ity disk uploaded.

“So!” Idalia said, clapping her hands together. “As that does its thing, let me tell you a little bit more about your Inspiration Station. Have a seat.” She picked up Agapé’s helmet and gloves so that she could slide into the chair.

“Ok,” she continued, “this is how we interact with our Mortals. The Reality Console is a machine that allows the Muse, that’s you, to see the world through their Mortal’s eyes. And not just see. But taste and smell and hear and feel it, too. The helmet allows the console to interface with you so that you don’t miss a thing. Once you are connected successfully, this light will illuminate.” She pointed to a dim green button embossed with the words “SECURE CONNECTION” in bold, black letters. Below that was a dim red button with the words “CONNECTION FAILURE”. Agapé let her finger trail over the top of it. Idalia noticed.

“You never, never ever, want that button to light up.”
“Why?”
“Because if it does, that means you have lost the connection to your Mortal by either failure beta,

and your Mortal has experienced burnout to the point of permanent damage, or failure alpha: your Mortal died. Either way, they will never be able to create again. Your chance is over.”

Agapé pulled her hand back and looked back at the glowing blue screen. The status bar was now one third of the way full.

“Don’t worry, once you do it the first time, it loads a lot faster every other time. Well, moving on, this here is your Inspo-Board. While you are patched in, you will highlight things you feel will drive their creativity.”

“How will I do that?”

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“You’ll grab it. Trust me, it will make a lot more sense once you get going. Once you grab it, you’ll add it to your Inspo-board. Every time you add something, the meter beneath it will start to fill up. Once the meter is full, then your Mortal is at peak Inspiration.”

“Then what?”

“Then, its your job to get them to use it! We are not only responsible for inspiring them but also getting that inspiration out. We do that with this button right here.” She pointed to an unlit orange button with the word “NUDGE” on the top. “Using the NUDGE button, you can steer your Mortal in the right direction, giving them little pumps of the Inspiration to get them going. But you have to be careful to not overuse the nudge button, otherwise you’ll push them past the point where they need to be. This leads to burnout and you’ll lose the items on your Inspo-board. But if you happen to get your Mortal going, you can control the flow of items from the Inso-Board yourself. Got it?”

“I suppose,” Agapé said, “but what happens when the Inspo-board is empty?”
“Then you’ll have to fill it back up.”
“How do I know if what I think is inspiring is actually inspiring to my Mortal, I mean, to

Xavier?”
“The potential effect of the element you grabbed is reflected by how much of the Inspo-Board

meter is filled when you grab it. Sometimes all you need is one thing. Sometimes you need more than one hundred things. But in an emergency, and ONLY in an emergency, you can push the MANUAL OVER- RIDE button. This will give you complete control over your Mortal and their words and actions will be your words and actions. The longer you are in control, the more likely your Mortal is going to have a mental break and lose touch with Reality. Use it sparingly. The Mortals that have experienced this call it a ‘stroke of genius’, but it’s really us.” She said with a wink.

The status bar on the blue screen was now full. The screen blinked off as the meters around her re-calibrated one final time.

The screen remained dark.

Aside from the blinking buttons that surrounded her, the only light came from the helmet that Idalia was holding in her hands. Faint sounds floated over to her from the earpieces.

“What’s happening?” Agapé asked.

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“Your Mortal is having a dream. The big screen in front of us will show you what he sees when his eyes are open but when he is asleep, there’s not much of a view. The helmet is the only way to see what he sees now. Ready to try it out?” Idalia held the helmet and gloves out to Agapé.

“Here goes nothing.” She took the items from her team lead and placed them in her lap.
“Put the gloves on first. It will be a lot easier that way,” Idalia advised.
Agapé did as she was told and put the gloves on, one at a time, and they lit up like an electric web

along her palms. She could feel the sensation of warm sand flowing through her hands. She rubbed her fingers together and as she looked at her empty hands she was sure she felt the familiar grit of a sandy beach.

“Good luck, Agapé. See you on the other side.” Then she was gone.
Agapé took one last breath and slipped the helmet over her head.
The sun was shining bright and the salty sea air filled her lungs. She caught glimpses of her lower

extremities and saw the strong brown legs of a man in his late teens. His hands were calloused and rough but very clean. There was no one around and Agapé walked with Xavier along his dream beach. The waves crashed beside them, spraying his face with cold water.

He thought of his mother. Of how she would spritz him with cold water from the sink when the days were almost too hot to bear and he would collapse in her arms from playing in their small yard. It made him happy.

Agapé didn’t know how she knew that, she just did.
Then something happened.
She felt a sensation come from deep inside her and she saw that feeling floating in the air before

her, sparkling and blue like the ocean. She reached out and grabbed it. It was cold in her hand. She looked over at her Inspo-Board and touched the feeling she held to its surface. The Inspo-Board absorbed it and it floated in a blue swirl on its surface. The meter blinked and one bar out of twenty illuminated.

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She turned her attention back to the dream and watched a figure approach Xavier from the other end of the beach. His heart began to flutter as the figure took the form of a young woman. Her long black hair blew in the breeze and her skin shone like bronze in the sun. She walked up to him and spoke. As she

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did, Agapé could see her greeting swim through the air in hues of deep purple. She grabbed it and added it to the Inspo-Board. This time three bars on the meter lit up. The purple and blue danced and whirled around each other in harmony.

Agapé watched Xavier dream, plucking feelings and sights and sounds out of the air while he imagined what it would be like to be with this girl, until his Inspo-Board was full and he woke up.

“Wow, all from one dream! I’m pretty good at this!” Agapé thought to herself. “Now, to get him to use it.”

He opened his eyes and Agapé saw his room. The walls were bare and cracked from years of dis- repair. He slept on the floor on a thin mat for comfort. Papers with sketches and half written stories lit- tered the floor around him. His closet was empty except for a ratty suit and a few other articles of cloth- ing. He stood and shook the pain out of his back. Despite the aches, Agapé thought he felt strong and healthy.

He walked over to his window and looked out over the city from his fifth floor apartment. Smoke and fire still smoldered in buildings from the day before. The ground rumbled from the tanks that passed through the narrow streets. He closed the flimsy blinds and turned away from window. He knelt down and started to shuffle through the papers.

“Maybe now is a good chance to get him going.” Agapé pushed the NUDGE button and waited. Nothing happened.
She tried it again.
Xavier paused for a moment and looked over the piece of paper he just so happened to be hold-

ing. Angry words flitted through his mind as he read it. Thoughts of how the war made him feel. And what it cost him.

“No, don’t think of that stuff! Remember the dream!” Agapé nudged him again. His eyes softened and he grabbed the broken pencil closest to him.

“There you go!”
He wrote one word and that word was a name.
Vitória.
Then he gathered the papers into a neat pile, put them in his knapsack, and left.

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“Is that it?” Agapé wondered.

But, having no other choice, she went along as Xavier ate a sparse breakfast of jerky and stale water. When he left the house, she had trouble finding anything beautiful in the crumbling buildings and dirty streets. The cries of the displaced were grating to her. By the time he got to the town square later that day, Agapé had barely added to the Inspo-Board.

The square was full of people from the devastated town and even some from the neighboring cities. There was a man standing underneath the statue of a general riding a horse rearing up tall on its hind legs. He spoke loudly to the cheering crowd in his own camouflaged clothing promising change and peace. Xavier joined the crowd and cheered for the man who understood, that like them, he was a victim of the system meant to protect them, a system that had skewed to favor some over others.

“Libertar o país! Salvação e independência!”

They jumped and sang and into the late hours of the night. Each of them sharing their hopes and fears at the new world cresting over the horizon. Either they would rise with it or they would fall.

Agapé noticed that Xavier was a natural leader; when he spoke, they listened. His heart beat strong and loud in his chest when they planned their strategy to take back their country, to be free once and for all. The thuds of fists banging on tables and the chants of the mob snaked their way through the air like red hot barbed wire in front of Agapé.

She reached up and grabbed it. The anger burned her hands as she slammed it onto the Inspo- Board for relief. The Inspo-Board accepted it and seven bars in illuminated on the meter. It was the most any element had affected it.

“Wow,” she thought, “I always thought the point of love was to be happy. Why isn’t he inspired by the dreams he is having? They seem happy enough. They should be happy enough.”

As Agapé pondered this, the girl from his dream walked into the cavernous cafe and took a seat at his table.

Vitória.

They said hello to each other and her purple voice slid its way through the air like a goldfish in water and swam in circles around his head.

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As Agapé reached out to grab it, an explosion from behind Xavier sent clouds of fire and ash from one end of the room to the other. The stone building crashed around them and Vitória’s gentle tone turned to screams of pain. The once fluid purple of her voice turned jagged and sharp as it fused with the clouds of confusion and pain.

Agapé went with her instincts and grabbed the dark cloud with its vocal lightning bolts and threw it onto the Inspo-Board. The meter below glowed yellow.. Only one bar remained until it was full.

Soon, the building came down around them and everything went dark.

She pulled her helmet off and took a few difficult breaths. She considered going to get help from one of the more experienced Muses but the screen flickered to life before she could.

“I won’t leave you, Xavier,” she said aloud. She put the helmet back on and watched as her Mor- tal scanned the dark room for survivors. She watched as he dug person after person out of the rubble. Un- til that moment when he found his beloved Vitória.

As he looked over her lifeless body, a shape began to materialize in front on Agapé. Black and shapeless at first, it soon took the shape of a fuzzy caterpillar. It began creeping its way around, growing brighter with each inch until every hair on its body glowed white hot like magnesium. It was beautiful. Agapé raised her open hand and the caterpillar found its way into the middle of her palm. She placed it on the Inspo-Board and watched as the meter glowed green with completion.

Hours later, his compatriots came and pried her dead body from his hands (another sensation that although there was no room for, Agapé would never forget) and sent him home.

He sat and stared at the blank pages strewn across his floor and held his charcoal pencil limply. “Come one, Xavier! You have to get it out! You have to tell the truth of what’s going on here!” NUDGE.
Agapé pushed the button knowing that his purpose was on the precipice of being fulfilled.

But he did nothing.

NUDGE.

With tears in his eyes, Xavier let the pencil roll out of his hand and across the floor. He curled up and cried on the floor for his lost Vitória.

Agapé had no other choice; she had to push the button.

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MANUAL OVERRIDE blinked in bright purple above her as her body fell limp in her chair and she plunged into unconsciousness.

When she came to, her body was heavy. She stood and was alarmed by how far the ground was from her head. There was no screen and no console. Just everything that Xavier had in his room and could see through his own eyes.

I’m actually controlling his body! This feels…amazing!

She wobbled like a newborn as she got acclimated to this gigantic form and found the nearest piece of paper. She knelt down, almost hitting her, or rather, his head on the desk as she recovered the pencil from underneath it. She took to the paper writing everything that she needed him to say and every- thing he needed to keep going. Soon, the letters lifted off of the page danced in circles around her head.

Xavier was starting to burnout.

Please, no! I’m almost there!

The words smeared as she rushed them on to the paper. The sounds of explosions rang in her head but the room remained unchanged.

There were no bombs.

She was losing grip on what was real and she knew it was time to let go. If she didn’t, both she and Xavier would suffer. She relaxed and let her consciousness slip away from his. When she awoke, Xavier was sitting on the floor surrounded by papers full of his frenzied writing, each sentence continuing where she left off, until he collapsed from exhaustion and his Inspo-Board was drained.

Over time, it got easier for Agapé to grab the anger out of the air or to taste the sadness in their dinner. Every time Xavier’s eyes stung from the tear gas in his sweat or he pulled a piece of shrapnel from his scarred body, she grabbed it. She pulled from the hellhole that was his life without Vitória and threw it up on the Inspo-Board. Every time, it would come pouring out of Xavier onto the paper.

When he was done, he had a story.

It was the true story of what that war cost. How his love for a woman and his love for his country were all that kept him going. Xavier had intended to show it to one of the foreign reporters so that the world would know of their struggle.

But he would die before he ever did.

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On the day he was meant to meet the correspondant, Agapé had patched in and waited for the screen to calibrate. It remained black. Then the one button that she never wanted to see illuminated was flashing bright red.

Earlier that morning, Xavier arrived at a gathering of the revolution’s supporters a bomb explod- ed, killing everyone in attendance. As fate would have it, the knapsack that Xavier kept his manuscript in was undamaged and the reporter it was intended for found it in the rubble. That reporter then ran Xavier’s story in in the newspaper and after it had garnered enough attention and outrage, the book was published.

Through Xavier’s words, the rebellion’s efforts were bolstered. The king and his armies were de- feated and the people were finally free.

At the Museum, Agapé sat alone in her pod as the red button flashed. “CONNECTION FAIL- URE” it reminded her over and over again. Xavier’s startup disk was ejected from the Reality console with a sad whirr. Agapé pulled it out, held it in her hands, and for the first time in her life, cried over a Mortal.

The door behind her opened with a whoosh and Idalia walked in.

“It’s always hard the first time. You’ll realize that the Mortals that make a difference tend not to last very long. That’s how you know you did the right thing. Don’t let it get you down, ok?”

“…ok,” Agapé replied.

“Good! So! Are you ready for another one?” Idalia asked as she pulled another folder from be- hind her back. She offered it to Agapé.

Agapé took it from her hand and read the file.
With a deep breath, she slid the new startup disk in the Reality drive. “I’m ready.”

END

From this building, twenty-fours hours a day, seven days a week,  inspiration in all its forms is distributed to Mortals on Earth by a corporation known as the Museum. 

It is here that we find a newly minted Muse on her first day of work.

Her name is Agapé. Some of the younger sprites make fun of her because they have more modern names like Jason or Michelle. She can’t help it if her mother is the actual Goddess of Love who tends to take things like names a bit literally.

They won’t be laughing at her now. 

A coveted position, only the best of the best are chosen to be Muses. The others usually become Nymphs of this woodland or that spring. To Agapé, becoming a Nymph meant becoming part of a dull and overpopulated profession.

Agapé got ready before the sun crested over the eastern hemisphere and arrived at the ancient headquarters bright eyed and bushy tailed. (Although, her own tail is quite sleek thanks to a touch of cougar on her father’s side of the family)

When she arrived, Agapé realized that it was her first time seeing the Museum up close. Unless you are a Muse or on official Muse business, you are not allowed to take the Light Rail to its front doors. Until you were granted access, it was forbidden to step foot on the ancient platform. 

A crime punishable by death, for inspiration is a very serious business.

If a Mortal were to look upon the colossal building—however unlikely that may be—they would see the Pantheon’s columns, strong and tall. They would see the ogival towers of Angkor Wat, rising like budding lotus flowers towards the heavens. The light from the top of the world would glitter on stained glass of Notre Dame, warm the terraces of Machu Picchu, brighten the colors of St. Basil’s Cathedral, and slide down the canopies of Potala Palace. And of course this is what they would see, it is the birthplace of inspiration. It is not a mash-up of the things they would see on Earth but a catalogue of possibilities. The architecture of Earth is but a mere imitation of what the Original Nine had created with the Museum.

Agapé was feeling inspired herself.

“This way! This way! The others are waiting inside! We were just about to start!” 

A lavender skinned woman sashayed over to Agapé with her long purple plumage swishing on the ground behind her. It was apparent she was in a hurry. 

“Come on, babe! Inspiration waits for no one!” She led Agapé by the hand through the front doors of the Museum, who upon entry stood at the back of the medium sized crowd with her mouth, well, Agapé. Full of music and color, the atrium of the Museum was crowded (in the way that stars crowd the universe) as Muses congregating in clusters, sharing thoughts and ideas amongst themselves. 

One pair Agapé passed was discussing how a sunset really sounded:

“No, no, no, it’s about the hum of the purple! NOT the click of the orange!” Said the equine Muse, her broad hips rolling as she paced in place.

“Well,” the other replied, “that’s just wrong, isn’t it?”

As they continued their debate, the gliding violet woman assumed her position at the front of the throng and addressed the group:

“Hello and welcome to—drumroll please—the Museum! My name is Aileen and I will be your guide! This tour will move very quickly, because as I have said before and have no problem saying again, inspiration waits for no one, so please try to keep up! This way!” Aileen led them down a dim hallway occupied by nine podiums, each bearing the marble bust of a woman illuminated by spotlights. Their names were emblazoned on brass plates affixed to the stone base beneath them.

“Founded by the Original Nine just before the dawn of time, the Museum has grown as fast as the population of Mortals. Even with its great strides in expansion, the Mortals now outnumber Muses twelve to one. While our credo is that anyone can be inspired, we simply cannot afford to give every single one the attention they would need. So, here at the Museum, we apply a very sophisticated method in order to match a Muse with the Mortal most likely to manifest signs of their Muse’s influence. Each of the Original Nine is the head of her own department. Each of you will be sorted based on the results from your entrance exam and Oracle reading. From there you will be assigned a team lead. Then you will realize your full potential as a Muse and unleash your gifts, whatever they may be, on the world below. Won’t that be a delight? Oh, but don’t worry, they are all just as fabulous as the next! Oh, I love that word! Fabulous. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I was there when it was invented! Oh, just seeing you all gives me so many ideas, so many good feelings! I can’t wait to share them with my Mortal, Hiro. Anywho! No time for rambling, time to move on to the next stop in our tour!” Agapé did her best to keep up as they darted through the hanging gardens and hurtled up the stairs in the ancient library. The observatory and dance studios on the uppermost floors had unobstructed views of the world below and heavens above.

“Views you will have the time to see once you are assigned a department and Mortal,” she reminded everyone with a smile. At the end, Aileen turned on her heels and led the group into a room where two more agents of the Museum were waiting on the opposite end of the room in front of a heavy wooden door. The rest of the room by comparison was just as heavy. Thick velvet drapes cascaded down the walls in crimson, navy, and aubergine and the floors absorbed the sound of their footsteps.

“Right this way! Wrap around everyone! There, that’s perfect. Now, this room is where you will all be receiving your assignments. My lovely friends at the other end of the hall will call your name. You will step up to the Oracle, who will read your flux and let you know what department best suits you. It is imperative that you remain quiet, otherwise the Oracle will not be able to get an accurate reading and your time here at the Museum will be very unpleasant. I remember one Muse who was misassigned. Poor thing didn’t last a month. Very sad. And with that, I bid you all adieu! Like I said earlier, inspiration waits for no one! Welcome to your new home, Muses.” She sashayed away, off to do whatever it is she did to conjure inspiration.

The group of new Muses stood there silent and exchanged nervous glances with each other. Before long, all eyes were fixed on the two standing on the other end of them room from them, holding their fates in their hands.

The Muse holding the clipboard stood opposite the other, who was seated on a raised pedestal surrounded by pillows swathed in silk and satin. In its lap, there was a brazen cymbal and felt covered mallet. Between them, the floor was warped from millennia of new Muses standing in place, awaiting their judgement.

In a booming voice much larger than his body, the clipboard Muse called the first name.

With an enthusiastic gait, the chosen one walked up to the Oracle and stood before it. The Oracle then raised its cymbal, lifted its other arm high above its head and struck the disk. The sound rolled through the air, each tone deliberate. The Oracle leaned in and and peered over the waiting candidate. 

The room quieted and in less than a minute the Oracle spoke. 

“Epic Poetry.”

The wooden door before the newly classified opened and they were ushered through to the other side by someone waiting out of sight. And that was that. The door closed and the next Muse was called forward. 

On and on they were shuffled towards their destiny. To Agapé and the rest of the new recruits, it was the same old bwong every time. The process was not as romantic as Agapé had imagined. For the root of all inspiration, it was all quite bureaucratic.  

Before too long, it was Agapé’s turn. The clipboard Muse called her name with that booming voice and she excused her way from the back of the crowd. She walked the short aisle, which seemed a mile long, and settled into the grooves left behind by her predecessors.

Agapé stood before the Oracle, whose pedestal was much higher than it seemed from the other side of the room, and wrung her hands together as she waited. She looked to the clipboard Muse, who was much smaller than it seemed from the other side of the room, and hoped for some looks of consolation or comfort but it was an indifferent stare she received.

The Oracle leaned in with its magic gong and struck it true, sending those deep vibrations throughout the room. Agapé felt them at her core, bouncing around like she was full of mirrors before they left her body. 

The Oracle gave Agapé a once over with milky eyes and sat back in its seat for a moment. 

“Lyrical Poetry.”

The wooden door opened before her and she was ushered through by those waiting on the other side. The one waiting for her was a Muse not much taller than she was with colorful designs running up both of her blue arms and onto her chest.

“Hi! The name is Idalia. I’ll be your team lead in Lyric Poetry. Agapé, right?” She extended her hand and shook Agapé’s wildly.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said after reclaiming her numb hand.

“Great! Follow me and I’ll show you where you’ll be working.” She turned on her heels and led Agapé through the atrium from the beginning of the tour. Agapé looked over all the groups clustered together and wondered which in one she would find herself.

“Excited?” Idalia asked, snapping Agapé out of whatever trance she was in.

“Yea, I suppose Iam.”

Suppose? You better get sure, girl! You are in the home of inspiration! We have the power to change the course of mankind! All those love poems and heroic deeds for the hearts of fair maidens, that’s all us baby!”

Just off the atrium there were nine hallways, branching off towards their respective departments. Idalia led Agapé through the third hallway from the left down a hallway marked LYRICAL POETRY. 

“And it doesn’t stop at poetry, either. Since our expansion, we’ve been able to incorporate sculpture, painting, and even architecture! As long as it’s about love, it’s all good. So! Welcome to the Lyrical Division’s Inspiration Hub!” She said with a flourish of her arm.

 The wall in front of Agapé stretched tall as she could see like a giant honeycomb. Each pod glowed with light and sound. Platforms carrying Muses to their stations whizzed by her head. Idalia pushed a button on the wall closest to her and summoned a platform for them. She stepped on and beckoned for Agapé to follow her.

“Come on! It’s not so bad once you do it. Before you know it, we’ll be at your very own inspiration console.”

Agapé stepped up onto the platform and grabbed the handle just as it began to zoom away towards her pod. In the blur, she could make out sounds of laughter, crying, shouting, and even the occasional moan of ecstasy.

“What is going on?” She thought out loud.

Idalia turned with a smirk on her face and answered. “You’ll see. Inspiration does different things to all of us. Who knows how you’ll react when you smell the color purple or find out what flying through the air really tastes like. Even madness has it’s place in creativity. But you also have to know yourself, it takes a strong Muse to keep her head once the Creative Juices start flowing. Once we arrive, we’ll see what mortal you are assigned to and then you’ll patch in.”

“Patch in?” Agapé asked as they slowed in front of an empty pod. 

“Here we are! Be careful, it’s a long way down.” Idalia helped Agapé step off the platform and to a panel next to a glass door.

“Okay, put your hand up to the pad and let it scan your palm. Once you register, you’ll be able to come here anytime. Only I or Erato can access your pod to check on things but it’ll most likely only be me. Erato checking on us is something that never happens. So go on now, put your hand on there. That’s right, nice and firm.”

Agapé placed her hand on the cold scanner and found it was more squishy than she thought it would be. The gel pad read her palm and a melodic voice greeted her.

“Welcome, Agapé.” The door swooshed open and Agapé stepped into a room just big enough for two people to stand. The console before her lit up as it powered on. There was a large chair with a helmet and wired gloves in the seat in front of it. Under the helmet there was a folder. Idalia picked it up and handed it to Agapé.

“This is the file on your Mortal. Take a peek and then insert the startup disk into the Reality drive. You’ll find basic information on your Mortal as well as their potential for change. This potential is calculated in the form of our Change Index, a tool developed when the human race grew past our ability to match individual demand for inspiration. The higher the number, the greater the chance they will change the world. The lowest needed to be assigned a Muse is two hundred but I’ve seen some as high as one thousand!”

Agapé opened the file and a photo of a young man was paper clipped to the front. His curly hair formed a halo around his brown face and made his gap toothed smile even brighter. His name was Xavier and he was a writer. An only child, he had grown up in the warm climate near the Equator to a schoolteacher mother and a father in law enforcement. Both were killed in the ongoing civil war the country has been locked in for the past twenty years. His score on the Change Index was a whopping 789. Agapé smiled down at his picture and grabbed the circular disk with his Reality from its pouch in the back of the file. Idalia showed her where to insert it and the console accepted the disk with a soft whirr. The screen in front of the chair was illuminated and a status bar flashed across it. A circle below it revolved as the Reality disk uploaded.

“So!” Idalia said, clapping her hands together. “As that does its thing, let me tell you a little bit more about your Inspiration Station. Have a seat.” She picked up Agapé’s helmet and gloves so that she could slide into the chair. 

“Ok,” she continued, “this is how we interact with our Mortals. The Reality Console is a machine that allows the Muse, that’s you, to see the world through their Mortal’s eyes. And not just see. But taste and smell and hear and feel it, too. The helmet allows the console to interface with you so that you don’t miss a thing. Once you are connected successfully, this light will illuminate.” She pointed to a dim green button embossed with the words “SECURE CONNECTION” in bold, black letters. Below that was a dim red button with the words “CONNECTION FAILURE”. Agapé let her finger trail over the top of it. Idalia noticed.

“You never, never ever, want that button to light up.”

“Why?”

“Because if it does, that means you have lost the connection to your Mortal by either failure beta, and your Mortal has experienced burnout to the point of permanent damage, or failure alpha: your Mortal died. Either way, they will never be able to create again. Your chance is over.”

Agapé pulled her hand back and looked back at the glowing blue screen. The status bar was now one third of the way full.

“Don’t worry, once you do it the first time, it loads a lot faster every other time. Well, moving on, this here is your Inspo-Board. While you are patched in, you will highlight things you feel will drive their creativity.”  

“How will I do that?”

“You’ll grab it. Trust me, it will make a lot more sense once you get going. Once you grab it, you’ll add it to your Inspo-board. Every time you add something, the meter beneath it will start to fill up. Once the meter is full, then your Mortal is at peak Inspiration.”

“Then what?”

“Then, its your job to get them to use it! We are not only responsible for inspiring them but also getting that inspiration out. We do that with this button right here.” She pointed to an unlit orange button with the word “NUDGE” on the top. “Using the NUDGE button, you can steer your Mortal in the right direction, giving them little pumps of the Inspiration to get them going. But you have to be careful to not overuse the nudge button, otherwise you’ll push them past the point where they need to be. This leads to burnout and you’ll lose the items on your Inspo-board. But if you happen to get your Mortal going, you can control the flow of items from the Inso-Board yourself. Got it?”

“I suppose,” Agapé said, “but what happens when the Inspo-board is empty?”

“Then you’ll have to fill it back up.”

“How do I know if what I think is inspiring is actually inspiring to my Mortal, I mean, to Xavier?”

“The potential effect of the element you grabbed is reflected by how much of the Inspo-Board meter is filled when you grab it. Sometimes all you need is one thing. Sometimes you need more than one hundred things. But in an emergency, and ONLY in an emergency, you can push the MANUAL OVERRIDE button. This will give you complete control over your Mortal and their words and actions will be your words and actions. The longer you are in control, the more likely your Mortal is going to have a mental break and lose touch with Reality. Use it sparingly. The Mortals that have experienced this call it a ‘stroke of genius’, but it’s really us.” She said with a wink.  

The status bar on the blue screen was now full. The screen blinked off as the meters around her re-calibrated one final time. 

The screen remained dark. 

Aside from the blinking buttons that surrounded her, the only light came from the helmet that Idalia was holding in her hands. Faint sounds floated over to her from the earpieces.

“What’s happening?” Agapé asked.

“Your Mortal is having a dream. The big screen in front of us will show you what he sees when his eyes are open but when he is asleep, there’s not much of a view. The helmet is the only way to see what he sees now. Ready to try it out?” Idalia held the helmet and gloves out to Agapé.

“Here goes nothing.” She took the items from her team lead and placed them in her lap.

“Put the gloves on first. It will be a lot easier that way,” Idalia advised.

Agapé did as she was told and put the gloves on, one at a time, and they lit up like an electric web along her palms. She could feel the sensation of warm sand flowing through her hands. She rubbed her fingers together and as she looked at her empty hands she was sure she felt the familiar grit of a sandy beach.

“Good luck, Agapé. See you on the other side.” Then she was gone.

Agapé took one last breath and slipped the helmet over her head. 

The sun was shining bright and the salty sea air filled her lungs. She caught glimpses of her lower extremities and saw the strong brown legs of a man in his late teens. His hands were calloused and rough but very clean. There was no one around and  Agapé walked with Xavier along his dream beach. The waves crashed beside them, spraying his face with cold water. 

He thought of his mother. Of how she would spritz him with cold water from the sink when the days were almost too hot to bear and he would collapse in her arms from playing in their small yard. It made him happy.

Agapé didn’t know how she knew that, she just did. 

Then something happened. 

She felt a sensation come from deep inside her and she saw that feeling floating in the air before her, sparkling and blue like the ocean. She reached out and grabbed it. It was cold in her hand. She looked over at her Inspo-Board and touched the feeling she held to its surface. The Inspo-Board absorbed it and it floated in a blue swirl on its surface. The meter blinked and one bar out of twenty illuminated.

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She turned her attention back to the dream and watched a figure approach Xavier from the other end of the beach. His heart began to flutter as the figure took the form of a young woman. Her long black hair blew in the breeze and her skin shone like bronze in the sun. She walked up to him and spoke. As she did, Agapé could see her greeting swim through the air in hues of deep purple. She grabbed it and added it to the Inspo-Board. This time three bars on the meter lit up. The purple and blue danced and whirled around each other in harmony. 

Agapé watched Xavier dream, plucking feelings and sights and sounds out of the air while he imagined what it would be like to be with this girl, until his Inspo-Board was full and he woke up. 

“Wow, all from one dream! I’m pretty good at this!” Agapé thought to herself. “Now, to get him to use it.”

He opened his eyes and Agapé saw his room. The walls were bare and cracked from years of disrepair. He slept on the floor on a thin mat for comfort. Papers with sketches and half written stories littered the floor around him. His closet was empty except for a ratty suit and a few other articles of clothing. He stood and shook the pain out of his back. Despite the aches, Agapé thought he felt strong and healthy. 

He walked over to his window and looked out over the city from his fifth floor apartment. Smoke and fire still smoldered in buildings from the day before. The ground rumbled from the tanks that passed through the narrow streets. He closed the flimsy blinds and turned away from window. He knelt down and started to shuffle through the papers.

“Maybe now is a good chance to get him going.” Agapé pushed the NUDGE button and waited.

Nothing happened.

She tried it again.

Xavier paused for a moment and looked over the piece of paper he just so happened to be holding. Angry words flitted through his mind as he read it. Thoughts of how the war made him feel. And what it cost him.

“No, don’t think of that stuff! Remember the dream!” Agapé nudged him again. His eyes softened and he grabbed the broken pencil closest to him.

“There you go!”

He wrote one word and that word was a name.

Vitória. 

Then he gathered the papers into a neat pile, put them in his knapsack, and left.

“Is that it?” Agapé wondered.

But, having no other choice, she went along as Xavier ate a sparse breakfast of jerky and stale water. When he left the house, she had trouble finding anything beautiful in the crumbling buildings and dirty streets. The cries of the displaced were grating to her. By the time he got to the town square later that day, Agapé had barely added to the Inspo-Board.

The square was full of people from the devastated town and even some from the neighboring cities. There was a man standing underneath the statue of a general riding a horse rearing up tall on its hind legs. He spoke loudly to the cheering crowd in his own camouflaged clothing promising change and peace. Xavier joined the crowd and cheered for the man who understood, that like them, he was a victim of the system meant to protect them, a system that had skewed to favor some over others.

“Libertar o país! Salvação e independência!”

They jumped and sang and into the late hours of the night. Each of them sharing their hopes and fears at the new world cresting over the horizon. Either they would rise with it or they would fall.

Agapé noticed that Xavier was a natural leader; when he spoke, they listened. His heart beat strong and loud in his chest when they planned their strategy to take back their country, to be free once and for all. The thuds of fists banging on tables and the chants of the mob snaked their way through the air like red hot barbed wire in front of Agapé.

She reached up and grabbed it. The anger burned her hands as she slammed it onto the Inspo-Board for relief. The Inspo-Board accepted it and seven bars in illuminated on the meter. It was the most any element had affected it. 

“Wow,” she thought, “I always thought the point of love was to be happy. Why isn’t he inspired by the dreams he is having? They seem happy enough. They should be happy enough.”

As Agapé pondered this, the girl from his dream walked into the cavernous cafe and took a seat at his table. 

Vitória.

They said hello to each other and her purple voice slid its way through the air like a goldfish in water and swam in circles around his head. 

As Agapé reached out to grab it, an explosion from behind Xavier sent clouds of fire and ash from one end of the room to the other. The stone building crashed around them and Vitória’s gentle tone turned to screams of pain. The once fluid purple of her voice turned jagged and sharp as it fused with the clouds of confusion and pain.

Agapé went with her instincts and grabbed the dark cloud with its vocal lightning bolts and threw it onto the Inspo-Board. The meter below glowed yellow.. Only one bar remained until it was full. 

Soon, the building came down around them and everything went dark. 

She pulled her helmet off and took a few difficult breaths. She considered going to get help from one of the more experienced Muses but the screen flickered to life before she could. 

“I won’t leave you, Xavier,” she said aloud. She put the helmet back on and watched as her Mortal scanned the dark room for survivors. She watched as he dug person after person out of the rubble. Until that moment when he found his beloved Vitória.

As he looked over her lifeless body, a shape began to materialize in front on Agapé. Black and shapeless at first, it soon took the shape of a fuzzy caterpillar. It began creeping its way around, growing brighter with each inch until every hair on its body glowed white hot like magnesium. It was beautiful. Agapé raised her open hand and the caterpillar found its way into the middle of her palm. She placed it on the Inspo-Board and watched as the meter glowed green with completion.

Hours later, his compatriots came and pried her dead body from his hands (another sensation that although there was no room for, Agapé would never forget) and sent him home.

He sat and stared at the blank pages strewn across his floor and held his charcoal pencil limply. 

“Come one, Xavier! You have to get it out! You have to tell the truth of what’s going on here!”

NUDGE.

Agapé pushed the button knowing that his purpose was on the precipice of being fulfilled.

But he did nothing.

NUDGE.

With tears in his eyes, Xavier let the pencil roll out of his hand and across the floor. He curled up and cried on the floor for his lost Vitória. 

Agapé had no other choice; she had to push the button.  

MANUAL OVERRIDE blinked in bright purple above her as her body fell limp in her chair and she plunged into unconsciousness.

When she came to, her body was heavy. She stood and was alarmed by how far the ground was from her head. There was no screen and no console. Just everything that Xavier had in his room and could see through his own eyes.

I’m actually controlling his body! This feels…amazing!  

She wobbled like a newborn as she got acclimated to this gigantic form and found the nearest piece of paper. She knelt down, almost hitting her, or rather, his head on the desk as she recovered the pencil from underneath it. She took to the paper writing everything that she needed him to say and everything he needed to keep going. Soon, the letters lifted off of the page danced in circles around her head. 

Xavier was starting to burnout.

Please, no! I’m almost there!  

The words smeared as she rushed them on to the paper. The sounds of explosions rang in her head but the room remained unchanged. 

There were no bombs.

She was losing grip on what was real and she knew it was time to let go. If she didn’t, both she and Xavier would suffer. She relaxed and let her consciousness slip away from his. When she awoke, Xavier was sitting on the floor surrounded by papers full of his frenzied writing, each sentence continuing where she left off, until he collapsed from exhaustion and his Inspo-Board was drained. 

Over time, it got easier for Agapé to grab the anger out of the air or to taste the sadness in their dinner. Every time Xavier’s eyes stung from the tear gas in his sweat or he pulled a piece of shrapnel from his scarred body, she grabbed it. She pulled from the hellhole that was his life without Vitória and threw it up on the Inspo-Board. Every time, it would come pouring out of Xavier onto the paper. 

When he was done, he had a story. 

It was the true story of what that war cost. How his love for a woman and his love for his country were all that kept him going. Xavier had intended to show it to one of the foreign reporters so that the world would know of their struggle.

But he would die before he ever did.

On the day he was meant to meet the correspondant, Agapé had patched in and waited for the screen to calibrate. It remained black. Then the one button that she never wanted to see illuminated was flashing bright red.

Earlier that morning, Xavier arrived at a gathering of the revolution’s supporters a bomb exploded, killing everyone in attendance. As fate would have it, the knapsack that Xavier kept his manuscript in was undamaged and the reporter it was intended for found it in the rubble. That reporter then ran Xavier’s story in in the newspaper and after it had garnered enough attention and outrage, the book was published. 

Through Xavier’s words, the rebellion’s efforts were bolstered. The king and his armies were defeated and the people were finally free. 

At the Museum, Agapé sat alone in her pod as the red button flashed. “CONNECTION FAILURE” it reminded her over and over again. Xavier’s startup disk was ejected from the Reality console with a sad whirr. Agapé pulled it out, held it in her hands, and for the first time in her life, cried over a Mortal.

The door behind her opened with a whoosh and Idalia walked in.

“It’s always hard the first time. You’ll realize that the Mortals that make a difference tend not to last very long. That’s how you know you did the right thing. Don’t let it get you down, ok?”

“…ok,” Agapé replied.

“Good! So! Are you ready for another one?” Idalia asked as she pulled another folder from behind her back. She offered it to Agapé.  

Agapé took it from her hand and read the file.  

With a deep breath, she slid the new startup disk in the Reality drive.

“I’m ready.”

END

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