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Old September 8 2012, 11:10 AM   #1
Count Zero
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August 2012 Challenge - Number One

Number One



Mekh, daughter of Samvar, stood in the middle of the brightly lit office space, which served as the newsroom for Kronos 1's primetime news show Newsnight, and allowed herself a moment of reprieve from her work to savour the flurry of activity surrounding her, making her feel as if she stood in the eye of a storm.
As a girl, she had dreamed of the glory days of Klingon journalism. Back then, the news teams had been little more than armed gangs competing for the best stories which in many cases involved actual fighting. The adventures of the great men and women of that era had inspired her to become a journalist herself, and - although she would be a little embarassed to admit this out loud now – originally she had expected her career to be as glamourous, exciting and glorious as the stories of old.
Like with everything else in the Empire, things had settled down considerably since those days. But there was more than one path to glory, as Kahless had once said, and she was confident that she was on the right track with what she was doing. It would be a quieter variety of glory but in the end, what mattered most was whether you could look back on your life and know that you had achieved something worthwhile and honourable. That was what Mekh believed, anyway.
Despite the massive, revolutionary changes to media consumption over the centuries with the original TV channels turning into just another source of information instantly accessible via the infonet and journalism adapting to those changes the tradition of a primetime news show persisted. Mekh estimated that about two dozen channels all around the planet had one such show, varying in length and quality, of which only five could be counted as their rivals as far as ratings and prestige were concerned, but none of those did the news quite like they did. There were two things that made them different. She played last night's show on one of the many computer screens in the room to check for an audio drop-out Tess had alerted her to.

“Welcome to Newsnight, my name is Willchak and these are tonight's top stories...” the broadcast began. That was the first difference. Many journalists came from the lower classes, and in fact this could be an advantage in the profession because anyone from a respectable House would hesitate to challenge them to a duel for a perceived insult due to the embarassment that would bring to their family. But all other news anchors kept up the appearance of coming from a line worth mentioning, even if that line happened to be entirely fictional, while Will had never bothered.

“... transportation workers on Q'onos go on strike, protests on Krios continue, we take a closer look at the rising political tensions on Romulus and at the freshly released KDF recruitment numbers. But we will start with the report by the Homeworld Commission about the condition of the environment which was released yesterday.”

And that was difference number two. They reported the news they thought were important to the people, not the ones that would be popular and easily digestible. Their goal was an informed populace, able to make well-reasoned demands. None of the other shows would touch that environmental report with a ten-foot-pole. She looked up from the screen and saw the predominantly young people on her team working on tonight's show with enthusiasm and full of purpose.

Best fucking news team, she thought to herself with a smile on her face.

It was all she could do not to scream when she was gently poked in her sides from behind, yanked out of her thoughts in the most abrupt manner. As she swiftly turned around, ready to break the perpetrator's hands she found herself looking into Will's face – or rather at his chin. Even though his figure did not match the ideal of a fearsome Klingon warrior his average build sufficed to let him tower over her by a head's length.

“Ready for our mystery meeting?” he asked her with a smirk.

“No.”

“That makes two of us.”

***

That morning, they had both found a message by Kerys, the channel's director, in their inboxes. It had only consisted of one line specifying the time and place of a meeting – presumably with him but it was impossible to tell who else might be present. Naturally, they had spent a considerable amount of time mulling over possible scenarios ever since, though none of them would admit that to the other.
They were headed to the top floor, the realm of management, and being called to a meeting there was usually a bad thing. If Kerys or his mother, who owned the channel, wanted to say something nice to you, they tended to come down to do so in person. As a rule, people came back from meetings on the top floor with a bruised ego, fear for their job, full of anger and disdain or any combination of these things.
As they emerged from the elevator, they were welcomed in an overly friendly manner by a young and beautiful woman wearing a tight dress of black leather and grey silk which left little to the imagination. She introduced herself as one of Kerys' aides and accompanied them to a dimly-lit conference room. On the way, Will kept wondering what exactly she was aiding Kerys with.
What little illumination there was in the room came almost exclusively from the giant screen on the wall at its other end which displayed the channel's logo. As minutes of waiting seemed to turn into hours they found themselves staring at it.
Just under three hours to air and they were trapped in a waiting game with a guy neither of them liked. Even on the best of days, this was the point in time at which Mekh always felt the first onslaught of nervousness which would then steadily increase until it peaked at around the five minutes to air mark when she would regularly question why the hell she had chosen this job in the first place. Most days, she was able to maintain a facade of good-natured calm but if there was one thing she did not need during that period it was distraction. And this was a pretty huge one.
Finally, after fifteen nerve-wrecking minutes, Kerys entered the room, a smug smile plastered on his face. He greeted both of them with just a tad more politeness than was warranted, no doubt in order to insult them slightly, Mekh assumed. While she was able to pick up on the subtle aberrations in customary behaviour, being from a middle class household, she was sure the vague insult was utterly lost on Will. Knowing that Kerys' plan had only half worked gave her some small satisfaction.

Clearing his throat, Kerys grabbed the pointer made from exotic bamboo wood and pointed at the channel's logo on the screen, specifically at the number in the name.

“Can any of you tell me what this is?”

His question was met by a silence only disturbed by the sound of Mekh and Will shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Even after he had tapped the screen with the pointer a few times, no one came forward with an answer.

“Mekh?” he asked impatiently.

The petite woman leaned slightly forward, squinting at the screen. “This is a trick question, right?”

“Nah, it's not.” Will interjected, sounding both annoyed and bored. “It's a one. You know, Kerys, we all know how to read.”

Unfazed by the attitude, the slender Klingon continued in an enthusiastic tone, “Exactly! And you know how it got there? Because we were the first TV channel to get a broadcast license. When the High Council handed out the first broadcast licenses, everyone wanted to have one, and everyone wanted to be the first. You know how we got to be the first? Everyone who wanted a license had to present himself before the Council. When my ancestor Joral, son of Tomal, got to the Great Hall, he was only the fifth in line. But he didn't accept that and challenged the man before him to a duel. It was Marak, son of Reval. Joral only had his d'k tahg with him but he thought the others were equally lightly armed. However, when Marak accepted the challenge he drew a mek'leth which he had hidden in the folds of his tunic...”

While Mekh listened attentively, Will leaned back in his chair with a resigned sigh, having heard the story before, and found his mind wander off to a time when he hadn't had to argue with corporate, when his only responsibility had been to get a good story, long before he had become the managing editor and anchor of Qonos 1's prime time news show Newsnight. Times had been so much simpler, then.
Memories came floating back to him of that one time he had spent what felt like an eternity in a bunker during a Kinshaya attack on Merevex II, a colony world on the fringe of the Empire's reach. “Civilians go to the shelter, and anyone unarmed is a civilian!” the officer of the Klingon Defense Force had yelled at him, the tone of his voice and the disruptor in his hand making it clear that the discussion was over. He had been shoved down the stairs into the cellar of a house which was lined with an extra layer of concrete but didn't look all that stable in spite of that. When the heavy metal door had closed behind him he had realised that this room was just as much a prison cell as a shelter. Instead of covering the attack and the fighting on the ground he had been condemned to wait it out with a group of scared, quiet and shivering people, consisting not just of those who were unable to fight but a surprisingly large number of able-bodied young men. For the next hours, it rained ordinance on the settlement, and each time a bomb exploded anywhere nearby, the shelter shook and people let out surpressed cries. Even back then, he knew he would never forget the feeling of utter helplessness without any hope of escape, of completely being at the mercy of random fate. If a bomb would by chance fall on the house they would die, if it didn't, they might live. It was a similar feeling of inevitability, of being at the mercy of someone and something else he was experiencing now that had brought him back to the memory of Merevex II. In truth, life hadn't been simple then, either. The story he wrote about the time in the bunker had never been published. Scared Klingons hiding from the enemy didn't fit the narrative.

Kerys' voice brought him back to the present. “The one in our channel's name is not just a reminder of past glory but a constant challenge to us. We must strive to be the number one, whatever it takes. If Joral could fight his way to the head of the line with a mere d'k tahg, surely the least we can do is make sure that we are the number one in broadcasting.”

A new graphic appeared on the screen, showing the latest development in ratings. Kerys continued, “Now, as far as news are concerned, we've never been able to achieve that.”

“Yeah, Tamaris, that bastard.” Will mumbled more to himself but still loud enough to interrupt Kerys. Whenever Will saw his own show, far superior in his opinion of course, lagging behind Tamaris' in the ratings he felt personally offended. That petaQ just had everything - the right name, belonging to the House of Mo'Kai, the right look of a proper Klingon instead of Will's pale skin tone and indistinct ridges, and he had all the House gossip and the fluff stories Will and Mekh thought were beneath them. Worse, he did them very, very well. It was a combination impossible to beat. But every time before looking at the newest numbers Will hoped against all odds that Newsnight would come out on top. Just once, he wanted to feel the satisfaction of beating that sell-out.

“Exactly.” Kerys said, grinning, before getting serious again. “At least, so far, Newsnight was solidly in second place. Now, let's take a look at this.”

Behind him, a new graphic appeared on the screen, representing the ratings curves of the top five prime time news shows. There was a dramatic drop-off in the curve of Newsnight.

“As you can see, in the last two weeks, your show has been massively losing viewers. We've been overtaken by QBC's News Hour. You're only in third place now, a bad one at that. I don't need to tell you that this is unacceptable.”

“Damn!” Will let out. To him, getting beaten by News Hour's anchor Brivan was a lot worse than getting beaten by Tamaris. At least, the latter could do the news well if he only wanted.

“What happened?” Mekh asked perplexedly. “We didn't change anything in the last couple of weeks.”

“They had that stupid interview with Martok and they milked it for all it was worth.” Will answered, resignedly, before Kerys could say anything.

Chancellor Martok hated speaking to journalists. Getting a lengthy interview with him was very rare. Like the hacks they were, the News Hour guys had split it up into small segments and led with it for a whole week.

“They did it really badly, though!” Mekh said indignantly.

“Ok, that explains the initial drop-off but why didn't they come back to us afterwards?” Will asked.

“A good question, Will.” Kerys said in mock appreciation. “Why didn't they come back indeed? What important event happened that you, in your infinite wisdom, didn't deem worthy of coverage?” He yelled the last part at Mekh.

She knitted her brows in thought, which infuriated him even more. “Barot's trial!” He shouted at her.

“But we did cover that!” She retorted.

“Oh really? I must have missed that because it was so short.”

“We gave it the attention it deserved. There are hundreds of trials every day...”

“But not involving a member of one of the Great Houses! News Hour devoted 15 minutes to it every night. That's how they kept their new viewers from the Martok interview.”

Neither Mekh nor Will had an answer to that.

“Now, I don't care what you do on the show.” Kerys said menacingly. “But I care about it being competitive. I'm giving you this info, it's up to you to decide what to do with it. Do you understand what I'm saying?”

“Yes.” The two of them said, meekly, like children getting chided by their parents.

“Fine. That's all.” With that, he left.

They remained sitting in the dark room in silence for a while. Finally, Mekh got up, forcing herself to display the biggest and most encouraging smile she could muster at the moment and said, “Come on, we got a show to do.”

***


“So, how did it go?” Mekh's young assistant producer Doran asked them cheerily when they returned to their newsroom several floors below. If looks could kill he would have died on the spot.

“Crisis talk!” Mekh hissed and dragged him along to Will's office.

A gloomy silence reigned in the room after they had told Doran of the meeting and the ratings debacle. Outside the large office window, the First City's infamous weather did its best to match the atmosphere within with the usual green-hued smog accompanied by oily rain slowly crawling down the pane.

“Okay...” Doran began, lost in thought, still in the process of absorbing what he had heard. “What do we do now?”

“Well... we could always take the easy route. Will could just kill Brivan with that.” Mekh said jokingly, pointing at the mek'leth hanging on the wall behind Will's desk. “That would surely make us number two again.” She had always wondered about that strange reference to Klingon custom by a man she knew thought so little of these things.

“It would just as likely get me killed.” Will answered with a smile. At least, she had succeeded in lightening the mood. “On second thought, though, I'd rather do that than pretend that Barot's secret sex life is of national importance.”

“I think we should avoid actual bloodshed for now.” Mekh said playfully. “So, the Martok interview was the turning point, right? It's simple – we'll do our own version. You'll do your thing, make Brivan look like the fool he is, and everyone will love it.”

Will laughed out loud. “Right. Martok hates giving interviews. How the hell is that supposed to work?”

“He would need to have a special motivation to appear on our show so soon after his previous interview.” Doran said thoughtfully. “We would have to give him that motivation... How about... we run a string of stories so that he'd feel the need to set the record straight?”

“Mmh. That's a good plan but it doesn't sound very ethical to me.” Will looked at Mekh, who reluctantly nodded in agreement.

“I don't mean making things up or distorting them. But isn't there enough we can criticize him over? I mean, there must be something, right? He held a very impressive speech when he became Chancellor, I loved that speech. He made a lot of promises but how much of them has he actually kept?”

“That could work.” Will said, carefully.

Mekh was more enthusiastic. “That's a great idea. I'll schedule a brain-storming session for tomorrow.”

***

The next day, Mekh was staring at the whiteboard she was standing next to and wondered why everything had to be so damn difficult. Their little brain-storming meeting had begun so well. The night before, she had given everyone on the team the assignment to watch Martok's inaugural speech and come up with at least one promise he had not kept. In order to keep everyone on their toes and because she liked to tease him she had asked Will first even though he had been spared the assignment.

Without missing a beat – to her mild disappointment - he had replied in his gnarly before-noon-voice, “Chancellor Martok said he would purge the Empire of corruption. Let's just say he didn't deliver on that one.”

Enthusiastically, she had written 'corruption' down on the board. Fifteen minutes later, it was still the only one. As it turned out this had been the one thing everyone had come up with. Across the room from her, Will leaned back with a grin that only spurred her on.

“There must be something else!” she said, sounding exasperated. “Maybe we should broaden our outlook a little, you know, not stick so closely to the speech itself but rather its spirit.”

“Well, what about nepotism?” Doran chimed in, helpfully. “It's closely related to corruption, I guess, but still an issue of its own. Martok has placed members of his House in important positions in the military and civil administration.”

“Yeah, but everyone does that.” Will said. “You can't expect the man to keep his influence on the Council without building a power base.”

“Ok.” Mekh chimed in. “That's a fair point. How about we do a something about nepotism in general where we also mention Martok's contribution.”

This compromise received Will's full support.

“The Chancellor also said he stood for a just society.” Tess said softly. “But the Great Houses are still tax exempt although they own more than half of the Homeworld's wealth and property.”

The meeting continued in that vein, with more and more people speaking out until the whiteboard was filled with enough issues to keep them busy for months. On the one hand, Will was thrilled to see all those important potential stories they could sink their teeth into. On the other, it was disheartening to see how much was really wrong with Klingon society. Of course, none of those problems was anything new, and most of them had already been aware of them before but seeing them visualised in this way was something else. What had started out as a plan to lure Martok onto the programme turned out to be something they should have done ages ago.

Let's change some hearts and minds, Will thought.
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"Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates." Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Last edited by Count Zero; September 8 2012 at 07:13 PM. Reason: Forgot a word
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