Then

Spaceport 65-not an actual spaceport, but a bar that was as swanky as one. The décor was all curves and highlights, gleaming white with flashes of pastel miniskirts and candy-colored champagne. There was a group of girls in one corner who would all of a sudden hush, peer over each other's heads, point at some fine specimen of man across the bar, and erupt into giggles over him; and sitting apart, with two of her friends, was Ulala.

"It's that one," friend number one said, pointing with a long red fingernail over at a brawny superhero of a man. "Some spaceball player or something. I don't follow it. Do you?"

"No," Ulala said, shaking her head. "Not for me. Looks like too much of a musclehead."

"I dunno, I like him. Nice broad shoulders." Friend number two placed her frosty lips over the straw in her piña colada.

The group of girls quieted down for a little while, their eyes sifting and searching through Spaceport 65, and Ulala sipped her champagne quietly. She saw what they were looking at just about when they did-having been over all the others, they settled on a little table by itself near the far corner of the bar, with a man sitting alone, his eyes hidden behind a pair of bright pink shades.

The girls consulted each other. Hushed whispers of "ehhh" and "probably not." Suggestions that maybe they should go find another bar.

Ulala didn't write him off that quickly. Her lips curved into a slight smile even as she tried to hide it behind her drink. He had a lovely profile: his head was bald (or shaved, it was hard to tell from so far away), and she followed his silhouette around to the point of his nose and down to his sharp chin, which jutted out over the thick blue collar of his jacket. He was all curves and points, and inwardly Ulala's heart fluttered. She had a thing for older men and bad boys, and she only rarely saw someone who could pull off both at once.

His head turned, giving them all a better look. The girls craned their necks, fell deathly quiet, and after what seemed like minutes of silence, started whispering feverishly to each other.

"Holy shit," said the friend with the frosty lips. "That's Chief Blank."

Ulala leaned over. "Chief Blank? Space Channel 5's Chief Blank?"

"Believe it, girl," said the other one, covering one side of her mouth with a manicured hand. "The big boss himself. I told you you'd see some celebs here. Not that he's my type," she admitted, "but everyone else is gonna flip if we tell them we saw him."

Ulala looked over to the group of girls. They were staring, but in a deer-caught-in-the-headlights way; none of them looked as if they had the capacity to pull themselves out of their seat right now. Decisively she stood up, grabbed the stem of her champagne glass and sauntered off to Blank's table, leaving a chorus of gasps (and a few whispered cheers) in her wake.

"Is this seat taken?" she asked, sitting down in the chair across from Blank's.

It was a risky move, but he grinned in response. "If I say yes, are you going to leave?"

Ulala smiled, pressing the rim of her glass to her pink lips. "Not if I can help it."

Blank's grin widened and he extended a hand. Ulala shook. "Chief Blank, Space Channel 5. Although it looks like the news hasgotten around," he chuckled, leaning back in his chair.

"Yeah." Ulala turned to glance over her shoulder, giving her friends a little wave. "My buddies are probably going to head off home soon." She turned back, crossing one long leg over the other. There was a flicker behind Blank's glasses.

"So," she said mildly, "what's your place like?"


"Actually," Ulala confessed, "I want to be a reporter."

She was lying down on her stomach in Blank's bed. The curve of her exposed back sank into the sheets and the luxurious comforter puffed around her, framing her body as she ran a finger delicately, distractedly, around the rim of her glass. She laid her head down on the pillow in front of her and peered through the liquid. She hadn't finished it, and she saw Blank (standing up, by the bar) in blue with bubbles.

"Oh?" he responded, turning to look at her. He hadn't taken off his glasses for a moment.

"Yeah." She stared intently into the glass, her brow furrowing a little. "When I was a little kid...you remember that spaceship explosion about ten years back? Where almost everyone died?"

Blank mixed himself a drink and sat down next to her. He laid a hand on the small of her back. She hardly seemed to notice.

"My mom and dad and I were all on that ship. I was the only one who made it out, they said." She turned the martini glass around and around, spinning it slowly in her long, shapely fingers, and who knew what she was seeing in those bubbles. "There was a reporter from Space Channel 5 there. He saved my life, actually."

"A reporter? From Space Channel 5?" Blank repeated, leaning over to plant a kiss on her shoulder. She turned her head to look at him, and smiled.

"Yeah. I didn't catch his name. I didn't even get to see his face," she admitted, "but ever since then, I always wanted to be a reporter. Going around and saving people and being where the action is, you know?" There was a long moment of silence between them, and then she looked back into the glass. "I probably should have told you earlier."

"Oh, I'm not too concerned," Blank chuckled, moving his hand up and down her back. She relaxed under him and laid her head back down on the pillows, on top of her folded hands. Her pink hair hung loosely, very prettily, over her shoulders. "I'm completely capable of separating business and pleasure."

"Well, I didn't want a 'what if' to get in the way of having a little fun," Ulala laughed, and she rolled over onto her back. "I mean, I'm still in college. Who knows if I'll even get a job at Space Channel 5 anyway, right?" She smiled up at him, and her smile was full of hope.

Now

Blank was in jail, where he belonged. He'd resigned after that whole mess with brainwashing the Morolians, though he claimed nobody would be able to do for the network what he had. Everyone agreed, which is why they wanted another chief in the first place. Fuse looked like a shoe-in, but he refused. So did Jaguar. So did Ulala. No, her place was out on the field, hitting the street and doing what she was born to do: report.

Eventually, despite everyone's advice, she visited Chief-no, just Blank-in jail. They'd taken away his impeccably tailored suit, but they let him keep the shades.

His voice was low and sullen. "Don't forget who got you that job."

"I never have," she said quietly. "That's why I wanted to visit you. I wanted to ask you a question."

"What? For one of your little exposés?"

"Did you plan that spaceship accident? Ten years ago?"

Blank turned to face her. Ulala's gaze was hard, but brittle, and he could see the trembling behind it. "Did Jaguar tell you that?"

"He said it was why he left. And he said he couldn't prove it." Ulala grabbed the bars of Blank's cell. "Is that true?"

"It's true he couldn't prove it," Blank chuckled.

"Don't fuck with me!" Ulala exclaimed, and her sudden sharp voice sent him stumbling back. "Just tell me!"

"All right...all right," he confessed, shaking off his momentary lapse in poise. "I did."

Ulala turned her face downwards. She looked as if she had expected it to be true-or more accurately, she looked as if she'd spent a long, long time hoping against hope that it wouldn't be. Hoping Jaguar was mistaken, hoping Blank's megalomania hadn't crossed into her own personal tragedy, hoping that the voice deep inside of her was wrong.

"Why?" she whispered. "No," she continued, talking to herself. "I know why. For the ratings. Of course."

Blank didn't respond, and yet his voice hung in the air: Nothing brings in the views like a disaster.

There was a tense moment, and then Ulala cracked. She put her hand over her mouth, sobbing, her knees buckling as she slid to the cold floor. "Please, no," she whispered hoarsely. "Please."

Blank knelt down. If Ulala had raised her head, she would have seen him smile. "The sole survivor," he whispered to her. "I saved you." Ulala shook her head, and Blank's hand wandered towards the loose strands of her hair. "I made you famous, Ulala."

"You didn't do anything!" Ulala yelled, grabbing his wrist. "Jaguar saved me, not you. And I made myself famous! You didn't do a thing!"

They stared at each other for a hard moment, Blank's eyes just barely visible behind his glasses, Ulala's twisted in anger. Finally she let go of his arm, and he twisted it away from her.

"You didn't hire me because I slept with you," she said.

"Of course not."

"Then why?"

A surge of irritation went through Blank's system. "Do you really have to ask? I did it for the story," he insisted. "Think about it, Ulala. Do you think I couldn't have made the call to send Jaguar out there? To tell my people to offer you an internship after college? To engineer the entire arc of your life, just to bring you to my network?"

Ulala pulled back in disgust. "So that's it, huh?" she said, drawing herself up to her full height and dusting herself off. "I was just another cog in your ratings machine? Just something to keep you in the spotlight?"

Blank grinned. "It was brilliant, wasn't it? If I say so myself, of course." Ulala glared at him coldly as he continued. "I told you, didn't I? I was always watching over you, Ulala...my magnum opus. My greatest story."

"That's nice," she said flatly. "But you made a huge mistake."

"What?" Blank said, blinking. "I didn't-"

Ulala's hand rocketed between the bars and grabbed the collar of Blank's jumpsuit, pulling him close. "You wrote the beginning, but you never wrote the end," she hissed. "I'm not part of your story anymore."

She let go, sending Blank stumbling backwards onto the floor. Speechless, he watched her turn and strut down the hall, the clack of her high heels echoing inside his head.