NOTES: Written for Lydiabell as part of the 2005 Yuletide challenge. Thanks to MsCongeniality for the read-through and some excellent advice, not all of which I was able to take, unfortunately.
It was Max's voice that first caught Edison's attention: "Bryce, maybe you should ask-ask-ask Edison."
"Ask me what?" Edison stepped into the boy genius' domain, ruffling Bryce's hair as he stepped over a new mess of wires that connected two incomprehensible bits of machinery.
Bryce ducked his head away. "Uh, hi, Edison. It's nothing."
"Bryyyyyce," Max said, popping up on every screen and leaning forward, "tell the nice man what you found. What you found."
"I'll bite. What did you find?" Dropping into a chair, Edison scooted next to Bryce and tried to find a clear spot for his coffee cup. "C'mon, Bryce, I could use a story idea. Theora'd be really grateful." He hid a grin as Bryce's eyes lit up for an instant at the thought.
Bryce tapped a few keys idly. "It's just somebody diverting money. Nothing interesting."
"Don't say that. Show me. After all, you never know what could be interesting."
Bryce rolled his eyes in his favorite 'Stupid grownups' expression. "What could possibly be interesting in petty theft?"
"If I'd been paying attention, my first big break would have been from petty theft."
"I-I-I thought your first big break was from Eileen MacPherson. MacPherson. In the back of a bus."
"Max." Edison glared at the screen, willing his alter ego to spare Bryce's tender ears that particular tale.
"Fine, Edison. Talk about the depressing things, depressing things instead."
Bryce struggled to look uninterested, fiddling with a mechanical turtle. "So," he asked casually, "how'd you miss your first big break?"
"It was my first job as a reporter," Edison said. "And we figured they were giving us the most boring stories they could find."
The newsroom was a mass of new faces and voices, tantalizing bits of data popping out at him: "The Metrocops erased--" "Get down there and find her before 66 does!" "But if Zik Zak didn't--" Everywhere, screens showed camera views, old stories, building plans, politicians, the flickering almost overwhelming.
Edison didn't know where to turn first. So many stories, so many ideas, so much to know.
"Move it along," someone growled as they pushed past him. Edison's eyes widened as he realized it was--
"Carter, get your ass over here so we can get started."
Sighing, Edison turned to the training station in the corner.
"Morales?" Wyszynski, the hapless producer stuck with the task of corralling the newbies, pinned the man next to Edison with a glare. "I want 20 minutes on what kids are playing these days. And I want it by tomorrow at noon."
"What are you waiting for? Go!" The petite brunette on the other side of Morales visibly winced as Wyszynski turned to her. "Ajax?"
That stopped him for an instant. "Sir," he muttered under his breath, raising his eyes to the sky. "Okay, you're on the whale-watching convention that's in town. Twenty minutes by noon and you'd better have something better than stock footage of whales. Where the hell are these people finding whales? Get outta here." She scurried away.
Wyszynski turned to Edison. "Carter? We got a citizen complaint about cracks in the ceiling in her poorhouse over in Sector 8. Have 20 minutes on my desk by noon. Get outta here."
Cracks in the ceiling? Edison shook his head.
Bryce smirked. "The great Edison Carter looking at cracks in the ceiling?"
"I wasn't the 'great' anything, Bryce." Edison smacked the back of Bryce's head. "I wasn't that much older than you."
"So, what'd you do?"
"He didn't-didn't-didn't do anything," Max said. "Inaction, the last refuge of the scoundrel. Scoundrel."
"Not true, Max. I did something."
"Hey, Carter!" Morales called. "You off to look at ceilings?" He and a couple of other newbies chuckled.
"Not on your life. I'm gonna find a real story first, something that helps people." Edison glared at them. "You do those fluff stories. I'm going to make a difference."
"Whoa," Morales said, grabbing his arm. "Wyszynski'll have your ass."
"Not if I bring in a good story." Edison shook his arm free, grabbed the trainee camera and strode confidently toward a computer.
Tapping away at the keyboard, he dreamed of the day he'd have a controller to do this. Until then, he was going to have to rely on what computer skills he had.
In his free time, Edison had been investigating certain rumors...
"Dr. Arens, I'm Edison Carter from Network 23." Edison stuck out his hand, using his most charming grin.
"Carter? Never heard of you." The heavyset man looked at him with suspicion from the other side of the bulletproof glass.
"I was hoping I could talk to you about your clinic," Edison said, holding up his camera. "And all the good work you do."
Fortunately, Dr. Arens wouldn't have known sarcasm if it appeared on 'Hoppy's House' with puppets, lights, and a rollicking song. "Me? On TV?" Arens brightened. "I guess you can come in." He punched in the codes. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
"What it's like to run a children's health clinic in an area like this, so near the Fringe." Edison smiled.
He continued to ask harmless questions until they were seated and the camera was running. "So, Doctor, why do you sell drugs to children?"
Edison tapped his fingers on the desk in front of him and Bryce snatched a keyboard away.
"Well, Edison?" a female voice asked from the doorway.
"Hi, Theora," Bryce and Edison said as they turned to look at her.
"Here you are," Theora said. "I've been looking for you."
Edison sat up. "Why? Is something happening? Why are you here in person?"
"Because the newsroom is dead, Edison. Nobody has any news, so I convinced Murray to let Darius practice on my computer."
"Oh." Edison subsided.
She crossed her arms, one eyebrow up. "Are you going to tell the rest of the story?"
"Yeah, Edison. Edison," Max chimed in, "tell-tell-tell her about it."
"Why was he selling drugs to kids?" Bryce asked.
"And why haven't I heard this story before?" Theora asked.
Edison shrugged. "It wasn't my finest day. The doctor was selling drugs that these kids and their parents needed, at low cost." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Theora's lips twitch. "Go ahead and laugh," he said.
"Not much of a story, Edison."
"Why not?" Bryce asked, pushing his glasses up. "I thought people wanted nice news stories."
"Maybe they do," Edison said, "but news producers don't."
"What the hell is this?" Wyszynski shouted, stabbing a finger at the screen. "I sent you to tell me about citizen complaints about shoddy construction and you bring back this..." His face was so red, it looked like a throat lozenge.
Edison tried to ignore the way everyone in the dark, crowded room was avidly listening in. "I had a hunch th--"
"Hunch?" Wyszynski tried to loom over him, but failed because he was half a foot shorter. "You don't know enough to have hunches. When you're a bigshot reporter, then you--"
The rest of his words were drowned out by an uproar across the room.
"Where's the closest crew to Sector 8?" someone shouted. "I want pictures of that building coming down! How hard could it be to find the damn thing?"
Edison froze. "No."
Wyszynski looked at him, brows drawn. "When I tell you to investigate a story, you investigate a damn story. In ten years you'll have the know-how to have hunches."
Edison nodded, only half listening as he stared at the screen and waited.
It seemed an eternity of voices yelling and people running up and down the room. Finally, the screen in front of him showed the 23 crew arriving on the scene to find debris, shell-shocked people covered in blood and dust, wailing and lost.
Wyszynski heaved a heavy sigh. "Kid..."
Edison didn't take his eyes off the screen. He couldn't even blink. "If I'd done the story, could I have saved them?"
"Not all of them."
A long pause and Edison turned. Wyszynski was scowling, but at the screen, not at Edison. "Yeah, kid, you mighta saved some."
Edison swallowed and went back to watching the screen, memorizing the face of every injured person and every dead body carried by.
"Whoa," Bryce said, eyes wide.
Theora put a hand on his shoulder. "You couldn't have known what was going to happen, Edison."
"I know. But 128 people died in that building. Maybe if I'd investigated, I could have warned some of them." He could still see every face, remember every crying child clutching a stuffed animal.
"I don't know about you, about you, but things are getting a little gloomy in here."
"It's a serious matter, Max." Theora glared at him. "People died."
"They died," Edison said, "because the executive in charge of building those apartments decided to save on concrete and the building foundation was literally crumbling under the weight of the building."
"Which network was he from?" Theora asked.
Edison snorted. "Where do you think? From 66, of course. So, now that we've gotten to the moral of the story," he said, taking a sip of his now tepid coffee, "who did you find diverting money, Bryce?"
Bryce looked at Max, then back at Edison. "Didn't I tell you? It's Gene Ashwell."
Edison spit out his coffee all over the keyboards as Theora gasped, "Ashwell? The Network 23 board member?"
Bryce rolled his eyes. "No, the other Gene Ashwell."
Edison leapt to his feet. "What's he doing with the money? Wait, send everything you've got to Theora's terminal! Now, Bryce!"
He and Theora nearly collided in the doorway as they dashed out. Behind him, he heard Max getting the last word in:
"You know what the real moral is? To err is human. Human. To really mess things up, you need a network executive. Hey, Edison, wait for meeeeee!"