Kitty Kochran didn’t like to brag about it, but she was the one who coined the phrase "Sci-Fi Cataclysm." She was the one who used "Sci" to describe the rise of superpowered individuals. She was even the first person to use the term "Scifian" to describe them, and the first person to call out the first internet troll who called a Scifian a "Sci-Freak." She was 18, and after a youth of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reading Wonder Woman, and lusting after every actor and actress in the X-Men film franchise, the Cataclysm was the best thing to ever happen to her. Aliens were among them, witches and magicians, mutants. New York City even had a superhero team. All she had to do was sit back and wait for her awesome new powers to kick in so she could be the real-life Storm. Just, much shorter. And Filipino-American. And from Oklahoma.
The powers never came. She went to college in Philadelphia, thinking that maybe if she were in a more populous city (but couldn’t afford New York), exposure would turn her into Poison Ivy. But that didn’t happen either. She finished a writing degree, and then a master’s, and then started freelancing for marketing sites, and after almost ten years, she had to accept it. She was never getting powers. The girl who gave terminology to the entire phenomenon of superhumans would always be just a human girl. So yeah, she stopped bragging about coming up with the phrases long ago.
Now she felt directionless. Her writing career was mainly under the name of "staff contributor" or "staff writer." One content job had her writing about mold. Everyday. For an hour.
In another writing gig, she wrote about financing, taking the notes the blog owners gave her and writing up how-to pieces. Somehow, her finances were still a disaster.
Her best-paying job was the Philly politics zine. 1.5K a month, and she mainly wrote about what an asshole Mayor Boone is. An hour or two a night, posting variations of the same story. The editors chose the headlines. Her most recent headline was "IS MAYOR BOONE A CLOSET SCIFIAN?!" The actual article focused on how Boone was going to meet with leaders of the occult, who became much more credible after real hellhounds descended upon Boise, Idaho. Everyone believed that Boone was secretly a Satanist with vast powers.
Instead, Boone went right up to the president of the Bucks County Divination Society and told him "get the fuck out of here. Try Pittsburgh." For the first time, when the zine ran the title "BOONE TELLS WIZARDS TO FUCK OFF," it wasn’t using hyperbole at all.
But right now, she wasn’t writing about Mayor Boone’s hate for the Scifian Community that she wishes she was a part of. Instead, she had a 1,000-word article to write about how black mold is misunderstood.
The term "Black Mold" doesn’t truly describe what is actually dangerous about certain mold cultures--toxicology. There are, in fact, many black-colored molds that are completely harmless, such as black mold on some cheeses. There are also many non-black molds that have dangerously high toxicology, but go unnoticed because it isn’t "black mold." It’s about time for society to have a serious discussion about...
She wrote her article, each keystroke sapping more and more of her creativity. The creative well she once felt bubbling with life went dry long ago. She could spin some style, but it’s been ages since she felt pure creativity.
In the corner of her desk was a bottle of Lexapro pills. One before bed every night. Not that it seemed to do much. Yes, she wasn’t as depressed as she was...back then. But she still felt like her life was out on mute. She wondered if she should just start taking two pills a day, see if the creativity came back. If 20mg could help her just write again, maybe 40mg would help her think again. She looked at the bottle, then back to her article.
If she wanted a new prescription, she would need to see a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist, which meant her copay would go from $20 to $60 a week. She couldn’t afford that. She could do what her counselor suggested and talk with other people instead of hiding in her apartment for days and weeks at a time, but socializing cost money she didn’t have. Besides, she didn’t want to see anyone. She just wanted to read comics and books, and watch movies and TV.
As she heard herself think about these things, she realized how depressed she sounded.
"Three years in on my quarter-life crisis," she mumbled, submitting her article, "The Good, the Black, and the Moldy" to her client.
Someone knocked on her apartment door. Kitty looked up, realizing she was wearing the same pajama bottoms and bra for three days and wondering if it was the landlord complaining that odor was coming from her apartment. Again.
"Ms. Kochran?" The voice was authoritative. Definitely not the landlord. Actual company. Police? What did she do? She literally does nothing.
"One second!" she called out.
She grabbed a nearby shirt, hesitating only a moment as she realized it was a cut-off t-shirt of Cookie Monster saying "This girl’s got a hot cookie!"
Her friend thought it was a funny joke. It was the only clean shirt Kitty had left. With her sexual innuendo t-shirt and Batgirl pajama bottoms, Kitty opened the door to a man in a suit.
"Can I help you?"
He looked past her into the apartment. "You’re Katherine Kochran?"
"You can call me Kitty."
He looked at the shirt. "Sure. Kitty. May we talk?"
"Who are you?"
"My name is Agent Smith. I work for the FBI." He showed his badge.
Kitty looked up at him and smiled. "Wait, is your name really Agent Smith? Please tell me you have square sunglasses--"
"Agent Timothy Smith."
Kitty frowned. "Oh, that’s not as cool."
"I know. I prefer it that way. I hate that movie. May I come in?"
Kitty looked behind her at her disaster of an apartment. "Sure, at your own risk."
"Lucky for me, we have the best healers in the country working for the FBI." Agent Smith said as he followed Kitty past trash bags and discarded clothing.
Kitty cleared off a couple of kitchen chairs. As Agent Smith took a seat, Kitty opened her refrigerator to see what she could offer to drink. She mostly had a few liters of Starbucks cold brew coffees and creamer. She also had four pizza boxes and couldn’t remember the last time she ordered pizza--but didn’t mention that.
"You want some coffee?" She asked.
Agent Smith looked at the overflowing kitchen sink. "No. I’m fine.
Kitty took a box of pizza, sniffed it, put it on the table, and grabbed a jug of coffee.
"Sorry, need...whatever meal we’re supposed to be eating at this time."
"I understand. You have persistent depressive state disorder with episodes of extreme depression. Looks like you’re going through one of those episodes lately."
"Yeah, I--wait...how did you know that."
"It’s in your file."
Taking a bite of cold pizza, Kitty nodded. "Right, of course, I have a file. Because I..."
Agent Smith shook his head. "No, you didn’t do anything wrong. Actually, we," he looked around and took a deep breath. "We’d like to hire you."
Kitty looked at him. "Are you honey-dicking me?"
"Ever see The Interview with Seth Rogen?"
"No, I just prevented Seth Rogen’s assassination because of that movie."
"That is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. But, yeah, it’s like...a honeypot with a dude."
Agent Smith shook his head.
"I mean, I generally prefer girls, but it’s been a while, so I’d be down to--"
"I am definitely not ’honey-dicking’ you. We need someone with your skills."
"I have skills?"
"You write for Truth For Philly on the Scifian community, and we need someone who knows that world.
"Wait! I write those as ’staff contributor’--how did you know it was me?"
Agent Smith stared at her.
"Right. You’re the FBI. I got a file. Does everyone have a file?"
"Everyone has a file. Now, can I tell you about the job, Ms. Kochran?"
"Please just call me Kitty."
"Sure. I’ll call an adult woman ’Kitty,’ if it gets you to listen to our proposal."
"Thank you," Kitty smiled and took a swig of coffee from the bottle. "Go ahead."
Agent Smith started his pitch. "Scifian incidents and manifestations double every year. In other parts of the country, this isn’t a problem. Philadelphia, however, is not very open to the Scifian community. And your mayor..."
"Is a xenophobic asshat?"
Agent Smith nodded. "Sure. So, we need someone to go on scene, observe Scifian crises, and write a cover story."
Kitty’s eyes widened. "My writing will be on the cover of--"
"No. A cover story as in a lie."
Kitty slumped. "So, you want to hire me, a writer for a site called Truth for Philly...and write lies."
Agent Smith nodded. "We want you to take the remarkable and make it mundane."
"That does not sound good for my depression."
"Well, you would actually see the events."
"Oh, so I get to risk my life and lie about it."
"You’ll be partnered with a Scifian agent who will keep you safe."
Kitty scrunched her nose. "Yeah...I’m still not sure about this."
"And we’ll pay you $10K."
Kitty’s head fell back. She stared at the ceiling noticing flecks of marinara against the yellowing white. $10K a month to lie about the Scifian community. Maybe even keep them safe from Mayor Boone. It was more money than she ever imagined making writing about the very thing she wanted to be a part of, and she’d make it by not writing about them.
"$10K a month..." she exhaled in temptation.
Agent Smith laughed. Kitty looked at him.
"Sorry, you misunderstand me," he said. "Not $10K a month, $10K per story."
"Fuck yes," Kitty replied, jumping up. "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck Yes. Yep. That’s good. Damn right. Okay. When do I start? Still willing to fuck you. Or anyone else involved. Is my protection an alien? Curious about sex with a human girl? I’ll fuck her. Him. Them. For $10K a story, I will--"
Agent Smith put his hands up. "No one wants to have sex with you."
Kitty sat back and folded her arms. "Well, that was mean."
"Are you interested in the job?"
"How many stories a month are we talking about?"
"At least once a week, at the rate incidents are occurring. You’d make about 40K a month."
"Before taxes," Kitty reminded.
"No. No taxes."
"And I just need to put myself in harm’s way--"
"Someone will protect you."
"And then lie about it."
Agent Smith nodded. "Yes. Lying is the most important part of the job. Do you want it."
Kitty nodded. "I’d write pro-Boone articles for 40-fucking-K a month. Where do I sign?"
"Verbal agreement is fine," Agent Smith replied.
"So...are you the dude protecting me? Am I going to see you get all muscle-bound and sweaty?" Kitty leaned forward.
Agent Smith looked up at the ceiling. "First. No. You will--I hope--never see me again. And Two--I can see your nipples."
Kitty looked down. "Where did my bra go?" she asked herself out loud and sat back again.
Agent Smith looked back down. "Your partner’s name is Agent Lorelei Shay."
Kitty nodded. "That is like the sexiest agent name I’ve ever heard. And she’s a Scifian?"
"Yes, but I will let her disclose more information to you if she deems it necessary. She will probably be in contact with you soon to discuss your first assignment. We’re expecting something to happen in Bucks County after Mayor Boone--"
"Told the Wizards to fuck off?"
Smith shook his head. "I really hate that guy."
"Yeah, don’t we all."
"Just be ready. And quit all other jobs. You are now on retainer for the FBI."
"Cool. Can I get an advance?"
Agent Smith looked at her. "For...what?"
"I haven’t done laundry or cleaned or bought real groceries for a while, and I’m pretty sure I should not have eaten that pizza."
Agent Smith sighed. "Yeah, we had a bonus for you anyway. I’m just going to call in our cleaning service. I’m pretty sure this apartment should be quarantined."
Kitty nodded. "Yeah. I haven’t left the apartment since like Boone compared New York City and Boston to Sodom and Gamora a couple of months ago.
"Six months ago," Smith corrected.
Kitty looked down and cringed.
"Your phone will reboot itself and will then be encrypted. Your rent, cable, and phone have all been paid for. Stay here. Don’t act too suspicious. And again--write the dullest versions of these events you can think of."
"So, when like an ocean monster eats the Comcast Building, say..."
"What would you say?"
Kitty took a second. "Private contractor hires Scifian zoologist to safely, ecologically, and quickly remove Comcast Building so that construction on a new building can begin promptly and affordably?"
Smith smiled. "See--you got it in you to be as boring as the FBI needs you to be. Now, I am leaving before I contract an illness we do not yet know exists."
Kitty watched Agent Smith leave her apartment. "Thanks?" she said to herself.
She went into her living room and saw that her phone was already rebooting.
Kitty squealed and jumped up and down. When she finished, she fell backward on her couch and let out a deep sigh. "I am so getting a cat now."