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Drake Sheffel was what the Freelancers called a "Retrofuturist". His specialty was examining the past in order to figure out, at any given point, where history could have branched to become biased towards a specific form of energy or technology.

His title and position as well-known Freelancer, it seemed, was an excuse for him to pursue what he had always wanted to pursue ever since he first fell in love with the genre in middle school: the creation of steampunk, dieslepunk and other-punk technologies. Imagine his child-like surprise when the head administrator gave him the go to pursue the first iteration of OKAY Steampunk technology! As of the present, he couldn't have been happier.

With the monetary advance given to him, Sheffel started a technology firm/home studio/virtual therapy suite in the Midwest. After months of advertising, medical technologists and con-goers began to flock to his studio to see the next big thing, whatever Sheffel was doing. He kept them all hooked with the ongoing promise of prostheses that absolutely, positively did not require drugs to keep within the body's limits.

And he worked hard on that. Prosthetics, even by OKAY's weird technological standards, were still a hard practice to tackle. Out of respect for the retrofuture craft, he avoided the flourishes on his life's work.

Business was slow this year. Less steampunks or dieselpunks came in to ask about decorative ornaments or small retrofuture contraptions, compared to last year. He didn't mind. Hunched over at one of his various desks on the second floor, he would work, work, work, trying to perfect the imperfected right arm.

The slow business also meant that OKAY had also given some interviewees for him to examine. That was great! It was sometimes boring upstairs with little contact from the rest of the world apart from Freelancers; he hadn't worked on anything steampunk or dieselpunk related in about three months, either. Interviews would certainly stimulate him tons.

In the living room of his second floor suite lay a small circular coffee table, surrounded on three sides by red armchairs and occupied by a flatscreen monitor on the fourth, mounted on the yellow wall. A blue evening outside the small windows contrasted with the orange-yellow lighting of the room. Everything else about the place was barebones; all the other interesting things could be found past the reddish doors outside, to the kitchen, and to Sheffel's workshop and bedroom.

It was here that Sheffel met his third interviewee. He dressed as best as he could for the occasion: hardline brown hair, a leather brown vest over a white shirt, gray work pants, even grayer work boots, brass-rimmed safety goggles strapped over his forehead. He gave off a delighted, relieved smile as he shook the interviewee's hand with his left, while setting down his paperwork on the coffee table with the right.

"I thank you for coming here today, madam," Sheffel said, trying hard (not) to sound like a pretentious Victorian-era whippersnapper. Sitting down on one of the armchairs, he then asked, "Firstly, please describe for me how you came to know about the Franchise." He reclined backwards, arms resting on the armrests.
Lialin regarded the man with a faraway look in her eye, like she'd much rather be doing something else. But, her being her, she put up a polite fa├žade and smiled, nodding as she shook his hand, and taking a seat when he did.

At his question, she was a little taken aback. "Well, uh..." She began, not really knowing how to describe it. She'd just seen a sign and wanted to help out. It was how she was, too polite, too kind, too ready to help. Sometimes, she couldn't take all of the necessary help required when people discovered she was this way and people started taking advantage of her, so she'd stop, promptly telling them off in the process.

"I... just want to help with everything I see, and saw that I could help a group that I could help out with helping." She answered, smoothing her skirt over her knees nervously. God, why was she so nervous? It was an interview about helping people, for christ's sake. They'll want her to do good. She swallowed again, though, and, feeling she needed to make conversation, asked him how he'd discovered the Franchise.

Oh, no. Oh no, no, no, no, no. Really? Had she just done that? Had she just done that? In an interview?
But Sheffel was quick to respond with a hearty laugh, and a sincere regard. "Yes, well, I first discovered the Franchise through a local comic convention back in New Jersey. A bunch of medical students and inventors were trying to do something really cool with prosthetic limbs, backed by the Franchise. They referred me to them and the rest is history. Thanks to OKAY, I am now trying to make advances in artificial limb technology! I've never had a better opportunity to do so."

Not wanting to let any dead air come between them, Sheffel quickly continued: "Anyways...have you previously volunteered for any other organization prior to applying for OKAY?"
Lialin blinked at the question. Had she? She probably shouldn't mention working hand in hand with a few bandit groups and such... "Uh, I was a tailor for a bit... no actual big businesses," she said. It was truthful, as well. She swallowed again, averting her eyes from his gaze.

She swallowed twice more, beginning to twiddle her thumbs, quite literally. Shuffling her feet. Again, witht he nervousness!
"Home business?" Sheffel replied, interested, remaining composed. He felt as though Lialin was making the interview harder than it actually was on herself. He was not able to sympathize with her, as he passed his own interview with the same composure and interest he brought with him today. His gaze seemingly perspicacious, he remained still and calm, waiting for her response.
She straightened herself, watching as his eyes hardened.

"I participated in them, yes, but not actual jobs. Internships, if you may," She replied, clenching her jaw and messing her hands to keep from fidgeting.
Sheffel blinked. It seemed to him that the poor girl was faltering under his gaze. He blinked again and looked upwards, appearing to be in thought.

"Ah, I see," he said, nodding. Unaware of what secrets Lialin could be possibly hiding, he pressed on: "And, if I'm correct, you are currently trying to find another job in this tailoring profession?" He looked at her, his gaze more neutral.
She raised her eyebrows. "No, not at all," She replied, sitting back. She had hated the job, what with how terrible she was with sharp things.
"Oh." Sheffel remained mild. "Oh yes, huh. You stated that you wanted to help people with just about everything."

He looked towards her once more, remaining calm and attentive. "Besides tailoring, then, what other notable skills do you have that you would consider helping other people out with?"
"I'm good at. Advice. And cooking, and I can heal a few things," She replied. "Hunting and surviving and horses, too," She replied hastily, adding a tight smile at the end.
"Survival, huh?" Sheffel nodded. "How much experience with hunting and survival do you have, exactly?" Now this he wanted to hear.
Her body went rigid, and a flash of anger showed in her eyes. She could read body language. She saw how he had leaned forward just a little bit, saw how his expression had brightened up. She was going to put him in his place. So, she smoothed get skirt over her knees and very passive aggressively said:

"Well, sir, after my father died and my mother practically abused me and then spoke to me only to get her more liquor, I decided to stop associating myself with people and associate myself with horses. I eventually ran away, because, you know, I was a bit suicidal and was going to murder myself, but the horse I was riding saved me from it. Ever since then I was either running from wolves or I was running from men who wanted to rape and/or kill me. So, I don't know how much survival skill you've mustered in helping old ladies with the peanut butter jar, but I've been fighting for my life since I was twelve." She finished, ending in a very hard, cold stare that could must a god.
"I beg your pardon!"

Sheffel, taken aback by Lialin's sudden outburst, recoilied back a few inches. The mostly bewildered look on his face subsided not long after she was done speaking; he sighed deep and long, then began to talk.

"Madam," he continued from earlier, still managing to keep his eyes on her, "I do not know exactly what provoked such harsh words, but I urge you remain calm." Blast it, what exactly did he do wrong? What, was a half-smile of interest on his behalf a condescending tell-all? Sheffel curled his lip in frustration. How snooty, if he was, had he been? Well, he certainly couldn't have felt all that condescending, but...no, this wasn't something to get too hung over.

He held his own tongue, and backtracked: "But of course, I will freely admit I know little about this kind of survival you talk about. Or at least, I don't specialize in such stuff. You have a point; with all the time I spend in here, making these automatons and prostheses, I may as well be a sheltered person...though, honestly, I wouldn't really consider myself to be. Not anymore, at least. It's what being a Freelancer did to me. You get to see a lot of things. And..." He wasn't sure if he wanted to explain more. "Well...I'll get back to that in a second."

Sheffel relaxed, sinking back into the sofa. Hopefully he wouldn't be triggering her again; as such, his facial expression remained lax as he could possibly allow. "You've explained to me a lot. Though you are mad at me right now, I am certainly glad you are opening up about your life. Though...I sense your reluctance in saying anything more about it. I apologize if I seem a bit cold, by the way. That's just...that's how I conduct interviews, is all."
"You should probably work on that, then." She replied, each word clipped and strung with all the venom that she could muster. Sure, she was a petite girl that was a nervous wreck to him, but honestly?
"Indeed." Honestly.

What else was there to ask for a person who probably was uncomfortable with saying that which she wanted to say? "But let me move on quickly, then, before I lose you; have you ever encountered others who were in similar plights to yours?"
"Sure. In this world, everyone's parent dies and everyone's other parent does something depressing. No one's normal. I'm pretty sure that your dad divorced your mom because of financial problems. He was never home, was he?" She said, her voice dismissive and monotone. "Course, he might not have been. In fact, you could be one of the few normal ones. You never know." She added.
She just wasn't going to stop, was she? "Normal, huh? Madam, I believe you meant to say 'plain' or 'white and nerdy'." A little bit of self-deprecation to keep things going wouldn't hurt. "I'm not here to change your mind or viewpoint, though. Far from it."

Sheffel blinked, his face turning more stern and calm. "No, madam, I think that you, I, and the rest of the Franchise would agree- there is no normal. There's privileged, entitled, sure. I admit I've got a lot of entitlement under my belt. But, I've seen some messed up sh..." He quickly cut himself off mid-sentence, then exclaiming, "Oh, screw it, you wouldn't believe some whitebread posh-wannabe like me." He slumped forward, hand on his chin, elbow resting on his knee. "And I don't expect you to. I don't think I can speak for my own experiences, not even for why I got into this whole artificial limb business in the first place. But the Franchise itself, on the other hand..."

He paused to think, and maybe internalize. Then: "Just tell me this, then, and I will make up my mind: What is the most vivid memory you have of helping anyone, anyone at all?"
She opened her mouth, then closed it. "It was a bright sunny day," She began, clearing her throat. "I was hunting. I'd tracked up my horse to a tree a few meters away. Suddenly, this seemingly drunken bastard stumbled across my vision. Upon closer inspection, I found he was shot. He granted my arm and whispered to me his dying wish--to ride a horse. I've assumed that he was from one of the poorer regions, the regions that foraged underground for food. I granted him that wish." She smiled bitterly. "You should have seen his face."
A pause for recollection. Sheffel's eyes were absent; almost as if something in Lialin's anecdote triggered something in his past.

Then, slowly and deliberately, he sat up straight. His arms came down on his armrests once again.

"Yes," he exclaimed, in a hushed, considerate tone. "You have what we are looking for, madam."
She nodded, lowering her eyes. Had she hit a nerve? The seemingly talkative, happy-go-lucky interviewer had just shut down. Tensed up. She didn't like it. She wanted to ask whether or not he was okay, but kept her mouth shut. She was a stranger to him. And strangers didn't tell each other their life stories.

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