Well, this was it, in a sense. A feeling of accomplishment, of completion, but also of the subtle underlying sorrow that all humans feel once anything comes to an end. Of course, there was the dread. Rott was nowhere to be seen, and a one on one against Gatch couldn't possibly go well. Knowing him and his resources, he probably had ten teams of cronies writing up various comebacks and phrases to be used in every eventuality they could imagine. Like some chat-bot pumped up on steroids. Alton let loose a sigh. Campbell was a nervous wreck, which made him easy pickings in a debate sense. Of course, they'd gotten whipped in debates before. But they'd also done the whipping other times. But this...there was no coming back from this one. It was big. Very big. Campbell would get some votes. Alton had used his contacts to ensure as much. But victory hinged on this moment.
Alton's ears perked when he heard Richter say "Maybe now isn’t the best time to bring this up, but is no one wondering where the hell Rott went? Why would he disappear now, of all times? I’m not trying to sound crazy, but Central Square is packed right now. One little fuck up could turn into pandemonium if they’re not careful. We all know what kind of man Rott is. It doesn't sit well with me, Mr. Campbell.
Alton decided to speak up. "I'm...inclined to agree. Perhaps Rott intends to have Gatch maul us during the debate, then swoop in and clean up. It's been done before. But this seems different, to be frank. Some sort of palpable tension in the air. I can't really say what I think is going on, though we must exercise caution."
Alton looked out to the crowd. His sensor was going crazy. All sorts of half baked readings and numbers that didn't make sense. A mass of humans and half-humans and whatever else was lurking out there would do that, though.
Taking a seat, Alton pulled out a sheet of paper and began looking closely at the readings he was picking up. He'd write down anything out of the ordinary, and hopefully, pick up if something was fishy was going on. As he combed through the numbers, the merchant in him thought about how much money he could make selling to a crowd like this. And as he thought of the stand, he thought of the rumors he had heard as he did his business. People complaining about the movements of the corporations and the like. He had to perform an emergency transplant on some poor bloke who had his makeshift house torn down by a megacorp building some new facility. All his medicine, buried in an instant. Focusing on that sort of transience would inevitably lead to a nihilistic perspective, so Alton shifted focus. There were quite a few people in the pulsing crowd without much time left. One case stuck out to him. A young woman, glowing skin and lush lips, who had a tumor in her brain. It was huge. She couldn't have more than a week left. More than likely she was doped up on painkillers and psychedelics. Maybe she had been like this her whole life and had no idea that Death already had his scythe wrapped around her neck. Or maybe she had been clean but felt that she hadn't much time left and decided to live life to the fullest. A sad story, but one spoken thousands of times across the Reclaim Zone. If Campbell managed to win, maybe he'd be able to change that. But was it just wishful thinking? If this debate didn't go well, there'd be nothing for anyone anymore. While Rott had helped them before against Gatch, neither of their opponents seemed like they'd help improve the lifestyles and lifespans of the inhabitants of the Reclaim Zone. And, well, Alton had a more personal gripe against Gatch. But it wasn't aimed at him, rather the platforms he represented.
Alton had finished scanning and found nothing out of the ordinary. However, he noticed that he was becoming visibly anxious. It was harder to breathe, and he felt sweat drip down his face. As a doctor and as a human, he took this as a sign he needed to take off his mask and chill. So, he toyed with the straps and the auto-locks and such, and ten seconds later the mask fell from his face. He placed it onto a table and looked around for a cloth or something of the like. He saw a tissue box and grabbed one. He wiped off his eyes and began to think about what exactly the consequences of this debate would be. But that'd do nothing but make him more nervous. "Deep breaths...deep breaths..."
Maybe he was just ignoring how he felt. Taking it from a medical perspective, or whatever. But he couldn't lie. He was scared out of his mind. If they lost, then what had they accomplished in the end? Inevitably if Gatch won, then he could use his corporate ties to ensure Campbell never worked in politics again. And if Rott didn't show up to the debate, there was no way he could win. It was stressful, to say the least. Alton reached for a bottle of water. Cracking it open, he downed it in ten seconds. Dehydration was the greatest enemy, as a wise friend had once told him. Thoughts wandering back to his past, Alton realized something. In the end, this was nothing more than surgery. Surgery on the psyche of the public. And if they failed, they'd be blacklisted from the industry for allowing the patient...no, all the people who were suffering in the Reclaim Zone to continue suffering. So, having put his mind at ease, Alton donned his mask once again. Pressing the various buttons and adjusting the straps to ensure maximum comfort, it slowly began to whir and hum as it turned back on. It was familiar to him, after all this time. Like an old friend, or something along those lines. This whole thing slowly began to seem familiar. This couldn't be any harder than those nighttime operations, running low on disinfectant and maybe the donor had the wrong blood type and maybe he was going to get shot within minutes. Or when he was performing a C-Section with a scalpel and a bottle of hand sanitizer and just somehow managed to make it work. He had lived, and even thrived under conditions worse than these. So, his resolution hardened. No matter what underhanded tricks were pulled, they would win this debate. Somehow, they would survive this whole mess.
So it seemed like, after all, he was no stranger to this level of stress. He just hadn't realized it yet.