Snakes and Pills

175 - stuck cob

Patrick dared not peek through the soft blue curtain. He wanted to, but it felt like such an amateur move to make. The rumble of the crowd would have to suffice for now.

He paced around backstage nervously. He thumbed through his notes and talking points, making sure all of them were present and in order. He went through this routine every time he had to give a presentation. But usually his presentations were of limited appeal, the number of attendees a dozen or two, maximum.

Cara, one of the other researchers on the project, was the first to appear backstage with him. She looked much more dolled-up than usual. Patrick would never make a remark about it, but he certainly noticed. "Big crowd?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

"Packed house," Cara proudly responded. "Standing room only, and apparently there are even more reporters waiting to get in, but we hit the limit of the room occupancy. Damn fire marshal, cutting into our celebrity," she joked.

Over the next few minutes, the other scientists on the panel manifested themselves backstage. A couple of them congratulated Patrick on his success. "This is huge! Say hello to never worry about funding in the future, eh?" Dante said while shaking his hand.

Not everyone was so upbeat. Teddy looked a complete nervous wreck. The reaction hardly surprised Patrick. None of them had expected so much attention from the outside world when they had undertaken this project. They were scientists, people who tended to be introverted and reserved.

"Hey, you ready for this?" Patrick asked Teddy while reassuringly patting him on the back. Teddy nodded a few times. "Yeah, I'm okay. I just had no idea this many people would be watching, and the live TV cameras..."

"Don't think about it too much," Patrick interrupted his comrade. "You know your stuff just fine. That's all that matters. You're going to do great out there, we all will." He had played the role of a supportive coach more than once as the project coordinator.

Teddy gave a semi-convinced nod. Better than nothing, Patrick supposed.

The emcee soon got things started by calling them out onto the stage one by one. Patrick was the last to be called, which let his own anxiety build a bit as he watched his team disappear past the curtain to the applause of the audience outside.

Finally, his name boomed through the speakers, and he strolled out on the stage as casually and confidently as he could. He caught his first glimpse of the crowd, and felt like Teddy for a moment. The sea of faces was unlike anything he had seen before. Flash bulbs fired. Every eye and every lens was, for the moment, trained directly on him.

The feeling was terrifyingly powerful. Scary, but also intoxicating.

Then it passed, and he took his seat at the table. The setting was familiar. The linen tablecloth, the little triangular paper namecard propped in front of him. And of course, the cheap bottle of water.

The sound, though. Patrick had not heard a crowd like this at a conference before. The audience continued to murmur in excitement, anticipation, and impatience.

The emcee had to work to wrangle them into submission. He ran through a brief introduction of the project and the presentation. The had scheduled forty-five minutes for the presentation itself and then fifteen minutes at the end for questions and answers. Patrick doubted that would be enough.

The emcee finished, and turned the floor over to Patrick. The applause was once again incredible, but it finally died down. At last, his turn to speak came.

He cleared his throat.


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