Sparker Reborn

Written and illustrated by Pauli Kohberger

Table of Contents

Part 1: A Brand New Bob

Part 2: The Electric Festival

Part 1: A Brand New Bob

Six months into Bob Sparker's suspension...

"Mr. King!"

Percy looked up from where he was sitting at his desk, intently studying a report. It took him a moment to even recognize the voice--he hadn't heard the caw of his ex-number one primetime earner for at least six months.

"Bob?" He said, blinking. "What are you doing here?"

Bob Sparker looked just as taken aback as Percy was. "Well--I mean--" he sputtered. He was holding what looked like a large easel, with something wrapped in canvas tucked under one arm, and he began to busily set it up. "You said I could come to you if I needed anything, right?"

Percy searched his mind. Yes, he thought, I probably did say that at one point. "Of course," he replied. "But I'm actually rather busy at the--"

"This'll take two seconds, I promise!" Bob set up the easel and propped the cloth-wrapped object on it. "I have great news for you, boss. Just great."

With a flourish he drew the cloth off of the canvas. Upon it was a brilliantly rendered oil painting of a dark mountain, looking much like the kind found in the range that ringed Electric Valley. Behind the mountain was a halo of light in flourishing reds, yellows and pinks. It took a long moment for Percy to process that what he was seeing was a sunrise.

"And this is...?" he ventured.

"This," Bob proclaimed, patting the canvas affectionately, "is the future. My future." He drew in a breath. "Mr. King, I'm leaving the company."

Percy stopped, considered this, and laced his fingers together. "To become an artist?"

"Oh, no!" Bob laughed. "No, no, I got this from Alice Lang. She's doing great, by the way, thanks for helping her out. No, this is gonna be the guiding star for my new television network!"

The room was silent for a moment. "Your...excuse me?" Percy said, tilting his head. "Your what now?"

"My new television network," Bob repeated, puffing his chest out with pride. "It's gonna be something new, something completely different. One with humanity, where we bring people up instead of running 'em through a meat grinder. No offense," he added quickly. "I did like being the meat grinder guy."

"Wait, wait, wait. Back up a moment." Percy sat back, rubbing his temples with one hand and tapping his pen on the desk with the other. "So you're leaving the company...and founding a television network all by yourself?"

"Not by myself, no." Bob's smile grew wider. "Jam's coming with me. He's gonna be my talent scout. He knows everything about everything when it comes to up-and-coming artists and musicians! Margaret's helping, too, when she's able to, plus she's footing the bill. And Miss Lang is going to be our first profile. Best of all, it'll be free!"

"Free?" Percy repeated. "How on earth--"

Bob pulled out a small notebook and flipped through it. "Public television," he explained. "If we can get approval from the municipal government, the whole thing'll be funded by taxpayers. Television by the people, for the people," he announced, beaming with pride.

Percy sat back in his swivel chair, crossing one leg over the other. "Public television? Please," he scoffed. "Bob, you're far too good for that. Give it six more months and I'll have you back on the air. The producers at Zap! Entertainment actually sent me a pitch this morning," he remarked, turning his attention back to the layers of documents on his desk. "Something about 'a hundred contestants enter, one leaves...'"

"Mr. King."

Percy looked up. Bob stood in front of him, his hands clasped nervously together. "I really appreciate everything you've done for me," he said. "Really, I...I do. But this is something I have to do. For myself, and for Electricopolis."

"Then what do you need me for? It sounds as if you have everything all planned out."

"Well, to kick off our programming, we were thinking of throwing a festival," Bob ventured carefully. "A celebration of art and artisans from across the city, that kind of thing. We would provide space and lighting, of course. And we could have an Electric Park at the end of it all, a huge light show right in the middle of the top tier!" he explained, slowly becoming more and more animated. "I was hoping, you know, as a going-away present--that you might sign off on it, that's all. It might be kind of hefty on the power bill."

Percy considered this. "I suppose I'll...see what I can do."

"Thanks so much, Mr. King!" Bob grabbed Percy's hand in his own and pumped it gratefully. "You've always believed in me, even when nobody else did--and I hope to make you proud!"

Percy blinked again, stared at him, almost baffled--and then his face settled back into his trademark wan smile. "Of course," he said soothingly. "Of course."

Bob wrapped up his painting and practically skipped out the door, leaving Percy in his office, alone, with a throbbing headache. He turned away towards the window, leaving the half-read report on the town's energy crisis lying on top of his desk.

The city was far underneath him, the clouds not so high above. The Top Tier CEO's office was at the very summit of the town, just about--the only thing taller was the broadcast tower. This town was his, and for the longest time it had ticked along in perfect harmony with itself, every part an integral member of a well-oiled machine.

Every schoolchild knew the history of the town, though perhaps not all of it. Electricopolis was founded centuries ago after a colossal meteorite had landed in the middle of a mountain range. Though difficult to get to from the outside world, the area proved to now be full of precious hydrocarbons that could be extracted and processed into fuel. A mad rush for the territory began, during which various countries--and corporations--launched expedition after expedition to access the valley.

Many of the expeditions failed. But one particular company succeeded in seizing the territory, and began to construct a city for the purpose of exporting the hydrocarbon fuel. But when the colony proved to become rich enough to buy out its parent corporation, the city became truly self-sufficient: fresh water was created from the hydrogen molecules below and the oxygen in the air, and some of the simpler hydrocarbons turned into nitrate-rich fertilizers for the city's hydroponic farms. In short, everything they needed was here.

And so the outside world became nothing but a distraction. Centuries on, Electricopolis had cut off all ties with the outside and turned inward, focusing only on itself, concerned only with itself. But there were only so many resources left below the surface of the earth. And every day the fuel was running lower, and the brownouts became longer and longer...

Percy drummed his fingers against his desktop.

Surely there was a way to kill two birds with one stone.

Part 2: The Electric Festival

"It'll be great," Bob gushed, his eyes sparkling. "I really appreciate all your help, you guys."

"Aw, it's no problem!" Margie laughed. The three of them--Bob, Margie and Jam--were sitting in Jam's studio, sharing some celebratory drinks. "I'm just glad you don't hate me anymore."

"I never hated you," Bob sighed. "I was just...hating myself, mostly. I just feel terrible for everything I've done..."

"You apologized enough, you don't have to do it again," Jam said, smiling a rare smile. "But I'm with Margie here. It's good to see you back to your old self, Bob."

"In more ways than one." Margie closed her notebook, sighing. "To be honest, I'm glad you're gonna leave the company. It feels more and more like Dad is...I'm not sure. But something seems to be making him really testy, lately. I have the feeling something bad is going to happen."

"I'm just lucky he gave me permission to put on the Electric Festival in the first place. I really thought he wasn't going to." Bob took a sip from a glass he was holding, then placed it back on the nearby coffee table. "He didn't seem all that happy to see me."

"Well, you did kind of...cause a headache for him," Jam said through nervously gritted teeth. "With the whole attempted murder thing."

"Gee, you know, I feel just awful about that," Bob lamented, shaking his head. "That's part of why I wanna do this. Pay my debts, you know. This city's been good to me. Better than it has any right to be. So I wanna give something back, instead of just taking."

Jam tilted his head. "You know, I'm kind of impressed," he remarked. "I didn't think you'd ever be so...introspective about this."

"Well, it's the start of a whole new me!" Bob exclaimed, putting a hand over his heart. "No more exploitation. From now on, I'm going to do the best I can to change Electricopolis!"

"Well, you might have a hard time with that," Margie offered. "The city's been around a long time, and so has Top Tier. I'd be surprised if you were able to make a dent in the television network market share in your first year."

"I know. But it's better than just sitting around feeling sorry for myself. And besides," Bob said, "isn't it better to try than not to try?"

Margie lifted up her drink. "Hear, hear."

Jam nodded. "Well, you know we've got your back. To be honest, I'm surprised I didn't come up with the idea myself," he remarked. "A festival for the arts and crafts scene in Electricopolis is a really cool idea."

"I'd be lying if I said I weren't thinking of you when I came up with it," Bob laughed. "I was like, 'What would Jam do in this kind of situation?'"

"Really?" Jam blinked behind his glasses. "I'm surprised. I guess all my lecturing really did get through your skull."

The three of them laughed, together.

"We'll aim for the end of the year, okay?" Bob suggested. "That should give us more than enough time to get the word out about the Festival and the Electric Park."

"Sounds good," Margie said. "I'll fund it and arrange the spaces for the artists' booths."

"I'll liaison with the artists and help spread the word," Jam offered. "I think you're gonna have a hell of a turnout."

"And I'll present!" Bob said. "And manage. And I have a few designs for some of the floats already," he continued, "and I have a few artists I'm reaching out to for the rest..."

"Careful," Jam said gently yet sternly. "You don't want to spread yourself too thin. You gotta learn to moderate yourself, instead of doing an all-or-nothing kind of thing."

Bob sighed. "You're right. I'm just feeling so..." He shook his hands out, as if drying them. "So energized! Honestly, I never imagined I could get this kind of jolt from anything other than frying my brains out!"

The morning news--well, what passed for morning in Electricopolis--interviewed Bob near the end of the year. Wrapped up in a scarf and hat, Bob gestured to some of the artisans' booths as he talked into the microphone.

"We have folks from every corner of the city," he said loudly, talking over the din of the crowd. "Over here are some carpenters from down on 1-2, best work you've ever seen! And of course, we have goldsmiths from right here in the top tier, too. I wanted to arrange it so that it wasn't just folks from their own parts of the town clumped up together. This way, everyone can mingle and maybe learn something new about each other."

"That's very ambitious," said the anchor. "So when can we attend the Electric Festival?"

"It'll be held right before the New Year!" Bob explained. "From December 29th to the 31st. We're going to kick it off with a pop-up light show with all kinds of floats and machines!"

"Wow!" said the other presenter, oohing and aahing. "An Electric Park, is that right?"

"That's right," Bob responded, nodding and grinning. "It'll be a spectacle like nobody in Electricopolis has ever seen!"

The Electric Festival was shaping up to be a roaring success. Bob, Margie and Jam worked around the clock to process and set up every artisan and craftsperson who wanted a space, and the sheer breadth and depth of the works provided was stunning, especially to Bob, who, until he met Alice Lang, never met a piece of art he felt he actually understood. Paintings, embroidery, sculptures, even seemingly ordinary pieces like ironwork chairs and tables seemed to contain a startling new form of life. It was as if he had never actually thought about the way the world worked before. In turn, that seemed to ignite some creative part of his brain, something he hadn't truly exercised since he had been a young performer on the streets of the top tier.

He took a meticulous, almost obsessive interest in the design and operation of the Electric Park. And, Bob Sparker still being Bob Sparker, too much was never enough: more bulbs, more neon, more moving joints and multicolored lights began to take shape on the floats, bit by bit by bit.

"I dunno if the dragon is going to work out," Margie said, squinting up at the still-in-progress machine. "That whole 'breathing sparks' thing might be kind of, you know, a fire hazard?"

"A fire hazard? I guess you're right," Bob sighed. "I guess we could go with something else. Maybe an arrangement of bulbs that change color?"

"We're already using over 500,000 bulbs," Jam pointed out. "How about you go in a different direction? We have a ton of leftover fabric. Why not use some of the reds and yellows, cut 'em up, put a fan in the head of the dragon."

"Hey, that's great!" Bob exclaimed, looping an arm around Jam's shoulders and giving him an enthusiastic side-hug. "See, this is going to be incredible!"

"Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves," Jam stammered, adjusting his glasses. "There's still something we haven't decided on yet."

"What's that?"

"How are we actually going to power all these machines?"

"Oh, Mr. King signed off on all that a while ago," Bob said, waving a hand. "I figured we would just plug 'em in. I warned him it would be a little heavy on the power bill."

Margie looked over at him. Her brow seemed to furrow for a moment, and then she shrugged. "Well, if Dad says it's okay, I guess it's okay."

Bob looked in the mirror, turning his face this way and that. There were a few new lines there, a few new wrinkles that brought a slightly craggy quality to his face; but more than that, there was a glow, a warmth that bloomed underneath the skin. He smiled.

There was a polite knock at his door. "Hey, Margie just called," Jam said politely. "She's been called away by her dad for some reason or another. She says she'll meet up with us once it's taken care of. You wanna get going?"

"Sure, sure." Bob turned away from the mirror and finished tying his necktie. It was a muted green satin tie, bought for him by his mother when he had first signed on with Zap! Entertainment. He always wore it when he was nervous--he considered it a good luck charm. "I'll be done in just a second."

He smoothed it down against his chest, admiring himself in the mirror. "All right," he whispered to his reflection. "It's showtime."

"Ladies and gentlemen," Bob pronounced, "thank you for coming out in this cold weather! Before we start, I just want to say a couple words about the Electric Festival..."

He nodded over to his companion. "It wouldn't have been possible without this guy! Jam arranged contact with almost all the vendors and artisans here at the Festival. A big round of applause, ladies and gents!"

The crowd applauded vigorously. Jam bowed his head down, trying to hide a smile.

"I'd also like to thank Margaret King for funding to put on the Festival in the first place," Bob continued. "She couldn't be here right away, sadly, but I'm sure she'll turn up. And now, without further ado, let's kick this thing off!"

Bob tucked the microphone under his arm and knelt down to grab the two large electrical plugs--one male, one female--that lay on the ground in front of him. "Enjoy the Electric Festival!" he exclaimed, and shoved the plugs together.

The Electric Park lit up in a million different lights, drawing a gasp and astonished applause from the crowd. The floats began to move back and forth, the colored fabric waving. Bob and Jam exchanged relieved grins.

"I guess that's that," Jam sighed, running a hand through his dark hair. "A job well done, right?"

"That's right," Bob agreed, clapping him on the shoulder with his free hand. "A job well--"

The lights flickered, and then there was a vmmm sound as the floats powered down and dimmed completely. There was a startled silence among the crowd.

Bob pulled the plugs apart. He pushed them back together. Again. Nothing. He fumbled with the microphone, bringing it back up to his face. "One second, folks," he stammered. "I'm just as confused as you are."

Jam tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned. "My cell phone's got no reception,"he said. "I think the cell towers went dark too."

"The cell towers? Then the whole city must have lost power," Bob replied. Sure enough, in the distance, the bright lights of the storefronts were going black.

There was a loud murmur that rippled through the crowd. "What is this?"asked someone near the front. "Is this part of the festival?"

Bob motioned for them to settle down. "It looks like there's been a power outage," he explained. "It's not just us. I'm sure if we all stay calm--"

He was cut off by the wail of sirens. A crowd of police cars pulled up to the entrance to the park. A megaphone crackled. "Bob Sparker?" announced one of the cops through the megaphone. "We'd like you to come with us."

To be continued...