Peppermill Stop

Alma mater

He'd been taken.

The room was dark and clean. His seat, minimal but comfortable.

They said they wouldn't hurt him. All they wanted was to show him the truth.

Horrors cut across a screen. Unseen narrators and talking heads documented each nightmare with academic passion. There was evidence, too. Far too much evidence. This was the world as it really was. He asked for water, and they gave it to him.

They also gave him a choice.

He could go home and they would help him forget, or he could leave the life he knew and join them.

"But my family…"

He had no spouse or children. His parents would miss him, and there would so many lies, but he could visit them. It wasn't the end. It was a beginning.

"But what could I…"

A hand squeezed his shoulder. He had potential. They knew he was capable of more. He was smart. He was college educated—well, mostly. He didn't have to be working a dead-end job. Someone had been watching, and they saw what he could be.

So he packed his things, told some lies, and boarded a bus that didn't exist on any schedule.

Just a few months of studying, they said, and he could get to work saving mankind.

Read these books.

Take these classes.

Oh, yes, they're all available online.

He started to ask about accreditation, and they laughed. What part of 'top-secret secret organization' didn't he understand? He felt ridiculous.

The more he learned, the more he realized how constrained he would be without higher education. The organization was top-secret, sure, but it was also large and competitive. Everyone who made a difference had a doctorate. He was determined to make a difference. But he hadn't even finished his bachelor's degree. How could he finish graduate school?

No need to worry, they said. The Foundation's resources were nearly infinite. The program was state-of-the-art. He would learn from the greatest minds in the world. Under their tutelage, he would have a gilded PhD within a year. He tearfully thanked them for the opportunity.

Let's be real, here. The Foundation goes through researchers like kleenexes in flu season. Diploma mills may not be an ideal solution, but their hands are tied on this one, fellas.

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