Images and spots during the Number One Contender’s match replay on a screen backstage. Pivoting, the camera reveals one of five opponents set to face off in the upcoming Five Star Title Match;
“Event Horizon,” Hayes Hanlon.
He stares hard at the replays, fingers laced behind his head, ring gear on. The screen shifts to a featurette for the Five Star Match-Up, highlighting the journeys of Hayes, JC Hall, Shawn Warstein, Cecilia Ryan, and Rezin.
Hanlon closes his eyes and breathes heavily through his nose. Short, sharp, erratic breaths.
Hayes Hanlon: (whispering to himself) It’s just a match. It’s just a match. It’s a big match…no, it’s just a match. Biggest match of your life…but just a match. A match that will define the rest of your caree…damnit.
Brandon Youngblood: You’d think you were in a lamaze class or something…
Hayes lurches out of his tunnel, turning quickly to see the Tower of Babel behind him, surprisingly still in street clothes.
Hayes Hanlon: (pressing a hand to his chest) Hoooly shit. Shit. Sorry, I was just…and didn’t see you, and…
Brandon Youngblood: You’re good, kid. Just trying to get a laugh out of you. Helps.
Hayes takes a second, takes one last deep breath before fixing his posture, and extends a hand.
Hayes Hanlon: Thanks. Ah…I’m Hayes Hanlon, and forgive me if I have no clever words for The Pariah.
Without hesitation, Brandon takes his hand, nodding his head before speaking.
Brandon Youngblood: I know who you are, kid. Don’t worry. Seem like a good egg…and around here, that means something.
The Last Diamond glances and motions his jaw toward the screen.
Brandon Youngblood: Nervous?
Hayes laughs, almost choking at the question.
Hayes Hanlon: Yeah, something like that. It’s cool, though! Right? Because it’s not like…the BIGGEST moment of my LIFE or anything. No big deal, I’ll just….sliiiide down the card if I don’t win, and that’s not like…my nightmare or anything.
Youngblood releases an amused snort, then trods forward.
Brandon Youngblood: You need to get out of your head. Clear your mind. Just focus.
The Event Horizon’s brown eyes widen a little before nodding, his breath quickening through his nose again.
Hayes Hanlon: Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, you caught me being a headcase, and of course you’ve got the BIG one to think about, stressing about the Five Star belt isn’t really your level…
Brandon Youngblood: (raising an eyebrow) I held it three times. Only got pinned for it once. So, yeah, know a bit about that…
Hayes goes visibly white.
Hayes Hanlon: (hunching over) FUCK that makes it so much worse…
Brandon Youngblood: Kid, stop it. I ain’t Dan Ryan. You ain’t getting humiliated. Just chill out…
Hayes Hanlon: You don’t understand, man! Guys like you were my heroes growing up…Tchu, Killean, Nova, YOU. And now I’m in a title match…in PRIME…at CULTURE SHOCK…
Hayes rights his torso, still drawing quick breaths.
Hayes Hanlon: …I don’t know what happens if…
The Tower of Babel smirks a little, gripping Hayes by the shoulders and squaring them up.
Brandon Youngblood: Want me to show you something I used to do before big matches to get some focus?
Hayes curls his lips behind his mustache, nodding quickly.
Brandon Youngblood: Alright, one last breath in. Now, exhale…
Hayes empties his lungs through his mouth, then…
Hanlon’s expression is blank as he fights the urge to stagger back, the hard, stiff slap from Youngblood’s big paw echoing through backstage. Hayes grabs Brandon’s shoulder to help keep himself upright, and The Pariah grabs Hanlon’s opposite to assist.
Brandon Youngblood: Now listen to me…I know you. I’ve known you. Because you’re me. Twenty some odd years ago, I’m pacing, starstruck, the world so damn heavy and me just wanting. It. All. Hayes, you got all the potential in the world. You walked in these doors and, you might not know it, but Lindsay, she has an eye toward the future. Guy like you? Built like you? Hungry like you? Growing skills like you have? You got nothing to be starstruck over. Your arrival already happened. You’re here. You got some grizzled old heads in there like Rezin. You think Jonathan-Christopher Hall has your guts? Your determination? I can tell you, first hand, he don’t. Warstein? He’s just trying to pop some damn bubbles. Cecilia? She might have bloodline on you, but you know what else she has? A damn ego that her old man would struggle to carry on his shoulders, and she just stepped in the door. All things are equal. You go out there, you be Hayes Hanlon, The Event Horizon, and you ain’t slipping down any cards. You make a statement. You take that damn belt. 5 Star Champion Hayes Hanlon. Got a nice ring to it. And when you do, when you go out there, and you be the goddamn man I know you can be, you take that torch all those you mentioned before carried…and you make it your own.
Despite the ringing in his ears and the stars in his vision, the words get through to the young Hanlon, who replies with a nod and a couple claps to the shoulder.
Hayes Hanlon: Thanks for that.
The Last Diamond gives The Event Horizon a pat on the cheek before stepping away, heading off down the hall.
Hayes Hanlon: (calling after him) Hey, Pariah…
Hayes Hanlon: If one of these other jerks takes the Five Star strap, PRIME will be alright. But don’t let Jiles steal the Universal Title. Not from you.
The Tower of Babel laughs through his nose, and continues on.