With an assistant capable of surviving the interview process and willing to deal with a lot of risk for a lot of money, I knew it was time to get on with the troubleshooting. Each of my department heads had some issues to deal with. This was further emphasized at one more of these meeting things, which I missed because it sounded stupid and I was still asleep.
My new assistant, who I’m temporarily calling Crash Test Dummy, shook me awake at my desk. “Working hard, ma’am.”
“Who you callin’ ma’am?” I asked, wondering how long my mouth had been open on the wood. I’m sure a lot of people would like to know that. See? I’m a woman and I can’t even stop the innuendo.
“Sorry, Miss Mortenson. If you don’t mind me asking, would you like me to send flowers to…” Here she looked down at her notepad. “Felicia?”
I shook my head. Feeling my hair swinging around there, I then swung my head back like out of a commercial. Then I focused my gaze on my new assistant. “I would, but why do you ask?”
“You were talking in your sleep ma-, Miss. I took notes in case it was important. You said, ‘Yes, Felicia. I’d love to hear you play violin. Talk to me in your sexy Jamaican accent.’ It’s not a problem if you’re gay, ma’am. Miss Mortenson. Miss. Can’t I just call you ma’am?”
Ah, THAT Felicia. Felicia Day again. If she read this, she’d probably start getting creeped out right about the first time around. This would be the time she filed the restraining order. As to the ma’am thing, she’d mistaken my waking gender confusion with disliking the term itself. “Ma’am is fine. You caught me off guard waking me up. No flowers necessary. I wish, but no. Did I miss anything important?”
She flipped back through her notes. “Miss Jackson with R&D wants you to know they don’t have they’ve had a brain drain since Spinetingler attacked so she doesn’t think they can do what you asked. The Mechanical division is far behind…behind…oh, behind Chemical. There it is. She wasn’t happy, but she liked that I was there. That’s what she said. I’m not bragging…much.” She beamed, practically giving off her own light.
I figured I’d check on the Shasta Jackson. As the head of our research and development, she’d be the one to actually make us stuff. While that might occasionally mean pushing new and exotic beans on the coffeehouses, I’d originally put down this company as a medical supply company. Prosthetics. Much as I hate to hide the wondrous glory that is Psycho Gecko, I’d look suspicious putting the nanites out on the market.
If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about cybernetics, it’s me. If there’s two people, it’s me and Technolutionary. That’s part of what he’ll be doing. In contrast to CTD’s smile, I yawned and asked, “How do I look?”
My assistant’s smile faltered. “You could stand to freshen up.”
After a break to maintain appearances, a concern that was increasingly annoying me with all the time it takes, we headed over to the main laboratory complex in the suburbs, close to the suburbs of Empyreal City. It felt weird to not have to sneak over the wall or past the guard to get a glimpse of that blocky white building with barely any windows.
Ms. Jackson met us in the lobby, greeting my assistant with a bit more of a smile than she had for me. “It’s nice to see you again. Ms. Mortenson, it’s always a pleasure to have you attend to business as well.”
I held my hand against my chest. “Argh! They got me. Call security. We got a sniper.” I winked at Jackson, then pulled out a flash drive. “You might find these helpful. Boom. Job done. Products thought up.”
I tossed it to her. She caught it and glanced at it. “What’s in here?”
“Prosthetics. Prosthetics for the whole body. Prosthetic arms, legs, dicks. Hell, I even got prosthetic heads in there. All of it’s good stuff.”
She held her mouth partially open, tongue settling on the right side of it. “We’ll check this over. Make sure you didn’t make any mistakes. In the meantime, let me show you around. You should see what we’ve been working on up to now. I think you’ll agree we need strong leadership in this time of transition.”
For all they said about Mechanical division lagging behind, they did have a pretty good product for any arm amputees who get pissed off. They called it the Finger Gun. It’s easily installable in either the pointer or middle fingers of most standard prosthetic limbs. And here I thought R&D was trying too hard to stay on the straight and narrow. If these are the kinds of surprises they have in store for me, maybe I need to actually read some of those memos they send my way every now and then.
Next, we took a trip to Chemical, the domain of Winston “Wonder” Harrison. Crash Test handed me his police file. This guy has done a shitload of drugs. But they didn’t just get him for being a user. You know what they say about cocaine: he who smelt it, dealt it. It’s said that when the cops came to arrest him,a taser caught his hair on fire and the fumes got a few of the arresting officers high.
He didn’t start his career making drugs until he got to prison. Not being a super, he worked his way up to trustee and made good use of whatever he could find to cook up jailhouse drugs. Carl really went for a loose definition of chemist hiring this guy, but he sounded like a decent enough choice to make Mastermind Cafe’s coffee extra-addictive. We’ll have the scones that’ll make you stoned. We’ll have the muffins that’ll make you see puffins. We’ll have cookies that…well, we’ll have cookies.
I don’t see much call for him to aid with the prosthetics, though. What are we going to do, make someone who depends on our products to walk really, really feel attached to that fake leg?
I had other plans in mind. The trip is about problem solving, but it’s also about preparing for the coming alien invasion.
Before going in, Jackson had us put on some masks with filters. “Biohazard concerns?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” she helpfully explained.
So we walked in his lab to find the fire alarms all piled up in one corner. Which is good, because the massive amount of smoke in the air might have set them off. The masks protected us from exposure to the smoke, though it didn’t do anything for Wonder Harrison and the rest of his research team who sat around watching some reality show and laughing their asses off.
Maybe it’s not too late to call up Mix N’Max instead.
I crossed my arm and tapped a shoe loudly on the floor. “Ahem.”
They stayed glued to the TV. I looked around for something to get their attention. Ah, a hookah. That’s hookah, not hooker. Hookers complain when you throw them through a TV to get someone’s attention. Well, if you throw them hard enough, they don’t, but that’s not always an easy toss.
“The fuck, man, you fucking crazy, the fuck you want, fuck!” They shot to their feet, including Wonder who unleashed that fucking tirade.
I walked forward, slipping a bracelet off my wrist so I could freely bitchslap the alleged researches between me and Wonder. When I got to him, I put the bracelet back on. “Do I have your attention yet?” With him distracted by that hand, I smacked him upside the face with the other, surprising the tall, skinny, pasty guy. “Wake up, dammit!”
He turned and poked me in the chest with one finger. “I don’t have to take this! Who do you think you are, bitch!”
I grabbed the finger and twisted it around. I didn’t break it, but I did come close and put him in a lot of pain in the process. “I’m the boss, you scrawny bastard. Now show me what I pay you for.”
I find that these difficult employees need a firm pimp hand to keep them in line. Case in point: they had almost nothing I could immediately use. The new strain of pot could be sold out of the cafes, and so could the watered-down Sexahol knockoff, but I needed something hallucinogenic.
“Acid, man? You want to do that?” Wonder asked, running a hand through curly hair.
I nodded. “Time release. Or it responds to a subliminal signal. I want to make people see things. Shocking, inhuman things. Less monster, more alien, if you can. And while we’re at it, I’ll forward you what I can from the military’s old Stargate Project. This seems a bit odd, but I want to see if we can mess around with people’s psychic defenses. Strengthening them if need be, weakening them if need be. Play around and see what you can do.”
“We’re going to need a psychic for tests,” he said, holding his chin in his hand.
“I’ll see what I can do about that,” I told him. I don’t know if the aliens are psychic, but I’m not blind to the possibility. It’s all over the place where advanced civilizations embrace superior mental powers. One more tool in the bag can’t hurt. Well, it can’t hurt me. I love to take tools out and bash people in the face with them.
Now, I just have to bash a psychic in the face and drag them back here…
“Alright! You heard the lady, let’s work, let’s work. Munchy time later, Cassandra!” Wonder Harrison yelled at his team as we left.
“I’d like to apologize, ma’am,” said Ms. Jackson. “It’s good to have leadership giving us a goal.”
Crash Test Dummy walked up beside me to show some email that had been forwarded up the chain of command from some district manager who heard rumors some of the men at the car garages were letting friends lay low. “I understand. Having a goal helps me be a good leader.” I responded to the email that we should expand that concept to the rest of our commercial locations in the city in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. No, wait. A flat rate. Let the muggers complain how we’re robbing them if they don’t like it. “Next is the bombmaker, right?”
Ms. Jackson led us down an elevator ride to a reinforced basement. “We used to do more rigorous product testing down here.”
We arrived just in time for some rigorous product-testing, actually. Almost as soon as the door opened, one far at the end of the hall slammed open and a small squad of people rushed out, waving their hands wildly and screaming. I pushed the door close button, but Crash Test and Jackson stubbornly held their hands out to keep the elevator door open. Who would make it that easy to keep an elevator open in a laboratory?
I yanked their hands away even as the lab blew. The shockwave threw the runners to the ground, the rearmost one looking a bit worse for wear. It didn’t knock us over, at least, but it sounded like Cthulhu with a bad case of constipation. The lead stood up, a pale man with natural blond hair that made it look like he lacked eyebrows.
“Everyone make it?!” He yelled. He turned to us. “The new mailboxes are still unstable! I think I’m going to cut back to a potassium glaze!” He squinted at me. “You’re new!”
“I’m the boss,” I mouthed at him. “And I think we need to get some of your ideas out into the city as soon as possible.”
“This is going to suck,” Crash Test muttered to herself.
“No, my dear,” I said, turning toward her. “This is going to blow.”