There's a new sculpture in the parking lot when Ted pulls in. It's very large, very shiny, and very phallic.
Veronica is looking up at it.
"Good morning, Ted."
Ted stands next to her and looks up at it too. "Good morning, Veronica."
"I know what you're thinking," Veronica says. "You're amazed at the genius of representing Veridian Dynamics with a giant sculpture of a rocket. You're thinking how ably it demonstrates Veridian Dynamics' determination to reach for the sky, to be the best at what we do."
"Well," Ted says slowly, "that's not exactly what I was thinking."
"What exactly were you thinking?" Veronica asks. "Not that I really care, of course," she adds.
"Actually, I was wondering why we have a giant sculpture of a penis in our parking lot."
Veronica steps back and regards it. "Drat. You're right," she says and scowls. "I hate saying that."
Ted tries not to appear too smug.
Linda is in the lobby. She doesn't look happy. Ted debates taking the stairs to avoid her, but apparently he must have broadcast that thought on a wavelength Linda can read loud and clear, as she glares at him and sticks her foot in the elevator door to hold it for him.
"This is extremely uncomfortable, I'll have you know," she hisses as he squeezes in between her and Lance from accounting.
"It's only for a few floors," Ted says and nobly refrains from pointing out that she was the one who held the elevator for him.
"Not the elevator. This." She makes a strange hand motion somewhere around her groin area. There's only one conclusion Ted can come to. She's talking about them, and their not-relationship. Which, yes, is rather awkward.
"Ah," he says. "Sorry."
"Sorry?! That's all you have to say?"
"I'm very sorry?" Ted tries.
It doesn't work.
There's a rapid exodus on the next floor, including three staff who Ted knows work on his floor. Ted and Linda are the only two left.
"This is just so undignified," Linda says.
Ted endeavors to placate her. "I wouldn't call it—"
"You wouldn't? Then what would you call it?" Linda's tone strongly suggests that she's thinking of kneeing him somewhere painful if he gives the wrong answer.
Ted has a feeling they're not on the same wavelength anymore. And that they might not have been on the same wavelength at any stage of the conversation. Well, apart from Linda's initial mind-reading stunt when Ted wanted to avoid her.
"What exactly are we talking about here?" Ted asks.
"Adult diapers, of course. What else would we be talking about?"
"Ah." Ted coughs. Then presses the emergency stop button, because this conversation sounds like one that will need more time than it will take to get to the 29th floor. "Adult diapers?" he asks reluctantly.
Linda puts her hands on her hips and narrows her eyes. "Don't pretend you don't know."
Ted lifts his hands up. "No pretending going on. I haven't got a clue what you're talking about."
"Oh." Linda looks somewhat mollified. "You really don't, do you?"
"Okay." She pauses. "This is actually kind of embarrassing."
Ted does his best to look like the kind of guy anyone can talk to. He smiles encouragingly, even though his gut is telling him he doesn't want to know.
Linda takes a deep breath. "Everyoneintestinghastowearadultdiapers," she says.
Ted really hopes that it sounds better slow. Because if she said what he thinks she just said— "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to repeat that."
"I hate you. I said everyone in testing has to wear adult diapers," she says, slowly and clearly.
It isn't even eight-thirty yet. "I take it this isn't because of a mass outbreak of diarrhea?" Ted asks, because he has to hope there's a good explanation. Or at least an explanation that isn't too awful.
"No. Duh." Linda rolls her eyes. "It's supposed to make us more productive. Cut down on bathroom breaks."
"Wow." Ted is rarely speechless, but this is one of those occasions when he comes close to losing his vocabulary.
"You really didn't know?" Linda looks a little guilty.
"I definitely didn't know. I'm going to hazard a guess that it's one of Veronica's ideas." Ted presses the button for the 29th floor. "I'll have a word with her."
"And in the meantime, I can—" Linda gestures downwards.
Ted nods vehemently. "Oh, definitely. Yes. You don't want to— No."
Veronica is standing on her head when Ted walks in her office.
"Do you need a moment?" he asks, distracted by her calves. She really does have fine calves.
"No," Veronica replies. "What do you want?"
"I have a problem."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Extension 3229," Veronica repeats. "That's the number you call if you have a problem."
"I need to speak to you about the problem."
"I don't want to hear your problem.
"No buts. It's the new Veridian Dynamics care center. They listen to your problems. They care, so I don't have to." Veronica falls incredibly gracefully to her feet, slips on her shoes, and sits behind her desk. Not a hair is out of place. "And now I need to take advantage of the increased blood flow to my brain and do some amazing work," she says, and dismisses him with a casual hand wave.
Ted has a nine-fifteen meeting with Lem and Phil. They're punctual to the second, as always.
Ted leans across his desk. "I need you to create a breathable, waterproof, lightweight, flame retardant fabric that changes color to blend into its surroundings. And is edible."
"Hmm. Does it have to taste good?" Lem asks.
Ted thinks about it for a moment. "I'll get back to you on that."
"We could start with a cellulose based—"
"And if we blend in that polymer—"
"No, that would never work, it'd be too—"
"Of course it would, you're so right."
Ted considers leaving them to it, but they're in his office. "I think you'll work faster in your lab," he suggests, and they nod distractedly and keep talking even as they're heading out the door.
"Apparently we can't discriminate against stupid people." Veronica stands in the doorway, one hand on her hip, and looks puzzled.
"The lawyers have been talking to you again, haven't they?" Ted asks.
Veronica nods. "If they weren't earning such large sums of money, I would think they're stupid. But they earn even more than I do, which is a lot, so clearly they're not total idiots."
"I think they just want you to be more tactful in interviews, especially when you tell a person you're not hiring them. Having to provide counseling for failed interviewees can get expensive."
"Tactful?" Veronica now looks utterly bemused.
Ted leans back in his seat (not a Focus Master, thankfully) and ponders how to explain the concept of tact to Veronica. Not an easy task, but Ted is up to the job.
"The essence of tact," he says, "is not always saying what you're thinking."
Veronica tilts her head. "But why wouldn't I say what I'm thinking?"
"To avoid offending people."
There's a long pause while Veronica is apparently contemplating that idea. Then, "I still don't get it."
Ted takes a different tack. "So people won't sue the company."
"Ah, yes. Why didn't you just say that to start with?" Veronica asks. She closes the door behind her, then, roughly five seconds later, walks back in. "I can still tell you when you're wearing an ugly tie?"
"Yes, you can."
"Good. That tie is hideous."
"Duly noted. Oh, and Veronica?"
"You can't make staff wear adult diapers."
Veronica sighs. "You're beginning to sound like a company lawyer. That's disappointing, Ted. I rely on you to say yes."
"Generally I do. But there are times I really can't."
"You're not going to change your mind on this one, are you?"
"No, Veronica. I'm not."
"How's the new fabric coming along?" Ted asks. Then glances around the lab. It looks different; Lem and Phil look different. Smarter. They've both had haircuts, and their lab coats are brilliant white and so stiff they must have been starched.
Also, there's a white line painted down the middle of the lab. Lem is on one side, Phil on the other.
"Are you two fighting again?" Ted asks.
"No," says Lem.
"Certainly not," Phil denies. "That would be childish."
"Yes, Phil, it would," Lem says pointedly.
"See!" Phil stabs a finger in Lem's direction. "That's what I have to put up with."
"You started it."
"Started what?" Ted asks, not entirely sure he wants to know the answer.
"Phil's jealous, that's all it is. Because I have a girlfriend, and he doesn't."
"You're dating again?"
Lem grins toothily. "Yes."
Phil glares. "No, he isn't. He just thinks he is."
That explains the haircuts and the neatly pressed lab coats. But Ted can't help but recall the last time Lem dated. "Does she work here?"
"Yes, she's new. She's a biochemist and incredibly talented."
"So new she doesn't know what an idiot you are," Phil says with a huff.
"Oh, so you're on first name terms with her now."
"She told me to call her Caroline."
"She was probably just being polite."
"Yes, well, at least she spoke to me. And knows my name. What was it she called you?" Lem pauses, then smirks. "Ah, yes, Bill."
Phil turns his back on Lem.
"So, guys, about the fabric." Ted thinks it's time to interrupt. "Apparently it doesn't matter what it tastes like, as long as it's not poisonous. Also, the lower calorie count, the better."
Lem nods. "We can do that."
"And I suppose by 'we', you mean you and Caroline," Phil says with a pronounced sniff.
Ted pours himself a coffee — without creamer; he grew used to drinking it black when Linda was taking all the creamer — and is about to take a sip when Veronica grabs the mug from him.
"Is there any chance that the new fabric could be produced primarily from plant fibers?" she asks and drains half the cup.
"Any specific type of plant fibers?" he asks, trying not to look too longingly at the coffee mug.
"Let me guess. We have a contract with a country that produces a lot of poppies."
"They're trying to find legal uses for them."
"I'll speak to Lem and Phil," he promises.
Veronica hands him the mug and heads back to her office. Ted looks sadly at the empty coffee pot, shrugs, and drinks what remains in the mug. He needs to order a larger capacity coffee machine. Or, better still, get Dr. Bamba to design the perfect coffee machine, one that never runs out.
Ted nods to himself. Working for a company like Veridian Dynamics has its perks.
The fire alarm goes off while Ted's eating lunch. It's half an hour before the fire department gives the all clear for everyone to go back into the building.
Ted heads straight for the lab. Lem and Phil are already there. There's a little smoke damage, but clearly there was no actual fire.
"So?" he asks. And waits.
Lem and Phil look at each other.
"It was his fault," Phil says.
Lem gasps. "That is so unfair, and so like you."
"Well, it is. You were the one trying to impress Caroline with our new invention."
Ted sighs. "What happened?"
"Okay, if at all possible, I won't report it, or tell Veronica. But that's as much as I can promise."
"We were testing the new fabric," Phil says.
"Demonstrating how flame retardant it is."
"Which it is. Except—"
"Apparently it spontaneously combusts in high concentrations of methane."
"Why would there be high concentrations of methane in the lab?" Ted asks.
Phil bites his lip, and Lem looks at the floor. Ted thinks. He tries to put himself in Lem and Phil's shoes — not literally, obviously, as they both have smaller feet — and consider what they might have been doing. That's when he has a eureka moment. A bad eureka moment.
"You were both still wearing the adult diapers, weren't you?"
Both of them look sheepish.
"They just save so much time," Phil says.
"And ever since the toilet paper dispensers were moved, I've never been that comfortable using the bathroom," Lem complains.
Ted sighs. "You're still wearing them now, aren't you?"
"Um, yes?" Phil says.
Ted shakes his head. "Don't."
"I'd decided not to anyway. It's hard to impress a woman when you squelch whenever you sit down," Lem says sadly. "I don't think Caroline's interested anymore."
"Plus there's the gas problem," Phil adds.
"It's not really that bad using the bathroom."
"I do a lot of good work in there."
"Yes, me too."
Ted interrupts before he hears anything else about their bathroom habits. "I'd like you to work on making sure the fabric doesn't spontaneously combust in any other situations."
"It shouldn't," Phil assures him.
"But we'll test it thoroughly."
"People are quite peculiar at times," Veronica says. She's just beaten him to the elevator, so she's in a good mood. Ted isn't. She cheated, as usual.
He does, however, refrain from pointing out that Veronica herself is peculiar. He thinks that's very restrained.
"I just bumped into that girl from testing whose husband left her last week."
"Alice." Alice's husband, who also works for Veridian Dynamics, has been having an affair with another man for months now. Everyone's known about it, apart from Alice.
"I know her name. I know everyone's name. So, Alex—"
"That's what I said. So — Alice couldn't stop laughing. I don't understand why she'd laugh when she'd just been publicly humiliated. The man her husband left her for is really quite ugly. Of course, she's not that good looking herself, but being dumped for an ugly man, well." Veronica pauses, and Ted can only assume she's feeling thankful that she isn't plain and has never been dumped. "Also, I might have accidentally sprayed pepper spray in Enrique's face, and instead of crying in agony, he started laughing. There's nothing wrong with the pepper spray — I used it just last week on a man who tried to cut in line. He cried like a baby. There must be something wrong with Enrique."
Ted isn't going to ask how Veronica could accidentally spray someone with pepper spray. Also, there's no one in the department called Enrique. There is, however, an Eduardo, and Ted noticed that he looked very red-eyed earlier.
"I see," he says. He doesn't really, not yet, but he imagines he'll get to the bottom of it.
"I'd like you to investigate it."
Ted nods and gets out on the next floor to go find Eduardo.
He finds Linda first, in her cubicle.
"What are those?" Ted asks. Linda's tipping a pile of small tubes into her drawer.
Linda jumps and tries to close the drawer quickly.
"Those aren't creamer," Ted says.
"What are they?"
"You're not going to leave this alone, are you?"
Ted shakes his head. "No."
"Diaper rash ointment."
"I don't have diaper rash," Linda points out hurriedly. "They're just free samples the company's been giving to everyone in testing."
Ted has a horrible thought. "Let me look at one," he says.
Linda opens the drawer reluctantly and hands one over. "You're not going to say anything, are you?"
"Absolutely not. But I'd recommend you give them all back," he says, checking the label.
Linda narrows her eyes. "They made me wear an adult diaper. I deserve these."
"One, you have no use for them whatsoever. And two, this is experimental diaper rash cream."
Linda backs away from her desk. "Experimental how?" she asks warily.
"The brief was to see if they could make babies laugh instead of cry. It works. Too well."
"Is that why everyone in testing's been laughing so much today? Delores sat on a thumbtack and couldn't stop laughing. Which seemed a little weird. She's got quite a bony ass; it must have hurt."
Ted winces. "I'd imagine so," he says.
"I'll go and get rid of all the tubes," Linda offers.
Ted nods. "Good idea."
Ted enjoys his job — most of the time — but he loves getting home after a long day at the office.
"How was your day, honey?" he asks Rose.
"We learned all about babies," she tells him excitedly. "And look, I brought a special pretend baby home to look after. I have to feed her and change her diaper and everything. She even cries." She picks up the baby and tips it up. Sure enough, it cries. Loudly.
Ted groans. He feels around in his pocket. "Here," he says. "Try this ointment on her."