At Veridian Dynamics, things often ran like a well-oiled machine. There’s a process for every new project, from inception to completion, from the announcement to the presentation of said product to the general public. However, like any machine (well-oiled or otherwise), sometimes something breaks, and it becomes the opposite of well-oiled, suddenly resembling something more like a smoking heap of hot, screeching metal.
That was pretty much how this month went.
At the end of each month, Ted always compiled reports of all ongoing projects. He passed them on to Veronica, and they would both comb through the reports for accuracy. She would sign off on them, and then the dockets and files were sent up a level to Chet and Management, who probably either threw them out or set them in their paper inbox but never bothered to actually read them but required them by a certain deadline all the same.
This month, there was first the incident with the Self-Boiling Pot Project (No need for a stovetop any longer! Great for camping! Great as a red-hot weapon!), which had resulted in an entire wing of the lab being consumed by fire. No one was hurt, but Ted had to postpone working on his month-end reports in order to deal with the clean-up, paperwork, and fallout. (Lem had lost his pet fern Jerry in the blaze and had been quite distraught, though Phil reminded him about the Not Naming Things rule they’d instituted.)
After that, Ted had been forced to rush the Green Chairs project (colorful and environmentally friendly, made from recycled paper and plastic, and not at all comfortable), due to an order that came straight from Chet, who was dealing with a PR nightmare over the previous Red Chair scandal. This was followed swiftly by the failure of the Golden Goose project (a microwaveable goose that was supposed to come out crispy and golden brown but mostly just came out rock-hard and inedible—they were looking into weaponizing it instead).
Next came Mardi Gras week (even though it was June, they weren’t in New Orleans, and no one got anything done once the slushie machine started sloshing all over the kitchen floor every half-hour), Food Poisoning Day (which wasn’t a nationally-sanctioned Veridian holiday but happened whenever the lobster salad and fish tacos were served on the same day, no matter how vehemently the cooks swore this time would be different), and a variety of smaller speed bumps that required Ted to continually push his month-end reports closer and closer to the Absolute, Unmoveable Final Deadline (which was two deadlines after the Regular Deadline).
Then, suddenly, the Absolute, Unmoveable Final Deadline day arrived, and Ted could neither avoid nor shove it away a moment longer. So, with sweat glistening on his brow, Ted posted a sizeable Do Not Disturb (Unless Actual, World-Ending Emergency Is Occurring) sign on his mahogany office door, shut it with a soft click, and settled down to write up the necessary reports as quickly as possible.
He had until 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
At 12:48, Ted was finishing up, hardly daring to believe he was going to make the deadline (albeit by mere minutes, but it was still before). He hastened down to the print room at the end of the hall and scooped the reports off the printer, which clattered and groaned ominously as it ejected and stapled the final pages. Ted took off at a brisk pace, half a step above a speed walk and two steps below a jog, for Veronica’s office down at the far, opposite end of the hall.
Phil and Lem came bustling up behind him from the direction of the elevators, looking frightened and strained, which Ted took little notice of because they very often looked like that.
“Ted,” said Lem.
“Ted,” said Phil.
Ted continued proofreading the reports as he went, tossing his hand up at the boys to wave them off.
“Can’t right now, guys, I have to get these to Veronica so she can rush them to Chet,” he explained, not taking his eyes off the sheets and files stacked in his arms. “I’m in a big rush, so it’ll have to wait.”
“Ted,” Phil insisted.
“Ted,” Lem insisted.
“Not now,” Ted warned, and quickened his walk so that it was just one step below a jog.
Phil and Lem glanced at each other and uneasily noted the fact that Ted had used the Tone with them. The Tone meant business, it meant leave me alone (but in the nicest way possible, because it was Ted) and it meant that whatever required Ted’s attention must’ve been really, truly, very important because he wouldn’t have used the Tone otherwise.
Lem pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose, his eyebrows scrunching with concern. Phil pressed his lips together tight and his cheeks puffed out slightly while his eyes widened, causing him to slightly resemble a puffer fish. The pair hesitated a full 2.5 seconds before they silently decided at the same time that this was simply too important to wait.
“Ted, we heard the Tone,” Phil ventured nervously.
“And we can see you’re very busy,” interjected Lem quickly.
“But we must risk your wrath this day—it’s too important not to.”
Ted heaved an aggravated sigh but otherwise didn’t respond, still fiercely attempting to proofread the reports. He just needed five more minutes. Five. The crisis the boys were having, whatever it was, would have to wait.
“Ted?” Lem tried, his lips forming into a small ‘O’ of uncertainty on the question mark.
“Ted?” Phil tried, leaning backwards a tiny bit as if expecting a physical blow.
Ted was standing steps from Veronica’s office as he reluctantly turned to face his geniuses, trying in vain not to be irritated with them. His eyes darted to check the time on the clock mounted on the blandly colored wall nearby. He had less than five minutes to go over the reports with Veronica and get them up to Chet before the man left on holidays for three weeks.
“Look, unless it’s the apocalypse—”
“It’s a zombie,” Phil blurted out in a big rush of air, like a balloon that had suddenly been untied.
Ted stopped and he was ninety percent sure he heard fifty percent of Phil’s statement wrong, and it was not the fifty percent he liked.
“It’s a zombie,” Lem repeated, as he shifted from foot to foot. “In the lab.”
Ted stared. He so did not have time for this. And they could not be actually serious. Even though they looked pretty serious.
“How?” Ted managed, because he couldn’t seem to manage anything else. Then before they answered, he added, “Can it wait?”
Ted decided that meant no.
“We were testing the Long Term Wrinkle-Free Regenerative Night Cream Serum for Women Over Thirty,” explained Lem, hands twisting before him. “After Management said they wanted to make it smell nicer?”
“And Chet demanded the cream be compatible with men and woman,” Phil chimed in. “And Veronica requested that it work on more skin than just the skin on her face. Although she has the nicest skin I have ever beheld and I can’t imagine she would ever need a regenerative cream.”
Ted pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers and sucked in a slow, deep breath to calm his rising blood pressure. He wasn’t one to lose his temper, but the guys were seriously trying every last scrap of patience he had today, and, after the way the last couple weeks had gone, he had very little left.
Not to mention Rose’s mother had swept in yesterday morning, ready to whisk Rose away for an unprecedented two weeks, and he could hardly say no once Rose started her unique brand of not-quite-begging pleading. She promised to get her homework from her friends via email, and he frankly could use a couple days without worrying about her to complete all these reports...
But that was hardly the point. The point was that Rose’s mother had just showed up, with only ten minutes’ warning via a hasty cell phone call before breakfast. She flounced in, expectant and overly cheerful, bearing gifts and bursting with smiles and absurd positivity and ice cream while Ted had had to stand there grimacing and trying not to glower for Rose’s sake.
Lem and Phil were still going as Ted forcibly surfaced from his train of thought before it crashed.
“Patricia wanted a sample to take home,” Lem said with exasperation. “Then I said she couldn’t, not until we were sure it was safe for human consumption—”
“Not literal consumption,” Phil clarified.
“No, of course not, it’s a figure of speech,” Lem continued, unperturbed. “Dr. Bhamba was working out equations—”
“Guys. Deadline.” Ted snapped and pointed with irritation at the clock on the wall, ticking away precious seconds he didn’t have to spare. “Skipping to the point?”
Lem nodded vigorously. “The cadaver became a zombie.”
Ted blinked. “Okay, backing up just a little so I can see how we got to this point?”
“We put the cream on the cadaver,” Phil expounded. “And then it, well…” He waved his hands back and forth at shoulder level like a drowning man might. “Woke up. ‘Regenerative’ took on a whole new meaning.”
Ted still felt rather in shock, and Lem helpfully proceeded to mime what exactly was apparently occurring down in the lab at that very moment. He lifted his arms straight out in front of him and curled his fingers like claws. He cocked his head to the side, rolled his eyes back into his head, let his tongue loll out of his open mouth, and groaned menacingly while taking a staggering step towards his boss.
“Okay! I got it!” Ted jumped backwards, thoroughly grossed out and alarmed.
Lem returned to normal, fixed his glasses, and offered Ted a small, sheepish grin. Phil nodded at his friend with approval, apparently finding the likeness to be a good one.
Ted’s mind was reeling. “Okay, go back down there and contain it. Take Ryan the security guard with you, get everyone out of the lab, and I’ll be down there as soon as I can.” He grabbed the handle on the door to Veronica’s office and headed inside.
Phil and Lem exchanged terrified glances then scurried off as fast as they could without running (since running had been banned following an incident, after which a memo was sent about no running in the office for any reason, although that memo was frequently thrown out the window—literally and figuratively—every time an evacuation was ordered, or when it was Fajita Day).