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In Lighter News

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“And in lighter news,” Veronica said, reading on, “despite the combined efforts of both the American and Chinese cyber-divisions, Jabberwocky has gained control of the stock exchange.”

“Oh, my God!” Linda gasped, aiming for shock, landing somewhere around dryly sarcastic. Honestly, her capacity for genuine horror had given its last death rattle after the Brioche got loose back in ‘13. “Which one?” She asked, mostly out of morbid curiosity.

Veronica ran an eye over the rest of the ‘Human Interest’ section of the Veridian quarterly newsletter. “All of them. Apparently it has a talent for trading – senior management is very pleased.”

She looked up again with a bright smile, barely showing any tooth at all. “Now, if no one has anything further to discuss?”

“Wait. I’m sorry.” Linda waved a hand. “Are you saying the incredibly fake project that Ted came up with so I could build a garden for our incredibly fake environmental policy has gained sentience and taken over the world?”

“Don’t be alarmist, Linda. It breeds despondency.” Veronica ran an eye over the attached press release. “Apparently it ‘seamlessly embedded itself in the financial infrastructure, providing an intelligent, real-time response on an international level and pathfinding for a bright new future.’”

“Oh my God!” On the plus side, the horror came a little easier that time.

"It’s scheduled to be placed in charge of all Veridian accounts next month and has already been installed as the operating system in HR. For some reason, it immediately terminated all employees named Sarah."

Linda hesitated. "And when you say terminated–"

"I, for one, welcome our newest employee and potential overlord," Ted interrupted, smiling in the general direction of the conference room cameras and enunciating as clearly as possible.

“That’s the spirit, Ted.” Veronica’s smile showed a little more tooth. “Now, if no one has anything further to discuss?”

“Uhm,” Lem’s hand slowly rose.

Veronica’s eyes narrowed. “I said, ‘if no one has anything further to discuss?’”

“Uhm.” Lem’s hand slowly lowered.

“I can’t believe you didn’t say anything,” Phil hissed when Veronica had left the room, and was on a different floor, with her door closed and, he hoped, also napping.

“I believe I quite clearly said, ‘uhm,’ which the Oxford dictionary considers to be-“

“No it does not. And we are never playing Scrabble with marketing again.”

“If we don’t tell someone, we’ll never play Scrabble with marketing or any other pathological liars again,” Lem pointed out. “Which I’d normally be happy about, but in this instance it would be because we were dead.”

“Or praying for sweet release,” Phil agreed.

Linda leaned into Ted’s shoulder. “They do know we’re still in the room, right?”

Ted shrugged and cleared his throat. “Guys?”

“I think I hear Jesus calling me.” Lem looked up hopefully. “He sounds like Ted.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Guys!” Ted straightened his tie and cleared his throat again as they jumped and turned in guilty tandem.

“Since when are you religious?” Linda felt it was a valid question. As far as she knew, the closest either of them had gotten to a spiritual epiphany was the time they’d been accused of playing God. Although, now she thought about it, their denial hadn’t been overwhelmingly convincing.

Phil checked his watch. “Since twenty-three minutes ago, when we may have started an unstoppable chain-reaction that could slightly wipe out all life on Earth.”

“May?” Ted asked, hopefully.

“Or make a surprisingly creamy cup of coffee,” Lem clarified. “We haven’t run all the simulations yet.”

Slightly?” Linda asked, somewhat more on point. “How do you slightly wipe out all life on Earth?”

“Well, the bacteria should survive and they outnumber all other forms of life by a factor of –“

Ted held up a hand to cut off the explanation. “Of these scenarios – the extermination of all higher life forms or a vanilla latte – which would you consider the most likely outcome?”

Phil searched Ted’s face for any sign of a correct answer. “Death?” He tried tentatively, then quickly rushed on when Ted’s eyes widened. “By delicious coffee!”

“And have you tried to stop the unstoppable chain reaction?” Linda asked.

Lem and Phil smiled indulgently. “You can’t stop an unstoppable chain reaction, Linda. It’s-“

“As the architects of our destruction, you don’t get to patronize me. My mother warned me about this place, you know. She told me it would kill us all. Which now I think about it, was weirdly prescient.

“What if she was right about Bobby Blobby too? But I couldn’t be Mrs. Blobby. I just couldn’t. Does that make me a terrible person? Because if it does, I really need to repent. Do we have time to repent? Because Bobby Blobby is just the tip of the iceberg.

“A really great iceberg, who rescues tiny animals, gives a huge amount of barely stolen office supplies to the unfortunate, and would never dream of sinking any-”

“How long do we have?” Ted patted his pockets for his cell. “I need to call Rose. And probably warn people. After she’s safely in a bunker.”

“Bunkers won- OW!

“Will absolutely help.” Lem said, lifting his heel off Phil’s toes. “It’s important to have hope,” he hissed. “Especially if you’re young. Or depraved,” he added, nodding to Linda.

“Hey! Wait. What’s that sound?” Linda looked out of the conference door and then pulled back, face pale. “Running. Screaming. Has it started?”

Lem flung his hands towards the ceiling. “Take me now, Ted in the sky!

“Ted.” Veronica appeared, framed in the open doorway, one hand on her hip and the other wrapped around a cup of foam-topped coffee.

Ted paused. “Veronica?”

“It’s chaos out there. Johnson let slip the cafeteria has surprisingly creamy coffee, which doesn’t taste like bitterness or despair. People are trampling their own mothers to get some.” She took a thoughtful sip from her mug. “I have to say, I’m impressed so many employees took part in Bring Your Parents to Work Day.”

“I don’t think they realised the company literally meant their elderly loved ones would be given jobs,” Ted pointed out, tucking his cell back into his jacket pocket and smoothing his tie.

"Regardless, it bodes well for both Bring Your Children to Work Day and Bring Your Neighbor to Work Day."

“In other news,” Linda growled, raising an arm to block the two scientists attempting to sidle out the door. “Phil and Lem almost destroyed the world.”

Veronica straightened, expression severe as Lem and Phil drew together and adopted the expressions of two deer, frozen in the headlights of an oncoming bullet train with incredible hair. “I’m disappointed in you both. Almost doesn’t get it done, but-”

“Wrong speech,” Linda hissed.

“- the company is very proud -” Veronica went on, without missing a beat.

“Directive eighteen,” Ted suggested.

“- of your superiors for containing whatever monstrous creation or creations you may have unleashed.”

“Close enough.” Linda let her arm drop; Lem and Phil scuttled out. “Is there any coffee left?”