At 11:37 this morning, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and, since tragedy could strike at anytime, debated not answering the call. Then I thought, “Gravy! It might be Publisher’s Clearing House!” so I answered.
It was not Publisher’s Clearing House.
Let me repeat that for those of you planning to ask me for a loan. It was *NOT* Publisher’s Clearing House.
It was, in fact, Sheila.
“Good afternoon, this is Sheila with Cancer Research of America, how are you today?” a rather chipper voice asked. It was the type of voice that would shortly be asking me for a donation.
“I’d be better if you knew it was morning here, Sheila,” I politely replied to the chipper east coast elitist.
“Yes, of course, good morning,” she said, stumbling over her canned speech.
“Well, what can I do for you today?” I asked, opening a Wikipedia article about puffins on my laptop.
Sheila took a breath, launching her pitch. “Cancer Research of America is a foundation dedicated to finding a cure for cancer—“
My ears perked up.
“What’s this? A cure for cancer? I’ve seen quite a bit posted on Facebook about cancer, Sheila. Many of my acquaintances share posts in support of those fighting cancer. Tell me more about cancer,” I said, honestly intrigued.
“You haven’t heard of cancer?” Sheila asked, seeming a bit befuddled. East coast elites always seem to think people have nothing better to do than keep up with the news.
“No, please, tell me more about cancer and this cure you’re funding. Will we be sending troops in to destroy them or is this more of drone operation?” I asked, pulling out a pen and pad of paper. I felt the information Sheila was about to offer would be invaluable to my friends. I wanted to get every detail right.
“Troops? Drone operations? I’m not sure I understand,” Sheila said, sounding more confused than when she started. Perhaps she wasn’t the tactician I needed to answer my questions.
“The cure for cancer. Given the voracity with which so many people want to fight it, I assume it’s a terrorist organization. Foreign? Religious oriented? Hiding their operatives in refugee camps in order to take down our way of life? I’m certain my city is a prime target. In fact, I don’t like to talk ill about anyone, but I have this neighbor—“
“Let me stop you there,” Sheila said, the chipperness draining from her voice. She obviously felt quite strongly about the evils of cancer. Perhaps she had a relative fighting them. “Cancer is a disease which kills over half a million people a year in the US alone. More than one-and-a-half million people in the US will be diagnosed with cancer this year. As a whole, cancer is a significant health crisis—“
“A disease?” I said, setting down my pen. I had just been to see my doctor and was the picture of perfect health. In fact, she had taken four or five pictures of my perfect health.
“Yes. And we were wondering if you would donate to help us find a cure for this disease so no other people have to suffer.”
“But Sheila, what about heart disease? Asthma? Ingrown toenails? There are a lot of diseases and ailments out there. Your organization is spending God knows how much money to research and stop only one of them? That seems rather shortsighted.”
“Shortsighted? Cancer destroys the health and lives of so many people—“
“All health matters, Sheila, not just the health of those fighting cancer,” I replied.
The other end of the line was quiet. Then Sheila said, “I’ll take you off our list.”
“Thank you, Sheila. I’d appreciate that,” I said. “Of course, if your organization ever decides to expand their focus and admit #AllHealthMatters, I’d be happy donate.”
I’m not sure Sheila heard me. The line went dead before I finished speaking. I considered calling her back and letting her know I’d be happy to help with the all health matters movement but Wikipedia articles on puffins don’t read themselves.
“Come out, come out, whereeeeever you are!” the Deuce sang, shooting plasma orbs at the Carlson Carbonite Building. A fiery cloud of glass and concrete exploded over Clayton Street; Ableman slid under an abandoned armored truck to avoid the rain of cinders and ash.
“Betsy, I need backup,” Ableman whispered into his communicator.
“No problem, Abe,” Betsy, sitting at her computer back at headquarters, replied. She pulled up the Backup Support Module to find which heroes were available and near downtown Beaver Creek.
“Login and Password?” the module asked.
Betsy furrowed her brow. She had logged on as soon as the emergency call came in and it shouldn’t have kicked her out already. She’d have to log a bug report with IT.
“Betsy?” Ableman’s voice crackled in the earpiece.
“Hang on. It logged me out,” Betsy said, entering her username and password.
The system flashed an “Unrecognized User” message.
“What the hell?” Betsy muttered.
“Talk to me, Bets,” Ableman whispered.
The scream of steel twisting against itself exploded in Betsy’s ear.
“Abe!” Betsy shouted.
“I’m okay,” Ableman said, running down an alleyway holding his left arm. The armored truck lay twisted and burning in Dimpleman’s Department Store’s holiday display. “I could really use that backup.”
Betsy pounded her keyboard. The system was again telling her, for the third time, her username wasn’t recognized. “Let me see if Henry can make the request,” Betsy said, jumping up from her chair. She turned and found the exit to her cubicle blocked by Mike, the Middle Manager.
“Hey there, Betsy. Mind joining me in the conference room for a minute?” Mike asked, giving her a two thumb salute.
“Just a minute, Mike, I really need Henry to—“
“You can give Henry the office gossip a little later, right now—“
“Betsy! What’s going on over there?” Ableman shouted. Something, sounding very much like Beaver Creek’s First National Bank, exploded in the background.
“Mike says he needs to talk to me in the conference room and won’t let me—“
“They’re doing that now?” Ableman shouted.
“Doing what now? What are you doing now?” Betsy asked Mike, her eyes growing big.
“This doesn’t need to be painful, Betsy. It’s just business,” Mike said. “If you’ll come with me.”
“Tell Mike it’s a Code Purple! I’ll give him the go ahead later,” Ableman shouted. “But I need backup now!”
“You knew about this?” Betsy muttered.
“I… Code Purple, Betsy. I order you to—“
Betsy snorted. She picked up her coat and purse. “Okay, Mike. Let’s get this over with,” she said, following him into the maze of cubicles.
Security alarms blared in Betsy’s ear as Ableman dashed through the bank’s wreckage. He begged her to send backup. “I can fix this, I swear,” he shouted over the plasma orbs exploding around him.
Ableman scaled a fire escape, climbing into a small apartment smelling of face powder and Persian cats. “Betsy, we’ve had good times,” he whispered, peering out the window.
The Deuce walked past the building, using his plasma cannon to knock parked cars through storefront windows.
In the conference room, The Axe was already sitting at the table with the blue layoff folder in front of her.
The Axe — a small, white-haired woman — always wore grey tweed and pearls. As the only ‘normal’ to reach an executive level, she had been given “The Axe” as her secret identity. Everyone joked the tweed and pearls were her company approved super costume.
“Betsy, hello. Please sit down,” The Axe said before turning to Mike and asking, “Will Ableman be joining us?”
“He hasn’t been at his desk all morning,” Mike replied, taking a seat next to The Axe.
“Typical,” she muttered, opening the blue folder. “For all their heroics, every one of them runs and hides when real work needs to be done.”
“Betsy, please!” Ableman shouted. “I’m sorry. I’ll give you a glowing recommendation. My brother works at Google—“
Betsy smiled. In one ear the Axe explained her severance package, how long Betsy’s insurance coverage would last, and the process for filing unemployment.
In the other ear, concrete exploded and a building groaned before crashing to the street.
“Betsy! I thought we were friends,” Ableman groaned, as he limped across Tripoli Boulevard and into a grocery store.
Betsy’s smile faltered as the store’s muzak piped through the earpiece. The normal sound was unnerving amid her current, surreal circumstances.
“I’m sure you’ll find work in no time. This isn’t due to performance and we will make sure anyone calling for a recommendations knows that,” The Axe said.
“Thank you,” Betsy replied, picking up the blue folder.
“Do you have any questions?” The Axe asked, as the muzak suddenly stopped and a corrugated roof collapsed into aisle 7.
“Oh! I almost forgot,” Betsy said, digging the earpiece out, and setting it on the table. “I don’t suppose I’ll be needing this any longer.”
“No, I suppose not. On a personal note, I’d like to thank you for your maturity during all of this. You have no idea how many people scream, plead, and threaten when it comes time for a transition,” The Axe said, standing to shake Betsy’s hand.
“These things happen,” Betsy said.
The Axe nodded and smiled. “Mike will walk you out. It’s policy.”
But while researching (aka procrastinating) I discovered a conspiracy so deep, I had to turn to Wikiepedia for insight.
The Shitsticle That is Queen Elizabeth’s Dog Collection
For those not in the know, as I was until about three minutes ago when I checked Wikipedia, She-Of-Many-Hats has three breeds of dogs: corgis, cocker spaniels, and dorgis.
I, like you — unless you’re British and care for such things — thought the Queen only owned corgis. I also, like you, thought dorgis were a family of house elves in the Harry Potter series.
“So, she owns three types of dogs. There’s no conspiracy in that, Cole.”
Well, no freaking duh, Aunt Regina! It’s what further research of these dogs uncovered.
Stick with me and hold onto your bloomers.
HRH’s Corgi Collection
According to Wikipedia, at last count, the Queen owned five corgis. This “last count” caveat is important, since the last count was as of 2007. Nearly a decade has passed and no one has any clue how many corgis the Queen has, except maybe HRH herself.
And she’s keeping that shit off Wikipedia.
Oh, there’s a reason…
And his name is Monty.
The Queen’s five corgis are named, innocently enough: Monty, Emma, Linnet, Willow, and Holly.
Now aside from naming her dog Linnet, nothing seems particularly askew here.
Until Wikipedia, bastion of all temporal knowledge, goes on to explain the following:
“Monty, Willow and Holly appeared in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony when James Bond (portrayed by Daniel Craig) arrived at Buckingham Palace to escort the Queen to the event. Monty had previously belonged to the Queen Mother, and died soon after in September 2002.”
Did you catch that? No?
That’s because the Queen’s guards fucked around with the order of information so the timeline isn’t clear. Let me untangle this little fuckery for you.
2002 – Monty dies, soon after the Queen Mum passes. 2007 – Monty is one of Queen EII’s five corgis. 2012 – Monty appears next to Daniel ‘slab of carved beef’ Craig in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
If you’re like me, I don’t have to tell you what this means.
Which is why I’ll tell you, because you aren’t like me, you poor, silly, naïve bastard.
Queen Elizabeth is dead!
“Wait, Cole, how do you figure that?”
Thought experiment time!
You’re one of the Queen’s handmaidens. One morning you come in and find her facedown in a bowl of Fruit Loops. What is your first thought?
Wait, you didn’t figure it out?
Fine, I’ll spoonfeed it to you.
“Oh, shit! She of the lesser hat game is gonna be Queen.”
As handmaiden to the Queen, you call all of England’s top scientists together and explain what’s at stake. Then you say, “You have two hours before the Duke of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall show up for breakfast. Fix this!”
So the scientist go all Newtown’s Law and build a time grabber.
“Cole, what’s a time grabber?”
Seriously? Take a high school science class.
A time grabber is like this:
Except it reaches through time to pluck back the thing, or person, you want.
So the scientists build the world’s first time grabber, reach back, and pluck a living Queen Elizabeth off the potty and bring her back thirty seconds before Charles and Camilla walk through the door.
Only the Queen happened to be holding Monty, the aforementioned dead corgi, on her lap while toileting.
Why would she do that?
She’s royal. Don’t ask stupid questions.
I know what you’re thinking…
“But, Cole, this seems highly likely. The cost of maintaining a quantum grabbed person, let alone person and dog combo, in the present day would be astronomical!”
I appreciate your economical savvy set-up for my transition to…
The Cocker Spaniels
You’re absolutely right, of course. Without the funds to support a quantum grabbed Queen, HRH would be sucked back to October 2002 where she came from.
Which is why Buckingham Palace is now home to five cocker spaniels.
Some people think cocker spaniels ground the quantumly kidnapped in the present day. Those people have no understanding of the basics of science caninery.
If you want a dog breed to ground the quantumly kidnapped in the present, you use finnish spitzes. But that’s a rare dog breed, even for a Queen, so instead you need a lot of money to pay the electric bill needed to maintain the temporal shell surrounding the Madam of Monarchy.
“But, Cole! She has a lot of cash, she’s the Queen!”
Yes, but remember, she doesn’t want Charles or Camilla knowing about this. So a secret stash of quantum maintanence cash is necessary.
So what do you do?
Get five cocker spaniels and sell their naming rights to large corporations.
“Cole, that’s ridiculous. You can’t prove it.”
Well, the Queen’s c-spans are named: Bisto, Oxo, Flash, Spick, and Span.
I know, now you think I’m fucking with you.
But I swear to Almighty Schrodinger, this shit is real.
Bisto – a British food company Oxo – another British food company Flash – a Marvel superhero… or DC hero… or a WB coming of age character Spick ’n Span – a cleaning product from Prestige Brands
Now I’ve only done some back of the napkin math on this, but those four brands over five dogs is more than enough to fund a quantum shell maintainment unit.
And if prices go up, she can just add a sixth cocker spaniel named, Beepee.
Now onto the dorgis… the unintended consequences of a quantum grab.
According to Wikipedia, a dorgi is not a house elf, but a corgi-dachschund hybrid.
Yeah, like we’re going to believe there enough people are standing around saying, “I want my corgi to have shorter legs and a longer spine, dachschundize-it!” to require a brand new breed of dog.
Here’s a picture of a dorgi:
I’ll admit, it looks like a dog, but there’s not an ounce of dachshund to be seen.
If anything, this is a corgi-Russell Tovey hybrid.
A bunch of furries just melted.
Dorgis are neither of the aforementioned hybrids, but a parallel universe version of the corgi.
“Wait, Cole, you lost us!”
Seriously, what were you doing during high school science?
In science, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Sigh… Fine, I’ll spoonfeed this to you.
Action: Pull Monty from historical timeline and hold him in the present.
Reaction: Alternate universe corgis come into the present to prevent an imbalance in the Force.
“Wait, Cole, that makes absolutely no—“
Ssshhh… Thinking too much hurts the brain.
But that leaves a looming question. If pulling Monty into the present pulled four alternate universe dorgis into the present, what was pulled through to balance out the presence of the Queen?
Zoe lifted her sunglasses so Barnaby could see she was watching and said, “Go ahead, baby!”
Barnaby, who wasn’t yet 3, crouched, wiggled his butt, and jumped into the pool where Bill caught him before he went under.
“Good job!” Zoe said, clapping.
Bill smiled and waved. Zoe waved back. Then he turned and crossed the resort’s pool giving Zoe a few minutes to relax in the sun.
The vacation was Bill’s idea. He planned everything, even booking first class tickets for both of them.
“I can fly down there and save us—“
“No way! I want you next to Barnaby and me the whole time. We like your company,” Bill said, kissing her on the forehead.
Zoe liked hearing that. She work had eaten up a lot of their time together.
All Zoe needed to do was request time off work and enjoy her vacation.
“Another daiquari, ma’am?” the waiter asked.
“Please,” Zoe said, settling back in the lounge chair and closing her eyes.
Nearby someone whispered, “Look at that!”
Zoe heard gasps and murmuring; then the familiar click of high-heeled boots. ‘How were those even useful footwear for a superhero?’ Zoe often wondered.
“Thermo?” Flying Girl asked.
Zoe sighed and opened her eyes. “Use my real name when I’m not in costume.”
“It’s a Code Burgundy,” Flying Girl said, ignoring the reprimand. She tossed her hair so it gently bobbed in the breeze.
Zoe considered Flying Girl a sanctimonious tool.
But with a Code Burgundy, Zoe couldn’t ignore her, even on vacation.
She spotted Bill swimming towards them, with Barnaby on his back. A knowing and disappointed look on his face.
Before Zoe offered her usual apologetic look, Bill shrugged and gave a half-smile of understanding which said, “If it weren’t for the health insurance…”
Zoe crooked her lip in response: “Damn benefits.”
Bill blew her a kiss, turned, and swam Barnaby off to the other side of the pool so he wouldn’t see mom leave. Hopefully she would be back before Barnaby woke up from his nap.
“Thermo, there’s no time to waste,” Flying Girl said, placing her fists on her hips.
“You’re single, aren’t you, Jennifer?” Thermo said, standing up. Before Flying Girl responded, Thermo flashed into the sky, leaving a pair of burnt footprints on the cement deck.
Flying Girl glanced around, seeing if anyone heard Thermo’s revealation of her secret identity. She would file a grievance as soon as she got back to the office.
Twenty minutes later, Thermo, in full costume, strode into the conference room.
“Thermo, glad you made it.” said the Purple Decree, who sat in his usual spot at the head of the table. Mike, the Middle Manager, sat to his right. “I trust you’ve been briefed on the situation?”
“No, I was poolside at the resort when Flying Girl notified me. There wasn’t time for an update,” Thermo said, hoping she accented the words ‘poolside’ and ‘resort’ without coming across as passive-aggressive.
“Then let’s jump in,” the Purple Decree said. “Mike, bring us up to speed.”
By ‘us,’ he meant ‘her.’
“Happily,” Mike said, connecting his laptop to the projector and dimming the lights.
Thermo maintained a corporately passive look, despite finding her vacation cut short to view one of Mike’s powerpoint presentations.
“Approximately ten hours ago, Buffalo, was wiped off the map,” Mike said. A picture of Buffalo’s former downtown flashed on the screen.
“What happened?” Thermo asked, concerned since Buffalo was a major city in her portfolio.
“That’s what we’d like to know,” the Purple Decree replied. “Mike, please continue.”
“We don’t know what destroyed it? Do we have anyone on the ground?” Thermo asked.
“Of course we know how it was destroyed. We’re here to figure out what happened,” the Purple Decree replied.
Thermo felt her temperature rise, but kept her questions to herself.
The screen changed. Security camera footage showed beasts rampaging through Buffalo.
“Approximately 16 hours ago, space yeti attacked and ultimately destroyed the city,” Mike said.
The screen changed again to read: “Thank You! Compiled by Mike Glaston, Middle Manager.”
The lights came back on.
“What happened when they attacked?” Thermo asked.
“We’ll let Mary Preston explain. Dial her in, Mike,” the Purple Decree said.
Mary Preston, Assistant City Manager of Buffalo, and Thermo’s primary contact on the account picked up on the second ring.
“Hello? Ms. Preston? This is the Purple Decree at Heroes Inc. I’m sitting with Mike, the Middle Manager, and Thermo to figure out exactly what went wrong.”
“I’ll tell you what went wrong. No one did their jobs! I must have called three dozen times and sent no less than fifteen urgent emails, but Thermo did not respond! Now everyone is dead and I’m out of a job!” Preston shouted.
“Mary, I’m so sorry. I’m not sure what happened—“ Thermo began, but got cut off.
“Like always, you were unresponsive!” Preston snapped.
“I’m not sure when you feel I’ve been unresponsive before, but this time I was on vacation. The Warlord Warrior was covering all of my accounts. Perhaps if we could—“
“How am I supposed to know the Waylaid Warfarer is covering your accounts? All I know is I called and emailed and got no response!”
Thermo took a deep breath, avoiding eye contact with Mike and the Purple Decree.
“When we spoke on our call last week, I mentioned I’d be out of the office. My voicemail and the out of office message on my email—“
“Buffalo was destroyed and you’re referring me to an out-of-office email! Are you saying this is MY fault?” Preston shouted.
“No one is saying anything of the sort,” the Purple Decree said, stepping in. “I heartily agree, Ms. Preston, now is not the time to get mired in details. We should be figuring out who is accountable for this disaster.”
Thermo felt her temperature rise.
“It’s good someone at your organization is willing to take responsibility! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dig through the rubble that was once my house,” Mary Preston said before hanging up.
“It sounds as if Ms. Preston attempted to contact us,” the Purple Decree said.
‘Me,’ Thermo wanted to say. ‘She attempted to contact me,’ but instead said, “I can bring up the emails and voicemails.”
“No need,” the Purple Decree said. “As long as you’re sure you set your out-of-office messages?”
“I am,” Thermo said, failing to keep the annoyance from her voice.
“I’ll trust your word on that,” the Purple Decree replied. “Did you follow protocol of having all emails forwarded to your backup?”
“Of course. The Warlord Warrior and I tested it last week before I left. Perhaps if he joined us we could—“
“Oh, he’s dead. He was killed in an assault by Cheethor two days ago,” Mike, the Middle Manager, said.
“Ah, yes. I remember the email,” the Purple Decree said.
Thermo lifted her mask, staring at the two buffoons across the table. “Warlord is dead?” she asked, enunciating each word. She steam hissed through her ear canals.
“Yes, didn’t you read my email?” Mike asked.
“Nevermind that. I’m concerned about what happened in Buffalo,” the Purple Decree said. “Tell me, Thermo, how do you think we can do better for our clients?”
There was the ‘we’ again.
“The Warlord Warrior was dead and I was on vacation. Who was supposed to cover an attack on Buffalo, or any of my clients for that matter?” Thermo asked, a puff of black smoke escaping her left nostril.
“Thermo… Zoe, this sounds like a problem instead of a solution,” the Purple Decree said, folding his hands on the table.
“I’m just pointing out a possible procedural breakdown, if we don’t have a failsafe for a vacationing, or dead, superhero this could happen again,” Thermo replied, clenching her teeth.
“We have a plan. When a superhero leaves the company, their Middle Manager assigns their workload,” Purple Decree replied.
“So Mike was supposed to delegate the workload?” Thermo asked.
Convincing Barnaby to eat his peas or Bill she needed to work late was easier than this conversation.
“We’re not looking to point fingers, Thermo,” Purple Decree replied.
“And I’ve been swamped compiling expense reports. There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” Mike replied. “It’s why I depend on my colleagues to be independent.”
“Independent?” Thermo repeated, as the back of her chair began melting.
“See, Thermo? If we don’t support each other cities, lives, and accounts will be lost. We need independent, outside-the-box thinkers who can work beyond protocol. Buffalo is a sad reminder of what happens if we don’t. So I would like you and Mike to come up with a workable solution for future breakdowns of this sort—“
“Purple Decree, I have a suggestion,” Mike, the Middle Manager, said.
“Oh good! Thank you, Mike, for bringing forth a solution for Thermo’s oversight. What are you thinking?” the Purple Decree asked, swiveling in his chair so his back was to Thermo.
“Perhaps if Thermo, or any superhero really, is out of the office, they should be expected to check their email and voicemail on a regular basis. This way they’ll always be up to speed on what’s going on and can plan accordingly. If Thermo had been aware the Warlord Warrior was dead, she could have made alternate accommodations for her clients,” Mike replied.
“Wonderful idea, Mike! And thank you for offering us a solution. How often would you recommend heroes check-in?” the Purple Decree asked.
“I don’t think more than once an hour is necessary,” Mike replied.
“Once an hour!” Thermo exploded, quite literally in a blinding flash of heat and light. Fortunately the conference room at Heroes Inc. is outfitted against such internal disasters, as it’s often used by HR for layoffs.
Shielded from Thermo’s explosion, the Purple Decree and Mike gave her a moment to pull herself together.
“I’m sure you understand what a privilege it is to work here,” the Purple Decree said.
“Of course, and I’m sorry for my outburst,” Thermo said, sounding as apologetic as a volcano. “Now, Mike, who will be backing up my other clients for the rest of my vacation?”
“As the Warlord Warrior’s backup, I’m sure you understand we’ll need you in the office. I’ve gotten word a giant algae mass has been spotted off the coast of Portland, and—”
“But my vacation—“
Purple Decree lifted a finger. “I’m sure you understand how, after the incident with Buffalo, vacation time should not be your first priority.”
Welcome, welcome, welcome to Carnivale Cole’s Mardi Gras Pitching Contest! Step right up and show off your strength and accuracy! Prove your skills to that lovely lady or gentleman in your life. Win them beads! A stuffed animal! Or any number of wonderous prizes.
Who will be the first to show us what sort of king cake they’re made of?
You, sir! Thank you very much. Step right up.
Let’s all give him a round of applause!
Now sir, let me start you off with 5 3-lb bags of beads. We’ll put you on this parade float and get you traveling down the street.
Up ahead, you’ll see people standing on platforms and ladders. Knock down at least 3 people and win this amazing stuffed elephant for your lady friend!
Okay ladies and gentlemen, hee went for the college girl on the foot-width platform. Good choice, she had nowhere to dive!
Oh! A near hit! Unfortunately the bag exploded on a ladder showering everyone with beads.
Bonus points for hitting someone already standing on the ground! They crumpled like a wet paper bag!
He must be getting desperate! He went for the baby carriage! Too bad it’s empty! A ruse de guerre!
Last chance, who will he go for?
The gentleman on the ladder who, it seems, was not quite as drunk as our contestant assumed! The man on the ladder caught the bag! No points awarded.
Thank you, sir for playing! Better luck next time!