Fired!

“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.

invalid
If you’ve seen one unrecognized user message, haven’t you seen them all?

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!”

pink-slip
Everyone else always knows first

“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.

Betsy smirked.

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.

womens_gray_tweed_suit
The Axe, during her scarf phase. Face redacted to protect her identity.

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.

“Please, Betsy,” Ableman whispered. “My arm’s broken and—“

“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.”

 


 

Check Out These Other Hero Inc. Stories

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Shrink Girl Makes Her Mark 

The Temp and the Ice


 

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The Accountability of We

“Mommy! Watch!”

Zoe lifted her sunglasses so Barnaby could see she was watching and said, “Go ahead, baby!”

bobpbr_pool_1000x600_29546
A stock photo of a beach resort.

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.

free-superhero-clipart-a_female_superhero_0071-0908-2116-1655_smu
Image of Flying Girl from her short lived clipart comic.

“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.

downtownbuffalo
Buffalo Before

“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.

100266798-879b2908a2c75bf1048b2849d01da90597460836
Photo of a space yeti attacking the mayor of Buffalo and a woodsman

“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.

soundstation-2w-nortel-lg-a
The conference phone used to call Mary Preston, former Assistant City Manager of Buffalo

“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.

johnwaynewasbestgenghiskhan_3568757eff8319ee15dc8c70a7a10672
The Warlord Warrior, while good at his job, had many cultural sensitivity trainings with HR

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.

expense_report
A sample expense report

“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?”

china-algae-3
The Corpulent Corporal’s algae monster attacking a now forgotten city

“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.”