The Accountability of We

“Mommy! Watch!”

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.”

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Shrink Girl Makes Her Mark

It was another bright and cheerful day at Heroes Incorporated until disaster struck.

Little did she know it, but today would be the day Shrink Girl finally made her mark at Heroes Inc.

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Heroes Incorporated’s cubicle farm. Superheroes are just like you!

“Code Rose!” Mike, the Middle Manager, yelled, running through the cubicle farm. The world’s most famous superheroes popped their heads over the cubicle walls like a herd of masked prairie dogs. Mike turned down one row, up a column, down another row, rounded a corner, and started retracing his steps, all the while shouting, “Code Rose!”

Beet red and breathless, Mike stopped and leaned against a cubicle wall.

“Anything I can do to help, Mike?” asked the Human Megaphone.

The Human Megaphone never missed an opportunity to help middle management, unless there was a chance to help upper or executive management.

“Need… to find… Shrink Girl!” Mike wheezed. He bent at the waist, forcing blood back to his head.

“SHRINK GIRL! REPORT TO SECTION B, ROW 7, CUBE 27A! I REPEAT… RRRREEEKEEKEKKEBBERRR!”

Everyone covered their ears to block out The Human Megaphone’s feedback.

“Who is using a transistor radio?” The Human Megaphone glared at the heroes around him. “I’ve asked you not to use transistor radios as they interfere with my abilities! … Mike, I’m so sorry. I’ve told them…”

A row over, Scarlet Mime switched off her nonexistent radio. There was, in her opinion, no need to shout in an office.

“Hello? Did someone call me?” Shrink Girl asked, rounding a cubicle corner. She bit her lip in an unsuperhero-like manner and assumed she was in trouble.

“Where have you been?” Mike demanded.

“On The Public Relations Importance of Catchphrases When Dealing with Collateral Damage webinar. I had my headphones in,” Shrink Girl said, lowering her eyes.

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Three days later, signs similar to these went up on every cubicle wall at Heroes Inc.

“This is exactly why headphones are forbidden in the office. Right, Mike?” The Human Megaphone said, at a volume 4, so everyone heard.

“That’s right! I know you’re new here, Shrink, but we have rules for a reason.” Mike launched into a lecture on the dangers of headphones in an office, which is easily summed up by saying, “And that’s why radioactive marine life now run Topeka.”

Mike, as Middle Manager, was obligated to give the longer explanation.

Shrink Girl had only worked with Heroes Inc. for three months, replacing the former shrinkable hero who left to pursue a career in accounting.

Since starting, Shrink had only been allowed to attend seminars, conferences, and webinars on all topics superhero and legal. She had also taken forty-seven tests on the Super Employee Handbook and Crime Fighter’s Manual and passed each one.

And all of this experience led Shrink Girl to one, undeniable conclusion. She was underutilized.

So she began sending out her résumé.

“And just after Google installed a fiber network. Such a waste,” Mike said, finishing his lecture.

“I’ll never wear headphones again. I promise,” Shrink Girl said, wondering how the Dastardly Debutante would enjoy listening to tomorrow’s webinar: ‘To Rescue Or Not To Rescue – The Likelihood of Lawsuits.’

“Good. That will be all,” Mike said.

Shrink Girl turned to go.

“Mike, what about the Code Rose?” The Human Megaphone whispered.

“Of course!” Mike shouted, grabbing Shrink Girl’s hand and dragging her off through the cubicle farm.

“Good luck, Mike! Your work is appreciated!” The Human Megaphone called after them.

“The Human Megaphone’s a good guy. Keeps up morale, which is very important. You could learn a lot from him,” Mike said pulling Shrink Girl towards the stealth hanger.

A Code Rose? Thoughts swirled in Shrink Girl’s head.

A Code anything was important.

Someone had taken notice of her test scores and hard work!

Soon she would be in the stealth plane getting debriefed on the Code Rose situation!

Now, if only she could remember what a Code Rose meant.

Red indicated a major continent was being attacked.

Orange meant a minor continent was under attack.

Blue was for asteroids, space junk, or other inanimate objects hurtling towards Earth.

But Rose…

Shrink Girl blanked. She pictured the page in the manual, but couldn’t find Rose.

Not that she would admit this to Mike, the Middle Manager.

They were ten feet from the hangar doors when Mike made a sudden left. Shrink Girl, lost in hashtags descriptions for her first mission, missed the turn.

She lost her footing and fell into the doorway of the 4th floor supply room.

Red-faced, Shrink Girl stood up. Three heroes, plus Mike, stood there staring at her.

“She’s here. If anyone can find the paper jam, I’m certain Shrink Girl can!” Mike announced to the group.

“Just use the 3rd floor machine,” Mister Stretch said for the third time today.

“That’s for support staff,” Mike replied, clearly appalled at being lumped in with them.

Mister Stretch rolled his eyes.

“Shrink Girl, this is important. A rash of yogurt thefts are bringing down morale. We need fifteen signs reminding people to only eat their own food. But the copier is broken,” Mike said. “If we don’t have morale, what do we have?”

“Paychecks?” Lady Mystery suggested.

“People don’t work for paychecks, Mystery. At Heroes Inc., we work for the love of our job. This is our passion and a yogurt thief will not undo our commitment!” Mike replied, banging on the Rose-McKellan copy machine.

Lady Mystery’s smile was difficult to read.

“Here’s the background, Shrink. I got Stretch, but he couldn’t reach the jam, and Kongliath wasn’t able to shake the paper out. Now you’re up. Make me proud!” Mike said, stepping aside.

“What about Lady Mystery?” Shrink Girl asked, hoping to finally figure out the Lady’s powers.

“I just came for a pen, but stayed for the excitement,” Lady Mystery replied, leaning back against the laser printer, as if to say, ‘Why not just print more pages from this?’

“So get in there and show us what you’ve got, Shrink Girl!” Mike said, popping open a compartment door.

“Okay!” Shrink Girl said, hoping enthusiasm hid her disappointment. Only Mike seemed fooled, but Shrink Girl figured this was fine, since Mike was the only one who cared.

She dove into the open compartment door, shrinking to the size of a pea, and landed on tab B. Shrink Girl climbed over a roller and entered the heart of the Rose-McKellan.

Back in the supply room, Mike’s head snapped towards the door. “Did I hear Paper Mate out there? Isn’t he still on vacation?”

“Today’s his first day back,” Kongliath replied, picking a nit from his forearm.

“Why didn’t anyone say so?” Mike asked, hurrying off to find Paper Mate.

“I’m starving. What are you two doing for lunch?” Lady Mystery asked.

“I brought mine,” Kongliath sighed. “Dan has me on a diet. I couldn’t fit into that monkey suit for his 40th birthday, so now I’m stuck eating chicken feed and lettuce.”

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Heroes Inc. is located in a corporate park. Jimmy Subs is the only lunch place within walking distance and receives a lot of business from non-flying heroes.

“I’m going to Jimmy Subs. You’re welcome to join,” Mister Stretch replied.

Lady Mystery shrugged. She’d already eaten Jimmy Subs twice this week and was getting tired of them. But she was also one punch away from getting a free sub. “Let me get back to you,” she said, as Mike pulled Paper Mate into the supply room.

“G’day, mates. Whad’ve we ‘ave ‘ere?” Paper Mate asked.

Originally from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the corporation rebranded Paper Mate to appeal to their Oceanian clientele.

As part of the rebranding, Paper Mate spent Tuesday and Thursday afternoons working with an Australian linguistic coach. So far he had managed to alienate most of New Zealand and the better part of Queensland.

He looked at the Rose-McKellan’s display panel.

“We’s pulled the machine apart, but it still won’t run,” Mister Stretch explained. “There’s a scrap in there somewhere.”

“Nah. Yoo joost ‘ave to turn it off then on a’gin,” Paper Mate said, slipping into a terrible Canadian accent.

He flipped the power switch.

“No!” everyone yelled, except Mike, the Middle Manager, who muttered, “Yes, of course! Turn it off and on again.”

The machine buzzed to life, spitting out signs reading, “Remember: Gogurt Your Own Yogurt!”

“Something must be wrong with the ink saturation,” Mike muttered, throwing the top five pages into the recycling bin. “Oh nevermind. No more red streaks. We’re all good.”

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Mike, the Middle Manager, ended up retrieving the red streaked pages, saying, “It will serve as a subtle reminder to anyone thinking of stealing yogurt.”