“Jeremy, you disappoint me.”
Doctor Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V, PhD1 glowered over her folded fingers. The corgi sitting on her desk smiled back at her, exuding an air of incredible pride over the slightly-damp envelope that sat at its front paws. Isabel leaned back in her chair and sighed.
“I’m getting reaaaaaaaaal tired of this, Jeremy.” She pushed off against the floor, sending her chair rolling across the office. “Your brother was never like this.” Jeremy lay down, resting his head on his paws. “He never brought me bad news, but with you, Jeremy, it’s always bad news.” The high-backed chair slowed to a stop.
Isabel was slouched low enough to be effectively horizontal, her noodly limbs splayed out limply. Too much effort in sitting up straight now. Too much work. What was the point in work? What was the point in anything anymore? What was the point? She’d gotten the news directly from the corgi’s mouth: this quarter’s sales were in the toilet across the board. It was the worst quarter in a decade of bad quarters, and the Executive Board was not happy.
Several gallons of Dr. Wondertainment Quadruple Bypass Minty Fudge Ripple Ice Cream™ had done little to dull the barbs in that sternly-worded letter from the Executive Board.
We find your recent work to be severely lacking.
Lacking? Lacking? She put her life, her soul, the very entirety of her being into each and every design. How could they even dare say her work was lacking? She was Doctor Wondertainment! She built this company on blood, sweat, tears, and that nasty pus that fills up zits!
Kids just didn’t buy toys anymore. They were too busy playing those horrible video games, which rotted the brain and promoted all sorts of unwholesome things like murder, foul language, and microtransactions. Isabel tried, oh she tried. Her work was not lacking. The whiteboard walls of her office were covered in scribblings, enough ideas to keep the Wondertainment product line going for a full generation. But it wouldn’t do any good if the only people who bought her toys were a few odd collectors and the ever-dwindling number of Wondertainment faithful. All that work, all that effort, and no one liked any of her toys. Heart and soul poured out into her work, and the Board barks back with a wheezing “the focus groups don’t like it.” Focus groups! There never used to be focus groups in this company!
But there they were, and the Executive Board loved them dearly. What was the point in putting in her heart and soul if everything was just going to get shot down?
Isabel scooted herself back to her desk and turned the chair back around. There was Jeremy, there was the envelope that held the report about how the Wondertainment brand was getting stomped by the Factory.
The Factory. The very thought made all sorts of words bubble up from the recessed folds of her brain: ugly, angry words like floozy and fudgenugget and sassafrassin and consarnit and butt. Yeah, that was it. The Factory was butts. They wouldn’t know fun if fun decided it wanted to be a butt-hat and roost on top of their head.
Actually that would be a neat idea, a hat for your butt, there are plenty of people who go around without hats anyway, so why not make a butt-hat so they can wear two hats…
No…no…what was the point? People would think it was stupid. People would look at the butt hat and go “Oh what’s this? Some stupid baby toy for babies who poop? I’m not buying this because I am not some stupid baby who poops.” But that was stupid because everyone poops, not just babies and aaaaaaaaaaaaaagh.
She needed more ice cream. A lot more ice cream. Something different…Cotton Candy Caramel Colada, Crunchy Frog, Good Day to Die (By Chocolate), Bananaramadingdong, Five Kinds of Rocky Road Medley, Kung-fu Ripple, Thoroughly Intense Vanilla, Entropeanut The Buttery End of All Things…so many to choose from.
Bah. She’d have all of it. Drown herself in ice cream. Isabel nudged the corgi with her finger.
“Doink. Hey. Jeremy. Go get Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy, and Jeremy. I’ve got a job for you all.”
The dog’s ears perked. Jeremy stood up, hopped off the desk, and scampered out of the office. He returned a moment later with four other corgis. The all sat in front of the desk, looking both adorable and expectant. Isabel leaned over and scowled down at them with as much authority as she could muster with her bright cotton-candy pink, blue, and purple striped sweater.
“All right. Jeremy, I need you to go grab the keys and open up the warehouse. Jeremy, you and Jeremy man the forklift. Jeremy, you distract Mr. Security. Jeremy, you make sure the rest don’t mess it up. I want literally all the ice cream we have in storage right here, in my office, on the double.”
The Jeremys barked affirmative in unison and stampeded back out of the office on stubby legs.
Isabel sighed and spun around in her chair, slumping back down. Normally this would be fun, and she would be laughing with exceeding joyfulness, but she felt nothing now. Eventually she stopped spinning once more, her gaze coming to rest on the portrait of her father2, Dr. Reginald Philbert Lionel Archibald Westinghouse Wondertainment III, MD, PhD, DDS, Esq.
“What do you want, dad?”
The painting did not answer3, but it did look very important and mustachioed. He was one of those important-looking mustachioed men who hung around with other important-looking men with mustaches and said things like “yes, quite” and “oh indubitably”. He also looked very disappointed.
“You never had to deal with video games, dad. Give a kid one of those things and you have them eating out of the palm of your hand forever. The Factory can churn out the same thing every year and they eat it up and spend all their time on the line and they don’t buy toys.”
The painting did not answer.
“I know you had that trouble with Dark, but come on, cut me a little slack…”
The painting did not respond.
“Yes I know you got started by selling kicking cans on street corners, but I’m about to be put back on the street and…”
The painting did not reply.
“Shut up, painting of dad! You aren’t my real dad!”
The painting did not react.
“What do you want? I’m not as good as you were, dad!”
The words hung in the air around her. Not as good. Did she really say that? Yeah, yeah she did. Not as good…maybe the Executive Board was right. Maybe she was slipping. Not like she could do anything about it. Bring on the ice cream!
The office door opened.
“Jeremy?” Isabel swung her chair around.
Jeremy was not there. In his place was a bespectacled and rather professional looking youngish woman with a clipboard. She was shortish and plumpish4, with brownish coppery hair kept back in a bun, and a monopoly on the local freckle market.
The plastic gears and AA batteries inside Isabel’s head clicked into place as she determined that this newcomer was not only not Jeremy, but had no ice cream.
“Who are you?”
“Emma Aieselthorpe-Brown. I’m your new assistant.”
Isabel blinked. Assistant? She didn’t need an assistant. She had Jeremy.
“I never asked for an assistant.”
“The Executive Board assigned me here. I have the paperwork right here.”
“Are you here to spy on me?”
“Are you here to assassinate me?”
There was a long, awkward silence, as if an invisible elephant had decided to very slowly walk through the room.
“Do you need anything, ma’am?”
“Uh…” She already had the ice cream on the way what else did she need. “A spoon. Go get me a spoon."
“Right away, Ma’am.” She nodded curtly, handing a folded piece of paper to Isabel before exiting.
Hmm. Isabel read the note.
Dr. Wondertainment -
In an effort to counter your recent drop in productivity, we the Executive Board have seen it fit to assign you with a personal assistant for the forseeable future. Ms Aislethorp-Brown has been judged as overwhelmingly competent in this regard, and we expect that she will serve as sufficient impetus towards improved performance.
-The Executive Board, Dr. Wondertainment Inc.
There was a lot of very fine print and legal mumbo-jumbo underneath all that, but Isabel didn’t care. No one ever read those things. She crumpled up the paper and tossed it in her Dr. Wondertainment Hungry Heinrich Wastebin™. Why give her an assistant if they were just going to fire her anyway?
It could have been that the Executive Board wasn’t actually trying to sack her and didn’t want her to fail, but the concept seemed hilariously stupid to Isabel. They were the Executive Board, a bunch of dusty old busybodies who liked writing long words in small print and asking for things in triplicate. It was their job to meddle in the state of things, to put up roadblocks, to try their damnedest to prevent fun from occurring. Trying to outsmart them had turned into something of a game: Isabel even kept score for a while. Maybe they were only trying to make themselves look like the big bad guys to get the game up and running again.
Maybe. But that still left the Factory to deal with, and the Factory was not something one dealt with. It wasn’t run by anyone. It had no investors, no shareholders, no CEO, just miles and eons of blood-soaked gears and lonely sweatshop souls churning out soulless muck from its bowels, a cancerous structure seeking nothing but the mammon that allowed it to grow and spread and offer the universe its waste in exchange for more resources.
The Factory was good at its game. Very good.
Emma returned and handed Isabel a spoon.
“Thanks.” Isabel said half-heartedly. She hated being wrong, or thinking that she was wrong, especially in this case because that meant that she really had no reason to get the ice cream at all and wouldn’t be able to enjoy it properly because depression eating wasn’t any use if there wasn’t a good reason to be depressed.
There was another long, awkward silence. This time it was hippo-shaped.
“Mm-hmm.” Emma cleared her throat.
Oh no she’s initiating conversation…
“Jeremy! About time you got here!” Isabel shouted. Saved by the dog.
The corgi waddled into the office, balancing a bucket of ice cream on his head, followed by Jeremy and Jeremy, on and on down a line that stretched out of the office door, a little corgi conga conveyor line. Each dog dropped off his ice cream in turn and trotted back out. Isabel grabbed the first bucket and tore off the plastic lid. Marvelous Marshmallow Mania. Good way to start. Maybe she didn’t need the ice cream now, but Jeremy had already brought it all up anyway so she might as well eat it.
She did so. Another awkward not-quite silence passed in monolithic, cringe-worthy horror. Jeremy continued to bring in more ice cream.
“Uh, you can have some too, if you want. I’ve got…” She glanced at the growing pile. “Bunderbelly Blueberry Bonanza…”
“No thank you.”
“Very Vunderful Vanilla Vampire?”
“Napoleon’s Neopolitan Nepotism?”
“Uncomfortably Tasty Orange ‘Splosion?”
“I already ate.”
“Mega Meat Mystery?”
“Suit yourself.” Isabel put her feet up on her desk and continued to eat.
Emma cleared her throat again.
“If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, are you planning on working any time soon?”
“Maybe, when I’m done with all of this.”
“There’s quite a lot of it here already.”
“Yeah, and? ‘S not that much.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Emma’s expression remained unflappably neutral. “But I still think it best that you leave the ice cream for another time and focus on your work.”
“Maybe I am focusing on my work? A couple hundred buckets of ice cream to drown my sorrows should be more than enough brain food.” She grimaced. “Jabberwocky sneezy knee socks. There. Ideas.”
“Not a very marketable one.”
“Way to ruin the mood, Negative Nancy.”
“I can see why you’d be concerned, but jabberwocks need knee socks sometimes, especially in the winter when they get the snifflies and the sneezes.”
“Ma’am, if I may make a suggestion: perhaps a more marketable toy would be appropriate.”
“Not you too. The Board is bad enough with that. That’s Factory talk, and they’re driving us out of business with their Battleduties and their Birdvilles.”
“There might be something that can be done about that.”
The spoon paused.
“The Factory is, effectively, an unthinking force. Something like an animal, right?”
“A person can’t talk with a bee, but a bee can talk with a bee, so to speak.”
“So…we shoot bees at the Factory.”
“No. The Factory is bees, here.”
“Okay, Factory is bees. Butt-bees.”
“We, the people, want to talk with the Factory, the bee, but can’t, because we’re people and it’s a bee.”
“So in order to deal with the Factory…”
“You just have to speak their language.”
Speak their language…
“Wait…that’s it…that’s it! How did I not see it sooner that’s it!” Isabel leapt off the table, tossing the bucket of ice cream across the floor, and grabbed Emma by the shoulders. A manic smile lit up her face. “That’s it! We take the Factory’s game and use it against it! It’s the last thing they’ll expect from goofy old Wondertainment! Aislethorp you’re a genius!” Isabel planted an overwrought and slightly off-center kiss on her assistant’s face before leaping away, pirouetting, and moving into a little victory dance. Emma wiped her face on her sleeve.
“Corporate sabotage!” Isabel continued dancing. “That’s what we’ll do! We sneak into the Factory itself, mess everything up, and run away laughing, and then we hit them with the biggest and best toy line in Wondertainment history! It’ll be a coop-dee-grass!” She clapped her hands together, stopping the dance. Oh this was good. The game was back on. She’d show the Board, she’d show the Factory, she’d put Wondertainment back on the map. The Doctor was no pushover, she’d prove that.
“Steel yourself, Ms. Aiselthorp.” Isabel grinned. It was a wild, childish, grin, the kind of grin that came with schoolyard scheming and various puerile pratfalls. “We’re about to embark on ADVENTURES IN CAPITALISM!” She struck a dramatic pose to emphasize the point, one arm pointing skyward, the other one pinning Emma in a headlock.
Emma did not look particularly plussed by any of this.
“I’ll start packing the Wondermobile.”
“Excellent!” Isabel made a triumphant fist. “Jeremy! TO THE LABORATORY5!”
The corgis froze, and in unison dropped their ice cream. More of them poured into the room, swarming about in a vast furry carpet. Isabel spread her arms wide and fell gracefully onto their backs, laughing maniacally as they ferried her away out of the office.
Emma waited patiently for the last dog to depart before leaving, and took a quart of Papal Papaya™ on the way out.