“Oh man oh man oh man…” Jack Yarrow swallowed heavily as he ran a hand through his thinning hair. If stress caused baldness, he reflected, today was going to cost him a few inches of hairline. He passed through the Malefico lobby, lost in thought.
“Good morning, Jack!” The chipper voice of Irene cut through his grim thoughts, startling him into paying attention. “No purple shirt today?” She pointed to the simple white shirt that he was wearing, much less showy than his usual attire.
“All my luck is in the wash.” Jack replied sourly.
Irene gave him a sympathetic look. “Not having a good time, I guess.”
“Not really, no.” Jack sighed heavily. “Is Doctor Byron in yet? I have to deliver some bad news to her.”
“And you're worried about that?” Irene smiled reassuringly. “Come on, Jack, you know she doesn't take out her frustrations on minions.” She checked her computer. “She's in a meeting upstairs. You can wait at her office.”
“It's about one of the Doc's pet projects.” Jack explained.
Irene winced. “Send me a postcard from Poland.”
“Count on it.” Jack sighed theatrically, stepping into the elevator. He noticed a few people in the lobbey raising eyebrows, and smiled despite himself. Visitors never knew that joke. It wasn't as though there was actually a cannon in the building, specialized for human firing, that faced Poland. The Doc had briefly tested the concept, in order to have a proper threat to deliver on, but had abandoned it – the fuel costs would be exceptional, and the chance of a misfire hitting a plane or something and resulting in a billion-dollar lawsuit would be too high. Besides, the Polish Embassy was only ten blocks away.
Of course, he had just been joking. His news wasn't bad enough for that. Besides, the Polish government had started to lodge complaints.
By the time Doctor Byron arrived at the door to her office, Jack had practically worn a furrow into the carpet in front. She raised an eyebrow as she saw him. “Mr… Yarrow, wasn't it? Is there something I can help you with?”
“Ma'am. I need to speak with you for a few minutes, regarding the Green Dog project. We've run into a few… viability issues.”
Doctor Byron winced, and opened her door quickly. “Of course, Mr Yarrow. Please, come in.” Inside, her office was mixed between a proper corporate corner office and a mad scientist's lair. The walls were panelled with fake stone, giving the office a dark shade, and her mahogany desk held a Van De Graaf generator on one corner, cheerfully and pointlessly sending up arcs of electricity. Slipping past it with due practice, Byron sat in her desk, and gestured for Jack to pull up a chair. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, we've been putting all of the numbers in, and, well…” Jack trailed off uncomfortably. Seeing Ada's jaw twitch ever so slightly with irritation, he quickly pushed ahead. “I'm sure you're aware of the Green Dog project? The plan to implant various mind-control systems into certain food carts in order to create a city-wide demand for those carts, making…” He broke off. “Sorry. Of course you know the plan. It's just, um… we've been updating our employee records, and it seems that we've run into a big of a… erm… snag.” Ada remained silent, and he finished in a rush. “No one told HR about Green Dog, and they've been replacing all of the food cart vendors with freelancers. Non-villainous freelancers, specifically.”
Ada looked down at her hands for several moments, and Jack found himself holding his breath. When she spoke, it was very carefully. “And whose responsibility was it to make sure that HR was informed, Mr Yarrow?”
“We, um, we aren't sure. Traditionally, of course, Doctor Ecchs makes sure about these things himself, but he's been delegating a lot of tasks to the R&D department. But, of course, R&D doesn't cover deployment, that's mostly the responsibility of HR. On the other hand, accounting didn't have anyone flagged as special…” He trailed off. “Basically, ma'am, the project slipped into the cracks. Everyone thought someone else was covering it, and we only just noticed that no one was doing proper paperwork on it.”
“I see.” Ada continued to look downwards. “And you discovered the problem today?”
“Well, we technically discovered it yesterday, but we were really hoping that HR knew what they were doing. They got back to us today, and, um, they didn't.” Jack smiled nervously. “We can't actually get rid of the freelancers, either, not for a year. I mean, technically not for around eleven months, give or take a week, since they're one-year contracts, but it's basically a year and the contracts are pretty binding, the legal department made absolutely sure of that, but of course we can't recruit them into Malefico without registering it, at which point everyone will know what we're up to even if they say yes, and…”
“Mr Yarrow, be quiet for a moment, please.” Jack shut up almost before he registered her words. As he sat in silence, he reflected that at least she didn't sound angry. Not exactly angry.
The silence passed, and Doctor Byron stood. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Mr Yarrow. I will make sure that Operation Green Dog goes ahead as scheduled. On your way out, please have Irene inform Doctor Malcolm and Ms Oakley that I wish to speak with them immediately.” She smiled softly. “No need to worry Doctor Ecchs about this for the time behind. He's a busy man, after all.”
“Thank you, ma'am.” Jack said wholeheartedly. He turned, glad to be out of the frying pan.
“And Mr Yarrow?” The voice came sweetly from the desk, and Jack froze.
“I appreciate that your division caught the mistake, but I am less appreciative that it happened in the first place. I will be talking with Ms Oakley about HR's place in this little debacle. Make sure I don't have to talk to your department about another one.”
“Yes'm.” Jack felt his knees buckle, and quickly got out of the office before he had to face her rage. Suddenly, he was feeling very bad for Ms Oakley.