Federation-Apocalypse Session 80 Part II – Gelman’s Investigation

   Gelman hated visiting Human Resources. People should not sparkle – and Jim Corrigan was so informal that it hurt. Just like it was setting his teeth on edge now. Best to keep a careful eye on Corrigan’s injection hand…

“Hey Fred! What’s up today? Hey, you look kind of stressed out!”

“Corrigan, what do you think of the new Vice President of Operations?

   Gah, the sparkles! And the lace!

“Well.. He does have a certain glow about him! Seems to light up the entire room!”

   Well, he supposed that it was good to know that Corrigan wasn’t jealous. He hated manipulating people. It played into all the Jewish stereotypes.

“Not much of a resume, but he’s working out quite well! Came in with those Contractors Marty brought in – and most of them are still in London working for loot!”

“Yes, yes they are. Even Jenkins had to admit it was a good deal. Doesn’t it bother you that she and Tabard hired temps and contractors without your permission, though?”

“Well, Marty has been hiring – but all of his recent hires have been working off our budget and on that of some subdivision and they seem both highly qualified and they work really cheap. Seem a bit young, but competent enough. Jenkins may go through the roof when she finds out that a major expansion project is running on some side-budget rather than through accounting though! As for Jenkins… She apparently manipulated the budget to find the money for the temps. Not approved and not a good idea, that’s why I’ve routed the temp hiring procedures back through HR!”

“Good for you, Corrigan! You’re learning fast! What is this expansion project, though? She might take out her anger on me, and I would like to know why.”

“Oh, I have a list around here somewhere… Lets see; three offices in the Underdark of Faerun, three on the Sword Coast of Faerun, one in the Celestial Realms, nearly forty in someplace called “Core” (the list went on for some time)… Mostly Middle Eastern and European I think.”

   Er… What? His geography wasn’t bad, and most of those places he’d never heard of!

“I’ve never heard of Faerun. Is that in Russia?”

“Oh, I pulled up some old maps. Lousy cartography though. I thought it might be one of those African places! Here, the files are still around somewhere…”

   Corrigan cheerily brushed up against Gelman, ignoring all thoughts of “personal space”. Gelman stepped back. He didn’t know if Corrigan had immunity to his own wonder drug and could put it on his skin – or on his fancy silk clothes.

   There were indeed maps for quite a few of those places. The sites didn’t seem to have anything to do with conventional geography though. Cartography wasn’t Gelman’s field, but he wasn’t an idiot:

“Corrigan, this isn’t a real place.”

   Okay, so ; he had Tabard promoted to demonhood, working with someone who can enslave kids, AND embezzling company funds. If past experience was any indication, no one would believe him about any of it either… He ran a search on Faerun. That turned up… historical records of games. Most of those places seemed to be from games or myths. He showed Corrigan.

“Corrigan, tell me what you think of this.”

“Code names maybe?”

   Hm. He couldn’t argue with his logic. Every business used code names.

“Probably. Do you know what would make me happy?”

“Of course I do!” (Corrigan turned around with an angelic smile and a handful of pills.

“No, Corrigan! Some of those fire resistance pills.”

“Oh, those old things? Well, if that’s what you want. Jenkins threatening to set fire to people again?”

“I just want to be prepared. Last time was not fun.”

   Although, to be fair, he would have taken the Proma-17 pills when he was learning accounting. Unfortunately, Corrigan had been on vacation that week.

“And another thing. Why not make friends with Mr. Balrog. He’s nearly as radiant as you! You can go to clubs together.”

“Well I’ve been trying, but he just keeps wanting to know where the sparkles come from! It’s not like they haven’t always been there!”

   Gelman had to agree. He’d seen some pictures of Corrigan as a baby. There were at least five nurses fussing over him in every one.

“Be honest with him. Tell him it’s a part of you.”

“Well, that’s more or less what I said, and he kept trying to catch some of them! I mean, grabbing people’s personal sparkles is just rude!”

(Gelman had to laugh at that one) “Do you think he’s using medicine, Corrigan? You’re the one who would know.”

“Hm… He did ask about some of them and “powers of light”, but he isn’t ordering any through the office at the moment. He might be, or he might just be one of the few who tried something and got stuck.”

“That happens?”

“Not very often, but every once in awhile. I think it has to do with how well something fits the personality. A few people just find that the medicine unlocks their true inner self of something, and it sticks because it’s just more natural for who they really are! – Or at least that’s my theory.”

   Psychobabble. Not entirely unexpected.

“So there’s no cure?”

“Nobody who has that happen wants to be cured!”

“Have pharmacists tried?”

“Sometimes – but the condition is very rare to start with. (Corrigan ran some searches) No luck so far in any of the medical journals… Somebody might be trying privately though.”

“Well, thank you for your time, Corrigan. I appreciate it. Hopefully we can make our new colleague part of the team.”

“Oh, I do hope so!”

   Well, at least he’d gotten a bottle of fireproofing pills with fairly minor side effects. Perhaps that and faith would be enough to protect him. Gelman headed back to my own department. The idea of a flaming demon harassing his effeminate Californian colleague for his sparkles was simultaneously disturbing and whimsical.

   Jenkins might have to go on the backburner for the time being. It didn’t matter he controlled his department if the company was dominated by demonic influences. Besides, while Corrigan was creepy, he’d hate to see the Balrog menacing him for much longer – even if he seemed more miffed then menaced at having someone more interested in his sparkles than in him. Californians were notorious for being oblivious to danger.

   Besides, Jenkins seemed to be being at least three-quarters bypassed.

   What could he do? He was a man of faith, but he was only one man. His department was still in a shambles. They were barely in a position to defend themselves against raids by Accounting, and they were in no shape to deal with any more menaces. Ally with the Mongols against accounting? Try to manipulate the demon-thing? Deal with crazed child-cultists with weird powers? Talk to the Boss?

   The boss. Beyond the Lord himself, no man was more important in his life. He could only hope that Tabard and the Balrog hadn’t gotten to him.

   He prepared a report on his findings, with PowerPoint slides. At least the sentient office devices rallied to his side! They believed in Murphy, but in no lesser demons.

“Thank you everyone.”

   Among the human staff, maintenance backed him; the flaming bit was a pain and Jenkins kept running them through to save on the days wages. Accounting was drunk with power. Human Resources was mostly working with Advertising on plans to offer additional services in unusual places – and Management was involved with expansion plans. The Clerical Staff was backing accounting, because accounting paid the salaries.

   That was pretty much to be expected. Nonmanagement employees lived in awe of the accountants anyhow. At least he had Maintenance on his side. They must have noticed him cleaning up Lou’s mess! (Not that the mess was unjustified).

   Gelman added Maintenance’s complaints to the reports and prepared himself. This was a circumstance worthy of prayer: a request for the strength to get through what might be the most trying business and spiritual situation of my life. He went to the bosses office, took a deep breath and asked

“Sir, are you busy?”

“Moderately; I have expansion plans to handle, Sadie has another litter, and I have a proposal here to build a large, wooden, rocket-propelled possum to fire corporate raiders directly into boardrooms. Still, there’s always time for my staff! My door is always open since Mr Balrog accidently tore it off it’s hinges!”

“It’s about him, sir… “

   Gelman gave his presentation, subtly studying Mr Leland’s facial expressions, his gestures, and every move that would betray mind control. This was the biggest risk of his career, and he was careful to seem as unbiased as possible.

“Hm, yes… He does seem to be a creature of evil all right! Still, we did need someone to fill in for Marty, and it’s hard to replace a talent for destruction and evil like that! Marty finding the Balrog and persuading it to abandon Moria and come and work for us was a stroke of luck! The British were pressing us hard!”

   Gelman started twitching violently, and the vein on his head that popped out when things went crazy joined right in.

“Now I haven’t been by Moria in years, but if it hasn’t changed much, that was an impressive bit of salesmanship!”

   Twitch, twitch… Gelman wanted to speak, but his throat had frozen up. It was probably for the best. Taking the name of the Lord in vain violated the Ten Commandments – and there were so many good Yiddish curse words. It finally came out though:

“You’ve. Been. To. Moria.”

“Not for many years… That sort of realm isn’t as much fun when you get older.”

“You knew about the other worlds.”

   Some pieces suddenly fell into place. Mr Sanwell’s agents had mentioned visiting several worlds he knew were fictional. When he’d asked them about business practices they hadn’t even MENTIONED weapons. If that “training session” hadn’t freaked him out so… Import-export, bodyguard, magical services, and search-and-rescue across the multiverse. He’d expected a lot about how realms did the nitty gritty of business. He’d expected, “Well, this realm uses these weapons and styles, and that realm…” – and there hadn’t been much mention of combat at all except on rescue missions and something about a war.

   Whole WORLDS did business without fighting all the time.

“Could Tabard use some help in these worlds?”

“What, are you want to make another hole in my staff?”

“I was only speculating, sir.”

“Yes, I suppose he could. He’s so busy gallivanting around expanding the operations with that Sanwell kid that he’s hardly got time to get them organized. Besides, nobody wants to work in Core, it’s so monstrously BORING.”

“Bor… ing…”

   What, like sitting peacefully, not running around causing chaos, and having thoughtful discussions? All the things he loved so dearly?

“I have someone in mind to take my place, if you think he needs a procurement specialist. Lou the vending machine is so resourceful with his products. I think he’d make a great Procurement Manager.”

   Gelman pointed out the window as Lou bombarded the Mongols.

“Look at how much damage he’s doing with the weak explosive soda alone! That’s efficiency! And it will help with Joe Flaherty’s poor attendance record…”

“Hm. Lou is pretty resourceful, if a bit confused… He figured out how to do electrolysis on the soda in the cans, and thinks that he’s gone nuclear, since if a hydrogen bomb is good, a di-hydrogen bomb must be even better. Still, compared to some of our employees, that’s quite sensible.”

“And the sentient device rights activists will love you!

“Very well! Done! Jenkins will be delighted to get someone else off the payroll – at least until she figures out that the expansion office books are being handled elsewhere – but with you off in the Manifold, there will be no one to tell her! Besides… It might be better for your wife.”

“Wait, what do you mean, sir?”

   Was there something wrong with Sophie? Had he missed something hurting her somehow?

“Well, I have noticed that she’s easily upset by drive-bys and such. There are worlds with a lot less of that sort of thing out there.”

“It would be better for the family as a whole.”

   Gelman had never talked about how his sons had inherited their mother’s skittishness.

“Thank you, Mr. Leland. I won’t disappoint you.”

“Oh, I’m sure you won’t… I hope the wider universe doesn’t disappoint you.”

   Gelman happened to brush the top of his head.

“Where’s my yarmulke?”

   It had flown off while he was trying to control himself and not curse or give in to the urge to kill Leland.

“Oh dear, I’m afraid Sadie is using it for nesting material.”

   Gelman looked, and sighed again. She’d gotten the pins too, and was using them to rig up a small tent. He reached for the nearest cloth large enough for a head covering; it was not good to have his head uncovered beneath his Lord.

   Fortunately there was a globe cover handy.

“There. I feel much better now.”

   He asked Leland how he could access this “Core” place.

“Hm… You may be best off starting in this Kadia place. I’m told that it’s quite pleasant, fairly calm, and the natural law adjustments won’t be such a wrench – and it is central to the offworld operations.”

   Could he risk his wife and children in the cult’s core? He didn’t have a choice. If the demons took over Amarant Solutions, they could extend their power to the rest of the world. Then his family would never know peace – and if they could reach the Core from Kadia, it would be a potential escape route. Besides… He had plenty of vacation saves up, and it would be nice to see a few worlds during a working vacation!

   Mr Leland was willing to tell him about the safest routes to Core – although he did mention that he’d need a gate operator to really travel freely, and stressed that Core could be quite a wrench.

   Leland hadn’t met with Gelmans family enough to be SURE of whether or not they were real – but he knew that the odds were good that at least some of them were not. He wasn’t a cruel man, even if he was too obsessed with possums. Other than that, he was a stand up guy. He had reason to be concerned, especially since he knew that Gelman, while astonishingly stable for Battling Business World, was going to stick out like a sore thumb elsewhere. On the other hand, if Gelman could function in BBW, and had found out about other worlds and accepted the notion, he should be able to manage. It’s not like he could be easily killed.

   Gelman thanked Leland and shook his hand. It was one of his rarest expressions: a smile that was neither sickly nor worried.

“Your secret is safe with me, sir.” (Though he was wondering about his bosses sanity. Why would he abandon such a safe place for HERE? Maybe for a few days, but ten years?)

   Gelman went off to prepare with a globe dustcloth on his head, ignoring the pointing and whispers. He got a proper covering once he reached home.

   Sophie was happy at the moment. Things had been going very smoothly; nothing tipping, no messes with the children, the parakeets had been quite quiet, nothing had fallen down, and even the noise from outside had seemed muffled. It had been a lovely day!

   That set off Gelman’s mental alarm bells. SOMETHING bad was about to happen, it inevitably did.

“That’s good to hear, darling. How would you and the children like a vacation?”

“Oh, camping again? I’m not so sure about that… Those trees were so cranky last time!”

“This will be different. There will be no deliciously deadly produce.”

   Annoying nut trees. She’d been out for a week… well, they were city people.

“But will the children miss school? We can’t have that!”

“We’ll hire tutors. It should be worth it. There will be no rampaging construction devices and no people shooting each other for fun. There won’t even be people driving into the building. I worry about our safety here. We can’t die, but even getting to synagogue is a struggle.”

“But – those things are everywhere?! Are you feeling well?”

“I found places without them, dear.”

   Oh dear. Sophie was obviously worried that he’d snapped under the stress – but then fainted, and drifts gently to the ground.

   Gelman grabbed her… So she had been miserable too. He understand perfectly. She barely ever left the apartment, and only then in his company or Abigail’s. He was tempted to reach for the smelling salts they kept in every room.

   For a moment she was very light in his arms, then she picked up her full weight. Odd… Oh. Helpful telekinetic parakeets. Nice to know they were quietly looking after Sophie.

“Are you all right, dear? You nearly broke your glasses again.”

“Oh I think so… I’m fine I think… Are you all right?”

“I haven’t felt this calm since our wedding day, dear.”

   That had been the last truly happy moment of his life. He had started work the next day.

“Will you come with me? I couldn’t bear to leave you alone, and you won’t be able to call.”

“Oh, of course – but it must be very remote to be off the cell phone network!”

“It is. But if what Mr. Leland told me is true, it’s better for all four of us.”

“Well – all right dear…”

   Gelman notified the children, explaining that we’re taking a long trip to a safe place – fully expecting eight-year-old Isaac to faint, just like his mother would. Oddly enough, he showed no sign of fainting for the moment.

   He didn’t know how Ruth, at sixteen, was going to react. It would be harder on her, but she did show some of his awareness of the world. Ruth was annoyed on the general teenage theory that this was all a plot to embarrass her and mess with her social life.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to go where the older boys don’t expect you to play Subway Shocker with the heavy-duty tasers?”

“Hey, I’ve taught them better than that! I’ve fixed up my paintball gun with new capsules!”

“Honey, you know how I feel about that.”

“Well, yeah – but I improved the manufacturing process, and the stuff hasn’t blown up early in two whole months! – not like YOU noticed though.”

   Oh dear. The hazards of being a workaholic dad.

“I’m sorry, dear. Why don’t you show me?”

   Actually, considering a few of the dangers that Mr Leland had mentioned, those skills might be useful.

“Well, I got the Nitro-10 formula stabalized, and now I keep a supply of capsules handy and my gun filled with them! Works really well, and none of the boys bother me any more!”

“That’s wonderful, Ruth! How many capsules can you manufacture a day?”

“Oh, a hundred or so, It takes a batch most of a day to cook safely though, it was trying to do it to fast that kept setting it off.”

“Ruth, could you teach me how to shoot? I want to keep your mother and brother safe on the trip. It should be uneventful, but things happen.”

“Sure! – Oh, the stuff works fine up close too! you just have to clip the end of the capsule before dropping it. I put one down the front of Bob’s pants when he tried to get me with his taser, and he hasn’t pestered me since!”

   Gelman sighed again. He would be SO happy when he found a school district that did NOT allow weapons on the grounds. It was going to be so hard on Ruth… sheds embraced this world to a degree that he never had – but she should understand.

“Hey, don’t frown like that! It worked really well! It took him like twenty minutes to bleed out from the groin and I really think he learned something!”

(Gelman smiled) “I’m sure he did, dear.”

   The packing didn’t take too long. They packed up the more portable items and put the furniture and other items in storage. They could come back or send for them once the family had settled in. It went very smoothly too; things seemed to almost pack themselves while they weren’t looking.

   Parakeets again?

   Gelman checked to see if Abigail wanted to come along – but wasn’t surprised to find that she wasn’t interested. She was very much a Battling Business Worlder. It was sad, but Gelman wasn’t sure that he’d want his family between her and Marty when the fireworks inevitably detonated. The offer had simply been a courtesy to a friend.

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