The telephone rings. The sound echoes in the pale-painted marble-set joint office, bouncing against the very nice, very ostentatious couch with an equally comfortable office chair on the level of a pregnancy or gaming chair, against the actual gaming chair lined with shelves of expensive yet unhealthy snacks, against a dark wooden desk and its silvered candle holder. Against the violet-velvet carpet, perfectly mysterious and perfectly singed, against the newly acquired fire extinguisher and most of all, very much against the inclinations of the three people in the room.
Burl sighs from his couch. “I’m not getting this one,” he tells the rest of his IT team, whose bonds have been forged in hardship, comforts and corporate espionage to the point of near telepathic connection, with utmost seriousness. “My line was ringing non-stop all of yesterday while you guys barely had anything to do. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
“I’ll get it,” Justin says brightly, brushing the hood of his star-clad cape out of his eyes and glancing side-long at Will lounging at a single stool in front of their 36 story widow. They both bear unfaded bruises. Justin’s cheek shines an unhealthy yellow and beneath his fantasy movie worthy garb, his neck looks mangled. At first glance, Will appears much better off in his casually tight Armani suit, but the bandages covering the left side of his face prove otherwise.
“It’s what any good team leader would do.” He looks at Will once again, pointedly and only the least bit nervous. Burl just sighs and takes out his phone once again. He wishes the two would just get their rivalry over with. The winner would obviously be Will, because Will is terrifying now that they’re close enough to remember him at all, and also because Will happens to be shagging their milliardaire of a boss. Meanwhile, the only thing Justin has on his side is seniority under their old asshole supervisor and a giant torch for their unofficial follow-up supervisor who got fired for needing hospitalisation too long.
Will just smiles at them with the serenity of a Bond villain and sips at his drink. Whatever it is, it looks fancy and strong. Will hasn’t offered to share, because of course he hasn’t. Then again, none of them do either. It’s simply not done when you want to succeed. Burl sighs again at remembering their old trainer slash supervisor and contemplates stealing some of Carrod’s snackage.
Justin picks up the phone - an antique compared to the luxuries of the office. They’d forgotten to invest in what they need for their actual job after His Highness Mr. Regal cut them free reign with their new office. Maybe if he brings that up to him, it’ll prove him supervisor material!
“Hello IT,” he says - pleasant, yet with an air of mystery about it. As a rule, people in this company either fear or don’t care about the IT crowd just one floor underneath their new boss, which he supposes is fair, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth creating a cool atmosphere for their callers. After all, they can’t see his badass aura over the phone.
“Your list isn’t working,” a harried older man informs him severely. From stock research, the Caller ID reveals.
“What is your disturbance, exactly?” Justin asks, trying to stay true to the atmosphere he’s trying to establish.
“The excel list,” the man repeats, like he’s an idiot. “For calculating our annual income and expenses. It’s giving us gibberish. And you’re set as the creator.”
Abruptly, Justin remembers. It was right at the start of getting accepted at Farseer industries, in the introductory days even before Mr. Galen’s lessons. He’d helped out someone or another at Stock with an excel list. It had gotten him the nickname “excel wizard” that he’s worn proudly. Then he remembers that all of this was actually less than a year back. It’s unbelievable. A zombie (hopefully not) apocalypse starting, helping overthrow a company monarch, getting attacked by his crazed grandchild, becoming the virtual honor guard of the new CEO… And he still has his 23rd birthday ahead of him.
“Did you change anything about the formula?” Justin asks and settles in for an unpleasant day.
Another telephone rings. Burl looks over to Will, who stays as he is. With an expression of pure suffering, he picks up the phone.
A third phone rings. Will glides over to his translucent table, offset from the rest, and puts down his glass.
There’s no one left to pick up the last ringing phone.
Hours pass and so does their unofficial breakfast break, which to some is a first and to others a third. The complaints know no end - all exclusively (and extensively) about Justin’s work. One might think it impossible for one single person’s excel lists to inconvenience entire sets of departments, but Verity (who’d insisted on first names and no titles to set himself apart in the family business) had believed in the holistic approach of assigning and re-assigning them to various teams in order to get them through the Forged crisis and its staff shortages.
At last, there’s a blessed minute of only Will nodding along to his phone and the occasional ping of angry emails.
“What the fuck did you do?” Burl asks Justin under his breath. “How do you mess up this badly?”
“I don’t know!” Justin throws up his hands and quietens at Will’s glare. “Some are old drafts and I know I’ve updated them. I have no idea how the old versions ended up everywhere instead!”
“Whatever it is,” Burl says, “I can’t deal with it on an empty stomach.” Usually, he’d call the cafeteria to bring something up for him, but he doesn’t want to risk missing some higher up’s complaint. Unlike Carrod, he has standards when it comes to food and thus prefers it fresh. But uncomfortable situations call for uncomfortable means.
That’s when the elevator doors whir open.
Carrod looks a fright; his hair on par with a murder scene and monstrously dark bags under his eyes. “I don’t come in today!” He yells as a greeting. “Who the hell said I come in today! Why is His Regal Highness calling me on my day off like I’m still on 24/7 call duty!” He pauses. “And why are you stealing my food, Burl?”
Burl wisely changes the topic. “What do you mean? We have your vacation day in our system.” Realisation dawning on him, he turns to his co-worker. “Don’t we, Justin?”
Justin pales. Sending out updated lists of the IT department attendance has been his job ever since he was released from the hospital. Out of all the mistakes he’s been called about today, this is one of the more troubling.
Carrod turns towards him, predatory as a very sleep-deprived bird of prey. “Don’t we, Justin?” He repeats, his tone edging on unhinged. “Because I’ve spent the last two days on 24 hour call duty answering general complaints and His Highness Mr. Regal’s demands. I’ve slept for two hours. And now I’m getting calls! Again! So! Explain that to me!”
Justin searches his sent mails for the message. Opens the file. Pales even further. It’s yesterday’s version! With Carrod set on call duty. He starts to think he might not get to leave work alive today.
Carrod’s nails scratch over the doorway audibly. “Change it,” he says. “Now. And send a new version around. If I get one single call more today- I’m throwing you off this building, Justin. ”
With these words, he storms out. And turns around again. “And don’t you dare touch my snackbar, Burl!”
Defeated, Burl slinks back to his couch. At least his mini fridge has some drinks.
Will hangs up the phone. “His Highness just called me,” he says smugly, not a hint of irony to the title. He’s the only one in the entire company who seems fully on board with their bosses’ arrogant quirks. “You should go now,” he tells Justin. “I’m telling you this to be nice. His Highness quite wants to have security throw you out after dragging you through every single floor. Be grateful I managed to talk him out of the public humiliation since we've gone through the same training together.”
Justin feels like he’s falling through the floor. Just this morning, everything was going good, going great, they’d seen one company boss fall and been raised up by another, and now? “Thanks, Will,” he stammers as he picks up his bag in a daze. “Really, thank you.”
Waiting for the elevator to come back feels an eternity of awkwardness. To top it all off, his cape gets stuck in the elevator doors closing behind him. Justin flees.
“That was awfully nice of you,” Burl says, staring after the closed elevator.
Will shrugs languidly. “What can I say? I can be nice.” He pours himself some more and smiles. “Besides, I never said anything about public online humiliation.”
Burl shakes his head and stays quiet. This is why he never wants to get on Will’s bad side. Justin hadn’t been the best at tech. Honestly? None of them had been, but they’d been the ones who were there. But they’ve learned. And he may not be on Will’s level, but he knows - it’s too much of a coincidence for everything to go this wrong for Justin out of the sudden.
It’s not a nice thing to know. But then again, with everything they’ve done, he can’t just quit. And besides; where else is he supposed to get a well-paying job with a mini fridge in a time where zombies walk the earth?
The remaining IT crowd sips their drinks in silence.