This week’s prompt response is set in the same world as Lab Gremlins, with some familiar characters!
“You want me to do what?” Steven remained sitting so he was looking straight into the eyes of his boss who was standing across the desk from him. He’d been bored out of his mind until she walked into his office, but he learned in his short stint with the agency; being bored was far to be preferred to the alternative.
Steven shrugged, “you’re not wrong, still, R&D?”
“They’re not bad, it’s a good crew down there. And you’ll have to liaison with them again…”
Steven interrupted her, “you’re sending me to R&D?!”
“You’re a lab boffin, Steven, what did you expect?” Her hands were back on her hips and she was staring up at him in a way that made them very glad he was taller than she was. “Besides which, you already know the lab manager.”
“Oh, no.” Steven sank back into his chair, “it’s Dr. Thompson isn’t it?”
She nodded, a faint smirk on her face. “I’ll email you the coordinates.” She turned around to leave the tiny office and gave one last shot over her shoulder, “he’s very excited about this new project, I’m sure he’ll want to tell you all about it.”
Thanksgiving day was one of Steven’s favorite holidays. This year, although he hadn’t been willing to admit it to his boss, he had not been looking forward to it. He couldn’t travel home while on his probationary period, and if he had, he would have had to lie like a rug. Talking about work outside of work would have dire consequences, not just for Steven, but also whoever he talked to.
That meant Snirblefritz, as usual, had been right about staying too busy to dwell on it. Not that it made Steven any happier. As he walked down the long corridor, lit only by a few flickering bulbs, he admitted to himself he’d known holidays on his own would be different. Just not this different. He consulted the directions. He was in a little-used part of the complex. The concrete walls were sweating, and the industrial carpet underfoot squelched in places.
Coupled with the bad light, it made Steven’s skin crawl. He kept thinking something was going to jump out a door at him. Only there were no doors in this section. Just a long, narrow, windowless… The double doors at the end were a welcome break from the monotony. Steven could see no one through the mesh-reinforced glass, so he indulged his spooked gut feeling and pushed the door open slowly.
The doors opened into another empty section of the corridor. A short one. The next set of doors was windowless, and more ominously, locked by the expedient of a chain pulled through their handles and padlocked. The padlock was badly rusted.
Steven looked at the elevator doors to his left and swallowed hard, feeling his confidence sink to low ebb. He turned all the way around, looking for stair access, but there were no other doors, and this was where his directions had sent him. If there were stairs at all, and wasn’t that a reassuring thought. He reached out and pressed the button to summon the elevator.
There were faint noises, and he stood there, staring at the brushed metal doors and feeling stupid. There was no light indication up, down, or anything. The button was just metal. Was it really working? He wondered if he should go and admit defeat to Fritz. He could hear her voice in his head: ‘you aren’t cut out for the Agency, are you, Mr. Taylor?’
Steven He wasn’t sure if there was an option for failure. Quitting had been mentioned in training. You could leave the Agency. However, there would be consequences. Dangit.
There was a chime, and the doors slid open. The elevator had arrived. Steven stepped inside gingerly. The carpet on the floor was worn through to the metal in places. He looked for the floor buttons. Instead, incongruous, there was a recently-installed (he could tell from the exposed wiring) keycard reader.
Steven tapped his badge to it. The tiny light turned from red to green, and the doors slid shut with an ominous grinding noise. For a long moment, nothing else happened. Just as his heart rate started to jump, there was a jolt, and then his heart was in his mouth as the floor dropped out from under his feet. Steven yelped, then felt ashamed of himself as the ride was smoothly slowing again instead of staying in freefall.
He wondered just how far down he was headed. The directions hadn’t included enough information to orient him. And with the keycard reader, there was no information provided to him. For all he knew, his destination was preloaded and had been triggered by his swipe.
The elevator screeched, metal dragging against metal. Steven braced. The doors slid open.
Warm light flooded into the elevator, bringing with it delicious smells. He sniffed deeply. Cinnamon, roasting turkey, baking bread… Steven stepped cautiously out of the elevator, and behind him, the doors closed. This hallway was brightly lit, with open doors to each side down it, and walls painted a creamy yellow. The difference from the upper level’s sickly light and gray-green mildewy appearance was stunning.
Steven could hear a happy chatter of voices spilling from one of the open doors, so he headed for that one.
“Stephen!” Dr. Julian W Thompson stepped out of a gaggle of oddly assorted people gathered in the big room. Stephen didn’t have time for much more than an impression of a cafeteria or break room before he was engulfed in his former boss and mentor’s arms.
Stephen felt all the breath rush out of his body as he was hugged. Dr. Thompson let go and stepped back, still holding onto Stephen’s upper arms and looking at him with a beaming smile on his face. “It’s good to see you, my boy. Done with training yet? Ready to come back and work for me?”
He finally, mercifully, let go of Stephen’s arms and turned around, waving in a a grandiose gesture at the assembled crowd. “Welcome to R&D!”
Stephen was quite sure that even if he said something that Julian wasn’t listening to him because Julian was in full host mode. Stephen was under tow, not physically, but as though Stephen were attached by an invisible tether. Without talking to him the big man was whirling from person to person introducing the bewildered lab technician-turned-secret-government-agent who was following in his wake knowing he hadn’t a chance of remembering the horde he was being introduced to, although he recognized a few familiar faces. It wasn’t until Julian got distracted by another new arrival that Stephen felt free to leave the other man’s orbit.
A throat was cleared somewhere in the vicinity of his elbow and Stephen looked down.
“We meet again, Mr. Taylor.” The elder gremlin smiling up at him was one of the people that Stephen recognized and remembered: Dr. Thompson’s prankster lab partner, Vulframcoonidge. Steven hadn’t seen him since the gremlin’s leg had been broken in the lab accident that precipitated Stephen’s joining the agency. “No hard feelings I hope?” The gremlin could almost have been reading Stephen’s thoughts.
“None at all,” Stephen assured him, “I’m happy to see you up and around. You are healed?”
“Oh, quite.” Vulfram reached down and slapped his thigh. “Almost good as new. There’s a bit of a twinge when weather is coming, but then again who doesn’t want a built-in barometer more accurate than any meteorologist?”
Stephen was quite sure he did not want such an indicator, but he had to appreciate the gremlin’s cheerfulness in the face of adversity.
“Fritz sent me down here to be a liaison.” Stephen explained, knowing he should only be talking to Dr. Thompson about this. However, Julian seemed like he was wound up and was spinning as fast as a top. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to liaison about.” Stephen thought about this for a second, “She just said she wants me to talk to Dr. Thompson about his latest research.”
The elder gremlin threw back his head and burst into laughter. Stephen felt a little hurt.
“No, no,” Vulfram made a soothing gesture, “You see, Snirblefritz sent you down here for Thanksgiving dinner! She takes care of her rookies. Come, come,” Vulfram gestured again, this time beckoning the much taller young man, and Stephen followed him through a pair of swinging saloon style doors and into a big kitchen. It was a commercial style kitchen and it was absolutely full of food and more than a few people, although less crowded than the outer cafeteria.
Vulframcoonidge led Stephen past a rack entirely full of pies, bread, and other pastries and out through another set of doors, into what looked like… No, Stephen corrected ,it was a banqueting room.
“It’ll be quieter to chat in here. My old ears are what they used to be, and in that crowd, I can’t hear a thing.”
While he was talking, Stephen took a second to look around him at the big room. There were long tables covered in immaculately snowy linens, set with china, crystal, and silverware. At each place was a little paper name card tent. And at the far end of the room, his four reaching appendages busy flying in every direction while he set up the tables, was a familiar face.
Or rather, a familiar head. Bob, the Octopoid janitor and maintenance man, was doing a superior job setting up the tables. He caught sight of Stephen and the gremlin, and waved cheerfully with two of his reaching tentacles. Walking on his other four, he quickly made his way towards them. As he got closer, Stephen could see that the big octopus had a ridiculously tiny Pilgrim’s hat affixed to the top of his head. Stephen suppressed the urge to laugh, and decided he wasn’t going to ask how Bob was keeping it on there.
“Stephen my friend, so glad you could join us! I shall put out a name card for you.”
“Stephen could tell from Bob’s colors that he was happy, and he grinned back at him. “Snirblefritz tricked me into it, told me I was working today.”
Great rings of color rippled from over Bob’s head from bottom to top, a cephalopod’s version of laughter. He didn’t possess the proper vocal cords to make a sound for it. “She is a sneaky one. I’d better hurry up, serving begins soon.” With that Bob galloped back to the cart stacked with tableware.
The elder gremlin looked after him, smiling fondly. Then he looked up at Stephen, “he volunteers every year. Dependable Bob.”
I was prompted this week by Fiona Grey with: “The octopus that came for Thanksgiving wearing a Pilgrim hat” Which I will admit baffled me for a few days (and there was no way I was working it into Wonderland) until I remembered good ol’ Bob.
I prompted Fiona in response with “It was night, and far from soaring safely over the ocean below, he was falling…”
If you’d like to check out more prompt responses (they are fun!) or play along yourself, head over to MOTE and see what it’s all about.