How are you going to keep the Slayer out on the Cube Farm now that she’s seen the horrors of PowerPoint?
Buffy sat across from Melandra Harbottle’s desk and kept her mouth shut.
Stated that way, it seemed like a simple enough task. However, in practice there were some definite issues.
The first problem was caused by the office’s “guest chair.” Apparently, guests were not expected to sit in comfort, because the chair lacked arms or any real stability. One of the wheels on the base was crooked, so that anyone who sat in it had to constantly adjust his or her weight to keep from tipping to one side. Buffy suspected that the chair had been carefully selected to keep visitors off-balance literally as well as figuratively.
This opinion fit her assessment of Melandra’s personality, which was at least as aggressive, abusive and egotistical as that of any boss Buffy had had, including the one who had tried to kill her the night before. She did get points for being more attractive and better groomed, in a brittle sort of way. But she lost some for rudeness that would have thrust both Cordelia and Anya out of first place had there been a Tactlessness Award.
“This project is Very Important.” Melandra glared out from under her mascara. “And I’m not at all happy with your qualifications. But since HR tells me you’re the best I can expect, I need you to pay attention and work hard.” She shoved some files across the desk. “This should give you the idea. I say ‘should,’ because I’m not sure you’re bright enough to catch on. I’ll email you some data files. You need to carefully gather the information together and repackage it as a presentation.”
Buffy reached over to pick up the files, miscalculated the effect this would have on the chair, and had to catch herself to keep from landing ass-upwards on the industrial grade carpet.
Melandra smirked slightly and turned away from Buffy as her phone rang. She snapped out a few final words as she picked up the receiver. “There’s a meeting tomorrow to assign duties. I expect you to be there and take notes, since it’s your job to organize everyone else’s work. I also expect you to know what you’re doing by then, so get busy.”
Reminding herself that she had once defeated a hell god and should not feel shattered by the events of the morning, Buffy left the office and began to hunt for Harry among the cubicles. She found him one aisle down, ensconced in a typical compartment. It was just too small for comfort and separated from the adjacent cubes by flimsy, cloth-covered walls just high enough to avoid any real sense of privacy. However, he had personalized his bit of office space by papering the dividers surrounding it with sheets of paper. On closer inspection, these proved to be certificates for various Awards, for everything from showing up to work on time to staying later than anyone else. Tiny trophies littered the desk, with a few cheap plaques, each one labeled, “Award.” A picture of Harry dressed as a scarecrow was pinned up next to a “Best Halloween Costume” certificate, and another of him as a scrawny Santa complimented a “Ho Ho Ho Award.” In yet another picture, he was waving a flag and wearing a patriotic top hat. It seemed that no item that had ever been used to celebrate the wonder that was Harry had ever been discarded. There was even a paper birthday crown sitting on top of his monitor next to a notice that he was the winner of the monthly birthday cake drawing. Buffy wondered if a piece of the cake was preserved in his freezer—or maybe under his pillow so he could dream of future prizes.
Harry looked up and saw her staring. “Hi again! Want to see my Awards?”
Without giving her a chance to object, he began pointing at the various objects, chronicling how he had won them against fierce competition, and describing his current training program and competition schedule. He reached down to lift up his pants leg and expose one scrawny, white-sock clad ankle. “I’m wearing a pedometer so every step I take will count towards the Fitness Award. They give away free movie tickets for that.”
Buffy saw the people at the nearby cubicles were looking annoyed, and she interrupted the litany to ask if Harry could show her where she was supposed to be sitting. He jumped up, announced he would be happy to be of help, and took her a little ways down the aisle to where a cubicle sat, void of occupant or any touch of humanity. There were no trophies, stuffed animals, gaudy calendars or pictures of family members. “Here’s your new home!”
Buffy stared at the dusty monitor as Harry yammered on. “It’s so great that we’ll be working together. Did you know that Ashiana means ‘working together’ in some African language? They decided to change the name a few years ago after that lawsuit was in the news and all those advertisements from attorneys wanting to represent clients in product liability cases. They had a contest for it. I wish I’d been working here then. The prize was a trip to Disney World. I could have come up with a better name.” His voice was wistful.
He brightened up. “And here are your new coworkers!”
Buffy turned to find the woman in the adjoining cubicle giving her a sidewise smile as she finished typing something. She spun her chair around to face outward, arose sinuously, and put out her hand. “I’m Rita.”
“Uh, hi.” Buffy tried to smile back at the perfectly groomed brunette, but Rita had already turned, seated herself as gracefully as she had risen, and resumed typing.
“And this is Eric!”
Buffy followed Harry’s introductory wave. The resident of the next cubicle down glanced up irritably, his expression changing to a pleased smile as his gaze followed up from Buffy’s legs to her face. “Welcome!” he said.
Buffy noted that Eric was blond and reasonably good-looking and that he hadn’t been very welcoming until he noticed that she was blonde and pretty. She took a half-step back as Eric stood up and leaned forward to ask her what she would be working on.
“Melandra has a special project.”
“Oh, you’re lucky!” announced Harry, in defiance of all Buffy’s observations to that point. “She’s going to use that presentation to try to get a lot more money and influence for the workgroup. We might even get our own department name! I bet there will be a contest to pick what we’re called. Wouldn’t that be great!”
“Yeah,” said Eric. “Because I stay up nights worrying that we’re only known around here as the Slaves of the Bitch Queen or the Desparate Denizens of the Forbidding Cube.”
An office door opened at the end of the aisle, and everyone jumped, staring at the door marked with Melandra Harbottle’s name. But that door remained closed, a head popped out of the next office, and a tall, bulky man said mildly, “Rita? Do you have a minute?”
Rita’s fingers clattered over her keyboard, and with a few swift strokes she locked the screen from prying eyes before slithering to her feet and stepping through the office door.
As it closed behind her, Eric commented, “Of course, one of us is known as Stan’s Ho as well.”
“Stan?” asked Buffy.
“He’s an okay guy. Technically, we work for him and Melandra, but Melandra has this way of scheduling all our time, and Stan is too nice to fight her about it. Except when it comes to Rita. He schedules lots and lots of her time.” Eric snickered unattractively.
Harry seemed not to notice the implications of this. “Well, we should all get back to work! Productivity Awards go out soon, remember! Buffy, I’ll show you how to log in and get your voice mail, and where to find the department files.”
Buffy was kept busy for the next hour or so trying to puzzle out the instructions Melandra had emailed her and figuring out how to update some files without deleting crucial information. She made some notes about things to ask Willow, like, “Is there any real reason why PowerPoint exists? I thought it was just some stupid joke the teachers in high school was playing on us, but these people take it seriously,” and “How can I find all the numbers Excel says it’s hiding from me, and why is it being so mean?” There was no way she was taking those problems to Melandra, and the thought of asking Harry gave her a headache.
She tried to keep alert for anything interesting happening nearby, but other than some laughter from Stan’s office, followed by Rita’s reemergence some time afterwards, there was nothing but a continual parade of sad-looking people carrying stacks of papers and coffee cups, moving to and fro in no discernable pattern.
At last, Buffy decided a bit of exploration was in order. She started by trying to remember where Harry had pointed out the rest room, but got turned around several times, and had to ask for directions. A vague-looking man wearing a pocket protector sent her to what turned out to be a men’s room, and when she looked to see if the women’s was around the corner she wound up in the cafeteria.
It was nearly empty except for a frizzy-haired woman in a cardigan who was peering into a large jar on top of the coffee pot. She jumped up when Buffy came in and glared at the Slayer. “What do you want?”
“Uh, I’m looking for the rest room.”
The woman paid no attention to this, announcing loudly. “I wasn’t stealing from the coffee fund!”
“No, of course not.” Buffy started to back away slowly.
“I was trying to make change because the vending machine isn’t taking bills. And I needed to check in case someone stole my lunch again.” The woman came closer, staring at Buffy suspiciously. “You didn’t steal my lunch, did you?”
“No.” Buffy shook her head vehemently.
The woman stalked over to a large refrigerator and stared inside for a moment. Then she seized a plastic lunch box, opened it up, and let loose a sigh of relief. “No one’s stolen it, and that bitch hasn’t moved it again.”
The woman dropped her voice. “She works in Packaging. I’ve seen her do it. She comes in after me, and she moves my lunchbox to the back of the fridge!”
“Uh, could she be trying to make room for her own lunch?” Buffy was almost out the door now.
The frizzy-haired woman’s eyes were wild with outrage. “You don’t understand! She moved my lunchbox!”
She located a rest room around the next corner, discovered it was full of barely functional plumbing and signs instructing her in the proper disposal of Personal Hygiene Products, went back to the main aisle, then stopped, wondering how she was supposed to find her cubicle.
She set off in what she hoped was the right direction, stopping every once in a while to ask for help. She was starting to wonder if she should hire a Sherpa guide for the next few days when she walked round a block of offices and found a familiar figure lounging against the wall.
Spike smiled blandly at her, reached into his pocket, and produced a cigarette and lighter. Buffy had seen him commit unspeakable crimes before, but now she realized the full extent of his temerity. He was smoking indoors in California!
She snatched the cigarette from his mouth. “You can’t do that in here! Security will have a fit! You’ll set off smoke alarms! Asthmatics will be running after you waving their inhalers and screaming for your blood!”
“Well I suppose turnabout is fair play,” he grinned.
She smashed the cigarette butt into a nearby drinking fountain. “What are you doing here?” she demanded again.
“Helping,” he said in an injured tone.
“Helping? By sneaking in here? You’ll probably get picked up by Security and fry when they toss you out the door. I’ll have to save your stupid unlife again.”
“Tsk. Tsk.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a badge hanging from a chain. “I’m all legal, pet. Of course, I’m supposed to wear this around my neck, but I didn’t fancy the leash. Not my idea of a fashion statement. If I’m to be pulled about on a chain, it’s not going to be the wankers that run this establishment who I let hold the other end of the lead.”
Buffy tried to push a sudden, surprisingly enjoyable mental image out of her mind. She stared at the badge. “You work here?” I was wrong. Breathing isn’t a requirement for employment, after all.
“Clem got me the job. Seems his friend Floyd is the Facilities manager. Hires a lot of demons for third shift.”
“We prefer the late hours, so he doesn’t have to pay a shift differential.”
Buffy looked up at a clock on the wall. “Then why are you here at 11 o’clock in the morning?”
“That makes no sense at all. And why did you take the job in the first place?”
“I told you, love. To help.” His blue eyes feigned an innocence so false she wanted to smash him in the face. “Couldn’t let my lady run into danger without someone to guard her back.” He pulled her toward him. She pushed away halfheartedly, then stopped as she noticed a new sensation.
“Spike, why are your pants vibrating? More than usual, I mean?”
He grimaced. “Been trying to ignore that.”
“That’s not like you.”
He pushed her away a couple of inches, fished in his pocket, and pulled out a beeper. Buffy was close enough to read the message, “CALL STEPHANIE,” before he shut the device off.
“Who’s Stephanie?” she asked suspiciously.
“Jealous?” he asked hopefully.
“No,” she lied adamantly.
“She’s Floyd’s counterpart on the day shift.”
“In other words, your boss.”
“Yeah.” He shoved the beeper back into his pocket and pulled her close again.
“Spike, I think there are some basics about having a real job that you haven’t quite grasped yet.”
“If you mean listening to the bloody boss, I can think of a couple of other things I’d rather grasp first.” His hand started to stray under her blouse.
“And not feeling up coworkers in hallways is one of them.” She moved away from him and strode off resolutely.
She turned. “What?” she asked peevishly.
Spike pointed in the opposite direction. “Your desk is that way.”
In Chapter Four, the Scoobies attempt to make sense of Corporate Culture.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/26841.html