Tuesday, September 4, 2012


by John Elrod

Without saying anything more, you turn and walk right back out of the boardroom, leaving the actual suits to deal with public relations, lawsuits, and market projections. Frankly, you’re not usually any help with those things, anyway; you’re a scientist. You belong in the lab, which is exactly why you spend so much time there that, when you were having this state-of-the-art, skyscraping monolith constructed, you had them incorporate a private express elevator with three stops: the basement lab, where you almost always want to be; the boardroom, where you almost never want to be; and the roof, for when you want to be anywhere but here.

It takes a total of 47 seconds for the elevator to go from the boardroom to the lab. There is no ignominious Muzak or senseless dinging noise. In fact, the inside of this elevator is entirely without distraction; without those things shopping malls employ to keep you from realizing you don’t need to spend half a month’s salary on those shoes; without those tactics hospitals use to make you forget you’ve just seen a loved one for the last time. Yes, this elevator was absolutely boring in every way; you'd made sure of that because it takes a total of 47 seconds to go from the boardroom to the lab, and that’s 47 seconds of pure, unadulterated thought. It was in those 47 seconds that you had finally been able to think of how to bring the Environaut’s consumption-to-production ratio over 200%; it was those 47 seconds that had given you the idea for the iPoop, a toilet USB port that attaches to any toilet and uses your waste to directly charge any compatible device; and, on days like today, it’s those 47 seconds that simply keep you from going insane.

The opening of the elevator doors brings your serenity to a screeching halt as your ears are flooded with an expletive-laden tirade.

“How the fuck could this fucking happen? I fucking told those motherfuckers not to fucking use fucking mercury. This is un-fucking-believable.”

It’s Milo. He’s yelling at an empty room, but you know exactly what he’s upset about. Back when you and Milo were developing the Environaut, you hit upon a problem: it was introducing too much toxicity into the surrounding environment. Your solution was to replace the mercury you were using as a coolant with a gallium-indium alloy. It was an easy fix, but the Smart EcoGen board members weren’t thrilled about the expense of controlling the alloy’s wetting and aggressivity; it wasn’t cost-effective, but they agreed to the change—or so you thought.

Milo sees you come out of the elevator. “Can you fucking believe this? You’re the President and CE-FUCKING-O!”

“I know.”

“I’m the Vice Fucking President, for Christ sake.”

“I know.”

“This is just—”

“I know, and now we get to say, ‘We told you s—’”

Your snarky quip is interrupted by a video call from the boardroom. Milo is very eager to answer and throw some obscenities their way. He hurriedly presses the button, but on the screen is nothing but an empty boardroom.

“The damn thing must be broken.” Your voice tries to console Milo’s rage.

“Goddammit!” Milo’s rage is beyond consolation.

Suddenly a face come into the video’s frame. It’s Hal, the security guard. He’s still smiling through gritted teeth, but something is different about him. His skin is a jaundiced hue, his eyes are glazed over in a buttery haze, and his face is fixed in the same dead expression as those protesters who stormed your home.

“What the fuck?” Milo’s rage has given way to confusion, now.

“I don’t kn—”

You are interrupted once more, this time by a slurpy growl that seems to be coming from Hal’s throat. The gurgling gets louder, as Hal’s bite loosens just barely and his lips are overtaken by a thick, brown slurry. The sludge dribbles down Hal’s chest, while the lab has become a swamp of palpable fright. Slowly, Hal backs away from the camera, and you notice some of the board members are ambling about. Then you see it. There in Hal’s left hand, held firmly at the tuft of its neck, is the severed head of Smart EcoGen’s CFO, George Quellen Field.

“I second that ‘What the fuck?’” Now you’re the one speaking to the empty room as Milo has hastily evacuated to the elevator.

“Let’s make like Schwarzenegger and get to the fucking chopper!” How Milo can simultaneously make a pop culture reference and shit his pants, you don’t know, but he must be shitting his pants, because this is absolutely a “shit your pants” moment.

25 seconds into the longest 47 seconds of your life, and Milo is still rambling on about not knowing what is going on. Why doesn’t this elevator play music, or fucking ding, or just do anything to distract you from the thoughts wildly rampaging through your mind? There’s nothing to stop you from going insane! What sadistic bastard designed this torturous, 47 second device? But it’s not 47 seconds; not this time. This time, it’s 68 seconds, because you and Milo are going to the roof. More specifically, the helipad on the roof, and the two of you are getting as far away from this building as possible. Let the government come in and deal with this—literal—shit storm.

On the roof you both hop into the helicopter, but not before exchanging reassuring looks with one another. You’re both absolutely positive things are going to be fine. Maybe you’ll head down to Mexico for a couple weeks while things blow over. Sure, it’s a PR nightmare, and the stock is going to take a hit. Blah, blah, blah. None of that concerns a couple of genius lab rats like you and Milo. It’s fine.

You’re the pilot, of course, since you are the one with a pilot’s license. Milo, for lack of a better word, is your co-pilot, even though he can’t even manage to write with a Pilot pen, let alone have anything to do with piloting a helicopter. You set your heading for Mexico, and—

“What’s that?” Milo is gesturing downward.

You don’t want to look, but you have to. What you see are the streets clogged with abandoned vehicles and crowds of people moving at two distinctive speeds. Those running are doing so from those walking; those walking are those who didn’t run fast enough. You’ve seen this in movies, and you’ve lived this in video games. You’ve always thought it might happen, but you didn’t have any idea you could cause it. You can’t go to Mexico; you have to do something, because everything is decidedly not fine.

Do you...

A. Land the helicopter at the hospital, where your sister works, and see if she can help--if she's even still alive.

B. Land the helicopter at the police station, where you're sure to be abel to the get hold of some firearms, them come out blasting.

C. Land the helicopter somewhere outside the city and try to devise a plan.


  1. Shit zombies! Way cool! I think Novak got into Elrod's head. He's devious that way.