Another chapter down. Don't expect them to keep coming this often though.
Dilbert and Alice stormed down the hallway. After a brief, yet heated argument, they had decided they would first go to their boss. Neither was sure why; they were both aware it would accomplish nothing.
When they arrived at his office, however, they were surprised to find a small crowd.
First and foremost was the boss, who was standing glumly next to a chair, atop which was perched Catbert. The feline HR director was watching the proceedings with a bemused expression. Then there was Carol, who seemed to be barely suppressing a cheer. A couple of HR agents also stood by, not making a sound.
Ted and Loud Howard were carrying a couple boxes full of the boss' stuff out, under the watchful eye of….James.
The young man was wearing his trademark self-satisfied smirk, and was watching the action (or lack thereof).
"What's going on?" Dilbert demanded.
"Your manager is on probation." Catbert replied, his voice seeming more oily than usual. "James is taking his place indefinitely."
The two engineers looked at James. He just winked as though they were in on the joke.
"Ah, Alice, Dilbert, I have a special project I need you two on-advanced supply for the new Gruntmaster. There are some materials out Procurement department refuses to get for us, so I'm putting the two of you on the job."
"Just like a true manager," the Boss moaned.
"What do you need?" Alice snapped. James held up his hands in a defensive gesture, before offering a piece of paper to the two.
"Everything's on this list." he explained. "I expect half of it to be in the lab in two weeks."
"Uh...okay.." Dilbert replied, confused by the simplicity and reasonable nature of the institutions.
"Great!" James said. He turned towards Catbert and the boss. "Sir, I'd like to join you on your walk out the building. I was hoping you could provide me with any instructions to…" They walked away, followed by the HR agents. The crowd dispersed.
Dilbert and Alice remained, though, perplexed by the situation. Gone was the sneering asshole from Wally's cubicle a mere fifteen minutes earlier. He was replaced by...a cross between a confident, respectful young man, and strangely enough, a teenage hipster working as an intern for a Silicon Valley startup.
"What..is happening?" Alice asked. Dilbert just shook his head in response. Wally walked up behind them, not even panicked (Though this was likely due to the coffee he was drinking. While some went to the flask to settle their nerves, Wally chose the mug.).
"Is James now…?"
4 Hours Later
It was after hours now. All the employees, save the Janitors and night guards, were gone. Even the engineers, whom the PHB would usually have work overtime, were home. One of the first things James had done to curry favor with his new subordinates was to give them an early dismissal, saying a good night's sleep would help get the creative juices flowing.
In truth this was just to buy their loyalty; if they liked him, they would be more likely to serve his ambitions, albeit unknowingly and unwillingly.
He got up from the boss', no his desk, and walked over to the mini-bar inside the private office.
He poured himself a quick shot of whiskey. It wasn't good whiskey, just a special bottle Shoddy Smithy (the bartender from chapters 4 and 5) had given him a year ago.
A knock on the frame of the open door derailed his train of thought. He glanced over at the entrance. Standing there was Asok.
"Asok, and *snore*...heroes." the boss muttered . "Wally *snore* rich. Asok..James...portal. Explosion...James ..defeat."
James mentally shook his head and pushed the memory of the boss' cryptic prediction out of his mind. No time to worry about that, now. He was playing the part of 'Nice Boss.' Or 'Amiable Boss'. Or 'Fun Boss'. He couldn't push the useful little intern away yet.
He smiled warmly. "Hello, Asok! Didn't you go home?"
The Intern stared at him blankly. "This is my home. On my salary, I can only afford to live in my cubicle."
James forced himself to frown. Truthfully, he himself cared little for Asok's financial struggles, but 'Nice Boss James' would have to act like it meant something to him.
"Oh...that's...my apologies. I was not aware."
Asok smiled. "It's fine. You're the first person other than Dilbert to show any pity, and even he was just confused as to how I remained happy all the time."
James smiled. So he was surpassing Dilbert in certain areas now. Excellent.
"Perhaps I can change that. I may only be acting boss, but I perhaps could wave a little influence around the other bosses, give you a bit of rep and have you transferred to the experimental division, or another specialized engineering that could help you."
James knew he could not accomplish that, but offering to would go a long way to establishing a good relationship with Asok.
Asok smiled. "Thank you."
"We can change the world," James said. "Here, engineers at a wealthy corporation, we could change the world. We could open doors people used to say should never be opened, we can do something."
Asok frowned, but did not move. James poured himself another glass. He did not offer anything to Asok.
"You see, the Boss tried to limit the output of you, Dilbert, and the others because he didn't understand what you were doing. But me, I'm an engineer. I'm the one who will fight." He belched suddenly. Asok wrinkled his nose. "Excuse me." James muttered, organizing some papers and slipping them into his briefcase. "Well, I better be heading home. I just have to drop by accounting to check up on a budget. Good night Asok."
"Good night, James."
It was late when Dilbert got home. He had stopped by Alice's house after work, than a bar to drown his fears of James.
He stumbled up the steps and in the door. The alcohol was inhibiting his movement.
"I-I'm home." he slurred. No one replied. He frowned. "Hellooo?"
Ratbert walked out from behind a bookcase.
"Oh hey, Dilbert." the rodent said.
"...What are...you doing back there?"
"Nothing really. Just practicing."
Dilbert decided not to press further. "W-where's Dogbert?" Ratbert shrugged.
"He left with the Garbageman about an hour ago for a shareholder's meeting. Something about the stock price of the U.S."
Dilbert frowned. "The U.S. doesn't have a stock price."
"That's what I said, but he muttered something about the ignorance of the general public and then they left."
"Did he leave any messages for me?"
Ratbert pointed over his shoulder towards the dining room. "There's some file on the table he said was for you." Dilbert set his briefcase down, and walked into the dining room. Ratbert followed. He sat down at the table, opened the file on James, and began reading. Ratbert slipped up his leg, and perched on his shoulder, also reading the document. Ordinarily, Dilbert would brush him off, but right now he was too engrossed to care.
Dilbert woke up early next morning still in the dining room. His head was resting on James' profile, and Ratbert was long gone. With a flush of embarrassment, he realized he had fallen asleep there last night. He closed the file, stood up, yawned, and stretched, before walking into the kitchen.
Dogbert, Bob the dinosaur, and Ratbert were all up. Bob was pretending to read the paper (the fact that it was upside down gave his ruse away), Ratbert was already eating, and Dogbert was making coffee.
"You slept well." he remarked, not even glancing away from the coffee pot.
"How was-ugh-your meeting?"
Dilbert groaned: his back was out of joint from the angle he had slept at.
"Good, good." Dogbert muttered. "The other shareholders and I discovered the falling price was the result of-how did you-Ratbert! I told you not to tell him!"
The rodent shrugged, half a bagel in his mouth. Dogbert growled, but let the subject drop.
"So, was the file my sources provided useful enough for you? Dogbert asked.
Dilbert shrugged. "It's pretty standard, mostly what I expected. I was surprised to see that he grew up in a bad home in the poorer district."
"Likely where his determination stems from." Dogbert commented.
"All in all, I can't see how this is going to help me."
"Yet you still owe me a pillow, you Ungrateful...uh, Ulysses."
As soon as Wally set foot in the lobby, he could tell something was wrong. He had worked at Path-E-Tech long enough to tell when something was up. Certain changes in the air, however downtrodden the sheep-sorry, other employees seemed, or if Catbert, two security guards, and James were all standing next to a rough pile of his possessions in the lobby.
"Hello, um...Wally." Catbert purred, fumbling to remember the employee's name.
"Hello." Wally grunted.
"You're being transferred." Catbert explained. "To Siberia."
"I'm sorry, Wally." James muttered. Wally had no illusions at to the fact that he actually wasn't. "It's an order the boss authorized before he left. I have no power over it."
Wally felt dizzy. He tried to focus on the pile of his stuff. His old personal Dell from 2005, his collection of coffee mugs, and the unborn fetus that at one point had been up to take his job. But none of his designs.
Wait, what? (again)
"Hey, where are the designs for all those projects and machines I-"
"Those are company property." Catbert said.
"They are my ideas!" Wally snarled.
"They are intellectual property of the company." Catbert shot back. "As specified in your contract, all ideas thought up by employees while on company premises, at home, or at the
gates of hell are property of the company."
"I didn't sign any stinkin' contract!" Wally retorted.
"I believe you'll find that matters less than you think it does." Catbert replied. "Now, about this transfer…"
Wally faded out. He hardly realized he was being escorted to a rooftop landing pad, stuff carried by James, and shoved into a small aircraft.
The atmospheric-bound vehicle lifted off and Wally glumly looked out the window. Catbert and the security guards had disappeared, but James was still standing on the helipad. Watching.
And there we go. This chapter ends on a sorry note, with Wally's reassignment in affect, James fully in control of both the Engineering department and Wally's blueprints, and Dilbert finding little dirt on the upstart.
As for James' strange and ominous monologue to Asok...you'll see what's happening there.
See you all next time.