A/N: TVverse, takes place after the episode "The Competition" in the first season.
Dilbert froze at his keyboard with the sound. The phone; that usually wasn't good. He poked his head over the cubicles and saw that his pointy-haired boss was currently micromanaging Asok. One down.
He spun his head several degrees. Wally was busy - if you want to call leaned back in his chair asleep as being busy. That was two down.
He rotated further and saw the top of Alice's hair moving in time with the sound of pounding keys; it wasn't her either. That knocked out the usual suspects.
Uh oh. One more ring and the call would disappear into voicemail Heck. Phil would berate him for not answering it in the first place, totally ignoring the fact that none of them had any control over the protected proprietary property that was the Phone System.
Cursing his luck, Dilbert answered the phone. "H-h-ello?" he tried to disguise his voice; it was worth a shot.
"Quit trying to disguise your voice Dilbert; this is Hank. We met that day you worked over at Nivana Co."
Nirvana Co! Dilbert had worked there one day - one day!- and destroyed the place by inadvertently introducing the concept of a marketing department that got instantly implemented. It had led to his rehire at his old company from which he had been wrongly accused and fired for spreading company secrets. He still had nightmares about the event, but then again it had to jostle for room with all the other nightmares he had from working for the company. But Dilbert was well-versed in guilt and all these things flashed through his mind at the speed of C. Well, almost C anyway; everyone knew that as you approached C time would...
"You still there?" Hank asked.
"Uh, yeah" Dilbert said as he cleared his throat and spoke normally. "Don't tell me that you've been sent to haunt me too."
"You're better at haunting yourself than I am. Besides, we're co-workers now."
"Co-workers? I haven't seen you here and I know every inch of this room."
"Then you know where...Cubicle 12b is." Thunder sounded in the background, coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
"Cubicle 12b?!" The thunder sounded again. Dilbert stifled his astonishment and continued. "No one goes into that cubicle! It's dark, it's scary it's...it's like customer service, actually. Customer service on steroids! I'm not talking like the steroids your doctor gives you for inflammation; I'm talking the kind that makes you all muscles and you tear your shirt everytime you flex." Dilbert shuddered at the thought until his brain's defense mechanisms kicked in and assured him customer service never quite got that bad.
"I know, but don't let your senses fool you. Come on in, I need your expertise on a project." Hank hung up and the phone clicked dead.
"I am NOT going into Cubicle 12b" muttered Dilbert, his indignation drowned out with another round of thunder. "It has to be a ruse, no one could be in Cub..." he stopped short of using the word "...that place." He sat in his chair with his arms crossed.
But the combination of the words "project" and "expertise" proved to be too much, the effect being a pull that rivaled gravity within a black hole's event horizon. Despite himself, Dilbert wandered over to the cubicle. Through the opening he could see swirling masses of dark clouds mixing with darker clouds; there might have been a pair of red eyes shining out, but he wasn't sure. Gulping, he closed his eyes and walked through the opening.
After waiting a moment and not getting devoured by a demon, he opened his eyes and found an almost normal cubicle around him. Hank sat in a comfortable chair, in front of an uncluttered desk with lots of office supplies neatly arrayed in a line. Soft Hawaiian music played through a pair of speakers and there was even a small refrigerator in a corner.
"Sit down, Dilbert. Help yourself to anything in the 'fridge; sorry my coffee bar is out of order or you could have a hot latte." Still in a state of disbelief, Dilbert gingerly sat down in the offered chair. Small micro-massagers instantly went to work on his back, trying to relieve his built up stress; he could smell and hear one burn out as it labored at the monumental task.
"I don't get it, Hank." He looked around; beyond the cubicle's walls was a panorama of the office, but muted in a soft pastel yellow.
"If I couldn't work at Nirvana, then the next best thing was to recreate the atmosphere at my next place. I put up a image projection wall around Cubicle 12b..." Dilbert flinched, but no thunder came "...to keep everyone else away. Don't worry, the microphones outside don't pick up anything in here so you can say it all day long. Cubicle 12b! Cubicle 12b! Cubicle 12b!"
"Stop saying that!" Dilbert screamed as he put his hands over his ears. In the silence he sheepishly removed them. "Sorry, automatic reflex."
"Then it's working" Hank grinned. "Even the cleaning people don't come in here."
"They don't come in my cubicle and it's perfectly normal" Dilbert sighed.
"But on to the reason I need you. Do you remember that project you were working on at Nirvana?"
"Project? You mean the underwater BBQ? I just threw that idea out when someone asked me what I was working on and I hadn't come up with anything yet. I never intended to actually design one." Dilbert had to think fast at the time and came up with something totally ridiculous, which in the environment of Nirvana was accepted immediately.
"It would have been a waste of time, I agree. But someone outside the company heard about it and eventually it made it's way to Elbonia. They want you to build a zero-G BBQ, according to my sources. I managed to see a copy of the request they sent to your boss."
"MY boss? Are you sure?"
"He couldn't figure out how to open the clasp on the department manila envelope the memo came in."
"That's my boss alright. Why would they want a zero-G BBQ?" Dilbert asked.
"Their Director of Science and Neat Stuff has directed them to get a BBQ ready for their first space mission. I don't know what stage that project is in, but we've been asked for the BBQ. Naturally I thought of you, AND as it happens the DSNS mentions you in the memo anyway. It's probably just a matter of time before your boss tells you about it; I'm giving you a heads up so you can work on it ahead of what will probably be an impossibly tight schedule."
"Thanks, Hank. You know this company as well as I do."
"The way I figure it, there's Nirvana and there's everywhere else." Hank spread is arms. "This is everywhere else. Just be sure to throw yourself out of the cubicle when you leave; I don't want anyone getting ideas to come in uninvited."
"I can do that much. Let me know when the coffee bar is working again" Dilbert said as he stood, ripping a button off and untucking his white shirt. Gathering himself, he flung his body through the opening and was immediately tumbling on the floor in the hallway outside. Trembling, he crawled backwards away from the cubicle while shaking his head as Loud Howard gave a 'tsk' that, while soft for him, still rattled windows. No one would ever ask what terrors he faced or near-certain death he avoided. Even Alice avoided him for a week afterward as word got around.
He intentionally staggered back to his cubicle and sat at his chair, for all the world looking like a man stunned by a recent experience. He was in fact stunned, but not from terror; he wondered how he had never thought of a projection screen for his own cubicle before. But those thoughts gave way to the idea of a zero-G BBQ and soon Dilbert realized that he really didn't have more than a vague idea what life in zero-G was like.
"Dilbert, there you are." The voice of his pointy-haired boss shook him out of his thoughts. "How's that project coming along?"
"Which project is that?" The current big project was the Gruntmaster.
"The one I asked you to work on. You know...the project about the thing for the place with the people."
"If it came from you, I probably don't have enough information or funds to finish it."
"Good! Then you won't mind stopping your work for now and starting on a new project. Now what was it again..."
"Was it a request from Elbonia for a new BBQ?"
"That's it! I see I've already talked to you about it, so I'm just wasting my time here."
"Okay. Anyway, I've got to get back to my office. I think it's on this floor..." Dilbert directed his boss towards his office, not having an open elevator shaft available for a destination.
That evening, Dilbert was sitting on a couch when Dogbert walked in. "Why are you always here" the dog asked.
"I live here."
"And I suppose you think that's an excuse?"
"Don't bother me, I'm trying to imagine what it's like in space."
Dogbert gave an exaggerated sigh. "You might as well try to imagine life as an elephant. Why not ask someone who's done it?"
"What, been an elephant?"
"I don't know any astronauts."
"Neither do I, but I know someone who has been in space." Dogbert scribbled down a name on a piece of paper. "Go down to Cliff's and ask for Vlad."
"It's a dive bar."
Dilbert did as he was instructed, and found himself walking toward a neon-lit building. The sign outside showed a man jumping from a great height into the ocean. "Wow, it really is a dive bar" he thought to himself. He stepped in and stood near the entrance letting his eyes adjust to the darker room and heard his name called. He looked in the direction of the voice and saw a scruffy man waving him over, as opposed to all the other scruffy men who just stared.
"How did you know who I was?"
"Let us say you are not normal customer" Vlad explained. Dilbert looked around and noticed that all the other patrons were dressed in what might be called "ultra casual", a fashion sense that eschewed both needless efforts at style or efforts at bathing. In his white shirt and tie, Dilbert stuck out like a sore thumb...on a snake. "You have questions about space life?"
"You're not an astronaut, are you?"
Vlad spit on the floor, but it had no visible effect on the surface. "Nyet. I am cosmonaut!"
"What's the difference?"
"We don't get fancy Corvette; only Yugo with racing stripe that peels off."
"I see. I came here..." Dilbert started, but was interrupted by a flash.
After his eyes adjusted from the brief blinding light he saw Dogbert holding a camera. "Fifty bucks for a commemorative picture, Mister?"
"No!" Dilbert reacted, wondering what was going on.
"Suit yourself" the dog said as he walked away.
Confused, Dilbert continued. "I've been asked to design a BBQ for space, but I've never been in space. What problems would I have?"
"This isn't Valentin Bondarenko joke is it?"
"No, I don't think so."
Vlad considered. "Good, we very sensitive about that. In space, no gravity. You need grill mounted to surface; don't use tape. Tape no work; trust me."
"Got it." Dilbert scribbled a note.
"Make sure to keep things from floating into grill. One loose paper and poof!"
"Food must be secured to grill or will float away. Sausage in eye is bad."
"Not Czech sausage, they taste funny. Fire use oxygen; must vent heat and gases."
"Watch for ants."
"Ants? In space?"
"Ants everywhere, maybe on moon too but we not make it there to find out thank you for mentioning."
"And be sure to have extra BBQ sauce and no cook too long; nobody like dry food."
"No; I am cosmonaut, not the Gourmet that Gallops."
Two weeks later Dilbert was showing the prototype to the Elbonian representative Thurn. "These feet can be bolted directly to the floor or wall of the spacecraft as needed, to secure the BBQ during maneuvering. For safety reasons, it doesn't use gas but preheated ceramic briquettes that will cook the food that is secured to the grill by this handy retaining mesh. When you close the lid to keep loose items out, the attached flexible ducting will vent any unwanted fumes and heat away from the unit to the exterior of the craft via a sophisticated scrubbing unit/airlock system. If the temperature of the food surface falls below the minimum threshold the briquettes are withdrawn, flash heated and introduced back into the BBQ."
"Impressive" Thurn remarked. "Is this a Russian design or one of your own?"
"Russian design? The Russians don't have a design!"
"Sure. It's in all the papers back home." Thurn produced a newspaper with the headline "American scientist colludes with Russians after career as industry spy." The picture Dogbert took of Dilbert and Vlad at the dive bar was embedded in the article.
"I wasn't colluding! I was researching!" Dilbert cried. "And I was never an industry spy."
"Maybe it's just a translation error. No matter, we still need the BBQ; our Director of Science and Neat Stuff said so."
"What type of spacecraft will it go into?" Dilbert asked.
"Spacecraft? We don't have any spacecraft of any kind yet. How can you design a spaceship until you know what kind of BBQ will be inside?"
That evening at home, Dilbert confronted Dogbert. "Why did you sell my picture to the Elbonian press? They think I'm colluding with the Russians!"
"Don't worry, the Director of Science and Neat Stuff will declare tomorrow that Elbonia is ahead of the Russians in the BBQ Race and needs to fully fund a space program to exploit the advantage. The population will get behind it and support - most importantly financial support - will be overwhelming."
"How do you know that?"
Dogbert put on a fake mustache. "Because I'm the Director of Science and Neat Stuff."
A/N: Probably the one comic strip I still read; I didn't get a chance to see all the animated series but will eventually. This is based during some of the early episodes from the short-lived show.