]| Dillon Markell
]| G-DIR EMPLOYEE USER ID # 84 49 45 :
]| Occupation: Mailroom clerk
I decided it was time for a war council, and the Dexes all hustled after me as soon as I gave the word that we’d be having a Staff Meeting. It was always such a buzzkill to say ‘Staff Meeting instead of war council. It made me feel like I was still at work. I was finally free of that stupid mailroom! I didn’t want to talk like I was still a G-Directorate paper pusher.
But I must call my war councils Staff Meetings, and call my Dex soldiers ‘fellow employees’ instead of Soldiers of the Order of Dillon. The Dexes would never cooperate otherwise. I had to tell them I was their new leader via a forged letter from ‘the head office’ in order to gain their allegiance in the first place.
The Dexes all followed me into the room down the hall from where we’d put the prisoner. The flowery fragrance of shampoo suffused the air as they crowded in.
“Alright… employees,” I said. “First of all. Let’s have a quick status report. Did everyone shampoo their heads this morning? We cannot afford any more cases of the mold, people.”
“You’re telling me,” one Dex piped up. “Tucker’s whole face melted off when he started releasing the spores.” A shudder went through the crowd at the mention of the incident. Morale had been running a little low ever since we’d been hit by that synthetic-flesh-eating mold.
“Nobody wants to hear about that again, Michael. We’ve been over this,” I said through gritted teeth. He always brought it up, like he was so cool for having survived seeing it. It really lowered employee—no, soldier—morale.
“Anyway,” I continued. “What’s this about a flesh-eating tree?”
“Not a flesh-eating tree, sir,” said Rick. “A tree made of flesh and metal. It does, uh, eat flesh too, though. It’s eating lots right now. We locked it inside head office 8142… with the thirty-eight Dexes it killed.”
I gasped, stricken by the news.
“Head office 8142!? That was my favorite! It had that cute poster with the kitten… what did it say?”
“Hang in there, baby?” suggested a Dex.
“Maybe,” I said, pressing my fingers to my temples. Nobody had ever told me that being a warlord would be so hard. The construction cone mafia had been doubling down on its attacks. We’d lost many of our fatherland’s promised cubicles. Worse, Cube 77 was poaching my Dexes with anti-mold health plans and an extra hour of vacation time per decade. The nerve! The Dexes muttered nervously amongst themselves.
“Are you sure it’s not a new strain of the mold?” I asked. We could deal with the mold.
“No, it was definitely flesh. Flesh and metal. Very… sticky,” said Rick thoughtfully. I gave all the Dexes a hard look.
“Okay, so who brought a plant to work today? Anyone? No?” I asked. The Dexes shook their heads and passionately defended themselves. I took it all in with a jaundiced eye; half of them had been corresponding with those Cube 77 jerks. They think I don’t know what those carrier drones are sending back and forth, but I know. I always know.
“We can deal with the flesh-tree later, since it’s contained,” I decided. “Right now, we have a feral fruitcake fresh from the wasteland. He might even be an Unconnectable.” I wondered if he’d been one of the guys that had tried to recruit me into planting bombs all over Eureka. I’d been too busy in the mailroom to help out.
“So what do we do with him?” Michael asked.
“I, uh…” I trailed off. I hadn’t planned that far ahead yet. “Dammit, Michael!” I snapped at him. “Let me talk, man. I called the meeting.”
“Sorry, sir,” Michael grudgingly said.
“Darn right you are,” I said. You had to keep these Dex in line somehow. “Anyways. Our prisoner isn’t starving or delirious with thirst,” I mused, inspiration striking as I talked. “So he might be nuts, but he’s got a supply of food and water out there and who knows what else.”
My idea came together.
“So we take him… and we get him to take us to all of his stuff!”
I announced, clapping my gloves together. There was a collective impressed murmur from the Dexes.
“What if he lies and leads us on a wild drone chase?” Called out another Dex, Alison.
I paused, trying to think of a good counter-strategy for such a devious tactic. Who knew what that crazy guy was capable of?
“First of all, the phrase is wild goose chase,” Leonard said pompously.
“But isn’t a goose just an ancient kind of attack drone?” Alison asked doubtfully.
There was a pause as all the Dexes simultaneously tilted their heads, trying to ask ANNET what a goose was.
“The server is still down, everyone,” I reminded them, trying to sound sad about it. Suddenly my eyes lit on one of the Dexe’s guns. I’d printed a whole bunch of them back in Cube 13 so my Dex army could fend off the traffic cone mafia. Inspiration struck again.
“We can use our guns!” I announced.
“…Won’ that just kill him?”
“No, no, we’ll just scare him with the guns,” I explained. “We’ll make him think that we’re going to shoot him. But nobody actually shoot him.”
From the other room we heard a muffled thud that sounded like a chair hitting the ground. All the Dexes stared in the direction of the noise.
“Well, somebody go make sure he’s not getting away,” I said, and Michael’s hand shot up.
“Pick me! Can it be me?” He bounced a little on his feet.
“Yeah, go get him, Michael. God, just… please get out of here.”
“I’ve always wanted to intimidate a hostage!” Michael chirped as he skipped out of the war council/Staff Meeting.
I turned back to the other Dexes as he left. Now that we had our plan, it was time for a pep talk.
“Right. Okay then, sold—employees—remember that we have the upper hand here. We have tactical armor. And weapons. He’s got nothing but that dumb jacket and his crazy-person list.”
“I mean, the jacket is fireproof,” Dexter offered.
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” Phyllis agreed. I rolled my eyes.
“Look, it doesn’t matter if the jacket’s cool, what I’m saying is we have to show him how tough we are”—
“And these outfits aren’t really tactical armor! They’re just construction uniforms that you painted black!”
“They’re tactical because they’re black and they’re armor because they protect you from that nasty mold, okay?” I interrupted, trying to regain control of the situation. This pep talk sucked. Why couldn’t I just catch a break for once? I’d spent years trapped in that mail room since the system had accidentally assigned me a ten year shift instead of a ten hour shift. Why couldn’t anything ever go right for me? It was bad enough to be Unconnectable. Why couldn’t I at least have cool minions after everything else I’d been through?
As if the universe wanted to tell me that my luck would stay bad forever, Michael started screaming hysterically in the other room. Several Dexes rushed out to help him, and the air filled with more shouts and the pop-pop-pop of guns.
“What’s going on?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from climbing into another octave.
Someone else screamed from the hall. A gurgling screech followed. Fragments of words echoed down the hall.
“—Must’ve broken loose”—
“—NOT TENTACLES! ANYTHING BUT”—
“—How’d it get out?”—
“Battle formations!” I shouted. Grabbing my own weapon, I yanked several Dexes into a protective formation around me.
Phyllis shut the office door, which locked with a reassuring ca-chunk. Something made an immense unwholesome squelching noise from outside, and then there was quiet for a moment. We waited, not daring to breath.
And then, the six almost-musical notes of someone punching the code into the lock’s keypad rang out. Thank goodness, I thought. A Dex has triumphed!
The door swung open, and—
“IT’S THE FLESH TREE!”
Gloppy tentacles reached around the door frame. The Dex around me opened fire. Explosions of gore geysered from the flesh tree but it didn’t stop flowing into the room, snagging my last remaining Dexes one by one.
“—How’d it know the door code? How’d it”—demanded Phyllis the moment before she was impaled on a trembling red tendril.
Somebody was screaming KILL IT, KILL IT in a shrill voice. Distantly I realized that it was me.
A body formed from the mass of weeping, seething tissue and for a second I thought one of my soldiers was fighting free of the flesh-tree. Then the eyes opened. One was a gaping socket, and the other was cold and dead. I felt cold terror settle in my guts as I realized how the flesh-tree ‘ate’ its prey. The flesh tree stretched its new arm out towards me, clutching a bloodied paper. I stared at the nonsense words like they were a death sentence. "PROPERTY OF CAPTEIN."
“PrOdUCe tHiS orGaNIsM,” the flesh-tree rasped with what had been Dexter’s voice. Already tentacles were creeping towards me.
Some dust must have leaked into my full-face respirator, because my eyes burned and watered and my throat got all tight.
“I—I’ve never seen that guy,” I said faintly. Mechanically my arm rose to point towards the room we’d left the prisoner in. “B-but he does. That guy in there. Go kill him… he’s ruined everything!”