The sharp edge of the breakroom counter bit into Neil’s left buttock as he casually leaned, waiting for a fresh pot of coffee to percolate, and reading a novel. It was a terrible piece of fiction marketed toward young adults, nothing but tear-stained cheeks and laughing eyes, but he was reading it all the same. Peering over the edge of his round-rimmed glasses, however, he noticed that junior researchers Tidbury and Herman had entered. Dog-earing a page with a calloused finger, he set the book down, and waited for one of them to say something.
A long moment of silence passed, broken only by the momentary flickering of a standard-issue fluorescent ceiling light, before Tidbury spoke up. “Director Neil,” he began meekly, “You are in charge of funding and resources for this branch of Sector-28, correct?” Running a hand through his ample beard in a lazy scratch, Neil replied, “I suppose I am. Are you kids in need of something?” Shifting nervously behind the breakroom table, placed oh-so-inconveniently close to the door, it was Herman’s turn to speak; “We need to requisition a few items for the experimentation process regarding Four-Twenty-Four, as it doesn’t seem to want to stay still.” “And which one is that, again?” Neil asked, an eyebrow curiously raised, “There’s such a sufficient amount of monstrosities and curiosities here at the Foundation that I can’t remember which is which any longer.”
“Well,” the tandem-talking Tidbury said, “You know those old black-and-white movie mimes?” Ponderously shifting his somewhat considerable girth as much as he could in what little space the cramped room provided, Neil pondered; “Oh, yeah, Marcel Marceau and all that jazz. What of them?” Well, sir,” Tidbury elucidated “Four-Twenty-Four resembles what one of those would look like, had they been made of Jell-O and possessed a flair for mischief.” “Dear god, take whatever you need, son.” And with that, the researchers departed, leaving Neil to his terrible novel. Thumbing through a few more pages, he became deeply absorbed in the story, pausing only to pour a long-awaited cup of coffee, and scratch absently at his stomach. Never partial to wearing either a labcoat or a suit, Neil was prone to wearing sweaters around Sector-28, though they always seemed to be a size too small, accentuating his steadily growing paunch. Today’s red-and-brown plaid number continued this trend wonderfully.
Eventually, Herman and Tidbury returned, though admittedly in a much more haggard state than before. Tidbury himself appeared to be white as a sheet, with no colour in his face at all. “What’s wrong with Tiddles, son?” Ghost queried. “nothing at all, sir. In fact, he’s back in the magnification lab. This,” Herman pointed toward his companion, “Is Four-Twenty-Four. He does a fantastic impression though, doesn’t he?” Ghost, never a fan of mimes, found his breaking point when the not-Tidbury melted, evacuated the clothes it had put on, and turned into a rather attractive black-and-white coffee table. Awful novel forgotten, glasses flung to the ground, he first climbed up onto the counter, then leapt (rather uncharacteristically) over the new table, and scampered out the door. Herman laughed, Four-Twenty-Four jiggled somewhat, and a screaming Ghost disappeared down one of Sector-28’s Level Three corridors, mentally resolving to destroy the only table in his living quarters, just to be safe.