Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God. What alternative do I possibly have available for my next course of action? I am now only two cycles of the hour hand away from my deadline and absolutely no closer to a completed correction than when I had begun this non-viable assignment. I am in the precise situation as the one I had found myself when I was originally commissioned with this insurmountable undertaking a mere ten hours earlier.
What had been coursing through my mind at that time to allow me to become the patsy? I could have simply made my egress from the complex at the moment I had been directed to present myself within Mr. Forebald’s office. Flight would have been the more appropriate path for me to have taken, knowing he is not one prone to deliver pleasant news at the conclusion of the workday. If I had abdicated, I would have never known how red his square visage could be as he shrieked his infamous, “What the hell is this?” at me, all the while flailing my dissertation above his head as though it were nothing more than a selection of waste paper.
Immediately upon entering his suite, his inability to recognize the impressive collection of data regarding a revolutionary new turn in anti-anxiety medication was apparent. Unfortunately, even at this moment, I had not the foresight to remove myself from his presence.
I had dedicated a full week of my occupational life, as well as a great deal of my personal, toward establishing the pristine accuracy of this document, which, I might add, had been requested for me to piece together to ensure further funding for our keystone development.
This knowledge did not appear to faze the large man who, unfortunately, currently holds a position of power over me, and so I was left to stand inside the doorway of his workspace and stare, dumbfounded in how to respond to such a harsh greeting.
“Get the hell in here, Schmertz, and tell me what the hell you think you’re doing trying to submit this bullshit. I don’t know what you boys down in R&D think you’re getting away with here, but I’m sure as hell not going to stand for it.”
I had entered the room slowly and allowed myself to sit within the low-set chair directly in front of his imposing desk. He had glared down his nose at me, a method he overtly utilized in order to remain at his most imposing, whilst setting me at unease.
“Well?” he had growled. I remember an unfamiliar anger had begun to well up within me at that utterance. It was as if some primal entity within me felt it needed to lash out at this man who held my destiny within his hands. The voice of that entity was easily quelled upon the recognition of his power.
“I apologize, sir, however, I cannot be certain what might have caused you to develop such an unhappy attitude toward me. I believe I created my thesis in a manner which should be considered as articulate and exhaustive as could be expected, which was something of a Herculean task, I might add, due to—“
“There you go again,” he interjected whilst baring his teeth at me in his frustration. Again the primal monster within me cried to be allowed its escape. Again, I fought against its call, knowing it held no power in opposing the demon in front of me.
“Making up words. Those damned long words of yours that you just make up in order to hide the truth.”
“Sir? If you’re stating that my phrasing is disproportionate with your expectat—“
“Quit it!” he had screamed as he stood and pointed toward the door. “I want none of that in here! Get out there, fix this report,” he had said as he thrust the crumpled pile of papers into my face,” and get it to me before my 6am meeting tomorrow morning.”
“No buts. If I don’t have a way of showing my bosses that you’re actually doing something down there in your creepy lab by tomorrow morning, they’re going to shut it all down. Do you understand me? Shut. It. Down. That means no job for you, and more importantly, no job for me. There’s a lot riding on this, so make it simple, make it short, and make it quick. Got me?”
“Yes, sir,” I had replied after a brief pause. “Yes. I get you.” I had continued stammering stupidly as I exited his office. The monster within me had completely disappeared, apparently deciding there must be other methods to feed its frenzy than within my pathetic frame. At its departure, I found my vocabulary had also deserted me.
So, there I had been, utterly confused by exactly what Mr. Forebald had found to be at fault within the document, yet left to be the individual who would enact the necessary changes which might appropriate his happiness. I stared at the papers as I stood in front of the elevator awaiting its arrival.
I still can’t believe he had accused me of making up words. The man has red lines all over these pages, striking out words like alprazolam and abdominal, and multiple lines being used to strike out each usage of the word lightheadedness.
As the head of a pharmaceutical laboratory, the man must certainly understand such a simple word as lightheadedness, should he not?
Braedon Forebald, the red-faced, square-headed gentleman, and I utilize the word loosely, had been only recently transferred to become the supervisory manager of our laboratory. I’m mostly unfamiliar with the man, outside of the rumors of how incredibly demanding he is and how those demands generally revolve around questionable reasons. The conversation I had with him earlier today would easily support that summation.
God, what could I possibly do? He claims this document holds the fate of our entire research and development laboratory in its hands, while also declaring it does not pass his obviously inscrutable muster. How could this possibly be anything but the absolutely most beautiful piece of scientific prose anyone working within pharmaceuticals today has laid their eyes upon? It is nothing short of immaculate.
I’m going to get fired. I’m going to get everyone fired. There’s no fancy way of saying it, no simple way of avoiding it. I will be the cause of the summary termination of every single employee I ever considered a friend. And why? Simply because I am not able to understand the whims of a raging maniac?
What could he possibly expect from all of this? I don’t know the man well, perhaps I misunderstood him. In fact, that conversation, the one where he demanded I rewrite one of the most demanding pieces of literature I have ever composed, was easily the longest discussion we have ever had. Considering that, it should be easy to understand that his expectations of me here are appreciably incomprehensible. The man intends for me to telepathically determine his intentions behind these simplistic markings.
The only thought I have toward what might have caused him to become so profusely angered is that he, for some peculiar reason, has had a falling out with words that stretch on longer than five letters. This is a rather dangerous predicament for a man who currently holds an R&D division of a pharmaceutical laboratory under his charge.
Pharmaceutical laboratory could possibly be considered too extended a phrase for a man of his particular ailment. Perhaps we should be required to re-christen it simply as The Lab. Or perhaps the Drug-Makey Place?
Dammit! If only I hadn’t been so damned confident and individualized my distress. Hiro would have been the perfect assistant for this gargantuan task. It’s not as though I didn’t have the opportunity to request his assistance. In fact, as the elevator doors had opened to take me from Mr. Forebald’s floor and return to the one in which I find myself most comfortable, who had I been lucky enough to find but Hiro himself. Obviously, he had been waiting for me, seeking to determine the purpose for my being called to the Twenty-third floor to meet with management.
He had held a cautious appearance at my arrival, which immediately morphed into one of intense apprehension as he noticed my own composure.
“Didn’t go well, huh?” Hiro had asked. Hiro is tall, lanky, and completely awkward, but somehow he is able to utilize all of these character descriptions, which many would consider faults, into a certain sense of charm. In fact, although he’s an amazingly ungainly individual, he also happens to be the most extroverted laboratory technician of the lot of us.
I really like Hiro. He has always managed to assist me in escaping my interpersonal shell when I would much rather be located deep inside, perhaps reading an unfamiliar equipment manual, as opposed to developing small talk for use with unknown people.
It is thanks to him that my response to his question was a simple pointing of a singular phalanx toward my temple and a cocking of the thumb before firing it forward.
“Damn,” Hiro had frowned as he pressed the button for the fourteenth floor. “So, what does that mean for darts tonight?”
“I couldn’t possibly have any opportunity for engaging in social activities with you this evening, Hiro. Mr. Forebald has tasked me with the impossible project of completely revising the—“
“Sheesh, Walt, buddy. Cool it with the over-explanation. A simple no would suffice, you know?”
“So, you’ve gotta rewrite the paper? That’s lame.”
“Super-lame,” I had said. I have long feared the usage of vernacular, simply due to how graceless it feels as it falls from my lips. However, Hiro insists upon it, so I attempt to emulate his speech patterns whenever I am discussing with him, as I know he will not reply with laughter, but with advice, should my attempts at utilizing it go awry.
“So, what was the problem? Did he catch the joke I hid within the chemical equation for our beta blocker solution?”
Even in my terrible mood, I was unable to keep from laughing at the idea.
“What? Was it that? Because if it is, I can definitely rework the equation in a matter of minutes. I have the real one just down at my desk actually. I’ve felt terrible about the whole thing—“
“It’s not that, Hiro. He merely suggested that I may have overcomplicated the explanation of our product and requested I redevelop the document to meet something of a less-scientifically-minded audience’s requirements.”
“So, not nerds, huh?”
“Okay, well, that kinda sucks, but it’s not that hard to do, is it? I mean, if you want, I can help you with it and we can get it knocked out in an hour or two.”
“I couldn’t possibly expect you to relinquish your evening for me, Hiro. If I’m not mistaken, tonight is the night when you had intended to seek out that bartender you have been harboring feelings toward. I don’t believe I—“
“Dude, I can do that any night. I mean, we only see her like every other day now.”
“Don’t fret yourself regarding my current situation,” I had replied as the elevator doors opened to the fourteenth floor, where the R&D labs reside. “I’ll put in place the requisite corrections and make my way out into the world and on the search for you before you’re even aware of my absence.”
“Alright, pal. But just so you know, I speak the language of the people. Might help to have someone like me around, you know, being bilingual and all that.”
“I’ll contact you via text message if your knowledge of the vernacular could become of any use to me.”
“Perfect,” Hiro had smiled as the elevator doors closed between us.
In retrospect, the decision to reject Hiro’s offer of assistance could have been an even worse decision than the one to not attempt to disappear from the building prematurely. He is the obvious choice in someone who would be able to clear up my language. He can be rather difficult to work with on tedious tasks such as this, especially with a decreased timeline and an opportunity for social interaction at the ready; however, he is also the only person I know who could possibly understand the inner workings of a man like Forebald. At the time of Hiro’s heroic offering of assistance, I could only envision him standing over my shoulders, hopping in his eagerness to depart the building. Now, all I can think about is how stupid I had been.
The entire fate of the lab hinges on this assignment and for the first time in my life, I had decided to allow my confidence to take over and suggest that I required no assistance in completing the task.
I glance down at the second page and note the six question marks surrounding the word hippocampus.
I’m going to get fired. Hiro’s going to be fired. My entire department is going to get fired. Simply because I couldn’t ask for help.
Perhaps he’d still be willing to help. Two hours is more than enough time for someone like Hiro to make this legible for a kindergartner. Of course, at this hour, he’s either nursing a nasty hangover or that bartender he had been hoping to take home.
I place the papers on my desk in frustration, causing the screen to light up due to the movement of the computer’s mouse. A loud sigh escapes my lips, which, under normal circumstances, would have brought Hiro over immediately in order to provide some sort of comic relief.
However, there’s no one else here. There hasn’t been anyone for hours. It’s four a.m. on a Thursday. No one in their right mind would be here at this hour. Unless, of course, they had been tasked with crafting the salvation for this entire department.
I lean back in my chair and pull the papers toward me, looking more directly at the information held within. The first item I notice is how they have been placed out of order. I rearrange the fifteen pages to their proper pagination and peruse the opening for the first of the plethora of notes from Mr. Forebald. It doesn’t take long, as he had already found reason to produce marks to the page by the very first words I had submitted. A line of red struck all the way through the title of my paper with what I’m fairly certain are the words “What the hell?!?!!!!” written beside it. Those words themselves are underlined countless times.
“Seems like as good of a place as any to start,” I say out loud to myself, feeling my heart palpitate at the very idea of beginning this all again.
When I had been at this moment ten hours ago, I hadn’t seen my situation as being quite so dire as I do right now. I had certainly felt the immense pressure regarding my completion of these rectifications. Yet, Mr. Forebald had managed to give me something of an amazing challenge. A puzzle. One that would require an inordinate amount of brainpower to overcome. Here I was, a man whose vocabulary knew no bounds, needing to develop boundaries for the words which wished to escape the confines of my vast intellectual prowess.
A dime’s worth of hours later and my eagerness to solve this puzzling dilemma is much less available.
No time to consider the past any longer. I must focus on the task at hand, keep to the moment. Although not a single word is changed from the ones I began with, the expectations are still the same. As well as the possible outcome, should I fail in my task.
I crack my fingers and set myself back to work. Perhaps I simply need to think about all of this in a completely different manner. The first few times I approached the work, I had utilized the idea of cutting and trimming out some of the more explanatory pieces that could be considered superfluous. Perhaps what was truly needed was a translation. The current title is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors to be Used in Conjunction with Benzodiazepines.
To be completely honest, I’m not quite certain how this title could be any further concise. Obviously, this is the basic premise of the medication we have been developing, to utilize a long term solution with a short term one. Perhaps his question here was whether or not I would be able to make this title punchier, to give it some of that pizazz which Hiro always speaks of? I’m not entirely certain how many buzzwords apply to SSRIs. Even if there were, would I really wish to dilute the subject matter of my publication purely for sensationalism?
And what if this wasn’t the purpose behind Mr. Forebald’s decision to highlight my thesis statement and include his ever-so-descriptive question of what it was? I could put effort into this momentous definition of what my paper was to express only to find that it wasn’t what he wished to have me correct. And if I were to go about my corrections following an entirely inappropriate line of thinking, it could cause even further backlash, and even further danger for my division.
Perhaps I should have directed myself back to his office the first time I had reviewed these notes and requested further explanation of what precisely he was looking for when he placed these pieces of paper within my hands.
After pondering that possible course of action for several moments, I’m reminded of how he had responded to my initial requests for clarification. It would have appeared that Mr. Forebald is not a man who feels the need to explain himself. Or express himself without a great deal of aggression.
Perhaps he could make use of some of our Benzodiazepines.
I finally make the decision to include both possible interpretations of his question in my rewriting of the heading. How a Long-Term Solution and a Short-Term Solution can be Used to Create a Full Solution. It takes me over ten minutes to get to this version of my title, finding it difficult to allow myself to keep from using a direct reference to either type of medication we began our research with.
I stare at the screen and suddenly become aware of one final issue. The word solution is well above what I assume is Mr. Forebald’s five character limit on words. I search my mental thesaurus for possible synonymous alternatives: Answer, Resolution, and even Panacea, but all seem to be too far and away from what Mr. Forebald would be willing to accept.
How we Can Fix a Big Thing with Two Things.
The most atrocious sentence I have ever written, or even considered writing. But there it is, on the page, for me to place all of the work I had performed these past few months beneath.
I feel tears well up within the corners of my eyes. I can’t do this. There is no possible way I could be able to perform the necessary corrections to meet my manager’s needs. Mr. Forebald wishes for me to do the impossible, to make a publication which required the use of severely long and technical terms, into something that a child could comprehend.
That entity rises within me again. I feel a fog roll in across my mind, a part of myself shutting off against me.
Perhaps this wasn’t the most important thing I have ever completed, but it’s good. I’m proud of it. And this charlatan wishes for me to murder it through the extreme slaughter of word, grammar, precision of language, and, most painful of all, simplicity.
Chemical engineering is not simple, it’s perfection, yet this bear of a man wishes to make it into something just anyone could approach as though they were experts. I recognize the situation in that we are operating on an ever-decreasing budget, but to think that I could ever compromise my own integrity, merely to provide something to the stock holders which they can glom onto with their idiotic minds, well, that’s purely…
It could never work. We’re all doomed! Even within my standard conversations, I don’t believe I could limit myself to such a small number of characters to a given locution. Expression is nothing without precision, and precision simply cannot exist without utilizing the appropriate vocables. To put it in terms Mr. Forebald could understand: I simply do not possess the talents to complete this goal.
That could possibly be a bit too convoluted of a sentence for his sentiments.
Perhaps, instead, it would make more sense for me to state it like this: This stuff was too hard for me to do.
I suddenly become aware that I’ve gone through this all before. Several times. In my absolute terror of performing poorly in my given task, I’ve managed to cycle through the same madness time and again, wasting hours of my life for, what?
Back to work.
First sentence. The one in which I managed to, what I would claim to be rather concisely, state the basic thesis behind all of our work, the concept that directed us forward from the first moment we were developed into a research faction and led our every thought as we considered our development of our miracle cure.
I only make it halfway through the reading of that first sentence before I completely break down into tears. I push myself away from my desk, allowing my movable seating apparatus to come to a quick stop on the textured floor beneath me before I stand in a fit of rage and begin pacing.
“This is impossible!” I shout into the empty room. I hear my voice echo through the white halls and cubicles that are my current surroundings. The white noise machine had been turned off hours ago, causing this floor to feel even emptier than it usually would.
For the record, I would like to state that the sound which is produced by such appliances is not actually white noise, but pink, or, I suppose there are several other colors of the sound spectrum it could be, but definitely not white.
However, I digress.
I am now nothing less than completely frozen with trepidation revolving around the possible outcomes of this evening’s production, or lack thereof, before I finally become aware that I have been staring at the screen for almost another hour. I now have less than thirty minutes before Mr. Forebald will be expecting a completed work and I have nothing more than a terrible correction to the title of the document. A correction which I have already modified back to its original form several times.
Perhaps I could simply cram together a few sentences that would give the basic understanding of the magic we had performed up here on the 14th floor, thereby risking not only my integrity, but also my job when the stockholders receive a R&D document which feels as though it were written by a twelve-year-old.
Who am I kidding? I would require at least another twelve hours to complete such a document. And a team of scientists. If I could perform a duty as that, I would have been outside this building hours ago enjoying a series of recreational activities with my favorite acquaintances.
Of course, there is the consideration that the only person in any true danger here is myself. Surely, the men that Mr. Forebald is intending to present this document to have seen similar works in the past, as I have submitted many over the time of my employment. The only new variable within this equation is Mr. Forebald himself.
He would not be happy, should I present him with the same precise documents he had given me to destroy, but I believe in the work I had done, and I’m certain any other person within the pharmaceutical industry worth their position would recognize it as well, meaning, the R&D division should be safe, especially considering how important it is toward the continued growth of our company.
It is I who would face the chopping block.
God, how I wish I did not need to consider the needs of the many here. An apartment is just about to open up on the north side of town which I had been hoping to place a deposit on. This idea could not possibly be within my best interests should my occupation be on the line.
However, the path is obvious, even if it is the path of most personal disaster.
I click upon the print button on my screen in order to get a new version of precisely the same document which had been returned to me on the previous evening.
Trepidatiously, I make my way toward the elevator after retrieving my stack of papers from the printer, placing a clip on them as the doors open and I press the button for the 23rd floor.
I feel my heart pound in my chest as the elevator ascends. The papers in my hands quiver at my own trembling. Although I know this is the appropriate decision, it is not any easier to place a nail within the lid of my own coffin. I might as well be tendering my resignation with this act. But I must face the fear, or risk everything.
The elevator doors open again and I am greeted with a very different sight than what I had expected.
Blood covers the walls and desks. And as the centerpiece of the display I see the same man I had spent my sleepless night fearing, strung up upon the whiteboard on the far wall, his chest cavity opened and the innards pulled out into a neat pile on the desk below him.
My jaw falls in terror as the doors again close due to my inactivity.
A voice appears within the constraints of my mind. A cackling voice. One that seems pleased. One that seems satisfied. A heavy burden suddenly feels lifted off my shoulders.
Yet, I cannot help but consider that today might be a perfect one to phone in ill.