Johnson hated going to the thirteenth floor.
Firstly, what kind of company buys a building with a thirteenth floor? Secondly. Ugh. Just… ugh. He punched the button in the elevator and felt the same dread that always overcame him when he had to go to ADS.
The sign in the downstairs lobby read “Product Development” but internally everyone knew the department was ADS: Augury & Data Science. The “and” was silent in the acronym, but its presence in the department philosophy was inescapable.
Whenever The Brand needed a new idea it consulted both. It combined both, presuming that any idea condoned by both ancient mysticism and innovative computer methods must be perfect.
So far it had paid off in a way no human mind could have conceived. The Brand owned more fast food restaurant chains and subsidiary brands than anyone imagined. Cheezios in your tacos? Dorritibites in your pizza? ADS predicted what desperately cheesy carb-laden internal nihilism would be required in the coming season.
Although the workers at your local Taco Drum or Pizza Hutch had no idea, everyone at the Brand corporate office knew this came at a terrible cost. They’d created a rift in space and time. Some said it was an accident while others said it was by design to gain market share. Whatever the impetus, multiple universes were feeling the ripples of combining these disgusting treats in ways that were never meant to be.
Realities everywhere paid the price of this horrible machine. Every time the Augury division fought behind the scenes with the Data Science department and issued a passive aggressive memo that led to a great idea, the whole of existence suffered. When a product was actually put into general circulation? Stars collapsed and galaxies caved in on themselves.
Johnson wondered if there was a version of reality so twisted and bizarre it was incomprehensible. If they discovered that the destruction of their way of life was in service of the Fiesta Carbonara Taco Pasta Bowl (Limited Time Only), would they be disgusted? Horrified? Or as equally apathetic and forlorn as his own dimension?
As the elevator doors opened, Johnson felt the gust of wind in his face, tainted by the combination of finny snake filet, chicken entrails, La Croix, and MIT Comp Sci smugness particular to the thirteenth floor.
He looked to the left and saw the whiteboard placed on an easel beside the Augury division door. “Caprese” was scrawled in small, spidery script.
He looked to the right and saw an identical easel with an identical whiteboard. “Calamari” was posted in bold, red print.
As Johnson walked back to the elevator to return to the marketing department, he focused on the elevator door and not the swirling, ominous purple cloud expanding in the elevator lobby behind him, completely ignoring the tentacle that began to emerge. ADS would sort it out for themselves, he was certain.
He didn’t turn again until the elevator doors were safely shut behind him.