Taylor Hebert, Medhall Intern

Part One: Introduction


1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.

2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.

3) I will accept any legitimate criticism of my work. However, I reserve the right to ignore anyone who says "That's wrong" without showing how it is wrong, and suggesting how it can be made right. Posting negative reviews from an anonymous account is a good way to have said reviews deleted.

[A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

The elevator ride seemed to take forever. Or maybe that was just because I was sharing it with Greg Veder. I mean, I didn't dislike Greg, but there wasn't much I liked about him, either. He didn't join in on the bullying, I guess. Though it didn't help when he was so clueless that he accidentally helped them out. At least, I chose to think it was by accident, because otherwise he was a better actor than anyone I'd ever seen before.

I eyed the numbers as they crawled upward, and nervously straightened my skirt. It was a denim number that went to below my knees, because it was the only skirt I owned, and I didn't want to show up at my first day of work experience slash internship looking like a typical teenage girl. It wasn't that I had any particular yearning to get a job at Medhall, but I really, really wanted this work experience gig to go on for just as long as I could stretch it out. Three half-days a week away from Winslow and the three girls who spent all their time making my life a slice of hell? I'd have to be insane to want to screw that up.

Of course, that was the problem with Greg. He was good at screwing things up for me, and nobody ever gave me a do-over. I'd been cautiously optimistic about my chances of remaining at work experience for the entire period until Christmas, right up until I'd heard that he was doing it with me. Now, I gave myself a week, tops, before he managed to screw this up, too.

"So hey," he said almost breathlessly, even though neither one of us had been talking up until then. "Did you hear the latest about Shadow Stalker?" The tone of his voice suggested that he was the only one who knew the news, and that it had potentially world-shaking consequences. I had my doubts on both points.

"Let me guess," I said sarcastically. "She captured Lung and Kaiser on the same night, and she's being inducted into the PRT Hall of Fame?" Shadow Stalker wasn't someone I held a lot of admiration for. She was a teenage vigilante whose exploits showed up sometimes in the papers, usually with the notation 'badly beaten' or 'crossbow arrow' attached. Not exactly someone I saw as a role model. Now, if she could come to Winslow and clean the place out a little, I could get behind that. Maybe dangle Sophia Hess out of a third-floor window by her ankles for a little bit.

Well, I could dream.

His expression was startled. "No! Where'd you hear that?" Before I could tell him I was joking, he went on. "No, I found out from PHO this morning that she's joining the Wards. She's always been pretty kickass. Now she'll be even cooler, with the tech the PRT can give her."

I shrugged. "I guess. Wonder how she'll get along with the others?" Shadow Stalker had been on her own for some time, while the Wards were by all reports a close-knit team. I hadn't seen any news stories about her teaming up with them which might've led to this development. Then again, I was pretty sure there was stuff going on behind the scenes that I was never going to learn about.

To my everlasting relief, just as Greg opened his mouth to reply, the elevator doors dinged and slid open. I stepped out of the elevator, clutching my shoulder-bag close to my ribs, and looked around to see who I should be reporting to. Greg hurried after me, somehow managing to look dishevelled in his freshly ironed shirt and slacks (I made a bet with myself that he hadn't done the ironing) and semi-neatly combed hair. I guessed it was just his general air of uncoordination.

"Miss Hebert, Mr Veder." The voice was female and filled with authority. "You're late. I was expecting you ten minutes ago."

Oh crap oh crap. I refrained from checking my watch as I turned toward the person who had addressed us. She was in her forties, wearing a severe business suit and an even more severe expression. Black hair was pulled back over her scalp and bundled into a bun that bullets would probably bounce off of. She was also carrying two manila folders. "Uh, ma'am, I'm sorry. From the clock in the lobby I thought we could get here with time to spare—"

She countered my apology with a sniff that brought me up short. "Here at Medhall, we are on site and ready to start, at fifteen minutes before time. You would do well to remember that." Stepping forward, she stopped before us and subjected us to a glare that should by rights have seared us down to the bone. Her expression of disdain never wavered; in fact, I was pretty sure that it had intensified. "Understand this. The internship program is contingent on a tax break for Medhall. This is the only reason you are here. Moreover, it's not a large tax break, so if we decide that either or both of you are more trouble than you're worth, then we'll write it off. And you with it."

Beside me, I heard Greg gulp audibly. Either I was made of stronger stuff than him or I was just plain used to being looked down on, because her scathing words didn't really bother me. It wasn't as if it was personal. She probably loathed us because we were interns, not because she knew us. It was almost comforting.

She leaned slightly closer, making me think of drill sergeants in war movies. I had no doubt that she'd have recruits wetting their pants in less than ten seconds. "Do you understand what I just said, or do I have to repeat myself?" Her tone made it abundantly clear that making her repeat herself was a very bad idea.

"Ma'am, I understand what you said," I replied quickly, restraining myself from trying to go to attention, because I had no idea how that was really done, and she'd probably think I was making fun of her. Or she'd critique my attempt, which would probably be worse. I didn't even try to include Greg in my statement; let him sink or swim on his own. Heartless that may sound, but only to anyone who'd never tried to do a class project requiring his input to succeed.

Beside me, Greg made a strangled noise that she obviously chose to interpret as agreement with what I'd said. The decision was a lucky one for him; if she'd let his brain get into gear, the gear of choice would be Reverse. I'd heard him speak when he was relaxed and in familiar surroundings, and that was bad enough. God only knew what idiocy his malfunctioning brain-mouth filter would let through under these circumstances.

"Good." Her forbidding demeanour relaxed ever so slightly. Now she only looked as though she beat up muggers for light exercise, as opposed to terrifying them into submission by sheer force of will. "My name is Ms Harcourt. You will call me Ms Harcourt or ma'am. I will be your supervisor. You will come to me for instruction. You will not speak to any of the executives in this building." She held out the two folders. "These are your induction folders. You will read through the material in them, fill out your details where necessary, and initial each page after reading to confirm that you have understood the material." She pointed at an open door; there was a table visible inside. "You will do your reading in that interview room. Once you have completed your induction, you will report to me. My office is that one over there." She pointed at a closed door with HARCOURT embossed on it. "Is there any part of this that you do not understand?"

"No, ma'am," I said crisply. I was starting to get the hang of this place, I hoped. Turning, I headed for the interview room.

"Miss Hebert!" Her voice cracked across the room like a whip. I froze, mid-step. Oh, crap. I didn't asked to be dismissed, or something. Well, there went my work experience and with it, my reprieve from Winslow.

Slowly, I put my foot down and turned back toward Ms Harcourt. "Yes, ma'am?" Whatever she said, I was going to put a brave face on it. Even if she said I was being fired from my job of unpaid menial labour.

"You forgot to ask me for a pen," she snapped. "You'll need one for your induction papers." From a hidden pocket—she certainly didn't carry them in public—she produced two retractable ballpoints.

"I don't need one, ma'am," I said, trying not to sound smug. "I brought my own." Greatly daring, I patted my shoulder-bag. From the hangdog look on Greg's face, it seemed that I was in a minority of one; sheepishly, he reached out and took one of the pens and mumbled something that might have been thanks.

"Hmm." She narrowed her eyes, possibly trying to figure out what else I had up my sleeve. I tried to look helpful and intelligent and prepared. "You think ahead. Good." For all that the praise was grudging, it sounded genuine. "Commence." Turning, she strode toward her office.

After a moment, I had to remind myself to breathe. I wasn't being kicked off work experience! And my new boss had said something nice! As I turned toward the interview room, I let myself feel something I hadn't experienced in some time; hope.

This might actually work.

The interview room contained several chairs and a water cooler in the corner. I pulled out a chair, sat down, and opened my folder. My bag went on another chair beside me, and I began to rummage through it for the zippered pencil case. As I found it, I heard a trickling noise. I looked up to see Greg at the water cooler, running himself a cup.

"Greg!" I hissed. "What are you doing? Didn't you hear Ms Harcourt? We're supposed to be getting these pages filled out and initialled, not goofing off!" Unzipping the case, I picked out a pen I knew to be reliable.

"Oh, relax, Taylor," he said, sitting on one chair, then half-turning it so he could put his feet up on another one. "We can take our time at this. She just wanted us out of her hair. I bet she's like Blackwell, all shouty when we're in front of her, doesn't give a crap when she can't see us." He leaned back in his chair and took a slow sip from his cup. "I interned for my uncle's firm last summer. Trust me, I've got this crap nailed."

He sounded very sure of himself, but I wasn't so certain. "What if she comes and checks on us? I mean, she just told us to fill out these papers and get back to her."

"What, she's gonna come over here from her office just to make sure we're doing it as fast as we can?" He took another drink from his cup. "I doubt it. Anyway, I can see her office door from here. You worry too much."

Something caught my eye, and I looked up into the corner of the room behind Greg. A clear glass dome held a security camera, with a glowing red light next to the lens. It moved very slightly, angling down toward Greg. My eyes widened and I opened my mouth to say something, but before I could, the camera waggled from side to side in an unmistakeable motion.

A lot of things became clear to me. We were under observation, and I'd probably passed some sort of test for noticing. But whoever was on the other end of the camera didn't want me telling Greg about it. If it wasn't Ms Harcourt, I would've bet every dollar I owned that she knew about it. The next question was simple: did I risk my internship by sticking with Greg and giving him the heads-up, or did I do what I was told? The answer was depressingly easy to arrive at; I kept my mouth shut and started to fill out the first page. I'd come to Medhall to do work experience. If Greg wanted to goof off, that was his look-out. I wasn't getting in trouble for him.

"Hey, do you play Space Opera?" he asked as he poured himself another cup of water. "It's an online space game, where you can—"

"No," I said briefly. "We've only got dialup at home. And I don't have time to play games like that." Or the inclination, I added silently. "You really should be filling out your form." Focusing back on the paper, I returned to filling out my details. Wonder of wonders, my curt tone must have gotten the message across, because he shut up then and drank his water. Or maybe he was just thirsty.

I was about halfway through my paperwork, learning about the safety regulations as they applied to mere interns, when Greg finally deigned to start looking through his folder. He muttered and mumbled as he filled out the personal-details sheet, causing me to grit my teeth. I knew from experience that pointed glances wouldn't work, and I suspected that Ms Harcourt would object if I hit him with one of the chairs—if only for the sake of the chair—so I ignored him and carried on.

It took me another ten minutes to finish, while Greg seemed to think that filling out his details was enough work for the time being, given that he settled back in his chair and put his feet up again. At least he wasn't muttering to himself any more, which I considered to be a bonus. I kept on reading, studying each sheet in turn. When I figured I understood the contents of each, I initialled it and turned to the next one.

I had to hand it to Ms Harcourt; the induction folders were comprehensive. Not only were there ample safety regulations, but I had floor plans to study so that I knew where the bathrooms were (among other things), and also a list of the executives along with photos so that if one happened to address me, I knew who it was. Topping the list, of course, was Max Anders, CEO of Medhall and someone with whom I was entirely unlikely to interact.

I was on the second to last page (a list of the parahuman villains of Brockton Bay, and the required procedure for responding to an attack by each one. The procedure for a depressingly large number of these was 'run and hide') when a rustling sound caught my ear. Looking up, I saw Greg was simply flicking through the sheets and scribbling his initials as fast as he could. Unless he'd acquired a page-at-a-glance speed-reading ability in the last hour, he certainly wasn't taking any of the material in.

"Greg, you're really supposed to read those before initialling them," I muttered, trying to get my exasperation across without raising my voice. "Those are important safety regulations you just skipped straight past."

"Wow, relax, Taylor," he said confidently. "I told you, I've done this before. Nobody ever expects you to actually learn anything from an induction. If there's an emergency, they'll tell us what to do. I mean, seriously. We're just kids. Nobody expects us to actually be responsible." He tapped the stack of papers with his pen. "This here's just for insurance purposes."

I'd been warned not to tell him about the camera, and I'd tried to warn him without telling him about it. If he didn't want to listen, that was no skin off my nose. So I initialled the page and turned to the last one, which was basically a document requiring me to assert that I'd read and understood the rest of the induction package before I signed it. I ticked the box that said 'YES', then signed. With a sigh, I closed the folder and stood, bending backward to work the kinks out of my spine. Greg went back to skimming the induction papers, dashing off his initials as fast as he could turn the pages.

It would, I decided, be very irritating if he turned out to be correct.

Greg completed the last page of his induction folder at just about the same time that I finished putting my pencil-case back in my shoulder-bag. "There, see?" he said smugly, bouncing to his feet. "One-tenth the effort, and I got it done in the same time you did."

I refrained from carrying out the impulse to dope-slap him and point out the camera. Months of bullying had honed my situational awareness (or so I liked to think), but he was still as clueless as when he'd walked into the room. "Let's just get this over with," I said as I slung the strap over my shoulder.

Picking up the completed folder, I left the interview room and made my way across to Ms Harcourt's office, with Greg sauntering beside me. He was gracious enough to let me get to the door first, or maybe he'd realised that I was perfectly willing to elbow him in the throat if he jumped in front of me. Raising my free hand, I knocked on the door.

It opened almost immediately, confirming my supposition that Ms Harcourt had been watching the video feed. "You've finished already?" she asked, her brow creasing heavily in suspicion. "That didn't take long."

Doing my best not to grit my teeth at Greg's almost palpable air of told-ya-so, I offered her my folder. "I've read every page through carefully, ma'am. If you believe I need to study it more, I will."

"Hrm." Without taking it, she turned her attention to Greg. "And you? Have you read your induction paperwork through carefully?"

Anyone but Greg (and I meant that literally. Anyone.) would've spotted the bear-trap lurking in the undergrowth. But he just stomped right ahead without a care in the world. "Sure did, Ms Harcourt. It's all right here."

As he offered his folder with a flourish, I cringed inwardly. On a scale of one to ten for 'ominous foreshadowing', Ms Harcourt's question hit about eleven and a half. If my instincts were correct, a ton of shit was just about to land on the back of Greg's neck. I just hoped that I wouldn't be caught in the splash radius.

"Very good," she said with a contortion of her face I belatedly realised was supposed to be a smile. "Come on in. There are just a few things left to do."

My brain registered her words, but refused to process them. He's going to get away with goofing off like that? Oh, that's just not fair. Doing my best to ignore the smug look he gave me behind her back—because the alternative was grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and bashing his face into the doorframe—I followed her into the office.

Things just didn't add up. The camera, the leading question … I didn't get it. The moment Greg opened his mouth and lied to her face, Ms Harcourt should've been all over it like a school of piranha. Or maybe a great white shark. But she'd accepted his words at face value. This internship suddenly began to look sucky all over again; not because Greg would get me 'fired' but because he'd be breezing his way through it while I didn't dare not do everything by the book.

"Mr Veder. Miss Hebert. I have one more thing for you to do." Ms Harcourt's clipped voice brought me back to the present. She was standing next to a large metal trash-can beside her desk. From where I was, I could see that it was mostly full of papers. The thought Wow, she uses a lot of paper in one day clashed with the secondary thought Right, so we've got to empty that. Yay.

She turned toward us and I registered two things. The first was a faint smell of lighter fluid. The second was a lit match in her hand. My eyes opened wide as she tossed the match. It described a perfect parabolic arc into the centre of the trash can.

I hadn't been imagining the lighter fluid. The instant that match touched down, everything caught. Within a couple of seconds, the trash can was alight from side to side, flames leaping a yard into the air.

"Fire!" yelped Greg. "Fire! Fire!" With an admirable turn of speed, he bolted from the office, leaving his induction folder flopping to the ground and spilling paper everywhere. "Let me outta here!"

I was also halfway out the door, but not to seek refuge. Fixed in my mind was one of the pages I had carefully studied. Entitled 'Fire Safety', it had clearly shown the fire exits, the WIP phones (I had no idea what the acronym stood for), the locations for the manual fire alarms … and the fire extinguisher closets.

The closest of these was only a few steps away. I reached it and dropped my shoulder-bag and folder to the floor before wrenching the door open. Within hung a large red fire extinguisher. I couldn't recall what the green triangle meant, but they had to have anticipated paper fires when they equipped the closet. With a grunt, I took up the extinguisher—it was heavy!—and lugged it back to the office.

By the time I got there, Greg had run straight past the clearly marked fire exit door not once but twice, and was pulling open random office doors, apparently in the hope that the fire exit might be concealed in one of those. I put him out of my mind, having more important matters to deal with.

Ms Harcourt was standing in the office doorway with an electronic device in her hand. Her thumb was hovering over a large red button when I edged past her. Inverting the extinguisher—I'd read somewhere that you had to do that—I pulled the pin, awkwardly aimed the nozzle at the roaring blaze, and squeezed the trigger.

With a blaring hiss, it blasted white powder over everything. Some settled on my glasses, but I had no hands free to wipe them clear. I just kept moving forward until I was firing the stuff into the trash can itself. Smoke and ash billowed up, making me cough, but I didn't let up until the extinguisher ran dry.

I stopped to catch my breath and take stock of the situation. The fire was definitely out. I'd plastered that entire side of the office with white powder, and gotten more than a little of it on myself. Smoke filled the office, forcing me to stumble back to the door, then a few steps beyond, to get a breath of clean air.

"Well done." Ms Harcourt loomed up beside me, even as men wearing high-vis gear and breathing apparatus ran into her office. "You can put it down now." She held my folder and shoulder-bag.

I blinked, then realised she meant the extinguisher, which I was still clutching like a protective talisman. It felt quite a bit lighter now, probably because I'd emptied it all out on her test. Releasing the cylinder, I let it swing by my hand for a moment then dropped it to the carpet with a dull thud. The last of the smoke scratched at my throat and I coughed. "I'd speak to maintenance if I were you, ma'am," I said. "There's a fire sensor and a sprinkler head in your office, and they both failed to go off." I knew why, of course. She'd probably had them both disabled for this test. But in order to pass the test, I couldn't act as though I knew it was a test. In fact, even though there was smoke spreading across the ceiling, none of the fire sensors were going off.

"Quite," she replied, sounding almost amused. I was pretty sure she knew that I was playing along. "I'm going to need you to visit the infirmary, to ensure that you're suffering no ill effects from smoke inhalation, before we go on."

"Sorry about the mess I made of your office," I said instinctively. I knew which floor the infirmary was on, of course. It was going to be a pain getting rid of all the powder.

"Oh, that's not my office," she said as she led the way to the elevator. "We maintain a dummy office area, which we use for training situations such as this. Our in-house emergency crews need to be kept on their toes, after all."

As well as your interns, it seems. But I didn't say a word as we stepped into the elevator.

I lay back on a bed with my shoes off and an oxygen mask on my face. Air that was slightly cooler and drier than I was used to breathing wreathed its way into my lungs. I felt a little light-headed, but that was probably due to the fact that I was breathing almost pure oxygen. When I'd first put it on, the doctor had encouraged me to inhale as deeply as I could, which had started a coughing spasm. This had passed quickly, though. Now I was just lying back and enjoying life.

"How do you feel?" The doctor came over to stand by my bed. I gave him a thumbs-up. He offered me a professional smile; I vaguely wondered how many people he'd seen high on oxygen. The idea made me want to giggle.

There was one of those clothes-peg thingies on my finger. The doctor checked a readout on the monitor next to me, then unclipped it. "Blood oxygen nominal. Pulse strong." Leaning over me, he examined my eyes. "Look up. Look down. Look left. Look right." He made a notation on the clipboard. "The redness is going away nicely."

"Thank you, doctor. You can go now." Ms Harcourt stepped up alongside him. For a grown woman, she could move very quietly. She looked down at me, and a small frown appeared on her brow. "You surprised me, you know. I expected you to show Mr Veder the fire exit and to seek safety, but you went above and beyond. Why didn't you just pull the fire alarm and leave?"

Reaching up, I took the oxygen mask off. Breathing the purest air I would probably experience ever had given me a level of mental clarity I was unused to. "Because the fire extinguisher was closer," I said. "Do you do this with all your interns?" Inwardly, I winced. Apparently, increased clarity came with reduced judgement as to what I was about to say.

Her lips compressed slightly, though I didn't know whether it was due to what I'd said or something else. "Given that you're the first two interns we've taken on in some years, the answer would be 'yes'. Do you feel fit to start work?"

"I suppose so." I pushed myself to a seated position and swung my legs off of the bed. My head didn't spin, so I slid off the bed and landed on my feet. I nodded at Ms Harcourt. "I feel all right, though I'm going to have to look up the contract Dad signed for me to come in here. Because when he finds out what happened, he's gonna get very unhappy, very quickly. Just saying."

She tilted her head to one side. "Mr Veder is saying much the same, though in somewhat stronger language. The word 'lawsuit' keeps cropping up. But you aren't saying it. You don't even seem particularly put out. Why is that?"

"Part of it's the oxygen high, I think. I knew that I wasn't in any real danger. And I'm reasonably certain a big-name company like Medhall wouldn't pull a stunt like that unless you had every safety precaution in place and your lawyers had all their bases covered." I shrugged. "Which is why I want to see the contract and figure out how you worded it." I found a chair and sat in it to pull my shoes on.

There was the other aspect, of course, but I managed not to talk about it. Being able to step up and fix a problem had felt exhilarating. It wasn't just firefighting, but solving problems in general. Is this how superheroes feel? I didn't know, but I liked it.

Also, I found I was willing to put up with quite a lot to keep my internship from going belly-up.

"Very well." Either I was getting used to Ms Harcourt's manner, or she was deliberately being less intimidating toward me. "Come with me, and matters will be explained."

"When my mom hears about this crap, she's gonna sue you guys into the bedrock! I'll probably end up with a controlling interest!"

I heard Greg's voice before I saw him. He sounded more agitated than I'd ever seen or heard him before. When I opened the door and entered the room, I was a little surprised by his appearance. I shouldn't have been; the ranting had given me plenty of warning.

His previously-combed hair was all standing on end, probably from running his hands through it. Somehow, his clothes had gone from 'neatly ironed' to 'salvaged from the bottom of the laundry hamper'. It must have been a boy thing.

I'd caught him in mid-pace alongside a table. On the other side of the table sat a woman in a business suit, with a briefcase on the table in front of her. He turned to face me. "Taylor!" he exclaimed. "You're all right!" Two paces toward me, he stopped. "You are all right, aren't you?"

"I'm fine," I said lightly. "How are you? You look … rumpled there."

"Oh, I'm great!" he said, his voice tinged with hysteria. "Couldn't be better! I come to do a nice easy internship, and on the first day I'm catapulted into a life-threatening situation, masquerading as training!" He stomped over toward Ms Harcourt. "You guys are so sued, I'm telling you that!"

"You will sit down, Mr Veder." Ms Harcourt didn't raise her voice, but she didn't have to. It wasn't so much a command as a prediction.

All of Greg's bluster and fire … vanished. Hastily, he drew out a chair and sat down in it. Before I needed to be asked, I also pulled out a chair and took a seat.

"Thank you, Miss Hebert." Ms Harcourt turned to the business-suited woman and nodded. The woman took the briefcase and snapped the latches open. She lifted the lid, took out a familiar-looking document, and slid it over to me. A moment later, a similar document was skated across the table to Greg. "Do you recognise these forms?"

I picked mine up and scanned it. "Yes, ma'am. It's the form my father signed to allow me to intern at Medhall."

Greg looked over his more carefully, then went back through, scrutinising each page as if suspecting forgery. Ms Harcourt let him go on like this for thirty seconds, then cleared her throat.

"Oh!" He jumped as if he'd been shot. "Yeah, this looks like what my mom signed. Doesn't get you off the hook, though. There's nothing in here that says we'd be exposed to life-threatening situations."

Ms Harcourt ignored the threat. "Clause twelve. It states that interns will undergo the same safety training as regular employees. Correct?"

"Well, yeah, but …"

I didn't say anything. Turning to clause twelve, I found a notation that referred me to Appendix G at the back of the form. I flicked back to Appendix G, which stated that regular employees agreed, by virtue of signing, to undergo 'regularly scheduled* emergency drills' including (but not limited to) simulated chemical spills, earthquake, supervillain attacks … and fires in the office space.

I almost skimmed over that asterisk, but then my eyes were drawn back to it. Frowning, I looked down toward the bottom of the page, and there it was.

* Including at most one (1) unscheduled surprise drill to be carried out once per employee per calendar year, at the discretion of Medhall upper management. Results of unscheduled surprise drills to be assessed as per any standard drill.

"But nothing, Greg," I said out loud. "They're covered. That was an unscheduled surprise drill, which we actually signed up for."

"What?" he yelped. "But … no!" Frantically, he paged through the form until he found clause twelve, then followed the same path I had to Appendix G. Finally, his eyes went to the bottom of the page. For a good thirty seconds, he sat there while his eyes flicked back and forth along that single paragraph, looking for a loophole.

"No, that's not right," he protested. "Taylor got smoke inhalation. I'm mentally scarred. We've suffered harm from your stupid surprise drill. We can still sue."

The woman with the briefcase lifted out a weighty tome and dropped it on the table; Greg jumped at the solid thump. The title read simply MEDHALL COMPANY POLICY.

"Part D, section three, subsection four-B," said Ms Harcourt. I had zero doubt that she was quoting verbatim. "Any Medhall employee, contractor, temporary employee or otherwise signatory to the Medhall Company Policy, having suffered injury or malady as a direct result of Medhall policy being enacted, will be compensated immediately and without contest, with the full cost of external medical treatment necessary to treat the injury or malady. A bonus sum of one thousand dollars will be paid out upon completion of treatment. Should the injury or malady be sufficiently treated in-house, or should there be no lasting effect upon the person of the signatory party, the sum of one thousand dollars is still payable."

I blinked, wishing I was still under the oxygen. My brain had worked so much faster then. "Does that mean … we get a thousand bucks?"

Ms Harcourt nodded once, curtly. "Each, yes."

The lady with the briefcase took her cue once more. Taking two thick envelopes from the briefcase, she slid one to each of us. I took mine up and opened the flap to determine that it definitely contained money. Not bothering to count it, I slid it into my shoulder-bag.

Greg was less restrained. Pulling the money out, he fanned it wide, then stuffed it back into the envelope and whistled. "Score!" Turning to face me, he winked elaborately, apparently trying to hide it from Ms Harcourt. I had no idea what the wink was supposed to signify, but Ms Harcourt was on the ball.

"Mr Veder," she said freezingly, "if you are considering launching a lawsuit anyway, be aware that your acceptance of the money specifically indicates that you consider there to be no lasting effects on you from the incident."

For a long moment, Greg blinked at her. " … what?"

"If you're gonna try to sue them anyway, Greg," I said impatiently, "you gotta give the money back. Keeping the money means you don't think there's anything wrong with you." Taking my envelope out of the shoulder-bag, I ran my thumb over the edges of the bills. "I know I'm keeping mine."

"But I'm a minor!" He looked from me to Ms Harcourt. "You can't hold me to any agreement like that!"

"Sure," I agreed. "You think your mom's gonna let you keep a thousand bucks you got paid under the table?" I smiled tightly at him. "Won't happen. Especially once she understands how the company policy is worded."

Now he looked betrayed. "You wouldn't tell her, would you?" Friends wouldn't do that to friends, he didn't quite say. Which was fortunate, because he probably would've been offended if I laughed in his face.

"I wouldn't have to," I said bluntly. Turning to Ms Harcourt, I went on. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't mean to interrupt."

She favoured me with a brief nod, then fixed Greg with a gimlet eye. "Miss Hebert is essentially correct. Attempting to keep the money and also launch a lawsuit will involve a countersuit for fraud. If you wish to be free to sue … return the money. Now." She held out her hand commandingly.

"But … my money!" Greg clutched at the envelope in a way that reminded me of a certain wizened little character in a fantasy movie. My precious …

It was quite possible that he'd never held so much money in his hands before; I certainly hadn't. And while the smoke inhalation hadn't been exactly pleasant, they'd certainly gone all-out to ensure my well-being after the fact. "Greg, for God's sake. If you really think you're going to sue them, leave the money. Otherwise, take it." I caught his eye and mouthed the words, You'll lose. Emma's dad had talked about how companies beat lawsuits like this; they just kept appealing until the little guy ran out of money. And Medhall had the resources to appeal until Doomsday rolled around.

Greg let out a pained sigh. This was apparently the signal that he'd given up on getting a controlling interest in the company, because he tucked the envelope in his pocket. "Okay, fine. You win."

I personally didn't think getting a thousand bucks in the hand exactly constituted 'losing', but then I wasn't Greg. Thank God. "So, um, Ms Harcourt, what happens now?"

"Now, Ms Hebert, I will assign you your positions." Ms Harcourt looked sternly at me. "You showed initiative, but you also ran into a room where there was a fire without any sort of protective equipment. I think I need to keep a close eye on you, so you will be working for my personal assistant for the duration of this internship."

I nodded meekly. "Yes, ma'am." If not actually nice, Ms Harcourt had basically been fair with me. If I kept on my toes, I figured I could handle this.

"And as for you, Mr Veder." She bent her gaze upon Greg, and her expression was considerably more disapproving. "You failed utterly to take note of anything in the induction folder, including the locations of the fire exits. Then you lied to me. Until you can prove to me that you're capable of anything resembling actual responsibility … you'll be assisting the janitors." Her frown deepened. "And I will be getting a daily report from them."

Greg stared at her, his jaw dropping open. If I had to venture a guess, this was not how his previous internship had gone. "Janitors?" he squeaked.

"Janitors," she confirmed. "And be aware: we like our bathrooms sparkling."

It seemed, after all, that Greg'd gotten one thing right.

He had this crap nailed.

Just not the way he wanted.

End of Part One