How to Push the Right Buttons
by Lighting Bird
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Literally.
This was only to be expected. She had heard the explosion a few minutes earlier, followed by alarms and the shouts of the KND fire crew. Given the factors involved, there could only be one explanation.
By the decibels his shout generated from across the atrium, she estimated she had about a minute before he made his way up here to the command center. Making full use of her time, she finished the field report from the team trying to take back the territory around Charles Darwin Middle School. It was brutal fighting, going block by block, but progress was being made and, better still, they were able to hold on to the territory they'd reclaimed.
She scrawled her signature at the bottom of the report and handed it off to one of her secretaries. That he was a walking, talking banana slug in a khaki scout suit did not faze her in the least. The survivors of the Camp Kidney Massacre were mostly still in shock, and Slinkman was among the first to try to make himself useful. She had seen weirder stuff hanging out with the Grim Reaper, and Earth's Forces weren't exactly typical. That was probably why they had more children than adults fighting this war - the kids could handle the weirdness while most adults freaked out over the notion of rampaging alien monsters made of green goo invading their town.
"File that, Slinkman. Send him right in and hold my calls."
She was already reading the next report when the door to her office slammed open with an overly dramatic flair that few people attempted and fewer had mastered. She didn't even look up until a greasy, burned, twisted, and essentially ruined piece of machinery was slapped down before her, right on top of Adam Lyon's very poorly punctuated report. Spared an otherwise lackluster account about nothing of the least importance (Lyon and Spidermonkey being very far from their top field operatives and neither capable of spelling), she finally deigned to look at her visitor.
His eyes were wide, his nostrils flared, and he grit his teeth with a fury that would have impressed anyone save her. Not regretting the report in the least, she folded her arms and dropped back in her chair, getting her first good look at him. With his red-orange hair askew, his lab coat singed and spotted here and there with traces of blood that had better be his own, purple gloves blackened by grease and soot, he reeked of smoke and was borderline berserk. It wasn't the first time he had stormed in like this and Mandy had no doubt it would not be the last. Usually, though, this level of passion was caused by outside forces, not his own errors (not that he admitted to many). Destruction in the name of science did not upset him. Destruction of his science projects was another matter all together.
She drew a deep breath, gave him her full attention, and asked, "What is it this time, Dexter?"
High strung, high maintenance, highly egotistical, arrogant, touchy, and possessed of a wicked temper to match, Dexter was without peer when it came to his sheer mechanical genius and his weapon systems had been the only thing that kept them from being overrun. His presence and contributions to their cause had allowed Mandy to turn the fight from defensive to offensive. He was the greatest threat to this alien invasion and the one most likely to thwart Fuse's plans - more so than Ben Tennyson or even Mandy herself. Being so well known to their enemy, Dexter had shifted a lot of pressure from Planet Fusion off of her shoulders, freeing her to conduct this campaign with fewer hindrances. All Mandy had to do was keep him safe and secure and since he was usually loath to leave his precious laboratory, he made her job easy. She had even managed to get into the field a few times to enjoy the thick of battle. For that alone she was almost grateful to him, and she was willing (to a point) to put up with a lot of Dexter's power trips in return for help in winning this war.
This, however, was yet another episode in the ongoing battle raging right here in headquarters, pitting brains against stupidity. So far it looked as if stupidity was winning, but Mandy knew it couldn't last. Not for much longer by the look in Dexter's eyes. If she didn't end this soon a certain someone was going to find himself incinerate or mashed to a pulp or mutated beyond repair . . . again.
Dexter pointed to the wrecked piece of machinery oozing oil onto her desk. "Do you know what this is?"
"One guess: it's ruined."
"Ex-act-ly!" he all but shouted. "Over two months of work ruined, Mandy! Get your idiot out of my laboratory! He is worse than my sister!"
Billy. Again. That was worth another deep breath. "What happened?"
"What happened?" Dexter echoed, building up a full head of steam. He gestured widely. "He broke into my laboratory and activated the experimental sub-atomic electromagnetic field destabilizing generator at the same time that I was doing a test run on the Multi-Formic Megabot X-P 4000 Bravo! Do you know what it means to activate sub-atomic machinery in the presence of neuroatomic machinery?"
His heavy Russian accent - for which there was no reasonable explanation for a boy from America's Midwest to possess - grew thicker at each word until none but the initiated could have understood what he was raving about. Fortunately, Mandy was among the initiated. The words she understood. The science behind them, however . . .
"No, but it sounds bad. In layman's terms, Dexter."
A purple-gloved fist hit her desk and he let out a sound midway between disgust and outright hatred. "The only reason Billy is alive right now is because I removed the lasers from the Megabot for testing and I didn't have anything to shoot him with! Your. Idiot. Blew. Up. My. Laboratory!"
"I gathered that. What did you say to him?"
He glared, and even Mandy, who fully intended to rule the planet some day as absolute dictator, had to admit it was an effective look. Unfortunately Billy was probably the only person on the planet stupider than Dexter's own sister, DeeDee, and for the most part he was immune to being glared at.
"Before or after I told him to unhand the Megabot's neo-neuroatomic proto core?"
She blinked, and then shook her head. "If I don't get what you're talking about, brainiac, how can you expect Billy to?"
That got him riled. He drew back, offended. "Did you just call me a half-wit?"
"No, I called you a brainiac, brainiac."
"Again with the insults! Look at this core! There is no salvaging this. My time and materials were completely wasted!"
She gazed at him, not the core, and she couldn't deny that his rage was justified. Billy was infuriating and denser than lead and had a couth rating in negative numbers, but he wasn't entirely useless. Time and experience had proven that to her. And as brilliant as Dexter was, he was socially inept on a grand scale. Though highly respected, he had few genuine friends. His manners, his interests, his speech, his sense of humor, his hobbies all set him far apart from the rest of the children here. None of the Kids Next Door could keep up with him for long, though Number One made it a point to talk to him often and occasionally drag him out of the lab where he was always holed up to get some fresh air and what the KND considered to be decent food. Ben Tennyson was one of the few that had pushed past the force fields Dexter had (literally) set up to get to know the person behind all that blazing and overbearing intelligence.
And like it or no, Billy was, in his crude and heavy-handed way, trying hard to do the same thing. Neither boy could see it, but Mandy could.
This was where Mandy knew her own brand of genius came into play. Dexter might be a mechanical whiz-kid, but she knew what made people tick. Neuroatomics were beyond her, but understanding what motivated people was beyond Dexter. It was true that before assuming command she twisted and manipulated that knowledge to her own ends. She was still doing the same thing every day, only now she was using her talent to fight this war. Fuse first, world dictator second. One battle at a time. She could be patient.
From the command center beyond her office the distinct and annoying sound of Billy saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," in rapid and endless succession reached their ears. He could and would go on all day unless something distracted him. Dexter drew a deep breath, closing his eyes, trying not to cause a second explosion in headquarters in a day. Appreciative of his self-control, Mandy rose before he could speak.
"I'll deal with Billy, and I'll free up some of the Kids Next Door to help you clean your lab."
"If he would stay out of my laboratory as I requested this would not be necessary," he immediately growled.
"I'll be down in a little while, Dexter." She hit a button on her desk to reach her secretary. "Slinkman, toss Billy down the trash compactor or something so Dexter doesn't have to put up with him for the rest of the day."
"Yes, ma'am! Right away!" chirped the slug. They waited. There came the sounds of a brief struggle, a fading shout from Billy, and then blessed silence.
Mandy kept her eyes on the child genius before her desk. He was still angry, but at least now Billy was out of his hair. Some of the tension eased out of him and he visibly calmed down a very little.
"The fire crew will give you a hand with the clean-up, okay?"
"Fine," he snapped. "Except Number Six Hundred and Ninety-Two! He is almost as stupid as Billy."
With that final but painless jab, he took his wrecked proto core and stalked out, muttering under his breath. Mandy let him get the last word in. Anything but silence on her part would result in a stereotypical mad scientist who would end up working himself into a frenzy of hammering and welding until he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. They couldn't afford to let that happen, and so Mandy was willing to let him be triumphant in his hissy fit.
Two eyes on stalks appeared in the door, followed by the rest of the Assistant Bean Scoutmaster. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Get me The Box."
The lab was spotless, the wreckage of the generator removed or set aside for repairs, all signs of grease and fire had been erased. As she strode through the massive facility Mandy was passed by a dozen harried-looking KND fire fighters. They cast her warning glances and shook their heads but said nothing as they cleared out, glad to remove themselves from the vicinity of Dexter's wrath.
She could hear sounds of him working on some scaffolding erected around the Megabot X-P 4000 B. Even she had to admit it was an impressive piece of machinery, and cleared for combat or not she would have loved dearly to get her hands on it for a day or two. The sheer complexity of it brought something akin to a smirk to her face as she compared it to the crude wooden box under her arm.
"What?" he demanded, not even looking away from his compulsive tinkering.
"I need to talk to you."
He grunted as he tightened a bolt. "So talk!"
"This isn't talking, it's yelling. Come down."
He glared at her, then very grudgingly made his way down the ladder, carrying his tools with him. His singed lab coat and ruined gloves had been replaced by fresh ones but his mood hadn't been very much improved.
"What?" he demanded again, still glowering down at her. Dexter was short but Mandy, despite being older, was shorter. What she lacked in height, though, she more than made up for in her ability to command.
"I'll get right to the point. You know machines and science. I know people and strategy. You're going about Billy completely wrong."
'Wrong' was a word that when applied to him, automatically put Dexter on the defensive. Stubbornly, he folded his arms across his chest, a massive wrench still clutched in one hand. "The only thing I want to do about that imbecile right now is remove him from the gene pool on a permanent basis."
Mandy shook her head. "No eliminating Billy without my say-so. I know he's dumber than a lemming and the only thing he's qualified for is cannon fodder, but he has his moments and one of these days we'll find a use for his ability to eat anything. Even you said your sister has flashes of genius. The same goes for Billy."
Dexter snorted. "I find that hard to believe. DeeDee at least has the virtue of being related to me."
"Personally I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself. Trust me on this one."
"So what must I do to accommodate his brand of genius? And do not tell me I need to try to like him, Mandy. I have better things to do with my time. I'd sooner try to like Mandark, and that day will never dawn."
She ignored his railing against his arch rival. "Listen, I don't even like Billy that much and he's the closest thing I've got to a best friend. You'll notice, though, that he doesn't bother me when things get tense."
He blinked, realizing she was absolutely correct. "Why not?"
"Because I put him to work for me. I know what Billy wants when he's chasing after people. What does he like?" She counted off on her fingers. "Attention. Something imprtant to do. Buttons. Flashing lights. Loud noises. So I had Number Two make me this."
She displayed the wooden box she was carrying. It was a very simple affair with a row of pretty colored buttons and a series of flashing lights. Some of the paint was chipping off and clearly it had seen better days. Setting down the wrench that was almost as big as he was, Dexter took the box in both hands and looked at it with obvious disgust. One of the first things he had told them upon starting work was that he did not deal with wood since organic building material tended to be too random for his taste. Experimentally, he pushed a button. A light flashed and a tinny blooping noise emanated from it. Dexter pulled back as if bitten.
"What is this?"
"It's a box with buttons and lights, what does it look like, Einstein? It's also the key to my sanity. Billy likes buttons, so I give him buttons. And flashing lights. And loud noises. I pull this out when I want him to be busy and make a big deal about him hitting a button at the right moment. If you're as smart as you say you are, you'll make a dozen of these and as soon as he shows up you make a production out of needing his help. Play your cards right and you can keep him in suspense for hours."
He cast her a look of surprise, turning the box over. He frowned. "This is a very crude device."
"Number Two was in a bit of a rush. Make a better one. Add a lever. Billy loves levers. And while you're at it, make me one, too." She took the box back and arched an eyebrow expectantly. "Machines aren't the only things that you can make work for you, Dexter."
Then she walked away, leaving him to ponder this bit of wisdom.
"Can I push it now?"
"Can I push it now?"
A minute passed.
"Can I push it now?"
"Can I push it now?"
"No! Wait for it . . . "
"Can I push it now?"
"On my mark, Billy . . ."
"Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh! Wait, do I know Mark? Dexter, who is Mark?"
Fixated on the computer screen before him, Dexter was barely aware of the annoying presence below. Data scrolled rapidly across the screen as energy levels from the Megabot's defensive systems rose as expected. Eyes wide, he let out a little chuckle of satisfaction.
"Billy! Now! Press it now!"
Lights flashed, a rumble filled the room, and Dexter leaned over the catwalk to shout to the moron by the door. "Well done! Now get ready by the lever! No, no! The yellow one!"
"Right, right, right, right, right. I gots the yellow one!"
"Wait until I tell you."
Billy rubbed his grubby hands together, facing the lever with as much grim determination as if preparing to wrestle a bear. Dexter glanced over at him, making certain he was well away from the Megabot. The power levels rose . . . and rose . . . just as he expected, the readings leveled off and remained steady. He watched for a full five minuted before remembering his idiotic assistant waiting below, poised with his hand over a lever that did nothing but activate sound effects.
"Yellow lever away! Can I pull the red one?"
"And the blue?"
"Green button, then the blue lever."
An ecstatic shout reached his ears. Dexter smirked, no less ecstatic but far more subdued in his celebrations. He powered down the new proto core, making sure the suit was completely off before leaning over the railing.
He jumped away from his improvised control panel and spread his arms. "Dexx-terr!"
"I need you to go run and tell Mandy that it worked! Quickly!"
Snapping him a sloppy and left-handed salute, Billy shouted, "Yeahyeahyeah! Running!" before doing just that.
Dexter watched him go, glad to be alone and tempted to seal the lab with invasion protocols so that he could stay that way for a while. Doing so, however, would only pique Billy's curiosity and he'd find some way to weasel his way in and get back to the business of being annoying. Still, Dexter couldn't deny that after taking Mandy's advice to heart he was far less tempted to impale her stupid little friend. He glanced at the clock. It was past noon. That meant that Billy was now officially Mandy's problem anyway.
For a moment he leaned on the consol, contemplating his work and quietly reveling in the successful creation of another weapon to help save their planet. If he had bothered to give it much thought, he would have been almost equally as pleased to have made some headway among the forces that were fighting this battle. Since he rarely left the laboratory he had no idea that his sudden ability to (mostly) get along with Billy was the talk of headquarters, and requests for boxes that beeped and flashed were flooding Slinkman's desk.
Activating the intercom at his work station, he paged Mandy in her office.
"What's up?" she demanded brusquely. He could hear paperwork shuffling around.
"The Megabot works. I will go into production immediately upon receipt of the necessary materials. In the meantime I will continue testing the unit. Billy is on his way to tell you. He's all yours now. Kindly keep him out of my way for the rest of the day."
"Good. I've got dibs on the first Megabot. Don't worry about Billy. I've got a case of popcorn kernels that need counting."
He sniffed. "You stole that idea from me."
"I gave you the idea for the decoy control panels. Speaking of which, Ed, Edd, and Eddy want one. They'd like something with rally gauges and switches, too. Billy got into the pantry the other day while they were doing inventory and that's why we've been eating oatmeal all week."
Though she couldn't see his expression, his disgust was evident in his voice. "I will make it a priority. Dexter out."
And picking up a wrench and whistling tunelessly, he got back to work.