Author's Note:Firstly, I would like to apologise for the delay in putting this chapter online. I've had deadlines to work towards, but they're all done now! Also, the sequel to Strange New World is still underway, so there will be that to look forward to! Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope you all enjoy this chapter!

3. Uniforms.

"Ah, Blackadder, glad you could make it," Melchett said jovially, waving a hand for Edmund to enter the office.

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes, yes, now, I've already told Darling this because I happened to meet him in the cafeteria earlier," Melchett explained, folding his hands on the table and staring straight at Edmund, "but as you're finally on your break now, I thought I'd clue you in as well."

"Has there been a new development in the Employee of the Month competition, sir?"

"You know perfectly well that I can't tell you the results until the end, Blackadder. No, this is something much more serious. How much do you know about fashion?"

Edmund blinked. He must be more tired than he thought, after that disastrous shift last night – or should he say this morning – sorting out oranges with Baldrick. "Fashion, sir?"

Melchett nodded enthusiastically. "Are you a fashion savvy sort of chap, Blackadder, or are you one of those people who just puts anything on in the morning, regardless of whether it burns out everyone's retinas?"

"I don't pay much attention to the current trend, sir," he replied honestly and with no attempt to hide the contempt from his voice. "The current fashion is about as appealing as a monkey in a fluorescent tutu."

"Now that is a shame," his employer said, standing up and beginning to walk around the room. Edmund craned his neck to keep him in view, knowing that the older man considered eye contact to be polite and that he might very well be sacked if he failed to do so, knowing the man's temperamental nature. "I was hoping for something a bit more helpful – Darling said much the same thing, actually."

"If I may ask, sir, what is this sudden interest in fashion for?"

Melchett turned to face him, hands clasped neatly behind his back. "Simon has decided that our uniform is rather out of date."

Edmund blinked. Oh dear Lord…

"He asked me to check if anyone has any strong opinions about fashion."

"So that they could help him design it?" Edmund asked hopefully. He might still be able to salvage the situation, if only he could manipulate Melchett into taking his advice…

"Good heavens, no!" Melchett exclaimed, chuckling for a moment before moving to regain his seat and reclining in it comfortably. "If everyone helped him to design it we'd all look like clowns!"

"So why did he want to know if anyone was interested in fashion, then, sir?"

"To fire them, of course! We don't want a massive protest about something so unimportant now, do we, Blackadder? And I must admit, my job is getting a little boring, now, since I haven't fired anyone recently."

Well, nice to know he had a choice in the matter. "Quite understandable, sir."

"Not that you'd be playing any part in something so ridiculous, eh, Blackadder? I can't imagine you're the protesting sort!"

"Well quite, sir," he forced himself to say, wondering if the man had any grip on reality whatsoever. "Anything the big boss Simon picks for me…I'll gladly wear."

"Jolly good, jolly good. You'll keep an eye out for any signs of discontent, won't you, Blackadder?"

"Of course, sir. And…may I ask, what is the new uniform going to be?"

"I'm not entirely sure," Melchett said regretfully. "Simon does like his surprises – but I have it on pretty good authority that it's very modern indeed; lots of good colours and flares, that type of thing."

Edmund tried very hard not to wince. "I…see, sir."

"Well, now that we've established you have no problem with the plan, Blackadder, I'll let you get back to your break."

Edmund stood up, forcing himself to smile. "All forty five seconds of it, sir."

"Eh, all eager to go back to work, I see. A very good attitude to have, Blackadder! Now, I must get on with those reports…where did I put that file…"

Edmund rolled his eyes while Melchett started hunting through his desk drawers, and turned to walk out, closing the door on the mutterings in the office. Not even lunchtime and he was already regretting coming into work.

A new uniform? The one they had was good enough, and nice and sensible, too. None of that rainbow coloured, high-waist, so flared you trip over if you walk one step rubbish, that was for sure.

He glanced at his watch. Yup. His break was now up. Rolling his eyes, he opened his locker and took out his apron, putting it on reluctantly. What he would give to just not go down there, for once. To not be plagued by Baldrick's idiotic conversation or helping the idiot out of ridiculous predicaments.

He walked down to shop floor and started searching high and low for Baldrick. With any luck, the job would now be half finished and they could move on to the next thing. And, he thought with a dim flicker of hope, if they managed to go through the rest of the day without any hiccups, he would have a good chance of winning the competition and getting a slightly longer break in to the bargain.

Well, he could dream.

When he found Baldrick, he found a trolley full of jam jars and a slightly trapped looking customer, who seemed to have asked Baldrick something and been dragged into conversation against his will. Edmund noted with some glee that it was a plump man dressed in a posh business suit, and decided not to interfere. This was one of the upsides that Baldrick's idiocy provided, and he enjoyed it immensely when it wasn't directed at him.

"…which was funny," Baldrick droned as Edmund knelt down and began stacking jam, smirking inwardly, "because we never even knew it was there. Well…'till it went off, that is, and then it began to stink out the entire house…"

"Yes, yes, fascinating," the business man blustered, "but I really only wondered if you knew where to find the greeting cards. I'm in a bit of a hurry, you see."

"Oh," Baldrick replied. "And…what sort of cards would those be, sir?"

There was a slight pause. Edmund was smirking openly now as he pictured the businessman's face.

"Christmas ones."

"Oh! Funny you should want them, sir, because it is Christmas soon – isn't it, Mr B?"

"Oh yes," Edmund replied, not halting in his job. "Soon, the whole nation will consume an entire year's supply of food in five minutes and flock to the hospitals in record numbers asking to be de-stuffed. Honestly, we'd save so much time if we just rammed stuffing down our relatives' throats rather than wasting effort on the turkey…"

"Yes…interesting view, but where are the cards? You never actually told me!"

"Didn't I?" Baldrick asked. "I thought I did – right between the wrapping paper and the confetti?"

"No, you didn't. And where is that?"

Edmund turned around and looked the businessman in the eye. "Well, it's strange, actually, how there's a sign right above the aisle saying "festive goods" in lettering so bright you could see it from the moon. How you managed to miss that is beyond me."

The man puffed up instantly, threatening to make the buttons on his suit pop. "Well I never heard such insolence in my life!"

"Then you've been very lucky, if you've gone through your entire life being that moronic."

The man sputtered. "I want to talk to your manager."

Edmund stood up immediately and moved to stand in front of the man as he began to walk away. "Ah, no sir, that wouldn't be a very good idea, you see, the boss is very busy at the moment."

"Not too busy to hear how his supermarket is in a shambles, surely!"

He forced a smile onto his face and put his arm around the man's shoulders, walking him towards the Christmas cards at a slow and leisurely pace. "But surely, you don't want him to think that his seasonal joke fell flat, do you?"

"Seasonal joke?" the businessman demanded, glancing askance at Edmund. "What joke? All I saw was impertinence – I'll get you sacked for that!"

Edmund laughed. "No, sir. You see, Mr Melchett – that's the boss – has asked everyone to be rude to customers at random – it's his eccentric sense of humour, you see."

"I'm afraid I don't understand it."

No…unsurprising, really, since he was just making this up. "It's a little hard to explain, sir. It's his idea of a…" come on, think, "April Fool's Day prank. Being rude and then revealing it was just a joke!" Inwardly, he was banging his head against the wall. April Fool? He'd be lucky if the man fell for it.

"But April Fool's Day was in April!"

"Yes, but Mr Melchett is such a big fan," he said slowly, struggling to sound as believable as he could, "that he has decided to hold it all year round. Of course," he added quickly, seeing that the man was about to argue, "I've tried to talk him out of it – it's a silly idea, really – but you mustn't tell him that I said so. It's best to let him think that the customers take it in their stride. He's getting very old, you see, and isn't quite all there. It'd upset him if he thought his little joke was failing."

They had reached the Christmas cards, now, and Edmund drew to a halt, letting go of the man's shoulder and stepping away, inwardly praying that the man would buy the lie.

He watched anxiously as the stranger's face played out some inner argument before he finally nodded, slightly grudgingly. "I won't deny an old man his fun," he said finally. "But it sounds a bit like a load of old rubbish to me."

"I assure you, sir, it isn't. That's just his eccentric ways. Everything will be back to normal when – er, if – the new management eventually takes over."

"Yes…quite. Well, I hope he doesn't become too much more eccentric," the man said, clearly beginning to believe Edmund. "I had a relative like that. Very sad."

"Yes…it is tragic to watch," Edmund said softly, nodding, before gesturing with his hand at the shelf next to them. Chump. "And we have reached our destination, I believe. Was there anything else?"

"No, no…I'll just look through them." He walked forward and inspected the choices of cards laid out before him. "Good Lord, there aren't many left, are there?"

Edmund, who had been just about to escape back to the jam jars, reluctantly stayed put. So much for looking through alone. "That is the Christmas rush, sir. Precisely why you shouldn't leave it until the last minute."

The man glanced sharply at him.

Edmund widened his eyes. "Oh…pardon me, sir. Force of habit, you know, to carry out the April Fool's Day act now."

"Of course. Well, thank you."

Edmund inclined his head regally. "It was no problem. Merry Christmas, sir." The man had already dismissed him, rummaging now through the paltry offering left after the Christmas rush. "You pompous old git."

He never stayed to see if the man reacted or not, instead turning around sharply and heading back to Baldrick. That was a close one. Thankfully, the majority of the general public were stupid enough to fall for even his most see through lies. That, or he was extraordinarily lucky. But he would have to be careful from now on, if he wanted to win that money; not everyone will believe that cover story.

"Was Mr Melchett angry, Mr B?"

"No, Baldrick, because that idiot never got upstairs. Luckily, I managed to divert him." He knelt down and resumed stacking shelves. "Do you know, Balders, for once I'm thoroughly grateful to be surrounded by complete morons."

"But…that's not what you normally say, Mr B."

Edmund glared at Baldrick. "Don't ruin my good mood. It's the first one I've had in weeks and I'm going to savour it."

Silence blessedly fell and Edmund turned back to his job, already scheming about ways to sabotage Darling's attempts to win the Employee of the Month competition. He didn't have the patience to go about this with just hard work and anyway, Baldrick kept ruining his efforts. No…if he was going to win this money, he would have to fight dirty.

He smirked. Darling wouldn't know what hit him.