Fandom:Chuck (the series)
Rating/Warnings: SPOILERS FOR CHUCK SEASON PREMIERE PAST THIS POINT. Gen PG. Episode Tag. Customer service bitterness, or angst or something. HUMOUR
Word Count: 2600 words
Characters: Morgan Grimes, General Beckman, and a boatload of sketchy OC's
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: OH GEEZ, Y'ALL, IT'S A CHUCK FIC! RUN!!! I don't even know if anyone's going to read this, but this insistent bastard ambushed the hell out of me today and wouldn't let me be. Crackish, gonna probably be negated by whatever happens in the next episode, but whatever. And customer service can be a fine and rewarding career choice, filled with joy and bliss and opportunity and puppies and sunshine. Yes it can.
Summary: Because someone has to do it, and Morgan needs a job.
A Reasonable Facsimile
"Yes!" Morgan jumped at General Beckman's voice and dropped Season 2 of 'Big Bang Theory' to the floor with a clatter.
The sight of General Beckman, in person, in a Buy More Manager's shirt with a name-tag bearing down on him and looking thunderous was enough to make Morgan decide that running for the hills and living in a cave for a few years might be a good career plan.
"Hi! Your Generalship, hi, I was just here to see if Chuck was- but uh, I can leave, yes, leaving now." He scooped up the boxed set, put it back on the shelf and turned towards the door.
Morgan swallowed, and turned slowly back to face her. "Can I just say, if there's anything you need me to-"
"Yes," Beckman snapped.
"I mean any- sorry, what?"
"Your country needs you, Morgan Grimes." General Beckman grimaced. "Much as it pains me to say."
Morgan straightened up as though someone had yanked a string attached to the top of his head and saluted. "Yes sir! Ma'am! I- By your command!"
Beckman raised an eyebrow before gesturing at the store around them. "Look around, Morgan."
Morgan looked around. A dozen twenty-something CIA and NSA operatives in crisply pressed Buy More uniforms strode around efficiently. The shelves were clean and well-stocked with the latest in consumer electronics. He stopped wondering why he'd given the General a Cylon command acknowledgment.
"Uhh... Looks... looks great. Really shiny, and efficient and, and shiny-"
"Our cover is in danger of being compromised."
"What?" Morgan ran through conversations he'd had since he found out about the true nature of the rebuilt Buy More. "I swear I didn't say anything to anyone! I mean except Chuck, but he knew already and it was one of your agents that sent me down the chute into Castle-"
Beckman pinched the bridge of her nose. "Morgan, be quiet."
"We have no customers, Morgan."
Morgan blinked. "Well, no, but you don't really need them, do you? Wouldn't they be a security risk?"
"Hard times, funding cuts, any income is good income," Beckman handwaved, "but the main thing is cover. Agents coming in and out are only unnoticeable if there are customers to use as cover. A secret base isn't much of a secret if it doesn't blend in. And to blend in we need to seem like an actual operating Buy More outlet."
Morgan smirked nervously. "And you think you need customers for that? 'Cause we-"
"Come with me," said Beckman, heading for the Home Theater room. Morgan trailed along behind.
Half an hour of security footage later, Morgan had seen enough.
"Your problem, General, if I may call you General, is your employees."
Beckman frowned at the CCTV footage. "They're all providing excellent customer service, whenever we have an actual customer."
"That's just it. You're creeping people out. No one walks into a big box store and expects efficient, courteous and genuine employees. At least not all the employees, not all the time. It's like you're staffed by-" Cylons. "-robots."
General Beckman's frown deepened.
"Okay, okay, look here." Morgan picked up the remote.
"Don't touch the orange buttons," murmured Beckman, not uncrossing her arms.
"Um. Okay." He scanned back through the footage. "There. This lady last week, she came in and bought a dishwasher."
Beckman nodded. "The biggest sale last week, what was wrong with it?"
"Well for one, your sales guy knew everything about the model she came in and asked about."
"It's creepy. He didn't have to check the model online, he didn't exaggerate any features, he didn't guess or estimate. Also, he didn't try to sell her the extended warranty." Morgan pointed at the screen. "Or that higher-end model right next to it."
"Reports indicate both machines are identical in features and reliability."
"But the other one costs more. And it's black. And the markup is better on it, so it makes the store more money."
"But she came in looking for that dishwasher and we provided her with exactly what she wanted."
"See?" Morgan gestured with the remote. "That probably freaked the hell out of her. She probably thinks the store's staffed by pod people and has told all her friends how Stepford Sales Associate it all is. Look," Morgan flipped through the active security camera feeds with the remote. "Smiling, happy, employees that look relaxed and pleased to be here, spotless uniforms, no social interactions, no disagreements, no backbiting, no slouching."
"So what you're saying is...?"
"Your staff might be the ideal Buy More staff according to the corporate guidelines, but they aren't real Buy More staff. No one who works at a Buy More is that thrilled to work here. We all try, sort of, but we're working here just to pay the bills, and of course to test drive the latest stuff when it comes off the truck. We get by with the minimum amount of effort possible."
Beckman steepled her fingers under her chin. "I see. It's a failure of cover identity then."
"Yeah, something like that. No one here knows how to slack off. They're great agents I bet, but that 'gung-ho government agent' thing doesn't translate well to 'real world customer service employee'. Look at how long it took Casey to fit in."
"Like I said, we all try, but dealing with customers day in and day out, working for minimum wage or less than minimum wage plus commission, at risk of being fired at the whim of some bozo from corporate..." Morgan shrugged. "You just find little ways to rebel and prove you're still human or you go nuts. Your agents aren't rebels. The way they're acting, I'm not even sure if they are human."
"So what we need then is for you to take our highly efficient, capable and courteous agents and teach them how to-" General Beckman pursed her lips in distaste. "'Slack'."
"Exactly. What?" Morgan blinked, confused. "Me?"
"You've been an assistant manager before, you'll be one again. Your country needs you."
"Okay... but you've got Chuck, can't he-"
"Chuck is far too valuable in other capacities."
"Oh," said Morgan deflating a little. "So you're asking me because I'm not valuable."
"No, I'm asking you because all our research and surveillance indicates you are by far a far more dedicated expert on 'slack' than Chuck is."
"Oh!" Morgan blinked. "Well, that's nice- Wait, how long have I been under surveillance?"
"Do you want to help your country or not, Grimes?"
Morgan stood up. "Yes. Absolutely. I, um. I'll start tomorrow morning. Can you ask your staff to show up an hour before opening?"
General Beckman smirked. "I doubt that will be difficult to achieve."
The first day was going about as well as first days went. A lot better for Morgan than his last first day as assistant manager. No one had even tried to give him a wedgie. They all stood in a precise row, watching him with speculative attention.
So very wrong.
He figured it was best to see what he was working with first, so he led them all in a tour around the store before the doors opened to the public.
The nightmare started in the staff break-room.
"Oh. My. God."
"Something wrong, sir?" said Chet or Biff or Duane.
"I don't understand. It's clean. It's on the weekly duties-"
"Okay, okay, whoa right there." Morgan held up a hand. "No one ever does anything from the 'weekly duties' list unless they're expecting a visit from corporate, or the manager is a hard-ass. This fridge is spotless. You could eat things from this fridge."
Chet and Tiffany or Brandy or whatever looked at each other. "Isn't that the point?"
"No! It's a good thing customers don't see this or you'd be busted in a heartbeat." Morgan took a cranberry juice box and squeezed it all over the interior. "There. Don't touch that. It's a start. One of you bring in a tuna sandwich in a baggie and leave half of it in the crisper until it's a class 4 biohazard."
The group looked pained.
"Trust me, it's part of the cover. If some enemy agents got back here and saw a staff fridge this clean, they'd nuke the store from orbit."
The sales floor was next. Rows upon rows of new-release DVD and Blu-Ray box sets shone from the perfectly assembled display unit in the center aisle.
"Why is all this out?" Morgan asked.
"Well, sir," volunteered Brick or Brock... Brock. "Today's the release date."
"Oh my god," Morgan put a hand over his face and shook his head.
"You've got the display totally stocked! That's so wrong I can't- Take half, no, two-thirds of this stuff and stick it in the back."
Brock frowned. "But-"
"Excuse me," Morgan raised an admonishing finger. "Who's in charge of the cover training?"
Brock stiffened to attention. "You are, sir."
"Knock it off with the 'sir'. Or at least sound less like you actually mean it."
"Sorry... sir," Brock said with a hint of disrespect and looked at Morgan for approval.
"Perfect!" Morgan went to slap Brock on the back and found himself in a half-nelson.
"Ah! Ah!" he said, standing on tiptoes to avoid pain.
Brock let go of Morgan's arm. "Sorry, sir. Reflex."
"Yeah. Work on that," said Morgan, shaking his arm out.
"Yes, si- uh. Yes."
"Anyway, as I was saying, only put a third of the stock out. That way it looks like we're running out and people will be more likely to buy it. And, if the shelves are completely emptied during the day, don't fill them. Wait for a customer to ask, then go 'check in the back' for it. That way the customer thinks they lucked out, you look like a hero, and the store looks like people actually buy things here."
There was a general "Ahhh," from the crowd of agents and the scratch of a pen as a few of them took notes.
"A good guideline to keep in mind is that you're being paid minimum wage and no benefits to deal with people who are frequently rude, demanding and irrational. Your motto should be 'least possible effort.'"
More pens scratched.
"Okay, ten minutes before the doors open, so role-playing assignment time." Who says all those years of AD&D were a waste of time now, hunh? Morgan clambered up onto the Nerd Herd counter and surveyed the group. They stood stiffly in a cluster, waiting for orders.
Seriously, Cylons. Not the new kind either. Big silvery clanking Cylons. Look close and you can see the red eyelight going back and forth.
He cleared his throat. "Part of working at a big box store is social interactions, so we're going to make up some. You, and you and you." Morgan pointed at two men and a woman. "You're having a love triangle of some sort. Work it out between yourselves who's after who and why."
The three people indicated shifted closer to each other.
"You and, um... you in the back. Both of you have a secret crush on one of your fellow staffers. You each pick who you're after, don't tell anyone, and try not to let anyone figure it out."
Both of the indicated people grinned evilly and started checking out their coworkers, who edged away.
"Uh, you and you." Pointing again. "One of you has been working for an out-of-state Buy More for years but now has less seniority than the other one at this store, even though they've only been with the company a few months. Ask Beckma- actually don't ask Beckman who's who. You, Jamal, you're the one with the seniority, Brock's the newbie. Get a clipboard to go with your uniform."
Jamal nodded and exchanged glances with Brock.
"Now, you." More pointing. "Dirk."
"Whatever. You have a domineering parent who thinks you could do so much better than this job and pressures you to get married and have kids on a daily basis. I mean, not the having kids on a daily basis, the pressuring part."
Derek looked at Morgan with a confused frown.
Morgan waved a hand. "You'll work it out. Who's next... Chet?"
Hunh, I got one right. "You are now the new official Buy More king of TMI. Too Much Information, for the acronym-impaired. Body functions, personal family drama, you name it; say it loud and proud and often. You," he pointed to a guy who'd been completely silent the entire time and looked better than Awesome did on a good day. "Look up 'goth' online. Be that. You," pointing at Brenda, "are skimming from the till."
Morgan sighed and rolled his eyes. "Cover! It's for cover! Come on, work with me here. Okay, does anyone not have a roleplaying assignment?"
Four hands shot up.
"Okay. You four...." Morgan tapped a pen against his teeth. "Ah! You have a secret weekly Halo tournament in the store Saturday after hours."
The group members looked at each other. "What's Halo?"
"Ah," said Morgan with a wolfish grin, "you shall learn, grasshopper. Grasshoppers. Now. Make sure you have at least one interaction motivated by your roleplaying assignment within potential sight or earshot of customers each day, starting today, until you're comfortable with your roles. After a few days we'll add another one for each of you, and maybe some backstory. By the end of the month you'll all be presenting the appearance of complicated, long-suffering human beings working for minimum wage in the customer service industry."
The crowd shuffled around into new social groupings. Morgan restrained himself from tapping his fingertips together and saying 'Ehhhhxcellent.'
"Oh! One more thing before we open. I know many of you have been trained to respect a uniform. Respecting this one will not help your cover. Remember, you're all working long hours for little pay and would rather be anywhere else than here. So!" Morgan clapped his hands together. "Untuck those shirts! Loosen those ties! What's our motto?"
"LEAST POSSIBLE EFFORT!" The group chorused as they disheveled themselves.
"Excellent." Morgan smiled. He'd tap his fingers together in the back room. "Tomorrow we'll cover sales techniques. Now open those doors, and until you get actual customers, practice your cover roles."
Morgan looked over his notes at the end of the day as Jamal locked up the front doors.
"Okay! Moderately successful day, a little too heavy on the drama from the love triangle, work on simmering rather than actual, uh, physical combat. Now, about your attendance records-"
"There's nothing wrong with the attendance records," said Dirk. Derek? Derek.
"Exactly. You each need to take a minimum of three sick days a month, try to group them around weekends if you can to mimic hangovers, taking off early Fridays for parties-"
"We can't all take off weekends," said Brenda.
"Work out a schedule with each other, whatever. At least one of you has to be out for a week with a-" Morgan finger-quoted, "'flu' during flu season, followed by a few others if you want to make it look like an actual flu that's going around. Use your roleplaying assignments to determine who you're most likely to infect."
"But we can't be away from base without an assignment. The customer service stuff isn't our real reason for being here."
"You don't have to be off-site, just don't show up on the security cameras and log the time off in payroll processing. There have been facilities in the past that have been compromised due to a lack of recorded sick days."
The assembled crowd of operatives murmured appreciatively.
It might have been factory full of Sontaran clones on Doctor Who, but they really don't need to know that.
Within weeks the store had a steady stream of mildly frustrated customers and quietly bickering staff. Derek smiled ingratiatingly at an older man, gently drawing him over to an even bigger home theater system. Brenda and Duane sniped at each other in heated whispers between checkout stands as they rang customers' purchases through. A Nerf football flew between half-empty racks of DVD's, and a six foot four man with deep purple spiked hair, eyeliner and a leather collar slouched behind the returns desk, glowering.
Morgan stood back, hands on his hips, and grinned.
Not the same. It'll never be the same, but it'll do for now.
- - -
(PLEASE NOTE! I have not seen any promos for future Chuck episodes and consider them to be spoilers. Please avoid posting any spoilers in comments.)