“Oh, and why not?” Marla asked, scooping up Terry’s fishbowl and turning slowly to face this new potential nemesis.
“Because now you have to work for me.”
“And who are you?” Marla examined the tall figure who was speaking. It wore a dramatic billowing black cloak, and that was all she could see of it. There were no legs, no face, no hands. Just a cloak, hovering in the air with a tall man-shaped invisibleness holding it up.
“It’s Techdadranphales Horrumphal Chainamena!” exclaimed Terry with awe.
“But you can call me Tech,” said Techdadranphales Horrumphal Chaimamena, with a little swoosh of his invisible cloaked arms and a bow.
“Oh,” said Marla. “And why do you think I’m going to work for you?”
“Because you’ll die otherwise!” squeaked Terry.
“I’ve never heard you squeak before, Terry,” said Marla with genuine concern tinting her voice, “is there something wrong with your throat, or your water perhaps?”
“No, I’m fine,” said Terry. “Well, just as fine as one can be before one is about to die. Unless, of course, you do whatever he says.”
“Hmm,” said Marla, turning back to the situation at hand—the floating cloak, to be precise.
“And what, exactly, do you want me to do for you, Mr, uh, Tech.”
“Well, rule the world, actually. Just for a little while, you know. I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified, and, when you quit your hero for hire job, I suspected that you might be willing to take on something else for a while.”
Now, Marla had been called on to do all sorts of things as a hero. She had been asked to stop a volcano from going off, to start civil wars and to stop them, to flush out a whole city’s septic system, to invent a flying machine, and so on. So she was pretty used to strange and surprising requests and was generally unsurprised by them. But this one was just crazy and surprising enough to overturn her calm surprise-buffers and send a little wave of shock through her system.
“Wait a moment,” she said, after waiting a moment to regain her composure. “I thought Grembelon ruled the world.”
“Hahahaha,” laughed Tech, “hahahahahaha,” he laughed some more. “hahahahaHAHAHAHAHA!” he was doubled over laughing for a full minute. Marla thought it was a little unnerving to listen to an invisible person laugh. Then his invisible frame snapped upright and he stopped laughing with a jerk. “Grembelon? Good joke. No, Grembelon is one of those diversions. You know, the kind that keeps people from knowing who really is ruling the world.”
“Oh,” said Marla, “nice to know. But I still think he could get me killed for quitting my job. Isn’t that right?”
“Yeah, he probably could do that. And maybe will try too. You’ll have to keep an eye out for him. But, too, if you accept my job offer, you’ll be the bigger fish in the pond, actually—the only real shark—and won’t have anything to fear from Grembelon.”
Terry coughed loudly at the whole fish illusion, sending a large bubble up to the surface of his round glass bowl.
“Oh, please excuse my fish imagery,” said Tech.
“Are you sure your throat is alright?” Marla asked, looking worriedly at the talking fish.
“Yeah, Marla, I’m fine.”
“Alright, if you’re sure. I could take you to see a vet.”
“No, no vets,” said Terry firmly.
“Ok. Oh, I have a question, Mr. Tech.”
“Just Tech is fine, Marla.”
“Ok. Well, what Terry was saying earlier—about me dying if I refused your offer. Is that true?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Is that because you are the one who rules the world?”
“Then who am I replacing?”
“Well, you won’t actually be replacing them. You’re just filling in while they are on vacation leave.”
“And as to your question, I’m afraid I can’t answer. Classified information.”
“I don’t know either,” interjected Terry, “in case you were planning on asking.”
“So much for a fish who’s supposed to know everything,” said Marla, visably annoyed (which meant that her mouth had turned into a frowning mouth). “I’m beginning to wonder if you were worth my most recent fortune to purchase.”
“Oh, don’t say that, Marla. You know how much I love working for you.”
“About my job offer,” Tech interrupted before they could go on. “I don’t really have all day, you know. And you can not imagine how hot the sun is on this black cloak.”
“Well, then, why don’t you take it off?” Marla asked, actually very curious to know the answer.
“Um, classified information.”
“No it’s not!” exclaimed Marla. “You’re just too lazy to explain, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” said Tech, in a tone that could only be described as testy.
“Ohh—oh,” said Terry, wobbling in his fish bowl, “please don’t anger him. Just do what he says and take the job.”
Marla pursed her lips for a moment in thought, and brushed a strand of dark brown hair out of her face and behind her ear. “Well,” she said, “I suppose I don’t have too much choice, and ruling the world can’t be too bad a job. Especially if it is only temporary. How long would my contract be for? And do you mind telling me what the hazards of the occupation are?”
“There is no contract per se. The current world ruler didn’t say how long they would be away on vacation. I don’t anticipating it being less than three weeks or more than a year. As for hazards, well, assassination is popular these days, so there will likely be quite a few attempts on your life.”
“Ok, I suppose I can deal with that. I guess I have to,” she finished a bit glumly. “And you know, I was looking forward to a bit of a holiday myself?”
“Tough world,” said Tech. “Well, time to be off to your first day on the job!”
Marla heard a small clicking noise that sounded for all the world like somebody snapping their fingers, and a small black space ship dropped down out of the sky and in a loud whoosh—the sound of a muffled ship descending. It came to rest, hovering a few feet above the sand.
“Oh, and one more question,” said Marla, finally remembering to put her sword away into its sheath. “What was the robotic bird all about?”
“Oh, I just brought him along to squish your little hut, in case you had thoughts of staying. It’s a shame you destroyed him, you know. A rather expensive piece of equipment—it was.”