The expression on his face was pure terror; a mask of frozen fear as he watched the scene before him unfold. The dark hollowness of the single most important thing in his life consumed his attention, as the certain dark hollow thing two inches from his face would soon ensure that if what he said next was not of the utmost importance, there wouldn't be very much of his life left.
'Er...' He managed. It wasn't a winning answer, but it was the best he could come up up.
'Speak up, you ingratiating piece of insectular filth!' Zurg crowed, his metal visage contorted with fury. The Death Cannon 3000 (Registered trademark, patent pending) held upon his arm underlined his growing impatience with the grub standing in front of him with his hands over his head.
'Your evilness...' he stammered. 'I-I-I beg forgiveness, but I must inform you...'
The coldness of the steel cannon touched his forehead and he burst into a new round of shivers. 'That... d-d-d-dinner is s-s-ss-erved.'
'Ah.' Zurg said, lowering the weapon and looking at his minion with an expression of undisguised boredom. 'Well, you could have picked a better time, you know.'
There was a mumbled reply which sounded a lot like 'short straw'
Which really explains everything, Zurg felt. Sighing, he waved the Death Cannon 3000. 'You may go.'
The grub scurried to his feet and took off. Zurg watched him go, then put the weapon down, removing the towel from his head at the same time. 'Honestly. How can I expect to be taken seriously if people keep walking in on me in the shower...' He shook his head, reaching for his bathrobe as he proceeded to his Armory of Evil.
The circular room had several doors, over which there were conveniently placed labels to ensure that any spies/agents/rangers/Buzz Lightyears knew exactly what was what. 'Weapons' read one, 'Express Elevator (to Main Control Room)' said another, but the one he was headed for was 'Wardrobe'
'Ah!' Zurg said, entering the huge antechamber. 'What a beautiful sight.'
Armor after armor after suit of purple armor adorned every hanging, every shelf, every alcove. And all of them fit too.
Selecting something with a slightly longer cloak than normal, Zurg hummed the Moonlight Sonata as he proceeded to pick out a helmet with even more angles than usual. Here, however, Evil Emperor Zurg, Destroyer of Worlds, Antichrist of the 34th Century, Time Magazine's Person of the Year (3354, December issue), was faced with a serious and brain racking dilemma.
'Should I go with the mauve or the plum?' He asked himself, metal claws at his chin. 'I want to go for something resonantly...' Here he paused out of sheer habit, and lowered his voice several octaves. 'Evil, but at the same time I don't want to unnecessarily intimidate...' He trailed off as he agonized. 'Ah, who cares? I'm an evil emperor! If people don't like how I dress they can just take it up with my Complaints Department! And I will be going with plum!' He cried, taking the victorious outfit in his hand. 'Mwa ha! Mwahaha! MWAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!'
The sound echoed around the high ceiling, bouncing several times around the entire room as Zurg moved triumphantly from the antechamber.
A brief pause.
'You know, I think the mauve would be more appropriate.' Zurg said, sidling back into the room. 'I mean, it's not everyday I have guests, and plum is such the sissy color.' He threw the offending garment back on it's shelf. 'I simply must get myself a fashion consultant.' He paused for a moment, lost in a moment of pure introspective evil. 'And a Complaints Department. Yes. I'll put it on my organizer right away.'
'Sorry I kept you waiting.' Zurg said as he hovered into the immense (and very well decorated) dining room, in what he thought was an aloof and paltry tone. 'But you know how it is. Galaxy to run. Evil organization to organize.'
'Yes, see it all the time.' His guest said.
Zurg looked at his guest.
'I must say your entree is rather good.' He said, in impeccable Earth English. 'I like the idea of bread with meat. Very original. Are all your ventures conducted with such innovation?'
'Ah ha.' Zurg managed, trying his very best not to stare. 'Well, yes, really. I rather like some of my more... creative works of evil.' He sat down at his place, the one with the nine foot throne complete with spiky bits near the top. 'Do help yourself. I can have peanuts brought in if you like.'
'Afraid that won't do.' His guest said, waving a hand in the air. 'Can't abide nuts. They give me piles. Do you know how horrid it was on the flight here? Those attendants, all they do is ask if you want more nuts. Nuts nuts nuts. Gentleman can't take a nap in peace without some top-heavy female from Jentuva IV asking if I want a screw top... Are you alright?'
'Yesyesyes...' said Zurg, recovering from his coughing fit. 'I just... didn't realize nuts came in jars, that's all. Jentura IV, you say?'
'That's right, I did. Horrid planet. Filled with nothing but vice, sin, and corruption as far as the eye can see.'
Zurg found that if he was going to sit down to dinner with someone who had a major problem with vice, sin, and corruption he may want to have the precautions ready. He clapped his hands thrice, signalling not only for the start of dinner but also for one of his grubs to slip him a poison pill which he might want to put into any convenient drinks the man may partake of.
'Not that it's not a wonderful planet to do business on, let me tell you.' The man said, folding a napkin and putting it over his lap. 'Might I inquire as to the first course?'
'Stuffed Marvarian partridge with boiled Lipsonian eyes, Jo-Ad wheat bread and a side of Doritos.' Zurg said absently as the plate was laid in front of him. 'Let's get down to business shall we?'
'I concur.' The man said, slicing his knife over his fork, a habit Zurg despised. He winced from the sound and made a mental note to have the man poisoned no matter what his views on Miami. 'Now, on the matter of weapons.'
'I have a catalog.' Zurg said helpfully. The man paused, fork inches from his partridge.
'Emperor Zurg,' he said, placing his utensils down. 'If I wanted to see a catalogue, I would have stayed on Intonia and not traveled half the galaxy to see you in person. I have very specific demands and I was told you were the one who could meet them. So here I am. Proffer me a catalogue again if you like, but I must say that your sense of propriety offends, quite frankly.'
Definitely poison. And dessert. Extra dessert. Just for spelling catalog with an 'ue'.
'My apologies.' Zurg said, cutting apart his bird just a little more viciously than was necessary. 'And what are those demands? Specifically?'
'I was thinking along the lines of biological warfare.' The man said. 'A retrovirus, so to speak. Engineered to target only one type of organism and completely eradicate its population in a radius the size of an average biosphere.' He put a forkful of meat into his mouth. 'I say, this partridge is splendid.'
'Thank you.' Zurg said absently, fingers steepled. 'You'll be wanting a delivery system as well, I suppose?'
'I was hoping you could suggest one.' He speared a Dorito with his fork. 'Do you have any sauce?'
'I'll have sour cream brought immediately.' Zurg said, his mind already churning with countless evil ideas to eradicate the entire population of a planet with a single weapon. 'Biotoxin, so you say?' he chuckled as he conjured images of millions screaming in agonizing death.
'A strong one.'
'Hope that doesn't ruin your appetite.' Zurg said, with just a trace of foreboding in his voice as the grub who brought the dip passed him a small white pill. 'How's course two looking?' He shouted at one of the serving grubs.
'Very well, your h-h-highness.' The grub said, skittering off.
'Difficult to find good help?' The man asked, popping another mouthful.
'Not at all.' Zurg replied. 'Now, I was thinking about something... wide. Big. Evil.' His voice lathered over the last word. 'I want missiles. Big... big missiles. Missiles the size of a house. And I don't mean some little shepardy twobyfour lean to either, I mean California mansion. Think Hugh Hefner.' He said, waving his arms in excitement.
'Aren't missiles rather conspicuous?' The man asked. 'Wouldn't you rather go for something more... subtle?'
He didn't like Jentura, he didn't like big flashy displays of power, and he wasn't eating any of his poisoned sour cream. Zurg was becoming increasingly irritated with this man.
'Fine, you're the customer.' Zurg said, agitated at having his dream of launching a bazillion missiles of laden death at some unsuspecting planet ruined. 'What do you suggest?'
'I propose...' the man said, wiping his mouth as the second course was brought before them. 'Ah, lamb I see.'
'Not quite.' Zurg said, watching the steam rise from his dish. 'You were saying?'
'Yes, I was. Now, I was hoping I could prevail upon you to use a biological delivery agent.'
Ah, subterfuge! This was more his side of steak. Zurg drew himself up. 'Yes, yes... It's coming to me now... An agent. An agent of,' his voice lowered 'Evil, carrying the virus enters a heavily populated area, the capital maybe, and detonates a bomb which releases thousands and thousands of particles of deadly gas into the air, killing millions in an instant!' He suppressed the urge to laugh. 'Oh...' He managed a chuckle. 'I like it.'
The man looked at him with the expression of a principal who's had the same boy sent nineteen times to his office for the same offence and was getting rather sick of the whole affair. 'I meant food.'
'Food!' Zurg exclaimed, unable to control himself. 'I'm Evil Emperor Zurg! Last month I built an entire fleet of ships with the sole purpose of carrying out multiple tax audits throughout the galaxy! My empire spans twelve worlds, nineteen moons and two hundred and fifty four asteroids! My devices of doom, death, and destruction have conquered a dozen cilizations, nations, and assorted tribes! And you want me to poison people's food!' Zurg was purple with rage. 'How dare you suggest that I, Evil Emperor Zurg, would stoop... to... such...' His tirade slowed in the face of the man holding up his sour cream bowl, a look of mild triumph on his face.
Zurg sank back into his chair.
'I'm prepared to pay you two hundred thousand Standard Units to prepare a virus.' The man said, standing. 'We'll take care of our own methods.'
'Fine.' Zurg said, defeated. 'What's the target species?' He said, his hand over his visor. Upshown by this little man! He needed an execution... just a small one to calm his nerves. And maybe some tea. Jasmine, yes. With cream.
'Anopheles barberi.' The man said. 'How soon can you have it ready?'
'Anopheles barberi...' Zurg muttered, his hand coming down. He repeated the words a few times before standing straight up. 'WHAT?'
'Pardon?' The man said, just as he was about to turn to leave.
'You...' Zurg said, pushing aside his plate and throwing his napkin on the table. 'You... insolent little...' He began moving toward the man, arms clenched by his side. 'You came here, to my palace, to my inner sanctum, eat my food, sit on my cushions, and ask me to develop bugspray!' He spat, his face now a foot from the man's. 'The common mosquito! That's what you want me to kill? That's what you're paying me for? I'm an Evil Emperor! I won't stand for this!' He turned. 'GUARDS!' Turn again. 'Let's see you get out... of...'
The man pulled back the hammer.
'One hundred and seventy thousand Standard Units.' He said, eyes narrowing behind his horn rimmed spectacles. 'Just because you've managed to irritate me. How soon can you have it ready?'
'One week is the standard production time.' Zurg said weakly.
'Very well. I shall return in a week.' The man put his gun away. Zurg relaxed visibly. 'Thank you for dinner, Emperor Zurg.' He adjusted his tie and set his bowler hat at an angle, picking up his black umbrella as he went. 'Good bye.'
Zurg watched him leave, then slumped into a chair. The grubs, who had been watching the whole scene, came out from their hiding places and crowded around their lord and master. 'How may we serve, Evil Emperor?' one of them asked, their heads bowed.
Zurg was silent for a while as he watched a fly on his ceiling. At last, he said 'Bring me my brain bots, and a library reference for Anopheles barberi. A Yellow Pages, oh, and a new bowl of dip.' He said, sitting up just as the last of the grubs had scurried away. He sighed heavily as the last two items were brought forth, along with a new bag of Doritos. Slicing open the bag with a claw, he dipped it as he flipped the directory open to F. His finger ran down the page, then picked up the telephone which a grub was holding on its head. It rang twice.
'Universal Fashion, how may I help you?'
'Yes, I was wondering about hiring a consultant.' Zurg said, pausing as the other side asked him a question. 'Male.' He answered. 'Yes, it's for me. Uh huh. Tell him he has to be good with purple, I like purple. Uh huh. Yes. Well, the same to you, punk!' He hung up heavily, causing the grub holding the phone to grunt. 'Tell Guest Services to prepare a room. We have a new consultant coming into tomorrow.' He stood up, his cloak swishing dramatically behind him as he walked away. 'And someone bring me my bubble bath!' He said, continuing in a low voice. 'Lord knows I'm going to need it.'