The intercom on Erica’s telephone buzzed. “Mister Jacobson wants you in his office, straight away.” She gathered herself, left her office, and trudged down the long aisle of cubicles towards the elevator. She got off the elevator and swiped her card through each of the three checkpoints, made her way into his office waiting room and was ushered right in by his secretary.
He was situated behind his desk, over an ornate captain’s chair, busy with a large array of computers and telephones. When Erica entered, he placed down a telephone handset with his articulated, scaly trunk and floated back towards the center of the desk, still six inches above his chair. He spun around to look at her, a tentacle knocking over a small trash can on the ground. A beak slid out from between a set of flaps and an eyestalk careened around and looked right through her. He spoke in the same eerily flat accent they all did.
“Miss Donnelly, the election is tonight.” Her boss called himself “President of ABS Network Television Entertainment Ben Jacobson,” but Erica Donnelly knew his real name from when he had tried to use it originally. It was Jaslksdcqq’xxholryg-Nyszx, Grand Commander of Television.
It had happened about 7 years previous. A great maw had ripped open in the earth somewhere in Oklahoma, lightning and colorful smoke pouring out onto a dry expanse. Erica had watched the arrival on television, awestruck like everyone else. The gateway was immense and beautiful, she had thought. She had never seen anything like it. She was at a party when it had come on the news. Erica’s and everyone else’s faces slid into frozen, silent terror when the first of the creatures hovered into view.
Mr. Jacobson glided around the desk in front of her. Today, he looked like an inflatable octopus; stuffed, sausage-like, into a blue suit. He moved like someone was pulling him along with fishing line. Truth be told, she didn’t mind their appearance so much anymore, it was the noise. The gas-filled sacs hanging off fractal-like branches, wrapped around their central mass, keeping them aloft were constantly opening and closing, inhaling and expelling. It sounded like a dirge on bagpipes – low, constant, and completely unnerving.
Maybe that’s why the things were so convincing – enough to effortlessly slide into almost every available executive position in the country, in only the seven or so years since they had poured out of that great maw somewhere in the middle of America. Convincing because, In the presence of one, you really just wanted to do whatever the hell they wanted so they’d leave you alone. Most people weren’t ever in the presence of any; Erica was rare in that regard. Most people didn’t have the sort of everyday life or access that she did.
He reached one of his more articulated limbs into his suit jacket, and produced a piece of paper. He extended it to Erica, grasped within a smallish pile of rubbery flesh. Ratings numbers.
“The last few weeks, we’ve been doing horribly. Just horribly. What do you plan on doing to remedy this?”
“I figured we could finally break that report on Riley’s mistress, I think it’s at about 90%.”
“Pull the trigger.”
She turned to leave and he floated back around to the other side of his desk, the designer loafers sewn to the bottom of his bespoke slacks tumbling after him. One skittered along on its side, the other alternately hopping into the air and dragging across the hardwood on its toe.
“Close the door behind you, please.”
As she shut the door, he dialed up a “colleague.” She could hear him speaking as she left, in the complex language nobody had even begun to translate. A few English words were sprinkled in, words they didn’t have. Ratings, and Commercials. Coverage, Editorials, and Newsworthy.
It seemed so long ago that Erica was called into a large conference room. The network was being sold to a multinational company, and a new President was being installed. Mr. Jacobson had slowly slid into the room during the presentation, and Erica had to stifle the urge to vomit. She had seen plenty of them on television during the Supreme Court cases, arguing that the constitution doesn’t have the words “human beings” anywhere in it, but she hadn’t seen one up close. Erica couldn’t stop looking around the room at her coworker’s faces during his speech about Changes Being Made, trying to read if anyone else felt the real terror she was feeling.
Something was wrong, and nobody was noticing. She hid in her office the rest of that day, shivering and staring up at the sky.
She walked briskly back to her office. The story wasn’t ready, but it would have to run it if they wanted any hope of competing that evening. She crossed through the news floor break-room, where a squat man from Research and some over-handsome meteorologist were arguing about politics. The squat guy, between bouts of wiping coffee out of a bristly beard, was yelling about how America’s Got No Right to launch a telenuclear attack on a sovereign celestial object, and Who Are We to decide which intranebular gates are off limits for certain space-faring hives of disembodied floating consciousnesses, and What Happened to dealing with our own issues here in the good ol’ 1st Galactic Quadrant (0° ? ? ? 90°) first?.
The weatherman was just reciting some talking points about Galaxial Exceptionalism, and how those bigheaded bastards from the parallel Lamda Cen Nebula had already destroyed their America, what’s to Stop Them from Destroying Ours? Erica sidled right through the middle of it. She had to get back to her office to put the finishing touches on that Riley story. Something that big needed to be handled personally.
Back in her office, Erica Donnelly sat down and made a call to her favorite producer. She looked out the window, listening to the phone ring on the other end. A couple of homeless men had made a sort of camp out of one of the burned-out storefronts, built a fire and gathered some essentials amongst the sweltering towers of garbage. Her eyes unfocused as a hazy memory from her childhood flashed across her mind: someone in a nice suit on the television, standing in front of a crowd with signs, angry about something. She couldn’t quite make out what the signs said. She was jolted back by a faint click on the other end.
“Yeah, Sarah, hi. It’s going on at five – Riley’s gonna have no idea what hit him.”
Matt Lubchansky lives in a Sea Monster-proof bunker deep beneath Astoria, NY. Long ago, he was cursed by a wizard to draw 3 comics a week, every week, currently found here. He knows that he has a funny last name. Matt is a staff writer for The Inclusive.