You Can't Get Good Help These Days

“What you need is a vacation.”

Sixty-fifth Assistant glanced at his boss through the corner of his eye, sneaking a peek at the boss’s reaction to his suggestion. Noting with no small amount of relief that the boss was still sitting calmly behind his desk, he dared to add, “Perhaps somewhere near Capricus Prime or the Wormhole.”

“No, no, no!” The boss coughed, then spat a glob of what looked like tapioca pudding into a chrome receptacle designed expressly for the purpose of collecting just such disgusting things.

“My apologies, sir, I only–”

“Vacations are too intense,” the boss croaked. “Too much to do. I need peace and quiet. I need to relax. A vacation, my dear Sixty-fifth Assistant, is the last thing I need!”

“But sir, certainly a cruise through the Gossamer Nebula would be far more relaxing than your average day running this prison.”

The boss lit a cigar. Blue smoke enveloped his massive, horned head as he considered Sixty-fifth Assistant’s logic. Finally he said, “Either something is relaxing or it isn’t. Running this psychotic zoo isn’t relaxing and neither is a nebula cruise.”

“But a cruise is less stressful than–“

“Degrees of relaxation are irrelevant!”

“But–“

“Have you ever been on a cruise through the Gossamer Nebula?”

“Well, no, sir. I never earned enough to afford such a–“

“Then how do you know if it’s relaxing?”

“Well, I had to assume that if people were willing to pay that kind of money to–”

“When you assume, you make an ass out of yourself. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that?” The boss looked sardonically down his lumpy nose at his assistant.

“Out of you and me.”

“What!?” The boss spat another milky glob into the receptacle. A small amount of lumpy spittle snapped back and stuck to his upper lip. He failed to notice.

“Well, I always heard it was when you assume you make an ass out of you and me,” said Sixty-fifth assistant, trying very hard not to look at the disgusting goop clinging to the boss’s face. “It’s a play on the spelling of–”

“Are you saying that I’m an ass because you assumed something?” The goopy glob jiggled as the boss spoke.

“No, sir, I just meant–”

“Because I’m your superior, I’m automatically implicated in all of your screw-ups, is that it?”

“That’s ridiculous. I was only–”

“Oh! So now I’m ridiculous!” The boss was so enraged and tense that his head started to shake.

The vibration shook the glossy spittle and before he could stop himself, Sixty-fifth Assistant heard himself shouting, “Well, yes! Yes, you are! With that dollop of what I hope is only phlegm on your face, you do look quite ridiculous!”

The boss leapt to his feet, his face turning from gray to puce in an instant. He snatched an object from his desk that looked a lot like a pocket calculator except that it had about ten times as many buttons. He pressed one of the buttons — the triangle-shaped one — and a collar around Sixty-fifth Assistant’s neck suddenly started to hum. Sixty-fifth Assistant made a squeaky noise, a little red light blinked on the collar, and an instant later the collar fell to the floor as its wearer was replaced by a column of mist that smelled remarkably like a combination of curry and rotten cucumbers.

The boss slumped back into his chair with a disgruntled sigh. After he had finished his cigar and the mist that was once his assistant had finally dissipated, he dialed an extension into the prison intercom. The voice of a clerk in the human resources department politely acknowledged him.

“Yes, yes, good afternoon. This is Warden Magalug.” He was still trying to calm down and he chose his words very carefully. “It appears I am in need of an assistant.”

“What happened to the one we sent up last week?” inquired the clerk.

“Well, er, you see…” Magalug paused. He knew he needed to word things just right or else being denied another assistant would be the least of his worries. Even though assistants were just inmates who happened to be on good behavior and thus allowed to work in the office rather than the dung vats, the human resources department frowned upon vaporizing them in a fit of rage. Once you had burned through your first fifty, they kept a pretty close eye on you. “Well, he… that is to say, I…”

“The system indicates his appliance was activated.”

“Well, yes, it was appliance.” thought Magalug. Heh, heh, I’ve always loved that one.

“What was the reason for activation?”

“He tried to escape.”

“Escape? Really?”

“Why, uh, yes, yes indeed. He, uh…” This was going to be tricky. Magalug did not consider himself a very skilled liar. “He was doing the vacuuming, you see, and he was vacuuming behind my desk, okay, and I was very busy at my work, right?”

“How did he try to escape, Warden?” The clerk’s tone was crisp.

“Well, I was very busy, you see, and I didn’t realize… that is… he threw the cord around my neck and I was quite fortunate to have gotten hold of my activator before he was able to kill me!”

“I see. Do you need a physician sent up?”

“No, no. Just another assistant. I’ll be fine.”

“But you just said you were lucky to have escaped death.”

“Yes, but, you know, we Sloggians are, well, very resilient. Heal up quick. I shouldn’t need to take up a physician’s valuable time.” Had his species been capable of perspiration, beads of sweat would definitely have been covering Magalug’s forehead.

“Very well, suit yourself, Warden. I shall log this under code 321-V: Vaporization Due To Violent Escape Attempt. Your new assistant will be up shortly.”

Magalug switched off the intercom. He sat at his desk, staring at the ashtray his niece had made for him in her taxidermy class. He tried to recall just exactly what it was that Sixty-fifth Assistant had said that had gotten him so upset. But for the life of him, he simply couldn’t remember.

There was a knock at his office door. Magalug stood up and walked around to the front of his desk as Sixty-sixth Assistant walked in.

“Greetings, Sixty-sixth Assistant,” said Magalug, “I’m sure you’ll find working for me much less torturous than those disgusting dung vats.”

“Perhaps,” replied Sixty-sixth Assistant. “But since we’re on the subject of disgusting things, I might mention that you have a little something on your lip.”

Last 5 posts by Kirk Starr