by Sheila Crosby
General Petiv fluttered his hands nervously. This job applicant scared the yellow smiley faces off his pale green panties. He was being interviewed only because nobody else had applied. Well, apart from the application in purple crayon with the creative spelling and the S’s written backwards. Whereas the applicant sitting opposite was a grammatical pedant. He just didn’t look it.
Conan the Librarian smelt of violence and wet dog. He wore a polar bear skin with the head still attached, the bear’s front teeth hung over his forehead. He belonged in the zoo, behind a very big moat and wall and bars, and preferably a force-field or three.
So he did have a certain bad-boy appeal. Petiv wished he’d taken more care with his mascara. “Would you care for some coffee, Mr. er -”
“Tea,” replied the other, in a clipped Boston accent. “And it’s just Conan. I only use my last name for checks.”
Which saved Petiv from having to guess at the pronunciation of ‘Snarfleduck’. He relaxed slightly. People could be so touchy about their names. “Milk and sugar?”
“Got any yak butter?”
Petiv’s jaw dropped.
“Oh never mind. I got the taste for it in Tibet, but I’ll settle for a slice of lemon.” When the drinks arrived, Conan drank with his pinkie crooked. It showed off the knuckle-duster — a gold demon with emerald eyes.
Petiv wondered if something illegal had been added to his own coffee. Forget the bad-boy appeal. The sooner he got this over with, the better. “So you want to be first reader at Alien Skin?”
Conan Snarfleduck speared a cup cake with his dagger and peeled off the paper delicately. “I’m tough. I can take it. Even the worst of your slush pile can’t be scarier than the Evil Sorceress of Thall. You should have seen how she slurped her martinis. Frightening. Anyway, I survived plenty of split infinitives and moth-eaten plots at the library, before I ever took up heroing.”
“Ah, no-one doubts that you are capable, Mr. –er Conan. But there’s the question of your salary. We’re quite unable to supply you with virgins –”
Conan snorted. “Virgins! On a space station? But I can find my own women.”
“And I’m afraid we’re right out of treasure.”
“Everyone’s out of treasure. These days you can’t just walk in and take stuff unless you’re the government.”
Petiv stared at his hands. “We also have a cashflow problem. Advertising’s right down and we’re selling a few things to make ends meet.”
“Yes, I noticed that your GravMort is selling some cows on eBay. You can pay me a cow a week, and me and the boys’ll roast it. Add a few beansprouts and tofu-burgers and it’ll be quite like old times.”
“I… I should think that would be possible. Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Conan said, “I’ve got eleven unemployed pillagers to feed. They all left steady pensionable jobs to join me, so I have to see them right, don’t I? So a herd in the band is worth viewing the slush.”
Published in Alien Skin, June/July 2004