“Level 50 please,” he said to the lift speaker.
“You want level 50?” A sonorous voice sounded.
“Yes, 50 please.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite sure. 50!”
“Only authorised personnel are allowed access to 50.”
“I am authorised. I’m a muffin man!”
“Yes sorry, of course you are. Authorisation please.”
“What the giblet is this authorisation?”
“You show me you have the authority to enter the Executive Suite. I then let you in. Quite simple really.”
“Don’t damn me, damn yourself buddy.”
What type of a lift calls you buddy? Marley pulled out the transceiver. He was about to turn it on and call the Head Tea Lady’s nose when he paused, and calmly held the transceiver next to the elevator speaker. A scanner read the radio frequency identification code.
“Authorisation granted, Esmerelda.”
“No, thank you, Esmerelda.”
A slight jolt and the lift ascended.
He pushed the trolley out into a reception area. Soricidae art hung on the wall beside more abstract paintings, possibly AI generated. The receptionist’s desk was polished so white that it disappeared when viewed from certain angles. This was what the reception desk at the gateway to heaven might look like. Above the desk the receptionist’s head appeared to float. Then Marley saw with horror that he was confronted by a Tentacled Shrew.
“I see you’ve brought my tea. The catering on Goramus leaves quite an impression.” She waved her snout at him.
She didn’t appear to be doing much. Unlike the one at Binary Loans typing on keyboards and answering phones, all this Tentacled Shrew was doing was preening itself. One tentacle applied nail polish to another with a fake red nail; a third smoothed the ginger hairs on its head; yet another adjusted its glasses. Two tentacles lazily tapped at a keyboard.
Marley cleared his throat. “This tea is for the guests inside I’m afraid. You’re welcome to a muffin.”
A tentacle thrust its way across the room and attached to a savoury muffin. The tray wobbled slightly under the force of suction. With a deft flick, the muffin was tossed into the air and caught by another tentacle, then placed into a mouth.
“Now, my tea!” The Tentacled Shrew eyed him impatiently.
“This is not for you but for Nono and his guests.”
“It is for me! I ordered it three days ago!
“I thought you said the catering here was good.”
“I’m trying to be nice. Nono ordered nothing!”
A tentacle reached for the remaining jug of tea. It was only one-third full but had been kept warm by the hotplate. She poured it into her gullet without a thought for the heat, then mildly burped and blew a few steam rings.
Marley looked towards the entrance of the Executive Suite. The wall had no perceivable node where he could scan the transceiver to gain admittance. The receptionist must be guarding the sole means of entry.
As if hyped by the tea she quickly jabbered, “What else do you have for me?”
Marley jealously stood in front of the cheese snacks, arms apart.
“No. It’s not your cheese snacks I want, silly.” The Tentacled Shrew smiled wryly. The smile of a Tentacled Shrew has been likened to a fist shoved into a beanbag.
“No. No cheese snacks for me.”
Marley could see the signs. The beanbag smile, the tentacles moist with lubrication. He broke into a cold sweat.
“No. What I want is–” She threw her tentacles into the air.
Marley knew this was no xeno-yoga pose. She could only be going through her pre-mating ritual.
Anticipating the first few lunges Marley weaved from side to side. But tentacles three and four grabbed him around the legs. The suckers attached to his shins, dragging him across the floor behind the desk.
If any observer saw this scene – Marley disappearing behind the desk and the puckering noises of a Tentacled Shrew in heat – they would never again be normal.
But fortunately Marley didn’t behold this scene. He was part of it, and in the heat of the moment comes the man!
Having previously spent a night with one of these aliens, semi-consciously, Marley recalled how they slowly, but firmly, wrapped their tentacles around the stomach of the target. After this, four other tentacles duly caressed Marley’s hands and feet. The old adage that Tentacled Shrews always kept two hands, and one snout free, didn’t apply to foreplay.
While tentacles one and two agonisingly tickled his toes, five and six caressed his palms.
Even though numbers three and four deprived him of much needed oxygen, Marley had the strength of mind to remember: at this stage of the mating process, a Tentacled Shrew’s attention was focused entirely on tentacles seven and eight, which were doing something not fit to be described in the annals of any history journal, certainly not in a biography, and definitely not in a thought provoking and well-written science fiction adventure story.
But this book falls into none of these categories so we can safely describe what tentacles seven and eight were doing. They were playing Marley’s buttocks like bongo drums.
Despite this distraction, Marley closed his palms around tentacles five and six, winding them around one and two. He drew them into a position where a quick tug could execute “the corkscrew”, a knot so strong it is has been used to moor Betelgeusian Carriers to pulsars.
Channeling his entire strength within two biceps, he heaved.
Curiously, the Shrew didn’t react. She probably wouldn’t notice until she was ready to switch tentacles.
The drumming on his buttocks slowed and finally ceased.
She languidly opened each eye, her ardor soon turning to alarm. Appendages three and four quickly retracted themselves from Marley’s torso. Seven and eight joined them in trying to disengage one, two, five and six.
Marley thudded to the floor. He pushed the Tentacled Shrew off her stool. She scurried shamefully behind the water cooler.
Searching the desk, he found three buttons, each a different shade of white. All were marked ES. Three buttons for the Executive Suite? He pushed the first one. The desk monitor flashed “Extra Sensory”, and showed what was going on within. He saw Rothball Hazard seated in a plush high-back orange chair like a throne. Actually it wasn’t that high. It was Hazard who was short. Facing him on a divan sat the stooges of the Viscount a la Carte, Rudolf and Jones. Frint Nono looked out the window, his head slowly turning from side to side as he surveyed the protest below.
Marley pushed the second ES button. The screen flashed “Elephant Sound” and the trumpeting of several elephants shook the room. Random!
He pressed the last option. “Executive Suite” scrolled onto the screen and the door whooshed out of its slot. Marley looked toward the door with uncertainty.
The silence was punctuated by Rothball Hazard: “Shrew! Everything ok?”
From behind the water cooler: “Yes Dr Hazard, everything is, er, fine.”
Nothing is more pathetic than the wounded pride of a Tentacled Shrew.
Marley grabbed Jed’s arm from the tray beneath the trolley, cocked it, and walked firmly into the room.
Not as firmly as he would have liked as he was still wearing the apron.
“No, everything is not fine! And won’t be fine until I serve your ass on a plate. Where are the Antlers?”
“Who is this?” Jones glared at Marley. Rudolf looked at Jones then glared at Marley too.
Hazard frowned. Then he giggled. A wild-eyed contagious giggle made his eyebrows quiver. “You and whose army? If I may ever so politely, ah, inquire.”
Jones also began laughing. Rudolf looked at Jones and laughed so hard he snorted. Only Nono was unmoved. He had not turned since Marley had entered.
“Whose army? That army below you.” Marley pointed out the window.
Hazard paused a second. His laughter became even more intense.
“That army below you,” Marley repeated. “And this arm!”
He aimed it squarely at Hazard’s chest and fired two shots. Hazard slumped in his chair, then laughed again. This time the laugh was serious, bordering on evil.
He tore open his shirt to reveal two titanium plates. “I don’t have a bullet proof vest. I have a bulletproof chest! Hahaha ah!”
Marley never wanted to hear such a laugh again.
In desperation he aimed Jed’s arm at Jones and Rudolf.
“No!” Jones cowered. “We are unarmed. We were ordered to leave our weapons on board. That is a fact!”
Marley took no chances. He needed to show he meant business. He fired a salvo at Jones, aiming at his foot. Jones threw himself off the divan in pain.
Rudolf waited a moment, studying his partner. Then he too threw himself off the divan, clutching at Jones.
Hazard stopped laughing and commanded: “Nono! Get him. Capture this cretin!”
Without turning from the window Nono said (faster than usual for him), “They may have breached the interior.”
“Impossible! Now stop this man Nono. Now now now!”
Nono lifted one foot in the air, awkwardly rotating. He planted both feet firmly on the ground and advanced towards Marley, looking less awkward.
Marley cocked Jed’s arm five times. He pulled the middle finger.
Five bullets splayed into Nono’s chest making five red stains. Nono slowed, but inexorably bent onwards.
Marley fired another three times.
Nono continued bleeding, and advancing.
Marley whispered to himself, desperately, “Is this how it ends?”