They finally got some privacy in the waiting room. The three codmen had herded the humans onto one of their saucers, and then this flew them up to an even bigger saucer–maybe as big as all of London–hovering over the coast.
The waiting room was uncomfortable. Its walls sloped gradually and the floor was wet. In fact, there was water all over the vessel–the space ship, James realized. Sitting on the wall of the waiting room he finally had some time to gather his thoughts.
“Matty, these are aliens,” he whispered.
There were two guards in the room, but it was a huge room and they stood far away.
“I know,” she said. “Oh, James. What ever will we do?”
“Wait!” he said. “I got it! I have my mobile.”
“What good is that. Who are you going to call?”
“Emergency. They have to be able to help us.”
He dialed. An automated message told him the number was not in service.
“What is it? What did they say?”
“Nothing, Matty. Emergency’s not working.”
She looked down at her hands, miserable.
Another thought occurred to James. He began unpacking his Silver Rocket 5000.
“James, what are you doing?”
“I have an idea,” he said. “Our lines are dead, but maybe the rest of the world is still okay. We have to warn them.”
He began pulling the contents of the box out. The tooth brush he put in his lap, but all the plastic and twist-ties he tossed in the knee deep water, where it floated.
“Who are you going to call?” Mathilda asked.
“Aha!” James said, triumphant. He pulled the manual out of the box and then tossed the box into the water too. On the back was the eight-hundred number for customer support.
“Well? What did they say?” Matty asked.
James rolled his eyes. “I’m on hold.” He heard some bossa nova playing in his ear. Mathilda hugged herself and looked miserable.
“Hello,” came a voice on the other end of the phone, a man’s voice with a heavy East Indian accent.
“Yes, hello sir, my name is Dave. I hope you are doing okay today, and I will do my best to–”
“–This is an emergency! You have to listen–”
“–yes, sir, we treat all our customer concerns as emergencies–”
“–you don’t understand–”
“–sir, if I could–”
“–aliens, like cod people or something–”
“–all over London, maybe the whole United Kingdom–”
“–sir!” Dave nearly shouted. “Sir, I cannot help you if you do not let me speak. I appreciate your problem is important–”
“–Aliens! This is a real–”
“–Sir! Please! I need your model number.”
“–in the sky! In these saucer things… what? You want my what?”
“Your model number, sir, please.”
James stared at his phone, his jaw hung slack.
“Well, what the devil do you need that for? I said this is an emergency.”
“Sir, I cannot help you without your model number, sir.”
James stared at his phone again.
“What is it?” Mathilda asked.
“He wants my model number.”
She shrugged. “Did you tell him about the aliens?”
“Maybe give him your model number then.”
“Unbelievable,” James muttered, bringing his phone back to his ear. “All right, fine, Dave. Where can I find my model number?”
“Sir, it should be on the back of the box of your product, sir. Do you have your box, sir?”
“I need the box,” James said to Mathilda. She fished it out of the water.
“All right,” said James. “I have my box. What now.”
“Sir, on your box you should see a white box. There are numbers in the box. Please read them out to me. Do you see the numbers, sir?”
“On the box,” James said to Mathilda. “There’s supposed to be another box. A white one.” He rolled his eyes.
“Got it,” Mathilda said.
She started reading the numbers out to James, and he repeated them to Dave on the phone.
“Okay, thank you sir. I just need a moment while my computer here looks up your product sir. Okay, sir, there it is.”
“Fine,” said Dave. “I gave you the number, now can we–”
“–Oh, okay sir! I see you have purchased the Silver Rocket 5000.”
“Yes, that’s right. Now, about the aliens–”
“–Sir, I regret to inform you that that particular product has been recalled by the factory.”
“Yes, sir, there is a faulty circuit and the Silver Rocket 5000 must be serviced. I must caution you, sir, not to get the Silver Rocket 5000 wet, sir, or it may short circuit.”
James paused. “Seriously?”
“Yes, sir. There have been cases reported of it bursting into flames.”
“A tooth brush. And I’m not to get it wet. Because it can burst into flames.”
“What’s the point of a tooth brush if you can’t get it wet?”
“I understand your frustration, sir.”
“Do you, Dave? Really? I mean, the whole point of a toothbrush is to get it wet.”
“James,” Mathilda said softly.
“No, I’m going to handle this,” he told her.
“Sir, I understand. My bulletin says it is okay to get it wet if you do not turn it on.”
“Well,” said James, “will it still work then?”
“Yes, sir. It will not be powered, but you can still brush your teeth manually, sir.”
“But… isn’t that just like a regular tooth brush then?”
“Yes, sir, it is! Our products have many uses, sir.”
“That’s ridiculous,” James said. “Do you have any idea how much this thing cost me? And now I’m supposed to use it like a regular brush?”
“Sir, yes, or you may get it serviced. I can give you the mailing address for the factory. There will be a small service charge.”
“A what!?” James asked.
“James,” Mathilda said, drawing his attention across the waiting room where a large group of the codmen had just arrived. They all looked the same to James, all except one, who was nearly twice as big as the others. His fish bowl was commensurately big and atop it sat a large golden crown.
“I’ve gotta go,” James said into the receiver.
“Sir, thank you for your call,” said Dave. “On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, how would you rate your–”
James hung up and gulped. The group of cods was approaching.
“Rejoice, humans,” the lead one called, “for you swim in the presence of Emperor Flobb!”
The emperor–the one in the big bowl–spoke. “Thank you, sergeant. Now, show me which of these animals it is that claims to be intelligent.”
“That one, Excellency,” the lead cod said, his plunger pointing to James. James gulped again. He stood, putting his mobile in his pocket. The Silver Rocket he held in his hand. The big cod approached, and James saw that this one had a full beard instead of just a mustache. It looked James up and down.
“I have been told that you can speak. Is this true?”
“Yes,” James said.
Emperor Flobb’s eyebrows rose.
“Curious. Most curious indeed. But… I’m not convinced. It might just be a clever mimic. Sergeant, kill them all.”
James’ eyes widened and the other humans gasped. He acted without thinking and did the first thing that came to mind. He raised his tooth brush and levelled it at the emperor.
“Stop!” he shouted. “I have a weapon!”
The cods tensed for a moment. Out of the corner of his eye James saw Mathilda. She was biting her lip, complete misery on her face.
“What manner of weapon is that?” Flobb asked. “It scarcely has a dish at all.”
“It’s a… um… nuclear… laser… sword.”
The cods looked at each other and then burst out laughing. It was a great chortling laugh, and their jowls and mustaches jiggled.
James hit the on switch and the tooth brush began buzzing.
“Careful!” he said. “I’ve armed it.”
“Okay,” Flobb said, winking. Or blinking? It was hard to tell with his one eye. Then one of his pincers shot forward and snatched the Silver Rocket 5000 from James’ hand.
James’ jaw dropped and the cods laughed again.
“Looks like I’ve disarmed you,” Flobb said. He brought the brush before his bowl and looked it over. “Now, what is this thing?”
His other pincer opened the top of his bowl and he then he dropped the tooth brush in. James’ breath caught in his throat.
There was a flash of light, a hiss of bubbles, and then the emperor’s bowl erupted in a cloud of green gore. The four legs carrying him crumpled and his bowl tipped over, spilling the vile goo into the waiting room. The other cods all gasped.
The humans and the cods were silent then for what felt like hours, just staring at the mess that had been the emperor a moment ago. Finally the sergeant spoke.
“You… you killed the emperor,” he said, his eye wide. He picked up the imperial crown–dripping green–and then turned back to James. “By our laws… that means… you’re the new emperor.”
The cod sergeant draped the massive crown over one of James’ shoulders, and James almost sank to his knees.
“Long live…” one of the other cods began, and then he drifted off.
“Long live the emperor!” another said. The others then picked up the chant.
“Long live the emperor!” they shouted in unison. “Long live the emperor!”
James and Mathilda looked at each other, wide-eyed.
“Long live the emperor!”
James turned to the sergeant, and the cods all grew silent at once.
“Can you stop attacking the Earth?”
“Of course, Excellency. At once.”
He relayed the order through his radio and then the cods resumed chanting.
James took Mathilda’s hand and they stood there, watching the strange aliens.
“I’m going to have to quit my job,” she said.
“I’m going to need a new tooth brush,” he said.
She squeezed his hand.