At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways – with relief or with despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, Wait a second. That means there’s a situation vacant.
Now, many years later, Skagra rested his head, the most important head in the universe, against the padded interior of his alcove and listened to the symphony of agonised screams coming from all around him. He permitted himself two smiles per day, and considered using one of them now. Aft er all, the sounds of wrenching mental anguish and physical distress were a sure sign that his plan was working and that this was going to be a good day, possibly even a 9 out of 10. So he might have even more cause to smile later on and he didn’t want to waste a smile. He decided to save it, just in case.
Instead, as the screams faded slowly into bewildered animal whimpers and the occasional howl of uncomprehending fear, Skagra climbed from his alcove and turned to survey his handiwork. His own alcove was one of six (an even number, of course) set into the sides of a tall grey hexagonal cone at the centre of the main laboratory. At the top of the cone was a grey sphere.
Minutes before, he had watched as the other five members of the Think Tank climbed into their alcoves, laughing and joking in their irritatingly trivial way. They hadn’t even noticed that there were connecting terminals built into the headrests of all of their alcoves but no such terminals built into his own. Why were other people so stupid? Skagra wondered. Even these people, who were so clever, were basically stupid. He had wondered this every few seconds for as long as he could remember. Still, thanks to him – thanks to the plan of which this moment was a significant part – soon other people would no longer be a problem.
Th e fi ve Thinktankers stood gibbering in their alcoves, their eyes blank, limbs making the occasional spasmodic movement. It was interesting that the bodies of all five had survived the process.
Now to check on their minds.
Skagra entered a command code into one of the many panels of instruments that lined the walls of the laboratory. It was a cursory, automatic gesture. If a lesser, sillier person had conceived this plan – not that anybody else could have this conceived this plan – they would have rigged up a big, melodramatic silly red lever to activate the sphere. Skagra congratulated himself on not doing this.
The command code chirruped and the sphere started to vibrate. A confused babble of thin, inhuman voices issued from its interior. It was the sound of thought. Messy, disorganised, arbitrary, no words distinguishable.
Skagra raised a hand. The sphere’s command program reacted instantly. It detached itself from the top of the cone and zoomed towards him, coming to rest in his palm. Its touch was metallic and ice-cold.
Skagra’s fingertips curved round the surface of the sphere. He looked across the laboratory at the slumped figure of Daphne Caldera, her eyes staring moronically into nothing, her lips issuing bubbly baby noises.
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