A Valentine for Dr. Sloth
Maoush, the orange Grundo, slowed his hurried pace as he neared the conference pod to which he had been summoned. Ever since he had secured this job as Quartermaster of the Space Station, he had been at Dr. Sloth’s command, too often forced to abandon his meals in mid-bite, his bed in mid-dream, his friends in mid-laugh -- laughs often provided by Maoush’s wickedly insightful and bang-on impersonation of his Master’s volatile moods and rants. Standing before the door of the pod, the Grundo took a deep and cleansing breath before placing his thumb on the scanner, exhaling slowly as the doors whooshed open to permit his entry.
Dr. Sloth stood with his back to the door, looking through the pod’s observation window, and affecting a contemplative pose as he regarded the blue and green curve of Neopia far below the Space Station.
Sloth spun leisurely toward Maoush, a grin spreading as slowly as a stain across a face that otherwise betrayed no sign of humour or delight. Maoush was slightly revolted by the sight, but he filed the expression away in his mind as yet another Slothism he could perform for his fellow Grundos later at the Café, and outwardly betrayed no reaction.
“You sent for me, Sir?”
“Tell me, Quartermaster, have you ever heard the expression ‘I would rather be feared than loved’?”
The Grundo maintained his blank facial expression as inwardly he struggled to compose an appropriate answer. In the end he settled on raising an inquisitive eyebrow and replying, “Sir?”
Sloth chuckled and waved his hand dismissively. “I should know by now that Grundos would rather eat a book than read one. I would be better off, and quite a bit more enlightened, if I attempted to have a philosophical discussion with this chair here.” Sloth plopped down in his Orange Evil Mastermind Chair, and stroking its armrests added, “Quite a bit more dependable, too, I’d think. Always where I need it to be, always listening and never repeating what it hears in here.” Sloth paused, apparently weighing the truth of what he had just said, and then continued: “Anyway, they say that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved because you can not force anyone to love you.” Levelling a penetrating gaze at the Grundo, he asked, “Am I feared by the residents of the Space Station?”
Maoush nodded curtly and replied, “Yes, Sir.”
Dr. Sloth narrowed his eyes into dangerous slits and asked, “And am I loved by those same residents?”
The orange Grundo hesitated long enough that Dr. Sloth waved his hand impatiently and said, “No need to answer that; your silence is instructive. Here’s a question that might not tax your puny Grundo brain too much: do you know what is coming up on the 14th of next month? The month of Awakening as they reckon it down below?”
Maoush nodded and replied, “That would be Valentines Day, Sir.”
“Ah, good. Now here’s a puzzle: I have spies on Neopia who have told me that each year everyone down there gives Valentines Day Cards to each other, expressions of love and friendship that are cherished by those who receive them. And do you know who receives the most of these cards each year?”
The Grundo shook his head, although he had a few guesses he might have offered.
“It is the rulers of the various lands – those fathead Skeiths Hagan and Skarl, Miss Fancywings Fyora, Kelpbeard the soggy Koi – I could go on. And the puzzle? Do they receive what I understand to be literally thousands of Valentines each year because their subjects love them? Or is it because they are feared?”
When Maoush opened his mouth to respond, Sloth waved both hands with contempt. “I am not asking for your opinion, Quartermaster, I am prefacing my own with a rhetorical flourish. It is my opinion that the residents of this Space Station fear me enough to do anything I say, and I say that they must love me. And further, I say that they must demonstrate their love for me this year by making and sending me Valentines.”
The Grundo covered his surprise by asking, “And you sent for me, Sir...?”
“Yes, your job will be to procure the necessary supplies we will be needing.” Dr. Sloth picked up a small electronic device and began pushing buttons on it until he seemed satisfied with what he saw on the display screen. “First of all, I will need a box. Would you think that one square meter would be large enough to hold a few thousand Valentines? Yes, I think so too. This box should have solid sides so as to not permit anyone to see inside but it should also have a slit large enough on the top to allow Valentines to be placed inside, yet not so large as to allow any previously placed Valentines to be removed. It should be made of some strong material, preferably metal, and best of all welded solidly outside my office here. Oh yes, according to my spies, this box should also be decorated with hearts of various sizes and shades of red. Are you getting all of this, Quartermaster? Good. Now, for the Valentines themselves, I will need for you to find: multi-coloured construction paper, craft scissors, glitter, glue sticks, paper doilies...”
Maoush took a long sip of his Galaxy Energy Drink before replacing the can on the table and concluding his story to his friends at the Grundo Café.
“Oh yeah, and Sloth expects the word ‘love’ to appear in each and every Valentine he receives.” Maoush shuddered as he recalled the maniacal glint that had sparkled in Sloth’s eye as he had uttered the word “love”. Something felt too dangerous about this situation for the Grundo to mimic his Master’s quivering lips and high-pitched voice; Maoush decided to not favour his friends with an impersonation this evening. Just as the Grundo opened his mouth to attempt to change the subject, the Space Station’s loudspeaker crackled to life and boomed, “Quartermaster is requested in the Hangar, ASAP.”
Maoush sighed, emptied his drink in one long draught, and said, “The special order must be in already from the School Supplies shop in the Neopian Plaza. Better get your thinking caps on, guys.”
As Maoush walked away from the table, Mucige the Darigan Grundo leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial tone to his fellow Grundos, “Dr. Sloth wants love? I have an idea.”
Dr. Sloth was jittery with excitement as Maoush entered his office.
“Ah, Quartermaster,” Sloth greeted him cheerfully, rubbing his hands together with anticipation. “Have you brought the torch with you?”
“Actually, Sir, there was some concern about removing your mailbox with the acetylene torch, what with all of that paper inside. In the end I decided to use Hydroslothic Acid to dissolve...”
Sloth interrupted with a fluttery wave of his hands, saying, “Details, details. What I meant to ask was have you brought my Valentines Day Mailbox? Did you shake it? Does it seem full to you?”
Maoush struggled to maintain the neutrality of his face, to not react to Sloth’s uncharacteristically unevilgenius behaviour. “Yes, Sir. It’s here now and I’ll be off...”
“Oh no, no,” Sloth said breathlessly. “That will never do. I couldn’t possibly... I mean I’m just too...” Dr. Sloth cleared his throat and with a more forceful tone continued, “What I mean to say is that it would be beneath me to read these cards myself. You may read them to me.”
Dr. Sloth spun on his heel until he was facing the observation window, unaware that its shiny surface reflected back his expression of nervous excitement to the waiting Grundo. Maoush sighed inwardly and approached the metal box, running a finger over a large red heart that he had painted there himself.
Digging deep into the contents, the Grundo pulled out a glittery card at random and read its inscription aloud.
“Dear Dr. Sloth, I just LOVE the way your head looks exactly like a mouldy potato.”
Maoush froze, allowing only his eyes to dart to where Dr. Sloth was standing, noting with trepidation his stiffening back and lowering brow.
“Is that all it says?” Sloth asked in an even tone.
“Then you may read the next one.”
“Yes, Sir,” Maoush replied reluctantly before reaching for another card. He selected one with particularly cute and colourful drawings on the front and stealthily preread the inside before attempting to quickly exchange it for another one.
“Quartermaster, are you trying to hide something from me?”
Maoush turned his head to find himself held in Sloth’s awful gaze, shook his head and began to read:
“Roses are red,
Flipperbots are blue,
I just LOVE the way your hair looks like wilted Cosmic Broccoli
That got stuck to your head with a stick of Mutant Glue”
The Grundo raised his eyes and met Sloth’s back once more. He could see Sloth’s reflected face, now a flat mask, and heard him say, “Continue.”
Each card that Maoush read had more or less the same inscription: LOVE your failed plots; LOVE your evil grin that no one has ever actually found menacing; LOVE the Space Faerie Amulet; LOVE that Splat-a-Sloth game. The Grundo read until his voice grew hoarse and, finally, he reached the very last Valentine; a pink card covered with hearts and daisies. He read:
“Dr. Sloth is the most evil, corrupt, foul, depraved and vile mastermind of loathsome, heinous...” Dr. Sloth spun in a flurry of swirling cape and cowl and, if Maoush was correct, he had tears standing in his glowing red eyes. Could this be the card that finally goes too far? Maoush asked himself.
“Hand me that, Quartermaster,” Sloth demanded and the Grundo was relieved to pass the card to him.
“Yada yada, evil corrupt, yada, yes, here it is... vile mastermind of loathsome, heinous ingenious, shrewd and cunning plots and schemes in the history of the Space Station and beyond. And I love him for it, signed, the Happiness Faerie.”
Dr. Sloth clutched the card to his chest and then quickly straightened his arms so that he could read the words again.
“Yes, yes,” Sloth muttered to himself, “Whoever this Faerie is gets me. Evil... mastermind... of cunning plots. Yes!” Sloth jabbed at the words with a thin green finger. “It is true, it’s better to be feared because I can not force them to love me. But what do they know? I do not need their love, only their obedience. Quartermaster!”
“You are dismissed. And take this,” Sloth indicated the wildly decorated metal box with a flailing right hand, “and dispose of it. I will not need it... ever again. I am Dr. Sloth, devisor of cunning plots and schemes, and I have no use for displays of love.”
“I am Dr. Sloth, yada yada, and I am an evil genius.” Maoush stopped his marching in a circle and arched his right eyebrow, letting a grin spread across his face until it dominated his other features; a fearsome rictus that caused his friends to hoot with knowing laughter.
Maoush sat back down in his chair at the Café and took a refreshing sip of his Galaxy Energy Drink.
“What was the old guy thinking?” Mucige asked. “Of course we were bound to sabotage this Valentine scheme of his. I mean, it’s not like he really wants our love anyway, right?”
Maoush joined the other Grundos in nodding his head in agreement, but just at the edge of his brain, somewhere he didn’t really want to acknowledge, Maoush knew a different truth: Dr. Sloth was no different than him and his Grundo friends; even evil dictators need love.