Meeting room number six was not brand new, but it was spacious and comfortable. The morning sun shone through a wide bay window and lit up the polished wooden conference table. Padded chairs were placed evenly around the table, facing the whiteboard. There was even a small kitchen off to the side. The only thing that looked out of place was a young Ixi boy fast asleep on a small couch at the back of the room.
The first to enter the room was a fire Krawk. He slammed the door and stomped straight to the kitchen corner, muttering about the scandalous prices of food. He then began to make pancakes.
While he was so occupied, an unkempt grey Bruce shuffled into the room and slumped down into one of the chairs, not even glancing to see if there was anyone else around. His eyelids were drooping, and soon he had sunk into a daydream.
Next came a portly royal Wocky in a fine tailored suit, holding rolled-up sheets of paper under his arm. Humming lightly to himself, he strolled to the small coffee table near the couch and inspected the bowls of candy that sat on it. He found a few coins which swiftly disappeared into his pockets, along with a few pieces of candy for good measure. The Wocky then took a chair at the big round table and put his papers down.
"Good morning, partners!" he called in a jolly tone.
The Krawk, who was bringing a plate of charred pancakes from the kitchen, replied with a grunt that sounded like "G'mornin."
"All right there, Walter? Can I borrow these?" The Wocky had reached out to take the plate of pancakes and pull it towards him, but Walter the Krawk immediately slammed his hand down to block his path.
"No," he grunted simply.
"Oh, is that so. Well these can't possibly be enough, dear friend, you should definitely make more."
The door opened again, this time to let in a green Lupe. "Good morning. You started without me, didn't you?" He looked briefly at the Ixi boy before taking a seat at the big table. "I wish I could sleep like that."
"Good morning, Kevin," said the Wocky. "Where's Frida?"
"She's off to do her bit. Prepping the customers for us," replied the Lupe. He noticed the way the Wocky's necktie was knotted, and readjusted his own tie to match the Wocky's.
"Dear Frida. She's always guided us so well. She's almost like a mother to us, isn't she," said the Wocky.
"I don't care what she's done for us!" said Walter, while burning his next set of pancakes. "She thinks she can just make us do everything her way. I won't go with it, I'll never help. You'll see in the end, when you need me the most, I'll just crush you like the rest." He turned to glare at Kevin, the Wocky and the Bruce. "I don't understand how you can go along with it and do everything she says. You disgust me."
"Not all of us have natural talents for crushing," said Kevin acidly. "We all wish we could do as well as Frida. You're the same of course, Walter. You couldn't possibly measure up to her, crushing or no crushing."
"Why waste a perfectly good chance to take advantage of Frida's talents?" said the Wocky with a grin. "Stick around, Walter. If you keep working with us, you'll get more opportunities, and even more!" He cleared his throat. "Speaking of more..."
He spread his sheets of paper on the table for all of them to see. The Bruce blinked once, then went back to his daydream, gazing out of the window.
"This is my brand new schedule designed to increase our performance." The Wocky used a fountain pen to point at various figures and complicated diagrams. "If we put more work into these areas, our results will improve significantly. It will be a little tight, but it'll be worth it in the end. We'll have more time saved up, and we might be able to expand our influence."
"No, Gerry!" said Walter. "I haven't forgotten all your brilliant plans for us and all the profit you gained! Oh, such nice ways of making our team work better, all right, but none of the credit will ever go to me, will it!"
Kevin was inspecting one of the sheets with diagrams and maps. "Of course you would set aside the best areas for yourself, Gerry."
"Now, now, Kevin, you have quite a large portion for yourself!"
"You took the one I wanted, and you know it perfectly well. You've expanded your time slot, too! And just what would you be capable of doing in all that time? I should have more time!"
Gerry was chuckling. "Why, I might go all the way to Altador!" He held up his hands and twisted them slightly, and his suit glowed briefly with a golden light as a few pieces of Altadorian jewellery appeared on him. A crown of gilded laurels, bracelets and rings. He looked at them thoughtfully, then made another appear, and another.
Kevin stared open-mouthed at the fine golden jewellery. Immediately, more of it appeared on his own outfit, but it was less finely crafted than Gerry's and didn't shine quite as bright. The Lupe snarled and made his jewels disappear with a snap of his fingers.
Gerry noticed Kevin's hungry expression, then hastily removed his jewellery and stuffed it into his briefcase, away from the Lupe's searching eyes.
Walter was coming back from the kitchen again, bringing with him the smell of burning. "Will you stop wasting energy, you two!" The Krawk bent over the chart to check his own time slot, which was next. "You've reduced my time too? This is too much, Gerry!" He was fuming, literally. Flames were bursting from his eyes, and the whole of his body seemed to bulge, as if he was growing bigger. With a mighty roar, he breathed two fireballs that shot out of his mouth and towards Gerry.
Kevin couldn't take his eyes off the flames, and smaller sparks of fire had begun to sizzle around him. They couldn't seem to form a full fireball, though.
Gerry laughed louder and jumped on top of the table, looking behind him to admire the fireballs that crashed into the wall. "Very impressive, old chap! But I know you can do much better if you push yourself! Keep going, let it flow, throw me everything you've got!" He was rummaging in his briefcase and pulled out an amulet. "I might just be able to capture it and save it for later!"
Then the Bruce finally came out of his torpor. "Pointless," he said.
Walter's flames vanished as fast as they had appeared. He went back to his kitchen, muttering under his breath and punching the walls.
Gerry's face fell, and he jumped off the table with a sigh. "Fine, then, let's move on to something else. Before Walter cracks and ruins everything too soon like a rookie -"
Walter dived back towards the table with his fists full of flames. Gerry was ready for him and pounced with a grin, they crashed into each other and fell to the floor.
The Ixi boy made a small noise in his sleep, moving his fists.
The others froze, staring at the boy. Walter seemed to shrink, trembling with fear. Kevin's eyes were twitching as he glanced at each of the others in turn. Gerry's hand had snuck into his briefcase and was squeezing his coin purse tightly like a good luck charm. Even the Bruce looked alert and terrified.
The boy's eyelids twitched, and then he was back into a peaceful sleep.
The others kept looking at him for a long time, their hearts racing, before they returned to their previous occupations. Walter and Gerry sat at the table again.
Gerry cleared his throat. "Shall we move on. Do any of you have better ideas to improve our... productivity?" He glanced at the Bruce and asked tentatively: "How about you, Paddy?"
Paddy managed to look back at Gerry for a few seconds, with his exhausted, bloodshot eyes. Then his eyelids were pulled down again by the mighty power of somnolence.
"No, of course not. Walter?"
"You know exactly what I want," said the Krawk. "To stop stalling and execute the real plan. To finally show the world why it needs to fear us!"
Gerry slammed his hand down on the table. "That's not enough. I'm telling you, we'll gain so much more if we prepare properly!"
"Let's focus on our current tasks," said Kevin. "While we argue, Frida is out there, doing better than any of us. Of course, she has great aptitude, the easiest task, and she was settled long before we could get started. She could make the customers do anything. But why shouldn't we surpass her now? If only we could hinder her, make her less efficient..."
Gerry shook his head. "That would also reduce our profit. And you know she would never let us try anything. No... what I'm thinking is a little more... extravagant. Have you ever thought of stepping out of our anonymity? What if we could reveal ourselves? Let them know what they're really dealing with, and install some good old-fashioned slavery and worship. Then everything would go faster."
As he was speaking, the golden glow appeared on his suit again. This time his outfit shifted to a proper royal Wocky's attire, with even more jewellery. His entire body seemed to grow, too, giving him a more imposing stature. Once again, Kevin's outfit shifted to mimic Gerry's, though it could only manage a pale imitation.
Kevin looked down at his majestic costume and scoffed, making it vanish. "Could you be any less original, Gerry? If we got stuck as almighty rulers, we'd be bored to d-"
Kevin clapped his hand to his mouth, his eyes twitching again under the combined pressure of Gerry, Walter and Paddy's glares. "I mean, taking over the world and making everyone your slaves, that never works out for anyone. That's why we decided to stay anonymous, in the first place. We can't build an empire like the classic villains."
"You have to admit that it would work for Frida, though," said Gerry. "It's in her nature. And they all love her so much. She's the one to whom the customers can really relate, if you know what I'm saying. They love me almost as much, though. They can never get enough of me."
"I'll never be as popular as you or Frida," said Kevin. "The customers hate me, but once they have what they wanted from you, they resort to me. I can understand them of course, as I'm the one who has to try and top your work."
"I just hate them all," said Walter.
"I might be more successful if it wasn't for him," Paddy mumbled to nobody in particular. He was gazing absent-mindedly at the sleeping Ixi boy.
There was a long silence, during which Walter stabbed at the table with a knife from the kitchen, Gerry wandered around the room while office supplies and snacks disappeared into his pockets, Paddy doodled vague shapes on a scrap of paper, and Kevin tried to mimic Gerry's poise and style.
Then Paddy straightened up, as if he was listening for something. "Frida's coming."
Gerry went back to his papers and rolled them up. "Oh, excellent! Well, I'm up next!" He rubbed his hands to make his outfit glow again. This time his body shrank, his fur lengthened and became shaggy, and his clothing turned to rags. "I might use reverse psychology on them this time. Oh, wait, I look like Paddy. Nevermind." He shifted again, to another expensive suit and sleek brown fur. Then he glanced at the Bruce. "Oh, did I hurt your pride?"
Paddy actually smiled. "No, you most certainly did not."
"Make sure you come back soon enough to leave me time," Kevin told Gerry, "otherwise I'll wish you an accident!"
"I'm next," said Walter. "Make sure you a good job, I get delayed every time because I'm stuck behind you two!"
"Don't worry about leaving me time, I don't have much to do anyway," said Paddy.
Gerry shook hands with Kevin. He then held out his hand for Paddy and Walter in turn, but the former couldn't be bothered to reach and take it, while the latter simply glared and turned away to sulk.
In the corridor that led to meeting room number six, an Aisha was walking slowly with her head held high. She was wearing a suit jacket with a skirt and high heels, and her hair was styled to perfection. She had done the best job, as always, and the world was ready for her little team. The miser, the jealous, the enraged, the idler, and the one they would hopefully never resort to. She sighed in satisfaction, thinking of their noble work.
Soon, there would be a great war, she could feel it coming. She would be able to give the team some of the action they longed for. It was so kind of her to take in those amateurs and let them believe that they were helping her. But the world was under her control from the beginning, of course, and every mortal in her power.
Frida stopped before the door to the meeting room to check her appearance in a full-length mirror. She stopped a little longer than necessary, but who could blame her? She was such a perfect being that even the mirror couldn't take it.
She smirked and ran her fingers lightly on the surface of the mirror. Slowly, her reflection was invaded by purple light, which turned white as it became brighter. The Aisha in the mirror grew taller, her hair flew out of its pins and floated behind her like a cloak. Her eyes began to glow brighter and brighter with a white light. Just before it became blinding, a delicate mask appeared to conceal her face and contain the light. Too much perfection could overwhelm, thought Frida. Indeed, she could hear the mirror vibrating with her sensitive Aisha ears.
She tore her eyes from her reflection, removed her fingers from the mirror and entered the meeting room. "How lovely to find you all here," she said in her clear sweet voice. "Some poor dears out there need their greed tended to. Do you think you could oblige, dear Gerry?"
The Wocky, all ready to go, bowed. "Of course, Madam."
On his way out of the meeting room, he too stopped in front of the mirror. His reflection's suit glowed golden, bright as a pile of coins, and indeed he could see many of those behind him, with more money tucked into his hat. So much of it. It was all his, and he would be getting a lot more.
He went off to spread his power, their power, over the world, while his partners waited in the meeting room.