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Pyramidal in shape and mountainous in size, the lazily rotating station circled in a wide orbit a black sun blotting the purpled purity of interdimensional space. Specks of bluish light zipped across the inverted triangle, illuminating its featureless grey angles in scurrying flashes.
Inside, Brel floated crawlingly along a crowded tubular transport corridor, mumbling incoherently while consulting his ubiquitous notebook. The officious Greyling had a million and one things to do now that the boss had tacked on an extra chore. His lordship's annoying habit of piling on additional work at the last minute was incredibly taxing, but in this case welcomed for it would considerably lighten Brel's heavy workload.
'Overused and undervalued, that's what I am,' the guardian alien grumbled, jostled by other similarly engaged stellar shepherds dressed in variedly coloured jumpsuits competing for garishness with his own scarlet attire. 'Steward of a million galaxies and He won't grant me time off to get over my writer's block.'
Even after sixty million years of toil, Brel was still muddling his way through editing the first draft of the proposed holy book he had been roped into ghostwriting for the Creator. The stipulated religious blueprint for upcoming humanity, an ingeniously plotted theological guidebook, required an illusory beginning, a factual middle, finished off by an ambiguously worded ending. Talk about a literary minefield!
Caught up in his worries, Brel rounded a corner head down and collided with a hastening colleague. 'Good heavens, will you look where you are going!' he complained, rubbing his domed noggin. 'As if I haven't gotenough things on my plate, now I'm required to steer around others.'
'Forgive me, Senior Oversecretary Brel. I was instructed by Assignor Relb at the Ministry of Administrations to report to you.'
Glancing up, Brel's jade eyes glinted approvingly at seeing the cause of his collision. 'Ah, Undersecretary Lerb. I was on my way to find you. You saved me the trouble, if not the pain. Float into my office will you.'
Lerb in tow, Brel turned off the bustling main thoroughfare into a shorter, quieter passageway, coasting to a halt before a metal X-shaped door. Clapping his hands, a wad of multihued key-cards linked by a silver chain materialised out of thin air.
Fishing through the pile, Brel selected a gold card and inserted it into a slot-lock in the door's centre, the portal noiselessly splitting crosswise left and right to grant them admittance. A snap of his fingers slipped the cards back into his personalised pocket of unsynchronised time and space utilised solely for Greyling storage, and Brel glided into the workroom.
Brel's office outwardly appeared as disorganised as its user, even though everything was arranged in systemic chaos that actually kept order. Stacks of paper, marked with diagonal alien typeface, columned the room from floor to ceiling along both sidewalls, extending from the doorway to stop at the foot of the outward sloping window wall decorated with the mural of the coldly blazing dark star inking the lavender space vista weirdly lacking pinpricks of starlight. Crammed between the stacked reams squatted Brel's cubed desk, cluttered by piled folders of paperwork pending his perusal.
Drifting over a barely visible floor composed of criss-crossed lighting strips, Brel manoeuvred above a sumptuously upholstered triangle chair and deactivated his anti-grav belt. Settling behind his desk, he indicated for Lerb to be seated opposite him in its plush twin.
Taking in the décor, Lerb caustically remarked as he lounged, 'Love what you've done with the place, Senior Oversecretary. Your style of decorating redefines the concept of paperhanging walls.'
His thin mouth curling into a smile, Brel remarked, 'I've always liked your cheek, Lerb. That sense of humour of yours is just as black as our sun.' His gaze drifting upwards to a ceiling spotted with hexagonal clock faces, the mutely ticking hands of each timepiece pointing to differing galactic time zones, the supervisory Greyling frowned. 'The Boss remains old-fashioned and a stickler for tradition. So long as He taps His forested garden worlds for lumber, we'll never progress into being a paperless society. Making headway on that score is out of my hands. But a decision that is mine to make concerns promoting you.'
Sitting alerter in his chair, Lerb gave his superior his undivided attention, his almond-eyed stare meeting Brel's appraising gaze. Garbed in the yellow-dyed jumpsuit denoting his difference in status from Brel's own redder daywear, the middling ranked bureaucrat appreciated the scarcity of promotion opportunities. Near immortals, job advancement amongst the universal caretakers came once in a Greyling lifetime.
'I'm all earholes, Brel.'
'That confidence is reflected in your service record. But never get cocky, kid. Arrogance leads to mistakes.' Referring to his notebook database, Brel read aloud from Lerb's personnel file. 'Field performance is exemplary. Your handling of that collapsed star in the Beta Quadrant was novel--lassoing a black hole and towing it to a quieter sector of space would not have occurred to me.'
'Your praise is most generous, Senior Oversecretary.'
'However, bookkeeping is unacceptably sloppy and needs working on. Lerb, reports are to be kept legible and handed in punctually. Efficiency is the key to running an orderly universe. What else do we have listed? Ah, yes. Extracurricular activities intrigue me. On your way up through the ranks you've moonlighted as curator of the Xenomorph Hologram Museum.'
'Holographing aliens fascinates me. I enjoy taking laser snapshots of otherworldly wildlife. Is that a problem?'
'That actually counts in your favour. I myself hate dealing with animals.' Clearing a space on his junked tabletop to set down his notebook, Brel meditatively formed his hands into a steeple. 'The Big Guy on High has mandated that I take an understudy. He's of the inclination that an assistant of mine will alleviate the pressures of my not inconsiderable fieldwork. The hours are lousy, there's no overtime pay, and the only day off you'll get is the statuary creation holiday.'
'I've worked Big Bang Day for the last five thousand years straight.'
'Careful, Lerb,' Brel cautioned. 'Overwork leads to stress.'
'I thrive on hard work.'
'Sucking up to me is unnecessary, kid. I've already decided to take you under my wing.'
'My thanks to you, Senior Oversecretary.'
'Don't thank me yet. With greater rank comes a rise in discretionary powers, and that brings inviolable ground rules to uphold. Up until this moment you've conducted field operations supervised, your handler acting as your safety net. Hereon in you'll be flying solo, with no fallback. Breaking any of the standard regulations will have severe career repercussions, not to mention invoking His wrath.'
'Does this mean Earth will be included on my rounds?'
'You're getting ahead of yourself, Lerb. That planet has long been the Head Honcho's pet project. True sentience has yet to be reborn there, but it's not far off and as such there's to be no meddling whatsoever. Earth is presently off limits even to me.
No Greylings at all are permitted in the sector of that galaxy unless the direst astral emergency crops up. El Supremo wants His recreation experiment to develop unhindered to the extent that He purposely keeps His omnipotence out of the area.'Getting back to the commandments. When in the field, specimen taking remains outlawed. We're in the janitorial business, not keepers of pets or plants. Visual recordings are permissible. The Big Guy enjoys looking at 3-D postcards but will not tolerate abductions or thievery. Dream implants have not come off the backburner since the asteroid incident. They are wildcards to be used sparingly and only when specifically authorised by upstairs. Needless to say, playing snooker with uninhabited worlds' is frowned upon, as is any goofing off on company time. Which brings me to the next, most important rule of all. Time tinkering is a definite no-no and impossible anyway, what with His childproof locks in place.
'Now that my laying down of the law is dispensed with, let me offer my congratulations, Junior Oversecretary Lerb. Your probationary period will be half a million years, upon completion of which you'll be evaluated and your ranking either ratified or revoked based on your performance. Report to the dispatcher's office when you leave here to receive your new certification, then front up to the paymaster.'
Floating up off his chair, Brel glided around the desk and patted Lerb's head in the congratulatory manner of Greylings. Handshakes would be a peculiarly human custom. Resting his hand on Lerb's hairless scalp, he squeezed gently but meaningfully. 'If you secretly harbour a god complex, lose it now. We enact His will, not impersonate Him. Or so I'm often reminded.'
Retaking his seat, Brel absently glanced over a memo from the Supreme Being outlining His idea that in the far-flung future Greylings should appear to human beings as--'What the hell is an angel?' he put to Lerb. 'Never mind. This is upper management dribble. Kid, my advice to you is to make the most of the opportunity you're being given. Believe you me, it does come only once in a great while.'
'I serve but the greater good and will exploit this chance to the fullest extent,' responded Lerb, eagerly taking his leave of Brel.
Back in the hectic main corridor, crowded into faceless anonymity by his thronging brethren, Lerb indulged himself with a smirk of satisfaction. He had pulled off his promotion without a hitch. All those years spent tirelessly grooming himself for advancement, fostering his image as a dutiful, reliable servant finally paid off. Earth lay within his grasp and that do-gooder Brel was none the wiser to the larger machinations behind the scenes. God created the universe, but the Greylings managed--and by inference, manipulated--it.
Stopping at the nearest porthole to take in the view of the purple void invisibly adjoining normal space where his technologically sophisticated race had resided undetectable to Berranian and Tsor stellar explorers, Lerb watched the blue halos indicating travelling Greylings flitting outside the pyramid's slab-sided shell. Given time, after ingratiating himself further with Brel and winning the elder's trust enough to secure the custodianship of the Creator's precious blue planet, he too would be streaking through the cosmos on the back of a fast-as-light travel beam to the Sol System.
Lerb's smirk broadened into a maniacal grin. Earth would then shudder under his seminal touch like clay on a potter's wheel.