The Secretary

Julia was pissed at me today. She didn’t say it, she never does. But I could tell from the way she put her orange juice on the table with a thud, the way she looked at me in quick glances when I asked her about her plans for the day, and the way she hit the gas extra hard as she drove out.

When I think more about it, I realize she’s been mad at me for many weeks now. Ever since I accepted the position. First, I thought she was jealous that I was now making more money than her with easier hours. But no, it’s more than that. I’ve heard her chat with her friends when she thinks I am not listening. “I can’t believe he took a position with them.” I heard her say once. “He was never an idealist but to actually work for one of them?”

She makes it sound like I’ve become one of them. I am just a secretary. She seems mad that I take my salary directly from them. But everyone takes their salary from them, they run everything now! Just because she runs a clinic where she treats someone who works as a mechanic fixing cars for someone who might work for them makes her think she is somehow better than me. That’s bullshit I say.

When I got the job offer, she tried to convince me to not take it. “The high salary is just a bait,” she said. “They’ll work you too many hours. They don’t care about us.” I did think about it for a few days. But I wanted that salary. And to be honest, I was a little curious too. I had never interacted closely with any of them before.

I was a month away from graduating college when the invasion happened two years ago. I read about it in my morning news digest. The cover photo was the jelly-fish shaped spaceships hanging in the air—hundreds of them—with the cascades in the background. Not what any of us imagined space invaders to look like. The timing! —I thought —I’ll never find a job, the economy’s going to tank.

I was wrong. They quickly negotiated with the government. They kept their demands small. A small tax and land for setting up their bases. The government agreed, obviously not wanting to get annihilated by their quantum flux bosonic guns. I don’t really know what that means, but I saw a leaked video of their demonstrations. I immediately understood why it put the fear of god in our President’s heart.

The tripods—that’s what everybody called them because they seemed to have three legs and no hands, later I found that it was more like three hands and no legs—didn’t interfere much with the economy at that point. Things went on as usual. Julia was a little suspicious of them, but she was not paranoid just yet. Of course, they hadn’t killed the President yet, either.

I found a job in marketing and immediately hated my manager. He was, to put it kindly, a moron. All his ideas were garbage, but he thought each was a rare gem, and pushed them on me with religious passion. Then when they fizzled out in the market and our product sales went further down, he put all the blame on me. “Implementation makes or breaks a campaign,” he would always say. Don Draper couldn’t sell his crappy ideas. But he was boss, so he got the last word. In short, I was miserable.

The tripods had started to “advise” the government by now. They had also started putting their people in various committees. They moved slowly in that first year and understood our systems. And they learned fast. Pretty smart, the bunch of them, if you ask me.

Anyways, one fine day they assassinated a bunch of politicians and the President, and announced they were in charge. All the liberal discussion forums exploded at once. Julia didn’t move from her computer for a week straight, I had to force her to eat two meals a day on her desk so she wouldn’t die.

It didn’t matter. Things went dull after a week, as if everyone realized the stupidity of all the chatter and closed their laptops simultaneously. Next Monday, everyone went back to work. Things seemed back to normal. Except, nobody was hiring anymore.

I’d been preparing my resume for weeks and was about to start applying for jobs. I kicked myself for procrastinating. Why didn’t I start sooner? Then I saw the new government openings. Be part of the new economy, join the new government services – one of the posters read. The tripods were looking for humans to fill their offices. Why not? They would be better than the shit-headed boss I had now. So, I applied.

The interview was weird. I couldn’t tell whether it went well or not. You laugh, but if I told you to read the expressions off a big blob of skin with one orifice supported by three little hands, you’d be hard pressed too. Anyways, I did as well as anyone because I got the offer.

After I accepted the job despite Julia’s protests, she gave me the silent treatment for a few days. I ignored her and tried to find my way in the new system. I am assigned to the department of Treasury. My new boss, Eapae, seems great. She doesn’t overload me with paperwork—yes, it’s a she, they had three gender groups and her group chose to assume the female gender in communications with humans—and always seems eager to learn about how humans work. As I told you, these folks are smart.

Now that I am starting to settle in my work, I am paying more attention to Julia. She seems very preoccupied with something. I’ve woken up many nights to find her on the desk, her intense face illuminated by the screen light as she types furiously.

This Friday, Eapae asked me if I knew anything about Neonic. I admitted to her I didn’t—and kicked myself for not knowing it—but told her it sounded like a battery company, and I could look it up for her. She laughed and said there was no need. Then she told me I had been working too hard all week and gave me the afternoon off. Like I told you, best boss ever.

Strangely, I didn’t find anything online about Neonic. I almost forgot about it till it just popped in my head at dinner on Sunday—which I had volunteered to make by the way since Julia was eating at home after so long—and asked Julia. Her face turned red and she almost shouted at me. “Who told you about that?”

“My boss asked about it a couple of days ago,” I said, not understanding her reaction. She’s so touchy sometimes. “It’s no big deal, enjoy your dinner.” I added, pointing at her plate.

But she was already standing. “Let’s go,” she said, then dialed some number on her phone. “Emergency meeting.”

“Well we could have finished dinner, couldn’t we?” I said to her in the car as we drove out of town. I was pissed, I’d put a lot of love in that baked chicken and asparagus.

“I thought we had more time,” she said, apparently not talking to me. “Damn these slugs.” That was a pejorative term for the tripods. I was starting to understand. We stopped at a large house. There were like a hundred people packed in it.

“We need to move fast, they’re onto us,” Julia said. She explained what I had told her.

“That’s fine, we have the plan mostly ready, we can execute tomorrow.” Some guy said. Then he described how they had found some herb in Brazil that had a poisonous effect on the tripods; apparently it killed them to even touch it. They had implanted people close to every tripod and had already delivered the herb to most of them.

“We still have a few slugs with no one assigned, let’s go over the list and assign people now.” Some other guy said. “I have a few extra doses here I can distribute.”

“Why are you people doing this?” I said. “Things are going well!”

Julia stared daggers at me. “You don’t know what horrific things they are doing,” she said. “You don’t know anything, so just shut up!”

But I don’t want my nice boss to die—I wanted to shout back at her but thought better of it and stayed silent. It was a hundred against one, probably thousands around the country, ready to go with their little herb pouches. People are so stupid sometimes.

They went over the list of tripods without an idiot assigned to them. I was bored. “Can I go back home?” I whispered to Julia. “One of these people can drop you home.”

“Just shut up,” she whispered back to me.

“Eapae, in the Treasury, we don’t have anyone on her.”

Fuck.

“He’ll do it,” Julia said, looking at me.

“Oh no, don’t you drag me into your stupid plans,” I said. “I am not going to kill Eapae.”

“Just give me the pouch,” Julia said. “I’ll get him to do it.”

My stomach was in knots. No sleep today. She was going to torture me with her bullshit philosophy all night till I said yes. I didn’t last even two hours.

“Fine,” I said. “Just give me the stupid pouch and let me sleep.” She smiled and went to sleep. I couldn’t sleep anyway. It’s hard for me to fall asleep if I am kept up beyond 2.

I drove to the office groggily. I really didn’t want to kill Eapae. Maybe I could just tell her the truth and hide her somewhere. She would understand. But I’d tell her after the bonkers revolution was done. I didn’t want her alerting her friends, who might then put me in jail for complicity. Let the others die, and then when Eapae has no idea what’s happening, take her to a Airbnb or something. I could plan the rest later.

But then what if Julia found out? She would never let me hear the end of it. What was the point of saving Eapae anyways if all the other tripods were going out. She wouldn’t stay my boss for long anyway. Maybe it was best to kill her.

I rolled the ideas in my mind as I entered my office building. Things were really quiet. I walked over to Eapae’s office first. I always said good morning to her first thing on arriving, and she’d be suspicious if I didn’t do that today. It was empty. Huh, I didn’t know about any vacation she was taking.

I took out my phone to see if she’d send any vacation email that I had missed. Julia called then.

“Is your boss in office?” she asked.

“Nope,” I said.

“They’re all gone,” she said, and kept the phone down. I wasn’t sure if she was happy or sad about this. She seemed vaguely disappointed, like a kid that puts light to a firecracker and runs away, only to find it’s a dud.

I was in shock myself. There was a note in my office.

“Sorry Alfaz, need to leave on short notice. We were worried your people had something up their sleeves. It was great working with you. Maybe you’ll figure out space-time travel and we’ll meet on a different galaxy. Cheers!”

I sat in my chair and stared out the window. I wondered about the future. She really was a great boss.

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