Zaftig the Magnificent: Talent Scout and Producer by Hank Quense

In these trying times, you deserve a break from reality.  Here is one such break.

Backstory: The characters in my story turn out to be real, but are in a parallel universe.  One of them, the Vice-dictator of the vicious zaftan race of aliens, is determined to kidnap me.

This post is a continuation of previous posts.

 

Zaftig the Magnificent, by Hank Quense

The Vice-dictator, the leader of zaftans everywhere, slithered around his office.  He had two tentacles wrapped behind his back.  He moved past the picture window looking out over a garden filled with shrubs and flowers in various shades of grey and black.  He slid past the bookcase that concealed an emergency exit and stopped in front of a wall map.  He studied the star systems controlled by the zaftan navy.

The Vice-dictator was a bit over six-foot tall and weighed a trifle over three-hundred-twenty-five pounds,.  He was considered scrawny by zaftan standards, but he had been in power during six dictators, a testament to his staying power.  Two of the previous dictators had challenged the Vice-dictator’s power and both had died suddenly shortly thereafter.  The current Dictator spent his time doing three-dimensional crossword puzzles leaving the Vice-dictator to run the government and the military.

He forced his eyestalks to swivel and he peered at the red spot near the edge of the map.  It was just outside the zaftan sphere of influence in the Betelgeuse System.  It was a planet occupied by the hated gundies.  The gundies were a world of mongrels discovered by a zaftan mining expedition over three hundred years ago. The miners discovered a backward population consisting of humans, dwarfs, elves and other races.  At the time, the gundie technology was primitive and presented no threat to the home world, Zaftan 31B, or to zaftan interests anywhere.

Since then, their technology had exploded and now the gundies directly threatened the zaftan empire.  The Vice-dictator knew the guides had super-fast computers that made zaftan computers look like squidling toys.  They had developed faster-then-light technology for their warships while the zaftan navy plodded along at lower than light speed.  It was only a matter of time until the gundies built up sufficient forces in Betelgeuse to launch an attack on zaftan territory.

These advances were the work of the author, Hank Quense.  The Vice-dictator was convinced the author wasn’t neutral.  The cretin supported the gundies at every turn.  That unfair advantage must stop!

The Vice-dictator had set himself the goal of disrupting the gundie attack before it could mature.  For that, he needed help and the help was scheduled to be in his office a few minutes.  He clicked his beak, the zaftan equivalent of a smile

  ❀ ❀

Zaftig pushed himself around the waiting room to hide his nervousness.  Having the Vice-dictator order you to show up in his office was enough to put anyone out of sorts.  Watching him were three thuggish bodyguards.  One held two clubs in his tentacles, another had a spear gun and the third used a laser rifle.  The guards watched Zaftig as if hoping he would do something wrong so they could use their weapons.

Zaftig stood seven feet tall and weighed over four hundred pounds.  His rubber-like skin oozed green-gray slime.  His eyeballs flopped around at the end of two-inch eyestalks and a had an eagle-like beak.  His eight tentacles kept twisting around each other when they weren’t used to move him around the room

A loud buzzer startled Zaftig.  His eyestalks rotated to find the sound, but one of the guards pointed a tentacle at the door to the inner office and said, “Go!”

The door slid open noiselessly when he approached and revealed an immense office with a wide desk at the far end.  Behind the desk sat a small wizened figure wearing a mask.  Zaftig had heard the vice-dictator always wore a mask in public so no one would recognize him.

“Come in.” The Vice-dictator beckoned with a tentacle.  “You are Zaftig the Magnificent.  What is so magnificent about you?”

Zaftig tamped down his nerves and replied.  “I am in show biz and a boastful name is useful, Sir.”

“Be squatted.  And what is so magnificent about you?”

Zaftig let his tentacles spread out until his torso sat on the floor.  “I recruit talented performers and put them in shows all over two galaxies.  I produce all those shows and I am quite successful.”

“Interesting, I am sure.  To business.  I have an assignment for you.  Since you are in entertainment, you must know of the author Hank Quense.”

“I have heard of him.”

“You are to find him and bring him here to this office.”

“May I ask why I am doing this?”

“So I can extract what he plans to have the gundies do in the next book.  Once I rip his limbs off his miserable body, he’ll tell me anything I want to know.  After I know the gundie plans, I’ll have the author rewrite the book the way I want it to end, in destruction of the gundies.”

“Excuse me, Sir.  If you rip his limbs off, he will not be able to write the book.”

“Hmm, you are correct.  I see you can think for yourself.  I like that.  And you are not afraid to speak up.  I like that also.  I do indeed.  However, if you do a second time, I will have you disappeared.”

“Sorry, Sir.”

“Hmm.  Now what can I do to get the author to disclose his plans?  Ahh, an engineer in the torture lab developed a penis crusher.  I will use that on this author.”

Zaftig, usually filled with self-confidence, knew he was in a dangerous situation, one that held horrid consequences for him.  “Sir, why was I selected for this assignment?  Where is the author?  Do you know?”

“What I know is that the author lives far away.  Probably in a different universe.  You were selected because we know you leave our universe for parts unknown.”

Zaftig goggled at the Vice-dictator who clicked his beak. “You think your ship can suddenly disappear from the military scanners and no one would notice?  You think your ship can suddenly pop up on the scanners and no one would notice?  We believe you are using a wormhole, but we are content to leave it unexplored for now.”

Zaftig twisted three tentacles into a knot a boy scout would be proud of.

“Bring back the author and you will be richly rewarded.  Umm, how about an exclusive right to produce shows on our home planet.”

Zaftig’s eye stalks whipped around in surprise. The reward would make him one of the wealthiest zaftan’s in history.”

“On the other hand, if you fail, then I will pull off your tentacles one a time, let them regrow and pull them off again.  Over and over.  Time after time until I get bored with doing it.  So you see, it is in your best interest to give me this Hank Quense.” The Vice-dictator waved a tentacle.  “Go!  Be about your mission.”

Zaftig left the office in shock.  He had been given an almost impossible assignment with a hideous death as a price of failure.  The Vice-dictator was correct.  Zaftig did indeed know a wormhole to a different universe.  But it was vast and he had only visited one location on one planet: a densely populated island called Manhattan.

He left the building and caught a shuttle to his ship parked in orbit.  It always made his heart beat fast whenever he saw the gleaming white yacht with the big red letters, Zaftig the Magnificent: Talent Scout and Producer.

   

With his yacht stashed behind an asteroid, Zaftig transported down to the surface of the blue and white planet.  He landed in a nineteenth floor office in Mid-town Manhattan.

“Oh my Gawd!” Rhonda Minestra screeched.

“Damn!”  Sid Glower muttered.

“Greetings, puny humans,” Zaftig said to them.  “You may grovel before my tentacles.”  He spoke through a translator device hanging from his neck.

Rhonda ignored Zaftig, fetched a paper tissue from her handbag, tore it in two and stuffed a piece up each nostril.  “I forgot how bad you zaftans stink.  I almost tossed my omelette when you showed up.”  She handed a second tissue to Sid.

“The stench almost made me lose my jelly donut,” Sid said as he stuffed the tissues into his nose.

Rhonda was a twenty-something Brooklynite and Sid’s niece.  She was several inches taller than Sid and slender with spiky brownish-blonde hair and brown eyes.  Sid was short, pudgy, had kinky black hair and wire-rim glasses.  He ran a lifestyle consultancy that usually tottered on the verge of bankruptcy.

“Tell me what I want to know,” Zaftig bellowed, “and I won’t rip off the top of your head, suck out your brains and spit them on the floor.”

“Oh, please,” Sid retorted.  “How many times have you made that threat?  And each time I tell you I’ll order Rhonda to slice off a tentacle and throttle you with it.”

Zaftig believed that Rhonda was a trained assassin and from the corner of an eyeball, he saw her holding a stiletto and tapping the tip on her desk.  The knife was a gift from a nice old man in Sicily who had hired her father to whack a competitor.  Her father was a freelance hitman who traveled the world on contracts.

Zaftig cleared his throat, an alarming sound like a cement mixer in need of an oil change.  “I need your help, please.”

“Hullo,” Rhonda side.  “You’re actually bein’ nice and sayin’ please?  You must be pretty desperate.”

“How much are you willing to pay for our services?” Sid asked.  “We’ve never made a dime from all the times you came here.”

“Convincing me not to destroy your miserable world should have been payment enough.”

“Okay,” Rhonda said, “Let’s hear it.  This should be good.”

“I have to locate an author named Hank Quense.”

“That name sounds familiar,” Sid replied.

“Wasn’t he the guy that had that big scandal with a movie star and her pet pig?” Rhonda asked

“Naw.  That was someone else,” Sid replied.  Isn’t this Quense guy the one who wrote the stories about the three of us.”

“Oh, yeah.  He ain’t written about us in a while.  I wonder why.”

“So how do I find him?” Zaftig asked.

Rhonda tapped on her keyboard and looked at her screen.  “The closest people named Quense live in New Jersey.  Ain’t none in New York.”

“Where is New Jersey?  Is that a different planet?”

“Many people around here think Jersey is a different world,” Sid replied.

“Can you take me there so I can find the right one?”

“My uncle once went to Jersey.  He said he ain’t never goin’ back.  I ain’t goin’ there.”

“There’s a bunch of them,” Sid said.  “It’d take a while to track them all down.”

“I just checked with a librarian I know.  She says the author lives in Bergen County.  So you’re all set.  You don’t need us to go to Jersey with you.  ‘Cause frankly, you ain’t gotta enough money to pay me to go there.”

“How do I get there?”  Zaftig squatted on the rug which smoldered from his caustic slime.

“You can take the subway, but that’ll probably cause a riot.  And you’d have to take a bus or a cab after you get to Hoboken.”

“He can’t take a cab or an Uber,” Rhonda said.  “He won’t fit through the door.  And how’s the driver supposed to drive when he’s sick to his stomach the whole trip?”

“Besides,” Sid added, “You’ve been on the streets in Manhattan.  People here just assume you’re wearing a costume for a movie or TV show.  In Jersey, they’ll call out the SWOT teams and the National Guard.  You won’t have a chance to surviving in Jersey.”

“Sid’s right.  You won’t last ten minutes over there.”

“Then you will have to go in my place and fetch the author back here.”

“Ain’t happenin’.’” Rhonda said.  “Why don’t I just call him?”  She tapped on the keyboard.  “I got his phone number.”  She took out her phone and punched in the number.

“Hello?”

“Is this Hank Quense?”

“Yes.  Who is this?”

“Rhonda Minestra.  I’m here with my uncle Sid Glower and Zaftig.  Zaftig wants to meet you.  Can you come to Manhattan?”

“What kind of sick joke is this?”

“What’re you talkin’ about.  It isn’t a joke.  We really want you to come here.”

“Well the zaftan may be real if he came from different universes, but you and Glower are figments of my imagination.  I can’t believe I’m talking to some idiot who wants me to believe a character I invented is real.”

“He hung up on me,” Rhonda said.  “He ain’t comin’.”

Zaftig twisted a few tentacles together.  “I am doomed if I cannot bring the author back with me.”

“Doomed, eh?”  Sid said.  “This sounds pretty suspicious.  You probably mean to do the author some harm.  Am I right?”

“Yeah,” Rhonda said.  “Maybe you better leave.  Unless you wanna pay us a fee to listen to you moan and groan.”

“Can you go get the author and bring him back here?”

“He’s in Jersey.  We told you we ain’t goin’ there,” Rhonda replied.

“How sad,” Zaftig said.  “My friends refuse to help me out.  Perhaps I should drop a neutrino grenade and blow up this part of your world.”

“Hey, Mister Zaftig the Magnificent,” Rhonda said.  “We ain’t your friends.  You tried to kill us a few times and you tried to blow up Manhattan at least once.  If you use your grenade, you’ll also kill the author so it won’t do you much good.  Why don’t you just leave us alone.”

“I agree with Rhonda,” Sid said.  “Go away and don’t come back.”

Zaftig sighed and activated his transporter.

❀  ❀  ❀

Back on his yacht, Zaftig mixed a cocktail made mostly with yukeste, an alcoholic drink so potent it was banned everywhere in the galaxy.  He drank and bemoaned his fate.  If he went through the wormhole, the Vice-dictator would seize him and torture him for years. If he stayed in this universe, he’d be impoverished in a short time.  Unless he resorted to space piracy, but that would require a bigger ship, a crew and weapons, none of which he had a chance of getting.

On his third drink, he developed a plan.  He’d go back through the wormhole.  But he wouldn’t stay in the zaftan galaxy.  He’d travel to a different one, load up the ship with talent, put them into a deep-space travel coma and return to this universe.  Perhaps Ronda and Sid could connect him with some entertainment moguls who would be interested in unusual acts.

On his fourth drink Zaftig pass out and had nightmares about falling into the clutches of the Vice-dictator.

 

For vacations, Hank and Pat usually visit distant parts of the galaxy. Occasionally, they also time-travel.

Besides writing novels, Hank lectures on fiction writing, publishing and book marketing. He is most proud of his talk showing grammar school kids how to create a short story. He used these lectures to create an advanced ebook with embedded videos to coach the students on how to create characters, plots and settings. The target audience is 4th to 7th graders. The book’s title is Fiction Writing Workshop for Kids.

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