“Who are you? How did you get in here? Who sent you?” The questions spilled from the president’s lips, colliding and merging until all that came out was babble. He rose from his chair, raising his hands slowly to show they were empty.
At the door, the figure in black stood still, the silencer of a particularly nasty-looking gun trained on the president’s heart – although it was rumoured he didn’t have one.
“Whatever they’re paying you, I can double it. Treble it! I’m sure we can cut a deal.”
The figure in black didn’t move.
“If it’s not money, what would you like? Anything at all! Your heart’s desire! I’m a very powerful man. I can get you anything.”
The figure in black’s head tilted ever so slightly and then straightened. The grip on the gun tightened.
Sweat was coursing down the president’s high forehead and into his eyes. He squinted. His hand moved to wipe his face but a whizz from the silencer exploded the nearby bust of a predecessor into smithereens.
The figure in black pulled an envelope from a back pocket and tossed it onto the desk. The president glanced at it.
“What’s this? A list of your demands.”
The figure in black indicated that the president should pick up the envelope and examine its contents. A gun can be so eloquent.
The president snatched up the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper. He frowned.
“What’s this? A blank sheet.”
A voice filled the room, filled the president’s mind, although it did not seem to be emanating from the figure in black, but from everywhere.
“Write,” the voice was soft, deep, and yet feminine, “Write a presidential order, effective immediately. You will renounce all use of fossil fuels. You will convert and urge others to convert to a vegan lifestyle. You will halt deforestation. You will clean your filth from the oceans. You will –”
The president sat down heavily and crossed his arms. “You might as well just shoot me. I’m not going along with your hippy-dippy bullshit. I haven’t got time for this. We are at war, in case you haven’t noticed. The Easterners are encroaching on the borders of our allies.”
“Foolish mortal,” the voice intoned, harsher now. “Unless you comply with my demands, you won’t have a planet to fight on.”
“Innocent people are being killed and you’re wasting my time with this garbage?”
“You must act now to prevent irreversible damage. This cannot wait!”
“Oh, blah blah blah. I’ve heard it all before from the science lobby. That little Swedish girl. Is that who sent you?”
“I am Gaia,” said the voice. “And I’m just cleaning house.”
“Well, Miss Gaia, if that’s your real name, while you’ve been standing there all self-righteous, you did not notice I pressed a button under the desk. In about three seconds this office is going to be awash with agents.”
The door was kicked open.
“Mr President?” a man in a sharp suit approached the desk, while others poured in, pointing guns in all directions.
“She was – she was right there!” the president gibbered.
But there was no trace of the figure in black. The shattered bust was in one piece, not a mark on it.
“Not my place to say, sir,” said the man in the sharp suit, “But I think you’ve been overdoing it. Time to get some rest.”
The president picked up the blank sheet of paper. He nodded.
“That’s the problem with burning the candle at both ends,” the man signalled his team to stand down, “It burns real bright but pretty soon you’re left with no candle at all.”