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A Hire Power

Written by J. Simon
Illustrated by K. Thor Jensen



Another Monday in the office, and it was going to be a bad one. She could tell. Liz sipped her coffee and grimaced. Stone cold. She didn't know how they did it. The stencil on her door read: "Liz Flaraherty, Inhuman Resources." Her computer had a virus scanner, a firewall, and a jingly bell to ward off demonic possession. Her stapler rarely stayed where she put it, though she never actually saw it move. All in a day's work.

The phone rang. She picked up—"Hello?"

"Divination support."

"I don't need support."

"You will."

Liz slammed down the receiver. This was bad. Tech support had a crystal ball, and they only called when something very bad was about to happen. On the other hand, if she avoided talking to them, she could put off the otherwise inevitable disaster . . .

". . . except that you can't," said Devon as he slipped into her office, "since we knew that would be your attitude and only rang the phone as a distraction. Sorry."

"All right. What's going to happen this time?"

He shrugged apologetically. "Sorry. Causality. You've got to actually do it before the me that was in the past can foresee the future you doing it and become the present me waiting for the present you to do what the future you did to summon the past me to fix the problem that hasn't happened yet."

"Did you, perchance, foresee a swift kick in the butt?"

He turned and pointed. There was a pillow stuffed down his backside.

"Damn you."

"Go on. Don't mind me. Go through your normal routine."

Liz reached cautiously toward the computer, eyes never leaving Devon. No reaction. With the delicacy of someone probing for mines, she touched her coffee mug. The stapler. The file cabinet. He just watched her.

"Give me a hint."

"Dinosaurs versus tanks."


"You'll see."

"I don't need this," Liz groaned. Still watching Devon, she lifted the mail bin up onto her desk. It was locked seventeen ways with cold iron and had a gilded goat's skull on the top. It rattled ominously. Little paper fingers reached questingly under the lid.

"Isn't there supposed to be a blanket counter-animation on my office?"

"Dunno. Didn't foresee that problem. Were any error messages oozing from the walls in pentagrams of blood when you came in?"

"Listen, Devon, résumé golems may be made from paper, but they're strong. Just what problem did you foresee?"

There was a grating creak, a sudden jolt, and the mail bin's lock snapped right off. Hundreds of résumé golems swarmed out of the box, chortling and cavorting and shouting Employment Objectives in reedy little voices. Devon held up a shiny, brand-new lock. "That one," he said.



Liz rubbed her temples. Such an auspicious start to the day. Dozens of résumé golems danced in a fey ring on her desk, invoking the elder gods of Accounts Receivable. Devon shrugged and went about fixing the mail bin. Animate paper men climbed up her shoulders to whisper salary requirements in her ear.

"All right. That's it. Wally! Pedro!"

The two large paperweights on her desk quivered. At her command, they twisted to look at her, air bubbles pushing up to form bulging frog-like "eyes."

"Eliminate all résumés that have not graduated from an accredited hundred-year wizarding college," she decided. "I want archmaster-level experience with large distributed divinations,

WIZ-XP, QuikFetish, GolemPublisher, oh yes, and twelve years' experience with that time-travel cantrip that's going to be released next month."

The paperweights smiled, exposing ghastly maws dripping with molten glass, their eyes now glowing a dusky demonic red. Slithering along the desk, they began slurping and chomping and chewing their way through the clutter. Devon finished his work, glanced warily at the ongoing carnage, and hastily excused himself from the office. Finally, fourteen quiescent and eminently qualified résumés were in her hand—and one last envelope lay in the middle of the floor. Odd—usually the problem with Wally and Pedro was to stop them from eating things. As she watched, the envelope's printed address flowed and shifted into elegant script: "Just add water."

"I don't have time for this. Why," she asked rhetorically, "does everyone think I want to see their clever little tricks and gimmicks? Wally, Pedro! Destroy!"

The paperweights wobbled and gibbered, but did not advance. Liz groaned, dipped her fingers in cold coffee, and flicked a tiny droplet onto the paper.

THOOMP. Just like that, it expanded to the size of a small pillow. Curious despite herself, Liz flicked another drop onto it.

THOOMP-THOOMP-THOOMP. The paper doubled and redoubled in size until it was as big as a bed, and as thick. With a tearing sound, the oversized envelope opened and a blinking, bearded, bespectacled man crawled out.

"Archmage Argentus." He bowed. "Master of the arcane, keeper of dread secrets, proactive efficiency wizard nonpareil at your service."

He drew a glowing glyph in the air, and a little molten man dropped into Liz' coffee and began doing a credible breaststroke through the now-steaming liquid. Argentus snapped his fingers, and the creature vanished. "Kona elemental," he explained.

"Hmph." Liz blew on the coffee, sipped it. Whatever he'd done, it was good. Refilled to the top, too. "All right. That was kind of impressive. I don't suppose you have a gigantic expanding résumé in your pocket?"

The wizard shrugged. "That could, ah, be a slight problem. I've spent the past thousand years in a cave in England."

"Traditional. Enchanted sleep?"

He looked offended. "Writing a play, actually."

"A play? Just one? In a thousand years?"

Argentus glowered at her. "It was going magnificently well, thank you very much. A beautiful, poetic work of Old English. Then the vowels shifted. Hell of a thing, actually. Threw me for a loop. You don't know what it's like to labor for ages only to find everyone around you gabbling like buffoons."

"Try me."

"Well. I'd just about mastered the new way of speaking when this Shakespeare twerp came along and just happened to write about the same thing I was working on. Like no one else ever thought of star-crossed lovers getting bunged up in an accidental double suicide! But mine was funnier!"

"Ah," Liz said wisely.

"Anyway," Argentus said, "I kept at it. Re-worked the plot and crafted a play of truly masterful quality. By then, of course, Hollywood blockbusters were at their ascendancy and quality no longer mattered. Now I've got this slick little screenplay. Dinosaurs versus, er, tanks. It's a little rough." An addled look came into his eye. "But with a zombie cast and real dinosaurs, it would be amazingly cost-effective!"

Liz shook her head. "As much as I've enjoyed hearing about your personal life . . ."

"I have thirteen starving kids to support, too."


Argentus shrugged. "It could be arranged."

"Ah, right. But I'd rather hear about your powers and training. Why should I hire you?"

"Rather than tell you," the wizard grandly announced, "I will show you! Prepare to witness the mind-searing pleasures of hell itself!" He pulled himself up to his full height, beard bristling electrically, and shouted a word that seemed to echo to the corners of the universe. Liz blinked. She checked her watch. She glanced from side to side.

"So. Monday morning in my office is Hell. Somehow, I always suspected."

"No, no!" Argentus stamped his foot. "It's those damned bureaucrats! There are so many regulations these days, I can hardly conjure a piece of bread without a dozen forms and permissions. Bah! Like your soul would've been in that much danger!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Argentus, but I simply don't have a place for an enchanter whose knowledge is as out-of-date as your own."

"I'll start anywhere!" he said desperately. "I'll do anything! Look, I can make copies!"

Her coffee mug made a bubbling poink sound and turned into a dozen coffee mugs. Liz put her head in her hands.

"Unless you have four years' experience in an office environment . . ."

"You think that Argentus, master of stigmata, theurge of Thrain, demi-urge of Mystos, couldn't learn to use the fax machine?"

Liz started feeding the spurious coffee mugs to Wally and Pedro. They glowed appreciatively and began to purr. "To be perfectly frank," she said, "I don't think someone who goes around calling himself master of munchkins and bane of the universe—and means it—would make the best clerical assistant. Conjuring demons, intimidating customers, and loudly proclaiming one's superiority are expressly forbidden under line thirteen-B of the employee guidelines."

"Oh, really!"

"See for yourself."

Argentus scanned through the pamphlet she gave him. His eyebrows jumped a little. "No stealing souls on company time . . . internet strictly banned from orc-porn sites . . . Friday is Causal day and will be time-shifted to occur before Thursday . . ."

"Lines seventeen through twenty."

"Oh." He said nothing, but the pamphlet slowly crumpled and turned black in his hand, little bits of ash floating away until there was nothing left.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Argentus, but you're simultaneously over- and under-qualified for every position at this company. If you'd just spend a few decades learning NecroJava . . ."

The Wizard climbed into the big envelope on the floor and began closing it after him.

"Um . . . begging your pardon," he said apologetically, "but do you have any extremely large stamps?"

A note slipped under the door. It looked like Devon's handwriting. Not good.

"The door, Mr. Argentus. You could try using the door. Lots of wizards use doors."

He sniffed unhappily. "I'll bet your duct wizard doesn't."

"Our what wizard?"

"Duct wizard. The ducts and in-between spaces of a major company are far more comfortable than some damned drafty cave in England, and with all the snack machines for forage . . ." His eyes widened. "You mean you don't have a duct wizard?"

With a whooping cry, Argentus flew up through the air and smashed right through the ceiling of her office. Broken foam tiles showered onto her desk and, of course, into her coffee. There was a disturbing scuffle-scuffle-scuffle and the wizard had vanished somewhere into the guts of the building.

"Oh, by the fuzzy green nuts of . . . !"

Massaging her temples, Liz picked up Devon's note: "Do not, under any circumstances, let him know we don't have a duct wizard!!" Underneath, in smaller print: "P.S.: Now that we have a duct wizard, you'd better start leaving out an offering of Cheez-Lykes every Wednesday. Or else." Below that, even smaller yet: "P.P.S.: Don't invest in the zombie-dinosaur flick. Not after what Shakespeare's ghost is gonna put out three years from now."

Another Monday in the office, and it wasn't even noon yet. Liz coughed experimentally. Sure enough, she felt a sick day coming on. Tuesday would be fine. Tuesday she could handle. But today she was going to stroll through the arboretum, rent a crossbow, and frag a few smurfs.

Come to think of it, she felt better already.

* * *

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