"Problems, Mr Frutterbugs?" De Ville pressed him.
"Well no, not really," Frutterbugs replied. "I just wondered, erm, well, you see -"
"Well come on, out with it," De Ville encouraged him gently. "I'm not really as unapproachable as my reputation suggests, you know. If there is something wrong, then I would like to think I can help."
De Ville smiled; an evil, twisted, leering smile. Nevertheless, Frutterbugs found it comforting. He gave a big, heavy sigh and shrugged.
"I just wondered why we're doing all this?" he said.
A stifled gasp from the others present as they caught their breath. All eyes were on him. Suddenly it seemed that there wasn't a friendly face in the room, except maybe the inscrutable features of the head of the board himself.
De Ville rocked forward slightly. He slowly removed his spectacles and his eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "Why?" he repeated, sounding genuinely puzzled. "I'm not sure that I know what you mean."
"Well, why are we making life so difficult for everyone?" Frutterbugs said. Again, his words were met by a deathly silence, but it was too late to turn back now. He made a half-hearted attempt to justify his question. "It just seems so unproductive," he murmured softly.
A low mutter passed around his fellow heads of department.
"Why?" De Ville repeated once more, ponderously. His voice sounded as old as the rocks, as dark and impenetrable as the night. "Because," he said deliberately, but he didn't get around to finishing his sentence. He was lost in thought, staring down at his own reflection on the polished table top. A slender digit tapped on the veneer: tap, tap, tap. Then suddenly Mr De Ville looked up.
He slowly pushed his chair back and stood up. Then he bent forward and rested his warty knuckles on the table.
"Gentlemen, it is important to have goals," he declared. "Every organisation must have an aim: a gameplan if you like. Our aim is to make as much trouble for mortals as we possibly can, and might I say it is something we do extremely well."
"Here here," muttered Old Jed.
"Let's face it," De Ville continued, warming to his argument, "anything else would be a waste of our considerable talents. You are new to us, Mr Frutterbugs, and relatively inexperienced. But you must realise that the people around this table have been responsible for some of the most calamitous events in history - the sinking of the Titanic, the destruction of Pompeii, Noel's House Party. How can you possibly accuse us of being unproductive?"
"Well yes, I appreciate what you say," Frutterbugs ventured nervously, "but it just seems so pointless. Take my job, for example. I spend all day causing video recorders to seize up, toasters to burn out, microwave ovens to go up in smoke. What for? If it's that important then why don't we just stop them all from working in the first place? Isn't that within our power? Then at least we would be free to get on with something more worthwhile."
"Oh dear, dear me," Scarramank remarked, rather patronisingly. "Indeed! Stop them from working in the first place - don't be so ridiculous."
"Well why not?" Frutterbugs retorted. "Why couldn't we do that?"
"Well, because it would mean altering the laws of physics," Scarramank answered, with a contemptuous little laugh. "You're keen Frutterbugs, but you've got a lot to learn."
De Ville turned sharply on Scarramank. "Say that again!" he barked abruptly.
"What?" Scarramank blurted, suddenly taken aback.
"What you just said about physics," De Ville prompted him.
Scarramank shrugged. "All I said was that to stop all this electrical stuff from working you would have to change the laws of physics," he repeated. "You'd have to prevent the electrons from flowing along the -"
"Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!" De Ville enthused, suddenly overcome with excitement. "This one of the best ideas we've had in centuries. Change the laws of physics! Mr Frutterbugs, you're a genius. You're going to go a long way in this company."
"I was only joking," Frutterbugs mumbled. "Just trying to make a point, that's all."
De Ville, however, wouldn't let it go. "Quickly everyone, take notes," he instructed. He began to pace up and down, his leathery tail dragging along the smooth floor. "I want light to travel in curved lines! I want gravity thrown into reverse! I want time to flow backwards. Oh yes! People won't know if they're coming or going. Or even if they've been before they got there."
"I beg your pardon?" said Scarramank.
De Ville ignored him and continued unrelentingly. Once he got an idea into his head, there was no shaking it. "This is going to be great!" he enthused. "Just think how mixed up people are going to be - when they think about going somewhere, then find out that they have already gone to a different place than they'd been thinking about going to, before they thought about coming back - I think."
The others looked blankly at him, but De Ville was on a roll. He stood with his hands on his hips, eyes alive with a million devilish schemes.
"This is the biggie!" he thundered, his smouldering breath igniting the table in his excitement. "Get me to a phone, somebody. I'm going to win awards with this one!"
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