from the techdirt-book-club dept
Even if she'd realized that my visitors were aliens who had come to our office to initiate contact with humanity, Barbara Ann would have resented their timing. Assistants at our law firm clearout at five-thirty, regardless -- and that was almost a minute ago.
"I don't have anyone scheduled," I said, when she called to grouse about the late arrival. "Who is it?"
"I don't know, Nick. They weren't announced."
"You mean they just sort of . . . turned up at your desk?" I stifled a sneeze as I said this. I'd been fighting a beast of a cold all week.
This was odd. Reception is two key-card-protected floors above us, and no one gets through unaccompanied, much less unannounced. "What do they look like?" I asked.
"Lady Gaga strange?" Carter, Geller & Marks has some weird-looking clients, and Gaga flirts with the outer fringe, when she's really gussied up.
"No--kind of stranger than that. In a way. I mean, they look like they're from . . . maybe a couple of cults."
From what? "Which ones?"
"One definitely looks Catholic," Barbara Ann said. "Like a . . . priestess? And the other one looks . . . kind of Talibanny. You know -- robes and stuff?"
"And they won't say where they're from?"
"They can't. They're deaf."
I was about to ask her to maybe try miming some information out of them, but thought better of it. The day was technically over. And like most of her peers, Barbara Ann has a French postal worker's sense of divine entitlement when it comes to her hours. This results from there being just one junior assistant for every four junior lawyers, which makes them monopoly providers of answered phones, FedEx runs, and other secretarial essentials to some truly desperate customers. So as usual, I caved. "Okay, send 'em in."
The first one through the door had dark eyes and a bushy beard. He wore a white robe, a black turban, and a diver's watch the size of a small bagel. Apart from the watch, he looked like the Hollywood ideal of a fatwa-shrieking cleric -- until I noticed a shock of bright red hair protruding from under his turban. This made him look faintly Irish, so I silently christened him O'Sama. His partner was dressed like a nun -- although in a tight habit that betrayed the curves of a lap dancer. She had a gorgeous tan and bright blue eyes and was young enough to get carded anywhere.
O'Sama gazed at me with a sort of childlike amazement, while the sister kept it cool. She tried to catch his eye -- but he kept right on staring. So she tapped him on the shoulder, pointing at her head. At this, they both stuck their fingers under their headdresses to adjust something. "Now we can hear," the nun announced, straightening out a big, medieval-looking crucifix that hung around her neck.
This odd statement aside, I thought I knew what was happening. My birthday had passed a few days back without a call from any of my older brothers. It would be typical of them to forget -- but even more typical of them to pretend to forget, and then ambush me with a wildly inappropriate birthday greeting at my stodgy New York law office. So I figured I had about two seconds before O'Sama started beatboxing and the nun began to strip. Since you never know when some partner's going to barge through your door, I almost begged them to leave. But then I remembered that I was probably getting canned soon anyway. So why not gun for YouTube glory, and capture the fun on my cellphone?
As I considered this, the nun fixed me with a solemn gaze. "Mr. Carter. We are visitors from a distant star."
That settled it. "Then I better record this for NASA." I reached across the desk for my iPhone.
"Not a chance." She extended a finger and the phone leapt from the desk and darted toward her. Then it stopped abruptly, emitted a bright green flash, and collapsed into a glittering pile of dust on the floor.
"What the . . . ?" I basically talk for a living, but this was all I could manage.
"We're camera shy." The nun retracted her finger as if sheathing a weapon. "And as I mentioned, we‘re also visitors from a distant star."
I nodded mutely. That iPhone trick had made a believer out of me.
"And we want you to represent us," O'Sama added. "The reputation of Carter, Geller & Marks extends to the farthest reaches of the universe."
The absurdity of this flipped me right back to thinking "prank" -- albeit one featuring some awesome sleight of hand. "Then you know I'll sue your asses if I don't get my iPhone back within the next two parsecs," I growled, trying to suppress the wimpy, nasal edge that my cold had injected into my voice. I had no idea what a parsec was, but remembered the term from Star Wars.
"Oh, up your nose with a rubber hose," the nun hissed. As I was puzzling over this odd phrase, she pointed at the dust pile on the floor. It glowed green again, then erupted into a tornado-like form, complete with thunderbolts and lightning. This rose a few feet off the ground before reconstituting itself into my phone, which then resettled gently onto my desk. That refuted the prank theory nicely -- putting me right back into the alien-believer camp.
"Thank you very kindly," I said, determined not to annoy Xena Warrior Fingers ever, ever again.
"Don't mention it. Anyway, as my colleague was saying, the reputation of Carter, Geller & Marks extends to the farthest corner of the universe, and we'd like to retain your services."
Now that I was buying the space alien bit, this hit me in a very different way. The farthest corner of the universe is a long way for fame to travel, even for assholes like us. I mean, global fame, sure -- to the extent that law firms specializing in copyright and patents actually get famous. We're the ones who almost got a country booted from the UN over its lax enforcement of DVD copyrights. We're even more renowned for our many jihads against the Internet. And we're downright notorious for virtually shutting down American automobile production over a patent claim that was simply preposterous. So yes, Earthly fame I was aware of. But I couldn't imagine why they'd be hearing about us way out on Zørkan 5, or wherever these two were from.
"So, what area of the law do you need help in?" I asked in a relaxed, almost bored tone. Feigning calm believably is a survival tactic that I perfected as the youngest of four boys (or of seven, if you count our cousins, who lived three doors down. I sure did). It made me boring to pick on -- and useless as a prank victim, because I'd treat the damnedest events and circumstances as being mundane, and entirely expected. It had also helped me immensely as a lawyer (although by itself, it had not been enough to make me a successful one).
Sister Venus gave me a cagey look. "It's sort of . . . an intellectual property thing."