Layla startled. Not from him calling her name, but because there seemed to be a faint dusting of glitter on his cape between his shoulder blades.
Von Doom did not answer, choosing instead to keep standing at the window like a sentinel of the end of the world.
She joined him there and he took a -- minute -- step to the side to allow her a better view. She took it as a victory. She'd been in his employ for two months; it was the first concession he'd given her.
There were students on spring break in the yard in front of the castle. Layla could tell that much from the names of several major US universities written across the chests of some of them, but she couldn't tell what they're doing.
Then it hit her. She had seen this happen once before, with the papal guard at the Vatican.
"They're taking selfies," she said.
"I see," von Doom said in the tone of one who not only saw but also disapproved. "Ensure they desist. I would do it myself, but Doom has more important matters to attend to."
Layla was more than half convinced that he had switched from first person to third person mid-sentence purely to try and unsettle her. It wasn't working.
* * *
There had to be an easier way, Layla thought as she walked down to find Doomstadt's town crier. She was back before the 21rst century had turned into a post-Apocalyptic landscape, there was the internet and people had cell phones. Surely there was an app for this?
There was not.
Layla found the town crier and asked her to both proclaim Doom's Day and request the presence of the best programmers at the castle -- once the holiday was over, of course.
Layla spent the holiday in the town square, sitting on the edge of the fountain and eating the traditional Doom's Day gibanica and a hot dog from a street food cart where she intended never to ask what was in it. It didn't taste like mutant rat on radioactive steroids, but she was taking no chances.
There were kids kicking a ball around in a circle, until one of them grabbed the ball and made a run for the fountain.
Layla kicked the ball away from her.
* * *
Layla looked at her plate. Her cake is still there. "I have cake."
Von Doom's masks had an uncanny ability to convey emotion for a chunk of metal. "Do you desire more cake?"
"I'm good." She blinked. "Thanks."
"Very well. Bestow what remains to a deserving family." He got up and left in a flutter of imperious cloak.
The untouched cake sat on the table, looking accusingly at Layla as though it were her fault that it would be denied to honour of being eaten by His Doomness and would have to be cast out in the cold, unfeeling world instead. She was really starting to lose it if she was feeling sorry for a cake.
But still. Newest assignment from von Doom: Distribute cake to the worthy. What.
"Yeah," Ilinca said. "He does that a lot."
"You can have it, then," Layla said.
Ilinca shook her head. "I don't qualify as 'a family'."
Layla reached out to pat her hand. She didn't have much experience with having a family either, but it was still sad that Ilinca didn't.
* * *
"Relax," Layla said.
"I'll relax when I haven't been kidnapped from a high-level conference just before my keynote speech, thanks."
"Most people would be more concerned about the kidnapping than the speech," Layla said.
"That speech is my life's work! But yes, the kidnapping is somewhat worrisome. What does von Doom want with me?"
Layla looked at her notes from her mission briefing. Yeah, no way was she the one to explain that. "You'd best ask him yourself."
Von Doom's arrival was, as always, hard to miss.
They were half a mile underground. There could not possibly be any wind for von Doom's cloak to flutter in.
Layla added the fluttering to her ever growing list of shit that made little sense in Latveria, like magic. It was probably magic that made the cape flutter.
"Heya, boss," Layla said. "One volcanologist, just like the doctor ordered."
"Doctor," von Doom said, ignoring Layla entirely.
"Hi?" the volcanologist said. "Look, can I go? I have a conference I need to get back to."
"Have you not had enough of futile, sterile words?" Oh joy, von Doom was in full recruitment mode, complete with grandiloquence.
The volcanologist protested, "I'll have you know Journal of Applied Volcanology is the top peer-reviewed publication in the field --"
"Would you not rather leave a lasting mark, doing what no other has done before?"
There was a pause. Layla started cleaning her nails.
"It has come to my attention Latveria is severely lacking in a Mt Doom."
* * *
"You have something you wish to know," von Doom said. It wasn't a question. It would have been creepy that he could read her so easily, but she'd worked for him for over a year, to their mutual benefit.
"Yeah," Layla said. "What the hell is Eurovision?"
The mask positively radiated contempt. " “I pity those with the great misfortune to be born American."
"It's got more to do with me growing up in a dystopian future where my people are parked in camps where everyone waits for them to die," Layla said, pointing at her face and the 'M' marring the right side. It was partly to forestall another of von Doom's rants about Americans that lasted about five seconds before turning into rants about cursed Richards, partly because she knew he knew exactly what that was like and partly because that was exactly why she was here. "You were a hundred and twenty. It really wasn't pretty."
"The Eurovision Song Contest is named explicitly," said von Doom.
"So you want to win?" Layla had gotten used to von Doom's idiosyncrasies, except apparently, when it came to continent-wide music competitions. "Just threaten to nuke New York or something."
"Victory won through trickery is not victory," he said.
"Okay. Sure," she replied. She was fine with victory through trickery. She read further into the briefing. "The amount of glitter is, quite frankly, excessive." Then a little further. So much for 'victory through trickery'. "We're sending a Doombot?"
"Not a Doombot."