The Rewrite


She showed him the horror again. Clear as crystal. His own. It can really affect you, that.

It was the curse, she told him.

He had heard about the curse before. From her as well as the elders. Three centuries ago, an ancestor had burnt a witch in cold blood. The witch’s sister, who plied the same trade, hadn’t been impressed. Every male heir since then had met with a gruesome, albeit creative, end.

He believed what he’d seen. He believed in the curse. But he also believed that he could undo it.

*****

It had required a lifetime of effort, but it was finally ready. He sat at the controls and drew in a deep, purposeful breath. This was it. He was ready to rewrite history, and his own future in the bargain. He pressed the button, the science did its thing, and the machine hurled back into time.

*****

He peeped through the window again. The witch still lay asleep. There was no sign of any tip-toeing ancestors in the vicinity. He guessed he had some time to kill before he’d have the opportunity to prevent the deed from being perpetrated. He sat back down, lit himself a cigarette, and waited.

The screams jolted him out of his nap. He rushed to the source. The machine was up in flames. So was the witch. She must have gotten inside, curious to determine what the contraption was. Maybe she had fiddled with the engine. Maybe there had been a short-circuit. It was too late to save her, or the machine which would soon become her coffin.

A cold tap on the shoulder caused him to turn around. It was who he’d thought it’d be. And she was mad.

Forbidden fruit


“Don’t eat that pear,” she said.

“But why?” He asked, giving it a look over.

“It’s forbidden.” She tried to snatch it from him but he dodged her attempt.

“Who are we, Adam and Eve? And this isn’t even an apple!” He chuckled, taking a huge bite out of it anyway.

“Well, it isn’t a pear either.”

He was too busy choking on the wax to notice her joy at having nailed the punchline.

Doubt


“How can you not believe in yourself?” The others always ask me. They find it amusing.

Maybe they have a point though. I can fly like a bird. I’m faster than a train. Bullets don’t even tickle me. I can perform feats which no ordinary man can. Why do the doubts still persist then? I’ve tried to push them away. I’ve tried to see what they do when they look at me. But the doubts always return. I can’t do it. I can’t get myself to believe in ghosts.

The screams


I followed the screams. I knew I had to reach her. For my own sake as much as hers. I wouldn’t fail her like I did her sister. She was running down the wrong path – that’s what he wanted her to do. He’d done it before and I’d still not been able to forgive myself for letting him. I tried to warn her, called out to her to stop, but she wouldn’t. My voice muffled by the rain always seemed to fall short of reaching her. For only the second time in my life, I was truly afraid.

And then I heard the sickening thud. She had fallen. I had to reach her before he did. Her screams were coherent now. “Daddy, help me please!” I saw him running towards her with his pistol. I had to act quick. I plunged the knife into her ribcage with all my might. I covered her mouth with my hand and twisted it in until she could squirm no more.

I looked up to him as his tear-filled eyes aimed the pistol at my head. I wasn’t afraid anymore. The screams had finally stopped.

The Kohli way and the competitive whitewash


This has been a very interesting overseas series for India. The results haven’t been very different from the ones that have come before it, yet the way they have got to them has been. For starters, the team hasn’t been shamefully outplayed – there is a possibility that this series may be the one the ‘most competitive whitewashes’ that India has been part of in recent times, if that makes sense. We haven’t been ineptly bounced out of the game. There have been a couple of long sessions where the batsmen have taken the fight to the Aussies. Even the bowlers have come up with the odd decent performances where they’ve been able to restrict and control the scoring with some incisive bowling before letting the session wander away. And most noticeably, our fielding has been consistently top notch, even among the members of that not-so-exclusive slip cordon club. In both the preceding test matches, India have found themselves at least once in a position where they could have gone on to a memorable overseas victory, before squandering it away in a way that the Indian fan is very familiar with.

The other standout aspect of the series has been the ‘banter’. Virat Kohli gave this very peculiar no-holds-barred press conference yesterday after playing yet another great knock in Australia.

People predicting that the game may become a bit gentler in the aftermath of the massive tragedy that preceded the series were proved very wrong, very quickly.

Now, Virat is a naturally aggressive individual who likes to take on his opponents. In fact, he actively seeks opportunities to do so. It’s a refreshing trait for Indian cricket fans to see in one of their star players. It makes for great television every time he stands his ground and gives it back to a bowler like Johnson, or when he blows kisses to the people inside as well as outside the playing field. That’s the Kohli way and he’s God’s gift to cricket broadcasters, commentators and writers everywhere. But , as with everything, it seems to come at a price.

In the press conference I’ve linked above, a visibly agitated Kohli says that the banter doesn’t affect his batting, but then goes on to contradict himself by saying that he made a conscious effort to ‘back up the talk’. Bowlers the world over have already figured out that it is very easy to break his concentration by getting under his skin, even if it may not always work out in their favour. But hey, they’ll say, it’s definitely worth a try when things aren’t going your way. As one of the best batting talents of his generation, Kohli needs to think about whether there will come a day ten years in the future, when he will look back and wonder if he could have scaled higher peaks, if he wouldn’t have let these things bother him. For the sake of Indian cricket and his numerous fans who have already been witness to some scintillating Kohli innings, let’s hope that question never needs to be brought up.

Happy sixtieth birthday Pops!


My dad(or pops as we called him!) turns 60 today. If he were here today, we’d be watching the cricket match and having detailed discussions about it’s nuances on a phone call(if we were in different cities) or over a hot plate of pakoras(if we weren’t). It’s moments like that, which I’ll always cherish, and miss, Pops.

I don’t think we ever truly realized how lucky we were to be able to call someone like you our dad. I guess we never think about those things until it’s too late, especially us sons. But, I hope you knew, you understood, how much you meant to us. Every little good thing that the world sees in me, in my brother, is a reflection of how you brought us up, the examples you set, the things you opened our eyes to, and the belief you had in us. I hope we’re able to let those parts of you live on within us. On a related note, the jar-opening trick you taught me never fails to impress people ;)

I’d like to believe that you’re still watching over us somehow. Have a great 60th birthday, Pops! Our world’s always going to be a poorer place without you.

Two men in a pub(short story – part one)


It was a dark and stormy night. As it always is when these things happen.

Two figures sat uncomfortably in a pub. Their silhouettes clung on languidly, resulting in unusually dull sentences like this, especially for one that has silhouettes in them. Their eyes were glued to the huge screen which stood at one end of the establishment, screaming for everyone’s attention, often literally. Something was not right. And they could feel it.

Figure A suddenly stirred to life and tapped Figure B on the shoulder with a couple of quick, pointed, intent-filled jabs. Figure B, on his eighth pint, wasn’t prepared for the assault. Applying a superhuman strain on his faculties, he tried to focus on his assailant through his spectacles. His eyes argued frantically with each other about where they should look. They eventually settled on a mutually agreeable spot on Figure A’s nose, deftly avoiding the failed attempt at a mustache, which hung around in the vicinity. A micro-eternity later, as his thoughts finally flirted with coherence, he articulated them.

“Oye!” he said.

Figure A blinked back at him. Once. Twice.

“What’s with the brutality? That hurt, okay?” Figure B voiced his disapproval.

Figure A appeared disoriented by the question. Time stood still as his thoughts tried to infiltrate the resistance put up by the alcohol. Then he remembered.

“I know what’s wrong!” he announced.

“You do? Do tell.”

“It’s pretty simple, Bala. Elementary even. I know who the killer is. Quite obvious, really.”

Bala was quite impressed. He silently regretted not having recognized his companion’s glaringly above-average detective skills. He was about to express this to Figure A in no uncertain terms, when he had another moment of coherence.

“Karthik, I can’t be sure of course, but I wasn’t aware that we have a murder to solve.”

“We don’t?” asked Karthik, a little uncertainty trailing in his voice.

“I don’t think so. No. Not today.” Bala replied. A bit more sure of himself now.

“Oh.” Karthik said.

“Yup, I would have noticed if we did.” Bala raised his mug and drained the remaining liquid in one go. He was quite pleased with his astute powers of observation. No murders would go unnoticed past him tonight.

“A pity, I am pretty sure who’d have done it. If he had done it.” sulked Karthik.

“Always annoying, that. My sympathies…” He interrupted the conversation to order another round from a disinterested waiter for his friend and himself. Then added, “…but I’m afraid that this place has been relatively murder-free this evening.”

And of course, right at that moment, a large figure crashed onto their table from above, spilling his as well as the table’s contents all over the place.

“Aha!” cried Karthik. He knew a murder victim when he saw one.

“And I know who’s responsible!” he declared as he got up.

Bala recovered from the shock in time to see Karthik dramatically point his finger in the direction the entity had originated from.

“I give you, my evil twin.” Karthik said. Bala allowed his gaze to follow Karthik’s finger. A gasp escaped him.

There was no one there.

“There’s no one there.” said Bala. Nothing escaped him. Except the occasional shock-induced gasp, of course.

“Hardly surprising. He was always the nimble one.” Karthik said. He cursed his brother under his breath for having ruined his dramatic introduction.

Bala decided to withhold the skepticism. He had been working with Karthik at a detective agency for the last four years. He was well aware by now that Karthik’s crazy babble often led to unforeseen breakthroughs. He was shaken out of his thoughts by a sudden pull on his sleeve. The body that had just crashed their small party was trying to say something. Evidently, he hadn’t graduated to murder victim yet.

“It w-was h-he.” the body said. The shock of the fall seemed to have had an impact on his speech.

“Are you sure? I mean, who even has evil twins anymore?” asked Bala.

“Twins? No…this was…just one man…it was he…the guy who always comes here and orders…tea…I knew….there was something…suspicious about him…asked him who he was…next thing I know I’m…here…on this table…dying…am I dying?” the body said.

“Possibly. We should probably get an expert opinion though. Might be a good idea to get that knife sticking out of you looked at while we’re at it too.” Bala called the ambulance from his speed dial.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

“The medical reports just came in. The victim survived but isn’t completely out of danger yet. You will probably want to take a look at it.” said the receptionist as she handed a folder to Bala.

Bala thanked her and settled down in one of the waiting room chairs to read it. Karthik walked in with a couple of coffees and took the chair next to him.

“There coffee hasn’t improved since the last time we were here.” he complained as he gave one to Bala.

“We were here less than 24 hours ago.” Bala stirred the cup and took a sip. He cringed as the concoction slid down his tongue.

“We’re one of their most frequent customers. The least they can do is to take our feedback.”

“Just think of it as hangover medicine and gulp it down.”

“Hmm. Is that the report? Anything interesting?” Karthik asked.

“Nothing much. Just your standard run-of-the-mill stabbing in the chest. The wound isn’t too deep, nor is it anywhere near the heart. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be fatal.”

“Or maybe my brother was just in a hurry.”

“Will you stop with that nonsense already? There is no evidence whatsoever to support your bizarre evil twin theory. Where did he even come from? I didn’t know you had a sibling, let alone an evil one.”

“Well, it all started on that fateful day in 1980. It was a dark and stormy…” Karthik began.

“A quick summary will do.” Bala interrupted, quickly.”

“Mom had twins. Karthik and Karan. Karthik was the smart, intelligent, blue eyed boy who could do nothing wrong. Karan was the black sheep. Karan was jailed for stealing at age 16. Been in an out of prison since then. He sent me a letter a few days ago saying that he was going to kill someone in that pub today.” Karthik paused to crush the cup and throw it in the dustbin. “I hope that’s quick enough for you?” he asked.

Dear Know it All – Being on the wrong side of offside


Welcome to yet another edition of ‘Dear Know it All'(or DKIA as my millions of readers like to call it). I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to my millions of readers(have I mentioned them before?) for the slight delay(six months) in getting this edition out. So hold on, sit tight, and say goodbye to those pseudo-know-it-all hacks that you may have turned to in the interim.

Our first question comes from a cricket fan who finds himself lost in the football fever that has gripped the nation. Very current-affairs and all:

Dear Know-it-all,

I am an honest, god-fearing, hard-working and simple cricket fan. My life was going absolutely brilliantly – I was the life of every party with my abundant knowledge of cricket trivia. People were always in awe when I rattled off scintillating facts like the number of times Sachin Tendulkar has been out on 17, while playing with his collar up, in the second innings of a match, which started on the third Monday of a month. But off-late, things have changed. People don’t seem to be interested in listening to my detailed analysis of Sachin and Dhoni’s favourite nursery rhymes, and how they’ve applied the learnings from them to improve their cover-drives. All they want to talk about is football and some guy with cleanliness issues(messy, I believe he’s called) and Ronaldo(who seems to have made a comeback after fixing his tooth and having grown some hair – people have conveniently forgotten that Sehwag and Bhogle were the pioneers in that field). I decided to watch a game or two but I was extremely disappointed by what I saw. How can I ever get behind a game where mastery over off-side play is considered to be a bad thing? I am losing friends at a faster speed than Ravi Shastri’s tracer bullet and I’m very unhappy. Please help.

– feels like the perpetual thirdman in this cricket match called life

Dear feels like the perpetual thirdman etc. etc.,

This is an extremely serious epidemic that has plagued the cricket-buffs in the country. The ICC has sponsored a lot of research programs to find a permanent cure, but they’re no closer to one yet. One home-grown solution that seems to have worked in alleviating the associated stress for some people is to lock oneself inside a room for a month and watch that channel which shows Sachin making his Sharjah century, all day long. Chanting ‘Whadddaaplaaayaa’ in Tony Greig’s voice seems to bring relief too.

If you absolutely must go out and mingle with the football fanatics in this period, it is advisable to take proper precautions which include memorizing a few phrases:

‘Cricket has been become so commercial! Everything’s fixed!. That’s why I switched to watching a proper sport like football when I was 4.”

“Baichung Bhutia is not the only good player that India has produced, okay? There’s also that guy. You know who I’m talking about!”

“Brazil are favourites. But I wouldn’t discount Argentina,  Germany, Italy, Uruguay, Cameroon, Ghana(just list the names of all the teams that are still in the running). This world cup has been so unpredictable!”.

If all else fails just scream the following every couple of minutes:

Is the referee blind??! That was clearly not off-side!”

And now for the most important tip of all – while bluffing your way through these conversations, it’s very important to remember that Manchester United is not playing in the World Cup. Many a reputation has been sunk that way.

You’re welcome.

 

The novel challenge – Chapter III


The reception for the first two chapters has been very positive and encouraging. A big thanks to everyone who’s stuck around and sent me their comments! Here’s the third chapter of the instalment. Please share it with friends if you like it so that I can reach a wider audience and get more feedback in the process!

The Proposition

Vikram couldn’t get himself to fall asleep. A lot had happened that day. He had landed a new job, met a being from another planet, and most importantly, had prevented himself from making the biggest mistake of his life – making a chef the protagonist of his impending bestseller. The market was obviously ripe for the epic saga of a stranded alien with amnesia, fighting his way back to his home planet against the odds. He was surprised he hadn’t thought of it earlier. Even though Caesar had been very mysterious about what his actual duties would be, Vikram couldn’t wait for the next morning.

He was jarred out of his thoughts by the loud cry of the doorbell, followed by a deluge of impatient knocks. It could only be that infernal interfering neighbour of his, coming to complain about his exercising in the midnight again, Vikram thought. His indignation grew in harmony with the knocking and he opened the door determined to give the man a piece of his mind.

“It’s not even exercise night, you ignorant…” Vikram began.

“Hello Vikram. We need to talk. Can I come in?” Caesar said.

“Uh…sure. Please come in, Caesar.” Vikram said.

Caesar made his way into the drawing room and sat on the sofa. The room, like the entire house, screamed bachelor-pad from every upturned cushion and dirt laced window. It was minimally furnished with the bachelor’s essentials – a recliner, a beanbag, a large television screen and a table to place the junk food on (there were three empty pizza boxes containing the remnants of a thick chewy crust lying on top).

“Please excuse my tone back there, Caesar. I thought you were someone else.” Vikram apologised as he plonked himself on the beanbag.

“It’s all right. I must apologize too – for paying you a visit at this late hour. But I had no choice. I have to talk to you about something that I cannot bring up when Morphy is lurking around.”

“Go on. I’m listening.” said Vikram, intrigued.

“That alien is my chance at redemption, Vikram.”

Caesar paused for dramatic effect.

“Uh…redemption?” Vikram asked.

“I have to get back at Lily and show to her that I have the skills to run a successful restaurant. Do you know what I did the day the review was published?” Caesar asked with clenched teeth.

“Cried yourself to sleep?” ventured Vikram.

“I fired my entire staff.”

“Okay. A tad harsh, perhaps?”

“How was I to know that I wouldn’t be able to hire any replacements? Every chef in the city I’ve approached since, has refused to join my restaurant for the wages I can offer them. And believe me, I’ve approached everybody. Even the guy who listed baking Lego doughnuts as his speciality. I was about to shut shop and resort to adopting a writing career, when I found my saviour.”

“Now look here Caesar, I don’t know what you overheard in the afternoon, but my skills are kinda limited to boiling eggs and microwaving…”

“I meant Morphy.”

“Oh. Right. He cooks well, does he?”

“What? I don’t know. I mean…it doesn’t matter. That’s not what I meant! Just hear me out, will you?”

Vikram looked a bit hurt by Caesar’s tone. Caesar took a moment to regroup and continued.

“You see Vikram, that crash I heard that night – it wasn’t just the sound of an alien spacecraft crash-landing.”

“It wasn’t? I thought you just said it was!”

“It was also the sound of opportunity knocking, Vikram. Opportunity.” Caesar added with a glint in his eyes. It was hard to tell whether it was the glint of a person with a dream in his heart, or of a maniac with homicide on his mind.

“Oh. I see what you did there. Metaphors – such tricky little devils they can be.” Vikram chose to play it safe until he figured out which one it was.

“Do you know how many alien encounters Earth has had in its entire existence, Vikram?”

“None! That’s how many.” Caesar announced emphatically before Vikram could take a stab at it.

Vikram did know the answer to this one – his favourite cartoon strip had carried a series of gags on that last week. He had been amused to learn that the people of Earth had suspected alien handiwork in the creation of the Stonehenge, Easter Island and someplace called Area 51. This had of course been debunked a couple of decades ago – they were just elaborate hoaxes planted by the Mermaids. They were notorious for this kind of humour, and also, they lived for hundreds of years and got bored very easily.

“I could have told the government about Morphy. But what would that get me? A firm handshake from the President’s secretary? No, I knew that someone would be willing to pay through their nose for a genuine certified alien in relatively mint condition. And that’s when I decided to approach the biggest gangster in the city – Michael Smith a.k.a. KorqueScrew. Getting to him wasn’t easy either – I now owe a lot of shady people a lot of shady favours. KorqueScrew jumped at the chance and I’ve negotiated a deal with him that will help put my restaurant back on the culinary map. He’s promised me a lot of money. A lot. Not only that, he’s guaranteed me that he’ll convince any chef I want, to join my restaurant’s staff.”

“You’ve sold Morphy to the Mafia? But what would they do with him? To him?”

“He seemed to be torn between having his scientists perform medical experiments on him, and adopting him as the alien son he never had. I believe having him stuffed and mounted over his fireplace was also an option in the running. Ah well, who really cares?”

“But how can you do that to him?” Vikram asked incredulously.

“What? Do you think that alien wasn’t planning to do something similar to us? He’s not our friend, Vikram. Why else would he have instructions to prevent being detected at any cost? It’s just dumb luck that he lost his memory and couldn’t remember what he was actually sent here for, otherwise we’d all be enslaved and having our cavities probed by prickly little things at this point. Do you want to let them do that to us once he regains his memory? Is that the kind of world you want to leave your children?”

“I still don’t understand why you’re telling me this, Caesar. What does this have to do with me?”

“I like how you get straight to the point Vikram. Very admirable trait. Very.” Caesar moved closer and lowered his voice for effect.

“I want you to do the exchange for me.”

“The exchange?”

“I want you to help me immobilize Morphy and then go and deliver him to KorqueScrew’s people in return for the money. And a written IOU for the chef-convincing. There’ll be a hefty monetary reward waiting for you when the deed is done.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself?”

“I’m a prominent restaurateur Vikram. I was voted ‘Most likely to be yelled at by a celebrity chef in a reality show’ at college. Imagine what’ll happen to my reputation if word gets out of my involvement with the Mafia. I can’t afford to take the risk.”

“I don’t think I’d want to be involved either. It sounds dangerous and I don’t like the idea of throwing Morphy under the proverbial bus for money.”

“You’re a writer, aren’t you Vikram?”

“Yes. How’d you know? Have you read my line of coloring books?”

“The guy you approached earlier to hire a chef from, called and warned every restaurant in the neighbourhood about you.”

“What a grouch!”

“Do you know what’s common between the last four books on the NYT bestsellers list? They were all crime novels. And for a writer who likes to get under the skin of the character, this would be an opportunity of a lifetime. Picture this – you reach the drop-off point in the dark of the night in a…in a?”

“Auto-rickshaw.”

“You reach the drop-off point in the dark of the night in my pickup-truck. Maybe it’s been raining. Maybe it skids on the puddle as you screech it to a halt. You gesture his henchmen to take Morphy’s limp drugged body from the back. You take the briefcases of cash from KorqueScrew. Maybe you smile at him. Maybe he smiles back. Maybe you become friends. Maybe he invites you to one of his famous parties later. Maybe you meet all his Mafia buddies there. Maybe you get in their inner circle. Maybe they give you an in-depth account of their lives, their crimes, their escapes, their triumphs, their failures. You’ll be so deep in the skin of a criminal that it’ll take a very fine pair of tweezers to get you out. Can you see it? Can you afford to lose such an opportunity? Will you?”

Vikram had a dazed look on his face. Caesar did paint a very vivid and enticing picture.

“It’s getting very late, Vikram.” Caesar said as he looked down at his watch. “Why don’t you sleep on it and let me know?”

Vikram nodded instinctively and followed Caesar to the front door.

“Oh, there’s one more thing. The standard disclaimer, as is customary in these kind of dealings, applies. Before you think about refusing my offer or telling anyone about what I spoke about tonight, remember that the head of the Mafia wants something I have, which means my requests to him for tiny favours, however gruesome, will not be refused. So choose wisely. Unlike the three who came before you.”

Vikram was conflicted. On the one hand he would have access to enough material for at least a trilogy of crime novels, with room for a couple of prequels to be thrown in later. But what about Morphy? Could he do this to him? Was he really a potential prober of human crevices? Maybe he’d be doing mankind a favour by turning him in to the Mafia.

Lost in these thoughts, Vikram hadn’t noticed the figure that had shimmied up to his bedside in the meantime.

“Hello.” it said.

Vikram leaped up like an eager student’s hand on hearing a question he finally knows the answer to.

“Relax, Vikram. It’s just me, Morphy.” the figure chuckled.

“Why would you do something like that?!” Vikram shouted once he had managed to gather his wits again.

“I have something very important to discuss with you.”

“Why couldn’t this wait until tomorrow?”

“Because Caesar cannot come to know about it at any cost.”

“At any cost?”

“At any cost.” Morphy replied expressionlessly.

There’s that shiver up the spine again, Vikram thought.

“Go on then. Tell me what this is about.”

“You remember when Caesar and I told you about me suffering from memory loss? It’s not true. It’s a lie I tell Caesar to keep him from suspecting anything.”

“What is there to suspect?”

“Lots. I was sent to Earth by my people for a very important mission. And I need your help to complete it successfully.”

“You’ll have to tell me more.”

“Let me start at the beginning. I’m from Konnit, a planet in the Zimmer galaxy, which is about four thousand light years away from Earth. I was part of the…” Morphy suddenly broke into a coughing fit.

“Would you like a drink of water?” asked Vikram.

“That…would…be…great.” Morphy managed to eke out between his loud coughs.

Vikram got up to make his way towards the kitchen. He stayed in the kind of apartment people tend to describe as ‘small but cosy, with paper thin walls’. So thin that the neighbours could actually listen to each other’s conversations in the quiet of the night, if they really put their mind to it. In fact, Pierre, his neighbour, was awoken by the loud thud even though he was in deep slumber. He attributed it to his peculiar neighbour’s midnightly exercise routine and went right back to getting his eight hours. Vikram did not have the liberty to hear the thud, of course. He was unconscious long before his body slumped to the floor. Morphy was trained to kill a man in fifty-two different ways and to render him senseless in seventy-three. Vikram never stood a chance.

The Novel Challenge – Chapter II


A huge thank you to everyone who took the trouble of reading the first chapter and contacted me to tell me how they felt about it! Furthermore, there haven’t been any casualties reported since I’ve posted it and incidents of eye-gouging seem to have been below the prescribed limit. So, with nervously intrepid feet – here comes the second chapter.

The Mission

“Send him in.” Goloxinout said to his secretary.

Goloxinout was in a cranky mood. Konnit’s elections were due in another millennium, which meant that he had been forced to do some actual work again. He had twenty meetings lined up in the day and wasn’t looking forward to any of them.“Good afternoon, Mr President.” the visitor said as he threw in a well practiced bow of courtesy.

“What is this about, Xylon?” Goloxinout gestured him to sit.

“We still haven’t been able to establish contact with General Wingo.”

“Ah yes, General Wingo…uh…where is he again?”

“It’s been a year minus five minutes since he set out on his mission to Earth.”

“Right, right. Th-aaat general Wingo. Of course. How does General Wingo like the place?”

“We don’t know. We lost contact with him as soon as he left our atmosphere.”

“Ah. Hate it when that happens. So you want me to name a day after him? General Wingo day? It kinda rolls off the tongue, you have to admit. Maybe a parade too..”

“All in good time Mr. President. But first, we must bring his mission to closure.”

Goloxinout groaned and braced himself. This was generally the point where Xylon gave him a long-winded ‘briefing’ and asked him to make a decision. Oh how he hated making decisions. He had become the president by religiously avoiding making them at every turn. They historically had a knack of coming back to bite him in the behind.

“General Wingo’s was no ordinary mission.” Xylon paused suddenly.

“Go on Xylon, I’m listening. What was it about?”

“Unfortunately, that’s almost all we really know about the mission.”

“All we know about the mission is that it wasn’t ordinary and that it involved General Wingo going to Earth?”

“You must understand that this mission was commissioned during the Wizium administration, Mr. President. Most of the relevant records were a casualty of the Great Digitizing Fiasco of last year.”

“The one where they shredded all the documents before scanning them?”

“That was the year before last, Mr. President.”

“Ah yes, this was the one with the Unicorn, the barrel of gunpowder and the firefly.”

“And the banjo.” added Xylon.

“Yes, the banjo. Of course. I still don’t understand why we’re talking about this mission Xylon.”

“Well, there is one more thing that we’ve been able to find out. I’ve double-checked the information and there’s no doubt about it.” Xylon added.

“What’s that?”

“The only mission guideline that we could find, explicitly states that if Captain Wingo doesn’t return or contact us in another…”, he looked at his watch and continued, “…ninety seconds, we are supposed to destroy Earth immediately.”

Their eyes darted to the clock on the desk simultaneously.

“Well, hold on a minute there, Xylon. Surely there must be someone who was part of the original mission’s planning committee who should be able to tell us what the mission is actually about?”

“They were all a casualty of the brutal military coup that immediately followed the Great Digitizing Fiasco.”

“The one that I led.”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“Well, at least I guessed that one right.” Goloxinout said with a sheepish grin.

Their eyes darted back to the clock.

“Well, it looks like he isn’t back in time, Mr. President.” Xylon said as the clock’s hands ticked over the dreaded mark with an air of nonchalance.

Goloxinout furrowed his only brow in deep thought. He liked to think of himself as a man of peace and wiping out an entire civilization always made him feel uneasy. On the other hand, if he acted quickly, he would be able to take a quick afternoon nap before the next meeting.

“Who can take care of this for us?”

“It sounds like a job for the Uranians.”

“Where do I sign?” Goloxinout asked.

“Here, there and there.” Xylon said as he pushed an official looking piece of paper towards him.

“One more thing, Mr. President.”

“There’s more?” asked an exasperated Goloxinout.

“The deadline for announcing the nominations for the Lifetime Award For Excellence In Galactic Science is almost upon us. I’ve scrutinized the contributions and careers of all our eminent scientists and one name stands out – that of Kintonx Goulin.”

“Nominate whoever you please Xylon. I couldn’t care less. Hang on…isn’t he the time machine guy?”

“He called it The Sinetransmorgodor – after his pet dinosaur, I’m told.”

“I’ve read about him. Did he ever remember how to make another one of those contraptions?   Anyone who lays their hands on one of those would have access to insurmountable power.”

“I’m afraid the memory loss caused by his journey to the future was quite permanent. He was only ever able to create one. And the whereabouts of that machine, despite extensive search operations that have been carried out in the last few centuries, are still unknown.”

What a pity that was, sighed Goloxinout, as he stared out to the mesmerizing view of the galaxy that his cabin afforded him. He could have used it to go back and cancel all those meetings. And there were those few years when he had tried to make it as ‘Golo –the mime who talked’ that kept cropping up in the press from time to time. Yes, he could definitely have found good use for the device.

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