Burned

“The business dies without it,” declared Mr M with palpable anxiety.

“We know it arrives tonight, but we don’t know where.”

Nadia’s father and his associates were still desperately poring over a heavily coded message and a map when she snuck into his secret room. Suddenly, the door swung open. Nadia leapt for cover.

“What the hell Benny!” admonished Mr M, “knock 3, wait…knock 2, wait…How many times have I told you?”

“Sorry boss,” whimpered Benny, grasping for the pride he’d felt moments earlier after returning from the first meaningful task he’d been entrusted with; buying burner phones. He chose the ones with flame symbols on them, thinking that was why they were called burners.

Phones were hastily shoved into pockets and the men returned with increasing concern to the code and the map.

“Where is the drop site?!” Mr M demanded of his subordinates. Nadia felt her father’s anger and snuck out of the room. She didn’t know exactly how he paid her private school fees, but she had some idea what ‘hostile takeover’ meant in his line of business. She counted 10 seconds then burst back in with exaggerated clumsy innocence. An uncomfortable silence lingered.

“What about the Eels last night, eh” Mr M said eventually.

“Um…ah….yeah,” replied Stan.

“They’ll win the comp this year,” declared the boss calmly.

With doe eyes and rehearsed timidity, Nadia apologised profusely and asked for the day’s newspaper,

“…for the crossword.”

Her father thrust it at her and his boiling frustration swept her out the door.

Mr M didn’t understand his 13-year-old daughter’s obsession with cryptic crosswords, any more than he understood the code which hid the location of tonight’s shipment. When he emerged in a frantic search for whiskey, Nadia told him. He wasn’t convinced, so Nadia explained the hidden meaning behind each clue, and subsequently the precise location of the drop. Her father didn’t know whether to feel shocked, angry, usurped, proud, humiliated or impressed, so he succumbed to all of the above.

“You got lucky this time,” is all he could muster. Nadia smiled inwardly and returned to her cryptic as her father gathered his boys and rushed to the drop site.

“Move the second I call you on your burner,” added Mr M after he’d explained the meticulous plan to intercept Mr Smith’s shipment.

“Now spilt up!”

“How does the boss know so much about Mr Smith’s operations?” Benny asked Stan when they set off for their posts.

“They were partners until Smith crossed him, took every penny from their biggest haul years back.”

Truck after truck arrived.

The boss waited and breathed deeply. Revenge and riches were within arm’s reach. He was bursting with excitement and desperate to reveal himself to Mr Smith with the haul safely in his possession.

This is it. His trembling hands dialled the number and raised the phone to his ear.

‘Welcome to Flame mobile – your call has been placed in a queue and will be answered shortly…’

World War III.

The world was thrown into chaos. Bombs tore apart entire towns and the dead bodies piled up on the streets too quickly to be taken away or buried. The stench brought more tears to the eyes of those in constant mourning, and the corpses of deceased relatives provided cover from snipers and crazed gunmen. Drones battled for airspace and fighter jets blasted through the skies with such frequency the people had stopped checking if they were friend of foe.

The constant bombardment was deafening and frightening, and broken only by the cries of orphaned children.

Food was scarce. The hungry had already looted the stores and the fields. Stomachs rumbled in tune with the tanks, and the people grew accustomed to the rancid taste of permanently blackened skies.

Most people forget who they were fighting; forgot who the enemy was, or was supposed to be. In the early days, when the mediums of communication were still functioning, they listened to their leaders identify and attack the enemy with impassioned speeches. The enemy wore a certain uniform, spoke a certain tongue. Soon the patriotism wore thin and the increasingly vehement verbal attacks fell on deaf ears. The people fought for survival, not for their nations, or their leaders.

Despite the danger and hunger. Despite the destruction and the obliteration, a greater fear loomed. The fear of the MAD Button. The button of Mutually Assured Destruction which would release the nuclear weapons counties had been stockpiling in the name of deterrence and pragmatic foreign policy.

Nothing would survive.

The people asked themselves, how did we get here?

It all started on a lunch line.

Yes, a simple lunch line preceding the buffet at an international summit for the world’s super powers. The summit had been convened to combat the latest pandemic, the impending environmental disaster and the refugee crisis. It had also promised to deliver world peace. It plunged the world into war.

The disaster began when event organisers suddenly announced a casual outdoor setting for lunch on the final day, deliberately forcing world leaders to line up for their food, assuring attendees it would,

“…pivot their personal and professional brand towards an empathetic and approachable persona, while positioning leaders as down-to-earth…”

Entourages hastily consulted brand managers, and wardrobes were adjusted accordingly. Donald ignored his minders and snapped on his famous red baseball cap, “…to protect me from the sun” he claimed. Leaders were reminded to smile and keep conversations light, and to remember that cameras could now capture them from every angle.

While the world’s most powerful people grabbed a plate and stood in line, trying desperately to hide their discomfort and impatience, a voice was heard from the back of the line.

“Scotty, let me in,” Donald called to his friend when he spotted the fried chicken piled high.

“Um,” Scotty deliberated, assessing the personal and political risk of letting his friend push in and jump the queue. His minders were snacking on granola bars back in the makeshift office, so Scotty had only a few seconds to make a decision that would have irreversible ramifications.

He’s an ally, his mind told him, but he’s probably the most hated leader in the world, even more hated than me. Well, I’m not hated, just ignored really – that’s why they all walked away from me after the joint photo and left me standing there like the kid no one plays with. Luckily I had my phone in my pocket and I could pretend to check some emails. I think I got away with it.

Should I let Donald in? Everyone’s looking, especially Vladimir and Xinping. What will Aussies think? My supporter base loves Donald, and I can’t upset them. But even people in his own country are getting sick of him, what if he doesn’t last, what if I align myself with a failure, a loser? Will I lose votes? How will it affect me? I know Peter wants my job, and Rupert created Donald before he created me.

Then there’s Xinping. He doesn’t look happy. Will this mean more tariffs, more restrictions on exports, more lost votes?

Who would buy our beef, wheat, our coal…? If my party loses farmers and miners, we’re stuffed. Gosh I wish my staff were here, they’d know what to do. They never told me I’d have to make decisions when they made me PM.

“Drink beer,” they said

“Go to the footy,” they said.

And Vladimir, he’s always looking for a fight, or a chance to take his shirt off.

Time kept ticking away…

I could ignore him, Scotty thought. I could play with my phone again, or talk to the woman behind me. What’s her name again? Angie, Andrea, Annabel – I think it starts with an A and she seems to be important, she talks a lot at meetings, nagging us all to do something about electric cars – nagging about something else – women eh! Wait, she’s the one who gave me the dirty look when I mentioned clean coal – nah, I’m not talking to her.

Donald called again. His stomach was rumbling, like the war tanks he had just sold to the leader of a nation he’d never heard of, while other leaders discussed plans for world peace.

“Scotty, come on man, let me in”

Spilt seconds ticked by. Scotty felt the sweat run down his back and hoped it wasn’t showing on his face. Yes or no. I have to decide, right now.

With a smirk, he said yes.

Donald strolled triumphantly to the front of the line, beside his friend Scotty. Vladimir and Xi fumed, and declared in unison:

“This is war!”

Image: http://www.istockphotos.com