Have you heard of the communist tyrant responsible for millions of deaths? He was a chemist and at some stage, after lurking anonymously in the background of power, was able to poison three quarters of the population. No one knew who he was but it was believed that the person was still alive and perhaps living in luxury.
Which brings me to a simpler scene: an ordinary chemistry class at school. Young Harry has asked his chemistry teacher a simple question. Ms Braxton was a tyrannical chemistry teacher. She was to be feared. Not one of her pupils learnt Chemistry out of love; they learnt it out of fear. Ms Braxton had been teaching Chemistry for so long that several generations had passed through the school despising Chemistry. Rumour had it that she knew who the tyrannical communist chemist was; perhaps even she had taught the murderous persecutor.
Young Harry’s question was simply this: Why does bread go brown when it is toasted? Ms Braxton had explained that the starch under heat reflected light to the right (“dextra” was the Latin word for “right” so the brown bit was called dextrin). That made the toast look brown. It’s why the crust on a loaf of bread is brown.
Ms Braxton certainly knew her stuff. She was very learned. She lived alone in a very big house and drove a very expensive car. The question young Harry (and most of the impressionable teenagers in the class) really wanted to ask was “How come you’re so rich?” In fact, he did ask her. She got very angry and told him to mind his own business. Her reaction was certainly proof of something don’t you think?
It had been an inconvenience. Owing to the huge amount of looting going on during the week that the government banned all cigarettes – just for the week mind you – it was dangerous to venture outside from early dusk to late dawn. “Stay inside” was the government’s cry. It was both a command and a warning. Those seen venturing out after six in the evening would be shot.
The curfew had at least one good thing coming out of it; there were no traffic accidents between dusk and dawn. For the whole week there were no deaths on the roads. Those whose lives had been spared because of the curfew naturally had no idea that their lives had been spared. If there had been no curfew they would be dead.
Of course, being a writer gives one a bird’s-eye view. We know who was spared and who was not. I’m telling you now: Elwin Frisby was spared. He had sat at home in a bad mood. Here he was nineteen years old, and locked up at his parents’ home on a Saturday night. A Saturday night! What a difference it may have made to his mood if he had been able to be told that if it wasn’t for the curfew he would be in a body bag lying on a shelf in a morgue somewhere.
There are other things we writers glean from our bird’s-eye view. Elwin Frisby eventually married Anita and they had three children. One of them was Cornelius. Cornelius became the greatest tyrant in the history of the country. Thousands died at his hand. He was a raging megalomaniac.
How much better it would have been if years earlier there had been no curfew and his father had been killed off in a car accident. But who was to know?
It was one of those delightful discoveries. Professor Maybelle Wiggins was cleaning out a long overdue laboratory freezer when she discovered an unused collection of fertilized human eggs. Maybelle worked out that they could be well over a hundred years old. She wondered if they were still usable. If so, they were just what she was looking for. This was going to be a no strings attached pregnancy.
The first couple of implants “didn’t take”, but the third happily “took off”. Nine months later, Maybelle had a healthy baby boy! Congratulations! Maybelle discovered with a great deal of research that the biological father had passed on ninety-two years earlier, and the biological mother had died well-nigh fifty years ago aged eighty-three. The arrival of her little one was a modern marvel.
It was such a shame, years later, when he became a tyrant and exterminated ninety-two percent of the population.
His task was to assassinate the tyrannical megalomaniac. It was going to be simple. He had been invited to the Palace to receive a knighthood. He would simply shake the King’s hand, and kneel. Then when the King dubbed him on each shoulder with the sword and said “Arise, Sir Darin”, he’d take out his gun and pull the trigger.
So the tyrannical megalomaniac tapped Sir Darin on each shoulder and said “Arise”. Sir Darin pulled out his pistol and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again. Nothing happened. He pulled the trigger a third time. Still nothing happened.
“Let me help,” said the tyrannical megalomaniac. He used the sword a second time, only this time it wasn’t to do a dub.