Monday, February 03, 2014

Street War III: An Unlikely Ally

In Street War I, a group of boys calling themselves Goonie, Sarge and the Commander band together to defend their street against an enemy with superior firepower. Under the cover of darkness, as explosions are heard in the distance, Goonie is dispatched on his bicycle to look for ammunition. Can he make it back in time to save the day?

In Street War II, the Street Defence Force find themselves deep within hostile territory. Trapped by an enemy armed with long-range missiles, they barely escape from a barrage of Holi water balloons. They find themselves forced to resort to a guerrilla tactic called the Cowadunga Manoeuver. Will it work?


Street War 3: An Unlikely Ally

October 31, 2030 hours

"A sulphurous fog has descended upon us, sir," whispered Goonie, as we lay huddled in the trenches. I climbed out of the ditch, tripping over wires left behind by an unscrupulous telephone company, and looked out for Sarge. I could not see very far; the fog had limited our vision.

Where was Sarge? I had sent him out hours ago on a covert operation to cripple the enemy's transport. Why hadn't he reported back yet?

"I wonder if Sarge managed to puncture their tires, sir."

That question was on my mind too. Reducing the mobility of your enemy by puncturing their bicycle tires might seem like a dastardly thing to do, but we were a ragtag army of three fighting against a superior force. Outnumbered, we were driven far back into our own territory. If they advanced any further, they would take our Street HQ. Thus, it was of paramount importance that Sarge complete his mission and make it back unharmed.

The prospects of such an occurrence seemed to be growing dimmer by the minute though. He was most likely captured by the enemy. With a heavy heart, I reached into my pockets to pull out the white flag and head to the enemy base, when-

"Look! It's Sarge!," yelled Goonie.

I looked in the direction of Goonie's pointed finger and could make out two figures walking slowly towards us through the fog. I recognized one as Sarge, his head slumped forward and an arm around the shoulders of the other person. I squinted, trying to see who the second person was, and my eyes widened in surprise. He seemed vaguely familiar.

"Is that-?"


I looked at Goonie. His jaw had dropped too. So, this wasn't a battlefield hallucination after all. Relieved, I went towards them and helped Sarge climb down into the trench. He smiled as he lay down, amused by the look on our faces. "Friend or foe," I asked, looking at the foreigner.

"Friend," he replied.

I turned around to look at our friend. He was a diminutive Rambo, about five feet tall and wearing a wig made of long, curly black hair. He tied a black strip of cloth around his head to keep the wig in place. Dressed only in camouflage pants and bare chested, he looked the part.

"How did you manage to escape?"

"Thank the American," replied Sarge, "He saved my life."


October 31, 1930 hours

Location: Railway Quarters

In hindsight, it wasn't surprising that Sarge took ballet classes. He was nimble on his feet, making him the perfect man for stealth missions of the tiptoey sort. Claiming to have mastered the Way of the Ninja while growing up in Japan, Sarge realized that his cover was blown when he was spotted in a tutu outside Bernard's School of Ballet, Belly Dancing and Bharatnatyam. A weaker man might have moved cities after an embarrassing revelation such as this, but Sarge was made of sterner stuff. He embraced his new identity as a classically trained ballet dancer/soldier and went on covert operations in a specially designed combat tutu. The Commander found no cause for complaint after he saw his operational success rate go up by 200%. They never spoke of it, as all men do when confronted with the sillier quirks of their brethren, but Goonie still giggled at the sight of Sarge preparing himself for a mission.

On this night however, it would take more than just his ballet skills to complete the mission. He was sent out to the Railway Quarters, a previously peaceful neighbourhood that had been recently occupied by a gang of foul-mouthed boys who called themselves the Naga. They were aptly named, Sarge thought to himself, remembering their wanton destruction of the park and the swimming pool and the subsequent framing of the Commander for the vandalism. The glorious name of the Commander had been besmirched and he had been forbidden by the Elders to enter the Railway Quarters again. Sarge swore to take revenge on the Naga, calling them a group of slimy snakes. But the Commander held him back and reminded him of the principles of Sun Tzu's Art of War. We will lay low and strike at an opportune moment, he said. And for that to happen, we have to weaken them by destroying their defenses and cripple them. Sarge agreed. The Commander was a veteran of two Street Wars. But still, this was a foe more fearsome than any they had ever seen before. The thought worried Sarge as he darted through the shadows. He could see the bicycle stand at the far end of the compound.

Knifing the tires was easy enough. And there were no guard dogs around. Perhaps this was a trap, Sarge wondered. The momentary lapse in concentration cost him dear. He bumped into a bicycle, knocking it down, setting off a domino effect. Within minutes, a row of bicycles crashed to the ground. He had barely exited the stand before he found himself surrounded by a group of boys in pajamas. It was the Naga.

"What has the night brought usss?," asked the leader of the group, who added a theatrical hiss after the end of every sentence. He called himself the King Cobra.

"Looksss like a ballet dancer in a black tutu, Bosss. Must be the Black Sssswan," replied his right-hand man, the Viper, who might have been imitating his Boss or simply suffering from a speech defect.

Sarge growled, realizing that he couldn't do anything. He was outnumbered. As they drew closer, he called in for help. There was only static. Making a mental note to never buy any gear from Burma Bazaar again, he flung the walkie-talkie away and stood with his head held high. He would not be taken like a coward, begging for his life.

"We are going to teach you a lesssson," hissed the Viper, pulling out a string of firecrackers. "Now you shall think twice before you messs with usssss."

Sarge closed his eyes.


October 31, 2000 hours

Mordecai looked around. He could hear loud blasts in the vicinity. That's strange, he thought to himself, didn't Dad say this was a peaceful country?

Perhaps war had broken out here too. It wasn't the first time it happened during a posting. That would mean a quick evacuation along with the other families. Again.

He remembered Lebanon. He had to leave Balto behind. Dogs were given low priority during evacuations. He wondered if he would ever find a friend like that again.

The blasts were getting louder. It could be heard over the music now. Shouldn't they be heading back to the embassy, he wondered, looking for his father.

Not finding him among the crowd of dressed-up people, he stepped out of the hotel. And that's when he saw it. Fireworks. Of a different kind.

 "Don't go knocking on doors tonight," his father had said earlier, laughing, "Indians don't follow the same traditions as us." That made sense now. They were celebrating something. He should have paid more attention during the briefing session on cultural differences.

However, even the most comprehensive of briefing sessions could not have prepared him for what he was about to see next. A boy dressed in what seemed to be a black tutu ran past him followed by a group of boys in their pajamas. Were they hissing?

"Screw Halloween, this is way more interesting," he said to himself, and ran after them.


October 31, 2100 hours

Location: The Trenches

"We made a last stand," said Sarge, continuing the American's story, "Rambo and I. It was glorious."

"Did you fight the Naga all by yourselves?" asked Goonie, incredulously.

"We did. Until backup arrived."


"Yes. Mordecai's friends. They were in costume too."

"That must have been devastating," I said, "The sight of Rambo and a ballet dancer aided by the forces of darkness."

"Indeed. Dracula, the Headless Horseman and Clint Eastwood. They fled."

We laughed.

"And we live to fight another day," said Goonie, solemnly.

We nodded.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The forgotten history of Vypin Island

I could not have foreseen that the last telegram that I would ever receive would turn out to be the bearer of bad tidings. It was a month before India announced that it was shutting down its telegraph service, and I found myself answering the door to receive this relic from an earlier era. I opened it, pleasantly surprised, but the message within filled me with dismay.

Kutapee was dead.

It did not contain any further information. It did not need to. He had exited our world the same way he had entered it, unannounced and under mysterious circumstances. 

I met Kutapee one summer when I travelled to Vypin Island to meet my grandfather. He worked for my grandfather as a young handyman, helping him tend to his garden and work on his driftwood sculptures. In return, he was given an education and a place to stay. 

Kutapee was barely a year older than me, but he seemed wise beyond his years. Perhaps it was because of the lessons my grandfather taught him, which must have been very different from what I had learned in school. I remember asking him why no one in Madras seemed to know where Vypin, a small island near Cochin, was. That was because people in the cities cared very little about far-flung islands that they hadn't heard of, he said. They were distrustful of us islanders, looking at us as lesser people who led isolated lives, cut off from culture and civilization. In truth though, they were becoming increasingly homogeneous, eroding India's diversity from within. I nodded in agreement. It seemed to make sense.

I wonder why my grandfather never told us where he found Kutapee. He was an Army officer who served all over the country. Where could he have found this little boy? And under what circumstances? Kutapee, on the other hand, was more forthcoming with answers about his past. It was nearing sunset one evening as we stood at the beach watching the fishing boats return to the shore when one of us asked Kutapee where he had come from. "The lands beyond," he answered in a hushed tone, pointing to the horizon. "Africa?" asked Coco excitedly. Kutapee looked at the little girl and smiled. "No, the Laccadives.", he answered.

As we sat around him and listened, he narrated the tale of his daring escape from the pirates who had attacked his house in the middle of the night. "Pirates?" interrupted Coco, "Like Long John Silver?" We laughed. "No, not like Long John Silver," he said. "These pirates did not have wooden legs or parrots on their shoulders. They were African and roamed the seas in dhows, waiting to prey on merchant vessels." We shuddered. Somehow, real pirates seemed more sinister.

Kutapee continued his tale, describing the fierce attack that caught his little town in Minicoy by surprise. The island had five policemen who fought valiantly against the pirates but were soon captured. In the chaos that followed, Kutapee found himself separated from his family. Realizing that his life in this island was over, he got into a boat full of people fleeing to Kavaratti. However, the capital of the Laccadives was under attack too as Kutapee could see before his boat even reached the shore. The flames from the burning buildings were rising high up into the air. He dove into the water and swam towards a ship that seemed to be leaving the docks. Climbing the mooring line upwards to the deck, he whispered "All Aboard!" to himself and scurried around, looking for a safe play to stow away. As luck would have it, the ship was sailing for Cochin. It was a dramatic narrative filled with vivid descriptions that kept us awake for many nights after. I particularly enjoyed the fanciful episodes he made up to entertain young Coco, who would begin to fret whenever the story took a mundane turn. Mermaids would suddenly appear, swimming alongside his boat, speaking in Malayalam. "What would they say?" she would ask everytime, perking up.

I've always wondered about the truth in Kutapee's stories. Did he really come from the Laccadives? It was hard to tell. I remember asking him about the history of Vypin Island once. His answer was very different from what I had read in the history books. 

No one remembers the brave men who defended Vypin, he said. At various times in its history, invaders arrived, looking to loot and plunder this land. And they were driven away every single time. All of Kerala had been occupied, but this one small island of indomitable men held out against the invaders. And there was also that one time, he continued, when we were attacked by Ming the Merciless himself. "The Emperor of the planet Mongo?" I asked, remembering the comics of Flash Gordon I found in my grandfather's library. He smiled and said nothing. It could have been an attack by the nefarious Ming of Mongo or a Chinese emperor of the same name. I would never find out which one it was in the end. 

A week after I received the telegram, I went back to Vypin Island to meet the person who sent it. She was a grown woman now. And yet she looked like the little girl I knew many years ago. I told Coco that it was nice seeing her after all these years. She smiled, but I could sense a sadness within. I sat with her in silence until she finally spoke. The history of this island needs to be rewritten, she said. As the way Kutapee would have wanted it. I wasn't sure if she was serious. But, I agreed nonetheless. 

"How did he die anyway?", I asked. She looked up at me. "Remember the aircraft carrier we are building?", she said, "In the Cochin Shipyard?"

I nodded. It was ready for active duty. 

"Well, Kutapee led a small army to capture and commandeer it." 

My eyes widened in surprise. "Why would he do that?", I asked.

"He wanted to break away from the Indian Union. And establish the Principality of Vypin." 

I laughed. It was an absurd story. And yet it fitted his character. I realized that I did not wish to know how Kutapee really died. And Coco knew that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The battle for the sovereignty of North Sentinel Island

It remains a mystery why the Kaiju would attack North Sentinel Island, which lay in the waters off the coast of southern India. The tiny island was populated by an ancient people called the Sentinelese, who were hunter-gatherers with a way of life that was unchanged by modern civilisation. Why would the Kaiju choose to attack this group of people with only spears to defend themselves with instead of attacking Calcutta and making their way to Delhi?

Perhaps the answer lay in a theory propounded by an administrative clerk employed by the Survey of India, a government agency tasked with mapping the country. In a letter to the Editor of The Telegraph, he explained that the island was studied in great detail by an English naturalist whose work was unfortunately discredited completely when he claimed that the giant creatures described in the oral legends of the Sentinelese might be the same dragons that appear so frequently in European and Oriental myths. The naturalist was laughed off the stage at the The Royal Society of London and was never heard from again, presumably dying eventually in abject poverty. Could these creatures be the Kaiju, the clerk asked, instead of the mythical dragons? It is unknown if the Editor published the letter merely out of amusement, but it went by largely ignored by the readers.

Regardless of the reason, the first Kaiju attack in India happened on North Sentinel Island. The country was almost taken by surprise, as it was only a year after K-Day, and the construction of our first Jaeger, Juggernaut, was not yet complete. In many ways, that fateful day marked the beginning of the rule of Ray, who would go down in history as possibly India's greatest leader of the modern era.

Every schoolboy learns about the man who would cause political upheaval and lead a country during its time of need. Not everyone knew his story though. For he had no story. He was an orphan of no religion or ethnicity. The Indian Army adopted him in its scheme to train urchins to become soldiers. They called him Ray.

Ray would rise up the ranks quickly, eventually qualifying for the Jaeger program. He joined three other promising candidates selected to pilot Juggernaut. If he wondered which of the shortlisted four would eventually qualify to become the pilot pair, he needn't have worried. All four of them were the pilots, for Juggernaut was not a biped Jaeger like the others before him. He was a four legged colossus.

Remembering his history lessons which described medieval battles with war elephants, Ray looked up in awe at Juggernaut. He stood as tall, or perhaps taller than the American Jaeger, Gipsy Danger. Ray's eyes would widen more in surprise later, when he would realize that Juggernaut could stand up on his hind legs and raise his forelegs in the air, towering over every other Jaeger in the world. He smiled as he realized that the Asian giants, as China and India were often referred to, would use the Kaiju attacks to prove to the world how powerful they really were. If India had spent so much on building its Jaeger, he shuddered to think of what China was capable of.


The Kaiju that made its way to North Sentinel Island was spotted on the radar by the Coast Guard. The government made its decision. The island was far too insignificant to defend. Its destruction would buy them time to finish Juggernaut's construction before the Kaiju attacks began on the mainland. That was the story that was fed to the press anyway. In truth though, Juggernaut was a white elephant project designed to use the fears of the people to spend their taxes on a colossal venture from which billions of rupees would be siphoned off by the government. Was Juggernaut actually intended to serve in active duty? Ray didn't wait to find out. Frustrated with the rampant corruption, he commandeered the public address system at the defence research headquarters, where the pilots and Jaeger crew were housed, and spoke:

"The Sentinelese might be uncivilised tribesmen, but remember this. They have never been invaded since the dawn of time. Let's keep it that way.

It's time for Juggernaut to defend his country."

It must have been a rousing speech, as the Action Stations! alarm went off across the base. Crewmen rushed to their positions, and in an hour, Juggernaut was powering up. Ray rushed to the command console where he found his co-pilots waiting. They saluted him as he entered. It was time to take charge, he realized. No elephant rode well under four mahouts. It needed a commander.

The Kaiju lay in wait near the waters of North Sentinel Island, almost as if in anticipation for a battle with a Jaeger. It took almost a day for Juggernaut to reach the island, after being airlifted from the Madras Harbour.  It must have been a spectacular sight for the Sentinelese to witness a colossal machine rise out of the water and make its way to the shore, but they did not run back into the forest screaming in terror. It was at that moment that Ray realized that this was not the first time that these ancient people had encountered something that big.

Juggernaut battled with the Kaiju, creating waves of tsunamis that crashed into the shore. The Sentinelese were brave people; they watched from treetops as the water swept everything away underneath. It was when another Kaiju suddenly appeared and Juggernaut was forced into a defensive position, that the tribesmen decided to join the fight. Apparently unafraid of the behemoths around them, they climbed down to the ground, pulled out their bows, dipped their arrow tips into bowls containing an unidentified liquid, and took aim. As the Kaiju leaned on its hind legs, exposing its skin beneath the scales, they fired. Most of them found their mark. The Kaiju convulsed, apparently affected by whatever poisoned it. It lurched forward, seemingly losing consciousness. Juggernaut went in for the kill. After the death of the first one, the second was dispatched rather quickly.

Ray returned a hero, armed with knowledge that would give humanity a fighting chance against the Kaiju onslaught. He wondered if the Sentinelese had fought off these creatures before, when they might have been attacked some time in prehistory. As we now know, the Kaiju were not interested in our lush prehistoric world and decided to attack later when we reached the Industrial Age. Did they come back to North Sentinel Island to kill off the only people who knew how to kill them?

The Sentinelese compound, as we referred to the poison that we equipped our Jaeger weapons with, saved millions of lives in Kaiju attacks. Until the Kaiju evolved an immunity to it. By then, we had Indus Omega and Asura Alpha to defend us and Ray as our leader.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The untold story of the Indian Jaegers

It was quite fitting that we would call our first Jaeger the Juggernaut. It was a word of an Indian origin, invented by the English to refer to a destructive and unstoppable force that crushed whatever stood before it. The Juggernaut we built towered over our people and even though they stared at him in awe, they were not unfamiliar with the idea of giant beasts used in warfare. This was the land of war elephants after all.

It was on K-Day, when the world first witnessed the terrifying sight of those behemoths we now call the Kaiju, that India began its Jaeger program, realizing that if it needed to be taken seriously as a force to be reckoned with, then it would need to defend itself against this common enemy on its own. The defence research organisations, long crippled by a lack of funds, quite remarkably stepped up to the challenge. It had taken the threat of an apocalypse to jolt a nation out of its self-destructive slumber.

Juggernaut was soon joined by his brothers-in-arms, Asura Alpha and Indus Omega. Indus Omega was a Mark-3 Jaeger, but Asura Alpha had no rank. He was a beast of a different making. It was after successive defeats suffered by humanity against the hitherto unseen Category 4 Kaiju that India decided to try something that no one else would. It was an idea born out of desperation, yet somehow we managed to pull it off. A battered, dying Kaiju was brought back to life, equipped with prosthetic Jaeger weapons in place of its missing limbs, and a command console with a human pilot installed in its brain to mind-meld with its native consciousness. We had created the unholy spawn of a Kaiju-Jaeger coupling. Against incredible odds, it worked. It was alive. It was the alpha among Asuras.


Unfortunately though, it was India that bore the brunt of most Kaiju attacks. The abundance of ports on the coastline must have made easy targets. The Juggernaut was the first to fall, heroically defending Calcutta. He took the Kaiju down with him, detonating in mid-sea.

Indus Omega was next, tragically succumbing to a Category 4 Kaiju that attacked Pakistan, our neighbour with no Jaegers to defend itself. In times of distress, old feuds were forgotten. We had offered our help and sent in Indus Omega. He was out of his league though. Category 4 Kaiju are fearsome beasts. Indus Omega defended Karachi in a losing battle, buying time for Asura Alpha.

After Indus Omega went down, the Kaiju had barely set its sights on the harbour before Asura Alpha appeared, blocking its path. It did not stand a chance. That was the moment when we realized that we might not be able to control this monster of our own making. Asura Alpha savagely attacked the Kaiju and tore it apart, flooding the seawaters of Karachi with toxic blood.

He has not been heard from since, though we received reports that he was seen headed towards the Breach. We don't know if he made it through. Was it an attempt to go to wherever these infernal creatures came from and destroy them all, right at the source? We might never know. For now, India is safe. We have rebuilt Indus Omega. We will continue our fight.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Street War II: Cowadunga

Read the chronicles of the First Street War here :


Street War II

We found ourselves deep within enemy territory. The smell of sulphur was all around us and explosions could be heard in the distance.

Little Goonie had spotted them first. "Hostiles! 3 o'clock!", he screamed and ran for cover. We followed him.

Ducking behind an ice cream cart, I looked up. Goonie was right. They were positioned in the second floor balcony of an apartment.

"Should we make a run for it?" asked Sarge.

"We wouldn't make it," I replied, "They will use their altitude to their advantage."

"We're losing time," he said, "They will be calling in for reinforcements now. We're cornered and they know it. Perhaps I could sneak away, out of their line of sight and get help."

"It's not the time for heroism yet," I replied. I couldn't afford to lose one of my men this early in the battle.

Sarge's eyes glowered, but he nodded.

"I know someone who lives in this street," said Goonie softly, interrupting the silence, "He comes to visit my mother sometimes."

Sarge and I exchanged knowing glances.

"He is quite fond of me," he continued, "I'm sure we can hide over there for a while."

"A safe house! That is exactly what we need. Show us the way, Goonie."

We wheeled the ice cream cart, taking cover behind it and headed towards the safe house. The enemy taunted us, with more appearing on other balconies and terraces. This looked like a group trained in aerial warfare.

"Cowards!" they hooted, guffawing, "Wear skirts instead and tie up your hair in pretty little ponytails."

Sarge stood up, ready to utter a battle cry. He didn't get far before a loud SPLOOSH interrupted him and he fell backwards, drenched and sputtering.

"Holi Water Balloons!" I exclaimed.

"Direct hit!", screamed the assailant and barked out orders asking for more ammunition.

I dragged Sarge behind the cart and wondered if we should make a last stand. Goonie tapped my shoulder and informed me that the safe house was just a little distance ahead. I nodded and carrying Sarge over my shoulders, followed him.


The safe house belonged to a man who called himself a grizzled war veteran. He claimed to have fought many a street war back in his day.

"Do you have a stockpile of weapons now?", I asked him.


"I suppose we are doomed then", I sighed in resignation.

"It's not over until it's over", he replied, "I think I may know of a way to get you out of here. The Cowadunga Manoeuvre."




It was now two hours past nightfall. We had waited in hiding for over four hours and then under the cover of darkness sneaked out to follow the instructions of the grizzled war veteran. By the time we were done, we smelled bad but appeared hopeful.

The enemy was now emerging out with their parents, ready to enjoy the festivities. They were dressed in their finest and the fireworks display was about to begin.

Little did they know that what appeared to be a pile of paper from exploded firecrackers was actually a booby trap.

We watched patiently from behind the faithful old ice cream cart, waiting for the right moment.

I studied the proximity of the enemy from the trap. They had to get closer for an optimum trajectory.

"They aren't coming into the blast radius," I cursed under my breath.

"Perhaps it is time for my heroism, sir", said Sarge.

I looked at him. I knew he was right.

I nodded.

He stood up and uttered the battle cry once again. The taunts that followed one-upped the tame insults of the enemy. They gasped in horror, the parents covering the ears of the younger ones. Quite predictably, they charged for him.

He waited till they came into the blast radius and then lifted his hands up in mock surrender.

I lit the long inconspicuous wick that led right to the booby trap.

The explosion that followed was quite blinding. Cow dung flew everywhere, splattering faces and staining new clothes. The enemy staggered for balance, overpowered by the smell. The revulsion led to chaos. In the midst of it, Sarge walked back to our hideout smiling. He looked unhurt.

"I dived away from it", he said, "Cool guys don't look at explosions."

We waltzed our way out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Past tense

I could not fathom why I would wake up with ephemera in my pockets. It became a nightly ritual to wear clean pajamas, taking great care to clear out the pockets of accidental contents (I believed in making the journey into the Afterlife with no identification, if I ever died in my sleep) and yet, in the morning I would find foreign objects in them. On a closer examination one day, I noticed that they weren't merely foreign objects, that were out of place, they were anachronistic rather, out of its place in time. These anachronisms piqued my curiosity. I would find tickets for modes of transport that no longer existed. Why would a man in the 21st century have a steamer ticket for a journey around the world in his pocket, I asked myself. I had no idea. I knew myself to be a person who picked up knick-knacks and assorted doodads along the course of the day, but how did I end up with objects from another time? It was a mystery.

As a man afflicted with considerable lethargy, I did not pursue the matter beyond a few hours of intense armchair analysis. It was when objects that looked strangely unfamiliar to my eyes turned up that I began to ponder about this phenomenon. The writings were like nothing I had ever seen. And some of them appeared on different parts of my body. I woke up one day to find rings on my fingers. They seemed to be fashioned out of some sort of animal hide. I called in a favour at the university and they dated the accessories. It was in fashion sometime in prehistory.

The findings suggested that I was either a time traveller or a kleptomaniac art thief suffering from a rare variation of somnambulism. I ruled out the second theory. My morals were rigid and my faith strong; even sleep would not cloud their effect on my good nature. I now had to understand the mechanics of my time travel. It was not mere retrocognition, where people have been known to have suddenly possessed knowledge of earlier times or places that could not have been obtained by regular means. That was too pedestrian. And I had returned from the past with artifacts. That was something the retrocogs could not do. On the other hand, I could not bring memories back. It was perhaps a trade-off for carrying objects of a tangible nature through the mists of time.

It seemed to me then that this was a mystery that would go to the grave with me. I made my peace with it, knowing that a lot of history was similar. Artifacts would turn up at archaeological digs with no narratives to tell their story. My story would be the same. Portions of my life unknown with no memory of it, save a few objects with tantalizing hints of fantastic adventures through time.

In time, anachronisms would begin to appear directly on my body. Tattoos depicting ancient gods covered the blank canvas of my skin and my hairstyles changed. I wondered what kind of makeup I might have seen on my face waking up if I were a woman. Clearly my nocturnal travels were beginning to get more intimate with the people of the past.

The intimacy continued to grow I realized, as I discovered one day in bed. My wife of many years, a fine woman who was amused by my time travelling, suspected me of adultery. After so many years of marriage she had created a record of my sexual styles, so to speak, and found me now performing in a manner that she was not familiar with. She asked me who this interloper was, who taught me these new (and exciting, she grudgingly added) moves. I had no idea, I told her, wondering if I suddenly started sleepwalking unsolicited into strange women's bedrooms.

These amorous encounters would continue, inexplicably leaving marks on my body even though my wife jealously guarded me. She would coil around me and not let go, until the first light of dawn. And yet, I would hurt from the scratches of a wildcat in the morning. Sometimes it seemed to my wife that the pattern of scratches indicated the presence of more than one woman in my bed. That infuriated her even more but she could not do anything as I shrugged it off blamelessly.

I found a person a few months later who had skills that could help me with my mystery. She called herself a forensic investigator, though she mostly operated in the fringes of forensic science. Her specialty lay in sexual crimes and she possessed an amazing knowledge in that area. She recently started dabbling in historical crimes and soon enough expressed an interest in my case.

I explained my unexplained encounters with strange women who left in the morning without a trace. She nodded, taking in every word. "Sleep with me," she said as I finished my story.

I was taken aback. My marriage was adulterous enough as it was with the unexplained dalliances. Why ruin it completely with a woman from the present?

I refused, but she smiled and said it again. "Sleep with me, if you want to solve the mystery."

And so I did, and she seemed to shadow my every move. Nothing was new to her; she shifted defenses, taking in every assault and launching some of her own. I was outplayed.

She smiled as I lay back exhausted. "I can date your travels," she said, adding that sexual knowledge changed over the centuries, sometimes increasing and at other times decreasing, with some techniques lost to most people forever, only to remain in record in obscure manuals. I told her that my artifacts already dated most of my travels so I wouldn't need her services and this had been a waste of time.

"There's more," she added, pinning me down and mounting me in the ways of a Sumerian charioteer. "Your body has so far brought back objects and art with it. But you now have something that's far more important."

"What is that?", I asked, increasing my horsepower.

"Muscle memory," she replied. "Your body remembers the things it is taught and so far you have performed ancient sexual rites purely from its memory. I can teach you to retain memories in other organs. And soon your eyes shall see, your ears shall hear and your brain shall remember events from a past long forgotten."

I smiled. I was finally on the path to uncovering this mystery and filling up the blank pages of my life.