Limpdick got off the phone with President Bum, seething with anger. And got onto the fleet’s public announcement system right away:

“Men and women, the PRC Guerrillas have martyred hundreds and hundreds of our Special Forces. Many of them have been impaled in the most barbaric manner. The President wants us to show them what World Island stands for. What it means to have attacked its armed forces. What consequences that brings. What price they have to pay. Prepare, soldiers. As dusk falls today, we will light up Sands. There will be no night for Sands tonight. It will be all light. We will rain hell on them. We will show them that there is only one thing worse than God’s wrath. And that is the World Island’s fury.”

The pilots went to work. The maintenance crew, the bomb loaders swung into action.

Varun Choksi called up Nida Dodi. “Madame President, you do not have to worry any more. I think they are going to flatten Calcutta and Sands tonight.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it, Choksi.”

Many hundreds of kilometres away, in the courtyard of a derelict house in a dirty lane in the rebels’ self-declared capital of Calcutta, Marshal Bhodi was lying on a charpoy, his bare belly staring up at the overcast sky. A red-and-white-chequered gamchha covered his face. After a more-than-sumptuous meal of rice and spicy small-crab curry, he was now deeply and blissfully asleep.

A little distance away, Naren, his squire, was busy rinsing cheap anti-lice shampoo off his hair.

Bhodi’s wife Bechamoni was seated on the stairs that led up to their two or three rooms on the ground floor, playing Ludo by herself. One of the rooms did not have a window, and its door was always tightly locked.

“Bechu,” Bhodi suddenly stirred, and called out to her lovingly from his charpoy.

“What do you want?” Bechamoni asked without looking up, busy rolling the dice in a small plastic tumbler.

“Will you come and stroke my tummy a bit? It’s making strange noises.”

“I have told you again and again not to be such a hog with the crab curry. You never listen,” she said, but moved a little closer to him and gently caressed his belly with one hand.

After a while, she said, “Ai, listen no. We haven’t been to the movies in so long. Will you take me to one?

“Which one?”

“Let’s go to the movie hall and decide. Just like old times.”

“Yes, Bechu, let’s go,” Bhodi said, pulling Bechamoni close, running his fingers through her hair.

“Don’t drink tonight. You have a talking tummy. It’s almost 5.30. Shall I get you some tea?”

“Yes, why not?”

Bechamoni got up and went into the house to make tea. Bhodi sat up, contentedly scratching his crotch. Then went over to the tap in the wall and splashed some water on his face. He wiped it dry with the gamchha and was stretching his bones when Bechamoni arrived with three cups of tea and a plate full of Marie biscuits.

“Naren, here’s your tea,” she called out.

Naren took his cup and sat in a corner as Bhodi and Bechamoni sat down with theirs on the charpoy. And that’s when Raven landed in their courtyard.

Bhodi and Bechamoni folded their hands and bowed their heads.

“Father,” said Bhodi reverentially, “how have you been?”

“How does it matter to you, scumbag? Naren, two glasses, my drinking bowl, the bottle and some water – right now. How are you, my beautiful daughter-in-law, married to my worthless son?”

A few of you readers may know Raven as Dondobayosh.

“I am fine, Father, just a bit under the weather,” said Bechamoni, pulling the edge of her saree over her head.

“Tell me about it – I’ve got such a runny nose.”

A mean-looking Civet Cat ambled down the roof, along with an elderly lady, dressed like an 18th-century noblewoman, smoking a cigarette stuck into a silver holder.

Naren brought out some plastic stools, and they all sat down.

Now, some of you readers may also know that Civet Cat is none other than Bonberal, and the elderly lady is Begum Johnson. It really does not matter if you do not. Now, you do. If you google Begum Johnson, you will see that her grandson Robert Jenkinson went on to become the Prime Minister of England and steered the country through the turbulence of the post-Napoleonic Wars era.

Now: back to the courtyard.

Raven gulped down the fermented-rice alcohol and turned to Bhodi. “What are we, Bhodi?”

“We are the descendants of Atmaram Sarkar, Father.”

“Next, you’ll tell me you look somewhat like a cross between an ape and a human, and that your father is a raven, you dimwit. We are known by what we do. Don’t state the obvious.”

“We are saucerers, we are the saucer masters, masters of saucery,” exclaimed Bechamoni.

“Shut up, cow,” hissed Bhodi, “Can’t you see the men are talking here? Go inside.”

Raven rushed at Bhodi and gave him a resounding slap with his wings. “If you dare talk like that to my daughter-in-law again, I’ll skin you alive. She gave the right answer.”

Bhodi boxed his own ears. “Forgive me, Father.”

“It is her you should ask forgiveness from.”

“Bechu, I am sorry. You are not angry with me, no?”

“I feel bad when you tell me off like that just because I am a woman. But I am not angry. Naren, please get our guests some muri, to have with their drinks.”

“Sexist pig, I tell you. Can’t believe he came off my semen. Now,” Raven continued, “As you know, Bhodi, we saucerers do not break with family traditions. But these are exceptional times.”

“I am sure, Father. You would never take a decision without due consideration.”

“So, in a minute from now, when the moth hour sets in, you will open the Chamber of Saucers. It is the call of the time, and our friends need our help. This is our last hurrah, Bhodi. Set the saucers free.”

“Father, I wish to remind you that we last opened it towards the beginning of the 2000s. So, we should wait till the early 2100s at least. And do you mean to say that we won’t call the saucers back? That we’ll set them free?”

“I know all that, Bhodi. But history will not absolve us if we do not play our part now. This is it. The greatest show on earth is unfolding in front of us. This is the time. This is our final deed. Set them free. Unlock the Chamber of Saucers!”

Bechamoni began to dance around the courtyard in a frenzy. Bhodi put a slash of vermillion on her forehead, on Naren’s forehead too. Begum Johnson began to dance with Bechamoni, though her steps were more of a measured waltz. Naren held out a bunch of keys towards Bhodi. Bhodi grabbed them and proceeded towards the room without a window. The heavy lock finally came off, the door creaked open. And hundreds and hundreds of dazzling-bright, razor-thin saucers, some as small as a fidget spinner, some as large as a car tyre, began to spin out of the room. They spun around the courtyard while Bhodi and Naren clapped, and Bechamoni, Begum Johnson and Raven danced below them.

Then the saucers lifted off, and in a trice, vanished into the sky.

Excerpted with permission from General Firebrand and His Red Atlas, Tathagata Bhattacharya, Seagull Books.