Great Being Five had been practicing mindfulness while idly airbrushing some of the scenery on Orea, her second favourite planet, when a Thought Bubble popped up in the corner of her monitor. It was her friend and protégé, Great Being Nineteen. His Bubble glowed amber with agitation.
‘It’s Planet Earth. Something’s wrong!’
Five flicked a switch and focused her Third Eye on the spiral galaxy that contained her most beloved planet. Nineteen was right. Planet Earth was behaving very oddly. The whole world was flickering, like one of the earthlings’ little light bulbs when it was about to go out. Her Eye roamed around the screen. The stars in the Milky Way were shifting and shimmering ominously.
‘I think it’s the Time Grid,’ Nineteen yelled. ‘Something has gone wrong with the reset on Planet Earth1. Do something, Five!’
On the far side of her screen, a large chunk of the Milky Way blinked off and on.
A bolt of alarm shot through her. What had gone wrong? All she’d done was turn back Time a little bit in that small corner of the galaxy, so that the little humans could have a major re-think and cease their wanton destruction her lovely blue planet.
And it had all been going so well. The little earthlings had emerged from their planetary pandemic a reformed race. They’d been caring for the planet so well.
‘Shut the planet down!’ bellowed Nineteen. ‘Earth is compromising the whole galaxy!’
‘I can’t do that after all we’ve done,’ snapped Five, anxious to protect her little humans. She took a moment to focus. ‘There’s no need to panic.’
Nineteen’s Thought Bubble eye-rolled.
Five started scrabbling at the keys. She’d just have to reset the Timer again. Go back to the previous setting. Switch it off and switch it on again. Wasn’t that the mantra of every Techbot?
A sudden thought occurred to her. ‘What about your Mind-Set Program, Nineteen? Can you replicate that?’
Nineteen’s Thought Bubble made a thumbs up sign.
Five aligned the Time-Grid counter to its previous setting: 01.01.2020. She took a deep breath and pressed the reset button. At least the little earthlings wouldn’t know they’d already been through Nineteen’s Mind-Set Program, and after all, it had only taken a year for the scourge to die down. They’d be fine.
The screen went blue.
Five held her breath.
The image reappeared. Planet Earth and the Milky Way were stable. The Space-Time Balance had been restored.
The Thought Bubble made an apologetic pop.
‘What’s wrong, Nineteen?’
‘Sorry, Five. Planet Earth’s Virus-Settings wouldn’t accept the same program again. I had to opt for a Mutation.’
Five clutched the edge of her keyboard. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The pandemic is going to take a little longer to play out this time.’
‘Well, there’ll be at least a second and a third wave before it’s over.’
‘You’ll have your beautiful blue planet back again.’
‘But what about the little humans?’
‘Those who survive: never better.’
It’s been more than a year since we last caught up with Great Being Five in a story I wrote1 shortly after South Africa and many other countries first went into hard lockdown in March 2020. I wrote the story you’ve just read in January 2021, when South Africa went into the second wave of the pandemic but never got around to posting it. Reading it again this week, as the country teeters on the brink of the third wave, it seems even more apt than it did when I penned it.
You can find all the stories featuring Five here.
Photo credit: watercolour painting by Elena Mozhvilo