Two Can Keep A Secret, If ...


It had been an exhausting week. Getting all the shipments of mangoes to arrive on time was no joke. Ten shipments, with of ten thousand mangoes in each, all had to arrive this week. Now, I was waiting for the last shipment.

A long time ago, mangoes had ruined my life, but today, I, Alphonso, was the king of mangoes. Okay fine, Alphonso, wasn't the name my parents gave me. I chose it, when I began to build my empire. Cheesy? Yeah well. So what? I like it. And I usually get what I like. Few would dare to criticize me. You see, the life of several influential beings depend on me, and my empire is still expanding.

I had found this abandoned house a few years ago, during a scouting mission. It was the perfect place for me to conduct my business. Far enough away from prying eyes, but conveniently close to the portal, within teleporting range. I had bought it. Gold went a long way towards procuring things without too many questions, on this world. Thank goodness for that. None of the other precious materials on my world, even exist here.

The location of the portal was a family secret. My father had, chanced upon upon it, during one of his alien hunting trips. Yes, he went on an annual alien hunting excursion and left me with a baby sitter for a week. It was his eccentric hobby, and his life's mission was to befriend aliens. Against all odds, he did. Ironic, isn't it, that the aliens, unwittingly, signed his death warrant?

When he first arrived here, disguised as an earthling, using the hologram generator, the people had been hospitable. It was peak mango season, and they had generously treated him to a few. Little had Dad known, that the very first taste of the fruit, had enslaved him for life.

Dad had brought a few dozen mangoes back with him and consumed them at a great rate. He was insanely possessive of them and never even let me taste one. Today, I am glad he was so selfish, and now I know he wasn't quite himself then. When dad ran out of mangoes, the withdrawal was intense, and in a couple of weeks, he died. I was only 7 when it happened and with no parents, I became an outcast and lived in poverty.

Later I learned, that mangoes were only fatally addictive for us, not the earthlings, and they had no idea, they were dooming Dad to certain death. There was no way to shake off the addiction. When the supply ran out, death was inevitable.

I grew up learning to fend for myself. Dad had been my only family, and now I was all alone. I learned the hard way, never to trust anyone. I learned the rewards of patient and meticulous planning, and the dangers of showing compassion.

Ruthlessness and efficiency were my twin mantras. I built my business from scratch bit by bit, always working alone. I had employees, but never for the important stuff, like today. These were secrets I could trust no one with. No one.

Dad had told me the location of the portal, hoping I could procure more mangoes, when his supply was running out. But it did not open again. I kept visiting the portal, even after Dad's death. Part of me wondered, if he was crazy. May be it was all a hallucination. But I had seen those mangoes, and the manic look in his eyes since the trip. It was like the mangoes had obliterated all his good senses. I vowed never to ingest one.

Then one day, over half a year after Dad's death, when I had almost given up hope, I found the portal open. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was just as Dad had described it, a shimmering faint green oval. It was in a remote location, no one ever visited. Dad only chanced upon it, because he believed the aliens were likely to land, where there was the least risk of them being discovered on arrival.

Over time, I learned, that the portal opened, only for a week every year, and always on the 3rd day after the full moon of the 5th month. I scouted the world on the other side several times.

One day I found the cursed fruit hanging from a tree. The smell was so tempting, it took all my will power to resist it. But then I had an idea. I went back through the portal and set up a teleportation link and sent a dozen mangoes across. It worked! I collected all the mangoes I could find from nearby trees, and teleported them across to a secret location I had set up.

I studied the fruit carefully for its effect on animals first, and then a few beings on the fringes of society, that no one would miss. They died quickly, and took my secret to their graves. My extensive research showed, that once we had eaten one or two mangoes, we needed at least one mango a week, otherwise the withdrawal symptoms would kick in and eventually we would die. So I formulated a business plan.

I started selling the mangoes for gold. Beings on my world, unaware of the dangers, succumbed to the sweet temptation of the fragrant fruit. I started with just 4 clients. I had to make sure I had a whole years supply for each client. Over the years I built my business working my way to the uppermost echelons of society. Today, I had the 500 richest and most influential politicians in my power, and I drove a hard bargain. My mangoes were considered a status symbol.

The vultures kept each other in check, so none of them tried to torture the location of the portal out of me. They all knew, that if one of them figured it out, it would spell doom for the rest. Ingenious, don't you think?

Storing mangoes and making them last a year was easy too. Our world was far advanced in technology. I had tried growing the cursed fruit at home, but it simply would not grow there. The chlorine in our atmosphere was toxic for the tree. We had evolved to be unaffected by it, but the mango trees just withered and died. On the whole, that was good though. My monopoly would be safe.

An alarm went off on my phone. It was getting late. I needed that shipment to arrive soon. It was sweltering hot outside. Summer was when these mangoes were ripe and ready for consumption. How fortunate the the portal opened at just the right time. I wondered, if the portal was a forgotten technology of an ancient civilization on my planet, made particularly to procure mangoes. Perhaps it was the mangoes that had destroyed the civilization.

Finally, I heard a knock on the door. Was it news about the shipment? It needed it to be here soon, or I would have to leave without it. The portal would close in just an hour.

I opened the door expecting to see Madan, my local contact. No! It couldn't be. So he had followed me here through the portal. I knew I should have checked after that glitch in the energy reading. But I was rushed for time. And now he was here. At least, he was just a youngling. Yes, he was using the hologram generator to look like an earthling, just like I was, but anyone on our planet would be able to recognize it, even though it worked like a charm to deceive the earthlings.

“What are you doing here?” I asked boring in to his eyes, trying to read his emotions.

“This is where you get the mangoes.” He said looking around. “But where are they? I don't see any.”

“Don't be silly boy. I come here for a vacation every year. Now scram from my property, before I call law enforcement.”

The youngling laughed. “Go ahead oldie. Call them. I don't care. I have been following you all day, with the hologram generator in invisible mode. Yes, you thought you had to only be careful about earthlings, didn't you? You did not even realize you were being followed by a camouflaged being. Quite careless of you, but I suppose you never expected it.” The boy sneered. “I noticed, that you are careful to protect your identity. You use the hologram generator, so they think you look like them. I don't think you want to blow your cover, by calling law enforcement.”

“Who are you? What do you want?” I asked grinding my teeth. How could I have been so careless?

“I want a year's supply of mangoes. You price them too high, because you have a monopoly. We can't afford them. But I need them for my father, so he can continue to live. Give them to me now.” He sounded pathetic and desperate.

“Who are you?” I asked again.

“You don't recognize me? I am the son of your business manager.”

“So, your father stole some of my mangoes, boy. He deserves to die.”

“Don't think I am stupid.” The boy said. “I know the location of the portal. I know what that information is worth. Those crusty people on the council may not believe in aliens, but they sure won't care, as long as they can get mangoes. Now, give me the mangoes.” He pointed a deadly phase pistol at me.

I had to think fast. Today he just wanted a year's supply of mangoes to keep his father alive. But now that he knew where the portal was, he could sell the secret to any one of my powerful clients, who would then, have me killed without a second thought.

“Okay. Wait. The next shipment will be here any minute. You can have your year's supply of mangoes. But this better be it.” I really needed to make a deal. This seemed like a good place to start.

“You are going the just give them to me?” Clearly, he was a novice at blackmail. Even though he held all the cards, he had no idea how to use them. But he wasn't entirely stupid. “Why?” He asked suspiciously.

I sighed. “50 mangoes, as expensive as they may seem to you, mean little to me. I trade in tens of thousands of them. So why would I grudge you 50? You are an employee's son. You can have them. But be sure I will be watching you. So do not ever betray me boy.” Hopefully I had frightened him enough.

He nodded. “Thank you.” But he kept the pistol pointed at me.

Then I had an idea. “But since you already know the location of the portal, I think we can turn it to our advantage. Boy would you like to work for me?” Now that could work. I hoped it would.

“I am only 10.” The boy looked suspiciously at me again.

“I know, but this would be for only a few weeks every year, and not very heavy work.” The boy looked skeptical. “I pay well.” I added to sweeten the deal.

“Go on.” The boy was curious.

“I have been looking for someone I can trust, to assist me with my business on my visits to Earth. I suppose since you know the location of the portal already, it might as well be you. I will pay you well for your silence, and of course your father can have a free life time supply of mangoes.” Now he would have good reason to keep the secret.

“Really?” The boy's eyes sparkled. But then he sneered. “What's to stop me from killing you and taking over your entire business?”

“You could do that, but my business is more than about mangoes. It is about trust. The council members trust me not to betray any of them, or take sides. I am well paid for my neutrality. Years of hard work and patience have gone in to building those relationships. You can try suddenly taking over, but I guarantee you, the results will be disastrous, both for you and our world.”

The boy paused to think, and lowered the pistol slightly. “You would trust me, even though you know nothing about me, and I have no social standing?”

“I started out poor and an outcast myself. You seem loyal in your devotion to your father. I value loyalty boy. You also have shown courage and initiative, vital qualities in a successful entrepreneur. I have no children, and I don't plan to, so I might as well pass on my empire to someone who serves me well. Yes, I would like to have a protégé. With so much for you to gain, I can trust you to keep our secret, can't I? Besides, you would be putting yourself in terrible danger with some fraction of the council, if you ever betrayed me. So why would you?” I had a gift for persuading people. One doesn't get to my position, without the particular ability.

The boy relented. He was convinced. “Yes sir. You can trust me. Thank you.” The boy put down the pistol.

I smiled at him. “Why don't you begin your job today itself.?”

There was another knock on the door. This time, it was the final shipment of mangoes. After Madan delivered them, and left, I picked out 53 quality mangoes and gave them to the boy. “This is a gesture of good faith. Me keeping my first promise in our bargain.” I said and teleported the rest of the mangoes.

“So what is my job today?” The boy asked, his eyes shinning.

“Ah!” I said. “Now this is the trickiest part of the operation, for me to manage on my own. I have to go back and check, if all the mangoes have returned through the portal safely. The teleportation device, does not work perfectly via the portal. I need to get the damaged mangoes exchanged. But my agreement with the dealer here, is that the damage has to be reported within an hour of the shipment arriving. The process is quite a scramble for me. I have had to do it 9 times this week already, and it’s very tiring. From today and in future, your job will be to help me with this.”

I handed the boy a cell phone and a chit of paper. “Here take this. This is a phone and this is the number of the dealer and keep this hyperspace communicator as well. I will call you on the hyperspace communicator, once I have checked on the mangoes at the other end. Just call the number and make sure you let them know how many mangoes are damaged. Tell them you are calling on behalf of Mr. Alphonso. I'll be back soon enough, and then we can exchange the last two or three hundred mangoes damaged mangoes for good ones and return back together.”

“I'll take care of it Sir.” The boy saluted. “You can trust me.”

“Thank you, my boy. You have no idea, how much trouble you have saved me. I hate rushing around and checking on the shipment in a hurry, and then rushing back all sweaty. I am getting too old for it. We will make a great team.” I shook his hand and left.

Then I rushed for the portal. When I reached, it was already shrinking. I made it through, and it collapsed a few minutes later. Whew! That was close.

The boy had found out about the portal, but he did not know how soon it would close. It had been easy to trick him. To manage it in time, had been the only difficulty. I could not take any chances. I could not have anyone else know. I could not trust anyone. The balance of power was too precarious. The boy could not have handled the pressure. The possibility of an assistant had been tempting, but the risk was simply not worth it.

Well, now everything was fine. The boy would not survive in that high oxygen atmosphere for more than a month. He'd be dead before he could contact anyone of importance, and my secret was safe. The next order of business, was to get a new manager.

Tags: thriller, values, science fiction, social, story