It was the greatest Heavyweight Boxing Match that the world had ever seen, or would see again.
Everyone knew this. The ultra-rich in their penthouse apartments high over Newer New York knew it. The sludge-farmers of Luzon, wading up to their knees in the stuff, knew it. Cannibal headhunters in the Greater Caliphate paused in their discussions of car bomb technology over a light meal of braised heart and turned on their TVs to watch it. Police murdering innocent teenagers, the innocent teenagers being murdered, West African child soldiers hacking off limbs, the soon-to-be erstwhile owners of said limbs, doctors doing unnecessary surgeries which they’d overcharge for, the victims of those surgeries, knew it. Politicians setting up staged elections, Nazis marching with swastikas, propagandists making fake news comparing the latest Russian leader to Hitler, tribal people in grass huts in what was left of the Amazon rainforest, all knew it.
For the space of an hour, the world turned to its screens and held its collective breath.
In his corner, before getting into the ring, the Champion rolled his shoulders and smiled. He felt good. He felt much better than against his last opponent, who had taken him for ten rounds and would have won but for a lucky blow the Champ got in. This time, his victory was assured.
“Careful,” his trainer told him, bandaging his hands. “It doesn’t do to get too confident.”
“Who’s getting too confident?” The Champion took a deep breath, watching his pectorals rise. “I’m going to win, that’s all.”
“Well, yeah.” The trainer pulled on and laced the Champion’s boxing gloves. “But this is the Big One, you know. The Big, Big One. Everyone’s on your side, but they have a right to be worried.”
“They can quit being worried. I’m just going to win.” Getting off his stool, the Champion threw a few quick practice jabs. The cameras caught them and projected them on overhead screens. The crowd, a mass of colour cramming the stands to overflowing, screamed with excitement. “Well? Have they arrived yet?”
“The...” The Champion tried to pronounce his opponent’s name, but gave up. “You know who. Them.”
“They will, don’t worry, or they throw the match. But their sense of time isn’t the same as ours.”
“Damn savages.” The Champion climbed into the ring and turned to face the trainer. “It’ll be a pleasure to beat them.”
“Just make sure you do,” the trainer said. “You...”
His head jerked, exactly as though the Champion had hit him with a right cross, as the crowd suddenly fell silent. It was as though someone had pulled a plug on their vocal cords.
The Challenger had arrived.
They shimmered into existence on the far side of the ring. First the boots, then the thick furry legs, then the heavy cylindrical torso and the bulging arms, wrapped in grey skin. The head came last, with its pointed muzzle and beady black eyes. The tail was almost an afterthought, hanging through a hole at the back of the trunks.
“Squeak,” the Challenger said jovially, lifting both forepaws above their head to show that they had gloves on. “Pseek?”
“What the hell?” the Champion asked, as the only translator on earth capable of sp/queaking the Challenger’s language climbed into the ring. “I thought this was to be a heavyweight match.”
“That’s their equivalent to a heavyweight,” the trainer said. “They’re huge by their standards. Gigantic.”
“They barely come up to my shoulder, for god’s sake,” the Champion began to laugh. As though on clue, the entire crowd began to laugh too, and jeer. “I knew I was going to fight a rat, but at least I thought it would be, you know, a giant rat. This’ll be over in one punch.”
“They’re not a rat,” the trainer said. “They just look like one.”
“Whatever. I thought they were stupid when they agreed to a boxing match to settle the dispute, but I didn't know they were as stupid as that.” The Champion nodded as the referee looked round and beckoned. “It’ll be over in one punch. I’ll bet my life on that.”
“This is the Most Important Heavyweight Match the world has ever seen,” the announcer reminded his audience. “In the blue corner, ladies and gentlemen, with a record of thirty-six victories, one draw, two defeats, please welcome the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World...” The rest of his sentence was lost in a storm of cheers. “In the red corner,” he eventually resumed. “record unknown, please, um, welcome the Challenger, from the...” he hesitated. “From the kslksl people from Planet Muanaha...” the rest of this sentence was lost in a storm of jeering.
All over the world, cannibals and vegans, teachers and terrorists, priests and pagans, Mensa members and morons, stopped what they were doing to stare into their TVs. Even Saudi executioners paused in the act of chopping off heads to check what would happen in the course of the next minutes.
After all, it was the Match for the Destiny of the World.
This was exactly what the announcer was saying. “These are the ten rounds that will decide the future of the world, ladies and gentlemen. If humanity wins, we colonise the kslksl world and do as we want to with them. If they win...” he paused to let the howls of laughter wash across the stadium. “If they win, they do as they want to with us. And may the best man win. Of course,” he added, “apart from the referee, there’s just one man in this ring.”
The referee stepped back and a buzzer sounded.
The fight was on.
Afterwards, as he was carried back to the dressing room, the former Champion tried to understand what had happened.
The buzzer had sounded, he’d touched his gloves to the rat’s...whatever the trainer had said they were, they were a rat, for god’s sake...and stepped back to look for an opening. One had seemed to present itself as the rat had dropped their right guard, and he’d bent to the side, readying a left jab...
...only to wake up on the canvas, with the referee shouting over him. “Nine...ten!” the referee said, and stepped away to hold the rat’s paw towards the stadium ceiling.
The silence had been so total the former Champion had heard his own head ringing.
“They have extensible arms,” the trainer said, bending over the stretcher. “That’s what. They can stretch their arms to twice their length. We never knew that.”
The former Champion shook his head. His mangled mouth tried to form words.
“I told you they weren’t rats,” the trainer said.
It was the next morning that the kslksl announced what they wanted to do with humanity.
“They’ll eat us,” the trainer said, gloomily. “They’ll fatten us up, eat us, and use our deaths as performance art. It’s a high honour with them.”
Kslksl were already landing all over earth, carrying spoons, knives and forks, and licking their lips hungrily at every human they saw. The TV showed some of them interrupting cannibal headhunters’ breakfasts in the Caliphate to try their cuisine.
The former Champion would have said something, but his broken jaw was wired shut.
“At least,” the trainer said, brightening momentarily, “they’ll start with the ones who are already fattened up, the McRonald’s customers, United Nations bigshots and the like. We’ll be way down on the list. Way, way down.”
The former Champion tried to say something, and only managed mumbles.
“I’ll grant you that,” the trainer said. “It was a stupid way to decide the issue, and we ought to have...um, smelt a rat...when they agreed so quickly to our terms.”
But that wasn’t what the former Champion had meant. It had been all over in one punch, after all, exactly as he’d predicted. So it was totally unfair that he’d have to lose his life over it.
There was a knock on the door, and a kslksl entered, wearing a chef’s hat.
They seemed hungry, going by the look in their eyes.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015