The Garuda Bird

By Tom Doyle | February, 2019


Artwork by Jose Baetas.

Here's the originally published intro to this story as it appeared in AEon Speculative Fiction: "What happens if we envision the future from Bombay instead of Hollywood? Answer: a science fiction musical comedy folk action religious drama with a big Bollywood ending. 'The Garuda Bird' is the story for that future film. So grab some curry-flavored popcorn and a Limca soda, and enjoy!"

OK, let's break that down. I was inspired by a tale I read back in college for an Indian folklore & mythology class. (I've only recently been able to find the tale again: "The Weaver Who Loved a Princess" from The Panchatantra.) I turned the original into a fractured bedtime story that I told my women friends, and over the years, it became my own.

Another set of inspirations came from my trip to India prior to the outsource boom. It was summer, and the only air conditioning for a student budget was at the movies. So, despite having little to no grasp of the language, I watched a lot of Bollywood films. Also, I had traveled to India to talk to the political party of a former "godly role" actor turned politician, so it was only natural that someone like him would end up as my PM character.

I mixed these sources together with a lifelong admiration for all things South Asian. The Age of India could be a grand thing, and a lot better than many of the alternatives.

On a cool night just after the monsoon rains, the Garuda flew invisibly under the moon over the great capital city of India. After passing over the palace walls, it slowly became visible as a ghostly silhouette. The huge red bird shape hovered outside the bedroom of the Princess Madhu, then silently landed on her large balcony.

From the Garuda, a male figure alighted and approached the open glass door. He wore the regal garb of the god Vishnu, with crown, discus, and conch. He was beautiful in form, but his radiant attire looked stagy even in the moonlight.

The Princess was unimpressed. "Vishnu" was sweating, and rightfully so. She was surprised that her bodyguards hadn't rushed in. Perhaps she should call them, but not yet. She was accustomed to artifice and exaggeration. After all, "Princess" was just what the newspeople called her. Maybe a real princess wouldn't be bored, but Madhu was the daughter of the Prime Minister. Her deathly dull routine had made her crazy for adventure. She strode onto the balcony, trying to appear imposing in her sheer bathrobe.

"What in Ram's name are you doing here?"

"I came like in the story."

She eyed his bird-shaped contraption and then examined the rider again. "I don't know this story." It was not one of Daddy's films from his Bollywood days.

"You know, 'The Garuda Bird.' Your mother told it to you, or you read it in school."

"What about your damned Garuda bird?" She was losing patience. She was a university graduate. She bloody well knew what the real Garuda was. "I should call security."

"No, please, I thought you would know the story. Let me tell it to you first."

Her silence was an impatient assent. He began his tale.

*****

This tale didn't happen yesterday. It was a very, very, very long time ago. Long before anything digital besides fingers, when the mountains and rivers and trees were young. When the avatara Lord Rama, the divine incarnation of Vishnu himself, ruled the known and unknown worlds from his sacred city. And the people in his city lived a magical existence, an existence not known to us today, of health, wealth, and love.

But far from Rama's city was the small provincial kingdom of Delhidesh, and there life was pretty much the same mediocre mess that it was last week.

In that small kingdom there lived two friends, a lame Blacksmith and an adventurous Soldier. The Smith was an exceptionally clever entrepreneurial type in his medieval milieu, though he had lost leg and love in an accident at his forge. The loyal Soldier enjoyed assisting the Smith in testing the new swords, armor, and arcane devices of war that the Smith manufactured. They were as prosperous and content as people of their castes could expect.

One day, the Smith and the Soldier managed to gain entrance to a grand and joyous festival. It was the public coming-out party for the Princess of the realm, so everyone of worth in the kingdom was there. The Smith and Soldier ate too much, watched dizzying feats of illusion, and generally had a raga-and-roll good time. Then, all were silent as the King of Delhidesh rose to address the gathering. They listened with reverence to the old King's praise of his daughter and his land.

*****

"Reverence? Ha!"

Madhu couldn't help but interrupt. She glanced down at the man's ornately sandaled feet on her balcony. "You're the Soldier?"

"My name is Vijay." He offered his hand, English-style.

Madhu lowered her eyes, shaking her head. "I remember you from the party. But it wasn't like your story at all."

*****

Madhu tried to keep smiling pleasantly as Daddy's party toast became another endless speech. If he could have sung it, people would have been much happier. Little did they know.

Her graduation from Harvard Medical School was his flimsy excuse to wax bloody mystical again.

"...Time can be a tricky business in our land. Is it only the end of the dark Kali Yuga, or the beginning of the next holy age of Ram Raj? I believe that it is finally our choice to make. We have struggled through a time of great danger. Now is the time of great possibility. If we work together, the Age of India will finally come again, if not for us, then for our children. For my Princess. And someday her children as well. Hai Ram." And everyone downed their non-alcoholic champagne, except Mummy, who had suddenly gone stone-faced. Trouble.

Before this kalpa-length toast had even ended, a perky aide was already explaining to a gorging journalist that Daddy had some bullet points under all the nationalist slogans. Somehow the expected nuclear boom and doom (as always over Kashmir) had fizzled. Cheap fusion energy had unleashed India's best resource, its brain power. Globally, the Indian Diaspora rivaled the overseas Chinese. (As for China itself, well, princesses should avoid schadenfreude but, hey, turned out democracy matters, chumps.) An Indian century was within reach.

But the Princess didn't want an age of India for her graduation. She just wanted a time to be Madhu, maybe even Dr. Madhu. That wasn't going to happen, thanks to Sanjay. His mercifully silent holo-image sat at an empty place at the banquet table, wild-eyed as in life. Last year, her psychotic brother had crashed in his supersonic when he manually took the controls (Sanjay is not a lucky name for a PM's son). Since then, she wasn't just her family's darling, she was their political heir.

So this party was her introduction to public life and the social event of the year. Many were invited, many more came. Outdoors in the courtyard of the PM's residence, smells of curries overran the subtler delights of neo-caviar. The band swung effortlessly from bossa nova to Brahms to Bollywood. Some big-haired hunk and a big-bosomed spoonful were dancing and crooning:

What shall we do behind this piece of fruit??

Tell me what to do behind this enormous fruit.

No, you first.

No, you!

Liberally sprinkled through the crowd were Daddy's old film cronies-the pioneers of the ironic musicals that had swept the globe. In his roles as singing gods, Daddy had been their Elvis and Heston combined. The next generation of starlings flocked around him, eager for the darshan blessing of his gaze.

Smiling now, Mummy worked the political crowd with the grace and hustle befitting the scion of India's longest running dynasty since the Nehru-Gandhis. Paparazzi were snapping holo-shots of them all, particularly of Madhu.

Madhu did not care a whit. She needed to find the covert alcohol service, hidden in particular from the paparazzi. She needed a bloody real drink.

She slipped through the dance floor, but then found her way blocked by a strange cluster of traditionally clad ultra-nationalists and high-ranking military folks. Damned odd that they were even here. At the cluster's center was a silver-haired man in western formal dress, but with only one pant leg. The other leg was a shiny metal prosthetic, a strange affectation in a city where regeneration of limbs was as common as reincarnation of bugs. She didn't want to stare, but there was writing on the leg. A woman's name, Lakshmi. Now she really needed that drink.

She skirted the fascists and slipped through the secret flap in the alcohol tent. Blast, some air-space captain was already there, and he was looking right at her.

She put on her best ingenue's face. "Promise you won't tell anyone?"

The young captain shrugged his shoulders, and gave her a goofy smirk. "Who would I tell? But more importantly, what'll you have?"

Well, this was grand, he didn't seem to recognize her. "Behewt accha. Gin and tonic, please."

She had a nice chat with the clueless yet well-formed young man, but she heard little and remembered less, distracted by his handsome dark southern features that her fair northern mother wouldn't approve of. He said something about flying and folk stories. She thought briefly of mad, sad Sanjay, and asked if they still needed human pilots. He said for some jobs, yes, they did. She spoke little of herself, not wanting to give herself away and ruin the moment. Realizing that she was going to be missed soon, she made some excuses and left the tent before he could follow. And she didn't think of him again that night.

*****

"You didn't think of me?"

The costumed fly boy's enthusiasm deflated with a sigh. She hadn't meant to be harsh. "I had a lot on my mind."

"I understand. I thought of you though."

"What did you think?" A foolish question. Did she really want to know?

"I need to tell you the rest of the story first."

*****

As his dharma would have it, the Soldier wandered off from his friend after the King's speech. In a small tent, he ran smack right into love. It was the always-fatal kind, because you have it from first sight till you die. After his new love left him, he was happy for about 30 ticks on a medieval watch, the happiest Soldier in Delhidesh. But then he made the mistake of asking the Smith who the strange woman was. And, as you may guess, it was the Princess herself that the young Soldier had gone soggy for.

So, the Soldier went home and had a good day-long crying jag followed by two days of quasi-coma. He starved himself in the best Hindu martyr fashion. He didn't show up for his work at the Smith's. On the third day, the Smith sensed that both the time and the Soldier's odor had grown ripe. So he broke into his friend's bachelor pad, and confronted him with the sour facts.

"Soldier, old boy, you've been like this for three days, not eating, not speaking to anyone, and letting our work go. You can't hide it from me, pal, you've got all the symptoms of love from first sight to forever. So just cough it up-who is she?"

"Her hair is black as a moonless night," the Soldier cried, "though strangely short for these times. Her skin is fair as the snows of Kashmir, but she is more remote than Everest. And yet I do not know how I can live without her."

"Soldier, I am a clever entrepreneurial fellow and you are a daring young man. Together we can achieve anything we set our minds to. We're a team! So, come on, who is she? We can win her over to you."

"Even if she's the Princess?"

Now the Smith had to admit that this was an epic task. But, after asking the Soldier about his conversation with the Princess, the Smith started laughing. "By Krishna, I've got it! The Vedas have already shown us the way." And the Smith explained his outrageous and fantastic plan.

For you see, the Smith had secretly built a flying machine in the shape of a bird. Together, the Smith and Soldier painted it bright red to look like the Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu, highest of the gods. And, perhaps misspending client funds, they bought the Soldier fancy clothes, a crown, and most important, a discus and a conch in the style of Vishnu. For they planned to have the Soldier court the Princess in the guise of the king of the gods.

And so, late one night, by the light of the full moon, the disguised Soldier mounted the mechanical Garuda bird. It lifted him up into the air, silently and effortlessly. He told the Garuda to take him to the palace.

As the Garuda flew, the Soldier felt strange, as if he had entered halfway into the dimension of the gods. He thought he heard someone say, "Hello, what have we here?" But he set his mind and his heart on his love, and ignored all else.

The Soldier had some reason to dream of success. The Smith had told him that the King and Queen were remarkably fond of their daughter, so fond that they would allow her discretion in choosing her husband from among the eligible princes.

*****

Meanwhile, the neo-caviar dreams were fading at the PM's. On the verandah, Mummy and Daddy were fighting about her again.

"Madhu's life is too important to be left to Madhu. And what did you mean at the party, talking about her children?" Mummy hadn't quite recovered from Sanjay's death yet. She was used to treating Madhu with benign neglect. Now, she had to consider Madhu as important to the Family's future. How annoying!

"Well, of course she would get married first, wouldn't you, Princess?" Daddy was used to making people happy with a smile and a dubbed-in song. Mummy was more of a challenge for him.

"Who she marries is now a serious political matter."

"I'm sure she'll marry a nice boy, won't you, Princess?" He smiled at her with nervous eyes.

"She'll marry the right man, or she won't marry at all."

And so on. Madhu didn't fight, because this was all fine with her. Between medical school and accompanying Daddy on his surreptitious excursions to the cyberfleshpots of the Old City, neither sex nor romantic love held much mystery or attraction. True, her chat with the clueless fly boy from the party foreboded trouble ahead for this policy of appeasement, but she didn't have to worry about seeing him again. So she retreated to her bedroom, and opened her door to the fresh night air that follows the monsoon.

*****

As the Soldier flew towards the palace, the Princess lay in bed and reviewed the line-up of princes, but without satisfactory results. All were worthy, but she felt nothing for any of them. In her confused frustration, she prayed to Vishnu. "Oh Vishnu, please help me find a husband."

And lo! At that very moment, a shadow of a large bird passed over the moon, and the great Garuda descended onto the balcony. Our resourceful hero dismounted, a bit dizzy from his strange flight, and beheld the abject bowing of the shocked Princess. She was babbling apologies for calling Vishnu at such a late hour and for the messy state of her room.

Then the Soldier gently said, "Rise, dear one! For I have seen your beauty shining up to high heaven, and I have come to respectfully ask if we might be 'wed as they are in heaven.'"

*****

"He wanted to get laid."

"Um, yeah."

"That's all it took? A goofy god outfit?"

"Yep."

"Not today, sweetheart." Madhu put her fingers to her mouth to whistle.

"Wait! That's just the story. Really! I just want to get to know you."

"You could just look me up online. I have a website."

"We seemed to get along so well at the party. I had to see you again. I also prepared a song for you." He started into one of Daddy's songs: That's the way God works...

"Don't do that. It's creepy. Besides, it's an open secret that Daddy's songs were all voice-overs." She smiled at the shock on his face-disillusioning people about Daddy never ceased to amuse her. Then a cold metallic image came back to her. "So, who's your Smith?"

"He calls this machine 'the Garuda One.' He built it long before I met you, of course. But it reminded us of the story."

"And this clown suit?" She let the Smith's identity lie for now.

"My idea, I thought with your father and all."

"My father never played Vishnu. Lord Krishna sure, Lord Rama many times, but never Vishnu."

"Oh. Well, we had talked about folklore."

"Not really my area." But he suddenly seemed such a sad and tired clown again. She offered a little encouragement. "So what happened next?"

He brightened and opened his hands towards her. "He got the Princess."

"That's it?"

He waved one hand dismissively. Was he drunk, or just out of it? "There were some minor complications."

"Don't you think she would have figured out, even back then and however good he was, that he wasn't divine?"

He wagged his finger. "Always a risk." Then he toppled over like the demon Ravana on his last and worst day in I'm Your Monkey Man, Hanuman.

Oh, this was not good. She lightly slapped his face, but he only moaned bits of Daddy's songs. So she dragged him into her room and flopped him onto her bed. It was really the only place to flop someone. She eyed him closer. Even in his ridiculous outfit, she decided he was worth looking at. Maybe they could talk again when he woke up.

*****

Before dawn, the Soldier flew off on the Garuda bird, having wed the Princess as they are in heaven.

*****

"But then what happened?"

"You want me to keep telling the story?"

"Yes, blast it, yes! This is the best bloody part."

"You'll have to help me. Some things I don't like to tell."

"I know. I'll help. I'll help with the part about the Smith."

*****

Mohan had remained awake all night, tinkering with his leg while he waited for Vijay to return with the Garuda One. The leg was bleeding-edge tech, like every device strewn about this vast room: the Agni particle cannons, the Arjuna invisibility screens, and the Blades of Kali-bizarre pretzel-shaped weapons that could kill a city on one setting, kill a bug on another. But as with the other devices, the leg could always be improved. Progress.

Finally, Mohan heard the Garuda's screeching signal and opened the facility's roof. Vijay descended and dismounted quickly; Mohan could tell that he was anxious to relate his exploits.

Mohan had long ago ceased to care about such fleshy stuff, and he was in charge, so his questions would take precedence. Still, he would have to put on his friendly face.

"So, did you get through the security OK?"

"Ji ha, no problem-like I wasn't even there."

"You weren't, in a fashion. A good chunk of you was elsewhere and elsewhen."

"It made me kind of dizzy. I passed out when I got there."

"An acceptable side effect."

"I, um, thought I heard voices."

Shit, was his pilot going nutty? That was the problem with mucking about with transdimensional quantum level forces: you needed a pilot. Otherwise, the Garuda might go off on an uncertain flight path into nothingness. Despite this design weakness, the payoff was worth it. The Garuda could move in any direction or hover at will, and was almost undetectable. That the device took the pilot along with it into the transdimensional area and perhaps bent his mind slightly was of secondary concern, but still a concern.

"I'm sure you'll be fine after some rest," Mohan yawned. "So, why don't we both call it a night or morning."

Vijay was miffed. "You don't want to hear what happened with Madhu?"

Mohan arched an eyebrow. So it was Madhu now, was it? "No, I don't want to hear anything about it. It's a private matter. I'm sure you were a godly gentleman." He forced a wink, and the blockhead actually blushed.

"There's one other thing, boss-sahib. How am I going to see her again?"

How do you think it is for me, all the time, you human cow pie? "Oh, you can use the Garuda One of course. Just remember, be a gentleman, Vishnu." He forced another wink, and the blockhead was still chuckling and blushing as he stumbled out the door.

Mohan could finally relax when Vijay left. Good, another cooperative moron. The ultra-nationalists were ecstatic with the Garuda-of course, they thought the ancients already had this heavy equipment, according to the Vedas. The military was itching to settle all border accounts, and was perhaps even looking a country or two beyond.

As for Mohan, he had deliberately kept his accounts in a form that he could not forget. His leg helped him concentrate. In its shiny surface, he could imagine Lakshmi's long-dead face above her name. His research accident had cost him his one chance at love, and everyone-the enemies who justified the research and the government who demanded it-would eventually have to pay. Mohan didn't mind being thought a mad scientist. After all, if he didn't get mad, how could he get even?

He went to the Garuda, and from a hidden compartment pulled out a data disk. It would take him awhile to brief the ultra-nationalists and to set up a meeting with the PM. Let Vijay enjoy himself until then. He, too, would have to pay eventually.

*****

At breakfast the next day, and every day for the next week, the Princess had a sleepy gobar-eating grin on her face. The King just thought his daughter was happy about some prospect of marriage; the Queen suspected that something like marriage was already happening. So, that night, she secretly waited outside her daughter's room to see who the suitor was. The Queen considered the possibilities with royal equanimity: if he was a prince, all the better that her daughter had had a trial run of him; if he was some common person, a bodyguard or soldier, she'd simply have him executed and hush up the whole thing.

But it was neither a prince nor a common person that she saw enter her daughter's room that night, but the Lord Vishnu himself!

*****

She was ready to be furious, to burst in on them, call security, drive her now-only child to tears for ruining all her careful planning. But the anger wouldn't come. When she saw through her spy mote the strange young man in the Vishnu garb, she remembered the first time she had seen her husband in the wonderfully accentuated colors of Bollywood 3D, a god in god's clothing. From that moment, even as a girl, she knew she must have him and him alone, politics and the Family be damned.

Movies became reality. Her Family's resources brought her to him, love and destiny brought them together to the summit of power. It had not been a bad life. If only Sanjay...

She suddenly felt old and cold. She tottered like a blind woman back to her husband's bed and its warmth. No, she would not be the one to break their hearts. That would happen soon enough without her help.

*****

Mohan enjoyed a rare moment of unfeigned, unadulterated pleasure as he watched the PM squirm. Under the pretext of showing him how effective the Garuda was at eluding detection and penetrating security, Mohan had shown him holovid footage of Vijay's visits to his daughter. Mohan waited as long as he could to speak, savoring the silence.

"It reminds me of some of your work."

The PM glared back at him with quiet ferocity. But what could he say? Mohan had exactly hit upon the real problem. Not the sex (though that would get the news services' attention as surely as it got the PM's) but the manner of it. The resemblance of the holovid to the PM's earlier career would just be too disturbing for the electorate.

Certainly Mohan hadn't planned it out this way. He thought he was going to have to rely on the bumbling ultra-nationalists to come up with some leverage. But that blockhead Vijay had opened up the door to this wonderful improvisation. Marvelous. The PM had no choice. If he wanted to stay in power, he'd have to cooperate with their military plans.

Time to put on his respectful face. "Sir, the advantage of the Garuda device will not last forever. The Pan-Arabs have been working along similar lines. With the Garuda, we can hit them instantaneously and invisibly. Invincibly. Please, won't you reconsider, and meet with the nationalist faction?

"Fine. I'll meet with them on one condition."

Mohan nodded that he was listening.

The PM's arm shook with fury as he pointed at the holovid. "That derivative bastard goes on the front line, and doesn't come back."

*****

And so the royal couple found out about their daughter and Lord Vishnu. And the King was glad, but not for the same reasons as his wife. The Queen was thinking of the wonderful deities and demi-deities that would be visiting for social occasions. The King was thinking that with a son-in-law like Vishnu, he needed more enemies to conquer.

So the next day, the king made some. Enemies, that is. He delivered stinging insults to the ambassadors in his kingdom. They promptly reported the insults to their own kings, who just as promptly raised armies, and besieged the kingdom.

The King told the increasingly concerned populace not to worry-he had Vishnu as a son-in-law, so surely Vishnu would come tomorrow at dawn to destroy their enemies.

Kings can be so literal-minded.

At hearing this, the Princess grew faint. She had long before figured out that her lover was awfully good, but not divine. So she knew that the dear love of her heart and her whole kingdom were both in deadly peril. She tried to join him to flee the kingdom, but the evil forces allied with the Smith blocked her way. She sent a message to warn him, but it was too late-war was coming.

Her mother the Queen comforted her, for mother and daughter both understood the magic of the godly role, while the King had lost that magic, or perhaps was jealous of it in another.

The Soldier needed no warning-he soon enough realized his and the kingdom's danger. What could he do? Perhaps he should run away. But what would happen to the Princess, to his homeland? Probably the same thing that was going to happen anyway.

It was the day before the King's armies would attack the enemy in the confidence that Vishnu and Garuda would make them invincible. For the first time in many years, the Soldier thought a prayer might be a good idea. Perhaps a word with Vishnu.

*****

The Vaishnavite temple was very old and in disrepair. In front sat an old sanyasi holy man in saffron robes. He mumbled to himself as Vijay approached him. Vijay dipped his card into the sanyasi's bowl, but it wouldn't take any rupees.

The sanyasi looked up at him, grinning manically. "And how are your voices coming?"

"What makes you think I hear voices, sanyasi-ji?

The old man chuckled. "You young ones think you know everything."

Vijay was beyond desperate and shameless. "Please teach me, father. I've lost the dharma."

"Kurushetra me, dharmashetra me. Hmm, teach you something. Accha, how about this: all sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."

"I don't understand."

"Right. Well how about this then: mortals become what they pretend to be."

"I'm not sure, I-"

The sanyasi landed a sharp blow to Vijay's shoulder with his walking stick. "Did you think you could just play at this? This is India, boy, where every peasant knows what happens when you play god." He wagged his stick at a campaign vid board of the PM. "Just look at him. More of an idiot than you. OK, one more try: deus ex machina, silly once-born. God from the machine!" The sanyasi turned away, and as he tottered down the street, he called back to Vijay. "Say hello for me next time you're up there," and he thrust his walking stick towards the sky.

*****

After a sleepless night, the Soldier mounted the mechanical bird, and flew up into the dawn light to engage the enemies of Delhidesh.

It seemed he flew above all Delhideshes, past, present, and future. He flew above the Red Fort and the great mosque. He flew above Connaught Place with its teaming thousands. He flew above palaces and mansions and slums and hovels. Fair and foul scents, medieval to third world to otherworldly now, made his fearful stomach turn. Cries of joy and pain cancelled each other out in a low hum-"aummmm." Over the centuries, did anything really change?

He hovered a moment over the town walls, then flew out towards the front. He saw the vast armies arrayed against him, and the vast army supporting him, and he despaired for himself and his country. He was armed with the arcane weapons of the Smith, weapons of Agni and Kali. But the enemies had fearsome weapons as well. What could he alone accomplish? If the battle went badly, he would crash his Garuda into the enemy lines so as to do the most damage.

With this thought, he felt his love for the Princess and his native land flood open the gates of his heart, so that when he heard the voices again he was ready.

*****

In a set of dimensions just a little askew from the familiar ones, a meeting was taking place between two powerful sentients. For convenience's sake, think of them as a giant bird and his boss.

"My Lord," squawked the bird, "that sacrilegious bozo is crossing over again."

"Yes, well, it's happened before, and will happen again," replied his boss.

The bird clucked with irritation. "Maybe, but I don't have to like it. Dressed like you, riding an imitation of me, all to get laid. And now all India's gonna pay for it."

"I suppose you think they've got what's coming to them, so what's the big deal?"

The bird chirruped gently, "Lord, no. I don't want our beloved land of Bharat to perish under our image. I just wish it was more simple, like the old days."

The boss laughed. "It was never simple, my friend. But what shall we do now? I'm open to suggestions."

"I'm afraid we have to go all the way with this one."

The boss roared with approval. "Oh, that'll show the bastards. Awesome idea, O wise bird."

Then the bird screeched with the voice of thousand eagles. "Did you hear that, Vijay? Make it so!"

*****

And in that moment Vijay knew that he was truly the Soldier, and the Soldier was now Vishnu, and the Garuda One was now the Garuda bird.

But he wasn't sure what that meant until the Garuda turned its metal head back towards him and squawked, "Come on, Vijay, this isn't the Mahabharata. Get a move on."

Then the Garuda let forth a sonic boom of a screech that stunned friend and foe alike. And they were both suddenly and radiantly visible above the armies.

Vijay's heart spoke one last prayer. For love of her, for love of India, Bharat ki jai.

His weapons suddenly felt dirty. He threw the Agni canon and the Blade of Kali to the ground with disgust. Then, for simple joy, he blew into his conch.

A massive superquake unleashed below the armies. Soldiers of both sides fled to the open ground as their heavy equipment and transports were tossed about and wrecked.

When the quake subsided, Vijay gave the discus a throw with a child's enthusiasm.

The discus became a million wheels of light, and each wheel set to work. Some gave crew cuts to the men and women alike. Some went through weapons like knives through ghi. Some dazzled soldiers' faces with their light.

Not one soldier on the field was now able to fight. The Garuda smiled back at him and clucked wryly. "Seems like you didn't know your own strength. You stopped both armies."

"It felt right."

"You've become wise. Good job, Vijay."

"Call me... Kalki."

"Avatar of the Future? Yes, I suppose you are, Avatara. Many lives together and all that. We'll be in touch. Ciao for now." And the Garuda One was just the Garuda One again.

But Vijay knew that he never was and never would be just Vijay, and neither were any of us ever just ourselves.

*****

"And how does the story end, my faithful Soldier?"

"Well, the Soldier got the Princess."

"With minor complications." The Queen, nee Princess, squeezed him with a laugh. She was enjoying an evening of just being Madhu in her new master bedroom.

"The enemy kings quickly became the Very Friendly Kings."

"Very prudent of them."

"The old King and Queen knew that Vishnu wasn't really their son-in-law, but they knew quality and god-blessed material when they saw it, so the Soldier got to marry the Princess anyway in a lovely ceremony."

"Very sporting of them."

"The old King went back to acting, this time as the doddering father figure. The old Queen pursued global war relief work."

"May they prosper, and not nag me for grandchildren."

"The Smith, when he heard the results of the battle, activated another transdimensional device and crossed fully over." Vijay hesitated. "He was not heard from again. I wish he could be here to help..."

"Let us not speak of him again, dear. Though I know he was your friend, my heart knows where he has gone."

"May Vishnu yet find him and preserve him."

"But what about my favorite part? What happened to the Soldier and the Princess then?"

"The Princess was elected Queen."

"No doubt due to the popularity of her husband."

"No doubt due to her wisdom and beauty."

"And her consort?"

(He still heard the voices, and they spoke of the days for which they await when all will be revealed and Kalki will ride forth again without even a fig-leaf of technology to bring god's rule to the world. But not today, hai Ram.)

"Her consort lived happily ever after with his beloved."

For once, this sentiment did not satisfy Madhu. "So everybody lived happily ever after in spite of, or perhaps because of, their own foolishness?"

And Vijay sang one of her father's songs:

That's the way God works

With fools and crooks and jerks.

That's the way God plays

Every day in India.

And they embraced and the music made the world young again to them, with young mountains and rivers and trees. And the Queen and her Soldier and every lover everywhere was a god and goddess to their beloved in the accentuated colors of the Lord's own 3D. And all their cries of joy and worship blended into one grand "Aum." The Age of India had come again at last.

*****

May the Lord in all his names bless and keep you. This story is yours now; tell it to others in the spirit given. Hai Ram!

And that's a wrap.