HOT Chicken

It was embarrassing. Everyone had brought the same dish to the party – and because they had all brought the same dish, they knew two things. First, that they hadn’t made it themselves – they had brought it at the grocery store. Second, that it was on special offer – that’s why it had caught their eye.

There was a table full of steaming HOTTM chicken, which everyone knew was past its shelf life, and had been reduced from $9.99 to 99 cents. Was it legal to sell out-of-date food? People weren’t sure, but presumed that the grocery store wouldn’t have offered it otherwise. On the bright side, everybody loved HOTTM chicken. Its unique combination of Habaneros, Olives, and Truffles was unbelievably good. As its millionaire fitness instructor/chef inventor said in the ads, it was “Hot, healthy richness to die for.”

Nobody would dispute that the Habaneros – fire for your tongue; Olives – lubrication for your heart; and Truffles – joy for your mind, created pleasure divine indeed. But a table full of HOTTM chicken was too much to handle. For a start, HOTTM chicken was way too hot for children to eat. They were told not to touch it, but couldn’t resist. Little hands reached up and sneaked around. Others openly raided the table’s edges. Every few minutes a new wailing began, as tender pink tastebuds were slaughtered.

The HOTTM chicken had all been unwrapped (to remove evidence of its out of dateness) and heated (to provide evidence of its just having come out of someone’s oven) – so it couldn’t be returned to the store. Yet a tableful of it couldn’t be wasted either.

Shaun called his son. “Tain, what are you doing right now?”

“Uh, nothing.” He was looking down, bored. A little moody. “Just talking to Egan and Baird.”

“Ok, tell them you’ll be back in a minute. Go upstairs and use my computer. You know Level One of TimeworkTM.” Tain nodded. “Find an offer for the kids – something they’ll like.”

“I’m not sure, dad. Can you do it?”

Shaun snapped at him. “No – you do it! I’ve got to stay with our guests.” He hadn’t realized he was so stressed; guests are meant to be a pleasure but are usually a pain. Still, he shouldn’t have snapped. “Go on Son, please find something for them.”

Tain headed upstairs. “Where are you going?” said Nola. He told her. “Can I come too?” She didn’t wait for an answer, just tagged along.

TimeworkTM was a popular low-level programme. Serious time programs were reserved for government use. Hackers sometimes jumped across from TimeworkTM to restricted programs, but were caught and punished. In most cases their TimeworkTM access was curtailed – easily done with DNA and sensory digitization. They remained forever in the extant present – how dull!

Tain found a good offer on MMMTM Muffins. He dragged the Mango Maple Marshmallow muffins to their household account, and was about to close down, when Nola said, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Why don’t we make another change?”

“My dad only said about the offer,” said Tain. “Don’t you like MMMTM Muffins? They’re the best, even…”

“They’re great. I’ll eat six of…”

Tain said, “Looks like you already have!”

Nola smacked him. Being a tomboy she wasn’t scared of boys physically, and they couldn’t hurt her inside. Sticks and stones and all that stuff.

“Look, I like the muffins but I also like HOTTM chicken. Have you ever tried it? I bet you haven’t, you wimp! My dad let’s me try some. It’s so good. And they let you change the formula. That’s why it’s so popular.”

“How can you change the formula?” said Tain. “It’s Habanero, Olive, and Truffle. It’s famous.”

“That’s what made it famous.” She manoeuvred herself before the computer. “But people change it all the time. It’s a Level Two program. Let me show you. What’s your password?” Tain told her without thinking. “Ok – look at this. You can change the ingredients according to letter. H can be Haddock, Halloumi, Ham, Hare, Haricots, Hazelnuts, Herbs, Hickory, Honey, or Hummus. O can be Onions, Okra, Oranges, Oxtail, Omelette, Oatmeal, or Oregano. T can be Tomato, Turkey, Tofu, Tuna, Turnip, Tortilla, Toast, Tarragon, Tamales, or Toblerone. Why don’t’ we try Hazelnut, Orange, Turnip? Or Ham, Omelette, Toast – just like my best breakfast?”

“We can’t change the HOTTM chicken,” said Tain. “They’re eating it already. We don’t know what will happen.”

“Well, we’ve got to change something,” said Nola. “It’s just too boring. Ok, I’ll just change the T. Eating Truffles is disgusting anyway. They make poor pigs find them in the forest and then kill them and mix them to make truffle sausages. People in Europe are very cruel. So let’s change the T to Toblerone.”

“Isn’t that European too, from Switzerland?”

“Yes, but it isn’t cruel. They just use honeycombs.” Nola confirmed the change to Habanero, Olive, Toblerone Chicken. Almost immediately there was a commotion downstairs. They rushed to see. There was Shaun with his face puffed, writhing on the ground. Dr. Bungawalla was attending to him.

Tain knew that his father was allergic to peanuts, but Toblerone contained almonds, so it couldn’t be that. And TimeworkTM had filters to prevent such accidents. However special offers to consumers require cost cutting by producers. How else could they make a buck? In this batch almonds had been replaced by peanuts. Tain had two minutes to reverse the ingredients. This was a more advanced operation. “Nola! Do you know Level Three?”

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