PEACE FOR OUR TIMES • by Chris Ovenden

“One hundred days,” I say as the prime minister leafs through the contract I’d given him. He scans the pages through a pair of black rimmed spectacles held in front of his nose with a chubby white fist.

He looked much as I had expected him to: black suit and bowtie, slouched in his chair with a cigar wedged between his fingers. The office we were in seemed rather humble for his station, though. A cramped little dungeon, dotted with wooden posts to hold up the floor above. The walls were mostly bare, save for a bookshelf and a few photographs and newspaper clippings, soon to be replaced by sprawling maps of a world at war, no doubt.

“One hundred days,” I say again, “split into no less than three hundred nights, spread out over the next ten years. We’d work out a schedule for you, arrange your transport.”

The prime minister lays the contract down on the desk and tucks his glasses away into his jacket. “And what would I be doing on these nights, exactly?” One got the impression that there was a little too much flesh in his mouth when he spoke.

“Dinner parties, public speaking.” I shrug. “Who’s to say, it’s all down to the client’s personal tastes.”

It was usually best not to think about what clients might want to do with the escorts.

“You’re a celebrity, or at least you will be. People in the future want your time. They want to show you off to their friends, spend their evenings talking to you over a glass of whisky. We just facilitate that demand. We take you to the people who want to meet you most.”

He goes back to looking at the contract, straightening it up with his fingertips so that its bottom edge runs parallel to the desk.

“Suppose I sign. What’s in it for me?”

“Everything.” I say with a grin.

“You’re talking about the war.”

I nod. “And more. We ensure that things go as they’re supposed to, that all your efforts are successful. We make sure that you become the man that our clients want to meet.”

He pops his cigar into his mouth and strikes a match to light it.

“So I sign this, and the war ends before it even starts.”

“Ha! That wouldn’t be very theatrical now, would it? No, there most certainly will be a war, I’m afraid, and there will be casualties. But we’ll be there to make sure the right side wins.”

“And if I refuse this… generous offer of yours? What then? I mean, who’s to say we need your help?”

I flash the prime minister another grin, then stand up and step over to my right to inspect the pictures on the wall.

“Wonderful shot, this,” I say, pointing to a framed newspaper clipping. Its headline piece shows a skeletal man in an old suit triumphantly waving a sheet of paper above his head like a tiny white flag.

“Fascinating man, your predecessor,” I say, leaning in a little closer so that I can see the white streaks in the old premier’s hair. “He turned us down. We made him a similar offer, not long before this was taken actually. Hundred days, win the war.”

I take the frame off the wall and hold it in my hands, running a thumb over the old man’s face. “Such a shame.”

We really had made the old PM an offer, and he really had turned us down. Of course, we always knew that he would. Did he even have a choice?

“Peace for our time,” I say, holding the picture up to the prime minister. “We all know how that turned out, don’t we.”

I set the picture back on the wall and return to my chair. The prime minister glowers at me from across the desk, chewing on his cigar like he’s trying to eat it.

“We could always talk to your friend on the continent,” I say. “I hear he’s keen on this sort of thing. Not our first choice, of course, but we can make do. Time has a strong current prime minister, but even the greatest rivers can be diverted.”

He scowls and takes out his pen.


Chris Ovenden teaches philosophy at the University of Manchester, UK. When he isn’t marking papers he likes to write flash fiction about robots, time travel and possible worlds.


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 average 4.3 stars • 6 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Two typos in the first two sentences wasn’t a good start for a story that still has me scratching my head.

    • "Black rimmed" should be hyphenated, but I can't find the other one. Care to enlighten? I'm usually pretty good at this.
      • Paul A. Freeman
        "I've given him", not "I'd given him".
        • Chris Antenen
          Nope
          • JD
            ....because the whole point of the story is that you figure it out yourself and delight in the possibility that this could have been true. The description of the PM is perfect and mentioning his name would cheapen the whole story.
          • Chris Antenen
            Okay, that works. Sometimes my mind goes out to lunch without me.
        • "I'd" works fine here, I think.
        • JD
          "I'd" works better than "I've". He had given it before he starts the tale.
          • Paul A. Freeman
            To use 'I'd', the previous verbs in the sentence would have to be 'said' and 'leafed', which is why 'I'd' does not work. In sentences like this, present simple goes with present perfect; past simple goes with past perfect. It's not rocket science - or perhaps it is.
      • Curiously a man called Gove was once in charge of Education in the UK. He point-blank refuses to believe in compound adjectives :)
        • That's a bit odd. Perhaps he has a phobia like I do with adverbs.
        • Chris Ovenden
          Happily I'm not Michael Gove in disguise! I agree I should have hyphenated (save a word there too!)
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Two typos in the first two sentences wasn’t a good start for a story that still has me scratching my head.

    • "Black rimmed" should be hyphenated, but I can't find the other one. Care to enlighten? I'm usually pretty good at this.
      • Paul A. Freeman
        "I've given him", not "I'd given him".
        • Chris Antenen
          I think I'd works just as well. Tense is tricky and not always definite between 'have' and 'had.' After all, he 'had' given the contract to him. Does the next to last sentence need commas? And why can't the PM's identity be more adequately identified, even if it's fictionalized. Sorry I put this in the wrong place.
          • JD
            ....because the whole point of the story is that you figure it out yourself and delight in the possibility that this could have been true. The description of the PM is perfect and mentioning his name would cheapen the whole story...in my apparently not-so-humble opinion! Sorry. Emphatic. Liked the story so much :)
          • Chris Antenen
            Okay, that works. Sometimes my mind goes out to lunch without me.
        • "I'd" works fine here, I think.
        • JD
          "I'd" works better than "I've". He had given it before he starts the tale.
          • Paul A. Freeman
            To use 'I'd', the previous verbs in the sentence would have to be 'said' and 'leafed', which is why 'I'd' does not work. In sentences like this, present simple goes with present perfect; past simple goes with past perfect. It's not rocket science - or perhaps it is.
      • Curiously a man called Gove was once in charge of Education in the UK. He point-blank refuses to believe in compound adjectives :)
        • That's a bit odd. Perhaps he has a phobia like I do with adverbs.
        • Chris Ovenden
          Happily I'm not Michael Gove in disguise! I agree I should have hyphenated (save a word there too!)
  • MPmcgurty

    I’m a little peeved by the inconsistent tense in the first two paragraphs, but there’s no denying this is an interesting story and written well. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

  • MPmcgurty

    I’m a little peeved by the inconsistent tense in the first two paragraphs, but there’s no denying this is an interesting story and written well. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

  • Carl Steiger

    I should have known this PM’s identity much sooner than I did. I also enjoyed this story quite a bit, but I wonder if I wouldn’t enjoy reading about the PM’s predecessor rejecting the offer even more. If he had accepted the offer, I suppose he would have been in high demand himself as a celebrity. Time travel yarns always have some interesting causality puzzles.

    • OK, who is the MC? Because I have no idea. Churchill?
      • Carl Steiger
        Bingo!
  • Carl Steiger

    I should have known this PM’s identity much sooner than I did. I also enjoyed this story quite a bit, but I wonder if I wouldn’t enjoy reading about the PM’s predecessor rejecting the offer even more. If he had accepted the offer, I suppose he would have been in high demand himself as a celebrity. Time travel yarns always have some interesting causality puzzles.

    • OK, who is the MC? Because I have no idea. Churchill?
      • Carl Steiger
        Bingo!
  • Very well written, but once again I have no idea what’s going on here. I can’t get a sense of the gravity of the situation without knowing more about this contract and the impending war. None of that is explained. Not even a hint really.

    Also, Carl mentions time travel. There was time travel in this story too? Again, I had no idea.

    To me this felt like a small portion of a chapter of a novel. A good and interesting novel. As a flash, it just doesn’t work for me. But I hate to say that because I think the author has talent for sure. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

    • JD
      Maybe it's a bit Brit-centric, then, because 'black suit, bow tie, cigar' and 'talking as if he had a bit too much flesh in his mouth' is unmistakable to anyone who grew up there post-WWII. But hey, I had to explain to my sister who Dennis Rodman was after the closing joke in Men In Black, so we all have our cultural limits. Creators can't account for them all. ;)
  • Very well written, but once again I have no idea what’s going on here. I can’t get a sense of the gravity of the situation without knowing more about this contract and the impending war. None of that is explained. Not even a hint really.

    Also, Carl mentions time travel. There was time travel in this story too? Again, I had no idea.

    To me this felt like a small portion of a chapter of a novel. A good and interesting novel. As a flash, it just doesn’t work for me. But I hate to say that because I think the author has talent for sure. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

    • JD
      Maybe it's a bit Brit-centric, then, because 'black suit, bow tie, cigar' and 'talking as if he had a bit too much flesh in his mouth' is unmistakable to anyone who grew up there post-WWII. But hey, I had to explain to my sister who Dennis Rodman was after the closing joke in Men In Black, so we all have our cultural limits. Creators can't account for them all. ;)
  • joanna b.

    Good job. I got it, I liked it, it made me think — what if this was true? What if it is true, now, here in the U.S., and the wrong political party accepted the man from the future. Shudder!

    I wonder who the other offer would have gone to? Stalin? Someone please advise.

    4 stars.

    • I think the "wrong" political party would be either of them. :)
    • MPmcgurty
      I thought Hitler.
  • joanna b.

    Good job. I got it, I liked it, it made me think — what if this was true? What if it is true, now, here in the U.S., and the wrong political party accepted the man from the future. Shudder!

    I wonder who the other offer would have gone to? Stalin? Someone please advise.

    4 stars.

    • I think the "wrong" political party would be either of them. :)
    • MPmcgurty
      I thought Hitler.
  • Katherine Lopez

    The thing about time travel stories is that we always know how things are going to turn out when a famous figure is part of the story. Unless there’s some fabulous twist involved where’s the surprise? Here everything is telegraphed so far in advance we almost certainly know he’s going to sign at the end. And then there’s the whole question of war being waged, treated so lightly, well then what is the point, of the war, and of the story? Also, yes, there were some problems with the writing, possibly having to do with word limits, but still, readers do like to have things tidy.

  • Katherine Lopez

    The thing about time travel stories is that we always know how things are going to turn out when a famous figure is part of the story. Unless there’s some fabulous twist involved where’s the surprise? Here everything is telegraphed so far in advance we almost certainly know he’s going to sign at the end. And then there’s the whole question of war being waged, treated so lightly, well then what is the point, of the war, and of the story? Also, yes, there were some problems with the writing, possibly having to do with word limits, but still, readers do like to have things tidy.

  • Pingback: ‘Peace for our times’ – Evey Day Fiction | Chris Ovenden()

  • Chinwillow

    I thought this was a great read regardless of the typos. Wow, what an interesting thought…the war, Churchill, great stuff! Thanks, Chris!

  • Chinwillow

    I thought this was a great read regardless of the typos. Wow, what an interesting thought…the war, Churchill, great stuff! Thanks, Chris!

  • James Harben

    Hey! Check it out! Fucken Looper guys on the fucken innernet! Wadya know, ya done good kid.

  • James Harben

    Hey! Check it out! Fucken Looper guys on the fucken innernet! Wadya know, ya done good kid.

  • This is excellent. Time travel, alternative history – or at least potentially alternative – I just enjoyed the whole concept. How much an American audience would be expected to know of British history I do not know but God knows there are enough clues 🙂 Five stars

    • Joseph Kaufman
      What Americans are more likely to learn about (as related to the story) is Mr. Chamberlain's appeasement strategy. I thought of ol' Neville right from the outset, so immediately thought this must be Churchill. The story makes clear to say "predecessor", so anyone who doesn't know about the "Peace in our time!" quote probably wasn't paying attention in history class...
  • This is excellent. Time travel, alternative history – or at least potentially alternative – I just enjoyed the whole concept. How much an American audience would be expected to know of British history I do not know but God knows there are enough clues 🙂 Five stars

    • Joseph Kaufman
      What Americans are more likely to learn about (as related to the story) is Mr. Chamberlain's appeasement strategy. I thought of ol' Neville right from the outset, so immediately thought this must be Churchill. The story makes clear to say "predecessor", so anyone who doesn't know about the "Peace in our time!" quote probably wasn't paying attention in history class...
  • JD

    Oh well done! This is delightful, perfectly paced and delicious. Love it.

  • JD

    Oh well done! This is delightful, perfectly paced and delicious. Love it.