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A sigh punctuated what had become an increasingly uncomfortable silence. This kind of thing was meant to be easy, and the two men sitting on either side of the table were masters at their game – but they were running out of ideas. That scared them if the clicking of biros and beads of sweat were anything to go by.
Stan drove a pudgy finger into one of the seventeen folds hanging off his chin. The scratch sent dead skin tumbling onto his blank Mindmap sheet. Boys at school learn how to affect a certain expression, a practised look they summon up on command when a teacher asks the class a question. It says I’m thinking very hard about something so please don’t ask me directly.
Mart stroked his beard. Beard stroking is the international sign of a man who believes himself to be intellectually superior to everybody else in the room. Invariably, the absolute opposite is the case – but today, looking at Stan screwing up his face while pretending to think, Mart knew he really was the sharpest knife in this cutlery drawer. He began to doodle for inspiration.
“I think,” Stan spluttered, “that we might have come up with all the ideas. I think the reason we can’t think of anymore is that we have thought of all of the ideas and now there are none left.”
It was a reasonable guess. The pair of them had invented lies about flavours, brand names and colours being used to target children. They’d laughed until their tummies hurt when they came up with the whole nanoparticle thing. Then they hit gold with the idea they could simply copy every piece of vape research but make up some numbers so it says the opposite. Each time Stan hears “Opposite Land” now he has to go and put on dry underpants.
“Saying we’ve thought of everything isn’t an option,” admonished Mart. “And if we have thought of every thinkable thing then maybe it’s time to think the unthinkable.”
Stan nodded, his cheeks continued to wobble after he’d finished, but he really had no idea what Mart meant.
“We need a danger that smokers and vapers haven’t been scared about yet. We need something that scientists can’t disprove – like when we made up that rubbish about the gateway effect…that it ‘could’ lead to smoking. Try disproving that, scientific community!” And Mart laughed.
“Hang on a minute,” Mart shouted as he dropped his pencil. “Aliens!”
Stan’s expression changed to the one you find on a fat boy when a Greggs employee pulls a new tray of hot pies out of the oven. He could eat Martin up, every scrap.
“We simply say that electronic vaping nicotine delivery device systems give out sub frequencies, acting as beacons for warlike pan-galactic alien races. Using nicotine in this way will ENDS the planet – that’s how bloody selfish vapers are.”
The duo managed to publish three finely crafted research papers in the five minutes after generating the idea, using drawings instead of data tables, depicting the carnage and mayhem. Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations for their patriotic work.