So, about Friday. I’ll spare the details, but upon getting home, I found myself extremely cold, soaked through due to being caught walking in a sudden downpour, and profoundly grumpy. I actually completely forgot about posting until this morning, at which point I realized I began the story I intended to run but never finished it. Anyway, here it is!
The website io9.com posts a piece of concept art every Saturday challenging its viewers to write a piece of flash fiction based on that art. In the past, I would choose a piece at random, but this time I just picked one that appealed to me. Exciting, no?
This piece is entitled “Next Item,” inspired by the painting “Roundtable Office Meeting” by Chenthooran Nambiarooran (which was, in turn, produced for Vitaly Alexius’s webcomic “Romantically Apocalyptic.” Man, I hope I’m getting these credits right…) I don’t own this image, I claim no rights to this image, and should either Chenthooran or Vitaly stumble across this post and demand that the image be removed, I will gladly do so. Also, you should go check out Chenthooran’s work at http://mythrilgolem1.deviantart.com/, Vitaly’s work at http://alexiuss.deviantart.com/, and Vitaly’s webcomic at http://romanticallyapocalyptic.com/.
“Before we begin,” Sapi muttered, “I would like to voice my displeasure with the quality of the catering these past few meetings.”
Pygo turned his head to regard Sapi with a single cold black eye. The slits on the side of his throat opened and closed as if he was breathing. None of them needed to breathe, of course, and Sapi was still too new at his position to say exactly what it was that Pygo’s “breathing” expressed. Irritation, maybe. Fear. Maybe it could mean many things, like a quickened pulse in a human.
“What, exactly, is the issue, newblood?” Pygos muttered, his voice as thick as a drowning man’s.
Ah. Irritation, then. “You have such exquisite taste, Pygo. I wouldn’t have thought that a…” Sapi sniffed the air as best as he was able without a nose. Perhaps that’s what Pygo’s breathing was, a mere holdover from earlier days, earlier forms. Still, even without a nose, the scent was unmistakeable. “I wouldn’t have thought that a mere pedophile would satisfy your palate.” Sapi sniffed the air again. “Unrequited at that, if I’m not mistaken.”
Pygo’s mouth flapped open to deliver a rebuttal, but Tatarica cut him off. “You have to refine your senses, Sapi. Can’t you taste the malice that was in this man’s heart? He was no victim of abuse, no sufferer of some mental defect. He was evil and cruel. A sadist reveling in inflicting pain and expressing dominance over the helpless.” She fixed her distorted, tumorous visage on Sapi and smiled. There was enough flesh on her face that she could properly smile, unlike most of the Board. “It is a subtle thing, Sapi. Too subtle for you, perhaps.”
“We are wasting time,” Antalopus boomed. Every head in the room turned to face him. Antalopus’s voice echoed in Sapi’s skull, as it must have in everyone else’s as well. “Cathar, let the record show the meeting began late.” Cathar squawked at being suddenly and unexpectedly addressed, before quickly producing a sheet of parchment and a quill.
“Yes, Antalopus!” she said with too much enthusiasm.
For once, Sapi was glad that he could no longer reflexively snort nor arch an eyebrow. His face could not betray his thoughts as it once did. Sniveling worm.
“What is first on the agenda for this meeting?”
Carcinos made a noise not unlike clearing one’s throat, although he had none. His mouth parts clicked against each other as he spoke. “My agents request additional energy to complete their task of sparking a civil war in the–”
“Denied,” Antalopus said immediately. “They have had decades to turn the humans of Eastern Europe against each other. We will waste no more resources on this cause.” Antalopus leaned back in his seat, his voice softening some. “Really, Carcinos. Have a little faith. The region’s a powder keg as it is. Let the humans strike the match for once. You’ve no need of an army of delusional maniacs like you did a hundred years ago.”
Carcinos leaned forward. “But remember the results! Thirty-seven million souls because of those ‘delusional maniacs,’ and another seventy million a mere two decades later!”
Pygo made a choking sound that Sapi guessed was meant to be outrage. “Carcinos, surely you do not intend to take credit for the seventy million souls that followed? That was certainly not your doing.”
“You wouldn’t have had the opportunity to claim a single one if I hadn’t laid the groundwork for you.”
“Enough!” Antalopus roared. “Carcinos, your request for additional funding is denied. Pygo, if you extend these meeting with pointless bickering, you’ll find some project of yours cut as well.”
Antalopus’s gaze moved slowly between the two for a few moments before he growled, “Next item.”
Cathar squeaked. “There’s still the matter of Artemisia’s punishment. We tabled it last meeting.”
Tatarica perked up at that. “I think we should–”
“Execution. I have no more patience for that fool. Next item.”
“There’s been a distinct lack of progress this quarter in the Sub-Saharan region. In fact, there’s been a decided backslide with some respects.” Every eye in the room turned towards Crotalus. The two halves of her lower jaw clacked together nervously.
“What happened?” Antalopus asked, his voice low, his every word drawn out like a dagger slipping free from its sheath. “This region is meant to be self-sustaining in its misery.”
“They discovered an aquifer in the desert,” Crotalus murmured.
“An aquifer?” Pygo said, his voice like painful, strained laughter. Carcinos joined him in his chuckling.
“Enough fresh water to last them for nearly a century. Enough to meet their basic needs and let them focus on improving their lives. It’s given them hope. It’s opened their eyes to new possibilities.” She shook her head. She was nothing if not honest, for whatever that would win her. “I don’t understand how I could have missed it.”
“You didn’t,” Sapi said. “I put it there.”
These beings did not gasp, but the room suddenly burst into life as they chittered, as bones ground against each other, as prehensile parts clicked in surprise.
“Explain yourself, Sapi,” Antalopus said. “Now.”
“Well, it’s simple, isn’t it? I’ve given them something worth having. Worth fighting over. Worth killing for.” Sapi glanced at those dark eyes, those empty sockets. If he still had lips, he would have smiled. “Crotalus is right. They will better themselves. But there isn’t enough for everyone. They will kill each other to possess the aquifier. And those that don’t will use their easier lives and they will discover oil. Diamonds. Gold. And then they will kill each other over those things as well. The world will flock to the region to possess the riches, and the soil will turn red with blood, just as it always has. But there will be more than ever before.”
There were murmurs of doubt, of approval, but Sapi knew that the plan was good, too good for him to be chastized. “Do not presume to intervene in a region that isn’t your own in the future,” Antalopus said, pointing a finger at Sapi like a father half-heartedly scolding a child simply to keep up appearances. “There will be repercussions if you do so again. And there will be repercussions if this plan of yours bears no fruit.