It’s been a long time since I’ve posted flash fiction, but when I saw the prompt from Chuck Wendig for this week, I couldn’t resist.
This one is in the speculative vein of my next book, Banquet, but is a lot less space opera than the book. Chuck wanted us to use either of these themes:
1. Doing a good thing sometimes means being evil.
2. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
I hope I managed to hit at least one of them with this short tale, part of my effort in Story a Day in which I’m writing free short fiction for my blog, pieces to be submitted to anthologies and magazines, or beginnings of new novels. Enjoy.
“When is it appropriate in an interrogation to violate the Clero Convention?”
The young woman stood, her knees shaking, in a sea of seated figures, but her eyes were on the stage. She watched as the speakers on the panel leaned in and talked among themselves. She shifted from foot to foot, ran a hand through hair that was long on one side, short on the other, and adjusted the mask that lay on her face the same way. When the speakers all sat back up, she forced herself to be still.
“Solid question, soldier.”
Her heart thumped beneath her leather top and she held her breath as he spoke. It was him. The General. The General was speaking directly to her. Her legs trembled, but she stood firm and reminded herself not to lock her knees. It would be career suicide to faint in front of the assembled crowd.
“The Clero Convention was put in place for a damn fine reason. Innocent people were being tortured for information they didn’t have. Lives were ruined and lost.”
He stared directly at her, and her mouth went dry. She hoped he wouldn’t ask her to answer a question, then chided herself for thinking that he might waste his time on an unknown.
“But when everyone stopped using the more -” he cut his eyes at a man to his right, “- strenuous methods of collecting information from suspects who were caught committing crimes and colluding with known criminals, more innocent people lost their lives to the debauchery of a select few.”
He looked back at her, and she could feel him looking past her skin, flesh, and bone. Could he really see inside her brain to know what she was thinking, or was that a myth?
“It is my position that extreme circumstances call for extreme treatment.”
The man to his right made as if to stand up, and he held out a hand to stay him. Then he looked back at the rapt audience.
“Not everyone on this panel agrees, which is why these little sit-downs are less common than they once were.”
He laughed, and the audience joined in. The man to his right sat down, adjusted his cowl, and crossed bulging arms over a massive chest.
“But,” the speaker said, his eyes falling on the young woman again, “it is a distinction that needs to be made individually. While some of us are given more leeway to extract information from criminals than others, we will all ultimately face the same judge.”
“Culla,” the young woman whispered without thinking.
He nodded her way. “That’s right. If Culla believes you have overstepped your bounds, you may be shown mercy and allowed to change your ways… Or will be destroyed at her will.”
A murmur broke out as the young woman passed off the microphone and sat back down. She felt as if she had been standing there with all the magnificent, powerful eyes of the panel on her for a lifetime.
As the next young hero-in-training stood up to ask his question, she breathed a sigh of relief. If The General really could see into her mind, he would have called for her immediate arrest. As it was, he was chuckling at the young man’s flattery and had probably forgotten all about her.
It was for the best. The Clero Counsel had become unwieldy, and she didn’t want him to remember her when the floating auditorium was torn apart and bits of metal, decoration, and body parts were drifting out into open space with only The General and herself as witness to the impact of Culla’s will.