Author : Bill Gale

Showing every one of his seventy-two years, the speaker rose to podium of the vast granite chamber. He uttered a single word – “Order”. The irony of this formality did nothing for the moods of the three dozen delegates, for whom standing in hushed rooms had been the order of the day for weeks now.

With eyes wracked by fatigue, Speaker Frederick Van Hast read his brief for the last time. How had events advanced this way? The Age of Excess seemed generations ago now, though only years had passed. So much had changed. So much had been lost under the brazen march of progress. How many of these men were children of that time? Van Hast surveyed them, eyes straining in the pallid light. So many were young, the old and infirm having been the first to have been lost. Only fortuity and strength had saved the few like Van Hast. The worst affected zones had lost all elders. As the leaders began to die, the young rose up and tore their lands to shreds. Might made right in a world of famine, plague and war.

Van Hast had tried to convince himself that the situation had been so different in Europe, but there were stories everybody had heard. The story of the village in England, where men butchered their own families for hoarding. In France, as well, where a young woman was arrested by a mob for keeping a cat, and was buried alive in a meadow outside Lyon. Nobody had recognised how close the insanity had been to the surface, how much of the world was constrained by bread and circuses. They were asked to concede a modicum of their luxury, and they refused. When it was taken from them, they went mad. Societies crumbled. The world stopped.

How many of these men had never known a time of hunger before? He could see them, blinking as though to wake from a terrible dream. Mouths agape in confusion, their faces asked, “Why me?”; “What did I do?”; “We didn’t realise”; “Nobody told us”; “It isn’t our fault.”; “We thought there would be enough” Perhaps there would have been enough. If the farmers had kept farming, or the miners mining. Perhaps, if consumption had slowed. The governments had forced rationing because nobody would give up their excess voluntarily. The violence began. Production slowed, the famines begun. Electricity stopped overnight. Nobody had been informed of the scale, of the scarcity of food and fuel. On the precipice, the leaders of the world had closed their eyes and hoped somebody else, anybody else would find a solution before they fell. Without fuel, there were no communications. No medicines. It took strong men to keep their sanity in a world where any animal is edible, any illness fatal. The young men here, they knew who was to blame.

A new government had arisen. A provisions network was set up to cities, while the rural areas were left alone out of necessity. This government had been charged with a single task – Solve the crisis. Cure the stricken Earth.

Van Hast trembled as he addressed the chamber. Maybe this was the solution. An end to the famine and strife. He and addressed the assembly.

“One in six.”

One by one, the men nodded and filed out of the room to convene with their generals and subordinates. There were three dozen men, he pondered. Six of them would not see tomorrow.


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