FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: The poetic and the pragmatic

I am beginning to resent Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges— they’re making me stretch. A lot. And my joints aren’t as limber as they once were.

The challenge this time is to take one of three random sentences (and I mean random) and incorporate it into a short story of no more than 1000 words–

“The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”
“A poetic pattern retains inertia.”
“The criminal disappears after the inventor.”

Just because I’m old contrarian, I used all three. Probably failed again, but here it is.

“The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins,” the philosopher said.

“Violins?” snapped General Hama. “A rather poetic metaphor for the systems of the Hegemony.”

“A poetic pattern retains inertia,” the philosopher said. He straightened his robes; one did not come before the tyrant and overlord of much of the known galaxy disheveled. “Expressions metaphoric carry energy. Pragmatic description loses energy. Better to express difficulties in verse. Song alone captures the essence of reality.”

Hama shook his head. “You know I prefer practical words. Give me clear narrative. And the clear narrative of this time is that the Hegemony– my Hegemony– totters.”

“Because of the disharmony of your instruments,” the philosopher said. “In previous times the harmony of the hundred violins– the hundred systems– filled space and echoed between the stars. But the song is now out of key– the dissatisfaction of the systems breeds discordant notes.”

“So much so that the systems allow the QinKar’ki to overrun our borders,” Hama said, “and threaten the core worlds. No one cares to stand against them.”

“Because the harmony has been lost,” the philosopher said. “It must be found again. Recovered, discovered, perhaps uncovered.”

Hama closed his eyes, as if in weariness and frustration. For a long moment it was quiet in this, his personal compartment, aside from the sighing of the ventilation system, and the soft, distant sounds of subtle electronics and giant mechanisms, noises common to any dreadnought of the Hegemonic fleet. It was a quiet of danger, of chance, of suspended decision. The philosopher waited, interested to see which fork the future would take at this precise moment. They were alone.

“I should never have asked you to come,” Hama growled, opening his eyes. “I need practical advice– how to force the systems back in line, how to defeat the QinKar’ki. Time grows short– if I cannot punish the defectors and rally the systems, all could be lost. You gave me good advice years ago, old friend, but in your later years you have become more and more obscure. I need help to force the systems to obey.”

“Force,” the philosopher said, “cannot save that which is breaking, but will simply shatter it all the more. Perhaps we must admit that the old pattern cannot hold, and that a new must emerge. There is much that blocks the vision of what could be– the bureaucracy, the nobility, the industrial combines– but if there is will at the critical nexus of decision, much could be done to clear our vision, and to allow us to see aright. A new song must be sung.”

Hama turned red. “You’re talking about change. Revolution!”

“Revolution is but a turning,” the philosopher said, “when viewed from the axle that drives all. Be the axle of change.”

“No!” Hama shouted. “The Hegemony has endured two thousand years as it is, and I will not lead the overthrow of that heritage! This is your advice? You’ve not only grown obscure, you’re senile. The Hegemony must stay as it is.”

“To force something to endure,” the philosopher said, “that cannot endure is to only increase suffering and misery.”

“Bah,” Hama said, throwing up his hands. “This is useless. You have nothing to offer me.” He glowered. “I should have never executed Gotan. He always spoke of practicalities, even though he defied me. I suppose that is the difference between the inventive engineer and the contemplative philosopher.” Hama smiled, remembering. “Now, Gotan was ruthless in his own way. He would have counseled me to obliterate a couple of systems, as examples. Yes– that would make the others see the light of day, wouldn’t it?”

Clenching dismay filled the philosopher. “The criminal disappears after the inventor,” he whispered.

Hama glared at him. “And what does that mean?”

“The pragmatic has emerged, great and terrible, from the metaphoric,” the philosopher said. So saying, he stood and pulled the Glock nine-millimeter from his robes, a weapon so ancient it was invisible to the dreadnought’s sensors. He fired three times, blowing his old friend’s brains all over the far bulkhead.

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