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Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Promise of Hope by Meradeth Houston #FlashFiction

Sometimes hope is a choice. 

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Her cigarette landed with a hiss in the snow, right next to the tender green shoots of the first signs of spring. She didn’t even look down to use the heel of her boots to grind out the bud, taking out the plants in the process.

Better to put such things out of their misery. Hadn’t they heard that winter wasn’t going anywhere?

The warnings had been airing for years. Newspapers. Conferences. Screaming scientists. No one cared. No one listened. And so things changed. The weather, to start with. The predictability of the past was just that—the past. Spring marked on the calendar no longer meant anything.

Of course there were plenty of other things tied to the weather. Including billions of human lives, not to mention trillions of other occupants on the planet.

Better to spare those poor old bulbs the torture of a slow death.

The same couldn’t be said for the man she watched through her eyepiece. She’d enjoy the plans she had for him. Until he begged. Cried, too, with any luck.

And then? She’d kill him.

It was a small price to pay for his role in mucking up the planet. For sending so many people to watery, or scorching graves. And if no one else was going to take a stand, she had to do it.

Movement. The curtains, fourth window from the left. His room.

The compound was guarded well. It had to be, what with the milling Hungry, eager to take down anyone or anything they might fill their bellies with.

Once, she’d had a roommate with a penchant for old films from before. They used to watch them, casting them onto their ceiling. The water stains made for an interesting backdrop, but it worked. The films she remembered best were the zombie ones. There were so damn many of them. Drooling, shuffling, damaged people, milling around like mindless fools.

A little like the Hungry hoard. A comparison that struck a little too close.

Again, another movement. This time she was certain. Ducking low, she slid down the embankment to the electric fence. Taking a tool from her belt, she located the repeater that she’d spotted before. A quick shot, and the fence was nothing more than something to hop over.

It took exactly three minutes to get inside. Another two to reach the second floor. Laughter filtered through the posh interior from hidden recesses of the house, where people who didn’t worry about filling their bellies lived.

They’d have more than enough concerns by nightfall.

Her boots didn’t make a sound with the deep carpet. Carpet. Who had that kind of thing anymore? They must have salvaged it from somewhere—no one made the stuff any more.

Counting doors with crown molding and ornate knobs, she found the fourth room down. The one with the lace curtains.

At the door, she forced herself to stop. Listen. To get her heart rate low enough that she’d hear anything amiss. And more importantly, so she’d remember what was coming.

She’d pinned a small camera to her shirt to capture it all, but nothing would compare to her memories. To the smell and feel and sound of it all.

A deep breath out through her mouth and she knew she was ready.

There was no lock on the door. Who would need one in such a well-armed estate? The only locks were on the outside gates and on the evacuation rooms.

The heavy door opened without a sound. She stepped inside, the glare of the electric lights taking an extra heartbeat to adjust to.

“So, you’ve finally decided to come for me.” The voice, ancient and weary, spoke up from the far corner, behind a desk that screamed money and age and power. So large it took up half the wall, it was only dwarfed by the man behind it.

Tall, with a shock of white hair, and a shirt so pressed the creases looked sharp as knives, this was the man behind what was once one of the world’s largest chain of oil refineries. Even now, decades after his company had gone up in smoke, chocking the planet and everyone on it, he still carried the air of power. Hands clasped before him, his nose like the beak of a predatory hawk.

His voice nearly brought back up the small amount of synthetic food she’d made herself eat. Would serve him and his Persian carpets right.

She did not hesitate to stand a little taller, to meet his blue gaze with her own. She knew full well that his panic button would bring no one, that she had hours of time to toy with him.

Not bothering to respond, she turned to the door, securing it with another tool from her bag. This one ensured that they’d have to take the wall down before they dislodged the door.

The rest of the room was tastefully decorated with dark wood furnishings, low tables, and a fireplace off to one side. Paintings from the old masters hung in careful symmetry.

Just this morning she’d passed a woman carrying her dead infant in her arms. She’d stumbled along the side of the road, sure to join her child soon.

And here, this man showed no sign of remorse. No sign he regretted his family’s history of buying off the right government officials and scientists to cast dispersions on what their work did. Nope, he just looked put out that she stood on his carpet, mud and dead plants on her shoes.

Time to do something about that.

Looking up to address the man behind the desk, she stepped closer. In her hand was the last tiny tool she’d managed to secure on the black market. Not all countries had suffered as much as hers—some still managed to invent, to feed their populace. Not many, but a few. It would be there she’d escape to. Once she’d finished her work.

“When was the last time you left your gates?” Her voice was low, calm. Experience taught her how to do this for maximum effect.

The man did not blink. “Not recently. I know what’s going on out there.”

“Do you? Really? Want to guess how many dead I passed on my way here today?”

The man merely shrugged. “They were weak. Why should I help them?”

She sighed, her heart tugging at the thought of the woman from this morning. How could he not want to help?

“You’ve helped them plenty. By creating this mess.”

He shook his head and settled into his chair. “I didn’t create it. Everyone did.”

She’d hoped he’d try that argument. With two steps that were much to fast for the old man to avoid, she caught him from behind, her corded arm around his neck. The device in her hand secured his frame to the chair with twin wraps of steel.

“You could have helped change the tide. Decided you had enough and kept your hands out of politics. Decided that you wanted to help the world and not destroy it.”

Gagged, the man shrugged—or what passed it with the way his arms were caught behind him. It seemed to say ‘Not my problem.’

The response boiled her blood. It was his fault. Him and so many others. It was his greed that kept changes from happening when they could have. When they would have actually helped.

But he hadn’t. Instead he’d ensured that no one could. That the scientists words fell on the deaf ears of the government.

The knife she pulled from her boots was a simple one. One side serrated, the other smooth. One to torture, one to kill. She let it catch the grey light from the windows before she leaned in.

Finally, fear etched into the eyes of the old man.

Her first cut only brought a trickle of blood. Small ruby beads along his jawline.

The man struggled. She laughed. “No one’s coming. All they will find will be a warning. The Hungry will be here soon. Your poor fence won’t be able to keep them out.

The old man took a shuddering breath. Then began to work his lips, struggling to speak around the band that gagged him. Spittle surged around his lips and she backed away, disgusted.

Something about the look in his eyes—more than just pleading for his life—made her wonder. Let him speak? Suffer through more of his begging? Or worse, denial of his guilt?

But, he used his eyes to exaggerate a look toward one of the desk drawers.

Something within her urged her to look. If anything, it could be leverage to ensure he’d cry.

The drawer opened with the well-oiled ease. Inside was the plethora of detritus of anyone’s desk. Or how desks may have looked if paperclips and rubber bands were easy to come by. But that was no what caught her attention.

It was the vial of neon green that sat on top of a pile of papers. Ignoring the grunts from the man, she pulled out the sheaves of paper, skimming through them.

She knew the gist of what it said. Several years ago, there had been some hope that this might save
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them all. But no one managed to perfect it, so it languished, forgotten like the hope of so many.

But here was something more. Trials. Tests. Proof.

Still holding the pile of papers, she turned and hit the small button on the man’s cheek, releasing the bound across his mouth so that it slithered back.

“You know what that is, don’t you?” His voice was rough and he coughed.

“Algae. It will process the CO2 in the air and release oxygen. And the waste can be,” she referred to the paper, “be eaten or used for livestock.”

“It’s been genetically modified. It’s a thousand times more effective than traditional algae. If we can produce enough of it, we might stand a chance of things not getting worse.” The gleam in his eye, the knowledge that this had to get her attention, pissed her off.

She almost killed him then and there.

“How did you get it?”

“Money can buy more than nice houses and food.” He settled back, trying to give off the air of ease.

Crouching down to look him in the eye, she grinned. “Tell me where the rest of the information is. Where your supplier is.”

He shook his head. “Never. And without me, there’s no hope this project can move forward. My scientists are under strict orders to destroy it all if anything happens to me.”

She cursed.

“So, I’ll make you a deal. Let me go, and I’ll find a way to put this into production. My life in exchange for the millions I might save.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

He shook his head, his silence a testament to his honesty.

Standing, she took the green vial from the drawer, holding it up to the light. Inside might be the tool to saving the planet. Behind her was the man who had nearly killed it.

Setting the vial on the desk, she twisted the knife in her fingers. The choice wasn’t an easy one, but one she had to make.

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Meradeth's never been a big fan of talking about herself, but if you really want to know, here are some random tidbits about her:

>She's a Northern California girl and now braves the cold winters in Montana.

>When she's not writing, she's sequencing dead people's DNA. For fun!

>She’s also an anthropology professor and loves getting people interested in studying humans.

>If she could have a super-power, it would totally be flying. Which is a little strange, because she's terrified of heights.


Find Meradeth Houston online at: www.MeradethHouston.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Amazon, Goodreads, and of course her blog!