Again, I feel my ideas are grander than my execution. But then again, what am I aiming for? What am I hoping to achieve with any of this? What is the point of writing? What do I even enjoy reading? WHAT IS MY LIFE?!
The members of the Panel of Martial Innovation watched the pig collapse with the sort of detached, academic interest that came from years of experience and years of watching dead pigs hit the floor. Why and when pigs had become the standard means of demonstrating new weapon systems none of the panel could say. But they were, so they saw a lot of them being destroyed.
“And that is how it works in operation!” The hopeful young inventor said, standing by the side of their gently-smoking weapon and putting a hand onto the barrel. They regretted this immediately of course but did a good job of hiding their grimace of pain and put their freshly-burnt hand behind their back so none of the Panel could see it.
“Very impressive,” yawned General Hiram, not bothering to put a hand to his mouth. Along the length of the expensive mahogany desk the Panel was perpetually sat behind the other Generals were making notes, most not bothering to acknowledge the inventor who was shifting uncomfortably.
“Are there – uh – does anyone have any questions?” They asked, pulling out their pre-prepared flashcards of common questions and answers. Their mother had been fiendish with her questioning but that had only made him work harder to be ready. Hiram finally finished yawning and waved a hand at the inventor.
“No, no I think we’re fine. Anyone else?” Hiram asked, turning to his compatriots who shook their heads. Most of them didn’t even bother with that. Having finished making their notes son the demonstration they’d moved onto simply doodling, and had already forgotten what the inventor looked like. Hiram turned back.
“No, we’re fine. We’ll contact you. Next!” Hiram shouted.
Attendants rushed in to wheel the experimental weapon out and herd the inventor along with it. So forceful were they that the inventor dropped their flashcards. They were not allowed to retrieve them. Further attendants cleaned up and replaced the pig and another came rushing up to the panel to whisper that the next demonstration would be running a few minutes late. Technical issues, apparently.
This left the Panel at something of a loose end. Most kept doodling, others sighed and twiddled thumbs. Eventually, one spoke.
“Does anyone else remember…” General Dewhurst said, polishing his monocle on his jacket “that young man who came in here some years back?”
“Which one?” Asked General Vickers, who had no monocle and was putting the finishing touches to his stylised sketch of an exploding pig with Dewhurst’s face.
“The one who’d invented that rotary cannon. Gave his speech about ‘divisions of men no longer being required on the battlefield when one such device can create the firepower of an entire platoon’ and ‘the toll such a weapon might reap shall finally convince men of the folly of war’. That young man,” Dewhurst said.
“Ah yes, it’s coming back to me now. What happened to him?” Vickers asked.
“He became rather rich. Every platoon now has one of those weapons,” Dewhurst said, hands on his belly as he lent back in his chair.
“I thought we had plans to equip every man with one of those?” Asked General Webley, who was spinning a coin on the desk.
“We do,” Dewhurst said.
“Is there a point to this?” General Maxim sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and sinking low over the desk. It was always the waiting and the delays between demonstrations that got to Maxim, because that was when Dewhurst tended to start talking. Dewhurst frowned.
“The point is, hasn’t anyone else besides me noticed that every time one of these inventor types comes in here with the next wonder weapon they always claim that it is so horrific in operation that it will make mankind as a whole reconsider fighting at all. We admire these weapons, buy and deploy them in bulk, our foes acquire them and not long afterwards we are on the lookout for the next horrifying, conflict ending weapon. Has anyone else noticed this?”
This actually made the Panel pause.Doodling halted, Webley’s coin span off onto the floor and no-one spoke. This was something none of them had ever thought about before, and as much as they might hate to admit it Dewhurst had something approaching a point there.
“Well, do you want us to stop buying these things? Tell everyone war is a bit pointless?” Maxim asked, the first to gather his wits.
“Oh, heavens no! I love war. War is tops. I’m just saying, it’s a bit weird that these fellows spend all this time and effort and money making some intricate machine of death the express purpose of which is to shock us into stopping fighting. Or is it just me?”
“Maybe they just haven’t made a complex enough death-machine yet,” Vickers proposed. Webley had left the desk to get his coin back, but it had fallen between some floorboards. He was still trying to get it.
“In many ways, we’re helping the course of peace. Ever invention we see and approve pushes those after it a little higher. Eventually one of them has to get it right and make something so horrific we won’t want to fight anymore. Right?” Hiram asked, looking around. No-one met his eye.
“Sure. Let’s go with that,” Maxim said.
Webley was still on his hands and knees when the next demonstration came in. The new inventor didn’t let it distract them that much.
“Gentleman! Today I bring before you nothing less than the end of warfare itself! In gun form!” they said, pulling the dust-sheet off their invention. The Panel sat unmoved.
“I bet you do…” Dewhurst said, smliing the tiniest smile he could manage.