Art Pact 127



"He's annoying?"

"Sooo annoying!" Craig drawled, kicking his boots against the fence post. Each impact was marked by a shower of dried mud flying into the sty. The piglets dashed around excitedly, the big sow lying on her side just snorted. "How can they put a man like that in charge?"

"I dunno," said Breva. "It's all politics, I suppose."

"Yeah, but.. Ah, forget it. Damn fools."

"It'll all come out in the wash," she said, reaching down into the pen and scooping up one of the little animals. Its stomach bristles rasped against her hand. "Oof! Damn, you guys are getting heavy!" The piglet wriggled in her hands, whinnying a little, then settled down as she settled it on its back in her arms. It was like a baby - an ugly baby, she thought, although she had always thought that all babies were ugly, certainly until they were a year or so old. "You'll make something of yourself one day, son," she told the piglet. A nice bacon sandwich, she thought, but felt suddenly guilty and cruel. She set it down gently in the sty again, where it ran off to huddle behind its barely conscious mother.

"What I'm worried about," Craig said, scraping the last dregs of mud from his boots with a stick, "is exactly that. It might come out in the wash, but we're all in the drum with him. Who's going to get covered in what, is what I'm thinking about."

"Nice," she said. "I see what you did there."

"Thanks." He smiled, then the smile slipped away and he was wearing his serious face again. "You know what I mean, though. They might kick Louden out when they see what a screw-up he makes of everything, but in the meantime we're stuck with that screw-up."

"Perhaps he'll be fine."

"Oh great!" Craig threw up his arms. "But that's even worse - then he's a hero, and we have to put up with his shit forever."

"So you'd prefer that he screws up and takes us all down with him," she said. Craig slumped, his usual swagger broken at the shoulders so that she felt like she was walking beside some kind of huge ape. Which, she thought, I suppose I am. It was a strange thought, a thought from another time. She remembered oak-panelled hallways, lectures on cladistics and the scant number of mutations that separated humans from chimpanzees, or from bonobos. Not another time, she thought. Another world.

"I don't know what I want," Craig confessed. "I know it's petty, I just can't bear to see that asshole thriving. You know, if he does make a go of the place, it won't be down to him, right? I mean, it'll be down to us - not us-us," he added, "but you know, everyone. Everyone except him," he said bitterly.

"Look, as long as we survive, it'll be fine. The world's always been like this, right? Even before. People get to the top through no real effort of their own, and hard-working people catch hold of the shitty end of the stick. You have to just focus on what's good about the place, right? You've got Lily, I've got Dave, we've got a place to sleep, we're eating OK, we're not dead. Everything about our lives could be worse."

"I suppose."

They came to the back door of the large barrack-house. Breva scraped her boots against the metal grating set below the stone step, although it did little but average the mud on her feet with the mud that had been left there by previous users. Craig waited patiently as she worked, then fastidiously stepped his own already clean boots over the dirty grate, over the entry step, and directly into the barracks.

It was quiet for so late in the afternoon. Clark, the settlement's one child, who should have been glued to his study desk in the corner working on some homework or other, was nowhere to be seen, and the three or four attendants who would have been spending their fallow hours watching over him were likewise absent. At a fluttering sound Breva looked up at the corrugated metal ceiling of the barracks to discover that there was a pigeon perched on the far light fitting.

"Christ," she whispered, then nudged Craig.

"Do you think they all just ran for it?" he asked quietly. His hand was on her elbow, nudging them both back towards the doorway again.

"Maybe."

"What are we going to do?"

"We have to get rid of it somehow," she said.

"Us?"

"Who else?" she asked, then laughed. "Louden?"

"Not funny."

Craig began to shuffle oddly, and she looked down and found that he was trying to get one shoe off by standing on the heel of it with the other foot and pulling his ankles up. She remembered shoes in the old days that that might have worked one - low ankled smart shoes with shiny patent leather uppers, mesh-topped running shoes loose around the heels - but Craig was clearly outmatched. She nudged him and mimed undoing a lace, and eventually he sighed and dropped slowly onto one knee. Without taking his eyes off the bird for a second he fumbled down towards his foot and eventually found and undid the knot blind. He stood back up again, clutching the shoe in one hand, then slowly began to raise it over his head.

"Give it here, idiot," she told him. "Your aim is awful."

"I don't have to hit it," he said, "just scare it."

"First of all," she said, gently wrestling the boot out of his grasp, "if you miss you'll smash the bulb. How do you think Louden's going to like that?" Craig grunted in disgust. "Second of all, if you just scare the damn thing it'll shit everywhere. That'll be it for sleeping indoors for the next month or so."

If that. There was no telling where the materials for a new barracks would come from, and anything the bird had been in contact with would have to be destroyed. Even if they did manage to catch or kill it, they were still in for a few days of uncomfortable outdoor living while the place was tested.

She raised the boot to her shoulder, feeling the weight of it, then in one smooth movement raised it straight back over her head and flung it at the bird.

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