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Departmental by JaneLebak
Departmental by JaneLebak
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Story Notes:
If you haven't read the Robert Frost poem "Departmental," it's well worth a read.


by Jane Lebak



You awaken in the morning before anyone else. Scan the paintings and heavy wooden furniture filling your bedroom: an automatic precaution, as there are those who would kill you. The lamps flicker with a morning brown-out, but after a while the light shines steadily again. Frosty air stings hands unused to exposure. Dressing, you hurry this morning as you do every morning, unwilling to be caught unprotected--one more day of the ceaseless vigilance that has kept you alive the last ten years. You slip a mask over your head, a stylized cat's face more familiar to you than your own, and you check in the mirror. A purple and crimson cape, long gloves, hidden weapons everywhere. You are ready for breakfast.

Bow before your lord and master, the creature who makes and sustains you, the voice you've heard as long as your life had meaning. With a hidden joy, you glory in the memory of the first time you heard the voice, the first time it told you how powerful you were and how pleased it was to see you grow. You remember awakening in the night as a child and hearing a call diffuse as moonlight, climbing free of your sisters and parents in the family bed, walking outside to a brook, and then hearing it call your name again. Remember shouting, "Here! I'm here!"

When you stop reminiscing, you return your attention to the Great Spirit, who has been patient. Thank it. You ask what is the Spirit's pleasure this morning, if there is anything you may do. There is--you must launch another offensive today to refill the frighteningly empty warehouses outside Spectra's capital city. Another mining vein has dried up. You must read the printout it is generating. You must succeed. Tremble. You promise you will.

Call your Spectran soldiers to you, listen to their mutterings with your enhanced hearing, but feel relieved when no one threatens you. You know angry men will serve better than complacent ones. The room is cold- for the last year it has taken too much energy to heat the briefing rooms in the early morning, but you know this serves mainly to motivate the young men awaiting your instructions. Push aside the doubts as you move among them as you explain today's raid, what they must take from which overstocked planets; you become one in the crowd of them, touching one and another as you move through the ranks. These, the underlings, know you and will do anything for you. Some of their superior officers you would not trust this close. Call a few soldiers by name, prompted from time to time by the Spirit's voice in your mind. The Spirit knows them, but you best of all. It listens, touching one and another among your thoughts. Sounding confident, you dispatch your men to their tasks.

You have delayed the next task too long. Go to the hospital on the military base, look in on the victims of your last battle. You speak to the doctors and move among the injured and dying. Bodies in various stages of life support, various levels of pain and questioning. Leave there as soon as you can. You talk to some of the families in the hallway, assuring them this was the only way, praising the loved ones' sacrifices for the sake of their world, their people, their families that are standing before you even now. You tell them the good accomplished by this last raid, the storehouses found full again the next morning, the reactors still able to power the city.

Afterward, you ride the elevator to the roof of the hospital. Leaving your guards behind, go walk to the edge and survey your capital city. You know it is yours to rule, but you also see its various stages of dying, see the strip-mined mountains a distance away, see the black smoke hovering over the valley to the south where even the winds can't sweep it aside fast enough. Smell the reeking river where a dozen factories spew any manner of by-products; they flow down the river to the oceans.

You know the Spirit picked you to rule in these trying times: like any general, the Spirit has placed his strongest soldier in the place of greatest need, in the time of greatest need. You are the one.

But so long--you have fought for years now, fought on the inside, fought on the outside. You have run further, faster, than anyone in history. You may be the strongest soldier the Spirit has, but will even the strongest suffice? Why did the Spirit let it come to this? Why must you look after so many gluttonous citizens like a harried kindergarten teacher? Why is no one around you smart enough to see the need for making the changes you've urged all along? And in the meantime, you must provide patches to a way of life doomed from the start--precognizant of the hunger, the chill, the paralysis of a land raped of its resources and that victim's final victory.

Crawling along the stone edge of the roof, a raiding party of ants searches for crumbs, for anything edible. You have known, after so many rooftop musings, of the presence of an overextended colony of shepherd ants, and it has pleased you to let it remain undisturbed. You watch as the foragers find nothing nearby, but they walk on and on single file, one lane leaving their lair. The returning aisle of ants shepherds a small drove of bottle-blue common ants, slave ants taken from another colony, ants that can be made to work for the larger black ants until they die and give their final service as food. The line of outgoing ants moves through the crowd of returning ones, antennae stroking in recognition as they pass one among another. The returning shepherd ants carry their own dead as well, curled loads hefted over their heads, hauling them back to an overcrowded nest. Somewhere, in the depths of the nest, a queen ant will note the retrieved bodies of the workers and lay more eggs to replace them, dispatch more hunters to bring back her food and the food for the rest of the colony.

Shouting on the street below disrupts your reverie. Hear the relentless noises of cars and machinery; even ten stories above, smell the exhaust. An engine roars at the launch pad on the outskirts of the city.

Your planet needs resources or it will die. And you have already been refused what you've asked for from the Federation, unable to derive to their satisfaction a plan to prove you'd do better this time.

Glance at a shepherd ant that clambers over the toe of your boot as it seeks food to return to its queen.

And you will succeed. You have never had use for five year plans; the Spirit has never seen fit to disclose that much at once. The Spirit tickles inside your mind. Smile. There are worlds and worlds and worlds to be clutched, if you close your hands. You will survive. You are Chosen.

Chapter End Notes:

I've always been intrigued by the idea of telling a story in second person. Second person can take either the declarative ("You go to the store") or command form ("Go to the store!") and it was fun to mix the two. I wrote this after Alara Rogers said there wasn't enough Zoltar fanfiction around. At the same time, the Gatchaman Mailing List was debating the proper pronoun to use for Katse and Zoltar. I thought this was a nice workaround.

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