Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Planetary Politics and Pizza

One of my favorite short stories was turned into a podcast episode by Mariah Avix of 600 Second Saga!

Find the lovely audio version of Planetary Politics and Pizza here:

In case you'd rather read, and if you happened to want to read the Director's Cut, the following is the expanded version of that story. You get about 1250 more words of inappropriately funny anecdotes and a lot more conspiracy. Enjoy!

Planetary Politics and Pizza
Jennifer Flath

I’m not sure how much time I have before I succumb to the noxious gasses or molten cheese burns, but I need to explain some things, and this is my only chance. Our planet is a mess. The implosion was arguably the tipping point, but Blargots and Klangers were mortal enemies long before The Incident. I’m not going to bother getting into who blew up whose planet and who was at fault because I know we all study that to death in school. I will say that in some ways, things are worse now that we share one planet. The official edict by the Interplanetary Task Force used the words, “a few stellar centuries of togetherness to sort out issues.” It’s like a planetary buddy bench. In reality, peoples who hate each other are not only forced to live together, they also have to elect a single planetary representative to the Interplanetary Council every three chroncycles. Believe me, elections are ugly: mudslinging, campaign corruption, voter fraud, Blargots mailing piles of wool to unsuspecting Klangers, Klangers boycotting freeze-dried pineapple. It’s embarrassing. Our planet is the laughingstock of the Interplanetary Union.
            The IU is no help, goading us by sending their reporters every year to mock our electoral spectacle. If it’s not a Nan Romaine exposé on edict-violating segregated schools, it’s a Po-No Network street interview about how political debates always end in candidates flinging egg salad at each other. It was one time, ok?
            Before I pass out from heat stroke, I’ll fast forward to me. I joined Open Borders in college and volunteered for six months of humiliating quarantine to participate in a culture-bridging work study swap. My parents were not thrilled with Open Borders, but I knew that was because they were part of the old regime of hate and division, and I was going to fix the planet. Hence, I ignored them and took a job serving endless arugula herring pizzas to horrified Klangers who occasionally turn around and walk out the door after spotting me at the counter. Their reaction could be an overdue realization about arugula herring pizza as a crime against vegetation and sea life, but probably not.
            See, Blargots and Klangers don’t eat together. It’s not an official law anymore, not since the Interplanetary Edict on food segregation, but Klangers specifically serve food so disgusting no Blargot would ever set foot inside one of their restaurants. This particular work study sold me on the opportunity to “meet each other across the table” to “build a bridge of friendship over food.” The informational holobrochure showed a bridge made out of forks and spoons and puffy loaves of bread with little cartoon animals shaking hands. The brochure specifically left off all the bits about how bad herring smells baking in a pizza oven. At least I don’t have to eat the food I try to serve with a culture-bridging smile.
            Phew. Hot. Speeding up. Today, seconds before Leafy Fish Pizza was about to close, I was kicking out my second to last table. I did this by politely asking the family if they needed anything and standing there while they threw their extra slices into boxes and shoved their kids out the door with a look of horror. My next move was to lock the door and work on ousting the weird table full of people in suits who were looking around shiftily and hadn’t ordered anything. Before I could head over, Blargot Rep Vin walked in, warming my heart. He was surely attempting to heal the fragmented spirit of our hate-weary peoples. Then Klanger Rep Klass strolled in. Uh oh. After three hours of screaming, their Interplanetary-mandated debate last night ended in both candidates taking selfies while smearing each other in frosting. There’s nothing more humiliating. It’s the only thing our cultures agree on.
            Now frosting-free, the mortal enemies both veered toward the table occupied by the shifty, overdressed people including a woman with distinctly aquamarine hair peeking out from under her hood and sunglasses. She could only be reporter Nan Romaine. Sensing something fishier than the pizza, I grabbed an arugula herring monstrosity under the pretense of delivering it to their table and edged closer.
            They were having a completely civil chat. Vin wasn’t the only Blargot there either. I hadn’t noticed before because they had hats pulled over their distinctive ear bulbs. Despite this unprecedented gathering, no food was being flung, and no cutlery was being used to threaten harm. I felt actual tears spring to my eyes. Maybe this was the cycle things were going to change. Maybe all the “Heal the Planet” campaigns had finally taken root and were blossoming into a beautiful, glorious flower of friendship. Take that, Grandpa. No more Thanksholidays listening to him blather about Klanger barbarians and how we could never coexist.
            Then I heard what they were talking about.
“If I denounce wool,” said Rep Vin, “can Nan incite some rioting?”
            “Perfect,” cackled a Suit Guy. “I’ll manufacture a wool shortage to drive up prices.”
            Wait, this suited man had been in all the digi-papers yesterday. He had just bought up another wool-processing facility last chroncycle. Every Klanger in Leafy Fish had been grumbling about sheep monopolies and businesses stepping all over the little guy. The image transmission center in the corner had been a constant stream of Rep Klass on all the Klanger news programs saying she would fight for the people. “Wool will never buy me,” she had insisted, banging on her podium. She was always banging on things to make her point. I thought she was ridiculous, but Klangers ate that stuff up. I wondered how they would feel now watching her rifling through an envelope full of money.
            Gasp! Suit Man Two was sliding Vin his own envelope. What had I uncovered?
            I dumped the horror of a pizza on the nearest table and fumbled with my communi-watch. I needed to record this. Everyone had to know our political strife was being manufactured by bought politicians and the businesses behind them. I saw visions of myself taking down our strained political system, righting wrongs, creating a—
            “Why is she staring?” somebody snapped. “Are you taking video?”
            The mayor. The lady right next to Vin was the Klanger mayor. She was a horrible person, always talking about purging Blargots from the homeland. She had been fined three times by the ITF. “Civilized societies don’t use the word ‘purged’ in reference to their citizens,” the stern ITF representative said in his last State of the Planet Check-in Transmission. That’s when the delightful “pineapple” slur started up, but I digress.
            “No—no Mayor,” I stammered, my mind plodding slower than a Klanger airship. “I just wanted to…umm…” Obviously I should have taken up undercover espionage as a hobby instead of picketing the segregated Healing Centre every weekend.
            The Mayor glared at Klass. “Why does she recognize me? Why isn’t the facial imager working?”
            “Only works on Klangers,” Vin whispered, leaning in. How nice they were all such good friends. “Why are you here?”
            “I work here,” I bleated. Nobody else was seeing this? My eyes darted around the pizzeria. It was empty because I had just kicked everybody out. Espionage is really not my thing.
            “I’ll take that communiwatch,” Vin snarled at me.
The Klanger digi-papers were always saying Vin’s nose looked like a pig snout, and right now I had to admit they had a point. He was supposed to be the first Blargot representative to the Council since the Klangers had that population surge years ago. The Klangers had paid families to have children so they could take over! Despicable! It was years before Blargot cloning technology could catch up, and the court battles declaring clones legal voters took almost twice as long. Vin was supposed to fight for our rights. He was supposed to be a champion for unity. He was supposed to be above the voter fraud. He had been the whistle-blower who had caught that city council registering dead pets to vote. I raised money for his “PlanetUnited” Campaign. I even had a flashing hat with his grinning face on it! We all trusted him, and he was full of lies.
To be fair, he was working hand in hand with his enemies, but I had a hard time seeing this as progress. Surely Blargots and Klangers could all agree mass manipulation was not the type of unity we needed.
Not appreciating my hesitation, another Suit Guy whipped out a spiral-barreled gun. He wasn’t Blargot or Klanger, and that gun was technology I had never seen before. The way things were going, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he turned out to be the Interplanetary General.
“Congrats, kid,” he sneered, “for uncovering the biggest political conspiracy since Earthworm Cove. Hurry up.”
            With trembling fingers operating in slow motion, I peeled off the communiwatch and moved to place it on the table next to a tall glass of oregano-flavored cucumber juice.
            Speaking of, a bucket of cucumber juice would be incredibly welcome right now. And the last time I accidentally ingested a cucumber, I threw up for three days, so that’s saying something. What kind of monsters make juice out of cucumbers? The evil green tubes can’t even decide whether they’re fruits or vegetables. I should really stay focused on the story, but it’s so hot. I can’t even think.
            I needed to run. I needed to go back in time and skip the Open Borders meeting with its inspirational handouts and its snazzy virtual holotours insisting I would change the world, one stomach at a time. I needed a distraction.
            As the communiwatch dropped from my fingers, I reached for the cucumber juice. Disgusting little seeds sloshed through the milky liquid flecked with green bits of oregano as my hand wrapped around the glass. I’m not sure what my plan was. I’m not prepared to give myself credit for even having a plan. The moment I tried to fling the glass forward, the nameless man in a suit hit the trigger on his death ray.
            Bzzzt. The sound vibrated through my whole body, but I wasn’t dead. I felt the briefest of instants of relief over not being dead. I was in a different world—flat, shiny tiles stretching for miles in all directions.
And then the shadow swept down over me. I looked up. I was not in a different world at all. I was in the same world. The same horrible world of injustice and fraud. I was the only one who had changed, and not in some sort of metaphorical way where my eyes were opened to the cold, cruel way things worked in the real world. I was actually two centimeters tall.
Mottled yellow hands the size of orcaphants reached for me. I dove under a smashed arugula leaf. My only hope was the loose tile in the corner where the cleaning crew plugged in the sani-blaster at night. The tile covered a tube that went all the way down to the extra generator. Ugh, honestly, if the owners of Leafy Fish didn’t feel the need to bake putrid herring all day, their restaurant wouldn’t need a molecular scrub every night. Although I shouldn’t complain about them too much. Mr. and Mrs. Kingtot only took my forced hiring to court a little bit, and I don’t take the sign in the corner that says, “We support diverse hiring! (Especially from the hours of 8.09.43 to 60.87.02 on alternate weekends)” too personally.
Where was I? My head feels so foggy, and I can’t… Oh, the power tube was my only hope to get away. Right.
Using the giant leaf as a shield, I made a dash for the corner.
“Get her, Vin!” A voice that big sounded more like thunder than speech, but I assumed it was saying something like that.
“I’m not touching arugula!” Vin’s voice boomed back. “Do you know what kind of rash that stuff gives me?”
I was slammed to the ground. All was darkness as my leaf was clamped to the tile floor over top of me. Then the floor began to slide. I don’t know how to describe this, but the way a spider feels when somebody clamps a glass on top of it and then scoots a piece of paper underneath so said person doesn’t have to touch the icky spider—that’s exactly what was happening to me.
My world turned upside down. Again, this is not a metaphor. Yellow hands righted the glass, sending me shooting down the slippery sides of my glass prison. I thudded onto the bottom. I gave my best effort at screaming and pounding on the glass sides, but the eerie elongated faces of the giants outside cared nothing for my struggles. I knew too much.
I was tossed in the pizza oven and soon sinking knee-deep in the molten mozzarella of what should have been the last delivery of the day. At my size, my only exit is kilometers away across a burning metal grate broken up by chasms of licking fire. I’ll never make it.
They went back to their meeting like nothing happened. I can hear them out there, arguing about whether civil war is in their best interests and whether or not to loop in the police chief.
            I have just enough time to rearrange the herring to spell, “Vote Non-Allied!” before I succumb to the heat. Politics and fish pizza—they’re killers.

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