Flash Fiction: Unacceptable Solutions (613 words)

Teiden arrived at the lunch table trying to hide a grin and succeeding about as well as he kept the thin sheaf of paper tucked away under his jacket. He leaned over his chair to look at his friends and the papers slipped a little farther out of his jacket.

“I win,” he crowed. Jace didn’t know that a person could speak so quietly, and still crow so undeniably.

“Win what?” Samir asked and swallowed the piece of carrot he had been chewing.

Bass looked up from his lunch, wary and curious.

“If the Masters catch you with that around food they’re going to turn you inside out,” Jace said.

Teiden looked at him and lost control of his grin for half a second. “Not if I never let go of it,” he said. He pulled the stack of papers halfway out. “They’ll never risk ruining it with blood splatter.”

Bass leaned forward and snatched it.

“Hey!”

Turning the uneven packet of papers over in his hands, Bass was careful to keep them from twisting and tearing against the pin that held them together. “What is this?”

Slightly deflated, Teiden pulled his chair out and slipped into it. He took a breath, glared at Bass, then recovered some of his smile. He leaned forward again. “I found the best phrase to ever be written with due gravity in a historical record.”

Samir snorted and looked back at his plate. Jace and Bass glanced at each other.

Ferret shortage,” Teiden said.

“Excuse me?” Jace asked, and almost at the same time Bass pointed to a page and nodded.

“Ferret shortage,” he agreed.

“What?” Samir demanded. He leaned against Bass’ shoulder to get a look at the pages as well.

Teiden leaned back. If there had been room in the dining hall, he might have pushed his chair back, laced his fingers behind his head, and kicked his heels up on the table. In the press, he settled for looping one arm over the back of his chair and finally grinning. “That first page is the notes from a High Council Sea Clan War Meeting where they discussed a ferret shortage for an hour. Second page? Clan Lady Keddick writing to her cousin asking if he’s solved the ferret shortage yet, because they need them if the war is going to continue. Third page? Fourth page? Fifth page? Lady Naira, Lady Windra, and Lord Jen ganging up on Lady Obrera to tell her that even in wartime, piracy is not an acceptable solution to the ferret shortage.”

“You’re joking,” Jace said.

“He’s not,” Bass said. The more pages he flipped past, the wider his smile grew. “He just quoted Lady Windra exactly.”

“How many times do you get to write a sentence like that?” Samir asked, awed and laughing.

“That was Master Dierwin’s pet project when he was a student,” Teiden said. “She found almost sixty instances of the Sea Clans panicking about it, stacked them up, and didn’t know what to do with the research.”

“What do they need the ferrets for?” Bass asked. He flipped quickly through the next few pages.

“Lucky scarves?” Teiden asked.

“Furry sails?” Samir suggested.

“Their best fighters stand on the ferrets backs and ride them across the ocean to attack enemy ships,” Bass said.

“Ferrets are their best fighters,” Jace countered. “They launch them out of the cannons.”

Each of them snickered, almost choked on their laughter, trying to keep it quiet and caught their breath in a moment or two.

Bass swore quietly as he caught his. Then he looked up at the others, wearing a grin to match Teiden’s. “Some days it’s good to be a librarian.”

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