Dusk almost looks like sunrise.
Diswali, who the new society will come to know as the great intellectual, glances all about before saying,
We know you’re here, Saaldi.
The crossroads of yellow stones is silent. The deputation, shamed by the quiet, shuffle their feet a little.
Nuudi, who will be known as the great marketing entrepreneur for his development of the new currency of minerals, scratches his bloated, fly-speckled belly, and declares,
Bastard’s probably been eaten by something. Serves him right, as well-
and takes six hasty steps backwards when Saaldi, silhouetted like a stalking panther, curves across the surface of one of the great rocks, on all fours.
When he reaches the plateau, he halts, and sits comfortably cross-legged, watching them.
Nuudi, rejoining the deputation as quickly and inconspicuously as possible, folds his arms akimbo and speaks out,
Brother Saaldi, we come to you on behalf of our people to request your assistance in a grand project.
Saaldi, like a child, has found a dry explosion of grass in the rock’s crevices, and is picking at the stems.
Diswali calls out,
We want you to help us form the new society.
The heat of the day has died, and the ancient tarmac of the crossroads cools Diswali’s feet, giving him courage. He repeats,
Society. A gathering of like-blooded people.
Who’s in it? Saaldi asks, sounding careless.
Me, says Diswali, Nuudi, Kaeri, gesturing to the younger man, Uguri, and you. We protect one another. We find a cave and, instead of traipsing about in the wilderness, we live like civilised people in that cave. We’ll hardly need to move about at all.
Darkness is spreading over the rocks, forming weird and living shadows across the deputation’s faces. Saaldi is a solid, haloed figure of black above them.
We stick together, Diswali persists. I have such plans, you can’t even imagine…our children grow up in safety in that cave, in time we grow- and when somebody has something we want, we won’t need to kill them and take it from them any more! We can swap things- pretty-looking stones, and so on. It’ll be great.
For a moment Saaldi is quiet. Then,
We don’t have any women.
We’ll get some, Diswali says, dismissive. That’s not a problem.
And we’ll have art, Kaeri chirps up. I’m in charge of art.
Uguri’s finding God, Diswali says, glaring at Kaeri. He says he’s almost there. That’ll take some of the weight off our shoulders.
Sounds horrible, Saaldi says.
The deputation gaze up at the phantom of the rock in confusion, close to horror.
Count me out, says Saaldi. I don’t like the sound of this at all. It’s a bit sordid, frankly.
You can’t opt out, Diswali says. That isn’t allowed. Come down off your high rock and we’ll explain it to you. We want you to be in charge of healthcare. You’ve fallen ill three or four times now and you’ve survived every time. Uguri’s survived six times, admittedly, but he already has a position, so…
He trails off.
Saaldi is quite still for a moment. Then, like the slipping shadows, he seems to fade earthwards, until only the rock is still standing.
The deputation stand quite still.
What now? Nuudi asks.
Diswali, who the new society will come to know as the great intellectual, stoops to the ground, lifting the ancient slice of metal to the sky, and strides after Saaldi through the crossroad of yellow stones.