"Best out of 3?" Frank said hopefully. They had been playing trivial pursuit.
Elsie got out of her chair which was pulled up to a table near where the jar where Frank sat and walked away in disgust.
It wasn't because Frank lost, he could beat her easily if he chose to, it was because Frank always turned every game into some sort of experiment.
"Thanks for dropping by." Frank called as she left the room. Elsie reflected on the nature of Squats.
Squats, the slang term for artificially created humans, were almost always giant brains these days. They were called that because they usually stayed in on place while "mobiles," like Elsie walked around.
While you could make an artificially enhanced person, nobody bothered to these days. After many years in which the status of artificial persons were in question, these days Squats were pretty much treated like everybody else.
And nobody much gave a fuck.
Elsie was something of an anomaly among modern humans. When you could screen for pretty much any physical condition, "shooting the moon," as making a child the old fashion way and leaving everything up to chance, as Elsie's parents had done, was very uncommon.
Unlike many of her compatriots, Elsie had a zest for life that "people" like Frank found interesting. She spent a lot of her time "under a microscope" as she jokily referred to her time with Frank.
Squats were interested in why the human race was dying out.
Over the last few thousand years fewer and fewer people were having children. Now the Earth was only home to a few hundred million of homo sapiens, and the Squats wanted to know why.
Most of what she did with Frank fell into what previous generations would refer to as "social experiments," were Frank would do something and see how Elsie reacted. It was hoped that somehow, her interest in life could her transferred to her colleges who didn't give a damn.
That was the problem, Elsie reflected, as she left the building where Frank lived, most people just didn't care. While today's Earth was, in many ways, better than it had been in the past, humans just milled about on it.
Elsie passed groups of people who were staring at nothing, like a cat. People would do things like that when there was nothing else to do. You would think that, at a time like this, when humanity has achieved so much, that people would be out celebrating or something, but they just sat around.
Elsie crossed the street and ducked into a subway, on her way home.
On the subway there was the usual quota of riders, going nowhere and getting there fast, but Elsie ignored them.
Getting off at her stop, Elsie bustled into her apartment. She had 10 rooms to herself, there wasn't a lot of competition for real estate these days because people just didn't care.
Elsie had dinner and looked at several other apartments with her computer. All of them had more rooms than she currently had.
Elsie changed into her pajamas and went to bed.
* * *
"Where are we at" Frank asked one of his colleagues, called Aristotle.
"300 million give or take, and decreasing steadily." Aristotle replied through the network that linked them. Aristotle was actually in Europe.
Frank thought about this. Since the 2000's, the worldwide population had been decreasing steadily until they were at the point where they were at right now. When everything had been done what was the point in doing anything?
The inclusion of negatively traits like greed was necessary to continue the race: at least greedy people did something.
Elsie was a strange one. She actually wanted things.
* * *
"Thank you all for coming." Elsie said brightly. Her guests looked like they didn't give a damn.
A servant came in bearing a tray full of ordevers. Her guests looked at them with tepid disinterest. One or two of them took a few.
Another servant came in bearing champagne. Only Elsie took one.
She went over to a window and looked down.
"They look so small form up here."
Her guests stare at Elsie without betraying any thoughts. A man chimed in.
"That's because we're high up."
Elsie glared at him, but he returned her stare, a helpful look on his face.
"If we were down lower you could see them."
The man, whose name was Adam, said.
The guests milled about inspecting Elsie's book collection.
"I collect first edition" she said, apropos of nothing.
Her guests were not impressed.
"You have My Pet Goat." One of them observed.
"It is a first edition." Elsie's smile became brittle.
The guests milled about some more and then left.
Elsie sighed. Today's people just didn't get into the spirit of things.
"The guests seemed to enjoy themselves" a servant, name Bosely, observed.
Elsie stopped and regarded him. Bosely was dressed in a black waiters' outfit (Elsie had insisted on this, but most people were not even aware of the outfit's significance) and had that look that all servitors had. For time out of mind (a few hundred years ago), humanity had come up with another race specifically designed to serve them.
The servitors looked human, but you could always tell a servitor from a regular human being. The servitors looked like they actually cared. During previous times, a minority of humans would have championed against creating a slave race but at this point, no one gave a damn about them.
Elsie sighed and said "As things go, it wasn't a total disaster."
"Do you want me to grovel?" Bosely asked.
Elsie stared at Bosely for a little bit. The fact that he really wanted to make her happy took all of the fun out of it.
"No, that won't be necessary."
Elsie wandered up to her first editions and perused the titles without interest.
* * *
The Squats had a meeting,
"The question is," Fred began, "whether we want to be responsible for creating a bunch of miscreants and thugs who are none the less able to carry on the human race." There was stunned silence.
Finally Aristotle said, in a small voice, "That's not we were going to talk about."
"Your right Aristotle! This meeting should be about that, but instead we are going to lie to ourselves, and instead go about creating thugs and miscreants to carry on the human race."
"How about if we let the human race die instead?" ventured another brain called Spinoza.
"That's the real question," Fred agreed, "should we do something or should we just let humanity die?"
"But in addition to creating thugs, human beings also created things of beauty. Don't we have an obligation to keep trying?" another brain put in.
"How about if we create the thugs for the other people to oppose rather than to carry on?"
"You mean that decent people need something to strive against to keep going?" Fred asked.
"We would still be creating thugs and miscreants." Fred observed.
"This is true."
"I can't go for that." Fred stated.
Silence greeted him.
"So it's down to if I don't support this, I'm out?" Fred asked.
"Then I'm out." Fred stated and got out of the meeting.
* * *
This was going to be difficult.
Fred had to go up against the other brains.
Over countless millennia, genetic engineering had made them the most intelligent, most resourceful of all sapient beings on Earth.
And he was going up against several of them.
Fred had no illusions about himself, he was smart, but there were limits to what he could do.
He thought again about what they were proposing: was it so bad? Why did he feel this way when the rest of them felt differently? Was he maneuvered into feeling this way so that "the righteous" would have something to do?
He couldn't answer those questions, at least not right away, but he felt he had to do something. He couldn't just do nothing while the rest of them created a race of thugs to carry on.
He wondered again if this had been planned.
* * *
"Well, that's done." Aristotle said to the rest of the group.
"I thought for sure that it was going to be you." Spinoza opined.
"Well, we knew that it would be somebody it just happened to be Fred." Plato observed.
"Have you guys wondered if we're doing the right thing?" Aristotle asked.
"Doubts, I'm full of them." Spinoza quipped.
"But are we really doing the right thing? We know what these people will do..." Aristotle persisted.
"What choice do we have? The alternative is to give up." Spinoza observed.
"True" Aristotle finished.
* * *
Elsie was looking out at the city when Fred's call came.
"Yes, Fred, do you want to play Trivial Pursuit again?" she asked tiredly.
"I just had a meeting with the other squats, it looks like some changes are coming."
"What sort of changes are you talking about?" Elsie asked.
"The sort where I'm going to have to ask you to do some things that I haven't asked you to do before."
"What sort of things?"
"The sort that are going to take a lot of time."
"What's this for?" Elsie asked.
"I can't really talk about that."
"Let me think about it."
Elsie hung up and stared out at the city.
Elsie thought about her life. She was trying to impress people who didn't care so that she could feel good about herself. This seemed like a very vapid pursuit. On the other hand, Frank's vague hint weren't exactly compelling either.
Finally, it came down to doing something for Frank.
Elsie sighed again.
Frank wasn't exactly a good friend, she couldn't understand a lot of his ideas when he tried to share them. He mostly relieved her boredom.
She decided and called Frank back.
"I'm sorry, Frank."
"It's for a good cause, you know."
Frank paused for a moment and then said "You know, in previous times, it was considered 'cool' to have some sort of cause."
"Yes but that probably won't work with today's people."
"I don't know about that..." Elsie imagined cocktail parties with something to actually talk about.
"Count me in." She decided.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Elsie hung up
* * *
Over the next couple of days, Elsie researched what people used to do for causes and the talked to Frank.
"Do you realize that people used to throw parties and that sort of thing to raise money for research into diseases?" she said excitedly.
"Really? Tell me some more."
"Well, this one time, a bunch of famous signers got together for Africa. It was called 'We Are the World.' Apparently, anyone who was important got invited!"
Frank hoped that this would maintain Elsie's interest for a long enough time.
"So what do you plan on using for a cause?" he asked.
There was a pause then Elsie answered "I was hoping that you might be able to help out with that."
* * *
Over the next few months, Aristotle and friends reinstated 'brown shirt' rallies in Europe. Of course they didn't call them that or align themselves with neo-fascism, but the ideas were there. They looked around for someone suitable...
Ryan was a person with problems.
He was, what previous generations would call, manic-depressive and spent some of the time wildly enthusiastic about something only to be depressed later on.
Due to the state of medicine, he was getting proper treatment for his condition he was also getting the proper medication for it.
"The Gnomes of Zurich" as the group of brains liked to jokingly refer to themselves, met to discuss him.
"But we can't take him off his meds!" Spinoza pleaded.
"We aren't going to take them away, just modify them a little." Aristotle said.
"It's the same thing! He'll start doing crazy shit."
"That's just what's needed."
"But what about him?" Spinoza asked.
"Sometimes, for all to be saved, some have to be sacrificed."
* * *
Logan received his "new" meds (which looked the same as his old meds) and took them. The gnomes waited...
He started having paranoid delusions within a few months.
His therapist didn't know what was wrong.
* * *
"He's starting to lose it." Spinoza said.
"Everything is going according to plan. He needs a nudge in the right direction." Aristotle responded.
The "nudge" turned out to be attendance at a brown shirt rally.
Logan took to it like a fly to honey and was soon speaking at rallies.
"I think he's moving in the right direction." Aristotle commented.
"But this is wrong." Spinoza protested.
"It's for the greater good." Aristotle rejoined.
The other brains were silent.
* * *
Elsie planned for a "Virtue Gala" that would be thrown in what was now New York. There was a slight problem.
There wasn't a cause that the Gala to be thrown for.
But this detail didn't bother Elsie.
"I've invited everyone who is anyone to be there!" she enthused to Frank.
"But you don't have a cause!" Frank protested.
"Details." Elsie dismissed.
* * *
The "Virtue Gala was a resounding flop.
Elsie was there, but 2/3 of the people she invited weren't. Those that did show up, mostly milled about for less than an hour and left.
"Nobody even showed up!" she said to Frank.
"You didn't have a cause." Frank tried to point out.
"That's beside the point! Some of these people were my friends!" Elsie went on about how betrayed she felt. Frank wondered if he had the right person.
* * *
The Gnomes were making better progress with their project.
After some discussion, they decided to take key people in the movement off their meds too.
Logan was now giving speeches to hundreds of people. Flailing about for a target minority, Logan finally settled on a group known as "The Humanists" to pick on. One of their beliefs was that all human beings should be treated equally.
Logan's speeches took on more angry tones, going on about how the Humanists were weakening the race, etc.
At this point Logan's therapist became a problem.
Becoming increasingly distraught over Logan's transformation, she became convinced that something was wrong with his meds.
* * *
"We have to do something about her." Plato mentioned at one of their meetings.
"What's her name again?" Aristotle asked.
"Sue Ventura." Plato replied.
"What do you suggest?" Aristotle replied.
"I don't know, but she could ruin everything if she finds out." Plato observed.
Sue had become alarmed when Logan stopped showing up for their sessions. Then when she found out what he was doing in his spare time she became frightened.
She started dropping by his place to check up on him and was concerned at the sort of people he associated with.
She tried checking his meds, but discovered that they were coming from reputable sources.
"A good thing she didn't have those pills tested, or we might have had to do something about her." Nietzsche pointed out.
"But what do we do when someone puts two and two together?" Spinoza asked.
"We'll burn that bridge when we come to it." Nietzsche said.
* * *
As it turned out, Joe, a person who worked in quality control finally figured it out.
He was doing routine spot checks on outgoing medications when he noticed Logan's.
At first he was very concerned and tested several other batches but found them to be good.
"Let's just hope he doesn't check Logan's again." Plato observed.
At first all was well and Joe didn't seem the wiser. The Gnomes arranged for him to have a surprise vacation during Logan's next shipment so he would be away, but a freak storm stranded Joe where he was.
"Maybe he won't check." Spinoza said hopelessly.
The day drew near. Everything was ready.
Joe didn't check.
Spinoza was beside himself with relief.
"Well, we dodged that bullet!" He said at a meeting.
"That we did!" said another brain called Madame Curie.
Squats can't really have parties, but the festive spirit was palpable at the next meeting.
"Forget yer troubles!" Spinoza chortled. Some of the other Squats would have gladly joined him if he had anything to drink.
* * *
Elsie was planning another "Virtue Gala," after her flop of a first one.
"I don't think you have the right idea." Fred told her.
"You'll see!" she retorted.
This time she had invited over a thousand people.
About 50 actually showed up.
"It was a total failure!" Elsie sobbed to Frank later.
"Did you consider spending as much time on the cause as you did the refreshments?" Frank asked.
"That was part of the problem. Do you know how much potato salad was leftover?" Elsie started crying again.
Frank would have put an arm around her, if he had arms, but as it was he settled for saying "What do you think about those 'Brown Shirt' rallies that they're holding in Europe?"
Elsie continued crying.
Frank made a note to himself to bring it up later. For now he had to be content with saying "There, there." and making soothing noises.
"I know!" Elsie said. Frank perked up. "Next time we'll have coal slaw instead of potato salad!"
If Fred had had a face he would have put his hands over it. If he had some hands.
* * *
While Frank was consoling Elsie, the Gnomes were celebrating their project, that they referred to as "The Operation," was going according to plan; which they referred to as "The evil, master plan."
"Everything is going according to plan!" Aristotle observed.
"Yes it is, Dr." (he insisted on being called "Dr. Evil" at the meetings).
"Soon, the world will be in our control! Ah-ha-ha-ha!" Aristotle/Dr. Evil cackled.
"But the world is pretty much under our control now." Madame Curie, confused, stated.
"I do wish you'd get into the spirit of things." Aristotle replied.
For some reason, Spinoza checked on Joe and Sue after the meeting.
Both of them seemed to be doing normal stuff, which, if Spinoza had brows, would have made him frown.
Looking closer at Sue, Spinoza found that she wasn't visiting Logan any more.
Spinoza dug a little deeper and found that she was doing some unlike-Sue things.
Digging still deeper, Spinoza found that someone had replaced Sue's records with someone else's.
Checking Joe's records, he found that someone had changed Joe's as well.
Beside himself with worry, he called a special meeting.
"This better be important," Plato groused, "I was checking on my Fantasy Football league."
Spinoza told them what had happened.
"And I can't find the records for Joe and Sue." he finished.
The other Gnomes were silent for a time.
"We knew someone would find out, eventually." Madame Curie said.
"But Joe's and Sue's records!" Spinoza said.
"There aren't any records." Aristotle said.
"Why not?" Spinoza was confused.
"Because there aren't any records." Aristotle said.
"Well, why aren't there any records?" Spinoza asked.
"Because they're dead." Aristotle said.
The meeting was silent. The silence stretched too long.
"You killed them?" Spinoza asked.
"We had to get rid of them." Aristotle confirmed.
"But that's horrible!" Spinoza cried.
"Yes, I think you went too far." Madame Curie said, unexpectedly supporting Spinoza.
"Thank you, Curie." Spinoza said, a little relived that someone else felt the same way.
"You should have waited." Curie continued.
"What?!" Spinoza exploded.
"I think we weren't ready to take that step, I mean Spinoza's clearly not." Curie said.
"I agree." Put in Plato.
"So do I." Said Nietzsche.
Aristotle sighed, or he would have sighed if he had lungs.
"Well, at least it's done."
"Excuse me, but is anyone the least bit concerned that Aristotle murdered two people?" Spinoza was getting hysterical.
"Two mobiles." Aristotle corrected.
"I thought we didn't make those distinctions."
"I think it's time we did." Aristotle said.
"I disagree." Spinoza rejoined with some heat.
"I also think we've lost Spinoza." Aristotle observed.
"Yeah, that's pretty clear." Madame Curie put in.
"Helllooo! Have I become invisible or something?" Spinoza asked. Funny because he wasn't really there.
Abruptly, Spinoza was disconnected from the rest of them. He contacted Frank and told him what had happened.
"I was afraid something like this would happen." He said.
"What are we going to do?" Spinoza asked.
"That depends on Elsie." Frank said.
* * *
At that moment, Elsie was preparing for the next "Virtue Gala." She was ordering coleslaw.
"And I want coleslaw this time not potato salad!" she finished.
"Whatever." Said a bored looking caterer.
Elsie glared at him for a few seconds and then continued.
"And I want a champagne fountain right here!" She said pointing to a diagram.
"OK." The caterer yawned.
Elsie walked out of the shop seething with anger.
She really wanted this Gala to succeed, but the people around her didn't seem to care.
She stopped and called Frank.
"What was it that you said about the Gala?"
"I advised you to choose a topic this time." Frank said.
Elsie thought this over.
"So you don't think the potato salad had anything to do with it?"
"So the whole bit with coleslaw is probably a waste?" She sounded concerned.
"Look, fascism is making a come-back in Europe, don't you think that would be a better topic?"
"Well of course! Umm, what is fascism again?"
"You know, the Nazis, that sort of thing..." Frank was running out of patience.
"Oh! Then someone should definitely put a stop to it!" Here Elsie sounded concerned. "Isn't that the sort of thing that you guys are supposed to do? You know, you..." Elsie trailed off.
"Squats." Frank supplied.
"Yes! You know you guys." She said waving her hand.
"Well, it is your world too." Frank tried to sound reasonable.
"Yeah. Well it is." Elsie spoke quickly. "But, you see, I've been trying to make these Gala things work and nobody even shows up. What makes you think that anyone would show for something like that?"
"Well I would hope..." Frank started.
"Even with coleslaw." Elsie broke in.
"...that people would take an interest in what's going on." He finished.
"But people these days don't care about anything. I mean I've tried and tried..." Elsie launched into a martyred review of her efforts, but Frank wasn't listening. Finally, he hung up.
After a time, he called Spinoza.
Spinoza answered and went into detail about the alarming actions that the Gnomes had taken.
"And they actually killed this guy who was checking into Logan's meds. I'm not making this up." Spinoza finished.
"Well, there goes any hope I might have had with getting back with them." Frank said.
"They're completely off the rails, totally out of control! What are we going to do?" A panicked Spinoza asked.
"I was trying to get someone to hold an event about it, but they don't seem to be into it." Frank said, despondently.
"Well, maybe if I talked to them..." Spinoza started.
"What would you say to her?"
"I'd talk about how dangerous... wait a minute! Are we talking about Elsie here?" Spinoza demanded.
"That flake! You've got a better chance of getting blood from a stone then getting her to do anything about this!"
"She has many fine qualities..." Frank started.
"Name one that will help us!" Spinoza broke in.
"Well there's the..." Frank trailed off.
"See what I mean? She's useless!" Spinoza said.
"Now I think we need a more positive outlook." Frank said, hurt that Spinoza was talking about his friends this way.
"Look we need to do something, and I mean now, or we can kiss this planet goodbye!"
Frank sighed, or he would have if he had lungs. "I see what you mean."
"So what are we going to do?" Spinoza asked again.
"Let me think. They're restarting fascism right?"
"Then we bring back the whole 'The Yanks are coming!' thing."
"What?" Spinoza asked.
"We bring in the Americans and save the day!" Frank explained.
"That'll never work."
* * *
But, as it turned out, Elsie loved the idea.
"We can have one of those...those..." she sounded uncertain.
"Drives to buy war bonds?" Frank supplied.
"Yeah, that's it! It could be a themed party! People could show up wearing period costumes!"
"This is really serious, Elsie." Frank tried to point out, but Elsie was already lost in the arrangements.
"Are you sure we should be talking to her?" Spinoza asked.
"She's a bellwether." Frank stated.
"If you say so..."
* * *
Elsie's period ball was a rousing success.
While it was put together on short notice, that only seemed to heighten interest in it. Elsie even had to turn away people (in costume!) from the party because there wasn't enough room. She didn't even have to deal with leftover coleslaw.
* * *
While Elsie was busy with her party, the Gnomes had a meeting.
"This could be a problem." Madame Curie began.
"Why do you say that? I mean it's just a stupid party." Aristotle replied without much enthusiasm.
"She's a bellwether."
"No she's not! She's just a stupid girl throwing stupid parties!" Aristotle was getting upset.
"Why are you getting so upset?" Madame Curie asked.
"Because she choose coleslaw instead of potato salad."
"You're kidding." Madame Curie demanded.
"No. Everybody knows that, it you really want to make a statement, you serve potato salad."
"Are you feeling OK?" Madame Curie asked, genuine concern creeping into her voice.
"So what are we going to do?" Nietzsche cut in.
"Start Logan's run to the top!" Aristotle replied.
The other Gnomes breathed a sigh of relief.
"And we'll start with a gathering!" Aristotle continued.
While none of them were actually there, the tension was still palpable.
"And we'll have potato salad!" Aristotle finished.
* * *
Logan was winding down off a tirade to the other members of the Worker's party.
"...and what's with all this potato salad, I mean who brought it anyways?"
The other members of the group shuffled around and glanced at each other.
"Are you telling me that no one brought it?" He demanded, his eyes crossing and uncrossing like juggler's oranges.
A big, beefy guy raised his hand timidly.
"Gustoff!" Logan pointed at him.
"It was just kind of there when we showed up." He said in a small voice.
"When I'm in charge, there won't be any potato salad!"
"Does that mean you don't want it?" Gustoff asked.
Logan just glared at him.
"Because I was thinking of taking it back to my place if there was any left..." He finished while wring his hands.
Gustoff looked relived.
"I want us to focus more on political leaders." Logan said as Gustoff took away the potato salad.
"What do you mean?" asked another member.
"Try and bring more people involved with politics into the group. Jez! It's not that hard!" Logan said crossing his arms.
"And no more..."
"Potato salad, we got that." The other individual said.
Logan looked like someone had stolen his line.
* * *
Elsie was riding high from the success of her party.
She called Frank. He was talking to Spinoza when the call came.
"Ulp! Elsie is calling!" He told Spinoza.
"Frank, baby! The party was a success!"
"I'm glad to hear that. What's your next move?" Frank asked.
"Why, have another one." Elsie wanted to build on her success.
"I don't think you quite understand what's going on..." Frank said. Spinoza sniggered.
"What I understand is that this time, it was a rousing success!" She paused for a second. "Do you think it was because I used coleslaw instead of potato salad?"
"Look, we've got to do something to counter these fascists!" Frank was beside himself. Spinoza was quite.
"So we should have another party?" Elsie was genuinely curious.
"With coleslaw!" Spinoza cut in.
"Oh, your that friend of Frank's. Mr. Sam?"
"Spinoza." he said.
"So, do you really think coleslaw makes a difference?" Elsie asked.
"Look, you two gotta get off that topic and focus on how we can stop the fascists!" Frank was getting frustrated.
"With coleslaw!" Spinoza put in.
"I agree!" Elsie agreed.
"Now stop that." Frank sounded petulant.
"Do you think it should be another period party, or should we go for something more modern?" Elsie asked Spinoza.
"Oh definitely another period party!" Spinoza said.
"Hello! Have I suddenly become invisible?" Frank was forgotten for the time being.
"And what about the size of the party? Should I be bigger this time?" Elsie, now thoroughly engrossed in the preparations, asked.
"I would keep it small, be more exclusive." Spinoza said.
"Oh good! We are being exclusive!" Elsie almost squealed with delight.
"Fine! I'll just leave then!" Frank announced, clearly upset.
* * *
Jack was smoking a cigar (another affectation from the period) and staring at a picture.
"What's this?" He asked Elsie as she passed by.
"Oh, it's part of the whole cause thing. Have you tried the coleslaw yet?"
"What are all these people in brown shirts doing?" Jack persisted.
Elsie looked closer at the picture. "Having some sort of rally, I think."
"They're fascists!" Jack remarked clearly surprised. "Is this some sort of historical piece?"
"No, I think it's current. Look, would you have preferred potato salad?" Elsie asked, not interested in what was going on elsewhere.
"But this is horrible! We have to do something about this!" Jack, clearly concerned, said.
Elsie stared at him a moment longer and then brightened up. "I know, macaroni salad!"
She scurried off with her new idea, leaving Jack to himself.
"Ryan! There's something I want you to take a look at..." He said to another party goer.
* * *
Logan and his gang were having a meeting while Elsie was having a party.
Logan was looking at the latest recruits when he started complaining.
"You call this a person involved with politics?"
"I'm a staffer for the regional person." He still had achene.
"Do you still live with your parent?" Logan demanded. The new recruit shuffled about and mumbled something.
"What was that?"
"I said only to save money!" The new recruit was red faced.
"A real power broker!" Logan said sarcastically.
"And you! What do you have to say for yourself...whatever your name is?"
"Gustov." Said the big may.
The big man shuffled about and muttered "Not much."
"We can't take over countries with these guys!" To emphasize his point, Logan brought his fist down. Into a bowl of potato salad. He looked down. "And what's with all this potato salad? I though we got rid of it!"
"I brought it home last time. For some reason it's just here when we show up." Gustoff was standing on one leg.
Logan stared at his hands covered in the stuff. Then he mumbled "And to top it off, they get coleslaw." Then more loudly: "We have to focus on people with more power!"
"You mean like sewage attends?" Someone spoke up from the crowd.
"Or...a rat catcher!" The person who said that looked pleased with himself.
Logan stared at them for a few seconds and then said "No! I mean like an ambassador or something!"
* * *
"...and they're trying to recruit more senior people." Madame Curie finished.
"But does it look like they're eating the potato salad?" Aristotle asked.
Madame Curie sighed (or at least she would have if she had lungs). Consulting a report she continued. "It looks like someone brought the potato salad home last time. This time, it looked like someone spilled it."
"Look, I think we need to focus on more important things." Nietzsche put in.
"A proper diet is very important to your well being." Aristotle said. If he had had some metal ball bearings he would have nervously started playing with them.
"We could arrange to have people from his group 'accidentally' meet influential people..." Madame Curie tried.
"What like over lunch?" Aristotle said.
"Or something!" She said, getting frustrated.
"There are endless possibilities for lunch..." Aristotle trailed off.
"Look if we're not going to talk about anything serious, I'm going to stop coming to these meetings!" Nietzsche announced.
Aristotle seemed to snap out of whatever state he was in and said "Good thinking Curie, set something up!" to himself, however he said "Will they have white wine or red?"
The meeting broke up.
Nietzsche approached Madame Curie.
"I'm worried about Aristotle."
"You're worried? What happens when he starts forgetting what the forks are for?" She said with real concern.
"What?" Nietzsche said.
"I mean ah, the Project is in trouble." She said, trying to cover her lapse. "What do you suggest?" that seemed safe.
"What shall we do?"
There was a long pause, and then Madame Curie said "Suggest macaroni salad?"
"That's it! I'm going!"
"I mean we should have a backup plan!" Madame Curie said quickly, as her culinary gambit hadn't worked.
"What do you suggest?"
"Well, since you took action, why don't you act as our leader if Aristotle continues to act weirdly?" Madame Curie didn't add "And I'll control everything while you take the blame."
"Well...OK. But only if Aristotle really loses it!" Nietzsche said.
"Agreed." Madame Curie would have smiled, if she were not a giant brain in a vat who was incapable of smiling.
* * *
Elsie was riding high from her successful party when Jack called her.
"Hi Elsie! I wanted that was a great party the other night!"
"Why thank you, darling." She drawled at him.
"I was wondering where you got that picture." Jack inquired.
"What, the landscape?"
"No, that picture of those guys having a rally."
"Oh that. I probably got it from Frank. He thinks my parties have to have a cause; imagine that!" Elsie laughed.
"You mean the Squat?" Jack asked after Elsie stopped laughing.
"Yeah, that's right. He's always on about something."
"You know a Squat?" Jack asked incredulously.
"Darling, I know everybody!" Elsie replied, making a hand gesture.
"Thanks for the info."
"Darling, your welcome!" Elsie drawled.
* * *
"Are you the...the one who asked Elsie to put up that picture of rally?" Later on Jack asked Frank.
"Yes I did. What did you think of the coleslaw?" Frank replied, not wanting to make it too easy for him.
"It was fine."
"Not too much dill?"
"No. How recently was that picture taken?"
"A couple of weeks back. Would you have preferred potato salad?" Frank inquired.
"No, coleslaw was fine. What were those people having a rally for?"
"I think it was about how there were too many immigrants in their country. Are you sure you wouldn't have liked macaroni salad instead?"
There was a pause, then Jack said.
"No, coleslaw was fine. Look, could we stop taking about that and focus on the picture instead?" Jack was getting flustered.
"Well, OK, if you're sure the coleslaw was OK." Frank said slowly.
"Which country was the picture taken in?"
"There's a nationalist movement in France?!"
"I'm sure I don't know, but I think the picture was taken in France." Frank said reasonably.
"Isn't this something you should know about?"
"You mean the merits of coleslaw vs. potato salad?" Frank asked.
"No! I thought we had agreed to stop talking about that!" Jack said.
"Well, you were the one who asked." Frank sounded surly.
Another pause then. "Well, thanks for your time."
"Sure, and the coleslaw was OK?"
"Fabulous" Jack hung up.
"If that doesn't get things rolling nothing will." Frank said to himself.
* * *
"Aha-ha-ha-ha!" Logan said with his back to the group. "Soon the world will be forced to eat potato salad!"
Gustoff reluctantly raised his hand, though Logan couldn't see it.
"Umm...boss? How is that going to help us?" Gustoff asked.
Logan turned around with a flourish of his cape (since the time of the last meeting, he had insisted on wearing a cape and being referred to as "Birdcatsu.") and glared at Gustoff.
"It just will, OK?" He said after the silence became uncomfortable. "Number 2, report!" he snapped.
Gustoff went into a long report on how various European countries were being forced to use potato salad instead of coleslaw.
The Gnomes watched this via a hidden camera.
"He has totally lost it." Nietzsche said.
"I dunno, I think Logan has a point...and I like the cape." Aristotle, none too stable himself, observed.
"Talk about having totally lost it..." Nietzsche said to Madame Curie via a private link.
"You're telling me! Did you see which fork he was using?!" She demanded.
"Umm...no I must have missed that."
"Logan used what was clearly a salad fork on a main course!" Madame Curie announced triumphantly.
"I don't think he was actually eating anything." Nietzsche said, trying to calm her down.
"Well he would have! I know that type of person; he probably has salad forks hidden all over himself." If spittle could have flown from her lips (she didn't have lips), it would have.
Giving up all hope, Nietzsche terminated the connection.
Nietzsche contacted Frank. He opened with: "I think Aristotle has lost it; and I think Madame Curie is right behind him."
"I warned you!" Frank sang.
"No you didn't." Nietzsche replied.
After a while Frank replied, sulkily "OK, so I didn't. But I've always wanted to say that. Is Aristotle obsessed with potato salad?"
"Dangerous, it is too study the differences, between potato salad and coleslaw, it is." Frank said in a Yoda-like voice.
"Now stop that." Nietzsche said sternly.
"OK, OK but what do you want me to do about it?"
"Well, I don't know. Shouldn't we send him off to the funny farm or something?" Nietzsche asked.
"Like we have one of those."
"OK, good point, but we have to do something. I mean Aristotle, Madame Curie, and a few others are in charge of all of Europe! What if they decide that North America is responsible for corrupting their precious bodily fluids?"
"Hmmm...do you think that's likely?"
"Who knows?" Nietzsche said in exasperated tones.
"Well, I suppose we could get more brains prepared to replace them..." Frank mused.
"I think we should, in case the worst happens."
"Right. I'm sending the preparations now." Frank said, reluctantly.
"Thanks." Nietzsche said and hung up.
* * *
By the time the men in white coats came for Logan, he was wearing fox ears and living in a cardboard box, with tinfoil on the inside to block out "zeta-rays" that he insisted that "Sosie-X" was trying to beam into him.
Elsie would have thrown him a benefit party (complete with macaroni salad), but society being what it was, Europe already had enough resources to deal with him.
Aristotle went completely bonkers, insisting that all the world's ills could be dealt with, if one had enough potato salad.
Madame Curie followed Aristotle, insisting that Logan had salad forks hidden about his person.
The rest of the Gnomes gave up on the project and went back to running things.
Frank and Spinoza rejoined the group and went back to running things too.
The human population continued to decline until there were less than 1 million people left. At that point, population rebounded to a little over 10 million, at which point it stabilized.
* * *
Long after the time of Frank and Spinoza, a person noticed that a vat where Aristotle used to be had some sort feed set up to it. He didn't know it, but Frank had been administering increasing amounts of a hallucinogen to Aristotle.
"For all to be saved, some must be sacrificed."