A BREATH OF WHEAT • by Jakob Drud

My name is Kingson Free, and I’m an askman. I ask many questions, like, what will be the next big thing in a world ruled by kings and worked by drones?

All askmen go through unruly phases, dangerous periods, especially if we value the unique gift we have for pushing the envelope for humanity. We’ve been fed special diets to develop our creative talents, and those hormone solutions don’t come cheap. To let those talents go to waste would only frustrate us.

Of course, there are askmen who would rather not put their lives on the line for a better world. They refuse to remember what it meant to be human before the kings made us into drones. They only look for novelty that makes the world remain unchanged.

Me? I take the chance and ask my own questions about the next big thing, and I provide the answers, too. The next big thing will be a breath of wheat.

That’s the message I start spreading, weird and dangerous. I say it out loud when I glide over the kingdoms on my graphene wings, pass the message to the other Frees riding the winds. Freedom is great beneath the skies, above the work farms housing billions, and our distance to the kings is such that they can’t bind us down. I ask my questions, and the Frees tell me that wheat sounds like ancient history. They’re right, except in our times we can engineer the wheat to make it resistant to the Wulffman fungus that wiped it out. We can return it to the present.

A king zooms his QNet focus in on me, and the danger of my proposal almost makes me falter.

“Tell me what you’ve got.” He’s paying me by the second, so he’s not wasting time on names or niceties.

“A breath of wheat.” I speak quickly, but paid by the second as I am, I insert the occasional long word. “Grow it in areas of sufficient expansiveness and we can trap the essence of wheat. Ventilate it into the drone barracks.”

“Drone barracks don’t need ventilation,” the king says.

“Ventilation in itself increases output by two percent,” I say before his QNet zooms to the next askman. “My projections show that the breath of wheat would increase output by an additional two point five percent.”

“Four point five for a new installation,” he says. “Desirable.”

I know human feelings better than kings. The drones, selected for work and procreation, have the entire suite of emotions, but little intelligence to control them, whereas the kings have nothing but logic and calculations on their minds.

As an askman, I’ve been bred with feelings, and can hear them in voices, read them on faces. Sometimes I hear the drones mutter when I pass the kingdoms, voicing their dreams to have what they can never attain. And I know that kings will moan in pleasure, inarticulate and thoughtless, when their bodies are treated to certain sensory impulses.

“Desirable,” he said. I have this king’s unspoken permission to explain at length.

“The drones are strange,” I say, molding my words to match his frame of mind. “They were modeled on unaltered humans that descended directly from cavemen. They think they have a link with the world, with biology. The cleanliness of your Majesty’s habitats is alien to them. I have seen them grow inedible flowers in pots just to remind themselves where they come from.”

“I feed them,” the king says. “I will not cater to their feelings.”

“Only to their productivity,” I assure him. “The smell of wheat, to your drones, will link them to nature. The smell will entice them to work harder and free the time they take to grow flowers. Can your Majesty envision a world where your drones are more efficient than those of other kings?”

I pose my question with some trepidation. Kings never like to be reminded that I ask questions, because I just might question them, after all. Them and theirs and their hold on power. That, incidentally, is what I like best about being an askman, but I never tell the kings. And I never voice a question that a king can’t imagine an answer to.

“The Breath of Wheat will be yours exclusively,” I say. “Without competition.”

“Desirable. My drones shall plant wheat and build ventilation.”

The king zooms to the next askman, leaving me rewarded and richer than ever before.

I am an askman. I am supposed to ask my questions for the kings, but I can’t help asking them to myself as well. Questions like: Should the kings feed the drones? Should the drones feed themselves? What need would drones have for kings if they fed themselves?

This king will have his wheat exclusively, but his money has made me rich enough to bring back the yellow yam and make it safe from the Gruenberg disease that wiped it out. It is going to be the next big thing.

Things will grow from there.

Jakob Drud lives in Denmark where he writes ad copy for a living and science fiction and fantasy for fun. He’s writing in English because of all the great genre writers and readers he’s met online.

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