by Brian Tomasik
First written: 26 Aug. 2012; edits made: 5 Aug. 2014
"Write!" shouted the guard. Nairb raised his head.
"Now?" Nairb asked.
"Write!" the guard bellowed again, its voice echoing through the damp chamber walls.
Nairb picked himself up from the ground and proceeded to extract a notepad and pen from his pocket.
"Let's see," he said to himself. He peered into the long passageways of the cave, remembering fond moments of bicycling with his trilobite friends, before he dismissed the thoughts and returned to the pad of paper before him.
"Well, I think the first suggestion of the council was to follow up with Victoria," he thought to himself. "It seems our crew had made an attempt to send her a message about our plans, but we never heard a reply." Nairb etched a note on his pad of paper.
Nairb felt a drop of water fall onto his hair. It had come from an inchoate stalactite on the ceiling. "Another 50,000 years," he said, "and you'll be all grown up like your cousins."
"Thanks!" the stalactite replied in a small voice.
Nairb was glad to give encouragement to his fellow cave-mates. It had only recently been discovered that stalactites possessed a sophisticated social structure and were consciously aware of their emotional states. While there was debate about exactly when stalactites began to feel happiness and suffering, it was clear that this one was at a stage where it would be pleased by his encouragement.
"Next," Nairb said to himself. "I recall that we needed to acquire a book from a nearby building. According to legend, this book contains valuable secrets about the laws of our land." He paused, then scrolled down "library" on his notepad.
"Third," Nairb said. "What was third?" He tapped his finger on his elbow for a second as he tried to recollect the discussions in the council chambers. "Telephone," he realized. Nairb scribbled "phone calls" onto his paper.
He gave a sigh of relief. These were the main instructions that the council had given him. Now he could rest assured that he wouldn't forget the council's exhortations, so he let the original memories of the council meeting drain from his head, collecting the contents into a cup before tossing it into a large puddle beside him.
Nairb prepared to sit down on the floor of his cave when he noticed a worm; he was glad he had checked where he was about to recline before doing so. The worm meandered past him as he watched it carve a trail through the slime of the moist floor.
After an hour, the guard returned. "Done?" it asked, leering its large head over his.
"Yes," said Nairb. He quickly produced the sheet on which he had written his instructions.
"Naargh," growled the guard. "You haven't started!"
Nairb flashed a face of concern before he recovered enough to protest. "Look here," he exclaimed. "These are the three urgent requests from the council." He held the paper in front of the guard's four yellow eyes.
"Blank!" yelled the guard. And as Nairb turned the paper so that he could see it, he realized that the guard was right. The page contained no inscriptions at all.
"No!!!" Nairb cried. A feeling of panic overcame him as he understood what he had done. He had written his notes in mobile ink, the latest cost-saving innovation from the Cavernous Supply Service. Unfortunately, mobile ink only stays on a sheet of paper for only 45 minutes before it gets bored and walks off.
"Fetch!" the guard told him. Nairb knew the guard was right. His only hope now was to catch the ink before it had wandered too far. Fortunately, the slime of the cave floor was sufficient to record footprints conveying the ink's path. But mobile ink was well known for its locomotive speed, so Nairb knew he would have to run like the wind to catch it. He dashed off into the darkness of the cave.
"Good luck!" said the stalactite.