The Committee sat around in disconsolate mood. It had been another less than productive day for all concerned.
"Why do we do this every year? It’s the same old rubbish isn’t it? Impractical, unworkable; I don’t know why we bother." One of them asked peevishly.
His four hirsute colleagues nodded their heads in agreement. "You’re quite right, why indeed?" Another replied, an exasperated look on his craggy face. “I mean, what was that last chap on about? I’m afraid I just couldn’t follow his logic at all.”
“Some sort of collective categorising system for identifying differing amounts of items, wasn’t it? Or something like that.” A small muscular man with a goatee beard spoke up.
Actually they were all muscular men with goatee beards, and all quite small.
“Yes, very clever I’m sure, but what was the point of it all?”
“Search me!” His fellow committee member sighed, rubbing his chin reflectively. “It all seemed rather subjective. I mean, just because you know what a stone and a stone and a stone and a stone and a stone is called doesn’t necessarily mean anybody else will know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“I think that might have been his point.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, that everybody else would have to know that’s what a stone and a stone and a stone and a stone and a stone is called as well.”
“Yes,” another member piped up, momentarily pausing from picking his feet, “exactly so, and what about any inherent inflexibility considering conflicting case scenarios. What if there were more or less than a consistent number of stones? You’d have to come up with oh I don’t know…” his face grimaced in concentration, “dozens of combinations to describe them all. It would be quite exhausting.”
“What was that thing you just used?”
“That sound thing.”
“What ‘dozens’? I just made that up on the spot. See, the whole process is completely random. I mean, how would he know I’d just come up with that sound for lots of stones?”
“Some sort of shared learning experience perhaps?”
“I don’t know, I just thought it sounded good.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” The Committee Chairman spoke up. “We’ve been here all day and not chosen a single recipient for our backing. The meat is starting to go off.” He gestured to the various piles of animal carcasses that had been placed in front of each member early that morning and were now steaming in the late afternoon sun. “Let’s concentrate our minds on the job in hand, shall we?”
General murmurs of agreement.
“It’s getting a bit nippy, isn’t it?” A particularly grumpy member said as he searched his long tangled mop of hair for lice. “Can’t we hurry this up a bit so we can get inside.” He looked longingly back at the caves in the cliff face behind them, now turning a pleasant shade of purple in the dying sun. “Won’t be able to see our hands in front of our faces soon, never mind some jerry-built pile of crap that falls to pieces before our eyes.”
“Right!” The Chairman said decisively. He shouted at a young man hovering on the edge of the clearing. “Next please!” The man strode over to the group with a confident swagger.
“Are you the last?” The Chairman asked him.
“There’s one other chap waiting.”
“We’ll deal with him next. Off you go…what the hell’s that?” A loud yelping noise filled the air.
“I think its part of the other chap's project.” Someone told him.
The Chairman rolled his eyes. “Whatever next? Right, go on.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen…” The young man looked around at the panel. “I mean Gentlemen… I have here in my hand the future of mankind.”
“That’s quite a boast, lad.” The Chairman told him, grinning around at the others with raised eyebrows in case they didn’t get the joke.
The interviewee coughed self-consciously before continuing. “I mean er… that I have in my hands a transferable power source that will allow us all to have both warmth and haute cuisine cooking for eternity.” He opened his fist to show them two sticks.
“Very impressive!” The Chairman said with a broad wink at his fellows.
“What was that last sound thing?” A panel member asked.
“Sounds a bit foreign. No, I meant the other one.”
“Cooking. I’ll come to that in a moment. But first, let me demonstrate the basic product.”
The young man glanced around. He moved swiftly over to a patch of ground still heated by the late sunlight and got down on his knees while the Committee looked on bemused. After constructing a small pyramid of moss and twigs he began rubbing the sticks together.
“Will this take long?” Someone asked him.
“Hard to say. Would have been a lot easier if you’d seen me around mid-day.”
“Ah, here we go.” There was a puff of grey stuff in the air then a yellowy tongue pushed itself up from the middle of the little pile and spread across the rest of it. The young man looked hurriedly around and grasped a piece of deadwood, gently poking the tip into the glowing mound. He held it up in the air for all to see. The tongues were now licking around the top of it, blackening the area directly underneath. There was a lot more of the puffy grey stuff.
“There gentlemen. I bring you… Phut!”
“You bring us what?” The Chairman asked, his eyes beginning to water. Some of the others had begun to clear their throats.
“Phut. Its my name for this product. Its the sound it makes when it goes out.”
“Goes out where?”
“When it stops doing what its doing now and goes away.”
“I think he means when it dematerialises.” Another member told the Chairman, in between racking coughs. “Would you like to dematerialise it right now then, perhaps?”
“First I want to show you the ‘cooking’ part. Pass me a bit of that meat please.”
The spluttering committee member pulled a scrap off a nearby hyena’s back leg and threw it to him. The young man held up the rapidly dwindling length of wood and draped it over the top. The scrap began to hiss and sizzle.
“You’re ruining it.”
“No I’m not. Wait a minute…”
“This is ridiculous.” A panel-member told them all. “I didn’t come here to waste my valuable time on culinary party tricks. I’m out.”
“Me too!” shouted another.
“Look.” The object of their scorn picked up the nicely darkening meat and walked over to them. “Taste this, its delicious.”
One of them took the shrivelled morsel and gingerly put it in his mouth. An expression of surprise filled his face, rapidly followed by one of disgust.
“Ouch!” He spat it out on the ground. “It pained my mouth. And it’s gone all soft and lost its chewiness. You’ll ruin kid’s teeth with that.”
“And its hurting my eyes as well.” Another spoke up actually shielding them with his hand as if to dramatise the point. “Its a definite ‘no’ from me!”
“Anyone else?” The Chairman asked.
The only one who had remained silent all along now stood up. “I can see how the eye hurting bit might go down well with the practical joke trade so I’m going to make you an offer. But first I want you to change that name, make it more positive.
“What’s wrong with Phut?” The young man looked offended.
“Doesn’t exactly fire the imagination, does it? What do you call the state its in before dematerialisation?”
“Hmmm… Well, we can work on that. I’ll give you a half a boar and three of those small furry things for an eighty percent stake in Pre-Phut Enterprises. You’ll have the full weight of my considerable marketing skills behind you and we can work out a distribution plan together. How does that sound?”
The young man blanched. “That sounds like a rip-off.”
The other shrugged. “Take it or leave it.”
“Sod it then, I’ll leave it! If you old dingbats can’t see the potential in this I’ll find someone who can. I’ve had a lot of interest from Africa you know!”
“Where?” They all chorused, but their potential investment partner had already stomped off. The little group watched as the glow slowly faded away.
“Hopelessly unrealistic expectations.” Said the Chairman.
The others nodded.
“Right, last one, let’s hope he’s quick.” He waved for the distant silhouette to approach them. “And what have you brought us, apart from your dinner?”
The figure put down a small bundle of fur he’d been carrying. It immediately began to lick his hand and wag its tail, all the while making the high-pitched whining sound they’d heard earlier. Two of the Committee quickly covered their ears.
“I call this a ‘Duel-purpose Organic Gizmo’ or D.O.G. As its name indicates, it has two basic functions. Firstly, to participate in and thereby increase the general effectiveness of hunting operations; and secondly to form a co-dependant parasitic relationship with humans to act as a stress-relief function…”
“Yes, thank-you, thank-you, I think we’ve all heard enough.” The Chairman brought him to an abrupt halt. “Anybody?”
“I’m out!” The Committee sighed with one breath.
“Me to. Sorry.”
The last crestfallen entrepreneur picked up his yapping prototype and slunk away.
“Even worse than that 'wheel' thing this morning, I couldn’t make head nor tail of that either. OK, that brings to an end this year’s Neanderthal Design and Innovation Council meeting. Thank-you Gentlemen, same time next summer.”
“What are we going to do with all that?” One of them indicated the piles of meat.
“I suppose we’re just going to have to eat it ourselves.” The Chairman told them with a rueful grin. “Again.”