The Upper Twenty Percent

Short Story Sunday Series

By Michael Recto

When Vilfredo Pareto once observed that 20 percent of the peapods in his garden produced 80 percent of the peas, he painted a tangible picture of how the world truly works.

Equality is an illusion. No amount of idealism can produce equilibrium. A man’s effort can bring him to the pinnacle of success but he can only shift the distribution, not the balance of power. 80 percent of the effects are always brought about by 20 percent of the causes. The movers, the shakers, and the trailblazers, there can only be a handful. Only the upper 20% can move the world.

This is the law of the vital few.

This is the Pareto Principle.

“Cool lecture Doc Gray!” said a massive man with a bony structure and a holstered M16. “So HQ sent us out to a God-forsaken warzone because….?”

“Because we’re the society’s upper 20 percent Branigan. We’re the best of the best!” commented a bespectacled man in an Army uniform who laid a tray of coffee cups near the bonfire.

‘Just the four of us?” asked a red-haired woman in her mid-30’s who sat with them around the bonfire. “It’s not a convincing 20 percent compared to the cowards in the army.” She turned to the bespectacled man and held out a hand. “No offense Doc Gray.”

“None taken Yllana. And you’re right, they are cowards.” Doc Gray reached for a pair of binoculars and stood up to walk a few inches away from the bonfire. He trained the binoculars at a far horizon where masses of tanks, missile turrets, and Armored APV’s lined the shoreline. “As unfair as it might sound, I wager that they’ll launch the coup’ de grace as soon as we incapacitate our target. They’ll take the glory for themselves, and we go back into the shadows.” He trained his binoculars toward the mouth of the volcano, a few miles from the volcano’s base where they set up camp. He watched the flock of ravens which he ordered to perch at the mouth.

“Poor ravens,” said a young man in his early teens who was curled up near the bonfire. “How can they take the heat while perched at the volcano’s mouth?”

“They can’t young one. The ravens are laying down their lives for us so that we can stay safe.” answered Yllana. “Doc Gray ordered them to stay there. If they fly away, it’s an indicator that the monster is about to come out.”

“But they’re dying up there. What’s the use of killing them if we’re supposed to save everyone in the city?”

“Geez Damien. Get a grip!” Branigan lumbered over to the young man and placed a huge hand on his head “Better the ravens than killing people right?”

Damien swiped Branigan’s hand away and stood up. “I’m not a child. You lay a hand on me and I’ll turn your hand into glass.”

“Take it easy Damien, he was just trying to comfort you, in his own clumsy way I guess.” Yllana chuckled while glancing at Branigan who got perturbed at the young man’s stubbornness.

“Fucking emo kid! Now’s not the time to be sorry for fucking ravens when you need to stay fucking alive!”

“You kiss your mother with that mouth Branigan? I left my kids back home because thank God, I’m tired of babysitting and I want to kick some monster butt” Yllana stood up and held a jungle knife at the flabbergasted Branigan. “I’m itching for a target practice so don’t, make me!”

“Why scold me?! He’s the one who’s acting like a brat here!” Branigan scowled at Damien who took a few steps back away from the bonfire.

Doc Gray approached Damien from behind and landed a slap on his back. “He’s just nervous team, isn’t that right young one?” Doc Gray smiled at Damien who shot back with a glare.

“I said I’m not a…”

‘Yes, Damien. You’re a man! And you became a man by coming with us, facing your fear.” Doc Gray smiled at Damien while beating the young man’s chest with a light, open fist. “You’re part of the 20%, the strongest among the mortals out there. This operation will not succeed without you and your powers.”

“That’s right Damien. You are a responsible with us. We have a city to protect and we thank you,” said Yllana as she returned to her spot near the bonfire.

“Y-you’re welcome. I’ll…do my best.” Damien kept his eyes low to hide his bewilderment at the endearment that the two were showing him.

Branigan smirked while poking at the bonfire to keep it lit with its measly charcoal. “Heh! Don’t get cocky now kid. It’s not a successful mission until we get home alive.”

“I think that’s better,” Damien commented while taking back his seat. “I’d rather die here. There’s nothing to for me in the city to go back to.”

“Motherf…” Branigan stopped when Yllana glared at him. Branigan wiped away the terrified expression on his face and faced Damien. “Don’t jinx it kid! Not like you, I have a life to go back to!”

“A life of booze, strippers, and gambling I infer,” said Doc Gray while adjusting his glasses.

“Hey Doc, it’s a life! A darn good one! Once the Institute pays up, I’ll be painting the town red, baby! You should join me sometime Doc! Too bad you’re not old enough to drink Damien!”

“No thank you, and don’t drag the young one into your, um, decadent lifestyle Branigan. We don’t need to contaminate our youth further with the dregs of society like you,” said Doc Gray. A cold air hung between the four as they remained silent. Branigan stared at the stoic Doc Gray until little by little, he shook into laughter.

“Good one Doc! Good one!” Branigan slapped his thighs while laughing and the tension around the group melted away.

“Damien, isn’t your family waiting for you?” asked Yllana.

“I don’t have a family,” Damien answered and the group fell silent. He took a deep breath while ignoring the curious eyes on him.

“I…I never knew my parents when the institute took me in. What I know is that they gave me a made-up identity so, I’m not even sure if Damien Shields is my real name.” Damien kept his eyes on the dancing embers of the bonfire. “That city doesn’t know me so why bother protecting it. But I just…want to make her happy. She loves this city, so I’ll protect it for her.”

“Her?” Branigan asked.

‘Well she’s…”

“A friend of yours?” Doc Gray also asked.

“She is but…”

“Your girlfriend?” Yllana’s lips started curling into a smile.

“F-forget I said anything. It’s…” Damien’s cheeks flushed and he tried to break eye contact with the group. Everyone, other than Damien, started chuckling at the flustered young man.

“Ah, love is a worthy reason to protect the city. There’s no need to be embarrassed about it,” said Doc Gray.

“She’s one lucky girl isn’t she?” commented Yllana while smiling at Damien.

“Well fuck me! Somebody here just hit puberty! Come here lover boy!” Branigan wrapped one enormous arm around Damien’s neck and pulled him in to ruffle his hair. Damien tried to pry Branigan’s arms off him while the rest of the group laughed. “Don’t worry kid. I’ll give you pointers. They always work, First you…”

The ground rumbled and the group fell silent. Branigan let go of Damien and followed Doc Grays’s gaze to the top of the volcano. The ravens perched at the mouth flew away and a couple of them tried to escape with burning wings until they plummeted to the nearby sea. A giant reptilian paw with claws that glinted like silver emerged from the mouth. It held on to one side of the opening and created a small crevice that released a thin river of oozing lava. Another gigantic paw rose from the opposite side of the mouth and clamped down on the rock with its sword-like claws. The two paws pushed downward, ripping away a sizeable portion of the volcano’s upper cone, inundating the volcano’s side with a wave of lava, a few meters away from where the four stood. A colossal head of a horned lizard soon emerged from the fiery lake. It shook off the lava that doused its horn and let out a garish roar to the heavens. The group felt the air vibrate as if they were a mere few feet away from an explosion. If it weren’t for Branigan who had the good sense to stand in the way of the shockwave, Yllana, Damien, and Doc Gray would have been blown away.

“Lady and Gentlemen, behold the Basilisk.” Doc Gray walked in front of the group and stood before the Basilisk as if introducing a beautiful wife to his friends.

“W-we’re taking down that thing?” Damien stared at the monster with terrified eyes.

“With a little help from the Army, right?” asked Yllana.

“I’m afraid not, my dear,” answered Doc Gray. “And yes Damien, we are taking it down. The missiles and tanks along the shoreline are for back-up, albeit useless.”

“Sounds fun Doc. So we can kill that thing?” asked Branigan.

“The Institute wants it alive but they are all fools anyway. We kill it if it becomes a threat.” Answered Doc Gray.

“That’s easier for us,” said Yllana.

The Basilisk crawled out of the lava and started to move toward the sea. It kicked splashes of fiery liquid upon every step, hurtling some of them toward the group. Yllana stepped forward and drew her hand across in a diagonal line. An invisible force cut through the blob that sped toward them and it split into two, clearing it away to keep the group safe from being doused with lava.

“I’ll stay around to protect Damien! Branigan! Doc! Keep that thing distracted!” Yllana slashed her hands across her again to cut a clump of rocks that was crashing toward them.

“I don’t like taking orders missy but I’m on it!” Branigan squatted with his muscled legs and jumped with enormous force, creating a small crater of igneous rock from where he once stood. He

“Damien! I need 10 spears. Just use the rocks around you. Just holler if you’re done. Alright, sweety?”

“R-right!” Damien confirmed. He ran to a nearby clump of rocks and held one on each hand. He summoned an invisible force that sent currents of electricity toward the rocks until they glowed. When he was certain that the current was enough, he slammed the two rocks together until they melded into a silver slush. He held the viscous material and pulled it apart like it was clay. The silvery goo crystallized until it took the form of a blade with strings of electricity running around its glimmering edges.

“That’s one.” Daniel whispered under his breath and then dropped the electrified blade behind him.

“Good work son. Such a fine blade.” Doc Gray smiled at Damien and then took off his eye glasses. “Will you hold this for me?” asked Doc Gray while handing over his glasses to Damien.

Damien took the glasses and his eyes went wide when looked up. Doc Gray’s eyes turned lacquer black and jet black feathers started protruding around his body. Three avian claws burst out from each of his feet and blankets of black feathers grew from under his arms. The man’s body expanded until his clothes laid tattered beneath him. The painful transformation continued until a giant red beak shot out of what was once Doc Gray’s old face. A 5-story high raven stood before Damien, ruffling its feathers to shed some of the cloth that clung in between the spaces of its wings.

“All that pain for the liberating feeling of flight. It’s worth it,” boomed Doc Gray’s groaning voice from above. “Branigan needs help. Stay alive young one. Your girl and your city need you.”

“Doc! Wait!” Damian shouted when Doc Gray was about to turn to take flight. Doc Gray eyed Damien with pearl black eyes, his head doing the small, jerky, twitching that was characteristic of a bird.

“Doc! Why are we here?” asked Damien “Why of all people, we…”

“Why of all people, we are the ones who are burdened with these, talents, you mean?” Doc Gray interrupted. Damien nodded and waited for an answer.

“Because of the Pareto Principle young one. Nature has dictated that we are the upper 20%,” answered Doc Gray. He lowered his head until Damien saw his own reflection on the giant raven’s eyes. “It’s not a law but more of an observation. As much as Man strives to make everything equal, Nature will always see to it that the distribution is uneven. Man’s existence on Earth is a contamination as long as he delves deeper into the secrets of the Universe with his knowledge and technology.”

“But I didn’t want this. No one can protect her so I’m forced to do this! I’m here because no one can!” shouted Damien.

“And that is your answer young one. As part of the upper 20 percent, your duty is to serve the remaining 80 percent. The Law of the vital few. Nature needs it but humans keep disrupting it. I am here to teach the fools we are protecting that Nature will always conquer us. Nature is the perpetual 20 percent. Man’s persistence to lord over Nature will bring about disease and destruction to us all but they will learn their errors, long before we’re gone.”

Doc Gray raised his head and began flapping his immense wings. “You and I are among the gifted Damien. Thus, we are no longer human. Nature has invited us to be part of her, among the upper 20 percent who need to decide the fate of the remaining 80 percent. She is just after all. She still lets us handle our own fates.”

The air around Damien and Yllana swirled as Doc Gray lifted himself up with the current. He glided toward the rampaging Basilisk who was locked into a battle with Branigan. The Basilisk squirmed around the lava as it desperately tried to catch Branigan who was jumping from one side to another, sending haymakers at each of its legs and pounding its fists on the beasts head. Doc Gray, as a giant raven, buried its enormous claws on the Basilisk back, sending the beast writhing in pain. Damien and Yllana watched the battle from the distance as they prepared 10 spears to act as sharp missiles for the monster.

When he was done with his 8th spear, Damien glanced over at the horizon where the mass of tanks and missile launchers lined the shore. “Cowards, all of them. They’re not worth protecting,” he whispered. “I don’t trust them. Once this is over, I’ll follow Nature’s law. I’ll finish them all.”