The Council Decides a Burning Issue
The Great Man rose to his feet, and immediately things stopped happening. The senior members of the Council stopped talking to each other, and watched him ascend the dais. The junior members stopped flirting with the women trying to clear away the remains of dinner, and assumed postures of rapt attention. The serving women stopped gathering the left-over food and scurried to the darker peripheries of the chamber.
As the Great Man climbed to the speaker's platform his movements spoke of a large man in his prime ("Or just past his prime?" The whispers had recently been asking. "Maybe so," came the answers, also in whispers, "But he's still twice the man you'll ever be."). When he reached his chosen spot his gaze swept the chamber, and he seemed to lock eyes with each council member, and they Knew. They knew that it was not physical intimidation (though he was willing to use that when necessary), but his ability to see inside them and manage what he saw to his own ends that kept him at the Head of the Council.
"As you all know, we have reached the end of the evaluation period for the radical technological development program of our two colleagues." He motioned to the two junior members who sat below him. They fidgeted in the excitement of their moment of glory.
"Their work has expanded our understanding of the inner workings of nature, and, if they are right, the practical benefits could be enormous. I am sure we all have been impressed by their tireless efforts to develop methods of controlling the forces they have unleashed." There was scattered applause, which he stopped with a raised hand. Some of the more experienced members had noticed the subdued tone; the lack of superlatives, and had kept silent. He caught their eyes, and knew they knew where he was leading.
"Their attempts have not been totally successful. We all knew the dangers involved in tampering with nature; with delving into areas of knowledge beyond what our ancestors could have even conceived." He paced a little, moving to a spot he had selected earlier. "Had the concept been explained to them in terms they could understand, they would have recoiled in horror, and condemned the experiment as meddling in things man was not meant to know."
To the surprise of all but one, the lighting in the chamber changed. The floor was plunged into darkness, and the speaker bathed in a brighter, redder, light.
"AND THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN RIGHT!" the Great Man thundered. "The record is clear; since the beginning of the program, three people have died and five others injured in run-away experiments. A wide area around the research site has been devastated; the ecology damaged. The researchers claim that the effects are not permanent, and that may be true. But for a long time habitation there will be difficult and unpleasant." He looked down at the two researchers, cowering in confusion and fear. He shook his head.
"It has been a brave try, but the risks of continuing are too great. This is indeed one of those things man was not meant to know. Unlike earlier technologies, such as chipped stones, this is simply too dangerous, too uncontrollable." The Sun, shining through the cave entrance, finished setting behind the distant hills, and even the light on the Great Man began to fade. "By acclamation, the Council votes to suppress further research concerning fire."
As the darkness thickened and the Council howled its approval, the Great Man saw the dim shapes of several of his henchmen move behind the bewildered researchers. One of the researchers rose to object, and was shoved back down. "And now," raising his voice to quell the unseen mob, "pursuant to the last decision of the council, I believe Brother Oog wishes to propose a motion to club the two heretics to death."