The End of the Old Order
Trina rushes to Avir’s side and throws her arms around her. They are strangers brought together by peculiar circumstances. Yet Avir welcomes my wife’s embrace. Trina would like to tell her everything will be alright. But it won’t and Trina is not accustomed to lying. If we can get out of here alive, Avir will return to a dreadful reality, one in which she will be mourning the loss of her husband, healing her own psychological scars, and raising five children, one with severe hardships, as a single parent.
Unwilling to lie, Trina says something that surprises me. With little emotion, but clear conviction, she says, “My husband will avenge the death of the prince. I can promise you that.” I have no idea how Trina can promise such a thing. There might be military men who would find such a comment naïve or even insulting. But I love that Trina said it. She knows me better than I know myself. Whatever doubts I may have, Trina knows with certainty that I will kill every fucking one of these bastards.
The drone returns to the ring of fire and extinguishes a few meters of flames so that an approaching transport—a white Mantis—can enter. The Mantis, a driverless civilian transport generally used for taking travelers to and from air stations, resembles a praying mantis. It has a large automated eye protruding from the roof, long slender carriage, and two hydraulic arms with hinges for picking up and storing baggage. The Mantis enters our circle and stops right in front of the prince’s body. The two hydraulic arms in the front quickly reach out for the prince’s body. Its “hands” clamp around the prince’s arms and yank his body away from Avir. The princess tries to hold onto the prince, but she realizes there is no use in fighting this machine.
“The prince will receive a proper royal burial,” the mechanized voice from the drone says. The Mantis’ arms move in a backwards arc lifting the prince’s body over the carriage and placing it in the rear storage receptacle. The Mantis’ arms return to their resting position in the front of the transport, while the single eyeball that sits on the roof looks around. The transport then rotates its wheels and the entire carriage spins to the right. The two side doors lift into the air and nest into two cavities in the carriage’s roof. “Please enter the transport,” a human voice with an Erabian accent says. The voice comes from the transport, but there is no one inside.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Avir says. She clearly knows who is talking.
“The please was a courtesy—one I will not extend a second time. Get in the transport.”
“Most respectfully, I hope you’re eaten alive by dogs … my King.” Avir walks to the back of the transport. She pounds on the transport’s rear receptacle trying to open it and get the prince’s body out. She pounds and pounds until her hands become red and bruised. Trina gently places her hands on Avir’s shoulder and tells Avir exactly what I would’ve said to her. “There aren’t a lot of options here, Princess. We need answers. I’m not sure your King is a man of his word, but the prince thought he was. Let’s hope your husband was right.”
The princess looks at the spot where the prince’s blood met the sand. Red drops of blood form clots of sand in the earth. She stares at her husband’s blood. “Why did you make me do it,” she shouts. “Why?” She takes a deep breath and kicks sand onto the blood until we can no longer see red. She takes Trina’s hand and they both walk into the transport. I follow them in and the doors slide down from the roof to close us in.
It looks like the Mantis can seat around 10 passengers, but there’s just the three of us. The seats are arrayed in a three-quarter oval, with each seat capable of swiveling 90 degrees. At the front of the transport is a floor-to-ceiling monitor that spans the full width of the carriage. There is no driver’s seat and no front window—just this unusually large monitor. Typically, these monitors are much smaller and show advertisements and public service announcements to passengers—often tourists going on trips. At least that’s how it works in my corner of Anglica.
The instant we sit down, the Mantis starts moving. There are no windows, but presumably we are exiting through the same fire-free spot the Mantis entered. The monitor turns on, and without any pomp or circumstance, I see that it’s the King of Erabia on the screen. He is sitting at a fairly ordinary resting chair looking tired. There are no attendants, no introductions, no flags, no ceremonial music. It’s just the King.
From what I know about the King, he is a leader who cares mainly about one thing—remaining the King. He was born into power and will do anything to keep it. The King is not the kind of leader who tries to win the hearts and minds of his constituents and he certainly isn’t the kind who could ever have won an election. He lacks the kind of charm or charisma that wins elections. But if Anglica’s current leader is any indication of what elections usually bring about, then I think I prefer heredity.
“Colonel Wyles, Ms. Wyles, Princess Avir, I wish the circumstances were different. I am … devastated about the prince’s death. Please accept my condolences, Princess. You need to know it is my loss too. The prince was my blood. He was my nephew. I loved him.”
“You didn’t love him and he didn’t love you,” Avir says.
“You’re wrong, Avir. We didn’t like each other very much. The prince didn’t respect me. I know that. But there was love. We are a royal family and that kind of love goes deeper than what we personally think of each other.”
“You don’t understand what love is,” Avir says.
“I understand all too well, Princess. I mourn my nephew’s death.”
“Respectfully, your Royal Highness,” I say. “Can we please get to the issue at hand? I most humbly request that you provide us with some answers.”
“I’ve always liked military men. Straight to the point. I’ll take a general over a politician any day. You want to know why you’re here, who’s behind The War Show, what’s its purpose.” He clears his throat. “Well for starters, it’s that devil, Mother Suri. A man of your smarts should have figured this out. Who else would have the power and inclination to create an abomination like The War Show? And you must not believe anything that hypocrite Equis said. The War Show wasn’t designed to bring about peace between Erabia and Anglica. Mother Suri doesn’t want peace. She wants to wipe Erabia and Anglica off the map. She wants to put an end to nations, an end to what she calls The Old Order. The War Show is but a small part of her plan to destroy both of our great nations. And she’s about to do it. Your Prime Minister and I are in a very precarious position. She has something over us. In many ways, she is in control and she’s holding us hostage. Our problem is we’re unwilling to pay her ransom.”
The King looks distraught. He nervously pulls at the end of his gray beard. “See for yourself. This is a video from earlier today.” The King asks one of his royal aids to play Mother’s Suri’s video on the monitor. “She’s a deadly virus and she’s infecting our world.”
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