The End of the Old Order
As the prince scrolls through a section of the agreement related to sex trafficking, a message comes up on the admin monitor. An automaton wants us to place our lunch order. I feel like we just ate breakfast. The days of sequestration and synthetic sunlight have a way of warping time. I think it’s been five days—maybe six. I order vegetarian out of respect to the prince. All royals are religiously forbidden from eating non-synthetic meat products, other than the ceremonial cow’s tongue—boiled, sliced, and served on Pyta—eaten annually on the birthday of their Great Prophet.
Within minutes, I hear the turning of the wheel on the first of two hatch doors. The automaton—a droid with humanoid head and torso, mechanical arms, and hydraulic rods for legs—unlocks the first hatch door and enters the security compartment between the hatches. I hear the automaton locking the first hatch behind it and opening the second hatch. It enters the consultation room holding a tray of fresh-baked Pyta, grilled eggplant, curried yellow peas, yoghurt, and iced Damascian tea with mint.
I look down at my Nomad— the same phone Prescient Labs, the world’s fourth largest multinational conglomerate, uses to create the prince’s Roamer. The time says 1pm, +1 GMT. Assuming this is accurate, this puts us near many northern population centers in the Great Anglican Nation and many southern ones in the Blessed Kingdom of Erabian States. There’s also a good chance we’re in neither. Perhaps we’re in some neutral territory, though no one’s truly neutral. There’s no windows; the consultation room and security compartment are soundproofed; and my Nomad is closely monitored to make sure I’m not using any of its technologies to discern my location. We could be anywhere.
I see that my Nomad is updating my trend notifications. I thumb through the notifications. Great—more tweets from Prime Minister Layton. There’s no polite way to say it—but he’s the insufferable narcissist I now work for. He’s pontificating yet again. The man has diarrhea of the mouth.
The prince notices my disgust and asks me if everything is okay. “Perfect. Absolutely perfect.” We finish our lunch and the automaton cleans up the dishes. It sprays a lemon-scented cleaning mist on our eating surfaces and then leaves through the security hatches. We won’t see the automaton again until 5 or 6, when it will ask our permission to place hoods and soundproof headgear over us to take us to our secure sleeping quarters. I will of course grant permission. But my willingness to engage in this pretense is waning.
The prince and I spend the next few hours strategizing on how to address some of the more contentious social issues made worse by our wars. At times I see the prince as my enemy, and at other times, my ally. In truth, I think we are neither. We discuss sex trafficking in Anglica, child pornography in the outer kingdoms of Erabia, the epidemic of synthetic opiyoids in the Federacy of States, the legal status of Yerusi refugees, the limits on muftis and ministers in determining the religious rights of resident aliens, state and religious-sanctified polyamorous sexual unions, experimentation on animals and semi-conscious autonomous droids, and numerous other issues which the prince and I agree on, but the ultranationalists in our governments do not.
The prince and I organize sections of the agreement on the twenty or so refraction monitors in the consultation room. We move sections from screen to screen based on their content and the degree of contentiousness. “Your Prime Minister will never go for extending religious protections to Muzlim resident aliens,” the prince says to me. He’s of course right. I’m not sure what Prime Minister Layton believes in his heart (if he has one), but I know his Anglica First backbenchers, to whom he owes a great debt, won’t allow it. I move the provision about resident aliens to another screen and table our discussion of it.
I input commands into my console, and just as I do, a series of loud thuds cuts through the room. Three refraction monitors have fallen off the wall. They sizzle on the ground and noxious vapors—ammonia tinged with burnt plastic—pour from their casings. My hands become hot and I realize that the console panel I’m holding is catching fire. I yank my hand away. The console’s buttons begin to melt and the plastic starts to bubble. Sparks fly from the console and I jump back. The prince looks for an extinguisher, but there is none.
A black smoke fills the room. Plastic, rubber, ammonia, and polysilicon burn and fill the air with an acrid stench. All of a sudden our phones start screaming—high-pitched howls like monkeys readying for a fight. The remaining monitors on the wall shake and then go black. The room’s lights flicker for a brief moment before also turning black. The emergency lights whimper as if trying to come on, but there is a slow hiss, and the lights quickly fizzle out. The prince is breathing heavier than I would like. He looks unsettled.
A single dot of light comes on each of the remaining refraction monitors. Our phones let out one last primordial howl, and then all noises come to a sudden halt. There is complete silence in the room. The only thing I hear is the prince’s exaggerated breaths. The refraction monitors turn on, deliberately, one by one, until all of them show the same thing—Mother Suri.
“She is a greater enemy than I am,” the prince says to me. The prince is on edge. He seems more nervous than he should be. “I assume your intelligence agencies have fully briefed you on the threat from the RNTM.”
“I’m aware of the threat.”
I respect the prince, but respect does not easily translate to trust. There is something about the prince’s behavior that troubles me. It’s more gut than reason, but life has taught me that gut instinct—that primal response to fear—can be more discerning than reason. It’s hard for me to say who I trust less in this moment—the prince, Mother Suri, or the countrymen who locked me in this godforsaken room.
As I stamp out what remains of a burning piece of plastic, the prince’s Roamer goes off. It’s his son Bramir. The prince’s voice quickly becomes tense. A look of dread overtakes his face and his rich brown skin loses it color. After a few minutes of talking, he calls me over and swipes a button on his phone. “Bramir, you’re on speaker. Repeat what you just said to Colonel Wyles.” Bramir is nervous. He is slow to talk. “It’s okay, son. We can trust Colonel Wyles. Please tell him now.”
“Something went wrong,” Bramir says. “Very wrong.” The boy begins to cry and then starts to talk so fast that it’s hard to understand him. “I don’t know what happened. All the lights went out and then I smelled burning. I ran to get Daveem. He was in his room watching Mother Suri on the monitor. He was bowing to the monitor … I mean to her… I mean like worshipping her or something. It was like he understood her. Then Mother Suri started talking about serpents or Satan and my phone started making these crazy noises. Next thing I know Daveem collapses to the ground and starts convulsing. His mouth starts foaming and he makes these wild grunting noises. He starts hitting his head against the ground and blood starts to pour out from the back of his head. I grab him and hold him as tight as I can. I try to get him to calm down, but his arms and legs are moving all over the place. Then, Mother Suri’s video ends and Daveem’s eyes open wide. He looks at me like he’s seeing me for the first time. His eyes are clear … like nothing’s wrong with him.”
Bramir takes a deep breath.
“Then he talks to me.” Bramir is crying hysterically at this point. “He talks to me.” Bramir takes one last breath before telling us what Daveem said. He takes one last breath before telling us the only words Daveem has ever uttered: “Mother Suri has spoken. God told her that it will be a fight to the death. Colonel Wyles will take a knife and cut out father’s heart. This is the word of God.”
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