The Automaton - The End of the Old Order - Part 3

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The End of the Old Order


Part 3:
The Automaton

The prince paces the room nervously while talking to Bramir. Sweat builds on his brow. He removes his perfectly pressed suit jacket only to reveal two wet circles radiating from his armpits. The prince looks anything but royal in this moment. I understand his fears. I understand why his nerves are frayed. But I’m surprised how quickly a man of his military experience—legend really—has become unglued. 

“Get your mother, Bramir,” the prince says frantically into his Roamer. I hear doors opening and Bramir panting through the prince’s phone. Bramir runs from room to room. I imagine the prince’s house to be huge, but after only a few moments, Bramir has looked everywhere.

“Check the front door,” the prince says.

“For what?” Bramir’s voice cracks under the weight of his worry.

“To see if someone’s broken in—check the lock and the hinge.”

What’s going on, Papa? You’re scaring me.”

While the prince feverishly barks outs orders to his son, my Nomad rings. It startles me. It’s an unidentified number from London proper. A woman’s voice comes on. Her “hello” is distinctly Anglican—Oxford Anglican. Not my crowd. Her voice is polite, but commanding. “Please move to the other side of the room—away from the prince,” the voice says. “Our conversation is to be private. In a short while, I will call the prince and I will have what purports be a private conversation with him as well—though you will eventually know the content of our conversation.”

“Who are you?”

“Not now, Colonel Wyles. It is far too early in our conversation for that kind of familiarity. We’ve only just met.” She laughs. It’s a cold laugh, like she’s incapable of genuine humor. “No matter what I would say, you would be dubious. Perhaps the most truthful thing I could say is that I am not a friend, but you have enemies far more dangerous than me.” I hear three clicks coming from the phone. They’re recording me. “I’m contacting you to inform you that we have Princess Avir. The little Erabian prince can stop looking for his mother now.” I look over at the prince. He looks sick. He probably suspects what I now know. “We have her and we know all there is to know about her.” The prince sits and slumps into his chair. His hands cover his face. “Princess Avir is a very interesting woman. Not what I expected. I just finished reading all of the dossiers on her. A very compelling story.”  

The prince rummages through the melted console panels and admin monitors trying to see if anything works. Nothing does. He angrily pounds a heat-warped console and moves toward the door. The woman on the phone asks me to hold for a second while she grabs a dossier. I hear her thumbing through the pages.

“Did you know, for example, that Princess Avir—that model of Erabian morality and virtue—had an affair with a handsome young university professor in Rudahn. He wasn’t even Erabian. She allowed a white man, very Anglican in fact, to do all sorts of salacious things to her—things I imagine the prince would never dream of doing. I will spare you our taped recordings of their encounters, but let’s just say she was quite taken with this professor’s abilities in the bedroom. The saddest part of all of this is that eventually the prince got his hands on these tapes. I would have no idea who gave the prince the tapes.” She laughs again. This time it’s more earnest. Perhaps she finds her own perverseness genuinely humorous.

“The prince watched these tapes endlessly. Over and over again. He watched and he cried. Watched and cried. The poor thing. He was so devastated by the affair that he had to be treated in a mental institution.”  

“I’m not interested in this,” I say. I don’t like that this woman is belittling the prince. I don’t like it one bit. “This information is in no way relevant.”

“All information is relevant, Colonel Wyles. You of course know this.” The prince bangs on the door and calls for the automaton to open it. He starts out calmly—just a few dispassionate knocks. But this quickly escalates. The prince wants out.  

“I don’t want to hear about Princess Avir’s love life,” I say. “That’s personal—between the prince and his wife.”

“Perhaps you would prefer to hear about your own wife’s extramarital inclinations?”

“I’ve never killed a woman, but you could be my first.”

“Is that a joke, Colonel Wyles? I’m going to assume you’re being witty. In your present state of confinement, you’re not really much of a threat. But there’s no reason for you to be so ill-tempered. I have some good news for you—some bad as well—but let’s start with the good.” A lump of bile, provoked by utter fear, claws its way up from my stomach into my throat. I feel a kind of nausea I have never felt before. I know where this is going. I know the bad news she so desperately wishes to tell me.

“Let’s begin with the good news. You will be happy to know—perhaps relieved is the better word—that we found no evidence of infidelity on your wife’s part. In fact, she seems to really love you. So, she probably isn’t the brightest or most discerning woman—being so enamored with you—but she is indeed faithful.” The woman on the phone clears her throat and her voice takes an angrier turn. “But then there’s the bad news. You’re an intelligent man. You probably already know what I’m about to say.”

“Yes. You have Trina. And if you harm so much as one little—”

“Please stop, Colonel Wyles. It’s so cliché. You’re better than that. I know—if we harm her, you’ll harm us. Fantastic. I appreciate your concern for your wife. Obviously, in taking her, we were counting on this very concern. You and the prince are duly justified in worrying about your wives’ safety. As you may have surmised by now, we are quite capable, and I can assure you, we are committed to using violence as a means for accomplishing our objectives. We have taken both of your wives so that we can control you. The only difference is that we have one woman who is chaste and another who likes to fuck around. I would have thought the pretty blonde—the godless Anglican with that childish name Trina—would have been the philanderer. But life is so full of surprises. Wonderful little surprises. I don’t care what anyone says. There must be a god. Who else would make life so damn interesting?”

“What is it that you want?”

“I keep on saying that I believe you’re a smart man. But I’m beginning to doubt myself. Your questions are so inane. You know what we want.”

“I don’t and I don’t want to play your games. What is it you want?”

“Silly man. We want your obedience of course. That’s all. It’s not too much to ask. We want your obedience.” I don’t respond. She says she will be in touch with next steps and then abruptly ends the call.

I quickly make my way over to the prince. In some ways I feel worse for him than myself—and not just because of his wife’s adultery. He is a great military leader. But as a man, he is weaker than I would have thought. He is still pounding on the door as if someone might actually open it. I pull his hand away from the door and I gently take hold of his shoulders.

“They have our wives.”

“Who has our wives?”

“I don’t know who. All I know is that a woman—a woman with a proper Anglican voice—called me and told me that they’ve taken our wives. And my gut tells me to believe her.” The prince doesn’t seem surprised. I think he knows more than he’s letting on.

The prince quickly gets Bramir back on the phone and puts him on speaker. “Take Daveem and the girls to your cousin Salen. She and Ayesha will protect you.”

“Princess Salen and Ayesha aren’t together anymore, Papa. The princess broke up with her a couple of weeks ago. The King made her.” The prince seems surprised by this. He checks Ayesha’s Instägram. 

“The King has forbidden Princess Salen from dating Ayesha,” Bramir says. There’s some kind of decree outlawing their kind of relationship and banning royals from socializing with anyone suspected of being—.” Bramir trails off.  “I don’t think we’re allowed to stay with Princess Salen and we really can’t have anything to do with Ayesha.”

“Stop this absurd talk, Bramir. Salen and Ayesha were very good to you and your siblings. I don’t care what the King says. He’s an intolerant fool. Go to your cousin. She will protect you and your siblings. Tell her something has gone wrong. Tell her to reach out to Ayesha and her contacts. Tell her that they’ve taken your mother and that we’re in trouble.”

“You cut out, Papa. What did you say?”

“Tell them someone’s kidnapped your mother.”

“It’s all static, Papa. I can’t understand.” The prince knows that censors are monitoring the conversation. They will not allow the prince to talk about the kidnapping or anything related to our current situation.

“Just go, Bramir. Go now. Remember to take Daveem’s medication, but nothing else. Get your siblings and go straight to your cousin.”

As soon as the prince hangs up, I call my house. The caregiver—an elderly woman named Myra who has worked for us for 10 years and is unshakably loyal—answers. I immediately hear crying in the background. Both of my girls are hysterical. Myra tells me that the girls watched as men in black masks took Trina. I cryptically give Myra instructions on where to take the children. We have discussed emergency contingencies before. Unlike the prince, I don’t want them going to family. I want them with my most trusted soldiers in a secure and unknown location. I convey this to Myra without the monitors understanding. My girls force their way onto the phone and switch back and forth pleading with me. They’re terrified. I can barely get a word in.

I want Mommy.

Where did they take Mommy?

Daddy, please.

I need you, Daddy.”

Please daddy, come home.

Come home, Daddy.

Please daddy. Please.”

Static overtakes my girls. The line goes silent.

Part 4 >


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