The End of the Old Order
The Refraction Monitor
Forty-eight hours go by.
Our phones are blocked. Meals—now packaged products just to maintain us—are slid underneath the hatch. There are no signs of the automaton and no communication with the outside world. We’ve tried everything to get out. We tried to break down the thick metal hatch. But this was a senseless waste—more frustration than bona fide escape plan. We tried stacking furniture to reach the ceiling, but the ceiling was far too high. We tried pulling apart the walls, only to reveal impregnable metal panels soldered together. We even tried dismantling the latrine to see if we could escape through the pipes, but they were far too thin. We tried everything to escape.
There’s no way out.
The hours turn to days—eight to be precise. The only contact we have with the outside world is a brief moment when Prime Minister Layton’s tweets flash across one of the refraction monitors. This is most assuredly not the kind of contact we were looking for.
We don’t want to, but we start sleeping through the nights at some point. Exhaustion overtakes the fear of what’s happened to our families. As the days drag on, we take turns talking to our keepers. We talk to them as if they are gods and we are mere mortals pleading with them to hear our calls. We know they are listening. We can’t find the cameras, but they’re probably embedded in the vaulted ceiling. From time to time, we become primitive beasts hurling stones at a full moon we fear, only we’re grunting at the gods in the ceiling and hurling office supplies.
The prince and I are cautious about what we say to each other. If we want to talk about anything sensitive we go underneath the conference table and whisper. They probably hear what we’re saying, but we’re exhausted and this is the best we can come up with. On one occasion, the prince and I go underneath the table to discuss Daveem’s prophecy—that we would fight to the death and I would end up killing the prince. We both agree that the miracle that Daveem spoke warrants our attention, but that what he said does not. The prince discounts it because he passionately believes in God. I discount it, because I do not.
The prince and I discuss our theories about why we’re being confined and who is responsible. But they are just that—theories. Our information is too imperfect and the asymmetries in power too pronounced to draw any solid conclusions. Although I believe the prince is hiding something from me, I don’t believe he knows why we’re being held or who is responsible. In my mind, there is a long list of possible suspects—from fringe groups in the free states to party hardliners in Anglica or even Erabia. But my mind is foggy and it’s hard to grasp what’s going on. I’m trying to think my way out of this situation, but I’m like a drunk looking in a dark alley for something I’ve lost. I have little faith in my ability to see, and much less, my ability to find.
The prince and I spend the next few days talking about our wives, our children, our countries, and our faiths (or lack thereof in my case). I learn that although the prince is a devout man, it comes from a place of reason, not some blind faith in a glittery god. I learn that the prince genuinely loves his wife, which makes the information I have all the harder. He never mentions her infidelity or even alludes to any problems in their marriage. He is deeply in love with the princess. And despite what the woman on the phone said, according to the prince, his wife is just as deeply in love with him.
We spend a good deal of time talking about our children. These conversations are the most difficult. We need our children to be safe. It is a necessary condition for our existence. We try to comfort each other as best as men of our military making can. We are bred to be tough. We are bred to be in control. Frankly, comforting others is neither of our strong suits.
On the surface, the prince and I are quite different. He is a believer. I am a skeptic. He is royal. I am common. He is stoic. I am volatile. However, we share one important characteristic. We have contempt for dogma. He is in fact a religious man, but a questioning one nonetheless.
We both come from centuries-old empires—the two most powerful nations on earth. But neither of us trust this power. Neither of us moralize about the goodness of our nations. Neither of us see inherent virtue or moral authority in our imperial purposes. Neither of us believe for the sake of believing. It is beneath us. I know it is egoistic of me, but at times I see me in him.
The prince and I eventually lose track of time. It might be the 13th or 14th night—maybe even the 15th. It might not even be night. But assuming that meals are still being delivered according to standard times, it is a few hours after our dinner was served.
The prince nods off before me. Our keepers recently slipped some military-issued blankets under the door and we use them as mattress, pillow, and covering. I too eventually fall asleep. It’s a restless sleep made worse by the harshness of my dreams.
I dream I am dead. Trina is happily remarried to the man who murdered me. They live in my house. They share my bed. He watches her as she undresses and showers. He has sex with her. My little girls call the man who murdered me and now sleeps with my wife—Daddy.
I dream that nuclear missiles explode just outside my house. Light flashes through the windows. My girls call for their new Daddy. They go running toward him. He opens his arms, and just as they jump into his outstretched hands, he catches fire. My girls then catch fire and there is—
“Wake up! Wake up!” A voice, like a drill sergeant, is shouting at the prince and me through the refraction monitor speakers. Alarms ring out from the monitors. “Wake up! Wake up!” The prince and I jump from our makeshifts beds. Flickering translucent blue lights race across the refraction monitors. We reflexively jump to attention like when we were junior soldiers. We stand at attention before the monitors.
A man sitting at a black desk comes on screen. The man is dressed in black pants, black shirt, and black jacket. His face is pixelated to keep his identity secret. The room is square and not much larger than our consultation room. Its walls are black. Everything in the room is black.
“Good evening, Colonel Wyles. Good evening, Prince Hozani.” The voice of the man behind the desk is that of the woman on the phone. The prince and I exchange confused looks. “It is time for us to get properly acquainted. First off, let me introduce myself. My name is Xavier Equis.”
“You are a woman, are you not?” the prince asks.
“I can’t possibly see the significance in that question. Why can’t I be a man with a woman’s voice or vice versa for that matter? I need you to be more open in your thinking, Prince Hozani. That will be one of the things I require of you.”
“You will require nothing of me,” the prince says. “You can keep me caged like an animal for as long as you want. But you will not tell me what to do.”
The man behind the black desk reaches underneath the table and presses a button. He clears his throat. In what is now a man’s voice he says, “But I will tell you what to do, prince. That is the point of all of this.” He clears his throat again, as if adjusting to the change in pitch. “Do you see how accommodating I am being. Because your mind is so inflexible, I have changed my voice to match my appearance. I hope you will be just as accommodating.”
The camera slowly pulls back at the same time as soft lights come on. We are clearly watching a network-grade broadcast run by seasoned professionals. It can’t just be for us. As the camera pulls further back, and the studio lights brighten, I notice that Equis’ desk sits above a lower desk. Equis looks like a judge sitting on a bench. He has 7 masked guards behind him and two hooded individuals sitting at the lower table facing the camera.
“And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” Equis says. Two masked guards, one on each side of Equis, walk down the steps at each side of Equis’ elevated bench. Two spotlights shine on the hooded individuals. The camera painstakingly moves in for a closeup. The guards gradually remove the hoods.
It's our wives. They’ve been beaten badly. Trina slowly raises her hand to the camera.
She’s missing her thumb.
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