The End of the Old Order
With one quick glance of my wife’s thumb, I jump on the conference table and leap towards a refraction monitor high on the wall. I put my fist straight through the screen. I want to reach through it and choke the life out of Equis. The monitor shatters around me just as I hit the floor. Equis jumps back even though he’s only watching an image of me attacking an image of him. His body trembles with fear. This man has never been in a street fight, much less a real battle. He’s not military—that’s for certain. He’s cruel, but a coward.
The prince takes my hand and pulls a piece of sharp plastic out of my knuckle. He shakes his head disapprovingly. He would never be so stupid as to put his hand through a monitor. He would never let his enemy see such a lack of restraint. He can’t comprehend why I would be so reckless. He cocks his head as if looking for an answer for my behavior. I don’t have one. My only response is: “I will fucking kill every last one of these animals. My wife should not be a part of this.”
He pulls me close and whispers in my ear. We don’t know if their microphonics can pick up on what he says. “We need to be smarter than that, Colonel. We will kill these animals. But not with rage, and certainly not by displaying our weaknesses. Your weakness is your family, as is mine. They know this and they manipulate us with it. We will beat these people with our minds and our persistence, not our anger.” He places a hand on my shoulder. “If we want to save our families, we can’t do it from in here. We must get out right away. That is our sole purpose. We need to stop thinking that we can’t. That’s precisely what they want us to believe.”
The prince is right. They lulled us into thinking there’s no way out. There’s always a way. Seeing Trina’s anguished face makes me hate myself for allowing this. Maybe I could have stopped it.
The prince and I turn to face another refraction monitor. Equis slowly stands and says, “That was unnecessary, Colonel Wyles. It accomplished nothing. But I must say, that kind of passion will make for very good entertainment when we go live.” He begins making his way down the stairs. His steps are deliberate, almost theatrical. “You have no need to worry about your wife’s safety. She is cooperative now. Regrettably, we had to remove her thumb to gain her obedience. But that was well over a week ago. She, and the good princess, are completely compliant at this point. See for yourself.”
Equis walks down the stairs to where Trina is sitting. “You’ve learned your lesson, right?”
Trina nods. A tear falls down her face.
“There’s no need for that, dear,” Equis says, taking his thumb and gently wiping away the tear. The first thing I will do when I get Equis is cut off that very thumb. Then I will put my boot on his throat and watch as I slowly—very slowly—push the life out of him.
Equis gently cups Trina’s face. It takes everything for her not to recoil. I know that look in her eyes. It’s defeat. “Now, Trina, as we’ve rehearsed, I would like you and the princess to take your places.”
The camera quickly pulls back and I realize that the room they are in is much larger than I initially thought. I notice that in the center of the room, about 20 meters from Equis’ bench, is a raised platform with a series of vertical rubberized cables that rise 4 or 5 meters high. The platform is perhaps 10 square meters. Despite my desire to believe otherwise, there’s no denying it’s a caged ring.
At each corner of this square cage are twin oscillating lights, one shines red and one gold. The lights shoot straight up to the vaulted ceiling and create a projection of a red and gold orb circling each other. The camera follows the lights up to the ceiling and focuses in on how the red and gold orbs seem to switch places orbiting each other.
The camera then focuses in on the ceiling and slowly moves across it from one pair of orbs to the other. And as the camera deliberately surveys this landscape, it hits me. The ceiling. I know it well. I have cursed it many times and thrown things at it. It’s our ceiling. Same exact tiles. Same exact color. Same height. I can’t be sure, but I think this ceiling carries straight across from our place of detention to theirs. It makes perfect sense from a security standpoint to keep all sensitive operations under one roof. I can’t be sure, but I would guess that we are hardwired into them. The cameras, microphonics, digital inputs and outputs are probably all hardwired to reduce the risk of intercepts and improve the efficacy of the encryption. It’s how I would do it if I were running parallel detention centers for high value prisoners.
I’m not quite sure how yet, but the ceiling is our way out. And even better—it’s the way to our wives. A plan starts to take form—the refraction monitors. It’s a shitty little germ of an idea, but it’s a start.
Trina and Princess Avir start to move slowly across a long walkway. Their steps are rehearsed, like a bride walking down the aisle. Just as they make their way to the caged ring, I scream out to Trina. I want her to know that I will save her.
“They can’t hear you, Colonel,” Equis say. “We are carefully controlling all of the microphonics. Our sound team hears everything you say and determines who gets to hear what.
“Well, you don’t hear everything,” I say. I want to get into Equis’ head. I want to reestablish some balance in the power relationship. But more importantly, I want to know if he can actually hear when we’re whispering. “Your microphonics couldn’t possibly have heard what the prince whispered to me—that he now knows for sure that his king is involved in this. I mean, come on, the prince must be right. This kind of a sophisticated operation couldn’t have been orchestrated by the likes of you—you must have had someone’s help.” I am betting on Equis’ carelessness, as well as his vanity.
Right on cue, the prince, knowing what I’m doing, jumps in. “I told you that in confidence!” The prince, a far better actor than me, sells it to Equis by punching me across the face. He draws blood. I cock my hand to strike him back, but I just spit the blood on the floor and say, “You’re not worth it.”
Equis looks smug. He likes that we’re fighting. I’m thinking a fight might just be the final episode in this network charade. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone hands me a knife and encourages me to cut the prince’s heart out.
“Sorry to disappoint you gentlemen, but we did in fact hear your conversation about the King’s role. We have no comment on the matter, but rest assured, we are hearing everything you say.” The prince and I have the answer we need. It’s a small victory—one that will be helpful when we plan our escape. But we will need to do it soon. Time is against us.
Trina and Princess Avir enter the caged ring through opposite sides. Two lights on hydraulics drop down from the ceiling and shine large red and gold ovals on the floor. The red and gold ovals dance around the ring. For the first time, I hear music playing. It’s a classical Garocian piece most often used for religious ceremonies in the Holy Roman State of West Yerusalom. I sense they are using this piece for the purpose of irony. A large hologram appears in the middle of the ring—or perhaps I should say stage. In text that alternates between black, gold and red, it says, “The War Show.” Trina and Princess Avir take to their knees a few meters apart from each other, with the spinning hologram between them.
“No, no,” Equis snaps. “We’ve been over this a million times. I know you don’t like this part, but it’s very important. If we are going to get the audience to adopt our point of view, each choreographed element needs to be followed. Equis points to two rectangular lights embedded in the platform at the center of the ring. “This is where you each stand. Not sit. Stand!” Trina and the princess take their spots. The minute Trina stands on her light, a hologram of an Anglican flag appears above her. The princess’ hologram of an Erabian flag also appears.
“Now, you of course remember what comes next. Hands at your side please. I come over to you and “Voilà!” Equis removes their robes. They are both naked. All body hair—underarms, pubic hair, arms, legs—are shaved. They are naked in every which way.
The only thing covering their naked skin are the bruises on their bodies.
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