The End of the Old Order
The Fiber Hawsers
“We can get as granular as we like,” Equis says. He calls to one of his producers. “Mio, please pull up the psychographic repository on Bramir Hozani.” While Equis reviews the information, the refraction monitors in our room start playing clips of famous Anglican, Erabian, and Yerusalom leaders. In each clip, different leaders from conservative and reformer factions are shown walking around smiling. With the exception of that pompous Cardinal of Petyrsburg, each is dressed informally and doing ordinary things like eating at restaurants, talking to friends, and standing in line for the cinema. Even the King of Erabia is shown opening the door of his transport for his wife and driving with her down a country road.
“You should be very proud of your son, Prince. I have reviewed changes in his media consumption over the last few weeks. Obviously, his life has been turned upside down. His parents have been taken and he has the unenviable task of caring for his siblings. My sources tell me that his older cousin and that ex-lover of hers, Ayesha Salaman, have been very supportive. But your children—especially the oldest boy with the disabilities—need Bramir. He’s their rock. You would think a boy under this kind of intense pressure would turn to violence or extremism. Our data shows that royal Erabian teens are quite susceptible to radicalization. This is especially true for younger teens who have suffered trauma of one sort or another. But rather than turn to extremism, Bramir has become increasingly tolerant.”
The producer named Mio chimes in. “The young prince is a significant outlier to our General Theory of Behavioral Dissonance & Stagnicity. In just a short time, he has gone from primarily consuming sports and urban pulse music to consuming peace propaganda and those retched political fables about the so-called Old Order.”
“Are you finished?” Equis asks angrily. He’s doesn’t care for Mio’s interruption.
“Now that Mio is done, can you please turn your attention to the monitor above the office supply cabinet? You will see Bramir’s latest post. This would be wholly uncharacteristic of him just three weeks ago. We are doing our best to feed Bramir the media he requires, but his change in consumption is mostly his own doing.”
“We also know that Bramir and Ms. Salaman are codependently correlated in their consumption and propagation. Some of this is because they foolishly think they can rescue you. It’s sort of endearing, but their delusions of grandeur are neither here nor there. The interesting point for our research is that Bramir and Ms. Salaman—two distinctive data points on a psychographic demo—have become analytically aligned in a prognostic manner. We can determine the future consumption and response of one based on the other. Please take a look at the monitor to the left of the hatch door.”
“Now I’ve probably told you too much already and it’s getting quite late. Tomorrow is a big day—it’s one of three final dress rehearsals and then we go live a few days later. There is, however, one last thing I’d like to show you. I think you’ve earned this.” Every monitor starts playing snippets of the Prince and me negotiating the armistice agreement. Each is edited to the point of bearing little or no resemblance to anything the Prince and I actually discussed. Though we rarely fought, the clips make it seem as though we were a petty married couple bickering over who should clean the dishes.
“I would assume you realize by now that this armistice negotiation was fiction. It was nothing more than a pretense to get material for The War Show. It’s no different than any other network reality show—you know the kind where six insipid teenagers fight over who’s bonking who. In that case, just as ours, the edited preshow footage is critical for the background story.”
I watch myself on one of the monitors. I am made to look cruel and foolish. They cut to me rolling my eyes as the Prince talks about the need to protect indigent Erabian children. I’m thoroughly annoyed by how they’ve falsely portrayed me. But it doesn’t last—my attention is caught by something else. Just above the monitor is a small metal plate. It’s just a few square centimeters, but that’s all I’ll need. It’s my access to the fiber hawsers. I assumed they existed and ran between our “studio” and theirs. I just didn’t know how I’d get to them. Now I do.
“Obviously, it’s not the most flattering portrayal of you both,” Equis says. “But it’s a necessary distortion. We have taken things out of context and edited in ways that further our story. But I think our editing team did a splendid job of conveying the basic idea of how trivial these disagreements truly are. I think we fairly portray the absurdity of Anglica and Erabia, two superior nations, destroying millions of their own lives and wasting vast resources fighting each other.”
Equis orders the lights turned up. He walks back down to our wives and looks directly into the camera. “Just one more thing before we say goodnight. Tomorrow is a big day for me. I have some of my superiors coming here late afternoon to watch the dress rehearsal. I don’t want to disappoint them. So let me be clear—I cannot and will not tolerate even the slightest disrespect or interruption from anyone. In the interests of clarity, I am going to lay out the punishment for disrespect ahead of time. If, at any point tomorrow, you disrupt my rehearsal or interrupt me in any way whatsoever, I will kill each couple’s eldest child. This may seem excessive, but the truth is that I cannot kill any of you. Not yet. And I need tomorrow to go forward without any complications. So, if there are any problems, I will start with Daveem and I will cut his—"
“Please,” Princess Avir shouts out. “If you have any sense of decency, you will leave our children alone.”
Equis laughs. It’s as evil a laugh as I have ever heard. He licks his lips and says, “I don’t think you of all people should be lecturing me about decency. I have quite a few videos involving you that most people would find anything but decent.” He takes a step forward. He is almost nose-to-nose with the princess. He places both of his hands on her arms and holds them firm. “That kind of interruption will result in your son’s death tomorrow. You are to request my permission if you would like to speak, and you may speak only if I grant such permission. I probably wasn’t clear, but from this moment forward, if anyone interrupts me, I will have Daveem killed immediately.”
Like a schoolchild, Princess Avir immediately breaks free of Equis’ grasp and raises her hand.
“That’s better, Princess. I will give you one last opportunity to speak, but that’s it for you and anyone else.”
“Please, sir, you can do whatever you want to me. I will do anything you say. Kill me, rape me, burn me, torture me in any way you choose. Play those vile videos if you like. But please, for God’s sake, leave my children and Trina’s children alone. They have done nothing wrong. They are innocent.”
“We can most certainly accommodate you. We will in fact kill you and we will play those videos. But, the raping, burning, and torturing shouldn’t be necessary. Your obedience, followed by your humiliation and death, will suffice. This goes for the four of you. You have my word that so long as everyone cooperates, and dies in an orderly fashion, we will bring no harm to your children.”
Equis turns his back to the camera and begins to walk away. “Now, I have a great deal more work ahead of me and I’ve had more than enough of the four of you. So, with that in mind, I wish you all a very pleasant evening.”
The refraction monitors go black. The prince and I stare at each other. Nothing needs to be said. We are soldiers. We know what to do. I look at the little square panel that sits above the refraction monitor.
I know what comes next.
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