Unity of the Citizenry
by Stephan James
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The shorter one led me down a hallway, through a couple of turns, into a plain room with a table in the middle and a chair. It looked exactly like a police interrogation room they used to show on TV before the government took it over and decided to make everyone happy with propaganda.
I sat. In front of me I could see a mirror, most likely two-way glass, so they could see in and I couldn’t see out. Maybe it was better that way.
“State your full name,” a voice said. Obviously run through a synthesizer, so I couldn’t even tell if it was male or female.
“Do you mean ‘agent’ name?” I was confused. They’d told me they would only want my agent name, and were they now asking for something different?
I relaxed back into the seat. “Kenaz, of the Edom Group.”
“State the location you visited today.”
“State the full name of the person you visited today.”
“Manchester Horton. I, ah, don’t know his middle name.”
“Do you need to know it?”
I heard a slight hum from the overhead light.
I was confused. “Ah, excuse me, can I ask a question?”
“Later.” That voice was different. I mean, it sounded the same, through the synthesizer and all, but the tone was wrong. It had a different rhythm to it, faster, urgent. I wondered exactly how many people were behind that silver mirror, and exactly what they wanted.
The first voice spoke again. “State the object of your discussion.”
“We, ah, talked about,” and I wondered if they would know if I kept something back. I accidentally wriggled in my seat. Great, I thought, they’ll never believe a lie now. I had to tell the truth. “We talked about the Greens and Blues.”
“State the specific information you received.”
“He said there’s a meeting Friday. Atz’s Pub. At ten—”
The second voice cut me off. “What group?”
“Greens.” Evasion wouldn’t do any good. It would only make it worse for me. They’d eventually find out and punish me for not revealing what I knew when I knew it.
Silence again. I waited. The door opened, and the PAT gestured for me to exit. “Wait, don’t I get to ask a question?” He leaned slightly back, as if listening to a command, then closed the door again.
“Go ahead.” Second Voice. For some reason I was comforted by that, that the same person who needed my information wasn’t in charge of giving me theirs.
“Um,” I thought quickly. What did I need to know? “What are you going to do to him?”
“He will be Judged. Punishment will depend on the severity of crime.” I thought of the Judgments, the weekly “Unity” meetings of all male town residents between ages fifteen and seventy. Those considered part of the fighting majority, part of the rulers of the Reds’ society. The elite, the ones with potential for greatness, power, and dignity. Twenty thousand men, watching a handful die for their sins.
When those Judgments were handed out on Saturday mornings, nobody wanted to be one Judged. No matter what the crime, the Punishment was the same. That night, for the first time, I realized what I was doing there. I was protecting myself and my family from the Wrath and Punishments of the Councilmen. I was selling out, and the wages of freedom was another man’s blood.
“How many of you are back there?”
First Voice: “You do not need to know.”
“How many of you are there, you know, in all?”
“You do not need to know.”
“Do you know?”
Second Voice: “It is said, ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.’”
“Who are the other agents?”
“You do not need to know.” I was starting to get frustrated.
“Well, then, what do I need to know?” I smacked my hand on the table. “Or is that something I don’t need to know, either?” I stood up, a sham of intimidation.
Second Voice: “Sit down.”
“You know enough. Your purpose is to be our eyes and ears. Your purpose is to find those weak points in the Unity of the Citizenry. Your purpose is to inform us and to do as you are told.” The voice paused. “Come again if you learn of anything else.”
The PAT was back, and I stood to escort him out of the room. Back outside, standing in front of my car again, I was suddenly chilled to my spine, as if my body knew something my mind wasn’t accepting yet.
* * *
For two days I couldn’t concentrate on work. Just as well, for I never really understood the intimate details of what I did, anyway, and not concentrating helped me justify that ignorance. Friday morning, however, I happened to glance across the heads of the others who sat nearby, out the window, looking towards the town square. It seemed people were gathering. In fact, it looked like a Unity meeting, but the next one wasn’t scheduled for another day, so maybe it was something else.
The loudspeaker interrupted my procrastination. “Attention, employees. We have just received notice from the Department of Communications of the Perpetual Council. At this time, a spontaneous Unity meeting is being held in the town square. Some Citizens have already started to gather. All voting Citizens are at this time excused to attend the meeting.” I stood, as did most of the others on my floor, those remaining either too young or too old or female.
We made our way to the square. I did not recognize many, though I was searching for one in particular. I scanned heads, faces, shapes of shoulders, trying to find Horton and apologize, warn him, beg his forgiveness.
Maybe, if I told him about what I’d done, he could slip away, hide, go AWOL, pardon both of us in an instant. Too late, I saw him standing under the south balcony, hidden in the shadows, watching with all the rest of us. My only hope was that when the Judgment came, he would be able to somehow evade the PATs, though that had never happened before.
The Unity meeting began like all others, with the singing of the National Anthem, and the recitation of the Pledge to the Unbreakable State of Americans, and a speech of inspiration by the Chairman of the Council. I kept my head down, ashamed of my actions, embarrassed to be there, hoping beyond hope that this was simply a call for more patriotism. I was sadly disappointed when the Chief Justice stood and opened a scroll.
“Members of the Citizenry,” he began, draped in a royal purple robe, tassels at the sleeves and a black cloth belt around his waist for pomp. “You are called here today to display your Unity, your Patriotism, your Commitment to the Cause.” I could hear the capitalization, the extra power he gave to certain words and phrases.
“Unfortunately, this is also a sad time, for we must expose those who have not been loyal, faithful, and true to your country and your government.” I noted the irony of the Reds’ bloody insurrection a dozen years ago, and put it in the back of my mind for the meeting that evening.
“It is a truly disappointing time when a society must reduce its own ranks, and certainly even more so in the times we are now experiencing.” I supposed he meant the economic depression, the regular and devastating Unity meetings, and such surprise Judgments as these, which, instead of creating support, encouragement, and hope, left everyone wondering, scared, and fearful.
“I speak to you today with a heavy heart,” and he lowered his voice to make it sound sincere, “and I hope that you will forgive me for the actions which I must do.” He paused for a second, and I almost believed him. “Yet, at the same time, remember, gentlemen, that what we fight for, we fight for not out of the goodness of our own spirits, but for the excellence of the country, for the freedoms we are given, and the message of hope and joy which we spread to the world.”
My stomach turned, flipped, tried to show itself to my shoes. I couldn’t watch the Council, sitting so reverently there in their chairs, on their raised platform, flanked by two newly-raised gallows, strung with Flex-Ropes, those sinister inventions which gradually tightened the noose, cutting off the air to the hanging man. He would be alive, yet unable to speak, for two minutes, often more.
It seemed to be the most cruel and torturous way to die since crucifixion. I guess they only forbade that because it allowed speech, and the possibility of winning converts in the last minutes. While I had been ignoring the proceedings, the Chief Justice had continued with his speech, and the PATs had been milling around.
He displayed his Judgment Papers, and was beginning to read the top one. “A Citizen of the USA has been accused of committing the following crimes: Conspiracy to overthrow the Government; Plotting and planning to encourage others to overthrow the Government; Discussions of subjects which are outside the range of the free speech allowed by the Constitution; Keeping secrets from the knowledge of the Government; and Intentionally attempting to mislead and confuse Government investigators. The Judiciary has it on good faith, from the sworn testimony of one of our agents, who is named ‘Abishai,’ that the accused did perform the aforelisted acts...”
It was too much. I put my head in my hands and tried to blot out the sounds. I didn’t hear who he said, but knew it was Horton. My heart cried out softly within me, and I began to weep.
Suddenly, as though a spirit touched me and gave inspiration, I realized that I had not heard my agent name, Kenaz, as the accuser. My head lifted, and I glanced at Horton. He was still there, in the shadows, with no PATs nearby. He wasn’t running, he wasn’t crying. He was safe! I hadn’t destroyed his life after all! I had not condemned him nor myself! He was free, I was guiltless. I immediately began planning how to come clean with him as soon as the Judgment was over.
The hands on my shoulders surprised me. “Harvard Wellin?” the PAT on my right asked.
Stunned, I nodded in agreement. The grips on my biceps urged me towards the gallows, and I meekly obeyed. There would be no escape. I almost collapsed, but their well-muscled arms kept me supported, practically dragging me along.
Only out of shame at being carried did I manage to move my feet slightly to mount the steps. I numbly heard the repeat pronouncement of my guilt, mutely nodded assent, almost collapsed again as they lowered the Flex-Rope over my head, and saw the faces before me grimace at what they imagined was my pain.
And from there I watched the PATs descend my half-full stage and make their way towards Horton. As strength drained from my body, so did most of my senses. But I did make out “conspiracy” again, and “Kenaz,” and I saw the PATs arrive at Horton’s edge of shade.
Only then did I realize the foolishness of my, our, actions. Only then did I understand the whole of what they’d been asking us to do. Only then did I begin to see the consequences of my choice, and only then did I begin to question it.
But it was too late, and as he joined me above the crowd, my eyes, my body, my soul, performed one last coup, denying the mercy of death, and instead forced me to watch as he was strung up, dropped, and died.
Copyright © 2016 by Stephan James