The Betrayal of Zoar
by Michael Siciliano
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Since his capture, Aaron had been placed in one of our prayer rooms, the door locked from the outside and guarded. It was where the women were placed when they misbehaved and were sentenced to solitary confinement.
I had been kept in one the first week I joined the Scythes of Zoar. The rooms were cramped, with a single barred window high up on a blank beige wall. Aside from the cot, each room held three objects: a plastic wash basin, a medieval chamber pot, and a Pulanian Bible. Nothing else. You were expected to read and pray, relieve yourself and sleep. It was a subtle torture.
As I watched, Karris, a bull-headed man with an overgrown beard, led Aaron out of his cell and across to Sahoul’s workshop. I followed behind with a peanut butter and banana sandwich wrapped in cellophane. The change of scenery and the sandwich, I supposed, was meant as a peace offering.
Once inside, Karris wrapped a chain around Aaron’s wrist and padlocked the other end to a support beam. Mixed messages, indeed. Aaron had just enough slack to reach a pallet in the corner and a small table.
Karris smirked at me as he left, his expression saying, He’s all yours.
I sat at the table and motioned for Aaron to do the same.
He did and peered up at me. Thin-rimmed glasses perched on a round, soft face. The type that would get fat and jowly with age. He looked to be in his early thirties. Wavy brown hair swept down to his shoulders. Long eyebrows arced over hazel eyes, and a short stunted nose led to thick lips.
I placed the sandwich in front of him.
“I’m Phillip,” I told him.
“Aaron,” he replied. His eyes shifted to the sandwich and then back to me.
“Have you been well-treated?”
“Aside from the assault, robbery and unlawful imprisonment?” He had a strange elongated accent I couldn’t place.
I smirked. “Yes, aside from those things.”
“Well, Aaron, you stumbled onto private land. You were trespassing.”
“Doesn’t give you the right,” he snapped back.
I cleared my throat before continuing. “We’re a... private community here. Sindri, our spiritual leader, takes trespassing very seriously. It may seem paranoid to you, but the Larosian administration has—”
“President Larosa. She’s been conducting her own private little war against—”
Aaron’s eyebrows narrowed. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“The federal government is convinced we’re trying to overthrow it. We’re a peace-abiding, religious organization, and because of that they have no choice but to trump up fraudulent charges against us.” I recited the Scythe of Zoar’s biggest lie with practiced ease. Of all the absurd illusions they threw up, this one was the largest and most fundamental.
“There is no President Larosa.”
I laughed. “I assure you there is.”
“We’ve never elected a woman president, Phillip.”
“You want to play it that way? Fine.” I pulled out Aaron’s phone from my backpack and placed it on the tabletop. “What is this?”
Aaron stared at me as if I’d asked him what a tree was. “It’s my iPhone.”
“An Eye Phone? Which government issued it to you?”
“I bought it at an Apple Store, like everyone else.”
He was talking in riddles. An Eye Phone that he’d bought at a fruit stand? “Look, Aaron, you’re in a lot of trouble here. Sindri’s a serious guy and, as I said, he doesn’t take well to trespassers.”
“You... you can keep my things. Just let me go. I don’t want any part of this. I won’t go to the FBI, I swear.”
Again, he gave me that peculiar look, as if he were dealing with a child. “The Federal Bureau of Investigations.”
“There is no such department. You mean the FSA.”
“No, I don’t.”
We were getting nowhere. I took out the almanac from my backpack, opened it to the bookmarked page, and flopped it down in front of him. “Point to where we are.”
The chain rattled as he reached up, started to bring a finger down and stopped. “That’s all wrong,” he said.
“The continents. they’re correct, but the names. All of it’s wrong.”
“This is a published almanac, Aaron. It’s not wrong.”
“It is. I don’t see a damned thing on there that I recognize. There’s no state borders. No cities I recognize. Where’s Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles?”
I sighed and leaned back on my folding chair. It was time to consider the possibility he was insane. I placed my finger on the page and moved it from one city to another. Obule, Essart, Seltoba....
“Stop. I don’t know what game you’re playing.”
I slammed the almanac closed. “Oh, no, Aaron. This is no game. I’m going to be straight with you. If you don’t start making sense, I’ll go back to Sindri with nothing. If that happens, you’ll be killed.” His eyes widened in fright. Good. I was getting through to him. “You heard me. Your life is on the line here. Sindri will have you executed and your body buried in the woods.”
“I’m t-telling you th-the truth,” he stammered.
“Your phone is from some high-tech government project, isn’t it?”
“It’s not. I bought it at a retail store. Millions of people own them. They’re nothing special.”
I turned it on, activated the touch screen. “No one owns this, Aaron. No one has seen anything like it. It’s like... like a hand-held computer.”
“That’s what it is. Go to the icon of the world in the bottom right corner.”
Frowning, I did as he said, touching the little graphic. It expanded and showed a map. I recognized the land masses, as he had in the almanac, but the names and borders were all... wrong. “I don’t understand.”
“Start on the East Coast. Drag your finger along the screen to move the view. Washington D.C., see it?”
I scrolled around until I saw it. “Yes.”
“North to New York. West to Chicago. Southwest to Dallas. Northwest to Denver. Southwest to Los Angeles. Do you see them all?”
Bizarrely, they were all there, exactly as he said. “Yes, I see it.”
“I grew up in Tuscon, Arizona.”
“Arizona is the Province?”
“Arizona is a state.”
I glared at him. “What’s a state?”
“What do mean, ‘What’s a state’?” Aaron peered at me, eyes narrowing. “You must know what a state is. This is the United States of America.”
“There is no such place. You’re in the Julman Province of the Tuvesk Federation.”
Aaron’s eyes widened, as if a light went on in his head. His hands clenched into fists and then relaxed. “I can prove everything I say,” he finally said in a shaky voice.
“Good. There better be a cogent explanation for all this.”
“There is, but you won’t believe me.”
Aaron glanced around the room, gaze darting from one corner to another. “Is this room monitored?”
“No, it’s just a workroom.” Just a place where Sahoul and his people made bombs, that’s all.
“I can take you to the United States of America, but only if you let me go.”
“Sindri won’t agree to that.”
“He’s a cult leader, isn’t he?”
I was about to spew another of Sindri’s lines, when I saw the sincerity in Aaron’s expression. Instead, I simply nodded.
“He sounds dangerous. He’s trying to overthrow this... President Larosa?”
Aaron seemed sharp. Didn’t miss a detail. If I were honest with him, maybe he’d be honest with me. I nodded again.
“You seem like a reasonable guy. Let me tell you how I got here.”
“All right.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
He took a bite of his sandwich, chewed, swallowed and began.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Michael Siciliano