The Hold (part one)
A few of the people you had no respect for, lately had gone changeling, like co-optees in a doddering cult. This was funny, laughable funny, and for the comedians on TV, the jokes had been writing themselves. Everyone agreed these guys were old, they wouldn’t connect with the voters, they had power because they’d been around forever…and in government seniority is a thing.
Keneliot had followed, not for want of hustling to keep at his side, his guide through a tunnel under the parking garage to a basement used as a classroom. Or set up with rows of tables, laptops—all cabled, no wireless. A whiteboard at the head of the windowless room. Concrete block walls, painted wainscot-fashion, four tiers gunmetal grey; the remaining, yellowish. And there were security cameras in the corners, a hanging projector pointing at the whiteboard.
He bent to sit, got the badge on its long lanyard caught under his belt, chuckled. The instructor gave a little eye-roll, annoying. They’d been getting along, talking about hockey, how money down here was starting to make a difference…
“But, you wanna get your free tickets one at a time.” Joking…kind of winking, even. Now Noble was going to be an asshole.
“So, am I wearing electrodes, or something?”
Why would I? Why do I ask…? Jesus! “Because I thought you said it was an experiment. A brain lab, didn’t you say?”
“Sure, call it a brain lab. But the only thing I’m gonna have you do is play a game for a while.”
“I’ll move, then. That light’s going out.”
“Yeah…there’s a trick for that. But, go on, pick another seat.” Noble went to the switch, flicked it fast, off and on, off and on. The bulb died. He came to loom his torso over the laptop, and fingered in a password.
“Touchscreen or mouse?”
“Okay. Simple. You’re gonna see a bunch of lights flash on this grid, green and red. And a blue one will come up now and again. When it does, you tap it, as long as it isn’t touched on any side by a red. Right? If it’s all green, you tap it and you win the board. A thousand points, you go to the next level that’s a little tougher. Tap a blue by mistake when it’s touching a red, you lose all your points. It’ll say, start over? So, for what we’re doing today, you just play until I come get you.”
Noble shrugged one shoulder, backed in the direction of the door, fishing inside a briefcase slung from the other. Faking this business, Keneliot thought, to let the question die unanswered.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)