The Hold (part one)
A few of the people you had no respect for, lately had gone changeling, like cooptees in a doddering cult. This was funny, laughable funny, and for the comedians on TV the jokes were 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 fallen behind his guide, not for want of hustling to keep up. They echoed through a tunnel under the parking garage, and arrived at a basement classroom, arranged 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 however-many, yellow. Keneliot saw security cameras in the corners, a hanging projector pointing at the whiteboard.
“Sit,” his instructor said.
He bent to sit, got the badge on its long lanyard caught under his belt, chuckled. The instructor gave a little eyeroll. Annoying. They had been getting along, talking about hockey, how money down here was starting to make a difference, how the team was scoring some talent…
“But you politicians, you get invited a lot of places. You wanna get your tickets one at a time.” Joking…kind of winking, even. The guy was getting to be an asshole.
“So, Mr. Noble, am I wearing electrodes, or something?”
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.”
“Let me 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 flared and darkened. He came back 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. 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. 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 ask you, start over? Say yes. For what we’re doing today, just play until I come get you.”
Noble shrugged a 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)