Corporeal Passage: Chapter 6: Animals in a Cage
by Jeff RandThe interlopers on the other side of the wall continued to stare into the room where Ethan and Leu slept. Like the others in Zero Node, they were tall and thin men but much older. Their skin was pale and mostly hairless, including their heads. They were modestly dressed in shorts with sandals and a light collarless shirt. Wrapped around their wastes were belt packs. The most unusual adornment feature was a small disc on the side of their heads. Ethan imagined that it was more than a decoration but had functional use such as attaching to a neural virtual reality interface. He wondered how these two could have remained hidden in Zero Node. It was as if the other residents had never seen them. There must be many more chambers hidden beneath. They couldn't have come from another place outside.
Ethan called to the interlopers, "Who are you? Where have you been hiding? Why are you keeping us prisoners?"
There was no response; rather the strangers went about recording something on the small electronic tablets they were holding. Ethan's further attempts to gain their attention continued to be unsuccessful while they remained as passive observers. Ethan's actions woke Louis.
Louis sat in his bed, now truly frightened, "Who are these men? Have we been attacked?"
"I don't know. They haven't done anything but watch us," Ethan replied. "It's like we are in a cage."
Leu got out of his bed and joined his father as they moved to the other room. This caused the interlopers to move along the walkway so they could observe the activity now in this room. They showed no reaction other than making notes on their tablets.
"Dad, I have to go to the bathroom. I don't want these two strangers watching me pee," declared Leu.
Ethan waved at the strangers and shouted, asking them to leave. They offered no response. Ethan was enraged and yelled again calling them perverts. Noticing a hook on the wall next to the dry commode, an idea flashed into his head. Ethan returned to the bedroom and pulled the blanket off his bed. He tied a corner of the blanket to the wall hook. Then he pushed the ice box closer to the commode. He opened the door of the ice box and closed it on the other corner of the blanket. This effectively created a small privacy space in the corner of the room for the commode. He faced the observers, "You won't be able to watch these monkeys go about their business, you degenerates."
As Leu and Ethan went about their monkey business, the observers never left. After breakfast, the father and son went back to reading, so not to provide anything interesting to observe. Ethan had finished reading the Old Testament and was happy to proceed with the more familiar text in the New Testament. Upon completing the Old Testament, he was troubled when he could not find the books of Maccabees. Eventually, one of the observers left for a while, only to return while the other took a break. "Don't you have anything better to do? Perhaps it would help you to read the Bible," he shouted as the observers exchanged positions.
Later Doug and Jeff appeared outside the cage with food and supplies for the next day, but again refused to engage in conversation with Ethan when he asked for another blanket. Doug appeared to have a brief exchange with the observers before leaving. Ethan was surprised when Doug returned with a blanket.
When it came time for sleep, the small space behind the blanket covering the commode was used for a sponge bath and a change into bed clothes. Leu complained to the interlopers, who were now on the walkway just outside the clear wall beside his bed. Again, they ignored the protests and kept the light at full intensity to better observe any nightly rituals.
After a period of sleep, Ethan awoke needing to express his bladder as would be expected for a man of his age. The lighting had been reduced and the observers gone. He returned to his bed after micturating, happy to have some privacy.
It was morning when Ethan again awakened. Leu was already alert sitting on the edge of his bed facing the clear wall beside him. Outside the room were two new strangers. They were mature women wearing sandals and shorts, using the same type of recording devices as the men. When Ethan donned his glasses for a closer look, he noticed their chests were not covered, exposing their modest breasts. As was the case with the male observers, they made no attempt to respond to any request. They showed no reaction when he asked if they were prostitutes.
Two more new strangers were present next day. In the following days, the six strangers alternated their observations, so that there was always one present during waking hours. Doug and Jeff continued their services, interfacing as little as possible with the prisoners.
Leu awakened one night to find no observer present. Careful not to wake his father, he pursued his own rebellion against their jailers. He gathered several foodstuffs that he could smear on the transparent walls. Although his period of adolescence was not in the presence of others of similar age to learn the most rebellious behavior, he knew enough bad words to make his point. His first attempt was to write the phrase "Eat my shorts," which he learned from television before he left civilization more than four years ago. He was pleased when he could read this message he scrawled on the transparency. However, when he realized a problem that he would receive scorn from his father, he erased it. He had to write it again backwards so that it would be legible to those on the other side. It took more effort to write backwards with a potato marker, but Leu was happy with his creativity as he delved further into the depths of depravity.
Ethan woke to find their jailers examining the markings on the transparent walls. When his glasses brought the images into focus, he was able to decipher the nasty messages. For a moment, he thought to rouse Leu with an accusation. Yet he hesitated, sad that he had not thought to write these messages himself. He recalled seeing a video of a gorilla doing such deed by smearing feces on his glass cage. Perhaps these people deserved as much.
Ethan moved to wake his son. But before reaching Leu, he had trouble breathing and collapsed.
When Ethan regained consciousness, the room had changed. He was slumped in a chair, righting himself to make sense of his surroundings. He was dressed in a jacket and tie with polished black leather shoes. On the table to his right, he found a pipe filled with tobacco sitting in an ashtray. A folded newspaper was placed beside it. When he picked up the paper, he discovered it was the July 13, 1955 edition of the Daily Mail, priced at three halfpence. This is too weird, he thought, now believing that he might be a victim of neural virtual reality. He banged his head attempting to leave this virtual world, only to feel the pain.
The new apartment-cage had a separate bedroom and like the living area, it had the same walls with adjustable transparency for observers on the outside. At least there was a separate bathroom allowing for some privacy. Ethan found his son sleeping in the bedroom with Thomasina at his side. He awakened Leu before exploring their cage.
Ethan's grandparents would have been familiar with the modern appliances. There were electric lights with incandescent bulbs. The living area had a set of encyclopedias and a black and white television in a wood console. The kitchen featured an electric range and a refrigerator with a rounded top and a small freezer inside. In the bathroom they found a small sink, a bathtub, and a flush toilet with real toilet paper. Leu remarked that Michaela would have been pleased to find this precious commodity. In an alcove just outside the bathroom, they found a washing machine with a round tub and a ringer overhang. A small closet contained a vacuum cleaner and an electric steam iron with its full-size board.
"I guess we're meant to live in style," said Ethan to his son. "I just don't understand where they got all this stuff and why are we prisoners."
There were additional conveniences in the kitchen space, including Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook and an electric clock in the form of a black cat with moving eyes and tail. The clock had the standard 12 hourly demarcations used in a 24-hour day rather than the 100 jiffy prodays that were common in Zero Node, lasting about 26 hours. Although they did not know if it was morning or evening, if it really mattered, they were hungry and determined it was dinner time. They set the time to six o'clock.
They prepared a delicious dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. They found two cans of Coca Cola in the refrigerator. Although Leu was starting to develop a taste for coffee, Ethan was happy to ingest his caffeine from a less vile beverage. When Leu tried to open one of the cans, he found no convenient tab on top. His father was puzzled too, but eventually found a can opener and created a rough cutting through the top. Later, he learned of a wonderful technology to open a soda pop can by punching two holes on the top with a church key.
Next day in the new apartment, the interlopers returned to resume their observations. Again, they would not interface with their subjects. Ethan instructed Leu to ignore them and not to scrawl any more nasty messages on the walls. However, anything to make it more difficult for them would be appropriate. Later in the day Doug and Jeff brought food and other supplies. In this new apartment-cage, the exchange did not occur through a passage in the transparency, but through a chute with a metal door in the wall. When Leu retrieved a glass quart-sized bottle of milk from the chute, he began to call it a milk chute, not realizing the appropriateness of the term.
Ethan and Leu had no choice but to go about their business of living in the apartment. They were happy to have the conveniences indicative of the 1950s, but annoyed by the ever-present observers tracking every activity. As time progressed their escape attempts remained unsuccessful, and their jailers would not engage in any conversation. While their living conditions were adequate, being effectively incarcerated frustrated them due to their inability to exercise. The jailers continued to ignore their protests.
Ethan was never a proponent of the system of the 10-day weeks being used in Zero Node. While he could get accustomed to the slightly longer days, he was happy to return to the standard 24-hour ones. With that change, he began to measure seven-day weeks again, although the starting point was arbitrary. His Catholic roots influenced his choice of the first day of the week to be set aside for celebrating a mass, without a priest of course. Six weeks had passed.
Leu experienced a strange dream, where he knew he was sleeping but could not wake. When he did wake, it happened with Thomasina licking his face. He sat in his bed, only to realize the room had changed. Now he had his own room with the furnishings and technology that he first encountered in Zero Node. He woke his father in the next room to alert him to the change.
It was not the same quarters they shared when they first settled in Zero Node but had the same type of décor and services suitable for the 21st century, at least appropriate for this unusual place. The accommodation was of a single level with a line of rooms, all with a clear wall at the front. Obviously, this was to facilitate the interloping observers. As Leu and Ethan explored the rooms, the observers moved along the wall so to keep them in sight. Like their last incarceration, they could find no way to escape, even if they weren't being observed. However, there were some nice additions, including separate bedrooms and an exercise room. They could enjoy video and computer access in any of the rooms, including the private bathrooms for each of the bedrooms.
Although Ethan felt better about these new accommodations and was happy to enjoy more physical activity and entertainment, he continued to plea for release. Doug and Jeff proceeded to make regular visits to exchange food and supplies, while the observers remained ever present during waking hours. Ethan noted that there were now eight different individuals involved in the observations. Yet never would any respond to a request.
The days passed while Ethan and Leu developed a routine suitable for a more comfortable apartment, still pursuing any opportunity for escape. Leu was alone in the living room when the time came for the food delivery. Except it was not Doug and Jeff who came to the window, it was two young ladies.
"Who are you?" asked Leu.
There was no response, so Leu made no attempt to participate in the exchange of the foodstuffs. This troubled the girls, as Leu continued to ignore them. Finally, one of them struggled to speak. "Take it," she said.
Now Leu sensed an opportunity, as this was the first time anyone on the outside reacted in all the weeks they were incarcerated. "I will not!" he declared. "Why don't you just let us out?"
The girl grew more agitated, trying to find the words to respond. Finally, she spoke with a severe accent, "You are never to leave."