Sticking to less traveled streets and the shadows of properties she knew well, Zsofia made three kilometers of the trek from her home in the center of the zóna quickly and undetected. She decided to make a stop out of her way to rouse her only true friend besides Attila. One way or another, Zsofia would get the hell out of the area she had resided within her entire life, but she suddenly felt a traveling companion would be advantageous.
Vargas Kristóf rubbed a fog from his eyes, and sat straining his ears, listening for the sound he swore had just woke him. He didn’t have to wait long. A deliberately rhythmic tapping came from the window across the room. Three short, one long, a second long and four short… Kristóf felt his heart leap into his throat with anticipation. It had to be Zsofi! She had not visited him at this hour in years! He flew from his bed to the window and threw the drapes open.
While Kristóf carefully slid the ground level window open, Zsofia met his elated smile with a scolding frown of her own. There had been a time in both of their young lives when she and Kristóf had found their lifelong friendship in a physically experimental stage.
“Well hello Zsofi”, Kristóf greeted her with devious eyes and a matching smile.
“I’m not here for that”, Zsofia retorted with a huff. “You’re so stupid. Now move out of the way so I can come in.”
Zsofia saw she had completely cut the air from her friend’s sails by thwarting his hormonal assumptions. She suddenly felt a little sorry for the poor guy. What else could he assume? The last time she had rapped on his window at three o’clock in the morning, her visit had been for entirely different purposes. Even if it had been over six years since their last physical endeavor, Zsofia always knew those few short months of poor decisions left a lasting impression upon poor Kristóf.
“What are you doing out so late”, Kristóf asked through a look of confusion.
Zsofia hopped from the window sill, and slid the window closed behind her. “Damn, its cold out there!”
Kristóf stared at her; his question still apparent from the depths of his crystal blue eyes.
Zsofia wrapped her slender arms around Kristóf’s broad neck and hugged him tightly. “Sorry I called you stupid.”
She did find her friend quite attractive. His unkempt blonde locks, broad shoulders, mesmerizing eyes and witty humor should be enough to lure any young lady. Any young lady but her, it seemed. Zsofia couldn’t see the young man before her as anything more than a dear friend. They had been through thick and thin together since they were children. Both of them shared the common denominator of high ranking fathers who were too busy to trouble themselves with the concerns of parenting. Zsofia’s mother died when she was twelve, while her friend’s father had divorced when Kristóf had been the same age. At least her father had never remarried, and she knew some stability by way of Attila. Kristóf had currently been enduring the hell of stepmother number five who had been as ignorant toward his wellbeing as his father.
Zsofia released her hugging grip to be met with the caring eyes and kind smile of her friend, minus the hormones. “Is your dad home tonight?”
Kristóf puffed and rolled his eyes. “Of course not. Stepmom is probably passed out drunk somewhere in the house while the high and mighty chief of police is undoubtedly out whoring around in search of her inevitable replacement.”
Zsofia couldn’t help but giggle at her friend’s pessimism, mostly because the irony of it all. Here they were, the privileged offspring of world leader elitists, yet the dysfunction they had both known throughout their lives was staggering.
“So are you going to answer me or not”, Kristóf asked.
Zsofia traipsed across the bedroom and plopped on Kristóf’s bed. She grabbed one of the tousled blankets and wrapped it around her freezing hands. “I’m taking a trip”, she finally replied with a broad smile.
“You heard me. I’m leaving the zóna Kristóf. Wanna come with me?”
“Oh you idiot”, Kristóf spat in a tone dripping with disdain. “I assume the zóna you’re referring to is our protected neighborhood?”
Zsofia nodded, still smiling from ear to ear.
“You’re out of your damn mind woman! How do you plan on getting past the wall? If you do manage to sneak out, how long are you planning to be gone? While we’re at it, where are you going to go once you’re out? Good God, what will your father or Attila do when they find out you’ve gone?”
“Which part”, Kristóf snorted.
“None of it matters. I’m sick to death of being stuck here. I want out damnit! I want to see what’s beyond the walls we’ve lived between since we were born!”
Kristóf shook his head pinching the bridge of his slender nose between his fingers. “Zsofia, I cannot go with you. As much as I adore you, I cannot support you in this.”
“Why not”, Zsofia’s voice bore exasperation from Kristóf’s denial much like his expression had portrayed when she scolded him for his assumptions toward her visit.
“We may both be the offspring of some lousy parents Zsofi, but we have the privilege of being born to those in power. Why are you so curious to see what lies beyond walls constructed for your safety? Why can’t you just be content for once in your life?”
Zsofia shrugged her shoulders. Kristóf made sense. She had a life on a silver platter regardless of her father’s involvement in her life. She wanted for nothing. Nothing except to quench an insatiable curiosity. There is more out there! So much to be discovered, so much to learn. To hell with what she had been taught! She would never be contained to a mold solely for the fact that she had been told to do so.
“Kristóf, you know how I am.”
A crooked smile took shape across his chiseled face while he scuffed a bare foot upon the floor. “I know Zsofi, and I wouldn’t know you any other way.”
Zsofia unwound her formerly freezing hands from the confines of the warm blanket, and stood from the bed. Setting course for her friend, Kristóf met her pursuit. Zsofia hugged him tightly then found his lips with hers, kissing him gently.
Kristóf brought his hands from around her waist and held their kiss in place with no more than a touch to her flushed cheeks. Zsofia did not feel the lust his eyes had borne when they met at the window earlier. Instead, she translated his affection in the purity it had been given. He feared they would never see each other again… Be careful my friend.
Zsofia and Kristóf parted ways. Part of her heart screamed to stay under the shelter of her friend’s logic. Another part, the yearning she felt for answers, pushed her from warmth and known safety in search of what lay beyond the walls of logic she’d been confined within for far too long.
While her mind swam in a pool of conflict, Zsofia stumbled with little more aim than putting one foot in front of the other. Suddenly her nearly aimless path flooded with an icy light brighter than a midday’s sun. The contrast of her own shadow cast itself steeply from the tips of her toes into the distance. Zsofia turned toward the source of cold illumination. She shielded her eyes from the piercing light. No focus would come, though her mind began to rationalize the fact that she had somehow triggered an alarm on the property she was mindlessly traipsing across. A sound tore through the air, conquering the resonance of her own breathing. Two long shadows danced in the distance. While the shadows grew, the sound preceding them became distinguishable. Fear gripped her heart while a sudden clarity forced its way into her mind.
Zsofia’s feet dug at the rain soaked lawn beneath her. The fuel of adrenalin overcame panic. Every strand of muscle in her legs fired at the call of her mind’s prehistoric instinct to survive. The terrifying sound seemed to be at her heels now. Barking, snarling, a metallic clinking that was likely some jewel hung from the collars of the beasts. Zsofia’s hindbrain would not relent; it would not allow her to entertain anything beyond moving as fast as her physical body could move.
She ran until the cover of the night consumed her once again. Her steps only slowed with the onset of subconscious caution. It would be a shame to have claimed such a distance only to step into a hole or end up in a bush.
She had no idea how long she had been running, but for the first time since her feet had given flight, Zsofia began to account for her surroundings. She couldn’t hear the barking anymore. A cool northerly breeze bit at her cheeks. With little protest from her legs, fear finally began to subside. Her stride shortened into a jog, a walk and finally a quivering limp. She aimed for a thick grouping of trees. The enormous trees greeted her weary saunter. Despite an ominous dark that lay beyond the arboreous cover, the giant oaks felt welcoming. Zsofia held little caution toward the unknown beyond the massive tree trunks. She simply fell to the ground upon a pile of fallen leaves, and rolled to her back.
Zsofia panted wildly; her heart pounding in her ears. While she lay supine under the shroud of a huge oak, her legs quivered with adrenalin and fatigue. She stared beyond the tufts of leaves still holding to their perch despite the thwarting efforts of the late autumn season. Stars twinkled above. Thank God the rain had finally stopped.
Wonder swam through her mind. She didn’t have a clue how far she’d run, where she currently lay or if her snarling pursuers where still out there somewhere, sniffing her out. Zsofia careened her neck staring toward the unexplainable dark lying beyond her temporary refuge. Every sense within her stood alert, but aside from the musty smell of decaying leaves, her other senses were met with little confirmation.
Zsofia rolled to her stomach while continuing to discern something from the darkness ahead. Squinting, she allowed her eyes to trace the dark from where she lost sight of the ground to the sky above. Understanding suddenly brought focus. The darkness beyond the sheltering trees was not some consuming space; it was an object. Some distance above, a horizontal line served as a horizon between the darkness before her and the stars. The breach of black toward the night sky above stretched to either side of her as far as her eyes could see. Zsofia called upon a reserve of strength and stood… The wall!
“Hit him Attila.”
“Scream as though this hurts worse than anything you have ever felt”, Attila whispered then dug the electrified rod into the boy’s side.
Wonder momentarily swept across the boy’s face as if to ask his torturer why he showed mercy. Attila deliberately positioned himself between the interrogated and Arpad for this reason. Then the feigned cry came. His writhing and wailing so convincing that Attila glanced at the tool he held to assure he had turned the voltage down to no more than a tickle as intended. The boy’s acted agony surely pulled upon some profound inspiration. Perhaps such acting had been fueled by the fact that he’d been stripped naked, hung from chains by his wrists and beaten regularly for hours prior to Arpad’s and his personal involvement. Maybe his cries were rooted in having watched his parents beaten to death in front of him two days prior.
Attila was unaware of the boy’s crime other than he had turned his own parents over to the council’s police one week ago with the accusation of being a part of an increasingly rumored resistance. After succumbing to death without giving any tangible information, the council felt the boy may be more relinquishing since he’d been bold enough to betray his own blood. Lavish accommodations and promises of grandeur on the boy’s behalf in appreciation for his loyalty to the world council didn’t seem to expose anything beyond the boy’s initial accusation. Time to take a different approach.
Attila had witnessed the age old public humiliation and torture tactics used over and over again throughout his career. It kept the people in check. If they began to rebel, or rumors such as this ‘resistance’ would sprout, Arpad and the oligarchy’s council would respond with a publicized fierce brutality.
As the proclaimed world leader, Arpad rarely took personal involvement in these sorts of matters. However, he did feel it necessary to occasionally show his disciplinary side to the people. If a reason behind who he chose to make an example of existed, it was only known to him. Regardless of his motives, one thing always rang true in his method. Anytime he saw fit to make his example upon some rebellious part of society, Attila would be the one chosen to administer his bidding.
Mercy despite his boss’s instruction hadn’t always been Attila’s way. In his younger years, Attila found no remorse in doing as he had been told. It had been the reason he advanced to the head of Arpad Szabo’s security. Just like having to use reading glasses now, it seemed age had begun to influence other areas of his life. A steadily growing bridge began to span the gap between duty and conscious. This had been the third time in a row Attila showed leniency toward the tortured.
The acts had thus far been kept from Arpad and the attending camera crews. Ultimately the end result would always be a variation of death, but Atilla had begun to find it easier to sleep if he eased the passing in some way.
More questions came, and were left unanswered. The boy feigned shock and horror each time Attila secretly failed to administer what had been commanded, but the young man had begun to succumb to fatigue. He had not been fed or given water all day, and had been strung up by chains for hours. True to form, Arpad eventually became bored by the lack of results and the steadily decreasing fight from his weakening victim. He checked his watch and sighed.
Rustling could be heard across the packed room as cameras jockeyed for prime position, but no one said a word. Attila backed away from the boy. His skinny, bruised and naked body hung limp, bathed in the bright lights of surrounding cameras. He would be just another victim whose death would be broadcast from a room used for such a purpose many times before. The floor drain beneath his feet would lap up the blood that would spill, his body would be burned and at fourteen years old, he would only be remembered as one of the council’s pointless examples to society.
Attila neared the stainless steel table beyond any of the camera’s view. Strangely, he felt anger toward his duty. To drain the young man meant the careful insertion of a large gauge needle into his carotid artery. The boy’s blood would course from his neck until his heart failed. Known as a simple but dramatic death, draining him would not be nearly fast or painless enough.
Setting the electrocution rods on the table, Attila gave pause. More rustling could be heard. The room stank with anticipation. Standing in full uniform, he fumbled at the hilt of his ornamental sword. He would be seen by millions as nothing short of a monster, but he would not drain him. Regardless of the consequences, he would make the boy’s inevitable end quick and painless.
Breaking his always calm demeanor and obedience, Attila spun from the table laden with torture devices. A primal roar spilled from his throat, freezing those in the room with shock. The young boy didn’t even look up before Attila’s sword had been unsheathed and swung. Though ornamental in its design, the blade tore through muscle and bone without being slowed. The edge met the end of its descent and use as a weapon as it shattered against the stone floor beneath where the boy’s body now hung in two pieces. Attila stared at the expressionless face of the boy’s head as it rolled to his feet amongst the broken shards of the blade he had used to remove the young mind from its body. Attila’s sword had not only decapitated its victim as the two chains used to confine Arpad’s latest example now swung and clanged independently. One chain held the boy’s right arm and still twitching fingers. The left arm and attached body hung from the other.
Attila turned to the cameras. The stomachs of several in attendance wretched from the gore. Others feebly attempted comfort of the sick. The rest discretely looked away. The only eye contact Attila could gain was the glassy, black sheen of camera lenses. Those, and the glaring eyes of the world’s leader.
A devilish smile formed across Arpad’s thin lips. His example had been made regardless of the methods used; his bloodlust quenched. There would be no reprimand given.
The tiny speaker he always wore startled him as it squelched in his ear. It was Bálint.
“S fourteen to one, do you copy one?”
“Copy fourteen, go ahead.”
“Sir, I’m sorry to disturb you so late. I am showing a breach at first floor window twelve in the main home.”
Attila sighed swirling his Unicum in a glass tumbler while he sat in his favorite armchair in front of his bedroom’s fireplace. The fire’s light glinted off of the dark contents of his glass he had been using to subdue the memories of the afternoon. He downed the harsh liquor which left an aftertaste of licorice on the back of his tongue.
“I think it may be Zsofia sir.”
“I know Bálint, thanks for letting me know. I’ll take care of it.”
Attila grabbed his security tablet from the table next to his chair, and activated the device. He zoomed in upon the main home’s floor plan confirming what he’d just been told. The conflict in his mind concerning his improvisation during today’s televised execution would have to wait. The entire planet may view him differently now. Hell, his own staff had steered clear of him today, but there was a certain young lady who would never know that side of him. Thank God, none of Arpad’s examples were ever televised, or even talked about within the confines of the area Zsofia was now apparently trying to flee.
Attila found himself amazed at the smile threatening to form at the thought of her. Whether his increasing conscious was the result of age or not, he found solace in knowing anything wholesome in his life came at the nurturing bond he had with the young lady now lurking in the shadows of her home’s eastern courtyard.
He chuckled under his breath toward her naïve determination. He had a feeling her outburst this morning would result in something rash. Time to do the one thing he enjoyed most about his job. Protect the only one he had ever loved.