“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
“It was after the war,” Number 6 replied. “I was in Japan on military
assignment. The Royal Air Force had loaned me to the Yanks.” “Ah, so you
learned from us,” Number 66, a slight Japanese gentleman in his late
thirties with a pencil thin black mustache riding his upper lip, smiled.
“What level?” Number 6 continued to dress for their bout. “Number 0ne,”
Number 6 said. “Most impressive,” Number 66 smiled, bowing his head in
respect. In Kosho you began at level nine, and as you progressed you
moved from level to level until you reached the level at which you
functioned best, stopping there unless and until you felt competent to
proceed to the next level by way of a series of bouts with individuals
who had already attained that level. You were pitted against six
different Koshi over a twelve day period. You had to win all six bouts.
Moving up in Kosho rank was rather like the belt system of other forms
of martial arts. Any Koshi having become a number one was considered a
master. “And you?” Number 6 asked. “Number two,” replied Number 66.
“This should prove interesting.” Having said this Number 6 motioned
towards the Kosho bout area. “Yes,” Number 66 agreed, “Perhaps today I
begin to move up in rank.”
Their bout had ended in what both considered an agreeable
draw. Having dealt with each other for nearly thirty minutes both
thought a tie better than an exhausted loss. They talked of another
bout, perhaps early the next week, and parted, both appreciating the
skill of the other.
Number 2 sighed, tossing the book to the side. “We go over
it and over it, looking for a clue, a key that we can use to unlock his
mind and we come up with what? With a big, fat zero, that’s what. We
look at his childhood. Its normal. We look into his teenage years. He
was a good lad, studious, quick with sports. He even considered becoming
a priest. His military record is spotless, a fine Airman.” He looked at
the man next to him. “I’m tired of it. I’m just tired. And open to
suggestions. ANY suggestions.” The other man smiled.
“The plays the thing, Number 6,” Number 2 shifted his
weight to his good leg. One was just a tad shorter than the other.
Automobile accident as a youth. “You’re an intelligent man 6.” “You call
me 6? Not Number 6? Are we on a first name basis then?” Number 2
ignored this and went on from where he’d been interrupted by Number 6.
“You know I’m right. I’m NOT asking you to spill your guts or come over
to what you think of as ‘our side’. Its just a simple job. You’re
familiar with the Bard, perhaps more so than anyone else in the Village.
I know you care about the welfare of your fellow Villagers. I don’t
expect you to care about your ‘warders’ as you call us. All I’m asking
is that you help them, the other Villagers, not me. This isn’t about cat
and mouse. Its a matter of emotional well being. We want people to be
content for our own reasons, true. But you’d rather see them content
than just setting, wasting away mentally, wouldn’t you? Come now, do
THEM a favor.” “I’ll think about it.” “As you like it, Number 6. And
thank you. For now your consideration is all I ask, and honestly more
than I expected. Thank you.” And he actually sounded sincere.
He hated to admit that Number 2 might be right about
anything, and he was very certain that there was an ulterior motive, but
he was also aware of the change he’d seen over the past few months in
the other Villagers. Lethargy. An unhealthy air of ‘Who cares, anyway?’
And it seemed extreme. They were worse than rotting cabbages. There was
no desire for anything. No desire to fit in, co-operate, escape, live. A
theatrical productions could easily give people not only something to
look forward to but something to DO as well. Involve as many as
possible, in whatever capacity. Knowing there was an ulterior motive,
even though he didn’t know what it was … yet, would keep him on guard
and therefore less likely to be used as a pawn. His blood still boiled
at the thought of the affair with Number 48. He could see no real
downside, no real reason not to. He could see several honestly good
reasons to do it. He might as well. Just to see what the ulterior motive
would turn out to be if for no other reason. He picked up the phone.
“Number 2, please.” A moment of dead air followed by a click. “Number 6
here. Of course you know that already. Just thought I’d let you know.
Yes, I’ll direct your play for you. Or for ‘them’ rather. We can sort
out details in the morning. Be seeing you.” Number 2 put the phone down.
“He’ll do it,” he said to the empty room. “He wants to know whats
behind it all.” He laughed to himself. “Ah, Number 6, you are a hard nut
to crack, its true. But we do recognize that you’re a nut.” And he
laughed heartily at his own joke.
He was dealing with more of the Villagers than he’d ever
really wanted to. However he had to admit that the reaction had been
nearly miraculous. People were taking an active interest. Even the
elderly, not physically able to make or move props and the like, with no
memory for lines and so no possibility of acting, talked it up with
everyone that came their way. Not that everyone didn’t know about it
already. Two editions of the Tally Ho had been dedicated to the thing,
announcements were made daily over the loudspeaker system, there were
even progress updates on the telly. It must be an impressive ulterior
motive, he thought to himself. And he hated to admit it, and would never
admit it to Number 2, but he was actually enjoying his role as
director. Everyone seemed to think he was the number one man, the ‘go
to’ individual. That part he could take less of. But there were so few
REAL outlets for creativity here in the Village, if any, that he was
willing to indulge, even happy to do so. Number 2 watched from the
sidelines, a sly smile resting on his lips. He said, to no one in
particular even though he was flanked by others, “Told you.”
They were dressing. Number 6 had bested Number 66 in their
Kosho match but only by inches. “Very good match,” Number 66 was wiping
sweat from his face with a small towel. “Yes. I thought you had me
several times,” Number 6 was being both honest and complimentary. “So
did I,” Number 66 smiled. At the Green Dome Number 2 called out,
“Supervisor!” “Yes.” “Go to the theater. Center on the stage for me.”
“Done.” Number 2 sat waiting expectantly. “He’ll go there next,” he
mumbled to himself. The metal doors swished open. He didn’t bother
looking up. He knew who it was. “Help yourself to a sandwich,” he waved a
hand towards the lunch cart, still intent on the monitor. “You must be
hungry after that bout.” “Yes, I am,” he replied. Sandwich in hand he
looked at Number 2, “You realize I’m twice the man he is. Its just that
he doesn’t know it yet.” Number 2 glanced at Number 66 and smiled
slightly, then back to the screen.
He walked across the stage hurriedly “No, no, Number 201.
With emotion yes, but not over the top.” He smiled kindly at the elderly
man. Sugar catches more fly’s than vinegar. “More like this … ” And
Number 6 proceeded to demonstrate. Number 2, watching the screen, made a
mental note. “No wonder he so often gets the best of us. He is a
consummate actor.” The Supervisor sighed, “Ah, Number 6. ‘Forgive, O
Lord, my little jokes on Thee and I’ll forgive Thy great big one on
me.'” Number 2 looked up, his nose crinkled, ” Blake?” he
asked incredulously. “Hardly,” the Supervisor look at him with a frown,
“Robert Frost.” “Ah, American,” Number 2 said with obvious
disappointment. “He wouldn’t want us to know it of course, but for all
his talent as an actor, used to show us only what he wants us to see,
he’s obviously enjoying this. Good, good. Get Number 66 please.” “Yes.”
“I want you to volunteer to help with the play. Offer to
do so in any capacity but be sure to mention that you’d enjoy running,
literally, errands. Good exercise for Kosho.” Number 2 looked at Number
66 with a question mark drawn across his face. “Yes,’ said Number 66,
“That should work admirably.” “Be seeing you at the theater, Number 66.”
“Be seeing you, Number 2.”
“So, my job is to keep tabs on him and, as in a Kosho
match, steer him to a specific spot where he’ll be vulnerable.”
“Exactly, Number 66!” Pointing to a chart of the theater he explained,
“He must be precisely here,” he tapped the chart with force, “when
Oliver says ‘O, that your highness knew my heart in this! I never loved
my brother in my life!’ in act three, scene two. The shot will be fired
from here. We will have staged the first public execution, oh, excuse
me, assassination in the Village. Its not the play folks will be
expecting, but it will provide a lesson to all. And we’ll spread plenty
of rumors. Was it an execution? Was it an assassination? People will
have much to ponder. People will be much easier to control. And Number 6
will be safely tucked away, the tissue undamaged. He’ll be much easier
to handle, locked away in a ward. Something like this should have been
done months ago. Being unmutual isn’t your ticket to freedom. Not here
in the Village.” “And then?” “Oh, Number 6, a bit stunned from the
impact of the drugged dart and of course the drug itself, will be
revived in hospital. And after THAT,” Number 2 rubbed his hands
together, “well, he’ll never be seen again. He will have a nice funeral.
I’ll be there. So will you. He’ll never be seen again by anyone other
than the personnel in Unit One Mind Manipulation. They can have their
way with him daily. So long as they don’t damage the tissue, of course.”
“Of course.” Number 66 drew in a deep breath, “And the assassin?” “Oh,
never be caught. Something else to hold over their heads. I mean,
they’ll always wonder if it was one of us or one of them, won’t they?
Always wonder if we suspect them. Always wonder if its the one sitting
next to them.” He smiled broadly to himself at his supposed
victory.”I’ll go find Number 6.” And Number 66 went looking.
“That would actually be a great help,'” Number 6 looked at
Number 66 thankfully. “Then its settled. I’ll be your number two man,
your runner.” Number 6 couldn’t help but like Number 66. He didn’t trust
him, but he did like him up to a point. Beyond that point he trusted,
he liked no one. He, himself, like it or not, was the only one he could
count on. Some things never change.
The play was going rather well for an amateur production.
The audience was enjoying it immensely, anyone could see that. Number 6
was rather proud of the whole thing. The second act was nearly over.
Number 66 stood close by, just in case Number 6 needed anything. He had
gone to great pains in making himself indispensable. Number 6 folded his
arms, seemingly very satisfied. The ulterior motive. There had to be
one, there always was one. It had become a sort of game. Of course he
had his own agenda, his own motive. His motive? Well, he must always be
on guard, always watching for his chance. Boiled done to its simplest
component, his motive, not so ulterior but hidden in plain sight to
some, was to look out for number one.
Number 66 moved closer to Number 6. “Excuse me, I can’t see
well from there.” Number 6 obligingly moved over, directly onto the
imaginary X, the exact spot designated by Number 2. Oliver was saying, ”
… your highness knew my heart … ” From just behind Number 66 there
was a crash. He turned quickly. Only a portion of the next set. It had
fallen over. He turned back and … Number 6? Where was Number 6?! ” …
I never loved my brother … ”
Number 2 waited. He looked to the balcony. Number 79 wasn’t
there! What had happened? What went wrong? Worse, how would he explain
this to … It had been all Number 2s idea. It was all on his shoulders.
He was so sure of it all he’d taken certain details upon himself
without asking. It was all … There would be fall out over this. Insane
fall out. He shrunk down, down into his seat. The audience was
A man stood slightly to the side, at the back of the
theater. His lapel was askew so that you couldn’t see his numbered badge
or even tell if there was one. His face was hidden in the shadows. The
way he slouched it was impossible to guess his height and hard to judge
his weight. He was, among all those others, a non-entity. One among many
he was hidden in plain view. He was watching intently. The stage may as
well have been vacant as far as he was concerned. His eyes were trained
on the front row, on Number 2. “He’s an idiot! I can’t wait to hear the
excuse,” he thought, “In the morning, when I replace him, I think I’ll
give him to Number 31. He’d be pleased with a new guinea pig, I’m sure.”
He turned and walked away. “As You Like It! I’ll be directing his
attention to the door in the morning and then we’ll see how HE likes
Be seeing you. And remember, no one looks out for number one but you.