“I am Captain McGinty. I will be responsible for your arrival to your various checkpoints within the Federation of Industrialized Nations – should you survive the journey. These two men are my associates: Mr. Wong and Mr. Jenkins. They and their team will oversee your comfort.”
Captain McGinty, a red-faced man with even redder hair, bore a striking resemblance to the pimply-faced man who unceremoniously crushed Femi’s watch. Were they brothers? Father and son? Their possible genetic relationship didn’t really matter, but Femi needed a distraction from the humiliation of being strip-searched and left shoeless and naked in a sterile white room with forty-nine other men. It was freezing cold, but a river of perspiration snaked its way down his back, pooling in the divide of his exposed buttocks.
McGinty had begun wrapping up his ten minute address, but Femi had only been able to retain bits of the information; partially due to the crimson-faced man’s unique accent and partially because he was still reeling from being struck in the head repeatedly after trying to flee at the threshold of the processing center. The rules were hazy, but Femi had gathered the following: Each man, now in “collaboration” with the Federation, was allowed to keep one personal item which was to be handed over to the Overseers for “safe keeping”. While the captain was unable to say where each man would be assigned, it was to be understood that they would never return to their home of origin. Any attempts to escape would be rewarded with severe punishment.
“After this meeting, you will each be implanted with a tracking device. This will be placed at the base of your spinal cord. It can only be removed by a FIN operative and is accurate to a 50 meter radius,” McGinty explained. “This device also serves a dual purpose… We use it for conditioning.”
The red man nodded at Jenkins, who disappeared behind a velvet curtain dyed a deep magenta. When he rematerialized, it was with a man of slight build in his grip, clad only in linen shorts. His sable skin shone in stark contrast to the white fabric that barely clung to his thin, angular waist. Jenkins dropped the man to the floor, his body crumpling in a pathetic heap.
“This is Thomas,” said McGinty. “Of course, we don’t know if this is his real name. It was the name he was assigned when he kept attempting to escape this facility. Like you, he was warned that if he attempted to depart without permission he would be punished severely. He didn’t believe us and now…”
Doubting Thomas. Femi snorted, quietly. He would’ve been impressed by the wit of the imposed moniker if he wasn’t so terrified. Like many Nigerian men of his age and generation he appreciated ‘dark humor’, but the mirth of the situation was not apparent to him at the moment. He wondered what was going through the minds of the other men lined up next to him, immovable like plinths crafted of black marble. Not one of his co-captives (or “collaborators” as McGinty had insisted they refer to one another as) had scarcely dared to breathe since they had been stripped, herded into the confined space and confronted with the pitiful sight of the wild-eyed man now named Thomas. McGinty was still droning on. Femi turned his attention back to the captain.
“…it gives me no pleasure to do this, but I feel it’s necessary to demonstrate the situation in which we all find ourselves.”
It was Wong who stepped forward now, sliding the metal door of the meeting room with a series of grating clanks. A conspicuous device was strapped to his wrist, sporting several buttons of differing size and color. Sunlight, tinted with the awful patina of Lagos’ polluted air, suddenly flooded the room. Some of the men raised a hand to shield their eyes from the unexpected ocular assault. Others, like Femi, kept their palms in place to protect their dignity. For many moments, nothing happened until Jenkins nudged Thomas towards the gaping opening with his boot, growling a single word order:
Suddenly, Thomas rose to his feet and took off like a shot, directionless and clearly bewildered. Just 100 meters away was a rusty railing and beyond that, the bottomless ocean. A clamor rose among the men, most of them cheering Thomas on, encouraging him to take his freedom. Others, like Femi, stood silently, certain that this demonstration would end in tragedy. McGinty’s voice rose above the din, instructing the men to turn their attention towards the digital screen which had previously been blank. A green dot – presumably representing Thomas – zigged erratically before coming to a sudden stop. A live video stream now showed Thomas on the concrete convulsing, mouth agape in a silent scream, eyes fixed upwards like a fish yanked out of the river and left to rot on the banks. Without warning, Thomas soiled himself, brown sludge coursing onto the concrete. A deathly quiet replaced the clamor, punctuated by the quiet weeping of a collaborator built like a wrestler. Such men of his size and power were never meant to cry. Femi blocked out the sounds of this suppressed wailing.
“An electrical impulse will be sent through the body of any man who attempts to escape, disobeys an order, or offends a FIN official,” said Wong, speaking for the first time. “These impulses will simulate anything from head injury, blows to the body, sodomization or a slap.”
McGinty interjected quickly, tinging his voice with optimism. “Thank you, Mr. Wong. I think it’s important to note at this juncture that there are neither oppressors nor victims in this unique situation in which we all find ourselves. We are partners in this enterprise! Yes, these tactics may harken back to the barbaric days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but I think we can all agree that our cultures have advanced considerably since then. No man here will physically lay a hand on you, and the rules of our engagement are clearly defined, unlike in centuries past. And after all, we are all here voluntarily, are we not? I certainly do not believe that any one of you can make a case for trickery.”
“And if you don’t like it, ya shoulda asked better questions before you signed that contract,” grunted Jenkins, shaking his head. “But you were so eager to leave Africa…Ha!”
A broad smile found its way to McGinty’s lips, as though some delightful, forgotten surprise had presented itself in the moment. “Oh yes! Thank you, Mr. Jenkins. About that…some of you will never leave the continent at all. You will be assigned to work on locations now part of the Federation. In days past, you might have called these ‘colonies’, but today we know them as partner countries waiting to be ratified as one of the Industrialized Nations. So while you expected to wind up in America or Italy, you will still be working for the good of those nations without ever having set foot there. Very exciting opportunity!”
At this, the men began to shout in anger. Wong took a single threatening step forward, provoking a restless calm over the group.
Femi straightened his back, bold and confident. Neither he nor his fellow captives had yet been fitted with their torture-tracking devices and if there was ever a moment to make a bid for their freedom, this would be it. Femi scanned the eyes of his fellow collaborators for a sign that any man who had come to the same realization, but found none. The sinking feeling that he’d been carrying in his belly since the black hood had been thrown over his head at dawn that morning grew even deeper, threatening to swallow him whole.
What fate awaited him? He knew this for sure: No matter what, he would not end up like the pitiable Thomas. He would find a way to get back to Fola, to his family and warn everyone about the S.L.A.V.E. program.
He had to.