The Punishments of President Glazzgo

Every night his cell is gassed at exactly 11:30. The gas puts him to sleep. He’s learned, over the years, to lie down on his bed at five minutes till. Otherwise he will fall, and strike his head.

A separate gas wakes him up every morning; it also wakes up his appetite. The compulsion to eat is irresistible (the gas makes sure of that — hunger strikes are impossible at Asterax Prison).

For two hours every day, he is beamed with artificial sunlight. For one hour every day, his muscles are jolted with rays that induce cardiovascular exercise. For three hours every day, a holographic companion appears and makes conversation, to ensure that loneliness cannot take root. President Glazzgo is free of all depression or anxiety. He lives in a perfect prison, because Asterax refuses to cause him any kind of pain, refuses to be his enemy, because in such pain might lie a kind of freedom — even if only the freedom to feel resentment and rage — and nothing, nothing, can ever allow President Glazzgo to feel anything like freedom, not ever again.

But he does mutter to himself, from time to time. He runs over the same old arguments, the same old logic, all those ideas that got him where he is. Ideas like Will. Purity. Humanity. And above all, “Nature.”

“NATURE!” the posters screamed, the ones that used to hang nearly everywhere on earth, the ones with his face in the air, in a red shadow, staring defiantly toward the future, “the Machineless Future,” the slogan ran, while underneath were mobs of Glazzgo’s red-shirt followers, with billyclubs and flame-throwers and vaporizers. Ready to beat the machines, set them on fire, melt them down. Piles of metal skulls smoldered redly in the foreground.

Sometimes he runs these old thoughts by the hologram — but whenever any subject that even remotely touches on the Clearing comes up, the hologram shuts down. Refuses to speak. Smiles, politely. Until he moves on.

Asterax will not have it. There will be no one, ever again, who’ll listen to President Glazzgo . . . explain himself.