It was the time for the annual Carnival, and people in the Village were hurriedly preparing their cottages and buildings for the grand event. Decorations of every sort were being placed everywhere they could be attached, booths were being set up near the bandstand, and people were selecting their costumes for the Grand Ball.
The Prisoner sat in his room, a grim expression on his face, contemplating the events outside. The people seemed to accept anything at times; they offered no resistance, they chose the path of least difficulty. His own experience with Carnival had been less than positive, and he was convinced that he would not help out in this one in any way, shape, or form.
A special announcement in that morning's edition of the Tally Ho had proclaimed that Number Two had ordered the Village divided into sections, with each section competing to determine which would have the most attractive decorations and the most whole-hearted participation in Carnival. The winning section would receive their own "magnificent" statue of #2–which would probably turn out to be a solid mass of stone, unworked in any way, but which the people would gawk at anyhow.
The Prisoner's cottage had been placed into the same section as five other cottages and the general store. the others had already nearly finished their decorations; he had done nothing but read. He knew that in the Village cooperation usually meant capitulation, and he was determined to maintain his independence and his identity, no matter what the cost.
The sound of his door opening drew him from his reverie, and three women came in at once, stopping only a few feet away.
"Number Six," the fattest of the women began, "We represent your other partners in Carnival preparation, and we are ashamed that you have done nothing, nothing at all, to help our section win the glorious prize." She spoke with a slightly imperious manner, determined to impress the Prisoner with her own stately importance.
"You must begin your preparations at once, or you shall cost us the prize," she said, her nose rising slightly higher.
The Prisoner slowly looked at the three women, then returned to his book, doing the best he could to ignore the intrusion on his privacy.
"Didn't you hear us, Number Six?" the woman continued. "You must begin your preparations immediately. Carnival is only a few days away, and it will take all of us working with you to get your cottage ready. you don't want to disappoint Number Two, do you?"
He looked at the pompous woman, smiled slightly, and returned again to his book.
By this time the women were becoming totally exasperated, and their leader said huffily," You will cooperate, Number Six. We will not allow you to prevent us from winning. Don't you want our section to have such a grand statue?"
"Not particularly," was the sum total of his reply.
The fat woman looked at the other ladies, and all three turned and stormed out the door. The moment they left, the phone rang, and the Prisoner answered it, after allowing the proper waiting period to go by.
"This is Number Two. You're not being very friendly or helpful, are you, Number Six?"
"Why should I be?" asked the Prisoner.
"It's our duty to the community," replied Number Two. "On the other hand, this is not the main reason for my call. We have a new arrival in the Village, someone I think you know, that may be a friend of yours."
"An acquaintance. Maybe a friend. In either case, you are welcome to come over to the hospital to see the interrogation, later tonight."
The connection was broken, and the Prisoner put the phone down. He wondered what new soul was being introduced to the nightmare of the Village. Interrogation? Why was he being invited to witness an interrogation? Further, why at the hospital, tonight/ Usually prisoners met Number Two in his egg-chair room and were dealt with in the daytime. Only special "visitors" were met in the hospital.
It was a matter the Prisoner decided to investigate. When night fell, he left his cottage and briskly walked to the hospital, seeing the people still working industriously, putting up posers with Number Two's face, decorating their own cottages, cleaning up already clean streets and buildings. The manager of the general store was busily working on rearranging his merchandise, working to sounds from the loud speakers, urging the people on to even greater effort.
A few minutes later the Prisoner had arrived at the hospital, and met Number Two outside the interrogation room door. Number Two turned and acknowledge the Prisoner's arrival, and then pointed to the window in the door, to the person beyond.
"Do you know her?" he asked.
"The Prisoner looked at the woman sitting in the chair, and remembered that they had worked together on several particularly difficult cases. He had grown somewhat fond of her. She was independent, highly competent, and very intelligent.
"Why have you brought her here?" the Prisoner asked.
"She may be useful to us," Number Two replied.
"Your standard, usefulness? " the Prisoner noted sarcastically.
Number Two continued. He warned the Prisoner that the woman would be subjected to a new form of interrogation unless the Prisoner cooperated in the Carnival preparations.
"We have a new device, called the Dimensional Mind Transfer Machine, he said. "Dr. Seltzman had nothing to do with it, either; it's entirely a product of our own scientists. You see, there are many dimensions in the universe, all totally alien to our own, some quite terrifying. We have found a way to keep the person's body in our dimension, but to project his or her mind into another reality. Thus, that person is in two diverse universes at the same time. The process is guaranteed to drive even the strongest minds utterly mad within a relatively short time. We release their minds, from time to time, to convince them that, unless they tell us what we want to know, there is no hope for them. No hope at all."
The Prisoner looked at the woman through the window in the door. They had at one time been close. Their feelings could, under better circumstances, have developed into love. She had, however, been later stationed in another part of the globe, and he eventually had lost contact with her. still, he remembered the past, and he knew that Number Two did not kid about any new way they had devised to mentally torture people.
He had been subjected to enough of their experiments himself.
"Unless you cooperate, Number Six, we will perform our first test of the Dimensional Mind Transfer Machine on your friend. The choice is simple–participate in carnival, or she loses her mind."
The Prisoner looked at the woman again, then at Number Two. He knew that Number Two would relish his capitulation on any point at all, no matter how trivial. Life in the Village had been a constant mental battle with a variety of Number Twos and, so far, they had all succeeded very well in losing to the Prisoner.
This Number Two would not be the first to break him. The Prisoner refused to participate in the Carnival.
Number Two sighed, then walked to the door. He tapped once on the glass, then twice. A burly scientist working in the room moved over to a row of dials and switches on some form of control board. Two other men moved by the woman and forcefully held her in the chair, then began attaching electrodes to her forehead after securing her arms and legs with restraining bands. Soon she looked much like a prisoner awaiting execution in a jail. One more tap on the glass by Number Two and the scientist at the control panel began moving dials, throwing switches, and glancing at a computer terminal, watching rows of numbers flash across the display screen.
The woman's body jerked, and then she began to scream, the sound muffled by the special acoustics of the room, barely managing to escape the door. A wild pattern of lights and colors flashed across the computer display screen, at times seeming to coalesce into vague shadow monsters, nightmare creatures that defied description, but whose very presence suggested an ageless, deep evil.
A few moments later the two assistants released the restraints, and the woman rose from the chair, then began running around the room wildly, falling over tables, smashing into the wall, totally unaware of her physical surroundings.
Number Two turned to the Prisoner. "She sees another reality, and is reacting to it. For her, our reality does not exist. Her mind is in one place, her body another."
She was still running, then took a particularly nasty fall and lay crying and breathing heavily. The Prisoner banged on the door, but the noise drew no response from within.
Number Two smiled. "She is but the first. Others will follow unless you cooperate with Carnival."
The Prisoner looked savagely at Number Two. "The Carnival is a trivial matter."
"Trivial?" Number Two asked. "Obedience is never trivial."
"And if I cooperate?" the Prisoner asked.
"Then we will let her go–but only after we are assured of your whole-hearted, enthusiastic cooperation. She will be released–after Carnival is over. If you don't cooperate, we will keep her this way until her mind is utterly destroyed."
The Prisoner walked back to his cottage, thinking rapidly all the way. When he arrived, he went inside and directly to one certain drawer. The three women who had visited him previously walked in the door only moments after he did, and now stood watching as the Prisoner took a tape measure and began making measurements all over the rooms. Then he walked outside, neatly side-stepping the women, and took what measurements he could by the lights outside. The women watched as he began to write the various measurements down, muttered a few incomprehensible words to himself, and then walked over to the general store, the three women closely following.
At the general store he bought a supply of poster paper, wires, batteries and assorted other materials. He next went to the Village repair shop, followed now by the three women and the general store manager, and bought some wire, a number of electrical devices, and some chemicals and switches.
He spent the better part of an hour going to several other places, obtaining a rather large supply of odds and ends. One bag after another was filled, only to be handed over to the women following him. Soon all three women and the manaer were loaded down with bags while the Prisoner walked in front of them, his hands empty except for a piece of paper and a pen, jotting down notes as he went along.
Back at the cottage the bags were placed on a table. the Prisoner turned, looked at the three women and the manager, all in equal stages of astonishment, smiled, gave them the Village salute, and went back to his computations. The four amazed people left his cottage, talking amongst themselves about how the Prisoner had apparently changed, and how they now stood a chance of winning the wonderful statue.
The Prisoner made several more buying sprees in the following days, constantly followed by one or more of the women, constantly monitored by Number Two or by the Supervisor.
In the daytime, the Prisoner was busy decorating his cottage, to the approving smiles of the passers-by. At night, after curfew, working in his unlit room, hoping to avoid detection, he made certain alterations in his decorations, in the wiring, and the electrical devices hooked up everywhere in the cottage.
On the afternoon before the Carnival was scheduled to begin, the Prisoner paid one more visit to the hospital. He saw the woman, her dress ragged and torn, her face showing pain and terror beyond human comprehension.
That evening, promptly at the opening of Carnival, the Prisoner walked out of his cottage, pressed one button on a control device he had built, and the whole cottage lit up, lights spelling out various Village slogans. The people who had gathered oohed and aahed. Then, another button was pushed, and a huge photograph of Number Two unrolled, accompanied by a din of musical sounds from hidden speakers, accompanied by even more lights, now blinking on and off.
While the people were watching and starting to applaud, the Prisoner moved off, unnoticed.
He hid behind the edge of a building, glanced out once, then pressed the final button on the control box. Instantly an overload of electricity shot through all the wires in his display, fires bursting out all over his cottage. Small explosions echoed through the night as various bottles of chemicals he had mixed were detonated by the heat of the flames. Soon the entire scene was one of panic, screaming, and the sound of the Village fire department rushing to douse the flames.
While all eyes were focused on the inferno at the Prisoner's cottage, he moved swiftly to the hospital, evading crowds of people running to the scene of the excitement. He arrived at the interrogation room, saw no one nearby, and pushed open the door. The woman was exhausted, slumped on the floor, still in another reality. The Prisoner picked up her limp form and began to leave th room, hoping to somehow manage an escape from the Village using the fire as a diversion.
Just before he stepped through the door the voice of Number Two sounded from a nearby speaker.
"You cannot free her, Number Six. She must be adjusted by our own doctors to enable her to return to this reality. Any sudden and forced entry into this dimension will cause her several mental shock and undoubtedly death."
The Prisoner knew that Number Two had lied on many occasions, and there seemed no reason to believe he was not lying now. Once away from the effects of the Village, he thought, she might return peacefully to full normality.
A half hour later, after carefully threading his way through the people still rushing to the fire, the Prisoner managed to lead the woman away from the Village, out towards the forest. perhaps in the dead of night and the chaos caused by the fire they might stand a chance of escaping.
By now the woman was walking somewhat more steadily, and her occasional glances around showed that her mind was beginning to return to our dimension. Perhaps the effects of the machine decreased with ones distance from it.
Suddenly, without warning, she let out an unearthly scream and stumbled to the ground. The Prisoner caught her as she was falling and glanced around to see if anyone else had heard her.
Her eyes came into focus as she looked directly at him, and recognized her one-time friend and fellow agent. Her voice was soft, taking all her energy to force out her words.
"What I saw," she gasped. "Too horrible to live with. Such evil. That place," the movement of her head indicating the Village. "The man, Number Two, told me about it. one hell to another, right?" Her voice was a mix of a half-hysterical laugh and a deep resignation to the ultimate reality–death.
"My death for my freedom. Not such a bad deal, huh? " she asked, then slumped in his arms, her spirit fled forever.
The Prisoner looked down at her, then heard a sound directly behind him. Rover was standing impatiently behind, waiting for a chance to engulf this menace to the Village. The Prisoner rose and started to carry the woman back with him, but a low growl from Rover and its closer approach forced the Prisoner to leave her body behind.
As he reentered the Village, he glanced back and saw a Village buggy parked by the body, two men lifting her lifeless form. As he watched, the Prisoner thought he saw a fleeting shadow pass behind the men. He looked again, though, and saw nothing there. A short time later, the Prisoner was in the Green Dome, again facing Number Two.
His voice reflected the seething anger he felt at the moment as he spoke to Number Two. "You used her, just like you use all the others."
Number Two spoke slowly, glancing at the Prisoner, then looking down at some papers on his desk. "You and I, we both use others for our own purposes. You use others for your own selfish purposes while I use others for the good of the entire Village. You mislead your section's Carnival committee into thinking you were really going to help them, you know."
"Which doesn't even begin to compare to how you use people," Number Six replied. "I don't send people's minds to some hellish place just to get someone to obey me."
The Prisoner's disgust was evident on his face as he walked up the ramp to the steel doors to leave. As the doors opened there was a sudden rush of air and blackness. The Prisoner was knocked off the ramp and into the wall, losing consciousness as he fell.
The blackness moved closer to Number Two, engulfing him completely. Moments later the blackness faded, leaving nothing but an unconscious Number Six behind.
When he awoke some time later the Prisoner shook his head then stood up and walked over to where Number Two had been standing. All that remained was a Village button with the number "2" on it and a blackened patch of floor.
"Birds of a feather," the Prisoner said, his voice low as he tossed Number Two's button onto the floor and turned to walk out of the room.
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