In a remote location of the Ophelian Empire, inside a frigid fortress within a secluded chamber, there existed an ornate overstuffed scarlet divan. Seated upon the divan was the Emperor’s highest court appointed hypnotist. She sat poised, as ready to deliver venom as the erect double-headed cobra embroidered on her robe. The long black hair flowing over her shoulders starkly contrasted with her pale death-like skin. Before her in a worn wooden school chair sat her subject—a boy of eleven years. For the past ten minutes they had locked eyes in a meditative fixed gaze.
Zeva Melain's mastery over the mind had earned her a commission of great importance. The boy was one of the first test subjects of a new militant program slated to put all previous programs to shame and projected to yield the most effective armed force the planet had ever known. Zeva’s task was to probe the boy's psyche and stimulate the inextinguishable anger that had been subliminally implanted since infancy. Awakening his anger was step one. Step two would be putting that anger to good use.
The hypnotist patiently concentrated her large piercing eyes on the boy's pupils until her gaze penetrated his consciousness. She raised her left brow slightly and watched him do the same.
"Good," she thought. "It's working."
She constricted then dilated her pupils, and involuntarily he imitated her.
"Yesss," Zeva hissed in her mind, never wavering from eye contact. "I have access."
"Listen to me, Jared. I have something that is familiar to you. Do you wish to see it?"
He nodded slightly and his glazed eyes watched her reveal a newly-weaned bobcat from an opening in her robe. Though too ferocious to serve as pets for the commoners of the land, the Emperor had deemed it wise to have his budding militant test subjects reared closely with these predatory cats to limit their fear and sharpen the traits of ferocity and grace. The idea was either brilliant or just another one of the Emperor’s whims.
"No beast can be trusted, not even a small one such as this. Look at the animal, Jared. What do you see? Look closely."
The subject's vision strained as the hypnotist tightened the grip on his mind.
“You see mischief in its eyes and the vile intent of its teeth. You do see that, don’t you, Jared?"
"Yes, I see that."
“It wants to hurt you.”
"It wants to hurt me.”
“In fact, it’s already hurt you.”
His brow furrowed.
"How does that make you feel?"
"Good, Jared. You should be angry, for look at your arm."
The boy looked at his arm as his mind waited for her to tell him what he saw.
She lathered her words with rising intensity. "The creature has ripped your flesh with its sharp claws. Smell the blood, Jared. See the wet stain on your skin!"
The boy saw the stain and smelled the blood. He could even taste it in his mouth. Red liquid oozed from his arm and dripped to the floor where it burned.
"This cat caused you injury, Jared. How do you feel toward it?"
He screamed at the feline in Zeva’s lap, "How dare you maul the body of an Ophelian—I’ll crush your bones!"
Zeva saw the tedious work of imprinters emerge with every rising degree of the boy’s anger. An army of such ones would surely be unconquerable.
"Yes, Jared! Let your fury bubble to the surface, but wait for my command to take action. You must wait for my command. Then your vengeance will be most ripe."
She drew a dagger from her robe’s pocket and placed it in his hand. "When I give the command, young one, you must kill and spare no mercy. The creature gave you pain—amply return it!"
White knuckles clenched the dagger as his elbow pulled back to gain momentum. Murderous eyes focused on the cat's vulnerable chest. Zeva Melain felt rage emitting from the boy and it almost frightened her. "On my command, Jared. Only on command.”
His bicep tightened until his arm shook.
Zeva spat the permissive word like acid. "Now!"
"Cut!" the director called from off-stage. "No no no! The script calls for you to say strike, not now! Dammit, woman, that take was just about perfect!”
The actress looked confused. “I swear in my copy it said now!”
“Then you have an old copy, you need the revised version. If you would have been on time today we’d all be on the same page—no pun intended.”
“I already told you I had a dead battery this morning.”
“I know, I know! And yesterday you were late because your hot water heater went out so you couldn’t get a shower. The day before that, you had a touch of food poisoning. Hopefully tomorrow a little old lady doesn’t need help crossing a street! Look, just review the revised script, and learn your lines!”
“It’s almost lunch—we may as well break for an hour.” The director heaved his large body from his chair, turned his head to the ceiling and shouted, “Clear the set!”
The actress ripped the long black wig from her head and massaged her scalp. "I’m practically suffocating under this thing. Gary, turn off those blasted lights!"
The stage lights dimmed, but for one of the actors their glare remained just as intense. The child of eleven years clenched the hilt of the dagger and his fixed eyes remained locked on the bobcat.
“If you would’ve been on time,” the actress mimicked under her breath, yet deliberately within ear-shot of the director. “Get the revised script. Fine! If he doesn’t want me to say now I’ll say strike! What’s the difference?”
The ring of the command filled the young boy’s brain as he lunged forward.
"Yes, Zeva, I obey!"
“What are you doing?” She looked shocked as he stabbed the dagger into the bobcat’s belly. The prop-blade slid safely into the hilt and the boy was puzzled. He tried a second thrust which yielded the same results.
“Someone get over here—the kid’s gone nuts!”
“Yes, Zeva, I obey!” he repeated.
The director, not grasping the seriousness of the situation, laughed. “See, Your Highness? Even the kid knows the right line!”
The production company’s animal trainer quickly dashed forward and lifted the cat from the scene just as the boy pulled a fresh switch-blade from his pants pocket.
“Yes, Zeva, I obey!” He lunged forward with as much force as his small body could muster but the bobcat was gone and only the actress remained.
Two stagehands ran onto the set just a little too late.
The director looked slightly amused but immediately shook off the emotion before anyone noticed. He regained his composure and feigned a sense of authoritative urgency. “Where’s Mrs. Lippman? Somebody fetch the kid’s mom—her son’s gone berserk!”
The two stagehands were now joined by the make-up artist. All worked to pry apart the two cast members as the actress’s screams dominated the room.