Warnings: torture, and lots of it - physical and psychological. Dystopian society. It's twisted.
Whoooops there's a lot (a lot, a lot, a lot) of a) characterisation, b) confusion, mind torture and psychological effing up, c) general twistedness in this fic.
I can't claim that some of what Alfred says hasn't come from my own existential crises, which may be why I understood Orwell's points so well in 1984.
"How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"
Winston thought. "By making him suffer."
"Exactly. By making him suffer."
- George Orwell, 1984.
Alfred sighs with exasperation, annoyance blatant on his face. "Where is he now?"
"How long's he been there?"
"It's only the second day, from what I've been told."
Alfred pauses, his framed eyes stopping on the man. "From what you've been told?" He folds the piece of paper in his hand before placing it on the desk to lean back in his chair. "Are you an Inner Party member?" He asks, his voice deadpan.
"Aren't you supposed to know about everything happening in your department?"
"So - how long has he been there?" Alfred reiterates, his eyes boring into the other's.
"Now you're sure?"
"Good. I'll be down to see him, this is more… delicate than regular thoughtcrimes. Dismissed."
The man nods, before turning to leave. Alfred snatches a letter from his desk, before moving his chair further away from the desk and kicking his feet up onto it. He reads the letter, laughing at some spots, frowning at others. He ends it with an amused expression, and as he stands, he tosses the paper into the memory hole along with a few others. He leaves the office, with a mutter of 'damn it, Yao.'
He catches the long, dark grey coat on the way out to cover the dark uniform lined by red, and is met with two soldiers standing outside his door at the ready. Though not acknowledging them, they follow two steps behind as he makes his way down the angular steps of the Ministry of Peace. As he crosses the corridors and rooms of lower floors, where Outer Party workers are gathered, no-one pays him any attention. While Alfred is a fairly rare sight anywhere else, here he is a regular. It's where he finds it easiest to make contact with the only two people in the world who know as much as he does, and who understand what it is that is going on, and so he chooses to make office here whenever he happens to be in London. Which seems to be irritatingly often. He would much rather spend his time in his own country, but it seems that Ivan, Yao and Arthur all have other plans on their mind.
Stepping out into the crisp outside air, he brushes past the rubble and the scent of smoke as he directs himself to the next Ministry building. The design of the Ministries was nothing short of a stroke of genius on his own part, but the design and layout of the city - especially the distance between the vital buildings - was less so. Although, it was fairly clear that with London being such an old city, it was impossible to simply demolish it and rebuild it again. After all, that would imply Oceania had resources to spare.
Entering the next building, he makes his way through familiar corridors. Never does he glimpse into the other holding rooms, where he knows countless other faceless and soon nameless criminals were sitting with deadened expressions. He hears the clacking of his own boots on the tile floors, accompanied by two other sets; here, he tells them to wait elsewhere for him to return. Turning corners and going down stairs after stairs, he finally finds himself on the level he wants. He opens the heavy metal door, and found exactly whom he had come here for.
Arthur looks up from his pacing, eyes bloodshot and a mixed expression on his face. Alfred merely removes his coat and places it onto the chair next to the wired one. It's Arthur who speaks up first.
"Alfred, I have absolutely no idea why I was brought here, this is a mistake - it always is."
Alfred eyes him with curiosity. "And yet, it never is. I've never found you to not be guilty of whatever you say you aren't guilty of. This is the fourth time you're here. I would have thought that though twice was ample times enough, three would suffice no matter what."
Arthur flares, and Alfred is fascinated with the way he seems to gain that little bit of will to fight, to live in-between two "sessions".
"I am a nation, for heaven's sake! You cannot expect me to simply never recover from whatever injuries you inflict upon me, cannot expect me to never realise how wrong everything is!"
Alfred sighs and sits into his usual chair. He can expect it - in the very near future, he can. He knows he would thoroughly break Arthur some day, but meanwhile he would do it gradually. Chip away slowly, to make it just that much more painful and enjoyable. For him, of course - while he enjoys the power he has, Arthur would suffer it. "We've been over this, many, many times. You think you once were a nation?"
"I know I was!"
"Arthur, please, sit down and don't shout," Alfred says calmly. "There's no need to be angry, nothing to be angry about. You think you were nation, once, don't you?"
"Yes, yes I do think so," Arthur huffs indignantly before eyeing the chair with suspicion. "I would much rather stand."
"Suit yourself. What was the name of that nation?"
"It changed over the centuries. Mainly, it was the British Empire at its height."
Alfred tilts his head with amusement, the words flowing from his mind automatically. "But how can a nation's name change? A country is an absolute - a country lives eternally, and as such, it doesn't have a beginning or an end. So, it can't change at any single point."
"A nation is not absolute - nothing is. Not time, not space, and certainly nothing as fleeting as a nation," Arthur says, his voice just as settled as it was a mere five years earlier.
"Sit back, Arthur, it's much more comfortable," Alfred offers, and though Arthur looks torn for a moment he does near the chair, and sit down at Alfred's prompting. Alfred now rounds behind Arthur, settling his hands on the other's shoulders. He slowly draws him back towards the backrest of the chair, and finally has Arthur laid back into it. "Now, Arthur, think about the idea of a concept. Such a thing - both idea and concept itself - can exist only in the mind of man, no?"
"Man is not what defines the world-"
"But how would the world be defined, if not for man? What else would define it? Only conscious thought is capable of defining and naming and creating and thinking, and as such, the world can only exist as it is in the psyche of humans. Do you see what I mean? A concept is an idea created by man to design something abstract - the world is one such thing. The world can be limited to a city or to the sky or beyond, but that depends on the point of view and the extent of the thought behind the concept," Alfred explains.
"That isn't the point."
Alfred tuts. "That's exactly the point. Man is the only species capable of conscious thought. Man is the only species able to think of things individually and as a whole. Man alone can think. As such, the world is absolute inasmuch as man himself is absolute." Arthur is silent, and Alfred knows he is simply refusing to speak. Alfred continues, knowing that at some point his words would force through that intangible barrage Arthur had once again created. "If man did not exist, who is to say the world would? Nothing. So, it has to be that when man exists, so does the world - but the world cannot exist without man."
Alfred rounds to face Arthur once more, pulling his own chair screeching against the floor in front of Arthur. "But while man is the only species capable of thought, the problem is there aren't many left. And a single man, if not absolute and eternal himself, is dangerous. Because he has no time to live and think long, his ideals are only half-formed, never well-thought-out, and always flawed. His ideals cannot form or function correctly, because they have no time to be thought through properly. As such, if a man cannot live forever, his thought has to eradicated. That's what makes the difference between man and nation. With a man, the idea cannot live on. Instead, a nation can be the idea itself."
Alfred can see the flash behind Arthur's eyes, as if he knows where this is going when Alfred snaps the cuffs of the chair around Arthur's wrists. Alfred stands up, and is just out of Arthur's sight to the side, fiddling with the wires and buttons on the control board.
"The Party, in this case, is the idea. I am the nation, and as such I am absolute - I am the idea. I am therefore the Party. But what you don't see is that you aren't absolute. You are not eternal. You have never been a nation, because you have never been eternal. There is nothing that points towards a past before the Party - it has always been. I have always been. You have not. Your illusion of a nation is just that - an illusion that you've created since the last time we spoke. And because you are not absolute, yet you have a thought - it has to be eradicated."
Alfred sees the way Arthur tenses in preparation when he hears the flick of a switch or the click of a button.
"Man can no longer exist. Thus, only the idea can survive - which is the Party itself. And Britain has never been, and never will be. It's a figment of your mortal imagination. It's your short-lived thought process that never really thought this through."
"I remember - America, god damn it, I remember taking care of you, raising you, waging war against you-"
"Just as you remember feelings? Emotions? Friendships? Family? Lovers?" Alfred added. "I have never been America. You have never been Britain. All of what you think is misleading - once you think you remember something, your mind snatches onto that thought, clings to it. A nation cannot have emotions: it's impossible for something that is forever to possess something as fickle and fleeting as emotions. You can have no emotions but one alone - you can love Big Brother. In fact, you must love Big Brother. You have to, Arthur, that's all you can feel. You're contradicting yourself, Arthur, can't you see?"
"I am not!"
Alfred pulls the lever, and sees the jolt running through Arthur. There's no sound except a short buzz, and it's gone just as quickly as it came.
"I remember, for Christ's sake, I remember-"
"If you so insist on remembering, I'll run with that. Tell me the things you think you remember. Tell me what you think is real, what you think used to be. If you're wrong, I'll show you. And I'm not saying that I'll show if what you say doesn't match up with what I know. I mean that if I can see that you don't believe what you say, if you're lying to yourself, I'll show you. Alright?"
Alfred smiles - grins, smirks, grimaces - when Arthur nods, his eyes trained at the wall in front of him. Alfred studies the wall with interest.
"I remember a time before you were born," Arthur says, and immediately tenses as if expecting a shock. None comes, and Arthur's head shifts.
It's a very grey wall.
"I - it was a messy time, everything was a mess, there was a lot of wars and disease going around," Arthur says, and tenses again.
Alfred nods. "So, you think you remember a time before the Revolution?"
"I know I do-"
A shock. Arthur hisses.
The paint on the wall is flaking. Maybe he should have it repainted. Then again, it's a question of setting and effect. In Alfred's opinion, it's just that much more haunting, a room such as this, with a flaking wall.
"You don't know, Arthur - you think. Don't confuse your language. Though it's being made much, much simpler at the moment."
"I-" He stops, unsure of where to go.
"Keep going. You were saying what you think you remember."
"What I think I remember… I remember - think I remember finding you, America, in a field of gold, you were so small, so fragile. Your eyes glinted like the sea, and I knew I would grow attached to you in ways I couldn't imagine. It's - I can't remember much, it's so hazy, it's gone… it's so broken…"
Alfred remembers well those first screams, those pleas and that terrified begging. He remembers the takeover, he remembers everything. He remembers the green that dulled into blank. He remembers the moment the past vanished.
"I remember the pain before the final blows of the war, and everything was so blurry. But I remember when you came to me, and said you would save me from ruin, and I remember you saying that I should join you. I did. I can't remember… You helped me, you killed me… God, I joined you,…"
Alfred doesn't pull the lever or press a button, because he is really amazed at how the feelings are resurfacing in Arthur, how everything seems to come back at intervals. And however hard he has tried to eradicate humanity, it never really leaves - but then again, he can't have the complete vanishing of men from the Earth. How could he keep the balance if he did? He would have no enemy otherwise.
"So you say you remember only blurry memories of before the Revolution? Of pain, of war, of change? But Arthur - those are current memories. Those are memories of the past five, ten years. The world changes - the war is being won at a constant rate, and so the world nears Oceanian domination. We are so close. The pain is from Eastasia's rockets, that have been attacking and destroying your cities for far too long - it is shameful, the lack of caring those barbarians have for civilian lives, but I cannot help that. It's all happening now. But these are not real memories, Arthur, those you think you remember - there is nothing, no evidence for them, no books or newspaper articles, nothing on them. And what is history and memories if there is no proof of them?"
"I remember them!"
Now, Alfred turns the crank up a bit and pulls the lever once more. He hears the grunt of pain.
"You cannot remember something that doesn't exist, something that never was and even you know that. Arthur, the past is only what is made of it - but don't you know? I control the past, the present, and the future. It's all mine - time isn't an absolute, the world is not either, but the Party is forever. I am forever. The world is mine. Time is mine. I have made of it what I want it to be - and whatever you think you remember cannot be, if I haven't made it so."
"You play God, Alfred, and you have no idea what your retribution will be."
Alfred ups the load, and sends another jolt.
That wall really is old. There's darker and lighter stains on it, and even Alfred cannot place them or tell which came from what. He wouldn't be surprised if that brick-red stain weren't rust.
Alfred laughs. "I don't play God - there isn't one. Have you ever seen him? Have you ever met him spoken to him? No - you have not. But here you are, speaking to me, talking to me and sitting with me. I exist. I am here. I control what happens to you, what happens to the world." There's a glint in his eye as he says those words, a distant look - he sees the world, and in that moment, it really is his. "I control what was, is, and will be. If you so would like to think, there is no other God but me. I am irrevocable, unalterable, and universal. I hold in my hands all the power of the world, and can do with it what I wish. There is no retribution but that which I give. There is no creation, except that which I make. There is no destruction but what I destroy."
"There's the entire world outside, there's others - Ivan, and - and Yao -"
Alfred grins ferally. It had taken this long for Arthur to gather his thoughts, his memories… "There is no outside world, Arthur. There's only London. Airstrip One. Oceania. That's all there is - there has never been any world beyond this, beyond Oceania, but in the mind of men. And we already established those are fleeting and mistaken, that their dreams are sand, running through fingers - useless. Slippery. They're fickle. Your life is all there is. There is no world. Don't try to dream of a better place - there isn't one. There is no beyond. I am everything there is, and you really should learn to know that."
Alfred now turns Arthur to face him. "Who are you?"
"I - I am Arthur Kirkl-"
Another shock, a cry of pain.
"Alfred - I cannot give you an answer that doesn't exist-"
"But it does exist, and you know it. You've been through this before, can't you remember that?"
"I'm Arthur Kirk-"
Another jolt - he's louder this time.
"I was the British Emp-"
Alfred resists rolling his eyes, and flips the lever again. Arthur writhes in the chair, his vocal chords rasp from use. "You cannot be or have been something that never was. Who are you?" Alfred insists, his voice growing darker and quieter as he increases the power once again.
A shock, and Alfred can hear the chair creaking despite the moans of pained gasping.
"You do know, scourge your memory, I know you know. Do you know who you are?"
Arthur thinks, his eyes searching wildly for an answer he doesn't see - but that he should see, he will see so soon. Alfred flicks the voltage up, and readies his hand.
"No, no, I don't!"
How long will it last this time? The first time he was up to over 100 milliamps of current. The next time, he had broken just over 90. The last time, it was a drastic drop to 75. Now, he was a bit over 50. He bets it won't be long. And as he kept the lever down a bit longer, Arthur's screams became less coherent and more desperate. He lifts it back up, and Arthur is still crying - so loud, almost tearing his vocal chords. Alfred turns the crank up just a bit, up to 55, and left it there.
"You know that the only way for me to get through to you is through pain. I can't have a province that runs rampant on his pathetic ideas, thinking he knows something that isn't real. That's delusional, it's dangerous. You need to remember who you are. Do you?"
Alfred flicks the lever, and Arthur's screams reach a new level of blood-curdling. Somewhere, amidst the incoherent half-words and pained agony, he makes out two words. He immediately stops the flow, and stands behind Arthur to take a hold of his shoulders. He lowers his mouth near Arthur's ear, so that he can hear every breath Arthur lets go, and so can Arthur.
"Did you say something?" Alfred says, rubbing circles into Arthur's shoulders.
Arthur nods, trying to regain enough voice to repeat the two words Alfred may have heard.
"I…" Alfred circles back around, and drops down to level his eyes with Arthur's. The broken green, such a deep, hollow, artificial green, facing vibrant, electric, cracked azure.
"Air - Airstrip One."
Alfred smiles broadly against Arthur's ear. "That's it. That's perfect. Who am I?"
"Oceania. You're Oceania."
"Good. Amazing. See? Now you remember! What emotions do you feel?"
"Love. I love Big Brother."
"Perfect, beautiful. Last question, and if you answer correctly, then you're free to go." For some time, anyway. "Who is the war against?"
"I… I'm not sure…"
"The war is against Eastasia," Alfred whispers, and the other man doesn't move.
"Eastasia… I remember now." The voice is dull, monotone, chipped.
Alfred stands back upright, and undoes the clasps on Airstrip One's hands. He smiles as he picks up his coat. "You're free to go." He watches as Arthur stands, his dull eyes searching for the door.
"Good-bye, Brother," Arthur says, broken words in a broken voice.
Alfred smiles, his voice dark and powerful. "Good-bye, Brother."
If he could kill a personification, he isn't sure he would. While these sessions are tedious, his provinces seem to be becoming both more subdued and easier tamed. It was far too much fun to see them break, see their gaze shatter, see their beliefs fade, see their memories vanish and their thoughts blend. He would find such satisfaction in seeing them finally shatter to dust, until they were so utterly broken they would no longer resist. One day, they would submit to his control, and he would gladly accept them. He has gotten a taste of power, and now that he has it all to himself, he wants to use it as much as he could. And he's found that there were few limits to that.
A/N: I was going to, initially, make this a long-shot, but then I thought that it might get too long, and this works as a stand along just as well. It's in the same timeline/universe as my other 1984 crossover, "In All Chaos There Is Calculation". Anyway, there you are, hope you enjoyed it!