“Things are chaotic. But chaos can be a ladder.” – Cardinal Templeton
Darkness. Not of night but of underground. Moonlight picks up the tiniest hint of a barred window, metal door.
Caption: The war ended with a blinding flash, and promised to return unless volunteers were found to rule the citadel – after spending a year in a cell with an individual from the opposite side.
Caption: It has been 361 days since then.
With a boom the door bursts open and burning, blinding white light fills the screen. Armed men enter. We flash across five people being escorted in the way that cannot be prevented from dark cells down dark corridors towards burning searchlights and the sound of choppers. Blue, black and white are the only pallets. Four men, one woman. Their clothes not prison-gear but uniform, like from a hospital or asylum. A large black people mover appears ahead and our protagonists are bundled inside. With a slam, silence returns from the shouts outside. Agent Quiver, representative of Global, sits inside in a polished grey suit.
He explains that some events have occurred which required a slightly early release, and the five of them are being taken to Central Operations where they will assume their positions as leaders of the Citadel. As of this moment, they are in charge. Their families and loved ones are being moved to Central as well, which has substantial accommodation facilities. It is approximately 3am. They will have a few hours to sleep and get changed, and at 9am tomorrow there will be a press conference to announce their plans and policies. Everyone is a little nonplussed.
Role credits. Theme song: this version of the classic.
Central Ops is a neo-brutalistic palace with notions of classical style but the whole thing looks like it was built in a week – which it kind of was. In the green room the group are trying to have a moment to take control of their lives, well aware that nobody wants them to do that, certainly not The General who’s been running the city until now, nor Quiver who wants them in front of the cameras quick smart.
Pavani Kota leads the press conference and comes across as a caring mother figure with a passion for returning the city to her passion and a thing forgotten – the arts. It works but then the serious Roland Paige is tight-lipped and when questioned about his faith, Lazarus Moore, umms and arrs and seems indecisive. The General cuts in trying to heighten the embarrassment and Quiver tries to shut it down and only makes it more clear how chaotic things are, how little control anyone has. Luckily the media turns to talk to Hal, the war hero, who is photogenic, which is ironic given that at that same moment Hal’s wife calls Quiver to tell him she’s tired of cheating on her husband and now that he’s out of the Cells, Quiver has one week to tell Hal the truth. Meanwhile the media has turned on the wild card, the ex-gang-banger Zac, but he somehow becomes the hero, turning their attacks on his past into an attack on the media. Now is not time to think of the past, but the future.
Back in the Green Room with the taped up windows and busted fluoro, there is time to ask about personal things. Zac wants smoked salmon for room service. Hal wants to see his wife as soon as possible, and Quiver says he is sure that will happen. Paige says he doesn’t want to live in Central, he wants to go home. Quiver says pointedly “but when you’re here, we can control you. I mean, control the story about you.” Pavani takes Quiver aside to ask about her partner. Quiver says she hasn’t been able to be located due to war disruptions. Pavani starts screaming about it being a priority but Quiver says there are more things at stake and she collapses at his feet, in tears.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Zac’s father the Cardinal has come to pay his son a visit. The Cardinal tells Zac to tow the line and keep the family line respectable and Zac cowers under his father’s presence. He tries to ask his father what is going on “Just answer me straight for once!” His father smiles “Why would I ever do that?”. On his way out Cardinal Templeton runs into Lazarus who insists the Cardinal help him find out more about what’s going on in the city, and hints that the Cardinal’s obedience will be obtained because of something Lazarus knows.
Later that day, Quiver finds Knight-Father Roland in the gym, working the speed bag. Quiver suggests that Hal is volatile and at risk because of something in his personal file, and wants a fellow soldier to watch over him. Roland demands to know more but Quiver says “My job is to protect you. I can’t do that if I tell you everything I know.” Roland talks about the danger of war, suggesting Quiver is a coward and Roland has no need of protection. Quiver says he knew someone whose house got knocked down once. Later, to Pavani, Roland says Quiver has the can-do attitude but cannot in fact do. Meanwhile Hal goes to see the General, and the General tells him to be a good soldier and roll over. Hal reminds him it takes more than rank to be a leader, and refuses.
That afternoon, after lunch, the five meet at the Planning Room around a strange table with seats for twelve. Quiver explains that it’s up to them how they run their meetings and how they make their plans and he will take them to Global to be executed. He also presents them with six issues facing the city right now (again generated by the group, adding one each):
- Infrastructure is in much need of maintenance it hasn’t had because of the war
- As a result, levees broke recently and up to 10% of the poorest of the town are without shelter or food due to flooding. This is mostly falling on “ditchers”, people who live in “the Ditch” an old faux moat from ancient times when the city was more medieval in design. Many, perhaps most Ditchers are refugees, who are not considered full citizens of the Citadel.
- The military proxy police have been unfairly suppressing one particular cultural group over others, regardless of actual crimes committed
- Some neighbourhoods, lacking in any militia or police have formed their own such units and are rejecting help from official sources
- Food rations are being controlled by an aid organization, that on the surface is both saintly and vital to the relief effort, but underneath are corrupt and are trading food for political favours
- A small number of business had made a lot of money setting up contracts with Citadel military or Global direct, and because of the war these contracts are completely unregulated and exploitative.
After a long debate, the group decides the primary issue must be the flooding, and to make everyone as equal as possible. Refugees will be made full citizens without any condition and the neighbourhood groups will be semi-deputized to work as aid workers with the military. The military and the General hate both ideas fearing the first unsafe and the second unruly, and certainly it invites criminals into positions of power. But Quiver talks his superiors and it is decided this can happen.
The five sell it with a benefit concert kind of idea, with washing out the flood depicted as a metaphorical washing away the pain. Roland steps up and his visible pain sells it to the crowd, and by embracing the ex-rebel-cum-rockstar Zac they are a metaphor for a healthy future. Down in the Ditch, there’s hope. But there’s also some who are skeptical, like a girl in a cafe who, watching the concert on the big screen says “Hey, that’s my dad”. Her companion indicates he used to know Zac and he’s going to get back in touch now Zac is in the pink. She replies “shut up and steal me a car like you promised”.
Roll credits. Over this.
Next time on The Cells:
Someone unseen bursts into a dark hotel room revealing Quiver and Kate Turner in bed together.
Pavani finds her home empty, and a single note on the ground.
Roland staring at his partner’s picture with a gun in his hand, and Joanna, his daughter screaming “because I hated him!”
Someone at Fountain corp saying “We’ve got some news”
Analysts in a room pouring over reams of data. The Cardinal is adjacent.
The General talking to someone. “How’s your demolitions training, son?”
Gagged, bound and thrashing, Zac is in the boot of a car. The boot slams shut.
Also: pretty pictures.