By Steve M
Yeah, I wrote this. Blame no one else
The inmates called it Also. Most of them did, anyway. Definitely all of the surface dwellers. Those below the surface, Rattlers, had a more angry view towards the place. Most of their names for the place were not repeatable. I know because I was one.
Women’s prisons were on the surface, along with the most trustworthy men, mostly homosexuals and those who defrauded the gullible with tales of vast wealth waiting for them. No one’s buys it in prison and its their only skill. So they are toothless and mostly harmless. But political women? They’re still four deep like the men.
It started with the celebration when the emperor died. The inmates made a ruckus for all of the daylight hours. There was a lot of singing. They called out the greeting ‘lovely day’ to each other. The guards were not willing to take a lot of action against them. It was less than a month since they got wiped out in the pay negotiations with management. Four percent pay cut and they were no long allowed to claim their uniforms. But eventually even the dispirited and underpaid take action.
The guards responded by turning off the lights and locking it all down. 22 hours of pitch darkness on the sub levels. Rattlers began to riot the next time the doors were unlocked. We burned anything that would ignite. The guards eventually responded with an partial deoxidation of one small block on the political prisoner sub terrain. It worked. After several hours, order was restored. It was my block they sucked the air out of. I woke to one hell of a headache.
During the period between unlocking and deoxidation, 42 political prisoners suspected of collaboration with prison authorities were murdered by inmates. News of this spread to all the levels quickly. Seven of the dead were in the women’s political quadrant. The Pols now had credibility and trust of the other inmates. The days that followed saw an increase in the number of incidents.
There was a work slow down by prisoners in all areas but farming. Guards reported a four fold increase in call outs (workers start yelling out grievances against prison authorities). Guard had learned that call outs were a way for prisoners to release their frustration. To stop the call out was to risk a riot.
The news yellers began a week later. They initially suffered a lack of credibility. People yelled out things simply not true. After the first day, Jane Do-Ra-Me, as she called herself, made a suggestion of cross quadrant validation and it was put into place. Two disconnected sources confirm each other. Journalism 101.
When Albert Djuro, minister of prisons was relieved of duty as part of the first round of purges after the emperor’s death, prisoners celebrated for two days. All work except for food production was stopped. Prison administrators were unsure whether deoxidation would be grounds for being considered an advocate of Djuro and thus ensure their own removal. Djuro was known for the extremely brutal way he ran prisons. Deaths across his prisons numbered more than 100 thousand.
The speech by First Minister Krushank, calling out the mistakes of the Emperor, made its way through the prison like wildfire. The explicit mention of prisons like Alsonium as one of the late emporer’s most egregious mistakes was widely celebrated. It gave much hope to the prisoners. And it ensured that they would have air to breath.
The day Djuro was executed with two other former members of the executive committee, prisoners rioted across all levels of the prison. What began in the kitchens quickly spread to the cell blocks and then even into the sealed areas. Prison guards didn’t know it was coordinated between levels. Our strongest were being brought through the sealed rooms when it all began. Once we had those rooms, guards had to retreat or face us once we got through the final seals. They wasted no time in their retreat.
Seventy three guards were inside prisoner areas. Forty four of them were taken as hostages and remained unharmed until the end. Twenty nine were convicted of crimes against inmates and were executed. All other personnel, nearly twelve hundred people, retreated with Alsonium Managing Director Duro into the Green Zone.
They stayed behind the impenetrable barrier and watched as the rest of the asteroid was taken over by prisoners.
That the number of political prisoners was only slightly smaller than the number of criminals was significant. It says a lot about the culture under Emporer Oluranon. Crime was permitted as long as it didn’t effect those in power or those with money. Among the majority in the empire, the poor, theft was rarely prosecuted.
But on a Homeland? On those hallowed hills of the first families? Even spitting in tall grass will get you time on Alsonium or the hundred other prisons just like it. On a Homeland, respect for others is the law. If you don’t know your place and abide by it, a trip to a Homeland will not go well for you. But there are plenty of deference guides you can read before you go. But this isn’t about a homeland.
The Green Zone controls the means of entry and exit from Alsonium. The landing zone is there. All ships depart and arrive in the zone, with one notable exception. At polar opposite ends of the asteroid sat cruiser level ships, class W. Each came with over one thousand pre-set destinations. It took me a little while to figure it out. Been a while.
Of all of the prisoners on our level, Vella had the biggest mouth. For almost thirty years she had gone from one insult of the emperor to another and from one prison to another. Judges would give her long sentences and the emperor would commute them down to a few years as part of his public relations campaign to be the benevolent tyrant.
It started years ago when she performed ‘The Emperor Has A Tiny One’ during the finals of The Dream, the most watched talent show in the galaxy. This angelic songbird dressed in white sang a song that violated eleven different laws. And she did it live in front of an audience of nearly three hundred billion. Not only was she prosecuted for it, she also had a number one hit song in two thirds of the empire where the emperor was not well liked.
During her trial she released a followup number one, ‘Small Love’, continuing the theme from the her first hit. Even Al-noun reported on the phenomenon, which resulted in the retirement of Alson Brutillo as Chief Executive of the government sponsored news service.
So when Vella emerged onto the surface of the asteroid there was a crowd to meet her. And it was quite a sight to see, thousands upon thousands of prisoners coming up from the lower levels into the soft twillight of the Alsonium daytime. I had the vantage point of an abandoned guard tower to see the spectacle of humans as ants.
Vella gave a speech built upon the simple question: what if? What if we have to govern ourselves? What if we need some basic rules? What if we need to resolve disputes? What if we need to take care of each other? It was as fine a bit of oratory as I’ve ever heard. And I’m a pol, I’ve heard a lot of speeches. We all felt fearless when she finished speaking. She told us that we needed to be honest and fair in our discussion with prison officials. ‘Don’t make a threat you can’t back up’ she implored.
Communication with the Green Zone was possible from all parts of the prison. Prisoners initially used the video connection in order to send threatening messages to prison staff and management. Prisoners without any means of getting at prison personnel told the personnel exactly what they would do to them if given a non-existent possibility. There was also a lot of defecation on camera by the inmates.
We made no demands the first 24 hours of the uprising. The people in the Green zone didn’t seem to care what happened to our hostages. We wanted to trade hostages for water but management was not interested. ‘Let them die’ was what one of the prison managers said during negotiations.
We collected the dead bodies of the executed guards and put them in the incinerator. Their ashes were blown out into the barely evident atmosphere and would slowly begin their migration towards the black hole near which Alsonium was precariously perched. Some of the ashes would no doubt be caught on the long line of magnetic drive systems tethered by cables and gathering the near limitless energy created when matter is sucked into a black hole.
We were starting to do the first hundred assembly. Vella asked us to divide into groups of one hundred and try to agree on three basic rules of conduct. No killing, no lying, no stealing. Our group decided that in under five minutes. We changed no killing to no violence in order to make rape unacceptable. Then we elected a representative to give the message in a general assembly.
It wasn’t long before the mixing of female and male prisoners had its expected outcome. In the first hours of cohabitation, a wedding process and ceremony was agreed among the prisoners. And it was no surprise that Vella argued that marriage should be open to couples of every gender combination. It was agreed overwhelmingly by voice vote. I officiated at the wedding of Peter and Peter, two very polite older Pols.
I volunteered to be on security. They all knew I had been a soldier. Many of them knew the story of how I went from being a soldier to being a Pol. That’s why most of them didn’t try to start anything with me. And those that did? The only one that survived speaks with a stutter now and has short term memory problems. Don’t know why he survived. Was in a weird mood the day he got his. Killing doesn’t usually bother me. But that day, well, I’m back to normal now.
Want to know something strange? There were prisoners that wanted to negotiate the exit of all prison personnel and management. Then they wanted to declare a free republic. Imagine that, a free republic. Last one of those lasted exactly twenty eight days before the Emperor’s troops put an end to it. They thought that with the power struggle going on in the empire, perhaps the time was right.
It was the third day when she told me about the cruisers. I had never seen her before. She came into the security office and insisted to speak with the person in charge. I faked it and told her it was me. A pretty woman will do that sometimes to a guy.
Her full name is Salome Cordo, but prefers to be called Sal. She was a new Pol that arrived two days before the Emperor died. She had seen the cruisers when the shuttle that brought her got diverted for a couple of orbits to clear a departing supply vessel. The only windows on a prisoner ship are on the bridge and in the bathrooms. Sal was washing her hands after taking a crap when she saw them through the tiny porthole. She should have been back in her seat but the guard liked her and thought she was pretty. He got that part right.
Normally, I’m not a very trusting person. It’s an adaptation that happens to everyone in prison. Before we got rid of them, the snitches kept us all in fear. But Sal insisted that I take her with me. That she was good-looking, sure it helped. I won’t deny that. But her insistence on going told me that the ships were real.
And I know we’re both Pols. And we’re both hypocrites. I won’t deny that at all. And even worse, we never even had a discussion about it. I simply said, ‘lets go. Lets get out of here’, She nodded in agreement. A nod. Nothing more. But it was my words. My idea. My guilt.
We took some food and as much water as we could carry. I know if the cruisers were set up to military specifications there would be plenty of water. But the ships were under the control of a private prison company, one notorious for big dividends and low labor cost.
It was late at night and despite the new found freedom, not very many people ran the connecting streets between the biodomes. I’ve always appreciated that the designers put a lot of time and effort into making the ceilings and walls of the biodomes and their connectors see-through and optically accurate. I looked up to see the massive cables extending from Alsonium to the magnetic drives. From a distance it looks like big pieces of black string flying a kite if the kite were a magnetic device that were spinning at such a high speed that it looked like a star at the end of the
It took us hours before we reached the last biodome. I used a large pipe wrench to pry open lockers in a room near the hatches until I found the lightweight surface suits. The atmosphere on the asteroid only contained 10% of the oxygen we needed. The suit worked as a large vacuum cleaner sucking in the atmosphere and concentrating the oxygen at a high enough level for human use. I watched Sal put on her suit. She watched me.
Once we were outside the airlocks the reduced gravity of the planet made our small steps huge leaps. And I will admit despite the fear, the adrenaline and the millions of thoughts running through my head, I enjoyed the low gravity effect. Sal looked at me and smiled. Then she stopped and put out her hand for me to take. We began to bound our way across the surface. And it didn’t take long until the pointed tip of the cruiser came over the horizon to greet us.
I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. Perhaps you think what I did was wrong. Perhaps you think that Sal and I should have taken others with us. You’re right. I could have saved some of them. But I didn’t and that’s a burden I’ll carry the rest of my life.
Yes I read the articles. I know the history of what happened after I left very well. I know about the art. And the music. It is a testament to the human spirit that in such circumstances, life-and-death circumstances, people still took time to do the things that enrich life and make it worth living. But when I heard their declaration of independence, I knew it would not turn out well.
I’ll tell you this, I didn’t deserve what happened to them. And I don’t think any of them did either. Guards included. And I’m not buying the media reports of engineer error. Turning off the only thing keeping you from being sucked into a black hole is not the kind of mistake someone is likely to make. And I bet it comes with a million and one warnings prior to shutting down. I think the home office decided to close a branch using a zero cost option. And they get to write it off.
Well at least Sal and I are safe out on the frontier. We’ve raised both of our children out here.
Now its time for me to get home before I get in trouble.
No, now you wait just a damned minute. I didn’t agree to that.
No, this wasrn’t an official conversation. It was off the record. In fact I will tell you this and this you can record and use: I made it all up. No one escaped Alsonium. There was no pair or cruisers. And if there was, they both got sucked into it and crushed down into nothing.
And me? I’m just a farmer from down the road with a large imagination. That’s all.
No I won’t show you my ID.
Good night, Miss Datta.