Kenneth E. Ingle
© Kenneth E. Ingle
Copyright 2015 by Kenneth E. Ingle, all rights reserved. No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.
1. Viridian: A world closed to outsiders and ruled by tyrants.
2) The lie: Abradus; Viridian’s penal colony known to the public for humane rehabilitation treatment of State prisoners.
3) The truth: Abradus; a penal planet filled with iniquity, from which no prisoner had ever returned and few live a normal life span.
“On your feet,” yelled the pock marked faced flophouse Master. “State Security.” Viridian’s SS was a presence in all cities, especially Candia.
A roundup! SS often did this when rumors of a rebellion against the leadership were rife. At least that was what most people assumed. Greg Trumble had been in roundups before but never singled out. Awakened with the noise, exhausted after a day in the iridium processing plant, he wanted to ignore the alert but knew better. If anyone slighted the SS, a quick lesson put an end to any disrespectful attitude.
In the dingy barracks filled with rows of cots down each side leaving a narrow aisle, the few lights hanging down the center did little to illuminate anything beyond small circles on the floor. He was accustomed to the stench. The room had no shower and it had been days since he’d had a chance to clean up. At the proto lab, he’d washed his face and hands daily but that had ended with his transfer to the iridium processing plant. At least he didn’t have to work the mines.
In dirty work clothes half eaten by super-hot iridium, all Greg could call his own, he sluggishly rolled from his upper bunk to the floor and stood in the aisle at the end of his bed. He’d been through rousts dozens of times and knew the routine and what happened if that was violated. He tucked the soiled sheet, which he used as a pillow, under his arm. The guy who had the bunk below worked a night shift so there was extra space for him to stand. He didn’t straighten his clothes or tuck in his dirt-stained shirt but did brush the long black hair back over his head.
A stocky, belligerent, sunburned-faced State Security officer, in his street uniform, all black with a large red patch on each shoulder, laser pistol strapped to his side, led in a pair of robocops. The robots menacingly swung electronic wands most commonly used as clubs. Only the red glow of their electronic eyes broke their all-black appearance, one meant to intimidate. It worked to perfection.
Slowly the three walked down the long aisle eyeing each man. Followed by the cowed Master, they stopped in front of Greg. The SS officer looked at a vid, then back at Greg and nodded. The lead robocop touched the end of the weapon to their target’s chin.
Greg froze; he knew what was coming.
The club took on a dim glow as the robocop shoved even harder.
The electric current zapped into Greg’s body. He grabbed the bed to keep his knees from buckling. Anything stronger and he would be on the floor paralyzed; sometimes the effect lasted seconds. Often, it was permanent.
The SS officer slowly waved the vid pad over Greg’s head, read the scan. “Doesn’t show any deviations.
“What time did this man check in?” growled the officer.
Greg didn’t resist the club knowing to go up against a robocop could mean death.
The Master ran to his desk, thumbed through the in-out register, and yelled, “Ten pm., Sir.”
“Put this man in chains.”
The trailing robocop fastened restraints on Greg’s wrists and ankles.
“Name?” The state officer motioned the android to push the weapon harder against Greg’s chin forcing his head back.
He clenched his jaws trying to ignore the pain. “Greg Trumble.”
“Greg Trumble, what?” sneered the officer like someone expecting a lie.
Greg held his breath waiting for the shock and leaned against the bed rail to ease the pressure from the wand, allowing him to speak. “Greg Trumble, Sir.”
“That’s better. Now, do I call you Greg or Gregory?” The SS officer’s expression didn’t change.
“Greg’s all I’ve ever known, sir.” A pained grimace, from the wand’s pressure, crossed his face. A show of agony would please the officer. He knew better than to let any anger show.
“Is that what your parents called you?” A cynical smile formed on his lips.
“Never knew them, sir.” Greg rose on his shoe toes to ease the thrust against his chin and that brought a knowing grin from the officer. Greg could have checked the records at any State office but never cared to know any more about his parents than that they’d deserted him.
“Lived on the streets?” asked the security man. With a twitch of his finger, the robocop eased off the pressure enough that Greg could lick his dry lips.
“Most of my life, sir. Some foster homes.” Greg looked straight ahead. Experience taught him the SS preferred that.
“You don’t look underfed. Good build, strong kid. How old are you?” The officer patted the vid against his hand waiting.
Greg thought a moment. “I think I’m twenty, sir.” In truth, he had thought little about his age.
“Don’t really know?” laughed the SS man, pleased. “Most others at least have an idea.”
“No, sir.” State’s finger moved slightly, signaling the robocop to ease the wand’s pressure allowing Greg’s heels to rest on the floor. Prisoners learned never to take off their shoes while sleeping; someone would steal them. Greg always slept with his head toward the aisle for the same reason.
The security officer, followed by one robocop, walked along inspecting each man, some at attention, and others slothful. The first robocop stayed at Greg’s bunk, wand ready at a moment’s notice.
The SS officer stopped in front of another man spoke to him, too far away for Greg to hear the exchange. The security man turned, and said, in a loud unsympathetic voice to the robocop, “Shackle this one as well. These two go to Abradus. Sedition is the charge, and they won’t be back.”
Startled, and then scared, Greg fully understood what that meant. He’d heard the stories about the penal planet. This was as good as a death sentence. His first reaction was to fight but the robocops were faster and a stronger than he. They were androids without the three and zeroth laws as part of their design—killers.
Accused of being a traitor stunned and angered Greg. He had heard talk about a rebellion but that was nothing new, and he’d made sure to stay clean. These rousts went unreported by the newsies and were never mentioned in polite society. The media, controlled by the régime, instead acclaimed the government’s push to keep a free and caring society. One more lie added to the many spoken over the relentless vid broadcasts.
Known as the ‘others’, Candia’s lowest class slept in flophouses, which included a bed, mattress, and a sheet—all well-worn—all the pay they got for doing jobs that the state needed done. Just surviving took all of a person’s energy and thoughts.
“Understand from the lab boss you’re sharper than most people,” the SS trooper said menacingly to Greg as they headed for the exit. “Says you’re one to keep an eye on.” For reasons unknown to Greg, a month earlier Work Assignment Authority had transferred him from the prototype laboratories to iridium processing in the mines; the dirtiest, hardest physical work he’d ever done. Only malcontents worked the mines or had anything to do with iridium.
Greg dared a shrug in response to the SS trooper’s comment. Using his wits, he had managed to survive living on the street, stealing when necessary to make it through a day, but never intentionally hurting anyone. He’d lived day-to-day, like so many of the others. As an able worker, he’d gotten daily handouts from the soup kitchens (Viridian called them Nourishment Zones) and a place to sleep (called Comfort Zones).
Viridian’s three classes of people, Elites, Normals, and Others often worked together in the laboratories and prototype shops but they never socialized. No elite or normal ever worked the mines. To keep the image of justice, the government went to great length to ensure that the others didn’t have to scrounge for food or sleep on the streets although Greg had spent a number of nights huddled in isolated places. Either was cause for arrest.
He’d gone to school. Everyone had to attend, street kid or not, although the class separation stayed. He’d never studied with the elite or normals. School was easy for him and he’d done well enough to get by without any demerits or penalties. Uniforms were required and issued weekly. Since leaving his last foster home, school was the only time he could remember having clean clothes on a regular basis.
Surprised and suspicious that he was outside the main prison and not in chains, Greg, in the standard prison issue outfit, bright orange coveralls, marched into the State Security (SS) office followed by his overseer and a robocop. This was the first time out of his cell in two months.
The warm gentle breeze and fluffy clouds did wonders for him. His cell had become his world. Other than when assigned to a work detail, prisoners slept, ate, bathed, and exercised in their two by four meter cell. Even when sick, the doctor, or more commonly a med tech, treated the prisoners in their lockups. Daily, men went stir crazy and often took their own lives. Humane treatment was not an apt description on Abradus.
Entering the SS office, Greg didn’t take the forbidden look around. Like every SS office he had been in since his arrest and arrival on the prison planet, this had one desk, a chair, no windows, and nothing on the gray colored walls.
“Ah, Mr. Trumble. I am Doreen Zvi.” A pleasant appearing woman sitting in the chair her white lab smock over what looked like light green slacks, sweater, rose and walked to where he stood, her hand extended.
This was the first time since being arrested Greg had heard his name and she called him mister. He did as he always did: kept quiet. Not knowing why he was there, Greg waited. To speak without permission always came with a penalty and nobody had told him to speak. Moreover, prisoners never touched their overseer; that meant automatic punishment, sometimes death.
“You are transferred from Abradus’ main prison to the scientific compound. I am now your overseer and you are free to speak as you wish. Your classification has changed. You are now SCN-753264 although we seldom us that designation. Your assignment to the Scientific Compound added the SCN and that means you are now a Normal. You are cleared to go anywhere in the research area.”
Greg looked straight ahead. He didn’t say a word but did grasp the slender outstretched hand she again thrust toward him. In the main prison, speaking unless spoke to resulted in a lost meal.
“We have a class system similar to what exists on Viridian. I am an elite and normals do the actual labor in our labs. The cafeteria line, and yard cleanup, that kind of work is done by the others.”
“Thank you,” she said to his overseer. The two SS officers nodded and walked from the room, the robocop trailed behind.
“You must be wondering what this means for you,” Doreen said with a smile. She motioned him to follow. “But first, let’s get you a place to call home and cleaned up.” Greg’s jet-black hair now reached his shoulders and the beard to his chest.
“I think you’ll like this better than a cell. I know I did.” Her spark disappeared.
“You’re a prisoner?” Shocked he stopped. These were the first words he’d spoken in days.
She nodded. “Later. I’ll tell my history and you can fill in the blanks on your past.” Doreen’s hand pointed toward the door.
Arrested in the flophouse by State Security, and taken to the planet prison, Abradus, with no trial, his denials that he had never plotted against the government acknowledged with a fist or electronic club, called ‘obedience wands’ by the overseers. His unpardonable sin, he had spoken without permission.
Greg had spent the first two days locked in a cell away from the main prison population. Each barred cubicle had a cot, mattress, sink, and a disintegrator toilet. The overhead light never shut off. Robocops delivered his meals. Ordered never to speak to anyone, he obeyed. Besides, what would he say to an android?
On the third day, he had transferred to the main cellblock with the other prisoners. The intervening time, he’d spent learning the rules.
Side by side, Greg and Doreen walked down a number of corridors, all without pictures, only directions arrows, and instructions; Doreen chattered along the way about how to behave.
Greg’s mind raced wondering what kind of cell this one would be.
While there were no armed guards, no locked doors, no one watching your every move, Doreen’s comment that the compound was still a prison brought a nod.
After a few turns and through unsecured doors, they came to an open area that reminded him of the high-rise apartments on Candia. They walked up one flight of steps and stopped at a doorway that looked like all the rest along the balcony. “Stand in front of the camera. It’s a retina scan,” Doreen told him. Following a click, she pushed open the door. “Your new home.” She smiled as her hand swung motioning him inside. “Has everything the normals have on Viridian.”
Both hands upturned, she made a pushing gesture urging him to go in. Greg had lived in places like this at foster homes. The labs he worked in were clean and orderly, but each night he returned to the flophouse. His mouth hung open as he took in his new quarters.
“Yeah, just like the normals.”
Doreen’s laugh was easy, not the harsh sounds he usually heard from people of authority; in fact, it was the first he had heard since arriving.
“I’ve looked over your bio,” Doreen said
Greg gave her the short version of his life as they strolled through the bedroom, and a combination living room-dinette and what served as a kitchen that included a replicator along with a few dishes and utensils.
Doreen seemed quieted by Greg’s reaction. Finally, she said, “It’s dinner time. As soon as you shower and change cloths, come to the cafeteria and we’ll talk about the compound and what you’ll be doing. Everything you need is here.” She waved a goodbye.
Greg closed the door and stared in amazement. An apartment, with a divan, and one chair. A tiny table and even a replicator had him gawking. Pastel walls, plastitile floor and in the living room, a small window broke the boring appearance. He knew Candia had a black market and people bought furniture to fix up their homes. He didn’t need that here.
In the main prison, baths amounted to washing in the cell sink but never a shower. Prisoners received clean orange coveralls once a week, most faded by age and repeated washings.
He stripped off his clothes, stepped into the stall and soaked in his first real water bath in years.
Finished, he picked up the electronic shaver/cutter, trimmed his long black hair, and shaved his face, throwing the pile of hair into the decomposer.
Looking at the closet, he marveled at the assortment of clothes, picked brown trousers, a gray pullover sweater, black socks, and shoes to match.
An hour later, after a few false turns, Greg found the cafeteria and the waiting Doreen Zvi.
The cafeteria looked like everyone he’d seen in Candia—spotless. Instead of using the replicators, he and Doreen went through the food line—a first for Greg since transferring to the mines.
With trays full of food, coffee, and pastries they sat at a table. This was the first time since his arrest that he’d been without a robocop guard or overseer prodding him, except when in his cell and that didn’t count.
“Well, I get to see the real Greg Trumble. Like the haircut and the shave does you wonders. Quite handsome.”
Greg nodded and sensed a blush.
“This is a scientific laboratory and engineering facility.” Doreen turned sober. “You will be working here. Very few people in the government, and no one outside, know about the research we do. I read your record and Greg, you are a very bright young man. Most importantly, your grasp of science and mathematics is remarkable, especially for someone who has never received formal training in these disciplines. You will put your skills to work.”
Wary, Greg asked, “Doing what? If they wanted me, why didn’t Work Assignment just transfer me like they usually do? Why is someone like you here?”
Doreen laughed. “Lots of questions. About me—I asked the same when State Security arrested me a couple of years after graduating from university. My doctorate in physics moved me from normal to elite. I formed a group whose purpose was to improve Viridian’s reputation in the scientific community off world. We are not highly thought of and our work isn’t considered credible. That made me a security risk and… got me here on Abradus. I’ve been on this prison planet for twenty years. Not everyone here is technically a prisoner although they might as well be. Some of the scientist and engineers wanted to work on the projects and volunteered to come here. They cannot leave—ever. I don’t know why Mr. Brandon didn’t give you the chance to volunteer. She thought a moment. “You would have refused so that must be the answer. That’s why the SS sentenced you to Abradus. In case you’re wondering, I’m one hundred forty two years old.”
Greg was well past alarmed at Doreen’s comments. “What is this place for? Why would anyone want to come here? Especially knowing they’d never leave?” Greg took a bite of the pastry and nodded his approval. He had never received dessert in the main prison, and it had been months since he had anything like this. On Candia, he’d had to steal treats.
“More questions. We are doing some very sophisticated research and development.” She stopped, and looking at her hands turned them over as if the answer was there. “Our main project is to design and build a device that will influence an individual’s thinking—their behavior.”
“That doesn’t sound bad. Good is better,” he said sipping his coffee yet realizing he didn’t begin to understand.
“I’m afraid our work is not so benevolent,” she said in a whisper, her head ducking as if speaking to her lap. “Once influenced, a person’s mind can be controlled. Our scientists achieved a major breakthrough on the brain scanner technology that led to the advancement.”
Greg let out a slow breath. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this.”
Doreen gave a nod. “Our biggest project is a ship that can operate anywhere.” She perked up. “You know, go to space, enter the atmosphere and then water and the other way around. These are the two major jobs underway. The ship is very exciting work and requires a ton of people.” She paused, studying Greg for a moment. “The mind device is in the preproduction phase. Should be done in a few months.” Doreen hesitated. "The mind bender is by far the larger project. Takes many more people and therefore the most attention, but make no mistake, the mind device is the reason we're here."
“You just have to put being a prisoner out of your mind. After all, leaving isn’t an option. We all just treat this place as any other job. Go to work, and go home. Occasionally take in the theater or a dance.” She straightened in her chair, set down the cup and smiled.
“Your first assignment, and the reason you were brought here, is important.” She paused for a moment. “The designers of the prison boasted, once too often, that the prison was escape proof. You and I will study the design plans to see if we can figure a way to get out.”
Greg leaned back gawking at his overseer. “Why me? I don’t know a thing about breaking out of a prison. Never done it.”
She looked at him and grinned. “You worked in the scientific labs and prototype shops and all the bosses were amazed that someone with your limited education in the sciences could handle the assigned jobs. You have a disciplined mind, some say more than they have ever seen.
As I said, that’s why State Security brought you here. Specifically to do this job. I don’t know why you were assigned to the mines.” What she didn’t say was that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. Having the long life gene sound less attractive following her words. While at the prototype labs, Greg had received the gene.
Most of the prisoners were political and normals having received the gene granted by that status. Four hundred years with no hope of ever living a decent life. After all, he was now a normal. He understood why few if any survived their full lifespan. The reason for the high number of suicides in the main prison was evident—a sense of hopelessness. He wanted to ask if the same was true in the Scientific Compound but didn’t. As one of the others on Viridian, having the long life gene hadn’t ranked high in importance, with surviving each day being the main chore. Now that he was a normal, that didn’t seem to have changed.
The day had been a long one and both admitted they were bushed. When they’d finished with their pastry and coffee, Doreen told Greg to meet her at nine the next morning and gave him the room number.
Abradus had the reputation of using someone and throwing them aside when no longer needed. He had no idea what that meant or how long the job would take. Where were the castoffs? Dead?
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