Space Jail

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Darkness pervaded the corridors of the compound, filling every crevice with shadow. Palm against the corrugated steel paneling that made up the cell’s wall, the prisoner sat on a similarly metallic cot, which was screwed into the cement floor. Slowly, the long, thin lighting running along the center of the hallway outside the prisoner’s cell flickered and began to emit a sickly reddish glow. Through the small plexiglass aperture in the door, the prisoner could just barely see row upon row of identical pens, for the most part empty. A screen on the wall opposite the compartment cycled through its morning messages, its stark lettering proclaiming: “Prisoner 12175069, it is 00:01. You have 10 minutes to prepare for inspection.” The prisoner examined the small room. Gray steel on four sides formed a small rectangular space. Aside from the cot and a trough grafted to the back wall, which would be filled with a tasteless porridge by an expansive system of pipes at designated mealtimes, the cell was barren. The air smelled of cold metal, of industry, and of isolation. The prisoner cracked his scarred knuckles one by one, the sound bouncing off the walls throughout the station, each echo reminding the prisoner of his own solitude.

This pen was his home, and, in it, he felt as though he was livestock on the way to slaughter. The other vacant cells, stretching well beyond sight, stood silent testament to the departure of his brethren, whose fate had been to meet the butcher. This fate was the prisoner’s as well. The prisoner briefly paused in his routine to ponder his former


neighbors; there was Prisoner 07852129 and Prisoner 34198400, but 07852129 had been transferred, and 34198400 had eaten his last meal weeks ago. Now it was just him, and
the only proof that he even still drew breath were the marks on the wall, a continuity of years.

The prisoner could no longer remember his crime, yet it did not bother him. Mentally he added it to the long list of things he had forgotten, which included the name of the farm where he had been raised, the smell of freedom, and the feeling of dirt under his feet. A week ago, the prisoner had occupied himself by trying to remember the color of the sky back on Earth; after twelve hours of pondering, he still couldn’t be sure if it was gray or grayish-green. He wouldn’t have to wonder for long, though. Soon his time would come.
The screen retracted into the wall, signaling the end of the prisoner’s ten minutes of preparation before inspection, and revealed a window through which he could view the vast, infinite abyss of space. As the footsteps of the guard reverberated, increasing in volume as they neared the prisoner’s cell, he reached under the cot to pick up a well-worn iron screw. The long screw had been polished lovingly, but this did not detract from the lethal point which had, similarly, been fashioned with great care. The prisoner knew that he was, at long last, ready to act. With uncharacteristic anticipation, he steeled himself for the arrival of his jailor. The glow of solar systems reflected off the prisoner’s face like so many snowflakes. The guard stopped just outside the prisoner’s cell. Soon, the prisoner would make his escape from Space Jail, and he would once more stand on solid earth; today, though, he would run the slaughterhouse.





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