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fiction: serial fiction
faraway: chapter one

67.4 miles.

67.4 miles in every direction, farther than the human eye could see, there was nothing but desert and sand and nothing. In some directions it was farther than that, but that was the minimum radius of absolute desolation around Faraway Federal Penal Facility.

The building itself -- one, solid mass of sand colored stone spread over a square mile and jutting more than twelve stories skywards -- stood at the center of this circle like a discarded toy, forgotten when its owner went home from an unenjoyable vacation. On its exterior it had no balconies, no walkways, and only one enclosed rooftop lookout post. Completely air tight and self contained, its guards peered from rocket-proof windows fitted with perfectly sized slots for either rifles or other implements of "attitude adjustment."

Touted by the Department of Corrections as "the world's most intelligent and secure penal facility," the only way to get in was by helicopter, over those many miles of anti-aircraft weaponry and mines and punji spikes. Inmates were literally dropped in bundles from the rotary birds of prey. The trip was designed to graphically illustrate the separation of prisoners from the rest of the world. No visitors. Highly sporadic mail. Even chaplain service had been prohibited. There were zero escapes in the twenty-seven years of its operation under the United States government. faraway had supplanted Alcatraz in the global consciousness as the icon of incarceration.

It was more than a slogan, it was considered irrefutable fact, as if handed down from heaven above, a slogan that was at the top of every piece of letterhead and known the world over.

"Nobody gets away from Faraway."

• • •

Staring down over the illuminated central courtyard, Keniston Spaulding tapped an old-fashioned lead pencil on his knee rhythmically. A stack of half-filled out e-forms lay in six mostly neat piles of LCD tablets at his side, and Linda Ronstadt's voice came carefully from miniscule tweeters on the dented and bruised Panasonic radio, perched symmetrically atop a leatherbound bible on the edge of the desk.

The window, shatterproof glass laced with electrified titanium wire, gazed down on an area the size of two football fields snuggled side by side, where prisoners decked out in uniforms of black, blue, brown and red meandered to and fro in carefully observed activity. From Spaulding's perch, two hundred feet above the floor of the yard, he could see the dim green glow from the tranq shackles around the left leg of each and every prisoner, occasionally switching to red should one get out of hand and then be carried off by guards. Spaulding sighed, the worn blue of his blazer shuffling itself as he rubbed his hands together, and returned to the forms.

"Warden Spaulding," a steady voice intoned from just outside the door. Spaulding looked up, and through the door came a tall man in gray fatigues, smartly pressed with shining medallions and insignia meticulously placed on the chest and collar. The man snapped to attention before the warden's boxy metallic desk.

"Yes, Simpson," Spaulding replied, the gravelly shadows of his voice carrying no further than the periphery of his desk.

"Warden, the requested shipment of backup batteries for the stun sticks hasn't arrived," Simpson said evenly, his pockmarked face showing no worry nor excitement. "It was scheduled to arrive at 0930 hours this morning and we have received no transmissions as to the whereabouts of the supply 'copter."

Spaulding sighed and ran his rough, thick fingers through thinning slate-colored hair. "These batteries," he began, "they were backups, you say?"

"Yessir," was the staccato reply, still in that solid, even tone of Simpson's. "All guards replace batteries at the same time, as per the schedules I established upon my appointment to head of facility security, once a day. Our current supply is sufficient for operating at this level for two months, with our existing backup supply sufficient for a month beyond that. Rechargable batteries are used in emergencies, due to more limited life, and we have two weeks supply of them kept at full charge in ..."

"So what you're saying, then," Spaulding said slowly, "is that the insurance for an insurance policy on our insurance is ..." Spaulding glanced at his watch, a featureless turn of the century Timex with old fashioned clockwork hands circling an analog disc. "Two hours late. Is that what you're saying, Simpson?"

"Yessir," Simpson fired off again, "in a way, you are correct, sir. However, standard operating procedure requires the 'copter pilot to signal all delays to all intended parties and ..."

"Have you checked the weather reports near the last stop for the 'copter?" Spaulding said, sitting back in the worn brown chair. "Have you checked sunspot activity for transmissions error indices? Perhaps examined the scheduling manifests online?"

Simpson hesitated, for just a moment, his eyes darting back and forth between some mental decisions he didn't see fit to verbalize. "Nossir," he said quickly. "Not completely. Our immediate area is free from transmission interference but I did not research the status of other stops on the 'copter's course."

Spaulding looked evenly at Simpson for a moment, his mental database cranking. Bartholomew Arthur Simpson, named by all-too-liberal parents after some cult personality of the latter part of the previous century. Graduated summa cum laude from Evergreen State College in Washington, bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Failed law school examinations miserably, entered law enforcement shortly after and was transferred to prisons in the tail end of the transitional period when all law enforcement and penal systems came under the aegis of the Department of Corrections. Raised in suburban area of Washington State called Hillcrest by economically distressed parents, both school teachers, both allegedly killed by a particularly dangerous Faraway inmate numbered XV4012287 while Simpson was in high school. Completely obsessive compulsive, according to psych profiles, and prone to extremes when following regulations. Appointed Supervisor of Security Facilities nonetheless, January 2035.

"Go research the data I mentioned," Spaulding said finally, remembering who and what he was dealing with. "Send a secured email to DOC HQ in Omaha, requesting follow up data. When you have compiled your information, if the shipment has not arrived within eight hours, email me with a report. Do this by email, not by securetrans or via phones -- the Department of Corrections has enough to worry about with all the troubles since we lost D.C. to the riots."

Simpson almost smiled, then nodded almost imperceptibly. "Yessir. Permission to be dismissed, sir?"


Simpson fired off a smart, precise salute and turned on his heel, exiting the office. Good, Spaulding thought to himself, ;that should keep him happily occupied staring at monitors for a bit, by which time said 'copter should arrive.

Turning back to the forms, Spaulding again sighed and checked spottedly down the line of yet another e-form.

• • •

The steamy fog of the showers hovered around Anthony Harata like the limbs of a weeping willow. The muscular Asian man methodically washed himself, humming a vague tune of no specific origin. The insistent drumbeat of water on tile was loud but calming, and as he began to run his hands over his shaven head, he never even heard the sound of footsteps approaching.

In a flurry of motion he was caught -- both arms pinned to the grimy saffron-colored tiles, held above his head. Two huge Samoans held him fast as he struggled, and with his face pressed against the slick shower wall, he could just make out three more slowly approaching. He grunted and gritted his teeth, his legs trembling as he was afraid to move and slip into a much more vulnerable position should he fall.

"Not such a big shot now, are you, shooter Harata-san?" a gravelly accented voice said behind him. "Don't think we forgot what happened in Manila. Do it, Ata."

Two more sets of hands held him fast against the wall as the last one started to remove his dark blue jumpsuit. Harata grunted, his mind racing for a solution. No good ideas seemed to come. He clenched his entire body like a fist, vowing silently horrible vengeance should he survive this.

Harata was still bracing himself to be violated when he heard the first body fall to the ground. Soap was dripping into his eyes, so he couldn't see the motion behind him at all, but two of the bodies holding him moved away and shortly after fell to the shower floor with a sound like overripe persimmons losing their battle with gravity and finding soft earth. There was a lot of cursing in Samoan from the last two, and each one's voice was cut off suddenly by hard blows Harata could feel through the thickness of their torsos before they too slid to the ground. Quickly he moved away from the wall, struggling to see through the water and soap flowing over his tense form.

"Calm down, Harata," a deep, calm voice said through his blurry champagne-colored haze. "I'm surprised you were crazy enough to come in here alone."

Harata calmed down some, and he felt a towel fall over his left arm. He wiped his eyes and was not surprised to see two Black men in jet black uniforms standing, arms crossed, and another near the shower's entrance standing watch.

"My second had his work shift changed at the last minute," Harata said, toweling himself off quickly. "I was only in a minute or two before the Beach Boys here showed up."

"Never without somebody watching your back," Inmate XV4012287 replied, the word "DAMU" stenciled in white thread on the right breast of his uniform.

"I know, Ishmael," Harata nodded, starting to move towards the exit. "Thank you."

"Thank Jonesy," Damu noted, patting the man closest to him on the shoulder. "He was on his way to play ball with Quincy over there and saw Junior Toleafoa and his gang running this way like the warden left a door open. We figgered whatever was going on, we should take an interest."

"Damu," the lean, light skinned man called Quincy said from the doorway, "we gotta shake the spot before they reinforce."

Damu nodded. "Take the point. Then Jonesy, then Harata, then me." In single file, they quickly exited the shower, pausing quickly to grab Harata's black uniform jumpsuit and let him get dressed before leaving altogether.

They turned right, angling down an anonymous, dingy gray corridor, and rounded the next corner just as four more huge Samoans were approaching the showers from another direction. They kept moving in silence until they were all at the exercise yard amidst the regulars around the basketball court.

"Too close," Jonesy sighed. Jonesy was a lanky man with a deep cognac complexion and a fidgety energy that manifested itself in sudden, jerky movements. His dark blue uniform looked about a half size too small for his 5' 10" frame.

"Way too close," Damu agreed, his eyes on the passage they'd just exited. "It is simply your shai that Junior and his boys didn't have the application of will to do serious damage to you, and that Jonesy was on point. This time. It is always our objective to be perfect in all ways, flawless and unassailable."

A voice from the court chimed in, "That has to be Ishmael Damu, runnin' that same material since the teens!"

All four turned to see an extremely dark man with his uniform jumpsuit removed to the waist and tied around his stout tummy, smiling brightly with brilliant ivory teeth.

"Morgan Summers," Damu said with a sigh. "What in the name of Ma'at are you doing here?"

A dark, stocky man, Summers sauntered up like the neighborhood wiseguy walking down Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. "Same as you, dog," he said with a wistful smile, "wishing I wasn't stupid enough to get caught." The two men drew close, and each grabbed the forearm of the other. Quickly, they touched cheeks, and then hugged with a laugh. "I see you're still teaching The Way of The Circle."

"The Circle is eternal, but Mister Harata here is nobody's student, lookin' like the Hulk on Wontons and isht," Damu offered. "Gentlemen, meet my 'uncle,' Morgan Summers, one of the finest men ever produced in the cesspool of Brooklyn, New York, and convicted, finally, of something I haven't been briefed on. Summers, this is Anthony Harata, shooter for some Yakuza offshoot, convicted on something like a billion counts of first degree murder, a few hundred thousand counts of murder two, and a pesky parking ticket that just won't go away. Over there is Intel's worst nightmare, uber-hacker Paul 'Jonesy' Jones, Jr., and East St. Louis' most notorious drive-by shooter, Mister Abdul Quincy."

Summers shook hands briefly but warmly with each, and Damu made a subtle knit of his fingers before shaking Summers' hand. Summers nodded and relaxed visibly.

"How'd you get caught?" Quincy asked, his eyes carefully examining this newcomer.

"The wife," Summers sighed. "We were undercover, waiting for a signal. She must have said something when she was out getting groceries or something. Next thing I know, bicopters was all flyin' towards my house like a herd of bees ..."

"Bees come in swarms," Damu injected, smirking, "but go on."

"... and it's all I can do to get her and the baby into the drop shaft before the Fives bust in. I got them both off safely, but I was busted."

"What crime did you commit, if I may ask?" Harata spoke reverently in only the slightest accent, his voice clear and almost delicate for a man of his appearance. His tall, shirtless sanguine form was offset by the dark brown of his uniform pants.

"Basic consorting with dangerous minds sort of BS that the DOC got Obama and Sharpton for," Summers said with disgust.

Damu pulled on the featureless midnight black uniform jacket that matched his long t-shirt and jeans perfectly. "Aunt Fumilayo was always as dumb as a soup spoon. They had flix of you with me?" he asked.

"You know they never got a good shot of you until after you were caught," Summers answered, smiling grimly. "No, it was me and Seker, and some other shots of me with Fidel and Harjanto they spliced together in Gump labs."

"So, the guilty by association rule came into play ..." Damu started, nodding at Jonesy.

"... and I end up at Faraway in a black uniform instead of at Mule Creek or Sing Sing in a red or an orange," Summers finished. "Most dangerous brand of prisoner, 'specially after you went nuts when they came for you, bruh."

Damu grinned. "Yah, that was bangin.' And I've been assured by people here that I did only get mzungu, like I meant to."

Harata scrunched up his face again before he remembered the Zimbabwean word for Caucasians. He peered at Damu with a mixture of reverence and confusion.

"Anyway," Summers yawned, stretching, "what you got goin' on here, bruh?"

Damu shrugged. He turned, the sunlight glinting off the lenses of his gray wire glasses. "There's all the prison basics, but I keep my cipher tight. We've made an ... arrangement with some of the guards and we're all sequestered together, right next to solitary. There's things visible and things unseen. I'd bet you still prefer agressive basketball to combat training ..."

At that, Summers wide West Indian face opened a canyon of blazing white teeth, and nodded.

"... which will work out just fine for you, since Harata could use somebody other than Quincy who does more than defend, which is all me an Jonesy here's good for. None of us are in much want for anything -- got the hook up on commissary, so we basically center on resource allocation and keeping all relevant parties happy. Harata here has a connect for cigarettes and ... well, he's hooked up. With him as the homie, we keep our lifestyle as plush as we can while still trying to figger how to manifest in the world."

"And Mister Damu here provides me with additional security and the occasional embarrassing basketball game," Harata smiled.

"Security? Big muhf**ka like you?" Summers questioned, half mocking.

Harata smiled, a thin slit of teeth between grainy lips. "When I got here, I was the world's only six foot tall Asian weighing in at a hundred and fifty pounds. In addition to my reading, Damu suggested I do some more ... physical development. That was 2025."

Damu grinned. "Ten years of pumpin' up this sorry li'l mofo into a badass, kung fu movie, temple of Shaolin, saki swillin' ..."

"... Asian guy who still can't fight a lick and has no training away from firearms," Harata finished with a shrug.

"All them convictions and you cain't fight?" Summers boggled.

"I was a shooter," Harata said with a small measure of pride. "They'd have never gotten me at all without this rat turning on my clan ..."

"... who mysteriously slipped and fell on a detanator that blew him and his house into a billion pieces two years ago," Damu smirked. "But that's not important right now ... it'll be lunchtime in an hour and a half, and none of us are on shift until four," Damu commented after pulling out a late 90s handheld and tapping it twice. "Q, Harata -- Uncle Mo here is a natural baller, why don't y'all get acquainted over some trash talk and rock-handlin'?"

Harata didn't have time to answer, his mouth still moving into position to form words, before Summers had grabbed a ball lying on the ground and tossed it directly into Harata's breadbasket. Harata grimaced and called Quincy on team, who grabbed Jonesy and dragged him on to an empty half court. The four leapt into play with fervor as Damu wandered off to one side, partially standing in the shadow of a beam, his smile melting away into a hardened poker face, glaring carefully around, often glancing up at the guards patrolling the walkway above and the warden's office above that.

• • •

One week after Morgan Summers greeted his "nephew," Keniston Spaulding muttered incomprehensible curses under his breath as his bare feet slapped and echoed down the hallway. Three thirty in the morning! Something of extreme importance had better have alerted him, stirring him from a dream of his departed Abigail, and not just more of that Simpson boob's nonsense!

Spaulding stepped through the door of the Situation Room looking like a sleepy character from a Dickens novel -- long nightshirt trailing, bare feet and spindly pasty legs rushing, and even a nightcap which Abagail had sewn herself. His blotchy skin was all the more ghostly in the harsh halogen luminescence of the prison's Situation Room, so close to Spaulding's own office.

Three guards sat within, each at a computer station monitoring various data streams on the prison environs, and each turned to regard Spaulding's approach. Despite Spaulding's comical appearance, each guard's eyes were filled with apprehension, and Spaulding was at a loss to explain its source. The gray of their uniforms seemed so much cleaner and better maintained than the day staff, Spaulding noted absently, before setting things back into motion.

"What?" Spaulding bit out.

"Warden Spaulding, emergency message from DOC headquarters," the young one on the end, Hathaway, said. A slip of a man, only twenty-six, he'd been assigned to Faraway just seven months before, fresh from DOC Academy in Joliet. Spaulding's brain began to spit up more data on the guard, but sleepiness marred its efficiency and at this time of morning Spaulding just didn't care. "Marked priority one, your eyes only, action alert." the man finished, the last word almost lost as his head dipped nervously.

Spauldings harrumphed. "Probably some cutback in supply rations, issued by some third level quartermaster with too many ambitions and too high a security clearance," Spaulding grumbled. "I'll take it in my office."

Filing past the pale, anxious night watchmen, Spaulding walked the thirty feet of blank corridor to his office, still grumbling incoherently. He sat down at his desk and cleared off the central space of the LCD tablets that comprised his working area. He tapped on the cleared desktop area and a large, flat screen slid up from the far edge of the desk, quickly crackling to life with the blue background and gray eagle of the Department of Corrections. There was a post-it note attached to the top of the screen -- "Batteries never arrived, Simpson" it said -- and Spaulding quickly removed it with a snarl.

"Keniston Phillip Spaulding," he yawned at the screen, "warden and chief operating officer, Faraway Federal Penal Facility, authorization code VPQN7793, alpha, beta, omega."

VOICE CODE MATCHED, the screen read, before dissolving into blackness and fading up on an old man, seated in a nicer office laid out much like Spaulding's own.

"Grayson," Spaulding gasped. The Secretary of Corrections, number one cop in the country, staring electronically at its number one jailer. The years had not been kind to either, and the deep creases and jowls of Stuart Grayson were only made more noticeable by the smart and crisp silver crew cut atop his head.

"I'm sorry to contact you indirectly like this, Ken," Grayson began, wringing his hands like the dishes were done. "I know you didn't believe me when I told you that Faraway was an assignment of the utmost importance, but I was right all along. You may or may not have noticed that Faraway has been sealed off from outside communication for almost two weeks. Considering the hermit-like disposition of most of your staff, I wouldn't be surprised if almost none of them noticed. With your internal entertainment networks secure, no news of this would have reached you, so I'm going to be the first to tell you ..."

Grayson looked down at his desk, and Spaulding began to notice things. Grayson was notoriously clean shaven, but a day's growth of beard lined his ample cheeks. The usually sparkling blue blazer, bedecked with honors and medals, was unbuttoned and open, a sweat stained t-shirt behind it, and the signs of valor either damaged or missing. Likewise, the normally bright office was dimly lit, shadows lying across wood grain paneling like vacationing tourists. A creeping dread like being under a piano's growing shadow began to find its way into Keniston Spaulding, and he listened intently when Grayson raised his head and began to speak again.

"Today, July 14 2036, the capital of these United States in Kansas City, Missouri was overthrown and burned to the ground by Black Muslim extremists armed with modern military weaponry," Grayson said evenly, with no trace of humor nor guile. "The NORAD command center has likewise been sacked by a coalition of Brown Beret groups and Native Americans, who somehow infected our whole defense network with a nasty computer bug called Coyote that disabled all communications and coordination. The infrastructure of the whole damned country has fallen, and the effects are immediate. Los Angeles is gone. Mexicans surged across the border like a broken dam and reclaimed all of Southern California. Even our so-called allies like Japan, Norway and Saudi Arabia have joined the likes of Syria, Iran, and Cuba in attacking our now lost borders. It's worst-case scenario, Ken. It was like they all had it planned, and we never saw it coming."

Grayson took a breath, obviously holding in strong emotions, and continued, gazing at a point on his desk and fidding with a pen. "The surviving military cells not infiltrated by one of these insurrectionist groups have walled themselves in and mostly gone rogue, fending for themselves. DOC cops are slain by the thousands in the streets as the whole world turns against them. At least the nukes are gone, back in '16, but there's so much trouble everywhere ... there is effectively no United States now. No power within nor without can enforce unified rule." Grayson glared up at the camera, out of the screen, and at Spaulding with rippling fire behind his eyes. "For the love of God, Ken, they burned the Constitution! They burned it and the first flag, slew the entire congress with a firebomb, President Nicholson's body is on a flagpole being carried from town to town ... I'm telling you all this for a reason, Ken."

Calming down some, Grayson kept talking. "Faraway is the last completely viable and operational facility of the Federal Government still considered loyal. I am going to count on three decades of knowing you to assume you're not going rogue, to set up your own little fiefdom out there in Arizona. The surviving members of the government are here, in Omaha with me, but to be honest, we may not make it there. We've got one jetliner and one fighter escort, the rest burned or shot down by local malcontents or foreign air power. Even the damn Canadians attacked us, Ken! We're ... we're gonna try to make it, but if by tomorrow we're not there, you're it, you're the President and the Supreme Court and responsible for holding on to America until ... hell, I dunno. 'Til something happens.

"I tell you this so I can encourage you not to be a hero and try to go out pacifying the world -- that's what got most of our people killed. Faraway is pretty much impregnible, as well as being next to impossible to escape from. Your facility there can operate as is, from our understanding, for nine months. Things should, God willing, calm down some by then and the loyalist forces of this country can reunite to get us back on track. All I ask is that you be that rock upon which this country can hold on to, not to slip into the abyss. After more than thirty years, Ken, I can think of no better man for the job. Hopefully Kelly and I will be there in a day to sit down and have dinner. Until then, you can do it. See you soon."

Grayson stood, saluted smartly, and the screen faded to black.

Spaulding sat staring at the screen for twenty minutes. His thin face, bereft of color and slack jawed, was a blank palette, as though he expected the world to paint him back out of this corner.

The world began to fade inside his head. Patches would come in and out, leaving black spots on his vision like splattered paint on a windshield. Slumping back in his chair, nothing held him to reality, the world becoming opaque, like sliding into deep water.

Finally, Keniston Spaulding began to cry. It started as a shudder, like a convulsion at first, that devolved quickly into jagged shaking and then into a near fit, finally leaving him, head between his legs, bawling loudly with a pool of salt tears forming between his bare feet. Like that, shaking, weeping like a broken hearted debutante on prom night, he remained for another twelve minutes before stopping suddenly and standing upright like a geyser going off.

"No," he said coldly to the empty room. "No, no, no, no, no. I will not be weak. No weakness, Spaulding!" His red-rimmed eyes blazed with a mix of fury and determination, as he sniffed a snotty sob back into himself. "I can't be weak. I have been appointed, I will serve. I will ..." His voice trailed off as he began to look around.

The three guards from the Situation Room had just started to relax. Hathaway had his boots up on the console and was munching at an apple, while the other two poked through drawers and folders for a playing-card e-panel. Spaulding burst into the room and knocked Hathaway down as he rushed through, moving to stand on the raised dais that showed a topographical map of the blank radius around the prison.

"Hathaway! Get me some coffee, black, hot, and right now, dammit!" Spaulding barked, completely controlled, his back to them, gazing at the map. "Richards, wake up Simpson right now and get him in here with me, stat. Put the on-shift guards at Defcon 3, not 5, not 4, but mother-f**king Defcon 3! Cody! Alert all off-shift guards, wake them up, and have them meet in the Conference Center right the hell now! And none of you ask me any goddamned questions!" Spaulding whirled, eyes red with the blaze of mental activity and the remnants of his tears, as the three younger men stared at him, normally the picture of sedentary listnessness, suddenly channeling George Patton. "MOVE!" he hollered.

The three young guards jumped with a start and ran out the door in different directions. Spaulding turned back to the map and gazed at it, using the time to further compose himself. He traced the pentagon shaped outline of the prison on the map with his left index finger, quietly muttering the Lord's Prayer. He signaled down to the guard posted on the floor where his quarters lie and ordered the young man -- Rayner, second year at Faraway, graduated from Texas A&M -- to retrieve his dress uniform and have it brought up yesterday.

Two floors down and half a level away, Richards stood waiting outside Simpson's door, about to knock for the third time when the smooth plexisteel surface gave way to a half naked man, wrapped in a sheet.

"Riot?" Simpson asked excitedly. "Breakout attempt? Hostage situation?"

"Nossir," Richards replied nervously. "The Old Man got an urgent eyes-only call from HQ and suddenly wants to talk to everybody on staff. You first."

Simpson gazed incredulously at Richards, trying to size him up if this was a joke, but could see only tense preparedness in the younger guard, standing with his cap in his hand, his blond hair falling everywhere in its bowl cut. "Give me ninety seconds and I'll walk back up with you. Stand here." Simpson slammed the door in Richards' face and was back out in seventy, walking ahead of Richards towards the stairs.

Simpson walked in to Spaulding's office alone to find the warden buttoning his shirt. "Ah, good," he said, still buttoning, "close the door and sit down, Simpson."

Simpson looked warily at the warden but did as he was told. He took off his hat and sat it on his left knee, back straight, ready for whatever had shaken Spaulding from his normal state of mild indifference to reveal this man, green eyes sparkling with newfound direction.

"Simpson," Spaulding said as he pulled on the jacket to his dress uniform, "you know I don't like you, right?"

Simpson opened his mouth, a stock "yessir" ready to fly out, but it was stunned shut by the sudden and antagonistic personal revelation. "Um, excuse me, sir?" was the best he could manage, his voice shaky as a boy at the door of his prom date.

"I said I don't like you," Spaulding said, sliding the worn Bible on his desk neatly into a drawer, away from sight. "You know that, right? Never have. You're anal retentive, obsessive-compulsive, overbearing, slightly psychopathic, and constantly seeking external validation to make up for the fact your wacko parents named you after a goddamned cartoon character. I have an advanced degree in psychology, so I feel qualified to say these things. On top of all that, you're a jerk. Thus, I don't like you and I never have. The staff of Faraway were all picked due to a certain misanthropy or problem with people in general, lurking somewhere in their psychological makeup. I know because I suggested that as a criteria for selection when this prison was being built, to maintain its security. As much prisoners ourselves, locked away from polite society, than those poor ankle braceleted bastards we babysit. Not going too fast for you, am I, Simpson?"

Simpson gaped dumbly at his superior, and finally shook his head nervously. His cap tumbled quietly to the floor, but he was too transfixed to notice.

"I'm telling you all this because, on top of all that, you are the most trustworthy, skillful and reliable person on the staff," Spaulding continued, fastening cufflinks to his jacket, "a veritable model soldier, best qualified to help me with what I have to do. I know that because I gave the final approval of your assignment here. I did it with every single person who wasn't convicted of a major felony who inhabits these obsidian walls. I have since before the prison was opened, because I was the one who conceived of and designed this prison, way back when you were a wee lad, back in the quaint year of 2010."

Simpson still gaped, saying nothing.

"Yes, I designed the world's finest prison from a psychological standpoint," Spaulding said, reaching for his cap atop a hatrack. "and let myself be talked into being its warden, its babysitter, its principal. Now I have been talked into much more, as you shall see in a matter of moments. I'm not going to bother telling you why you're in my office instead of doing whatever you normally do at ..." Spaulding glanced at his plain black and white analog wristwatch, "hm, almost five in the morning. I'm simply going to replay the message sent to me by Secretary of Corrections Stuart Grayson, my college roommate and the man who talked me into becoming the overseer of this godforsaken lump of sh*t. Come, sit here and press play."

As Spaulding walked around to the front of his desk, Simpson mirrored in slow motion and sat in the big chair. He pressed the tiny black arrow at the bottom left of the screen, and watched the entire message wordlessly and without a change in his terse expression. The screen went black, which Spaulding observed by watching the reflection fade from Simpson's almost-black brown eyes.

"Sir ..." Simpson started. Unable to come up with anything else, he gazed down at his knees.

"The responsibility placed upon our shoulders is greater than that held by any men in American history," Spaulding said quietly. "You and I are to hold sacred and safe the promise of the land of the free, home of the brave. The irony that this is our duty, considering we are assigned to serve as takers of freedom and men who quell bravery, is not lost upon me. Nevertheless, here we are. I need you, right now, to tell me you can do this. I will soon begin to institute policy that will be draconian, will cause great deals of discontent amongst the populace and the staff, and will no doubt cause hundreds of lives to be prematurely taken. I will need you to serve without question, without hesitation and without reservation, understanding that my goal is to hold this place as a bastion of Americanism until such a point when we can be relieved from our guard, figuratively and literally. This will require you to have faith in me, to not just believe but to know that I know better than you do, to know that my way is the right way. It means calming down your own tendencies to overanalyze, quieting your incessant suggestions and reports. It means, more than likely, killing men, women and children, guilty or not, by your own hand."

"Children?" Simpson asked suddenly, shaken from his shock. "The only children here are families of staff members, with the women's populace kept so deep underground and away from the men ..."

Spaulding merely gazed levelly at Simpson in response.

A glimmer of understanding caught spark in Simpson's mind. It marched across his face like the forces of the Khan across Mongolia. He looked down again; dark murky thoughts windsurfing the currents of his brain and conscience. After a moment, he looked back at Spaulding. A shock of recognition penetrated him, finally seeing Spaulding's facade -- genteel, elder servant of public will -- forever torn away, replaced by a much harder man who had taken lives as casually as taking a deep breath, dressed smartly in a gray uniform with DOC insignia on his collars and epaulets, gray cap locked atop the crown of his head, shiny black boots to his knees ...

"You can count on me, sir," Simpson said quietly. He stood, saluted, and stood at ease. "What can I do to help you?"

"Well, first of all let me thank you for this decision," Spaulding said calmly, "because it saved your life, and possibly mine." A nickel plated nine millimeter pistol appeared from behind Spaulding's back, which he calmly slid into a pocket holster on his right thigh. "You're too determined for me to have not completely in my confidence, had you not responded quickly and honestly, I'd have to kill you here and now. Luckily for both of us, you're too much a creature of habit to be lying or have that much ambition. There's not another person at this prison who would do, only you can be my right hand, operating in shadows to insure our goals. Only you will be privy to as much as I know. Together we will save this country. Come."

Spaulding walked slowly towards the door, and Simpson fell into step just behind. As they walked back to the Situation Room, Spaulding handed Simpson a pistol just like his own, and said, "Oh, I should mention something to you. I served in the CIA, before the DOC absorbed it, for more than twenty years. I am more than capable of killing at least twenty-five highly trained guards before I would be killed myself. Should your ambitions ever rise, I will kill you at the first sign of duplicity, before you can ever raise your hand to me, before the thought finishes making a circuit of a single neuron. Remember that, obey me without question, and I'll put your face on this when we're done. I hate attention. It's part of why I'm here. You, on the other hand, can be remembered in history forever as the man who saved America, an unblemished, romantic national hero the likes of which hasn't been seen in centuries. Choose wisely, and for the rest of our time together, Mister Simpson."

Simpson nodded solemnly, slid the pistol inside his jacket's normally neglected inner holster and said nothing. Together, they walked through the Sit Room and towards the Conference Center.

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