|| operative network | personal site: creative - relativity
fiction: serial fiction
faraway: chapter two
As the clamor of meal time swirled around him, Ishmael Damu sat quietly, empty tray to his right, his back to the wall of one of the massive dining halls inside Faraway's endless innards. His shaved head reflected the far-off, incandescent lights that blazed down on seven hundred men taking their turn at what Faraway considered nourishment. Around the table Morgan Summers, Anthony Harata, and Paul Jones Jr., twirling a cigarette on his fingers, sat talking basketball. Ishmael absently watched the cigarette make its rounds on Jonesy's fingers, and Harata was excited about a new move he made up to sneak past a defender towards the basket. Summers discounted Harata's discovery as an old Allen Iverson trick. Their conversation carried on at a low volume until they all, one by one, turned to notice Ishmael's silence.
Damu's fingers were knit into an odd configuration: thumbs, pinkies and index fingers touching tips, other fingers laced like macrame. It was the Tenth Letter of Zen Swordsmanship, something taught to Damu when he was a teen, and a sign of intense concentration. Summers spoke first.
"Ish, what up, god?"
"Something's wrong," Damu said quietly, his gaze fixed on some indeterminate point of wall. "Something has ... changed."
Harata traded glances with the man in the blue uniform, Jones, and then back at Damu. Before he could ask, Damu spoke again.
"Over the course of the last two months, we've gotten less and less food at meal times." His eyes, jet black jewels set fiercely in his head, were dull with the appearance of roughly hewn stone. "Lights have been shut off more regularly, stun sticks used more sparingly. It's like the whole prison is on some conservation kick. Like they're worried they'll run out."
Jones spoke up. "I didn't notice any ..."
"Of course not, Paul," Damu said fondly, freeing his fingers from their position and shifting his weight. "Your areas of expertise are purely technical. Such nuances would escape you. I specialize in this kind of tactical detail -- you could say it's my job. Got it from my mother. Trust me," Damu said, dropping his face and staring meaningfully over his glasses at Jones, "... something has changed."
Rattled by the intensity of Damu's jeweled brown eyes, Harata ventured, "Have you seen the new supervisor?"
"The old white guy, who came in about ... two months ago?" Damu recalled. "Yes. Note that we only saw him for a quick minute? He marched through like he was reviewing a parade formation, and that's it. He's been completely in-cog-negro. Something is happening, and our normally bribed guards aren't hooking us up with the data."
Harata nodded. "I'll talk to a few of our contacts and see what I can get, now I know to look for something."
"Yes, they're being careful not to let on there's something to look for." A dark look, like a single cloud on a sunny day, crossed Damu's face. "I need to meditate on the cipher," he said abruptly, standing up. "But here's what I'd like you all to do, for me. Harata, shake down your trees for any forbidden fruits. Jonesy, remember your idea of hacking in to the prison's computers, that I said was too dangerous? Risk your life. We need hard data yesterday. This is that serious. Uncle Mo, check our ... supplies, and make sure all t's are dotted and i's are crossed Hook Harata up with extras from commissary if he needs to make bribes and what not."
Summers ventured it first. "Even if they are cutting back, isn't risking Jonesy's life a little serious for ..."
Damu simply stared at him, and Summers fell silent. He remained as still as midnight on the Sea of Tranquility until any concerns over his certainty were a memory. Ever since Summers knew Ishmael's father, the two of them drilled their convinctions into everyone around them with stillness and gazes like laser beams.
The three men nodded, and Damu marched confidently across the room without another word. He didn't much walk anywhere, he marched; heavy size 12 feet kickdrum pounding, his body a guided missle, undeterred. Damu stepped through the corridors outside the dining hall and kept storming on for a few yards until he stopped suddenly, one leg hanging in the air while he thought for a second. He looked around slowly, mind racing, eyes carefully analyzing the surroundings. He leaned down, finally, near a vent along the floor, running his hand across its six inch high surface.
"Nothing," he whispered to himself. "No fans turned on to keep the air moving and fresh." He considered it for a moment, and then looked up into the glassy eye of a surveillance camera. "Is this what you meant, Dad?" he wondered aloud.
He stood to continue on but stopped again. Standing at the corridor's intersection was Simpson, an old fashioned blackjack baton in his left hand, a walkie talkie in the right.
"What are you doing, XV4012287?" Simpson asked in a voice that was almost a purr.
Damu grinned, and replied, "Just walking back to my cell to engage in personal sexual gratification, as is allowed by Federal Penal Code 6529317.9 subparagraph 7c, before returning to my regularly scheduled and assigned work activity. If that's all right with you ... Sir."
Simpson stared coldly at Damu, breathing evenly, wordless for a moment. "I want to know the second you're up to something."
Damu actually laughed, a short barking chuckle that rang loud in the closed off passageway. "You mean like, oh, a massive jailbreak so I can get blown up on the minefield outside, gunned down by your snipers, or possibly just stabbed to death on the razor wire and electrified punji sticks? No thanks, sir, I'll be serving out my sentence and minding my own business, if it's all the same to you." With a grin, he dropped his head a bit and said, "Besides, my people don't get 'ideas.' Remember?"
Ignoring the reference to his parents' deaths at what turned out to be the last Ideasphere Conference, Simpson allowed another beat to pass before walking up to Damu. They were about the same height -- Simpson's boots put him three or four centimeters higher, whereas Damu's plain canvas sneakers added nothing. Twelve inches away from Damu, Simpson stood, breathing carefully like his ribs were made of fine crystal. Then, without another word, he walked away in the direction of the dining hall.
A wry smirk slipped on to Damu's face and he shook his head. "Poor bastich," Damu whispered to himself. He then continued his path back to his cell.
The cells of Faraway were, by the standards of some centuries, luxurious. Twenty-five feet by twelve, each one housing four prisoners in bunk beds, with two desks and even a separate room, like a little closet, for a toilet and sink. This, one supposed, made up for the inability to see the sky and the constant feeling of being locked in a box forever.
Damu had been roomed with Harata since the Asian man arrived, and the other two bunks were used by a quiet, small pair of red uniformed Irishmen who kept no company but each other. Both were probably dead asleep in the bottom bunk near the rear of the cell -- they worked graveyard shift and played vampire during what were sarcastically referred to as "daylight hours" in a place almost without darkness.
He walked past the locked gate leading to solitary into his own open cell door, sparsely adorned with Harata's numerous calendars of bikini- and nothing-clad Asian models (several of whom, Damu suspected, were not of age to see a prom), several inspirational or funny messages written in large type on 8 1/2 x 11" sheets of paper, and a hand painted portrait of Harata and Damu by this kid Diaz three floors up. After keying his inmate number, the door slid shut, and Damu glanced up at the camera positioned in the room's farthest corner -- a fish-eye affair that was encased in titanium, practically impossible to disable or harm. The bright red, idiot sized numbers of the digital clock just beneath it read 2:08 pm. Twenty-two minutes before Damu had to be back on shift, affixing computer components to terminals for Intel, who had a sweetheart contract for Faraway labor at three cents an hour.
He got into his bunk -- bottom, closest to the door -- and sat cross legged in the shadows. To make it look good, he'd taken off his pants and shoes. He then knitted his fingers together, tips nestled in the base of their opposite, thumbs resting atop, and closed his eyes. The motionless air grew more still, and Damu poised himself on the edge of consciousness.
The swoosh of the door sliding open didn't surprise him -- Harata had to pick up his welder's mask to get back to the tractor shop by three -- but the sound of multiple bootsteps on the floor did. Eyes still closed, he reached out with himself to try to feel any danger -- he so wished he had been able to get more spiritual training from Uncle Seker to suppliment the guerilla tactics he'd been perfecting since he'd picked up his first action figure. He sensed nothing but people, and no one was doing anything, so he opened his eyes to see Simpson standing in front of the bed with two other guards behind him.
"You come yet?" Simpson asked, mocking, eyes narrowed to slits.
"I'm psyching myself up for it," Damu replied calmly, "fixing the image of my girl back home in my head so I can really enjoy it."
"Bulls**t," Simpson sighed. "You know this spiritual claptrap is only allowed on Sundays, in the chapel. Get up, Warden wants to see you."
"I didn't do it!" Damu was quick to say, actually surprised that things had escalated so quickly. "The old man doesn't care about minor infractions ..."
"Doesn't matter -- prisoners have no rights, guilty until proven innocent, blah blah blah," Simpson said, rolling his eyes and spinning his right index finger in a "hurry up" motion. "Come on, walk, I'm not in the mood to drag you down there."
Damu slid into his uniform jeans and muttered, "Mighty white of you," before standing up and delivering a winning smile. "Shall I lead the way, I certainly know how to find it."
Simpson made a mocking half bow, sweeping an arm towards the door. "After you, XV4012287."
Minutes later, shackled at the wrists and ankles, Damu stood before Keniston Spaulding's desk, Simpson and Hathaway behind him.
"Can I sit down?" he asked the two taciturn sentinels.
"No," Simpson said testily.
Warden Spaulding walked in, wearing his everyday uniform of DOC blue blazer and matching slacks. "Ah, the inimitable Mister Damu, thank you for joining me."
Damu raised his wrists and shook the chain. "No problem at all."
Spaulding looked evenly at Damu for a moment before opening a drawer and pulling out a remote control device. Damu noted a tiny .22 caliber pistol and a small throwing dagger in the drawer as well before it slid shut of its own accord.
"I would like very much to know what this was all about," Spaulding said, motioning towards a flat monitor on the wall and pushing a button.
The screen showed Damu walking away from the dining hall and then stopping as though he had heard something faintly. Damu watched himself look around like a hound sniffing for clues, and then lean down at the vent.
"I was feeling the vibe?" Damu offered nonchalantly with a shrug.
"You are, of course, aware the vents were not circulating air," Spaulding smiled.
Damu nodded. "I am."
"And, a smart man such as yourself," Spaulding continued, "has some theory on why this is so?"
"Federal mandate to save some cash?" Damu guessed with a shrug. "No need to spend so much money on those worthless bastards at Faraway, so what if the guards have to bear the stench?"
Spaulding was still smiling -- a thin-lipped grin that implied some secret knowledge. "That certainly sounds reasonable. It shows not only clear deductive reasoning but also a knowledge of the political currents of our government. One that a prisoner at Faraway, shut off from the world, should not have."
Damu examined Spaulding for a moment with furrowed brow, and then smiled brightly, illuminated by understanding. "Oh, that's why you dragged me in here! Simpson's already got a mad on, thinking I blew up his parents in LA, and I do something wacky, so you surmise, using your own FBI training ..."
"And now he thinks I was a member of that old guard organization!" Spaulding laughs.
" ... FBI, Company, NSA, whatever you were before it all became DOC, you were more than likely a spook if you have this much on the ball to break me down this far. Anyway, you use your spook deductive reasoning to figger I have a mucho verboten outside line of information, and as per Federal Penal Code 2.0 subparagraph 2, you are authorized, nay, pressed to search out such a conduit of unauthorized datum and squash it like the Israelis nuking Syria."
Spaulding nodded respectfully.
"Unfortunately for you," Damu said gravely, "the 'conduit' you seek is nothing more than your own new imnate program. You are aware, I'm sure, of my connection to new inmate Morgan Summers, who just got here three months ago from the world and may or may not have mentioned the political climate out there to me in perfectly legal and permissible conversation. Suddenly, my 'link' is nothing more than a message in a bottle."
"Hm, that's an interesting hypothesis," Spaulding nodded, leaning back. "Hathaway, cross reference those records."
Hathaway leapt from the room like there was a gila monster in his pants. "Considering your record," Spaulding said, "you're being surprisingly forthcoming with information. I thought the policy for you 'Black Radicals' was to give 'the man' as little as possible."
Damu grinned. "When 'the man' is so amusingly wrong and so fascinating to conversate with, the rules would have to change, wouldn't you agree?"
Spaulding leaned to his left, index finger at the temple of his head and said, "Are you implying we could have been friends in different circumstances, XV4012287?"
"Not at all -- I'd have killed you without hesitation back in the world, because you reek of cop," Damu offered conversationally. "But now that I won't, you're fascinating to deal with, almost enough to really get in trouble, so we can chat. Psychology degree ... masters or doctorate?"
"I'm sure we might play twenty questions at some point during your sentence, Mister Damu, but not today." Spaulding was tapping his desk with a lead pencil, an odd habit in a day where paper was almost extinct. "Simpson, check Hathaway's cross referencing, separate the prisoner from this Summers, cross interview, and report to me your findings."
Simpson saluted and grabbed Damu's arm and began to take him out of the room. "Uh, warden?" Damu managed.
Simpson looked to Spaulding, who nodded slightly. Simpson relaxed his grip for a moment.
"Mister Simpson here told me he wanted to know the second I was up to something. In that I do enjoy these chats, do I have to come up with something to be able to come talk to you again, or can I just make an appointment?"
Spaulding smiled and hesitated a moment, choosing his words carefully. "You will not be able to make an appointment, and if you, as you say, 'come up with something,' Mister Simpson there might visit you at work and an accident could occur. A permanent accident. We will not 'chat.' I ask and you respond, that is the only interaction we will ever have. Do you understand that?"
Damu appraised Spaulding with an expression that was difficult to read, but had a noticeable measure of amusement in it. "As I see time and space currently configured, yes, I do understand. Lovely to see you again, Ken."
With that, Damu walked out ahead of Simpson, who was right behind him.
Thirteen minutes later, Simpson walked back in. "Sir," Simpson said, waiting for a nod from Spaulding before continuing. "The story checks out. Summers had a live internet connection at his house at time of capture, and his online records indicate a heavy amount of traffic on news and political sites. He had an old style non-PentiumTrak computer, but luckily he hadn't emptied the cache so the investigators were able to trace the origins of the graphics files."
"I knew the story would check out," Spaulding said absently. "I never suspected he had an outside line, but I did wonder when the prisoners would notice the cutbacks we've been doing. It seems that now, one has. I have mentioned your obsessiveness, but this time it was a good catch, you patrolling the halls." Tapping the pencil and holding his face with one hand, Spaulding continued carefully. "Ishmael Damu is either the third most dangerous man in this prison or a minor irritant who seeks to distract me from the man who is. As soon as I figure out which one, you're free to kill him."
"Pardon me, sir, but third?"
"Second only to you and myself, Mister Simpson. Increase surveillance on him. Dismissed."
Simpson saluted and spun, exiting.
Spaulding mentally cross referenced all the degenerates associated with Damu -- snipers like Harata, code heads like Paul Jones, Jr., and so on -- any of whom were possible ringleaders. Spaulding took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, thinking, I should kill them all, but that damned Constitution, burned or not, still means something to me. Spaulding reflected -- he had justified his wetwork in the CIA as almost corporate, hostile takeovers in foreign countries not protected by the intentions of the Founding Fathers. Scum or not, the prisoners here were American citizens.
"The Old Man called you on the carpet?" Jonesy asked in amazement. It was afternoon free period, and they sat off to one side of the court with Harata, Summers and one of Harata's boys named Tommy Chunpakven. "You're still alive and everything! Damn!"
"He's mad funny, yo," Damu said, nodding. "He all but confirmed my suspicions and thought he let me guide myself into thinking some new Federal law is making him skimp on everything, trying to distract me by looking for a line to the world. He's cute, but I know his steez -- my dad trained me in how criminal psychology breaks fools down. Start talkin' white clear enough and long enough and you can confound them. Base yourself immovably, and only someone more sure of their footing can even hope to challenge you."
"'Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain,'" Jonesy quoted with a bitter grin. Summers said nothing, keeping his own dark counsel.
"So what is really going on?" Harata asked.
"Something big," Damu said darkly, the hint of a grin on his mouth. "Something in the world, I think. I knew it earlier, when I got y'all started, but now I'm even more convinced, but I still don't know what. He coulda decided he was gonna run his own private little world, and fought off the Feds. I watched them building this place when I was growing up, and it's next to impossible to defeat via frontal attack."
"Nobody gets away from Faraway," Summers growled.
"That'd kinda explain the skimping," Harata pondered, "but it would mean that Warden Spaulding is insane. The guards, many of whom are not fanatics, would not go along with that, and we'd have gotten some word."
"Speaking of, we'll have more data today," Chunpakven spoke up. He was a small man with long, smooth black hair tied in a ponytail. Effeminate and slight of frame, he had fended off many forceful amorous encounters in and out of prisons with the training of years of Shotokan after contracting himself out to the Pacific Rim Yakuza as a doctor. "I'll be chatting up one of our best contacts in ... an hour, when I go to work in the infirmary." He adjusted the red uniform jacket tied around his waist.
"Hip," Damu agreed. "We'll confer at two tables during dinner -- me at one, Harata at the other, and switch to trade data at breakfast We'll get you those smokes then, Tommy."
With that, they all stood up and played a listless game of 3-on-3 to keep up appearances. Damu kept peering over his shoulder at the darkened windows of the warden's office and Situation Room, with their bird's eye view over the yard.
Tommy Chunpakven slid his arm across the reader and a gentle "beep" signaled that his tranceiver chip granted him access to the infirmary. He started his rounds, cleaning some bedpans and reviewing e-chart data on the patients of his ward. He walked along, head down, looking at the hanging e-charts and almost bumped into the stocky guard suddenly standing in front of him.
"You the Chink doctor?" the guard said brusquely. Over six and a half feet tall, a slight paunch and freckles on his face as red as the hair on his head. His gray uniform strained to hold him in, and he carried a standard issue rifle as though it were a stick, hanging loosely from one hand.
"Technically, I'm Korean, but close enough," Chunpakven smirked. "They have also declined to accept my credentials and call me a nurse practicioner here."
"You a doctor though, right?" the guard demanded.
"Graduated 2028, Johns Hopkins, before that side of the country became a forest of gunfire," Chunpakven nodded. "I'm more doctor than anybody here."
"Good enough," the guard grunted. "I have a ... my boy left his wood carving on the couch and I ... kinda, sat on it. There's a splinter in ... well ... I didn't wanna go to the guard infirmary with ..."
Chunpakven waved his hands. "Enough data, I can handle this. Step over to the examination room and I'll be right in."
The guard stomped off, and Chunpakven kept checking charts. After a few minutes, he went in to the examination room, found the guard swinging his legs off the side of the examination table, closed the door, and let his hair hang free from the rubber band holding it.
"A woodcarving project," Chunpakven chuckled. "That's the funniest one I've ever heard, Billy."
"It's almost true," the guard Billy smiled, revealing an open freckled face. "I started Alexander on wood carving two months ago, and sittin' down to play some video boxing, I saw the pine derby racer he finished, a real ugly piece of carving, on the couch. I decided to use it next time I needed to sneak away for our 'business.' Now, what do you need, morphine, porn, what?"
"Something big is going on here," Chunpakven replied. "There's rationing all of a sudden, vents not fanning the air, less food, and it looks like fewer zapper jobs. The guards would know why, so I need to ask you. Has the Warden gone nuts and cut off from the Feds? Is there a shortage somewhere? What's going on that has him and Simpson so twitchy?"
Billy's red face blanched. "N-nothing's going on," he stammered, his swinging legs suddenly still. "I saw your signal, and I thought you needed something. You're crazy, ev ... everything's fine, just like it always is."
Chunpakven drew closer, and put his hands on Billy's knees, standing between the bigger man's thighs. "I need something," Chunpakven whispered, "something you know. Something you're denying. Something I'd be willing to do ... anything to find out."
Billy looked down. Chunpakven was gently rubbing his thighs with porcelain doll hands. Billy gazed back up into Chunpakven's almond shaped face. "Tommy," he breathed, "Tommy, I can't. They'll kill me."
"If they kill you they'll go into general population, and die themselves," Chunpakven whispered into Billy's ear.
"N-n-n-no, they won't," Billy moaned. "Warden's orders. We tell, we die, simple as that. No exceptions."
Chunpakven traced the outside of Billy's ear with the tip of his tongue, delicately, like an artist on canvas. "You can't even give good old Tommy a hint? I'll be very appreciative of anything you can tell me ..."
Billy quivered under Chunpakven's touch for a moment, then pushed the smaller man away, standing up. "I can't!," he growled through gritted teeth. "I have a son to think about, and they'll kill him too! There are ... big things going on here. Bigger than anything you can even dream. But the Warden is doing his job, and so are the guards, and so should you. Don't do anything stupid and everything will be fine."
Chunpakven watched Billy for a few seconds, mentally calculating and sizing the guard up. He then softened, and purred, "Of course, you're right, Billy. I'm sorry I pressured you. Let me make up for it ..."
Walking slowly back over, Chunpakven carefully let his delicate, nimble fingers find the buckle of Billy's belt. The guard's face filled with crimson as he watched Chunpakven bring him from his trousers and watched that head of smooth, black hair descend.
Billy moaned, and began to forget all about the whole conversation.
Chunpakven swilled down water like it was on sale. He sat alone with Damu at a table near the serving area, where the noise of people moving along the line and shouting at one another would discourage casual eavesdropping. In between swigs, he told Damu what happened.
"He said the warden will kill them if they let anything leak," the slight Asian whispered, glancing around as he spoke. "He was literally terrified, and this big ol' corn fed hick ain't scared of much. First he denied anything was up, then he said he'd get killed and the Warden would approve it."
Damu nodded slowly. "Sounds like Federal Penal Code 1614-7, the state of emergency code that gives the warden the authority to declare martial law. Normally, rules say they gotta announce it though. That almost explains why he was so fruity about me. Other stuff too ..."
Chunpakven continued, "My pal here suggested that big things are goin' on, bigger than I can dream, and that if I chilled and everybody chilled, everything'll be gravy."
Damu thought for a moment, before sitting up as if poked in the ribs. "We're cut off. Something went wrong in the world, and they're rationing because they don't know when more's coming. The evidence bears out no other conclusion."
Chunpakven looked worriedly at Damu. "So what does all that mean?"
Damu did some quick mental arithmetic. "It means ... lessee ... nine months, no, twelve months after we get cut off, the lights go out, the cameras go off, and the lunatics will run the asylum."
"The lights go out?" Chunpakven asked incedulously. "That can't be right."
"It's right," Damu nodded. "The generators here and supplies are able to keep this nightmare factory running without contact from any outside party for something like nine months. That tightwad Simpson is running the quarantine, and he orders supplies, so he's probably mad overstocked. Safe estimate -- within a year of whatever cut us off, this place goes bananas."
Chunpakven sat back and furrowed his brow. "I thought that was impossible."
"It's supposed to be, as long as the world works the way the script says it should," Damu said, looking off in the distance thoughtfully. "If the world is improvising, anything can happen."
Damu shrugged. "So we cool out and stock up ourselves. Hoard like there's no tomorrow. I'm gonna try to meet with the Skinheads and La Raza too, and give them a heads up. The more of the Feds' supplies we can waste on purpose, the quicker the end comes, and the better off we'll be."
Chunpakven pondered. "We could escape?"
"There may not be anywhere to escape to if this is as bad as I'm guessing. But we could take over, the next best thing to being there. Besides, don't you remember?" Damu asked, grinning. Nobody gets away from Faraway."
Three weeks later, Billy came home as he always did, and plopped down in front of the refrigerator, within arm's reach of the beer. He opened the door, grabbed a beer, and was just about to crack it open when he heard the click of a revolver.
The voice was as warm as a morning breeze in Thule. Billy recognized it instantly -- Simpson.
"No!" Billy cried out, spinning to face Simpson. "I ain't said nothin'!"
"The ni**er inmates are hoarding," Simpson said calmly. "They think they are being subtle about it, but I know every sheet of toilet tissue in this facility by its Christian name. They know. Someone told. You complained of sitting on a wooden carving, but a perfectly intact if sh**ty pinewood racer is on the table in there, with no other wood in the place."
"Please," Billy pleaded, sweat running down his pink skin in heavy drops. "I got a little boy to take care of ..."
Billy's eyes grew wide as he focused past his own predicament and noticed the blood near the doorway. Roaring angrily, he started to charge off the couch, but his progress was impeded by a hollow point bullet penetrating his skull near his right temple, sending remnants of his mental capacity flying across the room in a diaspora of gray matter. The last thing he saw in his life was the beige tiles of his kitchen floor rushing to embrace him like a long lost lover.