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fiction: serial fiction
faraway: chapter three
Six days had passed since Tommy Chunpakven had delivered his news to Ishmael Damu, and in the intervening time much speculation had taken place among Damu's elite cadre of friends. None of the ideas had a whit of empirical data to support it, so Damu dismissed them all out of hand, content holding his own counsel on these turns of events.
He was sorting his dirty clothes at the gate of the laundry, waiting for representatives of El Mysterioso, dropping jumpsuits, towels and undergarments into their perspective bins nonchalantly. Faraway's Latino contingent was a tight-lipped and sullen group, mostly captured illegal immigrants who had committed no crime greater than being brown and trying to feed their family. In prison, they had developed a secret society so impenetrable that even the all-seeing guards had no idea who led them. Tighter than spandex on newborn coochie, Dad used to say, Damu thought to himself with a slight grin, bashful at thinking a profane word even privately.
Quiet men in hair nets and aprons sloughed uniforms and linens from bin to machine to machine to bin. Guards stood silent vigils over this scene. Finally, a whistle blew and the men all took their break, some making for open areas to smoke, some just sitting down where they were. One nondescript man, same slacks and apron and hairnet, with only a pencil thin mustache to distinguish him, walked over to the door where Damu waited.
"Hola," he said without preamble or invitation. "El Mysterioso sends greetings, with a great deal of respect for your work and efforts."
Damu looked surprised at that. "My segment of the Black prisoners stays so low profile I'm surprised he noticed," Damu answered quietly, covering his interest. "Thank you, and please thank him for me please."
"El Mysterioso knows much," the small man said, extending his hand, speaking with very strict and only slightly accented diction. Probably why he'd been chosen for this meet. "and was very pleased when you imposed rules over los negros in 2030, laying the foundation for peace between us. The Shank Fights of 2029 would have been worse had you not been here. I am Manuel. I speak for El Mysterioso. What would you like to discuss?"
Meaning, appparently, that El Mysterioso had been here when Damu first arrived, enough to remember the virtually daily rioting and random explosions of violence that characterized the daily life of prisoners back then. The change had come from multiple directions -- Collins had been the first to voice the desire for change, and like minds had been found in every pocket and clique. Damu decided to not worry about being under such scrutiny and instead said, "I am certain El Mysterioso has noted the difference in amounts of supplies -- fewer guards using stun sticks and more using batons, less food, and what have you."
"El Mysterioso is aware of and concerned about this," Manuel said nonchalantly, hands in pockets, looking at his shoes. "What do you know of these things?"
Damu looked down, still sorting laundry. "I know some things and I believe others strongly."
Manuel looked up, cavernous eyes impossible to plumb to their depths, and fixed on Damu. "We would like to hear your facts and theories, and at what cost such information comes."
Damu grinned as he kept sorting, never looking directly at Manuel. "The cost is simple -- we work together if and when things get ... eventful, and share an equal portion of the spoils."
"El Mysterioso believed you would make such an offer," Manuel said, examining a stain on a shirt as if it were the most important thing in the world. "El Mysterioso knew the one you know as Fidel Ruiz, and knew of you even before you came to Faraway. Your honor is unblemished, and such an offer is gratefully accepted. The Order, of which I am a member, and to some degree claims every brown brother in this place, stands with you."
"Excellent," Damu smiled, vaguely worried so much of his own hand was visible through the poker face of his life. "Makes me wish we had a cool name."
Manuel smiled back, a brown smile through brown gums, pleasant through their own pains and neglect. "Speak of what you know and what you feel."
Damu glanced around and then nodded. "The warden has told all of the guards something that he will kill them if they reveal. This indicates he is exercising powers under a little known federal law that provides him with the power to declare martial law and makes him sole arbiter of life and death here. I also know that the supply shortages effect not only prisoners but the staff -- their laundry and food needs have been cut twenty percent, as ours have been cut almost forty. I also know from personal experience that he has taken a personal interest in anyone poking around too much, trying to find out about said shortages."
Manuel actually glanced over at Damu, his face inscrutable. "You believe this all means something."
Damu nodded. "I believe that Faraway is cut off from the world, that no new supplies are due in anytime soon, that the warden may or may not have declared himself independant of the Feds, and that absolutely anything can happen to us."
Manuel pondered this, rubbing his cheek thoughtfully. "The facts you mention explain too much to be wrong. If what you believe is true, we could all be killed and no one would know or care."
"Mass extermination is hard -- at least a third of us are awake all the time. It'd cause a bigger revolt than they can handle." Damu assumed a severe expression. "Luckily, the idea that there should be a failsafe to kill all the prisoners at once in case of emergency was shot down in Congress. I think. If not, a push of a button by Spaulding would kill us all instantly."
Manuel almost flinched at that. "But they can knock us all out at once, with the anklets. Hm. Have you spoken with the gringos?"
Damu snorted a laugh. "I would not approach them without first consulting El Mysterioso."
Manuel nodded slowly, thinking. "This is wise and shows great respect to the Order, for which we thank you." Manuel took a moment to consider dark, unspoken thoughts before continuing. "They would have us all dead and join the jailers, if they could. But to win, we must temporarily ally ourselves with them ..."
"... and be ready for the betrayal we know will come," Damu finished grimly.
Manuel nodded. "We shall be victorious. Without the government behind them, they could never overcome our numbers. You should probably be the one to contact the gringos, as you know the most right now. We will research our own ends and report back to you. Your roommate Harata will be contacted tomorrow. More than likely you and I will never speak again, such is the way of the Order, so I wish you well and I have enjoyed meeting you."
Damu looked evenly at the little brown man and smiled. Manuel bowed slightly and chuckled, a dry, jagged sound that felt like it didn't have much experience in the world, and he carried a pile of clothes back into the laundry without another word.
Meeting with representatives of El Mysterioso was easy, Damu thought to himself as he ate lunch three weeks later, compared to what it'll take to get to Thor. Leader of the White Knights, the sole voice of white prisoners at Faraway, James "Thor" Thornton was well known for not being able to stand near a person of color without striking out violently. On numerous occasions, he'd been filled with more tranquilizer than several small countries, and yet he remained unrepentant and filled with rage.
Damu turned at the sound of his name, and saw Tommy Chunpakven walking towards him. "Bad news."
Damu inclined his head to listen more closely.
"My best contact in the guards, the one I told you about," Chunpakven said, breathing hard from running. "He's dead. His son is dead. I stumbled across part of their remains -- both wore the same ring, a piece of junk, and both right arms are in the carbon assembler."
"Then you're in danger," Damu said quietly, "and so are all of us ..."
"This is Faraway," Chunpakven smiled, perfect little teeth as white as fine china. "I'll always be in danger."
"Go back to work. Avoid us all for ... five days. Contact my uncle Mo then."
Chunpakven nodded and ran back the way he came in light, bouncing strides. Damu looked after him, feeling an unwelcome and unexpected rush of affection for the small Asian man. In the twelve years Damu had been a resident of Faraway, he had not once engaged in sexual contact with anyone, much less another man, no matter how feminine. He had meditated and sublimated his sexual urges into applications of will to accomplish whatever goal was handy at the time -- from unifying divergent factions and individual malcontents to eliminating troublesome rivals -- but for a moment, watching the gentle sway of Tommy Chunpakven's ponytail and hips, he was assaulted by a desire to bury his face in that hair, feel those hips in his hands. Tommy might even agree to it, bedding down with Harata a time or two in years past. Shuddering, he shook his head violently to loose the offending thought and began to walk off when he heard the scuffle of feet, a sudden cry of pain, and the unmistakable crispy snapping of a human spine.
He turned nervously back to his meal, but not before he saw Tommy Chunpakven lying in a heap at the feet of Simpson and seven other guards who, seemingly, had materialized from thin air. Ignoring his heart's wild impulse to rush over and avenge the tiny man against those black boots, those gray uniforms, Damu got up and took his tray to the cycler as though he had never been involved, gritting his teeth as he stormed off.
The White Knights had cordoned off the north east corner of the Yard with a makeshift fence of broken weightlifting equipment shortly after their formation, which was shortly after the first bedraggled and downtrodden faces were brought to Faraway. One of their number had refitted a carbon assembler to create a literal throne from dead bodies, mostly black and Asian, upon which the Grand Magus of their organization sat, theoretical master of every affiliated white prisoner in the United States -- despite Faraway's deliberate isolation. To approach that throne, of course, would be impossible for Ishmael to do, so he wandered dangerously close, unescorted, to the perimiter of sweat-stained benches, awaiting his audience.
As expected, alone, on the bench nearest the north wall was the man who had killed and hated his way to the right to that throne, one James Thornton, five feet, ten inches of unadulterated white rage. He was taking off a pair of lifting gloves as Damu approached, and spoke when the Black man was ten feet away.
"Close enough," he grunted, his meaty biceps wiping sweat from his shaved brow. "If what we're gonna say can be heard at this distance, it'll be heard if we whisper, cuddled up like bitches in love."
Damu smirked and nodded. "Thou spake wise, i'faith, Grand Magus," Damu said solemnly. "'Tis things of import I bring unto thee this morn, milord."
Thornton laughed out loud. "I don't know where you got such a decent command of High Speech," the glistening, bald white man said, standing up slowly, "but using it will curry no favor with me. It's like hearing cultured words spewed by a gorilla, slim."
Damu stood silently for a second. It had taken precious days, through third parties and plenipoteniaries, to even arrange this meeting and antagonizing Thornton was a non-profit venture. "You're right, let's dispense with the pleasantries ..." Damu said, thinking to himself though I'd be less slim if you guys didn't have so many of the weights over here "... and get down to business. I suspect the joint is about to go crazy, the organized Asians and the Latinos agree with me, and we all wanna throw down on the Feds, who keep a boot on your neck too."
"You wanna know if the White Knights will stand with your g**k-wetback-ni**er brigade like some damned Benetton ad or something?" Thornton snorted, arms crossed. "The guards are predominately white, bro-hem. At least pretend you can think."
"I'm not delusional enough to ask you to stand with us," Damu said calmly. "The request of the people involved is that should things get interesting, your people would take no side and not act, staying to yourselves and defending yourselves from attack."
"Then you guys take over the prison and attack us?" Thornton said through his teeth, glancing around.
"After such a campaign," Damu said evenly, "none of us would be in any condition to mount a coordinated attack against you. You have known of my amiability with the Latinos and the Asians for years, yet you and I and the others negotiated the peace and conflict resolution system because we seek greater profit than piecemeal attacks on one another. Ritual combat and challenges instead of rioting. When's the last time there was a big scuffle between races? Six years ago? Seven? Given your apocalyptic leanings, you have to see that an anarchic prison benefits you more than this system, because it gives you the chance to strike out at us whenever you want."
Thornton watched Damu for a moment thinking. "Problem is," he said, stroking his red goatee, "you have the same freedom."
Damu grinned. "You remember slavery, Thor, you know we won't attack you!"
Thornton almost smiled. "Funny. We do nothing in the event of chaos and we resume the detente after, is your hope, right? I can't see why."
"Basically -- this place is my concern," Damu offered. "I'm fine here, as I'm sure are the others. You, however, would be fine walking down any street in America, if you get my meaning."
Thor nodded grudgingly, thinking. "I see, now. If things go crazy, the Knights are out of here. We take whatever transports they have and ... yeah, we'll get out of here. You guys can have this prison and everything else, if we can get out. I guess I can see why, as we can hide in plain sight with a change of clothes, but you'd be a suspect wherever you are. 'Better to rule in hell,' then. We won't help or hinder you in any fights with the Feds or the DOC. Would you agree to ignoring any vanilla escape routes?"
Damu put one hand over both eyes. "I ain't seen nuthin, boss!" Damu joked, "and we won't talk."
Thor did chuckle finally at that. Damu thought to himself, If they laugh with you, they're not that far from being malleable, dad used to say. "Then that's the deal," Thor agreed. "If something happens, we're out of here and we leave you alone. Everybody gets what they want, just like our cigarette and weed deal."
"I'd shake hands," Damu nodded, "but I suppose we can trust each other to act in our own self interests here."
Thor grunted and walked off, back towards his carbon throne. Damu turned slowly and nonchalantly walked away, ears perked up for the sound of boots thundering toward him, tensed to flee towards relative safety.
Late that night, while Damu and all his first shift cronies were securely in their beds, Spaulding met with Simpson.
"The leak has been sealed," Simpson said darkly, referring to holos of Billy and Chunpakven floating above the warden's desk, "but the Asian is regularly connected with Anthony Harata and Ishmael Damu, so who knows how far it could have gone. In addition ..."
Simpson tapped his handheld datapad a few more times, and a video screen showed Damu standing near the White Knight's cordoned section of the yard.
"Thornton spoke to him?" Spaulding asked incredulously.
"For the first time in years," Simpson said. "I'm just as surprised as you. This speaks of a possible coalition, though, as always, we have no info on the Hispanic population ..."
"El Mysterioso ..." Spaulding said mirthlessly. "Count them in on the conspiracy, though their leadership is uncharacteristically low profile."
"... so I believe now would be a good time to initiate Phase Three of your plan," Simpson finished.
Spaulding thoughtfully stroked his chin. He had begun affecting a carefully cropped Van Dyke of pure white when Grayson had arrived, and intended on keeping it until "relieved of duty." He leaned back in his chair and pondered a moment before saying, "The time is coming soon, within the week probably. But before we do, I want to talk to Damu, Harata, and Thornton." Spaulding dipped his head and looked menacingly over his lashes before biting out, "Individually."
Simpson nodded simply, and snapped to a smart salute. Spaulding absently waved his hand, and the younger man walked out. Staring blandly out the window, not at the yard but at some indeterminate point of the ceiling, Spaulding tapped a button on the left side of his desk.
"Rayner here," a tinny voice floated into the still space of Spaulding's office.
"Rayner, how is Secretary Grayson?" Spaulding asked, his voice heavy with exhaustion, now rubbing the bridge of his nose, spectacles set on the desk top.
"Awake, sir," Rayner replied. "Would you like to speak with him?"
"I'll be down," Spaulding said, standing.
Moments later, Spaulding stood alone before Grayson's bed. The plane carrying the Secretary had been attacked by some of the same Brown Berets who sacked NORAD. Grayson, somehow, got control of the plane as it was riddled with .50 caliber anti-aircraft fire. Gunfire that took the life of Grayson's wife Kelly, their teenaged daughter Barbara, and most of his core staff. The aging 797 limped down seven miles from the prison proper, losing much of its integrity and killing all but Grayson and an aide, who died of internal bleeding hours after the plane went to ground.
Grayson had insisted on a tour of the facility, so he was propped up as well as possible and taken around to incredulous stares from the prisoners. Spaulding, at 54, had been the oldest staffer at Faraway for as long as anybody could remember, and he was fit and taut from an intensive daily exercise regimen. Grayson, a portly, short man of no visible athletic ability and moving shakily, set off the natural predatory senses of every prisoner. A weak guard. Possible weapon. Avenue for control. Spaulding wasted no time removing him from view. While releasing command of the prison to Grayson in name, Spaulding maintained his control prerogative and sequestered the Secretary in the staff infirmary.
"Stuart?" Spaulding asked gently. He'd sent this shift's two guards, permanently posted to the Secretary, outside, and stood alone in the room, smelling the antiseptic and rot of poor health.
Grayson coughed and opened his eyes. Alert, if weak. "Ken," he said hoarsely. "How are you, you old ATO man?"
"Alpha Tau Omega," Spaulding chuckled. "That was a long time ago. I'm fine, Stuart, but you ..."
Grayson coughed, waving one hand in a dismissing gesture. "I'm sucking up your resources here, Ken. Why are you keeping me alive?"
"A few reasons," Spaulding said absently, walking off a bit. "One because of the advice I will soon ask you. But immediately, I need you to tell me how such disorganized and fractured groups coordinated themselves well enough to overthrow the greatest nation on earth."
Grayson smiled bitterly. "We could never figure it out," the Secretary muttered. "We tortured several of them to death, used drugs, sex, whatever. None of them would say anything except to say 'The Circle,' which is a complete mystery."
"What did they say exactly?"
Grayson thought back. "They'd say, 'There is only the Circle," over and over."
Spaulding leaned against the wall, again stroking the bridge of his nose.
"Ask me what you wanna know, Ken."
Spaulding looked down at his hands as he spoke. "Stuart, I'm about to fully institute Federal Penal Code 1614-7, de jure, instead of the purely de facto manner I've done thus far. I also understand that, as a warden, my purpose and mindstate is one set to restrict freedom and keep society safe from the negatives it may breed. I'm ... to be honest, Stuart, I'm torn. Since I got your message, I've put on this face of the tired but stern father, which is an old criminal psych ploy. To make 1614-7 work, I'll have to be the tyrannical dictator. I don't know if I can do this. I don't even know if it'll work, no matter how good I can do it."
Grayson watched Spaulding with great care before he responded. "Ken, how many people on your staff? Ten thousand? Eleven?"
"Twelve thousand two hundred fifty nine," Spaulding recited from memory, "including spouses and dependants."
"Then use 1614 and kill off the prisoners. I don't know why you keep the prisoners alive. With no prisoners, this prison could become a new age ark, and exist for ... hell, more than two years."
Spaulding scoffed. "You assume that someone's to come save us."
Grayson breathed heavily, thinking over his next words. " ... I do know that seven of the rogue military bands, including two Marine Special Forces units and the equivalent of a full division of Army Infantry have banded together and were calling themselves the new government -- the Union for short. They contacted me and I cut a deal, which got us the fuel to get here. They're ... well, they don't believe in the separation of church and state, real right wing extremists. They were taking a city at a time, consolidating rule, when I left. They had all of Pennsylvania when, had beaten off lots of foreign forces, and were getting a lot of popular support."
Spaulding considered this a moment. "So if the white members of my staff pledge themselves to God and Country ..."
"... you can get in on the ground floor and run things," Grayson said before coughing. "You could make sure they do things right. With the access codes I gave you, they'd pretty much consider you almost a president in your own right. The CBR stockpiles and other nasty surprises ... the whole shebang could still be up for grabs."
"Be that as it may, I'd put Simpson up as the leader rather than run the show," Spaulding said grimly, "I never want to have the notoriety that building this place gave me again."
"Whatever, Ken," Grayson wheezed. "All I'm saying is that it'd take care of your problems."
"It's unconstitutional to kill thirty thousand men and women, Stuart."
"Write a new constitution then, Ken," Grayson glared. "One that will get us out of this jam."
Grayson laughed tiredly and Spaulding, reluctantly, joined in.