“Do you believe in miracles, son?”

Kadamba could hardly make out the face of the person talking to him. As his eyes began to focus and he awoke, he realized that he was back in the prison’s medical clinic. He supposed they would accuse him of being a clumsy bird. They certainly wouldn’t consider him anything other than a small portion of their profit. Something that simply needed to be fixed up, so that he could be counted when the government paid each month.

“Mr. Vorhoor, can you hear me?” the voice spoke again. This time Kadamba focused. He did know the face. It was one of the many guards that worked at the prison.

What would he want? Was he there to taunt Kadamba for attacking Jackos? The reality of it hit him. He was still in the prison. Jackos hadn’t killed him. He stared at his hands. There had to be blood on them. Then he looked at the brand on his left arm. It was two simple words in Lamaratian, the dominant language on Koranth. Maybe others couldn’t see the blood on his hands, but they could read those two words, “child murderer.”

“Kadamba, I need you to listen to me now. I don’t have much time,” the guard stated.

If Kadamba could have laughed, he would have, but he could feel the darkness quickly creeping through him. Maybe here in the clinic, he could finish what Jackos had failed to do. Maybe, he would end his misery with a scalpel or inject himself with something. Anything. Anything at all to stop this pain and guilt.

Kadamba saw what looked like a gun in the guard’s hands. A sense of relief swept over him. He wasn’t going to have to try. He looked into the guard’s eyes, almost wanting to see the hatred and disgust that this man certainly held for him. It would be the final validation that he deserved to die. But the guard’s eyes were wrong. “Doesn’t he hate me like everyone else does?” thought Kadamba, as he searched the man’s face for signs of contempt or something that would validate why the gun was in his hand.

The injection stung as it went into Kadamba’s neck. It wasn’t a laser gun or energy blaster; it was a gun-shaped syringe. “Kadamba, this is the only time I can talk to you, so you have to listen, and you have to remember what I tell you. You will not live if you don’t.”

“I don’t want to live” Kadamba responded, as tears streaked down his cheeks.

The guard looked at Kadamba and let out a knowing sigh. “You’re a kid. You screwed up as badly as you possibly could. You have to live with that, but that doesn’t mean you have to die. There is always hope. Listen to me now. Do NOT forget what I am saying. I won’t talk to you or even acknowledge you, once you are out of the clinic. However, if you stay close to me when you are out of your cell, I can protect you somewhat. Jackos won’t do anything if you are near another guard or me. When I’m not there, watch the guards; we have patterns that we walk. If you learn those patterns, you can keep yourself within twenty feet of a guard throughout most of the prison.”

“Jackos will simply get me in my room,” Kadamba muttered.

“You can be safe in your cell,” the guard maintained. “When you go into your cell, place your left hand on the wall and say, ‘Seal.’ That will make the force-field door close, and only a guard can open it from the outside. Never tell anyone how you learned this or how you do it, as management has decided that this should not be known.”

Tears welled up in Kadamba’s eyes again. This was the first moment of compassion that he experienced since the justice enforcement officer had shot him on Schmarlo’s Landing. He tried to get words to form, but his tears choked them off.

The guard put his hand on Kadamba’s shoulder. “Son, I can’t undo what you have done. You made a horrible mistake. You will have to come to terms with that someday. I may work in a prison, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in humanity and treating others as human beings. I’ll do what I can to help you.”

They both saw the medic heading in their direction, and the guard’s face hardened. It was like he had pulled on a mask. He looked down at Kadamba, giving him a small nod. As he walked away, he rudely let his shoulder bump into the staff person. He could hear the man in the white coat mutter, “Fuckin’ asshole,” under his breath as he returned to his duties.

“Prisoner Vorhoor,” began the medic, “it’s a damn miracle that you are alive, much less in as good of shape as you are. What did you think you were, a stupid bird?”

Kadamba could hear the coldness in his voice, as the medic told him how lucky he was. He had only suffered a concussion and a dislocated shoulder. He would need a sling for his arm for a week or so, and his headache would eventually go away. He was scheduled to be in the clinic overnight and would be returned to the general population the next day.

That night as Kadamba lay in the dark, he realized that something had changed. The creeping darkness didn’t seem to have as strong of a life of its own. As a matter of fact, it had subsided some. The guilt and self-hatred were still there, but the blackness that suffocated him felt less intense. That guard must have given him some type of powerful antidepressant.

He found himself on Schmarlo’s Landing again and immediately began jogging to the playground. As he suspected, Alorus was there, standing and looking at Kadamba with condemning eyes. Kadamba walked up to him and waited.

“Do you know what you did to me?” asked the boy.

“Yes, I do. I am sorry. I would give my life to undo it,” Kadamba admitted, as tears dripped down his face.

“Why did you kill me, Ka?”

“I never meant to kill you. I should have never sold you the rath. I can never say how sorry I really am for what I did.”

“But I’m dead, Ka. I don’t have anywhere to go.”

“You can sit down here with me. I’m not going anywhere either.”

The guards at the Morphinia Containment Company were distant. They never really interacted with prisoners, except to keep the peace. The guard who had visited Kadamba kept his word. He barely acknowledged that Kadamba existed. He treated him just like any other prisoner. On rare occasions, they would make eye contact, and Kadamba could see a compassion buried deep under the cold, expressionless mask that the guard wore.

After leaving the clinic, Kadamba focused on the guards’ movements. Sure enough, there were specific patterns they walked. It had been carefully choreographed to provide maximum coverage of the population with the fewest number of guards. Kadamba learned to move with the guards, following one for so many paces, and then changing direction to move across the path of another, and then walking towards another. In many ways, it became a game.

Jackos visited Kadamba a couple of weeks after he left the clinic. He stood outside his cell smirking. He had given Kadamba time to recover from his wounds, and now it was time for business to begin again. Jackos, understanding the guards’ patterns too, timed his visit to give himself ample time to reacquaint his “business partner” to his role in paying back the debt that Jackos had been forced to buy from Doctor Z.

Kadamba watched with an absolutely expressionless face as Jackos smacked into the invisible force-field door. He wanted to laugh but knew that Jackos’ anger and rage would grow every day that he couldn’t pimp Kadamba out for sexual services. So, he simply curled up on the bed and pretended to sleep while Jackos cursed and threaten him from the walkway outside his door.

Jackos’ rage and anger did grow by the day, and Kadamba had to be increasingly careful as he moved about. More than once, Jackos managed to get a hold of Kadamba, but both were shocked before Jackos could drag him off to a more secretive place. Getting shocked hurt, but nothing like what Ka had endured already. As time passed, his wounds healed, the bruises faded, and the brands stopped burning and simply became scars.

Between his past and the well-known rage that Jackos held for him, Kadamba made no friends in prison. Even Double-Up, Greasy, and Two-Fingers were afraid to be near him. The guilt that he carried was so nearly overwhelming at times that he wondered if it was destroying him, but at least he wasn’t being physically abused. Isolation is a frightening thing on its own, but sometimes, isolation, when you are surrounded by people, is even worse.

Kadamba endured, not really knowing what his life was about. The only thing that he really had was Alorus. He wasn’t going crazy or having hallucinations. He simply carried Alorus with him. He was there in his dreams, both at night and during the day. It wasn’t that Alorus kept him company or needed anything; he was simply there.

One day, Kadamba stuck his head out his doorway, ready to duck back and seal it if it wasn’t safe. As he looked down the walkway, he saw something that he had never seen before in prison. The guard who had shown him compassion – more than that really – the guard who had saved his life, was walking toward him on the walkway. The truly unusual thing was that the guard was smiling, and the smile widened when he saw Kadamba. As he stepped out of his cell, Kadamba didn’t know what to think, but the mere act of seeing someone smile towards him was like a light breaking through the darkness. For a brief moment, an emotion that was long-gone reappeared. Kadamba was eager to see another human being.

Time seemed to nearly freeze, as Jackos stepped out of a cell directly behind the smiling guard. Before Kadamba could even register that it was happening, the sharp point of something came bursting forth from the guard’s chest. A spray of blood shot out of the guard’s mouth as his last breath wheezed from his lungs. Jackos picked up the guard like a rag doll and tossed him over the railing where he landed with a thud on the floor below. The Giant turned and began running towards Kadamba. The force-field door barely closed in time.

Kadamba felt a horrible rage ripping through him, as he stood looking at the grinning, angry giant through the force-field door. It was rage unlike anything that he had ever felt before. It didn’t matter that people hated him. He had done something horrible. But this guard was something different. He was a decent person. He didn’t deserve to die like that. As Jackos began to laugh, Kadamba fell to his knees. The man had been killed because of Kadamba. He knew that the guard was coming to see him, to tell him something good. Now, not only would Kadamba never hear what the man wanted to say, why he was smiling, but the guard also had died because of him.

Kadamba was still on the floor when the force-field door opened. It was two guards. They picked him up off the floor. He was almost comatose, but he managed to walk and follow them. Were they taking him to feed him to Jackos? He could hear their words, but his mind was too jumbled to process what they were saying, so he just walked with them. They left the building containing Kadamba’s cell, walked through the playpen, past another building containing cells, and into a much more inviting building than anything that he had seen in a long time. Offices and open spaces lined the corridor. Plants and pictures adorned the walls. A few open doorways led to small holding cells.

They pushed Kadamba into one of the cells, and the doorway sealed shut. A monitor appeared on the sidewall, with a perky smiling face. It was that same damn woman from the Purostinov Justice Processing Center. She must get rich doing all these recordings, Kadamba thought, as he slapped her image. “Thank you for your stay at the Morphinia Containment Company. It has been our pleasure to serve you while you served your term of incarceration. Please prepare for transport.”

He slapped the wall again. It was infuriating to have this pesky, perky nitwit giving instructions. He looked around the room. Nothing. There wasn’t one item in the room other than him. Then a box materialized out of the wall.

“So, here we go again, you smiling bitch!” shouted Kadamba.

“Please remove your clothes and place them in the bin,” ordered the recorded voice, as the image of the woman smiled.

Kadamba knew he would be shocked if he didn’t comply. He tossed his uniform into the box, and it was gone within seconds. “So, what do you want me to do now?”

Almost on cue, a shower stall and toilet grew out of the wall.

The image of the woman began talking again. “You have fifteen minutes to complete all personal needs. Please shower and note that transportation time may be extensive, so please use the facilities before you depart.”

Kadamba quickly used the toilet and stepped into the shower. It seemed a little bit odd, as it wasn’t as rushed as it had been at the Purostinov Justice Processing Center, and certainly wasn’t as degrading as the first time that he had to deal with the perky monitor woman. A warm, but strong air current dried him, and a door in the back of the cell appeared. He stepped through it and was surprised to find himself standing in a large bay that was obviously used for deliveries by truck. There was only one truck in the bay. Its flatbed trailer was stacked with large, closed tubes that looked like tubes that were used at the portals. One of the cylindrical containers was on the ground, with a man laughing beside it.

“I guess they ain’t joking. This is for real,” he declared, as he motioned for Kadamba to come over to him. “Well, you’re in for a new experience. I was surprised to see this particular type of tube loaded on my truck. Generally, these are first-class tubes for the portals.”

“Is this for me?” asked Kadamba.

“Well, I guess it probably is,” the man replied.

“I can’t pay for it.”

“Suppose you can’t, unless you gotz some money shoved up somewhere. Uh. Hang on a minute.” The man climbed into the cab of the truck and came back with a pair of underwear and a t-shirt. “Sorry, this is all I got. Don’t seem right just transporting a man buck-naked.”

Kadamba thanked the man and put on the clothes. He looked at the tube. He wasn’t too sure; it looked kind of like a coffin.

“Someone wants you transported petty badly although starting way out here ain’t too classy. It’ll take about five hours for us to get to the Kareenet-Pooshz Portal Complex. I can’t tell you how long it will take after that.” The man’s jovial expression shifted to a concerned look, in a somewhat muted voice, he looked at Kadamba, urging, “Son, don’t panic, but quickly get into the tube and close that lid. I’ll take it from here.”

As Kadamba crawled in and lay down in the tube, he saw what prompted the man to hurry him along. He thanked the man and pulled the lid closed. Inside, he quickly began feeling trapped and helpless. A sudden jolt and movement let him know that the tube was being lifted, and he assumed that it was being placed on the truck’s trailer. A pleasant voice came on, explaining the safety procedures.

The guard, with a long scar across his forehead, came marching up, cursing, as he walked. “Dammit, that just ain’t right! Bring that boy back down here. We ain’t done with him.”

“Sorry sir, once the tube’s loaded and locked, it ain’t opened until the other side,” replied the driver.

“Son of a bitch, you mean that shitbag is going to Zoranth? What in the hell is going on?” demanded the guard.

“Don’t rightly know,” the man responded, as he climbed into the cab of the truck. “All I do is make the pickups and deliveries. It’s a good living, and I sure as shit don’t ask too many questions.”

The truck pulled out of the bay, passed through security, and disappeared as it headed away from the containment facility. The guard with the scar watched for a moment and then stomped back over to the only other guard in sight. “Don’t even think I’ll be paying you, Argosia. This is crap. His sentence was twenty-five years.”

“Well, a bet’s a bet. You bet he wouldn’t live for more than one year here in prison. You even helped Jackos find a secret place to ‘train’ the boy. You’re a real piece of work, and you owe me,” Argosia asserted.

“Fuck you. I don’t owe you nothing. I’m heading to the manager. We need to get that little flower back here where he belongs. I didn’t even get a piece yet,” argued the guard with the scar.

Argosia looked at the man. The scar was bright red, and his eyes were full of hate. Argosia had watched him abuse prisoners, smuggle drugs into the prison, help set up beatings, killings, and prostitution, and Argosia was sure that the vile man gave Jackos the shank for the latest murder of a guard. The truth was that the man belonged in prison, but he’d never be in one. No matter what system of justice is set up, the system usually becomes more important than justice. And sometimes, the system is run by people with their own agendas, and then there isn’t any justice at all.

“You know, you belong inside these cells, not guarding them. It’s time that I’m done with you, and done with this place,” Argosia told him.

“Good. You ain’t got the balls for this place, Argosia. You’re a flaky, wimp-ass pussy. You ain’t got what it takes,” asserted the cruel guard.

Argosia watched as the scar exploded into a million pieces, along with the guard’s entire skull. Argosia holstered his laser gun. It was a sloppy weapon when set to full power, but sometimes it felt good to do the right thing. To actually see something just in an unjust place, and do it with pizazz.

• • •

Chapter 15 Chapter 17

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