Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Caiaphas Chapter One

The first hours are vital.  I know that, everyone knows that.  Everything after these first short hours, I will either live or die based off the decisions made now.  And I am not planning on dying, not now and not anytime soon.  I'm smart, smarter than anyone else here.  I can think on my feet, sound more clever than I am and ingratiate myself to the coldest bastards that ever flew.  I'm going to live.
The cuffs on my wrists drag me down.  My ankles are shackled, and the whole corridor rings with the sound of many chained men.  The Cassius, the damned hellhole that's been my home for these past six years, whose walls are more familiar to me than my childhood shack, bids me farewell in a hallway I've never seen before.  Someone sighs, and the sound rings for a moment within the cold walls.
I'm near the front of the line, thank God, and we stop at yet another bulkhead, the masses shambling to a stop behind me.  When they open this one the sudden light blinds me.  I stop dead, my hands outstretched and feeling nothing.  Someone beside me tells me to move, you idiot, and I stumble forward with my eyes frozen shut, knowing that this is designed to put me off my guard and powerless to stop it.  I barely have time to let the heat sink into the skin of my upturned face when more cold darkness swallows me whole.
I open my eyes, knowing that it's already too late.  We're in the Caiaphas, and precious moments of my first few hours are slipping through my fingers while I frantically try to blink the neon streaks from my vision.
To see the sun after so long, and with no time to enjoy it or even realize what was happening until it was too late…  it was a torture.  An exquisite one.  I resolved to myself that I would try and remember it later, when I have time to worry about something other then my life.
My vision slowly returned to me, revealing silver walls and mottled fleurescents.  No time to wonder what I had missed, what signs had been on the doors we had passed.  What now?  What could I see?
A corridor.  Then a door, coming up ahead, and beyond it a large space.  A giant room, one of many.  Not the cells, not yet, not so soon!  I didn't know where we were, or what part of the ship we were on.  Nothing vital at all!
I quieted my disappointment immediately.  The Caiaphas had been a prison ship for centuries - of course they wouldn't lead us past anything important, and I had been a fool to hope for something that obvious.  Patience and calm would win me the day, as they always had in the past.  Ha, they thought this ship would kill me?  I searched my mouth for enough moisture to darken the metal upon which we walked, but held it as a guard walked by me.
"Don't do anything you'll regret, Jack," he said, and I spat a grin at him instead.
Damn fool.  The place was ours, soon.  Could they stop me then from defacing her?  Why try and assert authority now, when I was so ready to be free again?  They were asking for an open revolt.
The tension in the air was thick.  We outnumbered them, and we all knew that this moment was the last that seperated us from the homewold right outside and a life sentence.  But no one dared to make the first move.  The Caiaphas had been away now for ten years, and many of us had been waiting for her return for much of that time - we were old hands at prison.  We were alive now, still, because we were cautious.
I watched my fellows being unchained and led to their cells, single rooms with transparent doors, where they were rechained and locked in.  I waited my turn, and until the last possible second, to wait if anything broke out.  But there wasn't a sound, not a single whisper of rebellion.  So I was locked in, the door closed behind me, and the line continued to move forward.
The chains on my wrists held strongly when I tested them, so I relaxed.  No point now but to wait, and think, and plan.  No one had ever gotten to this point and come back to tell others, except for the guards, and they told us nothing.  Never would.  There wasn't a hint of corruption on the Caiaphas, and there never had been.  This time, when I went to spit there was no one to stop me.  The liquid landed on the metal floor, and I hated myself for my lack of restraint.  When I would I get water again?  What a waste.
Prisoners shuffled past me, excruciatingly slowly as they were walked one by one into cells.  My arms tired from being held up, and my feet ached from standing.  I became aware of thirst, and of hunger, and of the slow passage of time.  When did the line end?  How far were the cells that men were entering now?  A hundred yards away, a mile?  The ship was huge, but I had never been aboard a thing that had the sheer numbers of this one.  Anything I thought I knew about her was suspect.
Hours passed this way.  Black thirst crawled at my throat, and hunger clawed my belly.  It became readily apparent that, with their only weapon being time itself, they had subdued us.  Rebellion?  Ha!  All I wanted now was for this foul loading to be done with.
I had hoped to know more.  I had hoped to have a plan.  Hell - it's not over yet.  What's stopping me?  My lack of knowledge?  Of course, but that's never stopped me before.  The layout of the ship was ancient.  Three hundred years, before commercial space travel, before the dissolution of the SSA.  What did I know about ships back in that era?  Close to nothing.  But she was meant to be a prison ship, so she must have been built as a prison.  Except this one would be in space, and by the time she got back to Earth everyone on board would be dead.  That didn't help me either.
If I came in one way, where would the food stores be?  Where were we in relation to the bridge, the engines?  There would be rations for us, enough for all hands aboard for ten years.  But they wouldn't help me at all unless I was one of those to get to them first.  Did I have an advantage, here closer to the hull of the ship?  Or was I a casuality, simply because I happened to be one of the first in line?
I knew what would happen, the moment we got underway.  These cells, with their chains and their clear doors, would open, and we would be released.  Those first few hours, after being released, while we were free to run through the ship, would see the formation of gangs.  Dynasties would be formed and toppled and formed again, until equalibrium was found.  Whoever found the food would have the power.  Whoever found the women would gain followers, power, and prestige.
And probably lose their souls in the process.  If any of us still had any to speak of.
The line kept shambling forward, until finally out of sight.  That's when the screams started.  Cries, impotent rage and suffering.  The cells were impertinent but eternal.  The doors would open after launch but we were still prisoners and always would be.  Oh, why find't these fools find this courage before they were locked up?  My arms ache like theirs, but I spend my time deep in thought, not hollering and howling like a beast.
if I could join them... I would.  If I could just, let go like that.  But I can't.  Stay focused, stay strong.  Stay strong, stay alive!
the sounds of chained feet had either ended or were beyond my hearing, and I waited, restless.. Finally, after what felt like years of waiting, an alarm sounded.. It was low and ominous, and ended after three long bursts of sound.  I felt nothing - no movement, no power, nothing being turned off or on.  Since the caravan had moved past us, no-one had walked past a second time.  Maybe they had just gotten to the end?  The last prisoner had been strapped in, and the alarm sounding an all clear?
no.  What a fool I was!  There was a door on the other side.  Two access points!  At least, into ship!  We were alone in the ship, I was sure of that now.  That meant that in a matter of minutes, moments, perhaps already, the course had been plotted.  The ship would take off, assume orbit, and at a predetermined time the Catalans would rocket off, and her randomized course would be set for the next ten years.
That was the extent of the briefing that they had given us.  The pattern was random, so that nobody alive knew where she was at any given moment.  You couldn't be rescued, or saved, because even if someone did care to look for you you were on a loop that was going to take ten years to return to the point of origin.  And in a ship like the Caiaphas... you were never going to find her.  Ever.  You are lost.
Someone started to scream, and I almost followed suit.  An alarm started, insistent, loud, piercing.  Something was happening.  But what?  The bulkhead under my feet began to rumble, slightly, so slightly I wasn't sure if it was really happening or if i was imagining it, and my mind went blank.  I thought I would have a plan by now.  I thought that I would know something.
Think, Jack!  Think!
The food, first.  I would need to find the food.  To know where it was, and to make sure that I carved out a stake of my own before bosses were created from nothing, and the rest of us nothings again.
Then the women.  But we had no idea of where they were, not a whisper.  We were sure they were on board, but where in a massive place like this could they hide a few dozen women?  Anywhere.  If they wanted to stay hidden, and I had a good feeling that the women would want to stay hidden, they would have infinite places to hide.  I could accept that, but only for now.  Just knowing that there existed not one but many females on the same boat stirred my loins, but I knew I needed to quash that particular desire until it didn't interfere directly with my immediate survival.
The food, then feel the air.  Make myself useful.  Find a boss, work for him a while until I got myself a good position.  An honored seat.  Worked inside, should work here too.  I just didn't know who was here yet.
And that threw a spanner in the works, didn't it!  More to my invisible right and left started to scream in tandem with the rolling pitch of the warming engines, but I began to laugh.  I didn't know who was here, but I could guess pretty well.  Only the most vicious criminals ever to roam the galaxy, at least for the past ten years or so.  Only the worst got Caiaphas.  Only because for some, unknown reason, she always came back missing all hands.
Caiaphas was a killer.  Went into deep space with a full complement of the most ruthless scum to captain a tugboat and they always came back dead.  They'd deemed her humane, gave us plenty of food, and water, and even mixing us with women again, like we were decent men, but even so, they wanted us dead by the time she came back around.  The women, too.  All of us, to the last man.
There were three main prisons on Homeworld, Etrention, Corren, and Danovar, and each was separated into precincts.  A man might be in the same prison as a renowned capture but never catch a glimpse of him.  I had been in Corren, myself.  The worst of the three.  But out of the five precincts that the prison had I had only been in the second of five.  I thus knew only a few names of who else I could expect on this voyage, and I doubted that those around me could tell me much more.
 Charles Vaughn, was one.  His brother would be on the ship somewhere, then.  Hugh.  They hadn't been in the same prison, thank the Christ... but there was nothing holding them back, here.  I hoped not too many would get between them and revenge this time around.  Or maybe we all would.  Who else?  Names, nothing but names.  Toofer One, Senide, a man named Vaillant who I had seen only once but whose image had chilled me to the very bone... legends in their own rights.  Too many legends, on such a ship.  I expected nothing more and nothing less than complete and utter chaos.
I could feel them even now.  The weight of them, all of those to whom the rest of us were mere mortals.  But I couldn't entrust my fate to another man to matter who that man was or what kind of legends he bore behind him.
The metal against my wrists clicked once, lightly, and I dropped down to the ground, my dead legs almost completely failing to hold me.  I stood up only by sheer effort, looking across from me and seeing my cellmate writhing on the ground, and I grinned.  It would take more than that to dissuade me.  I knew my course - let me follow it!
With one last, metallic squeal and what felt like the hand of God himself shaking the ship apart, the doors opened.  We were free.

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