The prisoner transport jolted to a harsh stop. Some of the inmates on-board who lined the walls in restraints grumbled and glared at the armed guards, while others barely held back tears. After travelling an unknown amount of time in stasis chambers, they had only just been awoken to face the turbulence of manoeuvring an asteroid belt. They had reached their final destination and there was no escape now. Every inmate knew were they were now, but no one had any idea exactly where in the galaxy that was.
"Listen up, ladies!" shouted the nasty looking head guard. "Welcome to Oswald Penal Colony. I don't care why you're here or who you used to be on the outside. You're all now the same worthless pieces of shit within these walls. We have a few rules even you should be able to understand. Follow them and you just might live to breathe another day."
"Like I'm going to listen to you cocksuckers!" snarled one of the meaner looking inmates.
The head guard scowled and with a nod, his lackeys shouldered their weapons and rushed forward to zap the offender with an electrical prod. After the inmate was done screaming and pissing himself, the other prisoners kept silent.
"Rule number one, obey and respect the guards," the hack continued with a grin. "I'll keep the rest pretty simple. No fighting. No fucking. No drugs. Do your job. Keep your space clean. Get into trouble and you'll spend time in the hole. Since you lot are new, let me dispel any remaining hope you may have. You've just entered your worst living nightmare. Oswald is inescapable. Your new home is in the deep innards of an asteroid and surrounded on all sides by a vast debris field. Once you get in, there is no way out. Enjoy."
The head guard pointed at five prisoners with the swipe of his old fashioned nightstick and the other hacks harassed the bound men until they were all standing.
"This bunch goes to McManus in green sector," he instructed. "Now get them off my ship."
With a dismissive wave, the group was marched out of the transport vessel down several dingy hallways. Every passageway and room in the penal colony was carved directly into the rock. Their path was lit by poor artificial lights, which had a tendency to dim periodically. Overall, their new home was depressing, smelled like wet rock and the air had a faint metallic taste. After passing through a series of heavy metal doors, they were deposited on a bench to await their fate. The hacks guarding them looked haggard, overworked and far too bitter.
Soon another officer with an air of authority surrounding him entered the room flanked by several brothers-in-arms. These men were dressed differently than the ship's guards in newer dark green uniforms, rather than shabby faded blue ones. The only similarity was that each bloc of hacks was armed to the teeth.
The senior officer looked over the convicts in front of him and shook his head. No matter how many times he saw the new arrivals, they always looked so pitiful. Each man was dressed in the clothes he had worn on the day he had been arrested, convicted and thrown into a stasis chamber to await processing. The ones who ended up here were sad examples of society's scummy underbelly.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen. I'm Officer Murphy, the head C.O. of green sector. If you screw up in anyway, you answer to me. You don't wanna do that because then I would have to report it to Mr. McManus, sector manager and he pisses off far too easy. Therefore, it's all in our best interests if you behave. You know the rules, follow them."
Murphy glared at the new inmates to emphasize his point. He looked up at the observation window far above and noticed the familiar figure of the sector manager sizing up the new convicts as well. Groaning inwardly for many reasons, he cleared his throat and continued his standard lecture.
"You were randomly assigned to green sector, but your placement here will be far from random. The faction you will soon affiliate yourself with will control most of your time and further introduction here. Representatives from the various factions are on their way to select and take charge of you. A word of warning, if you remain unaffiliated I doubt you will live to see tomorrow. Think of it as controlled mayhem."
Murphy looked over the rag tag group again and could easily see that the split between factions wouldn't be too bad this time round. Many of the inmates already wore tattoos or clothing clearly screaming their allegiance to various gangs or causes. There were a few individuals who remained ambiguous, but that would work itself out soon. Satisfied by his verdict, he waved in an escorted mass of old school prisoners into the enclosure. The cluster varied by the colour of skin and manner of dress. Groups of four look-a-like men stood near each other and stared angrily at the other factions.
He turned to address the faction representatives. "Okay, you know the drill, pick your candidates and then get the hell out of my face. For the benefit of you new perps, as I call off your name declare any allegiances or preferences you may have."
Murphy began to read off the prisoner's numbers and names. As he worked his way down the short list, the new inmates were placed with relative ease. Two went to the Gangbanger faction effortlessly, one to the Muslim faction and the second to last went to the Latino faction.
"And our final contender, prisoner 98K514. Keller, Christopher. You got anything to say?"
The inmate in question was slouched against the wall with his legs spread wide. He looked exceedingly bored with the proceedings. Keller scratched idly just above his arm cast.
"Do you still work best on your knees?" A voice leered from the Aryan faction.
Keller bolted upright and stared angrily in the direction of the voice. From within the group a figure stepped out and looked over Keller critically.
"Hello, Christopher," the familiar voice sent shivers up Keller's spine.
"Schillinger," he whispered coldly.
In the flash of a second, Keller launched himself at Schillinger and managed to wrap his good hand around the Aryan's throat. The other Aryans rushed forward and began to beat Keller off. As his hand slipped from his victim's throat, Keller managed to spit directly into Schillinger's face. One of the Aryans tried to sucker punch Chris, but instead he bashed his cast into the Aryan's nose before the hacks entered the fray.
"Enough!" bellowed Murphy. Tim was not going to be happy there was already a fight before all the new inmates were placed.
The other officers managed to keep peace by standing between the entire Aryan faction and Keller. Murphy thought it was shame that the man had already signed his own death warrant. No other faction would take him now. They weren't stupid enough to want open warfare with the Nazis bastards.
"I'll take him," someone said clearly over the din.
Murphy looked over to see that it was Beecher who spoke. Okay maybe someone was stupid enough to take on the entire Aryan faction. Beecher was the unofficial leader of the Irregular faction and had a well-established reputation as being fucking nuts.
"Fine. Whatever. Just get out of here." Murphy dismissed the issue as he thought about what to tell Tim. His head hurt already. Let someone else deal with this problem now.
Keller looked warily at his would-be rescuer. The man had some funky beard thing going on that matched his unruly blondish hair, not to mention the fanatical look to him. His blue eyes were certainly sparking with something Keller couldn't place as he met Chris's stare evenly. Keller shrugged his shoulders and decided he would rather deal with a nutball than a pack full of pissed off Nazis. Chris quickly followed the man who was stupid enough to induct him into his faction, through the heavy metal gate. The man seemed to know where he was going and they were after all getting the hell away from a rather dangerous location. Payback could wait for later after he had time to assess his situation completely.
Stepping closer to the other man he said, "I owe you."
Beecher narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but kept walking. "Not really, I hate those Nazi fucks. Anybody who's in their bad book can't be all that bad."
"Right." Keller drew out that one word like it was an entire sentence full of meaning and topped it off with a toothy grin
"Whatever," he dismissed Keller with a shake of head. "Let's getting going. We have to get back to our district before those Nazis get back and go on the hunt."
Keller kept pace with Beecher, but still managed to size him up. His companion was wiry, but from what he could see from under the black t-shirt and standard issue grey pants, he had sleek muscles. Chris's ever-present lust managed to rear its ugly head. It always did that when he saw something he liked and he definitely liked what he saw. He chided himself that now was not the time, nor the place.
"Never gotta chance to introduce myself properly back there. Christopher Keller."
"Tobias Beecher," was the cautious return. "Seems like you've been acquainted with good ol'Vern before."
Chris's smile faltered at the mention of Schillinger. "Somethin' like that."
"Well I've got plenty of time to find about that later. Not like we're getting off this rock anytime soon. Anyhow, now that I managed to drag home another mouth to feed, I guess that I've got to provide for you until you get the hang of things around here. Hope you won't mind sharing a pod with me. Rule is I brought you in and so you're my responsibility."
Chris raised an eyebrow and kinda twitched the side of his mouth. "Pod?"
"That's what we call the shitty excuse for accommodations around here."
"Oh, so I'll be bunking with you," his smile returned. "I don't think that'll be a problem."
Beecher soon stopped in front of another set of locked door that chirped, "State identity."
"97B412. Tobias Beecher."
"Voice confirmation complete," the electronic female voice answered. "Please remain immobile for retinal and vital statistics scan."
Beecher stood calmly as a red beam quickly scanned his body.
He rolled his eyes and noted to Keller, "There are heavy security precautions around here. A retinal scan makes sure no one can use your identity to gain access to our faction's district. The vital statistics scan makes sure they just don't have your head on a stick or something."
"Identity confirmed. Please state the identity of the unknown person in your immediate vicinity."
Beecher sighed, "New faction member. 98K514. Christopher Keller."
The same red beam scanned Keller and he jumped back a bit.
"Just stand still," Beecher instructed. "It'll be over quicker that way. The system is a bitch, but it's one of the few female voices you'll hear around here."
"Identity confirmed. Database updated," the computer was finally satisfied and the doors slide open.
Keller followed Beecher into a dim hallway that opened up into a cavern-like main room. In the middle of the room was a series of tables around which sporadically sat groups of men. The first set they came upon was pair of older men playing cards.
"Rebadow. Busmalis," Beecher greeted them with a nod and continued to walk past the table.
"Who ya got there, Beecher?" Busmalis questioned as he threw down a pair of threes.
Beecher stopped and turned. "Didn't think I'd get past you noisy old bastards."
"This the new faction member?" Redabow asked never looking up from his cards.
"Yeah, this is Christopher Keller."
"Didn't think we'd have anybody new this time." Redabow observed.
"Not like we've gotten anybody new in the last few selections, eh Bob?"
"Pay attention to the game, Agamemnon."
"Sure, Bob." Busmalis shuffled the cards in his hand a bit before looking up again. "I mean, I was just surprised to see you bring someone into the faction. After all, no one new has been let in since Bob took me on."
"Your hand." Bob said patiently, the entire time never taking his eyes off his cards.
Tobias seemed bemused and shook his head. "Come on, Keller. I'll show you around."
He walked away and stopped mid-pace when he heard Rebadow speak. "Beecher?"
"Watch your back."
"Tell me *something* I don't already know," he snapped. "Who've you been talking to, Bob?"
Rebadow threw down a winning hand. "God."
Tobias merely snorted and marched off. "Crazy old fuck."
Keller had to hurry to keep up. "What's a matter with him?"
"He's not all there."
"I kinda figured that. So you gonna show me around, or what?"
"Fine." Tobias stopped in the middle of the main chamber and gestured with his hand. "This is pretty much it. Happy?"
"Cute." Keller moved closer. "But, tell me what I need to know so I don't get myself or you, killed."
Beecher sighed. "What do you know about Oz?"
Keller shrugged and said, "Not much."
"Quick history lesson time then. In the old days, Oswald Penal Colony, our notorious Oz, was state of the art. The section our faction occupies was one of the newest additions, before the riots that led to all this chaos. We're in green sector, what we Em City." Beecher pointed to a tall structure in the middle of the main room. He waved at a man in a wheelchair who was scrutinizing several screens. "That used to be a guard tower. Now we use it to monitor the safety of our parameters. That's Augustus Hill. He knows everything that should and shouldn't go on around here."
"He any good?" Keller looked suspicious. He didn't like putting his safety into the hands of a stranger.
"Sometimes I swear the fucker is omnipotent."
"Great," Chris muttered under his breath.
"The first thing you have to learn about Oz is that if you don't stick with your faction, you'll end up dead. Every member of the faction has a useful purpose."
"Even them." Keller nodded his head back at Rebadow and Busmalis.
"Yes, even them." Tobias rolled his eyes when Chris still looked doubtful. "You might as well get used to belonging to a faction made up of people too old, too weak or too..." he smiled and eyed Keller, "...too crazy for any other faction. Like it or not you belong to the Irregular faction now. You're the one we have to find a use for. Hill is our eyes and ears. Rebadow knows how to find things and besides, he's been here longer than anyone I know and lived to tell about it. Busmalis is a digger and responsible for our faction's tunnel network. Question is... what good are you?"
"I'm *good* at a lot of things." Chris leered back. Sensing Beecher's tension, he changed the subject. "How did the Irregular faction end up with these plush digs?"
"Easy, the other factions didn't want it. Most of them tunnelled and booby-trapped their own strongholds long ago, like our next door neighbours and closest thing to allies, the Celtic faction."
Suddenly, the lights dimmed and an ear-piercing siren started to wail. Chris jumped back a bit and looked around for cover. Tobias watched his apprehensive response and grinned.
"We'd better get back to my pod," Beecher shouted over the din. "It's time for lockdown."
Tobias walked swiftly and certainly to his pod. Chris swaggered after him like he didn't have a care in the world. He managed to only falter his step slightly when the siren abruptly stopped.
"Lockdown? I thought the factions ran things in Em City?"
"We do." He stopped in front of a set of smaller metal doors, quickly punching a code into a panel. "But that doesn't stop the hacks from attempting to control us. Their main sensors still function and after they sound the alarm, they restrict our movement to personal quarters, or adjuncts of the main chamber for the factions that live in the tunnels. If they sense too much movement in any main corridor or room during the down time, they send out a SORT team. We don't want that.
Trust me." The doors clanked opened and both men stepped into a shallow room carved directly into the stone. The room was nothing special and had a faint wet rock smell, just like everything else. There was an antique bunk bed that looked like it had seen better days in the corner and the usual sink, toilet and mirror combo. The pod doors closed with a solid thunk. They were finally alone for the first time. Keller leaned against the doorframe and just looked at the other man.
"So you a fag?"
"No, you?" Tobias replied, dripping venom.
Chris moved to the beds, glanced at the made-up top bunk and set his things down on the bare bottom bunk.
"I do what I have to," he drawled.
Tobias cackled and started into a poem he deemed appropriate for the situation.
"Rats in the garden, catch 'em Towser
Cow's in the cornfield, run, boys, run
Cat's in the cream pie, stop her, now, sir
Fire in the mountain, run, boys, run."
Keller just stared at him for a moment, before he burst out laughing. "Wow, that's a load of shit, Beecher."
Tobias glared at him and huffed a little. "Fuck you."
"Thought you weren't into that sort of thing."
Tobias moved into the corner farthest from Keller and began to pace. He would have left the pod, if he could.
"Listen, calm down. I know the drill. I ain't going to do anything. I owe you, you can trust me."
Tobias stopped pacing and stared back angrily. "There is no fucking trust in Oz! Don't think you're here to be my friend!" He was getting more agitated and motioning heavily with his arms. "I only took you on to piss off the Aryans... and what in the fuck is it between you and Schillinger?"
Tobias swiftly turned near the bunk bed and accidentally nicked his hand on the metal frame when he motioned widely to emphasize his point.
"Fuck!" he spat as he cradled the stinging hand.
"Beecher." Chris raised his palms up in surrender. "Tobias," Chris tried again. "Ah, shit that doesn't suit you either."
Chris grabbed a towel off the bed from his pile and walked to the sink. He turned the tap and wasn't surprised to find the water was cold as he soaked the towel. Keller wrung out the chilled damp material and walked over to Tobias. He grabbed the reddening appendage, only to have Beecher snap it back.
"Leave me the fuck alone!" Beecher spat.
"Your temper and your name don't suit you, you prick." He pressed the towel against the bleeding knuckles, ignoring the other man's protests. "Mind if I call you, Toby?"
Toby grunted as Chris dabbed at the blood. "Whatever."
"So you're the leader of this faction?" Chris asked idly.
"Nah, I'm just the only one crazy enough to face up against the Aryans."
"Like everyone to think you're crazy, don't ya?"
"Maybe," Chris agreed. "Or maybe not."
End part two. TBC