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The world wants to know your story

 
 

 
 

TALK TO ME
October 16 2009

By Carl Macek
From an original concept by Stan Slavutsky


The news of Rotan933218’s death quickly spread through the government’s internment facility near the eastern edge of Clavius, a crater formation in the southern highlands of the Moon. Rotan933218 had the unique distinction of being the oldest living inmate at the facility. Known as “The Queen” by her fellow detainees, her death sent a shockwave throughout the isolated community. Her age was undetermined at the time of her death, but rumor had it that the Queen had been interned there since the facility was established 58 years earlier. She wasn’t the first detainee to die on the Moon but her presence would certainly be missed by most of the guards and her fellow inmates. Rotan933218’s health had been failing in recent months and the medical staff knew that it was just a matter of time before she would die of heart failure. To most of her fellow Moonites, it seemed as though the Queen took the news of her imminent passing with grace and good humor. However, the circumstances surrounding her death were suspicious enough to warrant an investigation.
A maintenance crew found the Queen’s body in the inmate shower room after the Nightshift Facility Manager noticed that one of the showerheads had been activate for nearly 45 minutes. Rotan933218’s body was slumped down under a spray of warm water. Her arms rested on her lap as if she had just completed a yoga position. Her wrists had been cut open and she apparently bled out within a matter of minutes. The people that found her described the look on her face as beatific. But once the water had been turned off and rigor mortis set in, the Queen’s face stiffened into something that could only be described as an expression of pure shock and horror. Two factors made it impossible for the authorities to rule out foul play. One was that the digital faucet’s controls had been bypassed so that the automatic water conservation feature had been deactivated. And the other was the inability of the preliminary investigators to find the object used to cut the old woman’s wrists.
After the facility’s forensics team had searched the alleged crime scene (as well as Rotan933218’s cell) for any evidence that might shed light on what actually happened, the Warden thought it best to assign the Queen’s vacant cubicle to an incoming detainee. Each cubicle was biometrically linked to a specific individual. The subcutaneous sensors embedded at birth allowed the facility’s IT personnel to monitor the location of every detainee at all times. The Warden reasoned that it would be better to have a new inmate assigned to the space rather than rearrange the existing internee population. According to the Warden’s records that would be Sandoz339871.
When the new detainee arrived at the internment facility and saw her pre-assigned quarters for the first time, she was flabbergasted. Every conceivable space on the laminate, inner-liner of the cubicle was covered with tight, well-formed writing. At first the writing on the walls looked like some sort of esoteric design element, but once the young woman got close enough to see what it really was – the personal journal of someone who had lived in near-total isolation for the major part of her life – she was dumbfounded. After reading a few random passages she was immediately struck by the intensely personal nature of the writing that enveloped her. Initially she decided to keep the ruminations of the cubicle’s previous inhabitant private. She tried to rub out one of the small passages that she had read, only to find out that although she was able to remove the superficial lead residue the words were still etched into the laminate – like the impressions left on the page below when a person writes something down on a paper tablet.
“Why burden myself with someone else’s problems?” She thought to herself as she sat there staring at this chronicle of a stranger’s failed life. But the more she dwelled on the possibility of actually getting inside someone else’s head – even if only for a little while - the more tempting it became to continue reading this rambling “life stance” manifesto. “Obviously whoever took the time to do this thought that it was important enough to pass on,” Sandoz339871 eventually concluded. “I guess I should read it, out of respect. Besides”, she thought, “it would be one way to pass the time.” The only thing holding her back was the fact that she didn’t know where to start.
“Read any good books lately?” A gruff looking guard said as she approached the new detainee, who sat alone, eating her dinner in the facility’s crowded mess hall.
“Excuse me?” The new detainee said, looking up from her plate of multi-colored nutrient-paste and vitamin-filled gelatin capsules. She was surprised that someone was talking to her this soon. The entire inmate population consisted of women. And when she first entered the mess hall and watched as the internees took their meals and broke up into small pre-defined groups, she thought she would have to wait a while before someone felt comfortable enough to start taking to her.
“You’re the one they put in the Queen’s old cubicle, right? I heard they put the new girl in the Queen’s old cell. And, far as I can tell, you’re the new girl.”
“I’m Sandoz339871.” She said, realizing that this wasn’t a social visit.
“Don’t tell her nothin’, kid,” one of the other inmates yelled at her from across the stark, institutional cafeteria, “She’s just messin’ with you!”
“Shut up Peaches!” The guard shouted over her shoulder – a sick smirk on her face – without turning away from the new detainee, “Or you’ll be scrubbing latrines for the next three weeks.”
“If it was up to me, I would’ve sandblasted that stinkin’ cubicle until it was spotless the moment they cremated the ol’ bitch.” The guard said as she walked away. “But nobody listens to me. So, all I can say to you, girlie, is read it and weep.”
Shaking her head in disgust, Sandoz turned towards the guard, “Oh, before you go, what was your name?”
“None of your damn business!”
“Well, I was just thinking if the Queen – that’s what you called her, right? – If the Queen happened to mention you by name, then I thought you might like to know.”
The inmates began pounding on the tables and shouting in a show of support for the new detainee’s outward defiance. The loudest shouts came from Peaches’ table.
The guard immediately pulled out a thin stun-stick and headed off towards Peaches’ crew. As an afterthought, she stopped and turned back to the new detainee. “This isn’t over, girlie! You get me?”
Sandoz339871 nodded slowly, faking a deer-caught-in-the-headlights stare, while adding, “Your name?”
“Eat me!”
Sandoz turned back to her food and smiled to herself. Now she knew for certain that she would read the Queen’s journal from floor to ceiling, regardless of where she started.
She tried tuning out the guard’s latest tirade of insults dished out to Peaches and the other inmates when a middle-aged woman silently sidled up alongside her. Without warning the unidentified person reached out and put her hand on Sandoz’ shoulder.
“Lay on the cot with your head facing the front door,” the woman whispered. “Turn your head to the right and look for the largest letters. Start there.”
By the time Sandoz339871 looked up, the woman was gone.
When she returned to her cubicle she followed the instructions she was given. It led her to the starting-off point of the Queen’s memoirs:
“I don’t know how long I’ve been here. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say somewhere close to five years. By now my child should be learning how to read and write. It’s hard to even jot down the words ‘my child’, let alone grasp the implications of that thought. I don’t even know if I gave birth to a boy or a girl! Every day I can’t help thinking about what a crime it is for people to be forcibly separated from their babies – never once being allowed to see or touch a living, breathing human being that you were able to give the gift of life to. Who thought it was better to build a society without any roots or history? It goes against humanity. Why should I be punished for having a child? What crime did I commit? The people who came up with this ungodly policy should be the ones sitting up here on the Moon. Not me.”
Sandoz339871 stopped reading and sat up on the cot. She no longer had any doubts as to why she found herself in her current predicament. She was here on the Moon for the same reason the Queen was - because she was chosen to have a child. For as long as she could remember over-population and sustainability were the two major problems facing society. Superficially, the Government’s plan to control population growth had resulted in an orderly society that evolved without the natural dynamics of a family unit. Children were raised institutionally. Everyone was given the sense that they were equal through their education and their interaction with others. Anyone who displayed traits deemed undesirable were culled out of the group for the sake of society. Humanity had been at a crossroads ever since the population was raised, like farm animals, rather than been given the choice to evolve and prosper naturally. But now after dozens of generations of experimentation in human husbandry, the essence of being human was once again bubbling to the surface in a smattering of cases. It was the Government’s plan to isolate these radical breeders from the rest of society as well as their offspring in an attempt to curb the rise in humanism whenever and wherever it manifested itself.
It took Sandoz339871 a little over two months to read the Queen’s entire story. After a while, as Sandoz continued to read the powerful arguments set forth in the manifesto, it was almost as if the Queen was talking directly to her. It would be an understatement to say that reading all this changed her life. Taking the Queen’s words at face value Sandoz came away with a picture of a woman who, through her suffering and isolation, had come to understand the key mistakes made by the powers that be; and had formulated a plan to educate normal everyday people in such a way that they would be able to reject the Government’s policies regarding the cycle of life, in a non-violent way, in order to once again become human beings. The Queen’s solution was simple – elegant in fact – and Sandoz vowed to find a way to make mankind escape from the trap that it had found itself in, thanks to what she had learned from the Queen. Being detained on the Moon would pose a challenge for Sandoz339871, but time was on her side.
The one unfortunate side effect that arose in Sandoz as a result of reading the Queen’s manifesto was a sense of extreme paranoia. She became fearful that if anyone associated with the Government really knew and understood what the Queen had written down on the walls of her 9 square meter cubicle in a detainment facility on the Moon then they would stop at nothing to keep this information from filtering into the general consciousness of the population. Sandoz knew that in order to protect herself, and the Queen’s solution, she would have to wipe the cubicle clean. It was difficult to rub away the years of yearning and eventual understanding represented by the words that filled the walls of her cell. But Sandoz knew that even though the outward manifestation of the Queen’s ideas might be gone, the words remained – forever etched into the surface of the laminate. Whenever she needed reassurance or to refresh her memory as to a specific thought or idea, Sandoz knew that the walls could still talk to her.
During the time that she was immersed in reading the Queen’s manifesto, Sandoz found time to become friends with Peaches and her clique of internees. She even got to know a few of the guards. But the one person she tried to keep at arms length was Cray008655 - the guard who had been gunning for her ever since she arrived at the facility. Sandoz was hesitant to reveal what she had learned from the Queen too soon. She needed to let the thoughts percolate through her brain for a while and then slowly bring the Queen’s ideas to her newfound friends. But there was another reason for her reticence to share these radical thoughts.
One thing that continued to bother Sandoz was the fact that she never found out who the person was that spoke to her that first day in the mess hall and pointed out where the Queen’s manifesto started. It all fed into her growing paranoia. How did that woman know where the writing began? How much did she know about what the Queen wrote? The biometrics would have made it difficult for private visits to occur. All social interactions took place in common areas. The cubicles were meant to be private. If the mystery woman was a detainee, maybe she had been transferred – or worse. If she was the Queen’s only confidant, it was important for Sandoz to learn what happened to her before she started sharing any of the ideas she’d learned from the Queen to the other detainees.
“Remember my first day here?” Sandoz casually asked Peaches while they were eating dinner.
“We knew right away you were one of us,” Peaches recalled, “thanks to Cray.”
“If it wasn’t for her, we might never have been friends. They don’t make it easy for people to form relationships out here, do they?”
“Hard but not impossible.”
“Did the Queen have many friends?”
“Not really. She just sort of showed up, did what was required and then when back to her cell.”
“No friends at all?”
“We all knew her, but she seemed different than the rest of us. She wasn’t one to start conversations, but she’d always answer a direct question.”
“Did you ever talk to her?”
“A couple of times. Why?”
“I’m just trying to get a sense of the woman. I sometimes feel her presence in my cubicle,” Sandoz lied, “even now.”
“She was intense.”
“In what way?”
“It’s hard to explain. It was almost as if she knew something that made her superior to the rest of us. And another thing, she wouldn’t let Cray or the other guards bully any of us around. Any time the guards got in our face, the Queen would show up and, without saying a word, defuse the situation. That’s why we started calling her the Queen.”
“What would she do?”
“Nothing. She just stood there and looked at us.”
“That’s it?”
“That’s it!”
“Do you think she killed herself?”
“Hell no!” Peaches looked around and continued, her voice now a whisper, “My money’s on Cray.”
“But the biometrics? They’d know if anyone was there, wouldn’t they?”
“Look who you’re talking about. They all know, and they don’t care?”
“I heard there was an investigation.”
“Right. Like they were trying to find out who killed her. More likely they were destroying the evidence.”
“Has anybody else died or gone missing?”
“What’s with all the questions? If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were working for the Warden.”
“It’s just that something’s been bothering me…” Cray008655 slammed her stun stick down between Peaches and Sandoz interrupting her train of thought.
“Too bad you two bitches can’t get a room.” The guard hissed at the two detainees.
Cray detached a small microphone from her shoulder and spoke into it as she continued to walk through the mess hall. “Listen up ladies. Sorry to bust up the party but we’ve just got word that a small cluster of meteors is heading in our direction. The Warden’s has asked for all detainees to return to their cubicles for volitional lockdown until further notice.”
Sandoz started to get up but noticed that nobody else in the cafeteria seemed concerned enough by the “urgent message” delivered by Cray to actually do anything. She sat back down and looked over at Peaches.
“Shouldn’t we go to our rooms?” Sandoz whispered.
“Don’t sweat it. “
“But the meteors? The Warden ordered us to our cubicles.”
“I keep forgetting that you’re new. Listen kid, this happens all the time. The Warden has to inform us of any potential meteor clusters in the vicinity. It’s required by law.”
“So, shouldn’t we go to our rooms?”
“I’ve been here 14 years and lived through 9 of these so-called ‘meteor cluster’ alerts. It’s all a bunch of lip service. Somethin’ their lawyers would call a CYA move.”
“What do we do?”
“Just sit where you are and finish your meal. Then, if you want to go back to your cell, do it. But in my experience, by the time you’re done eatin’ the guards’ll come around letting us know that the alert has been rescinded.”
Sandoz reluctantly followed Peaches lead and continued with her meal. However her paranoia, caused by the knowledge she had acquired by reading the Queen’s manifesto, was strong enough to spill over into venues which most of the internees considered mundane and inconsequential. By the time Cray had mad a full circle of the mess hall Sandoz’ fears had quieted down to a manageable state.
“I always tagged you as the smart one, Sandoz.” Cray said as she neared the internee’s table.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I stopped by your room and I noticed that the ol’ bitches journal had been erased.”
Peaches looked up from her plate of nutrient paste. “You did what?” Peaches glared at Cray.
“What’s the big deal?” Sandoz said.
“Nobody can get into anyone else’s cell,” Peaches growled to Sandoz. “It’s supposed to be private.”
“Supposed to be…that’s the optimum word.” Cray smirked.
Sandoz could see Peaches’ grip on her ceramic foon tighten.
“So now you’re spying on us?”
“Always have been… always will.”
“I’ll bet you’re the one that killed the Queen!”
“What if I was?”
The first meteor slammed into the shadowed eastern wall of the Clavius crater and caused a minor tremble through the cafeteria. It was followed by a dozen more hits of varying intensity. Apparently this time, the meteor cluster was real. At first it seemed as though the facility was unfazed by the bombardment. And then the bulk of the meteor cluster began to rain down on Clavius. Many of the small astral rocks began punching holes in the detention facilities outer shell. A larger meteor even took out the site’s main generator causing the lights to go out and the artificial gravity to fail creating total chaos in the mess hall. After what seemed like an eternity, the red emergency lights snapped on.
Through the darkness, Sandoz could hear the air hissing away, as she was hit in the shoulder by unseen items that went sliding along the floor to the far corner of the mess hall, where a meteor the size of a large pumpkin had penetrated the facility. Guards and inmates were in a panic. People were being flung around like rag dolls. Everyone awkwardly scrambled to cling onto anything bolted down to the floorboards. In the dim red light, Sandoz was reaching out to grab onto the leg of heavy dining table when she felt a sharp pain along the back of her ribcage. She spun around and saw Cray swinging her stun stick down at her head. Peaches leaped up and grabbed onto Cray’s arm as she dug her foon deep into the guard’s cheek. The Moon’s own gravity was at work now, and any movement was exaggerated beyond normal expectations. The force majeure event ripped open the tentative peaceful veneer of the detention facility. If everyone was going to die - if this was it - then there were scores to settle. Peaches and Cray’s life-and-death struggle was just the tip of the iceberg.
As all Hell broke loose around her, Sandoz had only one thought on her mind. She had to get back to her cell. She had to surround herself with the comforting epiphanic revelations she had come to treasure. She had to make sure that the Queen’s message was not lost.
The meteor cluster stopped just as suddenly as it had started. Enough debris had been forced into the holes throughout the facility caused by the meteors that the crisis of escaping air had been averted for the moment. Some of the facility’s built-in safeguard measures actually worked as planned. The most heavily damaged sections were automatically sealed off. The corridor leading to Sandoz’ cubicle was one of the areas that received the most damage.
The detention facility at Clavius was deemed irreparable and the surviving internees and guards were assigned to other facilities on the Moon. Cray and Peaches were found dead in the debris along with a number of other inmates and guards. Sandoz was found when the demolition crew assigned to take down and recycle the material from the decommissioned facility discovered her body inside her damaged cubicle. She was wearing a pressurized moon suit and had apparently died from lack of oxygen. However before she died, Sandoz had managed to rub enough moon dust over the inside walls of her cell to once again reveal the Queen’s solution for restoring humanity. Unfortunately, before anyone could actually recognize and read the message, the cubicle was fed into a recycling compactor to be recomposed for use in a new detention facility being built at the Grimaldi Plains.

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Comments from Our Readers

  "I wonder what kind of solution could Queen possibly see for the humanity." - Stan, November 15 2009 - reply


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