Fiction: "And Then There Were None"

Story by Kelly Hallman


++++ DATE 5.15.2397
++++ TIME 10:32 Solar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Eos Compulsory Rehabilitation Camp, Hyperion, Saturn

The thirty prisoners were escorted through the Rehabilitation Camp’s brightly lit welcome center, strategically placed plants in each corner of every room with comfortable chairs sat in neat, organized rows. Fading electrical posters adorned the walls, each dubiously rotating a variety of acts of decency and clemency professed to be a highlight of the camp’s operation.

A snort of laughter rippled through the line of inmates as upon catching sight of the officer at the window to the processing center someone muttered, “The receptionist will be with you in a moment.”

“Hey!” Vihaan Aamodt cried as he was shoved from behind towards the door of the processing annex.

The guard tapped briefly at his hand terminal before looking at Vihaan with an irritated look on his face. “Well, what did you expect to happen to you for…what does it say…inciting a riot?”

“I already told them, I didn’t do anything like that. How long will I have to be here?” Vihaan asked.

“Give me your arm,” the guard told him.

Hesitating, Vihaan extended his arm. The man took it firmly, jabbing his forearm with a syringe with a single practiced movement. “This solution contains a beacon that transmits your location to the central database, as well as providing a subcutaneous display to show how much time you have left on your sentence.”

Vihaan looked at his forearm, dull red numbers suddenly flickering until the first set finally landed on 1456, the rest of the digits appearing until the final number read 1456:10:39:59. “Three year minimum sentence,” the guard stated. “Turn around.”

“Why?”

The guard sighed to himself as he again poked at his handheld database. The first set of numbers on Vihaan’s arm jumped to 1460. “Stop asking questions. Turn around.”

Vihaan turned around and felt a sharp pinch at the base of his skull.

“This solution contains a nanorobotic capsule that implants itself at the base of your brain. With a remote command, it can and will release a poison into your brainstem, immediately killing you. I would strongly suggest you don’t try anything against either officers or staff. Consider this your one and only warning.”

The processing completed, Vihaan was led down a hall. His arm itched where the first device had been implanted, and he scratched at it nervously. The red numbers showing on his skin slowly ticked down the seconds of his sentence.

A voice behind Vihaan said somewhere he couldn’t quite make out. Muffled voices from a group of attendants followed, and the first voice replied, “Another shipment from Titan is scheduled for later on today. Really?”

A woman’s voice cut in. “Most of them are here on murder charges. They’re lucky they’re not being executed. At least here they’re being productive. Titan’ll buy all the ice we can ship them.”

At the other end of the hall, Vihaan was escorted through a transtube for a rough ten minute ride, where he and his escort exited beneath a sign that read: Incarceration Post 25°.

The small dome structure they appeared to be headed towards stood neglected perched on the edge of the Eos Crater inside the massive dome enveloping the entirety of the crater.

A single bridge crossed the vast span connecting one side of the labor camp to the other, and in the middle of the bridge stood an imposing building supported by several platforms and extensive rigging. A monitor tower? Vihaan speculated.

On the edge of the bridge closest to Post 25° a rope had been tied to the railing, at the other end of which someone dangled lifelessly, her neck broken.

A guard walked along the bridge and made his way to the hanging body. A large crowd of prisoners had amassed at the entrance to the bridge, everyone straining to get a look. As the guard reached the body, he grabbed a knife from his boot and in one motion cut the rope in two. The woman fell silently into the abyss below. Unable to look away, Vihaan watched as the body tumbled soundlessly into the crevasse. The guard turned around and began walking back to the guard tower.

“Careful there.” a voice said from behind as a hand grabbed a hold of his shoulder and pulled him back from the edge. “It’s a ten kilometer drop, and while Hyperion redefines the term microgravity, it’s still not the easiest way to go.” he remarked. “I’m Kazuki.”

“Vihaan. Who was she?”

“Anvi,” Kazuki’s voice changed with the name, seeming suddenly distant. “She’s free now,” he said quietly. “She no longer suffers this world. If only we could all be so lucky.”

The crowd was now retreating. A few were crying, a couple of people were laughing, but most showed no emotion at all.

“So you’re the new gear, eh? Well, watch what you say around Ayaan,” Kazuki said. “She’s Anvi’s sister. She’ll likely be on edge tonight.”

They turned together and walked to Post 25°, ducking at the entrance. The dodecagonal post was large enough to house twelve bunks but little else. A small room off the side opposite the main entrance housed a tiny bathroom consisting of a toilet and sink. A table with four chairs sat in the middle of the post, a deck of cards in the middle.

A woman sat on a corner bed, knees up to her chest, arms tightly hugging them, and staring straight ahead.

Another woman emerged from the bathroom. “Saki,” Kazuki called out to her, “Could you take Vihaan here and get him settled? Oh, and if you could, check out the barscreen, I think that might be one of the sources of the water reclamation system’s problem.” Turning to Vihaan he then said, “Just traveling here really takes it out of you. Get some rest now, your shift starts tomorrow.”

He then turned towards the bunks and declared, “Prisha, Amaterasu, you’re with me. Shift is starting soon, don’t want to be late.” Two women hopped down from their respective bunks and joined Kazuki as he walked back out the door.

The woman Kazuki had called Saki walked up to Vihaan, bowing slightly. “I’m Saki, and you’re our newest recruit, I see.” She gestured to a top bunk in the corner opposite Ayaan. “That’s yours. Get some rest,” she said.

Nodding, he walked over to the bunk that the woman had previously indicated; he began to climb it, but was suddenly interrupted.

“That’s Anvi’s bed,” Ayaan said harshly behind him. “Find somewhere else.”

Vihaan paused in mid climb as Saki came over and tried to defuse the situation, gripping her in a tight embrace, stroking her long dark hair as she continued to cry in her arms, “She’s free now. We’re still here for you.”

“I’m really sorry fo-” Vihaan started. Ayaan’s pushed Saki away and she dashed toward the door. Saki in pursuit, turned to glare at Vihaan, who returned climbing the bunk.

“Don’t worry, she’ll be fine,” a new voice said. “I’m Katsu,” the man said. “I’ll be one of your shift mates. Saki’s the other one. Together we alternate three at a time. Used to be four at a time, but with Anvi gone and Ayaan out of commission, we’ll work to cover for them until another, uh, recruit comes and she gets her shit together. Kazuki wanted to give you a rest when you got here, so Prisha took over what’ll be your shift.”

“Oh,” Vihaan stated, “Sorry, I didn’t know I would cause so much chaos.”

“Don’t sweat it, new gears always do. They never come with enough grease, but don’t worry; we’ll help you settle in later. Rest up for now. Tomorrow will be absolute hell.”

Lying down in the bed, Vihaan sighed. He stared at the dingy metal ceiling, then closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep. He took a deep breath and mindlessly scratched at his forearm.

“By the way, what are you in for?”

“Eternity…” Vihaan slowly exhaled a long breath, trying to come to terms with the fact that he’d almost certainly die here. He opened his eyes to stare at his forearm, the numbers seeing to laugh back at him: 1460:08:17:32.

“No, I mean what did you do to get sent here?”

“Uh, nothing.”

“Figures. They’ll get you one way or another. Got to keep the water flowing to Titan.”

Vihaan chuckled softly, “Yeah, I guess so. What about you?”

“Same as you,” Katsu said, “Everyone’s innocent here, didn’t you know that?”

++++ DATE 5.16.2397
++++ LOCATION Eos Compulsory Rehabilitation Camp, Hyperion, Saturn

When he awoke, the room was black, and Katsu was hurriedly nudging his leg. “Wakie wakie, Starshine, time to make the doughnuts! Kazuki and the others will be back before long, and we gotta be ready to start our shift.”

Reluctantly, Vihaan sat up, pushed his legs over the side of the bunk and half jumped, half fell down. Katsu grabbed his arm on the way and stabilized him with a chuckle. Ayaan lie in her bed, sound asleep, her back to the wall beside her.

“Saki brought her back after you dozed off, and she went to get an early start,” Katsu explained. “She’s likely waiting on us.”

They walked out of the post and Vihaan fell in behind Katsu as they started to walk to the drilling site. The darkness seemed to close in around them, and Vihaan wondered what time it was. Not wanting to break the stillness, he looked at his forearm, which read 1460:03:09:15. He’d had over five hours of sleep, but still felt exhausted.

Several shadows emerged out of nothingness, and Vihaan was just able to make out the outlines of seven people carrying what looked like another person by the arms and legs, in what seemed to be a funerary procession. They silently walked past him and Katsu.

He stopped to observe, and Katsu stepped beside him. “Another death,” he murmured, “Likely a run in with Sai’s group. Watch out for those assholes. He’s the leader of Post 72°. They’re all sociopaths.”

The funeral group reached the edge of Eos Crater, and laid the body of their fallen comrade down on the edge. They stood over it and glanced down at it for a few moments. Then they each touched a part of the body and gently pushed it over the precipice. It vanished without a sound, and the group turned around and began to trudge back to their post.

“Come on,” Katsu urged, “Saki’s waiting.”

Vihaan offered a silent prayer for the recently deceased, and resumed following Katsu to the drilling site. “Why don’t the guards deal with Sai and his group?”

“The guards are just here to keep us here. They don’t care what we do to each other.” Katsu said. They finished their walk in silence.

“You’re late!” Saki exclaimed as they approached the site, but gave the two a wide grin. “Kazuki! Go home and get some rest.”

Kazuki and Prisha emerged wearily from a small crater next to a large drilling machine.

Amaterasu opened the door of the machine and hopped out. The three approached where Saki, Katsu, and Vihaan had congregated.

“Want me to stick around and help out with V here?” Kazuki asked, gesturing at Vihaan, who in turn glanced back and forth between Saki and Katsu.

“Nah, we got this,” Saki said. “We’ll put him in the rig today,” she continued. “Oh, and don’t forget, there’s that necessities drop coming in tomorrow morning. Be sure to rest up so you can get there bright and early to grab what we need.”

“Right,” Kazuki said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Turning to his group, “Come on, let’s go.”

Vihaan watched as they walked back in the direction of the post, “Necessities drop?” He asked.

“The weekly food, clothing, first aid, and toiletries supplies are delivered by drop,” Katsu explained. “You see that funky thing at the tip of the dome?” he asked, nodding in gesture over his shoulder. “That’s the automated dilated seal that allows for the delivery of the necessities.”

“Get in,” he continued gesturing to the drilling machine, “They come each week assuming we’ve reached our quota of ice. If we don’t, then we don’t get as much and our time is increased.”

“How do they determine if we reach our quota?” Vihaan asked, climbing into the cabin of the drill.

“Drones come to gather at least two crates per week, if the weight is off, or one isn’t filled quite right, they know,” Katsu said climbing in after him. “Now, as for this thing, the red button on your left here stops everything and turns it off. That one you only use at quitting time, or if there’s an emergency.” He indicated the red button on the far left of the control panel. “The green one here turns everything on,” he poked at the green button next to the red one. “These rigs are old, though, so they don’t always work right. Every now and then you really gotta lambaste the sucker,” This he demonstrated by pounding the green button with his fist.

The engine grumbled to life. “She’s entirely voice operated, but her processor’s so old that it’ll either mishear or not hear most anything you say. So, you know…good luck with that. Listen for my shouts, and watch for the light to change – green means we’re good for drilling, red means to pull it back,” he instructed, pointing out the window at an array of lights. “Oh and please don’t kill or maim us” he said, “we’ll be down there clearing debris and collecting the ice you bring up. Got it?” Katsu asked.

Before Vihaan could even think to ask him to wait and start over, Katsu had jumped down from the cabin and disappeared below with Saki.

“Um, start the drill?” he asked hesitantly. Nothing happened. “Drill start,” he tried again. The light stayed green.

“Come on!” Katsu shouted from below, just barely audible over the grumbling engine, “We don’t have all day, let’s get the ice out!”

Panicking, he shouted, “Start the drill!” and heard a small rumbling coming from somewhere in front of him. He looked out the window and saw the drill bit start to turn painfully slow. As the bit started to rotate slightly more rapidly, the rumbling became a roar. By the time it was spinning fast enough, five minutes had elapsed, and the roar had become an unbearably loud drone.

Unable to hear his own thoughts, he was just barely able to hear Katsu’s instruction, “Good, go down!”

“Lower the drill!” Vihaan shouted, and watched in dismay as the drill bit began to slow down as the thrumming became somewhat more bearable.

“No, you moron! Down!” Katsu shouted from below. Saki’s unladylike snorts of laughter followed.

Drill down!” Vihaan shouted, and watched as the drill began, ever so slowly to descend into the crater below.

After five minutes, the entire drill shook violently as the drill reached the ice below. Beginning to cut into the rock and ice, Vihaan wondered if it was going to shake apart.

“Good! Now pull it back up!” Katsu ordered after about ten minutes, and the light on the array outside turned red.

Drill up!” Vihaan commanded, and watched as the drill ever so slowly complied. It took the drill at least seven minutes to get fully out of the way.

“Leave the drill on!” Katsu shouted.

Vihaan sat in the cabin, slowly losing his hearing and his mind as he kept thinking he heard Katsu, but only realizing the next moment that it had only been a figment of his imagination. Five minutes passed, then ten. After fifteen minutes, the light switched from red to green

“Back down!”

The day dragged on at the same speed of the drill. Eventually, it was lunch break, and Saki and Katsu climbed out of the crater, Vihaan took it as his cue to exit the drill. He poked at the red button, but there was no response. He poked it harder, but the engine continued to roar. Forming a fist, he punched it, and the drill finally died.

“Easy there,” Katsu exclaimed. “The girl’s old, you gotta finesse her, otherwise she won’t turn on for you.”

“Well thank god you two are here,” Vihaan stated. “I thought the drill was going to fall apart on me. And that thing is so loud; I can’t hear a damned thing.”

“Now you know why no one likes working the drill,” Katsu retorted.

“Why don’t they just automate it?” Vihaan asked as his hearing started to come back.

Katsu shrugged. “They could, but that’d cost as much in maintenance, and this way they also solve their problem with undesirables without having to go through the awkwardness of executions. This way, they can claim they are socially enlightened all the way back to Earth.”

They walked over to a rock extruding from the ground in a form that resembled a bench. They sat down, Saki and Katsu pulled off thick gloves, and Saki reached over the side of the bench, and pulled three soylent pouches from a bag that Vihaan hadn’t seen until now. She handed one to Katsu, one to Vihaan, and kept the last for herself, she then took out three rations of water and distributed them in the same manner. “Mix it and drink it,” she said.

“Really, soylent?” Vihaan asked, looking at the pouch.

“I know, right?”

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” Saki protested, “This is all we get for food, so you’d best learn to like it. Besides, it has everything your body needs. The guards get solids, but those aren’t actually much better.”

“How do you know that the solids here are bad?” Vihaan asked, ripping the soylent pouch and pouring it into the ration of water.

“Corporations hate spending money. Same for medical services,” she continued, mixing her soylent, “There basically are none here. If you get hurt here, you’d best hope it can be treated with a bandage and a prayer. Actually, just a prayer. We don’t get bandages in the necessity drops. Now drink up.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“I used to work for the org that is contracted out to run this place.”

“How the hell did you end up here?” Vihaan asked.

“Some higher-up at the company decided that they needed some money on the side. They started taking money off the top, and when the books came back missing some of the profits, the company started looking at everyone. Somehow I got singled out, and was put here on suspicions of theft.”

When they were finished, they sat for a few moments, savoring the momentary stillness of the afternoon. “Will one of you please swap with me, and I’ll go down in the crater?” Vihaan asked. “I really don’t think I can take another two and a half hours with that thing.”

“Nah, you don’t have the gloves. Wait till Kazuki gets back with the goods tomorrow morning, he’ll most likely have a pair for you. You’ll go down below tomorrow.” Saki said, “Besides, Katsu and I are somewhat fond of torturing the new guys.”

“Gotta grease the new cogs somehow,” Katsu agreed.

“Great, thanks,” he sighed, got back up and walked back to the rig and jumped into the cabin. He poked the green button, but nothing happened. He remembered Katsu punching the console as he poked it again. He punched it the third time, but still nothing happened.

"You killed the drill!” Katsu exclaimed.

“Now Katsu, don’t freak out the newbie,” Saki chided. “Pop the hood.”

Vihaan stared at them blankly, glancing around the panel. “Hood?” he said uncertainly, looking from button to button, and then back to his shift mates.

“I got it,” Saki said, climbing up into the cabin. “Here,” she said, reaching in front of him, and pushing a grey button that Vihaan hadn’t even noticed before and he felt a door swing open on the left side of the drill. She hopped down from the cabin, and strolled over to the panel. She reached in, grabbed two wires, brought them to her mouth to and used her teeth to strip the insulation. Using her other hand to twist them together, she then put them back in the panel. “They shake loose sometimes,” she explained, smiling, “not your fault, V.” She closed the console with a bang, and gave it a firm but gentile smack with the butt of her fist. “Try her now.”

Obliging her, he pushed the green button again, and the engine roared to life. He glanced out the door at Saki and gave her a thumb up.

Two and a half hours more of Vihaan shouting at the drill, watching for the light changes, straining to hear Katsu over the unbearable noise, and going deaf, he observed as Saki climbed from the crater, followed by Katsu, who gave a thumb's up. “Quitting time, new gear.”

Vihaan pushed the red button, and the engine died. He leapt out of the cabin; relieved to be done for the day, and rushed to catch up to Saki and Katsu as they walked back to the Post. Upon entering, Vihaan spied a neat pile of supplies, a pair of thick gloves sitting on the top. He picked them up and tossed them at his bunk.

“We’re keeping an eye on you, V… no stealing any soylent,” Kazuki said entering the post. “Saki, can you take inventory and update me at the start of your next shift as to what exactly we have and how much? My estimate should put us at 48 soylents and the other usual necessities.”

“Sure thing,” Saki said.

“Thanks, we have to run. We’re already late for our shift. Rest up now. Oh, and the reclamation system’s busted again,” and with that, he disappeared.

“Okay,” Saki replied with a grimace.

“What’s the big deal with that thing, anyway?” Vihaan asked, “We’re on a moon made of ice, why bother reclaiming water when we have plenty everywhere?”

“The org charges us for the water we use from what we mine. Usually it’s an increase in our quota, so we just have to make sure we pull out one or two extra cylinders. But the piss and sweat reclamation system doesn’t force that on us. No cost means no addition to our quota, which in turn means that we don’t have time added to our sentences, nor do we lose out on necessities if we fail to meet the quota.”

“It just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal is all.”

“Every second more you have to spend on this shitty hole in the wall is one less second you get to spend enjoying your life.”

“I suppose,” Vihaan said, then climbed into his bunk, curling up on his side.

“Sleep well, V,” Saki advised. “You’ll be in the crater tomorrow.”

“Planning on it,” he replied, closing his eyes and was asleep almost immediately.

++++ DATE 5.17.2397
++++ LOCATION Eos Compulsory Rehabilitation Camp, Hyperion, Saturn

Vihaan awoke late, grabbed his gloves, and hopped out of his bunk. He looked around for Saki and Katsu, but didn’t see them.

“They already left,” Ayaan said. “That’s your Day 3 task – find the dig site on your own. Didn’t they tell you that they like to torture the newbies?”

“Yeah, they did,” he said. “Thanks,” and with that he strode out the door and left for the day.

The darkness outside made it very hard to get his bearings. He started down the path he thought he and Katsu had taken the day before, but after about five minutes, only found Post 13°. He turned around and ran smack into Ayaan and jumped. “Oh God,” he stammered, his hand going to his heart. “You gave me a heart attack.”

“Sorry,” she said. “I feel a bit better today, so I was thinking I’d go with you; run the rig or something. And when I saw that you headed off in the wrong direction, I figured I’d better go get you before you end up really lost, ” she glanced around, “Where the fuck are we?”

He pointed at the post behind him, “13°.”

“13… bad luck,” she said. “C’mon, before we run afoul of the folks who live here, or worse.”

Together they walked back along the path Vihaan had found, and then turned to the right. They continued on that path and eventually found their way to the dig. Kazuki, Amaterasu, and Prisha had already left for the day. Saki and Katsu were sitting on the bench outcropping near the rig. They waved to Vihaan, and then both jumped up at the sight of Ayaan.

“What happened? Did you get lost that badly that Ayaan had to send out a search and rescue team?” Katsu joked.

“Pretty much,” Vihaan admitted.

“I’m feeling good today, I’ll run the rig and you guys go ahead and work below.”

“You’re sure?” Saki asked.

“Positive,” Ayaan reassured her.

“Well, okay,” she said, “V, you’re with us. Put on your gloves and let’s go.”

Obligingly, Vihaan slid his hands into his gloves and followed Saki and Katsu into the crater. Slipping and sliding down the rocky, icy surface, his arms went out to stabilize himself. Saki grabbed his arm saying, “You’ll get used to it.”

“Okay,” Katsu said, “The main thing down here is to get stuff out of the way of the drill when it comes up and goes down. When it comes up, the drill will leave a massive cylindrical ice block that’s loose in the ground. We have to pull that out and load it into the crates over yonder,” he explained gesturing to four massive containers to the right of where the drill was set up. “The drones come to collect them when we fill them, but don’t worry about that yet. Our quota is for two crates, and we’re still working on filling the first one.”

“So why four?”

“In case we get industrious, I guess,” Katsu chuckled, “More likely in case we were able to acquire another drill, or if we had a full crew.”

“Well, it sounds easy enough,” Vihaan said cautiously.

“It can be, but it can also get dangerous,” Saki joined in. “The most important thing, even more important than the ice and debris, is that you are very careful around the drill when it’s moving. No one on Titan is going to want ice mixed with blood.”

“Unless they’re drinking a Bloody Mary,” chimed Katsu.

She rolled her eyes at Katsu, “Indeed, and believe me it won’t end well for you if you get your hand taken off. As I said yesterday, there’s not much here for medical treatment. So yes, the work down here may be easy, but don’t for a second get comfortable around that drill, or it will take your head off.”

“Understood,” Vihaan said.

“I mean it.”

“Okay, Mom.”

A low roar from above started and grew louder as Ayaan started the drill. As it slowly revved up to speed, Katsu grabbed Vihaan’s shoulder and pulled him back. “Seriously V, you’re too close,” he said. He backed up with Katsu and watched as the drill began to descend painfully slow, as it had yesterday. Once it finally reached the ice, it began to grind, throwing up rocks, debris, and dirty water.

Vihaan waited for the others to go in for his cue to begin. Eventually the drill bit vanished completely underground. Saki and Katsu moved in, carefully picking rocks and moving them aside in neat piles. After a few minutes of this, Katsu reached over to the light array on his right and poked a button, and the light changed from green to red. Then, both he and Saki backed up to allow the drill bit to rise back up to its starting point.

Once there, Saki reached into her pocket and produced three long, thick metal hooks. She handed one each to Katsu and Vihaan. They then walked over to the hole from which the drill had emerged, and Katsu reached in with the hook, hooked the ice with the tip of his pick, and started to pull it upwards. Saki then snagged it with hers and began to pull as well. They got it up onto the ground, where Katsu gestured at Vihaan to help him get it into the bin. He hooked it with his pick, and together they lifted it and brought it to the ice crate. Saki, meanwhile, hit the button on the light array, changing the button to green, and the drill began to lower again.

Upon returning after their shift, they saw that Kazuki was sitting on Ayaan’s bed, with his head in his hands. Vihaan glanced around, quickly making note that someone was conspicuously absent.

“What happened?” Saki asked, worry filling her voice.

“Amaterasu is dead,” Kazuki said simply. He looked up at the four entering the Post, one of his hands going to his forehead, as if trying to relieve a headache.

“How?” Katsu inquired.

“72°,” Kazuki said, “Sai got her.”

“What? How?”

“On our way back,” Kazuki said. “We were coming back to the Post, when we ran into some asshole I’ve never seen before. He tried to talk Prisha up, but she kept refusing his advances. Then he tried to grab her. Amaterasu and I went to help her, but then Sai came out of nowhere. We were all fighting, and then the next thing I knew, I got hit in the head from behind and knocked out. I don’t even really know what happened after that. All I know is what I can infer from Prisha’s condition.”

“Where is she?” Saki asked.

Kazuki gestured at the bunks along the far wall to the left of the bathroom. There Prisha lay in a fetal position on one of the lower beds. Her clothes were in torn in various places, and she had several bruises and cuts.

“Wait, so where is Amaterasu?” Vihaan asked, failing to grasp the entirety of the situation.

“Same place everyone else goes. Most likely she’s in the crater, dead or dying.” Kazuki said,

“How did you two manage to get back here? Katsu asked.

“When I came to Amaterasu was gone and Prisha was sitting next to me trying to stop the bleeding,” He twisted around to show the back of his head, which had been covered by gauze and roughly adhered to his hair. The red stain on the rudimentary bandage detailed the seriousness of the injury. “I don’t really know,” he said, “I can’t remember.”

“Well lay down take it easy,” commanded Saki, who reached into the first-aid supplies they’d gathered yesterday and pulled out an ice pack, placed it on the back of Kazuki’s head and held it there. He reached up, held the ice pack in place, and then lay down, resting his head on the pillow.

Saki then leaned over him, held up her hand and extended two fingers, “How many fingers?”

“Five? Six?” Kazuki asked in response, his voice strained with confusion.

“Okay, looks like you might have a concussion, so take it easy for the next week or two. You need to get some sleep now, but we’ll be waking you up through the night to make sure that you’re not getting worse.”

Kazuki closed his eyes, and with that, Katsu and Vihaan sat down on a bunk, saki and Ayaan sat down on one opposite, near where Prisha lay sleeping. No one wanted to break the silence, it seemed.

“Can’t we get the guards to take care of them?” Vihaan finally asked, having forgotten Katsu’s earlier explanation.

“No,” Ayaan spoke up. “They won’t help us. The only time they will interfere is if there’s a direct threat made to themselves or the prison at large. Our best bet will be to deal with them ourselves.”

“Don’t they have to work too?” Vihaan asked, “Why do they bother with this shit?”

“Yes,” Ayaan said, “But most of their sentences go for at least thirty years. They have absolutely no chance of getting off Hyperion alive. They find it easier to just steal whatever they need; necessities, full crates, whatever they want. We’re outnumbered now by a lot, so there’s nothing we can do to stop them. We could try to steal stuff from them, but it would only end in retaliation. ”

“That’s also of course to say nothing of the hidden spies they have in other posts…” Saki remarked sourly.

“So what’s the move then?” Vihaan asked.

“I’d say the only thing we can do is nothing,” Saki submitted. “While Kazuki and Prisha recover, we might be able to bolster our numbers over time with newcomers. Once we have at least eight healthy people, we’ll be able to resume working at least one shift per day, maybe even procure another rig to help make up for the time we don’t work. Once we have a full crew, we can resume the shifts. For the time being, we should all get some rest. We’re all exhausted, let’s look at this again with fresh eyes.”

The decision tentatively made and the order given, everyone went to their respective bunks. Vihaan and Katsu climbed into theirs while Ayaan took a vacant one. Saki went to check on Kazuki, and gently woke him up.

The silence was emanating unrest. Feeling helpless to do anything, and thinking of the inevitability of all of their deaths here, Vihaan turned on his side, and sighed, scratching at his implant. “Six little Indians,” he muttered absently.

“Six what?” Katsu asked.

Vihaan turned to face him, “Six little Indians,” he repeated in a hushed tone, “An old poem that tells the tale of how ten Indian children die horrible deaths.”

“You’re shitting me,” Katsu cocked his head.

Vihaan recited, “Six little Indians playing with a hive, a bumblebee stung one and then there were five; five little Indi-“

“Okay, that enough. That's morbid,” Saki commanded, “Get some rest.”

Despite the freshly unbroken silence, Vihaan figured no one would be getting any rest that night. ‘Ten little Indians,’ he thought idly, turning back around and scratching at his implant. Just before falling asleep, he vaguely remembered worrying about the actions of the last little Indian.

++++ DATE 5.18.2397
++++ LOCATION Eos Compulsory Rehabilitation Camp, Hyperion, Saturn

The next day, Vihaan sat up in his bunk and looked down at the rest of the post. Saki sat next to Kazuki, and Ayaan and Katsu sat across from each other on accompanying bunks. As Vihaan jumped down from his bunk, he noted that Prisha was still asleep.

“How is everyone?” he asked, hitting the floor.

“Tired, but otherwise fine,” Saki answered.

“Tired?”

“Not everyone is able to sleep like a baby, you know. I for one had to keep waking Kazuki here to make sure he is ok, which he is. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be okay. It’ll just take time.”

“Always the optimist,” he marveled, “Well, I’m hungry. What’s for breakfast?”

She laughed, “You already know.”

“Vihaan sighed, “Yeah, but it never hurts to ask… I can always hope it’ll be something other than soylent, can’t I?”

Katsu shook his head, “Hope can drive you insane.”

“Truer words were never spoken,” Ayaan agreed.

“I guess,” Vihaan said, “But I still say hope is better than soylent.”

Saki laughed, “Well it’s time for soylent regardless. V, do you mind waking up Prisha for hers?”

“Sure,” he said turning to the bunk she was sleeping on. He reached for her shoulder and gently shook her awake. She opened her eyes and flinched. Tensing for a moment, she looked about ready to slug him when she finally recognized him, and relaxed. “Food time,” Vihaan said, and she nodded an acknowledgement as he handed her a pouch of soylent and ration of water.

He passed rations of Soylent and water to Ayaan and Katsu, and gave two of each to Saki. She mixed the soylent with water, and then gently shook Kazuki’s shoulder until he opened his eyes. She helped him to sit up, and then lifted the pouch to his mouth, “Breakfast time.”

He nodded, and took a few sips, then lay back down, “My head is killing me.”

“Well, you have a concussion, and it just happened yesterday, that’s to be expected. Just rest,” Saki said as she put his pouch of soylent on the floor next to his bed and mixed, then drank hers.

Vihaan went to take a sip of his, and noticed that his timer had stopped ticking down seconds. "Huh, that’s weird,” he said. He looked at his arm; the timer was stuck at 1457:07:19:22. He tapped at his arm, then scratched at it, but the seconds didn’t change.

“What now?” Saki asked.

“My sentence timer isn’t working. Guess that means I’ll be here a while, heh.” He chuckled.

“What? Let me see, that can’t be right,” Katsu said, getting up and coming over to investigate. “Yeah, looks like you’re here forever.”

“Oh stop, Katsu,” Saki said, “I’m sure it’s just a bug or something. I’ll get sorted out soon enough.” She glanced at hers, and saw that the seconds were counting up; in relation to the time they decided to spend not working. “Oh,” she stammered, “That’s weird. Looks like you’re boned then.”

“You know,” Vihaan said, “You’re all instilling me with a lot of confidence.”

“Well, you must have done some really bad shit that just got uncovered,” Katsu teased.

“Eh,” Vihaan shrugged, “Well, I long ago accepted the fact that I’ll most likely die here, same as everyone else.”

“What you mean four days ago?” Ayaan joined in.

“Exactly.”

“Well you’re always scratching your arm, maybe you broke it.”

“Wouldn’t that be a pisser,” Vihaan said, “Just like life in general.”

“Didn’t know you were a philosopher,” Katsu said.

“Oh, please, Katsu,” Saki joked, “The list of things you didn’t know could stretch from the sun to the Kuiper Belt.”

“Oh, that one hurt.”

“Well, whatever. It looks like it broke sometime last night,” Vihaan commented. “I’m already owed four hours, and somehow I doubt I’ll be getting them back. No use worrying about it now. Just odd is all.”

The conversation was disrupted by a sudden knock on the door of the post. No one moved. Eyes shifted from one another, nervously. The knock came again, and then a voice added, “Vihaan Aamodt, you are to come to the processing station immediately.”

“Well, I guess there’s your answer,” Katsu whispered, “You broke it, now they’ll have to replace it, wonder how much that’ll hurt; probably a lot.”

“Thanks,” Vihaan said dryly. “You’re so caring.”

“I try.”

“Oh, will you two stop, I’m sure it’s just something stupid,” Saki chided.

“Right,” Vihaan said, “If I don’t come back…” he trailed off.

“We’ll know you’re dead,” Katsu finished.

Saki held up a hand. “No, it’ll mean you’re free.” The others exchanged grim looks.

Katsu shook his head. "If you don't come back, the rest of us may be following you soon enough," he said in a voice quiet enough that Vihaan did not hear.

Vihaan got up, went to the door, and opened it slightly to make sure it was an official. Upon seeing that it was, he opened the door wider, and stepped outside. “Vihaan Aamodt?” the official asked.

Vihaan nodded, stepping outside and shutting the door behind him, “What’s this all about?”

“Come with me.”

In silence, Vihaan was escorted back to the processing center. The official opened the main door, and held it for Vihaan. He was then brought back through the hallway in which he once sat while awaiting his sentence to start. He eyed the hard plastic chair that had dug into his back, but was amazed to be led to a room down the adjacent hall.

“Please, have a seat,” the officer said, gesturing to the chair closest to the door. “The warden will be with you shortly.”

“Oh, come on. This is all rather silly,” Vihaan protested. “My timer’s broken that’s all, it just needs to be fixed or replaced or something.”

Without another word, the official stepped out, closing the door as he left, leaving Vihaan alone. He stood up, and walked carefully around the room, looking, observing, and taking in the surroundings.

Vihaan sat down in the other chair, and put his arms on the table, briefly imagining the power the warden must feel while sitting behind this desk. A few minutes later he heard footsteps and rose from the chair.

The door opened, and a burly man walked into the room, “Mr. Aamodt,” he said, holding the door open, “Please come with me.”

Vihaan stood and cautiously began to walk toward the man, who turned around and walked back out the door.

“This way, please,” he continued, coming up to the processing center where they had placed the implants had been put in. A uniformed officer stood by, database in hand.

“Do it,” the warden commanded, as he consulted his own database that he’d pulled from his pocket.

The officer stepped behind Vihaan and waved his hand terminal at the base of Vihaan’s skull.

“What did you just do?” Vihaan asked.

With a quick glance at the warden, the officer took hold of Vihaan’s arm, but offered no information. He grabbed a tool from his pocket and jabbed it into crook of Vihaan’s elbow, where the implant had been installed.

“Ow!” Vihaan exclaimed, “What’s going on?” He could feel something moving around under his skin.

“Relax, sir. This is just a magnet. I’m pulling out the implant,” the officer said.

“Ah, the new one will be going in the same place then?” Vihaan asked.

The officer tentatively looked up from Vihaan’s arm, and looked at him for a moment, then turned to look at the warden, as if searching for help.

“Not exactly,” the officer finally managed, returning his gaze to Vihaan’s arm upon seeing that the warden was now preoccupied and wouldn’t be coming to his rescue.

Vihaan felt a sharp pain as the implant moved suddenly and attached itself to the magnetic tool, and the officer pulled it out. “Crap, that hurt,” he said.

“Yeah, the implant tends to get embedded in the surrounding tissue,” the officer explained, placing the implant into a bin that claimed biohazardous materials were inside. “Small as it is, removing it is a lot more troublesome than putting it in. Don’t worry, though, that should scar over within a week or two.”

“Great,” Vihaan responded, “I had been looking forward to my next one,” The irritation thick in his voice as he noticed the thick red numbers were still present, he asked, “Why are the numbers still there? I thought you removed the implant.”

“Consider it a momento of your stay here,” the officer replied, not looking up. He folded a piece of gauze twice, placed it on the wound and then wrapped an ace bandage tightly around Vihaan’s forearm.

The officer placed his hand on Vihaan’s back, the warden ushered him from the processing center, “Please, come this way; if we delay any further you’ll miss your ship.”

“Ship? What the hell if going on here?” Vihaan demanded.

“Well, sir, it appears that you’ve been sent here on an administrative error.”

Vihaan stopped, staring at the man, “Error?”

“Yes, Mr. Aamodt. Recent information has come to our attention that suggested that there was a simple clerical error that resulted in your incarceration. Please. Your ship will be leaving soon,” he said continuing on to the door through which Vihaan had been forced just four days before. "Truly, we had no idea who your mother was. Please assure the director that we will, of course, make any reasonable compensation."

Stepping outside, Vihaan saw another officer standing by.

“So, wait? This is it then?” Vihaan asked the warden.

“Indeed, it is,” the warden assured him. “Once you’re on the ship, you’re free. Your ship should be here within a few moments, Mr. Aamodt. I do hope you have a pleasant trip back to Titan.”

“But, what about everyone back at Post 25°? We just got knocked down to four able-bodied workers. They need me there, I can’t leave now.”

“Post 25° is no longer your concern, Mr. Aamodt. Likewise, you are no longer their concern. Ah, see, here comes your ship.”

The ship was, indeed, even then pulling into the dock. The warden and turned back toward the door, and with a curt, “Good day,” he was gone, leaving Vihaan alone with the guard.

As the ship docked, the bay doors opened up, and five new prisoners were escorted off and were hustled past Vihaan and the officer and into the processing center. Wordlessly, he acknowledged the officer, and walked onto the ship.

Vihaan took a seat and looked out the window. ”Well you were right, Saki,” he whispered. “I’m free.”

He felt sick.