STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN is a paean to the gritty science fiction serials of 2000AD. However, what started as a simple space prison saga has evolved into something surprisingly important in the CHIMERICAL TALES “big picture.” How many secret connections can you find before the unbelievable ending four weeks from now?
Part One (of Five)
“I surrender,” the second most dangerous woman in the galaxy said, putting her hands on the top of her head.
Twenty Falcon Security paladins made no movement towards lowering their heavy pulse rifles. Kymn Valence smiled and stood perfectly still as an armored FalSec chainsman moved through the thin black line of paladins and clamped a quantum boot on her right wrist. Half a second later the large warning light on the boot turned green, indicating that it had locked down her aura and severed her connection to the astralnet. Pulling her arms down with little gentleness, the chainsman immobilized them and affixed them to her lower back.
Only after the chainsman had fully frisked Kymn (and found four of her five concealed weapons) did the paladins relax their guard. With no access to her parabilites and two of four limbs frozen, it seemed like the best time for a last minute escape attempt. Kymn bit down on her lower left molar, releasing it from its clamp, and spat it down on the metal hull. It was only a blackout bomb, its payload of antiphotons just large enough to negate a five meter radius sphere. Most of the paladins would be outside the zone, but they wouldn’t be able to fire indiscriminately without risking their chainsman.
Kymn swung around with a pivoting kick to where the legs of the chainsman should be and she felt the impact of her polychrome boot against the back of the chainsman’s knee. The following thump was obviously the sound of the prison specialist landing on his armored ass. Kymn had neither time nor mobility to pull any of the usual breakouts; no outfit switch or human shield was going to get her out of this. Getting past a score of FalSec paladins and off of a HUAC transit ship currently in tesseraction was the kind of legendary escape that Kymn was infamous for, the kind they’d talk about for years.
That’s why it was such a disappointment to Kymn that her actual endgame was to end up captured after all. The last ditch attempt at freedom was just to convince anyone watching that the arrest was legit. No one would have believed Kymn Valence would go down easy. At least going down hard would be hard on the FalSec personnel, not on Kymn. Of the twenty paladins, Kymn took down an even dozen before letting one club her from behind. Not bad for having my hands tied behind my back, was her last conscious thought.
Kymn came to in what must have been the Platonic ideal of an interrogation room. She was belted into an uncomfortable metal chair seated at a metal table. Her hands were chained–literally, this time–through a thick o-ring welded to the table. The only light came from a hanging bulb light, not bright enough to illumine much of the room but too bright to look directly at without hurting your eyes. Facing her in the cracked and dirty (and obviously one-way) mirror was her own reflection. They had removed the sassy red wig that was her trademark and her natural blonde buzzcut was short enough to see her scars through, even where a stray uncut lock hung down over one blue eye. Her eyes being blue meant that they had found and confiscated the datalenses she usually wore. Her earrings and nose stud had also been removed (meaning her emergency communications and emergency atmo gear were gone as well.) They had even dermobleached away the circuit tattoo from her left arm, leaving her unable to remove the quantum boot. Kymn felt lucky they hadn’t removed her tongue for fear of social engineering.
Draper’s Rock was as thorough as Kymn had heard.
The mirror flickered, momentary static revealing it for a viewglass. Kymn had to be impressed that someone went to as much work as they had to make the fake image of the mirror look as realistically crappy as it had. It was probably part of some kind of psychological warfare on new residents of Draper’s Rock.
“Ooh, nothing is as it seems,” Kymn muttered. “I’m so discomposed.”
An office appeared on the screen, as well-furnished and opulent as the interrogation room was sparse and grimy. Sitting behind a black crystal desk was an old man with long white hair tied back in a thin black ribbon. His face was long and hawkish, the skin loose on the skull except for the tight bluish lips pursed in a frown.
“Welcome, Kymn Valence, prisoner designate 2-KAD-666, to Draper Extrasolar Penitentiary. I am Warden Hiram DeVore. You may address me as Mister DeVore or simply as Warden. Respond.”
The screen skizzed a little, indicating that there was a delay in transmission. Wherever Warden Hiram DeVore was, it likely wasn’t anywhere near Draper’s Rock. The now-immobile image of the warden at his desk awaiting response confirmed the lag.
Kymn’s first instinct was “respond” with a scathing torrent of obscenity and abuse peppered with insolence and a touch of blasphemy just for fun, but she had a part to play.
“What am I doing here?” she asked instead. There was a pause of about twenty seconds before the screen skizzed again and the face of Warden DeVore unfroze.
“You have been tried in absentia by a legally designated HUAC court and found guilty of over one hundred and sixty class-A violations. A full accounting of charges and procedures can be made available to you upon request. Your sentence is life incarceration at this facility without parole. You may respond.”
“Oh, may I?” Kymn asked. “This isn’t fair! I have rights as a human citizen!” She pounded her fist on the table, rattling the chains for show. “You respond!”
After the requisite delay, the warden seemed to look at Kymn through the screen for the first time.
“I know who you are, Miss Valence–excuse me, 2-KAD-666–and even without the findings of the court, I personally believe that any rights you might have claimed as a human being were voided many years ago. Your sins have finally caught up with you, 666.”
“Yeah? I’d be more impressed with your ‘personal beliefs’ if you had the guts to tell me what you think of me face to face.”
“Draper’s Penitentiary is a self-sufficient institution. If you crave a base physical confrontation, you can likely find one with one of your fellow detainees. Though I advise you attempt to leave one or two of them alive if you expect to be able to collect your survival supplies at the monthly drop-off.”
“What? I don’t get a personal tour?”
The image of DeVore harrumphed. His distaste for Kymn was apparent even through his patrician facade of professionalism.
“I think you have had all the orientation you shall need. There is a one-way dropshaft at the end of the hallway out the door. From there, you are on your own. My legal obligation of introduction has been discharged. There is no need to… respond.” The warden reached down to a small console box on his desk and the screen froze, flickered, and turned black before reverting to the mirror image.
The metal ring on the table holding her manacle chain retracted into itself, another high tech simulacra of a low tech fetter. Kymn stood, waited a moment to see if the chains would similarly unlink (they didn’t.) She finally headed out the door and into a long, roughly cut stone tunnel illumined by flickering light bars running sporadically along the ceiling. Without a glance back at the way from which she had come, Kymn Valence set out down the hall towards her new life inside Draper’s Rock.
As soon as she reached the edge of the dropshaft, though, she stopped her intent trek. Looking down, the low gravity pit dwindled into the distant void, but there was one thing that Kymn had to do before she took the dive far from the surface of the asteroid.
She reached up to the loose blonde strand hanging from her nigh-bald scalp and pulled them out with a sharp yank. Rolling the hairs between her fingertips, she separated out three thicker-than-normal ones. Holding the tips together between thumb and finger, she adeptly braided them together with her other hand.
The chemically magnetic strands grown from the genetically altered follicles were organic and matched her DNA, so they didn’t show in any scans. The reaction upon braiding them together activated them as a short-term sympathetic communication device matching a sample kept in the lab where the follicles were implanted. Communication would only last a few seconds before the termolecular balance broke down, but in a few months she’d have grown enough back to transmit again.
She tugged the two ends of the braid, activating it, and held it up to her lips.
“I’m in,” she said, and stepped into the long hole down.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.