The gavel came down and it was over. It had been a farce. A bad dream. They'd kept thinking they'd wake up. They kept thinking someone would stop it. They kept expecting their world would protest. Perhaps it had. Or perhaps seven hundred nine people were too few for Madras to bother with. Seven hundred nine and one trial and one verdict. Guilty. Guilty of being in the wrong place at the right time. Guilty of being on a ship that had needed emergency repair. Guilty of asking for help. Guilty of asking the Yano to aid them.
The charge was trespass. They hadn't even set foot on the world until the armed guards herded them into a shuttle, then transports and from those into a cage.
Pan was shoved into a transport with others. He decided there was some kind of sorting process going on, but he couldn't tell what the basis of it was. He was too stunned to think. Umi was shoved in behind him and he caught her so she didn't fall. They didn't speak. None of them spoke. They'd learned that fast. They were gassed if they did. It didn't make them unconscious. It made them hurt. They'd stood packed into an enclosure in the courtroom so the gas didn't reach the one judge, the prosecutor and the guards. They'd heard the charge read and the sentence passed. The trial had taken less than a tenth the time it had taken to herd them into the enclosure. People spoke in their own defense on Yanon. They hadn't been allowed to speak since they'd been 'rescued' from the dying ship still outside Yano space. Twenty-three were loaded on the transport, then the door was closed and it was dark. Soft sobs filled the darkness, but no one spoke. The sentence had been life as laborers.
The journey was long and the ride wasn't smooth. It was a wheeled transport and the road was rough, if there was one. The doors opened to dimness. They were in a mine of some type. They were pushed onto a lift and it sank with them. It went down for several minutes. When it stopped, the floor tilted and they were dumped out as it became a wall. They were alone in a hole in the ground. They watched the lift rise in silence. When the lift had risen, they saw there was an opening beyond the lift shaft. When the floor they were on began to tilt, they hurried through it. A voice came from somewhere and ordered them to step onto a moving belt that disappeared into dimness down a narrow tunnel through rock.
Pan awoke knowing he'd been unconscious, but not how long. His last memory was of the belt and Umi on it in front of him. He knew what had made him unconscious. He was wearing nothing, he felt raw all over, and even his eyebrows were gone. He'd been cleaned. The decontamination field had been set to remove everything but living skin. He had eyes, teeth and nails because the program had deliberately excluded them.
He looked around him and nearly screamed. He was in a pit twice the length of his body in diameter. Light came from luminescent fungus on the walls. They went up and up and up. He couldn't see any opening above him, but he had to have gotten in the pit somehow. Then he saw something coming down toward him. Even after it reached the bottom of his pit, he had a bit of trouble identifying it.
The funnel shaped chute on the side was obviously for rock, but he didn't have anything to get the rock to put in it. Then he realized there was a door on the end. He opened it and discovered it contained food and water. He ate and drank and then figured out the rising pitch of a buzzer coming from the domed unit meant he was supposed to do something.
A small light blinked in the slot from which he'd taken the bowl with the tasteless gruel and he set the bowl back in it. The tone of the buzzer changed and a light flashed in the water container slot. He put that container back and two drinking bags of water slid out of a small door that suddenly opened near the bottom of the unit.
It took him a moment to understand what the shelf with the hole in it that suddenly thrust out was for. It was his toilet. He sat down over the hole. He needed to use it and would have to live with the stench if he didn't. When he sat down, a small light began to flash beside him. He looked at it and decided it might be a button to be depressed when he was done. When he finished, he pushed it hoping he was right. He wasn't expecting the sudden sharp tingle of sonic cleaning, but he didn't need tissue after it was done. The unit started buzzing again and he got off the shelf fast when it started to get hot.
The sonic drill that suddenly thrust out just above where the shelf had gone back in nearly hit him in the groin. It had a twelve hour power pack. Two tries taught him it only operated with the drill within thirty degrees of perpendicular. He was to drill down. A few minutes later he figured out how to get chunks of rock loose and how big they could be and still go down the chute. The drill broke them loose, but he had to move the rock by hand. He heard it being powdered as it went in. He'd already figured out the unit went up and came back down with food, water and a new power pack when he either got it full or the drill ran out of power. If he wanted more than one bowl of the gruel for every twelve hours of labor, he'd have to move a lot of rock from the bottom of the pit to the chute.
It didn't take Pan long to get good with the drill. He made himself 'furniture', a sleeping platform and a chair and footrest. He 'lowered' them as he drilled out the floor. Every fifth time the unit went up, a unit came down to a height of three meters and he got a sonic 'shower'. His hair got 'cut' by it at about a centimeter in length, but it didn't take his body hair or eyebrows. He'd have appreciated the program if it wasn't being used on him. And with every passing hour he deepened his prison himself. But he wasn't ready to just lay down and die of thirst, so he kept working and watched the luminous fungus creep down the wall.
Pan began to understand rock. He didn't know what kind of rock it was, or what was in it that was wanted, but he began to understand faults and strata in a very practical way. There came a time when he looked at the walls of his pit and smiled. Thirty degrees was enough if one understood rock. He began to cut stairs around his pit. If he fell off the side as he cut, it would be over. He wasn't thinking of escape. The only thought was "Out."
Pannas Brett was a small man, or he had been. He'd been eighteen standard years old, one hundred seventy centimeters in height and slender when he'd gotten his first job on a ship. His small size had gotten it for him, not his education and skills. The talent assessment done at the government children's shelter when he was eight had recommended fine arts study. Madras didn't need artists. He'd been 'sentenced' to be a laborer at eight. He spent ten more years in school. It was required for all 'economic orphans' in the huge government shelters, but he'd learned nothing new since he was twelve. He dreamed of getting off Madras and had gotten a job on a ship. He was little enough to scoot through ventilation shafts to clean filters. On Madras, human labor was cheaper than robotics and it was cheaper to clean the filters than replace them. He was still well under average height, but the labor of moving rock had widened his shoulders and added massive muscles to his body.
Pan didn't know he sometimes sang as he worked. He didn't know he used the drill with the touch of a sculptor either. He did know he 'daydreamed' of sex. He didn't even just dream of women. He'd had offers. The passengers on the ship had been interested in his red hair, green eyes, unusually fair skin and dusting of pale freckles, but he hadn't wanted his first experience to be with strangers who gave him money to use his body to get what they wanted. His crewmates had called him a romantic fool. He'd told only Umi that he'd never had sex with anyone. She hadn't offered to change that, but she'd told no one else. He'd thought of her as a friend. She'd thought of him as a less obnoxious male than most of the others in the crew.
Pan thought it humorous that he got more rock to feed the unit cutting his steps than deepening his pit. He could loosen huge slabs, then just toss the pieces of them into the unit. The fall from the wall broke them nicely. Slowly he went around the pit and up the wall with his stairs. He wasn't worried about being caught. There were no cams or audio monitors. There was no way out, so why bother. If a unit wasn't emptied of food and filled with rock, the prisoner was dead. The sonics would 'clean' the pit and another would awake in it with no way out but death.
He wasn't worried about there being fungus on the rock he cut from the wall either. Big globs of it fell sometimes and he'd just fed them into the unit to get the slimy stuff off his floor so he didn't slip on it while he was working. He'd decided it removed moisture from the air and probably the carbon dioxide of his breath. He'd wondered what else it lived on, but rock seemed to be the only possibility so he hadn't wondered long.
There came a time he could see the opening above him. It was still a long way, but that didn't bother him. He just kept cutting steps, walking down to the bottom of the pit when he was hungry, filling the unit with the debris, resting until it returned with food, water and recharged drill, then climbing his stairs and cutting more. He was careful none of the rock fell on the unit, but it wasn't large and it landed in the center of the pit so that wasn't extremely difficult.
He'd figured out the unit reduced the rock to basic elements and expelled all the gases very soon after he'd awakened in the pit. It took more rock to fill it than a stack of slabs nearly twice its size. He'd decided he was mining for whatever could be gotten from the rock and nothing in particular. He thought the rock was granite because he knew granite was hard, but he didn't know enough about rock to be sure. There hadn't been any rock on the shelter grounds. Rocks could be thrown. His world had been 'cushion permacrete' and the 'hard foam' shelter buildings. Geology wasn't necessary for laborers and children didn't leave the shelter grounds until the doors in the high walls shut behind them on their eighteenth birthdays.
The government knew when they were born and who their parents were when they entered the shelter, but all records but birthdate were erased on entry and all record they'd been there was expunged when the doors shut behind them. They had the identity disks they were issued, with the names they'd been given, birthdates, and their education type in their hands, and the clothes they were wearing when they walked onto the crowded streets of Madras the first time. They also knew where the government labor registry was located. The way to it was drilled into them before they left the shelter. Since persons listed with the registry could get food and a bed at the government labor pool dormers, it was considered all the knowledge of the city where their shelter was located that they needed.
And still the only forms of fertility control on the overpopulated world of Madras were abstinence, withdrawal, and mandatory sterilization of females after the birth of three children. Mandatory sterilization had been added when the need for children to make the colonization of Madras profitable had ended. The laws against medications, sheathes, abortions and voluntary sterilization hadn't been repealed. That would have required the repeal of the colonial charter and a new constitution. Those would have required ninety percent of the adult population participate in an election and seventy-five percent of those vote to do both. It was easier to get a simple majority of the two hundred forty elected representatives to pass a law. Since the sterilization was mandatory, it wasn't unconstitutional.
Pan didn't know climbing the stairs carrying the heavy drill and holding it as high as he could to cut the wall was adding more muscle to his body. He didn't even notice his legs were getting bigger. It happened slowly as the number of stairs to climb increased. He knew he often wished for something to support and cover him and that he could lift much more without fearing he'd injure himself than when he'd awakened in the pit, but not that his musculature and strength were phenomenal for a man of his height.
He began to work to improve his speed and agility when he nearly fell from the wall when a slab of rock broke along a deeply hidden fault, came loose, and took part of the step beneath him. The fall would have killed him. The bottom of the pit was a small circle with the black dot of the domed unit in the center from the place his stairs had reached. The only exercises he knew were the simple ones taught to the children in the shelter, but the dance performances and sports events approved for children had sometimes shown kicks, leaps, thrusts of the hands and feats of agility and balance. The day he accidentally kicked his chair and knocked an 'arm' loose added to his program. Thrusts and kicks became blows.
He was nearing the top of his pit and only death would stop him from getting out of it and onto the surface of the world. He was patient. He would tunnel his way to it if necessary. He didn't think of it as escape. Escape wasn't really possible and he knew it. He couldn't have passed as one of the tall, dark, Yano even if he could have found clothes and learned the speech that was so heavily accented it was nearly another language. It was out and that was all that mattered.
Pan climbed out of his pit and looked around. The sonic cleaning unit was on one side of it and there was a large piece of equipment on the other. He examined it in the light of the fungus on the walls and decided it serviced the unit which fed him when he'd fed it enough rock. He identified it as being fed by connections through the walls. He used his drill to remove the rock from around the connections and separate the food and water lines from it.
Pan ate, drank, slept and took more power packs for his drill from the stock in the robotic device. It didn't bother him the chamber had no exits. He'd expected it. He'd known the fungus also 'made air' since his stairs had reached it and he'd smelled the mass of living growth. When the domed unit came up from the pit and settled next to the device, he put the rock he'd gathered into it and disabled its a-grav unit with his drill. He smiled when it was 'serviced'. He removed the bowl and container and put them back, then used the toilet. He'd dug a small pit and covered it with rock dust until the unit had come up. The unit made a slight whirring noise when he'd filled it again, then dumped its contents into the large piece of equipment and whirred again after the robotic arms had gone through the motions of replacing a power pack in a drill and placing it, food and water in it.
He disabled the anti-gravity on the sonic cleaner before it would have gone into the pit and just lifted the fairly light device over his head to get his shower. He smiled as he loosened more rock from around the connections to the service unit. Nothing could be wrong with any of the devices as long as rock was going into the robot servicer and the sonic cleaner operated at regular intervals. It had to be off its legs to do so and wouldn't lift more than its own weight. Why put expensive monitoring devices in it? If the occupant of the pit died, the rock chute would be reversed, a new occupant would be sent into the closed chamber and the unit which powdered the rock would be programmed to carry the new occupant to the bottom of the pit to begin digging rock.
The rock around the connections told him that's where the original entry into the chamber had been. It was packed boulders and rubble, not the solid geologic formation of the rest of the chamber and the pit. He watched carefully for slides and falls and cleared the 'loose' rock to the solid walls, low ceiling and smoothed floor of the tunnel. He smiled widely when he hit the first permacrete support for the supply and ore conduits. He didn't expect there would be many. The tunnel was barely large enough for the service unit to pass through and would have to be cleared if any of the equipment failed and had to be repaired. The economy of the rest of the operation argued those who had to clear it wouldn't 'waste' the time and money clearing a long shaft, even if they used robot equipment and expected it seldom.
Pan patiently cleared the entire shaft entrance and carried the rock from it the twenty meters back to the domed unit. He lifted the cleaner and got a last shower before he walked out of the shaft and into a huge service area. He looked around at the equipment in it, found the, now stationary, moving belt through the narrow tunnel and looked for another way out of the large chamber. He was sure there would be one. He could feel air moving around him. He smiled when he found it. The 'rock' that concealed it wouldn't fool anyone who had been in a closed chamber long. A slight current of air moved through it. He carefully felt for floor beyond the projection, then stepped through.
He carried his drill in his left hand and climbed the power conduit that was attached to one wall using his right and his feet and legs. The fact he couldn't see the top of shaft didn't bother him at all, neither did the probability the conduit carried enough power to crisp him. He would get out or he would die. He'd made that decision when he'd begun cutting his stairs.
Pan braced himself on a mounting bracket and switched hands. He did it five times before he passed beyond the thin growth of fungus on the surrounding walls. It evidently didn't like the power conduit. It didn't grow within a half meter either side of it. He didn't think it liked other light sources or moving air either. He could see faint light above him when he passed beyond it. It was too yellow-white to be from the fungus.
The near darkness he traversed for quite some time gave him less difficulty than the brightening light above him. He'd had only a dim bluish glow as his light source for a long time. He had no idea how long, but wouldn't have been surprised if it had been several years. It also wouldn't have surprised him if it had been less than one. Love was the only thing that would ever really surprise him. It had become the one thing that would when the court had sentenced them.
Pan wouldn't have gotten out if he'd left his drill behind. He cut his way through the rock beside the heavily barred gate to the shaft. It took awhile. He smiled, dropped his exhausted drill down the shaft and cleared the last bit of rock between him and out with his hands. He walked along the wide tunnel in the only direction it went and blinked at the brightness of the dim lighting that made his eyes tear. Gradually he adjusted to it and the near overwhelming rich smell of the air.
Pan passed by the lift that led down to the narrow tunnel with the moving belt they'd ridden and wondered if the others were drilling in pits like his had been. He didn't think of hunting for them or trying to free them. He wasn't free. He was just out. If they wanted out badly enough, they would find a way to get out.
Pannas Brett had decided not to spend the rest of his life alone under the ground. He had decided he wanted out. He had proven he couldn't be kept in a hole. If others could not be kept in one, they would prove it as well.
He thought he'd walked several kilometers when he reached the entrance of the tunnel and stepped out into a steady rain. It was cool, but not cold. He tilted his head back and got a bit in his mouth. He hunted a place where it was collecting or flowing and cupped his hands to catch the water flowing off a slightly overhanging rock. He smiled when he automatically assessed where the rock should be drilled to break it free of the surrounding rock face and how to split it when it was.
Pan found a bush with blue-green berries on it and ate them. It looked as if small animals had cleaned the lowest branches of them and flying creatures had been eating the ripest from the higher branches. He didn't know if that meant they were safe for him to eat, but it didn't really matter. He needed food. If what he chose to eat killed him, it did. His life held no promise. It never had. He liked being alive, but he had no fear of death. He disliked pain, but he didn't fear it either. He'd said nothing in the court because it was pointless. The gas and pain would have come before he'd finished saying even one word and his jaws would have been clamped shut by the muscle contractions caused by the gas to assure he said no more.
Pan walked along the muddy track that led to the mine entrance until he tired, then laid down beside it and slept. The rain didn't bother him. It was either summer or he was in an equatorial region. He didn't know what season it had been when they'd arrived or where on Yanon they had been. They'd gone from shuttle to transport through a sealed boarding tube, and from transport to cage in the same building as the courtroom.
He wasn't worried he'd get sick. He'd been immunized against everything but the new influenzas that cropped up wherever people gathered in numbers and his resistance to those had been boosted throughout his childhood. His immunity and resistance factors had been touted by physicians as proof the program worked well. He hadn't known he was being used for a medical experiment until the director of the shelter told the head physician she doubted one remarkable success would outweigh the four deaths and twenty who showed no unusual improvement. She'd said it right in front of him and that's when he'd learned what had killed the boy who had been the only real friend he'd ever had. He'd always been a prisoner and sentenced to a life of labor. His one attempt to free himself had ended on Yanon.
After he slept, Pan started walking again. Many hours later, long after night had fallen, he walked into the first building he saw. He just stood and waited until many armed people arrived and trained their weapons on him. His passivity confused them. He didn't understand why, but it didn't surprise him. Neither did the manacles and hobbles they put on him. He didn't speak until he was pushed into a straight chair in a small office facing a man in some type of uniform and was asked a direct question.
"I came from a hole in a mountain. I didn't escape. There is no escape. I got out."
"Impossible. You did not come from the mine. You will be punished for your escape attempt and your lies. You may be sentenced to death."
"I will be punished if I am punished. I will feel pain if I feel pain. I will die if I die. If I am put in a hole in the ground, I will get out. Death is also out. Escape is impossible. Out is not."
The comm on the desk buzzed and the man answered it. The one calling spoke so rapidly Pan couldn't understand what he said. He did understand what the man in front of him shouted. He'd heard him say impossible slowly and identified it as the same word. It was all he understood of what he said though.
Four armed guards came in and one snapped a cable to the ring in the center of the bar between Pan's wrists. One wrist was loosed and a guard held a laser pistol to his head until his wrists were both back in the manacles, this time in front of him. He was pulled to his feet by the cable and tugged into motion. The guard went too fast for him to keep up in the hobbles and he fell. He was aided to his feet by the cable and followed until the guards moved too fast and he fell again. He fell twice more before the cable was attached to a pulley set in the roof of a transport.
Pan was told to put his hands above his head and turn around. He was dragged into the transport, on his back, by the cable on the manacles. The cable between his ankles was pulled taut and locked into a ring set in the floor of the transport. The arrangement would have kept one of the tall Yano lying on the floor, arms in the air. Pan hung by his wrists, pulled taut between the roof and floor of the transport with only his heels touching the floor. Sometime during the rough ride, Pan lost consciousness from the pain of his dislocated shoulders.
The magistrate didn't know what to do with the piece of trash from Madras that had dug its way out of the place they'd buried it. They'd buried over sixty-eight thousand pieces Madras had dumped on them in the last ten years, a 'disabled ship' about once every eight days, and it was the only one that dug itself out. The other five planets around Madras were suffering from the economic burden of millions with no skills who had found a way off Madras and run from the ships that always had "schedules" they couldn't delay for missing crew members. Madras wouldn't take any of them back. Yanon wouldn't let them land ships, or even traverse their space, so ships broke down just beyond it. Burying the trash and forcing it to produce enough to pay for its food was better than derelict ships with hundreds of bodies floating in space around them, or mobs in the street killing the parasites on their economy. But this one had dug its way out. It was an incredible feat, but she still didn't know what to do with it.
The suggestion from the prosecutor shocked her, but she thought about it. She looked the short, bulging muscled, pasty skinned, male over and tried to imagine anyone not shuddering if forced to touch it. The physician who had fixed its, his, shoulders had set the cleansing sonics to full decontamination afterward. He'd said he'd rather be without hair for awhile than feel unclean for a season. Most of the trash from Madras was too light-skinned and short to be even marginally attractive, but this one turned her stomach. She made up her mind and ordered it done.
Pan nearly screamed when he was branded. The pain was minimal, but the brands were forever. He'd wear the mark of his life sentence on his left cheek and just above and left of the base of his cock the rest of his life. The smell of burned hair and flesh nauseated him. They'd depilated his face, probably permanently, before they sprayed the anesthetic and branded his cheek. The much larger brand, about ten centimeters high by four wide and three times the size of the one on his cheek, had just been burned through his pubic hair. The hair wouldn't ever cover it so they hadn't bothered to remove it.
He'd caught enough of the discussion to know the one who had done the branding thought he should have been castrated and the other told him if he could find a physician willing to touch him, even with gloves on, he'd recommend it. The one who had said he should be had laughed. He didn't know what the scripted symbol actually meant, but the two were very pleased with the choice of it.
He was pulled off the table by the cable attached to his manacles and led outside. His arms were still bound to his sides so it wasn't attached to the pulley in the roof of the transport. He was allowed to wriggle into it, then his hobbles were locked to the floor. He didn't know he was being shipped off Yanon until he was pulled out of the transport, a laser pistol was held to his head while the hobbles and manacles were removed, and a livestock shipping container was assembled around him. He was getting off Yanon, but they'd made sure he still couldn't escape.
The tranquilizing gas in the hold of the livestock transport ship didn't make him unconscious, but he would never remember the journey or how long it took. He just knew he'd been taken out of his container, exercised and probably groomed like all the other stock during it. His arms weren't taped down and his shoulders were healed and limber when the doors on a transport opened and his container was pulled out into the sunlight of another world.
"Color odd one strange."
"Like good some low maybe price."
"It sell be Yano trouble them."
Pan thought he understood the words of the two men, but the way they were put together confused him. He'd never heard anything like it. It didn't make sense to him. He wondered if it was deliberate. Their size and the ease with which they lifted the container told him they were well muscled under the loose robes they wore, or perhaps the world was lower gravity than he realized. He decided it was the latter when the container shifted a bit and he saw there was a partially polarized dome above them.
He was loaded onto a flatbed anti-gravity hauler and watched as it glided between the buildings of the domed city. A short time later, the hauler settled and his container was carried into a building filled with the sounds and smells of live animals and many people. Very few of the people who passed by him over a time period of several hours looked surprised to see a man in a livestock crate. He heard a few more who spoke in the same manner as the two stevedores and many with varied accents so thick he couldn't understand them. Then his container was moved again and he realized he was going to be auctioned just like the cattle, sheep and pigs in the containers around him.
Pan was forced against the front of the container by an animal prod thrust into it from the back. He learned what his brands meant. The laughter when the auctioneer noted he was originally from Madras and the Yano had shown unexpected humor in labeling him recycled waste told him what others thought of his birth world and the people of it. Someone shouted there were five worlds where they'd be paid to collect the same kind of trash off the streets and there was more laughter. The auctioneer said that trash hadn't been properly recycled and pointed out his muscles.
The bidding didn't get very high, but the auctioneer stated at least the shipper and auction house would be paid for their trouble. Pan's container was loaded onto a transport with several others and he was loaded into another ship and spent more time he would never remember being exercised and groomed like all the other animals.
Pan was auctioned twice more, made two more journeys he would not remember, then was auctioned again before the container was opened and a man motioned him out. He couldn't understand anything being said around him at all. He stood still while a heavy collar was put around his neck and followed when the cable attached to the ring on the front of it was tugged.
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
All Rights Reserved