by Norsebard






This short suspense story belongs in the Uber category. All characters are created by me though a couple of them may remind you of someone.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

PLEASE NOTE!  This is an intense story with quite a bit more violence than usual in my works - sensitive souls should keep that in mind.





Written: August 8th - 10th, 2022, for the 2022 Royal Academy of Bards' Halloween Invitational.

- Thank you very much for your help, Phineas Redux! :D

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D


Description: Urgent: 10-31-2057 -- St. Rotherford Federal Penitentiary -- Details: Attempted breakout by prisoner six-six-four-two (Leighton, Ronald J.) assisted by infirmary nurse zero-two-eight (Barstowe, Jonathan) -- Orders: Monitor breakout attempt. Extrapolate new knowledge where possible. Terminate with extreme prejudice when necessary -- Ends // Welcome to the future. Welcome to St. Rotherford. Welcome to Hell on Earth…





Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- The infirmary on Sublevel Seven of the High Security block.
Time: 2113 Hours.

Everyone in the criminal world feared getting sent to St. Rotherford. Known among the financial crooks, the anti-society crowd, the violent street thugs and every other inmate as the Terminal Station, the facility had gained its notoriety off the fact that its stringent security measures meant that all attempts at breaking out were doomed to fail.

Of the mere handful of prisoners who had planned and carried out escapes in the seventeen years since the penitentiary opened in 2040, three had been stopped before they had even made it to the inner security gate, one had made it to the second security gate and the last of the five had almost reached the third security gate.

The latter prisoner had taken a guard as hostage and used the person as a human shield, but the success had proved short-lived as the Intelligent Response Drones patrolling the corridors had deployed a powerful chemical aerosol that caused every living being coming into contact with it to fall into a coma-like state that could last up to three days.

St. Rotherford Penitentiary had room for 25,000 general offenders in its low and medium security blocks, 2,250 prisoners and battlefield detainees in its high security block, and finally fifty of the world's worst criminals in the cell block known as the extreme security section.

Although all four sections were within the same compound, the buildings were separate to stop anyone from co-ordinating mass riots or breakouts. The low and medium security blocks were built above-ground like old-fashioned prisons while the high and extreme security sections were deep underground with only a single tunnel providing the access to each.

If fires started or diseases broke out among the prisoners in the extreme-security block, it would be seen as a higher power stepping in to terminate their residence prematurely - all access to the individual cells would be sealed off at once and the prisoners would be left to perish.

The rules and regulations were more lax in the high security block that was equipped with an all-purpose infirmary, a religious center for those so inclined, a section for re-training and general re-socialization, a laboratory experimenting with thought-suppressing chemical agents, and finally a surgery for physical alterations of those unwilling to change their ways: rapists would be castrated, anti-social types would be lobotomized, and spousal abusers and similar proponents of violence would have their spinal cord severed so they would be unable to harm others. Unrepentant cases among the last group could also have their vocal cords removed in case of repeated verbal abuse after their release back into society.

Unlike the rest of St. Rotherford that was all painted in various shades of concrete-gray, the all-purpose infirmary was far brighter with white tiles covering every surface. Similarly, the hallways leading to the infirmary's central reception area were always brightly lit.

The strip lights in the ceiling created a dizzying play of shadows on the stretcher that was pushed along by a pair of members of the medical staff. The male nurses were escorted by four armed guards whose mat-black uniforms and shiny full-face helmets stood out in stark contrast to the white surroundings; their boots made a rhythmical racket in the hitherto quiet hallway as they ran alongside the stretcher.

The prisoner being transported was under close scrutiny by heat sensors, broad-spectrum detectors, facial-recognition software, regular CCTV cameras and two Intelligent Response Drones that flew behind the stretcher emanating ominous hums.


Upon reaching the main access to the central reception area, the male nurses turned the stretcher left and wheeled it inside. The security guards and the response drones remained outside the infirmary to await further orders.

A doctor would have performed the initial evaluation of the patient in the old days, but that task had been assumed by an Intelligent Medical Scanner Drone that hovered above the person on the stretcher. A pale-blue beam moved slowly down from the shaved head, past the orange jumpsuit and onto the wafer-thin felt shoes all prisoners were given upon arriving at St. Rotherford.

The condition of the patient was soon listed on the medical drone's display in pale-green block letters against a black background:

Prisoner No.: Six-Six-Four-Two.
Name: Leighton, Ronald James.
Date of Birth: 11-19-2022
Age: 34
Date of Current Incarceration: 04-27-2049
Incarcerated for: Distr. & Sale of Non-Licensed And/Or Illegal Stimulants (Alc., Tobac, Narc.) -- Armed Robb. -- Intimid. of Witn. -- Multip. Homc.
Medical condition: Food poisoning, severe -- Blockage of the intestinal system.
Action required: To be transported to the gastrointestinal ward for treatment.

The drone's final act before it turned off the beam and withdrew was to print out a sticker featuring the same information it had listed on the display.

Once the sticker had been attached to the chest of the patient's jumpsuit to make his further processing speedier, the male nurses pushed the stretcher out of the reception area and down yet another hallway. The gastrointestinal ward was the third door on the right, and the patient was soon wheeled in there.

Ronald James 'R.J.' Leighton - better known as 'Scorpio' in his old gang - opened his gray eyes as soon as the sliding door had closed behind the male nurses. Sensing he was alone, he swung his legs over the side of the stretcher to get a closer look at the ward he had been wheeled into.

Unlike civilian hospitals, the prison infirmary had no colorful posters on the walls nor were there any artificial potted plants, water coolers, snack vending machines or similar creature comforts demanded by the typically spoiled patients.

Because of a patient confidentiality clause within the Hippocratic Oath that he didn't give two hoots about, there were no cameras, microphones or other types of surveillance sensors installed anywhere - it meant he could move freely.

He broke out in a shark-like grin and jumped onto the floor. His stomach was in a great deal of turmoil after downing a full glass of his own urine to set off his medical condition, but he took care of that by ramming two fingers down his throat.

The resulting fountain of vomit took care of the faked condition if not the lingering foul taste in his mouth. There didn't seem to be any kind of refreshments in the impersonal room so he would have to do without it.

Standing at six-foot-three, Scorpio's bulldog-like frame, shaved head, square jaw, stone-cold eyes and reams of gangland and prison tattoos meant he was nobody's dream son-in-law.

His ruthless nature and willingness to kill for profit and for kicks had earned him a solid reputation on the street, but it had been his greed that had sent him up the proverbial river to St. Rotherford: he had been an active part of a cigarettes-for-guns ring that had been infiltrated by operatives of the World Security Agency's Section 1 unit for North American affairs. The WSA's decisive midnight raid had been a violent, bloody affair that had left more dead than living, but the upper echelon of criminals had been arrested and the organization brought to its knees.

Scorpio spun around and put up his fists when one of the doors slid open behind him. Instead of the armed guard or doctor he expected to see, it proved to be another of the male nurses - a blond youngling whose cheeks had yet to move beyond faint patches of fuzz.

Jonathan Barstowe was in his early twenties and resembled a stick figure next to Scorpio's broad, bulky frame. His complexion was pale to the point of appearing sickly, and a sheen of nervous sweat made his skin glisten. He wore the same outfit as every male nurse and porter at the infirmary: his safety boots, pants and three-quarter-length, long-sleeved jacket were all white and held in a simple yet functional design. An ID-card carrying a three-dimensional
photo and some lines of text was clipped onto his jacket. The young nurse clutched a small duffel bag that was just large enough for the clothes that had been stored in it.

The men stared at each other for a few seconds before Scorpio broke out in an evil grin. "Hiya, Jonny-boy… so nice to see a friendly face. Have my people been in touch with ya?"

Jonathan Barstowe's head jerked forward a couple of times in a pitiful attempt at nodding. Beads of sweat formed on his brow and he couldn't hold the prisoner's hard stare.

"Good," Scorpio said with a grin that only grew nastier. "Gettin' me out of here ain't gonna be a problem, right?  Hey!  Look at me when I'm talkin' to ya, ya little turd!"

Jonathan looked up in a hurry with wide, nervous eyes. The prisoner's threatening presence made him gulp several times, and the stench from the pool of vomit on the floor only worsened his queasiness.

"That's better," Scorpio said and thumped a hairy, meaty paw down onto the younger and far more slender man's shoulder. "You and me ain't gonna have no problems gettin' out. I mean, think of your little wifey. Yeah?  Ya wouldn't want nothin' to happen to her, would ya?"

Jonathan's cheeks caught fire as he shook his head in just as frantic a fashion as his earlier nodding.

"Awww, you're too frickin' cute."

The smaller youngling was soon given such a hard punch on the shoulder that he was pushed several feet aside. The hard impact made him let out a pained groan but it merely caused his tormentor to break out in a grin.

"All right," Scorpio said and yanked the duffel bag out of the young man's hands, "gimme those clothes so we can get the hell outta this slaughterhouse."


Three minutes later, the orange prison fatigues were shoved into the duffel bag that had held a complete uniform as used by the infirmary's porters. Now dressed in white from top to toe, it was only Scorpio's shaved head that gave away he wasn't one of the prison's employees.

He clipped an ID-card to the uniform jacket's left lapel to follow the regulations. The person depicted in the three-dimensional photo was in fact R.J. Leighton and not someone random - the authentic picture had been edited from one of the countless prisoner surveillance videos that were filmed around the clock every single day of the year.

"Get to it," Scorpio said and pointed at the door.

The moment the male nurse turned around to move over to the sliding door and the hallway beyond it, the meaty paw that was wrapped around his neck and throat stopped his progress cold.

Scorpio leaned in toward the younger man's ear while his gray eyes sparkled with evil delight. "You can betray me if ya want… but those assholes will never reach me before I've killed ya. Catch my drift?" he said in a menacing whisper.

The choke-hold around Jonathan's throat was too tight for him to speak, but the squeaky noises that escaped him proved he understood. A moment later, a hard shove in his back made him fly forward and end up on his hands and knees down on the smooth tiles.

"Whoops. Watch where ya put your feet, Jonny-boy," Scorpio said and let out a crude laugh.


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: The home of retired Warden N.L. Baker.
Time: 2200 Hours.

A noisy Halloween party was in full swing at the home of retired warden Norman Leroy Baker. The garden in front of the three-storey, mansion-like building was host to an abundance of three-dimensional holograms of all the traditional items and characters that made up the spooky holiday:

Flickering torches lined the flagstones leading to the front door while brainless zombies wiggled to a beat only they could hear. Black cats hissed and fought each other, pumpkins with manic, wicked faces carved onto them hunted for prey, and witches flew around on broomsticks.

Elsewhere on the lawn, demonic Jack O'Lanterns marched around searching for someone to torment and vast cobwebs were home to warring clans of huge, hairy spiders. To top it all off, the Grim Reaper kept stirring a smoking cauldron with his scythe. The hand or head of the latest victim to fall into the cast-iron pot became visible at irregular intervals - but never for long.

Every window of the imposing building was illuminated as half-drunk adults and giddy children, who all wore some degree of costuming, roamed through the halls and rooms on a wild treasure hunt. The winner of the competition would be crowned Ghoul Of The Night and receive a reward: the children would be gifted extra bags of candy while the adults would earn a gift certificate for a two-week stay in a luxury hotel in one of the country's seven domed cities.


The main hall of the three-storey building reverberated with music and drunken chatter. A stage had been built in the central part of the hall where a party band mangled the current hits and a few evergreens. The space in front of the stage had been seized by the revelers as an improvised dance floor, and the throng was suffocating.

To improve the quality of the air in the un-domed region, nozzles installed in the air-conditioning fans released vaporized water containing artificial scents onto the crowd at steady intervals; the regular A/C-units ran at maximum volume to compensate for the large number of party-goers.

Gordon Preece, the staunchly traditionalist sixty-four-year-old current warden of St. Rotherford, stood off to the side with a sour look upon his face. Whenever the unrestrained revelers broke out in a cheer over a particular song or someone pulling an impressive dance move, another handful of dark lines were added to his already grim features.

Though he had little respect for the retired N.L. Baker and his liberal mindset of pampering and cuddling the prisoners, tradition dictated that he needed to be present at any party held by the previous senior management.

He took a brief sip from a flute of fine champagne although he abhorred the edgy taste of the foreign drink. While he tried to block out the drunken cheers, his eyes never strayed from his decades-younger wife who played with their pre-teen son. Beverly Preece wore a breathtaking Celtic Druid costume that hugged her body and accentuated all the best spots; it was far too much for Gordon's tastes, but seemingly less problematic for the group of younger men who just happened to be close by wherever Beverly went.

Gordon's own costume was nothing more than a cheap Groucho Marx nose-mustache-and-glasses half-mask. The rest of his outfit consisted of shiny, black shoes, a Navy-blue three-piece business suit, a white shirt and a black necktie.

A deep sigh escaped him before he took another probing sip of the champagne - he found the taste so vile that he emptied out the flute into a potted plant. When a waiter carrying a tray happened to walk past a moment later, he deposited the empty flute on it before he tore off the pitiful mask and threw it into the plant's pot next to the puddle of champagne.

Stomping over to his wife, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward the exit - their son took his mother's hand in a hurry so he wouldn't be left behind. "We're leaving… all this drunken idiocy is giving me a bad headache."

"But… but we've only just got here!" Beverly said as she struggled against the strong pull.

Gordon's response was a growled: "We've been here an hour. That's more than enough!"

"Don't you need to meet Warden Baker and thank him for invit-"

"I'll call the old fool tomorrow. We're leaving. Will you get a move on?" Gordon barked as he and his family stomped across the lawn, went past the Halloween holograms and descended a series of irregular stone steps at the foot of the garden. The waiting E-mousines were literally on the other side of the garden fence, but Gordon's business holophone rang before the Preece family could get to the elegant stretched vehicles.

When Gordon came to a halt to retrieve his phone, Beverly tore her arm free from his grip and let out a constant stream of barely audible complaints. She took her son's hands instead and swung them back and forth in wide arches to take the little fellow's mind off the more depressive matters.

Gordon Preece soon entered the identification code which allowed the scrambled transmission to go through. An image of his Chief of Security Valerie Hayden wearing her customary black uniform soon appeared on the display. "Go ahead, Chief Hayden," he said into the device.

'A prisoner has taken the bait and we have an attempted breakout in progress, Sir. '

Gordon looked over his shoulder at his wife and son; grunting, he moved away from them. "Excellent, Chief. Which of those animals couldn't resist it?"

'Prisoner number six-six-four-two. Ronald James Leighton, Sir. He's aided by covert operative zero-two-eight. Leighton seems to trust him, at least for the time being.'

"Very well, Chief Hayden. I'll return as soon as possible," Gordon said and waved at one of the drivers of the E-mousines. The chauffeur in question donned a black cap before he ran over to the nearest stretch limo to activate it. "How far have they made it?  And what's your assessment of prisoner six-six-four-two's… ah… potential for success?"

'They've already cleared the first security gate, Sir. They're roaming the back hallways of the infirmary en route to the second gate. Six-six-four-two could perceivably reach the fourth gate. He's certainly ruthless enough and won't hesitate to engage in violence that could include taking and using hostages.'

"I see. I'm about to leave Baker's moronic Halloween party… don't do anything before I get back."

'Yes, Sir. The Response Drones have been programmed to ignore it for now. All regular surveillance procedures are still running. The first videos of the attempted breakout have been attached to this conversation.'

"Excellent, Chief. Warden Preece out," Gordon said and terminated the scrambled transmission. After the holophone had been shoved back into his pocket, he stomped over to his wife and son. "This is your lucky evening, Beverly. I need to return to St. Rotherford at once. I want you to spend the night here. I'm sure the old fool and his wife will offer you one of their spare bedrooms… I'll send an E-mousine for you tomorrow. Good night."

With that - and before Beverly and their son could let out as much as a puzzled grunt - Gordon Preece spun around and strode over to the waiting car.


As the black stretch limo drove silently through the drizzly evening, Gordon studied the footage recorded by the concealed cameras in the gastrointestinal ward and the adjacent hallways.

He nodded to himself as he put the holophone away. "That animal will do nicely… we couldn't have asked for a better specimen for the trial run," he said in a mumble before he activated the intercom panel to talk to the chauffeur.

'Sir?' a voice said from the panel's speaker.

"Driver, step on it. I want to be back at St. Rotherford within forty minutes," Gordon said and leaned back on the wide back seat. Crossing his legs, he assumed a relaxed pose.

'I'm afraid that's not possible, Sir. We're locked into the automated traffic system so we're already traveling at the speed limit-'

A disgusted snort burst out of Gordon Preece and he thumped his fist onto the soft seat. "Never tell me something's impossible!  I'll bet you have some kind of override button somewhere up there. Use it!  Forty minutes, or I'll report you to your superiors."

'Yes, Sir,' the driver said in a downcast voice. The black E-mousine picked up plenty of speed a few moments later and was soon eating up the miles on its silent way back to the penitentiary.


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- The infirmary on Sublevel Seven of the High Security block.
Time: 2218 Hours.

R.J. 'Scorpio' Leighton inched up to the corner of the bright-white hallway. The characteristic hum of the Intelligent Response Drone that had just hovered past in the adjacent corridor continued to ring in his ears. Peeking around the corner, he soon spotted the dark-gray monstrosity moving away from him at a slow but steady speed. "Crap, it's one of the enforcer drones," he mumbled as he took in the worrying sight of the armored - and armed - flying hardware.

The exit portal that would take him and his associate out of the infirmary and into the maze of hallways leading to the second security gate was on the far side of the drone. Patience was required, but that had never been his strongest virtue.

Moving back from the corner, he grabbed Jonathan's lapels and yanked him closer. "Is that the only way to the exit?" he said in a growl.

The youngling, whose face had only grown paler since the attempted escape had begun, nodded hard. A squeaked reply of "Y- yes… b- but not the only ex- exit…" moved past his trembling lips.

"Why the hell didn't ya tell me sooner, ya little turd?" Scorpio said and smashed a fist into the wall right next to Jonathan's head to underscore his words and intentions. "Ya mean to tell me we wasted all this frickin' time gettin' here when we could'a-"

Jonathan shook his head hard; his Adam's apple bobbed up and down like a small ship caught in a violent storm.

"Then what?!" Scorpio continued in a menacing semi-whisper.

"The oth- other ex- exits are over on th- the far side of the inf- infirmary… beh- behind the int- internal sec-"

A deep grunt left Scorpio as he took a step back. "Yeah, okay… I get the picture. Crap!"  He moved back to the corner and peeked around it to keep tabs of what the drone was doing. Another grunt was uttered when he noticed the hallway was now empty - nothing stood in their way to reach the sliding doors at the exit portal.

He grabbed hold of Jonathan all over again, forced him around the corner and dragged him along the hallway. "C'mon, Jonny-boy… it's time to prove your worth," he said and shoved the young man over toward the electronic access panel situated next to the sliding doors.

After the optical reader had scanned and approved Jonathan's ID-card identifying him as Barstowe, Jonathan, Infirmary Nurse, he entered the sixteen-digit access code issued to the penitentiary's staffers. The computer approved the second-level security check as well which prompted him to turn back to the criminal. "I n- need y- your c- card," he said in a stammer as he pointed at the panel.

The procedure was soon repeated with the second sixteen-digit code. Never the most patient of men, Scorpio's constant growls of "Get your frickin' finger out!" didn't ease the situation for Jonathan who began to fumble on the number pad out of sheer nervousness.

It only took another moment of fumbling for Jonathan to be shoved aside, but an unfortunate combination of the young man's stuttering while reading the numbers aloud and Scorpio's fat fingers hitting all the wrong digits meant the impatient and short-tempered criminal also needed several attempts to get the sequence right.

As the computer finally approved the second-level security check for the unusual employee, the crimson hue that tainted Scorpio's face proved he was but a heartbeat away from exploding.

SL-7 - EX-002 had been stenciled onto the white doors in black, but the letters slid aside to reveal an elevator car. Scorpio grabbed Jonathan by the scruff of the neck and shoved him inside while growling from somewhere deep down in his throat.

The car had been designed to be wide and deep to have room for a full-sized hospital bed. Unlike elevators found in private homes, shopping malls and other types of public buildings, its monochrome appearance was simple to the point of appearing crude: the walls, floor and ceiling were made of impenetrable and unbreakable PlastiSteel. Everything was bathed in blinding white light created by four strong LED clusters installed in the inner ceiling - the only other colors in the car came from smaller LEDs on the electronic panel by the sliding doors.

An electro-sealed escape hatch in the center of the elevator car's roof led to the shaft itself, but no prisoner could use it to escape as it was a sealed, automated system only inhabited by worker drones - and thousands of rats.

As the doors slid shut, Scorpio shoved Jonathan over to the electronic panel to literally get them onto the next level of their escape. The panel only had four buttons: Request Assistance, Down Level, Up Level and Emergency Procedures - the latter would cause several nozzles in the four corners of the ceiling to release the same kind of knock-out gas used by the Intelligent Response Drones.

Jonathan selected Up Level and then put his thumb onto the optical reader next to the button for yet another security check. When the reader sent out a positive three-note signal to show the employee's usage of the elevator had been authorized, the car moved upward with a few mechanical clangs and an electric hum.

Scorpio looked around for the traditional display that showed where they were and how far they still had to go, but he was unable to find it. "Hey, Jonny-boy… how far down were we, anyway?  Where do we need to get off?  You better not mess with me, turd, 'cos you know what's comin' to ya if ya do."

"Th- the infirmary w- is on sublevel seven… un- underground," Jonathan said in a trembling croak, "an- and we need to get out on sublevel two… or- or mayb- maybe go back d- down to sublevel three if- if there are too many drones…"

The criminal furrowed his brow for a moment; then he reached out with the speed of a striking cobra and wrapped a meaty paw around Jonathan's throat. "And why not sublevel one, huh?  That's gotta be the straight path to the outside!"

Jonathan's eyes flew wide open as the strong fingers dug into his soft flesh. He tried to shake his head but found himself in such a vise-like grip he could do nothing but whimper. The grip was eventually eased so he could talk. "N- no!  The ground level is ze- zero… but- but there's a per- permanent det- detachment of g- guards th- there!"

"How about that… the turd can think. All right. So we get off on two and sneak around until we find the back door upstairs. Clever."

The hand that had clutched Jonathan's throat was removed, but before the youngling could as much as gulp for air, he was slapped so hard across the cheek that he lost his balance and ended up on his knees.

"And that's for not telling me sooner, Jonny-boy. I warned you not to mess with me," Scorpio said in a hoarse whisper.


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- Sublevel Two of the High Security block.
Time: 2226 Hours.

The sliding doors moved aside on sublevel two to reveal an empty corridor. Where every surface of every hallway in the infirmary was covered in white tiles, the bunker-like accessways of sublevel two were all held in an unfortunate mix of dark-gray and filthy-brown. The illumination was provided by rows of LEDs that cast an orange glow onto the floor and walls - the lenses were uniformly grimy which made the tunnels even more oppressive.

Strong heat radiated from a pair of wide-diameter steam pipes that ran the length of the corridor. Boiling water dripped from nearly every joint and fitting proving that urgent maintenance work was required, and warning signs had been put up every fifteen feet reminding the forgetful that getting into contact with the water spillages would be hazardous to their health.

A constant hissing emanating from the pipes meant it was impossible to hear if any drones were nearby, but the hallway seemed empty as far as Scorpio could see - he blocked the sliding doors with his foot while he surveyed the scene beyond the elevator car.

The grime, the poor lighting and the metallic stench that came off the paint and the filth on the hot pipes would perhaps have been a deterrent for lesser individuals, but R.J. 'Scorpio' Leighton felt right at home in such a hellish environment. Nodding to himself, he grabbed hold of Jonathan's jacket and vacated the elevator car.

As the doors slid shut behind them, he leaned in toward Jonathan's ear so he could speak in a quiet voice - that way, it would be drowned out by the hissing pipes in case the corridor was wired for sound. "Where to, Jonny-boy?"

"Str- straight ahead… about two-hundred yards… the- there's a T-intersection th- that- th- …where we need to hang a right. It'll take us to a service shaft and a ladder th- that we need to cl- climb…"

Scorpio let out a grunt and a quiet laugh as he pushed Jonathan in the back to get started on the next leg of their journey. "Jeez, the sick bastards who designed this hellhole… and they call us the psychos!" he said before he broke out in a nasty laugh.


Running to the T-intersection offered no dramas, but the characteristic hum of a nearby drone once they got there caused Scorpio to smack Jonathan over the head for luring them into a trap. The humming hardware proved to be a benign worker drone instead of an enforcer which meant the coast was clear for further running.

The service shaft was soon reached, but the next problem arose at once: the access door to the shaft had been unlocked and stood wide open. A toolbox had been left on the floor by the opening, and sounds of someone using an electric screwdriver or a similar power tool were heard loud and clear.

Coming to a screeching halt, Scorpio sent a death-glare in Jonathan's direction, but the youngling shook his head so hard that even the relentless criminal understood it had been an unfortunate coincidence.

The whine of the screwdriver came to a halt inside the service shaft. A moment later, a male voice said 'This is service technician eleven-four-four. I've finished working on the cracked handlebar. It was beyond salvage so I've replaced it. Is there anything else on this level that needs to be fixed now I'm here?'

The response from the dispatch at the other end of the connection was unintelligible, but it seemed the technician had understood enough of the message as he began climbing back up to the open panel. Once he had made it all the way up, he didn't even have time to get on his feet before he had been kneed in the face. Moaning, the technician collapsed into a heap.

Grinning, Scorpio ripped the service technician's ID-card off the boiler suit before he took the unfortunate man's work gloves, hard-hat and portable radio. The gloves didn't fit so they were thrown away, but the hard-hat was donned and the radio was put into one of the white jacket's pockets. "So now we got a radio," he said and broke out in a shark-like grin.

The grin only broadened as he grabbed the passed-out individual by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants and dragged him back to the access panel. With a heave-ho, he shoved the unresponsive man into the hole and watched as gravity took over. "This is service technician eleven-four-four… I seem to have forgotten my parachute," Scorpio said in a voice that mimicked the technician's dialect.

Jonathan could only let out a whimpering cry at the prisoner's boundless cruelty, but he had no choice but to carry on playing the violent criminal's vicious game.

"Up we go, Jonny-boy," Scorpio said and grabbed hold of Jonathan's jacket. "And don't even think about pissin' your pants 'cos I'll be right below ya. Get your finger out and climb!"


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- The Central Surveillance Office at the Informatics & Personnel Compound.
Time: 2244 Hours.

The central surveillance office of St. Rotherford was located in an above-ground bunker at the heart of the most heavily fortified zone of the entire facility.

The barracks housing the 6,500 black-clad security guards and the 1,200 information technology engineers - who programmed, operated and serviced the various drones - had been built around the bunker to give it the best protection it could possibly have, and not a second would go by without at least one squad of armed guards patrolling the area.

Inside the yard-thick walls made of ferroconcrete, an entryway led to a security gate where visitors and employees alike had to undergo an automated body scan to check for concealed weapons, explosive charges and unapproved recording devices.

Further into the bunker, a gently sloping pathway led through a nondescript corridor until it came to an end at a second checkpoint. There, security guards from an elite unit that was permanently posted at the inner gate performed an old-fashioned pat-down search before anyone would be allowed access to the central surveillance office itself.

The restrictions were enforced even for Warden Preece who needed to hand over his personal holophone before he could be granted a visitor's pass. He let out a grunt of approval at the guards' discipline and efficiency as he used a stylus pen to doodle his signature on the electronic receipt - the date and time code had been logged in the central database even before the tip had left the touch-sensitive screen.

Once the ID-card identifying him as Preece, Gordon -- St. Rothf. Snr. Mgm. had been clipped onto his suit jacket's breast pocket, he was escorted through the fireproof door and into the inner sanctum. As the card said, he was now considered a Visitor With Unlimited Access.


Dozens upon dozens of computer and TV monitors of all sizes were lined up on rows of tables inside the darkened room. Data analysts and IT engineers walked back and forth along the row assigned to them monitoring the images and data streams that were being recorded. Everyone wore headsets so the room was eerily quiet save for the constant hum that came from the air conditioning systems and the countless power supplies hooked up to the monitors.

A video wall had been installed at the front of the room. The huge screen was split into three sections of varying width: the main one at the center of the screen was used to present a dynamic enlargement of a single signal that had been selected from a large number of thumbnails that were stacked on either side of the center in honeycomb-like patterns.

The entire back part of the room was occupied by a neural supercomputer of vast proportions. Equipped with thousands of blinking LEDs that showed the progress of the billions of calculations that were processed every second, it recorded everything sent to it by every single camera, microphone, motion detector and heat sensor throughout the penitentiary as well as staying abreast of every action performed by every drone including the autonomous Intelligent Response Drones that enforced the peace in the endless subterranean hallways.

No less than seven video technicians worked at various consoles installed in the supercomputer; they were there to act like old-fashioned television producers of the non-stop show playing on the big screen.

Gordon Preece skipped down a short flight of stairs and strode past the video wall that showed a replay of an incident that had just taken place in the plenum eating hall over in the low-security block: the incident had been nothing more than a typical scene of two first-timers coming to blows so there had been no need to raise a wide alarm. The situation had been dealt with by the security personnel on duty there, and the two general offenders had been brought back to their cells for their mandatory 24-hour cool-off.

The words Security Chief's Office had been stenciled onto a door on the right of the central surveillance office. Gordon Preece only had time to knock once before he swung the door open and barged inside. "Where are they now, Chief Hayden?" he said and put his hands akimbo.

The chief of all security forces at St. Rotherford, the forty-six-year-old Valerie Hayden, got up from her desk and offered her superior a salute. Though she had retired from active military service, her background as a combat-proven officer in an anti-insurgent first-strike unit meant she had been the right person for the job when the position became available.

Like all members of the security detachment, the woman with blond hair and hazel-brown eyes wore black from top to toe: boots with thick soles, triple-layered pants, a neck-protection shield made of PlastiSteel and finally a three-quarter-length heavy-duty jacket that wasn't only fireproof, bulletproof, stabproof and shockproof, but could withstand being sprayed with acidiferous liquids. A shiny full-face helmet and a pair of gloves were ready on her desk in case of emergencies.

A metal cabinet in the corner of the surprisingly small office held her riot gear. Among it were transparent shields and additional sections of body armor as well as a sturdier helmet with a blastproof visor. Several e-Pulse-rifles were lined up next to hand-held cattle prods - intended for melee fighting - capable of giving electric shocks of up to 75,000 volts.

On a shelf below the rifles, metal canisters containing various types of mace, pepper spray, gaseous tranquilizers and even a derivative of chlorine gas designed to put an end to large-scale rioting within minutes had been laid out next to the grenade launcher needed to fire them.

"They've just breached the second security gate and have reached Sublevel One, Sir," Valerie Hayden said in a pleasant, velvety voice. "Prisoner six-six-four-two killed a service technician and stole his ID. The covert operative was unable to prevent the killing as we had not expected such a development-"

"We should have!" Warden Preece barked. "We should always expect the worst from those animals!  They're capable of absolutely anything. I thought you already understood that, Chief."

The Chief's only response to the harsh, accusatory tone was that her left eyebrow briefly went up, then down. "Yes, Sir. In any case, all drones behind prisoner six-six-four-two and the covert operative have been reactivated so the escapees can't go back. We're driving them toward the fire escape at the secondary loading bays up on Sublevel Zero."

A series of deep grunts emanated from the warden's throat. He nodded a couple of times as well before he reached up to loosen his necktie. "This had better work, Chief. That's all I'm saying. This had better work… or there'll be hell to pay for us."

"It'll work, Sir," Chief Hayden said and moved away from her desk. Putting a hand on the warden's arm, she guided him over to the door. "Let's view the endgame on the big screen," she continued as she let her superior step out of the small room first.

Once they were in the surveillance office itself, the Chief of Security took two headsets and handed one of them to her companion. "Here, Sir. You need to wear this to keep up with what's going on."

The warden glared at the headset at first but soon let out a sigh and accepted the electronic aid as a necessary evil. Though it was supposed to be one-size-fits-all, it did anything but, so he had to adjust it several times to make it sit right.

"Video operator," Chief Hayden said to one of the video technicians up at the far end of the room by the supercomputer, "pipe into the audio and video feed for Project One-X-L-Four. Code clearance scarlet, indigo, niner, six. Put it on the main display. Thank you."

The appropriate images flickered onto the big screen and the easily recognizable figure of Ronald James 'Scorpio' Leighton soon came into view. Though Chief Hayden and Warden Preece remained standing, they relaxed their stance to watch the attempted breakout head toward its inevitable conclusion.


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- Sublevel One of the High Security block.
Time: 2319 Hours.

"Crap, there's another one," Scorpio said as he squeezed himself and Jonathan Barstowe into the narrow space between two wooden crates. The stolen hard-hat got in the way, so he took it off and gently put it on top of the nearest crate so it wouldn't reveal their presence by knocking into something at the wrong moment.

Even though the dark-gray colors of the concrete walls and the murky orange light that shone down from the grimy fixtures meant that everyone in there would become involuntarily short-sighted, the steady hum of the idling Intelligent Response Drone was impossible to miss.

The top of the enforcer drone swiveled around a handful of times to let its sensor arrays scan the tunnel it had entered. Once the sweep had been carried out without producing positive results, the drone's hum changed pitch and it flew another thirty feet down the tunnel.

Jonathan let out a whimper as the hum came too close for comfort, but the hand that was clamped across his mouth made him shut up - the cruel grip was accompanied by a silent death-glare that didn't need words to be understood.

The drone repeated its swiveling search pattern at its next location before it swung around and returned to the connecting tunnel it had come from.

Holding his breath, Scorpio counted to twenty inwardly before he poked his shaved head out of the hiding place to glance at their surroundings. When he realized the tunnel was empty once more, he grabbed Jonathan by the jacket and stepped out of the crevice.

"Where to now?  Hey!  I'm talkin' to ya, turd!  Where do we go from here?" he said in a hoarse whisper. When the youngling's reply was nothing more than a whimper, a hard slap followed.

"Th- that way," Jonathan croaked and pointed in the same direction where the drone had gone.

Scorpio took a step back and cocked his head to listen for the characteristic humming of the drones. Nothing seemed to be close by, so he grabbed Jonathan's jacket and dragged him along in a fast walk.


It was clear by the large number of metal drums, wooden crates and other types of containers stacked up in the service tunnel that it was mainly used for long-term storage. A closer inspection of another of the wooden crates revealed that it contained packs of bio-engineered field rations made by the DuraFood Company.

Knowing that such field rations would come in handy during the next phase of his escape, Scorpio began looking around for a crowbar or a similar tool to break open the crate. Another utterance of "Crap…" was heard when his search came up empty. He tried slamming the root of his hand against the underside of the lid to loosen the nails that had been driven into it, but it was sealed too tightly even for his considerable strength.

An alternative approach was needed, and one came to him at once when he happened to look down at his booted feet. He would never have considered it had he been wearing the standard-issue, wafer-thin felt shoes, but the white boots worn with the medical uniform were sturdier and seemed to be the right tool for the job.

Grinning, he performed a few practice swings before he took a deep breath and fired off a vicious kick onto what he believed would be the weakest section of the crate: the flat surface between the four reinforced corners. The wood let out a pained creak to confirm his theory, so the first kick was immediately followed by a second and then a third that were no less brutal.

The crate's wooden side eventually succumbed to the mindless violence which caused several packs of field rations to fall out. He picked up a handful of the square, silver packs and stuffed as many of them as possible into the jacket pockets. A second batch was pulled out of the crate and thrust into Jonathan's trembling hands. "Here, Jonny-boy… if you lose 'em, you'll lose your teeth. Catch my drift?"

Jonathan nodded hard as he stuffed the silver packs into his own pockets.

Since there were no steam pipes running the length of the service tunnel unlike the one they had been in on Sublevel Two, it meant the temperature was considerably lower. The far skinnier Jonathan registered it first and soon broke out in a shiver.

When even the sturdier Scorpio noticed the change, he stepped away from the tunnel's central aisle and moved into a space between two pallets that each carried sealed drums. He bared his teeth as he tried to spot some kind of date in the information stenciled onto them, but he soon reached the conclusion he didn't even know the actual year so he couldn't extrapolate anything from the confusing sequence of numbers and letters. "Hey, little turd… what date is it?" he said over his shoulder.

"Oc- October thirty-f- first-"

"What?  It's frickin' Halloween?  How about that… and those bastards didn't even put up any decorations or nothin'!" A crude chuckle soon turned into a full laugh that held no warmth at all.

His laughter died down when the implications of the date dawned on him: escaping across the open terrain in late October in the inhospitable corner of the world where St. Rotherford was located would be no cakewalk even in trekking gear - and the white uniform worn by the infirmary staff would be so worthless he might as well run around buck naked.

"All right," he said in a mumble while he scratched his shaved head. "I need a winter coat. Insulated pants. Outdoor boots… the frickin' works. Crap, why didn't I think of the date sooner?"

Scorpio continued to stand between the pallets of sealed drums trying to come up with a plan when a terrified Jonathan suddenly bumped into him. "Drone!" the youngling croaked as he pointed out into the central aisle.


The enforcer drone flew right past the two hiding escapees without stopping. It traveled at a greater speed than usual which indicated it wasn't on a regular corridor patrol but had been summoned to provide urgent assistance elsewhere.

Jonathan was about to move back into the aisle when Scorpio yanked him back and smacked him over the head; five seconds later, a second drone flew past at a similar speed to the first one. "They've probably found the Joe I got rid of," he whispered into Jonathan's ear. "Now the shit's really gonna hit the fan. We gotta stop jerkin' around and find that frickin' exit before they call in the shock troops!"

A quick peek around the corner of the pallet proved the coast was clear for the time being. Scorpio soon grabbed hold of Jonathan's jacket and dragged him back into the service tunnel.

Running ahead at a fair clip, they went three-hundred yards further along the same tunnel until it ended in a T-intersection where they turned right. The appearance of two further enforcer drones a short time later forced them to dive into a narrow, rat-infested crawl space, but they were soon back in the wider tunnel.

Their headlong rush through the murky corridors ended at another service shaft. Though the access panel was locked, Scorpio worked it loose and peeked inside - he grinned when he spotted the steps of the ladder that went straight up. "Up we go, Jonny-boy," he said and shoved Jonathan over to the shaft's opening.


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- Sublevel Zero of the High Security block -- near the loading bays.
Time: 2339 Hours.


Seventy-six steps upward from their starting point, the access panel where they needed to get out proved a greater challenge than the one below. Scorpio thumped, slammed and whacked his free fist against the metal again and again until he lost his temper for good - after moving up another five steps, he gave the panel such a savage kick it was nearly ripped off its hinges.

A howl of surprise escaped him when the step he was clinging onto suddenly buckled under his weight and the jerking motion it had been put through by the kick. Cursing and swearing a paint-stripping blue streak, he managed to fumble his way through the open panel and onto the floor of Sublevel Zero - the fumbling caused the radio he had stolen from the service technician he had killed to fall out of his pocket and disappear down the dark shaft.

Jonathan let out a few whimpers from having to climb a short stretch downward, but he gulped down his fears and soon made his way through the access panel as well.

Panting, Scorpio leaned back on his thighs to catch his breath. While he did so, he took a long, thorough look at the corridor they had ended up in. The number of drums, cardboard boxes and wooden crates was far higher than it had been downstairs, and the smooth concrete floor bore clear signs of the rubber wheels on manned forklifts and automated loader/lifter units.

Noises created by those types of machinery going through their typical routines reached his ears and made him even more alert. Everyday work went on somewhere close by, but it didn't seem to pose an immediate threat to them. Better still, he couldn't pick up the characteristic hum of the enforcer drones.

An unusual scent greeted the nostrils of the two men. After clambering to his feet, Scorpio took a deep breath and seemed to savor the moment. A grin that was more human than his regular expressions spread across his face. "That's real air, Jonny-boy!  Not that canned shit those bastards have us breathing down in the hellholes. Real frickin' air… we must be close to the surface."

"Y- yes," Jonathan stammered and pointed ahead. "Th- the secondary loading b- bays are str- straight ahead… t- two hundred yards… b- but we can't-"

"But we can't what, ya little turd?  Don't give me any crap now… not this close to freedom."

"But we c- can't go th- there… there m- must be dozens of p- people working at the bays!  An- and drones!" Jonathan said and crumpled up his jacket's lower hem to deal with some of the nervous energy blasting through him.

Scorpio rubbed his mouth. "When the turd's right, he's right… but I need warmer clothes before we can move on. Crap," he said in a mumble. The mouth-rubbing turned to a furious bout of scalp-scratching before the desired thought came to him: "Hey, Jonny-boy… I can't go there, but you sure as hell can!  I'll bet you've been here often enough for some of 'em to recognize you?"

"Pr- probably…"

"All right. One of these boxes gotta contain medical supplies or some shit… find a fella my size and tell him you need help re-packin' a buncha frickin' band-aids or whatever. Get the S.O.B. to come here and I'll do the rest. Yeah?"

"B- but-"

"Do you actually like gettin' smacked, ya little turd?" Scorpio said in a menacing tone. Without warning, he reached out and delivered a hard slap across Jonathan's cheek. "Do what I tell ya!  Now!"


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- The Central Surveillance Office at the Informatics & Personnel Compound.
Time: 2342 Hours.

Gordon Preece had stood with his arms crossed over his chest as the video wall showed the progress of the attempted escape in bright colors and crisp details, but the sight of Ronald James Leighton knocking out yet another of the service technicians made him throw them into the air and let out a cry of indignation. "That disgusting animal!  Chief Hayden, I don't care what you have to do… or how you decide to phrase it in the report, for that matter… but that piece of trash there cannot be allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence and into the open society!"

Valerie Hayden was about to answer when she was approached by one of her officers who brought her a printed report on the small incident in the plenum eating hall. She skimmed the first four pages of text before she added her signature to the last page and handed it back. "Prisoner six-six-four-two will never make it to the fence, Sir. That's a guarantee," she said as she got up from the edge of the table she had been half-sitting on.

A cold smile spread over her face as she joined the warden at the video wall. "Don't forget, this is a trial run in more ways than one. We've already learned several important lessons when it comes to the escape routes Leighton has used."

"Excuse me for not applauding, Chief," Warden Preece said in a surly tone. A few beats later, he furrowed his brow and shot his Chief of Security a puzzled glance. "Why do I suddenly get the feeling you're holding something back from me?"

"Like I said, Sir, this trial run contains several intermediate aims. One of which is to establish how the latest generation in electronic riot suppression will perform under live conditions."

"Riot suppression?  What's that got to do with anything?  This is an attempted breakout, not a riot, Chief!" Gordon Preece said and pointed at the video wall that showed multiple angles of Ronald James Leighton and Jonathan Barstowe sneaking along a corridor.

"I'm well aware of that fact, Sir," Chief Hayden said in an overbearing tone of voice, "but it's easier to test the latest technology on a single prisoner. If the test is successful… and I'm sure it will be… we can also show the footage on the internal video network. I'm sure seeing the swift consequences of their actions will be a strong deterrent to various riot instigators and conspirators."

The warden let out a "Hmmm?" before he turned back to the video wall to follow the action.


Date: 10-31-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- Sublevel Zero of the High Security block -- the final security gate.
Time: 2352 Hours.

The lined winter coat Scorpio had appropriated after the assault on the loading bay worker was warm and even comfortable to wear - the fur-lined hood would fully obscure his face once he reached the outside. The unfortunate victim had bigger feet than he so the workboots flopped around, but that was a lesser evil than trekking across rocky terrain in the indoor boots that came with the white uniform from the infirmary. That the sturdy pants were on the tight side was something he had to live with.

He and Jonathan moved through yet another grimy corridor at a pace that was hurried but just shy of running so they wouldn't draw attention to themselves. Their destination was a magnetically sealed door that led to an all-concrete stairwell that in turn would lead to freedom.

Reaching the door and its MagneLock access panel, Scorpio shoved the youngling over to it so he could enter the correct access code. The worker from the loading bay who had been knocked out had not carried an ID-card, so Jonathan's own, official card would have to cover for both of them.

"Will you hurry the hell up?" Scorpio said out of the corner of his mouth as he tried to curb his growing impatience. Unlike the earlier parts of the escape that had taken place in absolute solitude - for the most part - the section of the loading bay they were in at present saw a steady stream of workers who operated the forklifts and put crates and other types of cargo onto the automated loader/lifter units.

Jonathan's nervous trembling meant his gestures weren't accurate enough as he tried to enter the correct digits on the number pad. The first two attempts had failed miserably which meant he only had one try left before the MagneLock would shut down and inform the central system of the security breach.

"Get your frickin' mind on the job at hand, ya little turd!" Scorpio growled into Jonathan's ear. "If you screw up now, I'm gonna bleed ya dry… ya hear me?"

Gulping hard, Jonathan nodded and slowed down his frantic gestures so he was sure to hit the correct digits in the proper order. Once the last digit had been punched in, the panel turned green and the MagneLock switched off to allow the door to open.

Scorpio didn't thank his associate but simply shoved him aside; then he stepped into the stairwell that was made of dark-gray concrete like everything else on the underground levels - the strong scent of clean, crisp and fresh air that greeted him suggested the wide open landscape of the great outdoors was only a short distance away. The hardened prisoner was about to let out another of his barked commands at the youngling when he happened to look upward.

A narrow stretch of the night-time sky was visible through a skylight at the top of the stairwell; the lack of visible stars and a smattering of droplets on the curved PlastiSteel pane hinted at a slight drizzle.

"Son of a bitch… 's been a while since I saw the sky. Hell, I'm gonna see plenty of it the next couple'a nights," Scorpio mumbled. When he realized he was straying dangerously close to showing actual human emotions, he grabbed hold of Jonathan's collar and yanked him up the stairs with little regard to his comfort.


Date: 11-01-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- Ground Level -- a fire escape leading to an open courtyard behind the High Security block.
Time: 2358 Hours.

Two storeys up, a second MagneLock door greeted the escapees with a red panel signaling it was sealed tight. Jonathan was given another hard shove in the back to punch in the correct code on the number pad.

While the trembling youngling punched in the digits, Scorpio stared out of the windows that lined the upper part of the dark-gray stairwell. The surrounding landscape was as monochrome and bleak as the bare concrete used for the walls and the flights of stairs, but the mere sight of the dark sky and even a partially obscured outline of a not-too-distant mountain range made an evil grin spread over the criminal's face.

There didn't seem to be any pinpoints of light shining through the darkness, but his vantage point only offered a narrow field of view so there was a remote possibility that a village or other type of settlement could be found on the other side of the St. Rotherford Penitentiary.

"Why the hell ain'tcha done yet, fool?" he growled when it dawned on him that Jonathan was taking an awfully long time punching in the set of digits - the youngling kept fiddling with something at the panel while being in the way of any critical glances.

Suddenly sensing that something was wrong, Scorpio grabbed Jonathan by the shoulder and yanked him away from the panel. It only took a single look at the access panel to understand that no digits had been entered at all. He narrowed his eyes and bared his teeth in anger as he took in the sight of the Security Personnel ID-card held up by the young man.

The men glared daggers at each other; it soon became obvious even to R.J. 'Scorpio' Leighton that the young man's rampant nervousness had been an act from first to last. The criminal opened his mouth to complain, but he was beaten to the punch by the younger man:

"Mr. Leighton, consider yourself under arrest for the murder of-"

Jonathan Barstowe never made it further before Scorpio lashed out with the speed and strength of the creature that had given him his nickname: a bone-rattling uppercut that came out of nowhere forced Jonathan's head upward and back in a violent jerk. As gravity took over and sent the head forward once more, the criminal's strong hands and arms were wrapped around the exposed neck and forced it to the side.

"Ya better listen to me now, Jonny-boy… or whatever the frick your name is…" Scorpio said in a hoarse, menacing whisper, "I will kill you right this frickin' minute if you don't open that door. Yeah?  If you wanna test me, go right ahead, but it'll be the last thing you'll ever do."

The pressure against Jonathan's cervical vertebrae was increased for every word until the bones reached breaking point. Scorpio only eased the pressure when the covert operative's eyes began to bug out on stalks from the pain. "So what'll it be, turd?  You're gonna do it, ain'tcha?  Yeah?  That's a good boy."

Stepping over to the panel, Scorpio kept his hands on Jonathan's neck while the numbers were punched in. A moment later, the panel turned green and the MagneLock released the door to freedom - or at least to the prison's open courtyard.

An almost giddy flash of victory shone from R.J. Leighton's eyes as he jerked the younger man away from the panel so he wouldn't get any bright ideas. To prevent him from getting any ideas at all for a good, long while, the inhuman pressure on his neck was suddenly exchanged for a hand on the back of the head.

A split second later, Scorpio put all his weight, strength and experience into slamming Jonathan Barstowe's face and forehead into the metal doorjamb once, twice, three times in rapid succession. As the unconscious body slumped to the concrete landing atop the stairwell, the criminal casually stepped over it and moved outside for the first time in the better part of a decade.


Date: 11-01-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- the open courtyard behind the High Security block.
Time: 0003 Hours.

He forced himself to walk at a steady, natural pace although his instincts screamed at him to run away as fast as he could. His escape was aided by the winter coat that rendered him invisible among the dozens of loading bay workers who all wore the same kind of outfit.

The need to sample proper air overwhelmed him and made him stop; several deep, greedy breaths of the crisp evening air were soon taken. A few spots of rain did in fact strike the coat and his face, but he didn't care as seeing the sky and feeling real soil under his boots outweighed everything else.

To make it appear that he knew exactly where he was and what he was doing, he performed a slow, 360-degree turn to take in the sights: A chain-link fence marked the facility's perimeter a good distance off to his left. The fence was visible in the darkness due to the tall light poles that illuminated every square foot of the ground leading up to the metal barrier. On top of the fact that nothing could avoid getting caught by the strong lights, chances were it was a high-voltage fence.

The stairwell behind him obviously offered no salvation or escape - especially not with the covert operative's unconscious body littering the top landing.

The section directly ahead was dominated by numerous ventilation ducts as well as another fence that featured four rows of fierce-looking barbed wire on top. A bunker-like concrete structure had been built into the ground at the exact center of the area framed by the fence; it prompted him to believe it could be the upper access point to the infamous Extreme Security block.

A large helipad had been laid out a short distance away between the concrete structures. Although it was devoid of any flying machines at present, workers were stacking up the ubiquitous wooden crates suggesting the next whirlybird would be a cargo helicopter instead of a pleasure craft.

There was further activity to his right where several groups of workers in boiler suits strolled over to a garage-like building that featured tall, wide sliding doors. Several of the doors stood open revealing that the building pulled double-duty: not only did one half of it appear to be the motor pool for ElectroTrucks and the special forklifts used in the storage hallways, it was quite obvious from the sounds that wafted across the open courtyard in front of it that the other half served as the mess tent for the penitentiary's many blue-collar employees.

It was obvious the motor pool would be the most logical place to find a means of transport, so Scorpio turned around and walked in that direction in a casual, unhurried fashion. Breaking through the perimeter fence was out of the question, but hiding in - or stealing - an ElectroTruck could literally be his ticket out of there.

Twenty paces into his journey across the open courtyard, he noticed a strange beeping very close to him that seemed to get faster for each step he took. Uttering a mumbled "What the Fuh-" he came to a halt and patted down the winter coat to check if Jonathan Barstowe had managed to slip a tracking device into one of the pockets. The search yielded nothing which made him scratch his shaved head.

The speed of the beeping had remained constant while he had been standing still, but it increased once more as soon as he resumed strolling toward the motor pool and the mess tent. It didn't take long before it had turned into a constant whining noise that would prove impossible to explain away.

"Those rotten bastards… they've tagged me with a frickin' positioning sensor!" he barked as he came to another halt. Roaring out his frustration, he unzipped the winter coat, tore it off him and pulled up in his shirt - he stared in a wide-eyed stupor at the red LED that flashed through his skin close to his heart and lungs.


Date: 11-01-2057.
Site: USG Federal Penitentiary 'St. Rotherford' -- The Central Surveillance Office at the Informatics & Personnel Compound.
Time: 0005 Hours.

Gordon Preece furrowed his brow as he watched the events unfold up on the large video wall. Ronald James Leighton just stood there, shouting out obscenities that were bleeped-out by the wall's integrated profanity filter.

"Chief Hayden, I don't understand… all right, the trial run of prisoner four-four-six-two's boundary violation sensor has proven successful," the warden said while waving his hand at the video wall. "Its beeping is alerting all and sundry about his nefarious objectives, but how in the world will that ever deter rioters from running amok?"

Valerie Hayden joined her superior at the video wall holding a DigiAid tablet. Looking at it, she entered a command but delayed activating it. "That won't, but this will. Sir, before I demonstrate our newest method of keeping the prisoners in check, perhaps I should ask if you were serious before regarding Mr. Leighton's future prospects?"

The warden furrowed his brow for a second time. He glanced at the video wall where 'Scorpio' had been surrounded by several security guards and an enforcer drone. Preece tore his eyes away from the images to look at his chief of security once more. "Yes I was, Chief Hayden. There's no place in the world for men like him."

"Very well, Sir," Valerie said before she pressed a button on her headset to establish direct contact with her on-site security team. "This is Chief Hayden. Pull back thirty feet from prisoner six-six-four-two. Chief Hayden out."

"Pull back?!  What's the meaning of this?" the warden said in a sharp voice.

Instead of answering verbally, Valerie authorized and thus activated the command she had already prepared. "See for yourself," she said and crossed her arms over her chest.

The command she had sent triggered a miniature explosive charge that had been surgically attached to R.J. Leighton's right lung during his last quarterly medical examination. The resulting detonation burst through his rib cage and caused an impressive crimson-and-white fountain of blood, bone and chunky tissue to spew from the horrible wound.

The shredded, mutilated body swayed for a few seconds longer before it collapsed onto the ground. It twitched once and was then still.

As it did so, Warden Preece reached up to clutch his head - the headset was in the way so he tore it off. "My God… that was… that was… brilliant, Chief Hayden. Simply brilliant!  You were right. None of those animals will dare to even think about escaping now. Amazing!"

"Yes, indeed," Valerie Hayden said and put down the DigiAid. "The trial run was a great success. I'll send word to the departments first thing tomorrow. The order will be to commence adding the ARM… the Anti-Rioting Measure… to the prisoners. With a little good fortune, we'll have everyone done by the first quarter of next year."

Gordon Preece performed a slow nod; he watched a few moments of the gross clean-up operation in the open courtyard close to the High Security block, but it couldn't hold his interest. "What a Halloween spectacle, eh?  Excellent work, Chief," he said before he strolled out of the central surveillance office.

"Thank you, Sir," Chief Hayden said with a smile. It soon faded as she was presented with a report on an unrelated incident elsewhere in the vast St. Rotherford Penitentiary - better known among the inmates as the Terminal Station…