Chapter 96:

Chapter 96 - Jailhouse Rock


Marka followed Antony out into the yard, tracking each motion of his wildly gesticulating hands as he pointed out the various factions that existed among the inmates.

“Those’re the gamblers over there,” he was saying, pointing toward a group of men sitting in a circle beside a tall iron fence. Marka noticed that the fence overlooked the badlands and a set of train tracks, marking it as the border of the enclave itself. He found himself wondering why the prisoners didn’t just rush the fence–it was tall, certainly, but with enough people working in concert, it wouldn’t be impossible to scale.

“...And we’ve got the former vagrants over there by the northern wall.”

Ah. That explained it. Looking off toward the new group Antony had indicated, Marka saw that the rest of the yard was surrounded by forbidding walls of concrete capped with clumsily-constructed guard towers. The warden’s men were patrolling up there with rifles in their hands, acting as a deterrent to any inmates who dared to try and hop the fence.

“I notice that everyone is in plainclothes. Even the guards,” Marka observed. “In Truvelo, it is typical for prisoners and guards to be in uniform.”

Antony waved his hand dismissively. “It’s not that organized around here. This is more like a work camp than a proper prison. The only reason we’ve even got cell blocks and thick walls is because of the quarry–Segue Enclave is the primary source of building materials out on the range: brick, clay, glass, cement, you name it. It’s all mined and processed right here.

“So, once Copperlock got it into his head that he could slap together a few tons of concrete and kidnap a few local undesirables instead of paying a crew of miners a wage, he went for it. We’re nothing but a source of free labor trapped inside a big stone box.” Antony looked back at him and smiled wryly. “Classic Wesson logic, there. You’ll find little ‘efficiencies’ like that everywhere around here–even in the city.”

“That sounds terrible,” Marka said with a frown. “People are not tools.”

“Yeah, well, tell that to Gunn. Still, it isn’t so bad. We get a roof over our heads and three squares a day. Some of the old-timers still talk about life before the prison, back when the iron mine was still up and running. Copperlock’d work men to death in there. Not criminals or outsiders, either–real Segue citizens. It got so bad that the locals rebelled; busted into his old domicile and forced him to shut it down. After that he had that big, fuck-you tower built so they couldn’t get at him next time.”

Antony pointed off toward the yawning cavern ahead of them, then. Marka could see men and women working shoulder-to-shoulder inside, chipping away at the walls with worn-out mining picks. “The mine’s entrance is still in there, y’know,” he said slyly. “Copperlock’s the only one allowed inside these days. He has guards posted to keep the rest of us out, but it’s still probably the best route one of us could take if they were looking to esca–”

“Cut the chatter!” Randy barked from behind. He stomped up to Antony’s side and dropped him with a stiff kick to the back of the leg, then brandished the butt of his gun. “You know how we feel about the ‘E’ word, Sequoia. Or will you be needin’ another beating t’get it through that thick skull of yours?”

“AaAahh… Randy…!” Antony replied with a wince. “You heard that, huh? Honestly, I’m proud of you… Parsing all those syllables can’t be easy for a man of your faculties.”

Randy hesitated, his gun arm hovering in place. “...I’m pretty sure you’re makin’ fun of me again,” he growled. “And I’m extra sure today’s quarry crew will cope just fine if I end up sendin’ you to the infirmary!”

With that, he brought his hand down toward Antony’s face in a vicious arc, aiming straight for his temple. Antony squeezed his eyes shut, having already resigned himself to the reality of yet another beating…

…Only for Marka’s hand to shoot out at the last second. His good fingers curled around Randy’s arm as he stopped him mid-strike, earning a look of utter shock and apprehension from the dull-minded prison guard.

“B-But how…? Your fingers’re broken…!” he sputtered,

“You said it yourself earlier,” Marka replied, getting right up in his face. “I can do much with my palms alone… And that includes overpowering trash like you.”

Randy tried his best to hold his gaze and keep a stiff upper lip, but quickly crumbled in the face of Marka’s penetrating stare. “You’re lucky I’ve got other business to tend to inside,” he said lamely, turning to make his way back to the prison building. “I’ll remember this, big man. You better watch yourself from here on out.”

Marka watched him go. Only once he was out of sight did Marka finally allow the shooting pain in his hands to take hold; his eyes watered as he helped his cellmate to his feet, trying not to agitate his injuries more than he already had in the process.

“My hero!” Antony exclaimed. He looked up at him with a wide grin on his face, flexing his leg in an effort to dispel the pain of Randy’s kick. “You’re making it very hard to view you as nothing but a friend, you know.”

“I am sure you will manage,” Marka replied. “Now, what was this you were saying about a mine entrance?”

“Oh, right. That. Honestly, it’ll be easier if I just show you. C’mon!”

They set out across the yard again, ignoring the wary gazes of the guards lining the wall. As they approached the quarry, Marka observed dozens of prisoners bustling around the cavern’s entrance; some were chatting or exchanging tools, some were pushing carts full of quarried stone, and some were gathering up armfuls of dynamite to take deeper into the cave.

“There are granite deposits further in,” Antony explained. “Conventional tools don’t make a dent in granite, so we’re given dynamite to break up the rock. Strictly controlled, though.”

He nodded toward the guards standing off to either side of the dynamite pile. “Once we get to work, wheeling the granite chunks back to the main building will be your job. Think you can handle it?”

“It cannot be any more difficult than humbling Randy.”

Antony chuckled heartily. “That’s the spirit!”

They made their way into the cavern, slipping between small crowds of inmates as they went. Antony took a momentary detour toward the pile of dynamite before rejoining Marka, his arms loaded up with explosives. “I’m usually on dynamite duty,” he said, “so we’ll both be heading down to the main blasting chamber. The mine entrance is on the way if you’d like to see it.”


They joined the flow of workers heading down into a wide, man made tunnel. Sure enough, the sound of repeated explosions issued from somewhere up ahead. A long line of inmates wheeling carts proceeded up from the blasting chamber on their left, their vessels heavy with freshly-mined granite. Guards stood by the tunnel wall, submitting each cart to a thorough examination.

“Looking out for prisoners trying to smuggle dynamite back to their cells,” Antony clarified. “I don’t know why they bother. It’s not like we can light it without them.”

After a few more steps down the tunnel, Antony inclined his head toward a sizable gap in the wall. “The old mine’s over here,” he said. “They don’t like us going to gawk at it, but most newbies come to get a look at least once. Since you’re with me, we probably won’t get a beating… Probably.”

Marka nodded, following Antony into the gap. It was little more than a crevice–just wide enough to accommodate a cart, and not quite wide enough to contain his broad shoulders without chafing them–but it eventually opened up into a fairly large chamber full of natural light. A long, steep slope proceeded up to an opening in the cavern roof, which let in ample sunlight to see by.

He could see a guard posted up there; a sharpshooter with a long-range rifle, obviously meant to act as extra insurance in the event that someone rushed the two guards standing by the mine entrance proper at the other end of the chamber. At the sight of him and Antony they stood a little straighter, fingers hovering over the weapons on their hip.

“Relax, boys. We’re just visiting,” Antony drawled. “There you have it, Marka. Satisfied?”

“Yes,” Marka said with a sigh. It was better guarded than he’d expected–not at all a viable path to freedom for anyone without a gun of their own. If he wanted out of this place, he would have to start considering alternatives.

He turned to leave. But in the very last moment before he did, he caught sight of a pale, fearful face emerging from the shadows just behind the two men guarding the old iron mine.

Marka could hardly believe his eyes. It was Roulette. Somehow, she had gotten into the mine. And her lips were moving. She appeared to be mouthing words–the same two words, over and over again:

H-E-L-P… M-E…

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