Astrid knew she wouldn't be staying in her cell for long. She wished a disdainful good-bye to the parasites in her bedding. It was nearly fourth-cycle, and the guard was coming down the corridor.

He was smaller than the rest, the sort of guard who keeps the prisoners at bay by being kind and jovial. Astrid thought it might be difficult to knock the kid out, seeing as he wasn't the one who put her here, but such thoughts only made the ease of it more surprising. The iron meteorite she'd smuggled into her cell sailed right through the force field and knocked the hat right off his head. He slumped to the floor immediately.

Quickly she produced her next bit of contraband, a length of old conduction cable encased in an insulating sheath. She'd found it in the yard that afternoon. She had stripped it at one end so the metal could pass through the field while she could hold the protected end and not get fried. It was long enough to reach from the cell to the guard on the floor if she crouched, and sturdy enough to maneuver his hand into the barrier.

The wetware in his gloves did its job and deactivated the force field. Astrid dragged him into her cell. She stripped the guard of his bio-wear gloves and boots. She slipped quickly into them, the living leather conforming to her size and contours. She was glad to be out of those nasty rubber sandals at last, her cut and bruised feet instantly felt warm and cushioned.

There was no time to savor it, though. Gloves on hand, the biomechanics allowed her to grab the guard's side arm. It was a standard issue needler, so named for the intense pain it caused. Normally, it's non-lethal. But double up the dosage at point-blank range and they'll fry brain matter like an egg in a thermowave.

Astrid ran down the corridor as quickly and softly as she could, but the boots tapped loudly down the plastic floor. She had to get to the docks before the quarter-cycle when the next shift of guards arrived, and she knew she had to have been spotted on every sensor on the deck already. 

And she was right. She hadn't anticipated they'd have locked out the guard's wetware chips already. She thought she'd get through the first barrier, at least, but the shimmering blue wall at the end of the hall rejected her attempts to push through it with an aggressive buzzing. She could hear the tapping of more guards' boots running up the corrugated stairwell behind her.

She smashed open the control panel with the butt of the needler and injected several kilowatts of microwave energy directly into the feedback system. The field generator exploded with a sad little pop. She ran on through, leaving the now spent needler behind.

Her plan had been to use that trick at the next door, but now she had to change direction. Down instead of up. The lower doors were older and easier to break open, so she guessed. They had to be, since the prison had been built on top of the old one. The Scrapyard was the oldest in the swarm, and one of the first plates in the whole cluster.

She was right. The alloy deadbolt blocking her path was no match for the newly-booted foot on her biomechanoid knee. This wasn’t the first time she thanked the bastard who shot out the original. She was still amazed that they’d let her keep it or hadn’t even noticed it. She figured no one gives a shit about what happens on the ass-end of the cluster. The steel door swung open with a loud bang and a crash followed by the cadence of tinkling shards of splintered metal.
The corridor beyond was dark, dimly lit with a sick shade of yellow. The light illuminated pale faces stuck jellied inside canisters with wires and nodes running through their eyes, ears, and noses. There was a dull hum of electrical machinery and the low, regular pulse of a very large pump.

It didn’t take close inspection to realize these heads were alive. Astrid knew immediately to where the “disobedient” had been “disappearing.” The living busts were being stimulated by god-knows-what amounts of psychotropic drugs and electronic feedback, and pumped clean of their neurotransmitters. Their every thought was being sucked out of their head, literally, and being compressed into pill form. The latest craze in recreational drug use: pure emotional simulation. Mind food for the masses.

Astrid ran like hell. She didn’t look at the faces. She didn’t want to recognize anyone. The door at the other end of the platform had to lead outside; the side facing the docks. After all, this sick factory had to load its product somewhere. 

Another door burst open at the request of Astrid’s boot. The light beyond was bright; brighter than she’d remembered. It was the Sun; the loving, giving sun chained and broken by its own children. The massive jellyfish of a stellar engine encased the whole star, its domed reflector channeling solar energy through thin shimmering tentacles of superconductors.  The tentacles converge on the other side of the sun, drawing solar mass through the intense magnetic field they generate.  Energy bleeds through the tentacles in a perpetual  massive solar flare directed towards the center of the dying galaxy. Around it swim billions of tiny stars, the small, shimmering plates that house Mankind.

Astrid knew exactly which plate she had come from, and was determined to get back. The guards were close behind her. Her eyes adjusted quickly to the light as she ran, just in time to see the half-dozen surprised guards in front of her. She plowed through them as they unloaded from the Locust. She could smell the heat of its still-warmed engines. She was up the ramp and into the bus before anyone had unholstered a sidearm. She slapped the hatch controls as she passed it on the way into the cockpit.

With hardly two breaths between having kicked down the door and boarded the Locust, she had punched out the pilot and was stuffing him out the emergency hatch. The launch boosters kicked the ship off the plate as the viewshield shrugged off the loud spatter of particle blasters.

The adrenaline started to wane as she punched the final sequence for a superluminal hop. In twelve sub-cycles she’d be on the other side of the cluster, back on her home plate. She was free, and soon she would be home. She sat back in the command chair and sighed, closing her eyes. The dream flowed up the tube and out the nozzle, into pill form.


  1. Wow! Had a Blade Runner feel for me. Great story.

  2. Super! You have a way with sci-fi.

    Quality stuff, as usual, ERR.

  3. Great! Pace was fantastic. And brain food indeed. This is my kind of work.

  4. Not sure if my comment posted or not. If it does, then there will be two and that's okay. I really did enjoy this and you really do have a way with sci-fi.

  5. New prompt tomorrow...Doc's first time moderating! I hope you can join in!