Release: A Miner’s Sentence Ends
by Gregory Thompson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Miner 1 kicked at the dirt, unhappy for the intrusion into his routine. As the numbers counted down, he thought of that last visit. I wonder if they ever got that visitation stuff working. Maybe Hadley’ll be waiting for me out there.
The pickax faded away. The dusty quarry blurred into polished wooden flooring. In front of him, the warden sat hunched over a wooden desk.
“Please, sit down,” the warden said without any movement. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”
Ornate carvings of angels and demons ran along the desk’s legs. A stack of papers and a quill sat opposite each other on the desk. Between them, a granite name plate bore the engraving “Warden.” Thick, yellow beams of light draped over the room. He slid into the chair across from the stern avatar, taking in the detail.
“Okay, then.” The warden made a sudden wave with his hand. A window appeared, full of colorful graphs around a mug shot, a photo of a face he hardly remembered. Wonder what it looks like after all this time?
“You’ve been a remarkably amiable first prisoner. I’m sure we expected that you would have more difficulty acclimating to your sentence, especially without precedent to help you prepare.” The warden swiped through the profile without looking at him. He mumbled, “You know they have training now, sessions to onboard and such.
“Anyway, you’ve nearly completed your negotiated term for multiple charges of hacking, extortion, and fraud. After the initial hiccups of getting acclimated, you haven’t required automation, and your productivity metrics stand out from your fellow prisoners. You’ve served society well these past 25 years, 50 accelerated years to you. And you are being released pretty much on schedule.”
Served society how? What have I been doing? Miner 1 shifted in his seat, still sore from the mining.
With a flick of his wrist, the warden sent the screen away. The warden stood and walked over to the windows. Each step made a slight tap on the wooden floor. His stocky avatar wore a dark three-piece suit. Thin, white pinstripes ran down from his shoulders to his feet. He turned into a silhouette as he stepped into the light that came through the windows.
What’s he looking at out there? It’s so bright!
“It brings me no pleasure to have to tell you this, but your body has died.” The warden looked back at him for a moment before he resumed his gaze outside.
“In transit to the facility, there was an accident that involved the vehicle your body was in. The controller showed no responsiveness, and your body ceased functioning by the time it reached the hospital. The medical team has assessed that the body can no longer support your consciousness.”
The warden sighed. “As I mentioned, we expected some setbacks in your case, since you were the first. However, we thought we had this part ironed out with some of the other, earlier releases. Accidents do happen, though.”
“If I haven’t got a body, where am I being released to?” Miner 1 wondered at how his mind raced while his body lay dormant. His dead body, in some hospital or morgue. His current body, a virtual husk.
“Well, that’s what I’ve asked you here to discuss.” The warden shuffled back to his chair. With a swipe, the warden brought back up the records. “In about six hours, you will be released to your body. Since it is no longer a viable host, this will essentially result in your death.”
A scowl crept across the warden’s face, and he closed his eyes. The warden cradled his chin in his hand as he shook his head. What’s he thinking? The facial expressions he had not seen in years unsettled him.
“Isn’t there something they can do? I mean, this type of thing must have happened before.”
“We have not experienced this situation. This is very murky water for everyone involved. The Technical Division assure me they will work to resolve this issue for future cases. Our legal team has been working out what the law dictates and has found that our hands are tied.” He gave the desk a rap. “Regulations state that you must be released on time. As you can imagine, it’s illegal to detain inmates longer than their sentence specifies.”
Miner 1 wondered if he could identify his own body lying in the morgue. A face he’d not seen or worn in decades. He had spent more life separated from his body than in it. He looked at his photo on the warden’s screen. Does it even still look like that after all these years?
“We are committed to finding an appropriate resolution for you,” the warden said, his stern expression giving way to a smirk. “You’ve provided the public with a valuable service. By volunteering for this type of sentence, you’ve paved the way for a better justice system. Our company, and the nation itself, owes you a debt. Despite that you were just paying off your own debt.”
At another flick of the warden’s wrist, a paper filled his vision except for the counter overlaid on top. “We’d like to ask you to volunteer again, to use your experience here to help onboard new inmates and supervise those incarcerated in our system.”
“I didn’t know there were guards here.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be a guard, per se. Technicians monitor all the activity related to the system.”
“I don’t understand what I could do here,” Miner 1 said. “I’ve just been a miner.”
“And that’s just it.” The warden rapped his knuckles on the desk. “While a felony conviction typically disqualifies someone from serving in most correctional institutions, this facility has more flexibility, because you can’t do anything to help inmates escape or coordinate deals within this world.
“Where better to make sure the system’s working than from inside it, though? Where better to prepare people for their sentence than in the actual place? That’s where you come in. Who better to do all this than you?”
Miner 1 felt the warden’s gaze follow him as he stood and took unsteady steps towards the window. Outside, an infinite white stretched around the room. What was he looking at earlier?
“Fadden.” The warden intoned his name as he scanned the file. “Fadden, we started this correctional format to show the world we could rehabilitate criminals better and cheaper than the regular prisons, actually rehabilitate them faster. Let inmates serve their time with accelerated sentences where they work extensively for the public good. Then they still have a life to look forward to afterwards.”
The warden put his arm around Miner 1’s shoulder. Tugging the inmate closer, the warden gestured out over the white space. “You are the face of that change. The first and longest serving inmate. It would mean a lot to us if you stayed on. Showed everyone that the change we promise is real.”
“Working in here will keep you alive and will offer a salary that could be applied towards a new body. Why, with all the overtime you’d get from not taking vacation, you’d be able to buy one in no time!”
The warden swept open a new screen and clicked a few buttons. “I’ve sent the documentation into your interface. Review it all carefully before making your final, non-retractable, decision. I must remind you, though, that I will need your answer soon.” In Miner 1’s overlay, the scroll bar grew smaller and smaller as the documents loaded.
“Unfortunately, I have another meeting, so we’ll need to conclude our discussion here. I look forward to working with you.” A tab appeared under the timer.
The office blurred back into the quarry. Miner 1 stood next to his pick. He felt hunger as the protocol interpreted his mood. The code would let the nervous desire for food grow, but it would not let him go unsatisfied enough to hurt productivity.
Miner 1 stared at the flat, grey button “Terms” before blinking it open. With a flash, a document spread over his view. He scrolled through the lines without reading them. At the end of the document, he saw two brightly colored buttons: “Accept” and “Decline.”
He swept away the document, grabbed his pick, and chipped away at the earth. His metallic clanks joined with the few others around. The rumbling in his stomach, or the piece of code that one day might be his stomach again, settled as he fell into his rhythm. Under his pick, the rocks cracked, broke, and turned to dust.
Buy another body? Didn’t even know that was possible. If I take the position, I wonder how long it’d take me to get one. Where do they even get them from?
He kicked some of the split rocks closer together.
I’d have a chance to see Hadley again, though. Wonder what she’d look like now? All grown up. Be a young woman by now. A burn spread over his arms again. He kept striking the cluster of rocks into smaller and smaller pieces until they were gone.
You’d think I’d have more stamina after fifty years of mining. Can’t transfer that into a body, can they?
He stopped to rest a few moments. Another prisoner nearby noticed him and stopped his work. The burn started to fade. He’d have to acclimate his body slowly as the code eased in more sensation. As he lifted his pick, he noticed the other prisoner still stood, hands on his waist looking at the sun.
After all this time, she’d probably not even give me a second thought.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Gregory Thompson