Desperately, I looked for a way to survive in Klescher.
“You don’t stand a chance here without a multitool.” The gaze of the hunky guy in yellow overalls was iron.
Somewhat defiantly, I replied. “What am I going to do with a multitool? Hurston Security won’t let me out anyway.”
“I’m not talking about shortening your sentence. I’m talking about sheer survival!”
That had hit like a punch right in the nose. But the guy wasn’t done yet.
“At some point you’re going to encounter an inmate who’s going to give you a choice. Merits or death. And Merits is what you get best mining with a multitool in the mines.”
This was no longer a punch, but a blow with a hammer. It felt like the ground was giving way beneath me. Only with difficulty could I suppress a tremor in my voice.
“Great! Now what? I don’t have a multitool to earn Merits. And I don’t have Merits to buy a multitool.”
“Your problem,” rumbled the honky. “Then you’ll have to get a multitool from the cold dead hands of another inmate. That’s how it works here. Survival of the fittest.”
The predicament I found myself in was crushing. No multitool, no merits, and I didn’t want to kill anyone. Klescher Maximum Security Prison was hell and I was in the middle of it. Frustrated and intimidated, I went to a kiosk. The ad on the screen was another slap in the face. Here I could buy anything that would help me along. Food, drink, medipens, oxypens and …..
Multitools. Only the top right of the screen said 0 Merits. There was nothing for me.
My gaze went to the right. There, behind the steel door of the airlock, was my only hope. The mines. With any luck, I would find someone there who hadn’t made it. Someone who no longer needed his multitool. Someone who had already breathed his last.
With soft knees, I made my way into the mines. Small spotlights shone in a faint yellow. I could not see far. Small stones regularly trickled from the ceiling. The tunnels did not seem to be stable. I feared danger around every corner. My desperation, however, drove me deeper and deeper into the tunnels. Past gems that were waiting to be mined. But not by me, not as long as I didn’t have a multitool.
At some point I noticed something behind some stones that shimmered blue. Curious, I turned on my helmet light. Astonished, I looked at my find. In the light of the lamp lay a water bottle, a food ration, an oxypen and a knife. The knife was makeshift, assembled from scraps, but it was still an effective weapon.
Just as I was about to pack everything up, I heard the echo of footsteps. I was rooted to the spot. Was the owner of this small camp coming? Would he take my find by force?
Then another prisoner stood in front of me. We stared at each other. Who would flinch first? It was the other one. His movements were lightning fast. Nimble as a cat, he turned and ran. It took me a few seconds to realize what had just happened. Like a mother animal defending her nest, I stood over my find with the knife in my hand. The sight of the weapon had probably been enough to send the other one running. Thoughtfully I looked at the knife. Should I use it to get a multitool by force from another inmate?
The thought didn’t appeal to me at all. But what options did I have if I couldn’t find an ownerless multitool? With an uneasy feeling, I continued walking. The deeper I went into the mine, the more unstable it seemed. There were boulders everywhere, and progress became more difficult. Breathing heavily, I fought my way forward. Then I stumbled over a backpack. Full of joy, I tore open the lid and turned it upside down to dump out the contents. Nothing. Furious, I shook the yellow backpack. But nothing fell to the ground. The backpack was empty.
I had no choice but to keep looking. While I was trudging through the tunnel, I noticed how I had unconsciously taken the knife in my hand. Slowly, I turned it back and forth. Was this the way? Could I only get a multitool with the help of the knife? An inner battle raged inside me. Live or let live. Fight or keep searching. As my inner conflict escalated, a new problem rose. One that dwarfed my previous difficulties.
My oxygen was running low. I had already consumed well over half. I could not go back. There was only one direction for me. Further, deeper into the mine tunnel and hope that I would soon find an oxygen station. How things can change. Just now a multitool was the most important thing for me. Something I would even consider killing for. And now I was just hoping for oxygen.
After a few minutes I saw a red box a little way ahead in the yellow light of the spotlights. A charging station for oxygen. Without consciously wanting to, my legs moved faster and faster and finally ran. After I reached the charging station, I leaned on it, breathing heavily. As I looked at the screen, I felt like I was falling into a deep hole. The level indicator on the display seemed to grin and sneer at me. It showed 0%. There was no oxygen. My luck seemed to have run out. No oxygen, no multitool, no future.
As if in a trance, I continued walking. Despondent, I put one foot in front of the other. The tunnel seemed to get narrower and narrower, seemed to want to crush me. But suddenly I saw another oxygen station. And next to it, a person was lying on the ground. Oxygen and multitool all at once? Had my luck returned? Suddenly I was wide awake. New courage seized me. But I had rejoiced too soon. The dead man on the floor was wearing only his underpants. Others had already looted him. At least I was able to fill up my oxygen supply at the station.
With the oxygen tank full, my inner conflict returned. Was I forced to use the knife? Or should I search until I found a multitool. I didn’t have much time to think. The tunnel widened into a hall. In it stood a group of prisoners. All of them had a multitool hanging from their belts.
“This is as far as you can go”, one of them called out to me.
With the courage of despair, I took the knife in my hand.
“‘Really, not?’ I have no intention of turning back.” I really didn’t. However, I realized that I couldn’t take on the whole group.
“‘As you wish. You go on your way. We’ll talk when you get back. If you come back.” The others in the group laughed and gave way.
Somewhat perplexed, I walked past the group. Had the knife been my pass? And why had the guy said, “if I came back.” What was waiting for me? I hadn’t finished the thought before I was standing in front of a black hole. A passageway into a cave. It was dark, not bathed in yellow light like the mines. Was this a way to freedom?
After I passed the passage, the cave widened into a large hall. No yellowish spotlights, no securing like in the tunnels. Just a normal cave. It was dark, only these things on the ceiling shone. There were these little points of light everywhere. It was beautiful. The cave, it had a stellar sky. Melancholy spread through me. The stars. I hadn’t seen them in a long time. It was time to get out of this prison. Would I find an exit in this cave?
I advanced deeper and deeper into the cave. It was huge. One hall followed the other. I had already lost my orientation. My plan was always to take the next turn to the right. But I had no idea anymore where I was. And then I ran out of oxygen. Stoically, I kept walking, hoping to find an exit.
Suddenly, my mobi glass vibrated. Confused, I activated the holo-display. No one could contact me down here, there was no connection to the outside. To my surprise, my Mobiglas was in contact with a comm array. A message came in. Hesitantly, my finger approached the communications app. The message opened. It was from Ruto. He was looking for someone in Klescher to finish a job for him. There must have been an escape route to get out to bring him something.
That would have been it. But it was too late. My oxygen gauge presented the sad number nine. I still had 9% oxygen. There was no chance for me to get out of here alive. Dejectedly I went on. Further towards my end.
After a while I suddenly saw a yellow light. I had walked in a circle and was again at the passage to the mine. Barely able to breathe, I walked toward it. My oxygen was almost at zero. It felt like I had to suck air out of a rock. I could only see the passageway in a blur. But the yellow glow of the light lured me in. Like a moth I approached the light until it surrounded me. I was in the light, feeling my knees touch the ground. Then it went dark and there was nothing around me.
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