Cosmic Prison Breakout

5 Sep

Of all the space prisons and penitentiaries in the Great India Federation, the largest and most secure was the one called the Plasma Colony. This was where Dr. Sekar Nair received the right to carry out a psychological study of the methods used in this institution famous throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.

Plasma Colony was surrounded and protected by a spherical wall of ionized plasma. A kind of magnetized cloud enveloped the solid core that was the prison. There had never been any escape possible for the thirty thousand inmates of the institution. The plasma that engulfed the colony promised instant destruction to any object or person who entered it. There was only a single avenue made safe for traffic to and out of the prison by throwing on a plasma dispersion mechanism at the colony, and this was only done once a month. New prisoners and supplies traveled in, while discharged individuals exited from the colony at that special, limited time.

Sekar Nain watched as the freighter he was on neared the gray, spherical prison. He looked ahead to learning about the place from its warden, Rahul Asan, a veteran space penitentiary administrator.

A pair of uniformed guards led Sekar from his assigned rooms to the executive wing and the office of the man who governed the prison colony.

“Dr. Nair, I am so glad to see you. How was your journey here? I realize that you are eager to tour our various areas and become acquainted with how we do things. I have asked our Chief of Guards, Ekram Tandon, to guide you on a tour of the prison. I want you to see how our comparatively small staff of only two thousand runs an institution with thirty thousand prisoners. It is an amazing group of professionals who work at this colony. You shall see for yourself how thoroughly dedicated all of them are.”

“That is my goal and purpose: to become familiar with all aspects of this community and how it functions,” declared the visitor. “From what I have read, I have learned that you have inmates who come from all over the Great India Federation.”

The warden grinned. “We have the worst, most dangerous criminals from Bihar, Assam, Kamataka, Kerala, Punjab, and Delhi. They send those they have difficulty handling to our prison colony, knowing that we are equipped to deal with problem offenders of all kinds.”

“I want to find out about the unique character of your system of incarceration and treatment,” said Sekar, smiling at the short, skinny man who was in charge of the place.

A light blinked on the copper desk of the warden. “Ekram is outside, ready to show you about. I will see you later, Dr. Nair.”

The latter rose and made an exit. He found a tall, gangly figure in uniform waiting for him in the anteroom. Sekar offered the dark Dravidian his hand, which the Chief Guard shook with vigor.

Ekram led the penologist along a circular aisle that had pod windows along one side. “We can see the inmates, but they cannot look out at us,” explained the jailer. “The ones you see are in absolute seclusion in separated cell pods.”

Sekar, a step behind him, gave a laugh. “What you have here is exactly like the Panopticon designed by the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, way back in the 18th century. Every act or movement of a prisoner is potentially visible to a person observing from a central point. Yet the convicted one can never know for certain when eyes are watching through the one-way window. That produces motive to be well-behaved, I would think.”

Ekram took the psychologist into an area where prisoners were attending various kinds of educational classes, performing in dramatic plays, and playing musical instruments. “This is where we try to develop their creative potential,” smiled the Chief Guard. “Our warden is an optimist about these characters,” he remarked, looking into the youthful, bright face of Sekar.

All of a sudden, Ekram stopped and pointed to a huge figure in a small room who was playing on an acoustic guitar. “That musician you see there is a notorious racket boss named Bijan Jha. He comes from the planet Gujarat, where he ruled the underworld as a king of crime. The fellow likes to spend time practicing old tunes.”

“He is recognized as leader of the prisoners by all the others, even those from other places,” added the Chief of Guards.

Inmates could use a number of scattered exercise gymnasiums located about the Panopticon of cell pods. Bijan Jha, besides his interest in music, was also a healthful body fanatic who used his physical fitness privileges to the maximum. Besides these personal benefits to him, he used his time with the exercise bots to confer in secret with other prisoners and members of the staff. Among the latter, he had frequent contact with the Chief of Guards.

The heavy, muscular long-headed Indo-Aryan with the lined, ugly face sat resting by himself in the otherwise empty work-out chamber when Ekram Tandon entered and walked over to him.

“What is this psychologist who came to the colony doing?” asked the convicted underworld kingpin.

The Chief of Guards gave a knowing grin. “Like any professional scholar, not much of anything. He is merely going to look around the prison, gather up some data, and finally leave us. Nothing will be changed, I trust.”

Bijan made a sour, acid grimace. “I do not worry about characters like that. My dream is still one of leaving this place and going back to Gujarat. They need me back there because of the terrible, bloody infighting going on. I am the only boss with the ability to keep the peace on the planet. Without me, there will be even more conflict and slaughter. My presence alone can restore peace and prosperity there.

“I can’t stay cooped up on this Plasma Colony any longer, Ekram.”

The latter frowned. “It is impossible to devise any kind of escape. The plasma cloud is an inescapable killer out in the void.”

The racketeer looked fixedly into the ebony eyes of the tall Dravidian.

“I think there is a man on the prison staff who knows how to spring me out of here. Are you willing to cooperate and help what he plans to do for me?”

“I don’t know and cannot say as of this moment,” hesitantly answered Ekram. “I would have to talk with the person and judge how practical and doable his ideas are. It might take considerable funds to finance an escape.”

“That will not be difficult to arrange,” said the prisoner, nodding his head.

Sekar interviewed several prisoners chosen and presented to him by the Chief Guard. The volume of notes he made on his mobile memory unit grew ever larger. The psychologist was surprised at how eager inmates were to reveal thoughts and feelings to him. But the more he unearthed, the greater expanded his curiosity about the reality of the life of persons on the plasma colony.

Ekram Tandon made arrangements to meet in private with the staff member associated in some manner with the convicted gangster named Bijan Jha. This technical specialist was part of the group in charge of the vessel that went back and forth between the colony and deep outer space beyond the plasma cloud that surrounded them in all directions. The pair met in the plasma expert’s tiny private office in the administrative section. The middle-aged man, educated in space physics, seemed puzzled by why the Chief of Guards wished to consult with him.

“We have not talked with each other too often,” said Nitin Bhat, a small bald man with a large, long head. He gazed across the Chief Guard’s low desk at the tall, thin officer.

“I was referred to you by a resident I know, Bijan Jha. Are you familiar with who he is? His reputation on Gujarat has given him high fame throughout the Great India Federation. I believe no one else among the inmates is as well known and looked-up-to as is Bijan. What do you think?”

Surprised and put off balance by what he had just heard, Nitin did not give a direct answer. Instead, he tried to change the subject away from what he had been asked by the Chief of Guards.

“Yes, we have some well-known individuals assigned to our colony. Even criminals have their status ladder, and I have no doubt that our prisoners have a vertical hierarchy of their own. So, it is probable that the man you speak of enjoys renown and prestige among our population. After all, their numbers add up to thirty thousand, don’t they?”

Ekram made an enigmatic grimace. “But you know of whom I am speaking. I know that, because Bijan himself has revealed to me that he has discussed matters connected with plasma physics with you. Is that correct?”

Nitin Bhat nodded that it was.

The Chief of Guards leaned his head forward and whispered. “Bijan told me that he has hopes of leaving the colony, and that you know a way of helping him counter the expected effects of our plasma cloud.”

The technician found it difficult to organize his thoughts or spoken words. “I am amazed at your knowledge and wonder how you won the confidence of our mutual acquaintance. It is astounding to me, and I am uncertain what to tell you without revealing matters that should be kept private and unexposed. I mean to say that I am not questioning your personal character or moral integrity. But my great fear is not to say anything to you that may contradict my obligations to this resident we have from Gujarat.

“What do you wish me to do for you, Mr. Tandon?” asked the bewildered plasma technician.

“The task that I present to you is to build me a generator of gyrating beams of protons large and powerful enough to propel a small pod safely out of our plasma cloud. I know enough about cosmic physics to understand the difficulty of crossing through the cellular webs that form that strong, impenetrable shield about our colony. The freight vessel that brings us visitors and supplies has strong gyroscopic generators able to bombard and cut through the cell and filament walls of the great ionized magnetic plasma. Can you build me a smaller unit that could permit a single chamber pod to escape out into galactic space?

“I realize how hard what I am asking for would be to achieve.”

The Chief of Guards stared intently at the small, bald technician.

“It will take me some time to accomplish, because the parts and components needed are scattered about in different places of our prison. But I think it feasible, sir, if you would help me obtain all the equipment that is needed for such a project.”

“The prisoner for whom this is done promises to reward you for your effort,” noted Ekram. “He is quite well-off and can afford to be very generous to all who aid his escape.”

Sekar Nair interviewed a number of prisoners from different planets across the Great India Federation. They had been active in a variety of criminal fields. But he increasingly sought a meeting with the most interesting of the major law-breakers, the gangster from Gujurat named Bijan Jha. He decided to confront this inmate while he was exercising in the gymnasium close to his cell pod.

Completely alone and by himself, the psychologist sauntered into the small chamber where the racketeer was lifting weights with tremendous physical effort.

Bijan stopped his motions and looked at Seker. “You are the scholar here to study how we live in this prison, I believe. Am I correct about that?”

“Yes. And I think that you are a person who could help me quite a lot in finding out how this institution is run. What do you say, Mr. Jha? Are you willing to act as my source of important information?”

Sekar waited, uncertain what answer he was going to get from the prisoner.

“Yes,” grinned Bijan with evident pleasure. “I would be more than happy to be of help to you.”

Nitin worked continuously in assembling the instruments and apparati that Ekram succeeded in obtaining for him.

The technician explained the nature of what he planned to accomplish in the storage vault he was using as a construction site. “As almost everyone nowadays knows, most of space consists of some sort of plasma in a cellular or filamentary shape and form. Interstellar space is made of plasmic structures. Our colony has a specially created thick sphere of ionized plasma surrounding it. It takes heavy bombardment with proton beams to cut a path through the plasma cloud for a vessel of any kind or size to pass through.

“The generator I am putting together will produce strong helical protons that destabilize and disperse the plasma cloud for a short time, so that a ship or a pod can transverse the shield and exit into open space.

“The oscillations of the generator will keep the proton beams gyrating and cutting away the wall of plasma. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

The Chief of Guards nodded yes. “What will all of this be ready for use?” he asked point blank.

“Sooner than you think,” said Nitin with a laugh. “We are only a few days away from lift-off time.”

Sekar was surprised at how open the gangster named Bijan Jha was with him.

He decided to visit the prisoner every day, because the talkative fellow seemed to know everything about how the prison colony operated. The inmates who knew him trusted their secrets to Bijan alone. His knowledge of who did what among the staff and the guards produced an endless number of revelations that helped the scholar understand what was going on from day to day.

Seker was grateful for the valuable information provided him by this famous master of criminality.

It was noticeable that the prisoner had a wide knowledge of the nature of the plasma envelope that kept guard around the colony.

“Because the ionized cloud is the main force and guard keeping us here, it behooves us residents to understand what gives that special plasma such power over everyone,” asserted the leader from Gujarat.

Seker did not realize the important significance of these words from his informant.

Bijan Jha was a man who could never forget or ignore the lessons taught him by a lifetime spent in the criminal underworld.

On the day before the scheduled escape in a small pod equipped with a proton flare generator, the mob boss made an announcement to the plasma technician, Nitin Bhat. They sat next to each other in a small gymnasium where Bijan had been exercising on a muscle-building machine.

“There is something important that I need to tell you, my friend. When I leave to cross the cloud, I will not be alone. My intention is to take a hostage along with me. It will be a person of value and importance. I have chosen someone whose presence on the pod with me will provide a degree of protection should there be any attempt to interfere with my exiting from the prison and the envelope that encloses it.

“The individual whom I am planning to use as my companion is the psychologist, Dr. Nair. His presence aboard the small vessel will guarantee that there will not be interference with my escape.

“Sekar Nair shall be like an insurance policy securing my safe exit from this plasma colony.”

Nitin looked confused and disturbed. “You plan to carry out an abduction, then. It would be considered kidnapping by any court in the Great India Federation. Are you willing to take that risk in order to steal out of prison?”

Bijan gave a lurid grin. “Of course. Wouldn’t you, or anyone else?”

The technician made no verbal reply, being uncertain what effect he could have on the headstrong racketeer.

Warden Rahul Asan was finishing his office work on his memory-unit when his communicator bell rang.

He spoke into its micro, asking who it was at his door.

“This is Technician Nitin Bhat of the Equipment Department. There is an urgent matter that I have to report to you directly, sir.”

It took several moments before the executive replied. “Come in immediately,” said the puzzled warden.

Nitin entered and, standing before the desk of the official, began to describe a conspiracy difficult for anyone to swallow instantly. But as the tale went on, Rahul lost most of his initial skepticism.

“I will have to take action immediately,” decided the warden. “Otherwise, the results can be awful.”

Sekar was prompt in coming to the snack area where he had promised the prisoner called Bijan Jha had asked him to meet late that earth-day. What the reason for the special time set, the psychologist could not guess or imagine.

When he arrived at the location in the wing of pods where the gangster was stationed, he found the latter waiting for him there. It took a little while before Sekar realized that the other held a club-like metal rod in his right hand. Small talk began between the pair, when all of a sudden the hand holding the cudgel raised it into the air in a dangerous, threatening manner.

“You and I are going to take a trip, my good man. We will be taking a special pod that has been set aside for our use. It is waiting for us in a storage area with an exit door into the plasma cloud. Do not be afraid, for the journey will be a safe one. The pod will survive and travel forth in safety. I have seen to it that special proton generators are attached to the small vessel, making it possible to cross the shield without danger.

“I admit to you that I will be using you as my personal hostage. No harm shall befall you, and your release will come when we reach a safe harbor elsewhere in the Great India Federation. My promise to you is that there will be no conscious harm done, not at all.”

Sekar felt a sinking, whirling sensation far down inside himself.

“Shall we start walking to where the escape pod is stored?” asked the man about to make an escape from prison.

The visitor to the plasma colony began stepping toward the long outer corridor to which the kidnapper pointed with his left hand.

All at once, both Rahul and Bijan realized that they were not the only persons about.

A heavy, authoritative voice rang out. “Stop where you are and do not make any move.”

It was the warden himself, accompanied with half a dozen guards with shooters in their hands, who gave the order.

“Come along with me, Dr. Nair. This team will take the criminal in special custody. You and I will go to my office and talk. There are interesting facts I have to describe to you. The resident who is next to you was planning a break-out. That has never succeeded in the past, and today this clever attempt has been thwarted.

“You have an interesting personal experience to present and explain in any future research writings that you may engage in.”

Bijan marched away with guards surrounding him. Sekar drew a long, deep breath of relief and followed the warden away from the newly arrested mobster.

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