Episode 11: Not Quite Escape

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The next few days were a blur of chaotic activity, during which Ursula was nowhere in sight. Blaring sirens across Europa Base told of numerous security breaches. A weapons locker was broken into and its android watch disabled with frequency jammers. Smoke bombs hid further assaults on other storage lockers containing gas masks and other protective gear. Even the camp’s carefully guarded, open-air landing pads were attacked, and the fencing around them ripped to shreds by grenades.

Then late in the second day of the uprising, the camp’s Deputy Warden was found battered and near death outside his private dome. Stunned, the Warden had been slow to respond, complacent in the thought that her guards were more than up to the task of quelling this “unruly behavior.” Now she issued strict curfews and declared crucial sectors of Europa Base off limits at all times. But it was too little, too late.

A full-on prison rebellion broke out the next day, led by an inner circle that included Ursula. They struck fast and hard, starting with a total power blackout and a series of targeted explosions that took out the prison camp’s backup generators. Astonished, Roland had no time to wonder how Ursula’s cadre had managed to create so much havoc. He was too preoccupied with seeking shelter from the mounting barrage of strikes and counter strikes from both sides of the conflict.

In the midst of the fighting, as he peered through cracks in the landscaping shed he’d squeezed into, he saw the sky light up with a different sort of weapon. Out of nowhere, the rebels rushed forward armed with a new kind of compact laser rifle that took the camp guards by surprise.

From their general contour, Roland recognized a few of the components he’d been working on all this time without knowing their function. Regardless, the new laser weapons were intimidating enough to drive the prison forces away from the camp’s transport launch pads. Amidst a constant hail of fire from both sides, the rebels managed to commandeer one of the transports, cram themselves inside and lift off.

Rolland gasped. Had he made a mistake by not following Ursula’s lead? He watched miserably as the ship reached the outer edge of the camp’s artificially generated atmosphere. Following a blaze of light, an ear-shattering explosion told the end of the rebellion. As Roland learned later, the rebels, for all their ingenuity, had failed to anticipate the self-destruct sequence built into every prison transport, precisely to thwart hijackers.

After a tense half hour, during which the ground shook, as huge chunks of metal from the transport’s hull crashed to the ground, Roland felt brave enough to poke his head out of his hiding place. The camp, now a smoldering wreck, was filled with acrid smells of spent fuel and searing flesh. A camp guard in riot gear ran up to him and clasped a thick-gloved hand on his shoulder.

“Come on,” he said. “We’re evacuating. Those bastards wrecked the atmosphere generators. It’s either leave or suffocate.”

Dazed, Roland let himself be led to a transport on the opposite edge of the camp. A bevy of wounded inmates with shocked expressions were already boarding. A moment later, the transport’s door slammed shut and they were aloft. Stunned, the former inmates of Europa Base stared out at each other, still too shocked to speak. Many, like Roland, worried that the person to their left or right might be a rebel left behind and dared not make himself a case of guilt by association.

But really, it was a time when words failed. Jailed on a false pretext, and now shot into space with no idea what the future held, there was little else Roland’s racing mind could do but keep him from leaping out of the airlock. Besides, despite everything, the thought of Ursula’s horrific death was shock enough to keep him silent for days more.

Nevertheless, whether as a sign of partial recovery, or a mere reflex, he felt his mouth moving against the transport’s stale air.

“What now?” he heard himself say.

Would they transfer him to another facility or drop him into the nearest neutron star? His breath came up short as he realized that he simply didn’t care.

(To be continued)

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