Date Published: 04-14-2021
Publisher: Indies United Publishing House
When plunder becomes a way of life for men, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
Frederic Bastiat, French Economist. 1801-1850
Fifteen years following his imprisonment for committing a brutal revenge murder, former top DEA Agent Billy Russell is paroled five-years early to a world controlled by autocratic billionaires. Armed only with his wits, Billy returns to find a society fighting for its very survival and soon finds himself embroiled in the wildest conspiracy he could have ever
Winner of the Author’s Circle Novel of Excellence for Fiction, The
International Review of Books for Fiction, the Literary Titan award for
Excellence in Fiction.
When my earthly expiration date arrives, I’ll be whisked off to heaven because I’ve already experienced hell. I no longer have a sense of what is real and what is not… the memories that once lifted my spirits when all hope seemed lost are gone… like I’m seeing life through heavy gauze. That’s what this hellhole has done to my once-functioning brain… but I will endure, I will survive. Until then, like the missing tab of a thousand-piece puzzle, apocalyptic dreams are in control of my nights… those precious memories that once kept me going when I thought I couldn’t are distorted and fragmented… those I wish I could erase forever linger within the deep recesses of my consciousness haunting me night after night after night. When I arrived here, I was twenty-six years old, six-feet-two, weighing in at two-hundred and fifteen pounds… I’m one-hundred and ninety now thanks to six days a week hard labor… my hair remains dark brown except for the streaks of white that have invaded my temples… dark circles live under my light brown eyes, my face has forgotten how to smile. Like everyone back on Earth, I had only heard stories of this place that painted a grim picture… little did I know what I was in for. On the day we landed in this nether world, management had us strip and marched past a line of leering, catcalling inmates… the brass’s way of removing any sense of self-esteem we had left… from that moment on time and space was altered… I had descended into a black hole of punishment. We were issued identification numbers… names are not used here… my number is 11349556… I’m addressed only as 556, which is stitched on the front of the two shirts I was issued. We sleep in four cold, dark, gray cramped spaces called ‘Bays’, fifty men to each… I’m in bay three… the bunks are two-feet apart in earshot of every snort, belch, cough, sneeze, grunt, fart, along with a cacophony of constant distractions coming from some of the scariest men I’ve had the displeasure of coming into contact with… that’s saying a lot considering my profession before being sent here. You have to set bunkmates straight right off or they’ll make life a living hell of harassment… I did… they know not to screw with me. Apartheid is alive and well thanks to a complicated mix of races… if you’re black, brown, red, or yellow, life is a nightmare of racism that leads to an occasional battle royal nurtured along by the all-white goon squads who watch over us. Each day begins on an elevator that accommodates twenty-five at a time… down we go some thirty-five-feet where the tunnel shafts begin. Except for a half-hour box-lunch break, the rest of the day is spent operating machinery that scrapes loose the precious ore deep under the frozen surface of Europa, the smallest of the four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter. The ore is called Phostoirore… it’s French… it’s black like coal and smells like rotting chicken parts, an odor that will forever be embedded in my sinus cavities. None of us would be here if not for an unmanned spacecraft called Clipper that was launched in 2024 by NASA to probe beneath Europa’s frozen surface. What the good ship Clipper brought back changed the way the world consumed energy. Scientists turned giddy when they heated a sample and it liquified into metallic hydrogen, a super energy source that had been researched for years with no positive results. There followed a massive coming together of US space agencies and private space firms to launch a manned flight to Europa… it was a miraculous accomplishment given how quickly it came together… the American flag was planted on Europa’s surface and the United States claimed all rights to the ore. Next came the construction of a ship large enough to send manpower, materials, and machinery to build an underground facility. That same ship plus two more would shuttle manpower to Europa and bring the ore back to Earth. The rest is history. MAXMinerai, the mining conglomerate headquartered in Marseille, France, would oversee the mining operation… they’re the ones who named the ore Phostoirore. To ensure a continuous flow of manpower to work the mines, Europa was designated a penal colony since no one in their right mind would volunteer to go there. If a country wanted a share of the liquid gold, they paid a price set by the US Government in addition to providing an agreed upon number of men convicted of heinous crimes to work the mines. Medical assistance is all but non-existent… there’s always a fresh supply of unwilling manpower waiting in the wings… since I’ve been here, I’ve lost count of the number of men that have died miserable deaths. The guards are a mixed bag of mostly ex-military tough-guys from around the world… the accents are all over the place… half the time you can’t decipher what’s coming out of their mouths. How do I begin to describe seventeen years living deep underground never seeing the surface, sky, or whatever else might be out there in frozen no man’s land beside the landing/launch pad? One day rolls into the next without reference to anything outside the dark, dusty, smelly mines, the clamor of heavy machinery, the brutal Neanderthal guards, the marginal food, and inmates looking to blow off steam, or worse, a carnal roll in the sack in the middle of the night with a willing or unwilling participant… each minute, each hour, each passing day plays out without place, time, meaning or documentation… physical pain and emotional stress have a way of turning you into someone you might not have otherwise become. On my bluest days, I remind myself that if I endure and retain my sanity, my sentence will be up and life will resume where it left off, albeit damaged physically and mentally. We have no contact with the outside world… nothing, nada, zip… a family member could die back home and you’d never know it… there’s no existence beyond the spaces we occupy. I recall with relish that my early school years established me as the class clown. To this day, I have no idea why I saw, and continue to see, the humor, if not the absurdity, of life. Unfortunately, my warped sense of humor was never embraced by my teachers, which all too often landed me in hot water. When I entered my first year of high school, I began taking a serious interest in this crazy undefined world… life was all around us abundant and diverse and that interested me. What did it actually mean to be alive, and why for such a short time? How foolish and arrogant of me to think that I, William ‘Billy’ Evan Russell, would discover the answers to such deep questions. Perhaps one day, I thought, I would meet someone who can… I’m still waiting… my sense of humor remains as perverted as ever. On the other hand, like all clueless youth, I was convinced I would live forever. The seven stages of life that begin with infancy and ended somewhere between dotage and death didn’t apply to me… now all these years later, I’m dwelling more and more on that end stage… no longer do I see the light at the end of the tunnel as a ray of hope, but a speeding train coming to squash me like a disease-spreading insect. This morning, like all mornings, a bone-shaking siren shakes us awake at five AM reminding us of the lingering aches and pains of the previous day… we’re up and standing by our bunks awaiting the arrival of a sorry excuse of a human, an ill-tempered oaf of a man whose first name is Vladimir… don’t know his last… we call him Quasi, short for Quasimodo, because his shoulders hunch forward like maybe his head’s too heavy for his fleshy frame. He speaks with a tongue-twisting European accent… the mere sight of him sticks in my throat like the foul-smelling Phostoirore. All the guards carry a two-foot instrument resembling a cattle prod that delivers the same electrical results… Quasi’s damn quick to use his for the most minor of infractions… this morning he shows up looking more pissed off than usual.
“Leon Wilson, Christopher Hewitt Henley, William Evan Russell, stall przy lozhach.”
Quasi has this irritating habit of slipping in and out of his mother tongue… not sure, but it sounds slavic.
“Sorry, sir, didn’t get that last part.”
“You three assholes stood by beds.”
The word is ‘stand’, learn the language, you imbecile… whoa, wait a damn minute… did he just call us by our actual names, not our numbers? Not a good sign… no, not a good sign at all.
“The rest of you know drill. Move it.”
In a chorus of disenfranchised voices, forty-seven men drone in unison.
Quasi follows the men to the door counting heads until the last man files out for their morning latrine break and a bowl of mushy, overcooked oatmeal… why he counts heads only he knows. Where the hell would one go if they did try to escape, ice skating on the surface maybe? Chris Henley, with a shit-eating grin on his lips, leans close and whispers.
“Jesus, man, he called us by our names!”
Chris is a smallish wiry white guy about my age… close cropped dark brown hair with piercing, menacing eyes, and a wisecracking mouth not even a loving mother would tolerate.
Near as I remember he showed up a year after I did… on his left shoulder is a tattoo of a 300 Winchester Magnum M24 sniper rifle. Leon Grover is a tall black guy in his sixties with a thick head of black hair and strong facial features… he arrived a couple of years after Chris… Leon’s quiet and mostly keeps to himself… he coughs a lot… there’s always a cigarette hanging from his lips… just about everyone smokes since cigs are free… our one and only perk. Now Quasi’s strolling back with his usual smug, kick-ass look.
“You three have appointment with Commandant. Get dressed.”
The Commandant? No one gets an invitation to the Commandant’s office unless they’re gonna get their ass handed to them for some infraction of their endless rules. As usual, Chris can’t keep his bloody mouth shut.
“What does Herr Commandant want with us?”
Quasi scowls… he scowls a lot… he sticks his cattle prod within an inch of Chris’ nose.
“Keep mouth shut. Get dressed.”
Chris grabs his crotch with both hands and groans.
“Can we hit the head first, I gotta vacate some water really bad?”
Quasi grunts… he also grunts a lot.
“Make it quick.”
About the Author
During his film and television career, Robert J. Emery, who writes novels under the pen name, R. J. Eastwood, has written, produced, and directed feature motion pictures, television documentaries, national television commercials, political campaigns, and industrial films. Some of the highlights of his career include the award-winning ninety-one-episode television series The Directors for Starz/Encore, the award-winning
four-part mini-series, The Genocide Factor for PBS, the award-winning documentary For God & Country: A Marine Sniper’s Story for MSNBC, and the award-winning motion picture, Swimming Upstream, for the Lifetime Television Network.