Shadows surround my heart,
sweeping away my soul,
leaving a ghost of the man I used to be.
The presiding judge looked toward the uniformed men and women seated to his left. "We find the defendant guilty."
His face was blank, eyes an icy blue as he focused on the seal above their heads. There was no change in his gaze as the verdict was announced, even though they knew he was aware of the death penalty that accompanied a guilty verdict. They could not know of the emotions that had raged within him as he awaited the outcome, nor the peace he felt when he accepted the responsibility for his actions.
"In cases such as this, the prescribed punishment is death by lethal injection; however, due to the intervention of Colonel Winston, your commanding officer, the death penalty will not be invoked. Sentence is 120 days in solitary at Fort Adams, effective immediately."
The gavel fell and he felt it echo in his empty heart. The MPs came and led him toward the exit, and his eyes met Colonel Winston's. For an instant, he thought he saw guilt in the old man's eyes. "Surely not" were the only words that crossed his mind. Nobody cared about in-vitros, whether they had any feelings...or dreams. Tanks are expendable--it had been pounded into his brain like an incessant hammer, and no one had ever bothered to change the music.
He sat on the bus with the other prisoners, each of them manacled to iron rings on the seats in front of them, iron cuffs on their ankles to prevent them from attacking the guards or each other. He ignored the taunts of the other prisoners, anger and epithets thrown at him when they discovered that he was a tank. He didn't speak as they arrived at the military prison, forced to stand in the heat as the warden took his time delivering the standard welcome speech of rules and regulations. Nor did he utter a word when they were all forced into strip searches then herded nude down hallways to gather their assigned uniforms. After dressing in the orange jumpsuits that made them indistinguishable from the other inmates, identified only by numbers printed on the chest pocket, they were divided into columns and assigned cells. When they got to him, he was motioned off to the side, while the others were prepared for mainstream integration into the prison population. The head guard looked him over, nodded, then motioned to the other guards to take him to the cells that ran below the main prison complex. Standing in front of a cold metal door, he was stripped of everything he had been given. As one guard folded his clothing, the other opened the door and gestured him to enter. They looked bored with the process, there had been too many prisoners before him to merit much attention, but he knew they wouldn't hesitate shooting him if he tried anything. The fact that he was a tank didn't change their attitude.
It clanged shut behind him, the turn of the lock grating on his soul, and the light from the 1-inch wide slit in the door only cut the darkness for a foot into the cell. Gingerly feeling his way, he found a corner of the cell and sank onto the floor. He had no idea how long he sat there before he fell asleep, before he sank into dreams filled with the screams of the men who died in that bunker.
So began the first day of Hell for Tyrus Cassius McQueen.
He awoke, disoriented by the dark, until he remembered where he was. The floor was hard, just concrete, and it dipped toward a drain in the middle of the room for runoff. No windows, no furniture, just that slit in the door that could not overcome the darkness. He was hot, even though he was naked, and he could feel the sweat beading on his skin, filling the air, making it difficult for him to breathe.
He could feel himself growing claustrophobic as he felt the darkness enveloping him. Leaning against the door, he studied his fingers as he held them in the light, willing himself to breathe slowly and deeply. He felt his heart calm and he wondered how he was going to make it through 119 more days.
Time had no meaning in the darkness. He tried counting the seconds, but soon lost himself. He paced the cell, measuring it, trying to discern its dimensions, but soon stopped when he realized that he was only making himself dizzy with the effort.
This was not what he had expected--he knew the risk he had taken by punching his squadron leader. He had expected to die.
"This is their justice. If they had executed me, maybe I would be at peace. Now, I have to wait for the insanity to take me."
He sank to the floor once again, lost in the darkness that had escaped the cell and found its way into his soul.
His heartbeat sounded like thunder in the cell, and thoughts whirled madly in his head. The interminable silence invited his memories to assault him from every direction. Vague memories of being detanked--cold, alone, frightened--more feelings than anything else. The horrors of the mine, other in-vitros dying...more every day. It was a struggle to survive, to get up every day--some inner fire had kept him going when others simply gave up. He survived the mines, earned his freedom, and joined the IV Platoons--the others had joined, it seemed to be the only place that would have them. There was order, and as long as he did his job, no one bothered him...until the explosion.
Questions of why filled his mind, almost drowning out the voices of those who had died instead of him. For a brief moment, he wondered if Death followed on his heels because it was always present in his life. Then, the voices of the dead clamored for this attention and he put his hands over his ears to keep them out--they no longer hid in his dreams.
From the moment he was detanked, working in the mines and at Port Riskin, he had done a man's job, but in some ways, he was still a little boy. Being locked in the dark, he had been scared. There was no control, no say-so in what happened, he was completely and utterly alone. Even in the mines or in the platoon, there had been other in-vitros to share the dark, there had been comfort in numbers--even if none of them knew what they were afraid of. Here, he'd been forced to live with that fear and he wasn't sure if his mind would free him of the dark.
He saw the light seeping into the cell and crawled toward it, ignoring the scrape of the concrete against his knees and palms. He sat on the edge of that circle of light, wrapping his arms around his knees as he drew them up to his chest. He sat there for so long that he was numb to the cold concrete against his skin, numb to the tears that rolled down his cheek. He was afraid.
An eternity passed before he heard the key turn in the door, and he had to shield his eyes from the light that flooded the room.
"Come on, on your feet. We're moving you to a new cell today." Ishido Takemura helped him onto his feet and led him out into the hall. His body groaned, and McQueen had to lean against the wall until he felt the strength return. His muscles were weak from lack of use. He had been locked in that 10- by 6-foot cell for seven days--after the first few days, he had curled into a ball, trying to forget.
"Where are we going?" His voice was monotone, as if it had come from something almost dead.
"First, you shower, then we'll get you settled into your new home."
Seven days he'd spent locked in that cell--living among filth and nightmares. The warm spray of the shower pounded away some of his lethargy and he began to feel less like the rats who had been his roommates. Dressing in the orange jumpsuit, putting on boots, he almost felt alive, and Takemura noticed the change when McQueen rejoined him.
He was guided down a hall, past a row of hidden cells, and he could hear the men whose minds would not survive the darkness. Led into the sunshine, McQueen paused for a moment to let the warmth wash over him before Takemura showed him to his new home. It was clean, a little larger than the hole he had just left--there was a cot, a sink, a toilet, and a mirror. There was also a window, and McQueen moved to look out between the bars into the yard that lay beyond the chain-link fence. Takemura pointed to his bed. Make your bed, keep it neat, you get two hours in the yard at 1800 hours, you'll take your meals here.
When the door shut, it didn't clang as loudly, and McQueen found that he could still breathe. Quickly making the bed, he laid down, finding that even the thin mattress and pillow felt luxurious after the cold concrete floor he had been sleeping on. If he dreamed this time, he did not remember.
The days blended into each other, stretching out into infinite dullness. He arose in the pre-dawn hours, stretching to limber the muscles that protested lack of use. Make bed, bathroom, breakfast, window, lunch, bathroom, window, two hours in the yard, dinner, bed. Takemura noticed the defeat in McQueen's stance...the dullness in his eyes and wondered why such a man was here.
Every day seemed twice as long as the day before, and he began to welcome the nightmares to keep his mind from drifting into the void. At the end of his twentieth day in solitary, McQueen noticed that Takemura kept rereading the same book, nodding to himself and making little notations in the margins. One night, Takemura looked up and noticed the glances McQueen kept throwing at him. Have you ever heard of Musashi?
McQueen shook his head and leaned closer to the bars.
Musashi was born a samurai, a ronin, because he had no master. He began fighting when he was 13, and it is said he never lost a bout. From age 30 to 50, it has been written that he began to reflect upon his life, developing other skills, and became skilled in painting and carving. He also began formulating his Heiho--his path of enlightenment. He finally wrote out his Heiho so that others might learn. Takemura lovingly held the book in his hands. If you'd like, I will try to explain some of this. Perhaps it will help you find something in you for which you have been searching.
As he opened the book, Takemura looked at him. My name is Ishido.
McQueen looked Ishido in the eyes before answering. My name is Ty.
Now begins the journey, Ty, one that I hope will show you what you need to see.
As Ty stood at the gate, Ishido handed him the book, To help you keep your way.
He stared at it, running his thumb over the cover, then looked at the guard who had been his friend and his teacher. Thank you.
With a nod, Ishido walked back through the gate into the prison, as Ty turned and headed for the bus that would return him to his future.
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