issue 7

Transmissions From the Prison Station Tartarus, by C.A. Green

AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #1

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.21.09

[Heavy breathing, distant sirens]

Okay, this thing looks like it’s recording. The light is on, but I have no idea if it still really works. Not much else does, but I figured keeping a record of some kind is a good idea. Though I still don’t know what happened. We got hit by … something. A meteor maybe? Or an asteroid? All I know is that there is a gaping hole in the station, not far from the cells, and everything has gone to shit. Like deep shit.

All the cells opened automatically when the power started failing—including in my highly secure mental ward—and set 8,500 very panicked and very angry prisoners free to roam the station. Which, as you can imagine, has meant a lot of rioting and a lot of frantic attempts to stop the rioting. I’ve tucked myself away in this duct after the power went out in the cell block and my ears are still ringing from all the alarms.

It’s been less than an hour and I can already hear a ton of fighting and dying, so I’m not coming out any time soon. I stole an oxygen mask off a dead guard and the tank is good for another three hours. Hopefully everything will be stabilized by then.

Or everyone else will be dead.


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #2

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.21.09

It’s gone so quiet. That eerie, disastrous, unnatural kind of quiet. Like what I always imagined the inside of a black hole to be—silence that has weight. It’s why I’m whispering, still curled up in this stupid ventilation shaft in the middle of the psych ward.

The sirens stopped maybe an hour ago? Everything else stopped not long after that. My oxygen is running low, which means I need to try to get to a different part of the station, away from the breach.

[wheezing laughter]

I don’t know why I’m narrating all this. Maybe to help myself think. Or feel less alone. It’s easier imagining that you’re listening to this somehow, B. I guess it doesn’t matter either way—there isn’t anyone around and I’ve already been labeled as crazy by an official Consortium judge and everything. Not like I can sink any lower, right?

[pause]

Okay. Focus. I need oxygen first. Then to get to an engineering station so I can figure out just how fucked we are. Emergency power seems to be going in and out at random intervals so the station might not even work, but it’s a plan.

You were always telling me to have a plan.


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #3

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.21.09

So. Good news and very bad news. Which one should I convey first?

[cough]

Optimism is important in situations like this, wasn’t that in a flight training sim somewhere—that old one we managed to find when we were kids? Anyway, I guess I’ll start with the good: I’ve found a working oxygen mask. The fancy kind that the guards get, with a special tank that should last me a day or two. So at least I’m not going to immediately suffocate to death, I can check that concern off the list.

That’s it for the good, though. Now for the bad: we’re so fucked. I’m not sure I have time to explain just how badly fucked we are. Whatever tore into the station took out everything vital: shields, power, a giant piece of the hull. The only thing that still seems to be working is the anti-grav, though the whole station listed at about a 45 degree angle to the left on impact so everything is slanted and getting anywhere is a bitch.

Oh and did I mention that the AI has gone batshit? I ran into two sentries on my way to engineering and they both opened fire immediately. It looks like they’ve killed a pretty decent number of prisoners and flesh-and-blood guards from all the bodies I’ve seen strewn around.

By the way, since you’ve never had the privilege of being locked up on a prison station, B, sentries are two meter tall, four-armed robots that can tear you in half like you’re made of paper. They’re usually only supposed to back up guards if situations turn dire, but something has scrambled their programming and here we are.

[pause, tired breathing]

Where are you? I keep thinking about that. It’s been weeks since your last transmission. I want you to show up and rescue me in that banged up ship you keep insisting we can’t sell, like my own dashing hero.

And I want you to stay far away from this death trap.

I can’t decide which one I want more.


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #4

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.22.09

What the—

[UNKNOWN ALIEN LANGUAGE, CANNOT TRANSLATE]

Oh gods

[wheezing, coughing]

Shit, shit, shit….

[loud clanging]

Fuck.

[whirring mechanical noises, splash of water]

No, no, no, no—

[static]


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #5

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.22.09

[static]

Can you—

[static]

Stupid piece of—

[static fades]

Okay, okay I think I’m back. Thank the gods. I thought I was on my own for a minute.

[laughter]

I mean, I am on my own, but this way I can talk to you without feeling like I’ve lost the last shreds of my sanity. And who knows, maybe a salvage crew will comb through this wreck one day and find this little recorder. My ramblings could solve a decades-old mystery: what exactly happened to prison station Tartarus.

I’m still working on that one, though.

You see, B, I don’t think it’s just me and the violent AI and whatever pockets of human survivors are left on this husk. I saw something yesterday. People in biosuits, walking through one of the loading docks. I thought they were a Consortium rescue crew, but when I got closer I realized they were about four feet too tall to be human and they had giant horns protruding from their helmets.

Then I thought they must be Savrans, because hey, tall dinosaur aliens, but the language they were speaking wasn’t Savran. Their weapons disintegrated a sentry—turned the whole thing to dust in a fucking blink. That’s when I ran.

[wheeze]

I got up into the ducts, but fell through a loose panel and landed in one of the hibernation tanks, got drenched in chemicals that seared right through my flimsy prison jumpsuit. Had to go in my underwear to a guard station and steal a uniform from a locker.

I can hear you laughing. Shut up.

[cracked laughter, trailing into a sigh]

You remember, don’t you? All those rumors about war coming—about invaders beyond the Boundary, who had weapons the likes of which we’d never seen. All those spacers insisting it’s why the Consortium has been cracking down so hard. They just finished one war to accumulate their power and now they might be facing another one, so they can’t have low-life smugglers undermining their tightly-controlled trade routes.

I don’t think those were rumors at all. I think the Tartarus might have been a first strike. And now they’re searching for survivors on the station—have to make sure we can’t warn anyone, right? They must have blown the hole in the station and messed up the AI code so that they’d go rogue—help them cover their tracks.

I don’t get it, though. Why us? Everyone on this ship probably hates the Consortium just as much as they do. Give some of the people here guns and they’d gladly join an invading army. There must be something they want here, something the officers were hiding. I guess it doesn’t really concern me, does it? I’m just a fly caught in a spider’s web, like so many of us.

If they do end up defeating the Consortium and taking over, I wonder if life will be any different for us?

[pause]

Maybe that doesn’t matter, either.

[more laughter]

It’s ironic, though, isn’t it, B? All of our lives living on the margins, avoiding being crushed by everyone bigger than us. We survived one war and now I might die in a prison station at the dawn of a new one. That’s embarrassing.

Guess I’d better try harder to stay alive. And you’d better stay away.

Far, far away.


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #6

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.22.09

Okay, so I think I have a plan. It’s a terrible plan, but you shouldn’t be surprised.

I need to make it to the bridge and the officer’s lodge on the highest levels of the station. That’s where, if I remember right, emergency communication devices are located. Maybe one of them can get a signal out.

It’s worth a shot, right?

Don’t answer that.

[long sigh]

One problem: the backup power keeps turning off at random intervals so none of the lifts or trains are working. The area I need is, naturally, on the opposite side of the station. I’ve been trying to run calculations for the last hour, but I think even the shortest route will still take me at least two days, especially factoring in the tilt that’s still fucking with everything.

My oxygen should last that long, but it’s not a guarantee. Plus I have to make sure I avoid the sentries, other prisoners, and our unknown alien guests that seem to be methodically going through the station and killing everyone they come across that the AI didn’t obliterate. I’ve heard a lot of screams in the last twenty-four hours.

[tired laughter]

Gods, I can just picture your face. Don’t look at me like that, B. The only other option is to find a quiet corner to die in and I’m not ready for that just yet. I don’t have your brilliance, this is the best I can do.

So wish me luck, would you? I’m going to need it.


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #7

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.23.09

Do you remember that first ship we got when we were teenagers? Hunk of rusting metal we bought off a salvage crew on Delos. You wanted to call it the Phoenix because you were so sure we’d be able to fix it up, that it would be the ticket to our future. Even back then, I couldn’t say no to you—all the earnestness on your face.

That junk lasted us five years, which was five more than I expected. You were so smug, even if you were also too kind to say “I told you so.” I thought you could do anything, back then.

Sometimes, I still think that. I’m the one that got caught, after all. And I’m the one camped in yet another storage closet on this dying station, waiting for the danger to pass. I haven’t been able to find any usable weapons, not even a standard issue pistol—all the charge packs are depleted. So I’m stuck hiding again.

I feel like a trapped mouse.

[pause]

I don’t regret it, I want you to know that. I don’t regret the people I killed to keep you safe and I don’t regret giving myself up to make sure you got away, even if you don’t approve.  Better me than you, anyway.

But sometimes I do wish I could go back. To before the first war, to before Death started breathing down our necks, to before I picked up a gun and wiped out that entire Consortium patrol on Acheron. We had such big dreams back then, didn’t we? We were going to explore Wild Space, find new planets, see every part of the galaxy we could. Leave that backwater we grew up on far behind.

War crushes everything. We were getting by, up until Acheron, but sometimes I have to wonder, B, what’s really left of us?

[sigh]

I want to go back to the Phoenix, to the kids we were when we had stars in our eyes.

I want to feel invincible again.

I want to feel your hand in mine.


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #8

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.24.09

Okay, progress report: it’s been three days since everything went to hell. I can’t remember the last time I ate or actually slept but I’ve made it to the upper levels. It’s a lot quieter here, like a mausoleum. I’m passing bodies every few meters—all twisted up like something … contorted them that way, into these unnatural angles. It’s so fucking creepy, B. I preferred the disintegration I saw before.

The officers’ quarters are just one more level up, though. I’m going to have to climb the shaft since the lifts aren’t working, but the tilt of the station is actually going to help me here. It shouldn’t be—oh shit.

[loud footsteps, mechanical whirring, weapon cocking]

“HALT. PRISONER A05892, YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED IN THIS AREA.”

[scrambling footsteps, muffled cursing]

“I REPEAT, PRISONER A05892 YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED IN THIS AREA. STOP IMMEDIATELY AND RAISE YOUR HANDS.”

[footsteps grow louder]

“HALT!”

[weapon firing, loud electronic burst, a human scream]

“PRISONER A05892, HALT.”

[static]


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #9

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.24.09

[labored breathing]

R-right, where was I?

[cough, wheeze, pained grunt]

Oh, progress report. I bet you’re … on the edge of your seat, huh? Sorry to keep you waiting.

[long pause]

So do you want the good news first? I made it to the officers’ quarters. You should see it, B, they were living like kings. I’m pretty sure this is gold plating on the wall of the lounge. They have a whole bar, two cafes, velvet sofas—I feel like I’ve stepped into another world. This is where all the Consortium’s money to run this place went, no wonder my cell always felt like being a cryochamber.

[cough]

Bad … bad news, though. Our alien friends already came through. Place is ransacked to hell and all the emergency comms on the bridge were destroyed. Backup power hasn’t turned on in the last hour and I’m running low on oxygen.

Right before power failed, a proximity alarm went off: hostile ships. I think they found what they were looking for and now they’re gonna blow the station. No evidence.

You hear that, whatever Consortium official might be listening? They got the secrets you thought you could hide out here. Might wanna worry about that, presuming you don’t find this after war’s already broken out.

Oh and fuck you, honestly. I’m not happy about alien invaders but I wouldn’t mind seeing someone crush you for a change. You [cough] assholes wanted to commit us to hard labor just for smuggling a few crates of “unsanctioned medical supplies” past your ridiculous checkpoints. I wish I had taken more of you out before you threw me on this station to rot.

Anyway, I [wheeze] also got shot by a Sentry. Bastard. Took a chunk out of my side that not even that miracle salve you swear by is gonna be able to fix.

So it doesn’t look good, B. It … it really doesn’t look good.

[pause]

There was a viewing lounge, on my way in. Gonna head there.

I want to see the stars.


AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT #10

PRISONER A05892

LOCATION: TARTARUS, PRISON STATION – THETA SECTOR

DATE: 4178.24.09

I promised I’d stay alive for you, right before we had to separate on Acheron. You promised you’d find me: your eyes all big and earnest and determined—the kind of look that says you’ll shift whole planets just to get your way.

[sigh]

How long have I loved you now? At least a decade. Maybe always, in some form or another. 

[laughter]

Don’t make a disgusted face, B, I’m dying. I’m allowed to be sentimental. Just this once, I can tell you that I always thought we’d go out together. On fire. Like a supernova. We weren’t going to get gray hair or flatten ourselves down into some quiet, meandering life.

I think you wanted that sometimes, even if you never told me. You wanted old age, once we were done amongst the stars. But when we had to survive, you grit your teeth and laid those dreams to rest, even if you never took to smuggling the way I did. I’ve always loved you for that. I would have tried to quench the hunger in my blood, if it was for you. I would have learned how to settle down, if life would have allowed us that.

I’m sorry … that I’m leaving you behind. But I don’t regret what I did, I told you that. I’d burn whole planets for you. A few people dead, to keep you safe? What did that matter?

[wheezing laughter]

Gods, I can’t believe I’m sitting here recording a whole sappy farewell like some kind of romance cliche.

It’s so quiet. No more alarms, no more sentries, no more screaming. I can even hear my own blood dripping all over the floor, staining this stupid brocaded chair.

It’s just me and the stars now. Drifting.

I hope you don’t find this. It’ll be too embarrassing. I hope you forget me, go find someone else. You’re tall, good-looking, smart enough to be obnoxious—you’d be able to reel in anyone you want with just a flash of those dimples.

But I also hope you know that I love you. Have loved you. Will keep loving you until someday—far, far in the future—we can find each other again in the next life. Maybe we’ll be more than lowly smugglers, then. Royalty. Rich trade merchants. Anything we want.

[faint sob]

Fuck, sorry. I told myself I wouldn’t cry, this is bad enough already. Just … stay ahead of whatever war is coming, B.

Live. For me.

[long pause]

Dying like this sucks. I can … feel the fade. The world going hazy and dark at the edges. I don’t know … why they haven’t destroyed the station yet. I keep thinking of another trick I should have up my sleeve but I don’t think I can even stand.

So I’m just looking at the stars. They’re so bright. If I tilt my head the right way, they almost look like ship lights, getting closer.

Ha. I really must be going crazy now … they almost look like you, like our ship—that left headlamp you keep swearing you’ll fix, that stutters if you make a turn too fast.

It’s nice, feeling like you’re here. Feeling less alone.

Thank you. For listening. For everything. I’m sorry, I—

[static]

[TRANSMISSION END]


C.A. Green has been penning stories since she was a child growing up in the mountains of Southern California. After receiving an MA in Screenwriting from Royal Holloway – University of London, she now resides in San Francisco and remains fascinated by the reaches of space, the potential of other worlds.

2 thoughts on “Transmissions From the Prison Station Tartarus, by C.A. Green”

  1. I just loved this! I’m always impressed by an open ending that leaves me thinking I’d feel equally satisfied regardless of which way it turns, and this delivered there, even though one side of the coin is quite tragic. So much backstory is packed in here, all through a remarkably likable main character. I’m excited to read the rest of the stories in this issue as well now!!

    Like

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