By Adrian M. Neville

"It's funny how some of the things we dislike most - those nasty, dark things that exist in every saint and every sinner - are the things we hold most dear. We cherish them, even as we run from them. In an ever-changing universe, they remain, familiar to us. Comforting, despite our hate for them. Even hate itself. Especially hate itself! Friends betray; lovers cheat; money comes and goes. When everything else is alien to us, we have hate - that tiny fire deep within the blackness, that warms us, and guides us. And they say love is the most powerful emotion!

Pity the man who lives without Hate - for he hasn't a friend in the universe..."

-Journal Entry, Rudolpho deLuna

Prisoner of Gravity, Prisoner of Stone;

Prisoner of Memory, with a Prisoner of His Own

The brig smelled like shit.

Klaxons sounded. Lights blazed. The heavy iron doors slid open with a protesting groan. Through the dim light and omnipresent mist of poorly-maintained cooling systems strode two victorious hunters, their bound prey in tow. The handcuffed man offered no resistance, even maintained a sense of almost effeminate grace as he was led to his cell. The cell, apparently little more than an iron cage, would perhaps have looked more approriate in a medieval dungeon, waiting to slowly devour another heretic, traitor, or knave, rather than aboard a spacefaring vessel, dated as it may be. With limited funds, and growing debts, the hunters had to make do.

Not for the first time since the arrest, a sudden urge to escape - an ancient, bestial instinct to bite and claw for freedom, feuled solely by the will to survive - welled up inside the prisoner, and quickly faded, yielding to a more rational, civilzed mind. He knew the truth of it, better than anyone else ever could.

I'm a killer. I deserve to be here.

"Get in," said one of the hunters, coldly. It was the man in charge of the bounty hunting operation, probably the captain of the ship itself. He had heard of such independant operations with a small crew capable of performing many different roles, while excelling in their own field. Any one member could adequately run the operation in emergency situations - Generalist-specialists, as it were. Montana, he had pronounced himself during the arrest. Danté Montana. He appeared to be in his late thirties, and was lean, yet strong; the latter proven by how he had manhandled the prisoner into the iron cell after removing electronic handcuffs.

He regained his composure and turned to face his captors. He saw the hunter, Montana, close the heavy door with a loud metallic groan, while the other one - a stone-faced black woman of about thirty - covered him with a small, yet doubtless adequate, pistol. Ruby laser light danced almost imperceptibly over his heart; a solitary waltz tuned to expertly-trained breathing patterns. The prisoner had not been told her name, and doubted he ever would be. Not that it mattered.

Montana's face was cold, professional, but his eyes betrayed his emotions.

This man hates me, mused the prisoner. As well he likely should. Yet there was something more, something corrosive, and infinitely more powerful that lay far beneath. Always present, never fading. Only becoming buried deeper and deeper into the infinity of the mind.

Montana inserted a keycard into an electronic mechanism in the cell door, locking it. The prisoner staggered slightly as he almost instantly doubled in weight. A low hum, almost inaudible to the human ear, signified the synthetic gravity in his cell had been shunted, boosting it to nearly twice Earth-normal. If he struggled, he would have to fight his own weight, quickly becoming exhausted.

Against his better judgement, the prisoner said the first thing that came to mind.

"I had to do it."

Montana slugged him in the jaw, as his stoic expression melted to become one of disgust. The prisoner fell back onto the hard cell bench.

"Why would anyone have to murder children, you sick bastard?" Asked Montana, his disgust becoming hate. The prisoner answered in a matter-of-fact tone.

"To regain something that was stolen from me."

"Oh? Someone takes your wallet, so you decide to dissect live children?" With the pistol still aimed at his forehead, a grim smile broke across the woman's face. "I admit, the Iapetan Police are borderline useless, but-"

"Quiet, Luc; this isn't funny." Interrupted Montana, glaring at the man in the cage, his composure regained. The prisoner stared into Montana's burning, hateful eyes. Buried deep within that hate was something else; something the hate was meant to drown out.

"What was taken from me is not so easily replaced." Though cold and empty, the prisoner's eyes bore equal intensity as he spoke to Mantana. "You don't realize how lucky you are. Disgust, fear, sorrow, rage. All those emotions you feel for me; all those things you hide behind that stone mask... Cherish your anger, Captain Montana - you'll miss it when it's gone."

"Enjoy your cell here on the Tulip," replied the captain. "You'll pray for it at Neried Max."

"You make light of things, Captain Montana, but if you knew the truth of it, you would weep for me..." He watched the captain's expression change to one of contempt; yet with still that special abhorrent thing buried deep within. Almost there. "...For I have lost more than you could possibly imagine."

The captain exploded. "Listen to me, you son of a bitch: You don't lose; you take. I've heard explosions tear a city apart. I've felt my wife's final breath on my lips. I've watched, helplessly, as everyone I loved screamed and begged for death as they burned alive, while savage killers carried off my son. Killers like you - sick, murderous dogs!." He stood back, so that his view encompassed the tiny cell. "Caravaggio, override safety locks and increase cell gravity by four hundred percent."

The prisoner slumped violently under the crushing weight of eight Earth gravities. Instinctively, he tried to reach out and steady himself, found he could barely lift his arm. He felt the overwhelming urge to vomit, and fought for every breath. The blood drained from his head, pulled downward by the amplified gravity, and he struggled to remain conscious. And he smiled. As the blackness consumed him, he watched Montana staring back at him. For a brief moment, the prisoner had seen the pure, unrefined emotion for which he yearned. He basked in hate, and then there was nothing.