Chapter 11: The Show Must Go On

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn

Suicide remarks are torn

From the fool's gold mouthpiece

The hollow horn plays wasted words

Proves to warn

That he not busy being born

Is busy dying.

Bob Dylan

The Warden had awakened.

He lay on the floor, still as death, listening to the rampaging of his personal quarters by the creatures he himself had permitted entry into Superjail. And although he took some pleasure in the muttered curses that had become the predominant sound in his hazy world, he lay mostly seething in his anger, waiting as the strength began to build up within him. His brain felt like a hot and throbbing wound; angry, fevered, even crazed.

"I told you he was worthless!" screamed Sharp from somewhere in an adjacent room.

Soon, he would change this.

"We can't get into the building going the front way," panted Jared as they ran full-tilt toward the building in question, where they knew their Warden was being kept. "We have to find another way!"

"Air ducts," said Alice after a moment's time. "You're the only one who can fit. You'll have to do it."

"But I..."

She shoved the power pack into his arms before he had the presence of mind to object. "Take this. Find Jailbot, get to him."

"What about you?"

She smirked. "Gotta get the inmates under control before we're in a riot. Then we'll be in even more trouble."

"B-but Alice! I n-need you here! I can't do this on my own!"

She ignored him, turning her back to him to face the yard. Getting ready.

Jacknife never made it to the control room. He had been met by the leaden door and, after pounding impotently on it for several minutes, he began considering his other options. If he could get to the Warden's office he could reach the control panel there and open the gates; he had been inside the Warden's office and knew damn well that if he ever made it in there, life would be grand. After the scare with Jailbot, who apparently was somehow dead, or as dead as a machine could be, he realized that it was the blessing he'd been waiting for.

There was no other choice for it. It was up to the air ducts again to be his salvation.

He clambered in, thumping and scraping and grunting, the knife with which he had used to escape still shoved into his jumpsuit pocket from when he had taken it from his unfortunate partner.

Jared managed to climb up onto a file cabinet and into the duct, panting partly with effort and partly because of raw panic. Things were happening too fast. With Alice gone, his task seemed momentous. He couldn't take this.

He knew, though, that he had to take it. He had to go with it and run. He had to protect what had become his home. He checked his watch and used the feature on it that enabled him to track Jailbot. After a few blips, his screen indicated a green dot in one of the property lockers.

Aha! Triumph welled up within him. He now had a direction, a better purpose. He steeled his nerves and followed the signal into the loud dark before and around him.

The Warden had drifted off again, somewhere in dreamland, searching for something. Searching for the strength to support his newfound rage. He felt dejected and defeated despite his anger, and wandered in his dream world aimlessly and restlessly.

And then something came to him.

It was a vision, as though he were watching a grainy old film. He saw a group of people milling around a woman, who, he realized with a start, was his mother. Mouth agape, he watched.

She was trying to stand up to the men in prison uniforms that had cornered her against a wall somewhere in the Yard. The Warden could tell by the set of her jaw and her tightly crossed arms that she expected trouble and was trying to be brave. Somewhere far away he could hear his father shouting.

It happened quickly after that. Three of the men lurched forward, seizing her. A fourth proceeded to knock her to the ground and forced himself upon her, ignoring her thrashing and struggling. It didn't take long. The men took quick turns with her, knowing her husband the Warden was coming their way as quickly as he could. There was no guard present in the guard tower; the turret sat empty.

They yanked her to her feet again, and she willingly complied, broken and surrendered. It took only a moment for one of the men to come up behind her and snap her neck.

It was only then that his father reached the yard, sidearm in hand, and proceeded to open fire into the crowd that had gathered, firing randomly, screaming and weeping and red with rage. They scattered, several left where they had fallen dead. The Prison Mogul fell upon his wife's body and screamed. It was then that three guards finally materialized from out of the cell block, alerted by the gunshots. Two of them implemented crowd control while the third seized his father and hauled him bodily away from the corpse of his wife.

The Warden's breath had stopped in his throat, his eyes wide. They had defeated his father and laid waste to his mother.

The Bad Men had won, just as his father had told him as a child.

"No," he whispered, and the sound was real. It brought him back to himself. It had also opened a realization within him: one of the men's faces had been familiar. He thought, hard, and stifled a cry when he finally put a name to the face.

It was Mr. Sharpe. A much younger Mr. Sharp with a duck's-ass haircut and sleeves ripped off to reveal muscular arms. He had been the first to assault his mother, and had been the one to snap her neck.

Strangely, no rage came, but rather a cold fear that seeped into him at the thought of confronting the man who had killed his mother and who was now so close to him, about to take over his prison. He fought swells of panic as a boat fights the swells of a tumultuous sea.

"Mother," he whispered.

Suddenly, she answered him.

He heard her voice from the last tatters of his dream world that clung to his consciousness, and he grasped at it like a drowning man.

You are the Warden, she whispered. You are my son. You can make the bad men stop.

"I want to!" he cried, startling the other two men in his quarters. "I want to but I'm not strong enough!"

"Guy's goin' crazy," muttered D.L. Diamond. He turned to Sharpe. "I think you messed up his brains, man."

"All the easier for us," his colleague answered, and he resumed his shuffling through records, searching, searching.

Bring them down, said his mother. You have your father's strength, and something more. They cannot overpower you if you are bigger than them.

"I don't understand!" wailed the Warden. He strained desperately to hear more, but nothing more came. He became aware that he was fully conscious now. His mother's presence had withdrawn, leaving an ache in her place. He looked around from his prone position on the floor. Sharpe was at his baobab desk, holding a sheet of paper in his hand.

"Got something!" he exclaimed.

"Got what?" called Diamond from the Warden's bedroom.

"Passwords," he said, "and some codes. At the very least we might be able to have a little fun."

"What do you mean?"

"This code," said Sharpe, waving the paper, "is a master code. It unlocks all the cells."

"What would you want to do that for?"

Sharpe grunted. "You don't know much about me, Diamond, but let's just say I've been in their position. I want to set them free."

Diamond appeared in the doorway, shrugging. "I just want the money, man. It's your cakewalk."

"Damn right it is," said Sharpe, and laughed.

It was to Jared's great misfortune that he collided with Jacknife in the airway ducts.

He had been running along in the dark, his footsteps booming, breath panting. Jacknife was doing the same thing, headed for Jared, and they bumped into each other, eliciting surprised yelps from both men. And then Jared saw the knife in the other man's hand.

Jared reeled back, screaming, the knife sticking an inch into his eye. His spasming hand dropped the power pack, which clattered loudly on the floor. Jacknife was already after him, but Jared's pain and panic had reached a level where everything had become slow motion, as though he were seeing the whole scene underwater. He had no thought, no presence of mind; instead he passively observed himself withdraw the knife from his eye, not hearing the horrid sound it made as steel scraped bone and pierced gelatinous flesh. His arm, stiff as a poker, continued downward, never hesitating, as it drove itself into Jacknife's neck.

Then, inevitably, panic and pain struggled to the surface again and he issued a screech that nearly deafened him in the steel duct. He jerked away from Jacknife, who merely stared at Jared, clutching his throat. Blood ran over his hands in a freshet. Jared clutched his ruined eye with one hand and started at the other, still holding the dripping knife.

Jacknife's collapsing form eventually became clear behind his quivering hand, and he dropped it to his side as he watched the seasoned criminal breathe his last on the metal floor of the duct. Horrified and in pain, he scooped up the now bloody power pack and leapt over the man's body, pelting full-tilt and half-blind down the duct, his small, hard shoes sounding a staccato on the cold steel.

Alice hit B wing first, making sure everyone was in their cells. As she traversed the massive building and all its wings she caused the men to cower in their cells, giving her not only a feeling of power but a peace of mind. The prisoners knew, with Alice around they were in the Warden's pocket. They could do nothing but find defeat. Satisfied, she turned to leave the building and head to the Warden's quarters.

Suddenly, an alarm briefly sounded, and all the cell doors popped open.

Yes, I updated. I know you didn't think I would ever update again, but I kinda caught the writing bug again, at least for a little while. It's not a long chapter but believe me, it took a hell of a long time to write. I will try to be timely with the next update and until the story is done, but I can't guarantee it. College is a lot of work. Anyway, I've missed you all! Welcome back!