Darian closed his door softly, trying to not draw attention from the other people who, hopefully, slept quietly in their beds up and down the hall. That was the bad thing about living in a dorm, all the people who could just knock on your door at any moment. You had to be careful.
Shrugging off his pack, Darian sat down and closed his eyes. He was tired. The day had been far, far too long for his comfort. Resting for the briefest of moments, he dragged his backpack up to his lap and began to take things out. Books. Notepad. Laptop. Planner. Pen.
Clicking the tip out, Darian marked off everything he had gotten done. Class. Interview. Paper. He still needed to do a few pages of lab work. For now he could rest. Darian leaned back and plucked a small book out from under the shelf, opening to where he had left off the last time he’d had time to read it. The tiny, leather-bound book was weather beaten. It had followed him around the world, keeping him docked in the fire-storm of life he had led so far.
Darian blinked away the visions that hung behind his eyelids and began to read once more. The silence was broken only by the hum of the outdated air-conditioner humming through the corroded vents. His phone toned three bells. 0130.
Laying the book aside, Darian began to hack away at the remaining homework until his phone sang out 0300, six bells in the middle watch. Darian forced his pen down and picked up the small book, flipping over the last few pages he’d read before turning out the desk light. He had and early class. The book went back beneath the shelf, and Darian hid himself beneath the covers of his bed.
The chain gang moaned in sadness, anger, grief. All the things that afflicted man and all the things that bound him to a ground far from the heavens of a destiny mot divine. Their lives had been robbed of happiness, hope, and joy, all the things that made humanity worth its existence. Yet, in a most cruel twist of fate, happiness was not entirely out of their reach, and hope was not all that irrational, yet these truths were kept from them, depleting them of their ability to see the light. There was hope. There was light. If only they knew of its presence.
The angriest of these men, a slave by the name of Jean Valjean, had no idea of what sort of man he would become many years later. He would go on to know true happiness, to touch the face of God, so his life, while not altogether a tragedy but in fact the exact opposite, was in the present the darkest possible of lives. He was a stranger to all the goodness that waited just on the doorstep of his heart. He did not know of a better future, only the torment of the present. The crime of his condition was unforgivable.
His head felt light. The sun was as hot as a brand against his skin. It would go up, shine upon his temple for twelve hours without relenting, and then go down, only to come back again and shine for twelve more hours. He couldn't take it. His strength was great; his resolve like iron, but he was human and with his limits. He collapsed against the ground, near the end of his rope. Mud soaked its way into the scruff of his beard.
For a time, he felt that his angel had left him, and that he had ceased his journey in this world with all the haste that a shooting star hit the Earth, fallen out of their place. He was nothing. He was dead.
A gloved hand grabbed him by the chin and lifted him up like a fish at the end of a hook. It hurt his neck and strained his patience.
"Is this prisoner 24601?" said the man.
"My name is Jean Valjean!" he replied. His iron resolve returned to him, his strength remembered. He was not a number, not some impersonal mass like the rocks of the Earth. He was a human being.
"Your time is up and your parole's begun," said the man. "Go free."
Valjean did not believe him. He did not believe he would ever have true freedom. If only he had known then. Maybe his redemption would have come a few days sooner, which while inconsequential would have still been even better. Yet, it is here where we, the readers, must recall that it didn't matter when it came, but that it came nevertheless to pass that a sad man found peace.
Sunlight cascaded through the leaves, casting the forest floor in a verdant hue. The air was weighed down, thick with humidity. The only sounds to be heard was the shrill drone of buzzing insects and the distant melodies of birds discanting as the day settled into night.
It was the time when the diurnal creatures lay down to sleep, and when the beasts of the night rose to prowl.
A yowl rived the air, shattering the quietude. The ululation dulled into a growl rumbling in the throat of a leopard.
Mighty claws slashed out, but the prey dodged to the side. The predator crouched and sprang in the space of an instant, hurling itself at its opponent. Its jaws closed around a firm wooden shaft; its claws flailed in empty air.
The man twitched his spear, flinging the creature away. The next moment he had turned and fled up into the waiting branches of the nearest tree. The leopard was not long behind him.
Shane felt the brightness of the screen glowing against his face as he gently closed his eyes, waiting for the order to come. He stood in a chamber not much larger than an apartment, containing several generators on the outside and booster rockets as well. He smirked, thinking back to how the first era of space travel must have been. The rockets propelling him further and further up through the atmosphere were being assisted by gravity manipulating devices built into the frame of the structure. It was composed mostly of lightweight metal, but Shane knew the technology that surrounded him was so expensive, it would've taken more than one lifetime to pay off on his current salary. he opened his eyes and scanned the monitor, carefully peaking over the screen and out the window. The ground was further away now and the vehicles became tiny insects in his line of vision. Shane brushed his hand along his head, meeting his buzzed hair with a soft hand. His line of work didn’t require his hands to get very dirty, and the most strain came from typing onto his holographic keyboard. He felt at home with technology, and certainly at ease with what was on his work agenda for the day. The chamber continued to ascend higher and higher, leaving Shane to stay focused on the monitor readouts. Bars fluctuated back and forth, indicating many different conditions within the chamber and how the energy was being properly regulated throughout. If one little thing went wrong like, an air filter pipe bursting, he could be dropping out of the air in seconds. His employer had taken precautions to ensure this wouldn't happen to Shane, or anyone, for that matter.
The chamber was nearing its destination and Shane stared up through the window, into the vastness of space. No longer eclipsed by the daytime sunlight, the stars burned as bright as they did at midnight. Two of the planet's three moons were also visible in the distance, but the green one was nowhere to be seen. Shane knew it was still on the other side of the world, due to come around in the evening. He typed in a command to the computer and the rocket thrusters began to release less and less power, still keeping the gravity drive regulated, to prevent an instant freefall if the thrusters suddenly failed. Shane could see many more chambers like his up ahead, joining together as one. Very soon, he would join them too. Shane had been training for weeks to make the final maneuvers as careful and safe as possible, and now all the simulations and testing would finally be put into action. Shane moved his chamber into place precisely where it was designed to rest, situating it between two other, almost identical chambers. The energy reactors locked together with the reactors outside the other chambers and the energies became one - a line of power going through the chambers. Shane turned to look back down at the planet, seeing hundreds more chambers come to join his and the two neighboring it. It was hard to believe that the world's largest company was finally going to see their energy network dream come to fruition. All around the world, a vast line of energy hub chambers were being united together, a great chain of electrical fuel that could be connected to rechargeable spacecraft batteries if a ship had to dock in the upper atmosphere. The power could also be sent back to the ground, as some sections of the chain had been built from the ground up, many miles above the sea level.
Shane returned to the monitor and tapped a message informing him his contribution was fulfilled. He then walked across the chamber, not much distance considering it was only the size of an apartment, and made sure his gear suit was fitted correctly. Once he made that mental check, Shane placed a helmet around his head and opened the departure pod. He stepped inside and leaned back, resting on the soft, padded walls of the capsule. Shane pressed a button above his head and the capsule sealed shut. Within seconds, it was being shifted away from the chamber and prepared to drop. Shane pushed the release button and felt as though the floor had dropped out from beneath him. In actuality, thrusters above the capsule were sending him plummeting back to the planet. Shane looked up through the capsule's window and was mesmerized by the completed chain. The energy network, from an idea on paper to this moment, had been over twenty years in the making. It wasn't Shane's idea, but he felt accomplished knowing he had been a part of it. Shane felt connected to the chain, as the entire planet was meant to. The energy chain, "the power bridge to the void of space" as his employer put it, would revolutionize the way electrical fuel could be transferred from the terrestrial level and beyond.
They rattled ominously as I heaved myself up onto the rooftop of the building, clinking around my right ankle, which was perhaps the one bit of me that wasn’t bruised, or scratched, or bleeding, or just filthy. The incessant moans were tantalizingly quiet, and I relished the chance to pretend that they didn’t exist. To pretend that I hadn’t just climbed up fifty flights of stairs to the top of an office building waiting for a helicopter to show up and save the day. To pretend that I didn’t have a chain wrapped around my ankle in the scenario that I have to jump off the building.
My hands shook as I checked the handgun in my left hand and the fire axe in my right.
“Where’s the goddamn chopper?” I muttered, my voice sounding hoarse and barely more than a whisper.
The moans were growing louder, and I could hear thumping from below. So far, no chopper – to be honest, I was running out of hope that there would even be a chopper. What was the point, anyway? A group of twelve, and I was the only one left thanks to some stupid chain that attached me to this building. I didn’t splatter all over the pavement with breakfast. No, I just got what would’ve been the scariest moment of my life.
If it wasn’t for, you know, the horde of zombies chasing me for my brains.
“Aw ######, you gotta be kidding me.”
Thumping on a door halfway across the roof top – and I had nothing to barricade it with. I thought I could hear something akin to a helicopter in the distance, but if there was, I could barely make it out over the moaning that had now overtaken all other sounds... not that there were any other sounds to overtake.
A crack echoed like thunder as a the door bent at the middle – a second later, with a second crack, it burst into pieces and the undead began to stumble out of the doorway in all of their desecrated, bloody mess of looks. I raised the handgun and fired off a shot, but it missed. I’d never trained with a gun in my life, and being forced to learn to use them in the past three days hadn’t done much.
I backed away to the edge of the roof, risking a glance back – there was a helicopter! However, it was too far off – I was still on my own.
"Mama. Mama, this looks funny," the little girl grabbed her mother's wrist. She had spotted the simple twine bracelet ornamented with painted clay beads.
"It's a statement," her mother replied. "It's not meant to look pretty."
All the other women that her mother talked to, they wore delicate silver chains with glass beads. Only very poor people wore twine and clay. And the little girl knew her family was not poor. Surely, quite surely, her mother didn't have to wear the itchy twine and dull clay on her wrist.
"I don't understand, Mama."
Her mother didn't answer right away, continuing to walk down the familiar path from town to their house. She finally extended her arm down to the little girl. Turning down the road that led to the shipyard, away from home, she said, "Come with me, there is something I want to show you."
The little girl clung to her mother's same wrist with two hands, rolling the rough twine between her tiny fingers. Looming men who smelled foul sulked around the docks, and they scared her. Her mother knew this.
"I don't like this. I want to go home, Mama."
"We will, soon enough. There is something you need to see," her mother replied. She felt her mother's free hand smooth her hair.
To avoid having to look at the hulking sailors, the little girl walked with her face buried in her mother's skirts, and relied heavily on her mother to keep her from stumbling. But her mother was patient. Her soft voice coaxed the little girl's head up. She saw that they were on the top of a small hill, with the path leading down to more docks. At the base of the hill was a small scaffold with no more than two dozen people standing around it. And standing on the scaffold were four other people. The little girl recognized the four people instantly as slaves.Those four people, they looked different from other people. They looked like they had no hope.
"Look," Her mother said, although it was in vain. The little girl was already looking. "Do you see the chains that they wear?"
"They do not wear chains as jewelry," she told her daughter. "Because slavery is a horrible thing that should not exist, we shouldn't wear chains as jewelry either."
After a moment, the little girl spoke. "I don't think I understand."
"You will, someday when you're older," Her mother sighed. She turned towards home, gently tugging her daughter in to step beside her.
A rat scuffled down by his ankle, and he twitched to send it scurrying away. Water drip-dripped on the stone around him, and he shifted his limbs again. His wrists were chafed—chafed and raw against the metal clasps that bound him to the wall. Clink went the links of the chain, and he settled down again, down in the hateful dark. Soon, he hoped. Soon.
The air held still in the narrow space of the cell. Stale and old. He’d given up living a long time ago. Given up breathing, but his heart still pumped feebly, in spite of himself. There was nothing more for it to do now. No changes down here. Only water dripping and the slight shifting of limbs to stave off stiffness and pain. Soon even that would end, and he would be happy for it.
He could hear the rat nibbling at the moldy bread that lay untouched on the metal plate by the cell door. He had not eaten for a long time. So long that the dull ache in his stomach had ceased to pain him. He was numb to it now. It was a part of him. But not for much longer. He had heard that sometimes men could sense the end as it was coming, like the echo of footsteps in a long corridor. The footsteps were coming for him. He was sure he could hear them. Soon they would be here. Another breath rattled down his throat. In and out, stale air whispering in the stillness. The rat finished its meal and scampered away into some dark crevasse. Feast, my friend. I have not talked to you in a long time, and I have no more words for you now. The footsteps are coming. They’ll be here soon, I hope.
For a long time he had thought that it would be a simple thing. One moment awake, the next asleep, and then gone, and the breath would slip out of him, and the chains would bind him no more. But it was not simple. He knew that now. There was no sleep for him, after the rage of hunger had passed. Only long, wakeful waiting. He had been impatient before. He could not stand the waiting. But now he was too weak to care. His limbs were not truly his own anymore. And what was the point of moving anyway? The clasps on his wrists were harsh, and the chains were bolted deep into the stone wall. Their short reach had been the extent of his world for so long...so long. But they could not hold him forever, because he would not last forever. Lock me up, and someday I shall be free.
Step, step, step. Please come soon. I have waited. Drip, drip, the dampness covered his thin body, and he shifted again. Clink, clatter, and the fire in his wrists flared up again for a moment, a fleeting thing. He felt it every time he moved. That small pain. It was nothing compared to hunger...but this time. This time it was different. This time he felt it, as if he had never felt it before. All the anger and despair of his imprisonment blazed in that pain, and it was too much. Too much!
Something snapped inside him, and his heart leapt as a surge of strength went through him, straining at the cold metal. Weakened muscles spasmed, and the blood pounded, pounded in his ears. Pound. Pound. Step. Step. Step.
And then...then he was up, standing lightly on his feet. Dizzy and light, and the pounding was gone. All gone. Silence. Blissful silence, and there was no more pain. The darkness didn’t feel so deep anymore. He couldn’t believe it. After all this time. What had happened? He stumbled forward, hands outstretched. The hasp was cold metal, cold and dripping, and he felt the coolness on his hands, or thought that he felt it. He gripped it clumsily and pulled, pulled. Clink, creak, the door swung inward, and he gasped to feel the free air on his face, in his lungs. Did he feel it? Truly?
Then came the light. A red light, burning on the end of a torch, it flared up in his darkened vision. Fire and sooty smoke that rushed at him, and he recoiled. But then it was gone. The torch went past him, into the cell behind him, and suddenly there was a hand holding the torch aloft. A hand and a body, stooped and clothed in rags. The door creaked again on its hinges as the dark form moved past him, and the prison cell lit up with fiery light.
He gaped, standing there in the passage. He was out. He was free. He felt giddy...it was so strange. That cell had been his world for so long, and then it was all over. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, and almost laughed...
And then suddenly he understood. Looking in at the door, he understood. Clink went the links of the chain as the gaoler nudged the body with his foot and grunted. The body...thin and bearded and bound to the wall. Torchlight swept the chamber once more, and then the man shrugged and turned to go. He left the door open, and the light receded slowly down the corridor. Step. Step. Step.
It was gone. He was alone again. Alone in the free air. Soon, he had hoped, and soon had come. He had heard it coming. Known that it would come, but even he had not expected it in the end—he who had been so watchful and so aware. Please come soon. I have waited...
And now...now there was only one more thing to be done.
Clink went the links of the chain, and the metal clasps rattled against the stone as they clicked and sprang open, falling from the wrists of the old man’s corpse. He left them behind, down there in the hateful dark.
Lock me up, and someday I shall be free.