Sharon’s Note: The problem with moral questions is there’s rarely a single, resolute answer. Sometimes, you just have to choose the solution you can live with. Warning: Only more questions. There are always more questions.
“The upper levels are for those inmates that have been here for a while. You know, the ones we can trust not to try to escape out the airlock and get themselves killed.” The Warden walked Jensen to an elevator, that had a single, relaxed but alert guard. “We’ll need to go to the lowest level.”
“You consider a serial killer trustworthy after four years?” Jensen was incredulous.
Holden barked out a laugh. “Hell, Mateo has been on this floor for over a year. Like I said, he had some trouble adjusting at first, but we . . . put him through our most rigorous program, and he quieted right down.”
“What program?” The smaller man’s impatience grew. He’d read about some of the brutal and illegal experiments that people had tried in prisons over the years. They were barbaric, and something he would not tolerate.
“I’m trying to show you, just have a little patience.” The warden typed in a code on the elevator control panel, and the cylindrical room began to rapidly descend. “We’re going down to solitary.”
“What’s in solitary?” Jensen asked warily.
“You remember about a year ago, there was a guy, he made all the news feeds? Carl Stark.”
“Of course I remember.” The mere thought of the case made Jensen shudder. “He killed his wife then went to his son’s school. He locked himself in a classroom with the entire class. Before police could get through the door, he’d stabbed and killed the teacher and eleven of the children, including his son.”
“Twelve as far as I’m concerned. Little Rose Ramirez died of complications from her injuries three months ago.” Holden wrinkled his nose. “He was a mess when they brought him to us. Aggressive and unrecalcitrant, he caused a whole mess of trouble. He’s been in solitary for most of the six months he’s been here. We’re finally starting to see some progress, but it’s a little hard to look at, so brace yourself.”
Jensen held his tongue, and waited to see what they were doing to Stark. If it was as unacceptable as he feared, he would make sure they were stopped and brought up on charges.
Solitary confinement at Red Sands looked much the same as it did in a dozen other prisons, except for the cell at the end. Jensen barely recognized Carl Stark. The man in the pictures he had seen had been proud and angry. The man Jensen saw now was a whimpering mass that huddled against something that looked like a vault door at the back of his cell. Stark stroked the door like it was his beloved.
“What’s wrong with him?” Jensen’s eyes were wide with fear.
“Nothing’s wrong with him.” The Warden said, soothingly. “At least, there won’t be for much longer. He was a very bad man and the worse they are, the worse it gets.”
Jensen paled. “The worse what gets?”
“Our ‘treatment’.” Holden walked over to the wall display next to the cell, and brought up what looked like a camera display. Jensen thought it looked like a cave. On further inspection, he saw something moving in the dim light that shone down from behind the camera. It was indeed a cave, but inside was a mass of pale gray rock, brittle and full of holes like coral. In and out of the holes weaved long white worms.
Stomach revolting, Jensen asked, “What the hell is that?”
“Our treatment.” The Warden repeated. “Everyone who was involved with the building of Red Sands knew about the extensive caves under the building, but I don’t think anyone knew about the things that live under it. They didn’t start moving towards the surface until the construction bots cleared out and people started moving in.”
“What are they?”
“I can’t rightly say.” Holden shrugged. “I can tell you what they do. They fix people. You ever heard of using maggots to clear out a wound? You can put them right in the meat, because they’ll only eat the flesh that’s infected. I figure these worms do something similar, only for the mind. I think they have some kind of psychic field. They eat the bad parts of your mind. The anger, the ugliness, they eat it all. Unfortunately, for people like Carl and Matteo, after you cut away all the bad parts, there’s not much left. I figure that’s alright, though. Even if it does leave them a little empty, they seem happier.”
“What . . . but . . . this is monstrous.” Jensen stammered.
“No.” The warden shook his head. “We’re getting rid of the monsters, and leaving only the people. Think about it. We haven’t had a single violent criminal released from here in the ten years since we opened. That’s because the badness is gone.”
A sudden light of zeal lit the Warden’s eyes. “Think about it, Jensen. Think about the good we could do, that you could help us do. I’ve already gotten a couple of other warden’s on Earth onboard, and they’ve started colonies at their facilities. With your help, we could get a colony at every prison in the world. We could eradicate the bad that people do. What do you say, Jensen? Will you help?”
Jensen looked away from Holden to the man in the cell. Here was a monster of a man reduced to something that was a mere shell. Was that better than making him live in a cage for the rest of his life? Did they have that right? What even were these things? If they got to Earth, would they stay in prison with the men they fed on?
Accidentally, Jensen said out loud, “What if they got out?”
The Warden’s chuckle slid like ice up Jensen’s spine. “And what if they did? They only eat the bad parts, remember?”
If you missed Part 1 click here