Killhouse

Last Words

The first light of dawn was just on the horizon, and already the sky was glowing with the impending sunrise.  It was that perfect moment before the day began and the end of the long night that meant the final few hours were gone.

The small enclosure the prisoner was trapped in overlooked the open air area of the recreation yard, a place the Warden called “Purgatory”.  The ground was mostly a cracked and broken black top, probably that once served as a parking area for the inhabitants of Temple Station before the Prison was built, but now served as an area to get a little sunlight if you had earned enough cred with the Commissary.  It was quiet at this hour, save for the two of them. He gazed at the gaping maw of the hole in front of him, and tried to suppress a shudder.

The true purpose of the yard was really the Pit.

At least thirty to forty across, the only notable feature near the edge of the chasm was the metal rings near the side that were used to lower the prisoners to the bottom of the Pit. No one really knew how deep it was, but it was deep enough. It was probably once a well or cistern, but now it served a completely different function.

It was a constant reminder of the price a prisoner could pay for doing the things even other prisoners found distasteful. There were lots of ways to die in Killhouse Prison, but this was probably the worst.  At least if the butchers in the Meat Grinder got you, you’d eventually be pulled out of the morgue by a graverobber. The Pit was the final place a prisoner could finish their sentence at the prison, though the Warden could call it “mercy”.

His cellmate was sitting nearby, outside the cage, watching the sunrise continue to turn the sky a glorious shade of crimson.  A small consolation from the gang, purchased with the last bit of good will the Warden might have had. No one else would come sit with him.

“I’ve got money with the bookie on ten minutes.  Think you will last that long, Tommy? I could use the cred.” 

Fitting he would be worried about money, even now, he thought. The cred could buy out his friend’s contract, maybe even earn him a spot on a work crew outside the prison.  He would have probably done the same, had things been reversed.

“I’ll do my best, but I’m a tinker, not a fighter.  Depends on how many zed are down there now.”

His cellmate only grunted in agreement.  

The Pit loomed large in the morning light, and you could barely make out the low groans of the dead below.  Even if the zed didn’t get you, you’d starve or die of dehydration eventually, and it would begin the cycle again.  The other prisoners and even the guards liked to bet on how long the poor fuckers thrown in could last. The big money was on the long shot of surviving past the first few minutes, but the bookies loved taking the sucker bets.

“I wonder if she will come to watch” he mused to his partner.

“Maybe. You really pissed her off.  I haven’t seen her that mad in awhile. Maybe the lifers have, but not me.”  

His cellmate was absently scratching at his chin, contemplating the crime that had earned him a trip to the Pit.

“You fucked up though, Tommy. We don’t really want another riot on our hands, no matter how much I like you.  I gotta survive till the Indulgence.” 

His cellmate put it rather matter-of-factly.  The condemned man was silent.  

No one wanted the atrocity of the riot that earned Prudence Penitentiary it’s real name of Killhouse Prison to happen again.  The prisoners policed their own. It was the rules. If the guards had to step in, you knew it was bad. He had fucked up. The grave tax had to be paid.

“Remember when the Law Dogs caught up with us outside of Essex?  You put up a mean fight there. Even knocked that puddle jumper out before his buddy clocked me in the head.  Maybe you can make it ten minutes. Wouldn’t that be something?”  

His cellmate chuckled to himself, remembering the times before the Prison.  They sat there for a few more minutes, silently contemplating the past.  

He could hear the bustle of the Prison as the morning shift was ramping up, though.  There would be a decent amount of onlookers, he thought. Everyone enjoyed the entertainment, as fucked up as it was.  

His cellmate pulled himself wearily to his feet, as the guards would be here soon.  Appearances were important to the Warden, and it wouldn’t be right if the others saw his cellmate here with him.  He didn’t want his partner to catch any flak from the rival gangs, either.

“Any last words for me bud?”

HIs cellmate looked at him one last time. He knew the ritual.  It was the first tradition you were taught you when you made it to Killhouse.

“Just remember, Tommy.  The shiv they give you before you go down isn’t really for the zed.”


A Killhouse Prison Vignette by J. Loyd

Concerning the Hiway War and her Lasting Effects (cont.)

If the first year following the exodus out of the Lands Bravado was a period of reset, during which the bones of the old burned in hellfire and the culture of a people died with their constituents, then the second year was a rebirth.

Like ashes scattered over a fallow field, riotous growth followed after. The discovery of grand mystery under the old town swept us up and along like a demagogue her flock. 

At first it was a trickle - a few dedicated Delvers disappeared into the mud to find the roots of that perfect obelisk of white stone springing up and out of the caldera. Within days they returned, eyes brighter than the treasures they found and adventure on their lips.

Below us, they said, there are steel doors that guard something precious. They spoke of blinking lights that still function. Live munitions that click and whirl like analog machines. Long stretches of corridor bored out by ancient machinations that turn the stone smooth for miles and miles. Nothing like the Lascarian Tunnels of Old Bravo - twisting things chiseled by time and circumstance - but something deliberate and terrifying in its implications.

More delvers followed. Irons and Retrogrades, mutants and evolved for whom the residual radiation was merely an inconvenience, dove into the Ruins like Saltwise into brine and came up again and again with ancient metals, defunct computing devices, niceties of a fallen world and, very occasionally, the delicate pages of notes held together by little more than the careful handling of their discoverers. 

And the Lonestar heeded them. 

What happened next was a complex two-step of bureaucracy and belligerence. A paperwork whirlwind that, when the cyclone died, created a powerhouse capable of producing a dynasty.

What was previously the Road Commission laid the first tracks near Essex, the first city on what would become The Bravado Line. The newly christened Railroad Commission contracted out evolved and mutant strains to carry and lay corrugated steel and heavy wooden beams along the old trade routes between the two settlements, while Warden Tabitha St Mercy of Prudence Penitentiary employed her penitent work crews to begin the same process on the Bravado end.

Using notes safeguarded for generations, the Conglomerate, a collection of Digitarian houses who possess a great and shrouded interest in the Ruins below New Bravado, began the process of constructing the first high-powered locomotive in the Lonestar. The Ox, at that time a skeleton of iron, steel and super-plastics, would eventually become a gestalt amalgamation of construction equipment, a half dozen derelict trains and the engine of a single downed jet plane. Contracted and funded by the Railroad Commission the Conglomerate employed the great and surviving minds of scientists and psionists alike in their research centers in the town of Waking to provoke the monolithic iron horse into motion. 

But all great movements cause waves, and the process of rebirth is often as bloody as it is brilliant. For all the steel and will of its warden, Prudence Penitentiary for the Peregrine and Penalized buckled under the weight of work crews, its guardship, and the compressed conditions of its cell blocks. Riots ensued and the sickness of man was put on morbid display. In the far displaced land of New Bravado, with no larger authority to appeal to, Warden Tabitha St. Mercy closed the doors of her prison and let Wrath determine the outcome.

Colloquially we now refer to the Penitentiary as Killhouse Prison in reference to this massacre, for when the doors were opened there were little more than corpses on concrete. The survivors begged for the Warden to again resume control. Amidst her Wrath there was Pride in her work and so the Warden struck a deal with her prisoners and the tradition of the Indulgence was born. No prisoner would be made to serve more than a year in the Prison, if they were smart. For once a year all prisoner contracts would unilaterally expire, rendering them free people. Twenty-four hours later the contracts would be reinstated, the doors would close and Warden Tabitha St. Mercy would sic the Law Dogs upon the retreating backs of any prisoner who loitered in her city.

And so, with the tradition instituted and upheld, Prudence Penitentiary resumed its work on the railroad with gusto, outstripping the paid workers of the Railroad Commission by several weeks. The uptick in bodies begged a question, however. The Killhouse Massacre was the most devastatingly fatal event since the Bomb that decimated Old Bravo. Without a proper morgue, many of those first prisoners escaped, we assume. Perhaps they retreated to the Dune Sea or fled east towards the Clutch.

Both the Railroad Commission and the Prison found themselves at a loss. Without a way to control the flow of bodies, a prisoner could simply commit an infection to the cause of their escape. Without a mechanism by which to enforce order in New Bravado the system would fail, and without voluntary work crews seeking to shorten their sentences the railroad’s production would be brought to a grinding, painful halt.

The Grave Council, a collection of Undead strains lead by the powerful Takheeta Firstborn, stepped in as the solution.

Through ritual and rite the Council of Grave Decisions determined the location of each morgue-to-be. They dispatched Graverobbers and Grave Touched to these sites, and committed their own bodies to the creation of these morgues and, in a brilliant exchange of power, negotiated total ownership of these sites and the right to tax anyone who used them. 

Now that their lives and afterlives were solidly controlled under comfortable capitalism, the survivors resettling the area found a great darkness lifting - literally. A land that had been burning with hellfire now burned with the lights of hundreds of new homesteads. In the spaces between powers, the voids of civilization, new stars were lit aflame. Had these people always been here? Or were they deposited on the shores of this disaster like flotsam on the beach after a storm?

Wherever they came from, they brought with them the salt of the earth, these settlers of the lowlands and hollers. They were the early risers, once more planting the seeds of hope into the soot-streaked soil. New quiet folk for a new settlement. Keepers of the land and Tenders of the hearth. Quick with a witty comment and slow to judgement. A magnet for a network of community bonds across the region - the Lovelace Family began to be used as a surname and identity of these landsmen, hundreds of families finding kinship under their good name. Thousands of strings of stories and lives tied together in hope for a beautiful agricultural future.

And among these quiet neighbors, there remained institutions of charity and well-being. Now that the immediate harm of the Great Disaster was healing, the Widows of the Lonestar turned their eyes to where else their kindly influence could improve the lives of others. They took a keen interest in the work of the Grave Council, and lent their weight into helping to prepare places of sanctuary and rest for those weary from work, sickness, and disease. Anyone seeking a meal, bed, or safety at their door was never turned away - including a large number of those who managed to escape the tall walls of Killhouse Prison. Above all, they sought to protect a populace that had, for too long, been victimized. 

To the north the Tribes Disparate under Holy Mother Queen Jasper thrived. Maintaining a friendly rapport with the Braves that saved their people, Jasper committed workers to the cause of re-building the city of Bravado even as she kept an iron grip on the thirteen tribes that writhed and strove beneath her. Houses formed, with figureheads who swear fealty to the Holy Mother in a feudal framework that benefits both the Lady and those who report to her. The individual tribes vie for her attention and favor, some committed by blood and sword - others by convenience.

The Junkerpunks, a loose coalition of seafaring folk, begin to earn the name alluded to in the first chapter of this long-form essay. Among their ragtag ranks a leader emerged, a Saltwise of dangerous charisma and wit, Sinker Swim captains the flagship of the Junkerpunk flotilla. 

The nature of their separation from the naysayers of the Clutch encouraged in the Junkerpunks an  underdog mentality that never truly left their culture. Seeking out the downtrodden, desperate, and dangerous to swell their ranks the Junkerpunks quickly became known as pirates, bandits - but also coy merchants in an era where few ships navigated the inland seas of the Spoiled Coast.

It was this mercantile mindset, this author believes, that lead the Junkerpunks to build a modern-day Tortuga in the middle of the lake that was Old Bravo. The marina, cheekily called the Punkerport by locals, trucks in undocumented finds from the Ruins as much as it does raw imports of food and supplies for the delve-camps there.

The Junkerpunks, in the second year of their watery pilgrimages, found an accord with the Spiderhause Redstar who have, in recent years, taken up residence in Essex and its surrounding plane-space. Both underdogged, both committed to uplifting those who otherwise do not have the means to achieve their own strength, the members of Spiderhause left the land that had treated them poorly to try again on the open sea. What the Junkerpunks lack in organizational skills and raw, coordinated strength, the Redstars of Spiderhause make up for in spades.

In the second year following the Bomb that destroyed Old Bravo, the world began again to turn. The hole in the sky closed up, mostly. The water in the lake might never be drinkable in our lifetime but the fish seem to like it just fine. The riotous growth-post-nuclear burned in the summer and regrew again in the following spring, just as it always has. These events in isolation beget no particular question. But in aggregate, in the context of the bomb and its thereafter effects, this author wonders aloud what arcane circumstances render this land livable again after only two years. And if the truth of this place is merely old, or truly ancient.

It is said around these parts that things are happening that have happened before. But it is this author’s humble opinion that previous trends do not indicate future behavior. And that just because something has happened before, does not mean it will always happen.

-  “Concerning the Hiway War and Her Lasting Effects”

By: Dr. Perenthius Goodfellow