The More Things Change...


Gee Whillickers






Chapter Eleven


I had one advantage that many of the other prisoners didn't have.

I wasn't born and raised in this culture.

People nowadays rarely swore or insulted each other. When they did, it was an extremely weak and watered down version of what I was used to. Violence, before the secession, was virtually unheard of. Angry confrontation, especially leading to any kind of destructive behaviour, simply didn't happen anymore. The reactions of the kids at my high-school to my intervention during the bullying incident on my first day was a good example of this. It was also when I started to learn how much things had changed.

The people who led this so-called “secession,” and the police and military who helped them, seemed to be well aware of this. They took full advantage of it.

People didn't know how to fight back any more. They acquiesced. Even my fellow prisoners, despite their own anger and sense of rebellion, didn't have a clue what to do about it.

Now, I had never been a violent person. Sure, my temper could, and did, get out of control. But that usually led to one of two things, either a horrible verbal tirade, or more often some kind of self-destructive behaviour.

I had never learned how to fight. Physical confrontation just wasn't in my nature.

But, I was a product of my time. I had been exposed to – thanks to news and  movies – and was victimized by, far, far more violence and confrontation in my short life than most of these people had ever imagined.

That gave me an advantage. I wasn't the only one, either. Due to the nature of this place, and the need for genetic material unaffected by the 2022 flu outbreak, several of my fellow prisoners were also suspended animation survivors. Most of them I had even met before, through the VR internet chat rooms, when I was still free.

The result of this was that we found ourselves, when we had the opportunity, kind of banding together.

Opportunities to talk without being directly overheard were few and far between, but they did happen. And as time went on, we took full advantage of them.

There was almost no news at all about what was happening in the outside world. We were kept insulated for the most part. There were a couple of notable exceptions.

A few of us had heard the guards talking among themselves. We relayed what we heard whenever we got the chance.

The Protectorate was isolated. Full economic sanctions were in effect. Trade and movement of people was not happening at all.

Military action was not happening. At least not yet. This didn't surprise me though. Military forces and equipment were nothing even close to what existed before the Depopulation. Not remotely close. States, provinces, and territories kept police forces and militias, sure, but they were mostly used these days for rescue operations and natural disaster relief.

There just weren't that many people anymore, compared to before 2022. And the people that did exist either remembered directly, or were only a generation or two removed from, the horrible events of that time. Fighting, and actually trying to hurt or kill any of the people that had managed to survive was unthinkable. Completely out of the question. It was hard enough to survive back then even without everyone at each others' throats.

Offensive weaponry barely existed, and only because the military thought they should still have some, rather than for any other reason.

I knew, from the guards' conversations, that this was starting to change. Most of the Protectorate's manufacturing seemed to be geared towards the military now.

I could only guess what was happening in the rest of the world. I hoped they were aware of this little fact.

Life here was boring drudgery. The days pretty much all followed the same pattern. Every one of the prisoners here was male. I didn't know if there was another “enclave” for women too, but I guessed there probably was. I didn't have any idea how it operated. I'm not sure I wanted to know.

I was the oldest one here measured from my birth-year, but the second youngest measured from my biological age. The younger boy was thirteen, and barely past puberty. His name was Sam. Before the secession he had been a regular kid, attending a regular school, and doing regular things, living in a small town near Columbia, South Carolina. I don't know anything about why he was here, except that obviously the Protectorate thought his DNA was important.

I don't want to talk about how being here was affecting him. I really, really don't.

Most everyone else, aside from two sixteen year olds and an eighteen year old, was in their twenties or older. None of the other suspended animation survivors were biologically younger than twenty-eight.

There were approximately two hundred of us. We had been here three weeks now. I had been one of the first to arrive. And I don't think the people that ran this place liked me at all. I'm pretty sure my speech had something to do with that. One of the guards, in a rare candid moment, told me the reason Tennessee wasn't part of the Protectorate, as planned, was due to my speech. He wasn't happy about that. He had family in Tennessee. Now he couldn't see them.

Each day we were woken up at sunrise. We were fed in a common area. Conversation was not allowed, and the easy use of stun weapons at the slightest murmur mostly enforced this rule.

We did get fairly good at communicating with little signs and gestures. It's amazing how fast that can happen when there's a need for it.

The food was actually okay. There wasn't much of it, and it was pretty much all prepackaged meals, what passed for frozen dinners these days, but it was edible. I guess they hadn't heard that prisons were supposed to serve disgusting slop. I sure didn't intend to tell them.

The amounts served had been halved, and then halved again in the past week. Probably a direct result of those sanctions we had heard whispers of.

After the meal we had mandatory exercise. On some days instead of the exercise they had us do what can only be described as slave labor.

Sometimes, they brought prisoners somewhere else to do this. Brief conversations with these prisoners gave us information on some of these tasks. Mostly mundane things like landscaping, road work, garbage clean-up, and the like.

Those of us who were suspended-animation survivors were never on any of these crews. I think they knew we were a bit different, and a higher risk.

We then usually spent an hour or two in our cells. Following that, we had, well, we had the “genetic material contribution.”

I don't care how long I was going to be here. I don't care how much everything else was turning into boring drudgery. That, I would never, ever get used to.

Following that, each and every day without fail I would huddle into a little ball on the floor of my cell. Feeling dirty and horrible and disgusting and ashamed.

Before my suicide attempt I had hated my life. I had hated what was happening to me. I had hated that I had no control over my sexuality.

But I had never really hated myself. Not like this. Not like now.

I hated that they could do this to me. I hated that I had no say in it. I hated that I didn't have enough guts, or willpower, to stop it.

I hated everything about it, but mostly, more and more, I was beginning to hate myself.

Even worse, I thought of Sam, sitting naked and cold in his cell four doors down the hallway, after his own daily ordeal. The rage I felt at what was happening to that sweet boy, and how it was changing him, was indescribable.

I knew that if something didn't change I would never be able to recover, to feel good about anything ever again.

If nothing else, that gave me motivation. It allowed me to plan to do what I never would have been able to think about otherwise. Because it involved hurting people. On purpose. Direct violence to another human being. Something I thought, before all this, that I was completely incapable of.

I found now, when thinking of the leering guard who seemed to be assigned to almost every one of my contribution sessions, that I was quite looking forward to it.

Like I said, we were different, the suspended animation survivors. We tried, and mostly failed, to include other people in on our little plan. It's not that they didn't support it; they just weren't willing to actively involve themselves. Mostly. There were some notable exceptions.

The plan came together slowly. There was no way around that. We barely had opportunity to talk to each other. We were getting better at that, and learning our own little sign language, but it was slow.

Worse, it wasn't even much of a plan. How could it be? We didn't have time to talk, or debate, or hash through problems. We just needed something. Anything. So, a half-assed very questionable plan slowly came together.

I've mentioned this at least twice already, but it really does bear repeating. It's significant, and the differences were more and more obvious as the days went by. We were different, those of us born before the Depopulation. We were less willing to accept authority without questioning. We were more apt to accept the idea of direct confrontation, of the use of shock, surprise, and, most of all, consider the use of violence.

Before the secession I had thought that made us less civilized, more barbaric. I, and many other S.A. survivors, thought it made us backwards and brutish and crude.

In the world before the secession, I think that was accurate. I think it was true, at least to some degree.

Now, however, it most definitely had its advantages.

Was one better? Was one worse? I didn't have time to ponder this anymore. And I didn't much care. If I ever got out of here I'd probably enjoy a lively debate with Dillon about it. Right now, I'd use it to gain any advantage that I possibly could.


Now I'd done it again.

I'd been schooling myself to not think about Dillon, or for that matter of Ricky, Mom and Dad M, Michael and the other kids at school, Jenna, or anybody else I'd met since I'd been here.

It helped, not thinking about them. Not thinking about my life before. If I could go an hour, or maybe even two, without remembering, it made it somehow easier to manage. Then, it would come crashing back and I would be a puddle of hurt and anger and fear and helplessness for a while.

The guards were quick with their stun weapons, but there was no abject brutality. No bullying or particularly nasty treatment. I mean, obviously, aside from the main reason we were all here. Like most people raised after the Depopulation, I don't think they knew how.

Unfortunately, they were learning fast. We wanted to do something while they were still somewhat weak. Before they learned to be suspicious and cautious and sneaky and deceptive.

Like we were.

There were eight of us involved in our little folly of a plan. Only two, Reuben and Len, were not S.A. survivors and had been born after 2022. The other five, aside from myself, were Leland, Drew, Francis, Chris, and Mark.

Chris and Mark were biologically in their late sixties. They had both been placed in suspended animation shortly before the Depopulation after suffering massive heart attacks. They had suffered their heart attacks fairly young, both of them. Chris was in his mid forties when he had his. Mark had made it to fifty-two. Both of them were very overweight and out of shape in their previous lives. Victims of a culture that glorified watching instead of participating.

They were obviously in much better physical shape now, but due to their former lifestyle and their current age, neither of them was even close to athletic.

Drew and Francis were in their thirties. They had each been placed in S.A. after accidents, one a car accident and one some kind of industrial accident where he used to work.

Leland was in his twenties. I didn't know why he was placed in suspended animation, or how long since he had been thawed. He was one of those that I had never met in the internet chat rooms prior to the secession.

Of the two people who were part of our little plan that were born well after the Depopulation, Reuben was the eighteen year old. He was a student, and a football player, at a university in Georgia. He was a big, mean, left tackle, and not at all intimidated by the guards or their supposed authority. Of all the people here, he was the one who spent the most time paralyzed from stun gun blasts. I swear, at least twice a day. Usually more. When I say he was mean, that's a bit unfair. He was friendly, loyal, intelligent, and obviously gentle. It's just, he looked intimidating, and thanks to his training, knew very well how to act intimidating and how to be physical when necessary. And, in his own words, “I don' take no fuckin' sheeit from no one! Best remember that!”

Finally, Len. He was an oddity. He seemed like a very typical regular guy. He was in his thirties, married, and apparently had two children at home. Healthy children with obviously strong genetics. He didn't seem to fit the rest of us at all. He was a researcher in veterinary medicine. I had never met a more gentle, quiet, and soft-spoken soul. I doubt he even slapped mosquitoes. And yet, behind his eyes, there was something. A burning intensity. An absolutely no-nonsense drive to do whatever it took to change what was happening. To fix things. And to get back to his family. To do that, obviously, he first needed to get out of this place.

And finally, of course, there was me. A formerly suicidal and slightly shorter than average teenager with less than average strength and coordination. And who had never so much as thrown a punch in anger in his life.

Yeah. Like I said. Folly.

Okay, about our plan. The building, I had learned, was a former hospital. Like so many buildings now it had remained empty for quite some time. Then the Hope for Humanity Institute had purchased and renovated it in the months leading up to the election. The grounds around the building were now surrounded by a fifteen foot fence, made of some kind of composite material. On the top of that were the expected strands of razor wire.

There were two large openings in this fence. Large movable gates covered these openings, controlled by electric motors. The one at the front was used for the staff to enter and exit, and for the work crews to leave on their buses on the mornings they were assigned to do outside work. The one at the back was for the loading dock, and was used by trucks to bring all the supplies and take away garbage.

I didn't know a lot about prisons, just what I had dubiously learned from movies and TV, but this wasn't anything like the prisons I knew about. The security wasn't nearly as tight, the procedures weren't nearly as disciplined or efficient, and the guards obviously completely new to this whole “guarding prisoners” thing.

We intended to use that to our advantage.

Mornings were the only time when we could all be guaranteed to be in the same place at the same time. It was also when we were able to be dressed in the coveralls they distributed. Evening meals were eaten in our cells and they rarely bothered to provide clothing after the day's 'contribution' and our shower.

It was also the time when the guards seemed to be the least attentive. Some were obviously still half asleep and many spent the time, in between stunning talkers, chatting with each other. That had become our news source.

So our plan was simple. And awful. And stupid.

But it's all we had.

So, just before I get to the details, let me say this. In my defense. As an attempt at justification. Because, you see, I don't actually think it really is all that justified. Anyway, those stun guns don't actually do any real damage, and the stun doesn't last long.

Okay, here it is. The worst part first. And I'm feeling awful even thinking about it.

We intend to use some of our fellow prisoners as human shields from the guard's stun guns.


I said it.

That's the plan. That's the first part of the great idea we came up with, during the two or three seconds, once or twice a day, that we had to talk to each other.

I'm not at all proud of it. I'm not happy about it. And I hate that I agreed with it. I feel horrible and selfish and...well...horrible.

However, to allay some of our guilt, the plan isn't to leave those poor stunned people behind. We intend to use the chaos and the confusion to get one or two of the guard's guns and stun them.

That will probably take more than stunning. That will take physical force.

And I don't think any of us really feel a bit guilty about that.

See, we have a few things going for us there.

Wait a second, I'm so nervous and uptight about all this that I'm saying it wrong and getting it all out or order. So let me start from the beginning.

During breakfast, when we're all there in the mess hall, and once the guards announce it's a work detail day and read off who will accompany the work detail, we will get our breakfast trays as usual, and sit down to eat. It had to be an outside work detail day because then the buses would be ready to go near the front gate.

Now, there's roughly two hundred of us in that room eating breakfast, about a dozen to a table. We will make sure that all eight of us are spread out at different tables. If we're not, we won't do it that day.

We'll also try and make sure we're sitting near the far end of the table. Farthest from the front of the room.

See, our guards aren't very experienced, and they're already getting sloppy. They tend to all hang out up front, near the food line, chatting with each other.

Sure they're spread out across the front, and usually one or two of them wander around during breakfast, stunning the talkers, but right at the start, just after we all sit down, they're almost always all at the front.

And there's exactly six of them.

So, we have them outnumbered, both in terms of total number of prisoners, and in terms of the number in on the plan.

It's simple really, after that.

Chris would stand up suddenly, and grab his chest, and do his best to look like he was having another heart attack. He should be able to act it out pretty well, since he already knows exactly what it's like. He's already spent the last week pretending to have random chest pains. We knew that eventually the doctor would certainly check this out. But we hoped that wouldn't happen before we had the opportunity to put our plan into action.

Mark would stand up, try and look panicky, and yell, loudly, “Oh my god! He's having another heart attack!”

Mark was guaranteed to get stunned at that moment. He knew that, but was willing to do it.

What we hoped, probably fruitlessly, was that all six guards would be either looking at Mark or looking at Chris at that moment.

The other six of us would then slide out of our chairs and get ourselves behind whoever was the biggest guy near us. We wouldn't be out of firing range of all the guards, but we hoped that the distraction would help here.

The human shields would probably get stunned, but would likely just stay sitting there, so would continue to make a good shield.

Then, we really, really hoped, a few of the other prisoners would start to react to the chaos, and also help to distract the guards.

The tricky part was moving, getting up to the front, while trying to stay behind people. We intended to knock over tables and try to stay behind people for this.

Drew, Leland, and Reuben, as the most physically imposing of us, would do their best to jump the guard that was closest to each of them. We really didn't expect them all to succeed at this. We hoped that at least one of them would.

In any case, Francis, Len, and I were supposed to be the second wave, and if the guard stunned one of the first three, we were to try and use the moment to get to them ourselves. Or, if they did manage to engage the guard, we were to help try and get the stun gun away from the guard.

Anyway, we didn't really expect all of us to manage, though it would be great if we did. We just hoped at least one of us would manage. I was betting on Reuben.

Once we had a gun, we could even the odds. Those of us still un-stunned would stand behind any one of us with a gun. That way, if they were stunned, we could lie behind them and use them as a shield, and use the gun they had just been using.

We hoped to stun all six guards within a minute.

I know. Stupid plan. There's more “ifs” than plan in there. Way too many variables. And we're relying on the guards' incompetence way too much, though that wasn't such a stretch.

Now, the rest of it.

Any of us eight that happened to still be un-stunned at this point were to collect the rest of the guards' guns.

There were six other guards in the building on a typical day. None of the rest of the staff ever carried stun weapons. Or any other weapon.

We had figured out from listening to the guards' conversations that those guards not in the mess hall usually hung out in their break room while we ate breakfast. They had a vid screen watching us, so they would be on their way as soon as things got out of hand. But, they were three floors and an entire building away, so it would take at least a minute to get to us. Probably two.

Like I said, these guys didn't have much expertise at running a prison, and those of us who were around prior to 2022 knew it. They relied entirely too much of the built-in acquiescence of their prisoners.

The other funny thing, the thing that showed bad planning on their part, was that there was only one doorway into the mess hall. We could hide. They couldn't. It would be like shooting ducks. And it probably wouldn't occur to them to be sneaky, to call for more backup, or to do something else, like lock us in there or gas the room or whatever.

Yeah, a whole bunch more “ifs.”

Anyway, if by some freaky weird miracle, it got that far, we would wait. We would keep re-stunning the guards as needed while waiting for the stuns to wear off of the rest of our group. That would take about five minutes, given the usual setting the guards used on their guns.

Yeah, another “if.”

None of the rest of the staff had weapons, and it wasn't likely they would be bothering to watch or listen to what was going on down here. They never did. So we hoped they wouldn't know about any of this yet.

One more “if.”

Then, the plan was to load all two hundred of us onto the five buses in the garage, and drive on out of there.

To do that we would need to put at least five guards in wheelchairs and wheel  them with us. Their thumbs would provide entrance to the buses and to start them. We would stun any staff we saw along the way to delay the rest of the building knowing.

Another thumbprint would open the door, and the gate beyond. Since it was a work detail day, at least one bus would be expected to leave, so we hoped whoever saw us leaving wouldn't quite panic yet.

Sure, the remaining staff would be probably running around frantically by then, but what could they do? Most of them probably wouldn't throw a paperclip at us. We hoped.

Now most of us were thinking that this can't work. The worst B movie would be written with a better plan than this. But, this wasn't like a pre-Depopulation prison, and these weren't like pre-Depopulation people. So, we thought it might have a chance.

Okay, that's stretching it. We hoped maybe something about this somewhere would work a little bit. And we hoped that maybe we could figure it out as we went when it all inevitably went sour. That's more accurate.

 We had surprise going for us, and we had the will to do this. Chris and Mark were willing to use their heart attacks to hopefully distract things and get them going, and the other five each had a few skills of their own they could offer to hopefully help in this fight. And then there was me. I would do my best to try and not trip over a shoelace and get stunned before Mark and Chris had even started the whole thing.

Once we got out of the grounds our plans ended. We would split up, try and find a quiet place nearby to park whatever bus we were on, to get off the bus, and then split up and do our best to hide and individually make our way to the Tennessee border, which was somewhere around a hundred miles north of us. Or the Mississippi border, which was about the same distance west as best we could figure out.

How we'd do that, we didn't have a clue. We knew very little about what things were like out there, in the Protectorate. How many cops were on the street, or military, and what weapons they had, was a complete mystery. We expected whatever forces did exist would be built up closer to the borders and in the bigger population centres. Staying away from the cities and bigger towns was our plan, but getting across the border wasn't really a choice. At least the extremely sparse population these days would hopefully help us evade people during this attempt.

I didn't expect the day of the attempt to come so soon. I thought we'd spend another few days, or a week, planning and trying to figure out how to deal with some of the “ifs.”

So I was awfully surprised when things happened fast the very next morning. Just after we had sat down and I was opening my juice box, Chris stood up, grabbed his chest, and began making weird noises.

Right when he was being stunned by a guard, Mark stood up to deliver his line. Before he could get the first word out, he was stunned too.

There was complete silence for a half second.

Well, fuck.

But, before I could even think about how everything had already failed, Reuben stood up. Only, he didn't just stand up. He stood up, lifting the whole table with him and holding it in front of him. He yelled, “Now!”

The rest of us snapped out of it and slid behind our human shields.

Then, things starting happening really fast. But nothing at all according to plan.

The guards were all aiming at and attempting to stun Reuben. But with the big table held in front of him, they only managed to hit the table or stun people near him.

Reuben was yelling something. I couldn't quite make it out, it was so loud, but it sounded like he was screaming out football plays of all things. I guess he was trying to confuse the guards. I know it confused me.

The rest of us were trying to work our way closer to the front, trying to stay behind people. So far, the guards were still concentrating on Reuben. But that changed in an instant.

I had managed to make my way up several rows, dodging between fallen prisoners and pausing each time. I was starting to get close to the front, and really began panicking, wondering what my next move was going to be. The adrenaline was keeping me going, slightly overwhelming the crushing fear. I knew that none of the eight of us were at the table nearest me, so I was startled when a very loud yell came from the front of it and to the right.

Sam is the thirteen year old I mentioned earlier. He usually sat through his morning meal hunched over and never looking anywhere. Not moving anything except his spoon to his mouth. I wasn't sure at this point if he would ever talk to someone willingly again. So I was real surprised when he yelled out, as loud as he could, “You fucking, stupid, disgusting piece of dogshit!” right at the guard closest to his end of the room, the right side. At the same time, he picked up his tray and threw it hard, like a frisbee, right at that guard. I couldn't help noticing the guard was the same leering guard that always seemed to make sure he was present every day for my “contribution.”

That guard was still firing at Reuben, though some of the others were firing at one of the many other prisoners moving around erratically. Most of them readjusted their aim towards Sam right after he began yelling.

Sam's aim with the flying tray was pretty good. He hit the guard, right on his wrist, and he actually dropped his gun.

Sam dove under his table, and the two shots that had been aimed where he was missed and hit the table instead.

I'd been working my way towards the front, trying to stay behind tables and people.  I was real close to the front by then, and I changed course slightly towards the loose gun just as the leering guard was bending down to retrieve it.

On the other side of the room Reuben tackled the leftmost guard, table and all. With an incredible crash, the guard, the table, and Reuben went down hard onto the floor.

Another guard near Reuben shot at and stunned him. A half second later, that guard was also on the floor, tackled by Drew.

I knocked over the table in front of me and got on my knees behind it. Using it for a shield, I tried to slide it forward while crawling. People were being stunned everywhere around me, so I only made it a half meter or so before the table couldn't go any farther because of the bodies in front of it.

Drew had managed to get his guard's gun, and fired a shot at the leering guard, just as he was standing up again with his gun. Drew's aim was true. The leering guard fell and his gun was again loose. Drew was then shot himself by another guard.

Sam again surprised me. He must have known I was behind the table that was now just a few meters behind him. He was still hiding under his own table, near the front of the room. At that moment, just as the guard that Drew had shot was falling, he yelled, “Jeff! Now! Jump over and forward and to the right!”

I didn't think. I just jumped. Over the fallen table I was behind. And forward. And to the right.

I was now under the rightmost table in the second row, just behind Sam. He was blocked in now, with the bodies of stunned prisoners pretty much all around him. My table only had three near it.

I couldn't see what was going on to the left and in front of me, I was low and there were too many stunned bodies, both sitting and standing, in the way. The noise let me knew a lot of shooting, not to mention a few physical struggles were well underway.

I slid forward, trying once again to get closer to the now stunned leering guard's fallen gun.

I went to the right of the table that Sam was under, between the table and the wall. I slid on my stomach along the floor. There were enough bodies between me and the people struggling up front that I hoped I wouldn't be seen.

Sam was looking at me, then motioned to the front at something I couldn't see.

I couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me. I hoped he wouldn't yell again. I didn't want any of the guards to know I was there.

I didn't get it, so I ignored him. And made a break for it. I was about two meters from the loose gun. In one motion I stood up, ran two steps, and made a dive for it.

I landed too far away, so I needed to get to my knees and move forward another half meter. As I did so, I heard Sam yell, “Roll right! Now!”

I rolled right.

I was on my back, looking up. Beside the stunned leering guard was standing another guard, who shot the ground in the spot I had been lying a millisecond before.

He adjusted his aim at the same second Sam burst out from underneath his table, knocking it over in front of him and onto some of our fellow stunned prisoners. I hoped it didn't hurt them.

The guard, surprised by this, adjusted his aim again, this time towards Sam.

I jumped to my feet. The guard was standing over the loose gun. I couldn't get to it. He shot twice at Sam, both times hitting an already stunned prisoner in front of him.

I yelled, “Stay there, Sam!” and at the same time I picked up one of the folding steel chairs next to me.

The chair folded flat as I lifted it, painfully pinching a finger. I held it parallel to the ground and in the same motion I swung it towards the guard's head as hard as I could. He was turning towards me at the same time and I saw his finger pulling the trigger, the stun gun aimed at my chest.

I hit the guard with the chair. Hard. I saw one of the legs of the chair impact the guard's eye as he turned. Just in time to see it coming at him.

The chair made a sickening crunch as it impacted his eye socket and nose. The guard's head snapped back. The chair continued to graze his cheek and neck.

The guard then fell backwards. I saw a deep, deep gouge in his skull. Where the leg hit. Where his eye used to be. Far too deep. I tried not to think about what I was seeing in that gouge as the guard hit the ground. His head made a sharp crack as it impacted the floor. Blood began flowing from his eye socket and the back of his skull.

I dove to the ground near him and grabbed his now loose gun. Rolling, I scooped up the leering guard's gun too and tossed it towards Sam, who was now charging towards me.

He caught the gun.

He and I then stood over the already stunned leering guard and we both shot him with our stun guns.

Again and again and again we shot him.

He wouldn't be able to move for a day. He was completely unconscious. I picked up the fallen chair and lifted it over my head, looking directly at the severely stunned leering guard, ready to smash it down on him with all my strength.

Sam's hand on my forearm made me stop and look at him.

He shook his head.

I saw the look in his eyes. I realized what I was about to do. I dropped the chair beside the guard.

We looked around.

It was chaos.

Nothing was going to plan.

It had been very, very close to a minute. Probably more. The other six guards would be here any second.

Four guards were down, two were still struggling with prisoners. I couldn't see who. Some of the other prisoners were trying to interfere with the struggle. I could hear them, saying things like, “No! Stop!” I don't know if they were talking to the guards or the prisoners. It didn't matter. They weren't helping in either case, they were just in the way.

I thought fast.

I could shoot them, and try and stun them, but to do that I would have to move towards them to get a decent shot. There were too many bodies and chairs and tables in the way.

That would take another ten seconds or so.

Then, we would have to manage to hold off the other six guards as they came in.

Sam and I looked at each other. I made a decision.

“Let's go!” I shouted, and Sam and I ran to the unconscious leering guard. We took precious seconds and dragged him the two meters to the door. I lifted his thumb to the pad. The door clicked. Sam and I ran through it and to the left towards the kitchen. The mess hall door clicked locked behind us. I hoped they wouldn't realize they were short two prisoners just yet. Just as we went through the swinging doors into the kitchen I heard the noise of running feet coming from the elevators behind us.

Two people were in the kitchen. I didn't even think. I shot and stunned one, and she fell. Sam shot the other and he was down as well.

The girl was lighter, so we dragged her to the back of the kitchen, and out to the loading dock area. Nobody was there, so we continued dragging her the five meters to the big loading dock door. It probably only took ten or fifteen seconds, but it seemed like it was forever. Her thumb opened that door and we were outside.

Five meters in front of us was the back gate. And freedom.

The thumb pad for the gate was next to it. To get there we would need to drag our stunned kitchen worker across the huge loading dock, down ten or so steps, and then across rough pavement to the gate.

I didn't think we would have time.

Sam wasn't standing around looking stupid like me though. He was already rolling one of those pallet jacks, like mini hand operated forklifts, towards the kitchen worker.

I ran to him and we rolled her onto the pallet jack and then rolled the jack to the end of the loading dock.

It took precious seconds to slide her down the stairs. I held her arms from above and Sam held her legs from below. Together we bumped her, one stair at a time, to the bottom. She was going to have a few painful bruises when she could move again.

The pavement part couldn't be helped. We dragged her as best we could to the gate.

Now, when you're stunned you're just frozen, not unconscious. So her eyes were open the whole time, and she was looking at us.

I tried not to, but I couldn't help it. I made a mistake.

I looked in her eyes.

She looked confused. I don't know how much she knew about this place. I don't know if she was being forced to work there, or if she volunteered. I don't know anything about what she didn't or did know.

But those eyes, they really got to me.

I found myself wanting to explain, wanting to apologize for stunning her and dragging her like we did. We didn't have time though. I just shook my head, and said, “Sorry.”

We pulled her thumb up to the pad. The gate clicked and rolled open. It seemed to take forever.

Just as Sam and I were through it and around the corner we could both hear yelling behind us.

We ran across the street, behind a building, then across another street.

And out into the warm Alabama sunshine.