Tour (Life Prison: Hell's Messenger #2) by Dusk Peterson by Dusk Peterson - Read Online

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Life Prison

Hell's Messenger #2

TOUR

Dusk Peterson

Love in Dark Settings Press

Havre de Grace, Maryland

Published by Love in Dark Settings Press in Havre de Grace, Maryland, in the United States of America. October 2014 edition. Publication history.

Copyright (c) 2008, 2009, 2014 Dusk Peterson (duskpeterson.com). The author's policies on sharing, derivative works, and fan works are available at the author's website. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

CONTENTS

Maps.

Tour. He has taken his first step to being accepted by the other prisoners. But what is the secret of the missing prisoners?

Initiation (excerpt). A preview of the next Life Prison story.

The Unanswered Question (excerpt). A preview of a story in a related series by Dusk Peterson.

Credits and more e-books by Dusk Peterson.

MAPS

Larger versions of these maps are available at:

duskpeterson.com/toughs

o—o—o

o—o—o

o—o—o

Hell's Messenger #2

TOUR

The year 400, the third month. (The year 1895 Barley by the Old Calendar.)

I can conceive no more terribly disintegrating moral experience than that of being a keeper over convicts. However much I pity the prisoners, I think that spiritually their position is far preferable to that of their guards.

—Thomas Mott Osborne: Within Prison Walls (1914).

CHAPTER ONE

Seven years of living in poverty-stricken anonymity with his family. Eleven years as the member of a street tribe for boys in Mip's capital – being a dirty little rat that nobody except other tribe members took notice of. One year as a drug-hazed thief, cutting victims' throats. That brought him unwelcome notice from the authorities, who – after three years of court wrangles – tossed him into Mercy Life Prison, where he again faded into anonymity, surviving, as best he could, harsh treatment by his guards for the next five years. Then fifteen years spent with the spotlight of fame upon him, as he and his fellow prisoner Merrick sought to change conditions at Mercy.

And now he was back to being unnoticed.

On reflection – thought Tyrrell, as he looked around at the prisoners walking back and forth in the single, enormous cell of Compassion Life Prison – he was glad for the change. He had never liked being the center of attention at Mercy; being noticed at a life prison always brought the wrong sort of attention. With any luck, here at Compassion he could fade back into anonymity and live a quiet life.

And damnation to hell to Tom Keeper, who wanted him to help change conditions at Compassion Prison.

He looked back over his shoulder, but Compassion's Keeper – Tom Keeper, whom Tyrrell had first met fifteen years before, when Keeper was a young guard visiting Mercy – had disappeared from the balcony of the outbuildings overlooking Compassion Prison. Keeper had already witnessed the important part of the proceedings: Tyrrell's claiming of his manhood, and the trial he underwent to prove his manhood to the other prisoners.

So now Tyrrell was a man, rather than a so-called lad – that is, a prisoner who must serve another prisoner. Tyrrell had had enough of serving guards in bed for twenty years; it was a relief to know that he would not have to serve any prisoners here. The only question, he thought as he looked again at the prisoners ignoring him, was what he should do with his newfound manhood.

Though thunderclouds continued to loom above, with occasional lightning brightening the sky, the prison was now filled with dim light falling through the glass dome four storeys above, part of the roof that sheltered the outbuildings surrounding Compassion Prison. The light shone through where the prison's roof and ceilings had once been, unimpeded by anything except an iron beam spanning the base of the dome. Tyrrell still could not understand why this prison was roofless, and he ran a professional eye over the wall nearest him. Climbing three storeys was a trick he did not relish, but he thought he could do it here: stonework jutted out or was broken in, providing hand-holds. Three storeys up, and then three storeys down, and it would be easy enough to sneak past the guards, since they appeared to stay clustered in front of the prison entrance, under the gunners' post that stood between the prison and the closest of the outbuildings. Then all he need do was sneak into Keeper's office and pull down the lever that opened the riot doors between the outbuildings and the outside world—

No, smash that thought; he had no desire to come within range of Keeper's skilled whip. A better plan would be to investigate the electrical hatch in the healer's surgery and see whether he could manipulate the wires there that he suspected would open the riot doors.

Unfortunately, the surgery was far too close to the gunners' post. He frowned, trying to figure out the best way to get onto the balcony outside the surgery.

Sir. . . . Sir.

It took him a moment to notice the voice; then he slowly turned around. Near him, standing still amidst the hustle and bustle of prisoners going to and fro, was a prisoner who was perhaps a decade older than Tyrrell, about fifty. He had the olive-brown skin and accent of an eastern Vovimian, which could mean that he was a recent immigrant, or could mean that his family had lived in the Magisterial Republic of Mip for centuries. Mip, now an independent nation, still bore the mark of its past, when it had been tugged back and forth by the Kingdom of Vovim and the Queendom of Yclau, like a bone being fought over.

The prisoner wore a shirt and trousers, which made him better dressed than Tyrrell, who remained shirtless, but around the prisoner's left wrist was the band of cloth that Tyrrell had learned to associate with this prison's lads. Tyrrell tried to see what color it was – he had a growing theory that the color of a lad's band showed which man he served – but at that moment, the prisoner moved his left arm, placing it behind his back as he locked his left hand behind his right elbow, as servants do before their betters. He looked Tyrrell straight in the eye.

Tyrrell resisted an impulse to glance over his shoulder to see who was standing behind him. Were you talking to me? he asked cautiously.

Yes, sir. My man, Hosobuchi, wishes to speak with you. Will you be coming?

He spoke excellent Mippite, that tongue which had served as a trade language for many centuries between Yclau and Vovim. Tyrrell, who was bilingual, thought he could detect the faint shadow of another tongue behind the Mippite. This fact was less important than the lad's gesture with his free hand, which was toward a pale-skinned, black-haired man sitting on an upended pail by the nearby wall to the east of the prison gate – that is, to the left of Tyrrell, who was still standing with his back to the prison's great gate, the only break in the southern wall. The man was facing the gate, in Tyrrell's direction; Tyrrell recognized him as the prisoner who had been conversing shortly before with Ahiga, one of the four true men who served as leaders among the prisoners. From where he stood, Tyrrell could see, white against the grey vest of his prison uniform, Hosobuchi's necklet, which Tyrrell had come to associate with prisoners who claimed to be men.

Or was it? One of the challengers whom Tyrrell had faced upon his arrival had worn both a necklet and a wristlet. Confused, Tyrrell simply nodded in response to the lad's question and followed the lad back to where Hosobuchi sat on his pail. In a prison that appeared to hold no furniture, he looked like a king on his throne.

As Tyrrell came closer, he saw that Hosobuchi was not alone. Sitting cross-legged on the floor at his right hand was a young prisoner whom Tyrrell had last seen servicing Ahiga with his mouth. Hosobuchi had his arm around the lad's shoulders, though he removed it as Tyrrell and his escort came forward.

Sir, I bring you the new man. The older lad's voice was deferential.

Thank you, Pickens. Hosobuchi gestured with his hand, and the lad, Pickens, seated himself to the left hand of his man, not so close to Hosobuchi as the other lad was.

This left Tyrrell standing awkwardly in front of Hosobuchi, wondering what he should say and do. Hosobuchi rescued him by saying, Welcome, stranger. We are glad to make your acquaintance.

Tyrrell hoped that the we was not intended to be a royal we. He took another look at the necklet. All the true men had worn solidly colored necklets; was Hosobuchi's white necklet intended to indicate lesser or greater rank? Tyrrell took a chance and said, Glad to meet you as well. I feel a bit lost at the moment.

Hosobuchi smiled. He was about half the age of Pickens, in his mid-twenties, and except for his lighter skin, he looked much like Tyrrell's second challenger: broad-chested, with muscles that showed up, even under his shirt-sleeves. Tyrrell had yet to see any prisoner wearing his jacket, other than the true men.

I can well imagine, Hosobuchi replied. His grammar was cultured, and his accent matched his appearance, being that of Vovim's northwestern province. The lad to his left appeared, from the shape of his eyes, to be from the same province, an impression that was confirmed in the same moment as Hosobuchi turned to him and spoke briefly in a Vovimian provincial dialect, too rapidly for Tyrrell to follow. The lad rose quickly to his feet and scampered off; a minute later, he was back, holding a small crate, which he upended and placed carefully behind Tyrrell. Taking the hint, Tyrrell sat down, and then wondered whether he should have awaited Hosobuchi's permission to do so.

The man did not seem offended, though. If you have any questions about life here, he said, I would be glad to try to answer them.

Tyrrell chewed on his lip, trying to think where to start. As he did so, he glanced round the parts of the prison he could see from where he sat: the area behind Hosobuchi, leading to the back of the prison, and the area to the left of Hosobuchi, leading to the east wall. Both those walls were far away in this enormous building.

There was more room for prisoners here than he had initially thought; the crowd around him at the gate had evidently been just that – a crowd gathered to see the newcomer. Now the prisoners had spread out, and plenty of room lay between them and Hosobuchi's small gathering. The empty floor between was made of bullet-riddled wooden planks, Tyrrell noticed. He wondered what he would see if he lifted one of those planks. A concrete foundation? A locked cellar? Or dirt that could be burrowed through?

Above, the lightning continued to roar and crack, like an angry guard with his whip. As far as Tyrrell could tell, the light from the sky supplied the only illumination in this place. Although the guards had furniture and electric lamplight, here in the prison there were no light fixtures, no fire-pits, no places to sit other than the odd bucket or crate, and certainly none of the sleeping cells that Keeper had promised. Perhaps they were further on in the prison, beyond view?

Frowning, Tyrrell returned his mind to Hosobuchi's offer. Finally he said, When the golden man – Ahiga – called me a little man, what did he mean?

Hosobuchi smiled, as a schoolmaster smiles when his pupil asks the right question. He was addressing you by the title of your rank. You are a little man, a man who has not yet claimed a lad. When you claim a lad or two – his hands went out to rest on the shoulders of the lads at his sides – you will become a greater man.

Tyrrell frowned again. Despite the nature of his trial, the idea of caring for a lad had not occurred to him. Seeking to avoid that subject, he said, Claim . . . I've heard that word several times. It means . . . to take a lad? He used the polite euphemism, though he knew the gutter terms – the Yclau term and the Vovimian term and many, many Mippite terms – if Hosobuchi should need a translation. Where gutter language was concerned, Tyrrell was trilingual.

Hosobuchi seemed to understand him, though. He said, That will be a matter for you to decide. A claiming is not the same thing as a taking – it is merely an exchanged promise between man and lad of protection and service. If you wish to have the lad serve you in your bed, he will. If you do not, he will not.

The younger lad said something softly in his native dialect that made Hosobuchi smile again. The greater man added, Shuji reminds me that the lad may make his preference known at the time that you claim him . . . but the decision will be yours. His left hand – perhaps by accident, perhaps not – began to stroke the side of Shuji's neck.

Tyrrell felt a momentary wave of sickness, and then sternly reminded himself not to make assumptions. He knew nothing of what lay between Hosobuchi and his lads; for all he knew, the lads might have been panting to serve the greater man in his bed. Certainly Hosobuchi had the sort of looks which could attract that kind