Colan Dreeb lay on the new, non-regulation, divan bed in his cell, idly scrolling through the huge collection of murder-porn on his virtual reader unit.
He could hear the sound of his fellow prisoners being marched out into the force-shielded exercise area, from where they would have a 360° panoramic view of the endless, desolate and toxic surface of the planet on which the maximum security prison complex was located.
The designers of the facility had originally intended to make the dome-shaped shield completely opaque, given that there was literally nothing to see outside, apart from the occasional flashes of an electrical storm above the range of immense mountains that encircled the featureless plain where it stood. However, the company who ran the prison wanted the inmates to be able to see just how pointless an escape attempt would be, much like the infamous Alcatraz prison on late twentieth century Earth, so, apart from a protective tinted coating to reflect the powerful solar radiation, the dome was horribly and terrifyingly transparent.
It wasn’t long before Dreeb felt the concussive vibration of the huge bulkhead door slamming shut, indicating that the majority of the prison population was now outside the main complex in the “yard”.
Ten minutes later there was a discrete tap on his door and one of his personal guards entered the cell balancing a tray on one hand and carrying a disposable metal drink tube in the other.
The uniformed guard didn’t exactly tug a forelock or doff his cap to the figure on the bed, but it was clear from his demeanour that he deferred to the scarfaced prisoner and he waited patiently until Colan Dreeb laid aside his reader and looked up before addressing him in a respectful tone.
“I’ve brought your meal Mr Dreeb, I’ll just leave it on here,” he placed the tray, containing a covered plate and a plastic coffee mug, on the small table at the foot of Colan’s bed, “is there anything else I can get you?”
“No thank you Crenshaw, that will be all for now,” said Dreeb, smiling and digging in his coverall pocket, “Here you are, for your trouble,” He passed the guard a credit chip, “don’t gamble it away all at once.”
(Dreeb had a talent for discovering weaknesses in people and using them to his own advantage. Crenshaw was a case in point and the guard had been on Dreeb’s payroll ever since Dreeb had paid off the debt he had owed a particularly vicious gang boss whose poker game he’d been stupid enough to lose money at)
“Thank you, sir,” said Crenshaw, “I’ll leave you to your dinner,” just call if you need anything, I won’t be far away.”
As he turned to go, the guard made a point of draining the drink tube and dropping it with a clang into the tin by the door that served as a trash can, the noise earning him a scowl, but nothing else.
He nodded to Dreeb, “I’ll come back and empty that for you when I collect your tray, sir” and with that, he left, closing the cell door behind him.
Colan waited until he was sure the guard would not return, then stood up and lifted the cover from his “dinner”.
Underneath was a small pile of powder, in appearance, no different from the dehydrated food rations that were issued to all the inmates daily.
Then he removed the drink tube from the trash and unscrewed the cap, sniffing the open tube cautiously and smiling.
He replaced the lid and slipped the tube into his pocket, then dragged the bed to the centre of the room, removed the mattress and wedged it upright in the corner, then picked up the small table with the tray on it and placed it on top of the frame, along with the cell’s only chair.
Standing on the bed, Dreeb lifted the plate cover and took the drink tube from his pocket. He unscrewed the cap and carefully poured the viscous liquid inside onto the pile of powder.
He stood on the chair and, using the tube, he mixed the two together until they formed a thick paste, then he flattened the end and used the crude spatula he’d made to spread the sticky paste in a large circle on the ceiling.
Moving quickly now, Dreeb lifted the chair onto the table and picked up the plate cover. He pressed it into the centre of the circle and rammed the back of the chair under it, crushing the top of the metal dome flat, leaving it wedged hard against the ceiling by the pile of furniture.
Finally, he reached into his mouth and with a twist, removed one of his back teeth.
Checking that his path to the corner of the cell was clear, he pressed the open end of the false tooth into the ring of paste on the ceiling and immediately jumped from the bed and dived onto the floor behind the mattress.
Two seconds later there was a blinding white flash and a sharp sizzling noise, followed by the sound of men shouting and loud gunfire.
“Ahh, they’re playing my tune.”
It’d been a pretty standard exercise period so far; a couple of scuffles, territorial pissing contests, that was all, no big thing, and penal officer Pulaski daydreamed as he absently scanned the yard through the scope of his plasma rifle.
He certainly wasn’t paying attention to anything beyond the force shield.
Hardly anyone bothered looking “outside” anymore, it was too fucking depressing for a start, and they all knew there wouldn’t be anything interesting going on out there anytime soon, the planet’s population was precisely zero, plus them, so it was best to just pretend it wasn’t there, it was easier.
Which is why it wasn’t until the small cruiser was almost directly above the barely-visible dome, that anyone noticed it at all.
By that time, it was already too late.
The force shield was designed specifically to keep the largely unarmed inhabitants of the prison complex in, and to keep out nothing more violent than the planet’s toxic atmosphere.
So when the first burst of the cruiser’s pulse cannon blasted a hole through the top of the dome, nobody had any time to do anything.
Except Colan Dreeb.
As soon as he heard sounds of chaos in the yard outside, through the gap that had appeared around the precariously wedged disc of metal that used to be the roof of the six storey cell block, (Dreeb had always thought of his cell as more of a penthouse) he emerged from behind the protection of the mattress and waited.
A few seconds later a metallic thud announced the arrival of his rescuers; suddenly the disc in the roof came off like a ring-pull and, as he clambered onto the bed frame, a pair of hands reached in, clapped a breathing mask over Dreeb’s nose and mouth and bodily lifted him out through the hole.
He could hear screaming now and looked down into the yard.
The dense, poisonous gases of the planet’s atmosphere had instantly begun to rush in and sink to the bottom of the dome, slowly filling it with an invisible cloud of death.
Dreeb saw prisoners and guards alike, clawing at their throats and screaming in a harsh, bubbling croak until they started to bleed from the eyes and ears, eventually collapsing and lying still.
The man who had lifted him out of the cell touched his arm.
“Time to go, sir.”
“Yes, of course,” Dreeb turned his grinning face from the scenes of horror below him and followed the black-clad figure to the door of the cruiser on the roof of the prison, took one last look round at the destruction he had finally wrought on his captors and decided that it had been very good practice indeed.
Now for the main event…