Author: Brian Maycock

In one hour, he would be free.

Murty grinned.

Smiling was not against the rules, not strictly speaking, but if a guard saw you smiling there was a good chance a beating would follow.

They might think you were laughing at them or hiding a secret. Or simply wanted to impose a reminder that prison was not a place where the inmates should be smiling.

Murty kept on grinning. What was one more beating?

When he had been detained, he was a punk with blood on his hands. Even so, he entered the Not Guilty code in the justice interface and recorded a pack of lies as his testimony.

The Deportation ticket came out all the same. Sixty years imprisonment on board a correctional facility deep in space.

His last sight of Earth was a sliver of light as the shuttle door shut. Two weeks later they docked and he walked out into his new world.

One where cells lined the walls for miles in every direction and the sounds of thousands of inmates screaming and snoring and ranting never ceased.

Where buzzers sounded to mark that it was time to eat or sleep or exercise.

Where excrement seeped from blocked drains and small, dark flies filled the air.

He had been nineteen when he arrived at the facility. He was seventy-nine now.

His sentence was almost served.

One hour and counting down, he told himself as his cell door was buzzed open.

A guard took him to a booth and ordered him to undress. He stood there, a collection of bones and scars, as light spat from pinholes in the booth.

He figured this was meant to kill the bugs which lived on him. A few did drop off and lay thrashing around by his feet, but most kept scurrying around regardless.

He was hurried out of the booth and pointed to a new all-in-one grey suit hung on the wall. This itched more than the damn bugs ever had when he put it on.

An appearance before the Governor followed.

He intoned a lecture about penalties paid while Murty fought the urge to break the man’s neck.

It was a scrawny and would have snapped easily but the pleasure would have been fleeting. Not a good enough trade for the freedom that was coming his way.

The Governor finished and dismissed Murty with a wave. Outside, a line on the floor led the way to a fat metal door.

A buzzer sounded as he approached and the door slid open.

Murty stepped through.

This was it.

He was being released.

The door now behind him closed, which left just one more.

A final barrier.

When this opened, the water in Murty’s body would boil and the air would be ripped out of his lungs into the vacuum of space to which he had been exposed.

In fifteen seconds he would be unconscious and in ninety seconds he would be dead.

But he would not die a prisoner.

Murty smiled as the outer hatch of the airlock opened.

One hundred and five seconds of freedom.

The thought of this had sustained him for sixty years.