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Free Convicts

By EGStone All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Scifi

Prologue

The day the Prometheus project was announced to the public was the day she knew she would be free again. All she had to do was be granted a comm link to the Head of State under the leader of the Republic and her fate would be sealed. There, in her cell, wearing the uniform assigned to all inmates, her hair neatly combed, sitting straight and tall on her terrible bed, a slight smile on her face, she waited for the Head of State to answer, as she knew he would.

The Head was flustered and he looked at her nervously, a line of sweat across his shining brow, his tie loosened and collar undone. "What can I do for you?" he asked, seemingly oblivious of the uniform or the bars or the guards outside her cell. So, as it happened, was she.

"You're looking flustered today, Walter," she said, her eyes locking with his, making him fidget uncomfortably though there were many miles between them. He didn't answer her jab, knowing that an explanation would only get him in more trouble. So would repeating his question. Instead, he waited while she took her time on the comm link, saying nothing. Finally, when her smile became terrifying, she said, "I want on that ship."

"No, the man growled, prowling along the width of the room. He was in the Head of State's office but e was too angry to notice the synthetic wood desk—best that could be found—or the view which looked out over the Sky City, speeders going past in droves. The fact that there were real books didn't matter at all to him, nor did the desperate expression of what was supposed to be his superior. "I will not have Ske'toa on my ship. Do you have any idea what she's done?"

"I know exactly what she's done. I also know that the only reason she's in prison is because she wanted to be there. Ske'toa is one of the most powerful people in the Republic and she has sources everywhere, with her hand in every pocket, every person's secrets on her tongue. And she wants on your ship."

"No! I will not have a crime lord, a killer, a corrupter of souls on my ship! She's going to take over the colonisation project you'll have created a dictator on a world outside of your control. There's no way," the man snarled, rounding on the Head of State so that the scar which cut across his cheek bone seemed fresh, all the more fearsome. His uniform gave the impression of strength, his neatly done brown hair and ramrod straight posture one of order. His eyes, a glistening, stormy grey, though, shone with barely contained rage.

"You don't understand, Captain Yegorov. Ske'toa wants to be on your ship. She is going to be on it. This world will be better off without her here and I have no doubt you can handle her. Twenty percent of the colonist population will be convicts determined safe to be released. Ske'toa will be one of them," the Head of State hissed. Yegorov turned to face the politician.

"Prometheus is my ship. I have final say as to what happens on her and with her. That includes passengers. She will not come," the Captain roared. His roar was intimidating to most men, but the Head of State simply straightened in his synthetic leather chair, fury running cold through his veins.

"Daniil Yegorov, you were given command of the Prometheus because of your military commendations, your diplomatic skills, your battle field experience and because you were willing to take a one-year colonisation journey through hostile space. But. Just because Prometheus was given to you does not mean she cannot be taken away. Until she is in open space, she belongs to the Republic. And she will not leave the ground without Ske'toa on board. Am I perfectly clear?" the Head of State's voice was quiet, cold and controlled. His words were not forceful, but the effect they had on the Captain was immediate.

He stood perfectly still, the idea that Prometheus, his ship, could be taken from him sinking in. After all he had worked for, all the favours traded and time spent securing this position, for it to go to waste was unthinkable. He bowed his head and turned, leaving the expensive and terrible office of the Head of State as a defeated man. He hailed a passing taxi-speeder and told it to take him to the nearest Sky Bar, where he would spend his mazuhmas on drinking to the hatred of politicians he was cultivating.

"Here is my list of those who will be on the ship," she said, handing over a data chip. At the concerned look on the face of the warden and Head of State—who had made a special trip to the Republic super-max prison, she tossed her head, tucking a strand of brown hair behind an ear before smiling at her visitors. "Don't worry, Walter. None of them are convicted first-degree murderers, serial killers, violent criminals or sex offenders. These people are safe."

"Thank you," the Head of State said, tucking the data chip into the pocket of his new suit. The warden, a skinny but powerful woman with dead eyes, looked at the politician in shock.

"You're not even going to question her judgement? Ske'toa may have her hand around your throat, but you shouldn't trust her," the warden growled. The Head of State shifted uncomfortably.

"Despite my failings," she answered, smiling sadly at the warden, "I am a proponent of honour. I gave my word I would agree to provide safe people to make up the convict population. I also am not stupid. Having violent criminals on board a ship, no matter how large, for a year would be incredibly stupid."

There was silence in the prison conference room for a few moments as the warden ground her teeth, unwilling to have Ske'toa out of her sight for any period of time and yet relieved that she would no longer be responsible for the containment of the most dangerous and cunning criminal since the Rebellion. The Head of State straightened his tie and rose from the table.

"I will inform Captain Yegorov of the list-"

"No," Ske'toa said, her calm expression hardening a fraction of an inch. The Head of State swallowed.

"What? The Captain needs to be informed so he can notify the military presence and his crew. He has to monitor the convict presence on Prometheus for the prevention of crime and-"

"No. The criminal records of myself and all those people will be wiped. We will start in the colony with a clean slate," she answered.

"Now I know you have a great amount of influence, but that is something I simply cannot allow. The colonists have a right to know of the history of those they are travelling with."

"And everyone on that ship has a right not to have their past following them. These people—all the names on that list—are people safe to be released into society where they would have a choice to stat over without their past following them. Are you saying that Prometheus falls under a different set of laws than the Republic?" she asked, her voice even despite the emotion which flashed in her eyes, revealing to the Head of State just how thin was the ground on which he was walking.

"You would have me compromise the safety of those on board the Prometheus so you and your people—convicted criminals—can start over, clear?"

"Oppression or freedom," Ske'toa said softly. "Their safety will not be harmed nor compromised. You have my word."The Head of State hesitated. The wardened widened her eyes at this and slammed her hand onto the table, making the politician jump. Ske'toa simply raised her eyebrows. "You can't be seriously considering this. Letting this monster roam about on Prometheus, on the new colony, unchecked, is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. You will be putting everyone in danger, no matter what she says."

"She gave her word," the Head of State answered, looking Ske'toa straight in the eye. She nodded slightly. He nodded and reached across the table to shake her hand. She took it. "I will have to let the Captain have the list, though. He will keep his mouth shut but he must know everything about the people aboard his ship in order to make it to the colony in tact."

"Very well. But my people and I will need clothing and personal belongings or our lack will make this conversation pointless. Only enough to make it seem normal. Books, pictures, however much everyone else is allowed to bring. A stipend for each an and woman should do it," she said. As the Head of State faltered once more, she tilted her head. "I gave my word, after all."

"Fine. You will have two days to arrange for belongings. An order sheet will be distributed to each of your people. Your belongings will be delivered to the Prometheus by the morning of departure." She nodded and the Head of State rose once again to leave, this time unhindered by the convict sitting at the table. The politician hesitated at the door, looking back at her with widened eyes, fear obvious.

"Don't worry, Walter," she said, "soon I will be out of your hair. You won't have to deal with me for quite some time."

"Never again wouldn't be soon enough," the Head of State said in reply. She laughed, tossing back her head and making the sound fill the room. It was infectious and the politician smiled, chuckling slightly as he left. Only the warden remained silent, her jaw clenched and her knuckles white from holding them in a fist for so long. The warden glared at her, jerking her head for Ske'toa to stand up and head back to the cell. The prisoner obeyed quietly.

"I will need to speak with a few people regarding my personal belongings," she said as the warden put her eye to the scanner to open the cell.

"You'll have to go through proper channels," she snarled in response, shoving Ske'toa into the cell. "I won't be pushed around by the likes of you, no matter how powerful you think you are, no matter how long you're staying in here. This is my prison, and while you're here, you follow my rules.""I'll tell that to the under-warden, then," Ske'toa said, expression still calm and relaxed. "Those pictures he's been holding over your head have been getting him access to the more willing female prisoners. I should think that you would need to do something about that."

"How dare you-"

"Perhaps I should simply call the Director, inform him that you are unable to assert authority over your inferiors," she continued. The warden curled her lip in disgust and anger and a flush crept over her cheeks from shame. She looked away from the direct gaze of her prisoner, a vein in her neck popping.

"Get me the information," she muttered. Ske'toa smiled pleasantly and watched as the warden closed the cell, waiting outside for the information. She was given it and, leaving Ske'toa alone in the cell, went to go run errands for the prisoner.

Ske'toa lay back on her bed, the uniform itching and scratching as it always had. Only a couple more days and she would be gone, no longer needing to deal with the annoyances she had put up with for nearly two years. The outside world had put her behind, placing her in the realm of forgotten times, which was exactly what she wanted. Her plan had been to emerge and return to the shadows, making her name into something more than the 'malevolent spirit' that was its direct translation. She was going to make her name synonymous with power.

This plan was much, much better.

The day before departure, Captain Daniil Yegorov was given the passenger manifest. Thirty of the hundred colonists would be military, twenty would be convicts. The remaining fifty would be average citizens, selected based on a raffle of those willing to go on the colonisation journey. The military would be commanded by a man of great valour and experience: General Abbott. The convicts weren't banded together, but Yegorov had no doubt that they would come together under Ske'toa's rule. The others would just have to survive.

Then, there was his crew. Hand-picked from the highest departments and corporations in the Republic, the crew was made up of nearly seventy people, all highly-trained, all completely obedient to him. If, that is, Ske'toa didn't corrupt them.

As he looked through the list, enjoying the last of his aged, liquid spirits, Yegorov couldn't help but have Ske'toa in his mind. Who was it that could inspire such loyalty in her people, such fear in everyone else? He went through the manifest, his fingers twirling through the air to scroll past the civilians and enter the list of convicts. He read through every file thoroughly, not discrediting the male figures as well. Ske'toa had been called female, primarily, but her gender had been variable and fluid, as had her age, description and origin. Only one thing remained the same: the crimes attributed to her.

Passing a Roger Valentine, Yegorov straightened suddenly, his eyes widening in shock. Right there, under the name Amelia Wainright was the simple description, Ske'toa. It couldn't be. She was so... unassuming. Her figure was small, lean and slightly skinny. Her face was pleasant and even charming. Her hair was an unassuming brown, cropped to brush her shoulders. Her skin was a golden colour, common of people from the Southern Ital Peninsula. And she was young, barely older than twenty-six. The only thing that made her distinguishable as something other than a pretty face, that made her dangerous, were her eyes. A light, heather coloured green, they were intelligent and observant, drawing your confidence and able to look into your soul. Even though Yegorov was only looking at a hologram, he shuddered. This was a force to be reckoned with.

"Ske'toa," he muttered. "I have you, now."

Morning dawned outside of the Republic Super-max prison, bringing with it the hope of freedom for a few people. Amelia Wainright didn't need to be woken by the guard sent to process her out of the system. She was awake, dressed in civilian clothes of green, leg-hugging pants, a black t-shirt, synthetic leather jacket and a scarf of light, heather green around her neck. She wore boots that were functional as well as stylish and had a comp-glove on her left hand, the fibres flickering with the electricity that ran through it to make it a viable computer. She looked nice, the guard thought, but also someone who could turn invisible in a crowd, become someone else in the blink of an eye. He held out the scanner to take her finger-prints and retina scan and knew, somehow, that though her outward appearance was calm, she was running with excitement inside.

"Are you ready, ma'am?" he asked, politely, after the processing had been complete.

"Certainly," Ske'toa answered. "Freedom, after all, awaits."

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