by Jessica Hutchison © 2002

It was self-defense. All thirteen counts. They were all trying to kill him. He just happened to get them first. He was only guilty of forethought and planning. Why is the dead guy always innocent, anyway?

Ott stretched in his seat. The guy sitting across from him caught his eye and looked quickly away. He was sweating like a man who knows he's about to die. He reminds Ott of Len Sly. Bastard mowed down three kids in an apartment complex near his district. Ott had made him sweat a long time before he packed him away. Last glimpse of sunlight. Ever. Ott peered out the tiny porthole window at the blue-gray waves. The thick glass distorted the horizon line, but the sunset was still beautiful. The water level in the window rose until the transport was submerged. No more sunlight. No more sky. Only dark water.

Ott covered his face and took a deep breath. Does time exist when you don't know day from night? A guard walked slowly down the line of prisoners, all chained securely in their seats. He was outfitted to the max, no rubber bullets for this guy. Ott hardly blamed him. The guy was trapped in an underwater transport with 100 of the world's most violent criminals.

The sweaty guy across from Ott stared nervously at the guard. He didn't look scary. Kinda looked scared himself. Ott became suspicious. It was in his nature to be so, but this time he thought it was warranted. He addressed the pale man in a liquid tone.

"What's your tag, man?"

The man's eyes scattered quickly over the interior or the room, as if looking for escape from this conversation.

Ott tried again. "How'd you get your ticket to Atlantis, buddy?"

The stranger's face twitched, deforming his expression. He mumbled a gruff reply. "Put someone out."

Ott pretended indifference but his mind swam with theories. No one on this sinking barge had killed only one person. This transport was taking them all to their final resting place on the bottom of the ocean. Atlantis. The first underwater prison. Officially called The Center for Criminal Securement, it was reserved for those criminals they couldn't fix and would have put to death a decade ago before they banned capital punishment. But, prisons can only hold so many. If not to the morgue, then where? An underwater prison was considered impossible to escape from and the perfect solution. A virtual death in itself. A watery separation from society.

The squirmy guy yanked on his chains and reached into his pocket for a rag to wipe up his disgusting sweat. Ott noticed a small emblem in the corner of the dirty rag. It had a blue lion's head stuck on the point of a dagger. Ott gripped his chains and pretended to look out the porthole. Holy shit. The damn Blues were here. How did they get on this thing? They were a terror. Opposed to the Morality Acts of '56, they crusaded for the death of serial criminals, especially murderers. Crusaded was the word. These guys were kamikazes, driving trucks into prison buses and sneaking into maximum-security areas dressed in C-4, leaving their victims to turn the color of their namesake.

Ott leaned forward and saw the guard at the far end of the transport. Damn. The guy was going to blow the whole place away and Ott doubted he could alert the guards without this guy pulling the pin. Ott dropped his jaw to relieve the building pressure in his ears. All noise inside the transport sounded hollow and reflected, as though they were all in a trash can.

He wiggled his arms around and started to sweat, thinking about becoming fish food. One arm seemed a little loose in the chains. Ott looked down in disbelief. The stupid guard hadn't secured his restraints. One arm was unlocked. What are the chances of that? Ott held his breath and tried his legs. They were both unlocked. Ok, so I can move, but what now?

The sweaty guy was looking anxious. Ott didn't think the guy could make it much longer without ending them all. In two swift movements, Ott lunged across the aisle, grabbed the Blue with his free hand and pulled him onto the floor, as far as his restraints would allow. With a practiced move, Ott punched him hard on the back of the neck. The guy didn't move. Ott realized he might have been too rough. He could have set the bomb off if he had landed wrong.

The guards were there instantly. They wasted no time using stunners on Ott and he hit the floor hard. He lay where he landed and let the punks discover how close they had been to sure death. They would surely give him an accommodation for this. Probably not a full pardon but definitely a reprieve from this underwater hell.

"Hey, Ott, wake up. HEY!"

Ott bolted upright. The restraints were gone.

A lanky guy with a beer belly peered at him through metal bars. "So, what'll it be today, Ott? Better make a good choice. Last one, you know."

Ott sank back down on his bunk. It squeaked in a familiar way. He knew where he was. The words came out automatically. He had planned them months ago when his last appeal was turned down.

"Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, and peach cobbler."

The guard did not look unsympathetic. He liked Ott. Never a troublemaker, at least in here.

"Alright, Ott. I'll see what I can do. Want a coke with that?"

"Sure." Ott watched him leave. He was sweating profusely. He would be sure to eat slowly. It was his last meal. Ever. No Atlantis waited for him on the bottom of the ocean, but his fate was equally as impossible to escape from. And just as dark.

x x x

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