You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Knowledge Shall Make You Free-

Robert Daily sat in the crowded assembly room. Everyone had gotten their uniforms, found their assigned bunks, and now were assembled to be addressed by the administration. This was a supposedly alternative jail for non-violent offenders. Chronic misdemeanants. Naughty boys.

The man who stood at the podium did not look particularly impressive. When he began to speak Robert was not compelled to alter that first impression. By the second word the man was already boring. That boredom is what caused Robert to drop out of high school and led to his current lifestyle of periodic incarceration.

"Gentlemen, if you would please quiet down." said the unimpressive man in the cheap suit. "Really. Please. I guess that is good enough. Welcome to the Big Mesa Institute for Alternative Incarceration. This won't take long, if you would all just quiet down."

The man waited a moment. When it was obvious that he wouldn't go on and get this over with the noisy idiots in the back finally fell silent. "Thank you." said the man. "This is an educational institution, gentlemen. An experiment. You were flown here on helicopters for a reason. There is no road in or out of this place. Indeed, we are surrounded by cliffs on all sides."

A screen lowered from the ceiling, and an image formed on the screen. A view from the air. Sure enough, the institute was built on a mesa surrounded by drops of hundreds of feet. The nearest adjacent mesa was quite a ways away. Much more than just a jump.

"I will be leaving, soon." said the unimpressive man. "I am the only official remaining on the mesa. Everyone else is gone. Oh, except for my helicopter crew."

Two men stepped out through a door behind the unimpressive man. They had automatic weapons. Pretty mean weapons from Robert's perspective. The man behind the podium became a lot more impressive, all of a sudden.

"You have a lot of building materials here." said the rather impressive man. "And computers. Also, limited Internet access. Educational materials have been bookmarked on your computers to aid you in learning. You see, repeated incarcerations have been linked to a lack of education. We are providing you the resources to educate yourselves, and the motivation to do so.

"Food and water will be air-dropped to you every week. For six months that volume of food and water will be constant. After that it will begin to diminish. We call this 'motivation.' Engineers have determined that we have provided you with the things you will need to safely get off of this mesa. Should you manage to get off of the mesa and return to society, you will be free. No further obligation to serve time. Your records will be clean.

"Unlike the maximum security desert prison that is patterned something like this one, we won't be flying gun ships around and shooting anything that tries to escape. We want you to escape. Of course, you will have to learn some skills in order to do so. We have given you the tools. The rest is up to you."

With that he turned and walked out through the door behind him. The men with guns followed him, and closed the door. The crowd of young men stood in stunned silence.

Robert started to look around. "I think I need a study partner." he muttered. "Preferably a really big study partner." Suddenly an education seemed like a very valuable commodity. A commodity in uncomfortably short supply. School had seemed like prison. Now prison had become a school.

He was pleased that at least he had learned enough in school to recognize irony.