Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
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Inmate Astronauts

by Denny E. Marshall

Inmate #A4 1-13 wakes up on a long reclining chair. The top slides open. #A4 1-13 is unable to get up or move, and it will be many hours before he is able to do so.

While waiting in the chair, #A4 1-13’s memory slowly comes back. He was in prison back home before he volunteered for the Deep Space Planet Hunting Program, like so many others. At the time, #A4 1-13 figured it would be better than spending the rest of his life in prison.

With so many private companies involved in space, the costs have come way down. When the Deep Space Planet Hunting Program was first initiated, it was decided to use only prison inmates with life sentences or lengthy prison terms. Many human rights and advocacy groups had to sign-off on the plan before the prison system could get the go-head to finalize the program. Advocates made sure the environment of the ships was safe for such a long voyage. Requirements included a breathable atmosphere upon awakening, the correct pressure, and a list of various other items deemed important to the safety of the inmate ‘volunteers’. Once the concerns where all addressed, the program started.

The Deep Space Planet Hunting Program was a success, and grew year after year. Now dozens of ships, each with hundreds of inmates, roam the universe. Many more are scheduled.

#A4 1-13 is now able to walk around the ship. He’s having a hard time breathing. #A4 1-13 walks over to the room’s main control panel and can see a blue light on. The monitor reads Low Oxygen Setting. #A4 1-13 turns the lever up and in a short while his breathing returns to normal. He walks over to his chair and opens the airtight locker at the base. He removes some clothes and gets dressed.

#A4 1-13 checks out his new environment. In the room, he can see rows and rows of low reclining chairs with the tops still in place. #A4 1-13 wonders why no one else has come out of the deep space freeze. He checks a couple of the chairs and is horrified to see only skeletal remains! #A4 1-13 checks more of the chairs; row after row of death. #A4 1-13 checks out the other rooms on the ship and finds more of the same. Hundreds of inmates are dead! #A4 1-13 returns to the room he woke up in.

No one, except top government and certain prison officials, knows that the Deep Space Planet Hunting Program is not a program of exploration or science. It is, rather, a prison population control program, contrived by certain government officials to reduce the overcrowding. Prison officials privy to the program knew all along that the volunteer inmates would all die within a year.

#A4 1-13 sees a yellow warning light flashing on the section panel of his chair. He looks at the panel and is shocked to see the words “Malfunction Detected” flashing off and on. #A4 1-13’s chair having a computer malfunction is the only reason he is alive.

An automated voice rings out over the ships PA system. “Inhabitable planet detected. All personal report to the bridge or away rooms.”

#A4 1-13 is on the bridge. He remembers his training and walks over to the scanner that detects life forms. He sets it to human-like forms and starts the scan. It is several hours before the scanner finally picks up a reading. The computer detects one human-like life form so far. At the top of the screen he clicks the icon that says, land craft by detected life form. #A4 1-13 decides it is better to land there than a randomly selected spot decided by the computer.

The ship lands and #A4 1-13 is able to leave the ship with no suit or equipment. Stepping out on the planet, he can see the life form the ship detected. It looks like a woman. She walks up to #A4 1-13 and says,
“Hello, my name is Eve”

“Hello I am #A4 1-13.” says inmate #A4 1-13. He doesn’t know his real name. It’s been so many years since he was allowed to use it, he doesn’t remember. That was long ago.

Eve looks at him with a smile and says,
“That’s a silly name.”

Eve thinks… The fourth letter of the alphabet is ‘D’, the first letter is ‘A’, and the thirteenth letter is ‘M’…
“We’ll just call you Adam,” says Eve.


2017 Denny E. Marshall

Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. One recent credit is fiction at Dime Show Review. See more at www.dennymarshall.com.

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