Prisoner 83-91-81

Ezra Azra

© Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra


Image by suwichan pralomram from Pixabay
Image by suwichan pralomram from Pixabay.

It was the first aerial dogfight seen and heard high above Prison XXX. It meant Klaria’s fortunes in the war with neighboring country Pyrone were changing for the worse. The countries were evenly matched in the dogfight. Three-three. Two of the enemy craft were shot down. That victory hardly helped, since for the first sixteen months of the conflict the daily news had been about Klaria’s victory after victory on land and air. This dogfight in Klaria’s airspace signified that the country of Pyrone was far from the imminent defeat the six o’clock News never failed to trumpet.

The sign of changing fortunes was not seriously for the worse, since Prison XXX was located in a valley within mountains snow-capped all year-round. Utterly inaccessible except by helicopter. The dogfight above the prison this midmorning must have been sheer coincidence, and not that surprising since the prison location was a mere few miles from the international border with the enemy.

The inmates were out in the yard, exercising, when the overhead entertainment burst upon them. The prisoners didn't know which aircraft were the enemy; they cheered on all the pilots.

There were only four prisoners, two due to be executed within a week.

While all the persons in the yard, inmates and guards, and probably everyone in the Watch Tower, were distracted by the dogfight, a small helicopter silently appeared rising from behind the prison wall. It cleared the wall, moved a few feet over the yard, and shot a cable down, meant, clearly, for someone in the yard to grab.

When in the yard, all inmates wore helmets that displayed their prison numbers at the front.

The cable, twisting and flailing as it sped through the air, accidentally whacked Prisoner 83-91-18 on her helmet. Had she not been wearing the helmet, the head injury would have been fatal. As it was, all she suffered was momentary imbalance from the force of the collision.

More than by the cable head-encounter, Prisoner 83-91-18 was irked by the instantaneous instinctual surfacing in her of a birthright habit: observing the angular positions of objects, relative to one-and-other.

The habit created fun moments in the company of casual friends when she was a child.

For her thirteenth birthday, her Mom bought for her from an army surplus sale, a theodolite. On non-schooldays, she was allowed to use the theodolite in their backyard to calibrate the angles her position made with stars, and the moon.
An ambition, not yet achieved, was to find two stars with which her backyard location formed an equilateral triangle. Her parents made a promise to her. When she eventually found those two stars, the parents would build in the family home, her very own astronomy room, glass-domed, with a powerful telescope.

She curbed the habit when she grew into the world of adults as she learned most adults were not, most of the time, receptive to the utterly irrelevant information she gratuitously declared, impulsively.

For years and years in her teens, she carried a pocket compass which she would use to calculate the actual angle degrees of relative locations.

When she enrolled at the University of Klaria, she was streamed into Mathematics, not necessarily as a genius, but certainly as a natural-born mathematics enthusiast.

Her penchant for three co-ordinates made her ‘born for trigonometry.’ That Ancient Greek Mathematician, Pythagoras, would not have been impressed since in his phenomenal fame there was not an iota of trigonometry acknowledged.

In the days of Pythagoras, trigonometry was merely an unnamed unacknowledged shadow presence ubiquitous in the well-established branch of Geometry. It would take another two-thousand years after Pythagoras for trigonometry to be accorded its separate name as an independent branch of Mathematics. Was there ever anyone before Prisoner 83-91-18 who in the twenty-first century discerned the trigonometrical three as the basis of the Pythagorean theory?

At the moment in the prison yard, accessing her congenital trigonometrical quirk, with subliminal speed, she observed that, relative to the end of the cable, and to the positions of two other inmates in the yard, her position was one apex of a more-or-less equilateral triangle with the other two inmates, her location being the nearest to the cable. This configuration would not have been possible had the fourth inmate been present.

On a previous yard break while she was absent, someone had entered her cell and written in sand poured out on her stone bed, to be on guard for her life. That confrontation happened subsequently in a manner that made her death a certainty had she not been forewarned in sand; she had killed her assailant, the fourth prisoner.

Since Prisoner 83-91-81 was not aware of a plan for her escape, she instantly guessed the dogfight had distracted the planned escapee enough for them to fail to be positioned accurately.

Natural self-preservation instinct erupted in Prisoner 83-91-81. She made a dash for the cable.

She was thwarted by the earthquake. The first ever in the seven-hundred-year history of the mountainous country of Klaria.

The prison was blown up into the air, and overturned. At the end of those blasting-off seconds, Prisoner 83-911-81 found herself crashing down through trees.

She lay still, wedged among branches. She despairingly heard debris all around her crashing to the ground. When the sounds died away, she cautiously made her way down the trees. She was aware of painful parts of her head, but she stoically refused to remove the helmet to investigate. She decided she would have to accept that, probably, the helmet was keeping her head bones from falling apart.

She recalled the last time she was on the ground it was midmorning. She guessed that if she had not lost consciousness since then, she must still be in the same day. She took a few steps and knew she was on sloping ground. She headed down. A few steps down, she froze!

She saw part of a clothed body. She crouched and stayed motionless for minutes. She crept up to the body. It was headless!

She recoiled, and was in a full turn to get away, when two simultaneous thoughts stopped her. Clothes and identification.

She was in prison clothes that had her prison number. She had no identification documents. She reluctantly crept back.

The corpse was dressed in some kind of uniform, and had a wallet with documents.

The wallet was easily slipped out of a pocket. A woman! Elizabeth Sneddon. A straightforward enough name to adopt, thank you. Even better, no photo identification. Some cash in bank notes. Among the notes, a piece of paper on which was printed the word Essenwood. The countless creases indicated the paper had suffered countless handlings over a long time.

Stripping the corpse of clothing was not easily done. It was impossible to remove the clothing because of the hardened dust and general dirt covering everywhere. The new Elizabeth Sneddon was about to give up when she discerned a duffel bag among the leaves of broken branches. She grabbed it and unzipped it. It contained only a few essential garments.

She stripped off some of her convict clothes and changed into duffel items. She upended the duffel of the rest of its contents, and took the empty bag with her. She scurried downhill.

She became aware of no more head pains. She carefully unstrapped her helmet, and gingerly probed all over her head with her fingers. She smiled in relief. She chewed off her prison number on her helmet, and flung the numberless helmet away as far as she could. She returned to her downhill spot to rest.

While she rested, she heard noises approaching farther down. She cautiously made her way down. She hid. There was a narrow roadway path running across the slope.

People appeared, moving hurriedly, speaking softly. She listened. They were fleeing the war! They were from Klaria. She waited until the last of the dozens passed her. She silently joined the end of the column.

The column continued for a while. Somebody at the front passed the word down that they would have to rest. They stopped, and sat on the ground. The persons nearest her showed no surprise at her presence. She sat with them.

An elderly woman spoke to her. “Like me, huh? Nothing to eat or drink.” “Yep. Just jumped up and ran.” “Only time to grab an empty duffel.” “Uh, yes. Joined the first group that seemed to know where they were going.” “I hope we know. Someone up ahead said they have family in a place named Stoneville.” “Stoneville?” “You know where that is? I do not.” “It is across the border, I think.” “It is. In Pyrone,” said a young man. “He said we will be welcome because we are ordinary folk, not soldiers.”

The elderly woman mumbled, “Ordinary folk on the losing side.” She spoke quietly to Elizabeth.

My name’s Yvonne McBride.” “Elizabeth Sneddon.” “Elizabeth Sneddon? What a coincidence! Long, long ago, I had a friend named Elizabeth Sneddon. We were born on the same street and lived there into adulthood. She became a nuclear physicist.”

Elizabeth’s mouth dried. Was this Yvonne McBride toying with her?

Watch out for Sergeant George L. Neilson up ahead.” “Who is he?” “He says a Klaria Government agent investigating a prison breakout. Escaped prisoners, dangerous and on the loose. Questioned all of us before you joined us.” “What prison?"

Someone ahead whispered. “Let us continue. The column moved hastily.

Yvonne McBride moved closer to Elizabeth, and mumbled softly. “You do not look army to me. Get rid of the duffel. It is army-issue. Soldier types are not welcome in Stoneville.” “It's empty.” “It has the owner’s initials and identification number army-stamped on the inside.” “Thanks.”

She was on full alert for the first opportunity to discard the empty bag. But, first, she could not resist the curiosity to see if the bag had the army-issue stamp.

It did, 111-GES. General Elizabeth Sneddon? No mystery there. The wallet identification card said Elizabeth Sneddon. As for the 111-G, she had seen similar identification codes at her court-martial.

On the caps of two of the three presiding army Generals, the same G. 112-GVL and 113-GBN. The third General sat between the two. She was not wearing her cap. It was on the table in front of her. By sequential numbering, her cap number could have been 111-GES. The G being in all the numbers could have meant General. Did that mean that mountainside corpse 111-GES had been the middle General at the court-martial table? Blown up with Prison XXX? Why not? There was a rumour the official in charge of the prison was a female.

Made some sense that a female in charge would have had the opportunity to leave t that warning for her in the sand.

She especially remembered the cap numbering because the centre General’s cap not being worn, compromised the formation of an equilateral triangle by their four positions.

The people of Stoneville, Pyrone, were kind. They helped without conditions. They did not ask questions. Ordinary people helping ordinary people who knew little about why their elected leaders had plunged their countries into war.

Because of the war, there was a serious shortage of general workers in Stoneville and throughout the country of Pyrone.
Elizabeth was offered a job as a waitress, or as a baggage porter at the railway depot. Waitressing paid a higher income because she would be allowed to keep all tips from customers. But she would meet an unending list of strangers. She did not want to risk that. She took the baggage porter job.

She rented a single-tenant apartment, and was living contentedly for two months before her past caught up with her.

She was on a break with two porter colleagues, Maynard and Eddie, in an alfresco section of a cafeteria, when a passing pedestrian on his way to the train station, glanced at her and stopped abruptly, and called out, “Enid? Enid Bham?” Yvonne froze.

She tried but could not turn to look at the caller. He entered the cafeteria space and came up to her table.

It is me. Obed. Trigonometry class at University.” Elizabeth forced out a reply, barely, looking at him, wide-eyed, “I am sorry. I am Elizabeth. Elizabeth Sneddon. I have never been to University.” Obed stared at her in silence for a second or two. “Oh. I apologize. You look like her. Only one ear pierced on a challenge from Oliver. Left ear.”

Elizabeth jumped up, addressing her porter colleagues, “Sorry guys. Have to go. Catch you later.” As she hurried off, she shot a quick glance at Obed and spoke rapidly, “Sorry to disappoint you, sir.”

Obed stood bemused as he stared after her. One of the porters commented, “That Enid made one mighty impact, huh?” Obed looked at him, not seeing him. The other porter offered, “Coffee on me, buddy. Sit. Tell us about Enid.” He signaled a waiter.

Obed made himself comfortable in the seat Elizabeth had vacated. During his account, the waiter brought the coffee and put it on the table. Obed thanked him and smiled as he recalled the occasion with Enid in class at the University.

Our Trigonometry class project was to choose and track one of the many NEOs around.” “NEOs?” “Near-Earth Objects that could collide with us at any moment. We were tracking one we chose when our Total Station tracking equipment began to falter. We tried frantically to fix the equipment. We had only seconds before the NEO would be out of range. If that happened before we fixed our T.S., we were going to fail the class project.

Enid grabs a mothballed theodolite from a shelf, does things to it through the years of dust as she mounts it next to the Total Station. In no time she had it taking up the tracking of the NEO until the NEO disappeared out of range.

We did not get an A for the project, but we passed since, although we lost seconds of the tracking because of the Total Station malfunction, Enid’s obsolete theodolite actually eked out extra seconds at the end of the tracking.”

He gulped his coffee. The porters were in awe.

One of the porters mused aloud, “Only the left ear pierced, huh?” “Yes. The gang tried to get her to tell us why only one ear. She always refused, somewhat coyly. There is a naughty story there,” he chuckled suggestively.

Elizabeth finished her shift finding extra work to keep her busy away from colleagues Maynard and Eddie. At home, she wrestled with her options.

Get the other ear pierced? Too risky because too many uncertainties. She would have to wait for days off from work, for the healing.

Worst of all, it would break the covenant with her identical twin sister. Both had only the left ear pierced.

She could start wearing ear rings. It would make her uncomfortable every minute because she was born with an allergy, probably, against jewellery.

Just shrug it off as a coincidence? Surely there are others with only one ear pierced?

A brilliant idea exploded into existence. She giggled nervously. She decided to go with it.

She manipulated Maynard and Eddie into joining her at the same cafeteria table for lunch break at work. She was certain at least one of them would not be able to resist bringing up Obed for discussion, along with her left ear. She was right.

It was Eddie, the one always more inclined to concocting harmless mischief in the workplace during worktime.

No, Eddie. I have never known Obed in my life. The other day here was the first time I saw him. The fact that he knew about my one pierced ear means only one thing. He has been taking a stalker’s interest in me. Which means I am going to need both of you to help me out if he shows up again.” It worked.

Maynard and Eddie assured her they would support her against Obed, if he showed up again.

Elizabeth was most relieved. She was also sad. Obed had been a most helpful and fun-loving genius among her sister Enid’s University science-class mates. There was a brief time Enid confessed to her twin that she allowed herself to the brink of falling in love with Obed.

A second frightening blast from her past happened soon after Obed. One afternoon she walked home after work to find a police cruiser parked in front of the three-storey high-rise in which she was a tenant on the third floor. Her heart instantly accelerated. She considered retreating, but immediately scotched the option as merely postponing the crisis because there was no hiding from police that she was a tenant. And, most important, she still was a refugee non-citizen in Pyrone.

She entered the building, cautiously. She walked up to the third floor. She turned into the corridor. The manager and two police officers were standing at the door to her apartment.

The manager instantly announced to the officers, “There she is! Miss Elizabeth Sneddon!” One officer quickly added, “Miss Sneddon, you are not in trouble.”
It did not help.

The manager’s announcement, unwittingly perhaps in triumphant tone, had already paralyzed Elizabeth into a standstill. The officer realized this. He quickly added, reassuringly, “Just routine, Miss Sneddon. We can come back another time, if you prefer.” She preferred they never come back at any time.

It is alright, officer. Now is good, as long as it does not take long. I am just coming off shift from work.” “We understand. Will take only minutes.”

Inside the one-bedroom apartment, Elizabeth sat at the kitchen table. The officers stood. One addressed her while the other casually looked around.

The name Elizabeth Sneddon is fairly common. We counted fifty-four in Stoneville’s White Pages. We have to check every one.” “I understand.” “In which country were you born a citizen?” “This one. Pyrone.” “City?” “Town. Essenwood.” “Munitions capital of Pyrone. One of the first municipalities to be bombed out of existence. You were not there?” “That’s why I am here talking to you, officer.”

She was mightily relieved that the name Essenwood had jumped up with instinctive speed in her. A result of recalling both that piece of paper in the wallet of that corpse, and the many instances of seeing the name Essenwood written here and there at the train station where she worked in Stoneville.

With a smile in good humour, “Good enough, Elizabeth Sneddon. You are now off our list. Good night.” “Good night, officers.”

After closing and locking the door after the officers left, Elizabeth sat in the dark at the kitchen table. “Sorry, Essenwood, to be relieved you were bombed out of existence, especially your Registry of births and deaths, I hope. I have to visit you to familiarize with the surroundings, just in case the police visit again.”

She was on the police radar! To allay suspicions, she dare not leave Stoneville. If Obed returned, her situation in Stoneville would become really sticky. Obed did not return. Somebody worse, did.

Elizabeth Sneddon was in the cafeteria, eating in the company of dozens of strangers, listening to, looking at the 6 o’clock news on the wall television.

The war is over. The mountain kingdom of Klaria has surrendered. Two senior military Generals and the Prime Minister have been charged with treason, the penalty for which is death by hanging. They lied to their King and Queen about the necessity of war with us, and they were involved in a clandestine nuclear program.

They were secretly conducting underground nuclear explosions in the mountains close to our border. Something went wrong, and the last of those tests reached the surface, blowing up a secret maximum security prison in the mountains, killing all the inmates and the guards.

Since it was a secret facility run by the military it is still unknown how many guards and inmates perished. Some are doubting the facility existed.

One rumour has it that one of the inmates awaiting execution was a nuclear scientist who was not involved in the nuclear bomb program but had independently devised an algorithm to split any atom by a chemical process, instead of the current electrical method used.

A process that would be free of poisonous nuclear radiation, and of the need for detonation. And a cure for any illness by infection or mutation.

The scientist had refused to reveal the algorithm to the military and the Prime Minister. That scientist is believed to have perished along with all the others.

The former Prime Minister of Klaria is withholding the identity of the scientist, in the hope of a trade for a sentence other than death.

Our Prime Minister of Pyrone is appealing to that scientist, if she is alive, to come to Pyrone.

You will not be prosecuted for any crime. The people of Earth need your discoveries.

A third army General involved in the illicit nuclear project, the only female, is missing. She was in charge of the secret mountain prison, and is believed to have perished with the facility. She will be tried, in absentia, for treason, along with the other two Generals.

In other news, medical doctor-turned-multiple Oscar-winning actress, Enid Bham, is still missing.

This just in. A refugee from Klaria has been arrested in Stoneville for not having declared to authorities she had been in the army in Klaria. An army-issue duffel bag was discovered in her possession. She insists she was never in the army because she was not young enough when the war broke out, and that she had found the bag in a garbage heap on a mountain trail outside of Stoneville. That investigation is still in progress.”

Elizabeth was a little depressed. It was a fact that she discovered a chemical way to split the atom, a way that could be, in addition, a cure for any illness of infection, or mutation; but the accidental discovery was not by an algorithm.

She had told nobody what it was. Her refusal at that court martial by the three Generals in Klaria was the main if not the only reason she was jailed in death-row Prison XXX for treason, and blackmailed with the kidnapping and holding hostage of Enid, her identical twin.

The war was over. Two Generals taken captive. Third missing. Why was Enid still missing?

Elizabeth left the cafeteria, determined to remain dead, as the official records must show or must suggest in the absence of definite facts.

While she was alive she could remain dead for as long as she chose. As for whatever happened to her kidnapped sister by whom she was being blackmailed, she was resigned to be in hopeless pain forever.

Elizabeth enquired at the train station, where she worked, about how she could visit the bombed-out Essenwood city site. She was pleasantly surprised by the information given her.

Now that the war was over, reconstruction was in full progress all over Pyrone. Essenwood was a Government priority since it had been the munitions manufacturing capital of the country.

Elizabeth went by bus. There were returnee Essenwood citizens everywhere. She could not avoid a feeling of guilt for being there to collect evidence that would help her pretend convincingly that she was a native of Essenwood, from birth. She found stunning evidence.

An entire downtown street named Elizabeth Sneddon Avenue! It was longer than the main street, King George V Avenue which was the Mayor’s official address!

Elizabeth had to sit on a roadside bench to help her cope with the overwhelming feeling of admiration for this Essenwood Elizabeth Sneddon. Positively, a giant of a personality for a City to grant her so many honours. A voice brought her out of her reverie.

Hello! Elizabeth Sneddon, is it not?” It was Yvonne McBride. She continued, “Let me guess. You heard about your namesake, Essenwood’s Elizabeth Sneddon, and you could not resist coming to see for yourself.” “Something like that, Yvonne. So glad to see you.” Yvonne sat on the same bench.

She must have been a truly remarkable person for a whole City to immortalize her in so many ways.” “She was.” “You knew her?” “We were born and lived our childhood on the same street, here in Essenwood. She was a nuclear physicist at the University here in Essenwood. I was the older one. I owned a flower shop. She left for a higher post somewhere else. . Eventually, I left, too."

Had you not left then, you probably would have been a part of a bomb crater for all eternity?” “Yes. I went to Klaria and was employed by the Government’s defence department. This was long before war broke out. And at the time I did not know Elizabeth was also working in a secret project for the Klaria Department of defence.”

Is the street passable? The one the two of you grew up on.” “I came to find out. Come, let’s go see."

In a public park near her home, Elizabeth sat on a bench at a road side, one night. She had to go to work tomorrow. She must return home, now. She headed for home.

She was startled by a man suddenly appearing at her side walking along. “Hello, Elizabeth Sneddon?” “Yes.” “I am George L. Neilson.” “Klaria Government agent.” “Oh, good. You know me.” “I know about you, agent Neilson.” “Good things?” “So far.” “You are from Klaria, too?” “Is this casual conversation, or official interrogation, agent Neilson?” “A little of both.”

Sorry, George. When I was in the refugee camp, Stoneville authorities strongly advised us to not talk about the war because there were secret agents everywhere up to mischief.” “All I asked, Elizabeth, is if you are from Klaria.” “Very suspicious, George, because all refugees were required to be obvious from the beginning in Stoneville.” “Sorry.” He shrugged, raised his hands in surrender, and walked away into the dark. Something about his behaviour alerted her that she had not seen the last of agent George L. Neilson. Even in the dark she noticed he walked with a limp. A war injury, or, simply, he was born with one leg shorter?

Her instinct was right. Someone bumped into her hard enough for her to tumble to the ground, face-down. Whoever bumped her down, was on top of her. She grit her teeth and recalled what her Dad taught her and her sister about the dam's Apple.

She kicked hard into the ground for leverage. In a second, she was on top of him, face-to-face in the dark with him. She smashed her forearm into his Adam’s Apple, using the momentum to tumble herself off him. She ran away, leaving him gasping and choking and writhing violently on the ground.

In the following days she made no attempt to find out who her assailant was. She was content to believe it was one of the many random events of violence in Stoneville because of the instability brought on by the after-war chaos.

It was Yvonne McBride, who informed her. The woman caught up with her as she walked home from work, and walked a short way with her. “George L. Neilson’s dead.”

There was a long silence because the elderly woman expected a response. Elizabeth remained resolutely and stonily silent. “You already knew?” “No, Yvonne.” “You want to know how? Where?” “No.” “In the park. A few nights ago. Suffocated to death.” “Something he ate and failed to swallow properly?” “The Stoneville police knew he was a Klaria agent. That is all they have revealed. The body has been spirited away.” A long tense silence followed.

Elizabeth, do you remember George L. Neilson was that obnoxious Klaria Government agent we encountered on that mountainside?” “I remember you telling me he was there, but I did not speak with him there.”

George L. Neilson was born in Klaria. He tried to enroll in the Armed Forces, but was rejected because he had been born deformed. One leg shorter. That did not stop him from serving the military. Over time he provided them with so much valuable information on citizens, they eventually created a rank just for him, “Honorary Sergeant.” “Yvonne, as interesting as all this is, why are you telling me?”

Because, and I will not be divulging to you and everyone else how I got the Stoneville police to give me this information, on his corpse, Elizabeth, they found a photograph of you. On the back of the photograph was handwritten one word. 'Enid'.” A long pause followed.

Softly, and slowly, “Yvonne, Enid is not an unusual name. And that George L. Neilson is not the first stranger here in Stoneville to mistake me for Enid, whoever she is, or was.”

The next day, Elizabeth was in the cafeteria for lunch. The place was crowded, especially since many soldiers from a nearby military base were among the patrons.

Elizabeth had seen Obed, Maynard, and Eddie among the customers. She was careful to avoid them.

A lone disgruntled former worker drove his pickup truck through the plate-glass front window. He exited the vehicle and fired an automatic rifle point-blank randomly into the patrons.

Some of the soldiers fired back, killing him with sixty hits, but not before he had killed forty-nine and wounded fifty customers in the cafeteria.

Among the dead were Obed, Maynard, Eddie, and an elderly woman.

Elizabeth was hit in two places by bullets from the weapons of either the murderer or the soldiers. She slumped over the table, passing in and out of consciousness. She heard, while her hand was being guided to the speaker’s ear, a voice whispering in her own left ear, “I have you, Sis. You are going to be alright.” “Enid?” “Shhhhh, Prisoner 83-91-81.” 

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