Prisons Of Your Mind


Bruce Corbett


I wake quickly, eager to get to work again. The chow-line is moving, so I join the slowly snaking line of men. It's gruel again; my favorite. I stand close to the guy in front of me, but he don't say nothing, and neither do I. Most of us just want to get to the quarry. I bolt my chow, and am left with a few minutes of time before I am allowed to start work.

I make my bed and wash my face and hands. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, or so John tells me. I am excited when the work whistle finally blows. The two suns are finally in a low line, parallel with the horizon. I sigh with relief. It's the signal for the working day to begin.

I hurry through the purple grass, toward the quarry. I can hardly wait to get there. I feel sure that this week I will set a personal record for the most ore dug.

As I move over the grass and into the shelter of the brown-leaved trees, I have another attack of deja vu. I am somewhere else, and the trees are an impossible shade of green. Instead of an orange sky, I see a blue one! I shake my head, trying to physically dislodge my waking dream. I hurry, hoping that I can leave the disturbing vision behind.

Eagerly I swing my pick. Enthusiastically I scoop the ore up with my shovel, and throw it into my wheelbarrow.

I keep admiring the wheelbarrow as I work. It is almost new, and the bright red paint on it still gleams. It had been given me in recognition of my efforts the previous month. John, our supervisor, had presented it to me in front of all the assembled men.

I was so proud! I had felt the waves of envy sweep through the ranks. I do know that I have to work even harder to be designated 'worker of the month' two times in a row. There are many who envy me my good fortune, and they are pushing themselves into exhaustion in order to try and surpass my record. I'm not ready to give up without a fight, however.

My pick takes on a life of its own, hurling itself against the hard rock again and again. The blisters on my right hand break, but I don't feel any pain.

In spite of my efforts to sublimate all my energies into my work, another errant vision attaches itself to me, and insists on playing out its script. Three government thugs have found us and seized a little girl. A woman is on the ground. She screams and screams, until my head aches from the noise. Marisa. Suddenly I know the name of the little girl. She is our third, and our genetic license only allows for two children!

The implement in my hands does not attack the vegetable garden, but instead leaps unbidden at the hulking government goons. They part before me, and they dance backwards. My body knows panic. The fate of an illegal child is unequivocal. They are not going to kill my little girl!

The men have not obeyed my command to let my daughter go. I strike again and again at the three goons. They are agile, but I finally connect, and one falls to the ground. I attack the second, but the third circles behind me. I feel hands grabbing me . . . I turn in great fear, to see John standing there.

"Buddy, are you OK? Did you have another dream?"

My body has not recovered from the shock of all the bio-enzymes that have so recently flooded my system. Yet I play it cagey. I know that if I tell John the truth, I might not be allowed to work tomorrow. Sent to sick-bay, I would be forced to sit in idleness. Last month, Pete, one of the few men I had liked enough to chat with, had had a lot of visions. He had reported them to John. First John had him rest for a few days, and then some strangers came and took him away.

Another man named Pedro joined us a few days later, to replace Pete. He looked just like Pete, so I went up to him to shoot-the-breeze, but he didn't know me, and he had a very different personality. I didn't like Pedro at all.

"Thanks, I'm fine. I think I just pushed myself a little too hard! You know I want to be worthy of my beautiful wheelbarrow."

John smiles at me. "Well, you just take it easy! You know you're one of the finest workers I ever had. And if you do have any strange dreams, you just let me know. The doctors can cure them, you know."

", it's nothing like that. I'll just take a little break for water, and then get right back to work."

"O.K., old timer! You just take as long a break as you need. You're doin' great this month. You don't have to work yourself to death!"

"Thanks John. I'll be real careful."

I walk slowly to the water barrel. I can feel John's eyes following me as I take the ladle and dip it into the sweet water. I think about what John said. It seems funny. He calls me 'old-timer', but I think I am actually younger than him. Under his hat his hair is sparse, and what there is, is gray.

The rippled reflection in the water barrel shows me a weathered face, but the hair, when it is not shaved, is black. I know John is concerned about me, and I promise myself I will work even harder for him tomorrow. Perhaps, if I show I am up to it, he will let me do some overtime.

The twin suns are both setting as I walk the long walk back to camp. I squint a little, and there suddenly seems to be one too many suns in the sky! Again I have a feeling the sky should be going gold or red, not muddy brown. John told me that these twin suns have been setting just so for over two billion years, so I wonder how I could imagine it otherwise. Two suns are natural! A single sun would not be right. I cannot imagine how I dreamed of such a thing.

I must not let these dreams escape from my unconscious mind! They have to be banished to the world of sleep. My head aches, my feet drag, and John catches up with me and catches my arm.

"What's wrong, old-timer?"

My mouth opens to deny any problems, but suddenly I see before me a stranger who has laid hands on me. He seems to be trying to arrest me. I only know something terrible will happen if I let him! This man is the law! I strike out at him with all the force of my right arm. Even as the man/John crumples, I spin and begin to run a zig-zag pattern toward the woods.

The trees look like mis-colored abominations from a nursery school wall, but I am too busy to wonder about this new incongruity. I know somehow that more than my life depends upon me reaching those woods before the minions of the law reach me.

Three burley security types in white lab coats head after me. Each of the three of them could be mistaken for walking tree trunks, but I don't have time to admire their physiques. For all their bulk, these guys can run like the wind!

"Earth!" The word pops unbidden into my head. Is that where I come from? Did I once live there? What the hell is the Tau Beta Penal Colony? I visualize a yellow sun and a blue sky again, superimposed on a little girl's terrified face. Suddenly I don't have time to think about these strange thoughts. The three goons have reached me.

I spin, and my foot lashes out at the first one. To my surprise, he goes down. I trade a few punches with the second one, but the third circles behind me. My peripheral vision picks up a rapidly moving branch the thickness of my wrist! It connects with my head, and I feel my consciousness fading. In the final moment before I collapse, the memories of my family, and the struggle, finally floods clearly into my mind.


My name is Douglas, and Dr. Peterson tells me I was born on this beautiful planet just this morning. Dr. Peterson tells me I couldn't possibly remember my birth, but I do. I vaguely remember an angel in white removing little wires from my head, and then Dr. Peterson himself unstrapped all these thick straps that held me to my birth chair. He helps me out of the chair, and tells me to hustle. He says he has to help two more 'births' before he can go home today.

Dr. Peterson hands me a bundle of stuff he calls clothing. I have never worn any before, but I seem to automatically know what to do with them. I shrug them on. Dr. Peterson urges me again to hurry. He says my new supervisor, a guy named John, is waiting outside for me. John is apparently going to teach me the rudiments of quarrying ore from an open pit mine. It sounds like an exciting and responsible job. I can hardly wait to get started.


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Bruce Corbett is, by night, a science fiction and historical adventure writer. His first science fiction was published by HMS Press, but his historical novels are still looking for a home. His short stories have appeared in Peridot Books, Spaceways Weekly, and Alternate Realities. In order to support his writing habit, Bruce works by day as a high school Counsellor in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, just outside of Monteal, Quebec, Canada.
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