Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Alien Prison Tale

I'm at Fort Dix, New Jersey, preparing for yet another deployment with the Army Reserve.  Fort Dix has a Federal Penitentiary on its grounds and in the process of moving from one point to another on my first day here, I found I had accidentally wandered up a service road for the prison.

I was surrounded by barracks buildings much like the rest of Fort Dix but encircled by tall fences topped by concertina wire.  A voice blared over a loudspeaker in a rumble of words I could barely understand, but eventually said something about "Last call for chow line."  I realized with a shock that I wasn't near  the prison as I first thought, but actually on  the grounds of the penitentiary (please note that tall fences and concertina wire is all it seemed to take to transform Army barracks into prison barracks).  With further horror, I realized the people I'd seen working out in a ball field I'd passed, who wore gray uniforms I first had thought must be some kind of new military uniform, were wearing prison  uniforms.

I propelled myself out of that area at a fast walk, briefly seized not only by the shock of realization but also by the unreasonable fear that I'd be thrown in the Federal pen for transgressing its grounds.  At most, of course, I would have been chewed out for being someplace I wasn't supposed to be.

But as I walked, my mind generated a science fiction story out of the experience.  I imagined a human military liaison officer appointed to an alien world, a world where he does not speak the dominant language, who decides to stroll on his own to perhaps a park in the alien capital.  Finding he failed to correctly read the map-made-by-non-human-hands in front of him, he realizes with horror he has wandered onto the grounds of an alien prison.  And unlike me, when the guards see him, they grab him and throw him inside.

As the story progresses, the only human in the prison manages to survive and gradually learns to do better than bare survival, finding a fellow prisoner with whom he shares a language in common...but also, one of the guards shows signs of understanding him, though never openly saying so.  He eventually comes to understand his capture was no accident, but part of a nefarious plot to imprison the Earth ambassador, a plot he has to escape from prison to undo...


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