In the last episode, Wort had been captured by Bureau agents.
Wort woke early, jarred to his senses by the blare of the caged video monitor. “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more...” His breakfast plate clattered onto the floor, shoved through the trap door by unseen hands. After finishing his meal, he went back to his cot and waited for the end of the morning lesson.
Wort had been in the prison for a month and the experience had worn on him. He was beginning to see the monitor as a companion. The video portion clicked off and he rolled to a sitting position and pulled on his boots. He was scheduled to work in the brewery today, producing cerveza loca.
After lacing his boots, he stepped to the door and waited. A soft click made him step back. The door swung open. Movement on the multi-floored tiered platform was nearly simultaneous as prisoners headed toward the stairways. Over them, on the upper level, a sign greeted them: “Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence.” —
Ezekiel 7: 23
He kept his head down as he filed along the hall and down a set of stairs to the prison’s exit. He walked across the small yard. where he purposefully slowed his pace to enjoy the brief open air. On one side towered the structure that housed the cells and on the other a huge fence. The fence hummed with 1,000 volts of high amp electricity, preventing prisoners from veering off the chosen path. He had seen one prisoner hit the fence already. Unable to handle the self control required, the man had actually caught fire while he crackled and fizzled against the fence.
Wort approached the brew factory with a great reluctance. It was a high tech, push button operation that didn’t allow him to see what he was brewing. A beer’s greatness reflected the heart and soul its brewer put into it, noble human effort that was as important as with any work of art. This was a factory, a vehicle for inserting the secretive ingredient into cerveza loca, which was brewed here. The regime had discovered early on that cerveza loca was necessary for space travel, and after closing down breweries, began manufacturing them in the prisons.
Wort had a mild curiosity to see the ingredient, but knew he’d never get security clearance to get near the room where they stored it. Rumors claimed that the ingredient, called glintz, was shipped in from Job, the same stellar colony where they had shipped his family.
He shut thoughts of his family out, glancing up at the giant sign hanging on the entrance to the brewery.
“And every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour”— 1 Corinthians 3: 8
As Wort began the simple task of monitoring the computer controlled process, his thoughts returned to what he’d heard about cerveza loca. Used by everyone who traveled to the colonies, it helped space travelers avoid the bizarre behaviors that were associated with reincorporation. It also gave people a tremendous sense of euphoria without any known ill effects. The drawback was its incredible addictiveness. While no adverse physical effects could be recorded whena person was forcibly denied the substance, the craving for it sent the person into severe depression. The drug had been banned for anyone not traveling to the colonies.
The click of a brewhouse monitor startled Wort, who wasn’t prepared for the interruption to his routine. “Prisoner 5670045, please report to the central processing office,” the mechanized voice said over the monitor. At the same time, the door to the brewhouse clicked open. Wort turned, puzzled. He’d never been interrupted from his routine before.
As soon as he entered the office holding area, Wort began to feel uneasy. There were several other men in the room, and one made room for him to sit on a bench. Wort fought to control his fear, remembering what his uncle told him. Keep calm, be polite to your jailers, and at all times keep your eyes open for mistakes. Concentrate on routines and where you can exploit them.
He heard the clang of the outer door and everyone stopped talking. Several picked up Bibles. A uniformed man entered the room and pointed to him. “McEwen.” He threw a new set of clothes at him and left, expecting Wort to follow. “They gonna flame you, man,” someone in the room whispered. “They only use your Christian name when they gonna flame you.”
Once he caught up with the guard, Wort was directed to a small restroom, where he changed. A monitor clicked on when he finished. “Prisoner 5670045, return to your cell. Your wife will arrive to visit shortly.” Wort left the room, puzzled. Virginia would never have the courage to come here.
The tiers of prison cells were empty, lending a hollow silence to the inside of the prison. As Wort walked along, he glanced up and was struck by how much the shut cells resembled concert hall booths, without the curving finish and, with iron bars. He returned to his cot and unlaced his boots, wondering if the visit meant that he wouldn’t get to leave his cell again that day. He was about to lay back when the door swung open and a shadow fell across the entrance. He looked up into the cool, beautiful face of Elizabeth. He looked away, at the blank cell wall on the other side of the cell.
“May we talk?” she asked.
Wort shrugged his shoulders. “I was expecting my wife,” he replied, unable to keep emotion out of his voice.
“Joshua has made you an offer,” she said, ignoring his response. Wort said nothing, and she continued. “He will send you to the colonies.”
Again, Wort didn’t respond.
“I worked hard to get him to agree,” Elizabeth said.
“I’m so proud of you,” Wort replied.
“I can understand your anger,” Elizabeth said. “Please don’t let it prevent you from gaining your freedom.”
“I’m not leaving Earth,” Wort said. “I have a job to finish.”
“You will never finish anything if you stay here,” Elizabeth said. Again, Wort said nothing, and she continued. “They plan to put you on trial, and use that to crack down on your group.” Wort didn’t respond, convinced that Elizabeth had collaborated in his capture. “You don’t understand,” she continued. “They will produce evidence to smear you. Alcohol abuse, sexual misconduct, robbery, they don’t care.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Wort responded. “Why did you leave?”
“Because I didn’t want to get captured and risk losing Papa,” Elizabeth said.
“You wouldn’t have been captured if I had known where to reenter,” Wort said.
“You’re wrong,” Elizabeth said, then added, “You have an option which you should consider. They’ve already taken your vitals, and made an ID, so you can leave immediately.” As she talked, Wort stared at her. She avoided his stare and continued. “Your uncle’s home was destroyed.” The news hit Wort like a boulder and he sat stunned, knowing she was telling him the truth. “He wasn’t found, but they captured the rest of his cell. I think he would want you to go.”
“I don’t believe you,” Wort said. “I want to see him.”
“They can’t find him.”
“They! They! You keep saying they! Don’t you mean we!” Wort snapped angrily. She didn’t respond. “How can you live with yourself!”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she replied.
“How do you feel working for this regime? Do you feel the same glow each time they flame someone who fails to meet their rules! Do you feel the same rage when something spontaneous bursts forth! Do you have that same need for order!
Elizabeth remained quiet for a long moment, then said quietly, “There are some benefits.” Wort wanted to hit her. “For instance,” she continued. “I read about your father.” Wort looked up quickly, wondering about her angle. “He was quite a teacher in his day,” she continued. “His students loved him as much as administrators despised him.”
“I don’t need any good cop shit from you,” Wort replied.
“I’ll bet he would want you to live, instead of revert to the stubborness he was so notorious for.”
“At least he retained his principles.”
“Are you so sure?” Elizabeth asked.
“Why don’t you go back to your master’s library and read some more, you whore!” Wort spat.
Elizabeth’s looked hurt, making him feel better than he had in a long time. “I also read about where they settled your family,” she said. “I thought I could work it out so you would be sent there.”
Wort said nothing, as emotions for the family that was torn from him so long ago overwhelmed him. A door slammed far away and for some reason the noise broke his resistance. He started to cry, releasing long pent up emotions in coughing, broken-spirited sobs. Elizabeth reached out to touch him, then quickly pulled her hand away. “I can’t promise that your family is even alive, but from what I read, they were sent to work in the mines of Job,. Their deaths aren’t recorded. I can get you on a Universal Metals cargo ship, which goes there.” She said nothing while Wort struggled to regain control of himself.
Finally, he looked up and said, “What would happen to Virginia?”
“She will be granted an annullment,” Elizabeth said, then smiled. “You’re so thoughtful.”
He looked at her. “I wish we’d met before Joshua had ever set eyes on you.”
Elizabeth’s lower lip shook as she struggled to maintain control of herself. “Don’t say that,” she whispered.
“I loved you,” he replied.
“I love only Papa,” she whispered, turned and left.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wort recognized the deserted grove as they crossed the border again. He followed Elizabeth, still unsure whether he would go through with the move. If he doused her, he could attempt to get a weapon and find his way back again. Briefly, he wondered why she trusted him not to turn on her. He didn’t have long to wait to find out.
“Psss!” someone hissed once they were Inside and walking along the familiar river bed. He turned his weapon on the noise and his uncle stepped out. They hugged, while Wort struggled to remain impassive at the sight of his uncle, who had hobbled up to him on one leg. “Don’t ask,” his uncle said, before Wort could speak. “Elizabeth tells me that you’re not planning to go.”
“What...” Wort began, still too surprised to respond coherently.
“You must go,” his uncle said. “I can’t tell you all the reasons, but your leaving will make a huge difference to many of us here.”
Wort looked at Elizabeth, who shrugged her shoulders. “I know it’s uncomfortable for your uncle to be here, but I thought that was the only way you would follow through.”
“Trust us,” his uncle finished. “One last hug, in case I don’t see you again.” They embraced, Wort holding on tightly. “Will I see you again?” he whispered.
“When things calm down,” his uncle said reassuredly. “Now get out of here. It’s dangerous.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As they walked down the river bed, Wort felt less animosity toward Elizabeth. She had his uncle’s confidence.
“How did you get him to release me?” he asked.
“Who, Joshua?” she asked. Wort nodded. “He loves me. As perverted as he is, he’s trapped by that love.” As if she felt it necessary to explain further, Elizabeth began to fill in details about her relationship with Joshua. “It all started with me doing things for him.”
“Like taking pieces of clothes off. Like dressing seductively, seeing him alone, without his wife.”
Wort hissed explosively, unable to hide his anger.
“Look what it’s got us,” she said.
“Once I realized how taken he was, I knew I was needed,” she said. She took his hand. “We must wait for Papa here.”
Wort pulled Elizabeth to him and kissed her. Her lips met his fiercely, and they clung to each other tightly. A sudden screeching of tires forced them apart. “Run!” he yelled and they raced to the edge of the river bed. The lights of a car appeared. As they neared where the two hid, a body was thrown out, and the car turned a screeching 180 degrees and sped off.
“No!” Elizabeth whispered and ran toward the body. Wort followed, and watched as Elizabeth turned the body over. Someone had carved on the naked chest. “Somos pocos, pero locos.”
“Papa!” Elizabeth shrieked, falling on the body. “My father my father my father! They’ve killed him!
By Bill Metzger
Copyright 1994, Southwest Brewing News