Erik sat on the bench, his feet folded under him, his palms outstretched. He brought his breath in, visualizing the sunlight radiating through his chest and heart, down through his crossed legs and through the soles of his feet. He felt love and warmth suffuse his body.
The guard shouted “Excellus!” He banged the door with a truncheon. “It’s time for breakfast. Get your ass out here!”
Erik opened his eyes slowly and regarded the guard. The guard was a fat man, several inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier than him. He could deliver a strike to the throat and bring him to his knees. He could drive his foot through the back of his neck and smash him into the concrete floor. He could take the guard’s truncheon and run, protecting his face and swinging when they came to bring him down. He could be at the door in three minutes, outside in four.
He inhaled and unfolded his legs, walking to the door of his cell as commanded. He’d been here for six months now, without any end in sight. He trudged behind a line of prisoners as they queued for their meal. He’d had to fight every single day for the first month he was here, but the prisoners were leaving him alone more and more.
A year ago, he was the world’s richest man, building spacecraft and planning his life among the stars. Now he languished in Cipangu prison for a heinous crime which had not been specified. He was denied any trial. His friends were barred from entry. His lawyer had been turned against him. He was losing hope for deliverance.
He stood in line with his tray, surveying the other inmates. He got his cake of meat and bread and his spork. He sat down at a table by himself. First he divided the food into bite sized pieces, and then he speared and fed himself, never taking his eyes off the room. He made his tallies of the numbers of men in each group, their tattoos and haircuts. There was the sun split in quarters, the symbol of the militant Urizenites who wanted a new world war. There was the bloody cup of the followers of Anand, the goddess of war.
After breakfast, he stripped off his uniform, and regarded his tattoos. Twin serpents with intricate scales intertwined around his forearms, biceps, and shoulders. He winked at the eye of Barbelith on his left pec. He read the scripture inscribed across his solar plexus: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
His muscles had shrunken these months in captivity. Despite his calisthenics and weights every other day with good behavior, the low protein diet of the prison had led to him dropping much of a bulk that he’d cultivated over years. What he was left was his strong, lean, fighter’s body, the one that had withstood the punishment of years of underground bare knuckle boxing at night during engineering school.
He let the water wash over him and closed his eyes, only for a moment. He felt the air and the water rush towards his ear, and he moved his head aside and thrust a knee into an attacker, and the fist only grazed his ear. He pivoted and drove his left fist into the right jaw and cheekbone of his attacker, feeling the crunch of bone under his knuckles. He didn’t drop his left, but joined it with his right and crushed him to the floor. He saw another two men coming for him, and he kicked the foot out of the first, making the second sprawl over him. He was screaming as he drove his fists into them again and again. “What the fuck did you think was going to happen? What did you think would happen? What! Do you know who the fuck I am!?!?”
He regained himself. He stood up, his hands shaking, and walked slowly away from his unconscious attackers, watching for more. He was wet and naked, and his teeth began to chatter. He felt warmth on his face, and reached up to feel his blood trickling from his ear.
He walked into the corridor, and was met by a broad shouldered man with shoulder length white hair. He looked into the man’s face and found recognition in his eyes and a smile. “You’re Erik Excellus,” he said, pronouncing his name slowly.
“Yes,” said Erik, tensing up his shoulders, looking at the man’s hands, open, and his feet, planted beneath him. He didn’t seem to be readying an attack.
“I’m William Wild. I think we have a mutual friend. You’re bleeding.” William offered his hand.
Erik cautiously shook his hand, the first gesture of friendship he’d had in several months of fighting.
“Let’s get you a towel. This place is just a tinderbox of tension, right? Almost like a barbecue ready to be lit, if you catch my meaning.”
Erik was overwhelmed with gratitude. The code word. Barbelith. William has come to set him free.
William handed him a towel he’d found in a nearby cart. “I’ve been here for a couple weeks trying to find you alone. It’s not easy.”
Erik toweled off his torso and crotch, and then balled the towel to put on his nearly clotted ear. “What … what should I expect here?” He didn’t know who was watching or listening, although William seemed like he did.
“Now that we’ve made contact, we only have to wait for our third man to introduce himself. He’ll lead. But he has to get in first.”
“You don’t know him?”
“We keep the info to a minimum, so if we’re tortured or psychically interrogated we don’t have enough information to get more people killed than necessary.”
“All right.” Erik felt the warmth coming back to him. His body relaxed, and he realized how exhausted he was. “I’ve got to find my uniform.”