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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Excerpt:: Rijel 12: The Rise of New Australia: An action-packed thrill ride of rebellion and hope by King Everett Medlin



Rijel 12: The Rise of New Australia is a riveting, galaxy-spanning science fiction adventure of rebellion, piracy, world building, and the quest for freedom with a rich cast of human and alien characters that will keep you turning pages long past your bedtime.

by King Everett Medlin
November 26, 2018
336 pages
Publisher: Chandra Press LLC
The Intergalactic Penal Colony on Rijel 12 is a very profitable enterprise. Its desolate surface is an uninhabitable wasteland relentlessly scorched by its sun, but inside the planet is a vast treasure trove of the most precious resources in the galaxy. Prisoners are forced to work in horrible conditions and the death rate is staggering. Luckily for the warden, new inmates arrive monthly to replenish the labor pool. Business has never been better.

From the darkness of their miserable existence, one prisoner decides to take a stand and begins to organize a resistance. Inmates slowly but surely rally to the cause and prepare for a planet-wide rebellion. With handmade weapons and limited supplies, can the rag-tag rebels of New Australia succeed in their quest for freedom? And, what becomes of a planet of criminals if they somehow manage to pull it off?



 Check out the first three chapters:
Chapter 1: Intergalactic Penal Colony

The President of the Assembly, an aged and respected Suidonji named Abrafrilric, suddenly stood up and cleared his throat. The murmuring inside the gigantic hall swelled into that kind of roar that comes as a result of hundreds of people making discreet and not so discreet comments to the neighbors seated next to them.

Pig-like, rotund, and gruff just like most full-grown Suidonji, Abrafrilric’s throat-clearing was like a snarling, snorting, gurgling growl, but even this had little effect on the mass of beings crowded inside the convention hall. It was a gigantic building, spanning a quarter mile square, located near the supreme government building in the planetary capital of Suidonj. The interior was a cavernous facility made of stone walls, stone floor, and a remarkably high ceiling. It was lit only by lamps and chandeliers suspended from the vast wood- beamed ceiling above. Suidonji didn’t really need or even like bright lights. Their extremely sensitive snouts directed their movements more than their eyesight; their floppy ears carried out the rest. But their buildings and rooms were extremely large. Large beings as they were, they liked having lots of space to move around.

There would still be a few moments of tense murmuring within the crowd before he’d be able to regain control. Abrafrilric could already tell this would take a while. It usually did. So, he stood and waited patiently for the tumult to subside. No use in trying to regain order—that would be like interrupting ancient earth pigs at a feeding trough, back in more barbaric times when swine were bred for slaughter. But on Suidonj, the evolutionary process that led from tiny rodents to wild boars and then on to pigs continued to advance that life form into a bipedal sophisticated being, which grew to dominate other species on its planet. Suidonji learned to stand, to walk, to communicate, and to develop higher technologies over the millennia.

Abrafrilric was the duly-elected leader of this year’s meeting, honoring a

tradition that had gone back over seventy galactic years, the equivalent of three hundred one earth years. The Interplanetary Convention had been held every galactic year since the Peace Treaty of Slartigifij, which ended the war between planets Zorgolong and Enosh. This first convention was conducted by the very wise and gentle Slartigifijian planet elders and was held to establish terms for peace between those two bitter long-time rivals. After that, the event was moved annually from one planet to another, to promote fairness and balance in decision- making. Tradition held that the host planet would choose its own President for the annual convention. This particular galactic year, comprising four point three earth years, the convention was held on planet Suidonj.

Abrafrilric gripped and lifted his gavel, but the murmuring still rose. No one heeded his gesture – determined gavel-grabbing somehow didn’t seem to draw their attention. He even thought for a moment about raising his hoof to calm them. Suidonji had hoof-like claws that could grip much like a human’s thumb and fingers. The difference was that their grip was incredibly strong, as were their bodies.

The audience was made up of ministers and delegations from all six planets of the Interplanetary Authority, as well as their colonies and their satellites. This throng of advanced beings dealt with issues affecting free and open trade, as well as threats to the health and welfare of the galaxy’s billions of citizens. Today, the proposal being presented to the thousand-odd life forms in attendance was very nearly as controversial as it was ingenious: the creation of an Intergalactic Penal Colony for violent criminals.

It all started with a proposal that originated from the Earth delegation regarding prison over-crowding and the “practical treatment of inmates.” Murmuring had begun just a few minutes before, after Abrafrilric had announced that debate would soon begin on the measure. Behind him a giant screen, the size of a soccer field, was activated and switched from its usual static image of the Interplanetary Authority logo, to an electronic banner which read: NEW AUSTRALIA PLANETARY PRISON. Then it began scrolling down and detailing in Galactic exactly what the proposal included. On smaller computer screens located inside each planet delegation box, the same information was being conveyed in that species’ native language as well. However most of the

creatures in the audience were highly educated, preferring to read and speak in Galactic. As the audience read along, the murmuring rose higher and higher as more details were revealed.

What the Earthmen suggested was to develop a global penal colony on a barren planet located inside a distant star system. As the Earthmen explained it, the twelfth planet in the Rijel system already had a small mining operation, located far below the surface. What they desperately needed was labor, and below the forbidding planet surface, it would be easy to support a population of forced labor with the planet’s already available supply of subterranean aquifers. Less than a mile below the surface it was quite easy to dig wells inside the planet’s infinite cavern system, they claimed.

The commercial mine could simply be purchased, it was further proposed. The current staff and administration of the mine could be retained, and all the Interplanetary Authority needed to do was create a prison to supply the mine with workers. Existing labor there could continue to be employed as supervisors and foremen. “The whole thing will come together quite easily,” they boldly professed. That’s when the derisive comments began to fly, then grow in intensity.

“Sss-simple!” scoffed one of the members of the Zorgolongian delegation, causing the others in his section to emit hissing snickers. It was just like everything else proposed by those slippery Earthmen, and therein lay the irony: almost nothing about Earthers and their so-called “ethics” or basic “logic” was in any way simple.

The underlying issue lay in Earth’s long-standing reputation for deception and ulterior motives when it came to intergalactic politics. They always seemed to be justifying their policies or actions by claiming it was necessary for the greater good; oblivious to how it might negatively affect other planets or the natural order of things. Other delegations could readily assume those crafty devils were trying to devise some scheme to either rid their own planet of a problem, or perhaps to make a lot of money. Then again, it might be a combination of both. It was always like that with those shifty Earthmen. Their “logic” as they called it, always seemed to rationalize away most anything resembling morality or

common sense much like a fresh coat of paint being used to cover up rusted metal.

As the famously wise Slartigifijian planet elder Sektarpuldifleej once put it, “They aspire to greatness which they cannot truly achieve, so they espouse noble ideals which are quite beyond their capacity.” Another way of putting it might have been that Earthers, “humans” as they called themselves, were compelled to accomplish more than their natural abilities could accommodate. So, they would typically embellish, boast, and exaggerate. They would very often portray an image of what something could be, rather than what it would become. They would make unrealistic projections, then decry and chastise the failure of those involved in its implementation. The human way of developing and managing an operation was typically to set goals which were technically unachievable, then blame everyone but the planners themselves for not reaching them.

Certainly, all planets had the occasional violent criminal who was beyond reform. But most had a more black and white view of the treatment of antisocial behavior. On Enosh for instance, they followed a very simple code when it came to errant acts. These cat-like creatures believed that an offender should have the capability of repeating the offense removed from their person, so they could continue their contribution to the greater good of society without being able to commit the same offence. A rapist? Castrated, no questions asked. A thief? Severed paw or paws, depending on what was stolen. A liar or blasphemer? Tongue removed. All Enoshi grew up knowing the consequences of their actions, so it was also known that if an adult committed the act, it could only mean they’d made the choice to violate the law and deserved punishment.

The difference with humans was that they could lie – and do so quite skillfully. That was what made them so confusing to other beings in the galaxy. Just what were they up to this time? An intergalactic penal colony where the galaxy’s violent criminals could be disposed of? The different species in attendance hastily weighed in with their opinions.

“That is immoral,” stated the Slartigifijians. “If Earth needs to house and reform its criminal element, then they should do so with better prison systems and larger facilities which might reeducate their inmates and reintroduce them

into peaceful, law-abiding society.”

By way of comparison, the short and lizard-like Zorgolongians assumed that the Earthmen were merely looking to capitalize on the untapped potential of the twelfth planet’s mineral resources by using “free labor.” Of course, they should have thought of it themselves, frankly, but it was far too late now, and that frustrated them more than anything else. Hence, the sarcastic sniggering and sniping barbs being hurled from their section of the convention hall. “Don’t be na├»ve, my friend,” remarked the Zorg delegation leader, “I’m sure they know exactly what they’re doing.”

As for the diminutive rodent-like Schpleefti delegation, they simply sat in confusion. For them it was difficult to understand the concept of institutionalizing the processing of criminals. Polyamorous by nature, this rodent-like species functioned on the sheer whim of emotional inspiration, for the most part. Violent criminals were merely banished from their communities. Nevertheless, they thought the Earthmen’s proposal was a refreshing idea. What’s more, they wanted to make sure they got an even cut of the profits. A global mining operation, like the Earthmen were suggesting? That could be quite lucrative, and the leaders within their delegation fully realized the implications.

Such was the hullabaloo over the Earth delegation’s proposal, that Abrafrilric needed to just stand there and let everyone argue from their delegate boxes until all had spoken their minds. It always worked out better that way, letting the delegates fight it out for hours on end, occasionally summarizing points repeatedly made until everyone had heard all angles and every side of the issue. It was important that delegations understood potential consequences of Interplanetary Authority policy, and that they avoid rushing into hasty acts or decisions which might adversely affect one another in the future. That’s partly why these conventions were only held every galactic year, because the debate sessions could last for hours, sometimes days.

Yet, Abrafrilric could let this debate last for only so long before he had to step in and get back in control of things. That was also his job as president. Eventually, it would become time to vote; to pass this measure would require only a simple majority. Four delegation votes and the Earthmen would have their

prison, plus the full cooperation and financial backing of the Interplanetary Authority. There were only six planets, so the likelihood of requiring a deciding vote from Abrafrilric was minimal at best.

Debate raged on of course, but those sly Earthmen knew exactly how to sell it. As the Earth delegation minister put it, “Prisoners will only be sent there to serve their sentences, work hard to achieve production goals, in exchange for housing and food. Hard work and the removal of opportunities for criminal behavior will give errant beings the best chance for reform. They can be returned to their societies renewed, cured of their criminal urges once and for all.” It wasn’t long before that bold statement drew a reaction as well.

“Typical Earthmen,” scoffed the Zorgolongian minister, standing up from his delegation box, “always exaggerating things.” This drew an indignant snort from Convention President Abrafrilric; nevertheless, he chose not to interrupt. The delegation leader continued, “Cured once and for all? My good Earthman, that’s preposterous-sss! The reason they’re criminals in the first place is that they cannot control their urges! Do you think we’re idiots-sss?”

But the Earth delegation minister, one Robert Gunton from the province of North America, was unflappable. He rebutted, “My dear fellow, I hasten to point out that the natural deterrent to further criminal behavior shall be the planet itself. You must understand that. No one will want to be sentenced there, and absolutely no one would wish to be sent back there either.” The Earth minister glanced at his Zorgolongian counterpart to see if he had any further comments, but the little fellow—at least for the moment—did not. Thus, he continued, “They shall repay their debt to society for committing crimes, return home, and live out the rest of their lives on their home planets as good citizens.” That’s all the minister from Earth was proposing and this served to quell any further interruptions for a while. He knew he held all the cards and what he started hearing from other delegates only served to support this belief.

“My fellow delegates,” remarked the minister from the Schpleefti delegation, “let’s not miss out on this wondrous opportunity. If the Interplanetary Authority does not approve of this scheme, then we must consider what might happen next. Earth will simply develop the mine on Rijel 12 by herself and cut us out of the

deal completely.” This made sense, even to the brooding, warrior-like Enoshi who due to their imposing size always seemed to garner cautious respect from other species at these gatherings – even if they weren’t particularly bright.

What’s more, he was quite right, the furry little creature from far away Schpleefti. Earth would make a veritable fortune and hold a virtual monopoly on mineral distribution throughout the galaxy. Minister Gunton from Earth sensed it was time to close the sale.

The Earth minister’s message, once it was his turn to speak again, was simply this: “If all planets participate this, my friends, will become a global operation with the funding to build Rijel 12’s mining network into an economic success. And do it rather quickly according to our projections.” He then feigned a bit of well-timed humility in order to suck them in further. But it really wasn’t necessary; it went without saying.

“Of course, Earth could do this all by herself, but the Rijel system is many light years away from us. Several planets, as you may note, are closer. Much closer.”

The Suidonji and Zorgolongian delegations immediately reacted to that obvious fact. So much nearer to the Rijel star system, they could easily reach Rijel 12 and develop it. But alas, it was Earth’s idea and they’d be wiser to participate in the new plan. Earth, as everyone knew, had all the best technology for deep shaft mining.

Only the wise and sedate Slartigifijians held fast to their argument against this shameful idea of forcing prisoners into what they deemed to be slave labor for the sake of profit. Their contention was that it would only lead to abuse and oppression over time. Nevertheless, when Abrafrilric held the final vote on the measure it was approved five to one. And with that, the intergalactic penal colony of New Australia was created.

Chapter 2: Life on Rijel 12

Over the years, the penal colony expanded. Certainly, in the early days it was slow going. The planet’s surface was impossibly forbidding. Nevertheless, within a half century, the population grew and grew, from a couple hundred to over a hundred thousand. The different planets in the galaxy, even cultures which were hesitant about it at first, found they could send convicted felons of all kinds. Murderers, rapists, thieves, political agitators, and other social undesirables could be delivered to this facility and thereby rid their home planets of the dangers they posed. But it didn’t take long for things to degenerate into something far more sinister.

At first the sentences were reasonable, spanning three to twenty years, with only extremely violent offenders sentenced there for life. The planet itself was completely barren and devoid of any flora and fauna, covered on the surface by global deserts, volcanic mountains, and extremely forbidding temperatures during the day. At night, temperatures often plunged into the teens, but during the day it could reach one hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit. It was certainly unrealistic to live on the surface, but far underground, the planet had massive caverns that extended for miles and miles in every direction.

On Rijel 12, there was just enough atmosphere to provide breathable oxygen for most creatures, but the Interplanetary Authority chose to expand the already existing system for manufacturing purer oxygen for the caverns, so that workers could maintain better stamina. The planet’s oxygen was too thin and could lead to light-headedness and fatigue during prolonged exposure. Therefore, the mining operation was sealed off from the surface and the oxygen production system could be added onto in phases. Blowers moved manufactured air around the caverns and tunnels to keep workers healthier and more alert.

The Rijel 12 planet interior had hundreds of underground glaciers located miles below the rocky barren surface, protected from the incredibly hot daytime sun. Subterranean aquifers closer to the surface provided water to the new

inhabitants, but it had to be filtered. The original miners, years before, didn’t actually drink the water from the aquifers. They imported purified water from nearby planets and it was very expensive to do so. However, scientists believed the water on Rijel 12 could be made safe for prisoners to drink. Earth advisors devised an elaborate filtration system that extracted water into great reservoirs then filtered it into drinking water at hundreds of stations throughout the mining network.

Technically it was fine, but not surprisingly, those human engineers designed a system that needed to be maintained at a hefty cost, a cost that less ethical prison operators didn’t prefer to continue paying as time went on. Systems deteriorated over time and needed repair. Mine operators looked the other way, and gradually prisoners suffered from consuming bad drinking water.

They had no choice. Besides, these same prison managers were making money for their employers. Profitability was being reviewed constantly, and no one felt inclined to speak out about the deteriorating conditions for prisoners. Better water could be imported for the guards and operation managers, so why worry about those hapless prisoners being slowly poisoned below? More prisoners arrived all the time to replace the ill and dying. It didn’t really matter to those cynical, over-worked, profit-driven mining operators, always under pressure from their superiors to achieve lofty goals.

In only a few earth years, the prison complex was constructed a mile below the treacherous surface, and then expanded over the decades to where it housed thousands of prisoners. Earth ships arrived regularly, and construction workers in the early years worked feverishly to create more barracks below ground.

New facilities were built to house the ever-expanding prison labor supply. When a new cavern was opened up, these laborers would build a prefabricated barracks and live in it while they built the infrastructure around it. The air system would be connected to new parts of the mine, and new water filtration systems would be installed then tapped into underground aquifers. When each new section was complete, the construction teams would leave; the barracks they lived in would then be occupied by new prisoners sent there to work the newly opened section. For years it went on like that, ever-expanding the mining

network as more and more convicts arrived.

However, these barracks would soon become overcrowded as more prisoners were sent to work there, and over the years they became dilapidated. As the decades passed, prisoners eventually resorted to carving out homes inside caves.

Additional mineral deposits were discovered. Veins of gemstones were found too. It seemed the opportunities for wealth being extracted from Rijel 12 were boundless; this only served to fuel the machine. Mine expansion required additional labor, and every planet was soon being urged to keep sending more convicted criminals. It became all too easy for abuses to occur. New prisoners being brought in meant even more barracks and even more supplies. Expanding the mines required more equipment, which led to more expenses and even more aggressive production goals. This would have been the case for any rapidly growing labor-intensive industry. But in the case of New Australia Planetary Prison, the difference was that labor was free.

Things eventually got overlooked, neglected, or downright ignored. Greed replaced compassion or even any semblance of justice, and everyone gave in just a little, if not completely. The greater good became nothing more than the motivation of greater profit, and from the top down, no one wanted to admit it. When existing veins of minerals were expanded and dug out further, even more workers were needed to fill the workload, as well as replace the dying and ruined laborers below. New Australia Planetary Prison became a death sentence to most all prisoners sent there, and within fifty earth years, few expected to return.

“So, how long you boys in for?” asked a rather portly guard assigned to oversee prisoners being led into the dusty hold of a large ship orbiting the Earth’s moon. Francois had spent three weeks inside a stinking pit, a lunar prison ward designed to temporarily house a thousand men awaiting transportation to Rijel 12. However, the weeks of waiting as well as the ongoing flow of convicts into the facility had led to overcrowding of epic proportions. There were easily ten times that many crammed inside. Beds stacked six high required ladders to reach the top bunk and were arranged in rows so narrow even a submariner would find them cramped. Sewage backup and sickness from poor food made the untenable situation impossible to stand, yet they had no alternative. That’s

why arrival of the prison transport felt like a godsend.

The size of the ship dwarfed even tall buildings, and it was outfitted with advanced warp drive technology, which enabled it to travel at twenty times the speed of light via the creation of a warp bubble in space that allowed the craft to ride the wave to its intended destination. This theoretical phenomenon had been proposed centuries before back on Earth by a bright young scientist from Mexico City.With a target programmed into the ship’s computer, the now-perfected mechanism simply propelled it across the warp bubble, allowing passengers to move through time and experience very little in the way of aging. The ship could not be steered, didn’t have to be maneuvered or even controlled for that matter. Using the warp drive, the ship simply appeared in its desired location months later with the onboard computer having calculated the entire journey and executed it systematically.

For security reasons, prisoners were placed in lidded compartments where they’d be put to sleep until the time of arrival. The mines needed healthy strong bodies, and the limited staff on board could not be tasked with supervising them during the months they’d spend in space. That was far too dangerous.

“Three years,” replied one of the prisoners, and in response the guard snickered. “Three years, huh? Well, that’s not so bad I guess. You can make it three years I’m sure.” Then he chuckled cryptically. Others within the crowd of prisoners weren’t so tactful.

“Oh, don’t bet on it, pal,” remarked an older fellow among the mass of men being herded into the ship’s hold. “You might make it through,” quipped the burly man. “Might not. Hard to say. But don’t go fooling yourself about no getting home to your momma. Ain’t nobody coming back to get you when you’re done with your stint.” The guard shot an icy glare toward the fellow, then shook his head. Yes, he’d heard the same things, and yes, he’d experienced similar realities during his last three junkets to Rijel 12. For only half the ship’s hold was filled with prisoner compartments. The rest was full of supplies, food

for the prison staff mainly. And the entire hold was destined to be refilled with tons and tons of extracted mineral ore, such as platinum, nickel, copper, or iron.

Even the prisoner compartments themselves, those not covered up under mountains of raw material during the return voyage, would be occupied largely by the crew. He himself would occupy one of them for the long flight back to Earth, only to reload more doomed souls for the next trip across the galaxy. New Australia Planetary Prison and its thriving mining operation had by now expanded into a diabolically efficient, decades-old, going concern.

Prisoner processing and assignment to work details were handled below the surface. Rijel 12’s original mining operation was established on the site of a canyon formed from the collapse of an ancient cavern. A surface facility was built next to it; the canyon was eventually converted into a loading bay for supply ships. It used a landing pad lift which elevated to the surface to receive arriving spacecraft. Once landed, the elevator descended several hundred feet to be processed. Then a retractable roof closed over the canyon to seal it off from the forbidding elements of Rijel 12.

New prisoners would be unloaded and assigned to some part of the mines that required more workers, randomly at first, then gradually based on species. There were always new job openings, and there were always more prisoner ships landing. When transport ships were emptied of prisoners, the other side of the bay would open, and vehicles would haul in loads of mineral ore to be loaded onto the craft. Upon completion, the retractable roof would open, the elevator platform would ascend back to the surface, and the craft could take off once again.

By the fiftieth Earth year of operation, there was a freighter landing every few weeks, and usually there was another in orbit around Rijel 12 waiting to land and offload new prisoners. Pilots and crew were never allowed to leave their ships, and most didn’t wish to. This was a prison after all, and security was air-tight at all times. But what did these pilots and crew see when they landed? It was enough to send the message back to their home planets that this was a truly hellish place. They didn’t need to see what was going on below. Construction workers finishing their projects could shed even more light on the realities of

New Australia Planetary Prison, but even they didn’t care about inmates in a prison. They just wanted to leave Rijel 12 and get back home as quickly as possible.

With all the financial backing of the Interplanetary Authority, those enterprising Earthmen were brutally efficient in devising a prison system that continued to feed the mining operation, and production goal-setting became increasingly aggressive as the years passed. Government officials began to see dollar signs. Profitability increased, and the operation was a success within only a few galactic years. Everyone was thrilled with the results.

Well, most everyone was, anyway. Prisoners in the early years were immediately pressed into service working in the mines until they completed their sentences, and just like the Earthmen had promised, these prisoners who’d paid their debt to society were able to crawl or limp onto freighters and eventually returned to their home planets. They’d be aged and broken down by then, but at least they could finally go home. Go home and die at a very young age and in terribly poor health, that is. It was hard to feel sorry for them. After all, most had certainly deserved to be sent there. Law-abiding citizens could rationalize it that way. But it was nevertheless shameful, treating other intelligent beings in such a manner. And it was a reflection on the societies themselves who allowed it to go on like that.

Then it got even worse. Eventually the planets stopped going back to get their prisoners. It became an embarrassment really, seeing a released prisoner all haggard and crippled, withered and squinting from daylight which they hadn’t seen in many years. They’d return to their home planets almost unrecognizable to their loved ones.

The Slartigifijians were the first of the six planets to stop sending prisoners to New Australia Planetary Prison, protesting that conditions there would have to improve before they’d resume. After nine earth years, they ceased transports of criminals entirely, but they left thousands behind to finish out their miserable lives and chose to forget about the whole nasty experiment.

Enosh threatened to do the same, but eventually relented. Enoshi were very strong and capable of bearing up to the rigors of the workload. Plus, the Enosh government couldn’t bear to miss out on their share of the profits from the mine. The other planets, by way of comparison, kept right on going. They began seeing it the way Earthmen portrayed it from the very start.

“Violent criminals and repeat offenders need to be removed from a society for the greater good of their communities, and once they’ve repaid their debt, only then may they return to their home planets,” is how the Earth delegation put it each galactic year at the Convention. Yet this commitment to “reforming” criminals gradually faded into a distant memory when governments felt the backlash of social revulsion over the results of even a three-year sentence. Frankly it was the lure of incredible wealth and the expansion of their planetary economies that caused them to temper their protests. Soon they stopped protesting completely.

Most grew to look at it the same way as the Earthmen. At the conventions, the Earth delegation would delight in reporting production numbers and exaggerate the vast improvement in social order: “We’re shipping out mineral ore, and shipping in our criminals and ne’er-do-wells to work the mines. It’s still a win-win.”

Crime didn’t stop, nor did crime rates fall. Beings still murdered, stole, raped, or conspired against the government. Yet it didn’t matter. It only fed the machine. The justice systems didn’t have to worry about prisoner reform. Murder another being on your planet, and you got sent away for life. It made perfect sense at first. But eventually even first-time offenders were being dragged onto transport vessels headed for Rijel 12 to serve “minor sentences.” Within fifty Earth years, even they would never return. No one went back to get them.

Initially, much like any poorly thought-out social experiment, the stated intent turned out to be unachievable. From the start, the promise was to respect the concept of a set prison sentence and to return the convict to society upon its completion. Greed got in the way of that. But, so did the fear of political repercussions at home when freed prisoners returned and spoke of the conditions

at New Australia Planetary Prison. Earth and Zorgolong were the first two planets to stop returning their prisoners. Schpleefti never did in the first place. In their world, a Schpleefti who’d severely broken the law was banished from their community. For them it was just plain common sense. Threaten the peace and tranquility of society, and you lose the privilege of living within it.

The Enoshi followed suit. Given time, they began to see how it fit in with the philosophy of their culture. Removing the capability of repeating the crime by severing a paw, castrating, or removing a tongue meant that the example was set for all those tempted to duplicate the act. But this was even easier. Just send them away to Rijel 12 and the problem was solved.

For Slartigifijian prisoners it was different though. Most couldn’t handle the conditions in New Australia and perished within a few years. However, not all of them died. Their innate intelligence and wisdom became highly valuable to other prisoners and some lived on to serve vital roles in prison society. Besides, Slartifigians had much longer life-spans than humans. This became very important later on, for the sake of the other inmates’ survival.

The hard life of mining killed off thousands of prisoners every year, and there was no predictable pattern to it. Stronger prisoners died in the mines just as easily as weaker prisoners. Determination to survive, or resentment at having been sent to this subterranean hell, could certainly sustain a being for a while, but accidents were quite common. Death could come easily, and at most any time. Prison administrators didn’t care. They didn’t have to. In another few weeks, there’d be a ship arriving with more prisoners anyway. Life deteriorated into a matter of brutal survival for the desperate beings on Rijel 12.

After half an Earth century of dumping unfortunate prisoners on the planet, the place had become a death sentence, and everyone knew it. Inmates would tell newly arrived prisoners, and even prison officials communicated the same message. As one infamously cruel guard used to put it to arriving convicts as they were processed in the receiving bay, “You have been sent here to die, and that is likely what you’ll do. Accept it, and your miserable existence here may end peacefully. Who knows? You may die tomorrow. We don’t know, and we don’t care. Work and you eat. Eat and you live. That’s all you need to know for

now.”And yet fifty Earth years after its creation, even when faced with such an impossible existence, amazingly, some beings learned how to survive. They adapted, and they overcame by creating a society of their own. Leaders arose, structure developed, and the situation stabilized, partly driven by necessity and partly due to the sheer determination of intelligent creatures seeking to exist, no matter what the circumstances. They figured out ways to live on.

Chapter 3: Crystal Discovery

“Nebelung? Hey, Nebelung! Break is over, brother. We must get back to work now.” yelled one of the other prisoners. In a daze, Golan Nebelung snapped out of his temporary solace. He had been dreaming of his wife and little ones back home, and in the twenty minutes it had taken for equipment to be moved in for his crew to continue work on the new tunnel, he’d fallen into a deep sleep.

Exhaustion was a foregone conclusion, as he’d come to learn. Covered in fur from head to toe, he, just like his fellow Enoshi, didn’t need nor wear any form of clothing, and in the cool, damp confines of the mine, his thick gray coat was perpetually soggy and speckled with dust.

His workmates were all Enoshi in this section of the mine and suffered the same deprivations. It did no good to try and clean their fur. Every last one of them stayed filthy every hour of the day, until their colors and stripes were all but indiscernible. It proved virtually impossible to tell one breed from another, which was vitally important in their culture. Breed denoted status. But then again, status was yet another of the many luxuries abandoned or forgotten once they set foot inside the mines of Rijel 12.

“You take the front, Nebelung!” shouted another one of his crewmates. “We’ll work in behind you. That delay has set us back a bit, and we still have to make quota if we’re to be fed today, brother.” That perked him right up. Nothing was more important than fulfilling their load requirements by the end of their work shift. To fail meant going hungry. Going hungry meant a long night curled up in his cave trying to sleep through hunger pangs.

It had gone on like that for weeks, months, years. Golan didn’t know just how long he’d been down here. The same was true for most anyone on his crew. And it would go on for as long as he could muster the wherewithal to get up from his pallet and go back to work. Only death would deliver him from this nightmare.

Dreaming of home was about all he had to cling to, and even those pleasant memories of his family back on Enosh were already beginning to fade.

“Right,” muttered Golan instinctively. “It’s my turn, I know,” he then added with a yawn. There was no use arguing and for that matter why would he? His team of miners took turns at the more dangerous duties they faced, including burrowing into a freshly dug tunnel and hoping against hope there’d be no cave- in. If that happened, they could suffocate under tons and tons of rocks and berm, and the lead worker? He faced the worst of the danger. Rescuing crewmembers was something Golan had experienced before, and it didn’t always work out very well for the victims.

“Had yourself a little nap, did you?” joked his neighbor on the work line. The big Enoshi, a member of the Angora clan and quite large for his breed, patted Golan on the shoulder with a monstrous paw. His once-beautiful white coat had been stained and matted with so many years of grime that his color was a matching shade of gray compared to Golan’s once shimmering hide. Now practically no one from back home could have told the difference between them.

“Yes, brother,” replied Golan with a grunt as he bent to pick up his tool set – a long pick which would have required both hands if he’d been a human, along with a bucket and trowel the size of a spade. “I was dreaming of home. Trying to remember my wife’s face and eyes again. It’s getting harder and harder to recall her beautiful face and the smell of her fur. Every day it gets a little fuzzier,” smirked Golan with a defeated sadness in his tone. “I miss her so much.”

“We all miss our loved ones back home, brother,” remarked the hulking Enoshi. “Like it or not, the sooner you try and forget her, the better. I’m sorry to say it, I really am. You know as well as I, there’s no chance of seeing them again. No one’s getting out of here. We must accept it. Have to get our job done and if we do we get food. Fond memories of home are useless to us. Understand?”

Golan knew his crewmate was correct. This had become reality for the doomed souls in his section of the mine. As far as he knew no one was being

released anywhere in the infinite networks of tunnels and shafts. The dead were discarded and replaced. New workers fell right into line with the living. Day after miserable day, week after miserable week. Never a day off, or even the faintest hope of getting off this rock one day. After many years, inmates realized no one was ever coming back to get them once they got sent to New Australia Planetary Prison.

Governments spun lies about it publicly. In news conferences they denied a cover-up. Otherwise they ignored it or claimed they had no knowledge of what had happened to prisoners who’d finished their sentences. When family members inquired as to the fate of their incarcerated loved ones they got nowhere. No information was forthcoming. Moreover, there was no record- keeping at NAPP after a while either. Files on prisoners were created in the early days, of course, but then in later years, these files were simply “misplaced.”

Families of inmates never fully grasped this. Rijel 12 was simply too far away to have to pay a freighter to transport home one, five, or even twenty convicts and NAPP was not in the business of tracking down a prisoner once they’d been sent into the mines. Meanwhile, prison wardens and their managers were making quite a good living for themselves under the table. There were port fees, docking fees, and loading fees. Ships landed to offload supplies, then took on as much ore and raw gemstones as they could. Neither the ship captains nor the warden bore any concern for fulfilling promises made by other planets regarding completed sentences.

But then something happened that made conditions even worse. A new discovery deep within the mines of Rijel 12 caused quite a stir. Discovery of large veins of perovskite on Rijel 12 occurred in the thirty-fifth Earth year of operation. At that time copper, lead, and zinc could already be mined in abundance and refined into silver to make silver wire, a commodity in high demand.

Perovskite could be mined from Rijel 12 in great abundance. Quartz was also discovered, and when crystals the size of an office building were found within the planet’s depths, it was merely a matter of burrowing down and extracting them. This required many hours of labor for the already hard-pressed inmates

because they had to dig around the massive crystals with hand tools to finally free the giant crystals for extraction. This eventually meant that space craft could be powered by crystals mined from Rijel 12.

Immense power could be drawn from these crystals, enough to get ships across vast reaches of space. The key was piezoelectricity. Certain crystals could become electrically polarized when the crystal was subjected to mechanical pressure, thereby generating voltage. Compression and stretching generated voltages of opposite polarity. The piezoelectric effect merely needed to be amplified and then channeled along silver wire, preferably, to create a vast amount of energy. Rijel 12 had all these raw materials in one convenient place.

Once scientists announced that the crystals could now be used to power generational spacecraft, the stock markets went wild and demand for the crystals skyrocketed. Now ships the size of cities could explore and colonize the universe. Suddenly Rijel 12 had a brand-new income source. And the new warden, an unscrupulous Zorgolongian named Ggggaaah, began to see how he could become extremely wealthy. The only problem was figuring out how to most effectively capitalize on this incredible opportunity.

“Good day Warden,” said a young assistant to the general staff and effectively the warden’s lackey. His job as scullion was to see to the warden’s basic needs and comfort, as well as relay messages from him to other prison staffers. Most importantly, he had to screen calls from overly stressed operators trying to elevate issues and complaints to the front office. “And how did we sleep sir? Are we refreshed and ready to tackle the day?” asked the assistant timidly. Warden Ggggaaah hissed in response.

Now for a Zorgolongian, hissing could mean most anything – from joyful acknowledgment to dismissive sarcasm. It depended upon the intonation and the circumstances. In this case it was the latter.

“Not really,” sighed Ggggaaah. He’d gone back to his quarters the night before worried about production goals and had endured a fitful sleep thinking about his plight. This new opportunity, mining perovskite crystals for generation

ships now being designed by all six planets in the coalition, meant trillions in profit, if he could only convert portions of his operation to their extraction. It also meant redirecting the work efforts of thousands upon thousands of convicts below. It was a daunting task, and one quite worthy of keeping him up late. He’d hardly slept a wink. “But we’ll rise to the occasion my young friend. That we will do, whatever it requires of us,” continued the pot-bellied little warden.

Zorgolongians were prized for their ruthlessness when managing things, especially other intelligent beings unfortunate enough to be in their charge. Merciless, they were. Well known for it too. Ggggaaah sat in his high back chair and paused for a few moments to tap on the glass of a small terrarium located on his desk. Inside, small creatures, unevolved rodents imported from his home planet Zorgolong, cowered in fear seeing what was to them a giant lizard glaring at them from outside their container. Soon, one of them would be the beast’s breakfast.

“Give me the reports, please,” quipped the warden, and the young scullion quickly produced an electronic notepad from on top of his little desk in the outside reception area. “Let’s hear the good news, if there is any,” Ggggaaah added smugly. “How are we doing getting those loathsome devils to stay on task?” he asked coldly. “Do we need to transfer more convicts to the new sector?” His assistant hesitated to tell him the latest. It wasn’t all bad, but it certainly wasn’t likely to please his cold-hearted commander.

Lately there hadn’t been much to celebrate in terms of production successes. Freeing giant crystals and transporting them to the surface had proved to be phenomenally difficult. Highly profitable once accomplished, sure, and when a freighter had loaded them up for transport? When that was finished, it meant a huge payday. Plenty to keep him employed and able to present his superiors with glad tidings whenever they saw money transferred into their operating accounts. But those successes were long in coming, and in between would be endless messages and inquiries from management about what progress was being made.

The problem, it seemed, was the prisoners themselves. He could work them to death, and true, he often did. Yet the challenge was in supervising their efforts in the many hundreds of locations surrounding those gigantic crystals during

extraction. Managing that process had been the most difficult task he’d yet faced in his long, rather shady career. “Well you see sir,” replied the scullion. “It seems the prisoners in that sector... well, the crew leaders I mean... they’ve been making demands.” The young assistant braced himself for an angry response.

Warden Ggggaaah was a Zorgolongian with a past full of piracy, who had taken over after the third prison warden had retired. By that time, the realities of New Australia Planetary Prison were accepted at face value. They were only there to make money for the Interplanetary Authority, and as long as production goals were met or exceeded, there was plenty of lucre available for Ggggaaah and his managers to enrich themselves. He got rich quickly. So did his cronies. Warden Ggggaaah also instituted new reforms which changed the way things were done on Rijel 12. For as far as Ggggaaah was concerned, the whole concept of work performance could be managed by the control of food.

Guards were difficult to recruit from other planetary systems, especially as the years went by, so the quality of beings willing to work there had declined markedly. But it also became a wonderful place to go disappear for a while if a being needed a fresh start: if he was running from the law, business associates with a score to settle, an angry spouse, or family obligations. Ggggaaah seized upon this to recruit guards who would carry out his orders without question – or be sent back home to face justice. It was an approach that worked well in fostering loyalty among his staff.

These new guards, recruited by Ggggaaah or by his administrators, rapidly replaced the original staff, and their function eventually became distributing food and achieving production quotas. To do so, they learned to manage their sections of the prison by delegating work detail to the prisoners themselves—then allocating food based on performance.

That was how Ggggaaah envisioned it, much like in the way pirate ships operated in his youth. Work and you eat. Mutiny and you die. The system worked quite well that way, and guards became nothing more than well-armed proprietors for the food depots. Meanwhile, these depots became fortified underground military outposts.

Then a remarkable thing happened. A social structure developed among the prison population where crews established themselves to protect the flow of supplies, making sure everyone got to eat as well as providing protection to its membership from other crews. Some crews developed more quickly than others and benefited from stronger leadership, so over time prison officials found they could refer more and more of the supervision duties to crew leadership. Crews gradually took over almost everything involving prisoner management. They would train and manage their own work shift supervisors, order materials, tools, and supplies. Guards developed into mere go-betweens, commanding sections of the ever-expanding mining network, and dealing with crew leaders exclusively.

Though requiring filtration, water was plentiful. Slartigifijian prisoners were excellent engineers and because they often lived very long lives, many crews prized them. However, food was not, so the planet imported most all its food stuffs, sending supplies down into the mines to be provided to well-performing teams meeting their quotas. Enforcing discipline was otherwise relatively simple: work hard and your teammates ate well. Thus, crew chieftains were incentivized to keep their crews on task. Amazingly this system worked quite well, and death or disease from malnutrition began to stabilize or even decline. At least for a while, anyway.

“Demands? Is that what you’re telling me, scullion? Preposterous-sss!” blurted the warden with yet another hiss. “They have the temerity to make demands ... on us-sss?” He flew into a rage at this unwelcome news, even if he shouldn’t have been so surprised. His method of organization – his strategy of letting crews control their own work details – had led indirectly to this conundrum. Nevertheless, he couldn’t comprehend what he was hearing. Prisoner laborers banding together and sending their elected leader to try and negotiate terms of servitude? Given his pirate background such a notion was absurd. It simply would not be tolerated. Ggggaaah reacted immediately.

“Shut down everything in their sector! Shut off the lights – shut off their electricity! Cut off all food rations! Let them starve in the dark, the bastards. Then we’ll wait ... wait until they submit.”

The nervous young scullion nodded in obedience, though indicating a measure of hesitancy in his eyes. After all, he knew Warden Ggggaaah had spent nearly an hour on a video conference call with his superiors the evening before. They’d been reviewing his production numbers and asking difficult questions. The kind of difficult questions upper management always asks of middle managers, really. They did it because they could – and because it was going to be their own necks on the chopping block when it came time to face shareholders. The minion was only concerned that a shutdown of one sector of the mine might lead to further delays in reaching their production requirements for the quarter. What’s more, the demands reported from the guard station several miles below? They were actually quite reasonable. Regardless, the warden was adamant.

“Tell them! Tell those cowardly guards down there. Call the power plant and tell them too. You hear me? We’ll put a stop to this right now!”

Unfortunately, Warden Ggggaaah in his hubris was underestimating the determination of his adversaries – the very prisoners he sought to control with his vast resources and “limitless” power. If only he’d known what was truly going on in the infinite caverns and tunnels of Rijel 12.

The evolution of crews into hierarchical communities, based on specialties and exhibited service to the crew, had led to prisoners identifying themselves with their new crew identity rather than with their previous lives. As prisoners, they gained a level of respect for each other: in spite of whatever they’d done to get sent to prison, they had indeed endured this hellish place together. That was something they all shared in common.

But even with this amazing effort to find a way to survive the un-survivable and create a meaningful existence, the beings of New Australia Planetary Prison still faced the failings of character and ethics that inevitably accompanied the evils of absolute power. The last straw occurred when prisoners would meet quotas, only to find supplies being held back by corrupt guards who cruelly demanded higher yields in order to further their careers. Many post commanders did that, and when they felt they could get away with it, they’d try and starve

prisoners into submission. Warden Ggggaaah had never been informed of that handy little piece of information.

Prisoners would naturally be compelled to step up production, boosting the numbers of those unethical guards engaging in this practice. But prisoners would often die from malnutrition as a result. It required so many calories to work a full shift. Malnutrition led to exhaustion. Exhaustion led to illness. Illness led to death.

Air and water systems needed maintenance, tools needed repair, and food quality was often quite lacking even when plentiful. Sanitation was downright abhorrent. Risking disaster, the crew leaders began finding ways to organize and call a strike to damage production. It did little, except for repeatedly proving the immorality of prison administration. Warden Ggggaaah made things far worse whenever prisoners decided enough was enough and went on strike to demand better living or working conditions.

In order to quickly bust strikes he would suspend food deliveries in order to starve the malcontents. Warden Ggggaaah simply cut off all food distribution to that sector, including electricity to the fans, lighting, and water filtration systems. Days later, work would inevitably resume. A hasty meeting would be called with striking crew leaders and a settlement would be reached. But little would change, and a few more prisoners would die from malnutrition each time it was attempted. Nevertheless, crew leaders had to at least try and force change. Their very position as leader of the crew demanded it. Failure to defy the guards could be construed as complicity, and crew leaders could and did get deposed on occasion.

Malnutrition wasn’t the only major problem. There was a lack of medical supplies for injured or ill workers. Not being able to secure these supplies could lead to resentment toward crew leadership. After all, the crew leader had promised strong leadership, safety, and had taken responsibility for their well- being. Crew leaders often argued during these negotiations that the warden should consider the potential threat of losing this crew leaders and subsequently lose control of the entire prison if there were to be a wide-scale riot. Crew leaders really were the key to maintaining order. There were over one hundred

thousand prisoners in those mines now, and only about thirty-five thousand guards. In their view, Warden Ggggaaah needed their help in preventing a rebellion.

“That’s far enough, Leptailurus. Stop where you are. We can smell you from where you’re standing,” sneered the Zorgolongian commander. In a clearing, there was a no-man’s land out front of a blockhouse occupied by armed guards with automatic weapons trained on the Enoshi chieftain’s torso. The large feline had approached, illuminated by spotlights run off reserve batteries during the blackout imposed by the warden. He stopped and stood still, paws outstretched to show he was unarmed. He raised his voice until it echoed throughout the cavern.

“You know what we want! We’ve asked and asked. You’ve agreed that our demands are acceptable, Commander. Now we must have them! We need medicine! Antibiotics especially. You know what will happen if we don’t get them. My brothers who will continue to die. And if they rise up, my friend, it might be a new chieftain you’ll be dealing with next time. One far less reasonable I’m sure. If you can’t help us, then let us present our demands to the warden so he might understand our situation.”

The Zorgolongian post commander had no doubt that was a plausible threat. If Leptailurus returned to his brother Enoshi empty-handed, he’d likely be assassinated, and the next day there’d be a brand-new leader presenting demands. The strike would continue, and production deadlines would be missed. There was little choice but to give in and provide the hulking beast with a crate full of medical supplies, including enrofloxacin for respiratory, skin, and urinary tract infections. Those were common ailments for Enoshi working in the mines.

The post commander thought long and hard about the potential consequences, then he directed several of his comrades to carry out a large box containing the drugs. Syringes, vials of medicine, and bottle of pills were included. This scene was repeated throughout the mines of Rijel 12 on numerous occasions as of late. The warden rarely heard of these secret arrangements. The less he knew, the better. Leptailurus quietly walked over and picked up the massive crate, returning to his crew with their much-needed medicine. The strike ended an hour

later and the prisoners in his section returned to work without any further delay.

No, Ggggaaah never knew what was going on way down in the mines. For example, he didn’t know what kept provoking the strikes. He never found out how deliveries of antibiotics might be withheld in order to force prisoners to achieve higher output. Given that he was the only one who could control the food supply, electricity, and, the guards themselves, he didn’t need to worry himself with the workaday issues down in the mines. He simply couldn’t conceive of the prisoners rioting. How could they expect to succeed? Food depots were armed fortresses. Prisoners possessed little more than mining tools. They’d stand no chance against modern weapons. And attacking a guard station? Well, that was suicide.

He didn’t know that negotiations were ongoing below the surface. Once they were concluded, peace would temporarily be restored in that section of the mine, and production would return to acceptable levels. For a while. Each strike would lead to some mild concessions or promises of reform, but nothing would be done to deal with the actual issues.

“Brothers!” bellowed Leptailurus triumphantly. “They agreed! I got the antibiotics we demanded.” The large crate he was gripping with his paws was unwieldy and difficult to carry through the tunnel leading to his crew’s cave network. Their housing facility had collapsed years ago. Now, parts of it had been pulled off the original structure to fashion walls and doorways for makeshift homes hewn from the rock. A crowd formed as several more crew members emerged from their caves, some of them too weak to stand. Some limped toward their brave leader with the aid of a friend.

“You did it! All hail our brave chieftain!” cried one of them with a triumphant growl. Soon others chimed in. “Great work,” yelled another. “We sure needed this.” And that was quite correct. Enrofloxacin was more valuable than a bag full of diamonds right now, and Leptailurus had been wise in calling the strike to try and obtain it. Only problem was, they couldn’t have held out for even one more day before his brothers would start dying from starvation. The difference was, and the guards would have had no way of knowing this, Leptailurus had an ace in the hole.

Years before, the crew had taken in two injured and exhausted Slartigifijians. They were in no way capable of handling the rigors of working in a mine. Their bodies dried out quickly from the dust. Their health had declined to the point of withering away like rose petals on a hot asphalt street. But some clever Enoshi working alongside of them had taken an opportunity to spirit them away from the worksites and nurse them back to health. With their immense life-spans, those same two Slartigifijians had not only recovered, but had gone on to serve the next three chieftains.

Now they worked for Leptailurus, and what little they could harvest from a secret farm, located nearly a mile further down the tunnel, was barely enough to sustain their fellow crew members during this latest work stoppage. This top- secret farm had been concealed from the warden’s guards since long before Lepatilurus had become chieftain. Without this they could never have survived a work stoppage.

By stockpiling task lighting left over from construction teams, sifting through food rations and droppings for seedlings, and using filtered water from a nearby aquifer, the Slarts had managed to develop a hydroponic farming operation. They grew vegetables and citrus fruits which supplemented the crew members’ diets. What’s more, the they had meticulously calculated the precise caloric requirements of the crew down to the last minute when the strike would have to end. Leptailurus had barely made their deadline, even if those selfish guards had no inkling just how close he’d come to capitulating.

“Have some food, Chief!” yelled yet another among the brethren as they formed up into work details. Some were munching on dried spinach leaves trying to fortify themselves for a long day of digging. They’d have to scramble to make their quota, then they could dine on prison rations and replenish themselves. “You really came through for us this time,” added the dust-covered Enoshi with matted fur. He smiled, revealing dark green flecks lodged in his fangs. In response, Leptailurus grabbed a piece of spinach and bit into it with a grin. Crisis averted. He was still in charge, for now.

Long term, it was known that a successful hydroponic farm network, one which could be connected globally to all other crews, was the key to surviving a planetwide general strike. A farm network capable of feeding the entire population of miners for some reasonable period of time to gain an advantage over their heartless jailers was needed. With this in place, greater concessions could be achieved.

But that dream, shared by crew leaders as well as the Slartigifijian scientists and engineers, was taking too long. They still had to rely on their captors for food and medicine, and there was little they could do about corrupt individuals raising production quotas in isolated sections of the mine. The guards would behave for a while, but eventually they’d slip back into their old habits.

Over time it became apparent to the prisoners of New Australia: open rebellion was the only answer. Even the cautious Schpleeftii were compelled to admit it. The naturally warlike Zorgolongians, Sudonji, Enoshi, and humans downright demanded it. The only thing left to do was organize. Planet-wide. Come together as one. It was time for action.

About the Author:
King Everett Medlin has been writing since 2013, when he first developed the idea for Rijel 12. It was originally designed to be a SciFi series, with the objective of creating several short installments. Instead he got a lucky break when Chandra Press from San Diego responded favorably to the original draft, deciding to publish it as a full length novel. King lives in Denver, Colorado with his lovely wife Caroline and has two grown children. He's a graduate of the University of Oklahoma where he played college Rugby; and remains
a diehard Sooners fan to this day. His specialties are Science Fiction and Mystery/Suspense novels, focusing on unusual stories with intriguing plot-lines and amazing characters.

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