Issue #50 – Operation: All In

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Braddock Island wasn’t actually an island. In reality, it was a colossal, spidery structure rising out of a classified region of the Gulf of Mexico. Countless metal and ceramic struts disappeared into the depths, supporting atop and between them the various structures of the facility.

The main bulk of the place was a reinforced bunker, five stories tall, which sat two additional stories above sea level. This was known as the clearinghouse; where new prisoners and supplies arrived for inspection and releases and outgoing guard shifts left after an equally through inspection.

On it’s lowest level of its west-facing side, twin landing decks for heavy transports stood ready, protected from unauthorized landings by four automated and two manned anti-aircraft batteries. These currently bustled with activity as the prison prepared for a shift change among the guards, three squads of whom lived at the facility for staggered two-week stints while the fourth submitted to off-site psych screenings as a precaution against mentalist inmates.

Stop the clearing house was stubby tower upon which was built a landing pad for smaller craft. It faced a second, larger tower, which comprised the administration building, from which a retractable bridge was now extending.

Rodney Laird, prison liaison to the various bureaucratic and inspection teams that routinely visited the Island, started across it before it locked into place on the other side. He was followed by two of the facility’s guards just for show. They were both heavily armored and carried variable ammunition rifles that looked like the result of a while tryst between a shotgun and a colt revolver.

Right on time, an administrative transport, a sleek VTOL capable jet with a number of special modifications designed to prevent (survivable) hijacking, appeared on the western horizon. It was being escorted by a trio of R-31 Packhunter air superiority drones, part of a small swarm that continually patrolled the the perimeter around the outer beacon from the Island.

If the jet didn’t match the code sent ahead of it from the Texas processing center it left from, the Packhunters would have disabled its engines with controlled fire and forced it to splash down. In the beginning, there had been issues with attempted surprise inspections resulting in boats being dispatched to fish prison inspectors out of the Gulf.

The drones broke off and departed for their patrol routes as the jet came in for a gentle landing on the pad. Laird made sure he and the guards were in plain view for the door when it opened.

When it did, a clean shaven, olive skinned man peered out, scanning the pad and adjacent buildings before stepping out and approaching Laird with an extended hand. “Shawn Conners, Capitol Police.” He introduced himself, shaking Laird’s hand and then each guard’s in turn. “Are we clear?”

Laird had been expecting the usual suit and tie and nervous demeanor, but the US Capitol Police didn’t screw around: Conners was wearing light tactical armor and some sort of circlet on his head that he assumed was some kind of fed psi-defense. The ones employed at the Island were much less bulky and obvious.

“Yeah.” He finally said. “We’re clear. This is one of the most secure and disciplined civilian facilities in the country.”

“You can never be too careful.” Connors observed. He touched his earpiece. “Bring ’em out.”

Another Capitol Police officer appeared at the door. He was pale and shaved bald with a scraggly beard Laird was certain should get him in trouble with his superiors. As he too performed a scan of the surrounding area, his head bobbed ever so slightly, as if he was listening to music. Finally, he nodded and stepped aside just outside the door to allow his charges to exit the vehicle.

Senator Marsha Betton (Constitutional Freedom Party – Florida) was around five-six in heels, dressed in a wine colored blouse with matching skirt and a flag pin, an antique, as it only had fifty stars, over her heart. Her black hair had coppery highlights in it and was painstakingly piled atop her head in a way clearly intended to suggest she hadn’t spent much time on it.

Her colleague, Senator Mitchell Keyser (Progress and Liberty Party – Oregon), wasn’t much taller than Betton, but managed it without heels. He didn’t quite complement his height with narrow shoulders and a narrow face that didn’t go with his styling bar tamed brown hair, which lay in a manner that implied that the taming involved sack beatings.

Betton was first out of the plane, approaching Laird with her arms folded and a look on her face that said very forcefully that she would rather be on fire than on Braddock Island. She didn’t bother with a greeting either. “Where exactly are we? It seemed like a long way from Texas. Part of the reason I’m here is that the people of Florida want to make sure these monsters aren’t in their back yard.”

Keyser made an unhappy sound in his throat, even as he nodded a greeting to Laird. “Monsters? Really, Marsha. These are people and citizens to boot and they deserve your respect as their representative”

“Don’t put words in my mouth.” Betton snapped. “And you need to remember that these ‘people’,“ She uncrossed her arms to make air quotes, “are in prison for a reason: they’re criminals.”

“Not all crimes are equal.” Keyser tutted, “And this isn’t San Quentin. The only criteria for being sentenced here is having powers that might assist you in breaking out of prison. They’re not all murders and rapists: I’ve got a constituent here who is here for parking tickets.”

“You have to have a lot of tickets got to warrant before you go to jail.”

“That’s not the point. The point is, he’s not a violent monster.” By now, it was as if they had both forgotten that Laird or the entire prison for that matter, were there.

“The old saying is, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” Betton interrupted, crossing her arms again as if that old saw was a secret argument winning phrase.

“I don’t think you’re even listening, Marsha. The man is at Braddock Island because his body can become semi-solid; enough that normal prison bars and screens wouldn’t be a barrier if he were so inclined. And let’s not forget the possibility that some of them might be innocent.”

A small snort escaped Betton. “Typical party line soft on crime tripe. And—and you betray that you have no faith in the jury system: one of our oldest institutions.

“Don’t be obtuse.” said Keyser. “We also have a system of appeals because a jury isn’t perfect.”

“Always calling America imperfect. Don’t you see how terribly unpatriotic that is?”

“Excuse me.” Laird cut in. His eyelids felt heavy just listening to the pair arguing about a situation neither of them could possibly know anything about. It got their attention, but for a moment, all of the bitter anger the pair held for each other was turned on him. He didn’t flinch. After all, he was a resident of Florida: technically, Betton at least was employed on his whim.

“Warden Pettibone is waiting for you in the control tower.” He informed them. “He’ll personally reassure you both about both our security and our regard for the prisoners’ rights.” He gestured toward the bridge. “If you’ll follow me.”

That seemed to be enough for the senators. Someone important would be on hand to allow them to mine him for talking points for the campaign trail. Neither was up for election in the upcoming elections, but they would be campaigning for party members and it was clear to Laird that they were at Braddock Island to gather ammunition if descendants or Greenview Ridge came up.

Betton started following immediately, but Keyser paused, looking back to the plane. “We each have part of our security detail still n the plane is that going to be a problem?”

“As long as they stay on the pad, that’s fine.” Laird said. “But no unauthorized personnel is permitted inside without an escort.”

Keyser nodded and followed, the second police officer following after him.

***

The control tower was located on the east end of the Island, accessible from the administration building by means of an elevator that moved both vertically and on the horizontal, beneath the main deck of the prison. The tower could only be reached at all from that elevator, or a secret tunnel for emergencies.

Instead of opening onto a straight hallway leading to the main control room, the elevator opened at one end of a corridor broken up by a number of sharp angles and blind corners. This prevented a prisoner who made it that far from having an open line of effect between them and the guards protecting the control room entrance.

Six guards waited at the end of the crooked hall, outfitted with the same armor and arms as the pair assigned to Laird. Behind them was a transparent set of double doors, set on an angle with the room beyond so people inside could see what was going on in the corridor without allowing those outside to see anything important.

After confirming Laird’s ID and the Warden’s permission for the senators to enter, the leader of that squad, a woman known by the surname of Greene waved Laird and the senators through, but stopped the policemen. “Sorry, gentlemen, but no weapons are allowed in the control room unless authorized.” she informed them with the firmness of someone authorized to shoot people who didn’t comply.

Betton made an angry noise in her throat. “You can’t do that. He is an agent of the United States government. He can take his gun wherever he damn well pleases.”

The squad leader didn’t bat an eye. “Except in the control room, Madame Senator.”

“I’m afraid I have to agree with Marsha on this.” Keyser said. “Look, what is the point of a security detail if they can’t defend us?”

“Those rules are in place for good reason, sir.” Laird put extra emphasis on the ‘sir’. “As a matter of national security, we can’t allow weapons into the control room.” He gestured to the policemen. “Now please.”

The still nameless second cop shrugged apathetically and unclipped his holster from his belt, passing it over to one of the other members of the guard squad. Connors, however, tilted his helmeted head, looking at the (seemingly) glass doors between them and the control room. “Would it be alright if I stayed armed, but remained outside?”

After a moment of thought, the lead guard nodded. “That should be fine as long as we stay between you and the doors.”

Connors nodded amiably. “That will be fine.” He offered his hand. “Shawn Connors.” She gave the appendage a disdainful glance. “Alright then.” He said, patting her shoulder instead. She made a point of repositioning her weapon so that it was between them. He moved on to introducing himself to the other guards while Laird placed his hand on the print reader next to the doors to open them.

Bolts clicked and an omnipresent hum somewhere in the frame stopped. Laird pushed the doors open and gestured for the senators and remaining officer to enter.

The bulk of the control room was sunken into the floor six feet , featuring eight manned work stations, separated by low dividers with holographic displays monitoring various prison systems or security feeds. All were manned.

At the far end of the room sat two desks, one outfitted like a normal, albeit cutting edge office desk, the other mounted with a sleek communications console. Warden Pettibone stood from the former as the senators arrived.

“Madame Senator, Mister Senator, welcome to Braddock Island.” He said in deep, professional tones. “I’m certain that you’ll find that given our unique mission and the still developing legal issues attached to it, we actually live up to a higher standard than most correctional facilities.”

“As long as those standards include security.” said Betton without preamble. The pair followed Laird around the edge of the sunken area while the officer strolled about the room as if looking for potential assassins. As he did, he twisted a paperclip in his fingers.

“I can promise you that security is our primary priority here. You’ve already seen part of the procedure needed just to reach or leave the island. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Once on the island, each prisoner is assigned a cell specifically designed by an in-house team on the mainland to counter their abilities. In addition, each cell block and structure here is segregated from the others, not only physically, but technologically: Instructions can only come downstream from the tower and observational data can only travel upstream. This prevent technopaths from gaining control of the facility from their cell block.”

He gestured to the sunken workspace. “From here, with the help of powerful observation algorithms, tower personnel and myself are instantly alerted to any unusual behavior in not only the inmates, but the entire staff.”

“What about help from the outside?” Betton asked.

“Unlikely.” said Pettibone. “A specialized signal scrambler prevents even our strongest telepathic inmates and any conventional communication device from broadcasting off the island unless they’re directly enabled from the console behind me.” He nodded to the man at the second desk.

“Besides, coming to Braddock Island and attempting to stage a break-out is a losing proposition. You see, if one of our com directors doesn’t check in with live visual confirmation every thirty-seven minutes, the mainland will send the Island into lockdown and set the drones to destroy any transport leaving here.”

He was so proud of the prison’s security that he didn’t notice that the officer had completed his impromptu security round, ending up at the warden’s computer. He also didn’t notice the man press the end of a paperclip, now wrapped around his index finger, between two keys on his keyboard.

***

A thousand miles away, in the facility designated Deep Fourteen, Simon Talbot sat in an operations room, surrounded by the best of what remained for Tome’s filed operations support technicians.

They sat in small clusters, mostly in front of screens that showed only inactive windows. The room was tense with anticipation. Everyone knew that Talbot’s fortunes and the fortunes of everyone under him in the organization’s hierarchy were pinned to this; Operation: All In.

Talbot himself was doing a crossword on his tablet while listening to international news with one earbud in. As opposed to everyone else, he looked positively bored.

Suddenly, one of the screens became active, bathing its operators in a blue-white glow as it started scrolling information.

“Sir.” The tech in charge of that console turned to report to Talbot. “The scrambled is down. We can start linking up with the team now.

A grin crept of Talbot’s face and he set his computer down beside him. “And they doubted it would be that easy. There’s a reason congressmen are so expensive, ladies and gentlemen: they are the ultimate domestic weapon.”

He settled into a more commanding posture in his seat. “Here it comes people: exactly what it says on the tin as far as the old men above me are concerned: we’re going all in.”

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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