"Sweet blood, Tom, sometimes I wonder at your innocence. Why do you think that your prisoners were sent to prison? It wasn't for lacing daisy chains."
One of them rapes prisoners. The other wants to help prisoners. So why are they talking to each other?
As guards send each other telegraph messages through their prisons' coding offices, strange developments occur in the life prisons of the Magisterial Republic of Mip: hardened prisoners become reformers, idealists dally with danger, and the prison keepers struggle to keep control. The strangeness will only become odder when two guards, who hold very different views on the proper handling of prisoners, strive to find common ground.
This short story can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.
This is a reissue of an older story.
You might have warned me before that our letters are being read by Compassion's Keeper. You know that Mercy's Keeper has a hard enough time staying awake to do routine paperwork, much less bothering to read private correspondence between guards.
I don't know what you mean by "applicable to your own situation." I was just curious about your activities. One thing I will say for you, Tom: You livened this place up by always doing the unexpected.
Yes, Merrick's insanity has infected guards now. Our Keeper is tearing his hair out. He can't actually order those guards to rape prisoners, and none of the guards has been stupid enough to refrain from beating their prisoners when the prisoners break rules. But this is causing divisiveness in the guard-room. Up until now, except for the occasional eccentric like you, we were all agreed on how the prisoners should be treated. Now that unity is gone, and I'm not the only guard worried that the prisoners will take advantage of this fact to start a riot.
I should clarify what I said in my last letter. My father reads outgoing correspondence from Compassion. He considers it a matter of honor not to read incoming messages. He isn't concerned about the activities of guards in other prisons, but he doesn't entirely trust his own guards, least of all me.
I think that, when you come down to it, trust and lack of trust are what divide the guards at your prison. The guards who keep the Boundaries trust the prisoners to adhere to the rules with minimal need for punishment. The other guards don't.
How are matters with your prisoner? Is he continuing to cause problems for you?
Wake up to the real world. What divides the guards here is that some of us like to rape prisoners and some of the guards are too goody-good for that. Bloody blades, Tom, you're never going to be able to keep control of Compassion if you continue talking like a child.
My prisoner is driving me to distraction. I might be able to take leave some time during the next century.
Maybe you should take leave now. I sense there is more going on than you're saying. . . .
¶ Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Coded Messages.