Extract from Chapter One of Evosium:

Like Ryde, most of the prisoners were in for violent crimes.

He had been arrested by the falcons, the Ganymedian private police service which served the individuals and businesses that subscribed to their service: Only the better off could afford a subscription to them and have their assailants caught and prosecuted. Both the owner of the shop he had walked into with a gun and the parents of the child he had shot had been wealthy. Ryde owed his life to that fact, a life that was now in his own hands as he ran from his pursuers.

Ryde wasn’t too worried: He was still fast.

The addiction to and withdraw from evosium had weakened him; by the time of his arrest he had been almost too far gone to survive withdrawal. Evosium poisoning had left him permanently thin with grey hair, but he had re-built his leg muscles as matter of survival and was just as fast as the fourteen-year-old whose decision he had never regretted for an instant, despite what it had cost him.

This gang were smarter than most and were trying to cut off his escape route. He decided to head out into the west prison yard. Asking a guard for help would be effectively suicide; if the gang found out then the casual violence aimed at him as evosium addict would turn into a prolonged and eventually successful campaign for his life. The west prison yard would be safe this morning as businessmen were conducting interviews with parole suitable prisoners in the hope of obtaining cheap labour for their companies. He would get into trouble for being there but it was better than risking becoming cornered, and a guard would never beat him as viciously as the four prisoners would.

Ryde had now managed to put some distance between the gang and himself, he paused at a corner and glanced round it at the west exit: The guard was turning away from him, just beginning his patrol down to the other end of the open entrance: Perfect.

Ryde waited for a few seconds, pushing his shoulder length grey hair away from his face, its length was to allow its thinness to cover his scalp; his hair grew very slowly now. This, along with dietary supplements, was the only concession made to sufferers of evosium poisoning. The footsteps of his pursuers were getting louder. He judged that the guard was almost at his furthest point from the exit and ran for it. He was right. The guard didn’t even turn around as Ryde ran at top speed through the gate. The footsteps behind him came to a sudden halt as the gang reached the limit of their desire to hit him.

Ryde started to slow down from his top speed intending to double back towards the gate and sneak back again once his pursuers had got bored of waiting and dispersed. However his deceleration was accelerated when he collided with and knocked over a figure walking hurriedly back towards the prison buildings. He looked down in shock at his victim: A smartly dressed man of Asian origin who looked to be in his mid-thirties. He had a couple of ancient looking injuries; a very slightly crooked nose and a short scar just beneath his right ear, plus the more recent addition of a fresh bruise on his left jaw. Despite these accessories to his appearance he was wearing a smart but crumpled navy blue jacket, not a prison uniform. Crim, Ryde swore to himself; he had knocked down a prison visitor. Punishment for even touching one of these was at least two weeks in solitary confinement on minimum food rations, addict or not.

Ryde was surprised to see the man wasn’t looking up in terror at his attacker. Instead his victim had a slightly puzzled look on his face and for a moment Ryde thought he saw a flicker of recognition in his eyes. Probably concussion he decided and held out a hand to help the man to his feet, noting and avoiding the two rings on his victim’s left hand; they both had a ridge of tiny sharp edged squares. These rings were explained when Ryde caught sight of the man’s other piece of jewellery: A two inch high highly detailed golden rattlesnake pinned onto his jacket: The man was a Crótalo.

Ryde felt his mouth go dry with fear. A Crótalo was a member of the Culebra: The tough, no nonsense organisation that provided policing where it was needed as opposed to where it was bought. The Culebra was a branch of the Syndicate of Outer Planets which was the alliance between all the inhabited worlds of the Outer Solar System. The Culebra was charged with dealing with the worst of the criminal gangs, to keep overall crime down to a tolerable level.

Ryde watched nervously as his victim brushed himself down. He knew that Crótalos led groups of Colmillos and cursed himself for his bad luck on knocking over not just a Culebra member, but a high ranking one. He supposed it could have been worse: At least it wasn’t the Pitón, the head of the entire Ganymeadian Culebra, that he had knocked over.

The guard from the exit, who had seen the disturbance, came over to investigate. Ryde wracked his brains for the possible punishment for running over a Crótalo and could not think of anything severe enough to be plausible. The Crótalo saw the guard approaching as well and turned, waving the man away with a slight flick of his hand. The guard, respectful of the gold pin, obeyed and went back to his post.

“Why the hurry?” the Crótalo asked. To Ryde’s relief he sounded puzzled, not angry. He spoke with a Calistoian accent. Ryde put this together with his appearance and decided the man must originate from the wealthy Chinese district of the neighbouring moon.

“Just a small disagreement over food portions,” Ryde understated, not wanting the man’s intervention.

A confused frown crossed the Crótalo’s face before understanding. “You get more food because of the poisoning symptoms?”

Ryde nodded. Food portions were bigger for addicts due to their less efficient digestive systems. They were also allowed sugar and water syrup once a day which, although flavourless, was carbohydrates and therefore a source of jealousy even from healthy prisoners.

“That was very fast running; I never even saw you,” the Crótalo complemented. “Tell me, do you always manage to out run…portion disputes?”

“Always,” Ryde said proudly. In the early days after his release from withdrawal he had been very weak and got cornered and beaten regularly. Since regaining his leg muscles however, he had not allowed himself to be caught once.

The Crótalo smiled. “I run the Heliotian Pandilla. I was looking for recruits,” he gestured to the rest of the yard behind him, “but none of them were suitable. You’re fast enough on your feet to be a Colmillo. Tell me, would you like to do something worthwhile with your life, rather than wasting away in here?”

Ryde shook his head in disappointment. “I’m only two years into a twelve year sentence,” he said bitterly. A prisoner for armed robbery and attempted murder he would not qualify for parole for another eight years at least.

“That doesn’t have to matter,” the Crótalo said smiling. He gestured for Ryde to take a seat on a nearby bench along the side of the yard. “My name is Shawn,” he said and sat next to him, taking out his Personal Communication System. “What’s your PN?”

“173854,” recited Ryde. The number was now more familiar to him than his own name.

Shawn entered the number into his PCS which was linked in to the prison’s database and brought up prisoner number 173854’s profile.

Ryde waited in shameful silence for the look of disgust to cross Shawn’s face when he read of his crime. Instead Shawn simply raised one eyebrow as he read the profile.

After he finished, the Crótalo looked Ryde straight in the eyes. “Did you mean to shoot that child?” he asked calmly.

“No,” Ryde shook his head vigorously. “I never even saw him until…”

“You could be what I’m looking for,” Shawn decided, “but the addiction will be a problem. If I get you out: Can you promise, on your life, that you won’t take evosium ever again?”

Ryde bit his lip; he honestly didn’t know.

The Crótalo read the doubt on his face. “Not good enough,” he shrugged. He got up, and began to walk away.

As Shawn walked away Ryde saw his future, his second chance, going with him. He could just begin to imagine himself walking the streets of Helios proudly wearing a silver snake-pin and fighting crimes he had once been the cause of.

“Wait!” he shouted getting up.

Shawn turned back towards him.

“I can stay off evo. I’ve completed withdrawal and I never want to go back.”

Shawn looked sceptical. “You had an evosium addiction. It isn’t about what you want; it’s about what you need.”

“I don’t need it anymore, not like I used to. Please give me a chance.”

“We do a lot of anti-drug work in the Culebra. Evosium has been getting everywhere lately; you will come into contact with the drug. What would you do if someone gave you a jar of evosium pills?”

Ryde had no idea how he would cope with seeing evo pills again but he had a sudden desire to prove himself to the Crótalo; the only person in years to look him in the eyes and talk to him with kindness and respect. So he lied: “I could handle evo-pills without taking them, I’ve…beaten the part of me that still wants them.”

Shawn still seemed reluctant but the brief look of recognition flashed across his features again. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do. The Culebra doesn’t accept prisoners on normal parole; we can’t have Colmillos having to report in all the time. You would be given to us on parole licence, which means you will have to serve the rest of your sentence with us. We will be completely responsible for your behaviour. If you use evosium again, or try to run away from us, you will be brought straight back here, we don’t do third chances.”

“I understand,” Ryde said.

Shawn smiled kindly. “Also in the Culebra you will have to hide your history, we are an anti-drugs organisation after all. I’ll go and talk to some people.”

He walked off towards the prison buildings leaving Ryde with a weird twisting feeling in his stomach. It took him few minutes to recognize it: Hope.

Nearly an hour later hope had faded into disappointment. Ryde felt stupid for believing someone like him would really be given a job in the Culebra. This afternoon he would be working in the micro-propagation lab as usual, with the mindless routine of implanting hundreds of tiny fragments of plants into test tubes; prisoners had to earn their keep on Ganymede.
He was aware the west prison yard would soon be locked down again so he got up reluctantly to walk back to his cell. Then, to his surprise, the Crótalo returned smiling. He showed Ryde a release file on his PCS.

Ryde couldn’t believe it: He was free.

Or more accurately, he had swapped a prison with dark toncrete walls made of Ganymeadian stone for an open one instead. He followed Shawn joyfully out of the prison complex casting one last look around as he went through the security gates. He was not going to mess this up. He didn’t know what strings the Crótalo had pulled to get him out, but he knew it was only himself that would prevent a journey back here, and a wait of eight years before he was officially allowed parole.

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