System Lockout

Somehow he was disappointed.

When Death had told him that he was going to be taken for having lost a chess game, Chebon had been scared, angry, and sad… but mostly, he had just been confused.  The whole situation was surreal, and he’d been rendered completely inarticulate by the surprise.

So when it turned out he wasn’t being taken to the afterlife, just what appeared to be a prison complex of some kind, it was a bit of a letdown.

“So who are you anyway?” he asked the skeleton, his tone casual and unconcerned.

“You really want to know?”  A cell door opened, and a bony hand pushed Chebon inside.  “Too bad.”

Then Chebon was alone, staring through the bars of the cell at the empty cell across from him.  And at this moment, he realized, he couldn’t even really bring himself to be afraid, or angry, or sad that he was in this situation.  It was just now setting in that the whole thing was too surreal to really feel… anything about.

So, he’d probably be here for a while… at least until he decided to leave.  He wouldn’t know until he tested it, but he doubted this cell could actually hold him.  The Death that brought him here seemed to be all show.  And… why build a prison when you don’t have any prisoners?  He looked around idly.  The place was like The Prison Of Twenty Minutes Into The Future.  It looked kind of like a prison from a movie crossed with a hospital, or maybe an airport.  It was clean, sterile… and, to Chebon’s continued bemusement, empty.  With a sigh, he decided to forget about it; it was getting late.  He stretched out on the cot and closed his eyes.

Over the next few days things changed rapidly.  The morning of the day after Chebon was locked up was the last time he saw Death in the prison, bringing in another prisoner, a goblin who was placed into the cell opposite his.  After that, a number of creatures that looked mostly like the shifters from back on Volst started running around acting like prison guards, and the cell block began to fill.

Huh.  That was weird.

After a week had passed, Chebon decided it was time to make his move.  He had been watching; he knew all he was going to find out in this cell.  He knew how the shifters behaved, and how they organized.  He knew enough about those around him to have figured out why they were all here.  He knew someone was planning something big, and he knew what the best way to put an end to it here and now was.

He tried the simple spells first.  The bars didn’t react to acid or fire, and he hadn’t expected them to.  An energy blade was similarly ineffective.  It would’ve been convenient, but things like prison are rarely convenient at all.  His teleportation spell failed, even attempting to put himself just on the other side of the bars.

Okay, so now he was going to make his actual move.

Chebon ran his hands over each of the bars as he spoke the incantation quietly.  As he finished, his hand passed right through the bar he was touching, and he followed with the rest of himself.  Standing outside the cell, he thought momentarily, then reached back and grabbed a piece of one of the bars, which disconnected soundlessly in his hand, just the right length to swing at something.

And of course he had plenty to swing at.  The second he stepped away from the door, the cell block was swarming with shifters.  He didn’t waste any time making a break for it, slamming anything that approached him with the bar.   Nothing was able to get close to him as he fled.  He left the block and turned right, left, left again, and found that he wasn’t quite sure where he was.  He remembered the way he had been brought in, and based on that, this wasn’t where he expected to be now.  Some kind of security spell, obviously; it’d be much harder for somebody to escape if the layout suddenly changed on them.  No time to think.  He rushed through the next door, hoping it would take him somewhere good.


On the other side he found a place that he guessed must have been another cell block.  It was hard to tell, since the walls and floors were covered over in shifters.  In the middle stood Death, who looked as though he had been waiting – he was probably alerted the moment Chebon started running.

“So, a jailbreak, huh?” Death asked, stepping forward.  “I don’t suppose it’s worth asking you to get back in your cell now.”

“I… don’t think so,” Chebon said, silently casting the spell to conjure another energy blade behind his back.

“Then I guess I’ll have to handle this forcefully,” Death said, with what sounded like a bad attempt at a playful tone of mock irritation, ruined by both an inability to sound playful and a hint of real irritation.

Death raised his arm, about to give the shifters their order to attack, when Chebon slammed the energy blade into the bar in his hands and threw the combined weapon, which caught Death right in the bony torso.  Death fell down and didn’t get back up, complaining loudly about the pain of being so competently seared.  Not waiting for the shifters to act on their own, Chebon bolted from the room, managing to gain enough ground to lose sight of them.  A few random turns, and he found the exit he had been looking for.

Well, that idea was out.

The exit led to a small strip of grassy ground, and at the edge, nothing.  Wherever he might have hoped this prison would be, it wasn’t.  More accurately, it appeared to be in a small atmospheric bubble outside the atmosphere of some planet somewhere.

Behind him, he could hear the shifters catching up.  He turned and hurried back into the prison, and started running full speed in any direction he could.  Off to the side, a door led to a smaller room.  Guessing this was a better place to be than a cell block, he ducked inside.  Looking around the room, he saw panels, monitors, switches… this appeared to be some sort of control room.  Chebon smirked.  This was going to be good.

He threw every switch he could, figuring that the position they were in now was the position they were supposed to be in for the security systems to work properly.  Next he located a central computer and entered a few commands.  A request for user identification flashed on the screen.  Not a problem.  There was a simple spell, for Chebon, that enabled him to simply confuse the machine.  He was in control now.  Doors all over the facility flung open – doors that were supposed to stay shut.  He then began rooting through the routines, looking for something that controlled whatever was moving this place through space, if it was even moving.

If there was anything to find he didn’t find it.  Suddenly there was a motion behind him, and he turned – not quickly enough.  The butt of Death’s scythe slammed into him, pinning him against the computer .  Chebon grabbed onto the scythe, desperately trying to remove it from himself.  He could feel it pressing the air out of him, slowly suffocating him.  Death leaned harder on it, and it was really very painful.  For a minute Chebon felt like he was going to pass out.

At that moment, everything changed.  Instead of being pinned against a computer, Chebon was lying on the forest floor.  The scythe was still in his hands, but no longer killing him.  Death was also conspicuously absent from the scene.

Deciding that what had happened was not as important as the fact that it had happened, he tossed the scythe aside and hurried away.


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