A man appeared in my prison cell right out of thin air. I’m not making this up, okay?
Kid just flicked in here like a light switch, asking for J-Swish, the gangbanger two cells down. I was fuckin’ speechless at first, but I told him J-Swish’s house was about ten feet away. The kid was holding one of those black rods with the lights on the top. The ones that came from inside Parks-Gallagher. Okay, wait, wait, wait you probably have no idea what’s going on here. Parks-Gallagher? Sometimes I get ahead of myself.
I’m in prison for killing Charlie Barnes. I was seventeen, and I was one of his corner boys, Philadelphia, this was 1992. Barnes was making South Philly into a warzone. All I’d ever wanted was to work for him, since my brother used to be in his crew. But I saw Charlie Barnes do terrible things. I saw him burn a guy’s face off with a blowtorch once. One time he made me hold a loaded gun to a whore’s head while she blew him. There was more, and they were all traumatic to me. I started acting out, talking about telling the cops. My mistake, cause Charlie Barnes woulda done anything to stay in power. One night he called me into his club, it was called Smiles, out on Rt. 22. Nothing smiley about it, you ask me. It was empty, except he had my little sister Dee-Dee in there. He made me watch while he raped her. This time there was a gun against my head.
Stupid me, thinking that taking out the crack kingpin running things around there would just make everything shiny and wipe the slate clean. Some people call that a utopia. It never happened. What happened was I blew his brains out with a little .33 snubnose, got caught, charged with murder, and handed maximum security prison for 99 years. Charlie Barnes died, and he was a motherfucker, so I guess that was good. But his kid Chuck Jr., an even worse motherfucker, well he stepped into dad’s shoes about a week after I was arrested. Since I got sent to Upstate, Chuck Jr’s tried to have me killed seven times -- eight if you count the one on the bus coming here. So, yeah, like I said, he’s a fucking motherfucker.
After a time, they put me in the hole. For my own protection, the warden said. Been in this concrete slab near ten years now. Solitary isn’t as bad a you might imagine, actually. Sure, I’m in here twenty-three hours a day. There’s no windows, but they let me have a TV. It’s not a normal TV, it’s made from clear plastic so I can’t hide anything inside it. It only gets two channels. But, hey, Chuck’s guys don’t come at me anymore.
Times change, though. Oh, do they ever... I swore that before I turned 40 -- I would put in an appeal. I worked my way through an online degree in law. I was supposed to represent myself, man! The night before the hearing Sonny, the guard, snuck me extra ramen and told me exactly how it was going to go down. He gonna come get me at eight AM sharp, put me in shackles, and they’ll bus me uptown to the courthouse. Well, Sonny never showed. Not that morning, not to slip me my slop, not to shout “lights out” that night. Not a single guard showed up for the next nine days. I had enough rations (ramen, candy bars) to keep me going for at least a week, and I could see everything going on with Parkes-Gallagher on my crap TV... but at a certain point things are gonna run out. That’s now, buddy. I been licking the Styrofoam inside of my Cup Noodles for about three days.
Two weeks ago that thing appeared in Sydney, Australia -- a place I’ve never been to, never wanted to go, until now. But look at me, I’m in fucking prison. I guess my expectation was I’d never go anywhere else ever in my life again. Just so you know, I am making my way back to that guy who just appeared in my cell, I am, but you gotta hear about Parks-Gallagher in order to understand that.
It wasn’t like it was in those movies about spaceships making these grand entrances. There was no fire in the clouds and things like that.
People in Sydney went to bed one night in February, and the next morning there was a great big fucking space ship the size of twelve football fields hovering right above the harbor. Cameras all over the city captured the moment it appeared. One second it’s not there, the next second there it is.
They call it Parks-Gallagher after the two scientists who went inside first. The two of them didn’t have to drill a hole or blast through some impenetrable force shield or whatever -- it was wide open. Parks-Gallagher is shaped like a giant warehouse and the entire south wall has been lowered like a welcome ramp since it got here. Just come on in. So they did and, like I just said, things changed.
The news was playing a video of Drs. Gallagher and Parks coming out of it with something they’d found inside. Looked like a small little black cube. They took it. Then they set it down on the grass and it grew. It kept growing, but not like it was inflating, more like it was unfolding kinda. And it grew and grew and by the time it stopped, it was this big structure the size of a building. The scientists went inside this new structure, and it looked like it was made of the same kinda stuff as the ship that brought it. It was super strong, you couldn’t burn it or smash it -- people in the video were talking about building houses out of those little black cubes, they were talking about ending the homeless problem... They were talking about a lot of stuff.
Like how, in another video, Parks and Gallagher scrape this clear gel off the inside of craft and they bring it to a little box of sand. Gallagher, he puts a seed into the sand, he says it’s a tomato seed. This isn’t soil, or even dirt, it’s dry sand -- so that tomato isn’t supposed to grow in it. But they pinch off a little glob of that gel and drop it in with the seed and sure enough, in a few minutes, there’s a tomato growing where one shouldn’t be. In a few minutes! They were talking about using this gel all over the world, they were talking about ending hunger.
In my favorite video, Parks comes out of the ship and he’s carrying this black tube, like the leg of a table. Some lights make a little halo around the top of the thing, so it looks like a flashlight, but it’s totally fuckin’ more than that. Parks holds it, standing on the grass, turns a little dial on the bottom of the tube, and suddenly he flicks across the grass about ten feet. He flicks himself back and forth like this while Gallagher does a little happy dance in the background. Parks smiles at the video, points the tube with the lights on the top at Gallagher, and he flicks him across the grass. Gallagher flops over, disoriented, and then the both of them are cracking up. I don’t know what they’re talking about using the tube-thing for, but if they asked me I’d tell them I have a hell of an idea for how to break me and my buddies out of this joint, yeah baby!
Parks-Gallagher was empty though. Meaning there were no little green men with their fingers in V’s to greet the humans. It was silent and very comfortable inside, not too hot, not too cold. No, those scientists they came up with this theory, see? That the ship was the alien. That ship was kinda alive, in a way we maybe don’t understand, and because of that we should be speaking with the ship.
Here’s how they spoke to the ship. You just put your hand on the black surface of the wall, the floor, anywhere inside -- and you kinda hook up to it, like a giant computer. Gallagher and Parks, they’d spend days and days just downloading all the cosmic info from inside. The way they spoke about it, must’ve been a trip. I’d just spent five years reading books and trying to get a fucking law degree from inside prison... the people who went inside Parkes-Gallagher were learning how to change the laws of nature in seconds. I dreamed of going there myself, but then I thought no, asshole, you’re stuck in here.
It took them two more weeks of exploring the ship named after them before they found the engine. Sonny said it was the engine, but it was the most goddamm bizaro engine I’d ever seen. Okay, picture this -- stacks and stacks of boxes, these glass boxes. They’re piled neatly, floor to ceiling, inside Parks-Gallagher, which was about ten stories high. And you can see through the glass, but it’s still fuzzy, sort of steamed over. But there are things inside the boxes -- each one a different thing. Different shapes, some look like animals, some look like they’re made from metal, some look like things I can’t even describe. None of them look like us.
Gallagher comes on the video and says that physically touching the ship was like being transported to a classroom where the teacher had the answer to any question about the universe you could think to ask. He says he asked about the glass boxes and that’s how he knew they were the engine. Inside each one is a single specimen from every world that this ship-sized alien has visited. Parks interrupted and said that they weren’t killed by the ship, how could a ship kill anybody? No, instead, they offered themselves up to Parks-Gallagher -- they gave their lives and the contents of their minds, which Parks-Gallagher absorbed and made accessible to the next species it encountered. There was even a processing chamber at the center of the glass pods, a divot in the floor, kind of. All someone needed to do was stand there and the ship would convert the energy in their body into enough fuel to travel to their next destination. Probably just blink out of existence like it did when it showed up... But who would ever be dumb enough to put themselves in that little divot? Scientists took to calling Parks-Gallagher a library. Some people thought, with all those alien creatures in the glass pods, that it was like a zoo. Nobody called it a prison.
They figured out a lot of things in those first two weeks, and soon the world was truly changing. The more tech that came out of Parks-Gallagher, the more people began giving up their normal, day-to-day jobs. Yes, even security guards in this piece of shit prison stopped showing up. I guess they didn’t think about what to do with us. I mean, I killed a guy. There’s a guy on death row here who killed 11 people. This is where the worst of the worst gets put. Not exactly the formula for building a utopia, huh? Some guys in here have phones that they have smuggled in. I figure they must’ve called out, tried to get someone to come and set us free. But how would I know from in here?
So, okay yeah, we’re expecting to just rot in here and nobody would ever care, but then this kid appears -- “Where’s J-Swish?” he says. And I see he’s holding a little small black stick version of the tube Dr. Parks was carrying in the video. The kid looking for J-Swish adjusts the dial on it and flicks away after I tell him he’s in the wrong cell.
He flicks back in after a few seconds.
“Shit, sorry,” the little punk says, and it’s clear he doesn’t really know how to use that little stick with the lights at the top. He disappears again and I think, “If he comes back, I’ll grab him--” but then he does come back, so I tackle him, punch him in the gut, and snag the little black stick. It feels like I fall down, but when I turn around, I’m outside my cell. There’s that punk kid, only he’s still inside. He slams his fist against the tiny window and screams: “Give it back to me, you fucking asshole!” I studied those videos, so I know pretty much how to use the thing. The lights at the top actually mean coordinates and I think about what the coordinates are for Philly. I zip away as that punk is screaming at me in my old jail cell.
I go to Philly. I go to my mom and my sister. They were really excited to see me, but of course wanted to know how I got my hands on the black stick from inside Parkes-Gallagher. They waited to tell me the terrible things Chuck Jr’s been up to in the neighborhood. He’s been using the tech coming from Parks-Gallagher to do unspeakable things. He’s fortified himself inside his apartment tower, you can tell by the weird black addition jutting out from it -- like it was unfolded there. And he’s still sore about me killing his pops.
I always fantasized about what I’d do if I ever got that parole, if I ever got out. I’d get a gun as fast as lightning, that’s what I thought I’d do. But now I don’t need a gun. In my hand I hold a new weapon and I can send Chuck Jr. as far away from here as possible with it.
So that’s what I set my mind to doing.
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