Sand into Glass
By Luke Taylor (email@example.com)
"Into the Mercy Seat I climb,
my head is shaved, my head is wired,
and like the moth that tries to enter the bright eye,
so I go shuffling out of life,
just to hide in death a while,
and anyway, I never lied..." - The Mercy Seat - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Sand. It gets everywhere, into clothes, food, ears, eyes. Hylas Iachimo had thought it was bad enough at the beach, but since he had arrived at Corel Desert Prison, affectionately known as "The Sandpit," it got a whole lot worse. The sand was all over him as he sat on the bonnet of a rusted-out car, rolling a cigarette in the baking desert heat. I can see why this places makes such a good prison, he though as he popped the fresh cig into his mouth. The combination of heat, thirst and sand in this hell-hole was enough to remove anyone's will to live, let alone escape.
A shadow passed across Hylas, and he was glad for the momentary decrease in the temperature. It didn't last long, as the figure casting the shadow sat next to him on the car.
"Sorry, Iachimo. Was I in your sun?" A voice said, high and reedy.
"Very funny, Davis." Hylas said, not looking up. Davis Matouya was the nearest thing he could have to a friend in the place. It wasn't exactly the ideal climate for meeting people. Well, for meeting people that wouldn't kill you for looking at them funny.
"You gonna give me a drag of that?" Davis asked. Hylas handed him the roll-up.
"That all I am to you? Free smokes?" Hylas complained.
"Well, yeah." Davis blew out a stream of smoke through his nostrils that Bahamut would have been proud of. Hylas snatched the cigarette back.
"Thanks. I'm touched." He said as he laid back on the hot metal. The two men fell into silence, watching the distant sandstorms that scoured the landscape. Half an hour, maybe forty minutes, passed before either of them spoke.
"I hear they set you a date." Said Davis, quietly.
"Sorry to hear that."
"Don't be." Another silence, wind moaning gently in the distance.
"When's the day then?" Davis asked.
"Next Friday. The 13th."
"Heh. They got some sense of humour, don't they?" Yet another pause. "Well, I gotta go. Things to do, you know how it is. See ya 'round." He pulled his bulky frame off the car and waddled off toward E-Sector.
The thing about deserts is that while they are scorching hot during the day, at night they are cold enough to freeze the unwary to death. It was a common fate for the new inmates of the prison, especially in the winter months. Hylas had quickly learnt that the only way to survive was to improvise: the "authorities" who ran this place certainly didn't provide anything. And why should they? This was a human dumping ground. The worst of the worst occupied these barren wastes, waiting to die either by natural methods or execution. Most people welcomed execution. Of course, a few people made it by the Chocobo races, but that was only a few. Only a few got the chance to race, and most of them lost. In fact, during his seven year spell down amongst the dunes, Hylas had only heard of one person who'd made it, that spikey-haired kid from a few years back who seemed to get into fights wherever he went.
Hylas had gotten lucky when he first arrived. He had found a tiny gap between the wrecked shells of a pair of oil tankers which lead to a small opening, protected from the wind and sun. A few night-time scavenging trips had provided him with plenty of protection from the elements, and he was probably the least uncomfortable of all the inmates. No-one knew about this small haven, not even Davis, and he intended to keep it that way. Although he didn't have long to hide it, because next Friday he wouldn't have to see this place again.
Seven years down in this hellhole, for something he didn't do. Most of the people down here would say the same. Not all, because some of them were, in a perverse kind of way, proud of their crimes. But the majority of them protested their innocence until they were blue in the face, or the person they were throttling was blue in the face, whichever came first. Hylas was different in the fact that he was actually innocent of the crime he was accused of.
All right, so he wasn't exactly innocent. You couldn't survive in the slums of Midgar and stay pure as the proverbial driven, but handling stolen goods and maybe the odd assault hardly constituted a death sentence. But if it's the word of a Shinra executive against a materia dealer from the slums, who's the court gonna believe?
It never snowed in the slums, even in that winter seven years ago that was the coldest on record, according to Debbie De-Lite, the busty bottle-blonde that hosted the weather reports on Shinra's news channel. No snow in Sector 3, just ice on the water tanks and the breath of it's inhabitants slowly winding up toward the plate. Hylas could remember it well, especially as he did a brisk trade in fire materia then, from people wanting to supplement the warmth from overstrained Mako reactors. Lots of houses burned down that year, he recalled.
Hylas ran a materia shop back then. It wasn't quite legitimate, but compared to some of the other stuff that went on around him, it was almost wholesome. And he had a wife then too. Kristen, the reason for his current situation. Hylas thought that while he was out earning them a living, maybe looking towards having kids, she was at home being the dutiful wife. He didn't pick up on the little signs, the hushed phone calls, the occasional new trinket that she could never have afforded, until that one day when he decided to take the afternoon off and go home early.
Everything that happened then still seemed very clear to Hylas. The ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece booming in his ears, the dust swirling and falling in the candlelight as he made his way to the back bedroom to find his beloved wife and surprise her with the bouquet of flowers he'd bought from a pretty young girl in pink on his way home. The door creaked as it swung open to reveal his wife, his love, his Kristen half-naked in the arms of a man he'd never seen before, but knew anyway: a Turk, the jacket of that trademark blue suit flung haphazardly onto the bed, their bed which was now being invaded.
Two pairs of eyes turned to look at him, one guilty, one mocking, and inevitably the red mist descended. He lunged across the room, toward the trained, efficient, professional killer that was holding his wife. Looking back, it wasn't one of his brightest moves. Kristen scurried out of the way as the two men wrestled across the room, exchanging blows. Hylas knew how to handle himself in a fight, because you didn't survive in Midgar unless you could look after yourself, especially if you ran a shop in the slums. The Turk looked to be taking a bit of a beating, Hylas could feel the man's blows becoming more and more sluggish as they fought.
Then it happened. Hylas punched the Turk, and he staggered back onto the bed, where his blue jacket laid. In one quick movement, his hand flashed into the jacket and pulled out a gun. Small caliber, mako-assisted, materia-equipped handgun. Hylas knew he was already dead even before the trigger was pulled and the mako-powered bullet was headed straight for his chest. But the bullet never hit him. Wordlessly, no exclamation or scream of terror, Kristen jumped in front of the bullet as it sped towards her husband. She caught it right through the heart, then it lodged against the spine, or so the coroner said. She had no chance. Hylas caught the falling body, dead before it reached his arms, and sat cross-legged on the cold stone floor. Holding his dead wife in his arms, Hylas didn't notice or care as the Turk walked calmly over to him and pistol-whipped him on the temple, knocking him out cold.
He came around just as the police arrived, alerted by some neighbour. The Turk had put the gun in Hylas's hand as he lay unconscious. The neighbours had heard the sounds of a fight. Hylas couldn't name the Turk. The court's judgement was quick, no chance of appeal, and Hylas was shipped off to The Sandpit. And soon, very soon, his time in one Hell was about to give way to another.
Friday rolled around quickly, which Hylas appreciated. Nothing would have been worse than it dragging on. It's good to get these things over and done with for everyone involved. A few of the more sociable inmates gave their condolences as the day approached, and a few said good riddance, but on the whole no-one cared. Too many people had passed through in the same way for them to register more that a tiny ripple on their life, so why should Hylas be any different?
And then, it was here. Ten-thirty A.M. on the date of Friday the 13th, armed guards from the Saucer politely asked him to follow them to the execution chamber. Hylas followed wordlessly, conscious of the eyes of the prison population burning into him as he trudged away from the grit and sand and into the clean, cool execution room. He wondered how many of those eyes were jealous of him.
Compared to the sweltering heat of the desert, the holding room before the execution chamber was bliss. Cool steel and an air-conditioning unit meant that at least Hylas's last few moments, however long that was, were in relative comfort. The guards had taken his few belongings, crammed him into orange overalls that were at least three sizes too small for him and left him in the cell without a word while "Ol' Ramuh", the prison's ancient electric chair was set up.
After a while, the large steel door slid back and a priest entered, clutching some huge holy book or other nervously under his arm and with a look of apprehension contorting his features. Hylas smiled inwardly at the man's obvious discomfort at being locked in a room with a "murderer", but he kept his face straight, to unnerve the priest if nothing else. The man, now sweating profusely, sat on a chair opposite Hylas and placed the book delicately on his lap. After a moment of embarrassed silence, the priest began to speak.
"Umm, hello, m-m-my son..." the old man stammered. "I have c-come to offer, th-th-that is, I am here to comfort y-you in you, errm, final moments..."
"That's nice of you." said Hylas, still not changing his expression or posture. The preist thumbed through the book nervously, which Hylas could see was the Chronicles of Saint Ajora, which his mother had made him read when he was very small.
"N-now then, is there any, any, anything you wish to conf, errm, repent for?" The priest kept his eyes firmly down on the book. Hylas stood up suddenly, and the priest yelped in shock, dropping the tome on the floor.
"What's the point? There's no point in regrets, and especially no point in searching for divine salvation." Hylas glanced at the priest. "No offence." The priest sat silent, rigid with fear. "Look, this isn't a videogame, you can't save what you've done so far and start again if it goes wrong. I have nothing to say."
The priest stared at him for a second, then gathered up his book and darted to the door with an agility which Hylas mentally commended the old man on. Hylas sat back down, and waited.
Soon enough, Hylas was sitting on the chair, strapped and bolted and ready for disposal. This was it, he thought, finally out. Out of the prison, out of life. A myriad of thoughts cartwheeled through Hylas's mind, vying to be the last. Who would miss him, he wondered? No-one, was the answer. Would he be remember? Doubtful. He figured even the Turk that killed his wife had forgotten it. What would he have changed if he could have done it all again? He'd have gotten out Midgar long before that pustulant sore of a place, with Shinra at it's rotten heart, polluted him and ruined his life. Either that, or he'd have found some way to nuke the place and do everyone a favour.
Hylas thought of his father, vague memories of lab coats, bristly hugs full of stubble, strange chemicals and that night with the materia fireworks up in sector three when he'd ridden on his dad's shoulders as the rockets flew up and almost touched the plate before exploding in rainbow fountains of shimmering colour. He thought of his mother, austere and firm at times and loving and gentle at others, but always within the law of God, and that day when they were snatched from him, the day when love and hope had died from his heart, until the time he met Kristen.
Just before the warden pulled the huge lever, Hylas looked around at the faces of the observers, somber and uneasy with the sense of impending death.
"I'm innocent." said Hylas, flat and plain. The men in the room did not flinch. And then, with a nod to the observers, the Warden pulled the lever with a clunk. Metal moved, gears grated, a circuit was made and fifty thousand volts of Mako-generated electricity flowed into Hylas.
Hylas shuddered as the power coursed through him, making him writhe and thrash in the chair, wildly swinging his head from side to side. The observers stared glassy-eyed at Hylas's macabre death-dance, until the power was finally stopped and Hylas slumped back into the chair, head hanging down. The prison doctor gingerly walked over to Hylas's limp body, but when he was about a yard away, Hylas sat up and opened his eyes. One of the observers fainted.
"Wh... What... What? stammered the doctor. "He should be dead!" Hylas twisted his head from side to side, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"We have to perform the procedure again." said the Warden. "Chapter seventeen, paragraph nine of the regulations. Please, everyone, step away."
The crowd, which had moved slightly closer to gawp at the freakish sight of the electrocuted victim, backed off again, and within a minute, the Warden had slammed that heavy switch again, with the same effect, and the same contortions of Hylas's body ensued. Again, the power died down, and everyone took a collective breath to see what had happened this time. Again, Hylas sat up, and the doctor shook his head slowly as the other stood around, slack-jawed and wide-eyed.
"No, this cannot be happening!" He flustered, waving his arms around. "No-one could survive that!"
Hylas mumbled something under his breath.
"So, what do we do now?" the doctor asked the Warden testily. The Warden gulped, his Adam's apple bobbing along his scrawny neck, and he turned back to the book of regulations. After a few minutes deliberation, the Warden looked back to the assembled crowd, and signalled that the process must be repeated again. Some groaned, some sighed, some were silent, but none of them could bear to look at Hylas. And so, for the third time, the great lever was pulled.
Hylas performed his morbid jig for the crowd again, more violently that the last two times. The metal straps which bound his arms and legs cut deeply into him, until blood seeped from his wounds and stained his orange overalls a dark brown, and a crimson stream trickled out from each of his trouser legs. A loud crack was heard in the room as Hylas's wild dervish of motion coused his arm to snap, bending the wrong way. The power began to fail in the prison complex, and the lights grew dim as the engery was rerouted from them and into Hylas's thrashing body. And Hylas was smiling the whole time of his third execution, a faint grin transfixed upon his lips. After what seemed like an eternity, the power was finally shut down, and once again the prisoner slumped down into Ol' Ramuh.
Silence flooded into the room, extinguishing the sounds of electrocution, and with expectance and awe, the doctor began to examine Hylas. This time he didn't move as the doctor lifted his head up to give Hylas some dignity. He took Htlas's blood-soaked wrist and felt for a pulse. He found one, weak yet insistent. The doctor, close to cracking stepped away from the chair as Hylas's eyes opened slowly, wincing with the pain of his broken arm. The room broke into mad confusion as the spectacle was debated, and no-one knew what to do.
"...Excuse me..." said Hylas weakly. No-one heard him in the commotion. A moment to regain his composure, and Hylas spoke again, louder this time.
"Excuse me." this time he was heard, and all eyes were fixed on the prisoner. "Warden, please read chaper seventeen, paragraph twenty-eight, sub-section d."
The Warden, too shocked by events to argue, read the passage numbly. "In the event that a prisoner should survive three successive execution attempts, as outlined in chapter seventeen, paragraphs one though six, the prison is automatically seen as pardoned by God and must be released immediatly without the possiblity of further of execution attempts. Any futher execution attempts made after this for the same crime will be treated as Murder, as defined by chapter 3 of these regulations."
"I guess that means I'm free." said Hylas, and the room simply stared at him in disbelief.
The executions of Hylas Iachimo was the talking point of the whole of the Corel region for the next three weeks, and gossip was rife. Rumours reached Hylas's ears of how he had survived the wrath of Ol' Ramuh. Some said he was pardoned at the last minute to become a Turk, some said he had been swapped for another prisoner, and one even said that Hylas was some kind of Summon Monster, which he thought was quite amusing. But soon, the Meteor appeared, and all talk of Hylas was lost as that presence in the sky, that huge red eye that seemed to be watching them, hurtled towards the Planet. Hylas thought it quite ironic that as soon as he escaped from prison that he was condemned to another death sentence. But at least this time it was shared by everyone. Once the controversy surrounding his non-death had subsided, Hylas went back to the prison. He owed someone a favour, and he always paid favours back.
Davis Matouya had the honour of being the first person ever to receive a visitor at Corel Desert Prison, and he was rather surprised to see Hylas waiting for him. They said nothing for a second, until Davis burst into laughter.
"What's so funny?" asked Hylas. Davis tried to pull himself together.
"It's just some absurd shit, isn't it? I mean life, ya know. We're all gonna die soon." He pointed up at the Meteor, hanging in the sky like some kind of obscenely bloated eavesdropper. "But then again, you'll probably survive." He grinned at Hylas, flashing crooked teeth. Hylas smiled back.
"So, how did you survive then? I guess you've heard the rumours?" Davis said, sitting down.
"Yeah, I've heard a few."
"So you're not a Turk, then?"
"God, no." spat Hylas.
"Good job, I hate those slimy bastards. You a Summon Beast, then?"
"What do you think?"
"I dunno, it could happen. Okay, okay, did you kill all the guards and escape?"
"Yeah, I killed them all with my mental powers while I was strapped to a two ton hunk of metal." Hylas said gravely.
"Really?!" Davis perked up at this.
"No." Hylas said wearily.
"Well, how the hell did you do it then, 'cos no bugger else can figure it out!"
"Okay, come here." Hylas turned his back to the guard which was watching them from the guardhouse a few metres away. He opened his mouth and put the hand of his unbroken arm in, and began groping around in his mouth.
"What the hell are you doing?" asked Davis, and Hylas waved for him to be quiet. Davis shut up. Eventually, there was a tiny click and Hylas pulled his hand out of his mouth. Cupped in the palm of his hand were four of his back teeth.
"Ouch." said Davis.
"They're not my real teeth..." Hylas turned the teeth over, and Davis could see they'd been hollowed out. Inside the hole in the middle of the teeth, a green orb and a blue orb glittered softly as the desert sunlight fell on them. They were surrounded and linked together by a pair of metal slots, which were in turn fitted snugly into the four false teeth.
"Materia?" asked Davis in a hushed voice.
"Yeah. My pride and joy. A master Bolt and an Elemental, linked. I made it myself, and it worked. I was quite surprised."
Davis was silent for a while, deep in thought. "Wait a minute." he said. "You mean... that absorbed all the electric damage?!" He stared at Hylas, jaw hanging open. Hylas afforded him a small smile.
"I was surprised it worked..." said Hylas again.
"My friend, you are a genius! A bloody genius!"
"Don't you dare tell anyone." Hylas said. Davis gave him a "Who, me?" look.
"I wouldn't." Davis replied. Hylas held the teeth out to Davis.
Davis shook his head. "Wouldn't do me any good. They've replaced Ol' Ramuh with lethal injection." Davis grinned. "I don't suppose you have a master Bio on you, do ya?"
"I was kidding. Anyway, it doesn't matter. I figure we only have a few days until the rock hits, anyway."
"You never know." said Hylas.
"Well, if somehow we are alive later, make sure you come back and visit, will ya?"
"I will." said Hylas, and shook Davis's hand, slipping a piece of paper with a map to Hylas's little hidey-hole into his palm, and making a gesture to keep quiet to Davis. The guard lumbered out of the hut where he had been sitting and told them that the visit was over.
"Take care, Hylas." said Davis.
"You too." said Hylas, and he turned and left Corel Prison once again, for the final time.
Well, I hope you liked it. Any questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line. And a special thanks to everyone at the Northern Crater message board for the lopvely things they've said about the fic and for just being damn nice people. ^_^