Thunder in the Night

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Sherry chuckled to herself, musing over her escape from Terran justice. What a great joke it had been! Most people convicted of her crimes would have been sent to Beta-Orrigonus4, to serve out their sentence in hard labor. She knew about the conditions of that penal colony, as well as the effects of “hard labor.” It was a major coup to convince the courts to send her to Numa32. That place had a much better was situated on an earthlike planet, with similar atmosphere and land masses, albeit strange weather - it was known for sudden, violent thunderstorms - and seemed more like a resort than a place for incarceration. Sherry was amazed that most prisoners didn’t request Numa32 as soon as their guilt was determined. She didn’t even stop to wonder about the smile that crossed the prosecutor’s lips. She’d beaten the system, and that’s what counted!

Since 2047, Terran prisons had become so overcrowded that many felons were granted their freedom. Numa32 had done a great deal to alleviate that problem. In addition to enjoying a shackle-free incarceration, since there was little chance of escape offworld, Sherry looked forward to seeing Corrinne, a one-time “business associate.” Corrinne was the source of Sherry’s information about Numa32, and she’d painted a pretty pleasant picture, all things considered.

As the prison ship docked in NumaBay7, the transport guard approached her. “Well, this is it,” he smiled at her. “Welcome to Numa32...and thanks for keeping the criminal population down back home.” He offered her a small bottle, filled with an orange liquid. “Better drink this, Sherry. You’ll need it to help you breathe the atmosphere out there.” Sherry quietly accepted the drink, barely concealing a smirk. The fluid was cool and refreshing, and left her feeling oddly invigorated. “There you go,” the guard winked. He checked a sheet on his noteboard. “You’re number 7883...looks like you won’t be staying too long. That’s one of the advantages of serving time at Numa32...shorter sentences.”

Sherry snorted and held up her wrists, displaying the neuro-bands binding them together. “How about removing these now, officer? I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere for a while.” The guard removed a sonic key from his shirt pocket, then waved it before the glowing bands. Sherry’s hands were immediately free, and she began rubbing her wrists to restore the circulation. “Gee, thanks. You’re a sweetheart.” She took a moment to “adjust” her prison jumpsuit, allowing the guard a moment to admire the blue rose tattoo adorning her left breast. “Keep your eyes in your head, private!” she sneered, tossing her fiery mane back defiantly before turning aside to make her way through the debarkation tube. At the other end, she was promptly greeted by the head of planet security.

“Ah, Sherry, welcome to your new home,” the stout man grinned. “You’ve had your Numodine beverage, I trust? It’s quite necessary if you wish to breathe normally, here on Numa32.”

“Yeah, yeah, I had it. So, where am I supposed to bunk?” Sherry muttered, casually glancing about the room.

“Wherever you like...although I fancy that you’ll want to reside in B-chamber 202 while you’re with us,” the security chief sighed, absently running a hand through his thinning hair. “If I’m not mistaken, you have an acquaintance in 201. A young lady named Corrinne?” He smiled condescendingly. “She’ll fill you in about our colony. I’m certain you’re a quick study...” His gaze traveled to Sherry’s bosom. She quickly buttoned the collar of her prison garb. With a knowing glance, the administrator spun about and left.

“Just like that, huh?” Sherry thought. “No cuffs, no chains, no guards...some penal colony this is! I don’t think it’ll be too tough to hang here for a while.” She set off to find B-chamber 201. The grounds were well-kept (by whom? Where was everybody?), and the soil was firm enough to render concrete unnecessary. It wasn’t a very long walk to the spacious 200 building. Sherry was confused. Considering the number of felons supposedly incarcerated at Numa32, there were surprisingly few domiciles to house them all. Shrugging, she approached the structure with the huge sign proclaiming “Chambers 200 - 300.” Following subsequent direction glo-plaques embedded in the otherwise bare walls, she located the room marked B-chamber 201. She paused, straightened her maroon prison-issue jumpsuit, then depressed the button to the right of the door. There was a distant buzzing noise. A moment later, the door opened. Sherry found herself facing a familiar stranger. “Corrinne...?” she spoke, eyebrows raised.

The woman before her smiled. The facial features, the hair, the bearing were all Corrinne’s...yet something had changed. Was she...softer looking? There was an odd quality about her skin...although it appeared normal in color, it had an odd transparent appearance. Corrinne laughed, noticing Sherry’s scrutiny. She stepped forward, gave her a quick hug, then invited her into the room. “Yes, it’s me,” she laughed. “How have you been, Sher? Great to see’ll like it here!”

Sherry remained speechless. Corrinne glanced at her almost shiny arms. “I see you’ve noticed I’ve changed a little...don’t worry about it, Sher. We all get like this. It’s from drinking the Numodine. But, don’t’s perfectly harmless. And look at this!” She held up her right arm for inspection. With her left hand, she pinched some of the strange-looking skin, pulling it at least three inches away from her arm. Opening her fingers, the skin immediately snapped back into place. “Pretty neat, huh? The Numodine gives our skin a lot of’s a side effect. But, at least we can breathe okay!” She grinned. “Want something to eat?”

After having chatted for several hours, they were interrupted by one of the guards, bearing two large glasses, filled to the brim with cheerful orange liquid. “Drink up, ladies,” he smiled. “Have to keep up your health, right?” Corrinne eagerly accepted the Numodine, and downed it swiftly. Sherry rolled her eyes, snatched her glass, and chugged it indignantly. “Wonderful,” chirped the guard, as he collected the glasses and left.

“Why are they so happy when we drink this stuff?” Sherry asked.

“I dunno. Does it make any difference? It tastes good, and it makes me feel all warm inside. I’d drink more of it, if I had the chance.”

Before they were able to continue their conversation, they were interrupted again...this time, by the sound of thunder. Sherry jumped. Corrinne merely shrugged. “You’ll get used to it, Sher. The weather’s kind of weird here. There are usually several thunderclaps at night. It hardly ever rains, though. Guess it’s just another thing that makes this place different from home.”

Home. For the first time since arriving, Sherry began to think about Earth once more. “Corrinne,” she asked, “have they told you anything about when you can leave? I mean, how long are you going to be here?”

“That’s easy to answer,” Corrinne replied. “They have an electronic database we can access where they post the prisoner numbers of inmates who are going to be released, and when they’ll be sent to the debarkation area. Wanna check it out?” Corrinne led Sherry to another, smaller room, where what seemed to be a monitoring device was humming warmly. She quickly punched in a code. Data immediately flashed on the small screen. “There, you see?” she pointed. “Number 7882...that’s me. I’m scheduled to be out of here the day after tomorrow! I didn’t realize it was so soon!” she clapped her hands. “What’s your number, Sher?”

“7883...right after you. I wonder if it’ll be the same day?”

“Who can’t be too long after, though! Then you’ll blow out of here, too! I’ll get word to you somehow where I’m gonna be, so we can meet up again. It’ll be just like old times!”

Sherry nodded. Somehow, something didn’t make sense. Her offenses and Terran sentence had been far more serious than Corrinne’s...yet she was scheduled to leave Numa32 directly afterwards. Corrinne had been on the planet for at least seven months. Her brow furrowed. No matter...she’d figure things out. If nothing else, as the administrator had remarked, she was a quick study.

The next day passed quickly and uneventfully. Corrinne took Sherry for a brief tour of the tiny colony. One building in particular caught Sherry’s eye. Corrinne followed her gaze. “Oh, that’s the entertainment arena,” she explained to her friend. “Only prisoners who’re about to be released are allowed in there. It’s kind of a mysterious place. See that smaller building behind it? That’s debarkation...we’ll be sent there when it’s time to go.” Sherry stared long and hard at the two structures. She decided at that moment that they would require further investigation.

Later that day, when the guard brought the Numodine to her chamber, she told him that she’d drink it in a short while, since her stomach had been giving her some trouble. After he’d left, she examined her hands. Her skin was acquiring that same odd transparency as Corrinne’s. She pinched the flesh, as Corrinne had done, and pulled. Sure enough, the skin stretched inches away. She glanced at the Numodine. Maybe it’s time to skip it, she thought. After all, who knows what that stuff really does?

By nightfall, she began to feel pangs. She blanched. It had to be the Numodine. They must have placed something addictive in it! All she knew that she had to have it...that it was the only thing that would stop the strange sensations coursing through her. She held her stomach. It was gurgling loudly. Where had she put that glass? She felt awful! Stumbling toward the back of her chamber, she took a deep breath, and immediately regretted it. Instantly, she felt an enormous rush of air flood into her stomach, forcing it to balloon outwards. Frantic, she spotted the Numodine on the floor, near the sleeperbunk. Bloating further with each panicked breath, she grabbed the drink and gulped it down. For a moment, the pressure inside her surged to the point that she thought she would explode. Then, just as suddenly, the gas was released. The guards and administrator had been telling the was necessary to drink the Numodine, in order to breathe normally. But they had left out something just as important...

Sherry dressed quickly. Depressing the telecom dialer for Corrinne’s chamber, she waited impatiently for her friend to answer. There was a tone, then a click. “Hello?” Corrinne answered groggily.

“Corrinne,’s me, Sherry. There’s something I have to tell you. Can I come over right away?”

“Oh...sorry...I have company right now...” There was an unusual quality to her voice. She giggled, but in a lazy, almost drugged fashion.

“Who’s there with you? Corrinne, did you drink your Numodine?”

There was a long pause, then a contented sigh. “Mmmmm, no...they said I wouldn’t need it tonight. I had something else to was really nice.” Another pause. “They said I can leave tonight, Sher. Isn’t that wonderful?” Another giggle, then a man’s voice in the background, telling her it was time to go.

“Corrinne! DON’T GO ANYWHERE UNTIL I GET THERE!!” Sherry yelled into the telecom. She raced to the door, her fingers flying over the digi-pad to enter the release code. Nothing happened. She entered the key again, thinking that in her haste, she might have entered it incorrectly. The door remained sealed. “CORRINNE!” Sherry slammed her fists into the unmoving exit, to no effect. She brought her face up to the viewport, and was rewarded with catching a glimpse of her friend.

Corrinne was smiling happily, as two nattily-uniformed guards assisted her with her prison jumpsuit. There were huge gaps between the buttons. One man gently but firmly supported her, while the other smiled back at Corrinne, praising her and asking her to breathe deeply. Corrinne giggled, then did as she was told.

Sherry looked on helplessly as Corrinne began to swell. Her tightening jumpsuit strained to contain her bloating abdomen briefly before surrendering unconditionally. Several buttons flew off, suddenly releasing the huge balloon which was Corrinne from the ruined garment. “Again,” requested the guard. This time, when she complied, Corrinne’s entire body began to inflate. Her arms and legs began to resemble sausages in their casings, as the skin grew taut. Her face, still smiling, widened, the features becoming puffy as they bloated to keep pace. “Once more, now...” With the third breath, Corrinne distended to near-bursting. Her head, arms, and legs withdrew into the vast expanse of her rapidly filling form. The coaching guard thumped Corrinne’s belly. It had the hollow sound of a bass drum when struck. “She’s ready,” he nodded to his assistant. They led Corrinne, still expanding, to the entertainment arena. With a sickening feeling, Sherry realized her friend was the entertainment.

Sherry lay down on the sleeperbunk, dazed. Numa32. Numa. Pneuma. It finally all came together. Suddenly, in the distance, came a clap of thunder...and Sherry knew Corrinne had come apart.

And she was next.


“Welcome to Numa32, Ilsa,” the head of planet security greeted his new prisoner cheerfully. “Have you had your Numodine?”

Ilsa nodded hesitantly. “Yes, sir,” she replied. “How long do prisoners usually remain here, if you don’t mind my asking...?”

“Much less time than you would have spent in prison on Earth,” the large man replied with a wink. “Come along, I’ll show you to your chamber.”

As Ilsa followed her guide, something skipping erratically along the dry ground caught her eye. She stepped quickly to snatch it, before the gusting wind could steal it away. She studied her prize. This new acquisition was very pretty, and would make a wonderful decoration for her room. It was an unusual piece of plastic, to be certain, but the blue rose stamped on it would add a touch of pulchritude to the many long hours she’d be spending there...

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