When I wrote this I was inspired by the "The Prisoner", and it shows.
Herukas Custodial Satellite
“Number 12? I am NOT a number! I am a NOBLE of the House Hawkwood and I demand to be released.”
-- Sir Samuel Blake Hawkwood, Rook Agent, upon his arrival on Herukas, 5005
“You are number 12, this number defines you. Your importance, your place in the pecking order, you had a name once, you had a house once, but here none of that matters anymore.”
-- Number 53, former Jakovian Agent, in response to Number 12, 5005
There was a time when the description ‘Imperial Dungeons’ was an accurate depiction, dark underground tunnels, small stone built cells with heavy ceramsteel-bound doors, all deep below the Regent’s palace on Byzantium Secundus. For three hundred years these facilities were at the command of the Regent until a spate of escapes demonstrated the level of corruption of the prison’s warders. Despite several purges it proved impossible to prevent further escapes and the Regent Jing Cho’s own credibility began to look tarnished. Unable to secure the leaks from his own dungeons and on shaky political ground he lost the elections in 4873 and was replaced by his archrival Ivanos Decados.
While it has been widely supposed that Regent Ivanos was behind a number of the high profile escapes as a means of destroying Jing Cho’s credibility, he too suffered a similar string of embarrassments, after which he took action and had his prisoners transferred to Jakovian-run prisons in Decados space. This began a tradition that lasted 50 years in which the Regent would make use of the prison facilities of his own house. This in turn produced jurisdictional problems and a number of diplomatic debates concerning the treatment and holding of prisoners from previous Regents.
When Regent Samar al-Malik came to power in 4923 he did so on a promise to undo the injustices of former Regents. His first act was to order the release of all Imperial prisoners held by the royal houses—in many cases this actually took the form of a prisoner exchange between houses. His second act was to reinstate the Imperial Dungeons but under the authority of the Imperial Eye.
To this day, the Imperial Eye maintains at least three secure facilities now collectively termed the ‘Imperial Dungeons’. The original dungeons under the Imperial Palace were partially converted back from the storage rooms that they had become but are used only to hold prisoners short term, ‘at the pleasure of His Majesty’. Prisoners that are of current interest to Imperial Eye interrogators are housed in a secure panoptocon facility, designed by the renowned architect Ernest Bernard Hawkwood and dug into the bedrock of the Imperial Eye Command Centre on the continent of Aldaia, Byzantium Secundus. The panoptocon permits many to be watched by a few and uses paranoia to maintain control over its population. Nothing can be kept secret nor anything hidden from view, someone might be watching you at any given moment and you will only know if corrective action is required.
Built as a great cylindrical structure, 17 levels deep with the cells placed around the edge of the cylinder. A central access spinal or column runs down the centre of the cylinder with numerous retractable walkways to provide access to each of the detention levels. From the spinal watchers can see into every cell and observe every prisoner, and every interaction between prisoners. The prison is unusual in the known worlds because the inmates are only locked in to their cells during their rest periods, but are otherwise permitted to move freely within their detention level. These privileges can be revoked at anytime.
At the deepest levels of the prison are the isolation cells were the highest risk prisoners are stored and not permitted out to wander freely. This rich social environment is what the Imperial Eye watchers want to observe. Criminals permitted to mix often plot, scheme or give away valuable information when they believe that they are unobserved, but within the panopticon everything is seen and recorded and analyzed.
The third and final part of the prison system is the little known Herukas asteroid that occupies a lonely elliptic orbit in the expanse between Byzantium Secundus and Arden. It is one of 73 known large body asteroids that occupy captured orbits around Solaris Primis.
Though Herukas is present on early astrographic charts of the Byzantium Secundus system, a report compiled in 4421 by the Prospectors Guild suggests that the asteroid is not composed of the normal mineral mix present in its celestial counterparts and may even be hollow. That report was quickly ‘lost’ when the Imperial Eye purchased the asteroid in whole from the Guild, and had records amended to state that Herukas has been mined of all mineral wealth. Charioteer records also note the asteroid as being dangerously unstable and to be avoided as a navigational hazard.
Herukas is actually one of the earliest surviving examples of human space flight technology. Originally a colonial vessel from the days of the zaibatsu, its ancient systems were preserved by vacuum in its millennia-long rest until the Old Guard of the Imperial Eye rediscovered it. For centuries the Old Guard used it as a base of operations until the Prospectors Guild resurveyed it and brought it to the attention of other factions within the Eye. Shadowy deals were made within the halls of power to ensure that the truth about Herukas remained obscured, but the Old Guard lost their sole authority over the asteroid.
When the Imperial Eye were given charge of the Imperial Dungeons, Herukas was already in use as a place of ‘exile and retirement’ for ‘foreign intelligence assets’. Herukas is a last dumping ground for prisoners too politically dangerous to set free, but too knowledgeable to simply terminate.
The Imperial Eye does not as a rule hold petty criminals; their interest is purely in threats to the Empire, the Imperial Throne and the status quo. As such they detain only the most dangerous individuals at the pleasure of the Emperor. Though the facilities under the Imperial Palace and the Imperial Eye Command Centre are used for conspirators, terrorists and other criminals, only a few choice ‘assets’ are ‘retired’ to Herukas. Officially, every prisoner in that final prison is listed as having been executed.
Herukas is about containing the most dangerous, devious and well-trained intelligence operatives produced by the various spy agencies throughout the Known Worlds. As such it is a prison built without walls, instead it uses mistrust and secrecy to keep its population divided and suspicious, constantly working against each other to maintain a status of inescapable inevitability. Everything is watched, monitored and controlled to break prisoners psychologically and to have them reveal the hidden secrets they still hold from each other and even themselves.
The whole effect of the surreal environment, treatment and psychotropic chemicals acts to break down the prisoners’ connection to reality, loosening their willpower and ability to resist the constant, yet subtle interrogation. Over a period of months or even years they are driven deeper and deeper in to madness and paranoia. Plotting to free themselves, unable to do so without the assistance of others, but unable to trust that their fellow inmates are even inmates at all, and may in fact be their jailors and tormentors—a few have even come to believe themselves to be jailors or perhaps this is simply a ruse to gain an advantage.
When a prisoner is brought to Herukas, his former identity is removed, and all records list them as executed. Each prisoner is fitted with a subdermal locator that doubles as a bug permitting the jailors on Herukas to monitor their every movement and conversation.
Each is also issued with a small pin button to be worn at all times, again this doubles as a bugging device but it also a small think machine display showing the prisoner’s current numerical designation—these designations are constantly updated and the prisoner is only permitted to refer to himself by his current designation. If conspiracy theories are to be believed, the number represents the prisoner’s relative importance; the lower the number the more dangerous and more closely watched—by both jailors and fellow inmates. The pin button must be worn at all times and failure to do so prevents the prisoner from using almost anything, doors will not open, taps have no running water etc. The pin button is a central tool of control; it permits the prisoner to interact with basic amenities but also ties them to the warped and twisted mind games within the prison.
From the outside, Herukas has the appearance of any large asteroid, pock marked and pitted with craters, its overall form is cylindrical despite its rough surface features. The rock spins swiftly upon its long axis making any attempt to land on the surface hazardous. Upon one of the ‘ends’ of the asteroid is a cluster of cerametal structures, like four great funnels that jut from the rock. These are the remnants of the ion thrusters that once made this asteroid mobile.
Densometer scans reveal that the rock is not solid, but that a hollow core exists, scans for energy can take faint measurements from a reactor core excavated deep into the rock, close to the ancient funnel-like thrusters. But these are the only external signs that Herukas is more than it seems.
The hollow core of Herukas measures almost 4 miles long and half that wide. Gravity is provided at 0.6G by the spin of the asteroid and supplemented by low yield G-plates to give the appearance of 0.8G. The internal space has been landscaped and terraformed into a number of small islands surrounded by water. Light is provided from one end by a great fusion light that brightens and dims to simulate day and night. The most disconcerting effect is looking up to see thin clouds overhead and land far above—which often causes new arrivals terrible vertigo.
The islands have a tropical ecology complete with birds, insects and fish in the shallow waters. Several villages are placed in tranquil locations across the various islands. On the surface, life appears idyllic, relaxed with more in common with an imperial retreat than a prison. But a prison it is. No one is here by choice and everything is monitored, recorded and scrutinized by the Imperial Eye. Every action, reaction, snippet of conversation examined for hidden meanings, and tiny pieces of intelligence data that might be of use to the agents of the Eye.
The tunnels interconnect with hundreds of locations in the Core and all the ancient machinery that still survives in the crust of the asteroid. It is through these that the jailors are able to move about and enter and exit the core to carry out their duties and schemes.
The honeycomb of passages link hundreds of surveillance terminals and think machine data storage banks. Once staffed by large numbers of jailors, Herukas is now run on a skeleton crew of only fifty. There is never enough time for the jailors to carry out their proper observations of the prisoners within the core. Instead they play power games designed to psychologically dominate and manipulate the core population, to keep them divided, paranoid and under control.
As the oldest surviving example of human space technology, Herukas is a wonder. Although life support and generator systems have been retro-fitted and maintained over the last few centuries, the inoperable remains of the ancient ion drive and jump engines remain. A close examination of these later pieces of tech will indicate that this ship was built in the times before Sathra Dampeners were invented or fitted as standard. Undoubtedly this vessel was a Sathra stronghold but how it came to be in the hands of the Imperial Eye remains a mystery.
Herukas is a place that thrives on conspiracy and secrecy, everyone here is officially dead and the mind games are intended to break prisoners’ minds and crush their spirits so that every last piece of information can be gleaned from them. In truth, this is perverse game of torture dreamed up by a fevered imagination: it operates both as part of the Imperial Eye but at the same time without any oversight or external intervention.
Dramas set on Herukas will be truly bizarre; the prison feels more like a demented playground built long ago by some power mad zaibatsu. It holds far more secrets than any one place has a right to. It has the distinction of being the oldest example of human space faring technology in the Known Worlds, except that the Old Guard of the Imperial Eye have kept its secrets to themselves.
The man once identified as Number 4 when he first arrived on Herukas in 4996 is an enigma to his jailors, while a traitor by charge he is not the usual ‘intelligence asset’ to be sent into exile. He adapted quickly to his new life, accepting it as though it were a penance to be endured. Each day the man spends hours in prayer, seeking salvation, begging for forgiveness for his unforgivable actions, and seeking an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of his Emperor and the Pancreator.
After many years of solitary debasement, Number 217 has taken it upon himself to erect a small chapel and has slowly begun to attract other souls in search of redemption. This has caused some concern among the jailors who fear that his efforts in penance might rebuild some level of trust among his followers. They have placed adversity in his way, but each setback has only made Number 217 more persistent.
In his heart Number 217 still loves his Emperor and friend, he accepts that he is deserving of his fate, but dreams of escape so that he might be redeemed in some final glorious act that saves his Emperor and cleanses his soul in a single selfless act.
If the panopticon and psychological torments of Herukas can be said to be the spark of genius in the mind of a mad man, then that mad man would be ‘The Administrator’.
Preferring to use just his title and forgo his given name altogether, The Administrator has been a member of the Old Guard of the Imperial Eye since the early days of the Emperor Wars. He accepted an assignment as a jailor on the station because it temporarily removed him from the line of fire, but since then he has never left again, instead simply working his way through the ranks.
He demonstrated the necessity of his brutal games in the service to the new Emperor by providing invaluable intelligence on the disposition of Hazat and Decados forces prior to the Battle of Jericho. This act alone would have been enough to secure him a notable position within the new bureaucracy but what he sought was complete autonomy to conduct his facility in whatever way he saw fit and without outside questions or interference. Now almost forgotten, he is a god in playground of his own design and provided that he continues to hand up useful snippets of information to his superiors, no one will ever question his methods.