Enter Corral was an extremely short lived attempt at a podcast I made in 2016. I enjoyed the fun of putting it together, but lacked the organisation to do it more than… twice.
I always love a bit of creative writing, so several years ago, I turned an episode of our short-lived RPG podcast into prose…
Mac opened one eye, gingerly. Beyond his blurry, grisled cheek, an expanse of grimy flagstone presented itself. He considered cracking open his other eyelid, but the familiar shards of hangover slicing into his skull persuaded him against it. With a moan, he pulled himself into a sitting position, and surveyed his current situation.
This was clearly a cell. Mac groaned inwardly. It reminded him of many similar cells, each one a night spent at the pleasure of the Watch.
He threw a canny gaze over the other inhabitants. Opposite him, languishing against the wall, stood a incongruously well dressed young man, with a mischievous glint to his eye.
“So. What did you do?”, said Virt.
A regular sight at various levels of social fluffery, Virt “Tempts-the-Virtuous” was also depressingly well aquainted with the hospitality of the Watch. Sadly, par for the course for any self respecting conman, and Virt was undoubtedly one of those.
“A lot of drinking. My head is killing”, said a voice at floor level.
The two inmates turned their attention to the speaker, another of the five inhabitants of the room. A tall man, with a number of cuts and bruises visible on his face, Drake had no personal experience of imprisonment, but years in the military meant he knew a cell when he saw one.
He glared at Mac. “Its fuzzy, but I know you. Don’t really remember much, but I do remember you starting—”
“Yeh want some more? Anytime, boy”, snarled Mac.
“Sorry, let me just get this straight”, interjected Virt. “You two were arrested for fighting each other, and someone decided to put you in the same cell?!”
Drake nodded slowly, “Yep, I was thinking that, actually”.
Virt slow-clapped and laughed. “Top notch policing from Corral’s finest, as usual.”
“This is out of order”, stated Drake, indignantly, glaring at Mac whilst nursing a significant sized bruise above one eye.
Grinning at the animosity, Virt turned his charm toward the angry looking young lady sat across the room.”Well, not the first time I’ve woken up in a cell, but not often I get such fine company! Hello, young lady!”
Sat on the bare wooden bench, in battered fatigues, Roberta Skyhunter stared past Virt at the window. Her short black hair escaped a faded medic company cap, stopping above her distant blue eyes. She looked Virt up and down.
“Hey.” she said, in a guarded manner.
On the bench next to her, a pale thin man stared blankly at the door. Nondescript, and shabbily dressed, with a large gash on his forehead, Bernard had the air of someone slightly concussed.
The five of them quickly ascertained their total lack of any helpful pick pocketing tools, keys or handy bribes. Mac rose unsteadily to his feet, and started examining the windows. Around the size of his head, with two rows of thick concrete embedded bars, it didn’t appear to be a promising point of exit. He pulled defeatedly at one, just in case.
“Don’t think you’ll be getting through there”, jibed Virt, with a smile.
“You might be…” said Mac threateningly.
Virt took in Mac’s bulking shoulders and missing teeth, and decided that his personal brand of humour was not going to serve him very well. He decided to call on the less aggressive side of the cell.
“So we know how our two bar brawlers ended up at the Watch’s disposure. Why are the rest of us here?”
“I was just picked up, as I was walking past the Ministry”, said Roberta, “No one said why”.
“I’ve got no idea why we’re here”, said Bernard, distractedly.
Virt nodded, “I mean, I had quite a successful night and – for a change – what I was doing was fairly legal, so I’m not quite sure what happened”.
“Is the door locked?” said Mac, without optimism. Drake tried the handle, unsuccessfully, and fell back to silence.
Visibly frustrated, Mac paced over and hammered on the door. There was no response. He tried again, and after a lengthy delay, footsteps were heard coming down the corridor. Mac turned expectantly towards the small communication slot set high in the metal door.
The hidden walker stomped to a stop, and the slot slammed shut. As the bolt ground to a stop and the footsteps faded away into the distance, the cellmates settled down to an inevitable wait – “As usual”, remarked Mac.
Drake squinted at Virt, “Why are you dressed like that?”
“Thinks he’s King Shit”, sneered Mac from the corner.
Virt surveyed himself. For a drinks reception at the Ministry of the Interior, a full suit with tails seemed appropriate. Sharing a grimy cell with 4 commoners, at least one of whom kept giving him murderous glances, he was feeling decidedly overdressed. Putting his nerves aside, he strode to the door, and made a few sharp knocks.
After calling “Guard?!” a few times, the slot slammed open.
“What?”, the gruff voice of a mercenary.
“I wondered if you could tell us what we are supposed to have done? Because I have literally no idea.”
“You’ve got no idea?”
“I genuinely have no idea. I was having a nice drink with the Deputy Minister for the Interior—”
“So you were having drinks with the Deputy?”
“At the Ministry building?”
“And then half an hour later, after you had been seen leaving the building…”
“The Minister for the Interior was murdered.”
“By four men, and a woman—”
Virt burst out with indignation, “Hang on a second, you’ve literally just said I was seen leaving the building, I’d left, I’d gone. How could I have done it?”
Mac interjected with a rawkish grin, “To be fair guard, he just confessed to all of us that he killed ‘im”.
Drake frowned at Mac, “So he’s meant to have gone back half an hour later, back into the building? What about us, why are we here? I wasn’t even in the Ministry—”
“Look mate, you’ve got the wrong guys. You know he did it”, said Mac, thrusting a grubby finger towards Virt, “Set the rest of us free, and we’ll help you round up the others in his gang…”
The guard’s steel toed boot hit the outside of the door with a crash. “SHUT IT! Look, I know your game, trying to talk me in circles, it ain’t gonna work. We were told to find four men, and a woman, near the Ministry. We looked in the area, found the five of you. Problem solved.”
“That was it?”, objected Virt. “All you had to work on was ‘four men and a woman’?”
“Nope, there were descriptions; man in a suit, an old bloke, a tall, paramil type, a girl dressed as a medic, and a skinny bloke.”
“And you were all found, at 2 in the morning, outside the Ministry. I’m done with this; you are here whilst we wait for the Tigers”.
“The Tigers?” exclaimed Virt. Torsen’s Tigers were the biggest paramilitary guild in the system. Whilst simple policing was left to the unaligned mercs in the suburbs, the Tigers had money, organisation and prestige. Even Mac looked a bit concerned at this news.
“Yeh, they are taking you to the city jail, they’ll do all the paperwork there. Nothing more to say, all this is above my pay grade. Keep it down!”
As the slot hammered shut again, Virt cried out “I demand to speak to a lawyer”. A muffled guffaw echoed down the corridor, as the footsteps faded away.
Silence reigned for a few minutes, as each person glumly reflected on their likely future. Stories of brutality and missing people were not unusual when Torsen’s Tigers came up in conversation.
Mac broke the stillness gruffly, “So, you were talking to this Minister?”, he asked Virt.
“No, I only spoke to the Deputy Minister. Nice bloke actually. We were making a, shall we say, ‘business transaction’—”
“About the mines?”, Mac’s eyes flared as he said this.
“Nah, it was about the monorail”.
“Are you in monorail construction?” piped in Drake.
Everyone turned towards Drake. Virt gestured to his finely pressed suit, admittedly somewhat less exquisite after a night on the floor. “Do I look like I work in monorail construction?”
Drake flared, “I don’t know, I’ve never met anyone who works in monorail construction!”
Roberta stared at him, with one raised eyebrow. After a suitably withering pause, she said “So what does the Minister actually do?”
The exact role of government on Corral was unclear to most residents, and fully opaque to the rest. A farm based economy, with little in the way of metropolitan areas, most newsworthy events generally revolved around the huge carnivorous prairie lizards that roamed the grasslands.
Historically unimpressive, the beleaguered Corral mines had undergone huge growth in recent years. Whilst the exact source of the new found mining wealth remained a closely guarded industrial secret, the economic impacts to the system had been unmistakeable.
The construction of the continent spanning monorail was the most visible effect of this financial development, but anyone living in Guinea was well aware of the hugely increased numbers of offworlders in the capital. Whilst the majority of visitors seemed to be mining contractors, there was a significant volume of professional and security guilds, and the general hodge-podge of opportunistic planet jumpers common to any thriving spaceport.
All this change came under the scrutiny of the Ministry of the Interior. Ultimately, key decisions were likely overseen by Lord Sway, the planetary ruler, but the Minister would act with autonomy in all matters of development, guild authorisation, and employment. His death would leave a power vacuum that would disrupt the upper echelons of Corral’s change-averse society.
“He built the monorail, didn’t he?”, said Drake.
“I could tell you all about the monorail…”, hinted Mac, with a dark expression.
Drake took in the ominous pause, “I take it the monorail isn’t exactly to your liking?”
“Nah. We don’t need it. Nothing wrong with the farms, nothing wrong with the ranches: we don’t need it.”
“You’re not a fan of all this new fangled technology, then?”
“Oh, technology is okay, but the monorail’s a waste of money. What do we need it for? It’s just Lord Sway’s penis extension”
Virt interjected, “Ooh, let me guess… you’re a rancher, right?”
Mac grunted, a slight nod of pride subdued by his obvious dislike for the fancy dressed conman.
Virt considered speaking his mind about his general experiences of solid-skulled ranchers, and decided silence was the wiser choice. He rapped on the cell door again, “Do you know who I am?!”, he shouted, imperiously. The two inch thick steel door did not appear particularly impressed by this statement.
The five of them settled back into a tense, reticent quiet. Escape was clearly impractical, and reasoning with the guard was more likely to lead to a beating than freedom.
Bernard stirred, an agitated look to his brow. He began pacing back and forth in the grubby confines of the cell, muttering to himself, “Something to remember, something to remember”.
The others watched him uneasily. Weedy or not, no one wanted a crazy person in their cell.
Outside the barred window, the city clocks began to chime the hour, tolling their way to 9AM. Bernard looked up, thunderstruck, letting out a high pitched repeat of his mantry “Something to remember!”, and ran to peer through the bars.
His body tumbled back, ragdoll, as the wall exploded inwards.
Rubble and dust filled the air, and the other four cellmates scrambled back, frantically trying to move out of the path of the debris. Through the smoke, a battered armoured van hazed into existence, its bonnet dented and scratched from the trauma of crashing through a foot of solid concrete.
A klaxon started wailing from deeper within the building. The door to the cell, structurally unaffected by the chaos on the other side of the room, slammed open as the guard rushed in. Obviously alerted by the noise and general commotion, he managed only two steps before the distinctive noise of a tazer discharge crackled out, and he fell to the floor, his unconscious body jerking rhythmically.
“BERNARD? Is there a Bernard here?!”, a voice called out, from the general direction of the van.
Still blinking away the dust from their eyes, and shellshocked by the sudden turn of events, the cellmates looked at the indistinct form of Bernard, mostly hidden under several tons of debris.
Impatient with the lack of response, the voice repeated, “Seriously, is there a Bernard here? Syndicate have ordered a rescue – I’m to collect Bernard, and those in his party”.
“I’m Bernard!” said Virt, mind racing at the implications of the mysterious man realising his charge had been killed.
“Okay, great. Thought I might have got the wrong cell for a moment there!”, said the stranger. He whipped open the rear doors of the van, “What are you waiting for, get in! We need to go! The Tigers are going to be on their way.”
Virt strode over to the front of the vehicle, jumping into the passenger seat, pausing only to kick the recumbent guard on his way past. Roberta followed, clambering over the wreckage into the back door.
“I ain’t going nowhere without Lucille”, grunted Mac. He and Drake sprinted into the corridor, where they found a guard station with its handily unlocked evidence locker. Pocketing various wallets and identity bundles, they returned, Mac cradling a large, battered shotgun with an almost maternal relief, and both scrambled in to the van.
The stranger kicked the armoured truck into reverse. With enough revs, and fair amounts of jolting and rocking, it extricated itself from the remains of the once impregnable cell, then, back wheels squealling, the gang accelerated off into the night.