Fiction: Prisoner

An essay by Inmate Number 140129, as provided by Curtis C. Chen
Art by Leigh Legler


Here comes the sun.

For a few seconds, as the blinding light thaws my body, it’s bearable. Almost comfortable. Then I’m on fire for the next forty-five minutes, boiling hot until I fall back into the shadow of the planet.

I don’t even know the name of this world. I was already drunk when I stumbled off my freighter, celebrating the end of a long cargo haul. I don’t know the name of the bar. I don’t remember the woman’s name.

I do remember the name of her jealous boyfriend, the guy who couldn’t throw a punch, the man I killed without even trying. I heard his name plenty during the trial. His father, the Planetary Defense Minister, publicly called for my head. He got what he wanted.

Illustration of a man floating in orbit around a planet.

I wish I could forget what they did to me.

I wish I could forget what they did to me. First they replaced my blood with healer nanites. Then they carved out my lungs and stomach. They didn’t use anesthetic. I felt every cut and slice and staple into my flesh. That I remember too clearly.


To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2019 collection.


Inmate Number 140129 has been convicted of second-degree unsanctioned homicide and sentenced to one hundred and seventeen local years in orbit-locked bio-regenerative stasis. By order of the Planetary Defense Minister, no appeals will be heard for this case.


Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, CURTIS C. CHEN (陳致宇) now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO (a 2017 Locus Awards Finalist) is a science fiction spy thriller about a superpowered secret agent facing his toughest mission yet: vacation.

Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Playboy Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and OREGON READS ALOUD. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops.

You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most every month.

Visit him online: https://curtiscchen.com


Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.


“Prisoner” is © 2008 Curtis C. Chen
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Leigh Legler


This story was originally published on 512 Words or Fewer and collected in Thursday’s Children: Flash Fiction from 512 Words or Fewer.

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