The late winter sun set, ending our two hour ration of sunlight for the day. I looked down over the factory and cranes, and the men who were in the cold operating them. Prisoners, I was told, criminals, though I perish the thought of what crime would condemn them to this frozen hell. I always thought working outside would be better than any jail cell, but here quickly disproves that idea. The wind alone would make the stoutest amongst them cry out for solitary confinement.
This combined mine and alloy processing plant was commissioned 50 years ago and has been manned by a crew of overseers, mainly engineers with a scattering of police and prison guards, and thousands of convicts working, slaving, in the hellish conditions. There are no walls nor fences, let them run the warden once told me, the bears need food.
I got a job here knowing nothing and needing the money. Everyone knows the economy sucks, though no one talks about it. Or perhaps talks about it to be sure everyone knows we blame it on the enemies of the motherland, whoever they happen to be this time. I was told that this would help my career too, it would show I’m a good, hard worker, willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Sacrifice, that is, my dignity and integrity with every passing moment I stay silent and push the buttons that send men into hell.
I guess I’m not all that culpable. I just monitor the electrical systems, not that many prisoners work in my department, though the ones that do have a very dangerous gig. I do however power the entire operation, a fact not lost on the chief. He told me, in a moment of grit and intimidation, that if I ever get the notion to turn all moralistic and cut the power to free the men we’d all just freeze to death. I’d be a mass murderer, he said. Strange when your only resistance makes you into a worse person.
So every day in the darkness of the winter that seems eternal I ride the armored bus from our guarded quarters on the bay, shielded by mountains from the camp. Through the winding roads to a bluff above the valley of the shadow of painful death.
From my monitor I see just the grid, but in the control room I hear the radio traffic. I hear the reports- the dispassionate calculus of lives being spent like pocket change. Production behind, what will be the cost, 15 men, worth the quarter bonus, I was going to get the wife a new car. And so on the altar of another man’s mild success the whole person of another is sacrificed.
The question is, when I return will I get the wife a new car and keep silent? Or do I speak and join the men below. Not returning is not an option. The question is how- slave or slave driver? I know which one I will choose. How I will live with myself after, though, I don’t know.