"A World Gone Topsy-Turvy"

© 1984 by Andersen Silva

The prison guard walked down the corridors pompously, aware of his power over the inmates. He consulted his list, and turned down a brightly lit corridor, signaling that he'd just entered a maximum security zone. The guard briskly walked up to a cell and opened it. "Maxwell," he sneered, "the warden wants to see you. We all know what that means, don't we?" He smiled a wicked smile, and pulled the unwilling man from his cell. "Let's go!" he ordered, and the two men retraced the guard's steps.

*                    *                    *

As Larry Maxwell and his accompanying guard approached the warden's office, a man leaped out of the office with a big grin on his face. "I've been given another sentence!" he shouted. "Hallelujah! Two more years!!!" A guard stepped out of the office and took hold of the man's arm. "Easy, now," he warned him. You don't want the warden to change his mind, do you?" He saw the other guard and gave him a tired smile as he walked the elated prisoner away.

A voice from inside the office boomed, "Where's Maxwell?" The guard promptly opened the door and shoved the unwilling prisoner inside. He then followed him in and locked the door.

A short, bald-headed man sat behind an enormous desk covered with monitors, switches, phones, and other apparatus. He smiled up at Maxwell. "Lawrence Maxwell. How nice to see you again! What's it been, three years now?" The prisoner coughed. "Yes, Warden Povansky. The last time I saw you was three years ago, when you-" "Shut up!" the guard yelled. "The warden doesn't have time to hear you prattle!" Warden Povansky gave the guard a look of disapproval. "Now, now, O'Brien, watch your temper. I could fire you, and if I did so, you'd never work in a prison again, which would mean you'd have to live on the Outside." The guard paled. "I-I'm sorry, sir," he whispered.

"Now, then, on to business!" The warden flipped a switch on his desk, and spoke into a microphone. "File, Lawrence Maxwell, from October 2013 to October 2015." He once again smiled at Maxwell. "I trust there will be nothing embarrassing to you?" Maxwell looked at the floor, as a girl came in carrying a folder. She put it in the warden's hands and left without saying a word. Warden Povansky opened the folder and began examining the reports inside it. "Well, now, let's see," he said under his breath. "Any fights? Any resistance to authority?" Under his breath, Larry Maxwell uttered a long-drawn curse.

*                    *                    *

In the center of New York, two parolees from Max-Sec Prison Four, still wearing their prison uniforms, stood shivering in the middle of a road. They watched the gang that was coming up to them with ever-widening eyes, but before either could run, two boomerangs, with bladed edges, slid with precision into their necks and remained there. The ex-prisoners stumbled for a few seconds before falling to their feet. The gang, all its members dressed in leather and chains, reached the bodies shortly, and one man bared his teeth. "Good! I'm starved!" he snarled. He was shoved roughly by another, whose broadsword and automatic pistol showed him to be the leader of this lethal bunch. "No!" he yelled in a voice filled with savagery. "I get first pick!" With that, he dropped to the ground and began carving one of the bodies. As he did so, his face lit up with a smile so malicious and evil that one of his own men backed away. This particular man was sickened by the sudden realization of what he had done during the last six months with these cretins. Once, he had been a stock broker, working (he looked up) only about twenty blocks from here. During the Bloody Revolution, however, he had been thrown in jail, and when he was paroled half a year ago, he joined this gang. Oh, how horrible, how stupid, how unbelievably senseless man really was! his soul cried out to him. His stomach cried out louder, however, so he went to see what was left of the two corpses behind him.

*                    *                    *

The warden started. "What's this? You refused to work for three days straight in December 2014? Everyone here must do work, regardless of who they might have been in the past!" "Y-yes, sir," stammered the prisoner, "but I didn't think that on Christmas..." "You didn't think is right!" thundered Povansky. "I am not a man to be opposed!"

Maxwell's face paled considerably. "No disrespect was intended, sir," he managed to say outwardly, while inwardly, he thought to himself, "Four years ago, he wouldn't have dared to talk to me like that."

The warden relaxed. "Well," he warned Maxwell, "for your sake, there had better not be any more 'incidents.'"

*                    *                    *

A lone man was running through the ravaged streets of London. He looked up and cursed himself for a fool when he saw the ruins of Buckingham Palace in front of him. Looking down, he cursed himself again, as he realized that he'd forgotten to remove his prisoner's uniform in the hour since leaving the facility. He turned to leave and saw five youths with shaven, painted skulls and crossbows. They leered at him, and he desperately began trying to save his skin. "Now, lads," he said, "let's not have any trouble, you and I, all right, boys?" No one moved, so he started to slowly sidle away, smiling unconvincingly all the while. Suddenly, an arm flashed up, a finger jerked backwards, and a quarrel lodged itself in the man's chest, all in microseconds. He fell forward with nary a sound, and the youth who had killed him pulled out a dagger and added a notch to the many already covering the handle of his weapon.

*                    *                    *

Povansky nearly choked. "It-it says here," he stated in a hoarse whisper, "that you once claimed you'd rather be... you'd rather assume your old job, on the Outside. Explain yourself." "But, sir," cried Maxwell, "that was when I'd just arrived, before I'd adjusted to the system! I didn't know what I was saying back then! You can't-" "Silence!" interrupted the warden. "This will affect my decision, you realize." Maxwell nodded, and the warden continued. "Nonetheless, I must check your other records as well, so you may yet be saved." Maxwell, unconvinced, hung his head in defeat.

*                    *                    *

At that same instant in Tokyo, forty-two men had been killed, and all forty-two died with smiles on their faces and bullets in their bodies. The fighting continued, however, as approximately three hundred men were still alive. Every second, though, they added to the five hundred combatants already killed. A huge proportion of the fighters were expert samurai, and they swung their swords madly, hacking away at anything that appeared to be alive, including each other. Many of the sword-wielders were killed by archers or marksmen, who struck from a distance. Two samurai, who had been fighting behind each other for some time, suddenly caught a glimpse of each other and started a fierce sword-fight. Had either been in control of his faculties, he would have noticed that the marks on their forearms identified them as brothers. Had they noticed, however, it would not have affected their muderous intentions. In any case, a sword suddenly glinted in the sunlight, found its target, and struck cruelly. There was a quiet grunt, and one man fell. He was immediately trampled and tripped over by other fighters in the chaos. An observer from the nearby Max-Sec Prison Nine, watching through binoculars, mused that it would only take another thirty minutes before the city's Outsiders finished each other off...

*                    *                    *

Warden Povansky coughed. "Ahem. Well, Mr. Maxwell, I'm afraid that your conduct, as well as the shortage of space here, permits only one outcome." Maxwell, who had been expecting this, merely nodded resignedly. "Why, Povansky?" he asked wearily. "Why did your government have to issue that fateful ultimatum that spelled the end of civilization?" Povansky stiffened. "That's Warden Povansky to you, and, according to the official reports beamed to me from Moscow before the overthrow of the government, it was the United States who issued an ultimatum." Maxwell sighed, a deep, long-drawn sigh. "Yes, yes. Politics again, always politics. Well, on with it." Povansky coughed again. "Lawrence Maxwell, 114327, is now paroled from Max-Sec Prison Four for the duration of six months, at the end of which..." "Come, now," interjected Maxwell, "we both know I'll be dead by then, so why bother?" Povansky stared at him, then opened a heavy door behind him. "Then, you may leave now," he said stiffly. Larry Maxwell headed for the door and stepped through it. Just before he disappeared, Povansky spoke. "Goodbye, and good luck, Mr. President," he said softly. "Goodbye, Mr. Ambassador," said Lawrence Maxwell, President of the United States of America (though, at the moment, that title amounted to very little), "and thank you." With that, he was gone. Povansky sat silently for several minutes before calling in the next man. Checking his files, he shouted hoarsely, "Foster!" and wiped his eyes quickly.

*                    *                    *

President Lawrence Maxwell, once known as "Smiling Maxie" by his countrymen, walked around the prison he had just left. He knew that he couldn't re-enter it until six months had passed, and the odds of his surviving six months in the Outside were slim. However, there were rumors of some semblage of order, of the hiding of Secretary of State Robert Anderson and even of Vice President Andrew Silver, underneath Washington, D.C. Maxwell would head that way, and hopefully he would meet one of the disguised Secret Service agents along the way.

Looking at the Statue of Liberty, which had been defiled during the Revolution (some said that a commandeered jet accounted for her scarred face), Maxwell felt responsible for the anarchy that had suddenly overcome man's civilization. The peoples of the world had been under stress ever since the invention of nuclear weapons, though many dealt with this stress quite easily by ignoring it. During the last two decades, however, World War Three was narrowly averted on four occasions, and it proved too much for man to deal with. Even the Communists could not soothe their people. Rebellion started slowly and quietly, in the form of total strikes, sit-ins at military bases, and millions of imploring letters to the men in power. Soon, though, the people turned violently on the civilization that had spawned the terror, and officials were attacked and assassinated, communication between countries was cut off, and, perhaps worst of all, all signs of technology were destroyed. Men exploded their cars, women burned their hair curlers, children smashed their electronic toys to bits. It was the Middle Ages all over again, with two deadly differences: men now had much more efficient weapons, and total anarchy ruled. The government officials who kept their heads in this madness built the Maximum-Security Prisons, one hundred in all around the world, and the other sane people were protected inside by the impenetrable field around the prisons. It was from such a one that Larry Maxwell had just been "paroled," a euphemism for "sentenced to death" in most cases. Unfortunately, room was scarce, and no one could be imprisoned for longer than ten years.

Larry Maxwell took one last look at the Statue, sighed, and turned. Pulling out his map, he quickly deduced which route he should walk along to get to the old capital, and he started on his way. A noise from behind, however, caused him to whirl, with one hand held at neck height. He shoved a man into a brick wall and tightened his hold on the stranger until he saw the eagle insignia on the man's shoulder. He swiftly withdrew his hand and said laughingly, "Sorry, but you could have told me you were Secret Service straight off, and saved yourself some trouble!" The agent wheezed and replied, "Yes, sir, I know, but I wanted to be sure you were the President. When Povansky radioed, he said that two others had been paroled. Boy!" he exclaimed, rubbing his sore neck. "And you're 48?" "40!" Maxwell chuckled. "Say, what's your name? I never did get too close to my personnel," the President apologized. "You've been a jailbird too long, sir," the other smiled. "I'm not Secret Service. My name's Andy Silver. V.P., remember?" The two men hugged and laughed in the twilight (no one really noticed the faint glowing from the east anymore) as the night began to fall.