The Katorgas - April 2014

"There had better be a good reason for dragging me out here, Katorga."

Baelian looked around the snowy landscape of the Siberian forest and pulled his collar up against the cold wind, "I mean if you're going to finally get around to killing me, couldn't you do it somewhere warm...with a bar?"

Looking around there wasn't much to see other then a white expanse and enormous trees creaking under the weight of the early winter snow. But if you looked closely you could pick out old, rusted down wire mesh fences and the odd pile of bricks poking out of the snow where chimneys may once have been attached to long forgotten buildings.

"This is where I go to get away from it all, Baelian. My cabin is just a short walk away. We'll head over there once I explain something to you,"Grigori stood impassively in the snow more acclimatised than his companion who was glaring at him while shivering visibly even through the layers of warm clothing he wore, "Let me give you a little history lesson..."

Baelian snapped, "Oh for fuck sake Grigori, I don't need a lesson. All I'm learning right now is how frostbite feels."

"Just shut up and listen for once, Baelian. What I'm saying will make sense soon," Grigori replied, rubbing between his eyes in exasperation. "Have you ever heard of the Katorga system?" He paused to look up at Baelian, "No? It was a penal system the Russian government came up with at the turn of the century. It basically entailed prisoners being sent out to work as free labor in camps for varying reasons. It was the pre-cursor of the Gulag system. This was one such camp we're standing in - this one was to function as the labor camp for a newly established settlement. People came out here to start a new life and build a new town using the labor of convicted felons to do the heavy lifting. To put what occurred here was a terrifying disaster."

"The problem they had was the warden they sent out to oversee the prisoners was a ego maniacal sociopath. He saw how isolated they were here and used it to his full advantage. Within the first year he had the colonists living under his thumb using the guards to enforce whatever he desired. Any who disagreed with him were put to work with the prisoners, which by the second year was nearly the entire male population. The women were used as either playthings or menial servants by the guards, with the Warden keeping his own private harem. Every debauched act you can imagine, and I know you can think of a few, took place here. The Warden was the King of his own little patch of hell."

"This is where Alexei was born. He never knew who his mother or father were. He was passed around the women of the camp to care for him and the rest of the bastard children until he was old enough to be of use. Then he was put to work with the men who were so beaten down they were mostly animals wearing the faces of people. He was a pretty blue eyed boy raised in a hell where the guards could take whatever they wanted from him, then throw him in with the rest of the prisoners who weren't any kinder. Stop me if this sounds familiar to you..." Grigori paused to look at Baelian, who was staring at him in silence, his expression unreadable. After a moment, Grigori continued.

"Of course stories like this can never last forever. In most cases a team of plucky prisoners revolt, or an incorruptible official steps in to save the downtrodden. Unfortunately this is reality, and it's never as clean cut as we might like. Alexei was a young man when everything changed. He had learned the skills to survive here and developed a cruel ruthlessness that served him well in later life. The government though was curious how the settlement was faring and started sending missives demanding updates. Fearing reprisal the Warden reacted just how you think he would. He locked the prisoners and any guards he believed couldn't be trusted in the buildings and put them to the torch, then took himself and his lieutenants back to Moscow to report of a series of tragic accidents such as food shortages, prisoner riots and finally a fire that devastated the surviving colonists. He was believed and lauded for his efforts and in a final twist of the knife led the funeral march for the unfortunate colonists who died trying to expand the Motherland."

"Alexei, as you well know, survived. He had managed to get out of the building as the fire consumed it. He then had to cross the country in the weather you're taking so well with a handful of survivors and minimal supplies. The group suffered losses from wolves and the bitter cold. Alexei lost a few toes to frostbite on that trip and that's how he came to use that cane he always had with him. He reached civilization and immediately went to work laying the foundation for his empire under the name of the system that gave birth to him. So in short that's where he began. You and I have spoken a few times on our suspicion that he may have had a larger part with beginning Jerald's Fundays than we originally thought. The more I think on it, I'm slowly starting to believe this is where it started for him (and in a convoluted way for you as well). He saw the way men became drunk on power and saw an opportunity to indulge himself in all the pain that was put on him, as well as a way to achieve the same levels of power and freedom the Warden must have had."

"This, Nikolai, is where we began. I was raised to be the enforcer to his empire, but you my friend... you were raised to be his mirror image. The son he truly saw himself in. A true Katorga."

Grigori looked around the snow and the trees, shrugged the frost off his jacket and started walking.

"Come on Bae, that's enough for family history. I've got a bar in the cabin and I could use a drink out of this cold."

Baelian Black stood for a moment, his expression still unreadable as he looked around the piles of bricks and rusted bits of fencing with new eyes. Then, shrugging to himself and narrowing his eyes, he started following Grigori to the cabin for a much needed drink.

Written by Adam Grant.

All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2014. Natalie Ristovski.

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