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Prisoners of Perfection

damage, no matter what anyone tried to do to them. Bombarda tried digging a tunnel. He set his
Watchers about it, his gang of perpetual children who did whatever he ordered them to, who obeyed
him because it suited their fancy, they enjoyed it, and anyway they were infinitely bored besides. The
tunnel led them nowhere, only around in circles though they dug it as straight as could be. This prison
was impossible, from its vegetation to its population, not a bit of it could be explained except by
accidents of scientific research. The forest had once been a university arboretum, but it had expanded
and changed and taken on a life of its own, eventually expelling its original inhabitants, who fled for
fear of becoming forever lost in its tangles. That is when the government took it over and found it to be
the perfect solution to its problem of the immortals, and what to do about them.
Anyone who did not age like a regular person, anyone who exhibited the symptoms, was rounded up
and summarily tossed into the forest world. There were some cases of false diagnosis. These
individuals lived and then died. The rest merely lived. The forest provided plenty in the way of fruits
and berries and tubers. Hunger was not a problem, and neither was shelter or weather. The world had
its own particular climate, not too hot, not too cold, and almost maddeningly unvarying. It rained a bit
every day, and a bit every night. Clouds came and clouds went. The sun came up, the sun went down.
The moon, however, never rose, though there were stars. No one ever understood about the moon. The
lakes did have tides, but no one knew how. The moon must be there, they decided, but hiding. Without
the moon and its phases, time was bereft of its markers. The stars always seemed to be in the very same
places. The sun never altered its angle. It was almost as if, no, exactly as if, it was not the actual sun,
and they were not the actual stars. It must be a fake. It was all a big fake.
Bombarda had once kept a marking of time, tallies scratched into rocks, but there weren't enough rocks
in the forest to note all the days that went by. It had to be many thousands, he thought, hundreds of
years if not more. There was never any word from outside. Already it had been a very long time since
anyone new had arrived. The last of the prisoners were all veterans by now. The tribes, for the people
naturally organized themselves, like among like, were all set and stable, and any old conflicts had long
since resolved themselves in futility. There was no point in not getting along, in not letting each other
alone. The cave dwellers stayed near their caves. The river folk camped on their banks. The tree people
lived in the canopy and all the various groups kept out of the way of each other. Even the loners
remained all alone. Altogether Bombarda figured they numbered a co uple of thousand, no more. Most
of them lived in the moment, hopeless and bereft of even a mere curiosity. Gone were the days of want
and desire. Gone were the dreams of rescue or even escape. Nobody thought about that anymore,
except for Bombarda, who still thought of little else.
His was a thirst for revenge. He had cultivated this lust for a very long time, and was not going to give
it up easily. Even after all of his attempts had led to nothing but failure he still dreamed every night of
discovering a way out, a way back into the civilized world, where he would find the people who'd done
this to him, and he would show them no mercy at all. He had once been a quite famous author, who
wrote bloodthirsty books of horror and carnage, bestsellers all, and had been living a life of luxury and
adulation when somebody noticed there was something unusual about him. For at least twenty years he
had stayed exactly the same. Not even a hair on his head was different after all of that time. His editor,
his agent, his publicist, his fans, all of them had gotten much older, but not Gowdy, no, he didn't
change. There were whispers of magic and witchcraft, of bargains made with the devil, just as in one of
his books, but soon enough the agency put it together, and determined him to be an immortal. O ne
night, while he was sleeping and dreaming of white puffy clouds, they knocked down his door, they
seized him and dragged him away. Before he was even awake, or so it seemed to him later, he had
found himself alone and abandoned in this cursed forest prison.
The first person he'd met was The Hidden O ne. She and her grand-daughter, Ember, a wise and
precocious child, acted like gatekeepers back in those days, welcoming in all the new prisoners, and