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A friend of mine lent me a short story a few years ago. It involved a high value political/war prisoner in a prison in space (perhaps he was the only prisoner?). The wardens are trying to interrogate the prisoner, but in the end it turns out that the prisoner was in charge all along, and he executes his plan. I don't remember if he escapes or just sets off a nuclear bomb, but there's a twist ending about how his capture was part of his plan and he was playing the wardens. The prisoner possibly had a military standing. Either an infamous terrorist or a former general turned "bad".

The format he gave it to me was on printed paper bound together with two pages per one side of one A4 paper, and the story was somewhere between 20 and 50 pages long. I don't recall a date, but he gave me the story about 4 years ago so it can't be newer than that, and the writing style felt modern, probably post-90s and even post-00s. I think it was given away with a magazine.

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  • Unfortunately I really don't remember much. I'll edit with some details as to the format.
    – Hal T
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 16:07
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    Not sure if it's related, but that's very close to one interpretation of the meaning of the events in the TV series The Prisoner starring Patrick Mcgoohan.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 17:04
  • I've seen the show, but this was not related (though it may have been inspired by it).
    – Hal T
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 17:07
  • He either escapes, or just sets off a nuke?
    – tobiasvl
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 17:32
  • Ha, yeah, that was tonally a bit weird of me. "Without escaping" is the context there, and the idea was that him escaping is worse because he's an extremely dangerous person.
    – Hal T
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 17:46

1 Answer 1

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In "Coventry" by Robert Heinlein, prisoners who show any violence are judged socially insane and are given their choice between two sentences.

It involved a high value political/war prisoner in a prison in space

Not in space in this story: the accused’s sentence is to choose between medical mind-reorientation treatment homes, or exile to Coventry: the land of the outcasts closed off by an electromagnetic barrier called the Gateway.

A Coventry exile could always go back to the choice to be “reoriented”.

He turned to MacKinnon. “It is my duty to tell you that you may return to civilization, even now, by agreeing to be hospitalized for your neurosis.” “I have no neurosis!”

The protagonist Dave MacKinnon is escorted to Coventry, and finds out the hard way through rough treatment, having his belongings taken by “customs”, and being thrown in prison (Coventry’s own internal prison) that instead of settlers living quietly and leaving each other alone, it had three factions, all very authoritarian, strongman male-centered, with varying religious/tyrannical enforcement.

His cellmate is Fader Magee, seasoned, knowledgeable “the Fader”.

I don't remember if he escapes or just sets off a nuclear bomb,

No bombs in this story. The two protagonists escape by their own wits and fighting.

Fader brings Dave MacKinnon to his own outlaw family of choice, all surviving together.

Two of the three Coventry ruling "nations" have a new agreement together to make war on the United States; they also have a new, unkown weapon by which these small "nations" could defeat the United States.

The factions' forced conscription, by literally knocking out and dragging out, put the two newly escaped protagonists at such risk that Fader suggests to MacKinnon they hide and run back into the United States while they still can.

“Back to the psychologists?” MacKinnon was honestly aghast. “Sure-why not? What have you got to lose? This whole damn place is going to be just like the Free State in a couple of days-and a Joe of your temperament would be in hot water all the time. What’s so bad about a nice, quiet hospital room as a place to hide out until things quiet down? You don’t have to pay any attention to the psych boys-just make animal noises at ‘em every time one sticks his nose into your room, until they get discouraged.”

Long parts of the story (still a short story) involve MacKinnon and Fader escaping, still hiding out from the "law enforcement" or military conscriptors.

(Who are also just prisoners sentenced to Coventry after being judged socially insane, who don't make ethical law enforcement.)

After Fader is beaten bloody in his own attempt to get back to the United States; there is yet more dangerous cross-country to get to the Doctor (competent doctors being so rare he was about the only one), helping each other barely make it to the Doctor....

Yet more dangerous cross-country danger and starvation as Dave MacKinnon leaves Fader to recuperate in bed, hides out, steals food to survive, swims under water in an attempt to cross under the barrier, and is caught by the military police as he finally makes it back in the United States.

It was definitely sci-fi as it involved something like a space battle or warheads or something of that sort.

Good story, but no, it doesn't have that. The threat of, maybe...

Matches for

but in the end it turns out that the prisoner was in charge all along, and he executes his plan.

and

The prisoner possibly had a military standing.

are:

The guards imprison MacKinnon and tell him he has an appointment with a general and Captain Randall --- who turns out to be Fader.

(Fader tells MacKinnon that he had made it through a day or so earlier.)

Fader reassures MacKinnon that his own attempt to escape and warn the United States was not unnecessary; there was always the chance that Fader would not have survived and made it through.

“But see here, Fader, all this doesn’t make sense-‘He paused, staring, then pointed a finger accusingly, ‘I know! You’re in the secret service!” The Fader grinned cheerfully. “Did you think,” he observed, ‘that the United States Army would leave a plague spot like that unwatched?”

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