Put Down The News, And Step Away From Reality…

I spent some time looking at the “real world” over the last couple of weeks.  At the culture, and the politics, and the general insanity of it all.  I thought I wanted to do a post today on something current, something topical.

Let’s see what we have to choose from: Trump and Russia, Clinton and Russia, everyone else and Russia, sexual harassment and rape in the halls of the rich, powerful and unaccountable, lunatic dictators and terrorism and frosty international relations…

Umm, this ain’t goin’ too well.

Okay…deep breath…deep breath…

So much for current events.  While some (or all) of the above would make good fodder for a story, I’m not sure I want to want to focus their reality.  Plus, I’m just not in the mood — I’m in the mood to write, not just to write.

So, well, I’m gonna write — but I have to put up a post, too.  Below is a snippet that I posted (in an earlier version) over a year ago, when I was still technically working on the first story.  I mentioned several months ago that I wanted to be more intentional about posting snippets, and this is the result: if and when I post such little bits of Silence, I am going to do so in (current) story order.

And, yes, that means the scene below is (currently) the opening scene — and no bitching about an opening scene in bed!  That beginning has a purpose (for the moment)!

As ever, keep in mind all the caveats: this is early version stuff, before I do the heavy lifting on editing and rewrites.  Anything and everything is subject to change…

The whirring of yet another lock in yet another cell door.  Connor would never get used to that.  It was just as bad now, two months after his eighteenth birthday, as it had been at twelve.  Shit, in some ways it was worse.  The years of freedom between cells had taught him about suffering, yes, and about the price always waiting to be paid, but also about friendship and love.  And about loss.

A gulp, then, at the thought of friendship.  Of absent friends.  Of Oz.

Blood on the floor…blood on the knife…blood on Oz’s wrists.  And Connor too late to do anything other than hold his friend — his brother — as the last of a too-short, too-painful life dripped away.

At least Oz hadn’t been alone.  Only one thing had ever scared Oz: alone.  Being alone and, especially, dying alone.  Alone was worse.  That was lesson number one, a lesson Connor would never forget.

But Connor was alone now.

Oz was dead.  Marie and Vin were dead.  Fadi had crawled into a bottle and disappeared.  And Nat?  A second gulp, almost as big for her as for Oz.  Nat had washed her hands of him.  Takie princess that she was, pretty and rich, she had had enough of her foray into rebellion and danger.  She had cleaned away the dirt and grime of dockside, and Connor with it.

“Move your ass,” a voice barked from the small intercom by the door.  “Work details leave in ten minutes.”

Connor didn’t want to crawl out of bed.  For all its many faults, the bed was warm.  The floor was cold.  The cell was cold.  Hell, the whole fucking place was cold.  Less than a year into his five year sentence and Connor was already very, very tired of the cold.

At least it wasn’t dockside.

If they’d put him into the much smaller jail out there, he would have died months ago. Of that he was very, very certain; too many out there knew just who Connor Spogelse was.  Too many blamed him for the violent gang war now ripping that space station apart.  And far, far too many were ready to make him pay for his role in it all.  The cops almost as much as the remnants of the crime family he had betrayed.

Grim humor, and the memory of his sarcastic friend, were more than enough to find the absurdity in his life, however.  How many could say they’d betrayed a major crime family, brought down a powerful politician, and earned a price on their head, all before their eighteenth birthday?

He could all-but hear Oz’s laughing voice in his head, Fuckin’ overachiever.

Out of bed he did get, in spite of the cold, and down to the entrance of the pod of cells.  Even after many months, the dirtside ground still felt strange to Connor.  Most of his life had been spent in the artificial gravity of a space station, and the regular, real gravity of a planet was just different enough to be disconcerting.  With every step he felt like he was about to fall over.  And that was without going outside to see all that emptiness hanging over his head.

As stupid as it sounded, even to him, he just couldn’t wrap his mind around concepts like sky and horizon.  And God help him with the truly crazy shit like scenery and weather.  He knew he’d never get used to any of it.

The pod’s lights were still dimmed for the night, and just eight prisoners waited by the exit.  The only inmates of the fifty in the pod with the privilege — and the drive — to get out of bed hours before the rest and go to work.

A brief stare from Connor, unintentionally baleful in the early hours, and the others gave him a respectful bit of space while they waited for the door to open.  With little to do but work, read and exercise, Connor had finally started to fill out his height.  He would never be considered big or bulky, but he was no longer the rail-thin teenager he had been just a year ago.

It was more than just size, however.  What Connor had done to the last aho who had thought to take advantage of the youngest kid in the entire prison brought its own respect, as well.  Dirtside criminals and thugs were little prepared for the sheer violence any dockside ikiryo could bring to bear with little hesitation and less warning.

The heavy door clanked open and the watch sergeant stuck his greying head inside.  “Alright, let’s go.”

The prisoners filed out, moved automatically to walk in single file against the corridor’s right hand wall.  You didn’t have to be in Chapman Penitentiary very long before the rules became automatic.  Fucking with the guards could offer momentary entertainment, true, but that most definitely did not make getting through your sentence any easier.  And Connor wanted very much to get through his sentence; wanted to get through with as little trouble as possible.

Down the long hall they marched, whispered jokes and comments the only sound.  It was early enough that not even the staff were moving around if they didn’t have to.  Later, when the day shift started, the halls would be full of guards and workers walking in packs alongside the ever-present movement of prisoners.

The small group reached an intersection and paused to wait while the sergeant called Central Control to open the heavy security door sealing the end of their corridor.  It was a major crossroads, this, and as the group of prisoners finally entered the intersection, all of the corridors leading out were similarly sealed.

A wave and an incomprehensible mutter from the sergeant sent Connor over to the one door painted a different color from the others.  Sky blue this one was, indicating its access to an area that led outside the prison.  The others, connecting only to internal areas of the facility, were a dull, earthen red.

A few steps and Connor pressed the small button on the door’s heavy metal frame, stared up into the holo-camera.  The door would not open until the operators in Central Control had verified his identity, and his permission to use this particular door.  No smile showed — could never show, not for this — but access to this door was his greatest accomplishment to date.

Quite how the prison officials had overlooked Connor’s past as a criminal specializing in cracking computer security and networks he didn’t know, but his first job in the prison library had offered just enough ‘net access to arrange this even-better opportunity.

“C’mon you little fucker,” the sergeant yelled, “hurry up!”

Until that blue door had closed safely behind Connor, no other one in the intersection would open.  Connor almost laughed at the grumbling from those behind.  The others were all headed to jobs in the prison’s kitchen and storage areas, and he would never understand how anyone could be eager to start burning fake-eggs and slopping out pseudo-oatmeal.

Finally, a buzzer sounded and Connor was through the door.  Barely a second later it slid shut behind him.  Those steps, as small as they were, took him into a completely different world.  Even the air smelled different.  Instead of the stale, chemical air of the prison, there was a taste of…something very different.

A few steps down the short corridor and he was into the big, busy room beyond.  A wave of sound washed over him as he entered, and a sense of activity.  Two steps inside and he was almost run over by a rushing prison guard.  Short and pretty this one was, with brown hair and bright blue eyes.

A distracted smile and a half-hearted wave from her, then.  “Sorry, no time to get things set up right now.  Just hit the basic stuff.  By the time you’re done with that, the rush should be over.”

Her accent was strange, vastly different from the hint of dockside that still clung stubbornly to Connor’s tongue.

A glance at the far end and Connor saw thirty new prisoners standing in a line, wrists and ankles shackled and their orange jumpsuits rumpled and dirty.  Four guards stood near that group, talking amongst themselves as much as watching the inmates in their charge.  Seated nearby, behind a high counter, several guards were checking ‘screens and preparing to call out names.

It was the prison’s Admissions and Processing Center, its link to the outside world.  Work in that area was one of the better jobs a prisoner could get…and was far and away the best job for a data-thief like Connor.

A brief smile, then, and a hint of self-satisfaction, as he moved to a small closet by the holding area.  A pull on the unlocked door and he was soon filling a mop bucket and readying his supplies.  A few hours of cleaning in exchange for several hours of datanet access every day?  Yes, please.

Maybe he’d arrange a little ‘donation’ to his commissary account today; why eat prison food when he could just buy his own on the prison’s penny?

The work — and the guards’ processing — took more than a few hours, but the end result was the same.  The floors were cleaned, the bathrooms were cleaned, and the guards entertained with jokes and stories.

Connor was well-known as one of the few docksiders in Chapman Penitentiary, and very few people on Redux — the capital of the entire damned star system — understood even a tenth of the reality of life out there at the very edge of the star system.  Dockside was nothing more real than the wild and lawless jungle of various holo-dramas to them.  Of course, it was wild and lawless, Connor reflected; the corporations who had colonized this system hadn’t cared enough to make it anything else.

The stories and jokes he told were just enough to hint to the guards that he was something special, something different.  Stories and jokes were powerful tools for confirming prejudices…and for gaining advantages.  And Connor — innocent, earnest Connor who the guards all liked — had lots of stories.  A few of them were even true.

It was the same guard — the pretty one — who brought Connor his breakfast.  Not for him a plate of food made from substances that almost, but not quite, resembled eggs and sausage.  No, sir, you couldn’t have the poor, abused kid who cleaned your toilets eat that shit.

A smile from her — one that offered questions, and hints of more — and she offered a small tray holding a pair of sausages and a strange, sour salad.  What docksider had ever tried fucking sauerkraut?  Connor wanted to find insult in the food; wanted to, but could not.  It was good.  It was also a hell of a lot better than anything those inside that sky-blue door were eating, that was certain.

That food came with a second benefit: after the guard had left to return to her duties, Connor was left alone at a desk-mounted ‘screen.  Antiquated that system may have been, and all-but useless compared to those he had used a year ago, but it did have one key feature that more than made up for its faults: a connection to Redux’s very modern, and very fast, datanet.

Connor’s life as a dockside ikiryo had given him many skills.  First and foremost among those: Connor could crack any security the ‘net could throw at him.  A smile, and a bite of food, and he began to navigate again through the prison’s security system.

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