Snippet: The Youngest Kid

Okay, so…I have a couple of posts that I’m trying to work through. Unfortunately, those posts need some thought and attention before I’ll be ready to free them from my Drafts folder. I still want to post something, however.

I could go all random and weird and try to throw something together…or I could do some flashfiction…

Naw, neither of those appeal to me right now.

You know what I haven’t done in ages?  I haven’t posted any snippets from my real stuff! Well, then, there’s the answer!

I tried to pick up the scenes from where I left off oh-so-long ago, so hopefully this will make sense to those of you who have been around awhile. A suggestion for those who are new: if you search for posts with “snippet” in the title, you will find my earlier scenes from Somewhere Peaceful to Die and The Silence That Never Comes

Err…also…a warning for new folks: I curse. A lot. I curse in real life, and I curse in my writing. Yes, my stuff qualifies (sort of) as “Young Adult” material, but my characters are streetkids and criminals. Also, I use slang from different languages almost as much as I curse. You will see a number of words in italics in the snippet below — in this particular story, those words come mostly from Czech and Polish, with a dash of Russian thrown in.

Whew, that was a lot of caveats and addendums! Let’s move past that crap and see what Connor is up to:

Connor wasn’t sure if he loved the sky, or if he hated it.  A bit of both, then.  All to go with his healthy dose of fear, of course.

His work in the prison’s admin center kept him busy on most days.  It especially kept him busy when the other inmates were released into the outdoor exercise yard.  On those days when he did manage to go outside, it was all he could do to keep moving, and to maintain his focus.  A part of himself, deep and primal, wanted simply to stand and gape at all that air hanging over his head.

Connor had operated in space. He had floated — quite literally — in the middle of nothing.  But that, somehow, was less disturbing than the partially-overcast grey and blue expanse of a dirtside sky.  He understood planets, and knew the basic physics of the universe, but he had grown up in a world of hulls and passages and crowded cargoholds.  Every time he looked at the sky, there was always that little-boy wonder at the back of his mind: what kept it all in place?

The yard was big; big enough to swallow the two thousand inmates that were Chapman Pen’s reason for being.  Most of those inmates clustered in tight groups scattered around the yard.  Connor knew those groups, and what they represented.  They were the gangs.  Very few in prison could survive on their own, and the gangs were the easiest way to gain allies and defenders…for a price.  There was always a price.

Connor hadn’t joined the gangs back home, and he certainly wasn’t going to do so here.  Fucking gurentai…no, they were rvac now!  Whatever he called them, they never changed.  They were just as stupid on Redux as they had been Dockside.

“I swear to fuck, these debil get weaker every year,” Brian snorted derisively as they passed one such group while he walked at Connor’s side.

From Connor’s other side, Rahm answered with a laugh, “Not our problem anymore, kamos.  We’re out of the game.  Let the kids have their fun.  They don’t need you lecturin’ them ’bout the good ol’ days.”

Brian just shook his head and grumbled under his breath.

Connor chuckled at the banter.  The vast majority of those in the yard were simple prison-toughs; posturing fools who would’ve been eaten alive Dockside.  But Brian and Rahm…Connor knew guys like them.  He’d never asked the two old men about their lives before Chapman Pen, but rumor and the respect with which they were treated painted a picture far more clearly than any answers they would ever have given.

A turn at the end of the yard and they began to walk back the way they had come.  Redux was a cold world, and Connor walked bundled in a heavy coat that had earned a great deal of mocking from the other two.

Brian swung his big, bare arms — both covered in tatoos from shoulder to fingertips — and gave Connor a bit of a shove.  “You want to get used to livin’, what do you call it, dirtside?  You better ditch the fuckin’ jacket, kamos.”

“It’s a fashion choice,” Connor laughed.  “I’m makin’ a statement.”

A pause to eye three rvac walking towards them and Connor sighed, “Do pice.”

Two were nobodies, the simple goons you could find anywhere.  The one in the middle, however…he was the leader of one of the new, up-and-coming gangs.  Shotcallers, those gang leaders were called, and they did just that, call the shots for their followers.  And for their victims.

Connor had been waiting for this.  Brian and Rahm had too much history, and reputations far too large, to be harassed.  But the youngest guy in the entire prison?  Whatever reputation Connor had built over the last several months didn’t matter, a confrontation was inevitable.  The various shotcallers did not like the idea of an independent.

From the corner of his eye Connor saw Brian’s small shrug.  This was Connor’s problem.  It had to be his problem — to seek protection would mark him forever as weak…as a victim.

Maybe thirty, the leader was.  His thinning hair was shaved to the scalp in front and grown long in back.  The tattoos on his face shifted and writhed in the wan sunlight, changing colors and designs in a random dance.  Very popular, those dynamic tattoos were…and stupid as shit, to Connor’s mind.  How the hell were you supposed to blend into any crowd with a bunch of random squiggles moving all over your face?  Fucking debil.

The leader was taller than Connor, and significantly broader.  He offered tiny nods to the old men at Connor’s shoulders, then took up an aggressive stance that blocked Connor’s path in the most offensive way possible.

Here it comes, Connor thought.

“Yo, little teplousi,” the man drawled, every syllable dripping derision.

It was meant to be threatening, of course, but Connor had been threatened — and almost killed — by people who cut people’s tongues out for fun.  This?  This was minor league kecas.

“You wanna get the fuck out of my way?” he answered, his voice quiet and cold.

“Naw, you got it all twisted,” the shotcaller answered with a sneer.  He paused to glance at Brian and Rahm, a large step back from Connor now, before he continued, “Don’t go all pissy on me.  These two, your friends, they got their own shit.  But you…I hear shit ’bout you, ya know, and I wanna be your friend, too.”

Yep, exactly according to the script.  Connor would retort, then the insults and threats would start flying back and forth.  A bit of that, then they’d get to the yelling and shoving.  A choice, Connor had: he could give in to their little recruitment drive, or have all three beat the shit out of him.  Or he could go with option number three.

Do haje,” he whispered, his voice more than half-sigh.

“What’s that?” the other asked, leaning close as he struggled to hear.

“I don’t have time for this shit,” Connor barked even as his knee slammed into the shotcaller’s groin.  The barest half-second of stunned silence, then the guy gave a strangled scream and tried to curl up, clutching himself.  Connor’s hands had tangled in the long, greasy hair, however, and he held the man’s head at waist height as his knee again swung upwards…repeatedly.

Not much more than two seconds after Connor’s words, the shotcaller was on the ground, writhing and groaning in pain as blood poured from the shattered wreck of his face.

The two goons may not have been stellar examples of human intelligence, but they did know their jobs.  A roar from each throat and they stepped together towards Connor.

Zatim ne,” Brian said calmly.  Just talking ’bout the weather.

The two hulking rvac paused to glance at the shorter man, the anger on their faces turned to confusion.  Brian raised a finger and the confusion turned to fear.  That was it.  No yells, no threats, not so much as a stern look.  A raised finger…one fucking finger.  And they stopped.

Even with his own shit to take care of, Connor was deeply impressed.  And very, very glad Brian was on his side.

Connor bent over and again grabbed that lank, dirty hair.  The groans became another scream when Connor jerked the shotcaller’s head up.  He leaned close and gave that convenient handhold a little shake.  “This is as close as I’ll come to a warning, curacek.  You fuck with me again and things’ll go downhill fast.  I got nothing to prove, and even less to lose.  I don’t give a fuck…about anything  You do not want to press an ikiryo who’s got nothin’ left, you really don’t.”

It was hard to say what was in that face.  Connor couldn’t decide if the eyes held terrified agreement or total agony, and he didn’t particularly care.  The debil understood the point.  That was what mattered.

All six men in that little knot of anger and survival knew the score; in places like Chapman Pen, you survived on reputation.  A failure like this— getting your ass kicked by the youngest kid in the entire prison — meant the loss of whatever power and position the shotcaller had once held.  And quite possibly the loss of life, too.

Shou ga nai.

Connor was ready to step past the crying, moaning idiot on the ground when another voice called from a few yards away, “Spogelse, what the fuck is going on here?”

The sergeant.

Connor sighed.  The sergeant might have glossed over Connor’s little booze-making operation, but sending another prisoner to the hospital wouldn’t be quite so easy to ignore.

“Thergeant thith piethe of thit attacked me!” the crying, bleeding aho on the ground called out.  The blood and missing teeth made him almost impossible to understand.

The sergeant looked down, his face unreadable and his close-cropped gray hair as neat as ever.  “I didn’t see a damn thing.  I’ll have to look into that.”  The sergeant’s dark eyes, full of knowledge and experience, shifted to stare at Connor.

Connor could swear there was…something else in them.  Pity?  Sympathy?  Confusion?  What the hell was going on?

“Spogelse, the Captain needs to see you.  Now,” the sergeant said in a voice that held all of those things, and a great deal more.

Connor stared back, unable to find a single word.  He still had all of the fight’s adrenaline and violence flowing through him, and to instantly shift gears to something so different was beyond him.

“Let’s go,” the sergeant continued.  A wave of his hand and two more guards, young bachu Connor did not know, stepped up to flank him.  Brian and Rahm drifted back, making room for the guards.  They were just as confused as Connor.

This was not good, Connor thought, but what the hell was he going to do?  Take on three guards, when another thirty were just seconds away?  Yeah, that would end well.

He sighed and stepped forward, meekly following the sergeant and wondering just when the universe would stop screwing with him.

Every single eye in the yard was on him as he stepped through the door into the prison itself.  Just as, he knew, every single mind was wondering what the hell the obnoxious, dangerous Dockside kid had done to earn a special trip to the Captain’s office.

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