Snippet: “Out”

A few steps inside the heavy security door and the sergeant turned, opened another door, this one simple and nondescript.  Inside was a small office, used mainly to hold for discipline any inmate who acted out on the yard.

They’d found the booze, Connor decided.  That was worth a cringe and a worry, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  Quite why they had pulled him so abruptly, and so openly, out of the yard, however, was a question he couldn’t answer.  He wasn’t sure he wanted the answer.

Prison was a place of rhythm and regularity, for bachu as much as inmate.  No matter what happened, you could predict the what and when, and even the why, of how folks would act.  The habits and the rules — the techniques of survival, even — created a world where change was feared, and unpredictability all-but nonexistent.

Inside that office was not what Connor expected.  Handcuffs and an uncomfortable chair, yes.  A confrontation about the pruno, yes.  But the warden of the entire damned prison?  That he did not expect.

There was a hell of a lot more going on than any jug of fermented fruit juice, Connor decided.

The sergeant knew it too, his face said.  The set of his shoulders, and the pace of his breathing, told a story of his own tension and worry.  The other guards were still outside and talking quietly across the wide hall when the sergeant closed the door, as silent and tense as was Connor himself.

The simple click of a lock had never been so loud.

A glance, then, at his blood-covered right knee and Connor breathed a silent curse.  Nothing he could do about that.  At least his hands were steady.  On the surface, he was as calm and confident as he’d ever been running a scam.  On the inside?  On the inside was a different story.

The warden studied him for several moments.  An unremarkable man, he was thickset and greying and about Connor’s own height.  Connor was no giant, but at a few inches over six feet he had grown used to being one of the tallest among Dockside’s relatively short population.  Since his arrival on Redux, however, he had found he no longer stood out for his height.  He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that change.

The quiet lasted for several seconds.  Once upon a time, the tension and stress in that cramped little room would have made Connor twitch with nerves.  Now, instead of shifting and babbling nervously, he simply stared.  No matter what was coming, he decided, he would make this bastard work for it.

It was the sergeant who shifted from foot to foot, who finally broke the silence.  “Sir…”

The warden raised a hand and finally spoke, his voice short and full of tension that did not show on his face, “We’re going for a walk, Sergeant.  You stick with this kid, and follow me.”

That was it.  No explanation, no hint as to why the damned warden had pulled in a simple prisoner for a private conference.  Connor did not like where this was going.

This wasn’t about illicit booze, no sir.  This had to be something bigger.

The Bimyo Family.

He didn’t know where that thought came from, and didn’t want to know.  He may have ruined the Bimyo, but the remaining Families had long, long arms…and even longer memories.  Had the time come to pay — finally — the rest of the price for those events of a year ago?

He wasn’t entirely sure he would be opposed to that.  When you’ve got nothing left, who really gives a damn about survival?

Besides, if all the books and poems were true, he’d get to see Oz again.  Life had been…less, since he’d comforted his friend into death.  Into the death Connor had caused.

There were certain routes within the prison designed to control the movement of prisoners.  Corridors divided by heavy, remotely operated doors and numerous security measures far beyond the visible.

They did not follow a single one of those routes.

Instead, the warden led Connor on what he could only think of as a shortcut.  A route through side passages and guards-only spaces that the prisoners saw only to mop and clean.

A shrug, then, more mental than physical.  Shou ga nai.  Whatever was going to happen, was going to happen.  He was just along for the ride.

There were special rooms for interrogations.  Just as there were rooms for meetings with lawyers, and others for hearings and disciplinary proceedings.  To none of those did they go.  That did get Connor thinking, if only to wonder just what new way to mess with him the universe had dreamed up.

They moved through a heavy door Connor had never seen before, and into a long hall lined with offices.  And at the end of that hall?  They went through another of the heavy, centrally operated doors and stepped into the…admin and processing center?

What the fuck?

That big room was quiet now.  Behind the counters and desks, the guards Connor knew so well from his shifts cleaning and working in there were typing and working away.  Not one looked up.  Very, very obviously, not one looked up.  What damned inmate was led outside of the secured corridors and through the back-offices by the warden?  No one wanted to know.

Connor didn’t want to know, either.

A call from the warden shattered the silence.  “Emily, I need you for a minute.”

A dark-haired head looked up from the long admissions counter.  That head belonged to someone Connor knew well.  She was short and pretty, that guard.  She gave him the computer time when he was done cleaning the place.  She had given him the guitar.

Well, shit.

The last thing Connor wanted was to get anyone else in trouble.  Especially a bachu who had gone out of her way to be nice to him.  Life could get very unpleasant if things went any more wrong.

A brief conversation with the warden, whispered and far too low for Connor to follow, then she waved at him to follow.  They stepped to a station on the far side of the room, quiet and away from the curious guards at the admissions counter.

A backwards glance showed the warden in conversation with the sergeant.  The rest of the bachu were still staring in studious — and completely unproductive — silence at their screens.

Emily began barking questions at him, rapid and incessant.  A year ago, he would have planned and carefully crafted the answers he gave.  He would have played the game to outmaneuver and fool the system.  Now?  Now, there was no point.

Place of residence?  None.  Family?  None.  Job?  None.

It was pure theater.  There was not a single guard in Chapman Pen who did not know that Connor had come in from the outer edge of the star system with nothing but the clothes on his back.

They were at that console far longer than Connor would ever have thought possible.  He was an ikiryo, one of the unseen and the unwanted, so why ask questions you knew had no answer?

As long as it took — a half-hour, if he had to guess — there was still a whirlwind feel to the whole thing.  When the questions were done, and the incessant typing and coding of information, Emily stood and led him around the corner and into a secluded area.  Two showers this area held, along with a door that led to the property room.  Connor stared at Emily’s back, wondered just what the hell she thought she was doing.

Not even for her, not even for one of the few who treated him decently, who treated him like a human, would he prostitute himself.  A dozen names he could give her, of inmates who would come back here and fuck her brains out for nothing more than an extra ration of coffee.  But not him.  Connor would scam and he would steal, but he would not sell himself.  Too well did he know the hell to which that led.

She put her hand on the door and looked back at him, met his gaze for several seconds.

“Connor,” she said, very quietly, “I don’t know what you’re into…and I get the feeling I don’t want to know.  But no one gets an order from Government House itself to be released as part of a transfer to a different prison.  I don’t know what you’re into, but you really need to be careful.”

With those last words, she disappeared behind the door and into the property room.

Released?  Transferred?  What the fuck was she talking about?

Connor very badly wanted a few minutes — or, better, a few hours — to sit and process just what the hell was happening to him.

Instead, he just stood there, feeling like there was something he should be doing.  He had no idea what that something was, however, so he just stood.  Like a lump, he stood.  And waited.

Several minutes later Emily was back, her hands full.  In her left was a trash bag, simple and black and not very full, while in her right…in her right was a guitar case.  Connor could barely swallow.

A nod of her head at the second shower, its curtain drawn closed, and she said, “Your old clothes are in there.  Get changed.”

Those old clothes…they hadn’t fit well before, and they would fit even worse now.  Connor hadn’t grown all that much, but he had put on a final inch or so.  And the rail thin body he had once owned had filled out by a good thirty pounds of muscle and bulk.

His first look at the faded blue pants and the soft, worn red shirt gave his heart a lift.  They raised the specter of…not returning home — he could never go home, not again — but of returning to the life he had once known.  A few seconds to put on those clothes and he realized just how impossible it was to ever return to what he had been.  He was not the same person he once had been.  No more than the universe itself was the same place.

No, it was a whole new existence he had to embrace.

And that, for some reason, was the saddest thing of all to him.

Clad as the person he no longer was, he stepped outside the curtain.  Emily took a moment to study him, then gave a nod.  A half-smile she gave, then, one that promised…things.  Things Connor was not prepared to deal with.  Not then, not with the universe itself fucking with him.

Her smile faded and she reached forward to hand him the trash-bag.  “Connor…I…” she hesitated.   A moment to breathe, then, and she continued, “Dockside might have had its problems, but you have no idea what it’s like out there.  The corporations…”

A hesitation and she glanced down at the patch on her right shoulder.  The patch for one of the biggest corporations in the entire star system.  A breath and she continued, “These corporations, they own everybody.  Don’t fuck with ’em.  Please.  My brother…he works in HR for 3G.  If you need a job…”

Her voice let the question hang, and her eyes…they still promised those unspoken things, still held things bigger than just bachu and ikiryo.

He smiled at her, then.  He had always prided himself on his ability to manipulate anybody.  Well, anybody except Oz.  But this girl?  This dirtside bachu with no grasp of reality?  Why couldn’t he manipulate her?

Because she mattered to him.

No.  Nothing mattered to him, he told himself.  Fuck ’em all.  The only people who mattered were a year dead.  Everyone else was there to serve his needs, whether they knew it or not.

What about Nat?

That particular thought was silenced, but not quickly enough.  No, not nearly quickly enough.

He stepped out of the now-open shower and took the two bags.  One he didn’t give a shit about, but the other?  The other mattered a great deal.  A very great deal.

The hall was not long, about twenty feet. It ended at a heavy door.  Were he back Dockside, he would have called it an airlock.  But dirtside?  Who knew what the hell these idiots called things?

A touch on his arm, and he looked back.  Emily’s eyes were sad…and carried more than a hint of worry.  She held out an envelope for him, one big enough to hold any number of things. 

“Anyone who gets released gets a voucher for a few days at a hostel,” she explained, her voice halting and quiet.  “There’s also the money you had left in your commissary account.  Plus, well, a few of us…a few us collected some cash for you.”

Her eyes shifted from her feet to Connor’s face, to his eyes.  “Be careful, Connor.  This isn’t Dockside.  The cops…be careful of the corporations.”

What the fuck had she been about to say?

She pressed a second envelope into his hand.  “You don’t have an implant.  These are some contact numbers for folks who can help you,” she said, her voice even more nervous than her eyes.

She was ten feet away, down the cramped, short corridor before he could think of a single thing to say.

The heavy door groaned as it slid open.

He stepped through, envelopes stashed in a pocket, a mostly empty trash bag in one hand and a battered, priceless guitar in the other.

The outer door was still closed, and he had to wait while the one behind slid oh-so-slowly closed.

In front of him, there was a sigh of air as the pressure equalized, then the outer door started to move aside.

“Go forth and sin no more,” a voice intoned over the PA system, derisive laughter barely hidden behind the attempt at funereal import.

Fucking assholes.

Connor hesitated for several seconds, then, and that surprised him.

What was he doing?

Whatever was happening, he had only one choice.

He stepped through that last door, the black plastic bag left behind like the useless trash it was, and emerged from Chapman Pen bearing only two envelopes and the guitar that had saved his sanity.

There were clouds chasing the setting sun, and a cool breeze.  He could hear the howl of a nearby train as it signaled its arrival to the rest of the city.

He stepped forward and looked around.  There was no one.  No cars.  No people.  Just cement, dark and rough, and the graffitied, battered buildings that announced the presence of a prison in their neighborhood far better than every could any sign.

A deep breath, and Connor started to walk.

{Musical Note — Oh yeah, given the scene above (and the hints of the “missing” character) picking this song was easy…}

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