Caged

 

Chapter One: Zayda

 

Red, green, blue. Red, green, blue. The tags for the meds in the inventory flowed by in a sea of color, the only bright spots in the grey, dingy clinic.

Red, green, blue.

I’d done this yesterday, would do it again tomorrow since it counted as a useful task for the satellite. The mindless repetition let my thoughts fly free, as for the eighth time that morning I tried to figure out how to get a message to my handler.

“Take a break, Zayda,” Denon called from the other corner of the prison clinic. “You’re always working too hard.”

Nominally assigned as the clinic medic, Denon didn’t seem to worry at all about staying busy and useful. I glanced at my cuff. Still bright steady green. Good.

Maybe the time we spent patching up idiots who got into fights, or growers who ended up on the wrong end of equipment earned him enough points to coast through.

I’d only been here for two weeks. Not long enough to have it figured out. I was waiting for a sign, some indication of which way to jump.

But nothing yet.

Red, green, blue.

“Come on, Zayda.” Denon had sidled up next to me. I hadn’t noticed his approach. Being trapped here was getting to me, wearing down my sharp edges.

His arm rested around my waist, making my skin crawl, but I kept a careful smile on my face. Until I knew who to trust and how I was getting out of here, I couldn’t lose the clinic as a safe place.

Training made it easier to put up with a lot. But even I have limits.

I started to make another excuse, but was saved by the opening of the clinic doors. Jado and Malik, hauling a third man between them.

As co-captains of the Skulls, the satellite’s largest gang, they had sent plenty of people to the clinic, sometimes their own members.

But then I got a better look at the man they brought in with them.

Jado and Malik were big. This guy was bigger, even slumped unconscious, his arms stretched over their shoulders, legs and feet pulling behind as they dragged him through the door.

“Cuffs told us to bring this dude in,” Jado said. “Too messed up to even get off the shuttle on his own power.”

I raised an eyebrow. The shuttle that brought prisoners up to the satellite was programmed to stop recycling air as soon as the airlock doors opened.

Prisoners had two minutes to disembark. Occasionally someone would insist on trying to stay aboard for the return trip back to the station.

It never ended well.

By the end of that two minutes they were usually convinced to try their chances on the satellite.

Denon rolled his eyes. “Put him on one of the cots until he comes out of it. Doesn’t look like he’s bleeding. Not much for me to do.”

I slid out from under his arm. “I’ll do a quick scan on him, just in case.”

Denon shrugged and I tapped my cuff. “May as well keep the meter filled.”

From across the room the guy was big.  Standing next to his cot, he was massive. Muscles bulged from his arms and chest, his shoulders too wide to be fully supported by the narrow cot.

There was no way he would fit into our antiquated full body scanner, and I didn’t even know if it was running today. I grabbed one of the handhelds and started at his feet.

The readings for – Oh. That was interesting.

I kept my eyes on the scanner and my mouth shut. But my mind spun frantically.

Jado and Malik were bullshitting with Denon. No one paid attention, no one cared.

In a career working for the Imperial spymaster you hear a lot of rumors. The vast majority are lies, speculation, or on a good day somebody’s drug filled hallucinations laid on top of something they just watched on the triD.

I kept moving the scanner up his body, around his torso.

This guy was in good shape, too good of shape. The basic equipment we had here wasn’t going to give me any details but I could fill in the blanks myself. Someone had been doing more than just a little genetic editing. This was full out manipulation, possibly even hybridization.

I hesitated for just a minute before starting the scan on his neck and head.

It would’ve taken a lot to knock out a man this healthy. I really didn’t want to see the permanent damage that might have done it.

But I also really didn’t want to hand the scanner over to Denon. He might only be a half-trained medic, but even he would notice something odd in these readings.

The patient’s hair was buzzed on the sides, a little long on top, with a few days’ worth of scruff. His ears came to a slight point, barely noticeable if you weren’t looking. With what I knew, I definitely was.

To my relief all of his neural patterns read within normal ranges.

His head fell to the side and I fought back a gasp. A round mark with three prongs extending from the circumference, no bigger than my thumb, reddened the skin on the side of his neck.  Carefully, I moved his head the other way, knowing already what I’d find.

No question about it, he’d been wiped.

His eyes flickered behind closed lids and his breathing sped up, just a fraction. Before I could move, a strong hand encircled my arm, just over the cuff.

Steady golden eyes met mine. “Who are you, and what am I doing here?” The low growl of his voice wound around me as surely as his fingers.

“You’re on Minor.” It probably wouldn’t mean anything to him. “I don’t know who you pissed off, but it doesn’t matter now.”

No sign of recognition of the name, no sign of understanding of any kind. On impulse, I smoothed his hair back from his forehead, and his eyes drifted closed.

If he was lucky, he’d dream of freedom, of being anywhere but here.  I turned away, back into the nightmare.

 

***

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