Caged: Chapter Two

 

Chapter Two: Mack

 

Nothing existed but fire and pain.

And then she appeared. Tiny, with golden skin and long black hair. Shadows in her eyes, her hands cool and soothing.

The fire reclaimed me, burning her away, leaving me nothing again.

I woke to the sound of her voice, and pushed myself up on one elbow to look around.  A long box of a room, locked cabinets on the far side, where she stood, singing quietly to herself as she sorted through containers. A single deskcomm with a cracked screen in the middle of the long wall. Three other beds that looked as hard and narrow as the one I’d been laying on.

One door. No one else in the room.

I must’ve made a noise moving because she whirled around, braid flying, expression wary.

I didn’t move again, just nodded slowly in greeting.

With careful movements, eyes fixed on me, she tapped the panel in the wall and the sink slid out.

I drank the glass of murky water she handed me gratefully.

“Transport can be a little rough,” she mentioned but her eyes wouldn’t meet mine.

Transport? I didn’t remember going on a trip.  Darkness, I couldn’t remember anything about where I’d been. “Where is this?” I croaked.

She smiled, “I told you before. You’re on Minor.”

I didn’t recall asking before, and Minor sure didn’t mean anything to me. She took the glass away and nestled it into a sterilizer for reuse.

“You going to have to give me a little more than that I’m afraid, darlin.’” I quickly stretched muscles in sequence. Other than some residual tightness and an itch on my left arms, everything seemed more or less in place.

She turned back, eyebrow cocked. “I am most certainly not your darlin’.” She stressed the word. “But I’ll clue you in as to the rest of the set-up, since someone seems to have bumped you on the back of the head.”

Her eyes flicked away, just for a moment. And just that fast I knew she was lying. Maybe not about everything, but something.

“Minor is the correctional facility in orbit around Orem-5. Since Orem-5 is one of the stations furthest into the Fringe, they’ve quit relying on Imperial security.”

I shook my head. “This means nothing to me. Sorry.”  I scratched my arm again  and then stared down at it. “And what the hell is this?

A broad silver cuff wrapped around my wrist, almost as wide as my hand, a stripe of glowing green on the outer edge.

I glanced over. The woman wore a matching one, but on her it almost covered her forearm. She sighed and rolled over a chair.

“That’s your cuff, to make sure you behave. You’ve been sent here for some infraction of the rules back on the station.” She shrugged, warding off my confused protests. “I know you don’t remember. The station that we’re in orbit around is Orem-5. And people that do bad things on Orem-5 get sent out here to be useful to society, she swept a hand in front of her, like brushing dust away, “until they’re not.”

“But what does this have to do with that?” I pried at the edge of the metal cuff, twisting and pulling until I received a sharp shock.  I glared at her. “You could’ve warned me.”

“You would’ve done it anyway. Everybody does.”  She tapped the metal with a fingernail.  “Magnetic Access Control devices. We just call them cuffs. Behave, do enough useful activities for the satellite, get points. Do nothing, cause trouble, your points drop fast. You’ll know about where you are by this.” She raised her arm to display the bar of solid green that ran around the edge metal. “Try to stay in the green.”

“What happens if I don’t?”

“Lower your points enough, the mealpak dispensers don’t work. You’ll be shut out of the sleeping quarters. And become fair game for anyone else. There’s a lot of people up here for a good reason. If they keep their own points high enough, they don’t mind enforcing a little discipline on anybody who slips. Don’t let it slide into the yellow.”

“What’s below yellow?” I asked.

She closed her eyes. “I don’t know, but it can’t be good.”

“Well, then,” I swung my legs to the side of the cot and started to push myself up but she held me back with one hand.

“Be damn sure you’re ready to stand before you do. There’s no way I can get you off the floor if you go down.”

An unsettling thought crossed my mind. “This is a prison satellite and we’re both prisoners, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of guards roaming around.”

“Self-enforcing rules, remote operation. Theoretically better than a panopticon.”

I ignored the extraneous word, focused on my rising anger. “Do you know what I’m here for, what I’ve done?”

“Prisoner files are sealed from other prisoners. If no one knows details about anyone’s past transgressions, maybe people won’t make the same mistakes.” She grimaced. “I haven’t really seen it work out that way.”

“I could have been violent, could’ve been anything and they left you alone with me?” I didn’t even know who ‘they’ were, but they were on my shit list.

She looked amused. “Get too far out of line against another green, and the cuffs take you down. The jolt you got before was  just a little love tap. The cuffs connect directly into the nerves of your arm.” She stood up, pushed the chair away. “I told Denon I’d stay until you woke, but I’m about ready to call it a night. If you really are ready to go, let’s see if we can find you quarters.”

As I rose from the cot, my stomach rumbled. “I’d rather you showed me where to get one of those mealpaks you mentioned.” I followed her out the door. “Not sure when I ate last.”

She nodded and turned down the corridor. “Easy enough. I’m ready to head to the mess myself.”

We walked in silence for a minute, and I tried to get my bearings. Why the hell was I on a prison satellite, in orbit around a station I’d never heard of? Actually –

“Hey, Zayda!” A blonde woman passing the other way called out, giving a small wave to my companion. “Running late?”

The woman, Zayda, tilted her head towards me, and the blonde’s eyes grew big. “Just showing a new guy around.”

The blonde bit her lips, gaze flicking between us until Zayda gave her a smile. “It’s all good. I’ll catch you later.”

Her friend didn’t look convinced, but continued on her way.

“Well, that was different,” I muttered.

“What do you expect?” Zayda sounded more weary than angry. “She doesn’t know you. I don’t know you. The unknown is seldom a good thing around here.”

“That’s easy enough to fix”. I stopped and held my hand out. “Hi, Zayda, it’s nice to meet you. Thanks for being my tour guide. I’m -”

Only emptiness met me. A flash of pity crossed Zayda’s face, but she took my hand anyway. “Must have been some bump on the head.”

I pulled back, took the panic that threatened to overtake me and pushed it down, shoved it into a box and locked it.

“How can I not know my name?” I whispered.

“Does it matter?”

My head snapped back up. “Of course it does!”

“Would it change anything?”

I stopped the words that flew to my tongue.  She was right. At this moment, whatever had happened to me didn’t matter. Figuring out how this place worked, and then getting the hell out took priority. And then… I smoldered.

“Still need something to call you.” Her voice summoned me from my thoughts.

I scratched at the edge of the cuff. “What the hell. Let’s go with Mack.”

“Really?” Her eyes sparkled with humor, and her lips almost turned into a smile. “You’re going to name yourself after the cuff?”

“Got anything better?”

“Nope.”

“Tell me when you do, and we’ll vote on it.”

***

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