Heavy footfalls broke through Spike's frozen stupor. He cracked open his eyes. Every joint in his arms ached from the prolonged extension in the shackles. Not the first time he'd been subjected to this torment. In front of the row of prisoners Sergio, the dick of a senior guard who'd chased Bob off, tapped his shock stick with an expectant grin. A younger guard released the magnetic-locks on the prisoner to Spike's right, a hothead wannabe-bad-ass pathetically nicknamed Deathray. Spike would have put every woolong he'd earned bounty hunting that the guy's first name was actually Ray. During what must have been over two day's stint in the bite of the shackles all the punk's bravado had been eaten away. The moment his wrists were free he bent forward, hugging his arms to his body whimpering.
Sergio pointed the stick at the newly freed Deathray. "Hurts when the blood returns to your fingers, doesn't it." He turned to the guard, nodding his head to the shived prisoner. "Dickhead here won't be any trouble. Unlock that one next."
The guard knelt down. "Sir, he's … a stiff."
"Precisely. Which means he also won't be any trouble." Sergio shifted a hostile glare down at Spike. "Don't think for a moment I've forgotten what you did the last time."
Spike tried to laugh, it only ended in a wretched coughing fit. He braced himself against the sting of the frostbite marring his wrists. Like before, he shifted against the metal shackles in an effort to relieve the strain on his chest that hardly did his breathing any good. By the time he caught his breath, the younger guard knelt at his side with the key, trembling.
"Go ahead, release him." Sergio ground his teeth. "If he tries anything he knows what happens."
"Didn't stop me last time." Spike relished Sergio's flinch. The thought occurred to him to try bull-rushing this prick's ass and give him an extended taste of that zap stick in his hands. But Spike's chest warned him, even if he could pull the same trick of overcoming his sleeping limbs, the recent onset of the lung inflammation had already compromised his reserves. The rules of the game had changed. The odds were stacked against getting more than one good physical shot in. As the first cuff released, Spike lowered his arm to the prickling rush. It took everything he had not to wince, to maintain the lazy-eyed glare up at Sergio. "Hey, did you enjoy your vacation in the infirmary?"
The guard froze in mid-motion, short of working the key into the other cuff's release. He stared wide eyed at Spike's free hand flexing in his lap. A bead of sweat dropped down the guard's forehead despite the freezing temps.
Sergio's eyes dilated, his hand darted to white-knuckle his left shoulder.
Savoring the moment of his discomfort, Spike grinned. "Did they manage to get that back into joint for yah?"
He snapped out of the shock, and tried to cover it by barking at the lackey. "You—hurry up. I don't have all day."
Hastily the guard released the other cuff. The second he finished, he darted out of the range.
Spike flexed his hands, forcing the disquieting smile to remain even though he wanted nothing more than to grip his stinging hands. He refused to give that prick the satisfaction of glimpsing his own discomfort.
"Get up. Both of you." Sergio held the shock stick in front of him. "Quick now."
"It hurts!" Deathray wailed, still bent over.
Spike slid up the wall and crossed his arms, leaning there casually. "Is that right?"
The younger guard shot glances back and forth between the two before Sergio backhanded him, shouting, "Get a hold of yourself. He's playing you. Trust me, he feels it. He's just been through it enough to act like it doesn't effect him. Get that piece of shit on his feet!" Sergio kept the stick between himself and Spike.
Dragged to his feet, Deathray hunched over, tears welling in his eyes. Spike smirked. Yup, real bad-ass can't even take his medicine. That'll be the last time he picks a fight over rations.
"Pick that up." Sergio nodded at the corpse. "You two killed him, you get disposal duty."
"Disposal duty?" Deathray blanched. "What the heck are you talking about?"
Reaching down, Spike grabbed the blue corpse's shoulders. "You'll be glad you haven't eaten."
Shoved by the other guard, Deathray took the ankles and staggered under the stiff load. The entire time he muttered and whined about the needles of pain. Spike remained silent, save for a few rogue coughs. They paraded the corpse through the icicle clad corridors, the eyes of prisoners locked down in their claustrophobic cells followed the progress. Whispers followed.
Reaching the depths of the sprawling prison, Sergio stepped on a pedal set in the floor. A large chute yawned open, followed by the rumble of a machine starting up. Deathray flushed as the series of raking teeth rotated up out of the depths of the pit. "What the—"
"Did you think they buried the dead?" Spike remarked wryly. "Come on, just give him a good heave and be done with it."
They tossed the stiff body into the chute. The mechanical teeth caught and chewed its meal. Deathray bent over and heaved his guts, mixing it in with the grinding meat.
Rolling his eyes, Spike folded his arms. "That wasn't what I meant."
Covering his nose, Sergio gestured to Deathray. "Get him back to his cell. We're on new-arrival lock down until the warden gives his welcome speech." The moment the younger guard moved out of earshot, Sergio grabbed Spike by the collar and threw him face first against the wall. "I knew you were bluffing! Tough to fight when you can hardly breathe, huh asshole? I should bust your shoulder into a hundred shards and see if you keep laughing!"
Spike would have answered, but the wracking coughing fit stole his breath. Forced into silence, he endured the elbow pressing against his shoulder.
"Well, the joke's on you, Asshole. Cause I don't even have to. With a new shipment of future corpses, you know what that means, don't you?"
The crackle of electricity filled the air as Sergio hit the trigger on the shock stick, letting Spike see it out of the corner of his eyes. Spike steeled himself, but the shock didn't come.
Instead, Sergio laughed. "It means the warden needs a volunteer for a demonstration. Guess who I have in mind? Don't worry, I'll pick out a nice new friend for you to play with."
The moment he released the pressure, Spike spun and brought his arms up into a defensive posture. Sergio leapt back, the fear flared in his eyes before he mastered it. "Coward!" Spike rasped. "If you didn't want to get your ass handed to you, you shouldn't have asked for it."
"I could take you in a heartbeat." He snapped. "But the only form of entertainment out here is watching the lowlifes take shots at one another's throats. And then," his smile grew more sadistic, "punishing them for doing it."
Spike shook his head. "There's something seriously wrong with you."
"Now, hands on your head." When Spike remained motionless he pressed the trigger, the length of metal sprang to life. "I said, hands on your head or you're not going to like me."
"We're hardly pals." With a sigh, Spike laced his fingers in his matted hair. Keeping his head held high, he allowed Sergio to parade him back to his cell on the second floor. The moment Spike entered the glorified closet with nothing but a hard bunk and a frost-stiff blanket, Sergio slammed the barred door shut.
"Alright Warden. All in." Sergio called out over the railing before wandering off.
Spike leaned forward against the bars. His elbows rested on the cross-brace, his hands hung limp outside the confinement. He wasn't alone. Countless prisoners who had been scraping by against the brutal odds clung to their own doors, knowing how brief the lock down would last. Knowing what would follow, despite the promise of words. The newer arrivals were easy to spot, thrashing against the bars and screaming.
In the middle of the large cylindrical prison tower, the warden reminded Spike of a walrus as he lumbered up to the microphone. "Inmates of Quidlivun Cavus Prison Colony, the most disreputable scum of the galaxy."
Spike rolled his eyes at the gravelly voice. Least he could do is come up with a new insult, I mean what else does that lump of lard do here?
"With the recent arrivals from Mars it's a good time to remind everyone of the rules here. Your safe incarceration is first and foremost our concern."
Spike shut his eyes and pushed off from the bars, shuffling to the bunk he flopped down on the unyielding surface and cradled his head in the crook of one arm. He winced and shifted the arm to relieve the pressure on his raw wrists. How many times is he going to spit that shit out thinking anybody buys it? Life sentence, my ass! This is nothing but a frozen death row.
"Fighting is strictly prohibited. Participating inmates will be punished accordingly … "
Or subjected to whatever sadistic idea pops into the guard's heads at the time, because, you know, they're power-tripping little cowards with human cattle prods.
"You will be provided with the basic human necessities … "
Food, when we feel a rare tug of emotion on our cold, dead hearts. A single garment that keeps your flesh from freezing to prolong your suffering, because death by frostbite is too far swift and un-amusing. Privacy, safety, dignity, cleanliness, medical treatment … throw those out the air-lock, cause to get actual human necessities you need to be considered actually human. Guess what you're not anymore the moment you entered this place?
Spike shut his eyes, weary of the same scathing inner dialogue he'd gone through for time unknown to him. The door to his cell was locked. Briefly he was isolated, safe. Taking as deep a breath as he could muster, he relaxed his iron grip on the hair-triggered instincts, the only means for his survival in this cesspit. Exhaustion dragged him down into a dreamless sleep. The only sense that remained primed—his hearing, vigilant for the release of the lock when the near-constant threat on his life would resume.
See you, Space Cowboy