A Test Of Loyalty

Prologue

The handcuffs chaffed at his wrists and the chain that linked them to the manacles at his feet clinked as he shuffled out of the bus, his stride hampered, struggling not to trip. Someone in the line in front of him did just that, knocking into a guard on his way to the ground. It drove everyone to a halt, lest they end up in a pile of tangled limbs. The man who had fallen was struggling to get up, shaking so badly that he couldn't support his weight on his trembling arms.

The guard who he'd knocked into, an overweight balding man whose name badge read Belton, grabbed him by the arm and hauled him to his feet. "You'll learn to stand and be a man here, or you'll quickly become somebody's bitch." He warned, using the butt of his rifle to give a vicious jab to the young man's ribs. The impact obviously hurt, and the man whimpered and looked like he might go down again, but he didn't. The other prisoners looked on the scene with disinterest, real or feigned. It would do no one any favours to appear upset by violence here.

The shambling line carried on, ignoring the jeering of those behind the double layers of electrified fencing and the cold gaze of the MXs in the guard towers, as they approached the looming grey concrete building that was to house them for their foreseeable future. The building had obviously been designed by someone who wanted to instil fear. It was cylindrical in nature and had no windows, making it look like some sort of chimney. It promised a dark existence, except for the few hours a day designated as exercise time. It was actually even larger inside than it appeared, as only half the building was above the surface, the other half buried deep in the ground, the effect being that if you at the bottom and looked up to the lead-lined and bulletproof skylight in the top, daylight seemed so far away as to be completely unreachable. He knew this because he'd been here before, although the last time he hadn't been in chains.

As he crossed the threshold into the building, he found himself in a holding room, with half a dozen MXs stood to attention, lit was old fluorescent lighting that seemed to be making the headache he already had that much worse. They waited before all twenty-three of them were inside before shutting the heavy metal door. The guard, Belton strode to the front and addressed the crowd. "Listen up! You are to strip, the room will decontaminate you and then you are to receive your new clothes and bedding. After this you are to follow the MXs who will show you to your cell. Anyone tries to fuck around and there will be consequences."

With a few grumbles, everyone started to undress. Belton stalked through the ranks, glaring at him. He kept his head down and concentrated on undoing the buttons on his shirt that he'd worn that morning to his sentencing. Stood here, that morning seemed like a lifetime ago already.

Belton stopped right in front of him, hands folded behind his back, like a Sergeant Major about to tear into a recruit at inspection. He leaned in and whispered. "I know who you are. I know what you did. Surprised they've not housed you in the isolation cubes, but it'll be a pleasure to have you down in Gen Pop with us. You should watch your back though, asshole. It won't be long before others work out who you are either." He'd been a little too loud, on purpose, making the prisoners on either side of them look over with curiosity.

Perhaps the sensible response would have been to ignore the comment, keep his head down and do what he was told, but instead he looked up and returned the glare, jaw set in his best menacing frown. The defiance pissed Belton off, and he smacked him round the back of the head with his palm. It wasn't enough to wipe the frown off his face, or even make him blink.

It was the guard who in the end broke off the staring competition, turning on his heel and striding back to the front of the room. Everyone else was now naked, some covering their groin with their hands, others revelling in the chance to be an exhibitionist and the opportunity for masculine posturing. MXs were coming round with bags to pack belongings into. He had to hurry to finish undressing, an MX holding out the bag patiently while he stuffed his suit, shoes and underwear inside. When the MX sealed the bag and walked away he was left feeling cold and uncomfortable. He'd been proud of his body once, and had had few inhibitions, but now the hard muscle was littered with scars and he could feel the eyes of other inmates sizing him up and looking for weaknesses. He wasn't prepared to show any though, so kept his hands firmly on his hips, feet planted in defiance.

Belton walked out of the room and behind a toughened glass screen and the MXs followed, filing out with arms full of clothing. There was a hiss then, and then the room filled with some sort of spray. It stung the eyes slightly and made a few of the inmates cough, the taste of it in the air was like getting soap or shampoo in your mouth. Someone on the back row was being melodramatic about it and cursing a blue streak. Someone else snarled at him not to be a pussy.

The decontamination lasted a few minutes. When it was switched off, the MXs marched back in, this time with stacks of plastic bags containing piles of clothing and bedding. These were handed out according to size and were given two minutes to break into them and get dressed in orange jumpsuits with black plimsols, before the doors at the front of the room opened and they were ushered into the main area of the prison.

An MX carrying a box called out his name and he followed the android down ten levels towards the bottom on the prison. "All inmates on levels two to ten will report for cell inspection and breakfast at oh-seven-hundred." The MX explained. "This will be followed by two hours in the exercise yard. Showers will be taken in rotation at the allotted time. Lunch is served at thirteen-hundred-hours, Work is undertaken between fourteen-hundred-hours and eighteen-hundred-hours. Work opportunities will only be given to those inmates who show compliance and is not available to those in the isolation cubes. Dinner is at nineteen-hundred-hours and lights out at twenty-one-hundred hours. Your compliance is expected on all orders. Violence will not be tolerated and will be punishable with time in isolation. Counts of violence will be recorded and time penalties will be added to your sentence. Attempts to escape, harm a guard or incite violent disorder will be met with an automatic five years added to your sentence. Such force shall be used as is necessary to prevent the commission of such an offence."

The MX had droned on about the rules until they reached the sixth floor above base level. Level six was ten levels below ground and there were another thirty levels above. The light from the skylight in the roof barely made it that far, even with the fluorescent lighting everywhere, the place felt dark and miserable. They reached a cell designated 601, although due to the cylindrical nature of the building it still had a neighbour on either side.

The MX ushered him inside and he found a small room with a bunk bed in, a toilet, and where there had once been a desk and chair, there was now a narrow camp bed. He glanced at the bunks and saw they were both occupied with men who propped themselves up to study the newcomer.

The MX put the box it had been carrying down on the camp bed, and it creaked under the weight. "This holds enough charge for you to use for a week. Every Monday it will be taken to be connected to the main supply during the day and will be returned to you by lights out ready for use. It will not be used to charge contraband. Any questions?"

He shook his head and the MX left. He sat down on the creaky little cot and peered into the box at the outdated synthetic limb charger before sliding the box under his bed and laying down. John Kennex sighed and wondered, not for the first time, why he'd let himself make sure a huge mistake.


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