The Bazaar: Chapter 18

Number Nine

Fulton was still out cold when the guards came for her.

Emily briefly considered making a commotion. She figured she might be able to put one down if she caught them off guard. But two? Two would be tough.

And anyway what was the point?

If you are captured, Number Eleven, you will endure torture. They will beat you. They will rape you. There is nothing you can do except take it, and, given the opportunity, escape so you can pay them back a million times over. Otherwise all you have to look forward to is them pissing all over your bloody, faceless corpse.

The cell door slid open.

Emily got to her feet. She tugged on her over-sized coat to straighten it.

She would go quietly. With dignity.

It was cold in the prison but Emily refused to show it. She learned this skill on the street, in the first winter, which was one of those winters where you could put on as many layers as you liked but the cold got through anyway. It got under your skin and worked its way into your bones where it pooled like an iced-over lake till the spring thaw. In The Program Emily related to the readings about the cold. The ones about Napoleon in Russia. Later the Germans. The Russian winter could freeze a man’s piss in midair. General Winter, they called it. Emily got a taste of that in Grozny.

So a drafty, filthy prison wasn’t all that terrible.

A pair of guards waited outside the cell. They actually smiled at her. Politely, without leering. Cheerfully, as if to make a good first impression. If you dressed them up in red vests they’d pass for valet parkers.

When Emily stepped outside the cell one prodded her with a pistol. They prodded her all the way down the corridor.

She expected catcalls and whistles.

She’d suffered far worse, just in the first stages of the Voluntary Rehabilitation Program (V-Hab, they joked). For Phase One they were prisoners housed in large, open cells based on military barracks. Men and women lived together, just as they trained together, fought together and would eventually die together.

Of course the men attacked the women. Every woman busted a goon’s head during Phase One. Otherwise she washed out or dropped out.

Number Nine came for Emily. He was over six feet tall and weighed in around two hundred. A mountain of a man with a squared-off jaw and tattoos all over. The feature piece on his back showed a pair of mermaids tonguing one another. Funny thing about it was that if she’d met him on the street she might actually have found him attractive. Unfortunately for Number Nine she’d been clean going on a year and in peak physical condition.

He came at her in the shower, that is to say with her in the shower, him wriggling out of his tan prison onesy as if she would throw her hands up and submit to him.

Number Nine was big but his size was a liability. He was used to everyone on the street being afraid of him. He was slow (she knew that from drills, where he lagged behind, further back than Emily and even some of the other women, despite the length of his stride).

He lunged at her using both arms like a pincer, trying to wrap her up in a bear hug. Plenty of strength in it but much too slow and clumsy.

She slid back, skidding along the wet shower floor.

Number Nine tried to extend his reach by lurching forward. He threw all his momentum forward without considering how he would keep his balance on the wet tile, and in that moment he lost the fight.

Number Nine went face first into the tile. Emily kicked him in the head with the ball of her heel as hard as she could, driving the sharpest, boniest part of her anatomy into his bald-ass goddamn wannabe rapist skull.

Again.

Again.

And again.

Eventually she stopped keeping track and just watched his blood swirl down the drain.

Emily was no longer afraid of much of anything. Certainly not a few catcalls from second-rate, third-world hustlers. Not that it mattered. The block was deserted except for her and Fulton. Every cell empty. A dead security bot sat at the far end of the corridor, its head hung with thick layers of cobwebs spread across its treads.

Whoever designed the prison built it like a bunker. The walls were solid concrete, probably to bombproof the place. Lighting was minimal. The corridors all looked the same. If you managed to escape your cell you’d lose yourself in the labyrinth long before you found the exit. Unfortunately the averge narco jailbreak involved overgenerous bribery instead of high explosives — the place was probably obsolete before it was finished.

Eventually they reached a solid metal door at the end of a long, featureless corridor.

One of the guards unlocked it. The one with the pistol motioned for her to enter. He smiled politely as he did it.

Valet parkers for a torture chamber. For a second Emily thought she might laugh out loud, but the sound died long before making it to her lips.

She crossed the threshold.

A white man sat behind a flimsy metal table. He wore a tan suit with a white shirt and pastel tie. He was clean-shaven and well-groomed, his hair neatly gelled and styled, as if he’d come here straight from the sales floor of some uptown boutique.

“Hi Em,” he chirped.

“Hi, Pritchard.”

The guards slammed the door behind her.

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