Title: Redstone Chapter 9, Part 2.
Demarcos Gyllenny grew up on a Central System planet. On the Central System planet, honestly: Bayt, the biggest and most populated planet in Federation space. It might not house the Federation’s capital, or even any of its major centers of industry or government service, like Olympus. Bayt’s major commodity was, simply put, people. It was one of the first planets colonized after the exodus from the home system, and it was a poor one for colonization. The soil was toxic, and dust storms rolled across the tumultuous landscape on a regular basis. The sky was eternally yellow, lit by two different suns, and the water had to be drilled for so deeply and put through so many cleansing systems that by the time you drank it, it didn’t even taste like water any more.
Bayt was colonized due to a firefight between two different colony ships. The shameful battle between Surina and Santa Maria was actually fought over Bayt’s sister planet, the much smaller and far more hospitable Aya. Computer readouts indicated that the most desirable landmass—there were several that were well-equipped for human colonists—wouldn’t support the numbers on both ships. Surina was closer but Santa Maria had bigger engines, and after a drawn-out conflict during which the irate captains used most of their life pods as makeshift torpedoes, the ships lost control and hit each other. Thousands of lives were lost in the mid-space collision, and those who remained were drawn inexorably into Bayt’s gravitational pull. Both ships fell to the surface, and almost a million more people died when they did.
The thing about early colony ships, though, was that they were both enormous—literally, floating continents—and designed with a certain practical ruthlessness in mind. Once a planet was descended to, there was no coming back. The ships weren’t equipped to return to space, and so the people who were left on board, of which there were almost ten million, had to make the best of a bad situation. There was no other choice.
Gradually, the colonists built up, scavenging the ships for the pieces needed to make the first enormous skyscrapers. They built them so tall they would rise above the sandstorms, away from the poisonous ground, and thanks to a surprise surplus in resources due to the unexpected deaths of close to ten percent of the colonists before landing, the first Baytians became an incredibly fertile group. The population grew in leaps and bounds, and by the time contact was reestablished with the larger universe, the people of Bayt had established themselves as both birth-prolific and generally interested in leaving Bayt.
Demarcos was born on a low level in Tower Three. The higher your level, the more money you had: if you could afford to pipe your water up thousands of feet, you could afford to have windows that actually opened, because the dust didn’t rise high enough to bother you. Demarcos didn’t have those advantages as a child. He was the tenth of twelve children to his mothers, and one of only two boys. He still remembered the day that Mama Jill didn’t come home: she had worked as a miner, sifting poison out of the ground and sending the cleaned earth to the greenhouses for use in food production. Her suit had malfunctioned, and she had inhaled a concentrated amount of Bayt dust and died almost instantly. Her body was never returned; bodies were just fuel to be tilled back into the soil, used to feed more bodies.
Mama Opal got a death settlement from the government that was enough to move them up five levels, into a zone where there was more than just vocational training for children, there was actual schooling. Demarcos had still been young enough to take advantage of it, and he’d absorbed reading, writing and math like a sponge. By the time he was fifteen he was living on level Seventy-Two, in a boarding school. By the time he was twenty he’d earned a scholarship that paid for his passage to Liberty, where he worked nights and studied days to become a lawyer.
Demarcos understood injustice. He’d lived it, lived a life shaped by foolish men’s prideful mistakes. He’d been born near the ground, so low he might as well have been buried there for all the social mobility he’d been raised to expect. His mother’s death had been awful, but also a blessing in disguise. He couldn’t remember what Mama Jill had looked like anymore, but he did remember that her suffering had paid for his elevation off-world. The least he could do was return the favor. He’d paid to move the rest of his family up to level Thirty-Seven, and hoped to do more when he could. Demarcos took care of his own, and never counted on anyone to help him for selfless reasons. It had gained him a ferocious reputation as someone who didn’t make deals, was no good for backdoor meetings, and couldn’t be counted on to fold in order to save face. Demarcos fought every case like he would die for it.
This was the first case he’d taken on where he actually wondered if he would, in fact, die of a heart attack before it could be resolved.
“Your bots didn’t find him.”
Warden Harrison scowled at him. “I believe I just said that.”
“But you didn’t bother to tell me what it means,” Demarcos snapped. “If you’re content to sit there and let me think the worst, then be prepared for me to ask some stupid questions in the search for an answer. What does it mean that they didn’t find him?” Please don’t say dead, please don’t say dead… Demarcos had an entire team back on Liberty currently dedicated to searching for and documenting cases of malfeasance and abuse in Redstone, but he didn’t want to add Kyle Alexander to the list of victims. Shit, the kid had had it hard enough, and now he might be…he might be…
“It most likely means that he simply wasn’t issued an intake number,” Harrison said with cold calm. “One bot did return a blank notation.”
“Why doesn’t Mr. Alexander have an intake number?” Tamara Carson asked. She was the president’s resident flunky, and Demarcos had honestly expected her to be way more of a pain in the ass than she was actually being. It was strange, having the support of someone on the very definition of the other side. Not that he wouldn’t mind trying to sway her to his side, to be honest; she was sharp in a way he respected, and had dealt with plenty of her own shit growing up as a natural in a Regen universe. Now, however, was not the time to be thinking of her.
“We didn’t have a chance to issue one to him before his introduction into the general population.”
“Before he was stolen out of his Regen tank and shoved into the Pit by a yet-unidentified guard,” Demarcos corrected, just as cold as Harrison. Fuck that son of a bitch, he wanted professional? Demarcos would professionally get his ass canned by the end of this.
“If you’re looking for further justification, I have nothing new to offer you,” Harrison said. “Internal investigations are proceeding into the unauthorized extraction from the clinic, but I’d think you’d be more interested in what’s happening to your client now than resurrecting the past.”
“That happened less than twenty standard hours ago, it’s hardly the past,” Demarcos argued, but he knew that flying this flag wouldn’t get him anywhere with the warden. “What happens next, then?”
“We have to confirm that the blank is indeed Kyle Alexander, and then a guard will remove him from the common area and complete his intake properly.”
Well, that sounded fucking ridiculous. “How will you ensure his safety while he’s waiting around for a guard to pull him out of there?”
“It isn’t our responsibility to ensure anything other than his presence, Mr. Gyllenny.”
If a person like Warden Harrison had been in charge of the lower levels of a Tower on Bayt, there would have been no one left alive in under a year. “You have a constitutionally-mandated duty to tend to the needs of your subordinates under adverse conditions.”
Harrison folded his hands complacently. “Prisoners don’t qualify as subordinates. At best, they’re low-value human capitol. At worst, they’re enemies of the state. Recent laws passed by the Federation Senate spell out new provisions in maximum security prisoner care that necessitate some hard decisions, but the welfare of my guards comes before the welfare of any of the prisoners in Redstone. Is it a hard system? Yes, I acknowledge that it is. But I reiterate: every person in this prison has been convicted of murder at a bare minimum, including your client. His upcoming trial focuses not on his guilt, but on his culpability for the murder. I certainly hope that he lasts until then, but if you were so concerned, you should have fought harder to get him into a lower-security facility where prisoner comforts are given more weight.”
If he ground his teeth any harder, Demarcos was going to lose them. “Continued survival isn’t a comfort, it’s a basic expectation of—”
“Excuse me,” Tamara interrupted quietly. For the most part she seemed about as forceful as a puff of air, but there were occasions when she’d speak and Demarcos found himself shutting up, even though he didn’t intend to. “But what’s the procedure for getting him an intake number?”
Harrison pivoted smoothly to address her. “He’ll be brought into the guard’s room just outside the prison entrance, his retinas will be scanned and entered into the system, and we’ll do a DNA match as well. Then he’ll be associated with a number, and returned to the general population.”
“Who does the actual scanning?”
“Unacceptable,” Demarcos said instantly. “At least one of your guards has proven to harbor ill intent toward my client, to the extent of attempted murder—”
“That is an unwarranted assumption—”
“And given that your internal investigation hasn’t turned up the guard in question yet, the idea that you would let a potentially murderous individual have access to my client yet again, an individual who is your subordinate even if his or her identity isn’t known, calls into question your judgement.”
Harrison frowned. “The entire process will be observed. There’s no way that—”
Demarcos couldn’t keep his mouth from twisting incredulously. “One of your guards broke my client out of the Regen tank in your clinic. That was observed too, and nothing has been done. Don’t tell me my concerns are unfounded.”
Harrison’s lips thinned. “Fine. Fortunately, Redstone has a new transfer from Caravan who just arrived a few hours ago. There’s no way this individual could be the one who supposedly endangered your client,” and here Demarcos had to take a deep breath just to keep himself from screaming, “so I’ll instruct my chief to have him to the intake. Is that acceptable to you?”
It was the only concession Demarcos was going to get at this point, and he knew it. “Yes.”
Tamara didn’t say anything, just kept her hands folded demurely in her lap, but there was something about the way her eyes shone, about the way the lines at the edges of them had relaxed, that made Demarcos wonder. Did she know something he didn’t? What was her game? She said she didn’t have any real loyalty to President Alexander, that she was his charity case and nothing more, but she had made it a point to be involved in all of these conversations, and in none of them had she come down on the side of Harrison and his guards.
He’d have to get her alone and talk to her later.
“I’m glad we’re agreed,” Harrison continued. “As soon as Kyle Alexander appears on vid, I’ll have the guards retrieve him. If he doesn’t show up in the next four hours, I’ll gas the prison and have my people search it manually.” He smiled thinly. “You’ll be welcome to observe if it goes that far.”
“I’ll take you up on it, if it comes to that.” Demarcos hoped it wouldn’t, but if that was what it took to ensure Kyle was still alive, well…
Harrison clearly didn’t mind paying the price in potential anarchy among his prisoners.