Title: Redstone, Chapter 8, Part 1.
Redstone was even more bleak and funless than Wyl had thought it would be. He’d been in prison before; not a serious one like this, but the version that housed non-violent offenders as a means of working off their debt to society, or in some cases, just their debt. Wyl had signed on to get bonded as soon as the option was offered to him, thinking that anything would be better than the bland, colorless life of a Federation minimum security prison. He’d ended up enslaved to a madwoman on a ball of ice in the Fringe, so—bad deal, overall. He should have stuck with bland.
The point was, Wyl was intimately familiar with imprisonment. After living with Robbie for a while at Caravan, he even knew a fair bit about maximum security conditions. This place…this place was not maximum security. This place was hell, pure and simple. There were no attempts at rehabilitation, no genuflections in the direction of mental and emotional health beyond trips to the Regen tank, and then only when absolutely necessary. In Caravan, if you fucked over another inmate, you were put into isolation for a week before gradually being reintegrated back into the prison population with additional, but largely temporary, restrictions. From what little Wyl could tell about Redstone, it was basically, to use an Ancient Earth metaphor, a shark tank. The big and powerful ate the tiny and weak, and the guards were little more than puppets put there to keep the ‘bots running and provide a last-ditch failsafe against total anarchy.
Robbie, needless to say, wasn’t happy. He didn’t say anything, in fact, but Wyl hadn’t been in love with the guy for over a decade without learning his tells. He saw frustration in the curve of Robbie’s lips, annoyance in the slant of his eyebrows, and downright rage as his nostrils flared. One fucking day they’d been here, one day, and Robbie was already close to either breaking down or breaking faces. Wyl wanted to coax the tension out of him, and planned to, in fact, but he had his own project to get underway. Thank fuck he’d gotten his iron transmitters staged on the exterior surface of Redstone from a distance, because once they landed on the meteor the warden’s secretary was stuck to them like they were molecularly bound.
“You’re late,” he said to Robbie the moment they stepped off Warden Grave’s transport ship. He’d been pinging their ship’s comm for the past hour, but the pilot, a usually cheerful woman who was polite to a fault, had restricted all communications to text only, citing “mechanical issues.” Wyl had laughed at the time. Now he was starting to get it, though. “You should have been in training with the other guards an hour ago.”
“Gravity wave,” Robbie said easily, his crisp military voice giving over to a slouchy Ancient Earth accent that he’d told Wyl was loosely identified as “redneck.” “Can’t get ‘round ‘em sometimes.”
“Regardless, you will have to make up the hours. I’ll take you to get processed. Your…spouse,” he continued, glancing dismissively at Wyl, “can get started transporting your things to your quarters. Agent ZB89 will guide you there.”
“So much for the welcoming committee,” Wyl said soft enough that only Robbie could hear it, just to see him crack a little smile. “Go get processed and meet the rest of the boys, honey,” he said more loudly, punctuating his statement with a noisy kiss that made the sour-faced secretary frown harder. “I’ll get us all settled.”
“Thanks, babe.” Robbie sidled off, leaving Wyl alone with ZB89. The robot was a single-wheel model, ancient by modern standards, actually using a gyroscope to stay upright and with no hover technology at all. Wyl itched to take it apart, but that wasn’t the way to make a good first impression. He shouldered a bag and grinned.
“Lead on, ZeeBee.”
ZeeBee’s green eyestrip brightened momentarily. “Command accepted. Follow me, human-male-spousal-counterpart.”
Wyl grimaced. “That’s a hell of a mouthful. How about you just call me Wyl?”
“Wyl is not a complete designation.”
“You need a last name too, huh? Or maybe a title.” He thought about it for a moment. “How about…Wyl the Conqueror?”
The eyestrip brightened again. “Suggestion accepted. Follow me, Wyl the Conqueror.”
“Aw, shit yeah,” Wyl crowed as he followed the robot. “I can already tell that we’re going to have a good time together, ZeeBee. When you see my husband, I want you to call him Christopher Robin, okay?” It was an old jab, but Wyl never got tired of it.
ZeeBee’s head swiveled back to regard Wyl even as his body continued to roll forward. “Are you authorized to change human-male-guardian-spouse’s designation, Wyl the Conqueror?”
“I am legally, morally and hilariously entitled to change all of my husband’s designations,” Wyl said confidently. “He’d be the last person to argue with you about that.”
“Accepted.” They left the landing zone and entered what looked like a shared living area, one large common zone with a big kitchen and plenty of holoscreen space. Two levels of rooms lined the longest two walls. ZeeBee led Wyl up a ramp to a battered-looking door at the very end of the hall. “You and Christopher Robin shall be living in Suite Two-Twenty,” the robot recited. “Press your hand to the reader.” It was scarred and cracked, but the palm scanner still worked well enough to accept Wyl’s print. “It will respond only to you and Christopher Robin, who shall be scanned in during his intake. Please enter.”
Wyl did, and was depressingly unsurprised by what he found. A living room, bedroom and kitchen, all with dingy white walls and well-used furnishings, and a tiny bathroom that contained an even tinier shower. Definitely no room for two in there. “This is the couple’s version?” Wyl demanded. “Really? I thought the suites were bigger than this.”
“Only guest suites are equipped with more square footage, and they are housed in another section of Redstone, Wyl the Conqueror.”
Of fucking course they were. Because just getting to run into Hummingbird in the halls would be too fucking easy. “Great. How do the other spouses feel about this?”
“You are currently the only spouse in residence, Wyl the Conqueror.”
Oh boy. That was…going to lead to problems, Wyl was sure of it. For now, though, it looked like he had the place to himself. “Where is everybody, anyway?”
“Emergency training exercises, Wyl the Conqeuror.”
“Great, perfect. Let’s go get the rest of my stuff, yeah? Are you cleared to help me with that?”
“I am cleared to act in whatever capacity you require that does not go against my base programming, Wyl the Conqueror.”
“Okay, enough of that.” Wyl clapped the robot on the shoulder. “We’re friends now, right? You can just call me Wyl. Think of it as both a name and title rolled into one, okay?” He watched the eyestrip brighten, then dim, then brighten again. “Come on, ZeeBee, I know you’ve got the justification in your programming somewhere, you’ve just got to dig deep.”
A moment later the robot’s eyestrip brightened, then settled into a steady green glow. “Command accepted, Wyl.”
“But stick to Christopher Robin right now for my husband, okay?”
With ZeeBee’s help, Wyl was able to get his and Robbie’s baggage from the tarmac to their quarters without running into anyone, which was good. He wasn’t afraid, necessarily, but he wasn’t looking forward to running the gauntlet here without Robbie as backup. Places like this became tight-knit, and not usually in a good way. Wyl wasn’t going to be able to charm his way into anyone’s good graces, and so it was better to have fear or intimidation on his side. And Robbie, for all he had grey hairs and the general demeanor of a lazy lion in his prison guard persona, was intimidating as fuck when he put his mind to it.
Wyl dismissed ZeeBee after a bit, telling the robot not to be a stranger, which made its green light flash brightly as it struggled to compute the colloquialism. He ignored the bags of clothes and most of the equipment in favor of rapidly reconstructing his remote pulse emitter. It connected to a tab that Wyl had programmed to assess the wavelengths of Redstone, searching for a frequency that would be close enough to something common that it wouldn’t be remarked upon, but different enough that it would be picked up solely by his communications array. The program didn’t take long to analyze things; Redstone, for all the hype, was still a fairly small place.
“Ah.” Wyl grinned with satisfaction. “Good.” The first pulse would be a test, a way to check on the viability of his array and to tell whether or not he’d need to use dampeners to diminish the strength of the signals. He took a deep breath, then sent his initial pulse out into the blackness of space.
A moment later, the tab pinged. Wyl inspected the graphical feedback, noting node strengths and locations with regards to where he was now, and where he anticipated his target was. 85% efficacy, well within the parameters he needed to operate. He grinned manically. “We’re in business now!”
Of course, it all might be a lark in the end. There was no way for Isidore to communicate back at them, not unless he happened to have a run-in with Robbie, which given their respective positions seemed like a bad option. He might not even get the codes, if the density of the prison walls changed too much or his mod was malfunctioning. But Wyl had to try. If it worked, at least Isidore would know he wasn’t alone.
Very carefully, he tapped out a message in Morse: CAVALRY IS HERE.