Title: Redstone Chapter 9, Part 1.
Kyle didn’t do well being forced into stillness. He could do it; it actually came very easy to him, the art of not being noticed, of making yourself small and unavailable and uninteresting, and he wasn’t sure why. It was an ingrained habit, one of those abilities that it seemed he should have had memories of learning and didn’t anymore. He could shrink and vanish without knowing why, and because of that he tried to avoid doing it. Kyle was inherently reluctant to ever agree with Cody’s friend Ten about anything, but he had to admit that ze had a point in making hir life’s unofficial motto “Go big or go home.” If you were going to commit to a course of action you should do it wholeheartedly, which was why Kyle was here in the first place.
It stood to reason that he should listen to more experienced voices when it came to keeping him alive now, but Isidore’s plan still grated on him a little bit. “I still don’t see why we have to delay this anymore.”
Isidore smiled at him. It wasn’t a condescending smile, not in the least, but it was measuring in a way Kyle didn’t quite understand. Like he was being held up to a standard he wasn’t sure how to reach, and for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to him, Kyle wanted to hit and exceed any measure that Isidore could think of. “We need the time to prepare.”
“The other inmates already know I’m here. There’s nothing to be gained by not facing them sooner.”
Isidore shook his head. “Meals might as well be feeding frenzies here. Lots of deals go down when food gets distributed, and they’re the most dangerous times in Redstone, which is saying a lot. We can handle emissaries and small groups, but crowds will be hard to negotiate until we make more secure alliances. So until we have the means to do that, we’re avoiding mealtimes.”
“What will we do when we run out of food?”
“We won’t.” Isidore indicated a stash of ration bars underneath the exterior hull of a robot that had somehow been ripped apart like a corn husk. That wasn’t supposed to be possible with this level of nanomaterials. They were harder than Old Earth diamonds.
“But we can’t let them think we’re afraid,” Kyle persisted. “The longer we hide away back here, the more they’ll rationalize trying to get rid of us when we finally do appear.”
“I don’t actually plan for us to be here all that long,” Isidore said. “No more than a day, just enough for us to get the bits and pieces we need to do some deals.”
“What kind of bits and pieces?”
Isidore looked over his stash of goods consideringly. “I think we need to take another bot. They carry all sorts of tradeable parts, and one should be heading our way pretty soon.”
Kyle was lost. “Why?”
“It’s protocol with new arrivals, especially when the guards lose sight of one of them. They send the bots in to do a body check, make sure everyone is accounted for. If someone is missing then the guards themselves will come in, but they’ll probably gas the place first, and that…” Isidore wrinkled his nose. “That’s a nasty experience. It’s hard to recover from and it disrupts the chain of command, so they don’t like to do it, but will if it’s necessary.
“The iron disrupts the vid feeds so they don’t have a way of looking this deep into the core. That means sending a bot down here. We’re the only ones this deep, so by the time it gets to us we’ll be the priority assessment.” Isidore rubbed his long, thin fingers together. “We need to open it up and get some parts out of it, but keep it functional so that it can record our identities and get back up to broadcast level.”
“How are the two of us going to take out a robot guard?” Kyle asked. He tried not to make it sound like a demand, but he felt uncomfortably out of his depth here. He was used to being…okay, not the best, so to speak, but the one who knew what was going on. He’d been a star in the Academy thanks to his public position and his secret one both, but now he was the one struggling to catch up. “They’re armed, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are.”
“And they’re nearly indestructible.”
“Also true,” Isidore agreed. “This is definitely going to be easier with you around; handling one of them by myself was rough.”
“You still haven’t explained how we’re going to do it.”
“Psychic powers.” At Kyle’s blank look, Isidore relented. “Actually, I rigged a molecular disruptor up a month ago. We’ll let it scan me first, and then while it’s scanning you I’ll puncture its control system and temporarily shut it down. I’ll take out the parts we need, turn it on again and let it toddle back up to the main room.”
How the hell… “Where did you get the parts for a molecular disruptor?” Kyle demanded. “And why didn’t you have it when you came after me yesterday?”
If Isidore was put off by Kyle’s tone, he didn’t let on. “I didn’t have it for two reasons: one, it requires too much power to be moved from where I’ve jimmied the cord into the wall,” Isidore gestured at the band of light inset in the stone. “And two, it could be considered a heavy weapon. If it was seen by the guards, they would have no choice but to come in to confiscate it, and I don’t want to have to deal with being rousted.”
“Where did you get the parts for it in the first place?” Kyle might not know much about what went on in Redstone, but he was quite sure that the guards weren’t lax enough to make it possible for prisoners to create heavy weaponry on a regular basis.
“Some of them I traded for. Some of them I stole for myself. But the most important part?” Isidore held up a long metal wand threaded with scavenged wiring. It looked nothing like a traditional molecular disruptor, the large size presumably necessary so he could compensate for lower power. The tip of it, though, the part that was going to do the impossible by cutting through things that should be almost impossible to cut, it was…odd. Kyle looked closer. The piece was semi-circular, thin and slightly iridescent. Now that Kyle thought about it, it actually looked like a…
“Is that a nail?”
Isidore smiled again. “One of my toenails.”
“You implanted a fake nail? How did that not get caught?” Isidore must have bribed the clinic staff somehow to get them to overlook a fake body part.
“I didn’t implant a fake, I actually grew this one.”
Kyle shook his head. It was enough of a cue for Isidore to continue. “I seeded the growth bed for this nail with the chemical components needed to create a part like this. I figured that even if I didn’t get the chance to build a disruptor, it couldn’t hurt to have another built-in weapon. It’s incredibly hard, naturally, but I programmed the stem cells to release once the growth had achieved the preset length. It literally fell off into my hand.”
The process Isidore was describing was waaay more complicated than he was making it seem. Kyle had done decently in his fabrication and modification classes at the Academy, but this was a whole other level of creation. “What did you do before you came here?”
“I was in cosmods.”
Kyle shook his head. “This is not cosmodification. Cosmods are for aesthetic reasons, they’re simple. This is…not simple.”
“It’s nothing compared to convincing a person’s body to grow itself a tiger tail,” Isidore demurred. “Solaydor is the Central System’s leader when it comes to this technology, and I worked with some very good people while I was there. I picked up a lot.”
“I guess so,” Kyle agreed. “You must have—” He stopped as Isidore held a hand up suddenly.
“Noise in the corridor,” he murmured. “The bot has a loose wheel.” He glanced at Isidore as he quickly hid the wand under a pile of scrap. “Remember, let it scan me first and after that, keep its attention long enough for me to work.”
“How long will that be?”
“Not long,” Isidore said soothingly. He didn’t have time for anything else: the bot wheeled into view and stopped in front of them, its green eyestrip glowing brightly in the dim hallway.
“Identify yourselves, inmates.”
Isidore stepped up smartly. “Prisoner 2571.” The glow flared as the bot recorded Isidore’s irises, then swiveled to focus on Kyle.
“Identify yourself, inmate,” it repeated.
Kyle carefully didn’t look over at Isidore as he said, quite honestly, “I’m Kyle Alexander, and I don’t know my prisoner intake number.”
The bot whirred for a moment. “Unable to process. Identify yourself.”
“My name is Kyle Alexander, and I do not have an official intake number.”
“All inmates have corresponding numeric values.”
“Well, I don’t.” Isidore was easing the wand out from under the scrap. Kyle kept talking. “My arrival was a little precipitous, honestly. It’s not surprising that I don’t have a number yet.”
“All inmates and personnel have official intake numbers.” The bot scanned his retinas. “No existing match in database. Error: unidentified inmate. Conclusion: intruder. Course of action: immediate apprehension.”
That didn’t sound good. “Wait, there’s a good reason I don’t have a—” The armature on the front of the bot began to crackle with the snap of a heavy-duty taser. “Wait, stop!”
The bot lifted the taser toward him, and Kyle had just a moment to brace himself for the feeling of thousands of volts coursing through his body before the noise and light suddenly stopped. The bot’s arm dropped and its eyestrip went dark. He sighed as Isidore appeared from around the back of the bot, the disruptor firmly clasped in one hand. “That was close.”
“That’s bad,” Isidore said, frowning fiercely as he started to cut into the side of the bot. “No intake number means you’ll have to be retrieved and officially entered into the system. We’ll have to make an appearance in the main room, and we’ll have to hold our own for as long as it takes for the guards to get their heads out of their asses and do your intake properly.” He jerked a small piece of metal out of the bot, then got started on another section. “Not that the guards aren’t a problem all on their own, but you’ll be vulnerable in the crowd.”
“I thought the whole point of claiming me was to make me less vulnerable.”
“Claiming you was done to keep you alive for long enough to get down here,” Isidore corrected. “I had a plan, but that plan isn’t worth much if you’re not official and we can’t keep people off your back long enough to get you that way.” He removed a few more things, then went to work at the back of the bot’s headpiece. “The guards can’t be trusted. I know you’ve got a lawyer here trying to ensure decent treatment for you, but—and this isn’t a criticism, just an observation—they haven’t been very effective so far.”
“No,” Kyle said, thinking guiltily of Demarcos and how frantic he had to be now. “He hasn’t.”
“So we’ve got new problems. Not just keeping you alive in the Pen—the dining hall, it’s called the Pen—but keeping the guards from screwing with you.” Isidore put the wand down and closed something up on the back of the bot’s head. A moment later, it whirred to life again. Kyle unconsciously tensed, waiting for its arm to start snapping with electricity.
Instead it turned and headed back down the hall without another word. “What did you do to it?”
“Hit restart, basically. It’s programmed to return to its charging station, and as far as it was concerned it had no mission here. It already reported an unofficial prisoner, though, so the guards will be on the lookout soon enough. We’ll have to get up there if we don’t want this whole place gassed.”
Isidore looked more than a little downtrodden, which was disconcerting. Kyle wanted to shrug off the worries; being afraid wasn’t going to get him anywhere, and even though he wanted to dwell on the what ifs, he resolutely turned his mind away from them. “We’ll handle it. What did you take from the bot?”
“Hmm? Oh, batteries.” He indicated the little pile of chips. “Battery backups. Not big ones, since the bots shouldn’t need them, but they’re one-shot wonders for a lot of prisoner tech. Plus a few other things that no one else will care about, including a—” His voice broke off for a moment as he swept his hand through the pile and settled it firmly onto the iron bench. Isidore pressed his palm as flat as it could go, his eyes intent. Kyle watched as his frown suddenly blossomed into a brilliant smile.
“Robbie and Wyl are here! Oh, they have the best timing.”
“Who are they? And how do you know that?”
Isidore waved his hand at Kyle, who noticed for the first time that the palm looked…hmm, darker than the rest of his skin. Tougher, somehow, like a callus had built up over the entire thing.
“Wyl just told me.”