Title: Redstone Chapter 10, Part 1.
Isidore was feeling fairly confident as he led Kyle along their dark back corridor toward the Pen. Wyl and Robbie were here, which meant Robbie was integrating into the guard unit. He wouldn’t have a lot of clout there yet, but at least he’d be a moderating influence when it came to Kyle’s treatment. Kyle needed that if he was going to get through his official intake in one piece. Isidore remembered his own, and it had been…uncomfortable. And thorough. He was lucky his records had shown him as diseased when he got here; there were a few illnesses that even Regen had a tough time eradicating in just one go, and the guards were less inclined to take chances on a new piece of tail when there were other, far healthier inmates to take advantage of.
Klia’s crew had something close to a monopoly on the guards’ “personal attention” in exchange for better food and equipment. It was dirty but necessary, and she drove her best people hard to keep the rest of them safe. Klia was tough but reliable. She would jump into a situation as fast as anyone if she saw something to be gained, but other than that she held her ground and waited for opportunities to present themselves. She wouldn’t bother them now, in the Pen, but she wouldn’t offer them anything.
Rory’s crew was bigger but less cohesive than Klia’s, a lot of dangerous and violent personalities crushed together by Redstone and kept that way by Rory’s enormous fist. He was undoubtedly the most dangerous person in the entire prison one-on-one, a wanderer who’d gone past the farthest reaches of human-occupied space and returned with the most vicious will to live and conquer that Isidore had ever seen. Rory was elemental chaos, violence distilled into the heart of this dark place like a neutron star. He always pushed, and forced his people to do the same. They would come for Kyle, Isidore knew. If not now, then very soon. And Isidore wasn’t enough to keep Kyle safe.
He knew that Kyle would object to being typified as helpless, but it was very nearly the truth. It would have been different if Kyle had kept his mods; physical ability counted for a lot in the Pen. But he didn’t have them, and without fast fists and feet to back up his forceful desire for independence, he looked exactly like what he was: a young, mostly untested young man too full of idealism to really understand just what some of these people were capable of.
Kyle was armed with a single use, button-sized taser that would do for a one-on-one confrontation, and Isidore had his mods and a few surprises tucked here and there, but they needed allies. The independents were their best bet, but Big Charlie and his shadow were right out. That left six other inmates that might be willing to work with them, which was…not much. Let us just get through this first day, just one with no problems, Isidore thought fervently as he stepped into a broader hallway. A few hundred more yards and they’d be in the Pen, where people were already jockeying for position for food. If the guards were fast coming for Kyle, if he found independents willing to sit with them soon enough, if people needed what Isidore was offering…so many maybes.
“Hey there, lads.”
Kyle started, but Isidore was able to keep himself from jumping, just barely. “Pence.” He turned toward the man in the shadows, who was twirling his copper moustache like some ancient holovid villain. “What do you want?”
Pence held his hands up as he took a step forward. “No need to be hostile, Is-adore. I’m just pleased that you’re still both here, and looking so hale and hearty too! I heard there was some trouble with a bot earlier.”
“Where did you hear that?” Kyle asked suspiciously. Pence’s little smile got broader.
“Oh, I hear all sorts of things.” He tapped his ear knowingly. “Knowledge is a garden, and I like to cultivate mine. There might mean growing more mushrooms than flowers in this shit hole, but every little bit of information has its value.”
“What do you want?” Isidore repeated flatly. Pence had come here for a reason, but you had to pry information out of the man with a molecular destabilizer sometimes, and Isidore was in a hurry.
“My dear, you’re no fun sometimes.” He inclined his head and got down to business, though. “I come bearing gifts, actually.” He reached behind his back and pulled out a pair of shoes. They were tiny, the sort of basic sleeves that would expand to almost any size and kept most things from puncturing the material and the skin it protected, but didn’t do much for support. They were far better than Kyle going in there on bare feet, though, and an expensive thing to offer up. Especially as a gift.
“Where did you get those?”
“Does it matter?”
“It does. If you got them from a corpse, then you’ve probably violated someone else’s claim to the body because it isn’t a corpse you made.” Pence was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a killer. “If you stole them and people see them on Kyle, then I’ve inherited your trouble. I don’t need more trouble right now.” Stealing was more likely, honestly.
“Neither is correct this time, my ever-insightful darling,” Pence declared. Isidore felt Kyle stiffen slightly, and had to keep himself from rolling his eyes. Kyle would get used to Pence’s grandiose use of pet names eventually. “Three of Klia’s people just got new boots, and these were up for grabs. All it took was a little down-and-dirty prophylactic assistance that only yours truly could provide, and voila! Now I gift them to you and your new boy.”
“In exchange for what?”
Pence tilted his head slightly, the copper in his hair gleaming as he moved. “Call it a gesture of goodwill. I can’t associate with you officially, of course, it’s far too early for that sort of thing, but I sense a change in the wind. I simply want to be sure that I’m ensconced with the winning side.”
“What kind of change?” Kyle asked.
“Mouthy, isn’t he?” Pence commented. “Dear pet, let me tell you this and save your new master the trouble: silence is golden. You’re Isidore’s boy, so you do what he says when he says it, and nothing else. You don’t ask questions, especially not the kind that might cost you something.” Pence looked at Isidore and shook his head. “You’re being overly nice to this one, sweetness; he’s too accustomed to leading when he needs to be submitting to your leash. Silence him or risk losing him.”
“I handle my boy my way,” Isidore said, not that Pence was wrong. They’d talked about it, and Isidore had thought that Kyle understood, but Pence was dangerously disarming. His demeanor invited intimacy and conversation, but hopefully he would be the only one who slipped past Kyle’s guard like this. Kyle didn’t say anything else, so that was good. “And I accept your gift.” He held out his hand, and Pence inspected it carefully before laying the shoes in it. Isidore passed them back to Kyle, who put them on immediately. “Anything else?” There was always something else with Pence.
“Something that might be rather immediately useful, actually, provided you have a spare battery on hand.” Pence smirked and fluffed his hair mockingly. “My vanity mirror needs a new light source.”
Naturally. Luckily, Isidore had plenty of batteries now. He made one appear in his palm, and saw the glimmer of avarice in Pence’s eyes grow a little brighter. “Define immediately useful.”
“Information that’s face saving, quite literally,” Pence replied. “The sort of thing that might give the guards time to take your darling boy away and give you time to talk to the grownups without risking damage to your magnificent reputation.”
“Prove it works first.”
Oh, cheeky bastard. “I don’t deal in bad product.”
“Just checking, darling.” Pence shrugged, then continued. “There’s a little wolf pack waiting to try your mettle up ahead, and I do mean up. Two on the lintel and one enterprising little bugger clinging to the wall above them. Someone got a rather interesting set of mods past security,” he added with a little whistle. “No weapons that I could see, but that doesn’t mean much.”
“True.” Three of Rory’s guys. Not terrible, and a good show would certainly make the other independents more likely to give them the time of day. “Accepted.” He handed the battery over, and Pence caught the very edges of his hand and held it lightly as he bowed low, blowing a kiss across Isidore’s palm before tipping the battery into his own.
“You are wise beyond your tender years, dear heart.” Pence scooted away, and Isidore turned back to Kyle.
“We don’t have to stop them for long, just long enough for the guards to come and get you,” he said quietly. “It’s a test, not a real attack. Rory’s checking to see how committed I am to you. I’ll go in first, try to take at least two. Save the taser for yours. If you get into trouble,” please don’t get into trouble, “run toward me. I’ll handle it.”
“Got it.” Kyle looked nervous and grim, which was completely appropriate, but Isidore hated to see that expression on his face. He leaned in closer and lowered his voice to a whisper.
“Remember, Robbie is here. He’s probably going to be watching, and as soon as he sees you he’ll move to get you, I’m sure of it. You’ll be all right.”
“As long as you are too.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Isidore turned away before Kyle could protest again and led the way toward the pen. Ten more steps…five… Kyle hung back a bit, smart boy, and Isidore stepped through the door. The conversation nearest to him slowed, and he could almost feel the wave of sudden attention flow over him. His proximity sense kicked into overdrive, detecting the electrical fields of the men above him, letting him turn and catch the first one as he leapt down from above the entryway.
It was Lightning Ray, a long, skinny guy whose mods had added an extra foot of length to each limb. If he could keep you back he was hard to fight, but Isidore was already inside of his range, and grabbed the man by the throat as they both tumbled toward the floor. He turned his hand into a claw and dug inward, his nails puncturing flesh and gristle with ease. Blood began to bubble out of Ray’s gasping mouth, and Isidore kicked him away just in time to sit up and lunge for the second man, who’d jumped down and headed back toward the hallway to run down Kyle.
The second man—Nathaniel, Isidore thought—was unfortunately a much better grappler than Lightning Ray. He turned into Isidore and charged, putting him flat on his back again. Isidore struck out with his hands, but Nathaniel just leaned in and wrapped Isidore’s arms up as high as the shoulders, immobilizing them. He did the same with his legs, twining his own around them like vines. Nathaniel was incredibly flexible, and it didn’t take Isidore long to realize that if he didn’t do something fast, he’d be incredibly stuck.
“I hope you like being on the bottom like this,” Nathaniel whispered in Isidore’s ear as he leaned in close. Isidore didn’t say anything, just stretched his neck as far as he could, and then bit Nathaniel hard on the cheek.
Nathaniel reared back but didn’t let go immediately. “You fucking little shit, what the fuck was that? I’ll take that…take it out of…out…of…” His grip loosened and Isidore fought free immediately, already looking for Kyle, where was he, what had happened—
Kyle’s attacker, a bald man that Isidore didn’t recognize, was laid out at his feet. Kyle’s one-shot taser sent a tendril of smoke up from where it was still embedded in the guy’s gut. Kyle himself looked stunned, staring wide-eyed at Isidore. After a moment, Isidore realized he had Nathaniel’s blood smeared across his mouth. He licked his lips. It tasted foul.
“Back up, people.”
Isidore could have melted at the sound of Robbie’s voice, but he just took a step back from the carnage instead. Robbie led four bots, one of whom snatched up Nathaniel, who was beginning to foam at the mouth, and another who went after Lightning Ray, noisily choking on his own blood. Another bot went for Kyle’s attacker, and the final one? Straight for Kyle. It reached for his hand with its gripping appendage and Kyle let it take hold.
“You need an intake number,” Robbie grunted. “And these idiots apparently need the infirmary. And you…” He turned gimlet eyes on Isidore, who met them in total silence. “You need to learn to finish the job, punk. Save me some fucking time, why don’t you?” He turned around and the bots went with him, leaving nothing but stains across the floor.
Isidore spat his mouthful of another man’s blood out onto the rest of the filth, then turned to the watching crowd. “If Rory has something to say to me, he should just say it,” he said quietly. “No need to waste people.”
“Come on, then.” The man in the very front stood up from a table: Sylvester, one of Rory’s lieutenants. “Let’s take you to speak to him.”