Title: Redstone Chapter 17, Part 1.
Being a prison guard was in some ways a lot like being a marine. There were long, interminable-feeling periods of waiting, usually standing around somewhere checking IDs or scanning screens for enemy movement when you knew full well there wasn’t going to be any. There were random check-ins on various prisoners, there was the occasional bot foray into Redstone’s heart to organize, but mostly? Same boring shit, shift after shift.
Except, in both professions, there were also moments of shock and adrenaline and terror so fierce it felt like fire scouring your guts, turning you inside out in seconds as you fumbled to react.
Robbie could handle both of those things, but he infinitely preferred dealing with his boredom to leaping into action. Wyl teased him sometimes, called him dull, old-fashioned, but Robbie had had more than enough of those burning, painful moments to last him a lifetime. The saying was one that had become passé over the past few centuries, “to last a lifetime.” When a lifetime was so long, what could ever define “enough” of anything? It was a popular thought to debate in certain modern philosophical schools, with various people who had never lived through a war or genuine hardship musing about esoteric suffering.
Robbie was no philosopher, and he knew full well just how awful things could get, so to him boring was as good as happy most of the time. Unfortunately, this shift he was working with Jora Krighton, Fortay’s obnoxious partner in crime. Krighton was a little more subdued when his louder half wasn’t around, but just being in the man’s presence was a constant reminder that, were circumstances a little different, Robbie could have had him tried for prisoner abuse and locked up in Redstone himself. It would have been brutally poetic, and way more satisfying than debating obscure philosophy as far as Robbie was concerned.
But that wasn’t an option, and so instead Robbie had to breathe same air as the jackass and wait out his twelve standard hours in the Ready Room, the same place he’d stopped these two from raping Kyle earlier. The urge to break things was strong.
Halfway through his shift, Robbie’s day went from bad to worse when an emergency call came in on his comm, pulsing through his ear and straight into his brain: “Guard Sinclair, your spouse has been admitted to Redstone’s infirmary. He is stable and recovering. You will be permitted to join him in 5.39 standard hours at the end of your shift.”
“Bull-fucking-shit,” Robbie muttered, his blood surging through his veins at double the speed I had been a second ago. He got to his feet, and then noticed Krighton doing the same thing. There was a wild look in the other man’s eyes.
“What the fuck?” he demanded into thin air. “What do you mean, Fort’s in Regen? What the hell happened?”
Robbie didn’t need to hear the other end of the conversation to put it all together. Wyl had found his way into the infirmary by picking a fight. “God damn it.” He tapped his comm. “Central, I need permission to leave post and go to the infirmary.”
Cray’s voice came back over the comm. “Nope, Sinclair, you’re gonna have to wait. There’s no one available to cover for you right now, and things are starting to get hot in the Pit. We might have to send you and a bot patrol in to cool it off.”
“My husband is in the fucking infirmary, I need to—”
“I know that, and he’s put one of your fellow guards in the damn tank, so let’s call it even, huh? He’ll be fine for another few hours without you, Sinclair.” Cray closed the channel and Robbie nodded inernally.
He hadn’t actually expected to be allowed to go. It was probably important that he not get to go to the infirmary right now, so that he couldn’t mess up Wyl’s timeline. But Robbie was anxious, angry, and so annoyed that Wyl hadn’t found another way to get himself to medical. And where had ZeeBee been? The bot was supposed to keep this shit from happening.
Robbie took a deep breath and loosened up the fists that he didn’t remember making. ZeeBee was Wyl’s creation; whatever commands Robbie gave him could be countermanded, he knew that. And it was important that Wyl get to the infirmary on schedule so he could meet with Tamara. The facts were there, but the rage still percolated under his skin like sulfur, staining his movements with curt anger and turning his glances into glares. Krighton took one look at him and didn’t make eye contact again.
“Check the main screen.” Cray’s voice sounded in the room, not bothering with comms this time. “Does it look like Rory is getting up to some shit to you?”
Robbie obediently pulled up the main camera view of the Pit, careful not to audibly grind his teeth as he did so. It didn’t take more than a second to hone in on what Cray was talking about. The man might be an arrogant jackass, but he had the experience to know when a situation was about to go bad. And this one…well. It was already bad.
It wasn’t that Rory was actively doing anything. All the action was centered on two other people: one of Klia’s lieutenants that Robbie thought was called Pippa, and one of Rory’s newest followers, a flat-faced meteor miner who had been convicted of mass murder for taking out his own crew after they found a huge deposit of pure tungsten during one of their explorations. He’d made a lot of money fast, but not enough to cover his tracks.
Pippa was yelling at the miner as she stood in front of a smaller girl, who looked like she’d been roughed up. The miner yelled right back, and when Pippa finally threw the first punch, Robbie wasn’t at all surprised to see the man dive into the fight with abandon. He got an arm around Pippa’s head and torqued her until she was bent over, then began to pummel blows against her head. Blood spattered the floor as he connected over and over, but his beating was cut short when the small girl leapt onto his back, driving a shiv made from what was probably a bot part down into the space between his shoulder blade and collarbone. He roared and dropped Pippa, who shook her head blearily before trying to get back up on her feet. More of Klia’s girls were already coming to their aid, while Rory—
He just watched. He was sitting at a table not a meter away from the fight, and he wasn’t doing anything. Klia’s folks would fight sometimes without her say-so, but Rory only let his people get away with that when he wanted them to. Which meant that he was deliberately allowing the fight to go on. He didn’t say anything when another of his guys grabbed the girl around her waist and threw her off, then was tackled by Pippa, who’d found her fire again despite her broken, bloody face. This one-on-one fight was fast becoming a brawl.
“Fuck, the last thing we need is to deal with a bunch of body bag forms today,” Cray said with a sigh. “I’m still not caught up on the datawork from the last round of killings. I’m sending in a patrol. You two are going in at the back to make sure no one takes liberties with the bots.”
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Krighton said, sounding like he’d just bitten the end of his tongue. “It’s one human per every patrol, that’s not enough bots to cover us! Why don’t you just gas the place?”
“Because half the bots are down for repairs and you two are right fuckin’ there! Now get your tac gear on and get ready to go in two minutes.”
Robbie immediately went for the panel that held the tactical armor. As soon as Krighton had mentioned gassing the place, he knew they had to move fast, because probably sooner rather than later, the whole damn prison would be gassed unconscious. He didn’t want to be in the Pit when that happened. He threw a helmet and expandible chest plate at Krighton, who was still sulking. “Get dressed.”
“This is bullshit.”
“Put on the fucking armor or I’ll haul you in behind me without it, and we’ll see which one of us gets called out as an easy target,” Robbie said briskly.
Krighton took the gear and started to jerk it on, glowering the whole time. “You’re a mean son of a bitch, you know that?”
“Do you want to make something of it right now?” Robbie took a spark baton out and pressed his palm to the pressure plate on the handle. It automatically coded itself to respond to him only, and he followed it up with a few handheld gas buttons that he could throw if someone got too close. Lastly, he activated the defensive shield on his armor, and a wave of electricity briefly flared over the surface. “Let’s go.”
The bots were already outside the Ready Room’s door. Robbie let them lead the way, and in under a minute, they were inside the Pit.
Gawking prisoners scattered like cockroaches at the first sign of light. The bots rolled directly into the fight, which had grown to over ten people since Robbie had last glanced at the view screen. He and Krighton let them do most of the dirty work, only intervening when it looked like someone was going to try peeling a part off of one of them.
“Status report,” he asked the patrol leader once the last of the fighters was pulled away. The Pit had gone eerily quiet.
“One human dead, two humans critical, four in need of Regen total,” the bot recited.
Suddenly a siren began to blare. Red and yellow lights flashed as knockout gas began to jet from the air ducts.
“Fuck,” Krighton breathed. “Fuck.” He left the line of bots and ran for the door out of there, but his print wouldn’t open it. “Cray, let us out!” The door didn’t move. “Cray!”
“I can’t, the security system won’t let me override the door’s controls during an emergency! You’re gonna have to…have…you…and Sincla…”
As Robbie’s knees hit the ground, he figured that, yeah, there was somewhere his day could go that was worse than learning Wyl had been hurt. And he was about to discover what it was.