Origin Story #3: Part 1
Trigger Warning: This story may be harmful or triggering to some readers. Discretion is advised.
“Owen.” My superior CO calls from across the other side of the long echoing hall.
The soft squeaking of his boots on the smooth cement floor as he waddles along. I try to reshape my lethargic posture but with no luck. Days and hours of listlessly pacing around seem to have had an effect on me.
My eyes sting against the brightness of the pristinely white lights above, mirroring themselves off of any and all sharply reflective surfaces. Too bright for a cell block corridor quite so far underground in my opinion. Battery Hill Penitentiary’s secrets stretch far beyond the imagination, though it’s employees’ workload, however, could dare to stretch a bit further.
By the time my CO superior, Ramirez, has reached my end of the corridor, his breath is laboured.
“Hope you’re still ready for some action.” Ramirez says. “’cause Admin asked me to implement you onto a new 24/7 supervision case.”
I nod my head nervously and the two of us exit through the double doors and enter the cell block. Another spanning hallway, this time with the whole left side of the hallway filled with large, transparent, acrylic box cells holding inmates of all kinds. Cannibals, criminals, terrorists, anyone you wouldn’t want to meet on the streets above. And each cell with acrylic walls 6 inches thick, capable of withstanding any gunshot or blast.
Instead of continuing on down through the block, Ramirez leads me to the isolation unit, affectionately named the ISO. In here, the cells are empty and in considerable disrepair. The acrylic looks discoloured from whatever substances (or fluids) have been thrown onto it. The furniture is old and ruined and the cell floor is covered in a layer of dirt. If an inmate oversteps, they wind up in ISO for a few hours, if more extreme, an entire day. But this inmate hasn’t even been brought in yet, and they’re starting out in ISO.
But now I see it, the last ISO unit in the block is different, not only are their no stains but the whole cell is spotless, clean and it’s furnishings look as though they were purchased this morning.
“Where did you say this inmate was coming from?” I ask, however, the loud buzz of the motorized entry gate interrupts my last few words. The two of us listen to the familiar sounds of two sets of boots and the soft jangle of chains stroking quietly against the concrete floor, growing ever closer.
• • • •
In this correctional facility, we rank our inmates by capabilities. Low aggression criminals wear blue and are ranked lowest on the spectrum, next are high aggression criminals in green, offending terrorists in orange and confirmed cannibals in red. The highest possible rank is white, reserved for gifted criminals of the highest offence.
It is rarely ever seen in correctional facilities like these, not because gifted criminals aren’t common, but more so that it seems police are incapable of catching them.
The guards reach the entry gate to ISO and one of them scans their fingerprint. As the doors pull apart, the new inmate enters with them. Their arms are bound behind their back and chains are tied around their legs, limiting their mobility. Over their head lies a face guard, keeping them from knowing their location and forbidding the other inmates from knowing their identity. Their clothes, of course, white.
“You’re here because the holding bay couldn’t take you.” One of the CO’s says sternly as he forcefully pushes the inmate onto the concrete floor and rips off the face guard. “Oh, and also because you robbed a bank.”
What lies underneath is the face of a young woman my age with pale skin, long, wavy, brown hair and bright hazel eyes. She looks across the four of us and gives the men transporting her a hostile glare.
“Yeah, yeah, save the glares for Hayes here.” Ramirez prompts her glare onto me. “He’ll be one of your correctional officers while you’re on 24/7 supervision up until your trial.”
Uncomfortably, I offer her a hand getting up considering she’s handcuffed, but the inmate pulls herself off of the ground on her own and walks into her cell. I motion to one of her transport COs for keys to her bindings, and he pulls them out but stops short.
“You sure you want to take them off just yet?” He asks, the edges of his mouth curled into a disgusting grin. “Seems like she might be more fun all chained up.”
I don’t have the energy to indulge him, so I bluntly tear the keys out of his hand with a blank expression. Some of these guys should be put in with the inmates considering the way they speak to them.
Ramirez and the transport COs laugh as they exit the ISO unit and I turn to the new inmate. Removing her bindings, the chains drop to the floor and she enters the cell, flopping onto the thin mattress with a sigh as the acrylic-barred cell door shuts behind her.
As the echo of the slam subsides and I’m yet again plunged into another silence. I turn around and pull out the small, creaky metal chair shoved in the corner of the hall. With it, a small table with four books stacked against the back wall, likely inmate books not yet returned to Battery Hill’s library that is no longer open. I pick them up and read the titles, their spines a show of abuse and their pages a memoir of coffee spill stains from the guards. Wuthering Heights? Nah. Oedipus? Yikes. Antigone? Double yikes, did a middle-schooler bring these in? I turn the last book over without much hope. To Kill a Mockingbird. Definitely a yikes there, but not in the way of Oedipus and Antigone. I stack the books again but keep To Kill a Mockingbird to the side, parking myself on the chair and leaning my head on the wall opposite her.
Because I’m not allowed my phone, a video game or anything that might entertain me in any possible way at work, I’ve learned to be a good observer. I see what ticks a guard off, what to do to get the easiest cellblock, how to do enough to keep this job, even if it’s the farthest thing from my occupational interests.
It’s in the realm of law enforcement my advisor had said. I’ll look good on your academy transcript.
If you think about the position of a CO, a correctional officer, you might think it’s exactly what it is, an officer of correctional duties. But here, in Battery Hill, it’s not in the same area, it’s not in the realm of, it’s not even in the same universe as being a cop. I’m not protecting civilians, not saving lives, not even rescuing cats from trees. Here, I’m a glorified security camera.
I turn my thoughts to my new inmate, trying not to get too depressed at my road ahead in Battery Hill. She has turned her face away, her brown hair with streams of honey running through it, natural curls on the ends. Her white uniform is still bright and crisp, sinking into the curves of her body as she lies on her side. She bends an arm under her head as a makeshift pillow, the extreme contrast of her dark hair against such pale skin is even more evident. I bury the thought that if I might have met her above on the streets, I’d definitely be into her. But right now, I know she is awake, mind alive, looking around, perhaps searching for a way out. Like a bird in a cage.
“Sooo, didja’ do it?” I ask, breaking the silence, wondering if she’ll even entertain me with an answer. But to my surprise, the inmate props herself up and swings their head back around to me, narrowing her eyes.
“No!” She says loudly at first, then quieter. As though people have been asking her all day. “I… didn’t do it.”
Her voice is more feminine than I had expected. High and raspy as it bounces off of the corners of the acrylic. Now that I take a second look at her, she is much smaller and thinner than I’d thought, two things that don’t immediately equate to robbing a bank (and succeeding), but the last thing I want to do is underestimate her.
“Okay, then who did?” I ask, curiously pulling my chair closer, hoping for anything that might help with the crushing boredom that is working as a CO if a facility where the inmates aren’t allowed outside their cells.
She deliberates on it for a beat but chooses to sit back on her bed and turn her back to me again, leaning her head against the wall and side-eyeing me in dismissal. “Why would I tell you? You’re just a sh***y CO.”
“Excuse me?” I ask with my arms crossed, confused as to why I’m even kicking up a fuss. “I am a model employee.”
She turns around again and looks me up and down. “The only thing on your belt is a taser, not a gun, meaning either you’ve been demoted or you’re still a rookie. Your uniform doesn’t fit. You look like you barely passed the academy physical exam. You clearly just woke up from a nap not to mention the fact that you are currently chatting with one of your own inmates.” She finishes, matter-of-factly, with a snide grin and some finger guns in my direction.
“Yeah well… what’s your gift?” I demand, breaking a second silence. “You used it to rob the bank didn’t you? What is it?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She turns to me with irritation in her face. A clear sign that this is a touchy subject.
“And I told you, I didn’t do it.”
“Oh! A likely story.” I say with a smile, growing closer to her cell, finally having the most fun I’ve had all week. “You did so!”
“I did not!” She replies, her voice getting louder.
“Did so!” I press further.
“Did not!” She refutes. Pressing her hands against the acrylic inches away from my face.
“Did not!” I say, widening my eyes, hoping she’ll take the bait.
“Did so!” She says, with a sudden gasp, realizing I have duped her.
I breathe in to laugh at her miscalculation but instead I watch as her entire body suddenly and completely vanishes into thin air.
I look around the entire cell thinking my eyes deceive me, my heart racing. I tap my fingerprint to the scanner by the entry gate and instantly shut it the second I’m inside her cell.
“Inmate, show yourself.” I demand, my voice beating off of the walls. No sign of her as I whirl my head around the cell. “That’s an order!”
In the amount of time it had taken to enter her cell, she had become visible again, sitting silently on her bed without me noticing. But now her energy has changed. She sits with her hands in fists on her lap, shoulders tight, her eyes shut and squinted like she’s afraid I may strike her.
“Well, that was freaky.” I laugh cautiously, wishing I could erase the last few moments. “You know, when your… whole body disappeared.” The inmate’s body language relaxes and presses her back up against the wall again.
“It’s a reflex.” She replies, her voice emotionless. “Just forget it even happened.”
“Ok, yes. Right. I can do that.” I say breathlessly confirming it to myself. “Forget that you can… turn invisible… any time you want.”
She turns to me and throws me another glare. “Should I ask for another guard? You seem pretty unqualified.”
“No! Model employee, remember?” I ask as I walk back out and lock her cell, clasping my hands together. “You can’t do that! I need this assignment to go well so I can get out of this hell hole.”
“And do what? Graduate from being a sh***y CO so you can go be a sh***ier cop?” She says, perching a hand under her chin, some extra mustard spread thickly on the word “cop”.
“What? How did you know?” I ask, bewildered. “Are you a psychic too?”
“Yes.” She says, nodding her head plainly.
“NO.” She yells in irritation. “You’re just incredibly dumb and easy to read.”
“Oof, really? ‘Cause you had me convinced.” I say, shaking my head in disbelief.
“Ok, at least tell me you want to become a cop because of your own personal beliefs and not just because your dad was a cop or something.” She asks, an expression of disgust on her face.
“Ok.” I throw my arms up in denial and shake my head again. “You’re starting to freak me out again.”
She smacks a hand onto her forehead. “Boy, we gotta get you some real personality traits.”
“What’s wrong with cops?” I probe, expecting some harsh words coming from a criminal.
“Everything? They’re cruel and power hungry and the don’t care about what’s right and wrong and…” The inmate says, turning away from me. She takes a deep breath and lets the silence churn around between us before finishing.
“And you wouldn’t understand. Cops don’t take kindly to people like me.”
It’s true. Ever since the population of gifted citizens has spiked, hostility between the two groups has as well.
“Because you robbed a bank?” I add as I gently plant my hands on the cell wall, sneaking closer to her turned back.
“Will you-” She turns back to me in anger, her face inches from mine and stops, only the acrylic separating us. There’s a bizarre moment between us as I search her wide eyes for anything she might be hiding from me but find nothing. Just the bright golden brown flecks in her hazel irises that I hadn’t yet seen, sparkling under her long brown eyelashes.
“No, not because they think I’m guilty,” She says, her eyes shifting from wide to narrowed and pulling at her white shirt. “but purely because of who and what I am.”
“Oh come on, surely they can’t all be like that.” I ask pulling myself away from her, desperately trying to lighten the mood. “There must still be some good cops out there.”
Her eyes relax and she looks me up and down a few times with a certain indecisive look. “Jury’s still out.”
• • • •
I hate to say it, but as I spent my shifts with her, I undeniably came to like her. She was scrappy, sarcastic and spirited, not the emotionless robot of a villain I had constructed her to be in my head. I pretended not to be so equally drawn to her appearance, to keep from losing myself in her hazel eyes. I kept the conversation constant, making the selfish excuse that it will help time pass, which it eventually seemed to actually do. We’d discuss her life and mine, all the things we’d seen and places we’ve been to. I told her about Dad, and why I wanted to be a detective like him. She was just like him, the same sense of humour, the attitude. He’d like her, I’m sure he would. She told me about how she got trapped into the life that led her here, everything she’d wished she could do if life had dealt her a better hand. And what she wanted to do after all this was over. To get out of trouble, and stay out. Maybe live a normal life. In the whole of this conversation though, she maintained her innocence through it all. I was rooting for her in my head, in desperate hopes that she might actually be telling the truth.
Things were going well, our conversations energized me more than any part of this job ever did. And on the rare occasion that I’d make her smile, it would hit like a high. But the last few days passed differently leading up to her trial. She was different. Less saturated than she was with me. Her meals and clean sets of clothes would come and go, she would be taken to meet with her lawyer in a different wing of the penitentiary and she was separately transported every second day to bathe. I was doing my job well enough, and she was an easy inmate to keep. But after everything she had told me, something about her situation was off. Not only about the grounds of her arrest, but her time spent at Battery Hill as well. I’d take a shift for 12 hours and some other CO would take the next 12. She would be the same during my shifts, but when I’d return in the morning she’d be standoffish, guarded and sleep most of the day. I could slap the same label over her case just as easy any one else. Poor, in trouble and desperate. No contest. For most, this equation was easier to follow along with, than to challenge. So no one ever did. Instead, the public chooses to file them away in a place like this. Out of sight, out of mind.
I enter the ISO unit and take the same amount of steps to her cell as I always do. When I reach the halfway point, the sound of my steps mix in with another CO’s, Anderson. He rounds the corner with the signature toothpick pinched in between his teeth and a fake grin slapped across his face.
“Awful clumsy that one, better keep a good eye on it.” He says, his voice drenched in a slimy, slow southern drawl.
I stop, frozen. I hadn’t known Anderson had been put on this case, whether by chance or deliberately, due to his backward distaste for gifted citizens. He always had a hot temper, something no inmate had ever had a chance to avoid. He’d abused even the toughest and scariest inmates like they were middle school bullies. But gifted people, no matter the level of offence, they were his bread and butter.
He shoots me a look but I keep quiet, my feet firmly planted on the waxed concrete floor. My eyes trail his slow movements until he gets far enough out of earshot.
Rushing into the area by her cell, she is absent from sight. I press my finger against it’s entry gate and the cell door opens with a loud buzz. She is nowhere to be seen, but I notice something. The faint, yet lingering scent of damp hair, coming from somewhere in here, somewhere I just don’t see yet.
“It’s alright,” I whisper, my voice shaking as I look around the empty cell. “He’s gone.”
She hesitates for a moment, but her body reappears on the floor. She lies on her back, trying to pull air into her tired lungs, her breath catching and her long hair still wet from her recent shower, now sprawled across the hard acrylic floor. Large bruises forming on her body, old and new, appearing one by one, arms, legs, chest, throat. Worst of all, her right eye. Now starting to close from the swelling.
My stomach tightens as I lean over her broken body. Her once sparkling hazel eyes, now dark and dismal from the pain. The furniture in the cell is overturned and some parts badly broken, making me wonder if she had tried to fight back. She seems like a fighter.
“I’m gonna try to pick you up, okay?” I ask, my voice still brittle and shaken. She nods her head and grimaces, trying to blink away the tears forming in her eyes. Slowly, I slip one of my hands under her back, the other under her legs and she curls a bruised arm around my neck. Gently lifting her, she groans, gripping the collar of my uniform dress shirt.
Eventually, I take the steps toward her bed and lower her back down onto it, laying her head gently against her pillow and slowly letting her legs straighten out.
“Why didn’t you fight back?” I ask, now kneeling aside her, remembering Anderson walking away without a single scratch on him. The better question being how had I not noticed? She opens her mouth but only a wheeze comes out as she wraps a hand around her neck, the slightly bruised outline of Anderson’s fingerprints beginning to form on the skin.
“He wants to tell the prosecution that I’m a hostile gifted citizen so they will add it to the case.” She starts again, her voice rough. “But he can’t do it without proper cause.”
I can’t help but huff out a laugh in amazement as I smooth a strand of her hair off of her face. “You’ve spent the last few days taking hits from an overgrown man child with the emotional age of an 11-year-old and you haven’t thrown a single punch?” She shakes her head as slightly with a puzzled look. “Jeeze, screw being a cop, I wanna be you when I grow up.”
She joins me in a soft laugh, not anything too arduous for her, before we share another quiet moment. Gazing into each other’s eyes, a thought comes to mind.
“You didn’t rob that bank did you?” I ask, the question spewing out of me before I even knew it.
She takes a sharp, deep breath in like she can finally breathe again and her eyes flick between mine.
“No.” She answers, her brows creased in relief. “I didn’t.”
“Tell me what happened.” I plead.
She nods, trying to clear her throat. “I was with two others like me in the back of our getaway van. Mimic, a girl, could shift into any person she got a good look at, and the new kid with us we called Mercury, a boy, had the ability to manipulate metal. I was close to getting out of their situation and almost out of trouble for good. This was supposed to be my last play. They told me that the site was a money laundering situation, that we were technically doing the right thing. A take from the rich, give to the poor sort of thing. There weren’t supposed to be any civilians involved. No one was going to get hurt. We get in, we get out.”
She stops for a moment, closing her eyes and opening them again.
“But when I stepped out of the back of the van, someone shoves a contraband gun in my hand and that’s when I see the bank. It was broad daylight in the middle of the city, swarming with civilians. I freaked out, made a run for it. Thought I’d try to lay low for a while. But then the cops bust my apartment, find $500,000 worth of stashed cash with serial numbers matching the stolen bills. They take me in and the interrogator shows me a surveillance video from inside the bank that shows me robbing it from start to finish even though I never set foot inside. Mimic, she’s in too deep with those guys now, she doesn’t have any options left. She and I worked together for a long time, she could shift into me without lifting a finger. After I bailed she likely didn’t want to leave anything up to chance.”
After she finishes, I try to re-absorb the information and process it. I think about what Dad might have thought, what sticks out? What doesn’t quite fit? I think about it and finally a thought hits me.
“Your gift. What about your gift?!” I say, my voice growing in volume as I rise to sit at the foot of her bed.
“What?” She asks with a puzzled look on her face.
“If you had actually been there, and used your gift at the robbery, you’d be completely invisible to the civilians and on camera, right?” I ask. “Then why would you deliberately choose not to use your gift if ‘you’ were there?”
“If I was there, I would have used it, but even though mimic can use my face, she can’t use my gift…” She says, her excitement building as she tries to sit up. “…because she needed my face to be on the surveillance tape to frame me for the robbery!”
“Exactly!” I answer triumphantly.
The two of us instinctively stretch in to hug but stop just short in a awkward stance, her face so much closer than before. She withdraws her arms, but her expression softens.
“You cracked it.” She asks with an honest smile. “How?”
“You told me over and over that you were innocent. I guess, I just finally decided to listen.” I answer, reciprocating with a smile.
“Well, we’re not out of the woods yet.” She says, furrowing her brows, the sparkle in her eyes returning. “I still need to get the judge to listen too.”
“Hey,” I ask. “Just now, you said what everyone else’s codename was. What did they call you?”
“No way.” She answers, cross-waving her hands in dismissal.
“Oh come on. I solved it, I think I at least deserve that.”
“Glass.” She rolls her eyes. “They used to call me Glass.”