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. They 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, 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 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. I sometimes believe 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.
“Sooo, didja’ do it?” I ask as the awkward silence builds. The inmate swings their head back around to me in surprise before 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 girlier than I had expected. High and raspy as it bounces off of the corners of the acrylic. She is small and thin, two things that don’t immediately equate to robbing a bank and succeeding, but the last thing I want to do is underestimate her.
“Then who did?” I ask, curiously, 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.
She deliberates on it for a beat but chooses to lean her head against the wall 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.”
“The only thing on your belt is a taser, not a gun, meaning either you’ve been demoted or you’re still a rookie. You look like you barely passed the academy physical exam. Your uniform doesn’t fit. 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.
“What’s your gift?!” I demand, breaking a second stunned silence. “You used it to rob the bank didn’t you? What is it?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She rises of the bed with irritation in her face. A clear sign that this is a touchy subject.
“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. “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?”
“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.
“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 pity 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, sneaking closer to her turned back.
“Will you-” She turns back to me, her face inches from mine and stops, only the acrylic separating us. There’s a bizarre moment between us as I search her eyes for anything she might be hiding from me but find nothing except the same golden brown flecks in her hazel irises 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, 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.”
• • • •
The next few days passed uncomfortably leading up to her trial. 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 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. 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 has. 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 down the hall 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 smooth 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 now,” 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 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’d 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, the girl, could shift into any person she got a good look at, and the new kid we called Mercury, a boy, that was with us had the ability to manipulate metal. I was close to getting out of their *** 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, some one 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 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 it 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 untraceable 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, but even though she has 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!”