In case you missed the first installment, you can read it here.
And now, on with the show.
After the typical day of mindless labor, punctuated by curses and hateful thoughts toward the world in general, Vortel returned to the main area of the tower. Everywhere he looked black security probes glinted like watchful eyes. He punched the button for the elevator and waited.
He hadn’t seen much of the human since breakfast, except during the midday break, but rumors were already circulating. It seemed Tebin had a natural skill for inflicting damage on everyone, not just Annatarans. Couldn’t blame him for that. Vortel figured it was only a matter of a few days before the human proved his ignorance and attempted to escape.
Every newcomer did, out of desperation, anger, fear, or denial. Memories surfaced, of his lone attempt to crack the impenetrable shell of P-19. He still bore scars from that day.
The elevator arrived and he rode up. Hopefully the human would try to escape. He would enjoy seeing the jaws of P-19 clench around him. Even in their short interaction, the man’s attitude had become a piece of burlap chafing Vortel’s skin.
When the doors opened to L-14, a surprise greeted him.
“Hello, my man.”
The human’s face was swollen, though he managed a wincing smile. Several bandages hid what must be nasty cuts, and his left eye was already several shades darker than blue. He had changed into a gray polo and black slacks. So he’d discovered the automatic clothing selector—one of P-19’s many features that leant an air of home, of a normal life. Choosing their outfits gave the prisoners a trace of control, false though it was.
“What are you doing here?” Vortel crossed his arms.
“Are you the Level Leader?”
“Ah, right.” The man nodded. “Well, then. I’m your newest recruit, apparently.” He held out his left arm, where he wore a wristband stamped with the number 14 and his name. Axel.
“Planet?” Vortel asked.
“I’m from Earth, but I’ve traveled a good deal. Part of my job.”
“Mainly business endeavors of a delicate nature.”
Axel’s grin was so sly it reminded Vortel of his gang leader Gurn. The fellow had an addiction to lying. Which was why—
Vortel crushed the thought. “Why are you here? Murder?”
The man snorted. “Nothing as mundane as that, my man. You name it—hacking, forgery, fraud, bribery, theft, blackmail, embezzlement.”
“P-19 is only for the worst of the Annatar system. Are you transferring?”
“Nope. I’m here for the long haul. Guess they didn’t trust me anywhere else. I have a talent for…shall we say, exploiting things. People and systems.”
“Good luck with that here.” Vortel jutted his chin at the security probes on the elevators.
“Yes, I noticed.” Axel lifted his shoulders. “They’re nothing more than pieces of an inanimate system controlled by humans. Easy to deal with given the right knowledge.” He grinned, as if they were sharing a deep secret.
Shifting his weight, Vortel cracked his knuckles. Had Tebin wheedled the Director into assigning this cheery numb-brain to L-14 solely to torture Vortel?
“My name’s Axel, by the way.” His smile was too wide, too fake.
“I saw. Your wristband.” Vortel itched to punch the stupid grin off Axel’s face.
“Pleased to meet you.” Axel extended his hand. Long fingers and pale skin—a hand that had never known an honest day’s labor. Disgusting.
Vortel’s beefy hand engulfed Axel’s fingers and he clamped down until he felt the joints ready to crack.
“Easy, my man.” Axel’s smile twisted, masking the pain Vortel knew he felt. “I’m part of your level. We’re friends, right?”
With a huff, Vortel released his grip. “No one has friends here.” To drive his point home, he slammed his fist into Axel’s stomach.
Axel doubled with a grunt and Vortel brought his knee up into Axel’s chin. As the wimp toppled, blood dripping down his jaw, Vortel leaned over him.
“No friends here. And on his level, I’m in charge. Got it?” As he stomped away, he called back, “Clean up the blood. The guards hate a mess.”
As always, thoughts welcome and encouraged. Thanks for reading!