The Black Zone – Part 2
By Diana Grove
The deafening morning alarm whooped, and I moved to stand ready by the door to my cell. I was in one of the end cells, so I could see the two huge guards standing down the other end. All the guards wear full-length exosuits, which make them pretty much indestructible. The door slid open, and I stepped out along with my fellow unsmiling inmates. Like me, they all wore unflattering olive green shirts and matching skin-tight pants made from Eco-weave self-cleaning fabric. The colour identified us as prisoners in Block B, which was for offenders under twenty-one who hadn’t committed heinous crimes.
We trudged to the cafeteria in single file. They don’t let all of us eat together. Not enough space I guess and too dangerous. I’m in the second group–7.30am breakfast. My stomach rumbled. The food was bland and usually some form of goop, but I ate almost everything served up because the portions were so small. Food was one of the few things to look forward to in Selwyn. Visits were another. My dad has only visited me once. He’s angry and worried I’ve ruined my chances of getting into a good university. Mum comes every week and cries every time.
I sat down next to the only girl I was friendly with, Elly. She’s in here for vandalising her school. Hunched over, Elly cupped her steaming black coffee in her small hands.
Before taking a sip she said, “Poor Kesi. If you’re going to shave off all your hair you really should have a nice shaped skull.”
I knew better than to look directly at the girl Elly was talking about. Haircuts were available yesterday. I didn’t ask for one. I only had one week of my sentence left, and l liked my curly brown hair the way it was. I scooped up a spoonful of lukewarm barley porridge (full of freeze-dried cranberries and bug protein) and looked over casually while I chewed.
Kesi’s hair wasn’t shaved off entirely. A long curl of blue hair fell across the nineteen year old’s sullen face. Next to Kesi sat Blix, a cyborg or ‘morpher’ as they prefer to call themselves. Both her arms and legs were the latest BioTech bionic limbs. She ran her skeletal metal fingers through her platinum blonde hair and then sat with her sharp elbows resting on the table. Blix had opted for no flesh-sleeves. What really made her creepy though were her bionic eyes that allowed her to see at incredible distances and also see the electromagnetic spectrum. It was hard to imagine someone voluntarily having their limbs removed and body augmented like that, but it wasn’t uncommon.
Noticing my gaze, Blix turned and her eerie silvery eyes met mine. She smiled a superior smile. The girls at her table were the ones with the worst reputations and guilty of the worst offences. One of them was missing today. Yesterday Mariko lost it and stabbed someone in the hand with a pencil. She’s in The Box now. Solitary confinement. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I get claustrophobia sometimes, and being in a tiny windowless room for days is the stuff of nightmares for me.
I’m not a delinquent. My crime was trespass. It doesn’t sound that bad, but the place I entered–one of the Black Zones–was about as safe as a warzone and Atticas citizens aren’t allowed to go into most of them. My stupidity got me shot in the leg and arrested by the police. My virtual lawyer told me I was lucky. Not just because I got a light sentence (six weeks) but because five young women had recently disappeared from the fringes of the Black Zones. It had been in the news, and it was feared that they had been taken by black-market organ traders known as Butchers.
After breakfast Elly and I headed to an art therapy class under the watchful gaze of a poker-faced guard. No computer-aided design for us. This was hands-on traditional art. I’ve never been good at art, but I’d rather be in an art class than back in my cell doing schoolwork. I still have to do assignments, but I get through everything much faster without normal distractions like TV, VR and friends.
Today I planned on finishing my painting of a little girl holding a teddy. The big blue eyes were exactly as I remembered, but I couldn’t get her smile right. She looked sweet, but she’s not. Not at all. While I was lost in thought holding my paintbrush, I felt someone come up behind me. A metal hand clamped on my shoulder and squeezed.
“Oooh. She’s pretty. Is she your sister?” asked Blix, her warm breath reaching my ear.
“It’s good, but it could be improved.”
Stretching an arm out past me, she drew her index finger across the wet paint. “There. Much better.”
The girl’s smile was smeared; she leered like a burns victim with melted lips. Blix wiped off the paint on the tip of her finger on the back of my shirt. I drew in a huge, shuddering breath. Blix laughed low and walked away knowing I wouldn’t do anything.
Elly made her way over to me at the end of the class, and said looking cross, “You shouldn’t let her get away with that Alissa.”
“It’s ok. I fixed it.” It wasn’t quite the same, but the gruesome leer was gone.
“She’s going to keep poking you until she gets a reaction.”
“Well, I won’t be here much longer for her to poke.” One week. It was my new mantra. One week.
“Can I see your painting?” I asked, changing the subject.
Elly shrugged. We walked over to a tall plastic easel at the front of the room and stared at her artwork. At first the canvas looked just black. Looking closer, I noticed a few blue dots amongst the black and a large round shape that had been painted over.
In a deadpan voice Elly said, “I’m calling it ‘Lost in the deepest fugue with blueberries.’”
I couldn’t help laughing.
We get half an hour of exercise every day. The activities vary; today it’s basketball. The high prison walls left no view whatsoever, just an expansive square of pale blue sky. After a quick jog around the courtyard we were told to pair up. Before I could walk over to Elly, Blix claimed me.
While we were throwing the basketball back and forth she said, “Hey Alissa. Have you ever thought about escaping this place?”
“No,” I said, only just managing to catch the ball.
“Really? I have. With these,” she waved her horrible arms, “I could smash my way out of the MedCare Unit. It backs onto the street. If I hurt my arms so what? I can get them repaired.” She smiled smugly.
“You’d get caught eventually,” I said, unable to help myself.
“Yeah. You’re right. That’s why it’s good to have self-control. Poor Mariko hasn’t got much.”
Blix threw the ball hard and it thumped me in the chest and rolled back to her. She picked it up gracefully, and sunlight gleamed off her arms as she strode over to me.
“But you have a lot,” she said running one of her cold metal fingers from my forehead down to my chin, “Don’t you?”
I pulled away from her and she laughed, shoving the basketball into my hands.
Our three on three basketball game lasted thirty seconds. Instead of throwing the basketball to a teammate Kesi threw it at Elly who wasn’t expecting it. The ball smashed into her nose breaking it. Blood streamed down her face as she held her hands over her messed up nose.
“Sorry,” said Kesi, not looking the least bit sorry.
“You girls stay right here,” yelled the scowling female Activities Officer, leading Elly back inside.
I watched them go, feeling sorry for Elly. Then I realised I was all alone with Blix and her followers, and my stomach spasmed. They watched me like pitiless Butchers. My breath seemed stoppered inside me.
Blix turned to her friends and said loudly. “So I heard that Soraya didn’t tell anyone Mariko hurt her. It was someone else.” She glanced over her shoulder at me. “Some little skag told one of the guards, and that’s why Mariko is in The Box.”
I swallowed, and hoped desperately that the Activities Officer would come back soon.
“Now, why would someone be so interfering?” Blix asked, coming towards me with her blonde head tilted. “It was a private matter.”
She stopped in front of me, uncomfortably close. “That skag was you, wasn’t it Alissa?”
“No.” Why does she think it was me?
Blix’s cold gaze flicked to the large metal chest on wheels that stored the sporting equipment. Suddenly she grabbed my arm and dragged me towards the chest.
“What are you doing? Let me go!”
She was so strong. Her sharp fingers dug into my arm like talons and it felt like she was going to tear flesh.
“My friend is in The Box because of YOU.”
The other girls sniggered and followed us. Still holding onto me, Blix lifted the lid and then shoved me in. I didn’t fall to the bottom because it was half full with balls and skipping ropes. I hadn’t felt so scared the whole time I’d been in prison. Lashing out like a trapped animal, I hit Blix in the throat and kicked a skinny girl in the stomach. I could tell they were surprised by my fear fuelled strength.
Leaning over me, Blix pushed my legs in. Pressing both hands against her hateful face, I gouged one of her eyes. My thumb dug in deep, squishing her soft artificial eye. With a gasping cry Blix let go of me. Then bizarrely everyone was screaming.
I scrambled out of the box, panting. Spinning around, I thought I was going to be sick. Blix’s eyeball was poking out. You could see the moist pink insides of her eye socket. She was hunched over, kneeling on the ground, with a metal hand cupping the side of her face.
With her good eye Blix glared at me. “You bitch! You’re dead! You’re so fucking dead.”
Helmeted guards ran towards us, weapons ready. Sirens whooped. I stood motionless, forcing myself not to cry. One week. I was so close… One week.
“I’m glad to hear you’ve been practising your piano with VR, but you’re still going to have to practise like a demon when you get out of this place. This Monday isn’t it?” asked my piano teacher.
“Ziggy! Ziggy, stop that!”
Mrs Kerr’s robot dog continued to bark at the Robo-bins. Anytime one zoomed across the floor or reached out with a long arm he went ballistic. One of the guards came over.
“Mam, you’re going to have to leave if you can’t control your robot,” said the sour-faced guard, standing with arms akimbo.
We both watched Ziggy yapping and running in circles around one of the Robo-bins almost knocking it over.
“I think I’d better go,” said Mrs Kerr with a sigh.
We said goodbye without hugging. Touching wasn’t allowed. The tight strap restraining me in my chair released automatically, and I was escorted back to my cell.
Blix never got her revenge. They kept us separated until she got transferred to Block A on her 21st birthday. Her damaged eye couldn’t be mended properly. Selwyn medics don’t have the expertise to repair bionic eyes, so Blix was stuck with an eye that didn’t always move in tandem with her other eye. She hated me. I could see that in those cold eyes.
“You better watch your back,” Kesi said tonight after dinner. “You know who all those Butchers work for?” She smiled an ugly smile. “Blix’s dad.”
I didn’t know if it was true or not. Elly didn’t believe it. She said Kesi was probably going to be a loser career criminal and you couldn’t believe anything she said. Lying on the narrow bed in my cell, wrapped in darkness and whispers, I had a bad feeling that Kesi wasn’t lying and I would see Blix again one day.
Diana Grove writes weird short stories for children and adults that seldom have happy endings. Her stories have appeared in the anthology Freak Pure Slush Vol. 13 and the zine Trembling With Fear. Diana can be found on Twitter: @ImaginaryGrove
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