Jeremy Quinn shoved his dinner tray aside and leaned back on a metal chair, a petulant scowl pressing his eyebrows into a v-formation. He glowered at the steel-gray mess hall of Bothmal Prison. Rotating his jaw, he swallowed his last distasteful bite of dinner.
A man about his age, but taller and thinner, wearing the same standard blue guard uniform, ambled up and pulled out a chair opposite Quinn while balancing a dinner tray.
Quinn cleared his throat.
The thin man glanced up. “You mind?”
Quinn nudged the chair out with the toe of his steel-tipped boot, his jaw still working in a circular motion. “Not much.”
Thrusting his hand out and accompanied by a stiff smile, the man leaned forward. “Name’s Scott. Nice to meet you. Just started yesterday.”
Quinn’s eyes traveled over the angular, dark-haired man. His nose wrinkled. He could smell fear a kilometer away. “It’ll feel like you’ve been here an eon by the end of the week.”
Undeterred, Scott sat and laid out his dinner—fork on the left, knife on the right, a cup of steaming coffee upper right, salad upper left, a plate of synth-meat and vegetables front and center, fruit cup lower left, napkin unfolded neatly in his lap.
Quinn’s jaw dropped as his eyes followed every precise movement of his tablemate. “By the Divide, you dining with the Luxonian Supreme Council or something?”
With a self-deprecating shrug, Scott dug into his meal with relish. He chewed slowly, carefully, his gaze surveying the room with the hint of a smile. Swallowing, he positioned himself for another foray; his gaze merely glanced off Quinn. “Pigs eat at a trough; humans should reflect their higher status.”
Quinn rolled his eyes.
Two guards dropped their trays in a recycle bin that sucked everything down a shoot with a swish. They placed their hands against the print identifier, and when the door slid open, they shuffled over the threshold.
Quinn leaned forward, his elbows braced on the table. “The only difference between us and the animals locked in cages around here is the color of our uniform—and the fact that we haven’t been caught yet.”
Scott methodically chewed another bite, swallowed, and pointed his fork at Quinn. “Speak for yourself.”
Running his fingers through his short hair, Quinn tilted his head. “You’re from Lux, right?”
“Born and bred. Second generation. Though my parents have a huge OldEarth sanctuary on—”
Quinn knocked his empty cup aside. “My family was run off Lux with barely the clothes on their backs during the Crestonian Crisis. Said we were a threat to planetary security.” Taking a more relaxed pose, Quinn laced his fingers behind his head. “They feared us. Humans were getting too numerous, so—”
Scott laid his fork aside and took a sip of his coffee. “Our family was large, my Uncle George has thirteen kids. In fact, they encouraged—”
“Who’d he work for?”
Scott dug into the fruit salad. “Bio-engineering Dep—”
“Oh, sure, yeah! Bio-engineers can do anything!” Quinn lowered his voice and leaned in further. “Listen, newbie, Bothmal doesn’t give a—”
A red light flashed over the door accompanied by a repeated buzzing sound.
Quinn frowned and rose to his feet. “Bothmal belongs to the strongest—not the smartest.” His gaze swiveled around the empty room. “You’re not on Lux. Remember that.”
The door slid open and a Crestonian wearing prisoner’s garb hustled in. He leaned against the door, huffing, and eyed Quinn and Scott. Rotating a long metal object in two tentacles, he straightened up.
Quinn stepped to Scott’s side and nudged him shoulder-to-shoulder, speaking out of the side of his mouth. “Crestonians are ingenious at fashioning weapons outta garbage. Ironic, eh?”
Scott held up his hands. “Maybe I can talk him down. He’s gonna get killed if he tries anything.”
Quinn’s eyes gleamed. “Oh, he’s dead alright. No question about that.” He shoved Scott ahead. “You talk to him. I’ll be right back.”
Scott glared at Quinn’s retreating back, then turned and faced the prisoner, one hand sliding to his sidearm. “Listen, I’m new here, but I know every rule on record, and I want us both to get out of this room alive, okay? If you just hand over the weapon, I promise—”
The door opened, Quinn charged through, and tackled the Crestionian from behind, knocking him down. They rolled across the floor with Scott pulling out his Dustbuster, edging up and backing away, as the two opponents grappled across the room and into the airy, institutional kitchen. A wall hole labeled “Recycle Your Refuse” glowed in neon letters on the wall. Jabbing his Dustbuster under the Crestoniona’s chin, Quinn dragged the prisoner to the opening.
The Crestonian struggled frantically, trying to get his skewer against Quinn’s midsection.
Scott dashed in and held his Dustbuster against the Crestonian’s head and shouted at Quinn. “Enough! We got him.”
Quinn braced himself, and with a mighty shove, he leaned the Crestonian against the hole and fired. What was left of the body was instantly suctioned into the hole.
Scott fell against the wall and stared open-mouthed at Quinn. “What the—?” He waved his Dustbuster in the air. “We had him. He knew it! We could’ve ended this without—”
Quinn, gulping deep breaths of air, grinned like a child winning a game. “Look at the sign, idiot.”
Scott pushed off the wall, his eyes wide with fury. “He was a prisoner. He wasn’t sentenced to death by the court! What gives you the right—?”
Quinn shook his head as he straightened up and swaggered back to the mess hall.
Four guards rushed in with Dustbusters at the ready. The lead man stared at Quinn. “We thought you were dead! Somehow that freak managed to cut the monitors.” His eyes roved the room. “Where—?”
Quinn chuckled. “He’s being recycled. More useful this way.” He tucked his Dustbuster away as the other guards relaxed with relieved smiles spreading across their faces.
Scott stood with his Dustbuster dangling at his side, glaring at Quinn.
With a shrug, Quinn turned and met Scott in the middle of the room. He leaned in and whispered. “Never let an opportunity slip by.” Putting an arm around Scott’s shoulder, he walked him back to their table. “Since I saved your midsection, you can clean up.” He patted Scott on the shoulder and then started toward the door. “Oh, and not a word. Remember, the only difference between them and us is the color of our uniform.”
The door slid shut. Scott plopped down on his chair and shoved his dinner tray away.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
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