The first scream came four minutes later. In spite of its shrill, piercing nature, no one heard it. Because the man who was screaming was doing so soundlessly, his mind locked in a telepathic prison far more invidious than the plascrete and mortar one that surrounded him on every side.
Even as he screamed, he was moving, unzipping his pants, pushing them down to his ankles, shuffling over to pick up a tool he’d hidden in the hollow leg of the desk his attorney had won for him. The inmate was a learned man, his attorney had argued; it constituted cruel and unusual punishment to put him in a place where he couldn’t write, couldn’t keep his research notes. The attorney had never mentioned the tiny, helpless victim his learned client had put in a dog cage devoid of the most basic of human necessities.
However, the amenities he had taken such glee in winning were the furthest things from the inmate’s mind at that moment. His hand clenched on the tool as he blubbered without voice, his will shredded like so much paper. Then the tool touched the flaccid white of his belly and he realized what he was about to do.
Blood dripped onto the floor almost a minute after that—it took time to achieve that kind of damage with nothing but a shiv, a weapon made out of a toothbrush ground against contraband rocks until its edges were as sharp as . . . well, almost a knife.
The act of amputation was excruciatingly painful.
And it was long over by the time a short, compact man with black hair faintly touched with silver walked into the waiting room. “I’m sorry for the delay, Ms. Russo. Your jet-chopper arrived five minutes ago, but I wasn’t immediately able to spare an escort—several prisoners decided to get into a ruckus in the yard.”
Sophia stood, briefcase held loosely in her left hand. “That’s quite alright, Warden.” The otherness in her settled back, its task complete. “I’m still on schedule.”
Warden Odess escorted her through the first set of security doors. “This is what, your third visit here this month?”
“Things going well on this new case?”
“Yes.” She paused as he cleared them through the second to last checkpoint. “The prosecution team feels certain of success.”
“I guess they’ve got an ace in the hole with you. Pretty hard to argue innocence when you guys can pick the memories out of the accused’s mind.”
“Yes,” Sophia agreed. “However, insanity or diminished responsibility pleas are quite popular in such cases.”
“Yeah, I guess so. You can’t see into their heads, right? I mean—know what they were thinking at the time?”
“Only by reference to their actions or words,” Sophia said. “If those actions or words contain any hint of ambiguity, the field is thrown wide open.”
“And, of course, the defense always argues that things weren’t as they appear.” Snorting, the warden stepped out into the crisp light of the late winter’s day. Sophia blinked as she, too, exited. The light seemed too bright today, too intense, cutting across her retinas like broken glass.
Odess watched as she blinked. “Guess it’s time for you to go in.”
Most people didn’t know that Js only worked one-month rotations before returning to the nearest branch of the Center to have their Silence checked. But Odess had been part of the prison system for over a decade. “How do you always know?” she asked, having worked with him sporadically over those ten years.
“That question is your answer.”
She tipped her head a little to the side.
“You begin to act more human,” he told her, his dark eyes holding a concern she’d never understood. “At the start, when you’ve just returned from wherever it is you go, your responses are short, distant. Now . . . we actually had a conversation.”
“An astute observation,” she said, realizing the tilt of her head for what it was—a sign of disintegration. “Perhaps we can have another conversation in a month’s time.” That was how long it would take for the conditioning to begin to fragment again.
“I’ll see you then.”
Sophia walked to the waiting jet-chopper with an easy, unhurried stride. She was in Manhattan proper by the time they discovered the prisoner bleeding in his cell.
Max had spent the night going over the Bonner case files, on the slim chance that the bastard would actually give up a body at some stage. In truth, every single detail of the Butcher’s crimes was already engraved on his memory banks, never to be erased, but he’d wanted to be absolutely certain of his recall. All that death, the pain, coupled with the smug arrogance of the man who’d ended so many lives—it hadn’t exactly left him in the best frame of mind for what had to be some kind of a Psy joke.
“Commander,” he said, staring into the aristocratic face of the Psy who ran New York Enforcement, “if I can speak bluntly—”
“You rarely do otherwise, Detective Shannon.”
In most humans and changelings, Max would’ve heard in that statement a wry humor. But Commander Brecht was Psy. He’d look at a rape victim with the same dispassionate gaze as he would a drive-by-shooter.
“So,” Max said, pressing two fingers to the bridge of his nose, “you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I ask you why the hell you’d put me on this. The Psy hate me.”
“Hate is an emotion,” Commander Brecht said from his standing position by an old-fashioned filing cabinet that had somehow survived all attempts at modernization. “You are more of an inconvenience.”