Title: Redstone, Chapter 7, Part 2.
Kyle was getting tired of headaches. He didn’t even remember how he’d gotten his current one, but it had a sharper edge to it than the last he remembered having, the one that had stuck around after his mod deactivation. This pain was a sharp, heated ache that radiated out from the back of his skull, like he’d been hit in the head too hard. When had he been hit in the head? The last thing he remembered was…
Fighting, a shin kick to the face, dodging, the swift crack of iron against his thigh, falling, and finally a pair of dark eyes in a solemn, considering face just before he—
Was hit upside the head, apparently. Kyle tried to shift his shoulders, and couldn’t quite repress the groan the movement induced.
“Hey, there. Hang on.” A steady hand pressed briefly to his forehead, soft and warm, before retreating a little bit. “Try and open your eyes before you try to go anywhere.”
Kyle wasn’t sure why he obeyed—it wasn’t like he had any reason to trust whoever this was—but he complied, slowly opening his eyes. The way his head hurt he expected the light of this place, however dim it was, to stab at him like a stiletto to the brain, but instead he saw a callused palm hovering over his eyes, shielding him from the light. He blinked, and the pain retreated a little more.
“Good,” the voice said encouragingly. “Do you think you could keep down some water?”
“Wha…” Kyle’s voice petered out, and he tried to clear his throat but couldn’t.
“Yeah, let’s try some water.” The edge of a cup pressed to his lips, and again, instead of fighting, Kyle opened his mouth and swallowed the lukewarm, metal-sour water. It helped, despite its awful taste, and when he tried to speak again he met with more success.
“Why…this?” Because Kyle just didn’t know. He couldn’t think. The fog was back, battling the dull red ache for control of his mind, and if he thought he could trust this person he’d just fall back asleep, but he couldn’t.
“Why am I doing this?” Kyle managed a little nod. “I think I hit you a little too hard,” the man said on a sigh. “Or they just didn’t fill you in very well. I’m your contact, Kyle.”
“Yes, your contact. You help on the inside, the one who’s here to make sure you’re still here by the time your trial is called. Don’t you remember? Weren’t you told this?”
All Kyle felt was confused. “Maybe? I don’t…how do I know?”
The shielding hand disappeared, but Kyle was accustomed enough to the light now that it didn’t hurt any more without the protection. All there was were two glow strips set deep into the metal walls, not enough to fully illuminate the little alcove where he lay. It was a crowded place, every nook and cranny filled with robotics or rough cloth or strange little tools. It took a moment for Kyle to realize his head was being cradled on a soft nest of filaments and fibers, and that he was wearing a pair of pants and nothing else. “What happened to my…”
“Clothes? I sold them. Bargained them, really, in exchange for you, so try not to be too upset about losing them.”
“I don’t care about that, I just…” Kyle turned to look at his odd kidnapper, or benefactor, depending on how he was starting to think about things. He couldn’t see him very well, backlit as the man was. “I need to sit up.” He needed to feel more in control, even if it was just an illusion, and lying flat on his back wasn’t going to give him that.
“Sure, wait a moment.” Strong fingers slid behind his neck, another hand grasped his shoulders and a second later Kyle was sitting up so easily it almost didn’t hurt at all. The water sloshed unpleasantly in his empty stomach, but he swallowed hard and kept it down.
“Good,” the man said encouragingly. He started to let go but Kyle listed to the side, and then those fingers anchored in to stay. “Or better, at least,” the man amended, and Kyle finally opened his eyes and got a good look.
The guy was…familiar, but not what Kyle had been expecting. He didn’t have a grand sense of presence, or remarkably distinguishing features. He was thin, with high cheekbones and a tense, somber mouth that quirked up a little when Kyle focused on him. His skin was dark and his eyes much darker, and his straight black hair glistened in the light in a way that seemed odd, to Kyle. He wore the same institutional grey that Kyle knew all the prisoners here wore, and it should have made him seem cold but his hands were warm, and still supporting Kyle, and the grip relaxed him despite himself.
“There you go,” the man murmured. “Can you hold yourself up?”
“Not yet,” Kyle said honestly. “Tell me. Prove it to me.” Because he wanted nothing more than to believe that he wasn’t alone in here, he knew he wasn’t supposed to be but he’d almost been killed, he was being pulled and pushed and everything had gotten twisted in ways he hadn’t been able to anticipate, and Kyle had to know…
“Fledgling.” Kyle slumped back suddenly, a tension he didn’t even know he’d been holding on to evaporating from his body, and the man smiled. “I’m Magpie,” he continued,” but here you can call me Isidore. Or Iz, either is fine.”
“Isidore.” Kyle had never felt so relieved in his life. It was almost enough to make him blush, he was so stupidly grateful not to be alone. He hated feeling that vulnerable, but he wouldn’t get very far if he lied to himself either. “You saved me back there.”
Isidore shrugged. “That’s what I’m here for. It was touch and go, honestly, but your clothes made good bargaining chips.”
“Because of the Regen fluid.” Kyle remembered now: his sudden expulsion from the tank, his rapid trip down the hall. “Someone pulled me out of Regen before I was done recalibrating after getting my mods deactivated.”
Isidore frowned. “Not very subtle. We’re going to have to be more careful than I thought if they can get away with being blatant.”
“You know who they are?”
“No more than you do, but I know that there are plenty of people in this prison who would love to have you in their power, for all sorts of reasons.” His thumb rubbed a gentle circle at the base of Kyle’s neck, right over the vertebrae. It was oddly intimate, but Kyle didn’t say a thing. He felt touch-starved, like he had getting pulled out of his escape pod so many years ago, numb with terror and shock. “We’ll just have to be more careful. I’ve set things up to encourage most people to leave us alone, and we’ll be able to tell if we’re being followed down here without much difficulty. No one likes to be this close to the core.”
“The core of Redstone. The iron. It pulls on the blood, tears at your organs. It’s very destructive, long-term.”
Well, this sounded like a shitty place to be. “Shouldn’t we try to avoid the core, then?”
Isidore shook his head. “We’re not going to be here long enough for it to matter. Others stay away because they know it really will mess with them, but for now our proximity will keep us a little safer.” He finally let go of Kyle, and Kyle shivered at the loss of contact. He felt colder, even though it was actually warmer down here than it had been up in the hallway.
“What’s the game plan?” Kyle asked, trying to distract himself from feeling bereft.
“Survival. By any means necessary, which for you means that if there’s something ugly to be done, you let me do it,” Isidore said. He seemed quite serious. “Your only job is to survive until your trial. That means we can’t give the warden any excuse to delay things based on your behavior, so if there’s fighting, you run back here. If there’s any issue at all, you get out of it. If people ask, you run because I told you to. As far as the gangs are concerned, you’re mine, bought and paid for. That doesn’t mean people won’t try to challenge me for you, or go after you once they realize who you are, but it does give you a layer of protection where justifying your actions is concerned.”
“Why is that important?”
“Because if they think you’re soft, or a coward, they’ll come after you regardless of your status as mine. Weakness is consumed in Redstone, unless you’re part of a larger whole.” Isidore shrugged again. “And we’re a team of two. Hardly big enough to hold our own against everyone.”
Kyle considered that. “We should try to recruit more people to our cause, then.”
Isidore frowned. “We can’t trust anyone else.”
“We don’t need to trust them, we just need to convince them to work with us.”
“The inhabitants of Redstone are some of the worst people the Federation could find and convict,” Isidore pointed out. “They’re not prone to teamwork, or to convincing that doesn’t come on the end of a knife.”
“That doesn’t mean they can’t be persuaded in other ways.”
Kyle was expecting a fight, but Isidore surprised him by smiling. He looked totally different smiling, the terseness that muted his expressions gone. He looked young, almost as young as Kyle felt. “You’re so much like Garrett. I’m not surprised you two found each other.”
“I’ve…never actually met him in person.”
“But you’re working together. You have the same ideas about people, and about what you should be able to accomplish.” He shook his head, but he was still smiling. “And if you really are like him, you might be able to do it. I’ll do what I can to help, but I’m not going to let you risk yourself unnecessarily either. Whatever you do, it has to come off as my idea. If I don’t maintain my public control over you, I might as well not have any control at all, and you’ll be considered open again. And you can fight, I know that, but you can’t fight everyone.”
“Especially not without my mods,” Kyle muttered, and Isidore nodded.
“Exactly.” Isidore leaned back and glanced down the hallway. “Sound’s picking up. You’ve been out for about six hours, so they’re getting ready to serve breakfast by now.” Kyle’s stomach growled in sympathy, and Isidore flashed his teeth. “It’s good that you’re hungry, but we’re not going back down there yet. I’ve got a few things set aside that you can have in the meantime.” He reached over behind one of the piles of equipment and grabbed a little synthetic package with dull, dry nutrition bars inside of it. “These are like gold here,” he said as he handed one over to Kyle. “Most of the food you have to eat in the mess, it isn’t easily transportable, but these are given out every so often.”
“Thank you.” Kyle took a bite. It was just as nasty as he’d expected it to be, no flavor at all, but he chewed gamely and swallowed. “Will you tell me how you got involved in this?” he asked.
Isidore actually laughed, gentle and quiet. The sound made Kyle’s toes curl. “It’s a long story,” he warned.
“We’ve both got time.”
“I suppose we do.” He came over and sat next to Kyle on the bench—or maybe it was functionally a bed, Kyle wasn’t sure—and crossed his legs under him. “Do you know where Paradise is?”
Kyle thought for a moment. “It’s a Fringe planet, right?”
“Yeah. I was born there. I thought I’d die there too, one way or another.” Isidore’s smile fell away. “I still think I should have, sometimes. Instead I met Garrett, and he changed my life.”
“Utterly and completely.” The smile was back, but it was smile and private now. “It started in a club…”