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Reckless Indulgence of the Written Word
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"This is a story - and an author - not to be missed."
From the Inside Flap
Breaking a guard is a favorite pastime amongst Mercy prisoners. It doesn't happen often - if any of my previous guards had held vulnerabilities, they'd hidden them well - but any prisoner who succeeds in getting a guard to kowtow to his wishes spends a long while afterwards enduring backslaps and good wishes from the other prisoners.
I could do without the good wishes, but if all went as I planned, I wouldn't be around to receive them. The first thing that was needed was a change of tactics.
When Thomas arrived the next morning - it was my weekly day of rest from work, so I was engaging in a particularly agonizing examination of the walls - I said, before he could speak, "I'm sorry about my bad temper last time. I get out of sorts occasionally."
"Not at all." His reply was cool, as were his eyes, which rested upon me heavily, like a block of ice. It came to me as I watched him that this young man, whatever his flaws might be, had received personal training from Compassion's Keeper. He could not be quite the fool he appeared to be.
I'm nothing if not flexible, as Sedgewick had pronounced on the day he tried me in a dozen different positions. I let the smile drop from my face and said in my normal voice, "Well? What brings you here?"
The coolness disappeared from his eyes, and he said, "The usual. See to your needs and all that. The dancing girls are on their way, but I'm afraid I couldn't fit the performing elephant into the stairwell."
There was a moment's silence, and then, despite myself, I burst into laughter. Thomas grinned like a boy and moved forward, keeping well away from me and resting his hand on his dagger. He inspected the rubbish hole first, then the water - going so far as to give the wall a lick - and then, satisfied, moved to the other end of the cell. "You're short a blanket," he said. "That's against regulations."
I snorted. "There aren't any regulations in the life prisons, or hadn't you noticed?"
"Well, there are customs." He was inspecting the blankets now, checking them for secreted objects. "Short-tail whip - that's the type used at Mercy. Compassion uses the black whip - longer range, harder to control. Four of the other life prisons use the straight whip - rather like a bamboo rod, but more flexible. The remainder use the bamboo rod alone. . . . Your cell could do with some tidying."
Yes, he'd been trained by a Keeper all right. I wondered whether he thought he was scaring me. "What type of bamboo rod?" I asked. "Imported or domestic? The type that splinter? We had a prisoner last year who came close to dying from the splinters alone."
"Those ought to be banned." He got up from his hands and knees from inspecting under my bed. I had retreated into the corner to allow him to do this without nervousness. As he dusted off his hands on his trousers, he said, "Mind you, if a guard does his work properly, he needn't resort to any of those." He looked over at me.
It was hard to say whether his speech was more effective as an apology or as a threat. I was beginning to think that I might have underestimated this young man. . . .