Water drips from a swelling, yellow stain in the corner of the ceiling. The sound echoes off the walls like a heart still beating beneath the floorboards in an old story.
They've tried to make this room look clean and sharp with the chrome furniture and white paint, but it doesn't even pass for clinical. The leaks in the ceiling and black mold crawling up from the floor give away the disrepair of this tomb of a prison.
We are fifty feet below the surface, and I haven't seen the sun in months.
The man sitting across from me drums his fingers on the cold, metal table. I twist my hands around in my cuffs.
"Do you know why you are here, Miss Heart?" He doesn't make eye contact as he picks up his tablet, tapping the glass screen with the stylus. It must feel like a foreign object to him. The technology is beyond dated, but his temple implant is all but useless down here where there is no service. Unless he wants to use an actual pen and paper, technology from last century is his only option.
"Because I embezzled one and a half billion dollars from a health insurance company that refuses to pay out when their clients need lifesaving treatments?" I finally answer his question.
The man's lips turn up into a slight smirk, but his dark brown eyes stay fixed on his screen. "Yes, Robin Hood, we both know that. But we both also know you are smart enough to understand my question wasn't referring to why you are in this prison."
I roll my eyes. The cloying scent of his cologne fills the room like a noxious gas. Around his neck, his tie pulls the purple collar of his shirt so tight, I don't know how he can even breathe.
Beyond the door to this windowless cell, footsteps clack down the hall. In the distance, I hear screaming. I pinch my eyes shut, pretending I'm on the surface. Pretending I'm somewhere else—anywhere else—but here.
But is the surface really any better? A small voice in the back of my head asks.
I swallow a lump in my throat. "Fine, no," I respond. "I don't know why you've brought me to this room. I'm a genius, not a mind reader. Why don't you tell me, oh wise one?" Dumbass.
Dumbass finally puts down his ancient tablet and meets my gaze, studying me. I do the same with him. He appears to be in his mid- to late-thirties. His dark hair is coiffed and greased back—not a strand out of place. The collar of his shirt is starched to the point that it looks uncomfortable, and his jacket is a designer brand, probably costing more than most people make in a month.
I'm glad I dressed in my best for the occasion, too. I'm sure I look just as put together in my orange jumpsuit and matching headband.
"Shawn, please," I interrupt him.
"Shawn," he continues, "my name is Duke Green." He holds out his hand to me as if to shake.
I glare at him over my glasses and raise my hands above the table, emphasizing the cuffs clamped around my wrists.
After a second's pause, he lowers his hand, impressively revealing no indication of embarrassment. "Shawn Heart," he begins again, flashing me a smile I assume he thinks is charming, "the reason you are here today is because you fall into a very narrow band of convicts."
"And what band would that be, Duke? I don't play any instruments."
My joke falls flat. I don't think Duke Dumbass Green would recognize humor if it sat on him. Or maybe it's my sense of humor that's broken. Six months underground in a dungeon can do that to a girl.
"There are very few people like you in this world, Shawn. You have an exceptionally high IQ, you exhibit no signs of violent tendencies, and you have also been sentenced to life in prison."
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Down UnderScience Fiction
Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition along with 18 of Earth's most int...