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Mercy's toes tingled in the lavender salt bath. The water was too hot, but she forced herself to endure it. She had partied too hard over the weekend, riding the adrenaline and sugar-laced rollercoaster of climb and crash.

Angelo was not pleased, waking her up ten minutes early to add a foot bath to her morning routine. For a watch-sized piece of technology, Angelo was a pest, although Mercy could blame herself for that. He had learned his bad manners from her.

"Angelo," she said as she adjusted her backrest. "I'm fully relaxed, now. I'd like to hear my work schedule for today."

"Si, Seniorina Nightingale," he said in his lovely Italian accent. "You have a nine o'clock interview at ARK prison, followed by dinner with your father at his home. I have recalibrated your calorie intake to account for your recent gluttony, and I suggest a wheat-free breakfast this morning. This will be the third reminder of such behavior since June. There was ladies night at The Red Penguin. The wedding of your friend, Crystal. And her bachelorette party. I also deducted the time and currency spent on your spa treatment, since you have undone all the good that came from it."

Mercy sighed. "You don't need to point out my inadequacies, Angelo. We have already agreed that nobody is perfect, even personal assistants who insist on pointing this out. Read off today's prisoner profile, please."

"Of course," he said smoothly, dragging out the words so Mercy could hear the judgment in his tone. "Jesse Jackson Warner. Also known as JJ. Twenty-nine-year-old male in good health. Convicted of operating a tech repair business with an expired license. Sentenced to fifty years in prison. Candidate for the redemption fields."

"A tech geek? That could work. Can I get an image, please?"

The mug shot of JJ Warner popped up on a holographic screen in the center of the room - a young man with strong bones, telling eyes, and no sign of long-term drug use. He could have used a haircut and a shave, but most of the convicts did. He'd make for decent eye candy.

"Immediate family?" she asked.

"Mother and sister both live in the western territories. Father recently deceased. A confirmed list of regular associates totals five."

"Hmm. Not much to work with. Either he's not very polite, or he's keeping a low profile."

"Or both," Angelo offered.

"Time served?"

"Twenty-four months."

"How much of that was training for the game?"

"Twenty-four months."

"Good, he's hungry. Lana found me a winner this time to make up for Brody. I mean, really? A schizophrenic gang-banger turned reverend? She's owes me big for that."

"Brody found traction with the underdog crowd. They liked his twist on the Adam and Eve family tree linking everyone to cyborgs."

"C'mon. They liked him because he had a lisp and a limp."

"And you played to his strengths beautifully. He was a beloved gimp as he laid in a pool of his own vomit."

"That's enough, Angelo. Your morbid humor scares me. Human interest is my business. Most of the time, I don't need to embellish." Mercy was getting tired of Angelo's comments. It was like having an annoying twin repeating her thoughts and reminding her how whacked she was, just like the rest of the world. "And my afternoon schedule? All humanitarian, I assume."

"Two hours for humanitarian research and one for promotion. Then, at eight, there's the dedication of Brody and the other inmates who didn't get their pardon."

"Of course. I've decided to wear my olive green suit to match Brody's vomit."

"Tasteful."

"And sympathetic. Green is sympathetic. My closing sentiments were well received by my fans, so this should be a breeze."

"You hate it," he argued.

"I hate death. I don't hate my job."

"Of the thirty-six competitors you have reported on, only twelve are still alive to curse you."

"I'm aware of that. I'm also aware that every minute I spend doing my job earns me currency, which buys me non-synthetic food, lets me sleep on high thread count sheets, and gives me access to a spa in New Manhattan so I don't blow my brains out. How many eggs do I have?"

"Three."

"And bacon?"

"Half a package."

"Bagels?"

"Yes, but..."

"Good. Just enough for a bacon omelet with extra gluttony on the side."


Song credit: RX (Medicate) by Theory of a Deadman

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