Chapter 2

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I awoke in my own cot.

I lay there, eyes roaming the small cell that until that moment I had been certain nobody else knew existed.

Someone had cleaned the room. The crystals that had been strewn across my desk were now stacked in one corner. The debris of a week's meals were gone and the implements put away. Even the covers on my cot smelled fresh. My clothes had disappeared from their various resting places around the room and would no doubt be clean and crisp, folded away in my locker. I looked under the covers of my cot. Yup, naked.

The whole scene was a chilling display of ownership. They wanted me to know that everything about me was under their scrutiny, from where I lived to the stains on my shorts.

I pulled myself from my cot and staggered to the wash cubicle. It was sparkling like new, the synth tiles a brilliant white. They had even burnished the pipes. The water pressure was still crappy though. Bastards could have fixed that while they were at it. There was some new, sweet-smelling cleaner in my dispenser.

I exited the cubicle and stood on the vent as the airblades dried me off. I was still in shock, thoughts squeezing through my brain like slugs looking for a rock to hide under. I opened my clothes locker, to discover that they hadn't washed my clothes after all - they had tossed them out and replaced them. I slipped on a white robe that was warm and soft and fit me to perfection.

I needed a drink.

I crossed to my drinks stand and stopped. I didn't have a drinks stand. I had a packing case that sometimes kept my bottles off the floor. But there it was, a polished white drinks stand that was holding bottles that actually had stamps on them. Sealed bottles with stamps on them. I lifted one - a scotch-synth that was well beyond my cred range. I broke the seal and took a sniff. This was no eye-watering smash of alcohol and flavouring. It was delicate, deep, complex. I hesitated, but they were hardly going to poison me after the events of last night. I lifted the bottle and took a swig.

I had never tasted anything so smooth, so wonderful. Of course, it was another warning. They even knew what drink I preferred and wanted me to know that they were much better at it than I was.

I took another swig, before pouring myself a glass so that I could enjoy it in the manner it deserved. I looked around for my old packing case, but it was gone, so I placed the bottle and glass back on the stand. Time to check the food cube. Sure enough, it was full of sealed packages that I had never heard of.

I was ravenous, so I selected a package at random and tore the cover off. I set it on my desk while it heated and moved back to retrieve my drink. As I sipped the liquid gold, my eyes played over the tiled wall beside my cot. I had paid a lot of credits for the hidden locker that was concealed in that wall. I had killed the installer afterwards to protect my secret, but I did pay him a lot of credits first. That locker was undetectable. Guaranteed.

I considered for a moment. No doubt my cell was bristling with very expensive surveillance equipment. They would be watching my every move and would see me activate the locker. But then again, there was also no doubt that these people could do pretty much whatever they wanted. And I needed what I hoped was inside that locker. I shrugged and crossed to the wall, pressing my palm on the required tile. A small panel slipped into the wall and I placed my hand inside the revealed security niche. The scanners identified my biological data and stress levels and blipped their permission. The larger panel that concealed my locker retracted into the floor. Finally, I entered a combination into the dial on the locker door.

The locker door swung open.

At least they had cleaned it. The locker smelled of lemon and bleach. My stack of cred-chips was double what I remembered. My fake identity crystals now resided inside neat little black pouches. No doubt with improved identities. But it was the gleaming rose-coloured box on the second shelf that caught and held my gaze. I had never seen it before. I eased it from the shelf and carried it to my desk, ignoring the delicious aroma drifting from my now-heated meal.

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