06:00, Wednesday the 11th,
Lunar 3, Luka 16
Brookside Central Booking
I left when the first sun was low in the sky, before the second began to rise. To ensure no one looked at me twice, I wore a dress and school sweater out, and took my mom’s wide-brimmed sun hat she used in the garden to hide my hair. My parents would’ve been proud. I looked like any other Lumerian girl, maybe a studious one headed to school early.
Both of my parents had left for their respective jobs by then, but Duncan and Portia would still be asleep for a few hours. If I was lucky, they might mistake my closed door for me sleeping in, given I wasn’t welcome back at school anyhow, and no one would notice I was gone until I was already shipped off to…wherever you go after holding. I didn’t plan that far; I’d never been there longer than a few hours, and seeing as none of my planning was going particularly well lately, I decided to just run with it and see what happened.
“You again?” The Registration Bot’s display eyes went wide. “No no no. It’s only been one night.”
“Don’t worry. Same crime,” I said, trying my best to look convincing in my fluffy pink sweater. “My parents want their money back. They think re-education will do me some good… you can just refund them, right?”
The Bot looked a bit perplexed. “That’s a new one. Let me check,” he said, and went searching for the answer in another window on his display. “Yes, this is possible, with parental authorization. Please present your wrist for admittance.”
I hesitated. “When you say parental authorization… you don’t have to call them or anything?”
“Negative,” the Bot said. “Please present your wrist for admittance. A bus leaves for the re-education center in just a few hours.”
“And they get their money back? They don’t get charged for anything?” I asked, just to be sure.
Again the Bot took a moment to search for information. “Correct.”
I presented my wrist in the slot to do so. It was weird scanning in without getting another brand, but I can’t say I missed the sensation of being burnt and jabbed. Hearing the sounds it made, the Corpsman from yesterday sprang up from his desk around the corner.
“You again?” He grinned at me. “Looking a bit more normal this morning, aren’t you?”
“Not for long,” I said. “Parents shipped me back.”
“Good for them. And great timing. Shuttle departs for re-ed in two hours, Miss Fenn,” he said, motioning behind him with his thumb. “Let’s get you ready.”
I got goosebumps when he said that. There were less people around early in the morning, mostly Bots, and there was something about the way he looked at me that gave me the creeps. I followed him, but he let me walk in front of him. He kept a close eye–a little too close of one–on me while he watched me change into another pair of grey prison robes.
“Can’t imagine why a cute little thing like you would want to be a perv,” he said, leering from the changing room door. “You don’t look half bad.”
I yanked down my shirt and shot him a glare. “Good Gods, aren’t you like, forty?” I scoffed. “You’re the perv, buddy!”
The corpsman grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me further down the hall, passing the holding cell and pulling me into a secondary room for mugshots, full of mirrors, sinks, and little grooming kits. Panic rose in me at the sight of them, the blades and scissors.
“No. Please,” I managed, thinking he might cut me. My eyes clenched shut, tight, though tears streamed down my face.
It was worse.
The sound of an electric razor buzzed behind me. “I don’t like your attitude,” he said, bold and haughty. “Normally this part comes later, but I think you need a reality check.”
The first swath of my hair fell before I processed what was happening. For a split second, I was overjoyed it was only my hair, but when the buzzing went on and the hair kept falling, I fought back and struggled against him, managing to turn and beat him in the chest. All my flailing only made it all the worse, resulting in bleeding cuts and jabs all over my head, and huge patches of red, razor-burnt skin.
He didn’t stop until I was completely bald, my eyebrows the only hair remaining on my head, then shoved me forward over the sink to give me a closer look.
“Best you’ve ever looked, Miss Fenn,” he said, before pulling me back up.
Anger and fear shook through my body as he walked me back to the holding cell. Someone was wailing and crying.
“Shuttle departs in two hours,” said the Corpsman. “Don’t get too comfortable.”
I was the one screaming. I didn’t realize it was me until I tried to tell him not to worry because I sure as fuck wouldn’t. The bars closed behind me, and I was on the ground shaking and crying, covering my head with my hands.
It stung and itched, and felt so oddly cold and oily to the touch in a way I’d never experienced before. And I was in jail. And I was staying in jail, until who the fuck knows when, and things were definitely going to get worse before they got better, and… and…
Have you ever had one of those moments where everything hits you all of the sudden, and you’re kind of fine, but you’re… not fine? Where it gets hard to breathe all of the sudden, and this weird feeling rises in your head and feet, like if TV static had a feeling, and you’re utterly convinced that you’re having a heart attack even though odds are you aren’t?
That was me right then, except instead of it happening in a locker room or in a department store dressing room while Mom was waiting for me to come out in a new outfit she picked out, I was in a jail cell surrounded by a dozen or so strangers.
It was much more crowded than I’d seen it before, and the prisoners were more varied, too. There were no drunks I could see, but plenty of folks from other planets in the system. This time I wasn’t the only one with pink brands.
With the upcoming transport to the re-education center, everyone in holding must have been headed there, and it was only for one thing… or at least, one thing in combination with other things. My eyes wandered toward a big guy off toward the side. I hadn’t tried to stare at him in particular, but I was just trying to focus on something–anything–to get back in control of myself. He was a golin, with amber-orange scale-like skin not from around here, but that wasn’t the part that stuck out about him. One of his eyes had been removed and replaced with an eye-shaped golden orb, the worst possible brand you could get. It was only for murderers. His arms were covered with the smaller kind too, even up to his neck and jaw.
I tried to look away, but he noticed me. “What’re you crying about?” he grumbled, deep voice booming.
It suddenly seemed like a bad idea to stare at him. “N-nothing.”
He got up and came closer to me. No one else moved a muscle. Some even looked away. “Never seen you here before,” he said, reaching out with his massive hand. I tried to get away, but he grabbed me by the forearm, exposing my wrist. He nearly lifted me off the ground.
“Put them down, Bones,” came a voice. I didn’t see from who–I closed my eyes without realizing it.
“Fuck off, Jane. Don’t–”
Something sounded like a punch, and then another, and I was back on my feet. He backed off and in his place was a koibito girl, probably the same age as me. Patches of her skin were white and orange, but unlike any other koibito I’d ever seen, she had the strangest bright pink hair, done up in bantu knots under a black baseball cap. Her bottom lip was busted, and her face mostly covered in old bruises and cuts. She grinned at me for a second before turning back to Bones.
“C’mon, they’re just a kid,” she said. “You’re gonna scare them.”
Bones back to where he was sitting, rubbing his cheek. “I was just saying hi, Jane.”
“T-thank you,” I murmured.
“He’s really a push over, I promise,” she said, giving me a thumb’s up. “I’m Jane. Nice to meet you.”
“Pe…Pietro,” I said. “I’m Pietro.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize you were a boy.”
“I’m not. I’m just not a girl either though. ‘They’ is… fine,” I said, although inside it was way more than fine. No one had ever asked me something like that before, or apologized.
“Cool. I thought I was an enby for a while, too, before I figured out I’m a girl,” Jane said. “Nice to meet you.”
“An enby,” she said. “Non-binary. It’s when you’re kind of… in the middle.”
“Really?” My face lifted. “I didn’t know there was a word for it.”
Jane laughed. “There’s words for everyone, Pietro. They just don’t want you to know that.” Although her face was swollen from all the bruises, she smiled at me, too. There was a little twig with a tiny green leaf stuck to her upper lip, right at the edge of her mouth.
I motioned toward her mouth. “You’ve got a… like a stick on you,” I said, probably the worst possible thing I could’ve come up with to say to the pretty girl who’d just saved me.
“Oh, yeah, that’s… don’t worry about that,” she said, covering it. Her right arm was covered in rows of dots, a mix of pink and red, like mine, but most of her brands were purple and white. I’d never seen those ones before. She took her hat off and placed it snug over my head. “Here,” she said. “You look like you need this more than me.”
The last tears fell from my eyes. “T-thank you.”
“No worries,” Jane said. “Off to re-education, are you? First time?”
I shook my head. “What’s it like?”
Jane bit her bottom lip. “Can’t say I recommend it. Glad I won’t be going back there again…”
“You’re… you’re not?” I couldn’t hide my disappointment. “You’re getting out.”
“Yeah, some friends are coming to pick me up soon,” Jane said, unaffected.
I couldn’t fathom the amount of money it would take to bail her out, seeing all the brands on her arm. “Must be some friend.”
Jane shrugged. “They kind of owe me; I work for them… you know, you could come too, if you want. We’re always looking for new people.”
Biting the inside of my cheek, I hesitated. Was there a polite way to ask if your new friend was a prostitute? Or to turn down such an otherwise generous offer? I stuttered a bit. “Oh, I’m not really… comfortable with that kind of–”
Jane leaned in, whispering right into my ear so no one else could hear. “I’m a pirate, Pietro,” she said, slapping me in my arm. “A pirate.”
That was what purple was–piracy! “Oh, uhm…okay.”
“I think you’d really like it,” she said, this time louder, so others could hear. Most turned away, probably sharing my initial suspicion. “It’s not as weird as you’d think, either. Only as weird as you want it to get. The boss is good about that kind of thing… and he’ll pay half your bond account up front, too.”
“R-really?” My eyes went wide. “He can just do that?”
Jane shrugged. “Oh yeah, especially yours.” She glanced at my arm. “What is that like, three hundred mil? That’s nothing to him.”
“It’s… it’s two-hundred… million.”
Jane waved a hand. “That’s nothing. You’d be able to pay him back in no time, too.”
With every word, I grew more interested. Even if Jane had been a prostitute, I still might’ve said yes. It was too good of a deal to pass up, and only sounding better. My parents would be off the hook in no time, and maybe I could even come home. “So what do you…do?”
“Whatever I need to. But it’s never anything I don’t want to do, either,” Jane said, shrugging. She leaned in close again, a little closer than I was comfortable with. “If I have not made it clear, there is absolutely no sex,” she whispered. “Not that no one on the ship fucks. I’m sure they do. But mostly we just rip off rich cargo ships and stuff…and, well, whatever the boss wants.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” I said back, feeling my face get hot. “It sounds… great.”
“Think about it.” Jane winked. “It’s a lot better than what you’re up for if you stay here.”
“That bad, huh?”
Jane pulled up her sleeve above her shoulder, revealing part of her back. It was covered in raised scars and dimpled, grooved skin. “It’s not what they say it is. And things have only gotten worse.”
A chill went down my spine. Jane pulled her sleeve back down, covering what she’d shown me. I couldn’t hide my shock.
Re-education was supposed to be like therapy, a place you go where they’d teach you how to be better at gender if you were bad at it like me. There were some additional pieces, too, about service to the Crown and Her Majesty, and the glory of Lumeria and the importance of our planet’s social roles to intergalactic harmony, but the main bit was about gender roles. It was bad enough as is, but I didn’t think they were literally trying to beat it into people…
That only made Jane’s offer all the more appealing. I was down to spend time in jail for my family, but torture?
“Okay. I’ll think about it,” I said, even though I’d already made a decision.
“Better hurry up with that,” Jane muttered. “They’re here.”
Down the hall came the familiar sound of the Bot’s whirring, along with the strangest sounding moaning and crying. It was a deep voice, but blubbering hysterically in a high pitched falsetto. “Oh my little Janey, my poor Janey! You take me to her at once, Mister Robot!”
The portal door opened. “Deux, Jane,” said the Bot. “Your… aunt is here for you.”
An unnatural puff of feathers, fur and fabric came through the door when it opened. “Oh Janey,” the voice came. “Hurry now dear, we must get you out of here. Oh, darling, look at how they’ve kept you!” Whoever it was stepped into the cell in all their glory: big green hair, big heels, and what looked like a large, bushy tail hidden beneath a grey trenchcoat. They were an Arya– having feathers where my people had fins — and deep, blue and green skin. Her tail was a bit bushy for a woman, but I didn’t put too much thought into it. You didn’t see that many Arya on Lumeria these days, so I figured I was mistaken.
“Coming Auntie Quail,” Jane said, smiling with all her teeth. The woman wrapped an arm around Jane, pulling her close. “Hold up, we might have one more.”
“Oh, and how could I forget, my little…?” the woman Jane called Quail trailed off. Without hesitation, she wrapped her other arm around me, and pulled me close with a thud. Either she was the buffest person under the stars, or she’d stuffed her shirt with something that was unexpectedly solid. “What’s your name, kid?” she asked, her voice deepening significantly.
“Pietro! Yes, yes, my dear nephew, Pietro. Imagine meeting you here. Well, Mister Robot, I suppose I’ll take them both home,” said the woman. Once out of eyeshot from the other prisoners, she handed him a large bag of what appeared to be coins. “Hurry now, we must be on our way.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the Bot replied. Instead of giving us time to change, he merely tossed the clothes we came with back at Jane and I, and led us down a different hallway than from where we came. “You can head out the back if you want,” he said, before turning back.
“I didn’t know you could bribe a Bot,” I muttered.
“Of course. These guys down here are known to be particularly greedy,” said Quail, speaking in her deeper, more natural voice once again. “Lots of lux go missing every year in the Royal Police Corps…”
Jane pulled her dress overtop of her grey prison robes as we waited by the door. “Get dressed, Pietro. Can’t wear those out.”
Following her lead, I pulled the dress I wore that morning over my head, along with my sweater. “Sheesh. I hope my parents actually get their refund…”
“Their what?” Jane asked.
“My mom and dad actually bailed me out yesterday, even though they couldn’t afford to,” I explained. “I came back on my own this morning.”
“Aw, poor kid,” said Quail. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to check and make sure it’s been processed on our way out.”
Quail led both Jane and I back around the corner, toward where the registration desk was, the click of her heels leading the way. The Guard Bot she’d just paid met us along the way. “Oh Mister Robot,” she called out, back in that high, falsetto voice. She reached down the front of her dress and pulled out what appeared to be a large taser, an electric current flickering through it’s tongs. Before he could respond, she jabbed it into his back until it was unoperational, and quickly headed around the corner, toward the registration desk.
I stopped, stunned at what I’d seen, and the relative ease with which Quail had just fried that Bot for nothing. Jane knelt down beside him and rummaged through his pockets. She took back the sack of coins that Quail had just given him, and tossed it at me.
“Guess you really are pirates,” I muttered, catching it.
Jane shrugged. “Eh. Someone will patch him up in no time.”
“Oh Pietro,” Quail’s voice rose from around the corner. “Do help me out, here.”
When we rounded the corner, Quail was standing there with the taser on the Registration Bot, ready to strike. She’d already gotten the Corpsman who’d shaved my head; he was face down on the ground, moaning in pain.
“Miss Fenn,” the Bot said, recognizing me. He beeped for dear life. “H-help!”
“Fenn, is it? I found the transaction log for today,” Quail said. “Doesn’t look like any refunds went out to the Fenns.”
“You lied to me?” I asked. “You were gonna keep the money, weren’t you?”
Quail moved the taser closer.
“No–no–I can process it now,” said the Bot. “Processing.”
Quail gave a thumbs up, looking at the screen nearest her. “Looks legit,” she said, waiting a few awkward seconds while the process completed before jamming the taser into the Bot after all. “But that was still real shitty so we’re just gonna… yeah.”
There was a certain satisfaction to watching him spark and light up, one that probably meant I was a bad person, but after all the brands and misery he’d caused me, and after lying to me, too, I wasn’t too mad at myself. At least I knew my parents would be okay, and I had the feeling that I would be, too.
“Should we let out the others before we go?” Jane asked, motioning back around the corner toward the holding area.
Quail snapped her fingers. “Good call, Deux. I almost forgot.” She clapped her hands a bit, excitedly. “Oh, I do love a good prison break, don’t you?”
[Alternate Image Text: PIETRO and their new friend JANE sit facing one another in a Lumena jail holding cell. Pietro’s head has been shaven; they are wearing a black baseball cap given to them by Jane. Jane is a koibito, a koi fish person, with textured pink hair in bantu knots, and calico orange, black and white skin with vitiligo-like coloring. Both wear plain, grey prison garb. Both are overshadowed by the shadow of a third figure, and surrounded by other prisoners.]