Tuesday the 10th, Lunar 3, Luka 16
Brookside Central Booking – Royal Police Corps
“You again,” said the Police Bot at the registration desk as he scanned my left arm to log me in. An automated tool came down from one of his tendrils and wrapped around my arm to hold it in place. The Bot beeped at me in disappointment, something I’m sure that whoever programmed him installed just for teenage fuck ups like myself. “Please confirm identity: Petra Fenn. Age: Sixteen.”
“Yep,” I said. “Go right ahead.”
The eyes on his display went small, as if he were somehow sad about what was going to happen. Out from the metal bar on my arm sprang a nozzle that clamped down on the blank space near my wrist, right beside my two other infraction brands. Three seconds and the familiar smell of burning flesh later, it released me. “Don’t you ever learn, Miss Fenn?”
I rubbed my wrist. Much to my surprise, there were two new marks instead of the expected one. I now had three gender infractions, pink, and a red one I wasn’t expecting. Red was for violence.
Stabbing someone is technically violent, sure, but it hadn’t occurred to me that that was probably the main reason I was at lock up this time. Before it had just been the usual: your hair is too long for a girl; you wore pants in public; you used a ‘fake’ name. I’d been lucky enough to get off with warnings some of the time for the little stuff. Not this.
Mother would be furious. My father might even cry.
“What about Fisk?” I asked the Registration Bot. “He attacked me first.”
“You’re the only one under arrest, Miss Fenn,” said the Bot, shaking his display no.
I rolled my eyes. Should’ve figured.
A corpsman and another Police Bot led me toward holding, to update my pictures in the records. They were kind enough to show me a mirror, my first indication of what happened to my hair.
It was… gone. All gone. Two jagged clumps were missing from the top and left side, almost down to the root. Parts of my scalp were visible, missing patches of white hair on top of pale pink skin. I’d kept it manicured so carefully, keeping it the exact maximum length allowed — still nowhere near as long as I would’ve liked it, but leagues longer than any other girl in school. It made me pass just masculine enough that every now and again, I could go out in some of my dad’s clothes and pretend to be a boy for a while. Getting caught was how I got my first two infractions.
The Corpsman laughed when the Bot took my pictures. My new mugshot must’ve captured my horror.
“Your parents are on their way,” said the Corpsman, resting his hands on his uniform trident. “I doubt they’ll be bailing you out this time.”
“You always say that and yet, for some reason they always come,” I said. “Almost like they like me or something.”
“You… do know what bail is on a crime like this, don’t you?”
He led me to the holding cell and locked the door behind me.
“What, like, two or three hundred lux, right?”
“Try two hundred million, Miss Fenn, along with two years in re-education and service.”
I laughed, expecting him to laugh along with me, but he was silent, stern. “T-two hundred… what? No way. You’re just messing with me, right?”
Two hundred million? That’s more than any family has… well, at least, more than mine, and mine isn’t too bad off, either. Both my parents work. My father is a mechanic; he works on ships and diships, but he can pretty much fix anything for space, sea or sky if you just let him tinker with it a little bit. My mother is a servant in the Palace at Lumena, which is how my sister Portia and I can go to Brooke Regina with all the real rich kids when we probably wouldn’t be able to afford to otherwise. She didn’t make much, but the perks made it worth it.
The Corpsman had to be wrong. Or maybe he was just trying to scare me. Maybe he even had a little.
He walked away without saying anything, leaving me with all the others in the cell. Hardly anyone was there at this time of day, just a few drunk folks sleeping off whatever got them there in the first place. All of them were at least twice my age, maybe older, with arms covered front and back with infraction brands of all colors. I picked a place as far as I could from anyone else to sit and wait, still rubbing the new marks on my arm. I kept my wrist down so no one else could see why I was there.
Even though the others were covered in infractions, too, everything from theft to vagrancy, nobody else had any pink marks that I could see. I didn’t see many red ones either. In fact, apart from on the news or in movies, I had never seen anyone with a red mark, and there I was with one before I even had a license or finished high school.
Just when I was beginning to imagine the sounds of my father’s crying in my head, I heard them echoing from down the hall, along with the whirring sound of that same Bot wheeling back our way. The door opened and the Corpsman called my name: “Fenn, Petra.”
My parents swept me into their arms, both of them clutching me for dear life. My father grabbed the sides of my face and kissed my forehead over and over, stopping to linger on the places where my hair wasn’t anymore.
“Oh Petra, oh dear, what’s happened this time?” My mother asked, reaching for my arm. Before she could look, I pulled her in for a hug, wanting just one more minute before the screaming would begin. “Oh darling, what’s happened to your hair?”
A Bot beside us chimed in. “The total for bail comes to two hundred million with service, or four hundred million with no service.”
Mother grabbed my arm again, turning it so she could see. “P-pardon?”
Both of my parents froze, their eyes wide in horror. They exchanged a wordless glance, one I could interpret: we didn’t have that kind of money.
“May I ask the charges?” My father asked, looking quite pale.
“Charge 1: Gender Infraction, third offense. Inappropriate hair length, recurring, with proclamations of non-normative orientation. Charge 2: assault, stabbing through the right hand resulting in disfigurement. Total bail has been calculated for both crimes, in addition to the repeat offense multiplier, pro-rated for Your Majesty’s most recent fee schedule adjustments.”
“What?” I asked. “Inappropriate length? I don’t have any damn hair left, you–” My mother slammed her hand over my mouth before I could finish that thought.
“Is there any way we could ask for a reduction?” My father asked. “I assure you, our Petra is a lot of things, but certainly not violent. She must have been provoked.”
“Please give us a moment,” my mother said, yanking my father away by his shirt collar. She pulled him down a few paces for a conversation I wasn’t invited to either. Neither of them would even look at me.
Panic hit me all at once, realizing what was about to happen. They would have to leave me. I would stay in jail. For two years. Minimum. And I would go to re-education. I wasn’t going back to school, or going to swim. Would I even get to see my siblings again? My house? And all because of stupid fucking Ian Fisk of all people? My face grew hot, somewhere close to both screaming out in anger and crying, but all I could do was stand there and wait.
Finally my father came back. “Can we pay in installments?” he asked, his voice raw and weak. He looked like he might be sick. “I can put 2% down immediately. And we can leverage our home, and everything in it.”
Tears welled in my eyes. “No, Dad, it’s okay, just–”
“Not now, Petra.” He placed his hand firmly on my shoulder. “Please. You’ve done enough.”
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[Alternative Text: Pietro, handcuffed, stands in front of a desk where they speak to the Registration Bot, a jellyfish-like creature.]