A few miles away, and a few stories underground, Kadamba began to regain consciousness. His head throbbed, and his chest ached from the justice enforcement officer’s energy blast. As he sat up and looked around, he realized that he was in a small chamber. Actually, it was more of a box that was about four feet tall and four feet wide by ten feet deep. The far end wall of the chamber was transparent, as were about two feet of the ceiling, the floor, and both side walls extending from the transparent end. Kadamba scooted himself to that see-through section of his cage, looked out, and saw hundreds of boxes, just like his, stacked as high as he could see. The row of chambers that he was in faced another row of the little prison boxes.
As he scanned the chambers across from his, he could see men and women. Some were lying; some were sitting. Some wore regular clothing while others wore what looked like a bright orange one-piece, tight-fitting suit of some type. In one of the chambers, he could have sworn the man was naked, and in another, water or something appeared to be spraying on the inside. He looked down to see that the woman below him was curled up in a ball, with her head between her legs. As he glanced left, he gave a little jump. The man in the next box was wide-eyed and flashing a toothy, hungry grin at him. Kadamba felt like a piece of meat that a starving man was about to devour. He looked away quickly, hoping the man would leave. To the right, the part of the box that he could see was empty.
Then he looked up. The top of the box was barely a foot from his face, and he was looking directly at another man’s anus and testicles. The naked man looked down at Kadamba between his own legs, tittering. Kadamba closed his eyes and crawled away from the transparent end of the box. Tears flowed as he started remembering what had happened before the energy blast slammed into his chest, rendering him unconscious.
A screen appeared abruptly on the wall opposite the transparent wall. A smiling woman appeared on the screen. “Welcome to the Purostinov Justice Processing Center,” the perky face announced with a smile featuring overly whitened teeth, high cheekbones, and unbelievably perfect dimples.
It appeared to be a recording and was incredibly annoying. Kadamba asked himself aloud, “Who the hell designs this crap?”
“We are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Purostinov Government Services Company. We proudly serve the citizens of Stujorkian City, providing the most cost-effective and efficient justice processing in the nation. As a client of Purostinov, you will find your case handled quickly and professionally.”
The recorded, smiling face continued to drone on for a few more minutes, but Kadamba was lost in his own thoughts. He was scared. Deep inside, he knew he that had screwed up in a significant way. He should have never sold rath to that kid. It was stupid, and he wished that he could have those few moments back. He wanted to send the kid on his way, with his money back in his little pocket and none of the drug. But it was too late.
He looked at the screen again, and the woman repeated what she had just stated, “Kadamba Vorhoor, your processing will begin in a few moments.” The face appeared frozen for a few moments, and then cheerfully began again. “As a first-time client of the Purostinov Justice Processing Center, I will gladly walk you through the initial steps of your first processing.”
“Are you a recording or a real person?” Kadamba asked the screen. The woman appeared to look at Kadamba, almost seeming to lose her cheerful demeanor, but immediately began speaking again as a box appeared below the screen, materializing out of the wall.
“Please remove your clothes and place them in the bin,” declared the perky woman on the screen with another fake smile.
With a laugh, Kadamba responded, “I don’t think so, lady. My clothes stay on me.”
He stared intently at the image of the woman, still wholly unable to tell if she was real or not. Once again, she began to speak. “You have two minutes to remove all of your clothing and place them in the bin.”
“Well, I just don’t think it will work. I just can’t strip with you staring at me,” Kadamba insisted, watching the screen, hoping to see the now-still face either turn away or begin to speak again. He realized that in the corner of the screen a countdown timer had appeared. He watched it for a few moments. As it approached 1:00, he realized a current of some type was flowing through the floor. It began to hurt. He realized he couldn’t move and felt the muscles throughout his body contracting more and more tightly.
“You now have one minute to place all of your clothing in the bin, or full electro-simulative shock will be applied,” the perky voice informed him.
When the current ended, Kadamba quickly began removing his clothes throwing them into the bin. His underwear, which was the last thing he removed, landed in the container with nine seconds remaining. The bin disappeared into the wall, leaving him sitting naked. As he began to shake, he realized he was even more scared than before. Without his clothes, he felt utterly vulnerable. Covering his genitals, he looked back at the screen. The woman on the screen now seemed to have a malicious smile, even though she appeared perky and happy.
“Thank you for complying. You now have five minutes to complete any personal toilet needs.”
A bump emerged from the wall and formed into a low toilet. This was humiliating, but Kadamba was slightly relieved. He really did need to use the facilities. He sat on the toilet and buried his face in his hands, not wanting to look at that horrible, cheerful face on the screen.
“Uh, is there … Uh … Any paper anywhere?” Kadamba asked when he finished.
“You now have one minute to complete your personal needs,” the annoying face on the screen relayed with a smile.
“Seriously, can I please have some …” Before Kadamba could finish his request, a blast of water hit him squarely where he needed to be cleaned. “Thanks. I guess. I didn’t realize it would do that.”
Kadamba slid to the floor as the toilet dematerialized back into the wall. He curled up in a ball. This was the most terrible thing that had ever happened to him, and it all happened so fast. As he began to think of what had transpired that day, he realized that he didn’t know if it was still the same day. Was it day or night? Or had he been out for days, weeks, or months? He began to sob as he curled himself up tighter and tighter.
The woman on the screen smiled again. “You will now be sanitized for your initial conference with your Purostinov Justice Processing Center Representative. Please lie face down on the floor with your hands spread above your head and your legs spread wide.”
Kadamba barely heard the perky-sounding voice. He wanted it to go away. He wanted everything to go away. He closed his eyes as tightly as he could and demanded that he wake up. This had to be a nightmare. It couldn’t really be happening. He felt the current hit him again, and his muscles contracted even more tightly than before; his back and legs began to quake from the contraction. Then it was gone.
“Please lie face down on the floor with your hands spread above your head and your legs spread wide,” the voice demanded.
Kadamba rolled himself out, complying with the overly pleasant voice’s order. He suddenly felt bands wrap around his wrists and ankles, lifting him into the air. He opened his eyes in pain, only to realize that the wide-eyed weirdo in the box next to his was staring right at him. With utter disgust, he realized that the man was now naked, sitting cross-legged, and masturbating as he gleefully watched what was happening to Kadamba.
A humming noise began to grow louder as the air pressure in the room changed. Kadamba slammed his eyes shut as a liquid spray hit him from every direction. It felt like a million tiny high-pressure streams coming at him and moving in random patterns. It shot into his ears and nose, causing him to cough, which, in turn, allowed the astringent-tasting liquid to spray into his mouth. One at a time, the bands would disappear, dropping him to hang by three limbs, rather than all four. The liquid stung every place that it touched, not just from the pressure, but also from whatever it was. Even his mouth, throat, and lungs burned. Every inch of his body felt like it was on fire when the torture stopped.
The humming noise began ramping back up. He slammed his eyes shut, as the spray hit him again. This time it was only water. It stung, but it was washing the burning sensation away. He breathed in and even tried swallowing some of the mist in the room. As the water stopped, he realized that he felt warm and decided that it would have been worse if the water had been cold. The air began to move swiftly around him, and he guessed that he was now being dried. He wished he hadn’t, but he looked over at the weirdo again, just in time to see the man paint his own ankles while wearing a sickeningly satisfied look on his face.
When the bands vaporized, Kadamba crashed into the floor.
The perky, smiling face began speaking again, “You should now feel sanitized and refreshed for your initial conference.”
A surge of anger exploded into Kadamba’s gut. “Fuck YOU!” he shouted at the screen, but the woman maintained her smile.
“Please note that your personalized uniform is now ready and waiting,” she informed him.
Kadamba looked around and saw that a neatly folded, orange article of clothing was sitting a few inches away. Grabbing it, he saw that it was a sizeable one-piece uniform that would cover him from his ankles to his wrists. He quickly shoved his feet into the opening in the back of the outfit and pulled it on as fast as he could. It was a huge relief to no longer be naked with that pervert next door scanning every inch of his body. He looked over again, but the man was gone. Despite being physically flexible and able to feel every inch of its opening, Kadamba couldn’t figure out how to close the back of the uniform. He sat down cross-legged to try and solve this when the opening suddenly closed on its own, and the suit shrank and became absolutely skintight.
Kadamba considered how out of his control his life had become and how fast it happened. It couldn’t have been that long ago, perhaps hours, that he had landed a date with Jundana and driven a knife through the skull of that bargabuko. He’d been on top of the universe. Everything in his life had been going so well, and a lifetime of opportunity waited for him until the moment of meeting that little boy. Now he sat in a small cage, which didn’t even have a door, dressed in a uniform that he didn’t choose and didn’t even know if he could remove.
The smiling face on the screen began again, “The Purostinov Justice Processing Center thanks you for your compliance, on this, your first time, being processed. Your compliance has earned you a five-minute opportunity to interact with your visitors.”
The woman on the screen disappeared, and the countdown timer appeared again in the corner. The image changed to a video feed of a stark room with two rows of benches. In the back of the room, a justice enforcement officer, in full battle armor, stood silently. In one of the rows, Kadamba’s mom and dad sat quietly. His dad held his mom’s hands, stroking them, obviously trying to comfort her, even as tears dripped from his own eyes.
Kadamba scooted himself closer to the screen to see them better, but the tears welling up in his eyes blurred his vision. “Mom. Dad. I’m here.”
In unison, his parents began spinning their heads around, calling his name and looking for a screen. His father stood and begged the guard, “Isn’t there any way we can see our son? Where is the screen? Please, please help.” The enforcement officer remained motionless, with his helmet and visor hiding any hint of compassion or concern.
“Son, son, we can hear you, but we can’t see you. Are you alright?”
Kadamba choked back, as hard as he could, on the tears. He tried to sound strong, but through his sobs, all he could say was, “Yes, I’m okay,” and then, he didn’t mean to, but it just came out, “Dad, I’m scared.”
“It’s going to be okay, son. I promise. We’re doing everything we can,” assured his dad, trying as hard as he could to sound confident. His heart pounded in his chest, and all he wanted to do was pull his son close, wrap his arms around him, and protect him.
“Mom, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make all this happen. I screwed up so bad.”
“Kadamba, it’s going to okay,” she comforted him, barely able to get the words out through the sobs and tears. Her little baby was hurting, and she could do nothing. She couldn’t even see him. She felt as if the world was being ripped apart, and she couldn’t even pull her little boy close. He was her youngest, and the pain and agony in his voice tore into her heart, worse than anything she could imagine.
“Son,” his father began again, as he regained some composure, “I don’t want you to worry. I’ve already called Mr. Thomathius. If anyone can find a way to get this straightened out, he’ll do it and do it quickly.”
That terrible, perky, fake voice let Kadamba know that he had 30 seconds left. His father exploded in anger, not understanding why they couldn’t talk longer. His mother suddenly turned pale and struggled to catch her breath. As her husband turned in panic toward her, Kadamba kept repeating, “I love you. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m so sorry.” And the screen went blank.
Kadamba collapsed on the floor, continuing to sob. The reality of screwing up more than his own life hit him hard. He utterly disappointed his parents, the two people whose love and care he had never questioned. He thought of his two older sisters, who argued over who would care for their adorable, cute little brother. They would be devastated. He wondered how, and even if, he could ever face his own family again.
Once again, that terrible, happy voice irritatingly began to speak, “We are pleased to inform you that your initial conference with your Purostinov Justice Processing Center Representative will be held shortly. Your assigned representative is Ms. Ocampo Rasmussen. Your representative will process you in a timely and efficient manner. The Purostinov Justice Processing Center prides itself on having reduced spending on justice processing by an average of 3.8% for each of the last four years. Our goal of quick and effective justice processing is second to none.”
Kadamba pulled himself into a seated position and began staring at the wall. The screen had disappeared, but he was sure that it would be back with this representative of his. Suddenly, the chamber began to move, as if a giant hand had plucked it out of the stack, without disturbing any other cells. As suddenly as it had started, the chamber stopped moving, slamming Kadamba into the end wall of his cell.
Kadamba attempted to sit back up, as the wall dematerialized, and he found himself looking up at two justice enforcement officers in full battle gear. One was pointing an energy blaster at him, and the other had a long stick in his hand, with a gun-like handle that the guard gripped.
Kadamba moved onto all fours, intending to stand, when the guard placed the end of the stick on his back, right below his neck. The stick locked onto his uniform, sending a jolt of current through Kadamba’s body. He felt like a pet on a leash, helpless to do anything, unless his master commanded it. The guard tugged on the handle, forcing Kadamba to stand. Kadamba, looking around, realized that he was in some type of interrogation room. There was a table with two chairs on opposite sides. The guard led Kadamba to one of the chairs and forced him in it.
Another stream of electrical current surged through Kadamba, as one of the guards ordered him to comply while pointing at the table. The outline of two arms were drawn on the table. Kadamba guessed that he was supposed to put his hands and forearms flat on the table. The moment that his arms touched the table, straps rapidly emerged from beside his elbows and wrists, wrapping over the tops of his arms and clamping him tightly to the table. He felt a small surge as the guard’s stick released his uniform, and the guards exited the room.
Within a few moments, a short, overweight woman came into the room, carrying a water glass. Her unhappy and annoyed look belied that fact that she really didn’t want to be there. She sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the table and waved her hands across the table, tapping it in a few places. A monitor appeared above one side the table, facing so that both of them could see it. She glared at him, let out a heavy sigh, and drank the entire contents of the glass.
“Mr. Vorhoor,” she began, with a terribly raspy voice, “I am Ocampo Rasmussen, your Purostinov Justice Processing Center Representative.”
“Where are my parents?” Kadamba asked, feeling the knot in his stomach growing tighter and tighter.
She tapped on the table again, and his photo appeared on the monitor, filling half the screen. The other half was packed with text. She glanced at it for a moment and then released another exasperated sigh. “You have already had your allotted time with your family and visitors. We are going to process you now. Considering the facts of this case, it will NOT take long.”
“I want to talk to my parents. Please.”
“Mr. Vorhoor,” she continued sternly, as she tapped on a keyboard that had materialized on the table in front of her, “you are to be processed immediately. Your crimes shifted you to adult processing. You will have no more visitors. Your processing will be done in an effective and efficient manner.”
Kadamba regarded her with a look of shock on his face. She let out another annoyed, heavy sigh, and pressed a few more keys. She then pointed to the monitor.
It was a scene of the playground at Schmarlo’s Landing. He watched as the young boy to whom he had sold the rath came stumbling into the scene and collapsed. Panic ensued, and within a minute, Jundana was kneeling over the boy. He watched as the justice enforcement officer fired his weapon, knocking him unconscious. The medic, frantically digging in his bag, pulled out a syringe, shaped like a gun, and delivered something directly into the boy’s neck. The boy seemed to calm down, and the foaming from his mouth slowed. The medic said something to Jundana. In response, she looked down at the boy and then collapsed on the boy’s chest, weeping and sobbing.
The screen went blank. Tears ran down Kadamba’s face. “What happened?”
Ocampo looked at Kadamba with a disgusted look on her face. “The boy had a reaction to the rath. The medic administered a sedative and pain killer to ease the boy’s passing. One in about a hundred people has a violent reaction to rath. Not one of them has survived.”
A sudden wave of nausea hit Kadamba. The woman quickly tapped the keyboard, and a hole with a basin appeared in the table between Kadamba’s strapped-down arms. A strap shot out of the table, wrapping itself around Kadamba’s neck, and pulled his face towards the opening. The woman sat glaring at Kadamba as he heaved and vomited what little food was in his stomach into the basin.
He tried to look up, but the strap held him down. He could see the revulsion on her face as she hit another key. Multiple streams of the burning astringent liquid hit his face, followed again by warm water. The strap released its hold, and the hole disappeared.
Kadamba sat up. Time seemed to be suspended. He couldn’t place what he was feeling. Everything was surreal. It was as if he were trapped in a nightmare but couldn’t force himself to wake up. He sat there staring at the representative, not knowing what to do or say.
She let out a massive, exasperated sigh. “Well, now that you’ve got that out of your system, let’s finish this up. The Crime Review Committee has offered you three options. Option number one is to face an LD trial. Option number two is a ten-year assignment with the Exorthium Extraction Company. And your final option is a twenty-five-year incarceration with the Morphinia Containment Company.”
“Please. I don’t understand,” replied Kadamba.
“What’s to understand, Mr. Vorhoor? You were carrying enough rath to get everyone on Schmarlo’s Landing completely strung out for a month. You sold some to a child. He died. You are a drug dealer and a murderer. These are the facts – and those are your options.” Her eyes seemed utterly devoid of any pity, and Kadamba could feel her hatred of him growing.
Kadamba closed his eyes, letting the reality of this come slamming into him. Alorus, the little boy, was dead. Was he Jundana’s little brother, cousin, or what? He completely forgot that he was carrying such an enormous amount of rath. That didn’t really matter. What mattered was that he had sold rath to the boy, and he knew he shouldn’t have. Now, the boy was dead.
“I want to talk to my parents,” begged Kadamba.
“Mr. Vorhoor, let me make this process very clear to you. We are very effective and efficient at processing justice cases. We do it quickly, neatly, and don’t waste any unnecessary funds. Your case has already been reviewed by the Crime Review Committee, and you have been given three options. Should you fail to make a selection by the end of this meeting, the Committee will make the selection for you.”
Ocampo Rasmussen, his “Purostinov Justice Processing Center Representative,” let a small, cruel smile form at the corners of her mouth. She looked at him with disdain, but it appeared that she was enjoying watching him struggle. Perhaps it was natural. He was a drug dealer. He was now a murderer too. She got to administer the hand of justice, and it was being brought down quickly and with finality.
Kadamba began to gather his composure. It felt impossible, but he was trapped. He felt out of control, and his mind was swirling with too many thoughts and emotions. Was this a nightmare? He felt his heart began to race. His breathing became shallow and rapid. He looked at Ocampo, hoping to see some compassion. Weren’t adults supposed to help children? She continued to stare coldly at him with nothing but disdain in her eyes. He closed his eyes tightly. Like every teenager, he wanted to be treated like an adult, and now – he was.
Closing his eyes, he forced himself to focus. He realized he didn’t understand the options that she had presented. He took a few more deep breaths, telling himself to push the panic aside and not to scream. “What are my choices? I mean, can you please explain my options again?”
“Your first option is a LD trial, that is, a ‘life-or-death trial.’ Given these circumstances, the trial would be tomorrow, and your execution would be carried out within two days. As your representative, I can tell you that you would have no chance at getting returned to your life.
“Your second option is a ten-year assignment with the Exorthium Extraction Company. You would be immediately placed on a mining crew, transferred to the surface of Exorthium, and spend the next ten years working the mines there.
“Your final option is a twenty-five-year incarceration with the Morphinia Containment Company. This option would have you placed in a containment facility of their choice for the next twenty-five years, after which, you would be free to return to society.”
The knot grew even tighter in Kadamba’s stomach. Less than a day ago, the whole universe was his. Now he had to decide among three horrible fates. He could be executed in a few days. He could become a slave on a planet where, under the best circumstances, people died from the conditions within seven years. Or, he could go to prison, where he had heard that unspeakable things happen.
“Can I please talk to my mom and dad?” begged Kadamba.
“Mr. Vorhoor, this meeting will be over in eight minutes. If you have not made a selection on your own, the Committee will assign a selection to you. As our company would have to bear the cost, I doubt you would have a LD trail. More than likely, you would be sent to the Exorthium Extraction Company, as they are offering a sizeable bonus for each new ‘employee’ we provide for their operations.”
In the flash of a moment, the world can change. A simple act that seems so innocent at first can set off a chain reaction that redefines an entire lifetime. Kadamba felt as if he were falling, spinning uncontrollably through the air, accelerating faster and faster towards the ground. A certain death. The image of it sat in Kadamba’s head. Death. In three days, this could all be over. The humiliation of the last few hours could be washed away. Fear would be over. As if he spread his arms while falling, the spinning stopped, and he saw the ground racing towards him. No, he didn’t want to die, but even more than that, he didn’t want to feel what was exploding inside of him, strangling his very thoughts. From the moment he saw Jundana’s head drop to Alorus’ chest, he felt it taking him over. Guilt. Remorse. Regret. Whatever words rushed through his mind, the feeling was the same, and what he had done could never be undone.
Ocampo Rasmussen snorted as Kadamba told her which option he wanted. She pressed a few buttons, stood up, and walked to the wall, as a door appeared. She looked back over her shoulder, a vicious smile spreading across her face. “You’re going to get what you deserve.”
• • •
|Chapter 5||Chapter 7|