Last night, I visited Danyell in Dee. We lounged beneath a cool, refreshing waterfall for quite some time. Later, he took me to his den. There, we dried ourselves by the fire. I spent the night safe in the arms of my oldest friend. Even then, I found myself skittish. My eyes constantly glided toward each entrance, methodically searching for intruders. Frequently, my hand slipped down to the knife affixed to my thigh. Will I never be comfortable again?
I don’t think I can explain this new, more cautious Palabra to Danyell. Lord knows I tried, but my attempts came out tangled stutterings and half-formed thoughts. How can I tell him that I recoil from his touch because there are no friends in prison? That Danyell means me no harm I am certain, but time travel is a strange thing. I feel that a part of me is still back on Hanzai. And that part is poised to strike at the slightest provocation.
One’s introduction to such a place is seldom pleasant. For me, I imagine it was even less so. A twenty-first century woman might have some idea of what lie beyond that heavy metal gate; I did not. At the landing dock, a guard met me with her weapon drawn. The guards there wore dark pantsuits, men and women alike. Around their waists were slung weapons belts upon which they carried automatic pistols, cuffs, some sort of blinding spray, and a close range weapon that delivers an electric shock directly to the victim’s nervous system. Jumping straight to the most lethal of her available arsenal, the lithe redhead informed me in no uncertain terms that if I “tried anything,” she would shoot me.
The prison loomed before me. Built like some hulking castle of ages past, Hanzai Correctional Institution stood alone on a small island. Great concrete walls rose several stories high. Topped by what appeared to be intermittently spaced lighthouse towers, the structure admitted of only one entrance: a hulking gate. The gate rose from the ground to halfway up the wall, and yet seemed to be comprised of one massive piece of rusted steel bound all around by girders as thick as my person. It slid aside with a resounding clank. When I entered, it closed behind me in the same way.
I found myself in a courtyard of sorts, but I had little time to observe my surroundings. Rather, the guard directed me toward a door marked “Reception and…” well, it was reception and something. At any rate, the guard treated me with obvious disdain. She disliked my dress, as I recall. She also cursed quite frequently as she led me through a dizzying series of chambers drab, gray chambers designated for various steps of the process known as “intake.” After briefly consulting a chart, she ordered me to remove my “street” clothes, which she packed into a semi-transparent box while carefully itemizing each article.
“Excuse me, Officer, but will you please remove my weapon? I am hesitant to reach for it while you train your gun at me,” I asked quietly once I undressed down to my skivvies.
“What the fuck is that?” she demanded when she laid eyes upon a rather large steam-powered sawed-off that I used to keep strapped to my leg at all times. It’s rather less heavy than one might think and also very effective at combating air kraken.
I told her it was a prototype of my own invention. It was a small lie, but I had learned that explaining my true origins to officers of the law led to accusations of insanity or, worse, willful obstruction of the mockery that they call justice. The guard shook her head in what seemed to be equal parts amazement and annoyance, but she knelt and removed my weapon. When the rest of my personal items were boxed away, the officer took a key from her ring and opened a nearby locker. Inside, I spied dozens of similar boxes. Unceremoniously, she took a felt-tipped inkpen of some sort and scrawled my last name and the date upon the front. She then filed the box away and closed the locker.
I expected her to immediately produce a convict’s uniform of some sort. Instead, she ordered me to turn and face the wall. I heard a rustling, and then a faint snap. Suddenly, I felt her rubber-swathed hands in my hair, probing as though she expected to find something tucked away in my tresses. She ran her hands over my body in a relatively common process that I was to learn was simply called “search.” I never learned for what, exactly, the guards were searching. I did learn where they expected to find it, the details of which I blush to mention. Suffice it to say that I really am not sure what could be hidden in either location.
“You’re clean,” the guard announced, taking her probing fingers away. She threw her rubber gloves into a nearby trash receptacle and pressed a button. A loud buzz resounded, and then a nearby door opened. Quickly, she ushered me into the next chamber. This was a “shower.” Grubby, mildew-encrusted tile encased three walls and the floor. The guard pushed me beneath a set of the new plumbing and turned a knob. Cold water rained down in a heavy spray, causing me to shiver all over.
“Hurry up. We like clean prisoners, here,” the guard instructed, tossing me a slippery bar of soap. I caught it – barely – and turned my back while I washed.
She handed me a towel, and I dried off gratefully. At this time, a door buzzed and a woman in a white lab coat entered. She exchanged a few words with the guard, glanced at me briefly, and then collected a pile of towels. I felt mortified to be seen in such a state. I think my entire body blushed. But the woman, for her part, barely noticed me. The guard just seemed bored.
Soon, the guard led me to another chamber. This one contained another metal locker, a camera, and a strange sort of podium with lines and numerical markers for a background. The guard took a fresh uniform from the locker and threw it at me, barking at me to “get changed.” Rather than long bloomers and stays, the undergarments consisted of incredibly short cotton… what? I am not certain what to call them. The top garment contained no stays, no metal or boning of any sort, actually, and supported my breasts with nothing more than shoulder straps. Across the derriere of the lower garment and across the chest of the upper garment, the word “prisoner” proclaimed my identity in bold, black letters. The rest of the uniform consisted of blue trousers, a gray crew-necked shirt, and a blue jacket with sleeves that reached just past my shoulders. White, ankle-length stockings of incredible thickness and rubber slip-on shoes completed the ensemble. Each article felt light, loose, and I daresay manly.
Directing me to stand upon the aforementioned podium, the guard directed the camera at me and clicked. A flashbulb seemed to explode before me, dotting my vision with red and orange swirls. In this semi-blinded state, the officer led me out through another door.
“Welcome to HCI,” she told me, indicating that the intake process was now complete.
I nodded rather dumbly.
With an exasperated sigh, the guard took my by the elbow and led me down a short, broad corridor lined with little steel doors. On either end stood a row of bars. She took me to one of these rows, the gate of which was marked “Cell Block B.” At the touch of a button, the bars slid aside. Before me stood another set of bars, beyond which I saw another moldy shower. To either side, I observed yellow doors. The left door bore no marking, but the right door repeated that of the set of bars that clanged shut behind me. This is the door that the guard opened. Inside, I found a two-story row of barred cells. The two floors were joined by a metal ramp at the base of which was fixed a round, metal table.
Other prisoners sat at this table or milled about aimlessly, the cell doors standing open.
“Hello, Miss Shenely,” one of the women said to the guard. Shenely ignored the inmate and continued to drag me by the elbow. She took me upstairs – or upramp, rather – and pointed to a cell marked C203.
With a slight pursing of her red-painted lips, the guard consulted her chart.
“In,” she told me.
I walked into the cell and sat upon the narrow pallet bed.
She typed something into a gadget on the wall beside the door. Then, without a word, she left.
I sat still and afraid, unsure of what to expect – or how to use the odd chamber pot that seemed to also constitute a sink basin.
Well, diary… it is early and I am hungry. I think I have written enough for one day. I promise I will tell you more when I have the strength.
–Miss Palabra Puddlegum–