V4: Chapter 9 – Criminal Justice | Part 1.3 – Wrongful Imprisonment
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New Volume 4 Chapter(s) Weekly. Volumes 1-3 now complete!

“Did you really think you could run off and do something interesting and leave out your ole pal, Ro-” When they entered the private room which clearly still had guards listening, Roque started whispering to Gatrim and caught himself when he was about to make an error. And then he enunciated when it came to his fake name. “Ruck Lawman, for all your criminal needs.”

“That’s the name you went with?!” Gatrim barely whispered back.

“Well, it’s about as believable as my actual name,” Roque grinned.

“You got me there,” Gatrim shrugged and leaned back in his chair, taking stock of his so-called lawyer. Admittedly, the man had always exuded the energy of a scummy criminal lawyer, so it was a natural fit for him. The only change was that his cheap suit was a different color from what he usually wore, and he currently had a terrible and obvious toupee on his head. But that just made his guise all the more believable.

“So why are you here?” the client was a little annoyed by the surprise since an attorney hadn’t been anywhere in his planning.

“I’m afraid that I’m here to give you some bad news,” Roque answered aloud for any eavesdropping ears to hear, then returned to a subtler volume. “I’m actually here to give you an edge, but that can wait a moment. Deborah is helping out too. Included with my email for a visitation request was a virus that let us hack into the prison’s servers. So she’ll be digging through those to try and find intel on the outside.”

“I’ve also got an old associate of mine coming on as a guard. Just a friend who’d been looking for work, no actual relation to the Fiends For Hire. He’ll see what sort of intel he can dig up on the staff side of things. But he’ll also be trying to do his job well, since he intends to keep it unless the whole prison gets shut down for being shady. A doubtful outcome since that would displace so many prisoners. They’ll likely just purge the bad seeds and move forward, presenting even more opportunities for him. Aren’t I a good friend?”

“And since I’m such a good friend, I’m about to improve your chances of success,” Roque’s face then turned gloomy. “Sorry kid, but there’s nothing else we can do. We’re dropping your case.” He stood up and turned towards the door. “Your family stopped paying for our services. And it breaks my heart to say it, but they told me to tell you that you’re too far away to visit now, so don’t expect to see them anymore.”

“Keep out of trouble and maybe you can get parole in a few years. Last little bit of advice I can give you, free of charge. Now farewell.”

During the escort to the laundry room, since he would still be forced to do the day's labor, Gatrim had to hide his smile. That really would be a significant advantage. If the guards assumed that he’d lost all ties to the outside world, that’d give them all the more reason to select him as a future candidate to disappear. It was basically just a matter of time now. Next to improve his odds, he needed to show himself as capable and strong.

He hoped to use his assigned cleaning to bolster that a bit, but was met with yet another surprise of the day when he arrived at the room. “Go ahead and take the two of them back to their cells,” the guard stationed at the doorway grunted. “Little guy finished the work already.”

Gatrim peered inside in disbelief, needing to see it for himself, and he was stunned. His meeting with Roque had only taken a few minutes, but now there wasn’t a speck of dust anywhere in sight. No stains on the floor, no rust or mildew to be seen, and every piece of clothing and linen was perfectly folded like it had been spat out from a machine.

“What did I say about not making yourself indispensable?” Gatrim chastised his prison pal once they finally had a moment to themselves. That wasn’t until after lunch when they were taken out to the yard for recreation, so he had to hang onto that aggravation for quite a while.

The group had gathered in a corner along the chain-link fence, barbed wire looming above them. There was also a manned turret pointing down at the yard that didn’t exactly coax them into fun outdoor activity. “Sorry, uh, before I knew it, instinct came over me,” Crucion rationalized. Being Mallea’s understudy had really taken a toll on him, and he was closer to turning into a robot than a Lesser at this rate.

“Well, we can assume they won’t be targeting Riki after that display,” Gatrim used his pseudonym to just get used to saying it. “How did it go with you two?” he asked the women.

“You shoulda seen Ketzka here,” Itsy immediately started raving. “She was puttin them little boardies together like she been doing it for a hundred years.”

“I picked up the skill when I was disabling security systems,” Kaizu admitted. “Gantua didn’t do quite as well.”

“Yup, broke every single one of ‘em,” she scratched the back of her playfully, her grin not showing a hint of guilt. “Just too fragile for my big fingers. Wasn’t even trying to use any strength. They told me to stop after a few minutes and made me move all the boxes instead.”

“Hmm, that’s probably good actually,” Gatrim muttered. “A great example of showing strength while remaining replaceable. Good work, Gantua.” That compliment seemed to make Kaizu pout just a little. “I’m suspecting Gantua and I are now their primary targets for relocation. So the plan now is to show off our strength a little more, then try and make a situation when the chance presents itself.”

“Whatchu suggesting?” Itsy got a bit curious. “Oh, should I pick yall up and toss ya around? They might see that as getting too rough and take me right away.”

“No, let’s go be a bit more predictable,” the boy eyed the weights across the yard. “Pretty common for the prisoners to try and one up each other. Gantua, you’ll probably win, but try to hold back any amount you can, or rather, don’t jump too far ahead of us. They probably assume you’re freakishly strong already, but not Fiendishly strong.”

“For the three of us, though, let’s hold a genuine strength competition. I’ll probably come in second, which would just further boost my resume to disappear, but I don’t think you two should hold back either. That’ll just further sell the performance.”

“Dang, another thing that I’m destined to lose from then,” Crucion sighed, already moping at his weakness.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Riki,” Kaizu cut in. “Like we said, you’re strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if you outdo Gatty or I, even if you are a h- the h-word.”

“Kuh, well let’s not go that far,” Gatrim scoffed, his noble pride breaking through. “The man’s strong, I’ll give him that. But do your best either way.”

“And I’ll do my best too,” Kaizu gave Gatrim a glare and then headed over towards the weights since the previous group using them had already burned themselves out. Right out the gate, Kaizu grabbed a few hundred pound weights and hoisted them over her shoulders effortlessly, staring down Gatrim the entire time.

“Oh, I see how it is,” the boy’s arrogance had been completely triggered at this point. “You’re going to make me show you how superior I am.” And just like that, Gatrim who had come up with the plan, and had been trying to act cool-headed, was baited into his true nature.

To counter Kaizu’s brazen flaunting display, he didn’t grab new weights when he got over to the spot. Instead, he spontaneously grabbed Kaizu around the waist and hoisted her into the air while she still held the dumbbells, adding her weight to what she had in hand. But if anything, it proved her own resilience to keep them up high while being jostled around.

After that, Crucion and Itsy joined them and the competition began. “Dang it guys, I can’t do more!” The human whimpered with a bar of weights above him in the air. They’d started going weight for weight, a few additional ten-pounders on their bars at a time. Crucion had done well to keep up, already massively above what any normal human could lift, and probably more than a good chunk of Lessers watching them in the yard.

But he really did reach his limit. The boy crumpled to the ground and the bar fell on top of him, crushing into his chest. “Gotcha lil’ buddy,” Itsy reached over and hoisted the bar up like it was as light as a pillow and threw it into her other hand that was already holding an equal bar of her own.

The behemoth woman continued not to break a sweat as the competition went on. But it also didn’t really feel like she was participating, just doing her own thing in the shadows of the two Lessers who were having a real duel. “You’ve impressed me, Ketzka,” Gatrim’s voice was starting to strain. “I didn’t know you’d been working out so much.”

“Well,” she took a few deep breaths between her words before forming a proper response. “I had to do something to keep myself busy while you were ignoring me all that time.” There was a clear bit of bite and venom in those words.

“I see, so we’re getting personal,” Gatrim slapped on some new weights and hoisted them high. “Well, maybe I wouldn’t have been alone in the first place if you hadn’t driven me off by stopping me from trying to challenge that person.”

“Drove you off?!” Kaizu clearly took offense to that allegation. “I was trying to keep you from getting killed by him. We both know that would have happened if you kept ramming headlong at him. He would have been forced to actually use his strength. And what would have happened to you then, huh?”

“I know I couldn’t beat him,” the boy started grunting harder as he lifted more weight. “But maybe I felt a little betrayed when my friend wasn’t there to support me.”

“Well, maybe I thought you leaving for a while was the best thing for you,” the woman’s words got heavier. “But what did you want me to do? Chase after you? Join you on your journey of self-reflection?”

“A little, yeah,” Gatrim shrugged his body a bit with what remaining strength he had. “When you weren’t right behind me, I felt a bit dejected. Like I wasn’t worthy of your company. That’s why I didn’t reach out. I didn’t think I could face you again until I was strong enough.”

“Well forgive me for not being able to read your mind!” She spat at him, not accepting his excuses. “Because I absolutely would have come with you. Better by your side at your lows than having to be worried sick if you were going to ever come back. You’re bad at being a friend, Gatty.”

“Yes, I am,” he admitted. “I was only thinking about myself and never took your feelings into consideration. My head got in my own way in my drive to become better. But look at you, you’re the one who became so much stronger without me. You win.” Gatrim dropped his weights and fell back on his ass, unable to speak for a while longer.

Kaizu let her bar crunch into the ground as well and joined him in the dirt, her whole body shaking from the experience. Meanwhile, Itsy picked up both of their bars at the same time and put all four of them away, the clear actual winner of the competition despite Kaizu’s victory.

“I’m sorry I left without you,” Gatrim genuinely apologized once he could speak again. “And I’m more sorry that I didn’t check in. But I promise that it won’t happen again. Being your friend is more important to me than being the best.”

“Well, it better not,” Kaizu half-heartedly accepted. “But I’ll forgive you for now until you do something stupid again.” They were too tired to hug it out, which could also cause some raised eyebrows from the guards. So instead, the woman shuffled her foot forward, clanking her shoes into his.

“Tuh, that was kinda boring,” Itsy plopped down next to them, causing them to pop up an inch with how much the grand shook. “We didn’t even reach the lowest weight I use in my workout. Not even close.”

◆◆◆

The next week in the prison went by quiet and slow. Every day, the four Lessers were given new chores or menial labor to complete, and did so to the best of their agenda. It seemed their efforts were proving fruitful. The guards started to look at them differently, or so they assumed since most of them were wearing helmets. But as they completed tasks, they’d hear mumblings between the guards about their proficiency and whether or not they’d be a good fit.

On the third day of their incarceration, Roque’s inside man made contact during a patrol, clanging on Gatrim’s cell. Since then, he’d been trying to make opportunities for an escalating incident whenever he could. The biggest problem with a natural-looking ruckus was the guards themselves. They were a bit too good at their jobs, always keeping a watchful eye on the Lessers and would de-escalate any arguments among prisoners before tensions could rise.

So the friendly guard became a distraction whenever he could, acting as the bumbling new employee. He’d ask long-winded, confusingly worded questions that took a while to explain or make eye-catching mistakes such as knocking over a bin or tripping over his gear. Nothing to get him really in trouble, but enough to grab the guards’ attention for a few moments.

And finally, on their ninth day of incarceration, everything lined up. The group had just finished dinner and were being escorted back to their cells. In a crossroads of hallways, where they were met with a few other groups of prisoners, their guard-friend tripped another prisoner and caused a commotion that took the focus of every guard around.

This caused another prisoner to take the opportunity to approach the For Hires. “Hey, you four. You gotta lot of nerve,” a man got close to them, right up in Gatrim’s face. “We’ve been trying to call out to you in the yard, but you lot just been ignoring us. Guess you think you’re big shots.”

“But that’s not how it works around here. Gotta at least pay your respects to the boss, and you’re overdue.” The prisoner pulled out a shank and pointed to the man behind him, and then took the sharpened object and grazed it across Gatrim’s cheek. “Think you’re too good for a friendly hello? Why don’t you go over and greet him properly before you lose an eye.”

Gatrim smirked, the perfect situation hand-delivered to him like a nicely wrapped present. He easily nabbed the shank from the man’s hands and dashed right by him in the blink of an eye. The next thing anyone knew, Gatrim was a foot away from this so-called boss, the shank now a hair from being inserted into the man’s forehead.

“Hey, what are you doing?! Drop the weapon, now!” One of the guards yelled at him, and then the group swarmed him. A few other guards heard the commotion and ran to the area, pushing back the other Lessers the Gatrim was pulled away.

“Take him to solitary,” one of them ordered and then Gatrim was thrown to the floor and put in cuffs.

“Wait, what?!” The man put up a fake resistance, getting exactly what he wanted. But it would be more suspicious if he didn’t argue back. “That was self defense, they attacked me first!” The truth, but it only sounded like a lie coming from his mouth.

“Hey, where you taking him?!” Itsy saw an opportunity herself and leapt on it. She pushed past the barrier of guards towards Gatrim, acting like a concerned friend. Crucion and Kaizu tried to do the same, but they just didn’t have enough strength to break through.

“Take her too!” A guard called out and then Itsy let herself be detained. This was an ideal situation, and Gatrim had to try his damndest not to smirk or laugh from their success as they were escorted all the way across the prison.

“Both of you, get in the hole,” one of the guards barked when a solitary-confinement cell was opened. ‘The hole’ was a common moniker for solitary, but they wouldn’t have guessed that it was rather literal in this case. In the middle of the cell was a giant hole with steps leading down.

At the bottom were more guards standing in front of a large bulkhead door. One of the guards spun the wheel to release the lock, opening the door to a dark tunnel. Gatrim and Itsy were led inside with four guards total. “March,” one of them commanded, pushing Gatrim in the back with their gun as the door slammed shut behind them.

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