It made sense. The security measures, the guards, the location--this was a prison. He felt silly for not realizing it before. Perhaps he didn’t want to believe it. “No way,” was all he could muster. “No way!”
Kriskin nodded, unable to look him in the eyes. “This is where we take those who abuse their talents. A special prison for special people. Mr. Thornwinter made an agreement with some contractors to design and build a prison that no one, talented or not, could escape. Some of the…residents were sent here from normal facilities, ones not equipped to handle them. Do you see all this glass?”
Walter nodded, taking another look.
“It’s the same stuff they sell all over the world, our indestructible security glass. The best of it was reserved for this place, used to keep them in. All their meals and entertainment are provided for them without physical interaction. And even if something goes wrong, the entire facility can be flooded to prevent a breakout.”
“It’s terrible!” Kriskin glared at him for a second, as though he’d slapped her. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be trapped in a blank room with so little stimulation….Thankfully, we don’t have many inmates, and as for the ones we do have, their sentences aren’t for long. I’m hoping it stays that way.”
She began to walk down the corridor, and Walter followed. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“To visit a friend.”
Together, they went down a flight of stairs and crossed deeper into the prison. Passing cell after cell, most were empty, until one person came out of nowhere, slamming into the glass. Though it made next to no sound, it still startled Walter. Inside the cell stood a burly man with dark hair. He was clad in a jumpsuit with thick stripes alternating between black and orange. His mouth was moving as though saying something to them. Kriskin noticed him too, feeling uncomfortable as he undressed her with his eyes. “Keep going, Walter.” He didn’t hesitate, though neither could he help notice the guy's violent outburst. His fingernails grew into long, sharp claws, scratching the glass but leaving no marks.
Just ahead was a wall with another pair of huge, metal doors. On the wall above, Walter spotted an illustration. It was a simple motif of a dog, sitting in profile, with a stiff tail. Before long, they came up to a guard posted at the door.
“Afternoon, miss,” he said, “Come to see Cassie?”
“Mhm,” Kriskin confirmed, and he allowed them entry.
“Careful, pal,” the guard teased as Walter passed him. “The cats here are a little wild.”
On the other side of the meter-thick wall was another full set of prison blocks. It was as though they had stepped through a mirror. The only difference, Walter observed, was the motif up above. A striped cat replaced the dog, its tail long and curling.
Halfway down the row of cells, they came to a stop. This inmate’s stripes were orange and white. She was reclining in a bed, watching a television in the corner of the ceiling. Her red hair, done up in a ponytail, flipped about as she laughed at her program. Standing at one side of the cell, Kriskin placed a hand on the wall and slid open a panel. Revealing a set of buttons, she pressed the one marked with a speaker symbol. Doing so cut off the signal to the television. The inmate didn’t seem happy until she turned around to see who was interrupting. Her freckled face lit up as she cried Kriskin’s name. Through the intercom, her voice sounded flat and raspy.
“Hello, Cassandra,” Kriskin repined. “How have you been?”
“Oh, I can’t complain—wow,” her eyes fixated on Walter. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Walter,” Kriskin answered. “He’s new here, so I’m giving him the tour.”
“He must be special if you’re bringin’ him down here. What do you say, little man?” She unzipped her jumpsuit down to her sternum, revealing her scanty undershirt. Then she pressed herself against the glass. “You wanna be locked up in here with me?”
“Down, Cass!” Kriskin pushed Walter aside; she could feel the temperature rise as he blushed. “He’s taken.”
“Aw,” Cassie whined. She folded her arms and smiled. “What a shame.”
“Cassie,” Kriskin snubbed, “why are you still wearing that thing?”
“Oh, this?” She raised a finger and glided it along the collar around her neck. It was a strap with what looked like a plastic brick on one side. “As I recall, this was your idea.”
Kriskin sighed into her hand. “I was joking.”
“Well, it works.” Her eyes pinned on Walter again. “Wanna see?”
It was too late. Walter could see the star on Cassie’s tongue as she opened her mouth wide and began to sing. Starting out as a peaceful note, it climbed into a shrill cry. Quick, Kriskin hit the button again, cutting off the intercom. Powerful enough to pierce the glass, they held their ears as the screech continued. Then, with a jerk of her head, the noise stopped and her hands went to her neck.
Cautious, Kriskin removed her hands from her ears and pressed the intercom button.
“What a thrill,” said Cassandra, her mouth in a sardonic grin.
“Stop doing that!” Kriskin pleaded, placing both of her hands flat against the glass. “You’re going to ruin your voice!”
“My voice is was put me in here, remember?”
Kriskin sighed, noticing the guard approaching them to investigate. “I’ll be back again next week,” she told her, “please take care of yourself.”
Cassandra only grinned and nodded as her visitor cut off communications. While they walked away, Walter noticed her blowing a kiss at him. She pressed herself against the glass again, this time with her zipper down past her navel. He looked away, and began to walk just a little faster.
As Kriskin explained to the guard what had happened, Walter wandered around the cat block. There weren’t as many inmates here as on the other side, though one cell caught his attention. It was completely darkened, as though somebody had splashed black paint on every surface inside the glass. He approached the cell, finding the resident just as filthy as her surroundings. She appeared starved and sleep-deprived, though it didn’t stop her from smiling when she noticed him. She beamed at him from behind long drapes of wiry black hair. Walter thought she would be kind of pretty, if not so desperate for a shower. With her finger, the woman scraped away some of the dirt on her glass, drawing a crude arrow that pointed to the left. Walter opened the panel, pressing the intercom button the way Kriskin had done. Once he did, his ears met with shallow, ragged breathing.
“Um…hello?” he said.
“Oh!” gasped the voice on the other side, one that was bright and melodic, to his surprise. “Hi, I'm Whitney! What’s your name?”
“Walter,” he replied.
“On your arm, may I see?”
“Your mark, may I see it?”
“Uh, s-sure.” A little put off, Walter complied, raising his arm up for her.
“Interesting,” she said. “It’s so different from the others.” She stared at it for the longest while, until Walter cleared his throat.
“What about you?”
“Oh, I don’t have one.”
Walter raised an eyebrow. “But…don’t you have a talent?”
“An…an ability.” Walter swallowed involuntarily, perplexed by the words he used.
The inmate shook her head. “I don’t have one.”
In that instant, Kriskin swept by, taking Walter by the arm while closing the panel. “You should not be talking to that woman,” she said. As they fled, Walter looked over his shoulder. The inmate stared at him, her smile still bright and wide.
“This was a bad idea,” Kriskin realized as they walked back through the tunnel. Walter gave her a guilty look. “It’s not your fault, it’s just…I don’t know, I guess I expected the inmates to be more behaved.” The elevator opened as soon as she requested it.
“So…why did you bring me here?” Walter asked as they filed in.
Kriskin pressed the button for the ground floor and paused. As the doors closed and they began to rise, she looked at him with conviction in her eyes. “Do you still feel like a prisoner?”
If he had reacted, Kriskin couldn’t tell. He shook his head, “No.”
After a beat, she nodded. “Good.”