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In a world where prisoners are rehabilitated through the help of a VRMMO, Christina Bolen must learn to play a completely different type of game. And she must win.

Fantasy / Scifi
5.0 1 review
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The End of the Beginning

She’d been there for three days, but she still couldn’t get used to the stale smell of sweat and urine that permeated the whole place. The other people in her cell seemed fine with it and the idea of wearing the same clothes day in and day out. Although, the drunk guy they had brought in the night before could be considered an exception. All he was wearing were boxers and a left sock, so maybe you could make an argument that he hated wearing dirty clothes even more than she did.

Chris sighed. He at least, like most of the prisoners they rotated through her cell, knew he would be getting out in a few hours. The only other two people who had been there ‘long-term’ like her didn’t seem to mind their situation much. One was a woman in a suit, with a perpetually bored expression and impeccable hair. Chris considered this an incredible feat seeing as she had been there since Chris arrived. Her own hair, she knew even if she couldn’t see it, was hanging limply around her face in greasy strands.

The other was a non-descript man, with a non-descript face who had done and said nothing of note since she arrived. She would have noticed since all she did was watch people every day. It was the only way she could make it through the hours without going crazy with worry over her sister. Every time her pessimistic thoughts started to overwhelm her, crushing her mind, she shifted her focus to analyze her surroundings. Chris had not always been that way, an analyst, an observer. She used to be rash, acting first, thinking and asking for permission later. Over time she had to learn to be different.

At first it had been the only way she didn’t drown in self-pity. She had just needed to look around herself, look at the world, to know that there were people out there with situations much worse than her own. After the accident, it was the only thing that had helped. Every time after that, it became easier, until eventually Chris almost started to see the world as a list of facts. Maybe she was being too cold and emotionless like Rin told her, but it was the only way she could keep going.

Now, more than ever, she needed it. She knew she was innocent, but no one else seemed to. Since the moment she had been arrested everyone had just assumed her guilty, not even wanting to listen to her side. Chris had heard stories about people who ‘fell through the cracks’ of the system, but she had never expected to be one of them. At first she had tried being vocal, but that, if anything, had made things worse. After three whole days in jail, she hadn’t managed to contact her sister once. All she had managed to do was meet the most incompetent person on the face of the planet. A man named Barry Andrews, her lawyer.

In their one hour meeting he had managed to show up ten minutes late, talk about the wrong case for thirty minutes, waste ten minutes locating the right one and then ten minutes trying to convince her to plead guilty without even listening to her side of the story. In the end, even Chris didn’t know what exactly she was being accused of.

She hadn’t seen Eddie McKlose for years, yet somehow everyone thought it was she who murdered him. It didn’t make any sense to her. Even if someone knew about her stash, Eddie had nothing to do with it. Threatening her with Eddie’s death was also a stupid idea, she had absolutely no feelings for the guy, not anymore. Everyone knew that the only person Chris cared about was Rin.

Tears started sliding down her face as her heartbeat rose. She had spent every last one of her phone calls on Rin, tried any way she could think of to contact her sister, but it had all been useless. Three days of uncertainty were starting to get to her, but she cared less about the possibility of jail than she did about Rin’s safety. Chris slammed her knuckles into the concrete floor, slightly comforted by the dull wave of pain she felt through her arm.

Shoving thoughts of Rin aside, Chris forced herself to look at the facts. She had only been able to call Rin three times over the last three days. It was not too farfetched an idea that they had just missed each other. It was, at least, a possibility. Barry Andrews was a useless man, it would not surprise her if he had completely forgotten her request to look into Rin’s safety and whereabouts. Chris spent a while longer calming herself, until finally just telling herself it was stupid to worry about anything in a jail cell, locked from the outside world. There was nothing she could do from behind bars.

If everything really was a mistake, she would be able to clear it up. There would be evidence showing it wasn’t her. The only way she could really end up falling through the cracks was if this was done purposefully with the intention of screwing her over. In the off chance that this had anything to do with her storage locker, she would hear about it. For now, there was nothing she could do but breathe and wait.

Chris was absentmindedly keeping an eye on her surrounding like she always did. She was sitting on the floor with her back against the metal bars, not trusting the mattresses that were assigned to the beds. The spot she was in had the added benefit of the most airflow in the cramped cell. With four other prisoners sharing her limited oxygen, she was quite thankful for any molecule of fresh air she could get. Looking at the prisoners around her, she couldn’t help but envy them a little. They at least knew, if not their fate, at least the road that had led them there and the one that would lead them further.

Part of her mind registered the footsteps coming down the corridor. She smiled and closed her eyes. Happy with the opportunity to distract herself from her morose thoughts, she dulled the rest of her senses to concentrate on her hearing. The sharp initial beat in each footstep indicated that he was wearing new shoes, the soles hadn’t been worn much. The slight muffled tune that followed meant it was leather, or maybe pleather. The shoes were too big to be that of a woman’s, and they were definitely not heels. A man then, but not any of the guards. By now she knew all of their footsteps. None of them had shoes or a walking rhythm like that.

Chris could already tell that this was a confident man, not easily influenced by those around him. Most people that went through the place ended up having hurried, shuffling steps. There was nothing like that about this guy’s gait. It was slow and measured, and in her ears it echoed longer, louder and clearer than anyone else’s footsteps she had heard so far. Chris was so caught up in her mental vision of the man that she almost didn’t notice when he came to a stop right behind her.

A couple of silent seconds passed before she heard one of the silkiest and most beautiful baritone voices she had ever heard. “You must be Ms.Christina Bolen.”

Chris’s eyes snapped open, but she didn’t let her surprise manifest in any other way. The man was still behind her and so he couldn’t see her expression. She wanted to keep it that way until she composed herself. “Depends on who is asking.”

“It wasn’t a question.”

“You’re kind of rude for a fancy-schmancy lawyer.”

Chris looked up at the new arrival. He was the most beautifully kept man she had ever seen. A sudden flash of memory brought back an image of the strange man at the grocery store. Chris hadn’t thought about him again until that very moment. She shuddered at the sudden and complete invasion into her head and couldn’t help comparing the two men. While the man before her, with his tailored suit, styled black hair, tan skin and piercing blue eyes was beautiful, he was nowhere near as memorable as the other. Most women wouldn’t have been attracted to that man, scared of what they saw before them, they would have chosen this one without second thought. Chris on the other hand—

Her eyes widened at the realization.

‘Was I attracted to… that creep!?’ She speculated in horror, there was no other reason to think of him at the very moment she came to face with a man the whole female population would be instantly attracted to.

“How did you know I was a “fancy-schmancy” lawyer?” The man asked, finally bringing Chris’s awareness back to the man looming above her.

“You’re in jail.” She said with a final tone.

He smiled indulgently and asked, “And?”

“And. The only people who wear nice clothes, silk ties, polished leather shoes and a little too much expensive cologne in jail... are lawyers.”

He cracked a grin.

“I am Castiel Suerte.” He said with plastered politeness. “And. You are right. I am a lawyer, here on behalf of FieldGreen Incorporated offering my services to your case.” He waved a case folder in front of him.

Chris pulled her legs slowly to her body, giving herself time to think before she got up and faced him. Again, the height difference was glaring. The man was over a foot taller than her, but she was used to it and didn’t let it faze her. She smiled a little when she saw that it fazed him, he took a step back so he didn’t have to look down at her at such a neck-crimping angle.

‘Guess they forgot to put my height into those files.’

“Why? Your firm will gain nothing from me. I have no money. And I am guessing that if you know how to make enough money to afford suits like that...” She gestured at his suit, “Then… you already knew that.”

He eyed her speculatively before answering affirmatively.

“Yes. I am aware.”

“So then. Why?”

“My firm tries to take on as many pro-bono cases as the workload allows.”

“That isn’t really an answer. There are hundreds of cases every day. Why me?”

There was a pause while he assessed her.

“You are innocent.”

Chris felt her heart skip a beat, someone believed her.

“If you sign this document, I will become your lawyer.”

He handed her a piece of paper, which she accepted in a daze. After three days of continuous accusations and being treated like a murderer she didn’t know how to react when someone believed her. He handed her a pen. She took it and with shaky finger brought it to the page. Chris was about to sign it when instinct kicked in. There was no way she was going to sign something without reading it first, but before she did that she considered her lawyer.

He was hiding something from her. She looked at the document, printed on a nice letterhead with fine paper. Chris eyed him with obvious suspicion, conveying with her eyes that she knew he hadn’t told her everything. A successful man, like he obviously was, wouldn’t want to have anything to do with someone like her. He wanted something from her, but Chris didn’t know what it could be since she had absolutely nothing to give. An image of her storage shed popped into her head, but she immediately clamped it down.

‘This is not about that. Stop being paranoid.’

She tried waiting him out for an answer, seeing if he would give himself away without further prodding, but instead he just said, “I know Barry Andrews.”

Chris cringed, knowing he had her there. Being represented by a hippopotamus would probably be the better choice.

‘But at least he is the devil I know.’

Something told her to sign the document. Then again, something else, namely her common sense, told her not to listen to that other something. She read the document she still held in her hands, buying herself some thinking time. It had nothing completely binding on it, merely stating that she was switching Barry out for this unknown entity, Castiel Suerte.

Chris looked at him. His eyes gave nothing away. Not a grain of emotion could be seen in them. It was like looking at a wall. A wall painted with a beautiful blue, but a wall nonetheless. Ignoring all the somethings in her head, she signed it.

‘What’s the worst that can happen? Worst case scenario, I can always go back to Barry.’ She cringed at the thought.

A guard opened the cell door for her and Chris followed her new lawyer down the hall. She listened to the echoes her own shoes made in unison with his. Against the concrete floor, they sounded foreboding, almost like she was walking toward her execution. As another guard opened the conference room for them, she couldn’t help herself from comparing the loud clanging sound to that of a guillotine.

Chris followed Suerte into the room, feeling like it was the final step in signing her soul over to the devil.

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