Lock and Key
I breathed heavily watching it walk inside the inner cage. The door shut automatically a few seconds after it walked inside. A steel rod slammed down within its hinge. The single brass lock waited for me to close it. Me, it’s captor, well for tonight anyhow.
Don’t look them in the eye. The life-long mantra ingrained in my head, in all of our heads, from school, from home; and my lastest training echoed in my ears as I cast my eyes down to the heavy brass metal.
“Lock it and return to your post girl. Don’t linger.” One of the guards patrolling on the raised walkway commanded in a condescending tone.
I heard it’s breathing and listened to know if it had settled down. The metal shackles scraped the floor and then fell silent.
Don’t look them in the eye. They’re beneath you. They’re beneath us. They’re where they belong. More of the mantras echoed over my own thoughts keeping my mind in check. This was my first time on duty there in the Containment Grounds. I had just started my junior year of classes and would be assigned to what we call “duty”, or our role in society after my senior year was through. These rounds of internships during junior year, or “duties” as the students call them allowed those in power to assess our aptitude and potential. They would have the final say when the time came. Not us. Not me.
I was only a few feet from the cage door and had been waiting for the guards to return the beasts to their respect cages. The beast in cage 912 was a large one, it's shadow, as it walked past, completed covered me. The submissive ones are allowed to walk with their hands bound and aren't forced onto all fours like the ones that still fought back.
The Containment Grounds were not the ideal place to start. They were dark, secluded, not to mention deathly boring. But it was one of the few jobs that allowed you to see the beasts up close. When they weren’t laboring anyway. This place was more like the zoos we learn about in school that the world once had. Years ago. Before the final war. People watched animals for entertainment. But the animals in those cages didn't speak our language as these do. They aren't allowed to speak. It's forbidden unless they're spoken to...which is rare, and it's only to give instruction. No need for them every to respond.
What would they even say? I wondered as I turned the key and gently lowered the lock to rest on the outer cage door.
“Door 912...locked! Captive in place!” I yelled awkwardly. I hadn’t expected that yelling the textbook line to be such a difficult task. But the air here was scarce. Low oxygen was undoubtedly to keep the beasts subdued.
“Are you sure?” two guards nearby chuckled at my expense.
“Yes.” I said firmly not trying to hide the annoyance in my voice. The guards’ brains must not require much oxygen to run those neurons. I think to myself and roll my eyes.
“Not all of us aim to shout mindless commands for the rest of our existence,” I whispered under my breath.
“What was that?” a guard was suddenly on top of me. She pressed me up against the cage hard. She leaned her chest against my back and pressed my face firmly against the metal bars of the outer cell.
“Get off me!” I struggled underneath her. She was far stronger than me. She wasn’t much bigger but her military training kicked in as she used her massive legs to help leverage herself above me. She placed an elbow in between my neck and my shoulder and pressed down sending searing pain throughout my body.
“Those mindless commands are followed without question down here. All I would have to do is give the word and you’d be thrown to one of these beasts and that would be the end of you.” My mind raced frantically and quickly came to the conclusion this was an officer. An offended officer. I stopped struggling. And remained silent. The military ran our world. Offending an officer was, in fact, a crime. Subjective military bull!
“That’s more like it.”
I turned away from the cage. My hands came up instinctively to rub my aching face. I felt the blood pooling at the tip of my nose and it began to drip. I turned away from her quickly.
“I’m sorry it won’t happen again.”
“Oh, I know it won’t.” She quipped and walked away.
I stormed past the guard at the end of the corridor and fought back tears as I burst through the containment’s doors. Happy to see the sun had already set, I could walk home alone under the cover of night. Home.
My classmates and teachers would be asleep of course, mostly. The C.G. operate later than most posts. They will undoubtedly ask me what happened to my face at breakfast, and before class, and during duties tomorrow.
" I won’t go back to that place,” I argue with no one.
“That’s not going to be my post. I’m smarter than those mindless drones. I might not be as strong, but I’m not going to waste my days there. Surely my teachers can get me a pass or a by-”
“Excuse me!” someone called from behind me. I turn.
“Excuse me. I’m so sorry.” It was a nurse. Her white garb and red cross emblem was the traditional garb from long ago and was kept even after the downfall of men.
“Yes,” I answered hesitantly.
" I came to tend to any wounds you may have suffered during duties. We hope this does not deter your efforts...”
“I [i]may[/i] have suffered.” I cut her off.
“Yes...well...do you need tending?” she offered genuinely but I was too heated still. Her eyes wouldn’t meet mine. But I felt a genuine wave of concern for me in her. It softened me a bit.
“No. I’m fine.” I tried to turn and walk away but she stopped me.
“Well then you might want these,” she said reaching into her apron and pulling out my ring of keys. They were given to me once I’d received my first assignment with the instructions to guard them with my life and entrust them to no one.
“Where did you-” I began as I reached for them. I figured out that I must’ve dropped them when the officer shoved me into the cage.
“Well maybe if the officer didn’t-”
“It’s alright.” she put her hand on my face. It’ll be our little secret. She only looked into my eyes briefly. Then she turned and walked away.
I was puzzled but relieved. I looked down at the keys and let them move in my hand. They clinked and clanked clumsily.
Even though guarding men against escaping was technically the most important job since women imprisoned them hundreds of years ago...I wouldn’t be caught dead at this post for the rest of my life!
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