Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Rocking the Boat
The collar around Gadget's neck was made from a ring that a human would wear on one finger. A chain made for a human necklace, complete with a Saint Christopher on the end, had been fixed to the ring. The chain connected Gadget to the thief in front of her and the gangster's moll behind her. Keeping the chain slack, both in front and behind, was occupying a large portion of her concentration. She suspected that the dozen other girls in the line- a coffle was the technical term for it, Gadget remembered were being kept too busy to think of anything else.
There were a dozen things she could have done to keep her neck out of that collar. It was like a slap in the face every time she thought of another one.
Franklin's sister had demanded her dress back, leaving Gadget in the red mini dress she had borrowed from Jen. The revealing and daring outfit of the day before now left Gadget feeling exposed and embarrassed. Looking back, she realised that wearing a different dress and trying to change her hair back to its normal colour had been a mistake.
She could have testified in her own defence before Franklin put anyone else on the stand. Everyone would have understood if she had just told the whole story in her own words. She probably could have explained everything in less than ten seconds.
Gadget had worked out how long it took for someone's attention to wonder when something complicated was being explained by going over the basic technical specifications of her inventions with her friends and timing how long it took for their eyes to glaze. Since then she had made a point of compressing all the necessary information needed to understand any given topic into very long sentences, which she delivered as quickly as possible to stay under a ten second limit.
Okay, so in this case she might have had to go over ten seconds. Twelve, maybe fifteen seconds at the outside. But they would have understood her. There wasn't a shred of doubt in Gadget's mind that people understood her. Always. So long as they had the time and inclination to think about what she told them.
If she had worn the red dress Jen had loaned her, her friend would have recognized her or at least asked for permission to take a closer look. Gadget was sure of it.
She should have told Franklin to give her something to write with the second she first laid eyes on him. If she had sent a letter to the hospital where her double was being treated, her friends would have recognized her handwriting in an instant. They might have been suspicious but they would have come to the trial, at least.
Gadget realised that she was making a list again. Counting to see if there really were a dozen things she could have done to avoid this situation, or if she could think of a few more. If there were fewer than twelve, then that would mean her morale was low and she was being pessimistic. She would have to compensate. Of course, the act of counting the number of things that she could have done to avoid this might lower her moral in itself. If there were more than twelve that meant that she had misjudged both the original situation and her assessment of it. That would be an indication that she still wasn't thinking clearly.
How long could one drugged French coffee affect her, anyway?
A part of her mind that had been sitting by and observing her train of thought stepped in and pointed out that this was not a productive use of her time. She should be looking for a way out of this situation. The trouble, Gadget mused, was that the court's verdict and sentence while wrong was legal and binding. As a Rescue Ranger she was supposed to uphold law and order. Not that she remembered ever taking an oath, or signing a contract, but that wasn't the point. Escaping from legal custody would definitely be undermining a system she was supposed to uphold and possibly hypocritical as well.
The only right thing to do was to prove the system worked. Like it would have the first time if she had taken the possibility of being found guilty a little more seriously. She would clear her name using due process. At least one of the options she had considered was still workable: Franklin might be out of the picture Oooh, she would have something to say to him when she saw him again! but prisoners were allowed to write home, she knew that. Once a week, at least. She hoped it was at the beginning of the week.
In the sewers deep under the human streets the chain of girls was led onto a balsawood barge. The barge would take them to Shrankshaw Prison, which was built in the foundations of Swing-Swing Penitentiary, one of the toughest and most infamous human prisons ever built. It was already late at night in the world above. Here, where the night lasted forever, activity never stopped.
There were small boats and skiffs made from human trash that passed along side them. Each boat had normal people in it. Gadget remembered those. Rats and mice who were just going about their normal business. She looked at them in wonder. It seemed like they were the first people she had seen who weren't crazy or full of hate since she had left Jen's the day before.
A couple on the walkway that ran along the edge of the sewer met her gaze and pointed at her. It was a sudden moment of revelation for Gadget. She could imagine herself through their eyes. Tired and miserable, her hair a tangled mess from the hysterics she had had when they finally took out the gag, dressed for a party she would never arrive at. She looked pitiable. She looked guilty.
Replaying the trial in her mind, it slowly dawned on her that it was only natural the jury had convicted. She realised for the first time that her every word and deed had been based on the knowledge that she was innocent and the assumption that she would be taken at face value, just has she always had been before and as she had always taken others at face value. It wasn't so different from a criminal who had always gotten away with it assuming that they would get away with it this time.
Somewhere out there was a criminal whose guilt had kept her safe and free while Gadget's innocence had put her in chains. This was the world turned upside down. This was through the looking glass. She was in uncharted territory, morally and emotionally.
The girl in front bowed her head and started sobbing. Gadget was yanked forward unexpectedly and almost stumbled.
"Hey! No day dreaming back there!" A guard bawled. "Anyone goes over the side, most likely everyone of you will join them."
I'm going to jail, Gadget thought, and I've decided to accept it instead of escaping. I must be insane. She tried to console herself that it wouldn't be for long. If they did have to wait until the end of the week before writing home, then maybe she could persuade someone to make an exception. Yes, that was it. She could ask to see the governor and beg to be allowed to write a letter immediately instead of at the end of the week. She didn't like begging for anything but in this case she was more than ready to beg like a human's pet and like it.
The girl in front was pulling her further and further forward. Golly, she's in an even worse state than I am, Gadget thought. The floozy behind yanked on the chain, hurting Gadget's throat.
"Hey!" She snapped.
"You got a problem, red?" snarled the voice behind her.
"Who are you calling red?" Gadget snapped.
"Be quite back there, or I'll make trouble for you!" Shouted a guard.
Anxious to avoid anything worse than she was already facing, Gadget raised a hand to the back of the female mouse in front of her. "There, there." She whispered. "I know how you feel. It's going to be all right. It's not forever."
"It's for fifteen years! Isn't that enough?"
Gadget blinked. Fifteen years. That was the same sentence she had received. "What for?" She asked.
"What do you care?"
"I got the same sentence!"
"I said; be quiet back there!"
"Robbery. Grand Theft. What about you?"
"Nine counts of fraud, twelve counts of deception, twenty one counts of misrepresentation, eighteen counts of theft, assault, affray, causing a public nuisance and property damage." Gadget hesitated. Then, very, very reluctantly, she added: "And, um, uh, well, one count of lewd conduct in a public place."
The mouse who had been crying looked over her shoulder questioningly.
"But I am so not guilty! This whole thing is just one big misunderstanding." Gadget wondered why she had avoided the word "innocent" as she hastened to reassure the tearful inmate.
"All those charges, one misunderstanding?"
"Yes." Gadget nodded happily, not seeing the contradiction and believing she had found someone who understood at last.
The mouse turned back to face forward. "What's your name?" she asked after a while.
The mouse turned back to look at her in disbelief. "What?"
"Great. Even on this bus I wind up next to the crazy one."
"How about you?"
"Seriously? Your name is Bubbles?"
Bubbles turned and stared at Gadget, her mouth open in indignation. She was a short mouse with black hair that curled tightly. Her fur was a grey brown that humans referred to as mousy. Her dress was a knee-length and a sensible blue but a pair of large and shiny earrings hung from her pierced ears.
"You tell me your name is Gadget Hackwrench and then you doubt me when I tell you my name?" She challenged.
"Sorry. Its just I knew someone called Bubbles once. Come to think of it, I used that name myself, once."
"Yeah? Well, if I catch you using my name I wont be as nice about it as the real Gadget Hackwrench."
"I am the real Gadget Hackwrench." Gadget corrected her.
"Yeah, right." Sneered Bubbles. "I can just see her getting fifteen years. The Judge would probably let her off with a warning if she knocked over a bank."
"Surely you don't believe I'd get special treatment just because I'm a Rescue Ranger? Why everyone knows that the courts are totally impartial." The clanking of her chains reminded Gadget of her recent experience. "Usually."
"Are you two deaf or stupid? I told you three times now, SHUT UP!" the guard had walked right up next to them and yelled as loud as she could.
"####! You didn't have to yell." Bubbles cursed.
The guard ground her teeth, turned on her heel and stomped to the back of the boat. "We stop and rewind the motor right up there. Under gusher seven."
"But the clockwork hasn't wound all the way down yet." The boat driver objected. "Besides "
"I know. Just do it."
The boat purred to a halt under a pipe that allowed a trickle of discoloured water to dribble onto the floor next to the prisoners.
"Yuck." Gadget observed.
"Aw, no. You pair of dumb ####s!" Snarled the moll behind Gadget. "I swear; first chance I get you two are going to pay for this."
Gadget opened her mouth to ask just what the person behind her was talking about. It was the worst timing anyone could have imagined.
A deluge of filthy, stinking sewage water washed over the barge and it's helpless prisoners, who were battered down onto all fours by the weight of the water. Balsawood, fortunately, floats even when it is a solid block. The high sides of the barge were meant to shield against waves and the deck beneath the prisoner's feet covered a hold packed with supplies for the prison. The flood washed off the deck easily enough, leaving a sickly brown residue behind.
Gadget choked, coughed and spluttered. A moment ago she had been absolutely sure that things couldn't get any worse. I'll never think that again, she told herself, because now I know they always can.
Very slowly the guard walked back to them, entirely untouched by the wastewater. "When I tell you to be quiet, you be quiet. And that goes for everything else I tell you to do and everyone else here, too. Got it? Good."
The guard resumed her position next to her colleague at the front of the boat.
Gadget looked at Bubbles in stunned disbelief. It hadn't occurred to her that their dousing had been deliberate, or avoidable. She opened her mouth to say something but Bubbles, looking over Gadget's shoulder, shook her head very slightly. Gadget turned her head. The seven convicts chained behind Gadget were glaring at her, their eyes burning with a cold fury that sent a chill from the tip of her tail to the back of her neck.
The sad little convoy of prisoners arrived at their destination well into late evening. It was always dark in the sewers but the gloom around the entrance to the prison seemed thicker and more oppressive than it had anywhere else. It had been a long day and every one of the prisoners, including Gadget, moved slowly; with their heads bowed and their shoulders slumped.
The gate to Shrankshaw Prison was made out of an old iron furnace door. It was blackened with a human lifetimes worth of soot and heat and there were wide vertical slits so air could feed a fire. The guards had covered the slits with a wire mesh to stop anyone escaping but the light from the prison yard still shone through and made it look as though a furnace were still on the other side.
In the grime, some comedian had used their finger to write: "Abandon Hope, ye who enter here."
The prisoners were led up the slimy, dirty steps that no guard would lower themselves to clean and no prisoner would be allowed to reach for fear of an escape.
Four heavy looking Guards were waiting for them. They cast long shadows in the street lamp orange light from the prison yard. "Welcome to Shrankshaw Prison." said the tallest guard, an immaculate white rat in a peaked-cap. "We have a saying around here. Today is the first day of the rest of your prison sentence."
Only the guards laughed.
"I see some of you made yourselves unpopular on the trip here; unpopular with us and unpopular with some of you. No doubt they will quickly learn the importance of being popular."
This time there was some low, evil chuckling amongst the prisoners as well.
"To be popular with us, you must make our lives easy. You make our lives easy when you are quiet, obedient and stick to the rules. You make our lives harder and yourselves unpopular when you act the way free people are allowed to behave, when you talk or act without being told, or do or say something different from what you have been told. And believe me, unpopular with the guards means unpopular with everyone."
The rat surveyed them all with an eye that was tarnished by experience.
"On the outside, everyone is different. On the inside, everyone is the same. That is because on the inside different is the same as difficult. And if you are difficult, then you will become very, very unpopular in a very, very short space of time."
The guard walked up to Bubbles and looked down at her with an icy smile. "Think about that." The white rat whispered.
Gadget glanced nervously between Bubbles and the Guard. She didnt know why the rat had singled out Bubbles instead of her, but she was grateful for it. It seemed like the first lucky break Gadget had been given in a long time. At the same time, her conscience pricked her. She had been the one to start the conversation on the boat. The trouble had been her fault. Should she say something?
Gadget risked another look at the Guards face. She had the look of someone who had seen captivity herself. Her eyes were red, marking her as an albino, which was usually a sign of someone who had either been born into captivity or descended from someone who was. There was a portion of her right ear missing, where she might have had someone remove a laboratory tattoo the hard way.
Gadget knew that such people often met prejudice from other, so called, civilised rodents. They faced many challenges adapting to freedom; often they had no friends or family to help them; they knew nothing of the laws, rules and conventions of the society the had managed to find their way to; All too often they possessed nothing but their own fur. If this guard had escaped from human captivity herself, then she had done well for herself.
"My name is Officer Haggs. Are there any questions?" the white rat asked.
"Did you escape from human captivity?" Gadget immediately inquired.
Gadget heard the sound, followed by a nasty silence all around her, and realised she had spoken without thinking things through. In a friendlier, or quieter environment, there would have been no real harm in the question. But this wasn't tea and biscuits with a new friend.
The guard walked up to her.
Gadget cursed inwardly and tried to think of an adequate apology. "I'm sorry. That was an entirely inappropriate question. I happen to be outstandingly smart but I'm afraid that sometimes I tend to act on an impulse without using more than one train of thought to consider the consequences from all the relevant angles."
The guard blinked once. "That's quite alright. After all, if we don't ask questions we'll never get answers."
Gadget beamed. Finally she had found a sensible, rational person.
Then she found herself on the floor.
"You loose ten days privileges. I trust that answers your question." Officer Haggs said.
Gadget put her hand to her nose. It came away sticky.
"I landed on my tail." Complained Bubbles.
Gadget looked dazedly to her left and realised that the collar and chain around her neck had dragged the girls on either side of her to the ground.
"Me too." Came from her right.
Gadget turned her head and found herself nose to nose with the moll, who was glaring like a snake about to strike.
"Aright, on your feet. Let's get this sorry little parade home." Officer Hags was already striding away.
The prisoners were marched into a box like cavern in the foundations of the human prison above. A sodium neon tube from a human street lamp shone down from the ceiling. They came to a halt directly under it. Two guards were holding aiming a hose at the prisoners like a machine gun.
From behind them came the solid, final clang of the main gate closing. That was it. They were prison inmates. The gate was closed and with it so many possibilities were also closed to them. Gadget found herself craving Chinese food for the first time in months. She realised it had been years since she walked on moss just for the pleasure of it tickling her feet. If it was like that for her, what was it like for the other girls, who had no reason to think this was just for a day or two?
"Normally we do this somewhere a little more private but, right now, you're too dirty to get in anywhere, even to a place like this! Strip off what you're wearing and step in front of the hose so we can wash some of the" - Officer Haggs checked herself - "grime off you."
There were muted protests but after the example Haggs had set with Gadget no one was willing to refuse.
Gadget felt the fur on her back rising in anger and embarrassment. Everyone else was doing the same thing, she reminded herself. She was a Rescue Ranger. She had done harder things than get undressed.
One by one the prisoners stepped through the spray of clean water, wearing only the fur coat God had given them. After the hose down they were led through the safe door and into a passage that was lit by a string of Christmas tree lights. It wasn't far to the room where new inmates were issued with their uniforms. Gadget's heart leaped with relief when she was handed a pair of blue overalls almost exactly like the ones she wore all the time. It was only when she unfolded them that she noticed the large black arrows printed across the front, back and sides.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" one of the guards demanded.
"Uh, putting my clothes on?"
"The prison clothes, not yours. You don't own anything anymore. And you wait until you're told. You've got the search and a trip to the showers first, girly."
Gadget's spirits sank again. "Search?"
"It's okay." Whispered Bubbles. "It's not like some of the stories you might have heard. They only look on the outside, these days. Unless they have a reason to go further."
Gadget's face was a picture of alarm, shock and embarrassment as she stared at her friend. Bubbles had raised a possibility that hadn't even occurred to her. Gadget gave a shudder and offered a silent prayer of thanks for prison reform.
The search was thorough, nonetheless. A guard ran a comb through the hair of each prisoner, looking for contraband. Three hairclips were confiscated, along with a lock pick that one of the convicts had hidden in her hair.
The lock pick gave Gadget a start. She kept a lock pick tied to the tip of her tail, camouflaged with shed fur. It had allowed her to escape from a bad guy at least once before and had been useful in her Ranger work. As she was a Rescue Ranger, no one would have thought it in the slightest bit questionable for her to have such an item hidden on her. As a new convict, however, she knew it would be harder to explain away.
Her fingers strayed to the bruise on her still smarting nose. Should she say something or not?
Out came the moral algebra again. Was it right to say nothing? She would get into trouble if she did and by now she had a clear idea of what that meant. They might take it easy on her, if she was honest and spoke up before they found it on their own. On the other hand- Gadget swallowed and watched the girl struggle as a couple of guards dragged her into another room what was it Bubbles had said about the guards going further if they had a reason to?
"It's a criminal offence to smuggle contraband into a prison. That lady gets another two years on her sentence. Last chance for anyone else to 'fess up!" Bawled Officer Haggs.
Two years! Maybe, just maybe, the two years wouldn't count if later on she proved she should never have been in here. But, the logical side of her replied, she would still have broken the law so where was the sense in that?
She was a Rescue Ranger. She believed in law in order, even if they didn't believe in her right now. She had no intention of using the lock pick to escape. Her bid for freedom after the judge had pronounced sentence in the courtroom had been panic. There was no reason to keep the lock pick.
Stepping forward was still one of the hardest things she had ever done. Officer Haggs came up to her and gazed at her steadily. Gadget reached back and took hold of her own tail, drawing it round in front of her. Practically everyone in the room watched her unwrap the fur-coated tape she used to hold the lock pick in place and camouflage it.
Haggs took the steel tool in one hand and examined it. Gadget wished she had her name engraved on the pick, or maybe the name of the Rescue Rangers, but it always seemed unlikely that she would loose something that was attached to her own body, or at least that she would loose it in circumstances where finding a lock pick would be a priority.
"Very good quality."
"May I get back in line now? I haven't got anything else on me. Really I haven't. If I had, I wouldn't have drawn attention to myself by giving you that, would I?"
"You'd be surprised at some of the dodges I've seen down the years. We really ought to make sure "
"Please, I swear I haven't got anything else. It's the truth. What's the point in anyone coming forward if they get treated as if they hadn't?"
"She's got a point, you know." Said a very reasonable sounding voice behind Officer Haggs. It came from a chipmunk lady wearing a guard's uniform.
"Deputy Warden. I didn't know you were joining us. Just sight seeing, are we?"
The Deputy Warden looked flustered. "What are you implying? I just came to see that standards were being maintained, that's all."
"Of course. My apologies. I was just going to refer this prisoner for a medical search."
"Well, I don't think that's necessary." Snapped the Deputy Warden. "As she said, she would hardly have come forward if she had anything else to hide."
A thunderous look crossed Officer Haggs' face, but it was gone before the Deputy noticed it. "As you say, ma'am."
The Deputy Warden nodded, made a tick on her clipboard and left them to their job. As soon as the door closed behind her, Officer Haggs put her face up close to Gadget's and snarled. "Twenty days without privileges."
"Thirty days! Want to make it forty?"
"That's totally unfair!"
"You're just punishing me because you're mad at your boss!"
"Fifty days! Want to try for sixty?"
"Red? Come on, Red, don't push it." Bubbles was tugging urgently at Gadget's arm.
It won't matter, Gadget thought to herself. I'm going to be gone by tomorrow and you'll be left feeling silly. But what, a tiny voice at the back of her mind asked, if things don't work out the way they should and I have to stay here a little longer than tomorrow? Do I really want to make things worse than they have to be?
"Well, what's it going to be, girly? Do you want to shoot for another ten days?"
Gadget bit her lip and looked at her feet.
"No? Then get back into line."
"You were lucky." Whispered Bubbles.
"Don't I know it!" Gadget whispered back as they were led to their cells. "Do you think that they'll put us in together?"
"What makes you think that I want to be locked up with you?"
"Well, none of the other girls seem to like us much since what happened on the boat."
"You got that right. That Roxy is going to be real trouble."
"Roxy? Is that her name?"
"Yeah, her case was right before mine. I had to sit through it. She's a girlfriend of some mobster who left her holding a bag packed with stolen property when his place was raided. She swore blind she didn't know what was in it, but she's done time before. The judge was pretty tough on her. Gave her seven years."
"How come you got fifteen years?"
"Some friends and I got seventy palmtop computers out of a warehouse by pushing them through a drainage pipe on a roller-skate. They're worth an absolute fortune in the right places. Every part of human society is accessible through the net, even if you're a mouse. You can earn human money, buy food instead of scavenging it, even interact with humans on their own level by pretending you're one of them."
"All of which puts animal society in great danger of discovery." Gadget put in disapprovingly.
"That's just an excuse for the authorities to stop everyone from doing it."
"If everyone did it, humans would be bound to catch on."
"Hey, pardon me for wanting to make a better life accessible to more people."
"Was that why you did it?"
"Heck no, I wanted the money."
There was a brief silence. "I was going to send my kids to college, okay?" Bubbles added.
"No, but it's easier to forgive."
"The judge didn't think so. He said I was putting all of animal society at risk of discovery and that he was going to make an example of me. Plus, I was the only one that got caught and I wouldn't name any of the others."
"I can see how that wouldn't help."
"So, fifteen years."
"Fifteen years." Gadget agreed. She felt perversely guilty that, for her, it would hopefully be a single night. She found herself liking Bubbles, a self confessed thief who could have caused the end of civilization as they knew it. Fifteen years was perfectly fair in the circumstances, but for the first time justice left a bitter taste in Gadget's mouth.
They didn't get to share a cell.
Bubbles was shown into an unoccupied three bed cell. Gadget assumed that she was going to be given the second bed, but instead Officer Haggs closed the door and locked it with a peculiar smile on her face. "Oh no, not you, girly. You get to share with some old hands. They've heard about you already and they're dying to meet a celebrity."
She was taken to a crowded cell the same size as the previous one, but three extra beds had been squeezed. If everyone in the cell had tried standing up at once, there wouldn't have been room to turn around. The five prisoners inside looked at Gadget curiously.
"So this is the new bug, huh?" one of them remarked.
"How come I have to be in this cell when Bubbles got a cell to herself?" Gadget puzzled.
"Because I say so, girly." Officer Haggs told her.
The cell door closed behind Gadget.
"Oh, and one last word of advice. Don't be telling the other prisoners that you're Gadget Hackwrench. It might not be wise." Haggs moved off, whistling happily.
"But I am Gadget Hackwrench!" Gadget called after her. Haggs didn't respond, but the sound of warm bodies shifting came from all around the cell. Gadget didn't move but she felt the presence of hardened criminals standing all around her. Her eyes grew as large and round as pennies. "Oh dear." She whispered.
The following morning the deputy warden was inspecting the cell allocations with a guard named Simmons after complaints of over crowding. The guard held a club and a large set of keys. The Deputy Warden had a clipboard and a pencil.
They stopped at Bubbles' cell where the sole occupant was lying curled up in bed, despite the fact that morning bell had sounded at six o'clock, twenty minutes before.
"Having a lie in, is she? Well, I suppose we can overlook it. It is her first day." The deputy warden said.
If Bubbles heard, her only response was to curl into an even tighter ball.
"One to a cell? We can hardly call that over crowding." Officer Simmons said.
"No, we can't!" the deputy warden laughed as they carried on. Several cells later she found herself frowning. "Next cell, number 43, we have six prisoners? That can't be right."
"Officer Haggs had me move in an extra cot last night."
"Really? Well, we'll see about that- EEEK!"
One of the prisoners, the redhead who had turned in the lock pick the night before, was hanging limply from the bars at the top of the cell door.
She was swinging by her hair.
"Quickly! Get the door open." The deputy warden told the guard with her.
"I'm working on it." Simmons replied.
The prisoner was swinging slightly. At the sound of voices behind her, she started kicking her feet.
"Oh, please get me down from here! They tied my hair to the doorframe over eight hours ago and I've been hanging here ever since!" she begged.
"Her hair is jamming the door." Simmons told the deputy warden.
"Get a pair of scissors!" The deputy warden ordered.
The guard fled.
"Now, you five, I want to know who did this and I expect you to own up immediately!"
"I think it was Mickey Mouse."
"No," another prisoner put in, "it was Santa Claus- he came down the chimney and told her she had been a bad little Rescue Ranger."
The joking continued until Simmons returned with a pair of scissors and began cutting. Gadget wailed as her body weight was concentrated on a progressively smaller and smaller area of her scalp. Finally with an unpleasant tearing sound, the last lock of hair came out at the roots.
"Eeep!" Gadget sat very still, having landed on a very sensitive spot for what felt like the umpteenth time in three days.
"Simmons, these cell allocations are completely unacceptable. No wonder there's bullying with so many people packed into such a small space. See to it that she's moved in to that cell with only one occupant immediately."
Gadget listened with one ear. So she was going to share with Bubbles after all. The rest of her attention was on her hair and her hindquarters, which ached horribly. At least her legs had broken some of the fall this time. She tried to hold up a lock of hair for inspection. It was neck length. She could live with that. She hadn't cut her hair since the year before her father died. She tried another. Shoulder length and of course dark red. It looked like she had just had the most uneven haircut ever, outside of the punk rock fraternity.
Gadget was grateful that she didn't have much to carry since she had just had the second worst night's sleep of her life (her worst was still the night after she lost her father) and she had to move it all in one go. Her arms and legs were shaking and she was so tired she could hardly keep her eyes open. Had it been forty-eight or thirty-six hours since she last tasted coffee? She couldn't work it out. If going without sleep had this effect on everyone, she would have to get Chip to crack down on Dale's all night movie sessions. No wonder Dale goofed up so often.
Simmons opened the door to Bubbles' cell and ushered Gadget in. The sound of the door clanking shut behind her again made Gadget flinch. She would be released today, she told herself. Assuming she could stay awake long enough to talk to someone in authority and make sense when she did. Definitely. She would be having Monty's cheese omelette supreme for supper tonight.
Gadget put comb and the soap and the nightwear that she hadn't had a chance to try on yet in the places provided. With some relief, she tried out the lavatory as well. It had been a VERY long night for her.
Finally, she went over to Bubbles.
"Rise and shine, sleepy head. You don't know how lucky you are to have a cell to yourself."
Bubbles snarled at her. "Yeah, right!"
Bubbles turned over and for the first time Gadget saw that Bubbles was clutching herself in pain.
"Are you alright?"
"No, I'm not alright."
"What happened to you?"
"Haggs. Haggs happened to me."
"What?" Gadget dragged the word out with tiredness and disbelief.
"She paid me a visit last night and knocked me around. She wants to know where those palmtops I told you about are hidden. I told her I didn't know; I don't know. I only know where to pick up my cut of the profits. That's for my kids."
Gadget sat down on Bubble's bed.
"I'm sorry." Gadget said.
"Yeah, me too. Maybe she'll back off with you around as a witness."
"That's right. I'll see to it that she never works as a guard again."
"How you going to do that?"
"I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but I really am Gadget Hackwrench." Gadget whispered conspiratorially.
"What? You're here undercover?" Bubbles stared at her.
"No. Someone's been impersonating me and somehow they got hurt in a robbery. The robbers must have mistaken her for the real me. I got arrested because everyone thinks that I'm in hospital and they were all so angry at the impostor they wouldn't listen to me when I tried to explain." Gadget looked nervously at her cellmate.
Bubbles peered at her from hooded eyes. Very slowly she reached out with one hand and stroked Gadget's hair. "You really are crazy, aren't you, Red?"
"What? No, I mean it!"
"What happened to your hair?"
"The people in that cell they put me in decided I'd make a good wind chime. The guards had to cut me down."
Bubbles sat up. "Were you hanging all night?"
"Yes." Gadget said tiredly.
"I was awake all night too. Do you think they'll let us sleep?"
"No. Officer Simmons said that we had showers and breakfast in ten minutes."
"Wakey, wakey." The voice was twisted with amusement.
Gadget blinked and opened her eyes. She took a moment to remember where she was, remembered and wanted to cry. The laughter from the corridor forced her to pull herself together. She was, she suddenly realised, still sitting on Bubbles' bed. Bubbles was snoring gently and holding her hand. Prisoners were passing by dressed for the showers and smirking at them.
Gadget shook Bubbles awake and stood up. She didn't know what was so funny. Even if no one knew that Bubbles hadn't slept last night, most of the cellblock had heard her shouting for help. It should be no surprise to anyone that she had fallen asleep.
Grabbing the soap that she had been issued with, she joined the queue for the showers. Unlike the other inmates, who were still in their regulation nightgowns, Gadget had never had a chance to change out of her prison uniform. Bubbles fell into line behind her and they moved into the changing rooms.
Gadget had only had three years of formal schooling in her whole life and only one school had a changing room for sports lessons. Her father had taken her all over the globe and she had learned to speak languages that some of her teachers couldn't identify. She knew things about foreign customs that geography teachers refused to believe, but couldn't answer questions on national products and population. Sitting down to undress in front of strangers for the second time in 24 hours, she realised that she had never seen so many people "in the fur" in her life.
The showers turned out to be a set of steps leading down into a trough of green tinted water. Gadget stopped dead and stared at the back of the prisoner in front of her. Flea dip. They were being herded through flea dip.
"Wait a minute. I don't have-" Gadget found herself being pushed into flea dip face first. She came up coughing and spluttering, rubbing desperately at her eyes. Finding her way by touch alone, which got some interesting results, she managed to find her way to the end of the trough.
"Sorry, sorry." She spluttered.
At the top of the steps and to the right there was a doorway that led through to the actual showers. The showers were so big that they had used four human bathroom tiles to cover the floor. Three sprinklers from a garden watering can were suspended overhead, spraying thick jets of water over the inmates as they either walked straight to the exit or lingered in an effort to scrub some of the prison grime off.
Gadget's vision was badly blurred by the stinging flea dip, but her sense of smell was fine. She realised that in spite of the hosing she had taken the previous day, there was still a lingering smell of sewers on her fur. She stopped under the first available jet of water and began washing.
"Hey, Red. We don't want to stick around."
"Huh? Why not? I want to get as much of this dye out of my hair as I can. Maybe they'll take me more seriously when my hair's back to its normal colour. And we both still smell like we live in a sewer."
"Are you blind, or stupid?"
"Someone pushed me into the dip. Think I've rinsed it all out, but my eyes are still blurry."
"That was me. Look, just come on, will you? I'll explain why in a moment."
Gadget felt Bubbles' hand on her shoulder. She was annoyed but she didn't argue.
Ten minutes later they were in their prison uniforms. Gadget was running her prison issue comb through her hair, trying to get all the tangles out of it. She managed to catch a glimpse of her reflection in a cracked changing room mirror.
Lord, she couldn't recognize herself. Why should anyone else? Her hair was matted, incredibly tangled and still coated with soap from her interrupted shower. The dye was still deep red. Her face was darker than it had been before and there was a vertical stripe running down her front where her fur should have all been one light tan tone.
The biggest change was her face. Her nose looked bigger for some reason. Was it swollen from the punch she had taken the day before or was it just the change of hair colour playing tricks on her? She looked at her eyes. There were bags under them that aged her by ten years and they were red rimmed, as if she had been crying. She hadn't. She had refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing tears last night.
"Why did you push me into the flea dip?" Gadget asked abruptly.
"What? Oh, that. You're not a whiner, are you? I don't think I could stand sharing a cell with a whiner. Only you were going to say you don't have fleas."
"So? That's no reason to-"
"If you sleep on the mattresses in this place your going to get them. Everyone here has them. You were holding up the queue and if there's one thing I know, it's that prison inmates don't like it when someone makes out that they deserve better treatment than any of them are getting."
"You could have said. You didn't have to-"
"If I hadn't done it, someone else would have. At least I didn't push you too hard. If you hadn't come up right away I would have helped you up. And nothing I could have said would have stopped you from finishing that sentence."
Gadget finished breakfast. Bubbles was right, but there was something that stuck in her mind. "I thought this was your first night."
"Second time around for me. Plus, they held me in lock up for a while before trial. I'm going to miss the food there. The cops and the prisoners get meals from the same kitchen."
"You were in prison before?"
"Yeah, what's it to you?"
Bubbles looked at Gadget as if she was weighing her up. "That's not considered a polite question in a place like this."
"I wasn't much more than a kid; about seventeen. I met up with some guys after I left home. Humans went over my family's old place with that gas stuff they use and we couldn't go back for anything. I was going to make a fortune in the big city and support them all. One the guys was an old friend of my big brother. I always had a soft spot for him."
Seventeen. Gadget had been about that age when Monty and the boys had busted through her home defence system and convinced her to help them stop bad guys getting away with it.
"Anyway, they used me as a scout to case places they wanted to rob. I didn't do anything but keep my ears and eyes open at first. Then I moved up to helping them get in, helping them get out. I was good at it. They started to take me seriously. Unfortunately, the judge took me seriously too. I was put into a place like this when I was nineteen."
"How long for?"
"First offence, that I'd been caught for, that is, and I was a good looking kid. Two years. I got married as soon as I got out and I was never going to look at another set of bars or another grey wall as long as I lived."
"I got three cubs and my husband decided that he didn't like stretch marks or paying child support. My Ma's looking after them now. She's got her own problems." Bubbles looked at Gadget with a serious expression. "Never marry a career criminal, no matter how much you love him."
"I'll try to avoid it." Gadget promised.
"Did you really not see anything in the showers?"
"Enough not to bump into anybody, why?"
Officer Haggs put a large and heavy hand on Gadget's shoulder. "Prisoner D141, you've got a meeting with the warden."
"Really? Is it about letting me go?"
"Letting you go? Why would we want to part with someone as, how shall I put it, fragrant and delightful as you?" Laughter echoed from all around. "Come along, girl. We dont want the warden to get bored rehearsing her "Welcome to my prison" speech."
Gadget followed Officer Haggs to the wardens office. Her eyes were drooping as she put one foot in front of the other. What was the longest she had ever gone without sleep? Two, three days? She could handle this. She had slept for over six hours the night before last. Gadget yawned widely.
"Someone keep you awake last night?" inquired Officer Haggs.
"Yes! Those people you locked me in with tied my hair to the top of the door so that my feet couldnt touch the floor!"
"You should have done something to make them like you."
"I dont think theres anything I could do to make them like me."
"Youll learn." Haggs voice had a nasty, smug tone that was completely lost on Gadget.
"Could you tell me if were allowed phone calls?"
"Not in this place. It's not like the newer prisons on the west side of the city. Theres one for the warden to use in emergencies and dont get any ideas, its for official use only."
"What about letters?"
"Twice a week. Censored by yours truly, so keep any love letters you write clean."
Gadget blushed. "When do we get to write them?"
"You dont. Youre on loss of privileges; remember? Fifty days, wasnt it?"
"What? But I have friends who dont know where I am!"
"I havent processed the forms yet. It could be sixty my memory is always playing tricks on me."
"Oooohhhhh!" Gadget ground her teeth together. "You let me write one letter to my friends, or Ill complain to the warden!"
"Oh, you will, will you? Well, youll have your chance, in a minute! Just you wait here until youre called." And with that Officer Haggs left Gadget cooling her heals in the corridor outside the wardens office.
Gadget had pinned all her hopes on getting out of here before sunset. One phone call, one letter- that was all it would take and she would be free. She was not going to stay here for fifty days. She wasnt going to wait for her friends to get their act together and find her. She was going to deal with this herself.
Warden Phelps was a neat but plain mouse lady who wore a frilly shirt and a long string of glass beads with her sombre business suit. She was chatting and smiling with the Deputy Warden when Officer Haggs entered.
"Ah, there you are. Where's the next inmate, Haggs?"
"I instructed her to wait outside. I thought I might have a word. I'm not sure this girl is quite right in the head. One moment she seems determined to be a model prisoner and she's acting as innocent as apple pie and the next she's dishing out attitude and carrying lock picks. She seems determined to call herself Gadget Hackwrench, even though the other prisoners have already bullied her for it. If you ask me she needs to spend a while over in the special wing instead of locked up with a serious criminal like Bubbles McGee."
"I read about the case in the papers. The trial seemed to be over terribly quickly and her lawyer didnt seem to be much good." The warden replied.
"With the evidence against her, I don't see how it could have lasted very long." Her deputy put in.
"True, but from arraignment to sentencing in one day? I can hardly believe it."
"If she feels she didn't get a fair shake in court, it might explain why she feels as if she has an axe to grind." Officer Haggs said magnanimously. "I just wish she was more open about it. Oh, I suppose I'd better mention it before she does- I've given her thirty days loss of privileges for insolence."
Haggs had always thought the Warden, and her Deputy, were both weak and wet but the few times she had challenged their authority they had slapped her down as though she were an inmate. The humiliation from previous rounds still stung enough for her to be cautious even over a thing as trivial as this.
Reducing the length of the punishment she had given the new prisoner before they did would save Haggs from losing face with them and a private little chat with the inmate would make sure she didnt loose any face there, either. With any luck they'd take her word for it that the redhead was crazy and ship her off to the psycho-ward with all the other lunatics, leaving Bubbles McGee un-chaperoned for another interrogation session.
"Thirty days is a little stiff. She hasn't even been here twenty four hours."
Haggs shrugged. "Start as you mean to go on, I always say."
"Very well. Send her in."
Gadget entered a moment later. She looked tired and frustrated but her eyes lit up when she saw the warden.
"Good morning." The warden said.
Gadget's eyes widened. "Are you kidding?"
"You're wasting your time being courteous, Warden." Haggs put in. "The type of people we get in here never appreciate it." She added, with a disdainful look towards Gadget.
"Oh, I do!" Gadget put in quickly. "It's just it's been a while since anyone spoke to me politely!"
"I understand." The warden nodded. "I was just going over your file. I see you're going to be with us quite some time."
"Not if I can help it!" The three others in the room stared at Gadget. "I mean; I want to leave legally, of course. I shouldn't be here."
"It's all a mistake." The warden nodded.
"A big misunderstanding." Gadget confirmed.
"You shouldnt be here."
"Thats exactly it!"
"Just like everyone else in here."
"Right! I mean, no! Im not like anyone else in here! At least, I certainly hope Im not."
"Young lady," the warden began severely, "you are exactly like everyone else here and that is precisely how you will be treated. Youve already had a taste of how people who put on airs and graces are treated by the other prisoners and we cant be there all the time to protect you."
Gadgets face went slack with surprise and disappointment. The warden continued without pausing.
"Last night they were tired and you hadnt had time to really upset them, but if you continue to behave as though you are better than everyone else then you will find yourself in considerable danger. Do you understand?"
Gadget nodded, meekly.
"Now, youve got off to a bad start in here. Im going to give you a chance to make good and maybe reduce your time here. You gave the court and the Street Watch a false name and had an extra three years tacked onto your sentence because of it."
Gadget opened her mouth but the Warden held up a hand, silencing her.
"Because of the judges ruling you cant be considered for parole until youve served twelve years. If you tell me your real name right now, you can appeal against that part of the sentence and Ill put in a good word for you. Itll still be the judges decision, of course but, if the judge agrees to drop the contempt of court sentence, you would be eligible for parole after just seven years. From the look of you, you would just barely be into your thirties. Young enough to raise a family." The Warden beamed at her.
"What?" Gadget blinked at her.
"Think about it carefully, my dear. Fifteen years would make you, what, forty when youre released? Its not so easy to find a mate at that age. Or have a child. Especially after being in a place like this."
Gadget felt her heckles rise. "Im not going to be here that long!" She insisted. "I am Gadget Hackwrench. I will prove it! If I could just speak to one of my friends for two seconds Id be able to convince them! If she-" Gadget pointed to Officer Haggs "-hadnt taken away my privileges for sixty days just because your deputy overruled her in front of everyone, then Id be able to write to them right now and theyd come and clear this whole mess up!"
"Sixty days?" The warden smiled. "Try not to exaggerate."
"Im not! Ask her, if you dont believe me!"
Officer Haggs was a perfect picture of concerned bewilderment. "Im sorry, I have no idea why she thinks its sixty days. Perhaps she misheard me." She lied.
"Sixty and thirty dont sound very similar." The deputy frowned.
"Ah, I know. I mentioned the loss of privileges again on the way here. She must have thought I was giving her a second punishment."
"Yes, of course. That explains it." The warden smiled. "You see, D141? Its only thirty days youve lost your privileges for. You can write to your friends, whoever they are, as soon as that time has passed."
"I shouldnt have to spend thirty days in here when Im innocent!"
"A great many people come into this prison protesting their innocence. I have only ever seen it proved to be true in two cases. Most leave having served their sentence, sometimes still claiming to be innocent. If you truly believe you are not at fault then you should consider the fact that you may serve your sentence, regardless of the truth of the matter."
"The truth is that I AM GADGET HACKWRENCH!" Gadget yelled at the top of her voice. "There is an impostor in hospital that everyone thinks is me and as soon as she wakes up everyone is going to realise how wrong they are!"
"If you dont get control of yourself this instant, I will make it sixty days without privileges!" The Warden threatened. The three prison officials stared, sternly, at the rebellious prisoner.
Gadget rolled her eyes in frustration but realised that it would do her no good to antagonise the person who ran the whole prison. Taking two deep breaths, she steeled her will and forced herself to say through clenched teeth: "Of course. Im very sorry for my display of temper, Warden Phelps. Please forgive me."
The warden pursed her lips for a moment before replying. "Very well, Ill over look it this time. If you really feel that you have been treated harshly, I suggest you appeal the sentence in March."
"March? Why would I wait until then?"
The warden seemed puzzled. "Im sorry, I understood that your lawyer was in hibernation?"
"Well, yes. But if I prove that I am who I say I am, surely-"
"No, Im afraid that even if I believed your claim, there are rules to be obeyed and procedures to be followed. You would have to convince a court, which would then free you. And you would need a lawyer to represent you."
"Im certainly not waiting until spring to get out of here! Ill have to hire a new lawyer and thats all there is to it."
The warden face became creased with sympathy. The poor girl didnt know! "Im very sorry to tell you, but thats quite impossible."
"You may have heard of the Hibernation Protection Act? The act that prevents people who are hibernating from having their property and jobs taken away from them until they wake up?"
"Yeah, sure. Chip and the rest of us busted up a ring of thieves who specialised on robbing people while they slept once. People who are hibernating cant be prosecuted, or locked up, or foreclosed on, or fired " Gadgets voice trailed off, as the implications of that last point sank in. "No." She whispered.
"Im very sorry. You cant be represented by a new lawyer unless your old one is fired, or knows and gives his consent."
"Even if Chip Maplewood walked through that door and cleared you right now, I wouldnt be able to let you go until he told a court you were Gadget Hackwrench and he couldn't do that until after you had a lawyer to represent you. Which means your lawyer has to wake up so he can represent you, give permission for someone else to represent you or be fired so you can hire a new one."
Gadget stared at her in total horror and disbelief. "No." she said. "Its not possible. Its insane!"
"It was something they overlooked when they drew up the law. The same thing applies to doctors, though the Medical Council has strict rules about arranging hibernation cover that makes sure no one goes without treatment. But the Bar Association says it prefers voluntary arrangements." Warden Phelps put a gentle hand on the prisoners shoulder. The girl was clearly in shock.
"You arent the first to get caught in a trap like this." The warden continued. "Its been a pet hate of mine for some time. Absurdly, the trouble is that most lawyers have hibernation cover already, which the Bar Association says makes changing the rules unnecessary. Its just a careless few who dont and Im afraid the newspapers that covered the case have reported that your lawyer is one of them."
"Even when Chip clears me, Ill still be stuck here?" Gadget whispered.
"Well, in that instance Id like to think that we could work something out, but I dont know what and it wouldnt be easy." The warden smiled gently. "You said "when" instead of "if"; you really do believe your claim, dont you?"
"Of course I do. Its the truth."
The warden nodded and looked over to the deputy warden. "I think perhaps Doctor Schadenfreude had better have a look at her, dont you?"
"Definitely." The deputy agreed.
"Sounds like a wonderful idea." Beamed Officer Haggs.
"Doctor who?" Asked Gadget.
Half an hour later Gadget found herself staring at a padded wall as she sat on a rubber mat, her elbows rested on her knees and her chin supported in her hands. Doctor Schadenfreude was the resident psychologist, she had learned. He only worked three days a week and this wasn't one of them. She was to be kept here for observation over a period of twenty-eight days, which was standard procedure if the warden decided you were crazy, apparently. In the meantime she was still on loss of privileges but it mattered far less because apparently crazy people had even less rights and privileges than criminals.
Her greatest worry was Bubbles. Gadget had said nothing in the warden's office about her friend being beaten by Officer Haggs, partly because she hadn't seen it with her own eyes and partly because she no longer expected to be believed about anything. If they thought she was lying about her name and about how long Haggs had said she would have no privileges, then they certainly wouldn't take her word for it that Haggs had beaten someone for information.
Expecting someone not to believe her was not a new experience for Gadget, but it was an unfamiliar one. As a child, she had gone through the normal stage of telling fibs and getting caught, often by her father and once by Monty, followed by the usual assortment of consequences. Even then she had always known that she could tell them something important without being doubted. Now, for the first time, she had to take it for granted that every word she said would be considered a lie.
Gadget sighed. It would take some getting used to. She had been forced, reluctantly, to accept that she would be behind bars for at least one more night. With luck Doctor Schadenfreude would turn out to be a competent and understanding professional or, failing that, at least someone who would let her contact her friends and she would be freed tomorrow. After all, this couldnt go on forever, could it?
Deep inside her, a worm of doubt had begun to gnaw away at her confidence. She had thought she would get out today, hadnt she? She had thought that she would get out yesterday, at the trial. She had thought that Monty would come rolling into the Street Watch precinct with a stern look and a twitching smile hidden behind his moustache. She could just picture him making her squirm through an explanation of how she got herself into such a mess.
Oh, it all made her so angry. She was a good person. She didnt deserve any of this. And what kind of friends took any second rate forgery for the real thing time after time? It was bad enough in Hawaii, where they at least had the excuse of not knowing a double of Gadget existed. Honestly, when she got out here the first thing she was going to do was see to it that they were sorry for putting her through this
Gadget blinked. That wasnt like her at all. The first thing she wanted to do when she saw her friends again was hug them all really tight and tell them how much she had missed them. Lawhiney could be bandaged from head to foot for all she knew; there might be no way for them to tell who was lying in that hospital bed. And she, Gadget, had used questionable judgement both in Hawaii, when Lawhiney had fooled her along with everyone else, and here, when she failed to tell her friends where she was going and what her plans were.
Truth be told, her conscience reminded her, her trial would probably have gone in her favour if she hadnt forced Franklin Kafka to rush headlong into the proceedings with less than an hour to prepare.
Gadget slowly came to a realisation. "Lord," she whispered, "its my fault Im in here."
Suddenly the weight of the last three days seemed to come crashing down on
her and tears were flowing down her cheeks unstoppably. Gadget had been holding
back a lot of tears. They kept falling, well into the night.
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