A set of grey panels made the room a cold place, foreboding and dull in every conceivable way. Very little natural light was drip-fed through to this cube of a room, the rest of the 8x8x8 cell was covered in hallogen glow from the flat bulbs in the ceiling. It really had no redeeming features, there was no facility except a shower unit in the top-right hand corner, a gritty-looking drain with dirt patches around it, and the solid door with metal rivets surrounding its hermetically-sealed edging.
The man crouched with his hands on his knees was staring out of the tiny window - his pupils were heavily dilated, and he was muttering quietly to himself, there being no alternative in this lonely prison cell.
One look at the man could give the impression that he was insane, but here he was in a cell that was almost as grey as his skin, and no-one took more than a cursory glance at him to check on his safety every hour or so.
Physically, he looked in perfect health from a distance, but his fingernails were bitten and ravaged, his eyes had deep dark patches underneath them and he was shaking slightly. Any doctor that had walked into this cell would be asking rather sharp questions to the prison authorities about what possible reason there would be for keeping him in solitary confinement when he was clearly no harm to anyone but himself.
Occasionally biting his lip, the man made a barely audible prayer, or mantra, the same every time. Stretching to the point where the listener's ear was practically in the man's mouth, it would have been possible to hear what he had iterated that day, over and over: We need to talk, I think she escaped.
On the hour, a guard looked into the room and noticed that the man was swaying back and forth, almost violently. His breathing had become laboured, and a little saliva formed around the corner of his mouth. The guard called for one of the medical staff, and escorted the prisoner along a brightly-lit corridor along with a colleague. They held him by the arms every step of the way, but there was no chance of him making any attempt at attacking them or running - he could barely shuffle his shoeless feet along the smooth marble floors.
After he was lifted and set down upon the clean, freshly re-covered hospital bed, the guard gave a rundown of the situation to the nervous doctor. "He just started rocking back and forth, he's muttering all the time, he looks out of it to me, and I'm sure he hasn't been able to get any drugs in the solitary cell. Don't know what you can do, but I need to know what's up with him."
He pulled the doctor to one side, and said in hushed tones: "What I really need to know, Doctor Cavendish, is whether this guy is trying to pull a fast one - is he trying to get transferred to a hospital for an easier time of it? Let's face it, I could rock back and forth and mumble - it doesn't mean I'm ill."
Cavendish nodded and strode over to the patient with no hesitation. She knew that life in prison was not easy for anyone, but if you showed fear and trepidation, you were going to be treated with less respect than the inmates.
After a cursory glance at the patient, she made a decision. "I want to do a drug screen on the man, regardless of where he has been. How long has he been like this?"
"No more than an hour, I'm sure," answered Graves, the guard who had checked on the prisoner. "We do a look-in every hour and he was just sitting there before this, not acting out, yelling or anything. Thought this was going to be a quiet night for once."
"So every hour you look through the panel in the door and he wasn't acting unusually? How long was he in solitary for?" the Doctor asked quietly.
"This was his second day. It was for his own safety - some of the larger lads in Block D had taken a dislike to him for some reason, and we wanted to keep him out of trouble."
"I wonder whether his pupils were dilated and he was frothing at the mouth at the time," Cavendish asked rhetorically. The guards looked alarmed - she had looked at the man for about a second and noticed something that had escaped them for the entire time they were restraining hiim and dragging him away. Even though it was around 2am, they all had cause for embarrassment.
"Can't say for certain, but he was eating and perfectly lucid for his evening meal. A cool customer normally, pretty much your model prisoner as far as I'm concerned."
Sarah Cavendish had approached the man and was shining a penlight into his eyes. There was a real chance that this man had a terrible physical illness but the facilities in this "nick" were primitive in her eyes. Well, you were looking for a way to escape your boring life, Sarah - I guess this is it, she thought.
"Mr. Cairns, can you understand me? I need you to look at me and tell me what is wrong," she told the prisoner-cum-patient. "I am going to need to take some samples to ascertain whether you have taken anything like a drug - do you understand?" Cairns kept mumbling his part of a nonexistent conversation and showed no sign of response, or even awareness that she was in the room. After a swab and a delicately-plucked hair, she did every medical test she could think of to establish the cause of his episode.
The guards tied down Julian Cairns, white-collar criminal and racketeer extraordinare, and left the doctor to her exams. They had left his limbs a little wiggle-room, but there was no way he could escape from the constraints without help or a toolkit. This prison was the sort that would normally be teeming with undercover journalists reporting on how awful the conditions and the treatment of the convicts were. Like most prison ships, it was never going to be given the same level of scrutiny as one on land.
With the door closed behind her, Dr. Cavendish decided to take a listen to the man's chattering - it would take a long time for the spectrometer to identify any toxins or drugs in his system and she wanted to play detective. As she leaned in to hear his whispers, Cairns shook violently, coughed, yelped and tried to sit up straight. He looked down at the restraints, and asked: "What the hell happened?"