What if when you are comdemned to 'consecutive life sentences' they really mean it?
Her son was only a few hours old when they came for him.
She had known before he was born that they would. She had gone to the examination when she found out she was pregnant, as was required, and they had poked her and prodded her and taken samples and done all the complicated mathematics, and then they had told her, with spurious expressions of sorrow and regret, that her child was a Class C Rebirth. They told her to expect the authorities when he was born, and they sympathised with her that her first child should be such a disappointment.
Never mind, they said. Next time, they said. Mothers of Class C Rebirths were allowed free fertility treatment should conceiving again be difficult. There was no stigma attached.
She had nodded and taken the paperwork and signed her name and allowed them to take away her son before he even had fingers. Before he even had a name.
Her husband had been furious. He did not blame her outright, but she saw it in his eyes. He had not hugged her for months.
Her baby cried when they took him away, wailing unhappily; she watched them carry him out numbly as the nurses fussed around her and assured her she would be back home in only a few days and life could go on.
But life would never be the same. They had taken her son.
"...Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Thirty-nine. Forty. Forty-one. Forty-two...Damn. One. Two. Three. Four."
The small battered rubber ball pinged off the concrete wall and slapped back into a skinny hand, whereupon it was immediately flicked back at the wall. A pair of dark grey eyes followed it with concentrated intensity for another fifty-three throws, until the ball bounced off an uneven bit of wall and skidded away into a corner instead of the waiting hand.
"Damn," said the owner of the hand, a young boy of around fifteen. He made to get up and retrieve it, then thought better of it and slumped back down onto the thin mattress that served for his bed.
He was dreadfully bored but that was nothing new, not here. When you were stuck in a cell four steps across for twenty hours a day with nothing but a mattress, a sink and a toilet to keep you company you got used to boredom.
Well, there was the rat as well. It got in via the pipes, he thought, and it seemed to like him. He fed it, when he felt he just could not bear to force down another spoonful of the grey slop they generally got to eat. It had brought him the ball, in fact; he didn't know, and didn't like to think, where it had got it from, but it did seem an unusually intelligent act for a rat.
It didn't come every day, though, and it hadn't turned up today. He sighed, propping his chin on his hands, and stared at the same grey walls he'd been staring at since he was old enough to get out of the maximum security nursery.
It had been maximum security all the way for him. They evidently thought he was dangerous. He didn't feel dangerous; looking at his bony arms, he didn't look dangerous either. But then, who was he to argue? Perhaps he was dangerous; he didn't know exactly why he was in here, anyway.
Briefly he allowed his imagination to wander. I bet it was something incredible, he thought. Maybe he was a freedom fighter. Or blew up something huge and important. Or maybe he was a professional assassin!
But whatever he'd done, he'd got caught.
The boy brooded. He wouldn't get told what he was in for until he was sixteen, which wouldn't actually be long now; if he remembered correctly it couldn't be more than a week. It would be nice to know what exactly condemned him to a life in a tiny grey cell, but he couldn't help wondering if it were something embarrassing. He knew one man who was in for accidentally killing someone during a botched robbery, and he was regarded with contempt by just about everyone else there.
His train of thought was abruptly terminated when the door to his cell was opened and a guard stuck his head through.
"Time for exercise, 56."
Without a clock, the boy known only as 56 had lost track of time and forgotten about their daily 'exercise', which amounted to four hours in a cracked and weedy concrete yard trying to stay away from the resident bullies. With a sigh he pulled himself upright and duly followed the guard out to join the trail of similarly dispirited felons in the corridor.
At least when it was time for 'exercise' he could see his friend 73, usually seperated in the female wing. That was the only bright spot he had.